The Golden Age of Television is well and truly here. Kicking off decades ago with a burst of prestige cable series, the best Netflix Original shows prove that this era’s still got plenty of miles left. Starting back in 2013 with House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and, ahem, Hemlock Grove, the line-up of original series has expanded to include a slew of shows that give the networks a serious run for their money.
From the comedy hijinks of mockumentary true crime American Vandal, to dramedies like Atypical and Sex Education, all the way to serial killer thriller Mindhunter, the best Netflix Original shows cover every genre imaginable. There’s so many, in fact, that it can seem an impossible task figuring out which one to start next. Luckily for you, we’ve traversed every category, going down some serious rabbit holes, to locate the 25 best that you have to watch. So what are you waiting for?
25. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
The show: Missing the inanity of 30 Rock? Prepare to venture into similarly eccentric waters with creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock motherfudgin’ excellent new series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. This sweet and silly tale follows the life of Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper), a 30-something woman recently freed from an underground bunker where she, along with several other media-dubbed “mole women”, was held hostage by deranged Reverend Gary Wayne Gary. Now freed and living it up in New York City, Kimmy’s life takes some unique turns as she moves in with the flamboyant Titus Andromedon and catches up on 15 years of pop culture.
Why it’s worth a watch: It’s a zany, wacky sitcom that pushes the limits of its premise - Kimmy being a time-travelin’ fish-out-of-water - to deliver comedy gold. Aside from Kemper’s superb leading turn, Kimmy’s roommate Titus drops the best sitcom songs (after Jenna Maroney’s 'Muffin Top', of course) with 'Peeno Noir' and 'Boobs in California.'
24. American Vandal
Region: UK, US
The show: When someone says the word "mockumentary", your mind may immediately flock to classics such as This is Spinal Tap or Best in Show. Both are deliberately over-the-top chucklefests. American Vandal, on the other hand, is a different beast. A satirical docuseries that’s played completely straight, it taps into the true crime craze that’s seen an uptick in recent years and puts a new spin on it. The first season begins in the aftermath of a crime at a high school, when 27 teachers find that their cars have been vandalized by a student with a penchant for spray paint and dick pics. No, seriously. If that’s not bonkers enough, season 2 follows a poop epidemic.
Why it's worth a watch: Much like how Making a Murderer became an addictive series that everyone and their mother had an opinion about, American Vandal operates in the same way. One high schooler takes on the role of documentarian and tries to figure out who’s really to blame. Easily one of the best Netflix Original shows. True crime has never been so damn bingeable!
23. Stranger Things
The show: After being turned down to direct an adaptation of Stephen King’s It, the Duffer Brothers decided to shape their own ode to the master of horror and created Stranger Things. This is homage at its finest, with a slew of popular ‘70s and ‘80s sci-fi and horror movies serving as inspiration for this story of small-town America under siege from another dimension. Hawkins, Indiana is the backdrop; a quiet sleepy suburb that’s suddenly rocked by unusual goings-on at the local laboratory. After scientists rip apart the fabric of spacetime via experiments, another world is revealed and explored by the town’s residents, who just happen to include a handful of Dungeons and Dragons-obsessed tweens.
Why it’s worth a watch: Arguably the biggest of all the Netflix Original shows, Stranger Things is true popcorn entertainment. A slice of ‘80s genre goodness that pulls liberally from all of the decades best, Stranger Things steals from popular culture in every story strand, every character, and yet that does not make it any less enjoyable. With an impressive cast, both young and old, you’ll be laughing and crying and shrieking in terror along with them.
22. Grace and Frankie
The show: Comedy vets Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin headline this superbly bingeable sitcom about two women whose ongoing rivalry comes to a head when their husbands reveal they’re in love and want divorces. While Grace (Fonda) and Frankie (Tomlin) try to navigate this life-changing revelation alone, they fast become frenemies who wind up sharing a beach house. Throw in their four kids and their newly-married husbands, and what you’re left with is a modern living situation. What starts as an amusing premise over the seasons sprawls into a ripe comedy setup that’s all about figuring out life, love, career, health, no matter your age, and how our friends are the one thing we can always rely on.
Why it’s worth a watch: Don’t dismiss this as that show your mom probably watches. Fonda and Taylor might be in their ‘70s and 80s but that doesn’t make them, or their razor-sharp humour, out of bounds for anyone who isn’t. This is brilliantly savvy writing boosted by its lead performances. That also includes Sam Waterson and Martin Sheen as Grace and Frankie’s former husbands, and June Diane Raphael, Brooklyn Decker, Ethan Embry and Baron Vaughn as their four grown kids.
21. A Series of Unfortunate Events
The show: This Netflix Original series, like the 2004 movie, is based on the Lemony Snicket novels. Penned by Daniel Handler, the story follows a trio of orphaned kids, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, who happen to fall under the guardianship of a curmudgeonly relative after the loss of their parents. That grumpy kook who comes to care for them is Count Olaf, a distant relation played by Neil Patrick Harris. Olaf will do whatever he can to get his dabs on their inheritance, even though the children keep getting carted off to different homes...
Why it's worth a watch: Granted, the biggest draw here is NPH, who gets chance to stretch his comedy muscles whilst being utterly horrible to the Baudelaire children. His antics, as he attempts to outwit the kids and steal their fortune, will appeal to both younger viewers and adults (there’s plenty of comical winks and references for the older crowd). But, the three leads are superbly charming, bringing heart and cheer to this compelling story.
20. Lady Dynamite
The show: Maria Bamford plays a fictionalised version of herself in this delicious dark comedy from Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz and Pam Brady. With a six month recovery stint under her belt following a bipolar diagnosis, Maria moves back to Los Angeles with hopes of kickstarting her comedy career. Interestingly, Bamford didn’t pen any of the episodes herself, with the show’s writers using her real-life experiences as loose inspiration. What sets this sitcom apart from its peers is how it leans into mental health issues without pulling any punches.
Why it's worth a watch: This is easily one of the most unique shows you’re likely to ever see. It’s honest, funny, sweet, and never shies away from tricky topics with dismissive gags. Bamford’s delivery and performance are what elevate Lady Dynamite, making it not only one of the best Netflix Original shows, but one of the most ambitious series to grace our screens.
19. On My Block
Region: UK, US
The show: With approximately 17 gajillion new Netflix Originals popping out of the gate every week, it’s easy to miss some of the low-key titles. One of those is On My Block, a funny, warm, and utterly essential series that follows four teenagers on the cusp of starting high school in South Central LA. Things begin as lifelong friends, Jamal, Monse, Ruby and Cesar embark on the summer before high school, which turns out to be their last chance at a simple life.
Why it's worth a watch: As a coming-of-age tale that’s headlined by four actors of colour, this show is a breath of fresh air. The series takes the battered, tired old “kids gotta grow up sometime” trope and gives it an adrenaline boost, a shot in the arm to dismantle the typical white representations we’ve seen so much of in movies and TV. Tackling the truth of living in a gang territory, the realities of dashed suburban hopes and dreams, and how we’re nothing without our friends, On My Block is the essential watch of 2018.
18. Tuca and Bertie
The show: It’s hard to describe this show, created by Bojack Horseman production designer Lisa Hanawalt, without sounding as if you’re off your rocker. Best friends and roommates Tuca and Bertie are a couple of birds. No, seriously. This animated adult comedy takes place in Bird Town, a happening Metropolis populated by anthropomorphic animals. Right off the bat the show dives into the pair’s cheeky chicanery as they navigate life in the city. The added bonus? Ali Wong and Tiffany Haddish voice the two lead characters.
Why it’s worth a watch: If the existential quandaries of Bojack are a shade too real for ya, Tuca and Bertie steers hardcore into the opposite direction. While it tackles hefty hot-button topics (sexual harassment in the workplace gets a look-in early on), it does so with an eye skewed toward the whacky (Bertie’s sentient boob takes off on its own after it is harrassed). It's a real shame Netflix has decided not to renew the series for a second season.
17. Dear White People
The show: Justin Simien’s 2014 movie, also called Dear White People, earned solid reviews which led to the development of a small-screen adaptation. While there are some differences, as it was recast, the basic premise remains the same. It’s set among a diverse group of students of color as they navigate a predominantly white Ivy League college, Winchester University, where racial tensions are often swept under the rug. Logan Browning stars as a student who hosts a campus radio show called Dear White People.
Why it’s worth a watch: As hot-button topic series go, Dear White People charges in full force to tackle some meaty issues. A send up of post-racial America, we’re thrown into a college that throws a blackface party, we’re shown police brutality, racist trolls, the list goes on. It’s also pretty damn funny too, as it weaves together a universal story about forging one’s own unique path.
The show: When Netflix announced its partnership with Marvel on a quartet of small-screen series, the world promptly lost its marbles. And then Daredevil aired. Who knew superheroics could be this drenched in darkness and yet springboard so effortlessly into hopeful themes and characters? This first, and arguably best, of the lot follows the story of Matt Murdock, a lawyer who was blinded as a child in an accident. During the day he battles baddies in court with his best pals Foggy and Karen. Under cover of darkness he dons a spandex suit and beats seven shades out of Hell’s Kitchen criminals.
Why it's worth a watch: A truly special series that’s a must-see even if you’re not partial to watching superheroes saving the day. What sets this apart from the big-screen Marvel offerings is that it keeps things grounded in reality. From the bloody punches thrown in back alleys that have real consequences for our hero, to the conniving villains whose plans aren’t for world domination yet bristle with vulgarity, this is what real vigilante heroics look like. Oh, and the fight scenes? *chef’s kiss*