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Culture

18 TV box sets to watch over the holidays

Friends; The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; Big Little Lies

While this may be the month of endless soirées and non-stop festive fun, it’s also the month of days spent in pajamas in front of a highly bingeable box set. But what to dive into, in an era of mind-boggling, multi-platform options? To help make that crucial decision – on days when decisions are particularly difficult – here’s our list of all-time favorite TV shows

Lifestyle

Mad Men

One of the most perfectly crafted seven-season story arcs ever written, Matthew Weiner’s 1960s-set drama brought us a feminist icon for all time in advertising executive Peggy Olsen.

Did you know: The multi-Emmy-award-winning show was originally pitched to cable giants HBO and Showtime, both of which turned it down.

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STAR POWER
Long-serving Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo (pictured with Patrick Dempsey) is now the highest-paid actress in a TV drama

Grey’s Anatomy

Created by TV queen Shonda Rhimes, the female-driven and staggeringly long-running hospital drama, currently into its fifteenth season, is now rivaling record-breaking ER (which ran for 331 episodes, also over 15 seasons) in its longevity.

Did you know: Surgery scenes on the show use cow intestines to stand in for human organs.

Hart to Hart

Jonathan and Jennifer, the globetrotting Harts, led the sort of lavish jet-set lifestyle the early ’80s were all about. Though Jennifer (Stefanie Powers) was a freelance journalist, and Jonathan (Robert Wagner) an entrepreneurial self-made millionaire, somehow they also found time to fight crime on a weekly basis.

Favorite episode: Both stars agreed their favorite episode was season five’s opener in which Jonathan and Jennifer met, dated and were engaged in less than one day.

Friends

Who didn’t want to be part of a gang like Ross, Rachel, Joey, Chandler, Monica and Phoebe? The show that launched the careers of its hitherto unknown stars – Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox et al – also created wildly unachievable notions of what apartments would look like one’s twenties.

Did you know: The storyline of Phoebe’s surrogate pregnancy was written into the show when Lisa Kudrow announced she was pregnant in real life.

LEADING LADIES
Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman in the award-winning Big Little Lies, which Kidman and Witherspoon also executive produce

Big Little Lies

Capturing the zeitgeist of collective female rage with an almost spooky prescience, the glossy-yet-gritty drama touched on infidelity, rape and domestic violence.

Favorite friendship: Real-life pals Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as school-run moms who Skype one another to chat while cooking. We want in on that friendship, both real and fictitious.

Westworld

Ambitious, audacious and plotted to the most bafflingly minute detail, the high-concept HBO drama, set in a Western theme park where robots have gone rogue, feels worryingly apt in an era of #MeToo.

Did you know: The ever-present player piano may sound apt for the Western surrounds, but listen closely and you’ll hear some recognizable tunes, including Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones, House of the Rising Sun by The Animals, Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden, No Surprises by Radiohead and Back to Black by Amy Winehouse.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

The unforgettable theme tune remains a floor-filler at parties and this ’90s sitcom marked a gear-shift for Will Smith’s career – the rapper-turned-actor soon had Hollywood at his feet and the series helped take hip-hop culture mainstream.

Off-screen: Smith met his now-wife Jada Pinkett Smith when she came to audition for the role of his girlfriend on the show (she didn’t get the part).

Bodyguard

Jed Mercurio’s impossibly tense British thriller has it all – terrorism, PTSD, ill-advised inter-ranking sex with the Home Secretary, and plot twists that kept a whole nation captivated.

Did you know: Former Game of Thrones star Richard Madden is up for a Golden Globe for his leading role.

Twin Peaks

The tense, twisted, sometimes downright baffling murder mystery broke all the rules when it premiered in 1990. Creator and director David Lynch pushed the patience of his army of ardent fans by keeping them waiting 27 years for a second series.

Did you know: Steven Spielberg was set to direct the first episode of season two, but it didn’t work out. However, actress Diane Keaton did direct episode 15.

FAMILY VALUES
The Fresh Prince starred Will Smith as a street-smart teen sent to live with his wealthy Uncle Phil (James Avery)
WINNING FORMULA
Cult show Game of Thrones (starring Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington) has won a staggering 38 Emmy awards

Game of Thrones

HBO’s epic fantasy, based on the books of George R.R. Martin, has a consistently staggering level of sex and death per episode – only matched by its enormous awards record – plus dragons and the inimitable Peter Dinklage.

Love is in the air: This summer, Kit Harington – aka Winterfell’s Jon Snow – married Rose Leslie, who played his Wildling lover, Ygritte.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Long before Twilight made vampires hot property, Sarah Michelle Gellar was kicking ass out of the evil bloodsuckers in Joss Whedon’s seven-season drama.

Did you know: The show’s popularity was not matched by awards recognition. It won only two Emmys in seven years – one for makeup and one for musical score.

True Detective

Season one of the dark, Louisiana-set crime drama featured Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey on fine, disturbing form. Skip the disappointing season two, though, and wait for season three, starring Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali, out in January.

Did you know: Season one was directed by Cary Fukunaga, who has been hired to replace Danny Boyle as director of the next James Bond film.

The West Wing

Aaron Sorkin’s White House drama starred Martin Sheen as Democratic President Josiah Bartlet, with Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborne, his director of communications. Critics and White House staffers alike adored the portrayal of a passionate, highly competent administration.

Did you know: The show was famous for its ‘walk and talk’ scenes, where the characters would converse while pounding the halls of the West Wing, all in a single take. The longest was over three minutes long and involved almost 500 extras.

FORBIDDEN ROMANCE
Star-crossed lovers Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Angel (David Boreanaz) in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
AS SEEN ON SCREEN
Rachel Brosnahan starred in House of Cards before taking on the lead role in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Starring Rachel Brosnahan as a wealthy young housewife whose world is upended when her husband leaves her, the multi-award-winning comedy is a story of surprising empowerment set in 1950s Upper West Side Jewish society. Apartment and outfit lust ahoy.

Favorite friendship: Midge Maisel (Brosnahan) could not be more different from Susie (Alex Borstein), the sarcastic manager of the Gaslight Café, who becomes her manager. But who wants friends who are exactly like us?

Seinfeld

Created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, and starring the latter as a fictional version of himself, the New York-based sitcom, which ran for nine years, also helped to make Julia Louis-Dreyfus a major comedy star.

Off-screen: Television network NBC offered Jerry Seinfeld a deal that would have earned him $110 million to make a tenth season. He turned it down.

WHO’S THAT GIRL?
Jodie Comer (pictured right, with Kim Bodnia) plays a serial killer with a chic sense of style in Killing Eve

Killing Eve

The unprecedented number of Villanelles popping up on Instagram this past Halloween indicates what a huge hit this cat-and-mouse comedy-drama is. It’s made a global name out of Jodie Comer (Villanelle) and won Grey’s Anatomy alumnus Sandra Oh (Eve) an Emmy nomination for Best Lead Actress – the first Asian actress ever to do so.

Did you know: The series was developed for TV by Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge – she was Emmy nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series.

Ally McBeal

Screenwriter extraordinaire David E. Kelley’s Boston-set legal drama made Calista Flockhart a star, playing the kooky lawyer in a love triangle at her firm, with her ex-boyfriend and his wife.

Lucky break: Lucy Liu wanted to do a play instead of taking the role of the vicious and iconic Ling Woo, but her agent persuaded her otherwise.

The Wire

The gritty Baltimore drama was a slow burn when first released on HBO, but, by its fifth and final season, was considered one of the seminal series of all time. Creator David Simons, a former police reporter in the city, used much of his own experience with drug lords and crooked cops to inform the story.

Did you know: The Wire is often cited as the best show ever written (even Barack Obama is a fan) and for good reason – contributing writers included US crime novelist Richard Price and Shutter Island author Dennis Lehane.