For the last few weeks, Westworld has been putting our brains through an obstacle course. Is it good? Yes, definitely. Do we always understand what’s going on? Not at all. Well, if Westworld is an obstacle course, consider any of these the American Ninja Warrior finals. This is a collection of the best mindfuck TV shows we’ve ever seen. After you enjoy them, you’ll need to veg on some Beavis & Butt-Head reruns. Prepare to have your brain turned to goo.
We’ve watched two full seasons of The Leftovers and still have no fucking clue what’s going on. A chain smoking cult. A ton of missing people. Barking dogs galore. Everything is so damn weird. But this weirdness features incredible writing from Tom Perrotta (the author of the book The Leftovers) and Damon Lindelof, stellar performances from Justin Theroux and company, and a certain je ne sais quoi that keeps us tuning back in. Part of the beauty is how the show poses questions that, at least through two seasons, it refuses to answer. Maybe one day we’ll figure out what happened to all the people that went missing in minute one. Or maybe we won’t. Somehow we’re kinda okay with the latter.
Black Mirror has been described as a modern-day Twilight Zone. It’s not. The Twilight Zone, for all its inherent weirdness, cannot touch the brain-scrambling insanity that is Black Mirror. The shows are the same in that their bizarreness is derived from a preposterous idea proposed in every episode, but Black Mirror gets far more explicit than everyone’s favorite New Year’s Eve binge. Just take the first episode, for example, where the Prime Minister of England must have sex with a pig to save a member of the royal family. Yeah. And it only gets weirder, folks.
The first time we tried to watch Sense8, we gave up after 20 minutes. It’s that confusing. Upon revisiting it, however, it’s clear we gave up too soon. It’s really good, albeit a total mindfuck. The show follows eight “sensates,” people who are somehow mentally connected, as they try to figure out what the hell is going on in regards to their abilities and why a character named “Whispers” wants them eliminated. Juggling eight unique characters is enough to get the show off to a rocky start, but once you get a few episodes in to the Netflix original, you’ll slowly uncover its brilliance. Created in part by the Wachowskis of The Matrix fame, the show gets far more confusing than Neo’s quest.
For a few seasons, Lost was a beautiful, strange brainteaser. Who are The Others? Where did these polar bears come from? Is Walt a superhero? Slowly, however, it appeared to be a brainteaser that even the creators couldn’t solve. Still, for a while, Lost was the best thing on TV—and it was gloriously confusing. After a mysterious plane crash on a somewhat deserted island, a group of survivors try to make sense of where they are and how they can get home—if they can get home. From the mysterious DHARMA Initiative to weird-ass flashbacks, the show delightfully messed with your head and supplied tasty enough cliffhangers to keep you coming back for more insanity.
Listen, anything David Lynch touches is a complete mindfuck, so it should come as no surprise that his popular ’80s TV drama makes this list. The basic premise of Twin Peaks is dark and unsettling, as an FBI agent is sent to a small town to uncover the person responsible for the rape and murder of a high schooler. As the show unfurls, it only gets weirder and weirder. It defies classification, as supernatural elements come into play and mix with the campy vibe of the show. It’s kind of a horror, kind of a soap opera, and kind of a thing all its own.
It doesn’t matter whether your introduction to the series was the comics or AMC’s recent first season, Preacher doesn’t really care whether you get it or not, as long as you’re having fun. For the first season, there was an intense focus placed on the town of Annville, Texas, and its inhabitants and while only one of them was possessed by an otherworldly entity, everyone was insane. We’ll avoid spoilers, but a few examples are, an intercom system that plays the screams of dying cows, a prostitute vs. their Johns paintball game, a chaotic gunfight with respawning combatants, and a guy carving his own heart out of his chest in an attempt to connect with his mother. With this show, entertainment’s the guarantee, not comprehension.
Well, well, well, another J. J. Abrams show made the list. As most surely know, Mr. The Force Awakens likes to dabble in the confusing. There exists no finer example than Fringe, Abrams’ sci-fi series that ran for about 5 years, despite being ignored by the general population. That’s a shame, because Fringe, when it’s at its best, is really, really good. The show is about a special unit of the FBI that uses fringe science to investigate bizarre incidents. It features a quirky doctor/mad scientist (John Noble) leading a team of uber-smart detectives as they tackle everything from alternate universes to shapeshifting humans. You get the sense that this is Abrams in his element, and like many things he’s done, it can sometimes go off the rails, but when it stays on those rails, it’s damn good.