Need recommendations for binge-watching? You probably already know about the Game of Thrones and Mad Mens of the world, but if you're looking for something slightly more obscure, here are 25 great shows that are already in contention for best of 2014 lists. You can watch all of them in a weekend — and some of them in a single afternoon. What else do you have to do?
The show: A wide-ranging journey through the land of Ooo, Adventure Time is a great many things: hilarious comedy, inventive children’s cartoon, and pathos-ridden tragedy. But it is, above all else, a show about growing up, as its twin protagonists — Finn the Human and Jake the Dog — learn about getting older, accepting responsibility, and becoming who they were meant to be.
The reason: Adventure Time’s power has a tendency to sneak up on you. Because it unfolds in bite-sized chunks of 11 minutes, the story’s epic sweep only reveals itself very gradually. That makes it the perfect project for a binge watch — the show’s surprisingly subtle and deep thematic layering will become all the more apparent as dozens of episodes roll by.
Watch if you like … Dungeons & Dragons crossed with Looney Tunes.
Available on: The first three seasons are on DVD. The rest are available for digital purchase.
The show: Ilana and Abbi (played by series creators and writers Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson) are two young women trying to just scrape by in New York City with the bare minimum of effort. If other shows about twentysomethings are about those with lofty ambitions, Broad City is about two deeply likable characters who just want to have fun.
The reason: Glazer and Jacobson are naturals at the center of this series, and with good reason: they created the web series on which it is based. This is pure, unfiltered snark, with a healthy dose of humor about what it's like to be young with a cash-flow problem in New York in 2014. It's like a series made by two people getting high in their dorm room who decide they should film themselves because they're really funny. Except, in this case, the characters actually are.
Watch if you like … Girls, but wish it was 75 percent funnier.
Available on: It's available for digital purchase, and it can be streamed on Comedy Central's website and app.
The show: One of the most instantly self-assured network sitcoms in years, this new Fox series broke through in a big way this year. Set among the police officers of a precinct in (yes) Brooklyn, the show boasts a tight ensemble, sharp writing, and some great stories you haven't seen on a million other sitcoms already.
The reason: Do you need a better one than just "it's really funny"? Okay, well, the ensemble includes the Emmy-nominated Andre Braugher, Terry Crews, and Chelsea Peretti, to say nothing of Andy Samberg in a role where he quickly finds a way to fit into the cast without dominating it. Just watching actors work together is one of the chief pleasures of the American sitcom, and this show has so many great ones.
Watch if you like … Barney Miller and Cheers.
Available on: The complete first season is streaming on Hulu Plus, and it can also be purchased digitally.
The show: Three brothers reconnect when working as "Rear-D" detail on fictional Army base Fort McGee. The military hasn't been a source of comedy for quite some time on television, but Enlisted finds a way to embrace both the strange hilarity and the pathos of that world.
The reason: Enlisted, which was sadly canceled, understands that all good comedy stems from two things: connection and conflict. The brothers at the center of this series (created by Cougar Town's Kevin Biegel) argue with each other, but they also bear real, earned affection that keeps the show grounded. Not every episode is a classic, but enough are great to make you sad this one won't be back.
Watch if you like … Classic workplace comedies.
Available on: It streams on Hulu Plus and is available for digital purchase.
The show: Gay characters on television tend to hover around one note, and that note is usually some mix of sass and humor (see: Modern Family, Girls, Will and Grace). That isn't happening on Looking, the first mainstream show exclusively about gay men since Queer as Folk, and the first mainstream show exclusively about gay people since The L Word. The show, which follows three gay men in San Francisco, shows that gay life can be quiet, sensitive, and the opposite of uproarious — and this is a good thing.
The reason: Looking doesn't come out of the gate crackling — it's a thoughtful, slow-boil of a show. In one episode, two characters just meander around San Francisco. And its schedule on HBO — one 30-minute episode per week — puts too much breathing room in between each episode. The show is better on a binge.
Watch if you like … The Weekend and roll your eyes at Modern Family.
Available on: Looking's first season is available on HBO Go.
The show: What if your imaginary friend were a very real, very grown man? What if he were played by Chris O'Dowd, who created the series based on his youth? That's the question at the center of this sweetly winning sitcom that evokes everything from The Wonder Years to Calvin & Hobbes.
The reason: Stories about kids between the ages of 10 and 13 can be hard to come by. They're too old for childlike wonder, yet too young for the growing pains of adolescence. But Moone Boy carefully captures that feeling of being simultaneously too old and too young, and it does so in ways that are warm and very funny. Plus, it uses animation and other tactics to bring visual whimsy to its world.
Watch if you like … The works of E.L. Konigsburg.
Available on: All 12 episodes are on Hulu Plus.
Nathan for You
Nathan for You
The show: Comedian Nathan Fielder has a business degree from one of Canada's top universities. With the help of that business degree, he travels the lesser-seen parts of Los Angeles, trying to help struggling businesses turn around. Except his ideas are less helpful than they are ridiculous.
The reason: Part reality show spoof, part cringe comedy, and part surprisingly genuine show about the entrepreneurial struggle, Nathan for You found a wider audience in its second season and somehow managed to craft an even funnier season than the first. The show's comedic bits are some of the most unusual and inventive you'll ever see and are all the more notable for featuring real people instead of trained actors.
Watch if you like … The original British Office (and, hell, the American Office, too).
Available on: Comedy Central's website and streaming app.
Please Like Me
Please Like Me
The show: A soon-to-be 21-year-old guy gets dumped by his girlfriend, realizes he’s gay, and moves in with his bipolar mother after her botched suicide attempt. His best friend is a likable nerd who ends up falling for the hero's ex. The hero's dad, meanwhile, has a younger girlfriend from Thailand. The show follows the main character around as he tries to deal with all of these shenanigans.
The reason: Do you like awkward comedy and heartfelt sincerity? This is one of the few shows to do both well.
Watch if you like … Wilfred, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Available on: The show’s second season is airing on Pivot. The whole run is available for digital purchase.
The show: The life of an inner-city preacher might not seem to be good fodder for a TV show, but the British sitcom Rev., one of the freshest, funniest imports in years, turns that basic idea into a thoughtful meditation on what it means to follow God in an age when fewer and fewer people have use for organized religion.
The reason: In three seasons and 19 episodes, Rev. is as thoughtful about faith as any TV series has ever been. It all starts with the series' lead, Tom Hollander, who also co-created the show and co-writes many episodes. He turns his character, Rev. Adam Smallbone, into a lovely examination of both human frailty and the power of devotion. The third season, which debuted earlier this year, is tremendous television.
Watch if you like … Father Ted.
Available on: Hulu Plus has rights to the entire series.
Review with Forrest MacNeil
Review with Forrest MacNeil
The show: Forrest MacNeil is a man with a huge appetite for experiencing all life has to offer - and then grading it on a five-star scale so everyone will know exactly how fun "being a racist" or "getting a divorce" is. This loopy comedy seems like it's just an excuse for weird laughs, until you realize how sneakily it's been building a whole world of characters worth caring about.
The reason: The structure of Review — in which Forrest reviews a handful of life experiences every episode — ensures that even if you don't like one segment, another will come along to make you laugh a few moments later. And the work of Andy Daly as the central character was sadly overlooked by the Emmys.
Watch if you like … Siskel & Ebert fan-fiction.
Available on: The first season is streaming on Amazon Prime. Select episodes are also available at the Comedy Central website and on the Comedy Central app. It's also available for digital purchase.
Rick and Morty
Rick and Morty
The show: Picture Back to the Future. Now picture Futurama. Now picture a darkly funny indie film about a functional family that's actually deeply dysfunctional. Now imagine all three of these things are present in the same television show. Rick and Morty is that show, and it is one of TV's most inventive half hours.
The reason: Created by Justin Roiland (who performs both of the title characters) and Dan Harmon (who also created Community), Rick and Morty is the kind of wildly creative series that can only be pulled off with the help of animation. The series' embrace of the full potential of animated storytelling means it can go anywhere and do anything. It can be strikingly funny just as soon as it can be weirdly tragic.
Watch if you like … Back to the Future, Futurama, Community, or television.
Available on: It's available for digital purchase and can be streamed on Adult Swim's website.
You're the Worst
You're the Worst
The show: It takes a few episodes to figure out what this warped romantic comedy is doing, but at its heart, You’re the Worst takes seriously the idea that everybody out there really does have someone made just for them. And in the case of those show, that means two of the worst people alive.
The reason: Except, truth be told, the show very quickly turns into something genuinely touching and — dare we say it? — a little bit sentimental. Among other things, You’re the Worst is a spot-on consideration of mental illness, as well as a defense of the idea that everybody deserves to be loved. And its remarkable faith in that idea keeps it spinning.
Watch if you like … The Mountain Goats’ album Tallahassee
Available on: This one is still airing on TV on Thursdays, but episodes are available for digital purchase and on FX Now.
The show: Two KGB spies attempt to maintain their cover as a normal suburban couple in the Washington, DC, area in the early ‘80s. Along the way, they realize that their fake marriage has become a real one — and that falling in love could be the most dangerous thing that's happened to them.
The reason: There are quite a few spy stories out there, but this series, simultaneously emotionally brutal and deeply felt, has become one of the best in quite some time. It all stems from how great Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are as the central couple and how well the series' writing staff turns the stuff of secret-keeping into the stuff of domestic drama and vice versa.
Watch if you like … John le Carre novels.
Available on: The first season is on DVD and streaming on Amazon prime. The second season is available for digital purchase.
The show: An adaptation of Fargo as a miniseries should not have worked. The original film is beloved — and rightly so. But the TV version of Fargo succeeds by taking familiar elements from the film, then spinning them in new directions, so that, yes, there's a police chief expecting a baby and a ruthless killer, but those elements appear in new contexts and forms. It's a very canny remix of a great film.
The reason: In addition to all of the above, Fargo boasts fantastic performances from the likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, and Allison Tolman, and witty, literate scripts by Noah Hawley. And it's one of TV's most striking shows on a visual level, too, making great use of those wide, wintry landscapes.
Watch if you like … Well, uh, Fargo.
Available on: The series can be purchased digitally.
The show: This moving family drama follows the story of a foster home full of kids trying to put troubled pasts behind them and come together to form a new family — but not without some strife along the way. The show is one of TV's most diverse, and its inclusive spirit extends to even the most minor of bit players. And it's the medium's most quietly meaningful argument for the loving realities of both gay marriage and gay parents.
The reason: The Fosters can be cheesy, but it always, always means well, and when it lands an emotional moment, there are few shows as good at eliciting tears as this one. In particular, the show is notable for depicting a wide variety of people from all walks of life and being both sensitive and empathetic to all of them.
Watch if you like … Those old WB dramas, Everwood especially.
Available on: Some episodes are available on Hulu, depending on your TV provider. Season one streams on Netflix. The whole series is available to purchase digitally.
The show: The Hannibal Lecter franchise gets its umpteenth revival in this series, which might be the best adaptation yet of the story of the ultra-dapper serial killer. The series flashes back to the time he was on the loose and close friends with criminal profiler Will Graham.
The reason: This is one of TV's most provocative, beautiful shows, filled with stunning images that are unlike any in TV history. And the writing, from a team led by mad genius Bryan Fuller, delves deep into emotional intimacy in male friendships and the role of murder in modern society. Oh yeah, and it's one of TV's most impeccably acted shows, too.
Watch if you like … The paintings of Hieronymous Bosch.
Available on: Season one is on DVD and streaming on Amazon Prime. Season two is available for digital purchase and will be on DVD next month.
The Honorable Woman
The Honorable Woman
The show: This riveting miniseries — currently just past the halfway point of its run — turns Maggie Gyllenhaal loose on a spy story inspired by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and she’s gives a typically terrific performance. This is a great show for those who miss the days when Homeland felt like a secret little treasure.
The reason: This one would be worth watching only for Gyllenhaal’s performance. Fortunately, however, it’s also a solid spy thriller — one that sometimes feels the need to over explain what it’s doing to the audience, but one that has such an involving story that you won’t much mind any of its minor issues.
Watch if you like … British miniseries.
Available on: The show is airing on Sundance right now. It’s available for digital purchase.
The show: On October 14, three years ago, 2 percent of the world’s population instantly vanished, leaving behind a world full of people to figure out what happened and try to get on with their lives. The show concentrates on the literal leftovers of Mapleton, New York, and follows the Garvey family as each member tries to heal their grief.
The reason: This is not your typical post-apocalyptic tale. For one thing, the plot isn’t gimmicky. Neither are the performances. The writing, led by Lost creator Damon Lindelof, is sharp, and, like Lost, understands that the best way to tell a story isn’t always in chronological order. The result is an ever-deepening mystery that twists and winds toward a conclusion that seems always just out of reach.
Watch if you like … Lost and Alias.
Available on: HBO Go.
Masters of Sex
Masters of Sex
The show: The complete story of Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson, authors of one of the most important comprehensive sex studies to be published in the US, shouldn't work on TV, spanning many decades as it does. But, remarkably, the show, now halfway through its second season, finds a way to make these two scientists and their work into a show that's alternately funny and moving.
The reason: Though the second season has had its speed bumps, Masters is still a deeply intriguing examination of the weird intersection between love, intimacy, and sex. And in Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, the series has two leads who can take any storyline they're handed and turn it into chemistry-laden gold.
Watch if you like … The work of Dan Savage.
Available on: The first season is on DVD, and episodes can be purchased digitally. Showtime subscribers can watch the complete run on Showtime Anytime.
The show: There are a lot of shows banking on horror and a Gothic atmosphere on television today. None quite as fun as Penny Dreadful. It's a beautifully shot maelstrom of vampires, monsters, and grisly bits, set in the 19th century.
The reason: Penny has a fearlessness about it. Whether it's aiming for camp, or horror, or gore, the show isn't afraid to go full throttle. It has the brains and coherence you wish American Horror Story would find and has much more fun with itself than The Walking Dead. The terrific Eva Green plays the wily Vanessa Ives and is the motor that makes this freight train go.
Watch if you like … The first half of each season of American Horror Story (but can't stick through to the end) and Walking Dead (but you wish it had a bit more camp).
Available on: Penny Dreadful is available on Showtime Anytime.
Person of Interest
Person of Interest
The show: Yes, it’s a CBS show with a case-of-the-week structure. Yes, it had a lumpy first season. And yes, it’s probably a show your parents watch. But this is also one of the most up-to-the-minute shows on TV, a terrific examination of the surveillance state in strong sci-fi terms — that’s somewhat unexpectedly turned into a treatise on the potential pitfalls of artificial intelligence.
The reason: Of all of the shows on this list, this one will strain you the most if you try to finish it in a weekend. But once the show gets good — and it does in seasons two and three — you’re going to find it hard to stop watching. This is a Trojan horse series that sneaks very impressive, nuanced policy discussion into the middle of an otherwise typical CBS primetime drama.
Watch if you like …The novels of William Gibson.
Available on: Inexplicably for a show that’s so tapped into a cyberpunk aesthetic, Person of Interest is impossible to find on streaming. It is, however, on DVD and available for digital purchase.
The show: A man is released from death row after nearly 20 years. He returns to his family and his life changed, at once more thoughtful and more withdrawn. Yet as he attempts to reintegrate into society, it sends ripples through his family and his community. These ripples threaten to tear apart relationships and overturn the sleepy town's established order.
The reason: Put that way, Rectify sounds like the most melodramatic show ever, but it's really not. It's a moving, beautiful meditation on what it means to be alive, yet in its best episodes, it knits that idea to a surprisingly well-constructed story about whether the protagonist was guilty of the crime he was convicted of or not. This is the best show you're almost certainly not watching.
Watch if you like … Good things.
Available on: The first season is streaming on Netflix and available on DVD. All episodes are available for digital purchase.
The show: Dianna "Miss D" Williams runs the Dollhouse Dancing Factory, a dance studio that turns young girls with slap-dash gaits into hip-hop majorette dancing machines. Bring It! is equal parts comedy, inspiration, and drama, as it shows viewers how the Dancing Dolls' routines are built and executed and if they're good enough to win.
The reason: The dancing. The girls in this show can dance and are, for the most part, treated like athletes. Bring It! could easily devolve into something exploitative and paint the Dancing Dolls as caricatures, but there's a lot of respect here for the girls and Miss D — the dancing comes first.
Watch if you like … Dance Moms.
Available on: The first season of Bring It! is available to stream on Lifetime's website and for digital purchase.
Going Deep with David Rees
Going Deep with David Rees
The show: All-around gadfly and raconteur David Rees asks questions you think you know the answers to, like how to tie your shoes, or how to make ice, then heads out into the great wide world to find out how we've all been doing it wrong all these years.
The reason: Going Deep has an earnest, geeky energy that keeps it from ever becoming too much to take. This is a show about the most ultra-minute of minute topics, a show that has fun with questions we think we've known the answers to since childhood. But Rees — and a lively, video game-inspired soundtrack — hold it all together with great comedy and genuine curiosity.
Watch if you like … Vox.com
Available on: The first season is available for digital purchase.
RuPaul's Drag Race
RuPaul's Drag Race
The show: Drag Race punches above its weight. It doesn't have the glossy glitz of Top Chef or the exciting drama of Amazing Race. But Logo's little show about drag queens that could has just as much heart, fun, and thoughtfulness as any show — scripted or reality — out there.
The reason: The show features ultra-competitive drag queens fight to be the best. At the end of each episode the two lowest-achieving performers must lip sync for their lives. But there's a lot of room in between for conversations about masculinity, authenticity, drag culture, and sometimes topics as serious as HIV.
Watch if you like … Mermaids, clowns, and double entendres.
Available on: Episodes of RuPaul's Drag Race are available on Logo's website and Hulu for streaming or are available for digital purchase.
- Developer Yuri Victor
- Editor Lauren Williams