Blow up your data cap with the best Netflix original series

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After revolutionizing the television landscape with its streaming service, Netflix began unveiling its own original shows in 2013, with House of Cards acting as the company’s first hit single, of sorts. More hits were soon to follow, and today the company is only gaining momentum. All told, the current stable of Netflix Originals includes dozens of scripted and documentary series produced in-house — and that’s not even counting the gobs of other programs on Netflix, including many for which the company holds exclusive streaming rights.

With such a diverse pool or originals to choose from, you might be wondering: Which of these shows are worth beaming into my eyeballs for eleven straight hours this weekend? Well, we’re here to tell you. Click through to find the best Netflix original series on the block. Or if you’re looking for a dose of the latest, check out our list of what’s new on Netflix this month.

American Vandal

“Who drew the d*cks?” That’s the million-dollar question that drives this hilarious mockumentary after someone at Hanover High School mysteriously paints phallic imagery on dozens of cars in the faculty parking lot. Senior troublemaker Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro) is everyone’s prime suspect — and the presumptive culprit — but he swears he didn’t do it, so amateur documentarians Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) set out to discover the truth.

American Vandal is funny for its crude humor, sure (and there’s a lot of it), but it’s also a hilarious riff on self-serious docs like Making a Murderer, and a surprisingly deep story bolstered by several impressive performances from nobody teen actors. If you can stand all the junk jokes, there’s a lot to love here.

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Black Mirror

What happens when technology goes too far? That’s not an unreasonable question to ask oneself in 2018, and Black Mirror (originally broadcast on British Channel 4, before being acquired by Netflix) is an wildly entertaining, if depressing, answer to that question. Most of the episodes of this chilling anthology series ponder hypothetical eventualities resulting from the unchecked advancement of technology, often charting courses that are disturbingly well-connected to the way we work and live today.

The show’s production value keeps getting better, and the third and fourth seasons — produced by Netflix — include a bevy of household names, from Jesse Plemons to Gugu Mbatha-Raw (whom creator/writer Charlie Brooker uses to great effect). The first two seasons — including the epic special White Christmas  are also well worth exploring fully.

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BoJack Horseman

Despite lukewarm reviews for its first season, BoJack improved dramatically and received critical acclaim for the following three campaigns. The animated show centers around BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett), a washed-up ’90s sitcom star (and actual horse-man) trying to find happiness and reclaim his former fame. Anthropomorphic half-breeds are the norm, and the show milks much of its humor by simply playing off stereotypes associated with the characters’ animal halves.

The show’s true strength lies in its sincerity, however, as BoJack struggles to deal with his insecurities in a town rife with celebrity and its many vapid failings. Paul F. Tompkins (Best Week Ever), Alison Brie (Community), and Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) provide excellent voice support in a series that flips from hilarious to depressing with impressive grace.

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Chef’s Table

This documentary web series introduces viewers to top culinary minds across the world, offering insight into the day-to-day experiences and responsibilities of renowned chefs. Each episode focuses on a different restauranteur, and blends together personal stories with culinary content to great effect. The show’s traditional documentary presentation can be a bit stuffy at times, and the narratives can be unevenly balanced in favor of emotional backstories, but most viewers should enjoy and appreciate some insight into the wide world of fine dining.

The quality of each episode hinges largely upon the personality of the chosen chef, and some — notably Massimo Bottura in the first season, Dominique Crenn in the second, and the brash Ivan Orkin in the third — are more camera-friendly than others. Still, the series is a welcome departure from the competition-focused cooking shows that dominate cable and network TV. If you like this, Chef’s Table France is also worth seeing.

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The Crown

Netflix aside, The Crown is perhaps the best show on television right now, period. Easily the most celebrated British period piece since Downton AbbeyThe Crown follows Queen Elizabeth II — the reigning Queen of England, at 91 years old — across different periods of her life, beginning with her 1947 marriage to Prince Philip of Edinburgh. Reception to the series has been overwhelmingly positive, as nearly ever aspect of the show — acting, production value, historical accuracy — has been widely praised.

The series’ interesting format sees Netflix recasting the role of Elizabeth and other characters season-to-season; Claire Foy starred in seasons one and two alongside Matt Smith (Dr. Who) and Vanessa Kirby, while we know Olivia Colman (Peep Show) will be taking the royal reins in season three (with Helena Bonham Carter set to portray Princess Margaret as well). Netflix plans to produce a total of 60 episodes over six seasons.

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Dark

As the only foreign-language entry on our list, Dark would merit some curiosity at the very least, but it’s here not because it’s German, but because it’s awesome. A Stranger Things-esque setup — missing children from a small town, supernatural occurrences, mysterious laboratories — will have you thinking you know what to expect, but trust us, you don’t. The town of Winden lives in the shadow of eternal clouds, lending Dark a more macabre vibe than Stranger Things, which peppers in comic sequences and lots of nostalgia.

Dark weaves together multiple storylines amid complex relationships endemic to small-town life, even outside the good old U.S. of A. If you’re in the mood for a lighthearted romp or a satisfying romance arc, step back — this is not the show for you. But if you love serious shows with a flair for the dramatic (and a heaping helping of despair), check this one out.

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Dear White People

After Justin Simien’s 2014 film of the same name earned rave reviews, Netflix commissioned the young director for a multi-season TV series, featuring the same characters (recast) and an altered storyline. The series is about black students at a predominantly white (and fictitious) Ivy League college, Winchester University, who work to try and find both group and individual identities while carving out a place within the school’s ecosystem. Logan Browning stars as Sam White, a student who runs a radio show titled Dear White People which causes some controversy among the student body.

Thanks to Simien’s expert touch, the show deftly handles the nuances of identity, romance, education, and socialization with plenty of comedic moments, helping to inform viewers of all colors about other points of view without ever seeming judgmental or vindictive. We can’t wait for the second season.

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Easy

This anthology series, created by mumblecore hotshot Joe Swanberg (Win It All), provides a template for relatable and realistic depictions of love and sex in the 21st century. Despite a star-studded list of performers — including Orlando Bloom, Emily Ratajkowski, and Dave Franco, to name a few — Swanberg manages to make you forget that you’re watching someone famous by crafting characters that are deep, yet not too complicated to fit into a 30-minute window.

Each vignette catalogs the struggles of a couple or group of people in contemporary Chicago, where gender roles and language barriers are equal obstacles for people seeking happiness. The show’s brevity prevents most of the stories from reaching any sort of satisfying conclusion, but it’s a sincere collection of not-so-tall tales that most will find familiar and engaging. If you watch through both seasons, there are even some neat callbacks.

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GLOW

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A down-on-her-luck actress in the mid-1980s (Alison Brie) finds surprising fulfillment when she joins a low-budget women’s wrestling program run by a seedy, dishonest director (Marc Maron). Oh, what’s that? You’ve never seen anything like this? Duh. GLOW — which stands for Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling — was a real show in the mid-80s which featured wrestling (of course) with wacky, colorful characters and crazy comedy sketches.

Netflix’s take on it sees the ladies of GLOW battling their own personal issues while trying to come together and produce a successful show; it’s a dangerous premise, but one that works incredibly well thanks to dedicated performances from Brie, Maron, and Betty Gelpin. British rocker Kate Nash, Sydelle Noel, and Britney Young are also excellent in supporting roles.

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Marvel’s Daredevil

The first in a slew of Marvel shows to hit Netflix over the past few years, Daredevil stands largely on the strength of Charlie Cox’s performance in the title role. Cast in a similar vein as Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, this series shows a darker side to Marvel Studios’ colorful cast of superheroes. The blind vigilante spends his days protecting Hell’s Kitchen as a lawyer, and his nights doing the same in a much more tangible (and violent) manner.

The show’s action sequences are fun, and amiable supporting performances from Elden Henson (The Mighty Ducks) and Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood) bring some comic relief and heart to the bleak setting, but as usual, the real stars of the show are the villains. Vincent D’Onofrio is excellent as the deranged Kingpin, while Jon Bernthal’s turn as the Punisher — which earned him his own Netflix series — is as convincing as it is visceral.

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Marvel’s Jessica Jones

Krysten Ritter shines as antihero Jessica Jones, who rejected her superhero persona after a traumatic experience at the hands of Kilgrave (David Tennant), and now runs her own detective agency. Like Daredevil, the series is darker and more grounded than Marvel’s cinematic efforts, though it’s missing some of the goofy light-hearted qualities that Daredevil brings. Jessica Jones is thematically heavier, as the characters deal with topics like rape and PTSD. As with Daredevil, the villain is the sizzle of this series, as Tennant’s take on the villain Kilgrave conjures perhaps the best performance of any on-screen Marvel bad guy this side of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.

The show’s structure seems uniquely suited for the future inclusion of guest heroes; Luke Cage figures prominently in the first season, and it seems likely that more crossover action will take place in season 2, due out in March. Both Jones and Cage (along with Daredevil and Iron Fist) featured heavily in Netflix’s crossover series The Defenders.

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Master of None

If you’ve never seen an episode of Master of None, you might be surprised to see star/creator Aziz Ansari depart from his trademark style of comedy — namely, loud, ridiculous, and goofy — and try on an outfit that looks brand new, but somehow feels worn-in. The show follows Dev Shah (Ansari), a not-so-famous actor living in New York (then, later, Italy) who is simply trying to get by. Master of None offers a unique, honest take on comedy that’s less reliant on punchlines and more situational — it’s Louis, with a Millennial twist.

Some episodes are funny, while some are sad, but all of them feel well-written and natural. Noël Wells and Eric Wareheim (Tim and Eric Awesome Show) provide some help off the bench, and while the acting can occasionally feel a bit strained (especially in the first season), Ansari’s crisp writing and relatable performances (he won a Golden Globe for his efforts) truly carry the show. Aziz’s real parents also appear as Dev’s parents in several hilarious segments, displaying comedy chops that must be hereditary.

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Mindhunter

Why do we obsess over serial killers? Perhaps it’s because we don’t truly understand what makes them tick. That’s the hook for Mindhunter, a crime drama with executive production credits for both David Fincher (Fight Club, Gone Girl) and Charlize Theron. Jonathan Groff (Glee, Hamilton) and Holt McCallany play FBI agents tasked with interviewing and assessing serial killers in order to build personality profiles which might help solve ongoing and future cases. Aside from Anna Torv (Fringe), a largely anonymous cast takes the stage here, as the pair of agents investigate and interview real killers from the mid-late 20th century, including one Ed Kemper.

Mindhunter is largely a bleak affair, with a general sense of dread pushed forward by creepy performances and graphic crime scene photos. Still, it’s a curious subject, and one which informs the detective work done by characters in modern cop dramas. If you liked NightcrawlerZodiac, and Silence of the Lambs, you’ll like Mindhunter. 

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Narcos

Yes, Pablo Escobar is played out, and the show takes its fair share of historical liberties. However, any quibbles with this series can easily be pardoned thanks to some absolutely brilliant performances by Wagner Moura (Escobar) and Boyd Holbrook (Steve Murphy), the latter of which is on his way to becoming a bonafide action star thanks to turns in the excellent Logan and the upcoming The Predator.

Narcos details Escobar’s rise to wealth and power as the face behind one of the largest drug cartels of all time, based out of Medellin, Colombia. Moura oscillates between dedicated family man and ruthless kingpin with alarming ease, while DEA agents Murphy and Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal) work to capture the elusive patron. If you’re unfamiliar with Escobar’s story, this is a riveting (if not wholly realistic) look into the man, and the chaos he wrought upon an entire continent during his heyday. The third season follows a sister cartel after Escobar’s death (uh… spoilers?).

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Orange is the New Black

This dramedy is the crown jewel of Netflix’s original program list — judging by critical reception, at least. Orange is the New Black has received dozens of nominations and awards for its portrayal of an all-female prison, by way of Piper Chapman’s (Taylor Schilling) indictment, ten years after smuggling drug money for her girlfriend. The show has been praised for its thoughtful representations of prison inmates, and for exploring issues relating to race, sexuality, and emotion within a controlled, female-dominant environment.

Few programs are willing to dedicate so much time to women, and few combine humor with sincerity as flawlessly. No Netflix Original series has been watched more, and five seasons in (with at least two more guaranteed), it doesn’t appear that will change anytime soon.

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Ozark 

Jason Bateman has had as interesting career as anyone in the limelight. He burst onto the Hollywood scene in the early 1980s as a young heartthrob, starring in stuff like Teen Wolf Too and The Hogan Family before spending the ’90s in a drug-induced haze, and then experiencing a major career renaissance in the late aughts. Ozark marks a different look for Bateman than many have seen, playing a financial planner-turned money launderer who relocates his family to the remote Ozark mountains in Missouri to avoid attention from the law.

Unsurprisingly, the law finds him anyway, and Marty (Bateman) must scramble to stay afloat while paying off debts to a Mexican cartel. Laura Linney is awesome as Marty’s wife, who gets caught up in the scheme, and Julia Garner is particularly good as the odd Ruth Langmore. Though Ozark will naturally draw comparisons to Breaking Bad, its scope isn’t nearly as grand (yet), but Bateman seems to improve with each passing episode.

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Sense8

Series creators Lana and Lilly Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski go to some surprising places — both geographically and dramatically — in this show about a group of eight people spread around the world who suddenly find themselves mentally and emotionally connected. The first season explored how its multinational cast of characters coped with the lives, loves, and deeply personal experiences they now shared, as well as the creative ways their individual skill sets could be pooled to keep them one step ahead of the mysterious government agency pursuing them. Social politics, gender identity, and sexuality play heavily into the show’s themes, and its sci-fi concept serves as the narrative tool to bring you into the hearts and minds of its eight very different, very distinct characters.

Expensive production bills led Netflix to end the series after its second season, but a fan campaign advocating for more prompted the streamer to produce a two-hour series finale that will premiere later this year. In both its scope and its willingness to tackle complicated themes, Sense8 is a beautiful experiment unlike anything else on television, streaming or otherwise.

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Stranger Things

This throwback sci-fi series set the world ablaze in the summer of 2016, igniting a bonfire of nostalgia while simultaneously telling a gripping story that gets more exciting with each episode. When 12-year-old Will Byers goes missing in the small town of Hawkins, IN, his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder, in a comeback performance) thinks she’s losing her mind, believing that Will has been taken by supernatural forces. Meanwhile, Will’s friends work to find and rescue him, with the help of a mysterious young girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who appears seemingly out of nowhere.

The mystery gets deeper and darker as the show goes on, while more and more members of the Hawkins community get drawn into the creepy tale. Few shows have been as willing to let children drive the story, and Stranger Things is better for it; the show is a clear homage to Spielberg coming-of-age films and ’80s horror, and superb performances across the board make this a must-watch.

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The Toys That Made Us

Beyond serving as a nostalgic trip for those of us with fond toy-related memories, The Toys That Made Us is a fascinating look into some of the biggest toy lines of all time — Barbie, He-Man, G.I. Joe — as well as the companies behind those toys and the relationships between industries (as laid out in the first episode, which covers Star Wars toys). Even if you didn’t grow up with these plastics, it’s very interesting to see how experiences and marketing were tailored toward different types of children.

For now, there are just four episodes, but we’ve been promised four more in 2018 (including eps focused on Lego and Transformers), and there are enough interesting toy stories (pun not intended) to make several seasons, if that’s the goal.

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Trollhunters

Created by Guillermo del Toro, Trollhunters‘ story is fairly run-of-the-mill for a cartoon series (ostensibly for kids), but its masterful animation and voice acting set it apart from contemporaries. When 15-year-old Jim Lake (the late Anton Yelchin) finds a magical amulet, he’s transformed into the Trollhunter, a magical being tasked with the protection of a world of trolls, hidden beneath the fictional town of Arcadia. Jim must balance his real-life responsibilities with his new identity, battling evil gum-gum trolls and making friends in the process.

Superb vocal support is provided by Kelsey Grammer (Frasier), Jonathan Hyde (Jumanji), and Fred Tatasciore, and the series was sure to be renewed, if not for Yelchin’s untimely death shortly after production ceased. It’s unclear if the role will be recast, but the first two “parts” — 39 total episodes — are worth your while, with one more guaranteed part on its way. Not to be confused with Trollhunter.

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Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

As far as ridiculous show concepts go, this one certainly stands out. Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper, The Office) spent 15 years of her life trapped in the basement of a lunatic cultist with three other women, before being rescued by police. After escaping, Kimmy immediately moves to New York city and attempts to adjust to the outside world. The Tina Fey-produced show has received eleven Emmy nominations for its first two seasons, and critics have praised Kemper’s “unbreakably” optimistic turn as Kimmy, mixing a sunny demeanor with a host of mental demons stirring just below the surface. Many of the plotlines thrive due to committed performances from the hilarious Tituss Burgess, Jane Krakowski (30 Rock), and Carol Kane (Annie Hall, Taxi). Each new season doubles down on the wackiness, and the series shows no signs of slowing down.

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