There’s more to Netflix than just rewatching all ten series of Friends (it’s OK, we’ve all been there). The streaming service’s TV series catalogue is so vast and addictive that ‘Netflix and chill’ (and we’re referring to the non-euphemistic act of binge-watching the television, thank you very much) has now become the norm.
Netflix is home to scores of old favourites you’ll never tire of re-watching (The IT Crowd), shows that have found a new lease of life on the streaming platform (Black Mirror), and R-rated shows that might have been passed over by more traditional TV networks (13 Reasons Why).
More pertinently, Netflix’s Original content consists of superb shows like The Haunting of Hill House, Stranger Things and Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, plus the mighty Marvel TV shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and The Punisher) – all available to watch in glorious Ultra HD 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision.
With so much content available, it can be tough to know where to start, which is why we stepped in and picked out the best TV shows (Full HD and 4K, old and new) we’ve seen on Netflix.
So, plump up the sofa cushions, set your phone on silent, grab some snacks, give the remote a few clicks – and chill.
Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
Not to be confused with the movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (starring Zac Efron as Bundy), Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes is a docuseries honing in on audio tapes recorded by the serial killer himself, before his execution by electric chair 30 years ago.
Oscar-nominated director Joe Berlinger’s exceptional piecing together of over 100 hours of archival video footage and audio recordings of Bundy, made during his time on death row, make for a gruelling but necessary watch.
Our (true) story begins with journalist Steve Michaud, who gains access to Bundy in order to get the condemned man’s tell-all confession, for a book. Alarmingly, despite happily discussing his childhood and education, Bundy maintains his innocence when interviewed, refusing to even admit to the crimes of which he’s convicted – much less explain why he committed them.
The breakthrough comes when Michaud hands Bundy a Dictaphone and invites him to recount the crimes in the third person. So, “I felt” can become “this person felt” – a suggestion that’s a stroke of pure genius.
The four-episode series is more chilling than words here can express, possibly because Bundy challenges our preconceived notions of what a serial killer looks and sounds like. Ted Bundy was after all a handsome, likeable, funny, nice guy from a good family who trained as a lawyer. Except he was also a serial killer. Required viewing.
Persevere with Michael C. Hall’s english accent if you know him only as Dexter Morgan from Dexter – he’s very good here as Tom, a widowed surgeon whose eldest daughter goes out to a party one night and never comes home.
Fans of Line of Duty will doubtless love this eight-episode series; a twisting, turning whodunnit set within a seemingly calm and friendly gated community in England, alongside a well-to-do school. As the residents’ various quirks and secrets are revealed, so the identity of our bad guy seems achingly less and less apparent – right up until the final episode.
Created by Harlan Coben and written by BAFTA and Emmy Award-winner Danny Brocklehurst (Accused, Ordinary Lies), it’s the kind of series you’ll watch retrospectively once you know who did it – just ’cause you won’t sleep otherwise.
Go on and give in to your penchant for Grease-style high-school shows, bitchy cheerleaders, darkly-clad misfits, a biker gang called the Southside Serpents, 1960’s style malt shops and good old-fashioned gossip. Except Riverdale, based on the characters of Archie comics, is much more than a delightfully cheesy, song-infused romp.
Narrated by (and starring) Cole Sprouse as the well-meaning but impoverished Jughead Jones, the inhabitants of Riverdale and its nearby waterway Sweetwater River are shocked by the tragic and bizarre death of Jason Blossom, the twin brother of beautiful and popular Cheryl. We know the culprit by the end of season 1, but that’s far from the end of the matter.
With a fourth series slated to arrive in October, there are three glorious series currently awaiting your urgent attention. OK, Archie (played otherwise expertly by KJ Apa) is far from a natural redhead and you’re occasionally reminded of the comic-book storylines, but that’s not to do it down – Riverdale has moments of utter brilliance. It’s also the final TV show to star the late, great Luke Perry as Archie’s dad, Fred Andrews.
If you’re someone who’s instantly put off a series you’ve been recommended because it’s already eleven seasons and 100+ hours long (yes, us too), then how about a seven-episode mini-series perfect for a weekend binge?
In a gruellingly murderous 19th-century American West, outlaw (Jack O’Connell) finds respite from his surly gang leader (Jeff Daniels) in a town mostly run by woman due to a mining disaster. It’s first frontier fodder at its finest – think Deadwood quality – with a character-driven plot that’s fast-paced and water-tight.
While each episode is almost as long as a film, it’s just as cinematic as one too – which plays into the hands of its 4K, Dolby Atmos presentation.
The Haunting of Hill House
A complex, intensely chilling psychological horror, adapted from Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel – widely considered to be one of the best ghost stories of all time.
The Netflix shows deftly skip backwards and forwards in time, telling the tale of the Crain family – two parents, five children – all of them affected by living in the haunted Hill House. The house affects them all in different ways well into adulthood, fracturing their lives and relationships with each other.
The cinematography is elegant and atmospheric, full of nail-biting suspense. But while the scares creep under your skin, it’s the siblings’ fraught relationships that really hook you in. A must-watch.
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are excellent in this original drama about a white-collar family that slowly gets sucked into a life of guns, gangsters and people being electrocuted in boats, having decided to go from straight-lace accountants to money launderers for the Mexican cartel. As you do.
A mix of dark humour and dark goings-on make for a show with a good mix of entertainment and suspense. There’s neither too many characters nor too many story lines, so it’s a matter of sitting back and enjoying the well-paced episodes and well-delivered lines. That’s not to say there isn’t some suspense and indeed some bloody violence, but it’s easier on the brain some of the notebook-at-the-ready, multi-stranded HBO dramas.
There are two seasons to enjoy in 4K on Netflix – with a third set to arrive by the end of the year – and the picture provides a good test of your TV’s black levels and contrast. And there’s 5.1-channel sound, too.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
No talking cats to be found here – this isn’t a remake of the chirpy 90s TV show starring Melissa Joan Hart. Based on the 2014 comics by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa published under the Archie Horror imprint, this take on Sabrina is much darker, gorier, and more devilish. But it’s still playful and fun.
Think Buffy, not The Punisher. Yes, the witches all worship the actual devil, but there are plenty of laughs and black humour to be found. Sabrina (played with immense charm by Mad Men‘s Kiernan Shipka) must juggle her mortal life with her witchy side, battling evil headmasters, nightmare demons, boys, squabbling aunts, and a delightfully scene-stealing Michelle Gomez.
The supporting cast is delightful, the stories are fun, and the lavish, colourful, Gothic-infused set designs and costumes are to die for.
Making a Murderer
One of the most compelling documentary series to land on Netflix, Making a Murderer revisits the story of Steven Avery, who’s exonerated of an attempted murder charge after serving 18 years of an attempted murder case, only to be convicted of another murder case two years later.
The documentary raises questions about his conviction and the handling of the case by Wisconsin police, while also examining the case of his nephew Brendan Dassey, who’s convicted of involvement in the same crime.
After making headlines around the world, and subsequent further twists in the tale, season two of Making a Murderer premiered last October. If you’re late to the party here, it really is still worth getting stuck in.
Better Call Saul
One of the many charms of Breaking Bad was the vivid nature of its characters, be they pivotal or periphery. And as such, it was crying out for a spin-off series.
Better Call Saul tells the backstory of uber-shallow attorney Saul Goodman, who’s known by his given name of Jimmy McGill throughout series one and two, only becoming known as Saul (’s all good, man) after his latest brush with disbarment towards the end of series three. And, sure enough, it’s compelling.
The storytelling is fast, tight, dramatic and humorous throughout, and the picture quality – Better Call Saul is shot, scanned, mastered and edited in 4K – is lustrous and prodigiously detailed. As a demonstration of what 4K can be, you can’t do much better.
The Good Place
What happens after you die? For Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) you wake up in the eponymous Good Place: a pseudo-Heaven that caters to your every whim. Unfortunately for Eleanor, she’s there by mistake.
The ‘false utopia’ trope isn’t new, but it’s rare to see it executed as well as The Good Place does. Eleanor’s existence causes absurdist natural disasters – giant ladybirds, flying shrimp, and snapping flowers – as Heaven tries to right itself, so she must learn to be ‘good’ from a deceased ethics professor, Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) in order to survive.
The writing is fantastic, the characters – especially D’Arcy Carden’s helpful AI Janet – are hilarious, and there are twists galore in every episode, as what starts as a simple mistake spirals to cosmic proportions.
A missing kid, a small town, a secret government lab, a girl with supernatural powers, bikes, Dungeons & Dragons and walkie-talkies.
Stranger Things ticks all the 80s Spielberg-era film tropes, but the Duffer brothers (Mike and Ross – writers, producers and directors of the show) veer away from saccharine pastiche and instead deliver a well-written, tightly woven plot that’s as exciting and involving as it is filled with pop culture, sci-fi, horror and nods to 80s music.
But what really gets you truly invested in the show are the characters. From the core cast of extremely likeable kids to Winona Ryder’s worried mother and the grumpy Sheriff Hopper, they’re established so quickly you know them, like them and are invested in their lives right from episode one.
That’s ‘GLOW’, as in an acronym for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, which was an entirely real professional wrestling series in the 1980s. Well, ‘real’ in the same way that WWE is ‘real’, which is to say highly scripted and ridiculously OTT.
This Netflix comedy-drama casts Community’s Alison Brie as a struggling actor turned unlikely wrestler who, through a series of unfortunate and painfully embarrassing events, finds herself cast as GLOW’s chief baddie. Her former best friend becomes her arch nemesis both in and out of the ring.
This is an extremely funny and silly show, with more slapstick than The Three Stooges in a rake factory, but it’s also poignant and offers an unusual, interesting take on the experiences of women in the US after the feminist movement of the ‘70s.
It also looks fabulous, particularly in 4K HDR. And on a decent system, it sounds great too, with the sights and sounds of the ‘80s wrestling scene proving a gaudy but grimy nostalgia trip.
Matt Murdock is Daredevil: lawyer by day, vigilante by night. He uses his heightened senses (he’s also blind) to solve cases and fight criminals in the crime-riddled Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City.
Marvel’s bigger films are referred to offhandedly, but Daredevil is a much more personal, human and complicated story, with Matt trying to help people and get rid of criminal underworld boss Wilson Fisk (played with electrifying presence by Vincent D’Onofrio), all the while dealing with personal demons. And ex-girlfriends. And ninjas.
Daredevil is dark – visually and tonally – and brutally violent in a way that’s both thrilling and shocking. And it looks gorgeous. In 4K HDR, the dark, gloomy palette and incredibly choreographed bloody fight scenes are nail-bitingly tense.
As Netflix extends its tentacles ever further, it’s no surprise to see its original content appearing from outside of America. So if you don’t want to binge-watch another US show, and you’ve had your fill of Nordic Noir, you could do a lot worse than Dark, a moody Netflix Originals drama from Germany. (Make sure you watch it in the original German audio with subtitles, though).
There’s more than a whiff of Stranger Things, thanks to a cast comprising an inquisitive group of teenagers, but this is a far gloomier, altogether more menacing affair. Set in a small German town that appears to be half scary rainforest and half mysterious nuclear power plant, the story centres around a series of disappearances which begin to seem all too familiar to some of the town’s older residents.
While the overarching story may be a slow-burner, Dark wastes no time dropping in timely tidbits of information, peeling back the many layers of the plot at regular intervals to keep you suitably close to the edge of your seat. Throw in dark caves and hidden tunnels, mad professors and mysterious contraptions, and there’s every reason to race through the first 10 episodes and get stuck in to season 2.
Star Trek: Discovery
This Star Trek prequel (set roughly a decade before the original series) centres around the Klingon-Federation war, follows the crew on board the USS Discovery and, oddly, is available to stream in HDR, but not 4K.
It’s such a shame, as the vibrant colours of space, the costumes and the ship’s pristine interiors deserve to be seen in higher resolution. Some of the space scenes – especially from the first two cinematic episodes – are just beautiful. At least HDR gives the gorgeous display of colours a chance to shine.
The story and characters don’t always feel like true Trek, but it’s an interesting space drama with plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes.
Rick and Morty
How do you even begin to explain a show like Rick and Morty?
In its simplest form, it’s an adult animated series following the adventures of mad scientist Rick and his teenage grandson Morty as they go on interdimensional adventures.
But it’s so, so much more than that. It’s the zaniest, most nihilistic, surreal and bizarre animated show ever. Rick (an alcoholic, egomaniacal genius) and his Machiavellian schemes always land the easily distressed Morty (and often, the world) in some form of hideous mortal danger.
The dimensions they pass through and the creatures they meet are beyond surreal – to the point where you don’t know whether to applaud the creators’ inventiveness or wonder if they need a bit of a lie-down. There are so many one-liners, sight gags and sly references it would take dozens of repeat viewings before you caught them all. It’s such an inventive, densely packed yet humorous show it becomes its own mad creation.
And amongst all this, they manage to tackle teen romance, divorce, betrayal, abandonment and existential crises as Morty’s domestic family life is torn apart because of Rick’s selfish actions. It’s great.
Sex, drugs and 50 Cent – but don’t let that put you off. The rapper may have bankrolled production, and he plays his not-insignificant part capably, but Power is much more interesting than the generic ‘guns and gangstas’ drama it may appear at first glance.
Omari Hardwick is excellent as ‘good guy’ New York drug kingpin James ‘Ghost’ St Patrick, whose attempts at going straight seem destined to be thwarted at every turn – not least by himself.
Naturi Naughton, as the power behind the throne, and Joseph Sikora, as Ghost’s brother in arms, both manage to portray the dichotomy of the double life with aplomb, as the crew juggles running an international crime syndicate with family life and, in the case of Ghost, an affair with an FBI agent. And all while the net is closing…
The story moves along at an impressive pace, helped by multiple plot twists, a steady turnover of supporting characters, and a solid hip-hop soundtrack.
Marvel’s Jessica Jones
The sister show to Daredevil, Jessica Jones is even less superhero-ish and goes even darker at times. It’s not quite as bloody, but the themes of sex, rape and PTSD are more disturbing, and the noir cinematography makes it look like it’s always raining.
Jessica Jones is a former superhero turned private investigator, whose sarcasm, drinking and misanthropic, tough-girl attitude hide a past trauma that comes back to haunt her.
Showrunner Melissa Rosenberg crafts a series that doesn’t shy away from dealing with difficult topics, balancing bar fights and mind-control powers with female relationships, friendships and violence.
As far as streaming 4K HDR content goes, Marco Polo came in pretty much at the source. The show, one of the trailblazers for the new technologies, made its Netflix debut in late 2014. It may fall short of the best as far as plot and script go (although it’s a perfectly fun ride), but visually it is stunning.
Our titular hero finds himself at the Mongol court of Kublai Khan. At first a prisoner, Marco soon proves his worth to the Khan and gains his trust – although, inevitably, he manages to wind up a number of the great ruler’s closest confidants along the way. It’s a reasonably entertaining, satisfyingly gory romp – and absolutely lovely to look at.
What’s on the checklist of an award-winning series? A brilliant, star-studded cast? Love? Political intrigue? Betrayals? A royal seal of approval? The Crown has all of these.
Based on the Laurence Olivier Award-winning play The Audience, The Crown replays the early days in the life of Queen Elizabeth II, leading up to her coronation in the 1950s and beyond. The production shows the trials and tribulations the Queen has endured through national crises and family scandals, her struggle to maintain the traditional values that had set her up to fail, and the battle to keep the monarchy relevant in a fast developing post-war Britain.
Cowboy Bebop follows the misadventures of four intergalactic bounty hunters as they bag fugitives while looking for something, anything, to eat.
That’s one of the great things about Cowboy Bebop. It’s not about saving the galaxy, it’s just four people hustling for a living.
Creator Shinichiro Watanabe brings depth to these characters, shading in their backstories and developing their relationships to the point where the last of 26 episodes comes, you’ll be sad there’s no more. It’s a series that borrows from numerous sources but, like Yoko Kanno’s truly outstanding soundtrack, it synthesises these styles into one mesmerising whole.
There hasn’t been anything like Bebop and it’s likely there never will be.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Based on the 13-book series by Lemony Snicket, this weird gothic comedy follows three orphans Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire as they flit from guardian to guardian in the hopes of escaping the nefarious Count Olaf, who is looking to steal the Baudelaire’s enormous fortune left to them by their late parents.
It’s a jolly romp from one stylised location to another, with the occasional threat of child murder to keep you interested. Come for the weird mesh of time periods that is its aesthetic, stay for the cynical narration and the mystery of the secret society behind the orphan’s strife.
Bojack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett) is an actor (and a horse) famous for a past TV role on a popular show (Horsin’ Around). He’s rich and professionally unfulfilled, with a laundry list of character defects.
Bojack is a more mature comedy than you might expect, functioning as satire on Hollywood with a sense of humour that plumbs some unfathomably sad depths.
But don’t let that put you off. It’s also a deft comedy (with some star names lending their voices), frequently hilarious and with more substance to chew on than your typical zany animated humour.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
The longest-running show you’ve never heard of (unless you have), It’s Always Sunny… has racked up 134 episodes of hilarity in its 13-year lifespan.
It’s a feat made all the more impressive by the two-dimensionality of the characters and setting: four narcissistic young adults (and Danny Devito) run a failing dive bar in Philadelphia. And that’s about it. There’s no real depth or development and they rarely stray far from the bar.
But the situations are just so stupid and the characters so amusingly unpleasant it just never gets dull. It’s even funny enough to outweigh the pain of having to watch the first couple of seasons in fuzzy 4:3. Just don’t go in expecting anything even vaguely high-brow.
A new animated series from the creator of The Simpsons and Futurama? Sign us up right now.
Disenchantment – created by Matt Groening and with Simpsons alumni Josh Weinstein and Bill Oakley on board – follows the hijinks of teenage Princess Bean, the very un-princesslike boozy, rebellious heir to the throne of Dreamland, as she goes on adventures with her elf friend Elfo and personal demon Luci while avoiding courtly life. Dubbed “The Simpsons meets Game of Thrones”, expect plenty of spoofing and riffing on medieval, fantasy and fairytale genres over two lots of 10 episodes, thanks to Groening’s trademark animation style and a great voice cast on board.
Grace & Frankie
A Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin double act. Enough said.
When their characters’ husbands (Martin Sheen, Sam Waterston) drop the bombshell that they’ve been having an affair (at what becomes a very awkward dinner table!), the unlikely friends then form a bond that’s both hilarious and charming as they figure out how to move on with their lives.
And while the comedy drama, now five-series-strong, may not sound like something you need to see in 4K, that superior resolution is certainly a bonus for those San Diego’s La Jolla beach scenes, which are bound to give you holiday cravings. (Sorry.)
Wild Wild Country
Wild Wild Country is the story of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (also known as Osho) and his arrival in Antelope, Oregon in 1981 – in one of his fleet of Rolls-Royces, accompanied by his orange-clad and relentlessly smiling followers – until some time after his death in 1990.
It’s a story of a man who was a mystic, guru and spiritual leader (according to his people), and/or a criminal, a cultist and a terrorist (according to the people of Oregon and, eventually, federal authorities). It’s a story of idealism, mistrust and paranoia, a story of criminality (from the poisoning of some salad bars to conspiracy to commit murder), of charismatic personalities and of several thousand (mostly bewildered) homeless people. It’s a story of political machination, of the largest fraud case in United States history and, perhaps most oddly of all, of Nike.
As such, its six one-hour episodes are compulsory viewing. And the incidental soundtrack (by the likes of Bill Callahan, Damien Jurado and Timber Timbre) is well worth it too.
The premise: roughly 350 years or so into the future, technology has advanced to the point where, instead of dying, you can simply digitise and upload your consciousness into a brand new body (called a ‘sleeve’) – essentially you live on as an immortal .zip file.
The plot: an elite soldier, Takeshi Kovacs, is hired by the wealthy Laurens Bancroft and given a second chance at life (and a new body) if he can figure out who murdered Bancroft himself.
The idea is great, the execution less so – it’s a twisty plot with fairly unsympathetic characters, and the gratuitous nudity is overdone to the point the series could’ve been a few episodes shorter. But the cyberpunk landscape is pretty, the Edgar Allan Poe-themed hotel AI is fun, and the ending packs a punch – even if it took a long-winded route to get there.
Two weeks of sun, sea and endless cocktails isn’t everybody’s idea of the perfect getaway. For millions of ‘dark tourists’, the ideal holiday is to visit macabre sites notorious for death and destruction – Auschwitz, the location of the Charles Manson family murders, or places nuked by nuclear devastation, for example.
Kiwi journalist David Farrier explores the ‘dark tourism’ phenomenon in eight amusing (we mean darkly comic) 40-minute episodes, witnessing some grisly sights (a voodoo festival and mummification) and meeting some, err, interesting people (Charles Manson’s pen pal, Pablo Escobar’s hitman and vampires). A weirdly addictive post-dinner (definitely post-dinner) watch.
Every episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror can be summarised as: “What if [insert technology here], but more and bad?”
That’s not a criticism. Each episode is a healthy mix of entertaining and emotionally distressing, showing us what would happen if our technologically infused lifestyle took one wrong turn. Four seasons in, this includes smartphone tracking, robot dogs, storing memories, interactive RPGs, Tinder, and advanced medical research. You even get to choose your own wrong turns in an interactive ‘chose your adventure’ style episode titled “Bandersnatch”.
The variety between episodes, even if they’re on the same general theme, means that every single one has a different tone. Some are a jolly good romp, others will make you hesitate before you next reach for your smartphone, but all have a little twist that keeps you hooked until the end.