Orange Is the New Black
Netflix’s second-best original series after House of Cards, this is a prison show that goes its own way: less brutal than Oz, less daft than Prison Break and more compelling than Prisoner Cell Block H, it’s a fish-out-of-water drama (based on a true story) in which a white, middle-class Brooklynite ends up in a low-security women’s jail for a crime committed almost a decade previous.
A character-driven show that uses Lost-style flashbacks to explore the pre-prison lives of the cast, Orange Is the New Black proved such a hit that a second season was swiftly commissioned. A third followed, and the fourth arrived on Netflix in June 2016.
House of Cards
Despite being inspired by the 1990s BBC series of the same name, House of Cards feels every bit the American megabucks TV show: it has the big name stars and executive producers; the superb writing, direction and cinematography; not to mention the necessary amount of scheming and backstabbery.
This was the show that started the Netflix Originals craze, so rather than being broadcast over a couple of months, each season is released in its entirety, allowing viewers to binge on it like a DVD box set. And believe us, you will binge, because once this tale of Capitol Hill intrigue and the lust for power gets its hooks into you. That’ll generally happen about three episodes in.
You don't have to be a sports fan to become enthralled by this Oscar-winning doping exposé. Icarus is effectively two documentaries in one, with the first third of the film a kind of Super Size Me for performance-enhancing drugs. The filmmaker, a semi-pro cyclist, embarks on a hardcore doping regimen to demonstrate the flaws in the drugs-testing process.
But when his advisor, Russian scientist Gregory Rodchenkov, suddenly finds himself embroiled in an international storm over Russia's state-sponsored doping program, Icarus pivots into an enthralling fly-on-the-wall thriller about being a whistleblower in Putin's Russia. Cue mysterious deaths, chilling interviews and a lots of hand-wringing as Rodchenkov goes into hiding from the new KGB.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball
When organised baseball decided to move its AAA club out of Portland, actor and baseball fan Bing Russell decided to fill the void with a totally independent team – the aptly-named Mavericks. This Netflix-produced documentary charts the Mavericks' fortunes over their short-lived career. Although they only lasted from 1973 to 1977, they shook up the game with their antics; a ball-dog that ran onto the field, broom-waving spectators – and a string of victories that shook up the baseball establishment.
"I wanted it to go back to the straw hat and beer days when 250 towns had minor league teams and most of them were not supported by a major franchise,” explains Russell; and from the outset, it's clear where the documentary's sympathies lie. The Mavericks are the scrappy underdogs, made up of outcasts from professional baseball and amateurs who never got the big break they were hoping for. The baseball establishment are the villains, humiliated on the field and resorting to dirty tricks in search of victory.
The truth is probably more nuanced, but it's a rousing story, told with panache by Russell's grandsons – and his son, actor Kurt Russell, who took to the field with the Mavericks.
The BBC's Sherlock Holmes series brings the Victorian consulting detective bang up to date, setting the action in the present day; telegrams are replaced by texts, while Dr Watson's reminisces take the form of a blog. The core of Conan Doyle's stories is intact, though; the relationship between the prickly sleuthing savant and his faithful companion, played to perfection by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.
The scripts – mostly written by Doctor Who alumni Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss – are packed with plot twists and witty one-liners; and the 90-minute episodes wouldn't look out of place in the cinema (particularly since Cumberbatch and Freeman are both starring in blockbuster movies these days).
Netflix has an extra treat for US viewers, too – an hourlong behind-the-scenes special Unlocking Sherlock.
Parks and Recreation
The show that propelled Amy Poehler to Golden Globe-presenting notoriety and Chris Pratt to blockbuster ultrastardom has its wit and oneliners honed to perfection. Taking Modern Family’s warmth, mixing it with Arrested Development’s absurdity and building it around The Office’s mockumentary formula, it centres on the inconsequential workdays of the least consequential department (Parks and Rec) of the council of madeup middle- American town of Pawnee, Indiana.
Like The Office, its brilliance lies in its characters and their relationships, although its comic set pieces are also ingenious. But unlike The Office, it’s not tragic – it’s bright, touching and will leave you grinning from cheek to cheek. It takes until season 2 to really hit its stride, but Parks and Recreation is a true must-see.
The Office (UK)
Gareth's obsession with lesbians. Tim's hat radio. That dance. Fray Bentos. Keith eating a scotch egg. Monkey Alan in the warehouse. Brent's Princess Diana song. Gareth Keenan 'investigates'. A stapler in jelly. The difference between dwarves, midgets and elves. Mr Sidney Poitier.
If you've never seen the original UK version of The Office, written by and starring Ricky Gervais, none of these things will be in the slightest bit funny. If you have, mere mention of them may be enough to make you break out in a smile and decide to rewatch every episode. Right away.
Truly one of British comedy's best series, The Office was hugely influential, unrelentingly hilarious and incredibly poignant, often all at the same time.
Better Call Saul
Everyone's favourite sleazy-yet-likeable lawyer Saul Goodman (well, Jimmy McGill) returns to Netflix, in a series that throws us back seven years before the explosive events of Breaking Bad.
Bob Odenkirk slips into Saul's cheap suit with remarkable ease, and his superb performance allows his character's desperation, tenacity and humour to seep through the screen and grab our attention with both hands.
It's always fun to root for the underdog, and from the very first episode you're right there alongside Goodman, wanting him to fight to the top - all while being aware of the dark things to come. Yet another belting Netflix Original.
Only 80s kids will understand this. Actually that’s not true at all, but Stranger Things is a love letter to the movies, TV shows, video games and books that people who grew up in that decade will cherish: it’s packed with references to E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goonies, Stephen King, Dungeons & Dragons and Poltergeist, and the mood and feel is sure to dredge up nostalgia by the bucketload.
Remove the retro vibes though, and the show still stands up as a stellar sci-fi drama-thriller. And it doesn’t mess about too much – unlike a lot of Netflix Original Series, its episodes are reasonably tight (around 40 minutes each), and there are only eight of them in the entire fantastic first season, with nine in the (almost as enjoyable) second.
The best TV show ever? That’s arguable, but Breaking Bad certainly belongs in the top ten: it’s an utterly, utterly compelling six-season masterpiece that’ll shock you again and again with its twists, its turns and its fantastically drawn characters.
Walter White, played to perfection by Bryan Cranston, is without a doubt one of television’s greatest characters, by turns vulnerable and menacing, pathetic and triumphant. As a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who turns to methamphetamine production in order to pay his medical bills and safeguard his family’s future, you’ll be cheering him every step of the way… until suddenly you’re not anymore.– Sam Kieldsen
Not only has Netflix given Charlie Brooker and his team the freedom to tell more stories (the two Netflix-made series have six episodes rather than the usual three) and let each one run without ad breaks for as long as it needs to, it's also handed them a budget big enough to expand the scale, scope and special effects.
A collection of self-contained cautionary tales about our relationship with technology, Black Mirror is unnerving stuff, enhanced by the fact that the stories are generally set in a very near future that's all too recognisable. But fear not, the trademark blacker-than-black humour has also been retained, so you'll chuckle almost as much as you'll squirm. Must-see TV for anyone obsessed with tech.
Ranking as one of Netflix’s most impressive original series to date, The Crown manages to turn a decade of so of fairly recent history into enthralling, lush drama.
That’s partly down to the phenomenal production values that have been instilled in this retelling of Elizabeth II’s early years starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith. Well over $100 million was invested in this extravaganza, and that all adds up to a swanky amount of period detail.
Even those of staunch republican leanings will find themselves sucked in to the two full seasons, which chart a series of major national events as well as delve into the personal lives of the Windsors.