No, you still can’t get most HBO shows (The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under) or a lot of landmark classics (Cheers, MASH, Hill Street Blues), but Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature is still a gold mine of great TV shows. The vagaries of licensing mean that availability is always subject to change, but here are five shows worth watching that are available right now.
Better Off Ted: This clever, surreal workplace sitcom managed two low-rated seasons on ABC in 2009 and ’10, and now everyone who missed it the first time can catch up on one of the funniest shows of the last few years. Ted is a sharp satire of corporate culture and a great showcase for a range of likably oddball characters (including Portia de Rossi as the world’s most unfeeling boss).
Veronica Mars: Within the trappings of the mid-’00s teen drama, creator Rob Thomas created one of the most intricate, fascinating detective shows of the last decade, led by Kristen Bell’s wonderfully sardonic title character. The first season is a marvel of long-form storytelling and a crackerjack mystery with a great cast of characters; the next two seasons are more uneven, but all are worth your time.
Friday Night Lights: This loving portrait of small-town life is so much more than a drama about high-school football, though it also beautifully captures sports’ highs and lows. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton anchor FNL as one of TV’s most relatable married couples, presiding over an ensemble full of achingly real characters just trying to find their way in the world.
The X-Files: Over the course of its nine seasons, The X-Files sort of lost its way, developing a convoluted mythology that ran into many dead ends. The great thing about streaming the show on Netflix is that you can pick and choose the best stand-alone episodes, which can be watched in any order, creating your own version of the show at its creepiest, funniest and most moving.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: MST3K is the perfect lazy-afternoon time-waster or late-night comedown fodder; it’s a nonstop joke machine, with three characters mercilessly mocking terrible B-movies. Since each feature-length installment is released separately, not every episode is available to stream, but there are more than enough to keep you and a group of friends occupied through a weekend marathon of making fun of such “classics” as Devil Fish and Robot Monster.
Also check out: Battlestar Galactica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Larry Sanders Show, Lost, Louie, Party Down, Pushing Daisies.