Fun fact: I’ve had a Netflix account longer than I have been married to my husband. I was an early adopter, way back when you’d actually get DVDs in the mail. I consider myself something of a Netflix professional. That’s a sad thing to be proud of, but I am proud nonetheless. I have also been binge-watching since before it was a thing. My now-husband and I used to rent entire seasons of 24 from the video store (I’M OLD, OKAY) and watch them over a weekend. We are hardcore.
Since many TV shows will be going on summer hiatus soon, you might be looking for some new shows to fill the void. I have put together a list of what I believe are the most binge-worthy Netflix series (currently… please don’t get rid of any of these shows, Netflix).
You’ll notice that my list is mostly composed of dramas. Some of that is because I tend to prefer dramas to comedies, but I also think dramas are more binge-worthy than comedies. The story arcs are longer, the characters more complex, and you don’t very often get a good cliff-hanger in a comedy. I did include my favorite binge-worthy comedies at the end of the list, for those of you who don’t do dramas.
First up are the British shows. I think England does an awfully good job producing quality television — or maybe we only get the cream of the crop sent over the pond. Either way, these British shows are great TV, and they are probably all new to you.
NOTE: England calls what we could consider a season, a “series.” So when I say there are 2 series of a show, that means there is two season’s worth of episodes. Silly Brits, go put something in the boot of your lorry.
Happy Valley: This is the first of many crime dramas on my list. If you like cop shows, you will probably like Happy Valley. The main character is a fantastic female police officer, who is flawed and funny and relatable. I did have to pop on captions a few times while I was watching since my ear doesn’t always translate the Northern accents properly. (2 series)
Bletchley Circle: Bletchley Circle is another British show with strong female leads. In WWI, some women worked as code breakers for the British government. Their work was top secret, even after the war was over. Now the women who were responsible for cracking some of the Nazis’ toughest codes have to readjust to life as housewives. So, what do they do? Solve crimes, of course! (2 series)
Luther: This show stars Idris Elba, which really should be all you need to know. He plays a brilliant but tortured detective (you find out why he’s so tormented in the opening scenes of the series). The show also features a fascinating antagonist, but I can’t tell you more than that without spoiling the fun. (3 series)
Broadchurch: David Tennant (best known by Americans as the Tenth Doctor) plays a detective reassigned to the small coastal town of Broadchurch after apparently bungling a huge murder case involving a child. Upon his arrival in Broadchurch, he is immediately embroiled in a huge murder case involving a child. The way the lives of all the people in the town overlap with one another makes for really interesting watching. (2 series with more coming)
The Fall: The Fall has another strong female lead (England is better than we are at this, guys) played by Gillian Anderson (you might know her from The X-Files, also binge-able on Netflix). She is a chilly, take charge detective who could give two poops whether her male subordinates feel threatened by her. The show also stars Jamie Dornan who had to go and ruin his good name by making that Shades of Grey movie. (2 series with more coming)
Black Mirror: You should watch this series. Be prepared to stop and do some deep thinking about your life after each episode though. Each episode is its own story; there is no character or story arc to connect the episodes. Each episode picks one aspect of modern life, usually having to do with technology, and postulates what life would be like if we keep continuing down our current path. That sounds really out there and strange, but it’s very entertaining. I’d advise not starting with the first episode of the first series because it’s the weakest of all the episodes. “History of You” is one of my favorite episodes of TV of all time. SO good. (2 series with more coming)
Death Comes to Pemberley: Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are now married and living happily ever after at Pemberley. Well, right up until a woman is found murdered on the property, that is. Death Comes to Pemberley – get it? If you ever wished Jane Austen had written a mystery novel, here’s your show. *stars Rachael Stirling, also from Bletchley Circle (1 series)
Top of the Lake: I went back and forth about whether or not I really wanted to include this on my list. It’s definitely binge-worthy, but I am not sure if I liked it or not. Have you ever finished a show and just couldn’t sum up your feelings about it? It stars Elizabeth Moss, whom I love, and is set in New Zealand, which is beautiful. But the story is dark and unsettling and strange. Also stars Holly Hunter as a… you know, I don’t exactly know what she was. (miniseries)
Peaky Blinders: This is another show that required me to turn on captioning in order to decipher the Birmingham accents. The Peaky Blinders were a criminal gang in England in the early 1900s. The show stars Cillian Murphy as the leader of this family/gang as he deals with the business and avoids a relentless detective (Sam Neill minus the velociraptors and plus an Irish accent). (2 series with more coming)
Sherlock: If you haven’t heard of this show, I question whether you are a real TV binge-watcher. The show turned Benedict Cumberbatch into a household name, and what a name it is! A modern take on Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, each 90-minute episode is like its own movie — the quality is that high. There are more episodes coming, but because Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman also have pretty full movie careers, there have been LONG waits between series. (3 series with more coming)
Of course, America has produced some good dramas too, you just have probably already watched them. In case you missed them the first time, or would like another go-around, here are my fave American TV dramas on Netflix.
West Wing: One of the best TV shows ever. This is one of my staple shows; if there is nothing else to watch I can always throw on an episode of West Wing. Martin Sheen, Aaron Sorkin, fast talking while walking down hallways. It’s got it all. (7 seasons)
Lost: The show captivated people while it was on air, and flummoxed them with the finale. Lost paved the way for all the off-beat, long story arc shows that are on air now. It inspired so many fan based theories: Who is Jacob? What is the island? How do the ladies all still have shaved legs? Worth the binge, even if you don’t love the ending. (6 seasons)
The Killing: Another dreary crime procedural, but in the best possible way. Set in rainy Seattle, the plot is about as cheerful as the weather, but you will still be into it. AMC aired the first two seasons, and when viewers revolted after it was canceled, Netflix picked it up for two more seasons. The two main characters, played by Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman, are fantastic. (4 seasons)
Mad Men: Mad Men won all the awards, made MCM style popular again, and introduced the world to Don Draper. Oh, Don, how I love/hate you. The writing is amazing, the acting is amazing, the clothing is AMAZING. Season 4’s “The Suitcase” is my favorite TV episode of all time. Peggy + Don = 4eva *second appearance of Elizabeth Moss on this list (7 seasons)
House of Cards: House of Cards was the first original series Netflix produced, and, boy, did they hit a home run on their first at bat. Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood is the most devious, ambitious, cold-blooded politician you could imagine. And it’s not hard to imagine politicians as bad guys during this election cycle. The only person who can match Frank in his ruthlessness is his wife. Robin Wright is so good as Claire Underwood. You know they are the bad guys, but you kind of root for them anyway. *season 4 added Joel Kinnaman of The Killing to the cast (4 seasons with more coming)
Long form true crime is having a moment. The podcast Serial went viral a few years back telling the story of Adnan and Hae Min. HBO aired Jinx, the absolutely insane story of Robert Durst. And Netflix had its true crime moment with Making a Murderer.
Making a Murderer: Again, if you haven’t even heard of Making a Murderer before, I feel like maybe you aren’t as up to binge-watching as you think. The internet collectively lost their minds earlier this year when this true crime miniseries premiered on Netflix. I lived in Manitowoc during part of the span of time that this was filmed, so I know people who have strong feelings about the “balanced” nature of the documentary. Whatever you feel about the filmmakers, don’t expect to easily stop watching once you start. (miniseries)
Most sitcoms don’t use long story arcs to keep you tuning in from week to week, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t binge-worthy comedies out there. Netflix has a few hilarious shows that will keep you coming back for more.
Arrested Development: True story: We own the first 3 seasons of this show on DVD. Yes, I am of an age where people used to buy entire seasons of television shows on DVD. This is another show that Netflix brought back from the dead. Fans grieved after AD was canceled before its time, but it took almost seven years to resurrect it with the full cast. The show is so full of smart, quirky humor that I am still catching jokes that I missed the first two or three times I watched the episodes. (4 seasons)
30 Rock: I didn’t watch 30 Rock faithfully while it was on NBC and that was a mistake. It’s hard for me to describe how much I love Tina Fey, but I am not a huge Alec Baldwin fan. Or at least I wasn’t. I binged this entire show, start to finish, and Fey and Baldwin are so funny together it made me change my opinion on Alec Baldwin. Lots of quote-able lines in the show too. (7 seasons)
UPDATE: 30 Rock is no longer available on Netflix — Blerg.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Unbreakable is another Netflix original show, created by Tina Fey and starring Ellie Kemper, whom I also love. You can tell just by the silly premise of the show that it is going to be hilarious, goofy, and not very think-y. Ellie Kemper plays Kimmy, a woman who was kidnapped by a cult leader and held in a bunker underground for 13 years. She’s recently been released and has moved to NYC to start her new life. Hilarity ensues. Be prepared to have the show’s theme song stuck in your head for DAYS. *30 Rock stars Tina Fey and Jane Krakowski alert! (1 season with more coming)
Parks and Rec: My husband and I did watch Parks and Rec while it was on air, but it is good enough to go back and re-watch. The Pawnee Parks Department has the world’s weirdest collection of characters, but even though they are all so different from each other they still love each other. That’s one of my favorite things about the show, the characters all truly care about each other. Plus, dadbod Chris Pratt, if you are into that. (7 seasons)
So, there you go. That should give you roughly (actual amount undetermined because of math) hours of TV to get you through the summer. Or at least through Memorial Day.
Don’t forget to check out this list of mindless crafts you can make while binging these shows too!