Just one more mile!
January 9, 2012 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Which TV shows are exciting and absorbing enough to make the minutes fly by while doing cardio?

I like to watch TV while working out, and I've found that certain shows are powerful motivators. I have a few more episodes of Breaking Bad until I'm all caught up, and I've watched the first 2 seasons of 24 and all of Battlestar Gallatica while on the elliptical.

24 isn't a great show, but it's perfect for this purpose because it's so crazy, and it seemed like every episode ended on a cliff-hanger. In fact, I gave up the show when I was watching it week-to-week instead of daily; I think having time to think about the show between episodes is what killed my enjoyment of it.

TV shows that I've seen (not all of them fit the bill for what I'm looking for; I just wanted to head off suggestions for these shows at the pass):
The Wire
The Sopranos
Buffy and Angel (but didn't get into Firefly and I've seen the first few episodes of Dollhouse, but the sex-doll aspect really squicked me out)
Veronica Mars
A few seasons of Dexter (lost interest)
A few seasons of Weeds (lost interest)
Friday Night Lights
The first season of Lost (stopped watching shortly into the second season)
Twin Peaks
Downtown Abbey

I already have Sons of Anarchy and Damages on my queue and a friend talked me into giving Firefly another try. I've found comedies don't really work for me for this purpose. I'd prefer shows that have at least a season on DVD and streaming. I don't usually care for procedurals, but I'm willing to consider them if they're especially good!

posted by amarynth to Grab Bag (40 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
I usually watch The Biggest Loser. LOL.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:30 PM on January 9, 2012

Response by poster: Whoops, that should be "I'd prefer shows that have at least a season on DVD OR streaming." Streaming is a bonus, not a requirement!
posted by amarynth at 12:30 PM on January 9, 2012

I have been seriously Hooked on Burn Notice.
posted by griphus at 12:32 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do you have Netflix? Bonehead and I just watched Life on Mars, and found that quite enjoyable (it is a loving ode to the 70's cop drama).
posted by LN at 12:32 PM on January 9, 2012

Sherlock! I don't know if you're at all interested in comedy but Community and 30 Rock, depending on your taste. I had a like/blah relationship with Glee and stopped watching before the end of the second season, but it might be good for a season at least.
posted by Nattie at 12:33 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh also, I second Life on Mars (I saw the British version and heard the American version had a more whacked-out ending, but I'm not sure the British version is on streaming anywhere yet; I checked a long time ago though).
posted by Nattie at 12:34 PM on January 9, 2012

Trust me, Damages is just what you are looking for.
posted by Wordwoman at 12:37 PM on January 9, 2012

For engrossing and complex enough that you have to pay attention or risk missing important bits, I've loved "The Unit," which is written by David Mamet, and the currently airing "Leverage," both of which are out on DVD and available on Netflix.
posted by decathecting at 12:38 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by argonauta at 12:41 PM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

posted by emelenjr at 12:49 PM on January 9, 2012

I found Game of Thrones surprisingly engrossing. Damages. homeland. Leverage.
posted by jeather at 12:50 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't access Netflix right now to verify, but I believe Hustle is both streaming and great.
posted by bluejayway at 12:58 PM on January 9, 2012

Quantum Leap reruns used to keep me on my exercise bike for the whole hour. It's on dvd and netflix streaming both.
posted by lemniskate at 12:58 PM on January 9, 2012

A lot of the BBC miniseries will totally scratch this itch, and are excellent to boot: The aforementioned "Life on Mars" and "Luther", "State of Play," "Blackpool" and "Viva Blackpool," "Cape Wrath," etc.

Also, since you clearly enjoy sci-fi, please consider falling down the massive rabbit hole that is Doctor Who. Start with the ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston and go forward from there.
posted by jbickers at 12:59 PM on January 9, 2012

I was going to recommend Alias as well, it can drag in parts but there's usually 2 or 3 exciting spy set pieces in each episode and the mythology plot holds together for the first 2-3 seasons at least.
posted by yellowbinder at 1:02 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lost and old x-files episodes
posted by ljesse at 1:08 PM on January 9, 2012

Assuming we are talking Netflix Watch Instantly...

The A-Team
The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones
In Plain Sight
Life on Mars (US) - Seconding
Lie to Me
Mad Men
Prison Break - Seconding
Sherlock - Seconding
Sons of Anarchy
Stargate Universe
The Unusuals
The X-Files - Seconding
posted by dgeiser13 at 1:15 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I loved the first 3-4 seasons of Bones. (It got a little more interpersonal-drama focused after that)
posted by mercredi at 1:22 PM on January 9, 2012

Yes, Damages is definitely attention consuming (although, don't stop to think too much about the plots). I think a lot of FX's shows are good for this. For example, Justified also sucked me in -- ordinarily I wouldn't recommend it, but for mindless attention grabbing, it definitely works!
posted by bluefly at 1:39 PM on January 9, 2012

posted by madred at 1:47 PM on January 9, 2012

I've recently become completely obsessed with Leverage. First three seasons are on DVD, or can be purchased for digital streaming on Amazon.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:49 PM on January 9, 2012

The Amazing Race is fairly lively, and every episode has new locations and challenges to engage with.
posted by rollick at 1:50 PM on January 9, 2012

X-Files: you can watch the whole thing, or you can go through and just watch the mythology episodes (if you click through to each season's entry, they have marked the mytharc episodes with asterisks). Those tend to be more OMGGGG CLIFFHANGER-y.

I nth the recs for Sherlock and Homeland; both have made my husband and I yell with frustration at the crazy awesome plot twists & cliffhangers.

I enjoyed MI:5/Spooks for getting through some tedious work. It is similarly paced to 24; lots of international spy action!

All of these suggestions are now or have been in the past (and probably will be again soon) streaming on Netflix.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 2:01 PM on January 9, 2012

I like several of the shows that you listed. I also enjoy:

How I Met Your Mother
White Collar
Heroes (only the first 2 seasons, though)
Burn Notice (not my favorite, but tolerable for running on a treadmill)

I've also heard great things about Breaking Bad.
posted by firei at 2:07 PM on January 9, 2012

Oops, forgot to list

Doctor Who
posted by firei at 2:09 PM on January 9, 2012

Another vote for "Sherlock" and "Doctor Who"! I admit that I also like to watch guilty-pleasure, trashy reality TV while I'm exercising, like "Sister Wives" and "Toddlers and Tiaras." Documentaries can also be good, I've found.
posted by trillian at 2:18 PM on January 9, 2012

Misfits! (British teens with superpowers! and hormones!) Bonus points for having a lot of running-friendly music so it might even make you finish your miles faster.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 3:03 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

West Wing and Six Feet Under were both go-to shows for me for working out. The serial plot lines really helped to make me motivated to work out just so I could see what was going to happen in next week's episode.

Freaks and Geeks, and certain seasons of Boston Legal, Gilmore Girls, Grey's Anatomy and Sex and the City also served this purpose, at least for a time, depending on my state of mind.
posted by gubenuj at 3:15 PM on January 9, 2012

We just watched all of Homeland in like a week, but I'm not sure you can obtain the second season through normal channels yet.

Though you're avoiding comedies, Party Down was really good and moves very quickly, though it's short so you'll have to queue several up. Ditto Archer, which is short and funny but moves fast and makes time pass quickly.

Nthing Sherlock (1.5 hour episodes, so you get a lot of miles out of all 4 episodes), West Wing (also Sports Night, which is streaming on Netflix now), and Leverage.

Fringe is pretty engrossing, but I'm not sure how well it'd play on the treadmill.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:12 PM on January 9, 2012

Alias and Vampire Diaries (sorry about the name) are both well done edge of your seat shows. Alias ended all but one of the first season episodes on a cliffhanger (some of them involving actual cliffs). The first season of Vampire Diaries takes a little while of being silly teen drama before shifting into high gear 7-10 episodes in. (It would probably work to just jump in at that point, as well.) These are available on DVD, (Vamp. is airing it's 4th season currently, Alias finished it's 5 season run,) not sure about streaming.

I'd also recommend Fringe -- it's pretty engrossing and makes you want to watch more to find out what's going on. It's not quite the thrill ride of the previous two shows, but it definitely kept me doing my chores happily for quite awhile as I worked my way through it. (Three seasons on DVD so far.) edit: seconding...
posted by Margalo Epps at 4:30 PM on January 9, 2012

I've been watching Farscape while I work out and really enjoying it.
posted by not that girl at 4:52 PM on January 9, 2012

Response by poster: I've added a bunch of stuff to my queue!

I've already seen Alias, Sherlock, Farscape, West Wing, Six Feet Under, Community, 30 Rock, Party Down and Archer.

Thanks for all of the responses so far! Keep 'em coming!
posted by amarynth at 5:19 PM on January 9, 2012

i also watch stuff on my elliptical! a lot of my recs people have already mentioned, but i also wanted to recommend Carnivale and Rome
posted by raw sugar at 6:17 PM on January 9, 2012

Just wanted to add Gilmore Girls into the mix.
posted by fyrebelley at 8:54 PM on January 9, 2012

If you liked The Wire, you'd probably like The Shield. Not as good as The Wire but then again what is? My guess is you'll get hooked big time, and it's got lots of seasons to watch.

Like the Wire, we had to ration it.."Ok, tonight we're only watching 2 episodes".
posted by PaulBGoode at 9:38 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't want to be a dick, but how much Dexter did you watch? In my opinion it improved dramatically in the third season.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:31 AM on January 10, 2012

When I do my exercise bike at home, I like to watch anything that has a little action to it. I tend to get really into the fight/action scenes and I work out harder. So any cop shows (I particularly like The Closer and Law & Order SVU), plus I am also a huge Buffy addict.
posted by radioamy at 10:38 AM on January 10, 2012

Response by poster: stoneandstar, I think I stopped watching at the very beginning of the third season. I'm spoiled for one of the big surprises, I think, but I'll give it another try!
posted by amarynth at 11:19 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Burn Notice and White Collar are both on Netflix, check 'em out.

Covert Affairs only has one season out.

Psych might be too funny for this, but still worth watching.

These are going to be harder to find as they didn't last long. But it's worth the trouble to track 'em down.

My Own Worst Enemy
Now and Again
Jake 2.0
posted by zinon at 12:31 PM on January 10, 2012

Spartacus, all three seasons. They will make you workout harder without realizing it!
posted by JamesBlakeAV at 6:16 PM on March 16, 2012

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