Since it started putting original programming out just four years ago, Netflix has become one of the most dependable places to find top quality television, regardless of what kind of stories you're looking for. It's getting increasingly harder to sort them all properly, given how vast Netflix's library has gotten, but we've put on our binge-session lab coats and ranked the best original series from the streaming giant. For the most part, we've avoided continuations and imports of international series that Netflix didn't produce, though an exception or two may crop up. Have fun!
20. The OA
While Netflix's promotional campaigns have never been overwhelming, it was an especially quiet lead-up to The OA, the shrouded-in-secret sci-fi-ish project from writer/director Zal Batmanglij and writer/actress Brit Marling. A project that defies any simple classifications, The OA stars Marling as a woman who returns to her hometown and family after being missing for seven years, complete with mysterious scars and other major physical changes, and recruits locals to help her find other missing people. Despite gorgeous direction and solid performances from Marling, Scott Wilson and Jason Isaacs, among others, The OA is perhaps Netflix's most polarizing series yet, with the twisty, genre-straddling storyline splitting viewers, especially with that unpredictable finale. See for yourself.
Comedian and writer Paul Rust might be recognizable to most for his role in Inglorious Basterds, but the shining star in his ever-broadening career is definitely Netflix's sassy romantic comedy Love. Co-created by Rust, Leslie Afrin and Judd Apatow, Love feels like one of the latter's films, but not really like any of his former TV shows. With an excellent supporting cast including Claudia O'Doherty and Brett Gelman, it follows the dysfunctional path to a relationship taken by Rust's film tutor (and song improviser) Gus and Gillian Jacobs' substance-abusing and convention-eschewing satellite radio manager Mickey. The foundation for Love may be stereotypical, but everything built on top of it is awkwardly refreshing.
18. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
2016 kicked off with the revival series Fuller House and closed out with the return of Lorelei and Rory Gilmore, along with the rest of Stars Hollow, for Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. A quartet of 90-minute seasonal installments necessitated waterfalls of information and character transitions, and the show had to tackle the death of Richard (Ed Hermann) and the limited use of Sookie (Melissa McCarthy). The result was a nostalgic reunion with characters who, like most of us, had grown and changed with time, and if it wasn't the most ideal reconnection, it still preserved our love for everything Amy Sherman-Palladino created. Plus, there's the hunger for more, after those final four words.
17. W/ Bob and David
An apex of sketch comedy, HBO's Mr. Show with Bob & David turned Bob Odenkirk and David Cross into household names (along with Ronnie Dobbs and Senator Howell Tankerbell). Though the comedy geniuses occasionally worked together since the show ended in 1998, it wasn't until Netflix stepped in that fans finally got to see Bob and David, along with their superb cadre of actors and writers, hit the small screen again for W/ Bob & David, where even the name is a joke at HBO's expense. With only four episodes, it isn't as groundbreaking as their earlier efforts, but it's still all pretty fucking amazing and hilarious. And that opening title sequence should win awards.
16. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
Arguably the least likely of any revival project in history, the cult 2001 comedy Wet Hot American Summer had its 1980s set camp saga brought back 15 years later for a Netflix series that doubled down on the actors-playing-younger conceit by setting the series on the first day of camp. If this isn't your comedy, it really isn't your comedy, but for everyone else, it's impossible to name all the things there are to love. The whole cast is back, from Paul Rudd to Amy Poehler, and the absurdly convoluted story consistently ties back to the film in hilariously weird ways. (The origin story of the talking can of vegetables, for example.)
One of the most infamous criminals on the planet in the past half-century is Columbian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, and his rise to prominence and subsequent fall make for one hell of an intense story. Luckily, that story can be seen in Netflix's crime drama Narcos, which stars the magnificent Wagner Moura as the vicious but also charming Escobar, who built an empire on cocaine. The series plays both sides of the law, with Boyd Holbrook and Pedro Pascal's DEA agents getting caught up in the quagmire of bringing Escobar to justice. One big issue is Season 1 blows through 15+ years of narrative, while Season 2 stretches out just over one, but it's still a hell of a ride.
Netflix's first real attempt at sci-fi was an expansive one, as the service teamed with the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski for the global ensemble thriller Sense8, which centers on a cast of widely varied characters (called sensates) who are all connected through a woman played by Daryl Hannah. You can find it all in this narrative-swapping series, from car chases to emotionally wrought arguments to well-choreographed fight scenes to a variety of parent-child relationships. A head-scratcher that takes a few episodes to fully invest audiences, Sense8 offers a story (or combination of stories) like no other, with a strong focus on the LGBTQ community, international customs, and Jean Claude Van Damme fandom.
13. Luke Cage
The third of Marvel's streaming series, Luke Cage continued breaking the TV mold in big ways, not the least of which was setting everything in Harlem. Mike Colter reprised and expanded his Jessica Jones appearance in huge ways, and while Luke Cage does suffer from story pacing issues, they're overcome by laudable elements such as effective social commentary, incredibly enjoyable music (both instrumental and live on stage), and the aces cast. The villains side is locked up by chilling work from Mahershala Ali, Theo Rossi and Alfre Woodard, while Cage is assisted by MCU vet Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple and Simone Missick's detective Misty Knight. This is comic book action you can't find anywhere else.
12. Stranger Things
Netflix's previous attempt at horror, the monster-mashing Hemlock Grove, didn't stoke optimism among genre fans, but that all changed with the release of the 1980s throwback Stranger Things. A long-gestating project created by Matt and Ross Duffer, Stranger Things is a darkly fun and thrilling romp that mashed together the hunt for a missing child, strange sci-fi experiments, small town police work, and the power of friendship. For those who aren't so into the thought of other-dimensional creatures, the draw here is in the cast, which includes Winona Ryder, David Harbour, and a slew of fabulous young and charismatic actors. The opening titles and synth soundtrack are worth the entry alone.
11. The Crown
Every few years, there's a big, glitzy film out that tackles the life and times of a major figure in British royalty, but this time around, it's Netflix's The Crown, an extremely expensive and extremely worth it look at the life of Queen Elizabeth II, with the currently out Season 1 covering 1947-1955. Created by Peter Morgan, responsible for writing The Queen and Frost/Nixon, The Crown is exactly the vast and all-encompassing approach to monarchy that one would hope for, offering up a brilliant ensemble, with Claire Foy exquisitely portraying her majesty, as well as remarkable and generally authentic writing. As well, direction/cinematography is such that wall art could be produced from almost any pause-friendly moment.
10. Black Mirror
Created by British TV mastermind Charlie Brooker, the disturbingly prescient and tech-savvy anthology series Black Mirror really found its audience on Netflix, which recognized that and ponied up the money for more episodes. The first six debuted in 2016 and were (mostly) every bit as great as the original imports, especially the romance-turned-sideways installment "San Junipero." Rarely can a piece of fiction turn satire into something as horrifying as the final five minutes of _ (just pick one). With great performances from actors like Jon Hamm, Bryce Dallas Howard, Toby Kebbel, Kelly MacDonald and more, Black Mirror is what The Twilight Zone would be like if Rod Serling were an android gone sinister.
9. House of Cards
The monolith that started it all, House of Cards is Netflix's scripted anchor, and stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are still perfect in their respective roles of Frank and Claire Underwood. The storytelling is often more soap opera than political exposé, but considering our newsfeeds these days are somewhat needlessly filled with real-life politics, it's nice to watch a Washington D.C. where the stakes are heightened only while the TV is on. With its large and stellar cast, combined with big twists spicing up Frank and Claire's sometimes straightforward path to success and failure, House of Cards is popcorn drama that you can't help but give your TV vote to.
All shows on TV should be jealous of the cast and writing that Bloodline boasts, since few series have the white-knuckle tension that this Netflix drama oozes at every step. Bloodline centers on the skeleton-hiding Rayburn family - made up of Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardellini, Ben Mendelsohn, Norbert Leo Butz, Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard - and the implosion that kicks off once Mendelsohn's black sheep brother Danny comes home and gets back into his old habits. Season 1 works almost like a deconstructed murder mystery, while Season 2 is an increasingly complex game of cat and mouse. At least its Florida Keys setting offers lovely sights to complement your nervous cringes.
7. Master of None
As Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation, Aziz Ansari played someone who thought he could do everything, and often fell short. With Master of None, Ansari plays actor Dev Shah and surpasses Tom by proving he can do everything, alongside co-creator Alan Yang. Like another entry on this list, Master of None brazenly walks down the rom-com path, with the pitch-perfect Noël Wells as Dev's significant other-lead Rachel, while offering plenty of diversions that buck the label's stereotypes. Highlights includes everything, but especially the skilled writing and the acclaimed supporting cast, including Lena Waithe, Eric Wareheim and Kelvin Yu as Dev's awesome friends and Ansari's real parents playing Dev's parents.
As the first modern Marvel TV series outside of broadcast networks, Daredevil was a revelation for anyone who thought comic books on the small screen could never live up to their cinematic cousins. Over the course of its first two seasons, Daredevil delivered not only a handful of the greatest fight scenes in television history, but also two of the most effective comic-to-live-action adaptations in Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk and Jon Bernthal's Frank Castle, who's getting his own spinoff. It was and is a magnificent way for Netflix to have kicked off its street-tough universe set to culminate in The Defenders miniseries, and Daredevil set a high bar for all comic-related TV to come after.
5. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
After two wide-eyed and innocent seasons of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, it should be made into law that TV should never go a whole calendar year without at least one show from Tina Fey airing. Ellie Kemper and Tituss Burgess make for an unpredictably perfect comedy duo bolstered by Carol Kane's eccentric madness and Jane Krakowski's...also eccentric madness, which is weighed down with financial privilege. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fills its screen time with hilarity as its titular ray of sunshine balances the ridiculous horrors of her life as a Mole Woman with the ridiculous horrors of modern day New York City. It would be worth watching for the multitude of cameos alone.
4. Jessica Jones
With Jessica Jones, Marvel showed just how much more nuanced its small screen universe is than its feature side, with Krysten Ritter shining as a hard-drinking and self-dismissive private detective (with insane strength) who finds herself once again the target of a devious mind-controlling bastard named Kilgrave, played with wicked glee by David Tennant. Through Kilgrave's unpredictable and seemingly all-powerful nature, as well as creator Melissa Rosenberg's approach to these comic characters' dark histories, Jessica Jones stands out as a one-of-a-kind drama whose female-heavy cast list is more than welcome. Plus, it served as a winning introduction for another entrant on this list, Mr. Luke Cage.
3. Orange is the New Black
It might, but shouldn't, surprise you to know that one of Netflix's most popular shows is the female-fronted Orange is the New Black, which boasts an ensemble cast overflowing with diversity. (And if you can't ever get Regina Spektor's theme song out of your head after watching, you're not alone.) Though things initially center on Piper, the story gloriously shifts around to give most recognizable characters intriguing backstories, complicated situations and logical motivations. This year's fourth season was particularly powerful, jumping headfirst into a plot that took on different sides of police brutality and how frustrating and heartbreaking such power struggles can be. We all need some Taystee and Black Cindy in our lives.
2. Making A Murderer
Netflix has amassed an excellent assortment of unscripted programming, especially those chef-based ones, but the crown glory of them all is the fascinating true crime docs-series Making a Murderer, which went from being a weekend binge-watch to a legitimate cause for legal action. The show takes on the case of Steven Avery, who spent 18 years behind bars on a wrongful conviction and had his life as a free man cut short when he was arrested and charged for murder. The murder case is anything but cut and dry, and show creators Laura Ricciardo and Moira Demos supply an overwhelming amount of footage and evidence to draw out viewers' own opinions. And you will have every single opinion imaginable.
1. BoJack Horseman
Not since South Park has a TV series been able to make adult cynicism as colorful and pointed as BoJack Horseman, the consistently surprising series in which Will Arnett voices the titular boozed-up horse still clinging to his glory days as a 1980s sitcom star. ("Now that's a horse of a different...cruller?") From its poignant looks at depression and addiction to its hyper-clever world of talking animals to its baffling list of guest voices, BoJack Horseman is a series that likely never would have lasted on linear television for its entire full first season. Which would have been a gull-damned tragedy, considering the show has only gotten smarter and more effective since, shining brightest with this year's stunning gem,"Fish Out of Water." It's the smartest and deepest series Netflix has going for it, and it definitely deserves top honors here.
Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.
Your Daily Blend of Entertainment News
Thank you for signing up to CinemaBlend. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.