15 Long TV shows to really get into when you have some time on your hands
There are more TV shows being released right now than ever before. That’s mostly a good thing, as it gives us more choice, but it also means that we rarely have time to watch anything other than the most current, hyped, tweetable shows. Older shows that you missed the first time around or want to revisit mightn’t even get a look in –there simply is not time.
Yet, for the last few months (and probably the next few), many of us have nothing but time, with no idea when our lives will go back to normal. That seemingly never-ending abyss is daunting, though, and it’s difficult to know how best to fill it, leaving many of us doom-scrolling instead of doing anything we enjoy. Everything is very scary right now, and choosing something to watch every night is just another task.
To help you out, we’ve put together a list of long TV shows that you can get properly immersed in, even if it’s for a rewatch. We've even mixed things up a bit sot that, while you might not be up for committing to prestige TV right now, there are some lighter shows for those days when your attention span is too busted to follow a storyline. We've also avoided some of the more obvious shows (The Office US, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Simpsons, Games of Thrones) and stuck to the ones you've probably heard of but just need that extra push to finally sit down and watch. Enjoy!
The Sopranos (1999-2007)
Number of episodes: 86
When the Sopranos started in 1999, it was a watershed moment, launching an era of prestige TV that lasted through the 2000s. The series follows Tony Soprano, an Italian-American mob boss and family man as he tries to balance those two lives respectively in his home of New Jersey. It deals intimately with not just Tony’s more glamorous exploits, but his mental health, internal struggles, and panic attacks as he navigates the unique complexities of his life.
All of those things mean that The Sopranos is immersive. It has six seasons and most episodes are a full hour long with a structure that defies traditional storytelling; it’s hard to tell where an episode might end, or what its point is, or who exactly has been murdered this time and why it matters. This is perfect lockdown watching, absorbing your attention span and filling up entire days if you choose to binge-watch it. Plus, its subject matter is likely to make your own anxieties seem less significant.
New Girl (2011-2018)
Number of episodes: 146
Sometimes you want drama to get through the boredom of being at home; sometimes you want pleasant stories with low stakes. New Girl, in which Zooey Deschanel perfected her twee pixie dream girl act as kooky teacher Jess, has 146 episodes of just that. After discovering her boyfriend cheating, Jess leaves immediately, answering a listing on Craigslist, and moving in with three strange men. It’s a recipe for disaster in life, but in New Girl, it just leads to fun adventures, will-they-won’t-theys, and some personal growth.
New Girl is fun and light, so if you want to get heavily invested in the minutiae of the interpersonal relationships and squabbles of people who live together while you’re struggling to navigate your own housemate dramas, it’s the one.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-present)
Number of episodes (so far): 100
According to the New York Times and daughter Cazzie’s Instagram, Larry David has been thriving in lockdown, which makes sense. The man has made his entire career and persona off the back of being misanthropic, socially... complex, and generally shying away from any and all human contact. He’s also very hygienic.
Curb Your Enthusiasm, which takes Seinfeld’s “show about nothing” framework even further, follows a fictional version of Larry David around as he gets into minor gripes and major fallouts with everyone he comes in contact with. It’s funny, ridiculous, and there are ten whole seasons of it. Plus, it serves as a reminder – it’s never really worth leaving the house.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Number of episodes: 144
Created by Joss Whedon, Buffy is about a high schooler, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who also happens to be a vampire slayer tasked with protecting the world from evil. It’s a classic tale of conflicting identities, overwhelming responsibilities, and the ever-relevant struggles of a girl who wants to focus on school and boyfriends while saving the world.
While it’s been over 20 years since it first aired, Buffy is still as funny and as watchable as ever. It’s a joy to revisit, which, over 144 mostly perfect episodes (not you, season four) will make you glad that the safest way you can save the world is by just... staying put.
Number of episodes: 110
Cult favourite Community often doesn’t get a lot of love outside of its fervent fandom, which can make it seem pretty inaccessible to those on the outside. The show, created by Dan Harmon, centres on the diverse members of a study group at a community college: Jeff (Joel McHale), Troy (Donald Glover), Abed (Danny Pudi), Annie (Alison Brie), Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and Pierce (Chevy Chase).
Pretty quickly, their studying takes a slide into the unreal and self-referential, with the episodes exploring meta concepts to tell a bigger story about TV itself. Community is fun, often heartwarming, and usually at least a little bit weird. It’s easily bingeable, so don’t let the seemingly impenetrable fandom put you off – Community, like Community College, is for everyone.
Number of episodes: 121
It’s easy to forget the massive impact that Lost had on television. At a time when people had the time to watch one episode of a show and then spend the rest of the week dissecting it, Lost was gold. Following a group of people who crash on a deserted island, Lost is, on its surface, about their attempts to figure out what happened and get to safety. In practice, though, it’s about so much more: the intricacies of the characters’ back stories, complex conspiracy theories, monsters, time travel, and basically anything a bit spooky that they could get away with.
While its quality deteriorated over the seasons, Lost is still worth delving deep, deep into. The show itself will keep you busy for a while, but if you’ve never seen it before, diving into the underground world of Lost conspiracy theories will keep you going until lockdown is over.
Mad Men (2007-2015)
Number of episodes: 92
Mad Men, created by Sopranos writer Matthew Wiener, is often hailed as a landmark moment for TV. If you missed it the first time, though, it’s never too late. Set at a fictional advertising agency in New York in the 1960s, Mad Men centres around the misbehaviours of one Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a handsome creative director who just loves to drink and shag around. He does, of course, have a sympathetic back story.
Mad Men is well-written, funny, and beautifully shot. The complexities of everyone’s interpersonal and professional dramas will get you invested, and, as the show goes on, the character development is a valuable payoff for your time. By the time you’ve finished, though, you might have developed quite a Scotch habit trying to emulate Jon Hamm.
Number of episodes: 180
If you haven’t watched Seinfeld yet, then shame on you. But still: whether you’re a first-timer or rewatching it over and over again, there is no better way to kill time than Seinfeld. Known as the “show about nothing”, Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld’s Seinfeld birthed modern comedy as we know it. Without Seinfeld, there would be no Friends, no It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, no anything where the characters get away with just mooching about and arguing with one another.
Which is really why Seinfeld is ideal. For one, Seinfeld, Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and George (Jason Alexander) really do nothing, and avoid doing anything if they can help it. They don’t like socialising, work, or each other, really. It is all about the many ways we can waste time and avoid people. Plus, Seinfeld, like David, is a germaphobe and averse to human contact: who better for the mascot of the pandemic?
9. The X-Files (1993-2018)
Number of episodes: 218 episodes
The X-Files is a necessary watch, but it’s also really long and (literally) dark, which –with our trashed attention spans and the option of so many better things – might have made it easy for you to avoid. What that doesn’t change, though, is that it’s really good. There’s are so many episodes, which despite a dire last few seasons, means you can get deeply into it. Following FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully as they work on solving X-Files, the show’s larger mythology is about aliens and government conspiracies, but in “monster of the week” episodes, it dips its toe into other things, like cryptids, vampires, ghouls, and the loch ness monster.
The X-Files is funny, sweet, immersive, and completely necessary. I defy you to watch it and not develop a crush on Mulder and/or Scully that has you dying for them to get together. A rewatch will keep you busy not only with the episodes themselves, but with late-night Wikipedia rabbit holes.
Modern Family (2009-2020)
Number of episodes: 250
Some of the shows on this list are pretty heavy or complicated to follow. Right now, though, a lot of us are stressed and our attention spans are fried, so if you just want something light and easy that’ll still fill up weeks of your time, Modern Family is perfect. A mockumentary about different branches of a family centred on patriarch Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill), Modern Family is pretty easy watching.
Over its 11 season run, Modern Family was also praised for its portrayal of issues like LGBT families, parenting, and growing up. The slow-burn over 11 years means that, if you’re so inclined, you can feel genuinely involved in the families’ lives and their children’s growth, but in a very low-stakes, low-trauma packaging.
Desperate Housewives (2004-2012)
Number of episodes: 180 episodes
It’s amazing, really, that there was never a pandemic-themed Desperate Housewives episode (or entire season). The show, about the lives and lies of a bunch of women living on a cursed cul-de-sac, got into pretty much everything else: murder, deception, tornadoes, plane crashes, fires, dark secrets. After friend Mary Alice (Brenda Strong) kills herself, her friends work to figure out why someone with such a perfect life would want to die. From then on, Wisteria Lane is a hotbed for shady activity, with nothing on the perfect street as it seems. Oh, and Mary Alice’s omnipresent ghost narrates the series.
Desperate Housewives is perfect for lockdown viewing because it is so utterly removed from any version of reality that any of us lives in. While it does deal with some relatable issues, like grief and heartbreak, it mostly exists on a plane that is so absurd it’s entirely distracting from your own issues. Plus, your own stresses somewhat pale in comparison.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-present)
Number of episodes (so far): 154
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia made history as the longest-running live action comedy series of all time. Not every season is perfect, but it comes pretty close. It’s the story of four morally reprehensible friends who own a bar: Charlie (Charlie Day), Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Dee (Kaitlin Olson) and Mac (Rob McElhenney). Plus, slightly later on, actual Danny Devito is a main character. It’s Always Sunny is an absurd, dark, hilarious examination of morality that mostly comes out on the right side of history.
Its characters are utterly selfish, eschewing any moral progression in the pursuit of whatever they feel like they want that day. Their escapades take them to the darkest pits of humanity, and, while they’re often punished for their behaviour, they do it all over again tomorrow. It has a lot of episodes, most of which are hilarious, and if nothing else it’ll make you feel better about making bad decisions like staying in bed all day or forgetting to call your family.
Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)
Number of episodes: 153 episodes
Your days, right now, are likely fairly samey. You wake up (late), you try to get some work done (you don’t) maybe you go on your government-mandated walk or get some groceries. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a friend nearby to sit six feet away from down the park. Who knows. Gilmore Girls, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, falls victim to the same level of saminess, but instead of being depressing, it’s oddly soothing.
Watching something thrilling right now is likely to give you itchy feet, but Gilmore Girls, which mostly focuses on the bickering of a teenaged Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) and her even more immature mother Lorelai (Lauren Graham) in claustrophobic town Stars Hollow, is gentle enough to calm those urges. Very little ever happens in Gilmore Girls, and you’ll lose entire days waiting for it to.
Number of episodes: 96
Like many shows with a lot of episodes, Dexter does deteriorate over the years pretty dramatically. But, unless you’re of a particularly sensitive disposition right now, it’s worth watching up until the point where you can’t stomach the quality anymore. Loosely based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Dexter is about a blood-spatter analyst who, in his downtime, works through trauma by murdering... murderers. Of course, he’s got his reasons. After seeing his mother murdered, Dexter was adopted by a vigilante police officer and trained in the art of killing and getting away with it. Obviously, though, that leads to some sticky moral quandaries.
Dexter is dark, but it’s also very kitschy, fun, and ridiculous. Even as the quality plummets, it maintains a humour that makes it somehow still watchable, no matter how twisted and unrealistic the storylines get.
The O.C. (2003-2007)
Number of episodes: 92
There is no good excuse to have not watched The O.C., but if you haven’t yet, I am jealous: there is so much to look forward to. Created by Josh Schwartz, The O.C. is set in an entirely fictitious version of Southern California’s Newport Beach. On the surface, it’s about rich people problems, class tensions and first heartbreaks. But it is so much more: after sweet, kind, Jewish Public Defender Sandy Cohen opts to take teen tearaway Ryan into his home, Ryan disrupts Orange County forever – some (me) would argue for the better.
The dramas in The O.C. are ludicrous, the fights dramatic and the outfits heinous, but it’s still an incredibly sweet (and very funny) rewatch. While some think the fourth season should be scrubbed from history, others (me), think it’s a revelation. If you get that far, you can decide for yourself.
For more TV recommendations, check out our piece on the best box sets to start making your way through.