Mandatory Staff Picks: Top 10 TV Shows For Binging Their First Season (That You Can Successfully Stop After)
We’re expected to commit to a lot of things in life: partners, homes, jobs, diets, and TV shows. Why TV shows? Good question. Television doesn’t always deserve that kind of dedication, especially not now. With so many streaming options, there’s no room for disappointment or diminishing returns.
Shows that accomplish what they set out to in one season and end are great, while others go on and on, never living up to where they began. Some sickos stick with these types of shows like bad relationships. When it’s all over, they walk around like they bore witness to something monumental; at worst they’ll say it was a learning experience. Fortunately, you won’t have to suffer through mediocre TV. You know that it’s OK to binge only part of a series. You can walk away from the following shows’ fantastic premiere seasons knowing you got more than the gist.
Cover Photo: HBO
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Prison Break was all the rage in 2005. Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) who, to free his wrongfully imprisoned brother on death row, robs a bank. Michael gets incarcerated on purpose; his master plan to get him and his brother out of Fox River State Penitentiary is a complex one. Michael, being a structural engineer, tattooed (yet disguised) a map of the prison on most of his body. The first season follows Michael, his bother, and other inmates leading up to the escape.
Spoiler alert: They do in fact escape, which feels like a natural conclusion for the series. Unfortunately, Prison Break went on to desperately recycle the format of season one.
This Netflix original follows the Rayburn family, pillars of their Florida Keys community, but, you guessed it, they’re not what they appear to be; the family has a dark past. The first season of Bloodline was thrilling and critically acclaimed, earning Emmy nominations for Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn. However, the succeeding seasons were not successful. Seasons two and three weren’t compelling at all.
Twin Peaks is weird, in a David Lynch kind of way—a good way. Season one follows FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) who travels to the small town of Twin Peaks to solve the murder of a high school girl, Laura Palmer. The show’s surreal and quirky tone and blend of genres made it a hit; one minute fans were laughing and the next asking, “What the literal fuck?” The central mystery is solved in season one and season two suffers because of it.
The first season of Homeland is a high-stakes affair, literally (if you know, you know). The Showtime drama revolves around CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and her suspicions of Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis). Brody is a U.S. Marine who went MIA eight years before the start of the show; he is rescued from a terrorist compound in season one. Mathison, along with the audience, is unsure whether or not Brody was turned during captivity. Season one was praised for its pacing and performances; however, Homeland’s subsequent seasons have never quite lived up to its first.
“Save the cheerleader, save the world.” Back in 2006, NBC’s Heroes was the first show to revolutionize the concept of a superhero; it made them feel like real people. In its first season, people all around the world begin to discover they have unique powers (some nicer than others). The narrative follows these characters as they either accept their newfound responsibilities as heroes or become villains. The season builds and builds until there is a big showdown...then there’s a second season, a third, and a fourth. The first season was incredible; the rest were ridiculous.
Lost follows the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 (who are chock full of secrets) after they crash on a mysterious island full of underground bunkers and violent natives. Season one was super intriguing, making it the biggest show on television. However, the mystery of Lost was dragged out, immediately falling apart in season two. What followed was six years of convoluted metaphysical...stuff.
'Big Little Lies'
Big Little Lies is based on Liane Moriarty’s bestseller of the same name. The story takes place in Monterey, California, and is told through the eyes of three mothers. The show dissects everything from marriage and sex to parenting and friendship. That said, it’s a hilarious thrill ride with twists, turns, heart, and a stellar cast including Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, and Laura Dern. Unfortunately, the first season covered the entirety of Moriarty’s novel and probably could've (should’ve?) stopped there.
'13 Reasons Why'
Jay Asher’s book 13 Reasons Why has a dark premise: a teenager finds the recording of a girl who killed herself explaining why she did so. Regardless, the first season of Netflix’s adaptation was suspenseful, touching, and tasteful—it worked. Similar to Big Little Lies, the first season of 13 Reasons Why uses the entirety of its source material, leaving its narrative in a precarious position moving forward. It did, indeed, fall apart.
Season one of Westworld is beautiful. Not only is it beautifully shot but its narrative is damn near perfect. Clever and suspenseful, the story of the robotic “hosts” in a futuristic amusement park leaves viewers guessing the entire time; the answers don’t disappoint. Full of twists and turns, Westworld adeptly explores the nature of consciousness. It fully utilizes the intellect of creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan and acting talents of heavy hitters like Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, and Jeffrey Wright. When the credits roll on the first season, the story feels complete; even though we don’t see what happens next, the story is developed enough that we have a pretty good idea. That’s why season two tries (so hard) and fails to surprise us.
The granddaddy of one and done, True Detective is an anthology series and it came out of the gate with some of the greatest television you will ever watch. It’s a mic drop; an in-depth character study drawn by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson's chemistry as detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart, respectively. The riveting crime drama is told through interviews and flashbacks with truly deplorable antagonists. It can be harrowing to watch. The show's darkness is lightened only by the top-tier performances of its leads and an optimistic finale (which is surprising and perfect). Unfortunately for HBO, True Detective's second and third seasons never lived up to the first—you can’t pick up the mic once you've dropped it.