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If you spent last weekend devouring half a season of Downton Abbey, you're in step with the latest television trend: binge watching.
A recent Harris poll found that more than 6 in 10 TV viewers consume multiple episodes in one gluttonous stint. Millennial audiences are the most apt to binge, but about half of viewers over 55 also watch more than one episode of a show in a single sitting. The streaming service Netflix made entire seasons of its original shows House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black accessible at once, and Netflix spokeswoman Jenny McCabe says consumers can expect more of the same in response to growing demand.
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Is such gorging on programming bad? Maybe not, says Pamela Rutledge, head of the Media Psychology Research Center in Boston. "We associate the word 'binge' with being out of control," she notes, but she sees binge watching as empowering: It allows viewers to watch TV the same way they might read a book. "Whenever choice is in the hands of the consumer, it's a good thing."
Look for bingeworthy shows on streaming services like Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, Hulu and the on-demand options of premium channels. Or by DVD box sets. Here, 10 shows we recommend.
Talk about water-cooler talk. The fifth and final season of this AMC series finished in September, and viewers still are discussing the fate of murderous drug kingpin Walter White. The series, which first aired in 2008, stars a brilliant Bryan Cranston as a dying high school chemistry teacher who turns into a drug lord and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, his former student and now partner in crime.
Bingeworthy because: It's won a truckload of Emmys and the performances are almost as addictive as the crystal meth that White and Pinkman cook up and sell.
House of Cards
This 13-episode series was created by Netflix to be released all at once, encouraging binge watching, for sure. Season 2 isn't out yet, so you need to watch just the first season to get up to speed with the politically charged plot that feeds on current frustrations over the goings-on in our nation's capital. Kevin Spacey won an Emmy nod for his conspiring Majority Whip Francis Underwood, who stops at nothing to move up the political food chain.
Bingeworthy because: It's a campy, cynical, entertaining look at politics, with master actor Spacey at the helm. And Robin Wright's performance as the tightly wound Claire Underwood is scarily perfect.
This early 20th-century, English countryside drama, shown on PBS's Masterpiece, follows the surprisingly interesting lives of the super-rich Crawley family and the household staff that's devoted to the Crawleys' comfort. Season 4 doesn't begin until Jan. 5, so there's time to watch the first three (each has only seven or eight episodes) — particularly if you cram all your viewing into one weekend.
Bingeworthy because: When it's on the air, everyone talks about it; Maggie Smith's zingers, delivered with high arch, are entertainment enough; and while there are elements of soap opera, it's on PBS, so even a couch-bound binge viewer feels vaguely highbrow.