Need a good binge watch? We are in peak TV, and Netflix is happy to oblige our binge inclinations with quality TV shows. Whether it’s my obsession with Jericho or the latest season of a variety of network shows, you have your pick for those days you called in ‘sick’ or that weekend you just couldn’t deal with relatives. It happens…
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Best Shows on Netflix
It’s nearly an endless list. Get your scrolling button ready, because there’s something for everyone.
The Last Kingdom
Love what The History Channel did with Vikings? Be prepared to be blown away by The Last Kingdom. It doesn’t get bogged down like the former and rely heavily on its main character to carry a series. Instead, the main character is Uhtred of Bebbanburg. Or as you’ll see in the intro of every episode, he’s Uhtred son Uhtred. It cracks me up. There’s excellent
Shadow and Bone
If The Witcher and Game of Thrones had a baby and that baby grew up to be a YA series, you’d have something along the lines of Shadow and Bone. But even that feels reductive because this fantasy series based on the novels by Leigh Bardugo is far more profound and complex than you might be expecting. The show takes place in a fantasy world populated mainly by humans and has magic-folk known as “Grisha.” Grisha are a somewhat ostracized group, so when an unassuming mapmaker not only turns out to be Grisha but a being known as the “Sun Summoner,” the world is upended. Mixed into this “Chosen One” narrative is a cadre of charming, compelling, and frankly, sexy characters, all of whom are just trying to make it through a harsh and unforgiving world.
Toss a coin for your Witcher. Get ready to be humming that tune as this Netflix original is up there with Peaky Blinders and The Last Kingdom. It’s fantastic, and you can tell Henry Cavill (Geralt) knows and loves the source material. The fantasy series is one of the best on television right now, and while we have to wait a bit longer for the second season due to the pandemic, if you haven’t added it to your queue, correct that mistake.
Cast: Henry Cavill, Freya Allan, Eamon Farren, and Anya Chalotra
The Queen’s Gambit
One of Netflix’s breakout hits during the pandemic was The Queen’s Gambit, a seven-episode series following the fictional tale of an orphan turned chess prodigy. You don’t have to be an aspiring grandmaster to understand the show, thanks to Anya Taylor-Joy’s turn as Beth Harmon.
Written and directed by Scott Frank, you can watch the 1950s and 60s come alive with expertly shot set pieces. The chess matches come alive and not because of the moves on the board. We become invested in Beth’s story as she rises out of the orphanage to take on the best players from across the globe.
Another notch in its favor is its a limited series. The seven episodes are self-contained with an excellent ending, so we are not sitting around waiting for the inevitable Netflix cancellation announcement to come down.
In the era of #PeakTV it’s impossible to watch everything, but here’s a show that you can binge in a very limited amount of time and get maximum satisfaction in return: Collateral. The four-hour BBC-produced limited series hails from writer David Hare (The Hours) and director SJ Clarkson (Jessica Jones). Carey Mulligan stars as a confident and charismatic detective in London who’s tasked with investigating the murder of a pizza deliveryman, who may be an immigrant or refugee. A Robert Altman-like ensemble forms the tapestry of this story, but by the end of the four hours you’ll be in awe of how well all the disparate characters’ storylines fit together. This is a show that digs deep into issues of immigration and racial tensions in a post-Brexit England, but maintains a sense of joy and humor throughout so as not to drown the viewer in despair like some other British dramas.
A French-language thriller that was the talk of the internet following its release, Lupin is based on the adventures of classic character, thief Arsene Lupin, who wants to avenge the death of his father. The show is absolutely captivating thanks to its style, daring heists, and Omar Sy, the show’s charismatic lead anyone would rob a bank for.
You’ve seen period dramas before – but not like this. From super-producer Shonda Rhimes comes Bridgerton, a flirty, feisty Netflix series that centres on the Bridgerton family. One of the daughters, Daphne, is of age to find a husband and ends up ‘pretending’ to fall in love with one of England’s most eligible bachelors, just so everyone will get off her back. Of course, things do not go to plan.
The show is proof Shonda Rhimes signed her Netflix deal for more than just a massive check. She wanted creative freedom and delivered on her first piece of programming.
CBS, you bastards. Talk about being a little too early with the post-apocalyptic drama. It managed two seasons, with the second being cut short. Why am I obsessed with the show? It finally tells the story of what happens immediately after an SHTF scenario. The United States has been hit by terrorists armed with nuclear weapons, and you see how the town of Jericho survives the unknown. No flash forward 30 years to see how things are Mad Maxing it up. Nope, just regular people trying to survive. You don’t want to know how many times I’ve watched this show. It’s absurd. Netflix, be a pal and reboot it.
Is there an award for best intro music for a television series? Game. Set. Match. Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds is more than enough to get you roped into this BBC/Netflix collaboration. Then there’s the casting and setting. Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby is sublime, and if you want to see Tom Hardy at his best, seasons two and three feature some of the best scenes he’s ever done.
Peaky Blinders tells the story of a British gang rising to prominence after WWI. If you like period pieces and stellar acting, you can’t go wrong with this show.
Friday Night Lights
Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose. It’s actually impressive how long Friday Nights Lights lasted on NBC. It was criminally under watched and is the perfect mixture of sports, drama and romance. Ok, some of the storylines went a bit overboard, but it is NBC. And somehow the TV adaptation of a movie turned into one of the most critically acclaimed shows to air on network TV.
How many Sherlock Holmes adaptations have there been over the years? Now, how many have been good? The BBC show Sherlock is a modern take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s source material, and Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Martin Freeman (Holmes) are perfection on screen. And if you’re not used to UK television, each season is only three episodes. That’s both infuriating and refreshing. Quality over quantity. Something the networks in the United States could take to heart.
Imagine the polar opposite of the Beverly Hillbillies, and you get a close approximation of Schitt’s Creek. It follows the story of a wealthy family who has just lost everything to a shady business manager. The family patriarch, played by the ageless Eugene Levy, had bought the tiny town of Schitt’s Creek as a gag gift, and it remains as the family’s sole possession.
The family packs up everything and moves into the local motel, where they slowly begin to accept their new circumstances. It’s a hilarious comedy perfect for those days when you need a pick-me-up. Considering the madness over the past few years, we could all stand a good laugh.
Schitt’s Creek is loaded with an ensemble cast, including Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Daniel Levy, Annie Murphy, Emily Hampshire, Chris Elliott, and Jenn Robertson.
Unfortunately, it only has two seasons, but it’s one of my favorite Netflix Originals. And not because of the title character. No, it’s the secondary characters like Kublai Khan and 100 Eyes who make the show. Marco Polo actually drags down what was once the most expensive Netflix show produced. Definitely worth a watch, but damn does it cliffhang.
Replacing Marco Polo at the top of Netflix’s most expensive production is The Crown. Exploring the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II, Claire Foy is perfect on screen mixing both the young woman who has dreams and the duties of the crown. As her mother tells her, the crown must always win. Another great character in the series is John Lithgow’s turn as an aged Winston Churchill. His career is nearing an end as Elizabeth rises to become Queen. Another great show for fans of period pieces. The show has been renewed for a second season, and rumors are it will focus more heavily on Phillip and his alleged affairs.
You know the show everyone has watched but you? That’s Stranger Things. It was the breakout hit on Netflix with little buzz before it exploded onto the internet. Set in the 80s, it brings back the nostalgia for a mystery that’s a mix of It and The Goonies. Toss in a spot-on cast of Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Cara Buono, and Matthew Modine, and you have all the makings of the perfect binge-watch. Eight episodes and damn right there’s a season two around the corner.
The Umbrella Academy
If you’re tired of the formulaic comic book movies and TV shows, consider The Umbrella Academy as the ultimate antidote. Elliot Page turns in one hell of a performance in a Netflix original based on the graphic novel series by Gerard Way and Gabriel Brea.
The story centers around seven children with extraordinary powers adopted by a rich man who trains them to be heroes. Its premise begins with their father figure dying mysteriously and the brother showing up via time travel to warn of an impending apocalypse in the coming days. It’s definitely trippy, but if you’re into the genre, The Umbrella Academy is a refreshing change of pace.
It’s almost as if BBC is a Netflix show factory with the amount of hits emerging from across the pond. Bodyguard is a six-episode thriller following David Budd, a metropolitan police office assigned personal protection detail for the Home Secretary. The opening episode kicks the thrill ride off with Budd helping to stop a suicide attack on a London-bound train. The pulse-pounding moments only continue from there as he works to not only protect his charge, but also unravel a terror plot.
Those across the pond in the UK already knew about Charlie Brooker’s amazing anthology series on Channel 4. Thankfully, Netflix loves to collaborate with British TV and bring incredible shows to the rest of us. Black Mirror is best described as a modern day Twilight Zone. It proved so popular with Netflix subscribers; the company commissioned six episodes exclusively for the service. It’s creepy. Unsettling. Awesome. Chilling. You’ll run out of adjectives when debating what’s the best episode.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
How the prequels should have been made. Trips me out Clone Wars was created by George Lucas, yet he also directed the prequels. Talk about a disconnect in quality. The animated series fills in the gap between Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.
Those wanting a deeper dive into Anakin’s backstory without the horrible acting will be delighted watching Anakin, and fellow Jedi lead the Grand Army of the Republic against the Separatists’ Droid Army. You watch each interaction between Anakin and Chancellor Palpatine take on new meaning as the specter of his transformation into Darth Vader hangs over the series.
Past the deeper dive into his backstory is the introduction of Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s Padawan. She is a standout character of the series, and those searching for a new angle on Star Wars before Episode VIII lands in theaters should look here.
Parks and Recreation
Surprisingly, this NBC show made it past its first season. Parks and Recreation can be considered Exhibit A on how some television shows need a few episodes to find its footing. If you make it past season one, the second season finds its footing, and by the third, it’s fantastic with the additions of Adam Scott and Rob Lowe. You also get to see Chris Pratt do his thing before he was Star Lord or wrangling velociraptors. Those looking for a hilarious comedy should settle in.
The West Wing
A functional White House? Yeah, The West Wing will make you long for the days when politics was semi-sane. I have a political science degree and even I’m weary of what’s happened to D.C. Fans of Aaron Sorkin will love the series up until season five when he departs. Trudge through that season and the final two recapture some of the magic of the first few seasons. And can you get a better cast?
Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford, Alison Janney, Rob Lowe, John Spencer, Richard Schiff, Janel Moloney, and Dule Hill all star in how we all wish the White House functioned today. Instead, we get to hang on every tweet. Seriously, someone take his damn phone away from him.
The Office (U.S.)
The U.S. remake of the U.K. series should have been terrible. And for the first few episodes, it was with the exception of Steve Carell. By the end of its six-episode first season, it had found its footing, and the second season is pure comedic gold. How the hell did Carell never win an Emmy for his amazing performance? Did the show last too long? Maybe by a season or two, but it’s a damn delight to watch once it hits it stride after the first few episodes in season one.
The Office (U.K.)
It spawned the US version and made Ricky Gervais a household name. It lasted only two seasons, but it has brought forth countless imitators of the mockumentary comedy. Twelve episodes and two Christmas specials are all you get of what is one of the pinnacle comedy series to air on television. I won’t spoil any of it. You can blitz the series in no time.
First off, ignore the last season. No clue what the showrunners were thinking, but it’s absurd. Knowing that, Dexter is a good drama series. It’s an adaptation of Jeff Lindsay’s book series, and Michael C. Hall is great as Dexter, a forensic technician with the Miami Police Department who moonlights as a serial killer on nights and weekends.
Dexter is known for it’s side characters and a series high point is John Lithgow’s turn as the Trinity Killer. Julie Benz, Jennifer Carpenter, Erik King, Lauren Valez, David Zayas, C.S. Lee, Desmond Harrington, Geoff Pierson, Aimee Garcia, and James Remar round out the cast. The series is equal parts a crime drama and one hell of a dark comedy.
Idris Elba as the titular character should be enough. Another BBC series making the leap to Netflix, it follows London Detective Chief Inspector John Luther as he hunts Ruth Wilson’s Alice Morgan over the course of the first two seasons. The show’s template is similar to that of Sherlock, each season is in short bursts, but showrunner and creator Neil Cross keeps Luther busy with taking on killers who always seemed to be personally connected to. Fans of crime dramas should have this on their must-watch list.
Marvel and Netflix
With three seasons under its belt, it’s my favorite of the four Netflix/Marvel collaborations. Yeah, the showrunners have fallen in love with the
Daredevil tells the story of Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer who happens to be a badass fighter. He uses his heightened senses after being blinded as a boy to fight crime in Hell’s Kitchen. Season one has him facing off with Wilson Fisk, while season two has him crossing paths with vigilante Frank Castle (the Punisher) and the return of his ex-girlfriend, Elektra Natchios. It’s a hell of a lot better than the Ben Affleck movie. And even better with the news The Punisher is getting his own show.
Sweet Christmas. Only one season so far, and for the first half, it’s perfection. That’s thanks to Mahershala Ali’s turn as Cottonmouth. The back half turns silly in a hurry as the main villain, Diamondback, does not have the same screen presence as Mahershala Ali. Like Daredevil, Luke Cage tells the story of Carl Lucas (Luke Cage) who, with unbreakable skin and superhuman strength, fights crime. I’m not kidding when I tell you there’s a scene Luke taps a guy on the head and knocks him out. That’s what happens when you’re given a 13-episode order instead of 10.
It’s been renewed for a second season, but so far we have one on Netflix and features Jessica Jones, a former superhero with superhuman strength suffering from PTSD. She opens a detective agency, and we get to see the first crossover of characters with Luke Cage appearing in the first season. Not quite as action-oriented as the previous two above, but a solid entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The final of the initial four Netflix/Marvel collaborations. Recently released, it will lead up to the crossover miniseries The Defenders, which will feature all four of the heroes. Danny Rand returns to New York City after being presumed dead for 15 years to reclaim his company from the Meacham family. A threat emerges (The Hand) forcing Rand to choose between his family’s company and his duties as the Iron Fist.
CW and Netflix
Like Marvel, the CW has deals in place with Netflix for their marquee shows to run after their respective seasons wrap up.
A few years ago had anyone said The CW would be where DC would find its footing for a cinematic universe, you would have been laughed out of the room. Instead, the first season of Arrow proved comics can make the leap to the small screen. Especially seasons one and two. Manu Bennett as Slade Wilson is badass. Seasons three and four fell off a bit, but the show has recovered into its fifth season. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a watch.
CW will always CW, but you can’t deny how good The 100 is thanks to keeping its episode countdown around 13-15 per season. It doesn’t get bogged down by side plots. And entering its 5th season, you have some serious binge-watching to do to catch up. Set 97 years after a nuclear holocaust wiped out almost all life on Earth, the only known survivors live on 12 space stations combined into one called ‘The Ark.’ 100 juvenile prisoners are sent down to the planet as the station is set to collapse to see if it’s habitable. What they find is that they aren’t alone.
If the Green Arrow could succeed on television, why not The Flash? Barry Gordon lights up the small screen in yet another CW surprise hit. Other networks try comic book shows, but for whatever reason, it clicks on the CW. Go figure, but another show to add to your list of TV shows to watch.
The network that continues to impress with good shows. I’m not sure what to think of you CW, but keep it up. iZombie benefits it’s from the creators of Veronica Mars and is a fresh take on the zombie genre for TV. It follows Liz, a medical resident who one night is suddenly turned into a zombie. Before you think Walking Dead, this flips the notion on its head. She stays a relatively normal human being, one who just has to eat human brains. It turns into a procedural as she inherits the memories and character traits of murder victims, and it helps her track down other zombies who lack her moral fiber.
The show that seemingly never ends. Supernatural debuted in 2005. You’re looking at 11+ seasons to binge away on. That’s one terrible case of the flu, but at least you’ll be entertained as Sam and Dean Winchester battle against witches and demons. It never reached critical mass for widespread appeal, but the show inevitably ends up in the news or as a Netflix suggestion. Settle in and make sure you have food. There’s a lot of episodes waiting for you.
Shonda Rhimes and Netflix
Following D.C. political fixer Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), Scandal splits its episodes between whatever crisis Pope and her ‘team of gladiators’ tackle and her affair with the President. It’s ABC. What did you expect? The first two seasons are where it shines before it steps off the deep end of logic and any ties to the original premise.
How to Get Away With Murder
Is it ridiculous in its premise? Yep. Should you watch it anyways? Yep. Shonda Rhimes may not be the creator, but her fingerprints are all over the show as its executive producer. Viola Davis is excellent as a morally-suspect law professor who becomes involved in a murder mystery involving some her best law students. Somehow this works, and there are enough twists and turns to last a series, but they pack it all into the first season.
House of Cards
The show that put Netflix on the map. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are brilliant as a D.C. power couple in House of Cards. It’s how we all imagine Washington actually working, and while the first season is the best, each subsequent season has built on the former with plenty of twists and turns. Spacey’s Frank Underwood is terrific, but it’s Robin Wright’s character that is the show’s secret weapon. She’s brilliant throughout the series.
You’ve probably already seen it, but give it another watch. It’s the biggest reason why Netflix can spend what it does on original content each year. Give us a tap on the desk Frank.
The Walking Dead
It’s the zombie genre at its pinnacle. The Walking Dead is a must-watch for just about anyone wanting to stay on top of the latest watercooler talk. Somehow the show has remained fresh despite a damn repetitive narrative. The first season is great, and while the second feels stale, it steadily improves upon the first if you can get past it. Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes is the center of the show, a symbol of the collapsing faith in others as most of the other survivors have long since abandoned any sense of morality before the undead were unleashed.
A hidden sci-fi gem on Netflix, the Canadian TV show tells the story of a time-travelling cop who tracks domestic terrorists from 2077 to 2012. Rachel Nichols is fantastic in each of the four seasons, but it feels like the show had more to offer and was canceled too early. It’s not overt, but the satire against major corporations like Apple and Monsanto is there, and it’s an overall great ride. I’ll even put it up there with shows like Fringe.
Wrapping the Best TV Shows on Netflix
Wait, is that all? Not even close. I know I left off some hidden gems. Sound off in the comments and bookmark this post for monthly updates of what’s added and what is disappearing from Netflix’s content catalog.