It’s sometimes hard to find a new show that’s enjoyable, but last year I did just that. Here are 14 recent hidden gems for your watchlist.
As I talked about in more detail in Crossing The Threshold Into Middle Age – 2023 In Review, we had our second child last year. It’s a great time but as every parent knows, during the newborn months especially there’s a lot more time at home than you had previously, and more than that, a lot more time rocking and pacing and sitting and hugging and feeding in the one room. As a result, you end up watching or using the TV more.
Something I didn’t cover in as much in my year in review in my entertainment section was some of the shows I discovered or enjoyed. Well, beyond my glowing review of Oppenheimer, pun maybe intended. And watching Super Mario Bros with our toddler a billion times.
Truth is I’ve never been a huge TV show watcher from the modern perspective – I had a few that I really liked that I would just rewatch rather than trying to find something new. But in recent years and especially in the last year or so I’ve been fortunate to find some good ones, and this list will also feature some movies (and maybe a few games).
So if you’re looking for something new to watch yourself, here’s a list of 14 hidden gems for your watchlist. The criteria is I have to have watched these or discovered these in the last year or so.
Honourable Mentions for some family friendly reality-ish fun in BattleBots and Floor Is Lava. And now, the list:
PS. All images are properties owned by their respective owners
#14: Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?
I’m starting this list with the most seemingly random doco you could ever think of, but my word was it entertaining. In a similar vein to King of Kong, it takes a very niche premise and makes it ridiculously entertaining, to the point you’re fully rooting for the guys by the end of it.
It’s about a man who recounts his young adult years where he felt kind of aimless and saw a Pepsi commercial saying that if you earned enough Pepsi points from buying enough Pepsi, you could buy a Harrier jet. He finds legal counsel and a rich businessman who believes in him and they decide to go for it and get the points necessary to buy the jet, followed by Pepsi’s fairly obvious response.
Super entertaining and a blast of 90s nostalgia mixed with a court drama, this is a really fun time. Watch on Netflix.
#13: Candy Cane Lane/Family Switch
I know Christmas has just passed but needed to give a shout out to two really great Christmas movies that came out at the end of last year.
Candy Cane Lane is a true return to form for Eddie Murphy (and a hilarious appearance by Nick Offerman) who is a father who loses his job before Christmas and devotes all his energy into winning a Christmas lights contest ala Deck The Halls, however, he buys some magical Christmas ornaments from a mischievous elf and has to find them again before he gets turned into a Christmas ornament himself. It’s very funny and well presented. Loved it.
Family Switch is like Freaky Friday at Christmas time, but where two teenage kids switch bodies with both their mum and dad. Ed Helms and Jennifer Garner headline and are absolutely fantastic at playing parents and then teenagers, and the young two actors they got for the teens are equally brilliant. Just really great fun.
Candy Cane Lane is on Amazon and Family Switch is another Netflix one.
#12: Hidden Strike
Remember Rush Hour? You won’t after this one. Jackie Chan partners up with John Cena (!!!) in this Chinese film.
There is a weird B grade filter to the CGI and all the backgrounds and effects in this movie, but for some reason it really works. It starts off super serious but then blends in its buddy cop dynamic after a while, and it is a hilarious and fun action romp about a mercenary working with the Chinese special forces against his former employers.
The fights are pretty good to boot, and you’ll want to stay for the blooper reel. Watch on Netflix.
#11: The Good Place
I had seen this advertised and knew of a few people who had been watching this show over the last few years, but I only realised semi-recently that this show was another show written by Michael Schurr. As a big fan of The Office and Parks and Rec, I realised after hearing that I needed to watch it and indeed I did last year. This is one I was definitely late to the party for and surprisingly isn’t as popular as the advertising made it out to be.
And it’s actually a pretty interesting and funny look at ethics and right and wrong, and a good show for getting the wider consciousness of our society thinking again about things like legacy and death because they do happen to all people, and we’re so distracted by daily living that we don’t always give them a lot of thought.
Plus Adam Scott showing up as a semi-regular of the agents of The Bad Place was very funny. Watch on Netflix.
#10: My Hero Academia Season 6
I already listed My Hero Academia on my Amazing Shows From Japan: 15 of the Best Anime… Ever, but putting this as a hidden gem here because not everyone rates anime as worthwhile. Last year’s Season 6 was so high suspense and high action it was very nice to breathe again once it was all over. The English dub is excellent, the story is so compelling and who on earth knows how Season 7 is going to land.
It loses some points on a list like this cause it’s actually a hugely popular anime in a lot of countries, but I’m including it because a lot of people will miss it if you’re not on the anime train.
So good that you may think X-Men is the weaker superhero school franchise once it’s all done. Watch on Crunchyroll.
#9: Tomo-chan is a Girl
One I think I’ll be adding to my best anime list if I revisit it in the future, this was a heartwarming and endearing good time that I saw thanks to Crunchyroll’s Facebook page recommending it several times over the span of about a month.
Tomo is a high schooler who tells her best friend that she loves him, to which he gets all awkward and withdrawn. They’ve been friends for so long and it feels to her like he doesn’t even see any of her femininity or reasons why she might make a great girlfriend, and indeed her tomboy-ish nature doesn’t help.
It’s a really great story about love, friendship and growing up. And a special shoutout to the character Carol who literally had me in tears of laughter but then also of joy (for real dude) for a huge and unexpected story arc regarding her perception of herself and her relationships. And amazingly, the same actress voiced her in Japanese and English.
I think this is a little bit older than the year or so mark at the time of writing so pushing the limits of the recent-ish release and even when we watched it but this is absolutely stellar footage of some of the most remote places on earth. Nepalese superman Nirmal decides to climb the tallest 14 mountains of the world with a small team in a span of about two and a half months, decades and decades ahead of anyone who ever attempted to try more than one of these mountains.
The doco is absolutely fascinating and it really is the amazing quality of the footage of all these places that will capture your heart with their stunning and terrible beauty.
I’ll always remember where he and his time climb Mount Everest and then casually decide to summit the other two peaks near it in the span of a few DAYS. Absolutely nuts.
This one I’m only a few days from seeing with my wife at the cinemas and this was a triumph. I simply was not ready for how heartwarming, entertaining, and magical this movie was going to be.
And truly, magical. Not many movies with that description but this is one of them for sure.
In a real surprise given how much Roald Dahl apparently hated the 1971 Gene Wilder classic, this is a prequel to that film and Timothee Chalamat is absolutely perfect as the young Wonka to that film. He’s eccentric, charming and so many of the mannerisms will have you wonder if he actually was related to Gene somewhere in his tree.
And, it’s a musical! For real, there are a very substantial amount of songs in this movie.
And it’s funny.
And it’s paced so much better than the 1971 version that it does even surpass that movie with some of its greatness and magic.
And, Hugh Grant’s best movie role ever. I’m calling it now. He places an Oompa Loompa to absolute hilarity.
And Rowan Atkinson’s Father Julius, the chocolate obsessed priest, has him rolling Blackadder and Mr Bean into one ridiculously funny man.
Too many good things to say about this one. I think this is in the hidden gems for your watchlist category because although it did very well in the US box office, I think this is a billionaire dollar movie that many people (such as myself) underrated from its impressions or not wanting to see another prequel film. Go see it.
#6: Immortals: Fenyx Rising
I’m stretching it a little bit here because this isn’t technically a movie or a TV show but a really good game that came out several years but only more recently on PC. Immortals is a Greek mythology based open world game that people would compare to Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but let me tell you something right now – this game eclipses that one in almost every category (although I do love the Zelda franchise if you know me, more on my BOTW opinions in my review here). In truth, it’s one of the best open world games I’ve played.
Fenyx is a male or female (I picked female) soldier who is shipwrecked and sets out to save a bunch of the Greek gods from the evil Tython. The RPG and open world mechanics are excellent and sometimes even rival Horizon: Zero Dawn or Middle-earth: Shadow of War for their brilliance. It is probably gameplay wise closed to Shadow of War but in a family friendly coat of paint that consistently feeling like you’re playing a living Pixar movie. And it’s quite funny and witty throughout the entire experience with Zeus and Prometheus narrating the entire experience as you play.
You can buy it on your platform of choice and it was a true surprise how much fun I had playing it. I got it on a super good sale on Steam.
#5: One Piece (Live Action)
I remember quite a few times I’ve tried getting into the One Piece anime. I remember trying to watch the 4Kids version when I was young, I remember trying to watch the original Japanese when it became more accessible on anime streaming platforms, and also the Funimation/Crunchyroll dubs with all the great actors from that studio.
But Netflix’s live action adaption of One Piece is a masterpiece. It really is hard to believe that they treated such a silly property with such excellent production values. It looks better than almost any other pirate movie or show ever made in terms of costume design, sets, effects and acting.
And it is a super efficient retelling of the story as well, with the 10 one hour-ish episodes covering so many of the major story elements better than the anime ever did and skipping you entire seasons ahead in the story.
And Jeff Ward’s Buggy the Clown is Heath Ledger rivalling levels of excellent clown/trickster acting. I’m not even kidding.
I listed this one on 6 Shows and Movies about Staying Together and discovered it because I listen to the excellent Office Ladies podcast put out by Jenna Fisher and Angela Kinsey, and they mention this show several times.
It’s a real shame this show got cancelled after two seasons because the two seasons we get are one of the best modern examination of marriage in recent memory. It’s funny, quirky, and then every few minutes pulls out a super astute observation of what it is people are looking for in marriage to each other, as well as so many funnies about parenting and friendship.
Really annoying in Australia the only place that’s licensed for it at the time of writing is 9Now where I watched it which means like equal amounts of time watching ads, but it’s fully worth it. You can’t purchase it either but as soon as some option for that comes available somewhere (if ever, please please please) I’ll be first in line.
I can’t even link it because it looks like it’s not even on there any more but do your best to find it wherever you are and you’ll be rewarded with an excelllent time.
#3: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
When I watched Season 1 of Paramount’s Strange New Worlds I immediately thought that Anson Mount’s Captain Pike is the best Star Trek captain of all time.
After watching Season 2 last year, I have decided that Strange New Worlds is the best Star Trek of all time and possibly one of the best sci-fi TV shows ever made.
It’s Star Trek, but given the Star Wars paint job (even more than the recent-ish films) and the Mass Effect writing and mission treatment. For real, Captain Pike is Commander Shepard levels of awesome leadership and someone you want to follow. There are even people writing modern leadership content for businesses based on him already.
The crew are lovable and the stories are all super engaging. Highlights of season 2 have to be when Spock is turned back into only a human and goes through puberty that he missed because his Vulcan side has surprised his emotions (Ethan Peck is the best Spock ever), and an entire musical episode that somehow manages to be an engaging musical at the same time as moving significant plot points forward at the same time.
Do yourself a favour and give it a watch. A true hidden gem for your watchlist that most people will be skipping over for the inferior Picard and Discovery.
This is probably another one kind of pushing the recent-ish criteria I used to put this list together, but this show is brilliant. Truly brilliant. We rewatched it again together recently and whenever I redo my favourite anime list I need to put this somewhere near the top.
Komi is a beautiful high school girl who every adores from afar, but one quiet lunchtime the unassuming Tadano discovers that she has severe social anxiety and struggles to meet people. She has a goal of meeting 100 friends and has several reasons in her life for being withdrawn and afraid of what others think of her.
Tadano enlists the help of his childhood friend Najami and every episode is an adventure in Komi getting closer to her goal of making lots of friends and realising that everyone else is truly just as strange as she is.
The other animes I’ve listed here you might not enjoy as much if you’re not an anime fan. But for this show I’m calling it out that even if you don’t like anime or you don’t think you like anime, you need to give this one a chance. It is a masterpiece and a beautiful, funny, and endearing time.
And man, the animation quality in this show is stunning.
Alright, another non-TV non-movie one here, but this is the reason I even thought to do this list. It’s because I wrote my whole year in review and somehow neglected to mention that my favourite game ever made got a remaster last year. I just couldn’t find enough space to write about what a joy this was.
Chrono Cross is a direct sequel to the super popular Chrono Trigger and is ultimately all about a girl, trapped in a memory, unable to move forward and trapped beyond time, and it’s up to you to go after her.
Serge is a 17 year old who one day while talking to his close childhood friend Leena who is about to share her feelings with him, is sucked into a dimension where he died at the age of 7. It takes place 10 years after the events of Chrono Trigger in a timeline where the alien being, Lavos, has been defeated.
The entire game you are told that everyone and everything is being directed by fate. A huge twist occurs when you discover that it isn’t just a phrase but a supercomputer named FATE has literally been directing the events of the El Nido archipelago for millenia from another alternate dimension. It’s up to you to find out why and why this 17 year old boy and a spunky adventurer girl named Kid are at the centre of it all.
I realise that I will just end up gushing when I already did that when I wrote a lot more about the PlayStation game in Chrono Cross Is The Best Game Ever Made. It still is my favourite game and gosh the soundtrack is the best soundtrack of any movie, game, TV show, or anything, ever. A hidden gem because you probably have never heard of it but you should. It’s a JRPG with an innovative combat system and not one you’ll replay constantly but one you’ll remember forever.
I cannot believe I live in a world where my favourite game of all time got a remaster. Admittedly it’s pretty weak from the perspective of a remaster, nowhere near the levels of something like Trials of Mana over Seiken Densetsu 3, but the original is so great I think it was for the best. Available on multiple platforms and I got it on Steam.
As a Christian, one of the shows I get asked about or you may be surprised not to see here is The Chosen. And the reason is…………………………… I just don’t really like it. I do struggle with a lot of adaptions of the life of Jesus like this one and others where Jesus just kind of floats above everyone else and isn’t really that grounded, and from my understanding of Jesus, that just doesn’t seem like how it was. As I mentioned in My Top 10 Favourite Movies Ever (Revisited), my favourite adaption of the life of Jesus is The Miracle Maker, which is ironically an animated film but in terms of adaption I think it seems the most realistic. So, there you go.
There you have it, my hidden gems for your watchlist. You don’t have to like any of them but they’re some really great ones I’ve enjoyed watching and rewatching.
If you’re looking for some more of my recommendations, have a look at these: