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 18 fantastic TV shows that should keep you occupied for the entire year.
Sarah Lancashire excels as a middle-aged police sergeant in this BBC series, which comes across a lot like a West Yorkshire take on Fargo (the movie rather than the series).
Happy Valley is an (at times unremittingly grim and gritty) crime drama that elevates itself above the standard largely through Sally Wainwright’s superb writing, which tempers the nuts and bolts police procedural stuff with cracking characterisation, snappy dialogue and real human emotion.
Less dry than Line of Duty and less silly than Luther, Happy Valley is perfect box set material if you’re seeking a realistic cop show with bite, heart and beauty.
This animated sitcom features Arrested Development’s Will Arnett as the titular Horseman, a… er… “horse man” who found fame in a beloved 1990s sitcom but now lives in a haze of booze and self-loathing.
Set in a skewed version of Hollywood where humans coexist with anthropomorphic animals, BoJack Horseman features a strong cast (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul plays BoJack’s best friend Todd), and offers a surprisingly nuanced portrayal of the “washed-up former star” trope. Most importantly, perhaps, it’s really, really funny. With 50 episodes available (four seasons plus two specials), its perfect for binging.
LINE OF DUTY
Who polices the police? The Anti-Corruption Unit, that’s who – and Line of Duty is a pacy, twisty BBC drama that follows the efforts of AC12 to uncover dark deeds and dodgy dealings within the ranks of the boys and girls in blue.
There are two seasons of the show on Netflix, which might not be enough to sate your appetite, because Line of Duty's mastery of tense situations, conspiracy and behind-the-scenes corruption coupled with its fast-moving police procedural structure make one of the most compelling, binge-worthy British shows in years.
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.
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) 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.