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.
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 Simspson’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 Sopranos actress Edie Falco stars in this drama/dark comedy about a drug-addicted nurse who leans on the help of Xanax and Percocet to help her through her days. Thing is, for as strung out and tweaked as she is, she’s one hell of a nurse. Strong-willed and determined, Jackie Peyton (Falco) navigates through a busy New York City hospital while consistently breaking the nursing Code of Ethics. Despite her many flaws and errant behavior, Jackie operates at such a high level you’d have a hard time knowing she’s ever ingested any opiates at all. Nurse Jackie dominated the Showtime airwaves when it ran for seven seasons, and for good reason — this is one wildly addictive show.
‘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.
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 it 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 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.
‘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.
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.
Like many fantasy and sci-fi shows, Netflix original The OA begins with a central mystery: a woman named Prairie Johnson (Brit Marling), who’s been missing for seven years, makes a public reappearance when she jumps off a bridge. Her parents and law enforcement wonder where she’s been, why she has strange scars on her back, and why, despite being blind as a child, she can now see. The show is not immediately forthcoming with answers, either. The OA (as Prairie calls herself) is dodgy about her story, and more focused on a mission for which she needs the help of five townsfolk. Not bound by the conventions of television, The OA flits from genre to genre, gradually revealing a mind-bending spectacle with some majestic imagery and a bit of poetry to it. Although the plot can take some questionable turns, and viewers may find the pace agonizingly slow, the show’s ambitions make it worth watching.
‘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 shows 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.
Yet another television show drawing from the pages of popular comics, CW’s Arrow takes its influence from the DC Comics character Green Arrow. Actor Steven Amell tackles the lead as playboy billionaire Oliver Queen, who soon takes up the role of the Green Arrow to subdue crime in the fictional setting of Starling City. Netflix offers the first four seasons of this highly regarded show.
From the — sometimes — brilliant science fiction minds of Andy and Lana Wachowski comes Sense8, a sci-fi drama concerning eight strangers who suddenly find themselves connected to one another. After enduring an awakening of sorts, these strangers now have the ability to communicate and share knowledge and skills with one another. A much different take on the sci-fi genre and one featuring a diverse lineup of characters, Sense8 continues to show the Wachowskis’ and J. Michael Straczynski’s incredible knack for dense storytelling.
Action and mystery
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 has plenty of levity. The first season is short — it consists of a mere four episodes — and not every character gets proper development, but it’s a damn good start.
Luke Cage opens on a Harlem barbershop, the clients and barbers talking about the New York Knicks, the value of taking Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the draft, and whether Pat Riley or Phil Jackson is the greater coach. The first words out of the titular superhero’s mouth?
“’Cause the Knicks played like men when Pat Riley was head coach.”
It is a strangely specific way to begin a show about a crime-fighting superhuman, but an appropriate one given Luke Cage is not merely about heroes and villains slugging it out. This is a show about life and politics in Harlem as much as anything else, one which pits the old-school virtues espoused by Cage (Mike Colter) against the rapacious business practices of local mob boss “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali). Rooted in black culture, the show also draws heavily on rap and funk music, as well as the literary heritage of Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin.
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.
‘Marvel’s Jessica Jones’
After the massive success of Daredevil’s first season, Netflix decided to tap into yet another Marvel character with Marvel’s Jessica Jones. Breaking Bad alum Krysten Ritter hops into the virtual shoes of the titular Jessica Jones, a somewhat troubled young woman who possesses a particularly enhanced set of powers that make her a menace to criminals. Alongside Ritter are David Tennant as the mysterious and evil Kilgrave, Mike Colter as Luke Cage, and Carrie Ann Moss as a hard-nosed lawyer named Jeri Hogarth. Not just for comic book fans, Marvel’s Jessica Jones is a wild good time.
Not all adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic novels are good. Thankfully, Sherlock is terrific right out of the gates. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title role in this modern reimagining of Sherlock’s London exploits. Charm and elementary brain work come standard, but unlike most past renditions of the crime drama, many criminals manage to outwit Holmes. Still, Cumberbatch delivers a Sherlock that is surprisingly brawny and moody, with a dependable Watson (Martin Freeman) to match.
‘Sons of Anarchy’
Everything about this show is excellent, from the writing and acting to the cinematography and sets. You wanna know what’s not great? Their business practices. The show encapsulates a conflict between motorcycle gang leader Clay and his stepson, Jax. Clay, the old-fashioned club president, wants to preserve the gang’s risky and often aggressive methods for turning a profit while Jax wants a better life for his new son. You’re exposed to the lives of the bikers along the way, along with their inevitable encounter with the law and rival factions.
This Netflix-produced show strikes gold. Daredevil brings the Marvel Universe to the small screen in a big way. While movie adaptations of Marvel’s blind lawyer-by-day, blind crime-fighter-by-night never quite lived up to expectations, Drew Goddard’s episodic version garnered near-universal acclaim. Charlie Cox — who plays the iconic Daredevil — headlines an impressive cast that also features Vincent D’Onofrio and Rosario Dawson. Gritty, expertly produced, and packed to the brim with action, Netflix’s Daredevil is one you won’t want to miss.
The BBC’s Luther revolves around John Luther (Idris Elba), a brilliant but troubled English police detective, and his cases. It’s similar to Sherlock in many ways given Luther’s detective work is always a bit unorthodox, except he exists in a grittier London than Sherlock. Elba’s character is crude and unrelenting, and surprisingly, he often finds himself establishing bonds with criminals and taking the law into his own hands. He’s a shoot-from-the-hip kind of character, with his biggest threat being the bureaucracy of his very own unit.
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.
There is no shortage of cop dramas on television these days, but Longmire manages to stand out from other procedurals with its rural setting and old-fashioned hero. Set in modern-day Wyoming, the show follows Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor), the sheriff of the fictional Absaroka County. Having lost his wife a year before the show begins, Walt is a bit of a relic, unsure about his place in a world that is rapidly moving past him. What he does have going for him is a knack for detective work, and there are plenty of murders for him to solve in Absaroka. Longmire’s frontier setting is key to its charm. Whereas so many procedurals are set in the crowded streets of cities like New York, the open plains of Wyoming give Longmire a feeling of isolation.
Superheroes can seem a little boring, can’t they? Does anybody really doubt, when a bank robber comes face to face with Superman, that the ensuing fight can go any way but one? One-Punch Man takes the one-sided nature of superheroes to its extreme conclusion, following Saitama (Makoto Furukawa), a hero so powerful he can defeat any foe with a single punch. Being unstoppable leads Saitama to a profound sense of ennui, however, and he must seek out stronger and stronger opponents in order to feel alive. One-Punch Man is a hilarious parody for fans of superheroes or anime, and it doesn’t hurt that the action is rendered in smooth, colorful animation.
Reality TV and documentaries
‘Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown’
Once a rebel in the world of professional chefs, Anthony Bourdain has evolved into a wizened documentarian. In his travel series Parts Unknown, Bourdain travels the world, visiting a specific town or region in each episode. While Bourdain rose to fame as a chef, Parts Unknown isn’t just about food (although there is plenty on display). Bourdain delves deep into each place he visits, seeking out the locals to learn how they live, what they do, and yes, what they eat. Passionate and informative, Parts Unknown will leave you a little wiser, and a lot hungrier.
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 there 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.
‘Roman Empire: Reign of Blood’
This documentary series might have a trashy title, but it is somewhat fitting given the subject matter. Reign of Blood examines the life of the Roman emperor Commodus, whose rise to power and love of gladiatorial sports made him numerous enemies among the Roman elites. The six-episode series — narrated with the help of actor Sean Bean — dramatically reenacts the events of Commodus’ life, giving viewers a visceral glimpse into the salacious details of Roman culture. Interspersed with the dramatic scenes are interviews from experts on Rome, providing a scholarly balance to the pulpy thrills. Fans of Roman history should love this dramatic story of an important, but oft-overlooked, figure.
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-1980s 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.
If you like cars, motorcycles, or basically anything with an engine, you’ll love Top Gear. The British version has been on the air since 2002, giving the hosts (Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May) full reign to try to wreck a Toyota Hilux and race a slew of dilapidated vehicles from Miami to New Orleans, among other automobile-centric tests. The show is pretty much the best thing on Netflix for motor enthusiasts and those with a need for speed, so much so that we have an entire article outlining the best Top Gear episodes.
‘Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey’
Carl Sagan’s thirteen-part TV series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, remains a watershed moment in science television despite being more than three decades old. Fortunately, the 2014 reboot presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson is just as enchanting, detailing the latest revelations regarding time and space in a series of 45-minute installments. The show touches on everything from the first steps of evolution and the impact of paleogeography to electromagnetism and the irreparable consequences of global warming.
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’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.
Like Planet Earth, Human Planet presents viewers with an in-depth look at nature, humanity, and their impact on each other. Instead of viewing the different ways environments adapt and grow, this episodic series examines the relationship between humans and the world around them. The show looks at the various ways humankind has adapted to life in nearly every environment on Earth. It covers such topics as shark calling in Papua New Guinea, herding reindeer in Norway, and hunting tarantulas in Venezuela. Each gorgeous locale comes packed with an equally interesting story told by the show’s narrator, though it’s arguably Human Planet’s cinematography that truly makes this show an addictive pleasure. Over the course of the eight-episode season, Human Planet presents more than 100 different stories, making it one of the most enriching programs streaming on Netflix.
‘Five Came Back’
The documentary series Five Came Back, based on a book of the same name, opens with a tribute to its subjects, as acclaimed, living filmmakers sing the praises of five great directors of the early 20th century: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, George Stevens, and Frank Capra. Five Came Back is not merely an examination of Hollywood’s Golden Age heroes, however. It tells the story of how the five directors joined the American war effort in World War II, traveling overseas to film propaganda for the Allies. The series explores the directors and their careers, revealing how they aided the war effort, and how the war changed them and Hollywood. The series uses a trove of archival footage, but what sets it apart from typical documentaries is the involvement of modern directors Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass, Lawrence Kasdan, and Steven Spielberg, who each provide insight into and admiration for one of the subjects.
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 garage 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.
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.” Though it was one of the most popular shows of the entire decade, it was never renewed for a third season — that is, until David Lynch decided he would be revisiting the iconic town as part of a limited series on Showtime.
Cheers is a series about a Boston bar “where everybody knows your name,” along with the people who hang out and work there. It’s still astonishing to think that nearly every scene in Cheers’ 11 seasons was set in a single barroom, but the show managed to break a bevy of records while it aired, tackling controversial issues such as abortion and homosexuality in its own genre-defining way. Even today, popular culture is littered with references to Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and his iconic bar. And thankfully, Netflix has every season. Cheers, indeed.
‘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.
The heralded Phineas and Ferb is one of the kids shows on our list that gets more than one celebrity stamp of approval. Everyone from Ben Stiller to Bob Eubanks enjoys the show, with reviews often praising the creators for their keen sense of wit and well-placed cultural references. It follows two stepbrothers as they undertake a new project with each new day of summer and continually try to stay a step ahead of their pesky sister, Candace. The running jokes and complex plots stand out, as does the diabolical Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz and platypus-turned-spy Perry. The meta-humor, wordplay, and quick timing make it a lot like Family Guy in many ways (sans the vulgarity).
The animated British children’s show Danger Mouse aired for a staggering 161 episodes, and due to its popularity, became the first British cartoon to make the jump to American TV. Danger Mouse’s premise, which plays heavily off British spy novels like the James Bond franchise, concerns a secret agent mouse who travels the world ridding it of monsters and evil criminals. Danger Mouse’s biggest foe is a toad named Baron Silas Greenback and his assistant, a crow named Stiletto Mafioso. With terrific animation — even for an ’80s-era cartoon — and a long list of wacky characters and storylines, Danger Mouse is heaps of fun for the entire family.