17 of the Best TV Shows You Can Binge in One Day

17 of the Best TV Shows You Can Binge in One Day
Screenshot: Fleabag/Prime Video

Movies seem to be getting longer, but TV shows are getting shorter. As recently as 10 years ago, it was the norm for top-rated shows to produce 22 episodes or more every season. These days, that’s more or less a thing of the past, and only broadcast network shows even seem to bother with a consistent annual release schedule.

Aware of the powerful draw of binge-watching, services like Netflix and Hulu are increasingly opting for shorter, self-contained seasons that allow creators to conclude their stories on a satisfying note — and if the show is a hit, they can always pull a new season’s worth of plot from between the couch cushions.

What makes for a binge-worthy show? It needs to be self-contained, with an ending that doesn’t leave you feeling like your time hasn’t been wasted. Most of these shows I’m recommending here have concluded; the handful that are returning would still be (almost) entirely satisfying, even if they weren’t. And all of them can be binged in a single day — if not a single sitting.

Schmigadoon! (2021, 6 Episodes)

Total runtime: 2 hours and 50 minutes

A bickering couple gets lost on a hiking trip and winds up in the magical town of Schmigadoon, where everyone seems to exist within an old-timey Hollywood musical. The novelty wears off quickly, but the couple soon discovers the only way out involves finding true love…and they ain’t got it. It’s a genuinely delightful homage to the genre that never descends into lazy parody; the impressive cast (including recent Oscar-winner Ariana Debose, Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, and Fred Armisen) makes sure of that.

Russian Doll (2019, 8 Episodes)

Total runtime: 3 hours and 28 minutes

Natasha Lyonne plays Nadja, a New York video game designer who finds herself in, perhaps, the most unlikely time loop in the history of the trope. Lyonne is fabulous, and the show so deftly leavens its more poignant elements with moments of hilarious dark comedy that it’s impossible to pin a genre label on it. Three years later, it remains one of the best things Netflix has ever made. A second season is coming, and while I’m absolutely looking forward to it, the first one ends perfectly.

It’s a Sin (2021, 5 Episodes)

Total runtime: 4 hours

Once and future Doctor Who (and Queer as Folk) boss Russell T. Davies dramatizes the rise of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s through the stories of several gay men who move to London circa 1981. Smartly, it’s not the same sort of sad-sack AIDS drama we’ve seen so often, but rather a story of complex people living (and sometimes dying) in particularly challenging times — characters who aren’t defined by the threat of a diagnosis, but who lived in fear of one all the same.

Alias Grace (2017, 6 Episodes)

Total runtime: 4 hours and 25 minutes

Though it got a bit lost in the wake of buzzier Margaret Atwood adaptation The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace has just as much to offer in a much more reasonable runtime. Based, loosely, on a true story (on many true stories, it might also be said), it tells the slippery story of a long-suffering Irish maid who spends 15 years in prison for maybe, and maybe not, having collaborated in the murder of her employer and his mistress. The series explores trauma and the ways in which female narratives are dismissed in a world of male perspectives.

Why They See Us (2019, 4 Episodes)

Total runtime: 4 hours and 56 minutes

As with so many real-life stories of its kind, the false early “facts” get a lot more press than the eventual corrections. Ava DuVernay’s miniseries dramatizes the the lives of the Latino and Black kids who became known as the Central Park Five when they were wrongly accused and prosecuted in relation to the rape and assault of a white woman in that NYC park in 1989. The powerful series doesn’t pull and punches and avoids true-crime cliches, leaving us to reckon with the injustices of a system that hasn’t much changed in the decades since.

Fleabag (2016 – 2019, 12 Episodes)

Total runtime: 5 hours and 5 minutes

Creator and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge also plays the title character (whose name we never learn), a scathingly funny and deeply messy woman navigating her life and ill-advised love affairs in London. It’s as darkly hilarious as it is humane and smart. (Crashing, Waller-Bridge’s slightly lesser-known, but also quite good series from 2016, is on Netflix.)

Maya and the Three (2021, 9 Episodes)

Total runtime: 5 hours and 12 minutes

Despite an all-star cast lead by Zoe Saldaña and including Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Rita Moreno, Queen Latifah, and many, many others, this impressive and beautiful computer-animated miniseries flew a tiny bit under the radar last year, but deserves some love. Saldaña plays Maya, a warrior princess who must face the gods in order to spare her family and the world.

Only Murders in the Building (2021, 10 Episodes)

Total runtime: 5 hours and 17 minutes

A trio of very different true-crime fans (Selena Gomez, Martinn Short, and Steve Martin) set out to solve a murder in their very own New York high-rise. It’s a comedy in many regards, but also an impressively constructed mystery in its own right, with each episode revealing new layers to the story. There’s a second season coming that picks up after the end of the first, but the core storyline(s) are pretty well sorted by the last episode.

Chernobyl (2019, 5 Episodes)

Total runtime: 5 hours and 20 minutes

Taking on a new relevance following the Russian invasion of Ukraine (which has thus far involved an ongoing threat to the site near Pripyat), Chernobyl powerfully and intelligently dramatizes the events surrounding the 1986 nuclear disaster. It might be tempting, given recent context, to view the show’s consideration of the dangers of misinformation and political mismanagement as critiques specific to Soviet-era leadership — but the lessons here are much broader.

Brand New Cherry Flavour (2021, 8 Episodes)

Total runtime: 5 hours and 40 minutes

A spiritual successor to co-creator Nick Antosca and Lenore Zion’s Channel Zero series, Brand New Cherry Flavour has all of the over-the-top energy, wild visual style, and psychological horror of that earlier series…and then some. Following a would-be director (Rosa Salazar) as she arrives in Los Angeles intent on directing her first movie, the series turns the more traditional story of a young woman brought low by Hollywood into one in which its quickly unclear who’s predator and who’s prey.

The End of the F***ing World (2017 – 2019, 16 Episodes)

Total runtime: 5 hours and 40 minutes

In this extremely unlikely, pitch dark romantic comedy, James (Alex Lawther) is a budding self-proclaimed psychopath dreaming of killing a person for the first time. He decides on rebellious classmate Alyssa (Jessica Barden), and sets off with her on a road trip across England in order to work his way into her good graces first. It doesn’t work out the way he plans, not even a bit. You’ll finish the first season satisfied and convinced another isn’t necessary, and then be amazed as the second manages to top it.

I May Destroy You (2020, 12 Episodes)

Total runtime: 5 hours and 48 minutes

Series creator/writer/co-director and star Michaela Cole plays an social media influencer turned novelist struggling to reclaim and rebuild her life after she raped. It’s a meaningful, often oddly funny drama about the darkness that threatens to overwhelm a woman’s life, and the road back.

Special (2019 – 2021, 16 Episodes)

Total runtime: 5 hours and 48 minutes

Creator Ryan O’Connell plays a character not unlike himself in the the semi-autobiographical comedy-drama about a gay man with cerebral palsy who decides to rewrite his own narrative after he’s hit by a car, blaming the outward signs of his disability on the accident. O’Connell is great as the believably insecure, but still undeniably self-centered lead. The first season’s episodes are all right around 15 minutes, so it’s easy to get a feel for the show before fully committing.

WandaVision (2021, 9 Episodes)

Total runtime: 5 hours and 50 minutes

Perhaps assuming that everyone on the planet is, by now, familiar with the Avengers and their amazing friends, Marvel only sporadically offers entry points for new viewers. At least initially, WandaVision confused dedicated Marvel fans as much as noobs, making it a unique on-ramp, even if it does have many threads connected to the broader superhero universe. It’s story of a grieving witch living out her sitcom fantasies is an impressive swing into the surreal, and one can imagine appreciating its weirdness even if they can’t tell the Vision from Iron Man. It’s fairly self-contained (especially for the MCU, which abhors an ending) if you’re content to go along for a weird and surprisingly emotional ride.

The White Lotus (2021, 6 Episodes)

Total runtime: 5 hours and 50 minutes

What could be more relaxing than a series about a group of people vacationing in paradise? Plenty, really. Compelling but deeply (and impressively) uncomfortable, the show peels back the layers of its cast of privilidged characters episode by episode, revealing deeply ugly truths about all of them. The show is coming back for a second season, but with a new storyline and characters.

The Silent Sea (2021, 8 Episodes)

Total runtime: 6 hours

Bae Doona stars in this twisty-turny, highly addictive sci-fi drama from South Korea. Launching from a dry, desiccated Earth of the near-future, a team of astronauts and scientists is sent on a mission to an abandoned lunar base in order to retrieve a mysterious sample. Suffice it to say that nothing goes particularly well, and that the bureaucrats on Earth know a lot more about that sample than they’re telling.

The Queen’s Gambit (2020, 7 Episodes)

Total runtime: 6 hours and 30 minutes

Perhaps the most unlikely cultural phenomenon of the pandemic era, this coming-of-age period drama stars Anna Taylor-Joy as chess prodigy Elizabeth Harmon, fighting to become a champion on a global stage in an era where her talents were often dismissed, and while struggling with her own emotional problems and dependency issues.

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