Credit: David Giesbrecht/Netflix
Netflix has something for everyone, but there’s plenty of rubbish padding its catalogue of classic TV shows everyone has heard about. This guide is updated weekly to help you avoid the mediocre ones and find the best things to watch. We try and pick out the less obvious gems, too, so we’re confident you’ll find a great TV series you don’t already know about.
That said, if nothing captures your imagination, try our picks of the best documentaries on Netflix and Amazon and the best films on Netflix UK for more options. And if you have Sky, take a peek at the best box sets on Sky and Now TV.
Tommy Shelby is a man on a mission. The former WW1 soldier, and his highly disfunction family members, have returned to a gritty Birmingham after WW1. Now, he wants power for himself and will overthrow everyone that gets in his way. There’s excessive drinking, fighting and swearing as the Shelby family becomes the most well known in the UK’s second city. And the police aren’t even a concern. If you get on the wrong side of the family there will be trouble.
It might be designed by the same company that brought you Hello Kitty, but the Netflix original series Aggretsuko uses its super cute animal wrapping to cover identifiable stories of working life frustration. Retsuko, a dedicated employee(and also a red panda) of a company that does not respect her at all, seeks different forms of escapism through the series, finding new interests and making new relationships in the hope they will be her path out of her current job. The only one that consistently keeps her going is her secret passion for death metal karaoke singing. The style, short episodes and frequent use of exaggerated humour makes this a very easy show to watch quickly, but there may be moments you will want to pause to reflect on your own experiences.
The third season of this dark, vaguely farcical crime drama is now on Netflix – so there’s no better time to catch up if you’re a newcomer. While the first season is a remake of the movie, the second and third take their own path while still adhering to the same mysterious and stylised theme. Set in small-town Minnesota, the landscape itself is just as much of a character as the cast. The great casting – Billy Bob Thornton, Ewan McGregor, Martin Freeman and Kirsten Dunst to name but four – suitably surreal soundtrack and smart scriptwriting make this an absolute much-watch.
A serial killer targeting children is on the loose in 1890s New York. The local police department is playing down any connections between the deaths of the young boys, who all work in the sex industry. Based on Caleb Carr’s novel, the series sees criminal psychologist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler team up with a New York Times illustrator called John Moore and Sara Howard, NYPD’s first female employee who has aspirations of becoming a detective. The trio work under the radar with new police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt in an attempt to track down the deranged serial killer using psychological analysis – a largely unheard of technique at the time.
After five years away, the Bluth family is returning. Netflix currently has the first four seasons of the show steaming with the fifth landing on May 29. The show follows the once rich Bluth family who lost all their wealth but are attempting to continue living a lavish lifestyle. At its core Jason Bateman plays family head Michael Bluth who is trying to keep the chaotic family together. At 20 minutes, episodes are snackable, but you should start at season one as the jokes run from one episode to the next.
This police sitcom stars Andy Samberg as Jake Peralta, an immature detective who has a knack for collaring criminals in unconventional ways, much to the annoyance of his fellow detective Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) who prefers to do things by the book. When a new commanding officer arrives, the seemingly emotionless Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher), the trio run into frequent clashes as they try to solve an endless sequence of bizarre crimes. The ensemble cast includes stellar performances from Stephanie Beatriz, Joe Lo Truglio and Chelsea Peretti as Peralta’s equally peculiar colleagues.
Since its debut in 2013, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has picked up a whole slew of industry awards, including the 2018 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comedy Series thanks to its portrayal of LGTB characters. In May 2018, Fox cancelled the show after five seasons, but after an outpouring of love for the series online, NBC picked it up for a sixth season.
Over the Garden Wall
Over the Garden Wall is a short series that frames both the strange and the dramatic in an elegant fairy tale style.
Two half-brothers, Wirt and Greg, accompanied by Beatrice the talking bluebird and a singing frog, are trapped in the forests and small settlements of The Unknown. As they look for a way back home, sinister forces stalk them, looking to ensure the boys never leave.
The humour darts between the surreal nature of the world, and the mature wit of the characters who live in it. The voice cast, featuring stars like Elijah Wood, John Cleese, Tim Curry, and Christopher Lloyd, help drive home how silly and smart the script can be while still telling a compelling story.
It’s over far too quickly, the whole series lasts around 100 minutes, but you will remember the music for far longer. The mix of blues, jazz and folk songs appear prominently in each episode, and are a crucial part of the show’s character that will stay with you as much as the adventure itself.
Nick Sax is a detective turned hitman who revels in his completely dysfunctional life. Then, after suffering a heart attack during a hit, he wakes up to find he is now accompanied by Happy, a small blue flying unicorn. He’s the imaginary friend of his kidnapped daughter Hailey, and believes that Nick is the hero that will come to her rescue.
What follows are a large amount of serious violence and disturbing scenes, which will likely be off-putting to some viewers. That said, the story, adapted from a short comic series with the same name, is an amusingly twisted version of serious crime dramas, with a dark sense of humour that stands up even when you’ve wiped all the blood away.
Some of the jokes are based on the obvious contrast between Nick’s indifference to the horrors of the criminal world and Happy’s childish naivety, but that dynamic changes through the eight episodes of the series, before viewers can get tired of it.
While best known these days for playing the unlucky-in-everything Jorah Mormont in Game of Thrones, Iain Glen shows he can play tough and smart with Jack Taylor – the drink-loving curmudgeonly ex-cop.
Having been kicked out of the Irish national police for assaulting a suspect, Jack takes on private detective work around the permanently grey and clouded Galway. He is assisted by Cody, a young ‘fan’ who Jack finds both irritating and invaluable; and Kate, Taylor’s inside source for the police who tries to keep him generally on the right side of the law.
Be warned: the stories, based on the books of Ken Bruen, are pretty miserable affairs, and Jack Taylor rarely gets a break even when he’s solved a case. But the 90 minute episodes are uniquely Irish and are still fresh despite the private eye and film noir clichés present in spades. Not innovative as a show, but with well executed essentials and Gallic flavour.
Manhunt: Unabomber is a crime drama based on the FBI’s hunt for serial bomber Ted Kaczynski (played by Paul Bettany), who mailed a string of homemade bombs to targets including academics, airlines and executives between 1978 and 1995. The series focuses on FBI profiler James Fitzgerald (Sam Worthington), who attempts to find linguistic clues in the bomber’s political writings in order to identify him. It’s a fast-paced, high-stakes investigation, and the show gets under the skin of both protagonists, who we are led to believe have a lot more in common than they would perhaps like to admit.
Queer Eye is back, with a new Fab Five ready to bring a bit of pizazz back to lives that have lost their mojo. Fifteen years since the reality show first hit TV screens, Netflix has reinvigorated the format with a new team of lifestyle experts ready to school their makeover subjects on fashion, food, grooming, culture and interior design. The remake is as cheesy and indulgent as ever but also manages to remain remarkably relevant; one memorable episode sees culture expert Karamo Brown, who is black, discuss Black Lives Matter with Cory, a white, Trump-supporting cop. But don’t worry, they soon get back to more conventional Queer Eye concerns – like how to use hair pomade and find the perfect pocket square.
Travellers is something of a hidden gem, albeit one that’s increasingly not hidden as people realise the genius of this tight, entertaining Canadian sci-fi series. Run by Brad Wright, one of the co-creators of Stargate SG-1, the show follows a team of time travellers sent back to “the 21st” to prevent the post-apocalyptic future from which they came. The twist is how they travel. The Travellers have their consciousness transferred into the bodies of people shortly before their death, adopting their identities and living their lives between missions. It’s an often thrilling, sometimes complicated watch that treads the line between serious sci-fi and accessible entertainment perfectly. There are two seasons on Netflix and it’s been renewed for a third.
Sometimes, you just need to slow down. Forget all the whizz-bangs of the latest Netflix drama and settle down with Detectorists, a slice-of-life sitcom which is gloriously quaint, funny and very British. The show follows the everyday lives of friends Andy and Lance, who are hobbyist metal detectorists (“detector”, we’re soon informed, is the tool; “detectorist” the person using it). The pair set out to find buried Saxon gold with fellow members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club, tussling with rival detecting group the Antiquisearchers and dealing with various loves and losses along the way. But that all makes the series sound a lot more dramatic than it actually is, and the real treasure here is not the ancient gold but the charming rapport between the two men as they spend yet another day traipsing through Essex farmland in their anoraks, steadily adding to their collections of ring-pulls and buttons. It’s television bliss.
Netflix has poured a huge amount of money into this cyberpunk adaption and it certainly shows. Viewers are taken to a futuristic world where humans think of their flesh and blood only as sleeves. The result? Memories and thoughts are stored in chips at the base of the neck that can be transported to another bag of flesh. The series follows a former terrorist who is given a chance of redemption by solving a super-rich man’s murder. It’s a dark, dystopian world full of bad weather and lots of sex. It might start a little ponderously but, Altered Carbon soon picks up the pace.
Not many internet memes have the mileage for a TV adaptation but Nailed It! really takes the cake. Based on the phenomenon of people sharing photos of their very unsuccessful attempts to recreate baking masterpieces, the show is basically an American version of The Great British Bake Off but for people whose enthusiasm far outstrips their ability. Host Nicole Byer keeps the laughs rolling as professional judges set three contestants impossibly intricate baking challenges in clearly insufficient time limits. Cue lots of toppling cakes, melting frosting and truly unappetising results. Nailed it!
Better Call Saul
Flawed characters make good drama and boy are the characters in Better Call Saul flawed. A prequel to the legendary Breaking Bad, it’s the story of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), the morally flexible dial-a-lawyer better-known as Saul Goodman. Ostensibly it’s about how Jimmy became Saul, but there’s more to the show. It also fills out the story of Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), the ex-cop and bag man, and the Chicken restaurant drug kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Mostly, though, it’s about Jimmy and his relationship with his brother Chuck McGill, played brilliantly by Michael McKean. Their inherent differences drive drama across three seasons, although it can be a little slow to get started.
The End of the F***ing World
“I thought she could be interesting to kill. So I pretended to fall in love with her.” Thus begins the inner monologue of James (Alex Lawther), a dysfunctional 17-year-old who is convinced he’s a sociopath. His target is Alyssa, played by Jessica Barden (Hanna) the new girl at school with terrible parents and a special talent for annoying people. They run away together and the corresponding crime spree draws them closer and has the law following in their wake. This pitch perfect black comedy from Channel 4 will leave you wanting much more, not least as its eight episodes are just 30 minutes apiece. You’ll blast through The End of the F***ing World in a weekend, perhaps even an evening, and be better for it.
Master of None
When Dev Shah closes his eyes and looks into his future, all he sees is black. As a 30-something living in New York City, trying to navigate pop culture references and complicated personal relationships, Dev is refreshingly real. Aziz Ansari writes and stars, creating a humorous and sometimes painfully honest look into modern life – taking on everything from dating apps, cultural stereotyping and the overarching question ‘what do I want?’ The second season pays homage to Italian cinema, with stunning visuals and a plot that’s not afraid to reject cliche. It’s a strong contender amidst Netflix’s comedy offerings.
Line of Duty
To call it a police procedural, accurate though that is, would do Line of Duty a great injustice. It revels in the procedures and jargon of police work, but wraps it in a thrilling plot driven by compelling, morally grey characters. In typical British TV fashion, every series is only five or six episodes long, but while each run has its own arc there’s a gripping conspiracy connecting them all as an anti-corruption team chase corrupt police officers and the criminals pulling their strings. Line of Duty’stense set pieces and cliffhangers will have you bingeing through all three series.
David Fincher is the go to director for suspenseful thrillers and Mindhunter, which Fincher produces and directs, is classic Fincher. The series charts the progress of the FBI’s early forays into criminal profiling and features chilling dramatised versions of real interviews conducted with serial killers and rapists. It’s also a fascinating study in how the FBI evolved from a largely conservative, traditional law enforcement agency into a leader in criminal psychology. If you enjoyed any of Fincher’s previous work, Mindhunter is certain to draw you in.
The brilliant BoJack Horseman follows the travails of BoJack, a washed up ‘post-fame’ TV actor trying to rejuvenate his acting career, who just so happens to be a horse. A clever, hilarious satire of Hollywood and celebrity culture, it’s also an often heartbreaking examination of alcohol abuse, anxiety and depression. The most recent series dealt with issues like living with Alheimer’s and asexuality with great skill and sensitivity, marking out the series as the benchmark for adult animated series.
The Expanse, quite simply, is the best TV sci-fi series since Westworld. Even then, Expanse has one killer USP over the future Western dystopia: it is set in space. If you are not watching it, or have not yet found it on Netflix, do so immediately. There are two seasons to watch. Think Blade Runner meets Battlestar Galactica, if you really must pigeonhole it. But with its grand themes of fear, moral ambiguity, inequality and death, Expanse couldn’t be more relevant for present-day reflection. Still not convinced? Ok, there’s zero-gravity sex, too. You heathens.
If Netflix had released this nostalgic, lycra ridden 80’s show a little sooner, we have no doubts that the term ‘Glow Up’ would have a very different origin story. It focuses on a group of ‘unconventional women’ who are, quite simply, looking for a break. When these wannabe actresses respond to an ad for talent, they are inducted into the neon lit, soap-opera splendour of America’s most misunderstood sport. Through nothing but sweat, tears and an iron determination to break a chair over the back of inequality, they become the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling. GLOW does what very few shows do – dedicating itself to a powerful ensemble of actresses and allowing them space to breathe.
The Keepers is not Making a Murderer. In fact, it isn’t even the story Netflix presents it to be. Focused on the unsolved 1969 murder of nun and school teacher Cathy Cesnik, this story transcends that of a single person and stands as a haunting expose into the failings of not only the criminal justice system, but of society. It is not simply about murder, but about survival.
Cesnik’s story is irrevocably linked to allegations of abuse against priests at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, Maryland and the failings of those who could have stopped it. A web of mystery, deceit and violence unfolds across a seven-episode stretch, focusing on the former students and those who knew and admired Cesnik – now grown men and women grappling to find a justice that seems just beyond reach.
As it suggests, there can be no way to make something “un-happen” – people cannot be un-hurt or un-murdered, but enough voices can turn a whisper into a roar. It’s an important story, decades in the making, that, while horrifying, proves impossible to look away from. In the wake of The Keepersthe Baltimore police have created an online form to handle reports of sexual abuse crimes in connection to the series.
Which on is your favourite? Comment below.