Article by Rachel Schmitt
Whether you want to admit it or not, we’re all guilty of binge-watching television shows — critically acclaimed cable hits and trashy train wrecks alike. Following some pretty extensive research involving lots of science and math, I’ve created a guide to all the shows you need to watch in your pajamas for hours on end, surrounded by old Chinese food and empty chip bags.
1. 30 Rock (Netflix)
Okay. So I’m actually just coming off of a seven-season 30 Rock binge. AND IT WAS AMAZING. This television masterpiece is the creation of comedy goddess Tina Fey, and as my fellow UNC Television writer Kelsey Weekman puts it, it possibly has the most jokes per minute of any show ever. It’s loosely based on Fey’s experience working at Saturday Night Live, and follows the life of television writer Liz Lemon on her quest to balance her work and personal life. She strikes up an unlikely best friendship with her boss, the majestic Jack Donaghy, and spends much of her time trying to deal with the antics of her show’s actors.
The show’s absurdist humor and weirdly lovable characters are brought to life by its stars: Fey, Alec Baldwin (like, THE ALEC BALDWIN. BEETLEJUICE ALEC BALDWIN. JACK RYAN ALEC BALDWIN. PUBLIC ANGRY PHONE CALLS TO HIS DAUGHTER ALEC BALDWIN.), Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, and Jack McBrayer. Also stay tuned for amazing guest appearances from people like Condelisa Rice, Julianne Moore, Selma Hayek, Matt Damon, Clay Aiken, Buzz Aldrin, James Marsden, that guy from the Allstate Mayhem commercials, Will Arnett and Chloë Grace Moretz. Trust me. It’s so worth it.
2. Supernatural Seasons 1-5 (old seasons on Netflix, current season on Hulu)
Let me be clear: if you’re looking for intellectually stimulating television with top-notch acting, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you’re looking for a wacky, fun, fast-paced, totally insane show with hot guys, look no further than Supernatural. This CW hit has been trucking along on network television for TEN SEASONS. It starts off as two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester (played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, respectively) as they try to find their father after he goes missing on a hunting trip. But not just any hunting trip. It’s a DEMON hunting trip. The brothers drive around the country in their black Impala, kicking demon butt and taking names, all in search of their father. It’s a pretty fun ride.
But here’s the catch: the show begins to get pretty bad after season 5. Laughably bad. Which is a shame, because it was a favorite of mine for a while. It’s really just a victim of TV writers not knowing when to quit. I mean, c’mon. I can only see two guys fight over different versions of the same thing for so many seasons. But the first few seasons are definitely worth a look. And hey, you never know. You may end up hooked and watching season 10 before you know it.
3. Parks and Recreation (old episodes on Netflix, current season on Hulu)
Here’s the story all about how some execs intended for a spin-off to the mega-hit The Office but ended up with a whole other beast entirely. The show stars Tina Fey’s bestie and hysterical SNL alum Amy Poehler in a workplace comedy ripe with wacky characters, feminism, libertarianism and miniature horses.
The show stars Poehler as the unstoppable Leslie Knope, the deputy director of the city of Pawnee’s Parks and Recreation department, who works to climb the ranks of the city government (and eventually, TAKE OVER THE WHITEHOUSE!!! jk we’re not there. YET.) along with co-workers who seem like the absolute worst people for the job, but end up being the absolute best. Parks has a consistency that has eluded many comedies and has filled its cast with talented actors and actresses, all of whom bring a special brand of humor to the show.
Be warned: The first season is a little rough. The show had difficulty finding its footing for the first few episodes, but I promise, stick it out and you will be rewarded. I can honestly say that Parks and Recreation quickly became one of my all-time favorite shows because of its non-stop laughs, but more importantly, because of its heart. It’s difficult to have such a diverse cast of characters and to have them work so perfectly, but Parks has accomplished just that and you truly come to identify with and love each of the characters.
And now is the perfect time to catch up! The show will soon be beginning its seventh and final season, and that’s something you’ll definitely want to be able to watch as it happens.
4. Arrow (old episodes on Netflix, current season on Hulu)
I’m currently on an Arrow kick, and maybe it’s just because the bar for the CW is set so low in recent years, but I’ve been seriously impressed by the show. It’s really fun to watch and has a great cast (I’m looking at you, Felicity!). The show is basically Batman with a bow and arrow, and I’m about it. You know, it has the whole “billionaire playboy goes missing and returns to his dying city set on being a vigilante and he has a girl that he’s in love with from his past (EVEN THOUGH THERE IS SOMEONE MUCH BETTER FOR HIM COUGH COUGH) and he runs around rooftops at night with tight pants and paint smeared over his eyes.” It’s something we’ve all seen before, but Arrow does it really well so I’m not mad at all.
Don’t go into this expecting Christopher Nolan level material, but you will find an exciting ride with likable characters and totally insane plotlines. And just a note: I’m still in the first season, so I’m not entirely sure how the next two are going to go. But if it’s anything like what I’m watching now, I’m excited to see what happens.
5. Scandal (old episodes on Netflix, current season on Hulu)
I can’t lie: I’ve got it bad for Olivia Pope and her associates. I began binging this show early last year and was instantly hooked. The show follows Oliva Pope (played by the ***flawless Kerry Washington) as the former White House correspondent and Washington, D.C.’s current top crisis manager. Pope runs around the city fixing problems left and right, all while juggling her affair with the *gasp* President of the United States (!!) and everything else that comes with being the all around coolest woman in the world.
The show constantly has moments that make you want to clutch your pearls and scream OMG in a way that is so satisfying and so unlike a terrible telenovela. The show has an amazing cast, but the real star is Washington, who’s amazing speeches make me feel like I could fight a small army. Bellamy Young as First Lady Mellie Grant is also a scene stealer and for GOODNESS SAKE SOMEONE GIVE HER AN EMMY! This show is all about strong and complex women, but it’s made for anyone to watch. Binge-watch ASAP so you can watch the show in real-time and live Tweet with me!
FUN FACT: Olivia Pope is actually based on the real-life Judy Smith. I heard her speak once at a lecture, and she was seriously one of the most inspiring people I have ever had the privilege of seeing.
6. Game of Thrones (HBO)
I began binge-watching this show during the final exam period of my first semester of college and never looked back. Sure, there’s a lot of characters and sometimes the gore and nudity is a bit much, but no show competes with GoT in terms of grandeur and scope. It’s as if you’re watching a mini movie every episode. The acting is superb (special shoutouts to Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage as Cersei and Tyrion Lannister, respectively) and the fighting sequences are epic. This show is another that features a diverse and incredibly complex set of characters, and it’s an award show darling.
This is show is one that will leave you screaming at your screen one moment and crying out in triumph the next. Keep an eye out for my personal character favorites, Tyrion Lannister, Sansa Stark (give her a chance!), Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth.
**Quick warning: for those who have read the books but haven’t made it to the show yet, I’ve been told that the show moves away from the source material in many of its storylines. I’ve only watched the show, but my friends who have both read the books and watched have said that they generally approve of how the story has been handled on screen (except for a few key moments). But please check it out yourself before making any decisions.
7. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Hulu)
I honestly had no idea what to expect when I heard that Fox was making a 30-minute cop comedy starring Andy Samberg. But let me tell you something. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is one of the most consistently funny shows on television right now. And sure, Samberg can be a little much at times, but for the most part he’s totally endearing. The real standouts of the show however, are Terry Crews as Detective Sergeant Terry Jeffords, Chelsea Peretti as Gina Linetti, and Andre Braugher as Captain Raymond Holt. If you’re not in love by the first episode, we can’t be friends.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is another example of a comedy who got their cast just right and it paid off. The show is only in its second season, so you won’t have too much to catch up on. But I promise, it’s definitely worth it.
8. Misfits Seasons 1-2 (3 if you’re brave) (Hulu)
Misfits is an off-color, totally hysterical and totally weird British science fiction about a group of teenage delinquents who receive super powers after a freak storm and instead of fighting crime, they do what teenage delinquents would do: mess stuff up. The show can be incredibly dark at times (like, INCREDIBLY DARK) but uproariously funny a second later. It’s definitely not a show meant for everyone, but if you’re not easily offended and are in for a fun story with an A+ cast, head on over to Hulu for some binge-watching.
I’d like to add that this recommendation is for seasons 1 and 2. Season 3 is when the show starts taking a turn for the worst, but if you’re strong of heart, I’d go ahead and watch it. But definitely do not go past season 3 because most of the main cast moved on to other roles and we’re left with some subpar characters that just really aren’t worth our time.
9. Avatar: The Last Airbender (Amazon Prime)
Okay. Hear me out. I know that this is an animated show on Nickelodeon, but it’s actually pretty darn good. The show follows Aang, the young Avatar destined to save the world from the evil Fire Nation, and his two friends, brother and sister Sokka and Katara, as they travel around the world training and preparing for the final battle. The show actually deals with some pretty mature elements for a “kids” show, and it’s successor, Avatar: The Legend of Korra, boasts even more mature themes.
The show also is void of filler episodes, with each episode furthering the plot or character development in some significant way. I know that it may seem a bit silly watching a show made for children, but I think that Avatar appeals to a wider audience and is perfect for some late-night binging.
10. Orphan Black (Amazon Prime)
DROP EVERYTHING YOU’RE DOING AND WATCH THIS SHOW IT IS AMAZING.
Orphan Black is the story of a young woman, Sarah Manning, who sees a woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. But before the woman jumps, Sarah realizes that the woman looks exactly like her *cue Twilight Zone music*. She comes to learn that she is one of dozens of clones, though none of them know why they were created, and most don’t know that the others exist. Though they share DNA, the clones have all developed unique personalities and lead separate lives.
Sarah and the other clones are then on the hunt to find out just who made them and why. There are constant twists and turns throughout the series that will keep you on the edge of your seat and ready to click “next episode” as fast as possible.
I’d also like to point out that Tatiana Maslany PLAYS ALL OF THE CLONES. IN EVERY EPISODE. It’s a true work of art, and I say that with sincerity. The fact that this woman has not won an Emmy yet is a true crime, and I can only hope that season 3 brings her justice.
11. Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
I’m not going to lie, I was pretty apprehensive going into OITNB. It seemed like such as risqué show and I wasn’t quite sure if it was a comedy or a drama. And guess what? It’s all of the above. And it’s glorious.
The show begins by following Piper Chapman from her life of luxury to a life behind bars (well, two years behind bars), but the show isn’t just about Piper. It has one of the greatest ensemble casts I have ever seen and devotes each episode to a different character’s backstory. The show is intensely funny but also makes a point to tackle issues that while they make us uncomfortable, need to be addressed. Many of the scenes are uncomfortably real, but that’s what makes the show so amazing. It’s also refreshing (and completely amazing) to see such a strong, diverse, and complex female cast. OITNB is a groundbreaking show and well worth the watch. Or binge.
Better to binge.