School holidays are great. Chocolate. Time off work. Lots of good stuff on the telly. Although these days, the last part’s often missing. That’s where video on-demand services come in handy: they’re full of TV shows that are suitable for the young, the not so young and the positively ancient.
Need something to please most or all of the above? We round up the top TV series on Netflix UK to watch with your little kids, growing tweens and older teens. (We indicate the ones not suitable for younger viewers.)
Lost in Space
This superbly judged reboot of the 60s classic sci-fi is set 30 years in the future, when colonisation in space is now a reality, and the Robinson family is among those tested and selected to make a new life for themselves in a better world. But when the new colonists find themselves abruptly torn off course en route to their new home, they must forge new alliances and work together to survive in a dangerous alien environment, lightyears from their original destination. Ambitious, sweet and enormously fun, it offers that rare thing on TV: a genuine family blockbuster.
These days, the adults need reminding about the dangers of climate change more than the kids, but both can be brought together by the stunning footage of wildlife around the world on Netflix’s jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring documentary series. David Attenborough narrates with insight, enthusiasm and urgency. (Warning: One scene involving walruses may be a tad upsetting.)
Mystery Science Theater 3000
Teens as well as grown-ups can enjoy the simple fun of making sarcastic comments over the top of terrible movies from decades gone by.
Don’t you hate it when you find out that underneath your nice, normal town sits a gargantuan hidden world of monsters wanting to kill you? That’s what happens to Jim Lake Jr. (Anton Yelchin) in Trollhunters, Guillermo del Toro’s new animated series. The world underneath his suburb of Arcadia? That’s where the trolls live. And Jim? He’s the new Trollhunter, after he picks up an amulet that transforms him into a gleaming warrior, complete with humongous sword.
Trolls. Hunting. Magical worlds. These are all the best words for Guillermo del Toro fans and he doesn’t disappoint, taking the premise from his own book and running with it as far as his imagination can take him – and that’s a very long way. An epic animation stuffed with creativity, this is a treat for del Toro fans that will soon turn their kids into fans too.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
The streaming giant’s adaptation of the Lemony Snicket novels stars Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf, the nefarious distant relative of orphans Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire (Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith), who will stop at nothing – including using his dubious acting skills – to get his hands on the fortune they have inherited.
Created by Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler, who exec produces the programme with Barry Sonnenfeld, the result has been anything but unfortunate.
“A spirit of old-fashioned adventure courses through every chapter, which should earn the show a host of loyal and devoted fans,” we wrote in our review of Season 1. “Clever inventions, exhilarating escapades, ludicrous villains and macabre humour? Like we say, you really shouldn’t watch it.”
Everyone loves polar bears – almost as much as they love David Attenbourough. Frozen Planet’s six-hour journey through the Arctic and Antarctic gives you a sea lion’s share of both, not to mention stunning visuals and fascinating facts.
This isn’t suitable for younger viewers, but for parents spending streaming time with older teenagers, the Beeb’s update of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective is as good as modern TV gets. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are a perfect fit, while Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s scripts are a witty joy to unravel.
From one BBC classic to another. Doctor Who may have hit a damp patch in recent years, but Netflix UK has everything from Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant’s outings to the adventures of Matt Smith and even Peter Capaldi’s first season.
Pokemon: Indigo League
“I want to be the very best…” If you’ve never seen Pokemon or have to ask why this is on the list, stop reading now and start watching. Suitable for absolutely everyone. As long as you don’t mind having the theme tune stuck in your head for weeks afterwards.
A magician’s apprentice solves bizarre and macabre crimes while wearing a duffle coat and living in a windmill? Jonathan Creek is like Midsomer Murders made for 14 year olds, complete with Caroline Quentin’s catty humour and Alan Davies’ cute, floppy hair. Perfect Sunday teatime viewing.
The balance between spooky and traumatising is hard to judge – so much so that there are few shows around these days that cater to scaring older kids. Goosebumps, the 1990s adaptation of R.L. Stine’s books, gets it just right.
When you say “educational TV”, you tend to think of David Attenborough, but for those wanting to see whether something blows up rather than a bird taking flight, MythBusters is your bag. With titles ranging from “Exploding Toilet” to “Racoon Rocket”, this is just the kind of show to prove that science is fun. Also, that toilets can explode. (Already seen Mythbusters? The team have reunited for Netflix original series White Rabbit, which is also worth a watch.)
Did we mention David Attenborough is on Netflix UK? Everything from Life to The Blue Planet is available to stream into your brain – including his most recent BBC series, 2013’s Africa. It’s got everything you want from an nature documentary: great cinematography, exotic landscapes and fighting giraffes.
Last Chance U
Friday Night Lights may not be on Netflix UK, but this is the next best thing for older teens: a documentary series following the trials and tribulations of high-school footballers in the USA. Gripping, gruelling, engrossing stuff, it’s ideal for sports fans and football players alike.
Haters Back Off!
If you’re too old to dive into the world of YouTube with your kids, this is the perfect answer for some quality parent-child streaming, as Miranda Sings gets her own solo series, depicting her rise to supposed Internet stardom as a singer – despite having no talent whatsoever. Alan Partridge for teens, you’ll wince at the deliberately bad vocals of this one-joke character, but as the show goes on, a surprisingly layered portrayal of delusion and fame emerges. At the very least, you’ll know who Miranda Sings is.
Amy Sherman-Palladino’s series about a single mother and ehr daughter is full of witty dialogue, winning romance and realistic coming-of-age dilemmas, which makes it perfect for mother-daughter viewing among mid-teens and up. Drink, swearing and innuendo is present, but front and centre is the kind of charming relationship that every family wishes they had.
The Get Down
Baz Luhrmann brings to life the birth of hip-hop in 1970s New York with his stunning series, which showcases his knack for blending the musical with the cinematic. We follow a group of kids in the crumbling, graffiti-strewn Bronx, a journey that contains swearing, drugs, gangs and violence – but with a catchy soundtrack and themes ripe for discussion, this is worth trying for families with older teens of 17 and up.
Educational TV? Whatever. But CBBC’s historical series, based on the popular book franchise, combines hyperactive puns and visual gags with a whole heap of facts. Witty, clever – and, most of all, very funny.
Dragons: Race to the Edge
Netflix’s spin-off from the How to Train Your Dragon franchise is by far the best of its DreamWorks series, thanks to the combination of a largely retained voice cast and inventive creature designs.
The Adventures of Tintin
This 1992 US animated series based on the classic comics is enjoyably passionate about its source material, keeping the plots and simple line-drawing style of Herge’s illustrations – plus an impressively cinematic opening credits sequence. It’s occasionally a tad cheesy, but no less entertaining because of it.
Only Fools and Horses
From falling through bars to fixing chandeliers, generations of people have been raised on the slapstick antics of London schemer Del Boy and his brother, Rodney. Keep the tradition going.
After an uneven first season, Blackadder went on to become one of the funniest programmes ever created – partly thanks to the writing team of Ben Elton, Richard Curtis and more, and partly thanks to sterling performances by all involved, from Tony Robinson’s adorably dumb servant, Baldrick, to Rowan Atkinson as his permanently bitter master, Edmund. Colourful historical characters almost make this educational for younger family members, while any naughty bits are so silly that they’re harmless.
Director David Gelb’s follow-up to Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the streaming service’s first original docu-series – and, alongside Making a Murderer and Marvel’s superhero action, it’s easy to see why a non-fiction programme about food would be overlooked, especially as it’s the kind of show you might find on a traditional TV channel. But that’s precisely what makes this a bold move for the streaming site, as it broadens its horizons. More importantly, it’s really good, as the diverse array of worldwide cooks and their personal stories of inspiration and technique – not to mention the endless shots of food porn – add up to one mouth-watering dish.
“In a land of myth and a time of magic…” Merlin began as a blatant attempt to recapture Doctor Who’s Saturday teatime appeal, but as the show developed, it became a winning fantasy adventure in its own right – not least because of the superb Colin Morgan as the charming young wizard.
Blackadder’s title of Funniest TV Show Ever is rivalled strongly by this masterful piece of comedy from John Cleese. The Monty Python veteran is on flawless form as Basil Fawlty, the uptight manager of a rubbish hotel, while Prunella Scales is delightfully annoying as his wife, Sybil. Andrew Sachs as the clueless waiter, Manuel, brings the physical comedy, while Connie Booth quietly steals the show as the maid, Polly. Booth and Cleese wrote the show together, even returning for a second season after their off-screen relationship ended. Professional and precisely judged to the end, the result is perfect – and, at just two seasons, smart enough to know not to overstay its welcome. Worth checking in just for the Mrs. Richards episode alone.