The best Netflix original TV shows to binge
James R | On 16, Jan 2022
This month sees Netflix turn 10 years old in the UK. In the years since its first original show, House of Cards, proved a game-changing new arrival on our screens, the streamer has expanded and evolved its TV output, from international acquisitions and co-productions to its own original productions. Along the way, it has seen Spanish and Korean thrillers become some of the most talked-about TV shows around the world – and House of Cards mired in the scandal surrounding its leading actor. Only just dipping your toes in the water of Netflix’s programming? Want to make sure you’re up to speed with its best box sets from the past decade? Here’s our guide to the 50 best Netflix original TV shows to put on your watchlist.
Already binged your way through the below? Check out our list of the underrated Netflix original shows that you may not have seen.
Be prepared to swoon over this saucy, sumptuous and seriously fun romantic romp.
Netflix’s entertaining mix of reality TV drama and property porn is jaw-dropping, compulsive TV.
Henry Cavill is instantly iconic in this high-budget adaptation of the hit fantasy franchise, which balances sarcastic humour with genuinely impressive effects and creatures – resulting in a legitimate rival to Game of Thrones.
This darkly entertaining satire of social inequality is a graphic, gripping ride.
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.)
Netflix’s twisted social media thriller, about a bookshop owner who stalks the object of his affection, is enjoyably dark, addictively ridiculous, and enormously fun.
The Queen’s Gambit
Anya Tayloy-Joy is remarkable in this slick, compelling drama about a troubled chess genius, the orphaned prodigy Beth Harmon.
The Umbrella Academy
As playful as it is slick, Netflix’s offbeat superhero series based on the comic books of the same name has grown to become one of its most distinctive and entertaining original franchises.
The chance to see Jason Bateman show off his dark side is reason enough to tune into this crime drama, but the gripping plots and complex character dynamics will keep you hooked right up to its impending final season.
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.
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, not to mention Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin as Charles and Diana. Sumptuous stuff.
Shadow and Bone
Another of Netflix’s growing fantasy epics, this teen drama about a young woman who holds a magical power that may unite her world manages the tricky balance of taking young adult drama seriously while still remaining thrilling and tense.
Locke & Key
Netflix’s supernatural horror based on the popular comic books is a surprisingly dark and darkly surprising ride.
Grace and Frankie
Netflix’s ability to be nothing like broadcast TV is perhaps best showcased in its unexpectedly delightful comedy about two friends – Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda – finding their way through their mature years.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the streamer’s witty, racy and yet thoughtful coming-of-age comedy, which follows a teen boy at school (Asa Butterfield) and his sex therapist mother (Gillian Anderson).
This playfully meta take on France’s gentleman thief is slick, charismatic and effortlessly cool.
Dead to Me
Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini are amusing, sweet and heartbreaking in Netflix’s dark comedy about two women who find unexpected friendship amid a perfect storm of grief, loss and betrayal. With James Marsden as an ex-fiancé muddying the moral waters, what emerges is a unique blend of cathartic character drama and unpredictable potboiler thrills.
This dark and violent animated adventure certainly isn’t for kids. This is old-school vampire fiction that may only span four episodes but s nonetheless bloodthirsty and beautifully drawn.
Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous
This entertaining Park animated spin-off is a surprisingly dark ride.
The words “The Powerpuff Girls” are enough to get anyone’s attention, but this new show from creator Craig McCracken stands up in its own right – a silly superhero adventure that sees a young boy discover 5 Cosmic Stones of Power that he gives out to local residents to become the unlikeliest good guys imaginable – including a multiplying old man and a cat who can see the future. Great sci-fi fun.
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.
Into the Night
“If we don’t get out of here, the sunrise will kill as all.” Those are the immortal words that set Netflix’s Into the Night in motion – and they set the tone for a ludicrous thriller, in which a ragtag group of misfits fly a plane around the world to survive a barely plausible apocalypse. Needless to say, it’s hugely entertaining.
Yeon Sang-ho’s thought-provoking tale of horrifying retribution is a chilling study of belief, judgement and justice.
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.
Encouraging people to be kind and better themselves, Netflix’s fabulous reality TV reboot is just what this world needs.
Originally a YouTube series, this sequel to The Karate Kid sees Ralph Macchio and William Zabka reprise their roles from the 1980s sports classic as arch-rivals Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence. The result is at once gloriously nostalgic and charmingly modern. The fights are good too.
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.
This grippingly dark crime drama set in 1890s New York is dripping with dread.
This psychological thriller starring Bill Pullman as Detective Harry Ambrose is ideal for anyone looking for their next unsettling box set.
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.
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.
This hugely moving drama about a single mum trying to restart her life is pure catharsis.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 lots of talking and barely any crime in it. The 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.
Love on the Spectrum
Finding love can be hard for anyone. For young adults on the autism spectrum, exploring the unpredictable world of dating is even more complicated. Netflix’s sensitive, respectful and open-hearted docuseries is a warm delight.
My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman
In an age of talk shows geared around creating viral skits for social media views, David Letterman’s approach to his Netflix programme is wonderfully old-school, sitting his guests down for in-depth, slow-paced chats that feel genuine and probing. The range of interviewees impresses too, from Kanye West and Kim Kardashian to George Clooney, Barack Obama and Malala Yousafzai.
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.
F1: Drive to Survive
Netflix takes us behind-the-scenes of Formula 1 in this slickly produced documentary, which races from personal rivalries and professional politics at breakneck speed – pausing only to watch tyres screech round corners of tracks around the world. The result is riveting, whether you’re a fan of F1 or not.
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.
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.
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.
Mike Flangan’s best work to date, this tale of a closed-off religious community is a compelling mix of frights and insights into the human condition.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.