Summer Binge Guide: 16 TV Shows for Your Next Couch Marathon

TV Insider Staff
Clockwise from top left: Netflix (2); Gilles Mingasson/ABC; Netflix

Binge Guide

Sure, summer vacations are all about beach trips and fireworks. But let's not pretend you aren't also looking forward to many blissful hours basking in air-conditioned glory while you catch up on your binge-watching. But where to start your marathon of marathons? Here, 16 must-see shows -- the ones everyone's been talking about that you have to see before the next season comes around -- to fuel your summer of lounging.

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Jill Greenberg/Netflix

Orange Is The New Black
Where To Watch: Netflix
Number of Episodes: 40

Why It's Bingeworthy: Granted, a dramedy set within the grim walls of an all-female federal prison doesn't exactly sound like something that's compulsively watchable, escapist entertainment. And yet, there's no question that Orange Is the New Black—Netflix's original series about the jumpsuit-clad residents of Litchfield Penitentiary—is criminally addictive. "People are constantly telling me that they can't wait to spend the summer inside watching our show," says Yael Stone (above, fifth from right), who plays Italian-American siren Lorna Morello. (Season 3 of the series began streaming in its entirety on June 12.) "It has such a wonderful combination of laughs and heartache, and it's like we're all on this roller coaster together."

Can't-Miss Episode: "A Whole Other Hole" (Season 2, Episode 4)
Featuring what's arguably the most jarring life-before-Litchfield flashback yet, this episode finally reveals what landed the seemingly sweet and harmless Lorna in the clink. (Hint: It isn't just mail fraud…and her mysterious "fiancé," Christopher, is most definitely involved.) "When I first read the script, I couldn't believe the truth," Stone says. "I kept going through these emotional waves!" Plus, transgender inmate Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox, fourth from left) spends a good deal of screen time breaking down the, er, finer points of female anatomy for the other gals. (Note the double entendre in the episode's title.) Says Stone, "While we were shooting that, I remember all of us being like, 'Hmmph—that's actually really useful!'" —Ingela Ratledge

 


Craig Blankenhorn/FX

The Americans
Where To Watch: Amazon, iTunes
Number of Episodes: 39

Why It's Bingeworthy: A couple of decades ago, the idea of a TV show set during the early 1980s with a pair of KGB spies as the protagonists would never have been committed to paper, much less made it to air. But with the Cold War now far enough in the past and tensions with Russia not so heightened, thankfully, FX didn't keep this drama (from former CIA agent Joe Weisberg and executive producer Joel Fields) on the shelf.

Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are riveting as KGB spies posing as married Americans Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. To their FBI agent neighbor Stan (Noah Emmerich), they're simple D.C.-area travel agents with two average American teens (Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati). To their superiors in Mother Russia, they are lethal operatives who can seduce, beguile, and kill on demand.

While the Jenningses' espionage would be more than enough to fill the hour, The Americans has far more. The political intrigue at the Rezidentura—the USSR's embassy/spy headquarters—is too rich to call a subplot. And Stan and the FBI's hunt for the very sleeper agents sleeping next door is thrilling. But above all, this show is about a marriage—two people thrown into wedlock for comrade and country learning to love each other and protect their children. (Season 4 premieres next year.)

Can't-Miss Episode: "Open House" (Season 3, Episode 3)
Fields and Weisberg both love this hour, even though, they joke, "It's hard to pick a favorite child. This episode featured a car chase where no one went over 20 miles an hour and a love scene in which a tooth was extracted with no anesthetic." The unlucky dental patient is Elizabeth, who's suffering from broken teeth thanks to a brawl with the FBI while she was incognito—and hubby Philip is her oral surgeon. It's an unexpectedly tender scene that'll leave your jaw sore, but your heart full. —Oriana Schwindt

 


Comedy Central

Broad City
Where To Watch: Amazon, Hulu, iTunes
Number of Episodes: 20

Why It's Bingeworthy: Just when you thought stories about twentysomethings trying to make it in New York City were played out, along come creators and stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer.

Broad City started as a web series starring the real-life BFFs. The duo caught the eye of Amy Poehler, who agreed to executive produce a version of the show for Comedy Central. (The webisodes are well worth a watch too.)

Jacobson and Glazer play Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler, and their New York is the Real McCoy, dirty and colorful and full of a thousand daily dramas. Apartments are cramped and constantly inhabited by non-rent-paying boyfriends, acquiring an air-conditioning unit turns into a quixotic, drug-fueled ordeal, and sometimes you crash a yacht party and end up locking yourself in the liquor storeroom for the entire night. Ilana works (using the term loosely) at a Groupon-esque business and refuses to commit to a relationship with special friend Lincoln (a brilliantly deadpan Hannibal Buress). Abbi longs to graduate from cleaner to trainer at spin-class parody joint Soulstice. The girls bounce around the city on hilarious adventures, and though they don't always come through with their dignity intact, their oddball friendship never cracks.

Can't-Miss Episode: "Knockoffs" (Season 2, Episode 4)
As Paul W. Downs, coproducer-actor-cowriter of the episode, says, "It has laughter, tears, penetration, Chinatown, a shivah, and the incredible Susie Essman," who plays Ilana's mom in an example of perfect guest casting. Abbi finally goes on a date with the neighbor she's been crushing on, and Ilana won't let even her grandmother's shivah stand in the way of hearing all the details. And we mean all the details. –Oriana Schwindt

 


Ursula Coyote/A&E Network

Longmire
Where To Watch: Amazon, iTunes, Netflix
Number of Episodes: 33

Why It's Bingeworthy: You can't find a better representation of the iconic TV Western hero than the taciturn and brooding Walt Longmire, a Wyoming sheriff played by ruggedly handsome Robert Taylor. Based on Craig Johnson's bestselling novels, Longmire expertly offers the best tropes of the genre: a strong principled lawman who shoots only when absolutely necessary, an expansive and stunning backdrop (mostly the New Mexico mountains), lots of horses, and an entertaining, just shy of quirky, mix of desperadoes, ranchers, and Native Americans.

But Longmire—which was picked up for Season 4 by Netflix after being canceled by A&E last year—skillfully and entertainingly adds a contemporary cop-show gloss to these historic archetypes. Walt refuses to get a cell phone and handles a truck like a bronco; his best deputy is a woman (the reliably kickass Katee Sackhoff); and the local Cheyenne are deeply rich, complex characters. Most prominent: Henry Standing Bear (an excellent Lou Diamond Phillips), Walt's philosophical confidant who has tried to help his stoic friend deal with the mysterious murder of his beloved wife.

We may not be transported back to those wonderful days of yesteryear (to paraphrase the Lone Ranger) when Westerns ruled the airwaves, but for anyone longing for a good cowboy tale, Longmire is like a comforting campfire stew.

Can't-Miss Episode: "Miss Cheyenne" (Season 3, Episode 3)
"Our show truly elevates Native American culture, and this episode is a good illustration of that," Phillips says. "It's about a murder connected to the Miss Cheyenne beauty pageant, which is not a typical pageant." (Hint: Skinning-knife skills are among the talents.) "It's also an illuminating hour for my character. [Henry's reservation friend] May has a beautiful speech about who he is. As she puts it, Henry is 'a Standing Bear that never runs, one who will always defend his people'. Across the Twitterverse, you could hear the sniffles." —Ileane Rudolph

 


John Fleenor

Fresh Off the Boat
Where To Watch: Amazon, Hulu, iTunes
Number of Episodes: 13

Why It's Bingeworthy: If you skipped Fresh Off the Boat when it premiered last winter, now is the time to jump on board before Season 2. Despite what the title may imply, the ABC sitcom about the Huang family—a lively Asian-American brood that relocates from culturally diverse Washington, D.C., to homogeneous suburban Orlando during the 1990s—is more than a fish-out-of-water story. Sure, it addresses the requisite culture clashes. (In the premiere, middle-schooler Eddie, played by Hudson Yang, draws Szechuan peppercorn-level heat from his classmates for daring to crack open something other than Lunchables in the school cafeteria.) And yes, the Huangs do exhibit some traits that commonly crop up in depictions of second- and third-generation immigrants, including a determination to excel, particularly in the arenas of business and education. But they also have a host of quirks and peccadillos that are uniquely theirs—such as how prickly mom Jessica (scene stealer Constance Wu) loves Stephen King novels but hates air conditioners—undoubtedly because they're inspired by the cast of characters in celebrity chef Eddie Huang's memoir of his own childhood. Give the show a try and it'll quickly become apparent that the biggest recurring theme is being undeniably hilarious.

Can't-Miss Episode: "Fajita Man" (Season 1, Episode 6)
"It's about that time in your life when you couldn't wait for something new to come out," says executive producer Nahnatchka Khan of the episode, in which Eddie is desperate to get his hands on "Shaq Fu," the hot video game du jour featuring Shaquille O'Neal. Discouraged by the $50 price tag, Eddie picks up shifts at Cattleman's Ranch, the cowboy-themed steakhouse owned by his dad, Louis (Randall Park). There, he dons a sombrero and fake mustache, delivering sizzling platters of meat to suitably wowed diners. "It's full of mid-'90s nostalgia," Khan says. Compressed into 22 joke-packed minutes, the series is the kind of universally relatable fun that makes time fly for viewers and—not unlike fajitas—makes viewers crave another hit immediately. —Ingela Ratledge

 


Chuck Hodes/FOX

Empire
Where To Watch: Amazon, fox.com, Hulu, iTunes
Number of Episodes: 12

Why It's Bingeworthy: A divinely trashy riff on Shakespeare's King Lear set against the New York hip-hop scene, Empire is packed with sex, music, murder, and buzz-tastic quotes. ("You want Cookie's nookie? Ditch the bitch!") And it's the biggest television phenomenon in years, so how can you miss out?

The shock-a-minute Fox soap—cocreator Lee Daniels (Precious) calls it his "black Dynasty"—kicks off with thug mega-mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) learning he's dying of ALS and announcing that one of his three sons will succeed him as CEO of Empire Records. The eldest, Andre (Trai Byers), has the business savvy but is a bipolar mess. Middle kid Jamal (Jussie Smollett), a wildly gifted singer-songwriter, is gay and, thus, a huge embarrassment to his homophobic dad. And Lucious's youngest and favored son, Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), is a so-so rapper and self-obsessed punk who shouldn't be trusted with car keys, much less a public corporation. Who will win the crown? It may not be up to Lucious, whose crazy-fab ex-wife, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson, in the performance of a lifetime) suddenly shows up after 17 years in jail determined to have her say in the matter—and when Cookie ain't happy, nobody's happy!

Can't-Miss Episode: "Dangerous Bonds" (Season 1, Episode 5)
Executive producer Ilene Chaiken singles out this insane hour in which Cookie testifies against drug lord Frank Gathers in front of a grand jury and then—convinced she's a "dead bitch walking"—heads to Philly to put out a hit on Gathers's hit man. "She still manages to get back to Ghetto Ass Studios [in New York City] in time to put the finishing touches on Jamal's newest recording­, and then the scene ends with a warm mother-son hug," Chaiken says. "It's so Cookie." —Michael Logan

 


TVLand

Younger
Where To Watch: Amazon iTunes, TVLand.com
Number of Episodes: 12

Why It's Bingeworthy: If Younger, TV Land's frisky comedy from Darren Star (Sex and the City) doesn't have you laughing out loud at least 10 times per episode, somebody should check your pulse. Two-time Tony Award winner Sutton Foster stars as 40-year-old Liza Miller, a financially freaked single mom who pretends she's 26 to land a low-pay, entry-level job at a top Manhattan publishing house. Not only does Foster (also 40) pull off this grand lie beautifully and believably, but she does it with a wistful charm that makes your heart ache.

She's backed by a dazzling ensemble that includes Debi Mazar as her wisecracking lesbian roommate, Hilary Duff as an on-the-rise editor who's shtupping one of her star writers, and Miriam Shor as Diana Trout–aka Trout Pout—Liza's imperious but needy boss. (Heartthrob bonus: The Following's Nico Tortorella as Josh, Liza's millennial tattoo-artist lover.) Younger is a goofy joy, yet underneath its hilarious near-calamities and envelope-pushing vagina jokes lies a serious message: Being young and hip isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Can't-Miss Episode: "SK8" (Season 1, Episode 8)
Foster loves this episode, in which Liza and her boss's boss, Charles (Peter Hermann), are alone for the first time. He's a sad divorced dad who has just returned from a dreary awards gala and she's been babysitting his daughters—and doing a great job. "It's all about the chemistry of two people who are clearly attracted but haven't found their way to each other," Foster says. "I like that we introduced two completely viable love interests for Liza. Both of them are a win." —ML

 


Netflix

Other Space
Where To Watch: Yahoo! Screen
Number of Episodes: 8

Why It's Bingeworthy: Last spring, a little gem of a show about a lost spaceship and its hapless crew quietly bowed on Yahoo!, largely overshadowed by the streaming service's splashy resuscitation of Community. But for those who stumbled upon Other Space, it was like discovering a shiny new universe. The lo-fi comedy from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig follows a group of unqualified space mappers as they attempt to find their way back home without being overtaken by aliens or, more likely, doing themselves in. Led by bumbling beta-male Captain Lipinski (Karan Soni), the crew includes Lipinski's rigid, power-hungry sister, an engineer whose brain has been fried from radiation, and, of course, a sassy robot. Given the crew's ineptitude, they're pretty much doomed from the moment they step onto the UMP Cruiser. But the show's unflinching optimism will have fans rooting for the gang every step of their journey—even if the best name for a new planet they can come up with is "Michael."

Can't-Miss Episode: "The Death of A.R.T." (Season 1, Episode 3)
"It has it all—death, drama, space storms, planet building, video making, and lots and lots of laughs," says creator and executive producer Feig. While some of the crew work on creating messages for aliens, others accidentally send robot A.R.T. floating into space. "If you've ever loved a robot," Feig says, "this episode will melt your cold, cold heart." —Gregory E. Miller

 


Barry Wetcher/Netflix

Marvel's Daredevil
Where To Watch: Netflix
Number of Episodes: 13

Why It's Bingeworthy: There are way more than 50 shades of gray in Marvel's Daredevil, the story of blind lawyer Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), who turns vigilante at night, using his heightened sense of hearing and smell to fight mobsters, drug pushers, and palm-greasing land developers in his beloved Manhattan neighborhood, Hell's Kitchen. Tortured by Catholic guilt and his deep, twisted lust for violence, Murdock, aka Daredevil, is no standard superhero. And his archfoe—shy, lonesome crime lord Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio), haunted by memories of an abusive father—is no by-the-book baddie, either.

In fact, there's nothing all that Marvel-ous about this noir-tinged saga (Season 2 premieres in 2016), which is exactly why it's such a poignant, compelling triumph. Though set in the ruins left after the Battle of New York, the apocalyptic showdown seen in the 2012 feature The Avengers, this series does not traffic in intergalactic threats and cartoon mayhem. Daredevil's back-alley fights are so real you can hear the bones crunch. But the greater pain comes when its core characters confront their inner demons and shattered dreams. Leave Thor and Hulk and Iron Man to the kiddies. This show is for smart, discerning adults.

Can't-Miss Episode: "Shadows in the Glass" (Season 1, Episode 8)
"I picked it for the performances, not the words on the page!" says executive producer and showrunner Steven S. DeKnight (Spartacus), who wrote the script. "We finally learn what made Wilson Fisk the man he is, and Vincent D'Onofrio—along with the amazing Cole Jensen playing Fisk's younger self—are absolutely heartbreaking. It's a rare, wonderful, horrifying look inside the mind of a Marvel 'villain,' something you seldom have time to explore in-depth on the big screen."—Michael Logan

 


Netflix

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Where To Watch: Netflix
Number of Episodes: 13

Why It's Bingeworthy: This show is strong as hell! Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt puts a decidedly original spin on the single-gal-in-the-city concept. "A lot of times [these types of shows] are about a woman who got divorced or just started a new job," says Tina Fey, who reteamed with 30 Rock co–executive producer Robert Carlock to create this tale of a cult survivor (The Office's Ellie Kemper) taking Manhattan. "But ours is a very extreme starting-over story. It gives you a little bit of Big, and a little bit of John McCain escaping from a POW camp."

And with Carlock, Fey, and her hubby, Rock composer Jeff Richmond, on board, this comedy feels like the more delirious cousin of Liz Lemon and Co. The top-notch cast is led by Kemper, who mixes Kimmy's joyful naiveté with a formidable fierceness. Tituss Burgess as her aspiring-actor roomie, Titus Andromedon, elevates the campy gay buddy role to high art. His performance of Titus's novelty song, "Peeno Noir," is a current YouTube smash—you will have all of its lyrics memorized by the time you finish your binge session. And 30 Rock alum Jane Krakowski is her usual scream as Kimmy's rich, soulless new boss, Jacqueline Voorhees. Think Jenna Maroney crossed with a Real Housewife of the Upper East Side.

Can't-Miss Episode: "Kimmy Rides a Bike" (Season 1, Episode 11)
Kimmy falls prey to yet another cult—this time, a spin class—while the trial against the man who imprisoned her for years, Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm), kicks off in Indiana. We're not sure what's funnier: guest star Hamm as the idiotically charismatic charlatan or Fey, in a '90s perm, playing one of the century's most infamously incompetent prosecutors. —Damian Holbrook

 


Robert Trachtenberg/NBC

Hannibal
Where To Watch: Amazon, iTunes
Number of Episodes: 29

Why It's Bingeworthy: When NBC announced the series in 2012, it sounded like a joke. How could anyone but Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins play Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter? And who could wring multiple seasons out of a story everyone already knew? But thanks to executive producer Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Heroes) and his team, Hannibal not only justified its existence by the end of the first episode, it has also become the most beautiful nightmare you'll ever have.

And the details are to die for: Each episode is named after a course in a particular culture's culinary tradition: Season 1's theme was French (episode titles include "Apéritif"); Season 2 was Japanese ("Kaiseke"); Season 3 went for Italian ("Antipasto"). Lecter is a master at double entendres, and as a viewer, you can't help but get a thrill every time someone treats him with appalling rudeness, because you know exactly where they'll end up: on the menu. But beware: Hannibal's meals look so sumptuous, your stomach is likely to growl once or twice before you remember who they include.

All the gorgeous visuals and cannibalism jokes wouldn't amount to a hill of fava beans without the perfect cast. Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter is Lucifer as we've never seen him: urbane, mysterious, even romantic on occasion. Hugh Dancy brings a haunted humanity to FBI profiler Will Graham, who begins undergoing psychotherapy with Lecter before learning that the doctor is actually a criminal he should be hunting. The first two seasons build to a battle for Will's soul that is breathtaking.

Can't-Miss Episode: "Mizumono" (Season 2, Episode 13)
Fuller recommends both the Season 1 and Season 2 finales as the perfect hors d'oeuvres, but it's the latter—in which Graham and boss Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) fight with Hannibal to what seems like death—that he favors. "'Mizumono' recalls some of the first season in cool ways. But it's more insane." Pass the chianti! —Oriana Schwindt

 


Amazon

Vikings
Where To Watch: Amazon, iTunes
Number of Episodes: 29

Why It's Bingeworthy: It's time to ax the notion that Vikings is the story of grungy, grunting marauders. Sure, the History series has thrilling raids and battles galore, with production values that rival big-budget summer blockbusters. But this is also an epic tale of a sophisticated 8th-century Norse culture where women were equal to men and fought alongside them in war, and daily life revolved around family and the pagan gods. Any contemporary couple will empathize with the emotional challenges faced by the show's central duo, legendary Norse hero Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and his shield-maiden first wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick). They struggle with adultery, family tragedy, and conflicting personal ambitions while remaining determined to expand their mom-and-pop business—aka the Viking civilization—to England and France. Plus, they must do all this while reining in their brave and impatient son, Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), and facing treachery from Ragnar's jealous warrior brother, Rollo (Clive Standen), as well as keeping Ragnar's right-hand man, mad genius Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård), on the right side of crazy. The saga, which returns for Season 4 in early 2016, also has a serious pedigree: Creator Michael Hirst produced TV period dramas The Tudors and The Borgias and wrote the 2007 Oscar-nominated film Elizabeth. And the sets, costumes, and props, including seaworthy reproductions of Viking dragon boats, look so authentic you'd swear the cast and crew traveled back in time.

Can't-Miss Episode: "Sacrifice" (Season 1, Episode 8); "Blood Eagle" (Season 2, Episode 7); "To the Gates!" (Season 3, Episode 8)
Two of Hirst's favorites feature Viking rituals. In "Sacrifice," Ragnar takes Christian monk Athelstan (George Blagden), who has become a friend and adviser, to a hedonistic ritual that ends in a shocking act; and in "Blood Eagle," a gory ceremonial execution sends a Viking to Valhalla. But Hirst's top pick is "To the Gates!" In it, the Vikings attack Paris, and each character has something at stake beyond winning the battle. "That episode," he says, "was a visual-effects spectacular while remaining true to the show's core beliefs of being about the human and the emotional." —Kate Hahn

 


Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Bloodline
Where To Watch: Netflix
Number of Episodes: 13

Why It's Bingeworthy: The cast alone will draw you into Netflix's Florida Keys–set family drama: Sissy Spacek stars as matriarch Sally Rayburn; Sam Shepard as her husband, Robert; Kyle Chandler as straitlaced cop son John; and Ben Mendelsohn as screwed-up big brother Danny, electrifying in his dark eccentricity.

The Rayburns—respected locals who own one of the Keys' most popular hotels—are still reeling from a past family tragedy. Danny fled for a life of skullduggery on the mainland. John copes by trying to out-do-good everyone around him. Sister Meg (Linda Cardellini) clings to her daddy's-girl image. Youngest brother Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) has the kind of temper best measured in megatons. But when Danny returns and a secret comes out, things get explosive—literally.

Executive producers Todd and Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman also created Damages, and the first season of Bloodline has a similarly twisty narrative that begins by intertwining the happy occasion of Ma and Pa Rayburn's anniversary party and a flash-forward of John carrying what looks like Danny's body through a swamp during one of Florida's patented downpours. "We aren't bad people," John pleads in his voiceover. "But we did a bad thing." More than one, it turns out.

Be warned: This isn't a show you put on in the background while folding laundry. Throughout the 13 episodes, the story flashes forward and back again, then even further back, dredging up more family secrets that will surely come into play in Season 2.

Can't-Miss Episode: "Chapter 12" (Season 1, Episode 12)
By this point, Danny is showing signs of dangerous instability, and none of his siblings knows how to deal with the gathering storm. "This episode hit the bull's-eye of what Bloodline is—a thriller about the psychological weightiness of roles people are trapped in within families," the producers say. "Particularly Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn's final sequence, where the brothers' conflict boils over and forever changes their lives." —Oriana Schwindt

 


Katie Yu/The CW

The 100
Where To Watch: Amazon, iTunes
Number of Episodes: 29

Why It's Bingeworthy: Sorry, Star Trek, but this is sci-fi that boldly goes there. A Lord of the Flies for the space age, the gritty, unflinching drama The 100 dared to take the CW model—pretty young people in peril—and send it a century into the future, where things are far from sexy. Earth has been devastated by a nuclear apocalypse, and the remnants of mankind reside on the Ark, a massive space station with rapidly dwindling resources and a major population problem. Their desperate solution: Send 100 imprisoned juvenile delinquents down on a drop ship to the planet's surface to see if it's inhabitable again.

Once on the ground, however, the group—including plucky de facto leader Clarke (Eliza Taylor) and self-confident Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos)—find that the greatest threat to survival isn't ecological. It's each other…as well as a tribe of Earth-dwelling brutes known as the Grounders. As the conflicts intensify, there is no shortage of casualties—and not just disposable secondary characters. "We always wanted this to be a show where anybody could die at any time," executive producer Jason Rothenberg told TV Guide Magazine during Season 1.

Can't-Miss Episode: "Twilight's Last Gleaming" (Season 1, Episode 5)
Nothing can prepare even the most jaded viewer for the horror that emerges in this installment as the Ark's residents realize their air is about to run out. Leaders authorize a ship-wide sacrifice that remains both one of 2014's most harrowing moments on broadcast TV and proof that The 100 is, as Avgeropoulos puts it, "definitely The CW's darkest, edgiest show, for sure." —Damian Holbrook

 


Beth Dubber/Amazon

Transparent
Where To Watch: Amazon
Number of Episodes: 10

Why It's Bingeworthy: A man struggling to put on panty hose is a cheap laugh. And a lesser comedy about a 70-year-old granddad who reveals to his family he's transgender might be filled with those moments. But Transparent—2015's Golden Globe winner for best comedy series—is anything but cheap. Its protagonist, Maura, formerly Mort, Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) has bigger, fleshier issues to deal with anyway: three poorly behaved, self-centered adult children and a yenta ex-wife (Judith Light) whose second husband is fading from dementia. Daughter Sarah (Amy Landecker) commits adultery in her minivan. Son Josh (Jay Duplass) is addicted to love. Youngest Ali (Gaby Hoffman) is a manipulative mooch perpetually in the process of "finding herself."

And they didn't get this messed up on their own. Maura was not necessarily father-of-the-year material—she's just uniquely real. Which makes sense: Transparent creator Jill Soloway loosely based the character on her own dad, who came out as a woman late in life. (Soloway's sister, Faith, is also a writer on the show.) They initially took a lot of criticism from the transgender community for casting non-trans actor Tambor (who, Soloway notes, resembles her own father) in the role. But from the moment Maura wears her first caftan and her entire being relaxes in the way we do when we can finally become ourselves, Tambor—himself a Golden Globe winner for the performance—proves he's more than up to the task.

Can't-Miss Episode: "The Letting Go" (Season 1, Episode 2)
Picking up right after the pilot's cliffhanger ending, when Mort (dressed as Maura, but still not out to anybody in her family) walked in on married Amy making out with college sweetheart Tammy (Melora Hardin), this episode gets right into the business of hashing out some long-buried family secrets. And perhaps more important, it has a phenomenal joke about Capri Sun. —Aubry D'Arminio

 


Neil Davidson/Sony Pictures Television

Outlander
Where To Watch: Amazon, iTunes, starz.com
Number of Episodes: 16

Why It's Bingeworthy:
She says I'll follow a woman with spunk anywhere—especially if she's as brainy, beautiful, brave, and adaptable to 18th-century, plumbing-less life as time-traveling combat nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe). Add in a strapping, kilt-wearing Highlander (Sam Heughan's Jamie Fraser) who's willing to learn what makes a woman happy both in and out of bed and who sports an accent as lush as the moss on a Scottish moor, and I'm in for the long haul. But there's even more to love in Season 1 of Starz's faithful adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's bestselling novels: the gorgeous scenery, the crisp and smart writing, and the political unrest. And then there are those sex scenes, which are so intimate they make me wonder how much the two lead actors like each other. I can only hope it's a lot. —Ileane Rudolph
He says A sweeping historical romance set against the backdrop of 1743 Scotland based on a series of books made popular by housewives? When I first heard the details of Outlander, I was skeptical I'd ever watch a minute. But then two magic words caught my attention: time travel. I'm a sucker for a story whose main character is a stranger in a strange time, so I gave the Starz drama a shot, and boy, am I glad I did. Balfe is a revelation, commanding the screen with confidence and charisma. She can go toe-to-toe with the boys, but it's her chemistry with Heughan that is unmatched. (Producers are even pushing the limits of pay cable with those sex scenes.) Then there's the drama's secret weapon: Tobias Menzies, who's giving Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany a run for her money in dual roles, playing Claire's pre-time-travel husband, Frank Randall, and his evil 18th-century relative, Captain "Black Jack" Randall. His versatility, combined with the strength of the surrounding performances and the richness of the story, makes Outlander a history lesson worth taking. —Rob Moynihan

Can't-Miss Episode: "Sassenach" (Season 1, Episode 1)
During the scene where Claire is at the standing stones, co–executive producer Maril Davis says, "There's a moment before she's transported back in time when she hears a strange buzzing sound. Every time we filmed that sequence, the wind would whip up as if a mystical or otherworldly element were really calling out to her. It was spooky, in a good way, and it stayed with us."

 

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