But like any pleasurable activity that can root you to the couch, there are times when you may want to limit your consumption. So we put together the best shows you can binge without throwing away your entire weekend -- "single sitting" means different things for different people, of course, but these shows are self-contained to the point that a single season takes less time than your average workday. As always, binge with caution.
UFC's Conor McGregor's Guide to Celebrating St. Patrick's Day
Fans of The Handmaid's Tale, rejoice! Another Margaret Atwood classic, based on the true story of a Canadian maid who was convicted of murdering her employer in 1843, is upon you. (Atwood also writes stories that aren't about maids, for the record.) American Psycho director Mary Harron helms every installment of this series, which stars Sarah Gadon as the convict under psychiatric evaluation, and Anna Paquin as another maid who incites a fire lurking within Grace. With six episodes at a manageable 45 minutes each, you'll burn through this show before you can say "dystopian allegory for our current cultural crossroads."
Each installment of Charlie Brooker's addictive anthology takes a current techno-social phenomenon -- topics that range from hashtags to five-star ratings -- to its extreme and asks whether human nature can coexist with it. Part satire and part (unintentional) prophecy, the series presents an appropriately grim view of the future, one that will definitely make you worry for the next generation and maybe even galvanize you into action. You can take in one episode at a time, or digest an entire six-episode season without batting an eye. The latest season from Netflix takes the series episode count up to 20, but we still think you can swing this in one (somewhat miserable) day.
Adapted from Konami's 30-year-old video game franchise by revered comic writer Warren Ellis, Castlevania is Netflix's first, vicious stab at adult action animation. With visuals lifted from eons of anime (not to mention the series' own PlayStation sequel Symphony of the Night), instincts that err on the side of disembodiment, and a dramatic triangle that positions Dracula, our drunken, ex-monster-hunter hero Trevor Belmont, and a church of merciless clergymen in a battle royale for ideological domination, Castlevania is a fine excuse to watch illustrated swordsmen cut each other's throats and dark magicians disintegrate victims with the flick of the fireball. Ellis can't give the 2-D characters the dimensionality of Game of Thrones, but he can crank out four deliriously sadistic half-hour cartoons.
Eight comedians, one episode each. Such talents as Lauren Lapkus, Natasha Rothwell, and Tim Robinson all get a shot to unveil their best -- you guessed it! -- characters in 30ish minutes. Each episode is a different flavor, making for a nice blend of weird, fucked up, and side-splitting. There's something in here for everyone, and you'll have a good time passionately arguing with your friends about the MVP. (Spoiler alert: It's obviously John Early.) [Editor's Note: No, it's definitely Robinson.] [Other Editor's Note: No way. It's Kate Berlant, you idiots.]
Writer-director Justin Simien stretched his own feature debut and Sundance breakout, Dear White People, into a 10-episode Netflix series -- all of which clock in the 25-to-30-minute range -- and the result is even more cunning, tense, and consistently hysterical than the original. Race relations on the campus of Winchester University are boiling after a group of white students throw a blackface party, and each member of the black student union reacts in his or her own fashion. Dear White People weaves through the perspectives of class leaders, local rebels, the college newspaper reporter, and Sam, host of the provocative "Dear White People" radio show (who also happens to have a white boyfriend). Familiar college-age behavior breathes life into the political and social questions, and Simien raises the stakes to heart-pounding intensity in the fifth episode, just when you wonder what else it can say.
The End of the F***ing World
This isn't your average teen drama. The show, adapted from the popular Charles Forsman graphic novel of the same name, follows a 17-year-old named James as he tries to become the psychopath he thinks he is. Though it sounds a little bit like Dexter Jr., it's really more of a fucked-up love story sans the cliché six-packs and twee romances -- something somewhere between Juno and Twin Peaks. In this series' twisted world, to murder means to mature. It's dark and creepy, but it also offers enough humor and tenderness to make what turns into a chaotic road trip endearing. Or, as showrunner Jonathan Entwistle told us, "It's an angsty teen story, but with an adult execution" -- the word "execution," in this case, carrying particular weight. Binge it.
Five Came Back
Adapted from Mark Harris's comprehensive book of the same name, this film -- chopped into three episodes for maximum binge-iness -- explores the lives of five Hollywood directors who exited the emerging Hollywood scene to aid their country during World War II. Through filmmaking, John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens played pivotal roles in shaped the American understanding of WWII, and after the war subsided, they too were changed by the experience. With interviews from names like Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and Guillermo del Toro, Five Came Back is a historical epic for every Netflix-subscribing movie-lover.
This supernatural Indian horror miniseries, a co-production with Blumhouse, unfolds in three episodes that run around 45 minutes each. Think of it as a movie you watch in three parts. Focusing on trainee interrogator Nida Rahim (Radhika Apte), Ghoul takes place in a dystopian version of India, where the government has instituted harsh crackdowns on dissidents. The twist is that a terrorist Rahim interrogates wants to summon the titular ghoul, which is not good, folks! The metaphors may be a bit heavy-handed, but it remains a fun and spooky way to kill a little more than two hours.
No, not the Netflix original, but the British original from 1990. You'll get to digest the source material in four one-hour-long episodes, so there's no risk of watching the show go completely off the rails by adding absurd twist after absurd twist. Instead, you'll watch coldblooded Francis Urquhart manipulate the British political system in the wake of Margaret Thatcher's resignation as prime minister -- and yes, this Francis also talks directly to the camera.
The IT Crowd
Fans of The Office must check out this British sitcom, which nearly earned the same remake treatment from NBC in 2007. (The network decided some things are better off not remaking.) Starring a pre-Bridesmaids Chris O'Dowd, nerd idol Richard Ayoade, and UK staple Katherine Parkinson, each episode of The IT Crowd descends into the basement of a British industrial corporation to find out how a trio of tech assistance specialists averted actual work. Like any great sitcom, the laughs come from sticky situations of the bumbling crew's own design, which they solve enough to hold on to their desks. Things get absurd; later in the show, The Mighty Boosh's Noel Fielding pops up as a vampiric IT professional who lurks in the maintenance closet. With 24, 25-minute episodes spread out over four seasons, you can breeze through this classic in a day.
Knights of Sidonia
Space opera aficionados have no excuse to skip Knights of Sidonia, especially if they enjoy their sci-fi fairly action-packed. Young Nagate Tanikaze being made to pilot a robot to fight for humanity’s survival, pushed to the brink by an alien species called Gauna and drifting through space in the Sidonia colony, might sound like a very standard premise. But the bleakness that Tsutomu Nihei, author of the original manga, is known for gives Knights a special flair, as do the myriad of societal and technological curiosities introduced to give unique texture to the setting. While the 3-D character acting leaves a bit to be the desired, the gorgeous lighting and ambitious action set pieces justify the path this adaptation took. Watching its first two seasons while waiting for the third and perhaps final one to land seems like a very good use of your time.
Idris Elba looks really good in a suit. There are plenty of reasons to watch Luther, but The Wire actor's calming sartorial presence has to be what draws most fans into this psychologically rich British detective drama -- the first season is six hourlong episodes, followed by two seasons with four episodes, and a mini-season of two episodes. The Affair's Ruth Wilson also impresses as Alice Morgan, a manipulative murderer who becomes an obsession for Elba's weary cop John Luther. It's a cat-and-mouse game worthy of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. Plus, the whole Idris Elba-in-suits thing.
Do you like British mystery shows that wrap up over the course of eight tightly wound, 45-minute episodes? This one is for you. Starring Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies) as a London detective bouncing back from a nasty split and a turbulent entry into single motherhood, the hard-nosed series pairs serial killer investigation with familial struggle, which only intensifies when the main mystery connects to Marcella's husband's current employers. If this summer sun is too much for you, enter the overcast, grim world of Marcella.
Five years in the making, and at the time in 2006, ranking as the most expensive nature documentary ever commissioned by the BBC, Planet Earth changed the way we look at the world around us. From microscopic observations of insect mandibles to underwater vistas most of us would never have seen in our earthbound existences, the high-definition miniseries turned scenes from the animal kingdom into Lord of the Rings. The years have seen sequels and spinoffs (The Blue Planet, The Hunt, Life, Africa, Frozen Planet, and Planet Earth II, all on Netflix, too), but the original, backed by David Attenborough's studious narration, holds up -- and you can watch it all in six hours.
Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Sherlock Holmes, albeit in the present day, solving crimes with the refined intelligence characteristic of Arthur Conan Doyle's hero, and accompanied by his sidekick, Dr. Watson. With three hour-and-a-half-long installments in each series, you can solve a single mystery in the course of a single night -- or, if you're more ambitious, you may find yourself glued to the couch for an entire weekend, trying to catch up with the rapid wit and near-impossible intellect of one of fiction's legendary characters.
Spies of Warsaw
This British miniseries assigns a French military attaché (David Tennant) in Poland to keep tabs on German intentions in the lead-up to WW2. Spoiler alert: Germany eventually invades, but the central tension in the years before 1939 paints a complicated picture of world politics that constantly rearrange themselves, with a love triangle thrown in for good measure. You won't see much of James Bond in the quiet exploits of Tennant's Jean-Francois Mercier, but the suspense of a pre-war fuse will help you burn through the whole series in short order.
W/ Bob & David
The sketch titans behind Mr. Show reunited for this small dose of hilarity, replete with the absurdity, creativity, and genre-bending that made viewers love them so much so many years ago. Under normal circumstances, the fact that W/ Bob & David has only four 30-minute episodes would be a drawback, but if you're looking for a quick, fun binge, it's ideal. (Hurry up, guys.)
Netflix wooed perhaps the greatest living documentarian, Errol Morris, to the streaming platform to tell the story of Frank Olson, a government scientist who supposedly committed suicide in the 1950s. His son, Frank, has made it his life's mission to find out the truth, which was substantially muddied when the CIA in 1975 claimed Olson had been a victim of the MK Ultra program, which slipped LSD to unwitting civilians. The answers clearly don't end there, but what unravels over the course of six easily digestible episodes (clocking in around 40 minutes each) is more about human knowledge and how we make meaning than it is about secret government programs -- though there's plenty of the latter to fuel conspiracy theorist dreams for years to come.
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