Do you remember a time before Netflix? If you’re young enough, then the monumental streaming service has probably always been a part of your life. If you’re a bit older, then you definitely recall a time when you either had to catch something right when it was on TV, tape it, or go rent movies at a completely separate building from your house. Yeah, it was a weird time. If you’re somewhere in the middle, you might remember the fledgling days of Netflix’s streaming service, when there were mostly just movies and second run TV shows available to you. It was still very novel, and a great way to finally have a chance to watch both seasons of Better Off Ted, but it still didn’t quite live up to what was appearing on both network and cable television. But then, something happened to Netflix.
The streaming service began creating original series, something that it hadn’t ever attempted before. This first wave of Netflix series didn’t quite produce anything as memorable as what is available to audiences now, but it did open the door to the possibility of a streaming service creating its own content. Their strategy of releasing every episode in a series at once basically created the binge-watching model, and for good reason. Some of those series became lasting hits that picked up Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, while also receiving critical acclaim. However, nobody, not even Netflix, has a perfect record, and some of their original series ended up being complete duds. These are the 10 best (and 10 worst) Netflix original series.
20. BEST: DAREDEVIL
Marvel’s Daredevil was the first, and still the best, Marvel Netflix series. It was the first step in the eventual Defenders crossover, and introduced the world to what a grittier, more street level Marvel show could look like. It was a definite change in tone from the brighter and more fantastical adventures in the MCU films.
While it has had its ups and downs, Daredevil has overall been a fantastic story. It goes deeper into morality, justice, and belief than most other superhero shows, and the fight choreography, particularly in the second episode of the first season, is among some of the finest in any Marvel property. On top of that, the cast is stellar, particularly Vincent D’Onofrio, whose Wilson Fisk is both threatening and sympathetic.
19. WORST: IRON FIST
On the flipside of Daredevil is Iron Fist, an absolute mess of a show that essentially was just filler until audiences were treated to Defenders. For a show that is so focused on martial arts, the fight choreography is surprisingly weak, and while Finn Jones is hardly to blame for all the problems the show has, he does make for a weak and inconsistent Danny Rand.
The biggest issue with the show is that instead of an epic martial arts story set in modern Manhattan, it mostly tends to fall back on being a corporate thriller. It’s not great when the secondary characters and their relationship with their father actually ends up being the more compelling story.
18. BEST: NARCOS
The story of Pablo Escobar and his drug business is almost too wild to be true, but Narcos did an amazing job showing the man behind the empire, and detailing his struggles with notoriety and becoming a criminal kingpin. While a lot of historical dramas will take liberties with their source material to tell the story properly, Narcos managed to keep this to a minimum, telling the story mostly how it actually happened.
Wagner Moura turned in a great performance as Escobar in the first two seasons of Narcos, turning a man who was a notorious criminal into an almost sympathetic figure. Season three of Narcos will continue to tell the story of the international drug trade by focusing on the infamous Cali Cartel.
17. WORST: MARCO POLO
One of the earliest Netflix original series was a weak attempt at milking some of that precious, early Game of Thrones hype. Marco Polo, a historical epic following the journey of the eponymous explorer through China, lacked the excitement, storytelling, and characterization of other, better shows in the same genre.
Although Marco Polo managed to get picked up for a second season, it was ultimately cancelled by Netflix, and resulted in a $200 million loss for the streaming service. It was an ambitious leap forward for the streaming service, but it ultimately failed to dazzle either critics or audiences. The show also drew heavy criticism for its treatment and exoticizing of Chinese culture.
16. BEST: UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT
Fans of 30 Rock were excited to hear that Tina Fey’s newest comedy series would be airing on Netflix, and they were treated to the brilliant, hilarious, and intelligent Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The show, detailing the trials of a woman who had been kept in a bunker for 15 years trying to fit into modern society, has a positive and bubbly sheen, but is actually about something much darker.
Though Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt drew criticism (some of it deserved) for its treatment of an Asian character, it was much more careful in telling the story of a woman who had survived trauma. The sharp comedy, musical breaks, and overall silliness perfectly juxtapose and accent the victim-to-survivor story the show is telling.
15. WORST: FRIENDS FROM COLLEGE
How does a show with as great a cast as Friends From College end up falling so flat? The comedy, about a group of friends (from college) navigating their turbulent lives fell flat with critics and viewers. The comedy was mostly mean-spirited and the characters were entirely unlikable.
The biggest flaw in the show was asking the audience to constantly put up with these bickering, self-serving, immature people, and to find humor in how ridiculously inept they were at being grown ups. That kind of strategy can work in a more gonzo, down and dirty show like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but for Friends From College, it just reminded everyone of those “friends” they want to forget.
14. BEST: ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
The biggest problem with Orange is the New Black is that its ostensible main character, Piper, is the least likeable person on it. However, the cast is filled out with wonderful actors, each tackling their own character’s struggles with everything from mental health, to transgender issues, to racism.
While the show has received criticism for its treatment of women of color (and the fact that the writing team, while mostly made up of women, are all white), it has taken some steps in the right direction. The characters are complicated and often make bad decisions, but what makes OITNB so endearing is that it tells women’s stories without sugarcoating them or making them stereotypical.
13. WORST: INSATIABLE
Insatiable is the latest bad decision from Netflix. Despite the fact that it somehow managed to be renewed for a second season, the show has been lambasted for its absolutely vile and tone deaf portrayal or beauty standards. Insatiable has been accused of fat-shaming, homophobia, and a complete lack of awareness on assault and it’s not hard to see why.
For a show that wants so badly to deal with the idea of beauty, the story is incredibly ugly. The characters are absolutely terrible to each other, and the jokes employed are often mean-spirited and unfunny (rule number one of comedy: be funny). Despite the show’s creators claiming Insatiable is more than meets the eye, it continually proved itself to be shallow, gross, and cold-hearted.
12. BEST: BOJACK HORSEMAN
Who would have thought that an animated show about the entertainment industry set in a world where anthropomorphic animals and humans live together could end up being one of the most honest portrayals of depression ever made? Bojack Horseman is one of the funniest shows Netflix has to offer, but it also constantly delivers emotional gut punches.
What makes Bojack Horseman so incredible is the balancing act it performs between being outwardly silly and portraying its characters as deeply flawed and layered people (even when they’re a horse or a dog). The voice cast, which includes Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Aaron Paul, and Paul F. Tompkins, is also incredible at delivering the laugh lines and bringing the tears.
11. WORST: THE RANCH
The Ranch is what happens when the entertainment industry “reaches across the aisle.” The show is a traditional multicam sitcom, complete with laugh track, that tells the stories of the Bennett family and their titular ranch. While it sometimes deals with the real financial and moral issues of running a ranch, the humor is often juvenile and the storytelling glacial.
The biggest problem with The Ranch, however, are its gender politics. The men are given the star treatment, while the women (save for Debra Winger) are often treated as entirely secondary to what’s going on. It might not be the absolute worst thing out there, but with so many other great stories to tell, The Ranch is just too old fashioned.
10. BEST: LOVE
For three low key seasons, Love told the story of Mickey and Gus, played by Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust, respectively, and their continuing relationship. The cast was great, the humor was sharp, and the story was raw and realistic. Far from being just another romantic comedy, Love dealt with a number of real issues, including addiction, career anxiety, and learning to let go of the past.
What made Love so special though was the relationship between Gus and Mickey. These were two deeply flawed and damaged people who throughout the series had to come to terms with themselves before they could accept one another. There was also a great running story about writing theme songs for movies that don’t have them.
9. WORST: HATERS BACK OFF!
Who would have ever thought making an entire series about YouTube videos that are designed to be intentionally annoying and bad could be annoying and bad? Haters Back Off! is the brainchild of YouTube star Colleen Ballinger, aka Miranda Sings, and it follows her quest to become famous, despite her clear lack of talent.
The show employs the cringe-humor model to excess, with every new attempt by Miranda to get herself out there being worse than the last. This kind of schtick could work well if there was any reason to care about any of the characters, however like most sketch comedy when it is stretched beyond five minutes, the characters lack depth and the stories ring hollow.
8. BEST: GLOW
Like Orange is the New Black, GLOW tells the stories of women: what they have to go through, what they put up with, and how they rise above it. What makes this show so unique, however, is telling these stories against the backdrop of professional wrestling and setting the show in the ’80s, a time when putting up with the inherent sexism of the world was just a way of life.
The cast of GLOW is incredible and diverse, and the humour comes from the reality of trying to make it in Hollywood as a woman, while not wanting to sacrifice integrity or dignity. While the inherent idea of the titular wrestling league is to be exploitative, the wrestlers find strength in their characters and being able to be the star of their own story.
7. WORST: FULLER HOUSE
This may come as a shock if you happen to look at the ’90s through rose-coloured nostalgia goggles, but Full House was not a good show. It wasn’t even considered good when it was on television. It was, however, popular, which was enough for it to continue delivering clear morals, corny jokes, and even cornier “rock” songs for eight whole seasons.
When Netflix decided to air a sequel series entitled Fuller House, there was an air of excitement. However, that excitement quickly died down as people realized that this updated Full House still had the look and feel of the original series. Rather than trying to mature or modernize, Fuller House preferred to stick to the same corny jokes, mushy storylines, and sad attempts to be cool.
6. BEST: AMERICAN VANDAL
Netflix has produced some amazing true crime documentaries (Making a Murderer, The Keepers, Evil Genius), but the streaming service hit on something amazing when it produced a show that not only perfectly parodied the style and structure of those series, but was also incredibly hilarious: American Vandal.
American Vandal told a much smaller (and sillier) story than most true crime docs, but what made the show so brilliant were the earnest yet hilarious performances from the cast and the pitch perfect aping of documentary tropes. Now, with it s second season building on the momentum of the first, it looks like American Vandal is here to stay.
5. WORST: GIRLBOSS
Most people probably wouldn’t remember Girlboss if you brought it up in conversation, and that’s what really made it a show that wasn’t worth watching. The series told the true story of Sophia Amoruso. Unfortunately it premiered just as Amoruso’s company was taking a nosedive, eventually being bought for $20 million when it had once been valued at over $200 million.
The biggest problem Girlboss had going forward, in light of Amoruso’s real life failures, was portraying Amoruso as a non-stop success story rather than a flawed individual who would eventually make mistakes leading to her downfall. She came across as a completely unlikeable main character, who didn’t have the business acumen to back up being a bad person.
4. BEST: MASTER OF NONE
There might not be another show that was as honest about modern relationships (and modern life in general) as Master of None. Creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang bring a fresh perspective to the struggles of being in your 30s and trying to figure out your life, while also looking critically at issues of race and gender.
Master of None works so well because of the perspective it has on the modern world. The show does an excellent job in portraying underrepresented groups in a thoughtful and intelligent way. On top of all that, the show really focuses on coming to terms with yourself, and realizing that even though it might feel like it sometimes, you might not actually know everything.
3. WORST: 13 REASONS WHY
If there is one show that is constantly attracting buzz on Netflix, it has to be the teenage drama 13 Reasons Why. The show has proven to be divisive, with some people celebrating its no-holds-barred look at teenage trauma, and others criticizing its over the top approach to important and serious issues.
The biggest problem with 13 Reasons Why is that it feels more exploitative than honest. The writers seem to think that this is the best way to bring attention to these issues, but the show just ends up being gross. After being roundly criticized for its graphic depiction of a character taking her own life, the show doubled down on its disgusting portrayals of bullying in the second season.
2. BEST: STRANGER THINGS
Stranger Things may just be the crown jewel among Netflix’s original series. Since its premiere, it has become a cultural smash and a bonafide hit for the streaming service. The show cribs from Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, and a host of ’80s science fiction and horror to create a stirring new tale that both openly celebrates its influences and builds upon them.
Where Stranger Things really shines is in its wonderful cast of adults and kids. While the otherworldly monsters brought forth at Hawkins Power and Light present one obstacle to over come, the show also tells a great coming of age story about young love, friendship, and standing up for what you believe in.
1. WORST: HEMLOCK GROVE
Hemlock Grove was another one of Netflix’s very first original series, and almost as soon as it hit the streaming service, the negative reviews came flooding in. The show was heavily derided for its tonal missteps, its lack of cohesive storytelling, and the absolutely dire state of the dialogue.
Hemlock Grove lasted three seasons, but it never rose above its campy premise or almost complete lack of a plot. The show even managed to have Famke Janssen turn in a bad performance. Overall, the show lacked the kind of manic energy that can propel a bad story forward, and ultimately it failed to entice audiences with its tawdry treatment of horror tropes.
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