As the Christmas/New Year’s break gets underway and we’re enjoying downtime at home, it’s a great time to catch some quality shows on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime. Everyone knows about great shows like The Walking Dead, The Wire and Orange Is the New Black, but there is a treasure trove of other wonderful series to watch from this Golden Age of television. Below we present some excellent binge watching material you may not know, or just never bothered to try, in no particular order, for your holiday week.
Black Mirror – Series 1–2 (2011–2014) Netflix (illustrated above)
A sort of Tales from the Darkside or The Twilight Zone for the digital age, the combined two seasons of Britain’s Black Mirror provide five separate stories that will definitely leave you thinking. Each episode tells a tale of speculative fiction that zeroes in on the possible consequences of modern technology and the societal changes that come along with it. As creator Charlie Brooker told The Guardian, “If technology is a drug—and it does feel like a drug—then what, precisely, are the side effects? … The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.” This show is not for the feint of heart or children. It presents some pretty dark stuff, but its sharply written, often disturbing stories and themes will continue to haunt viewers a year, even two years after watching. Due to a renewed interest from Netflix viewers, the show will return to the streaming service with new episodes in 2016.
You’re the Worst – Seasons 1 (2014) Hulu
This original comedy from writer and executive producer Stephen Falk is a somewhat dark and completely not politically correct take classic romantic comedy, yet somehow it manages to be far more romantic than many other more traditional shows. Watch Season 1 of this FX Networks original series on Hulu and follow outspoken, narcissistic and self-destructive writer Jimmy Shive-Overly (Chris Geere) and his cynical new girlfriend—though they fight titles like this, tooth and nail—Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash) fall for each other, despite both of them being repelled by the idea of a committed relationship. Somehow the couple manages to live up to the show’s title—they really are the worst—while also being incredibly sweet and likable in their own twisted way. Jimmy’s former heroin addict, war veteran roommate Edgar Quintero (Desmin Borges) and Gretchen’s hopelessly dopey friend Lindsay Jillian (Kether Donohue) add another layer to the fun.
Top Boy – Series 1–2 (2011, 2013) Netfix
This British crime drama looks at the gangs and drug dealers in East London’s estates—the UK version of our “projects.” Set in the fictional Summerhouse estate, Top Boy paints three-dimensional pictures of its many characters. Whether it’s Ra’Nell (Malcolm Kamulete), a young man trying to survive and do right while his mother is committed to a mental hospital and his father sits in jail. or drug dealer Dushane (Ashley Walters) and his hot-headed partner Sully (Kane Robinson), who work to eliminate their competition and become the undisputed kingpins of Summerhouse—each character’s motivations and humanity, or lack thereof, is evident and true. The show is full of rich story and characters, and it always feels like an authentic and fully realized world. Both seasons are well worth a watch.
The Wrong Mans – Series 1–2 (2013–2014) Hulu
Co-created and written by The Late Late Show host James Corden and Mathew Baynton (Spy) for BBC and Hulu, The Wrong Mans is one of the few laugh-out-loud funny shows out there. Combining the situation comedy format with the intricate plot and cliches of an action-adventure series, the show puts two hapless co-workers, Berkshire County Council worker Sam Pinkett (Baynton) and Phil Bourne (Corden), a building custodian of some sort, in a dangerous web of crime and intrigue, though completely by accident and happenstance. The pair make their way from one deadly situation to the next as they survive by their wits and, mostly, dumb luck after Sam answers a ringing phone at the site of a car crash. Not initially involved, Phil gets in on the action as if it’s what he’s been waiting for his whole life. Hilarity ensues. Really, it’s hilarious. Watch it for a good laugh.
Peaky Blinders – Series 1–2 (2014–2015) Netflix
This gangster family epic set in 1919 Birmingham, England is based on a true-life gang who sewed razor blades in the peaks of their caps. Led by their fierce and intelligent boss Tommy Shelby, played by the inimitable Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins), the Peaky Blinders are making a play toward ruling the Birmingham underworld, specifically horse racing and the gambling that goes with it. Full of tense intrigue, family drama and some exciting and violent clashes, Peaky Blinders gets off to a bit of a slow start but ramps up quickly until it’s very hard to stop watching. The show has a brilliant cast, including appearances by actors such as Sam Neil and the red hot Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road), and a top-notch soundtrack featuring songs by PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, The White Stripes and Tom Waits, among others. Give it a chance at the beginning and you won’t be disappointed with what follows. Series 3 is set to air in October of 2016.
Survivors – Series 1–2 (2008, 2010) Netflix
This post apocalyptic story is perfect for fans of the genre or anyone who loves The Walking Dead, only instead of a zombie apocalypse, our heroes have survived a viral pandemic called the European flu that killed off most of the world’s population. The series follows a mixed group of regular people trying to make it in this post-flu world, where there’s no police, no hospitals and no law—it’s every man for himself. Each character has his or her own back story, though the show’s protagonist is Abby Grant, the group’s moral compass, who welcomes newcomers and strives for peace. Abby is searching for her missing son Peter, who she believes to have survived the pandemic. It turns out she survived the virus without a pre-existing immunity, which makes her quite valuable to some shady people, who might know a bit about the origin of the European flu.
The Fall – Series 1–2 (2013, 2015) Netflix
An excellent and gripping BBC crime drama filmed and set in Northern Ireland, The Fall tells the story of a dangerous serial killer and the troubled detective who’s hot on his trail. Starring X-Files alum Gillian Anderson as Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson and 50 Shades of Grey‘s Jamie Dornan as killer Paul Spector, this taut thriller keeps viewers watching and wondering until the very end. Spector hones his skills as a budding serial killer while also trying to maintain his job as a grief counselor and be a good father and husband, but before long his veneer begins to crack. Meanwhile, DS Gibson is dealing with her own personal issues, problems within the police force and, of course, her work tracking down the killer. Anderson and Dornan give outstanding performances in this well-paced, binge-worthy ride.
Borgia – Series 1–3 (2011–2014) Netflix
One of two historical dramas based on the infamous Borgia family of Rome—not to be confused with Showtime’s more well-known The Borgias starring Jeremy Irons—this version of the show, made for French premium-pay TV Canal+, is loads of fun to watch. The story begins in 1492 as Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (John Doman) and his illegitimate children manipulate and bully their way toward his ascent to the papal throne. As Pope Alexander VI, Rodrgio does everything he can to serve his own self interest and that of his family, including sons Cesare (charismatically played by Mark Ryder), Goffredo and Juan (Stanley Weber), and daughter Lucrezia (Isolda Dychauk). As the Borgia family uses the Vatican to establish ever more power and influence, there is much bloodshed, conspiracy and backstabbing—literal and figurative. Along with ruling Rome and managing his politics and wars, Rodrigo is also in constant struggle with pleasures of the flesh, excess and vice. This story from the European Renaissance—the era of Leonardo Da Vinci and Nico Machiavelli—swirls with lust, ambition, politics, faith, incest, jealousy, betrayal and redemption.
Parade’s End – Miniseries (2012) Amazon Prime
Based on the tetralogy of novels by Ford Madox Ford and starring Academy Award-nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game, Sherlock), this five-part HBO miniseries follows British aristocrat Christopher Tietjens, who finds himself in a painful love triangle with his vindictive wife Sylvia and young suffragette Valentine Wannop. An old-fashioned gentleman, Tietjens struggles with his obligations and doing what is expected, and what his heart is begging for him to do. Eventually, Tietjens must travel to France and fight in World War I, leaving behind Valentine, Sylvia and their son, whose paternity is in question. After living through the horrors of war, he must return and finally choose between these two women. Fans of Downton Abbey will definitely enjoy this award-winning show.
Luther – Series 1–4 (2010–2016) Netflix, BBC America
Yet another fabulous British crime series, Luther is police drama at its very best. Starring Idris Elba of HBO’s The Wire and Cary Fukunaga’s powerful Beasts of No Nation (a must-watch film on Netflix) as the titular character, and The Affair‘s Rose Wilson as Alice Morgan, is as much about the development of Detective Chief Inspector John Luther as it is about the crimes he solves. A staunchly dedicated copper, Luther is obsessive, possessed, haunted, sometimes violent and not afraid to bend the rules. The character dwells in the darkness of the horrific crimes he investigates, putting the job well before anything else in his life. Already living with deep pain, Luther’s life takes some even more tragic, and surprising, turns throughout the show’s four seasons. And as bad as you feel for him at times, the series is never painful to watch because Luther won’t let the bad guys walk. Series 1-3 are streaming on Netflix, while the very recently aired Series 4, can be seen via BBC America’s free on demand page.