The 52 best TV shows to stream on Netflix
If you’re searching for good TV to spend a lot of time with on Netflix, welcome to another list of best shows you might have missed. Netflix periodically changes up its line-up of programs, but its excellent originals stick around. Hopefully you’ll find a hidden gem or two here to keep you entertained at home.
Read more: The best TV shows of 2020
The Queen’s Gambit
How do you make chess the thrilling centerpiece of a coming-of-age tale? You shake it into a cocktail of stylish visuals, a rocking ’60s soundtrack and the magnetic Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon, one of the youngest (and few female) chess players in the world. The fictional story in The Queen’s Gambit, named after a chess opening, follows her rise from an orphanage to toppling the best players in the world — as long as her drug addiction and bags of wine bottles don’t get in the way.
Netflix’s first original Korean series doesn’t pull any punches. A zombie horror with a Joseon period political backdrop to sprawl over, Kingdom is for those partial to a blood-pumping genre-meld with a gory imagination. Season 1 sees Crown Prince Lee Chang wrapped up in a political conspiracy, when he’s not investigating a mysterious plague. He’s swept up in a life or death thriller, with a dash of royal dynasty at stake.
The End of The F***ing World
If you like your dark British humor, look no further than The End of The F***ing World. Psychopath James (Alex Lawther) comes up with a plan to kill Alyssa (Jessica Barden) while on the run from their lousy parents. But as they soar across the open road and commit a couple of violent crimes, their callous hearts soften and they develop feelings for one another. Surprising, fast-paced and surreal, both seasons of this deadpan teenager of a show, with its headphones pumping the best sad ’50s, ’60s and ’70s doo-wop, will blow you away.
Before she electrified everyone with the word-for-word perfect Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote a six-part comedy that showcased the early stages of her astonishing talent. Crashing follows six twenty-somethings living in a disused hospital, casually observing the strict rules in exchange for cheap rent. The oddball characters subvert expectations wherever hilariously possible, with Waller-Bridge dropping in as the ukulele-playing Lulu. Not only disrupting the Friends setup, she gets herself into occasionally jaw-droppingly dark situations (see the all-too-touchy Aunt Gladys).
Criminal gives you four series of Line of Duty-channeling police procedural, with each episode centered on a suspect picked apart in an interrogation room. The twist: Each series takes place in a different country and language — Spanish, French, German and English — but they use the exact same concept and set. As well as the tightly-scripted, cat-and-mouse interrogations, featuring masterclass performances from the likes of David Tennant, Hayley Atwell — and in season 2, Kit Harington — it’s fascinating to see how the limited sets are used differently by different police teams.
David Fincher directs a stash of episodes in this psychological crime thriller’s two-season run (the third is on indefinite hold), so meticulous visuals and captivating storylines are a given. Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) is a special agent in the FBI, sent to interview serial killers in prison to build a profile of what makes them tick. Cameron Britton as real-life serial killer Ed Kemper is absolutely chilling. Mindhunter is smarter and richer than your average crime show, somehow growing with its complex characters. It would be a shame if the third season didn’t happen.
From the minds of Britt Marling and Zal Batmanglij, The OA has it all: mystery, sci-fi, the supernatural and even a dash of fantasy for good measure. We follow Prairie, a young woman who reappears after being missing for seven years. She used to be blind, but not anymore! Now she calls herself the OA and she sweeps a host of Midwestern locals of all ages and backgrounds into her dimension-hopping mission to save lives. Sadly, Netflix cancelled The OA after season 2, but this big, inventive and human sci-fi is still well worth taking a look at.
Binging Sex Education is a no-brainer: The self-aware, John Hughes-possessed mishmash of American and British high school culture is a joyful breeze to watch. We follow Otis (Asa Butterfield), the son of a sex therapist (Gillian Anderson), as he embarks on his sexual awakening. The explicit sex talk and scenes are addressed in refreshingly healthy and honest ways. Built around a diverse cast with pure charisma, Netflix understandably commissioned a third season.
The Haunting of Hill House
Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House, loosely based on Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name, weaves its horror into a deeply affecting story about a broken family. Fractured after growing up in a haunted house, the Crains can’t ignore their past and must do what you never want to do: Go back down those dark corridors. The impressive set-pieces will please horror fans, but it’s the sad story of the Crains that will, yes, haunt you for days. Good news: The second chapter of the anthology, The Haunting of Bly Manor, is out for Halloween.
Germany’s answer to Stranger Things deliberately takes its time before stepping into completely compelling and original places. A sci-fi noir, Dark folds time travel, conspiracies and estranged families into a generation-spanning story kicked off by a child’s disappearance. If those kinds of meticulously-crafted layers are what you’re after in your storytelling, settle in. All three seasons of Dark’s meditative look at time travel and its effect on human nature are waiting to hit you at full force.
While Charlie Brooker’s bleak tech anthology series can be hit and miss, at its best, Black Mirror packs its mini-movies with an exploration of futuristic technological ideas through painfully human stories. One of those is San Junipero, following two women in the ’80s (cue banging soundtrack) as they fall for each other in ways they couldn’t do in their “real” lives outside the beach city. The tech aspect is revealed with genius timing and, in general, the show explores the consequences of our plugged-in lives in disturbing and occasionally uplifting ways.
A show inspired by the true story of the first pro female wrestling syndicate in the ’80s? Starring Alison Brie? Produced by Jenji Kohan? Dreams do come true. GLOW’s purely fun comedy, packed with eccentric female characters, teams campiness with underdog triumph and soars. Season 3 progresses deeper into the lives of its diverse ensemble, with a fourth and final season on its way to cap off this delightful body slam into the ring.
Sumptuous is one word to describe the production values of The Crown’s drama about the British monarchy. Following Queen Elizabeth II’s life, starting in her 20s with a powerhouse performance from Claire Foy, The Crown captures the grand workings of historical events from deep within Buckingham Palace. Figures like Winston Churchill, Princess Margaret, Margaret Thatcher and more are treated with the highest cinematic sophistication. A fourth, fifth and sixth season are on their way to round out your knowledge of the Queen’s reign into the early 21st century.
Russian Doll takes its Groundhog Day premise and wrenches it apart in the most unpredictable ways. Natasha Lyonne is the crackling spark at the center of its time-looping mystery, playing Nadia, a game developer who repeatedly dies on the night of her 36th birthday party. The Amy Poehler co-created show uses time travel to explore self-reflection on a whole new level, making this a definite one-sitting appointment.
This miniseries, based on a true story of rape, deftly navigates its disturbing and tricky subject matter with the help of a remarkable performance from Kaitlyn Dever. She plays Marie, a teenager who’s charged with lying about being raped, but of course it’s more complicated than that. Toni Collette and Merritt Wever team up as whip-smart detectives who see what others fail to, adding another layer to Unbelievable’s delicate, powerfully moving triumph.
Master of None
On the surface a comedy about a 30-year-old New Yorker who loves his pasta, Master of None casually throws in nuanced and moving episodes about immigrant families and their second-generation children. Then it drops an entire episode about Tinder. Dev’s relatable experiences bubble with creator and star Aziz Ansari’s wit and charm and, personal controversy aside, the romantic and cultural themes he explores are remarkably mature.
This miniseries is based on a memoir and told primarily in Yiddish with painstaking detail. Almost a thriller, Unorthodox follows 19-year-old Esty Shapiro, who escapes her arranged marriage in an ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn. She ends up in Berlin, exploring a new life outside the strict beliefs she grew up in, but her community doesn’t let go that easily. Featuring a stunning performance from Shira Haas, Unorthodox lets you take a step into a relentlessly compelling world.
Never Have I Ever
Devi is your average high schooler who wants nothing more than to be cool and get a boyfriend. But it’s hard to stay chipper after your dad dies. Mindy Kaling’s coming-of-age story covers familiar territory and yet it stands out from the pack in multiple ways. Get this: Its narrator is John McEnroe. The sporting connection is just one layer of this surprising, charm-your-socks-off show, depicting an Indian family living in California. You’ve seen these stories before, but not with these unique characters.
This series is loved by many (and Netflix loves you for it), but in case you haven’t heard what all the fuss is about, Money Heist is, yep, about a heist. The mastermind doing Ocean’s Eleven-level prep work with equally satisfying reveals is The Professor. He’s got banks in his sights and we see how his intricate plans come together with slick flashbacks, time-jumps and even an unreliable narrator. This is captivating TV with a distinct Spanish identity — don’t let the subtitles put you off.
Dead To Me
If you’re looking for a female-led show with a dark sense of humor and a mystery, Dead To Me delivers all that in spades. This underrated series is all about the friendship between Linda Cardellini’s Judy and Christina Applegate’s Jen, total opposites who bond over wine, family and murder. The twists and reveals keep momentum going, while you enjoy spending time with these flawed but brilliant women.
Netflix wisely snapped up the rights to Peaky Blinders and there are five seasons, with two more coming, to traverse the stunning rise of 1900s Birmingham ganger leader Thomas Shelby. Prepare yourself for a mesmerizing performance from Cillian Murphy in this family saga that has a fantastic amount of fun and flair showing Shelby’s dealings with other gangs, the police and the occasional lover.
After Life might not be a classic like Ricky Gervais’ The Office and Extras, but it’s a show you’ll want to settle in with. Set in the fictional sleepy town of Tambury, it follows newspaper journalist Tony, played by show creator Gervais in impressively dramatic territory. Tony’s grieving after the love of his life’s death from cancer. While the show’s steeped in melancholy, there are magic moments when Tony unleashes priceless brutal takedowns of the eccentric and annoying (to him) townsfolk. But you always know he’s on track to come to terms with his grief and form lovely relationships with the people around him.
Another unmissable show, Derry Girls follows the mishaps of Erin and her friends in 1990s Derry, Ireland. Their teenage woes are paired with antics from their equally hilarious parents, set on a backdrop of the Northern Ireland conflict. While you can make comparisons with The Inbetweeners, Derry Girls draws from its own well of sweet charm and the historical context paves ground for surprisingly dark humor.
Three fascinating seasons of The Sinner await to be cracked open, each one focused on a murder committed by an unlikely offender in even stranger circumstances. Season 1 follows Jessica Biel’s Cora, who stabs a man to death on a beach in a sudden frenzy, but has no idea why. It’s up to Bill Pullman’s Detective Ambrose to unravel the shockingly disturbing events embedded in her psyche that lead to her being triggered.
This miniseries is from a couple of years ago, but in case you missed it, it’s definitely worth checking out. In the vein of The Sinner, Alias Grace steps back into its young female protagonist’s past to figure out why she commits murder, of which she has no memory. An adaptation of a Margaret Atwood novel, the show stars a hypnotic Sarah Gadon as Irish immigrant Grace, navigating a turbulent life as a servant for a family in colonial Toronto. Partly based on a true story, this isn’t a straightforward mystery with straightforward answers and that’s what makes it all the more captivating.
Lovesick is easy, enjoyable viewing with a premise ripe for embarrassment humor we can all relate to. Helpless-in-love Dylan discovers he has chlamydia and must track down past flings and inform them that they might have it too. A flashback narrative keeps things interesting, especially when the focus turns to Dylan and best friend Evie’s feelings for each other. It never goes into soapy territory, with an eccentric but loveable supporting cast playing English flatmates in a Glasgow setting.
Bodyguard broke records when it first aired in Britain, climbing from cliffhanger to cliffhanger at a relentless pace. This might be the definition of the unstoppable binge, not surprising given it comes from the mind of Line of Duty’s Jed Mercurio. Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden plays the titular bodyguard, who suffers from PTSD after serving in the Afghanistan war. On top of that, he’s assigned to protect the Home Secretary (Keeley Hawes), whose politics he despises. Taking provocative turns, and crafting one of the best-ever 20-minute opening scenes, Bodyguard is an expert tension-building balancing act.
It wouldn’t be a best list without Stranger Things. If somehow you’ve missed the Duffer Brothers’ ode to ’80s horror and Steven Spielberg, things are about to get tubular. We follow El, a near-mute girl who was the subject of scientific experiments. She develops telekinetic powers, which she uses to fend off monsters who invade from a frightening alternative dimension. The world of Indiana, Hawkins, is lovingly detailed for anyone in need of an ’80s nostalgia hit and the misfit characters, played by a stellar young cast, are part of everything that makes this show a tour de force.
House of Cards
While Kevin Spacey’s sexual harassment allegations ended up marring this slick, fourth-wall breaking slice of politics’ dark side, it’s still worth watching if you dig power games and the occasional backstabbing. Initially following Spacey’s Frank Underwood, House of Cards’ sixth and final season pivots to follow his wife Claire (Robin Wright) as she takes on more and more power in the Oval Office.
Touted as the next Breaking Bad, Ozark only gets better and better as you watch the Byrde family’s life spiral out of control. Beginning with a bang, Ozark sees financial advisor Marty’s (Jason Bateman) money laundering scheme for a Mexican drug cartel go wrong. His solution? Move his family to the Lake of the Ozarks, where he’ll set up a bigger laundering operation. Building on all that potential, Ozark crafts a smart, but most importantly, entertaining story, with a superb stand-out turn from Laura Linney as Wendy Byrde. Great news: Ozark was just renewed for a fourth and final season.
Full disclosure: Netflix sadly canceled Travelers after its third season, but this tightly-plotted sci-fi out of Canada does manage to end with an ambitious bang. We start with Marcy, a disabled woman who’s beaten up after helping a friend escape thugs. She dies — then comes back to life. This strong character-driven sci-fi reveals its secrets in clever ways, following operatives from the future tasked with preventing the collapse of society, but also navigating the tricky territory of living a double life.
Love is a Judd Apatow creation that draws the best out of the talented Gillian Jacobs (Britta in Community) and Paul Rust. They play Mickey and Gus respectively, an opposites-attract couple, who go to messy, frustrating and endearingly down-to-earth places that make this an honest look at a relationship being built over time. Iris Apatow is a standout as the unhappy child actress Gus tutors who gets away with just about anything.
Orange is the New Black
One of the first ever Netflix originals broke ground in more ways than one. The seven seasons, initially drawn from a memoir about a real-life women’s prison, span the lives of women from multiple backgrounds and nationalities, who all end up in orange jumpsuits. Drug money smuggler Piper kicks off the first season as our Alice going down the rabbit hole in this wild, raw, hilarious and powerful show, taking on tough issues not often explored on screen.
When They See Us
Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us comes under the tough but essential viewing banner. It depicts the real-life events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case, involving five male suspects of color who were falsely accused of rape and assault. Not only sensitively drawing the humanity of the boys into focus, When They See Us demands outrage at the injustice of systemic racism.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Tina Fey’s post-30 Rock sitcom is as weird and wonderful as it gets. Kimmy Schmidt is a 29-year-old who finally emerges after 15 years spent in the bunker of a doomsday cult. Naive but relentlessly enthusiastic, she does her best to adjust to life in New York, taking on odd jobs, finding love and making friends with equally odd people. The show is impressively peppered with a joke a second. Its rewatch value is through the roof and Ellie Kemper ensures Kimmy is a heroine to root for.
The show that paved the way for Marvel’s Netflix TV series came to an end after its third season, a casualty in the cut ties between the streamer and the superhero juggernaut. This understandably outraged fans, given its quality wasn’t slowing down. Not just any superhero show, Daredevil goes to dark and surprisingly existential places, dealing with Matt Murdock’s faith as he leads a double life as a blind lawyer and the Daredevil vigilante. Becoming famous for its one-take hand-to-hand combat sequences, with a villain just as good as its hero — Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin — Daredevil shone bright while it lasted.
While the latter two seasons drop the ball a little in terms of complex themes, season 1 of Jessica Jones is a force to be reckoned with. Somehow managing to be a superhero detective noir, the series entwines subject matter like rape, assault and PTSD into its many facets. Krysten Ritter was the perfect choice to take on the dry, sarcastic, rough-around-the-edges hero who could also be the occasional asshole. With a mind-controling villain like David Tennant’s Kilgrave, who can literally tell people to kill themselves, the wall our hero must scale to save the day is absolutely staggering.
Chef’s Table is for foodies who want not only food porn, but the soaring feeling of seeing what great chefs overcame to get that food to the plate. From the documentary maker who served up the acclaimed Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Chef’s Table tells the story of a different professional chef each episode, hailing from restaurants in the far corners of the world (Lima, Peru, anyone?). All to the tune of original symphonic music, this series is a moving, cinematic opera fueled by the power of food, culture and inspiring stories.
The reboot of the 2003 makeover show is much more than a reality TV series. As the Queer Eye team travel around the US and occasionally other parts of the world, stepping into the homes of those put forward by friends and family, they use their charm and pure willingness to help to nudge their new friends toward a transformative shift in their lives. As you watch, you might pick up cooking, fashion and home decorating skills yourself, all on the path to notching up confidence and happiness.
Carey Mulligan playing a detective inspector is a stroke of genius, leading an investigation into the murder of a pizza delivery guy shot in a London suburb. Mulligan’s astute and, er, ex-Olympic pole vaulter Kip Gillespie delves deeper into the mystery that of course isn’t what it seems. Collateral pushes against its police procedural boundaries into murky moral territory, wrapped up in a hot blanket of politics and social commentary.
Drug kingpin Pablo Escobar is the subject of this, yes, addictive series that races through his rise to becoming the infamous cocaine distributer and billionaire. A true-to-life account that blends in archival footage, Narcos manages to present a sympathetic side to Escobar without undermining the gravity of its material. Plus, the DEA’s hunt to bring Escobar down ratchets up the suspense. After you finish the three series, head to Narcos: Mexico, a companion series that focuses on the illegal drug trade in Mexico.
The Last Dance
Even if you’re not into sports or documentaries, The Last Dance plays out like the most pulsating drama, detailing the Chicago Bulls rise to greatness, with rare footage of their magnetic and intense leader Michael Jordan. A fascinating look into the basketball world, The Last Dance is as entertaining and thrilling as a match on the court.
13 Reasons Why
The first season of this YA show stuck most closely to its source material, a novel by Jay Asher that revolves around a teenage girl’s suicide. Hannah Baker leaves behind a box of cassettes, which her thoughtful friend Clay Jensen listens to to find out why she chose to take her life. This is deep stuff, dealt with in confronting ways (at one time deemed too confronting), but the social issues like suicide, sexual assault and mental health are handled maturely. A high school drama through fragile, lost young adults draws you in and doesn’t let go.
When it comes to cartoons that lower your guard before gut-punching you with reflections on mental health, BoJack Horseman takes the cake. Set in an LA filled with anthropomorphic animals, it follows a washed-up ex-sitcom star who tries to climb back to his former celebrity by releasing an autobiography. While at first it might take you some time to digest this unconventional cocktail, BoJack Horseman soon astounds you with its truths about struggling with depression and addiction on the path to getting your life back on track.
Dear White People
This provocatively titled show delivers a timely look at modern race relations through the eyes of a different character each episode. Following several black students at Winchester, an Ivy League institution, Dear White People manages to blend its social commentary with a sharp sense of humor. The fourth and final season is set to arrive this year, capping off this powerful eye-opener.
The Kominsky Method
A comedy starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin? Yep, it’s as good as it sounds. Douglas plays Sandy Kominsky, an ex-actor in Hollywood who’s now an acting coach, going through all that comes with growing older. Arkin plays his pal and agent Norman Newlander. The two leads, along with side characters played by the likes of Emily Osment, are what elevate this show into poignant, warm-your-heart territory.
This miniseries carves itself firmly into the Western genre, with a female-led cast boasting Merritt Weaver and Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery. With its 1880s New Mexico vistas swirling around it, Godless draws up the violence in a tale that sees an outlaw on the run from his boss seek refuge with an outcast widower. Oh, Jeff Daniels is in this too, if the show wasn’t enticing enough.
If you were a fan of Howard Overman’s insanely entertaining Misfits, Crazyhead might be where you want to head next. Overman’s follow-up show, which first aired in the UK in 2016, is a comedy-horror starring Cara Theobold (the voice of Tracer in Overwatch) and Susan Wokoma as unlikely friends who bond over being able to see demons gallivanting about in normal society. Their brilliant double-act is at the heart of this disturbingly entertaining series, featuring exorcisms, accidental roommate killings and demon fathers. Yeah, you need to watch this for yourself.
Joe Swanberg brings his endlessly watchable, laidback brand of improvisational storytelling to multiple tales exploring the many variations of love. One of them involves a married couple testing the waters of an open relationship. There are a host of different characters and relationships to flip through in Easy’s episodic anthology set in Chicago, with surprisingly realistic and meaningful resolutions.
Even if you’ve gleaned a lot of the details of Tiger King’s insanity from when it took over the internet, you still stand a good chance of being sucked into the documentary series that goes to seemingly unbelievable places. There really is nothing like watching Joe Exotic’s rise and fall as he builds his private tiger zoo in Oklahoma. Things get even more bizarre when his bitter feud with Carole Baskin, a cat rescuer in Florida, leads to harassment, threats and unsolved murder mysteries. You really do have to watch it to believe it.
Another documentary series that captivated more than just sports fans, Cheer delves into the lives of young, highly competitive athletes at Navarro College in Texas. Starting in 2000, coach Monica Aldama builds the cheerleading program from the ground up to become the best in the country. The anxiety they deal with heightens across the six episodes as their big competition nears, but always, at its core, the show is resoundingly uplifting.
Comedian Mae Martin’s Feel Good really does try to do what it says on the tin. It follows the repressed George (Charlotte Ritchie) as she falls for Martin’s Mae after seeing her stand-up show. Their London-based romance sees George grappling with coming out to her middle-class friends and family, while Canadian Mae has a drug problem that makes their love even more difficult. A confidently told story with its sense of humor nailed on from the start, Feel Good exudes sweetness and grace.
New movie calendar for 2020 and 2021 following coronavirus delays
First published July 1.
Update, July 2: Adds Crashing, Criminal, Jessica Jones, Chef’s Table and Queer Eye.