For the longest time, television was held in much lower regard than the silver screen. But, as time has gone by, the medium has picked up steam – beginning with a few bright spots amongst a sea of sub-par garbage media and eventually evolving into the major entertainment contender that it is today.
And now, with so many ways to watch shows – from streaming services, to mobile apps, to classic cable – it’s easier than ever to watch all you want whenever you want. Still, some shows are much more easy to digest in large quantities than others – be they quick-and-easy sitcoms, long-form episodic dramas, or something in-between. To help you figure out what to view the next time you want to become one with your couch for a few hours/days/years, we’ve put together the following list of the 30 best television shows to binge watch.
If you think that James Bond meets early-2000s Adult Swim (we’re talking Space Ghostand Sea Lab 2021-era) sounds like your cup o’ tea, then Archer is going to be right up your alley. This genre-bending adult cartoon comedy is as raunchy as it is quick-witted and its pull-no-punches approach to lampooning is second only to, perhaps, Rick and Morty. And don’t think the fact that it’s an animated show make you think it’s not grown-up enough, because this definitely-not-for-kids episodic could make even a brothel madam blush.
In real life, family disfunction is generally no laughing matter. In the case of Arrested Development, however, it’s the cherry on top of the cake. This short-lived show follows the Newport Beach, California Bluth family, an inexplicably well-off collection of the most self-centered, narcissistic, money-grubbing, screwed-up people in the world – who also all happen to be related in some form or another. It’s clever, quick, and – if you can ignore the most recent Netflix-exclusive season – every episode is worth watching a couple times.
BAND OF BROTHERS
Set in Europe during WWII, this HBO series chronicles the missions and members of Easy Company – the 506th Regiment of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. It’s short compared to some of the other selections on our list (having only 10 parts to the limited series), but it’s arguably the best television depiction of any wartime event ever. It’s full of action, drama, and suspense, all of which compounded by the fact that it’s based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Stephen E. Ambrose. Yes, that’s correct, these are real war heroes and their true-to-life tales.
BORED TO DEATH
Certainly an oddity when it compared to the more mainstream shows on our list, Bored To Death is no less a captivating, albeit goofy comedic television show – which is perhaps no better explained than by listing the three cast leads: Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson. Schwartzman plays a down-on-his-luck noir fiction writer who decides to pursue detective work, using the knowledge he garnered from reading and writing hard-boiled novels. If you find your tastes somewhere in the quirky range of R-rated comedy (we’re looking at you, Wes Anderson fans), this one’s for you.
If you can look past the fact that this is a show in which the protagonist is a murderous meth dealer, you’ll discover a shockingly rich character drama. It should also help, for some, that this show features a lot of thematic similarities to westerns, mafioso-style gangster movies, and (perhaps obviously) modern drug cartel crime films. And, in case that’s not enough, it’s worth noting that it was inducted into the Guinness World Recordsas the most critically acclaimed show of all time.
If the Marvel films and TV shows of the 2000s were an example of how not to tell gritty comic book stories, Daredevil and the new class of Marvel-Netflix shows are the exact opposite – with, perhaps, one yellow-fisted exception. Yes, they are still about superheroes, but these characters are humanized, vulnerable, and a lot more interesting thanks to it. Even if you just want to watch Daredevil to prepare for the upcoming Punisher series (which promises to be a super-fun bloodbath), it’s worth watching.
Westworld was not the first time that HBO whet their fangs on the western genre – that accolade goes to Deadwood. And while there’s no sci-fi spin on this period-action-drama, the world and characters are so rich that there never needs to be a twist. Timothy Olyphant, who went on to star in another excellent western show called Justified, plays the straight-laced sheriff character in perfect disharmony with Ian McShane’s lawless bar-owner/crime lord, but while they are certainly the highlights of this show, the entire cast of characters will keep you coming back for more. There’s also rumors of a movie in the works, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.
Based on the Coen brothers’ film of the same name, Fargo the TV show is not actually a continuation of the story from the movie. Rather it is an anthology inspired by the setting, story, and characters seen in the film. In fact, each season stars a different cast and follows a different storyline, some stranger than others. As it stands right now, there have only been 3 seasons, but FX – the network on which the show appears – is open for a fourth. So, if you’re gonna watch this one, you should get started before the next season hits the airwaves.
Joss Whedon hasn’t always been the most commercially successful writer/director/creative, but the cult followings that each of his properties garner are undeniable. None, however, are probably as resilient and faithful as those surrounding the sci-fi western Firefly. The story follows a ragtag crew of smugglers as, in the far future, they traverse the galaxy making trouble and generally causing an uproar. It’s funny, moving, and a whole lot more interesting than a lot of the stuff they air on SyFy today. It is, however, only 13 episodes long. Well, 13 episodes and a movie, called Serenity.
For those who are unfamiliar with Fringe, this is the show that really put J.J. Abrams on the map. It also functioned much like X-Files for the 2000s – except it wasn’t as cheesy and was much better at stringing together season-length story arcs. And that says a lot, considering that we believe X-Files is one of the best science fiction shows of all time. Unfortunately, Fringe does suffer from a dismal final season, which is marked by a lot of loose ends and an abrupt finale. Still, everything leading up to that point is pretty brilliant.
GAME OF THRONES
Chances are pretty good that we don’t have to tell you GoT is a binge-worthy show, because it’s one of the most successful television shows of all time and you’re probably already watching it. If not, this is another plea to get you onboard with it. Though there’s probably not a whole lot we can tell you that you haven’t heard before. Like, for instance, that it is incredibly violent, isn’t just for Lord of the Rings nerds, will make you laugh a lot more than you probably expect, and has a really epic story beneath it all with characters that you love to hate and hate to love. Seriously, it’s time to get on the Thrones train.
It’s hard for writers to keep up with good storylines in the spy-thriller genre. The fact is, that type of fast-paced action-packed world of treachery and danger is fairly exhaustive when put into a continual format. Truth be told, it works much better in film. That being said, Homeland is certainly the exception to the rule. Not only does every season keep you on the edge of your seat, but the intertwining character drama between the action fills in the space quite nicely. And it doesn’t hurt that this show is headed by Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya from ’80s classic, The Princess Bride).
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA
With an admittedly absurdly simple premise – three best friends own and run a bar together – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has managed to be one of the longest-running comedic television sitcoms of all time. And we have to credit at least a part of that to our widespread voyeuristic obsession with watching horrible people do hilarious things. For a group of characters that are so dumb, this is a surprisingly smart show once you pull back the proverbial curtain. And even if you’re not looking for a deeper meaning, it’s funny enough to watch Danny DeVito and company sink to the lowest rung of the social and psychological ladders.
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT
Crime procedurals are a dime a dozen – in fact, there are plenty of networks on TV that are home to at least one or more. With such saturation, it’s hard to make heads or tails of any of it. Yet, there are still stand-outs. For instance, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (or SVU, as fans are wont to call it), which follows a group of New York detectives responsible for dealing with the most heinous sexual crimes is one of the longest-running and best-written crime procedurals ever to have been penned. Keep in mind, however, that this show’s heyday occurred during the time that Christopher Meloni, as Detective Elliot Stabler, was on the show. It also stars Mariska Hargitay (daughter of Jayne Mansfield) and Ice T.
A period drama that encircles an advertising agency primarily during the 1960s, this is the show that put Jon Hamm on the map as an actor. It also stars the likes of Elizabeth Moss (from The Handmaid’s Tale), January Jones, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery, and more. During its run, it won dozens of awards for writing, acting, historical accuracy, and more. And we mean dozens, including 5 Golden Globes, 16 Emmys, and a host of others. It’s not all roses and sunshine along the way, but this show is absolutely worth the watch for anyone who appreciates American and business history, along with rich and flawed characters.
THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE
An alternate history that seeks to answer the question, what would have happened if Germany won WWII, this show is actually based on a book of the same name by science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Yes, the very same author that wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – the book Blade Runner was based upon. If you’ve read it, however, don’t worry about too many similarities, as the connection is fairly loose. For now, there are only two seasons, but a third is on the way and – thanks to the success of it – that trend may continue. It’s also worth noting that this is an Amazon original, so you have to be a Prime member to watch it.
Few shows are as mind-bendingly bizarre as Mr. Robot and get away with it. Even fewer remain approachable for 3 seasons or more. And that makes this one pretty special. Unfortunately it’s extremely difficult to talk about it without giving away any important plot points. What we can say is this: the premise follows the trials and tribulations of one Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a cybersecurity engineer and hacker who is recruited into an anarchist organization with the goal of tearing down the financial institutions of the world. This one can sometimes be a tough pill to stomach, but it’s definitely worth it.
You might think that a television show about a middling manager and his staff at a New England-based paper company sounds dry and boring, but the unassuming setting and story is exactly what makes The Office such a charming sitcom. Or perhaps faux-docuseries is more accurate, as it was the show that pioneered the mockumentary style for the small screen – at least in the United States. This show was also responsible for catapulting the careers of actors such as John Krasinski, Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, Ed Helms, Rainn Wilson, Ellie Kemper, and more. If you like your comedy awkwardly charming, this show is a must-see.
Do a cursory Google search for “best shows you’ve never heard of” and nine articles out of ten will prominently featured Party Down on the list. The reason for this is fairly simple: the absurdist comedy about a group of caterer-actors trying to make it in Hollywood was created by Rob Thomas (not the ’90s rocker, but the mind behind Veronica Mars and iZombie) and stars a cast of comedians and actors who you would certainly recognize from other notable films and shows. That list includes Adam Scott (Parks & Recreation), Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex), Ken Marino (Wet Hot American Summer), Martin Starr (Silicon Valley), and Jane Lynch (The 40-Year-Old Virgin).
Gangster movies and shows are almost always a win in our book, so well as they are well-constructed. And those that take the time to get a particular time period right, especially one a bit out of the ordinary, are even better (just watch the first couple seasons of Boardwalk Empire). Peaky Blinders – which stars Cilian Murphy (28 Days Later, Batman Begins) is one such show. It takes place in Birmingham, England just prior to the 1920s, is loaded with plenty of action and drama, and is shockingly under-watched here in the States. Just be prepared to wade through some thick accents if you do choose to watch this one – which can be a bit of a drawback for some.
RICK AND MORTY
Imagine if Back To The Future’s Doc Brown were a lot smarter, way more unstable, and had unfettered access to the entirety of our universe and every other possible universe and time period ever. Then, throw in an unsuspecting and astoundingly average Marty McFly-esque grandson into the mix and you’ve sort of got an idea of the premise of Rick and Morty. This animated show is now the #1 most watched program on Cartoon Network (that means both Adult Swim and all other time slots) and, although each episode is less than 30-minutes in length, has so much jammed into every installment that it almost necessitates a couple run-throughs.
A show about nothing – that’s the premise behind Seinfeld. Yet it still lasted for nine seasons, garnered nigh-endless acclaim, and was even voted by the Writer’s Guild of America as the 2nd best-written TV series of all time (solely losing out to The Sopranos). It’s also the chief reason behind another excellent binge-able show starring Seinfeld co-creator Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm. At this point, Seinfeld and the comedy that surrounds it have been all but completely ingrained into our collective culture, but this show is still worth blitzing through, even if you’ve already seen it.
Holding the accolades for the longest-running sitcom and longest-running animated show of all time, it’s hard to argue against The Simpsons as a prime example of binge-worthy television at its best. For nearly 30 years, this show’s writers have been consistently pumping out episodes that lampoon literally everything in pop culture. And while it’s certainly more family-friendly than, say, South Park – this cartoon is still laugh-out-loud funny. Our favorite series of episodes, however, has to be their Halloween-themedTreehouse of Horror specials.
SONS OF ANARCHY
A little over a decade ago, FX was struggling to find content that would stick, with the highlights being shows such as Rescue Me, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and – of course – Sons of Anarchy. The latter, a show about a fictional outlaw motorcycle club, is actually FX’s all-time highest rated show. And that is reason enough to give it a watch. But it’s also the perfect thing to keep you glued to the couch if you’re a fan of crime drama, gangster movies, and unabashed violence. It also has a bit of unique realism – thanks in part to the fact that one of the main characters, Happy Lowman, was played by David Labrava – a consultant on the show and actual Hells Angel from Oakland.
Topical humor is hard to keep up across the board, yet the showrunners behind South Park have been creating content that consistently stays fresh, interesting, and funny – and they’ve been doing it since 1998. This show is often grueling for its lack of sympathy and punch-pulling and is definitely not for the faint-of-heart, especially if you offend easily. But if you can accept the fact that, to the writers of this adult cartoon, nothing is sacred, you’ll find watching South Park remarkably cathartic for how gross, obscene, and absurd it is.
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION
Let us start by saying that Star Trek is not for everyone – not even if you already like science-fiction. But, if you have even a fleeting interest in this idealist version of the future, TNG is your best bet for a binge-worthy series in the universe. There’s an argument to be made that the original series – which starred William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy – is actually the best, but that’s a point that isn’t even agreed upon by the most hardcore Trekkies. Regardless of which side of the fence you stand on, TNG was certainly the longer-lasting of the two, hasn’t aged as poorly, and even features a wealth of cameos from the cast of the original.
For a show that literally hinges on the talents of child actors, Stranger Things has impressed just about everyone that’s taken a chance on it. And that looks like it’s going to be continued when the second season drops. Whether you’re a fan of horror, sci-fi, the ’80s, monsters, or just well-constructed television, this is a show that you absolutely cannot miss. And while a binge could feasibly be done in a single day, the show still more than qualifies to be on this list. There is one caveat, however: you have to be a Netflix subscriber in order to watch it. Subscribe now, however, and you’ll have time to watch this show before its second season is released at the end of October.
THE WALKING DEAD
Not all of The Walking Dead is good. There, we said it. Still, that’s pretty much to be expected in a show about the zombie apocalypse that has lasted seven-going-on-eight long seasons. One way or another, however, this AMC show (which is based on a graphic novel of the same name) has enough action, adventure, horror, drama, comedy, and jaw-dropping WTF moments to keep you glued to your television set for at least the first five or six seasons. Just, maybe skip through the dismal farm episodes that took up most of season two.
THE WEST WING
Martin Sheen as president doesn’t sound like such a bad deal. And it worked very well for this fast-paced political drama created by Aaron Sorkin (the mind behind The Social Network, Moneyball, Steve Jobs, and more). Arguably the best political show of all time, The West Wing is marked by a fast-paced and fast-talking style (Sorkin’s signature) and the classic ‘walk-and-talk’ shot – a stylistic sequence which consists of a long single camera shot in which characters move around the set interacting with other members of the cast who join and leave the conversation as the shot continues without cutting.
There are quite a few people out there who would make the argument that The Wire is the greatest television show of all time. While we cannot confirm nor deny this, the HBO-series is undoubtedly a superb example of a crime procedural/cop drama. And while it is certainly dramatized for the screen, it also features a good deal of realism – likely thanks to the fact that it was created by David Simon, an actual former police reporter. Pair that with HBO’s signature no-holds-barred approach to TV and film and you’ve got a series that you could easily watch from start to finish without getting bored or overwhelmed.