Here is the Stylist guide to the best box sets ever to grace our screens, featuring strong female casts or leads, important messages, and belly laughs – all of which can be found on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sky, NOW TV, or on iTunes.
The way we watch TV has changed so much in the last 10 years: with Netflix dropping entire seasons at once, bingeing is no longer restricted to well-thumbed DVD boxsets. Hollywood stars are leaving big budget blockbusters behind to focus on longer term roles in TV shows – Jennifer Aniston in The Morning Show, we’re looking at you – and it feels like script-writing talent is getting better season by season (although not enough of this talent is women).
But it’s not merely new series. Almost all of our old favourite television shows have found their way onto the buffet of streaming services too and the binging options are endless. This mammoth ‘anything goes’ list curates prime bingeing stretching back five decades, with a focus on the shows with important messages, a fabulous female lead or even better, female cast ensemble.
Expect must-see TV like Fleabag, Bodyguard and Handmaid’s Tale but dig deep and stumble on old favourites or cult shows you missed at the time. From Gilmore Girls to Gavin and Stacey, and Downton Abbey to Prime Suspect, put your phone on airplane mode, stockpile snacks and get bingeing.
The docu-series focuses on the cheerleading squad at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, and follows the team as they prepare for the national championships. The show doesn’t shy away from the risks, injuries and intense physical demands of the support so be prepared to wince.
Throughout the series we learn more about the backstories of these young women, whether it’s “cheer-lebrity” Gabi Butler and her selection of side projects and sponsorship deals or flyer and tumbler Morgan Simianer who, despite becoming near suicidal through childhood neglect by her parents, finds herself surpassing the highest expectations at the end of the season.
DON’T MISS Stoic no nonsense matriarch Monica, the team coach.
Even if you haven’t watched Netflix’s You yet, it was hard to miss the online debate and uneasiness about how many women find Penn Badgley’s lead role as Joe attractive. You may think Badgley’s most famous character, Gossip Girl’s Dan Humphrey, was a big creep; being revealed to have been the anonymous blogger stalking the whole gang (though we all know he wasn’t). But Joe blows Dan out of the water on the creep scale, as he stalks, hacks, cages and kills in the name of love.
A story of passionate obsession centring on drifting writer Guinevere ‘Beck’ Beck, with pretty ridiculous storylines, it’s had viewers hooked for two seasons now and makes for addictive watching.
DON’T MISS Beck and best friend Peach Salinger (Pretty Little Liars’ Shay Mitchell), yes that Salinger, heading to Peach’s family estate for a very eventful getaway in S01E06.
If you haven’t found the time to catch Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh in Killing Eve just yet, the time to do that is now, as Phoebe Waller-Bridges’ highly successful drama gears up for season two. Following the lives of Eve (Sandra Oh), a desk-bound MI5 officer, and Villanelle (Jodie Comer), a talented assassin, the show documents their growing obsession with one another – and the deadly game of cat and mouse which ensues. Killing Eve is a whirlwind of action, adventure and female-led anarchy: the perfect recipe for keeping you on the edge of your seat.
DON’T MISS Villanelle’s iconic pink flowy Molly Goddard dress in S1E2.
The ability to inspire a spike of 24% in sales of M&S’ canned G&T’s is just one of the things which makes Fleabag such a gem. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s witty two season comedy was an instant classic and gifted us with “the hot priest” and his predisposition for pre-mixed spirits. The refreshingly raw and realistic chaos of Fleabag’s life makes for the type of TV you just don’t see often.
DON’T MISS Waller-Bridge’s perfectly timed fourth-wall breaks.
Big Little Lies
Following the story of three troubled women from Monterey, California, Big Little Lies is jam-packed full of drama and deceit. Led both onscreen and offscreen by actresses Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon (the pair worked as executive producers after buying the screen rights to Liane Moriarty’s novel), this show is anything but simple. Bring on season 2, due out this summer 2019.
DON’T MISS Reese’s one liners as Madeline Martha Mackenzie
If you’ve fallen in love with Margaret Atwood’s storytelling after watching The Handmaid’s Tale, then try this adaptation of her 1996 novel Alias Grace. Based on actual 19th century events, the show documents the life of Grace Marks, a poor Irish immigrant and domestic servant, after she has been convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Told through conversations she has with a psychologist as he tries to discover the truth behind her story, Marks’ narrative is one of oppression and powerlessness at the hands of others.
DON’T MISS Sarah Gadon’s eerie performance as Grace Marks.
From the creator of Orange is the New Black Jenji Kohan comes Glow, a comedy series based on the world of the 1980s women’s professional wrestling circuit. Following the life of struggling actress Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), the show documents her audition for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and the fictionalisation of the characters involved. Now going into its third season, Glow is an inspirational story of female empowerment.
DON’T MISS All of the spandex.
The Haunting of Hill House
Based on Shirley Jackson’s classic horror novel, The Haunting of Hill House follows the story of the Crain family, who, after moving into Hill House, find themselves increasingly disturbed by paranormal activity. Having fled the house many years ago, the show captures the family 26 years later, when, after tragedy hits again, they return to the mansion to face the reality of how their time at Hill House affected them.
DON’T MISS The upcoming second season, based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.
Brazen, honest and hopeful, Netflix’s Sex Education is a must watch. Centred around the story of Otis (Asa Butterfield) the socially awkward teenager, the show follows his life as the son of a sex therapist, and the awkwardly blunt conversations his mum tries to start. Deciding to use this insider knowledge to his benefit, Otis sets up a sex clinic in school with the help of his new friend Maeve. Featuring subjects from female masturbation to revenge porn, Sex Education is a charming reminder of the trials and tribulations of navigating relationships as a young person, whether that be with sex, family, friends, or your own body.
DON’T MISS The inspiring revenge porn protest in Episode five
My Brilliant Friend
This adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s moving tale of female friendship is the perfect combination of heart-warming innocence and devastating reality. Following the lives of Elena and Lila, two girls from post-war Naples, My Brilliant Friend tracks their journey as they grow up and experience the world. The casting really shines here; the young Italian actresses cast to play both child and teenage Elena and Lila have an authenticity about them which gives the show something special.
DON’T MISS Elena and Lila reading Little Women.
When two become one after a fling ends up in an unexpected pregnancy, Sharon and Rob must figure out what to do next. Written by and starring Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, Catastrophe follows the couple as they decide to try and forge a relationship while juggling the realities of pregnancy complications and family feuds.
DON’T MISS The final episode, Season 4
After making its TV debut at the end of summer 2018, Bodyguard was all anyone could talk about, and for good reason. The show follows the story of Police Sergeant David Budd (Richard Madden), an Afghanistan war veteran who is working as a protection officer for the Metropolitan Police. Having been assigned to protect the Home Secretary Julia Montague despite despising her politics, Budd finds himself seriously conflicted. The narrative that ensues is thrilling, mysterious and unpredictable.
DON’T MISS Episode 4, it’s a big one.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood’s dark and compelling dystopian tale translates brilliantly to the screen in this adaptation of her best-selling feminist novel. Following the character of Offred, The Handmaid’s Tale is based in a future America where fertility rates have dropped, and those who are still able to produce have been enslaved and forced to bare children for the upper classes. Elisabeth Moss’ performance as the feisty protagonist isn’t one you’re going to want to miss.
DON’T MISS Alexis Bledel’s not-so-Gilmore-Girls-esque character Emily.
The Office US
Working from home lately? The Office US will get you back in the swing of the 9-5. The mockumentary series, adapted from Ricky Gervais’s equally brilliant British version, is a witty, wry look at life in the not-quite-fast-lane of the rat race. Endlessly quotable and familiar, this is the show to fill your heart with appreciation for your real-life colleagues.
Recommended snack: Kevin Malone’s famous chilli, with a side of Michael Scott’s homemade potato salad.
My Mad Fat Diary
One Day At A Time
Dealing with topics from mental illness to homophobia, One Day at a Time is a powerfully honest sitcom with characters you’ll love from episode one. Featuring award-winning performances from its central cast, the show focuses on a Cuban-American family living in Los Angeles as they tackle issues including sexism, immigration and racism; this is feel-good TV which makes you think.
DON’T MISS Rita Moreno’s (West Side Story) curtain sweep moments as the fabulously funny Lydia Riera.
The Good Wife
The Good Wife is a classic courtroom drama that will have you on the edge of your seat with a killer performance from Julianna Margulies throughout the series.
The show-runners Robert and Michelle King wanted the series to centre on the wife of a politician following his sex scandal, similar to Bill Clinton’s and John Edwards’s. However, the creators didn’t want their female lead standing behind her husband as he admits his infidelity publicly, so instead, the show is based on Alicia Florrick being a litigator while supporting her two children.
DON’T MISS Josh Charles and Margulies’s chemistry kept fans rooting for the two complicated lovers throughout the series.
They may call it Happy Valley, but it’s anything but happiness and sunshine. Talk about a flood of emotions, as you watch the main character Catherine Cawood struggles to cope with her daughter’s suicide while also becoming obsessed with the man responsible for her daughter’s rape.
DON’T MISS Sarah Lancashire is a trailblazer in this series as she shines playing a mother with true grit.
Call My Agent!
Call My Agent! is a quick watch compared to the other box sets in our list but it has everything: a gorgeous Parisian backdrop; jaw-dropping plot twists; a beautiful, smart cast of backstabbing agents all vying to handle some of Europe’s biggest film stars (Monica Bellucci and Juliette Binoche are just two who pop up) going method/cheating on their other halves/standing up to handsy moguls. Plus, lead Camille Cottin might be the coolest woman ever.
This is Us
When This is Us first graced our screens, we knew it would be quite a tearjerker right after the pilot episode. Heck, we knew it after the first trailer was released. Parents Jack and Rebecca are expecting triplets, but one of their babies ends up being stillborn in the very first episode. Convinced that they were destined to have three kids, the parents adopt another baby. The show flashes forward to the lives of the three siblings: Kevin, Randall and Kate and how they battle with their own inner demons.
DON’T MISS Tune in for Mandy Moore’s brilliant portrayal of a strong mother and wife
Back in season one, it all started with the promotional tagline “simply adorkable” and it skyrocketed into one of the most successful sitcoms in the past decade thanks to Zooey Deschanel’s quirky portrayal of Jessica Day. The show started with a basic premise: Jess moves in with three men: Nick, Schmidt and Coach, but it’s their awkward romantic entanglements and relatable characters that made the show a fan favourite. We also get to root for Jess and Nick’s on again off again relationship throughout the seasons after their first steamy make out back in season two.
DON’T MISS The final season holds a 100% approval rating for its last seven episodes.
The Good Place
The Good Place stars Kristen Bell whose character Eleanor enters a mysterious afterlife following her death. The Good Place is reserved for those who lived selfless lives so they are now to be rewarded with their greatest desires. The only issue with this is that Eleanor was a terrible person, and she knows it, so she tries to become a better person during this afterlife while also hiding her true identity from others. Her main fear is ending up being asked to go to The Bad Place.
After what The A.V. Club deemed an “outstanding season with a masterful twist” The Good Place continued its momentum with two more seasons with a 100% Rotten Tomato approval ratings.
DON’T MISS The season one finale will make you want to deconstruct the entire first season episode by episode.
Remember when The Affair won Best Actor and Actress during the 72nd Golden Globes back in 2015 and everyone said: “The Affair…what’s that?” The show explores the aftermath of a passionate affair between Dominic West and Ruth Wilson’s characters following the tragic death of her son. Flash forward three more years and the critically-acclaimed guilty pleasure show is now in its fifth and final season.
DON’T MISS there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the alleged “suicide” in season four.
The award-winning smash hit retells the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, as the drama gives an inside look at her marriage with Phillip Duke of Edinburgh, the Suez Crisis of 1965 and her sister, Margaret and her relationship with Peter Townsend.
Now in its third season, the show has shifted dramatically as all of its main roles have been recast with season three and four being shot back to back. Olivia Colman will take reign as Queen Elizabeth II with actor Tobias Menzies taking Matt King’s spot as Prince Phillips.
DON’T MISS Claire Foy is outstanding in her portrayal of the longest standing female monarch.
Five experts in grooming, fashion, decor, food and life in general take some of America’s men under their wing, many of whom have somewhat lost their way. With the third series released in full on Netflix in March 2019, there is plenty to catch up on. Strap yourself in for an unexpectedly joyful, emotional roller coaster - you won’t get out of this one without destroying a box of tissues.
DON’T MISS The very first episode, it’s the best one.
This is England, ’86, ’88 and '90
It’s hard not to watch Shane Meadows’ gritty but heart-warming tale of a misfit group of punks-turned-mods from behind shaking hands. The effect is visceral. Vicky McClure’s turn as hard knocks heroine Lol is one of British TV’s best ever.
DON’T MISS The harrowing scene between McClure and her on-screen father.
Game of Thrones
Warring noble families fight for the Iron Throne (the seat of Kings in the Seven Kingdoms). Comedy, sex, murder, incest, treason, dragons, flesh eating zombies…you name it, Games of Thrones has it all.
One of the most eagerly awaited new seasons of all time, GOT 8 dropped in April 2019, to over 30 million viewers on the first episode.
DON’T MISS Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in any scene.
The Get Down
Baz Luhrmann has been working on this high-energy, high-drama musical for 12 years - and it shows. Set in the late Seventies, the series chronicles the inception of hip hop. It follows a wannabee DJ, Shaoline Fantastic, his wordsmith, Zeke, and his ambitious love interest, Marlene, as they try to overcome the tumultuous political climate in the Bronx to make it as music stars.
DON’T MISS The incredible DJ battle scene in the finale will have you up and dancing.
In a crowded field of critically adored antiheroes, The Americans delivers two of the best. This Cold War-era series about a husband and wife who seem like regular middle-Americans but are really Russian spies is the espionage thriller/family drama crossover you never knew you needed. There’s also some criminal 80s fashion to spy throughout the six-series run.
If you haven’t seen Stranger Things on Netflix, where have you been? The nostalgia-inducing Eighties drama about a spooky town where kids are going missing, boasts an epic soundtrack, Goonies-esque levels of camaraderie and sci-fi twists to leave you on the edge of your seat.
DON’T MISS When Joyce manages to communicate with her son Will via the fairy lights she’s strung up in her living room.
The cast of Cold Feet returned to our screens after a 13 year hiatus and we’re welcomed back with open arms.
The comedy drama paints funny and poignant portraits of modern life and love saw it win over the nation the first time round, and the new version is just as addictive.
DON’T MISS When Rachel and Adam meet in episode one.
One of the greatest TV duos of all time, drunk and deluded Pasty and Eddie are the anti-roles model for Edina’s sensible daughter, Saffron.
With an Emmy, three BAFTAS and a plethora of other awards to its name, not to mention a 2016 film, Ab Fab’s timeless comedy will never go out of style.
DON’T MISS: Eddie’s endless despair at her ‘boring’ daughter Edina.
Orange is the New Black
Piper Chapman is just your average 30-something living in New York until she finds herself facing a 15-month sentence for transporting a suitcase full of drug money for her then girlfriend, an international drug smuggler, ten years ago.
OITNB has pulled in record viewings for it’s sensitively-told and gripping personal stories about the inmates, not to mention the camaraderie and corruption of prison life.
DON’T MISS A Whole Other Hole, season 2, ep 4.
Suspense-filled Mr Robot follows computer programmer Elliot, played by Oscar winning actor Rami Malek, who is a cybersecurity engineer by day and a vigilante hacker by night. When he’s recruited by a group of underground hackers, it becomes his mission to help take down corporate America.
DON’T MISS Hidden Process, season 2, ep 10.
This off-beat black comedy was written by Judd Appatow of Knocked Up fame. Maverick Mickey and cautious Gus strike up an unlikely friendship after Gus is dumped, and then more. But will they, won’t they? That’s the question.
DON’T MISS The ultimate awkward date between Gus and Bertie.
The West Wing
Showing the inner workings of the Federal Governement, The West Wing won three Golden Globe Awards and 26 Emmy Awards. All you need to know about American politics. Or so we believe.
DON’T MISS Two Cathedrals (season 2, ep 22).
The X Files
Two FBI special agents – one a sceptic, one a believer – trying to find the truth in unsolved paranormal cases. Whether Mulder and Scully (Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny) were dealing with Arctic ear worms or stretching genetic mutants, it was unmissable midweek TV back in 2001, so we were overjoyed when it returned for more in 2016 after a 15-year hiatus.
DON’T MISS Series 4, when Mulder finds out who may have killed his sister.
If you are a millennial woman, put a date in your iPhone with Girls, the show that follows four female friends – Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna – as they navigate their 20s in New York. Tackling issues from UTIs to unpaid internships with humour and admirable honesty, the six series are a groundbreaking depiction of young womanhood.
Recommended snack: The remnants of your fridge – try peanut butter out of the jar washed down with a box of cheap wine.
DON’T MISS The one where sweet but neurotic Shoshanna accidentally gets high in season 1, ep 7.
Gavin and Stacey
Tidy. What’s occurring? Gavla. Written by Ruth Jones and James Corden, Gavin & Stacey could have its own Catchphrase special…Essex boy meets Welsh girl, the BAFTA-winning show follows the relationship of Gavin and Stacey, from long-distance dating to marriage and babies.
DON’T MISS Nessa’s wedding, series 3, ep 6.
The hugely popular show saw early performances from actors who have since become big A-list stars, including Melissa McCarthy and Rami Malek.
Want to dive straight into the newest series, released on Netflix in 2016? There is a handy Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life recap episode, that will bring you up to speed on all the happenings over the previous seven series, that ended in 2007.
DON’T MISS Four brand-new 90 minute episodes recently landed Netflix.
A mysterious blogger spills on every intimate detail of this group of privileged Upper East Siders lives, as well as Lonely Boy, Dan, and sister Jenny from Brooklyn. Also, look out for Blair and Serena’s seriosuly covetable wardrobes.
DON’T MISS Queen B become a real-life princess, season 5, ep 13.
Human appearing extraterrestrial Time Lord, The Doctor has been a part of British television history since 1963. Regenerating 13 times over the years we’ve seen so many great actors take on the role. Everyone has their first doctor. And now the 13th regeneration has blessed us with our first female Doctor.
Go deep into the archives or jump right in with the wonderful Jodie Whittaker . It’s a universe roaming monster filled institution.
DON’T MISS The Rosa Parks episode.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Kimmy Schmidt escapes from a cult after 15 years (it’s funnier than it sounds) and decides to make a go at life in New York. Her wide-eyed enthusiasm is counteracted by her hilariously egotistical housemate - street performer Tituss and the two become unlikely friends.
DON’T MISS The moment we realise who the Reverend is actually played by.
What starts as a guilty pleasure has become a full-blown addiction. The series follows county music stars, Rayna James and Juliette Barnes, as they negotiate the highs and lows of their professional and personal lives. In a town of music hopefuls, almost every cast member contributes to the soundtrack, which is rather damn catchy…
DON’T MISS Sparks flying between Rayna and Deacon throughout their on/off relationship.
Strap in for a bumpy ride, sassenachs. Based on Diana Gabaldon’s book series, Outlander tells the story of Claire Randall, a nurse during the Second World War. While honeymooning in Scotland, she accidentally time travels back to the 18th century where she meets Highlander Jamie Fraser. Together they go on to try and rewrite history. Yes, it’s as nuts as it sounds. But the costumes and locations are beautiful, the storyline bonkers and Claire and Jamie’s relationship iconic.
Nap break: Each season dips in the middle, but try to pay attention so that the brilliant finales make sense.
The Mindy Project
Mindy Kaling is brilliantly funny as Mindy Lahiri, an ego-centric OB/GYN living in New York and looking for Mr Right. Don’t be fooled by Mindy’s celebrity obsessions and often inappropriate behaviour; she is a strong, successful woman that runs circles around her male colleagues.
DON’T MISS Mindy’s enviable wardrobe will encourage you to brighten up your own.
The Bluth family are ruined and eldest son Michael has the task of pulling them back from the brink. Unfortunately the brink is where the rest of them seem happiest. Whip-smart one-liners and surreal mania redefine the family sitcom.
DON’T MISS Any of Uncle Gob’s (Jobe) magic shows.
Pride and Prejudice 1995
BBC screenwriter Andrew Davies’ BAFTA- and Emmy-winning adaptation of Jane Austen’s most famous novel about the Bennett sisters, this is six hours of the finest period drama ever made.
DON’T MISS Colin Firth as Mr Darcy diving into a lake will never fail to make us hit the rewind button.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In 1997, the world changed forever when Buffy kicked down gender barriers. In 2020, the show still feels as fresh and furiously funny as ever before. Skip series one to launch straight into the good, progressive stuff, and go armed with plenty of cake – the Scooby Gang talk about baked goods almost as much as they do vampires, so you’ll be craving delicious spongey goodness before long.
DON’T MISS Emmy-winning episode Once More, With Feeling, season 6, ep 7.
Sex and the City
You know the plot – four single 30-somethings in NYC – so here are some more reasons why SATC is genius: Big vs Aidan, Samantha’s sassy one-liners and a walk-in closet we would live happily ever after in.
DONT MISS The finale. It was everything we wanted for our four fictional BFFs and more.
The beauty of this Emmy hoovering US comedy is that it’s so darn relatable. As tender as it is toe-curling, it follows the dysfunctional lives of father/ step-father/grandfather/new father Jay Pritchett and his extended family in mockumentary style.
DON’T MISS Adopted toddler Lily learning to swear, series 3.
Set in 60s New York, Mad Men revolves around a Madison Avenue advertising agency and the people who run it. It’s synonymous with its enigmatic male protagonist Don Draper, but you’ll really root for supporting stars Peggy (played by Elizabeth Moss) and Joan as they navigate a man’s world.
The real-life issues and historical moments make for compelling viewing and the sumptuous mid-century sets will leave you with an urgent desire to redecorate.
DON’T MISS The lawnmower scene in season 6, for some rare black humour.
Friday Night Lights
This is not just a drama about a Texan high school football team and their charismatic coach – it’s also about ambition, racism, poverty, small town dynamics and, at the heart of it all, family in all its different guises. Tackling serious topics with a wholesome dose of Southern charm, you will become incredibly invested in the key characters and start annoying your friends by using ‘y’all’ in every sentence.
DON’T MISS Coach Taylor’s rock solid relationship with his wife Tami – best TV marriage ever.
Parks and Recreation
A US government official building a new park is not a riveting premise for a comedy, but add a series of mishaps (an accidental shooting, a controversial penguin marriage), characters written with affection and TV’s most iconic tache and we’re sold.
DON’T MISS When intern April’s eye-rolling apathy begins to melt for a certain someone.
Kerry Washington is Olivia Pope, Washington DC’s finest fixer, in Scandal, the Shonda Rhimes show that insists you make an ‘OMG’ face every five minutes. The plot twists are off the scale as Pope manages other people’s crises while sleeping with the US president. Bonus points: he’s played by the bad guy from Ghost, Tony Goldwyn.
Recommended snack: A goblet of blood red wine and a gargantuan bowl of popcorn, Pope’s nightly routine.
DON’T MISS You Got Served, ep 5, season 5.
The neighbouring New York apartments, the lack of 9-5, even with Fat Ugly Naked Guy in the mix, we all wanted to be part of the Friends’ crew. 12 years on it’s still the most quotable show that ever was and it taught us exactly what it means to be ‘ON A BREAK’. For this, Friends will always top our best box set list.
DON’T MISS The One With The Prom Video, season 2, ep 14.
Try looking at Anna Paquin without hearing the words “Sookie is mine” after this. Slick, gnarly and outrageously dark, this is the sexiest vampire show you’ll ever see (thanks mostly to Alexander Skaarsgård). Watch it in the dark.
DON’T MISS Eric Northman. Period.
The Walking Dead
The focus in The Walking Dead is on a community rebuilding their lives after being ripped apart by the undead, not just, “Zombies! Run away!” This makes for compelling family drama, but with the added tension that at any time somebody might get their arm chewed off.
DON’T MISS Andrew Lincoln’s excellent southern drawl.
No-one matches Helen Mirren’s chain-smoking DCI Jane Tennison. She’s the original, brilliant-yet-flawed woman battling it out in a man’s world. Watching her career soar, while her personal life dissolves, is simply unmissable.
DON’T MISS Series four is one of the show’s darkest.
My So-Called Life
The sullen heartthrob musician (Jared Leto), the coming-of-age protagonist (Claire Danes) and the rebellious best friend. It had the epic lovelorn storylines of Dawson’s Creek flanked by Nineties grittiness. The original teen drama.
DON’T MISS The cliff-hanger of the last episode. Claire Danes kyboshed series two, so it ends, abruptly.
Six Feet Under
It makes us well up just to think about how deeply we care for the Fishers, the dysfunctional family who run a Los Angeles funeral home in Six Feet Under. That’s the power of Alan Ball’s momentous series, which uses the everyday drama of death to deliver a profound story about what it means to be alive. The finale – which you will need several tissues for – is one of the best in box set history.
Nap break: Series four ends with an unsatisfying reveal about a character’s death. Miss this and it won’t matter.
DON’T MISS The intense season 5 finale. Drama at its best.
Never mind the jumpers. Or the wellies for that matter. Sofie Gråbøl’s portrayal of the brilliant, obsessive and isolated homicide detective Sarah Lund in the tense Danish series is one of the great performances of our time. Doggedly persistent, slightly mad, and you know she’s going to be wrong before she’s right. Watch with a pillow to hide behind.
DON’T MISS Season one, ep 18. We inadvertently saw it on our own. Petrified.
The Big Bang Theory
A group of nerdy friends have their eyes opened when a beautiful blonde moves in across the hall. Unlikely friendships blossom and both sides learn a thing or two about life. After the show went on to embrace the underrepresented female nerd, growing it’s female cast, the male cast members took a pay cut to match their female co-stars.
DON’T MISS Shamy.
Looking for the holiday from Hell? Take a trip to Fawlty Towers where hotel owner, Basil, and his wife, Sybil, struggle to keep things running smoothly and Spanish waiter, Manuel, has a hard time taking orders.
DON’T MISS The Germans, series 1, ep 6.
You might associate The Simpsons with after-school TV binging but this long-running series satirising the working-class American family is a timeless classic that is perfect for a duvet day.
DON’T MISS Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish, season 2, ep 4.
It was widely assumed Alec Baldwin’s career was on the slide. Then came Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, on life behind the scenes of a fictional Saturday Night Live-style TV show, and Baldwin the comedy genius emerged. Coupled with Fey’s Liz Lemon they’re a dream double act.
DON’T MISS The various cameos – Al Gore pops up twice.
The premise of this cult teen series might sound far-fatched: Ryan is the boy ‘from the wrong side of the tracks’ who gets adopted by his youth attorney’s well-to-do family; the Cohens, who also happen to live in the rich kid’s playground of The OC.
But when the storylines are this good, who cares? Ryan is plunged into a life of private schools, pool houses and charity balls, and strikes up one of our favourite ever unlikely TV friendships with the Cohen’s sarcastic, comic book-obsessed son Seth.
DON’T MISS All of the Chrismukkah episodes.
Nothing takes the edge off a Sunday evening like the pure escapism of Downton. The gowns, the houses, the massive sweep of the story arcing through generations of the same family. Yes, it’s a bit like a theme park version of history, but the ride is simply charming.
DON’T MISS Dame Maggie Smith’s tart tongue as she goes head-to-head with – well, everyone – but especially her frenemy played by Penelope Wilton.
Shonda Rhimes wasn’t messing around when she created the world’s longest running medical drama about a team of surgeons at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. Every single episode has you catapulting from sobbing to smiling to fist-pumping to googling the mad medical condition you’ve just seen on screen. If you don’t love Cristina (played by Sandra Oh) then we won’t get along. We cannot think of a better box set to hunker down with.
DON’T MISS Owen and Cristina’s chemistry (from series 5). Their first kiss is a YouTube hit.
Wisteria Lane: my favourite cul-de-sac of curtain-twitching, stiletto-toting neighbours where no plot line – no matter how absurd – is out of bounds.
DON’T MISS Edie’s electrocution; the plane crash; John Barrowman. We repeat, John Barrowman.
This gripping series followed Carrie Mattherson, a bipolar CIA agent, throughout her career at the Agency and proves that it is a career that she will never be able to leave behind.
DON’T MISS Carrie’s impressive repertoire of signature grimaces.
When Oceanic Flight 815 crashed on to an island with a host of genius characters, addictive TV was redefined. Add black smoke and a sinister underground lab into the mix and you can’t help but jump on the conspiracy theory bandwagon headfirst.
DON’T MISS The flashforwards of season 3, ep 22.
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