The 20 Best Political TV Shows on Netflix

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The 20 Best Political TV Shows on Netflix

We’re deep in the heart of election season—and by that I mean the U.S. in the 21st century is one unending election season, kind of like I imagine summer in Fiji. As the 2018 midterms approach, presidential hopefuls and the guy already occupying the White House are stumping in places like Iowa and South Carolina in preparation for 2020. So we’ll forgive you for wanting to visit other times and places, fictional or historical, to see people who aren’t our current government overlords navigate their respective political landscapes.

It’s good to both be reminded that history is littered with even worse rulers than ours (The Tudors) and to visit alternate realities with inspiring leaders (Leslie Knope/Josiah Bartlet 2020). From a too-short-lived political talk show and a sci-fi series full of diplomats to a small-town sitcom and White House drama, there’s a range of offerings currently available on the streaming giant. (And, while you’re at it, check out our list of the best political shows of all time.)

Here are the 20 best political TV shows on Netflix:

20. Medici: Masters of Florence

Creators: Frank Spotniz, Nicholas Meyer
Stars: Richard Madden, Annabel Scholey, Stuart Martin, Alessandro Sperduti, Dustin Hoffman
Network: Netflix

Historical intrigue can make for excellent TV, and though Netflix’s Medici: Masters of Florence goes too far to manufacture drama when the truth is more entertaining, it nonetheless boasts an exceptionally captivating historical premise. Season One commences with the untimely death of the family’s founding patriarch, Giovanni de’Medici, and focuses on his son Cosimo’s push to assert authority over the Florentine Republic. Through a series of flashbacks, we get a clearer sense of the rocky relationship that Cosimo (Richard Madden) has with his wife, Contessina (Annabel Scholey), and how he’s long stood in the shadow of his overbearing parents. A great deal of attention is paid to the threat of rival families like the Albizzi. We are shown a Cosimo who is very much going it alone. He’s unable to trust even his brother, Lorenzo (Stuart Martin), or to put his faith in the abilities of his soft-spoken son, Piero (Alessandro Sperduti). This Cosimo is determined to gain power over the city, but we often find him at the helm of a ship taking on water. —Christine Contrada

19. Versailles

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Creators: Simon Mirren, David Wolstencroft
Stars: George Blagden, Alexander Vlahos, Tygh Runyan, Stuart Bowman, Amira Casar, Evan Williams, Noémie Schmidt, Anna Brewster, Sarah Winter
Network: Ovation

This French-Canadian co-production, which airs Stateside on Ovation, turns “palace intrigue” into a raison d’être: The series follows “the Sun King,” Louis XIV, as he moves the royal court to his country home in the aftermath of a quelled rebellion. As lavishly appointed dramas named after grand estates go, it’s no Wolf Hall, but its sexy, soapy, sumptuous melodramatics will scratch your itch for (very, very) rich people behaving (very, very) badly. Catch up now, and you can catch the third and final season as it rolls out. —Matt Brennan

18. Reign

Creators: Laurie McCarthy, Stephanie SenGupta
Stars: Adelaide Kane, Megan Follows, Torrance Coombs, Toby Regbo, Jenessa Grant
Network: The CW

While it’s true that Reign strays from historical facts quite a bit, the sets, costumes, and performances are delightful. Through her marriage, Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane), also becomes Queen Consort of France in 1542. But she, and many others, feel that Mary is the rightful Queen of England, not Elizabeth. Two heads, one crown. Spoiler alert for Reign fans who are not history nerds: When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die… and let’s just say Mary does not become Queen of England. —Madina Papadopoulos

17. Designated Survivor

Creator: David Guggenheim
Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, Natascha McElhone, Adan Canto, Italia Ricci, LaMonica Garrett, Tanner Buchanan, Kal Penn
Networks: ABC, Netflix

Designated Survivor has proved itself to be quite the show for mid-week network television (though Season Three has been picked up by Netflix after the series’ cancellation at ABC). One-hour dramas on broadcast TV tend to be very soapy—lots of scandalous sex, melodramatic secrets and convoluted plot twists. But this series displays strong writing with various multi-dimensional characters, gripping conflicts and edge-of-your-seat plot twists. Kiefer Sutherland is fantastic as the lead, even if he occasionally goes into that signature whispery voice thing made famous on 24. And the overall premise remains fascinating, not just in terms of exploring the scenario of the designated survivor becoming president, but what happens in the aftermath. —Kristofer Seppala

16. The Last Kingdom

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

Based on Bernard Cornwell’s historical fiction series, The Saxon Stories, BBC’s The Last Kingdom brings to life a time before there was an England. Set in the 9th century, the show follows the various kingdoms on the British Isles and a young boy, Uhtred, who is born a Saxon but raised as a Dane. The plot itself isn’t based on the history of any single individual, but rather, on the birth of a nation with plenty of political intrigue in the court of Wessex King Alfred. —Madina Papadopoulos

15. Colony

Creators: Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal
Stars: Josh Holloway, Sarah Wayne Callies, Peter Jacobson, Amanda Righetti, Tory Kittles
Network: USA

Josh Holloway. Need I say more? Okay, fine. Holloway stars as former FBI agent Will Bowman. He and his wife Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies of The Walking Dead) live in Los Angeles, where aliens have invaded and now occupy the city. Nothing can be done without their knowledge. Will and Katie were separated from their son at the time of the invasion and now must decide what lengths they are willing to go to in order to get him back. From executive producers Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Ryan Condal, the series plays on the tension between protecting your family and rising up against oppressive invaders and what happens when husband and wife find themselves on different sides of that line. —Shannon M. Houston

14. Ingobernable

Creators: Epigmenio Ibarra, Natassja Ibarra, Verónica Velasco
Stars: Kate del Castillo, Eric Hayser, Fernando Lujan, Eréndira Ibarra, Alberto Guerra
Network: Netflix

Ingobernable begins with a little domestic tussle. You know how it goes. You’re Emilia Urquiza (Kate del Castillo), the first lady of Mexico, and your hubby, the charismatic and once-popular young President Diego Nava (Eric Hayser), is a little upset because you’ve served him with divorce papers and caused his ratings to plummet. You know how charismatic and popular young Presidents can have a dark side the public doesn’t see? Well—that. So you’re in your hotel suite and the guy bursts in in a towering rage. He’s beside himself. There are accusations. Someone has screwed someone and/or screwed up everything they’ve worked for, someone’s betrayed someone, someone has in fact betrayed the entire country—holy backstory, this is one freighted tiff! A viewer might be forgiven for developing the impression that the title, “Ungovernable,” is a multi-layered one.

The title sequence, which owes more than a little to James Bond, clearly telegraphs that we’re in for some intrigue and some melodrama, and the series delivers. Del Castillo’s dramatic performance is very strong, and the supporting cast likewise. The frying-pan-to-fire leaps are paced to keep you on the edge of your seat—this woman is trying to flee a world where everyone knows who she is, half of them are looking for her, and almost no one turns out to be very trustworthy. She’s like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, except that we’re only mostly sure she’s been framed. —Amy Glynn

13. Marseille

Creator: Dan Franck
Stars: Gérard Depardieu, Benoît Magimel, Géraldine Pailhas, Nadia Fares, Stéphane Caillard
Network: Netflix

Drugs, poverty, wealth, violence, and a setting unfamiliar to many-an-American eye? Marseille isn’t quite the French Narcos, but its compelling enough to hook anyone on the prowl for their next binge. Gérard Depardieu plays Robert Taro, the mayor of Marseilles, and the series’ opening shot makes it clear that he’s got a bit of a drug problem. Taro is supposed to be on his way out of office, but the love for (or addiction to) political life keeps him in the game once he sees that dirty dealings are underway. Lucas Barre (Benoît Magimel) is his protégée?turned-faux responsible for said dirty dealings. The series follows the two as they try to uncover each other’s weaknesses, while maintaining their rock-n-roll lifestyles. Barre is a ladies man, whose bedroom affairs are inextricable from his political life. Depardieu is a recovering addict who appears to have things under control for now, but is back to using on the job. There are little dramas unfolding everywhere that contribute to the political tension of the series, but one of the most interesting facets right now has to be the role Taro’s daughter plays in everything. Julia Taro (Stéphane Caillard) is a budding journalist, desperate to make a name for herself away from her father’s shadow—so much so that she refuses to use his last name in her work. Her reporting sends her into the projects of Marseilles, as she’s fascinated by the unique positioning of this very much other world among her home life. The drug deals and violence she encounters there trickle down to the political world of her father—or, the violence, drugs and power struggles in her father’s world are trickling down to the projects. Like Narcos, Marseille seems interested in the effects of the drug world for those living in poverty, versus those in power. Drugs, violence and corruption exist in both worlds, so Marseilles asks what Narcos (along with a show like The Wire) asked: Who are the real criminals? —Shannon M. Houston

12. The Break with Michelle Wolf

Creator: Michelle Wolf
Star: Michelle Wolf
Network: Netflix

Despite the Trump administration’s increasingly volatile actions, one thing that’s remained a calming constant is the way late-night series have perfected the funny/not funny news segment. Few know this better than Michelle Wolf, an alum of both Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers—two programs with unique spins on the educational jesting that has fallen at comedians’ feet in journalism’s decline. In one of the better episodes of Wolf’s short-lived Netflix show, The Break, she lampoons both the style of these comedy/news features and the faltering fourth estate that makes them necessary in an evisceration she calls “Segment Time.” In just six and a half minutes, she manages to blame everything on POTUS and ends with a demand to be known as the national treasure that she is. Are we not entertained? Yes, yes we are. —Whitney Friedlander

11. Madam Secretary

Creator: Barbara Hall
Stars: Téa Leoni, Tim Daly, Patina Miller, Geoffrey Arend, Erich Bergen, Željko Ivanek, Bebe Neuwirth, Wallis Currie-Wood
Network: CBS

In an era when cable and streaming platforms regularly kick the broadcast networks collective asses up and down the field, it’s a nice surprise when quality programming shows up over the air. After a slow-ish start, CBS’ Madam Secretary had developed into a solid hour of political intrigue, delivering a heady mix of domestic and foreign politics with a soupçon of humor and an interesting portrayal of home life. While the show doesn’t name the president’s party affiliation, it does tackle both real world potentials like dirty bombs on US soil and a coup in Iran, as well as “ripped-from-the-headlines” bits like increased relations with Cuba and Boko Haram kidnappings. Tea Leoni is everything you’d want as a TV Secretary of State, and rather than simply using her family (including the always exceptional Tim Daly as husband Henry) and staff (I’d watch Bebe Neuwirth read a phone book) as occasional one-note props, creator Barbara Hall has developed well-rounded characters and given them all meaningful plotlines, something that’s often difficult to do with a large cast. —Mark Rabinowitz

10. The Tudors

Creator: Michael Hirst
Stars: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Sam Neill, Callum Blue, Henry Cavill, Henry Czerny, Natalie Dormer, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Peter O’Toole, Max von Sydow, Joss Stone
Network: Showtime

“Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.” This cozy little rhyme helps us all remember the poor women who married King Henry the VIII, every one (practically) meeting with an unpleasant end. He divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, for a younger woman, and Catherine spent her remaining days destitute and imprisoned in a castle. Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell on GoT) plays Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife. Proving that karma is indeed a bitch, she was framed by her nemeses to make it seem like she had cheated on the king, and was beheaded. While Anne died young, her legacy did continue with her daughter, Elizabeth and The Tudors continues to tell her story, as well as those inhabiting the various thrones around her. —Madina Papadopoulos

9. Bodyguard

Creator: Jed Mercurio
Stars: Richard Madden, Keeley Hawes
Network: BBC

Bodyguard’s foremost strength is its unflagging patience: There’s no rush to end negotiations, no insistence on swift detonations, no eagerness to blow through interrogations simply to move the narrative forward. In fact, Jed Mercurio’s exquisite actioner is worth obsessing over because the series itself is obsessive, in the original sense of the term: Besieged, haunted, possessed, as if by an evil spirit. It’s this that bodyguard David Budd (Richard Madden), his charge, Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), the Metropolitan Police, MI-5, the news organizations, the British populace, and perhaps the entire “West” are clenched against amid a series of escalating attacks. For all its thrills, shocks, and sudden twists, after all, Bodyguard is fundamentally a story of people desperate to protect freedoms they’ve long since destroyed, and though it ultimately complicates any easy political reading by tossing up a host of hurdles, scandals, turncoats, and cover-ups, it’s less like 24 or House of Cards than Homeland at its most momentous, stripped of all but its protagonist’s ability to see what others miss. —Matt Brennan

8. Scandal

Creator: Shonda Rhimes
Stars: Kerry Washington, Guillermo Díaz, Joe Morton
Network: ABC

When so much of a show’s plot is made up of infuriatingly dramatic cliffhangers, it can be deeply satisfying to experience a series, like Scandal, on Netflix. If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, have no clue what a Gladiator in a suit is, and don’t know whether you’re Team Jake or Team Fitz, there’s no time like the present. Kerry Washington plays Olivia Pope, a lawyer and crisis management expert who represents high-profile politicians and other clientele in Washington D.C. AKA the people running this great nation, who always seem to find themselves in the midst of a scandal. Based on real-life D.C. fixer Judy Smith (the former Bush Administration aide who has represented folks like Monica Lewinsky, Kobe Bryant, and former Senator Larry Craig), Pope is a formidable character, often as much of a scandalous megalomaniac as her clientele. Sure, Rhimes (also the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice) draws on many-a-cliche for this series—endless love triangles, characters killed off at a moment’s notice, etc. But Scandal is, simultaneously, a refreshing and forward-thinking experience, with a black woman at the head of a very bizarre Scooby gang (brought to us by Weeds actor Guillermo Díaz, along with Darby Stanchfield, Katie Lowes, and Columbus Short), one of the first gay villains on television, and a stark quality that seeks to peel the mask off of American politics. Funny, sexy, downright frightening at times, and complete with an amazing ’70s soundtrack for every episode, Scandal is the stuff Netflix binge-watching dreams made of. —Shannon M. Houston

7. The Honourable Woman

Creator: Hugo Blick
Stars: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Andrew Buchan, Eve Best, Lindsay Duncan, Janet McTeer, Tobias Menzies, Stephen Rea
Network: BBC Two

Led by Golden Globe winner Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sharp-edged, vulnerable, thrilling performance as Nessa Stein, a businesswoman and philanthropist suddenly embroiled in a mess of family secrets and Middle Eastern intrigue, The Honourable Woman is the perfect (if bleak) binge. Its eight episodes set the lure early and reel one in by increments, until the truth bursts forth with stunning force. Strong turns from Stephen Rea and Janet McTeer don’t hurt, either. Matt Brennan

6. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Creator: Rick Berman, Michael Piller
Stars: Avery Brooks, René Auberjonois, Terry Farrell, Cirroc Lofton, Colm Meaney, Armin Shimerman, Alexander Siddig, Nana Visitor, Michael Dorn, Nicole de Boer
Original Network: Syndication

Deep Space Nine was an experiment in a different type of Star Trek property, one not built around a spaceship/warship traveling and exploring the edges of the known universe. Rather, DS9 was an advanced but static outpost where emissaries of various alien races came to congregate, trade and conduct business. The show featured the first and still only black commander-in-chief as lead protagonist and was noted for the diversity of its alien cast and their well-defined characters. It also tackled topics of politics and religion more effectively and extensively than any of the Star Trek series to date, as the Bajoran Wormhole near DS9 was integral to both the series’ plot and the religious beliefs of the Bajoran people, several of whom served as crew. It was never quite as popular as Next Generation, but that was a tough assignment to follow. —Jim Vorel

5. House of Cards

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Creator: Beau Willimon
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Corey Stoll, Michael Kelly
Network: Netflix

Netflix’s House of Cards, an adaptation of BBC’s show of the same name, is occasionally ridiculous, occasionally overblown, but always, always always intriguing. As a political drama, it bears about as much relation to reality as Mortal Kombat does to professional boxing, but it’s brilliant in the way it manages to capture the vicious atmosphere behind D.C.’s ruthless power players, and translate that sinister feeling into hyperbolic evil. Veep may be more accurate for the way it reduces politics to farce, but the House of Cards approach captures something just as legitimate, and the underlying menace is embodied in the wonderful, scheming monologues of Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood. Watching him break the fourth wall is still so strange and chilling, even after four seasons, and his seedy, malevolent, oily voice still gives me chills. And I can’t tell what’s more disturbing—the moral vacuum inside Underwood’s brain, or the fact that real-life politics seems to be moving in his direction. (Season 6 debuts Nov. 2, with Robin Wright taking over the lead role from Kevin Spacey in the wake of his sexual misconduct scandal.) —Shane Ryan

4. The Crown

Creator: Peter Morgan
Stars: Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby, Jeremy Northam, Victoria Hamilton, Anton Lesser, Matthew Goode
Network: Netflix

In its second season creator Peter Morgan’s lavish treatment of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II retains much of what made the first such a notable achievement: 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’s sophomore effort merely “lavish” seems unfair. Rather, as time marches on—Season Two is set between the Suez Crisis, in 1956, and the Profumo affair, in 1963—the series elaborates a thoughtful style and episodic structure that 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, capped by a mesmerizing midseason coup, “Beryl,” that suggests The Crown is still discovering the true extent of its powers. Good news, that: Olivia Colman has already signed on to play Elizabeth in Seasons Three and Four. —Matt Brennan

3. House of Cards (UK)

Creator: Andrew Davies
Stars: Ian Richardson, Susannah Harker ,David Lyon, Diane Fletcher
Network: BBC

While Netflix’s mostly excellent House of Cards is a streaming sensation and the origin of binge-watching, this tale of Machiavellian intrigue in Washington’s halls of power is not even the best version of the story. Beau Willimon’s series is actually an adaptation of a BBC mini-series (originally three four-episode minis: House of Cards, To Play the King and The Final Cut, themselves adaptations of novels by Michael Dobbs) starring the late, great Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart, chief whip of the conservative party. While retaining the main character’s wink-wink initials “F.U.,” Netflix’s choice to move the series from the UK to the US weakened the material. For one, the kind of wheeling and dealing that can take one from the back benches to the top job is simply more believable in a parliamentary system, and the more overt presence of class politics in the UK makes for more interesting drama. The US version also gets too tied up in political minutiae. More importantly, Richardson’s Urquhart is a significantly more delicious character than Spacey’s Frank Underwood. The UK version is currently on Netflix, and at under 12 hours for the entire series, is easily binge-able. —Mark Rabinowitz

2. The West Wing

Creator: Aaron Sorkin
Stars: Allison Janney, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Martin Sheen, Janel Moloney, Richard Schiff, Dulé Hill, NiCole Robinson, Melissa Fitzgerald, Rob Lowe, Joshua Malina, Stockard Channing, Kim Webster, Kris Murphy, Timothy Davis-Reed
Network: NBC

Television’s quintessential political drama began in the Clinton era, soldiered on through Bush and 9/11, and ended in the earliest days of the Age of Obama. Weirdly, the show’s political climate was more stable than reality itself. And maybe that was its appeal. The West Wing showed us government not as it was, but as it could be—a White House run by quippy, tireless, big-hearted public servants who believed in governing with decency. President Josiah Bartlet would give any of his real-life counterparts a run for their money. —Nick Marino

1. Parks and Recreation

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Creators: Greg Daniels, Michael Schur
Stars: Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Rashida Jones
Network: NBC

Parks and Recreation started its run as a fairly typical mirror of The Office, but by its third season, the student became the master. As it’s fleshed out with oddballs and unusual city quirks, Pawnee has become the greatest television town since Springfield. The show flourished for years with some of the most unique and interesting characters in comedy today. With one of the greatest writing staffs of any show, Parks and Recreation only got better with time. —Ross Bonaime

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