The winter season, naturally, is when you find yourself with a lot of time on your hands. First of all, you’ve got your Christmas break from school or college or work or whatever, so that frees you up for a couple of weeks. I mean, you have to talk to your family or whatever on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, but aside from those two days, you’ve got a lot of spare time to kill. And not only that, it’s also sub-zero freezing temperatures outside, so you don’t want to go out. So, that leaves you with pretty much only one sane option left: binge-watch a show you’ve been meaning to watch for a while, or that you’ve heard your co-workers talking about at the water cooler for the past few weeks and you’ve never managed to get round to, or that you saw a trailer for on YouTube but didn’t previously have the time to watch anything longer than the trailer. Now you’ve been granted that time and you can binge-watch some of those shows. But which one should you watch? There’s so many to choose from! We’ve made it slightly easier for you by narrowing the entire spectrum of today’s so-called “Golden Age” of television down to the 15 most essential and must-see series to binge-watch this winter.
15. The Walking Dead
If you’ve never seen The Walking Dead (which is unlikely, because for a long time, it was the highest rated show on television – not just cable television or scripted television, all of television), then this winter might be the perfect time to catch up. It’s the story of Rick Grimes, a cop who was sent into a coma by a gunshot sound sustained in the line of duty, and when he woke up in the hospital a few months later, the world had been consumed by a zombie apocalypse and society had broken down. He and a group of survivors tangle with the undead – but face more adversity from the living. It’s had its ups and downs over the years, but it’s always been an engrossing show, and that makes it prime binging material.
14. Peep Show
If you’re looking for a comedy to binge your way through this winter, look no further than this oddball British comedy, about a pair of yin and yang roommates named Mark and Jez. Mark is a boring, stuck-up loan manager, while Jez is an unemployed slacker who thinks he’s some kind of musical prodigy. They hate each other, and yet they also couldn’t live without each other. The whole show has a novel approach to storytelling: every shot is from a character’s point of view, and you can always hear Mark and Jez’s thoughts as voiceover narration. Peep Show makes for perfect binging material as each episode throughout its nine season run flows smoothly into the next, and Mark and Jez chase girls, get robbed, and accidentally kill dogs (among other things).
13. How I Met Your Mother
In How I Met Your Mother, a man with the voice of Bob Saget recounts to his two teenage kids the story of how he met their mother (as suggested by the title). When real fathers do this (if they even do it at all), it takes about five minutes. In How I Met Your Mother, it took nine years and 208 episodes, but don’t worry, it doesn’t stand out as being too much of a problem, and they do make jokes about how long he’s taking to tell the story. Anyway, it’s not about that. It’s about the main cast. You fall in love with Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin, and Barney, and you want to see what happens to them, and you want everything to work out for them. It’s a really funny, really clever show, and if you haven’t seen it already, you should binge-watch it this Christmas.
12. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Described as “Seinfeld on crack,” It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia makes for a great binge. It’s easy viewing, telling the story of a bunch of self-absorbed narcissists who run an Irish bar in Philly called Paddy’s Pub. Every episode sees these terrible people doing terrible things until terrible things happen back to them and they learn nothing. Rinse and repeat. It’s the perfect show for binging – you could watch that formula for weeks. Over twelve seasons, they’ve kidnapped people, tangled with the mafia, dealt drugs, scammed the welfare system, led people to suicide, donned blackface, become jihadis, faked their own deaths, and much, much worse. The characters are awful people and yet they’re so simple and naive that you can’t help loving them. Enjoy the show!
Fargo is a great anthology crime drama series, inspired by the Coen brothers movie of the same name. But the only thing the two have in common is their cold, snowy setting (which makes it perfect for winter viewing) and their dark and twisted sense of humor. Creator Noah Hawley is taking some time off between seasons 3 and 4 to work on other projects, so that means it’s the perfect time to catch up. Many terrific A-list actors have past through Fargo’s doors over the past few years: Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, Ewan McGregor, Carrie Coon, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and many, many more. The critics have said that Fargo is “powered by fascinating characters, cheeky cynicism, and just a touch of the absurd,” with a “sly wit and off-kilter sensibility.” They’ve said it’s “expertly executed with dark humor and odd twists.” They’re right, it’s great, so get binging!
Lauded as the greatest sitcom ever made, Seinfeld is truly something special. The situation comedy had, until then, been a TV genre reserved for tacky writing and cliched plots and stereotypical characters. But when Seinfeld came long, it made the world realize that the sitcom could actually have some artistic merit. The misadventures of Jerry Seinfeld, George Costanza, Elaine Benes, and Cosmo Kramer have had an immense influence on the world of comedy. The main reason it’s so great is that creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David weren’t interested in doing anything with the show besides making you laugh. Shows like Friends and Cheers have an emotional element, with melodrama that attempts to make you cry every now and then. But with Seinfeld, it’s all about the comedy. Seinfeld and David enforced a “no hugging, no learning” policy to avoid anything like that slowing down the comedy. There’s a good couple of hundred episodes of Seinfeld to get through, but fear not, because once you get through the first handful of episodes, you won’t want to stop. If you haven’t seen it, you can stuff your sorries in a sack and watch it this winter.
If you haven’t seen Lost, you should binge-watch it this Christmas, because you’ll love it. In the pilot episode, a plane crashes on a remote desert island in the middle of nowhere and the survivors – Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, all your future favorite characters – all band together to figure out what the hell they’re going to do. Their backstories are revealed by flashbacks. What they later discover is hidden government labs, time travel, tribes of people who were already living on the island, and all kinds of other mysterious things. They were all meant to land on this island and meet each other. It’s creepy and paranoid and messed up – like if The Twilight Zone followed the same story for six years. It’s crazy – crazy great.
8. Mr. Robot
The first season of Mr. Robot is an eclectic mix of Fight Club, American Psycho, and The Matrix, as it tells the story of a young hacker who gets wrapped up in a plot of corporate intrigue. The second season was a trippy, surreal odyssey that blew everybody’s minds, while the third season took us into noir territory and grounded some of the loftier ambitions of the earlier episodes. In short, the show has really strong reference points and truly unique cinematography, and it keeps going from strength to strength. If you have yet to see it, because you have reservations about its subject matter or you think it looks too dark and weird for you, then go and check it out over your winter break. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
7. Mad Men
The premise of Mad Men doesn’t make it sound very exciting. It’s about some advertising executives in the 1960s who sit around an office and drink whiskey. HBO were turned off, so they passed on it, but luckily AMC took a chance on that seemingly boring pitch and it came to fruition as one of the most devilishly charming drama series of all time. First of all, creator/head writer Matthew Weiner used the historical setting to deal with difficult subjects like race and women in the workplace. And secondly, Jon Hamm gave us one of the great TV antiheroes in Don Draper, a guy who will cheat on his wife and betray his closest friends but, in the end, after a lifetime of mistakes, do what’s right. Mad Men is a terrific show, and one standout episode sees a lead character taking acid and experiencing surreal goings-on. You’ll have to look forward to that one while you binge the whole show.
6. Sons of Anarchy
Sons of Anarchy is a binging favorite. It’s a dark, action packed series about a motorcycle gang in the fictional town of Charming. Now, not everyone can relate to the antics of a bunch of leather-bound, gun-toting, drug-running bikers, but everyone can relate to the family drama, the betrayals, the sense of brotherhood and camaraderie, and the romantic fallouts. Series creator Kurt Sutter is working on some spin-offs, but until they air, there’s plenty of time for you to catch up on the seven great seasons of Sons of Anarchy. The standout actors in a fantastic ensemble cast are Charlie Hunnam and Katey Sagal, who deliver powerhouse performances as a troubled mother and son. Sons of Anarchy is an awesome show that’s so addictive, you’ll binge your way to episode 92 in no time.
5. Better Call Saul
The spin-off of AMC’s Breaking Bad, focusing on the origin story of Walter White’s shady ‘criminal’ lawyer Saul Goodman (back when he went by Jimmy McGill), might even be as good as its predecessor. No one can ever expect anything from a spin-off show – they’re just a way to cash in on the success of a more original series. But Better Call Saul has gone and done it. If Breaking Bad had never existed, Better Call Saul would still be one of the greatest and most engaging shows on television right now. So far, there have been three seasons of ten episodes each. If you have any sense, you’ll watch them all this Christmas. The show keeps going from strength to strength – it started out great and it’s only gotten greater. Lord knows where it’ll go in season 4 and onwards, but it’s certainly exciting.
4. Twin Peaks
There’s never been a better year to binge your way through David Lynch’s surreal mystery drama Twin Peaks than this year, since the show finally returned for its third season a few months ago. In the first episode, the homecoming queen turns up dead in a small, sleepy town and an FBI agent is brought in to investigate. From there, it just gets stranger and stranger. There may be times when you’re watching the show that you wonder what the hell is going on and think it’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen, but two things are for sure – you won’t be able to stop watching it until you get to the end of it and you’ll love the rich, delightful absurdity of it all.
3. The Wire
The Wire was pitched to HBO as a police procedural, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a study of the American city – it’s a study of America. The show examines everything: the drug trade and its effects on youths who fall into its trap, the failing public education system, addiction as a disease, political corruption, homelessness, underfunded police departments, the print media, poverty, organized crime, shady workers’ unions, everything. It stars so many great actors, like Dominic West and Idris Elba and Michael K. Williams, whose character Omar Little is one of the greatest and most complex characters ever to grace the small screen. It’s a totally absorbing show, with rich story development and strong characters. The Wire is like Pringles: once you pop, you can’t stop.
2. The Sopranos
The Sopranos is one of the most popular and most critically acclaimed drama series of all time, and there’s a good reason for why it resonated with such a large audience. That reason is that it is a series about a family – just a normal, average family. The central Soprano family is relatable in every way: the hard-working, frustrated father, the underappreciated housewife, the rebellious teenage daughter, and the lazy teenage son. The business that the dad is in just happens to be organized crime. TV Guide named The Sopranos the best television series of all time, the Writers Guild of America declared it the best-written TV series of all time, and it won 21 Primetime Emmy Awards during its run. Suffice to say, it’s worth your time.
1. Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad is lauded as the greatest television series ever made, so much so, that it almost makes anyone who hasn’t seen it roll their eyes. But there’s a reason everybody loves it so much – it simply is the greatest television series ever made. The premise of a chemistry teacher with cancer turning to a life of crime cooking meth might sound a little gimmicky, but the execution by the actors and the writers couldn’t be more sincere and contemplative and perfect. In particular, the performance of Bryan Cranston in the lead role of Walter White is a revelation. He’s so emotionally engaging and deeply enthralling to watch, and the writing is so incredibly unpredictable and shocking, that the show is more addictive than the methamphetamine its characters sell.