Amazon isn’t about to let Netflix have all the fun (and funds) when it comes to making superb original television series – and it’s already given its Prime subscribers some award-winning stuff to stream.
While Amazon’s in-house production library isn’t as extensive as Netflix’s, there’s still piles of great material to get your teeth into, from glossy crime shows to affecting dramas to sweeping period epics.
And what’s more, a fair bit of it is available in Ultra HD and/or HDR at no extra cost – perfect if you want to see what your flash new 4K telly can do.
The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (S1)
Missing Mad Men? A mind for something else in the mid-century Manhattan milieu? The Marvelous Mrs Maisel might be the new series for you.
House of Cards’ Rachel Brosnahan stars as Midge Maisel, a vivacious, fast-talking housewife with what she thought was the perfect 1950s New York lifestyle: husband, kids, beautiful Upper West Side apartment, the works. When sudden upheaval turns that all upside down, she decides to pursue a career in standup comedy – and discovers she has something of a talent for not only making people laugh but for hitting upon life’s truths and enigmas while doing it.
Amazon had been trying to “do a Netflix” by creating its very own blockbusting, awards-grabbing TV series for ages, and Transparent is that show. For a start, it’s bold and inventive - it tells the story of a 60-something divorcee announcing to his three grown-up kids that he’s always felt different and is now going to live as a woman.
Sounds heavy, and it sort of is, but it’s also darkly funny, with a degree of wit and sharpness that’s still rare even in this golden age of TV. The bickering between the three kids (each of whom is riddled with their own individual issues and peccadillos) is as chucklesome as it is awkward and real. Amazing telly.
Sneaky Pete (S1)
With Bryan Cranston sitting in as both chief villain and executive producer, Sneaky Pete is the perfect choice for Breaking Bad fans looking for a new addictive TV fix.
In fact, this Amazon Original (available to stream in gorgeous HDR and 4K) stands strong enough on its own merits, having little in common with Cranston’s other show aside from a plethora of tense situations from which its hero – a likeable conman played by Giovanni Ribisi – must extricate himself through a combination of luck and skill. Well, that may happen when you turn up on a family’s doorstep falsely claiming to be their long-lost grandson.
With a charming rogue’s gallery of a cast and a plot that keeps you gripped and guessing until the end, Sneaky Pete is one of the few Amazon Originals that sits up there with Netflix’s best original series. We can’t wait for the second season, likely arriving in early 2018.
The Grand Tour (S1-2)
Clarkson and company’s Top Gear-beater is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of deal; if you’re an oily-fingered petrolhead, or simply into watching ageing boy-men on banter-fuelled road trips, you’re going to enjoy this jape-packed series a lot.
If you can’t stand this brand of overbearing laddishness, The Grand Tour isn’t going to transform you into a believer – but for anybody looking for some beautifully shot (4K! HDR!) mindless entertainment to grace that new Ultra HD telly, this impeccably-produced show fits the bill perfectly.
American Gods (S1)
This mega-budget drama from Bryan Fuller (previously show runner on Stuff favourite Hannibal) is based on the beloved Neil Gaiman novel, and weaves together cords of ancient mythology, modern mythology, Americana and pop culture to create a modern fantasy tale – a tale about immigration, above other things.
The cast includes the classy likes of Ian McShane, Peter Stormare and Gillian Anderson, but British viewers will be shocked to see former Hollyoaks hunk Ricky Whittle in the leading role – and doing a very decent job along with it.
This quirky spy drama blends deadpan humour, action and a bunch of truly great characters for a truly original whole.
Michael Dorman is superb as permanently put-upon spook John Tavner, who really just wants to be a folk singer - only for life to keep conspiring against him.
The clever plot takes in Iran, nuclear weapons, a single-minded Luxembouger cop and a lot more info about industrial piping than you could ever care for, it’s genuinely laugh-out-loud funny at times and the acting throughout is excellent. A real winner.
OK, so this one is an Amazon Exclusive rather than strictly an Amazon Original Series, but it's more than worthy of inclusion anyway. Because while it was always going to be tough adapting Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s beloved comic book series into a TV show, the makers of Preacher have made an impressive job of it so far, and viewers now have two seasons of wildly entertaining chaos to get to grips with.
The show isn’t afraid to go its own way. Rather than plunge straight into the books’ storyline, it uses the first season to establish the backgrounds of beloved characters such as Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy and set up themes and adversaries that will doubtless come to fruition in later seasons.
The jury may be still out on how successful this approach will ultimately be, but the show’s style, humour and (often incredibly violent) drama suggest it could go on to attain cult status of its own.
The Man in the High Castle (S1-2)
What if the Allies had lost the Second World War, and America was currently ruled by Germany in its eastern half and Japan in its western half, with a lawless neutral zone keeping the two new superpowers apart? Well, you can find out in this megabucks Amazon Prime original series, a sci-fi thriller thats zips around an alternative 1960s North America that’s more “Ja wohl!” than “Aw shucks!”.
Dealing with underground resistance groups, various shadowy plots and a new Cold War waged between Imperial Japan and the German Reich, it’s the kind of series that’ll appeal to history buffs, sci-fi fans and anyone who’s into high concept television. It’s also one of the best-looking shows we’ve laid eyes on, with 4K and HDR showing off every cent of that production budget.
Red Oaks (S1-3)
A hidden gem in Amazon’s catalogue, Red Oaks’ unremarkable premise belies a nuanced show that blends humour and pathos with surprising aplomb.
Set in '80s New York suburbia, Red Oaks follows the bumbling but tumultuous life of David Myers. From the enigmatically aloof love interest to parental turmoil at home, all the classic teen drama tropes are ticked off here with just enough of a twist to sustain your intrigue. What really elevates this show above the many others that riff off a similar tune is its riotous roster of characters. Sleazy yet feckless tennis coach Nash is worth watching this Red Oaks for alone.
The brooding loose cannon cop who gets the job done while rubbing pen-pushing top brass the wrong way might be a huge cliche, but this three-season series about LA detective Harry Bosch is so enjoyable that you’ll overlook it. In fact, you’ll probably end up embracing it as warmly as we do, chuckling to yourself every time Lance Reddick’s Deputy Commissioner ruefully intones something along the lines of, “Who beat up the witness? Bosch? Why am I not surprised?”
Based on Michael Connelly’s novels, the show weaves together various season-spanning cases while also delving periodically into Bosch’s own troubled backstory and his ongoing search for the man who murdered his mother. Its plot alone is gripping enough to keep you coming back episode after episode, but we also love Bosch’s mood, which brings modern-day LA noir to the screen like nothing else on TV.
Just Add Magic (S1-2)
It may be billed as one for the kids, but this excellent adaptation of the book by Cindy Callaghan makes great viewing for the whole family.
The story centres around a trio of pre-teen girls who stumble upon an ancient cookbook. They quickly realise the recipes are all magical, and affect anyone who eats the end results; queue lots of funny episodes where characters can’t stop talking or act like babies and so on.
As the show develops the girls realise the whole town is in the grip of a strange power, with this wider storyline playing out across the two series so far. Smart, superior family viewing.