In Honor of The Leftovers: What Are TV's Most Depressing Shows?

By Kaitlin Thomas and Tim Surette

Jun 27, 2014

With the premiere of HBO's The Leftovers this Sunday, television gets an acclaimed series that might also make you want to kill yourself. But it's not alone in being a show that might leave you shivering in the corner of a dimly lit room while contemplating your existence. 

Below you'll find five shows that we find to be incredibly depressing (and to be fair, incredibly good except for maybe one) in some capacity. Take a look, bring some Kleenex, and then hit us up with some shows you find depressing in the comments section below. 

The Killing

Depression diagnosis: Sad and empty with nothing left to live for

The series is called The Killing! That right there should have been enough of a clue that this series was going to be hella depressing. The search for Rosie Larsen's murderer in Season 1 and Season 2 wasn't really about Rosie Larsen, but about the people she left behind, because death happens to you, but also the people around you. Watching the Larsen family's heartbreak as they struggled in the aftermath of her death was depressing to the point we wondered if we'd ever be happy again. Linden was permanently unhappy, the show was bleak and darkly lit, and to make matters worse, it was set in Seattle where it did nothing but rain on Linden and Holder, as if God himself was weeping about how sad this show was. This is hands down one of the most depressing shows to date. – Kaitlin


Depression diagnosis: Helplessness in a world that doesn't want you

I'm addicted to the tears the spill out of me at some point during each episode of Rectify, whether they be from the SundanceTV show's beautiful sense of wonder or from the crippling feeling of injustice and helplessness. But since we're here to talk depression, I'll focus on the latter. Daniel Holden's late release from prison after a crime he (maybe) didn't commit opens up frustrating dialogue about our flawed justice system, but the real pain comes from watching Daniel's personal experience from losing so much of his life and trying, mostly in vain, to find himself in an ugly world that wants him put on trial and hung up all over again. And with a cast of supporting characters who act as surrogates for us—Amantha's efforts to make her brother feel better, Tawney's weeping over Daniel's unfair treatment—there's always a token of how awful things are for Daniel. His real-time struggle can be empowering to watch, but his existence in the free world is always there to beat him down, sometimes literally. There's a splendid mix of emotions in Rectify, and overwhelming sadness it definitely one of them. Sometimes it all just... *sniff* a bit too much to handle. Aww geez, here I go again. – Tim 

Friday Night Lights

Depression diagnosis: Overwhelming sadness, but hopeful it'll get better

I know you're looking at the inclusion of Friday Night Lights on this list and thinking I must have had one too many down at the Landing Strip, and but hear me out. Friday Night Lights was an inspiring, uplifting, and heartwarming series about the power of community, football, and positive thinking. It reminded viewers of life's greatest and most simple pleasures while also reminding us that it's okay to weep openly in public when Tim Riggins says "Texas forever," or when someone uses the phrase "clear eyes, full hearts" in every day speech. 

But it also tackled several depressing storylines like Jason Street's accident—which happened in the pilot—and his subsequent struggles to rejoin a society who came to look at him with pity as if football was all he was ever good for. Or Matt Saracen, whose mother abandoned him at a young age and who struggled to care for his ailing grandmother after his father chose to return to war because he couldn't deal with the responsibilities of being a father and a son. And don't even get me started on Vince Howard's life prior to finding Coach Taylor and the East Dillon Lions. FNL was no stranger to the harsh, depressing realities of American life, it was just clever enough to also showcase how we can overcome the hurdles placed in our paths and how it's our troubles that give us character and force us to be better people. – Kaitlin

Six Feet Under

Depression diagnosis: Creeping sense of death

Well for starters, Six Feet Under began each episode with SOMEONE DYING. Yeah, maybe we didn't know the person too well, but to watch a life snuffed out before the credits even rolled was a constant reminder that we're all here just marking seconds before we are food for worms and/or radioactive cannibals. But the storylines were even more brutal. The Fisher family had more than your usual share of troubles: Papa Fisher's ghost hovered around the kitchen while the family struggled for idendity, Nate's girlfriend walked into the ocean to a watery death, David was abducted, tortured, and wore the scars for the rest of the season, Nate got brain cancer and died, Brenda's brother Billy was bipolar and had episodes that dragged Brenda along, and Brenda spiraled out of control like she was the entire cast of Diff'rent Strokes. Oh yeah, and that title (which is shared by a death metal band). Yes, one of the best dramas ever also had its share of uplifting moments, but most of the time it was like this show was trying to tell us we're basically already dead. Thanks, show! – Tim

The Wire

Depression diagnosis: Life's a b*tch and then you die

It might be one of the greatest and most powerful television dramas of all time, but The Wire was also one of the more depressing shows we've ever watched. The series tackled crime and corruption throughout the city of Baltimore, opening our eyes to all areas of life, and do you know what we found? Everyone was f*cking miserable. Maybe it's because they lived in Baltimore, but something tells us that's not the (only) reason the men and women of The Wire were so unhappy. It didn't matter what side you were on, whether you identified with the gang leaders, drug dealers, and murderers, or the men and women working to rid the city of these threats, because even the good guys were struggling with their issues. Nothing ever came easy, not in work and not in their personal lives. We can bestow all the accolades on it that we want, just as long as "most depressing" also makes the list. – Kaitlin

Not sad enough yet? Try this story from the vault – TV Tearjerkers: Episode That Make Us Cry or Those Moments in Television That Made You Cry

What television shows do you find to be the most depressing?

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  • anna108 Aug 30, 2014

    Leftovers is a very depressing tv show. Confuse and lost mixing up ideas that remenber Lost-
    I could not stand True Dectetives.
    The reality shows are embarrassing and some bring up ideas to put the mankind down .

  • ale00928 Aug 19, 2014

    For the first: SIX FEET UNDER was not depressing! On the contrary, it was a positive show about exerting the inevitable end: death. One of the best shows on TV, Michael C. Hall before Dexter. Great stories, amazing acting.
    Second: one of the most depressing shows on TV is Under The Dome. Period.

  • averysays Jul 23, 2014

    'Dark' and 'Depressing' are not interchangable terms.

  • LOST-TWD-PP-GOT Jul 12, 2014

    The most depressing of my current series:

    The Walking Dead
    Les Revenants
    True Detective
    The Leftovers
    The Americans
    I have a feeling The Lottery is going to make this list.

    The most depressing of my old series:

    Battlestar Galactica

  • CecileWijdene Jul 01, 2014

    Low Winter Sun!

  • Lefin Jul 01, 2014

    The moment I saw the title of this post, I knew Rectify would be on the list, so I just HAD to come and voice my objection.

    Rectify is a very serious and sometimes heavy show, but "depressing" doesn't feel like an accurate description. It is a show that celebrates the beauty and fragility of life, often simultaneously. The two most recent episodes both caused me to laugh and cry almost simultaneously in their ending scenes. To me, that is a mark of a masterfully produced show that goes far beyond just "depressing".

  • averysays Jul 23, 2014

    I agree 100%. I wasn't surprised that they put it on the list, but "depressing" isn't the right characterization of this show. It is richly emotional and reflective.

  • averysays Jul 23, 2014

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  • izzis2001 Jun 30, 2014

    The Fall

  • Geek_Queen Jun 30, 2014

    For me, the most depressing show award goes to Wallander, an UK series starring Kenneth Branagh. I really tried to like the show but every time I watched an episode, I felt bored and depressed. The characters were bleak, acting as if they'd rather be somewhere else, as well. Heck, even Wallander's ringtone annoyed the crud out of me! I, eventually, gave up on the series. Ugh, even thinking about the series, now, is making me depressed. o_O

  • ludoTV Jul 09, 2014

    I agree although I'd say the British Wallander series was more boring than depressing. I had to make a huge effort to finish it.

  • computerfix3r Jul 11, 2014

    Incredibly boring but then again, most of the actual British shows are to my American sense of tv viewing.
    PS. The one show that I haven't seen listed anywhere on here was Millennium. Even the opening music was a downer effect on you, like all hope is gone.

  • ludoTV Jul 11, 2014

    I can't say that I now watch a lot of British shows but I did enjoy Misfits enormously (very wacky and very funny), Sherlock of course, Being Human (the british one was good for 2 or 3 seasons). On TV re-runs years ago I caught some fun things like Blackadder, The Young Ones, 'Allo 'Allo, and Some Mother Do 'Ave 'Em

  • Geek_Queen Jul 10, 2014

    You're right, it was an incredibly boring show. I think that helped make the series more depressing, to me. Being bored out of my gourd, then seeing the extremely dreary life Wallander led... well, it didn't make for happy TV viewing.

  • JohanJrvine Jun 30, 2014

    Here Come Honey Boo Boo?

  • somner1 Jun 30, 2014

    The Walking Dead just gets more and more depressing. Don't get me wrong, great writing....but just no hope for anyone in that show. They just get more and more deranged and more desperate.

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