Hello. My name is Mark and I’m a binge TV addict.
It wasn’t always that way, you know. Until a couple years ago, I spent most of my free time either writing or reading into the wee hours. I’d write short stories or chunks of novels until I nodded off at the keyboard. I’d read giant chunks of scintillating books until the birds were chirping outside the window.
Then some fool introduced me to “The Walking Dead” and all my books began gathering dust. I dragged a television set into my writing room and over the course of one blurry and corpse-stinking weekend, I devoured the entire first season of the show.
It was downhill from there. “The Walking Dead” grabbed me like a growling zombie and dragged me down into the depths of binge TV.
Recently, I tried to count the shows I’ve blazed through over the past two years of pre-dawn TV benders. I never came up with a hard number, but the shameful recollection did result in one magnificent list of shows you should avoid like poison ivy if you have any questions about your own self-control.
“BREAKING BAD”: NETFLIX
This is the story of Walter White and his transformation from dreary, middle-aged school teacher to methamphetamine kingpin. Behold and tremble before Heisenberg and his bags of crystal blue destruction!
As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to binge TV, “Breaking Bad” is the most dangerous of them all. It’s brilliantly written, masterfully acted and constructed so that at the end of each episode, you will burn with a mad desire to stagger on to the next. It’s like that through all five seasons and the finale is the best I’ve ever seen. If a television show was a street drug, this one would be heroin-flavored crack with a meth chaser. It’s at the top of this list for a reason. There was never a question in my TV-addled mind that “Breaking Bad” would be No. 1.
What, you’ve never heard of “Rectify”? Don’t feel bad. Few people have. That this show is not better known is a travesty. It’s the story of Daniel Holden, freed from death row 19 years after he was convicted as a teenager of raping and killing his girlfriend. It’s a compelling plot for sure, but what will grab you by the throat and drag you off into solitary confinement is the acting, particularly that of Aden Young, who plays the lead. This show will lock you away for a long time. The good news is that the series is a mere four seasons long, so you’re getting out with good behavior.
“GAME OF THRONES”: HBO
I remember a time when debates raged about which was better: “The Walking Dead” or “Game of Thrones.” My friends, it’s not even close. While that zombie series fell apart after three seasons, “Game of Thrones” has been near perfection through seven, with a final season on the way. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a cast as brilliant as this one. You may come for the dragons and rampant sex scenes, but I guarantee you’ll stay for the political drama and the characters. And by the way, the Lannisters send their regards.
You’ve probably heard all about the Netflix original “Orange is the New Black,” even if you don’t watch it. You’ve probably never heard of “Wentworth,” which is sort of the Australian equivalent. It’s a shame, my friend, because while the former doesn’t make my list at all, I feel somewhat terrible about putting “Wentworth” way down here at No. 4. I’m not even a big fan of the women-in-prison genre, but this show has knocked my boots off for six straight seasons and there’s no sign it’s letting up. Start watching this and, come morning, you’ll feel like you got shanked in the yard.
“THE AMERICANS”: FX, AMAZON PRIME
Ah, Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings; such a nice American couple. Actually, no. This husband-and-wife team are serving as Soviet spies in 1980s Cold War America. This six-season series is absolutely dazzling and it’s utterly serious about its political intrigue. It’s a fantastic cast, but pretty much every scene is stolen by Keri Russell, whom I suspect was born to play the role of beautiful-but-deadly Elizabeth Jennings. This show will turn your living room into a gulag of binge watching.
A recently-widowed suburban housewife starts selling marijuana to supplement her income. How is this show way down here at No. 5? It’s a series so good, I’ve watched it three times all the way through. It’s campy at times, but mostly it’s eight seasons of red-eyed hijinks from the Botwin family. Extremely rich characters who mix comedy and drama with equal finesse. It’s kind of like a tamer, less bleak version of “Breaking Bad,” although don’t fool yourself. “Weeds” is a gateway drug.
“DEADWOOD”: AMAZON PRIME
A camp growing into a town in 1870s South Dakota is one populated by pistol-toting, fist-throwing, card-cheating scoundrels around every corner. Also hookers. To me, Ian McShane as the brothel-running Al Swearengen steals the show for all three seasons. Lots of viewers were turned off by the foul language in this one. I didn’t mind it so much, but after watching this entire season over a weekend or two, I pretty much had to walk around with a bar of soap in my mouth.
“THE KILLING”: NETFLIX
An obsessive police detective teams up with a streetwise meth-addict-turned-cop to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. I typically don’t like police procedural shows, but this one is like a red-hot novel you just can’t put down. You got your human drama, your political intrigue and plenty of old-fashioned sleuthing. “The Killing” is just three seasons long, so you probably won’t need rehab when you’re done. Probably.
“THE WIRE”: AMAZON PRIME
Again with the police procedurals. This one is special, though, and has hooked many a TV viewer. On one side, you’ve got a team of shrewd drug dealers peddling crack in the hoods of Baltimore. On the other side, a small band of cops trying to catch them through phone taps, snitches and all forms of trickery. In “The Wire,” pretty much everyone is corrupt. You’ve just got to figure out which bad guy to cheer for.
Claire Danes is a CIA operative with bipolar disorder. At times, she is a brilliant spy with an analytical mind. At times she is a hot mess of betrayal, misplaced love and family drama. Danes, with her beautifully quivering chin, steals every scene she’s in, rivaled only by the performance of Mandy Patinkin who plays her boss. With eight long seasons just waiting for you, this show could really mess up your life. You know, in a fun way.
“BLACK MIRROR”: NETFLIX
An anthology with stories set around technology. Some of the stories here are incredibly disturbing. Some are just plain flops. Check out “Shut Up and Dance,” “White Christmas” and “The Entire History of You” and then seek therapy at once.
The life and crimes of cocaine king Pablo Escobar and the men who pursued him. Only three seasons. A good show to watch when you need to come down from a more heart-thumping show like “Breaking Bad.” Which is awesome.
“13 REASONS WHY”: NETFLIX
Yes, I watched it. Just you shut up about it. I really hated this show most of the time, but then it would save itself with a brilliant plot twist. In spite of the mainstream hype, this is no after-school special.
Jason Bateman as a money launderer trying to get the Mexican mafia off his back. It’s only two seasons in, so it’s hard to say what this show will become. It wants to be “Breaking Bad” in the worst way, but nothing is on the level of “Breaking Bad.” In case I haven’t mentioned that.
“THE WALKING DEAD”: AMC, NETFLIX
OK, I’m putting this show on the list after all because the first few seasons are just so amazing. The characters are deep, the acting is top notch and the story line … well, come on. Remnants of a dead society trying to survive in a world where the dead amble around hungry for human flesh. What’s not to love? It’s not so much about zombies, though. It’s about the human dramas, the power grabs and the utter decay of morality in a world gone mad. What would you do to save your family in a world like that? Mull it over as you binge watch the first three seasons. Then quit and go watch “Game of Thrones” instead.