What Are The Best ‘Unbingeable’ TV Shows? Our Writers Weigh In

Editor-at-Large
04.21.17 20 Comments

HBO/NETFLIX/AMC

When people ask me if they should watch The Leftovers, I usually give a qualified “yes.” It’s an amazing show, I’ll say. Well-made, thought-provoking, and occasionally — very occasionally — deeply hilarious in very surprising ways. And the performances are something else. Carrie Coon, man. That lady does some kinda business on that show. It’s almost not even a matter of interpretation. It’s almost just objectively good. So yes, watch The Leftovers, if you have the time and interest.

But then, after I get that part out of the way, I’ll say something like this: “The Leftovers is my favorite show that I kind of dread watching sometimes.” It can be heavy. Real heavy. If you are someone who gets stressed out easily by real-world events, The Leftovers is not a relaxing show you can flick on to get your mind off of things. You don’t wanna watch four Leftovers episodes after a hard day of work. You’ll want to take this show in pieces. I know because I skipped out during the first season and tried to rush to catch up earlier this year, right as some political things were happening that made my left-leaning brain go on the fritz. Bingeing this show did not help.

But, once I slowed down and watched the first few screeners of this new season at a more reasonable pace, I really enjoyed it again. Like, so much. I appreciated the deeper aspects of it, and the heavy stuff didn’t bring me way down. I think that was the key for me. So that’s my advice. Watch The Leftovers. Just do it slowly.

And this discussion about The Leftovers got us thinking… what other shows fall into this category of great shows you can only watch in small chunks? Let’s call them “unbingeable.” The Uproxx staff weighs in with their selections below.

Mad Men

A few days after Mad Men ended, Matt Weiner declared that if he ever sold a show to Netflix, he would insist that they release the episodes weekly. We’ll see if he can actually pull that off now that he’s developing an anthology drama for Amazon, but it’s hard not to blame him for that attitude. With Mad Men, Weiner became a master at crafting thoughtful, distinct, gorgeous episodes that stood apart from one another, even as they helped build an overall arc to each season. (It’s a trick he picked up during his time on The Sopranos, which is also a show I would not recommend bingeing.) You could watch a bunch of Mad Men episodes in a row, but why would you want to? Each hour of that show is meant to be savored, and argued about, for as long as possible before the next one starts. Race from one to the next to the next, and you might more quickly find out who Dick Whitman is (or who Bob Benson is), but you wouldn’t get to fully immerse yourself in all the symbolism and metaphor and period detail, and wouldn’t get to properly appreciate each broken look on Jon Hamm’s face, or each glimpse of barely-contained fury on Elisabeth Moss’s. Get off the riding mower and walk with Mad Men for a bit, okay? — Alan Sepinwall

Mystery Science Theater 3000

It’s not good when TV shows are considered “73-hour movies,” with one exception: Mystery Science Theater 3000. That’s because every episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a movie. Have you ever watched more than two movies in a row? It’s not fun. I did a Star Wars marathon last year, and after the Jabba’s palace sequence in Return of the Jedi, which is obviously the best part of the film, I was ready to [shudder] read a book.

Certain shows aren’t meant to be binged. MST3K (which, ironically, was just resurrected by Netflix) is one of them, not only because episodes average around 90 minutes, but they’re also packed with jokes. By the time you’re finished with Gorgo, you’re so exhausted from laughing that you’re not going to fully appreciate the Canadian brilliance of The Final Sacrifice.

Zap Rowsdower deserves your undivided attention. — Josh Kurp

The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle is a thoughtful, unusual, and intense take on an alternate history where the Nazis won World War II. Spoiler alert:Things don’t go well! It’s a fascinating show and a great expansion of Phillip K. Dick’s novel, but it’s also unflinching in its depiction of government brutality and the venality of human beings, so, yeah, it’s a “small dose” kind of show. —Dan Seitz

Black Mirror

Netflix

Black Mirror is not serialized (each story has a different cast, setting, and story), so of course it has no cliffhangers or salivating story arcs for viewers to chase into the next episode. But the series does have an immensely binge-able quality. While the early stories are more cortex-shattering than the later Netflix-produced episodes, thinking about how society is “disrupting” itself off the proverbial cliff through technological “advances” never stops being fascinating.

As long as you do so in doses. Because, buddy, this show requires breathers. To process each story. To digest. To reflect. To stress over its commentary about the world, the future, and most of all: you.

Also, there’s no way to comfortably sit on your couch after watching Black Mirror, which makes a multi-ep session nearly impossible. Dive right into the next episode? That’s what the chemical-controlling VR chip implanted in your brain wants you to do! Cuddle with your significant other? Uh, you both just watched the British prime minister f*ck a pig. Take a quick break to scroll through social media on your phone? HAVE YOU LEARNED NOTHING?

Best to pack it in and try again tomorrow. — Ryan Perry

The Twilight Zone

I grew up watching the annual Twilight Zone marathon on New Year’s and would occasionally dig in to two or three episodes at a time late at night, but years of Peak TV and advancing special effects has made it hard for me to sit through more than one episode as a grown-up. It’s the same thing with the original era of Doctor Who and it’s a very sad thing because the originality and cleverness of these things oughta be enough for me to suspend my disbelief over crappy makeup and terrible monster costumes. I find my capacity for imagination and falling into a content trance deeply lacking. It’s not them (they did the best they could), it’s me. — Jason Tabrys

Veep

Veep is a very funny, smart satire of American politics created by Armando Iannucci, whose previous foray into British politics with The Thick of It set the stage for Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her fellow cast members. As hilarious as listing off the many insults devised by or used against Timothy Simons’ Jonah Ryan is, however, Veep‘s multi-layered satire can be too much. Formulaic sitcoms like Friends and Big Bang Theory lend themselves to binge-watching, but complex comedies like Veep require time. To really understand, and appreciate, the level of depravity Louis-Dreyfus’ Selina Meyer embraces to attain power, audiences must allow themselves a few days or a week to process everything. Otherwise, they’ll find themselves going catatonic while repeating “The Jonad Files” ad infinitum. — Andrew Husband

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I love Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rachel Bloom’s musical comedy about an unhinged lawyer who makes impulsive life choices and only occasionally tries to address her mental illness between songs. Or, put another way, I love the first one and one-thirds season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I expect I’ll love the rest, too, but my wife and I have kind of stalled out in catching up with it because it’s a show so comfortable making viewers uncomfortable that it’s hard to watch too much at once. Bloom’s Rebecca, the eponymous crazy ex-girlfriend, is at once endearing and maddening. She repeatedly creates social situation in which her blinkered view of life creates awkward, hurtful situations for everyone around her and her own desire for happiness increases the unhappiness of everyone who cares about her — and sometimes innocents who just wander into her orbit. I can watch one nerve-wracking hour of, say, The Americans or Game Of Thrones after another and not get rattled, but I need to take a little time between episodes of this show. —Keith Phipps

The Wire

HBO

The Wire may be one of the most critically acclaimed prestige dramas of all time (from before “Peak TV” was even a thing), but it was also not the easiest show to binge and took me the better part of a year to get through it. Personally speaking, this was due to both the heavy subject matter of the show making it difficult to digest more than one episode per night, a few times per week, as well as each season being a self contained story. Many fans will tell you that it takes a few episodes to really get hooked into the plot of each season, and with most of the arcs more or less wrapped up by the season’s end, there’s less of a sense of urgency to immediate jump on to the next. In other words, no “Hank Schrader happening upon Leaves of Grass on the crapper” type of moment. — Stacey Ritzen

Jessica Jones

When Daredevil was first released on Netflix, I consumed most of the episodes in one sitting. Between the awesome, grounded fight scenes and the menacing presence of villain Wilson Fisk, it was the perfect binge. Not so much with Marvel’s follow up, Jessica Jones. This is not to say that Jessica Jones isn’t excellent, it’s just… a lot. As Jessica sorts through the extent of her powers and her past trauma at the hands of Kilgrave (prepare for your David Tennant crush to take one hell of a hit, Whovians), it’s best to take it one episode at a time. There’s a lot to unpack and rushing through the character development won’t do you any favors. Plus, each episode is heavy enough to require viewing an episode or two of Parks & Recreation afterwards so you don’t go to bed cripplingly depressed. — Alyssa Fikse

What are you favorite “unbingeable” shows? Let us know in the comments.

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