The Most Satisfying One-Season Binge-Watches

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/courtesy of HBO
Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/courtesy of HBO

Forget baseball or football: Binge-watching TV is our true national pastime. Today’s technology means you have access to more hours of television than you could ever (healthily) watch, but not all bingeable TV shows are equal. You want a viewing experience that will leave you entertained, satisfied, yet still with remaining hours to do something else that weekend -- not the regret of spending your entire 48 hours off suffering through that sluggish drama your friend swears gets really good around season 3. Consider these your TV streaming one-hit wonders: From limited series, to very long documentaries, to episodic TV where each season can be enjoyed on its own, this is all the best stuff to watch in one shot.


Total runtime: 8 episodes/5.5 hours (per season)
Watch on: Netflix
OK, yes: Anthony Bourdain made 11 seasons of this travel documentary series (eight available to stream on Netflix) before his untimely death in June, but each episode stands alone and any one season will take you around the world without having to leave your couch -- so don’t worry about picking a certain season to kick things off. Bourdain had many careers in his day -- celebrity chef, author, TV star -- but his most memorable run may turn out to be his unlikely role as cultural anthropologist. While he and CNN initially seemed like strange bedfellows, watch one episode, whether it takes place in conflict zones in Libya or LA’s Koreatown (both in Season 1), and the pairing makes total sense. Throughout the series, Bourdain treats those he encounters and the food he tastes with the curiosity of a journalist, the expert palate of a chef, the compassion of a humanitarian, and a message that travel should be about not the photos you capture, but the people you meet along the way.


Total runtime: 6 episodes/6 hours
Watch on: Amazon Prime Video
Based on the John Le Carré novel, this 2016 British spy miniseries features a dashing Tom Hiddleston in the role that caught him the (brief) attention of T-Swift and launched rumors about him becoming the next James Bond. Hiddleston plays Jonathan Pine, an ex-soldier and hotel night manager who infiltrates an illegal arms dealer’s inner circle. The spy capers are just as Bond-like, Hugh Laurie (in his native British accent) makes for a charismatic villain in the cat-and-mouse game, and the sumptuous scenery will have you booking a trip to Mallorca, stat. Also, one word: #Hiddlesbum.

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Courtesy of HBO


Total runtime: 7 episodes/6.25 hours
Watch on: HBO GO/HBO NOW
First there’s the A-list cast: This is the HBO project that brought movie stars Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley to TV. Then, there’s the intriguing murder mystery that centers on a group of mothers in ritzy Monterey, California. Add in beautiful direction by Jean Marc Vallée and a soapy-but-not-too-soapy script by David E. Kelley. Finish it off with some beachfront real estate porn and a killer soundtrack (featuring a first-grader who definitely has better music taste than you), and you have one of the most enjoyable shows of 2017. Though it was designed (and plays out) as a limited series, it proved so popular HBO renewed it for a second season, which is adding Meryl Streep to the cast, no less.


Total runtime: 11 episodes/9 hours
Watch on: Netflix
This epic BBC nature documentary franchise has spawned multiple sequels, but nothing quite compares to the splendor of the 2006 original. Among many stunning landscapes, the series takes you along to summit the Himalayan Mountains to peep the rare snow leopard, plunges you into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean to explore its undersea volcanoes, and discovers an elusive camel that lives in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. You can’t help but revel in Earth’s majesty as you’re transported to places humans rarely see. Speaking of humans, the follow-up documentary film The Making of Planet Earth is necessary companion viewing, showing the literal lengths the crew went to capture those epic shots. Unfortunately, it’s not available to stream on Netflix, but you can buy it on Amazon Video for $4 -- a price totally worth it to see just how long one producer staged a solitary stakeout to capture that bird of paradise mating dance.


Total runtime: 8 episodes/6.25 hours
Watch on: Netflix
The mid-2010s saw a lot of these child-murder-disrupts-a-small-town dramas. This is, hands-down, the best one. While the BBC eventually made three seasons, Broadchurch -- unlike some other crime dramas (cough, The Killing, cough) -- solves its initial case in one season. David Tennant and Olivia Colman are the odd couple detectives on this case, and while it will take you a few episodes to decipher Tennant’s thick Scottish accent, he’s a formidable scene partner for Colman, who is excellent in everything she does (The Night Manager, Fleabag, we’ll go ahead and say The Crown now). The eight episodes play out with plenty of shocking twists, and its ending is heartbreaking in a wholly different way than it started.


Total runtime: 18 episodes/7.5 hours
Watch on: Amazon Prime Video
OK, technically this comedy series is three seasons BUT it’s British, so each season is only six episodes, which means you can watch the whole thing and still be a few hours short of a single Modern Family season. The premise here is standard enough: Guy meets gal on business trip, guy and gal have passionate week-long tryst, gal winds up pregnant, guy quits his job and moves across the pond to be with her… wait, what? Co-stars/co-creators Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, who met on Twitter (no, really), keep you coming back for more with their characters’ whip-smart banter and relationship truths that make this the brutally honest -- but still exceptionally funny -- version of a rom-com.



Total runtime: Dealer’s choice
Watch on: Netflix
Jerry Seinfeld has made 10 seasons of this web series, which originally aired on Crackle before recently moving to Netflix, where the stand-alone episodes have been reorganized from seasons into “categories” like “Light & Sweet” and “Late Night Espresso” -- so you can build your own binge adventure. The premise is simple: Seinfeld picks up the funnyman (or woman) of the week in a rare automobile and drives them to a destination where they proceed to wax philosophical about comedy, life, etc. Just as Alec Baldwin makes a surprisingly poignant celebrity interviewer in his WNYC radio show, here Seinfeld gets his subjects to open up in a way that only someone who shares the same rarified air can. These aren’t hard-hitting questions, but there’s a certain pleasure in seeing the veteran comedian reflect on his Seinfeld days with Larry David, or pal around with Obama at the White House. Every season (sorry, “category”) has great episodes, but if you need a place to start, replicate the Season 6 lineup, which delivers nostalgia with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, poignancy with Trevor Noah, and straight-up hilarity with Stephen Colbert.


Total runtime: 10 episodes/9 hours
Watch on: FX+
No one thought we needed a TV show version of the seminal 1996 Coen Brothers movie -- until Noah Hawley’s genius FX adaptation came along in 2014. Hawley did the seemingly impossible, adapting the film for the small screen without any of the same characters, actors, or plot lines (or input from the Coens), yet created something that just feels unmistakably Fargo. Both the first and second seasons of the anthology series are top-notch, but if you’re looking for a one-season binge, go for the first -- if only for Billy Bob Thorton’s deliciously devilish villain Lorne Malvo and the joy of watching breakout Allison Tolman in the de-facto Frances McDormand role.

Courtesy of Netflix


Total runtime: 7 episodes/7.25 hours
Watch on: Netflix
When picking a Netflix true-crime documentary, it’s easy to go Making a Murderer. The 2015 series was a bingeable sensation for a reason. But The Keepers deserves your attention for its ability to take both a micro and macro look at its central crime. The series’ slogan/premise (“Who killed Sister Cathy?”) unearths the unsolved 1969 murder of 26-year-old Baltimore nun/schoolteacher Catherine Cesnik. Sadly, as with most headline-making stories around the Catholic Church these days, the story involves allegations of priests' sexual abuse and a coordinated cover-up, with some suspected police corruption thrown in for good measure. There are shocking plot twists, emotional interviews with victims, and perhaps most touchingly, the story is told largely through the eyes of the few still searching for answers after all these years -- Cathy’s former students.


Total runtime: 8 episodes/7 hours
Watch on: Amazon Prime Video
The best way to describe this comedic drama, about a Joan Rivers-esque, ’50s-era housewife turned stand-up comedian, is delightful. Rachel Brosnahan picks up Amy Sherman Palladino’s rapid-fire dialogue (see: Gilmore Girls) and runs with it, transforming from prim Upper West Side housewife Miriam “Midge” Maisel to raunchy Greenwich Village comic in response to her husband’s affair. There are hilarious supporting turns by Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle as Midge’s overbearing Jewish parents, and Family Guy’s Alex Borstein as her curmudgeonly manager, plus the beautifully transporting fashions and sets that are half the fun of period dramas. Amazon renewed the Emmy-winning series for a second season (duh), but it’s debut date is still TBD, so watch the first then eagerly await it like the rest of us.

Craig Blankenhorn/HBO


Total runtime: 8 episodes/9 hours
Watch on: HBO GO/HBO NOW
This 2016 HBO limited series, the pet project of the late James Gandolfini, starts with a gripping premise: A Pakistani-American college student (Riz Ahmed) wakes up from a freewheeling night out to a gruesome murder -- and all the evidence is pointing in his direction. The whodunit plays out with Ahmed, in a breakout role, and John Turturro, as his eczema-plagued defense lawyer (in a casting arguably better than Robert DeNiro and Gandolfini who were to play the part before him), both delivering terrific performances. The tight eight episodes capture the injustice of the justice system, the harsh realities of imprisonment, and deliver it all with a creepy intensity that will keep you guessing ’til the very end.


Total runtime: 5 episodes/8 hours
Watch on: ESPN+
More than 20 years later, was there anything left to say about the Trial of the Century? Turns out there was -- a lot more. It initially seemed unfortunate timing that Ezra Edelman’s documentary opus aired as part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 just six weeks after the finale of The People v. O.J. Simpson, but it didn’t matter. The FX drama only renewed interest in the case, and Edelman’s Oscar-winning doc provides the essential context for the murder trial that dominated the headlines in 1995. This is ESPN, so it explores OJ’s sports stardom -- the Heisman trophy-winning USC running back, the decorated NFL athlete -- and introduces you to other parts of pre-trial OJ -- the kid from the San Francisco projects, the Hollywood actor and pitchman, the twice-divorced husband. Watch it as it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival -- all in one sitting -- and by the end, that “surprise” acquittal won’t seem so surprising after all.

Bonus pick:The People v. O.J. Simpson (10 episodes/8.5 hours, watch on Netflix) The first season of FX’s American Crime Story anthology series makes the perfect complement to the 30 for 30 doc -- or solo viewing. Come for the A-list cast (Cuba Gooding Jr! John Travolta! David Schwimmer!), stay for the star-making turns by Sterling K. Brown and Courtney B. Vance, as well as Sarah Paulson bringing much-needed nuance (and 2016 retrospect) to embattled prosecutor Marcia Clark. Just one episode in, you’ll see why, for 10 weeks, everyone was talking about the Juice.

Andrea Morabito is a senior editor at Thrillist and former deputy TV editor of the New York Post who used to obsessively re-watch the Friends DVD set before binge-watching was a thing.