The scheduling straightjacket has been thrown off – replaced by a loose, comfortable gown we call Netflix.
These days, we can pick and choose what we want to watch, and when we want to watch it. And nowhere is that more revolutionary than with the good old-fashioned TV series. Netflix is packed with them: hundreds upon hundreds of hours of glorious televisual treats across pretty much every genre there is.
In fact, it's what made the streaming service the must-have TV power-up it is today: would it really be so popular were it not for original commissions such as House Of Cards or see-it-here-first super-shows such as Breaking Bad? Nope: while you may come to Netflix for the movies, you stay for the box-sets.
But as is always the case with Netflix, it's a tricky business filtering the visual plankton in search of the oysters of excellence. So we've done it for you: below you'll find 25 fantastic TV shows that should keep you occupied for the entire year.
Planet Earth / Planet Earth II
Among the BBC’s most celebrated series, Planet Earth is adored worldwide for its fantatic camera work (achieved through sheer skill, graft and bloody-minded patience, not CGI tricks), which offers an unprecedented look into dozens of aspects of the natural world, spread all over the globe. From polar bears to killer whales to birds of paradise, the series is like a gorgeous greatest hits collection of our planet's flora and fauna.
It’s all accompanied, of course, by narration from another of this planet’s treasures, Sir David Attenborough, which invests the whole series an air of homely authority. Whether you’re seeking high drama or breathtaking photography, Planet Earth (both seasons of which are now available on Netflix – the second in Ultra HD 4K, no less) has both in plentiful supply.
The Office’s Mackenzie Crook writes, directs and stars in this quintessentially English sitcom about a group of Essex metal detector enthusiasts. On paper it sounds like the recipe for a broadly comic, canned laughter-laden Last of the Summer Wine-style “aren’t these countryside nerds weird?” series, but Detectorists (the proper name for people who use metal detectors, don’t ya know) is so much better than that.
It’s funny, certainly, with sharp writing and fine performances from Crook and Toby Jones, but aside from its well-drawn, likeable and flawed characters there’s something special in its depiction of the English landscape that these men and women trudge over in search of Roman gold or Saxon silver day after day – almost always coming away empty-handed aside from a few ring pulls. Warm and affectionate without being sentimental, and a homage to hobbies, it’s a series that somehow feels both low-key and very important.
The presence of every single episode of the 1990s’ biggest sitcom on Netflix feels like an occasion worthy of fanfare – even if, let’s face it, you’ve probably seen them all multiple times before.
For the two or three readers that don’t know, Friends is a long-running (10 seasons!) multi-cam sitcom about a sextet of… well, let’s call them “buddies” living in New York. While it’s tightly packed with great gags and compelling, series-arching plots, the show’s true pull is in its sharply-drawn, likeable characters. Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Monica’s travails as they navigate love, career, life and everything in between are sure to suck you in, even if some of the writing and production values can feel dated at times.
All nine seasons of Peep Show are now streaming on Netflix, so if you haven’t yet watched Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong’s groundbreaking sitcom – the longest-running in Channel 4’s history, no less – now is the time to venture into the minds of David Mitchell’s Mark and Robert Webb’s Jez, two best friends and flatmates who lurch from one disaster to the next.
Peep Show’s “gimmick” is that we often see the action from Mark or Jez’s point-of-view, hearing their inner thoughts as audible voice-overs. In the great British comedy tradition self-delusion, self-hatred and social awkwardness loom large here, and though both the main characters are indisputably despicable, selfish idiots, it’s impossible not to get sucked into their (often horrifying) antics.
Many a true word is spoken in jest, as they say – and Peep Show is as much a meditation on the human condition as it is a comedy show. As the joyless Mark internally remarks after his girlfriend takes him to a fairground, "I suppose doing things you hate is just the price you pay to avoid loneliness."
People Just Do Nothing
People Just Do Nothing is ostensibly a behind-the-scenes documentary about West London pirate radio station Kurupt FM, but it’s actually a wickedly funny examination of the same kind of hubris and self-delusion as exhibited by David Brent in The Office, presented in a similar mockumentary fashion.
The fact that the Kurupt crew clearly do know their Artful Dodger from their Pied Piper – they’ve performed live at multiple events, in character – adds an extra layer of authenticity to the whole thing, but you certainly don’t need to be a two-step aficionado to enjoy what’s going on here. It’s one of the finest low budget BBC sitcoms in ages, and the first three of the four seasons are available on Netflix.
Rick & Morty
At the time of writing, it seems that this animated sci-fi comedy series about an awkward teen boy and his mad, bad, frequently drunk genius-level inventor of a grandfather, has run its course, and that its third season may be its last. Given the show’s huge surge in popularity during the aforementioned third season, it’s a curious case, but at least we have every episode made so far (all 31 of them) right here on Netflix.
Rick & Morty’s blend of toilet humour, OTT cartoon violence, wit-sweetened cynicism and multi-dimensional adventuring makes it a hilarious, mind-bending and always enjoyable watch. Perfect material for a lazy Sunday in front of the TV, in other words.
This series (now four seasons strong; five if you count spin-off Chef's Table France) shadows world-renowned chefs as they take viewers on a personal journey through their culinary evolution. Each episode afford the viewer an intimate, informative glimpse into what gets a genius's creative juices flowing.
Lovingly shot in razor-sharp Ultra HD quality (for those with the necessary Netflix subscription), you can almost smell the aromas seeping through your screen and tickling your nostrils. From glistening, perfectly-cooked pieces of meat to mouth-watering steaming pasta dishes, this is food porn of the highest order. Just try not to drool too much.
Sarah Lancashire excels as a middle-aged, single mum police sergeant in this BBC series, which comes across a lot like a West Yorkshire take on Fargo (the movie rather than the series).
Happy Valley is an (at times unremittingly grim and gritty) crime drama that elevates itself above standard cop fare largely through Sally Wainwright’s superb writing, which tempers the nuts and bolts police procedural stuff with cracking characterisation, snappy dialogue and real human emotion.
Less dry than Line of Duty and less silly than Luther, Happy Valley is perfect box set material if you’re seeking a realistic cop show with bite, heart and beauty.
This animated sitcom features Arrested Development’s Will Arnett as the titular Horseman, a… er… “horse man” who found fame in a beloved 1990s sitcom but now lives in a haze of booze and self-loathing.
Set in a skewed version of Hollywood where humans coexist with anthropomorphic animals, BoJack Horseman features a strong cast (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul plays BoJack’s best friend Todd), and offers a surprisingly nuanced portrayal of the “washed-up former star” trope. Most importantly, perhaps, it’s really, really funny. With 50 episodes available (four seasons plus two specials), its perfect for binging.
Line of Duty
Who polices the police? The Anti-Corruption Unit, that’s who – and Line of Duty is a pacy, twisty BBC drama that follows the efforts of AC12 to uncover dark deeds and dodgy dealings within the ranks of the boys and girls in blue.
There are three seasons of the show on Netflix, which might not be enough to sate your appetite, because Line of Duty's mastery of tense situations, conspiracy and behind-the-scenes corruption coupled with its fast-moving police procedural structure make one of the most compelling, binge-worthy British shows in years.