On air: 2003-2009
Unlike the original 1978 series that this show is inspired by, the new version of BSG dives much deeper. It draws viewers into political issues, religious views, discrimination, as well as the strength of the human spirit, all with a strong storyline and good special effects. Many times we've seen great visuals, but the storyline suffered or vice versa. This series will not disappoint, "So say we all."
Complete series available, seasons 1-4.
On air: 1984-1994
Victorian "consulting detective" Sherlock Holmes has the distinction of being the most-often portrayed fictional character in the history of television and film, having been played by more than 75 actors during the past 100-plus years. None comes close to the iconic portrayal of Jeremy Brett in this '80s/'90s series of adaptations from British company Granada Television.
More faithful to the original text, and more importantly, the characterizations, than most adaptations, the somewhat dated production values give way to Brett's brilliant sociopathic portrayal of the main character. Or, as my wife put it after watching an episode, "Man, Sherlock Holmes is kind of a jerk."
Complete series available, seasons 1-4.
On air: 1992-1998
Every show about awkward people doing awkward things, from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" to "The Office," owes some small debt to "The Larry Sanders Show." A satire of late-night talk shows, the most surprising thing about the nearly 20-year-old series is how relevant it feels in the aftermath of the Conan/Leno fiasco of 2010.
Besides a career-defining role for character actor Rip Torn as Artie, the show's hard-drinking producer, Jeffrey Tambor, Jeremy Piven, and Janeane Garofalo are all regulars, and watch for a young Jon Stewart as a backstabbing guest host looking to take over Larry's job.
Complete series available, seasons 1-6.
On air: 2008-present
Isn't this what Netflix streaming is for, really: shows you'd rather not pay good money for, but you still want to watch? This English sci-fi series is a guilty pleasure for fans of "Doctor Who" or "Land of the Lost": a time rift opens up and lets prehistoric creatures out. Scientists chase down creatures. Repeat. There are three short seasons to sink your teeth into. --Scott Stein
Series available, seasons 1-3.
On air: 2005-present
"Weeds" follows the story of Nancy Botwin, a widowed mother of two sons who turns to dealing marijuana to keep her family living the comfortable suburban lifestyle it had before her husband died. It was one of those shows that I caught the first two seasons of, but fell by the wayside for me when I canceled my cable premium channel package.
Season six wrapped up in November 2010 and is now available on DVD, but Netflix has the first five seasons ready to stream. The episodes are less than 30 minutes each, so it's a good show to sneak in when time is tight. The video quality's very good, too.
Kids plus Netflix equals instant, easy satisfaction. Our son loves PBS and "Dinosaur Train," and it's one of several great shows available for streaming. Dinosaurs and trains are like kid catnip, but the great part is the show's actually educational, too.
On air: 2006 and 2007
Though it doesn't quite compare with the excellent "I'm Alan Partridge," "Saxondale" is a worthy follow-up by British comedian Steve Coogan, who co-created the series with Neil Maclennan. The entire show revolves around ex-roadie Tommy Saxondale (played by Coogan) who struggles to overcome his anger issues, while still dealing with the frustrations of running a pest control business in suburban England. Like many British sitcoms, the seasons are only six or seven episodes long, so it's easy to catch up on the entire series in just a few weeks.
Complete series available, seasons 1 and 2.
On air: 1999-2004
Aside from the already-mentioned "BSG," my wife's "Angel" habit represents the only other regular Netflix TV show watching in my house. She puts it on while she rides the exercise bike, and I tune in occasionally. This "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" spin-off casts the titular vampire-with-a-heart-of-gold as a private detective in Los Angeles, with a few other "Buffy" refugees in tow to keep things familiar.
While "Angel" adheres to Whedon's successful combination of supernatural action and smirky angst, the spin-off never quite carried the same weight as "Buffy," which brought with it a deft exploration of female empowerment. That might explain why my wife, an avid "Buffy" fan who owns the series DVD boxed set, put off watching "Angel" the first time around. With each episode a tidy 43 minutes, though, "Angel" and his goth-lite adventures have made fine workout accompaniment.
Complete series available, seasons 1-5.
On air: 1994-1995
Anyone who grew up watching TV in the '90s remembers this show, but let me buffer this recommendation by telling you that I have an older sister who forced me to watch "My So-Called Life" when it first aired back in 1994, and I hated it at the time.
Sixteen years later, Netflix gives me the opportunity to reconnect and enjoy a show that deals with real life. Looking back, my sister and I were too young to understand the episodic themes (teenage squalor, homelessness, homophobia, violence, drugs), but we did connect with the meaninglessness that teenagers feel living in urban sprawl.
Claire Danes and Jared Leto are Angela Chase and Jordan Catalano; each of the 19 episodes begins and ends with despair, there's no happy endings here. Remember "Clueless"? It's the opposite of that.
On air: 2009 and 2010
Alas, "Party Down," which follows the foibles of a group of cater-waiters who are mostly failed LA actors, only made it two seasons on Starz before having its plug pulled because of abysmal ratings. But the show deserved a better fate.
While some of the half-hour episodes are uneven, a few are downright hysterical, and the show has a good pedigree with several "Veronica Mars" alum (Rob Thomas produced both shows and producer John Enbom wrote for both) and a "Freaks and Geeks" connection as Martin Starr plays a geeky screenwriter who gets upset whenever someone confuses sci-fi for fantasy and can't pick up women to save his life. If you want to know what Jane Lynch was doing right before "Glee," this is it--she appears in most of the first season, then disappears for the final two episodes.
Oh, and don't take our word on "Party Down." IMdB users rated it 8.7 stars and critics generally praised the show. Too bad it was on Starz and no one knew about it.
On air: 2006-present
"The IT Crowd" is a hilarious British sitcom that debuted in 2006 and is still running. It follows two IT employees who are held up in the dingy basement at a major firm called Reynholm Industries. Combining influences from "The Office" and "Office Space," "The IT Crowd" appeals to anyone--geek or not--who's ever held a 9-5er.
"The IT Crowd" is almost always ridiculous, with two IT techs being managed by a woman who is seriously unqualified to be doing so. Together, the three must work and scheme together to keep the head of Reynholm Industries happy--and to ensure they all continue to have jobs.
A must-watch for anyone who enjoys the lighter side of tech and geek culture.
Seasons 1 and 4 are currently available.