Netflix isn’t the only streaming service in town, but it is the one that kicked off the move toward the streaming era. Although the streaming service launched with both movies and TV shows that were created by other companies, they eventually began developing movies and TV shows that were entirely theirs. In recent years, Netflix’s original programming has become the dominant part of its library, and in that time, it’s produced a truly extraordinary number of shows.
The best of Netflix’s original television stands up against any other TV channel or streamer out there. They’ve produced shows across a variety of genres and formats, and they’ve found success in pretty much every area they’ve experimented with. The shows listed below are the cream of the crop, and the very best that Netflix has to offer.
Over the course of an incredible six-season run, Bojack Horseman transformed from a fairly surface-level showbiz satire into one of the best examinations of depression that TV has ever produced. The animated series, which is set in a universe where humans and talking animals live alongside one another, follows its titular character, a washed-up sitcom star who also suffers from addiction, as he tries to prove that he can be better than he has been. Bojack’s journey can be frustrating, but it’s also beautiful, moving, hilarious, and dark. It may be about an animated horse, but Bojack Horseman is incredible nonetheless.
Of all of Netflix’s TV offerings, The Crown may be the most “high-brow” thing they produce. The series tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign from the time she became Queen of England in the 1940s all the way through the early 2000s. Even as it incorporates many real-life events, The Crown is above all else a work of speculative fiction. It creates scenes and dramas out of the royal family and is one of the best acted and written series on TV. The royals may not be the most relatable people, but they are people nonetheless, and creator Peter Morgan turns them into ones well worth watching.
Canceled too soon, GLOW was everything you could possibly want in a TV show. Over the course of its three seasons, the series followed the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a group of female wrestlers who begin wrestling on a cable series and eventually decide to take their show to Vegas. The series is fully aware of how silly wrestling often is, but never allows that silliness to turn into cynicism. The show features outstanding performances from Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, and Marc Maron, and it’s really about characters who have failed getting another shot at redemption and friendship with one another.
A show as vulgar as Big Mouth shouldn’t work, but Big Mouth does because it’s both hilarious and incredibly smart about the horrors of adolescence. Shows about pre-teens going through puberty don’t often get into the gory details of what it means to have an insane amount of hormones coursing through you at all times, but Big Mouth does exactly that. Following a roster of adolescents who are moving from childhood toward adulthood, the show is about the horrors of that time in your life, and the terrible things that pre-teens often do to one another. It may also be the funniest, most ludicrous show on television.
There have been plenty of riffs on the basic premise of Groundhog Day in the years since that film came out, but Russian Doll is one of the best. The series stars Natasha Lyonne as Nadia, a spunky, brash coder who has trauma buried not-all-that deeply below the surface. Russian Doll has serious things on its mind, but it’s also one of the most playful riffs on waking up in the same day over and over again to come along in the years since Groundhog Day popularized the idea. It also features a few twists that complicate the world in which it’s set, and ultimately make it one of the most rewarding ways you can spend four hours.
Thanks in part to David Fincher, Mindhunter is one of the best-directed shows on Netflix. The series follows a pair of FBI agents as they found the Behavioral Science Unit, a unit within the organization focused on understanding the minds of serial murderers. Because the series is focused on the aftermath of brutal crimes that inn many cases have already been solved, it’s not always a minute-to-minute thrill ride. Even so, the conversations that the agents, played by Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany, have with some of history’s most famous killers offer plenty of thrills, even if they aren’t exactly the visceral kind.
As true crime continues to be one of the most dominant forms of modern storytelling, American Vandal remains the best example of how to effectively parody the genre. Through two seasons, the show followed amateur, high school-age filmmakers as they attempted to solve two season-long “crimes,” both of which were very stupid. In both seasons, the show is packed with jokes, but what makes it work is that the show also has some trenchant commentary about life in high school buried within it. American Vandal was smart enough to combine stupid jokes with interesting ideas, and that’s what made it one of Netflix’s best shows.
Chess is not the most natural subject for a riveting seven-hour miniseries, but The Queen’s Gambit managed to be riveting anyway. The series follows Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), a chess prodigy who also happens to be an orphan struggling with drug addiction. Plenty of time is spent on Beth, and Taylor-Joy delivers an excellent performance in the central role. What’s refreshing about The Queen’s Gambit, though, is how focused it is on chess itself. Large portions of each episode are dedicated to the game, and creator Scott Frank knows exactly how to make it feel like the best onscreen boxing match since Creed.
Based on a movie of the same name, Dear White People carefully deconstructs ideas of race in a thoroughly modern context. The series is set at a fictional Ivy League university that has one primarily Black house, and typically focuses on the residents of that house and the situations they encounter while studying on a majority white campus. The ensemble cast is beautiful, and they’re all witty, gifted performers. Dear White People is the kind of show that sounds like a chore, but it’s exactly the opposite.
If you’re looking for pure scares, there’s not a better show on Netflix than The Haunting of Hill House. The series tells the story of a single family as they relive the trauma of one night from their childhood which has come to define the rest of their lives. Hill House ends weakly but has several incredibly strong hours over the course of its 10 episodes. The performances are uniformly excellent, and the series does a tremendous job examining how each of these siblings handled the trauma of their youth in a totally different way, even as they remained a family.
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