As talk of an extension to the current lockdowns in Nigeria continues, it is worth considering just how exactly you’d be filling all those additional hours you’ll be spending at home. Perhaps you’d like to use the opportunity to get into some long-form escapism; one of the best ways to do so is through TV shows, with their episodic structures and story lines that oftentimes span the length of several seasons.
But with so many TV shows out there, it becomes difficult to distinguish the ones that are worth watching from the ones that are mere time sinks. After all, there is nothing more annoying than getting invested in a TV show’s characters, and their particular struggles, only for that show to get canceled after a season or two. This is why I am saving you the trouble by highlighting 20 shows that you can binge or rewatch from start to finish.
As a primary criteria, I am only picking TV shows that have an actual ending, so don’t expect this list to have any long-running shows like The Simpsons or Grey’s Anatomy, or ongoing favorites like Ozark or Stranger Things, or canceled cult classics like Firefly. And on that note, let’s dive right into it.
1. The X-Files
Agents Mulder and Scully investigate all manner of paranormal activities in The X-Files, the classic television show that helped bring concepts like aliens, UFOs and shady dealings at Area 51 into the public consciousness. It also happens to be one of the first shows that got me into series to begin with.
Speaking of classics, another one that deserves a spot on any list of TV shows is of course Friends, a sitcom about a group of friends navigating day-to-day life in uptown Manhattan. The show ran for 10 seasons, and made history when its final episode became one of the most widely watched episodes in television history.
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Based on the 1992 film of the same name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer gave viewers their first taste of Joss Whedon’s brand of visual storytelling. While the tone of the show as a whole might be considered uneven because of its strict adherence to the monster-of-the-week formula, it did leaves us with some truly memorable characters and one hell of an impression overall.
4. The Sopranos
Crime dramas might seem like a dime a dozen these days, but The Sopranos remains one of most revered TV shows within the genre. Anchored by a star-making performance by the late James Gandolfini, the show popularized the hour-long format and high production values for which HBO shows are known today.
5. Gilmore Girls
While I wouldn’t exactly consider Gilmore Girls a guilty pleasure, it did cater to a somewhat niche audience with its fast-talking protagonists and fairytale-esques setting. But those are the very same things that lend this family dramedy its appeal in the first place.
6. The Wire
The Wire is another HBO crime drama regarded by many as one of the greatest TV shows of all time. It ran for 5 seasons between 2002 and 2008, and it helped pave the way for countless other shows, including a certain other favorite of mine that is further down this list.
7. The Office
While many prefer the American version of The Office with Steve Carell and John Krasinski, I’ll always have a soft spot for the UK original. There’s just something about Rick Gervais and his dry wit. The show also starred Martin Freeman, long before he rose to prominence with roles in The Hobbit and Sherlock.
Superhero shows might have evolved since the early 2000s, but once upon a time, Smallville was as good as it got. Serving as more of an origin story than a straight-up comic-book adaptation, the show made the smart decision to focus on Clark Kent’s journey to becoming Superman, a decision that was no doubt driven by budgetary concerns.
24 stars Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, a US counter terrorist agent who just can’t seem to catch a break. It was the first-ever TV show I’d binged, after I’d stumbled upon a one-day marathon of its first season on TV. This was way before binge-watching became an actual thing, and it worked well with its real-time narrative.
10. Band of Brothers
Band of Brothers was a HBO miniseries that wowed audiences in 2001 with previously-unseen high production values and an epic tale of camaraderie in the middle of warfare. The World War II drama was produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, with the latter even serving as director on one of its 10 episodes.
J.J. Abrams gets co-creator credit for Lost, a show that grew in its infamy each season for its increasingly convoluted plot. It tells the story of a group of passengers that survive a plane crash, as they struggle to survive on the deserted island they’ve found themselves on. And regardless of whether you thought the ending successfully tied up loose ends or not, the sandy shores of this particular deserted island are still very much worth revisiting.
12. Desperate Housewives
Desperate Housewives was one of the shows making the rounds right when binge culture was just starting to take off here in Nigeria. I must confess though that I’d dropped off right after the 5-year time jump at the start of season 5; the thought of having missed 5 whole years with these characters I’d grown to love immediately threw me off I guess. But I plan on going back to finish the show one of these days.
13. Prison Break
Prison Break was one of those shows that overstayed its welcome. After a stellar first season that found its protagonist Michael Scoffield trying to break his brother out of prison, the show seemed to lose its way in subsequent seasons. It was never able to recapture the thrills of that first season, but it did at least attempt to tie off its narrative at the end. That is, before it was resurrected twice in both a followup movie and series.
Heroes was another show that had a very strong debut season. In fact, one could argue that it was one of the strongest debut seasons ever, filled with so much mystery and intriguing characters. It’s such a shame that the show became unrecognizable in its latter seasons, making one wonder what happened to all that early potential.
15. The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory had been getting nothing but glowing recommendations, so I finally decided to give it a shot after its final episode aired last year. And I haven’t regretted it since. The sitcom never ceases to be funny, even when you’d expect its geeky stereotypes and jokes to get old and played out.
16. Mad Men
Set in the 1960s advertising district of Madison Avenue, New York City, Mad Men is a period drama that won critical acclaim for its accurate depiction of its historical backdrop. Its overall production quality would propel it to win 16 Emmys and 5 Golden Globes during its 7-season run, cementing its position as one of the shows that made up the Golden Age of Television.
17. Breaking Bad
And speaking of the Golden Age, one would be remiss to not acknowledge the show at its very center. I’m not even going to try to sugarcoat it: Breaking Bad is beyond a doubt my favorite television show on this list, or on any other list for that matter. So if you had to pick just one show to watch from this list, then it might as well be this one.
18. Sons of Anarchy
Charlie Hunnam might have turned in a show-stealing performance in the recent Guy Ritchie film, The Gentlemen, but it was in Sons of Anarchy that he had first showed his acting chops. The show tells the story of the titular biker gang and its various members, whose loyalty and sense of brotherhood are put to the test as they struggle to maintain their place beyond the lines of the law.
Before there was Game of Thrones, we had Spartacus: Blood and Sand, an ultra-violent take on the meteoric rise of its titular historical figure, who would go from a lowly slave to one of the greatest freedom fighters in the history of the Roman Republic.
20. Game of Thrones
And speaking of Game of Thrones, you know there was no way this list would be complete without including what is effectively one of the most popular TV shows of all time. It is the show that would continually raise the bar for what was possible in a television show, with its expectations-shattering twists and epic battle scenes that rival even the biggest movie productions. Its final season ended up breaking all manner of ratings records when it aired last year, and while a large portion of its fan base was left disappointed by its conclusion, none of that takes away from its monumental achievements leading up to that point.
What do you think about my list of TV shows worth binging? Which of them are you most anxious to revisit or watch for the first time? Let us know in the comments section below.