So our plan was to space out our “Best of” streaming services posts, but with many spending more time at home these days, we thought we would do our part by providing some content suggestions. Netflix doesn’t publish viewing statistics, but estimates earlier this year put its subscriber count at somewhere near 170 million worldwide, which probably puts it at the top of the heap for streaming video services. While the company started in 1997, it’s hard to believe it’s been only 8 years since its first original content production, Lilyhammer, was released in 2012. Their major breakthrough was House of Cards in 2013, which would garner Netflix their first awards honors. From that point, their original content has exploded into hundreds of shows and TV movies, many getting national attention, critical acclaim and more major awards. We have already touched on several popular Netflix shows in some prior posts (see Binge Thinking and Binge Thinking 2 as well as our year-end wrap-up posts), so we will try to provide new suggestions as much as possible.
For this post, we will each list our top shows (or movies) along with a show we think was overrated and one we thought was underappreciated. Use the comments to let us know your favorites.
I’ve been a Netflix devotee from their early days when you got DVDs in the mail (seems like so long ago!). I was a bit skeptical as to what the quality would be when they announced they were making original content. However, when I watched House Of Cards, I was sold (I watched it on DVDs, and promptly signed up for their streaming service shortly after). Beyond securing huge talent like director/producer David Fincher, and A-listers Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, the production values of the show were stunning – and it made a statement that Netflix wasn’t messing around, in that they were willing to pay the money to make good product (reportedly $4-6 million an episode). In many ways, Netflix raised the bar for TV production, and other streaming services/networks like HBO, AMC, Showtime, and Amazon stepped up their game to compete. It’s been a win for viewers and has truly sparked a TV renaissance like we’ve never seen before. I’ve hit on quite a few Netflix shows in prior posts, like our very first post where I gushed about Stranger Things – still one of my favorites – so here is my list of shows that I haven’t talked about that I think are worth checking out.
- Unbelievable (2019) – It’s difficult subject matter, but the writing and excellent acting, especially by Toni Collette and Merritt Wever who play two detectives hunting a serial rapist, will keep you riveted. I challenge anyone to keep a dry eye on the last episode.
- Bloodline (2015-2017) – Anchored by intense performances by Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn, and Linda Cardellini, season one is truly binge-able. Unfortunately, season 2 drops off significantly, and season 3 goes off the rails. You’ve been warned.
- Jessica Jones (2015 – 2019) – Krysten Ritter was perfectly cast in the title role, and season 1 was one of the best things Marvel has put on screen. Season 2 was ok but suffered without David Tennant’s brilliant villain, and I have yet to watch 3.
- Sex Education (2019,2020) – Don’t be put off by the American Pie-ish moments of the first few episodes. This show has great characters, is genuinely funny at times, has a lot of heart, and who knew Gillian Anderson was so good at comedy.
- The Spy (2019) – If you hate Borat and Bruno, fear not as Sasha Baron Cohen is 100% serious (and really good) in this true-life story of an Israeli who infiltrates 1960’s Syria. Veteran character actor Noah Emmerich plays a great supporting role.
- Ozark (2017, 2018, 2020) – I haven’t started season 3 yet, so no spoilers from me. Sometimes almost too much happens in this show, straining credibility, but it’s still a fun, dark ride and features Jason Bateman’s best work to-date.
- Dirty Money (2018, 2020) – This is an anthology documentary series, so no binging is needed. If you feel like some righteous anger, watch any of these episodes featuring individuals and businesses ripping people off. The one on Jared Kushner will make your blood boil.
- Altered Carbon (2018, 2020) – This is the most sci-fi show I have seen on any streaming platform. It can be tough to follow, and won’t win any acting awards, but it looks great and has an original story, even with the heavy nod to Blade Runner.
- Lost in Space (2018, 2019) – I thought it was worth bringing this show up again because it is hard to find Netflix shows that the whole family can watch. The second season is unnecessarily convoluted, but it’s an entertaining show that the kiddos will enjoy.
- After Life (2019) – I get that Ricky Gervais is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you can stick with his extremely bitter, recently-widowed character, you will discover a show that has some unexpected compassionate moments. The work setting for part of the show harkens back to Gervais’ earlier creation – The Office (the Brit version).
Overrated series: The Defenders (2018)
I was really excited about this show since I was thoroughly enjoying the world Marvel was creating on TV, even if Iron Fist wasn’t quite up to the level of the others (Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage). Marvel/Netflix did a great job with the casting of each lead hero, and having them all in one series seemed like a guaranteed success. Cue the needle scratch sound, as the show creators fell flat on the script and the series never came together for me. The four main heroes rarely acted together in the same space – I seem to recall only two or three sequences where they had a fight scene together – and generated little chemistry. I’m a fan of Sigourney Weaver, but her villain character was underwritten and never felt like a formidable opponent for these superheroes, who each had more impressive foes in their respective shows. Looking back, it feels like this show was the start of the unraveling of the Netflix/Marvel partnership, which had been great up to that point.
Underappreciated series: Five Came Back (2017)
There have been so many movies, shows and documentaries about WWII in the past few decades, so I can see this getting passed over as just another war doc. However, this one is different, as it focuses on five classic Hollywood directors (John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens), who were essentially hired by the US Government to produce training films and propaganda-ish type documentaries during the war. It is interesting to see how each one approached the task and how they responded to what they learned about the war overseas. It is narrated by Meryl Streep and has interviews with modern cinema icons like Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. At only three episodes it is not a big commitment, although I would have liked to have seen a few more – at least one episode for each director. If you are a fan of Hollywood filmmaking and/or war history, you should definitely put this on your list.
DJ: I haven’t seen a ton of stuff on your list but I will say After Life may be underrated. It’s brilliant, it’s funny and heartwarming. There are many days I feel like Ricky Gervais’s character. The first season of Jessica Jones was pretty amazing, great work by David Tennant. I probably liked The Defenders more than you did but I also think I liked Iron Fist more, maybe I had low expectations for both. I have seen parts of Dirty Money but not that Kushner episode and I have been wanting to check out Unbelievable.
I was a Netflix fan from way back. I hated going to video stores, so to be able to get three DVDs at a time at home was awesome. I could also get movies Blockbuster didn’t have, classics I hadn’t seen, Indie films, documentaries, it was a film lover’s dream. I too was skeptical about the streaming service but eventually, I dropped the discs and kept only the streaming version. It took me awhile to enjoy their own content but over the years, its shows and docuseries have been some of the best. The original two seasons of The Crown is some of the best TV I have seen. Netflix brought us a grittier Marvel universe which was sometimes better than the onscreen versions. Sometimes they give us cultural phenomena like Stranger Things or the most recent Tiger King. But I can say there is something for everyone, even on my list so let’s go stream.
- Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness (2020) – Like the title implies this show has everything, almost no one is redeemable, and the story keeps getting stranger. It’s watching a train wreck.
- Narcos: Mexico (2018-) – I loved the original Narcos and I know a lot of people dropped off after the Pablo Escobar story ended but this “sequel” is excellent. Diego Luna is terrific as the main baddie and even Michael Pena who annoys me in the Ant-Man films does a great job.
- Mindhunter (2017- ) – I love true crime and trying to figure out why people kill. This series feeds my addiction. FBI agents track killers by profiling and picking the brain of other killers. The second season about the Atlanta child murders was intense.
- Disenchantment (2018-) – This one is weird for me as it’s not usually in my profile of shows to watch. But the creator of The Simpsons, Matt Groening creates a fairy tale world that has some of that Simpson’s charm.
- The Toys That Made Us (2017-) – We have posted about toys from the ’80s before and this docuseries feeds into our childhood memories. My favorite episodes were about the He-Man and Star Wars toys.
- The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann (2019) – This was a great docuseries, there is so much to break down in this case and it’s still not clear what happened. It’s also pretty sad.
- Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj (2018-) – Hasan Minhaj follows Steve Colbert, John Oliver, Jon Stewart, Jim Jeffries, Samantha Bee, etc. having a topical comedy show. He’s good too. He brings up issues that are important to him like oil or nuclear armaments. He is funny and smart as well. It’s worth a watch as I am not sure many people are aware of this show.
- Who Killed Malcolm X (2020) – Malcolm X is one of my heroes. I love the Spike Lee movie, my favorite book is the Alex Haley bio and there is clearly still some uncertainty as to who killed him. This docuseries does a great job breaking it down.
- The Irishman (2019) – It’s long, I know and it’s far from perfect but it’s still great. It’s DeNiro, Scorcese, Keitel, and Pesci. Oh and Pacino. Seeing Pesci act again, he was amazing and robbed of an Oscar by a Brad Pitt performance that could be seen as Brad Pitt in his spare time minus the violence.
- Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist (2018) – Also called the Pizza Bomber or the Collar Bomb Heist, this 4 part series is pretty out there. It’s just bizarre, hard to describe but a man’s head blows off.
Overrated series: Arrested Development (2013)
Like everyone else I love Arrested Development, it’s writing, the acting, the characters are amazing. Jason Bateman holding the show together as the main character. It reminded me a bit like Soap from the ’80s. Even Ron Howard’s narration was good. So when I heard Netflix was reviving it, I was pumped. But unfortunately, it just wasn’t good for me. They increased the running time of the episodes, feeling dragged out. They also had to, because of the actor’s shooting schedules, have one main character per episode. The beauty of the show was the interplay of these actors so for me it didn’t work. Then they went on to another season which I couldn’t even try to watch I was so disappointed. Some times it’s a good idea to let things end, even when on top (see Modern Family).
Underappreciated series: Master of None (2015 – )
So I know this show starring Aziz Ansari was an award winner, then Ansari got caught up in the #Metoo scandals and drove the show off the Netflix front page, but it’s still a quality show. Ansari is one of the few Indian leads of a TV series along with the great Mindy Kaling and it’s nice seeing his point of view. His parents who make appearances in the show are great. I like the second season better despite worries about the plot of Dev going to Italy but it worked and it had sweet moments. Bobby Cannavale was excellent in it as his TV food mentor. Don’t sleep on this show just because you may think Ansari is icky. His culture cancel was premature and he deserved a little better than being lumped in with some of the monsters of this Me Too era. I hope the show gets a season 3.
MG: Mindhunters is one of my favorite streaming shows, and a great example of a concept that probably only Netflix would give a chance. The current talk-of-the-quarantine, Tiger King, is definitely bizarrely entertaining. There are quite a few items on your list I have also not seen. I avoided the Arrested Development reunion, based on your take on it. I enjoyed Master of None, but need to get to the second season.