With so many options on what to watch these days, it’s tough to really pinpoint what is worth it. There are TV shows On Demand, on Hulu, on Amazon Prime, and of course on Netflix. Given that this Spring season of TV isn’t really begging for audiences’ attention (watch Girls on HBO at 9pm on Sundays!), maybe one just wants to catch up on a show before it returns in the Summer or because it is the talk of the town. Whatever the case, below is a list of 15 (in no particular order) great TV series available on Netflix Instant that are guaranteed to at least satisfy with a laugh, a thought, or a cry. If you happen to do all three, then we’ve won. Let us begin!
15. 30 Rock
Somehow a show that features many pop-culture references, ridiculous story-lines, an abundant amount of celebrity guest stars, jokes-per-minute rapid fire, Tina Fey, and Alec Baldwin made it to seven seasons. 30 Rock is a show that knows its humor and what it can and cannot do very quickly, therefore using all of that knowledge to its advantage for its long run. Though it’s a critical and awards darling, the show never went high with ratings, which allowed it to play its strength by the fact that nobody was watching. 30 Rock is S’ing it D (shutting it down) at the end of this month so if you want, you could totally catch up on all of it if you began…yesterday.
Our only animated series on the list, Archer might as well not be animated at all. It’s a comedy set in the spy/espionage workplace. Basically it’s what you expect when you think of what James Bond does between movies. Filled with laughs, great voice acting, and memorable plots that will have you rolling quickly around like you’re on fire, Archer deserves your attention. Currently the show is about to start its fourth season on FX and with each passing season Archer gets more and more solid. It is without a doubt the best animated series on television right now (we aren’t counting Adventure Time or Regular Show cause that would just be unfair to compare!)
13. The West Wing
The show that made American politics entertaining to watch and be apart of. Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing was historical in its praise and in its boldness to tell a story of very flawed people running the United States government. A remarkable cast with the likes of Rob Lowe, Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, and Martin Sheen are just the icing on the cake. The West Wing proves to be funny, creative, slightly educational, entertaining, and most of all it causes the audience to care about politics. The show went off air in 2006, and it is still frequently talked about as one of the best shows in the last twenty-five years.
Joss Whedon created a show that was set in space but felt more like a complex western. Everything Whedon is there like usual (memorable characters, snappy dialogue, intricate storytelling), but what makes Firefly stand out isn’t its too-early cancellation, it’s its charm and uniqueness. In a way, every sci-fi show now is just trying to copy what made Firefly so great for the masses. There are only fourteen episodes so quickly marathoning the fantastic show isn’t out of the question. Just try not to end your life once you realize that there will never be a second season of Firefly. Ever.
11. Friday Night Lights
A television show about football that isn’t necessarily about football to begin with. Friday Night Lights focuses on the constant pressure from your family, your school, and yourself. Kyle Chandler’s Coach Taylor will soon become one of the many characters you wish was actually real just so you can hug him (and maybe get a cool speech about expectations and discipline). Though the series starts off a bit rocky on what direction it wants to head into, Friday Night Lights soon picks up and becomes an emotional roller-coaster. The show ended in 2010 and there are only five seasons (seventy-six episodes). One could easily watch the small town of Dillon, Texas in an orderly fashion. You won’t regret it.
Undoubtedly a show that is breaking all the right rules in how to treat the twenty-two minutes given for sitcoms. Louie isn’t a sitcom though, it’s much more than that. It’s existentialism, it’s surreal, it’s heartbreaking, it’s hilarious, and it’s depressing. Louis C.K. stars, writes, directs, and edits his show’s best moments (every one of them) of dealing with aging, parenting, and trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t make sense in the first place. Louie is unlike anything you’ll ever experience in life because it’s pioneering something that will soon become the norm in how to make twenty-two minutes seem like timeless art.
Speaking of shows that are unlike anything else…Portlandia falls into this category specifically due to its bizarre premise. The satirical sketch comedy might seem like a steal from Fred Armisen’s previous work over at Saturday Night Live, but it isn’t like that at all. Portlandia gives a very ironic, surreal, charming amount of short sketches throughout its episodes. And with only two seasons available on Netflix, one could definitely join in on the weird comedy very easily. The show has gained a lot of acclaim from critics and is slowly building a following during each season. Season three started earlier this month.
8. Twin Peaks
The show that started it all, as far as any showrunner and producer is concerned. Twin Peaks is often cited as the show that began the idea of dream sequences meaning everything. The amount of detail put in Twin Peaks is something that has be copied and copied before, but never quite gets there. The premise of the show is “Who killed Laura Palmer?” Poor Laura died in the small town of Twin Peaks and FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper is sent to investigate the murder. As he falls into the town’s large and mysterious secrets, so does the audience. It went off air in 1992 and it is still talked about as something that set the stones for what was to come for shows like The Sopranos, Lost, and pretty much any ambiguous form of entertainment that leaves you thinking after the episode ended.
7. Freaks and Geeks
One of the things that is often said about Freaks and Geeks is “Oh it has ____ in it!” Usually that blank space is filled with whatever actor is most famous at the time (Jason Segal, James Franco, Seth Rogen). But in all honesty, the familiar actors in Freaks and Geeks are just the icing on the cake. The show delves into the life of struggling to fit in high school, and where to find yourself in that struggle. Though marketed as a comedy, it isn’t necessarily funny. If Freaks and Geeks were to be released now, it would be known as a dramedy and probably paired next to Glee. The show was sadly cancelled at the end of its first season but has remained a fan favorite due to its honesty, charm, and realism.
6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Oh, another Joss Whedon show? Is that a coincidence? (no). Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a phenomenon that helped jump start serialized storytelling on broadcast television. The title says it all, Buffy Summers kills vampires while dealing with the typical turmoils that are simply known as high school drama. Whedon’s amazing way of telling a story by using its characters as the focal points is something that has made Buffy a reason why it is still talked about today. Seven seasons, two channels, comic books, and a fanbase that is still kicking, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the show you know you’re going to love from the beginning.
5. Mad Men
Without a doubt, Mad Men is the best show on TV right now. In Alan Seppinwall’s new book, he states that fans of The Sopranos were worried that there wouldn’t be a show as good as their beloved after it ended. Little did they know, it started nearly two months later. Mad Men is the perfect television show that dives deep into perception versus reality. Set in the 1960’s, we observe an advertising agency go through the ever-changing times while each character reflects on themselves. The acting is ridiculously good, the writing is even better, and the set design and overall mood leaves one truly wishing they were born in that decade.
4. Parks and Recreation
When it first premiered, Parks and Recreation wasn’t anything special. Why would anyone want to watch another version of The Office that wasn’t The Office? By the time the first season’s finale “Rock Show” came out, it was apparent that this show had some true potential and right when season two started up, that potential has not stopped releasing. Parks and Recreation is the most joyful show one can ever watch in this day and age. Filled to the brim with an ensemble cast, Parks and Rec lets you fall in love with each and every character, even the small recurring ones. Warning: True happiness will be achieved when watching Parks and Recreation.
3. Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad is the most talked about drama on TV right now. Hands down. Truly, if you’re not already watching the show, and you have Netflix Instant, then you are missing out on a once in a lifetime opportunity on witnessing a show literally change the conversation of how TV can be compelling. Walter White’s gradual fall from cancer-ridden pathetic father to drug kingpin is something all people should be able to watch happen. Not only is Breaking Bad fantastically entertaining, it’s also fantastically tense and filled with suspicion all over the place. Just watch the pilot and see how close you get to the edge of your seat.
What hasn’t been said about Lost yet? It’s the show that borrow a page from Twin Peaks‘ book and made it okay for the audience to think for themselves rather than push expository scenes onto them and therefore explicitly insulting their intelligence. Lost is, in many ways, the perfect TV show. It has elements of drama, horror, mystery, suspense, comedy, and sci-fi. The show saw 115 episodes in its run and are all incredibly addictive (Note: If you watch “The Pilot” then good luck trying to not watch the rest of the season). Some say the show lacked satisfying payoff, and some say that it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey.
1. Arrested Development
It only makes sense that the last show on our list is a show that is returning for its fourth season on Netflix later this spring. Arrested Development is a miracle, to put it shortly. Ridiculously funny, clever, and silly in all the right places, Arrested Development has yet to be talked about too much as one of the best comedies to ever grace the screen. Though it never quite received the amount of attention it deserved and FOX canceled it in its third season, Netflix has decided to save it years later for a fourth season. Do yourself the favor and watch the short three seasons in time for the upcoming release of the new episodes. The Internet won’t let you forget that it’s coming back soon.