The Crazy Ones (CBS, 22 episodes)
A misguided recent-ish sitcom, The Crazy Ones was created by David E. Kelley and ran for one quick season on CBS during the 2013-14 season. It was the comedic version of a workplace show set in the advertising industry, and boasted a great cast: the late, great Robin Williams; Sarah Michelle Gellar; and the very attractive James Wolk, borrowed from that other advertising show, Mad Men. Unfortunately, the ratings dropped quickly and the show never lived up to its full potential.
Garfunkel and Oates (IFC, 8 episodes)
This delightful IFC comedy was years in the making but unfortunately canceled after one eight-episode season. Centered on Garfunkel and Oates (Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci), a musical comedy duo trying to make it in Hollywood, the series was just getting good when it was canceled. The songs are funny and catchy, and perfect to listen to when you can’t commit your full attention to the episode.
Emily Owens, M.D. (The CW, 13 episodes)
The smart thing about Emily Owens, M.D. is that it understood what most audiences love about cheesy medical dramas: they are essentially adult versions of teen dramas (but with a little more blood and guts). The bad thing was, it was so committed to exploring this parallel that it often got too lost and too repetitive. But it’s hard not to get wrapped up in Emily’s relationship drama, even for just 13 episodes.
Vanilla Ice Goes Amish (DIY, 5 episodes)
It’s a reality show about a washed-up one-hit wonder settling into an Amish community to work construction and try to survive live without a smartphone! Of course you’re going to watch.
The Babysitters Club (HBO, 13 episodes)
The Babysitters Club in all its iterations (book series, movie, television show) inspires warm and fuzzy nostalgia. And nostalgia is the #1 reason to revisit this series, though it is, without a doubt, incredibly dated and a bit cheesy. That’s why it’s best to watch in passing, rather than focusing all your attention on it — you’ll still get the basic gist and that’s enough to still love it.
How to Be a Gentleman (CBS, 9 episodes)
Title aside, it’s understandable why CBS thought this would be a popular series: it was created by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s David Hornsby and starred Kevin Dillon (fresh off Entourage), Dave Foley, and Mary Lynn Rajskub. But its premise — about a uptight man learning how to be more of a… man? — left much to be desired.
Accidentally On Purpose (CBS, 18 episodes)
This screenshot should tell you everything you need to know about how zany CBS’s Accidentally On Purpose was. One of the networks’ many, many forgettable sitcoms, Accidentally followed a 30-something woman (ancient!) who gets pregnant after a one-night stand with a 20-something dude and decides to keep the baby. Not exactly hilarious, but a harmless way to kill an afternoon.
Friends With Benefits (NBC, 13 episodes)
Friends With Benefits is one of my favorite one-season background shows, a sitcom that I’ve watched way too many times. While I’ve never exactly enjoyed it, I never totally regretted watching it. It’s one of NBC’s attempts to make a raunchier Friends — as raunchy as you can get on NBC, I suppose — and follows a bunch of attractive friends who sometimes hook up with each other.
Bunk (IFC, 10 episodes)
IFC’s inventive game show Bunk took three comedian contestants and pitted them against each other in a funny and enthusiastic improv competition. Much of the fun comes from watching favorite comedians (Kumail Nanjiani, Kristen Schaal), but the games are almost as great.
Reckless (CBS, 13 episodes)
This steamy drama about a steamy lawyer and a steamy city attorney and steamy detectives and so on didn’t have much going on underneath its (steamy) surface, but as far as mindless entertainment goes, these 13 episodes are just silly enough.
The Good Guys (Fox, 20 episodes)
Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks starred in this buddy-cop action comedy that delighted in television tropes (Whitford’s an aging, former big-shot and Hanks is a by-the-books rookie). With fun directing and a self-aware approach to the genre’s inherent silliness, The Good Guys was actually a pretty solid show and one you can watch without fully engaging in.
The Deep End (ABC, 6 episodes)
If you’ve seen one lawyer show, you’ve seen all lawyer shows so there’s no reason to fully pay attention to The Deep End, except because of its excellent cast (Matt Long, Tina Majorino, Billy Zane).
Philly (ABC, 22 episodes)
Netflix has a handful of one-season lawyer shows to check out. Philly, with Kim Delaney and Tom Everett Scott, focused on a single mother juggling her professional life as a lawyer with her personal life — though the two often overlap (surprise!), as she has to deal with her ex-husband who works as a Deputy for Trials and dates a judge.
Out of Practice (CBS, 22 episodes)
Henry Winkler, Ty Burell, Christopher Gorham, Stockard Channing, Paula Marshall, and Jennifer Tilly all starred in this sitcom about a family of doctors and the one member (Gorham) who is looked down upon because he’s a marriage counselor… whose wife left him. Hilarity ensues!
Star-Crossed (The CW, 13 episodes)
This was the perfect CW show, one that appealed to teens (and their habit of romanticizing all doomed relationships), with the supernatural twist that The CW loves so much. It is, simplistically, Romeo and Juliet but with aliens! The forbidden love between a human girl and a hot alien boy! Why didn’t teens eat this up? Maybe it was the unoriginal, Shakespearean premise, or just its overall dreary tone. Still, why not check out its first and only season?
Terra Nova (Fox, 13 episodes)
On the one hand, this doomed sci-fi show squandered a great premise and managed to make dinosaurs seem kinda boring, but on the other hand: dinosaurs! You’ll sit through 13 episodes of absurdity in order to see a few computer-generated dinosaurs, right?
Sons of Tucson (Fox, 13 episodes)
Another of Fox’s many forgettable midseason sitcoms, as well as another of Tyler Labine’s failed television shows (at least he has Deadbeat now!), Sons of Tuscon was a generally enjoyable comedy about three brothers who hire a slacker to be their surrogate father while their real father serves a jail sentence. There’s no complicated plot or serialized narrative to focus on, just a somewhat funny show to listen to while doing other things.
The Finder (Fox, 13 episodes)
Who would’ve thought The Finder, a procedural about a man who is good at finding things, would only last one season?
Father of the Pride (NBC, 13 episodes)
Background shows don’t have to be good, OK? Sometimes the best ones are absolutely terrible, shows that you can only half-pay attention to because to fully engage in them would be damaging to your psyche. Enter Father of the Pride, the animated sitcom about two lions who work for Siegfried & Roy. It was purely “adult” (you know, innuendo about animals having sex) and predictably awful, not even finishing out its full season on TV.
Freaks and Geeks (Fox, 18 episodes)
Freaks and Geeks may be one of the best shows to ever exist, but it’s also one of the best background shows, because we’ve all watched every episode enough times that you no longer have to pay attention.