The 50 Best TV Shows on Netflix, Ranked (July 2024)

TV Lists Best on Netflix
The 50 Best TV Shows on Netflix, Ranked (July 2024)

Before Netflix caused its downfall, the most pressing entertainment dilemma was browsing your local Blockbuster and becoming overwhelmed by all the choices. Drama? Comedy? Documentary? Where to begin? You could get lost forever wandering down those aisles and wondering, “but is this the best choice?”

The same can happen now when you scroll around Netflix; the options seem endless (and they nearly are, so much so that Netflix’s own newly released series often get lost!). And even with the streamer’s handy categories (laid out similarly to the various genre-based sections of those forgotten video stores), it’s still incredibly easy to get lost in the sheer amount of content to sift through. What you need is to be able to log on and know exactly what you want to start bingeing without wasting time scrolling around.

Enter Paste—our TV writers are ready to assist in helping you find what you need. Below we’ve ranked 50 of the best TV shows on Netflix, but it’s just a start. Bookmark this page and come back as more series are added to Netflix (and some may be taken away) each month. And an important note: The list now starts with our #1 pick!

Looking for streaming series on other networks? You can also check out our lists of the Best TV Shows on Hulu, the Best TV Shows on Amazon, as well as our weekly Power Ranking for even more recommendations.

1. Breaking Bad

Created by: Vince Gilligan
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, RJ Mitte, Giancarlo Esposito
Original Network: AMC

Some argue that The Wire is TV’s best drama of all time; others stand up for Mad Men or The Sopranos, the latter of which has the benefit of being so important historically that it begins many textbooks’ modern TV eras. But Breaking Bad made its bones quickly, publicly, and with plenty of pizzazz. It entered the TV landscape with just a few episodes of tonally questionable wobbling—the balance-finding of an ambitious acrobat searching for the tightrope’s center—and stuck the landing on the remaining five seasons. Who cares if the first season’s DVD case called it a dramedy? America knew what it was immediately, even if we didn’t know exactly where it was going. How has the tragic ballad of science teacher-turned-meth kingpin Walter White (Bryan Cranston) weathered its title over the years? If the current TV landscape is anything to judge by, it’s a proud grandfather, looking over its progeny with the same glee and gentle judgment of any overachieving patriarch. Breaking Bad may not have set the paradigm of unlikable anti-heroism in pop drama, but it certainly put the “pop” in the designation. (And don’t forget to watch the show’s probably unnecessary but nevertheless wonderful follow-up film El Camino). —Jacob Oller

 


2. The Great British Baking Show

Created by: Love Productions
Stars:Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Mel Giedroyc, Sue Perkins, Sandi Toksvig, Noel Fielding, Matt Lucas
Original Network: BBC

Known across the pond as The Great British Bake-Off, the appeal of the wildly popular reality TV series—most seasons of which are now available on Netflix—is its refusal to go in for dramatic contrivances. Against Fox’s Gordon Ramsay-hosted properties, Chopped, and even Top Chef, with their constant backbiting and broken dreams, the contestants on GBBS are sunny, mutually supportive amateurs (albeit extraordinarily skilled ones); in any given episode, the worst crisis is judge Paul Hollywood pressing a finger into a scone and pronouncing it “underbaked” (or literally pronouncing it “overwerked and oonderbaked”). Even with new hosts and new judge as the series moved to ITV from the BBC, GBBS remains a wonderful, inspiring, refreshing, whimsical and altogether happy series.—Matt Brennan and Allison Keene

 


3. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

Developed by: Jeffrey Addis, Will Matthews
Stars: Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nathalie Emmanuel, Simon Pegg, Mark Hamill, Jason Isaacs
Original Network: Netflix

There is a moment in Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance—a prequel to Jim Henson’s beloved Dark Crystal movie (which is great but you do not need to have seen it before this)—where two ancient characters are recounting an important tale to our heroes. It’s about the beautiful land of Thra, and an event many years past that caused an imbalance and blight within the crystal that stands at the center of their world. All of the answers they seek will be “brought to life by that most ancient and sacred of arts…” they’re told, with a dramatic pause as the character looks right at the camera and breathes out: “Puppetry!”

“Oh nooo!” our heroes groan, and one immediately falls asleep.

That is the bias that Age of Resistance acknowledges it’s up against—but folks, get over it. Allow this incredible production to sweep you away in an epic fantasy journey, one that is able to so much more deeply and fully explore the world Henson and Frank Oz imagined with the original film. You can liken it to Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones or any high fantasy series you like, but after 10 magical hours it truly stands on its own as a gorgeous, innovative, emotional, joyous, and exceptional wonder. If that sounds hyperbolic, it’s only because that’s exactly the kind of sincere enthusiasm the show engenders. Get past any hesitance over the puppets (which are actually outstanding, as CG is used only to smooth out backgrounds and action), turn subtitles on to help you remember all of the character names, and immerse yourself in this incredible world that we are so, so lucky to have.—Allison Keene

 


4. Better Call Saul

Created by: Vince Gilligan
Stars: Bob Odenkirk, Michael McKean, Rhea Seehorn, and Jonathan Banks
Original Network: AMC

When Bob Odenkirk showed up towards the end of the second season of Breaking Bad, playing sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman, it was a small shock to the system for anyone who had long appreciated his work as a writer and a comic actor on series like SNL and Mr. Show. Little did we know that this was only the beginning of a tragic and hilarious tale that would start to take on the scope of an epic Russian novel. This prequel to Vince Gilligan’s meth drama has accomplished the nearly impossible, expanding upon the source material of Breaking Bad with dynamic and sometimes heartbreaking results. And give full credit to Odenkirk (and his co-stars Michael McKean, Rhea Seehorn, and Jonathan Banks) for further bringing to life how shaky a person’s morality can be, especially when there are great gobs of money involved. —Robert Ham

 


5. Seinfeld

Created by: Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David
Stars: Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, Michael Richards
Original Network: NBC

On any given weekday, the likelihood is high that I watch a Seinfeld rerun that I’ve seen at least 20 times before, and I’m not alone in that habit. The fact that the show has been in continual reruns and syndication since its 76-million viewer finale proves how beloved it remains to this day: Seinfeld is still making money for networks two decades after it ended. Its grasp on pop culture minutia was on another level entirely, as was its distaste for typical sitcom conventions. Long-term relationships and love triangles were practically non-existent on Seinfeld. Never did characters offer sappy apologies to each other. Never did they even learn from their mistakes! Larry David and company were instead committed to telling stories of everyday, casual misanthropy from people who viewed themselves as generally decent or average, but were in reality pretty terrible individuals. Without even going into depth about the show’s transformative effect on the cultural lexicon, known as “Seinlanguage” it’s easy to see how Seinfeld uniquely stood out from every one of its peers. —Jim Vorel

 


6. The Good Place

Created by: Michael Schur
Stars: Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, D’Arcy Carden, William Jackson Harper
Original Network: NBC

Some of the best sitcoms in history are about bad people. M.A.S.H., Seinfeld, Arrested Development: It’d be hard to argue that the majority of their characters aren’t self-involved, intolerant or downright assholes. It’s far, far too early to enter The Good Place into any such pantheon, but it’s relevant in pinning down why the latest comedy from Michael Schur (The Office, Parks & Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) feels simultaneously so cozy and so adventurous. Fitting into a middle ground of sensibilities between occupational comedies like NewsRadio and the sly navel-gazing of Dead Like Me, The Good Place is the rare show that’s completely upfront about its main character’s flaws, creating a moral playground that tests Eleanor’s worst impulses at every turn. Played by Kristen Bell at her most unbridled, she’s a vain, impish character—the type of person who’ll swipe someone’s coffee without a second thought, then wonder why the universe is plotting against her. She’s a perfect straight woman in an afterlife surrounded by only the purest of heart, but the show doesn’t hold it against her. If anything, following in the grand tradition of sitcoms, the show knows that we’re all bad people at one time or another. —Michael Snydel

 


7. Unbelievable

Created by: Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman, Michael Chabon
Stars: Toni Collette, Merritt Wever, Kaitlyn Dever
Original Network: Netflix

There’s something quietly revolutionary about Unbelievable. It is difficult to watch at times, the kind of series likely to live with you long after its final moments come to a close; for a story centered on rape, that is hardly unusual. The work of its three remarkable lead actors is wonderful but also not unique; other television shows and movies have hired exceptional performers to tell these stories. Instead, Unbelievable distinguishes itself by the simple act of making one very big assumption: that everyone watching already knows that rape is a horrific violation. It assumes you’ve got that handled. It assumes that you’ve seen The Handmaid’s Tale or Boys Don’t Cry, or most recently, The Nightingale, and have plenty of experience seeing rape depicted in media in visceral, nightmarish fashion. It is fully aware that of the people on the other side of the screen one in six women and one in 33 men will have personally experienced a rape or an attempted rape in their lives. It has absolutely no interest in immersing its audience in trauma and violation. Unbelievable knows that you know rape is bad. It does not act as a voyeur. Under the guidance of showrunner Susannah Grant, it is far more interested in the survivor’s perspective—on what happened to her, yes, and how it lingers, but also on the violations that came after.

Based on a Pulitzer-winning piece of journalism by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong (of ProPublica and The Marshall Project, respectively), Unbelievable is a series of such quiet power that its full impact may not come crashing down until after its conclusion.—Allison Shoemaker

 


8. Ripley

Created by: Steven Zaillian
Stars: Andrew Scott, Dakota Fanning, Johnny Flynn, Eliot Sumner, Margherita Buy, Maurizio Lombardi
Original Network: Netflix

Adapted from the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, Netflix’s take on the classic follows Thomas Ripley (Andrew Scott), a down-on-his-luck conman paid to bring a wealthy businessman’s son, Dickie (Johnny Flynn), back home from his hiding place in Italy. Ripley jumps on the opportunity, traveling across the globe where he meets Dickie and his girlfriend Marge (Dakota Fanning), and the three strike up an uneasy relationship. At first, our swindler finds his new living situation quite agreeable, but the good times living off Dickie’s fortune can’t last forever. As the situation breaks down, Ripley hatches up a plan with deadly consequences, envisioning a future where he takes on the other man’s identity and riches. The show is bathed in lavish black and white cinematography, delivering eerie monochromatic visuals that perfectly complement both the subject matter and the ‘60s setting. —Elijah Gonzalez 

 


9. Friday Night Lights

Created by: Peter Berg
Stars: Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Taylor Kitsch, Jesse Plemons, Aimee Teegarden, Michael B. Jordan, Jurnee Smollett
Original Network: NBC

Who ever thought football, a sport infamous for its meatheads and brute force, could be the cornerstone of one of television’s most delicate, affecting dramas? Heart-rending, infuriating, and rife with shattering setbacks and grand triumphs—Friday Night Lights is all of these, and in those ways it resembles the game around which the tiny town of Dillon, Texas, revolves. “Tender” and “nuanced” aren’t words usually applicable to the gridiron, but they fit the bill here, too. Full of heart but hardly saccharine, shot beautifully but hyper-realistically, and featuring a talented cast among which the teenagers and parents are—blessedly—clearly defined, the show manages to convince episode after episode that, yes, football somehow really is life. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. —Rachael Maddux

 


10. Russian Doll

Created by: Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland, Amy Poehler
Stars: Natasha Lyonne, Charlie Barnett, Greta Lee, Yul Vazquez, Elizabeth Ashley
Original Network: Netflix

Netflix’s Russian Doll was almost too good to be renewed. By all means, renew Natasha Lyonne. Renew Amy Poehler. Renew Leslye Headland. Renew Charlie Barnett. Renew Rebecca Henderson and Greta Lee as hot mess hipster art friends ready to make parties across the Netflix spectrum that much spikier and sparklier. Renew Elizabeth Ashley as every Netflix heroine’s no-bullshit therapist (but make it fashion) mom-figure. Renew sharp, funny women directing sharp, funny women written by sharp, funny women. Renew that hair. Renew every damn thing about Russian Doll that helped make it such a brambly triumph of black comedy, macabre ennui, and existential optimism. (Everything, that is, except Dave Becky in a producer’s chair—if Broad City can change precedent after four seasons, new series can avoid setting one altogether.) Renewing Russian Doll as a whole is trickier. It is, in the eight shaggy, smartly-constructed puzzlebox episodes of its debut season, nearly perfect. —Alexis Gunderson

 


11. When They See Us

Created by: Ava DuVernay
Stars: Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome, Marquis Rodriguez, Felicity Huffman, John Leguizamo, Michael K. Williams, Vera Farmiga
Original Network: Netflix

You cannot look away from When They See Us or shelter yourself from the blinding truth. On April 19, 1989, 28-year-old Trisha Meli was jogging in Central Park when she was brutally raped and left for dead. In a coma for 12 days, Meli had no memory of what happened to her and was unable to identify her attacker or attackers. The series doesn’t shy away from the horrors of what happened to Meli. A successful white woman left for dead in America’s most famous public space did not sit well with New York City. Everyone—the mayor, the district attorney, the police department—wanted her attackers caught. But somewhere along the line, Manhattan District Attorney Linda Fairstein (Felicity Huffman, in her first post-scandal role) and NYPD detectives lost sight of wanting to find the actual criminal and decided to solve the crime by any means necessary. The story itself is overwhelmingly powerful. But there are several key decisions Ava DuVernay makes that turns When They See Us into one of the year’s, if not the decade’s best, programs. One is the casting of five relatively unknown actors to play the boys.

The “Central Park Five” were 14-16 years old in 1989 and Rodriguez, Herisse, Jerome, Blackk and Harris not only look young but portray the absolute vulnerability and fear that their real-life counterparts must have felt. We also get to see their families, who fought so hard for their children. Niecy Nash as Korey’s mom Delores. John Leguizamo as Raymond’s father, who remarries while Raymond is away and struggles to balance his old family with his new one. Aunjanue Ellis as Sharon Salaam, the only parent who understood the system enough to make sure her son didn’t sign a false confession. DuVernay doesn’t make any of them saints. They all make horrible mistakes and painful decisions. But their love for their children is never in doubt. When They See Us is exceedingly difficult to watch. It cut me to my very core. When you see it, I’m sure it will do the same to you. —Amy Amatangelo

 


12. The Queen’s Gambit

Created by: Scott Frank, Allan Scott
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Bill Camp, Moses Ingram, Marielle Heller, Harry Melling, Thomas Brodie-Sangster
Original Network: Netflix

You would be forgiven for thinking The Queen’s Gambit is based on a real chess player, perhaps introducing us to a forgotten but pivotal name in the game. Thankfully it is not, freeing it from the confines of what could be stodgy biopic traps. Instead, the seven-episode limited series, based off Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel of the same name, positively soars.

Gorgeously shot and lovingly crafted, The Queen’s Gambit takes place in the late 1950s and ’60s, and focuses on a young chess prodigy, Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy). Tragedy and fantasy engage in a complicated dance in Scott Frank’s scripts, as Beth is fed (and quickly develops an addiction to) tranquilizers as an 8-year-old child, something that opens her mind up but (obviously) plagues her throughout her young adult life.

And yet, The Queen’s Gambit is secretly a sports story. Chess has never been more kinetically riveting. Deftly edited and full of stylish montages, the moves that come so easily to Beth are not easily explained to viewers. There is a depth of knowledge that defies casual understanding, but it is also never a barrier. Beth is almost supernaturally gifted, brilliant at chess yet hindered by a mind that also finds solace in addictions of various kinds. It’s a story usually told about a man, but part of what’s so refreshing about The Queen’s Gambit is that, despite one or two quick comments, this is really not about Beth being a woman (or more accurately, a girl). The show doesn’t need to make a statement.

Because The Queen’s Gambit is a work of fiction (that title, by the way, is mentioned 33 minutes into the first episode and then dispatched with), it tells exactly the engrossing character story it wants to, and how. That might sound obvious, but it’s no small thing. With excellent pacing and a sure sense of itself out of the gate, The Queen’s Gambit is a work of art—riveting, radiant, and simply spellbinding. Like Beth, it triumphs through its devotion to a love of the game. —Allison Keene

 


13. Stranger Things

Created by: The Duffer Brothers
Stars: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Cara Buono, Matthew Modine
Original Network: Netflix

Say what you will about the finer points of its storytelling, Stranger Things continues to be an unabashed celebration of the 1980s, from its own filmic references regarding style and story to a cavalcade of literal references from the era. Its plucky set of kid and teen characters battle monsters (real or within themselves) and go to the mall. It’s a nostalgic dream and a creepfest nightmare. But whether it’s set during Halloween or in the throes of a mid-80s summer, the show’s carefully crafted aesthetics always serve to augment the joyful nature of the series’ non-monster moments. And that, really, is where Stranger Things shines. The creep factor is important (and occasionally actually scary or super gory), but it acts as an almost funny juxtaposition to the otherwise happy-go-lucky look at suburban life. Mainly, though, it’s the friendships and coming-of-age stories, the relationships and family bonding, that really make Stranger Things great. For better or worse, the Netflix horror series is as tasty, messy, and fleeting as an ice cream cone on a hot summer’s day. Ahoy!—Allison Keene

 


14. Call My Agent!

Created by: Fanny Herrero
Stars: Camille Cottin, Thibault de Montalembert, Grégory Montel, Liliane Rovère, Fanny Sidney, Laure Calamy, Nicolas Maury, Stéfi Celma, Assaad Bouab
Original Network: France 2

A fast-paced French comedy-drama about a Parisian talent agency and the lovably infuriating folks who staff it. Created by Fanny Herrero, Call My Agent (also known as “Dix Pour Cent” —ten percent) is excellent at balancing and integrating both its character work and Actor of the Week storylines, where real French celebrities (some of whom, in later seasons, are more well-known to American audiences) play heightened versions of themselves. A behind-the-scenes look at French movie making, Call My Agent is just as focused on the various personal dramas at ASK—an agency at war first with a rival agency and then with itself—and its lopsided “work is life” mentality. With four short seasons (each running six episodes), the series is entertaining simply as a clever take on the industry, but what makes it truly great is how it grounds that storytelling in relatable characters and the never-ending carousel of their triumphs and woes. In other words, oui, worth the subtitles. Allons-y! —Allison Keene

 


15. Legends of Tomorrow

Created by: Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg, Phil Klemmer
Stars: Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz, Dominic Purcell, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Nick Zano, Tala Ashe
Original Network: The CW

“Joyful” is an underused and underrated term when it comes to TV dramas. Too many series conflate “prestige” with sorrow, violence, and horror when it can (and should) also mean happiness and splendor. Legends of Tomorrow, though, is a drama that truly understands the meaning of joy. The series—which follows a rag-tag bunch of misfits through space and time trying to “fix” historical anomalies caused by villains and supernatural beings—can be flippant and glib, but it can also be devastatingly emotional. The bottom line is that it’s just good. For those who were turned off by its first episodes or even first season, dive in to Season Two (or even Season Three, if you’re really strapped for time) and go from there. It gets much, much better. Legends is the rare series that learns from its mistakes, always ready to grow and innovate to bring us the most bonkers but wonderful television. And unlike most other series (especially those dealing with superheroes), it isn’t afraid to change out its cast members when things aren’t working, which keeps each season feeling fresh while the stakes remain high.

Legends of Tomorrow is funny, strange, bizarre, beautiful, and silly. It incorporates puppets and unicorns and sentient lopped-off nipples, but also explores the devastation of losing loved ones, of advocating for those who need a voice, and an ever-developing journey of self-discovery. Join us for the ride.—Allison Keene

 


16. The Crown

Created by: Peter Morgan
Stars: Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby, Jeremy Northam, Victoria Hamilton, Anton Lesser, Matthew Goode, Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter, Josh O’Connor, Erin Doherty, Emma Corrin, Imelda Staunton, Jonathan Pryce, Lesley Manville, Dominic West, Elizabeth Debicki
Original Network: Netflix

In its first two seasons, creator Peter Morgan’s lavish treatment of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II hinges on Claire Foy’s utterly captivating performance as the flinty monarch; the impeccable period detail; a sense of historical scope that outstrips its forebears, Morgan’s 2006 film The Queen and 2013 play The Audience. But to call The Crown simply “lavish” seems unfair. Rather, as time marches on from the early days of Elizabeth’s reign, we move on to the Suez Crisis of 1956, and the Profumo affair of 1963. Through the series, its elaborates, thoughtful style and episodic structure fleshes out the supporting characters, including Elizabeth’s husband, Philip (Matt Smith), and sister, Margaret (the standout Vanessa Kirby), by turning the focus away from the queen herself. It’s a surprisingly full-throated examination of Britain’s public life, and its public figures’ private ones.

The second chapter of Netflix’s opulent celebration of the monarchy opens in 1964 and concludes with her Silver Jubilee in 1977. In an era of binge, Peter Morgan’s historical drama continues to distinguish itself as a series devoted to episodic storytelling, almost acting like an anthology within itself. To that end, Season 3 introduces us to a new cast to reflect the new timeframe: Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II, Tobias Menzies is Prince Philip, Margaret transforms into Helena Bonham Carter, and we are introduced to Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Princess Anne (Erin Doherty). In Season 5, the show transforms yet again as the royals age and time marches on. Imelda Staunton takes over as Elizabeth, Jonathan Pryce portrays Philip, and Lesley Manville is the new Margaret. Meanwhile, Dominic West succeeds O’Connor as Charles, while Elizabeth Debicki steps into the shoes of Princess Diana (portrayed in Season 4 by Emma Corrin).

The weight of the crown itself is felt throughout the series, mainly in how unhappy it makes all of these very privileged people who constantly consider “the life unlived.” Each of these serve as a brief glimpse of possibilities that are never allowed to materialize because of the realities of position and duty, but that sacrifice in the face of something greater becomes increasingly harder to defend as the years go on. But Elizabeth is at a point where all she knows is that she must simply carry on. And so, indeed—as the series takes great pains to argue—must the crown. —Matt Brennan and Allison Keene

 


17. BoJack Horseman

Created by: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Stars: Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Tompkins
Original Network: Netflix

BoJack Horseman is one of the most underrated comedies ever made, and it almost pains me that it doesn’t earn more praise. Right from the title sequence, which documents BoJack’s sad decline from network sitcom star to drunken has-been—set to the beautiful theme song written by the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney—this is one of the most thoughtful comedies ever made. Which doesn’t mean it’s not hilarious, of course. Will Arnett is the perfect voice for BoJack, and Paul F. Tompkins, who is in my mind the funniest man on planet Earth, could not be better suited to the child-like Mr. Peanut Butter. This is a show that isn’t above a visual gag or vicious banter or a wonderfully cheap laugh, but it also looks some very hard realities of life straight in the eye. There are times when you will hate BoJack—this is not a straight redemption story, and the minute you think he’s on the upswing, he will do something absolutely horrible to let you down. (There’s a special irony in the fact that a horse is one of the most human characters on TV, and the unblinking examination of his character makes “Escape from L.A.” one of the best episodes of TV.) So why isn’t it loved beyond a strong cult following? Maybe it’s the anthropomorphism that keeps people away, or maybe it’s the animation, but I implore you: Look beyond those elements, settle into the story, and let yourself be amazed by a comedy that straddles the line between hilarious and sad like no other. —Shane Ryan

 


18. Derry Girls

Created by: Lisa McGee
Stars: Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Louisa Harland, Nicola Coughlan, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Dylan Llewellyn
Original Network: Channel 4

The lovely, silly, funny, and emotional Derry Girls is a brief series (its first two seasons run six episodes, while the third and final clocks in at seven) focusing on a group of schoolgirls in Northern Ireland in the ‘90s, during the last days of the Troubles. But in Lisa McGee’s series, that darkness is relegated to the background. Instead, the more traditional teen conflicts of school life and being boy crazy take center stage, along with lots of incredibly specific language and jokes about both that region and that time (you will definitely want to watch with subtitles on). Derry Girls is a warm and funny time hop carried by a dreamy ‘90s playlist and the gigantic charisma of its wee leads. —Allison Keene

 


19. The Witcher

Created by: Lauren Schmidt Hissrich
Stars: Henry Cavill, Freya Allan, Eamon Farren, Anya Chalotra, Joey Batey
Original Network: Netflix

Henry Cavill’s Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher, roams far and wide killing monsters for bounties. It’s all he’s good for; it’s all he was made to do. The mutant Aragorn is all gruff speech, dadly stubble, and exciting swordplay. It’s a tough job playing a character known for his emotionlessness, made tougher when he’s also appointed the shepherd to a storied fantasy universe. But Cavill and showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich’s adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher novels (which themselves were turned into a beloved series of videogames) is up to snuff due to its willingness to play by its source’s rules, bringing high fantasy fun to Netflix for anyone willing to vault a few hurdles.

Shows get exponentially easier to watch when the lead is having this much fun. Cavill delights in every grimace as his grimy, sour Geralt traverses locales familiar to any Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Candle-strewn taverns, pornographic wizard illusions, and foolish nobles—no matter the job, Geralt perseveres in true Lawful Neutral form (to keep things in D&D terms). A bemused yet not unkind cynicism comes across in Cavill’s slow baritone and rare, slight smile. It’s the best he’s been aside from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and everyone either hates him or is horny for him. Often, it’s both. And yes, those looking for Outlander levels of long-haired, musclebound shirtlessness will find what they seek.

If you have a background with fantasy, a knack for rolling with crazy shit, or a general love for Witchery things—and buy into the tone—The Witcher has lots to love. It can be campy, with life-or-death conversations taking place at a magically-induced Eyes Wide Shut orgy. It can be badass, with a powerful mage blending gender politics, fantasy lore, and deep characterization when telling Geralt to “fuck off” in the middle of a magical battle. These two can mix like werewolves and silver, but when they work together, The Witcher is a wildly entertaining treat for newcomers and long-time fans alike.—Jacob Oller

 


20. Bridgerton

Created by: Chris Van Dusen
Stars: Phoebe Dynevor, Regé-Jean Page, Adjoa Andoh, Jonathan Bailey, Nicola Coughlan, Polly Walker, Julie Andrews
Original Network: Netflix

All hail Bridgerton, Netflix’s lush, swoony adaptation of a set of romance novels. The thirsty series focuses on a London family with eight children, all of whom were blessed with good genes and five (or six?) of whom are currently of marriageable age. And thus, in this Regency-era setting, the game is afoot with the quippy, mysterious gossip Lady Whistledown as our guide. There are balls and rakes and other things that had a completely different meaning in the 1800s, but one thing that has not changed is how electrifying the buttoning of a glove or the slight touch of hands can be in the right context. The show also gets pretty explicit at times, but does so with a nearly revolutionary female gaze for a period drama. As such, it is as pearl-clutching as one can get (and not a show to watch with one’s family).

Although all of the Bridgerton siblings appear during the show’s eight episodes, the first season focuses primarily on eldest daughter Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) as she enters society and attempts to secure a marriage proposal. Initially the talk of the town, her standing falls with the arrival of a beautiful newcomer, so to escape a loveless marriage with an unsavory man chosen for her by her eldest brother, Daphne strikes a deal with the extremely handsome and newly titled Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), a committed bachelor with twice the bodice-ripping hero energy any one man should possess. In a classic fake-dating scenario, the Duke pretends to court Daphne in order to raise her value in the marriage market, while their agreement keeps women from throwing themselves at him. It’s a win-win situation … until the two develop real feelings for one another, of course. Bridgerton isn’t perfect, but it’s a candy-colored, gloriously anachronistic romp that brings a new vivacity to bonnet dramas (leaving most of the bonnets aside, for one), and is great fun. —Allison Keene and Kaitlin Thomas

 


21. Gilmore Girls

Created by: Amy Sherman-Palladino
Stars: Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel, Melissa McCarthy
Original Networks: The WB, The CW, Netflix

Our fearless TV editor at the time, Matt Brennan, recently embarked on a journey. Having never seen Gilmore Girls before, he watched all 154 episodes of the original plus the four new installments of A Year in the Life. (You can read his hilarious stream-of-consciousness here). And I have to admit I was jealous. For me, the original show is now a distant and beloved memory. Oh, the joy of discovering it for the first time! I envy all of you who will watch as Lorelai (Lauren Graham), her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) and family matriarch Emily (the incomparable Kelly Bishop) honestly portray three generations of strong women. It’s the only show you can watch with your teenage daughter and your mother and be assured you will all be equally entertained. In addition to the deft storytelling, there’s the never before or since matched rat-a-tat banter and pop-culture references that infuse all the dialogue. And the love stories! Lorelai and Luke (Scott Patterson) are one of TV’s greatest love stories. And will you be #TeamJess, #TeamDean or #TeamLogan? Even if I didn’t love the (very) flawed A Year in the Life and kind of despised the final four words, I still was so happy to see my friends in Stars Hollow again. The show became a part of my life. And it will become a part of yours, too. —Amy Amatangelo

 


22. Squid Game

Created by: Hwang Dong-hyuk
Stars: Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Wi Ha-joon, Jung Ho-yeon, Heo Sung-tae, Anupam Tripathi, Oh Yeong-su, Kim Joo-ryoung
Original Network: Netflix

Honeyed snacks, candy-colored walls, and a larger-than-life doll all sound like a child’s fantasy come to life. But inside the world of Squid Game on Netflix, innocent nostalgia comes with a body count as 456 individuals compete to the death in playground games for $45.6 billion Korean won (or $38.6 million American dollars). All on the brink of financial ruin and desperate for a way out, the players are pitted against each other by the rich and powerful for entertainment, until there’s just one victor left standing.

Though it hasn’t been out long, the South Korean drama already boasts significant accolades. It’s the first Korean show to ever top Netflix’s U.S. Top 10, it’s the platform’s number one series across the globe, and it’s currently on track to become the most popular Netflix series ever—usurping period romance Bridgerton. Created by genre-spanning filmmaker Hwang Dong-hyuk, Squid Game’s plot line will feel familiar to anyone who’s seen The Hunger Games or Battle Royale, the Japanese cult favorite that popularized the battle royale genre. Yet rather than take place in any dystopian landscape, Squid Game grounds its premise through a real-world, contemporary setting. The “last-man-standing” hook means there’s a predictability to how it all plays out, but Hwang is less concerned with subverting the battle royale formula as much as digging into the human stakes that make it tick.

Manipulated by fine print, the Squid Game competitors aren’t initially aware of the life-or-death consequences they’ve signed up for. After the first game’s mass casualties, a loophole gives them the chance to opt out from playing and return safely to their empty bank accounts. The choice seems like a no-brainer from an outside perspective. But as the essential second episode reveals, there are no good options for those on society’s margins, and a worry-free existence where money isn’t a daily stressor seems impossible to obtain. The games are bad—but who’s to say the real world isn’t worse? —Annie Lyons

 


23. GLOW

Created by: Liz Flahive, Jenji Kohan and Carly Mensch
Stars: Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, Sunita Mani and Marc Maron
Original Network: Netflix

Netflix’s bubbly celebration of a long-forgotten corner of the wrestling world takes a little time to come together, but once it does, it’s pure joy. That’s not to say that there isn’t still a ton of drama among the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW)—the story does start out with an infidelity that affects two best friends—but once the bright colors and bold energy of this ‘80s-set series ignite there’s no slowing it down. Boasting a wonderfully sprawling and diverse cast (who do their own stunts), the series never shies away from deeper issues of race, gender, and the realities of a career on the stage. But what binds the show together are its friendships, especially among its core cast. (Plus, it brought Betty Gilpin to our national attention, for which we shall be eternally grateful.)

GLOW will always be a show that understands femininity in a way few others do, and is often a pop-filled good time. Sometimes it’s messy, but that’s what GLOW is all about. The women try, and fail, and try again. They weather the sadness and the chaos. Choices are made, mistakes happen. And they try again. And again.—Allison Keene


24. Beef

Created by: Lee Sung Jin
Stars: Ali Wong, Steven Yeun
Original Network: Netflix

In Beef, the brilliant Ali Wong—playing the well-off boutique entrepreneur Amy Lau—has become engaged in a feud with the suicidal contractor Danny Cho, played by the equally excellent Steven Yeun. It started with an instance of road rage, in which Lau almost kills Cho, and escalates from there. One is rich, and one is poor, but fundamentally they’re both prisoners who feel no sense of control of their lives. What this violence against one another shows is that, briefly, they are resuscitated; they need this. It’s not healthy, it’s going to harm them both, but you know beyond any doubt that they are going to chase this high as long as they can. A raw thrill brought them both back to life, from a chance encounter in a parking lot, and through it they’ll even come to depend on each other.

As far as premise-setting, you just can’t do it any better, and there’s very little that you need to know about the show beyond that. They fight, and fight, and fight, and as the stifling atmosphere of modern lives continues to let them down, to leave them unhappy and confused, they’ll seek solace in each other, but that solace will come in the form of violence, because what they both require is the thrumming, hot conflict that can be waged between two people without the restrictions that society and the dual strictures of wealth and poverty have put in place. —Shane Ryan


25. Outlander

Created by: Ronald D. Moore
Stars: Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan
Original Network: Starz

Based on Diana Gabaldon’s immensely popular book series, Outlander follows the story of Claire Randall, a nurse in 1940s England who, while on a holiday to Scotland, gets transported back through mystical stones to the 1740s. There, as she fights for survival and a way home, she meets a tall, dark, and handsome Highlander named James Fraser, and the rest is history. Except that Outlander actually does a really wonderful job of tracking the couple’s place throughout history, providing tense, riveting, and yes romantic storytelling along the way. The series’ truly wonderful cast is augmented to the stratosphere by its leads, whose chemistry will make you believe in love at first sight. Full of battles, political intrigue, and gorgeous on every level, the show is a wonderfully cozy (and sexy) adventure. From its hauntingly beautiful theme song by Bear McCreary onwards, Outlander will transport you to its dangerous, surprising world as quickly as those magical stones. —Allison Keene

 


26. Orange Is the New Black

Created by: Jenji Kohan
Stars: Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Michael J. Harney, Michelle Hurst, Kate Mulgrew, Jason Biggs
Original Network: Netflix

Orange Is the New Black is perfectly suited for the Netflix delivery system, if only because it would be agonizing to wait a week for each new episode. But there’s more; the construct feels cinematic and compared to your average show, and I couldn’t help but feel that the all-at-once release plane freed the creators to make something less episodic and more free-flowing—which has since become Netflix’s signature. Taylor Schilling stars as Piper Chapman, a woman living a content modern life when her past rears up suddenly to tackle her from behind; a decade earlier, she was briefly a drug mule for her lover Alex Vause (the excellent Laura Prepon), and when Vause needed to plea her sentence down, she gave up Piper. The story is based on the real-life events of Piper Kerman, whose book of the same title was the inspiration, but the truth is that the screen version is miles better. Schilling is the engine that drives the plot, and her odd combination of natural serenity mixed with the increasing anger and desperation at the late turn her life has taken strikes the perfect tone for life inside the women’s prison.

Over the first few episodes, prison is treated like an almost-quirky novelty she’ll have to experience for 15 months, and the wisest choice director Jenji Kohan made (and there are many) was to heighten the stakes so that what begins as an off-kilter adventure soon takes on the serious proportions prison life demands. And as great as Schilling and Prepon are together, the supporting cast is so universally excellent that it almost beggars belief. There are too many characters who make gold with their limited screen time to mention individually, but suffice it to say that there’s enough comedy, pathos and tragedy here for a dozen shows. The fact that they fit so successfully into one makes OITNB a defining triumph for Netflix. —Shane Ryan

 


27. Heartstopper

Created by: Alice Oseman
Stars: Kit Connor, Joe Locke, William Gao, Yasmin Finney, Corinna Brown, Kizzy Edgell, Tobie Donovan
Original Network: Netflix

From a Tumblr webcomic to a graphic novel to a Netflix show, Alice Oseman’s uplifting queer tale has gathered a dedicated fanbase that is only going to grow with the arrival of the Netflix adaptation. The sweet romance between Charlie (Joe Locke) and Nick (Kit Connor) is wonderfully realized in this heartfelt and earnest teen coming-of-age drama directed by Euros Lyn and written by Oseman. Much of Oseman’s original spark carries over into the moving frames that are complemented with a fantastic soundtrack, perfectly detailed production design of teenage bedrooms, and an all-around talented cast.

As Nick and Charlie grow closer and their feelings become impossible to ignore, they have a whole host of supportive friends to confide in. The group includes caring Elle (Yasmin Finney), eccentric Tao (Will Gao), quiet Issac (Tobie Donovan), and two girlfriends: bubbly Darcy (Kizzy Edgell) and thoughtful Tara (Corinna Brown). Heartstopper updates stale cliches of the teen coming-of-age genre to deliver a thoughtful and earnest reflection of youthful self-acceptance, exploring what it is to be part of the LGBTQ+ community today. —Emily Maskell

 


28. Avatar: The Last Airbender

Created by: Albert Kim
Stars: Gordon Cormier, Kiawentiio, Ian Ousley, Dallas Liu, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Ken Leung, Daniel Dae Kim
Original Network: Netflix

Don’t be put off by M. Night Shayamalan’s “clunky 2010 live-action adaptation,” this richly animated TV series merges the wild imagination of Hayao Miyazaki, the world-building of the most epic anime stories, and the humor of some of the more offbeat Cartoon Network originals. Following the exploits of the Avatar, the boy savior Aang who can control all four of the elements—fire, water, earth and wind—the series is filled with political intrigue, personal growth, and unending challenges. Spirits and strange hybrid animals present dangers, but so do the people who seek power for themselves. This is one you’ll enjoy watching with your kids or on your own. —Josh Jackson

 


29. Jane the Virgin

Created by: Jennie Snyder Urman
Stars: Gina Rodriguez, Justin Baldoni, Yeal Grobglas, Jaime Camil, Andrea Navedo, Ivonne Coll, Anthony Mendez
Original Network: The CW

A virgin perfectionist with a heart of gold shouldn’t be this watchable. However, add a pinch of the ol’ impregnated-by-artificial-insemination storyline, mixed in with the possible threat of a grandmother’s deportation, all while the protagonist is trying to rock both a writing career and motherhood, and you’ve got one of TV’s most fascinating characters. What’s great about Jane is that she handles everything with an impressive sensibility, and you can’t help but fall for her optimistic outlook on life. If there’s a will, there’s a way, and Jane takes the cards she’s dealt in life while never forgetting or forsaking the deep goodness Abuela instilled within her. We watched as this character celebrated life’s big moments with everything from dance-offs to earnest weeping, without any embarrassment for her vulnerability—but don’t get on her bad side. —Iris A. Barreto

 


30. One Day at a Time

Created by: Gloria Calderon Kellett, Mike Royce
Stars: Justina Machado, Rita Moreno, Stephen Tobolowsky, Todd Grinnell, Isabella Gomez, Marcel Ruiz
Original Network: Netflix

With an assist from legendary producer Norman Lear, Mike Royce and Gloria Calderon Kellett’s warm-hearted, full-throated update of One Day at a Time, which follows a Cuban American family in Los Angeles, only grew more confident in its second and third seasons. In fact, with its combination of the topical and the timeless, the silly and the sincere, the Netflix multi-cam sitcom has become the leading engine of the form’s revival. Covering everything from LGBTQ rights and immigration to dating and depression, the series is anchored by the two extraordinary women at its center: Rita Moreno and Justina Machado, whose chemistry as mother and daughter find fullest expression in two wrenching late-season entries. If the inseparable pair aren’t treasured in the TV canon forever, there should be a steward’s inquiry. Thank goodness PopTV picked up the series for a fourth season after Netflix unceremoniously let it go. —Matt Brennan

 


31. Never Have I Ever

Created by: Mindy Kaling, Lang Fisher
Stars: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Poorna Jagannathan, Richa Moorjani, Jaren Lewison, John McEnroe
Original Network: Netflix

Being 15 sucks. You’re not sure who you are or what you’re doing or who you should be doing it with, but you’re 100% certain that everyone around you is always laser-focused on every embarrassing mistake that you make. Mindy Kaling’s new coming-of-age sitcom taps into the painful awkwardness of figuring it all out with the same mix of earnestness, realism and humor as Freaks and Geeks and The Wonder Years, but filtered through a cultural lens not often seen on American TV. Devi Vishwakumar isn’t just grappling with typical teenage drama, but is stuck between two cultures that she never quite feels like a full member of: the American life she was born and raised in, and the Indian heritage of her family. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan captures this anxiety and charm beautifully, that weird mix of constant shame and unearned confidence, in what is shockingly her first professional acting role. If you’re looking for a teen comedy that reflects the ups and downs of real life and is actually funny, here’s your chance. —Garrett Martin

 


32. Borgen

Created by: Adam Price
Stars: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling
Original Network: DR1

One of television’s best political dramas, Borgen was historically hard to find in the U.S., but that changed in 2020 when Netflix picked up the streaming rights for the show’s first three seasons and even signed on to produce a fourth. Following Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudson), a minor centrist politician who, through a series of convenient circumstances, finds herself the first female prime minister of Denmark, the show is one of a handful of Danish series that helped redefine the global TV landscape in the early 2010s. Over the course of the 30 episodes that made up the show’s initial run, Birgitte struggles to hold onto power without compromising her principles and ideals, facing attacks not just from the left and the right, but from within her own cabinet and the dogged press as well.

But while the political intrigue is what ultimately keeps Borgen’s overarching narrative moving, one of the more interesting aspects of the show is its investigation of how Birgitte approaches her career and her home life, engaging with the double standard that women can’t have it all while seemingly also understanding how unfair it is that Birgitte must deal with these issues while men in her same position do not. Much like the political drama at its center, this remains messy and complicated throughout, but always makes you root for Birgitte to succeed. —Kaitlin Thomas

 


33. Narcos / Narcos: Mexico

Created by: Carlo Bernard, Chris Brancato, Doug Miro
Stars: Wagner Moura, Boyd Holbrook, Pedro Pascal / Michael Peña, Diego Luna, José María Yazpik
Original Network: Netflix

One popular line of criticism has it that Narcos romanticizes the violence and degradation associated with the Colombian drug wars—and drug culture in general—and I would agree that the excellent Wagner Moura plays kingpin Pablo Escobar so engagingly that he becomes a sort of Walter White-esque antihero. And the rhythms of the documentary-style narration are fast-paced in a way that’s reminiscent of Guy Ritchie, whipping us along at an almost breakneck speed. Nevertheless, this valid criticism misses the important point that we are watching a work of fiction based on historical figures—not a realdocumentary. And when viewed that way, Narcos was one of the most successful shows on TV in how it managed to flesh out some very dark characters and tell a complicated story with such urgency and clarity. This is not the hyper-realist drug fiction of Traffic or even 2015’s Sicario, but as conflict entertainment goes, it succeeds wonderfully

Similarly, the spinoff/companion series of sorts, Narcos: Mexico, investigates the rise of the powerful Guadalajara Cartel that began by selling cannabis and quickly escalated into cocaine and heroin. The cartel, and the story itself, is led by the conflicted figure of Félix Gallardo (Luna), who wants to make drug selling a business (shades of The Wire’s Stringer Bell are evident everywhere in this portrayal), but must ultimately embrace a ruthless nature to make it work. Gallardo is being hunted by DEA agent Kiki Camarena (Peña), whose fledgling organization doesn’t understand how dangerous these cartels and their growing network are becoming. Anchored by outstanding performances, like the original series, Narcos: Mexico is a deeply compelling dramatization of the drug gangs that continue to plague Mexico (and to some extent, the United States) today, and concludes with a major reveal that sets up a whole new game for Season 2. Filled with emotional twists and turns, Narcos: Mexico perhaps even eclipses its predecessor with outstanding characterizations and a tense story told at a rapid, tantalizing pace. —Shane Ryan and Allison Keene

 


34. The Umbrella Academy

Created by: Steve Blackman, Jeremy Slater
Stars: Eliot Page, Tom Hopper, David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, Aidan Gallagher, Mary J. Blige, Cameron Britton
Original Network: Netflix

As a fan of Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s comic book, I was a little skeptical of Netflix’s adaptation of The Umbrella Academy. I assumed it’d flatten out the comic’s esoteric edges in an attempt to make it more like other superhero shows. The first episode almost immediately calms those fears, though, revealing a series as weird and idiosyncratic as the comic. Imagine if Wes Anderson directed a Grant Morrison adaptation, complete with a mansion-spanning sad-superhero dance break to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now.”. —Garrett Martin

 


35. Baby Reindeer 

Created by: Richard Gadd
Network: Netflix

Created by: Richard Gadd
Stars: Richard Gadd, Jessica Gunning, Nava Mau, Hugh Coles, Danny Kirrane
Original Network: Netflix

Based on Richard Gadd’s real-life experience with his own real-life stalker, Netflix’s Baby Reindeer catalogs the very beginnings of a nightmare, and how quickly one single person can turn your life upside down. The series follows comedian and bartender Donny (Gadd) as a woman he offered a single free drink to one night becomes so enraptured by him that she begins to stalk him. She shows up to his sets to laugh louder than everyone else, she hangs around his place of work to learn more about his life, and she sends thousands upon thousands of emails, all without end for years. As Donny’s life continues to spiral out of his control, Martha (Jessica Gunning) becomes the one person responsible for all the chaos, destruction, and turmoil he faces on a daily basis, with the police and those around him unable to understand the depth of this experience. It’s a terrifying, heartbreaking, and maddening watch that will stay with you long after the credits roll on the final episode. —Anna Govert

 


36. I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson

Created by: Zach Kanin, Tim Robinson
Stars: Tim Robinson
Original Network: Netflix

The co-starring and co-created by Comedy Central’s dearly missed Detroiters, Saturday Night Live alum Tim Robinson is equally comfortable on either side of the camera—he’s a fantastic sketch comedy writer who’s just as good of a performer, and who has carved out a unique and immediately recognizable niche in both. And he puts both skills to brilliant use in his new Netflix show, I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson.

Robinson is a master of embarrassment. His sketches tend to focus on two types of characters: People who tell small lies that grow larger and more obvious as they refuse to come clean, and people who are too irrational, confused, or stubborn to understand what’s happening—or refuse to understand because that would require admitting their own ignorance. This might sound like typical cringe comedy turf, but Robinson keeps it fresh by extending ideas behind all bounds of logic, resulting in characters or situations so utterly absurd that you won’t even think of comparing them to such cringe comedy forefathers as Larry David or Ricky Gervais. —Garrett Martin

 


37. Call the Midwife

Created by: Heidi Thomas
Stars: Vanessa Redgrave, Bryony Hannah, Helen George, Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris, Laura Main, Judy Parfiti
Original Network: BBC

“Midwifery is the very stuff of life,” proves this incredibly moving, often provocative series, based on the memoirs of British nurse Jennifer Worth. Set in 1950s London—read: pre-choice, not pro-choice—Call the Midwife focuses on the nurses and nuns who work at a convent in the East End. Vanessa Redgrave narrates the experiences of Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine), a privileged young woman who must quickly adapt to life in an impoverished district, where medical resources are precious and newborns are plentiful. Wonderfully meticulous in period detail, the ensemble drama brims with joy and compassion while maintaining a bracingly unromantic grip on pregnancy and parenthood. Disease, labor complications and tragedies like miscarriage, stillbirth and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome are common—along with domestic violence, rape and unwanted pregnancy—yet the show warms as many hearts as it breaks. Call it feminist, call it what you will, Call the Midwife is brave television. —Amanda Schurr

 


38. Midnight Mass

Created by: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Hamish Linklater, Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Rahul Kohli, Annabeth Gish
Original Network: Netflix

On Midnight Mass’ Crockett Island, every islander feels rife with misfortune. A recent oil spill nearly annihilated the fish supply, tanking the island’s local fishing economy. Their homes splinter and peel in neglect to the ocean’s elements. The majority of residents have fled the island for lack of opportunity, leaving a paltry few behind. Only two ferries can take them to the mainland. Hope runs in short supply—and a major storm brews on the horizon.

Everything beyond that for this seven-episode series is a true spoiler, but what can be said is that even with its dabblings in the supernatural, Midnight Mass (created by The Haunting of Hill House and Bly Manor’s Mike Flanagan, in his most recent collaboration with Netflix), is a show that burrows inwards instead of outwards. With both the physical claustrophobia of Crockett’s setting and the internal suffering of characters placed in center stage, Midnight Mass concerns itself with horrors within: addictive tendencies, secret histories, and questions of forgiveness and belief. At one glance, it’s a series that’s mined Catholic guilt for gold. In another, it’s a measured, yet spooky take on group psychology, the need for faith in sorrow, and the ethics of leadership with such vulnerable followers, weighing whether these impulses represent human goodness, evil, or simply nothing at all.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Midnight Mass offers a chance for anyone to be doubting Thomas or true believer. What difference is a miracle from a supernatural event, anyway? —Katherine Smith

 


39. The Magicians

Created by: Sera Gamble, John McNamara
Stars: Jason Ralph, Stella Maeve, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Hale Appleman, Arjun Gupta, Summer Bishil, Rick Worthy
Original Network: Syfy

Based on Lev Grossman’s fantasy trilogy, The Magicians tells the story of Quentin (Jason Ralph) getting into Brakebills, a school for learning magic. While they learn intricate spells, Quentin and his friends and frenemies Eliot, Margo, Alice, Penny, Josh, Kady, and Julia discover other magical worlds and complicated magical problems that they never knew existed—like baby-stealing fairies. Within zany storylines and a fast-moving plot, The Magicians is also grounded in the mental health issues experienced differently by each of the main characters. Quentin has been depressed his whole life and has been hospitalized for depression in the past. In Season 1, he’s trapped in a hospital in his head, as if he were stuck in a dream. Quentin begins to question his reality and wonder if he made up Brakebills as part of his mental illness. A big theme on the show is that you can’t magic depression away. (They tried it. In Season 1, several characters literally bottle their emotions. When the emotions come back, it’s an almost unbearable flood.) By including mental illness in these characters’ stories, it not only adds emotional truth to the show, it provides drama and conflict. And hopefully it lets people know that mental illness is a regular part of life—even in other worlds, and even when there’s magic. —Rae Nudson

 


40. Sex Education

Created by: Laurie Nunn
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey, Connor Swindells
Original Network: Netflix

You’re an insecure, bright, sensitive teenage boy (Asa Butterfield) with a wildly uninhibited sex-guru mother (Gillian Anderson), an absentee dad (the epically hilarious James Purefoy), a chronically foot-in-mouth bully-magnet best friend, a limited social life and a clinically interesting fear of your own penis. You have a stealth crush on your school’s official Way Too Precocious girl, who’s hard up for money. So, naturally, you open a sex clinic for high-school students in an out-of-service school lavatory, right?

Of course you do.

Netflix’s Sex Education is a decidedly raunchy and thoroughly adorable coming-of-age dramedy. While it’s not exactly afraid of well-worn tropes, it also doesn’t rely on them to a detrimental degree… and it has Gillian Anderson as a sex therapist, which would be enough for a lot of us even if nothing else about the show worked. Luckily, that isn’t the case: A testament to the power of character development, the series is riveting. None of its superbly crafted characters waste a single frame. —Amy Glynn

 


41. The Fall of the House of Usher

Created by: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Bruce Greenwood, Mary McDonnell, Carla Gugino, Kate Siegel, Henry Thomas, Zach Gilford, Carl Lumbly, Mark Hamill
Original Network: Netflix

No one else in this space is doing what Mike Flanagan does, mining our deepest emotional fears and unspoken desires for the sort of real-life nightmare fuel that’s much, much scarier than any monster under the bed. Through stories that wrestle with everything from questions of faith and belief to falling in love and what it means to truly die, Flanagan’s deeply human horror universe is truly something beautiful to behold.

Though The Fall of the House of Usher is primarily grounded in Edgar Allan Poe’s titular short story of the Usher siblings, Flanagan deftly mixes in elements from many of the author’s other famous works, including “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Raven,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Black Cat,” and more. Episodes are freely littered with Poe references large and small, from character names to full-on poetry recitations, and the series’ larger story reflects the author’s lifelong fascination with themes of guilt, death, paranoia, obsession, and delusion. One part horror-tinged Succession knockoff and one part modern day morality play, The Fall of the House of Usher is both a darkly comedic excoriation of the uber-rich and a slow-moving emotional car crash that explores the dysfunction at the heart of a family that’s losing its members one by one. —Lacy Baugher Milas


42. All American

Created by: April Blair
Stars: Daniel Ezra, Taye Diggs, Bre-Z, Greta Onieogou, Samantha Logan, Michael, Evans Behling, Cody Christian, Karimah Westbrook, Monét Mazur, Jalyn Hall, Chelsea Tavares, Da’Vinchi
Original Network: The CW

More or less the Platonic ideal of the American High School Drama, the CW’s All American is a bright spot of explicitly diverse near*-realism (*I’m looking at you, all you unreasonably fit twenty-something Adonises) in a still mostly white network sea of superheroes, the supernatural and the comically stylized.

Inspired by the life of professional American football player Spencer Paysinger, All American tells the story of Spencer James (Daniel Ezra), a star football player from South L.A. who’s recruited by a coach (Taye Diggs), an expat of the same neighborhood to come play for him in Beverly Hills—a plan which necessitates Spencer moving in with the coach and his family in order to get around the school’s hyper-strict zip code requirements. Much of the drama that follows, both in Beverly Hills and back in South L.A., is what you’d expect: The rich kids have expensive pill addictions or are spiraling into depression after being left alone in their mansions for months on end by their oblivious jet-setting parents, while the kids in South L.A. are trapped in a school that is chronically underfunded and over-policed, and are at risk for falling into gang life.

But the compassion and grace with which All American handles all of these problems, matched with the grounded performances each of the young actors puts in, gives the show ample opportunity to transcend primetime melodrama. As the lead, Ezra is excellent, as compelling in tender moments of private vulnerability as he is in athletic feats on the field, but equally arresting are Bre-Z as Spencer’s fast-talking, bar-spouting queer best friend Coop, and Samantha Logan as the fragile-y sober Olivia Baker, Coach’s daughter and the first friend and confidante Spencer makes in Beverly Hills. Throughout the real-time run of each of its first two seasons, All American hasn’t made much of a splash, but given how immediately it rose to the Top 10 in Netflix’s new internal ranking system once its latest season was added, and how long it held a spot there, even weeks after first being made available, it’s clear that teens streaming at home know exactly where the good shit’s at—and now you do, too. —Alexis Gunderson

 


43. The Sandman

Created by: Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer, Allan Heinberg
Stars: Tom Sturridge, Boyd Holbrook, Vivienne Acheampong, Patton Oswalt
Original Network: Netflix

For decades, it’s been a generally accepted bit of conventional entertainment wisdom that Neil Gaiman’s landmark series The Sandman was essentially unadaptable. Though various interested parties have been attempting to figure out how to bring some version of this story to the screen since the early 1990s, they all eventually found themselves broken on the rocks of the comic’s epic scope, complex lore, and constantly shifting genres. Until now.

In the most basic sense, The Sandman is the story of Morpheus (Tom Sturridge), informally referred to as Dream, the Lord of the Dreaming, and one of seven immortal beings known as the Endless who are essentially personifications of various aspects of human reality. The series begins with Dream’s capture by a mortal occultist named Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), who strips him of his symbols of office—a pouch of sand, a powerful magical ruby, and his very disturbing Helmet of Dreams—and holds him prisoner for the better part of a century. The episodes that follow see the Lord of the Dreaming attempt to rebuild the kingdom which has fallen into disrepair in his absence, try to find his missing totems of power, and reconnect with his family—various members (Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and Destruction), who have mixed feelings of their own about his return.

Netflix’s lush, ten episode The Sandman isn’t perfect. But it’s so, so much more than I ever thought I’d get. And it also comes pretty darn close to doing the impossible, especially in its first six episodes, which manage to mirror the episodic nature of the comic itself, shifting genres, time periods, and storytelling styles from episode to episode and crafting an interconnected world full of hidden corners to explore and new stories to seek out. Yes there are changes to the source material, including multiple gender swapped characters, new and expanded roles for previously minor figures, and a few notable alterations to the way certain characters are introduced. But the story tends to err on the side of expanding its narrative and filling in gaps rather than change for its own sake, and the world of the show feels even richer and more lived in as a result. —Lacy Baugher Milas

 


44. Warrior

Created by: Jonathan Tropper
Stars: Andrew Koji, Olivia Cheng, Jason Tobin, Dianne Doan, Hoon Lee, Kieran Bew, Dean Jagger, Joanna Vanderham, Tom Weston-Jones, Langley Kirkwood, Joe Taslim

For a few years in the 2010s, Cinemax was home to some of TV’s most entertaining and intriguing series. That the demise of the pay cable network, which is also owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, coincided with the development of Max might just be a coincidence. We’ll likely never know the full extent of what went on behind the scenes. But the good news is that Warrior, one of Cinemax’s best originals, was able to make the jump to the streaming service with its third season. And now those three seasons are being licensed to Netflix.

Based on the writings of Bruce Lee and set during the Tong Wars, the series stars Andrew Koji as Ah Sahm, a martial arts prodigy who travels to San Francisco in the late 1870s looking for his sister only to discover she’s become the leader of a powerful Tong… after he’d been taken in by its rival. The result is an expertly choreographed, thrilling action series that deftly depicts the political and racial tensions of the era that turned the city into a powder keg. With multiple entry points and featuring some of the best action sequences you’ll find on the small screen, Warrior is must-see TV. —Kaitlin Thomas

 


45. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

Created by: Brian Lee O’Malley, BenDavid Grabinski
Stars: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Satya Bhabha, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Johnny Simmons, Mark Webber, Mae Whitman, Ellen Wong
Original Network: Netflix

Despite what the marketing suggests, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is not a shot-for-shot remake, but a meta reimagining of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World that tells a (mostly) new story. The result is a delightful animated series that approaches this narrative from a new perspective. Following the movie’s plot throughout the first episode (Scott Pilgrim [Michael Cera] must defeat Ramona Flowers’ [Mary Elizabeth Winstead] seven evil exes before he can date her), it doesn’t take long until Scott Pilgrim Takes Off deviates from the established plot. The main difference here is that in this rendition, we largely follow Ramona as she confronts her previous significant others and tries to piece together why events have gone off course. It synthesizes a transmedia whirlwind as it brings back the movie’s cast and evokes the comic’s art style through creative bursts of animation. Most importantly, it retains the underlying tone and messaging of what came before as it successfully reenvisions this story with Ramona at center stage. In the end, it manages to do something tricky, transposing a more than decade-old tune while barely missing a beat. —Elijah Gonzalez

 


46. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Created by: Rachel Bloom, Aline Brosh McKenna
Stars: Rachel Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III, Santino Fontana, Donna Lynne Champlin, Pete Gardner, Vella Lovell, Gabrielle Ruiz
Original Network: The CW

Don’t let the name keep you from tuning into this one—creator / star Rachel Bloom (who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her work on the show) addresses it before the theme song’s even over, responding to choruses of “she’s the crazy ex-girlfriend” with lines like “that’s a sexist term” and “the situation’s more nuanced than that.” And it is: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a clever musical-comedy (think Flight of the Conchords, if they leaned more heavily on musical theater) about Rebecca Bunch, a lawyer who turns down a partnership at her New York firm to follow her ex-boyfriend Josh to West Covina, California and try to win him back. But it’s more complicated than that: along the way Rebecca learns to address some of the neuroses she’s been carrying around since childhood and gets sidetracked (depending on how you look at it) by a sort of Sam and Diane “will they/won’t they” thing with Josh’s friend Greg. Her “crazy” is sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always presented smartly and sensitively—never what you might expect from a show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. —Bonnie Stiernberg

 


47. Lupin

Created by: George Kay, François Uzan
Stars: Omar Sy, Ludivine Sagnier, Clotilde Hesme, Vincent Londez, Soufiane Guerrab, Shirine Boutella
Original Network: Netflix

Lupin is a show about a boy named Assane who becomes a thief, and may have some identity crisis issues in that he seems to believe he is—and I mean “is” in a literal sense—a gentleman thief named Arsene Lupin (Omar Sy) from a series of stories by the writer Maurice Leblanc. There are some family issues at play; he and his father were Senegalese immigrants, and the old man was accused of stealing a valuable necklace when Assane was a child, which provided the seed for how his entire life unfolded. From that tragic backstory, a sort of comic book hero emerges, and his superpower is legerdemain: the artistry of the thief.

In style, Lupin bears some similarity to the BBC’s Sherlock, at least in the frenetic worship of cleverness that makes an hour-long show feel like 10 jam-packed minutes. Sherlock is the smarter show, Lupin the more outlandish, even though Benedict Cumberbatch’s detective is a wilder character by far. In both shows, though, the viewer is taken into the labyrinth of the mind, where the resolution of a thorny puzzle functions as the pounding impulse behind every plot device. With all its bells and whistles, Sherlock is still the more grounded show, and as mentioned above Lupin is never afraid to veer off the rails, but the pleasures of the unraveling mystery are the same, even if the protagonists operate on opposite sides of the law.

While Lupin strains and then shatters credulity at the best of times, it’s also a pretty great way to spend an hour, especially in a year when you take what you can get. Make of that conclusion what you will, but I think as long as we keep our wits about us, there’s nothing wrong with a little fun. —Shane Ryan

 


48. The Haunting of Bly Manor

Created by: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Amelia Eve, T’Nia Miller, Rahul Kohli
Original Network: Netflix

When is a horror story not a horror story? When is a ghost not a ghost? If a ghost lives, breathes and walks among the living, can that really be called anything other than life? If a ghost feels every bit as much love, fear and regret as a living person, then isn’t life just as fraught with peril as death?

These are a few of the roughly 10,000 questions that Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor would like you to roll around in your head during its nine-hour runtime, in which it adapts Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw but simultaneously finds time to go down every narrative rabbit hole you might find on a sprawling English manor’s property. The follow-up to Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House is more unfocused than its predecessor, attempting to build an operatic narrative with detailed backstories for seemingly every character, but it possesses the same sort of devastating emotional intensity seen in the previous Netflix series. What it doesn’t have, though, is likely to disappoint a certain chunk of the audience (and thrill others): The scares.

In the end, what we have in Bly Manor is an epic, romantic gothic melodrama that isn’t interested in classical horror motifs like a struggle of good against evil. This is a deeply human story in which there’s no such thing as indiscriminate evil–only misunderstood and fractured people, both living and dead. Even the ghosts all become figures of sympathy and pity, as they’re revealed as products of misdirected human emotions such as rage, loneliness and loss, rather than the supernatural bogeymen we’re more familiar with. —Jim Vorel


49. 3 Body Problem

Created by: David Benioff, DB Weiss, and Alexander Woo
Stars: Jovan Adepo, John Bradley, Rosalind Chao, Liam Cunningham, Eiza González, Jess Hong, Marlo Kelly, Alex Sharp, Sea Shimooka, Zine Tseng, Saamer Usmani, Benedict Wong, and Jonathan Pryce
Original Network: Netflix

3 Body Problem, which adapts Liu Cixin’s Hugo Award-winning novel of the same name, pushes past traditional sci-fi barriers that usually befall loaded adaptations. Over its eight-episode run, it introduces a non-stop procession of reality-bending imagery and well-delivered twists that capture the wonder and horror of what may be waiting for us in the stars. It’s an absolute page-turner that confidently switches modes and genres, acting as a strong comeback for Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. From the jump, this series takes massive high-concept swings, the vast majority of which cleanly connect. We watch as the laws of physics seemingly break down, glowing digits plague researchers, improbably realistic virtual reality games surface, and the universe blinks. It’s a rare mystery that becomes more interesting as its secrets are revealed, and the type of sci-fi yarn that will leave you looking at the night sky with a mixture of curiosity and consternation. —Elijah Gonzalez


50. Dead Boy Detectives

Created by: Steve Yockey
Stars: George Rexstrew, Jayden Revri, Kassius Nelson, Briana Cuoco, Ruth Connell, Yuyu Kitamura, Jenn Lyon
Original Network: Netflix

Set in the same universe as Netflix’s Neil Gaiman adaptation The Sandman, Dead Boy Detectives follows the story of Edwin Payne (George Rexstrew) and Charles Rowland (Jayden Revri), two ghosts who became best friends after their deaths. Now, they refuse to part from one another, even if staying together means spending most of their time avoiding and running from Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), the member of the Endless charged with escorting souls to whatever afterlife is meant to come next for each of them. Rather than move on, they’ve founded the Dead Boy Detectives, an investigative agency meant to solve supernatural mysteries and help ghosts find the answers that could give them a shot at peace. The series’ eight episodes are largely framed around a series of case-of-the-week-style investigations, with a handful of overarching plots tying them all together. Entertaining, often quite weird, and strangely charming by turns, Dead Boy Detectives doesn’t quite reach the emotional and narrative heights of The Sandman. But it’s a good time in its own right, and its existence serves as an important reminder that there is (so much) more to this fictional world than Tom Sturridge’s Dream, and plenty of hidden corners worth exploring. Here’s hoping this adventure is just the first of many. —Lacy Baugher Milas


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