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Credit: Full House/Warner Bros. Discovery

When it comes to streaming television, desperately uncool is the new cool. While the hip crowd is buzzing about the new season of True Detective, most of the biggest streaming shows representing something other than what we typically think of as prestige TV: It’s lawyer shows, police procedurals, and medical dramas all the way down.

Everybody’s watching this stuff, including, or especially, Gen-Z teens and twentysomethings who you’d expect to be watching The Bear and White Lotus. Instead (or, at least,additionally) they’re watching Suits, a show that was on for a long time, got indifferent reviews from critics, and was never trending on social media.

II have a theory as to why. Attention-grabbing Prestige TV tends to be challenging and complex. Following multiple shows with extended ensemble casts and labyrinthine plots can be too much amid an already overpacked media diet. Having a more traditional episodic structure doesn’t necessarily make a show bad or dumb…but it can make it a lot easier to watch—all the better if there are a ton of episodes, inviting you to turn watching them into a comforting routine. In an era of grim dramas with “cinematic” production values, these shows also tend to be brighter (literally), with more easily distinguishable dialogue, which means you maybe don’t need to look up as often from whatever you’re doing while you watch them (I’m a big fan of folding laundry).

Here are 18 not necessarily mindless shows you can mindlessly binge whenever you need a break.

Call the Midwife (2012 – )

This British period drama (it kicks off in 1957) takes place in and around Poplar, London, then one of the city’s most desperately poor districts. As the National Health Service is born, secular trained midwives team up with the nuns of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent that had been in the business of providing medical care to the area’s poor for decades. Now in its 13th season, the series has long since burned through the memoirs on which it was initially based, but still draws big audiences with its genuinely moving stories of birth and death. Call the Midwife very often deals frankly with issues of women’s health that other shows are still too timid to broach, but the appeal here is, I think, in its episodic format: continuing storylines and character arcs take a backseat to narratives that are resolved—for better or worse—in the course of an episode, with narrator Vanessa Redgrave putting a neat cap on things.

Where to stream: Netflix, PBS

Suits (2011 – 2019)

When Suits left the air after an impressive nine seasons in 2019, you could have been forgiven for believing that the USA show’s biggest contribution to the dialogue was the presence of Megan Markle—but, here we are, four years later, and Suits is a top streaming show, with nearly 60 billion minutes viewed in 2023. It feels like a safer, soapier alternative to something like Succession, the kind of drama with legal overtones that requires far less emotional investment.

Where to stream: Netflix, Peacock

Equalizer (2021 – )

The Queen Latifah-led Equalizer reboots the 1980s series (and sidesteps the Denzel Washington movies) by spinning the premise in a slightly different direction: Latifah plays single-mom Robyn McCall, an impossibly skilled former CIA operative who puts her talents to work for those in need. While the original’s vibe was more about the cops being handcuffed by things like “rules” and “giving perps their basic human dignity,” this one is more about those who’ve been failed by systems that don’t care about them—and who might benefit from the help of a woman who can beat just about anyone’s ass. There’s action, violence, and sometimes dramatic stakes, but stories mostly resolve themselves by the end of a given week’s episode, and it’s typically very satisfying watching Robyn and company spy and/or punch their way out of sticky situations to help the oppressed.

Where to stream: Paramount+

Grey’s Anatomy (2005 – )

It’s not quite the longest-running drama on TV, but at 19 seasons (and counting), this series that began in the George W. Bush administration is still doing just fine in the ratings…but the reruns are where it’s at. Old episodes of the show have topped streaming charts for several years running, with an appeal that’s nicely splits the difference between traditional comfort TV and serialization: the show offers up some of the case-of-the-week drama that’s been the bread-and-butter of medical dramas for decades, but also the type of genuinely juicy soap opera storylines that creator Shonda Rhimes quickly proved herself a master of.

Where to stream: Netflix, Hulu

All Creatures Great and Small (2020 – )

An update of a venerable British franchise, itself based on a series of autobiographical novels from writer James Alfred Wight (aka James Herriot), All Creatures takes us back to the rural Yorkshire Dales of the 1930s, with a Scottish vet moving to the small farming town of Darrowby to take up a job as a veterinary assistant. It takes a bit of a willingness to see animals in jeopardy on a weekly basis, but the big-hearted show only rarely goes for a gut punch. Mostly, it’s charming domestic drama amid a bucolic landscape, with frequent guest appearances by baby cows.

Where to stream: PBS

Quantum Leap (2022 – )

The joy of the Quantum Leap (a continuation, though with mostly new characters, of the original) is in the anthology format. Like any modern show, there are running character and plot arcs, but the relatively simple sci-fi premise sees time-traveler Ben Song (Raymond Lee) live the life of a new character each week, for just long enough to help “put right what once went wrong.” The individual stories play like well-written mini-movies, sometimes with very real stakes, and the narratives pretty much always wrap up by hour’s end, meaning that the drama doesn’t (much) carry over from week to week. Plus, it’s got Ernie Hudson…always a soothing presence.

Where to stream: Peacock (original and revival)

NCIS (2003 – )

Moving up the list of longest-running dramas, NCIS clocks in at an impressive 20 seasons (and counting), with the added prestige of having birthed five (and counting!) spin-offs. It’s that kind of volume that has helped the show become a top-five acquired streaming series, with literally hundreds of hours for people to sift through. Starring Mark Harmon for most of its run (he left at the end of season 19), the show involves fictional agents of the title’s Naval Criminal Investigative Service, as they deal with Navy-related crimes. Specific, sure, but the show blends police procedural stuff (popular) with military drama (also popular), and keeps a pretty light touch through it all.

Where to stream: Paramount+ (all current seasons), Netflix (all but the most recent seasons)

Gilmore Girls (2000 – 2007, 2016)

Gilmore Girls did reasonably well during its initial seven-season run, but largely because it became a flagship show (alongside Buffy The Vampire Slayer) for itty-bitty, and now defunct, network The WB. It’s impossible to know how well the (mostly) smart and funny series would have fared on a major channel—but it’s currently a top streaming show. None of that has anything to do with its undeniable quality (at least until a change of network and show runners lead to a rocky final season). As with most of these shows, this one is a good reminder that smooth-brain TV doesn’t ever need to be dumb. Lorelai and Rory Gilmore are just fun to spend time with.

Where to stream: Netflix

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 – 1994)

Onboard a starship that looks and feels like a luxury hotel, we take a journey across the universe with a crew of smart, competent, likable people who mostly all get along. If we don’t want to live on the U.S.S. Enterprise (1701-D, of course), then I certainly wouldn’t mind working there—well, except for the “nearly getting destroyed every few weeks” thing. But that’s all part of the fun. Star Trek: Voyager also fits the bill for a comfort watch, with Deep Space Nine serving as a more challenging, serialized next step.

Where to stream: Paramount+

Full House (1987 – 1995)

Whatever happened to predictability? The eight-season TGIF (ask your parents) staple was beloved enough that it was reborn in 2016 with a Netflix series that was itself one of the most popular sitcoms streaming—and thereby kicking off a wave of sitcom revivals, with mixed results. Still, the revival (2016 – 2020) succeeded in much the same way that the original did; both series promise pure silly sitcom fun, with just enough relationship drama to keep things moving. It’s easy to understand why viewers old and young have been drawn to the brightly colored world of Danny, D.J., Jesse, and the rest of the gang.

Where to stream: Max, Hulu, Vudu, Apple TV+, Prime Video (original), Netflix (revival)

The West Wing (1999 – 2006)

The Martin Sheen-lead show was certainly popular during its initial run, but its ripped-from-the-headlines style gave it an edge, even as it allowed us to imagine smart, thoughtful people getting jobs in government. Seeing reasonably intelligent people talking through the challenges of politics and the nation’s problems on a weekly basis has always been a bit of a balm, never more so than at this moment—the show’s concluding seasons involve an electoral contest between relatively reasonable Republican Alan Alda and relatively reasonable Democrat Jimmy Smits. Imagine! The show’s world can be a little frustrating when contrasted against our more explicitly appalling one, but it’s a thoroughly pleasing fantasy nonetheless.

Where to stream: Max

That’s So Raven (2003 – 2007)

Though it only ran for four seasons, Raven Symoné’s Disney Channel teen sitcom has had one of the longest reaches of any of those shows—spin-off Cory in the House did OK for a couple of seasons back in the aughts, and modern revival Raven’s Home has been running since 2017. The original series focused on the high-school antics of the title’s Raven, whose secret psychic powers complicate the already challenging experience that is high school. The followup sees her raising a couple of kids as a single mother, with a focus on both Raven and the new generation of teens.

Where to stream: Disney+, Hulu (original), Disney+ (revival)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003)

There was plenty of drama during Buffy‘s initial run, with plot twists that left us laughing as often as we were crying. But even the most emotional television can become comfort food given time and exposure—and knowing the twists and turns, deaths and dismemberments in advance allows us to chill out a bit and enjoy the show’s unique blend of humor, action, and high school drama. Even given the show’s final twist—the fact that its once-beloved creator turned out to be an enormous jerk—it’s still surprisingly soothing to revisit Sunnydale. I keep waiting for Gen-Z to discover this one and plaster it all over TikTok.

Where to stream: Hulu

The Golden Girls (1985 – 1992)

One of the smartest sitcoms of the 1980s is, again, a reminder that comfort TV can still be as snappy as a smartass retired dame. Fans (raising both my hands here) have seen episodes of the series so many times they’ve memorized them, meaning that it’s easy to put the show on in the background while we’re doing other stuff. Time may have taken some of the edge off of the girls’ banter, but the show is remains as cool as it ever was, even if its age and classic sitcom trappings would make you think otherwise.

Where to stream: Hulu

When Calls the Heart (2014 – )

Another show wherein the beauty lies in getting what’s promised: the Hallmark series, beginning in 1910, follows young teacher Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow) as she leaves her relatively wealthy family to take a job in a rural Canadian mining town. There’s romance, drama, and triumph among the woman-led cast of characters, with the gentle tone and big heart that you might expect, given the title.

Where to stream: Peacock

Living Single (1993 – 1998)

One of the best and most underrated sitcoms of the 1990s (surely having nothing to do with its all-black cast), Living Single stars Queen Latifah, Kim Coles, Kim Fields, and Erika Alexander as four friends navigating the single life in New York City. It plays off some of the same dynamics that worked for a show like The Golden Girls before it (i.e., four women with distinct personalities), and certainly served as inspiration for shows that came after (including Friends). Living Single adds to the comedy (and silliness) some still relevant social issues, and serialized relationship drama that never brings things down, even as it makes the show a solid binge watch. Revival when?

Where to stream: Max, Hulu

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999 – )

If you had told me back in 1999 that one of the longest-running dramas ever would revolve around particularly heinous and disturbing sex crimes, and that it would even become something of a binge/comfort watch…well, I wouldn’t have put money on the proposition. But buoyed by an engaging cast (Mariska Hargitay and, for much of its run, Christopher Meloni and Richard Belzer), the show does what all of the best police dramas do: offer the comfort of knowing that, in a world full of horrific crimes, there are conscientious people working to close cases and get the worst offenders off the streets.

Where to stream: Hulu, Peacock

Murder, She Wrote (1984 – 1996)

The coziest of cozy murder shows, Murder, She Wrote found the charming and eminently practical novelist Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) somehow being on the site of a brutal murder every week for 12 seasons. Not suspicious at all. The show makes murder look fun, with a light touch, a sense of humor, and a supporting cast of charming eccentrics living in Jessica’s bucolic hometown of Cabot Cove, who stuck around to liven things up when Jessica wasn’t traveling and meeting an array of celebrity guest stars, Love Boat-style. It’s a fun binge watch but, if Jessica Fletcher rolls into your town, get the hell out of there.

Where to stream: Peacock

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