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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.