The Ultimate Binge Guide: 79 Shows to Watch Now

Daunted by the scads of great shows? (Thanks, golden age of television!) FLARE editor and in-house TV freak Briony Smith shares her must-see shows to watch now, from HBO classics you may have missed to lesser-seen indie comedy gems and British imports

Feel Like Comedy?

Best TV shows to binge watch

Drunk History (Photo: IMDB)

Drunk History
Comedians get filmed getting super-wasted—like, legit super-wasted—as they share history stories. These scenes are intercut with other comedians acting out their narration. Pretty much every actor and comedian ever has guested on this show. Plus: learning!

You’re the Worst
You’re the Worst is one of the sharpest, funniest comedies on TV, but it has yet to break big. Thank the sweet, sweet content gods at FX that it’s been granted a third season regardless. Aya Cash and Chris Geere play two monster hipsters who fall in love despite the fact that they are the worst (but the best together). Season 2 features the most honest, unflinching portrait of depression I’ve seen. It all sounds a bit dark, but shit is hilarious.

Did you love Wet Hot American Summer? The crew behind it—David Wain, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black—made back in the day a single season of this charming little absurdist comedy about three childlike dudes in suits (also named David, Michael and Michael) who have odd adventures (and constantly get into trouble).

Sure, everyone loves Freaks and Geeks, but its utterly delightful unoffish sequel Undeclared—about the shenanigans of a disparate group of first-year students—sometimes gets forgotten in the annals of Aptovian history. Tiny child versions of Jay Baruchel and Charlie Hunnam are at peak cuteness, and Loudon Wainwright (Rufus’ dad) will make you squee as Baruchel’s overprotective pops.

Little Britain
David Walliams and Matt Lucas’ sketch show isn’t exactly the most politically correct, but goddamn if it isn’t hilarious. The pair play numerous beloved recurring characters, including crass schoolgirls, a breastfeeding dude, an obnoxious Weight Watchers host, a hypnotist who uses his powers for evil, a boy determined to be the only gay in the village and a surly bank employee.

30 Rock
TV critics delight in flashing back to the great sitcom wars of 2006 when two shows about the goings-on behind the scenes at a SNL-like program went head to head. Everyone pegged Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip—helmed by Aaron Sorkin, for god’s sake—as the frontrunner, but the show was widely panned then cancelled, while scrappy lil’ 30 Rock emerged as the winner and chugged along for many lauded seasons. Stern daddy GE head Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) and Liz Lemmon (showrunner Tina Fey) take the Employee of the Month ham for best sitcom boss/mentee pairing.

Arrested Development
This kooky sitcom about an off-kilter clan will make you feel one-hundo p better about any shortcomings of your own kin. The show was one of the first great comedies of the new golden age of TV, and was v. influential on the single-camera shows that followed (plus it rejuvenated Jason Bateman’s career, thank goodness).

How I Met Your Mother
Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it—while HIMYM may look like a broad, tacky, multi-camera network sitcom, it has the heart of a smart, soulful cable comedy. Everyone bitched and moaned about how long it took to reveal the mother (and, uh, what happened once they did), but all those haters are missing the show. It’s less about how he met the mother, and all about how it feels to grow up—and the great joy of deep friendship. Get ready for the winning format experimentation (flashbacks within flashbacks, a musical episode, complex timelines, an iambic pentameter episode, a season that takes place over a single weekend).

Best TV shows to binge watch

Broad City (Photo: IMDB)

Broad City
Read our February issue cover story and tell me you don’t want to watch this show immediately. Follow along on the adventures of hipster stoners Ilana and Abbi as they slack, sleep around and smoke weed in NYC.

Louis CK took the TV auteur role—he was given a smaller budget to get complete creative freedom; he writes, directs, stars in and edits every episode—to ecstatic new heights with this surrealist dramedy based on CK’s own life. He plays a comic named Louie CK who is raising his two daughters, although the strange little touches take it into the sublime, whether it’s his agent being played by a child, or being sent to talk-show host lessons conducted by David Lynch.

Man Seeking Woman
This was one of the best new shows of 2015. Depicting the agony of dating in the modern age was beautifully captured by several shows this year, from Master of None to You’re the Worst. Man Seeking Woman uses magic realism to show how the ups and downs of dating actually feels for the hapless Josh (Jay Baruchel), whether it’s the pain of finding out your ex is seeing someone new (in this case, it’s 139-year-old Hitler) or crafting the perfect text to a crush (Josh gets an assist here from a war room’s worth of generals).

Parks & Recreation
Parks & Recreation—about the day-to-day hijinks of a small government office in Pawnee, Indiana—had a bit of a rocky start, but you just have to push through the first season to get to the comic gold. When the insanely talented ensemble cast (including Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari and Retta) are all firing as one, it’s truly magical to watch. Get ready for the joy that is Jean-Ralphio.

Pushing Daisies
What a wonderful premise—a handsome baker (Lee Pace) has the power to bring the dead back to life by touching them, but things get complicated when he touches his murdered childhood sweetheart and they fall in love. Ooh, and freelance at a detective agency together! This is the TV cuteness equivalent of a Shar-Pei puppy.

The Thick Of It
I bet you never thought you’d grow a boner for a wizened, skinny old Scottish dude. Clap your ears on Peter Capaldi (a.k.a. the current Dr. Who)—he plays the acid-tongued Malcolm Tucker, a cruel, no-nonsense politico who doles out the best insults on TV to his political staff and will make you fall in love with his horribleness. Showrunner Armando Iannucci would essentially remake this show into Veep, which is also awesome.

Silicon Valley
You’d think watching a room of programmers coding and machinating the internecine world of start-up politics could be a little boring, but Mike Judge of Office Space and Beavis and Butthead fame makes you really root for these lovable lugs, especially skittish CEO Richard, beautifully played by BC boy Thomas Middleditch.

Master of None
This was the best new show of 2015. Enough said.

Feel Like Drama?

Best TV shows to binge watch

My So-Called Life (Photo: Facebook)

My So-Called Life
The OG all-the-feels show. Peep Jared Leto as the impossibly beautiful (and semi-infuriating) crush, Jordan Catalano. Claire Danes kills it in her breakout role as the way emo Angela Chase, making her way through high school with the help of her fierce little group of BFFs, including bad girl Rayanne, gay-before-it-was-cool Ricky and childhood bestie Brian.

Boardwalk Empire
It sometimes feels like Boardwalk Empire got lost in the shuffle a bit in terms of marquee HBO shows, despite its ludicrous pedigree of Martin Scorsese as executive producer and Sopranos vet Terrence Winter as showrunner. Taking a stroll down the boardwalk for this Prohibition-era gangster epic is well worth your time, as the show is utterly gorgeous (flapper dresses! seaside scenery! Prohibition parties!) and features some truly incredible work from vaunted character actors like Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon and Jack Huston.

Out of the holy triumvirate of HBO classics from the trio of showrunner Davids (including David Chase’s The Sopranos and David Simon’s The Wire), Deadwood is the least ballyhooed, which we can only rectify by recommending it over and over. A sprawling, Shakespearean Western, the show is dirty, grimy and glorious, reveling in David Milch’s florid, curse-filled dialogue and the rivalry between upstanding sheriff Timothy Olyphant and debauched saloon owner Ian McShane. You’ll also fall in love with all the strong women characters, including Robin Weigert as the perpetually drunk Calamity Jane.

Just as the movie Fargo claimed to be based on a true story and it was not, so go the true-but-not crime capers (populated by Coen-esque colourful weirdoes) that make up this anthology series. Dark, funny and surprisingly deep, Noah Hawley’s perfectly crafted two seasons (so far—season 3 is on deck for 2016!) are like nothing else on TV and utterly absorbing. Season 1 standouts Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton and newcomer and FLARE office favourite Alison Tolman give such wonderful, lived-in performances that it feels strange to see them in other roles once you’ve watched.

Who knew that one of the greatest love stories on TV would be between Hannibal Lecter and a wacky crime-fighting professor? This somber horror-drama is not for the faint of heart—the violence and gore are truly shocking—but the flowery dialogue, plot twists, gorgeous art direction and mouth-watering food styling (plus Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy’s hotness) make this a dark dreamscape worth entering.

House of Cards
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright kill it as two political schemers who strategize themselves right into the White House. Spacey’s sassy to-the-camera asides will have you in fits.

Part of the growing trend of dramedies, this is the rare show where showrunner Jill Soloway is fearless about making virtually all her characters just as selfish, horrible and annoying as most people are in real life. Jeffrey Tambor is warm, loving and wonderful as “moppa” Moira, a trans woman in transition who must endure a society in its own transition to greater acceptance along with her eternally troubled clan.

How do you keep a marriage on track? Is this all there is? The Duplass Brothers leapfrog beautifully from independent film to HBO success with their spare, smart dramedy about a couple, a woman (the wife’s sister) and the man’s old BFF and how they all collide and tackle the mid-life questions we all struggle with. Simple and sublime. Melanie Lynskey vibrates with energy and emotion.

Best TV shows to binge watch

Outlander (Photo: IMDB)

Okay, okay, we will admit that the premise for this one sounds a little nuts: a nurse goes with her professor husband to Scotland for a second honeymoon after the Second World War, only to touch some standing stones and be hurled back into the 1700s, where she meets (and then marries for her own protection) a young warrior babe who must keep her safe from the nefarious local captain…who is her present-day husband’s ancestor and thus looks just like him. Reads cheesy as hell, but this is one of the best shows on TV at the moment—and features a kick-ass heroine and insane love scenes and the aforementioned babe—and is loved by even the most stately critics who don’t usually go in for this sort of thing: this year, it got more Golden Globe noms than Game of Thrones!

The Wire
If you haven’t seen this yet, what are you even doing with your life? Watch it immediately. And don’t give us any guff about how it’s boring or too talky or hard to follow. This is the greatest TV show ever made. (Dude! College courses are taught about it!) It is the opus of opuses.

The Sopranos
This series is a little emotionally draining, what with all the whacking of beloved characters, but the Jersey mob family epic stills holds up gorgeously, 15 years after it ushered in the golden age of TV and the rise of the antihero. Tony Soprano—James Gandolfini, in one of the all-time best TV performances of all time—begat Don Draper who begat Walter White who begat…

The Killing
Oh, man, Holderrrrrr and Lindennnnnnn! Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos are our favourite (non-Law & Order) cop pairing, bantering and bickering (and flirting?) as they solve murders in the mucky murk of Seattle. Seasons 3 and 4 will break your heart. Seasons 1 and 2 cover one mystery, 3 a different one, and 4 another, so you can jump in wherever you wish.

The Affair
This premise is a real humdinger: the story of an affair is told from both lovers and (surprise, surprise) each paramour remembers things quite differently. In season 2, the show opens up to the perspectives of two other characters. All four main actors—played by The Wire’s Dominic West; ER’s Maura Tierney; Dawson’s Creek’s motherf-cking Pacey, Joshua Jackson; and Ruth Wilson—do spectacular work here. Plus the sex scenes are mad, mad hot.

Feel Like a Guilty Pleasure?

Best TV shows

Sons of Anarchy (Photo: IMDB)

Sons of Anarchy
This show isn’t exactly great, per se, but damn, is it addictive. Charlie Hunnam stars as a brooding scion of a trashy, violent motorcycle club in this gearhead take on Hamlet. Second billing goes to Charlie Hunnam’s ass, which appears virtually every episode. (Thank you, Kurt Sutter.) Katey Segal is tremendous as a badass bitch who will do anything—and we mean anything—to protect her family.

The trick to enjoying Lost is to ignore all the mystical island mumbo-jumbo and concentrate on the best part of the show: the feisty, well-rounded characters and the fascinating group dynamics that develop between them and shift over the years. Sure, they really tried to sell that whole Jack/Kate/Sawyer love triangle, but it’s really the love between Desmond and Penny that will melt your heart (look to the famous, series best episode “The Constant” for ugly-cry-inducing romance).

American Ninja Warrior
“Isn’t that the gladiator obstacle course show?” people ask incredulously when one confesses their secret love for this gladiator obstacle course show. It is one of the most inspiring shows on TV, we’ll have you know: (mostly hot) people overcome great personal obstacles (LIFE METAPHOR) to compete on the show, and the touching backstories and insane feats they achieve will have you legit cheering. Plus it’s funny when they fall in the water.

Wayward Pines
Here comes a classic M. Night Shyamalan twist! Don’t read anything about this show to stay spoiler-free about the insane reveal. Matt Dillon, Terence Howard, Hope Davis and Toby Jones are in delightful high-camp mode here in this mystery show about a sheriff that wakes up in the something’s-not-quite-right-here small town of Wayward Pines and must figure out why he’s there—and how to leave.

Queer as Folk/The L Word
We live in exciting times: pansexual and transgender characters have begun to fill our screens, and gay and lesbian characters have become near-commonplace. Showtime helped blaze a trail back in the early aughts with their pair of queer dramas, Queer as Folk and The L Word. The former is pretty cheesy, but it’s worth a watch for one of TV’s all-time dreamboats, man-izer ad exec Brian Kinney (played by the nerdily-named Gale Howard) and his passionate affair with jailbait twink Justin. (More of an Anglophile? Peep the UK original of the show, which starred the great Aiden Gillen, i.e. Tommy Carcetti of The Wire and Littlefinger on Game of Thrones and a baby Charlie Hunnam as his teen piece.) Over on The L Word—essentially a very chic-looking soap opera that takes place in the extended friend group of a bunch of smoking-hot Los Angeles power lesbians—everyone bed-hops around everyone else’s impossible gorgeous houses. Fan favourites include Jennifer Beals as a daddy-ish art broker and Marlee Matlin as a spirited artist.

This oft-forgotten prison drama is actually the granddaddy of them all: Oz was the first one-hour drama made by HBO. Revisiting this late-nineties curio today, it’s a little nuts to see just how hard the cable channel went right out of the gate, what with all the severed body parts being mailed to people as part of various revenge ploys; plenty of man-rape and nudity; and a guard getting mauled to death by a dude who grew his nails for it. J.K. Simmons may have won his Oscar for playing the scary music teacher, but he is 1,000 times more terrifying here as the head of the prison skinheads. Keep an eye out for Christopher Meloni and Dean Winters to steal your hearts as psychotic yet weirdly lovable rogues.

Best TV shows

ER (Photo: IMDB)

Sorry, Grey’s Anatomy: ER has you beat. Just look at this cast! George Goddamn Clooney, Anthony Edwards, Noah Wyle and Juliana Margulies deal with the horror show of a busy Chicago emergency room and their always-in-tumult personal lives.

Finished ’Em All? Watch These, Too:

Freaks and Geeks, Party Down, Bloodline, Bojack Horseman, Eastbound and Down, How To Get Away With Murder, Veep, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Twin Peaks, The Larry Sanders Show, The IT Crowd, The Critic, Rectify, Fresh Off the Boat, The Eric Andre Show

And, I haven’t watched these yet, but they’re supposed to be amazing:

Black Mirror, Casual, Catastrophe, Crazy Ex Girlfriend, Happy Endings, Justified, Luther, Michael and Michael Have Issues, Nathan For You, Please Like Me, Rick And Morty, Veronica Mars, UnREAL, Top of the Lake, The Shield, The Mindy Project, The Leftovers, The Good Wife, Terriers, Slings and Arrows, Scandal, Portlandia, Peep Show, Mr. Robot, The In-Betweeners (UK Version), Chappelle Show, Skins (UK Version)

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