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Streams of consciousness: Eight TV shows to binge-watch on Netflix

  • Austin American-Statesman
  • Published Sunday, August 4, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Whoever said “Moderation in all things” must not have had a Netflix account. Staying in on a Saturday night to “binge-watch” one of the online streaming service’s hundreds of television shows? Don’t be ashamed: Netflix has 37 million subscribers worldwide. Powering through episode after episode of a series in one sitting is the beauty of paying $8 a month for unlimited entertainment.

Not every show is a winner, though. Here are eight series worth addicting yourself to:

1. “Orange Is the New Black”

Why you should binge: Netflix’s latest original series has won critical and audience acclaim. At just 13 cliffhanger episodes, the show has momentum in its DNA. When yuppie Piper (Taylor Schilling) gets sent to a federal lockup for a past indiscretion, a fish-out-of-water tale quickly becomes a character-driven exploration of race, privilege, identity and sexuality – and that’s just in the first episode. About those wonderful characters: With names like Crazy Eyes and Yoga Jones, you'll await flashbacks to each inmate’s backstory like a kid on Christmas Eve.

For fans of: Comedy-dramas that make you think.

Pro tip: Watch a couple “Star Trek: Voyager” reruns beforehand. Kate Mulgrew (nee Capt. Janeway) plays fiery-maned cell-block queen Red in “Orange,” and she puts every scene into warp drive with just a steely glance.

When you’re finished, try: “Louie.” Similar in big laughs and dark tones.

2. “Freaks and Geeks”

Why you should binge: Just like “Orange Is the New Black,” Judd Apatow’s cult series has enough episodes to knock out the whole shebang in a couple of days. Half the fun of watching “Freaks and Geeks” is beholding a who’s who of future stars, including James Franco and Jason Segel. The show deals warmly and honestly with coming of age in 1980, like a serialized “Dazed and Confused.” When you finish, you'll feel like your best friends just moved away.

For fans of: Heartfelt chuckles.

Pro tip: Speaking of celebrities, keep your eyes peeled for baby-faced cameos from Rashida Jones, Shia LaBeouf and many more.

When you’re finished, try: “Parks and Recreation.” Warmth and humor, starting with season two.

3. “The West Wing”

Why you should binge: The show won enough Emmys to fill the Oval Office, so it hardly needs extra praise. Aaron Sorkin, the pen behind “The Newsroom,” wrote the book on rat-a-tat dialogue and lofty plots with “The West Wing.” Devour it by the season and feel like a Rhodes scholar each episode as President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and his Pennsylvania Avenue staff tackle issues still relevant today.

For fans of: Dramas that make you feel like an honor student.

Pro tip: Sorkin left “West Wing” after season four, in case your attention wanes.

When you’re finished, try: “House of Cards.” If “West Wing” is the glass-half-full version of politics, “Cards” is glass-drained-dry.

4. “Doctor Who”

Why you should binge: An immortal alien adventurer with a sonic screwdriver. A sentient time machine with infinite rooms inside. Space monsters with British accents. What makes the 2005 reboot of “Doctor Who” so watchable? With a revolving cast keeping things fresh, it’s unrelentingly fun and fast-paced – the television equivalent of sugary breakfast cereal. Nerd out.

For fans of: Gleeful sci-fi romps.

Pro tip: Start with season five, then circle back to season one. It’s just like time travel!

When you’re finished, try: “Torchwood.” A spinoff that tackles the darker side of saving the universe.

5. “Archer”

Why you should binge: An animated James Bond flick with a hangover, “Archer” is the sharpest show around, cartoon or not. Machine-gun joke delivery, a heart as black as its protagonist’s hair and note-perfect voice acting (particularly from H. Jon Benjamin as superspy Sterling Archer and “Arrested Development” alum Jessica Walter as his mother) will help you knock this one out in no time.

For fans of: Pairing a cartoon with a stiff drink.

Pro tip: Don’t try to figure out the show’s time period. That way lies madness.

When you’re finished, try: “Bob’s Burgers.” Another toon for grown-ups featuring Benjamin’s dulcet tones.

6. “Mad Men”

Why you should binge: Because you should already be watching it. The sixth season of “Mad Men” just wrapped up in June, and Netflix has the first five seasons available to stream. Following Don Draper (Jon Hamm) from slick Madison Avenue pitches to steamy trysts, the show draws you into a glamorous web of betrayal and ambition. (It’s funnier than it gets credit for, too.) Every time you press “play” is like settling in for an Oscar-caliber movie. Right now, no show does television better.

For fans of: Stylish, morally dubious intrigue.

Pro tip: If the first season seems a little slow, stick with it. You'll get pulled into Draper’s quicksand by the finale.

When you’re finished, try: “Breaking Bad.” It’s hard to take your eyes off anti-heroes.

7. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

Why you should binge: If you didn’t watch “Buffy” growing up, grab a stake and a scrunchie and make up for lost time. From the mind of “Avengers” director Joss Whedon, it’s the perfect teen soap opera. There are breakups, hookups, homework, witty banter and weekly near-apocalypses spilling out through a subterranean hellmouth. Just typical coming-of-age stuff.

For fans of: Fantasy with a smirk.

Pro tip: Don’t feel obligated to watch the spinoff, “Angel.” David Boreanaz’s sulk-monster will just take up valuable real estate on your instant queue.

When you’re finished, try: “Supernatural.” More horror/humor, this time with a Y chromosome.

8. “The X-Files”

Why you should binge: The truth is out there. Each hourlong installment carries its own paranormal mystery for FBI agents Mulder and Scully (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) to solve; the show itself is steeped in a larger conspiracy theory. In the case of “The X-Files,” you might find yourself less addicted and more obsessed. Especially effective for nighttime binge-watching, because you'll be too scared to sleep after a couple episodes.

For fans of: Spooky thrillers.

Pro tip: Feel free to bounce around among the episodes, which are self-contained adventures for the most part.

When you’re finished, try: “Fringe.” They’re basically the same show.

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