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The Best TV Shows Not To Binge

Watching multiple seasons of a television show once meant investing multiple years of your life, growing and changing along with the characters. Now we live in a haze of constant bingeing, of chilling Amazon advertisements about falling into a "show hole," of forgetting what show we're currently in the middle of until we log back into the right streaming service and remember it. In respect to our viewing habits, time has all but collapsed.

But the hunger remains to have a relationship with television, one that exists in time. The recent successes of "Succession" and "Yellowjackets" have resulted in multiple think pieces essentially asking, "Is weekly TV back?" Because HBO and Showtime forced us to wait a week for new episodes, both shows got elevated to water-cooler level because they actually reward taking time between episodes to analyze, speculate, and dissect what we've seen. Despite the seismic changes to the way we watch things over the last decade, the majority of TV shows are made one episode at a time, and if you wait even just a day between episodes, the viewing experience will be immeasurably more fun.

By choosing to be patient in your at-home TV programming, you can restore a sense of time to your life, and get more out of shows you've already re-watched countless times. These are the shows that gain the most from slow, deliberate viewing; these are the best shows not to binge.


"Succession" is a portrait of a wealthy family that's so caustic, and so casually destructive, that it defies binge-watching based on the unlikeability of its characters alone. Loyal to no one, and yet cringe-inducing in their insecurity and naked vulnerability, the Roy family has an energy that's just right to take in once a week, occasionally through your fingers laced over your eyes out of vicarious discomfort. Bingeing "Succession" causes that energy to curdle, and renders the insights about the thorough corruption of our corporate and political power structures more depressing than satirical.

"Succession" has also become the clear successor to "Game of Thrones," in that it's the show we collectively consider the most important "appointment viewing" when it's airing a new season, and spend the week between episodes speculating about the plot on the internet. But even in just re-watching the show on your own time, its dark and gothic mood isn't something that's good for the nervous system to live in for more than one hour at a time. Watch just one "Succession" at a sitting, and be grateful that you're not a billionaire. It seems pretty stressful to be one around the clock.


Something we've all forgotten about "Lost," obscured by the legacy of its serialized plot and underwhelming finale, is that the strength of its appeal was its characters existing in time. At first it was flashbacks, then it was flash-forwards; eventually it was literal time travel, but always, "Lost" was about how the echoes of our past inform our actions in the moment. Showtime's recent word-of-mouth hit "Yellowjackets" strips away the needless supernatural bells and whistles and tells a simple reverse "Lost" story: Twenty-five years ago, a girls' high-school soccer team was marooned in the wilderness for a year and a half, and now they navigate the trauma and legacy of that event as adults.

Just like "Lost" so long ago, "Yellowjackets" has benefited from being part of our collective experience, as social media feeds overrun with theories and speculation between episodes each week. But even if you're just catching up on your own, resisting the urge to immediately press onward will enrich your confusion. Just like the characters in the show, you'll be forced to live in the unknown for at least a little while, relate to them in their struggle to survive in the past, and struggle to put the pieces of the story together in the present.

Lodge 49

"Lodge 49" is like reading a novel, or reading a long letter from an old friend. Best enjoyed one sun-dappled episode at a time, it's the rare television show that makes you actually feel better about the confusing, confounding reality we live in. Its warmth and lightness are the opposite of the binge-watching mentality, and the faceless mechanical imperative of the countdown between episodes. Train yourself to hit pause before auto-play decides there's nothing else worth your time — after each "Lodge 49" episode, you'll want to take a walk in the sunlight, or call someone you haven't spoken to in years.

"Lodge 49" is about a Masonic Lodge-type organization in Long Beach, California, that brings together lovable losers of all walks of life. It delves into an entire fictional history, and dangles just a few touches of magical realism to tempt you to binge it, and see what's next. You'll also be desperate to stay in the loving embrace of the show, but since it was tragically cancelled after just 20 episodes, you'd do best to savor them slowly, watching them deliberately and again with the people you care most about.

Better Call Saul

"Better Call Saul" is the most patient show made so far this century. Its predecessor "Breaking Bad" was one of the most propulsive and plot-driven shows in recent memory, one of the first shows people watched until the early hours of the morning just to see what happens. It had compelling performances and was wonderfully made, but the jet-fueled trajectory of the story in each "Breaking Bad" season almost demands you see what's next immediately.

"Better Call Saul," on the other hand, uses its existence as one long flashback to take its time very purposefully and intentionally. Its theme song is brief, but casual and breezy. Episodes will open and close with extended sequences of silent action, without a score and hardly even an edit to inform you how to watch or how to feel about what's being shown. With the exception of opening each season with a glimpse of modern-day Saul hiding out in Omaha as a Cinnabon manager, "Better Call Saul" unfolds in chronological order, without any ominous cutting ahead to teddy bears floating in pools. By letting some time pass between episodes, you can ride the same wavelength the characters do, and appreciate the cumulative effect of its characters' long stretches of hard work, and the small decisions that eventually transform a Jimmy McGill into a Saul Goodman.

Killing Eve

"Killing Eve" is a show that stylishly jaunts all over Europe, something best not to do in a rush. On the surface, it seems like a show about an intelligence agent trying to catch an assassin would be exactly the kind of plot-driven cliffhanger delivery machine just right for bingeing, but "Killing Eve" is out to subvert the expectations we have of typical thrillers, which is why it's called "Killing Eve" and not "Catching Villanelle" to begin with. Sandra Oh's Eve Polastri is a fundamentally bored woman, and that boredom is both what makes her fascinated by a ruthless killer, and what makes "Killing Eve" the sort of show you shouldn't binge.

As it's unfolded for three seasons, the overall plot of the show has gone from a straightforward cat-and-mouse game to something more kaleidoscopic and layered. Characters rethink their missions, lives, and purposes so frequently that it's almost harder to follow if you watch it all too fast. There's killing, and intrigue, but "Killing Eve" offers a much deeper meditation on cruelty, femininity, and obsession if you exercise patience and let it marinate. 

Mad Men

"Mad Men" is the best show that's too sleepy to binge. By the time you've watched three episodes, you've probably seen Don Draper take multiple naps, and you'll be lulled into a stupor just watching all the characters smoke and drink themselves half to death. "Mad Men" is a show of quiet night contemplation and somber, plaintive notes on an oboe. It's a show that has the cadence of wistfulness and deeply American loneliness, and isn't meant to be sprinted through.

"Mad Men" also has some of the best writing we've ever seen on television, and if you let each episode breathe, you'll start to notice how each character's subplot reflects the themes of the other ones. Each season is basically like 13 short stories by Raymond Chandler or John Cheever, but not inaccessibly literate or stuffy. Giving yourself time to live with the employees of Sterling Cooper also lets you appreciate the actual weight of time on the show. The way the characters interact with their own pasts, and grow closer or apart from one another, is one of its greatest strengths, and you'll miss it entirely if you watch it all in a round-the-clock daze.


With "Fargo," creator Noah Hawley has found a cadence unlike anything else on television. It's part serialized drama, part cinematic epic, sort of like a music video at times, and other times a farcical slapstick comedy. Using the Coen brothers' most famous film as a jumping-off point, Hawley has created a lyrical and tonally experimental universe of Midwestern crime throughout the ages. It's a cadence that's at once singular and original, and also exhausting if you binge it.

As each anthology season of "Fargo" unfolds, it repeats itself by showing the same events from multiple angles, all but assuming you aren't just watching episodes back-to-back. It telegraphs its intentions, only to tell you one chapter of the story at a time with the slow, purposeful way it incorporates the "this is a true story" text prologue in a fresh way each week. Just like the Coens' film, it invites you to examine what feels true in a fictional story. Each episode is a short film, and the story reveals itself to you at a pace that you can only hasten at your peril.

Game of Thrones

However you feel about the end of "Game of Thrones," it's a story that's too mythic and sweeping to binge properly. In retrospect, it's easy to remember the shocking twists and giant battles, the backstabbing and throne-gaming that moved the plot of the show. But the real pleasures of the show were in the moments when it slowed down, and depicted characters taking time to get places, and filling that time with aimless conversation. The most epic events and deaths on "Game of Thrones," especially in the early going, worked so well because the show took so long to build up to them.

The showrunners inadvertently proved this exact point by packing so much plot into the final few seasons that "Game of Thrones" felt like it was binge-telling its own story. Travel times became nearly instant; characters barely had any time to deliver all the exposition needed, let alone have personalities. Watch just a single "Game of Thrones" episode at a time and teach yourself the greatest lesson that the show itself, along with the endless wait for George R. R. Martin's last two books, has taught you: patience.

The Crown

There may be no more ambitious show than "The Crown" in terms of chronology in a literal sense. Ultimately, the show aims to depict the Queen's life from 1947 to the early 2000s, an absurd 60-year scope that's required up to three different actors for each lead role, and will have condensed multiple generations of real-life events into six seasons by the end. The least you can do is throw "The Crown" a bone, and not binge it and make everything blur together into a mess in your mind.

Even watching just one episode of "The Crown" a day, like a very high-production-value soap opera, is a vastly preferable experience to bingeing, and more educational. Although it's not entirely historically accurate, you'll be motivated to Google real historical events from every episode as it deals with not just Royal life, but also the news and politics of Britain's past. If you're desperate for more, you have creator Peter Morgan's blessing to watch maybe just two at once, max: He told Variety, "I don't think this is a show where people will be watching more than two at a time. You just want to process it."

Station Eleven

HBO Max did an almost criminal disservice to "Station Eleven" by releasing it in bunches of two or three episodes in the span of a month. A story set in the immediate aftermath of a pandemic far worse than the coronavirus, as well as 20 years later, it's a poetic and unhurried story of humanity and survival that definitely should have been released one episode at a time. Fortunately, you have the option to watch it the way it was meant to be seen.

"Station Eleven" uses each of its 10 episodes to focus on one or just a few characters, and tell us a fractured version of their journey. It's somehow the uber-"Lost," in that it creates the same sort of cosmic echoes of each character's past, but it doesn't need sci-fi elements or deliberate and obvious flashbacks or forwards to do it. Despite depicting the literal collapse of society, it's grounded in the emotions and tragedies that connect people to their own pasts, and inform their hopes. It's a fantastic story that doesn't need to be burned off quickly.

The Mandalorian

"The Mandalorian" is arguably what made Disney+ a success. Obviously, giant conglomerate Disney wasn't really sweating it too hard, but when it launched the streaming service in 2019, "The Mandalorian" was the only really new content it had to offer. But by the time the titular bounty hunter discovers Grogu, better known colloquially as "Baby Yoda," at the end of the first episode, users around the world had decided to keep the service past the week-long free trial to at least see what happened.

"The Mandalorian" did its part to revive weekly television, becoming perhaps the first broadly discussed water-cooler show since "Game of Thrones" went off the air. It was successful proof of concept for later Disney+ series like "WandaVision" and "The Book of Boba Fett," and trod new ground and old at the same time as a classic Western in the vein of "Kung Fu," but in space. Do yourself a favor and watch "The Mandalorian" individually, to get a sense of the vastness of space and the loneliness of its main character.