Netflix has something for everyone, but there’s plenty of rubbish padding its catalogue of classic TV shows everyone has heard about. Our guide to the best TV on Netflix UK is updated weekly to help you avoid the mediocre ones and find the best things to watch. We try and pick out the less obvious gems, too, so we’re confident you’ll find a must-watch show you don’t already know about.
That said, if nothing captures your imagination, try our picks of the best documentaries on Netflix and the best films on Netflix UK for more options. Want to watch some US Netflix?
It’s 1980s New York, the height of the AIDS epidemic. Madonna’s Vogue is playing everywhere, and the underground ballroom scene – haven to mostly black and Latino trans and gay people – is a dizzying, glitzy whirlwind of joy and judgement.
Blanca (MJ Rodriguez) decides to take control of her life after receiving an HIV positive diagnosis, and takes in a ragtag bunch of misfits that call her “mother”. Among them is Damon, a talented 17-year old with dreams of becoming a dancer and Angel, a young trans woman who would love to be a model (but works as a prostitute). Worlds collide when Damon gets into the prestigious New School for Dance and Angel falls in love with young executive Stan Bowes (Evan Peters) – who happens to work for Donald Trump.
The world of Pose, inspired by the legendary 80s documentary Paris is Burning, hits a sweet spot: it tackles profoundly difficult issues like discrimination, sexism and poverty, between joyous dance and drag competitions. The series has no weak link. Billy Porter as ballroom MC Pray Tell, and Dominique Jackson as Elektra are truly magnetic, and ground what could have become too much of a tear-jerker with the perfect sprinkling of world-weary cynicism. If you missed it on BBC2, the perfect time to binge-watch it on Netflix is right now.
Netflix’s first ever Original is a brilliant crime and fish-out-of-water black comedy that’s worth trying if you never saw it first time around. Stevie Van Zandt, best known for his role as a mob boss in The Sopranos, plays an eerily familiar mobster who chooses to move to Norway when he turns state’s witness. He ends up in Lillehammer, which he remembers from the 1994 Winter Olympics, and predictably begins building a mafia-style criminal empire, complete with seedy bar, in partnership with some of the less than scrupulous locals.
Nick Kroll’s wacky, geeky, puerile cartoon about puberty is one of the funniest shows on Netflix right now. It’s all very sick and very wrong but the writing is sharp, the plots get more and more surreal and the voice cast is killer: Kroll himself, Fred Armisen, Maya Rudolph as a Hormone Monster, Jason Mantzoukas, even David Thewlis as The Shame Wizard in season two.
The second season of this raunchy teen show is the biggest highlight on Netflix in 2020 so far. Although it has a distinctly American glow, with jocks, Acapella 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 counselling for money, and Gillian Anderson plays his mother in her typical graceful style. While the titular topic is used as a source of comedy, Sex Education also explores issues related to intimacy and identity issues in a smart way that will dredge up your emotions.
A man who looks like a modern-day, aesthetically pleasing version of Jesus turns up out of nowhere and proclaims himself the saviour of the world. Is he telling the truth or is he an extremist in disguise? This controversial ten-part drama, starring Michelle Monaghan as cynical CIA agent Eva Geller and an exceptional Mehdi Dehbi as wannabe prophet Al-Masih, will grip you from the get-go. We travel from Syria to the US as Al-Masih gains more devout followers and the CIA scrambles to determine, Homeland style, whether they should try to stop him.
In an Ice Princess-meets-Skins series, a figure skater tries to get back into competition after a fall that left her with a head injury. Although the world of ice skating may look perfect and pristine, underneath there is a dark tension with mothers sniping abuse from the sidelines and young skaters risking permanent injury by continuing to skate on damaged hips. Kaya Scodelario stars as Kat who has to learn how to skate with a partner if she wants to get back on the ice, and January Jones plays her bipolar mother. There’s even a cheeky cameo from Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness.
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 (played by Henry Cavill), whose occupation as a mutant ‘witcher’ sees 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 dialogue, 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’s real success is in seeming to recognise that viewers don’t necessarily want their ridiculous fantasy shows to be too high-brow or pretentious, and are mainly here to see some cool magic effects and sexy Geralt in the bath (surprising exactly no one, there is plenty of gratuitous female nudity too).
Nick Sax is a detective turned hitman who revels in his completely dysfunctional life. Then, after suffering a heart attack during a hit, he wakes up to find he is now accompanied by Happy, a small blue flying unicorn. He’s the imaginary friend of his kidnapped daughter Hailey, and believes that Nick is the hero that will come to her rescue.
What follows are a large amount of serious violence and disturbing scenes, which will likely be off-putting to some viewers. That said, the story, adapted from a short comic series with the same name, is an amusingly twisted version of serious crime dramas, with a dark sense of humour that stands up even when you’ve wiped all the blood away.
Some of the jokes are based on the obvious contrast between Nick’s indifference to the horrors of the criminal world and Happy’s childish naivety, but that dynamic changes through the eight episodes of the series, before viewers can get tired of it.
Living With Yourself
What’s the only thing better than Paul Rudd? Two Paul Rudds. The actor gets cloned in this quirky comedy when his character, Miles, decides to go for a spa treatment that will help him be a better person. With one radiant new Miles, and one cranky, tired Miles, navigating life becomes harder as they have to learn to put up with each other. Aisling Bea plays his wife Kate, who isn’t aware that she has two husbands under the same roof and just wants back the man she married.
The Crown shows the British royal at its best and worst. It charts the life of Queen Elizabeth II, with the first season focussing on the eight years between 1947 and 1955, where Elizabeth marries the Duke of Edinburgh. Things move faster in the second series, which covers the Suez Crisis and the resignation of British prime minister Harold Macmillan. Now the third season has arrived with Olivia Colman stepping into the role as HRH enters the tricky middle years and the swinging sixties, a time where The Royal Family seems out of place.
Queer Eye: We’re in Japan!
When Netflix rebooted Queer Eye for the Straight Guy as Queer Eye in February 2018 it was all about the makeover: the hosts – Antoni Porowski, Jonathan Van Ness, Karamo Brown, Tan France, and Bobby Berk – introduced the French tuck and taught basic moisturiser lessons. Now things have ramped up. The fab four have travelled to Japan for their latest series. Through four episodes the group help a hospice nurse, a bulled manga artist and a shy radio director. Each episode explores many of the same themes as the version set in the US – loneliness, acceptance and self-confidence are core principles – but come with a breath of fresh air.
Part drama, part comedy, Atypical follows the experiences of autistic teenager Sam Gardner. As he comes of age he seeks independence by finding love and graduating high school. In the newly-released third series, Sam goes to college to face the challenges of higher education and making new friends. You’ll get to know his family as his parents are going through relationship problems after his mother Elsa has an affair, and his sister Casey is struggling with her feelings for her best friend Izzie. Despite the range of emotions Atypical will send you through, there isn’t one character you won’t love (or at least learn to) in this heartwarming show.
Line of Duty
Jed Mercurio’s gripping police drama follows the work of AC-12, a police anti-corruption unit working in an unspecified UK city. Originally broadcast on the BBC, the show centres around Steven Arnott, a detective who is transferred to AC-12 from counter-terrorism after a delicate operation goes badly wrong, and colleagues Kate Fleming – an undercover operative – and Ted Hastings. Each set of six episodes covers a different case of potential police wrongdoing, and there are moments of gripping tension that make it perfect for binge-watching. The first four seasons are on Netflix.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Is The Next Generation the best Star Trek series? We’re not getting into that debate, but you can decide for yourself by watching all seven series on Netflix. That said, brilliant though it is, you really shouldn’t watch all seven seasons. The first is pretty turgid and the second is only marginally better, but TNG really hits its stride in season three and never looks back. Handily, the nature of Star Trek means you can safely miss dozens of episodes and miss nothing important, so a little strategic watching is in order. Wired.com’s binge-watching guide will navigate you safely around the land mines, so you can enjoy the absolute sci-fi gems hidden within.
Aired between 2005 and 2012, Weeds carries the hallmarks of a vintage TV series, but luckily it’s one that’s aged well. The premise – a suburban mom who turns to dealing weed for money after her husband dies – might sound vaguely familiar. But this show aired before Breaking Bad, and some consider it a precursor to the far more famous show. Weeds brings together a ramshackle family unit whose farcical slide into big time drug dealing creates the opportunity to introduce a range of bizarre characters and storylines, while still managing to maintain a warm heart.
From the Academy Award-winning directors and writers of The Matrix comes this mind-blowing globe-trotting sci-fi romp. Sense8 sees eight individuals around the world suddenly become telekinetically linked, and unexpectedly able to feel each other’s deepest emotions like love, pain and fear. The show’s not your run-of-the-mill sci-fi flick, instead it’s more of a character study looking at how people connect through empathy. It’s a beautiful, bonkers creation, filmed in over nine cities, with two splendid seasons and one hard fought-for finale. And while it’s now finished, it’s still well worth your undivided attention, if not for that psychic orgy. Yes, you read that right.
When Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever) reports that she has been raped, she finds herself thrown into a deeply flawed system that will go on to tear her already traumatic life apart at the seams. 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. The unvarnished horror of Adler’s 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 – add up to a nuanced and unmissable exploration of the lasting impacts of sexual violence.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
A big budget prequel to Jim Henson’s 1982 cult classic brings the rich world of Thra to the small screen. Like its predecessor, Age of Resistance is a breathtaking, sweeping fantasy that rivals Game of Thrones in terms of political intrigue. It follows the fortunes of three Gelflings and their struggles against the vulture-like Skeksis. The use of puppets sets it apart from pretty much anything else on Netflix, and there’s a skilled cast of voice actors to accompany the puppeteers, including Taron Egerton, Simon Pegg and Mark Hamill.
Inspired by the real-life story of Israel’s most famous spy, Sacha Baron Cohen successfully goes undercover in Syria in the 1960s. It’s a dramatic turn for an actor who forged his career as a satirical comedian in characters such as Borat and Ali G. In this six-part miniseries, the main character Eli Cohen spends years devoted to his Arab persona, eventually becoming close enough to the high-ranked politicians and military leaders who would later take over the country and ascending to power himself.
The People v. O.J. Simpson
Part of the American Crime Story series, The People v. O.J. Simpson is a gripping ten-episode mini-series which tells the story of the the infamous O.J. Simpson murder case. Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Simpson with David Schwimmer is uncanny as Robert Kardashian, whose family needs no introduction. The story is compelling enough on its own and the performances and direction are (John Travolta aside) excellent, as evidenced by the 22 Primetime Emmy Award nominations the series received and its 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Once you’ve burned through this you’ll want to move onto the second season, which revolves around the murder of Gianni Versace.
Now into its second season, David Fincher’s Mindhunter is very ‘Fincher’ and that’s a good thing. The director behind Seven and Zodiac is a producer and directs numerous episodes of the series, which tells the origin story of the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit and its study of serial killers. The second season has fewer of the tense interviews with killers that made season one famous, instead focusing on a prolonged investigation into the serial murders of young African Americans in Atlanta, the first test of the unit’s theories. The second season isn’t quite as tight as the first, but it’s still a hugely compelling watch with top-notch production values.
The Thick of It
Woke millennial websites? Anti-knife campaigns in chicken shops? Watching inept MPs and civil servants fluff it all up might be the last thing you want to see right now but Armando Iannucci’s excruciatingly funny Westminster sitcom (which ran sporadically from 2005 to 2012) might actually be cathartic. Peter Capaldi’s petrifying puppetmaster Malcolm Tucker gets all the best lines (insults) but the bumbling awkwardness from everyone else is just as exquisite. Classic Brexit bunker TV.
If you like your TV moody and brooding, sci-fi series Dark is for you. The first German-language Netflix Original series (don’t worry, there’s an option for English dubbing), Dark opens with a secret liaison, a missing teenager and a spooky-looking cave – which rather 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 bucketloads of atmosphere. The title is appropriate.
Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black debuted in 2013 – and after seven seasons it is finally coming to a close. The series follows Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a former small-time criminal turned PR executive, who is held accountable for her past. Chapman is upended from her privileged lifestyle and thrown into a minimum-security prison. She doesn’t fit in. From her first day in prison to the last – and beyond – chaos follows her around. Expect drugs, death, sex and escape attempts.
When They See Us
The four-part miniseries reenacts the excruciating case of the Central Park Five, a group of black and Latino teens from Harlem, who were wrongly convicted of the rape and attempted murder of a white woman in 1989. Filmmaker Ana DuVernay – with Oprah Winfrey and Robert de Niro among the executive producers – tells a true story of racial profiling, injustice and media misinformation over a 25-year timespan, from arrest to vindication.
Bridget Jones turns into a shrewd billionaire puppetmaster. In her first leading role in a TV series, Renée Zellweger plays Anne Montgomery, a renowned and feared venture capitalist based in San Francisco who promises to rescue research scientist Lisa Donovan’s (Jane Levy) medical startup in return for one night with her newlywed husband Sean (Blake Jenner). The thriller anthology explores the decisions people make and the ripple effects they create. The plot is confusing with weak supporting characters but its trashiness might actually be sort of deliberate.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace
From the same team behind The People v O.J. Simpson comes the true – if slightly embellished – story of the life of Andrew Cunanan, who, in 1997, shot dead the world-famous fashion designer Gianni Versace outside his home in Miami Beach, Florida. This darkly stylish series, which debuted on the BBC in the UK but has now been picked up by Netflix. The narrative jumps around to build up Cunanan’s character, revealing an eccentric, enigmatic and ultimately darkly twisted individual who is superbly played by Darren Criss – best-known as Blaine Anderson in Glee. From start to finish, this show is compelling, binge-worthy viewing.
Dogs are too good for us. There’s proof enough in the first very first episode of Dogs, a tale of a service animal trained to detect seizures in a young girl, giving her back the freedom to be alone. While the episode about groomers in Japan has its fair share of adorable, Dogs is much more than a series of cute Instagram-worthy clips. Instead, these slow, quietly told stories reveal how devotion and love bring out the best in us humans, be it at the world’s largest shelter in Costa Rica, fishing on an empty Italian lake, or the tense trip a husky takes from Syria to reunite with his owner, a refugee now living in Berlin. By the time the final episode about adoption rolls around, you’ll want one of your own – but not feel quite worthy.
The Last Kingdom
Based on a series of novels by Bernard Cornwell, The Last Kingdom is set in late 9th-century England, long before the country was unified. The competing kingdoms have been invaded and occupied by Vikings, leaving Wessex under the rule of King Alfred as the last standing against the plundering hoards. It’s an entertaining historical drama centred on Uthred of Bebbanburg, an Anglo-Saxon who is kidnapped as a boy, raised as a Viking and finds himself playing both sides to try and regain the land and title stolen from him. It never quite reaches the heights of Vikings, which is available on Amazon Prime, but it’s a more than adequate substitute while you wait for its final season. There are three seasons on Netflix with a fourth on the way.
If you’ve run out of episodes of Black Mirror, it’s well worth diving into the Charlie Brooker back-catalogue. Dead Set, a five-part mini-series which was originally broadcast in 2008, isn’t quite as slick and polished as its higher budget successor, but there are clear signs of what was to come from Brooker in its darkly twisted premise.
The show, which was uploaded to Netflix for the first time this month, follows the contestants and producers on a fictional series of Big Brother, who become stranded on set as a zombie outbreak ravages the world outside. There are appearances from Riz Ahmed – later of Rogue One and Four Lions – and Warren Brown (Idris Elba’s detective partner on Luther), as well as a zombified Davina McCall. There’s even a blink and you’ll miss it zombie cameo from Brooker himself – taking on a rare acting role in addition to writing and producing.
Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany puts on the mask of a 2018 sci-fi version of Veronica Mars with a slightly more whimsical vibe and a fake British accent. If that doesn’t sell it for you, it is likely that Maslany’s stunning performance as Sarah, an unfortunate byproduct of scientific experiment on cloning, will win you over. Upon witnessing the suicide of a woman looking suspiciously similar to her, Sarah decides to take on her identity and is quick to realise that there is a lot more at stake than forming herself to her doppelgängers’ profession – police officer. She discovers that she is part of a large-scale experiment with clones, and that identical versions of her are running around all over the country. We’ll leave you to find out what complications that entails.
The Good Place
After suffering an improbable and humiliating death, Eleanor finds herself in ‘The Good Place’, a perfect neighbourhood inhabited by the world’s worthiest people. But there seems to have been some administrative error, as Eleanor is not a good person by any measure. Desperate to not be sent to ‘The Bad Place’, she tries to correct her behaviour in the afterlife, with the help of the teachings of her assigned soulmate, philosophy professor Chidi. There’s a sprinkling of ethical teaching in every episode, which the stories themselves extend into something more easily understood and enjoyed by the average viewer.
A serial killer targeting children is on the loose in 1890s New York. The local police department is playing down any connections between the deaths of the young boys, who all work in the sex industry. Based on Caleb Carr’s novel, the series sees criminal psychologist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler team up with a New York Times illustrator called John Moore and Sara Howard, NYPD’s first female employee who has aspirations of becoming a detective. The trio work under the radar with new police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt in an attempt to track down the deranged serial killer using psychological analysis – a largely unheard of technique at the time.
Manhunt: Unabomber is a crime drama based on the FBI’s hunt for serial bomber Ted Kaczynski (played by Paul Bettany), who mailed a string of homemade bombs to targets including academics, airlines and executives between 1978 and 1995. The series focuses on FBI profiler James Fitzgerald (Sam Worthington), who attempts to find linguistic clues in the bomber’s political writings in order to identify him. It’s a fast-paced, high-stakes investigation, and the show gets under the skin of both protagonists, who we are led to believe have a lot more in common than they would perhaps like to admit.
Travellers is something of a hidden gem, albeit one that’s increasingly not hidden as people realise the genius of this tight, entertaining Canadian sci-fi series. Run by Brad Wright, one of the co-creators of Stargate SG-1, the show follows a team of time travellers sent back to “the 21st” to prevent the post-apocalyptic future from which they came. The twist is how they travel. The Travellers have their consciousness transferred into the bodies of people shortly before their death, adopting their identities and living their lives between missions. It’s an often thrilling, sometimes complicated watch that treads the line between serious sci-fi and accessible entertainment perfectly.
Better Call Saul
Flawed characters make good drama and boy are the characters in Better Call Saul flawed. A prequel to the legendary Breaking Bad, it’s the story of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), the morally flexible dial-a-lawyer better-known as Saul Goodman. Ostensibly it’s about how Jimmy became Saul, but there’s more to the show. It also fills out the story of Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), the ex-cop and bag man, and the Chicken restaurant drug kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Mostly, though, it’s about Jimmy and his relationship with his brother Chuck McGill, played brilliantly by Michael McKean. Their inherent differences drive drama across three seasons, although it can be a little slow to get started.
The End of the F***ing World
“I thought she could be interesting to kill. So I pretended to fall in love with her.” Thus begins the inner monologue of James (Alex Lawther), a dysfunctional 17-year-old who is convinced he’s a sociopath. His target is Alyssa, played by Jessica Barden (Hanna) the new girl at school with terrible parents and a special talent for annoying people. They run away together and the corresponding crime spree draws them closer and has the law following in their wake. This pitch perfect black comedy from Channel 4 will leave you wanting much more, not least as its eight episodes are just 30 minutes apiece. You’ll blast through The End of the F***ing World in a weekend, perhaps even an evening, and be better for it.
This “mockumentary” follows student documentarian Peter Maldonado, who embarks on an investigation into the expulsion of fellow student Dylan Maxwell for spray-painting dicks on the cars of 27 teachers. American Vandal will draw you in with its smart satire, which pokes fun at both the recent trend for true-crime documentaries and the modern stereotypes of American high schools, before hooking you with the fast-unravelling mystery story. A few episodes in, you’ll genuinely be on the edge of your seat wondering: Who drew the dicks?
If Netflix had released this nostalgic, lycra ridden 80’s show a little sooner, we have no doubts that the term ‘Glow Up’ would have a very different origin story. It focuses on a group of ‘unconventional women’ who are, quite simply, looking for a break. When these wannabe actresses respond to an ad for talent, they are inducted into the neon lit, soap-opera splendour of America’s most misunderstood sport. Through nothing but sweat, tears and an iron determination to break a chair over the back of inequality, they become the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling. GLOW does what very few shows do – dedicating itself to a powerful ensemble of actresses and allowing them space to breathe.