YOU’RE CAUGHT UP on “Mad Men.” You’ve binge-watched all existing seasons of “Orange Is the New Black” and “House of Cards.” You’ve even seen every episode of “Downton Abbey”–twice. Clearly you need some new shows to fill up your DVR, Netflix and Amazon queues.
Consider this list of five exceptional, semi-under-the-radar series, all of which either aired in the recent past or are in the midst of a new season. None of them has generated the kind of social media attention that gets showered on dramas such as “Scandal” or “Game of Thrones.” But every one of them is excellent, addictive and 100 percent binge-worthy.
The Returned (Sundance Channel)
What it is: Imagine losing a loved one–say a child in a bus accident, or a fiance to suicide. Then imagine that loved one suddenly showing up at your door several years later, exactly as they appeared when they left this Earth. That’s the premise of the simultaneously eerie and moving eight-episode first season of “The Returned,” an atmospheric French series that aired last year on the Sundance Channel. If the concept sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because, earlier this year, ABC started airing “Resurrection,” a less-well-received series with a similar premise that’s based on a novel called “The Returned.” That show and that novel are completely unrelated to the French drama, which is actually based on another, totally separate French film. Yes, it’s a little confusing, so just remember this: You should watch “The Returned,” the TV show with the subtitles, about the seemingly reincarnated dead people.
Where to see it: On Netflix, Amazon Instant or DVD.
What it is: “Fargo” isn’t so much an adaptation of the 1996 Coen brothers movie as it is a borrowing of its sensibility and themes to tell an entirely new story. That story involves a meek Minnesota man who unwittingly gets mixed up in unspeakable crimes, a female police officer determined to solve a dual murder and a mysterious figure from out of town who has his own way of dealing with justice. The material is definitely dark, but as the episodes progress–the first season began April 16 on FX–it gets more and more delicious. And you can’t ask for a better cast, which includes Martin Freeman (“Sherlock”), Keith Carradine, Colin Hanks, newcomer Allison Tolman, Oliver Platt and Billy Bob Thornton as the aforementioned mysterious figure who takes a very, uh, creative approach toward vengeance.
Where to see it: On FX, Tuesdays at 10 pm. Previous episodes are available On Demand via your cable or satellite provider.
Orphan Black (BBC America)
What it is: This Canadian thriller works for a couple of reasons. The first is its intriguing plot, in which a woman named Sarah witnesses the death of a doppelganger, assumes that doppelganger’s identity, then gets drawn into a world of conspiracy, danger and a whole bunch of additional clones who also look just like Sarah. The second reason “Orphan Black” is such a zippy pleasure: Tatiana Maslany, who traverses her multiple roles seamlessly, bringing different shades and colors of urgency to each physically identical woman she plays. “Orphan Black,” which kicked off its second season on April 19, doesn’t have the deep layers of complexity that a thriller like, say, “The Americans” does. But it’s engrossing and fast-paced, a beach-read mystery novel of a show.
Where to see it: Season 2 episodes air Saturdays at 9 pm on BBC America. Season 1 episodes can be viewed on Amazon Instant or On Demand via your cable or satellite provider.
What it is: This wonderful series about a woman awkwardly trying to be the change she wishes to see in the world never attracted the same amount of attention as buzzier HBO counterparts, like “Girls.” Unfortunately, its second season, which aired in 2013, wound up being its last. But if you’ve never seen Seasons 1 and 2, here’s the good news: Wow, you have some spectacular episodes of television in front of you. Laura Dern stars as Amy Jellicoe, a woman who implodes on the job in spectacular fashion and, after a stint at a New Age-y rehab center, begins a journey to improve herself and the Draconian company for which she works. Dern is sensational, as are her co-stars, including Luke Wilson, Mike White (the show’s creator) and Diane Ladd as her fictional (and real-life) mom. Few shows have managed to reflect the times in which we live with such wit and heartbreaking pathos.
Where to see it: Both seasons are currently viewable on DVD and, to HBO subscribers, via HBO Go. Thanks to the recently announced deal between Amazon and HBO, starting May 21, they will be viewable via Amazon Instant, too.
Masters of Sex (Showtime)
What it is: For a while, “Mad Men” had the market largely cornered on retro dramas that wrestle with gender issues and workplace politics. Then this Showtime series came along last fall and added another must-watch entry to that niche genre. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan star as Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the researchers who spearheaded groundbreaking studies of human sexuality at St. Louis’s Washington University in the late 1950s and ’60s. In the series, their work naturally generates some on-campus static, as well as some sparks between Masters and Johnson, whose scholarly pursuits have ripple effects on their personal lives. By the way, now is the perfect time to burn through all of this fine drama’s first season; the second season begins on Showtime in July.
Where to see it: Season 1 is on DVD and can be seen by Showtime subscribers On Demand and online via Showtime Anytime. Season 2 will air on Showtime Sundays at 10 pm, beginning July 13.
Jen Chaney is a pop culture writer.
Want another take on binge-watching, the new American pastime? Here’s a column from Peggy Robin of the All Life Is Local blog, plus a handy chart she provides to calculate your watching time.
Got a favorite show or three? Tell us what you like about them in the Comments section of this post.