The scheduling straightjacket has been thrown off, replaced by a loose, comfortable gown we call Netflix.
These days, we can pick and choose what we want to watch, and when we want to watch it. And nowhere is that more revolutionary than with the good old-fashioned TV series. Netflix is packed with them: hundreds upon hundreds of hours of glorious televisual treats across pretty much every genre there is.
In fact, it's what made the streaming service the must-have TV power-up it is today: would it really be so popular were it not for original commissions such as House Of Cards or see-it-here-first super-shows such as Breaking Bad? Nope: while you may come to Netflix for the movies, you stay for the box-sets.
But as is always the case with Netflix, it's a tricky business filtering the visual plankton in search of the oysters of excellence. So we've done it for you: below you'll find 21 fantastic TV shows that should keep you occupied for the entire year.
Not since The Sopranos has there been a mainstream television show where so much goes on behind the surface, and so much is left for the viewer to interpret.
Mad Men is, on the face of it, a drama series about people who work in advertising in 1960s New York, and it succeeds on that level thanks to a fantastic cast of characters, an intriguing plot and an almost absurd amount of attention to period detail.
But just as The Sopranos used the mob to examine wider themes, Mad Men uses advertising to explore capitalist America, hopes, fears, family and identity in the modern world. You could probably call it existentialist if you were feeling fancy, and you’d be well within your rights – but it’s devilishly witty, moving and entertaining with it.
It may be the most painstakingly crafted television show of all time; it’s certainly among the best.
Better Call Saul
Spin-off TV series rarely replicate the magic of their parent shows but, like the Cheers-spawned Frasier before it, Better Call Saul manages to succeed by creating its own magic. Set six years before the events of Breaking Bad, it follows the early legal career of Saul Goodman – then known as Jimmy McGill – a former conman trying to make it work on the right side of the law.
While the stakes rarely get as butt-clenchingly high as they are for Walter White and friends in Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul manages to emerge from its shadow to deliver a series that is funny, engrossing and almost as binge-worthy as its predecessor. It's currently three seasons in, and we'll happily take a whole bunch more.
Dysfunctional families have been done to death on both the big screen and TV, but the Bluths are up there with the most self-centred, destructive and, well, downright hilarious bunch of the lot.
Straight man George Bluth desperately tries to keep his family and fortune intact as their company is hit by the US government for embezzlement.
Superb performances from the likes of David Cross, coupled with tonnes of re-quote potential make this a must-watch. It gets a little lost after the first three seasons thanks to the actors' other projects clashing with filming, but it's still well worth watching until the very end.
This series, named after the 19th century Birmingham gang, is as good as anything else you'll find on Netflix. Led by the strangely likeable and very dangerous Tommy Shelby, it tells the tale of a razor-wielding crime family trying their very best to keep control of their city while avoiding the watchful Chief Inspector Chester Campbell.
CIllian Murphy grabs the spotlight and will absolutely not let go of it in one of the finest drama series produced by the BBC in recent years. Get ready to binge-watch both seasons of this historical gangster drama.
Not to be confused with the Coen brothers’ (also highly recommended, also on Netflix) movie that inspired it – and from which it draws its winning blend of dark deeds, intricate plotting, looming dread and comic “Minnesota nice” dialogue – this is yet another TV series that begs to be binge-watched over a weekend. And at a relatively modest eight episodes, that’s entirely doable.
In the first series Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks and Allison Tolman all deliver fine performances as residents of the snowbound titular town, but it’s Billy Bob Thornton, oozing malevolence and menace as drifter Lorne Malvo, who lingers longest in the memory.
The superb second series has now also been added, telling a completely separate (but possibly even more compelling) story in the same town and featuring a similarly impressive cast including Ted Danson, Patrick Wilson and Kirsten Dunst.
While there's a growing sensation that Marvel's cinema outings are getting steadily less appealing, its output for the small screen continues to impress, with Daredevil remaining the finest example.
Blind lawyer Matt Murdock (Boardwalk Empire’s Charlie Cox) turns crime-fighter by night, taking on the slum lords and gangsters that populate Hell’s Kitchen – but where the Avengers sketches in its four-colour heroics with a broad brush, Daredevil’s vigilantism is painted in shades of grey.
Murdock’s nocturnal outings sit uneasily alongside his legal profession, while the show’s big villain in the first series (Vincent D'Onofrio) wants to raise Hell’s Kitchen out of the dirt by any means necessary.
Making the most of its extended running time, the show’s able to show the wider consequences of its hero’s actions – not all of which are positive. And as of 18 March 2016, there's a second series of the show to watch, introducing new Marvel stalwarts to Murdock's murky world in the shape of Elektra and The Punisher.
If there were a graph that showed the tension levels of the tensest moment in the tensest thrillers in history, Homeland’s producers would have taken it, twisted it into an infinitesimally thin rope and used it to whip Stressed Eric’s pulsing temple vein until it popped.
Homeland is tense. It’s the story of the relationship between a CIA operative and a long-imprisoned ex-Marine, finally liberated from al-Qaeda and returned to America as a war hero – a hero with an abundance of devastating secrets.
It’s packed with award-winning performances, believably flawed characters, just enough politics and more twists that a box of Curly-Wurlys. It loses its way in the middle seasons, occasionally skirting utter daftness, but it’s always compulsive and entertaining – and the finale is breathtaking. To watch it is to learn to trust no-one, question everything and definitely not pursue a career as a spy. No fun at all, as it turns out.
If you’re not already an Andy Samberg fan (shame on you), Brooklyn Nine-Nine will make you one. That’s not to say he’s the only draw in this comedy cop show, though - the super-childish detective he plays is always at the centre of things, but each of the nutjobs he shares a precinct with have their own hilarious idiosyncrasies, not least of all the seemingly dry and dull Captain Holt.
It’s all as silly and immature as things get, and that’s just fine by us.
Sons of Anarchy
All seven seasons of Kurt Sutter’s outlaw biker gang drama are now streaming on Netflix, so if you haven’t yet binged on the bloody adventures of SAMCRO, there’s no time like the present. While there’s plenty of mayhem and butchery to delight thrill-seekers, much of the appeal of Sons of Anarchy lies in its (self-consciously) Shakespearean family drama, full of dark secrets, jealousy, sins of the father and backstabbing (both figurative and literal).
While not always perfect (the ill-advised stint set in Northern Ireland, complete with a fiddle-dee-dee remix of the opening theme tune, springs to mind), the show offers more than enough compelling drama and complex characterisation to keep you hooked right through to its harrowing conclusion.
Orange Is The New Black
Like House Of Cards, Orange Is the New Black is Netflix’s own series, and like House Of Cards it’s also raunchy, compelling and strongly plotted. And really funny too.
Based on actual events, it tells the story of a middle-class New Yorker who ends up in women’s prison for a crime committed ten years previously – and through flashbacks explores her life (and the colourful lives of her fellow inmates) before incarceration.
With a full five seasons of jailtime drama to sink your teeth into, there's a distinct danger you'll find yourself doing a long stretch in a cell of your own - your living room.
Charlie Brooker’s series of standalone tales cautioning against the dangers of technology isn’t exactly what we’d call perfect binge watch fodder – the sheer darkness and cynicism on display can really start to weigh you down after more than a couple of episodes.
And yet Black Mirror – now consisting of twelve regular episodes and a Christmas special – is one of the most compelling and fascinating things on TV, particularly for those with an interest in how our lives are affected (some might say infected) by our relationship with smartphones, computers, video games, VR and social media. Stuff readers, we suspect, fall into that category – although you don’t need to be a gadget expert to appreciate the wildly disturbing – yet scarily plausible – scenarios Brooker brings to life.
House of Cards
Even if you know very little about the convoluted workings of US politics you'll find lots to love about House Of Cards.
Kevin Spacey's portrayal of a ruthless congressman's scrap to the top of the VIP pile is mesmerising, and the cold, clinical manner in which he partners up with his on-screen wife (Robin Wright), is brilliantly chilling.
Powerful acting, a gripping plot and, well, Kevin Spacey. It's worth getting a Netflix subscription for this alone. Now five seasons deep, so there's plenty to get your teeth into.
Making a Murderer
While the filming of this 10-part documentary clearly started a long, long time ago (it's been 10 years in development), one suspects that the success of the Serial podcast is what got Netflix to buy and promote it as much as it has.
The comparisons are almost too easy and obvious, but there are differences and - more importantly - Making a Murderer stands up on its own.
Steven Avery served 18 years in prison for a horrible crime that he didn't commit, and the revelations about the police handling of that case could be a 10-part series of their own, but here that's just the start. You see, just two years after his exoneration, he's charged with a new crime: the brutal murder of a young woman. Given the circumstances of the previous case, the local Sheriff's involvement is under serious scrutiny, and to say there are suspicious inconsistencies is a massive understatement.
It's a long, often slow series, but it's also fascinating, deeply troubling, and will send shivers down your spine.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Narcissistic. Sociopathic. Sexist. Elitist. Delusional. And egos the size of a bull elephant. All descriptions that adequately fit every single member of staff at Paddy's Bar in Philadelphia.
From kidnapping cats to poisoning rivals, to stalking love interests and getting drunk at every opportunity, you're unlikely to ever find a group of people that you hate to love more.
Hilarity, madness (and Danny Devito in tight, tight skinny jeans) await.
Gareth's obsession with lesbians. Tim's hat radio. That dance. Fray Bentos. Keith eating a scotch egg. Monkey Alan in the warehouse. Brent's Princess Diana song. Gareth Keenan 'invetigates'. A stapler in jelly. The difference between dwarves, midgets and elves. Mr Sidney Poitier.
If you've never seen the original UK version of The Office, none of these things will be in the slightest bit funny. If you have, the mere mention of them should be enough to make you break out in a smile and decide to rewatch every episode. Right now.
Truly one of the greatest of all British comedies, The Office was hugely influential, unrelentingly hilarious and incredibly poignant, often all at the same time. Watch it. Right now.
Master of None
Comedian Aziz Ansari plays jobbing actor Dev in this series about life, love and tacos. Actually, one suspects Ansari is really playing himself (his real-life parents even play his onscreen parents here) and a big part of the charm is watching him work through various subjects over the course of the series, which now features two full seasons.
It’s very self-obsessed and some will find the whimsy hard to stomach, but it's also funny, charming and occasionally thought-provoking. Well worth a few hours of your time.
It gets increasingly preposterous as it goes on and makes the council estates of London look more dangerous than trying to put lipstick on a crocodile, but Idris Elba’s gritty cop show is one of the better things he’s done post Stringer Bell.
Elba’s he-doesn’t-play-by-the-rules-but-goddamnit-he-gets-results schtick is a little clichéd but with an excellent parade of nutters to apprehend over the course of three series it’s that little bit cleverer than most British police procedurals churned out these days. Just don’t watch it when you’re home alone.
Scandinavian crime noir is a bit old hat these days - and that's a sentence we never thought we'd write - but The Killing remains the best example of the genre.
Both seasons (the third is unfortunately not on Netflix) follow implaccable detective inspector Sarah Lund of the Copenhagen police force as she attempts, in painstaking detail, to solve some rather grisly crimes. And it's the detail that really sets it apart - not in terms of the investigative work, which we're all now so familiar with from a thousand US police dramas, but in the way it enters the life of the victim's family, watching them as they cope with loss and bringing a new dimension to a tired old TV category.
As a result it can be hard viewing at times, but it's never less than engaging and always totally gripping. Nice jumpers, too.
If you're a subtitle-detester, there are four seasons of the US version of The Killing on Netflix too. This starts off heavily influenced by the Danish series, but spirals off on its own path fairly swiftly.
A James Bond-esque secret agent with the womanising, drinking and love of casual violence turned right up to 11, Archer is one of the greatest anti-heroes we’ve seen in an animated show. He's in good company at private spy agency ISIS (in hindsight, an unfortunate choice of name) staffed as it is with a collection of selfish, bungling agents and perverts.
Perfect for Netflix binge-watching, thanks to its 20-minute episodes, it's generously packed with snappy one-liners and Arrested Development-esque in-jokes. It’s just as good as it sounds.
The most critically acclaimed Netflix original series of 2015 tells the bloody story of Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar and the man tasked with taking him down. Sounds like a laugh riot, right?
While Narcos lacks much in the way of light-relief, watching American DEA agent Steve Murphy submerge himself in a viciously amoral cesspit is a constant thrill. What could well be a high-minded exercise in true crime melodrama is elevated to nerve-shredding nirvana via some classy performances and the disturbing use of archive footage. Escobar’s brutal legacy lives on through your telebox, and the horror of it all will make you wince in anguish.
If you're one of those people that gets put off by TV shows just because everyone else in the world is watching and raving about them, then put aside your cynacism and grow up. Because where Breaking Bad is concerned, you'd be missing out.
Bryan Cranston's transformation from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher to a dangerous, meth-making super-criminal is one of the greatest examples of character acting we've ever witnessed, and he's got a stonking cast surrounding him to boot.
Gripping, edge-of-your seat television at its finest.