Once upon a time you had to wait an entire week for the next episode of your favourite TV series – this is not a joke. Then the DVD box set came along, and bingeing a whole season of quality telly became the perfect way to spend a weekend. In fact, the only problem was deciding what you want to watch next...
As everyone's list of “shows they want to watch but haven't found the time yet” grows at a relentless rate, we've assembled a list of the 20 best TV box sets (in no particular order) to make your life a little easier. And with much of the world isolating right now, it's unlikely you'll find a better time to make a sizeable dent on that viewing agenda.
There's detective drama, epic fantasy, sci-fi action, vampires, comedy, gangsters and more in this collection of the best TV box sets – and we can guarantee that as you read on you'll find plenty of valuable ways to fill a lot of hours. We'll also tell you where you can find every box set – whether it's on physical formats or streaming.
So take a seat on the sofa, turn the telly on, and settle back for the best TV box sets in existence.
A note on affiliates: some of our stories, like this one, include affiliate links to stores like Amazon. These online stores share a small amount of revenue with us if you buy something through one of these links, which helps support our work writing about games, movies, and TV.
Sherlock: Seasons 1-4
We thought Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce would be the definitive Holmes and Watson forever, but then Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman swooped in and made the roles their own. The League of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss and former Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat put a fun, modern spin on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective stories, with devilishly complex cases, a memorable Moriarty, and a death-defying cliffhanger that kept fans on tenterhooks for two whole years. In fact, the long gaps between seasons – the key players had such busy schedules that getting them all in one place was a logistical nightmare – made the waits for new stories unbearable. It's a relief, then, that it's now possible to watch all 13 Sherlock mysteries as a box set.
Futurama: Seasons 1-8
How to do you follow an all-conquering, animated classic like The Simpsons? Co-creator Matt Groening made a beeline for the 31st century with his brilliantly inventive sci-fi comedy, as pizza delivery boy Philip J Fry found himself in the distant future. With The Simpsons no longer the creative force it once was, Futurama took over its mantle as the cleverest animated show around, with gags about quantum physics and complex mathematics mingling with satire on modern life. Despite the show being cancelled (for the first time) after four seasons, we were fortunate enough to get four more – which is good, because it's impossible to have too much Futurama.
Breaking Bad: Seasons 1-5
Breaking Bad wasn't just a game-changer because it transformed the bumbling dad from Malcolm in the Middle into a ruthless crystal meth-dealing kingpin. Over its run, Vince Gilligan's gripping drama about a good man's descent into evil evolved into one of the greatest character studies ever seen on TV. Cranston gave a performance for the ages as terminally-ill-teacher-turned-drug baron Walter White, but he was more than matched by Aaron Paul as White's unlikely stoner sidekick Jesse Pinkman. A true one-off – though prequel series Better Call Saul (focused on White's morally flexible lawyer, Saul Goodman) is also essential viewing.
Luther: Seasons 1-5
From Morse to Frost, Cracker’s Fitz to Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison, British audiences have long had a thing for a loner detective. Even so, they'd never encountered anyone quite like DCI John Luther. Charismatically played by a post-The Wire, pre-Thor Idris Elba, Luther's so obsessed with his work for the Serious Crimes Unit that it has a habit of spilling over into his personal life. The show's also driven by Luther's relationship with murderer Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), who’s both an antagonist and an unlikely ally. Undoubtedly one of the best drama series of the decade.
Game of Thrones: Seasons 1-8
Possibly the most epic TV show of all time, HBO's mega-budget adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels redefined what was possible on the small screen. With its compelling mix of shades-of-grey characters, massive battles and complex political machinations, Game of Thrones introduced fantastical elements like dragons and ice zombies by stealth, pulling in millions who'd never even have contemplated watching The Lord of the Rings. Yes, the show lost its way in later seasons as it overtook the books (hurry up, George!), but it remains the pinnacle of fantasy storytelling on TV.
The West Wing: Seasons 1-7
The show that made walking and talking a way of life, and introduced us to a US president that pretty much everyone would vote for. Created by Aaron Sorkin (he wrote or co-wrote almost every episode in the first four seasons), the White House-set drama turned dialogue-heavy episodes into an artform as it went behind the curtain of American politics. Beyond the amazing drama, it was a show packed with memorable characters, from Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlett, to Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer) and press secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney). There was also an early role for The Handmaid's Tale star Elisabeth Moss as one of Bartlett's kids.
The X-Files: Seasons 1-11
If you're much under 40, you may not realise how big a deal The X-Files was when it arrived on US screens in 1993. Until a pair of good-looking FBI agents by the names of Mulder and Scully showed up, sci-fi TV had rarely been ‘cool’, but their investigations into the paranormal took aliens and monsters into the mainstream. While the show got more convoluted towards the end of its original nine-season run – it made a patchy two-season comeback in 2016 and 2018 – at its best The X-Files was inventive, scary, essential viewing. And the chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson was legendary.
Mad Men: Seasons 1-7
Very few shows are consistently brilliant, but Mad Men managed to avoid any major shark-jumping moments over the course of its majestic seven-season run. Fans tend to point to season three of the ’60s-set advertising drama as a particular highlight, but with the fantastic ensemble cast – including, in Peggy, Betty and Joan, a trio of iconic female characters blazing a trail in both the fictional and real worlds – it's hard not to love the lot. The tailoring's pretty stylish too.
Boardwalk Empire: Seasons 1-5
HBO’s Martin Scorsese-produced crime drama was the talk of the town when it aired from 2010 to 2014. If you’ve never even seen the opening credits here’s what you need to know: it’s 1920 Atlantic City on the eve of Prohibition and Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is the part-politician, part-gangster ruling the whole scene. A large part of the show's success was down to the acting talents of Buscemi, Michael Shannon, Bobby Cannavale and Kelly Macdonald, who deserved to take home a lot more awards than they did.
Line of Duty: Seasons 1-5
There's no greater measure of a British TV show's popularity than moving from BBC Two to the more mainstream BBC One. In 2017, Line of Duty's fourth season followed in the footsteps of Torchwood, Little Britain and Gavin & Stacey, to cement its place as the hottest cop drama on TV. Created by Jed Mercurio (whose impressive resumé includes Bodies and 2018 hit Bodyguard), it's a trip into the shadowy world of a police anti-corruption unit, as the men and women of AC-12 investigate dodgy officers. Tense, morally ambiguous and twisty as hell, Line of Duty is essential, arresting viewing.
Battlestar Galactica: Seasons 1-4
The original 1970s Battlestar Galactica got a hell of a lot wrong – there's a reason disco and space opera didn't prolong their relationship – yet it was always ripe for a remake. And so, 25 years later, Star Trek veteran Ronald D. Moore found the perfect way to tell the story of a race of humans on the run from machines who'd all-but wiped out their civilisation. Loaded with post-9/11 allegory, it got away with bold storytelling choices that Earth-based dramas would never have touched – heroes as suicide bombers? – and maximised the tension of the chase with one of the best ensembles in sci-fi TV history.
The Trip: Seasons 1-3
On paper The Trip sounded like a self-indulgent disaster, as top comic actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon played fictionalised versions of themselves on a road trip reviewing restaurants in England's Lake District. They improvised, ate food, chatted and duelled via the medium of celebrity impressions. It shouldn't have worked, but strangely, it did. Not only was it incredibly funny, but director Michael Winterbottom made sure the two men were brilliant to hang out with, artfully skirting the line between drama and caricature. Further trips to Italy and Spain followed, while their current jaunt to Greece (season 4) is available on Now TV.
DVD/Blu-ray: Amazon (UK).
Streaming: BritBox (seasons 1-2), NowTV (seasons 3-4) (UK).
Twin Peaks: Seasons 1-3
You may just about remember who murdered Laura Palmer (or maybe you don't – David Lynch has never been a fan of making things easy for viewers), but that shouldn’t stop you rediscovering the quirky joy of a super-weird serial noir. And let's be honest, this show was never about about the murder anyway, as Lynch was much more interested in seeing how far he could push the limits of TV drama. Where else would you find log ladies, evil spirits, cross-dressing DEA agents, nightmares about backwards-speaking dwarves and damn fine coffee all in one place? Lynch returned for an unexpected third season in 2017 and yep, it was still really odd – but damn fine nonetheless.
Peaky Blinders: Seasons 1-5
Imagine The Godfather set in the Midlands in the aftermath of World War I, and you’re getting close to the money. Couple that with the real-life aspect of the gritty urban drama (the Peaky Blinders were an actual gang who sewed razor blades into their caps for use as covert weapons) and the result was one of the finest gangster dramas of the decade. Shot with cinematic flair, full of violent (often slow-mo) action, with an A-list cast (Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill, Tom Hardy) – and given a stylistic boost by some anachronistic but oddly-fitting modern music – Peaky Blinders has delivered five seasons of Brummie brilliance. And there's more to come...
The Expanse: Seasons 1-4
Star Trek’s always made space travel look like a doddle, as simple as nipping down the road to post a letter. In The Expanse, however, getting around the Solar System is such a challenging, time-consuming business that it's no wonder Earthers, Martians and Belters tend to keep themselves to themselves... Based on James S.A. Corey's hit novel series, it's the story of a quartet of reluctant heroes thrown into a maelstrom of political intrigue, war, and the alien parasite that threatens to wipe out life as we know it. Despite being cancelled by original network Syfy after three seasons, The Expanse is still going strong (and constantly evolving) on Amazon – long may this spiritual successor to Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica continue.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Seasons 1-7
While the 1992 movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer made little impact on popular culture, the TV version stakes a claim on being one of the most influential shows in history. Taking the idea of school being hell incredibly literally – Sunnydale High sits on top of an actual Hellmouth – its mix of vamps, demons and teens proved an addictive mix. But more important were the brilliant ensemble, creator Joss Whedon's witty, pop-culture literate scripts, and the glee Buffy took in pushing the boundaries of network TV. These days musical episodes are ten a penny, but season six's ‘Once More, With Feeling’ felt like nothing we'd seen before.
Fargo: Seasons 1-3
Screenwriters and directors often claim that when it comes to adapting material from one medium to another, it’s capturing the spirit of the original that’s the key. That’s certainly been true of the TV version of Fargo, as series creator Noah Hawley captured the essence of the Coen brothers' classic 1996 movie. Plot-wise the three seasons have very little to with the film aside from the Midwestern setting, their tales of unlikely criminals in over their head and some very loose shared plot threads. But each self-contained story arc has been a masterclass of drama and black comedy, populated by memorable, eccentric characters you'd love to spend more time with – if only they didn't keep dying. A fourth season – starring Chris Rock – was due in April 2020, but has been delayed by coronavirus.
A long as you're not looking for feelgood viewing, you won't find a more compelling story than this dramatisation of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The scenes of the accident – where a power station's reactor exploded, spewing tons of radioactive material into the atmosphere – and the subsequent aftermath are harrowing enough, but it's as much the story of government cover-ups, and the brave individuals prepared to speak against the authorities in the former Soviet Union. TV doesn't come more hard-hitting than this.
DVD/Blu-ray: Amazon (UK)/Amazon (US).
Streaming: Now TV (UK)/HBO (US).
The Sopranos: Seasons 1-6
Widely credited as the show that kickstarted the era of prestige TV, David Chase's superlative drama brought the Scorsese-style gangster drama to the small screen – with the added twist that mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) was in therapy (with a psychiatrist played by GoodFellas’ Lorraine Bracco). Violent, multi-layered and brilliantly played, The Sopranos raised the bar for all television drama that followed. Besides, when your title sequence has been parodied on The Simpsons, you know you've arrived.
The Wire: Seasons 1-5
For a certain kind of person, finding out whether you've seen The Wire or not could shape their entire opinion of you as a human being. We're not quite so judgemental, however – in fact we're even a little bit envious of anyone yet to watch David Chase's seminal Baltimore-set crime drama, given the treat they have in store. While The Wire was neither a ratings smash nor an awards-botherer – and the show's take-no-prisoners storytelling made sure it wasn't always the easiest watch – it was ambitious, perfectly cast, and groundbreaking enough to rank among the best shows ever made.