These days, it seems like any group of people you sit down with can rave about their favorite Netflix original shows. And for a good reason: Netflix has successfully transitioned from merely being a video streaming service to an honest-to-goodness award-winning content creator. The first season of Jessica Jones was surprisingly nuanced and really, REALLY good for a superhero show. Stranger Things became a worldwide hit with virtually no marketing budget. And if you’re like my wife, something as indulgent as the Fab Five’s Queer Eye will make you cry in every single episode.
And then there are the shows that were cancelled elsewhere, that Netflix wisely chose to pick up. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a refreshing, progressive comedy that’s been breaking TV clichés. Lucifer was saved by a massive fan campaign after it was sent to cancellation hell by Fox. Even Designated Survivor, the Kiefer Sutherland political drama, may get a miraculous resurrection through the power of Netflix.
But more than a cunning creator of original and saved shows, Netflix is a treasure trove of videos that are sure to burn off countless hours of your time. If you’re looking for the best shows that weren’t originally created by Netflix, here are our suggestions:
First, let’s get the obvious ones out of the way. These are the greatest TV shows maybe ever and I’m sure you’ve watched a few or even all of them. But just in case you haven’t, here’s your chance to stop being a clueless fool.
Character-driven and with some truly noteworthy writing, Mad Men was an iconic show set in New York in the 1960s. While shows like Lost and Westworld thrived on storylines with a twist, Mad Men rarely used that device to lure in viewers—it didn’t need to. Everything in the show—a character’s tie, a blurry photo in the background—meant something, and every episode delved deeper into the characters, offering the viewers a new page to lose themselves into. Each episode was akin to a short story, with the show seeming like a series of books that tied everything together at the end. Deeply satisfying and relatable even if the show was set half a century ago, Mad Men continues to be a relevant show even now.
If great TV shows are like novels, Breaking Bad is a great American novel… on steroids. While most TV shows bank on being static (characters that you could rely on, timelines that rarely move significantly, the same basic premise) to tell their stories, Breaking Bad is about the complete and shocking change of its central character. While we could talk about the show’s distinct visual style, music, and even how something as simple as a dolly shot was superbly utilized to bring a twist to an ordinary scene, Breaking Bad’s real strength lie in how its central character was someone you could sympathize with and hate in equal measure—even if that character has changed completely at the end of the series.
While no one can deny that FRIENDS was a flawed show (plot holes that would have sunk ships, continuity errors up to the roof), it is nonetheless one of the best comedy shows of all time. More than an insanely popular TV show, FRIENDS was your balm on a tiring day, the comfort show you put on when you just want to vegetate in front of your TV. And while there are other comedy shows about various group of friends, none of them have been able to supplant Chandler, Monica, Joey, Phoebe, Ross, and Rachel from our hearts. Sitcoms come and go, but we are friends forever.
If you liked crossovers like Infinity War, then Penny Dreadful would be right up your alley. With stellar names such Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, Mina Harker, Abraham Van Helsing, Dr. Jekyll and Lord Hyde, Dracula, and a host of interesting original characters, Penny Dreadful takes its viewers to dark, albeit interesting places.
If you miss shows such as The Twilight Zone that provide interesting—if not jarring—glimpses of what could be, then Black Mirror is for you. Every episode tells a self-contained story, usually with a near-future tech theme. Be aware, however, that unlike other shows that may leave you satisfied, watching Black Mirror episodes can make you feel bewildered, aghast, or even worried. And because there’s no main cast, Black Mirror is able to snag usually engaged actors (such as John Hamm, Daniel Kaluuya, Hayley Atwell, Domhnall Gleeson, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Rory Kinnear) to find a free week and lend their expertise in telling bleak but brilliant stories. If you want sharp twists and genuine psychological dread instead of the cheap jumps brought by the run-of-the-mill slasher/horror movies, Black Mirror will serve you well.
In a genre dominated by planet-destroying Super Saiyans or super-powered robot Ninjas, Ruruoni Kenshin is a refreshing, nuanced anime that features a compelling character, interesting storyline, and absolutely magnificent cinematography. Where other anime programs would show screaming protagonists to signal tension, Ruruoni Kenshin would use far subtler visual cues—maybe the silhouette of leaves superimposed on a full moon. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a cartoon with comedic scenes, but its themes and approach will appeal even to adults.
STAR TREK: DISCOVERY
Having the Star Trek brand on your show can be daunting—there is a reason, after all, why it’s still a beloved show after all these years. Fortunately, the showrunners decided to run with it, and deliberately avoided rehashing what worked in the other Star Trek shows to make Star Trek: Discovery a show with its own merits. Exploring the Trek universe anew through the experiences of a Science Officer (instead of the Captain), Discovery is undoubtedly a strong new series that adds its own unique value to the Trekverse.
Finding a good show to watch on Netflix can be difficult—precisely because there’s a lot of good shows in there. Hopefully, this list will get you started to a better-curated Netflix session.