Of the various technological innovations of the past fifteen years, surely Netflix ranks among the top twenty. With its seemingly never ending supply of movies and television, the entertainment-streaming site counts its subscribers in the millions and its revenue in the billions. The trend lately is to hear about a TV show through the grapevine and seek it out on Netflix; this is followed by an intense binge over the course of a few days, whereby at the end, the viewer owlishly blinks and steps back into the world of the real, until the binge cycle continues once more.
Most of the subscribers on Netflix have an entire queue that is ready at a moments notice should the need to binge arise. However, with all the choices available to the consumer, it’s easy to get lost in the never-ending options. Every list of binge worthy shows is different, a subjective list based on the authors own personal feelings of what makes a great show. This list focuses on good guys and bad guys swapping places, monsters around every corner, and television shows that manage to combine humor and heart and philosophy seamlessly.
10 LOST (seasons 1-6)
It has been ten years since Oceanic Flight 815 crashed on to a mysterious polar bear infested tropical island. To celebrate the six years of mystery and myth and stellar writing, binging on Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke and Ben is a great idea. The nature of the island and the Others slowly unfolds over six years while detailed nonlinear flashbacks let the audience explore the inner psyche of the characters. The relationships that build and break, and build again, between the characters is one of the strengths of the show. The show plays with themes of destiny and fate and whether or not “whatever happened, happened” or if you can change the past. While the ending of the show is still controversial, the journey that got the castaways there is worth it; the message behind LOST is that if you can’t learn to live together, then you’re going to die alone, something we all should remember every now and then.
9 Black Books (seasons 1-3)
When looking for a comedy to binge watch, the American shows like Arrested Development, How I Met Your Mother or Parks and Recreation might seem like the obvious choice. However, there is something endearing about this darkly funny British sitcom. Centering on curmudgeonly nihilistic bookstore owner Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) and his two friends Manny and Fran, Black Books cares little for character development and instead focuses on the idea that sometimes, people just don’t change. Black, who spends most episodes chain smoking, guzzling wine and reading, is uninterested in the day-to-day operations of his bookstore, preferring to yell at customers rather than sell to them. His two companions try to make him more sociable only to fail and have everything return to the status quo. What makes Black Books worthy of the binge, however, is Moran’s performance of the unapologetically nasty Bernard Black. The situations in which the gang find themselves are comical in a cringe worthy dark way.
8 Supernatural (seasons 1-8)
Everyone likes a good family show; this one just happens to come with monsters, demons, angels, and the occasional Wendigo. Central characters Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, respectively) are brothers with a long, complicated, and often heartbreaking history who travel from city to city in their beloved 1967 Impala hunting down monsters that most people consider relegated to myth and fantasy. Along the way, they become friends with the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) and enemies with the demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard), all four of whom go through seasons hating, loving, working with, and working against each other. But what makes Supernatural worthy of the several days it would take to binge it, is neither the demons nor monsters, but the familial connection and love Dean and Sam share. They, quite literally, have been to hell and back for each other and each trial thrown at them only strengthens their bond. The show has its action sequences but the true heart of Supernatural rests in the conversations and character development of Sam and Dean.
7 Doctor Who (seasons 1-6)
If you’re confused why people keep telling you “don’t blink,” think fish fingers and custard sounds disgusting, and don’t understand the fascination with fezzes, then it’s time to sit down and marathon the longest running science fiction show on TV. While Netflix does have some of the original episodes, you can dive right into the new regenerated series without difficulty. Jump into the TARDIS—a time traveling space ship (that just so happens to look like a 1960s police phone box)—with the Doctor, a double hearted Time Lord, and his various companions as they travel through time and space defeating aliens, saving planets and doing an awful lot of running. Doctor Who presents the moral that humanity is worth saving and that even the most un-extraordinary humans are capable of greatness. So grab your sonic screwdriver and prepare to go anywhere in time and space. Allons-y!
6 Orange is the New Black (season 1)
Season two of this Netflix original series is just around the corner, so now is as good a time as any to meet and fall in love with the women of the New York prison system. Based on the novel by the same name, protagonist Piper (Taylor Schilling) surrenders herself to the women’s prison for 14 months, after it is revealed that ten years ago she smuggled a suitcase of drugs for her then girlfriend Alex(Laura Prepon). What ensues inside the prison is comical, endearing and at times bizarre. When you’re locked up with nowhere to go, how do you get through it? Piper’s relationships with the other women, who are just as richly drawn and developed as Piper, are what makes the series so special. They may be criminals, but they are sympathetic figures who have made a few mistakes and are now trying to find a way to keep living. And when Piper’s ex-girlfriend shows up in prison with her, the drama is tangible and delicious.
5 Buffy the Vampire Slayer (seasons 1-7)
All binge lists need at least one cult classic. Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is an iconic TV heroine: tough, sassy, smart, with the ability to kick butt while wearing some seriously unfortunate outfits. She made every girl in their teenage years want to be the chosen one. Buffy and her misfit friends spend seven years saving the world from various Big Bads, including vampires, demons and gods. The show is smart and funny; series creator Joss Whedon manages to work nonsensical words into everyday vocabulary as if everyone talks this way (and now, thanks to Buffy, we sort of do!). The show may center on fighting monsters, but the backbone is how various people cope with life, from the mundane—wanting to go to prom and annoying younger sisters—to the extraordinary—sacrificing your life for a loved one. Whedon strives to be innovative and episodes like “Hush," “The Body,” and musical episode “Once More With Feeling,” alone are worth the binge.
4 Breaking Bad (seasons 1-5)
Breaking Bad makes the list for the sheer fact that you should have already watched it. The landmark series just recently ended its spectacular five-year run, and if you’re still scratching your head over what the big deal was, set aside one weekend and click play. All actions have consequences and sometimes the morally upstanding can become the morally destitute; high school chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine cooker Walter White (Bryan Cranston in a tour de force performance) is the perfect example of how everyone is capable of going down a dark path. Cranston and his partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) seem as though they were born to play these roles and to act off one another. Gunfights, drug cartels, and questionable morals are replete in the five seasons and when all is said and done, it is simply great television.
3 The Walking Dead (seasons 1-3)
Zombie shows can be hit or miss. Often times the zombies are too comical to be taken as the brainless, flesh craving monsters they are; other times the zombies play too large a role and the survivors are secondary characters who never develop outside of the kill or be killed mentality. While the violence of The Walking Dead is what one would expect, the story of a plucky (and incredibly flawed) band of survivors trying to stay human in the face of overwhelming inhumanity is somehow surprisingly heartwarming. While Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his group may be stabbing and slicing their way through Georgia, what makes The Walking Dead unique is how the zombies are really just a backdrop to the internal struggles of the group: from race, gender, family, adultery, internal and external politics to what the cost of survival is, the program is an intense movie-quality experience that everyone needs to watch.
2 Mad Men (seasons 1-6)
Like Breaking Bad, this is a show you should be watching. The AMC period drama is heading into its seventh and final season and if you want to watch one of the most critically acclaimed shows in recent history wrap up, you should start the binge now. Enter the world of the New York ad executive of the 1960s, as seen through the eyes of pathological liar Donald Draper (Jon Hamm, who was born to play this role). The show takes apart the popular depiction of this era and examines the struggles and often times unfair nature of office and interpersonal politics. Elisabeth Moss plays Peggy Olson, a career minded woman who must live in the world of men and somehow find her place. The show deals with feminism, history and racism, but manages to do it in an unpretentious way—you won’t feel as though you are being preached to. Mad Men is probably one of the most analyzed shows on TV at present, from the costuming and sets to the way the big events are played on the periphery of the characters lives. As it starts its ending, now is the time to start from the beginning and have your own moments of nostalgia.
1 The West Wing (Seasons 1-7)
Political dramas are aplenty on television—from the soapy Scandal to seedy House of Cards—but the go-to pièce de résistance has to be this Aaron Sorkin written drama. Set in the political machine that is Washington D.C., the Emmy award winning show focuses on President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and his core staff, including the press secretary, chief of staff and communications team. Each episode finds the staff struggling to maintain their idealism and sense of what is good and just against a system that is often cold and impossible to navigate. From opposing political parties, foreign affairs, to matters of state, the characters attempt to find a way to cast democracy in a positive light, while upholding their morals. The show is complete with moments that you’ll remember long after the seventh season ends (watching the President scream at God in church—in Latin—for example makes your breath catch). By the time the series finishes, you’ll find yourself wishing that Jed Bartlet and his team could find their way into the real oval office.
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