I signed up for Netflix back in 2005. My first rental was the short-lived and quickly forgotten Jay Mohr series Action. It was a long, tedious slog.
Now it’s common to make plans to binge seasons of shows in a day. Between Netflix’s rapidly expanding original content empire and the shows it has the rights for, prioritizing your My List requires more strategy than ever.
Where do you put the cult favorite in relation to the buzz show you’ve been meaning to catch up on? What about your favorites that have fallen out of the TV rerun rotation to make way for How I Met Your Mother, Two and Half Men, and The Big Bang Theory? When did CBS’s comedy lineup devour every syndication opportunity and why didn’t we stop it? Are you ready to settle down for 200-plus episodes of Murder She Wrote or are you looking for something more compact?
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If you’re assuming that this rambling is going to lead you to a treasure trove of TV streaming recommendations on Netflix, you’re righter than 10 Parks and Recreation episodes on a rainy day.
1) Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
This is a top-tier Netflix show and should already be locked into your My List. I’m not sure we deserve someone as brilliant as Tina Fey running a TV show, but it’s the most pleasant kind of burden for us to bear. Freed of NBC’s shackles (the network bailed on it), season 2 is even Kimmy-ier and better.
2) BoJack Horseman
This is Kimmy Schmidt’s companion in the Netflix Originals hierarchy. It’s as funny as any of Netflix’s comedies and its more dramatic moments land harder than most of the company’s dramas. It’s one of those shows that’s hard to convince yourself to watch on paper—an odd-looking, animated series where Will Arnett voices a talking horse—but once you take the plunge you won’t look back.
FX’s one-season wonder is a nice change of pace from ultra-serious crime shows. It still has all the lasciviousness you expect from a noir-ish story, but the chemistry between leads Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James softens the harder edges just enough.
If you prefer dark mysterious and gut-punch revelations, this British import is what you’re looking for. David Tennant and Olivia Coleman are an odd couple investigating a death that has shaken up an entire community. The first season is great and makes a fine stopping point if you’ve had enough. But the second season rewards those who want to dive deeper into the fallout of the first season’s resolution.
5) Malcolm in the Middle
This Fox Sunday staple was around way longer than you probably remember (seven seasons) and is better than your memory of it. It really is a live-action Simpsons. The show was free to do whatever it wanted in any given episode. But the main thing is that it’s funny. And continuity isn’t a big deal, so it’s a great show to throw on at any time.
6) Comedy Bang! Bang!
A twist on the traditional talk show, Comedy Bang! Bang! shrugs off promotional interviews and banter in favor of sketch-comedy chaos. Host Scott Aukerman is our channel into the lives of celebrities and comedians, as his earnest questioning inevitably gives way to awkward pauses and memorable characters like Bob Ducca and Paul F. Tompkins’s Cake Boss. —Audra Schroeder
7) Black Mirror
One of the things that makes this modern-day Twilight Zone a great streaming option is the standalone factor of each episode. The show goes to some bleak and nihilistic places to make its techno-terror satire land, so it helps that you don’t need to worry about tracking multiple storylines and relationships. Each episode features a new cast (including the likes of Hayley Atwell, Domhnall Gleeson, and Jon Hamm) and a premise taken to its extreme. Season 3 premiered in October—and we're already hooked.
This show never had a chance on NBC. It’s about a cop (Jason Isaacs) who lives in two worlds. In one his wife is dead and his son is alive, but when he goes to sleep he wakes up in the other world with a dead son and grieving wife. And his cases have a tendency to cross over in random ways. Of course nobody watched it, it’s way too dense. But taken in binge form, it’s easier to track the two worlds and highly rewarding.
This is another one for those willing to take a leap of faith. Rectify is meditative, glacially paced, and deals with spirituality in a way not often seen on TV. Daniel Holden is working his way back into a society that doesn’t want him after spending 19 years on death row. What the show lacks in flash it makes up for with a strong ensemble and outstanding writing.
This emo comedy used to be a staple of the syndication circuit, but now you have turn to Netflix to get your prescribed laughs. I watched this a few years ago during late-night feedings with my son and it was just as funny as ever. I didn’t even mind the dreaded medical school season at the end. You know what you’re getting with the Sacred Heart crew.
11) Freaks and Geeks
It’s the all-time best “cancelled too soon” show. Everything everybody says about it is true. The cast is amazing and the writing is painfully on point. If you’re weary of Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow, and James Franco, pop this on to remember when you wanted them to win.
12) The Spoils Before Dying
Does anybody actually have IFC? I know that's where Portlandia lives but I’m not sure this channel actually exists. Content just appears out of the ether on Netflix and suddenly everyone but you has seen it. Except for Dying, which went largely unnoticed. It’s a noir spoof with Michael K. Williams, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Tim Meadows, Michael Sheen, Andy Daly, Maya Rudolph, and enough other people to make you wonder how you haven’t heard of it before now.
If you loved Elba’s work on The Wire like any sane person, you owe it to yourself to check out his heel turn as troubled detective John Luther. Luther has a preternatural gift for solving crimes and series creator Neil Cross has a knack for deranged criminals.
Since debuting, IFC’s Portlandia has taken aim at hipsters, feminists, male feminists, musicians, artists, bike messengers, crafting, and Danzig. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein can inhabit the bodies of the clueless, oblivious, arrogant, and uptight with ease, and have crafted some truly memorable characters in the weird, wild world of Portland. —Audra Schroeder
15) Parks and Recreation
Who says you need to wait for a rainy day to watch Leslie Knope make the world a better place? You can skip around (“Greg Pikitis” is 22 minutes of perfection), relive Leslie’s campaign against Paul Rudd and calzones, or watch every Jean-Ralphio episode. It’s your call.
16) Top of the Lake
Elisabeth Moss proved she is a national treasure with her work on Mad Men. Lake shows her to be an international treasure. I may be showing my hand too much, but I’m a sucker for a good mystery, and guess what Lake is? The show is filming its second season now (where Moss will partner up with Games of Thrones badass Gwendoline Christine), so now is the time to get on board.
17) The Wonder Years
Nostalgia at its best. You may not have come of age in the '60s, but, just like Kevin Arnold, you had a best friend, a first love, a family that drove you crazy, and when you think about every teenage adventure, you can provide an adult running commentary that makes it all even better.
Louie is about as singular as a show can be. Each episode is its own experiment and Louis C.K. is just enough of a mad scientist to pull it all off. Pick it up anywhere, and it's hilarious.
Lost is messy as hell and that’s part of why it’s so much fun. Despite all of the sci-fi gobbledygook, the show is anchored by its characters. No matter how baffling the plot gets the relationships are always clear and that’s why is worth going back to the island.
20) Gilmore Girls
Of all the reclamation projects Netflix has embarked on, this is one that offers the most creative reward. Most fans of the show pretend the seventh season, made without the guidance of creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel Palladino, doesn’t exist. With the Palladinos back in the saddle we’ll finally get the ending that we should’ve had all along, including the near mythical “final four words” that have taunted fans for a decade. Watch the first six seasons, read the wiki for the seventh, and be ready to devour the next installment, expected this year.
Editor's note: This article is regularly updated for relevancy.