It’s a golden age of television, and these are the 7 of the best TV shows to prove it.
I love TV. I also enjoy NPR, macrobiotic teas, and Instragramming the ingredients on natural beauty products. By all accounts, shouldn’t my TV stand now be a planter for my indoor organic herbal garden? Instead, a large flat-screen remains. Except it now streams more TV than the East River floats Doritos bags.
So when people tell me they don’t watch TV, I want to drag them to my herbal-planter-TV-stand and sit them down until they understand. What exactly? That we’re living in the Golden Age of best TV shows. That Tony Soprano is more than just a thug. That Walter White’s ambiguous morality matters. That Carrie Mathison’s cryface really is epic.
Really, what I want to do is to introduce them to binge watching.
With the advent of Netflix streaming, Hulu, and multiple seasonal DVD releases of shows, binge watching has inevitably taken up a spot in our cultural lexicon. Sure, some people frown on the act of mass-consuming a TV show all at once. In the most first-world, fin de siècle fashion, Slate recently bemoaned that “we’re ruining TV.” They sniffed that the binge-watching bandwagon destroys the integrity of a single episode, alongside other horrible, unnamed, possibly kitten-murdering deeds.
But I’d argue that binge watching a brilliantly-written or entertaining show is no different from going to the movies. For the movies, factor in travel, popcorn pit stops and the time it takes to glare at the person texting right in front of you, you’re looking at a minimum three hour investment. All the while, you’re (hopefully) not thinking about work, not checking your phone, not worried about the state of all things.
Stay in for an evening and indulge in two or three episodes of any hour-long drama, and it’s the same experience. And best of all, you don’t have to deal with travel, popcorn pit stops and the time it takes to glare at the person texting right in front of you. Are they trying to land a plane with their cell phone light beacons? Who is really to say.
Binge watching has, in fact, become so popular that the more recent television shows are starting to structure their entire seasons around this undertaking. “Arrested Development”, “Orange is the New Black”, and “House of Cards” were all released new seasons this year on Netflix streaming—and “House of Cards” recently received nine Emmy nominations, which Netflix trumpeted as a “win” for all Internet television.
But not every television show out there is worthy of a binge. You need stellar characters, engaging episodic arches, and a general ability to glue an audience to his or her seats. So what to watch?
1. “Breaking Bad”
Set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Walter White is a high school chemistry teacher recently diagnosed with cancer. He turns to producing and selling methamphetamines to provide a financial legacy for his family. Currently airing its fifth and final season, “Breaking Bad” is available online on Amazon Prime.
2. “Orange is the New Black”
Piper Chapman is a wasp-y New Yorker who once, years ago, transported a suitcase filled with drugs for an ex-girlfriend. Now she’s sent to prison for 15 months in Litchfield, New York. Based on a true story, the show is hailed as a “barrier-breaking” dramedy which incorporates the narratives of black, white, and transgendered women. Produced by Netflix, it’s available through the site.
3. “Game of Thrones”
Winter might be coming, but HBO’s critically-acclaimed “Game of Thrones” shows no signs of cooling. Based on George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels, the show incorporates multiple story lines roughly set in the kingdoms of Westeros and Essos at the end of a decade-long summer. Sex, violence, and mythical creatures combine to make this a standing hit for the cable network, now three seasons in. You can watch it online at HBO Go.
4. “Downton Abbey”
This Masterpiece Theatre phenom for PBS relays the saga of the post-Edwardian Crawley family and their staff at their Yorkshire country estate. The Titanic sinks, World War I rages, and the Spanish Flu decimates, while romance and tragedy throw around more suds around than a washing machine in this soapy classic. The series is gearing up for its fourth season. You can watch it online at Hulu.com.
5. “Orphan Black”
The BBC scores another hit with this sci-fi Canadian import depicting the lives of several identical women, who all turn out to be clones in (what else?) a deadly illegal cloning conspiracy. The show is centered on Sarah Manning, a tough British con-artist who assumes the life of fellow clone (and cop) Elizabeth Childs after Childs commits suicide. The first season, which recently wrapped, is currently available on DVD from Netflix.
This series for Showtime takes us through the life of Carrie Mathison, a bipolar Central Intelligence Officer on a quest to capture Sergeant Nicolas Brody. Carries believes that Brody is a former prisoner-of-war for al-Qaeda who is now brainwashed and threatening national security. What could go wrong? The series, which is two seasons in, is available on Amazon Prime.
Why should you watch IFC’s sketch comedy show “Portlandia,” which is also available streaming on Netflix? See above.
Do you binge watch? Follow Katherine on Twitter and tell her what shows she missed.
For further reading:
5 Happy Endings We’d Like to See for Breaking Bad