There are way too many good TV shows available to us today. We live in a world of modern riches, of an over-abundance of goodness so vibrant it’s terribly easy to miss the good stuff. Embarrassing first world problem of the highest order, but still: a wonderful predicament to find oneself in. But mo-oooom, I can’t go outside and play, or socialize with weird Uncle Kevin — there’s just so much TV to watch, you see! Teevee: the future!
And lo, what good stuff is to be had on your premium channels! Though previous editors have regaled you with the delightful offerings on Amazon Prime and Netflix, I’ve decided to take a look exclusively towards television’s rise to greatness: the premium network series. The oft-regurgitated line of thought on these past five years — that it is “The Golden Age of Television” — is largely thanks to the work of the pay-channels like HBO and Showtime.
Because they don't rely on ratings, premium networks have consistently and craftily pushed the envelope as to what could and could not be done with visual storytelling. Characters became more nuanced, stories unfolded rather than exposited to death, and a push for small screen viewers to, you know, actually pay attention to the detailed doings were all elevated here first.
Of course everyone has varying levels of binge-watching abilities, so we’ve taken the liberty of Goldilocking this one for you a bit: tailoring our picks to mini, moderate, and maximum helpings, ensuring you find the most efficient multi-episode viewing scenario that is just right for you. Besides, we love to enable your extreme binge-watching behaviors, Internet. So click on to see our picks.
Lucky Louie, HBO
Not typically a fan of the multi-camera sitcom set-up, Louis C.K.’s first venture into the world of television was a ripper. For HBO it was a trial of the new, as the 2006 series' one-and-only 13-episode season was a departure in style and substance. With a wonderful supporting cast (Pamela Adlon, Jim Norton, Rick Shapiro, Mike Hagerty), the series’ look at blue-collar living resonates more now than it did then (though that may be in part due to the omnipresent C.K.-ified existence we now live in). The ruminations on married living — a far cry from the subject matter of its FX sibling — still push and prod at the ideas seen in its later Louie draft. Still, the whole thing remains enjoyable to watch, and highlight the budding genius that is C.K.’s omnipresent brand of perfectly skewering humor.
Masters of Sex, Showtime
I simply cannot say enough good things about Masters of Sex. Far and away the best new series of 2013 (in my oh-so humble opinion), Michelle Ashford’s take on the Thomas Maier book of the same name gives a wonderfully thoughtful and emotionally intricate body to the curious and compelling relationship of Dr. Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson, the sex scientists who ramped the world into the sexual revolution of the 1960s with their research on bodily sexual response. With a dream-team guest starring cast of Allison Janney and Beau Bridges, coupled with top-notch supporting performances from Annaleigh Ashford, Teddy Sears, and Heléne York — just to name a few — the whole thing leaps forward with such a careful and slow-burning brilliance, if you’re not paying enough attention you may miss the undercurrents completely. With the finale airing this-coming Sunday (December 15), the whole series will be up on Showtime On Demand. It would behoove you to tune in immediately.
Ja’mie: Private School Girl, HBO
Chris Lilley’s skewering take on spoiled, malevolent young girls is consistently able to find the funny, even when its antics border on painful painted with awkward abandon. And with only 3 episodes currently available, it’s a quick way to catch up on a new series without feeling like you have to actually commit to any sort of serious sitting time. That way you won't feel so out of the loop while your friends are all calling each other quiche, so win-win.
The Cinemax espionage series may not have gotten much buzz or praise in its premiere run, but it’s a highly enjoyable for all of its twisty-turning spy-on-spy dramatic machinations. Sitting squarely on the shoulders of its star Melissa George, Hunted is bleak in many ways: the undercurrent of “oh you guys are really all just pawns, here, aren’t you?” permeates everything from the visuals to the plotlines (hello, literal-and-actual-maze). Plus, the cast is wonderful: Several Game of Thrones actors show up, as well as the star of the soon-to-be FX series, Tyrant, Adam Rayner. There’s mystery and intrigue for days here — thanks in part to the mysterious ethos surrounding Sam (George)’s origin story. For fans of sneaky spy tricks, Hunted’s first season is worth a wee binge.
Family Tree, HBO
Family Tree is one of the more delightfully strange and endearing shows out there. The Christopher Guest series does a wonderful job luring the characters out slowly-but-assuredly as to endear their crazy to you. Chris O’Dowd stars in its 8-episode first season as Tom Chadwick, a young man who inherits a mysterious box from his aunt filled with the mysteries of his family history. Surrounded by best friend Pete and his sister Bea Chawick and her monkey puppet, Monkey, the whole of the series feels warm and inviting in its absurdity, and the characters bring a sort of charm to the whole thing that’ll leave you feeling cozy and satisfied. Like a cup of really good hot chocolate, chockablock with hilariously untoward marshmallows in it.