Amazon isn’t about to let Netflix have all the fun (and funds) when it comes to making superb original television series and films – and it’s already given its Prime subscribers some award-winning stuff to stream.
While Amazon’s in-house production library isn’t as extensive as Netflix’s, there’s still piles of great material to get your teeth into, from glossy crime shows to affecting dramas to sweeping period epics.
And what’s more, a good amount of the best Amazon Prime Video Originals are available in 4K Ultra HD and/or HDR at no extra cost – perfect if you want to see what your flashy new 4K TV can do.
The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (S1-4)
Missing Mad Men? A mind for something else in the mid-century Manhattan milieu? The Marvelous Mrs Maisel might be the new series for you.
House of Cards‘ Rachel Brosnahan stars as Midge Maisel, a vivacious, fast-talking housewife with what she thought was the perfect 1950s New York lifestyle: husband, kids, beautiful Upper West Side apartment, the works. When sudden upheaval turns that all upside down, she decides to pursue a career in standup comedy – and discovers she has something of a talent for not only making people laugh but for hitting upon life’s truths and enigmas while doing it.
Jack Reacher is described as a 6’5” man mountain in Lee Child’s bestselling series of novels – it’s a huge (no pun intended) part of his character. So when the movie adaptations cast the famously-not-6’5” Tom Cruise as the former military policeman turned rootless hero, eyebrows went skyward. Amazon’s excellent series puts the far taller, far beefier Alan Ritchson in Reacher’s boots, and what he lacks in Hollywood pizazz he makes up for in sheer screen presence.
Reacher (even his own mother calls him “Reacher”) is built like a brick outhouse and only marginally more talkative, but blessed with a keen intelligence, a heart of gold and the ability to absolutely annihilate any lowlife who steps to him. When he wanders into a small Georgia town only to find himself immediately arrested for murder, Reacher must use his wits, wiles and muscles to find the crime’s true perpetrators.
Wrath of Man
Guy Ritchie reunites with Jason Statham for the first time since Revolver for a tense and surprisingly un-Ritchie revenge thriller – it’s not quite as jaunty, banter-filled and frenetic as the director’s usual fare, and it reminds us a little of the slower-moving but explosively violent films of S. Craig Zahler: think Brawl in Cell Block 99 with a cockney lead.
Statham plays a laconic, tightly wound tough guy (no surprises there) who seems out of place in his new job as an armoured truck driver. Turns out he’s essentially working undercover, seeking out some very bad men who did him a great wrong, and he won’t rest his trigger finger or punching knuckles until he finds them and exacts bloody vengeance. Lovely stuff.
Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman brings another of his cult comic books to the screen. This animated series concerns a young superhero coming to terms with his newfound powers – and dealing with the fact that his dad is the most powerful and famous masked crusader on the planet. If that sounds like something you’ve seen a thousand times before in superhero fiction, we urge you to give it a chance anyway: the plot throws a curveball early on that is guaranteed to make you sit up and pay attention. Stephen Yuen, J.K. Simmons, Sandra Oh, Mahershala Ali and Mark Hamill are among the star-studded voice cast.
Nine Perfect Strangers (S1)
The brains behind glossy, somewhat trashy Nicole Kidman-starring drama series Big Little Lies and The Undoing have reunited for, you guessed it, another glossy and somewhat trashy drama series starring Nicole Kidman.
In Nine Perfect Strangers, Kidman plays a mysterious life coach who lures nine stressed-out city dwellers to her isolated luxury retreat with a promise to revitalise their bodies and refocus their minds. If they’re expecting a bit of yoga, a massage and a gong bath, they’ve got a shock in store, because this guru’s techniques are a little more unconventional. The star-studded cast also includes Melissa McCarthy, Samara Weaving, Luke Evans, Regina Hall and Michael Shannon.
The Expanse (S1-6)
Game of Thrones with spaceships? That’s a lazy and reductive way to describe The Expanse, but also pretty accurate: it has a massive cast of characters, many of whom are shaded with more grey than an army of raccoons; its story is based around conflict and scheming as various factions vie for power while potentially ignoring a much greater existential threat; and it’s packed with graphic sex, violence and language. Hell yeah!
Set in a period when humanity has conquered the solar system and a war between Earth and Mars seems to be looming, The Expanse is a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi space opera in a largely believable representation of the future. It was set to be prematurely cancelled by original maker SyFy after three seasons, but Amazon not only acquired full rights to broadcast the show but has already made two more seasons – great news for the millions of fans already addicted to its twisty plot lines.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, a couple of strangers who happen to be guests at the same wedding, find themselves stuck in an infinite time loop in this offbeat romcom. If they fall asleep or die, they wake up and live the entire day through again. The pair decide to make the most of their temporal purgatory, indulging in wilder and wilder behaviour in the knowledge that whatever happens, they’ll just end up back at square one. Everything, it seems, has become meaningless.
It might sound like a hackneyed idea but Palm Springs feels different by dint of focussing on a pair of people rather than just one. The chemistry and tensions between the two keep the film nicely involving – and it’s very funny to boot.
I Care a Lot
Proof that it’s possible to make an engaging and enjoyable film even when none of the main characters are noble or particularly likeable, I Care a Lot stars Rosamunde Pike as professional legal guardian Marla Grayson: a ruthless charlatan who makes a handsome living by preying upon the elderly people she claims to be looking after.
Her latest ward appears to be a potential goldmine but turns out to be a whole heap of trouble, thanks to some unlikely connections with a deadly criminal group. Peter Dinklage and Eiza González also star in this viciously black but deliciously entertaining comedy.
The visuals of Amazon’s first animated original series are startlingly realistic, because they use the rotoscoping technique: seemingly hand-drawn images “traced” over live actors. It’s perfect for relaying the slightly unreal life of protagonist Alma, a young woman whose monotonous, directionless routine is shattered by a near-death experience that allows her to see and speak to her late father – who is seemingly urging her to uncover the mystery of his death.
I’m Your Woman
The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’s Rachel Brosnahan stars in this taut crime drama which is both set in and feels like it could have been made in the 1970s. And that’s a good thing! Brosnahan plays a disaffected woman who, when her criminal husband apparently goes missing after double-crossing his partners, must suddenly go on the run with their baby. Having never had to fend for herself before, she’s forced to learn a few things – and confront some uncomfortable truths about her life.
The Vast of Night
A telephone switchboard operator notices a mysterious sound on her headset, sparking off a series of creepy revelations in this gem of a retro sci-fi movie from rookie director Andrew Patterson.
From its late 1950s small town America setting to its sound design and music, The Vast of Night gleefully channels classic mystery shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Twin Peaks and The X-Files, not to mention films like Super 8 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but its snappy dialogue and stylish camerawork make it stand out on its own. The plot is simple, the cast small and unknown, but Patterson wrings the most out of his tiny budget.
The Boys (S1-2)
What if superheroes were not only real, but as full of fears, doubt and crushing character flaws as the rest of us? That’s the premise behind this superb comic book adaptation from the producers of Preacher, in which a bunch of world famous costumed crusaders are owned and controlled by Vought, a ruthless corporation that keeps their bad behaviour – which ranges from voyeurism and drug abuse to outright murderous psychopathy – under wraps to keep the cashflow moving.
When one super-powered outrage leaves a young man bereaved and hellbent on revenge, he joins a group of like-minded vigilantes with the aim of bringing Vought down once and for all. Effortlessly blending humour, action and drama, The Boys manages to be Amazon’s best original series in ages.
Good Omens (S1)
Lovers of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s cult fantasy novel have for years been crossing fingers, toes and other body parts in the hopes that one day, somebody would take a chance on a screen adaptation of Good Omens – and that somebody turned out to be Amazon. The result is this glitzy, star-studded six-part miniseries.
Set in modern day England, it focusses on a demon and an angel (the very watchable David Tennant and Michael Sheen) whose eons-old friendship faces obliteration (along with the rest of the world) as the Antichrist comes of age and Armageddon looms. With the supporting cast including Jon Hamm, Frances McDormand, Miranda Richardson and Michael McKean, and Amazon’s deep pockets providing the necessary budget to really bring the novel to life, the fanboys and girls’ waiting has not been in vain.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
Gus Van Sant’s well-crafted biopic stars a memorable Joaquin Phoenix as John Callahan, an alcoholic who embarks on one bender too many, resulting in a devastating car crash. Paralysed, plunged into a deep depression, and still boozing, Callahan eventually finds solace in friends, art and the twelve-step programme.
Phoenix is typically excellent as the often-unlikeable Callahan, and there’s also superb support from Jonah Hill and Rooney Mara. A funny, thought-provoking and inspiring tale about conquering your worst impulses and “choosing life” – which very little of the sentimental cheesiness that often creeps into such films.
The world isn’t short of wry, quirky comedy drama series delving into the crushing ennui of modern life (!) – but Amazon has taken the time to furnish us with another one. Luckily, it’s a delightful surprise.
Starring Maya Rudolf and Fred Armisen as a married couple struggling to cope with an encroaching middle-aged itch, Forever fools you into thinking it’s a certain type of show before unexpectedly transforming into another. Funny, smart and touching, it’s one of Amazon’s best recently original series.
The Big Sick
Silicon Valley star and stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani plays himself in this dramatisation of he and his wife, the writer Emily Gordon (here called “Emily Gardner” and played by Zoe Kazan), met each other, fell in love and married.
An enjoyable culture-clash romantic comedy revolving around Nanjiani’s desire to lead a regular American life while his Pakistani parents pressure him to enter into an arranged marriage with one of several women he barely knows, The Big Sick really takes off when Emily is taken seriously ill, forcing our hero to confront the two sides of his life – not to mention meet her parents, played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, who prove the film’s highlights.
Amazon had been trying to “do a Netflix” by creating its very own blockbusting, awards-grabbing TV series for ages, and Transparent is that show. For a start, it’s bold and inventive – it tells the story of a 60-something divorcee announcing to his three grown-up kids that he’s always felt different and is now going to live as a woman.
Sounds heavy, and it sort of is, but it’s also darkly funny, with a degree of wit and sharpness that’s still rare even in this golden age of TV. The bickering between the three kids (each of whom is riddled with their own individual issues and peccadillos) is as chucklesome as it is awkward and real. Amazing telly.
The Grand Tour (S1-3)
Clarkson and company’s Top Gear-beater is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of deal; if you’re an oily-fingered petrolhead, or simply into watching ageing boy-men on banter-fuelled road trips, you’re going to enjoy this jape-packed series a lot.
If you can’t stand this brand of overbearing laddishness, The Grand Tour isn’t going to transform you into a believer – but for anybody looking for some beautifully shot (4K! HDR!) mindless entertainment to grace that new Ultra HD telly, this impeccably-produced show fits the bill perfectly.
American Gods (S1-2)
This mega-budget drama from Bryan Fuller (previously show runner on Stuff favourite Hannibal) is based on the beloved Neil Gaiman novel, and weaves together cords of ancient mythology, modern mythology, Americana and pop culture to create a modern fantasy tale – a tale about immigration, above other things.
The cast includes the classy likes of Ian McShane, Peter Stormare and Gillian Anderson, but British viewers will be shocked to see former Hollyoaks hunk Ricky Whittle in the leading role – and doing a very decent job along with it.
This quirky spy drama blends deadpan humour, action and a bunch of truly great characters for a truly original whole.
Michael Dorman is superb as permanently put-upon spook John Tavner, who really just wants to be a folk singer – only for life to keep conspiring against him.
The clever plot takes in Iran, nuclear weapons, a single-minded Luxembouger cop and a lot more info about industrial piping than you could ever care for, it’s genuinely laugh-out-loud funny at times and the acting throughout is excellent. A real winner.
OK, so this one is an Amazon Exclusive rather than strictly an Amazon Original Series, but it’s more than worthy of inclusion anyway. Because while it was always going to be tough adapting Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s beloved comic book series into a TV show, the makers of Preacher have made an impressive job of it, and viewers have a full four-season arc of wildly entertaining chaos to get to grips with.
The show isn’t afraid to go its own way. Rather than plunder the books’ storyline wholesale, it seems more interested in nailing the themes and characters – a move likely aimed at ensuring those who’ve already gorged themselves on the comics don’t end up retreading familiar ground.
The Man in the High Castle (S1-4)
What if the Allies had lost the Second World War, and America was currently ruled by Germany in its eastern half and Japan in its western half, with a lawless neutral zone keeping the two new superpowers apart? Well, you can find out in this megabucks Amazon Prime original series, a sci-fi thriller thats zips around an alternative 1960s North America that’s more “Ja wohl!” than “Aw shucks!”.
Dealing with underground resistance groups, various shadowy plots and a new Cold War waged between Imperial Japan and the German Reich, it’s the kind of series that’ll appeal to history buffs, sci-fi fans and anyone who’s into high concept television. It’s also one of the best-looking shows we’ve laid eyes on, with 4K and HDR showing off every cent of that production budget.
Red Oaks (S1-3)
A hidden gem in Amazon’s catalogue, Red Oaks’ unremarkable premise belies a nuanced show that blends humour and pathos with surprising aplomb.
Set in ’80s New York suburbia, Red Oaks follows the bumbling but tumultuous life of David Myers. From the enigmatically aloof love interest to parental turmoil at home, all the classic teen drama tropes are ticked off here with just enough of a twist to sustain your intrigue. What really elevates this show above the many others that riff off a similar tune is its riotous roster of characters. Sleazy yet feckless tennis coach Nash is worth watching this Red Oaks for alone.
The brooding loose cannon cop who gets the job done while rubbing pen-pushing top brass the wrong way might be a huge cliche, but this three-season series about LA detective Harry Bosch is so enjoyable that you’ll overlook it. In fact, you’ll probably end up embracing it as warmly as we do, chuckling to yourself every time Lance Reddick’s Deputy Commissioner ruefully intones something along the lines of, “Who beat up the witness? Bosch? Why am I not surprised?”
Based on Michael Connelly’s novels, the show weaves together various season-spanning cases while also delving periodically into Bosch’s own troubled backstory and his ongoing search for the man who murdered his mother. Its plot alone is gripping enough to keep you coming back episode after episode, but we also love Bosch‘s mood, which brings modern-day LA noir to the screen like nothing else on TV.