It’s easy to see the influences—Wednesday is equal parts Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Riverdale, and Smallville (no surprise, given it’s created by the latter’s Alfred Gough and Miles Millar)—but it’s all elevated by Jenna Ortega’s brilliantly macabre and deliciously deadpan performance as Wednesday herself, not to mention the visual sensibilities of director Tim Burton. With a phenomenal supporting cast, including Catharine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzmán as Morticia and Gomez Addams; Fred Armisen as deranged Uncle Fester; Gwendoline Christie as Nevermore’s Principal Weems; and the cinematic Wednesday Addams, Christina Ricci, as a botany teacher, this latter-day Addams Family spinoff is a post-Halloween treat.
While the core Cyberpunk 2077 game from developer CD Projekt Red divided audiences when it launched in 2020, this adaptation instead strikes gold on its first try. Almost like an animated Breaking Bad, Edgerunners follows an enterprising teenager named David Martinez, whose promising life in the futuristic, corporate-controlled Night City collapses after his mother dies in a random act of violence. Unlike Breaking Bad though, David has the benefit of an advanced cybernetic implant that grants him bursts of superhuman strength and speed, and with the aid of Lucy, a netrunner living on the outskirts of society, he begins rising through the ranks of the criminal underworld. Dynamically animated by Studio Trigger—the Japanese studio behind anime masterworks Kill la Kill and BNA: Brand New Animal—Edgerunners is an exquisite exploration of corruption, desperation, trust, and betrayal, and it’s accessible whether you’re a hardcore fan of the game or your only experience with cyberpunk is watching Blade Runner that one time.
Let’s be honest: Animated series based on video games often run the gamut from cheap cash-ins to half-decent-if-forgettable tie-ins, inaccessible to anyone but hardcore devotees. In contrast, Arcane stands apart from the crowd by making its connections to Riot Games’ League of Legends almost optional. While its central figures, orphaned sisters Vi and Jinx, are playable characters in the game, viewers don’t need foreknowledge of their story to enjoy this steampunk saga of class war, civil uprising, and the people caught in between. With a gorgeous painterly art style, strong characters, and frequently shocking story beats, Arcane defies its origins to become one of the best animated series in years—and it has racked up plenty of awards, including a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program, to prove it.
The Sandman is one of the most beloved comic series of the past 40 years. A dark fantasy about dreams, reality, stories, and the mercurial relationship between them, Neil Gaiman’s books have endured as essential reading for goth teens and literati alike. While attempts to bring the saga of Dream of the Endless—sometimes known as Morpheus, immortal embodiment and master of the nightlands, fierce and terrible in his wrath—to the screen have been underway practically since the comic debuted in 1988, this long-in-development Netflix adaptation is worth the wait. It’s a perfect translation of the first two graphic novels in the series and follows Dream (a sombre and imposing Tom Sturridge) as he restores his power and kingdom after being held in captivity for a century by occultists who snared him instead of his sister Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). Fittingly, the show has a dreamlike pacing to it, blurring the lines between episodic narratives and longer arcs, and it is as likely to leave viewers crying over a gargoyle’s fate as it is to shock them with the sadistic actions of an escaped nightmare-turned-serial killer named The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook). The Sandman’s journey to the screen might have been the stuff of restless nights, but the result is a dream you won’t want to wake up from.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Adaptation: a word that here means “perfectly translating a deliciously dark series of young adult novels to a visual medium without sacrificing any of the otherworldly strangeness of the source material”—right down to the carefully considered dialog and fourth-wall-breaking bookends delivered by Lemony Snicket himself (or, if you’re picky, Patrick Warburton). Netflix’s take on Snicket’s 13-book series is a spectacular accomplishment, telling the full saga of the desperate Baudelaire orphans—Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny—as they repeatedly escape the machinations of the foul Count Olaf (a scene-stealing Neil Patrick Harris) in the wake of their parents’ suspicious deaths. Forget the truncated 2004 movie version—this three-season masterpiece is the definitive vision of Snicket’s macabre world.
Love, Death + Robots
Developed by Deadpool director Tim Miller, Love, Death + Robots is perhaps Netflix’s most daring animated offering to date. In this anthology series, where the only common thread is each episode’s unique interpretation of that eponymous trio of themes, viewers are treated to wild concepts that include deadly gladiatorial twists on Pokémon-style beast battles, sentient yogurt, super-powered exoplanetary colonists, and adorable robots that have outlived humanity only to be confused by the world we’ve left behind. Wildly experimental, Love, Death + Robots isn’t afraid to play around with animation styles and genre, allowing a phenomenal roster of creators—including David Fincher, making his animation directing debut—freedom to tell whatever stories they want. The show is brimming with ideas and practically vibrating with visual energy, and you never know what you’re going to get—which is half the fun.
The Umbrella Academy
After preventing the apocalypse and getting trapped in the 1960s, the dysfunctional adoptive siblings of the Hargreeves family find themselves back in the present and face-to-face with … the Hargreeves family. Turns out, messing with the space-time continuum can have unforeseen effects, like your abusive-father-figure-slash-mentor adopting seven different superpowered infants instead of you. Being trapped in an alternate timeline isn’t the worst of it though—there’s the small matter of a Kugelblitz about to destroy reality to contend with. This third season is where The Umbrella Academy overtakes the original comics (created by My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerard Way and artist Gabriel Bá), meaning viewers who are coming in fresh and those who’ve read every panel of the source material are equally in the dark about where this season will take them—and how weird things are about to get.
Netflix’s nostalgic sci-fi/horror series is back for its fourth season, set six months after the Battle of Starcourt and with its core cast separated for the first time. The Byers family and Eleven are off in California, Hopper is still (somehow) in a Russian prison, and the remaining crew are home in Hawkins, Indiana, about to face down a terrifying new threat—high school. Oh, and another incursion from the horrific Upside Down. The Duffer Brothers continue to offer up plenty of 1980s nostalgia for viewers who grew up on a diet of Spielberg, Lucas, and Craven, while upping the stakes with a significant new threat. Expect drama, scares, and—of course—plenty of Dungeons & Dragons as the cult show roars toward its fifth and final season.
In Russian Doll, Nadia has one very big problem: Time keeps breaking around her. Season one finds Nadia—played by Natasha Lyonne, who is also a cocreator on the show—dying at her own birthday party, only to wake up there over and over again, trapped in a Groundhog Day-style loop until she can unravel her personalized knot in the space-time continuum. Things only get stranger in season two, where Nadia finds herself traveling back in time to 1982 and inhabiting the body of her own mother—currently heavily pregnant with Nadia herself. Both seasons are funny and thought-provoking, reflecting on personal and generational trauma, all without overegging the potential for philosophical musing.
The tagline on the first volume of creator Alice Oseman’s original graphic novels offers the most elegant synopsis of Heartstopper: “Boy meets boy.” A heartfelt teen comedy-drama set in and around a British grammar school, the show follows shy, awkward Charlie—the only openly gay student at Truman High—and his burgeoning romance with Nick, the popular “rugby king” of the school. Yet while the show tackles difficult topics, such as coming out, peer pressure, and even assault, Heartstopper’s main currencies are joy, charm, and hope. With phenomenal performances from a cast of young LGBTQ+ actors—and guest appearances by Olivia Colman as Nick’s mom—Heartstopper is a romance for the ages.
Orange Is the New Black
One of Netflix’s first big successes remains one of its best shows. This seven-season prison drama initially follows Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) as she is sent to Litchfield Penitentiary for a drug-smuggling offense, but it soon blossoms into a show about the lives and circumstances of the people she’s incarcerated with—a cast that includes Kate Mulgrew, Laverne Cox, Uzo Aduba, and Russian Doll’s Natasha Lyonne. Ostensibly a dramedy, OITNB gets progressively more serious, exploring issues of race, justice, corruption, and the flaws of the entire prison system while never feeling preachy. Challenging at times, but never less than utterly absorbing.
Grace and Frankie
The brainchild of Friends cocreator Marta Kauffman, this sharp sitcom features Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as the titular characters, longtime acquaintances forced to live together after their husbands leave them late in life—for each other. Grace and Frankie follows this contemporary Odd Couple as they deal with their ex-husbands’ coming out, their adult children’s drama, and each other’s maddening personalities, all while building a genuine friendship and proving to themselves and the world that age is just a number. Taking cues from Arrested Development, Grace and Frankie’s chief comedic currency is awkwardness, as the extended families—the rich, business-minded Hansons and the borderline hippie Bergsteins—unpack their neuroses while navigating adult familial relationships. Think of it as a modern-day Golden Girls—just with more swearing and drug use. All seven seasons are now available to binge.
A charismatic young priest joins the church of a small island township. Soon after, miracles follow: The paralyzed walk, the blind see, those with dementia regain their faculties. Yet a dismal secret lies at the heart of this religious revival, as the priest has brought something dark and hungry to the isolated community. Created by Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Doctor Sleep), this supernatural miniseries offers a slow-burn, creeping terror that ratchets the tension up over its seven episodes. It bleakly probes the rites and traditions of Christianity—the cannibalistic and vampiric aspects of transubstantiation, in particular—and the horror that can be found in scripture. But Midnight Mass also explores how religion can be used to corrupt and manipulate, all while serving up a host of phenomenal performances from a cast that includes Hamish Linklater, Rahul Kohli, Kate Siegel, and Zach Gilford.
Dear White People
Based on a film of the same name, Dear White People is a Netflix Original comedy that follows a group of American students of color who attend a mostly white Ivy League college. It covers largely the same ground as the film, but in series format each episode tells the story of a different character, diving deeper into their lives and individual personalities. There are also some laughs along the way. The show was originally released in 2017, and the fourth season debuted in September 2021.
Produced in Korea, Squid Game blends Hunger Games and Parasite with a battle-royal-style contest. Hundreds of desperate, broke people are recruited to a contest where they can win enough money to never need to worry about their debts again. All they have to do to win the ₩45.6 billion ($35.8 million) jackpot is complete six children’s games. But it’s not that simple: All the games have a twist, and very few people make it out alive. Squid Game is intense, brutal, and often very graphic, but it is also completely gripping. Netflix’s dubbing isn’t the best in this instance, but the nine episodes are compelling enough to make up for it.
Don’t watch this when you’re hungry. Each episode of this mouth-watering series goes into the kitchen of one of the world’s top chefs for an intimate look at the person behind the plates. Chef’s Table is the perfect way to get inspired about food—and creative passion—and there are six seasons to sink your teeth into. The most recent of these includes Sean Brock, who is dedicated to reviving lost flavors, and Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini, who is trying to change how the world thinks about meat. If you really want to excite your taste buds, season four is entirely dedicated to pastry.
Set at the prestigious Pembroke University (fictional, but think Harvard, Yale, etc.), this smart drama/comedy takes place just after the English department at the school names its first female chair, played by Sandra Oh, whose character Ji-Yoon Kim is also one of the few women of color in the department. She has to navigate the politics of her new role, managing her colleagues—largely old, white, and tenured—her family life, and an electric relationship with eccentric star professor Bill Dobson. Sharp and very watchable, in half-hour chunks.
Yes, it’s disgusting and puerile, but then so was puberty, remember? Nick Kroll’s masterpiece of teenage angst is a wickedly smart, wickedly rude cartoon that follows a group of kids and their troupe of very influential friends—Hormone Monster, Shame Wizard, and the rest. Big Mouth turns dick jokes into poignant World War stories, makes sense of the ghost of Duke Ellington in the attic, and fearlessly takes on everything from mental health and bad parents to sexual and racial identities with whimsy and grace. Oh, and lots and lots of bodily fluids. One of the funniest shows of the past 10 years, period.
Arsène Lupin, the belle epoque burglar created by French novelist Maurice Leblanc in the early 1900s, is reinvented as Assane Diop, a first-generation Frenchman with a mania for Lupin books and a grudge against the powerful forces who decades ago framed his father for a theft he didn’t commit—and led him to die in prison. Pairing drones, social media bots, and hacking skills with traditional tools of the trade like fake beards, picklocks, and quick wits, Diop hunts down his adversaries as he searches for the truth about his father’s fate. In his spare time, Diop also tries to patch together a crumbling marriage and build a better rapport with his son. Worth watching in the French original, this five-episode series’ strength lies in the dialog, the character development, and the charismatic performance of Omar Sy as Assane. The actual escapades and daring heists are beautifully choreographed, but a lot of the mechanics—how a certain piece of legerdemain worked, when an impenetrable building was infiltrated—are left to the viewer’s imagination.
From executive producer Shonda Rhimes comes a period drama that also happens to be Netflix’s most-watched series ever. Bridgerton is set during the Regency period in England and follows the powerful Bridgerton family as they navigate love, marriage, and scandal. Incredibly entertaining, the show is based on a series of novels, each of which focuses on a different Bridgerton sibling. The first series follows eldest sister Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) and her turbulent marriage to one of London’s most eligible bachelors, Duke Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page). The second season explores the relationship between Daphne’s brother Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), the woman he chooses to marry, and the family and societal dramas this sets in motion.
Last Chance U
Last Chance U is one the most successful documentary series on Netflix, and Part Five is the best one yet. The series follows the travails of junior-college student-athletes aiming to break into big-time college football teams and ultimately the NFL, and its shift in focus from rural towns with outsize ambitions and imported talent to Laney College in Oakland, California, is a win. Laney isn’t rich. It doesn’t import players to improve its team. It doesn’t house or feed its players. It’s a genuine part of the community, and the players come from that community. The result is a series that shines a light on the growing dislocation and inequality in America as the overflow from neighboring San Francisco gentrifies the formerly blue-collar Oakland. And, unlike in previous seasons, Laney’s head coach isn’t an unbearable ass. The series goes to some dark places, but it is all the better for it.
Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker
This miniseries chronicles how Madam C. J. Walker went from widowed laundress to hair care mogul, becoming America’s first female self-made millionaire in the process. Based on the book On Her Own Ground, by A’Lelia Bundles, Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, the series provides a window into the life of African American women in the early 1900s. Academy Award–winning Octavia Spencer, who stars as the titular heroine, fights to overcome post-slavery racial biases and find her place in a male-dominated capitalist system.
When a team of nine criminals launches an audacious heist at Spain’s Royal Mint, they are convinced that their meticulous plan covers every eventuality. But things start to unravel when the enigmatic mastermind behind the heist starts getting close to the police detective in charge of securing the safe release of the 67 hostages. Although the twisting plot strains the limits of credulity at points, Money Heist is a deliciously frenetic and tension-filled series that makes its flawed main characters surprisingly sympathetic.
This miniseries follows Esty, a 19-year-old woman who flees her ultra-orthodox upbringing in Williamsburg’s Hasidic Jewish community and ends up in Berlin, where she quickly discovers how different life can be. But as she is trying to find new friends and make a fresh start in the city, her husband and his cousin come after her, determined to bring her back. The plot is dramatic and compelling, and flashbacks to Esty’s experience with arranged marriage offer insight into orthodox life and her struggles to play the role expected of her. The clash of cultures is sometimes played up to the point of silliness, but Shira Haas’ performance in the leading role will keep you glued to the screen.
Jason Bateman fans got used to seeing him as a sad-sack goof when he played Michael Bluth in Arrested Development. On Ozark, he reveals a whole new side, playing financial advisor Marty Byrde, who finds himself relocating his entire family from a Chicago suburb to the Ozark mountains in Missouri. The reason? He got involved with a money-laundering scheme for Mexican cartels that he’s having trouble disentangling from. The atmosphere, heavy with suspense, guilt, and trouble-making drug lords, is reminiscent of Breaking Bad. It’s one of Netflix’s most popular shows, and with its fourth and final season complete, now is the perfect time to dive into this murky but gripping world.
Although it has a distinctly American vibe, with jocks, a capella groups, and mean girls, Sex Education is set in the UK and filmed in Wales. Asa Butterfield stars as an awkward teenager who starts giving sex counseling for money, and Gillian Anderson is captivating as his (actually qualified) sex therapist mother. While the titular topic is often a source of comedy, Sex Education also explores issues related to intimacy and identity in a smart and relatable way.
Netflix Original The Witcher is, by objective critical standards, not particularly good. But as binge-worthy escapist enjoyment, it’s an absolute triumph. Based on a Polish fantasy literature franchise that gained global popularity following its successful video game adaptation, the series follows Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), whose occupation as a mutant “witcher” has him slaying monsters for money. Our beefy, gravel-voiced hero finds himself caught up in a bigger plot, however, as his destiny becomes entwined with an orphaned princess on the run and a powerful sorceress testing the limits of her abilities. With its restrained dialog, monster violence, and discombobulated timeline, the series sometimes feels more like a mashup of video game cutscenes than a cohesive dramatic narrative—but it works. The Witcher recognizes that viewers don’t always want their ridiculous fantasy shows to be too high-brow and are mainly there to see some cool magic effects and sexy Geralt in the bath (surprising exactly no one, there is plenty of gratuitous female nudity too).
When Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever) reports that she has been raped, she finds herself thrown into a deeply flawed system that will tear her already traumatized life apart. Based on a true story, Unbelievable follows the aftermath of Adler’s rape and the two female detectives who years later team up to uncover a series of disturbingly similar crimes. Adler’s devastating ordeal makes this an understandably difficult watch at times, but the excellent lead performances and focus on the voices of victims—so often missing in shows that portray violence against women—make it a nuanced and unmissable exploration of the lasting impacts of sexual violence.
If you like your TV moody and brooding, the sci-fi series Dark is for you. The first German-language Netflix Original series (there’s an option for English dubbing, though the undubbed version is superior), Dark opens with a secret liaison, a missing teenager, and a spooky-looking cave, which sets the vibe for the rest of the show. What initially appears to be a straightforward mystery investigation soon turns into an ambitious time travel plot with plenty of atmosphere. A tight 26 episodes are spread over three seasons, and the more you watch, the more you see how appropriate the title is.
Back in the 1990s, BoJack Horseman was the star of a hit TV sitcom. A lot has changed since then. The animated series picks up with BoJack 20 years after his peak as he sinks deeper into middle age and an endless cycle of substance abuse. In an LA half-populated by human-animal hybrids, BoJack comes to terms with his existential dread in this bleak and darkly funny comedy. The first half of season one is a little heavy on the bleakness and light on laughs, but once it hits its stride, this surreal comedy comes into its own with stellar voice performances from Amy Sedaris, Will Arnett, and Aaron Paul.
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