When it comes to streaming services, despite their many missteps, most of the focus has been on Netflix. For good reason, too, since it dominates the market, accounting for 33 percent of the downstream traffic in North America, way more than any other streaming service or website. The next closest streaming service competitor is Amazon Prime Instant, which accounts for less than two percent of downstream traffic.
That’s a shame.
If you’re tired of being d*cked around by Netflix, but you still want to stream great television, Amazon Prime Instant not only has a lot of great television offerings, there are other benefits, too. This is going to sound like a huge sales pitch for Amazon Instant, but for the same yearly cost that you pay to Netflix, you will also get free two-day shipping on all of your Amazon purchases, and for a lot of us who order from Amazon at least twice a month, that will pay for itself without even accounting for their streaming service. For instance, I buy a lot of groceries at Amazon, where it’s not only cheaper than at the grocery store, the shipping is free, and someone will bring my toilet paper to my front door. Oh, AND I can watch old episodes of The X-Files on top of that? That’s just gravy.
Much of the reluctance of some to try out or switch to Amazon Prime Instant is the concern that there aren’t very many good television offerings. NOT TRUE. In fact, there are almost as many as on Netflix, and in many instances, there are shows you can ONLY get on Amazon Prime.
So as a public service to you, and in order to convince you to at least consider the switch (or adding it alongside Netflix simply because of the free shipping offers), here are the 15 Best Shows on Amazon Prime Instant, and it doesn’t even include some others that barely missed the cut, like Damages, Lost, Tudors, Downton Abbey, 24, Pushing Daisies, Angel, and the short-lived Jeremy Renner series, The Unusuals.
Battlestar Galatica — Battlestar Galactica is a show for fairly hard core sci-fi nerds, at least in the later seasons. The first season of the show, however, still stands as one of the best seasons of televised sci-fi of all time, beautifully mixing compelling drama, humanism, and insanely good performances. In my opinion, the show kind of fell apart in later seasons — particularly a slaggy second and third season — but it’s definitely worth marathoning through.
Life — This little discussed show is maybe the last great network procedural, which is probably why it was canceled after only two seasons. It makes no sense to me why viewers would reject a detective procedural that also contains personality and great acting, but Life — which starred Damian Lewis, Sarah Shahi, and Donal Logue — never really found an audience. But it’s never too late.
Dead Like Me — There are two Bryan Fuller series on Amazon Instant Prime, but I chose Dead Like Me, if only because Pushing Daisies had a creative slide due the the writer’s strike. Dead Like Me has a similar whimsical tone, features the amazing Mandy Patinkin, and in my opinion, holds up a little better than Daisies. Just don’t watch the Direct-to-DVD movie spin-off. Your curiosity and need for more Dead Like Me is not worth how bad the movie is.
Sons of Anarchy — If you look at the history of F/X’s original dramatic programming, the network has never failed us, and Sons of Anarchy was the drama that started the ball rolling. Some describe it as The Sopranos with motorcycles, but it’s much more akin to Hamlet with bad-a$$ motherf*$#ers. Feel free, however, to skip season three, and after the season four finale, temper your expectations. A lot. It slides into the sublimely ridiculous, even if it does still contain a few wrenching gut punches.
Firefly — Look: Either you’re one of the people who have seen Firefly and therefore love it, or you’re one of the people who can’t stand it because everyone else won’t shut up about it. It’s 12 episodes at 42 minutes apiece. You can knock it out in a Saturday, and then you can join the correct side of the equation.
Parenthood — As a parent who also lives away from the nation’s pop-culture centers, most of the people I hang out with in real life are 1) parents, 2) who watch all their television on Netflix/Amazon Instant, and 3) are a year or two behind me in everything they watch. They are FINALLY making their way around to Parenthood in droves, and like Jason Katims’ other show, Friday Night Lights, it manages to be heartbreaking without being overly sentimental. The family dynamic is very much like Coach and Tami Taylor, only much bigger. The one drawback: Watching the series will inspire in your a real desire to belong to a huge family.
Luther — In a head-to-head between showdown between Jack Bauer and Luther, the title character played by Idris Elba, forget about it. Bauer would screamed for half a bloody hour, and Luther would’ve returned a cold gaze that woud’ve broken poor Jack Bauer’s soul wide open. Then Luther would casually walk off in his blazer and jeans in search of a real nemesis. There’s a reason Luther isn’t big in the United States yet, and that’s because given all the problems this country has with heart disease, Luther could probably put 20 percent of the country into hospital beds. The show doesn’t even give you time to change your underwear before you sh*t your pants again.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer — Great action sequences, Joss Whedon cleverness, and characters that you would likely develop a very strong attachment to, Buffy — even with its occasional cheesiness — does genre just right. If you’ve already seen the series, this post — The 115 Reasons Why We Love Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer — should be enough to persuade you to watch it again from the beginning.
Doctor Who — If you haven’t seen Doctor Who, and if you based all your assumptions of the show on the nerdy guy in the coffee shop wearing the University of Gallifrey T-Shirt (me, right now), Doctor Who is not what you think it is: It’s a richly humane sci-fi show that’s just as concerned with characters as it is with the geeky sci-fi elements. But once you get invested, those sci-fi elements will propel you into the muck of nerddom until one day, you too, will own a TARDIS iPhone cover. You don’t need to watch the entire 30-year history of the show; the 2005 reboot will suit you just fine. And if the sci-fi doesn’t win you over, Karen Gillan should.
Sherlock — Far superior to the CBS series, Elementary, and much better than the Guy Ritchie movie franchise, Britain’s Sherlock is less a TV Show than a short series of brilliant, whip-smart, and amazingly acted mystery movies. The only drawback: There are only six episodes, and after watching them, you’re going to be jonesing for more. Soon. Unfortunately, they won’t be arriving until 2013.
Parks and Recreation — Ron Swanson may be the funniest character of the last decade, but it’s not just Swanson (or the hilariously dour April Ludgate) that make the show one of the best on television: It’s unlike almost any modern sitcom: Earnest, unironic, and steeped in sweet sentiment. It’s funny, but it will also make your heart grow three sizes, anchored by not one — but two — of television’s most romantic couples.
X-Files — In addition to being the perfect combination of genre and procedural, X-Files is the show that paved the way for the likes of Lost and Fringe and Alias and every other genre show on network television, which makes The X-Files a great series to watch for historical purposes. It helps, too, that — at least through the first five seasons — it did it better than any of the other shows that came after it, although — be warned — it manages to f**k up the mythology as much as Lost did.
West Wing — The first four seasons of The West Wing are the best thing that Aaron Sorkin has ever done. For whatever reason, Sorkin’s brand of unctuousness, intelligence, and sentimentality are a perfect fit to this liberal White House and every word sounds perfect coming out of the shows brilliantly constructed characters. There’s a straw man in every episode, and Sorkin knocks them down better than anyone. (Skip seasons five and six, but come back for the final season).
Friday Night Lights — If you haven’t seen the most heartwarming, rousing, and endearing dramas in the history of television, despite everything everyone has ever told you about it, I don’t know that I can convince you. Coach Taylor -— easily the best television father ever —- is the driving force behind Friday Night Lights, an insanely decent, powerfully Southern man, a guy who refuses to wear his heart on his sleeve (except when it comes to his wife and daughter), and a hard-ass who shows his affection by pushing you harder. Friday Night Lights is one of the few shows in the history of television that will make you want to be a better person, if only because — in your mind — you want to be the kind of guy that would make Coach Taylor proud.
Arrested Development — I don’t think there’s anything else that can possibly be written about Arrested Development. Either you’ve seen it, or you’re a willfully stubborn idiot. COME ON, WATCH IT ALREADY. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? The one catch with Arrested Development and Amazon Prime Instant, however, is that while you can watch all the old episodes, only Netflix viewers can watch the new season in the Spring.