It’s the sweet spot between the holiday season and the early days of the New Year. Closed shops, days off, and (for some of us) cold weather usher us inside to get toasty (and even toasted!) and finally catch up on some tv. While I’m no big shot yet, I have been working in or studying media for seven years. Here are my personal picks for the top five binge-worthy shows worth watching to catch up to 2015.
5. The Ren & Stimpy Show
An absolute favorite of many who spent their childhood gorging themselves on the sugary cereal and Nickelodean cartoons of the 90s, Ren and Stimpy is a saucy, artfully dark comedy that would doubtfully pass today’s stricter standards for children’s shows. Its critical acclaim and cult following are credited by some critics as paving the way for satirical animated shows like South Park. It’s also what makes Ren and Stimpy so fun to re-visit or see again as an adult, a viewing perhaps adapted as a stoner Saturday morning bong binge.
Created by Canadian animator John Kricfalusi, Ren & Stimpy debuted in 1991 as part of Nicktoons, right alongside Rugrats and Doug. The show has viewers tagging along with the adventures of the “emotionally unstable chihuahua” Ren Höek and his best friend, stupid and loveable kitty, Stimpson J. Cat.
4. Downton Abbey
A British period drama filmed in the very real Highclere Castle, this historic residence – re-named Downton Abbey for the show – serves as the set for the lives of early 20th century aristocrats and their live-in servants. It’s truly British in that it’s fairly tame; not a lot of big gun fights or bar brawls. As a cinematic geek, I think the costumes, characters and the gorgeous settings make it a delightful visual journey.
It showcases both American and British culture in terms of wealth inequality and worker’s rights that gives viewers a history lesson while also cleverly mirroring many of the same problems we face today. It’s also safe enough to watch with your parents, and hey, there’s a chance they’ll love it and that you’ll seem cultured and mature for recommending it. It also stars Maggie Smith, AKA Professor McGonagall, who I like to imagine retired from Hogwarts to Downton Abbey in order to continue giving us her wise advice for finding our way in the world.
If you don’t like watching hot, fit, muscular men have it out with each other on the battlefield, this show is not for you. I never in my wildest dreams thought that the “History” Channel, the same network that churns out Swamp People and Big Shrimpin’, would put out something worth watching in my lifetime, but here it is. Starring former Calvin Klein underwear model Travis Flimmel, Vikings follows a story based around the life and legends of Norse ruler Ragnar Lodbrok.
And ladies, before you write this one off, there is definitely a shieldmaiden who is not afraid to knock people on their ass. Filmed in Ireland, the show follows Ragnar, his family and fellow vikings as they explore, conquer, and battle through the beginning of the Viking Age.
2. House of Cards
You’re probably really tired of hearing that you have to binge on this show, but consider it your patriotic duty. Kevin Spacey stars as a power-hungry Congressman Frank Underwood who, after being passed up for a chance at being the Secretary of State, sets a plan to attain the presidency with the help of his cunning and stunning wife Claire Underwood, played by Robin Wright.
A Netflix original series, it’s a political thriller that may have you binging for days. Set in present-day Washington D.C., the only seemingly unrealistic part of the show is not the corruption seething from the U.S. Capitol, but rather that politicians would be that attractive, smart, or intelligent. The Communist leaders of China are loving it, declaring it an example of how corrupt democracy can be.
“[House of Card’s] unflattering portrayal of U.S. politics affirms Chinese government propaganda about American hypocrisy and bullying.Like President Obama, who came out as a fan on Twitter last Friday, Wang Qishan, one of the seven most powerful leaders in China, is said to be particularly captivated, according to reports in Chinese media and officials with ties to his department, who asked to speak anonymously.”- Washington Post
1. Game of Thrones
Spain. Malta. Scotland. Croatia. Iceland. United States. Ireland. Morocco. All are filming locations for the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, weaving together a world with seven kingdoms and seasons that last years. Although it’s technically a medieval fantasy, the magic elements are subtle, keeping realism at the forefront of the show. The strong writing of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (the books I also recommend), a stellar cast and the production pocketbook of HBO made a masterpiece that is currently the most illegally downloaded show in the world.
What many people might not know about the show is how much Martin pulls from humankind’s own history – specifically the Wars of the Roses during 15th century England. The show is often criticized for its violence and sexual themes, so if you are not a mature adult with a taste for sinister plots and questioning human nature, you are missing out. Winter is here.