The 2020 Best Netflix Original Series surrounds Your Life With Binge

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Updated 26th May 2020

Sex Education

One of the biggest questions about this sharp-witted comedy is where and when is it set? While the characters are British, they all have different accents – and the school they attend looks more like a high school from the USA of the 1980s than would have been attended by the kind of comprehensive most of the Brits. It seems everyone drives old Volvos, but people have smartphones …

The truth is, the uncertainty of time and place is a calculated attempt by Laurie Nunn and producers of the series to pay homage to a teen culture in the John Hughes style that a generation has grown up watching on television.

The show follows Otis (Asa Butterfield), Maeve (Emma Mackey), Eric (Ncuti Gatwa)’s fortunes as they navigate their school days, their parents, and the challenges they face. Even starring at Gillian Anderson as Otis’ sex therapist girlfriend, this is a critically acclaimed series not just for her humor – but for the brave way it tackles important issues head on.

Stranger Things

Paying homage to a world of walkie-talkies and Chopper bikes inspired by Spielberg in the 1980s, the Duffer brothers’ Stranger Things is one of Netflix’s greatest hits ever created. A supernatural adventure filled with intrigue and horror, it tells the story of a group of four Hawkins friends, Indiana, who are friends with a telekinetic super girl and are trying to unpick a complicated and strange series of phenomena.

Starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown, and many more, that’s unquestionably good telly.

Black Mirror

It wasn’t so many years ago that Charlie Brooker reviewed telly for The Guardian in a style that every aspiring television journalist unsuccessfully attempted to emulate in varying degrees of success – but now he’s a TV writer and showrunner who’s just as influential in producing TV content as he was when he reviewed it.

Without doubt Black Mirror is his most persuasive and praised work to date – a dark and frequently disturbing view of how technology will transform our lives, let’s face it, mainly for the worse.

Elite

Elite is a Spanish thriller teen drama web television series created for Netflix by Carlos Montero and Darío Madrona. The series is set in Las Encinas, a fictional elite secondary school and revolves around the relationships between three working-class teenage students enrolled at the school through a scholarship and their wealthy classmates. The series features an ensemble cast including María Pedraza, Itzan Escamilla, Miguel Bernardeau, Miguel Herrán, Jaime Lorente, Álvaro Rico, Arón Piper, Mina El Hammani, Ester Expósito, Omar Ayuso, and Danna Paola. Jorge López, Claudia Salas, Georgina Amorós, Sergio Momo and Leïti Sène joined the cast in later seasons. Many of the cast previously featured in other Netflix works produced or distributed in Spain and Latin America.

Elite explores concepts and themes associated with teen dramas, but also features more progressive issues and other sides to its clichés. These include many diverse sexual themes. Structurally, the series employs a flash-forward plot that involves a mystery element, with each season taking place in two timelines. The first season, consisting of eight episodes, was released on Netflix on 8 October 2018. It received positive reviews from critics and audiences, with many hailing the series as a “guilty pleasure”, and praising its writing, acting and portrayal of mature themes. In October 2018, the series was renewed for a second season, which was released on 6 September 2019. A third season was ordered in August 2019 and was released on 13 March 2020. In January 2020, Netflix renewed the series for a fourth and fifth season.

Breaking Bad

Even if you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, it’s unlikely you haven’t at least heard of Breaking Bad. In a poll we conducted a few years back, Vince Gilligan’s masterpiece was voted the show most people lied about having seen, such is its recognition as one of the best box sets of the modern era – so if you’re one of those people, perhaps it’s about time you did yourself a favour and watch the story unfold.

Following the fortunes of a chemistry teacher, Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) – who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and decides to “break bad” and embark on a life of crime as a crystal meth drug kingpin alongside one of his former students, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to provide for his family after his death – this is one of the most fantastically written, directed and executed television dramas you will ever have the fortune to view.

Set against a backdrop of a dusty Albuquerque universe of good, bad and ugly players whose stories twist, turn and evolve over five gripping series, this is a story that makes the viewer question everything until the very end.

Co-starring Anna Gunn, Bob Odenkirk, Dean Norris and Giancarlo Esposito to name but a few, Breaking Bad is as much about the way its incredible cast of characters react to the world around them changing, as it is about Walt and Jesse’s incredible central journey.

 

Money Heist (La Casa del Papel)

Money Heist – better known as La Casa de Papel in its native Spain – is not only the most-watched non-English show on Netflix, but one of the most-watched series overall on the streaming service.

The crime drama, which follows a crack team of thieves assembled by “The Professor”, sees the gang attempt to walk away with billions of euros after a daring heist on the Royal Mint in Spain.

There are four seasons on Money Heist to watch, so why not see what all the fuss is about?

The Last Kingdom

You might remember seeing the first couple of the series of The Last Kingdom – which is based on the Saxon Stories novels by Sharpe creator Bernard Cornwell – on the BBC, but the show switched hands to Netflix for series three.

Set in the 9th-century AD, the show tells the story of rugged hero Uhtred son of Uhtred, a Saxon boy who is brought up by Danes, after they capture him and decide to raise him as their own. Of course this leads to split loyalties and Uhtred is eventually accused of killing his adoptive father, forcing him to flee to another kingdom.

Peaky Blinders

One of the biggest drama hits the BBC has produced in the last decade, Steven Knight’s Peaky Blinders is so popular it now even has its own festival in Birmingham where fans can come along, dress up, meet the cast and listen to bands playing songs from the soundtrack of the show.

This Cillian Murphy-starring crime epic has an ensemble cast including Helen McCrory, Paul Anderson and Sophie Rundle and has won acclaim all over the world, with everyone from Tom Cruise to the late David Bowie singing its praises. That’s quite a broad fanbase, but the Brummie-based 1920s gang series really does have something for everyone. Sharp suits, sharper razor blades and performances that cut through all the usual period dross. All five series are available to watch on Netflix.

BoJack Horseman

 

Widely regarded as one of the best animated series of all time, this fantastic offering – the brainchild of Raphael Bob-Waksberg – has been the talk of the comedy world since it exploded onto the scene in 2014.

One might say that any show that features anthropomorphic horses attempting to get beyond existential crises would be funny without a class-act cast and script – but luckily BoJack takes the comedy to 11 with both of those in abundance.

Enter the wonderful Will Arnett (Gob Bluth in Arrested Development, among many others) as the lead role and a star-studded cast including Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Paul F Tompkins and Aaron Paul and you have an international hit on your hands.

Comedy fans beware – you may end up spending a lot of time on this

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Sabrina the Teenage Witch was a huge hit in the 1990s when the Archie comic of the same name was brought to life by Melissa Joan Hart in the lead role. Several decades later, Netflix has rebooted the show with a darker and more mysterious edge, this time starring Kiernan Shipka, best known to drama fans as Sally Draper (daughter of Don) in the smash-hit AMC show Mad Men.

Originally conceived as a companion series to Riverdale, the show eventually got a life of its own when it moved to Netflix and began telling the story of a half-witch, half-mortal and her sometimes challenging existence.

Mindhunter

David Fincher’s gloomy serial killer drama didn’t quite make it to the watercooler when it first arrived, but as with many on demand shows, its slow-building intrigue gripped enough people for Netflix to renew it for a second season.

The show follows soft-spoken FBI agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and his gruff partner Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) as they tour the USA interviewing the nation’s most heinous serial killers.

While it takes a bit of time to truly get going, the series soon develops into an intriguing character study, as Ford becomes more and more emotionally entangled in his work.

As well as the fantastic scripts and performances, this show stands out for its incredible visuals and mood, as you might expect from Mr Fincher.

Lucifer

 

Such is the love for this show that when Fox announced they were going to stop making the show a huge campaign was launched online by the fans which took the hashtag #SaveLucifer to the world, and was eventually received loud and clear by Netflix who decided to bring the show back on the streaming platform.

 

Based on the character created by Neil Gaiman for The Sandman comic-book series, Tom Ellis plays Lucifer, the handsome and seductive Lord of Hell who has made a home for himself in the sleazy glamour of Los Angeles…

Dark

Netflix’s first German-language series is a mind-bending, time-warping and completely engrossing series that proves that Scandinavia doesn’t have the monopoly on excellent subtitled drama.

The show instantly drew comparisons to Stranger Things and it’s easy to see why. After all, it tells the story of a child who goes missing from a small town under mysterious circumstances, leaving everyone baffled (so far so Hawkins). But this programme is darker and weirder, and doesn’t revel in any 80s throwbacks or a nostalgic soundtrack. Of course, once you get past the initial premise there are lots of differences, and the show deserves credit in its own right.

As children continue to vanish from the German town of Winden, we follow four estranged families. They find themselves unravelling a complex mystery involving time travel and conspiracies across many generations, and all we can do is try to keep up with them!

Narcos/Narcos: Mexico

This is a spectacular drama series, too often unfairly dismissed as a successor to Breaking Bad. The story, based on real events, follows the never-ending game of cat and mouse between infamous drug king Pablo Escobar, the Colombian authorities and the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), breaking down the myths and telling the story of Escobar’s turbulent life. The first two series were filmed in Colombia, where Escobar made his billions distributing cocaine, and takes us from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, when the authorities finally caught up with him.

The series returned for a third outing, but with the Escobar story told it turned its attention to the new drug lords on the block the Cali Cartel. Season four was initially intended to follow the same path, but development led the writers in another direction entirely, with a spin-off called Narcos: Mexico, exploring the country’s war on drugs and taking inspiration from real-life incidents.

The Umbrella Academy

Superheroes tend to be loners, so it’s fun to see them in a family setting. But living with people who wear capes and save lives every two minutes is never going to be plain sailing.

Ellen Page and Mary J Blige star in this fantasy series set in alternate universe, adapted from comics written by My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way. Ellen plays Vanya, one of seven children adopted by a billionaire. Unlike her brothers and sisters – all of whom were born on the same day to mothers who didn’t know they were pregnant (a terrifying concept for all women to get their heads around!) – Vanya doesn’t have superpowers. She can only watch on as her estranged siblings get back together to try to solve the mystery of their foster father’s death. Oh and they also plan to save the world while they’re at it.

Riverdale

Chances are you’ve either never seen this teen drama or you’re completely obsessed with it – the show, based on the characters from the Archie comics, already has cult status and is totally addictive once you get going with it. Riverdale is a small, seemingly lovely town, a perfect place to live. But of course there’s darkness lurking. Archie Andrews is a high-school footballer from the town, the class heart-throb, and we follow him and his friends as they react to the death of one of their classmates. If that’s not enough, there’s also backstabbing, bitching and teacher-student affairs to keep you interested.

The show was originally conceived as a film, but during the development process it switched to a television format. A move that paid off: Riverdale is already on its fourth season and has been renewed for a fifth. It has also spawned two companion series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Katy Keene.

Sense8

If you’re planning to check out this series, please can we recommend that you put your phone down and give the show your full attention. Because the truth is that even if you’re concentrating with all of your might there’s a good chance you still might not understand what’s going on!

The series is an intricate, sprawling sci-fi invention from the minds of The Wachowskis (who gave us The Matrix series and Jupiter Ascending). It follows a group of eight strangers from different corners of the globe who are connected by shared prophetic visions, known as Sensates. What follows is a tailspin of sex, acrobatic fight scenes and endless intrigue – all sadly cancelled after two seasons.

The show relies on its ensemble cast featuring Daryl Hannah, Tuppence Middleton and Freema Agyeman and is shot all over the world. It has won praise for its inclusion of LGBTQ+ storylines as well as its sense of ambition and scale.

Friends

The most popular TV show of all time caused quite the stir when it landed on Netflix, as a new generation of viewers started to tune in and pick holes in the scripts. Millennials were upset the series wasn’t as politically correct as it should be and raised their objections on social media, while the show’s loyal army of fans leapt to its defence. It got tense.

Despite that burst of controversy, Friends is still one of those shows that we love to watch over and over again – the characters, the friendships, the impossible-to-afford central New York apartment, everything about it represents the life we wish we were leading. And even though we know each of the 236 episodes word for word, it’s weirdly comforting to watch them all again.

Although it’s never hard to find this series somewhere on the telly, Netflix gives us the chance to either binge a series from start to finish or hand-pick our favourite episodes – the one with Ross’s sandwich, the one with the apartment swap, the one where Ross and Rachel were on a break – whichever one you fancy. The dream.

Sherlock

This series got a bit strange, confusing and overly complicated towards the end, but when it was good, boy, was it elementary! Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast as Sherlock, the sociopathic but fiercely clever detective, while Martin Freeman elevates the usually dull role of Watson to actually make him interesting in his own right. Together their chemistry is palpable and it’s the ultimate TV bromance (Ant and Dec are great, but how many criminals have they put behind bars?).

It was a genius twist from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss to bring Arthur Conan Doyle’s popular stories into the present day and the earlier series are full of fun, wit and sparkle, as well as the dramatic tension of the detective stories themselves. Special mention to Andrew Scott, who was wowing us with his performance as arch-villain Moriarty long before he became Fleabag’s sexy priest.

13 Reasons Why

Even if you haven’t watched this show, you’ll have heard about it. The much-discussed teen drama, based on Jay Asher’s novel of the same name, tells the story of the suicide of 17-year-old Hannah Baker. Its narrative is built upon a series of cassette tapes that she left to a former love interest Clay Jensen, detailing her reasons for killing herself, and we learn more each episode about the terrible circumstances that left her facing such struggles with her mental health.

While series one proved a hit with viewers, it was also controversial. The show came under fire for exposing a young audience to graphic scenes and sensitive themes, as many wondered if Netflix had gone too far. Indeed, the streaming service has since edited out the suicide scene from series one and the original version is no longer available to view.

Altered Carbon

Based on a “cyberpunk noir” novel by Richard K Morgan set 300 years in the future, Altered Carbon requires you to concentrate. New technology has allowed for human consciousness to be digitised, meaning that humans can theoretically live for ever by hopping from body to body. Now little more than a vessel, the bodies that carry us around are referred to, rather glibly, as sleeves.

At the heart of the story is Takeshi Kovacs (aka House of Cards’s Joel Kinnaman), an elite, interstellar warrior whose consciousness has been awakened for the first time in over 200 years and placed inside the body of a US soldier. The man who brought him back, aristocrat Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), has done so in order for Kovacs to solve his own murder…

Kinnaman was replaced by Avengers star Anthony Mackie in series two, and there’s a slightly-less-headscratching companion anime movie Altered Carbon: Resleeved to enjoy, too.

The Witcher

Ever since Game of Thrones has ended, people have been looking for the new Game of Thrones – and although almost any fantasy series that’s been made in the past few years has given itself this label, The Witcher has probably had one of the biggest impacts on the fantasy world.

Based on a series of books by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher franchise was already developed for TV and was a very popular video game series before this Netflix adaptation – so it came with a ready-made fan base and weight of expectation.

Starring former Superman Henry Cavill as the titular monster-hunter Geralt of Rivia, a gruff and taciturn swordsman hated and feared by the people he protects from supernatural beasties, it has been received well – and is certainly worth your time if you’re a lover of the fantasy genre.

 

 

 

 

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