From biting comedies to gut-punch mysteries, it’s all here.
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.
Here are our recommendations to help get you started. —Eddie Strait
The best shows on Netflix
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 and 3 are even Kimmy-ier and better. —Eddie Strait
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. —E.S.
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. —E.S.
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. —E.S.
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 The Simpsons. The show was free to do whatever it wanted in any given episode. No idea is too absurd here. How else to explain plot lines like Dewey and Hal helping each other kick cigarette and coffee addictions? —E.S.
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 make 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. Netflix premiered season three back in October, and while the critical reception was a little more volatile than before, the show still delivered an all-timer with “San Junipero,” as well as a couple other solid episodes. There is more coming in 2017, and we couldn’t be more excited. —E.S.
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. —E.S.
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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 narrative flash it makes up for with a strong ensemble and outstanding writing. Few shows are as focused on the reverberations of daily minutiae as Rectify, and that’s where many of the highlights come from. The show wrapped up its run in 2016 with a stellar, slyly funny and emotionally satisfying final season. Netflix currently has the first three seasons available and the fourth is coming soon. —E.S.
10) Twin Peaks
There are mystery shows, and then there’s Twin Peaks. David Lynch’s opus is ostensibly about the investigation of Laura Palmer’s murder. But that’s like saying The Wire is just a cop show. Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost pack so many confounding elements into the town and townspeople of Twin Peaks that no two viewings of Twin Peaks are alike. The show’s resurrection this year only adds to the lore of the first two seasons and its infamous ending. Though the third season revival isn’t yet available on Netflix, you can catch up on the first two seasons before easily watching the third elsewhere. —E.S.
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. —E.S.
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. I usually offer this recommendation with a bit of caution because the show has a tendency to peter out at the end of episodes a little too frequently, but it’s not enough to make the show stoppable. The things the show does well (opening episodes and escalating tension; acting) are worth seeking out, especially if you’re a fan of Elba, and who among us isn’t? —E.S.
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
14) The Returned
France’s The Returned (not to be confused with its American adaptation, also called The Returned) is the most peculiar show or movie in the zombie renaissance. It’s set in a world where people have mysteriously come back from the dead. For all intents and purposes the people return as the same age/size they were when they died. But the show isn’t really about how these people came back as much as it’s about how they reintegrate into society. The show functions best as a meditative mood piece with outstanding music by Mogwai. The Returned will test the patience of attention-strapped viewers, but if you’re able to get on the show’s wavelength, you’ll be glad you did.
15) Parks and Recreation
Who says you need to wait for a rainy day to watch Leslie Knope make the world a better place? Parks and Rec was consistently strong for all seven seasons it ran, and in particular, you’ll be hard pressed to name any show with a better run of episodes than Parks’ stretch from seasons two through four. You can pick an episode at random and almost certainly hit on a classic, or you can watch it in order and relive Leslie’s campaign against Paul Rudd or her long-running feud with all things Eagleton, or just watch every Jean-Ralphio episode. It’s your call, the only wrong way to watch Parks and Rec is to not watch it at all. —E.S.
16) 30 Rock
30 Rock is one of the most perfectly constructed comedies I’ve ever encountered. Nearly every character is a classic (Liz Lemon, Jackie D, Tacy Jordan, Jenna, Kenneth, you get the picture), and the show’s sheer volume and density of jokes makes it perfect for many, many viewings. Cherry pick or go in order, it doesn’t matter.—E.S.
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. —E.S.
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. The series of mostly standalone episodes, and with very little continuity you can pick episodes out at random if you’re feeling bold, or you can go in order and watch C.K.’s talents as a filmmaker expand as the show progresses. Louie paved the way for a slew of hyper-realistic half-hour shows that push narrative and creative boundaries (including 2016 favorites Atlanta and Better Things). —E.S.
19) Gilmore Girls
Of all the reclamation projects Netflix has embarked on, this is one that offers the most creative reward. Many 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 or at least judge it separately from seasons one through six. With the Palladinos back in the saddle for Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life we finally got the ending that we should’ve had all along, including the near mythical “final four words” that taunted fans for a decade. Watch the first six seasons, read the wiki for the seventh, and finish it off with A Year in the Life, which has its ups and downs, but the mere fact that it exists at all is something of a miracle. —E.S.
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20) Better Call Saul
There were a lot of reasons to be skeptical of Better Call Saul when the spinoff was first announced. It felt like cashing in on one of the greatest shows (and one of the earliest Netflix binge crazes) because nobody wanted to let Breaking Bad go. And who cares about the adventures of slick-talking Saul Goodman? Through two seasons, Saul has proven itself to be more than just a good sidekick. Like it’s predecessor, Saul is one of the best dramas on the air. Bob Odenkirk is doing incredible things with Jimmy McGill, laying the tragic groundwork that will eventually lead to Saul. Through two seasons Saul is every bit the equal of Bad, and could end up being even better by the time it’s said and done. If you were hesitant before, it’s time to get on board. —E.S.
The CW has rebranded itself among the major networks as the outlet for fun genre fare, headlined by comic based shows Flash, Supergirl, and Arrow. Then there’s iZombie, which also has its origins in comics, but the superpower here is the ability to view a person’s final moments by eating their brain. The heroine is Olivia Moore (or Liv Moore for short). A party gone awry turns her into a zombie and we’re off. She works in the city morgue where she has a hearty supply of brains to sustain herself. The free sustenance comes with visions, accompanied by temporary new personalities for Liv, who uses those to help her put away a slew of murderers. The show is run by Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars, Party Down), so the weekly cases are intriguing and the dialogue is snappy. —E.S.
The CW’s teen drama based on the classic characters from Archie comics seemingly came out of nowhere, but certainly stands out among the major network slew of superhero shows. Riverdale is self-aware and entertaining, and the first season is a blast. This feels like it could suffer from O.C. syndrome and burn through storylines too fast, but those are problems for tomorrow, man. Not all parts of the show work, but there’s enough going on for everyone to find something to enjoy. At a brisk 13 episodes, Riverdale is an ideal summer binge choice.
23) The Grinder
Stars Rob Lowe and Fred Savage have a comforting and strong TV CV between them, so it’s not a surprise that The Grinder found critical acclaim upon debuting in 2015. Unfortunately, those good notices didn’t translate to ratings, and the show was ignominiously canceled after one season. Maybe it was the ultra meta-ness of a story about a TV lawyer (Lowe) parlaying that legal experience into real courtrooms with his brother (Savage) that kept audiences at bay. The Grinder‘s bubble popped much too soon, but the 22-episode run of hilarity is now waiting on Netflix. —E.S.
24) New Girl
Over the course of its run, New Girl has been defined by its loose, easygoing approach to silliness. Zooey Deschanel, Lamorne Morris, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, and Hannah Simone have such easy chemistry that the show can get laughs out of any pairing of characters. With the show’s tendency to favor long improvisational riffs and a somewhat tenuous commitment to continuity, New Girl is an excellent choice for those looking for a show you can watch leisurely or choose episodes at random. —E.S.
25) No Second Chance
This thriller, based on bestselling author Harlan Coben’s book of the same name, is about a doctor searching for the people who kidnapped her daughter and murdered her husband. Anyone who’s read Coben knows that he’s a master at weaving multilayered stories together, often in ways that are devastating by the time all the cards are in the table. This six-episode miniseries was produced in the U.K. and is a great option for anyone looking for a show that is captivating and doesn’t overstay its welcome. —E.S.
26) Hap and Leonard
Hap and Leonard is based on the Southern-fried mysteries spun by Joe Lansdale, which follows lifelong friends Hap (James Purefoy) and Leonard (Michael K. Williams), who work as low-level investigators in East Texas. The first season, now on Netflix, adapts Lansdale’s Savage Season, the first novel in the series, where the search for a long-missing car packed with cash has all manner of lowlifes (and Hap and Leonard) coming out of the woodwork. The only thing Hap and Leonard love more than knocking heads is trading one-liners, and there are plenty of both onscreen. Grab a six pack of Dr. Pepper and some vanilla cookies and settle in. —E.S.
27) Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
The joy of watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend comes not only from its hilarious musical numbers but its irreverent bucking of rom-com conventions. The show’s commitment to its broken characters, headlined by the effervescently charming Rachel Bloom, is one of its strengths. The show never gives them an easy way out and never forgets their humanity. It makes the emotional moments resonate and keeps the comedy sharp. It’s an idiosyncratic show destined to be loved by a small, passionate fan base. Join the chorus. —E.S.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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