The holiday season has always been all about the binge – turkey, stuffing, chocolate… and now TV.
Binge-watching is almost a requirement these days. The advent (if you’ll forgive the Christmassy pun) of streaming services like Netflix and Sky Go – as well as mankind’s seeming inability to get through a day without downloading things a little less than legally – has led to more TV than ever being available on demand.
As such, there are more stellar shows on offer than any one person has enough time to watch. There are only so many hours in the day, especially when you’re working full-time, so shows tend to stack up. There comes a point when binge-watching is your only option.
And so, just in case you’ve missed any of these great sci-tech and sci-fi and just plain weird shows over the last months and years and decades, we’ve pulled together a list of shows that you could binge on – or at least start to binge on – over the holidays.
So throw on your most comfortable onesie/pyjamas/tracksuit, curl up with your laptop and ignore your family, and we’ll see you on the other side.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
The Man in the High Castle
Based on the much-loved Philip K Dick novel of the same name, The Man in the High Castle presents us with the horrifying scenario that the Nazis and the Japanese Empire were the victors of WWII, with the US subsequently invaded and divided between the two.
While, in this alternate universe, technology has advanced to the level of space travel and supersonic flight by 1962, the horrors doled out to the citizens of the Greater Nazi Reich and the Japanese Pacific States become apparent early on.
Following Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) in Japanese-occupied San Francisco, and Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) in Nazi-occupied New York, the pair meet when helping resistance movements from the two imperial enclaves carry banned films depicting an alternate reality – our reality – to the mysterious Man in the High Castle.
The first thoroughly enjoyable season has just aired on Amazon Prime and, if its final moments are anything to go by, the second should be even better.
When it comes to the depiction of technology and hacking on TV, an audible groan usually goes up across the internet and among those in the know. Invariably, what we see is a laughably inaccurate, if entertaining, idea of what’s involved.
The Sam Asmail show Mr Robot, though, has found itself counted among the very small number of TV shows that have been well-received for accuracy in not just the technology, but the culture, too.
Following the exploits of Elliot Anderson (Rami Malek) – a security engineer by day and hacker by night – we see how someone who suffers with severe social anxieties and depression can unwittingly be drawn into an organisation that aims to take down the world’s largest corporation, E Corp.
With a brilliant, dark, ’80s soundtrack, and fantastic acting from Malek and Christian Slater, Mr Robot – currently on hiatus after its stellar first season, and set to return in 2016 – was quite rightly considered one of the shows of the year.
Based on award-winning Swedish sci-fi drama Real Humans, Humans arrived on-screen on both sides of the Atlantic this summer, with just eight episodes in the first season – a respectable size for binge-watching.
Humans depicts a probable near-future where artificial intelligence and robotics have become so advanced that no home, business or service is complete without a lifelike humanoid assistant called a ‘synth’.
The story opens with the Hawkins family getting their first synth, but something doesn’t seem quite right with ‘Anita’. As the mystery behind Anita (Gemma Chan) unfurls, viewers are invited beyond the valley of the uncanny dolls to a world that stirs up questions we must ask of society as this kind of technology becomes ever more possible.
The whole first season of Humans is available to watch via All 4, with a second season promised for 2016.
When you consider the hype surrounding Silicon Valley – the epicentre of the tech universe – and the current start-up frenzy, it really was only a matter of time before someone put together a TV comedy about starting up in a place that has a culture unlike anything else in the world.
The HBO show Silicon Valley, which has run for two seasons now, tells the story of a team of geeks, led by Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch), at a start-up called Pied Piper. They have left a company called Hooli (a thinly disguised version of Google) and are now trying to navigate the shark-infested waters of venture capital, billionaire investors, patent thieves and much, much worse.
The show expertly skewers the Silicon Valley culture. Full of in-jokes and clever satire, you can also expect to see cameos from Google chairman Eric Schmidt and Re/Code editor Kara Swisher. And, of course, backdrops like TechCrunch Disrupt act as part of the narrative.
Underneath it all, though, Silicon Valley tells the classic American tale of a few underdogs trying to achieve something miraculous, even while they are their own worst enemies and the world is ranged against them.
The characters are likeable and the writing is funny, engaging and sharp. This makes it so accessible – even to those unfamiliar with the supposedly lofty corridors of Silicon Valley – that it could just as easily be a show about a crew of plumbers in Newark.
Sense8 seems to be the marmite of Netflix. But, love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny that Netflix knew what they were doing with this one.
The show may be too slow-moving for some – in binge territory, why rush – but you have to admire the breadth of the storytelling, the nearly note-perfect casting and the immense production quality.
Sense8 tells the story of eight complete strangers, spread across the globe, who discover that they’re intimately connected.
The series features plenty of mystery and tension, not knowing who to trust outside the central eight characters, and ramping up to a high-octane and heartbreaking season one finale. From start to finish, the show is no-holds-barred, funny, sweary, gory, filthy fun – the kind of television you can only find, ironically enough, off the airwaves.
Coming from the pen of the Wachowskis (yes, those Wachowskis, of The Matrix franchise), Sense8 was always bound to get attention. Luckily, it was well-deserved. As was the second season, which will be winging its way to us next year.
The internet was pretty happy when news broke that a new season of Charlie Brooker’s well-received Black Mirror would air on Netflix.
The satirical collection of short stories – all written by Brooker – is one of the best televisual attempts to look at the technology that we know and love today, and take it to extreme, worst-case, dystopian realities.
Featuring a number of guest appearances from big actors like Jon Hamm and Domhnall Gleeson, some of the short stories – like The Entire History of You – have even gone on to be picked up as future standalone Hollywood films.
The new season will be the series’ third. Seasons one and two are a mere three, hour-long episodes each, and can easily be binged in a single sitting.
Scorpion tells the ‘based on true events’ story of Walter O’Brien, the genius from Callan, Kilkenny, with a 197-point IQ.
According to Scorpion lore, O’Brien (played here by Elyes Gabel) gets scooped up by the NSA for hacking NASA at the ripe old age of 13, then, later in life, gets recruited by Homeland Security to solve hi-tech crimes with the eponymous Scorpion – a team of other geniuses, and a waitress who’s the only sane one of the lot.
The rag-tag team of damaged people, as you can imagine, gets into all sorts of high pressure – and usually highly improbable – situations. While some parts of the show may rankle, particularly among Irish fans – that’s never Callan, come on now – the story just about remains within the realms of believability.
Now in its second season, the show is perfect ‘check your brain at the door’ TV – a bit of a stretch when it comes to realism, but utterly entertaining.
The CW gets a bum-rap sometimes. Often dismissed as a network that’s more about the flash than the substance, accused by many of choosing pretty casts over tight story-telling, shows like The 100 fly in the face of that.
The show takes place 97 years after nuclear war forced the human race to flee to the Ark, a huge space station orbiting the planet. When the station’s air supply starts to fail, high command sends some young prisoners – the titular 100 (nice round number, that) – to the surface, to see if the radiation has dissipated enough for the station-dwellers to return home.
What follows is a Lord of the Flies-esque beginning that morphs into something altogether different.
The show follows Clarke (Neighbours alum Eliza Taylor) as she attempts to corral her fellow teens into some sort of ordered chaos, in order to outlive the many threats raging against them, and dips in and out of the Shakesperean drama taking place on the Ark in their absence.
What sounds like inane teen drama actually makes for insanely compelling TV and, a scant few episodes in, you’re in that ‘2am, just one more episode’ headspace.
Two short seasons await you, with a third set for a January 2016 air-date.
On paper, iZombie sounds like the most ridiculous premise you can imagine: young doctor goes to party, party gets weird, doctor wakes up a zombie, zombie doctor solves crime by eating brains.
Weird, yes, but bad? Absolutely not. From Veronica Mars’ Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero, iZombie has all the hallmarks of that cult detective series – sardonic and sassy female lead, wry voice-over, wise-cracking sidekicks…
Where iZombie differs from Veronica Mars – other than, y’know, the whole zombie thing – is that, kind of surprisingly, it’s a little less dark. This falls into the realms of horror/detective parody, with even the arch-villains treated with a heavy dash of humour.
iZombie is currently on mid-season hiatus, but you can catch up on the first season, and the first half of the second season, before it returns in January.
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is perhaps the most cinematic entry on this list, and the one with the most geek cred.
Created by the almighty Joss Whedon, and penned by Dollhouse veterans Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon, SHIELD’s first season was launched off the back of the first Avengers movie.
Given the Whedon ties to the Marvel cinematic universe, SHIELD storylines hew closely to the Marvel movie plotlines du jour, from references to New York and London to Hydra arcs, to Infinity Stones, and to murmurings that set the scene for Civil War.
SHIELD is now midway through it’s third season – the most ambitious yet, taking in other worlds, new species of human, and dark assassinations. While it lost its way a little during Season 2, it’s certainly found it again, and the show is approaching new heights of drama, tension, intrigue and things that go boom. (Yay, explosions!)
Surely claiming the honour of the greatest opening credits in TV history, Quantum Leap remains a firm favourite in the Siliconrepublic.com offices.
The basic premise follows Dr Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), a physicist who built an experimental time travel machine. On his very first leap through time, Sam lands in someone else’s body, starting a continuous loop with no way of finding his way back home.
Each episode sees Sam righting a wrong in the particular time period in which he finds himself, taking us from trivial issues like break-ups and football games right up to social struggles like racist lynchings and the Vietnam war.
Funny, sad, scary and mad, the show gives Sam just two constants: Al, who helps him out throughout the leaps, and an unending pursuit of a return home.
With five seasons, almost 100 episodes and plenty of cross dressing, Quantum Leap is a total gem.
From its first episode, Arrow did something impressive. It made someone in the DC universe – someone other than Supes and the Bat – quite nearly as exciting as Marvel.
Arrow tells the story of the Green Arrow, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), who, after being presumed dead for five years, returns to Starling City with a mission. Armed with a mysterious past, a notebook belonging to his dead father and a whole host of Katniss Everdeen-style skills, Queen aims to take down the crooks and villains who have ‘failed this city’.
Now in its fourth season, the mission has changed somewhat, as has its central character. Initially as gloomy and dark as anyone on The CW ever is, Ollie has mellowed in recent seasons and the overall tone has become lighter.
Though that doesn’t mean the show has lost its drama and tension, as a particularly devastating mid-season finale has just demonstrated. But even that finale keeps you guessing, as Arrow has always been master of the misdirect.
Watch at your leisure, to save you from the trauma of having to keep asking yourself, “They wouldn’t do that… Would they?!” until the end of January.
The Flash continues what Arrow started, showing that the Arrow team – which combines the magic ingredients of good writing, good direction and good casting – made all the difference to the DC universe.
The show follows Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), the Central City speedster, who gets meta-human powers after being struck by lightning. Teaming up with the research team behind the lightning storm, Allen explores his new powers while taking down meta-human criminals.
The sister show of Arrow, the two frequently cross over, but Flash stands more than ably on its own. Receiving fantastic reviews in its first season, Flash combines superhero fun with genuine humour and incredibly likeable characters – with a healthy dose of twists and betrayal thrown in for good measure.
The second season, currently on mid-season hiatus, has been darker than the first, but that’s no harm – real life, after all, has its fair share of darkness. And that darkness actually, in many ways, makes the show more palatable. With some of the more overtly silly bits muted, the show becomes less saccharine and eminently more watchable.
Daredevil was the break-out hit of the 2015 TV season. Airing on Netflix in April, it was universally binged and universally raved about.
Another staple of the Marvel universe, Daredevil follows Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind attorney, as he uses his special skillset to be a big damn hero in the Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood of New York.
There are, of course, nods to Marvel’s big hitters – the Avengers – throughout but, unlike SHIELD, that’s not a central construct of the show. It’s only ever mentioned in passing. The real focus is on how Murdock is helping his community, and on the horrible things he puts himself through to do that.
Star turns from Vincent D’Onofrio and Rosario Dawson round out a stellar cast. Clever writing makes it impossible not to keep watching – the very definition of binge-able TV.
Jessica Jones is the most recent Marvel offering on this list, and another from the Netflix production house.
While it doesn’t quite have the magic Daredevil had to get us instantly hooked, and some of the casting feels just a little off (sadly, David Tennant isn’t quite as evil as we’d like), Jessica Jones is still eminently watchable. And worth watching.
Telling the story of Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), a PI with a drinking problem and no small amount of PTSD –from an earlier abduction by a supervillain, Kilgrave (Tennant), who can control people just by speaking to them – Jessica Jones tackles some really serious issues, from mental health to rape.
In spite of the dark nature of the content, Jessica Jones still has a wealth of humour to hand, and a supporting cast that gives the show something else to focus on from time to time.
Certainly a must-watch for Marvel completists, it’s also well worth a look from anyone who values a well-told story.
Zoo – once summed up by a friend of Siliconrepublic.com’s Gordon Hunt with the fairly damning, ‘When you have actors and are not sure what to do with them…’ – is a masterpiece of alleged fiction.
Set in a world where – for no clearly discernible reason – animals no longer fear humans and decide to annihilate us instead, Zoo follows the travails of a handful of people trying to fix the problem while everything around them crumbles.
Highlights include a murderous posse of bats, Rottweiler security guards, and a crocodile in a car park absolutely wrecking the place.
Wholly ridiculous almost in its entirety, this is ‘leave your brain at the door’ TV. Not demanding your full attention, but occasionally commanding it, Zoo will have you laughing, crying and shaking your head – sometimes even in the right places.
Even when scaling the heights of ridiculousness, Zoo is oddly compelling viewing. It’s only a season old but, luckily, it has been renewed. Season two is expected to air sometime in 2016.
What can be said about Firefly that hasn’t been said before? The quintessential ‘show that should never have been cancelled,’ Firefly is arguably the best in Joss Whedon’s oeuvre.
Many of you will already have watched this space-bound tale of Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and crew – decent, honest smugglers in a sea of crooks and psychotics, whose simple ‘do the job, get paid’ attitude gets torn apart by the arrival of a “heap of trouble”. For the rest of you, now’s the time.
On the surface, simply a quick-witted space opera, Firefly has a lot more simmering underneath, from a rich backstory to beautifully crafted relationships, to mystery and occasional terror.
The beauty of Firefly’s (criminal) cancellation is that it’s easily binge-able. At a paltry 14 episodes – available on Netflix, and cheaply on DVD – this is a matter of a couple of days’ watching.
Converts to the Firefly ‘verse can continue the adventure with Serenity, the 2005 film released to give fans some sense of closure. It won’t satisfy you, but it’s a start.
Man binge-watching image via Shutterstock