Bleary-eyed from mainlining the new season of House Of Cards? Tired of eating junk food in front of your screen instead of sitting down to a decent meal?
Credit Stephen Bochco – or blame him, depending on how you feel about your addiction to your favourite TV shows. He invented the TV series with a narrative arc that unfolded through an entire season (excluding the daytime soap, of course). Hill Street Blues made it possible to imagine seeing a season marathon-style.
Then came the boxed DVD set of TV shows’ full seasons – watchers could actually stay glued for hours – and networks offering marathons of the previous season, of Breaking Bad, for example, to prep viewers for the upcoming new one. When platforms like Shomi and Netflix offered full seasons in one big glorious package, binge-watching became a full-on phenomenon.
TV tastes vary, for sure, but that hasn’t stopped us from naming the 25 most bingeworthy series. We also have survival tips – dos and don’ts for bingers – and some food suggestions to go with your TV habit.
So enjoy. And remember to walk around a bit. Spring’s almost here.
New to Binge
These series are sure to become the next classics. Binge now so you can call yourself an expert.
Making A Murderer (Netflix)
Don’t get accused of a crime in America, especially if you’re poor, because your life will be ruined forever. That’s the message of Making A Murderer, an ultra-successful true-crime hit that’s triggered countless think pieces and legal analyses since its launch on Netflix in December. Meet Steven Avery, a rural Wisconsin man freed from jail after serving 18 years for a sexual assault later linked to another man through DNA. But the powers that be in Manitowoc don’t forget – or forgive.
When I was hooked Plight Of The Accused (S1, E3). You think you know what you’re dealing with, but there is truly no turning back three episodes in.
How much stuff One season, 10 episodes, approximately 60 minutes each.
Where to get your fix Netflix. KR
Master of None (Netflix)
As black people in the film industry continue to struggle for opportunity and recognition in 2016, brown people and Asians are almost invisible on TV except in stereotyped roles. Aziz Ansari’s New York City-set series calls the industry out while exploring – like the more recent Love – the pursuit of romance. Ansari’s Dev and Love’s Gus have a lot in common: they’re neurotic, earnest and make great friends. But we so badly needed Master Of None. It’s proof that people will binge on shows about anyone – even if he’s overly obsessed with finding the perfect taco.
When I was hooked Parents (S1, E2), when I realized I wasn’t watching a rollicking comedy, which is what I expected from a comic. There are laughs, but settle in for a slow burn.
How much stuff One season, 10 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each.
Where to get your fix Netflix. KR
Food writer Michael Pollan ambitiously lures us back to the family hearth, the kitchen, by examining what factors led North American culture to stray from it in the first place. Starting with an episode about fire (each segment deals with an element), he argues that preparing food over fire – the very act of cooking – is what makes us human. Weaving together history, worldwide culture and tradition, science and mouth-watering food porn, Cooked will make you reconsider firing up UberEats again tonight.
When I was hooked S1, E1. Pollan is an inspiration, and I adore cooking, so he was preaching to the converted. It won’t take you long either.
How much stuff One season, four episodes, 58 minutes each.
Where to get your fix Netflix. KR
Did we need another show about two young white people looking for love? Nope. But that’s what Judd Apatow does, and in this case, along with writers Lesley Arfin (Girls) and Paul Rust, who also stars, he’s damn good at it. Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) is self-destructive and impulsive, warding off vulnerability with a tough front. Gus is the nice nerd. Both raw from failed relationships and aware of their own shortcomings, they recognize how one could complement the other if they shacked up. But the quest for love in Los Angeles is messy work, and here it’s portrayed – sometimes painfully – very accurately.
When I was hooked It Begins (S1, E1), with music by the Breeders, Beastie Boys and Jamie XX, is a treat, and the dialogue – biting and funny without feeling overwrought or unnatural – is masterful.
How much stuff One season, 10 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each.
Where to get your fix Netflix. KR
Watch it now
These excellent series are still in progress. Catch up before the next season, episode or spinoff movie drops.
House of Cards (Netflix)
The U.S. version of House Of Cards has been a binge-watching classic since its launch in 2013. Set on Capitol Hill, it stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as power-hungry Frank and Claire Underwood, who are willing to go to unbelievable lengths to get what they want. Netflix releases a 13-episode season once a year, and it’s best watched all at once if you care about internet spoilers. (Seriously, people, stop tweeting who dies when!) But once you’re done, you’ll spend the next 364 days in agony waiting to learn what happens next. Consider yourself warned.
When I was hooked Chapter 4 (S1, E4), because we start to see just how deep Frank’s political puppeteering goes, and the risks Frank and Claire are willing to take in their marriage.
How much stuff Four seasons, 52 episodes, 43 to 59 minutes each.
Where to get your fix Netflix, DVD/Blu-ray.
See it before Season 4 was launched March 4. MDS
The Leftovers (HBO)
After 2 per cent of the population disappears into thin air, people the world over turn to religion, nihilism, authoritarianism and good ol’ despair to come to grips with the seemingly random loss and try to find meaning in the event. The first season starts strong, with police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) gearing up for a big memorial service on the third anniversary of what’s known as the Sudden Departure. But his wife (Amy Brenneman) has joined a cult, his son is pursuing God, and his daughter won’t speak to him. Plus, a group in town wants to disrupt any public expression of grief for the disappeared.
When I was hooked Pilot (S1, E1). The motives of the Guilty Remnant cult aren’t immediately clear, but dressed completely in white, standing in people’s driveways chain-smoking all the time, they sure are bad-ass.
How much stuff Two seasons, 20 episodes, 51 to 72 minutes each.
Where to get your fix Season 1 is on DVD and iTunes, Season 2 is on its way.
See it before Season 3 comes out. KR
JANE THE VIRGIN (The CW)
I’d call this comedy a guilty pleasure, but it’s too smart to make me feel totally ashamed. Three generations of Latino women – 20-something Jane (Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriguez), her pious (sort of) grandmother and her spitfire mom – share a house and one another’s life challenges. Jane’s promised her grandmother she’ll remain a virgin until she’s married, but then she’s mistakenly artificially inseminated. That’s just the first episode. The series is made like a telenovella (Jane’s long-lost and very funny egotist of a dad is a telenovella superstar), so something wild happens at the end of every episode. Just try not to get sucked in. Even the narrator is a riot.
When I was hooked Chapter One (S1, E1). The relationships are real, and Rodriguez is a find.
How much stuff 36 episodes, 42 minutes each.
Where to get your fix On Shomi, DVD. Currently in mid-season 2 on CW.
See it before the next episode airs on CW Mondays at 9 pm. SGC
Game of Thrones (HBO)
This HBO fantasy series based on George R.R. Martin’s novels is so much more than dungeons and dragons – though there’s plenty of that, too. In an ongoing saga, noble families vie for power over their fictional world. There are many, many characters, and more than a dozen plot lines weave in and out of each season. But cliffhangers at the end of nearly every episode make it virtually impossible not to push play on the next.
When I was hooked Winter Is Coming (S1, E1), because during its final moments young Bran Stark catches royal siblings Jaime and Cersei Lannister mid-fuck in a watchtower and pays a terrible price.
How much stuff Five seasons, 50 episodes, 50 to 65 minutes each.
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and HBO.
See it before Season 6 begins April 24. MDS
Gilmore Girls (the wb/The cw)
Committing to seven seasons of a prime-time TV series is daunting, but viewers of family drama Gilmore Girls have the reward of a revival series coming to Netflix. Single mom Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and her teenage daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) cope with a steady march of boyfriends in and out of their house in small-town New England while they drink unhealthy amounts of coffee and ponder dreams of owning an inn and attending Harvard. Not the most riveting plot lines the writing is the joy of the show. The snappy dialogue full of pop culture references is the true star.
When I was hooked Forgiveness And Stuff (S1, E10), because the show takes its first giant leap into dealing with Lorelai’s complex relationship with her estranged parents when her dad is taken to the hospital.
How much stuff Seven seasons, 153 episodes, 39 to 45 minutes each.
Available on Netflix, DVD/Blu-ray.
See it before the announced revival is released on Netflix. MDS
Peep Show (Channel 4)
Possibly the best buddy comedy ever produced (aside from Toronto’s own Nirvana The Band The Show, that is), Peep Show just wrapped its ninth and final season, so now’s the time to catch up. Two roommates – one anxiety-ridden but book smart, the other street smart, daft and narcissistic – try to fulfill their dreams in Britain’s horrendous economy. As they fight over uninterested women and prey on each other’s weaknesses to build their fragile self-esteem, both characters embody the human condition in different ways, and you’ll flip back and forth between who you (guiltily) relate to more.
When I was hooked Warring Factions (S1, E1). The attention to detail – the asides, the mumbles, the internal monologue we’re privy to that’s consistently the opposite of what’s said aloud – is the strength of this show.
How much stuff Nine seasons, 54 episodes, 24 minutes each.
Where to get your fix YouTube. It’s all there.
See it before people spoil the final season for you. KR
Broad city (Comedy Central)
Like Seinfeld if it had two main characters and both were Elaine, Broad City follows the non-adventures of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer through a New York City where the surreal keeps horning in on the banal. The plot arcs are minimal and the second season is spotty, but few shows are more of a pleasure to watch. You can get top-notch comedy from any number of sources what makes Broad City compulsively watchable is the privilege of returning again and again to its proudly feminist, highly Jewish and painfully modern urban phantasmagoria.
When I was hooked Working Girls (S1, E3), when Abbi’s attempt to retrieve a package whose delivery she missed takes her on a Lynchian journey to North Brother Island.
How much stuff Three seasons, 24 episodes, 22 minutes each.
Where to get your fix DVD and CraveTV (first two seasons), Much.com (current season).
See it before the next episode airs on Much at 10 pm on Wednesdays. JG
Deadwood redefined how an American western should walk and talk. The series, which ended sooner than initially hoped for by creator David Milch, was known primarily for its depiction of hard-living gold miners and violent businessmen as well as its caustic Shakespearean dialogue. Viewers rallied behind the larger-than-life acting of Ian McShane as sinister pimp Al Swearengen and Robin Weigert’s hopelessly alcoholic Calamity Jane, as well as the love story between Seth Bullock (Timothy Oliphant) and Alma Garret (Molly Parker). Deadwood aimed for historical accuracy about 1870s frontier life – warts and all – but made its most lasting impact in tragically flawed characters.
When I was hooked Here Was A Man (S1, E4), when a key character bites the dust.
How much stuff Three seasons, 36 episodes, 55 minutes each.
Where to get your fix DVD/Blu-ray, CraveTV.
See it before the fabled HBO movie comes out. SEAN MINOGUE
These series not only changed the medium but also the way we binge-watch.
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (Netflix)
The prison drama (which weirdly keeps hitting the Golden Globes’ comedy category) starts with privileged Piper (Taylor Schilling) being sent to prison for drug smuggling, but then evolves into a fascinating study of prison-life sex, politics and race relations. Diverse like no series before it – this is the show that made Laverne Cox a transgender icon and Lea DeLaria the first butch dyke to hit mainstream TV – it takes women’s lives seriously in new ways. And it’s absolutely of the moment. Season three focuses on the way greed is defining America’s rapidly privatizing penal system.
When I was hooked Tit Punch (S1, E2), when the history of seemingly cruel cook Red is unveiled and it’s clear every episode will tell an inmate’s backstory.
How much stuff Three seasons, 40 episodes, 52 minutes each.
Where to get your fix Netflix, DVD. SGC
If ever a series was created to encourage binging, it’s this game changer, each season consisting of 24 hours in counter-terrorist Jack Bauer’s adrenaline-filled life. You could conceivably watch all 24 hours in a row (and star Kiefer Sutherland and a brilliant cast including Leslie Hope, Sarah Clarke, Dennis Haysbert, Cherry Jones and Canadians Elisha Cuthbert, Carlo Rota and Eric Balfour make it damn easy), but most of us did it in chunks of three or four at a time, saving the clock-ticking finale for a big six-hour stretch. For a time it made Sutherland a household name, and it paved the way for another binge-worthy, if more earnest, anti-terrorism series, Homeland.
When I was hooked 12 a.m.-1 a.m. (S1, E1), when baddie Mia Kirshner has sex with a photographer, steals his wallet and makes a hasty retreat from the plane.
How much stuff Nine seasons, 204 episodes, 43 minutes each, plus the sequel 24: Redemption.
Where to get your fix Netflix, DVD. GS
Jill Soloway’s series, based on her own experience with a dad who’s transitioned, has been called everything from anti-Semitic (the dysfunctional family is Jewish) to trans-insensitive (why’s a cis man playing a trans woman?). But that hasn’t stopped this comedy from winning awards and accolades for its story of retired college prof Mort transitioning to become Maura. Sure, the kids are way fucked up, but Jeffrey Tambor’s a revelation in the title role, and the sexual politics are mind-bogglingly authentic. Name another series with an episode set at a women’s music festival.
When I was hooked The Letting Go (S1, E2), when Maura says to her daughter, “I’m not dressing up as a woman I’ve been dressing up as a man all my life.”
How much stuff Two seasons, 21 episodes, 30 minutes each.
Where to get your fix Shomi. SGC
The Sopranos (HBO)
I never had a chance to watch The Sopranos on TV when it premiered on HBO in 1997, but DVD is the best way to enjoy it anyway. The crime drama brings us one of TV’s first antiheroes – New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), who paved the way for characters like Breaking Bad’s Walter White. The focus is on Tony’s family and work life and role within the Italian-American Mafia. All the while, he’s secretly going through psychotherapy, unloading a burden that’s more than just mental. Why should you binge-watch The Sopranos? It’s one of the greatest shows to grace the small screen, and its sustained intensity makes the ending – yes, that ending – satisfying.
When I was hooked College (S1, E5), because when Tony goes on a college visit with his daughter, Meadow, we sense his unease at being both a family man and a murderous criminal.
How much stuff Six seasons, 86 episodes, 43 to 75 minutes each.
Where to get your fix DVD/Blu-ray, CraveTV. MDS
THE OFFICE (UK VERSION) (BBC)
Binge-watching British comedies (not to mention smart detective series) is common these days, but this was one of the first, and it was easy to do because there were only six episodes per season. But what episodes – taped in a now-ubiquitous mockumentary style and featuring Ricky Gervais in a still career-best performance as blustery, faux-sincere office manager David Brent. The show, which also gave us across the pond our first good look at actors like Martin Freeman and Mackenzie Crook, captured the anomie of cubicle life so well that it inspired a number of international versions, not least the long-running American one. But this is still best.
When I was hooked Work Experience (S1, E2), when David’s mix of self-righteous indignation and hypocrisy comes to the fore after he looks for the person who made fun of him.
How much stuff Two seasons, 12 episodes, two Christmas episodes, 30 minutes each.
Where to get your fix DVD. GS
Freaks And Geeks (NBC)
Perhaps the greatest little show that never got the launching pad it deserved, teen comedy-drama Freaks And Geeks kick-started many Hollywood careers. Produced by Judd Apatow in 1999, the quirky series stars a young James Franco, Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel, among others. The short-lived show is set at a Michigan high school in 1980, where sister and brother Lindsay and Sam Weir are lumped in with the “freaks” and “geeks” respectively. It’s fun and endearing, the characters are lovable, and the late 70s soundtrack is wicked. You’ll easily watch it all in a weekend and be relieved once you’re done that your high school days are over.
When I was hooked Beers And Weirs (S1, E2), because the awkwardness of high school house parties needs to be relived, and you can’t help but find Sam’s concern about underage drinking adorkable.
How much stuff One season, 18 episodes, 44 minutes each.
Where to get your fix Netflix, DVD. MDS
Let’s just say these series aren’t for everyone. But if you’re into food, fashion, theatre or reality shows – or those that satirize them – we’ve got you covered.
PROJECT RUNWAY (BRAVO, Lifetime)
Elimination-based reality shows are, um, tailor-made to binge watch. But what set this fashion design series apart was that you couldn’t just laugh at the aspiring designer contestants. Sure, some were deluded narcissists who, as judge Nina Garcia might say, had questionable taste. But they also managed to create inspiring clothing in an insanely short time. Add bitchy workroom banter, female and male models in skimpy outfits, and celebrity guest judges (Sarah Jessica Parker, Victoria Beckham) and you’ve got addictive TV. Old episodes still make great viewing, and phrases like “Make it work!” and “You’re either in or you’re out” have entered popular culture.
When I was hooked Innovation (S1, E1), when the contestants had to create a sexy, glamorous outfit for a night on the town with $50, not spent at MOOD Fabric but at a Manhattan supermarket.
How much stuff Fourteen regular seasons, five all-stars seasons, 182 episodes, 40-42 minutes each (current episodes are longer).
Where to get your fix DVD, Lifetime. GS
The Comeback (HBO)
Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King’s brilliantly acidic showbiz satire began as a response to celeb reality shows in 2005, and its sequel a decade later morphed into a takedown of inflated HBO auteurism. Unwavering in its commitment to hand-held cameras and full of sweetness and awkwardness (but mostly awkwardness), The Comeback reveals the unhealthy mix of self-delusion and tireless work ethic required for older women actors to survive in a straight man’s Hollywood.
When I was hooked Valerie Triumphs At The Upfronts (S1, E2): the dead-on send-up of network upfronts (meetings wooing advertisers) featured a porn star reality competition in which contestants run up five flights of stairs with a mouthful of crème fraîche.
How much stuff Two seasons, 21 episodes, 30 minutes each.
Where to get your fix DVD, HBO. KEVIN RITCHIE
Slings & Arrows (The Movie Network/Movie Central/Showcase)
The best Canadian dramedy to emerge in the 00s, Slings & Arrows depicts the behind-the-scenes life of a Shakespeare festival – a fictionalized version of Stratford – with its three seasons centring on productions of Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear respectively. Starring Paul Gross, Martha Burns and pretty much every local actor you can think of (including, in the first seven episodes, Rachel McAdams), the show is a caustic send-up of the country’s cultural institutions and an enchanting love letter to the practice of art. If you’re a Canadian with even a passing interest in theatre, it is as essential a show as our cable channels have ever produced.
When I was hooked Playing The Swan (S1, E6), when Hamlet reaches opening night and you come to understand why theatre artists, despite everything, do what it is they do.
How much stuff Three seasons, 18 episodes, 45-48 minutes each.
Where to get your fix DVD/Blu-ray. JG
THE MIND OF A CHEF (PBS)
Just when you thought you could stick a fork in done-to-death food programming, along comes PBS with a quirky, chef-driven show that folds everything you loved about No Reservations (Anthony Bourdain even narrates) and Bill Nye The Science Guy into one addictive package. The show devotes a half-season or so at a time to a popular chef (David Chang, April Bloomfield, Magnus Nilsson and others), following them to remote locales, organic farms or their moms’ kitchens, getting to the root of their culinary DNA. You will learn more than you ever thought you’d need to about whiskey production, noodle shops in Tokyo train stations, or the influence of West African cuisine on southern cooking.
When I was hooked Noodle (S1, E1), when Chang mercilessly rags on Lucky Peach editor Peter Meehan for failing to finish an enormous bowl of ramen. (“Look at those ladies behind you! They crushed theirs!”)
How much stuff Four seasons, 64 episodes, 23 minutes each.
Where to get your fix Netflix. NM
Strangers with Candy (Comedy Central)
There aren’t enough disgusting women on TV. That’s what makes this after-school special with an edge so refreshing. Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris) is 46-year-old former teen runaway who returns home to try her luck at Flatpoint High once more. Under the tutelage of the closeted, married Mr. Noblet (Stephen Colbert) and his beau, art teacher Mr. Jellineck (Paul Dinello), Jerri tries to do high school things like get laid and party with friends, but her already deep experience in these areas alienates her classmates. Enjoy gross, absurd, politically incorrect jokes? You’ll be quoting this show in Jerri’s distinctive voice in no time.
When I was hooked In the first episode, Old Habits, New Beginnings (S1, E1), Jerri is plagued by unflattering short hair and an overbite, wears a turtleneck tucked into high-waisted jeans with extra hip padding and fringe embellishments. It was love at first sight.
How much stuff Three seasons, 30 episodes, 23 minutes each.
Where to get your fix YouTube, DVD. KR
We’re not quite ready to declare these the best series of all time, but their titles came up most often when we were making our list of must-sees.
THE WIRE (HBO)
Ignored when it originally aired, this is the series that made binge watching necessary and showed that long-form TV, and not movies, could handle themes and characters as successfully as a great big novel. David Simon’s look at the connections among Baltimore’s various institutions – from City Hall and the media to low-level drug dealers – benefits from being seen several episodes at a time, simply because there’s so much buildup in each season. It also rewards re-watching to appreciate how intricately it was constructed.
When I was hooked Old Cases (S1, E4), directed by Toronto’s own Clement Virgo, when Bunk (Wendell Pierce) and McNulty (Dominic West) communicate during a crime scene investigation using only the word “Fuck.” Genius.
How much stuff Five seasons, 60 episodes, 55-60 minutes each.
Where to get your fix DVD/Blu-ray, CraveTV. GS
+DON’T FORGET: Friday Night Lights, 6 Feet Under, Lost, The Shield
Fans of these series are known to be obsessive. Don’t feel guilty if you’re one of those who’ve binged on these more than once.
Chances are you blazed through all seven seasons of Buffy sometime in the last decade. If you didn’t (perhaps, like me, you’re intimidated by the time-suck), devote a weekend to this gone-too-soon sci-fi/drama gem, which follows a rogues’ gallery of small-time criminals hurtling from job to job on their ramshackle spaceship. Joss Whedon dreams up a rich futuristic universe (imagine the American west, plus whatever doses of Chinese culture survived the collapse of Earth, plus a crap-ton of laser guns and spaceships), but as always, the dialogue is flawlessly snappy, funny and quotable, and the characters are played perfectly off one another for maximum odd-couple impact. By the way, he held off on killing off my favourite character until the post-series movie (2005’s Serenity). Thanks, Joss!
When I was hooked Our Mrs. Reynolds (S1, E6), featuring a super-fun guest turn from a pre-Mad Men Christina Hendricks as a wide-eyed village girl who (spoiler alert) is not what she seems.
How much stuff One season, 15 episodes, 44 minutes each.
Where to get your fix Netflix, DVD/Blu-ray. NM
+DON’T FORGET: Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Arrested Development, The IT Crowd, Spaced, SCTV, CODCO.
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