Who doesn’t love a story with a good twist? It’s always fun to be surprised by the twists and turns in a story. The great thing about TV shows that incorporate twists is that, rather than having the one big reveal at the end of the movie, there often many twists over the episodes. I have tried to vary the genres and types of twists in these recommendations, so there will hopefully be something to suit your tastes.
Air Date: 2004 – 2010
Country of Origin: US
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction, Mystery
Premise: After so many years as a cultural phenomenon Lost hardly needs an introduction. The series focused on the survivors of a plane crash as they attempt to survive on a mysterious island and find a way home. The question of what the island was commanded a lot of conversations during its six season run. However, it’s worth noting that while much about Lost’s plot and mysteries remain frequently referenced in the media, many of those references are not actually spoilers but often jokes about the popular but incorrect understandings of the show.
Why it works for this category: Lost is so full of twists throughout its 6 season run that I don’t know if there are really any episodes without a twist or two. From the moment the plane crash survivors land on the island they find themselves continually faced with more and more puzzling scenarios and events. There are many twists that are so bizarre and unique that you are bound to be surprised. The twists don’t just come from the mysterious island however, as there are just as many twists and revelations to be found in the regular flashbacks for each character. Each episode of Lost focuses on a particular character, who will have their flashbacks featured in that episode. In turn, each of these characters has a different tone and feel to their episodes, so that the type of twists you’ll find in a Sayid, Claire, Locke or Hurley episode will be very different. This should mean that there will be a character who can give you the types of twists and story you prefer, as most fans would tend to prefer particular character’s episodes. There are always some element of twists to be had with the characters, as most are not always truthful and there is much mystery and revelations surrounding lies, betrayal, and character’s identities. If you like being surprised by fantastical and science fiction plot twists, enjoy lots of character revelations, and don’t mind too much if not every mystery and question is answered, then you will likely enjoy Lost.
Note: If you like all the mysteries and questions in a story to be tied up and answered then you may find Lost frustrating. Many of the mysteries and questions do have concrete answers, but some are only vaguely answered, and some forgotten as the show moves on. I never overly minded this and Lost remains one of my all-time favourite shows, but I fully understand why it was frustrating for some.
The 100 (characters stranded, large ensemble cast, flashbacks with twists, groups of characters at war with one another)
Fringe (bizarre science fiction events, pseudo-science plotlines)
Wayward Pines (character trapped in mysterious location, lots of twists)
Air Date: 2006 – 2013
Country of Origin: US
Genre: Drama, Horror
Premise: Based off a series of novels, Dexter follows a blood splatter analyst as he tries to keep his secret life as a serial killer away from the suspicion of the police department he works for. Each season follows Dexter attempting to satiate his need to kill by following his father’s moral code of only taking out those who deserve to die. He does all of this while investigating murders, the perpetrators of which will often become his targets, and trying to remain unsuspected by both his colleagues and especially his sister.
Why it works for this category: Unlike most shows about serial killers, this show features a serial killer as its protagonist. This makes the twists a little different for Dexter compared to other crime shows. While we are never kept in the dark or given twists about Dexter’s life or actions, as he is an honest narrator, there are often surprises to be had in relation to the law enforcement characters. Twists also come in to play when it comes to Dexter keeping his night-time activities secret, as the show continually surprises and racks up the tension with who may or may not have suspicions about Dexter and how he is going to get away this time. The show also has ongoing mysteries surrounding the central villain of each season, as this is normally a killer that the police and Dexter are trying to track down. Unsurprisingly this often results in lots of twists, not just as to the identity of the killer, but their motivations, their actions and how Dexter will try to catch them. If you want twists which double the tension and often leave the main character in more danger, then Dexter would be a good pick for you.
Note: There is some gore, a lot of blood, and many images of murder, bodies and the disposal of bodies. However, if you have enjoyed The Walking Dead, Hannibal, or even CSI then you are unlikely to find it excessive. While I think the early seasons of Dexter are some of the best television I’ve watched, it can’t be denied that the show peaks at season 4. I still enjoyed season 5 and 6, and would still recommend watching those, but I would not blame anyone for stopping after season 6.
Hannibal (serial killer character, plots revolving around him trying not to get caught, gore)
Mr Robot (character trying not to get caught for illegal activities, from the point of view of an anti-social protagonist who narrates the show, violence)
Prison Break (tension around criminals trying to escape and evade authorities, violence, amoral surrounding characters)
How to Get Away with Murder
Air Date: 2014 – Present
Country of Origin: US
Genre: Crime, Drama
Premise: How to Get Away with Murder is about essentially exactly that, characters trying to get away with murder. Each episode characters are pulled in deeper by their actions and must try to find a way out. The show also focuses on Annalise Keating, a brilliant though morally flawed criminal defence lawyer, and the lengths she will go to in order to win.
Why it works for this category: How to Get Away with Murder is pretty much built on twists, which are both what the show excels at and the reason for its existence. The show begins with a murder then flashes back in time, leaving you wondering who was killed, who killed them and why. From then on the show takes great pleasure in trying to surprise you at every turn, and almost makes a game out of trying to make each twist more shocking than the last. There are continual flashes into the future to reveal shocking events and leave us guessing as to how they will possibly come about. The present and past are also filled up with twists, ranging from characters crazy histories, who is betraying who, who killed characters, lies that have been told, and so on. How to Get Away with Murder is so structured around twists that there is no element of the show they aren’t willing to try to surprise you with. The case of the week that Keating’s law students are studying often also has a twist involved. If you are looking for the feeling of non-stop surprise and want to be constantly guessing what the reveals will be then this show will be for you. This is particularly the case if you don’t mind a show going to more insane lengths to try to continually surprise you.
Breaking Bad (characters trying to avoid being caught for illegal activities, characters going to more and more extreme lengths to avoid the law)
Fargo (characters going to more and more extreme lengths to avoid the law)
Mr Robot (characters trying to avoid being caught for illegal activities)
Jane the Virgin
Air Date: 2014 – Present
Network: The CW
Country of Origin: US
Genre: Drama, Romance, Comedy
Premise: Jane the Virgin has a premise that sounds utterly ridiculous but the show manages to make it work, mainly through its combination of telenovela tropes and comedy. Jane, convinced by her grandmother that virginity makes a woman pure, is waiting until marriage to have sex with her fiancé. A medical mistake tarnishes her plans when she is accidentally artificially inseminated while at the doctors. Jane must then deal with her newfound status as a pregnant virgin.
Why it works for this category: Jane the Virgin parodies and incorporates the telenovela style, which of course means lots of crazy twists. The show then pushes these twists to extreme ridiculousness, and acknowledges this through the narrator, for comedic effect. The twists and revelations in this show are tremendous fun, though they are not the point or the main focus of the plot, which centres more on Jane’s character arc and her romantic plotlines. Nevertheless there is a lot of fun to be had with the subplot of a mysterious and notorious drug lord being investigated by Jane’s detective fiancé. There are many exciting and insane twists to be had in this plotline as we wonder as to the identity of the drug lord and what their plans are. The twists don’t only come from this plotline however as, in telenovela style, we are treated to revelations of long-lost family, affairs, betrayals, mysterious pasts, hidden secrets, and so on. This makes Jane the Virgin a brilliantly funny and entertaining show that takes great pride in making each big twist more ridiculous than the last. If you would like to have fun with your twists and not take things too seriously, then this is a very good pick.
Pushing Daises (romance plot, narrator used for comic effect, similar light-hearted and fun tone, murder mystery twists)
You’re Beautiful (over-the top romance plot used for comedy, love triangle)
Arrested Development (narrator used for comic effect, exaggerated events and characters)
Person of Interest
Air Date: 2011 – 2016
Country of Origin: US
Genre: Action, Drama, Procedural, Science Fiction
Premise: Person of Interest is a show I started watching back when it first aired simply because I missed Lost and Michael Emerson was in it. Plus with Jonathan Nolan involved I figured it could be a fun procedural. What I never would have expected is that it would grow to be one of my favourite science fiction shows of all time, or just how sci-fi it would become. The show begins with a presumed dead ex-CIA agent being recruited by a mysterious rich software genius to stop violent crimes before they happen. What the show turns into is a tightly paced thriller exploring the nature of artificial intelligence, morality, and humanity. While the first season’s case of the week procedural is fun and action packed, the show becomes something really special once it moves beyond that.
Why it works for this category: Person of Interest deals a lot in secrets and conspiracies, both within the main team and the outside world. Mysteries surround the main characters, with revelations often happening through the frequent flashbacks. There are many twists to be had in both the overall story arcs but also in the case of the week stories. In the case of the week stories the team is simply given a number which leads them to a person who will either be the victim or perpetrator of a violent crime, leaving lots of mystery, twists and suspense as the team and audience try to work out which they are. The team also comes up against many mysterious foes, whose identities, motivations, plans and even location can be surprising. While the case of the week twists will happen within the episode they are introduced, many mysteries or twists will take many episodes or even seasons to fully unfold, giving you plenty of surprises along the way while allowing for some theorising before the big revelations. If you like a more complicated plot with twists of a large conspiratorial level as well as more intimate personal revelations, then this show will likely fit your needs.
Mr Robot (computer hacking features prominently, conspiracies, powerful networks behind events)
Fringe (team dedicated to helping humanity in secret)
Rubicon (conspiracy, secret networks behind events)
Air Date: 2015 – Present
Country of Origin: US
Premise: Unreal takes place behind the scenes of a reality dating show much like The Bachelor. This show is an incredibly dark, though engaging, look at the depths the crew will sink to in order to get the show they want. Manipulating, exploiting contestants, and covering up illegalities.
Why it works for this category: The twists in Unreal are universally dark and grim. Part of the enjoyment of Unreal is wondering how much darker the show can possibly go, and then having it shock you as the characters sink even deeper. This is a show that is rooted in reality, and while the actions of the characters may be extreme, it always feels believable. This helps make the show as surprising and shocking as it is. These characters aren’t unrealistically pure evil and we certainly understand the motivations behind each manipulation and scheme. There is a great deal of entertainment to be had in watching the characters manipulate, scheme, back-stab and lie to create their hit TV show. Part of this entertainment is watching the characters unravel as they give up more and more of their morals, but a lot of the entertainment comes from the twists and turns the plot takes. The show is packed with characters that are out for themselves and trying to come out on top, leading to constant power struggles and shifts. In this way the characters are often as shocked as us, leading to more surprises as they must improvise and desperately plan to regain their standing and dignity. If you don’t mind a darker plot and want twists around what the characters are scheming, what characters will do next and what the repercussions will be then this show will be perfect for you.
Note: This show deals with themes of mental illness, abuse, and grief. The tone is not light and, while it is entertaining, there is very little comic relief.
30 Rock (Behind the scenes of a popular TV show, fictional TV show resembling a real TV show)
How to Get Away with Murder (characters with damaged or limited morality, characters doing terrible things for their own gain, manipulative character corrupting others)
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (character going to great and amoral lengths to get what they want, manipulative characters, tonally very different – this is a comedy)
Air Date: 2007 – 2010
Country of Origin: US
Genre: Science Fiction, Drama, Action, Mystery
Premise: A secret high tech facility wipes the memories of “actives”, men and women they then fill with new personalities requested by rich customers in order to fulfil various needs and wants. The show follows a select group of actives, their handlers and the characters in charge of the facility as they deal with worrying developments in the actives and what this means for the future. The show also follows a detective determined to untangle the conspiracies and find the secretive facility.
Why it works for this category: There are many mystery aspects to this show, as we begin not knowing much about the Dollhouse, the people who run it, or who the actives once were. There are further mysteries that develop as the show moves along. I found one of the most enjoyable aspects of this show to be how often it left me shocked and how little I was able to guess about what would be revealed next. The twists and revelations never feel forced or pandering however, as it makes sense that there would be that much secrecy and deception surrounding the Dollhouse and its morally questionable activities. You’ll find yourself trying to guess the answers to the shows mysteries only to be thrown by an unexpected twist out of the blue. I can’t count the number of times my jaw dropped in shock throughout my marathon of Dollhouse. Many of these twists add a further layer of darkness, edge, or depth to the show. Meaning these twists often get you to look at what has come before in a different light, rather than simply being there for the surprise. If you want twists to catch you off guard at every turn, and like them to have a darker science fiction edge, then this show will suit you.
Note: It takes a few episodes for the show to get ready good as it is initially more typically procedural. It is also worth noting that it gets progressively darker as it goes along, which may not be to your tastes if you like things to be light-hearted and happy throughout.
Person of Interest (conspiracies, powerful networks behind events, exploring consciousness and what makes us human)
Humans (conspiracies, powerful networks behind events, exploring consciousness and what makes us human)
The Expanse (conspiracies, powerful networks behind events, missing person investigation)
Air Date: 2012 – Present
Network: The CW
Country of Origin: US
Genre: Superhero, Action, Drama
Premise: Based on the character from DC comics, Arrow follows Oliver Queen after he is rescued from being stranded on an island for 5 years. Newly filled with a desire to save his city from the untouchable criminals that have been destroying it and ruining the lives of its citizens, Oliver becomes The Hood, a vigilante armed with a bow and arrow. Arrow later begins to crossover with DC shows set in the same universe, such as The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow.
Why it works for this category: There are many ongoing mysteries on Arrow which unfold slowly over several seasons. However, I think the real fun of this show is the smaller twists that it peppers throughout. When I began Arrow I was pleasantly surprised by how often it genuinely took me off guard and shocked me. Though there are many mysteries I correctly guessed the answers to, there were many more surprises that I never saw coming. The show does a good job of dolling these surprises out in unexpected places, rather than just saving a twist for a season finale. The twists in this show are also fun in the way the range in type, from revelations about backstories, identities, secret-identities of superheroes/villains, secrets being kept, betrayals, evil plans, who is behind events, and so on. There are also nice surprises and references for comic fans, though most of these go over my head as I am less knowledgeable about DC. If you like superhero stories and are looking for a story with twists, then you will love this.
Note: I found the show to be quite slow to begin with, but it really picks up midway through season one and I became hooked shortly after. It is well worth watching the other DC TV shows, not only because they interconnect and crossover, but also because they are each fun in their own right and also feature similar twists and turns in the story.
Marvel’s Daredevil (superhero without superpowers who is a well-trained fighter)
Powers (superhero world, focus on investigations into superheroes, main character without superpowers)
DC TV Universe (The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Constantine) (set in same universe, frequent crossovers)