Since launch, Disney+ has had one glaring weakness: the lack of binge-worthy live action series that audiences over age 12 will enjoy.
To be sure, the family-friendly streaming service has several series that work well in small doses: Rogue Trip, Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, Brain Games, Encore, Cosmos, Shop Class, and America’s Funniest Home Videos come to mind. Disney+ also has dozens of bingeable animated shows, and laugh-track Disney Channel entries amuse some pre-teens.
However, competitors Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, and Peacock all have 20 to 40 or more must-see TV series that aren’t cartoons. In 2021, Disney+ began to pick up the pace of adding library series with ABC’s Dinosaurs (January) and The Muppet Show (February).
For now, here’s our list of 10 binge-worthy live action series with wide appeal… and ten inexplicably missing Disney-owned shows we hope are coming soon.
10 Best Disney+ Live-Action Series to Binge Watch
1. The Mandalorian (2 Seasons)
From director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and executive producer Dave Filoni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), this $100 million Western-style space opera has kept Disney+ trending since its launch. Set after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order, The Mandalorian follows the travails of a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy who becomes protector of The Child (a.k.a. “Baby Yoda”) far from the authority of the New Republic.
2. Agent Carter (2 Seasons)
Peace has dealt Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) a serious blow as she finds herself marginalized when the men return home from fighting abroad during World War II. Working for the covert S.S.R. (Strategic Scientific Reserve), a precursor to S.H.I.E.L.D., Peggy must balance doing administrative work and going on secret missions for Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper). She navigates life as a female secret agent, in the wake of losing the love of her life – Captain America Steve Rogers. Tying closely to the Captain America films, this series also sheds light on the end of Avengers: Endgame.
3. Once Upon A Time (7 Seasons)
Once Upon a Time reveals a world in which fairy-tale legends and modern life collide. Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) is comfortable in her life as a bail bonds collector when Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) — the child she gave up a decade earlier — suddenly shows up. He is convinced that she is the daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), who sent her away before the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) could cast a spell, freezing the fairytale world in time and bringing them to present-day Storybrooke, Maine. While skeptical, Emma discovers he may not be wrong after all. Hitting its stride in seasons 2 thru 4, Once Upon A Time reimagines Disney characters Captain Hook, Belle, Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio, and many others.
4. The Imagineering Story (Limited Series)
This 6-part documentary series explores the past, present and future of Walt Disney Imagineering with noted filmmaker Leslie Iwerks. Thanks to her family’s Disney connections — her grandfather was an early Disney animator and her father is a former Imagineer — Iwerks gives viewers an all-access pass to how Disney’s innovative theme park attractions are created… including a few missteps and low points that have occurred over the decades.
5. The Muppet Show (5 Seasons)
Jim Henson spent decades pursuing his dream of “making millions of people happy” through his big-eyed colorful puppets. He finally achieved it with a syndicated variety show that ran for 120 episodes from 1976 to 1981 — each one full of wildly diverse musical numbers, laugh-out-loud moments, and gags at every turn. All five seasons arrived Feb. 19 on Disney+, with only two episodes missing.
6. The Right Stuff (1 Season)
The incredible story of the early days of the U.S. space program, based on the iconic bestseller by Tom Wolfe. At the height of the Cold War, newly-formed NASA selects seven of the military’s best test pilots to become astronauts. Competing to be the first in space, these men achieve the extraordinary, inspiring the world to turn towards a new horizon of ambition and hope.
7. Boy Meets World (7 Seasons)
From producers Michael Jacobs and April Kelly, Boy Meets World elevates the classic sitcom format with writing and performances that deepen as the show progresses. One of few ABC series on Disney+, it chronicles the ups and downs of Cory Matthews (Ben Savage), his best friend Shawn (Rider Strong), girlfriend Topanga (Danielle Fishel), brother Eric (Will Friedle), and the lessons they learn from their teacher George Feeney (William Daniels). Later seasons deal with loss and the complexities of relationships. Disney Channel brought some of the characters back for 3 seasons of Girl Meets World, also on Disney+.
8. Prop Culture (1 Season)
In eight half-hour episodes, Prop Culture goes behind the scenes of favorite films such as Mary Poppins, The Muppet Movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Host and prop collector Dan Lanigan recovers lost movie artifacts, visits private collections, and helps restore pieces from the Walt Disney Archives to their original glory. Lanigan has hinted at plans for a second season, but Disney+ has not yet announced it. “You’ve got to like the first season to get a second season!” said Lanigan in March. “So hopefully people watch.”
9. Smart Guy (3 Seasons)
T.J. is a boy genius who gets bumped up from the fourth grade to high school. T.J. tries to adjust to his new life, but he shares some classes with his 14 year-old brother Marcus, the school jock, and his clueless and self-absorbed 16 year-old sister Yvette. From executive producers Suzanne De Passe (Lonesome Dove) and Danny Kallis (The Suite Life of Zack & Cody), family sitcom Smart Guy originally aired on The WB network.
10. Hostile Planet (Limited Series)
This six-part documentary series draws attention to the most extraordinary — almost supernatural — accounts of animals that have adapted to the cruelest evolutionary curveballs. An intimate look at the wilds of nature, the cinematography and pace of this series is on-par with Planet Earth and other high-end nature series.
10 Binge-Worthy Series Currently Missing On Disney+
1. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (7 Seasons)
Clark Gregg reprises his role as Agent Phil Coulsen from 2012’s The Avengers and Captain Marvel. He runs an elite team for the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. Together these agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. must investigate and hunt down strange occurrences posed by new threats and a rising number of supervillains. This ABC series is already available on Disney+ in many countries, but an existing Netflix contract will keep it from U.S. subscribers for some years to come.
2. Zorro (1957-1961) (2 Seasons)
The first TV drama series produced by Walt Disney himself, Zorro introduces star Guy Williams as a Bruce Wayne high-society type in 1820’s California — moonlighting as the masked hero of justice. Mystery, comedy, adventure, and romance play a part in these 82 episodes, including 4 specials. Through 20th Century TV, Disney also owns the lesser-known Family Channel series Zorro (1990-1993) which stars Duncan Regehr as the masked man and ran for 4 seasons.
3. Malcolm in the Middle (7 Seasons)
This inventive, irreverent family sitcom is seen through the eyes of Malcolm (Frankie Muniz), who navigates through middle school despite obstacles along the way. His mom Lois (Jane Kaczmarek) is outspoken while dad Hal (Bryan Cranston) is a certified legend in his own mind. Brothers Reese (Justin Berfield) and Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan) muddle through life, and Francis (Christopher Kennedy Masterson) survives away from the family at military academy. This series was set to be a Year One addition to Disney+ according to Disney executives, but has not materialized.
4. Galavant (2 Seasons)
Galavant is an American musical fantasy-comedy television series, created and written by Dan Fogelman. The music for the show was provided by Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast), with lyrics by Glenn Slater. The show features a dashing hero named Galavant, who embarks on a quest to restore his “happily ever after” when he loses Madalena, the love of his life, to King Richard. Galavant is prepared to use many skills to win back his beautiful lady and avenge her, but he is surprised by the twists and turns he encounters along the way.
5. Lincoln Heights (4 Seasons)
From executive producer Kevin Hooks (The Color of Friendship, Sounder) and creator Seth Freeman (Brooklyn Bridge), Lincoln Heights recounts the experiences of a Black family that seeks to bring justice and community renewal to a difficult crime-ridden neighborhood. While Officer Eddie Sutton (Russell Hornsby) struggles to cope with everyday life as a street cop in Los Angeles, his kids try to fit in at their new schools and with their new neighbors.
6. Five Mile Creek (3 Seasons)
Filmed in Australia and based in little-known history, ensemble drama Five Mile Creek brings together a disparate group of American and Australian settlers who must work together to forge a new path. Founding a stage coach line proves full of challenges, from outlaws to economic challenges to relational conflicts. Years after it aired on Disney Channel from 1983 to 1985, Disney released all seasons on VHS in the 1990s; only season one ever landed on DVD.
7. Once and Again (3 seasons)
Two divorcees meet and begin a romantic courtship, which is complicated by their respective children and their own life problems. Starring Sela Ward, Billy Campbell and Evan Rachel Wood, Once and Again won praise for its portrayal of family life.
8. Scrubs (9 seasons)
Scrubs follows the musings of young intern J.D. (Zach Braff) and his friends as they enter the medical world at Sacred Heart Hospital. Over nine seasons, the series chronicles his friend Turk’s blossoming romance with head nurse Carlato, J.D’s on and off relationship with Elliot, and a long list of insults from sarcastic Dr. Cox and the janitor.
9. Castle (8 seasons)
When viewers first met Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion), a famous mystery novelist, he was creatively blocked. But when the NYPD questioned him in connection with a series of murders staged to imitate crime scenes from his books, Castle found inspiration in NYPD Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic). Once that initial case was solved, Castle and Beckett continued to investigate strange homicides in New York, combining Castle’s intuition as a writer with Beckett’s creative detective work.
10. Home Improvement (8 Seasons)
One of TV’s most celebrated and hilarious comedies, Home Improvement follows Tim Taylor (Tim Allen) and his understanding wife Jill (Patricia Richardson) as they cheerfully muddle through the trials and tribulations of raising three sons: Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan), Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), and Mark (Taran Noah Smith). The show inside the show, Tim’s cable television hit ‘Tool Time,’ provides fuel for many storylines, such as the romances of Tim’s co-star Al (Richard Karn). While it left Hulu last year, this much-requested family comedy series hasn’t yet been announced for Disney+. Fingers crossed.
Are there other currently available Disney+ series you consider “binge-worthy”? Which Disney-owned series do you hope make it to the streamer? Raise your voice and comment below.