The Best TV Shows on Netflix Right Now
[Last Updated: November 3rd]
It’s the weekend, or a sick day, or just a regular Tuesday night, and you need to binge-watch something. You don’t just want it, you need it. Where to begin? Fear not — we’re here to help. Below you’ll find an ever-expanding recommended list of TV shows available on Netflix, curated by us TV-obsessives. The mix covers a myriad of genres, lengths, countries of origins, and much more, but the one thing they have in common is that they are all excellent. (Hint: you may want to scroll slowly for each of the recs to load because of the volume of selections).
RELATED: The Best Movies on Netflix Right Now
Created by: Sera Gamble and John McNamara
Cast: Jason Ralph, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Stella Maeve, Arjun Gupta, Hale Appleman, and Summer Bishil
Based on the terrific book trilogy by Lev Grossman, Syfy’s The Magicians could be crudely described as an R-rated Harry Potter. Jason Ralph stars as Quentin Coldwater, a melancholic late-twentysomething who discovers that not only is magic actually real, but he’s a magicians. He goes to Brakebills, a graduate school for magicians of sorts, and soon discovers there’s an even bigger twist involved. The show, like the books, tackles issues of depression, sexual assault, and mental illness in a realistic but entertaining way. Its darkly funny sense of humor keeps things from getting too dark, and the performances are great. The show really comes into its own in Season 2, but the first season is an entertaining introducing into the f*cked up world of The Magicians. – Adam Chitwood
The Good Place
Created by: Michael Schur
Cast: Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, and D’Arcy Carden
Try to imagine Lost as a sitcom plus some more philosophical depth and a lot more humor, and you’re on your way to The Good Place. Parks and Recreation showrunner Michael Schur’s new sitcom is set in an afterlife where Eleanor Shellstrop (Bell), a recently deceased woman who lived a selfish, spiteful life, has ended up in the “good place” by mistake. With the help of her soulmate Chidi (Harper), she tries to learn how to be a better person as we get flashbacks to Eleanor’s life and the lives of those around her. Meanwhile, the architect of the good place, Michael (Danson), tries to figure out why everything in this utopia is going haywire.
It’s a sweet, funny, brilliant bit of television, and when I finally caught up with it, I was angry that I hadn’t watched it sooner. I’m not going to make that mistake, and I can’t wait for it to return for its second season in September. Watch it as soon as possible. – Matt Goldberg
Created by: Joe Penhall
Cast: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Anna Torv, Hannah Gross, and Cotter Smith
Executive produced and essentially run by David Fincher, Mindhunter is one of TV’s best new shows of 2017. The series is based on true events and follows the early days of the FBI’s criminal profiling unit in the late 1970s. Two FBI agents from the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit—Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany)—set out to interview imprisoned serial killers to see if they can understand why they did what they did, to help create a profile for the FBI to catch these kinds of killers. The show is methodical, wildly engrossing, and surprisingly funny, and Fincher himself directs four of the first season’s 10 episodes, resulting in terrific piece of filmmaking as well. It’s an addictive series that refuses to go down easy or well-worn paths, instead finding brand new ways to chronicle stories that have been told countless times, and as a result offering wholly new insight into human behavior. Oh yeah, and it’s deliciously entertaining. – Adam Chitwood
The Great British Baking Show
If only all reality TV was this good. Rather than stuff the competition with people who “aren’t here to make friends” and cut each others throats for a cash prize, The Great British Baking Show is all about people being nice to each other as they attempt various baking challenges to win the title of Britain’s best amateur baker. With the help of charming lead hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins and thoughtful judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, there’s plenty of humor and a surprising level of intensity as you anxiously hope the contestants’ baked goods can come to fruition. My fiancée introduced me to this show, and while I was hesitant at first, I’m obsessed with it now. Try not to devour the series all at once. – Matt Goldberg
Better Call Saul
Created by: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould
Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael McKean
AMC’s Breaking Bad spinoff goes back to find Saul Goodman (Odenkirk) at a time when he was known as Jimmy McGill (or “Slippin’ Jimmy”), a hustler with courtroom ambitions, whose life had yet to be turned upside down by Walter White. Though as comedically quirky as expected, the languid and artistically rendered Saul also proved to also be very dark, affecting, and dramatic, thanks to Odenkirk’s outstandingly nuanced performance. Jimmy’s complicated relationship with his brother Chuck (McKean) drives the emotional undercurrent of the season, alongside his being thwarted in his ambitions to join a real law firm. When he opens up his own business (in the closet of a nail salon), a revolving door of crazy clients appear, but it’s the selfless work that Jimmy does on behalf of an elderly contingent in town that imbues his journey with meaning, and gives the series truly dramatic stakes.
Still, at every step, Jimmy finds himself running into walls, and his frustration with the misfires and betrayals that litter his life eventually start adding up to his transformation as the slick Saul Goodman. The show is at its best when it distances itself from Breaking Bad, and though it starts off slow with some curious digressions, Better Call Saul picks up tremendously towards the end of the first season. Ultimately, being swept along in the chaos, hilarity, and sadness of Jimmy’s rise and fall (and eventual resurrection as Saul) is an immersive experience — Allison Keene
Created by: The Duffer Brothers
Cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Cara Buono, and Matthew Modine
You’ve no doubt heard the hype, so let us set you straight: believe it. Stranger Things popped up almost out of nowhere as a new Netflix original series that had little buzz surrounding its pre-release. But the 80s-set mystery thriller is equal parts It, Stand by Me, and The Goonies as it mashes up the creepy atmosphere of a Stephen King novel with compelling characters and a strong narrative drive. The true test of Stranger Things is whether the show works without the nostalgia-inducing 80s setting, and the answer is yes. There’s a government mystery, impressive effects, and most of all memorable characters that are a joy to watch, and creators/writers/directors Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer craft this first season like one long movie divided into eight chapters. Indeed, one could easily watch the entire thing in one day without feeling like it’s dragging or hitting upon an easy “stopping point,” as this is more television as novel than episodic TV. Which makes it a delightful binge. So have at it! – Adam Chitwood
Created by: Amy Sherman-Palladino
Cast: Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel, Melissa McCarthy, Scott Patterson, Kelly Bishop, Edward Hermann, Liza Weil
With the 4-part reunion on the way, now is the perfect time to catch up on Amy Sherman-Palladino’s fast-talking, pop culture-laded comfort TV. Gilmore Girls is about three generations of brilliant women: grandmother Emily, a wealthy socialite, her rebellious daughter Lorelai, and Lorelai’s studious daughter Rory, who spends the series finding out her place between her mother’s and grandmother’s worlds. The series’ dialogue moves at a manic pace, contrasting with the sleepy town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut, which serves as a cozy backdrop for the series. While romances dominate most of the plot lines, the series meanwhile introduces a wealth of unforgettable characters as it explores the importance of family, friends, and honest relationships. After showrunner Palladino left in the final season, the series hit a major stumbling block. But press on: from all accounts, it looks like the revival will set everything straight. (If you only have a limited time to watch, be sure to use our handy Gilmore Girls Essential Episodes Guide). — Allison Keene
Created By: Adam Reed
Cast: H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Judy Greer, Chris Parnell, and Jessica Walters
One of the great mysteries to the 007 franchise is how James Bond, in any of his incarnations, remains so seductive and suave. The guy drinks like the last days of disco, fornicates with more women than Wilt Chamberlin and Gene Simmons combined, and then, for work, kills hundreds upon hundreds and impossibly survives thousands of fatal encounters, all while barely disguising his true, internationally known identity. The reality of such ludicrous endeavors is the pull of Archer, which pitches the inimitable H. Jon Benjamin as the voice of Sterling Archer, an improbably brilliant yet shallow and self-obsessed superspy.
The unique and generous thing about this uproarious, beautifully designed FX comedy is that the humor arises largely from delivery, the distinct, unerringly intelligent language accentuated by pauses, stutters, random inflections, and elongated vowels. Benjamin is backed up by a stellar cast, and each of whom attacks the material with comic gusto, molding wild, hysterical caricatures in the process. Even as they dodge bullets on a super-train on its way to Montreal or a drug dealer’s yacht, the overflowing laughs come from an outrageousness of character, rather than a cleverness of premise, which, in this case, just happen to be really freaking clever. – Chris Cabin
The West Wing
Created By: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford, Alison Janney, Rob Lowe, John Spencer, Richard Schiff, Janel Moloney, and Dule Hill
Given that The West Wing is probably my favorite TV show of all time I may be a little biased here, but this is Aaron Sorkin’s magnum opus. An ode to good people trying to do their jobs well, the series is not only an incredibly engaging look “behind the scenes” of the White House, it’s also a hilarious comedy, a moving drama, and a charming love story all rolled into one. Granted, the show goes downhill after Sorkin leaves, but while Season 5 is straight up bad, the series rebounds for its final two seasons as it settles into a new, slightly different creative voice under new showrunner John Wells. But man, you’d be hard pressed to find anything better than those first few seasons. And that cast! If you’re looking for something that’s smart, fun, and slightly addictive, make your way to The West Wing. — Adam Chitwood
Created By: Charlie Brooker
Cast: Mackenzie Davis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bryce Dallas Howard, Kelly Macdonald, Hayley Atwell, Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Smiley, Rory Kinnear, Toby Kebbell
American audiences were a bit late to the Channel 4 anthology series, but when Netflix released the first six episodes of Black Mirror to streaming, the internet collectively lost its mind over Charlie Brooker’s dark, unsettling spin on contemporary culture. Often described a modern-day Twilight Zone, Black Mirror tackles subjects like politics, technology, fame, and grief through the lens of genre fiction, leading to self-contained episodes that are engrossing, terrifying, wrenching and occasionally revolting (Looking at you, The National Anthem). A touch of Kurt Vonnegut, a splash of William Gibson, and yes, a hint of The Twilight Zone, Black Mirror is its own beast entirely, but like all the best sci-fi, it rattles your perceptions and leaves you wanting more. And now, with six brand new episodes produced exclusively for Netflix, there’s even more Black Mirror to enjoy. Have fun debating your favorite episodes with your friends. – Haleigh Foutch
Created By: Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns
Starring: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Rick Cosnett, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh, Jesse L. Martin
If you aren’t ready for the entirely crazy, true comic book fever of The Flash, then the CW’s superhero show may not be for you. But for those willing to work with its full embrace of its comic origins — including time travel, alternate universes, and Gorilla Grodd — will be rewarded. The Flash deals with many dark and difficult themes, and yet, more often feels like a light and fun romp through Central City’s chaotic world. It follows the story of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) as he comes to terms with his newly-bestowed super speed, and his city’s need to fight off a myriad of superpowered villains. But, he still has time for dating and unrequited love, as well as some crossover time spent with Team Arrow (the same creative team is responsible for both shows).
The Flash has a instantly lovable cast, a never-ending supply of great hooks, and a myriad of long-form arcs that help anchor its Villain of the Week plots. It’s wholly accessible to non-comic readers (or to those not typically superhero genre fans), but also has plenty of insider references to keep comic fans happy. Above all, it never loses its heart or its mirth — even in the midst of saving the world. – Allison Keene
Created By: Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin, Anthony Cipriano
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, Max Thieriot, Olivia Cooke, Nicola Peltz, Nestor Carbonell, Kenny Johnson
Fashioned as a prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho, Bates Motel introduces viewers to Norma (Farmiga) and Norman (Highmore) Bates just when Norman is starting to realize he may not be normal. The moody, atmospheric series is referential to the movie though without being beholden to it, and has found room to expand the stories of interesting side characters in the town of White Pine Bay, and their relation to mysterious murders. Still, nothing holds a candle to the performances of Farmiga and Highmore, who are both hypnotically disturbing, shifting back and forth from normalcy to the sinister in an increasingly deranged way. The series also plays with their obsessive closeness in a way that makes their being bound together feel claustrophobic, uncomfortable, and completely necessary. When moving away from the central duo, the plots can sometimes lag or lose their way, but Bates Motel always manages to brings things back around to the interesting and unexpected, often subverting viewers’ guesses about what crimes Norman may or may not be involved with. The perfect binge-watch for a cold, rainy evening. — Allison Keene
Created by: Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss
Cast: Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rupert Graves, Andrew Scott, and Louise Brealey
While innumerable adaptations of Sherlock Holmes have surfaced over the decades, with most network procedurals themselves owing a great debt to Arthur Conan Doyle’s source material, the BBC series Sherlock offers one of the more fun and entertaining Sherlock twists in recent memory. The series puts the characters of Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. James Watson (Martin Freeman) in a contemporary context, using the classic dynamic and detective genre as the foundation on which Sherlock is built. The series stands on its own, though, with the chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman giving us something electric onscreen, and the scripts by Moffat and Gatiss surprising viewers at every turn. Sherlock benefits from the fact that each episode is 90 minutes long (each season only consists of three episodes total), so while it’s technically a TV series, each episode feels like a feature film. Moreover, Moffat and Gatiss do their best to ensure that no one episode feels too similar to another, offering a great degree of diversity throughout the series. Smart, thrilling, and wildly entertaining, this is must-watch TV. – Adam Chitwood
Parks and Recreation
Created By: Greg Daniels and Michael Schur
Starring: Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari, Retta, Jim O’Heir, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, and Paul Schneider
Ah, Parks and Rec. This NBC series is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a sitcom by its first few episodes. The show’s first season—which is only six episodes in total—began as a semi-spinoff of The Office, but struggled to find its own voice. From the Season 2 premiere onward, though, this show is gold, and it’s really hits its stride in the third season, with the introduction of Adam Scott and Rob Lowe to the cast. What sets Parks and Recreation apart from other comedies is that it’s absolutely sincere and free of cynicism. It’s clear that even if the characters rib each other, there’s genuine love between them. But yes, the show is hilarious, and Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope is one of the seminal sitcom characters of our time. If you haven’t seen Parks and Recreation, get on it. If you have, treat yo’ self to a rewatch. —Adam Chitwood
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Created by: George Lucas
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter, James Arnold Taylor, Matthew Wood, Corey Burton, Ashley Eckstein, Terrence ‘T.C.’ Carson, Catherine Taber, ian Abercrombie
With seven feature films and counting, some might think that the Star Wars universe has been thoroughly explored on the big screen. However, as thousands if not millions of fans out there know, the expanded Star Wars story is further laid out in numerous comic books, novels, video games, and TV series. One of the best in that latter category is Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a computer-generated animated series that only just wrapped up in 2015, with Star Wars Rebels taking up the mantle.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars takes place during the title conflict, a time when Anakin Skywalker and his fellow Jedi Knights led the Grand Army of the Republic against the Separatists’ New Droid Army. As you might have guessed, the events of this series occur between Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. It’s notable for greatly expanding (and improving on) Anakin Skywalker’s backstory before he took on the persona of Darth Vader. That transformation hangs like a doom specter over this entire series as every interaction between Skywalker and Palpatine, or any of his other friends, mentors, and subordinates, comes loaded with multiple layers of meaning and foreshadowing. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the series beyond this is the introduction of Ahsoka Tano, a very capable and powerful Padawan under Anakin’s tutelage. If you’re looking for another angle on the familiar Star Wars universe, this is a great place to start. – Dave Trumbore
Created By: Peter Morgan
Cast: Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Jared Harris, John Lithgow
Netflix’s most expensive series yet, The Crown examines the early reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth II. The series is beautifully directed in sumptuous yet staid tones, as young Elizabeth (Claire Foy) — newly married to Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (Matt Smith, playing against type) — first lives as a privileged princess before having to transition into the position of Queen. From there, as her grandmother cautions her, there will be two Elizabeths at odds with one another: one who is a young woman with her own hopes and dreams, and one who is a royal, whose life will be full of duty and sacrifice. “But the crown must always win.”
Foy is again exceptional, as she always is (we last saw her as Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall, a far cry from the kind of monarch she plays in The Crown). Her huge blue eyes and placid, doll-like features can easily go from a questioning innocence to a stern acceptance of duty in a moment, and she imbues Queen Elizabeth’s story with striking warmth and humanity (something that can be forgotten when regarding someone who has been a monarch for over half a century). The excellent casting extends to every role, from Smith’s take on the handsome but irreverent Philip to Jared Harris’ anxious, measured King George VI. Perhaps most inspired of all is John Lithgow as an aged Winston Churchill, whose story is reaching its twilight as Elizabeth begins her rise.
The Crown is a fascinating and easily engrossing portrait of a young monarch in a fairly modern age, and benefits from having one writer (creator Peter Morgan) to lend it narrative continuity. The story, which offers a glimpse of many familiar faces associated with government at the time, glides through history and crosses the globe, yet is most effective when its examining the nuances of Elizabeth’s life and the lives of those around her who must change the way they regard her (from a wife, sister, and daughter, to a monarch they must defer to at all times). The trappings of power, such as they are, are shown here as being claustrophobic and wearisome, even though the lavish lifestyle it seems to offer is also seductive. And that is why, once you enter into the regal world of The Crown, you will not want to leave. It always wins. — Allison Keene
Created By: Allan Cubitt
Cast: Gillian Anderson, Jamie Dornan, Archi Panjabi, John Lynch, Bronagh Waugh
Equal parts sultry and petrifying, Allan Cubitt’s provocative BBC series is a visceral and cerebral investigation of the relationship between lust and violence that stays just on the right side of lurid. Perhaps the most feminist show on TV for the way it treats female characters and the way it explores the male sense of ownership over the female body, The Fall pits Gillian Anderson’s Stella Gibson, an ice-cold expert investigator, against Jamie Dornan’s Paul Specter, a handsome father and part-time serial killer who stalks, torments, and murders beautiful young women before grooming and posing their bodies. It’s a psychologically perverse battle of the wits as the two hunters do-si-do in a high stakes cat-and-mouse game, each turn leading to a new dead body. Anderson is impeccable in the role, and for those who’ve written off Jamie Dornan for his 50 Shades of Grey sins, The Fall completely absolves him. Paul Specter is magnetic in his repulsiveness. Even Stella is pulled in by his thrall as she tracks him, and their dynamic makes for one of the most compelling relationships on television. The Fall is layered, seductive, frightening, absolutely must watch TV. —Haleigh Foutch
Created By: Melissa Rosenberg
Cast: Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor, David Tennant, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Wil Travail
It’s now quite clear that Jessica Jones is the best thing to come out of a Marvel adaptation to date, beating out notable frontrunners such as Netflix’s Daredevil series, the first and third Iron Man films, and Peyton Reed’s rowdy, joyous Ant-Man. Unlike its brethren, Jessica Jones has a sturdy thematic backbone of survival, one that keeps each exchange in the narrative, whether verbal or physical, teeming with insight and sly fascination. It’s not just the titular hardened super heroine (a fantastic Krysten Ritter) who has the wounds of survival on her, but also Mike Colter’s similarly indestructible Luke Cage, making a daily wage as a bar owner, and Rachael Taylor’s Trish Walker, Jessica’s best friend and well-known radio personality. Their interactions are startlingly, subtly expressive in the way they evoke their barely healed pain and their collective desire to live on, but the show becomes all the more enveloping in its final stretch, when its revealed that their great nemesis, Kilgrave, played by a superbly egomaniacal David Tennant, is also a survivor of sorts. This gives the series its final kick of empathy that no one had expected yet adds an entire new dimension to what could have been a simple, enjoyable entertainment, like Age of Ultron or The Winter Soldier. The show’s tremendous triumph is seeing the roots and messy impulses of pain that at once exemplify and push beyond that old saying: hurt people hurt people. – Chris Cabin
The Office (U.S.)
Created by: Greg Daniels
Cast: Steve Carell, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Rainn Wilson, B.J. Novak, Melora Hardin, Mindy Kaling, Angela Kinsey, Phyllis Smith, Craig Robinson, Ellie Kemper, B.J. Novak, Oscar Nunez, Paul Lieberstein, Amy Ryan, James Spader, and Ed Helms
Let’s face it, most U.S. remakes of U.K. TV shows suck. And in fact, the initial launch of the American The Office wasn’t great. The 6-episode first season showed promise, mostly in the form of Steve Carell’s committed performance, but from a story and character point of view it was seriously lacking. However, the last few episodes started building on what was working, leading to the show’s second season, which stands as one of the best seasons of comedy television in history. From there, the show was golden, launching a terrifically involved will they/won’t they with Jim and Pam, and fleshing Michael Scott out as an incredibly frustrating yet human character. It’s a crime Carell never won an Emmy for his phenomenal performance over the course of the show’s run, and while the series itself overstayed its welcome by two or three seasons, it remains a positive delightful—and worthwile—watch at just about any time. – Adam Chitwood
Created by: Matt Groening and David X. Cohen
Cast: Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Phil LaMarr, Lauren Tom, Tress MacNellie, Maurice LaMarche, and David Herman
There’s no lack for animated programming these days, but in terms of rewatchability and satisfaction, it’s tough to beat just about any of the 140 episodes of Futurama. The show was a huge deal when it premiered in 1999, hailed as the new series from the creator of The Simpsons, and the story possibilities seemed to be endless for a show about a guy who gets frozen in 1999 and wakes up in the year 2999. Buoyed by a fantastic voice cast and whip smart writing, the series is constantly compelling and packed with spot-on humor that never leans too hard on any one element (sci-fi, pop-culture, etc.), instead succeeding on its own merits as a simply great show. It’s a minor miracle that the series never got stale, always using its sci-fi premise to venture into increasingly strange/funny sitatuations and worlds. But the key to the show’s success is the humanity imbued in each of its characters (yes, even Bender), which goes a long way to making the show not only fun, but emotionally engaging. – Adam Chitwood
Note: Only seasons 7-10 are available on Netflix.
The Honourable Woman
Created by: Hugo Blick
Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Andrew Buchan, Lubna Azabal, Steven Rea
Hugo Blick’s 8 episode miniseries The Honorable Woman is a political thriller that is dense, emotional, difficult, and wonderfully made. It stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as Nessa Stein, who along with her brother Ephra head up an important Middle Eastern peacekeeping organization. From the very beginning, however, the endeavor is fraught with political intrigue and interference, and dual timelines from the past and present weave together a complex story that involves kidnap, murder, sexual assault, spycraft, and an exceptional number of secrets and betrayals. The series doesn’t waste time in clearing up what seem to be central mysteries, but even when the revelations and explanations occur, they only raise more questions.
Gyllenhaal is exceptional in the role of Nessa, balancing so many complicated emotions with naturalism and grace. She feels completely real in the role, and is an extraordinarily personal anchor to a story that deals with the overarching political intrigue and posturing of the American, British, Israeli, and Palestinian special forces. It’s a beautifully bingeworthy drama that will surprise you at every turn. – Allison Keene
Created by: James Manos, Jr.
Cast: Michael C. Hall, Julie Benz, Jennifer Carpenter, Erik King, Lauren Valez, David Zayas, C.S. Lee, Desmond Harrington, Geoff Pierson, Aimee Garcia, and James Remar
Okay, so maybe things turned disastrous in that final season, but for the most part, Dexter is a really solid drama series. Serial killers remain a fascination in modern media, and this adaptation of the Jeff Lindsay book series took viewers inside the mind of a killer, Michael C. Hall’s titular Dexter, who struggles to lead his double life as a forensic technician with the Miami Police Department and a murderous psychopath on the nights and weekends. Hall brings a tremendous complexity to the role, especially in the first few seasons as he manages to make Dexter’s lack of empathy endearing. Season 4 is a series highpoint with John Lithgow’s chilling turn as the Trinity Killer, and all in all Dexter is an engrossing and darkly comedic crime drama well worth your time. – Adam Chitwood
Created by: Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, and Rhys Thomas
Cast: Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, and Helen Mirren
One of the most delightfully pleasant surprises of 2015 was the IFC comedy series Documentary Now!, which is the brain child of Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Seth Meyers, and Rhys Thomas. The conceit of the series is something of a mockumentary anthology, in which each half-hour episode takes on the format of a famous or groundbreaking documentary genre and is given the comedy treatment via Hader and Armisen. The result is a series of hilarious installments that tackle everything from Grey Gardens to The Thin Blue Line to Behind the Music, but perhaps the show’s magnum opus (at least thus far), is the tremendous VICE-spoofing installment “DRONEZ: The Hunt for El Chingon.” Documentary Now! is a must-watch, plain and simple, especially if you happen to be of the cinephile persuasion. – Adam Chitwood
Created By: Sally Wainwright
Cast: Sarah Lancashire, Siobhan Finneran, George Costigan, Joe Armstrong, James Norton
Maybe no country does crime TV as well as the U.K., and Happy Valley is another excellent 6-episode entry into its vast collection of dark and twisted tales. Sarah Lancashire’s Catherine is a tough police sergeant, but she cares deeply about her community (and her interactions with local low-lifes are some of the series’ highlights). But she’s haunted by the actions of Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), who raped her daughter and produced a child, after which her daughter committed suicide. Her family torn apart, when Catherine sees him on a street corner after his release, she becomes obsessed with finding him after he drops off the map. Meanwhile, a second plot also involving Tommy and a kidnapping starts to unravel, and questions of guilt, innocence, and more sweep viewers up in the show’s complex and often harrowing portrayal. Norton and Lancashire are exceptional in this character-driven drama, and it’s an quick binge-watch with a huge reward.
[Update] Its exceptionally engrossing second season is now available, and it is in no way a sophomore slump. Instead, the series not only finds new ways to weave together the stories of Cawoods and Tommy Lee Royce, but it adds a few new swirling subplots that, as ever, highlight the bleakness but close-knitted nature of life in the valleys of West Yorkshire. — Allison Keene
Created by: Cheo Hodari Coker
Cast: Mike Colter, Frankie Faison, Mahershala Ali, Alfre Woodard, Simone Missick
Though Marvel’s series on Netflix will eventually lead to The Defenders team-up, for now each story belongs uniquely to its title protagonist. Taking place several months after Jessica Jones, Luke Cage (Colter) has relocated to Harlem from Hell’s Kitchen, and is attempting to keep a low profile. He’s barely making ends meet as he sweeps hair at a local barbershop (owned by Faison’s Pops) and cleans dishes at a nightclub owned by the crime boss Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Ali). But it doesn’t take very long for those stories to connect, as young regulars at the barbershop see an opportunity for quick cash that soon turns bloody. The fallout from this is what pushes Cage to finally move forward with his life and embrace his strengths for the protection of those who need it.
Luke Cage is a story that’s about more than being a vigilante, as the series deals with difficult real-world issues that go beyond metahumans and cartoon villains. Race also matters in Luke Cage, but most especially in the way that the show fully embraces its Harlem location with style and substance. There’s an intimacy of place, and it extends to all corners of the series in cultural specificity and details. The idea of Luke Cage not just as a hero, but as a black superhero, is important here.
Colter gives Cage a sense of reticence mixed with righteous defiance that hits all the right notes for the reluctant hero, and does so in low tones and with a casual confidence. Though he may struggle to define his heroism and what it means for himself and Harlem, there are no complications for viewers. He is the hero we’ve been waiting for. (Full Review) — Allison Keene
Created by: Damon Beesley, Iain Morris
Cast: Simon Bird, Joe Thomas, James Buckley, Blake Harrison
The Inbetweeners is a British anti-Entourage. This quartet is not cool, they aren’t slick, and the only fame they enjoy is for things like accidentally projectile vomiting on a schoolmate. The awkward suburban teenagers — snobby Will (Bird), cynical Simon (Thomas), goofy Neil (Harrison), and sex-obsessed Jay (Buckley) — navigate the perils and pitfalls of high school not quite belonging to any group but their own reluctant band of misfits. The series turns on that now-classically British conceit of cringe comedy, but in doing so it fairly accurately represents the more horrific moments of school life, or at least the way we often perceive them. The opposite sex isn’t interested, or you mess it up immediately, and parents and teachers are indifferent at best and aggressively mistrustful at worst. Everything is boring or embarrassing, or both. The Inbetweeners’ humor is also exceptionally profane, but often in wonderful ways (you’ll soon feel moved to call people “bus wankers!” like Jay does). The short seasons make the show an easy binge-watch, if you can handle the cringe. Also, it has a kickass theme song. — Allison Keene
Deep Space Nine
Created By: Rick Berman, Michael Piller
Cast: Avery Brooks, Rene Aberjonois, Terry Farrell, Cirroc Lofton, Colm Meaney, Armin Shimerman, Alexander Siddig, Nana Visitor, Michael Dorn, Nicole de Boer
Fair warning: You’re going to have to tough out two seasons of this series as the show fought to find its own identity. Although it already stands apart from other Star Trek series by being based on a space station rather than exploring the cosmos, many of the episodes from the first two seasons feel like leftover scripts from Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. It wasn’t until the show started interacting with the Dominion and moving towards war that Deep Space Nine created an absolutely captivating identity. Seasons 3 – 5 are great Star Trek, and the final two seasons are great television, period. The show gets surprisingly dark, but it’s always mature in its approach to warfare and the sacrifices that must be made during wartime. – Matt Goldberg
Created By: Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz, Jacinda Barrett, Jamie McShane, Enrique Murciano, Sissy Spacek
One great thing about Netflix Originals is that you get the opportunity to binge watch an entire season on its debut day. With that in mind, you should definitely check out Bloodline‘s first season before Season 2 drops in early 2016. As far as crime dramas go, it rivals Rectify for the most engrossing mystery and engaging exploration of family relationships on TV.
The crux of Bloodline centers on Mendelsohn’s Danny Rayburn, the oldest son and Black Sheep of a prestigious Florida Keys’ family. Danny brings a black cloud and plenty of intrigue with him, and Mendelsohn’s layered performance is as good as any you’re likely to encounter. That being said, the supporting cast is just as talented at bringing their duplicitous and dynamic characters to life. Everyone has a secret in Bloodline, but only some are willing to kill to keep it that way. – Dave Trumbore
Created By: Neil Cross
Cast: Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson, Michael Smiley, Warren Brown
Luther may be back on people’s minds since it returned recently with a TV movie, but it could never have left. The dark, twisted BBC crime series stars Idris Elba as a weathered, London Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, who is of the “brilliant rogue” category of cops. But things become more interesting once Ruth Wilson hits the scene as the cunning maybe-murderess Alice Morgan, and the cat and mouse game between the two is what drives most of the first two seasons. But creator Neil Cross has dreamt up some terrifying, blood-thirsty, and seriously twisted killers for Luther to catch in between, most of whom end up personally connected to Luther, further fueling his dogged passion for justice, which always comes first. The seasons happen in short bursts, much like Sherlock, and can be thrilling, heart-pounding, and terrifying (especially for single white females, whom the show loves killing off in increasingly creative ways). But throughout, Luther always remains stoically charming and brilliantly dedicated. Elba makes his detective iconic, and the show uses its London settings to great effect. A must-see for crime TV fans. — Allison Keene
Created By: Rob Thomas and Dianne Ruggiero
Starring: Rose McIver, Malcolm Goodwin, Rahul Kohli, Robert Buckley, David Anders
Loosely based on the comic by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, iZombie stars Rose McIver as Liz, a medical resident with the perfect job, perfect fiancee, and perfect life, who loses it all one night when she’s transformed into a zombie. But this isn’t a Walking Dead situation. Her hair may be chalk white, and her heart may only beat twice a minute, but she can still walk, talk, act, think and feel like a human – as long as she regularly feeds on human brains. The good news is that Liz uses her medical degree to land a job at the local morgue where she has a regular supply. Bad news is she temporarily inherits the memories, personality, and skills of anybody she eats, which puts her on the scent of a series of murders ennacted by some less morally-sound zombies. Working under the guise of a psychic, she uses her visions to work with a local detective (Malcolm Goodwin) in order to solve the murders and give her new life a sense of purpose.
From Rob Thomas and Dianne Ruggiero, the minds that brought us Veronica Mars, iZombie is often oversimplified as “Veronica Mars with zombies”, but that description does a disservice to the originality of both series. To be clear, there is one and only one Veronica Mars, and while there are similarities, Liz is another witty blonde sleuth, for one, they’re largely different shows. Despite dealing in death, the first season of iZombie is mostly lighter fare that leans in on the procedural element. Fortunately, the cases of the week are infinitely fun thanks to McIver’s consistently likable but wonderfully variable performance as she adopts the personality traits of the victims. -Haleigh Foutch
Created By: Damon Lindelof, J.J. Abrams, and Jeffrey Lieber
Cast: Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, Josh Holloway, Terry O’Quinn, Jorge Garcia, Naveen Andrews, Daniel Dae Kim, Yunjin Kim, Emile de Ravin, Dominic Monaghan, Harold Perrineau, Malcolm David Kelley, Maggie Grace, and Ian Somerhalder
Whatever you think about how the series wrapped up (for the record, I’m a fan), the brilliance of Lost’s premise and first couple of seasons cannot be denied. Has there been a better pilot than the J.J. Abrams-directed opening installment of this series? And once Abrams jetted off to make Mission: Impossible III (basically right after the pilot), it was up to showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse to actually make good on that first episode and begin to unravel the giant mystery box that is Lost. Sure the series had stumbles—some bigger than others—but more often than not it was a wildly compelling, ambitious, and refreshingly character-centric series that stood out as wholly unique amongst the rest of network television’s offerings. Indeed, Lost and Desperate Housewives began a trend of serialized storytelling that we’re still enjoying today, and the Lindelof/Cuse-led show firmly secured its place in the annals of TV history as an icon of the medium.
And you know what, Lost totally holds up. So whether you’re curious about revisiting the series as a whole or thinking about jumping in for the first time, this landmark mystery/sci-fi/drama series is well worth your time. – Adam Chitwood
Created by: Mitch Hurwitz
Cast: Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat, Tony Hale, David Cross, Jeffrey Tambor, and Jessica Walter
Surely one of the best sitcoms ever made, Arrested Development was far ahead of its time when it debuted in 2003. Its wit and wry sense of humor now feels in lock step with the modern state of the genre, but at the time it was incredibly different, which led to an early cancellation. But Netflix revived the series in 2013 to mixed results, with credit going to Hurwitz for at least trying something different than before. Regardless of how you feel about Season 4, the show’s previous episodes are undoubtedly some of the silliest, smartest, and funniest TV comedy ever produced. – Adam Chitwood
Based on the Novels By: Henning Mankell
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Sarah Smart, Tom Hiddleston, Richard McCabe
Like many good crime series, there’s an originating Swedish version of Wallander also available on Netflix, although admittedly I haven’t seen it. I am, however, in love with the British version starring the fantastic Kenneth Branagh as detective Kurt Wallander of Ystad, Sweden (in a strange quick, some British remakes will take place in the same location as the original, but everyone speaks English). Like Luther, Sherlock, and other brilliant detectives in great deceive shows, Wallander is dedicated to his job in a way that leaves no room for a personal life, and the cases are told in short seasons, each as a mini-movie. Wallander basks in its Nordic settings, though, embracing the unusual and beautiful filtering of the light, and visually representing the detective’s personal isolation against stark landscapes. The crimes are usually incredibly brutal, and Wallander approaches them personally, unable to disconnect the darkness from overtaking him and disturbing him to his core. Branagh plays Wallander as exhausted and difficult, but also charismatic and certain. It’s can be a difficult series to binge-watch, but it’s also too compelling to turn off. As a bonus for some viewers, Tom Hiddleston has an early role as a fellow investigator through the first two seasons. — Allison Keene
Halt and Catch Fire
Created by: Christopher Cantwell, Christopher C. Rogers
Cast: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Davis, Kerry Bishé, Toby Huss
It’s such a shame that more people aren’t watching Halt and Catch Fire. It premiered on AMC back in the summer of 2014 and wound up earning a second season. Even though critical praise is sky high, the ratings are not, so I must insist that you take to Netflix to watch Season 1 and then track down Season 2 because once you’re caught up, you’ll understand why we need to rally support for more. The show begins in Dallas in 1983, covering the dawn of the personal computer. If you are at all intrigued by technology and how the machines we’ve become so attached to came to be, the premise alone should be enough of a draw, but then Cantwell and Rogers also populate the world with five extremely driven and destructive main characters who are absolutely fascinating to track. – Perri Nemiroff
Trailer Park Boys
Created By: Mike Clattenburg
Cast: John Paul Tremblay, Robb Wells, Mike Smith, John Dunsworth, Patrick Roach
Fair warning: You will either love Trailer Park Boys or you will hate it. Its minimalistic hand-held camera style and improvisational dialogue is particularly halting and jerky in its early seasons, but once it settles in, the show develops into a bizarrely meta world that has spawned 10 seasons, 3 movies and a live tour. Mike Clattenburg’s series, which launched in 2001 and has been running off and on ever since, follows the exploits of two dwellers of the Sunnyvale Trailer Park in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia — Julian (John Paul Tremblay) and his best friend Ricky (Robb Wells) — as they try and clean up their lives after a stint in prison. It doesn’t work, and the two are constantly getting involved in crazy schemes with their friend Bubbles (Mike Smith, sporting huge Coke-bottle lenses) and other colorful characters, while trying to steer clear of the petty trailer park supervisor Jim Lahey (John Dunsworth) and his perpetually shirtless assistant Randy (Patrick Roach).
Make no mistake, these are Canada’s ultimate rednecks, and there is a ton of booze, weed, gun fire, and idiocy that fuels all of the show’s plots. Still, it’s hard not to get caught up in Julian and Ricky’s stories, especially since the two actors have such a fantastic rapport, and Ricky’s malapropisms never fail to delight. There are lots of catch phrases to latch onto, and the show never ceases to escalate its audacious humor, while never acknowledging it is anything other than real. Trailer Park Boys is not for everyone, but for some, there are few things better than having out with these sh— birds. — Allison Keene
Created By: Ray McKinnon
Cast: Aden Young, Abigail Spencer, J. Smith-Cameron, Adelaide Clemens, Clayne Crawford, Luke Kirby, Jake Austin Walker
Rectify is quite possibly the best prison drama on television that no one seems to be watching. The Sundance TV series will be starting its fourth season in 2016, but if you haven’t been watching the story unfold just yet, now’s the perfect time to catch up. The plot centers on Daniel Holden (Young), a Georgia man who has been let out of prison due to questionable DNA evidence after serving 19 years on Death Row for the rape and murder of his then 16-year-old girlfriend, Hannah. Despite protests of locals and some family members, Holden returns to his childhood home upon release.
While the mystery element of whether or not Holden was actually guilty provides an excellent hook for the show, the real draw to Rectify is its excellent Southern Gothic character study of Holden and the folks of Paulie, Georgia. Holden has a few allies, but many more detractors in town; both sides interpret the evidence, or lack thereof, in their own ways. It’s up to viewers to decide which side they’re on, though Young’s performance – at times aloof, innocent, or downright disturbing – keeps you guessing. Rectify prepares to starts its fourth season soon, but you can check out the first two seasons on Netflix now, with a third season likely starting in 2016. – Dave Trumbore
Sons of Anarchy
Created By: Kurt Sutter
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone Junior, Maggie Siff, Kim Coates, Ron Perlman, Ryan Hurst
Kurt Sutter’s visceral, twisted series Sons of Anarchy focuses on an outlaw biker gang who operate in the ironically-named town of Charming, California. The show plays lightly on Shakespearean themes found in stories like Hamlet and Macbeth, as the club’s heir apparent Jax Teller (Hunnam) comes up against his step-father Clay (Perlman) in regards to the club’s dirtier dealings — including drugs and gun running — and the dream of an ideal future set up by his slain father. Clay’s wife and Jax’s mother, Gemma (Sagal), tries to hold the club together, but she has her own agenda, one that comes into direct conflict with Jax’s long-time love Tara (Siff).
The first two seasons of the series are exceptionally binge-worthy, though things start to waiver when the show takes a trip to Ireland for Season 3. After that, though, you’re hooked anyway, so you have to stick around to see what newly complicated and devilishly considered schemes the club gets involved with, as Jax continues to wrestle with his place and responsibility to the men. But the series’ cast of characters is incredibly fun and memorable that even as the comedic elements give way to increasing tragedy (and some narrative indulgence, including montages set to full songs), SOA pulls it all around to go out in the grandest way possible. Long live SAMCRO. — Allison Keene
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Created by: Gene Roddenberry
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, and Whoopi Goldberg
You can’t argue against this series. One of the most iconic shows in the history of television, this long-running award winner picked up decades after the original series captained by William Shatner. Well Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) makes a strong case for best Enterprise captain in the franchise with his performance in TNG. One of the few shows in history to run this long and never “jump the shark,” Star Trek: The Next Generation followed the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D as they explored strange new worlds, sought out new life and civilizations, and boldly went where no space crew had gone before.
For fans of cerebral, philosophical, and slow-burn type shows, TNG is the gold standard. There’s plenty of action to be found, but it’s not the first order of business to fire photon torpedoes as soon as the Enterprise runs up against an obstacle. In fact, there are many instances in which the Galaxy Class Starship is outmatched in terms of weapons and defense, so it’s up to the crew’s cleverness and cooperative abilities to keep them alive, and maybe earn a new ally along the way. Modern TV has yet to see its equal, so it’s a good thing that all 178 episodes are available to assimilate online. – Dave Trumbore
Created By: Drew Goddard
Cast: Charlie Cox, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson
After conquering the world of Superhero cinema, Marvel Studios branched into serialized storytelling (more serialized, anyway) with their first Netflix collaboration, Daredevil. Lovi
Created By: Nobuhiro Watsuki (author), Kazuhiro Furuhashi (director)
Voice Cast: Mayo Suzukaze, Richard Cansino, Dean Wein
140 years ago (give or take a few years), the widespread stories of expert swordsman Battousai the Man-Slayer and his disappearance from the battlefield herald the coming of the Meiji era in Japan. In Rurouni Kenshin, protagonist Himura Kenshin, wielder of the reverse-blade sword, appears to be anything but a legendary sword-fighter. Appearances can be deceiving in this beloved anime series since viewers soon find out, along with Kenshin’s allies, that the wandering samurai is much, much more than he pretends to be.
It’s not the best gateway series for newcomers to anime as a lot of the cultural differences will likely leave the uninitiated a little bit lost, but it’s more than charming enough to win you over after a few minutes. It’s got heroic action; a historical, period-specific aesthetic; and plenty of laughs to lighten up the relationship drama. Some things could easily be lost in translation, though Netflix users have the option to watch the series in subtitled or dubbed format. (I almost always recommend going native.) Unfortunately, Netflix only has the first season available to watch, but Hulu has quite a few. — Dave Trumbore
House of Cards
Created by: Beau Willimon
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Corey Stoll, Michael Kelly, Sakin Jaffrey, Constance Zimmer, Rachel Brosnahan, and Mahershala Ali
Obviously. As the show that first put Netflix on the map as a game-changer in the original series department, House of Cards is a wickedly dark, sharp political thriller/satire with style to spare. It’s tough to beat the show’s spectacular first season, which David Fincher kicked off in terrific fashion by announcing the series as director-driven, not necessarily writer-driven. But there’s plenty to love about subsequent seasons, particularly Kevin Spacey’s monstrous lead performance and, most strikingly, the show’s secret weapon: Robin Wright. The actress truly shines in the “Lady Macbeth” role and, as the series progresses, turns in some career best work. Odds are you’ve already seen House of Cards and are eagerly anticipating the next season, but hey, why not start from the beginning again? – Adam Chitwood
Created By: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Cast: Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, Aaron Paul
The washed-up celebrity, as a character, has never felt quite so potently empathetic as it has in the animated personage of BoJack Horseman, the erstwhile star of 1980s sitcom Horsin’ Around, voiced with stinging desperation and cynicism by Will Arnett. Horseman’s attempt at a comeback is the focus of the first two seasons of Netflix’s most ambitious series since Orange is the New Black, and creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg makes the quite literal horse-man’s addiction to fame, attention, and self-involvement into a melancholic vision of a depleted life. The series also doubles as a scathing indictment of Hollywood and its shallow machinations, but Bob-Waksberg, along with his writers and animators, balances these blue, painful thematic concerns with a vibrant animation style and varied sense of character design, to say nothing of the bounty of dry witticisms. Visually and tonally, the series toes a strange line, but even its oddest moments and creations hide an endearing undercurrent of visceral feeling, evoking a landscape of wounded egos, calcified obsessions, and a few artists trying frantically to make something worth a damn. – Chris Cabin
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
Creator: David Wain and Michael Showalter
Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Showalter, Marguerite Moreau, Lake Bell, Christopher Meloni, Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Banks, John Slattery, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Ken Marino
In the sprite spirit of dumb summer comedies, Wet Hot American Summer became one of the greatest dumb comedies ever. Back in 2001 the cast was already hilariously too old to play high school camp counselors and in this series (filmed 14 years later) they hilariously play even younger versions of themselves. It’s a boombox blast — sometimes hilarious, sometimes cringe-inducing— and the new series is an easy binge-watch thanks mostly to the intense wackiness of Christopher Meloni as the camp chef who fought in Vietnam, is about to be married, and briefly had a functional sexual relationship before becoming the fridge-humper we now know and love. These are the origin stories you never knew you needed. Camp Firewood 4ever. - Brian Formo
How to Get Away with Murder
Created By: Peter Nowalk
Starring: Viola Davis, Billy Brown, Alfred Enoch, Jack Falahee, Katie Findlay, Aja Naomi King, Matt McGorry, Karla Souza, Charlie Weber, and Liza Weil
Shonda Rhimes pretty much owns network television at the moment. Whether you’re a fan of her shows or not, her ability to spin a popular yarn and sustain said yarn for years on end is undeniable. While Rhimes is merely an executive producer on How to Get Away with Murder (Peter Nowalk is the showrunner), it has plenty of Rhimes-esque flourishes that make it absolutely delicious television. Viola Davis is excellent as a morally ambiguous law professor who becomes entangled in a very messy murder mystery that extends to some of her most prized students. There are enough twists in this first season to last an entire series, and they are so much fun. Seriously, put your smugness away and take the dive into this wonderfully ridiculous drama; you won’t regret it.—Adam Chitwood
Call the Midwife
Created by: Heidi Thomas, based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth
Cast: Jessica Raine, Miranda Hart, Laura Main, Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris, Judy Parfitt, Helen George
The most brutal TV series you aren’t watching. Sure, it looks like Call the Midwife is just another British post-war period drama about nuns and nurses, but then the child birth scenes start, and it’s all blood and screams. The (otherwise) lovely series is based on true tales of midwives working in London’s notoriously poor borough of East End in the 1950s (the costuming and set dressings are exquisitely researched). There are many babies born, as one would predict, but the stories of the parents and home situations vary with each story (you can expect to cry about once every three episodes). The conditions of the housing and lives of those who live in the East End paint a colorful and poignant portrait of post-war life, and the exceptional acting talent from both the main cast and guest stars makes the series truly shine. The relationships among the midwives and the sisters are heartwarming yet real (they love each other, they bicker, they hide things, they reconcile), and their missions of midwifery always engaging. If, that is, you can stomach the blood and the screams. — Allison Keene
An Idiot Abroad
Created By and Starring: Ricky Gervais, Steve Merchant, Karl Pilkington
Currently the only unscripted entry in our list, An Idiot Abroad finds comedian and The Office creator Ricky Gervais sending his friend Karl Pilkington around the world to broaden his horizons. For those unfamiliar with Karl and his role in the trio’s podcasts (which became an HBO series, The Ricky Gervais Show), the Manchester-born former radio producer is a cantankerous homebody with unique views on just about everything. The travel show is not about the glamour of international locales, but rather, Gervais makes sure Karl is made as uncomfortable as possible as he visits China, India, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, and so many other places. But the producers guide Karl gently, filming the beauties and oddities of each destination with exceptional cinematography. The soundtrack is also gorgeously crafted to evoke the child-like innocence and wonder that Karl often displays. It’s both a thought-provoking and lulling series, and an easy one to cruise through, imagining oneself traveling alongside and carping with Karl. — AK
Making a Murderer
Created By: Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos
Cast: Steven Avery
With true-crime documentaries like the Serial podcast and the HBO miniseries The Jinx capturing the attention of the public in new and innovative ways that reach beyond the tabloids in the checkout aisle, Netflix got onboard with this exploration of the various cases involving Steven Avery. Guilty or not, the legally beleaguered Wisconsin man quickly became a household name as couch-sitters consumed every facet of his life.
The ability to binge-watch the entire documentary led to some interesting outcomes, namely concentrated rage released over social media and through various petitions. Unlike Serial and The Jinx, which were released episodically in a more traditional format allowing frustrations to be metered out over time, Making a Murderer compounded the rage feels by the hour. While Avery’s case is anything but open-and-shut, just as this documentary is anything but objective, it’s worth a watch if only to stay up to date and engaged with the current social consciousness. — Dave Trumbore
The Returned / Les Revenants
Created By: Fabrice Gobert
Cast: Yara Pilartz, Jenna Thiam, Jean-Francois Sivadier, Clotilde Hesme, Pierre Perrier, Celine Sallette, Swann Nambotin.
The Returned is a supernatural French zombie series where those who have returned from the dead have not risen to eat us — they just want a sandwich. But the horror of his moody, atmospheric series comes from its deep, slow plotting and uneasy atmosphere, along with questions about why the deceased are back, without decay. Some of them were good people in life, some were bad. But who are they now, and what do they want?
There are plenty of twists and scares to The Returned, but it’s not a bloody or gory series. It trades on mystery and the emotional trauma of both those who are returning, and those who accept them back (after the initial joy, things begin to get complicated). Though it has spawned many imitators, including a U.S. series of the same name, none can compare to the original (learn to love the subtitles). The 8-episode first season (an even slower, though still medatative second series is being added February 17th) is an easy binge-watch, and boasts an outstanding soundtrack by Mogwai. — Allison Keene
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Created By: Rob McElhenney
Cast: Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Danny DeVito, Rob Mc Elhenny, Kaitlin Olsen
It’s Always Sunny reigns supreme in the peculiar genre of “terrible people doing terrible things for your amusement”. For a series about a gang of pathetic deadbeats, It’s Always Sunny sure is lovable. A collaborative project between creator Rob McElhenney and more-or-less uncredited creators Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton, the show follows a moronic group of ne’er-do-wells always trying to get over. As the gang loiters about Paddy’s Pub, devising one moronic stratagem after the next, they get into all kinds of insane antics ranging from child pageantry to rock operas to the D.E.N.N.I.S. system (a sociopathic, but foolproof way to seduce any woman). Riotously funny with a superb mean-streak, It’s one of the sharpest, most overlooked comedies on TV, still able to pack a punch ten seasons in. — Haleigh Foutch
Created By: Eric Kripe
Cast: Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Misha Collins, Mark Sheppard
Supernatural is a mainstay of The CW’s programming, having debuted in 2005 and currently enjoying its 11th season on the network. The fandom surrounding Sam and Dean Winchester’s battles against otherworldly foes is strong, but rarely reaches out to grab general audience members unless they happen to come across the show at a convention, a random news story, or a Netflix suggestion. I managed to get pulled into the whole thing by an unlikely combination of all three.
Supernatural has maintained a roughly procedural format throughout its 11-season run but has always had an overlaying story arc for each season. Horrific creatures, demons, and ghosts abound, and there is more lore, mysticism, and mythology in each episode than you can recall from the whole of your Sunday School classes. The characters – main and supporting – run the moral spectrum from angels and gods to witches and demons. (It doesn’t hurt that the cast is also very attractive.) So if it’s a weekend’s worth of easy binge-watching you’re looking for, turn your gaze on 10 seasons of Supernatural waiting for you right now. – Dave Trumbore
The Twilight Zone
Created By: Rod Serling
Cast: Rod Serling
It’s almost hard to conceive of The Twilight Zone as a TV show anymore, and not just because it spawned a (pretty great) anthology film that gave ample room for the likes of John Landis, Joe Dante, and Steven Spielberg to let rip on their darker impulses. It’s because each episode seemed to unravel like some great genre short, a showcase for major talent to grapple with stories of monstrous creatures, global disasters, societal horror, and the unyielding tyranny of time. In one episode, Burgess Meredith famously plays an intellectual whose physical impairment finally squanders his modest desires, while Dennis Hopper inhabited the role of the leader of the New Reich in another. The Twilight Zone remains the most authentic recreation of the thrill of pulp novels that the television medium ever created, letting Rod Serling’s wild talent for imagination and invention rule over everything. Some of the great pleasures of the 1990s, like The X-Files and Tales from the Crypt, have their roots in The Twilight Zone, as do the very best of modern genre filmmaking, from Attack the Block to Let the Right One In to The Host. Decades after the series ended, each episode still has the intellectual fascination and creative sense of playfulness that trumps nearly every other procedural or anthology series that’s currently being produced. – Chris Cabin
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Created By: Tina Fey & Robert Carlock
Cast: Ellie Kemper, Jane Krakowski, Tituss Burgess, Lauren Adams, Sara Chase
Listen, we all miss 30 Rock. That gloriously offbeat tone and pitch-perfect cast made for one of television’s all-time greatest sitcoms, and it will never be replaced. However, the Netflix original series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the next best thing. 30 Rock showrunners Tina Fey and Robert Carlock turn their attention to a “fish out of water” story as Kimmy Schmidt follows Ellie Kemper’s titular character, a woman who was held captive for years in an underground bunker and is now trying to start her life anew in New York City. Not only is the show genuinely hilarious, carrying flourishes of the same snappy goofiness that made 30 Rock so much fun, but the series simultaneously works perfectly as a sexual assault survivor story, making it all the more bold and impactful. First and foremost, though, it’s incredibly funny, with Tituss Burgess turning in the breakout performance of the year. And you’ll have the theme song stuck in your head forever. —Adam Chitwood
Freaks and Geeks
Created By: Paul Feig
Cast: Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, James Franco, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Samm Levin, Busy Phillips, Seth Rogen, Becky Anny Baker and Joe Flaherty
Even if you’ve already seen Feig and Judd Apatow’s tender, honest and funny series—often referenced as the best television show that was only given one season—you should watch it again. Hey, it’s only 18 episodes, so it’s not a major ordeal! The reason you should is because of how many of the actors careers have taken off over the last 15 years; just as its fun to sometimes walk down memory lanes ourselves, it’s extra fun to revisit these actors and reflect on the characters they play now. Unlike the suburban Michigan teens they played, who dealt with school showers, sex ed, school dances, possible expulsions, and hiding brains and heart from the too-cool-for-school-crowd, there weren’t too many growing pains as thespians.
If you’ve seen Jason Segel’s magnificent, shoulda-been-nominated turn as the brilliant author David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour (you should) then it’s extra fun to watch Segel lack confidence around the cooler James Franco and the doesn’t-give-a-single-eff Seth Rogen and giggle inside that Wallace (a pop culture junkie) would love a teenager whose tried to build a drum kit as big as Rush’s Neil Peart. Similarly, Franco’s dreamy burnout who can’t-be-bothered-to-go-to-class delightfully contrasts his current real life persona as an artist who is annoyingly too extra-curricular (with projects in every medium). Martin Starr has grown up to play sardonic smart asses without souls on Party Down and Silicon Valley, so it’s extra fun to see his sweet-natured and awkward Bill. Linda Cardellini was recently seen as a home-wrecking adulteress on Mad Men (one of the few women who actually got to call the shots with Don Draper), but she has to balance responsibility with carefree living here. And then there’s Rogen, perhaps the biggest star and comedian of the lot, who’s saddled with a completely one note slacker role. As Rogen has become a bonafide hilarious comedy star, if you re-watch Geeks now you see the untapped potential of a performer. In hindsight, his annoying character is encapsulated in perhaps the best way. These are high schoolers after all, and—despite what we’re shown on TV—most of us don’t find our strengths until later in life.
Freaks and Geeks is the rare TV show that’s not only just as good as when it originally aired, but is perhaps even better watching it now. – Brian Formo
Created by: Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg
Cast: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Colton Haynes, Emily Bett Rickards, Caity Lotz, Paul Blackthorne, John Barrowman
The herald of a new generation of superhero television, The CW’s Arrow brought one of DC Comics’ most underused heroes to life thanks to the very capable Stephen Amell. The show was constructed around Amell’s character, Oliver Queen, a spoiled brat of a billionaire playboy whose wicked ways were tamed when a violent shipwreck claimed the life of his father and left him stranded on a primitive island. Upon returning to Starling City, Queen took a vigilante approach to cleaning up his hometown, a tactic which put him at odds with law enforcement, the city’s criminal underworld, and his unsuspecting friends and family.
Arrow has seen its ups and downs over the years, and even within its seasons, but it’s a solid action show full of fun stunt sequences, characters you’ll fall in love with, and enough Easter eggs to keep comic book fans satisfied. It’s a darker side of The CW’s DC TV-verse and even acts as a decent stand-in for those of you looking for a Batman live-action series who are disappointed by Fox’s Gotham. Get caught up with Arrow on Netflix now to see what the hype is all about! - Dave Trumbore
The Walking Dead
Developed By: Frank Darabont
Starring: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs, Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira, Michael Rooker, Melissa McBride, Scott Wilson, Michael Cudlitz, Chad L. Coleman, Lennie James, Sonequa Martin-Green
The strangest thing about The Walking Dead isn’t so much how it’s survived for so long with such a repetitive narrative, but rather how the series has gotten incrementally better every season. The show’s central tenet is faith, and how much you can have in the post-apocalypse, a world where those you love could be and likely will become a mid-day nosh for a cadre of rotting zombies. And, of course, the walkers and biters are not nearly as dangerous as the people, the survivors, those who no longer have society to curb their violent behavior and darker impulses. At the center of it all, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) becomes a symbol of that corroding faith in others and in society, having faced untold horror and loss from Herschel’s home to the prison to his face-off with the Governor to the so-called Alexandria Safe-Zone. And as such, Rick has become an increasingly brutal man, and the emotional toll that takes on him and the few people he still trusts is not lost on the show’s writers and creators. The Walking Dead is equal parts ingenious horror film, family melodrama, and Western, replacing bandits, outlaws, and, well, Native Americans with the hungry undead and people who have let the instinct to survive curdle into an eerie comfort toward the torture and murder of others. -Chris Cabin
Developed By: Jason Rothenberg, based on the novel by Kass Morgan).
Starring: Eliza Taylor, Paige Turco, Bob Morley, Marie Avgeropoulos
The CW’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi series takes a few episodes to find its footing, but once it does, The 100 ratchets up the stakes and tension to the maximum and never lets up again. The series ostensibly follows a group of 100 juvenile delinquents, sent down from a dying spaceship to the surface of a post-nuclear earth to determine if the land has become habitable again. But the show’s title quickly becomes a misnomer when a huge chunk of the kids are quickly dispatched and the scope of the series expands breathlessly, introducing a host of new settings and characters, each bringing with them a different microcosmic world and culture. Indeed, what makes The 100 one of the best genre series on TV is the way it careens through sci-fi subgenres, pulling them together in a single narrative that has infinite room to grow and explore.
The series also sets itself apart by never giving its characters an easy out. As the stakes continue to escalate, the young survivors are wrapped up in politics and warfare far beyond their realm of knowledge and experience. They are consistently presented with horrifying life or death choices, and they are made to suffer the consequences of their actions. At the center of this is Clarke, the purported hero of the show, who is one of the most ruthless, strategically-minded characters on television, capable of handling morally bleak survival scenarios with a self-assuredness that puts Jack Bauer to shame. There is no other character like Clarke on television — a pragmatic, unyielding, bisexual warrior woman who wields her power unapologetically without becoming an unfeeling “tough chick.” That unique quality expands to the show as a whole in its resolute exploration of the moral contradictions of governing, warfare, and survival. – Haleigh Foutch
Created by: Shonda Rhimes
Cast: Kerry Washington, Darby Stanchfield, Guillermo Díaz, Jeff Perry, Tony Goldwyn Bellamy Young, Joshua Malina, Scott Foley
Revolving around the Washington D.C. “fixer” Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), Scandal splits its time between political cases that Olivia and her team of “gladiators” take on each week, and Olivia’s affair with the President of the United States (Tony Goldwyn). It is just as ridiculous as it sounds, and yet, the strength of the acting coupled with the intrigue of the impossibly fast-moving plots and snappy dialogue hold it all together.
All you really need to know about Scandal is that Olivia. Pope. Will. Handle. It. Like any soapy network drama worth its salt, Scandal eventually loses its mind and goes completely off the rails in terms of both its original premise and general logic. But before that, it’s a delightfully engrossing series that is an exceptionally good binge-watch, especially the first two seasons. - Allison Keene
The L Word
Created By: Ilene Chaiken, Michele Abbot, Kathy Greenberg
Starring: Jennifer Beals, Erin Daniels, Leisha Hailey, Laurel Holloman, Katherine Moennig, Pam Grier, Mia Kirshner
Ah, The L Word. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. A fraught icon of queer culture, and often a mess of melodrama and absurdities (corrupt lesbian poker ring, Tonya the cat killer, etc). And yet, there was plenty to love in Ilene Chaiken’s unprecedented Showtime series about the lives and loves of lesbian women. Sure, most of those women were white, femme, and model hot, and yeah, straight men were all but reduced to mustache-twirling villains, but that’s part of the reality disconnect that made The L Word such an indulgent dramatic treat.
Since the show marked such a major step forward in representation, it bore heavy criticism for homogenizing and Hollywoodizing that representation — perhaps a bit harsh for a show that was essentially Sex in the City, but gayer.(“Same Sex, Different City,” read the tagline.) In that regard — as a soapy, sexy, glitzy girl power anthem for the wealthy and beautiful — The L Word is a delight. Salty, sultry entertainment about designer-bedecked Hollywood women who are too cool to handle (hairstylists, journalists, curators, DJs, pro athletes, retired music legends, it goes on); locked in a never ending series of wandering eyes and infidelity — every bathroom trip an opportunity for a life-altering affair. And they’re unbearably gorgeous, charming, and witty through all the scheming and screwing. In the midst there are some genuine relationships and an often fearless, if misguided, exploration of fluid gender and sexuality. Sometimes great, often silly, usually sexy — The L Word is an iconic series well worth a binge watch. — Haleigh Foutch
The Office (UK)
Created by: Ricky Gervais, Steve Merchant
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Martin Freeman, Mackenzie Crook, Lucy Davis
The mockumentary comedy that started off what feels like a never-ending wave of imitators is still one of TV’s greatest series. Far bleaker than its younger American cousin, Gervais and Merchant’s The Office follows the work lives of a group of people at a fictional paper company, and is also a whip-smart character study and satire of cubicle life. Gervais is excellent as the horribly cringe-worthy boss David Brent, but Martin Freeman’s likable Everyman, Tim, is the element that gives The Office its heart through his crush on secretary Dawn (Davis) and his low-key antagonistic relationship with team leader Gareth (Crook). Still, it’s Brent’s buffoonery that provides the best quotes and memorable scenes, and yet, he too gets his emotion moments and earned viewer empathy.
The Office broke the mold when it arrived in 2001, but its universal themes of frustration, disappointment, hope, and desire remain forever relevant. Running a mere 2 seasons (12 episodes total), and 2 Christmas specials (as is the British way), this outstanding, funny, dark, engrossing series is still the pinnacle of mockumentary television. — Allison Keene
The IT Crowd
Created By: Graham Linehan
Cast: Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, Matt Berry, Christopher Norris, Noel Fielding
Have you tried turning it off and on again? The workplace comedy is nothing new, and in a lot of ways, The IT Crowd is your standard workplace comedy – a spin on the banality of day-to-day corporate culture and the absurdity of inter-office politics – but the series sets itself apart by being willing to get real weird with it. The IT Crowd centers on your “standard nerds”; the basement-dwelling, socially awkward tech support duo of Moss (Richard Ayoade) and Roy (Chris O’Dowd) and their computer illiterate boss Jen (Katherine Parkinson). The result is a truly oddball trio who play off each other like gangbusters. The series relies heavily on its small central cast, but they’re insanely talented comedic actors and they carry the show with ease, each with a killer sense of timing and a willingness to be fearlessly ridiculous. Plenty of shows can make me ugly cry, but thanks to Graham Linehan’s idiosyncratic sense of humor and the cast’s expert delivery, The IT Crowd is one of the few that makes me ugly laugh. -Haleigh Foutch
Dragons: Race to the Edge
Created by: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois
Cast: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, David Tennant, Julie Marcus, Andree Vermeulen, Zack Pearlman, Chris Edgerly and Nolan North
If you’re a fan of the two How to Train Your Dragon movies, then the fantastic series inspired by the feature films should definitely be on your watch-list. The third and most-recent installment of the Dragons: Race to the Edge series is now available on Netflix, along with the first two parts; they chronicle the Dragon Riders of Berk and their quest to stop the Dragon Hunters from harming innocent dragons and people alike.
Normally, when a movie inspires a TV series, the cast is wholly replaced and the quality takes a hit. That’s not the case with Dragons, which boasts much of the original cast, including Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and T.J. Miller. That goes a long way toward keeping a close connection between fans and characters, especially since the heart and humor are just as strong in the episodic tales are they are in the big-screen versions. It’s also a family-friendly series that everyone can enjoy, just make sure you watch Dragons before checking out the How to Train Your Dragon sequel film, since that’s the storytelling order they appear in. – Dave Trumbore
Created By: Chris Chibnall
Cast: David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Andrew Buchan, and Jodie Whittaker
Okay so the American remake was weird and unnecessary, but if you haven’t seen the British original version of Broadchurch, get on it. Creator Chris Chibnall weaves an intensely emotional whodunit over the course of the show’s first season, with the pilot resulting in one of the fastest “flood of tears” moments in recent memory. When a young boy is found dead below the cliffs in this sleepy U.K. town, a detective with a shady past (played by David Tennant) arrives to head up the case. The performances—especially from Olivia Colman—are tremendous, and the story gives equal weight to the mystery and the emotional impact of the boy’s death. While the first season is hard to top (it works extremely well as a miniseries as it wraps up the case by season’s end), the second season is compelling for very different reasons. Well worth a watch if you’re in the mood for a mystery with brains and heart to spare. – Adam Chitwood
Created By: Simon Barry
Cast: Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lobo, Victor Webster, Erik Knudsen, Omari Newton, Roger R. Cross, Luvia Petersen, Brian Markinson, and Lexa Doig
Netflix is a gold mine for sci-fi shows, though not all are created equal. One of the best is Continuum, a Canadian TV show about a time-traveling cop who tracks a group of domestic terrorists from 2077 back to 2012. One part police procedural, one part contemporary satire, the series enjoyed four seasons (all available to stream on Netflix) and only just wrapped things up this past October. It’s right up there with Orphan Black, Fringe, and the cancelled-too-soon Almost Human.
If you’re a fan of police procedurals with a sci-fi twist, Continuum should be at the top of your watch-list. It’s a show that has a solid grasp and execution of episodic narratives, but excels when reaching for more ambitious heights. Unfortunately, it feels like Continuum was cancelled before it achieved everything it was capable of, but the contemporary satire of companies like Monsanto and Apple, and Rachel Nichols’ dynamic, kick-ass performance make this one a hidden gem. — Dave Trumbore
Created By: Matthew Weiner
Cast: Jon Hamm, January Jones, Elisabeth Moss, John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks, Robert Morse, Kiernan Shipka, Jared Harris, Rich Sommer, and Aaron Staton
Despite a somewhat puzzling “falling out of favor” with the Emmys in recent years, Mad Men remains one of the best shows to ever air on television. That it wrapped up with a near-perfect series finale makes the watch that much sweeter, but while creator Matthew Weiner was certainly dealing with serialized storytelling, he took a cue from his prior employment on The Sopranos by tackling much of Mad Men’s episodes like short novels unto themselves. Character is king in Mad Men, and sometimes that means we don’t necessarily need to focus on all the characters in a given episode. Weiner’s fondness for time jumps not only between seasons but also between episodes allowed the full thematic weight of each installment to sink in, untethered from connecting the dots from event to event.
Mad Men also features some of TV’s best performances in history, despite a lack of acclaim from the Emmys in that department (though it did tie The West Wing’s record for most Best Drama wins in a row with four). Standout episodes are too numerous to list, so I’ll just say that if you’ve been putting off watching this new classic, stop. It’s right there, waiting for you on Netflix, and you won’t be disappointed (Update: the entire series, including those fantastic final episodes, will be available February 5th). – Adam Chitwood
Created by: Simon Mirren, David Wolstencroft
Cast: George Blagden, Alexander Vlahos, Tygh Runyan, Stuart Bowman, Amira Casar, Evan Williams, Noémie Schmidt, Anna Brewster
Versailles is as visually sumptuous as befits a series about one of the world’s most opulent palaces, and the French-Canadian series (don’t worry, they speak English) picks up right at the fraught moment of its origins. A young Louis XIV (Blagden) retreats to the former hunting lodge and commissions its transformation, establishing a new court for himself away from Paris where he can better control the nobility. Many still resist, however, and Louis deals with them in a variety of cold and cunning ways throughout the first season.
However, it is Vlahos who steals the show as Louis’ younger brother Phillippe, the Duke of Orleans, a sarcastic, cross-dressing tour de force. Phillippe’s wife is Louis’ mistress (there are many such scandalous connections), and the show explores the fiery relationship between the two brothers as well as what they must sacrifice for the crown. There is plenty of sex, violence, intrigue, witty repartee, and coiffed wigs blowing gently in the breeze, all of which makes it easy to become immersed in the series’ regal setting that is nevertheless tinged with danger. — Allison Keene