Best TV shows to stream online via Netflix, Hulu, more
As Netflix, Amazon, HBO and Showtime dive deeper and deeper into the TV Anywhere (and anytime) pool, the opportunities to stream online -- and binge happily -- continue to grow. And grow rapidly. We are now in the midst of the best period for TV production -- and hence viewing -- of any time in the medium's history.
But where to begin? In my continuing quest to figure out how to answer this for myself, I offer you another binge list -- 50 ways to spend your valuable time without actually wasting your valuable time.
As usual, the same conditions apply, beginning of course with a fast Internet connection. And consider the ritual of deciding whether to binge a show similar to the ritual of deciding whether to read a book: Is the cover enticing? Does the subject (sci-fi? historical fantasy? satire?) interest you?
In that spirit, I've attempted to create some diversity here, but also provide some editorial direction. Pirates might not be your "thing" -- for example -- but "Black Sails" has some excellent action, and a first-rate lead in Toby Stephens. So if pirates are your thing, this is a reasonable place to go.
Here's another point to consider: Bingeing isn't about bingeing on commercials. It's about total immersion in the show, with the fewest breaks possible. For that reason, most of what is here is on Netflix or the subscription services of the major pay services. But Hulu is also an acceptable venue -- at least it seems to have figured out a way to make those breaks as painless as possible.
THE MINDY PROJECT(Credit: FOX)
Creator-star Mindy Kaling's life odyssey made the jump this fourth season from Fox to Hulu, which has continued to roll out episodes weekly (unlike most other streaming services). But with the season's first half finished, we can binge on 13 half-hours in which Mindy and Danny forthrightly grapple with parenthood, couplehood and career-hood differences of opinion. (And for those who just can't let it go, the midseason finale is set at Christmas.) -- Diane Werts
MASTER OF NONE(Credit: Netflix / KC Bailey)
And here's the Manhattan male side of Mindy's current-day 30-something story. Aziz Ansari of "Parks and Recreation" also writes and stars, playing an actor who can't seem to find a handle on his career or his relationships, at a time when he's feeling his life should be settled. Neatly juggling social and cultural expectations (with added first-generation-American angst), and backing its comedy with character depth, the show's first 10 episodes earned near-universal acclaim (and a Golden Globe nomination for Ansari). Find out why on Netflix. -- Diane Werts
MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE(Credit: Amazon Studios / David Berg)
The Nazis and Japanese won World War II? That's the concept behind this speculative thriller set in the '60s, as adapted by Frank Spotnitz from the Philip K. Dick novel, available on Amazon. As the Axis powers scheme over U.S. territory, young Americans seek the truth behind newsreel films depicting alternative historical events. The sprawling 10-hour tale stars Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Luke Kleintank, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Rufus Sewell. -- Diane Werts
MARVEL'S JESSICA JONES(Credit: Netflix / Myles Aronowitz)
Krysten Ritter, ex-"Don't Trust the B" on ABC, now plays an ex-superhero turned private eye in a world of ugly crimes and murky morals on Netflix. You know it's so when "Doctor Who" stud David Tennant embodies the bad guy. Also on hand through 13 episodes: Mike Colter's Luke Cage (soon getting his own series) and Rachael Taylor's Trish Walker. -- Diane Werts
HOUSE OF CARDS(Credit: David Giesbrecht)
If you need more politics during this current presidential campaign, here's an acclaimed Washington saga of outrageous ambition. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright's first three seasons fill nearly 40 hours, with a fourth primed to premiere March 4. And then there's the crafty British miniseries of the same name, on which Spacey's tale is based (also streaming on Netflix). -- Diane Werts
SENSE8(Credit: TNS / Netflix)
Netflix scores with "Sense8," the first TV series from famed Wachowski siblings Andy and Lana, of the "Matrix" trilogy and "Cloud Atlas." Naveen Andrews, left, and Terrence Mann appear, as does Daryl Hannah, who plays a dead woman whose death mysteriously binds eight people from around the world.
BETTER CALL SAUL(Credit: AMC)
"Better Call Saul" is in the running in four Primetime Emmy categories.
MAD MEN(Credit: AMC / Frank Ockenfels)
"Mad Men," AMC/On Demand. This one needs no introduction, but just in case: Ad men, the '60s, Don Draper ... sound familiar? It all wraps in a few months, so time to binge it all on-demand now.
EMPIRE(Credit: AP / Chuck Hodes)
"Empire," Hulu. You've heard the hype, now see the hype. This is a prime-time soap, and a well-done one. Very easily consumed, there's no heavy lifting, but a lot of fun.
FRIENDS(Credit: AP / Danny Feld)
"Friends," Netflix. This Netflix newcomer runs ten seasons, so you may ending up losing a full week if you sit through everything, so let's choose -- how 'bout the third season? That's The One when "Friends" become much more serialized, with running continuous stories; seems like a good binge attribute, no? Teri Garr and Jon Favreau are also aboard in the the third.
GILMORE GIRLS(Credit: The WB / Jeffrey Thumher)
"Gilmore Girls," Netflix. Lorelai and Lorelai (Rory). Stars Hollow, Connecticut. The denizens therein. For seven seasons, "Gilmore Girls" captivated fans with this mix, but mostly with very fast patter, written mostly by creator Amy Sherman-Palladino for her star Lauren Graham. This show still holds up, even a decade later.
BROOKLYN NINE NINE(Credit: FOX)
"Brooklyn Nine Nine," Hulu. Season one is all here, and is definitely worth a good, old-fashioned binge. Funny show, great cast.
UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT(Credit: Netflix / Eric Liebowitz)
"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," Netflix. Ellie Kemper is great as the former doomsday cult member who moves to Manhattan. As binge material, this one improves episode by episode. The first season is streaming now.
"Weeds," Showtime Anytime. Jenji Kohan's ("Orange is the New Black") comedy-drama-soap about a single mother (Mary-Louise Parker) who turns into a pot dealer, lasted eight seasons, but the first three seem to be -- by fan consensus -- the best.
THE AFFAIR(Credit: TNS / Steven Lippman)
"The Affair," Showtime Anytime. See what all the fuss is about, or what all the awards are about. This smart, engaging series -- filmed entirely on Long Island -- about one heck of a midlife crisis is superb.
CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL(Credit: Fox Broadcasting Company)
"Children's Hospital," Netflix. What!? Never seen his strange TV creature? You should -- just to be popculture-literate. (No, there is no such word...don't look it up.) It's a send-up of "Grey's Anatomy" and a lot of other hospital soaps, with Rob Corddry, and Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman and many, many others. (And each episode is only about six minutes long.)
RIPPER STREET(Credit: BBC)
"Ripper Street," Netflix. This British period drama (set in London, 1889), about some guy named Jack the Ripper, is dark, dark, dark... and popular, popular, popular -- at least the first season. The second, not so much. Amazon Prime is expected to revive it, by the way.
POWER(Credit: AP / Kurt Iswarienko)
"Power," Starz Play. From my review: "Well-drawn but particularly well-written, with dialogue that exudes an easy, sharp familiarity with the way crooks talk -- and federal agents, too."
"Continuum," Netflix. For time-travel lovers, or Rachel Nichols fans, she stars in this good mind-time bender about some rebels who go from 2077 to 2012, with attendant complications.
DA VINCI'S DEMONS(Credit: AP / Greg Wiliiams)
"Da Vinci's Demons," Starz Play. Hey, it wasn't as easy as it looks being one of the greatest geniuses in history who invented just about everything and painted "Mona Lisa" too. He had demons, after all. But Tom Riley as "D" still manages to make it all look fun.
OUTLANDER(Credit: AP / Ed Miller)
"Outlander," Starz Play. More time travel, but at least the destination is scenic -- 1743 Scotland -- and the heather in bloom. Caitriona Balfe as Claire Beauchamp Randall/Fraser is a very pleasing time travel companion, as well.
THE FALL(Credit: AP)
"The Fall," Netflix. There are those who not only love this Gillian Anderson-starring series (about a top cop investigating a string of murders in Belfast), but consider it one of the best on TV. Now it's your chance to weigh in on that assessment.
GOTHAM(Credit: AP, Fox / Jessica Miglio)
"Gotham," Hulu. The first season had its ups and its downs, and only a full-on binge will determine which episode was which. But the show did seem to get better late in the season.
MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.(Credit: ABC)
"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," Hulu. Otherwise known as "M.A.O.S.H.I.E.L.D.," the second season is absolutely the road to travel here, especially with Kyle MacLachlan aboard as Doctor Evil. He's great, as always. Plus, the second season just feels more... fun and less bound by the hard rules of the Marvel universe. This is one of the most improved series on TV.
"Justified," Amazon Prime. The first five seasons are free to watch with an Amazon Prime Instant Video subscription, while season six costs $1.99 an episode. Devotees are a little less enamored of the fifth season, but are rapturous about the second, third and fourth.
TIME OF DEATH(Credit: Showtime / D&J Productions)
"Time of Death," Showtime. Over six episodes, this docuseries explores the lives of people who are about to die. Per Showtime, "a tangible, hopeful reminder of the finite nature of our time here on earth." Enthusiastic critics agreed.
BLACK MIRROR(Credit: Zeppotron)
"Black Mirror," Netflix. This "Twilight Zone-ish" anthology is almost over-loved, particularly in Hollywood, where talk (as usual) of an American adaptation is afoot. It's only seven episodes, so an easy and pleasurable afternoon binge.
STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE(Credit: Robbie Robinson)
"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," Netflix. "DS9" might not have been the most popular of the "Trek" spin-offs, but it was arguably the most interesting with an even deeper dive into the deeper end of the Gene Roddenberry pool. This also had the first African-American Starfleet Commander -- Avery Brooks' Benjamin Sisko. Brooks' Sisko was tough, acestic, and sober, and the guy playing him, a first-rate actor.
BLACK SAILS(Credit: Starz Entertainment / David Bloomer)
"Black Sails," Starz Play. Probably best to start at the very beginning, but the second season launch does offer a reasonable point of entry. This is a pirates soap -- but there's a lot more blood than soap, and a lot of swearing too. A real spectacle.
TRANSPARENT(Credit: Amazon Studios / Beth Dubber)
"Transparent," Amazon Prime. This series punched Amazon Prime's ticket at the Golden Globes and will do the same at the Emmys. Jeffrey Tambor's evocation of a true midlife crisis -- he becomes a woman -- is unforgettable, deeply sympathetic... and funny.
"Vikings," Hulu. If your tastes tend to historic dramas on the high seas that are soaked in as much blood and gore as salt water (if that's possible), then here's your show. (Unless you prefer blood-soaked seas which also filled with expletives -- then "Black Sails.") The History Channel's "Vikings" just got better and better; three season now on Hulu.
OLIVE KITTERIDGE(Credit: TNS)
"Olive Kitteridge," HBO Go. Based on the Elizabeth Strout novel about a cranky Mainer (Frances McDormand) and her endlessly patient spouse (Richard Jenkins), was one of the great joys of the 2014 season. McDormand is magnificent. A must-binge.
ABOUT A BOY(Credit: NBC / Jordin Althaus)
"About a Boy," Hulu. Two seasons and done -- probably. This Jason Katims ("Friday Night LIghts") comedy is likely not returning for a third season, but the first two are here. It's different, occasional eccentric -- ditto amusing. But Katims is one of TV's most unique voices, and you can hear his voice here, with David Walton and Minnie Driver, too.
THE SPOILS OF BABYLON(Credit: IFC / Katrina Marcinowski)
"The Spoils of Babylon," Netflix. IFC's "Spoils" stars Tobey Maguire and Kristen Wiig (she got an Emmy nod for this), and is a spoof of TV "event" miniseries like "The Thorn Birds." If you're still with me, watch. It can be amusing and extremely... unusual.
VICE(Credit: AP / Jason Mojica)
"Vice," HBO Go. Shane Smith's documentary series searches the world over for instances of human avarice, depravity and corruption. It doesn't have to look too hard to find those instances, while the supply of material is endless. But a "binge" project? Maybe more of a snack, but it is very well-done.
THE RETURNED(Credit: Netflix)
"The Returned," Netflix. From my review about this French zombie thriller, with sub-titles, in which the zombies do not look like zombies: "The Returned" is what might be called an eschatological mystery, with vague ties to the Book of Revelations and the Apocalypse ("... and many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt; Daniel 12:2.) But even if you should make it to the eighth (and final) episode, don't expect answers because like "Lost," "The Returned" is good at dangling carrots, not so good at offering them."
"Darknet," Netflix. This weirdly addictive Canadian horror series builds its spell slowly, relentlessly, and where it ends up, who knows? The very creepy fun is in getting there.
SUITS(Credit: USA Network)
"Suits," Hulu. This USA hit, about a lawyer (Patrick J. Adams) with an amazing memory, fairly screams, "binge me..."
AWAKE(Credit: NBC / Jim Fiscus)
"Awake," Netflix. Jason Isaacs is excellent in this procedural about a cop who survives a car accident, only to discover he is living in two separate realities -- in one of them his wife is alive, in the other, she is not. To keep track of which reality he finds himself in, he wears either a red or green wristband. "Awake" is a terrific one-season series.
ROSWELL(Credit: The WB / Randy Tepper)
"Roswell," Netflix. Another Jason Katims ("Friday Night Lights") effort that built a cult following about aliens -- and teens and alien teens -- in the alien capital of the world.
FUTURAMA(Credit: Fox Broadcasting Company)
"Futurama," Netflix. Ten seasons of this classic are here. If you binged "The Simpsons" last year on FXX, then think of this as more or less logical continuation of that effort.
BOB'S BURGERS(Credit: FOX)
"Bob's Burgers," Netflix. The Belcher family's burger epic began slowly in 2011; most critics yawned, fans saw matters differently. In time even critics deemed this one of the best series -- animated or otherwise -- on TV. Maybe pick up in the second or third season.
SLIDERS(Credit: Fox / Ron Tom)
"Sliders," Netflix. "Sliders" are time-travelers who zip between parallel universes through a worm hole. But they do it in high style, and with a certain degree of humor, given that traveling through worm holes shouldn't be an entirely unfunny concept. Chief slider: Jerry O'Connell.
"Rectify," Netflix. Both seasons of Ray McKinnon's (he produces, doesn't star) deliberative, somber, brooding psychological study of a man wrongly convicted of rape and murder, and freed after 19 years, are on Netflix. Critics loved it, and you just might, too.
A YOUNG DOCTOR'S NOTEBOOK(Credit: Getty Images / Frederick M. Brown)
"A Young Doctor's Notebook," Netflix. With Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe, about a Russian doctor who becomes a morphine addict and reflects on his addiction years later while reading his notebook. The series is fun, actually, and it's especially fun to listen to Hamm's efforts at a British accent.
ALPHA HOUSE(Credit: Amazon Studios)
"Alpha House," Amazon Prime Instant Video. John Goodman and Clark Johnson star in this funny, biting satire about the easiest of targets: the U.S. Senate. Two seasons are now on Amazon Prime.
BOSCH(Credit: Getty Images / Frederick M. Brown)
"Bosch," Amazon Prime Instant Video. Det. Harry Hieronymus Bosch (Titus Welliver) is an L.A. cop. This one is for fans of Michael Connelly's wonderful, addictive, beyond-enjoyable Harry Bosch series. I obviously am one of those fans.
HELLO LADIES(Credit: HBO)
"Hello Ladies," HBO Go. Stephen Merchant's comedy about an Englishman trying (and trying) to find love in Los Angeles never quite took off, but fans esteemed its quirky humor and Merchant's many charms. It ends with a movie, too.
"Fawlty Towers," Hulu. John Cleese and Connie Booth's classic farce about Basil Fawlty and his efforts to run a hotel on the "English Riviera" is now on Hulu.
HARPER'S ISLAND(Credit: CBS / Chris Helcermanas-Benge)
"Harper's Island," Netflix. One by one they were dispatched on this remote lush island off the Washington coast. But who done it? Or who done them? A little bit of "Scream," a little bit of "Twin Peaks," never did particularly well on CBS, but it should work well as a diverting binge project.