clock menu more-arrow no yes
BoJack Horseman makes for a terrific binge-watch that will still leave you time to do other things.
BoJack Horseman makes for a terrific binge-watch that will still leave you time to do other things.
Netflix

The bite-sized binge

31 terrific TV shows you can finish in a weekend or less.

The streaming revolution has made it easier than ever to catch up on your favorite TV shows. But sometimes you don't want a novel. Sometimes you want a short story, a series you can finish in a weekend, or a day, or even a lazy afternoon.

That's where we come in. We've combed the major streaming services to compile the following list of 31 terrific TV shows you can easily finish in a single day, even with breaks for eating, napping, or paying attention to your children. (We hear this is important.) Get watching.

Jump right to comedy, drama, or reality and documentary.


Comedy

1

BoJack Horseman

The premise of BoJack Horseman makes it sound like just another surrealist animated comedy on Adult Swim: The titular anthropomorphic horse (who's voiced by Will Arnett) starred on a family sitcom in the '90s but has since seen his career fall apart. Spurred on by his agent/ex-girlfriend, a Persian cat named Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), he hires Diane (Alison Brie), a human ghostwriter, to pen his memoirs. But as the series progresses, it slowly reveals itself to be more than just odd for the sake of odd. BoJack is a huge jerk, but he also doubles as one of the most effective and accurate representations of depression on TV today. Series creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, late of the fantastic pre-YouTube web comedy group Olde English, resists the urge to redeem BoJack by suddenly transforming him into a nice person, as tends to happen with comedic assholes. He forces the audience to understand BoJack as he is, rather than changing him until he's likable.

Genre: Animated comedy

Commitment: Two seasons of 12 half-hour-long episodes each (plus a Christmas special).

Streaming on: Netflix

2

Catastrophe

If you just want to laugh as hard as possible for a few hours, this British import should be right up your alley. Comedian Rob Delaney plays an American bachelor whose job takes him to London, where he meets an alluring Irish schoolteacher played by the great writer/actor Sharon Horgan. The two hit it off and have lots of sex — and that's supposed to be it. Instead, she ends up pregnant, and he decides he wants to take care of the kid. What follows is a charming, funny romantic comedy that nonetheless packs a couple of bittersweet gut punches along the way. Delaney and Horgan make a great screen team, and the dialogue is as sharp as anything else on TV.

Genre: Romantic comedy

Commitment: One season of six half-hour-long episodes. Season two will land later this year.

Streaming on: Amazon Prime

3

Enlightened

Most great TV shows of this millennium have been about seemingly good people who do very, very bad things. Enlightened flips this idea on its ear. It's about a deeply annoying, often irritating woman who wants to change the world for the better — and it's about how ill-equipped we as a society are to deal with her. As Amy Jellicoe, Laura Dern gives a stunning performance; every single gesture, line of dialogue, and expression is perfectly calibrated to make you understand why Amy's intentions are so pure, yet so easy to ignore. The second season in particular is one of the best TV seasons ever made.

Genre: Dramedy

Commitment: Two seasons, with 18 half-hour-long episodes in total.

Streaming on: Amazon Prime, HBO Go

4

Getting On

Adapted from the British series of the same name, Getting On is a workplace comedy set in a not-so-typical workplace, at least as far as most TV series are concerned: the geriatric ward of an underfunded hospital in Southern California. The series chronicles the daily travails of three health care professionals — the ambitious but socially inept Dr. Jenna James (Roseanne's Laurie Metcalf), the emotionally desperate head nurse Dawn (Alex Borstein, who's best known for voicing Lois on Family Guy), and the more level-headed rookie nurse Didi (Reno 911!'s Niecy Nash) — as they deal with everything from dying patients to dwindling budgets to bureaucratic red tape. Though the series is often quite poignant in its depiction of their thankless work, Getting On still manages to temper its heavier subject matter with bedpans upon bedpans full of Office-style awkwardness, a revolving door of eccentric patients, and more discussion of bodily functions than you could possibly imagine. The result is a unique celebration of life, happiness, and compassion in a place where you'd least expect to find it.

Genre: Dark workplace comedy

Commitment: Three seasons, with 18 half-hour-long episodes in total.

Streaming on: HBO Go

5

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Would you like to watch a TV show on YouTube? Alternate question: Are you a Jane Austen fan who wishes to see her works updated for modern times, complete with vlogging? Alternate, alternate question: Do you like a good, timeless love story? Those who've answered yes to any or all of the above should give The Lizzie Bennet Diaries a shot. An adaptation of Pride & Prejudice told entirely via the titular character's web series, the show briskly and amusingly brings Austen into the YouTube era.

Genre: Comedy of social manners (with a healthy dollop of romance)

Commitment: 100 episodes, but only a handful of them are more than 6 minutes long.

Streaming on: YouTube

6

Looking

Dammit, America, why didn't you watch Looking? This lovely little series, set in and around the lives of a group of gay men in San Francisco, offers a frequently gorgeous look at what it means to be gay at this point in time, when marriage is a possibility and AIDS is still around but increasingly a memory. It not only dares to take the romantic and emotional lives of gay men seriously — a rarity on TV — but in its most deeply felt episodes, it features some of TV's most transcendent filmmaking. HBO canceled it after two seasons, but is producing a finale special to offer closure.

Genre: Dramedy

Commitment: Two seasons, of eight and 10 half-hour episodes, respectively.

Streaming on: HBO Go

7

Other Space

TV doesn't have the best track record when it comes to sci-fi comedies. There's the long-running, classic British series Red Dwarf, and then there's ... Spaced? That's sort of sci-fi-adjacent, right? Maybe? In any event, Other Space, while not perfect, should satisfy anyone who's looking for a show that simultaneously parodies and pays homage to schlocky TV science fiction. The latest series from Freaks and Geeks creator and Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, it follows the crew of a spaceship as they're tossed into an unknown universe and must attempt to find a way home. And if you're a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, it frequently features that show's first host, Joel Hodgson, as well as Trace Beaulieu, the longest-running voice of Crow T. Robot.

Genre: Science fiction comedy

Commitment: One season of eight half-hour-long episodes.

Streaming on: Yahoo

8

Party Down

Centered on an LA-based catering company that employs all manner of aspiring actors, writers, and other "between engagements" Hollywood types, Party Down is the best kind of workplace comedy, in that it follows a less familiar profession and enjoys endless story possibilities since the titular catering company isn't confined to an office building. The series' gig-of-the-week structure consistently shifts its setting as the Party Down team sets out to work bar mitzvahs, fundraisers, birthday parties, and more. Throw in a stacked regular cast featuring Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Kristen Bell, Jane Lynch, Ken Marino, and Megan Mullally — not to mention lots of funny guest stars who rotate through the show as catering clients — and you've got a pretty appetizing afternoon ahead of you.

Genre: Offbeat workplace comedy

Commitment: Two seasons, with 20 half-hour-long episodes total.

Streaming on: Hulu

9

Playing House

Strong female friendships are hard to find on television, which is exactly why the bond between Playing House's lead BFFs, Maggie and Emma (played by real-life BFFs and writing partners Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair, who also created the series), is so appealing. As the series begins, the pair is reunited in their tiny hometown through an odd set of sitcom-approved circumstances — a pregnant Maggie kicks her husband to the curb after she realizes he's cheating on her, and Emma quits her high-powered job in China to move back home and help Maggie raise the kid — and plenty of hijinks ensue. Between its sharp writing and a solid supporting cast that features Zach Woods (Silicon Valley, The Office), Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele), and Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle), Playing House is equal parts silly, sarcastic, and sweet. But above all, it's seriously funny, and a great viewing option for anyone who might be missing a faraway pal.

Genre: Buddy comedy

Commitment: Two seasons, with 18 half-hour-long episodes total, though only season two is currently available to stream. That shouldn't matter too much, however; you should be able to dive right into the story.

Streaming on: Hulu (season two only; season one is available for paid download on Amazon and iTunes)

10

Rev.

Is there a comedy subgenre known as "sitcoms for theology minors"? Because this gentle but hilarious British comedy would cetainly fit the bill. Centered on an Anglican minister who's attempting to cater to a tiny inner-city flock, Rev. examines the gap between modern life and religious calling, producing some of the most beautiful, thought-provoking considerations of faith to ever appear on television. That it also offers several laugh-out-loud moments per episode makes it all the sweeter. And as the main character and his wife, Tom Hollander and Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) are part of one of TV's most believable marriages.

Genre: British comedy

Commitment: Three seasons, with 19 half-hour episodes split among them.

Streaming on: Hulu

11

Review

Forrest MacNeil is a critic. But he's not a critic of film or TV or music. No, Forrest MacNeil reviews life. He wants to examine each and every experience possible, then rank it on a five-star scale, in this ingenious, loopy Comedy Central series. Review begins its life as a sketch comedy, then sneakily evolves into something more, thanks to the terrific performance of its star, Andy Daly. In two seasons, the show has become one of TV's foremost examinations of the human condition, and Forrest has become a tremendous, if unlikely, hero.

Genre: Sketch comedy, sort of

Commitment: Two season, with 19 episodes total.

Streaming on: Hulu

12

Togetherness

Plenty of people dislike this tale of four middle-class white folks living in Los Angeles and grumbling about their romantic relationships (or lack thereof), but for anybody who can get on its wavelength, it's an odd, fascinating dive into a very specific Angeleno subculture — all those people who work on the very fringes of show business but not quite at its center. The show is worth watching just for Melanie Lynskey's performance as a housewife who's slowly coming apart at the seams. Yeah, you've seen that character on TV before. But never like this.

Genre: Low-key dramedy

Commitment: One season of eight half-hour episodes. Season two debuts February 21.

Streaming on: HBO Go

13

Transparent

Transparent has earned tons of attention from the press and awards bodies, even winning the Golden Globe for Best Comedy Series at the 2015 awards. But it remains a series that not many people have actually watched, making it a perfect show to sample on a weekend afternoon. Transparent is the story of Maura Pfefferman, a transgender woman who's transitioning late in life, and her three unruly (adult) children and ex-wife. It starts out as another tale about people with too much money who whine a lot, but then slowly draws you in as it unravels all of the lies the family members have been telling themselves over the years. Plus, Jeffrey Tambor is stellar as Maura, anchoring an incredible ensemble cast. The show's second season yielded some of the best TV of 2015.

Genre: Dramedy

Commitment: Two seasons, with 20 half-hour-long episodes total.

Streaming on: Amazon Prime

14

Undeclared

The more contemporary heir apparent to the much-loved high school comedy Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared follows a group of freshmen at a fictional university in California as they navigate the trappings of college. Produced by Judd Apatow and starring baby-faced versions of Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, Charlie Hunnam, Jason Segel, and more, the show paints a fairly realistic picture of life as a fledgling co-ed, tackling such familiar topics as the Freshman 15, the pressure of exams, and dorm-room hookups with achingly funny precision.

Genre: On-campus comedy

Commitment: One season of 17 half-hour-long episodes.

Available for paid download on: Amazon and iTunes


Drama

15

Alphas

TV is enjoying a superhero renaissance with the rise of good-to-great shows like The Flash and Marvel's Daredevil. But it would be a shame to forget this earlier, low-rated entry in the genre that aired in relative obscurity for two seasons on the Syfy network. Set in a world where people with advanced mental abilities are called "alphas," the series charts a team of agents with special abilities (don't call them superpowers!), led by a psychiatrist played by the great David Strathairn. Though its action scenes might pale in comparison to those on programs with larger budgets, Alphas' core concept makes for one of TV's best shows ever about the damages of mental illness.

Genre: Superhero drama

Commitment: Two seasons, with 24 hour-long episodes split between them.

Streaming on: Netflix

16

Black Mirror

No show on television displays a better understanding of technology than Black Mirror. Because it's an anthology of one-off episodes, it feels a little like The Twilight Zone. But instead of telling eerie stories that touch on different facets of horror and science-fiction, Black Mirror is wrapped around one central theme: that our smartphones and computers — the "black mirrors" in our lives — will one day help destroy or enslave us. The series isn't very uplifting, but its stories are the kind you'll keep thinking about long after the binge is over.

Genre: Science fiction

Commitment: Two three-episode seasons, for a total of six hour-long episodes, plus a Christmas special.

Streaming on: Netflix

17

The Booth at the End

So there's a diner, see? And there's a man who sits in that diner, and if you go up to him and tell him what you want, he'll assign you a task to perform. And if you perform that task, you'll get what you want. Or so he says. That's the premise of this Twilight Zone–esque series, which unfolds entirely in the diner as the people the Man has asked to perform tasks seek him out, more and more desperate for what they want, while being unable (or unwilling) to perform what's requested of them. Add in Xander Berkeley as the Man, and you have a recipe for a coolly intriguing little show.

Genre: Fantastical morality play

Commitment: Two seasons of five half-hour-long episodes each. In the US, each season is currently available to rent as a single movie.

Available for paid download on: Amazon and iTunes

18

Empire

Fox's Empire is addicting from the jump, a soapy, dramatic look at the last monarchs of the dying music industry. The show's first season jams in so many twists and turns that you might find yourself wondering how it will possibly be able to sustain such a rapid-fire pace in the future. But that's a challenge for someone else to worry about. Just sit back, enjoy the rollercoaster ride of season one, and watch Taraji P. Henson sink her teeth into the scenery and never let go.

Genre: Extra-sudsy drama

Commitment: One and a half seasons, with 22 hour-long episodes total. The second half of season two begins airing on Fox at the end of March.

Streaming on: Hulu

19

The Fall

The problem with most serial killer dramas is that they frequently fetishize, however inadvertently, the crimes their killers commit — especially if the victims are women. The excellent British series The Fall combats this trend by exposing the utter degeneracy of its killer's worldview, then contrasting it against the razor-sharp moral compass of its detective hero, Stella Gibson (the always terrific Gillian Anderson). If you're seeking a serial killer show that also serves as a treatise against society's ingrown sexism, The Fall is for you.

Genre: Serial killer drama

Commitment: Two seasons, with 11 hour-long episodes in total. Season three arrives later this year.

Streaming on: Netflix

20

Happy Valley

Driven as it is by unlikely coincidence, British import Happy Valley shouldn't really work. But goodness, does it ever, once it gets its claws into you. When an English police sergeant comes to believe she's picked up the trail of the man she thinks raped her daughter (and consequently drove her to suicide), she begins to tighten the noose around him — while completely unaware that he's involved in a completely separate kidnapping plot. Yes, you have to buy that central coincidence to buy the show, but as soon as you do so, Happy Valley becomes like a deeply compelling mystery novel, set in a small town full of intricate, intriguing characters.

Genre: Crime drama

Commitment: One season of six hour-long episodes. Season two is in production.

Streaming on: Netflix

21

The Knick

Yeah, you're probably tired of hospital dramas. But what about a hospital drama set in the early 1900s, at the very birth of modern medicine, when surgeons were figuring out how to save people's lives on the fly — and killing just as many patients in the process? Gruesome, gorgeous, and often brilliant, The Knick turns its central hospital into an ecosystem for its version of New York City, with race, gender, and health care policy all ricocheting around its surprisingly exciting edges. Plus, it boasts two pretty big names in star Clive Owen and Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh, who helmed all of its season one episodes. And Cliff Martinez's burbling electronic score sounds like nothing else on TV.

Genre: Period medical drama

Commitment: Two seasons of 10 hour-long episodes each.

Streaming on: Max Go

22

Manhattan

The story of the Manhattan Project has been told time and time again. But this WGN America series turns it into a scintillating, slow-boiling story about the hidden secrets of World War II-era America, as well as the weirdest small-town drama you've ever seen. See, no one in this little town in the desert can talk about what they're doing, for fear of the big secret getting out. That means everybody maintains a thin veneer of propriety, while slowly falling apart underneath. Manhattan is also one of the most thrillingly scientific series in TV history, somehow transforming the story of two bomb-building teams racing to figure out how to split an atom into riveting stuff.

Genre: Historical fiction

Commitment: Two seasons, with 26 hour-long episodes total. Only season one is currently available to stream.

Streaming on: Hulu (season one only; season two is available for paid download on Amazon and iTunes)

23

Marvel's Daredevil

Daredevil is a triumph for Marvel. The series is bloodier, more gruesome, and more sinister than anything else the company has created, thanks to its real sense of consequence; it truly feels like the violence that haunts its Hell's Kitchen setting is inescapable. Even when the good guys win, the sacrifices they must make to get that "win" are something they can never get away from. Daredevil doesn't shy away from the fact that violence changes people — a much darker message than you'll find in Marvel's blockbusters, but one that's just as necessary.

Genre: Noir action crime drama

Commitment: One season of 13 hour-long episodes. Season two premieres March 18.

Streaming on: Netflix

24

Peaky Blinders

Netflix's British imports don't always hit, but when they do, they can be dreamy and enthrallingly fascinating. That's the case with this 1920s-set crime epic, which focuses on the members of the titular gang. Starring the sadly unsung actor Cillian Murphy in its lead role, Peaky Blinders is a stunningly designed look at a bygone era that really digs into the malaise felt by many in the immediate wake of World War I. What's more, it boasts some terrific supporting performances from a crack cast of British character actors, which is almost always a good thing.

Genre: Period crime drama

Commitment: Two seasons, each consisting of six hour-long episodes.

Streaming on: Netflix

25

Rectify

There simply isn't another show like Rectify. There just isn't. This beautiful, ruminative family drama focuses on a man convicted of the murder of his high school girlfriend who is released after 19 years on death row when new DNA evidence appears to exonerate him. The series never pushes too far when it can simply sit back and observe its characters in their milieu, but it's also a surprisingly rich, deeply complex series about how families define themselves when one of their members is absent, and about the limits of compassion. Plus, Aden Young is turning in one of TV's best performances — possibly in the history of the medium.

Genre: Family drama

Commitment: Three seasons, with 22 hour-long episodes in total. Only seasons one and two are currently available to stream. A fourth and final season will air later this year.

Streaming on: Netflix (seasons one and two only; season three is available for paid download on Amazon and iTunes)

26

The Returned

Do you like zombies? Do you like earnest family dramas? Do you like weird mysteries? Do you like the French? Then we might have the show for you. The Returned — or Les Revenants, as it's known in its original language — takes place in a small French mountain town where a handful of dead people return, years after their deaths, and hope to resume their lives, only to find out everybody has moved on without them. It's a strikingly different, hauntingly original take on the idea of people coming back from the dead.

Genre: Eerie drama

Commitment: Two seasons of eight hour-long episodes each. Only season one is currently available to stream.

Streaming on: Netflix (season one only; season two is available for paid download on Amazon and iTunes)

27

Terriers

Terriers is basically a grown-up version of Veronica Mars. The series is about private investigators living in southern California (Ocean Beach, San Diego, to be exact), and balances case-of-the-week stories that are resolved in the span of an episode with an overarching plot that gradually unfolds and eventually dominates the end of the show's one and only season. But it also features the finest crime-solving duo since The Wire's McNulty and Bunk. Hank Dolworth, a disgraced alcoholic ex-cop who's still pining for his ex-wife, would be a lazy stock character in the hands of a lesser actor, but Donal Logue nails the part, making Hank effortlessly charming, surprisingly competent, and very, very funny. And as Britt Pollack, a reformed burglar who teams up with Dolworth, Michael Raymond-James is able to balance a generally affable, goofy persona with real pathos. It's an absolute tragedy that viewers only got to hang out with the pair for a single season, but the 13 episodes we do have are treasures.

Genre: Crime dramedy

Commitment: One season of 13 hour-long episodes.

Streaming on: Netflix

28

Top of the Lake

The old-fashioned miniseries has been making a comeback in recent years, thanks to the fact that a short episode count and a set end date can better attract A-list Hollywood talent to the small screen. Enter the underseen, eerie 2013 miniseries Top of the Lake, directed by Jane Campion of The Piano fame and starring Elisabeth Moss of Mad Men. Filmed and set in New Zealand, Top of the Lake follows Moss's detective character as she investigates the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old. The series is about as effective a television dissection of the way rape is ignored and excused by society as you're likely to find.

Genre: Mystery

Commitment: One season of seven hour-long episodes.

Streaming on: Netflix


Reality and Documentary

29

Chef's Table

In every season of Top Chef, there's an episode (or three) where a moderately famous chef drops by and everyone sings his or her praises, going on and on about how he or she possesses some magical skill that sets him/her apart from other chefs. We've always found this interesting and wanted to know more about these so-called legends, which kind of explains why we can't get enough of Chef's Table. The docu-series is beautifully shot, and examines the lives of six such figures, including Dan Barber, Niki Nakayama, and Massimo Bottura. All of these chefs have their own worldview and a unique perspective on cooking and food. From families that don't approve of their career goals to love stories that span oceans, these chefs' stunning tales deserve to be told, and Chef's Table is doing just that.

Genre: Documentary

Commitment: One season of six episodes that clock in at around 50 minutes each.

Streaming on: Netflix

30

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

The sheer unlikelihood of the existence of Cosmos is perhaps the chief reason to recommend it. Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane was instrumental in convincing a major broadcast network (Fox) to turn over 13 weeks of its schedule to a documentary miniseries about astronomy? In 2014? Networks aren't supposed to put things like this on the air anymore, but Cosmos made it to the air nonetheless, happily sending viewers into the farthest reaches of outer space and then bringing us right back home to Earth. That the world's most popular scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, hosts is just icing on the cake.

Genre: Educational documentary

Commitment: One season of 13 hour-long episodes.

Streaming on: Netflix

31

Inside Man

Documentarian Morgan Spurlock — who's probably still most famous for the McDonald's-focused Super Size Me — is a love-him-or-leave-him prospect when it comes to how tolerable you find his films. Most of them come off as gimmicky attempts at self-promotion. But his TV work, while still placing Spurlock in the center of the frame, is far more interested in building empathy for the sorts of people who rarely turn up on screen. Sadly, Spurlock's earlier, better FX series 30 Days is currently unavailable to stream (though it can be found on DVD), but this CNN program where Spurlock puts himself in the shoes of somebody whose life is very different from his is also quite good, not to mention an often effective examination of some of the biggest issues affecting America today.

Genre: News and political documentary

Commitment: Two seasons of eight hour-long episodes apiece.

Streaming on: Netflix


One Good Thing

One Good Thing: A time loop video game that works like a Rube Goldberg machine

The Goods

Meg Ryan fall and the unsettling joy of another pandemic autumn

Culture

The tricky trans politics of FX’s Y: The Last Man

View all stories in Culture