The need for good boxsets has never been greater.
Here’s our pick of the top boxsets available to watch for free (as long as you have a TV licence, obviously) courtesy of the BBC and Channel 4 and their streaming platforms.
1. Pose – BBC iPlayer
Set against the backdrop of ball culture in 1980s New York, Pose is an important lesson in queer history as it follows the story of Blanca Rodriguez, a trans woman who decides to start her own “house” to give back to the community when she discovers she is HIV+.
We promise that no show will make your heart swell and break in equal measure. And did we mention there’s an absolutely fabulous soundtrack too?
2. Derry Girls – All4
Set in The Troubles, this comedy series tells the story of a group of teens just going about their business, with countless hilarious mis-steps and cringe-inducing mishaps along the way. Yes, we said ‘The Troubles’ and ‘comedy’ in the same sentence. Trust us, writer Lisa McGee makes it work.
There’s Orla (living in a dream world we’d gladly inhabit), Clare (stressed, very stressed), Erin (trying to take charge and failing, slightly), James (the wee English fella) and Michelle (extrovert with a filthy mouth) – and every single one of them is hilarious.
3. Shrill – BBC iPlayer
OK, so it may not be as laugh out loud funny as the likes of Derry Girls, but there’s still so much to love in the US comedy drama, of which both series are on iPlayer.
SNL’s Aidy Bryant stars as Annie, whose life we follow as she tries to make sense of her world - her job as a talented but underappreciated journalist, her rubbish love life and how she feels about being a bigger girl than the idiot personal trainer she keeps running into.
It’s all brilliantly written, superbly acted and even though it feels like familiar territory, it’s a completely original take.
4. Spooks – BBC iPlayer
As part of the BBC’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, it uploaded a plethora of classic series onto the iPlayer, with Spooks being one of the ones we’re most looking forward to revisiting.
We remember the MI5 series being way ahead of its time, and it will certainly be interesting to see if any of the storylines bare resemblance to events that have unfolded in the nine years since it finished.
5. The Missing – BBC iPlayer
Each of the two series focus on detective Julien Baptiste’s hunt for a missing child, with the story told across two different timelines that expertly intertwine and keep you on the edge of your seat. James Nesbitt and Keeley Hawes also give stellar performances in their respective lead roles.
6. Cruising With Jane McDonald – My5
With none of us going on holiday for the foreseeable, we could all do with a bit of sunshine in our lives – and our Jane brings that in more ways than one.
It might sound like a cute little travel show, but if you know anything about (a) cruising or (b) Jane McDonald, you’ll know that it is a recipe for ridiculousness on the high seas, as each episode she boards a luxury ship and explores some hidden gems among the destinations she travels to.
7. Nighty Night – BBC iPlayer
You probably know Julia Davis as Dawn Sutcliffe in Gavin & Stacey, but in case you missed her comedy origins, you should definitely check out her deliciously dark, but devastatingly funny mid-00s sitcom.
Julia stars as suburban hairdresser Jill, a sociopath who pretends her husband is dead after he is diagnosed with cancer. She uses her “grief” to impose herself on disabled neighbour Cathy – who clearly can’t stand the sight of her, but is too polite to say – while also trying to seduce Cathy’s husband, Don. Gavin & Stacey’s Ruth Jones (aka Nessa) also plays her asthmatic assistant.
8. National Treasure – All4
Screenwriter Jack Thorne, whose other credits include This Is England ’90, masterminded the four-part drama, which takes inspiration from the real-life events of Operation Yewtree.
9. Noughts & Crosses – BBC iPlayer
This series – based on the Malorie Blackman novels of the same name – is currently airing weekly on BBC One, but if you’re feeling impatient, or want to watch in one go, the whole series is already on iPlayer.
Tackling the topics of race, prejudice and ignorance in an alternative society in which Europe has been colonised by Africa, Noughts And Crosses tells the story of Sephy Hadley and Callum McGregor, who are divided by race but united by love.
10. RuPaul’s Drag Race UK – BBC iPlayer
After years of waiting, British fans of Drag Race finally got their prayers answered when a UK version of the hit US reality show sashayed its way onto BBC Three last year.
If you’ve so far failed to get into the original series, this is a much more quintessentially British take on the format, but without losing any of the camp charm and sparkle that led it to become a global sensation. In the words of Baga Chipz herself, we promise it will leave you feeling MUCH BETTAH!
11. Giri/Haji – BBC iPlayer
Giri/Haji aired to huge critical acclaim on BBC Two in the latter part of last year, but it never really got the fanfare it deserved, meaning many people missed out on it.
It sees Tokyo detective Kenzo Mori travel to London in search of his brother Yuto, who was previously assumed to have been dead after being accused of murdering the nephew of an organised crime gang member. His hunt brings him into contact with dangerous elements of London’s corrupt criminal underworld.
12. ER – All4
Admittedly, you may prefer to stay away from anything medical-related at the moment, but it would be remiss of us not to mention the fact all 15 seasons (that’s 331 episodes!) of the critically acclaimed US hospital drama are available for free of All4.
A pre-Hollywood George Clooney stars as the dishy Dr Doug, while later series see the likes of Alex Kingston, Maura Tierney, Mekhi Phifer and John Stamos heading up the emergency room.
13. Dawson’s Creek – All4
Likewise, there’s also the entire back catalogue of US teen drama Dawson’s Creek available on the streaming service for you to relive your youth with.
While still gloriously late 90s, the complicated love lives of Dawson, Joey, Pacey, Jen et al still feel so contemporary, and honestly, I Don’t Want To Wait to hit play on all 128 episodes.
14. Catastrophe – All4
Co-written by and starring Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, this sitcom follows self-centred and hot headed Sharon and alcoholic Rob as they enjoy a one night stand that ends up lasting a week.
Sharon finds out she’s pregnant and he relocates to London from the US to give things a go. It’s everyone’s worst nightmare, but somehow they make it work.
15. Escape To The Chateau – All4
In a nutshell, the series follows husband and wife Dick and Angel, who move to France and buy a 19th century chateau. As you do. We follow them – and their two young children – as they restore the 19th-century Château de la Motte-Husson to its former glory, thanks to Dick’s engineering skills and Angel’s eye for design.
It’s basically a Changing Rooms/Location Location Location/A Place In the Sun hybrid fairytale, so it’s perfect escapism – and what’s more, there’s a whole six series to enjoy.
16. His Dark Materials – BBC iPlayer
His Dark Materials is based on the trilogy of fantasy novels from Philip Pullman and follows a brave young woman called Lyra, whose quest to find her kidnapped friend leads her to uncover a secret organisation’s sinister plot, forcing her to protect dangerous secrets.
This fantasy series, which first aired last year, is a journey across multiple parallel worlds, featuring many extraordinary beings, and will fill the Game Of Thrones-shaped hole in your life very nicely.
17. Killing Eve – BBC iPlayer
If by some miracle the phenomenon that is Killing Eve has so far escaped you, there’s no better time to find out what all the fuss is, as both series are still available on iPlayer.
Based on Luke Jennings’ Codename Villanelle novella series, and adapted by Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the story follows Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), a bored, low-level MI5 officer on her hunt to track down an expert, seamless psychopathic assassin, Villanelle (Jodie Comer). As the series progresses, both women become obsessed with each other to a degree that resembles something close, almost implicitly romantic.
18. Friday Night Dinner – All4
Like with Friends and Peep Show, Friday Night Dinner has fast become one of those comedies you can just stick on and feel instantly comforted.
And ahead of the sixth series’ debut later this year (which is also rumoured to be the last, sob!), there’s no better time to sit down for dinner with the Goodman family again.
19. Race Across The World – BBC iPlayer
The second series of BBC Two’s sleeper hit is currently airing, but if you’re feeling a little left out of the party, the complete first series is available to catch up on.
The show is exactly what it says on the tin, with teams of two racing across the world with the aim of being the fastest to reach their destination using any method of transport other than a plane. It’s fantastically cast with a colourful bunch of characters, who we’d quite like to go on holiday with – when we’re allowed to travel again, that is.
20. The Capture – BBC iPlayer
This six-part drama aired on BBC One last year, but in case you missed it, it’s a gripping watch as it delves into the increasing reality of the “post-truth” era, looking into the effect that fake news and deep fakes have on the criminal justice system.
It tells the story of former soldier Shaun Emery, who was convicted of an unlawful killing during active duty amid a global media storm, but is acquitted on appeal because of flawed video evidence. But he must then fight for justice again when damning CCTV footage from a night out comes to light.
21. Skins – All4
If you’re in the mood for a big hit of 00s nostalgia, good news – Channel 4 has all series of Skins available.
Admittedly, things started to go off the boil a little bit after the third series, so we’d forgive you for stopping there, but catching up with the likes of Tony, Sid, Cassie, Chris, Jal, Maxxie and Michelle will remind you of simpler – if not much wilder – times.
22. This Country – BBC iPlayer
Along with Drag Race UK, This Country is BBC Three’s stand-out hit since it moved online in 2016. But like all good things, it’s soon to come to an end, with the third and final series having just debuted.
In case you’ve missed out so far, the mockumentary-style sitcom has elements of The Office, Little Britain and Gavin & Stacey as it follows the day-to-day lives of cousins Kerry and Kurtan, who live in a small village in the Cotswolds.
23. Luther – BBC iPlayer
First, a disclaimer: if you’re of a nervous disposition at the moment, Luther probably isn’t the right show for you, as it’s disturbing to say the least.
However, if you’re a big Idris Elba fan or love scaring yourself silly, then there’s a lot to enjoy about this BBC thriller – all five seasons of which are available now.
24. Call The Midwife – BBC iPlayer
Call The Midwife evokes a particular cosy, warm-hearted feeling when it airs on a Sunday night in the depths of winter – and that’s certainly something we wouldn’t say no to right now.
Luckily for us then, every single episode of everyone’s favourite period maternity drama are available to watch.
25. Absolutely Fabulous – BBC iPlayer
If ever there were a time to allow Eddy and Patsy to take you over to the dark (yet Absolutely Fabulous) side, this would be it.
There’s five series and four stand-alone specials available for streaming so pop open a bottle of Bolly and get comfortable, sweetie.
26. French & Saunders – BBC iPlayer
The duo’s sketch show is still as brilliantly off the wall as it was back when it started, and by opening it up to a whole new audience, there will hopefully be an appetite for a new series. We can dream, right?
27. Gavin & Stacey – BBC iPlayer
If you missed out on the excitement of the Gavin & Stacey Christmas special last year because you didn’t watch the original series, then it’s finally time to find out what all the hype is about.
The family-based comedy is simultaneously relatable and completely ridiculous, and never fails to raise a smile, whatever might be occurin’ in the real world.
28. Miranda – BBC iPlayer
Unbelievably, it’s been over 10 years since we were first introduced to the 30-something single joke shop owner and followed her hapless adventures. We promise that watching it all over again will be – as Penny puts it – such fun!
29. Line Of Duty – BBC iPlayer
Line Of Duty amassed a whole new legion of fans after it moved to BBC One for its fourth series, but how many of you have gone back and binged your way through the first three?
In our humble opinion, series two and three are up there with some of the best British drama ever produced, and you’d be foolish to not catch up on them if you’ve only joined for its latter series – and not just because many of the story strands will suddenly make sense.
30. Ashes To Ashes / Life On Mars – BBC iPlayer
After you’ve finished The Missing and Line Of Duty and fancy exploring more of Keeley Hawes previous work, you’d do worse than checking out Ashes To Ashes.
The period police drama was the follow-up to Life On Mars (which is also available on iPlayer), but always seemed to stick out as the better of the two in our minds.
31. Chewing Gum – All4
There’s a reason Michaela Coel won a Bafta for this E4 sitcom – it’s bloody funny.
For the uninitiated, it was created and written by Michaela, who stars as a 24-year-old shop assistant Tracey Gordon, who is (a) religious and (b) a virgin wanting to have sex and learn more about the world. Robert Lonsdale, Susan Wokoma, Danielle Walters and Tanya Franks also star.
32. Ladhood – BBC iPlayer
Adapted from radio, Ladhood follows Liam as both a grown-up and teenager through flashbacks that trace issues in his present day life back to his suburban adolescence in Garforth. It’s like a smarter, more touching Inbetweeners, without being painfully woke.
And if that isn’t enough of an endorsement, Kathy Burke – Kathy Burke! - praised its “brilliant writing and perfect cast”.