It is true that, when it comes to entertainment, we live in a world of instant gratification. You can stream almost anything when and wherever you want, if you have Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Those services are like the best, most efficient enablers ever.
But not all shows benefit from bingeing, that practice where viewers knock back hour after hour, tethered to their screens for sometimes weeks at a time, blindly blotto on benders of episodes. Here are some TV shows that seem born to be consumed in blowout fashion, and others that benefit from a slower kind of viewing process — the old school, weekly approach that allows episodes to breathe.
This is an anthology series on Netflix, and, like its progenitor, “The Twilight Zone,” each episode is a self-standing dystopian short story. The common theme is the future, and how technology and society might look — not some distant “future” where aliens rule the Earth, but the-day-after-tomorrow future, when social media might turn us all into virtual obsessives. Some episodes are better than others — my favorite right now is “Nosedive” — but they are all heavy and need time to sink in. Warning: If consumed too fast, depression and anxiety may ensue.
“Orange Is the New Black”
I enjoy this series, which returns to Netflix on June 9 with season five, thanks to its black humor, its sharp take on racial politics, and its rich ensemble (including Natasha Lyonne, Lori Petty, Adrienne C. Moore, and Laura Prepon). But the story lines, about women in extremis in prison, tend to blend together, and the production values are fairly ordinary. There’s not a lot to revel in with each hour; the pleasure of the show, as with the wonderful “Shameless,” is in the continuous, soap operatic story flow.
There are still people who manage to function in the world without having ever seen this brilliant HBO series — arguably the best and most influential drama of our time. If they step up and do their duty, they will find a wealth of great acting, particularly by the late James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, and Michael Imperioli; they will find scripts that are endlessly clever and yet dramatically sound; and they will find an overall psychological perspective that is fascinating. Each hour is to be fully appreciated, dwelled upon, and considered for at least a week before another hour is consumed.
Verdict: Savor, but special dispensation to binge for second-, third-, and fourth-time viewers.
“13 Reasons Why”
This fine new young-adult drama on Netflix takes on serious issues — teen suicide, bullying, rape, parental naivete — with intelligence and intrigue, as it revisits the final days of high school student Hannah Baker. And some of the acting is powerful, most notably by leads Katherine Langford as Hannah and Dylan Minnette as Clay, one of the 13 people she blames for her decision to kill herself. They both bring to life the muddy ambiguities of being a teen. The script is good, but it tends to rehash some of the material, particularly when it comes to the school jocks. And the pacing, as the story toggles between two timelines, is brisk and loose. You want to get to the end of the season — and to the end of the mystery — as much as Dylan does.
“Master of None”
Now is the time to watch the first season of Aziz Ansari’s extraordinary comedy, before it returns to Netflix for season two on May 12. If you only know Ansari from his days as the hustling Tom Haverford on “Parks and Recreation,” you will be pleasantly surprised by the humanity and sweetness he brings to this story of a single actor in New York. He takes on the generation gap between his character and his Indian immigrant parents; he looks at typecasting in entertainment; he looks at the strains and pleasures of romance. The season holds together beautifully, and yet each episode has its own theme.
Verdict: Savor, but bingeing is allowed to finish the season before the show returns
FX doles out one episode per week of the currently airing third season of this miraculous drama. And that’s a good thing. Each hour is a faceted gem, dense with black humor, snow-white noir, and memorable acting. If you decide to watch the first two seasons, each of which has its own story line and characters, don’t rush. Dole them out carefully, and let the twists and turns of this reinvention of the Coen brothers movie sit with you so you can fully appreciate their excellence.
You’ve most likely heard of this great David Simon series from HBO, which some believe to be the best TV show ever made. It’s a long-form look at the dysfunctional systems of a city (in this case Baltimore) and the people — from drug dealers on the corners to kids in school — who benefit and suffer because of it. There are a lot of characters, and a lot of plots, many of which are presented subtly. The show’s sociological canvas is massive. With too much time between each episode, you might start forgetting who’s who and what’s what.
Each season of this romantic comedy, which returns for a third round on Amazon on Friday, is only six episodes long. But writers and stars Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney pack a lot into their bright scripts, as their characters — the Irish Sharon and the American Rob — try to make their sudden relationship work. Another plus: Carrie Fisher is in the periphery of the show as Rob’s eBay-obsessed mother. “I revered Carrie until I met her, and then I loved her,” Delaney wrote after her death. The show is breezy, and best watched as if each season were a movie.
So many comedies are binge-able, such as the sweet “Parks and Recreation,” the salty “30 Rock,” and one of my personal favorites, the hallucinogenic (and recently canceled) “Man Seeking Woman.” But FX’s “Louie” is one of the exceptions. Louis C.K.’s series is a downbeat, thought-provoking, and at times experimental venture, and if you marathon it you are bound to miss some of his more subtle touches. In your hurry, you might also fail to appreciate some of his wonderful set pieces and guest characters (including strong turns by Parker Posey and Melissa Leo).
This extraordinary series is, like “The Wire” and “The Sopranos,” one of TV’s best-ever dramas. Partly, that’s thanks to superlative acting by Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Aaron Paul, and others. Partly that’s thanks to the way each episode is intensely crafted, with the kind of deliberate camera work that keeps you riveted. And partly, that’s thanks to tight scripts that are filled with all kinds of clues and hints and subtext. Speeding through “Breaking Bad,” which originally aired on AMC, is like rushing through a fine art exhibit: You’ll miss a lot.
Verdict: SavorMatthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.