Hollywood Reporter TV Critics: 10 Great Shows About Loners and Misanthropes (the Original Social Distancers)

6:00 AM 4/17/2020

by Daniel Fienberg and Inkoo Kang

Whether you're feeling isolated or envious of people quarantining in solitude — or just plain grumpy about the state of the world — these series may provide the comfort you need.

new-It's Always Sunny - Barry - House - Publicity stills - Photofest - Split - H 2020
Courtesy of Networks/Photofest

Social distancing's probably got you missing friends and family. But, depending on your quarantine conditions and natural disposition, it might also have you longing for some solitude or seething at the constant presence of other people. If you're in the latter camp, TV's loners and misanthropes can be your new quarantine companions — characters who feel the same way but won't demand anything from you.

Here are 10 shows we think might be perversely good company — including a hitman, a horseman and a high-school girl — during these coronavirus times, either centered on voluntary outsiders or powered by a worldview that channels our justifiably darker moods these days.

  • 'Barry' (HBO)

    By marrying two well-worn but disparate pop-culture tropes — the hitman protagonist and show-business satire — HBO's Barry has unexpectedly become one of TV's most distinctive comedies in just two seasons. Starring Bill Hader as the titular mercenary turned budding actor, the series is a Russian nesting doll of ironies: Here's a main character whose deep alienation from the rest of humanity makes him great at a job he loathes, but when he tries to tell the truth about himself, his acting teacher (Henry Winkler) just wants to know who wrote his "monologue." On Barry, it's enticingly seldom clear whether pretending to others is simply the thing the character does best, or sums up his authentically empty self. — INKOO KANG

  • 'BoJack Horseman' (Netflix)

    Like Barry, BoJack is rarely alone — and yet he scarcely ever feels connected to anyone. And when he does, BoJack's self-loathing makes him question whether the connection is "real." Centered on a washed-up sitcom star itching for a comeback (who's also half-man, half-horse and voiced by Will Arnett), BoJack Horseman, which concluded its six-season run this year, is one of TV's most unflinching yet compassionate portrayals of self-hatred — and the ways power and fame can provide endless reasons not to deal with pain until it's too late. — I.K.

  • 'The Critic' (available on Crackle)

    Not to get all Jeff Foxworthy on you, but if your catchphrase is "It stinks!" … you might be a misanthrope! Jay Sherman, voiced by Jon Lovitz, has a mindset that many (most?) people in my profession understand quite well: It isn't that he/I don't like or love lots of things — we just want lots of things to be better. It's a mindset that's actually quite aspirational and hopeful, even if it sometimes reads as "misanthropic." A character like Jay and a world like the one Al Jean and Mike Reiss created in ABC/Fox’s The Critic (available to binge on Crackle) don’t exist without a foundational love for Hollywood and its assembly-line productions, despite how often … It stinks! — DANIEL FIENBERG

  • 'Daria' (available on Hulu)

    For a micro-generation or two, there is no more iconic misanthrope than Daria Morgendorffer (voiced by Tracy Grandstaff). In the petri dish of anti-intellectualism known as high school, Daria was a proudly defiant holdout. But rewatch the last two seasons, and you'll find another Daria: a show that also explored the ways the main character's retreat from society and knee-jerk skepticism toward almost everything made her experiences narrower and the lives of those around her harder. Antisocial despair was the MTV series' calling card, but Daria eventually matured to argue that misanthropy and empathy don't have to be mutually exclusive. — I.K.

  • 'House M.D.' (available on Amazon)

    When you say "TV misanthrope," my mind immediately goes to either Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm or Gregory House in House, so I employed my go-to tiebreaker question: Whom would I trust to diagnose my lupus? That ended the debate. Say what you will about Hugh Laurie’s Dr. House, with his love for pills and hatred of mendacity, the guy enjoyed a good medical mystery and cultivated at least one solid friendship. Broadcast TV hasn't had as fine a hospital procedural since he scrubbed out. — D.F.

  • 'The Incredible Hulk' (available on Amazon)

    The mournful closing credits music to this '70s Bill Bixby-Lou Ferrigno classic, a spare piano tune invariably played with Dr. David Banner walking down an empty road on the way to his next altruistic adventure, was literally titled "The Lonely Man Theme." It's not that Banner disliked people or wanted to be alone, but he was all too aware that people wouldn't like him when he's angry. From The Incredible Hulk to Kung Fu to The Fugitive, the Lonely Man on the Road Righting Wrongs genre was a TV staple for decades. I miss it. — D.F.

  • 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' (FXX)

    The quintet of selfish, insecure, self-important goons that make up the Gang are superheroes in their own way — their rare exposure to other people means that the general populace is largely protected from their toxicity. Stars Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney, Kaitlin Olson and Danny DeVito started out as Philadelphia's worst of the worst — a band of nihilistically witless (and exhilaratingly grotesque) idiots who end up mostly sabotaging themselves through their own self-serving impulses. But after 14 seasons (and a network change from FX to FXX), even the Gang has been forced to admit that, for better or worse, they're stuck with one another, as the rest of Philly wouldn't go near them with a 10-foot pole. — I.K.

  • 'Rectify' (available on Netflix)

    It's not like Daniel Holden (Aden Young) wanted to spend 18 years alone on Death Row for a murder he maybe/probably/possibly didn't commit, but there's no question that the Daniel who got released from prison was a man alienated from the world around him — which makes for a different variation on the loner/misanthrope archetype. Daniel is actually a man with an open heart, abundant faith and a love for humanity that isn't always returned. The four-season run of this little-watched SundanceTV classic is one of the shows I'm recommending most frequently in these strange times. — D.F.

  • 'Wonderfalls' (on DVD)

    The world is not currently making it easy to stream Bryan Fuller's darkly whimsical story of a snarky gift-shop clerk who discovers she can talk to inanimate objects, which is fair since when the series aired on Fox, nobody watched it there, either. But seek out the DVD set, which is full of smart commentary tracks, unaired episodes and, mostly, the chance to relish Caroline Dhavernas' wry master class on how to make a dyspeptic heroine completely lovable. Or maybe I just see a lot of myself in Jaye, minus the talking-to-wax-lions part. (Fuller's somewhat similar Dead to Me and Pushing Daisies are both a bit easier to find on streaming.) — D.F.

  • 'You' (Netflix)

    Romantic obsession gets some much-needed Mace in its eyes via this Netflix drama and social-media phenomenon about a self-deceiving stalker (Penn Badgley). Badgley's Joe is convinced that he knows everything there is to know about the women he targets — and that they're perfect, and that he's perfect for them. Pulpy in the best way, yet full of harsh truths about the ways predators justify their actions, You might make you relieved that, at least for the next few months, we're all forced to exercise some extended social distancing. — I.K.