10 of the Most Binge-watched TV Shows

By: Susan Sherwood
Grab the popcorn, chips or whatever other tasty treat you have nearby: It’s going to be a long night full of plot twists and character surprises.
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Have you ever said to yourself, "Just one more"? What about "another one won't hurt"? And no. We're not talking cookies or potato chips here. The topic is television and, specifically, binge-watching. So are you binge-watching or just "catching up"? If you're sitting through three or more episodes in a row, face it: It's a binge [source: TiVo]. Don't worry, though — you're in good company. A 2014 TiVo survey found that 91 percent of the respondents binge-watched regularly. In fact, 29 percent actually put off watching a show until the season was over so they could binge to their heart's content.

In some ways this activity is great for networks. With the popularity of binge-ready sources such as Netflix and Hulu, a wider audience sees shows, and digital licenses have greater value. However, bingeing is causing problems in cable TV land. Cable and satellite businesses traditionally pay more than Netflix for permission to broadcast series. This difference is causing some cable and satellite companies to rethink their agreements with show providers.


Why binge-watch? Some shows have complex stories that are easier to follow when watched back-to-back. You're less likely to forget key plot points and important relationships. Other series have cliffhangers that make waiting a week unbearable. People may spend Saturdays watching show after show to decompress after stressful workweeks. Illogical plot points are often forgiven, because viewers don't have time to dwell on inconsistencies. So, if you can pull yourself away from your show, read on for some binge-worthy TV.

10: 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

Buffy battled all sorts of beasts in this turn-of-the-century show.
99 JOHN FAGERNESS/Online USA, Inc./Hulton Archive/Getty Images

High school is hard: classes, homework, college prep, dating, social struggles. Now image dealing with all that AND keeping the world safe from monsters. That's the challenge the title character faced on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Buffy helped the helpless on the WB and UPN networks from 1997 to 2003. As the title implies, she confronts her share of vampires, but Buffy also dispatches other fiends, including a psychotic god, a giant praying mantis and a crazed preacher. Luckily, she isn't alone in her mission. Buffy's sidekicks are an impressive force, including a school librarian, a teen witch, a guy with a crush and a vampire cursed with a soul.

When facing antagonists, Buffy is queen of the one-liners. With a keen fashion sense, she critiques one vamp during a showdown: "OK, first of all, what's with the outfit? Live in the now, OK? You look like DeBarge" [source: IMDB]. Though there is always a crisis, Buffy takes it in stride: "If the apocalypse comes, beep me" [source: Harnick and Prudom]. The show reels viewers in because of its humor, character interactions and action sequences (a whole lot of staking going on).


9: 'Keeping Up with the Kardashians'

In early 2015, reports claimed that “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” had been renewed for at least three more seasons. Binge to your heart’s content!
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After getting your fill of monsters, how about a little reality? Or at least as real as it gets on television. E! introduced America to "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" in 2007. Formerly married to Robert Kardashian, one of O. J. Simpson's lawyers, the family matriarch, Kris, has a new spouse: former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner. Everyone surrounding the family is pulled into the Kardashian tornado. Celebrations, addiction, fashion, work, romance and the media are just some of the issues the family explores on the show.

The series' fifth season attracted 4.7 million viewers, which was up 14 percent from the prior season [source: McKay]. The Kardashian-Jenner family is binge-worthy because of the opulence, glamour, beauty, celebrities and occasional scandal. Family relationships are also a significant draw. The three oldest girls — Kim, Khloe and Kourtney — have unrivaled sibling chemistry. With all the hype and money, however, there are moments when viewers can say, "Hey, that's just like me."


8: 'Orphan Black'

Tatiana Maslany and Jordan Gavaris, stars of the show, laugh at a panel discussion.
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A former foster child with no blood relations suddenly discovers she actually has one ... and another, and another and another. In this BBC America show, Tatiana Maslany portrays several different characters, including — but not nearly limited to — a suburban mom, police officer, scientist, psychopath and down-on-her-luck mother. At various points they discover they're genetically linked, but there are mysteries surrounding that fact. Where did they all come from, and why is it such a secret? And what lengths will the conspirators go to in order to keep it under wraps?

It's hard to stop watching Maslany's performances, which earned her Critics' Choice awards for best dramatic actress. More than wigs and clothing changes differentiate the characters. Their voices, speech patterns, mannerisms, facial expressions, gaits and body language are all different. It's almost like dissociative identity disorder purposely channeled for television success. Maslany's characters interact with each other seamlessly, talking, drinking and even battling hand-to-hand. It's amazing — and exhausting — to see one individual cover so much territory.


7: 'Deadwood'

Show creator David Milch and Ian McShane pose at the “Deadwood” 2006 season premiere.
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

It's the lawless Old West during the gold rush days, but Al Swearengen (Ian McShane, "Lovejoy") likes to run things his way. However, there's a new sheriff in town, Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant, "Justified"), and he has different ideas. The two butt heads, surrounded by crime, money, rivalries and muddy streets. As an HBO series, there's also plenty of sex, violence and an astonishing amount of profanity.

The power struggle between Swearengen and Bullock is fascinating, but the series has many unique characters worth watching. There's Cy Tolliver, a saloon owner and unsurpassed schemer. Joanie Stubbs is Cy's sometime love and full-time madam of his prostitutes. Mr. Wu, a Chinese businessman, helps Al with his problems, sometimes by feeding them to flesh-eating pigs. The foul-mouthed Calamity Jane swaggers into scenes, often following the unrequited love of her life, Wild Bill Hickok. Sol Star, Bullock's business partner, is arguably one of the few decent people in the town. Grizzled Civil War veteran Doc Cochran tries to keep everyone in town alive, but they don't call it "Deadwood" for nothing.


6: 'Mad Men'

Groans and sighs were heard from Mad Men enthusiasts everywhere when the series ended in May 2015.
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The repressive 1950s are over as the AMC show "Mad Men" surges into a new decade. Set in the advertising world, viewers get a taste of the business during the 1960s, with cigarette spreads, Playtex bra ads and the Kennedy/Nixon presidential campaign. Other signs of the times show up both in and out of the office, including racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, sexual freedom, heavy smoking and drinking and being "in the closet." You even hear about the virtues of eating butter and cream for good health.

The agency's staff is surrounded by flashbacks. They relax on low sofas and use typewriters perched on metal desks. People move through work and love wearing skinny ties, cardigans, knit suits, full-skirted party dresses and peignoirs. But it's not just the set dressing and costumes that keep viewers hooked. Junior employees are willing to do almost anything to get ahead, even sabotage. Executives struggle just as much at home as they do at the office, and secretaries have their eyes open, ready for advancement. How can you look away?


5: 'House of Cards'

Frank Underwood’s insatiable greed for power keeps binge-watchers hooked season after season.
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This Netflix original series illustrates what many Americans have suspected all along: Politicians will stop at nothing in their drive to the top. Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey heads the stellar cast as Frank Underwood, the senator majority whip with a goal. His closest collaborator is his wife, the Lady Macbeth-like Claire, played by Robin Wright ("The Princess Bride"). Viewers are simultaneously impressed and aghast as Frank and Claire make and break alliances to maintain their forward momentum.

Like any good story about government, "House of Cards" showcases vice and intrigue. Characters exchange sex for power, use alcohol to self-medicate and take drugs to deal with the craziness. Underwood is Machiavellian in his political dealings. Change social security to make it more manageable? That may seem like a benefit to society, but Underwood's in it for the power that comes with pushing through entitlement reform. The series, based on a British show of the same name, keeps viewers guessing what dirty deal Underwood will take on next — and how he'll get away with it.


4: 'The Walking Dead'

“The Walking Dead” actors attend an event in New York City. The show’s gut-wrenching scenes are offset by moments of genuine human emotion.
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Fast zombies, animal zombies, talking zombies, zombies in love: Popular culture has put many spins on this horror archetype. AMC's "The Walking Dead" goes old school with creatures that are slow — and hungry. Based on Robert Kirkman's comic series, the show follows a core group dealing with societal breakdown as they discover that the living are often more dangerous than the dead. No one is safe; the cast changes as both undead and human monsters kill off characters. The gore flies: Limbs are severed, heads are bashed and intestines are devoured.

Though bloody carnage may make it difficult for some viewers to watch show after show, "The Walking Dead" is binge-worthy because of its well-developed, realistic characters, including law enforcement personnel, ne'er do wells, children, parents, liars, blue-collar workers and abusers. The survivors undergo believable changes as they make their way through the dark new world. The weak become warriors, the optimistic turn defeatist and the self-centered become cooperative to stay alive. The highest-rated cable show to date provides tremendous dramatic tension as viewers root for their favorite characters to make it [source: Nussbaum]. Don't get bit!


3: 'Orange Is the New Black'

Taylor Schilling, aka Piper Chapman on “Orange Is the New Black,” poses next to a promotional poster.
Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Netflix

Don't you just hate it when past mistakes come back to haunt you? That's the feeling of the main character in this Netflix original series based on a true story. In her experimental youth, Piper Chapman transported drug money, but she did it all for love. Jump years into the future, and Piper's ex-girlfriend has spilled the entire story in a plea-bargain deal. Piper is yanked out of her Brooklyn home for 15 months, leaving family, friends, a new business and a fiancé behind. Her new neighbors include a Russian cook who runs more than the kitchen; a transsexual hairdresser; a bank robber undergoing chemotherapy; a crack user turned religious zealot; and a mentally ill woman nicknamed "Crazy Eyes."

The fascination with "Orange Is the New Black" goes beyond Piper's fish-out-of-water situation. Her character changes as she pays her dues, becoming tougher, jaded and perhaps a bit kinder. The other inmates are just as intriguing. In addition to dealing with the day-to-day issues of prison life — staying alive, finding allies, maintaining sanity — the show illustrates how many of the women wound up inside. The compelling stories of drugs, assault, murder and larceny are often heartbreaking. You might feel like yelling "don't do that!" as a woman makes a bad choice that's about to send her to the pen.


2: 'Game of Thrones'

The memorable characters in "Game of Thrones" keep binge-watchers' eyes locked on the TV screen.

In the HBO show based on George R. R. Martin's popular book series, "winter is coming" is not simply a weather report. It's a warning that changes in leadership, culture and society are on their way. Several families are vying to determine who will wear the kingdom's crown. Before that's settled, there will be manipulations, tremendous violence, deep despair, great joy and abundant nudity. Promises are broken, swords are wielded, families are murdered and allies are betrayed. All this, plus magic and dragons!

Tune in for the intriguing plotlines and twists, but stay for the memorable characters. Where else can you watch a highborn, intelligent, alcoholic dwarf? Do you relate more to a queen desperate for her son to take the throne, a spying, powerful eunuch or a noble and trusting confidant to the king? What are the fierce men and women who live behind the 800-foot wall really like? Are they just wild and barbarous, or is there a softer side? Watch to find out, until winter comes.


1: 'Breaking Bad'

Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston toast, probably to five successful seasons — the show won 16 Emmys.
Mark Davis/Getty Images

Ever had one of those days when nothing goes right? Mild-mannered Walter White, the center of AMC's "Breaking Bad," has one of those lives. Working to support his family on a science teacher's salary, the non-smoking Walter develops inoperable lung cancer. While some men might give up, Walter decides on a secret mission. He's going to use his knowledge of chemistry to cook high-quality meth in order to provide a nest egg for his family. He partners with Jesse, a lackluster former student who doesn't know much about science but is versed in the drug trade.

After winning 16 Emmys (acting, outstanding drama, editing), "Breaking Bad" finished telling Walter and Jesse's story. Walter begins as a desperate man who wants to produce drugs ethically: "We are going to make a good product that does what it is supposed to, as advertised. No emulsifiers, no baking powder, no bleach, no chili powder" [source: AMC]. Eventually, the money and power get to Walter, and he becomes a stonehearted criminal: "I am the danger" [source: Costello]. Jesse is along for the roller coaster ride, as well, but his car is on a different track. He goes from being an amoral punk — "What good is being an outlaw when you have responsibilities?"— to someone more enlightened and self-aware: "But you know what? I saved Mike from getting robbed. Even killed, maybe. So maybe I'm not such a loser after all" [source: AMC]. Those who watch the show are definitely winners.

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More Great Links

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