There’s a lot to binge on Amazon Prime.
Netflix may be winning the streaming war in terms of sheer volume, but Amazon has been smart and increasingly ambitious when it comes to its stable of original content. Some four years after Amazon debuted its first original shows (the comedies Betas and Alpha House, along with a mess of kids shows), we sifted through the Prime catalog to find the best Amazon original series.
You’ve almost certainly heard of shows like Transparent or The Man in the High Castle, but the Prime catalog also contains quite a few smaller gems that might have escaped your notice. From the coming-of-age comedy of Red Oaks to Tig Notaro’s laugh-while-you’re-crying One Mississippi, there are plenty of Amazon originals to keep you binging.
The best Amazon original series
1. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (1 season)
In the New York comedy scene of the early ‘60s, Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) is your typical Upper West Side housewife. She has two kids, a husband who’s a junior executive and amateur comedian, and parents who live in the same apartment building as her. Everything changes when Midge finds out that not only has her husband, Joel (Michael Zegen) been stealing his jokes from established comics, he’s also been cheating on her with his secretary. In one instant, her whole life falls apart. But when she shows up to the Gaslight Cafe where Joel sometimes performs later that night and gets onstage herself, she discovers something marvelous—that she’s the real comedian in her family. —Chris Osterndorf
2. Transparent (4 seasons)
Netflix had a serious head start in the original content department, but Transparent was the first show that established Amazon as a serious player on the streaming landscape. Three seasons in, Amazon’s flagship comedy/drama has taken home multiple Emmys and Golden Globes, including back-to-back wins for lead Jeffrey Tambor. He plays Maura Pfefferman, a transgender woman whose late-in-life transition catches her family by surprise. As Maura embraces her true self, her family (including Judith Light, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, and Gaby Hoffman as Maura’s ex-wife and kids, respectively) struggles with the new reality and their own turbulent lives. Transparent will return for season 4 in late 2017.
3. Catastrophe (3 seasons)
This Amazon/Channel 4 co-production is a critical darling that still feels like a hidden secret among American viewers. Starring Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan as a couple whose one-night-stand turns into a pregnancy, and eventually, a marriage and family, Catastrophe is often painfully awkward and remarkably sweet within the same episode. It also features the guest star of all guest stars, the late, great Carrie Fisher, playing Rob’s mother Mia. Season 3 of Catastrophe just landed on Amazon Prime. —Chris Ostendorf
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4. Sneaky Pete (1 season)
Definitely more under the radar than many items on this list, Amazon’s Sneaky Pete is a little gem just waiting to be discovered in your Amazon Prime queue (currently 100 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). Giovanni Ribisi stars as a convict who takes on the identity of his former cellmate in order to ditch his old life and avoid some very bad people. Chief among the bad people is Vince Lonigan, a nasty gangster with a penchant for grudges, played by Bryan Cranston. That Rotten Tomatoes rating shouldn’t be too surprising considering Sneaky Pete’s pedigree: It was created by Cranston (Breaking Bad) and David Shore (House), and the first season showrunner was Graham Yost (Justified). Amazon has already renewed the show for a second season but hasn’t announced a premiere date yet.
5. Britannia (1 season)
While clearly inspired by Game of Thrones, the show still feels very much like its own beast. A beast filled with treachery, terrifying druids, and a whole mess of hallucinogens. Britannia plants its freak flag early on. Within the first few minutes of Britannia, you’ll see Mackenzie Crook appear as the most unsettling druid you’d ever care to meet, watch a man dive off a cliff and into a nightmare dreamscape fueled psychotropic plants, and then discover that this period drama has chosen as its theme song the trippy 1968 Donovan joint “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” For some inexplicable reason, it works.
6. The Last Post (1 season)
Set during the mid-1960s, The Last Post follows life in and around a unit of Royal Military Police operating in the port city of Aden—now part of the nation of Yemen. The result is a little bit Mad Men and a little bit Army Wives, and it’s most definitely unique. There’s love, war, and infidelity. It can feel like a soap opera, but both the jaw-dropping setting and the other storylines ensure that it’s not The Bold and the Beautiful: Yemen Edition. It’s an intriguing exploration of a slice of history many of us don’t know about but that’s instructive for our own modern era.
Amazon gets its own Black Mirror in this sci-fi anthology. Philip K. Dick was always good at predictive text—not necessarily about tech we would be using in the future, but the ideologies and power structures that might come. Dick’s sci-fi short stories from the ‘50s provide the source material for Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, which pulls from the author’s early works. A collaboration with Amazon Studios and Channel 4, where Electric Dreams partially premiered in 2016, this 10-episode series is a bit uneven, but more than 50 years later, some of his worlds still mirror our own. —Audra Schroeder
8. One Mississippi (2 seasons)
Comedian Tig Notaro became a legend during a July 2012 standup set at Largo in Los Angeles. Only a few days after receiving her breast cancer diagnosis, Notaro took the stage for a raw, heartbreaking, and hilarious set where she openly discussed the diagnosis, her fears, and her mother’s recent death. Notaro worked with Diablo Cody (Juno) to mine those events again to co-create the pseudo-autobiographical One Mississippi. Tig plays a Los Angeles radio host battling cancer who returns to her small-town Mississippi home to attend to her dying mother. Moving in with her stepfather and brother, Tig reconnects with her roots and learns things about her mother that she never suspected. Like Tig’s Largo set, One Mississippi will leave you in tears, but you won’t know if it’s from the laughter or the sadness. The show just released its second season, it’s essential comedy.
9. The Man in the High Castle (2 seasons)
HBO has been getting heat for its recently announced show Confederate, which imagines a modern America where the South won the Civil War and slavery is still an institution. Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle has been playing “what if” to great effect for a couple of seasons now, based on the classic novel by Philip K. Dick. What if the Axis powers had won WWII, dividing the United States between them, half for Germany and half for Japan? What would that world look like, several decades after the initial shock has worn off and life has settled into a routine—however terrible? And what if some of the rebellious minds of that world began to suspect that this is not how it’s supposed to be?
10. Mozart in the Jungle (3 seasons)
One of the best things about the streaming originals is how willing Amazon, Netflix, and the rest are to greenlight projects well outside the norm. Mozart in the Jungle most definitely fits that description. Created by Paul Weitz (About a Boy), Roman Coppola (The Darjeeling Limited), and Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore), Mozart in the Jungle is set behind the scenes of a major symphony. Lola Kirke stars as Hailey, a young oboist, alongside Gael Garcia Bernal as Rodrigo, a passionate conductor based on the real-life Gustavo Dudamel. While the show hasn’t generated the same level of buzz as Transparent, Mozart took home a pair of Golden Globes in 2016: one for Best Comedy and a Best Actor trophy for Bernal. Season 4 will debut on Dec. 8, 2017.
11. I Love Dick (1 season)
Based on Chris Kraus’ fictionalized 1997 memoir, I Love Dick follows one woman’s journey of psychosexual obsession and how it affects her marriage. Chris (Kathryn Hahn) and Sylvere (Griffin Dunne) are a couple whose relationship is steeped in the arts. She’s a budding filmmaker. He’s finishing up his magnum opus, a book about the Holocaust. Together, they uproot their lives from New York City and move to the quirky, artistic community of Marfa, Texas. Unfortunately, things get seriously complicated when Chris becomes obsessed with a chiseled local college professor named Dick (Kevin Bacon).
12. Red Oaks (3 seasons)
Amazon Prime’s retro coming-of-age comedy Red Oaks ended in quiet foreclosure in October. During its three-season run, the cheeky series crafted a small but enamored fandom. The show follows college student David Meyer embarking on his dreams of becoming a film director after working as an assistant tennis pro at the Red Oaks country club. Craig Roberts stars as Meyer, bringing an earnest charm to a young man stuck in the rat race but also trying make work that’s meaningful. The show takes on the leanings of a drama at times, through the solid ensemble of characters who leave their own individual marks on David, including welcome turns from ’80s icons Paul Reiser and Jennifer Grey, and veteran TV actor Richard Kind. It’s intriguing enough to binge now that you can stream the entire arc in one weekend.—Danielle Ransom
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13. The Tick (1 season)
Ben Edlund’s beloved cult creation The Tick has already birthed a cartoon and a short-lived Fox sitcom, but this new iteration from Amazon feels very different. The goofball antics of earlier versions are still on display, and The Tick’s mix of childlike enthusiasm and good-natured dimwittedness are front and center, but this version of the story is shaded by Arthur’s past traumas and the ongoing neuroses they spawned. It’s the most mature and nuanced riff on The Tick’s world we’ve seen yet—even though it’s still silly and fun as hell.
14. Tin Star (1 season)
In Tin Star, Tim Roth plays a British detective who’s relocated his family to a quiet Canadian town in search of a simpler life. Instead, he finds tragedy, brutality, and a slow spiral back into the alcoholism he’d hoped to escape. Tin Star unfolds as both a revenge thriller and a chronicle of a family struggling to hold itself together as grief and guilt pull from all sides. Cop shows are usually a dime a dozen—and they’ll still owe you change—but Tin Star stands out thanks to a bang-up lead performance and some unforgettable, intense sequences.
15. Bosch (3 seasons)
Bosch isn’t groundbreaking television by any means, but it does what it does very, very well. Titus Welliver stars as Harry “Heironymous” Bosch, a taciturn L.A. police detective with a dark past. Based on Michael Connelly’s best-selling novels, each season of Bosch adapts or pulls in elements from several of those books. The result is twisty, complex storytelling where—in classic detective story tradition—seemingly unrelated narratives snake around each other, eventually colliding in various clever ways. Welliver is reserved but charismatic in the lead, the sort of guy you’d want having your back during a descent into the neon-streaked darkness of L.A.’s underbelly.
16. The Grand Tour (1 season)
If you love fast cars, scenic vistas, and crackling British banter, The Grand Tour is for you. Reuniting Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May—the former hosts of the long-running U.K. motoring show Top Gear—The Grand Tour mixes car news, hair-raising stunts, and live audience segments recorded in locations around the world. It’s not precisely Top Gear with the serial numbers filed off, but if you loved that show, there’s a really good chance you’re gonna dig the hell out of The Grand Tour. It’s also one of Amazon’s most expensive shows, and they’re getting a lot of bang (often literally) for their buck. Season 2 is set to crash into the Prime catalog later this fall.
Lore, created in 2015 by Aaron Mahnke, recreates the radio campfire tale by exploring the true stories at the heart of folklore, the supernatural, and the unexplained. But the series might take some getting used to. You could listen to Lore like a podcast. Mahnke’s narration is a bit stilted at times—he’s no Robert Stack—and the episodes are educational: In one about the 1892 Mercy Brown vampire incident, Mahnke lists off the various ways and means used to figure out if someone was dead in the 19th century, including “live beetle in the ear.” In “Black Stockings,” we see a woman in Ireland who is accused of being a changeling by her husband essentially broken down by ignorant men, something that was likely common practice in a time before insight on mental health. Lore suffers most in the reenactments, which are often overdramatic and at times unnecessary. We don’t need to see an extended shot of a man digging up his daughter’s grave. Maybe just tell us some more about vampire history or horrific torture devices? The animation in that same episode fares better, and Lore would probably benefit from even more of that, or some mixed media. —Audra Schroeder
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Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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