‘The End of the F***ing World’
It seems unlikely that a story about a teenage psychopath traveling with the girl he intends to kill could be funny, or even touching. Somehow, The End of the F***ing World manages to be both. The show follows James (Alex Lawler), the self-described psychopath, and Alyssa (Jessica Barden), a modern rebel without a cause. She convinces him to run away with her, and the two embark on a road trip across England, getting into bizarre shenanigans as James plots to kill her. Dark, funny, and strangely poignant, The End of the F***ing World is one of the most unique shows on Netflix.
One of the sitcom tropes that often defies belief is that groups of 20-somethings with ordinary jobs can somehow afford nice apartments in big cities. That’s not a problem for Crashing; actually, it’s key to the premise. The show follows a group of young friends in need of housing in Britain. Their solution? Become property guardians, living in a derelict hospital, keeping the place safe from squatters in exchange for cheap rent. Among the residents are Lulu (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a quirky rover, her childhood friend Anthony (Damien Molony), and Kate (Louise Ford), an uptight professional and Anthony’s fiancée. These three and the other residents do their best to get along and enjoy life in their dire situation. Season 1 is short (six episodes, roughly a half-hour each), perfect for binge-watching. Hopefully there will be a season 2!
‘She’s Gotta Have It’
Thirty years or so after the release of his directorial debut, Spike Lee reimagined She’s Gotta Have It, this time as a 10-episode series for Netflix. She’s Gotta Have It follows Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise), an artist with no interest in settling down, in life or in love. Nola is polyamorous, and her three main lovers are immature-but-sweet jokester Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos), egotistical model Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony), and controlling older man Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Bent). The original film kept the focus tightly on Nola’s relationships, but the show uses its extended running time to explore other facets of her life, making for a richer character study. The show is gorgeously shot, luxuriating in the colors and movement of its protagonist’s bohemian life.
Not content to spend his days making jaunty indie rock, Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig leapt into the world of showrunning with Neo Yokio, an anime-inspired comedy of manners which torches the insular, image-obsessed world of New York high society. Set in a futuristic New York plagued by demons (who seek out displays of opulence), Neo Yokio follows the life of Kaz Kaan (Jaden Smith), a demon hunter reeling from a breakup. Kaz’s aunt Agatha (Susan Sarandon) gives Kaz various assignments — exorcising a possessed fashion blogger, protect a Damien Hirst sculpture — but he’d rather play field hockey or shop for a new blazer. The cast of characters includes Charles (Jude Law), Kaz’s robot butler, Arcangelo (Jason Schwartzman), his aristocratic rival, and Helena St. Tessero (Tavi Gevinson), the aforementioned blogger who turns into a Marxist critic of capitalism after a run-in with a demonic Chanel suit. It’s a goofy show, and it doesn’t always work, but it’s got guts, and the humor is spot on.
If you were to go into American Vandal without reading anything about it, you might think you’ve stumbled onto the next, great true crime story. The show’s setup is ominous. A student, Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), stands accused — falsely, he claims — of a heinous act: Spray painting “dicks” on all the faculty cars at Hanover High School. Given his history of pranks — including drawing dicks on whiteboards — the school expels him. Only Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez), a sophomore who works on the Hanover High morning show, thinks Dylan might be innocent and sets out to prove it. The case quickly becomes stranger than it first appeared. For those who enjoy true crime stories like Making a Murderer, American Vandal is a tonally perfect parody, emulating the lighting and story structure that define the genre.
‘The Good Place’
Bureaucratic mix-ups can be a nightmare — just ask anyone who has needed to apply for a passport — but on occasion, they can work out in your favor. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) finds herself on the good side of a paperwork snafu when, after dying, she ends up in the Good Place, a serene afterlife neighborhood built by a cosmic architect named Michael (Ted Danson). In reality, Eleanor was an abrasive person who only looked out for herself. Now, in order to avoid being discovered and sent to the Bad Place, she must learn how to behave like a nice person. The Good Place is an upbeat comedy whose unique setting and surprising plot set it a notch above most sitcoms.
‘Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later’
Despite an abysmal run in theaters, David Wain’s Wet Hot American Summer, an ensemble comedy set on the last day of summer camp, has proven to have enduring popularity, leading to both a prequel and sequel series on Netflix. Ten Years Later checks in with the former counselors of Camp Firewood a decade after the original film’s story ended. Although they’ve all gone on to start careers and even families, they can’t escape a yearning for the past. Even as the show reignites old romances and conflicts, it maintains a fresh tone, paying homage to the fads and genres of the ‘90s. The movies all-star cast — which includes Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, and Elizabeth Banks — is back, and their chemistry remains as lively as ever.
This comedic slice of life follows Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), a business-minded single mother, and her academic daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel). Living in the small New England town of Stars Hollow, the two women seek fulfillment and love. Lorelai, having dropped out of school after getting pregnant, wants to get her career on track, while Rory struggles with the pressure to succeed in school, navigating teenage rivalries and young love. The dialogue is frequently snappy, so those who enjoy quips will feel right at home. Lighthearted and episodic, Gilmore Girls is as comforting as a warm cup of coffee with a slice of pie. Longtime fans of the series will also appreciate that Netflix recently released four, 90-minute episodes that pick up the story where the original series left off.
After he is diagnosed with chlamydia, hapless romantic Dylan (Johnny Flynn) must contact all his former lovers from recent years and inform them. In the process, he must also reflect on those relationships, and get a sense of what he really wants in life. The show is told largely through flashbacks, with each episode focusing on a specific woman from Dylan’s past, and the story is complex; unlike in classic sitcoms where Dylan’s misadventures would be isolated stories, events from the past inform the present. Lovesick strikes a careful balance between comedy and drama. Hijinks abound, particularly when Dylan’s feckless playboy roommate, Luke (Daniel Ings), is around. Despite the comedy — or perhaps because of it — the somber moments hit hard. This is a show that understands the many facets of relationships, both platonic and sexual.
Musicals are in short-supply on television — perhaps because audiences just find song-and-dance a bit too corny. That same drought makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s lavish musical numbers all the more striking, however. The titular ex is Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), a tightly strung lawyer who abandons her career in New York and moves to West Covina, California, to reconnect with her first crush, Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III). The premise seems like typical rom-com fare, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend rises above by embracing absurdity. The musical numbers, of which there are many, are funny and bombastic, paying homage to various genres of music and classic films.
‘Master of None’
Created by and starring comedian Aziz Ansari, Netflix’s Master of None concerns the everyday life of Dev, a 30-year-old actor who attempts to navigate the twists and turns of adulthood while making a living for himself in New York City. Reportedly based somewhat loosely on Ansari’s own life, the show even features the former Parks and Recreation actor’s real life mother and father as Dev’s parents in the show. Even if you haven’t dabbled in Ansari’s prior work (you should, too, he’s absolutely hilarious) Master of None is sure to please with its witty dialogue, multidimensional cast of characters, and relatable storylines. It appears Netflix has once again struck gold.
Netflix’s original animated comedy features voices from some of the brightest stars on TV today (i.e., Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Aaron Paul). Comedian Amy Sedaris also lends her voice to this raucous show about a washed-up celebrity horse who attempts to reignite his stagnant career. Ridiculous in all aspects, BoJack Horseman is good for some hearty laughs at the expense of the commonplace celebrity lifestyle. Season 1 starts off goofy, but by the first season finale, the show evolves into a shockingly sad, yet still hilarious examination of depression and pop-culture.
Archer isn’t your average animated series. It’s like a hybrid between Arrested Development and every spy flick ever. The show whirls around ISIS, an international spy agency that deals with global crises. Considering the spy agency is essentially a pressure cooker that is Sterling Archer’s mother, Malory Archer (Jessica Walter), and Archer’s ex-girlfriend, Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), most events are just opportunities to screw over co-workers. The show is cynical, with rapid-fire dialogue and characters unlike anything else on Netflix.
From the comedic brilliance of Judd Apatow comes Love, a Netflix original sitcom about what it’s really like to date in the 21st Century. Starring Community alum Gillian Jacobs and stand-up comic Paul Rust — who also co-created the show — Love centers primarily on these two characters as they attempt to facilitate a loving relationship despite their laundry list of differences. From the exhilaration of new love, the awkwardness of growing up, and everything else a new relationship throws at 20-somethings, Apatow pulls no punches with Love. Netflix has also already signed the show on for a second season, so something had to have worked, right?
After his father is imprisoned for accounting fraud, Michael Bluth finds the assets of the family-owned business frozen. By default, he’s responsible for holding his dysfunctional family together as they all wig out. The show unfolds as the formerly wealthy Bluth family recoils from the shock of bankruptcy. Despite receiving much critical acclaim, the show was dropped after its third season due to low ratings. Even so, the writing and a talented cast make it a comedy you can’t miss. Netflix revived the show for a fourth season in 2013, and a fifth season is due to arrive on the streaming platform in 2017.
Given Digital Trends is headquartered mere blocks from the Portlandia sculpture in downtown Portland which the show is named after, sometimes the deadpan humor — nearly always done at the expense of Portlanders — is a send-up of hipster culture so dead-on it hurts. Even so, the show represents a landmark success considering you’ll laugh more than you’ll wince as Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein guide you through their version of Portland, which is only slightly zanier than the real thing. It’s scripted, but the two stars leave plenty of room for improvisation and cameos.
‘Parks and Recreation’
What started out as a sitcom done in the typical, post-Office mockumentary style turned into something truly amazing. It’s a hilarious study of the comical residents of Pawnee, Indiana. The show centers on public servant Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), an excitable midlevel official in the Parks and Recreation department, along with a team that diligently works to make the city of Pawnee a better place for everyone. The cast is filled with some of the biggest names in comedy including Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, and Rashida Jones.
‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’
Kimmy Schmidt, portrayed by Ellie Kemper of Bridesmaids fame, is one four women rescued from an underground bunker where she was imprisoned by a polygamist cult leader. She then goes to work as a nanny for a socialite, Jane Krakowski, in the hustle and bustle of New York City. Although the Netflix original sitcom’s premise doesn’t exactly scream “hilarious,” it’s blanketed with co-creator Tina Fey’s comedic timing, and often comes off as a spiritual successor to 30 Rock. Watching Kemper haphazardly adjust to the foreign complexities of the modern world, such as emojis and hashtags, is more than inviting — even if she does occasionally exhibit some PTSD from her 15 years underneath the Indiana soil.
‘Orange is the New Black’
Based on a true story, this Netflix original comedy follows Piper Chapman as she goes from comfortable middle-class living to an all-female prison as a result of a drug-related crime she committed a decade prior. The show is based upon the real-life Piper Kerman, who wrote a memoir based on her money-laundering years and subsequent time in jail. The drama is often funny, with hilarious interactions between cellmates, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get heavy. Netflix currently offers all five seasons.
Zooey Deschanel plays the quirky Jess in this Fox comedy about a woman who moves into a loft in L.A. with three guys she meets online. While Jake Johnson’s Nick character serves as the second lead behind Deschanel, it’s performances from Max Greenfield (Schmidt) and Lamorne Morris (Winston) that steal the show. This single-camera sitcom perfectly blends elements of drama into its comedic writing, and remains one of the wittiest shows on TV. To top things off, it even created its own drinking game called “True American;.” What other show has that on its résumé?
‘With Bob and David’
Bob Odenkirk and David Cross team up again for the Netflix-exclusive sketch comedy show With Bob and David. Much like their earlier HBO series Mr. Show with Bob and David, the new series features the over-the-top, yet wildly hilarious comedy stylings of the its titular creators and writers. The Netflix comedy should be heavy on the kind of outrageous spoofs and hilarious writing that fans of Cross and Odenkirk have come to expect.
The creation of Saturday Night Live alumni Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, Documentary Now! is a series of fake documentaries, with each episode spoofing a particular famous work, such as The Thin Blue Line or Grey Gardens. Hader and Armisen were two of SNL’s greatest chameleons, and they adapt to the new roles of each episode perfectly. What really elevates the show, aside from the leads’ great comedic timing, is their commitment to the homages. Whether skewering the slick, in-your-face style of Vice documentaries or the mythmaking of Nanook of the North, their fake documentaries are near-perfect emulations of the real things. Few shows reinvent themselves so often and so effortlessly.
‘Comedy Bang! Bang!’
For many comedians, a late-night talk show is the dream, but it’s a dream only a few comedians in a generation will achieve. Not content to look on as Stephen Colbert and James Corden took their thrones, sketch-comedy legend Scott Aukerman started his own parody late-night show, Comedy Bang! Bang! Like the podcast it shares a name with, Comedy Bang! Bang! finds Aukerman interviewing celebrities in between segments of sketch comedy. While the late-night format is the framework for the show, what makes CBB so impressive is the show’s willingness to play around with different structures. The premises for episodes include time travel, alternate dimensions, and even a musical episode parodying the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Fans of Mr. Show (for which Aukerman was a writer) should love the madcap humor and wild spirit of Comedy Bang! Bang!
‘Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return’
Beginning all the way back in 1988, Mystery Science Theater 3000 follows a series of hapless space workers who, along with their robot companions, are forced to watch terrible movies as part of an experiment by mad scientists. To maintain their sanity, the protagonists crack jokes as they watch the films. MST3K was, in many ways, the precursor to “bad movie” podcasts. In fact, Rifftrax was founded by members of the show after its original cancellation. Now a Netflix original, the new season finds new host Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray), along with robots Tom Servo (Baron Vaughn) and Crow T. Robot (Hampton Yount), watching a new crop of bad films at the behest of Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day). Despite the new cast, the freewheeling humor of the old show is still alive and well.
The job market isn’t great for aspiring actors, so when Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) answers a call for “unconventional women,” she ends up trying out for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, an all-female wrestling league overseen by washed-up director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron). Wilder’s former friend Debbie Gilpin (Betty Gilpin) also tries out, and Sylvia decides to make the two the center of the league’s story: Gilpin the heroic “Liberty Belle,” and Wilder as the villain “Zoya the Destroya.” What follows is a raucous story of misfits chasing their dreams, complete with a melange of ‘80s tropes, including cocaine-fueled parties and hokey montages. One scene even busts out Stan Bush’s Dare, which, if you haven’t seen The Transformers: The Movie, is an absolute gem.