The scheduling straightjacket of old has been thrown off – replaced by a loose, comfortable gown we call Netflix. Welcome to Streamland and our guide to the best Netflix box sets.
These days, we can pick and choose what we want to watch, and when we want to watch it. And nowhere has that felt 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, it’s those box-sets you stay for.
But as is always the case with Netflix, it’s a tricky business filtering out the visual plankton in search of the oysters of excellence.
So we’ve done it for you: below you’ll find the best Netflix box sets – enough to keep you occupied for the entire year.
Unsolved Mysteries (S1-3)
A modern reboot of the classic 1980s show fronted by (among others) deep-voiced Hollywood icon Robert Stack, this docuseries delves into the unexplained, the bizarre and the plain old baffling: disappearances, deaths and seemingly supernatural occurrences. Journalists, detectives and family members offer theories and insights, but the hope is that one viewer might hold the key to finding the truth. Might it be you?
A word of warning: the show’s title doesn’t lie, and if you’re hoping for resolution to these brain-mangling stories, you’re going to be disappointed.
Top Boy (S1-2)/Top Boy: Summerhouse (S1-2)
After a long hiatus, Netflix (with a little help from Canadian rap superstar Drake) revived this cancelled Channel 4 East London crime drama. With a seemingly bigger budget and the luxury of Netflix’s “make as many episodes as you want” approach, this new series of Top Boy picks up the story and expands its scope somewhat. The first of new seasons runs to a hefty 10 episodes, and the second eight.
The original two seasons, released in 2011 and 2013 (and now available to stream on Netflix as Top Boy: Summerhouse), only need four episodes apiece, and at times it feels like creator Ronan Bennett has cast his net a little too wide in the newer seasons – in his efforts to tell the story of modern England, some subplots are introduced then forgotten about an episode later. You get the sense Bennett may have always wanted to create a British answer to The Wire, but with the resources to do that bit off a little more than he could chew: the sheer amount of murder, mayhem and gunplay that goes on here simply feels implausible. That said, the characterisation remains a high point, with even the nastiest villains feeling like genuinely believable and relatable characters.
Derry Girls (S1-2)
The first two series of Channel 4’s raucous sitcom are now available on Netflix, so if you missed them the first time round (or just couldn’t deal with All 4’s terrible picture quality and proliferation of ads), now’s your chance to be whisked away to early 1990s Northern Ireland and into the lives of four Catholic girls (and one English boy) as they navigate their teenage years against the background of the Troubles. Not that Derry Girls takes itself too seriously – the sectarianism is really only another comic seam to be mined in this joyous and hilarious coming-of-age comedy.
Better Call Saul (S1-6)
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.
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.
Stranger Things (S1-4)
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.
Sex Education (S1-3)
A comedy-drama about the sex lives of a group of teenagers could have come across as exploitative and crass – but Sex Education feels anything but. While the humour is bawdy and the sex scenes graphic, the series as a whole is exceedingly sweet, charming and generous. Full of wonderfully complex characters and relationships, it’s a genuinely involving and entertaining look at love, life and identity, with a fast-moving plot that makes it easy to binge.
Love, Death + Robots (S1-3)
Like androids, ultra-violence and philosophising about intelligence, free will and the very meaning of life itself? There are now three seasons of short animated sci-fi tales on Netflix that offer all of the above and more. While some of the films (the longest of which are about 20 minutes, with most much shorter) are far better than others, the brevity and pace at which they come, and the breadth of subject matter and tone, mean one old adage is true: there really is something for everyone here. As long as they like robots.
Olivia Colman and Julian Barratt head up a cast packed with familiar UK thespian faces in Channel 4’s dark comedy-drama, which follows the travails of a highly dysfunctional family living in rural England. Written and directed by Will Sharpe (who also appears as the Flowers family’s live-in illustrator/unpaid servant Shun), Flowers is one of those pitch-black sitcoms that British television does so well. As it flew under the radar for many when it was originally broadcast, Netflix is the perfect place to catch it now.
I Think You Should Leave (S1-2)
Sketch shows, once kings of TV comedy, have fallen out of favour of late. But I Think You Should Leave is proof positive that there’s more than enough life left in this classic format: it just needed a jolt of weirdness to wrench it out of its cosy comfort zone.
Former Saturday Night Live star Tim Robinson co-writes and appears (along with a parade of familiar guest faces like Bob Odenkirk, Tim Heidecker and Andy Samberg) in a collection of crude, inventive and hilarious skits that rarely end up where you expect them to. The humour usually comes from a character “committing to the bit” by taking a social miscue or bizarre personality trait to uncomfortable extremes. It may sound simple enough, but Robinson and co have done nothing less than reinventing the comedy skit.
What’s the definitive New York sitcom of the 1990s? Friends? Fuggedaboutit. For us, Seinfeld takes the cheesecake. An inventive, absurd and hilarious examination of the trivialities and trifles of the modern world, it never relies on slapstick or on indulging its viewers with cheap sentimentality (the vast majority of its characters are clearly horrible people), Seinfeld is a must-watch for all fans of comedy. And with each episode clocking in at a smidge over 20 minutes, it’s also perfect fare for weekend binge watching.
Despite starring in and co-creating the well-liked Catastrophe (streaming over on Prime Video), Sharon Horgan clearly isn’t bored of sitcoms about the trials and tribulations of parenting in the modern world: hence Motherland. Horgan stays behind the camera here, with the excellent Anna Maxwell Martin taking centre stage as the perpetually put-upon Julia, struggling to juggle career and middle-class motherhood amidst playground politics and parental power struggles. Even if it’s not the most original concept for a sitcom, its quickfire gags, strong characterisation and knack for hitting on truths makes it an easy and enjoyable watch.
Cobra Kai (S1-5)
A series that started life on YouTube as a nostalgia-fuelled spin-off of the Karate Kid movies, Cobra Kai has now firmly established itself as one of Netflix’s best comedy-action-dramas. In fact, it far surpasses the beloved (but certainly aged) films that inspired it.
Back in the 80s, few could have imagined Karate Kid villain Johnny Lawrence – a spoiled bully with a nasty streak a mile wide – being the nuanced, relatable protagonist of his own TV show over three decades later, but here we are. Johnny is just one of several characters from the movies now firmly ensconced in this new life, and being given far more depth as a result.
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.
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.
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.
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).
The Good Place (S1-4)
Despite being an all-round bad egg on Earth, Kristen Bell’s character in this Netflix Original somehow ends up in heaven after she shuffles off this mortal coil. Turns out even angels can make mistakes at work.
While Bell’s performance stands out with her relatable struggles to fit into a world full of goody-two-shoes, Jameela Jamil’s outlandish vanity and William Jackson Harper’s uptight morals will also subject you to a few giggling fits. And unlike most sitcoms, The Good Place has a plot that will keep you gasping and gawping until the very end.
If you’re even slightly drawn to Judd Apatow’s particular brand of mumbly, honest, relationship-based humour, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this comedy drama series he co-created – now three seasons strong.
Love is the tale of a couple of directionless people at opposite ends of the loser spectrum who stumble into a relationship that doesn’t seem remotely healthy for either of them. Laugh-a-minute stuff this ain’t, but spending time with the substance-abusing Mickey (Community‘s Gillian Jacobs) and the pathetic pushover Gus (Paul Rust) is an often awkward, frequently guffaw-inducing pleasure.
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.
Peep Show (S1-9)
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 (S1-5)
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 five seasons are available on Netflix.
Rick and Morty (S1-5)
This animated comedy series about a teenage boy, his mad scientist grandfather and the strange sci-fi adventures the two embark upon sounds like pretty wholesome stuff, but Rick and Morty is probably one of the dirtiest, most violent and most cynical shows on telly, regularly plumbing the depths of human (and alien) depravity for laughs. But it certainly does manage to get those laughs, which is the point – and it succeeds in posing lots of interesting questions about time, family, physics and existentialism while it does so.
Rick and 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 – and now all four seasons’ worth of episodes are available to stream on Netflix.
Chef’s Table (S1-6)
This series (now five seasons strong; seven if you count spin-offs BBQ and 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.
BoJack Horseman (S1-6)
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 dozens of episodes available (five seasons plus two specials), its perfect for binging.
The Office (U.S., S1-9)
It may have started life under somewhat uninspired circumstances – US remakes of UK series rarely survive the dreaded Hollywood “glow up” without being entirely robbed of their charm – but The Office swiftly outgrew any restraints and developed its own identity.
With Steve Carell lighting up the earlier seasons as boss-from-hell Michael Scott and a strong supporting cast delivering great moments even into the Scott-free final few dozen episodes, it’s hard to think of a transatlantic TV reimagining that’s worked better. You’ll find all nine seasons (that’s an astounding 188 episodes by our count) streaming on Netflix.
Arrested Development (S1-5)
Dysfunctional families have been done to death on both the big screen and TV, but the Bluths are up there with the most self-centred, destructive and, well, downright hilarious bunch of the lot.
Straight man George Bluth desperately tries to keep his family and fortune intact as their company is hit by the US government for embezzlement.
Superb performances from the likes of David Cross, coupled with tonnes of re-quote potential make this a must-watch. It gets a little lost after the first three seasons thanks to the actors’ other projects clashing with filming, but it’s still well worth watching until the very end.
Peaky Blinders (S1-6)
This series, named after the 19th century Birmingham gang, is as good as anything else you’ll find on Netflix. Led by the strangely likeable and very dangerous Tommy Shelby, it tells the tale of a razor-wielding crime family trying their very best to keep control of their city while avoiding the watchful Chief Inspector Chester Campbell.
CIllian Murphy grabs the spotlight and will absolutely not let go of it in one of the finest drama series produced by the BBC in recent years. Get ready to binge-watch three full seasons of this historical gangster drama.
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Neon Genesis Evangelion (S1, plus two movies)
Huge robots battling huge monsters – aka “mecha” – might be an anime cliché, but Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s nuanced, almost postmodern take on the genre has established it as one of Japan’s most beloved cult phenomena – and one of the definitive anime series of the 1990s.
The series revolves around three teenage pilots who control the mysterious Evas, towering robots that seem to be humanity’s only hope against the “angels” – equally mysterious creatures that appear from nowhere to wreak havoc on cities. But the Eva-versus-angel fights, while thrilling, are far from the most interesting thing here: the series’ complex characters and mature themes elevate Neon Genesis Evangelion to the level of classic anime.
As well as the 27-part series, Netflix includes the two feature-length movies that conclude the story.
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Brooklyn Nine-Nine (S1-7)
If you’re not already an Andy Samberg fan (shame on you), Brooklyn Nine-Nine will make you one. That’s not to say he’s the only draw in this comedy cop show, though – the super-childish detective he plays is always at the centre of things, but each of the nutjobs he shares a precinct with have their own hilarious idiosyncrasies, not least of all the seemingly dry and dull Captain Holt.
It’s all as silly and immature as things get, and that’s just fine by us.
Orange Is The New Black (S1-7)
Like House Of Cards, Orange Is the New Black is Netflix’s own series, and like House Of Cards it’s also raunchy, compelling and strongly plotted. And really funny too.
Based on actual events, it tells the story of a middle-class New Yorker who ends up in women’s prison for a crime committed ten years previously – and through flashbacks explores her life (and the colourful lives of her fellow inmates) before incarceration.
With a full six seasons of jailtime drama to sink your teeth into, there’s a distinct danger you’ll find yourself doing a long stretch in a cell of your own – your living room.
Black Mirror (S1-5)
Charlie Brooker’s series of standalone tales cautioning against the dangers of technology isn’t exactly what we’d call perfect binge watch fodder – the sheer darkness and cynicism on display can really start to weigh you down after more than a couple of episodes.
And yet Black Mirro is one of the most compelling and fascinating things on TV, particularly for those with an interest in how our lives are affected (some might say infected) by our relationship with smartphones, computers, video games, VR and social media.
Stuff readers, we suspect, fall into that category – although you don’t need to be a gadget expert to appreciate the wildly disturbing – yet scarily plausible – scenarios Brooker brings to life.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (S1-15)
Narcissistic. Sociopathic. Sexist. Elitist. Delusional. And egos the size of a bull elephant. All descriptions that adequately fit every single member of staff at Paddy’s Bar in Philadelphia.
From kidnapping cats to poisoning rivals, to stalking love interests and getting drunk at every opportunity, you’re unlikely to ever find a group of people that you hate to love more.
Hilarity, madness (and Danny Devito in tight, tight skinny jeans) await.
The Crown (S1-5)
The Crown ranks as one of Netflix’s best original series to date. That’s partly down to the phenomenal production values that have been instilled in this retelling of Queen Lizzie II’s early years. Over £100 million was invested in this extravaganza, starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith, and that all adds up to a swanky amount of period detail.
Even those of a staunchly republican bent might find themselves sucked in to the two full seasons, which chart a series of major national events as well as delve deeply into the personal lives of the royal family. And with Olivia Colman taking the throne as an older, wiser Elizabeth in the upcoming third season, The Crown remains in a very safe set of hands.
A James Bond-esque secret agent with the womanising, drinking and love of casual violence turned right up to 11, Archer is one of the greatest anti-heroes we’ve seen in an animated show. He’s in good company at private spy agency ISIS (in hindsight, an unfortunate choice of name) staffed as it is with a collection of selfish, bungling agents and perverts.
Perfect for Netflix binge-watching, thanks to its 20-minute episodes, it’s generously packed with snappy one-liners and Arrested Development-esque in-jokes. It’s just as good as it sounds.
The most critically acclaimed Netflix original series of 2015 tells the bloody story of Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar and the man tasked with taking him down. Sounds like a laugh riot, right?
While Narcos lacks much in the way of light-relief, watching American DEA agent Steve Murphy submerge himself in a viciously amoral cesspit is a constant thrill. What could well be a high-minded exercise in true crime melodrama is elevated to nerve-shredding nirvana via some classy performances and the disturbing use of archive footage. Escobar’s brutal legacy lives on through your telebox, and the horror of it all will make you wince in anguish.
And once you’re done with all three seasons of the original show, there’s new spin-off Narcos: Mexico to get your teeth into.
Breaking Bad (S1-5)
If you’re one of those people that gets put off by TV shows just because everyone else in the world is watching and raving about them, then put aside your cynacism and grow up. Because where Breaking Bad is concerned, you’d be missing out.
Bryan Cranston’s transformation from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher to a dangerous, meth-making super-criminal is one of the greatest examples of character acting we’ve ever witnessed, and he’s got a stonking cast surrounding him to boot.
Gripping, edge-of-your seat television at its finest.