We all have that show (or – let’s be honest – shows, plural) that we feel embarrassment about admitting we watch to our friends and loved ones. It’s a multi-genre phenomenon – we have that movie, that book, that song – that we hesitate to freely admit we’re enjoying, as if radio silence would cure us of the need to keep going back.
In recent years, indulging in our guilty pleasures has become – though not openly encouraged – somewhat mainstream thanks to the internet. When a secret TV binge is shared on social media, there’s a surge of pride that accompanies us when we jump in to declare that yes, we too thought Kandi was right when she called Phaedra “vindictive,” or that yes, we too cannot get over Marissa’s death in that car crash, even though it’s been over ten years and it’s really time to move on.
Networks have definitely cashed in on that need for cheese in that last few years, and there are now more shows than ever to keep us in front of the television for hours on end. Netflix is a particular hub for binge-watching, and it has more than its fair share of appropriate candidates – balancing its offerings nicely with a mixture of golden oldies and flashy new additions.
Here are 15 Guilty Pleasure TV Shows That Are Currently Streaming On Netflix.
Scandal is created by Shonda Rhimes, the quintessential mastermind of the guilty-pleasure genre. It’s a show that centers around political crisis manager Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington) and her firm, Pope & Associates, as well as the goings-on in the White House and the major characters related to these branches – including President Fitzgerald Grant III, Chief of Staff Abigail Whelan and Quinn Perkins, an employee of Pope & Associates.
The show draws many thematic and tonal parallels from Rhimes’ other shows, with reviewers – like Newsday’s Verne Gay – pointing out the similar tropes: “The hairpin plot twists. The whiplash character reveals. The bumptious moralizing. The Strong Woman/Wronged Woman character type, and its direct corollary, Weak, Middle-Aged, Married Man Who Secretly Likes Hookers. It’s all here!”
There’s nothing we guilty-pleasure seekers need more than a souped-up remake of perhaps the show that set the ground rules as to how its done: Beverly Hills 90210.
In 2008, creators Rob Thomas, Gabe Sachs, and Jeff Judah launched the modernized reboot of the popular 1990s teen drama. The premise is the same: following a group of wealthy teens during their tenure at Beverly Hills High and, later, during their post-secondary years. Like any enormously well-off group of young people, the characters frequently find themselves in dramatic hijinx and romantic conflicts, like a former drug addict and aspiring singer giving birth to her child (whose father is not her boyfriend) at the prom. And that’s just the first season.
Thankfully, the creators pushed out five season and 114 episodes, so there is a well of binge-worthy material. If nothing else, the cast is littered with beautiful people to be in awe of: AnnaLynne McCord, Trevor Donovan, and Ryan Eggold – among others.
Glee was quite a revelation when it came on the air eight years ago. Centering a rag-tag group of high school students who are haphazardly brought together to form a glee club (essentially a club where they choreograph, harmonize and belt out covers of popular songs).
Each episode contained multiple glittery song and dance numbers, generally crossing out of the reality of the glee club classroom into a fantasized, over-the-top imagining. The humor was wacky, the characters were larger than life, and the aesthetic worked.
Though the quality of the writing took a dive after the first couple of seasons, Glee continued to have a dedicated fan base and secured for itself six seasons of singing, dancing, and teenage angst. Many of the cast had their start on Broadway – for example, Lea Michele (who plays Rachel), Matthew Morrison (who plays Mr. Schuester), and Jonathan Groff (who plays Jesse) – so they have the pipes to back the various musical numbers.
12. Don’t Trust The B**** In Apartment 23
Edgy and slightly illicit, Dont’ Trust The B***** In Apartment 23 only lasted for two seasons, but is definitely worth a watch. There are few modern half hours comedies where you’ll find the familiar sitcom format mingled so well with harder and less wholesome themes and subject matter.
Chloe is the titular b*****, played by Krysten Ritter, who has made the television rounds before, playing memorable characters on Breaking Bad (as the ill-fated Jane), Veronica Mars (as the tittering Gia Goodman), and now in her role as Jessica Jones in the show of the same name.
She’s a party girl who lures gullible new arrivals to the big city into becoming her roommate, demanding rent up front, and then tormenting them into leaving. June – played by Dreama Walker – manages to off-set Chloe’s scare tactics and make a favorable impression on her. The two develop a close – if not completely orthodox – friendship.
11. Midsomer Murders
An oldie but a goodie. Midsomer Murders is a British export, which revolves around a lead detective (originally Tom Barnaby, played by John Nettles – now John Barnaby, played by Neil Dudgeon) trying to get the bottom of the numerous murders that take place in the quaint little county of Midsomer, England. Despite the surface kindliness and virtue of many Midsomer inhabitants, the county seems to be a haven for gruesome murders.
Like many English murder mysteries in this vein, Midsomer Murders is baffling, engrossing, and slightly ridiculous – a perfect combination for any good guilty pleasure show. Midsomer Murders has been on the air since 1997 and has 114 episodes of roughly an hour and a half a piece – more than enough material to keep your binge-watching schedule busy for a while.
10. Gossip Girl
Gossip Girl took the world by storm back in 2007. Based on the book series of the same name by Cecily von Ziegesar, it helped launch the careers of stars like Blake Lively (who played Serena), Leighton Meester (who played Blair), and Ed Westwick (who played Chuck).
The show starts with the return of Serena from a lengthly and suspicious absence; Serena returns to her home in the Upper East Side and clashes with some of peers. She has a somewhat tumultuous relationship with the new Queen Bee, Blair, who was once her best friend. Scandal, partying, and ill-fated romance are all big factors in this show that delves into the private lives of the wealthy and sophisticated teen elite.
Though it keeps close to the book’s narrative for a portion of the first season, the series transcends its source material and manages to round out at an even six season run, with 121 episodes for your Netflix-watching enjoyment. The series also stars the ever-loveable Chace Crawford as Nate, former actor (current musician) Taylor Momsen as Jenny, and Penn Badgley as Dan.
Like Gossip Girl, Heartland also began in 2007 and was based on a series of books. Unlike Gossip Girl, Heartland centers around a multi-generation family living on a ranch in rural Alberta, Canada.
Amy Fleming – like her recently deceased mother before her – has the gift of being able to understand the feelings and needs of horses. Also on the ranch is good-hearted juvenile delinquent Ty – who is sent to live at Heartland ranch as part of his probation. Amy ends up falling for him, and the two traverse the ups and downs of their rollercoaster love match. This show has everything: heartbreak, idyllic farm life, and family tensions.
It’s officially the longest running one-hour scripted dramatic Canadian TV show in history with 10 seasons and 175 episodes (and a movie!). With a season eleven confirmed this March, there’s no end in sight for this Canadian guilty pleasure.
8. The Borgias
Despite having only a two season run, The Borgias is the hyperbolized historical drama of your 16th century aristocratic fantasies. Creator Neil Jordan originally planned for a four season depiction of deceit, debauchery and divinity among the eprehensible Borgia brood.
Though based on the very real family and their rise to the top in the Roman Catholic Church, much of the series takes historical details and inflates them into a juicier, sexier story. The series stars Jeremy Irons as patriarch Rodrigo Borgia, and follows him on his quest to rule as Pope Alexander VI. Also featured are Holliday Grainger as the coquettish and quick Lucrezia Borgia; Francois Arnaud as Cesare, her violent and protective older brother (their relationship is definitely shades of Jaime and Cersei); and Joanne Whalley as Vanozza Cattaneo Rodrigo’s long time mistress and mother to the Borgia children.
Magic, secrecy, and sister witches – what more do you need? Charmed hits all the right notes; it also delivers a big order of Spice Girls-era girl power – apropos to its late ’90s roots – and still enjoyable today.
Created by dream team Constance M. Burge and producer Aaron Spelling, the show knew how to draw an audience. Spelling is a guru in crafting perfect guilty pleasure television (he was behind other great binge-worthy shows like Melrose Place and the original Beverly Hills: 90210) and Charmed is no exception.
The whole concept spurs from the discovery of the Book of Shadows by youngest sister (at the time) Phoebe – played by Alyssa Milano – which states that the three sisters are impossibly powerful witches, and essentially have to save the world from the forces of evil. Quite a lot to digest on a first read.
The series plays the hand it’s given – it’s frequently over the top, unbelievable, and excessively sentimental. But it’s also smart, quick, and has more to offer by way of plot and character development than meets the eye. And if you get hooked, not to worry! There’s a reboot on the way.
6. One Tree Hill
The show better known for bringing heart-throb Chad Michael Murray to the public’s attention, it’s also a great guilty-pleasure outlet. It follows all the sumptuously familiar tropes – Lucas Scott (played by Murray) has a bad relationship with his half brother, bad boy Nathan (played by James Lafferty), and they can no longer sweep the negativity under the rug any longer because they’re now competing for spots on their high school basketball team.
Oh, and they’re into the same girl (played by Hilarie Burton), but Lucas ends up kind of dating that girl’s best friend (played by Sophia Bush) while Nathan goes after Lucas’ female BFF (played by Bethany Joy Lenz). What’s more, Lucas’ mom and his dad don’t speak (Lucas’ father won’t even acknowledge him as his son), Lucas’ mom and his uncle clearly have a romance brewing, and the whole town seems to know everything about all of it.
The cherry on top of all this drama and angst is the theme song, featuring the dulcet tones of Gavin McCraw belting out “I Don’t Want To Be.” At nine seasons and 187 episodes, it’ll keep you satisfied for a while.
5. Pretty Little Liars
A hugely successful trope for guilty pleasure shows to rely on is where the story centers around the intrigue and misbehavior of a clique of teenage girls. Pretty Little Liars is a classic example in this vein. Set in fictional Rosewood, Pennsylvania we follow the lives of a clique of five girls whose group falls apart after the leader of their troupe goes missing mysteriously.
A year after the initial disappearance, the girls start receiving letters from an enigmatic “A” who – in a vaguely I Know What You Did Last Summer style – threatens and harasses them about their behavior around the time their friend went missing.
It features Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson, Lucy Hale, Shay Mitchell, and Sasha Pieterse as the titular liars. It has seven seasons and 159 episodes, as well as an ill-fated spinoff called Ravenswood – so there is plenty material here to keep your addiction at bay.
4. Lipstick Jungle
Think Sex and the City for a new generation – because that’s exactly what the creators were hoping for. Based on the book of the same name by Candace Bushnell (of Sex and the City fame), the show follows the professional and personal dramas of three best friends, all high-powered women in their respective careers.
The show didn’t have the sharp and cunning edge that Sex and the City had and only lasted two seasons. That being said, the gossip is great and the fashion is to die for. Everything about it is modern and trendy (or at the very least, modern and trendy for 2008 and 2009) right down to the killer soundtrack it boasts. In episode one alone, Lipstick Jungle pounded out pop-fabulous tracks from Fergie, Sheryl Crow, Nancy Sinatra and Imogen Heap.
3. Party Of Five
Featuring a strong and still recognizable ensemble cast, Party Of Five was the dramatic television catharsis we couldn’t get enough of in the ’90s. It revolved around the motley Salinger siblings, who are trying to cope and grow together after the tragic death of their parents, who were hit by a drunk driver.
It features Matthew Fox as the eldest brother – a charming player, who doesn’t take to guardianship well – Scott Wolf as the second sibling – forced to be mature and capable – Neve Campbell as the oldest sister – sharp and emotionally tuned – and Lacey Chabert as the youngest girl – now best known for her turn as Gretchen ‘My Father Invented the Toasted Strudel’ Weiners in Mean Girls.
Party of Five dealt with a lot of tough issues, to its credit: domestic abuse, drug and alcohol use, cancer, and the characters coping with losing their parents. It was cutting edge and didn’t shy away from the darker tone, while still peddling a familiar warmth and familial togetherness that viewers responded to. Six seasons ran in total, and it’ll hook you in from the start. Clear your weekend schedule if you’re planning to dive in!
2. Crossing Jordan
A lesser known gem of the forensic investigation genre, Crossing Jordan revolves around tough-as-nails Jordan Cavanaugh (played by Jill Hennessy), a forensic pathologist who helps to solve crimes in Massachusetts – and despite not technically being a detective is almost always better than anyone else at figuring it out. She’s prickly, doesn’t respond well to authority, as has a classic “will they, won’t they” relationship with the resident police detective, Woody Holt (played by Jerry O’Connell).
A highlight from the show is its reliance on the role-playing fantasy sequences – usually between Jordan and her retired-cop father – where they act out what happened as the crime was being committed. Lots of familiar tropes are used to extremes in the show – Jordan’s trust issues, her inability to wholly engage with others, and references to her traumatic past. All in all, it’s a strong ensemble tackling interesting subject matter with a familiar cliched spin. Crossing Jordan is a guilty pleasure treat that you’re bound to get addicted to.
1. Grey’s Anatomy
Shonda Rhimes’ original creation covers all the lovingly overused territory – but it many ways, it did it first (or at least best, first). From its killer soundtrack to its use of snappy, modern dialogue, Grey’s Anatomy is a strong, well-rounded television drama that manages to largely transcend the soap opera stereotypes it dances around – at least for the first couple of seasons.
Grey’s Anatomy is a medical drama focused less on the medicine (though that side of things is tackled with surprising accuracy) and more of the sexual and romantic escapades of its lead characters: interns Meredith Grey (played by Ellen Pompeo), Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl), Alex Karev (Justin Chambers), and George O’Malley (T.R. Knight).
If you thought there could only be so much death, destructive, and heart-break in one hospital, you thought wrong. Though the ensemble cast has changed frequently over the last 13 seasons, the drama has not ceased to reach new heights. For the Grey’s newbie, a box of tissues, munchies and something to cuddle with are absolutely required for viewing purposes.
What’s your favorite guilty pleasure show on Netflix? Let us know in the comments!
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