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Introducing the Curated Binge: Nine Creative Playlists to Get You Started

It's past time we got more creative about the way we watch (and re-watch) TV.
  • (Photos: Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, World of Wonder)
    (Photos: Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, World of Wonder)

    With so many of us homebound with little else to do, TV-watching has spiked over the last month, with many viewers reaching for some seriously deep cuts in their Netflix queues. Alongside record views for new fare like The Tiger King, viewers are also taking time to watch (or re-watch) older titles, with shows like The Wire and Keeping Up with the Kardashians reportedly seeing huge gains.

    While there's never been a better time to sit down with that eight-season series you've always meant to watch but didn't, a full-on series binge can still seem daunting. Instead, why not opt for shorter, curated binges centered around a common theme? They're projects you can start and finish within a few short days before moving on to the next thing. If you haven't seen these shows, these binges can give you a taste of what you've been missing, and if you have seen these shows, they're a fun way to revisit them.

    With so many shows and so many themes, the possibilities are endless. We envision a near future where friends create and share playlists like we used to trade mixtapes back in the day. (Bonus: once watched, viewers can rank their favorite episodes in any given binge.)

    We'll need some ground rules, of course. To that end, we propose:

    1) Each binge be short enough to knock out in a week or two of dedicated viewing.
    2) The themes chosen provide the highest possible concentration of great episodes.

    Below are nine pilot playlists to kick things off. Follow the instructions at the bottom of this post to share your own!

    30 Rock: All the Elaine Stritch Episodes

    The Tony-winning Broadway legend Elaine Stritch was a casting coup when she accepted the role of Colleen Donaghy, the domineering mother to Alec Baldwin's Jack. Stritch's comedic gifts and her unexpectedly fearsome demeanor were a perfect fit for Tina Fey and the 30 Rock writers, who gave Colleen Donaghy some of the show's best lines. And though Colleen was a hit, and Stritch's performance earned her five Emmy nominations and one win, the show used her sparingly, placing her in only nine episodes across seven seasons.

    • "Hiatus" (Season 1, Episode 21)
    • "Ludachristmas" (Season 2, Episode 9)
    • "Christmas Special" (Season 3, Episode 6)
    • "Señor Macho Solo" (Season 3, Episode 7)
    • "The Natural Order" (Season 3, Episode 20)
    • "The Moms" (Season 4, Episode 20)
    • "Christmas Attack Zone" (Season 5, Episode 10)
    • "Meet the Woggels" (Season 6, Episode 17)
    • "My Whole Life Is Thunder!" (Season 7, Episode 8)

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and Angel): All the Faith Episodes

    Faith the vampire slayer showed up in Season 3 of Buffy as first a problematic ally and then as a kind of dark-mirror version of what Buffy could become if she let her power corrupt her. As portrayed by Eliza Dushku, Faith was brassy, quippy, and cool as all hell. And her story arc — a fall from grace that attained redemption across both Buffy and its spinoff Angel — was one of the best the shows ever took on. Dushku appeared in 26 episodes across both shows, though you can knock off a few where Faith doesn't do much of consequence, leaving you with a satisfying 21-episode binge.

    • "Faith, Hope, and Trick" (Season 3, Episode 3)
    • "Revelations" (Season 3, Episode 7)
    • "The Zeppo" (Season 3, Episode 13)
    • "Bad Girls" (Season 3, Episode 14)
    • "Consequences" (Season 3, Episode 15)
    • "Enemies" (Season 3, Episode 17)
    • "Choices" (Season 3, Episode 19)
    • "Graduation Day, Part 1" (Season 3, Episode 21)
    • "Graduation Day, Part 2" (Season 3, Episode 22)
    • "This Year's Girl" (Season 4, Episode 15)
    • "Who Are You?" (Season 4, Episode 16)
    • "Five By Five" (Angel Season 1, Episode 18)
    • "Sanctuary" (Angel Season 1, Episode 19)
    • "Salvage" (Angel Season 4, Episode 13)
    • "Release" (Angel Season 4, Episode 14)
    • "Orpheus" (Angel Season 4, Episode 15)
    • "Dirty Girls" (Season 7, Episode 18)
    • "Empty Places" (Season 7, Episode 19)
    • "Touched" (Season 7, Episode 20)
    • "End of Days" (Season 7, Episode 21)
    • "Chosen" (Season 7, Episode 22)

    Friends: All the Thanksgiving Episodes

    Different sitcoms are partial to different holidays. Shows like The Simpsons and Roseanne put their stamp on Halloween, for example. Friends always managed to deliver their best when it came time for Thanksgiving, with either major story arcs, guest stars (Brad Pitt!), or in one case, vanilla custard layered with jam, lady fingers, and beef sauteed with peas and onions.

    • "The One Where Underdog Gets Away" (Season 1, Episode 9)
    • "The One with the Football" (Season 3, Episode 9)
    • "The One with Chandler in a Box" (Season 4, Episode 8)
    • "The One with All the Thanksgivings" (Season 5, Episode 8)
    • "The One Where Ross Got High" (Season 6, Episode 9)
    • "The One Where Chandler Doesn't Like Dogs" (Season 7, Episode 8)
    • "The One with the Rumor" (Season 8, Episode 9)
    • "The One with Rachel's Other Sister" (Season 9, Episode 8)
    • "The One with the Late Thanksgiving" (Season 10, Episode 8)

    RuPaul's Drag Race: All the Snatch Games

    This one is pretty obvious, but it's also among your most fun options. Ever since Season 2, RuPaul has commissioned the queens to come up with their very best celebrity impersonation and bring it to a fly-by-night send-up of the old Match Game series. Over the years, this challenge has helped to  separate the true contenders from the also-rans, with the likes of Jinkx Monsoon, Bianca Del Rio, and Aquaria stepping to the forefront. With 14 Snatch Games having been conducted between Drag Race proper and All-Stars, this might take you a few days, but it's worth it to track the event's development over the years as it went from a lark to one of the most-high-pressure moments each season.

    • "The Snatch Game" (Season 2, Episode 4)
    • "The Snatch Game" (Season 3, Episode 5)
    • "Snatch Game" (Season 4, Episode 5)
    • "Snatch Game" (Season 5, Episode 5)
    • "All Stars Snatch Game" (All Stars 2, Episode 2)
    • "Snatch Game" (Season 6, Episode 5)
    • "Snatch Game" (Season 7, Episode 7)
    • "Supermodel Snatch Game" (Season 8, Episode 5)
    • "Snatch Game" (Season 9, Episode 6)
    • "All Stars Snatch Game" (All-Stars 3, Episode 4)
    • "Snatch Game" (Season 10, Episode 7)
    • "Snatch Game of Love" (All-Stars 4, Episode 3)
    • "Snatch Game at Sea" (Season 11, Episode 8)
    • "Snatch Game" (Season 12, Episode 6)

    The West Wing: Pick a Favorite Side Character

    The blessing and curse of The West Wing, especially during the Sorkin seasons, is that sparkling guest stars would show up playing characters who seemed to be destined for long, impactful runs on the show, only to either disappear forever or not return for interminably-long stretches. The blessing is that it leaves us with wonderful bite-sized binges for the best of, say, Marlee Matlin's Joey Lucas, or Emily Procter's Ainsley Hayes, or even Matthew Perry's Joe Quincy. I'd suggest a perfect little binge of the best of Amy Gardner, as portrayed by the incomparable Mary-Louise Parker.

    • "The Women of Qumar" (Season 3, Episode 8)
    • "H. Con-172" (Season 3, Episode 10)
    • "100,000 Airplanes" (Season 3, Episode 11)
    • "The Two Bartlets" (Season 3, Episode 12)
    • "Dead Irish Writers" (Season 3, Episode 16)
    • "We Killed Yamamoto" (Season 3, Episode 20)
    • "Posse Comitatus" (Season 3, Episode 21)
    • "The Red Mass" (Season 4, Episode 4)
    • "Debate Camp" (Season 4, Episode 5)
    • "Process Stories" (Season 4, Episode 8)
    • "Red Haven's on Fire" (Season 4, Episode 17)
    • "Privateers" (Season 4, Episode 18)
    • "Commencement" (Season 4, Episode 22)
    • "Twenty-Five" (Season 4, Episode 23)
    • "Constituency of One" (Season 5, Episode 5)
    • "Freedonia" (Season 6, Episode 15)
    • "Requiem" (Season 7, Episode 18)
    • "The Last Hurrah" (Season 7, Episode 20)

    Cheers: All the Bar Wars Episodes

    It took until halfway through Cheers' run for the show to discover its best recurring gag: the prank war that the gang at Cheers carried on with their rivals at Gary's Olde Towne Tavern. As the years went on, Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and his Cheers patrons ratcheted up the intensity and creativity of the pranks, and Gary's Olde Towne Tavern was always there to match them. Any set of prank episodes that begins with rolling Wade Boggs and gets crazier from there is worth your time, and at only seven episodes, you could knock it out in a day.

    • "Bar Wars" (Season 6, Episode 23)
    • "Bar Wars II: The Woodman Strikes Back" (Season 7, Episode 10)
    • "Bar Wars III: The Return of Tecumseh" (Season 8, Episode 21)
    • "Cheers Fouls Out" (Season 9, Episode 2)
    • "Bar Wars V: The Final Judgment" (Season 10, Episode 7)
    • "Bar Wars VI: This Time It's For Real" (Season 10, Episode 23)
    • "Bar Wars VII: The Naked Prey" (Season 11, Episode 19)

    Top Chef: All the Restaurant Wars

    Of all the reality series that have established certain touchstone events they return to each season, Top Chef's "Restaurant Wars" is among the very best. The remaining chefs are divided into teams and tasked with creating their own pop-up restaurants, complete with menu, decor, and the ever-cursed front-of-house service. Great chefs shine, but just as often, they go down in flames. It's a reliably tense and unpredictable tradition, and would make for a deeply satisfying meal in binge form.

    • "Restaurant Wars" (Season 1, Episode 7)
    • "Unhappy Customers" (Season 2, Episode 10)
    • "Restaurant Wars" (Season 3, Episode 10)
    • "Second Helping" (Season 3, Episode 11)
    • "Wedding Wars" (Season 4, Episode 9)
    • "Restaurant Wars" (Season 5, Episode 9)
    • "Restaurant Wars" (Season 6, Episode 9)
    • "Restaurant Wars" (Season 7, Episode 9)
    • "Restaurant Wars - One Night Only" (Season 8, Episode 7)
    • "Restaurant Wars" (Season 9, Episode 10)
    • "Restaurant Wars" (Season 10, Episode 11)
    • "Restaurant Wars" (Season 11, Episode 9)
    • "Restaurant Wars" (Season 12, Episode 7)
    • "Restaurant Wars, Part 1" (Season 13, Episode 9)
    • "Restaurant Wars, Part 2" (Season 13, Episode 10)
    • "Restaurant Wars" (Season 14, Episode 8)
    • "Restaurant Wars" (Season 15, Episode 8)
    • "Surprise…It's Restaurant Wars" (Season 16, Episode 4)
    • "Restaurant Wars Part 2" (Season 16, Episode 5)

    The O.C.: All the Chrismukkah Episodes

    At only four episodes, this is your shortest marathon option, but there's enough adorable charisma from Adam Brody as Seth Cohen to last a dozen episodes. Chrismukkah, the multicultural holiday tradition that Seth invented, blends the Jewish traditions of his dad, the gentile traditions of his mom, and whatever else happens to be going on at that point in the season. The O.C. is a fun show to revisit, and the Chrismukkah episodes always managed to be extra special

    • "The Best Chrismukkah Ever" (Season 1, Episode 13)
    • "The Chrismukkah That Almost Wasn't" (Season 2, Episode 6)
    • "The Chrismukkah Bar-Mitzvahkkah" (Season 3, Episode 10)
    • "The Chrismukk-huh?" (Season 4, Episode 7)

    The Real Housewives of New York City: All the Vacation Episodes

    You could conceivably do this with any iteration of the Real Housewives franchise, but no series has consistently done it better than NYC, which has gifted us with Scary Island, Alex McCord's Herman Munster shoes, Johnny Depp the Sex Pirate, and Bethenny Frankel flipping out over whether life is, indeed, a cabaret. These episodes take up a three-episode bloc per season, taking the ladies to the Caribbean, Morocco, Miami, and the rough seas off of Cartagena. Note: this collection does not include the annual excursions to the Berkshires that began around Season 6, but if you felt like making those a separate binge, I would highly recommend it.

    • "Housewives Overboard" (Season 3, Episode 11)
    • "Sun, Sand, and Psychosis" (Season 3, Episode 12)
    • "Shunburn" (Season 3, Episode 13)
    • "Misfortune Teller" (Season 4, Episode 8)
    • "A Riad Divided" (Season 4, Episode 9)
    • "'Last Call, Morocco!'" (Season 4, Episode 10)
    • "Pirate Booty Call" (Season 5, Episode 13)
    • "Slutty Island" (Season 5, Episode 14)
    • "Vacation, All I Never Wanted" (Season 5, Episode 15)
    • "Ten Gallon Spats" (Season 6, Episode 15)
    • "Go Yell It on the Mountain" (Season 6, Episode 16)
    • "Bury the Hatchet" (Season 6, Episode 17)
    • "Lord of the Manor" (Season 7, Episode 12)
    • "Sonja Island" (Season 7, Episode 13)
    • "Conch Blocked" (Season 7, Episode 14)
    • "Don't Be All, Like, Uncool" (Season 7, Episode 15)
    • "And Away We Finally Go" (Season 8, Episode 17)
    • "Body of Evidence" (Season 8, Episode 18)
    • "Tomfoolery" (Season 8, Episode 19)
    • "Three Tequila … Floor!" (Season 9, Episode 16)
    • "Tequila-thon" (Season 9, Episode 17)
    • "Make Out, Make Up" (Season 9, Episode 18)
    • "Wigging Out" (Season 10, Episode 15)
    • "Guess Who's Arguing at Dinner?" (Season 10, Episode 16)
    • "Ship Happens" (Season 10, Episode 17)
    • "Caught Between an Ex and a Hard Place" (Season 11, Episode 15)
    • "Life Is Not a Cabaret" (Season 11, Episode 16)

    OK, now it's your turn. We've created an area in our forums for posting curated binges, or you can or tweet it out using the hashtag #curatedbinge.

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Binge Watching, 30 Rock, Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cheers, Friends, The O.C., Real Housewives of New York City, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Top Chef, The West Wing, Coronavirus