The 25 Best Netflix Original Series

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The 25 Best Netflix Original Series

The fact that we can even make a list of the best Netflix original series is kind of amazing. Fewer than six years ago, the now-dominant streaming platform was best known as the company that put Blockbuster out of business. House of Cards not only changed all that—it also changed the way TV is consumed, introducing the now-popular binge model. History is made by forward-thinking companies, and Netflix, let’s be honest, is making history. Paste is here to help you navigate the Netflix terrain.

The streaming platform is rich with content and, so far, has had only a few major misses (talking to you, Iron Fist). To come up with the list of Netflix best original series, we left out shows that originated on another network, including those that received a second life on Netflix (sorry Arrested Development, and, though it’s probably for the best, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life). We also had to make some tough choices. Now, let’s get to Paste’s answer to the question, “What should I watch on Netflix?”

Here are the 25 best Netflix original series:

25. Chef’s Table / Ugly Delicious

Creator: David Gelb / David Chang and Morgan Neville
Premiered: 2017 / 2018

In a way, these food series are almost opposites: Chef’s Table deifies while Ugly Delicious humanizes; the first takes on one chef per episode while the second has one chef taking on a range of different scenes, cuisines, and traditions. One’s reverent; one’s decidedly not. In the end, though, both shows are about the ever-fascinating interplay of the mundane and the sublime that is food and eating. Lovers of food and food television should take both of these shows seriously; for their beauty and their very different but very wonderful personalities. No matter how often food and its attendant cultural tropes are taken on in this medium (and a hell of a lot of food TV hits the airwaves), you’ve never really seen it all. Both of these shows, in their own unique ways, question convention both in foodways and in food television. And the answers they seem to be suggesting are both great ones. —Amy Glynn

24. Sense8

Creators: The Wachowskis, J. Michael Straczynski
Stars: Tuppence Middleton, Brian J. Smith, Doona Bae, Aml Ameen, Toby Onwumere, Max Riemelt, Tina Desai, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Jamie Clayton, Freema Agyeman, Terrence Mann, Anupam Kher, Naveen Andrews, Daryl Hannah
Premiered: 2015

Sense8 was a sens8tion. Perhaps not for everyone, but for enough people that creative duo Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s two-season neon blitz of queerness and sci-fi created a fanbase more loyal than almost any Netflix original series. These fans loved their sensates, who were connected to the audience almost as strongly as they were to each other. That loved the characters so much, in fact, that they were able to push for an epic series finale when it was clear that Netflix wasn’t planning to sustain expensive niche sci-fi shows. With collaborator J. Michael Straczynski, The Matrix creators made a multinational, multiethnic, queer-as-all-hell show jam-packed with diversity on all levels and enough multi-layered plotting to keep the massive cast happy, sexy, and interesting. How many orgies does Blade Runner get into? —Jacob Oller

23. On My Block

Creators: Lauren Iungerich, Eddie Gonzalez and Jeremy Haft
Stars Diego Tinoco, Jason Genao, Jessica Marie Garcia, Sierra Capri and Brett Gray
Premiered: 2018

Netflix’s new dramedy On My Block is one big, irreverently cocksure nod to all the (whitest) parts of the modern cultural canon one would least expect to find in a coming-of-age story about brown 14- and 15-year olds just trying to survive daily life on their gang-ruled streets. And for the first couple of episodes, all this slangy allusiveness makes for a story that feels shaggy at best, structurally unsound at worst; the central characters are cohesive and convincingly earnest as a dysfunctional friend-family unit—not least because the actors are actual teens, not adults—but taken individually they seem to be leading entirely different shows. When the final credits hit, though, it’s clear that not one second of the season’s 10 short episodes was wasted: Every line was measured out, every background track meticulously calibrated, every initially jarring tonal shift set up precisely for a singular cumulative effect that lands in the season’s final moments like a punch to the chest you realize too late you should have seen coming from a mile away. —Alexis Gunderson

22. Queer Eye

Creator: David Collins
Stars: Antoni Porowski, Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Jonathan Van Ness and Tan France
Premiered: 2018

It’s easy for makeover shows to get mean. The powerful, well-manicured elite versus the slobbering masses makes for entertaining TV with huge transformations, but those shows lack the emotional oomph to justify their existence outside of vicarious “treat yourself”-ness. Thanks to a new Fab Five composed of Tan, Jonathan, Antoni, Karamo, and Bobby, Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot (note the dropped For the Straight Guy) is forging a new path towards togetherness with unapologetic empathy inside its confidence-building makeovers. Each episode approaches a Georgian you may not expect—be it a Trump-voting cop or a gay man struggling to come out of the closet—with open arms and willing ears. With plenty of specific, actionable tips made more general by the expertise of the five, the show still gives the big reveals and side-by-sides you need to scratch your self-improvement itch. But what makes this iteration of the series truly great is the camaraderie between the five and each subject they work with. A frank discussion about asking “Who’s the husband and who’s the wife?” in a gay relationship opens the door to the kind of two-way conversations that are necessary in developing social consciousness. Bobby and Karamo shine as the most cogent speakers and help establish the relationships needed for anyone’s heart to truly change. Content Warning: Every episode may necessitate tissues. —Jacob Oller

21. American Vandal

Creators: Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault
Stars: Tyler Alvarez, Griffin Gluck, Jimmy Tatro, Lou Wilson and Jessica Juarez
Premiered: 2017

True crime TV was a network phenomenon long before it hopped to podcasts and streaming, but that made it explode even further into the current generation’s consciousness. American Vandal’s amazing satirical contribution took this obsession and deconstructed it to find out if the audience would care if the crime itself was completely goofy. A few dozen spray-painted penises later, and they had their answer. Spectacular acting from a group that forges a high school community from the bits and pieces offered by the documentary allows for the development of hilarious comedy and compelling drama, which makes the series even more impressive. When satire functions as well, or better than, the earnest thing it’s mocking, that satire will change everything. The closest example I can think of is Jon Stewart’s version of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, because American Vandal is simply game-changing mockumentary. —Jacob Oller

20. Wormwood

Creator: Errol Morris
StarsPeter Sarsgaard, Christian Camargo, Molly Parker, and Tim Blake Nelson
Premiered: 2017

Documentary legend Errol Morris’ Netflix project is a lesson about the struggles of how much distrust we can still have for the very people we have to trust to get the answers. Clinical psychologist Eric Olson knows he shouldn’t believe the government, particularly when they come forward decades later to explain some of the circumstances of his dad’s death. Yet, like Hamlet taking on Claudius in the Shakespeare play from which this miniseries gets its name, he must keep digging to avenge his dad lest he, himself, go mad. But what does this mean for the audience watching Eric’s story play out on screen? Morris has cast actors like Peter Sarsgaard and Christian Camargo to recreate scenes from the events depicted by the U.S. government that he, himself, doesn’t necessarily believe are true. So why are we to trust him? —Whitney Friedlander

19. Marvel’s Daredevil

Creator: Drew Goddard
Stars: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio
Premiered: 2015

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Marvel and DC have both tried to leverage their movie dominance onto the small screen many times over, but the only beloved TV show based on a comic book has come from indie publisher Image with The Walking Dead. That changed with Netflix’s Daredevil. The Hell’s Kitchen of Matt Murdoch’s world is much grittier than that of his Marvel cohorts on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—no surprise since the show was created by Drew Goddard, director of Cabin in the Woods. Goddard, who wrote episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayerlias and Lost is also no stranger to the comics world, having written a few issues of the Buffy comics. The fight scenes are riveting (and often bloody), and the hero and his companions are well-developed, but it’s Vincent D’Onofrio complicated turn as the crime boss Wilson Fisk that elevates the show into something special. Both Fisk and Murdoch want to clean up the city, and will go to great lengths to do it. The difference between hero and villain is just a matter of ends-justify-the-means degrees. Not since Rick Grimes tangled with the Governor or Walter White went up against Gus Fring has there been a protracted battle this gripping on television. —Josh Jackson

18. A Series of Unfortunate Events

Creators: Mark Hudis, Barry Sonnenfeld
Stars: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, K. Todd Freeman, Presley Smith
Network: Netflix
Premiered: 2017

You probably don’t have to be a bookworm, or a kid, to appreciate this adaptation of a series of ironic, lachrymose, self-parodying children’s stories, because the series is just so damn funny, not to mention seamlessly styled, well-cast and well-acted. It does also happen to be an adaptation that should delight fans of the books because it generally knows exactly how much or how little to deviate from its source material to adapt to the constraints (and liberations) of episodic television. It retains the slightly steampunk, highly absurdist, semi-Gothic and delightfully wordsmithy sensibility of its source material and adheres remarkably well to character and plot. My suggestion? Don’t binge watch this show! Let it breathe. Like a fine wine. Because it’s kind of a masterpiece. —Amy Glynn

17. House of Cards

Creator: Beau Willimon
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Corey Stoll, Michael Kelly
Premiered: 2013

Despite struggling, since its second season, to recapture the misanthropic bristle of the first, House of Cards remains, alongside Orange Is the New Black, an essential title in the Netflix canon. Beau Willimon’s reinterpretation of the BBC original transports the action to Washington, D.C., where Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) drawls his way through smarmy asides to the audience and orchestrates his rise to the Oval Office, his ambitious wife (Robin Wright Penn) goading him on all the way. Though the twists and turns of the narrative—and the eagerness to chase current events, whether by reflecting the Clintons or Donald Trump—have made House of Cards more of a slog in recent years, it’s given us a raft of sterling guest turns (Molly Parker, Mahershala Ali, Paul Sparks, Patricia Clarkson, I could go on) and more than a few memorable moments (including an unspeakable sequence involving Michael Kelly’s Doug Stamper, a roll of duct tape, and a wooden spoon.) Most of all, though, the series—the sixth and final season of which is slated to premiere later this year, sans Spacey, following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct made against the actor—must be considered one of most influential in the medium’s history: With it, Netflix signaled its intention to invest in star power and high production values for its original series, heralding its emergence as a major player in the television landscape. —Matt Brennan

16. Narcos

Creators: Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro
Stars: Pedro Pascal, Damián Alcázar, Alberto Ammann, Francisco Denis, Pêpê Rapazote, Matias Varela, Javier Cámara
Premiered: 2015

Much like the real-life drug trade from which it’s based, Narcos is now way more complicated than the first two seasons’ high-stakes cops-and-robbers story about the hunt for Pablo Escobar (portrayed in all his wooly beard glory by Wagner Moura). The third season dealt with the take down of the Cali Cartel, the Mexican crime lords whose acts of brutality and disregard for anyone not closely linked to them made Escobar’s years seem like The Sopranos with subtitles. Characters like Alberto Ammann’s psychopathic Pacho Herrera and Javier Cámara’s Guillermo Pallomari, the cartel’s increasingly paranoid accountant, are so well-written because the truth is better (and sometimes scarier) than fiction. —Whitney Friedlander

15. Marvel’s Luke Cage

Creator: Cheo Hodari Coker
Stars: Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, Alfre Woodard, Simone Missick, Erik LaRay Harvey, Rosario Dawson, Theo Rossi
Premiered: 2016

To say Luke Cage ups its game in Season Two is putting it really mildly. I don’t remember the last time I saw a TV show take this huge of an artistic leap from one season to the next. The writing is so. Flipping. Good. Ham-handed conceits have been replaced with winking, sophisticated self-referentiality. Repetition has been replaced with extrapolation. Ponderous flashbacks are now hashed out in real time; there’s no “for those of you just joining us, here’s how Luke Cage became Luke Cage,” and yet you could watch this season without having seen the first one and you wouldn’t be lost at all. Marvel-Netflix-Industrial-Entertainment-Complex: I concede. Luke Cage Season One seemed laden with untapped potential. It has in fact been tapped. Season Two is a 13-hour mic drop. —Amy Glynn

14. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Creators: Tina Fey, Robert Carlock
Stars: Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Jane Krakowski, Carol Kane, Amy Sedaris
Premiered: 2015

What makes Kimmy Schmidt, the neon pink and purple caffeine ride from the 30 Rock duo, so enjoyable isn’t just its knack for creating 30-minutes-or-less figurative cans of peanut brittle bursting with near-constant jokes, songs and/or ‘90s pop culture references. Nor is its knack for stunt casting (Jon Hamm as the “mad man” who kidnapped and locked Ellie Kemper’s titular lead and others in an underground bunker? I see what you did there). Rather, it’s that it does this while telling the story of a trauma victim still coping with PTSD that she can’t even bring herself to say she was raped until the show’s third season. This show is about a woman with a stunted adolescence who still manages to be optimistic enough to find the good things in life. She gives all of us, no matter our circumstances, hope that we can at least survive through another episode. And that’s some hashbrown, no filter. —Whitney Friedlander

13. Mindhunter

Creator: Joe Penhall
Stars Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Anna Torv, and Hannah Gross
Premiered: 2017

The name and the description may have you assuming that this is a typical network procedural: FBI agents interview psychopaths in order to catch murderers. But Mindhunter is as much Mad Men as it is Law & Order. Produced by David Fincher and Charlize Theron, the story follows two real-life agents, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff, the original King George III in Hamilton on Broadway) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), along with consulting psychologist Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) in the FBI’s nascent Behavioral Science Unit. Joe Penhall’s series is based on a similarly titled true crime book. Interviewing and cataloguing convicted serial killers (a phrase the trio invents) leads to them helping on active cases, but it also affects each of their personal lives in different ways. Cameron Britton is particularly unforgettable as notorious murderer and necrophiliac Edmund Kemper. —Josh Jackson

12. Lady Dynamite

Creators: Pam Brady, Mitch Hurwitz
Stars: Maria Bamford, Fred Melamed, Mary Kay Place
Premiered: 2016

Lady Dynamite has always been a very easy show to recommend to some and a very difficult show to recommend to others. This is in part because of how successfully it melds the strongest attributes of its creators (South Park’s Pam Brady, Arrested Development’s Mitch Hurwitz, and Maria Bamford) into one singular voice. If that voice speaks to you, its specificity often feels like a one-to-one connection. Returning after an 18-month hiatus, Lady Dynamite doubles down on these qualities while also cohering faster than the first: Season Two, which picks up on last season’s present-day timeline while flashing back to Maria’s childhood and forward to the future, has a real streak of optimism to it. Even with conflicts and mania looming on the horizon, it makes Season One’s peppy steps forward look almost fatalistic by comparison. —Graham Techler

11. Making a Murderer

Creators: Laura Ricciardi, Moira Demos
Premiered: 2015

After the Serial podcast captured the zeitgeist, Netflix brought viewers the true story of Steven Avery, a man wrongly convicted of a brutal assault and freed after serving 18 years for a crime he did not commit. He sued law enforcement, and while in the middle of that suit, he became a suspect of a brand new crime. The 10-part docu-series covers 30 years in Avery’s life and unfolds in unbelievable twists and shocking turns. Like Serial, the docuseries became a phenomenon that had us all playing armchair judge and jury—still debating Avery’s guilt or innocence nearly three years after the show debuted. —Amy Amatangelo

10. Alias Grace

Creator: Sarah Polley
Stars: Sarah Gadon, Anna Paquin, Edward Holcroft, Zachary Levi, and Kerr Logan
Premiered: 2017

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Adapted by Sarah Polley from Margaret Atwood’s historical novel, and directed by Mary Harron with forthright shudders of psychological horror, this sterling Canadian limited series is a tightly constructed marvel. In Canada in 1859, “celebrated murderess” Grace Marks (the brilliant Sarah Gadon) submits to an interview with Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft), and their ongoing conversation unearths a pattern of violence and trauma, which Alias Grace spins into a scintillating mystery, an intricate biographical portrait, a lushly appointed period drama, and a ferocious treatment of the distance between what “the world at large” deigns to call harm and the countless ways men cause it. —Matt Brennan

9. Dear White People

Creator: Justin Simien
Stars: Logan Browning, Brandon P. Bell, DeRon Horton, Antoinette Robertson, John Patrick Amedori, Ashley Blaine Featherson, Giancarlo Esposito
Premiered: 2017

Now in its second season, Justin Simien’s campus comedy continues to impress. The density of its political allusions (“Please tell me you’re about drag this Kirkland Signature Ann Coulter!”) is exceeded only by its cultural ones (an Empire parody that snatches the soap’s proverbial wig); the ambition of its unorthodox structure, with each episode given over to a single character, is surpassed only by the ambition of its dizzying array of hot-button issues, from the history of racism at elite universities to abortion rights to the effects of social media. That it submits exactly none of these to the after-school special treatment is a tribute to Simien, his writers’ room, and his talented, young cast, dancing from subject to subject so deftly that it never feels like homework. Dear white people—no, dear all people—watch this show. —Matt Brennan

8. Jessica Jones

Creator: Melissa Rosenberg
Stars: Krysten Ritter, David Tennant, Rachael Taylor, Mike Colter, Carrie-Anne Moss, Eka Darville, Erin Moriarty, Wil Traval, Susie Abromeit
Premiered: 2015

In its sophomore effort, Jessica Jones digs deeper into the issues that made Season One interesting—in particular, power, control, and female anger. Season Two doubles down on that in a way that feels extremely of the moment (and showrunner Melissa Rosenberg saw to it that, among other things, all the episodes were directed by women). As a treatise on the complexities of female road-rage in all its varied facets, it’s excellent. It also makes the wise choice to deepen Jessica (Krysten Ritter, still killing it) and Trish’s (Rachael Taylor) complicated relationship, delving into their shared past. That was definitely the least fleshed-out aspect of the first season, and it’s a much-needed asset here. —Amy Glynn

7. Orange is the New Black

Creator: Jenji Kohan
Stars: Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Michael J. Harney, Michelle Hurst, Kate Mulgrew, Jason Biggs
Premiered: 2013

Orange is the New Black was one of the first of Netflix’s original offerings and it quickly solidified itself as one of its most engrossing and definitive. It told a story that likely wouldn’t have found a home on traditional TV (that of a non-sexy, no-frills, realistic experience in a women’s prison) with emotions so nuanced and a plot so gripping that to wait week by week for a new episode would’ve had fans burning any network to the ground in a riot. Though it’s since struggled to reach the heights of its earlier seasons, it’s nonetheless maintained an array of well-written women while digging deeper into the differences our prison complex forces on societies inside and out. Taylor Schilling and Alex Vause were the stars of the first season, but the supporting cast’s breakouts—like Uzo Aduba, Dascha Polanco, and Laverne Cox—allowed the based-on-a-true-story show to break out of its cell for a leisurely victory lap around the yard. —Jacob Oller

6. Stranger Things

Creators: 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
Premiered: 2016

Stranger Things Season Two is full of the same kinds of joyful moments of television that made its breakout first season so fun. If ‘80s nostalgia, plucky kids, pre-teen awkwardness, scary-but-not-terrifying monsters, goofy minor characters and emotional reunions aren’t your thing, I get it, go ahead and skip this one. But if you loved the first season, loved Goonies and E.T. and the John Hughes canon, you may find yourself binging all nine episodes in a weekend. The world gets a little bigger than Hawkins, Indiana, and the stakes get a little higher, but at its heart, six kids must face up to their monsters, metaphorical and real, to a perfect ‘80s soundtrack. —Josh Jackson

5. One Day at a Time

Creators: Gloria Calderon Kellett, Mike Royce, Norman Lear
Stars: Justina Machado, Rita Moreno, Stephen Tobolowsky, Todd Grinnell, Isabella Gomez, Marcel Ruiz
Premiered: 2017

With an assist from legendary producer Norman Lear, Mike Royce and Gloria Calderon Kellett’s multi-cam sitcom, which follows a Cuban American family in Los Angeles, grew more confident in its second season. A warm-hearted, full-throated combination of the topical and the timeless, the silly and the sincere, One Day at a Time 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 in expression in two wrenching late-season entries. The fact that neither of inseparable pair has been nominated for an Emmy for ODAAT is enough to merit a steward’s inquiry. —Matt Brennan

4. Master of None

Creators: Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang
Stars: Aziz Ansari, Noél Wells, Eric Wareheim, Lena Waithe, Kelvin Yu, Alessandra Mastronardi, Bobby Cannavale
Premiered: 2015

The long-awaited second season of Aziz Ansari’s masterful Master of None begins with an homage to Bicycle Thieves and ends with a nod to The Graduate. In between are beautifully nuanced episodes as Ansari’s Dev Shah tries to navigate his love life and his career. Even when the show goes the traditional sitcom route—the will-they-or-won’t-they romance of Dev and the engaged Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi)—the dialogue and interactions are decidedly not traditional. They talk like real people, not ones created in a writer’s room. “New York, I Love You,” which steps away from the main characters to showcase the vibrant diversity of the city, and “Thanksgiving,” which chronicles Dev’s childhood friend Denise (Lena Waithe) coming out to her family, are easily the season highlights. —Amy Amatangelo

3. The Crown

Creator: Peter Morgan
Stars: Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby, John Lithgow, Jeremy Northam, Victoria Hamilton, Eileen Atkins
Premiered: 2016

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


Creators: Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch
Stars Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, Marc Maron
Premiered: 2017

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Most Netflix series begin in medias res, and then retreat to mere prologue. The first season of GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, for the uninitiated) is entirely prologue, and it’s compelling as all get-out: The Reagan-era narrative follows aspiring actress Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), her former friend, soap star Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), and journeyman director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) as they prepare to film the pilot for a local cable station’s wrestling series. Season Two of Netflix’s GLOW opens as Season One of the characters’ GLOW is getting underway: “Ruth, it’s not rocket science, OK?” Sam bristles when she—the self-styled Alma to his Alfred Hitchcock—asks after the format, shortly before the gals sign their (impenetrable, exploitative) contracts. “Same thing every week.” In Maron’s exasperated deadpan, this counts as a laugh line, but it’s also a wink—at the structure of an episode, the uses of genre, the problems (and possibilities) of making popular entertainment week after week. In Season Two, from set construction and producing credits to the medium’s disappointing lack of opportunities for women and people of color, GLOW comments constantly on the nature of television, and in the process becomes a brilliant backstage comedy. —Matt Brennan

1. BoJack Horseman

Creator: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Stars: Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Tompkins
Premiered: 2014

That Netflix’s animated comedy manages to pinpoint the character of the zeitgeist and map a few of the ways through it is at the heart of its profound genius, always slipping, almost imperceptibly, from silver-tongued satire to pathos and back. As washed-up, alcoholic actor BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) forges a relationship with the daughter (Aparna Nancherla) he didn’t know he had and cares for the mother he’s long wished to forget about (Wendie Malick), Season Four doesn’t forgive his cruelties—or anyone else’s—so much as suggest that cruelties are now our dominant form of currency, the payola that secures the White House for the wicked and Wall Street for the damned, the surest path to fame and fortune for the tiny few and destitution for the many. In BoJack, the backdrop to the characters’ familiar foibles—their unthinking insults, their unspoken apologies, their selfish choices, self-doubt, self-flagellation—is the even more familiar crassness of lobbyists, donors and campaign managers; of studio heads, ambitious agents, stars on the make; of cable news anchors, dimwitted columnists, “Ryan Seacrest types”; of a social order so inured to insincerity, whataboutism, political profiteering, environmental collapse that being kicked in the stomach starts to feel like a gift. In short, BoJack Horseman is the defining series of our time, and also a handbook for surviving it. —Matt Brennan

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