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 -- 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.
HULU: THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK — THE TOURING YEARS(Credit: SubaFilms Ltd)
Director Ron Howard's documentary covers the group's live-performance period of 1962-66, from The Cavern Club to Shea Stadium to Candlestick Park.
AMAZON: CRISIS IN SIX SCENES(Credit: Amazon)
Woody Allen's half-hour series co-stars him with Miley Cyrus, Christine Ebersole, Joy Behar, Elaine May, Michael Rapaport.
NETFLIX: MARVEL’S LUKE CAGE(Credit: Netflix / Myles Aronowitz)
Mike Colter takes his superhuman crime-fighter from "Jessica Jones" into his own adventure series. With Alfre Woodard, Mahershala Ali, Frank Whaley, Sonia Braga.
NETFLIX: EASY(Credit: Netflix)
Sex, tech and culture intersect in a Chicago-set half-hour anthology from filmmaker Joe Swanberg. With Orlando Bloom, Marc Maron, Malin Akerman, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Hannibal Buress.
NETFLIX: BOJACK HORSEMAN(Credit: Tornante Company, ShadowMachine Films)
Season 3 for this critically acclaimed adult cartoon: Our boozing humanoid horse (voice of Will Arnett), once a sitcom has-been, now achieves movie stardom. Does BoJack still hate Hollywood? With Amy Sedaris' Persian cat, Paul F. Tompkins' Labrador retriever, Aaron Paul's human slacker.
NETFLIX: NARCOS(Credit: Netflix / Juan Pablo Gutierrez)
The hunt for Pablo Escobar continues in this second season dramatizing the '80s battles of drug kingpins vs. law enforcement. Acclaimed series also available in Ultra HD 4K.
NETFLIX: LADY DYNAMITE(Credit: Netflix / Doug Hyun)
Comic Maria Bamford's original series follows a woman finding herself, with Mary Kay Place, Ed Begley Jr., Ana Gasteyer.
NETFLIX: BEING MARY JANE(Credit: BET / Daniel McFadden)
With Season 3 just added, fans can catch up to all of this smart BET drama series, tracking the complicated life of a TV news anchor (Gabrielle Union).
NETFLIX: BLOODLINE(Credit: Saeed Adyani / Netflix, 2014)
Family secrets come back to bite Kyle Chandler in new Season 2 of Florida keys drama from the producers of "Damages." With Linda Cardellini, Sissy Spacek.
NETFLIX: 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
AMAZON PRIME INSTANT VIDEO: 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
NETFLIX: 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
NETFLIX: 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. 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
NETFLIX: 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.
HULU: EMPIRE(Credit: AP / Chuck Hodes)
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.
NETFLIX: FRIENDS(Credit: AP / Danny Feld)
This Netflix newcomer runs 10 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.
NETFLIX: GILMORE GIRLS(Credit: The WB / Jeffrey Thumher)
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.
HULU: BROOKLYN NINE NINE(Credit: FOX)
Season one is all here, and is definitely worth a good, old-fashioned binge. Funny show, great cast.
NETFLIX: UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT(Credit: Netflix / Eric Liebowitz)
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.
SHOWTIME ANYTIME: WEEDS(Credit: Showtime)
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.
SHOWTIME ANYTIME: THE AFFAIR(Credit: TNS / Steven Lippman)
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.
NETFLIX: RIPPER STREET(Credit: BBC)
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.
STARZ PLAY: POWER(Credit: AP / Kurt Iswarienko)
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."
NETFLIX: CONTINUUM(Credit: Syfy)
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.
STARZ PLAY: DA VINCI'S DEMONS(Credit: AP / Greg Wiliiams)
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.
STARZ PLAY: OUTLANDER(Credit: AP / Ed Miller)
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.
NETFLIX: THE FALL(Credit: AP)
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.
HULU: GOTHAM(Credit: AP, Fox / Jessica Miglio)
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.
HULU: MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.(Credit: ABC)
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.
AMAZON PRIME INSTANT VIDEO: JUSTIFIED(Credit: TNS)
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.
NETFLIX: BLACK MIRROR(Credit: Zeppotron)
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.
NETFLIX: STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE(Credit: Robbie Robinson)
"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.
STARZ PLAY: BLACK SAILS(Credit: Starz Entertainment / David Bloomer)
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.
AMAZON PRIME INSTANT VIDEO: TRANSPARENT(Credit: Amazon Studios / Beth Dubber)
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.
HULU: VIKINGS(Credit: TNS)
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 are also filled with expletives -- then "Black Sails.") The History Channel's "Vikings" just got better and better; three seasons now on Hulu.
HBO GO: OLIVE KITTERIDGE(Credit: TNS)
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.
NETFLIX: THE SPOILS OF BABYLON(Credit: IFC / Katrina Marcinowski)
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.
HBO GO: VICE(Credit: AP / Jason Mojica)
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.
NETFLIX: THE RETURNED(Credit: 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."
NETFLIX: DARKNET(Credit: 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.
HULU: SUITS(Credit: USA Network)
This USA hit, about a lawyer (Patrick J. Adams) with an amazing memory, fairly screams, "binge me..."
NETFLIX: AWAKE(Credit: NBC / Jim Fiscus)
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.
NETFLIX: ROSWELL(Credit: The WB / Randy Tepper)
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.
NETFLIX: FUTURAMA(Credit: Fox Broadcasting Company)
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.
NETFLIX: BOB'S BURGERS(Credit: FOX)
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.
NETFLIX: SLIDERS(Credit: Fox / Ron Tom)
"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.
NETFLIX: RECTIFY(Credit: AP)
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.
NETFLIX: A YOUNG DOCTOR'S NOTEBOOK(Credit: Getty Images / Frederick M. Brown)
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.
AMAZON PRIME INSTANT VIDEO: ALPHA HOUSE(Credit: Amazon Studios)
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.
AMAZON PRIME INSTANT VIDEO: BOSCH(Credit: Getty Images / Frederick M. Brown)
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.