On the east coast the Springlike weather and temperatures have finally bid us adieu along with the busy and demanding holiday season. This is the perfect time of year to slow down and curl up with a good book, or settle in with some of those series you've been wanting to check out. You'll soon see just how easy it is to get lost in these shows and soon you'll be 3 or 4 episodes in without having realized it. This has become such a phenomenon that there's a term for it - "binge watching" and it's been discussed and analyzed in all sorts of publications including Psychology Today. I know the term all too well. I was first seduced by Netflix and the ability to stream numerous episodes for hours on end when I fell ill with the flu a couple years ago.
It started out innocently enough with Orange is the New Black. One episode in and I was hooked and thrilled that I didn't have to deal with commercials or wait a week to find out what happened next. This new way of watching was revolutionary. Disappointed by what my subscription cable channels were offering I cancelled them and signed up for Netflix which delights everyone in my household. This novel way of watching my favorite programs also allowed me to watch at home as well as on the road. I travelled with my iPad and I could bring my favorite characters with me wherever I went. Through Apple TV I could stream Netflix in my bedroom and with our WiiU console we could stream it through the family room television. A short while later at the urging of a man I had been dating at the time I became an Amazon Prime subscriber. This annual membership of about $100 has been worth every cent - not just for the free shipping I receive for every single order, but the additional selection of binge-worthy and award-winning programs. The combined subscriptions of Netlfix and Prime are less than what my premium cable bill had been and offer so much more. Once I'd finished binging on Orange is the New Black I met and fell in love with the less than ethical Frank Underwood of House of Cards.
There's no better way to spend a brutally cold, rainy or snowy weekend than curled up in bed or on the couch with a hot cup of coffee. Instead of complaining about the elements, I've learned to embrace them as they've forced me to slow down. There are programs that my children and I watch together, some my daughter and I enjoy together. And there are those I enjoy watching alone, in the peace and quiet of an empty house (the upside of divorce!)
This modern way of watching allows me to view those highly acclaimed network series, both prime time and cable, as well as those created specifically for a streaming service. Following are some of my favorites and an honorable mention section featuring selections from friends.
Favorite Netflix Series
Orange is the New Black - The series that got me binging. Preppy white girl sentenced to 15 months in an all women's prison after smugling drugs with her ex-girlfriend. Filled with some rather colorful characters. This show is entertaining, shocking, and certainly thought provoking. Based on the book of the same name, I must say I enjoyed the series more so than I did the book. Mature audiences only.
Parenthood - What is not to love about every single Braverman family member? Although it had a very successful and impressive 6 seasons on NBC I never tuned in. This incredible series produced by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard deals with often hard to handle real life issues such as Asperger's, infertility and cancer head on with aplomb and grace. I discovered Parenthood after binging on the Gilmore Girls and falling in love with those characters. I was happy to discover that Lauren Graham who played Lorelei Gilmore was cast in this show, again as a single mother but in a dramatically different role.
The Gilmore Girls - A wonderful coming of age story of a young teenage daughter and her mother who reside in Stars Hollow, Connecticut. Rory and her mother Lorelei have a quintessential mother/daughter relationship that tackles all the issues of single motherhood and her teenage daughter determined to make her dreams of going to Harvard come true. Poignant and quirky and Melissa McCarthy fans will laugh along. Viewers will fall in love. My daughter and I enjoyed watching this together.
How I Met Your Mother - Neil Patrick Harris at his funniest and best as he portrays the non-comital womanizing Barney Stinson who despite this is completely lovable. The series which aired for over 7 years recounts the story of Ted Mosby and his friends, to his children, of how he met their mother. A modern day friends but funnier. Rip-roaringly funny. Best to start this one on a weekend when nothing is planned! My children all loved this and still watch from time to time although some of the content is a bit mature for my youngest. Depending on your household you may want to screen a few episodes first before deciding whether you want your family to watch.
Weeds - Before Jenji Cohan created Orange is the New Black she created Weeds an uproariously funny story of newly widowed California Suburbanite Nancy Botwin, so beautifully portrayed by Mary Louise Parker, who starts selling and growing marijuana in order to support her family. Zany and off the wall this is a great show to lose yourself in and escape from reality for a while.
Grace and Frankie - Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin still have it. Also staring Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, Grace and Frankie tells the story of the dissolution of two marriages. This is not just about divorce but divorce and rediscovery late in life. The best way to handle some of life's most challenging moments, through laughter, of course. And you will laugh. The characters are relatable and lovable and the topics hold true no matter what stage you are in life. I cannot wait for season 2!
House of Cards - The best and worst of Washington politics. The rise of Senator Underwood. Ruthless. Scandal. And the beautiful Robin Wright and her beautiful wardrobe. Kevin Spacey's best role yet.
Madam Secretary - If smart, family oriented mothers took matters into their own hands... Thought provoking, edge of your seat and yet often times tender. For those who love intelligent television Tea Leoni is magnificent as a former CIA agent turned House Secretary and the chemistry she has with Tim Daley makes their union incredibly believable. You may just want to tune in to watch him ;) Currently airing on CBS, past season can be streamed.
Favorite Amazon Prime Series
Transparent - Another quirky, way off the wall drama comedy. Off beat. The story of a completely dysfunctional family whose father reveals that he's transgender. Loosely based on creator Jill Solloway's own life, despite the sometimes over the top, way over the top, themes, the completely self absorbed characters still manage to capture our compassion. If you like non-mainstream, creative TV and film, you'll love this. For mature (very mature) audiences only. (Nominated for 3 Golden Globe Awards)
Catastrophe - Leave it to the Brits and their dry and side-splitting humour. This hilarious show centers around Rob and Sharon who, after hooking up one night, learn that Sharon has become pregnant. What ensues is hilarity not without a few poignant relatable moments. Season 1 is currently streaming on Prime. I'm eagerly awaiting Season 2!
The Good Wife - Currently in its 7th season on CBS, if you're late to the game as I was you're still in luck as the first 6 are streaming over on Prime. The star studded cast which includes Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth, Bebe Newirth, Allan Cumming and Christine Baranski is well scripted, thought provoking and will keep you on your toes. The plot originally centers around Noth and Margulies, Alicia and Peter Florick. Alicia returns to work as a defense attourney and must assume the role of family leader and provider after her husband's political and very public sex scandal. Those of you who like politically themed shows such as The West Wing will enjoy this.
Girls - Season 1 of the HBO hit sensation created and starring Lena Dunham centers around Dunham, a 20 something aspiring writer and her three friends. As most in their age bracket, they're trying to figure it all out and make their way in the Big Apple, unsure of what they want in life and career. Hannah (Dunham) desperately wants a boyfriend yet doesn't want the ties that bind. She wants a job but doesn't want to work. Hannah and her friends will keep you entertained whether you're 20 or 40. Much is based on Dunham's own life.
Downton Abbey - We are first introduced to the characters of the Crawley family in the years prior to WW1 and watch as they grow and evolve through to the Jazz era. This award-winning docudrama is both poignant and comedic and shows that the human condition is the same whether in the Victorian era or today, whether upstairs or downstairs. Thanks to Amazon Prime it's not too late to tune in. The series is sadly in it's final season which is currently airing on PBS.
Orphan Black - Created by BBC America. For those of you who enjoy a good psychological thriller this is for you. Macabre and at times violent, we follow Sarah a street-smart, tough orphan who witnesses a young woman's suicide. The woman looks uncannily like her and Sarah decides to take on this stranger's identity. She soon learns that she and the dead woman are clones and that there are more like her out there all of whom are targeted by an assassin. She must discover why. Those of you who enjoyed Steig Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire will enjoy this series.
Scandal - The series centers around Crisis Management Expert, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), and the President of the United States (Tony Goldwyn). Sex, scandal, murder - many murders. Plot lines are riveting. I've developed a (huge) crush on Tony Goldwin. And here's a character, Olivia Pope, who actually drinks more red wine than I do. Political soap opera that's completely addicting!
Honorable Mentions & Oldies but Goodies to stream
The West Wing (Drama)
The Making of a Murderer (Mini series)
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Comedy)
The Man from High Castle (Drama)
Gossip Girls (Drama)
Freaks and Geeks (Comedy)
Parks & Recs (Comedy)
Jane the Virgin (Comedy)
I'd love to hear your feedback - What are your favorites? Are there some I haven't mentioned?