The best shows on Netflix
The way we watch television is changing. Have you tried explaining to a kid about growing up in a world where there were only two, three or four TV channels? They look at you with a mixture of sympathy and disgust, as if you’ve just said to them that you grew up on a diet of raw squirrel. Today, we have hundreds of channels at our fingertips, and catch up services from all the main broadcasters. But there are also new players in the game, content providers who offer a streaming service of original content to subscribers. Chief among them is Netflix, a media behemoth with over 150 million subscribers worldwide. With plans starting at £5.99 per month, you can get a vast array of original and archive content for the price of a pint in an admittedly ludicrously expensive pub, probably serving some fancy artisan guest ale. Anyway, here is a rundown of eight of the best (series on Netflix, not ales).
Start big, start expensive, start obvious. The Crown is one if the brightest stars in the Netflix firmament, a piece of work so riveting and acclaimed it even persuaded my mum to embrace TV streamed from the Internet. Admittedly, she did watch the first two series on her phone, but baby steps, people. Peter Morgan’s remarkable portrait of the Queen launched for a third series in November, with Olivia Colman replacing Claire Foy in the eponymous role. If you are still nursing a sneaking suspicion that a show about the real-life goings on in the royal family sounds a little dull, as I did for a long time, disregard it completely. This is remarkably good drama, made on a lavish, epic scale.
What do you do if you’re a company that’s never made a nature documentary but has a quite vast reserve of cash burning a hole in your pocket? You go and hire the team that made the extraordinary Planet Earth, and get them to do what they do best. Freed from the shackles of BBC neutrality, there is a polemical edge to this stunningly beautiful series, which looks not just at the wonder of nature, but at the insidious effects of climate change. The eight-part series, filmed by 600 crew in 50 countries over four years, is narrated by some newcomer no-hoper called Attenborough…
Grace and Frankie
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. You could just stop there. Any TV series that has managed to attract two of Hollywood’s grandest dames must be worth its salt, and Grace and Frankie certainly is. The story follows two mutually suspicious acquaintances thrown together when their husbands (Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen) announce that they are in love with each other and are getting married. Forced to live together by circumstance and finance, the two very different women have to face a whole new set of life’s challenges together. With filming for series six underway, and series seven already announced, there is plenty here to get your teeth into, and the really good news is the show gets better and better with each series.
A cookery show unlike any you’ve seen before. Each episode (there have been six series) tells the story of a different, world-renowned chef. It delves inside the kitchens, and the lives, of its subjects, examining their backstory, inspirations, and passions. This is cookery seen through the prism of psychology, sociology and philosophy. If that sounds pretentious (can I get a ‘hell, yeah!’) it really isn’t. The subjects are fascinating, the food looks sumptuous, and the whole thing is shot magnificently. TV at its most mouth-watering.
When They See Us
This phenomenally good four-part mini-series should nevertheless come with a health warning: It is seriously harrowing – all the more so, because it’s true. Ava DuVernay’s drama tells the story of the Central Park Five, five boys (you can’t call kids aged between 14 and 16 ‘men’) who were arrested and wrongly convicted of the brutal rape and assault of a woman in Central Park in 1989. The jaw-dropping flimsiness of the case against them merely heightens the emotional impact of the performances of an astonishing young cast. Look out, in particular, for a career-defining performance from Emmy-winner Jharrel Jerome.
Anne with an E
When I was young, the Anne of Green Gables novels by Lucy Montgomery were among my favourite books. Believe me, that wasn’t a confession you came out with readily at an all-boys’ school. Watching this Canadian-made series instantly brought back the magic of those books, chronicling the escapades of high-spirited, opinionated orphan called Anne Shirley. Anne goes to live with a set-in-their-ways brother-and-sister, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, in 19th century Canada. This gorgeous, cinematic recreation of the story has a darker edge than the original, and boasts a gloriously ebullient performance from Amybeth McNulty as Anne, and an understated, warm-hearted turn from Geraldine James as Marilla.
Making a Murderer
No list of Netflix must-sees is complete without a mention of its defining factual series. Making a Murderer is a true crime series about Steven Avery, a Wisconsin resident arrested and wrongly convicted of the sexual assault and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen. After 18 years on prison, Avery was exonerated thanks to DNA evidence. But as it turned out, Steven Avery’s problems were far from over. At times you have to remind yourself that this is a documentary, as it encompasses more improbable twists and turns than the most convoluted thriller. But what’s left at the end is a sense of righteous indignation at some endemic corruption, and the abuse of the powerless by those in positions of responsibility.
Dead to Me
Our second female two-hander on this list, Dead to Me stars Christina Applegate as Jen, an estate agent whose husband has been killed in a hit-and-run. At a support group for the bereaved, Jen meets Judy (Linda Cardellini), and the two quickly become firm friends. But Judy, it turns out, hasn’t been bereaved at all. Even worse, that is a long, long way from her darkest secret. Applegate is a revelation as the angry, grief-stricken Jen, as is Cardellini her gloriously conflicted pal, in what is part-thriller, part-buddy-movie, and part-black-comedy.