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 Orange is the New Black 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.
Featuring some of the most unconscionably tense scenes put on a telly screen since Breaking Bad, Ozark follows Jason Bateman and Laura Linney’s bickering Chicago couple as they launder money for a ruthless drug cartel.
When Bateman’s financial advisor happens on a plan to “wash” the cartel’s dirty money in redneck rural Missouri, he and his family must immediately up sticks for a fresh start in one of the US’s most deprived area. And just like that, murderous Mexican narco-barons become only one of many problems for the family.
Filmed in moody desaturated tones with bags of brooding and squalor on show, Ozark isn’t always a pretty watch. But if you like your drama series perpetually poised on a knife edge, it’s right up your street.
This period comedy-drama about the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling isn’t really about 1980s wrestling at all, but about how a group of women rally against their demons and the patriarchy that strives to keep them down. GLOW could have easily fallen into the trap of a camp curiosity, or a simple, shallow celebration of neon spandex and super-strength hairspray, but has swiftly established itself as a smartly-written, character-driven comedy that’s among Netflix’s most bingeworthy original series.
Schitt’s Creek (S1-6)
Every episode of this beloved Canadian sitcom is now on Netflix, which means many hours of strangely reassuring, utterly enjoyable telly lie before you. Schitt’s Creek stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as a once-wealthy couple now bankrupt and forced to slum it in a tiny town they previously bought as a joke. Managing to be both acerbic and full of heart, Schitt’s Creek is possibly the perfect series to binge on during those long lockdown weekends.
Dan Harmon’s sitcom centres on a motley and diverse group of students at a US community college (often viewed Stateside as a sort of low-rent vocational alternative to university) and is packed with exactly the sort of knowing pop culture references, clever subversion of cliché and OTT characters that TV geeks adore.
Little wonder it’s a firm cult favourite – and now you can find out what all the fuss is about by binging the entire thing: all six seasons are available for streaming on Netflix (as well as Amazon Prime Video, if that’s your bag).
Inside No. 9 (S1-4)
Having made their name with The League Of Gentlemen and Psychoville, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith set about creating Inside No. 9 – five series (although only the first four are available on Netflix) of self-contained stories that have one thing in common: they’ll keep you guessing right until the end.
Whether it’s a strange death on a sleeper train, a game of hide ‘n’ seek with drastic consequences or the entirely silent episode concerning a duo of hapless burglars, the writing here blows most contemporaries out of the water, and always with a devilishly macabre twist in the tail. While it won’t consistently have you falling off the sofa with laughter, there’s normally at least one absolute stonker of a gag in each episode.
Better Call Saul (S1-5)
Spin-off TV series rarely replicate the magic of their parent shows but, like the Cheers-spawned Frasier before it, Better Call Saul manages to succeed by creating its own magic. Starting six years before the events of Breaking Bad, it follows the early legal career of Saul Goodman – then known as Jimmy McGill – a former conman trying to make it work on the right side of the law.
While the stakes rarely get as butt-clenchingly high as they are for Walter White and friends in Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul manages to emerge from its shadow to deliver a series that is funny, engrossing and almost as binge-worthy as its predecessor. It's currently four seasons in, with a fifth already commissioned.
The Vietnam War (S1)
When it comes to American documentary makers (and documentary makers concerned specifically with America) Ken Burns stands apart. In the past he’s taken on such weighty US-centric subjects as World War II, the Civil War, prohibition, jazz, race and baseball – and this, his latest project, tackles a subject of similar weight, in the Vietnam War.
Made with frequent collaborator Lynn Novick for broadcaster PBS (the US version of the BBC, basically), this is extremely in-depth overview of the 20-year conflict and its origins, spread over 10 feature-length episodes. Yes, you read that right: it’s essentially ten whole movies. Each one is packed with talking head interviews and archival footage, and soundtracked both with contemporary music and a brand new score by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor.
The undertaking took Burns and Novick a decade to complete, and the result is an authoritative, nuanced and utterly compelling portrait of a war that dominated American political and social discourse for a generation, but remains poorly understood and difficult to discuss even today.
“How do we get ahead of crazy if we don’t know how crazy thinks?” This series tracks the efforts of two FBI agents to better understand the inner workings of serial killers’ minds. It was a field of research not considered useful by law enforcement top brass in the late 1970s, when the show is set, but our protagonists believe that learning how murderers’ brains function is key to being able to catch them.
If the subject matter sounds overly grim, don’t worry – Mindhunter isn’t all doom and gloom, being peppered with moments of comedy (often black comedy, admittedly) and underpinned by the interesting dynamic of the main characters’ often-strained relationship. It’s also extremely stylish, brilliantly soundtracked and exceedingly well-made across the board, with several episodes being masterfully directed by David Fincher.
Stranger Things (S1-3)
Stranger Things was originally envisioned as a one-off, or an anthology series in which each season would feature a new casting, setting and story. And yet its first season proved so successful that we now have three seasons, all set in Hawkins, Indiana and all focussed on the same group of kids and their families as the monstrous threat from the Upside Down looms once more.
Taking inspiration from classics like E.T., The Goonies, Gremlins and more, this show is shamelessly nostalgic for the 1980s - but despite the references and setting, it never comes across as overdone or hagiographic, and its themes and appeal are wide-ranging. Its blend of horror, sci-fi and coming-of-age drama works well, and the excellent production values and soundtrack serve to forge a sense of real quality.