The best box sets and TV shows on Netflix UK
Ivan Radford | On 19, Apr 2020Reading time: 25 mins
Nothing fills an afternoon or evening quite like a good bit of telly, and Netflix has been churning out box sets galore for years. The good news? There’s no shortage of series to binge. The bad news? It’s hard to know where to start. Luckily, we love nothing more than to recommend things to stream, so we’ve delved into Netflix’s extensive catalogue to bring you its best TV shows currently available.
From true crime and nature documentaries to drama, horror, comedy and more, these are the best box sets on Netflix UK. Already seen them? See our list of the most underrated TV shows on Netflix UK.
Bookmark this page: It will be kept up-to-date to reflect new arrivals and removals.
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.)
Sunderland ‘Til I Die
Football, they say, is game of two halves. In the case of Sunderland Association Football Club, it’s a game of two halves, hundreds of disappointments, several managers, multiple fights for survival and a handful of stunning goals. For a town that loves its local team like no other, it’s the very stuff of life. For everyone else, it makes for sublime television. This beautifully edited series captures the gripping despair and heart-wrenching hope of being a sports fan, and that human angle makes for something hugely entertaining, whether you’re a football lover or not.
Better Call Saul
This Breaking Bad prequel, which sees Bob Odenkirk reprise his role as Saul Goodman, takes us to before the bent lawyer found his crooked niche – and we watch the transformation from well-meaning shyster Jimmy McGill into the Albuquerque underworld’s favourite slimeball. It’s a slow journey, but one that has fantastic performances, nuanced writing and an ever-present feeling of portent lingering in the air. Breathe it in slowly and inhale. (Read our weekly reviews here.)
Haven’t seen the original Vince Gilligan joint? It’s never too late to start from the beginning, as we see mild-mannered chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) team up with former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to start making meth – and begin his transformation from an everyman into a formidable drug lord.
Making a Murderer
One of the most talked-about TV series of recent years, and with good reason, Making a Murderer is essential viewing for every true crime fan. The documentary follows the decade-old case of Steven Avery and Brendan, his nephew, who were both convicted of the murder of Teresa Halbach in 2005. Bringing international attention to what the filmmakers and attorneys argued were miscarriages of justice, the show became an immediate sensation, as angry, shocked viewers to the Internet to call for justice. Gripping and surprising, the series is hugely entertaining and moving – and, even better, has also proven the ability of TV to impact the real world.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness
Netflix’s true crime output is almost unrivalled in modern TV, but this dive into America’s competitive world of big cat rearing is more outrageous than more, resulting in a rivetingly absurd, shocking binge. Sink your teeth into it and discover what everyone’s been talking about.
Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak
This alarming, gripping and inspiring documentary is a chillingly timely watch.
Known as La Casa de Papel in its home country of Spain, this thriller follows a mysterious man, known as The Professor (Álvaro Morte), who plans to carry out the biggest money heist in history. Not by stealing money, but by making it. The mission is simple: break into the Royal Mint of Spain and print 2.4 billion euros, as eight thieves take 67 hostages to ensure 11 days of privacy and enough time to make their fortune. Originally airing on Antena 3, before Netflix snapped up the international rights, the show has become a smash hit, and is now the most-watched non-English-language series on the streaming service – and that’s no surprise, once you get hooked on its gripping plot twists and slick, stylish visuals.
The series first began back in 2004, when director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade decided to follow the court case of Michael Peterson, a novelist whose wife was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in their North Carolina home. With no one else present in the house, he was promptly accused of her murder, a charge that led to a 16-year judicial battle.
The notion of following a single legal case for 13 episodes might seem like overkill – indeed, Making a Murderer only spanned 10. But The Staircase’s vice-like grip stems exactly from the sheer length of time we spend going over and over Peterson’s case: by the time you’re halfway through, you’re firmly at the stage of playing armchair detective, but by the time you’re at the end, you’re feeling every new twist and turn with the same mix of surprise and weariness. This is exhausting, exhaustive documentary filmmaking, in the best possible way.
The hit show of 2016’s summer, if you haven’t seen Stranger Things, you’ve certainly heard of it. Netflix’s sci-fi horror mystery, which follows the disappearance of a young boy from a small US town in the 1980s, leaving his mum (Winona Ryder) devastated and his friends no choice but to play detective themselves, is a deft mix of retro nostalgia and modern-day storytelling. With its synth soundtrack, entertaining young stars and gripping screenplay, it takes strange children with telekinetic powers, nasty monsters, sinister scientific corporations and bike rides and turns them all into something entirely its own. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. If you have, watch it again to spot all the pop culture references.
I Am Not Okay with This
From the producers of Stranger Things and the director of The End of the F***ing World, this supernatural coming-of-age series is a wonderfully surprising ride that leaves you crying out for a second season.
Based on The Marshall Project and ProPublica Pulitzer Prize-winning article, this powerful, gripping drama follows a teen (Kaitlyn Dever) who reports and eventually recants her reported rape, while two female detectives, states away, investigate evidence that could reveal the truth.
When They See Us
Ava DuVernay’s enraging, powerful, deeply human retelling of The Central Park Five case is essential viewing.
Dan and Eugene Levy’s sitcom follows a wealthy family who go bankrupt and whole up in the motel of the only remaining asset they have: an ugly small town named Schitt’s Creek. It sounds like a feast of unlikeable characters, but, like a sitcom cousin to Succession or Billions, this brilliant show teases out their flaws and insecurities until you’re rooting for an oddly sweet group of idiots who learn, grow and progress with every season. An unexpected delight.
The Good Place: Season 1 to 4
One of the best TV shows of recent years, this fantasy series follows an ordinary woman who is wrongly sent to a pleasant afterlife and must hide in plain sight from its creator, who is unaware of his mistake, as she navigates her surroundings. Kristen Bell stars as Eleanor, who dies and finds herself accidentally in The Good Place, where she absolutely doesn’t belong. She is joined by Ted Danson, who plays Michael, the architect in charge of her neighbourhood. Funny, surprising, profound and moving.
Ryan Murphy is one of the best things about modern TV. If you’ve ever doubted that, just look at his latest creation, which is vibrant, gripping, emotional and sassy all at the same time. What makes Murphy’s work often so compelling is the way he so deliberately shines his spotlight not on himself but on other people, from Feud’s plumbing of the depths of the sexist engine powering Hollywood to America Crime Story’s hugely detailed character-driven portraits of real life. Groundbreaking in its largely transgender cast, Pose is bursting at the seams with lives and stories just waiting to be told, diving into the underground world of 1980s ball culture, where all those unwelcome in mainstream society, all those who can’t convert the American Dream into an American Reality, find acceptance, respect, support and one heck of a good night, as they strut their fashion sense and realness for everyone else to appreciate. Black transgender woman Blanca Rodriguez (Mj Rodriguez) works at a nail salon by day and serves as a member of the House of Abundance by night, and she’s our window into this world, as she takes in Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain), a young dancer, and pushes him to audition for the local school. The resulting scene is just one in an endless pile of standout moments, as Swain veritably explodes off the screen with passion, conviction and physical agility. Its a breathtaking climax to a dizzying first episode – and sends you pirouetting into the box set released all-at-once on BBC iPlayer. Strike a pose, then get ready to hold it for eight hours.
From the creator of Last Chance U, Cheer is a six-episode series about competitive college cheerleaders. It follows the cheerleaders of Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. Led by Monica Aldama, the troupe has won 14 National Championships since 2000. But with the same focus on the human drama behind the competition that defined Last Chance U, this becomes a gruelling study of the toll that determination to succeed takes on these young adults. Universally gripping telly, even for non-sports fans.
Each episode of this intelligently funny series is a perfectly formed musical in its own right.
Ricky Gervais’ bittersweet comedy about sadness is a movingly honest piece of television.
Call My Agent!
This French comedy about a talent agency is uproariously funny, thanks to its amusing array of characters, sharply written dialogue and rapid pacing. Celebrity cameos by everyone from Juliette Binoche to Isabelle Huppert are a bonus.
Lost in Space
Netflix’s ambitious reboot of the sci-fi series about a family lost in space is big, ambitious and decidedly cinematic, from the shiny, sleek interiors of the practical sets to the CGI effects that send the Robinsons racing past alien planets – and, in the thrilling opening sequence, hurtling into them. A large part of the show’s success stems from that very real sense of risk, casting the series as a sci-fi tale of survival in the vein of The Martian, rather than a old-school sitcom, a la Fuller House. Directors Alice Troughton (Doctor Who) and Deborah Chow (Jessica Jones) fuel the whole production with a burning sense of adventure, capturing the beauty of the Robinsons’ home and the warmth of a family drama, as well as its spookier side. The result is enormously fun sci-fi offers that rare thing on TV: a genuine family blockbuster.
Natasha Lyonne gets the star vehicle she deserves with the dark, trippy series that’s more than its Groundhog Day-esque premise suggests. Just don’t watch it on a Thursday.
From the creator of Misfits, this dark comedy is reassuringly zany, fast-paced and gruesome. Any show that opens with a woman screaming and tied up, only to discover it’s her friend who’s doing it, because they think she’s possessed, is a sure-fire winner. That breakneck warped humour doesn’t let up, as we watch Raquel (Susan Wokoma) attempt to conduct an exorcism based on what she’s reading off the internet on her phone. But there’s a unique streak to this Buffy-esque affair – Raquel’s friend, Amy (Cara Theobold), thinks her ability to “see” demons is less a gift and more a symptom of mental illness. It doesn’t help that Raquel is so blunt that she comes across as crazy herself. The result are two fun, fleshed-out characters, who just happen to be killing evil spirits in their spare time, an inconvenience that makes their lives as young adults even more complicated.
The End of the F***ing World
An instant following its Channel 4 debut, this wonderfully dark take on the coming-of-age graphic novel of the same name follows two teens as they go on a sociopathic road trip like no other.
The Haunting of Hill House
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.” That’s the first line of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. First published in 1959, it has gone on to inspire two films and a play. Here, it’s resurrected once again as a TV series, which reimagines the story as a 10-part drama. The tale may have changed, but director Mike Flanagan returns to Jackson’s opening sentiment and proves it over and over again. The series charts the lineage of the Crain family, starting with father and mother Hugh and Olivia (Henry Thomas and Carla Gugino). After moving into Hill House to renovate the old mansion and sell it on, things go very wrong, and Olivia ends up dead one dark night, as Hugh and their five children flee the estate in a panic. The series follows them as adults, jumping between their dysfunctional lives in the present and the origins of their problems several decades past. Each character gets an episode devoted to their experiences, and Flanagan uses that age-old device to weave a freshly compelling, complex tapestry of trauma and the mechanisms humans have devised to cope with it. The result is as much family drama as it is horror story, and it’s all the better for it; like the best entries in the genre, it’s as moving as it is purely terrifying.
The royal family, but not as we know them, Netflix out-BBCs the BBC with its sumptuous period drama, which follows the young Elizabeth II as she takes to the throne and finds herself having to navigate her political relationship with Winston Churchill and her personal loyalty to her husband, Prince Philip. An endlessly expressive Claire Foy chirrups with the best of them, while Matt Smith brings scene-stealing depth to a part who could have easily been a caricature – work that’s continued by Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies in Season 3. Gorgeous stuff.
It feels like only next week that time-travelling series Travelers premiered on Netflix UK. A Canadian sci-fi with Will and Grace’s Eric McCormack in the lead, it impresses from the off with its blend of quick pacing, trashy familiarity and talk of a dystopian future. While its opening episodes are slick enough to intrigue, the maiden run ultimately ropes you in through creator Brad Wright’s sheer commitment to his concept. That concept is simple: a group of time-travelling agents are sent back to the present day from the future to save humanity from destruction. But rather than time-hop themselves, they are transported into host bodies, inheriting lives, relationships, illnesses and other problems. Quantum Leap with guns? Travelers doubles down on that idea – and then some. It might have been cancelled after three seasons, but it’s still worth a binge.
“I’d rather be a murderess than a murderer, if those are the only choices.”
That’s Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon) at the start of Alias Grace, Netflix’s new adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel. Based on the actual 1843 murder of Thomas Kinnear (a lascivious Paul Gross) and his housekeeper, Nancy (Anna Paquin), the book explores the double homicide from Grace’s perspective, as she relates the events to a doctor, Simon (Edward Holcroft). From the opening scenes, Grace is keenly aware of the impact of one word over another, picking and choosing her speech as she goes. The killings were notorious at the time, sparking debate about Grace’s complicity, morality and identity – and Alias Grace is a dizzying, gripping act of a woman reclaiming her story to her own ends.
Over five seasons, Charlie Brooker’s Twilight Zone for the Twitter age has tackled everything from political engagement to relationships and all the pixels in between with a harsh, satirical hand. The Entire History of You, the climax of Season 1’s anthology, was promptly optioned by Robert Downey Jr. for a feature film adaptation, while none other than Jon Hamm starred in 2014’s seasonal special. That response only emphasises how much Black Mirror has tapped into a nerve in society, combining our feverish love of new technology with our most neurotic digital fears; a topicality delivered with detached cynicism that, even in its weaker instalments, feels bleakly relevant – or, in the case of the interactive special, mind-bendingly chilling.
She’s Gotta Have It
Spike Lee takes his fantastic debut to the small screen for an equally pertinent, insightful and fizzyingly entertaining portrait of Nola Darling, a young woman trying to find herself in between her work, her dreams and her multiple lovers.
“There ain’t nothing as scary as a man with a gun,” reflects Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) in Godless, Netflix’s new Western series. It’s a prescient line in a show that flirts with a bold revision of the genre, with the action taking place in a town run entirely by women. But Scott Frank’s Netflix Western sticks to the tried and tested classics – and that approach pays off in dividends, as Jack O’Connell and Jeff Daniels deliver magnetic performances as two men destined to collide, set against a community of satisfyingly rounded female characters. The result is a potent mix of genre tradition and progressive writing that makes a pertinent point about the futility of men with guns, while giving their toys to the women too. It’s a testament to just how successful the end result is that it can be taken seriously in the wake of HBO’s Westworld, let alone still feel fresh in classic trimmings and trappings that have long since become old hat. Accomplished, confident and sumptuous storytelling, fans of Westerns have just had their prayers answered.
Star Trek: Discovery
If Picard stumbled a bit out of the gates, this Star Trek spin-off doesn’t fail to live up to its promise, as we follow Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) through a series of mind-bending, space-hopping adventures that deftly tie into the original Trek canon with all the excitement of JJ Abrams’ recent big screen revival.
The show is adapted from the book Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by The Road’s screenwriter, Joe Penhall, and, working with Exec Producers Fincher and Charlize Theron, Penhall has produced something gripping and unique: a crime thriller with barely any crime in it. We open with a messy hostage situation, which sees FBI Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) try to talk down a man with a shotgun, but after a burst of bloody violence, the show consists almost entirely of very long discussions in closed rooms.
A little more conversation and a little less action might sound dull, but Mindhunter’s success lies in how compelling, complex and creepy those conversations are: it’s a show that has total confidence in the power of speech, knowing that if the characters, topic and words are just right, you can gladly watch two talking heads for hours on end.
Last Chance U
Netflix’s documentary series takes us behind-the-scenes at East Mississippi Community College, where one of the most successful teams in the USA’s Junior College league makes and breaks the future of young athletes. The good news is that Last Chance U isn’t about football. It’s about the people who play it, and the stakes that are on the pitch: The Lions are a mixed bunch of misfits, from college dropouts to poverty-stricken locals, who all have one thing in common: football is their ticket out of town. Many of them black, many of them without a back-up plan, they pin their hopes on the sport, whether that’s the long-term dream of making it to the NFL or the more immediate challenge of just getting a college scholarship. Every match, every rivalry for every spot on the team, every disciplinary or pitch riot (in an ominous sign of what’s to come, things get violent in the very first episode) – whatever happens matters to them all. Sporting dramas about underdogs are two a penny, but you’ve never seen a sports story so raw or devastating.
Rick and Morty
Wubba lubba dub dub! Dan Harmon’s sci-fi sitcom about young teen Morty and his drunkard time-travelling uncle, Rick, plays out like Back to the Future’s anarchic, depraved cousin, resulting in a string of adventures that only get more jaw-dropping audacious as they go on. Season 4 may be a Channel 4 exclusive, but the three seasons here are essential viewing.
People Just Do Nothing
One of the best homegrown British comedies of recent years, this BBC Three series follows the vaguely inept owners of pirate station Kurupt FM. (They’re very big in the Brentford area.) Co-created by and starring Allan Mustafa as MC Grindah and co-starring Hugo Chegwin as DJ Beats, what started as a YouTube series has been nurtured by the Beeb into a comedy staple. There’s a hint of Alan Partridge to the mockumentary – “How far does Kurupt reach?” asks our filmmakers on a balcony overlooking a council estate. “As far as the eye can see,” comes the proud reply. “But not that bit on the left.” – but the setting, characters and knowingly bad music has its own rhythm, which the cast stick to with engaging chemistry. Scenes where we catch Beats out of his hat and in a business suit for a job interview bring a surprising sympathy to his useless existence – and even more sympathy for his girlfriend, Roche, who has to endure the worst birthday party for their daughter ever recorded on screen. Asim Chaudhry as their friend, who runs a string of incompetent and illegal businesses, is always a treat. (Watch out for his “Polish Vodka”, which isn’t from Poland, but is made with window cleaner.)
Created by Ronan Bennett, the Channel 4 drama follows the climb of two young drug dealers – Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kano) – and the gangs that form around them, hold them up and pull them down. It’s the kind of story that perhaps feels slightly out of step with 2019, where efforts to slowly but surely correct years of underrepresentation has given us more diverse voices and narratives, from Sky One’s excellent Bulletproof (starring Ashley Waters and Noel Clarke as two policeman) and BBC One’s family drama Dark Money to Netflix’s musical Been So Long. But Top Boy nonetheless remains a slick piece of TV with gripping plot lines, gritty visuals and tangible moral stakes. Its updated revival for Netflix, which sees Dushane and Sully return after a stint away – to find Jamie (Micheal Ward), a young, hungry and ruthless gang leader whose ambitions leave no place for the pair – is just as gripping as ever.
Wild Wild Country
When a controversial cult leader builds a utopian city in the Oregon desert, conflict with the locals escalates into a national scandal. Produced by the Duplass Brothers, this six-part documentary is jaw-dropping both in subject and style. It charts the rise of Rajneeshpuram, led by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who inspired a whole community of orange-robed followers, reducing them to tears, ecstasy and erotic pleasure – an orgy of devotion, belief and political manipulation that the show presents without judgement and with an open mind. There’s a real nuance to the way it gets under the skin of some of its more fanatical members, and a rewarding ramshackle approach to its storytelling, which allows the astonishing events themselves to keep you hooked for one more episode, but don’t be fooled: this is one meaty piece of television, which tons to unpack about religious freedom, group mentality and reality TV, all held together by pitch-perfect pacing and a soundtrack that entertains and unnerves in equal measure.
This impeccably dark adult animation stars Will Arnett as the washed-up former horse actor BoJack, a loser who is perennially on the brink of self-destruction as he strives for some kind of comeback. Boldly innovative, unabashedly melancholic and, every now and then, earnestly hopeful, this is a masterful piece of animation.
There’s nothing scarier than writer’s block. That’s certainly the case in Netflix’s new French series, which juggles familiar tropes into something completely and utterly scary. It follows a famous horror writer who takes a break from writing, only to discover the demon from her book exists in the real world. This malevolent spirit named Marianne draws her home and insists she continues writing… or else. Created and directed by Samuel Bodin, it’s stuffed with jump-scares, haunting flourishes, emotional torment and one heck of a scary stare from creepy old lady Madame Daugeron.
Ash vs Evil Dead
“How does it feel to be back?” “Groovy.” Ash vs Evil Dead nails its homecoming in its opening episode – and this series does feel very much like a homecoming. Small-screen spin-offs from popular movie franchises have become two-a-penny in recent years, but many are made by a different team to their source material. Sam Raimi is involved with this new show from the ground up – and you feel it in every splatter of blood right up until the final episode. The show catches up with Ash 30 years after the events of the first film, which plays out in brief visual recap for newcomers. He’s exactly as you remember him: not exactly PC, slightly dim, but darn good with a chainsaw. He’s not the nicest guy in the world. He’s not the smartest guy in the world. And he’s certainly not the kind of guy you’d choose to star in a typical, modern show. But when the undead crap hits the fan, he’s exactly the guy you want on the telly. How does it feel to have him back? Groovy.
You’ve seen period dramas. You’ve seen zombie thrillers. You’ve seen Korean action and horror movies. But have you ever seen a period zombie Korean action horror? That’s what Kingdom brings to Netflix, as it whisks us back to 15th century Korea, as the country finds itself on the brink collapse into undead chaos. Why? Because a calculating politician is trying to take control of the throne by keeping the weak king alive as long as possible. The only problem? He winds up a zombie, and a plague of flesh-chomping undead soon start to run amuck, leaving the crown prince the only one to stop the infection spreading. It’s a cracking premise, one that fuses hunger for power with appetite for internal organs, and doesn’t spare either, with blood splashing and body parts flying whenever a set piece ensues. The sumptuous costumes, gorgeously shot locations and sets are a bonus, leaving you with a six-part first season that only makes you want to devour another season straight away.
Netflix’s stunning, vibrant Mumbai noir is a potentially game-changing piece of cinematic TV.
Netflix’s Castlevania is a dark and violent animated adventure that certainly isn’t for kids. This is old-school vampire fiction that may only span four episodes but s nonetheless bloodthirsty and beautifully drawn.
“Do you want to go back?” someone asks Prairie Johnson (Brit Marling) at the start of The OA. They promise her great love, but also great suffering. It’s a moment that requires a big leap, not just from her, but from the audience. We’ll spoil one thing for you now: you will make that leap. The eight-part series, created by Marling and Zal Batmanglij, follows the return of Prairie to her home town, seven years after she disappeared. She’s confused. She’s lost. She has strange marks on her back. And when she’s reunited with her parents, she’s never seen them before. The reason for that is simple: she was blind went she went missing. Now? She can see. It’s a superb hook for a mystery drama and the almost-feature-length first episode alone swiftly establishes this as the new Stranger Things, in terms of curiosity, classy visuals and character depth. But this is something all of its own.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Run out of funny shows to stream? You haven’t tried It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Dark, depraved and deliriously hysterical, it features a bunch of thirty-somethings who run a failing bar in the city, all of whom do terrible things to one another. Amazingly, because all of them are so dislikable, the cycle of screwing over doesn’t get awkward or painful to witness – only funnier. The show tackles serious themes, from gun violence to terrorism, but does so through the warped microcosm of heartless, sadistic idiots; a device that shouldn’t work, but rarely fails. Like early Arrested Development, its advert-free form on Netflix makes it zip along at a breathtaking pace. Literally: because once Danny DeVito is introduced in Season 2, you’ll frequently go 20 minutes without breathing. Never shown on UK TV, this just might be the funniest TV series on Netflix UK.
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.
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