JoJo Whilden/Netflix

The 20 Best Netflix Original Shows
The 20 Best Netflix Original Shows

15

Making a Murderer

The fact that Making a Murderer was the most engrossing true crime story of 2015 no doubt helped build its enormous buzz, the need to know what happens next pulling viewers through marathon binge-watching sessions. But the show’s true greatness lies in its anatomizing of one infuriating example of the abuse of power and scapegoating of the poor that often happens in our legal system but is rarely reported in such detail. After spending months embedded in Steven Avery’s community and years researching his tortured journey through the legal and penitentiary systems, Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi tell the story of Avery’s first, 17-year imprisonment for a crime he never committed and his second trial and conviction for another that he may well have been framed for as well. With the help of footage of his second trial, interviews with family, friends, and lawyers, the filmmakers elucidate various aspects of the story, from widespread contempt of Avery as “white trash” to arcane legal arguments raised by the trial, with admirable clarity. And, as the police and prosecutors of Manitowoc County keep trying to prove Avery guilty of some heinous crime, the series finds them guilty of gross miscarriages of justice. Nakhnikian

The 20 Best Netflix Original Shows

14

Stranger Things

Much of the negative criticism that befell Stranger Things seems to stem from a resistance to meet the Netflix series on its own admittedly earnest terms. It may be easy to read the series as a superficial grab-bag of 1980s pop cultural touchstones, but to do so is to ignore the emotional purpose of its nostalgia, which the Duffer brothers position as a tool that the young protagonists and their elders use to understand and survive the world around them. As it carefully traces its entire ensemble through the quotidian and the disquieting, Stranger Things offers a compelling portrait of vulnerability and resilience that deepens its genre thrills. Frontiero

The 20 Best Netflix Original Shows

13

Easy

Joe Swanberg’s Easy is about sex even and especially when it doesn’t appear to be. Each episode offers a self-contained narrative about characters who live in the filmmaker’s home city of Chicago, wrestling with how obligation and class identity bleed into their interactions with their lovers. The series is organized around theme rather than a narrative arc, and that fact alone suggests a looseness, an openness, of which this age of television is in need. Contemporary prestige dramas—i.e., shows produced on newer cable stations or directly for streaming, targeting millennials, Gen-Xers, and media critics—have grown adept at merging the tropes of soap operas with the platitudes of history books with the higher, often impersonal production values of films released during Oscar season. What Swanberg brings to the medium is his sense of cinema as a self-critical gateway toward achieving an empathetic awareness of microscopic need. Chuck Bowen

The 20 Best Netflix Original Shows

12

Arrested Development

The long-awaited fourth season of Arrested Development offered a rarity in television: genuine beguilement. After seven years of picking over the dense interplay of jokes in the first three seasons, viewers scrambled to understand what the fuck just happened in a deliriously abstracted storyline involving the University of Phoenix, an ostrich farm, and Fakeblock. The sui generis comedic invention of the cast felt revitalized, and by focusing on a single character per episode, the creators manifest feelings of alienation, hysteria, desperation, and profound confusion. In effect, this undervalued return mirrored Hurwitz and company’s own deep-seated feelings following one of the most seemingly empty-headed cancellations in the history of the medium. Cabin

The 20 Best Netflix Original Shows

11

Ozark

Ozark delights in toying with our expectations. Its first big reveal is that the central characters, financial advisor Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman, whose natural trustworthiness nicely complicates the man’s buttoned-down efficiency) and his wife, Wendy (Laura Linney), aren’t the porn-addicted shyster and clueless, cheery wife and mother that they initially appear to be. More stereotypes are subverted when, in a desperate ploy to save himself and his family after skimming cash from a drug-lord client, Marty spirits Wendy and their two kids to the Ozarks, expecting to find a safe hiding place and plenty of easy marks for a scheme that will allow him to pay back the drug lord. Instead, through a rapid series of downward-spiraling twists, Marty gets stuck between the rock of a south-of-the-border drug cartel and the hard place of an equally vicious hillbilly one. His family, his business associates, and the other people he encounters almost never just go along with Marty’s plan, their own agendas getting in the way of his and further complicating the fast-moving plot. But not all of his surprises are bad ones. Adversity knits together his beloved family, and they find at least one friend in the Ozarks, Julia Garner’s Ruth, who’s becoming a powerful, though conflicted, ally. Nakhnikian

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