(Photo by AMC/courtesy Everett Collection; Netflix; Frank Ockenfels/AMC)
Great new shows leave critics and fans clamoring for their second seasons, but new series don’t always deliver when they return for round two – many suffer the dreaded sophomore slump.
That’s not the case with these titles — in fact, just the opposite. We’ve pulled together a list of TV series that enjoyed the biggest sophomore bumps between season 1 and season 2, according to our Tomatometer. To ensure a fair accounting of opinion, we only included series with at least 20 reviews determining their scores in both their first and second seasons (you could find, if you dug deep, shows with bigger season-on-season improvements, but the pool of reviews would be pretty shallow).
A few of the shows here weren’t very good to begin with, so any improvement is noticeable, but others started strong and managed to get even stronger by their second seasons.
Some of the most prestigious titles in television turned up — hello, Breaking Bad and Mad Men — but the series with the biggest bump of all is Marvel’s Iron Fist on Netflix, which on Friday releases season 2. The second season has a 58% Tomatometer score (updated) from 45 reviews, giving the title a 40% bump between its first and second seasons. The next biggest bump was for Fox’s Human Target, which experienced a 26% jump between season 1 and 2.
Read on to see which other titles were competing with Marvel’s Iron Fist bump.
Updated on February 24, 2019 to reflect season score changes.
What improved: Season 2 was building up to the death of Escobar. Screenrant’s Kevin Yeoman wrote, “By streamlining the narrative into a compelling manhunt that makes far better use of actors like Pascal and Holbrook, while still giving Moura room to shine, Narcos has definitely improved in season 2.” AV Club’s Joshua Alston wrote, “Even with less ground to cover, Narcos is pleasantly dense and steadily introduces intriguing new characters to fill its impending power vacuum and firm up the show’s historicity.”
The ratings: It was a juggernaut from the beginning by modern broadcast standards. The first two seasons each averaged 13 million viewers and only dipped slightly below 11 million by the end. Spin-off The Good Fight is still going on CBS All Access.
What Improved: The supporting cast became every bit as important as Margulies. Many critics lauded Archie Panjabi for her role as in-house law firm investigator Kalinda Sharma, while USA Today’s Roberto Bianco singled out another: “Wife has expanded its reach to envelop all of its well-acted main characters, a growing stable that now includes Alan Cumming‘s Eli Gold (a great addition).” The show also rewarded viewers who watched every episode making it a worthwhile investment. EW’s Ken Tucker wrote, “The Good Wife is so layered with previous-episode details that are never forgotten that it already has its own sort of mythology.”
The show: Hard-drinking, womanizing ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) tries to survive the ’60s while times change around him; meanwhile, female employees Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) rise through the ranks.
The ratings: After a strong premiere to 1.65 million viewers, season 1 averaged 900,000. It nearly doubled for season 2 as the show’s acclaim made AMC a major player in cable originals.
What Improved: Critics caught on that Mad Men was a slow burn. TV Guide’s Matt Roush said, “Mad Men sizzles, simmering with erotic tension and crackling with cynical wit.” Alan Sepinwall, then with the Newark Star-Ledger, wrote, “as with a great baseball game, the leisurely pace gives you more time to marinate in the details.”
The show: Gretchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere) are both dysfunctional, but they may be perfect for each other. Their friends Lindsay (Kether Donohue) and Edgar (Desmin Borges) may be on their own.
The ratings: Season 1 only averaged 300,000 viewers on FX, so they moved it over to FXX where season 2’s 200,000 was just fine. The show will wrap up in its fifth season next year.
What Improved: Season 2 went deeper into the characters’ psychological issues like Gretchen’s depression. Critics appreciated the frank portrayal of delicate subjects. GQ’s Joshua Rivera praised “the way it handles a sobering character arc while remaining one of the sharpest comedies around.” And like life, You’re the Worst’s problems can’t be solved in 22 minutes. “It resists learning the lesson that each installment would seem to set out to teach its characters,” wrote TV Fanatic’s Caralynn Lippo. The show hits 100% in seasons 3 and 4.
The show: Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) visits a mental-health retreat after she suffers an epic breakdown at the office. When she returns, she is reassigned to the company’s basement operations with other corporate misfits.
The ratings: Enlightened was never a ratings juggernaut for HBO. The first season barely averaged 170,000 viewers. Season 2 jumped up to 250,000.
What Improved: The show connected with the viewers who saw it, but its season 2 critical surge ultimately couldn’t save it. Alternet’s Eileen Jones said, “Unleash Amy and watch the endless repercussions in unsparing detail and laugh sardonically at your own stumbling way through the poisoned world.” Francine Prose of the New York Review of Books marveled at the strength of the show’s characters, especially “how much of ourselves we may see in them, if we only have the temerity to allow it.”
The show: The early days of the computer business were full of drama for Joe (Lee Pace) and Gordon (Scoot McNairy). But by season 2, the show became more about Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna (Kerry Bishe) developing online games.
The ratings: Season 1 averaged 750,000 viewers. Season 2 was down a tad to half a million, but the show held on for four seasons on AMC.
What improved: Turns out software is more dramatic than hardware, and focusing on the women helped. “The fact that two young women are bossing the enterprise gives it an added piquancy,” Globe and Mail’s John Doyle wrote, while Andy Greenwald wrote in Grantland, “Its inversion of decades of prestige-drama gender convention seems painfully obvious, and yet I’m not sure if any other show has actually attempted it.”
The show: Harry Potter for twentysomethings, the series takes place in a secret magic academy, where young adults learn how to practice the magic they only read about in storybooks.
What Improved: The second season gave fans more of what they wanted: more sex, bad behavior, witty banter, and whimsical magic, but with higher emotional stakes, too. Black Girl Nerds’ Kyndal Wilson wrote, “There is no truer statement than ‘more magic, more problems.’ If you’re already a fan of the show, you won’t want to miss this.” Screenrant’s Molly Freeman called it “another season focused on the darker, more cynical side to magic grounded in the whimsy of the show’s characters.”
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The show: After a cancer diagnosis, high school teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) becomes the crystal meth cook Heisenberg with his partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), to the chagrin of his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn).
The ratings: As AMC’s follow-up original series to Mad Men, Breaking Bad started out modestly. Its first two seasons averaged 1.5 million viewers. It wasn’t until after season 3 that people started binging and catching up to follow the saga as it aired.
What Improved: Season 1 was only seven episodes, so it was just getting started. Season 2 may have been when critic Alan Sepinwall decided it was a modern classic, writing, “This brilliant second season of Breaking Bad is starting to earn a place in any discussion of the classics of the genre.” Sepinwall would go on to write a book on the series, Breaking Bad 101. Newsday’s Verne Gay also accurately predicted the show’s Emmy dominance saying, “if the rest of the season matches Sunday’s premiere, an Emmy nomination for best drama seems certain.”
The ratings: NBC gave series creator Fuller three seasons to tell the story, at least up through the end of the Red Dragon story line. Season 1 dropped from just over 4 million viewers to just below 3 million. The ratings didn’t improve in season 2, but those who kept watching agree that the show did.
What Improved: Fuller rewarded loyal viewers, never compromising the series’ artistic sensibility or explicit gore to try to win new fans. Critics, at least, noticed the level at which Fuller was working; TV Guide’s Matt Roush said, “[It] is a feast of macabre freakishness, going beyond the realm of guilty pleasure in a sustained nightmare of horrific yet elegantly hypnotic design.” Slate’s Willa Paskin marveled, “Somehow it has become an engrossing, psychologically dense show that is also visually stunning.”
The show: Based on the James S. A. Corey novels, the trio of U.N. executive Chrisjen Avasaraia (Shohreh Aghdashloo), detective Joseph Miller (Thomas Jane), and captain Jim Holden (Steven Strait) combat espionage and hostile alien technology in the colonized solar system.
The ratings: Ratings for the expensive sci-fi series went from 700,000 viewers in season 1 to half a million in season 2 on Syfy. The network ordered a third season, but then cancelled the show. Fans rejoiced when Amazon founder, president, and CEO Jeff Bezos announced that the company’s premium streaming service will distribute the fourth.
What Improved: With a whole solar system, you can imagine there’s a lot of ground for the first season to cover. Those who stuck with it were rewarded with more focused storytelling.“Unburdened with introductory world building and backed by surefooted writing, The Expanse returns as thrilling and intriguing as ever,” We Got This Covered’s Mitchel Broussard wrote. Indiewire’s Liz Shannon Miller said, “There’s more focus to the first four episodes of the season than expected, thanks to more of the characters uniting in proximity to similar goals.”
The show: Famous characters from horror literature team up to save Victorian London from monsters, including Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), and Van Helsing (David Warner) with American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) and the haunted Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) added to the mix.
The ratings: Season 1 averaged 750,000 viewers for Showtime. Season 2 dropped to about half a million, but surged back by the season finale. The series got a third season, but the season finale ended with “The End,” though Showtime never announced that the show was cancelled.
What Improved: Season 2 didn’t offer a jumping-in point, according to New York Daily News’s David Hinckley, but “it should nicely satisfy those who hopped onto the ride last year.” Salon’s Sonia Saraiya wrote, “If anything, the return from hiatus has shifted Penny Dreadful into even higher gear.”
The show: Eight people around the world discover they are linked by extraordinary mental abilities and must team up to survive being hunted by Whispers.
The ratings: Even though Netflix does not release ratings, the streaming service clearly wasn’t happy with the performance of the second season, because the series was cancelled. There were enough passionate fans demanding more Sense8, however, that Netflix agreed to a finale movie, but the Wachowski siblings and J. Michael Straczynski had a five-season plan for this story.
What Improved: The Wachoskis’ bold new mythology takes a while to explain, but patient viewers are rewarded, according to Indiewire’s Liz Shannon Miller, who wrote, “Sense8 may have had a slow start in season 1, but season 2 is a hell of a ride.” The Washington Post’s Sonia Roo wrote that she was just getting into the characters: “Sense8 avoids tokenizing its characters, which involves giving each sensate a full backstory that helps viewers understand what motivates them.”
The show: After a breakdown, newsman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) tries to redeem himself while working under ex-girlfriend MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), while young producers Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) and Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) try to prove themselves.
The ratings: Creator Aaron Sorkin’s opinionated dramatization of real news stories from recent history polarized audiences and critics, and seasons 1 and 2 hovered around 2 million viewers. Sorkin, who also created acclaimed NBC White House drama The West Wing, decided to end his HBO series after its third season.
What Improved: Sorkin won over some Rotten reviews to Fresh in the second season, like LA Times’ Mary McNamara and People’s Tom Giliatto. A few critics posting negative reviews for season 1 simply didn’t come back to review the second season, like Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz and Time’s James Poniewozik, which also gave Fresh reviews more weight in season 2’s score.
(Photo by Fox)
The show: Based on the DC Comic, Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) keeps his clients safe by making himself the target.
The ratings: A lead-in from American Idol, the action series brought a lot of eyeballs to season 1, though its initial audience of 10 million viewers dropped. By season 2 it was only getting six million, not enough for Fox to give it a third season.
What Improved: If viewers had listened to the critics, they might have known that Human Target really brought it in season 2, adding Indira Varma and Janet Montgomery as two strong female characters. That sold What Culture’s Dan Owen on season 2, writing, “The inclusion of two strong women is an obvious but welcome change to Human Target‘s dynamic.” For HollywoodChicago’s Brian Tallerico, season 2’s changes should have made it must-see TV: “Human Target seems to be taking itself more seriously in season 2, trying to add the emotional weight that might have kept it from becoming a water-cooler hit last season.”
The ratings: Netflix does not release ratings, but it’s no secret that season 1 of Iron Fist was a bust. Fans and critics complained about the choppy editing (kind of a problem when showcasing his super power requires badass fight scenes), its slow pace, and derivative echoes of other origin stories.
What Improved: Praise of season 2 credits the show with hearing those complaints and addressing them. TVLine’s Matt Mitovich said in his Rotten review, “Iron Fist season 2 marks an improvement over its well-derided freshman run, but still lacks punch,” while Den of Geek’s Mike Cecchini said in his Fresh review, “A new showrunner, a new fight coordinator… all help tremendously, along with better villains, a more focused story, and a willingness to put the show’s supporting cast to better use.”
Here are titles 16-30 of series measured by Tomatometer whose scores increased most between seasons 1 and 2 and the size of their bumps:
16. The Leftovers – 12%
17. American Horror Story – 11%
18. The Knick – 10%
19. The Good Place – 9%
20. Love – 9%
21. The Americans – 9%
22. How to Get Away With Murder – 8%
23. Masters of Sex – 8%
24. Pushing Daisies – 8%
25. Bates Motel – 7%
26. Justified – 7%
27. The Sinner – 7%
28. Game of Thrones – 6%
29. The Missing – 6%
30. Rectify – 5%
We here at RT went deep into the vault of horror franchises to tally up the victims of some of film and TV’s most deadly psycho killers. Take a peek at the results — if you dare!
Haunting Grounds: Bates Motel
Estimated Body Count: 20
Has there ever been a cinematic slasher more pitiable than Norman Bates? The poor guy is practically at war with himself, and his mom nags him from beyond the grave. Heck, every time he makes friends, they seem to end up dead. If Psycho exerted a profound influence on the slasher genre (and onscreen violence in general), it wasn’t because Norman was a particularly prolific killer. Alfred Hitchcock’s original (and the sequels) depicted a man in the clutches of inner torment and madness that was so gripping and scary that it didn’t need buckets of blood (or, in one memorable case, chocolate syrup) to be deeply unsettling. Nine deaths are attributed to Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) on the five-season AMC prequel TV series Bates Motel. But, really, who can say for sure?
Haunting Grounds: The Jeepers Creepers series
Estimated Body Count: 20
When Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer wrote “Jeepers Creepers” in the late 1930s, they surely never guessed their snappy little pop ditty would go on to provide the theme song for a murderous winged creature who possesses a bee- and dog-like ability to smell fear, and who can regenerate body parts by ingesting those of his victims. And that’s not all — the Creeper can also overcome overwhelmingly negative reviews, too! Although critics kept 2001’s Jeepers Creepers from a Fresh certification, the Creeper was back just two years later with a sequel, and there was even talk of a third installment. Not bad for a bad guy who’s limited to a single 23-day feeding frenzy every 23 years, right?
Haunting Grounds: The Thing from Another World, The Thing, The Thing
Estimated Body Count: 20
Human beings have long wondered what otherworldy monstrosities might be lurking out in the far reaches of space, which helps to explain the enduring appeal of John W. Campbell’s 1938 short story, Who Goes There? It’s the tale of an Antarctic research team that unwittingly rescues a malevolent alien from an icy grave. The creature repays the favor by forcibly (and messily) assimilating every living being within reach, including 20 unlucky scientists and a handful of dogs. Campbell’s monster — referred to as the Thing — has provided rich fodder for filmmakers over the decades, inspiring 1951’s The Thing from Another World, John Carpenter’s 1982 cult classic The Thing, and, most recently, the 2011 prequel/reboot of the same name.
Haunting Grounds: The Jaws series
Estimated Body Count: ~21, if you count the whale in Jaws 2
Most of the slashers on our list are bona fide film icons, but few of them can boast of having changed the entire industry the way Peter Benchley’s great white shark did: Before Jaws‘ 1975 debut, studios actually held their big films out of the summer market, believing the vacation months to be a commercial graveyard. Almost $500 million (and lots of bloody ocean water) later, a franchise was born — and although the third and fourth installments aren’t good for much besides unintentional humor, the original remains a certified classic with a 98 percent Tomatometer rating. Granted, the kill count here takes into consideration the havoc wreaked by multiple great whites over the course of the franchise, but it merely illustrates what Benchley already knew: the ocean is scary enough even without a gigantic bloodthirsty shark chasing you around, so tossing one in the mix just ups the ante.
Haunting Grounds: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series
Estimated Body Count: 30
The twisted true-life tale of grave robber Ed Gein has inspired many notable cinematic grotesques, from Norman Bates in Psycho to Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. However, Tobe Hooper may have done the most to immortalize Gein in the annals of perverse pop culture by emphasizing his habit of making clothing out of human flesh. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre introduced Leatherface, a developmentally disabled fellow under the control of his cannibalistic family. Though he started out as a pretty timid guy who was as afraid of visitors as they were of him, Leatherface came out of his shell in the sequels and reboots, making up for lost time in liberally employing his Poulan 306A.
Haunting Grounds: The Hellraiser series
Estimated Body Count: 35
By the late 1980s, the slasher genre was starting to feel a little stale — and then along came Pinhead, the sadomasochistic leader of the extradimensional pack of hooligans known as the Cenobites. The spike-headed hook fetishist wasn’t featured heavily in 1987’s Hellraiser, but Pinhead’s combination of creepy appearance, selective taste for victims, and clear fondness for gruesome torture stole the movie; throughout the eight-film series (four of which were released straight to DVD), Pinhead has remained the only constant, and for good reason: although his body count may be relatively low, no one else can match his prowess with a sharp, well-placed hook.
Haunting Grounds: The Child’s Play series
Estimated Body Count: ~38
Chucky may have devolved into a pint-sized Tony Clifton at this point, but the original Child’s Play was a superior genre piece — creepy, suspenseful, and blessed with an insidious sense of humor. Child’s Play riffed on the idea of innocence gone horribly wrong, with a quasi-Cabbage Patch Kid embodied by a vicious serial killer thanks to a voodoo ritual. Subsequent sequels — the most recent of which, Curse of Chucky, just recently made its way onto home video — have delivered more camp than scares, but Chucky’s left a trail of more than 35 corpses in his wake — and probably didn’t enamor himself to Teddy Ruxpin.
Haunting Grounds: The Nightmare on Elm Street series
Estimated Body Count: ~39
Arguably the most recognizable movie monster of the 1980s, Freddy Krueger may not be able to compete with other horror icons when it comes to killing in bulk. But the dermatologically-challenged Elm Street resident certainly wins points for style; in addition to his expert use of claw-tipped leather gloves, Freddy is adept at shape-shifting, strangulation, and generating geysers of blood from the bodies of future heartthrobs. Even accounting for the various forms Freddy has taken over the years in his efforts to turn the sweetest dreams dark and bloody, we’ve got his kill count somewhere in the vicinity of 39. That might be fewer than one might expect, but Mr. Krueger is an artiste who chooses his victims very specifically.
Haunting Grounds: The Final Destination series
Estimated Body Count: 39
Remember the old margarine commercials that said you can’t fool Mother Nature? Well, according to the Final Destination series, you can’t cheat Fate, either. It’s often said that revenge is a dish best served cold — but for the unseen hand of Fate, it tastes even better when garnished with a series of incredibly brutal (and, it must be said, very morbidly entertaining) booby traps. The series’ unseen antagonist has dispatched 39 victims, using everything from the mundane (death by falling brick) to the cleverly rewind-worthy (shower cord strangulation, ladder through the eye, death by falling cherry picker). By the time we surpassed The Final Destination and got Final Destination 5, the series was clearly aware of its silly appeal, and each creatively choreographed death was equally as hilarious as it was cringeworthy.
Haunting Grounds: The Scream franchise, Scream (TV series)
Estimated Body Count: 49
One of the rare slasher antagonists who’s a killer by committee, the Scream series’ Ghostface is played by a revolving door of mask-donning, knife-wielding psychopaths. Their motives are different (peer pressure, revenge, etc.), but the results are the same, no matter who wears the Edward Munch-inspired getup: teenagers will turn up dead, following the conventions of horror movies. And, as with other horror franchises, the body count increases with each sequel. Adding to the mayhem was the first season of MTV’s Scream, which aired this summer. All in all, this council of killers is responsible for at least 49 slayings.
Haunting Grounds: The Leprechaun series
Estimated Body Count: 50
The Leprechaun series is the embodiment of the finest that Irish culture and letters has to offer, easily surpassing the works of James Joyce and Oscar Wilde. The titular antihero is murderously committed to acquiring a pot o’ gold, an undertaking that prompts travel to such exotic locales as Las Vegas, Compton, and outer space. Despite his diminutive stature, the Leprechaun’s super-sharp claws and teeth have helped him tally 50 onscreen fatalities, including a very young Jennifer Aniston, who made her big screen debut in the first film.
Haunting Grounds: The Saw series
Estimated Body Count: 60
John Kramer was first christened “Jigsaw” by detectives who discovered the serial killer’s calling card was a puzzle piece-shaped hunk of flesh carved from the corpses of his victims. The name stuck as the cops closed in on Kramer and realized his elaborate, irony-laden traps were designed to punish those he deemed guilty of criminal acts or taking life for granted (he must have been a fan of Se7en). More characters and plot twists (Jigsaw doesn’t work alone! Something about cancer!) were introduced as the series wore on, and Saw evolved into a labyrinthine annual soap opera drenched in blood and agony. A Grand Guignol for our times.
Haunting Grounds: Manhunter, The Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, Hannibal, Hannibal Rising, Hannibal (TV)
Estimated Body Count: 98
Before 1991, you may not have even known what fava beans were — but after Anthony Hopkins’ first appearance as Doctor Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, nobody ever thought of them the same way again. Like Jason Voorhees, Lecter doesn’t appear in much of the famous reboot — he’s only in a little over 15 minutes of Lambs — but it was the first time we actually witnessed the good doctor rack up a few kills on screen (both Manhunter and its remake Red Dragon only imply Lecter’s murdered some folks), and audiences had a clear, um, appetite for the flesh-craving serial killer’s brand of mayhem: he’s gone on to appear in a number of other books and movies. Although we just saw the end of Hannibal‘s three-season run on NBC, series creator Bryan Fuller insists we haven’t seen the last of Lecter just yet.
Haunting Grounds: The Halloween series, minus Season of the Witch
Estimated Body Count: ~107
The best-known escapee of Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, Michael Myers has never been a big fan of babysitters, nor is he particularly fleet of foot. He digs Blue Oyster Cult, and makes special use of Star Trek paraphernalia and kitchen cutlery. Since the release of John Carpenter’s landmark Halloween, Myers’ legend has been told in a number of sequels, and if his reasons for killing are obscure, he’s still coldly efficient at the task; he’s racked up a whopping 100-plus notches on his belt.
Haunting Grounds: The Invisible Man (1933)
Estimated Body Count: 123
We were shocked (shocked!) to discover that killers with high body counts could even be found in Old Hollywood fare. Based on the H.G. Wells 1897 novel, James Whale’s pre-code horror film featured Claude Rains (Casablanca) in his American film debut as the titular villain, also known as Dr. Jack Griffin. Hiding away in a snowy village, Griffin experiments on himself while working on a drug called “monocane,” which he believes is the secret to invisibility. Although he does succeed in turning himself invisible, he also becomes a crazed murderer. Killing those who get in his way, and a train full of people just for kicks, Griffin eventually causes the death of 123 people – including himself.
Haunting Grounds: The Friday the 13th series
Estimated Body Count: 146
Rocking facial protection that would do Jacques Plante proud, Jason Voorhees terrorized Camp Crystal Lake with cold precision (and an ability to cheat death that Rasputin would envy) in Friday the 13th. Occasionally, he breaks out of the bucolic confines of the countryside to wreak havoc in the big city (Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan), Hades (Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday), and the future (Jason X). According to our research, Jason has put a whopping 146 unfortunate souls on ice. Pretty impressive for a cat who drowned in 1958.
En español: Read this article in Spanish at Tomatazos.com.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Dark skies by 4:00 p.m., temperatures below 30 degrees, and — best of all — crazed shoppers at every turn. Fortunately, there is no shortage of quality television to watch over the holidays, so to go with your December shopping list, Rotten Tomatoes has prepared your December bingeing list — a mix of new shows, returning shows, and what’s fresh on DVD and Blu-ray — some naughty, some nice!
What it is: The most recent addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Jessica Jones, about a broken superhero (Krysten Ritter) who runs her own P.I. business. Battling PTSD, our anti-hero finds herself struggling to defeat Kilgrave (David Tennant), a super-villain who has inflicted unconscionable harm upon countless innocents.
Why you should watch it: Marvel’s Jessica Jones is a dark, psychologically complex, and thoughtful meditation on what it means to be a hero. It is also engrossing, action-packed, compassionate, and visceral. Jones is binge-worthy for a number of reasons, but what elevates this well-executed comic adaptation is having a powerful female centered alliance at its core.
Where to watch: Netflix
Commitment: About 11 hours.
What it is: Jeffrey Tambor plays a father who wants to live his life as a woman and needs to tell his adult children.
Why you should watch it: Tambor’s turn as Maura is award-worthy, but what is most surprising is how it’s just one facet of this family dramedy. All the members of the Pfefferman clan are struggling with their own demons and each storyline is full and fascinating to follow. It’s a study of faith, family, and dysfunction that is well worth the day or two it takes to binge-watch it.
Where to watch: The complete first season is streaming on Amazon Prime now, with season two scheduled to drop on Dec. 11.
Commitment: 10 hours for both seasons.
What it is: A prequel to the AMC hit The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead begins in Los Angeles at the dawn of the zombie outbreak as the government employs survival tactics that fuel the apocalyptic fire.
Why you should watch it: Even though fans know what’s coming, somehow the prequel is even scarier than The Walking Dead. All of the shortcomings of the human race — fear, abuse of power, false trust — become factors in the death of society, as one already-dysfunctional family must stick together to survive. It’s not just zombies they must battle, though, but also the failing system that was designed to protect them.
Commitment: Five hours.
What it is: A group of five slacker friends — known collectively as “The Gang” — run an Irish pub in South Philadelphia and get into all sorts of predicaments because they lack both common sense and social graces.
Why you should watch it: Sunny isn’t a sitcom for everyone; its characters are self-centered, misanthropic, and frequently obnoxious. That said, their resilience in the face of countless defeats is strangely endearing, and their adventures are so outrageous and hilarious that it’s almost therapeutic to watch them scramble through each half hour. With season 11 set to premiere in early January, now’s the perfect time to catch up with the Gang’s insane antics.
Where to watch: The first nine seasons are available to stream on subscription services Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix, and you can rent or purchase episodes from all 10 seasons on Google Play, iTunes, PlayStation Video, Vudu, and Xbox Video.
Commitment:About 42 hours.
What it is: This BBC drama follows a brilliant Detective Chief Inspector (Idris Elba) who finds it difficult to strike a work-life balance as he struggles to toe the line between genius and madness.
Why you should watch it: Elba won a Golden Globe for his performance as DCI Luther, a sexy cross between Sherlock Holmes and Columbo, in this gritty character study that adds a new dimension to the cop show genre. Plus, fans of The Affair will enjoy Ruth Wilson in her role as the seductive serial killer Alice Morgan. Catch up in time for season four, which starts on Dec. 17.
Commitment: 16 hours.
What it is: Based on Blair Tindal’s tell-all book, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music, this lighthearted comedy from Amazon Studios shows the inner workings of the contemporary fictitious New York Symphony, led by a young upstart conductor (Gael García Bernal).
Why you should watch it: What makes Roman Coppola’s adaptation of Mozart such a spritely binge is the commanding and hilarious performance by Bernal as Rodrigo (based on the Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel), along with memorable turns by Bernadette Peters as the elegant Symphony manager, Lola Kirke as the oboe-playing ingénue, and Malcolm McDowell as the ousted old-guard maestro.
Where to watch: Season one is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Season two premieres Dec. 30.
Commitment: Five hours.
What it is: Criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) assists the FBI in apprehending serial killers, but as the job begins to eat away at his mental health, he starts meeting with therapist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), a cannibal who murders rude people and serves them at fancy dinner parties.
Why you should watch it: The third (and likely final) season of the critically acclaimed show comes to Blu-ray December 8. There really isn’t anything quite like Hannibal; it’s a crime procedural and a psychological thriller, filled with horror and just the right dash of romance and comedy.
Commitment: 27.5 hours.
What it is: Based on the award-winning BBC series of the same name, Showtime’s hit dramedy stars Oscar winner William H. Macy and tells the story of the scrappy Gallagher kids as they struggle to keep body and soul together despite the constant burden of a dysfunctional alcoholic father.
Why you should watch it: Shameless features a great cast, including a stellar Emmy-award winning performance by the ever-adorable Joan Cusack. Holidays have always been a time for dysfunctional family fun, and nobody does it better than the Gallaghers. Shameless comes back for a sixth season on Jan. 10 so now is the perfect time to binge.
Commitment: 60 hours.
What it is: In this western-sci-fi mash-up, humans, aliens, and hybrids all fight for their rights and acceptance, while a human lawkeeper bonds with his adopted Votan (alien) daughter in 2046 Defiance (formerly St. Louis, MO).
Why you should watch it: Defiance’s backstory is wonderfully complex and reads like a lesson in mythology. The humor is addictive and the scenery and creature designs are breathtaking. The show’s inter-species tension is a clear commentary on cultural struggles, but not presented as a lecture on contemporary acceptance. Rather, it throws intense action, soapy character interaction, and some sexy stuff at you. And Grant Bowler (Nolan) is still one hot leading man.
Commitment: 26 hours.
What it is: The residents and domestic staff of a grand English country estate deal with household intrigue and societal upheaval in the first decades of the 20th Century.
Why you should watch it: With its lavish setting and British accents, this might look like your typical PBS prestige show at first glance. But Downton Abbey gives equal dramatic weight to the household staff and the Crawley family. Indeed, what makes the show so compulsively watchable is its richly nuanced characters, each of whom are bound by societal conventions but occasionally finds a way to expand their limits.
Commitment: 43 hours.
After one hell of a season finale cliffhanger, we’ve finally got our first look at Hannibal season three. Fannibals will have to wait until this summer for a third helping, so until then, enjoy this tasty sample of what’s to come.
Catch up on the first two seasons with the help of our Weekly Binge guide here.
With season two debuting on DVD/Blu-ray on Tuesday, it’s the perfect time to catch up on one of network television’s most boundary-pushing shows, the deliciously perverse Hannibal.
What’s the premise? Criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) assists the FBI in apprehending serial killers, but as the job begins to eat away at his mental health, he starts meeting with therapist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), a cannibal who murders rude people and serves them at fancy dinner parties.
What’s it like? If you took Criminal Minds and added elements of the body-horror films of David Cronenberg’s early career and the surreal look and sound design of a David Lynch film, you’d get something like Hannibal. Horror director David Slade (30 Days of Night) directed the pilot and several subsequent episodes, allowing for a consistently tense mood throughout the entire series so far.
Where can I see it? Season one is available on DVD and Blu-Ray and season two is due out September 16 on the same formats. Both seasons are currently streaming on Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, and iTunes.
How long will it take? Each season is 13 episodes long, with an average length of 42 minutes, giving you just over 18 hours of delectable deviousness. This intrepid viewer watched all 26 episodes in four days, but wouldn’t recommend that kind of pace for the squeamish. An episode or two at a time might allow you to savor the flavor of each episode — or cleanse your palate — before moving on to the next course.
What do the critics think? It took awhile for critics to warm up to Hannibal, whose first season ended up at 68 percent on the Tomatometer. Todd VanDerWerff of the AV Club said, “at once beautiful and languorous, Hannibal unfolds with the logic of a terrifying dream.” However, critics agreed that the show perfected the recipe in its second season, which was Certified Fresh at 100 percent; Phil Pirrello of The Wrap said the season “elevates the surprisingly-high bar set by the first — creating binge-worthy television that makes you, like the titular character, covet for more.”
Why should I watch this? Most critics agree that, whether you love it or hate it, there isn’t anything quite like Hannibal on television. It’s a crime procedural and a psychological thriller, filled with horror and just the right dash of romance and comedy. For foodies, Hannibal gives the Food Network a run for its money when it comes to artfully prepared dishes, beautifully photographed. For cinephiles who love good sound design, you’ll be hard pressed to find other shows that put as much emphasis on sound to bring you into its world. Graham and Lecter’s cat-and-mouse relationship is just as disturbing as you would hope from a friendship between a detective and a would-be serial killer. Story arcs feature special guest stars Eddie Izzard and Michael Pitt in meaty roles, and the supporting cast adds variety and spice, popping in and out of episodes at just the right time.
What’s my next step? For more from the Thomas Harris universe, watch 1991 Best Picture winner The Silence of The Lambs (with Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling), as well as follow-ups Red Dragon (with Edward Norton as Graham), and Hannibal, all three of which feature Anthony Hopkins as Lecter. Michael Mann‘s Manhunter features William Petersen (CSI) as Graham and Brian Cox as Lecter, and Hannibal Rising features Gaspard Ulliel as a young Lecter. If you want more from series creator Bryan Fuller, affectionately known as the Fullerverse (all his shows take place in the same universe), check out Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies. Lastly, if you simply must have more serial killers in your life, try Criminal Minds or The Following.
Classic rock legend Neil Young will perform the songs from his new album, "Prairie Wind," in Nashville next week, and veteran filmmaker Jonathan Demme will be there to turn the concerts into a film, says Variety.
"The deal was made even though the studio execs haven’t heard the songs, which Young will sing for the first time in public on Aug. 18-19 at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. The songs appear on Young’s next disc for Reprise Records, "Prairie Wind," to be released Sept. 27."
Paramount Classics will be releasing the film, which is being co-produced by Tom Hanks‘ Playtone shingle.
Although none of the involved producers (save for the musician and the director, of course) have yet heard any of the new tunes, that didn’t stop Mr. Demme from renting out the theater and putting the whole project together.
The "Prairie Wind" CD hits shelves on September 27th, and Demme hopes to have the flick done and distributed around the same time.