Over a decade after the platform started making its own shows, here's a collection of the best there is to see.
When it really wants to, Netflix does a great job at letting people know what TV shows it has to offer. Unfortunately, with the never-ending wave of new ones arriving every month, certain high-profile creators to keep happy with front-page promotion, and shifts in the streaming wars that can upend viewer attention at a moment’s notice, there are always a few series that seem to fall between the cracks.
That’s probably not changing any time soon, but as a way to hopefully keep quality shows from going undiscovered, we figured we’d put together some choices to make the best use of your time on Netflix. These days there are plenty of changes in the streaming world: new price tiers, seesawing thoughts on cord-cutting, the wild world of Netflix ads. Whether you’re looking for shows to prioritize before letting your subscription lapse or are only just now jumping on board, the list below features 55 of our favorites.
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There’s the usual caveat that rankings are inherently subjective (is the 17th-best Netflix show that much better than the 29th-best Netflix show, etc.) but the one thing connecting all of the series in this collection is that we think they’re absolutely worth your time. They may not all end up on everyone’s list of personal favorites —tastes vary! —but it’s a trusty roadmap to get unstuck from mindlessly watching Season 7 of that show you never really liked all that much in the first place.
Narrowing things down to a relatively small number meant setting some guidelines. We weeded out some shows that did their best work before they became Netflix Originals. And although the platform may be home to some amazing shows that premiered elsewhere, we stuck to shows that were either originally produced or distributed by Netflix. To keep matters even more manageable, Netflix’s many one-off comedy specials have been excluded. (Our apologies to Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette.”)
For each show, you’ll find three things. First, a simple synopsis for those unfamiliar with any of these titles. Then, a few short bursts of insights for anyone who hasn’t taken that particular plunge yet. Finally, we dropped in a link or two to past IndieWire coverage, either interviews with the people who helped make these shows or bonus praise from one of our writers. Regardless of what ends up being the selling point, we hope this helps you find a fresh classic.
Proma Khosla, Marcus Jones, Kristen Lopez, Erin Strecker, and Ben Travers contributed to this list.
55. “The Keepers” (2017)
What it is: A seven-part investigation into the circumstances surrounding Sister Cathy Cesnik’s death touches also doubles as two researchers’ exploration of a Baltimore-area Catholic school’s history. As more information becomes available, director Ryan White and the series’ present-day subjects paint a culture of secrecy and abuse that still resonates a half-century later.
Why you should watch it: Despite only being a few years old, “The Keepers” feels like a vestige from a different era of Netflix doc series. There’s an immediacy and patience in the way that White and the team allow the space for survivors to tell their story on their own terms. When the series focuses on the truths and realities of people who stories mirror Cesnik’s and those of Archbishop Keough High School alumni, it’s a reminder of what the platform’s documentary slate used to stand for. —Steve Greeene
Our 2017 review of the series, which looked at how the series fit into the documentary series landscape of the day.
54. “Wild Wild Country” (2018)
“Wild Wild Country”
What it is: This six-part, true crime documentary series examines the impact of Indian guru Bhagway Shree Rajneesh, an infamous cult leader whose 1981 establishing of a commune in Oregon unraveled two communities and revealed a series of serious crimes, including murder, arson, and a case of mass salmonella poisoning.
Why you should watch it: Documentarians/Brothers Maclain and Chapman Way examine the Rajneesh movement with the complexity its mind-bending facts deserve. By consistently reframing its characters (interview subjects range from the commune’s wary and sometimes intolerant white neighbors to controversial Rajneesh spokesperson Ma Anand Sheela), the filmmakers set up a dazzling series of dramatic turns and a stunning, thorough consideration of religion, intolerance, xenophobia, and power. —Alison Foreman
While the series got attention for its many twists and turns, here’s a consideration of the show through the specific lens of Sheela.
53. “The Witcher” (2019-present)
Henry Cavill in “The Witcher”
What it is: In its first two seasons, Netflix’s “The Witcher” adaptation starred a super-jacked Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia: a stony force and fearsome fighter from author Andrzej Sapkowski’s six-volume book series about monster hunters.
Why you should watch it: Exhilarating fight sequences — plus Cavill really making a meal out of lines as simple as “Fuck.” — turned Lauren Schmidt-Hissrich’s fantasy series into a massive hit with not just fans of Cavill and Sapkowski, but of “The Witcher” video games as well. (One word: Bathtub!) In Season 3, Liam Hemsworth will take over for Cavill, so jury’s out on whether this show has remained one to watch. The first two seasons surely kill. —AF
For more on the look of The Continent, here’s some perspective from series production designer Andrew Laws.
52. “Chef’s Table” (2015-present)
What it is: Building out from a template and visual style that director David Gelb brought to “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” this long-running doc series presents food from kitchens all around the world as pieces of art. Different seasons have profiled chefs and culinary standard-bearers in themed and un-themed seasons, paving the way for more specialized looks at pastries, BBQ, pizza, and French cuisine.
Why you should watch it: It’s one of TV’s most indulgent series, but it puts all that power to effective use. It’s as much a document of the process of cooking, one that begins before the ingredients arrive at any particular prep area. The slow-motion footage and impeccable plating have become ripe fuel for parodies and tributes alike (the Gelb-supervised sections of “The Menu” somehow function as both), but the fact that they go hand-in-hand with a better appreciation of the craft makes this a show worth savoring, regardless which course is your first. —SG
Our delectable, process-filled chat with David Gelb, Andrew Fried and Brian McGinn, three of the directors on the series.
51. “Godless” (2017)
Michelle Dockery in “Godless”
What it is: When a young outlaw (Jack O’Connell) stumbles into an 1884 New Mexico town, he discovers a community comprised almost entirely of widows who lost their husbands in a devastating mining accident. He is soon pursued by his former partner in crime.
Why you should watch it: Writer/director Scott Frank’s “Godless” not only allows us the privilege of seeing Merritt Wever wielding a shotgun, but also delivers striking western cinematography, a thoughtful feminist perspective, and Jeff Daniels in one of his most terrifying performances. You’ve seen stories like this one before, sure. But “Godless” remains an underrated triumph because of its own wit and grit. To quote Samantha Soule’s character: “A town full of ladies? It’s ripe fruit for the wicked.” —AF
A spoiler-heavy discussion of the series’ final episode, praising and dissecting a wild ending.
50. “Orange Is the New Black” (2013-2019)
“Orange is the New Black”
What it is: In Jenji Kohan’s sprawling expansion on Piper Kerman’s memoir “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison,” a singular ensemble drives a compassionate look at the lives of inmates and guards at a fictional minimum-security federal prison in upstate New York.
Why you should watch it: “Orange Is the New Black” didn’t just make history at Netflix (though its success was an unprecedented leap forward in scripted comedy for the service). With too many standout performances to name (Uzo Aduba! Kate Mulgrew! Samira Wiley! Natasha Lyonne!), the genre-straddling, women-centric dramedy championed diversity onscreen and off, as well as challenged the limits of ripped-from-the-headlines drama for the binge-watching format. —AF
Series mainstay Natasha Lyonne explained how the chance to get behind the camera changed the entire trajectory of her career.
49. “The OA” (2016-2019)
What it is: Creator Brit Marling stars as the titular OA or “original angel”: a woman who mysteriously returns to her adoptive parents after disappearing for seven years. Their reunion reveals a mind-bending epic, cut short by a hard-to-accept cliffhanger.
Why you should watch it: Synonymous with hidden gem, “The OA” is a word-of-mouth sci-fi sensation for a reason. Though Season 1 got a mixed reception from critics (its serpentine storyline proved too difficult to follow for some), the show has since been extensively praised for its ambitious approach to multi-dimension storytelling and is remembered for a Season 2-turned-series finale that left unsatisfied fans grappling with frustrating but fascinating meta-questions about Marling’s under-explored TV universe. —AF
Our Influencers profile on series composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, including thoughts from Marling.
48. “Teenage Bounty Hunters” (2020)
“Teenage Bounty Hunters”
What it is: Twin sisters Sterling and Blair Wesley (Maddie Phillips and Anjelica Bette Fellini) have to secretly balance being apprentices to a grouchy veteran bounty hunter (Kadeem Hardison) with their everyday teen troubles being students at a Christian school.
Why you should watch it: Another entry into Netflix’s far-too-vast canon of shows gone too soon, the Kathleen Jordan-created comedy brought such an original concept to the well-trodden genre of teen TV, mixing in crime caper fun with biting satire of down south, contemporary Christian culture in the Atlanta suburbs. —Marcus Jones
“Teenage Bounty Hunters” was the capper on our list of shows in 2020 that were canceled way, way too early.
47. “Everything Will Be Fine” (2021)
“Todo va a estar bien”
What it is: As Julia (Lucía Uribe) and Ruy’s (Flavio Medina) marriage is crumbling, they try to preserve parts of the life they have and put on a good face for their daughter. When affairs and public controversies start to complicate things even further, the couple is forced to confront their own assumptions about what family means.
Why you should watch it: Now much more known for being in front of the camera on a TV series, this proves that Diego Luna might be an even better director. There’s patience and generosity in so many of the scenes here — whether they feature characters fighting, flirting, or just sitting alone eating — that really let these performances crackle. —SG
Some additional thoughts on how this show effortlessly moves between rich family drama and dark, biting comedy.
46. “Astronomy Club” (2019)
What it is: The first all-Black Upright Citizens Brigade team — known since their founding as the Astronomy Club —entertain in this single-season sketch celebration featuring reality show framing.
Why you should watch it: “Astronomy Club” stands out not just for its spectacularly funny writing (“You just peanut butter and jealous!”), but also the well-earned chemistry of its stars. Players Shawtane Bowen, Jonathan Braylock, Ray Cordova, Caroline Martin, Jerah Milligan, Monique Moses, Keisha Zollar, and James III exude comfort that makes their comedy at once punchier and warmer. —AF
A tribute to the season that was and some thoughts from the cast about where their collaborations could head next.
45. “Alice in Borderland” (2020-present)
“Alice in Borderland”
What it is: When Tokyo instantly transforms one afternoon into a deserted, abandoned city, a handful of friends find that in order to stay alive and have a shot at returning to their own reality, they’ll have to endure a series of challenges categorized by a mysterious deck of playing cards.
Why you should watch it: It got crowded out a bit by a certain other “solve puzzles to earn your survival” show that came along a few months later — but don’t sleep on this Shinsuke Sato manga adaptation that has just as much high-stakes blockbuster detail in its favor. The opening episode’s challenge, based around a deadly guessing game, wastes no time setting up the thematic throughline of the series: In a ruthless competition like this, no one is safe. —SG
A more detailed case for why “Alice in Borderland” is a worthy entry to the Netflix puzzle box canon.
44. “Brand New Cherry Flavor” (2021)
“Brand New Cherry Flavor”
What it is: An aspiring indie filmmaker (Rosa Salazar) visits ’90s Los Angeles in search of her big break. What she finds is a city, an industry, and some odd strangers who all seem to be in the grasp of something that’s out of this world.
Why you should watch it: As dizzying as show-biz stories can get, this uses some surprising, nasty genre storytelling to get at the heart of Hollywood shininess and rot at the same time. It takes a lot of work to make chaos feel this controlled, but from the closing moments of the first episode on, there aren’t many series that are as impossible to predict as this one is. —SG
A look into the practical work behind some of the season’s most memorable moments, courtesy of a conversation with showrunners Lenore Zion and Nick Antosca.
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Continue Reading:The 55 Best Shows on Netflix
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