The Golden Age of Television continues. While many thought the 2010s would see a dip in quality, high-end programming is still at its peak. With so many streaming services and ways to watch the countless series being released, you would think there would be a slide in standards. Thankfully this is not the case. In fact, there are more entertaining shows than ever before. Streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, and Hulu allow fans to watch their favorite shows in one sitting. No longer do you have to wait week to week for new episodes. Most series drop the full season on the release date. The 2000s really have become the standard-bearer for incredible shows. With so much on offer, how do you decide what are the best shows to binge watch?
That’s where we come in. We have done the homework for you and feasted on hours upon hours of amazing shows so we can bring to you the definitive list of shows to binge watch. Our list features shows from the past two decades and includes everything from a drama about a meth-dealing teacher to a show about Birmingham criminals set in the 1920s. Read on and find your next show to binge watch.
1. Mare of Easttown (2021)
Only seven episodes long, this is the ideal show to binge watch on a lazy Sunday. Mare of Easttown is a gripping police drama set in a small suburb of Philadelphia. When a teenage girl is murdered, Detective Marianne “Mare” Sheehan (Kate Winslet) is put in charge of discovering the killer. But there is much more to this show than a standard police procedural. Mare’s personal life is in tatters. Divorced (her husband lives in the house behind hers), living with her mother, and struggling with the death of her son, she is also scrutinized by the public after failing to solve the disappearance of another girl in the town a year earlier.
Joined by Detective Colin Zabe (Evan Peters), the two unravel family secrets as they get closer to solving the murder. This is a top-notch drama with a great supporting cast (Guy Pearce, Jean Smart, Angourie Rice) and a twist ending you will not see coming.
2. Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
“Say my name!” Breaking Bad is an incredible piece of television that revitalized the crime genre. Bryan Cranston plays against type as Walter White, a middle-aged chemistry teacher who is been diagnosed with stage-three lung cancer. Not wanting to leave his family with nothing when he dies, he teams with local meth dealer Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and begins selling drugs. As the series progresses White transforms from a mild-mannered teacher into a violent, manipulative drug lord going by the alias ‘Heisenberg.’
There are not enough superlatives to describe just how amazing this show is. Vince Gilligan’s writing is second to none, Cranston and Paul have never been better, and the interweaving plot lines of the other main characters flesh out a story that could have been a disaster in other hands. With 62 episodes spread across five seasons and one feature-length film, Breaking Bad is must-watch binge TV you can knock off in a week without any distractions.
3. Cobra Kai (2018-Present)
The Karate Kid legacy continues with this hit Netflix series. Set 34 years after the original trilogy, Cobra Kai takes a different look at the lives of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). This time around the focus is on Lawerence and his reasons for reopening the Cobra Kai Karate Dojo and reigniting his rivalry with LaRusso. Lawrence develops a relationship with a student, Miguel, that is similar to the one LaRusso had with Mr. Miyagi. There is a lot going on with this show as new characters are introduced and the drama ramps up. Even the original Cobra Kai karate master John Kreese (Martin Kove) turns up to invoke the rivalry between LaRusso and Lawerence.
Currently streaming its fourth season, a fifth has also been announced, so there is no time like the present to get around this fantastic show.
4. West Wing (1999-2006)
This political drama ran for seven seasons and is widely regarded as some of the best television to come out of the early 00s. Created by Aaron Sorkin, the series focuses on the interworkings of the federal government under the leadership of American President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (an incredible Martin Sheen). Set during his second term in office, Bartlet must face a number of crises, both on a domestic and foreign level, aided by his loyal staff in the Oval Office.
What makes this show such a watch is the writing from Sorkin, who nails the dialogue like no other. There is a lot of tension and drama that goes on in the White House, with compelling storylines revolving around the President’s illness, mid-term elections, affairs, and many current events going on in the world at the time the show was airing. Along with Sheen, the award-winning ensemble cast includes Alan Alda, Rob Lowe, Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, and John Spencer. West Wing is a must for anyone who loves a good political drama.
5. Peaky Blinders (2013-2022)
Peaky Blinders became a surprise hit for the BBC when it aired in 2013. Revolving around the Shelby family, a group of Birmingham gangsters known for putting razors in their flat caps, this gritty drama features a spectacular cast and engaging storylines. The plot weaves real-life events and people into the narrative, as the Shelby family patriarch Tommy (Cillian Murphy) deals with his rivals while trying to legitimize the family business. The current and final season is set in 1934 and finds Tommy trying to make waves in the world of politics.
The series features some fantastic protagonists, with the Shelby’s coming up against Chief Inspector/Major Chester Campbell (Sam Neil) in the first two seasons, Italian gangsters Darby Sabini (Noah Taylor) and Luca Changretta (Adrien Brody), and Jewish mafioso Alfred “Alfie” Solomons (Tom Hardy). Although the series is set to end, there is a movie in the works.
6. The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
The first show in an anthology created by Mike Flanagan, The Haunting of Hill House is a supernatural thriller. It’s loosely based on the novel of the same name by author Shirley Jackson. The show is split between two timelines and follows the Crain siblings who experienced paranormal activity as youngsters while living in Hill House. The five are still haunted by the experience as flashbacks show what led to the family fleeing the haunted house. The show was a big critical success and was followed by The Haunting of Bly Manor. This series interestingly features the same main cast playing different characters. While there are no plans for a third series, Flanagan is open to the idea. Especially considering the first two have been so successful.
7. The Sopranos (1999-2007)
When it comes to prestige TV it doesn’t get any better than The Sopranos. Mob boss Tony Soprano (a wonderful James Gandolfini) finds himself juggling two families–his criminal organization and his actual family–while dealing with panic attacks and anxiety. This is an interesting character study of a man struggling with his responsibilities which he explores during his therapy sessions.
The Sopranos is unlike any other show of the past 20 years. Similar to Breaking Bad, the show helped usher in this incredible generation of television. Much of the plaudits go to creator David Chase and the outstanding cast that includes Edie Falco as Tony’s long-suffering wife Carmela, Lorraine Bracco as his therapist Dr. Jennifer Mefi, Michael Imperioli as his nephew and protege Christopher Moltisanti, and Tony Sirico and Steven Van Zandt as his loyal henchmen Paulie Walnuts and Silvio Dante.
There really aren’t enough words to describe just how good The Sopranos is. Although stay away from the prequel movie The Many Saints of Newark. It’s a stinker.
8. Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
No television show has had such an impact on popular culture as Game of Thrones. It’s a phenomenon we are not likely to see again in a very long time. If you haven’t watched this show you must have spent the past decade living under a rock. So for those not in the know, the series is adapted from George R. R. Martin’s fantasy books. This sword and dragon epic concerns the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and the battle for the Iron Throne.
There are many reasons why this show is such a success. The writing (bar season seven), acting, and directing are a class above. But it’s the fear of the main characters dying that really keeps you watching. After the shock death in the season one finale of Ned Stark and then the slaughter at the Red Wedding, it was quickly established that nobody is safe in the world of Game of Thrones.
10. The Wire (2002-2008)
The Wire ranks alongside The Sopranos as one of the great dramas of the past 20 years. Written by author and former police reporter David Simon, each season of the series focuses on a different organization that deals with the police. The first season is about the drug trade in Baltimore. The second deals with the port system. The third focuses on the government and the fourth on education. The final season is about the print news media.
Smartly written and featuring a colorful cast of characters, The Wire wasn’t well-received when initially released. It is only over time that critics have praised the show for its accurate depiction of Baltimore and the way different institutions interact with law enforcement.
11. Stranger Things
Gearing up for its fourth season, Stranger Things is another of the more recent shows on this list. Influenced by 80s sci-fi with a nod to Steven Spielberg’s E.T., it merges elements of horror, science fiction, and the supernatural into an entertaining drama. The first season delves into the disappearance of a local as strange things start to happen in the town of Hawkins, Indiana. Things begin to get weirder in successive seasons as the townsfolk start to realize something nefarious is happening in their town.
Anyone who grew up in the 80s or has a love for that time period will be all about this show. Not only is it set in the decade of decadence, but the look and feel of the show are inspired by many of the best directors from that time. The cast is also chock full of talent, from veterans Winona Ryder and David Harbour to newcomers Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard. Stranger Things is certainly one of the best shows to binge watch when you get a chance.
12. Star Trek (1966-Present)
There are so many great Star Trek series that have been released over the years that it’s hard to name just one. Whether you are a fan of the original 79 episode series featuring Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), the sequel series Star Trek: Discovery, or the more recent Star Trek: Picard, looking at the life of retired Starfleet Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), there is a series sure to tickle your fancy. For that reason, we have included all 11 shows under one banner.
Each series brings something new to the Star Trek universe and features some of the best actors in the business. Familiar faces pop up here and there and all the alien races from the movies appear, along with plenty of new ones. With three Star Trek shows still running, and a new movie on the horizon, there has never been a better time to be a Trekkie.
13. Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)
Here is one for football fans. Friday Night Lights is based on the book by H. G. Bissinger about a fictional college team in Texas. First shot as a film in 2004, director Peter Berg then decided to transform the ideas from the book and film into a TV series. Running for five seasons, the first three follow the Panthers, a local Texas football team. It deals with the players’ lives outside of football and how they see the game as their ticket out of Texas. There is lots of drama that occurs during each season, with head coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) often finding himself in the middle of it all.
Another show that failed to gain an audience, Friday Night Lights was a hit with critics and won numerous awards. It is rightly regarded as one of the best shows to binge watch, especially for football lovers.
14. Squid Game (2021-Present)
This Netflix Orignal took the world by storm last year. It’s the streaming service’s most watched series, quickly becoming a global hit after its release in September 2021. The premise is quite original, with 456 South Koreans who are in debt participating in a series of deadly children’s games. The winner receives a whopping ₩45.6 billion (US$38.2 billion).
Analyzing the class disparity in South Korea, along with the impact of capitalism, Squid Game is a commentary on social and political issues plaguing the country. It is also a hell of a lot of fun and will have you on the edge of your seat as the contestants slowly get weeded out. The tension is palpable as the series narrows it down to a handful of players who must defeat each other to claim the grand prize.
15. Band of Brothers (2001)
This war epic came about after Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ experiences filming Saving Private Ryan. The show is based on Stephen E. Ambrose’s nonfiction book of the same name. It details the history of ‘Easy’ Company; from their training to deployment and the major missions they are involved in. Interviews with the actual soldiers who made up Easy Company are used as preludes before each episode, adding an extra element of realism to the series.
While Spielberg and Hanks take some liberties with the storyline, the majority of what you see on screen occurred. Band of Brothers is an impactful look at the horrors of war and how the bond between men can be the catalyst for survival. The cast is also off the charts, with the likes of Damian Lewis, David Schwimmer, Colin Hanks, Dexter Fletcher, Michael Fassbender, and Neal McDonough all featuring.
16. True Detective (2014-Present)
With only three seasons and 24 episodes to get through, True Detective is one of those shows you can knock off in a week or two very easily. Each season is a self-contained story with a new setting and new characters. The first, and easily the best season, is set in the present day but told through flashbacks. It details a murder case investigated by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson 17 years earlier. When new evidence comes to light they realize they might have put the wrong person behind bars.
The second season is set in California and surrounds a dodgy land deal that includes an overreaching conspiracy theory that threatens the lives of three cops and a career criminal The third and most recent takes place during three different time periods as Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff investigate the disappearance of two children in strange circumstances. While the second and third seasons don’t live up to the first, all three are still well worth your time. With a fourth just announced, there is no better time to binge watch True Detective.
17. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-Present)
Curb Your Enthusiasm is hands down the funniest sitcom since Seinfeld. This makes sense considering the star and creator of Curb is Larry David, the man behind Seinfeld. In this show, David plays a more annoying version of himself. He continually gets himself in trouble thanks to his big mouth and finds himself in awkward situations. This is cringe comedy at its most heightened. Think The Office (the British version) times ten.
There are 11 seasons of Curb, but with most episodes around the 25-30 minute mark, you can breeze through these quick smart. Interestingly the series is filmed without a script. David makes a rough outline of where he wants each episode to go and then the actors improvise the dialogue. The show features some of the biggest names in Hollywood, with the likes of Ben Stiller, Rosie O’Donnell, Vince Vaughn, Ted Danson, and Richard Lewis all appearing. If you don’t find this show funny then you might not be human.
18. The Walking Dead (2010-2022)
It might take you a while to binge The Walking Dead, but it will be well worth it. This is the show that kicked off the zombie craze. Brilliantly written (it closely follows Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard’s comic series) and hugely entertaining, this show has been a massive hit for AMC. While ratings have dropped over the years, those for the 11th and final season are holding steady, proving people love the undead.
The show itself revolves around a group of survivors in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse. As much as the zombies are the focus, the show, much like the comic, is about humanity and how we react in a crisis such as the end of the world. People’s true personalities are revealed and it doesn’t take long for the survivors to realize humans are more deadly than the zombies.
The show has been such a success that there are currently two spin-offs–Fear the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead: World Beyond, along with a further two planned for the next couple of years. You really can’t kill the undead it seems.
19. Lost (2004-2010)
Sure, the ending is a little fucked, but Lost on a whole is amazing. The plot is super original and concerns a group of airplane crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island. The show uses flashbacks to provide background on the characters as they try and find their way off the island. While trapped there they encounter all manner of supernatural things. They also stumble across other survivors and the island’s own inhabitants known as ‘The Others.’
Lost has a great cast that gets better with each season. Although the storylines get a bit confusing and you sometimes don’t quite know what is going on, Lost always seems to make sense. Eventually. The series won countless awards and is regarded by many as one of the greatest shows of the 21st century.
20. True Blood (2008-2014)
There’s been a show about zombies, so one about vampires only makes sense. True Blood is based on a series of books and revolves around Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a telepathic waitress living in the Lousiana town of Bon Temps. She falls in love with a vampire (supernatural creatures are now part of the world) and must deal with the consequences of dating a 174-year old man. The show is set against the backdrop of the fight for vampires rights and those opposed to them (an allegory for the LGBTQIA+ movement). It features an eclectic cast of characters crossing paths with Sookie and her lover Bill Compton.
Anyone with an interest in the supernatural is sure to enjoy this series, with later seasons introducing werewolves and other paranormal creatures.