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'Orange is the New Black,' 'Orphan Black' and other must-binge TV series

Five must-binge shows

We here at tbt* watch some serious TV. And we've got a few binge-watching recommendations.

Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black, Netflix's newest original show and possibly its best so far, does an impressive number of things really well, from its surprising writing (two words: screwdriver incident) to its vivid characters (Crazy Eyes, anyone?). But what makes the show, created by Weeds mastermind Jenji Kohan, feel so unbelievably fresh and original is its setting in a women's prison. And, natch, its giant female cast, made up of mostly unknowns who do a fantastic job making these characters feel lived-in and real. On any other show, they'd be quirky background characters; here, many of them get full, poignant backstories and play the hell out of them. The women's prison allows the show to explore different female experiences unique to being a woman, most of which are not seen anywhere else on TV. On what other show would a transgender black woman occupy the same lunchroom as a preppy white yuppy, a middle-aged Haitian woman and a nun? — Michelle Stark

City Hunter

This wildly popular Korean drama, now on Netflix and Hulu, manages to fully realize a superhero-esque origin story, a kick-ass heroine, a borderline villainous mentor and a conflicted hero. Yes, there will be subtitles. But it's worth the read. This is the story of a man who was kidnapped from his mother and raised in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle to be a super soldier hell bent on avenging his father — a South Korean special forces officer who was murdered by his own government. That's the first episode. What follows are 19 more episodes of intense revenge plots and the birth of a hero with murky methods. The show wasn't planned to have a second season, so when the last credits roll, it's over — until you rewatch it. (You will.) — Robbyn Mitchell

Orphan Black

There's a moment in Orphan Black, the BBC America sci-fi drama, when you realize breakout star Tatiana Maslany is performing the acting equivalent of a high-wire act. The scene (spoiler alert) comes in the third episode — the one in which the series really takes off — when Maslany's Sarah Manning encounters two of her sister clones: uptight soccer mom Alison and nerdy Ph.D student Cosima. Each character is so singular and natural that you don't for once register the same actress as playing all three roles. With a lesser talent, the performance would be mere stunt-casting; in Maslany's hands, it enters the realm of acting master class. Orphan Black won't return until next spring, but you can see what all the buzz is about for free if your cable or satellite provider has BBC America on demand. There are only 10 episodes, so you won't have shell out a lot if you buy the episodes on Amazon or iTunes. — Peter Couture

Spaced

If this month's action comedy The World's End even remotely lives up to the first two films from Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost — Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz — I'll be re-watching it for years on end. To pump myself up, at some point between now and Aug. 23 I'll probably revisit Spaced, the trio's cult turn-of-the-century British sitcom. Loaded with nods to sci-fi and geek culture, the show stars Pegg and Jessica Stevenson as artsy flatmates with little ambition and even less money, and Frost as their gun-nut friend. It's much more lo-fi than, say, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but director Wright's signature kinetic style, propulsive pacing, oddball characters and eccentric humor are unmistakable. With all 14 episodes on Netflix, it's easy to plow through the series in a night or two. The World's End is coming, so stock up on Jaffa Cakes and enjoy the ride, mate. — Jay Cridlin

Parks & Recreation

It seems ridiculous now, considering how popular this Amy Poehler comedy is these days, but if you sit down to watch this one, it may not be apparent why so many love it. Long before the jokes about breakfast foods, recreational woodworking and civic pride came into vogue, this show's first season is a dreadful slog. Poehler's Leslie Knope is an idiot, the plot focuses on the garbage in a vacant lot and the rest of the cast isn't allowed enough screen time. It's rare to see a show turn itself around so fast, but by Season 2 it's like watching an entirely different series, complete with in-jokes, likeable characters and a rapid-fire delivery rivaling the best of 30 Rock. The best news: That first season is only six episodes. — Joshua Gillin

'Orange is the New Black,' 'Orphan Black' and other must-binge TV series 08/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 9, 2013 3:58pm]

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