The best overlooked Netflix original TV shows you (probably) haven’t seen
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.
Already binged your way through the best Netflix original TV shows? Here’s our guide to the best underrated Netflix original shows that you may not have seen:
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.
Jim Mickle’s adaptation of a DC comic book is among the best shows Netflix has produced to date.
Based on a short film, this superbly thoughtful superhero drama follows Nicole (Alisha Wainwright), a mother who realises her son has super powers. Raising the seven-year-old boy (Ja’Siah Young) after the death of her husband, Mark, she must keep her son’s gifts secret with the help of Mark’s best friend, Pat, and protect Dion from those out to exploit him. The result is a moving and heartfelt exploration of growing up without a positive male role model, as well as a fresh spin on the wonder of comic books. Suitable for those aged 12 and up.
This underrated zombie drama is an artistic, realistic descent into bloody chaos.
The low-key, high-concept Israeli drama begins at a high school assembly and soon descends into a dark, gripping crime mystery.
This Australian acquisition feels like Down Under’s answer to The Revenant, as people return from the dead and take us into tantalising, tense horror territory.
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson
You’ll be quoting this inventive, hysterical, surprising sketch comedy series for years to come
Sandra Oh leads an impeccable ensemble in this thoughtful, funny and timely campus comedy.
Complex characters, exciting action and stunning visuals make this video game adaptation one of 2021’s most surprising shows.
Hilda, a fearless blue-haired girl, travels from a wilderness full of elves and giants to a bustling city packed with new friends and mysterious creatures in this fantasy based on the graphic novels by Luke Pearson. Engaging, mature, imaginative and charming.
“You can’t do a slasher movie as a TV series,” says Noah Foster (John Karna) at the start of MTV’s Scream. It’s par for the course for the franchise, at once undermining its own existence and yet staying faithful to the rules. That’s the series’ inevitable weakness: Wes Craven’s original film was a smart re-imagining of the slasher genre, subverting expectations and traditions at every turn. But if self-awareness is no longer novel, the series introduces something more surprising to the formula: sincerity. The show’s secret throughout is to make you forget it’s a horror story – and then let that fact creep up on you every episode.
What do you do when you’re a 17 year-old high schooler who has just learned that they’re up against an ancient and extremely powerful enemy that is holding an entire town in an iron grip? That’s the starting point for this enjoyably earnest coming-of-age superhero drama, which builds on Norse mythology with young adult thrills.
This intriguing, gender-swapped remake of the film franchise of the same name has the same blend of smarts, style and finance-fuelled betrayal.
Baltasar Kormákur’s sinister, atmospheric Icelandic thriller is a glacial but gripping mystery.
Creative cooking on a timer, Netflix’s unique baking contest is as gripping as it is mouth-watering.
Final Space, from Internet filmmaker Olan Rogers, is an original sci-fi comedy from TBS and jam packed with silliness, charm, threat, romance and heart. With an impressive voice cast, Netflix’s 10-episode adult animation (contains moderate violence, bloody images and sex references) follows an average space joe and his green blob to a disaster threatening the earth and possibly the universe itself. Dark, silly, full of sci-fi references and surprisingly deep, this adult animation has all the makings of a cult hit.
A show about the son of God, the original fallen angel, giving up his divine responsibilities to have fun running a nightclub in Los Angeles (where he helps an LAPD detective to solve crimes) sounds dreadful, but Tom Ellis’ charming performance and a surprisingly thoughtful approach to its theological mythology make this part-crime series, part-family drama an entertaining watch.
This slowed-down take on Bong Joon-ho’s sci-fi satire forges its own intriguing destination.
This funny, nicely crafted mystery series is a chance for all ages to play detective.
Craft and artistry is evident in every frame of Cartoon Saloon’s bright, beautiful pre-school series.
Meet Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, who are investigating the death of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a nun at the Archbishop Keough High School. She was found dead in 1969, weeks after she went missing, but her murderer has never been found. This scorching, shocking true crime documentary puts its victims first – and will move you to righteous fury.
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 and ecstasy. This is one meaty piece of television, with 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.
Fear City: New York vs The Mafia
Netflix’s detailed Mafia doc has the tone of a crime drama and the intrigue of a suspense thriller.
Tales of Arcadia
The DreamWorks saga, created by Guillermo del Toro, began several years ago with Trollhunters, a charming adventure about a boy who found a hidden world beneath his home town of Arcadia and wound up locked in a troll battle over the future of humankind. Since then, its scale has grown to include wizards and aliens and the result is an impressive animated epic for the whole family.
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.
“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.
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.
When They See Us
Ava DuVernay’s enraging, powerful, deeply human retelling of The Central Park Five case is essential viewing.
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. The 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.
Netflix’s stunning, vibrant Mumbai noir is a potentially game-changing piece of cinematic TV.
Meet your new Netflix BFF. She’s 25 years old, a Scorpio, blood type A and an office worker. And she has a ferocious love of death metal. Oh, and she’s a Red Panda. That’s the basis of Netflix’s adorable animated series, which is based on Japan’s beloved Sanrio character. Following her through her day-to-day life, we witness the kind of frustrations and pressure that quietly crush us without us realising, from company politics and the impossibility of a healthy work/life balance to a pig-like boss who makes overbearing demands. Retsuko copes with this by going home at night and pouring her anger into karaoke, screaming death metal into a microphone with a passion that’s borne of both repressed aggression and a hidden internal strength.
Netflix’s second Indian original series, this horror follows a prisoner who arrives at a remote military interrogation centre and turns the tables on his interrogators, exposing their most shameful secrets. The result is a twisting, turning thriller that combines jump scares and spooky visuals with themes of hyper-nationalism, the horror of book burning and the threat of spiritual possession. Accomplished, atmospheric TV – and, best of all, it’s only three episodes, so it’s a simple, but scary, all-nighter.
In 1953, a biochemist named Frank Olson plummeted to his death. How and why did he fall from a New York hotel to hit the pavement below? Some said it was an accident. Some said it was foul play. Some said it was suicide. But how does one accidentally jump or fall out of a window? A dizzying deconstruction of memory, facts and documentary filmmaking itself.
Bobby Kennedy for President
“If Lincoln didn’t get us there, if Dr. King didn’t get us there, if Bobby didn’t get us there, what the hell is left to say?” Netflix is known for its documentaries, and this historical slice of US politics is no exception. In the current age of political leaders in both the UK and US, you may well want to steer clear of the subject matter, but this informative, in-depth, inspiring programme is a reminder of the decency of one man who tried to make a nation better.
The spiritual successor to 30 Rock, from Tracey Wigfield, Great News is a light-hearted sitcom about a young woman dealing with a manic workplace and personal life issues, while trying to produce a TV show. Funny, sweet and silly stuff.
“State your name and who you are,” says Peter (Tyler Alvarez) at the start of his documentary, American Vandal. “That’s a stupid question,” comes the reply. His subject? Dylan (Jimmy Tatro), high school troublemaker and academic non-achiever. So when 27 cars have penises spray-painted all over them, Dylan emerges as the obvious suspect. Not content with the school’s decision to expel him, Peter takes it upon himself to film a documentary about the whole thing. Social media tag: #whodrewthedicks. But this comedy series is less a spoof of true crime and more a satire of teen life. Because in trying to flesh out its world to support such in-depth faux-detective work, American Vandal has to construct a modern on-screen high school that rings with authenticity. The result recalls (the much funnier) Search Party in the way a search for the truth is stumped by the impenetrable nature of teenage existence.
Santa Clarita Diet
“Think about all the people I haven’t killed. Literally, everyone in the world except for three people.” Nothing says relationship goals like a wife turning into a flesh-eating monster and her husband sticking by her. That’s the starting point for this sadly cancelled comedy-horror, performed with disarming warmth by Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore.
Five Came Back
“You guys have been looking for a war,” says Rick (Humphrey Bogart). “That’s right,” comes the reply. That’s the sound of Casablanca, the golden age of Hollywood. But that golden age was also part of another era of the movie business: a time of war, patriotism and propaganda. Netflix unpicks the passion, principles and compromises involved in its engrossing, informative and brilliant documentary series. Borrowing its title from a 1930s melodrama, Five Came Back charts the military service of five key Hollywood players: William Wyler, Frank Capra, George Stevens, John Ford and John Huston. All joining the armed forces and, signing up to make films for the war effort, they put their cinematic skills to work for the country. Each found their own challenges, inspiration and repercussions, as they left the traditional studio system for another, altogether more complex chain of command and responsibility. This is dense, rich material, and writer Mark Harris mines his own non-fiction book for every nugget of gold he can fit into three hour-long episodes. A must-see for cinephiles.
Stand-up Maria Bamford may be an unknown name for UK audiences, but she has already appeared in Arrested Development and it’s that show’s creator, Mitch Hurwitz, who works with her to make this superb comedy series. Starring Bamford as herself, the end result is unashamedly self-aware, dizzyingly unpredictable and hilariously surreal. You’ve never seen a sitcom like this. Read our full review.
Comedy Bang Bang!
“Expect the unexpected” sounds like a corny phrase, but it’s one that’s more than welcome when it comes to that most formulaic of TV programmes: talk shows. Based on Scott Aukerman’s podcast of the same name, this 2012 TV show follows the same format, with guests sitting down to chat – only to digress into silly conversation, improvised comedy and sketches.
Love Island is one of the UK’s most watched TV shows, with its blend of rude contestants, naughty action and soapy drama combining to keep viewers hooked. But Japan’s answer to Love Island is the ideal antidote, putting a group of strangers in a house with cameras, but then leaving us to observe just how different the culture is: the house is beautifully minimal and understated, the contestants are undramatic and resolve everything through constructive, positive communication and the food looks mouth-wateringly good.
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. The good news? Netflix has commissioned it and filming’s already underway.
One Day at a Time
Reimagining Norman Lear’s 70s sitcom might sound like a terrible, especially after Fuller House, but Netflix’s reboot gives the show’s formula a slight tweak to make it surprisingly modern, as we follow a Cuban-American family. Our heroine is a recently separated, former military mom (Justina Machado), navigating a new single life, while raising her radical teenaged daughter and socially adept tween son, with the help of her old school Cuban-born mom (Rita Moreno) and a friends-without-benefits building manager, named Schneider. Sadly, though, three seasons is your limit, with Netflix cancelling it after then.
Netflix goes all dystopian for this polished and highly pertinent thriller about a society split into two groups – the lucky 3% who live in affluence and the others who hope to join them.
This David Fincher-produced collection of visual essays on film is a treat for cinephiles.