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.
The Fall (S1-3)
A tense crime series focussed on two compelling characters – Gillian Anderson’s icy detective and Jamie Dornan’s obsessive serial killer – The Fall is equal parts police procedural and psychological thriller.
Anderson has been a great actor for decades, but former model Dornan (best known for playing Christian Grey in the 50 Shades movies) is superbly cast as an outwardly normal, caring family man with a deep-seated sickness sitting just beneath the surface. It’s dark, disturbing and seriously involving to watch.
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (S1-12)
The late Anthony Bourdain has never been more watchable than in his long-running CNN series. Half travelogue, half culinary culture guide, Parts Unknown sees him visit hitherto overlooked countries and regions in search of interesting things to eat. If it all sounds a bit “Rick Stein on a gap year”, the actual results are far more enjoyable. Bourdain’s empathy, curiosity and warmth of spirit shine through over the course of 12 entire series – now that’s a true feast of eye-opening and mouth-watering TV.
If you'll forgive us a lazy comparison, Dark is like a German version of Stranger Things: both follow a group of kids trying to unravel a supernatural mystery; both feature a missing child and frantic parents; both are set (at least partly) in the ’80s. And both are great TV shows.
It’s there that the similarities end though, because Dark is a much more challenging watch than its American counterpart (and not just because of those German subtitles). This is a complicated and complex series that delights in constantly pulling the rug out from under you: just when you think you know what’s going on, it’ll pull a surprise left turn. It’s also rather gruesome and not afraid to puts its characters through the emotional wringer. Don’t let that put you off though, because this is one Netflix Original you don't want to skip.
I’m Alan Partridge (S1-2)
Alan Partridge had already appeared on TV in The Day Today and fake talk show Knowing Me, Knowing You, but it was the two series (just 12 episodes) of I’m Alan Partridge that cemented Steve Coogan’s comic creation as one of Britain’s best-loved eccentrics.
A sort of cinema verité sitcom that follows Alan around in his daily life as a failed TV presenter now slumming it as a local radio DJ in his home county of Norfolk, I’m Alan Partridge is rich with pathos, quotable lines and the sort of cringeworthy moments that Ricky Gervais later built a career on. Partridge’s Britain is one of Rover Fastbacks, owl sanctuaries, promotional videos and attempts to wangle free power showers – and it’s a blast to spend some time in it.
If there were a graph that showed the tension levels of the tensest moment in the tensest thrillers in history, Homeland’s producers would have taken it, twisted it into an infinitesimally thin rope and used it to whip Stressed Eric’s pulsing temple vein until it popped.
Yes, this show is tense. It begins as the story of the relationship between a CIA operative and a long-imprisoned ex-Marine, finally liberated from al-Qaeda and returned to America as a war hero – a hero with an abundance of devastating secrets – but moves beyond their relationship in later seasons (there are seven in total).
It’s packed with award-winning performances, believably flawed characters, just enough politics and more twists than a box of Curly-Wurlys. It loses its way in the middle seasons, occasionally skirting utter daftness, but it’s always compulsive and entertaining – and more recent stuff is back on form. To watch it is to learn to trust no-one, question everything and definitely not pursue a career as a spy. No fun at all, as it turns out.
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).