Your guide to a better future
This weekend, settle in with Midnight Mass creator Mike Flanagan’s new series The Midnight Club.
Entertainment Editor, Australia
Jennifer Bisset writes about film and TV for CNET
has a bulging library of TV shows. Because each week brings new series to watch, it can be tough to find the best of the bunch. No need to worry. We’ve done the hard work for you.
You’ll find highlights of new content below, as well as CNET’s full list of best TV originals on Netflix.
Note: The movie descriptions below are from Netflix press releases and occasionally IMDb.
At the time of writing, these TV shows all scored at least 70 on Metacritic.
Extraordinary Attorney Woo hasn’t even finished airing its first season on Netflix, and it’s already a runaway winner. Its unique concept: A woman who has autism becomes a lawyer in South Korea, elevated by her brilliant and unexpected ways of approaching cases. An inspiring heroine, Woo Young-woo (Park Eun-bin) brings extraordinary representation to the screen. Charming, heartwarming, as radiant as the sun — you could watch this show for days.
Denmark’s bleaker answer to the West Wing. Borgen is the epitome of sophisticated political dramas, chronicling the inspiring fictional underdog story of how, against all odds, Birgitte Nyborg Christensen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) becomes the first female prime minister of Denmark. Produced by the same company behind The Killing, Borgen is four influential seasons of one woman’s complicated, intricate rise to power.
Margaret Qualley is the heart of this miniseries based on a memoir. Maid follows Alex, a young mother trying to support her daughter by working as a housecleaner. Alex’s task is made slightly more difficult thanks to an abusive relationship, poverty, homelessness and more. But it’s not all heavy subject matter, with light and charming moments that give Maid an extra sheen. Not only a moving story expertly crafted, Maid cements Qualley as a major star.
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.
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.
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.
One of the best TV shows of 2021 was an animated series. That’s right — if you’re animation-unfriendly, Arcane is the show to change your mind. The action-adventure introduces us to the steampunk world of Piltover and Zaun, two cities grinding on opposing values and fortunes. Then there’s Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) and Jinx (Ella Purnell), two sisters torn apart by tragedy and fighting to survive. Arcane is the kind of moving portrait that gets under your skin on a par with Pixar. The characters will draw you to tears. A must-watch.
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.
We weren’t ready for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Canceled after one season, the critically acclaimed fantasy series is, well, a gem. A prequel to the 1982 Jim Henson film, the series returns to the planet Thra, where three Gelflings inspire a rebellion against the absolutely diabolic Skeksis. The puppet design and performances — from a stunning cast including Taron Edgerton, Anya Taylor-Joy and Nathalie Emmanuel — sneak up on you. You’ll find yourself deeply invested in the poor, oppressed Gelflings’ lives, hurt just as much as the puppets whenever one of their own is harmed. A full-on fantasy epic, built with love, care and staggering detail.
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.
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.
Four 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.
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.
The first two seasons of this mockumentary series burst onto Netflix with a potent combination of potty humor and social commentary. A parody of true crime documentaries such as Netflix’s own Making a Murderer, American Vandal follows the aftermath of a high school prank gone wrong. After 27 faculty cars are left fatally vandalized with grievous phallic images, it’s up to a couple of sophomores to crack the crime, before the wrong person is expelled for good. Yep, this is a satire. But it weaves a surprisingly engrossing mystery that creates an accurate bigger picture of contemporary high school life. A hefty achievement.
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.
Netflix wisely snapped up the rights to Peaky Blinders and there are six seasons (and eventually a spinoff film) 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.
If you’re in the market for an impeccable new happy place to move into, look no further. Heartstopper is a bright spark of a coming-of-age series, telling an LGBTQ+ love story with compassion and grace (and no one dies). Charlie falls in love with Nick, but Nick is still figuring out his sexuality. With real teenagers playing teenagers, fleshed out characters and little animations that evoke Alice Oseman’s graphic novel of the same name, Heartstopper is a safe, joyous, life-affirming queer romance. Essential viewing.
Known as Jane Austen but with sex, this period piece offers a different take on the early 19th century dating scene. With lavish production designs and colorful costumes, this is Regency London like you’ve rarely seen it. 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.
This Judd Apatow creation 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.
Easy, enjoyable viewing with a premise ripe for embarrassment humor. Helpless-in-love Dylan discovers he has chlamydia and must track down past flings and inform them they might have it too. A flashback narrative keeps us on our toes, 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.
A comedy-drama starring Sandra Oh? The Chair is elevated by Oh’s impeccable charm. Set at the fictional Pembroke University, The Chair follows Oh’s Professor Ji-Yoon Kim, the newly appointed chair of the English department. She’s the first woman chosen for the position and faces an uphill battle to move the stale department along with the changing times. With astute observations about academia, scene-stealing appearances by Holland Taylor as a senior faculty member, and ambitious social commentary, The Chair reaches worthy heights.
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.
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.
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.
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, the show gets even bigger in season 3.
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.
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 four seasons of self-aware, light-hearted and full-of-heart fun.
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.
This dark comedy miniseries stars Emma Stone and Jonah Hill as two strangers, Annie and Owen, who sign up for a mysterious pharmaceutical trial (because that’s a good idea) that induces wild, often distressing dreams. Entrenched in dazzlingly crafted visuals, Maniac is a multilayered dive into the subconscious. Which means it’s dark and unpredictable, with a surprising touch of the warm sentimental stuff.
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 canceled the show.
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. With its fourth and final season now in the books, this remains a powerful eye-opener.
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).
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.
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 (a fifth season and a TV film are on their way).
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.
If you enjoyed Money Heist, then meet Lupin, another non-English language show with an 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.
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.
From the auteur who brought us The Haunting of Hill House and Bly Manor, comes another slow-burning horror series that’ll haunt you for days. Midnight Mass is Mike Flanagan’s latest creation, a meticulously crafted mystery spanning seven hourlong episodes. Riley Flynn, still paying the price for a drunk driving accident four years ago, returns home to Crockett Island, where the arrival of a charismatic new priest coincides with astonishing miracles around the town. Pregnant with a sense of foreboding and dread, Midnight Mass is an eloquent interrogation of faith, with horrifying supernatural monsters along for the ride.
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 a similarly affecting Gothic romance.
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.
Enjoy sci-fi series that play with two timelines? Have a special spot for cults and mysteries? Meet Archive 81. The multiple genre-straddling show stars Mamoudou Athie as Dan Turner, an archivist who takes a gig restoring a collection of damaged videotapes from the ’90s. He gets far more than he bargained for, drawn into an investigation of a mysterious cult and a young woman who may or may not be dead. A supernatural thriller with horror, mystery, noir and sci-fi seeped into its creepy atmosphere, Archive 81 has it all.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Netflix: The 50 Absolute Best TV Shows to Watch – CNET
Your guide to a better future