Some shows are slow-burns — it’s best to consume them drip-feed style. Not all at once, but rather slowly, with you painstakingly studying every detail with hawk-like precision in case they’re important to the story later on.
But nowadays, who really has the patience to wait for episodes each week? Netflix practically invented the binge-watching model — it makes every episode of a single season available all at once, letting us watch at our own pace. You could choose to parse out episodes per week, or eat it all up in one go. As a result, there’s been an interesting change with regard to storytelling of late. Shows are starting to seem deliberately addicting, showing cliffhanger after cliffhanger just to keep you hooked.
In some respects, this isn’t ideal. An entire season spread out an episode per week has long been a popular model because it creates discussion. It’s more fun, after all, to discuss what happened on the latest Game of Thrones episode and hotly speculate what’s going to occur on the next. In a sense, it gives creators an opportunity to carefully build the dialogue around their shows. They are able to control what gets hyped about, and how to rouse people up.
However, binge-watching has been a great way to keep writers and creators on their toes. It’s no longer enough to make a good show. Now, it’s demanded of these people to make something very tightly written. Shows packed with compelling content, twists and turns, and addictive characters that will make you want to keep watching.
Below is a list of the most binge-worthy shows on Netflix thus far. The genres vary. There’s a healthy dose of comedy, but also drama, and also a hint of fantasy. They serve as great examples to the “binge” model because they’re incredibly written, produced, and laced with fantastic story arcs that’ll keep you glued to your screen.
In the OA, a blind woman presumed dead returns to her hometown, and, inexplicably, she can see. There, it’s immediately clear she’s less interested in reconnecting with her parents, reminiscing old memories, making up for lost time, than she is running about and gathering a crew of strangers. Well, at first they’re strangers.
Pretty soon, they become kindred souls who listen, with hawk-like attention to detail, to Prairie’s stories. Where she’s been while she was gone. What happened to her. And what she’s here to do. They involve murderous men, glass prisons, near-death experiences, and voluntary drowning. And quite impossibly, the universe, the galaxies, fates, mystery, and all phenomena larger than us human beings but somehow still embedded in the mystery of how we express ourselves, how we connect with each other, and perhaps most importantly, how we listen to other people’s stories. How we believe.
Was that vague? Well, that’s only fitting for a show that’s brimmed in so much mystery it’s sometimes frustrating to continue watching. But like a rainbow, there’s a reward waiting at the end if you’re bold enough to go through this whole journey. There’s only two ways you will receive this ending — you will love it, and it’ll be the best ending you will have seen in the history of serialized dramas. Or you will absolutely hate it and consider the whole eight-chapter arc a complete waste of your time.
Either way, The OA is worth talking about. Even if you disagree with its artistic choices, of which there are plenty to question and critique, it’s still one of the most ambitious, no-holds-barred shows in the last few years, or even decades. When it goes “there,” it really goes there — then takes it even further. Abandon all logic if you dare enter its world. The first and second seasons are available to stream now.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: Homecoming, Forking Paths, Invisible Self
Director: Zal Batmanglij, Andrew Haigh, Anna Rose Holmer – Screenplay: Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij, Melanie Marnich, and more – Cast: Brit Marling, Emory Cohen, Scott Wilson – Run Time: 2 seasons, around 50 minutes per episode
Dear White People
Adapted from Justin Simien’s 2014 film of the same name, Dear White People is just as heavy on race, identity politics, and profiling–based biases the source material tackled with unabridged confidence. That should please fans of the original film — the Netflix version is just as, if not more than, political, and it doesn’t pull any punches.
Dear White People follows black students at an Ivy League institution, chief of which Samantha White, intelligent and sharp-tongued host of radio show Dear White People, where she touches on various topics, chief of which racism. Although its prime focus is White, each episode spotlights a particular character, showing their day-to-day at the university. And since most of these folks interact regularly, individual episodes dovetail organically, giving us a Crash-esque storytelling device that explores multiple perspectives on situations.
You might be thinking, “How is this a binge-worthy show?” Well, Dear White People isn’t conventionally addictive. But it’s very, very insightful and intellectual, and very unapologetic about being so. Not since The OA has there ever been a show so confident, so uncompromising about its message and its own voice. There’s something to be said about a series that takes an idea, runs with it, and compels us all to listen.
To tell you the truth, we don’t really like “sermon” shows, or those that feel too much like college courses instead of compelling entertainment. But take this as an exception. It’s that good. The first and seconds seasons are available to stream now; a third season is in the works as of this writing.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: Chapter II, Chapter V, Volume 2: Chapter VIII
Director: Justin Simien, Tina Mabry, Barry Jenkins, and more – Screenplay: Justin Simien, Chuck Hayward, Njeri Brown, and more – Cast: Logan Browning, Brandon P. Bell, DeRon Horton – Run Time: 2 seasons, around 30 minutes per episode
Hailed as one of the most popular original offerings from Netflix, Stranger Things doesn’t seem to need any proper introduction. But just in case you were too busy to join the hype train during its uproarious first season in 2016 (season three comes out in July) here’s a refresher: When a young boy called Will Byers disappears, his mother, friends, and the town’s police chief must face otherworldly terrors to get him back.
A huge part of what charmed audiences is this show’s heavy use of 1980s iconography and pop culture references, even at times directly emulating iconic scenes from movies during that era. Stephen King’s body of work shines here, both theoretically and aesthetically, to give the whole show a potent injection of horror and town-wide dread. Even still, it’s one of the most binge-worthy shows in this list, giving you a reason, per episode, to hop on too the next.
And although the show gets too nostalgic at times, it doesn’t remain in the past too long. Whereas reboots of old shows rest on the commemoration of their laurels, Stranger Things puts nostalgia to good use by bringing it to the present and telling a story that, while at its core supremely dark, is also about the friends who will never leave your side. Ultimately, when you get past the scary stuff, it’s a touching, heartfelt, and excellently written show about ride-or-dies.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers, Chapter Six: The Monster, Chapter Eight: The Upside Down
Director: The Duffer Brothers, Shawn Levy, Andrew Stanton, and more – Screenplay: The Duffer Brothers, Jessica Mecklenburg, Justin Doble, and more – Cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard – Run Time: 3 seasons, around 50 minutes per episode
Released at a time when the documentary-series format was fast gaining traction, American Vandal spins the genre on its head and delivers a quality parody not only of the genre itself but the seemingly mundane drama of high school.
The satire becomes clear right off the bat: An entire high school is in shambles after an unfortunate prank that left twenty-seven faculty cars vandalized with, wait for it, dick drawings. Who drew them? No one knows. But an aspiring sophomore documentarian, along with his trust friend, attempt to investigate the case. They also turn their camera and mics to Dylan Maxwell, the suspected perpetrator who’s potentially being expelled for something he might not have done.
American Vandal is an utterly hilarious show. It cleverly borrows the tropes found in true-crime shows and implements it to a very thin plot. Increasingly, the story gets more and more bizarre, and as it does, the investigation picks up a pace comparable to that of someone trying to solve a murder. The show is masterful, self-aware, and unapologetic of its childishness. Yet, surprisingly, beyond the satire, it also has something to say about prejudice, and the ennui enveloping today’s youth.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: Hard Facts: Vandalism and Vulgarity, Growing Suspicion, Gag Order, Climax
Director: Tony Yacenda – Screenplay: Tony Yacenda, Dan Perrault, Dan Lagana, and more – Cast: Tyler Alvarez, Griffin Gluck, Jimmy Tatro – Run Time: 2 seasons, around 30 minutes per episode
Foul-mouthed animation isn’t new — Adult Swim shows them aplenty. But one about the minutiae of puberty, its disasters and awkward boners in tow? Practically non-existent. Until Big Mouth came along, of course.
This highly original animated series is about all the things that occur during puberty, one of the most confusing, shame-filled periods of human life. Big Mouth shows it all: masturbation, menstruation, and everything in between. But the surprising thing about this show is that it isn’t just crude. Big Mouth makes fun of these things but also makes them personal affairs, showing how this embarrassing transitory period affects relationship, our sense of self-esteem, and how we deal with inevitable growth.
You wouldn’t expect that from a show that demonstrates every disgusting part of pre-adulthood, but Big Mouth is as insightful as it is mercilessly sharp-tongued about sex issues. As heartfelt as it is foul. Most importantly, few shows give females a space through which they are able to share how they experience puberty, and Big Mouth takes great care to give them exactly that. Big Mouth is messy, disgusting, and utterly vile. But it’s the most honest portrait of what growing up is like.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: Ejaculation, Everybody Bleeds, Am I Gay?, Girls Are Horny Too
Director: Joel Moser, Bryan Francis, Mike L. Mayfield, and more – Screenplay: Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Jennifer Flackett, and more – Cast: Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Jessi Klein – Run Time: 2 seasons, around 40 minutes per episode
The great thing about Black Mirror is that it’s an anthology series, which means you don’t have to watch the episodes in succession — they each feature a different story, a different cast, and, as is unique to this show — a different technology-based horror.
For example, in The National Anthem, a president is forced to do something completely disgusting on live television in order to save the life of someone very important. In Arkangel, a mother enrolls her child in a program allowing them to see what they see at every second via a wireless tablet. In Nosedive, one of the series’ best episodes, we enter a world where ratings and “likes” are currency, and social status can literally exclude you from certain freedoms.
Black Mirror is best experienced cold turkey — with you knowing as little about it as possible. At times, however, the twists feel a little bit stunted, as if they were tacked on there for mere shock value. Even still, episodes with that blemish still boasts a clear, cohesive message on what technology does to us. Or more accurately — what we do with technology. Black Mirror prides itself on being thematically heavy, but we think it’s still a binge-worthy show.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: Aside from those already mentioned, you should check out The Entire History of You, White Bear, White Christmas, San Junipero, USS Callister
Director: Otto Bathurst, Euros Lyn, Brian Welsh – Screenplay: Charlie Brooker, Kanak Huq, Jesse Armstrong and more – Cast: Rory Kinnear, Daniel Kaluuya, Toby Kebbell – Run Time: 5 seasons, around 1 hour per episode
When They See Us
People have varying opinions about the Central Park Five scandal, but When They See Us attempts to set the record straight: the men of color in the center of this case were wrongly accused.
In this miniseries, streaming on Netflix now, director Ava DuVernay avoids playing coy, choosing right off the bat to declare and reclaim a history being maligned by outsiders. As a result, the show is pulsating with conviction, screaming so loud its voice is straining, but still heard.
We follow the story of five teens from Harlem that come to be entangled in a modern nightmare when they’re falsely accused of a brutal assault in Central Park. The story is too much to bear, even more so when you find out it’s based on true events. This is some of DuVernay’s finest work, deftly showing how the kind of language we use can shape the way we see people. Small details like the prosecutors and journalists’ choice of words when referring to the accused is called into question, showing how something as simple as this can sway the court of public opinion.
Far more important, however, is the affordability of innocence when accused. In America, who gets to be presumed sinless until proven otherwise? Certainly not these men.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: All of them
Director: Ava DuVernay – Screenplay: Ava DuVernay, Julian Breece, Robin Swicord, and more – Cast: Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse – Run Time: 1 season, around 1 hour per episode
Special is one of the only few shows featuring characters with cerebral palsy. In our opinion, more shows should depict what people with disabilities go through everyday. Not in a voyeuristic way, of course, but in a way that shines a light on hardships that often go undiscussed.
The show centers on a young gay man with the aforementioned disorder who tries to navigate toward a more independent life. Though he tries, with varying degrees of success, to accomplish daily tasks with minimal help, he finds that the ideals he aims toward are much harder to get to because of his condition. Even so, Special is a show that’s full of hope, insight, and optimism. It does not ring cynical on the limits of disability. Rather, it acknowledges them and portrays the human spirit’s most admirable quality: to continue pressing forward despite everything.
Special is also very binge-worthy because its episodes are much shorter compared with the conventional half-hour sitcom, so you’ll likely burn through the entire thing in one sitting. It’s like a movie chopped in eight parts. The writing may at times feel too on-the-nose and funny in a way that’s stunted. And some characters feel more like caricatures than actual people. Still, this is an emotionally deft glimpse at people we often ignore and don’t think about often enough.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: Chapter Three: Free Scones, Chapter Six: Straight Potential, Chapter Eight: Gay Gardens
Director: Anna Dokoza – Screenplay: Ryan O’Connell – Cast: Ryan O’Connell, Jessica Hecht, Punam Patel – Run Time: 1 season, around 15 minutes per episode
The only legit docu-series in this list (elsewhere in this compilation is American Vandal, but it’s not really a docu-series), Our Planet combines breathtaking visuals and the ever-reliable narration of David Attenborough to let us peek into the musings of animals in their natural environment.
The series, which started out as an ambitious project, takes us various parts of the animal world. The film crew went to 50 countries across all the continent of the world, capturing more than three and a half thousand filming days’ worth of footage. Our Planet shows us the diversity of habitats around the globe. One moment we’re in the remote arctic wilderness. Then the next we’re deep in mysterious oceans gawking at the incredible marine life there.
Our Planet does an incredible thing, too. Beyond just being a documentary, it also highlights pressing issues Earth is facing, like climate change. This way, it’s bleeds beyond being informative and awe-striking but also feels, at many times, melancholy. The show stimulates us with the wonders of the world, then pulls the rug from beneath our feet by illustrating how we’re slowly ruining the only planet that can accommodate us. It’s masterful and delicate, and something climate change deniers should definitely watch.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: All of them (no, really)
Director: Alastair Fothergill – Narrator: David Attenborough – Run Time: 1 season, around 50 minutes per episode
The Alienist takes us back to ye olde New Yorker, smack dab in the middle of a series of brutal murders. Theodore Roosevelt, newly appointed police commissioner, calls upon Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a criminal psychologist, and John Moore, a newspaper illustrator, to begin a hush-hush investigation. Soon thereafter Sara Howard, a secretary vying for the first female police detective role in the city, joins the trio.
The ragtag group employ early disciplines of psychology alongside forensic investigation techniques to locate and apprehend one of New York City’s serial killers.
Period dramas, especially in TV, run thick. There’s Game of Thrones. Jericho. And a whole slew of other entries set in a world much like ours, but grittier, less polite, and a lot backwards when it comes to politics and gender roles. The Alienist is hewn from these predecessors, though it’s refreshingly rid of tropes of its ancestors.
For one, it’s acting is superb and not at all caricature-like. You can almost feel you’re in the world instead of merely being a standby spectator. Dakota Fanning, who plays Sara, deserves special mention for her astute portrayal of a woman who wants to be more in a society that doesn’t want women to be more than wives or maids. The Alienist is a gritty, thoughtful, and highly enjoyable series on how things worked back in the day, and how far (or not) we’ve come since.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: A Fruitful Partnership, These Bloody Thoughts, Many Sainted Men, Psychopathia Sexualis
Director: Jakob Verbruggen, James Hawes, Paco Cabezas, and more – Screenplay: Hossein Amini, E. Max Frye, Gina Gionfriddo, and more – Cast: Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans, Brian Geraghty – Run Time: 1 season, around 50 minutes per episode
The trick to watching Russian Doll is to know as little as possible before consuming every single one of its episodes in one sitting. That, we think, is the best way to experience this show. With an utterly unmemorable premise (a woman dies repeatedly, Groundhog Day-style) Russian Doll doesn’t seem, at first glance, a compelling show to binge.
But three episodes in and you suddenly realize that its initial concept, trop-filled and hackneyed as it may be, blossoms into something more profound. Groundhog Day is classic. It’s both funny and charming. But Russian Doll takes that premise and dissects it to accommodate heavy themes, including drug use, depression, and getting your s*** together.
With strong, unforgettable performances from both leads, Russian Doll is an experience like so many other films that have passed, but it leaves a plethora of things to consider after you burn through its eight-episode run. There are no striking visuals here, nor narrative spectacles or bombastic characters that distract the story. Instead, you get a taut, airtight experiment in surrealism that, most importantly, is grounded in seemingly simple things like friendship, overcoming personal baggage, and finding a companion in a big, lonely place.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: Nothing in This World Is Easy, Alan’s Routine, The Way Out, Ariadne
Director: Leslye Headland, Jamie Babbit, Natasha Lyonne – Screenplay: Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland, Amy Poehler, and more – Cast: Natasha Lyonne, Greta Lee, Yul Vazquez – Run Time: 1 season, around 30 minutes per episode
The other one of two shows exploring sex in this list (see Big Mouth above), Sex Education is crude, relentless, and hilarious. We center on Otis Milburn, a socially awkward high school student who lives with his sex therapist mother. Suffice it to say that he’s an armchair expert on the matter. Be that as it may, he’s never actually had profound sexual experiences.
When Otis’ home life is exposed, he realizes he can leverage his sex knowledge to up his social status. So, he teams up with Maeve, a badass, mouth-fire girl, and the two of them cobble up an underground sex therapy clinic in which students can air out their frustrations and curiosities on sex.
There’s of course nothing funnier than pubescent children pretending to be expert on matters of sex, something that astounds and stumps even the most knowledgeable of adults on the subject. Even still, there’s something charming about the premise. Though Otis is a self-made expert, the show gives plenty of breathing room for him to realize that he might need some help of his own.
It can get too treacly at times, but not on the level of This Is Us. For the most part, Sex Education is tame. Lurid, sure, but tapered and grounded on teenage anxiety. The cast is genuinely charming. It’s like if John Hughes dared to make a sex-ed movie. Season one is streaming now, with a second one on the way.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: Episode 3, Episode 6, Episode 8
Director: Ben Taylor, Kate Herron – Screenplay: Laurie Nunn, Sophie Goodhart – Cast: Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, Ncuti Gatwa – Run Time: 1 seasons, around 50 minutes per episode
The End of the F***ing World
We’re glad Netflix picked this gem from Channel 4, otherwise we wouldn’t have such an affecting portrait of psychopaths on screen.
A number of films have been made about the socially and psychologically inept, but most of them focus on the perils and dangers of such a person, less so on the underpinnings of these folks. Although it’s wrong to fixate on one’s mental illness, The End of the F***ing World is an odd outlier — though its premise is bleak, the show is executed lightly, almost bordering on romanticism. But the show stops short of venturing further and offers us a sharp, memorable portrayal of misanthropy.
Faithfully adapted from Charles Forman’s graphic novel of the same name, The End of the F***ing World tells the story of James, a 17-year-old boy who believes he’s a psychopath because he kills animals as a hobby. Soon, these murders feel like a chore, and to up the ante, he wants to try killing a human. He settles on Alyssa, his classmate of the same age. Alyssa is mouthy, rebellious, and has issues of her own.
Shortly after meeting James, Alyssa proposes a runaway, hoping for an adventure so as to escape her turbulent home life. James agrees with the intention of killing her somewhere along the trip. And off they go. It’s best if you know as little as possible; we suggest you just jump in and watch the entirety in one sitting.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: All of them
Director: Jonathan Entwistle, Lucy Tcherniak – Screenplay: Charlie Covell – Cast: Alex Lawther, Jessica Barden, Gemma Whelan – Run Time: 1 season, around 20 minutes per episode
It’s hard to write about Mad Men because there’s so much that’s already been written about it. And for good reason, too: Mad Men is still considered to be one of the best shows in the history of television. It’s finished, sadly, but week after week while it was still on the air, it gave us complex, multi-dimensional characters, layered, dedicated storylines, and perhaps most important of all, an eerily accurate portrayal of social relations in New York in the ‘50s.
Mad Men’s most significant character is Don Draper, the creative head of Sterling Cooper, an advertising agency in Manhattan. He’s been called many things, and “genius” is one of them. But also: a liar, a cheater, a drunk, and a non-committal philanderer.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: All episodes of Mad Men are worth watching, but watch out for these gems — Shoot, The Wheel, Meditations In An Emergency, The Arrangements, The Gypsy and the Hobo, and The Suitcase
Director: Alan Taylor, Ed Bianchi, Tim Hunter, and more – Screenplay: Matthew Weiner, Tom Palmer, Lisa Albert, and more – Cast: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks – Run Time: 7 seasons, around 50 minutes per episode
The Good Place
The Good Place is often cited as one of the smartest sitcoms ever made. We’re inclined to agree. The show takes us to the afterlife, called The Good Place, a semblance of heaven good people of Earth go to after they pass. The inverse of this is aptly named The Bad Place, this show’s version of hell.
The Good Place starts off like any conventional sitcom: there are laughs, there’s a bit of worldbuilding, a bit of time with each characters, and then more laughs. Soon, however, we learn that the main character, Eleanor, shouldn’t be in The Good Place at all. As a human, she was a vile, disgusting human being who made life a living nightmare for those around her. Something fishy is up.
It’s better if that’s the only thing you know about The Good Place from here on out. But trust us when we say that it is, indeed one the smartest, insightful, and astutely written shows we’ve seen thus far. Who knew a sitcom can incorporate the teachings of Immanuel Kant into its storytelling? That’s what The Good Place does, anchoring its themes to real-world philosophies, thereby asking us to consider the decisions we make, and more importantly, what we owe each other. All its three seasons are streaming now, and a fourth and final one is currently in development.
Episodes That Deserve Special Mention: Category 55 Emergency Doomsday Crisis, Michael’s Gambit, The Trolley Problem, Janet and Michael, Best Self, Everything Is Bonzer!, Pandemonium
Director: Drew Goddard, Michael McDonald, Beth McCarthy-Miller, and more – Screenplay: Michael Schur, Alan Yang, Aisha Muharrar, and more – Cast: Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil – Run Time: 3 seasons, 22 minutes per episode