How and Why Dystopian TV Shows Have Become Massive Hits Stateside

We watch television to escape; at least, that’s the perceived wisdom when it comes to our viewing habits. Therefore much of what we view is generally light and pleasant, designed to make us feel good about ourselves, as well as, of course, entertain us.

TV has been going through an ongoing renaissance for the best part of two decades and now trumps film in terms of its financial success, and the amount of content we consume is rapidly increasing.

There are now a million ways to watch, and our shows are shown on a multitude of platforms, and new streaming services come along almost on a weekly basis.

However, it appears that quite a lot of what we quite like watching centers around an alternate reality, with dystopian-based shows proving very popular. Critics and sociologists might deem our interest in darker material, and this spreads all the way to true crime and fictional representations of real serial killers, to be something of a knee-jerk reaction to today’s society.

Perhaps the consumption of such disturbing viewing makes us feel good about the fact that we haven’t, as yet, quite reached the heights of depravity, and therefore our viewing is something of a cautionary exercise.

Above all else, the additional reason why a few of these shows really hit home is that they are extraordinarily well made and are, therefore, more than just a glance at what could be; they are also quality televisual experiences.

What is Dystopia?

In simple terms, dystopia refers to a version of society that is imagined and usually revolves around a series of events, or incidents, that have created an alternate reality that may well be occurring in a location that is real. In other words, this makes it less like science fiction, in so much as the action that takes place doesn’t occur in some fantasy-based town or city.

Examples of Recent Great Dystopian TV Shows

The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood’s book was released in the 1980s and was made into a film, but it’s in its more recent incarnation, as a TV series with Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men) as its lead character, where it’s proven most popular in terms of adaptations of the excellent novel.

It depicts a dystopian view of the US where women lose all their civil rights, and given the recent events of the last few years, it’s the kind of show that we perhaps very much needed as an exercise in holding a mirror up to where we may be heading.

It has run for five seasons and has proven to be a smash hit with viewers and critics, earning rave reviews and bucketloads of awards.

Black Mirror

This show, created by English writer Charlie Brooker, has been hugely successful for a number of years, and pretty much every episode revolves around some form of dystopian reality.

Often the episodes, which are self-contained and not connected, will be based in the present day but will involve some form of twist or format that is usually based on a level of unease and the level of creativity with which the writers of the shows have reached is quite extraordinary.

Bandersnatch involved giving viewers an interactive option which meant they could make key decisions that would form the plot, and it’s a triumph.

Another episode centered on the premise that the British prime minister is forced to have sex with a pig in order to prevent a royal family member from being assassinated. The black comedy laced within the often futuristic appeal of the shows is what constantly leads to water cooler talk.


This Apple Plus show, which has aired just a debut season thus far, was an absolutely mind blowing experience. Here we see Adam Scott putting in a performance unlike any other that the comedic actor would usually be associated with.

Here he plays a lead character who joins a company that allows workers to lead separate lives. In other words, for the duration an employee is doing their work, they are unaware of what they do and who they are outside the confines of the workspace, and vice-versa.

It’s an at-time eerie TV show which plays well with sound effects and production design to give the office world element of the show a certain real but unreal ambiance.

It also features acting legends like John Turturro and Christopher Walken, and just when you think you’ve got the program worked out, another spanner is thrown into the works. What’s great about this form of dystopian show is that it leaves us questioning our own work/life balances.

The Man In The High Castle

Some dystopian realities like to reimagine history, and The Man In the High Castle does this particularly well. Here the premise is based on the idea that Germany and the axis powers, such as Japan, won World War II and how that would shape the world and set us on a new historical course.

It ran for four seasons and had a big cult following, and the show was praised for its stylistic qualities and proved, at the time, to be the biggest hit that Amazon productions had made with its original programming.

What these shows say about American society today

There’s no denying that dystopian TV shows are having a moment right now. From “The Handmaid’s Tale” to “Black Mirror” to “Westworld,” it seems like every other show on television is set in a bleak, dark future where humanity is struggling to survive.

And while some might see this as a reflection of the current state of the world, others believe that these shows are simply reflecting the anxieties and fears of American society today.

After all, with the country currently divided on so many issues – from politics to gun control to climate change – it’s no wonder that people are drawn to stories that explore what could happen if things go terribly wrong.

What’s more, these shows also offer a sense of hope; even in the darkest of futures, there are always those who fight back and refuse to give up. In a way, they’re a reminder that no matter how bad things might get, there’s always a reason to hope for a better tomorrow.


It’s no secret that dystopian TV shows are massive hits stateside. But why? And how did they become so popular? There are a number of reasons, but one of the most important is that they offer a unique form of escapism. In a world that is increasingly chaotic and unpredictable, these shows provide viewers with a way to escape the real world and explore what life could be like in an alternate reality. They also give us a chance to see how we would react in different situations and whether or not we would be able to survive in a dystopian world.