History is not just a sequence of events; it’s a canvas of infinite possibilities. And in the realm of alternate history TV shows, that canvas transforms into a mesmerizing tapestry of what ifs and could have beens.
Forget typical, predictable storylines; these series are the unruly offspring of imagination and history, taking liberties with the past that will leave you both bewildered and thoroughly entertained.
From iconic figures making unexpected u-turns to world-altering events that never were, these shows have mastered the art of bending time and rewriting destinies.
So, if you’ve ever wondered what would happen if history took a detour, this hand-picked selection will surely tickle your brain cells and leave you contemplating the infinite possibilities of the multiverse.
These narratives not only entertain us but also challenge our perceptions of the past, present, and future. They remind us that history is not set in stone but rather a tapestry of infinite threads waiting for us to weave them into new narratives.
The Man in the High Castle, Amazon Prime Video (2015 – 2019)
This is a gripping alternative history TV series set in a hauntingly dystopian 1962 America based on the novel by Phillip K. Dick.
In this reality, the Axis powers emerged victorious in World War II, resulting in the United States division. The East is under tyrannical Nazi rule, while the West is controlled by the powerful Japanese Empire.
Amidst this oppressive landscape, a mysterious underground film known as The Grasshopper Lies Heavy begins to circulate, showing an alternate reality where the Allies triumphed in the war, giving hope to the downtrodden populace.
The narrative follows the journeys of Juliana Crain, a young woman in San Francisco, and Joe Blake, a double agent, whose paths intertwine as they get drawn into a dangerous quest to uncover the origins of the film.
The show’s allure lies in its powerful exploration of alternate history, as it daringly imagines a world where the forces of evil emerged victorious, prompting viewers to contemplate the fragility of history and the profound impact of choices made in the past.
For All Mankind, Apple TV+ (2019 – present)
Imagine a world where the Soviet Union beats the United States in the space race and becomes the first to land a man on the moon in 1969.
The story follows NASA’s efforts to catch up and overtake the Soviets, leading to a prolonged space race with major political, technological, and personal implications.
The show focuses on how the characters grapple with the intense competition, how tensions rise, alliances shift, and personal sacrifices are made as the space program progresses.
With a captivating blend of real historical events and imaginative alternate history, For All Mankind provides a thought-provoking and gripping narrative that examines how the pursuit of space exploration shapes the course of human history and challenges our understanding of what could have been.
The Plot Against America, HBO (2020)
Get set into a riveting alternative history where aviator and isolationist Charles Lindbergh becomes the surprise Republican nominee for president, defeating Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 election.
Based on the novel by Phillip Roth, we follow the lives of the Levin family, who must navigate the tricky waters of the Lindbergh Presidency and its pro-Nazi views.
The family faces increasing threats as anti-Jewish sentiment escalates, forcing them to confront difficult decisions and question their place in this changing America.
As the plot unfolds, viewers are compelled to contemplate the delicate balance of democracy, the consequences of political choices, and the resilience of the human spirit.
In its exploration of an alternative path for history, The Plot Against America serves as a thought-provoking reminder of the importance of safeguarding democratic principles and the potential ramifications of prejudice and intolerance in shaping the course of a nation’s history.
SS-GB, BBC One (2017)
Based on the novel by Len Deighton, we enter a chilling scenario set in an alternate 1941 London where the Germans successfully invaded and occupied Britain during World War II.
The plot focuses on Detective Superintendent Douglas Archer, a Scotland Yard detective forced to work under the SS regime.
Amidst the oppressive Nazi occupation, Archer is tasked with solving a high-profile murder case, which drags him into a treacherous web of espionage, resistance movements, and conflicting loyalties.
The series compellingly portrays the struggles faced by ordinary citizens under an oppressive regime and delves into themes of collaboration, resistance, and moral ambiguity.
SS-GB offers a gripping alternate history scenario, exploring what could have been if the Nazi forces had conquered Britain.
Hunters, Amazon Prime Video (2020 – 2023)
Blending history, action, and conspiracy in a gripping alternate-history narrative, Hunters is set in 1977 in New York City, where we follow a diverse group of Nazi hunters determined to track down and bring justice to high-ranking Nazi officials hiding in America.
Led by the enigmatic Meyer Offerman, the hunters uncover a shocking network of ex-Nazis planning to create a Fourth Reich on American soil.
As they pursue their deadly prey, the team faces not only the challenges of combating evil but also wrestling with their own haunting pasts and personal demons.
At its core, Hunters is a gripping reflection on the aftermath of war and how people seek justice, even when it seems impossible. And it’s a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit and the need to stand up against evil.
1983, Netflix (2018)
1983 is a captivating TV series that plunges us into a gripping alternate history set in Poland.
In this thrilling narrative, things take a bold twist by imagining what would have happened if the Iron Curtain had never fallen.
The story unfolds in a dystopian 2003, where Poland is under the repressive rule of a totalitarian government.
We follow the journey of a young law student named Kajetan Skowron, who stumbles upon a shocking discovery while investigating a suicide case.
His findings lead him to question the official narrative of a tragic event in 1983 that had far-reaching consequences for the country.
As Kajetan delves deeper into the mystery, he partners with a veteran journalist, Anatol Janów, to uncover a conspiracy that shakes the foundation of their society.
Together, they unravel a web of lies, deceit, and political intrigue that stretches back two decades.
Hollywood, Netflix (2020)
Moving away from the what-ifs of war, we head into Hollywood for a thrilling journey through an alternative history of the golden age of Tinseltown.
Set in post-World War II Los Angeles, the show offers a glimpse of what could have been if the movie industry had been more inclusive and progressive from the start.
Aspiring actors and filmmakers from diverse backgrounds navigate a Hollywood where racial and gender barriers are shattered, giving rise to new opportunities and creative possibilities.
The series follows a group of determined individuals as they pursue their dreams in the cutthroat world of showbiz.
The series blends fictional characters with real historical figures, like Rock Hudson and Hattie McDaniel, showing us the behind-the-scenes struggles and triumphs of those seeking success in an industry once dominated by exclusionary practices.
Years and Years, BBC One (2019)
Set in the near future, Years and Years follows the Lyons family as they navigate a rapidly evolving world filled with political upheaval, technological advancements, and global crises.
The narrative is punctuated by real-world events and fictional developments, blending the present with the speculative future.
As the years pass, the family members face personal and collective challenges, including political extremism, technological surveillance, the immigration crisis, and the rise of populist leaders.
Through its compelling characters and innovative storytelling, the show invites viewers to reflect on the uncertainties of the future and how current decisions can shape the trajectory of our world.
It serves as a cautionary tale about the potential consequences of the choices we make today and a reminder of the importance of empathy, resilience, and unity in the face of an uncertain future.
Though the show does not depict an alternate history as such, it does make a point of showing how our choices can result in a future that is very divergent from the one we think we are headed for.
Fringe, FOX (2008 – 2013)
Combining elements of science fiction, mystery, and a classic procedural drama, Fringe follows an elite team of investigators as they delve into mysterious and bizarre occurrences, often involving fringe science and otherworldly phenomena.
Led by the brilliant but unconventional FBI agent Olivia Dunham, the team includes the eccentric and enigmatic scientist Walter Bishop and his equally capable son, Peter Bishop.
The narrative unfolds through a series of episodic investigations, tackling seemingly impossible cases that challenge the boundaries of science and reality.
From parallel universes and shape-shifters to mind-bending time travel – where we encounter an alternate version of history, the show ventures into the unknown, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats with each new twist.
Crossbones, NBC (2014)
Set in the early 1700s, Crossbones is focused on the legendary pirate Blackbeard.
In this alternate history, the show presents a different version of events where Blackbeard is alive and active late in life, even though historically, Blackbeard was killed in 1718.
The show imagines a world where Blackbeard is still a feared and respected figure, operating from the island of New Providence in the Bahamas.
It delves into the complex and perilous world of piracy during the Golden Age of Piracy, featuring fictional characters and scenarios interwoven with historical elements.
As he continues his reign of terror on the high seas, the British authorities are determined to bring him to justice. However, their efforts are complicated by the involvement of a secret society called The Invisible Hand, which seeks to manipulate the course of history for its own mysterious ends.
Counterpart, Starz (2017 – 2018)
This captivating TV show seamlessly blends espionage, sci-fi, and alternate history into a thrilling narrative.
The show centers on Howard Silk, a low-level employee at a bureaucratic agency in Berlin. However, Howard soon discovers that his agency is hiding a remarkable secret – a portal to a parallel universe.
As Howard navigates this parallel world, he encounters his doppelgänger, who is a high-ranking spy on the other side.
The discovery of the parallel universe sets off a chain of events that leads to political intrigue, espionage, and a race to uncover the truth behind the existence of these two realities.
In this intricately woven world of duality, Counterpart is a must-watch for fans of alternate history and those intrigued by the intersection of science fiction and espionage.
Timeless, NBC (2016 – 2018)
Venture into a world of time travel, history, and alternate timelines, and this show follows a team of time travelers as they race through different historical periods to stop a mysterious organization from altering key events and reshaping the course of history.
As the team jumps through different time periods, they encounter historical figures, witness iconic events, and confront moral dilemmas about interfering with the past.
Each mission not only poses life-threatening challenges but also forces them to question their beliefs and relationships with each other.
Timeless skillfully blends thrilling action sequences with insightful portrayals of history, offering an educational and entertaining experience for viewers.
The show’s attention to historical accuracy and the consequences of altering past events adds depth to its engaging narrative.
The Umbrella Academy, Netflix (2019 – present)
Based on the comic book series created by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, The Umbrella Academy follows a dysfunctional family of adopted siblings, all born on the same day almost instantaneously to mothers who were never pregnant, and each possessing unique superpowers.
The story begins when the surviving members of the Umbrella Academy reunite following their adoptive father’s death.
Sir Reginald Hargreeves, an eccentric billionaire, trained them to become a superhero team during their childhood. However, they disbanded as adults due to their tumultuous relationships and traumatic past.
As the estranged siblings come together, they uncover a series of family secrets, mysteries, and impending global catastrophes.
A time-traveling plotline adds further complexity as they try to prevent an impending apocalypse.
As the characters venture into the past and the future, they encounter alternate versions of themselves and face difficult choices about altering events in their personal lives and the world at large.
The show explores the concept of time as a nonlinear entity, where the past, present, and future intertwine in unexpected ways. The characters’ actions in the past have ripple effects on the present and the future, creating a web of interconnected events.
Noughts + Crosses, BBC One (2020)
Heading in a much more thought-provoking direction, we take a look at Noughts + Crosses, presenting an alternate history where racial roles are reversed.
Based on the novel by Malorie Blackman, the show is set in an imaginary society where Africans, aka Crosses, have historically enslaved the Europeans, aka Noughts.
The story revolves around Sephy Hadley, a Cross, and Callum McGregor, a Nought, who were childhood friends despite the societal division. As they grow older, their friendship evolves into a forbidden romance, challenging the deeply entrenched racial prejudices of their world.
The narrative delves into themes of discrimination, inequality, and the struggle for justice and equality. Against a backdrop of political unrest and social upheaval, the show explores the consequences of love and defiance in a society that violently resists change.
It is a compelling drama that challenges viewers to confront uncomfortable truths about the way society treats marginalized groups. It uses its alternate history setting to shine a light on the enduring issues of racial inequality and discrimination, making it a timely and impactful watch.
Kindred, FX on Hulu (2022)
Based on the remarkably impactful novel by Octavia Butler, we step into a captivating world of time travel and historical resonance.
Prepare to be transported alongside Dana, a talented writer living in Los Angeles, as she mysteriously finds herself thrust back in time to a harsh Maryland plantation in the year 1815.
As her harrowing visits continue, Dana discovers the unsettling reason behind her time-travel phenomenon: a young boy named Rufus Weylin, the son of plantation owners Thomas and Margaret.
Trapped in a relentless cycle, Dana witnesses Rufus facing perilous situations, grappling with accidents and illness.
Through this narrative, Dana gradually unravels the connection between her and Rufus.
It is revealed that, like many Black Americans, Dana’s ancestry is woven from both oppressors and the oppressed, revealing the painful truths of American slavery.
As Rufus grows, he evolves into a figure enforcing a brutal system that subjugates and controls people like Dana, sealing their destinies as interconnected and fateful.
The question emerges, though: will Dana alter history or learn from it? How will she take on the chance to create an alternate history and possibly prevent the slavery of her ancestors? Or does she have to endure to ensure her survival as she is a descendant of this oppressive system?
Kingdom, Netflix (2019 – 2020)
In Kingdom, we find an alternate version of history, where our characters are faced with a mysterious plague that turns people into bloodthirsty, undead creatures.
Crown Prince Lee Chang becomes embroiled in a dangerous quest to uncover the truth behind the plague and the political conspiracy that threatens the nation.
As he delves deeper into the investigation, he encounters various challenges, including both human adversaries and relentless hordes of infected.
It expertly balances historical elements with thrilling zombie horror, creating a visually stunning and emotionally intense viewing experience.
While the show primarily focuses on the survival of its characters in the face of a zombie apocalypse, it also presents an alternate history perspective.
The show reimagines the Joseon Dynasty with the inclusion of zombies, providing a unique and entertaining twist on historical drama.
Oku, Fuji TV (2003)
Based on the manga of the same name, Ooku, also known as The Inner Palace, is a historical drama set in an alternate history version of Japan during the Edo period.
The series presents a fascinating premise where a mysterious and deadly disease, known as the Redface Pox kills a significant portion of the male population, leaving the female population to become the dominant gender in society.
This results in a dramatic shift in the power dynamics and societal norms of Japan, leading to a matriarchal society where women hold positions of authority and influence.
In this alternate version of Japan, the Ooku is an inner palace where the shogun resides, and it becomes an all-female domain. Men are consigned to the role of concubines and servants, serving the women in power.
Watchmen, HBO (2019)
In Watchmen, we find a critically acclaimed adaptation of the iconic graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons – a unique blend of alternate history, superhero fiction, and social commentary.
It is a sequel to the original Watchmen comic, continuing the story in a world where the events of the graphic novel have shaped history.
In this world, the presence of superheroes has shaped historical events, most notably the Vietnam War, which the United States won with the help of Dr. Manhattan, a superpowered being.
Set in 2019, the show delves into the legacy of the vigilantes and their impact on society, particularly focusing on the violent and controversial event known as the White Night, in which many police officers were targeted and murdered.
The show follows a diverse cast of characters, including Angela Abar, who is both a police officer and a vigilante. As masked police officers, they don costumes to protect their identities and uphold the law in a society where masks are outlawed.
Pennyworth, Epix (2019 – 2022)
Before he guarded the secrets of the caped crusader himself, Alfred Pennyworth was more than just a butler and trusted friend to the wealthy Bruce Wayne, aka Batman.
In this show, we explore his early life and adventures in 1960s London.
Pennyworth presents an alternate history backdrop by reimagining the early years of Alfred Pennyworth while it introduces new characters and storylines, exploring how the events of the past set the stage for the iconic characters and events to come.
Here we meet him as a former British SAS soldier trying to establish a security firm.
He finds himself entangled in a web of political intrigue, espionage, and crime as he becomes involved with Thomas Wayne, the future father of Bruce Wayne.
By focusing on Alfred’s origins and personal journey, the show offers a unique perspective on the beloved character and brings to light lesser-known aspects of the Batman lore.
Motherland: Fort Salem, Freeform (2020 – 2022)
What if instead of being hunted down and burned at the stake, witches played a crucial role in shaping the United States?
In Motherland: Fort Salem, witches made a pact with the government during the Salem Witch Trials; they pledged to use their powers to defend the country.
The narrative follows three young women: Raelle Collar, Tally Craven, and Abigail Bellweather.
These three witches join the prestigious Fort Salem military academy, where they undergo intense training to become soldiers in the United States witch army.
The show’s unique blend of alternate history, magical elements, and military themes sets it apart from other fantasy series, providing a fresh and captivating narrative that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.
11.22.63, Hulu (2016)
Only Stephen King would have the talent to rewrite one of the most significant historical moments in the world, and in 11.22.63, we follow Jake Epping, a high school teacher who discovers a time portal that leads back to 1960.
He is presented with a mission by his friend Al Templeton, played by Chris Cooper – to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on November 22, 1963.
As Jake embarks on this time-traveling journey, he faces numerous challenges and dilemmas.
He must adapt to the 1960s while avoiding the attention of the authorities and encountering historical figures along the way.
Jake also grapples with the ethical implications of changing the past and the potential consequences it may have on the present and future.
As he delves deeper into the past, he must navigate the complexities of time and face unforeseen challenges that threaten to unravel his mission.
The series is a captivating exploration of the butterfly effect, where even the smallest changes to history can have profound and unforeseen ramifications.
Sliders, Fox (1995 – 2000)
Sliders follows the adventures of a group of travelers who use a device to slide between parallel universes, exploring alternate versions of Earth.
The story begins with Quinn Mallory, a brilliant college student who creates a device that allows for interdimensional travel.
Along with his friends Wade, Rembrandt Brown, and Professor Maximillian Arturo, they accidentally become sliders when they are unexpectedly transported to an alternate Earth.
Each Earth they encounter is different from their own, featuring various historical, technological, and societal divergences.
They find worlds where humans are subjugated, where technology has taken different paths, and where historical events have played out differently.
As the Sliders hop from one dimension to another, they face both wonders and dangers in their attempts to return home.
The series’ ability to showcase different societies and the consequences of alternate historical paths made it a popular choice for fans of science fiction and alternate history genres.
Terra Nova, Fox (2011)
Set in 2149, we encounter a world where Earth is facing environmental collapse and overpopulation.
In a desperate bid to save humanity, scientists discover a portal to a prehistoric Earth, 85 million years in the past, known as Terra Nova.
The narrative follows the Shannon family, led by Jim Shannon, as they become part of the tenth pilgrimage to Terra Nova. The pilgrims are sent back in time to establish a colony and ensure humanity’s survival by creating a new civilization.
However, Terra Nova is not without its challenges.
The colony faces threats from dinosaurs and other dangerous creatures, as well as internal power struggles and conflicts with a group known as the Sixers, who arrived on an earlier pilgrimage and have their own hidden agendas.
This show definitely took the idea of alternate history to a prehistoric level, and one might wonder what the consequences of treading so close to the primordial soup might be.
The Magicians, Syfy (2015 – 2020)
Based on Lev Grossman’s book series, the show follows Quentin Coldwater, a young man who discovers that the magical land he read about in childhood books, known as Fillory, is real.
Set in modern-day New York, the show begins when Quentin is accepted into Brakebills, a secretive school for magicians.
As he hones his magical abilities, Quentin learns that Fillory, a Narnia-like realm, is not just a work of fiction.
Alongside his friends, he embarks on a journey to Fillory, where they become entwined in its complex politics, magical creatures, and quests.
The show also plays with the idea that magical beings and creatures have influenced historical events from the shadows.
Mythological deities, powerful entities, and magical creatures are depicted as existing alongside humans and actively shaping the course of history.
This blending of magical and historical elements creates a unique alternate history where the world’s development is intertwined with supernatural forces.
Love, Death & Robots Season 1 Episode 17 “Alternate Histories”, Netflix (2019)
Alternate Histories is an animated short episode of the acclaimed Netflix show Love, Death and Robots, where the episode is a standalone story that explores different alternate history scenarios, presenting short and imaginative narratives that diverge from real historical events.
The episode embraces a wide range of genres, including science fiction, fantasy, and dark comedy, to create entertaining and thought-provoking tales.
Some stories depict light-hearted and absurd scenarios, while others delve into more serious and dramatic themes.
The unique format of the episode allows viewers to experience a variety of what-if scenarios, such as “What if Hitler died before WWII?”, “What if the moon was made of cheese?”, or “What if dinosaurs never went extinct?”
Each question explores the consequences and unexpected outcomes of these alternative timelines in creative and surprising ways.