12 Cult TV Series to Binge While You Socially Distance

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
12 Cult TV Series to Binge While You Socially Distance
Scary Mommy BBC, David Dettmann/Netflix and FOX Image Collection/Getty Netflix

You’re stuck in your house/apartment/compound. You’re treating every trip to the store like a foray into the CDC’s hot zone. You don’t go anywhere. You are properly socially distancing. But social distancing can be, as we’re all finding out, excruciatingly boring. There’s no better time to catch up on all that cult TV you’ve always heard about but never managed to watch. We’ve dug up a dozen series to keep you busy binging, so when you emerge from your hobbit-hole, you’ll be more pop-culture literate than before.

Time to Netflix and chill, people.

Twin Peaks, Seasons 1 and 2 (Netflix)

Diane, 11:30 a.m., February 24th. Entering the town of Twin Peaks, five miles south of the Canadian border, twelve miles west of the state line.” So begins the fall into David Lynch’s rabbit hole of weirdness that’s the seemingly-bucolic town of Twin Peaks. FBI agent Dale Cooper (played by the always-hot Kyle MacLachlan) has been sent in to solve the murder of the beloved town sweetheart Laura Palmer — who develops into the nexus of the town’s dark secrets. It’s shocking enough for now, but even more so considering that this came out on network TV in 1991. When you really get into it, you can also watch the movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (rent on Amazon Prime) and the infamous third season, Twin Peaks: The Return (which you can get on Showtime as an add-on to Hulu or Amazon Prime).

The X-Files, Seasons 1-11 (Hulu)

Agent Fox Mulder’s obsessive quest for the truth about the existence of extraterrestrials began when he recalled, under hypnotic regression, his witnessing an alien abduction. Meanwhile, his obsession with the paranormal has pissed off his FBI superiors, so they send in voice-of-reason Agent Dana Scully as his partner to debunk his wild theories, which always turn out to be not-so-wild after all. Admittedly, this series probably jumps the shark when they replace Mulder and Scully with two other agents, but you’ll love it enough to keep watching.

Lost, Seasons 1-6 (Hulu)

Oceanic Flight 815 crashlands on an island in the middle of nowhere. But this ain’t Gilligan’s Island. There’s some kind of creepy-ass stuff going on, all of which I would ruin massively if I began to detail it, but we’ll go this far: yes, this series includes a polar bear.

Sherlock, Seasons 1-3 (Netflix)

An updated version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this stars the utterly dreamy Benedict Cumberbatch (which does unfortunately sound like the name of an animated hedgehog) as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as sidekick Watson. They keep the intrigue and the gore and the inherent weirdness of Sherlock (imagine a grown man yelling, “Bored! Bored! Bored!” while shooting a pistol at the wall). The side characters are fantastic, from Mycroft to Lestrade to Mrs. Hudson; Sherlock’s an arrogant bastard you fall in love with, and Irene Adler … hot damn.

Black Mirror, Seasons 1-5 (Netflix)

Want a side of creepy with your quarantine? Netflix says it best: “This sci-fi anthology series explores a twisted, high-tech near-future where humanity’s greatest innovations and darkest instincts collide.” Every episode is a different way to make you sing the Pink Floyd line “Mother, should I trust the government” over and over while flushing your iPhone down the toilet, then hiding your head under a pillow.

The Magicians, Seasons 1-4 (Netflix)

If magic were real, it wouldn’t be like Harry Potter. It would be finicky, incredibly hard to do, screw up constantly, and generally make things worse than they were to begin with. And studying it would be like graduate school. Enter Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy and a group of maladjusted, mentally unstable students. Ostensibly a series based on Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy, The Magicians, known for its spectacular writing, uses magic to talk about the realities of mental health, grief, and more.

The West Wing, Seasons 1-7 (Netflix)

Watch the reign of Jed Barlet (Martin Sheen), the feel-good, for-the-people, try-to-do-the-right-thing president. Witness his staff, all the way from his earnest press secretary to his speechwriters to his secretary, do their best and give their all for the common American. Then close your eyes and fantasize that Jed Barlet is our actual president right now.

Westworld, Seasons 1-3 (Hulu)

It’s set in a weird, futuristic theme park, which is modeled after the Wild West. As if that’s not creepy enough, the androids in charge start to go off-script. Beautifully shot, this series is known for some of the best soundtracks on TV.

Penny Dreadful, Seasons 1-3 (Netflix)

Ah, the series that originally necessitated a murder/hookup chart! Penny Dreadful weaves together the stories of Dracula, Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and company, all in Victorian England, and takes its name from the cheap horror novels popular at the time.

Hannibal, Seasons 1-3 (Amazon Prime)

Did you know Hannibal used to be a brilliant psychologist for the FBI before he got caught? But he was still murdering people. And he was dumping all of this onto his terrified psychiatrist, played by Gillian Anderson (also known as Dana Scully from The X-Files. See above). Masterful acting all around, including by a young Kacey Rohl, who develops a weird father-daughter relationship with Hannibal and also stars as Marina in The Magicians.

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