If you’ve never seen a single episode of Lost, I envy you. Not because it’s a bad show—far from it, faaaar from it. Because you get to watch it, the whole thing, all the way through, for the first time. I’ll never be able to see it for the first time again. But you better believe I’ll watch it anyway.
Binge-watching an epic complete series is just the best, and a long weekend is a great time to become one with your couch and take a journey to another universe while shoving pretzels in your face episode after episode. Not that I’m planning to do that or anything. (Shh, I totally am.)
Before I had a TiVo, I once arrived at the airport 20 minutes before my flight took off, because I had to watch the Lost’s first season finale before I could get in a cab. Seeing Jack, Hurley, Jin, Sun, Claire, Sayid, Charlie, Michael, Walt, Hurley, Shannon, Boone, and of course Locke file onto that plane and take off…chills. (And then I stepped onto the plane that would take me to New Jersey or wherever I was going. Not the best idea.)
You should not watch Lost, one of the best-written, best-acted, most frustratingly weird sci-fi series, 20 minutes before you have to get on a plane. But you should watch all six seasons on Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime. Whether you saw it on TV or not, it’s fun to keep a tablet or laptop handy for frequently (okay, obsessively) looking up characters, connections, and theories on Lostpedia.
Friday Night Lights
One of the best compliments I can give this show is that when my husband and I got a couple episodes from the end, neither of us wanted to finish it. We wanted that last season to go on forever. If you haven’t watched it, don’t worry that you need to like football to enjoy it, either. Friday Night Lights is the story of a tiny West Texas town that’s simply crazy for high school football, but the characters are so relatable and the performances so touching, it turns out the football parts aren’t the true heart of the show. (They sure are fun to watch, though.)
The show gets an extra layer of believability (and beauty) from being shot in real locations—as in, no soundstages, and using real locals as the extras. Then they blow that believability briefly with Landry’s ridiculous season 2 subplot, but that’s okay. By the time you get to the end of season 5, I bet you’ll be wiping away real tears. Repeat viewers can spend their time thinking of possible plotlines for all the characters in the Friday Night Lights sequel film that totally needs to happen (but might not).
Is it wrong that I first watched Battlestar Galactica after seeing this oh-so-spot-on Portlandia sketch?
Well, if loving BSG is wrong, I don’t want to be right. While on its face it’s a super-nerdy sci-fi series based on an even nerdier 1978 series criticized for ripping off Star Wars, at its heart it’s just a really entertaining show. The last surviving members of the mostly annihilated human race are searching the galaxy for the “lost colony” of Earth, while the robotic Cylons try to wipe them out…at least at first. The show can twist on a space dime, and the heavy political overtones and religious themes lend it a gravitas you might not be expecting at first. The music is amazing too—like Fred and Carrie learned, it doesn’t take long to get utterly hooked.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I really can't explain what it is about this show. It’s a silly premise, of course, with cheesy dialogue, over-the-top makeup, and hilarious mid-1990s fashions. But it sucks you in nonetheless. Partly it’s the sheer likability of Sarah Michelle Gellar and the other actors—Alyson Hannigan is particularly charming as dorky witch Willow. But mostly it’s creator Joss Whedon’s clever mixing of typical high school drama with over-the-top but fully realized supernatural mythology. It’s nice to see such powerful female characters, too.
If at first the whole thing seems utterly ridiculous, I don’t blame you. A few of my friends were die-hards during Buffy’s original run, and I tried to watch it with them but I rolled my eyes so much I was probably looking at the ceiling as much as the TV. But once I streamed a few episodes in a row, suspending disbelief long enough to fall in love with the characters was easy. The entire series is on Amazon Prime as well as Netflix and Hulu Plus.
If you never saw the weirdly unsatisfying ending to the story of Mary Louise Parker’s marijuana-selling odyssey, the whole series is up on Netflix, but the best seasons are the first three. By the time they get to season 8, you’ve followed this rag-tag crew from SoCal to Mexico, through the heartland to Michigan, overseas, to New York, and finally to Connecticut, but as weirdly disjointed as that journey was, the excellent core cast keeps the show from going totally off the rails.
When you watch it in big chunks, it’s fun to see the evolution of Nancy’s younger son Shane (Alexander Gould), as he grows from bullied oddball kid, to stone-cold killer, to police officer by the end—with some very unfortunately facial hair choices. And Kevin Nealon provides plenty of comic gold throughout. The 30-minute episodes are a breeze to blow through one by one, and it’s a fun ride.
24 premiered in 2001 and ended in 2010. And in many ways, it’s the show of the aughts, featuring counterterrorism, chemical weapons, cyber crime, political intrigue, government corruption, and one badass named Jack Bauer who has 24 hours to save the day, no matter what it takes.
The shtick of this show is its real-time action: Each hour-long episode is meant to represent an hour in Jack’s horrible, no-good day. Other shows had experimented with this for an episode (Seinfeld’s “The Chinese Restaurant” episode, for example, or the Friends episode “The One Where No One’s Ready”), but 24 kept it up for its entire eight-season run. It’s perfect for binge-watch it on Netflix or Amazon Prime, since no commercials break up the action and you don’t have to wait an entire week for another hour. (The series is also available on Hulu Plus, but with some commercials.)
Kiefer Sutherland is perfect in his role as the flawed, intense Counter Terrorist Unit agent—it’s fun to imagine that Jack is just a grown-up version of Ace Merrill, the bully Sutherland played in Stand By Me, doing his penance over and over again for stealing Gordie’s Yankees hat. (In fact, Eric Belfour plays a character named Milo Pressman in both Stand by Me and 24, so…totally the same universe, right?) Anyway, 24 is great, and if you didn’t watch its original run, it’s even better streaming.
…and, of course, The Wire
Look, The Wire might just be the greatest television series ever filmed. It starts with the story of the Baltimore Police’s wiretapping operation to catch a gang of notoriously violent drug dealers, but with each new season the focus shifts, from the Barkesdale drug crew, to the stevedores union down at the docks, to City Hall, to the public school system, and finally the media (a fictionalized version of The Baltimore Sun). It’s perfect for binge-watching—in fact, watching and rewatching long stretches of this show is all but required to be able to fully understand it. The characters never give exposition, and there are no obvious reminders to the viewer that this scene or that line of dialogue will turn out to be vital later on. And the dialogue itself is thickened by heavy accents and authentic-sounding street slang—it would be hard to keep up with if you couldn’t rewatch anything.
If you have HBO Go, hopefully you’re aware that you can stream it all that way. But cord cutters are pretty out of luck, since it’s not on any of the subscription streaming services. iTunes sells seasons for $20 each, and Amazon has a DVD set for $130 and digital seasons for $20 a piece. It’s so worth it.