Even when the outcome has been less than enjoyable, there’s something consistently beguiling about how Netflix goes about its programming business. The quality is, on the whole, much better than most cable networks, even when the formula allows for the production of something so profoundly false and rigid as, say, The Ranch. That being said, it’s not completely unique in this regard: FX has a similarly superb programming department, which has allowed new classics like Archer, The Americans, and Louie to flourish. There’s also, of course, HBO, with the invaluable Last Week Tonight, Silicon Valley, Insecure, Big Little Lies, Girls, and, for better or worse, Game of Thrones.
Still, there’s something just a bit brasher about Netflix. House of Cards is a grand, theatrical political melodrama draped in the icy imagery of David Fincher, the visionary that set the visual and narrative tone for the series in his opening act. He also directed the series’ first two episodes with his customary tinted, gorgeous view of Washington’s power elite as homicidal lunatics and profoundly corrupted representatives. (For what it’s worth HBO has bungled two attempts to give Fincher the reins as of late). Orange is the New Black, as well — for all its flaws — is at once the world’s biggest no-brainer and requiring of boldness and faith to get that initial green light. The same could be said of such minor miracles of programming as Master of None, BoJack Horseman, and Netflix’s mightiest Marvel programs, Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
Mind you, not everything works so well. The bloated Marco Polo, the innocuous Club de Cuervos,the timid Santa Clarita Diet, and the overly convoluted Sense8 are all thorough disappointments, strewn with more overt creative ambitions than actual clever execution and imaginative visuals. Still, it’s not every channel or even every streaming service that would give the Wachowskis the chance to push their politically tinged action-melodramas into the serial format, and not hamper them with unending compromises, even if such things might very well be for the best in this case.
With the recent debut of one of their fourth Marvel property, Iron Fist, and the upcoming bow of 13 Reasons Why, we thought we’d get a definitive listing of where all the Netflix originals rank, from worst to best. We decided to leave kids programming out of this, so as good as A Series of Unfortunate Events, Voltron: Legendary Defender and Trollhunters are, you won’t see it here. Nor will you see worthwhile acquisition titles like Happy Valley, Peaky Blinders, or River; we’re just thinking about original comedies and dramas that Netflix has produced. Check back for updates when new shows premiere, including anticipated series on the horizon, such as Five Came Back and Fincher’s Mindhunter. On the evidence of these decisions, made by the same powers that be that put money into another Bong Joon-ho movie, it’s not exactly hard to have faith that the streaming service will continue to air on the side of being a bit more outlandish and daring in their work. - Chris Cabin