These are the 20 shows I fully recommend you set aside days or weeks of your life to watch. My main criteria: that these series didn't go on too long and that those series that ended answer most of the questions raised. These are not shows you can watch while doing other things. They will require your attention. Get to Facebooking with these shows on and you will probably miss a little detail that will make it hard for you to understand what happened. You've been warned.
NOTE: I'm putting them in order of the shows that are still on so you can get caught up in time for the next season.
Matthew McConaughey had the best year ever! Just when I thought his best work was "Dazed and Confused," he punches me in the brain with this show. And he punched HARD!
McConaughey and Woody Harrelson play detectives investigating bizarre murders in Louisiana. NOTE: This series will NOT make you want to take a road trip in Louisiana.
This series is creepy. It is mind-bending. It is practically impossible to figure out whodunit. And then when you know, it's still a "Whoa...what?!?!?" moment.
Season two is a whole different story with a whole different cast. Filming hasn't started yet, so there's time to absorb this. Just don't do it before bedtime if, like me, your brain takes the last thing you've seen and puts it into your dreams.
I don't naturally love science fiction, but this is just enough for me. The science (made clear VERY early on): the women who look identical but are completely different are clones. The hook: this is a straight-up thriller! Who is cloning them and why? That's answered by the end of the first season. Season two unleashes so many questions, that by the end of the season I was demanding season three start immediately!
Tatiana Maslany plays all the lady clones so well, it's hard to see them as anything other than different people. I just wish the awards show judges would give her some credit. She is incredible!
I'm not going out on a limb to say BBC America has some of the best television out there. This series was actually made for American TV, but I refuse to watch any bastardization of an excellent series.
This is a murder mystery show. The victim is a young boy. The suspects: pretty much every person who lives in the little town of Broadchurch. Seriously. Just when you think you know who did it, they put you on the trail of another person. This show is heartbreakingly good.
HOUSE OF CARDS
Oh, politics! I am fascinated by what happens in Washington (or doesn't happen depending on the day)! This seems to be the closest to being a fly on the wall I can get.
Kevin Spacey is absolutely creepy! It's a good thing he is the lead on this Netflix series because he steals every scene! I am torn between being disgusted and loving him, so I keep watching to see how I feel when it's all over. By the end of season two, I was shouting at the TV. Then I shouted at myself because I watched the whole series in a weekend. And I felt like I had nothing left.
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
Anytime I think I'm tough, I think about the fact that I'm not "prison tough."
While this has many funny moments, it should serve as a reminder that prison life is not fun. The main character, Piper, is caught up in a little crime called "drug trafficking." She winds up in a prison for women where she quickly learns there is no longer things like privacy or decent food. Sexual harassment is still a thing. Prison today is a lot like a violent version of the 1950s - sexist and rapey and there's no real complaint department but you can pass the time with hobbies and pretend like life gets better.
Since it's set in a prison (and loosely based on a true story), the cast will change from season to season. I have a few favorites who made it to season two, but I worry some of the others will not make it to season three. Like "House of Cards," I blew threw each of these seasons in a weekend. One of these days, I'll learn to pace myself. It's lonely outside of prison.
Don't let the talk of Bowe Bergdahl being like Nicholas Brody stop you from watching this.
The story of a U.S. Marine rescued after being held by terrorists being turned into a terrorist is fascinating! You will be annoyed by Claire Danes and her crazy eyes. You will be annoyed by Brody's daughter (so much so, you might find yourself wishing terrible things on her). But you will not stop watching Mandy Patinkin's Saul and his beard. I promise!
Season four starts soon, so get to watching this!
Do you need another reason to watch? Fine.
How about characters that leap off the screen and seem larger than the biggest television? Because you get that from this show.
The series is beginning its last season soon. Watch the previous seasons and get caught up or wait until the final season is complete and watch them all. You won't regret it.
That promo doesn't even scratch the surface of this comedy.
It is funny. It is real. It is uncomfortable. So, it's like life- if you know someone who can make you laugh but not because they're trying too hard (that's NEVER funny).
THE WALKING DEAD
I never thought I would like a show about zombies. And I don't.
This show, while zombie-centric, is really about life and how we survive when we see the worst of times. Can we survive? Can we put the life we lived behind us and adapt to the life we have now? This looks like really tough times - death, oozing people, definite stink. This show makes the case for not having smell-evision.
It's also shown me that I would have an extremely tough time if there was a zombie invasion. It looks dirty. I don't do dirty.
But this show...the characters are SO good! FAIR WARNING: whether you love or hate a character, don't get too wrapped up on your feelings. There's a good chance he/she won't make it for long.
If the words IDRIS ELBA aren't enough to lure you to this brief series, I don't know why you're even reading this.
He is so good as a detective trying to do the right thing despite the obstacles that come his way!
Yes, it's a BBC America show. The best part about that: they don't let their shows go on forever. Ever episode is building to an ending. Binging this may keep you from having anxiety wondering what happens next. DO IT.
I don't know what cave you've been living in, but if you haven't heard of this show you need to stop trying to figure out who's president and drop everything for a few days to watch this series.
I first saw the trailer while watching another show on AMC. I thought the idea of a science teacher who starts making methamphetamine was a bit strange, but it wasn't enough to make me not check it out. Besides, it aired on Sunday (and at the time, NOTHING was happening on Sunday night).
Worth. Every. Second.
If you don't like this show, just unfriend me from every part of your life. We have nothing left to say to each other.
I remember the first time I saw Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction." I was so terrified of her that I didn't even want a pet bunny anymore. Ruined it.
As crazymeanangry as she was in that, she pulls it off in this series. Her champion lawyer with a young lawyer under her wing shows the nasty side of life - not even the legal world. You can hate lawyers but if you're in a bind, you need one. And this is the lawyer you want fighting for you, NOT against you.
I want to time travel to the 1960s for SO many reasons (cocktail hour is one of them)!
This show is like taking that trip, but without having to be sexually harassed.
Sure, Jon Hamm is handsome. While he plays the main character, there are a few others who will steal the spotlight. You are already watching commercials, you might as well see how they used to make 'em!
NOTE: You will want a cocktail while watching this show. Go ahead and pour one before you settle in to watch this.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Yes, this is a show that looks like it's about football. But once you get past that, you'll see it's a story about so much more.
There are five seasons of this. Even non-football fans will be rooting for these Dillon Panthers by the end.
Clear Eyes + Full Heart = Can't Lose.
Another crime-based drama - or so you think. Don't be quick to write this off as a police procedural. This is about all sides of real-life issues. The series first tackles the war on drugs, then human trafficking, corruption and by the end, it's deep into crumbling newspapers and terrible school systems.
And if you like excellent character acting, Michael K. Bell (also featured as Chalky on "Boardwalk Empire") is outstanding as Omar. This is the kind of show that could have continued well past its final season, but David Simon managed to wrap things up without letting the show feel like it overstayed its welcome. This show isn't always action packed, but neither is real life. That doesn't mean it's boring. It's like eavesdropping on things most people never know happens. Who wouldn't want to do that?
BAND OF BROTHERS
This was just a mini-series, but the word mini doesn't really work for this.
It's the true story of Easy Company, some paratroopers who landed on Normandy and didn't stop their mission until they reached Hitler's hiding spot. These boys become men before your eyes. If you watch the whole series (which includes a documentary with the real men describing their experience), they'll say they're not heroes. They were. They are. And every time I learn one of them has passed, it makes me sad. We are losing this generation. I have a great fear young people will have no idea what these men did for the world. I am so thankful Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg made this series. It is an incredible tribute to these men and their role in history.
THE WEST WING
This is just one scene from this series. There is a whole lot of walking and talking and single camera shots - so it's like being an observer of politics (and less dirty that "House of Cards").
Aaron Sorkin writes long monologues like no one else. When there are group scenes like the one I posted, everyone participates in some way. It is serious. It is funny. It is smart. It's also one of the reason I will NEVER work in politics. I like sleep. But I'm OK missing sleep to rewatch this series. It's THAT good. This is a show that could have kept going, but it ended on a good note. I'd still like to see how the new president would have handled today's issues. Sorkin's "The Newsroom" kind of fills that void, but it's not enough for me.
If you watched that video, you can tell this series is violent and expletive heavy - just like you'd expect a mafia series to be.
While the tough guy theme is consistent throughout the show, these characters are also sensitive. They're not so tough that they aren't always watching over their backs for the law to come after them. And some of them get caught. Some of them get a little gang justice (well, a LOT of that happens).
You may find yourself wanting pasta while you watch this. Just let me know when you get to the end of the series. It's been seven years since the finale and I'm still not sure how I feel about that.
HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET
This is another David Simon crime show. It is every bit as good as "The Wire."
The show follows homicide detectives as they work their cases. Ever wondered what murder police do? This is pretty real. It's gritty. It's tense. It's sad.
Seriously. Some of these guys need a hug.
This series went on for six years. I could still watch this. I don't understand how all those "CSI" and "Law & Order" shows can keep going, but shows with excellent characters who evolve and have real issues end.
This series also has some excellent guests and plenty of "before they were famous" appearances.
This is a show that got a little, well, lost along the way. The network didn't give the creators a firm end date, so there is one season and a few episodes that were filler. But once the show knew when it was going to end, they did their best to tie up loose ends. It's why I debated whether to include this in my list.
There's a plane crash on an island and the whole series is filled with "Will they get off the island?" and "What the hell is happening on that island?" and "What IS that island?" themes.
By the time you get to the last season, most of those questions get answered. Get lost (no pun intended) in this, but don't over think it. You may cry at the finale. I did. Real tears.