The best Amazon Original series (December 2018)

The best Amazon Original series, from 'Bosch' to 'Transparent'

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Navigating through the library of Amazon Prime Video offerings can be daunting, particularly when it comes to finding the good stuff. Fortunately, we’ve put together a list of our favorite original projects available on the streaming platform.

Most of the shows on our list are true Amazon Originals — produced in-house by Amazon Studios in much the same way as Netflix Originals are —  and there are a lot of them now that Amazon has been ratcheting up production in recent years.

Here are the best of the bunch, so you can spend less time hunting in the wild, and more time watching.

‘Bosch’

Based upon a series of novels by Michael Connelly, Bosch is one of the best crime thrillers out there, faithfully reproducing the source material without falling prey to the same shortcomings that plague many adaptations. Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch (Deadwood actor Titus Welliver) is a morally upright man who isn’t afraid to bend the rules to bring justice to those who deserve it.

Sound corny? Well, somehow, it’s not. Amazon’s vision of a grim, unromantic Los Angeles plays perfectly into Bosch’s story, which is simultaneously rote crime TV and enthralling drama. The series’ slow pace is sublime, and characters — even small ones — are written thoughtfully, avoiding the tired tropes of the genre (mostly). If you like cop shows, this is one of the best.

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‘Comrade Detective’

Easily the most absurd entry on our list, Comrade Detective is like a buddy-cop movie, except those buddies are Romanian and set during the late Cold War. The entire show is filmed in Romanian (with Romanian actors) before being dubbed over in English by big-name stars including Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nick Offerman, and more.

Most of the gags in Comrade Detective are typical jokes about communism and the USSR, except they’re reverse-engineered to be “about” the capitalist pigs of America. Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell when the show is being serious and when it’s trying to make you laugh, and those end up being the best (and most thought-provoking) parts.

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‘Goliath’

Billy Bob Thornton portrays hard-luck lawyer Billy McBride in this series that follows his path to redemption after leaving the powerful law firm he co-founded with a reclusive partner and hitting rock-bottom.

Although it features an impressive supporting cast that includes William Hurt, Maria Bello, Olivia Thirlby, Molly Parker, and Mark Duplass, the series is led by Thornton’s performance as the former hotshot attorney who now struggles against a legal system weighted against his clients instead of favoring them. The role won Thornton a Golden Globe Award as the year’s best actor in a drama series at the 2017 ceremony.

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‘The Grand Tour’

If you liked Top Gear and you’ve never seen The Grand Tour … oh boy. The full crew — Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May, and executive producer Andy Wilman — migrated to Amazon after Clarkson was booted from the BBC show following some untoward allegations, and it feels like they never left. The Grand Tour actually takes Top Gear to another level, with more extravagant production value and more ridiculous vehicles than ever before.

As with its predecessor, Grand Tour expertly blends legitimate auto journalism with general buffoonery, as the hosts regularly take gleeful pot shots at one another. The show travels across the world for numerous specialty episodes, including one involving charitable efforts in Mozambique and one in Dubai featuring sand buggies. The show is basically just Top Gear 2.0 — but if you like cars, you need to watch.

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‘The Man in The High Castle’

What would have happened if the Axis powers emerged victorious from World War II? That’s the question posed by The Man In The High Castle, a dramatic, highly stylized adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel of the same name. Set in the early 1960s (novelly, it’s a dystopian past this time around), the Third Reich and the Japanese empire hold split control over the continental United States.

When a dangerous propaganda film makes its way into the hands of revolutionary groups, a clandestine conflict begins over the truth of the war as an aging Adolf Hitler prepares to relinquish control of the Reich and several prominent party members vie for a chance at the throne. The pace is slow, but the acting, especially from Rufus Sewell (Victoria) as the icy Obergruppenführer John Smith, is worth your patience.

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‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’

In 1958 New York City, Jewish housewife Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) finds out her husband — a businessman who does stand-up comedy on the side — is stealing his jokes from big-time comic Bob Newhart and, worse, having an affair. To cope with the upheaval, Midge begins to tell jokes of her own, and finds she has something of a knack for it. In the vein of Unbreakable Kimmy SchmidtThe Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a comedy that doesn’t allow itself to be weighed down by its more serious moments, resulting in a joyous, fun tone.

Similarly, the series tactfully handles issues of gender and religion in a period when people weren’t quite as enlightened or politically correct as (most people) are today. Brosnahan’s character work is outstanding, painting a picture of a woman who uses her pain to strengthen her resolve and bolster her act.

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‘New Yorker Presents’

You don’t need a subscription to The New Yorker — just watch this short anthology series on Amazon. The New Yorker Presents is an odd collection of interviews, news investigations, and scripted comedy shorts which hold little relation to one another but are all worth watching in their own way.

Want to learn about the effects of pesticides on amphibious ecosystems? You came to the right place. Each episode is host to several different segments, which vary wildly in tone and subject matter. That said, you never feel as though you’re wasting time or watching something uninteresting. And don’t worry: There are no political cartoons.

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‘One Mississippi’

One Mississippi might be the most melancholy comedy series ever made. When L.A. radio host Tig Bavaro (Tig Notaro) returns to her Mississippi hometown after her elderly mother is taken off life support, she moves back in with her brother and stepfather to try and sort everything out. What follows is a bittersweet culture clash, as progressive, big-city Tig struggles to adapt to the antiquated traditions in Bay St. Lucille.

Notaro is wonderful, the kind of comic whose jokes come simply via observation. Despite Amazon’s cancellation of the series after two seasons (apparently as part of a move toward “bigger, wider-audience series“), critics heaped praise on One Mississippi for its authentic tone and unique brand of humor. The semi-autobiographical show is one of the most genuine you’ll find, depicting its characters with both comedy and care.

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‘Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams’

An anthology sci-fi series akin to Netflix’s Black Mirror, the first 10-episode season of Electric Dreams offers a set of stand-alone stories that filter humanity’s technological future through a dark, often unsettling lens. Each of the episodes is inspired by the works of prolific sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, whose stories previously served as source material for Blade Runner and Minority Report, among other acclaimed films.

Although the series isn’t a fully original Amazon Studios production, Amazon Prime Video owns the U.S. rights to the series, which has a surprisingly well-known cast of familiar faces in front of the camera, and an equally impressive team behind it. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) is one of several high-profile cast members to appear in episodes, along with Hidden Figures actress Janelle Monae, Terrence Howard, Steve Buscemi, and Anna Paquin.

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‘Red Oaks’

Red Oaks is a surprisingly fun ode to classic 1980s coming-of-age comedies that doesn’t lean on lazy callbacks or costume gags, instead crafting a genuinely affecting tale of love, loss, and growth. College kid David Myers (Craig Roberts) signs on to work at an upstate New York country club in the summer, where he works as a tennis instructor under the charming Nash (Ennis Esmer, always stealing scenes).

David inconveniently finds himself falling for the beautiful daughter of the club president (Paul Reiser, of course) while navigating his parents’ messy relationship, and a relationship of his own. The series doles out hilarity and wholesomeness in equal measure, with excellent comic acting by both known commodities (Richard Kind, ’80s icon Jennifer Grey as the parents) and diamonds in the rough (Oliver Cooper). The first season is the best, but it’s all worth your time.

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‘Sneaky Pete’

Sneaky Pete is one of Amazon Studios’ youngest productions, but the first season earned rave reviews and the second is due out in March. The premise is classic Hollywood, as con artist Marius (Giovanni Ribisi) gets out of prison and adopts his late cellmate’s identity in order to escape from a terrifying gangster (Bryan Cranston).

Predictably, Marius finds himself in over his head trying to navigate the life that Pete left behind years ago, including an overbearing grandmother (Margo Martindale) and a crotchety grandfather (Peter Gerety). Ribisi’s roles are typically smaller parts, but he nails the lead here, and overall the show takes a fun tone without dipping too far into “comedy” territory.

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‘The Tick’

The Tick began his (fictional) existence as a sort of tongue-in-cheek superhero and mascot for a New England chain of comic book stores. Amazon’s take (the third Tick TV series, but who’s counting?) follows lowly Arthur, a typical office worker with little ambition and few goals. Suddenly, Arthur meets The Tick — perhaps a real superhero, perhaps a figment of his imagination — who begins to uncover the hero hidden within Arthur.

The show is quite funny, powered largely by Peter Serafinowicz’s dopey performance as the title character, and though it’s still in its infancy, we expect more good things based on what we’ve seen so far. The second season of 10 episodes was commissioned by Amazon, with an expected premiere date of some time in 2019.

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‘Transparent’

Not only is Transparent an incredible show, it’s perhaps the best double entendre in TV history (trans parent … get it?). In a widely acclaimed turn (he’s won 13 awards off 22 nominations so far), Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) portrays Morton Pfefferman, a retired college professor who opts to live his truth as a transgender woman — Maura — thus forcing Maura’s family to adapt to their father’s newly revealed identity.

The series is an honest, emotional look at the difficulties that plague transgender people as they attempt to justify their identities to both close friends and complete strangers. Creator Jill Holloway found inspiration for Transparent after her own father came out as transgender, lending the show a feeling of authenticity you can’t help but appreciate. Despite being renewed for a fifth season, the series is currently on hold after Tambor was the subject of multiple sexual harassment allegations and was subsequently fired from the show. All four seasons aired so far are still available on Amazon.

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