10. The Haunting of Hill House
Mike Flanagan is the master of horror with a heart, so when genre fans heard he’d be given a shot at long-form storytelling with The Haunting of Hill House, we were stoked. Yet nothing could have prepared us for what we got, a frightening, dazzling, propulsive story about family and trauma that made our hearts grow two sizes. The Haunting of Hill House is very loosely based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, but in actuality, it concerns the Crane family, five kids and two parents who move into an old mansion in the summer of 1992. Parallel plot-lines follow the Cranes both then and 26 years later as they unwillingly reunite in the face of tragedy. The series, which will continue as an anthology with an unrelated second season, features a first-rate cast including standouts Carla Gugino, Victoria Pedretti, and Kate Siegel. Hill House is like a great Stephen King work, paralyzingly scary at times, but always focused on telling the best possible story about love in the face of fear.
The most triumphant show on Netflix, comedic drama GLOW follows a fictionalized version of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a women’s TV wrestling group in the ‘80s, as they hone their craft and find their power. The road to empowerment isn’t straightforward, though, especially not for perfectionist Ruth (Alison Brie) and new mom Debbie (Betty Gilpin), the two former friends whose rivalry inspires the plot of the series within a series. A shady women’s wrestling gig draws all sorts, and series director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) soon puts together a team of misfits and outcasts. But the miracle of Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s GLOW is that it lets its ladies grow organically beyond their one-note roles in the ring, distinguishing themselves and creating bonds of friendship that look and feel real. An excellent ensemble piece that matures with its characters, GLOW has built a home in fans’ hearts over three memorable seasons.
8. Lady Dynamite
Who knew the best new Netflix content for Arrested Development fans would be a whole different show? Series creator Mitchell Hurwitz brings his irreverent flair to Lady Dynamite, a surreal comedy he co-created with writer Pam Brady. The “lady” in question, though, is Maria Bamford, who plays herself in a semi-autobiographical deep-dive into her recovery from a mental breakdown. Despite the description, the series is hysterical, a playful and weird exploration of Los Angeles, mental illness, and storytelling itself. The series’ meta-humor and wackiness are tempered by its creativity and honesty, while jokes fly a mile a minute and a revolving door of guest stars (several of whom play themselves). Energetic and loveable, Lady Dynamite is worth diving into.
7. One Day At A Time
The only show on the list that’s no longer a Netflix Original, this Norman Lear-produced multi-cam sitcom (a reboot of his show of the same name from the ’70s and ’80s)was dropped by the streaming giant before being rescued by PopTV network for a fourth season that’s currently airing. The show deserves to live on; it’s a perfect mix between throwback comedy and progressive sensibilities. The Alvarez family, led by tenacious single mom and war veteran Penelope (Justina Machado, fantastic), is a Cuban-American household that’s always in open and hilarious communication, be it about daughter Elena’s (Isabella Gomez) sexuality or grandmother Lydia’s (Rita Moreno) citizenship status. We’re a studio-audience-averse culture now, but if there’s anything worth cheering together for on TV, it’s this silly, loving, complex family.
6. A Series of Unfortunate Events
If you’re surprised to see an adaptation of a children’s book series this high on the list, you should feel lucky: you’ve got so much joy and intrigue ahead of you. A hybrid of black comedy, set-hopping adventure, and intricate mystery, this new interpretation of Daniel Handler’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is a thrilling, wondrous, and ultimately moving experience. The series follows three clever and adaptable orphans, the Baudelaires, whose frequent misfortune is compounded by the unending schemes of Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris). The saga utilizes an exaggerated, striking production design that calls to mind Pushing Daisies and the works of Tim Burton and an equally stylized approach to storytelling; series narrator Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) is a mysterious figure who leads us toward clues about the death of the Baudelaire parents. Due to the timing of their release, several shows on this list lampoon clueless autocratic leaders, but none does so as cleverly, nor with as clear a road map to resistance, as this delightful series.
5. When They See Us
Ava DuVernay’s entire filmography so far, from Selma to 13th to Queen Sugar, has worked in the interest of exposing the unjust systems that are ingrained deep within the fabric of American society. In this sense, When They See Us is her magnum opus, a clear-eyed culmination of ideas about human nature and the ways in which it’s restrained. The miniseries tells the true story of five boys who were wrongfully convicted of a Central Park jogger’s 1989 rape, and of the men they become while incarcerated. If you think you know this story, you don’t; DuVernay’s assured and poignant retelling is based on extensive first-hand accounts from the men themselves and goes far beyond the surface of the front-page story. Keep an eye out for Jharrel Jerome, whose Emmy-winning turn as Korey Wise in the final episode was the best TV performance of 2019.
4. Master of None
Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s heartfelt comedy series may have been the first true TV masterpiece on Netflix. The show ran for two seasons and has never officially been canceled, but even if it never makes more episodes, the twenty we have are a gift. Ansari stars along with Kelvin Yu, Eric Wareheim, and Lena Waithe, with Noel Wells as a regular in season one. Wonderfully silly, achingly romantic, and surprisingly frank, the series covers everything from the New York dating scene to the first-generation immigrant experience to the casual typecasting people of color face in the entertainment industry. The series is always clever and warm, and episodes like “Parents” and “Thanksgiving” are fantastic one-offs that tell stories that ring clear and true.
3. The Crown
When I recommend The Crown, people tend to tell me that they’re not into the monarchy — an old-fashioned institution prone to human error and hypocrisy that’s caused as much harm as good. The thing is, that’s the point of The Crown. The series, written and created by Peter Morgan, digs into the deepest recesses of British royal history to deliver a story of a modern monarchy that’s steeped in self-awareness and regret. It does so by looking through the eyes of Queen Elizabeth, first as a young woman (Claire Foy) and later in middle age (Olivia Colman). She, her husband Philip (Matt Smith, later Tobias Menzies), and her sister Margaret (Vanessa Kirby, then Helena Bonham Carter) all have conflicting ideas about what it means to wear the crown, but Elizabeth’s head is the heavy one as she finds herself surrounded on all sides by staunch traditionalists and towering patriarchy. One of the most subtly profound series currently on the airwaves, The Crown is a companion of sorts to Mad Men — a well-executed, deliberately paced exploration of power and gender during a time of great change.
Procedural fans, forget Criminal Minds. If you want a direct line to all the crime that’s fit to print — and plenty that isn’t — you need Mindhunter in your life. The series was created by Joe Penhall, but it’s got frequent episode director David Fincher’s pristine fingerprints all over it, from its perfectly structured cinematography to its hypnotic, dark tone. FBI agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) is a fictionalization of John Douglas, who wrote the book the series is based on. In the ‘70s and ‘80s-set series, Ford and his partners, no-nonsense agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), pioneer the practice of criminal profiling by interviewing notorious serial killers about their lives and crimes. The engrossing, perfectly built series is psychologically chilling, a horror-show that never shows a murder but paints a terrifying picture thanks to the presence of real-life killers like Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton, robbed of an Emmy) and Charles Manson (Damon Herriman).
1. Bojack Horseman
No TV series has ever been like Bojack Horseman, and it’s difficult to imagine that any other show ever will be. Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s animated series is existential but not sanctimonious, endlessly clever but never pretentious, and wonderfully creative without ever looking like it’s trying. The series takes place in an animal-centric version of America and follows the titular washed-up celebrity (voiced by Will Arnett) through the late stages of his career. It’s a biting satire of Hollywood, but it also takes a brutally honest look at what it means to be human (even if you’re a horse). Depression, addiction, and a number of other issues are explored with a level of realism that’s at once heartbreaking and heartening. By taking a panoramic approach to its characters’ lives, playing with perspective and context and time to show how moments both small and significant shape them, the series is ultimately akin to really fantastic free therapy with a ton of world-class jokes thrown in.
Related Topics: Netflix