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. The current stable of Netflix Originals includes a massive number 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 of originals to choose from, you might be wondering: Which of these shows are worth watching for 11 straight hours this weekend? That’s where we come in. We’ve assembled a list of the best Netflix original series available right now. (And if you want to know the latest additions to the Netflix library, be sure to check out our list of what’s new on Netflix this month.)
After 27 cars in the high-school faculty’s parking lot are vandalized with crude phallic images, the school’s resident slacker and class clown is expelled, but when two fellow students initiate a documentary-style investigation into the incident, suddenly everyone becomes a suspect in this surprisingly compelling and hilarious series. A satire of true-crime documentaries like Making a Murderer and Serial, American Vandal is a mockumentary that manages to channel much of the same “Did he really do it?” uncertainty into its story, while also offering a very funny and impressively clever spin on the typical docuseries format.
Much like the true-crime series that inspired it, the first season of American Vandal is packed with narrative twists and turns that keep the audience guessing. It’s supremely binge-friendly as you push to discover the next revelation in this seemingly minor incident that consumes the lives of the characters involved in it. The first season of the series earned rave reviews, prompting Netflix to commission a second, eight-episode season expected to premiere in 2018.
If you can handle a little bit (okay, a lot) of potty humor, you should enjoy Big Mouth. The animated series follows two 7th graders, Nick and Andrew (series creator Nick Kroll and John Mulaney), struggling with their burgeoning sexuality, represented by a grotesque, crass “hormone monster” (also voiced by Kroll), whose base desires cause turmoil and frustration for both boys. Their friends Jessi (Jessi Klein) and Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) also struggle with puberty to varying degrees, as does Andrew’s crush, Missy (Jenny Slate).
On its surface, Big Mouth is quite crude, but that humor belies the show’s nuanced, relatable exploration of adolescence and physical maturation. The series deftly handles the difficulties of middle school life, including common misconceptions held by kids about their sexuality and their bodies.
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 a 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 Christmas special White Christmas — are also must-see programming.
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, GLOW), and Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) provide excellent voice support in a series that flips from hilarious to depressing with impressive grace.
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.
The Crown is perhaps the best show on television right now, period. Easily the most celebrated British period piece since Downton Abbey, The Crown follows Queen Elizabeth II — the still-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.
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, move on — 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.
‘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.
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.
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. Season two is due out in June.
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.