Top TV shows on Amazon Prime Video
Ivan Radford | On 27, Nov 2016
Amazon Prime Video is the most underrated streaming service in the UK. While most people think of Amazon as an online shop, the site has built up an impressive library of TV series, from original productions, such as Golden Globe winners Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle, to exclusive acquisitions, such as The X-Files, Preacher and Mr. Robot.
With The Grand Tour racing onto the site every week until February, a lot of people will be taking Amazon Prime Video for a spin for the first time. Afraid your £5.99 subscription will run out of steam? Looking for a box set to fill the gaps between each new episode? We round up the best TV shows now available on Amazon Prime Video, from The Man in the High Castle and Parks and Rec to Outlander and The Walking Dead.
Bookmark this list – we’ll be updating it regularly to take into account new releases and removals.
It’s hard to use the words “best TV show of the year” when there are so many best TV shows of the year, but Amazon’s Transparent, which follows Mort Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor), a father who comes out to his kids as a woman, has consistently been one of the top series around for several years in a row. Six Feet Under’s Jill Soloway and the cast judge the tone perfectly – half-hysterical, half-melancholic – creating a host of characters who engage because they all feel like actual humans, reinforced by the way each episode flows seamlessly into each other, more like chapters in a five-hour movie than individual stories. Sensitive and candid, Transparent is a deliberately opaque look at problems that are far from see-through. If you liked Orange Is the New Black, this is an ideal companion: three seasons in and it’s not just one of the best TV shows of the year; it’s one of the most important too.
The Man in the High Castle
If Transparent put Amazon’s original shows on the map, The Man in the High Castle carves out a whole country for the streaming site, which more than rivals Netflix with its ambitious, addictive story-telling. The show, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, shows us what it would be like if the Axis Powers won World War II, with Japan ruling the Pacific half of the US and the Reich ruling the Atlantic. Produced by Ridley Scott and created by The X-Files’ Frank Spotnitz, the world-building is astonishing, providing spades of exposition without characters saying a word. The cast, meanwhile, are engagingly enigmatic, as resistance fighters attempt to smuggle banned newsreels across the border – and Rufus Sewell’s SS officer, John Smith, hunts them down. Able to make us feel sympathy with either side, this is a provocative and daring study of indoctrination, propaganda and national identity. What would the world be like if the Nazis won World War II? The show’s brilliance isn’t that it asks the question, but that it provides such a chillingly convincing answer.
A 1980s comedy-of-age comedy? Amazon’s sitcom sounds like a self-aware affair, full of post-modern cliches, but there isn’t a self-aware bone in its body. Led by the charming Craig Roberts as David, who is hired as a tennis coach at the titular country club, it’s a sincere, witty, delightful show that ranges from slapstick and one-liners to a body-swap episode worthy of John Hughes. Between the leg warmers and innocent romances, the series just keeps serving up the laughs.
Mozart in the Jungle
Amazon’s Golden Globe-winning comedy is by far its most unusual commission: a show about an orchestra, even starring Gael Garcia Bernal as a sexy conductor, is surely destined for a niche audience. But there is charm in the series’ unique subject matter – when was the last time you heard a full symphony orchestra playing on the small screen? Season 2 steps up its game with a winning confidence, as Lola Kirke’s blossoming oboist and Gael’s madcap Rodrigo take us from rehearsals to cocktail parties in a light flurry of entertainment, never concerned with structure or narrative. That should be a problem, but miraculously, it isn’t: before you know it, you’ve already finished the whole record.
Halt and Catch Fire
AMC’s period computer drama, starring Lee Pace, Scott McNairy, Kerry Bishé and Mackenzie Davis, is the best TV series you’ve never heard of. Following four people trying to innovate against the birth of the PC in the 1980s, it charts everything from the rise of Apple to even the start of online gaming. But the computers are just the key to our fascinating central quartet, who slot together seamlessly to form a wonderful tale of inspiring women, creative teamwork, and the relationship between humans and technology. The result keeps on getting better with every episode. With three seasons under its belt, it’s comfortably reached masterpiece status. Boot it up now.
The Walking Dead
AMC’s zombie smash hit, which stars Andrew Lincoln as a sheriff who wakes up to find the undead apocalypse has happened, is gruelling, gripping stuff, bumping off some characters, developing others (hello to Melissa McBride as Carol) and never skimping on the gory horror. Seasons 1 to 5 are available.
USA Network’s cyber thriller is that rare thing: a TV show that understands how computers work as well as it presses its audience’s buttons. Rivalling Black Mirror for the way in which it turns digital concepts into real human drama, it drags the cyberthriller genre out of the 80s and 90s into the contemporary era of corrupt banks, anti-privacy conspiracies and masked hacker movements. The result is as tightly structured as it is thrillingly modern, with multi-faceted turns from Rami Malek and Christian Slater.
Claire, a married nurse from WWII, accidentally travels back in time to 18th century Scotland, only to fall in love with another man, in this series based on Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling books. Adapted by Star Trek’s Ron D. Moore, the result combines time travel, romance, historical drama and sci-fi to dizzyingly chameleonic effect; there genuinely is something in here for everyone. The fact that the Scottish bloke Claire falls in love is the strapping Jamie Heughan is a bonus.
The Grand Tour
Top Gear with more than 10 times the budget, Amazon reunites Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May for more fast cars, ludicrous stunts and middle-aged men insulting each other. The cars have never looked better, thanks to the lavish production values, and the chemistry between the trio is still firing on all cylinders. The new format, meanwhile, is just different enough to feel new and fresh – and leave the BBC’s reboot miles behind.
“Sorry I called your mum a haemorrhoid.” Catastrophe is a sitcom that manages to be funny, rude, sweet and brazenly honest all at the same time. It stars Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan as Rob and Sharon, an American and a Brit who bonk each other rotten on a business trip, only to find themselves unexpectedly having to raise a baby together. Over the course of two seasons, the familiar scenario is caustically fresh, thanks to a non-stop series of arguments and romantic apologies that tackle such minute issues that they become as absurdly funny as they are recognisable. The couple’s writing is sharp, but their tongues are even more so: their chemistry is at once natural and abrasive, showcasing both their raunchy charm and their hurtful insults. Apologise to your neighbours in advance: you’ll be hooting with laughter all the way through.
Parks and Recreation
“The Office, but with Amy Poehler” may not sound like anything new or special, but Parks and Recreation – which stars Poehler as Leslie Knope, a do-gooder member of the Parks department in the small US town of Pawnee – is one of the most adorable, amusing shows of recent years. A large part of this is due to the supporting cast, from Chris Pratt’s idiotic sidekick to Aubrey Plaza’s cynical intern, not to mention Nick Offerman as the male man’s man, Ron Swanson, but it’s the show’s endless sympathy for every person on screen that gives it its charm; unlike The Office, you’ll be rooting for all of them to succeed, laughing with them and not at them. It’s a difference that makes for a satisfying, warm watch. If you’ve never seen it, go ahead: treat yo self.
Dominic Cooper stars in this supernatural drama, based on the graphic novels by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, which follows a West Texas preacher named Jesse Custer, who is inhabited by a mysterious entity that causes him to develop a highly unusual power. What happens next is shocking, graphic, often funny, and completely, utterly, downright bonkers. Watch it right now.
After it was cancelled by the BBC, Amazon swooped in and revived Richard Warlow’s period crime drama, which follows Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen), Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rotehnberg) and Sergeant Bennet Drake (a scene-stealing Jerome Flynn) in post-Jack-the-Ripper Whitechapel. Growing from a case-of-the-week formula to over-arching narratives driven by its complex characters, its new incarnation gets better with every season – right up until the shocking, moving six-part finale.
Comedian Tig Notaro plays a semi-fictional version of herself, as she returns to her hometown in Mississippi, after her mother passes away unexpectedly. As she copes with the tragedy, the series becomes a poignant and honest exploration of family and grief. That warts-and-all tone keeps you so emotionally engaged that you’ll be three-quarters of the way through the eight episodes before you know it – at which point you’ll probably find yourself in tears. And yet even the moments that do make you cry are boldly underplayed, with one scene involving a mirror proving devastating in its simplicity. That’s the secret to One Mississippi’s sincerity: neither the comedy nor the drama feels forced, which, ironically, takes a colossal amount of effort. Season 2 has already been ordered.
What might once have seemed like a pale imitation of Game of Thrones has grown into a cracking epic in its own right over several seasons, as we see the rise of Ragnar Lothbrok in the 13th century. Travis Fimmel’s smirking hero is intriguingly enigmatic, but it’s the family that surrounds him that really makes the show, from Katheryn Winnick’s fierce shieldmaiden, Lagertha, to Clive Standen’s rival brother, Rollo. Their conflict becomes the heart of the wider political scheming and bloody battles that shape the history of the Viking age. George Blagden as confused monk Athelstan is the icing on the cake.
Created by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, this wickedly dark satire about a reality TV producer who has a nervous breakdown unflinchingly raises questions about modern TV and feminism with addictive, entertaining and pitch-black precision.
A period drama that still feels current, Amazon’s based-on-real-life drama follows a group of female researchers who stand up to the sexism in the office of their New York magazine. The cast are cracking, while its theme of personal and political liberation is eternal.
Justin Adler’s CBS sitcom, about one big happy family, follows the sometimes awkward, often hilarious milestone moments in their day-to-day lives from multiple perspectives, a smart device that gives everyone in the ensemble more of a chance to shine and every event the potential for more offbeat laughs.
The Last Man on Earth follows the post-apocalyptic life of Phil, a guy who – thanks to a virus wiping out the human race – is now the only guy on the planet. It’s hard to believe that’s the start of a sitcom, but Will Forte’s series isn’t afraid to be unusual. The result is a series that makes you guffaw, while standing out from the crowd. More apocalypse now, please.
Who doesn’t love a good legal drama? That’s presumably the thinking behind Amazon’s original thriller, which was ordered straight to series from Ally McBeal creator David E. Kelley. Billy Bob Thornton is on blistering form as lead lawyer Billy McBride, a washed-up alcoholic who finds himself in the underdog corner on a lawsuit against a corporation represented by his sinister, estranged older brother (William Hurt). Add in a complex supporting turn from House of Cards’ Molly Parker as one of his ruthless, cruel employees and you have a tightly-plotted, hate-fuelled eight hours.
A wannabe hedge fund trader, a young tech genius and a Haitian gangster become unlikely business partners in this fin-tech thriller about the invention of a new cryptocurrency. The series spends a little too much time trying to explain its own modern premise, but the cast (particularly Martin Freeman, acting against type as a nasty FBI agent) make this an engaging, topical show that finally puts The OC’s Adam Brody back on our TV screens in a central role.
When billionaire playboy Oliver Queen returns home five years after his boat crashed in the Pacific, he hides the way his experience has changed him – specifically, given him a distaste for corruption and taught him how to use a bow and arrow. And so he becomes the Arrow, a vigilante fighting for justice. A rich man taking out criminals in a mask? This could be Diet Batman, but there’s a cheesiness and a sense of humour that makes The CW’s trashy superhero series a lighter, enjoyable watch. And not just because John Barrowman’s in it.
Amazon snapped up the exclusive rights to the BBC’s crime drama a while back, and with Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan both on stellar form, as we see her agent becoming increasingly obsessed with serial killer Paul Spector, it’s a smart, absorbing addition to the Prime Video line-up. If you missed it on the BBC, this is your chance to catch up from the start.
This hip hop musical drama from Lee Daniels stars Terence Howard as Lucious Lyon, the CEO of Empire Entertainment. Diagnosed with a terminal illness, which of his sons will be his heir? Faster than you can say “King Lear”, in walks his ex-wife Cookie (a scene-stealing Taraji P. Henson), fresh out of prison, who wants a piece of what’s hers. It’s a dysfunctional family that EastEnders would be proud of, but Empire manages to feel much bigger than Albert Square, thanks to the cast, the talent behind the camera and, most of all, its use of music.
Produced by Michael Bay, Starz’s pirate prequel, set before the events of Treasure Island, charts the bloodthirsty career of Captain Flint, the rise of Long John Silver and the growing dispute between the British Empire and the independently-minded Nassau. Toby Stephens is brilliantly nasty as our lead, while the nautical set pieces are frequently breathtaking.
Based on the Hellblazer graphic novels, this series about magician, chain-smoker and occult specialist John Constantine, who fights the forces of darkness trying to take over the world, is a dark, strange and funny watch. That’s mostly thanks to Matt Ryan, who is perfectly cast as the snarky antihero. Sadly cancelled before its first season could finish, the result is still worth watching, if you want a comic book series that’s different to the norm.
This gripping period drama follows the complex marriage of two KGB spies posing as Americans in Washington DC, shortly after the election of Ronald Reagan. Don’t find out more than that: just dive right in.
Meet Ray, a problem solver to LA’s rich and famous with a past that gradually comes back to haunt him. Liev Schreiber is on fine, steely form in the lead, with strong support from Eddie Marsan and Jon Voight.
Forget the feature film with the same title, this Nickelodeon animated series is fantastic, set in a universe where people can manipulate, or “bend”, the elements of water, earth, fire, or air. Only one chosen one, though, can bend all four: the Avatar. Already seen it? The sequel, The Legend of Korra, is also available.
Whether you’re a fan of the 2016 reboot or not, there are countless hours of TV to enjoy from the colossal archive of the classic sci-fi series. Every single episode of The X-Files ever made? Not bad for £5.99 a month.
Damn it, Chloe! Kiefer Sutherland’s infamous series, which follows the eternally sleep-deprived agent Jack Bauer, unfolds in “real time” to add tension . Not only does it give you less chance to realise how increasingly ludicrous the plot twists are, but it also led to TV’s first series designed for binge-viewing. It’s still surprisingly compelling.
With all the brutality of The Shield, as well as its darkly comic characters and heart-wrenching plots, Kurt Sutter’s series about a biking gang is full of violence, greed, power clashes and testosterone.
Arguably one of the greatest TV comedies ever made. Ever.
Amazon may not have the whole of Doctor Who, but it does have a decent collection of Matt Smith outings, including Season 7 and its subsequent specials – right up to Smith’s heartfelt farewell episodes, featuring Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald.
Based on the book Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano, this Italian TV series is a gripping insight into the underworld of Naples, shot and acted with a grittiness that separates this from the genre’s glossier entries.
Into the Badlands
It’s not often you see martial arts TV series these days and AMC’s Into the Badlands doesn’t disappoint, throwing astonishing action sequence after astonishing action sequence up on the screen. The genre-bending show, loosely based on the Chinese tale Journey to the West, is set in a ruined future world controlled by powerful feudal baron, where ruthless warrior Sunny (Daniel Wu) winds up rescuing a young boy, M.K. (Aramis Knight), with his own formidable powers.
Leaping about between Batman’s escapades, this 1995 series (all four seasons of it) shows DC’s hero at his most fun. Gotham is still a tough place, littered with brightly-coloured super-villains and dastardly plots. The Animated Series started a popular trend of seeing exactly what you can do with everyone’s favourite Bat. What happens if Harley-Quinn teams up with Poison Ivy? What stories are told when Penguin and The Joker play cards? This is perfectly soundtracked, intelligently written and excellently animated.
James Purefoy and Michael K Williams are both excellent in this adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s novels of the same name. They play the eponymous pair, who have a job picking roses – a job they soon lose and end up back at home, sitting around, playing with guns and buying Dr. Pepper from the supermarket. In other words, they hang out. And that’s about it. Until Christina Hendricks enters as his dangerous ex, Trudy, who points them in the direction of a suitcase full of money. Things go south from there in this slow, nostalgic Texan noir. It’s a show worth wallowing in.
Lisa Kudrow stars in this original web series – which later transitioned to traditional TV – about a therapist with limited patience for others’ problems, instead offering online sessions for three minutes at a time. Kudrow is fantastic, appearing on the screen for every second of the ensuing episodes, as they’re presented in the form of online chats – and the sessions themselves descend into frequently laugh-out-loud bursts of insecurities and self-absorbed pettiness.
Titus Welliver takes a rare leading role in this detective series based on Michael Connelly’s best-selling books. The stylish opening credits and jazz soundtrack ooze cool, while the stories are smartly adapted and slotted together from the page. It’s not groundbreaking, by any means, but its conventional formula makes it an accessible, easy-to-watch crime drama.
The Girlfriend Experience
American Honey’s Riley Keough is sensational in Steven Soderbergh’s 13-episode series about a law student who finds her sliding from the glossy sheen of legal corporations into the world of transactional relationships. A provocative character study, which raises questions of selling oneself for money in all fields of life, doesn’t offer easy answers, but does reward binge-viewing over and over again. (Read our full review)
Don’t understand what an NFL fantasy football league is? The team behind this comedy, co-created by Seinfeld’s Jeff Schaffer and starring Mark Duplass, is so strong that it almost guarantees laughs, whatever the subject.
If you’re a fan of Homeland, check out this rare chance to catch the original Israeli series, upon which the CIA thriller was based. It’s different, of course, but its hooks sink into you all the same.
Already up-to-date with The Walking Dead? AMC’s spin-off series, which takes us back to the first days of the zombie outbreak, is worth checking out, although it takes its time to develop its so-everyday-they’re-generic ensemble into characters worth rooting for. Its success, rather, lies in the novelty of exploring the crumbling of society from a fresh perspective. You know, in case you’ve not had enough of zombies yet.
One of the TV shows of the 2000s that earned its buzzy reputation, before Prison Break’s reboot arrives, make the most of this chance to catch up with the original episodes. (Spoiler: It involves breaking out of prison. At least, it does in its opening, stronger seasons.)
“It seems more than likely that someone was murdered and dismembered aboard your ferry,” says police chief Andri, matter-of-factly, in this 10-part Icelandic series, which sees a chopped-up corpse pop up in a port just as a boat docks – and a storm looms, threatening to cut everyone off from civilisation. Think Fortitude, but with more claustrophobia instead of the supernatural shenanigans. The cast are as impeccable as the landscape, with Ólafur Darri Ólafsson’s police officer (helped by Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir’s Hinrika) delivering a slice of honest, gruff detective work. Like Scandi noir? Grab hold of the chance to see the whole box set like Andri’s beard depends on it.