There’s an unofficial part 1 to this list, ‘10 Instantly Gratifying TV Series’ which lists 10 instantly gratifying TV series for you to watch (in addition to this one.)
1. Servant (2019)
Tony Basgallop has gifted us a truly creepy and suspenseful show with Servant. Servant follows a married couple (played by Lauren Ambrose and Tony Kebbell) that tragically lost their newborn son and are grieving. Dorothy, the mother (played by Ambrose, Six Feet Under, anyone?!) is in a state of shock and denial. The couple’s therapist suggest that they use a fake baby doll as a ‘transitional grieving object,’ to help them deal with what happened, and start working towards the healing process. Dorothy believes the fake baby doll is a real living and breathing baby. I won’t say anything else since I don’t want to spoil it, but this is a creepy show with a concept I’ve yet to see before and, let me tell you, you’ll be poppin’ these episodes like skittles.
Most of the show takes place in their home, so you feel trapped and suffocated (as do the characters in the show.) It’s low-budget, stars Rupert Grint and he’s hilarious in it. There are wonderfully shot cooking scenes, the husband plays a chef and these scenes clearly come from someone who is a foodie and appreciates cinematic cooking scenes. As far as I’m aware, this show hasn’t received much attention, for what reason I know not. Servant is one of the few shows on AppleTV+ you shouldn’t miss.
2. The Night Of (2016)
HBO’s The Night Of is an 8-episode true-crime mini-series starring Riz Ahmed (Sounds of Metal!!!) and John Turturro. Riz Ahmed plays Naz, a college student that ends up spending the night with a woman he just met and wakes up to find that she’s been brutally murdered.
Naz is arrested and suspected as the prime suspect in the murder, at which point Turturro steps in as his attorney. Here’s the thing — it’s 8 episodes of solid, suspenseful and top-rate TV. Riz Ahmed is perfect as Naz, he’s believable and completely embodies the character’s feelings of helplessness and desperation. You really feel for him while watching what he goes through, and how this one night has so drastically impacted his life. The Night Of (in my opinion) is a mini-series that went under the radar, it’s a show that’s worth watching and I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
3. Mare of Easttown (2021)
Another HBO crime drama mini-series (I’m a creature of habit, what can I say?) Mare of Easttown is a 7-episode hard-hitting murder investigation series that stars Kate Winslet as Marianne “Mare” Sheehan. Mare may be Winslet’s best performance of her career — I’m serious. You forget it’s Kate Winslet you’re watching and not this small-town, down on her luck cop that’s stretched thin and overworked. Mare lives in a small town in Pennsylvania, she’s investigating the murder of a teenage girl and mother in a place where everyone knows each other, and murders don’t normally happen (that’s what kind of what they always say about small towns, not sure if you agree or...)
This show captures that small-town vibe that gives Mare of Easttown an intimate feel, and gets you to care for these people, their lives and what they’re going through. I cared about Mare and how she felt, I wanted her life to get easier and you bet I was going to watch the entire season to find out. The show accomplishes what good television is meant to do — it immerses you in her story and gets you to care for her and the people in this community. You become connected to Mare, I was rooting for her and hoped she would be able to bear the weight of everything she has to deal with (besides the looming responsibility of finding the person who murdered the local teenager.)
This is another show that deserves more recognition than it’s received. I’ve heard people talk about it, and those that have seen it seem to share my sentiments, so if you want a short and tight season of crime-drama suspense: Mare of Easttown.
4. Sex Education (2019)
Sex Education is the definition of binge-y TV. It’s heartfelt (I cried a couple times throughout, though I recall one episode in particular being a weepy one.) I’ll admit, the characters are trope-y, and it’s cliche, but it works. Sex Ed. interweaves topics that are current and relevant to what teens go through today. I couldn’t imagine being a teenager in the age of social media, and I wouldn’t want to either.
Out of the dozens of shows that are made for teenage audiences and depict the lives of teenagers, Sex Education stands out as one of the better examples of teenage-purposed-and-directed media. The series treats teenagers respectfully, and shows a real sensitivity to what they go through (especially during an objectively difficult and delicate time in a person’s life, i.e., adolescence.) The writing is clever, characters are developed and the actors are great. Unlike some of the other shows listed here, Sex Education has received tons of recognition and hype — and I totally see why. It really is compulsively watchable, and it delivers a satisfying and enjoyable TV watching experience.
5. Unbelievable (2019)
Okay—true-crime mini-series—we get it, we like them. Unbelievable stars Toni Collette, Merritt Weaver and Kaitlyn Dever in this 8-episode frustrating and binge-y af Netflix show, and at times, it really is unbelievable. The show is based on a true story and news article written by Ken Armstrong and T. Christian Miller, ‘An Unbelievable Story of Rape.’ Here’s the headline from the article, and a major plot point in Unbelievable: “An 18-year-old said she was attacked at knifepoint. Then she said she made it up. That’s where our story begins.”
I was frustrated watching this show, especially during the earlier episodes. It looks at ‘false confessions’; how police investigations and the process of questioning can cause genuine confusion within the minds of the person undergoing interrogation, and can understandably result in false confessions. It flips between the narratives of the two female detectives (Collette and Weaver) and the young woman (Deever) that’s facing charges for a misdemeanour (and potential jail time) for making a purportedly false confession. I was hooked once I started and watched the episodes back-to-back because I needed to know immediately how things would unfold. If you’re looking for a series that doesn’t wait to grab your attention, Unbelievable is a solid choice.
6. Breaking Bad (2008)
A show that truly does not need to be recommended more than it already has, and yet, it’s on the list — Breaking Bad is the most popular and well-known show to feature on this list, but because we’re talking ‘compulsively watchable’ it only makes sense to include it.
Wikipedia describes Breaking Bad as a ‘Neo-western crime-drama’, which I guess makes sense. By and large, what makes Breaking Bad the show that it’s become are the characters — Walter White and Jesse Pinkman are an odd and unlikely pair brought together through extenuating circumstances, a cancer diagnosis and makeshift meth. The subtle degradation of Walter’s character is perhaps one of the greatest character arks of all-time (besides Tony Soprano,) and Jesse is Walter’s former student and a drug-dealer, but really, he’s a sweetheart with a gentle soul. Breaking Bad is a show that was designed to be binged, it’s thrilling and wild, tense and highly entertaining. I’m not sure who still has yet to see it, but yeah it is worth the watch.
7. The OA (Season one) (2016)
The OA is an American mystery/sci-fi drama that premiered on Netflix in 2016, and was cancelled two seasons later. The second season unfortunately fell flat for me, and I wouldn’t recommend it. The first season, on the other hand, was a total surprise, and I was delighted by it.
The OA is strange, it follows Prairie Johnson (played by Britt Marling) who was wakes up disoriented in a hospital bed saying that her name is the ‘OA’, aka ‘Original Angel’. To her parents, she is Prairie, and she was adopted as a young girl who, at that time, was blind. The second she said that her name is ‘OA’/Original Angel, I was in. I knew some weird shit was about to go down and people I was not wrong! I won’t give more away, and maybe this won’t be a series for everyone, but I was into it all the way and I have an actual crush on Britt Marling. The OA is thought-provoking, unique, and has elements of sci-fi that I haven’t seen before on TV, so yeah, watch it!
8. Ted Lasso (2020)
If we’re talking shows you can pop like candy, Ted Lasso fits the bill. This is a charming show that’s hard not to like, and it’s compulsively watchable. AppleTV+ aka The Ted Lasso Network had a good run with the first season of this show. The second season unfortunately gets waaaaaay too cheesy for lil ‘ol me.
I’d suggest watching the first season and gauging your personal response from there. I enjoyed the first season myself, and possibly the beginning of the second. I’m pretty sure there’s one point where it crossed the line for me and that’s where I bailed, but all things considered, I was pleasantly surprised by the first season’s first-half, and this portion of Ted Lasso I recommend.
9. You (2018)
This is where I reveal that I do in fact have guilty pleasures, and You is a special kind of TV indulgence for me. Some people seem to think I’m ‘eclectic’ or ‘esoteric’ in my media consumption (I’m referring to that one movie list I wrote where people said I was esoteric and eclectic for my movie recommendations.) But can you be an esoteric if you like the show You? Who’s to say. We all know the plot of You. You follows Joe Goldberg, an attractive and nerdy bookstore manager that’s endearing and a sociopath narcissist. He stalks his current love interest is, both online and in real-life, crosses every possible boundary a person could cross and has no issue with said invasions of privacy.
You wouldn’t work if it weren’t for Penn Badgely, so give the guy an emmy already, or maybe a Badge-ly of sorts. What could have been a tired stalker-suspense romance (though undeniably a saucy plot line) is taken up a notch because we get great acting, and a Dexter-like inner-dialogue that makes You better than what it should have been. I don’t think anyone watches You without binging it, or at least I’d be surprised to find out. Anyone, I’ve seen all seasons (and I think they’re almost out with the 4th?) It’s not groundbreaking or high-quality TV exactly, but it’s a fun time and entertains.
10. The Undoing (2020)
Coming in at number 10 is HBO’s The Undoing, which stars Hugh Grant, Nicole Kidman and is directed by David E. Kelley. The Undoing follows a wealthy couple and parents living in New York, it’s a ‘whodunnit’ show that’s riddled with self-deception and other-deception, The Undoing got mixed reviews (which I understand,) but personally I found it compelling and I was there for it throughout the 6 episodes run-time.
By no means a groundbreaking show, The Undoing is based on a murder case of a woman, and Jonathan (played by Grant) is our prime suspect. The Undoing is a show about wanting to believe that the person you’re with is who they claim to be. It’s also about coming to terms with the fact that people are not always as they seem, despite how well you think you may know that person. I was totally entertained by The Undoing, and I hope you are too (should you decide to give it a whirl.)
As always, thank you all so much for reading, and let me know if you have any shows to recommend that you consider ‘compulsively watchable’ TV. Catch you in the next one!
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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