A strange thing is happening in the world of streaming services. The huge success of Netflix has meant other broadcasters want their own slice of the streaming space. Disney will soon be removing all of its content from Netflix and plonking it all on its own Disney + platform. The BBC will soon remove all of its content from Netflix as it joins forces with ITV for BritBox. It was recently revealed that the most binged shows on the US arm of Netflix were NBC’s The Office and Friends. Soon those will soon drop off and end up on NBC/Universal’s as yet unnamed service. It seems as if the streaming sphere is about to become a lot more fragmented. In recent years Netflix has chosen to focus on its own original content rather than buying the rights to the BIG boxsets that it relied on in the early years. It is entirely possible that with everything splintering off Netflix might become a place just for its own original content. With that in my mind, we’ve put together a list of our favourite Netflix Original series.
American Vandal (Matt Donnelly)
The great thing about Netflix originals is discovering shows weeks or months after their release because of word-of-mouth. I was made aware of American Vandal after listening to two hosts discuss it on a non-TV themed podcast. Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda’s mockumentary sounded appealing and, after watching just one episode, I wasn’t disappointed.
The genius of the show’s first season is how they took a seemingly standard high-school prank; the spray-painting of phallic symbols on the faculty’s cars and turn it into something more serious. In their script, Perrault and Yacenda’s main point of parody was Netflix’s own Making a Murderer as they poked fun at the sincerity with which the filmmakers their conduct their investigation. The first season also explored the younger generation’s fascination with social media and how everything is now captured on camera.
The young cast also deserve praise for playing their parts completely straight, which added to the humour of the piece. Chief amongst these was Jimmy Tatro who, as the main suspect of the crime Dylan Maxwell; brought an innocence to the character which made him instantly sympathetic despite his juvenile attitude. As amateur sleuths Peter and Sam; Tyler Alverez and Griffin Gluck were similarly superb as they brilliantly lampooned the delivery that the real-life documentary-makers have in their films.
Whilst it had a more conclusive ending that the first season, American Vandal’s second season focused on a more complex plot and didn’t have another Dylan Maxwell for the audience to sympathise with. Despite this, the second run still maintained a clever tone and focused more on how teenagers today grow up with social media as something that’s always been there.
Although I was initially upset when Netflix cancelled the show after two seasons, upon reflection I’m glad there’s no more American Vandal as I suspect a third season would struggle to top what’s come before. However, if you’ve not seen it already, I highly recommend adding American Vandal to your watchlist and I won’t spoil the mystery of ‘Who Drew the Dicks?’
Bojack Horseman (Sophie Davies)
The titular star of BoJack Horseman is a washed-up, middle-aged actor who’s been struggling for work ever since his cheesy 90s sitcom came to an end. Oh, and he also happens to be an anthropomorphic horse, living in a world inhabited by both humans and other anthropomorphic animals like himself… After a relatively slow start, the show really hits its stride in season 2 when BoJack gets cast in a cerebral film about the racehorse Secretariat, and seasons 3-5 then see him get involved in the film’s subsequent awards campaign and play the antihero of a gritty TV drama. On the surface it’s an irreverent comedy, combining smart, funny satire of Hollywood and celebrity with an abundance of animal puns and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them visual gags. And that could have been entertaining enough, but BoJack Horseman also manages to be one of the most emotionally brutal shows currently on TV, with genuinely heartbreaking episodes that explore such themes as depression, grief, dementia and the breakdown of relationships.
And since we’re on the subject of unusual comedy on Netflix, it’s also worth giving a shout-out to Santa Clarita Diet starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant, which much to the chagrin of its fans, recently got cancelled whilst in its prime. Focusing on how a Californian realtor couple cope when one of them suddenly dies and comes back to life with cravings for human flesh, it’s one of the most original, laugh-out-loud comedies I’ve seen in recent years and well worth adding to your ‘to watch’ list.
The Crown (Will Barber-Taylor)
The idea of monarchy has fascinated the British public and media for decades. Numerous dramas have been made about the Kings and Queen of Britain – from the likes of Jonathan Rhys Myers ultra-American take on Henry VIII to ITV’s recent overly sympathetic look at Queen Victoria. But the most outstanding of recent royal programming has been Peter Morgan’s The Crown.
Morgan is perhaps best known for his film The Queen, centring around the death of Princess Diana and how the Queen and then Prime Minister Tony Blair attempted to repair the royal family’s image after the apparent initial snubbing the Windsors’ gave to her death. Morgan, who is better known for his political dramas artfully combined the inner emotional workings of the Royal Family with the reality of politics that surrounded them to ensure a deft and engaging piece of work.
Morgan not only achieves this with The Crown but broadens the scope of the drama to include a reflection of British post-war society. Rather than creating a cringingly deferential love letter to monarchy, The Crown is an analysis not only of what the monarchy represents to politicians and the public but what is represents to those who inhabit the hollow crown itself; Morgan’s insightful examination of the Queen and those who surround her makes her seem real and in no way artificial – a person and not a character or protagonist but someone who has to live up to some imagined ideal of grace and sovereignty that few who have ever worn the crown have truly lived up to. It is this combination of an engaging narrative drawn from real-life matched with a cavalcade of talented actors that makes The Crown my favourite Netflix Original TV Series. It is truly quality programming and stands out as one of the most memorable dramas of recent years.
The OA (Helen Daly)
When you sit down and try to explain The OA to someone you immediately find yourself in trouble. It’s part science fiction, part family drama, while the rest is the most bizarre television you will ever watch. In Part One, viewers meet Prairie (played by Brit Marling), a young female who has returned home after going missing seven years ago. The catch is, she was blind when she went away, and now she can see. So what happened to Prairie and where has she been?
One special thing about the series is that the less you know about the plot, the better. But while the story may seem extremely confusing at times, stick with it, because what you do eventually find is a perfectly crafted story from the mind of Brit Marling. The two seasons give viewers answers while also providing so many questions.
What’s more, the cast is impeccable. Brit heads up a team of incredibly talented newcomers which is peppered with stalwarts like the wonderful Jason Isaacs. Each member is a visionary and they are all more than happy to put their faith in Brit and co-creator, Zal Batmanglij, for what is believed to be a five-season story. Combine this with gorgeous cinematography, bold and brave storytelling and a plot you will never forget and you’re really on to a winner with The OA.
Russian Doll (Luke Knowles)
The amount of new original content on Netflix can be daunting. Whilst initially their original content was considered daring and outside of the box, it can sometimes appear like they throw a lot at their audience in the hopes that something, anything will catch on. Because of this, I have to admit I approach each Netflix original with a degree of trepidation. Russian Doll, which dropped earlier this year was a show I didn’t know much about. Created by Natasha Lyonne, someone I also knew very little about, it had an intriguing premise and a strong pedigree behind the camera in co-creators
Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler.
The story appears basic but it is incredibly complex and exciting. Lyonne plays Nadia, a woman who dies on her 35th but keeps surviving and is forced to live out the same day over and over again. Once Nadia realises what is happening, she becomes determined to get to the bottom of what’s causing this strange phenomenon and end her nightmare. Brave, unpredictable and hilarious I fell completely under its spell. By the midway point when the show changes entirely, I was utterly hooked and binged the eight episodes in a very pleasurable afternoon. The best Netflix Originals are those that feel like something completely new and Russian Doll felt like a breath of fresh air. They’ve commissioned a second season which worries me slightly, but I’ve faith in the creative team and no doubt I’ll be just as hooked on the second helping.
Somebody Feed Phil (Sarah Kennedy)
One of my Netflix treasures is Somebody Feed Phil, part of the new wave of culinary travel documentaries so popular on the platform. Shows like Street Food, Salt Fat Acid Heat, and Ugly Delicious that exist to console you when you’re sitting on your sofa eating stale Doritos with only the ‘Are you still watching?’ message for company. Phil Rosenthal is a gangly beaming television writer and producer, best known as the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond. And he absolutely loves food. He’s tall and thin (but for how much longer?), and his enthusiastic yell of “Come on!” whenever he tries something delicious is completely daft but really infectious.
As well as being stuffed full of great food (from both street food dives and high-end restaurants) the show is full of warmth and love for the people he meets on his travels, their stories and their wonderful recipes. And there’s more depth here than you’d expect. He’s a perceptive and engaging host addressing issues of prejudice and privilege head-on. He celebrates innovation and tradition, authentic recipes, those brought in by immigration, fusion food and cheap eats too. There’s love here for gourmet and every day – both equally worthy of your salivating excitement.
Criticism levelled at the show is that it’s too cutesy (his elderly parents show up by Sypke) and that he’s an annoying host. But what’s wrong with something being nice and fun? Genuine enthusiasm from an inquisitive presenter, who checks his privilege and who only wants to rejoice in a shared passion is a rare treat and I’m sorry if it doesn’t suit your jaded palate.
Stranger Things (Stephen Patterson)
I’ve seen plenty of Netflix’s original offerings, and while I’ve been hooked on quite a few, it’s Stranger Things that I constantly find myself coming back to. Truth be told, I’m a sucker for anything that’s set in the ‘80s, so the nostalgia was enough to coax me into watching in the first place, but it was ultimately the whole package that made me want to stay.
The narrative, for one, is superb, and it kept me on the edge of my seat — into the late hours of the morning if I’m being really honest — desperate to find out how it all ended. I find it’s paced incredibly well too, which perhaps comes down to the fact that it’s less of a series, and more of an eight-hour film. It’s the perfect length, and there’s no contrived subplots added for the sake of it having to reach a particular episode count. You might even say it’s a bit formulaic — but that’s not a bad thing here, as everything unfolds exactly as it should. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to the visual presentation side of things, and Stranger Things ticks all these boxes. The cinematography is truly spectacular, and it complements the ‘80s vibe of the show really well. In 4K, it looks even better. The music and score are also superb. I mean, who doesn’t love a good ‘80s soundtrack?
I guess what I love the most about Stranger Things — in addition to the story, of course — is its characters. A common complaint of mine in regards to multi-protagonist pieces is that some of the mainstays tend to be less interesting in comparison to other mainstays —which can often result in a disconnect when said character’s on-screen — but that’s not the case here. There’s no character in Stranger Things that’s problematic — at least not in the first season anyway — and each of them come with their own flaws and goals. In short, every one of them serve the story. What’s more, the actors — specifically Winona Ryder, Noah Schnapp and Millie Bobby Brown — are truly on another level.
An all-time favourite of mine for sure, and one that simply gets better each and every time I watch it. Will Netflix ever produce something I enjoy more? Well, I would say stranger things can happen… but I guess it already has!
What’s Your Favourite Netflix Original? Let us know below.