Since it entered the world of original programming, Netflix has consistently generated top quality new content through its production arm Netflix Original on an enormously impressive scale.
We’ve seen it turn its hand to everything from gritty drama, to wacky comedy and from all-action superheroes to haunting sci-fi. Of course there have inevitably been some notable “misses” to sit alongside the hits, with the likes of ‘Gypsy’, ‘Marco Polo’ and recently ‘Iron Fist’ not exactly setting the world alight. In general though, Netflix’s hit-rate remains stronger than most .
Thanks to this high hit-rate, there are of course plenty of great shows to choose from when putting together a top ten of the best Netflix Original series. We should clarify though that we’re not counting shows which weren’t created in the first instance by the studio (so no ‘Arrested Development’ alas) or shows given US distribution by Netflix but created elsewhere (‘Peaky Blinders’) or vice versa (‘Star Trek Discovery’).
That still left a huge selection to choose from mind you, so narrowly missing out on this list but well worth seeking out are the likes of female-wrestling comedy ‘GLOW’ , crime thriller ‘Ozark’ and historical drama ‘The Crown’:
Netflix’s latest original series is a crime drama with a difference. There’s no frenetic, all-action police work and there’s no central case being painstakingly unravelled. Instead it’s a slow-burning 1970s-set series all about the development of criminal profiling itself. It’s a show about the use of psychology as a tool in solving cases, at a time when such practices were largely unheard of.
Mindhunter is based on the book “Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit” by former hostage negotiator turned pioneering investigator, John Douglas. Standing in for Douglas on the show we have the driven young go-getter Special Agent Holden Ford, who along with his more experienced colleague Bill Trench, sets out to help the bureau develop a better understanding of the criminal mind. This tricky process requires them to then interview some of the worst serial killers of the era.
As with the likes of ‘Mad Men’, this is a show that moves at a slow pace, reliant on mood and atmosphere to keep you gripped. Luckily it has these in abundance and as Ford and Trench engage in a series of interviews with renowned real-life serial killers, complete with stone-faced explanations of their gruesome actions, it creates an eerie and disturbing experience.
David Fincher is executive producer as well as director for several episodes and the 70s setting and washed out colour pallet harks back to his crime masterpiece, ‘Zodiac’. That creeping sense of dread and danger found in ‘Zodiac’ is equally present here in a show that lures you in and both unsettles and fascinates in equal measure.
9: Dear White People
An insightful and cutting comedy-drama here from Justin Simien based on his 2014 film of the same name. The show takes a satirical look at the combustible race relations at an American College campus, using this Ivy League setting as a microcosm for a nationwide issue.
‘Dear White People’ rotates its focus across a variety of students and in doing so gives us a range of different perspectives and stances surrounding the thorny issue of racial inequality. These different viewpoints demonstrate that it’s far more of a complex issue than simply being a case of black vs white, with the different approaches of the black caucus proving equally as important.
We see the action play out for everyone from outspoken activists to aspiring politicians. The fact that the time is given to expand on each of their individual personal stories as well as their role in the broader themes, ensures that the show contains a collection of well-rounded and interesting characters.
The show manages to balance its serious subject matter with its lighter side, producing a powerful and evocative story which also delivers as a witty college-campus comedy.
The history of Colombia’s intense battle with drugs and the rise and reign of the legendary Pablo Escobar is chronicled in gripping fashion in this sprawling crime saga. Slow burning but incredibly rewarding, the show embraces its cops vs robbers dynamic, giving us the experiences of both the DEA cops on Escobar’s trail, as well as the experiences of the drug lord and his crew.
At the centre of the first two seasons is Wagner Moura’s Pablo. Moura’s turn perfectly captures the two contrasting sides to Escobar, on the one hand a charming and charismatic family man, but on the other a ruthless and terrifying despot. The show does not tone down the vicious streak in Escobar’s personality and lays bare the terrible ramifications of his actions.
‘Narcos’ blends real-life archive footage with impressive recreations and provides a thrilling and often extremely dark story that lures you in to its deadly and violent world. What will really astonish you more than anything though, is how frighteningly accurate the show really is.
7: Jessica Jones
While ‘Jessica Jones’ does possess all the elements you might expect from the Marvel TV Universe, with its super-powered hero, crime-ridden streets and moody lighting, it’s the show’s unique extra layer that makes it so interesting. At it’s heart the show is also a haunting study of a woman suffering from acute PTSD who is struggling to battle the demons from her past.
‘Jessica Jones’ centres around its titular heroine; a feisty PI played with ample snark and thinly-veiled vulnerability by Krysten Ritter. In amongst her investigations, Jessica is also coming to terms with the return of Kilgrave, a devious villain who uses mind-control powers to bend people to his will. It’s an enjoyably despicable turn for David Tennant who clearly had great fun with the role. Tenant provides the show with a charismatic big bad who looms over proceedings even when he’s not on screen, delivering a constant sense of menace.
It’s a dark psychological neo-noir which pits survivor against villain as Jessica tries her best to thwart Kilgrave even if it means revisiting her own painful past. It’s a Marvel series that stands out thanks to the distinctly human drama that lies at its centre.
6: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
There’s an underlying sense of positivity and excitement running through ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ that is wonderfully infectious. The show follows the experiences of unrelentingly upbeat Kimmy, a young woman who is freed from an underground bunker where she was held for years by a doomsday cult, who sees modern-day New York as a bright new world filled with adventure.
While Ellie Kemper shines in the endearing title role, the supporting cast are every bit as vital to the show’s dynamic, from Carol Kane’s conspiracy-nut landlady Lillian and Jane Krakowski’s persistently condescending socialite Jacqueline. The true star of the show though is Tituss Burgess’ aspiring actor and utterly fabulous Titus Andromedon, the self-involved enigma who steals every scene he appears in.
Written by the ’30 Rock’ team of Robert Carlock and Tina Fey, there’s just the right amount of wackiness mixed in amongst the assorted pop-culture nods and quick witted dialogue. It’s a comforting and hilarious sitcom that manages to be both effortlessly charming and subtly clever at the same time.
5: Orange is the New Black
Jenji Kohan’s prison-set comedy-drama ‘Orange is the New Black’ was Netflix’s second original series and it remains one of its most enduringly popular, delivering both laughs and poignancy in abundance.
Set in a minimum-security federal prison, the show initially centres around Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) a wealthy white woman facing a 15 month stint for drug smuggling. It soon expands however and showcases its diverse cast of strong female characters , including an array of races, backgrounds and personalities, analysing how they all came to be themselves incarcerated and their individual experiences within the penal system.
‘OITNB’ packs one of the best ensemble casts on television, with each character getting their chance to shine. The shifts in focus never feel unbalanced and instead create a sense of commonality between the myriad of different women we meet, from Kate Mulgrew’s domineering and fearsome “Red” to Uzo Aduba’s maniacal yet endearing “Crazy Eyes”. It also tackles the prison experience in a refreshing way, undeniably sugar-coating certain elements but nevertheless still feeling especially honest in others.
It’s a wonderfully written show that embraces its comedy leanings but never shies away from more powerful and incendiary topics.
Marvel’s first attempt at a gritty and grounded street-level superhero series was nothing short of a resounding success. Daredevil blended a moody urban aesthetic with superhero action and the plot of a gangland crime-thriller to exceptional effect. This was not a bright and cheerful Marvel cinematic romp; this was a small-scale New York story.
The show revolves around Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer turned vigilante who is determined to clean up his neighbourhood. In this instance however, the brave superhero still gets badly hurt, repeatedly, in the process. Charlie Cox is very much the show’s centre and he gives us a charismatic and conflicted hero whose crisis of faith is integral to the show’s winning formula.
The show has been blessed with some exceptional bad guys, with one of the definite highlights of the show’s stellar first season being Vincent D’Onofrio’s hulking man-mountain and thoroughly unsettling crime lord, Kingpin. Meanwhile, Jon Bernthal’s turn as unrelenting angel of vengeance The Punisher made such an impact in season two that he earned a spin-off all of his own.
‘Daredevil’ is a hard-hitting show that doesn’t pull any of its punches. The fight choreography is exceptional throughout with one of the first season’s most memorable moments coming when the camera slowly tracks Murdock’s ferocious close-quarters battle along an increasingly cramped corridor. In this show, every blow hits hard and the visceral brutality of the violence isn’t shied away from at all.
3: Stranger Things
The Duffer Brothers’ sci-fi series proved to be a bona fide sensation when it arrived on Netflix last year, a nostalgic blend of Stephen King horror and Spielbergian childhood adventure.
At its heart is a story about the strange disappearance of a young boy, his distraught mother, his loyal Goonie-esque friends and the powerful creature holding him hostage. The initial puzzle soon opens up however into a broader tale involving a telepathic young girl, sinister government agents and an increasingly powerful threat.
‘Stranger Things’ finally returned for a second season this autumn and has once again gripped audiences and cemented its position as essential Netflix viewing. The show wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, and while it is partly an unashamed nostalgia trip for fans of 80s pop culture, it also delivers a gripping mystery too, filled with interesting sci-fi ideas and stellar performances from its ensemble cast. The ensemble is superb across the board, with Matthew Modine, Winona Ryder and David Harbour all putting in great work. It’s the child cast that truly shines however, giving heartfelt and endearing performances that give the show both a frantic energy and a heart-warming edge.
2: Master of None
Aziz Ansari’s debut sitcom offers an astute and frequently hilarious look at contemporary relationships and life in a big city. The show follows Ansari’s Dev as he tries to pursue a burgeoning acting career whilst navigating the trappings of 21 st Century dating. While at heart it’s a personal insight into Dev’s (and to a degree Ansari’s) own experiences, the show still tackles hugely relevant topics and scenarios, both romantic and otherwise.
While the show is very much Ansari’s baby, and the actor is an incredibly charismatic and likeable presence at its centre, the supporting cast are all vital elements which help make the show so appealing. Eric Wareheim and Lena Waithe in particular both stand out as Arnold and Lena, two of Dev’s close friends who offer their own unique take on his assorted dilemmas. It’s these conversations between Dev and his gang, and the differing viewpoints found within them, which help make the show so relatable.
‘Master Of None’s biggest strength is its ability tackle major issues, such as race, gender and sexuality, and make valid and insightful points while being incredibly witty in the process. It’s a refreshingly different approach to the “dating” sitcom, which highlights various cultural issues whilst never resulting to cliche.
1: Bojack Horseman
‘Bojack Horseman’ is an animated comedy following the life and times of its titular hero, an anthropomorphic horse and washed up TV star seeking to reignite his ailing career. Write it off as being just a mere cartoon as your peril though as Bojack also happens to be one of the funniest, sharpest and most poignant shows going. While it does have its silly side, including its unashamed love of animal-puns, it’s the cutting remarks and well-crafted asides that really make it work as a comedy.
Despite all the laughs, the show has a vital darker side to it and there’s a definite sense of melancholic ennui permeating through most of what Bojack does. He’s a tortured and troubled soul who struggles to cope with his past discretions. The show pokes fun at celebrity culture and the murkier side of Hollywood life, but it also tackles the lead character’s battles with depression in an incredibly touching way.
Will Arnett is wonderful as the voice of Bojack, helping create a narcissistic character who is riddled with guilt and self-loathing. He’s also surrounded by equally wonderful comic creations too, from Alison Brie’s frustrated writer Diane, Amy Sedaris’ hotshot agent Princess Carolyn, Aaron Paul’s loveable slacker Todd and the ball of endless enthusiasm that is Paul F Tompkins’ Mr Peanutbutter. Its comedy, its satire, its crushing personal drama and long may it continue.