Some of us can’t help but relish the guilty pleasure of quality entertainment — even if that means series binging. When you feel the need to break from holiday stressors, we’ve researched the most binge-watch worthy series, each of which you can finish in about a weekend. All five award-winning shows share impressive IMDb ratings, feature talented casts, offer unique storylines, and are all due to release new seasons in 2019. Since each show consists of 24 episodes or less, you’ll have plenty of time to binge before upcoming season spoilers reach social media. Ready, set, binge!
1. True Detective
HBO’s Primetime Emmy-, BAFTA TV-, and Television Critics Association Award-winning crime drama “True Detective” is the only show on our list with a definitive season release date of Jan. 13. With a total of 30 wins and 60 nominations to its credit, not to mention the highest IMDb rating on our list (9/10), this 24-episode series will leave you impatiently awaiting season three.
Although fictional, this anthology series created by Nic Pizzolatto, explores real-life American crime cases, beginning with season one’s satanic-style sex abuse case in Louisiana, starring Matthew McConaughey as Detective Rust Cohle and Woody Harrelson as Detective Martin Hart. This first season recreates events similar to a bizarre child abuse case from the early 2000s, involving animal sacrifice and satanic rituals. While the show’s storyline closely resembles the horrifying reality that took place nearly two decades ago, the series’ plot still bares unexpected twists.
Moving forward, season two explores a corruption case that took place in a small California town, an investigation led by detectives Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) and Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), while season three reportedly takes place in the Ozarks with new cast members Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff as head of the series’ latest investigation.
Drama and true-fiction fans alike will appreciate the visual effects, attention to detail, and sometimes painful suspense that accompanies this graphic series. You may even spot similarly stylized scenes from NBC’s popular “Hannibal,” including appearances from some of the same murder weapons and modus operandi (M.O.).
2. The Crown
This Netflix period drama pushes the balcony curtain aside to reveal the very private lives of Britain’s very private royal family — as much as historical fiction permits. It traces the transition of Elizabeth Windsor, young beauty, into Elizabeth Regina, Queen of England, from her 1947 marriage to present day. This two-season Netflix original, with an 8.7 IMDb rating, boasts eight Emmys and two Golden Globes, amongst other awards, not to mention the alleged royal approval!
The first two seasons cover about two decades, beginning with Elizabeth’s (Claire Foy) inheritance of the throne from her father George VI (Jared Harris), not long after her marriage to Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh (Matt Smith). But even with its focus on the Queen, the series doesn’t ignore the independent lives of key government and family figures like global icon Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) and the press-publicized life of Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby). While season three is scheduled to premiere sometime in 2019, Netflix has announced cast shifts for the aging characters, starring Olivia Colman as Elizabeth and Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret.
As there is no shortage of drama beneath “The Crown’s” Royal Standard, fictitious or otherwise, the series promotes a delicate balance of wit, intrigue, and fact without sacrificing the integrity of the still-reigning royals. “The Crown” is an entertaining reenactment of historical events with a fair balance between accuracy and embellishment. Any stretches from the truth are meant to bring viewers beyond the balcony and humanize these very real people turned historical icons, with the inclusion of relatable family and personal conflicts that will make fans of even the non-history buffs. Politics aside, “The Crown” allows us to see the Queen as a woman, and above all else, a daughter, wife, sister, and mother, struggling to maintain the crown above her head, as well as everyone and everything else.
3. Peaky Blinders
Another British import and period drama “Peaky Blinders” won the 2018 BAFTA title over “The Crown,” a long-awaited, well-deserved recognition after five years and four seasons. This BBC drama, namesake of an obscure Victorian British gang, follows the rise of a fictional crime family led by Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy). At six hours per season, four seasons should take about as long to watch as its competitor. With an 8.8 IMDb rating, 14 awards and 23 nominations, and a stellar international cast, it’s definitely worth the watch time!
Set in post-WWI Small Heath, Birmingham, England, “Peaky Blinders” shows the Shelby family’s fight to expand beyond local thievery, to upper echelons of crime and influence, against advancing government agents and local criminal rivals. Like many other young men of the “Black Country” returning from war, Tommy returns with physical battle scars, psychological trauma, and a changed perspective. Disillusioned by war and poverty at home, the industrial working class boys of Birmingham have few options for stability. For the Shelbys, the underworld seems the only lucrative venture to conquer to provide protection for their family. As Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory) says in season one: “You have to be as bad as them above in order to survive.”
Each season weaves dramatized, historical elements into an ever-intensifying storyline, with the Shelbys’ conflicts spanning the rise of communism, anti-union sentiment, the Russian Revolution, and even American Prohibition. Each shift allows for the introduction of new and recurring enemies. This list of friends and foes, from fictional figures to notorious historical gangsters, treats the audience to an extended award-winning cast of American, English, and Irish fame. Some include: Sam Neill, Tom Hardy, Adrien Brody, and Joe and Finn Cole, all alongside Cillian Murphy’s powerful lead performance. Murphy of “Inception,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” and “Dunkirk” brings Tommy’s complex character to life, creating the perfect anti-hero, complete with a divided heart, capable of both love and sheer savagery.
Season one of the BBC and FX Victorian drama “Taboo” has received both high praise and strong criticism. Yet, after only eight episodes, the show has earned seven awards and 15 nominations, and an 8.5 IMDb rating. Created by father and son Chips and Tom Hardy, and “Peaky Blinders” writer Steven Knight, “Taboo” follows adventurer James Delaney’s (Tom Hardy) return to England from Africa, following the death of his father.
Delaney’s decade-long disappearance left those from his hometown to think him dead, a fate not many appear to have mourned when he finally returns for his father’s legacy. But viewers quickly question whether Delaney has inherited just his father’s shipping empire or his alleged insanity as well. The already murky plot only continues to thicken once we learn the international importance behind Delaney’s inheritance. Through battles with foes, like the dishonorable East India Trade Company, we realize from episode one that this sinister anti-hero is possibly the lesser of the series’ many evils.
“Taboo” voyages through ever-darkening levels, luring the audience along the most macabre alleys of Victorian England in, somehow, one of the most satisfying ways. The cloud of mystery surrounding Delaney’s past circumstances and present motives disperses at a steady, suspenseful pace through smart, simple dialogue and well-timed, tortured flashbacks. A talented cast, fashioned with BAFTA-award winning makeup, and Emmy-nominated visual effects and musical score, create a chilling setting for an equally disturbing storyline. Hardy’s powerful performance and undeniable presence draws viewers to Delaney’s side, and we can’t help but want him to punish his enemies for their sins, although we realize his may be far worse.
5. Stranger Things
If you haven’t yet heard of Netflix’s sci-fi, 1980s-styled series “Stranger Things,” now is your time to binge! This incredibly eerie, yet playful drama offers something to viewers of all ages, with a scary enough — but not too scary — storyline that will make you fast forward through intros and credits to uncover what happens next in the series.
One night, after a prophetic-like game of “Dungeons and Dragons” in Mike Wheeler’s (Finn Wolfhard) basement, four preteen buddies part ways on their bikes and wind up down one friend. The mysterious disappearance of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) prompts a local investigation that quickly goes way out of local Sheriff Jim Hopper’s (David Harbour) jurisdiction. As boys will be boys, the now trio decides to aid in the search for their missing fourth, bringing Will’s mother, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), and a new fifth, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) along for an unexpected ride into unknown territory.
Nearly every element of this series is a piece of remastered ’80s nostalgia. The audio-visual effects are both sentimentally retro and modern, recalling images and sounds from iconic movies like “Poltergeist” and “Aliens,” only recreated with up-to-date digital technology. Sure, sci-fis usually aim for futuristic, but this series ingeniously recreates ’80s effects for a 21st century audience like the way music mediums transitioned from audio cassettes to CD tracks to downloads. You’re listening to the same song, only better. Likewise, key cast members like Winona Ryder and Sean Astin, both iconic ’80s child stars, play characters that guide today’s generation of kids through similarly hokey, yet really cool adventures, providing that it can be a good idea to reinvent the wheel.
If its 8.9 IMDb rating and seven Emmy nominations aren’t enough to move you, maybe the much-memed 2017 SAG Awards acceptance speech will!