TV  |  Lists

The 50 Best TV Shows on Netflix Instant

April 23, 2013  |  1:34pm

It’s been two and a half years since we published our 30 favorite TV shows available on Netflix Instant, and the streaming service has vastly changed and expanded its lineup of TV shows since then. In fact, along with Hulu and Amazon Prime, the availability of full seasons of shows has changed the way we view TV more than anything since the advent of the DVR (straight through from beginning to end).

We expanded the list to 50 since a lot of what you’ll see here depends on taste. Whether you like drama, sci-fi, sitcoms, animated series or sketch comedy, there’s some great TV to be found on Netflix Instant. We help you navigate the best of them below.

For a look at other Netflix Instant Offerings, check out our guides below:
The 100 Best Movies on Netflix Instant
The 20 Best Comedy Movies on Netflix Instant
The 25 Best Action Movies on Netflix Instant
The 20 Best Sci-Fi & Fantasy Movies of Netflix Instant
The 22 Best Horror Movies on Netflix Instant
The 18 Best Kids’ Movies on Netflix Instant
20 Great Documentaries To Watch on Netflix Instant

50. The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret
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Creator: David Cross
Stars: David Cross, Sharon Horgan, Will Arnett, Blake Harrison
Original Network: IFC
From the unique premise to the comedy itself, there are plenty of reasons to admire The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, the IFC sitcom co-created and co-written by David Cross, who also stars as its titular character. Margaret is a go-nowhere dolt working in the U.S. who is inexplicably promoted to run a London sales team promoting an energy drink called Thunder Muscle. Through a series of—you guessed it—increasingly poor decisions, that the viewer only learns about over time as they occur, he slowly gets into deeper and deeper trouble, while the worst decision seems to have been made by whoever promoted him to London in the first place. Rather than rely on straight-up punchlines, the show manages to maintain a level-headed humor throughout, ably going off the rails at one moment, only to bring it back to a quintessentially British cringe the next.—Austin L. Ray

49. How I Met Your Mother
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Creators: Craig Thomas, Carter Bays
Stars: Josh Radnor, Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan, Cobie Smulders, Neil Patrick Harris
Original Network: CBS
Very few shows are able to teeter on the tightrope of daytime soap opera and a laugh-out-loud sitcom without going overboard. For over half a decade HIMYM has spun a hilarious tale of how Ted met his children’s mother without growing stale. Sure, fans were starting to grow weary, but since the dramatic and uplifting turn in Marshall and Lily’s life and the return of the Ted-Robin-Barney love triangle, the show is back in top form and geting more like Friends than ever. We’re closing in on a lot of mysteries, but so much more has developed to keep us intrigued. —Adam Vitcavage

48. Black Adder
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Creators: Richard Curtis, Rowan Atkinson
Stars: Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry
Original Network: BBC1
Leave it to the Brits to find humor in World War I. The fourth season of this show—which featured comedy heavyweights like Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry—took place during that Great War, but each prior season was set in a different historical era, with the Blackadder cast poking fun at the Middle Ages, the Elizabethan age and the Regency period.—Bonnie Stiernberg

47. Angel
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Creators: Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt
Stars: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Glenn Quinn, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards, Amy Acker
Original Networks: The WB, UPN
While watching Buffy straight through for the first time, I took a break after the fourth season to watch its spin-off, Angel. I’ve loved it every bit as much as Joss Whedon’s first series, especially all the half-demon as illegal alien motifs. If Boreanaz was a little too irritatingly brooding in Buffy, he’s given more depth as the lead. Joss Whedon may have moved on to big-screen blockbusters, but his TV shows found that overlap of “smart” and “entertaining” every time.—Josh Jackson

46. Fringe
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Creator: J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci
Stars: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Jasika Nicole, Lance Reddick
Original Network: Fox
When I gave up on Fringe during its bumpy first season, it seems I was too impatient. It eventually grew into a smart, compelling sci-fi drama. And even back then I couldn’t deny that John Noble’s Dr. Walter Bishop was among the best characters on TV. He’s both grandfatherly and dangerous; he shows flashes of great anger and then humble remorse. And he’s self-absorbed but with a sense of curiosity and playfulness. I should have known to give J.J. Abrams more time.—Josh Jackson (no, not that one)

45. Bob’s Burgers
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Creator: Loren Bouchard
Stars: H. Jon Benjamin, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman, Kristen Schaal, John Roberts
Original Network: Fox
H. Jon Benjamin (Home Movies, Dr. Katz) is no stranger to animated comedies, so it should be a given that he’s right in his wheelhouse as Bob, a family man and owner of a struggling burger joint. He’s joined by some other seriously funny folks: Kristen Schaal and Eugene Mirman voice his kids, Louise and Gene.—Bonnie Stiernberg

44. Luther
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Creator: Neil Cross
Stars: Idris Elba, Warren Brown, Paul McGann
Original Network: BBC One
He may have made a name for himself as Stringer Bell on The Wire, but this series finds Idris Elba on the other side of the law, as Detective Chief Inspector John Luther. Elba recently took home an Emmy for Best Actor in a Miniseries for his portrayal of the genius Serious Crime Unit cop.—Bonnie Stiernberg

43. Children’s Hospital
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Creator: Rob Corddry
Stars: Rob Corddry, Malin Åkerman, Lake Bell, Erinn Hayes, Rob Huebel, Ken Marino, Megan Mullally, Henry Winkler
Original Network: Adult Swim
Funnier than NTSF: SD SUV, less grotesque than Eagleheart and more consistent than The Eric Andre Show, Children’s Hospital remains the most absurd and (probably) the best of Adult Swim’s 12-minute live-action genre parodies. Of course it broadened its scope past the medical soap long ago, and this season the show riffed on Goodfellas, British dramas and a coked-up Law & Order. Children’s Hospital continues to weave surreal magic with one of the best casts on TV and talent that’s just as impressive behind the camera.—Garrett Martin

42. Torchwood
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Creator: Russel T. Davies
Stars: John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Bum Gorman, Naoko Mori, Gareth David-Lloyd, Freema Agyeman, Bill Pullman
Original Network: BBC
A spin-off of long-running BBC series Doctor Who, Torchwood retained some of its predecessor’s campy fun, but also seemed to be reaching for the gritty realism that had understandably escaped most sci-fi shows until Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica remake redefined what sci-fi could be. By the second season, creator Russel T. Davies seemed to conclude that Torchwood would be better suited to leave the frivolity for the good Doctor, and let Harkness go to darker places. The five-episode story-arc “Children of the Earth,” is a nail-biting, epic story that never lets up and finishes with its biggest punch to the gut. Like Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, Davies has not only reimagined a classic series, he’s used his new extraterrestrial platform to explore human nature.—Josh Jackson

41. Family Guy
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Creator: Seth MacFarlane
Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Mila Kunis, Mike Henry
Original Network: HBO
It’s the show that made Seth MacFarlane a household name, and unfortunately, the one it seems he’ll never top. This is with good reason. MacFarlane created a family that’s easy to relate to despite the fact that it includes a talking dog and an inexplicably British, bloodthirsty infant. Combine the characters’ eccentricities with jokes that (sometimes literally) won’t quit, and you’ve got one of the most important cartoons to grace the small screen.—Austin L. Ray

40. Sons of Anarchy
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Creator:Kurt Sutter
Stars:Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone Junior, Dayton Callie, Kim Coates, Tommy Flanagan, Ryan Hurst, Johnny Lewis, William Lucking, Theo Rossi, Maggie Siff, Ron Perlman
Original Network: FX
Take the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold archetype, replace the hooker with a rough-around-the-edges bike club set in the ironically named town of Charming, Calif., add a conscience and things always going wrong, and you have the basic setup for Sons of Anarchy. Kurt Sutter’s gang of motorcycle-riding brothers—and their lovingly nicknamed “old ladies”—constantly find themselves in hot water trying to do the right thing while bending the rules just a little… which turns into bending the rules a lot. Having the town chief of police in their back pocket, along with Charlie Hunnam as the conflicted vice-president of the club who is carrying on his father’s legacy doesn’t hurt, either. It would be really easy to make the show’s motorcycle club reminiscent of a gang of pirates on bikes, pillaging and plundering with a complete lack of morals, but Sutter resists that temptation and makes the gray area of right and wrong the driving force behind each episode and each decision.—Patty Miranda

39. Archer
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Creator: Adam Reed
Stars: H. Jon Benjamin, Jessica Walter, Judy Greer, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, Amber Nash
Original Network: FX
Archer has succeeded as a hilarious parody of both James Bond and Mad Men with the comedic sensibilities of FX’s best. Season Two was full of surprising twists—like Archer’s breast cancer. The mini third season—the “Heart of Archness” trilogy following Archer’s revenge on the man who killed his Russian love—made Archer one of the few story-driven animated series that actually delivers. Ross Bonaime

38. Wilfred
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Creator: Jason Gann, Adam Zwar
Stars: FX
Original Network:
Based off an Australian comedy series of the same name, Wilfred stars Elijah Wood as Ryan, a young man who’s having trouble keeping his life together. After a botched suicide attempt, Ryan begins seeing his neighbor’s pet, Wilfred (Jason Gann), as a man in a dog suit. Don’t let the initial introduction fool you; Wilfred is a buddy comedy in dog’s clothing. The show combines dark humor with an outlandish premise for a result that’s irresistibly charming and downright hilarious.—Megan Farokhmanesh

37. Home Movies
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Creator: Loren Bouchard, Brandon Small
Stars: Brendon Small, Jon Benjamin, Melissa Bardin Galsky, Janine Ditullio, Paula Poundstone
Original Networks: UPN, Adult Swim
The young, would-be auteur Brendon was never a huge ratings success, but for those who saw him on Adult Swim (or even earlier on UPN), he’s hard to forget. Created with plenty of improv, Home Movies is a little bit Woody Allen and little bit mumblecore. Fans of Bob’s Burgers will particularly enjoy this first creation from Loren Bouchard—and hearing H. Jon Benjamin voice Coach McGuirk. Plus, it’s got one of the best series finales in TV history.—Josh Jackson

36. The League
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Creator: Jeff Schaffer, Jackie Marcus Schaffer
Stars: Mark Duplass, Nick Kroll, Stephen Rannazzisi, Paul Scheer, Jon Lajoie, Katie Aselton
Original Network: FX
Don’t let all the fantasy football talk deter you if you’re not into sports. For all its NFL-star cameos and inside-baseball terminology, The League, at its heart, is really just a show about a group of friends who like to compete with and talk smack about each other. It’s basically Friends, if Ross and Chandler were allowed to call each other “shit-sippers” on primetime network TV. This semi-improvised show is wonderful, weird and features a bunch of people who are very funny but usually relegated to more bit roles in TV and movies (Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer, Katie Aselton, etc.). And when it comes to the show’s smack-talking bros, there’s a favorite for everyone, be it crass, sex-obsessed loose cannon Rafi or Kevin and Jenny, who despite occasionally playing the goofy-dad/smart-mom TV-cleaning-product commercial dichotomy, will remind you of all the things you liked about the good relationships you’ve been in. The shortened first season plays more like a TV miniseries and will take you less than an afternoon. It’ll be worth it. —Lindsay Eanet

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