Great TV Shows on Netflix?
February 17, 2011 7:44 AM   Subscribe

What are the best television series that are available on Netflix Watch Instantly?

I just finished watching Battlestar Galactica (fantastic!), and I am in the middle of season 2 of Prison Break (season 1 was cool, but it's starting to drag a bit now).

I love to watch tv while I work out in the basement. Don't let me get fat by running out of cool things to watch!

(PS - If you have an especially good recommendation that requires the physical DVD's, I'd like to hear about it. I do have a DVD plan with Netflix. It's just that Watch Instantly is so convenient.)

(PSS - To give you a sense for my taste, my favorite shows of all time are probably Northern Exposure, Freaks & Geeks, Breaking Bad, and maybe some others.)
posted by crapples to Media & Arts (84 answers total) 163 users marked this as a favorite
The entire run of the X-Files plus both movies are on Watch Instantly.
posted by valkyryn at 7:46 AM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

I like the British stuff - Doc Martin, Saxondale, Top Gear, Wire in the Blood, Touch of Frost, and so on. The only downside is that their series/seasons are just a handful of episodes when compared to American shows that you'll have to ration them out in order to prolong your workout schedule.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:47 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Better Off Ted
posted by Sassyfras at 7:49 AM on February 17, 2011 [11 favorites]

Shows that I've gotten hooked on via Watch Instantly: Lost, 30 Rock, Arrested Development, and the BBC version of The Office (the American version was good too for the first few seasons, in my opinion.)
posted by soonertbone at 7:50 AM on February 17, 2011

Lately I've been watching Party Down and The Larry Sanders Show
posted by The Gooch at 7:51 AM on February 17, 2011 [16 favorites]

Friday Night Lights.
posted by willbaude at 7:51 AM on February 17, 2011 [9 favorites]

Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
posted by something something at 7:52 AM on February 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

posted by sharkfu at 7:52 AM on February 17, 2011 [13 favorites]

I went all the way through Buffy the Vampire Slayer, am up to the third season of Doctor Who, and just started Veronica Mars. Not sure how any of that lines up with your tastes though.
posted by sigmagalator at 7:53 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The first two seasons of Dexter are available, I think (soooo good.) Lost is available - which I liked for a bit and am now starting to find ridiculous. We also watch The Office and King of the Hill for laughs, lots of PBS/BBC stuff (we just started Downton Abbey and really enjoyed it.) Arrested Development is great, too.

As far as the DVD plan goes - might I, as a HUGE Northern Exposure fan myself, suggest The Sopranos? Wouldn't seem at all similar at first, but it's the same creator and many of the same writers. Far more violent, of course, but the writing is just as spectacular. Just a brilliant, brilliant show. Also, it wouldn't me Ask MeFi if I didn't suggest The Wire (on season 3 now and and LOVING it.)
posted by Rewind at 7:53 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding some of the above:
Top Gear
30 Rock
Arrested Development

And adding:
posted by Grither at 7:53 AM on February 17, 2011

PS: Prison Break only gets worse.
posted by something something at 7:53 AM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

The first season of the FX show Louie, starring Louis C.K., is on Netflix. It's a strange show—more contemplative and depressing than funny in the traditional sitcom sense, but well done and worth watching.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:56 AM on February 17, 2011 [11 favorites]

I loved The IT Crowd!
posted by zoetrope at 7:57 AM on February 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

Weeds! Dead Like Me! Rescue Me! Kids in the Hall! Californication! Firefly!
posted by jillithd at 7:58 AM on February 17, 2011

X-Files, Stargate, Buffy, and Eureka (maybe.)
posted by SMPA at 8:00 AM on February 17, 2011

Doctor Who! Better off Ted! Intervention! Jekyll!
posted by Lucinda at 8:02 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

What we're watching:

Downton Abbey - yep, the 2010 series (about 7-8 episodes) is already up
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:06 AM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

A couple more suggestions: most of the original UK version of Skins is on there. And if I can go a bit into left field and recommend some PBS series, Cosmos and Carrier are both available to stream.
posted by sigmagalator at 8:06 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Dead Like Me, which is available for streaming at Netflix.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:13 AM on February 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

My wife has marathoned her way through all of Doc Martin, Friday Night Lights, and Grey's Anatomy.

I have recently enjoyed That Mitchell And Webb Look, Party Down (thanks again to this Blue thread), and the fourth series of The IT Crowd (I had watched the other three via torrents), and am planning to watch Parks & Recreation based on MeFi recommendations.
posted by briank at 8:14 AM on February 17, 2011

Your favorite shows are my favorite shows.

These are also my favorite shows and they are on Netflix Streaming...

Pushing Daisies
Dead Like Me
posted by elsietheeel at 8:14 AM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Friday Night Lights
Party Down
posted by Bunsen Betty at 8:21 AM on February 17, 2011

The first (and only) season of The Unusuals (dark humor cops, good ensemble)
The first three seasons of BBC's Primeval (dinosaur conspiracy in present day UK)
Gavin & Stacey - BBC (misfits find love)

We're also fans of the IT Crowd (but Tivo it). So I'll nth that rec. Also Doctor Who & Firefly.
posted by librarianamy at 8:22 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you like Brit humor, I strongly recommend The Catherine Tate show. The writing is consistently funny and she's has an uncanny ability to really in habit the characters she creates (watch, you'll see what I mean...)
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 8:28 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sadly (as Rewind points out), the Wire is available only on DVD. But it is "especially good" if anything is - it may be some of the best TV ever produced. Just be prepared to watch three episodes before you're hooked.
posted by dilettanti at 8:30 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't laugh...I've been geeking out on "Murder, She Wrote".

I've decided I want to be as awesome as Jessica Fletcher (minus all the dead people). She's kind of snarky without being rude. Love her!
posted by Zoyashka at 8:32 AM on February 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

Ballykissangel is absolutely the Irish Northern Exposure. I've only watched a handful of episodes but it hits a lot of the same notes as NE and is sweet, sad, funny, and charming.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:33 AM on February 17, 2011

Have to put in my vote for the Law and Order shows. Not quite your typical fare, but I can't get enough of the show. (I just can't watch SVU at night. XD)
posted by Heretical at 8:35 AM on February 17, 2011

For sure Better Off Ted and 30 Rock.
posted by Blake at 8:41 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by runningwithscissors at 8:52 AM on February 17, 2011

Columbo. Peter Falk is amazing.
posted by jrb223 at 8:56 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

We recently watched and loved:

Veronica Mars - the first two seasons are excellent. The third, not so much.
Party Down

We're currently watching Parks & Recreation and have just caught up.
posted by Francophilex at 9:08 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kate and Allie. No, really. And sure, Weeds.
posted by hermitosis at 9:09 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Veronica Mars! The first season is the best season of any tv show anywhere ever. This is an authoritative fact.
posted by evinrude at 9:18 AM on February 17, 2011 [10 favorites]


However you may spend an entire day on your couch watching because it's super addicting!
posted by radioamy at 9:20 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Spartacus: Blood and Sand and its prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.
posted by cali59 at 9:23 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

IT crowd on netflix and they have all seven seasons of Peep Show for free on hulu! Peep Show is like a grown up, more embarrassing, British Freaks and Geeks.
posted by havemercy at 9:44 AM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Breaking Bad
posted by jdlugo at 9:44 AM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

The wire and Friday night lights are two of the best shows ever. I avoided fnl for years because of the football business. My loss - it's amazing. (first season of Dexter is up there)
posted by crankyrogalsky at 9:47 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

jdlugo: "Breaking Ba"

Great show, but not available on Netflix Watch Instantly.
posted by sharkfu at 9:50 AM on February 17, 2011

Oops, Breaking Bad. editing error.
posted by sharkfu at 9:50 AM on February 17, 2011

Many good suggestions here. I also liked the 1st season of Merlin, which is available for instant download.
posted by bearwife at 10:02 AM on February 17, 2011

Definitely checkout Downton Abbey. I'm normally not a big fan of Upstairs/Downstairs-style English drama, but this is really quite good, and Dame Maggie Smith kills in her part (Her delivery of "What's a weekend?" had me in stitches). It got renewed for another season.

We're watching Damages now, which is trashy-great.
posted by mkultra at 10:10 AM on February 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'LL skip the obvious and suggest something overlooked frequently: The Larry Sanders Show. I didn't watch it when it was on and never really knew anything at all about it until I started at season one, episode one. It is witheringly hilarious. I am utterly ashamed by how long it's taken me to watch it! Thank you NETFLIX!!!
posted by hecho de la basura at 10:21 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

We are hardcore Netflix addicts. We've watched all of Weeds, Dexter, Dead Like Me, Firefly and X-Files. My husband is geekier than me and he liked Sanctuary, Eureka, Farscape (kinda) and I think it was called Lexx.
posted by desjardins at 11:03 AM on February 17, 2011

An older sci-fi show that you might find interesting is Babylon 5 - I mention it b/c you liked Battlestar Galactica and I think of them in sort of the same vein.
posted by clerestory at 11:05 AM on February 17, 2011

Oh, thank God I'm not the only one watching Murder She Wrote! Seriously, though, if you watch it you will not believe some of the guest stars and batshit insane plots. The two-part episode "Death Stalks the Big Top" is a masterpiece of 80s cheese.
posted by mskyle at 11:17 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Roseanne. It's makes me laugh still, all these years later, and I've caught myself tearing up a few times too.
posted by anoirmarie at 11:49 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing Veronica Mars, Friday Night Lights, and Arrested Development. And Peep Show on Hulu. All four are series I wish I could watch again for the first time, so I'm rather jealous of you.
posted by pineappleheart at 11:49 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lots of good suggestions already, I'll add Slings and Arrows to the pile. Sports Night is great too, but not available for streaming. :(
posted by platinum at 12:10 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

IT Crowd
South Park
posted by WizKid at 12:27 PM on February 17, 2011

My girlfriend and I just finished watching Brick City, which has been described as a sort of real-life version of The Wire. Very enjoyable and I've been led to believe it is available on Instant View.
posted by smithsmith at 12:38 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes! I just started BG and I'm loving it! The reason I'm watching BG is that I watched "Stargate: Universe" last month and I've been jonesing for some more scifi since I finished the series (only season 1, 1.5 and 2 have been released so far)

Anyways, if you loved BG you'll love SGU just as much! It's different than the other SG series.. It's more serious, dark, badass, just all around better...

Also, watch "Firefly" -- I'm not sure if it's instant watch or not, but you should watch it anyways!
posted by Glendale at 12:51 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Netflix has the entire run of the Dick Van Dyke show available for streaming.
posted by kimota at 12:55 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

My favorites so far:

The IT Crowd
Arrested Development
Murder, She Wrote (it's awesome!)
posted by amicamentis at 1:08 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

another vote for Columbo. Also the Rockford Files.
posted by interplanetjanet at 1:50 PM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I gotta agree with everyone who said Veronica Mars. The first season is sharp, complex, funny, dark, and different. Here's an article that gives a good idea of what the show is like -- if it doesn't convince you, then the show probably isn't for you (just trying to save you some time).

My husband and I have been making our way through Have Gun -- Will Travel, but it's not much like your favorite shows. It's just a great classic western show.
posted by Toothless Willy at 1:50 PM on February 17, 2011

Its only three 2-hour episides, so I don't know if it qualifies as a "series" or not, but Red Riding is some of the best television I've seen in years, and its on Netflix.
posted by rtimmel at 2:29 PM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Columbo, Rockford Files, and Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew Mysteries. Favorite Columbo episodes are "By Dawn's Early Light," "The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case," and "Now You See Him," which was one of Peter Falk's personal favorites.

If miniseries are OK, try "Collision" from Masterpiece Contemporary. My wife and I both enjoyed that one.
posted by circular at 2:51 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I say Eureka- which I feel is a lot like Northern Exposure with it's "outsider in a quirky small town vibe". Also Doctor Who and Torchwood.
posted by saffry at 3:02 PM on February 17, 2011

It's DVD only, but The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. It's Bruce Campbell in a quasi-western with bits of sci-fi and snark thrown in. One season from the early 90s.
posted by doorsnake at 4:37 PM on February 17, 2011

I'll try to avoid the many greats mentioned above.

The whole Stargate franchise is worth watching, and there are many seasons, so it'll take you a while to run out. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. We thought it was great. The Guild

Not on instant but still good: Life, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (though gets a little too cringe-y in the last season or two), only one season but Kings (husband and friend LOVED it while I just liked it), Defying Gravity, Fringe (!), The Closer, Corner Gas.

Some that may be obvious: Rome, Deadwood, Torchwood, Futurama, Simpsons
posted by evening at 4:44 PM on February 17, 2011

The Cosby Show. Probably the greatest sitcom ever made.
posted by mike_bling at 4:47 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Avatar: The Last Airbender. Yes, it's a cartoon from Nickelodeon, but it's brilliant.
posted by catwash at 6:27 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing the Catherine Tate show. Hilarious.

Eureka and Doctor who are great scifi. Arrested Development is great comedy. Slings and Arrows is fantastic and reminds me more than a little bit of Northern Exposure with the funny, emotional highlights, and occasional surrealism.
posted by MeghanC at 6:34 PM on February 17, 2011

Hyperdrive was amusing enough. BBC comedy. Like The Office (British version) in outer space. The crew pilot the HMS Camden Lock with a mission to "protect British interests in a changing galaxy."
posted by cephalopodcast at 6:36 PM on February 17, 2011

The Vice Guide to Travel will blow your mind. It's on streaming. The North Korea episode is insane.
posted by dbiedny at 9:23 PM on February 17, 2011

OMG, The Larry Sanders Show is up? I had no idea, Bless You, The Gooch. My weekend is shot, there's one episode that opens with the Butthole Surfers, and Gibby setting a cymbal on fire. I gotta find it. Joy to the world!
posted by dbiedny at 9:27 PM on February 17, 2011

If you like Sorkin the short lived Studio 60 is available streaming and I really, really enjoyed it. Smart, quick dialogue and a nice mix of drama and comedy.
posted by Saminal at 11:26 PM on February 17, 2011

Seasons 2-5 of the L Word. (Which is terrible, but still kinda hot.) (sorry)
posted by lunit at 9:42 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Coupling - British, it's one of my favorite comedies.
posted by daikon at 7:06 PM on February 18, 2011

2nding Avatar, the Last Airbender. Wonderful plot, great animation and characters. I've noticed a sci-fi series "Sliders" is also on instant streaming--it's in my queue, but haven't watched any of it so far. I remember seeing a couple of episodes of Sliders many years ago that I thought were good.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 11:58 AM on February 19, 2011

Despite its pompous title, I've recently been netflix-binging on Intelligence, a fast-paced, complex, gritty, cat-and-mouse story about shadowy drug networks and institutional corruption in the Vancouver Organized Crime Unit. Fans of The Wire will find plenty to keep their interest. Our rogue protagonist has just proclaimed it the "Year of the Rat".
posted by stroke_count at 10:44 PM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by AloneOssifer at 9:18 PM on February 21, 2011

Wha, what? I'm this late to the party and no one has mentioned 24? I'm barely in the double digits for sleep hours over the last couple days because season 8 just became available on streaming.
posted by tenaciousd at 10:47 PM on February 22, 2011

Some excellent suggestions so far. I Nth Veronica Mars (absolutely fantastic show, especially in its first season), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dexter, Better Off Ted, Pushing Daisies, and Dead Like Me.

For shows not mentioned yet, I'd add the BBC show Jekyll. Really sharp, witty dialogue. As it goes on the plot flaws become more of an issue, but because of the aforementioned sharp writing I forgive it.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 4:37 PM on February 23, 2011

Whoa, I didn't know Larry Sanders was available! I've been waiting to see that again for years.

My favorite series from Netflix so far is Carl Sagan's COSMOS. It is awesome, and available for streaming.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:39 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

These have all been mentioned, but I thought I'd add my endorsement:

Babylon 5
Farscape (the fourth season was finally added)
30 Rock
The A-Team (Whatever! Get off my back!)

I'm thrilled to read that "Murder, She Wrote" is on there! I used to love watching that with my grandmother!

*adds to queue*
posted by brundlefly at 1:08 PM on February 25, 2011

Old-school, and not on streaming, but The Muppet Show.
posted by annsunny at 7:05 AM on March 7, 2011

So many good shows on here. Veronica Mars and Firely are two of my particular favorites. One that hasn't been mentioned is Lie to Me. I can't get enough of it.

Tim Roth is excellent and the show really hooks you in. It's a Fox show (which means there are a good number of episodes designed to go along with the "Be scared! Terrorists! Ahhh!" agenda) but totally redeemable. I find myself looking for people's micro-expressions in real life. Keeps you hooked, which is ideal for a show to watch while working out.
posted by silvermarker at 8:35 AM on March 7, 2011

MI-5 is a BBC show with some similarities to 24 in tone and subject; I particularly like the first few seasons, but I know that two of the more recent seasons (7 & 8, I think?) are up on Netflix because I powered through them over a recent sick-weekend.

I've also enjoyed re-watching cheesy 90s favorites: I think the first thing I ever watched on Netflix streaming was an old episode of Lois & Clark.

Also nthing Slings & Arrows, a great show that didn't get as much attention in the US as it deserved. Worth starting with season 1 and working your way through, because it ends up telling a complete story over three seasons.
posted by mishaps at 10:30 AM on March 7, 2011

On the advice of this thread, I watched all of Better Off Ted. Am sad now that it's over.

Now, I'm halfway through the first season of Bones. There are at least 100 episodes so far, so this will keep my happy for a long time.
posted by pyjammy at 9:43 AM on March 9, 2011

This is a great list. I've discovered a few gems:

Rescue Me: Made me roar with laughter, even though there's lots of serious issues here, some verging on maudlin melodrama. Leary can sometimes be over the top, but all in all, he does a good job keeping the whole thing together. THe writing is good and the ensemble is a stellar cast of actors (I have to give special mention going to the brilliant John Scurti who plays Lieutenant Kenny Shea AKA: "Loo").

Spartacus: Blood and Sand: I was expecting to hate this because of the 300 graphic novel style visuals, but quickly learned to enjoy the hyper realism of it and instead became wrapped up in the story and matches. The violence is laughably over the top and the blood splatter cataclysmic but nothing new if you've played Quake at some point, also the historical references are accurate and the arcane Latin terms are fascinating. There's a lot of debauchery, as one would properly expect from those lusty spoiled decadent Roman nobles.

Veronica Mars: I watched about a half dozen episodes. Not bad, but I can take it or leave it. I realize that is blasphemous to some. Perhaps it gets amazing soon-ish?

The Larry Sanders Show: Hey now!! Great, great...I just wish the episodes were longer. I totally missed out on this in the 90s, and am just now getting some of the jokes friends would make at the time. Especially "HEY NOW!!" Better late than never I guess. Up to season 4.

Saxondale: THIS. (dramatic pause). THIS!!! If you are a Steve Coogan fan (and you really should be) and liked Hamlet 2. Saxondale is a finely writ baroque tour de force parody of the golden age of English Hard Rock (Tull, Floyd, Deep Purple etc..). As presented by one Tommy Saxondale. Former roadie for above bands, who lived the rock n roll hard rock dream. Now an exterminator in an English suburb. He drives a Mach 1 "Stang" and he has an anger management problem he's in trying to work out in group therapy. First episode, I thought it would get dull to have Coogan doing such a narrowly drawn character, but somehow he makes it work, and I'm about 97.341% sure that Steve Coogan is God. I'm regularly peeing the pants.

Up soon, maybe Better Off Ted or Friday Night Lights.

Oh and my two cents about Dexter, which I think Showtime is going to take out of Netflix Instant Streaming soon: I have never in my life been more viscerally in love with a TV program, unless I go all the way back to my teens, and the greatest TV series of all time: The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan, not streaming in the US, (but streaming on Netflix Canada).

The first two seasons of Dexter are superlatively fantastic.

Anyhow, time for some more Saxondale.
posted by Skygazer at 6:20 PM on March 30, 2011

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