Looking for a new Netflix obsession to see you through this stuttering start to 2021? You've come to the right place.
If you think you may actually have finished Netflix in 2020, bravo, although do check out our list – a few of these might have slipped under your radar. We're steering clear of Tiger King, The Last Dance and White Lines, because if completing Netflix is something you genuinely worry about, you'll have inhaled those weeks (or even months) ago.
Netflix is home to scores of old favourites ripe for a re-watch (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) – in truth, it's nigh on impossible to finish Netflix (although we still reckon we're pretty close).
More pertinently here, you've got a huge choice of superb Netflix Originals, including shows such as 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 new content available, it can be tough to know where to start, even with more time on your hands, which is why we stepped in and picked out the best TV shows 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...
Alice in Borderland
This eight-part Netflix Original series premiered on 10th December on Netflix, but it's actually based on a popular Japanese suspense manga series that ran from 2010 to 2016.
Essentially, in the moments before he danced in the middle of Shibuya crossing in Tokyo and garnered the unwanted attention of police, Arisu, one of a trio of friends, had wished he "could go to some unknown place". The three young men hide in a bathroom cubicle to escape arrest. Thinking the coast is clear following a convenient power-cut, they emerge – only, it appears as though Arisu's wish has actually been granted. A few cars litter the streets, abandoned, but Shibuya is otherwise deserted – and if you've ever been there, you will find yourself wondering how on earth they managed to film this.
Eventually, this apocalyptic dimension becomes a gaming arena – where the reluctant gamers have no choice but to keep winning games in return for visas that last but a few days. Contestants who refuse to play (or allow their visas to expire without a fresh win) are zapped to death by a laser that shoots down from the sky. Yes, it sounds silly. It isn't. It is intense, poignant, very well-written, and incredibly addictive.
From the second a young American woman is summoned urgently from a bathtub in a pitch-black room, by a man speaking only in French, you know Netflix has knocked it out the park here.
Created for Netflix by Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Logan) and Allan Scott (Regeneration) this seven-episode series is based on Walter Tevis's 1983 novel of the same name. Our heroine, Beth Harmon, is portrayed magnificently by Anya Taylor-Joy – whom you might've seen in the fantasy series Atlantis or the 2015 horror flick The Witch. Orphaned following a car accident when she was nine, at some point in the 1950s, Beth is sent to an ominous-looking orphanage where medicating young residents with "magic vitamins" is the norm.
Burdened by understandable emotional problems and a growing drug and alcohol dependency, she takes comfort in playing chess. Yes, chess – and she's a formidable opponent, too.
This four-part British mini series premiered on 2nd December 2020, and if it weren't for the velvet voice of Sophie Okonedo (Dirty Pretty Things) making us aware that this isn't one of David Attenborough's triumphs, we'd have thought it was another stunning documentary about the natural world and what we're doing to it.
But no, what we're actually watching is a carefully researched CGI depiction of the creatures that might live on planets beyond our solar system, if scientists apply the laws of life on Earth (gravity, atmosphere, tidal forces) to the rest of the galaxy.
Nobel prize-winning astrophysicist Didier Queloz and ecologist Thomas Crowther put in appearances to lend credibility to the mind-boggling things you'll see, (and the fact that we now believe there are more planets beyond our solar system than there are grains of sand on Earth is pretty humbling) but it's the critters that will keep you hooked.
Watch out for the six-winged herbivores grazing on seed clouds on Atmos, a hypothetical exoplanet double the size of Earth and with twice the gravitational pull. Amazing scenes.
Want to hear Trent Reznor's take on channelling his pain into Hurt, quite literally, why the success of R.E.M.'s "mistake" track – also known as Losing My Religion – still puzzles Michael Stipe to this day, or how a follow up mega-hit from The Killers started life as a simple three-chord riff in the Las Vegas desert? As a music-lover, you'd be mad not to.
Each episode in this 2020 Netflix Originals series is narrated by Hrishikesh Hirway – creator of the smash-hit podcast on which this spin-off TV show is based. The eight TV episodes are over all too soon, but don't worry, there are 199 glorious instalments of the podcast to get stuck into once you're done...
- More like this? See our 10 of the best podcasts for music lovers
The Social Dilemma
Get ready: that odd sense someone's looking over your shoulder as you type into Google's search bar is about to feel completely justified, in the worst way. Have we crossed over from the era of information to the era of misinformation? How are the words we type into Facebook being logged, processed and used for financial gain? What of cosmetic surgery's newest term, snapchat dysmorphia, coined to describe the symptoms swathes of young people are presenting upon attending clinics, wanting to look more like their favourite selfie filter? Are we losing the ability to socialise 'IRL' when everything we do, want, love and hate can fit neatly into a smartphone screen? And above all, why are so many of us addicted to our phones?
The Social Dilemma is a 2020 docudrama directed by Jeff Orlowski (Chasing Ice, Chasing Coral) and written by Orlowski, Davis Coombe, and Vickie Curtis. It was released on Netflix on 9th September 2020.
It's a single, 90-minute episode and it might just be more disturbing than any 2020 horror movie we can think of. Expect sometimes shocking interviews with former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris, his fellow Center for Humane Technology co-founder, Aza Raskin, co-founder (and Facebook's 'like' button co-creator) Justin Rosenstein and former Pinterest president Tim Kendall, to name but a few. You'll never look at social media in the same way again.
Our take-away quote? "What I want people to know is that everything they're doing online is being watched, is being tracked, is being measured. Every single action you take is carefully monitored and recorded. Exactly what image you stop and look at, for how long you look at it; oh yeah seriously, for how long you look at it". Chilling.
Starring and written/created by Katherine Ryan, in many ways this six-episode series is better than therapy for single-parent families, divorcees or alternative family setups. Don't watch it if you're offended by swearing – either vocally or on t-shirts – lewd gestures or puns (Ryan's character runs a pottery company called Kiln'Em Softly). Do watch it if you're at all interested in one exceptionally talented, strong, funny woman's life as a single mum in the UK.
Trial By Media
This six-episode Netflix Original premiered on 11th May 2020. Each riveting hour-long episode dissects one of the most high-profile crimes from recent history, as told by the journalists and news anchors covering them, the victim's families, lawyers on both sides of the court-room and others closely associated with the case.
Talk Show Murder concerns the young man driven to kill the male friend who reveals his romantic feelings towards him, live on The Jenny Jones Show. Subway Vigilante sees Bernard Goetz, a white man, shoot four Black men on the subway in NYC in 1984. His self-defense claim fuels a high-profile case, focusing heavily on systemic racism. 41 Shots hones in on the 1999 execution of an unarmed African man, Amadou Diallo. Diallo was shot a total of 41 times, by four white policemen, outside his home in The Bronx. And all of this is largely told to us by Amadou's mother.
We remember the stories, but we've never heard them told with this level of human detail, despite the recurring theme here that each case was hugely affected by mass media coverage. A stunning example of multi-layered social commentary.
How to Fix a Drug Scandal
If you need a hard-going but rewarding true crime exposé, this incredible new four-part series takes you from beginning to end in under four hours – but you'll find yourself pacing up and down the room in disbelief at least once during every episode.
Two drug lab chemists are breaking the rules, in very different ways. Neither knows about the other's actions, (you'll find out why when you watch it) but together they are responsible for one of the biggest miscarriages of criminal justice in Massachusetts. The ripple effect of the two individuals' actions has to be seen to be believed – and here you'll learn not only about the two chemists, but about several of the thousands (yes, thousands) of prison inmates whose lives were irrevocably changed as a result of their testing.
AJ and the Queen
You needn't watch all 12 seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race plus its inaugural UK variant and four All Stars spin-off competitions to 'get' this show – although, if you have, you'll see several Drag Race alumni here.
RuPaul Andre Charles (who co-created the show) plays Robert, a performer enjoying an extremely successful career as drag queen Ruby Red, right up until the moment he gets scammed by the man he loves – a con artist who only ever had eyes for the $100,000 Robert had saved to open his own club. Heartbroken, broke and forced to go back on the road, Robert is so consumed with grief that he fails to notice a 10-year-old child called AJ has stowed away in his 1985 RV.
Upon realising that the poor kid has nowhere else to go, Robert eventually agrees to let AJ tag along as far as Texas, but it isn't an easy relationship; Robert describes AJ as "like a Chucky doll, but not as nice".
It's an oddball, lovable and hopelessly romantic show that still somehow manages to tackle important issues about gender and success. Throughout it, the mismatched pair teach each other far more than Robert's VHS collection of Oprah shows from the 1980s ever could – far more than the simple lesson that if you've saved up a lot of money, you shouldn't go boasting about it to men you barely know.
Sometimes, you just need a good laugh at someone else's expense – in the most loving way. If you've ever seen Bake Off: The Professionals, imagine that but with harder baking challenges, less time in which to complete the bakes and cooks who are, er, a fair few leagues down from top-flight professionals. Actually, if you've ever seen Bake Off: Extra Slice, this show is like the bit where Jo Brand invites viewers to share their attempts at recreating beloved pets in cake form – the ones that went horribly wrong.
Amateur bakers seem to show up for a laugh, really, but there's money to be made here. If you're willing to put yourself through the humiliation of utterly butchering pastry chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres's beautiful recipe, there's a $10,000 cash prize at the end of each episode.
Locke & Key
Need something new? How about a supernatural horror drama? Locke & Key was developed by Carlton Cuse (Lost) and is based on the comic book series of the same name by Joe Hill (who just happens to be Stephen King's son) alongside Gabriel Rodriguez. Locke & Key follows three siblings who, after the murder of their father, move to their ancestral home – a remote, taxidermy-filled mansion with particularly lovely floor tiles. The Lockes' dwelling, conveniently titled Key House, houses magical keys that whisper to them and offer bizarre capabilities but that's not all that's awry here – echoes in wells shouldn't be answering back, after all.
The matriarch of the family, Nina Locke (delicately portrayed by Darby Stanchfield) does her best to rally the family, but even her offspring's new school is creepy, with "Your invitation to Hogwarts isn't coming" etched on its walls.
If you think you're ready to see a 10-year old boy put a key into a keyhole on the nape of his neck, watch on. Keep a pillow or fellow viewer close by for hiding purposes.
Dedicated gamers will doubtless know of mutant Witcher creatures. Fantasy literature lovers might have read Andrzej Sapkowski's books about them, but you simply can't call yourself a Netflix aficionado unless you're well-versed on Geralt of Rivia's various recent exploits.
As our Witcher, Henry Cavill's monosyllabic answers, lengthy stares and disinterested grunts are all most humans can hope for in terms of interaction, but he does open up to his delightfully-named horse, Roach.
If you're trying to fill the void left by Game of Thrones, this is emphatically it. Lauren Schmidt Hissrich's script is refreshingly devoid of ye olde English – nobody is summoned henceforth or called a blackguard – and there's a fair dollop of nudity, a few bloody battles and some fantastic monsters to feast your eyes on. Enjoy.
Natasha Lyonne (Ad Astra, Orange is the New Black, American Pie) stars in this excellent Netflix Original eight-part series. We meet our bolshie heroin, cynical New Yorker Nadia (Lyonne) in the bathroom on her 36th birthday. Fuelled by alcohol, experiencing something of a mid-life crisis and smoking a highly dubious cigarette, she goes looking for a cat called Oatmeal and gets killed. Suddenly, we're back in the bathroom. Nadia is forced to repeat this – the most terrifying day of her life – over and over again, meeting various bizarre deaths on the quest to break out of the time loop.
Yes, it all sounds a bit Quantum Leap or Groundhog Day doesn't it? Stop with that thought though. Or at least, please don't let it put you off: the plot-twists within each episode are nothing short of phenomenal. For one thing, she's not the only one stuck in their own incessant fatal circle, here.
The first series got the nod for Outstanding New Program at the 2019 Television Critics Association (TCA) Awards and, with Netflix giving the green light on a second series back in June, our advice is to put this at the top of your list right now.
Originally broadcast way back in 2005 and based on true events occurring in Durham, North Carolina in 2001, The Staircase was the brainchild of Jean-Xavier de Lestrade. Thanks to his work documenting the events of the trial and its aftermath, a new genre in TV – one that became known as true crime series – was born. If you liked Making a Murderer or Evil Genius, remember that Lestrade did it first with The Staircase.
Essentially, there's the death of wealthy business exec Kathleen Peterson, at the bottom of the staircase in the family mansion. How she came to die at the bottom of the staircase is what everyone's trying to find out, but her writer husband is quickly believed to have been involved – an accusation he rigorously denies. It is hard to write much about The Staircase without including spoilers, so we'll stop there (but wait 'til they chuck the owl curve-ball, though. Just sayin').
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.
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 women 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 three seasons to enjoy in glorious 4K on Netflix and the picture provides a good test of your TV’s black levels and contrast. Oh, 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. It returns for part four on 31st December, only on Netflix.
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 grabbing headlines around the world (and subsequent further twists in the tale) a second season of Making a Murderer premiered in October 2018. If you're late to the party here, it really is still worth getting stuck in – it's still unconfirmed, but a third series could be announced soon.
Better Call Saul
One of the many charms of Breaking Bad was the vivid nature of its characters, be they pivotal or periphery. As such, it was crying out for a spin-off show – and now, you can enjoy all five series' of this excellent derivative.
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 of the four seasons awaiting your attention, 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 care about what happens to them 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.
It's 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 and 14 series' 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.
An alternate 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 six-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 slightly less so – it's a twisty plot with fairly unsympathetic characters, and the gratuitous nudity is overdone to the point that the first 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 – so much so that there's now a second series to get stuck in to as well.
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. Five 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.