Its getting cold and miserable outside here in NYC. Time to don the PJs, turn up the heat, and do some soul-replenishing binge watching!
A recent study sponsored by Netflix found that 61% of TV-streaming adults in the US binge watch TV often with no guilt or shame. This is clearly because we are in a golden age of episodic TV content thanks to the blossoming creativity of TV producers and the risk-takers in the programming departments at HBO, Showtime and AMC. Not to mention the prodigious Netflix and Hulu. Amazon has now also launched its own Amazon Studios and hope to be among this esteemed list. The more the merrier I say!
If you're like me you're still mourning the end of the blindingly amazing Breaking Bad series. We rue the departure of Walt and Jesse from our living room. Thank God for TV streaming. Via our Apple TV, Xbox, Roku or Smart TV we can now bring our favorite shows and characters back to life whenever we want... and binge watch our favorite series from beginning to end for the second (or third) time.
Here are some recommendations for your binge watching schedule over the holiday season.
1. Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Orange is the New Black is a dark comedy-drama about Piper Chapman, a New Yorker who is jilted from her law-abiding life with her fiance by a sentence to 15 months in prison for transporting drug money for her lesbian lover in a past phase of her life. We watch Piper naively bungle prison politics, leading to hilarious and sometimes life threatening situations. You very quickly fall in love with the rag tag cast of tough and unhinged inmates. Every episode ends in a cliff hanger, making this ideal binge watching fare.
2. Misfits (Hulu)
Another correctional-themed dark comedy about a bunch of young delinquents doing community service who just so happen to have super powers. This is a the British slant on the X-Men, full of subtle, dark humor and low budget production that is effective in its minimalism. These kids seem to attract trouble and begrudgingly band together to defeat the enemy du jour while retaining a healthy distaste for one another's company. The cast of characters rotates so the show is always fresh. Each episode is a story unto itself so you can drop in at any point without being too far out of the loop... though I recommend watching from the beginning.
3. House of Cards (Netflix)
A beautifully shot series about a Washington DC power couple (Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright) who plot to advance their position in the grand hierarchy of American politics. These are protagonists who you love to hate, yet find yourself rooting for despite their sometimes despicable behavior. The strong bond between the conniving couple draws you to them. The series lifts the skirt on DC wheeling and dealing, providing a dark yet realistic view of how things really get done (or undone) in the capital. As always, Kevin Spacey nails the role.
4. Game Of Thrones (HBO)
My love for this series borders on unhealthy obsession. I have the t-shirts and merchandise. I have pored over maps of Westeros in the companion iPad App. I have watched the series three times over, each time revealing more richness and nuance to this endlessly compelling story. Never has a more complex and intricate series been brought to our living rooms.
Fantasy and science fiction genre detractors miss this series at their own loss. The fantasy world of Westeros with its kings, heirs, usurpers, and sorcerers is just the canvas for a story about sex, politics, family loyalty, military strategy, alliances, betrayal and the hazards of leaning on "honor" as a guiding principle. I am jealous of anyone who hasn't yet watched Game Of Thrones and can now spend their holiday break bingeing on its deliciousness for the first time. I await the upcoming Season 4 premiere this spring with bated brethe.
5. Breaking Bad (AMC)
If you're reading this article, chances are you are already a fan of this ingenious series. If not, put it on your binge watching schedule immediately. Breaking Bad is an achievement in story telling and production that makes many Hollywood blockbusters look amateur.
When I first heard the premise for Breaking Bad (a high school chemistry teacher who takes up meth production to cover his cancer treatment bills) I was ambivalent about watching the series. It seemed too morose and uncomfortable a premise. But the genius of the series comes from its dance on the gray area between morality and immorality, making viewers question their own preconceived notions of good and bad. Add to that some brilliant cliffhangers and exceptional acting performances and you have a recipe for days of consecutive TV enjoyment.
6. Downton Abbey (PBS)
Downton Abbey has none of the flashy effects of Game Of Thrones, and little of the nail biting intensity of Breaking Bad... It is a slow burner that finds its way into your heart in a gentler but no less addictive way. The story is set in an early 20th century manor house in England, and follows the duel interlocking storylines of an aristocratic family seeking to sustain their dynasty, and the salacious goings on in the servants quarters below. This is Gosford Park in series form, and also features Gosford Park's Maggie Smith at her most demeaningly brilliant. The series makes no attempt to glorify the antiquated practices of the British aristocracy. However, the hierarchies and politics in Downton Abbey are reminiscent of today's corporations. It is surprisingly relateable, and eminently watchable.
7. Frozen Planet (BBC America)
Those familiar with the soothing tones of Sir David Attenborough's voice and his passionate appreciation for all things in the natural world will be instant fans of this series. But the major achievement of Frozen Planet is the insane and breathtaking footage of the Arctic and Antarctic, and its many creatures and geological features. This is a visual journey like no other, and maybe the most compelling and visually stunning series that Sir David has done to date. As always, Sir David is not content just to provide a voice over, but can be seen narrating from the South Pole itself in epic aerial shots presumably taken from a helicopter. I can rewatch this series over and over and never get bored.
What are you favorite shows to binge-watch? Any glaring omissions from my list? Comment below.