From 'Black Mirror' to 'Haunting of Hill House,' these are the best Netflix Originals  08/06/2019 21:40:58  8  Rick Marshall

After revolutionizing the television landscape with its streaming service, Netflix began unveiling its own original shows in 2013, with House of Cards becoming the company’s first hit single of sorts. More popular shows were soon to follow, and today the company is only gaining momentum. The current stable of Netflix Originals includes a massive number of scripted and documentary series produced in-house or co-produced with other studios specifically for Netflix — and that’s not even counting the gobs of other programs on Netflix, including many for which the company holds exclusive streaming rights.

With such a diverse pool of originals to choose from, you might be wondering: Which of these shows are worth watching for 11 straight hours this weekend? That’s where we come in. We’ve assembled a list of the best Netflix Original series available right now. (And if you want to know the latest additions to the Netflix library, be sure to check out our list of what’s new on Netflix this month.)

‘American Vandal’

After 27 cars in the high-school faculty’s parking lot are vandalized with crude phallic images, the school’s resident slacker and class clown is expelled, but when two fellow students initiate a documentary-style investigation into the incident, suddenly everyone becomes a suspect in this surprisingly compelling and hilarious series. A satire of true-crime documentaries like Making a Murderer and SerialAmerican Vandal is a mockumentary that manages to channel much of the same “Did he really do it?” uncertainty into its story, while also offering a very funny and impressively clever spin on the typical docuseries format.

Much like the true-crime series that inspired it, the first season of American Vandal is packed with narrative twists and turns that keep the audience guessing. It’s supremely binge-friendly as you push to discover the next revelation in this seemingly minor incident that consumes the lives of the characters involved in it. The first season of the series earned rave reviews, prompting Netflix to commission a second season, which premiered September 14 to even more critical acclaim. Sadly, that might be the last we see of the series, as Netflix abruptly canceled it in October as part of a wave of cancellations of projects Netflix co-produced with other studios.

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‘Big Mouth’

If you can handle a little bit (OK, a lot) of potty humor, you should enjoy Big Mouth. The animated series follows two seventh graders, Nick and Andrew (series creator Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, respectively), as they struggle with their burgeoning sexuality, represented by a grotesque, crass “hormone monster” (also voiced by Kroll), whose base desires cause turmoil and frustration for both boys. Their friends Jessi (Jessi Klein) and Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) also struggle with puberty to varying degrees, as does Andrew’s crush, Missy (Jenny Slate).

On its surface, Big Mouth is quite crude, but that humor belies the show’s nuanced, relatable exploration of adolescence and physical maturation. The series deftly handles the difficulties of middle school life, including common misconceptions held by kids about their sexuality and their bodies. The second season of Big Mouth premiered October 5, and the series was renewed for a third season the following month.

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‘Black Mirror’

What happens when technology goes too far? That’s not an unreasonable question to ask oneself in 2018, and Black Mirror (originally broadcast on British Channel 4, before being acquired by Netflix) is a wildly entertaining, if depressing, answer to that question. Most of the episodes of this chilling anthology series ponder hypothetical eventualities resulting from the unchecked advancement of technology, often charting courses that are disturbingly well-connected to the way we work and live today.

The show’s production value keeps getting better, and the third and fourth seasons — produced by Netflix — include a bevy of household names, from Jesse Plemons to Gugu Mbatha-Raw (whom creator/writer Charlie Brooker uses to great effect). The first two seasons — including the epic Christmas special White Christmas  are also must-see programming. The series broke new ground in late 2018 with the release of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a stand-alone movie that features an interactive, “choose-your-own-adventure”-style narrative that broke new ground for the medium.

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‘BoJack Horseman’

Despite lukewarm reviews for its first season, BoJack improved dramatically and received critical acclaim for the following three campaigns. The animated show centers around BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett), a washed-up ’90s sitcom star (and actual horse-man) trying to find happiness and reclaim his former fame. Anthropomorphic half-breeds are the norm, and the show milks much of its humor by simply playing off stereotypes associated with the characters’ animal halves.

The show’s true strength lies in its sincerity, however, as BoJack struggles to deal with his insecurities in a town rife with celebrity and its many vapid failings. Paul F. Tompkins (Best Week Ever), Alison Brie (Community, GLOW), and Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) provide excellent voice support in a series that flips from hilarious to depressing with impressive grace. The series was renewed for a sixth season in October 2018.

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‘Chef’s Table’

This documentary web series introduces viewers to top culinary minds across the world, offering insight into the day-to-day experiences and responsibilities of renowned chefs. Each episode focuses on a different restauranteur and blends together personal stories with culinary content to great effect. The show’s traditional documentary presentation can be a bit stuffy at times, and the narratives can be unevenly balanced in favor of emotional backstories, but most viewers should enjoy and appreciate some insight into the wide world of fine dining.

The quality of each episode hinges largely upon the personality of the chosen chef, and some — notably Massimo Bottura in the first season, Dominique Crenn in the second, and the brash Ivan Orkin in the third — are more camera-friendly than others. Still, the series is a welcome departure from the competition-focused cooking shows that dominate cable and network TV. If you like this, Chef’s Table France is also worth seeing.

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‘The Crown’

The Crown is perhaps the best show on television right now, period. Easily the most celebrated British period piece since Downton AbbeyThe Crown follows Queen Elizabeth II — the still-reigning Queen of England, at 91 years old — across different periods of her life, beginning with her 1947 marriage to Prince Philip of Edinburgh. Reception to the series has been overwhelmingly positive, as nearly ever aspect of the show — acting, production value, historical accuracy — has been widely praised.

The series’ interesting format sees Netflix recasting the role of Elizabeth and other characters season-to-season; Claire Foy starred in seasons one and two alongside Matt Smith (Dr. Who) and Vanessa Kirby, while we know Olivia Colman (Peep Show) will be taking the royal reins in season three (with Helena Bonham Carter set to portray Princess Margaret as well). Netflix plans to produce a total of 60 episodes over six seasons.

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The first in a slew of Marvel shows to hit Netflix over the past few years, Daredevil stands largely on the strength of Charlie Cox’s performance in the title role. Cast in a similar vein as Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, this series shows a darker side to Marvel Studios’ colorful cast of superheroes. The blind vigilante spends his days protecting New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen as a lawyer, and his nights doing the same in a much more tangible (and violent) manner.

The show’s action sequences are fun, and amiable supporting performances from Elden Henson (The Mighty Ducks) and Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood) bring some comic relief and heart to the bleak setting, but as usual, the real stars of the show are the villains. Vincent D’Onofrio is excellent as the deranged Kingpin, while Jon Bernthal’s turn as the Punisher — which earned him his own Netflix series — is as convincing as it is visceral. Season 3 of the series premiered October 19 and earned widespread praise, with some calling it the best season of the series so far. Sadly, the series was canceled by Netflix shortly after the debut of season 3 as part of its efforts to reduce the number of series it co-produces with other studios.

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As the only foreign-language entry on our list, Dark would merit some curiosity at the very least, but it’s here not because it’s German, but because it’s awesome. A Stranger Things-esque setup — missing children from a small town, supernatural occurrences, mysterious laboratories — will have you thinking you know what to expect, but trust us, you don’t. The town of Winden lives in the shadow of eternal clouds, lending Dark a more macabre vibe than Stranger Things, which peppers in comic sequences and lots of nostalgia.

Dark weaves together multiple storylines amid complex relationships endemic to small-town life, even outside the good, old U.S. of A. If you’re in the mood for a lighthearted romp or a satisfying romance arc, move on — this is not the show for you. But if you love serious shows with a flair for the dramatic (and a heaping helping of despair), check this one out.

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‘Dear White People’

After Justin Simien’s 2014 film of the same name earned rave reviews, Netflix commissioned the young director for a multiseason TV series, featuring the same characters (recast) and an altered storyline. The series is about black students at a predominantly white (and fictitious) Ivy League college, Winchester University, who work to try and find both group and individual identities while carving out a place within the school’s ecosystem. Logan Browning stars as Sam White, a student who runs a radio show titled Dear White People, which causes some controversy among the student body.

Thanks to Simien’s expert touch, the show deftly handles the nuances of identity, romance, education, and socialization with plenty of comedic moments, helping to inform viewers of all colors about other points of view without ever seeming judgmental or vindictive. The second season premiered in May 2018, and the series was renewed for a third season the next month.

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This anthology series, created by mumblecore hotshot Joe Swanberg (Win It All), provides a template for relatable and realistic depictions of love and sex in the 21st century. Despite a star-studded list of performers — including Orlando Bloom, Emily Ratajkowski, and Dave Franco, to name a few — Swanberg manages to make you forget that you’re watching someone famous by crafting characters that are deep, yet not too complicated to fit into a 30-minute window.

Each vignette catalogs the struggles of a couple or group of people in contemporary Chicago, where gender roles and language barriers are equal obstacles for people seeking happiness. The show’s brevity prevents most of the stories from reaching any sort of satisfying conclusion, but it’s a sincere collection of not-so-tall tales that most will find familiar and engaging. If you watch through both seasons, there are even some neat callbacks.

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A down-on-her-luck actress in the mid-1980s (Alison Brie) finds surprising fulfillment when she joins a low-budget women’s wrestling program run by a seedy, dishonest director (Marc Maron). Oh, what’s that? You’ve never seen anything like this? Duh. GLOW — which stands for Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling — was a real show in the mid-80s that featured wrestling (of course), wacky and colorful characters, and crazy comedy sketches.

Netflix’s take on it sees the ladies of GLOW battling their own personal issues while trying to come together and produce a successful show; it’s a dangerous premise, but one that works incredibly well thanks to dedicated performances from Brie, Maron, and Betty Gelpin. British rocker Kate Nash, Sydelle Noel, and Britney Young are also excellent in supporting roles. Season 2 premiered in June to positive reviews, and the series was renewed for a third season in August 2018.

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‘The Haunting of Hill House’

This terrifying series from Mike Flanagan, the writer and director of criminally under-appreciated horror films Oculus and Ouija: Origin of Evil, offers a new spin on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel of the same name. It follows a family who moves into an old house intending to renovate it, only to experience one scary paranormal event after another before a mysterious tragedy forces them out of the haunted manor. The story unfolds through a mix of timeline-hopping explorations of each family member’s experiences at Hill House and years later, as the trauma of those encounters shapes their lives and eventually brings them back to where it all started.

Beautifully shot, expertly paced, and filled with the sort of subtle call-backs that encourage multiple viewings, The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best horror tales to debut on any screen — big or small — in recent years. Oh, and if you don’t believe us, just consider that Stephen King himself described the series as “close to a work of genius.”

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‘Jessica Jones’

Krysten Ritter shines as antihero Jessica Jones, who rejected her superhero persona after a traumatic experience at the hands of Kilgrave (David Tennant), and now runs her own detective agency. Like Daredevil, the series is darker and more grounded than Marvel’s cinematic efforts, though it’s missing some of the goofy lighthearted qualities that Daredevil brings. Jessica Jones is thematically heavier, as the characters deal with topics like rape and PTSD. As with Daredevil, the villain is the sizzle of this first season — Tennant’s take on the villain Kilgrave conjures perhaps the best performance of any on-screen Marvel bad guy this side of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.

The show’s structure seems uniquely suited for the future inclusion of guest heroes; Luke Cage figures prominently in the first season, while season 2 has its own intriguing new characters to build upon. Both Jones and Cage (along with Daredevil and Iron Fist) featured heavily in Netflix’s crossover series The Defenders. The third season is expected to premiere in 2019.

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‘Lost In Space’

The latest adaptation of Irwin Allen’s landmark 1960s sci-fi series, Lost In Space is centered on the Robinson family, which has taken to the stars together, courtesy of a program aimed at finding a new home for humanity. Of course, their craft veers off course and they end up in a new galaxy entirely, leading — as you might expect — to a series of dangerous scenarios in which the family must work together to survive. Toby Stephens (Black Sails) plays army-dad John Robinson, whose wife (Maureen) is the expedition leader. The kids are played by Taylor Russell, Mina Sundwall, and Maxwell Jenkins, with support from Parker Posey, Ignacio Serrichio, and more.

While it’s the same old take on The Swiss Family Robinson at its core, the series’ special effects, set design, and cinematography are all top-notch, lending a sense of legitimacy to the many perils faced by the space Robinsons & co. Perhaps more importantly, the family dynamic — especially with the three children and the robot Will befriends — feels real, turning this from an also-ran space sitcom into a pretty great show.

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‘Master of None’

If you’ve never seen an episode of Master of None, you might be surprised to see star/creator Aziz Ansari depart from his trademark style of comedy — namely, loud, ridiculous, and goofy — and try on an outfit that looks brand new, but somehow feels worn-in. The show follows Dev Shah (Ansari), a not-so-famous actor living in New York (then, later, Italy) who is simply trying to get by. Master of None offers a unique and honest take on comedy that’s less reliant on punchlines and more situational — it’s Louie, with a Millennial twist.

Some episodes are funny, while some are sad, but the majority of them feel well-written and natural. Noël Wells and Eric Wareheim (Tim and Eric Awesome Show) provide some help off the bench, and while the acting can occasionally feel a bit strained (especially in the first season), Ansari’s crisp writing and relatable performances (he won a Golden Globe for his efforts) truly carry the show. Aziz’s real parents also appear as Dev’s parents in several hilarious segments, displaying comedy chops that must be hereditary.

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Why do we obsess over serial killers? Perhaps it’s because we don’t truly understand what makes them tick. That’s the hook for Mindhunter, a crime drama with executive production credits for both David Fincher (Fight Club, Gone Girl) and Charlize Theron. Jonathan Groff (Glee, Hamilton) and Holt McCallany play FBI agents tasked with interviewing and assessing serial killers in order to build personality profiles which might help solve ongoing and future cases. Aside from Anna Torv (Fringe), a largely anonymous cast takes the stage here, as the pair of agents investigates and interviews real killers from the mid-late 20th century, including one Ed Kemper.

Mindhunter is largely a bleak affair, with a general sense of dread pushed forward by creepy performances and graphic crime scene photos. Still, it’s a curious subject and one which informs the detective work done by characters in modern cop dramas. If you liked NightcrawlerZodiac, and Silence of the Lambs, you’ll like Mindhunter. 

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Yes, Pablo Escobar is played out, and the show takes its fair share of historical liberties. However, any quibbles with this series can easily be pardoned thanks to some absolutely brilliant performances by Wagner Moura (Escobar) and Boyd Holbrook (Steve Murphy), the latter of which is on his way to becoming a bona fide action star thanks to turns in the excellent Logan and The Predator.

Narcos details Escobar’s rise to wealth and power as the face behind one of the largest drug cartels of all time, based out of Medellin, Colombia. Moura oscillates between dedicated family man and ruthless kingpin with alarming ease, while DEA agents Murphy and Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal) work to capture the elusive patron. If you’re unfamiliar with Escobar’s story, this is a riveting (if not wholly realistic) look into the man, and the chaos he wrought upon an entire continent during his heyday. The third season follows a sister cartel after Escobar’s death (uh … spoilers?). The popularity of the series even led to a spinoff series, Narcos: Mexico, which premiered in November.

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‘On My Block’

Saying that Hollywood has issues of representation would be the world’s biggest understatement, but with On My Block, Netflix is working to remedy those issues. The show follows four high school freshmen — all people of color — in a witty, relatable coming-of-age story which culminates in some tensely dramatic moments. Monse (Sierra Capri) is a tomboy with deep-seated feelings for one of her close friends, Cesar (Diego Tinoco), who’s trying to balance an unstable home life against the social demands of school and his feelings for Monse.

Ruby (Jason Genao) is a whip-smart smooth talker, Jamal (Brett Gray) is a nerd on a quest, and Olivia (Ronni Hawk) is trying to make things work after her family is deported. The series treats ethnic and cultural divides with grace, showing how difficult it is to grow up as a young person of color in America.

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‘Orange is the New Black’

This dramedy is the crown jewel of Netflix’s original program list — judging by critical reception, at least. Orange is the New Black has received dozens of nominations and awards for its portrayal of an all-female prison, by way of Piper Chapman’s (Taylor Schilling) indictment, ten years after smuggling drug money for her girlfriend. The show has been praised for its thoughtful representations of prison inmates, and for exploring issues relating to race, sexuality, and emotion within a controlled, female-dominant environment.

Few programs are willing to dedicate so much time to women, and few combine humor with sincerity as flawlessly. No Netflix Original series has been watched more, and five seasons in (with at least two more guaranteed), it doesn’t appear that will change anytime soon.

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Jason Bateman has had as interesting a career as anyone in the limelight. He burst onto the Hollywood scene in the early 1980s as a young heartthrob, starring in stuff like Teen Wolf Too and The Hogan Family before spending the ’90s in a drug-induced haze, and then experiencing a major career renaissance in the late aughts. Ozark marks a different look for Bateman than many have seen, as he plays a financial planner-turned money launderer who relocates his family to the remote Ozark mountains in Missouri to avoid attention from the law.

Unsurprisingly, the law finds him anyway, and Marty (Bateman) must scramble to stay afloat while paying off debts to a Mexican cartel. Laura Linney is awesome as Marty’s wife, who gets caught up in the scheme, and Julia Garner is particularly good as the odd Ruth Langmore. Though Ozark will naturally draw comparisons to Breaking Bad, its scope isn’t nearly as grand (yet), but Bateman seems to improve with each passing episode.

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A sci-fi drama from some of the genre’s greatest storytellers might seem like an easy win, but there was nothing typical about this groundbreaking show from Lana and Lilly Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski. The series follows a group of eight individuals from around the world who suddenly find themselves connected mentally and emotionally. They are able to experience each other’s lives and draw upon the knowledge and talents they each possess. On the run from a mysterious government agency rounding up these “Sensates,” they must find a way to protect themselves and continue to live their lives, both as individuals and now collectively.

While the premise might seem straightforward, Sense8 stands out for its diverse, international cast and globe-spanning locations that allow them to experience the world through each other’s eyes. As beautiful as the series is visually, it reaches even greater heights with its willingness to explore the world and the human experience through its characters’ hearts, and show the myriad ways we can love and be loved by those around us. The series was abruptly canceled after its second season due to the high cost of its international filming, but a fan campaign prompted Netflix to greenlight a two-hour series finale that tied up the story’s loose ends.

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‘Stranger Things’

This throwback sci-fi series set the world ablaze in the summer of 2016, igniting a bonfire of nostalgia while simultaneously telling a gripping story that gets more exciting with each episode. When 12-year-old Will Byers goes missing in the small town of Hawkins, IN, his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder, in a comeback performance) thinks she’s losing her mind, believing that Will has been taken by supernatural forces. Meanwhile, Will’s friends work to find and rescue him, with the help of a mysterious young girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who appears seemingly out of nowhere.

The mystery gets deeper and darker as the show goes on, while more and more members of the Hawkins community get drawn into the creepy tale. Few shows have been as willing to let children drive the story, and Stranger Things is better for it; the show is a clear homage to Spielberg coming-of-age films and ’80s horror, and superb performances across the board make this a must-watch.

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Created by Guillermo del Toro, Trollhunters‘ story is fairly run-of-the-mill for a cartoon series (ostensibly for kids), but its masterful animation and voice acting set it apart from contemporaries. When 15-year-old Jim Lake (the late Anton Yelchin) finds a magical amulet, he’s transformed into the Trollhunter, a magical being tasked with the protection of a world of trolls that’s hidden beneath the fictional town of Arcadia. Jim must balance his real-life responsibilities with his new identity, battling evil gum-gum trolls and making friends in the process.

Superb vocal support is provided by Kelsey Grammer (Frasier), Jonathan Hyde (Jumanji), and Fred Tatasciore. The series was renewed despite Yelchin’s untimely death shortly after production ceased. Three seasons are currently available, and del Toro has indicated that Trollhunters is just the first arc of a three-part animated saga he has planned. (Not to be confused with the film Trollhunter.)

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‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’

As far as ridiculous show concepts go, this one certainly stands out. Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper, The Office) spent 15 years of her life trapped in the basement of a lunatic cultist with three other women, before being rescued by police. After escaping, Kimmy immediately moves to New York City and attempts to adjust to the outside world.

The Tina Fey-produced show has received 11 Emmy nominations for its first two seasons and critics have praised Kemper’s “unbreakably” optimistic turn as Kimmy, mixing a sunny demeanor with a host of mental demons stirring just below the surface. Many of the plotlines thrive due to committed performances from the hilarious Tituss Burgess, Jane Krakowski (30 Rock), and Carol Kane (Annie Hall, Taxi). Each new season doubles down on the wackiness, and the series returns for its final story arc in January 2019.

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