Ten of the best commitment-free TV shows to watch any time

By Sinead Stubbins

From left: Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who, Rob Sitch in Utopia and Essie Davis in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.Credit:James Pardon/BBC Studios, ABC

TV sometimes feels like homework. This is a ridiculous thing to say, but it’s also true. Somewhere down the line as budgets got higher, streaming made options more plentiful and the word “prestige” seemed to be the only measure of a show’s greatness, the demands of watching television changed.

Episodic sitcoms and free-to-air procedurals were considered less important than complex, high-concept serialised programs – you know, the sort of TV show where it feels like you need to have read three explainers, maybe seen some IP-heavy movies, listened to multiple podcasts, mapped out a family tree and made a solemn blood oath to the showrunner that you’ll give away your first-born just to know what’s going on in every episode.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. There are some shows where it’s OK if you mix up which episode you’re up to. Maybe you’re doing some boring housework and want something on in the background to keep you company. Perhaps you have a fever and you can only give something 40 per cent of your attention (reality TV is good for this, though sometimes you need a little more plot to keep you distracted from your symptoms). TV can be low-stakes, minimum-commitment fun – and here are some of the best.

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Poker Face (Stan*)

A modern-day Columbo! And if that means nothing to you: a modern-day murder-of-the-week! Natasha Lyonne plays Charlie, a husky trucker-hat-wearing drifter who has a knack for knowing when someone is lying. While on the run from a Vegas mob, she solves crimes often involving guest stars like Chloe Sevigny and Oscar nominee Hong Chau. The show was created by Rian Johnson (Knives Out) so that’s the level of intrigue and kookiness you’re in for.

Spooks (Amazon Prime and SBS On Demand)


The British are particularly gifted at making procedural shows, and this spy drama is no different. Running from 2003-2011, Spooks is an espionage-of-the-week tale following the anti-terrorism efforts of MI5. The graphics can be pretty goofy (the split screens!) but it’s fun to see a fresh-faced Matthew Macfadyen (Succession) and David Oyelowo (Selma) running around and talking on enormous mobile phones.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (Netflix and ABC iview)


It seems macabre to call a murder mystery show “comforting”, but that’s where we find ourselves. Based on the popular novels, the show follows glamorous Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) as she solves crimes in 1920s Melbourne. Come for the gowns and the elegant houses, stay for the arsenic poisoning and interrogations on rickety steam trains.

The Good Wife (Stan and Paramount)


While The Good Wife does have serialised elements (like its excellent spin-off, The Good Fight) its early seasons are still fairly episodic. Basically, you’d be able to accidentally skip an episode, and still enjoy watching it while folding your laundry. Julianna Margulies plays Alicia Florrick, a woman tarred by her politician husband’s sex and corruption scandal, who tries to rebuild her life as a junior lawyer at a law firm with a penchant for flashy cases.

Utopia (ABC iview)

If you’re looking for something easy to watch, comedies are perfect for the casual viewer. To scratch that itch, fire up Utopia, an office comedy starring Rob Sitch, Celia Pacquola and more, about bureaucrats trying to manage major infrastructure projects around Australia and often failing. It’s great for the odd episode or two, but you might find yourself hooked and end up bingeing all four seasons (a fifth season is in the works).

Kaleidoscope (Netflix)

For those who like their TV a little more experimental. Kaleidoscope’s premise may seem familiar – a professional thief (played by Giancarlo Esposito) and his crew devise a plan to steal millions of dollars from a Manhattan corporate security firm. But what’s different is that you can watch this eight episode series in any order, meaning there’s a possible 40,320 different ways to experience the series as a whole.

Midsomer Murders (ABC and Amazon Prime)


Look, when thereare 23 seasons of a show, you’re not expected to remember much. Thankfully, the British crime series treats every episode like a mini movie, as John Nettles (replaced in 2011 by Neil Dudgeon) investigates mysteries in quaint English villages. It almost makes you want to move to the countryside, despite the high rates of crime they apparently have there.

Evil (Stan)

If you prefer your crime procedurals a little supernatural, then this is the show for you. Created by the team from The Good Wife, Evil follows a team made up of a sceptical forensic psychologist, a Catholic seminarian (Mike Colter, whom you may know from Luke Cage) and a tech expert as they investigate supernatural incidents. Think The X-Files with more talk of sin and exorcisms.

Elementary (Stan)


As a society, we refuse to give up the character of Sherlock Holmes. We’re obsessed with him and we won’t be denied! Of the many shows made about the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creation, Elementary is up there with the longest running. For seven seasons, watch recovering addict Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) and his sidekick Watson (Lucy Liu) solve crimes in New York and try to avoid his malevolent ex, Moriarty (Natalie Dormer).

Doctor Who (ABC and Amazon Prime)

Jodie Whittaker (centre) has announced she will leave Dr Who next year.Credit:BBC

Whenever I’ve seen an episode of Doctor Who, it’s always because I’ve walked into a room where it’s on, said “What the bloody hell is happening here!” and ended up sticking around for the whole episode. Even if you’re not a superfan, there’s such a classic sci-fi sensibility to Who – even now, 26 seasons later – that you don’t need to be familiar with the specific doctor or even season that you’re watching to enjoy the madcap energy.

* Stan is owned by Nine, the owner of this masthead.

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

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