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The 25 Best Original Series on Netflix Right Now

These 25 Netflix original shows prove the marathon-watching juggernaut’s equal concern for both quantity and quality.

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The Midnight Club
Photo: Eike Schroter/Netflix
Editor’s Note: This entry was originally published on February 20, 2019.

Like Google, Netflix has evolved from a Silicon Valley venture to a legitimate verb in the cultural lexicon. Over a decade after expanding from DVD-by-mail to streaming service, and seven since debuting its first original series with House of Cards, Netflix still dominates the online TV landscape. While competitors like HBO Max, Hulu, and Disney+ certainly vie for our time with their own in-house programs, the sheer inundation of Netflix originals requires its very own examination. The genre-blurring Midnight Club, the addictive Squid Game, and the zeitgeist-tapping Stranger Things are merely a few of the latest storytelling pleasures available to anyone with a WiFi connection and a (potentially borrowed) Netflix login. These 25 Netflix original shows, old and new, prove the marathon-watching juggernaut’s equal concern for both quantity and quality. Nathan Frontiero



Derry Girls

25. Derry Girls

Bowing out with a finale based around the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 that largely ended the conflict in Northern Ireland, Derry Girls proved once again how powerful a tool comedy can be in capturing the nuances of real-life events. Over three seasons, the series has never shied away from the violence of the era, its anarchic humor delivered with directness and poignancy. Creator and writer Lisa McGee perfectly balances wit and raucous comedy to tackle topics such as queerness and grief with highly specific cultural references—like how Protestants keep their toasters in the cupboard—peppered with borderline crude jokes and leftfield cameos from the likes of Chelsea Clinton. John Townsend


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She’s Gotta Have It

24. She’s Gotta Have It

There’s a sense in Spike Lee’s filmography of a scolding intellectual seeking to outrun his demons with the cathartic power of style. As with many recent Lee productions, Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It is so formally exhilarating that the sensorial often overrides the textural. Updating the adventures of Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) for woke millennials, the series is awash in bursts of expressionist color, on-screen text, the breaking of the fourth wall, and riffs that allow Lee to revel in the actors’ chemistry and in the intuitive power of his own imagination, leading to tones that daringly crash into one another as satire, agitprop, and melodrama merge. Lee’s a preacher who can get down with the get down, and his simultaneous sense of control and of free-wheeling spontaneity suggests a weary common sense born of experience. It’s an experience that the filmmaker hadn’t yet attained when he made the original She’s Gotta Have It in 1986. Now, more than 30 years later, his sensibility offers hope for a country riven by ignorance and hatred. Chuck Bowen



Squid Game

23. Squid Game

Netflix’s Squid Game has a concept built for fascinating sociological conflict, capturing widespread class discontent through clean, eye-catching costumes and production design. The show’s destitute participants wager their lives, playing kids’ games in hopes of winning money to pay off their debts but mostly getting killed instead. The overseer considers the games a “fair” system, but even beyond the obvious danger, the undercurrent of humiliation is hard to shake; the players are infantilized, made to perform for their charity while trusted with nothing more complex than activities for children. As a group, they regress, breaking off into factions to rekindle the practices and biases of the schoolyard that gain a terrible new dimension: Weaknesses like age, injury, and naïvete are to be taken advantage of, while less desirable groups are to be excluded. Society’s prejudices are carried in from the outside and reconstructed in hopes that they might lead to victory. Steven Scaife


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Easy

22. 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. Bowen



Marve’s Jessica Jones

21. Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones breaks so many molds, and with such brio, that it feels almost super-heroic. If the violence on Daredevil, no matter how kinetic and operatic in its brushstrokes, is primed to excite, the violence on Jessica Jones seeks to disarm our pleasure centers. And if this violence is so discomforting, it’s because of how hauntingly, stubbornly, necessarily it’s rooted in the traumas that connect the victims of the ominous Kilgrave (David Tennant). The aesthete in me wishes the series exhibited a more uncommon visual style. At the same time, maybe the show’s portrait of abuse, of heroes and villains whose shows of strength and mind control are so recognizably human, wouldn’t exert half the chill that it does it didn’t approach us so unassumingly. Ed Gonzalez


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The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

20. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

As she exhibited on 30 Rock, Tina Fey has a formula: Tell a thousand jokes, tell them in all shapes and sizes, and tell them at a rapid-fire pace. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s bingeability owes in large part to this “make ’em laugh by any means possible” philosophy. It also allows for a certain amount of forgiveness: If a joke is stale or dated (and plenty are), one need only wait a few seconds for the next pun or gag to make our memory of a comedic faceplant fade. After three seasons, the series, co-created by Fey and Robert Carlock, remains as much of a beautiful mess as ever. Its bright, kooky universe is stuffed with enough zingers to fill an entire season of CBS programming. Julia Selinger



Orange Is the New Black

19. Orange Is the New Black

To say that the strongest season of Orange Is the New Black, its fourth, ended on an over-determined note would be an understatement. Many gears were set into motion so that the death of one of the show’s most beloved characters could reverberate with the frustrations that drive the Black Lives Matter movement, and the process was one that felt as if it had been workshopped to death. As it has been throughout its six seasons to date, the series is more confident, less manipulative, when exposing its characters’ public hang-ups and private strengths—attributes these individuals deploy toward either virtuous or nefarious ends. And in season four, it also bloomed in its depiction of Lori Petty’s Lolly, empathetically observing the dimensions of her mental illness. Indeed, Orange Is the New Black proved itself to be more sublime than ever when focused on the micro, intuitively recognizing that even the little joys that prison life can bring to an inmate are deceptive, as they too hinge on a relinquishing of power. Gonzalez


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Sense8

18. Sense8

Like much of the Wachowskis’ work, Sense8 is a series of extremes. Hold a gun to my head and I still wouldn’t be able to make sense of the ins and outs of the show’s overarching plot, about a mysterious organization hunting down eight strangers who come to realize that they’re telepathically connected to one another. But that plot, even at its most abstruse and ridiculous, is understood as nothing more than an excuse to foist the eight sensates in and out of each other’s exquisitely melodramatic lives so as to make a case in favor of empathy. The show’s power resides in its pop-operatically earnest belief that there’s only ecstasy in embracing the superficial differences of background, race, language, and more that divide us. Gonzalez



Unorthodox

17. Unorthodox

When Esther “Esty” Shapiro (Shira Haas) flees from her Haredi Jewish community in Williamsburg, New York, we immediately understand why. The strict community has so many rules about when you can go out, what you can wear, and especially your role as a woman within their society. Esty is expected to do her part to rebuild the many millions of Jews lost to genocide. But Unorthodox complicates what might have been a straightforward “escape” narrative through flashbacks where Esty seems all too happy to adhere to these rules, if the community would have her. Her difficulties with sex and her own troubled family history mark her as an outlier; social and genetic factors essentially push her out, thrusting nonconformity upon her whether she wants it or not. As Esty runs away to Berlin, Unorthodox becomes not just an insightful depiction of alienation, but a reckoning with people’s diverse relationships to history, as it can restrict us as much as it can nudge us toward adaptation and change. Scaife


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Russian Doll

16. Russian Doll

Russian Doll benefits from its non-commitment to ever explaining its temporal funny business, favoring instead the use of time travel as a conduit for character catharsis. The show’s second season is cognizant of how it deploys its time travel conceit, hedging the bet that viewers will care more about the scenarios that Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) finds herself in over how she got there. It’s a smart bet given that, for all her hardened exterior, the sharp-witted Nadia has a lot of trauma tied to her mother (Chloë Sevigny) and her fear of schizophrenia to sort through. And even as the pacing lulls in the season’s middle stretch, Russian Doll continues to strike at an emotional core through flights of delirious weirdness. Anzhe Zhang



Making a Murderer

15. Making a Murderer

The Grand Poobah of true-crime docuseries, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos’s Emmy-winning Making a Murderer follows the story of Steven Avery, who was falsely convicted of sexual assault and spent 18 years in prison before being released and subsequently charged, along with his teen nephew, with murder. The series is a captivating and infuriating examination of class and power in the United States, and paints a damning portrait of what is purported to be the greatest system of justice in the world. Though Avery remains the focus throughout, the star of season two is the calm-spoken and unflappable Kathleen Zellner, the appeals attorney who slowly and methodically attempts to dismantle the prosecution’s already flimsy case. Sal Cinquemani


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Ozark

14. 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. Elise Nakhnikian



The Midnight Club

13. The Midnight Club

Created by Mike Flanagan and Leah Fong and based on the work of Christopher Pike, The Midnight Club smartly uses the trappings of horror, and other modes of genre fiction, to explore the power of storytelling as a means of reckoning with the unfathomable. The cinematography effects an air of foreboding, with claustrophobic close-ups and slow pans that imply the presence of creatures looming just out of frame. The series channels various genre traditions in style and theme to reveal the psyches of their weavers. Storytelling, as The Midnight Club understands it, is a vehicle of agency. And agency, in turn, is the foremost tenet of life in the series, prized by its teens as well as the adults around them. Ultimately, the show’s characters aspire to achieve agency not just in life but in death. Niv M. Sultan


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Sex Education

12. Sex Education

Sex Education suggests a bigger-hearted, live-action companion piece to Big Mouth, and it packs so much story and angst into any one episode that the results are practically dizzying. But, then, Sex Education has always straddled the line between fantasy and reality, and Beautifully progressive, and in ways that never feel as if they exist for their own sake, the series remains alive to everyone’s complicated desires and how their often at odds with everything from family life to cultural background. And in thrusting its characters, young and old, into minefields of personal discord, wherein which they reinvent themselves anew, it’s as if the series is also revealing them to us for the first time. Gonzalez



House of Cards

11. House of Cards

House of Cards allowed David Fincher’s seductive aesthetic sway to carry on well beyond the inaugural diptych he helmed, despite TV’s well-noted preference for story over artistic signature, but that’s almost besides the point. The scheming exploits of Kevin Spacey’s silver-tongued congressman-devil provide a galvanic shock of political satire and thrillingly modern melodrama, but the real hook is Robin Wright’s stirring performance as the politician’s better half. In the thick of it, this addictive series convincingly depicts a shifting political landscape, wherein an ascending class of strong and brilliant women retools man’s ruthless personal and professional strategies to better advance a contentious, testosterone-weary nation. Chris Cabin


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The Queen’s Gambit

10. The Queen’s Gambit

A project based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel The Queen’s Gambit has evidently been languishing in development since the mid-2000s, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone but the 24-year-old Anya Taylor-Joy playing Beth Harmon, Tevis’s fictional chess champion. A master of casting gazes that seem to be directed more inward than out, Taylor-Joy embodies the taciturn and enigmatic orphan turned chess savant—and is no small part of the show’s success at making silent chess matches so engrossing. Another part of that success is the perfect balance that director Scott Frank finds between telling us what’s going on in a given game and letting us just feel it. The stakes of Harmon’s every match, which mostly take place between the early and late ‘60s, are clear—she’s the only woman in almost every chess competition she enters—without needing much emphasis. Instead of deadening that energy by enumerating the difficulties of being a young woman in those spaces, the series channels it into thrilling showdowns between Harmon and representatives of the establishment in both the United States and the Soviet Union: powers opposed on the global stage but united by chess and patriarchy. Pat Brown



The Crown

9. The Crown

Once again, The Queen’s Peter Morgan combines extensive research with a highly empathetic understanding of human nature to create a fascinating exploration of the capabilities and limitations of Britain’s monarchy in the 20th century, the enormous personal sacrifices that monarchy required of Elizabeth II, and the strains it exerted on her family. The Crown opens with Elizabeth’s (Claire Foy) beloved father, king George (Jared Harris), another reluctant monarch who inherited the role only after his older brother renounced it. It then follows the young queen as, forced to give up her cherished private life after her father’s demise, she grows into the role of queen—and into a form of greatness distinguished by genuine humility and common-sense values. A feminist tale of a patronized, undereducated, and perpetually underestimated young woman who learns to rely on her native intelligence and good sense to help lead a besieged country through perilous times, The Crown makes the case that the best rulers may be those who never wanted the role. Nakhnikian


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The Haunting of Hill House

8. The Haunting of Hill House

Created, written, and directed by Mike Flanagan, who’s unmatched in his ability to tune audiences into the strain and intensity of characters’ tortured psyches, The Haunting of Hill House is less than an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 gothic horror novel of the same name than an echo of it. The series, at least until its disarmingly hopeful finale, leaves you with a depressing and melancholy impression that there may actually be no escape from whatever it is that’s haunting the Crain family. And there’s a sense that all five of the Crain siblings seem to understand as much, each and every one of them throwing themselves into their work or shrinking into their addictions, sometimes both, as if hoping to discover something to the contrary. It’s as they’re all perpetually standing on a bridge between the real and the ethereal, uncertain of where to go. Gonzalez



Big Mouth

7. Big Mouth

It feels reductive to call Big Mouth a public service, because no one thinks of public services as being thoughtful, funny, or full of illustrated penises. But the Netflix cartoon’s brazen approach to sexuality is as hilarious as it is heartfelt, a plea to normalize the behavior and bodily functions that society has taught us to hide in shame. To do it for the kids, because the kids of Big Mouth sure could use a more understanding world to grow up in. Puberty for them may have a distinct surplus of hairy monsters and horny ghosts, but their confusion and anxiety rings as unfortunately true as any teen drama ever has. If the first season introduced all the apparitions that symbolized the kids’ new urges and thought processes, the second tasks them with something even more difficult: adjusting to the fact that those things are all here to stay. Even the new addition of the seemingly malevolent dildo connoisseur the Shame Wizard isn’t here to be defeated so much as eventually accommodated. While lives and relationships change, season two of Big Mouth demonstrates how we all learn to survive with those wizards, ghosts, and monsters whispering in our ears. Scaife


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GLOW

6. GLOW

In Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s exhilaratingly bawdy and empathetic GLOW, frustrated actresses are liberated by reveling in male fantasies of whores and housewives, as the series concerns the unresolvable irony of finding freedom by assuming control of one’s own means of social reduction. Set in the 1980s, GLOW follows the formation of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, which embraces wrestling’s propensity for racial and sexual stereotypes. Ruth “Zoya the Destroya” Wilder (Alison Brie) anchors the series, with her moving desperation to confirm her talent as an actor, but the breakout characters are Debbie “Liberty Belle” Eagan (Betty Gilpin), a former soap opera star who realizes that wrestling is just a soap for men, and Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), a has-been B-movie director who coaches the ladies through their transformations, merging his fantasies with their own. GLOW’s poignancy stems from how Sylvia casually comes to see that he, an alcoholic womanizer on the fringes of the entertainment industry, shares something vital with his objectified performers: a yearning for scrappy grace, and a hustler’s understanding of sensationalism as the manna of American life. Bowen



Dear White People

5. Dear White People

The knowingly didactic title of Dear White People is a little misleading. While the show does occasionally address its incisive racial critiques directly to the viewer, the intoxicating quality of Justin Simien’s series comes from a sense of overarching relatability. As with the film that inspired it, Dear White People follows a sprawling cast of college students, united by skin color but individually shaped by distinct experiences. While the series is about the myriad ways they respond to their overwhelmingly white surroundings, its characterizations are complicated by matters that sometimes don’t have to do with race. Rapid-fire humor and energetic direction draw us close to the characters, who begin the series raging against oppression in distinctly academic, hypothetical fashion. By the time student agitations and complaints are proven justified, by the overeager armed campus police who storm into a party late in the first season, the show’s easy rhythm has lulled us enough so that we’re sufficiently shattered by the fallout of the moment. Dear White People shows us passionate individuals crafting their own identities, without ever letting us forget that to do so they are wresting that power from the people who’ve historically done it for them. Michael Haigis

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Stranger Things

4. Stranger Things

Stranger Things is the sort of pop-cultural juggernaut that can even shake up the music world, sending a 37-year-old song soaring up the charts. But the show’s craft, including its plotting and pacing, is also reaching new heights in its fourth season, the second volume of which drops this week. The first volume’s final episode is a visually spectacular marvel, unspooling a jaw-dropping series of twists about the origins of Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower), a demonic assassin that’s been killing teenagers all season long, that knits the show’s increasingly disparate storylines together. Even as the Duffer Brothers spread their characters out geographically, sending Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murray (Brett Gelman) on a buddy-comedy adventure to Russia to rescue Hopper (David Harbour) while Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) languishes in an isolation tank restoring her traumatic memories in Nevada, they also keep finding new riches to excavate in Hawkins, Indiana. The alternate universe within the Upside Down has never been scarier, and the young actors exploring it turn in their warmest, funniest, and most mature performances to date. Dan Rubins



Mindhunter

3. Mindhunter

Netflix’s Mindhunter offers a fictionalized portrait of the birth of criminal psychology and profiling. The year is 1977, the term “serial killer” hasn’t been coined yet, and the word “stressor” must be explained to a district attorney. The cast informs executive producer David Fincher and creator Joe Penhall’s sociological schematic with a human element that’s unusual for a crime procedural. Old-school F.B.I. agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) grows to be the show’s conscience, which allows Mindhunter to critique the racism and classism of the F.B.I. without glibly ridiculing the organization, as McCallany elegantly dramatizes the pain of sensing that one’s understanding of a way of life is on its way out. Meanwhile, Tench’s new partner, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), revolutionizes our understanding of mass murderers at the potential expense of his own capacity for intimacy. The series merges Fincher’s visuals with theatrically literate dialogue, illustrating language’s terrifying control over our fragile grasp of reality. Bowen

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Master of None

2. Master of None

At the start of the third season of Master of None, Denise (Lena Waithe) and Alicia (Naomi Ackie) are very much in love, though it’s easy to anticipate the cracks that will form in their relationship, and bring it to ruin, given how Denise struggles under the expectations set by her first book, a New York Times bestseller, and her less-than-enthusiastic rubber-stamping of Alicia wanting a child. The show’s metatextual curlicues are still there, beginning with the almost Bergmanesque unsparingness of the season’s 4:3 boxy Academy aspect ratio, which isn’t only a wink to their being fewer characters at the center of any given episode, but a reflection of how our choices narrow with age. In between dropping really funny bits of business into some not-so-funny scenarios—like when Alicia’s doctor (Pandora Colin) casually mentions that most insurance companies don’t have a code for “gay and desires pregnancy” but have one for being attacked by an orca—Waithe and co-writer and director Aziz Ansari ruefully ponder everything from complacency to the inevitable fate of all things. Which is to say that the third season of Master of None is consistent with its predecessors for so easily entwining us in what feels like a free-floating polyphony of life. Gonzalez



BoJack Horseman

1. BoJack Horseman

Removing envy and titillation from the equation of a Hollywood story, BoJack Horseman homes in on the dwindling of long-term concentration and corresponding expansion of faux self-awareness that’s come to define social media-enabled life in the 21st century. The series isn’t exactly a parody of celebrity culture, but rather of the distractions that feed on our narcissism, encouraging everyone to fancy themselves celebrities at the escalating expense of morality and even common courtesy. It exudes a tough-love sense of humanity that recalls the later comedy of George Carlin. Like Carlin, the series doesn’t take accepted wisdom for granted. All platitudes are fair game for lambasting, including the liberal clichés that are used as a mode of practicing an insidiously fashionable elitism that begets yet another form of social distance. BoJack Horseman is simultaneously melancholic, angry, goofy, playful, and often uproariously funny in a distinctively ineffable what-the-fuck fashion. Bowen

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