The 15 Best TV Series on Netflix Instant

Entertainment Features
12.01.11 105 Comments

This, our first feature post of the post-Ufford Era (*single tear*) is both broad and, except perhaps for the numbering of list, somewhat obvious if you’re a TV fan. But it serves a dual purpose. First, it’s an introduction to our television viewing habits that let’s you know that we’re not going to sell you down the river for a glimpse of Whitney Cummings a$$ crack and that “Two and a Half Men” and The Kardashians will remain fodder for mockery and never, ever viewed or spoken of in earnest.

Second, television reruns dominate the next month and you’re stuck with your family, which is why December is the most popular month of the year for Netflix Instant subscribers (made-up fact) because it is both a good time to catch up on shows you’ve been meaning to watch and a good time to avoid talking to your loved ones. So, these 15 Netflix Instant titles also serve as a primer: For a true television junkie, this is the base of your television-viewing stew, the series you need to be familiar with to get by in this world, to understand pop-culture shorthand. It is knowledge, and knowledge is power, and power is something you can use to gain world domination. Watching “Arrested Development” is the first step in ruling your own small country of topless concubines and lazy peaceniks.

Note: Only series currently available on Netflix Instant are included.

15. Scrubs: J.D. and Turk were the original sitcom bromance, the precursors to today’s Troy and Abed. There’s one thing that neither Troy nor Abed have on “Scrubs,” however, and that’s the Turk Dance, the single greatest minute in single-camera sitcom history. Feel free to skip seasons 5, 6, and 8 (“Scrubs 2.0”).

14. Archer: Only season one is currently available, but that’s plenty to get you started on the best animated series on television right now. It’s funny, subversive, and a little dirty. It is a crime that H. Jon Benjamin has only one Emmy nomination for voice work, and got beat out by Anne Hathaway for a cameo in “The Simpsons.” The man’s voice drips funny.

13. The League: Ostensibly about a fantasy football league, “The League” is really a variation on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” misanthropy combined with sports metaphors and a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” plot structure. Also, you haven’t lived until you’ve see Jeff Goldblum’s vinegar strokes.

12. Sports Night: This is where Aaron Sorkin’s walk-and-talk began and a forerunner to the modern single-camera sitcom. If you can get past the laugh track during the first season and Sorkin’s occasional unctuousness, “Sports Night” — a behind-the-scenes look at a sports network similar to ESPN — is one of the most clever, heartfelt and passionate television shows of the last 20 years. Shoe Money!

11. Sons of Anarchy: If you look at the history of F/X’s original 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. Here’s a blooper reel for SAMCRO converts.

10. Party Down: Little seen during its original run on Starz, “Party Down” has rightfully taken its place among the best cancelled-too-soon television shows. It is hilarious and biting; there’s occasional nudity; you’ll get to see Jane Lynch out of Jane Lynch mode; Adam “The Badger” Scott serves up the best dry wit this side of Michael Bluth; and there’s even an episode that will completely change your perspective on Steve Guttenberg. Here’s a taste.

9. Mad Men: There’s more to “Mad Men” that Christina Hendricks’ rack, the icy cold bitchiness of January Jones, and cool ad spots from the 60s. This period drama starts off slow (reasonable minds will differ, but I found the first two seasons dull in patches) but it’s most certainly the best soap opera on television, and you can even get a taste of Alison Brie over there. Mostly, though, it’s about Hendrick’s backside.

8. 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. Here’s the show’s 32 Best Quotes (spoilers).

7. Louie: I know that Ufford was a huge fan of this show, and rightfully so: It’s groundbreaking. A structureless television show built around dark themes and stand-up comedy bits, and it’s one of the funniest most affecting television shows around. It may take a few episodes for you to find Louie C.K.’s rhythm, but once you do, it will rock your world.

6. Doctor Who: This is probably where I’m most likely to differ from my other Warming Glow colleagues, where I reveal my nerdish tendencies. But lookit: If you haven’t seen it, it’s probably not what you think: 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.

5. Parks and Recreation: Another popular show in the Uproxx world for obvious reasons: Ron Swanson may be the funniest character of the last decade, but it’s not just Swanson (or the hilariously dour April Ludgate): 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.

4. The Office (UK): The original UK version is still the best, and you can watch the entire series in a weekend’s time. Ricky Gervais mastered the art of uncomfortable comedy, something that the U.S. version has steered clear of since the third or fourth season. There are moments so painful that you may feel compelled to leave the room, but it’s those very moments that make the series payoff that much more satisfying. Before there was a Ron Swanson dance, there was a David Brent dance.

3. Friday Night Lights: Let me put this in terms the Warming Glow crowd will understand: “Friday Night Lights” is to football what Corgi Friday is to Corgis. It’s not about the Corgis. It’s about a shared sense of community, it’s about being thankful, and appreciative and finding something we can all rally around. Watch “Friday Night Lights.” Do it for the Corgis.

2. 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. It’s appropriate, however, that this show would rank high on a list of the best Netflix Instant series because, in two years, it will be returning exclusively on Netflix ahead of the talked-to-death movie.

1. Breaking Bad: Many people will argue, accurately, that “The Wire” is the best television show of all time. It’s true, but if there’s one show that can sniff its gunpowder residue, it’s “Breaking Bad,” a slow burn of a show that burns from both ends, creating an enormous amount of intensity. It’s brilliant storytelling, the best acting on television, and writing that will blow the threads out of your socks. Here’s another awesome gag reel.

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