The approach of Summer brings with it the promise of vacations, barbeques and hours spent relaxing by the pool; but it also brings the seasons’ end of the vast majority of primetime programming. Yes, summer programming exists, but “Wipeout” is not going to be any consolation for the absence of the likes of “Game of Thrones” and other fan favorites.
Coming down from the drama and cliffhangers that late season viewing is chock full of can leave viewers jonesing for quality programming, but ultimately left in the lurch by the major networks. Enter Netflix Instant Watch. (And that’s not to say that Hulu doesn’t have treasures of its own, but that’s a discussion for another day).
The big appeal of Netflix’s vast streaming library is that it allows users to test out offerings from every genre, from the famed to the obscure, and find precisely the right fix for their televised cravings. But the absolute best part is the option to take this medicine as one will–en masse via a series of binge watching sessions or in installments with all the accompanying suspense.
The big drawback? It’s easy to lose ages of time sifting through that wealth of material. So with that hazard in mind, consider the following list, let’s call it a primer, of some of the best treasures the Netflix Instant library currently offers.
Read on, find a show (or five) that suits your tastes and dive in.
What is it? Back when Joss Whedon was still a king only in the world of geeks and not the reigning summer blockbuster champ, he made a genre-bending gem, best described as a Space Western, that captured the imagination of a small, but fiercely loyal audience. “Firefly” lasted only a single season after being mishandled in the extreme and then unceremoniously cancelled by Fox, but it stands as one of the best, and most addictive, highly quotable, offerings on Netflix.
A ragtag crew headed by Captain Malcolm Reynolds makes its way around the ‘verse, working when they can and more often than not landing themselves in a heap of trouble. Matter of fact, Mal sums the whole thing up pretty well:
Here’s how it is: Earth got used up, so we terraformed a whole new galaxy of Earths, some rich and flush with new technologies, some not so much. Central Planets, thems formed the Alliance, waged war to bring everyone under their rule; a few idiots tried to fight it, among them myself. I’m Malcolm Reynolds, captain of Serenity. She’s a transport ship, Firefly class. Got a good crew: fighters, pilot, mechanic. We even picked up a preacher for some reason, and a bona fide companion. There’s a doctor, too, took his genius sister outta some Alliance camp, so they’re keeping a low profile. You understand. You got a job, we can do it. Don’t much care what it is.
Watch it if: You’re a Whedonite (budding or veteran, if you’re really one of us, there can never be enough Joss in your life), you love Westerns, sci-fi or witty dramas.
‘United States of Tara’
What is it? Diablo Cody, screenwriter of “Juno”, created this quirky series about a married mother of two, Tara, who is also struggling with Multiple Personality Disorder. Aside from the chaos of usual family life, Tara must also deal with the fact that at any moment one of her Alters could take over, turn things upside down and leave her to pick up the pieces.
Tara’s family is quite entertaining enough all on their own, but throw in the occasional presence of Alters including T, a troublemaking teen, Buck, a biker dude, and Alice, a 50s style housewife, and even the idea of a dull moment in “United States of Tara” is an impossibility.
Watch it if: You are a fan of “Juno” and quirky comedies.
‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’
What is it? “It’s Always Sunny” (as the cool kids call it) chronicles the lives and frequent mishaps of a collection of the worst human beings imaginable. Siblings Dee and Dennis run an Irish pub alongside their friends, Charlie and Mac and their father (sort of) Frank.
“It’s Always Sunny” is certainly an acquired taste, but for those who have a palette for dark humor and dysfunction, spending some time with the Paddy’s pub gang is a humorous way to learn how not to live.
Admittedly, though, Chardee MacDennis really does look like an incredible game. The folks over at Flavorwire made an incredibly comprehensive rulebook for anyone wanting to give it a try at home.
Watch it if: You have an appreciation for dark comedy and find enjoyment in watching absurd adventures that are the result of being incredibly self-serving and pretty horrible as human beings go
What is it? Matthew Weiner’s obsessively accurate, devastatingly engrossing, period drama that tells the story of ad man, Don Draper. Set in 1960s, “Mad Men” examines the lives of the men and women of the Sterling-Cooper advertising agency.
Meticulousness and incredible fashions aside, what makes “Mad Men” so incredible is its unflinching portrayal of life as it was, the good, the bad and the in between are all thrown up on screen for the examination of the audience. The show is populated with dynamic characters, historical touchstones and a share of WTF moments that have given legions of fans an incredible amount of water cooler fodder.
Watch it if: You want to see one of the most polished and best crafted pieces of television ever created. Also if you think Jon Hamm and/or Christina Hendricks are too attractive to be allowed (that’s pretty much everyone).
What is it? When Tina Fey left “Saturday Night Live” she didn’t leave her pal Lorne Michaels, nor NBC behind. Instead she created “30 Rock”, a series in which she stars as Liz Lemon, the harried head writer of a live comedy show. Something tells us she drew from personal experience on that one.
“30 Rock” may have been chronically underwatched during its time on the air, but it is inarguably one of the funniest sitcoms in recent memory. Alongside Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowsi and Jack McBrayer populate the idiosyncratic world in which the “TGS” staffers exist, primarily, it seems, to exasperate Liz Lemon.
Easy to devour, full of isms and long-running jokes, “30 Rock” is the stuff cult comedy dreams are made of.
Watch it if: You love Tina Fey, “Seinfeld”, pop culture references and would consider eating something called a “cheesy blaster”
What is it? “Raising Hope” chronicles the life and times of Jimmy Chance, a loveable loser who unknowingly impregnates a serial killer during a one-night stand, and, after learning of his child and her execution, decides to make being a good father his primary goal in life.
Jimmy lives with his loving but unconventional parents, Burt and Virginia, who themselves became parents while still in high school, and his occasionally lucid great-grandmother, Maw-Maw (Cloris Leachman!). As Jimmy adjusts to being a new parent while weathering the antics of his family, he develops a crush on a quirky supermarket clerk named Sabrina.
“Raising Hope” is a wonderfully irreverent and joyous look at family. Running gags and a creative approach make it one of the most underrated comedies currently on television. Season 3’s “Candy Wars” exemplifies the subtle cleverness and zany approach that makes the show a delight to watch.
Watch it if: You love “Malcolm in the Middle” and clever wordplay
‘Friday Night Lights’
What is it? This iteration of the drama and delights of Texas high school football focuses on the players and coaches of the Dillon Panthers as well as their friends and families. “Friday Night Lights” boasts a cast led by Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler that also includes Taylor Kitsch and Minka Kelly.
The show blends drama, family and sports into a potent cocktail that makes for easily absorbing viewing, even if the whole thing is a bit sudsy in the same way that earned previous prime time staples such as “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Gossip Girl” the title of guilty pleasure. “Friday Night Lights” avoids that label by virtue of its superior acting and production value.
Watch it if: You are a sucker for football movies and “The OC”, or you need more Connie Britton in your life now that the first season of “Nashville” has wrapped
What is it? “Breaking Bad” is AMC’s crime saga that follows the transformation of Walter White from mild-mannered chemistry teacher to drug lord following a cancer diagnosis and the resulting desperate desire to know that his family will be cared for when he’s gone.
Bryan Cranston has delivered consistently staggering performances throughout the course of this series; what’s more, Cranston has an on-screen match in Aaron Paul, who plays White’s hapless sidekick, Jesse Pinkman. Every second of the show is laden with suspense and intent. To watch a single hour of “Breaking Bad” is to experience tension, electricity, tragedy and sometimes even triumph.
“Breaking Bad” is on the brink of its final eight episodes. As vehement fans of the show will attest, the culmination of the series is not to be missed, by anyone. No, seriously, the “Breaking Bad” loyalists in your life will not stop telling you to watch until you do, so just give in now and thank them later.
Watch it if: You want to see a show like nothing you’ve ever seen before, you don’t shy away from crime tales or harsh realities
‘Freaks and Geeks’
What is it? The tragically short-lived “Freaks and Geeks” follows two distinct groups of high schoolers in the 1980s, as the Weir siblings and their friends try to navigate through the challenges of life and hormones. Created by Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”) and executive produced by Judd Apatow, the single season of “Freaks and Geeks” that was made features an all-star cast, including James Franco, Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and Busy Philipps.
“Freaks and Geeks” is a nostalgic treat (even for those of us who went to high school well after the 80s had come and gone). The timeless themes of teenage angst, humiliation, hormone driven madness and desperate crushes all underline the very real teenage experience the show captures.
One tagline perfectly captures the essence of the show: “Everything you remember from high school… that you choose to forget.”
Watch it if: You love “Dazed and Confused”, Apatow and Feig’s later works
‘Parks and Recreation’
What is it? Amy Poehler leads the marvelous cast of this ensemble comedy as Leslie Knope, a passionate and ambitious bureaucrat living and working in the town of Pawnee, Indiana. Leslie is surrounded by a host of colorful characters including, Leslie’s boss, Ron Swanson, who hates the government despite working in it, flashy Tom Haverford, sarcastic April Ludgate and the outrageous and self-indulgent Donna.
“Parks and Recreation” is a hoot-and-a-half and unspeakably easy to watch in massive amounts. The quirkiness of Pawnee and its residents is somehow akin to every town in America, and that makes the show all the more hilarious. Plus, it’s chock full of Aziz Ansari, and that is always a good thing.
Watch it if: You love Amy Poehler, character driven-comedy and observational humor
What is it? A web series from writer, creator and star, Felicia Day, that follows a dedicated guild of online gamers who call themselves The Knights of Good. Day stars as Codex (real name Cyd Sherman) a shy, newly unemployed concert violinist, who decides she and her fellow guildies should meet and bond in person after one of them, Zaboo, misinterprets her in game chatting for flirting and arrives on her doorstep to declare his love.
The first five seasons of “The Guild” are available on Netflix, while the most recent, and potentially final, season is available on the YouTube channel Geek and Sundry. The series has made Day and her co-stars cult-geek icons, and Joss Whedon has even cited “The Guild” as a piece of inspiration for his own web series “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”.
“The Guild” is a genuine portrait of gaming culture with a big heart.
Watch it if: You proudly consider yourself a geek, gamer or both, have ever attended a con, or you love “The Big Bang Theory”
Netflix original programming: ‘Arrested Development’, ‘House of Cards’, ‘Hemlock Grove’
What are they? Netflix recently jumped into the original programming game with great success. It’s first series, “House of Cards” a drama about an ambitious politician with his sights set on the presidency, received rave reviews and stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. The first two episodes of the series were directed by the acclaimed David Fincher.
Their next entry, a horror series about the fallout after a teenage girl is murdered, “Hemlock Grove”, was directed and executive produced in part by gore icon, Eli Roth. Though “Grove” was not as critically well received as “House of Cards”, it was not panned and has captured the attention of genre enthusiasts.
While “Arrested Development” had a long life before coming to Netflix, the streaming service resurrected the beloved comedy series, much to the delight of fans who waited seven long years to see the Bluth family return to the small screen. If you’re not already intimately familiar with the wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together, the time is ripe to power through the original series and and then enjoy the new episodes and accompanying water cooler chatter.
Watch them if: You’re looking for something you can’t find anywhere else and want to reward a company willing to release their series in full season installments