The 15 Best Amazon Original Series, Ranked

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The 15 Best Amazon Original Series, Ranked

Amazon Prime has taken a winding path regarding its original series. Initially, it had the rather revolutionary idea of combining a traditional pilot season with viewer voting to determine which shows it would move forward with. But almost from the start, Amazon ultimately just kinda greenlit what it wanted to, including shows that never had a pilot as part of their system. Eventually they abandoned that conceit and followed in the footsteps of Netflix and others by honing in on off-beat original programming, mostly comedies, and “rescuing” series cut by other networks. The result has been a hodgepodge of quality, and also far fewer series than its streaming competitors. At its best, Amazon’s original series are quirky critical darlings, although few have managed to truly break out. Still, the great ones are truly great.

Below, the Paste staff have voted on the best Amazon original series, terminology we’re playing a little fast and loose with in terms of whether or not Amazon was a partner in the production or just an exclusive distributor. Nevertheless, given the small (but growing) amount of originals on the platform, this felt like an ok compromise to make.

We’ll be updating the list in future weeks to potentially include new releases like Tales from the Loop or series we’re catching up with (Hey, it’s your uncle’s favorite show, Jack Ryan!). For a ranking of the best shows on Amazon right now—originals or otherwise—check out our list of 75, starting with the top pick.

Honorable Mention: The Tick, Forever, Transparent, Jean-Claude Van Johnson, Bosch

15. Undone

Created by: Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Kate Purdy
Stars: Rosa Salazar, Angelique Cabral, Constance Marie, Siddharth Dhananjay, Daveed Diggs, Bob Odenkirk

Watch on Amazon Prime

Loops, quantum entanglement, and a lot of screwed-up people: Time travel shows have fully embraced the inverse relationship between narrative linearity and character troubles. The latest to do so is Undone, the rotoscoped Amazon series from BoJack Horseman creators Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg. It’s not just nonlinear—it’s antilinear. Linear storytelling is antithetical to its entire premise, as embracing atypical perception is its goal. The diverse (and neurodiverse) experiences of its characters—told through immigrant stories, multicultural backgrounds, and yes, those that can screw with the timeline—exist to create a message of complicated inclusion that makes the bold yet repetitive show completely unique. Thankfully, it’s also visually exciting enough to sustain most of its philosophical musings, with a central character charming enough to shoulder some head-shaking misfires.

Rosa Salazar plays Alma, a small-scale rebel—one who wouldn’t feel out of place in a Linklater film—who has a brush with death in a car accident. Afterwards, the ordinarily strict workings of time play hooky and she sees her dead dad (Bob Odenkirk) appear before her. He goes full Hamlet and tells her that he was actually murdered. Of course, Alma is the only one who can set things right thanks to her special abilities.

It’s a strange story, and it only gets stranger as we follow Alma down the rabbit hole. The characters, which include Alma’s sister Becca (Angelique Cabral) and mom Camila (Constance Marie) alongside her ghost pop’s existential Yoda (there’s even a “there is no ‘try’” moment), are more coherent than the tale they’re telling, which is the only way a show that’s attempting to be mysterious but not cliffhanger-y can keep you watching. Undone is ambitious to a fault, beautiful as all get-out, but more enjoyable when its focus doesn’t stray too far from its great lead performance.—Jacob Oller


14. Sneaky Pete

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Created by: Bryan Cranston
Stars: Giovanni Ribisi, Marin Ireland, Shane McRae, Peter Gerety, Margo Martindale

Watch on Amazon Prime

In Sneaky Pete, Giovanni Ribisi plays Marius, a conman who, in a moment of tragicomic brilliance, fakes a bank robbery (albeit with a real gun and by scaring the bank customers) in order to avoid being killed by his pursuers. When he’s released from prison three years later, after listening to his cellmate Pete’s non-stop stories of his long-lost family, Marius assumes Pete’s identity. The result is a series whose humor is based on the interplay between truth and fiction, what is real and what is fantasy, and the gradual understanding of what constitutes “family”: Sneaky Pete’s revelations are unlikely to earn commendation from the Family Research Council, but for those of us who understand that families comprise people who love each in whatever structure works for them, it’s the ultimate show about family. —Lorraine Berry


13. Red Oaks

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Created by: Joe Gangemi, Gregory Jacobs
Stars: Craig Roberts, Ennis Esmer, Jennifer Grey, Gage Golightly, Paul Reiser, Richard Kind

Watch on Amazon Prime

Red Oaks arrived with a hell of a pedigree. It’s produced by Steven Soderbergh and David Gordon Green, Green directed the pilot, and it’s created and written by long-time Soderbergh associates Joe Gangemi and Gregory Jacobs. (Jacobs also directed Magic Mike XXL.) Other episodes are directed by people like Amy Heckerling and Hal Hartley. Set in a country club in New Jersey in the mid-’80s, the show openly evokes movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Caddyshack and The Flamingo Kid, and with a consortium of creators who understand both comedy and drama behind it, it falls into the same realm of bittersweet nostalgia as beloved comedies like The Wonder Years and Freaks and Geeks. —Garrett Martin


12. The Boys

Created by: Eric Kripke
Starring: Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Anthony Starr, Erin Moriarty, Chase Crawford

Watch on Amazon Prime

At no point did I ever expect to say The Boys was the best thing I’d seen on TV all year, especially given that it’s been promoted with clips putting the focus on shocking acts of superheroes behaving badly. But the reality is The Boys was the first true surprise of 2019, walking a careful line between Robocop and The X-Files to deliver eight jaw-dropping hours of TV.

Based on Garth Ennis’ bloodsoaked comic book satire of the same name, Amazon’s The Boys takes place in a world where superheroes are modern celebrities. Thanks to a partnership with the ironically Amazon-like corporate juggernaut Vought International, over 200 supers bring in billions a year from movies, commercials, and every endorsement that comes within reach. When a superpowered being behaves a badly, Vought is there to pick up the pieces, sometimes of people’s families. The world we see in The Boys is a savagely cynical place, full of sociopathic superheroes, conspiracies, staggering violence, and debauchery.

Yes, it’s crass as hell and one of the most violent shows on TV right now. But deep down, when you push past the gore, sex, and horrors committed to screen, the thing that sticks with you is the show’s emotional core. That, and a truly shocking final sequence that will leave fans of the comics reeling and new devotees Google searching for when Season 2 will drop. If you’ve grown tired of superhero stories, here’s one last essential tale to take out your frustrations on people who wear capes.—John-Michael Bond


11. Homecoming

Created by: Eli Horowitz, Micah Bloomberg
Stars: Julia Roberts, Bobby Cannavale, Stephan James, Shea Whigham

Watch on Amazon Prime

Walter Cruz (Stephan James) is a young veteran who, along with his friend Shrier (Jeremy Allen White) and a few dozen more, has checked into the Homecoming facility to help adjust to civilian life. And it’s weird. Things are off, but we can’t really put our fingers on why. We also meet Julia Roberts’ Heidi Bergman, Walter’s caseworker, who immediately appeals to our need for stability—until we realize, thanks to a multi-year flash forward where she’s working as a waitress with only fuzzy memories of Homecoming, that she’s not stable at all. What the hell happened between now and then? And, wait, what exactly was going on then, anyways? Directed by Mr. Robot’s Sam Esmail, Homecoming is a blessed 10 half-hour episodes. That alone should be enough to get you in the door. What will keep you there is a stunning story of purpose, justice, and the work ethic that powers both the evil of America and the forces trying to save it. You will be sucked into one of TV’s most compelling mysteries. —Jacob Oller


10. Modern Love

Created by: John Carney
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Dev Patel, John Slattery, Andrew Scott, Catherine Keener

Watch on Amazon Prime

Where can you find Anne Hathaway, Catherine Keener, Tina Fey, John Slattery, Jane Alexander, Dev Patel and the hot priest from Fleabag?

In Amazon’s delightful, surprising and poignant new eight-episode anthology series Modern Love. Based on the must-read and ever popular New York Times first person column of the same name, each installment stands alone with the vibrant city of New York, all its positives and negatives being the one recurring character. Like the column, the series explores all kinds of love — including romantic, parental, platonic and self. It examines, among other things, the tribulations of dating, the struggles of marriage, and the difficulties with raising children. 

The Modern Love column ranges from 1500 to 1700 words. Getting published is highly competitive and a career pinnacle. It’s the brevity of the stories that pull the reader in. At that word count, there’s no room for filler or fluff. Every word is precise and with intent. 

The episodes, which run from 28 to 34 minutes, follow the same approach. In a TV landscape full of bloated episodes, pointless dialogue and unnecessary scenes, the precise conciseness of Modern Love is nothing short of glorious. There’s no room for anything extraneous. The installments have the unique ability to instantly introduce a character to the audience and have viewers feel as if they know them intimately. I’ve watched shows for years where I feel like I know the characters less.—Amy Amatangelo


9. One Mississippi

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Created by: Tig Notaro
Stars: Tig Notaro, Noah Harpster, John Rothman, Rya Kihlstedt

Watch on Amazon Prime

Double mastectomy. Your mother dying. A life-threatening infection. Not exactly hilarious stuff. But comedian Tig Notaro’s deeply personal series about returning home after her mother’s death will make you cry and laugh at the utter absurdity of life. Particularly impressive is Notaro’s performance; she’s not an actress by trade, which brings a raw believability to her character. The people who inhabit Tig’s world, from her emotionless stepfather to her clingy girlfriend, pulse with a realism rarely seen on TV. They aren’t TV characters. They’re real people who will remind you of your own family and loved ones.  One Mississippi didn’t receive the hype of Amazon’s other original series. But it deserved to and now’s your chance to rectify that. —Amy Amatangelo


8. The Expanse

 

Created by: Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby
Stars: Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Paulo Costanzo

Watch on Amazon Prime

In Syfy’s The Expanse, Mars and Earth are two superpowers racing to gain the technological upper hand, while those who live in the Asteroid Belt mine resources for the more privileged planets and become more and more prone to radicalization.

Sound familiar?

In its relationship to our own age of authoritarianism, the series offers a kind of storytelling that seems essential: It manages to paint a portrait of a divided universe without vilifying one group and raising the other to god-like status, as evidenced by the complexities of hardboiled detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane) or U.N. official Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo). The Expanse shows us a possible future, a future in which women can be leaders without the bat of an eye, in which racially diverse groups can unite in common cause, but it is also a warning about keeping institutions in check, about recognizing inequality wherever it might exist, in order to avoid past mistakes. In other words, it’s must-watch television for our time. —Elena Zhang


7. Patriot

Created by: Steve Conrad
Stars: Michael Dorman, Terry O’Quinn, Kurtwood Smith, Michael Chernus, Kathleen Munroe, Aliette Opheim

Watch on Amazon Prime

What if 007 dealt with his PTSD and the moral ambiguities of being a spy by revealing his deepest inner turmoil (and state secrets) at open-mic nights in Amsterdam? What if Q had trouble requisitioning his apartment with a single chair? And M sent him to work at a piping firm in the Midwest with an extra digit in his social security number? What if the American version of a Bond film replaced the car chases, femme fatales and slick gadgets with the dark humor of the Coen brothers, mixing deep ennui with side-splitting moments of levity? That’s Patriot in a nutshell. The stakes are high—keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of an Iranian extremist leader—but everything depends on our hero, John Tavner, (Michael Dormer) first navigating the mid-level corporate world of industrial piping. —Josh Jackson


6. Mozart in the Jungle

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Created by: Paul Weitz, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman
Stars: Gael Garcia Bernal, Lola Kirke, Bernadette Peters, Malcolm McDowell

Watch on Amazon Prime

Based on the salacious memoir by noted oboist Blair Tindall about the down-and-dirty world of the New York classical music scene, Mozart in the Jungle plays like a rock-and-roll tell-all where the players are equipped with violins and woodwinds instead of guitars and drums. Acting as Tindall’s stand-in is Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke) an ambitious, if reserved oboist who finds herself thrust into the high-stakes, cutthroat world of a major New York symphony orchestra in the months before its season-opening performance. Kirke’s charming and grounded protagonist provides a nice anchor when paired with the show’s more wonderfully outlandish characters, which includes turns from Saffron Burrows, Bernadette Peters, and Malcolm McDowell. The series’ true star, however, is Gael Garcia Bernal as the ensemble’s eccentric and flamboyant new conductor who struggles to reconcile his experimental tendencies with the symphony’s more rigid, conservative structure. Even as it gathers up more emotional depth and complexity throughout its short run, Mozart in the Jungle is the kind of fun and vibrant experience that one would have no trouble bingeing in a day or two. —Mark Rozeman


5. The Man in the High Castle

Created by: Frank Spotnitz
Stars: Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Luke Kleintank, DJ Qualls, Joel de la Fuente, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Rufus Sewell, Brennan Brown, Callum Keith Rennie, Bella Heathcote

Watch on Amazon Prime

The Amazon original series, based on the 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick, could have landed on a number of other networks—or perhaps even in cinemas—at any other time. But the dystopian drama, set in an alternate history where the United States loses World War II, seems destined for now. The show depicts a not-so-United States in the years following World War II. Germany has taken over the Eastern states. Japan has the West Coast. In between is the neutral zone set along the Rocky Mountains. When Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), a woman in San Francisco, comes into possession of a newsreel-style film that depicts victory for the Allies, it sets her on a journey that will impact everyone around her. But the strangest thing about The Man in the High Castle is what happened in the U.S. less than six weeks before the second season’s premiere. Donald Trump won the presidential election. A stunned nation is now wrestling with “fake news” and “post-truth.” For anyone who woke up on Nov. 9, 2016, feeling as though they slipped into a parallel universe, the show took on new meaning. —Liz Ohanesian


4. Good Omens

Created by: Neil Gaiman
Stars: Michael Sheen, David Tennant

Watch on Amazon Prime

Neil Gaiman’s passionate fans can safely dive into this adaptation of Good Omens; since the author served as showrunner and handle the script himself, his vision comes through very much intact. The six-part series follows the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and the demon Crowley (David Tennant) as they team up to avert the apocalypse. It has sensibilities that recall the work of Terry Gilliam and the films of Powell and Pressburger. It’s funny, eccentric (sometimes downright hammy) and quite poignant, and it’s got a totally delightful script and a mostly amazing cast, including Frances McDormand as the voice of God and Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Satan. But for all its virtues the standout feature of Good Omens is the incredible chemistry between Tennant and Sheen, who make sparks fly every time they appear onscreen together. Happily for us, that’s most of the show.—Amy Glynn


3. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Created by: Amy Sherman-Palladino
Stars: Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Bornstein, Michael Zegen, Marin Heinkle, Tony Shaloub

Watch on Amazon Prime

It has its flaws, but Amy Sherman-Palladino’s tale of a 1950s housewife-turned-aspiring stand-up—starring the luminous Rachel Brosnahan as Midge Maisel—is a real charmer. Whether delivered at cocktail parties, in court, or on stage, Midge’s act, honed into a “tight ten” under the guidance of manager Susie Meyerson (Alex Borstein), is the series’ highlight: When Brosnahan gains steam, Midge’s raw, fast-talking fury becomes a performance, steering into the emotional skid and catching each laugh before it careens off the precipice. She’s a natural because her comedy is, yet Sherman-Palladino’s direction—treating the sets as set pieces, separated from life by the glare of the spotlight—maintains the border between life and art, permeable though it may be. As comedy, and on the subject of comedy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has the feeling of a star turn, at once vulnerable and self-aware. 

Though it has sustained some (perhaps rightful) backlash for being a fantasia of privilege, those fantasy aspects of Maisel are still really fun. It’s wry, witty, and occasionally deeply emotional. But for the most part, it comes down to having a lot of funny words and a lot of beautiful costumes, with the exceptionally charming Brosnahan pulling Maisel back from the brink of occasionally becoming a little too theatrical. In fact, everyone in this swirling, whimsical series is excellent, most especially the aforementioned long-suffering Susie (in particular Susie’s low-stakes kidnapping and her later assimilation into the wealthy Jewish getaway where Midge’s family has holed up for the summer in Season 2). Maisel is pure escapism with some occasional well-earned bite.—Allison Keene and Matt Brennan


2. Catastrophe

Created by/Starring: Rob Delaney, Sharon Horgan

Watch on Amazon Prime

Catastrophe is absolutely one of TV’s best series, and its recent farewell means we’re losing one of the medium’s funniest comedies—one that cuts to the core of life’s daily hassles. We’re also losing the most achingly honest show about marriage, parenting, and the daily slog of raising a family, particularly when your children are young.  The series’ greatest gift has always been its dark, dark humor. On TV, children are often treated as an accessory or a character trait, not as beloved tiny humans who have an enormous impact on your life. That never happened on Catastrophe. The series’ look at marriage (particularly a marriage based on the pregnancy results of a one night stand, now in the thick of raising small children), was equally realistic. In its four-season run, Catastrophe remained as sharp, as biting, and witty as ever. Few shows ever maintain such a creative high. —Amy Amatangelo


1. Fleabag

Created by: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Stars Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford, Olivia Colman Andrew Scott, Brett Gelman

Watch on Amazon Prime

The perfectly crafted Fleabag, running an economical twelve episodes over two seasons, is one of television’s most stunning comedy achievements. The fourth wall-breaking U.K. series from creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge is sharp, clever, and devastatingly emotional. Every word spoken is carefully crafted and full of meaning, creating a fully immersive experience where we act as Fleabag’s curious confidants through her personal trials.

In its long awaited second (and final) season, Fleabag sees our heroine still reeling from the death of her best friend and her culpability in what happened. “I want someone to tell me how to live my life because I think I’ve been doing it wrong,” she wails in the fourth episode. But living your life is difficult when you have a sister who blames you for all her problems (“We’re not friends. We are sisters. Get your own friends,” Claire tells her) and a father who gives you a therapy session as a birthday gift (which leads to a delightful cameo from Fiona Shaw). Fleabag also cuts to the core of the female experience. Whether it’s Fleabag rightly explaining that how your hair looks can be the difference between a good day and a bad day or guest star Kristen Scott-Thomas, whose character receives a women in business award in the third episode, only to rightly decry it as the “fucking children’s tables of awards,” explaining menopause as “it’s horrendous and then it’s magnificent.”

The series succeeds because it never has disdain for its characters and their tragic dysfunction. It never mocks them. It merely lays them bare for everyone to see. Martin’s stifling cruelty. Claire’s overwhelming unhappiness. Their dad’s desperation not to be lonely. The godmother’s narcissism as a cover for her acute insecurity. 

When it comes to those last episodes, I don’t want to say too much about the relationship between Fleabag and a certain hot priest, because the way it unfolds is so perfect and surprising and, in the end, redeeming. But I will say that Andrew Scott, who wears a priest’s robe very well, creates a character that is fully realized: a person who swears and makes mistakes but is still devoted to his faith. Their love story is one of salvation.—Amy Amatangelo and Allison Keene



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