Iron thrones, alien conspiracies and wartime camaraderie; these are the shows you'll wish never ended.
Though you'll sometimes pay a little more for the privilege to watch them, Foxtel Now is the current keeper of some of the greatest TV shows ever made. Drama, comedy, horror, romance – no matter what your favourite flavour is, there are hours and hours of entertainment here to greedily consume. So let's stop with the preamble and dig into the crème de le crème of binge material...
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1. True Detective
Rotten Tomatoes score: 74%
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Matthew McConaughey
Real talk before we begin: watch and love the first season of True Detective, more or less ignore the second, which is a complete departure in terms of setting, characters and writing quality. Admittedly, the follow-up isn't as bad as the widespread panning would have you believe, but it's a total downshift compared to the existential buddy-cop pairing of Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson), two Louisianan homicide detectives on the trail of a murder mystery that spans 17 years.
Hart is a play-it-loose Texan good ol' boy who has fatherhood and marital problems aplenty. Cohle is a brooding professional with a dark past and an even darker outlook on the human race (his pessimistic monologues are real standouts). This mismatched duo starts their partnership with a befuddling investigation centred on the gruesome, ritualistic killing of a young woman, posed by a tree with deer antlers on her head and accompanied by strange symbols. To make matters worse, when the case isn't adequately closed, and the crime is repeated decades later, our heroes transition from true detectives to possible suspects.
2. The Leftovers
Rotten Tomatoes score: 91%
Cast: Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Carrie Coon
They call it "The Sudden Departure", a global cataclysm where a whopping 140 million people – roughly 2% of us – vanished without a trace. Set three years after this mysterious disaster, the world hasn't been able to move on due to a complete lack of answers. As a result, the small community of Mapleton, NY, is a tinderbox of confusion and anger. A decent subsection of folks have been driven to extreme paranoia or outright madness, conspiracy nuts are having a field day and cult leaders are capitalising on the faith vacuum.
Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) is a police chief up against the wall, desperately trying to prevent a civil war from triggering between the sketchy zealots of "The Guilty Remnant" and the citizenry who just want to forget and move on with their lives. Prepare to become hooked on an ensemble cast, sharply-written characters and just the irresistible lure of getting to the bottom of a confounding event that seemingly cannot be explained by cosmology or philosophy.
3. Band of Brothers
Rotten Tomatoes score: 100%
Cast: Damian Lewis, Ron Livingstone, Michael Cudlitz
First aired in 2001 during a period of renewed interest in WWII (thank you, Saving Private Ryan), Band of Brothers was a mini-series that also bore the fingerprints of Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks (co-executive producing). This time, instead of following a fictitious squad of Rangers lumped with an ill-advised extraction mission, we're following the documented heroics of Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. Interspersed with interviews from soldiers who had their boots on the ground, this addictive 10-part series follows the unit itself as it suffers victories, defeats and the many rank and roster changes that occur in a long theatre of war.
Not only is Band of Brothers a drama that runs the full gamut of emotions, it manages to follow Easy Company all the way from their hellish pre-invasion training right through to V-day. Some memorable stops on the way: Operation Market Garden, The Battle of the Bulge and the shocking discovery of Kaufering IV, a Dachau sub-camp. Powerful, well cast and impeccably produced, Band of Brothers is TV's finest hour(s).
Rotten Tomatoes score: 86%
Cast: Ciaran Hinds, Zuleikha Robinson, Kevin Mckidd
While this is one of the early standout successes in HBO's bigger budget programming, it had some behind-the-scenes production issues. Long story short (literally), Rome has an excellent, lavishly-funded first season and then some foolish hand-wringing by the suits caused it to have a truncated second outing, and an abrupt end. Let none of that dissuade you from watching what is a wonderful upstairs-downstairs tale that neatly interweaves the plight of the plebeian soldiery and Roman elite both.
In one thread you have the political machinations of Julius Caesar, a conquering hero who breaks the rules by returning to the capital with his army in tow, and a number of powerful Roman houses who would stop him. In Caesar's rank and file is the focus of the second thread: the unlikely partnership of dour, by-the-book Captain Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and the hedonistic and insubordinate Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson). Well worth a watch, even if you're not a history buff.
5. Game of Thrones
Rotten Tomatoes score: 95%
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke
Musical chairs, played to the death – except, plot twist: there's only one chair and everybody playing has a sword. This is the basic elevator pitch for George R. R. Martin's fantasy book series, a sprawling epic that has been well translated to the small screen by the deep-pocketed HBO. The action centres on the land of Westeros, a Kingdom divided into seven fiefs that are a veritable tinderbox for civil war (largely thanks to some iffy decisions made in the previous one fought 17 years ago). That said, and unbeknownst to the many belligerents in the south, beyond a Great Wall monument that borders the arctic region of this continent waits a supernatural threat.
However, the latter is a (literal) glacial problem so you can expect few fantasy elements in the opening seasons. They are primarily about backstabbing medieval politics and the shock offing of major characters in brutal ways. Essentially, none of your favourites is ever truly safe here, and Game of Thrones is all the more riveting because of it.
6. The Sopranos
Rotten Tomatoes score: 95%
Cast: James Gandolfini, Ron Leibman, Lorraine Bracco
Sadly, this show isn't what it first appears to be: a hard-mode version of The Voice that challenges ordinary people to sing pop songs in the highest vocal range. Happily, it is, in fact, a dark drama about Tony Soprano, the patriarch of a mid-level New Jersey crime family who is somewhat obsessed with the ducks that frequent his swimming pool. No wonder Tone seeks therapy to cope with mob and family pressures, not to mention the merciless creep of modernity that's slowly eroding his old-school gangster life.
Addictive as all hell, David Chase's stunningly original drama offers detailed character work and riveting suspense while displaying a flair for both black comedy and unpredictable twists. Throw in powerhouse acting by the show's lead, James Gandolfini, and you've got a TV series that is nothing short of essential viewing.
7. The Wire
Rotten Tomatoes score: 97%
Cast: Dominic West, Sonja Sohn, Wendell Pierce
It's been almost two decades since it first aired, but nobody has beaten David Simon's The Wire and taken away its crown as the best TV show ever made. Though it starts as a police procedural that pits a misfit group of "5-0" against the rat-like cunning of a ruthless drug lord, The Wire expands its scope in subsequent seasons to cover the dysfunction of the wider city of Baltimore. Via some impressive, novel-esque world-building we're made privy to the back alley dealings of many flawed institutions, be it city hall, the unions, schools or the local media to name but a few. The one thing they all have in common: corruption.
What we have here is a sprawling tale and an incredibly memorable cast filled with accomplished actors and bonafide Baltimoreans sourced straight from the mean streets. Take a toe-dip and you'll soon become addicted to a riveting series where almost every character becomes a favourite (despite their questionable morals). Honestly, just typing this synopsis makes me want to rewatch it all over again. For, like, the sixth time.
8. The X-Files
Rotten Tomatoes score: N/A
Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Arnie Walters
This sci-fi supernatural series deservedly became a phenomenon in the '90s and, despite some hilarious hairstyles and chunky mobiles phones, it still stands up remarkably well today. Because what's not to love? Chris Carter's formula is a potent concoction of romantic tension, left-field conspiracy theories and some truly memorable creature-feature moments. Thrown into the middle of it all are FBI detectives Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), an uncompromising sceptic who's paired up with the open-minded-to-a-fault Fox Mulder (David Duchovny).
Admittedly, not every season is a pot of gold here. You should definitely curb your enthusiasm for Season 7 onwards when Mulder becomes relegated to recurring cameos only. The tenth revival season that appeared in 2016 is a pretty mixed bag too, though it's been green-lit for an 11th. Do yourself a favour and stick to the classic early episodes and maybe the movie if you get particularly hungry for more.
9. Curb Your Enthusiasm
Rotten Tomatoes score: 93%
Cast: Larry David, Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin
Here's a worrying realisation: Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld, is more or less the real-life version of Jerry's stocky, bespectacled best friend. Costanza, aka "Art Vandelay" aka "Buck Naked" exists, and Curb Your Enthusiasm is basically one big endless summer of George. Each incredibly well-written episode sees our socially-clueless (or often purposefully difficult) protagonist navigate the pretension and uber-politically-correctness of Los Angeles with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
No matter where he is or who he's dealing with, Lar' will find a way to get himself into yet another cringe-worthy situation. The worst/best part of this series: the number of times you'll find yourself agreeing with his logic, if not his hilariously heavy-handed approaches. Throw in a slew of playing-themselves cameos from local Hollywood residents – like Ben Stiller, Martin Scorsese, Ted Danson and Michael J. Fox to name but a few – and Curb Your Enthusiasm's nine seasons rival even the mighty Seinfeld for consistent laugh factor.
10. In Treatment
Rotten Tomatoes score: 84%
Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Dane DeHaan, Josh Charles
In Treatment centres on Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne) a fifty-something psychologist questioning his ability to heal while confronting uneasy truths about his own life in therapy sessions with his patients. Interestingly, the format alternates between sessions where Paul is leading the questioning and other times he's the one in the hot seat, spilling his guts to his own psychotherapist, Gina (Diane West). The latter is a fascinating dynamic that highlights how your average shrink benefits from, or can be handicapped by, their own traumatic life experiences.
Paul is very much a wounded healer. He's seen the worst of life from the inside, and while this grants him incredible empathy and the ability to speak from experience, as your binge-watch continues you'll start to wonder when his past will overwhelm him. Featuring knockout performances and a script that deftly reveals and withholds crucial information, In Treatment becomes hypnotic in no time.
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