We love Netflix at our place. In fact, we haven’t been able to get standard TV reception since a 2018 hailstorm took down our antennae, so it’s pretty much Netflix or bust. Actually, we can stream tele via Fetch, so I still get my SBS Food binge in whenever I can (current obsession: Gourmet Farmer), but Netflix is my go-to. Here are the shows I’ve been totally obsessed with over the past couple of years. And a list recommended by friends of what I’ll be watching soonest.
My favourite Netflix shows to binge
If you haven’t yet discovered the genius that is After Life on Netflix, cancel your Sunday plans and hit play. Ricky Gervais captures the beauty of pathos like no other and his story about a widowed Tony trying to find his way back to life after losing his wife is pure heart. Tony contemplates suicide, but instead decides to live long enough to punish the world for his wife’s death by saying and doing whatever he wants. The result is somehow acerbic and gentle and extraordinary. I didn’t think I could love anything as much as I loved season one, but season two somehow topped it. Bravo!
This is just a ripplingly good yarn, superbly acted by my girl Laura Linney (who I’ve adored since Tales of the City back in the day) and Jason Bateman (who is always so good). Marty Byrde is an unassuming financial planner who happens to be laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel. He flees to the Ozarks with his family – wife Wendy and teen kids Charlotte and Jonah – but instead of ditching the cartel, he only manages to get sucked in more and more deeply. Watching Marty and Wendy use their brains to wiggle out of tricky situations is half the fun. The characters they meet are equally fabulous (redneck dand proud Ruth and psycho granny Darlene are two faves).
I literally cried when I heard that season 7 was going to be the final season. I loved this show from the very first episode of season one – it’s one of my all-time favourite Netflix shows to binge. Sure, I couldn’t stand Piper either (the lead character in the first two series, she quietly falls into a more ensemble role by the third), but the rest of the characters more than made up for it. Across the seven series, the show dips and flat-out plummets occasionally, but overall it’s a tremendous insight into the importance of empathy, forgiveness and meeting people where they are in life without judgment.
Original, unpredictable, memorable – it’s basically f***ing brilliant. Quiet, outcast James, who is secretly a wannabe serial killer, and mouthy Alyssa, who is every angsty, angry teen, head off on a road trip to find Alyssa’s dad who abandoned her as a child. They get caught up in a series of ultra-violent events that bring them both crashing down to earth in a big way. Season 1 was brilliant, season 2 delivered in spades as well. Highly recommended.
This show is an incredible insight into what it means to try to live your life differently to how others’ perceive you should live it. It’s the story of Esther (the remarkable Shira Haas), an Hasidic Jewish woman who flees from her arranged marriage and her culture in New York’s Williamsburg to start a new life in Germany. Esther’s courage, pride and determination is as breathtaking as her story is fascinating. The series is based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 autobiography Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots.
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This show looks so good you could eat it for dessert, but it’s not only pretty. It brings on the Fifties Hollywood glamour to tell a darker tale of orgies, sexism and racism. The story centres around Jack Castello (dishy David Corenswet from The Politician – see above), a married aspiring actor who finds himself working as a gigolo at a garage station run by the fantabulous Ernie (’80s fave Dylan McDermott). He, ahem, services Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone), who turns out to be the wife of a big studio owner. Soon Jack is starring in a fresh, ground-breaking movie written by charming gay black screenwriter Archie Coleman. My favourite story Archie’s (especially when he falls in love with a fictionalised Rock Hudson), but there are plenty to love in this character-driven piece. It’s hard to do it justice here, so please just watch and enjoy the ride.
Another Ryan Murphy original (creator of Glee and also Hollywood – above) that’s entirely watchable, if not a bit hit and miss overall. It starts so strong, but seems to lose it mid-way and then by the end you’re really not sure what’s going on or perhaps even care. That said, it has made my list because it’s just so darn clever. The acting, especially by Ben Platt, Theo Germaine and, dare I say it, Gwyneth. Wealthy high school student Payton Hobart ducks and weaves his way through cut-throat Saint Sebastian High School politics in an effort to kick start his dream to become POTUS. The politics are ruthless, as is Murphy’s sharp ear for dialogue and character.
There is so much going on in this sharp sitcom-satire-mockumentary-show-within-a-show gem. Real-life screenwriter Kenya Barris plays an fictionalised version of himself as the creator of new Netflix-backed show Black-ish. Barris has six children and wife, Joya (my very favourite Rashida Jones), who he seemingly adores and endures in equal measure. He lives a rich, privileged life – witness that #blackAF is purportedly a documentary by the Barris’ cool and calm 17-year-old daughter, Drea (Iman Benson) as her university audition piece, but Barris funded a professional camera crew to add polish to the teenager’s work. The show sends up regular POC sitcoms (eg. Cosby, Fresh Prince, Family Reunion) while at the same time sending some spot-on political messages (episode one: the “white gaze”). I lapped up the entire thing in two nights.
“I always get your worst and I’m tired of it,” says Jean, the single mother of teenage Otis. And right there is why I adore this show. The relationships between parents and teens, teens and their friends and teens and the world are utterly spot on. Jean is a sex therapist and socially awkward, nerdy Otis decides to earn a bit of cash at school by offering sex advice to fellow classmates. The results are predictably hilarious, but also sensitive and richly explored. Otis is accompanied by cool friends Maeve, who’s living solo in a caravan and trying her best to get a good education, and Eric, his flamboyant bestie who doesn’t bother even trying to fit in. You’ll be hooked by ep one.
I started watching Orphan Black late one Saturday night and did nothing else for the entire week until it was done. After Sarah witnesses the suicide of a girl on her train platform, she’s stunned to discover that she looks exactly like her. Down and out Sarah decides to assume the dead doppelganger’s identity, which smashes her into a strange conspiracy that will keep you on the edge of your Jason recliner. I can’t tell you any more than that without giving the game away, but watch the first couple of episodes and see if you become just as hooked as I was.
I did lose interest in this one after a few seasons, but really loved the three I watched. It’s got a stellar cast, intelligent scripting and bucket loads of charm. It’s also got a dark heart in a very fluffy exterior. While enjoying the sweet shenanigans as Eleanor tries to figure out how to stay in deaths’ the good place’ after she is mistakenly assigned there, you’ll also explore deeper themes like what it means to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and the importance of connecting with others in a way that makes you both feel good.
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This show about a trio of mums who rob a convenience store is a ripper. It could be that we all fall half in love with Christina Hendricks all over again (Mad Men, anyone?) – she plays Beth, a conscientious suburban mum, who is dragged into a life of crime by her single mum sister Annie. You’ll totally want to be BFFs with unconventional, unstable Annie and bring their kind-hearted friend Ruby (played by the show’s heart and soul Retta) into your gang. Suspend all sense of reality and just go with the laughs and the twists – it’s worth it.
A great one to watch with this kids, I Am Not Okay With This follows anxious 17-year-old Sydney Novak (Sophia Lillis, the uber-talented kid out of Sharp Objects) as she navigates high school awkwardness and drama. So far, same old, but here’s the thing: Syd has telekinetic powers, a talent she tries desperately to keep from her fellow schoolmates. “It almost always comes out when I’m angry. Or embarrassed. Or scared,” she explains, basically nailing the unpredictability that is regular adolescent emotions, but with moving things. This unique and highly-watchable show is based on a graphic novel by Charles Forsman, the same genius who penned the graphic novel that The End of the F***ing World is based on.
You know you want to… resistance if futile.
Very hard to watch at times, but mandatory viewing regardless. This series comes with a trigger warning about rape, violence and being doubted when you know your truth. Toni Collette, Merritt Wever, and Kaitlyn Dever are superb as they tell the story of a series of rapes that happened in the mid-noughts in Colorado and Washington. Collette plays the hard-nosed veteran detective, Wever the eager newbie, and Dever Marie, the victim of the first assault. It’s a gritty recount that never veers into melodrama or trickery. It’s a plainly told story that is easy to look away from, but impossible to erase.
Staying with the crime capers here, Prison Break is excellent viewing for the first few seasons. After that, it’s a no from me. The formula works until it doesn’t. I’ve still included it in my list of favourite Netflix shows to binge on, though, because the first couple of seasons were just so darn watchable. Smarty pants Michael Scofield gets jailed for robbing a bank – which he may or may not have purposely done in order to try to get into the prison and spring his brother from death row. If that sounds unbelievable, it is… but watch a few episodes before you judge. The show is so well put together that it’s easy to suspend belief and just go with the flow for the pure entertainment factor.
The seasons are stand-alone and I totally recommend the first season and was less excited about the second. The series is crafted around Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman, very good), but he’s the only continuity between seasons. Season 1 sees him investigating the curious case of suburban mother Cora (Jessica Biel, also good), who randomly stabbed a stranger to death on an idyllic beach one Sunday. She appears to have had no motive and no memory of having committed this gruesome crime. As Harry pieces together her story, it becomes the TV equivalent of a riveting page turner.
There is some fabulous dialogue in this show, and Christina Applegate is on fire, but I only liked the first season. The second already felt tired. I watched three shows, yawned and never returned. It really felt like they were flogging a dead dude. I’m only including it on my favourite Netflix shows to binge on because gorge you will… on the first season. Let me know what you think of the second!!
On my list: new Netflix shows to binge
These shows were all recommended by friends to get stuck into. I haven’t managed to watch a single moment… yet. Stay tuned!
Stranger Things – this has been on my list for years, why don’t I just watch the darn thing?
Shows I started, didn’t mind, but wasn’t grabbed by
Peaky Blinders – still watching this one every now and then
Grace and Frankie – liked it until it got a bit… boring
The Crown – haven’t manged to get past EII’s young mothering, but will persist
Glow – fun but meaningless
Arrested Development – plan to give this one another go
You – hated all the characters, didn’t care what happened to them
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – too much corn for me
What are your favourite Netflix shows to binge watch?
Feature image by Mollie Sivaram