arrive on this week. First up is The Defeated, aka Shadowplay, a 2020 thriller series starring Taylor Kitsch. He plays an American cop who arrives in Berlin in the summer of 1946 to help create a police force in the chaotic aftermath of the war. Catch The Defeated on Wednesday.
On Friday came the much-anticipated The Chair. The comedy-drama stars the brilliant Sandra Oh as Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim. She becomes the new Chair of the English department at the prestigious Pembroke University, but must tackle unique challenges that come with being the first woman in the role.
Those are your best picks for this week. Last week’s notable arrivals include anime Shaman King, Phil Wang’s stand up show Phil Wang: Philly Philly Wang Wang, miniseries AlRawabi School for Girls, revenge horror Brand New Cherry Flavor and mystery Gone for Good. For more, scroll down through Netflix’s best original shows for anything you might have missed.
Best Netflix Original TV series
Criminal gives you four series of Line of Duty-channeling police procedural, with each episode centered on a suspect picked apart in an interrogation room. The twist: Each series takes place in a different country and language — Spanish, French, German and English — but they use the exact same concept and set. As well as the tightly-scripted, cat-and-mouse interrogations, featuring masterclass performances from the likes of David Tennant, Hayley Atwell — and in season 2, Kit Harington — it’s fascinating to see how the limited sets are used differently by different police teams.
This miniseries, based on a true story of rape, deftly navigates its disturbing and tricky subject matter with the help of a remarkable performance from Kaitlyn Dever. She plays Marie, a teenager who’s charged with lying about being raped, but of course it’s more complicated than that. Toni Collette and Merritt Wever team up as whip-smart detectives who see what others fail to, adding another layer to Unbelievable’s delicate, powerfully moving triumph.
When They See Us (2019)
Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us comes under the tough but essential viewing banner. It depicts the real-life events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case, involving five male suspects of color who were falsely accused of rape and assault. Not only sensitively drawing the humanity of the boys into focus, When They See Us demands outrage at the injustice of systemic racism.
Carey Mulligan playing a detective inspector is a stroke of genius, leading an investigation into the murder of a pizza delivery guy shot in a London suburb. Mulligan’s astute and, er, ex-Olympic pole vaulter Kip Gillespie delves deeper into the mystery that of course isn’t what it seems. Collateral pushes against its police procedural boundaries into murky moral territory, wrapped up in a hot blanket of politics and social commentary.
The Sinner (2017—)
Three fascinating seasons of The Sinner await to be cracked open, each one focused on a murder committed by an unlikely offender in even stranger circumstances. Season 1 follows Jessica Biel’s Cora, who stabs a man to death on a beach in a sudden frenzy, but has no idea why. It’s up to Bill Pullman’s Detective Ambrose to unravel the shockingly disturbing events embedded in her psyche that lead to her being triggered.
Money Heist (2017—)
This series is loved by many (and Netflix loves you for it), but in case you haven’t heard what all the fuss is about, Money Heist is, yep, about a heist. The mastermind doing Ocean’s Eleven-level prep work with equally satisfying reveals is The Professor. He’s got banks in his sights and we see how his intricate plans come together with slick flashbacks, time-jumps and even an unreliable narrator. This is captivating TV with a distinct Spanish identity — don’t let the subtitles put you off.
Touted as the next Breaking Bad, Ozark only gets better and better as you watch the Byrde family’s life spiral out of control. Beginning with a bang, Ozark sees financial advisor Marty’s (Jason Bateman) money laundering scheme for a Mexican drug cartel go wrong. His solution? Move his family to the Lake of the Ozarks, where he’ll set up a bigger laundering operation. Building on all that potential, Ozark crafts a smart, but most importantly, entertaining story, with a superb stand-out turn from Laura Linney as Wendy Byrde. Great news: Ozark was just renewed for a fourth and final season.
Alias Grace (2017)
This miniseries is from a couple of years ago, but in case you missed it, it’s definitely worth checking out. In the vein of The Sinner, Alias Grace steps back into its young female protagonist’s past to figure out why she commits murder, of which she has no memory. An adaptation of a Margaret Atwood novel, the show stars a hypnotic Sarah Gadon as Irish immigrant Grace, navigating a turbulent life as a servant for a family in colonial Toronto. Partly based on a true story, this isn’t a straightforward mystery with straightforward answers and that’s what makes it all the more captivating.
David Fincher directs a stash of episodes in this psychological crime thriller’s two-season run (the third is on indefinite hold), so meticulous visuals and captivating storylines are a given. Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) is a special agent in the FBI, sent to interview serial killers in prison to build a profile of what makes them tick. Cameron Britton as real-life serial killer Ed Kemper is absolutely chilling. Mindhunter is smarter and richer than your average crime show, somehow growing with its complex characters. It would be a shame if the third season didn’t happen (although that seems to be the case).
Drug kingpin Pablo Escobar is the subject of this, yes, addictive series that races through his rise to becoming the infamous cocaine distributor and billionaire. A true-to-life account that blends in archival footage, Narcos manages to present a sympathetic side to Escobar without undermining the gravity of its material. Plus, the DEA’s hunt to bring Escobar down ratchets up the suspense. After you finish the three series, head to Narcos: Mexico, a companion series that focuses on the illegal drug trade in Mexico.
Peaky Blinders (2013—)
Netflix wisely snapped up the rights to Peaky Blinders and there are five seasons, with two more coming, to traverse the stunning rise of 1900s Birmingham gang leader Thomas Shelby. Prepare yourself for a mesmerizing performance from Cillian Murphy in this family saga that has a fantastic amount of fun and flair showing Shelby’s dealings with other gangs, the police and the occasional lover.
Sweet Tooth (2021—)
This fantasy based on Jeff Lemire’s comic book is the definition of weird and wonderful. Sweet Tooth follows Gus (a stellar Christian Convery), a half-deer half-human child, who lives a sheltered life in the forest with his dad Pubba (Will Forte). Events relating to The Great Crumble, a viral pandemic, sweep Gus into an adventure branching down mysterious, action-filled and highly entertaining paths. Echoes with real-world struggles can be heard in the treetops of this immersive, riveting fantasy world. Genre fans settle in for this fantastic ride.
Shadow and Bone (2021—)
Netflix’s vault of young adult fantasies is bulging at this point, but Shadow and Bone makes this list as the cream of the crop. While our hero Alina Starkov hits the conventional Chosen One story beats, rising up the ranks of the magical Grisha army as she discovers her powers, you’ll find a ton of world-building and rich supporting characters. Ben Barnes’ General Kirigan is a standout as the morally questionable and powerful Darkling. At the center of the piece is the Shadow Fold, a stretch of dangerous landing splitting the kingdom of Ravka down the middle. It’s up to Alina and General Kirigan to bring it down once and for all. Eight hours of peak young adult fantasy await you.
Bridgerton is practically a show designed to be addictive. Known as Jane Austen but with sex, the period piece has a tad more going for it: With lavish production design and colorful costumes, this is Regency London like you’ve rarely seen it. In the early 19th century dating scene, the Bridgerton siblings’ adventures in love are captured by a scandalous newsletter, written by Regency London’s version of Gossip Girl, voiced by none other than Julie Andrews. Settle in for this gorge-worthy viewing.
Love is a Judd Apatow creation that draws the best out of the talented Gillian Jacobs (Britta in Community) and Paul Rust. They play Mickey and Gus respectively, an opposites-attract couple, who go to messy, frustrating and endearingly down-to-earth places that make this an honest look at a relationship being built over time. Iris Apatow is a standout as the unhappy child actress Gus tutors who gets away with just about anything.
Lovesick is easy, enjoyable viewing with a premise ripe for embarrassment humor we can all relate to. Helpless-in-love Dylan discovers he has chlamydia and must track down past flings and inform them that they might have it too. A flashback narrative keeps things interesting, especially when the focus turns to Dylan and best friend Evie’s feelings for each other. It never goes into soapy territory, with an eccentric but loveable supporting cast playing English flatmates in a Glasgow setting.
If you enjoyed Money Heist, then meet Lupin, another non-English language show with a propulsive action-packed story. This time we’re in France, where professional thief Assane Diop enacts his revenge mission on the man responsible for his father’s death. Inspired by a book about gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, Assane uses disguises, thieving know-how and a good dose of charisma to expose the wealthy and powerful Hubert Pellegrini’s crimes.
Bodyguard broke records when it first aired in Britain, climbing from cliffhanger to cliffhanger at a relentless pace. This might be the definition of the unstoppable binge, not surprising given it comes from the mind of Line of Duty’s Jed Mercurio. Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden plays the titular bodyguard, who suffers from PTSD after serving in the Afghanistan war. On top of that, he’s assigned to protect the Home Secretary (Keeley Hawes), whose politics he despises. Taking provocative turns, and crafting one of the best-ever 20-minute opening scenes, Bodyguard is an expert tension-building balancing act.
Germany’s answer to Stranger Things deliberately takes its time before stepping into completely compelling and original places. A sci-fi noir, Dark folds time travel, conspiracies and estranged families into a generation-spanning story kicked off by a child’s disappearance. If those kinds of meticulously-crafted layers are what you’re after in your storytelling, settle in. All three seasons of Dark’s meditative look at time travel and its effect on human nature are waiting to hit you at full force.
House of Cards (2013-2018)
While Kevin Spacey’s sexual harassment allegations ended up marring this slick, fourth-wall breaking slice of politics’ dark side, it’s still worth watching if you dig power games and the occasional backstabbing. Initially following Spacey’s Frank Underwood, House of Cards’ sixth and final season pivots to follow his wife Claire (Robin Wright) as she takes on more and more power in the Oval Office.
Never Have I Ever (2020—)
Devi is your average high schooler who wants nothing more than to be cool and get a boyfriend. But it’s hard to stay chipper after your dad dies. Mindy Kaling’s coming-of-age story covers familiar territory and yet it stands out from the pack in multiple ways. Get this: Its narrator is John McEnroe. The sporting connection is just one layer of this surprising, charm-your-socks-off show, depicting an Indian family living in California. You’ve seen these stories before, but not with these unique characters.
Julie and the Phantoms (2020—)
Stick with Julie and the Phantoms’ silly premise before making any judgements. Julie is a teenager who accidentally summons a boy band from the ’90s — The Phantoms. While Julie helps the band achieve their potential, they help her enjoy music and life again after the death of her mother. As music tends to do, the catchy tunes will send you soaring through the joyous, ridiculously entertaining and, of course, romance-filled first season. Ghost jokes are included.
Feel Good (2020-2021)
Comedian Mae Martin’s Feel Good really does try to do what it says on the tin. It follows the repressed George (Charlotte Ritchie) as she falls for Martin’s Mae after seeing her stand-up show. Their London-based romance sees George grappling with coming out to her middle-class friends and family, while Canadian Mae has a drug problem that makes their love even more difficult. A confidently told story with its sense of humor nailed on from the start, Feel Good exudes sweetness and grace.
Sex Education (2019—)
Binging Sex Education is a no-brainer: The self-aware, John Hughes-possessed mishmash of American and British high school culture is a joyful breeze to watch. We follow Otis (Asa Butterfield), the son of a sex therapist (Gillian Anderson), as he embarks on his sexual awakening. The explicit sex talk and scenes are addressed in refreshingly healthy and honest ways. Built around a diverse cast with pure charisma, Netflix understandably commissioned a third season.
Russian Doll (2019—)
Russian Doll takes its Groundhog Day premise and wrenches it apart in the most unpredictable ways. Natasha Lyonne is the crackling spark at the center of its time-looping mystery, playing Nadia, a game developer who repeatedly dies on the night of her 36th birthday party. The Amy Poehler co-created show uses time travel to explore self-reflection on a whole new level, making this a definite one-sitting appointment.
Dead To Me (2019—)
If you’re looking for a female-led show with a dark sense of humor and a mystery, Dead To Me delivers all that in spades. This underrated series is all about the friendship between Linda Cardellini’s Judy and Christina Applegate’s Jen, total opposites who bond over wine, family and murder. The twists and reveals keep momentum going, while you enjoy spending time with these flawed but brilliant women.
After Life (2019—)
After Life might not be a classic like Ricky Gervais’ The Office and Extras, but it’s a show you’ll want to settle in with. Set in the fictional sleepy town of Tambury, it follows newspaper journalist Tony, played by show creator Gervais in impressively dramatic territory. Tony’s grieving after the love of his life’s death from cancer. While the show’s steeped in melancholy, there are magic moments when Tony unleashes priceless brutal takedowns of the eccentric and annoying (to him) townsfolk. But you always know he’s on track to come to terms with his grief and form lovely relationships with the people around him.
Cobra Kai (2018—)
Initially Cobra Kai, a series based on the Karate Kid films, might sound like a cynical money-making spinoff of the martial arts franchise. But it’s become one of Netflix’s most popular shows, thanks to well-written characters and a good measure of nostalgia. The series follows Johnny Lawrence, 34 years after he was jump-kicked in the face by Daniel LaRusso. Taking this subversive viewpoint, Cobra Kai is three seasons of self-aware, light-hearted and full of heart fun.
Derry Girls (2018—)
Another unmissable show, Derry Girls follows the mishaps of Erin and her friends in 1990s Derry, Ireland. Their teenage woes are paired with antics from their equally hilarious parents, set on a backdrop of the Northern Ireland conflict. While you can make comparisons with The Inbetweeners, Derry Girls draws from its own well of sweet charm and the historical context paves ground for surprisingly dark humor.
On My Block (2018—)
As teen comedy-dramas go, On My Block treads the pavement at the head of the pack. The series is set in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood called Freeridge, where a diverse group of friends start to feel the seams of their friendship tugged apart as they head to high school. This meticulously-crafted window into young lives glows with charm, giving us a grounded, realistic view of underrepresented communities. Prepare to become invested in your next binge.
The Kominsky Method (2018-2021)
A comedy starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin? Yep, it’s as good as it sounds. Douglas plays Sandy Kominsky, an ex-actor in Hollywood who’s now an acting coach, going through all that comes with growing older. Arkin plays his pal and agent Norman Newlander. The two leads, along with side characters played by the likes of Emily Osment, are what elevate this show into poignant, warm-your-heart territory.
A show inspired by the true story of the first pro female wrestling syndicate in the ’80s? Starring Alison Brie? Produced by Jenji Kohan? Dreams do come true. GLOW’s purely fun comedy, packed with eccentric female characters, teams campiness with underdog triumph and soars. Season 3 progresses deeper into the lives of its diverse ensemble, shifting the series to Las Vegas. A fourth and final season was in the works, but sadly production fell victim to the pandemic and Netflix cancelled the show.
Dear White People (2017-2021)
This provocatively titled show delivers a timely look at modern race relations through the eyes of a different character each episode. Following several black students at Winchester, an Ivy League institution, Dear White People manages to blend its social commentary with a sharp sense of humor. The fourth and final season is set to arrive this year, capping off this powerful eye-opener.
The End of The F***ing World (2017-2019)
If you like your dark British humor, look no further than The End of The F***ing World. Psychopath James (Alex Lawther) comes up with a plan to kill Alyssa (Jessica Barden) while on the run from their lousy parents. But as they soar across the open road and commit a couple of violent crimes, their callous hearts soften and they develop feelings for one another. Surprising, fast-paced and surreal, both seasons of this deadpan teenager of a show, with its headphones pumping the best sad ’50s, ’60s and ’70s doo-wop, will blow you away.
Before she electrified everyone with the word-for-word perfect Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote a six-part comedy that showcased the early stages of her astonishing talent. Crashing follows six twenty-somethings living in a disused hospital, casually observing the strict rules in exchange for cheap rent. The oddball characters subvert expectations wherever hilariously possible, with Waller-Bridge dropping in as the ukulele-playing Lulu. Not only disrupting the Friends setup, she gets herself into occasionally jaw-droppingly dark situations (see the all-too-touchy Aunt Gladys).
Master of None (2015—)
On the surface a comedy about a 30-year-old New Yorker who loves his pasta, Master of None casually throws in nuanced and moving episodes about immigrant families and their second-generation children. Then it drops an entire episode about Tinder. Dev’s relatable experiences bubble with creator and star Aziz Ansari’s wit and charm and, personal controversy aside, the romantic and cultural themes he explores are remarkably mature. Season 3 takes things down a different road again, starring Lena Waithe and Naomi Ackie. Ansari features in an episode, letting us know where Dev’s at in his love life.
Call My Agent! (2015-2020)
Thinking about dipping your toe into more of Netflix’s international content? French comedy Call My Agent! hosts an ever-growing list of famous actors playing themselves, from French stars to Americans like Sigourney Weaver (!) in the latter seasons. But we look at the world of showbiz from the perspective of the long-suffering agents, including Camille Cottin’s scene stealing powerhouse agent Andréa Martel, who rebuffs male colleagues with lines like: “When I moved on from guys to girls, it was like graduating from the sandpit to the football pitch.” A brilliant series with four seasons poking fun at the entertainment industry.
BoJack Horseman (2014-2020)
When it comes to cartoons that lower your guard before gut-punching you with reflections on mental health, BoJack Horseman takes the cake. Set in an LA filled with anthropomorphic animals, it follows a washed-up ex-sitcom star who tries to climb back to his former celebrity by releasing an autobiography. While at first it might take you some time to digest this unconventional cocktail, BoJack Horseman soon astounds you with its truths about struggling with depression and addiction on the path to getting your life back on track.
Stranger Things (2016—)
It wouldn’t be a best list without Stranger Things. If somehow you’ve missed the Duffer Brothers’ ode to ’80s horror and Steven Spielberg, things are about to get tubular. We follow El, a near-mute girl who was the subject of scientific experiments. She develops telekinetic powers, which she uses to fend off monsters who invade from a frightening alternative dimension. The world of Indiana, Hawkins, is lovingly detailed for anyone in need of an ’80s nostalgia hit and the misfit characters, played by a stellar young cast, are part of everything that makes this show a tour de force.
The OA (2016-2019)
From the minds of Britt Marling and Zal Batmanglij, The OA has it all: mystery, sci-fi, the supernatural and even a dash of fantasy for good measure. We follow Prairie, a young woman who reappears after being missing for seven years. She used to be blind, but not anymore! Now she calls herself the OA and she sweeps a host of Midwestern locals of all ages and backgrounds into her dimension-hopping mission to save lives. Sadly, Netflix cancelled The OA after season 2, but this big, inventive and human sci-fi is still well worth taking a look at.
Full disclosure: Netflix sadly canceled Travelers after its third season, but this tightly-plotted sci-fi out of Canada does manage to end with an ambitious bang. We start with Marcy, a disabled woman who’s beaten up after helping a friend escape thugs. She dies — then comes back to life. This strong character-driven sci-fi reveals its secrets in clever ways, following operatives from the future tasked with preventing the collapse of society, but also navigating the tricky territory of living a double life.
Black Mirror (2011—)
While Charlie Brooker’s bleak tech anthology series can be hit and miss, at its best, Black Mirror packs its mini-movies with an exploration of futuristic technological ideas through painfully human stories. One of those is San Junipero, following two women in the ’80s (cue banging soundtrack) as they fall for each other in ways they couldn’t do in their “real” lives outside the beach city. The tech aspect is revealed with genius timing and, in general, the show explores the consequences of our plugged-in lives in disturbing and occasionally uplifting ways.
The Queen’s Gambit (2020)
How do you make chess the thrilling centerpiece of a coming-of-age tale? You shake it into a cocktail of stylish visuals, a rocking ’60s soundtrack and the magnetic Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon, one of the youngest (and few female) chess players in the world. The fictional story in The Queen’s Gambit, named after a chess opening, follows her rise from an orphanage to toppling the best players in the world — as long as her drug addiction and bags of wine bottles don’t get in the way.
This miniseries is based on a memoir and told primarily in Yiddish with painstaking detail. Almost a thriller, Unorthodox follows 19-year-old Esty Shapiro, who escapes her arranged marriage in an ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn. She ends up in Berlin, exploring a new life outside the strict beliefs she grew up in, but her community doesn’t let go that easily. Featuring a stunning performance from Shira Haas, Unorthodox lets you take a step into a relentlessly compelling world.
13 Reasons Why (2017-2020)
The first season of this YA show stuck most closely to its source material, a novel by Jay Asher that revolves around a teenage girl’s suicide. Hannah Baker leaves behind a box of cassettes, which her thoughtful friend Clay Jensen listens to to find out why she chose to take her life. This is deep stuff, dealt with in confronting ways (at one time deemed too confronting), but the social issues like suicide, sexual assault and mental health are handled maturely. A high school drama through fragile, lost young adults draws you in and doesn’t let go.
This miniseries carves itself firmly into the Western genre, with a female-led cast boasting Merritt Weaver and Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery. With its 1880s New Mexico vistas swirling around it, Godless draws up the violence in a tale that sees an outlaw on the run from his boss seek refuge with an outcast widower. Oh, Jeff Daniels is in this too, if the show wasn’t enticing enough.
The Crown (2016—)
Sumptuous is one word to describe the production values of The Crown’s drama about the British monarchy. Following Queen Elizabeth II’s life, starting in her 20s with a powerhouse performance from Claire Foy, The Crown captures the grand workings of historical events from deep within Buckingham Palace. Figures like Winston Churchill, Princess Margaret, Margaret Thatcher and more are treated with the highest cinematic sophistication. A fifth and sixth season are on their way to round out your knowledge of the Queen’s reign into the early 21st century.
Netflix’s first original Korean series doesn’t pull any punches. A zombie horror with a Joseon period political backdrop to sprawl over, Kingdom is for those partial to a blood-pumping genre-meld with a gory imagination. Season 1 sees Crown Prince Lee Chang wrapped up in a political conspiracy, when he’s not investigating a mysterious plague. He’s swept up in a life or death thriller, with a dash of royal dynasty at stake.
The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House, loosely based on Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name, weaves its horror into a deeply affecting story about a broken family. Fractured after growing up in a haunted house, the Crains can’t ignore their past and must do what you never want to do: Go back down those dark corridors. The impressive set-pieces will please horror fans, but it’s the sad story of the Crains that will, yes, haunt you for days. Good news: The second chapter of the anthology, The Haunting of Bly Manor, is out for Halloween.
If you were a fan of Howard Overman’s insanely entertaining Misfits, Crazyhead might be where you want to head next. Overman’s follow-up show, which first aired in the UK in 2016, is a comedy-horror starring Cara Theobold (the voice of Tracer in Overwatch) and Susan Wokoma as unlikely friends who bond over being able to see demons gallivanting about in normal society. Their brilliant double-act is at the heart of this disturbingly entertaining series, featuring exorcisms, accidental roommate killings and demon fathers. Yeah, you need to watch this for yourself.
Movies coming in 2021 from Netflix, Marvel, HBO and more
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