Netflix does it again!
Since 2013, Netflix has churned out a whopping amount of original content. They deliver quality as well as quantity: in 2021 alone, Netflix's original programming won 44 Emmy Awards; more than any other production company. Netflix has had its fair share of duds, of course. (See Real Rob and Emily in Paris). But a handful of its shows, like Bojack Horseman and Black Mirror, have rightly earned their place in the pantheon of great TV.
Netflix's deep pockets mean they have been able to produce several large-scale shows starring big names that can more than compete with anything made by HBO or AMC. (The latest Stranger Things season, for instance, is more like a collection of feature films than a conventional series.) The company's most acclaimed shows span a range of genres, from sci-fi and comedy to historical drama and crime.
Dark is a German sci-fi series that follows several characters in a small town after a local child goes missing. It begins as a murder mystery, but the plot eventually evolves into a vast, interconnected time travel story that spans multiple generations.
On the surface it bears some similarities to Stranger Things, but it's ultimately grittier and more violent. A better comparison would be to David Lynch's Twin Peaks. Dark is an ambitious show that deserves kudos for its commitment to an outlandish premise. The story gets a little convoluted in Seasons 2 and 3, but the acting, score and cinematography are solid throughout.
This drama takes place in early 20th century Korea and follows the lives of several activists fighting for the country's independence. Lee Byung-hun stars as a young Korean man who becomes a US Marine Corps officer before returning to Korea. There, he falls in love with noblewoman Go Ae-shin (Kim Tae-ri) and uncovers a Japanese plot to colonize his homeland.
Mr. Sunshine is a great snapshot of a moment in history that many viewers might not be familiar with. The show was especially popular in South Korea, becoming one of the highest-rated TV shows in the country's history. Mr. Sunshine has been critically acclaimed, although some have criticized it for alleged historical inaccuracies.
Stranger Things centers on a group of kids in small town Indiana during the 1980s as they encounter a number of supernatural threats. It's the ultimate 80s nostalgia trip, from the outfits to the music to the slang (and don't get us started on the haircuts). The show also references the sci-fi that was popular at the time, including the work of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and Stephen King.
Without a doubt, Stranger Things is Netflix's flagship show. Viewers collectively spent a record-breaking 287 million hours watching the latest season during the first weekend it was out. So powerful is the gravitational pull of Stranger Things that it can even propel decades-old songs like Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill' to the top of the charts. (It appears to be having a similar effect on Metallica's 'Master of Puppets', which was used in the Season 4 finale). Stranger Things's fifth and final season airs next year. With a feature-length finale, it looks set to be the biggest season yet.
House of Cards was the first show Netflix produced. It stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Frank and Claire Underwood, two amoral politicians seeking ultimate power in Washington, D.C. It's based on a British TV series from the 1990s, but the Netflix version doubles down on the Machiavellianism. House of Cards has been acclaimed for its gritty take on politics and for its well-drawn characters.
Following allegations of sexual misconduct against Spacey in 2017, Netflix cut ties with the actor. As a result, the final season was made without him, but Wright more than carries the show on her own. Season 6 follows Claire as she assumes the presidency and sets out to destroy her enemies once and for all.
The Crown is a historical series about the life of Queen Elizabeth II. The show follows the monarch from her early years on the throne in the 1950s up to the 21st century. Over its four seasons, three actresses have played Queen Elizabeth at different points in her life: Claire Foy, Olivia Colman and Imelda Staunton. All of them put in excellent performances, each offering a unique interpretation of the Queen.
While it has sometimes been criticized for inaccuracies and for straying into hagiography, The Crown remains a well-crafted drama. The plot becomes surprisingly gripping at times, as the show covers political scandals, attempted coups and terror plots. The cinematography is gorgeous too, and the set designers lovingly create the period settings, especially the manors and palaces. It is an engrossing peak into a remarkable life, and also succeeds as a dramatization of recent UK history.
This epic crime saga portrays the life of drug lord Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) and the DEA agents who sought to bring him down. It's also a harrowing look at the carnage wrought by the illicit cocaine trade. The show weaves in archival footage and interviews, lending it a realism that a lot of crime dramas lack.
Narcos received positive reviews, with critics praising the authenticity of its characters and its complex storylines that go beyond generic cop stories. The show even received a shout-out from rapper Pusha T.
This period crime drama follows gangsters in Birmingham, England after World War I as they try to evade law enforcement. Cillian Murphy leads a cast that includes Tom Hardy, Adrien Brody, and Anya Taylor-Joy. Most of the characters are inspired by real criminals that operated in the area. It's worth it just for the cast's colorful accents.
Murphy puts in the best performance of his career as mob boss Tommy Shelby. He's charismatic and charming, but also unstable, angry and capable of savage violence. The final season aired this year, so it's a good time to dive in. A spinoff movie is currently in development.
This dark anthology series explores the pitfalls of the digital age. Most of the episodes are set in dystopian near-futures where technology causes problems for humanity. The Twilight Zone was rebooted in 2019, but Black Mirror remains the true heir to that classic show.
In addition to its high-concept premises, Black Mirror also has impressive range. A few of the best episodes are bleak and violent, while others are comedies, satires or even love stories. Some highlights include 'Nosedive', a parable about the dangers of seeking approval on social media starring Bryce Dallas Howard; and 'San Junipero', a romance about two people who meet in a virtual reality for the elderly.
This animated comedy-drama follows Hollywood actor Bojack (Will Arnett), the washed-up former star of a '90s sitcom who attempts a career comeback. Alison Brie co-stars as Bojack's ghostwriter Diane, while Aaron Paul voices his friend and roommate Todd, and Amy Sedaris plays his cat agent Princess Carolyn.
The show overflows with witty dialogue and endless animal puns, not to mention lots of visual gags. The colorful animation is a great foil to the subject; the series explores depression, addiction, and trauma. Bojack is one of TV's all-time great self-destructive anti-heroes, up there with Don Draper and Tony Soprano.
This crime drama is based on the 1989 Central Park jogger case, where five Black and Latino men were falsely accused and prosecuted for assaulting a woman in the park. In particular, the show looks at how the accusations affected the men and their families. Award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay co-writes and directs the series. When They See Us explores similar themes as DuVernay's feature film Selma and her documentary 13th.
When They See Us is by turns a thriller and a courtroom drama, a character study and a social critique. It succeeds in presenting a harsh portrait of prison life and the American justice system. The moving performances by the ensemble cast are sure to linger with the viewer long after the credits have rolled.
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Luc Haasbroek is a writer and videographer from Durban, South Africa. A lifelong movie nerd, he’s written for sites like Paste and Briefly. Luc has also worked behind the camera on short films and other projects. When not writing or watching LOTR marathons, Luc hangs out with his cats and generally forgets where he’s left his keys.
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10 Best Netflix Original Series, According to IMDb – Collider
Netflix does it again!