Harry Bosch is ex-special forces, contemptuous of authority and grappling with a troubled past – and also one of the best detectives in the LAPD’s Hollywood homicide division. We wouldn’t blame you for thinking this show based on Michael Connelly’s series of novels sounds cliched, but Bosch (an Amazon original series) is actually a surprisingly innovative take on the police procedural. Each season tells an over-arching story, usually about a single major case, while a handful of intriguing subplots bubble along in the background – some, like Bosch’s search for the man who murdered his sex worker mother decades previously, don’t get resolved for several seasons.
Titus Welliver heads up a colourful cast of recognisable character actors, each of whom gets his or her chance to grab the spotlight occasionally. But this is Bosch (and Welliver’s) show ultimately, and the gruff, complex cop makes for a fascinating focal point.
Don’t let the fact that Vikings is funded by The History Channel fool you into thinking that this series is all that bothered about facts and veracity. While some of its characters were real people and the broad sweep of its plot (sort of) lines up with actual events surrounding the Norse invasions of Britain, this is right up there with The Tudors in the “history riotously sexed up for mainstream entertainment” stakes.
And fear not: it’s certainly entertaining, packed to the gills with scheming, bloodshed, romance, betrayal, a smattering of magic (or is it just madness) and the occasional grand battle or siege. It’s often silly too, but that’s a small price to pay for this much fun.
Mad Men (S1-7)
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 really it’s a show about America, identity, consumerism, freedom, family and, without wanting to sound too pretentious, about what it is to be a human being in our modern capital-driven 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 series of all time, and it’s certainly among the finest. You can watch every episode on Amazon Prime.
The Walking Dead (S1-9)
The zombie apocalypse scenario has now been covered so many times that when the dead do eventually start clawing their way out of the ground in a shambling tide of brain-hungry terror, it’ll scarcely be worth mentioning.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t make cracking TV, though, and if you’re one of the few people who hasn’t yet seen The Walking Dead, there are a full nine seasons' worth of horrific violence, bad decisions, cannibalism, baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire and more to enjoy!
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 best 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 - and one that was eventually changed by the showmakers) staffed as it is with a collection of pariahs and perverts. Perfect for binge-watching thanks to its 20-minute episodes, it's generously packed with snappy one-liners and in-jokes. It’s just as good as it sounds.
Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, this six-season series stars Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens, a modern-day US Marshal who brings an Old West sensibility to his job. Sent back to his hometown after falling foul of his superiors, he’s quickly dragged into a feud with an old friend turned new enemy, played with career-defining aplomb by Walton Goggins.
Justified manages to successfully mix long-running plotlines with monster-of-the-week style self-contained episodes, making it prime binge-fodder.
Parks and Recreation (S1-7)
The show that propelled Amy Poehler and Chris Pratt to stardom has its wit and one¬-liners honed to perfection. Taking Modern Family’s warmth, mixing it with Arrested Development’s absurdity and building it around The Office’s mockumentary formula, it centres on the mundane workdays of the least consequential department (Parks and Rec) of the city council of fictional Pawnee, Indiana.
Like The Office, its brilliance lies in its characters and their relationships, although its comic set pieces are also ingenious. But unlike The Office, it’s not tragic – it’s bright, touching and will leave you grinning from cheek to cheek. It takes until series two to truly hit its stride, but Parks and Recreation is a true must-see.
Bob’s Burgers (S1-10)
Bob Belcher is an average guy striving to make a living for his family by doing what he does best: cooking burgers. Compared to the Griffins or the Smiths, the Belchers might seem (relatively) normal, but perhaps it’s the relatability of their daily struggles and conflicts that makes this show so enjoyable.
It's less surreal and smart than Rick and Morty and more story-driven than Family Guy, but Bob’s Burgers has carved out its own unique spot amongst its animated peers. Well worth a look if you've grown tired of Family Guy's endless cutaway gags.
Amazon spent a long time (and a lot of money) trying to “do a Netflix” by creating its very own prestigious, award-winning TV shows; Transparent was the moment it got it right. For a start, this is really bold – it tells the story of a sixty-something divorcee announcing to his three grown-up kids that he’s always felt different and is now going to live as a woman.
Sounds heavy, and it sort of is, but it’s also darkly humorous, with a sharpness of wit that’s still rare even in this golden age of TV. The bickering between the three siblings (each of whom is plagued by their own individual problems and peccadillos) is as funny as it is believable. Amazing telly.
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (S1-7)
The late Anthony Bourdain was never more watchable than in this long-running CNN series – part travelogue, part culinary culture guide – in which he journeys to hitherto-overlooked countries and regions in search of unique things to munch. He generally finds much more than just tasty tacos or deep-fried sea urchins on his travels, though.
If the idea sounds a bit “Rick Stein on a gap year”, the execution is far more effective. Bourdain’s empathy, curiosity and adventurous spirit shine through over the course of seven series (there are several more that haven’t yet been added to Prime Video). A true feast of eye-opening, mouth-watering TV.
The Handmaid’s Tale (S1-3)
Margaret Atwood’s bestselling sci-fi novel gets the big budget telly treatment here, with Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss outstanding in the leading role. Moss plays Offred, one of thousands of “handmaids” who serve as breeding stock to the ruling class in a brutal theocratic near-future United States, now renamed the Republic of Gilead. Assigned to a senior member of the government who has not been able to conceive with his own wife, Offred’s role is more maid than concubine – but even in a place as authoritarian as Gilead the powerful are able to do pretty much as they please.
The producers have expanded the scope and plotlines of Atwood’s book while retaining its essential feminist premise, making this a grimly involving look at patriarchy taken to the terrifying conclusions of its twisted internal logic.