Netflix’s top 50 series

Whether it's a Netflix original like Orange Is The New Black, a British comedy like Peep Show or just completely addictive like Breaking Bad; we've listed and categorised the very best Netflix boxsets for you to enjoy.

 

In the olden days, you had to leave your seat every three hours to change the DVD. Now, only the demands of bladder and nutrition need force you upright. Some of these series are classics. Some are obscure. All are worth investigation.    

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NETFLIX ORIGINALS

Lillyhammer
What were they going to do with Steve Van Zandt when The Sopranos ended? Transport him to Norway as it happens. The E-Street Band hardnut plays a crime boss sent to the titular town after enlisting in a witness protection scheme. The cognitive dissonance and fish-out-of-water comedy have stretched comfortably to three series. DC

Orange is the New Black
New York Yuppie bisexual (Taylor Schilling) goes down for an unlikely 15-month stretch in this coming-of-age dramedy inspired by Piper Kerman’s autobiographical (mis)adventures. Nobody ever went broke using a women’s prison as a backdrop. If you’ve (somehow) missed out on all those OITNB premiere parties, now is the time to get queuing. TB

Arrested Development
Netflix revived Mitch Horowitz’s feverishly admired sitcom some seven years after it was cancelled by Fox. Series Four reunited Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Ron Howard et al but wasn’t quite as popular with fans as previous seasons. Still, at least it stopped the infernal chorus: Is Arrested Development coming back? Is Arrested Development coming back? TB

Bojack Horseman
Will Arnett is a washed-up star. And he’s a horse. Imagine Sunset Boulevard. But as a surreal, sour, animated comedy. With a dog named Mr Peanutbutter as the primary antagonist and a pink Persian cat as the love interest. Sit tight, get past the weirdness and you’ll discover it’s a kind of genius. TB

The Killing
Once again disinterring a cult show after cancellation, Netflix took over the excellent US take on the Danish thriller when AMC declined to move past three seasons. The original Scandinavian series is (jumpers and all) also on the system. Completists will savour both. DC

 

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THE UNCANNY 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Everybody thought Joss Whedon was nuts when he created a television show based on a 1992 box office flop about a Valley Girl cheerleader turned scourge of the undead. And now he’s the overlord of movie universe. And Buffy is regarded as a feminist classic. So there. TB

American Horror
Story Watch out! It’s Jessica Lange chewing up the scenery! Three years before True Detective, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk crafted a genre anthology series that is as consistently freaky as it is entertaining. Watch out for such thespian heavyweights as James Cromwell, Kathy Bates and Angela Basset over the first three seasons. TB

Southcliffe
Sean Durkin, best known for Martha Marcy May Marlene, directs Sean Harris in this story centred on an apparently random series of shootings around the North Kent Marshes. The great Tony Grisoni’s script is superb, but the real star is the damp, oppressive scenery. Worth sinking into. DC

Black Mirror
So, Charlie Brooker, you’re very good at making fun of television drama. Why don’t you try making one yourself? Oh you did. And it’s a superbly effective series of satirical horror stories inspired by the Twilight Zone. Good for you. DC

Top of the Lake
Jane Campion’s first work for television since An Angel at My Table stars Elizabeth Moss as a detective investigating a disappearance in and around an oppressively metaphorical lake. Holly Hunter excels as an androgynous guru. Serious and scary. DC

 

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ANIMATION

Steins;Gate
Ignore the odd punctuation. Chiyomaru Shikura’s hit young adult manga went all out on hard, hypothetical sci-fi and, in doing so, spawned a franchise that now includes a platform game, an internet radio show and hit songs. Check out the excellent non-linear anime series and you won’t be disappointed. TB

Kill la Kill
Rebellious schoolgirl school-girl Ryuko Matoi takes on student council and her mother’s fashion house as she hunts down her father’s killer. Did we mention her magical sailor suit? Mad as a bag of hammers and highly recommended. TB

The Powerpuff Girls
Blossom, Buttercup and Bubbles – the only superheroes inspired by the artwork of Margaret Keane and David Hockney – save Townsville, USA from the nefarious Mojo Jojo over and over. Happily, it never gets old. TB

Samurai Jack
Genndy Tartakovsky
is one of the masters of modern animation and his broad lines and stylised outlines are shown to advantage in this perennially arresting samurai series. Low on dialogue, the series dances through a spectrum of tones with weird facility. DC

SpongeBob SquarePants
Let us make something clear: SpongeBob SquarePants is one of the greatest ever kids’ shows and is among the funniest animations in any genre. We should feel privileged to live at the same time as the bipolar Sponge and his equally submerged friends in Bikini Bottom. DC

 

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BRITISH AND IRISH COMEDY

Peep Show
The flat-share comedy has managed to stay fresh for eight series and push its differently useless heroes towards the brink of middle-age. Oddly, the series’ supposed innovation – the use of point-of-view shots – now seems largely irrelevant. DC

Fawlty Towers
Some time before Netflix Originals had the same idea, the episodes were of uneven lengths. And there are only 12 of them. And you’ve likely seen them all 100 times or more. Still, it’s simply not possible to tire of John Cleese saying ‘Don’t mention the war’. TB

The IT Crowd
Working with Arthur Mathews, Graham Linehan excelled with Father Ted (also on Netflix) and then knocked it out of the park again with this computer geek gem. The Work Outing episode is one of the most brilliantly written 23 minutes in the genre’s history. Honestly! DC

The Office
Nobody paid the slightest attention when, in 2001, a little-fancied comedian launched a fly-on-the-wall comedy in an obscure slot on BBC2. Yet David Brent now occupies a space beside Captain Mainwaring and Rigsby in British comedy’s gallery of frustrated underachievers. DC

The Thick of It
Long before Peter Capaldi took off in the Tardis, he garnered a cult following as Malcolm Tucker, an uber-sweary, terrifying government spin doctor. Armando Iannucci’s superb satire has lost none of its bite, despite subsequent regime changes in Westminster. TB

 

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JUST ONE MORE BEFORE BED 

Homeland
Can we get through this capsule without mentioning the Clare Danes Cry Face meme? It seems not. Based on an Israeli series, the plotline follows Dane as a CIA operative suspicious of Damien Lewis’s returning prisoner of war. Season one is flawless. Then it wavers a tad. DC

24
Oh, 24, you borderline-fascist, pseudo-real time tale of tough spies and their ruthless enemies. You really are very silly and Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is a terrible fellow. But you are just about the most compulsively unputdownable series of the century. Blast you to hell! DC

Breaking Bad
Is there anyone left in the known universe who hasn’t watched terminally ill Walter White (Bryan Cranston) transform into his meth dealing alter-ego Heisenberg? Anyone? Your secret is safe with us. But go catch up over Christmas. TB

Dexter
In an era when blood splatters dominate television, there is no show more bloody or splattery than Dexter, in which the wonderful Michael C Hall is, yes, a blood spatter pattern analyst for Miami Metro Police Department. For added splatter, he also leads a secret double life as a serial killer. TB

Prison Break
One brother is on Death Row for a crime he didn’t commit, while his sibling, an engineering wizard, hatches a plan to bust him out of jail. Conspiracies are unravelled, escapes are made and melodramatic medical conditions are diagnosed over four hit seasons. TB

 

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SCIENCE FICTION

Firefly
Enthusiasts still can’t explain why Joss Whedon’s inergalactic western never found the audience it deserved. Limited to just one series, Firefly follows the crew of Serenity as they travel amusingly throughout the Cosmos. As good as Whedon’s Buffy. DC

Battlestar Galactica
It sounded like a woeful idea at the time, but the 2004 series surpassed the 1970s incarnation in every regard. It’s about Iraq. It’s about 9/11. But it never forgets to be a proper space opera. DC

Doctor Who
It remains a small miracle that the BBC managed to achieve the reinvention of its creakiest warhorse for a new audience. Netflix has the first seven series of the rebooted show and the semi-canonical TV movie starring Paul McGann. No Capaldi yet. DC

Fringe
With a dash of The X-Files and a pinch of The Twilight Zone, movie mogul JJ Abrams helped create this much-loved, mind bending sci-fi which earned a massive cult following despite a graveyard slot on television. But where, oh where, is season five? TB

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Altogether now: Make it so. Earl Grey, hot. We are the Borg. Resistance is futile. Do you want to tell me what’s bothering you or would you like to break some more furniture? Engage. Watch it now or they’ll never give us Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. TB

 

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CULT ENTERTAINMENT

Utopia
There was furious gnashing of teeth when Channel 4 announced that its conspiracy epic – in which a comic book hides terrible secrets – would not move beyond a second series. Fans know it to be one the British television’s recent masterpieces. Magnificently odd. Invigoratingly violent. DC

Orphan Black
The Canadian series for BBC America has yet to make much of a dent on mainstream culture. But the cloning drama is among the most imaginative science-fiction series of the age. Tatiana Maslany is brilliant in multiple roles. In a year or so you won’t be able to escape it. DC

Portlandia
The denizens of Portland, Oregon – and by extension, hipsters everywhere – are lampooned for needing ‘personal data’ on the chicken they’re about to eat or for wanting a cool wedding “that doesn’t come across as cool” in Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein sparkling sketch show. TB

Ru Paul Drag Race
RuPaul’s ongoing search for “America’s next drag superstar” sees the planet’s most famous cross-dresser miraculously occupying the same roles as Simon Cowell and all of his various co-judges. Television has seldom been so glamorous, so funny or so bitchy. Prepare to be addicted from early on. TB

The Bridge
Well, we had to have some Scandinavian noir. Mashing together politics, corruption and private trauma, Hans Rosenfeldt’s 2011 drama – kicking off with a body being discovered on the Øresund Bridge is a classic of the genre. TB

 

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FESTIVAL OF ATTENBOROUGH

The Life of Mammals
Because Netflix is short on television documentaries that don’t involve Nazis, we’ve decided to urge gorging on one of the world’s international treasures. Mammals? That’s us Sir David is talking about. First broadcast in 2002. DC

Frozen Planet
Attenborough follows a chronological rather than a zoological structure for his study of the planet’s coldest animals. The core of the series takes us through the four seasons as we encounter bison, narwhals and sea snails. Yes, yes, there are plenty of penguins as well. DC

The Life of Birds
Yawn! Yawn! No monkeys. No polar bears. No tigers. Who wants to watch a series about birds? Oh Lord. Those birds of paradise are heavenly. The vultures are deeply sinister. What was I thinking? The BBC Natural History unit delivers perhaps the most beautiful of Attenborough’s series. DC

Planet Earth
The most comprehensive Attenborough series since Life on Earth in the 1970s, Planet Earth takes us among 11 different habitats to cause dropped jaws at death, birth, rutting and scoffing. The US version replaced Attenborough with Sigourney Weaver. I beg your pardon. TB

Africa
Sir David is still going strong. The BBC’s 2013 series takes a geographical structure, moving from the Congo to the Cape to the Sahara. There are, of course, monkeys and lions. Most importantly, however, right at the start we get to meet some meerkats. Aww! TB

 

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BRITISH DRAMA 

House of Cards (UK)
Okay. So the US remake (a Netflix Original) has ritzy movie stars like Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. But we still favour Ian Richardson’s iconic BBC villain, Francis Urquart and Andrew Davies’ brilliant 1990 original. TB

Pride and Prejudice
“Oh Mr Darcy, you’re all wet!” Yes, it’s the series that reintroduced Jane Austen to mainstream culture. Neither she nor Colin Firth has looked back since. Canny adaptation by (that man again) Andrew Davies. DC

Sherlock
Remember when they said they were making a modern version of Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch and Tim from The Office? Oh how we laughed. Well, we’re not laughing now. (Actually we are, because it’s as funny as it is exciting.) DC

Life on Mars
Detective Sam Tyler (John Simm) is beamed back in time to the 1970s where he encounters sexism, racism, bad food and the charismatic Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister). Essentially an ingenious, ironic reworking of The Sweeney. Get you knickers on! DC

This is England
A spin-off from the marvellous 2006 film This Is England, Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne’s series, set in 1986 and 1988, is jollied along by all the mod-revival tunes you could ever wish for. The plotlines aren’t bad either. TB

 

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US DRAMA 

Sons of Anarchy
Biker culture really is the rebel noise that won’t be silenced. Charlie Hunnam, sometime child star, broadens impressively in the series set among the hard men and harder women of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club. DC

The Shield
Debuting in the 2002, the same years as The Wire, Shawn Ryan’s series took a more procedural approach, but its study of corrupt cops in Los Angeles is every bit as compelling. Michael Chiklis went on to become The Thing in The Fantastic Four. DC

The Good Wife
So many critics have said the excellent combination of legal drama and political thriller – starring Julianna Margulies as the titular wife and attorney – is the most underrated show on television that it surely can’t be true any more. Netflix has the first five seasons. DC

Justified
A Kentucky-based sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) throws his weight around like he’s living in frontier times. Except he isn’t. Graham Yost’s popular neo-western is based on Elmore Leonard’s novels Pronto and Riding the Rap. Many asses are kicked. And worse. TB

House
In common with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, Hugh Laurie’s pathologically rude but dazzlingly brilliant consultant would almost certainly reduce you to tears in real life. But on the small screen, you just can’t get enough of his hilariously brusque bedside manner. TB

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