The 25 Best British Shows on Netflix

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The 25 Best British Shows on Netflix

One of the best things about the streaming era is the accessibility of shows from abroad. And no country has had a bigger impact on the American TV landscape than the United Kingdom. We’ve scoured the Netflix library for our favorite shows from Great Britain, whether they originally aired on UK channels like BBC and ITV or are Netflix originals set in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. From historical dramas and dark comedies to nature documentaries and our favorite baking competition, Netflix has a rich catalog of British TV shows. Here are our 25 favorites.

1. The Great British Baking Show

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

Watch on Netflix

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, 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


2. The Crown

Created by: Peter Morgan
Stars: Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby, Jeremy Northam, Victoria Hamilton, Anton Lesser, Matthew Goode
Original Network: Netflix, 2016-present

Watch on 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 in to the Suez Crisis of in 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 new 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 now Prince Philip, Margaret transforms into Helena Bonham Carter, and we are introduced to Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), Princess Anne (Erin Doherty).

The weight of the crown itself is felt throughout, 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 in this moment, 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


3. Outlander

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

Watch on Netflix

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 name 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


4. Bodyguard

Created by: Jed Mercurio
Stars: Richard Madden, Keeley Hawes, Gina McKee, Sophie Rundle
Original Network: ITV

Watch on Netflix

In Jed Mercurio’s exquisite actioner, there are no rooftop chases, no ticking clocks, no fisticuffs with the villain’s henchmen. Instead, the six-part series finds suspense in watchful camerawork and careful pacing, and it’s this thorough control that makes Bodyguard worthy of your next TV obsession: It refuses shortcuts, rejects ellipses, until it approaches the effect of real time. Rather than treat this as a gimmick though, star Richard Madden and directors Thomas Vincent and John Strickland use the technique to create potent echoes of protagonist David Budd’s torturous vigilance, and indeed the nation’s. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, David receives an assignment to protect Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), a rising political star with her eye on 10 Downing Street—and a reputation as a national security hardliner. The result is an ingenious layering of form atop function, all within the context of a taut political thriller: The series is less 24 or House of Cards than Homeland at its most momentous, stripped of all but its hero’s ability to see what others miss. —Matt Brennan


5. Derry Girls

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

Watch on Netflix

The lovely, silly, funny and emotional Derry Girls has returned to Netflix for Season Two. The brief series (each season only runs six episodes) focuses 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


6. Call the Midwife

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

Watch on Netflix

“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


7. Monty Python’s Flying Circus

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Created by and Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam
Original Network: BBC

Watch on Netflix

And now for something completely different! The British sketch comedy, which ran from 1969 to 1973, is so beloved that it’s since become the subject of questions on the British citizenship exam. Provocative, irreverent, and profoundly weird, its send-up of the isle’s culture and institutions—particularly the elite, educated class from which the troupe’s own members hailed—take merciless aim at authority in every conceivable form, all with a dash of surrealism and Terry Gilliam’s sublime animations. Its arrival on Netflix is nothing less than a godsend. —Matt Brennan


8. Sherlock

Created by: Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Mark Gatiss, Rupert Graves
Original Network: BBC

Watch on Netflix

The guiding hand behind such English hits as Press Gang and Coupling, Steven Moffat has gained the most attention for resuscitating Dr. Who into the Anglo-Saxon ambassador of science fiction. But Moffat and frequent collaborator Mark Gatiss transcended their best work with Sherlock, the BBC drama that hijacks Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic sleuth into the present with awe-inspiring intelligence and style. Calling Sherlock a television show is a tad deceptive, though; the series typically produces only a few movie-length stories each season. As it has continued, it has dug deeper into the psychological fault lines of Holmes, played with sterile arrogance by Benedict Cumberbatch (or as Seth Meyers noted on SNL, the only man with a name more ridiculous than Sherlock Holmes). When viewers aren’t trying to piece together the mystery of the week, we’re finding fleeting clues to the guarded humanity of London’s finest “Consulting Detective,” usually to the chagrin of long-suffering accomplice John Watson (Martin Freeman) and volatile love interest Irene Adler (Lara Pulver). —Sean Edgar


9. Sex Education

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

Watch on 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


10. The English Game

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Created by: Julian Fellowes, Tony Charles, Oliver Cotton
Stars: Edward Holcroft, Kevin Guthrie, Charlotte Hope, Niamh Walsh, Craig Parkinson, James Harkness
Original Network: Netflix

Watch on Netflix

The English Game arrives at a good time for two reasons. One, the 21st century has really been lacking in great sports movies that so dominated the 1980s and ‘90s. Two, sports are cancelled right now because of the spread of coronavirus. So why not settle in and watch some pale but fit English lads run around the pitch in what is essentially Chariots of Fire: The Series?

Taking place in the 1870s, the six-part miniseries (from Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes) introduces us to the true story of two players from opposing sides who will change the game in critical ways. The first, brashly handsome Arthur Kinnaird (Edward Holcroft ), has dominated the field for years playing for the Old Etonians—whose team has not only won four FA (Football Association) cups at this point, but who also double as FA board members and chairman. (You see the problems already). The second, Fergus Suter (Kevin Guthrie ), is a wee Scottish powerhouse who has been brought to play for Darwen FC, a northern mill-town club, before being wooed by Blackburn.

The larger question that The English Game tackles (pun partially intended) is one of inclusion. Who is this game for? It was crafted by wealthy Englishmen, but are they the future of it? We know they answer is “no,” but it’s something in the 1870s that was only just beginning to become clear. Fergus and Love—two of the best players in the game—are Scottish and working class. This is already revolutionary. But their play style is also evolving from the one the Old Etonians employ. Fergus encourages his teammates to move out farther and pass more, something we’ve seen Spanish players in just the last decade take to an exceptional art form.

The short run and miniseries format (one that is a true miniseries, with a very clear end) make The English Game an easy investment, and one that everyone can enjoy while under quarantine orders or beyond. But it’s also a story whose questions are still very relevant today (regarding hooliganism, playing for money versus pride, the role of amateur clubs). Its answers are, too. Who is the game for? That is clear enough: Anyone who loves it. When speaking of the growing numbers of supporters in the stands or those anxiously sitting at pubs waiting for scores, characters note again and again that it “gives them hope and pride and so much more.” And that’s what makes it not just The English Game, but the beautiful one.—Allison Keene


11. Our Planet

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Created by: Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey, Colin Butfield
Narrated by: David Attenborough
Original Network: Netflix

Watch on Netflix

Coming from those who have helmed previous installments of the Planet Earth series, the engrossing Our Planet is specifically a call for conservation. The fantastic globe-trotting nature documentary keeps to a general pattern in each episode: introduce something wonderful, educate us about it, and then explain why it’s dying or being put in peril because of climate change. Our Planet holds back a little in terms of showing the demise of charismatic megafauna, a long-time staple of nature docs, because its desire is to make us feel connected enough to this planet to do something about the problems facing it (and ultimately us). But there is certainly plenty to make us feel queasy about the stakes. Though it is a little more overt in terms of an agenda than its Planet Earth (and Blue Planet) predecessors, Our Planet is similar in that it utilizes the most cutting-edge camera technology to capture this world in all of its splendor. It is absolutely breathtaking—and incredibly urgent. —Allison Keene


12. Broadchurch

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Created by: Chris Chibnall
Stars: David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, Andrew Buchan
Original Network: ITV

Watch on Netflix

Broadchurch is a riveting UK crime drama that focuses on the murder of a young boy. Former Doctor Who star David Tennant leads as detective Alec Hardy, who with his partner Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) must infiltrate a close-knit community on Britain’s Jurassic Coast. Of course, everybody in town has a secret, and no one takes kindly to the mounting media attention. In its first season, Hardy and Miller continue their investigation, the mystery unfolds in a slow, deceptively languid fashion, lingering on the effects of the child’s death upon the town’s residents. From there things become more sprawling (and arguably less compelling), but still binge-worthy. Created by writer Chris Chibnall (another Doctor Who vet) is a master of atmosphere (a haunting, piano-driven score, the glistening seaside vistas) by taking his time with the details, he keeps the whodunit at a slow boil that rewards patient viewers. —Amanda Schurr


13. Skins

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Created by: Bryan Elsley, Jamie Brittain
Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Hannah Murray, April Pearson, Mike Bailey, Joe Dempsie, Larissa Wilson, Mitch Hewer, Dev Patel
Original Network: E4

Watch on Netflix

Until recent years, almost all depictions of how teenagers really live their lives has been used as a scare tactic for grown-ups to keep their young charges in line, and away from sex and drugs. But the world at large has finally warmed up to giving kids (you know, the people actually watching these shows) an unblinking reflection of their day-to-day existence. That’s where a show like Skins succeeded mightily. For seven seasons, creators Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain gave their characters the goods: casual sex, casual (and not-so-casual) drug and alcohol use, depression, pregnancies, eating disorders, sexual identity crises, and bullying. As the show was produced in the UK, it allowed for a number of characters and storylines that you’d rarely see with such clarity here in the States, like the struggles of Congolese immigrant Tommy (Merveille Lukeba), the life of an unapologetic metalhead (Alexander Arnold) and a character with high-functioning autism (Ollie Barbieri). Like most high school shows, the music and costumes in Skins will likely not age well in the years to come, nor will some of the more trumped-up dramatic elements wended through many seasons. But the show keeps finding an audience thanks to its often fearless approach to depicting modern teens as they are, and how they will surely continue to be: reckless, fearless, and sure that they’re going to live forever. —Robert Ham


14.The End of the F—ing World

Created by: Charlie Covell, Jonathan Entwistle, Lucy Tcherniak
Stars: Alex Lawther, Jessica Barden, Gemma Whelan, Wunmi Mosaku, Steve Oram, Christine Bottomley, Navin Chowdhry, Barry Ward
Original Network: Channel 4/Netflix

Watch on Netflix

James (Alex Lawther) is 17 and kills enough small animals that he truly believes he’s a psychopath. Alyssa (Jessica Barden) is 17 and kills nothin—not that her words lack for trying. Both are unbelievably good at being at the wrong intensity levels for normal human interaction: Barden goes loud and acerbic, while Lawther shuts down so completely it’s hard to tell if he was born or simply emerged from the Britain’s collective post-punk sigh, like a Promethean clay figure stirring from Athena’s breath. But The End of the F—ing World doesn’t want your morbid fascination. Or, unlike almost every other show with similar subject matter, it doesn’t want it to stay morbid. A show about a boy bent on killing his road trip partner as the two high schoolers run away from home sounds more like the grisly true-crime TV we’ve been groomed to enjoy since news channels realized fear, violence and tragedy attracted eyeballs. Yet the The End of the F—ing World gives the middle finger to this Nightcrawler-esque worldview, finding hope in a world of psychopaths, within the context of a TV landscape that loves them. —Jacob Oller


15. Last Tango in Halifax

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Created by: Sally Wainwright
Stars: Derek Jacobi, Anne Reid, Sarah Lancashire, Nicola Walker
Original Network: BBC One / PBS

Watch on Netflix

On the surface, Last Tango in Halifax looks like a sweet but slight story of two British widowers who knew each other in childhood and who find each other again to rekindle a lost love. But the series is truly an engrossing ensemble drama with a witty and charming sense of humor, as it tells the sprawling story of a now-blended Yorkshire family and their many personal conflicts (and reconciliations). Sally Wainwright’s series can take soapy twists and turns, but it’s always anchored by outstanding performances from the four leads and a cozy sense of home (home meaning either the posh side of the family or the farmer side, depending). Last Tango in Halifax is an easy and comforting binge-watch. —Allison Keene


16. Giri/Haji

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Created by: Joe Barton
Stars: Takehiro Hira, Kelly Macdonald, Y?suke Kubozuka, Will Sharpe
Original Network: BBC Two

Watch on Netflix

BBC Two’s Giri / Haji, available in the U.S. via Netflix, is already one of the year’s best surprises. The international thriller starts when a Tokyo detective, Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira), is tasked by a prominent Yakuza crime family—in conjunction with the police force—to secretly go to London in search of his brother Yuto (Yosuke Kubozuka ), who he thought died a year ago. The hope is that bringing Yuto back will stop a sprawling war that he helped kickstart among the Yakuza factions. But like Kenzo’s investigation into Yuto’s disappearance and faked death, Giri /Haji is full of unexpected twists, not just in its narrative but in its form. It’s dark and violent at times, but also funny and full of heart. At the center of the story is the tale of two brothers, yet it’s also about forged family and discovering the truth about one’s self. The gang war is the framework for the story, which plays out in many ways like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (as far as a variety of different crime bosses all marching toward one another); and yet, one of its most moving scenes takes place during a quiet, makeshift Yom Kippur dinner regarding atonement.

The series is just frankly stunning. And crucially, funny. Though it would be wonderful to spend more time in this world with a second season, there is a palpable and beautiful sense of healing that has ended this one. —Allison Keene


17. Peaky Blinders

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Created by: Steven Knight
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill, Helen McCrory, Paul Anderson, Iddo Goldberg
Original Network: BBC

Watch on Netflix

Cillian Murphy and Sam Neill star in this rock ’n‘ roll gangster drama set in 1919 in the West Midlands industrial city of Birmingham (music from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, PJ Harvey and the White Stripes adds a modern touch to the period proceedings). Murphy is a soldier-turned-ambitious kingpin of the Shelby crime family. Neill is the equally ruthless inspector out to dismantle his organization, who enlists a lovely mole (Annabelle Wallis, also of Fleming) to aid his campaign. (Tom Hardy joins the cast in the second season.) As the steely, azure-eyed Tommy Shelby, Murphy brings his trademark quiet intensity to a multidimensional antihero, one of several thoughtful characterizations in the Shelby clan. As for the gang’s/ show’s namesake, picture razor blades sewn into the brim of its wearers’ caps and you’ll get the head-butting, eye-gouging extent of Peaky Blinders’ viciousness. —Amanda Schurr


18. The Fall

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Created by: Allan Cubitt
Stars: Gillian Anderson, Jamie Dornan, Valene Kane, Séalinín Brennan, Colin Morgan, Bronagh Taggart, Niamh McGrady, Sarah Beattie, John Lynch
Original Network: BBC

Watch on Netflix

Let it be known that before he was Christian Grey, Jamie Dornan proved his acting chops and charisma as a disturbingly un-disturbable murderer in this superb psychological thriller. Dornan’s mild-mannered husband, father and grief counselor (!) is among the most terrifying onscreen serial killers in recent memory. Paul Spector is a stalker, as exacting and methodical as his eventual pursuer. Enter Gillian Anderson’s Stella Gibson, a British detective superintendent called to Belfast to look into a spate of gruesome murders. As the cat-and-mouse game intensifies, Anderson’s characterization is its own triumph: analytical, uncompromising, reserved, but brazenly sexual on her own terms, entirely unfazed by the politicking and dick-swinging of her male colleagues. That we know the identity of the killer from the show’s first frames, and yet can’t take our eyes off the screen is a testament to the stealth creep with which The Fall operates. —Amanda Schurr


19. Black Mirror

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Created by: Charlie Brooker
Original Network: Channel 4 (UK)

Watch on Netflix

There are probably times in most of our lives when we see our technological world as more of a dystopia than a utopia. The way it curbs our freedom, diminishes our privacy, and subjects us to anonymous attacks can feel like an unforgivable violation. But the worst part is, we’re complicit—we’ve accepted the intrusion, and in some cases, or even most cases, we’ve become addicted. The ubiquity of technology is a reality that we can’t fight against, and to maintain our sanity, we have to accept it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth questioning, which is exactly what Black Mirror is all about. The title is nearly perfect, as explained by creator Charlie Brooker: “The black mirror of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.” The job of this show is to reflect our society in an unflattering light, and they do it with a new cast and a new story in each episode. This is not fun watching—it’s mostly horrifying—but even if our brave new world is inescapable, the show represents a kind of protest that feels more necessary than ever. —Shane Ryan


20. Flowers

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Created by: Will Sharpe
Stars: Olivia Colman, Julian Barratt, Daniel Rigby, Sophia Di Martino, Will Sharpe
Original Network: Channel 4 / Seeso

Watch on Netflix

The dark, bizarre, hilarious, and deeply emotional series Flowers is nothing like what you might expect. Styled initially as dark British comedy (which begins with a thwarted suicide that’s played with sighing resignation), Sharpe’s alternatively dreamy and nightmarish series follows the exploits of a family whose members are all on the brink of a breakdown (and more often than not cross over). Flowers is about the kind of darkness that follows you like a shadow, and the various ways it can manifest. It sounds like a slog, but it isn’t in even the slightest. With its stunning cast, Flowers is an extraordinary work, deeply touching and mysterious, working like a fever dream to explain what goes on in our minds and how we manage to carry on. It can be challenging—the Japanese-English Sharpe plays what feels like a racial caricature—and yet, it’s all part of his strange take on otherness and finding one’s place in a world that seems built for other people. —Allison Keene


21. Collateral

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Created by: David Hare
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Nathaniel Martello-White, Jeany Spark, Nicola Walker, John Simm, Billie Piper, Hayley Squires
Original Network: BBC Two

Watch on Netflix

The four-episode UK prestige crime series takes place in London over the course of four days, after the fatal shooting of a pizza delivery man. Academy Award-nominee Carey Mulligan plays Kip Glaspie, a detective inspector who refuses to accept this killing as a simple random murder and seeks out the darker truth hidden in the shadows. There are also a host of political, racial, and social implications to the murder that are all given full consideration by the whip-smart dialogue, elevating this series into a thoughtful, compelling work. —Mike Mudano and Allison Keene


22. Top Boy

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Created by: Ronan Bennett
Stars: Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson, Micheal Ward, Shone Romulus, Malcolm Kamulete, David Omoregie
Original Network: Channel 4

Watch on Netflix

What do you get when an alleged former IRA bomber from the Falls Road in Belfast (who spent time in the infamous Long Kesh prison on charges of murder) becomes a respected novelist and, in his fifties, creates a TV show based on gang culture in East London? This singular biography, belonging to Ronan Bennett, yields up Top Boy, the UK’s slightly less ambitious answer to The Wire. The first two seasons debuted in 2011 and 2013, making the show’s return one of the most unlikely TV events of the year. This is more than welcome—amidst the stifling realism and cruelty of the fictional Summerhouse estates, there is poetry (like The Wire, the patois is a delight) and vulnerable humanity, subject always to the grinding machinery of systemic violence. Sharon Duncan-Brewster is excellent as Lisa, the resilient mother of Ra’Nell, who was the star until the creators realized what they had in Ashley Walters and Kane Robinson, two real-life rappers who are spectacular as Dushane and Sully—friends and enemies fighting for oxygen and power in a world that is loath to give up either for very long.—Shane Ryan


23. The Last Kingdom

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Created by: Bernard Cornwell, Nick Murphy
Stars: Alexander Dreymon, Toby Regbo, David Dawson, Tobias Santelmann, Emily Cox, Adrian Bower
Original Network: BBC Two

Watch on Netflix

Set in the 9th and 10th centuries when a united England was just a dream, The Last Kingdom was based on Bernard Cornwell’s historical fiction series, The Saxon Stories, following Uhtred of Bebbanburg, the son one of the seven kingdoms of the Heptarchy, who is captured as a boy and raised by Danish Vikings. Originally produced for BBC Two, Netflix picked the series up after two seasons, continuing the story through book 8 of the series (the 13th book, War Lord is due for publication in fall of 2020). Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon) is pulled in two directions by his loyalties to his Danish adoptive brother Ragnar the Younger (Tobias Santelmann) and the Saxon ruler of Wessex, King Alfred (David Dawson), who has promised to restore him to Bamburgh Castle. It’s a gripping tale of politics and war that should scratch that Game of Thrones itch without the magic and weird choices for late-series character development. Netflix has renewed the show for a fifth series, scheduled for a late-2021 release. —Josh Jackson


24. The IT Crowd

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Created by: Graham Linehan
Stars: Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, Matt Berry
Original Network: Channel 4

Watch on Netflix

Note: Paste does not endorse, support or agree with the transphobia and anti-trans activism of The IT Crowd’s creator Graham Linehan.

Stuck in a small, chaotic basement office, IT nerds Roy Trenneman (Chris O’Dowd) and Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade) are always happy to help—well, Moss is, Roy is a lot happier sitting on his arse doing nothing. Head of the IT department Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson) really has no idea of what she’s doing and is convinced that typing “Google” into Google will “break the internet”. Moss is your typical school-yard-bully victim. While he’s extremely articulate and proper in his way of speaking and dressing, he seems to have been overly coddled by his mother with whom he still lives. You might not necessarily want these guys to take a crack at fixing your computer, but you should definitely reserve them a place on your screen.—Roxanne Sancto


25. After Life

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Created by: Ricky Gervais
Stars: Ricky Gervais, Tom Basden, Tony Way
Original Network: Netflix

Watch on Netflix

After Life is simultaneously a masterpiece of dark comedy and an incredibly difficult show to recommend. In a time where Ricky Gervais’s stand-up persona has increasingly become defined by contrarian edgelord humor, this soulful and reflective show comes as a surprise. This is easily the writer/actor’s best work in years, a tragic piece of comedy that scraps dark edges of the soul peppered with fleeting moments of whimsy. Gervais plays Tony, a reporter for a small free weekly newspaper whose wife Lisa has just died of breast cancer. All he has left of her is memories and a series of videos from their marriage. Lost in his mourning, Tony flails through his day job covering absurd local news stories and being unpleasant to his friends. After Life comes with the highest possible trigger warning for people suffering from suicidal idealizations. As a whole, the first six-episode arc is a healing and beautiful story about growth. Before the light comes through, the bleakness of its clouds is all-encompassing. In many ways, that’s why it’s powerful. As someone who’s haunted by deaths, that’s why I found it healing. It’s also why it feels irresponsible to recommend it without warning. —John-Michael Bond



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