Netflix has a treasure trove of terrific movies that you can stream right now, but if you’re looking for more than just a two-hour commitment, it’s also got a boatload of great TV shows you can delve into to keep yourself occupied for days — or even weeks — on end. If you just finished a good series and need a new one to fill the void, Netflix is the place to go, given the service’s phenomenal mix of classic, current, and original programming. Below, we’ve rounded up the best shows on Netflix right now, so you can binge-watch without having to hunt for the right title.
In need of more suggestions? Our brother site, The Manual, has pulled together a list of the best documentaries streaming on Netflix at this very moment.
Additional streaming guides
The Haunting of Hill House
One dark and ominous night, Hugh Crain (Henry Thomas) gathers his children and flees their vast, gothic mansion, leaving his wife, Olivia (Carla Gugino), behind. Olivia dies that night, her death ruled a suicide, and the tabloids run wild with stories of the haunted Hill House. The five Crain children — Steven, Shirley, Theo, Nell, and Luke — all grow up dealing with their trauma in varying ways, whether writing a successful memoir about the haunting of Hill House (Steven), or abusing drugs to numb the pain (Luke). As adults, the Crain siblings are barely on speaking terms, until a tragedy forces them all back together, and back to Hill House. Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House is a character-driven story, delving into the psychological problems of its many protagonists. It’s no mere family drama, though. In addition to their personal demons, there are some very real ghosts haunting the Crains, and Flanagan orchestrates some intense scares in the first episode alone, building tension but also knowing when to bust out a jump scare.
Based on a novel by Margaret Atwood (itself based on a true story), Alias Grace begins with a mystery. Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon) is serving a sentence for murder, for which her male accomplice was hanged. Grace has numerous supporters, who hire Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) to interview Grace and hopefully reveal a truth that will absolve her. Grace’s story takes her from Ireland to Canada, where she works as a servant for the wealthy man she will allegedly kill. The show is no mere whodunit — as a member of the lower class, and a woman, Grace navigates social hierarchies that grasp at her every moment of every day. In its examination of Grace’s story, her dismal past, and the shifting views society takes of her, Alias Grace weaves a tale about what it is to be a woman in a world governed by men.
Set in the aftermath of World War I, Peaky Blinders is a crime drama about a British crime family, the Shelbys. After Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) returns from the war, he sets about trying to expand the family’s control of Birmingham, stealing a shipment of guns to give his gang an edge in the world of crime. The show follows Tommy and his family as they move up in the world, butting heads with other crime families and the British government. Peaky Blinders is gorgeously shot, and the story it tells is one of complicated people and muddy morality.
In 1977, cultural earthquakes have toppled faith in the American ideal, and the agents of the FBI face an unfamiliar kind of criminal: The serial killer, whose crimes have no basis in reason as far as the agency can see. Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) believes that, with enough research, the FBI can make sense of the seemingly senseless violence. Together with Behavioral Science Unit agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), Ford travels the country, interviewing imprisoned serial killers to understand what drives them, but gazing into the abyss starts to gnaw at the agents. From director David Fincher, Mindhunter is a sleek, eerie production, with a focus on the nature of criminal psychology, rather than grotesque violence.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
One of the most infamous trials in American history gets a dramatic interpretation in this limited series, which follows the trial of former football star O.J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.), the prime suspect in the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman. After a televised high-speed chase that captivated the nation, District Attorney Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) brings charges against Simpson, leading to the highly publicized murder trial. The show examines the case from many angles, bringing in the perspectives of the major players in the case, including Simpson, Clark, and Simpson’s legal team — Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer), and Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance). Like the case that inspired it, The People v. O.J. Simpson is dramatic, emotional, and ultimately leaves the viewer wondering where the truth lies.
Set in New York in the 1960s, Mad Men follows one of the city’s most prestigious ad agencies on Madison Avenue. The agency is doing well, but as the industry grows, the competition begins to stiffen. The agency tries to survive in a time when everything, including the ad industry, is undergoing a radical shake-up. The two protagonists are the enigmatic Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a self-made executive whose childhood seems to always get in the way of his happiness, and ultra-terse Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), a former secretary who works her way up the corporate ladder. From its first episode all the way through its final season, Mad Men is a tremendous work of art.
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a high-school chemistry teacher diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. To secure his family’s finances before he dies, White uses his chemistry background to cook and deal premium blue meth. His partner is former student and burnout named Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Breaking Bad is teeming with moral consequences and family issues, and fittingly, it’s as addicting as the crystal meth White produces in his beat-up van in the desert.
Better Call Saul
Starring Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul takes fans of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad back to the New Mexico desert for a look at Saul Goodman’s origin story. Before Goodman became the quirky, crooked lawyer Walter White played like a fiddle, he was Jimmy McGill, an aspiring lawyer who just couldn’t seem to keep his hands clean. The show is set six years prior to the events of Breaking Bad, and throws out the convention that a spinoff must pale in comparison to its source material. It also proves Gilligan and company remain at the top of their game.
The West Wing
Quite possibly the best political drama of all time, The West Wing follows fictional President Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen) and his staff as they fight various personal and political battles through his two terms as president. Critics and people close to the White House praised the show for its accuracy and Aaron Sorkin’s razor-sharp dialogue, and even now, the show lives on through multiple Twitter handles for several West Wing characters. Netflix offers all seven seasons.
An A&E exclusive, The Returned is a French supernatural thriller set in a tiny mountain town that’s experiencing rather odd occurrences with its deceased — they somehow keep coming back to life. However, this isn’t your typical zombie fare, but rather, the dead come back to life as if nothing’s happened at all. Car crash victims reappear in town, unharmed and emotionally stable despite the horrific way in which they passed. As the resurrected people attempt to live ordinary lives, those around them try to pick up the pieces and find out exactly what’s going on.
Halt and Catch Fire
AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, another period piece in the same vein as the network’s smash hit Mad Men, takes place in Texas during the technology boom of the 1980s. The show centers around former IBM sales executive Joe MacMillan, Cardiff Electric engineer Gordon Clark, and programming whiz Cameron Howe as they navigate the tumultuous landscape of the personal computer revolution. Boosted by superb writing, brilliant acting, and its unique inside look at one of the most influential eras in human history, Halt and Catch Fire has binge-worthy written all over it. Although season 1 is rough, season 2 essentially reinvents the show.
How would you handle readjusting to life after being wrongfully imprisoned for 19 years of your life? Sundance TV’s Rectify addresses this quandary as it follows the life of Daniel Holden. Convicted and sent to death row as a teenager for the rape and murder of his 16-year-old girlfriend, new evidence sets the stage for his return home to Paulie, Georgia. Now in his late 30s, Holden attempts to rekindle relationships with his family and friends, something not easily accomplished for someone whose name had been denounced for so long.
Crossovers are not a new concept — superheroes have been doing it for decades — but Penny Dreadful’s gothic milieu helps it stand out, particularly in the television landscape. The show is a who’s who of 19th-century icons, including Victor Frankenstein and Dorian Gray, as well as several original characters. The show begins with stately adventurer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) and his compatriot, the psychic Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), recruiting American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) and Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) to investigate the disappearance of Murray’s daughter, Mina. The case takes them to dark places, but all of them carry their own secrets that may be darker still. True to its genre roots, Penny Dreadful takes things slow, building relationships between characters and coyly unfurling its mysteries. The show’s unique atmosphere and mastery of tone set it apart from everything else on television.
Joe Swanberg’s eight-episode anthology, Easy, explores the many incarnations of romance, with almost every episode presenting a stand-alone story set in Chicago. One story follows a long-married couple trying to spice up their love life, another a pair of artists whose personal and professional lives collide after a night together. The stories are heavily improvised, with a focus on interactions between characters, rather than plot. As expected of an anthology series, not every episode of Easy is great, but at its best, it is one of the most intimate, honest explorations of love and sexuality around.
Following a series of murders in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) arrives to supervise the investigation. The killer, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), is a family man and therapist who’s trying to maintain his personal and professional lives while hunting young women. Unlike many police procedurals, The Fall makes its villain known very early. Thus, for the audience, the tension comes not from trying to guess the killer’s identity, but from watching the detective and murderer go about their days, never knowing who is about to get the upper hand. The Fall is a psychological procedural, focusing more on the lives and motivations of the central characters than hunting for clues. A simmering detective story, to be sure, but one well worth the time investment.
Britain’s current and longest-reigning monarch is also one of its most unassuming. Elizabeth II ascended to the throne in the aftermath of World War II, at a time when the monarchy had ceded much of its power to Parliament and the Prime Minister. Despite a lack of governmental power, the Queen remains one of the most important heads of state in the world, and civic duties abound. Netflix’s The Crown traces Elizabeth’s (Claire Foy) life from her marriage to Prince Philip (Matt Smith) in 1947 to the present day, digging into the web of agendas and alliances the Queen must navigate. Heavy on political intrigue, The Crown is sure to satisfy viewers who appreciate Machiavellian television, as well as those who love the decor of series like Downton Abbey. However, the show also has a deeply intimate side, in that it examines Elizabeth’s personal relationships and the toll exacted by her duties as Queen.
I Think You Should Leave
A lot of sketch comedy shows these days drag on too long, too infatuated with their own jokes — looking at you, SNL — but Tim Robinson’s I Think You Should Leave doesn’t waste a moment, offering a tapas bar of short, absurd sketches. The show’s sketches are usually built around simple premises taken to wild lengths. In one, an old man (Will Forte) whose flight was ruined by a crying baby stalks the child into adulthood, taking a seat next to him on a plane so he can exact noisy revenge. In another, a woman (Vanessa Bayer) trying to be self-deprecating on an Instagram post workshops some astoundingly gross descriptions. Each 15-or-so-minute episode gallops through sketches, so even if one doesn’t suit your taste, you’ll be on to the next one soon enough.
Tuca and Bertie
Lisa Hanawalt’s Tuca and Bertie is a colorful, manic depiction of female friendship and 30-year-olds trying to find purpose in life, one whose main characters just happen to be a toucan and a songbird. Set in a world full of anthropomorphic animals and plants, the show follows two friends: Brash toucan Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) and fussy songbird Bertie (Ali Wong). The two deal with the problems of modern life — unfulfilling jobs, casual (and overt) sexism, relationship woes — in a bizarre, unpredictable world. The show embraces the freedom of animation, with surreal moments like a character’s photo winking as he praises it, or Tuca traipsing down their apartment building via a Donkey Kong-esque video game sequence.
A civil war might not seem like the best setting for a jaunty coming-of-age comedy, but Derry Girls shows that hijinks can ensue even in times of violence. Set in Derry, Northern Ireland, during The Troubles, the show follows a group of teenage friends — neurotic Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), her cuckoo cousin Orla (Louisa Harland), Clare (Nicola Coughlan), crass Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), and Michelle’s English cousin James (Dylan Llewellyn) — as they go about their daily life as students at an all-girls school (James is attending because, due to his English accent and awkward demeanor, he might get bullied at the boy’s school). Although the show is very conscious of the conflict raging around the cast — a bomb scare early in the first episode leads to griping about how it will affect traffic — the focus is on the characters, each lovably obnoxious in their own way, and their rapid banter.
Sex Education is a bawdy comedy about teens grappling with sexuality. Just how bawdy is it, though? The opening scene concludes with a macho bully faking an orgasm, after which his girlfriend angrily demands to know “Where’s the spunk, Adam!?” As in a lot of high school comedies, the teens of Sex Education are having (or trying to have) a lot of sex, but for various reasons, none of them are really enjoying themselves; that’s where Otis (Asa Butterfield) comes in. The son of prominent sex therapist Jean (Gillian Anderson), Otis knows a thing or two about sexual dysfunction (due to some childhood trauma, he has some dysfunctions of his own). When a delinquent named Maeve (Emma Mackey) realizes Otis’s therapy skills could make money, they go into business together, treating the neuroses of their classmates. It should be smooth sailing, but then Otis realizes he has feelings for Maeve. Sex Education gets a lot of mileage out of sex jokes, but what leaves a lasting impression is the show’s recognition that sex can be an emotionally perilous adventure and the effects that can have on people.
If TV is to be believed, the life of a viking was one of conflict, survival, and ceaseless struggle against the elements. Norsemen flips the script on the haggard tropes of viking fiction, following the people of Norheim, whose lives involve raiding and pillaging, yes, but also a lot of laughs. The central character is Orm (Kåre Conradi), brother of the chieftain, who runs the village while his sibling is off sailing. Orm’s not exactly the ideal viking man — he claims he can’t go raiding due to a sore back — but he’s got some bold ideas to make Norheim a more modern village. Norsemen finds plenty of humor in the typically grim cliches of viking stories (Orm’s plan to deal with a food shortage is to pressure the village elders to jump off a cliff as a show of honor), but there’s plenty of material here that modern audiences should find relatable.
Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj
The Jon Stewart-era comedy-news show The Daily Show might just be the show that launched a thousand careers. Not only has it boosted the profile of more comedians than any show outside of Saturday Night Live, but several former correspondents have started their own shows with tweaks on The Daily Show’s format. Hasan Minhaj has now followed in the footsteps of John Oliver (Last Week Tonight), Samantha Bee (Full Frontal), Larry Wilmore (the now-defunct Nightly Show), Jordan Klepper (The Opposition) by throwing his own hat into the comedic/informative talk show ring with Patriot Act. Minhaj casts off some of the more distinct trappings of The Daily Show. There’s no desk, no correspondents; instead, the focus is almost entirely on Minhaj, who delivers jeremiads about the subjects of the day — such as the affirmative action lawsuit against Harvard, or the international crisis surrounding the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi — while strutting the stage, with helpful graphics popping up in the background.
If you liked Office Space, but think it would have been better if the characters were cartoon animals, you may be pleased to learn that such a thing exists. Aggretsuko, a Japanese cartoon from mascot company Sanrio (creators of Hello Kitty), follows Retsuko, a red panda in her 20s working a soul-crushing job at a trading firm. Her career is going nowhere, she can barely muster the energy to get up in the mornings, and her boss is a pig (literally and figuratively) — and those are just the problems she faces in the first episode! Despite the cute character designs and short episodes, Aggretsuko is a surprisingly mature series, tapping into the anxieties of being a millennial in the workforce.
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!
Not content to spend his days making jaunty indie rock, Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig leaped 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 — exorcizing 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.
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. While exploring the exhilaration of new love, the awkwardness of growing up, and everything else a new relationship throws at 30-somethings, Apatow pulls no punches with Love. All three seasons are now available.
Cult-classic sitcom Arrested Development is the story of a wealthy family that lost everything, and has spent five seasons losing even more. The show follows the Bluths, a dysfunctional clan of fools and sociopaths who lose their fortune after patriarch George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) goes to prison. George’s middle son, Michael (Jason Bateman), the only marginally decent Bluth, must keep the family business running — and keep the family together. Arrested Development relies on snappy dialogue, memorable characters, and dense scripts with plenty of jokes that get better with every viewing. After a long hiatus, Netflix revived the show for a fourth season that got mixed reviews for splitting up the many characters, but season 5 (the first half, with the second to come later) seems to have righted the ship, returning to the ensemble nature of the first three seasons.
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.
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 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.
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.
Jane the Virgin
Television has been a wild medium in the last decade or two, but even within the modern standards of creativity, Jane the Virgin stands out, blending the nonstop drama and ludicrous plot twists of telenovelas (Latin American soap operas) with the wit and jubilance of modern sitcoms. Jane the Virgin follows Jane Gloriana Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), a woman who, due to her grandmother’s strict upbringing, begins the series deeply afraid of losing her virginity, even to her fiancé. After a mixup at the hospital, Jane becomes artificially inseminated by accident, and the father is none other than Rafael Solano (Justin Baldoni), the wealthy owner of the hotel where Jane works. That’s just the first of many twists the show deals out, as it plays with the usual tropes of soap operas. It’s a show with heart, too, boasting memorable characters and touching moments.
Among all the conveniences of modern life, there’s one particular area that feels more perplexing than ever: Dating. Apps like Tinder dangle a technological solution, promising users a cavalcade of potential partners on their phones, but the reality is usually disappointing. French sci-fi series Osmosis looks ahead a few years to one possible evolution of online dating, as siblings Paul (Hugo Becker) and Esther Vanhove (Agathe Bonitzer) develop a new dating service called Osmosis. The program begins by infusing test subjects with nanobots that connect them to the network, scanning each person’s inner thoughts and feelings to help them find their perfect soul mate. Love can be difficult, however, and adding A.I. into the mix brings complications. Osmosis is a deliberately paced, character-driven sci-fi story with some well-timed plot twists to keep things exciting.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
One of the most influential anime of all time, Neon Genesis Evangelion is set 15 years after a cataclysm known as the Second Impact devastated the world, the series begins with teenager Shinji Ikari heading to NERV, a top-secret government agency dedicated to fighting giant, strange creatures known as Angels. As the Angels are immune to all conventional weaponry, NERV has built massive, biomechanical suits known as Evangelions, and NERV’s commander, Gendo Ikari (Shinji’s father) wants him to pilot one. Along with his fellow pilots, the mysterious Rei and brash Asuka, Shinji battles the Angels. The pilots’ true enemies might be their personal demons, however. Although it begins like many mecha shows, Evangelion stands out thanks to its intense focus on its characters, their relationships and personal failures. It’s a gorgeous series, with great use of color and detail in the animation, as well as some vicious battle scenes.
An adaptation of a popular cyberpunk novel by Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon is set a few hundred years in the future, by which point humanity has developed the technology to download a person’s consciousness into computers. People can now transfer themselves into new bodies, called “sleeves,” effectively making themselves immortal — provided they have the money. Into this world steps Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), a former soldier who has spent the last 250 years in cold storage. He is back, in a new sleeve, courtesy of Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), a wealthy man who wants Takeshi to find the man who killed Bancroft’s previous body. Altered Carbon draws on classic noir elements, as Takeshi explores a grimy city where everyone seems to have a hidden agenda.
Although it drew a lot of comparisons to Stranger Things (due to the small-town setting and teenage protagonists), the German Netflix original Dark is its own thing, a strange, high-concept story set in a town where everyone has their secrets. Dark begins in Winden, a small, wooded town near a nuclear reactor. Teenager Jonas (Louis Hoffman) returns to school, having spent time getting therapy following his father’s suicide, only to find the town in a state of shock over a new tragedy: The disappearance of his fellow student, Erik Obendorf. Erik is not the first child to go missing in Winden’s history, nor will he be the last, and Jonas and his friends soon find themselves on the edge of a mystery that spans generations. Dark is an eerie drama, dense with mysteries and complicated characters.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
For those of you unacquainted with perhaps the most popular sci-fi television series of all time, there’s not much we can say, other than Netflix has all seven seasons of Star Trek: Next Generation. Created in 1987, 21 years after the original series, the show follows the exploits of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his space-faring crew upon the new USS Enterprise. Despite Netflix’s omission of the rest of the Star Trek library and Paramount’s decision to end the show prematurely, there’s still 187 episodes lined with Romulans and the Borg, not to mention an entire world of adventure with which to expand your cult-classic knowledge. After all, it did manage to live long and prosper.
Each episode of Black Mirror tells a single story, with a theme of modern and near-future technology running through each unnerving tale. It’s often compared to The Twilight Zone for its episodic nature, and just like that classic series, some of the stories will leave you sitting and staring at a blank television, wondering what you just watched. Beyond all of the thought-provoking, mind-bending, and world-building, the acting and aesthetic is smart and nuanced, and will leave even the best spoiler guessers out there reeling from the sharp twists and turns in every episode.
Action and mystery
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Not far from Riverdale, where Archie Andrews and friends have their hijinks, sits the town of Greendale, a place where, we are told, it seems like Halloween all year round. It’s here that teen witch Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) lives, juggling her ordinary life as a high schooler with her extracurricular activities practicing the dark arts. Sabrina is enjoying the best of both worlds, at least until her 16th birthday, when she must sign away her soul to the Dark Lord and cast off her mortal life. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a fun, occasionally very creepy slice-of-life show, with Sabrina and friends having adventures and dealing with a variety of supernatural threats.
Video game adaptations have a spotty record, probably because they tend to be cash grabs rather than earnest attempts at art. Netflix’s Castlevania succeeds — despite its flaws — because of the great passion for the source material that is apparent throughout. The show begins with Dracula’s (Graham McTavish) love affair with a human woman, Lisa (Emily Swallow). After a corrupt bishop executes her on charges of witchcraft, Dracula unleashes his demonic hordes on the countryside, butchering people indiscriminately. It falls to Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage), the last, drunken son of a famed vampire-hunting clan, to stop the slaughter. Castlevania is a violent show, with savage fight scenes and gore, but Warren Ellis‘ script adds plenty of levity.
The opening sequence of Stranger Things lays out the series’ sci-fi aspirations clearly: A scientist flees down an empty hallway, pursued by some unseen force that eventually nabs him as he waits for elevator doors to close; it then cuts to a group of kids playing D&D in a suburban basement. From Alien to E.T. in a matter of seconds. The show is a stew made of various influences from the ‘80s. A mysterious creature and a secret government agency, a group of kids having adventures around their rural town, teens experimenting with sex, drugs, and peer pressure.
There are pieces of Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, and John Hughes strewn throughout Stranger Things, and the result is a show that will feel immediately familiar to people who grew up with that source material. The show is not shallow in its emulation, either. The acting and direction are superb, giving even the most derivative scenes some heft.
When an 11-year-old boy is killed, the coastal town of Broadchurch is subjected to the onslaught of media attention. At only eight episodes, this British show is easy to binge in a weekend, with twists and turns that will keep you watching. David Tennant stars as the testy head investigator of the murder, who finds himself dealing with high emotions and high stakes in his search to find the person who would commit an unthinkable act.
Reality TV and documentaries
The new phenomenon sweeping the millennial audience, Terrace House is a Japanese reality show that, at first glance, will seem familiar to American viewers. Each season, a group of strangers, men and women, move into a house together, where they will live for some time, with their private moments on display for the world. Where American reality shows play up the drama (with moments that seem scripted and editing to emphasize conflict), Terrace House elects to keep things natural. People hang out, shoot the breeze, get to know each other, and just live their lives. Sometimes tensions emerge, but they never feel like the soap opera conflagrations of typical reality shows.
If you love cooking shows but you’re tired of seeing buttoned up celebrity chefs in pristine kitchens, how about a show that examines the food of the people? Street Food travels the world to explore how chefs from various cultures cook street food. The first season focuses on various Asian countries, including Thailand, Japan, and Singapore, interviewing experts and filming the local vendors. This being a David Gelb production, the cinematography is stunning, and the interviews with local chefs add a personal story to the cuisine on display. Come for the entrancing shots of chicken skewers sizzling on a grill, stay for the insights into the rich customs of cultures of Asian cities.
Salt Fat Acid Heat
In 2017, Samin Nosrat published Salt Fat Acid Heat, a cookbook based around the idea that those four concepts are the fundamental elements with which flavor is built. Nosrat’s culinary alchemy is now on full display in her Netflix series of the same name, which follows the chef as she tours the world, exploring the cuisines of various countries and how they exemplify her grand, unified theory of flavor. In each episode, she focuses on a particular country and element: She studies fat in Italy, salt in Japan, acid in Yucatan, and to demonstrate the magic of heat, she returns to California to prepare a dinner party. What’s most striking about Salt Fat Acid Heat isn’t the knowledge Nosrat already possesses — although she’s clearly erudite — but her endless hunger to learn more, to uncover the essential secrets of each and every dish. Just four elements are all that’s needed to build a world of flavor.
When people think of vacations, they likely think of visiting famous landmarks, fancy restaurants, or gorgeous beaches, but some people are drawn to a different sort of exploration. So-called “dark tourists” seek out the macabre corners of the world, skipping the Eiffel Tower and heading straight for the Catacombs, and David Farrier’s travel series Dark Tourist follows the journalist as he ventures into these eerie places. Each episode, Farrier visits a different country, looking for sites associated with death, disaster, even war. In Japan, for example, he joins a guided tour of a ghost town abandoned after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, where the tourists bring their own Geiger counters, panicking slightly as they pick up more radiation than they expected. In another episode he visits Medellin, home of drug lord Pablo Escobar, where an industry has sprung up around veneration of the dead crime boss. Dark Tourist is a unique exploration of places and cultures out of the mainstream, and a journey into humanity’s fascination with death and destruction.
Netflix’s documentary series Dirty Money brings together a number of documentarians, including Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) and Erin Lee Carr (Mommy Dead and Dearest), to delve into the shady dealings of big businesses around the world. Each episode features a different director tackling a different subject, ranging from the outrageous (the Volkswagen emissions scandal, the payday loan industry) to the strange (a massive heist of maple syrup, which gives the filmmaker a chance to examine the cartel-esque nature of Quebec’s maple syrup industry). Dirty Money is an incisive examination of the behavior businesses will engage when nobody is looking — and sometimes, even when people are.
News site Vox has been publishing short, informative “explainer” videos for a while now. Explained, Vox’s new series on Netflix, offers longer, deeper dives into the topics of the day. Episodes — generally between 15 and 20 minutes in length — target a range of subjects, including the evolution of monogamy, the racial wealth gap in the United States, even the rise of K-pop. Explained makes use of interviews with experts, clever infographics, and other tools to convey information, and the show’s breezy attitude keeps even the most academic topics from getting too dry.
Wild Wild Country
The documentary series Wild Wild Country follows a fascinating yet obscure episode in American history: The rise and fall of the Rajneeshpuram, a religious community that sprang up in remote Central Oregon in the 1980s and was built around the teachings of a guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The group’s cultish tendencies grated on the locals, and as tensions rose, the Rajneeshees became more militant, attempting to hijack the voting process in Antelope, Oregon, and even staging a bioterror attack. Wild Wild Country makes extensive use of archival footage, as well as interviews with the people who lived through the conflict. The perspectives of the former Rajneeshees are intriguing; many look back fondly on their time in the community. Rajneesh’s lieutenant, Ma Anand Sheela, is a particularly fascinating character. Expertly crafted and highly informative, Wild Wild Country is a sharp exploration of how cults develop, and why they create friction with mainstream America.
Chef David Chang has built a career on bucking culinary authority, and his Netflix series, Ugly Delicious, finds the restaurateur waging total war on the concept of “authenticity.” The first episode is a great example of the show’s thesis, as it examines the ways in which chefs around the world have taken a simple dish like pizza and reinvented it. Ugly Delicious is less about gorgeous shots of cooking than it is about the way culture shapes cuisine, and the show is conscious of how different styles of food are tied to ethnicity. A conversation between two Italian-American pizza chefs takes a sorrowful turn as they reflect on the disintegration of the old Italian-American communities, and the fact that pizza is more an American icon now. Although Chang is not always on screen, his presence always comes through in the show’s dynamic energy.
In a globalized world, the food industry has grown so large, its networks so long and tangled, that most Americans probably don’t know where their food comes from. As the documentary series Rotten shows, that’s dangerous, because where there is obscurity, there is fraud. The show makes use of extensive interviews with people in the industries, offering first-person insights into these esoteric worlds. From companies cutting honey with other substances, to companies allegedly using forced prison labor to produce garlic, Rotten uncovers depravity in the strangest places.
David Gelb, director of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, returns to the world of cooking with Chef’s Table, a documentary series where each episode follows a different chef. With Jiro, Gelb found not only a guide to the art of sushi, but a story of fatherhood and the burden of legacy. In Chef’s Table, he similarly presents the chefs not as mere professionals, but complex people whose lives inform their work. The chefs involved include traditional culinary icons such as Massimo Bottura and new-wave chefs like Grant Achatz. Of course, those who crave footage of culinary grace will not be disappointed. Gelb has an eye for the sublime, his camera drifting slowly, gently across completed plates.
Making a Murderer
Heralded as Netflix’s answer to the hit podcast Serial, Making a Murderer tells the tragic story of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, native Steven Avery. After serving 18 years in prison for a horrific sexual assault and attempted murder crime he maintains he never committed, new evidence exonerates Avery, making him a free man. Now 41 years old and looking to clear his name, Avery sues Manitowoc County for a whopping $36 million in damages. However, shortly after filing the lawsuit, Avery’s name is once again tied to a grisly crime, this time the disappearance and assumed death of photographer Teresa Halbach. Coincidentally, Avery faces the same people who wrongfully put him behind bars in the mid-’80s and yet again maintain his innocence. Incredibly riveting yet downright infuriating at times, Netflix’s Making a Murderer is one of the most fascinating true crime documentaries you’ll find anywhere.
Netflix partnered with the BBC to offer streaming of its smash-hit documentary series Planet Earth. Over the course of 11 episodes, Planet Earth takes viewers to all corners of the globe, allowing them to see the Earth as they’ve never experienced before. From the depths of the open ocean to the jungles of Uganda, this docuseries sheds light on the most fascinating areas of the world. Life presenter David Attenborough superbly narrates Planet Earth’s globe-spanning expedition.
Bill Nye the Science Guy
Bill Nye’s sensational educational program Bill Nye the Science Guy quickly became a household and classroom staple when it debuted in September 1993. During its nearly five-year, 100-episode run, Nye taught a wide range of natural science topics aimed at educating youngsters about everything from the Earth’s core to how the brain works. Nominated for 23 Emmys — and winner of 19 — Bill Nye the Science Guy easily holds up as well today as it did when it aired some 20 years ago.
Netflix’s true-crime streak continues with The Keepers, a haunting investigation into the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a nun and Baltimore school teacher who was found near a garbage dump in the winter of 1969. The documentary follows the efforts of two of her former students — Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub — as they try to uncover why someone would murder her. The Keepers is no simple whodunit, however. The documentary’s focus quickly expands from Cesnik’s murder to the atmosphere of Seton Keough High School, where it becomes apparent that sexual abuse was systemic, a scandal Cesnik may have tried to stop. Those who want a satisfying tale of justice may want to look elsewhere; those who want to see how institutions can work to cover up corruption will find The Keepers to be a disturbing case study.
The Twilight Zone
One of the most influential television series of all time, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone is an anthology series, with each episode telling a unique story in the realms of sci-fi, horror, or some mix thereof. Each story followed characters caught up in strange, often cruel circumstances beyond their comprehension. Written during a particularly hot part of the Cold War, many episodes — particularly those written by Serling — serve as parables, exploring social and political issues of the 20th century. Take, for example, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, set on a cozy, suburban block where the power mysteriously goes out one night, causing the neighbors to turn on each other. Or It’s a Good Life, about a small town cut off from the world, whose inhabitants must bow to each and every whim of a tyrannical tyke. Don’t let the archaic props and special effects deter you — The Twilight Zone is every bit as brilliant today as it was when it first aired.
This cult classic of the early ’90s came from the mind of director David Lynch. After homecoming queen Laura Palmer is murdered, FBI agent Dale Cooper arrives in the small Washington town to investigate. Weirdness ensues, with everything from homicidal demons and cryptic dreams to doppelgängers of dead people and an FBI agent who really likes cherry pie and a “damn fine cup of coffee.” Twin Peaks was a revelatory series in its heyday, and it still holds up thanks to its uniquely eccentric characters and memorable moments, even if the murder mystery fizzles out eventually.
Freaks & Geeks
Freaks & Geeks is about two unique groups of teenagers dealing with high school life in the ’80s. Like the title suggests, one group is labeled as the “freaks” the other as the “geeks.” The show features many now-famous actors — James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, etc. — and helped propel showrunner Judd Apatow to big-screen directorial fame. The one-season show covers a variety of experiences that define coming of age in America, including drugs, bullying, and more. It was canceled too soon, but you can still watch all 18 episodes.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
George Lucas’ incredibly popular Star Wars: The Clone Wars is set in the years between Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. The Clone Wars depicts various locales, characters, and battles within the Star Wars galaxy. Netflix also streams the series’ companion film.
Like author R.L. Stine’s fabled Goosebumps book series, every episode of the like-minded series features a different cast of characters and horror plot line. Sometimes the show deals with clowns, witches, and otherworldly beings, while other times it addresses dark issues of morality that never end well. Either way, the show serves as a great introduction to the world of horror and features celebrity guests such as Christopher Lloyd and Ariel Winter (among others). There’s no gore, sex, drugs, or anything else unwholesome — but we suggest you screen some of the episodes in advance of your kids.
The Magic School Bus
With the Netflix series The Magic School Bus 360 coming to a Netflix queue near you in 2016, there’s no better time than now for your kids to check out Ms. Valerie Frizzle (voiced by Lily Tomlin) and the anthropomorphic school bus that shuttles students to impossible locations. It’s an Emmy-winning show heavily rooted in science that examines everything from the human anatomy to the far regions of outer space, providing kids with a general understanding of how everyday facets of our world function. The National Science Foundation provided the bulk of the funding alongside Microsoft, thus giving it a little more merit, while rock legend Little Richard laid down the title theme song.
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