Ranking the 16 Best Netflix Original Series
By The Pajiba Staff | What To Watch | May 27, 2017 |
By The Pajiba Staff | What To Watch | May 27, 2017 |
16. Santa Clarita Diet (Watch Here) — I watched all ten episodes of Netflix’s new series, Santa Clarita Diet, in one sitting, but that says less about the quality of the writing than it does about the likable, easygoing cast and the fact that each episode is under 30 minutes. It’s an easy show to watch, and at times, a very fun one. But it’s not a particularly great show, and if not for the cast, it would quickly collapse underneath the weight of its one joke. While the premise is great, the show does surprisingly little to expand upon it aside from sporadically searching for a cure for the zombie virus.
15. The Crown (Watch here) — The Crown is a gorgeous show that never quite gets its story to match the heights of its visuals. There are some genuinely excellent character moments that truly convey the strain and grandeur of the monarchy above all, particularly when Elizabeth’s mother and sister curtsey to her for the first time as they are all mourning the death of George VI. You see that even at her most vulnerable time, Elizabeth has already been put in a position where she will have no equal who can comfort her for her loss. Overall the show struggles to find a true narrative that would define the season. John Lithgow’s Churchill is given time to contemplate his mortality, and Matt Smith’s Prince Phillip is given ample screen time to air his grievances about his secondary status, but as far as tackling the inherent difficulty of taking on the titular crown as a young woman mourning a father lost too soon, the show does not provide any new or illuminating insights. It does, however, look truly stunning.
14. Travelers (Watch Here) — Travelers borrows elements from a lot of other sci-fi and time-travel movies and television shows, but it mashes them up in an entertaining way and applies them to a familiar but compelling formula. It’s heavy in theme, but light in its approach, and each of the actors brings so much life to the show that we remain hopeful that Travelers doesn’t fall into the Game of Thrones trap of killing off beloved characters. Travelers is not without its problems — the time-travel logic is inconsistent, and there’s always some technology from the future to save the day— but they’re flaws that are easy to overlook because the rest of the show is such a dazzling, binge-watching delight.
13. Luke Cage (Watch Here) — Boosted by a strong, charismatic performance from Mike Colter in the title character, an excellent supporting cast that includes Alfre Woodard, Theo Rossi, Paul McGuigan and Simone Missick, and excellent cinematography, Luke Cage is a fantastic show if you’re looking for great acting and a distinctive, noir influenced vibe. Where Cage struggles, however, is in telling its story. It suffers from what so many of Netflix’s Marvel series suffer from, namely too many episodes and not enough plot to fill 13 hours. It’s slow to start, but once it picks up the pace (around the fourth episode), it’s as good or better than Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
12. Bloodline (Watch Here) — Bloodline is slow-burning greatness, and while doling the revelations out incrementally and reiterating old ones can be frustrating at times at the outset, the addictive quality of those slowly-building revelations all but ensures that you won’t be able to stop watching until you’ve completed the series. Bloodline is engrossing, so much so that somewhere along the way, you may find yourself wondering if you skipped an episode. You’ll start in on episode 7, fall into a trance, and wake up somewhere around episode 10, wondering what happened to the last four hours of your life. Ben Mendelson will hook you immediately, but after four or five episodes — once the pieces begin to fall into place — the story will sweep you along toward the dark and sickly satisfying end, capping the series off with four of the best episodes in the short but stellar history of Netflix’s original programming.
11. Sense8 (Watch Here) — While there are parts of the plot that are derivative, the story is wholly gorgeous and beautiful, especially once you get to the end and can reflect on all the rest of it. It is saying different things about identity, about what really makes you who you are. Each of the eight characters has their own story, and what makes them seem boring in the first few episodes is that for the most part they are not action-oriented or science fictional in the least. But each of them is like a short story in its own right, of the evolution of an individual’s identity and how being part of this completely empathetic group both changes and reinforces those identities. There are deeper themes that riff along those same lines too: the antagonist is both entirely evil and yet the ways in which he is deeply resonate with these themes of identity and empathy. Despite the first trappings of cliche, this is no mere “hunt the people who are different and therefore a threat.” Every aspect of the different interwoven stories serve these central themes. That’s the key to getting the show, I think, to really enjoying it from the start. It’s the realization that this is not a science fiction story at all. This is a genre-breaking story that could be told in fantasy, sci-fi, urban horror, or just about anything else. That’s the mark of a transcendent story.
10. House of Cards (Watch Here) — There are a bevy of compelling characters in House of Cards, but the marriage between Underwood and Claire is at the forefront of everything. Theirs is a political marriage, but there’s also a deep love between the two figures, who both work for and against each other in a game of clashing ambitions. Robin Wright is absolute perfection: cold, powerful, and sexual, but also capable of putting on the stand-by-your-man facade when it’s called for. Meanwhile, Spacey — who sports heavy bags under his eyes and a hangdog face — munches on scenery in truly delicious fashion, combining iterations of his American Beauty character and his role as the boss in Swimming with Sharks. Ultimately, too, House of Cards becomes exactly the kind of series that plays well on Netflix: It’s entertaining as hell, but it’s also addictive. It gets inside your head, and you find yourself trying to stay ahead of Underwood, to predict his next move in the game of political chess. Yet the series is also episodic enough to maintain our interest in the short-term: Each episode is like a small political caper, a strategic move that buoys Underwood to the next stage of his scheme.
9. Daredevil (Watch Here) — The first season of Daredevil is as close to perfect as it could probably be expected, and I say that as a vociferous fan of the comic book. The characters are all solid reflections of their comic book counterparts, and it captures the mood of writers like Bendis, Miller, and Brubaker. But it also has its own rhythm and flow, a kind of moody intensity that’s broken up by moments of genuine warmth between its characters — both the good ones and the bad. Every element — the criminals, the cops, the lawyers, the media, even Murdock’s struggle with his Catholic guilt — is explored with at least some degree of detail, while mostly avoiding lazy exposition. It’s smart, dark, grim, fun, and it’s just damn good television.
8. 13 Reasons Why — A teenage girl named Hannah Baker has committed suicide, and left behind 13 audio cassettes explaining why she did it. On each tape is the story of one person in her life, and how they contributed to her taking her own life. One of these people, Clay Jensen, gets these tapes and starts to learn not only about Hannah, but about the lives of everyone else in his high school circle. 13 Reasons Why doesn’t offer any pat solutions to the problems it depicts, and rarely shows people truly learning from their experiences. But it does point to how things could have gone better, and how easily (and often benignly) they go wrong. This is a specifically horrible story that simultaneously suggests universal ways in which it can be prevented. And even though no show has ever made me feel better about not being a teenager in 2017, I think there’s something here that’s more helpful that hurtful. It’s hard to call 13 Reasons Why a happy surprise, but it’s a show I think will surprise.
7. Jessica Jones (Watch Here) — The writing, the villain, the casting, it’s all perfect. David Tennant might steal his scenes as Kilgrave, but Krysten Ritter’s performance as Jones is so pitch perfect I don’t think they could have done the show without her. Maybe it’s because of her previous roles, but I absolutely buy her as a superhero how actually has little interest in the hero part. Which is the most intriguing part of Jones as a character. She isn’t really a hero, she’s a domestic abuse survivor who’s trying to repair her life. The fact that she might inadvertently be helping others is secondary. And the show doesn’t shy away from the underlying domestic abuse or female wish fulfillment themes in the slightest. The story takes a familiar plotline of the hero being turned on, and gives it an entirely new spin. Most comic book/superhero movies have villains that average people don’t know how to fight. Jessica Jones has a villain that average people don’t want to.
6. Dear White People (Watch Here) — Dear White People is frequently funny, it is well acted, it is insightful, and it is entertaining. But it’s also incredibly illuminating for the way it explores the social dynamics between Black People and White People, Woke People And People That Aren’t, Light-Skinned Black people and Dark Skinned black people, and Black people who want to confront institutional racism from the outside and Black people who want to work within the system as best they can. It’s complicated as hell, and Dear White People challenges our our prejudices at every turn and illustrates maybe better than any show I have ever seen the complexities of race. It occasionally dabbles too heavily in romantic drama, but it almost aways does so to illustrate a point. It’s a powerful show, but it’s also an immensely entertaining and quick binge.
5. Stranger Things (Watch Here) — Stranger Things is The Grey Album of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter’s early career (and several other 80s filmmakers). Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer, aka, the Duffer Brothers have mashed up E.T. with The Thing and remixed elements of Goonies and Poltergeist into one eight-episode series that feels both semi-derivative and nostalgic, familiar, and new. For fans of 1980s sci-fi and horror of the PG-13 ilk, Stranger Things is an intoxicating throwback. It’s a 2016 television series airing on a modern streaming service that’s not only set in the early 1980s, but presented exactly like a 1980s movie, complete with grainy cinematography, an 80s soundtrack, a John Carpenter-like synth score, and pitch-perfect B-acting (especially from Winona Ryder, who goes heavy on the histrionics). It’s the kind of show that feels like it should be watched on a VCR.
4. Master of None (Watch Here) — Master of None, with all its early-Woody Allen inspiration (from quiet New York explorations to classic title cards), is funny and cutting, but in a way that comes at you from the side. The show feels easy to binge because of the intimate, naturalistic banter, until you are eight episodes in and it hits you that watching such a realistic portrayal of people’s lives is more emotionally draining than you realized. The show has the feel of something created by very smart, talented friends who had a lot to say and no existing outlet, so they created one. How lucky we all are that this show was created at a time when there are platforms like Netflix that let them experiment with form and structure and genre. Master of None is a ten-episode gift that lies outside the boxes it may have otherwise been forced to squeeze into.
3. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Watch Here) — It’s a really fun show to watch, and Ellie Kemper is delightful enough that the 13 episodes move by quickly. This show has always had a dark undercurrent, but in season one, it was shrouded in pep, guided by Kimmy’s unfaltering buoyancy. The second season has plenty of pep, and plenty of absurdity (a couple fantastic cameos, a dream sequence with puppies, Fred Armisen as Robert Durst, to name a few examples), but it also isn’t afraid to crack these characters open. And oh my god do they crack. Without getting into plot details, I was fully unprepared to handle the heartbreaking depth of the season finale. Overall, however, Kimmy remains fast, funny, and charming.
2. Bojack Horseman (Watch Here) — Bojack Horseman has two basic methods of destroying its audience emotionally. The first is to come at you in a frontal attack. Introducing us to Bojack’s mother, to Diane’s family, Diane’s depression sinkhole, Princess Carolyn’s loneliness— these are the themes they tell us will be at the center of a given episode, and then they deliver. Hard. The second type of episode is the one that comes at you from the side. The ones that set up such elaborate, genius, pun-based farcical constructs that when the punch lands, you never saw it coming. Or maybe you totally see it coming, but only because it lulled you into thinking you know what’s happening in front of you, you think you’re in on the plan. I don’t know if there is a “best” season, because each is so different. And maybe that’s the key, because it’s never trying to keep up with itself or even outdo itself. It’s always the same show, but never afraid to be totally different.
1. Orange is the New Black — (Watch Here) — Jenji Kohan’s knack for social commentary mixed with humor is perfect for a prison story. Orange Is the New Black is as funny as Weeds in its early years, but this time around, Kohan has found a way to infuse an added level of poignancy — and dare we say sweetness? — to the overall vibe of her stories. It traffics in stereotypes, but it also challenges and complicates them. Most importantly: It humanizes the in-humanized. In other words, the prison transforms labels — felons, thieves, murders, embezzlers — into real human beings and reminds us that, even in prison, life isn’t put on hold. Life is being led. Orange Is the New Black will both make you laugh and make you think — it is both entertaining and good — and shows like this should be treasured.
For more movie and television recommendations from Amazon and Netflix, check out our streaming guide.
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