A premise can be life or death for a TV show. If a show has a premise that can be easily summed up and appeals to viewers, its odds of being made, watched, and renewed go up significantly. As such, many shows operate on very simple premises, like following a workforce or society’s elite through their day-to-day lives.
Other shows take more of a gamble. They go for premises that are unusual, bizarre, or flat-out unique, often hoping that the novelty will overcome the strangeness and draw viewers in. This can sometimes backfire, but there are several shows with very odd elevator pitches that have been incredibly successful.
10 Life On Mars Features A Detective Lost In Time
Life on Mars follows Sam Tyler, a police detective from the present day who wakes up in 1973 after a car accident. His modern sensibilities clash with the dated behavior and attitudes of the 1970s police as he works alongside them. Sam tries to solve the crimes of the time and figure out how to return home.
Life on Mars takes its high concept even further. It actually lied about its premise in advertising, pretending to be nothing more than a mundane police procedural. This ensured viewers’ shock when Sam wakes up in the past. However, Life on Mars and its characters have become iconic on British television, with the show being a strong success throughout.
9 WandaVision Heavily Relies On Trust In The MCU
WandaVision‘s premise is odd to those unfamiliar with the MCU and utterly bizarre to those who follow it. In its initial episodes, WandaVision focuses on two Avengers living in a sitcom-esque world, even down to the black-and-white coloring in its first episodes. Wanda Maximoff and Vision attempt to fit in with their new neighborhood in a show full of homages to other classic television comedies.
Things are made odder with the total lack of explanation regarding how Wanda and Vision are in their situation, or how Vision is even alive. WandaVision is very slow to drop in hints of its mystery, relying on viewers to trust the MCU enough to buy into its premise. Nevertheless, it is still a frequent contender for the best Disney+ show of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
8 Chuck Is About A Subliminally-Encoded Spy
Spy dramas often take somewhat odd premises, focusing on unusual people being pressed into helping their country or putting them in unusual situations. Chuck does both, as it forces a CIA and an NSA agent to work alongside Chuck Bartowski, an intelligent but unmotivated slacker with no espionage skills.
In the first episode, Chuck opens an email that downloads the entire contents of the CIA and NSA’s databases into his head. It’s a high-concept premise that can catch audiences off-guard, but it manages to create a unique and entertaining show. Although Chuck never had the highest ratings, it managed to achieve five seasons and a passionate fanbase.
7 Dexter Follows A Murderous Anti-Villain
Villainous characters, or those who do things that moral people would blanch at, have always been popular in television. However, few shows outright make a villainous character their antagonist. this is what Dexter does, as it follows the titular forensic scientist who moonlights as a serial killer by night.
With the show focusing on Dexter’s criminal activities and the complications they cause his life, the series goes into territory few productions ever would. It pulls no punches from its very first episode, showing Dexter engaging in torturous murders from the off. Nevertheless, the character has captivated many, and Dexter still has a presence in pop culture even after its ending.
6 Executives Expected Breaking Bad To Fail
Breaking Bad‘s premise is well-known to audiences, even those who haven’t watched the show. Its tale of a mild-mannered chemistry teacher becoming a ruthless crime lord has become one of the best-loved TV premises. Although it’s seen by many as a near-perfect story, Breaking Bad has faced resistance in the past.
When creator Vince Gilligan pitched Breaking Bad, many networks and executives shot it down, with one even describing it as one of the worst premises he’d ever heard. Its consistent success has proven that wrong, and its “Mr. Chips becomes Scarface” premise is hailed as original and thoroughly enjoyable.
5 Cobra Kai Follows The Bully
The 2010s have seen a rise in nostalgic films and TV shows that revive older properties in the modern day. Cobra Kai is one such series. Rather than being a reboot or remake, it continues the story of The Karate Kid thirty years later. Cobra Kai has the same actors, but it focuses primarily on Johnny Lawrence and the titular dojo.
Many people raised eyebrows at a show following the antagonist of a well-liked 1980s movie about karate feuds. Audiences expected Cobra Kai to be an amusing diversion at best. However, Cobra Kai has shocked many for being consistently good, making Johnny a likable protagonist, showcasing entertaining plots with original characters, and its many high-quality fight scenes.
4 Lost Only Gets Odder
Initially, lost appears to follow the survivors of a plane crash who attempt to stay alive on a mysterious island. However, even in the pilot, things get odd quickly. With many contradictory clues indicating that their situation is even more unusual and a mysterious monster menaces the survivors, it quickly becomes clear that lost is not a mundane show.
lost then follows the survivors as they attempt to figure out the mystery of the island while unexplainable phenomena happen around them. Despite its reputation for sheer weirdness, the show remains one of the most iconic ever. It was a huge success right up until its ending.
3 Lucifer Is All About A Crime – Solving Devil
The devil is a popular character in fiction, but often as an antagonist. It’s rare for him to be a show’s hero, and even rarer for that show to be a supernatural police procedural. However, this is the exact premise of Matchwhich features the titular fallen angel getting himself recruited as a police consultant.
Although the procedural elements fall to the wayside from time to time, Match is, at its heart, about Lucifer and his police allies solving murders. Although it has some rocky seasons, the show remains popular. It even pokes fun at the absurdity of its premise from time to time.
2 Snowpiercer Explores Society And The Apocalypse From A Train
Shows often use unusual situations to explore real-world themes and problems, with class or other demographic divisions being a popular choice. Few series do it in the same high concept way as snow piercer. The show is a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of class and discrimination set on a post-apocalyptic train.
snow piercer has the last few humans surviving a frozen apocalypse on the titular train. The divisions between carriages have become vicious class divides, causing strife for many. Despite its high concept premise, snow piercer has received acclaim for its themes and storytelling.
1 The Tick Is An Odd Superhero Parody
As the superhero genre has dominated fiction in recent years, parodies have also become popular. One among many is The Tick, a show featuring Peter Serafinowicz as the titular superhero. It embraces its oddness, with the Tick being such a bizarre and nonsense character that protagonist Arthur wonders if he’s simply a hallucination.
With a slightly ridiculous look and the Tick’s odd and comedic behavior, The Tick is one of the oddest in the superhero genre. Despite being canceled after two seasons, it is fondly remembered and still has its fans.
NEXT: 10 TV Shows That Had To Get Creative After Outlasting Their Premise