Every once in awhile, people ask me for suggestions about what TV series to watch in their downtime, generally the kind they can binge watch, etc. I've thought about doing a recommendation list for awhile, and well...here you go! These are all series available to watch on Netflix (or about to be available on Netflix) so I've left off some obvious favorites such as Borgen, Felicity, The Americans, etc.
The Ultimates (forever faves, etc.)
You had to know this would top the list, right? I don't think I've ever had as much fun watching a show as I did Lost--and I'm one of the few people who wasn't disappointed in the ending. But..I really think if you choose to binge watch the series you won't be disappointed either because you won't have 8 month long hiatuses to dissect every detail and come up with brilliant and outlandish theories. Lost stands out as a series for several reasons...there are many interesting and complex characters, it's absolutely beautiful as it was shot on location in Hawaii, it has a stunning original score by Academy Award winner Michael Giacchino, it's a little bit sci-fi, a whole lot literary, fairly diverse, very funny, but also gut wrenching and heartbreaking, very high concept (and unfortunately it couldn't always completely deliver on this), unafraid to delve into ideas of morality, survival, man of science and man of god, etc. It set the template for dual narrative stories--something many shows after have tried to duplicate to varying success. Give it a try! It's worth it.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The other obvious choice, right? I think of Buffy as the first show I ever fell in love with, the show that made me love TV. I watched the first seasons very casually, but it wasn't until a later point in my life when I saw a late season 5 episode that I fell head over heels. I became, well, um, sort of obsessed. If you haven't watched this show, I do recommend it--despite the fact that it has aged and the earlier seasons especially will feel very dated. It's such a part of our cultural conversation even still. It's an important piece of television history and also just a lot of fun. Known for snappy dialogue, evil vampires, kick ass female characters (I really mean that...literally, lol) and fantastic characters, you might also be surprised by just how much depth it has as well.
Switching gears, the first season of this legal drama is a heck of a good season of TV. And the subsequent seasons are good to varying degrees as well. (although I still need to watch season 5). This show is dark and gritty, but utterly compelling. So if you like mystery, cutthroat legal dramas, dark, edgy, complicated and difficult women, I think this one could be for you! Also, Timothy Olyphant shows up in Season 2. JUST SO YOU KNOW.
While this series just concluded (so the final season is not yet available to stream), this show about two women working together to bring down a secret government agency is just as fun as it sounds! The first season is heavily episodic, but from about 1x17-all the way through end of season two is one of my favorite stretches for a show. The show explores themes of identity, family, loyalty, autonomy, and friendship. I also recently really enjoyed reading this piece about the feminist merits of the show, having written something a little similar myself awhile back.
I feel like I used to bring up this show all the time, but man was it good. Another short lived show. It unfortunately ends on a brutal cliffhanger, but I still feel like it's worth watching? The other day someone pointed out an article about how all the dystopian shows envision a future in the hands of white men, but this show is a perfect antidote to that! A flu virus wipes out most of the population...just a few people survive. And this show is about that survival, what it looks like, what dangers they face, the relationships they build, etc. I watched it in the middle of the first season of The Walking Dead and I have to admit TWD felt weaker at the time when I returned to it after consuming this one. Even so....
The Walking Dead
The first zombie show ever, friends. And it's good. I mean if you consider the many challenges inherent in making a show about the zombie apocalypse it's kind of amazing how good The Walking Dead really is. This show, at its heart, is about what it means to be human. Don't let the zombies scare you off! It's dramatic, thrilling, surprising, and beautifully produced. And while I do agree that the show may not prioritize the narratives of the female characters as much as some of the men, I still find the female characters delightful...they are all so different--a really refreshing and broad array of women. But mostly I love that it never feels like I've spent an hour watching TV when I watch this one...and I often watch it live!
This show has been resurrected from cancellation twice. The second season may slump a bit, but you really show up for the characters in this one. Sarah Linden is hard edged and driven. Holder is trying to make his life right. They both want justice. The first two series span one mystery, the third season introduces a totally new one and just packs a huge emotional punch. Lol, I really loved the third season even though it was also very brutal.
Vera Farmiga tweeted that the first season will be available on Netflix starting February 1st! Trigger warning for sexual violence, incest, animal abuse...um maybe almost everything? This show is an imagining of what Norma Bates and Norman would be like in modern times. They have just purchased the motel and are trying to start a whole new life. Vera Farmga is fab in it and it really spools out and involves lots of storylines. I don't want to say it's actually quality television, but it is entertaining and I'm super excited for it to come back in March!
So You Think You Wanna Laugh...(Comedies)
Ha ha. Haaaa. I can't believe I'm mentioning this show, but it really made me laugh a lot--especially in the early seasons. (I find this to be true of a lot of comedies and I wonder if it's because it's harder to be original or if the comedy just becomes less surprising because you get used to it? Like, surprise is such a huge element in comedy!) This animated spy comedy is...I mean I don't even know what to say about it? It's just funny. (and very crass) but funny! I've only watched the first three seasons as Netflix has yet to add the fourth season, but I zipped right through them. Oh, it also has a lot of fun literary references. The only downside is that H. Jon Benjamin also voices Bob on Bob's Burgers making it impossible for me to watch that show after watching Archer!
Parks and Recreation
If you're looking for a gentler comedy, than Parks and Rec is for you! I think I binge watched this on a holiday weekend. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it since I don't really do comedy very often. But the characters are so loveable and the show is mostly gentle and good hearted and still intelligent and sharp. It's about a small group of people who work for the parks department in Pawnee, Indiana. The show pokes gentle fun at middle America and its history, but the strength of the characters alone proves not all is lost there! :) Leslie can be a bit much at times, but ultimately very loveable.
Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23
Aw. I just really loved this little show so much. It only lasted for like..maybe the equivalent of one whole season, but that's better than if we didn't get anything at all! This is an odd couple type comedy, crazy Chloe needs a roommate and straight laced (from middle America again, lol) June applies. They get along but also have hosts of issues causing much laughter. James Van Der Beek stars as himself which is hilarious and the show just has a nice crisp style. I just looooved it. I still watch an episode from time to time to cheer myself up. So if you want something a bit younger and fresher, than this is for you! (*bonus female creator and showrunner)
Warm Hearted Goodness (Family Dramas)
This show is just....awwww! I love it so much. It makes me cry on a near weekly basis. Maia Mitchell is an actual angel. It's one of the few shows that actually feels like Southern California because of how diverse it is right down to the extras. The opening credits just ooze warmth and the show in general exudes a sense of love and goodwill. It's a family drama and the perfect showcase for the different ways families look; it isn't DNA that makes a family but love. Maybe I'm a total sap but this is legit one of my favorite shows at the moment and the first half of the first season is on Netflix!
Another warm family drama with lots of interesting thematic explorations. Switched at Birth is about the meeting of different worlds, about self expression, about growing up and it handles those in new and interesting ways. Not every storyline is successful, but for the most part I can always sense the good will behind the ideas. I like that show subverts expectations, loves and respects the characters, and even makes me laugh!
BONUS! Soapy Goodness!
The LA Complex
I just needed another excuse to sing the praises of this short-run Canadian gem. This is a delightful soap about a host of different characters trying to make it in LA. But even in the middle of these seemingly conventional storylines, The LA Complex had interesting explorations of gender and the role it plays in the workplace, and groundbreaking storylines (such as the coming out of a rap star--seriously meaty stuff! Not to be missed!). Also, the show featured the music of live bands, and is how I discovered The Rural Alberta Advantage...who I ended up loving.
So...there you go! A few suggestions! Or if you find we don't share the same taste, perhaps a few shows to avoid. Feel free to rec other shows in comments--especially ones that are in Netflix since that was the theme of this post. I might do another one later with shows not available to stream!