In this golden age of television, it’s no longer enough for a show to simply be good. There are a lot of good shows out there these days and not enough time to watch them. No, for a show to truly be characterized as a classic by the majority of modern viewers, it has to inspire you to binge-watch it. These days, any program that doesn’t make you want to lock the doors, order a pizza, and settle in for a good 8-9 hours of entertainment just may not be good enough to be watched at all.
While there’s no escaping the modern culture of binge-watching, perhaps we should rethink the idea of binge-watching as the defining metric of greatness. There are many great shows in this golden age of television which simply aren’t made for marathon viewing. Some of them feature extraordinarily complicated plots that can be hard to follow when you’re just in a hurry to get to the next episode. Some are devoid of the traditional hooks which typically make a show a great candidate for a binge-watch session. Others....well, some others are simply so weird or disturbing that watching them too quickly may actually be detrimental to your mental health.
These are the 15 Great Shows You SHOULDN’T Binge-Watch.
15 Black Mirror
Black Mirror is often described as the modern day Twilight Zone, but that description isn’t entirely accurate. The Twilight Zone occasionally dealt with some troubling subject matter or was outright scary, but most episodes were designed to be entertaining adventures that you ultimately have fun watching. Black Mirror...well, Black Mirror’s pilot episode features a government official violating a farm animal on national television. So no, it’s not exactly like The Twilight Zone.
In fact, it’s odd that Netflix picked up Black Mirror, considering that it’s one of the least bingeable shows of the modern era. The average Black Mirror episode is designed to deeply disturb you. That’s not the kind of content that you are meant to gorge on. Furthermore, certain episodes like the brilliant "San Junipero" lose some of their effectiveness when you treat them as part of a marathon rather than as the mature mini movie it actually is.
14 Curb Your Enthusiasm
Some people go so far as to say that Curb Your Enthusiasm is a better overall show than Seinfeld. Now, before you grab your digital pitchforks, consider that those who feel that way are really just conveying the way that Curb Your Enthusiasm's HBO home affords Larry David and crew the ability to tell the kind of stories that even the great Seinfeld couldn’t tell. Curb Your Enthusiasm is basically Seinfeld unfiltered.
With all that brilliance comes a disclaimer. Seinfeld may not have been a typical network show, but it still adhered to certain network television conventions and typically featured some zany, over-the-top elements. Curb is not like that. It’s an intentionally awkward show and its natural awkwardness can really wear you down. To be entirely honest, Curb also relies heavily on repeat comedy techniques, meaning that you can really spot the patterns if you just marathon your way through an entire season.
Before HBO established themselves as the premiere source for compelling television dramas, they debuted the prison drama Oz to a slightly unprepared audience. Oz was violent, cruel, and downright disturbing in ways that few other shows up until that point had been. For as revolutionary as Oz was, it was also a very uneven show. Oz broke a lot of new ground, but stumbled along the way in the process.
Those stumbles make Oz a challenging show to binge-watch. Early episodes of Oz - especially the first season - throw a lot of concepts at the wall in order to see what works and what doesn’t. While Oz eventually finds its footing, it’s rarely what you might call “addictive television.” The best way to enjoy what it has to offer is to let it develop at its own pace by watching it in a more methodical manner.
12 The X-Files
Many people will argue that The X-Files is a very bingeable show. A new generation of viewers has certainly discovered the show via its constant presence on Netflix. To be fair, The X-Files is a pretty easy show to watch. It sometimes deals with some very disturbing subject matter, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with new characters and constantly evolving plot lines.
However, The X-Files' ‘90s network television format does mean that most every 20+ episode season consists of episodes independent from any major plotline and entries designed to advance the overall narrative. Because of this, it can be tempting for some viewers to blaze past certain episodes or otherwise overlook them because they don’t actively further an ongoing plot. Furthermore, some episodes of The X-Files are downright awful. Queuing up a few of those episodes in a row can really kill your enthusiasm for marathon viewing sessions.
11 True Detective
First off, this entry applies to the first season of True Detective as opposed to the second season of the show, which we honestly wouldn't recommend watching at all. As for True Detective’s first season, it’s a unique piece of television that is well worth going out of your way to see. If you are watching True Detective for the first time, we highly recommend that you limit yourself to only one or two episodes a viewing session.
See, True Detective is a brilliant show, but it’s also a somewhat deceiving show. The first half is presented like a true crime murder mystery that hints at an almost supernatural element. The second half is more of a personal affair that deals with the impact certain events have on the lives of the show’s main characters. Both halves are fantastic, but the brilliance of the later parts of the show may be lost on those who simply binge through it in order to get certain questions answered.
You could make the argument that Bloodline' biggest flaw is that the showrunners clearly felt the need to hook viewers. That’s seemingly why the first episode bookends itself with references of a great mystery that will be resolved over the course of the season. There is a mystery/crime element to Bloodline and it is...interesting. It's not the greatest mystery you’ve ever seen, but it’s a compelling enough twist on the whodunit concept.
However, Bloodline works best as a study of how a modern American family dynasty falls apart. Everyone has known one of those families who were seemingly perfect. Maybe some of you grew up in one that was perceived as such. Bloodline focuses on such a family and examines how time and life expose the imperfections of such a family and how the cruelty of the real world always wins out. Anyone who blasts their way through Bloodline might miss out on its subtleties, which are the series' greatest strength.
Legion came out of nowhere. Even those who eagerly anticipated the debut of FX’s unique comic book show couldn't have ever foreseen what Noah Hawley had in store. In the interest of preserving the integrity of Legion’s plot developments (it is the newest show on this list, after all) let’s just say that the series has a tendency to completely change its plot and style direction at a moment’s notice.
While there are some viewers who shouldn’t binge-watch Legion because they will have an easier time following Legion’s complicated plot if they take their time, even those with the ability to follow the narrative should take Legion slow, for the simple fact that it is a show that deserves to be savored. Legion is pure eye candy, and the moment you finish blasting through the series is the moment that you realize you’ll have to wait for the next season in order to watch something so weird and wonderful.
Watching the pilot episode of Louie without any knowledge of what the show is about is a lot like listening to someone tell an inside joke that you’re not in on. You might awkwardly laugh because you believe that something humorous has just been said, but you’re not entirely sure if you get what is happening.
Louie is not a comedy. It’s sometimes incredibly funny, but it’s not a show that is constantly trying to make you laugh. Louie is also not a drama. It’s often dramatic, but there’s an underlying humor to many of its observations. It’s a wonderful blend of styles that ensures each episode feels more like an art house film than a piece of serial storytelling. There’s just no need to binge this show, as its best qualities are offered to those who take the time to appreciate what each individual episode is trying to accomplish.
7 Twin Peaks
It’s still hard to believe that someone at ABC was brave enough to green light Twin Peaks way back in 1990. At a time when most network channels were still obsessed with ensuring that every program would appeal to this notion of the “average viewer,” Twin Peaks came along and offered up a strikingly strange piece of television that still stands as one of the most downright bizarre shows that's ever aired.
Anyone who has ever had to keep a dream diary will tell you why you shouldn’t binge-watch Twin Peaks. It’s a dream-like show that must first be experienced, then processed, then considered - or preferably discussed - before it can be properly analyzed and fully digested. Some viewers make the rookie mistake of blasting through Twin Peaks in order to answer the question of “Who killed Laura Palmer?” We assure you that the show has much more to offer to those willing to dig deeper.
6 The Wire
There’s a good chance that the majority of people who haven’t seen The Wire are tired of hearing people talk about The Wire. Well, sometimes there’s a good reason people just can’t stop talking about certain shows. The Wire may indeed be the greatest television show of all time, and it may just be one of the smartest pieces of entertainment full-stop. It’s tough to argue against its place as the greatest American TV show ever.
In fact, most people compare The Wire to a great novel when describing what makes it so different. That’s a very fair comparison, and one that speaks to why you should never binge-watch this show. If you’ve ever rushed through the final pages of a book in order to get to the ending, you know that it’s easy to overlook a few sentences here and there, and you find yourself having to go back to catch up on some subtle detail you didn’t quite catch the first time around. Those who try to marathon The Wire will often find themselves in a similar position.
5 Six Feet Under
Six Feet Under is another show that often comes up when people are having an old-fashioned greatest show of all-time argument. Much like The Wire, Six Feet Under tackles the difficult task of trying to capture the significance of an aspect of our modern world through the lens of modern times. Specifically, Six Feet Under attempts to find the meaning of life by focusing on a family whose funeral parlor business means they deal largely in death.
While Six Feet Under’s arching narrative isn’t as complicated as The Wire’s, it is often far more depressing. This is a show about how life can leave just as many - often more - scars on a person’s soul than death itself. While there are many moments of humor and hope in Six Feet Under, there are many more moments of utter despair. It’s simply too depressing to watch too much of Six Feet Under in one go.
4 Mad Men
In the minds of many, the two greatest shows that AMC ever produced are Mad Men and Breaking Bad. The interesting thing about that argument is that Mad Men and Breaking Bad are polar opposite shows. The latter is an intense modern crime epic that regularly uses dangling plot lines to ensure that you immediately queue up the next episode. It’s arguably the poster child for binge-watching.
Mad Men is a completely different animal. Someone who doesn’t like Mad Men might try to tell you that it’s a show where nothing actually happens. That’s not entirely accurate, but it does speak to Mad Men’s lack of hooks, cliffhangers, and shocking plot moments. You watch Mad Men because it is an utterly brilliant character study that tries to capture a complicated time in American history. However, it’s not trying to be the kind of show that you can’t stop watching, and it’s a disservice to treat it as such.
3 The Leftovers
The Leftovers is another show that inspires many viewers to simply throw their arms up and confess that they just don’t get it. It’s not that The Leftover’s plot is necessarily hard to follow - it's easy enough to keep up with all the characters and their various motivations - but the series often feels like it's taking place sometime after the events that you actually want to be watching have occurred. That is to say, there isn’t much in the way of typical small screen thrills.
Anyone with the patience to stick with The Leftovers through its infamously slow start will tell you that there comes a point when you realize that the show is deliberately stretching certain plot points in order to enhance the emotional weight of everything that transpires. There are mysteries and moments in The Leftovers that offer as much wow factor as shows like Lost. It’s just that you are meant to approach them at a slow pace so they don’t run away before you've had the time to truly appreciate them.
The large number of HBO shows on this list speaks to the network’s fondness for a more deliberate brand of television. While programs like Game of Thrones are certainly binge-worthy, many more HBO shows offer up a deliberate brand of entertainment that challenges the intelligence of viewers by demanding that they not only pay sharp attention to what’s happening, but arrive at independent conclusions regarding a show’s plot.
In that sense, Deadwood is the perfect HBO show. It initially intrigues many viewers with the simple promise of classic western entertainment, then pulls the rug out from under them with a style of dialog that you don’t often find outside of a Shakespearean play. You can watch Deadwood as a western show and just gloss over its occasionally confusing dialog, but the best way to really appreciate what it has to offer is to watch every episode once in order to get the basic plot points, and then watch the same episode again to bask in the full richness of the show’s unique dialog. It's not a binge-worthy pace, but it's a rewarding one.
It was easy enough to overlook Hannibal when the show was first announced. Many wrote it off as a sad attempt at capitalizing off the cultural longevity of Silence of the Lambs and that film’s most famous character. Those who took a chance on the show, however, came away singing an entirely different tune. Not only was Hannibal a great show, it may just have been the best show on television for a time.
However, Hannibal is also a deeply disturbing show. Yes, it’s violent and generally grotesque, but it’s also a show that relies on dream sequences, eerie moods, and the psychoanalysis of some truly psychotic people. In short, it’s the kind of show that can actually start to genuinely bother those who watch too much of it. Watching a few episodes of Hannibal in a row will likely leave you with a lingering feeling of dread compounded by the sense that you’re somehow trapped between worlds. That seems to be the show’s intent, but that design doesn’t make for good binge-watching.