Netflix is well-known for its great original programs such as House of Cards, The Crown, Orange Is The New Black and Narcos. But the popular streaming service has produced a number of new originals in recent months, that are every bit as good as the aforementioned shows, but have not gotten the attention they deserve. In fact, Netflix is ramping up its investment in original programming (to the tune of billions of dollars) and providing subscribers with a growing library of content to stream – many of them great. So it seems curious to us why we always hear about the same old shows, while others get short shrift. Here are 10 underrated Netflix originals that you should be watching.
10. The OA
This eight episode miniseries has polarized viewers and critics. Those who like the series, love it a lot. And those who don’t like it, hate it with a passion. Put us in the “love” camp. We think this is one of the best Netflix originals to date. Brit Marling stars in the show as a blind woman who disappears for seven years, and, upon her return, has both scars on her back and her sight restored. What happened to her while she was missing? Does she really have supernatural powers or are they all in her head? It’s a mystery that is revealed slowly. Calling herself “The OA,” Marling’s character shares details of her disappearance with a loyal band of followers who seem to form a strange cult. We find this show to be a compelling and intriguing mystery. While some people find the series takes itself too seriously, we can’t get enough. Check it out.
9. Abstract: The Art of Design
Abstract: The Art of Design is a Netflix original documentary series that is compulsively watchable. It highlights artists in the field of design from around the world. The brainchild of former Wired magazine Editor-in-Chief Scott Dadich, Abstract profiles interesting and cool designers such as illustrator Christoph Niemann, Nike shoe designer Tinker Hatfield, stage designer Es Devlin, architect Bjarke Ingels, car designer Ralph Gilles, graphic designer Paula Scher, photographer Platon, and interior designer Ilse Crawford. While these folks are not household names, they each have extremely interesting jobs and are hugely influential on our daily lives. The series always makes a point to connect design to everyday life and shows how it influences us, whether we are aware of that fact or not.
8. Black Mirror
Black Mirror is a British science fiction television anthology series that Netflix picked up and continued after it was dropped by the BBC after two seasons. Created by Charlie Brooker, the show focuses on dark and satirical themes that examine modern society, particularly with regard to the unanticipated consequences of new technologies. Each episode is a unique standalone that is typically set in an alternative present or near future. If this sounds quirky, it is because Black Mirror is a quirky program. But it’s also really good. In an interview, Brooker said “Each episode has a different cast, a different setting, even a different reality. But they’re all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.” People who’ve starred in various episodes include Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Bryce Dallas Howard and Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones). Critics love this series and interest in it is only growing since Netflix picked it up.
7. Chef’s Table
The documentary series Chef’s Table is reality TV worth watching. No cat fights, pulling of hair, or kicking and screaming. Instead, each episode of Chef’s Table profiles a single world-renowned chef. And while that concept may sound simple, it makes for some very compelling television, as viewers see what goes into running a restaurant, preparing world class cuisine, and the pressures that many of the finest culinary experts in the world face every day. Viewers are also treated to seeing how world class dishes are prepared and get to enjoy mouthwatering images of fantastic food. It also includes cooking tips from the very best in the world. This documentary series is as appetizing as your favorite comfort food. Watch and enjoy.
6. The 100
Another sci-fi show worth exploring on Netflix is The 100 (although the show airs on CW in the U.S., it is a Netflix exclusive in various other countries). Post-apocalyptic in the best sense, The 100 is set 97 years after a devastating nuclear apocalypse wiped out almost all life on Earth. The only known survivors lived on twelve space stations in Earth’s orbit prior to the event. The space stations banded together to form a single massive station called The Ark, where about 2,400 people live. Resources are running low, so all crimes – even petty ones – are punishable by ejection into space. The only exception is for those under the age of 18. When it’s discovered that Ark’s life-support systems are on the verge of shuting down, 100 juvenile prisoners are declared expendable and sent to Earth’s surface in a last ditch attempt to determine whether Earth is habitable again, in a program known as The 100. Tough, gritty, and dark, this series is addictive in the best way. And it offers up some truly great sci-fi – from concept to action sequences.
Judd Apatow has an impressive pedigree in television, having created series such as Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, as well as movies such as Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin. Love is another home run for Apatow — a deft romantic comedy from his production company. The series aims to be a “down-to-earth look at dating,” exploring male and female perspectives on romantic relationships through the characters of Mickey and Gus, played by Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust. Critics love this show and have said it is a welcome shot in the arm for the romantic comedy genre. In particular, the show has been praised for its depiction of realistic, often prickly characters. You’ll want to catch-up on Season One of this show now, as Season Two premieres in early March.
4. Lady Dynamite
Funny and bitter sweet, Lady Dynamite is about a stand-up comedian who suffers from depression and has bi-polar disorder. As you might imagine, this situation and set-up makes for a series that is both surreal and, at times, very poignant. The series begins with the main character (played by actress/comedienne Maria Bamford ) trying to re-enter show business after suffering a breakdown. Created by Mitch Hurwitz, who also created Arrested Development, Lady Dynamite has a strong supporting cast that includes Ana Gasteyer, Ed Begley Jr., and Fred Melamed. It also boasts some killer guest stars from the world of stand-up comedy such as Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt, and John Mulaney Mulaney. But what really distinguishes this show is the sharp writing, as well as the way it skillfully balances comedy and tragedy.
3. F is for Family
The spiritual heir to King of the Hill and more profane than Family Guy, F is for Family is the adult animated series you would expect from a streaming service such as Netflix. Stand-up comedian Bill Burr stars as title character Frank Murphy, a disillusioned, short-tempered, Irish-American, Korean War veteran, and father of three, who lives in Pennsylvania and is prone to angry, profane rants that are pretty damn hilarious. Actress Laura Dern stars as Frank’s wife, who sells “Plast-a-Ware” (Tupperware) out of the house. Sam Rockwell, Kevin Farley, and Gary Cole star as a collection of neighbors and co-workers. This show follows a similar pattern as both King of the Hill and Family Guy, but with the freedom that comes without being censored by FCC regulators. The language is rough and the situations are often obscene, but that’s what makes this show unique. And it is damn funny to boot.
If you’re a sucker for romantic comedies (and who isn’t), then you should definitely check out the Netflix original show Easy. It’s made up of eight half-hour episodes that follow the lives and loves of a group of young people living in Chicago. Part comedy and part drama, Easy is at times funny and at other times super sad. But it is always entertaining. And the show owes its success to the stellar cast that includes Orlando Bloom, Malin Akerman, Marc Maron, and Jake Johnson. The acting elevates this material from falling into clichés, as does the insightful writing. Plus the Chicago backdrop is really beautiful. If you’re looking for a romantic comedy that is a notch above what you typically find on TV, then be sure to stream Easy. It is a series that is well worth your time.
If you like thoughtful and intelligent sci-fi, then be sure to watch one of the newest Netflix originals, Travelers. It stars Eric McCormack of Will and Grace fame as the leader of a team of special operatives who are sent back in time to prevent the collapse of society. Added twist: The travelers enter the body of a 21st century individual moments before they die, in a process known as a “transfer of consciousness.” The travelers must maintain their hosts’ pre-existing lives to avoid attracting attention, while performing missions aimed at saving the world from a series of catastrophic future events. As the series progresses, changes in the present cause significant unanticipated changes in the future. Think of this show as an updated version of Quantum Leap – but smarter and with better special effects. Travelers is hands down one of the best original programs on Netflix right now.