Ever since Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu introduced consumers to their video streaming services a decade ago, the way that people watch television has changed dramatically. No longer do shows have to be consumed on a week-to-week basis. To compete with the massive amount of content available today, these online services have more recently taken to dropping entire seasons at once, giving viewers the opportunity to polish off the shows they love at whatever pace they choose.
As a result of these new viewing patterns, shows no longer have to appeal to the casual viewer who may have missed an episode or walked in late after a commercial break. Therefore, we get more superb programming like Stranger Things and Daredevil, which are far more engaging and serialized than the majority of shows still stuck on broadcast or cable.
But that’s not to say that all great shows should be binge-watched. With TV and movies becoming increasingly steeped in realism, some shows are simply too dark and disturbing to gorge upon.
So unless you want to come down with a self-induced bout of the blues, or stay up all night after being seriously creeped out, here are 16 Shows Too Disturbing To Binge-Watch.
16. The Handmaid’s Tale
Based on the renowned novel by Margaret Atwood, this Hulu series is set in the not-so-distant future where human fertility is on the decline and women’s rights are completely stripped away.
Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss plays Offred, a handmaid who is sent to live with a Commander and his wife in the hopes that she will bear them a child. To escape her bleak and repetitive existence, Offred learns to live inside her head, reminiscing about her husband and child while also recalling how the world slowly turned into the oppressive Christian society that it is today.
But The Handmaid’s Tale is so expertly crafted that sitting through too many episodes at once will put the viewer in a weird headspace. Because the character’s freedoms are so limited, you may begin to see the world through the same tunnel-vision that Offred is dealing with, filling the viewer with frustration and paranoia that this oppressive society could one day become a reality.
15. American Horror Story
While everyone has their opinions about which season is the best, there’s no denying that AHS has been consistently creepy all the way from Murder House to this year’s Cult, and it’s truly impressive when a show can give you a serious case of the creeps during the opening credits sequence alone.
With the sheer amount of binge-worthy shows that are available today, it’s actually refreshing to have a series that’s best enjoyed as it airs, giving you an excuse to pop some popcorn and be freaked out for an hour with friends or family — then inevitably have to watch something funny together before bed.
14. 13 Reasons Why
Based on the 2007 novel of the same name, 13 Reasons Why chronicles the aftermath of a teenage girl’s suicide, which finds Clay Jensen listening to a series of audio tapes to discover why Hannah Baker decided to end her life.
The show was an instant hit, garnering more views in its first month than the majority of other Netflix original shows. But while the show received its fair share of positive reviews, 13 Reasons Why was not without plenty of controversy for its brutal depictions of sexual assault and self-harm.
In response to the series, the National Association of School Psychologists released a statement, saying that exposure to suicide can be a risk factor to young people already struggling with mental health, causing many counties and school districts to issue warnings about the show.
While the showrunners have stood by their realistic depiction of the serious subject matter, 13 Reasons Why is definitely a show that should be watched with caution.
13. The OA
Few Netflix shows have divided critics and audiences like 2016’s The OA, with some calling it the most captivating show of the year, while others dismissed it as an ambiguous waste of time. But however you feel about it, The OA certainly has no shortage of intriguing ideas which begins with a young blind woman resurfacing after seven years missing with the newfound ability to see.
But whether or not you actually find The OA disturbing largely has to do with if you’re willing to go along for the ride. The show demands a lot from its audience, and it is purposefully vague — leaving the viewer to determine what is and isn’t real. The show can’t help but give off an emotionally cold tone as well, showing us a violent world where teenagers and young adults all seems emotionally shut off from each other.
We can only hope that season two of The OA continues to develop its heart, while also exploring more of its open-ended ideas.
12. Twin Peaks
After being canceled back in 1991 due to a massive decline in viewership, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks made its long-awaited return earlier this year to Showtime with an 18-part limited series. Once again, the show was criminally under-watched, which is no doubt a result of the series being one of the weirdest shows to ever debut on mainstream television.
If you still haven’t seen the original series, it has held up impressively well over time. But proceed with caution, as the tone of Twin Peaks swings anywhere from a campy detective tale to a story about domestic abuse and murder.
David Lynch leaves his signature surrealist mark over most of the series, especially the latest episodes, which were no longer limited by the parental guidelines of ABC. It’s a disturbing trip through a wild mind.
11. The Killing
Like with Twin Peaks‘ catchphrase “Who killed Laura Palmer?” from the early ‘90s, TV audiences couldn’t help but keep asking “Who killed Rosie Larsen?” when The Killing hit the airways back in 2011.
But beyond the basic set up of a girl being murdered in a small town, Twin Peaks and The Killing turned out to be quite different from one another. For starters, this AMC/Netflix show was shockingly realistic about exploring the disappearance and eventual murder investigation of a local teenager in painstaking detail, making for an extremely bleak affair.
Instead of simply skipping over the family drama and getting back to the investigation like most police procedurals, The Killing never shies away from the grief the Larsen family goes through after losing a loved one. Though the later seasons of The Killing got further and further away from the Larsen case, the show never lost its depressing atmosphere, making for a series that’s better consumed in small doses.
Nip/Tuck is a medical drama like no other. While shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy are focused on stitching patients up and making them whole again, the doctors in this FX series are happy to cut their patients open and rearrange the parts — making this a series not one for the squeamish.
The show ran for exactly 100 episodes and debuted back in 2003 — a few years before online streaming became mainstream — meaning that most audience would have to watch the show on a weekly basis. Because Nip/Tuck features its fair share of graphic and often controversial plastic surgeries, one hour of body horror a week would be more than enough for most people.
Not to mention that the show is filled with damaged and grossly narcissistic characters, making the viewer feel dirty on an entirely different level.
9. The Punisher
Easily the best live-action incarnation of the Punisher to date, this Netflix series finds Jon Bernthal reprising his role as the tortured anti-hero Frank Castle for his first solo outing.
On par with the anti-hero’s personality, The Punisher series is gritty, violent, and often morally ambiguous, making for a heavier viewing experience for those who are more accustomed to the lighter tone of other Marvel projects. The story also explores themes of losing loved ones, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even gun violence, and Bernthal’s spot-on casting and tortured performance makes the show equal parts captivating and disturbing.
8. The Ren & Stimpy Show
When The Ren & Stimpy Show debuted on Nickelodeon back in 1991 alongside Doug and Rugrats, the kid’s series was met with a mix of controversy and acclaim.
Unlike the majority of animated shows aimed at children, Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi refused to make a warm-hearted and educational series that could also be merchandised. The result was a truly bizarre cartoon about a crazed chihuahua and a slow-witted cat that was filled with gallows humor, violence, and sexual innuendos.
Even if you love Ren & Stimpy, it doesn’t take long before the show’s surreal settings and grotesque animation begins to make you feel like you need to take a shower. And because Kricfalusi refused to tone down the adult content of his creation, he was eventually fired by the network, making the last few season of Ren & Stimpy less controversial, but also far less inspired than the show’s earlier episodes.
7. Channel Zero
If the idea of an evil spirit trapped within a child’s body made entirely out of teeth doesn’t seriously freak you out, then by all means, go ahead and binge-watch the first 12 episodes of this new SyFy horror series without stopping. But if bizarre monsters like this one give you nightmares, then you’re better off watching Channel Zero an episode or two at a time.
This anthology series has only just wrapped up its second season, but due to its strong reviews and intriguing premise, Channel Zero has already been renewed for a third and fourth season. Similar to American Horror Story, each season of the show features an entirely new story and cast of characters. However, Channel Zero cleverly borrows its premises from the Internet’s Creepypastas, with the first season adapting the story of Candle Cove and the second building upon the concept of the NoEnd House.
6. The Keepers
Although the recent docuseries like Making a Murderer and The Jinx are no doubt disturbing in their own right, there’s still something that’s utterly captivating about them that we can’t stop watching no matter how grim the subject matter may be. However, the same cannot be said about the more recent Netflix series, The Keepers, which documents the unsolved murder of a beloved nun who worked at a Catholic high school in 1960s Baltimore.
That doesn’t mean you should skip The Keepers altogether. This docu-series gives the viewer a dark and twisted insight into the Catholic church’s history of sexual abuse and power to keep it covered up. But the show features such graphic retellings of the abuse from actual victims that it will leave you seriously disturbed. Especially when you learn that those who could have helped stop the abuse instead decided to cover it up.
Just because a show is too disturbing to binge-watch doesn’t mean you’re not going to do it. Which is exactly what will happen if you ever put on the pilot episode of this British crime drama.
Broadchurch debuted back in 2013 and follows two detectives, Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller, who are tasked with investigating the murder of an 11-year-old boy in the fictional coastal town of Broadchurch, England. The series was an instant hit abroad, receiving widespread critical acclaim for each of its three series.
However, Broadchurch never gained much of a following in North America, possibly as a result of the show’s deliberately slow pace, possibly due to the underwhelming American remake. The gradual unwinding of the murder investigation will get you locked into the show, desperately waiting for answers while the bleak subject matter will inevitably begin to take its toll on your mental health.
4. The Mighty Boosh
Even though this BBC show is categorized as a comedy, if The Mighty Boosh makes you laugh more than it makes you squirm, you’re made of stronger stuff than us.
While plenty of North American audiences may have never seen an entire episode of this surreal fantasy series, there’s a good chance that you’ve stumbled upon a few of their popular YouTube videos, including “Old Gregg” and “The Crack Fox.” And if you haven’t seen these sketches yet, you’ve been warned.
The show was created by Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding and ran for three seasons between 2004 and 2007. Even with only 20 episodes, The Mighty Boosh has still introduced us with enough unsettling set-pieces and creepy characters to fuel our nightmares for an entire lifetime.
Some shows are enough to disturb you with their premise alone. That’s the case with Rectify, a series centered around Daniel Holden, a teenager who was falsely accused of the rape and murder of his girlfriend, only to spend 19-years on death row before finally being exonerated with DNA evidence.
The series ran for four seasons on SundanceTV and followed Daniel as he attempts to readjust to life in his hometown in Paulie, Georgia. The show was met with universal acclaim for its compelling character studies, which clearly makes for an emotionally draining series.
Even Damien Echols — one of the “West Memphis 3” who was also freed from prison in a similar fashion — praised Rectify for its unflinching realism, which is high praise, considering the show took a lot from Echols’ real-life experiences.
Released back in 1997, Oz ran for six seasons and was set almost exclusively in the fictional maximum-security Oswald State Penitentiary — so if you are even the least bit claustrophobic, you may want to steer clear of this series altogether.
On top of its repressive setting, Oz doesn’t shy away from the realities of prison, showing us the pervasive drug use, gang violence, and sexual assault, causing many critics to deem the show the most graphic on TV. And much like Game of Thrones, which debuted on the same network nearly 25 years later, Oz wasn’t afraid of killing off its main characters, which makes for another gut-wrenching viewing experience.
1. Black Mirror
Often cited as The Twilight Zone of our time, Black Mirror is a sci-fi anthology series that examines the consequences of technology in a not-so-distant future. Every episode features a new cast and setting, and despite only 13 episodes being released in the last six years, Black Mirror has remained one of the most talked about shows since its debut.
But just because you can easily catch up on this series in less than 24 hours doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
Even when compared to Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, Black Mirror is shockingly bleak, and even if you’re someone who enjoys a downbeat ending, the repetition of watching someone’s life get destroyed on screen over and over again would certainly wear on anyone who tried to mainline this series. So beware of season four, which will most likely drop on Netflix sometime within the next few months.
What shows did you find too disturbing to binge-watch? Sound off in the comments!
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