There is, it pains us to note, entirely too many TV options. A person simply can’t finish it all! If a series is good, it’ll often be popular, which means it’ll run for years and years. By the time you get around to watching it, it’s too late to catch up, and everything’s been spoiled. And just when you’ve finally reached the series finale and are excited to go back to your real life, Netflix will go and resurrect the thing, so you can never really be done with Arrested Development or Gilmore Girls or Wet Hot American Summer. They just keep going and going. You try your luck with the prestige-y TV shows that run only 10 or 12 episodes a season, but the episodes themselves are so long—and sans commercial breaks—that you end up chained to your couch for the better part of your waking hours.
What’s a TV addict/compulsive completist to do?
Fortunately, there are some TV shows a person can knock out in the shortest month of the year—ones that ran for a bit and then ended, definitively, never to return. If you watch an episode a day of any one of these 14 programs, they will be over and done with by March. We promise! And, really, what’s an episode a day? We know you can do it. We believe in you.
Bored to Death (24 episodes) – streaming on HBO Go and Amazon Prime
Bored to Death was an odd little comedy starring the unlikely Variations on the White Man trifecta of Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson. Reeling from a devastating breakup, Jonathan Ames (Schwartzman), a mystery writer, decides to moonlight as a private detective in and around his upscale Brooklyn neighborhood. The mysteries, as you might imagine, only get wackier from there. Most interesting are the clients Ames encounters along the way, especially Kristen Wiig as a jealous girlfriend. Meanwhile, Galifianakis, as a comic book writer, is in a relationship with Heather Burns on and off. And Heather Burns should really be in more things.
The series was created by real-life novelist…Jonathan Ames. If you’re thinking, Huh, that’s funny and sort of intellectual, well, that’s Bored to Death for you.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (22 episodes) – available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes
Studio 60, you completely screwy nonsense parade with an amazing cast. My darling husband Aaron Sorkin decided television needed a show about the power of television (let’s not even talk about The Newsroom), and boy, did he manage to cover a lot of ground in just one season. The rise of the Christian right during the Bush years! Racism! Pregnancy! Not one but two Sorkin avatars, played by Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry! You can find about a thousand faults with this show and be correct on every front, and yet I will ask you, Are you not entertained? (Spoiler: You will be very entertained.)
Boy meets girl. Girl dies. Boy brings girl back to life because he has a magic touch that can revive the dead. Boy and girl fall in love but can’t touch because the caveat in this magic is that a second contact would kill girl forever. Boy makes pies and solves crimes with girl. Also, there’s a dog.
One of the most beloved canceled-too-soon shows of our time, Pushing Daisies is a candy-color spectacle high on style and somewhat light on story. Two mini seasons in, the two biggest mysteries—Chuck’s death and the source of the Piemaker’s powers—remain frustratingly unsolved, even underinvestigated. But honestly, who cares? Lee Pace is as charming as a man could possibly be, the dialogue is a delight, and Kristen Chenoweth is [clap emoji] a [clap emoji] first [clap emoji] rate [clap emoji] comedian.
My So-Called Life (19 episodes) – streaming on Hulu
The show that gave us Jared Leto, Claire Danes, and a lot of feelings. Not since Rebel Without a Cause has unmoored teen angst been given such a perfect avatar; Angela Chase is the morose, moody ball of nerves we all were. Rarely is a “teen” show written with such nuance and sincere compassion. My So-Called Life was way ahead of its time.
Freaks and Geeks (18 episodes) – streaming on Netflix
The best canceled-after-one-season show of all time, full stop, period, end of story. I don’t even want to say any more about it; just go watch it now.
Undeclared (17 episodes) – available for purchase on iTunes
This show had so much going for it (charming cast, relatable premise, solid producers), but one big mark against it: It wasn’t Freaks and Geeks. Judd Apatow’s follow-up to the cult hit just didn’t pack the same punch, though it did, sadly, go the same way as its predecessor. To anyone who didn’t live the Van Wilder college dream, or even the Felicity college dream, Undeclared is for you.
Firefly (14 episodes, 1 movie) – streaming on Netflix
The prototypical cult hit: diverse characters, snappy dialogue, and lots and lots of genre. Nathan Fillion is a space cowboy chip captain who leads a ragtag group of adventurers across the universe in search of…I don’t totally remember, but it’s very fun. The show wasn’t popular enough to stay on, but it was popular enough that Joss Whedon made a movie (Serenity) to explain what happens to the characters. It’s actually quite easy to know whether or not you should watch Firefly. If you like Joss Whedon, you will like Firefly. If you do not, you probably will not. And if you don’t know who Joss Whedon is, call your closest nerd for an explanation.
Band of Brothers (10 parts) – streaming on HBO Go and Amazon Prime
One of the best, most-awarded miniseries of all time, a sad, searing look at war punctuated by moments of, “Oh, that guy!” Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and others have tiny prefame cameos, popping up like Easter eggs between the deep, deep sadness. If you’ve ever wanted to see David Schwimmer play the opposite of Ross or just marvel at Damian Lewis, hit Play. But don’t say I didn’t warn you: A couple of these episodes are deeply moving, and not in a cathartic-crying, This Is Us way.
The People vs. OJ Simpson (10 parts) – coming soon to Netflix
The series of the year about the trial of the (last) century. This is the best thing Ryan Murphy has ever been involved in, in my opinion.
Roots (1977) (Eight parts, one related movie) – available on DVD and for purchase on iTunes, though the remake is on Hulu
The series is groundbreaking, heartfelt, in some places gut-wrenching, and a visceral education about the horrors of slavery. Americans have by and large been eager to revel in the glory of our greatness while conveniently forgetting our history’s sins. It’s a TV show, sure, but as much as any program can, Roots forces us to confront our country’s history, and it’s neither preachy nor melodramatic. It is, actually, very good television.
Show Me a Hero (6 parts) – streaming on HBO Go
Written by The Wire‘s David Simon and starring certified #baes Oscar Isaac, Catherine Keener, and Winona Ryder, Show Me a Hero takes a dry topic—a housing debate within the Yonkers city council—and uses it as a lens to look at racism, poverty, and local politics in a relevant and personal way. It’s the true story of Nick Wasicsko, Yonkers’ youngest-ever mayor, who fought to desegregate public housing in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The show is not only top-notch in its acting, writing, and direction—it’s truly enlightening. If you’ve ever been curious about why cities are the way they are, how power can corrupt, and what happens when a good person is put in a bad situation, this has something for you.
The Thorn Birds (4 parts) – available for purchase on Amazon
What? Like you’ve never fallen in love with the priest who basically raised you! The Thorn Birds is beyond classic; it’s iconic.
Olive Kitteridge (4 parts) – streaming on HBO Go
Watch as the life of Olive Kitteridge, teacher, wife, mother, grump, unfolds over 25 years in a seaside Maine town. Expect a bevy of top-notch performances led by Frances McDormand in the titular role, an unblinking look at the reality of small-town life, and perhaps even a re-examination of Americana. The series is based on Elizabeth Strout’s massively popular and critically praised novel of the same name, so if you watch this program, you can also (lie and) tell people you read the book, which will make you look smart! You’re welcome!
Angels in America (2 parts) – streaming on HBO Go and on Amazon Prime
I know. Yes, I am aware. It’s true, I get it. Yes, OK, yes, this is not a miniseries; these are two movies (or two parts of one long movie) based on two plays (or two parts of one long play). But it’s so good that I’m tempted to increase my o’s: It’s soooooooooooooooooooo good. If you don’t cry tears of joy, despair, and after-the-fact anger about the AIDS epidemic, you need to get your eye ducts checked.
BONUS: Technically, Good Girls Revolt is over after 10 episodes on Amazon, but let’s not jinx it. Someone, anyone, rescue this show!