The most underrated TV shows on Netflix UK
James R | On 18, Apr 2020
It’s the Bank Holiday weekend, which means two things: no work and more Netflix. But sometimes, it’s easy to think you’ve binged on everything worth watching. You’ve done Breaking Bad. Hung up House of Cards. You’re over Orange Is the New Black. What next?
There are loads of top TV series that will spring out at you, from Mad Men and 13 Reasons Why to Marvel’s group of Hell’s Kitchen heroes and, of course, Riverdale. But what about the stuff you haven’t seen? We rummaged through the streaming catalogue to find the programmes you might scroll past without a second glance.
Here are the most underrated TV shows on Netflix UK:
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.
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. (Read our full review)
Carey Mulligan is quietly brilliant in David Hare’s complex, compellingly dark portrait of modern Britain. (Read our full review)
If you were too traumatised by Martin Rosen’s 1978 animation, based on Richard Adams’ seminal novel, rest assured: that’s not a reason to avoid Netflix’s new adaptation. The four-part series still charts the journey of a group of rabbits, as they flee the destruction of their warren and try to find a new home. Hazel (James McAvoy) is the de facto leader of the band, who believes the apocalyptic visions of Fiver (Nicholas Hoult) enough to take a small gang away from the apparent safety of Sandleford and into the wild. Sad, scary yet surprisingly fun, the result finds hope and light amid the disturbing shade. (Read our full review)
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. (Read our full review)
Tales from Arcadia
The name Guillermo del Toro is enough to get anyone’s attention, but did you know that he’s teamed up with Netflix for a kids’ TV series? A whole universe has been created by the Pan’s Labyrinth director, home to a trio of separate, but interconnected, series. First up is Trollhunters, a glorious adventure about a young schoolboy (Anton Yelchin) who finds himself – along with his friends – caught in a underground war among trolls, wizards and other fantastical folk. The follow-up, 3Below, builds on that with the story of three refugees fleeing their planet Akiridion-5, after a military coup, and trying to find home and acceptance in disguise in high school. Imaginative, heartfelt, this is sublime stuff for all ages.
“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. Read our review
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. Read our review
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. Katie (Briga Heelan) is a segment producer desperately trying to make important, engaging news stories, but ends up being given the slop of stupid, inane, fun pieces. Meanwhile, her mother, Carol (Andrea Martin – the queen of the whole show), finds herself at a life crossroads, and begins interning on the programme. Cue disastrous carnage, as her work and home lives collide in a naturally funny, sweet, silly ensemble comedy. Read our review
The Boss Baby: Back in Business
While the original Boss Baby animated feature was far from a classic, Netflix and DreamWorks’ spin-off series is ideal family viewing, combining poop, puke and clever jokes to deliver a film’s worth of capers, dialogue zingers and toilet humour in each of its 10 25-minute episodes. Read our review
Playing out like Widows but with a sense of humour, this darkly comic thriller follows three women who, due to necessity as they try to make ends meet, decide to carry out a drastic plan to get rich – and things inevitably spiral out of control. Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman and Reno Wilson are a joy to watch. Read our review
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.
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. There’s not much more to the short, 10-episode series, but its accurate observations and cute visuals make for an entertaining, easy watch – and a reassuring reminder that you’re not the only one politely bearing with the mundane annoyances of the world, and that you should probably be considering karaoke too. Did we mention she’s a red panda?
James Acaster: Repertoire
Netflix is swimming in stand-up comedy, but amid the myriad specials is this four-parter mini-series from James Acaster that you might easily scroll past, but shouldn’t be skipped altogether. Unique, unusual, diverse and, most of all, hilarious. Read our full review
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. Read our full review
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
Never available to stream so easily before, the whole of this classic British comedy is now on Netflix, and while a sketch show might not seem like the best choice of binge-watching box set, it’s a treat to get lost in the surreal imagination of this iconic comedy troupe. Read: The best Monty Python sketches
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 premise of Netflix’s wonderfully twisted comedy horror, which stars Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore as two realtors living a happily married in LA – despite her disturbing, inconvenient, and often deadly condition. The first season was slightly uneven, leading to a mixed reception, but Season 2 sees the show become one of Netflix’s best originals out there. Read our full review.
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.
The first half of the season sees our team attempting to avoid mankind’s obliteration, by diverting an asteroid (Helios) from its collision path with the planet. But where the show could have based its entire run around that threat, it turns out to be only the warm-up act for a really strong second half. Because while the idea of case-of-the-week challenges are all well and good, Travelers’ real strength lies in the challenge of taking over someone else’s life, and that increasingly becomes the real enemy facing our heroes. Read our full review.
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. Read our full review
Paul Bettany is brilliant in this thoughtful and grimly enthralling story of how the notorious serial killer was brought to justice. Read our full review
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. Read our full review
“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. Read our full review
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. Read our full review
The Last Kingdom
Another show about Vikings? After History and Amazon Prime Video’s accomplished series, you’d be forgiven for thinking another swords-and-shields drama is unnecessary, but The Last Kingdom is different – for starters, it’s not about vikings, but about England and King Alfred’s (David Dawson) attempts to get rid of his Norse nemesis and bring the country together. That means we don’t spend our time in Kattegat trying to sympathise with brutal warriors, instead hanging out in Wessex, which gives The Last Kingdom a welcome tone, voice and focus all of its own. And with Alfred already of age, the result is a show with ambitious scope and, once you get past the initial, sprawling wave of people, a surprisingly coherent theme – a study of national identity, unity, and what it means to be English that feels oddly pertinent in 2017.
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.
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.
“Full of wit and warmth, Netflix’s One Day at a Time is a joyous, fresh TV comedy that’s the perfect antidote to lazy reboots.” Read our full review.
“‘In the 23rd Century, humans have colonised the solar system. The U.N. controls Earth. Mars is an independent military power. The inner planets depend on the resources of the Asteroid Belt. Belters live and work in space. In the Belt, air and water are more precious than gold. For decades, tensions have been rising. Earth, Mars and The Belt are now on the brink of war. All it will take is a single spark.’ So reads the pre-credit crawl of The Expanse, deftly laying out the show’s basic ground rules, before flinging the viewer head-first into its world(s). Agents unknown are trying to turn the Cold War between earth and Mars hot, and the key to who they are and what their game-changing plan is seems to be rich-girl-turned-revolutionary Julie Mao – now missing. Tasked with tracking her down is grizzled detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane), who works for corporate law enforcement on dwarf planet Ceres. His investigation is expertly structured, with each episode ending on a stonking cliffhanger that’ll have you clicking onto the next instalment.” (Read our full review.)
“Ever since creepy French drama Les Revenants became a surprise global hit in 2012, producers have been drawn to its basic premise – people return from the dead, but not as zombies. The latest spin on the idea is Glitch, from Australia’s ABC, and the happy news is that it works far better than the po-faced American attempts. The core reason for its success is an elegant simplicity. We have a taut plot, told over six episodes, focusing on a small band of characters, thus avoiding the flailing narrative strands that brought down the other shows. The six episodes cover a lot of ground, but Glitch doesn’t feel rushed or crowded. As many questions are raised as answered – why are they back, for starters? – and the season ends with a fantastic, tantalising twist. Thank the Lord, then, that Netflix has stepped in to co-produce Season 2. Once you’ve watched Season 1, you’ll crawl out of your own grave to find out what happens next.” .
“Be it the likes of The Hunger Games, Elysium, Divergent on the big screen, or the likes of The 100 on TV, western mainstream viewers have gotten used to the planet’s resources being depleted, and straggly (yet handsome) survivors having to use their wits against (usually) a powerful and shady elite. Netflix dips its toes into the dystopian pool with 3%, a Brazilian series set in the future in which the world has been divided into two camps. Offshore is the little seen, yet idyllic utopia, in which the successful and affluent live out their days. Inland is for those who are less fortunate struggle to survive. 3%’s episodic structure (each episode focuses on one character) feels out of place in a world of grand, over-arching narratives. However, the show’s breezy pace, enjoyable performances and well-used arrangement of Brazil’s political landscape make for a brief but entertaining diversion. When you’re done with the Netflix shows that have been hogging the limelight, watch this.” Read our full review.
“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. Led by Willa Fitzgerald’s Emma and Bex Taylor-Klaus’s Audrey, the characters actually have time to reflect on the growing pile of corpses, bringing an unexpected depth to the trashy, entertaining scares. The show’s aim throughout is to make you forget it’s a horror story – and then let that fact creep up on you every episode. You might not scream, but for undemanding thrills, this TV series gets you every time.
Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig play Sean and Beverly, a pair of Brit writers whose award-winning sitcom is snapped up by US executives for an American remake. Gone is boarding school-set Lyman’s Boy and its old-fashioned dry humour. In its place? Pucks, a show about a hockey coach trying to get off with a librarian. Starring Matt LeBlanc. The actor, best known as Joey from FRIENDS, plays himself, a post-modern premise that sounds indulgent but is played with brutal cynicism; undercutting expectations and full of spiky barbs at the TV industry, the situation feels scathingly accurate, which makes the fish-out-of-water comedy even sharper.
Knights of Sidonia
As the months go by, Netflix continues to build its anime line-up, making big strides with this original-branded series, which arrived last year. Based on the popular manga, it follows Nagate, a low-born youth in a society of genetically engineered humans, refugees that escaped the destruction of Earth one thousand years earlier and now occupy the massive ship Sidonia. When Nagate’s talent as a pilot is revealed, he becomes one of Sidonia’s elite defenders against the Gauna, shapeshifting aliens bent on eliminating humans from existence.
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.
A nice surprise at the start of the month is the unannounced arrival of Season 1 and 2 of iZombie. The CW’s series, based on the Vertigo comic book series, follows Olivia, a medical resident on the fast track to a perfect life… until she’s turned into a zombie. Transferring to the city morgue to get access to human brains, she finds that chomping on them gives her flashes of the corpse’s memories – including, at times, clues as to how they were killed. Her boss, a brilliant but eccentric conspiracy theorist, encourages her to embrace this gift and to work with an eager, unproven homicide detective to help solve these murders.
This Canadian sci-fi series, created by Graeme Manson and John Fawcett and produced by BBC America, has never had a wide enough release to build up a mainstream following – the show was aired on BBC Three in the UK, often buried in late-night slots and premiering on iPlayer without fanfare. Now, though, Netflix has snapped up the rights to the fourth season (premiering exclusively on the site each week) and has the first three runs to boot, which means it’s easier than ever to catch up with the tale of Sarah Manning, a con artist who discovers that she is the product of a cloning programme. Tatiana Maslay is superb in an ever-versatile lead role.
What TV shows would you recommend on Netflix UK? Share your suggestions below!