There’s no way to select just 75 TV shows from a catalog as large as Netflix’s without making someone mad. Even if you start off by eliminating non-theatrical (formerly “made for TV”) movies, one-off comedy specials and others that could reasonably exist under the TV show umbrella, you’re left with an almost impossible array of options. Who’s to say this anime is better than that sitcom, or that melodrama is better than this docuseries?
Still, a 75-item unranked list is no fun — and perhaps not terribly helpful if you too need help sorting through all the streamer has to offer. So we surveyed the eight-member Times TV team about individual picks for the best TV shows on Netflix and compiled the results into this master list. The choices, as you might expect, are sometimes idiosyncratic, possibly controversial and always deeply personal. For us, there’s no other way to talk about TV.
So, without further ado, here’s our anything-but-exhaustive guide to the 75 best TV shows on Netflix, which we’ll be updating regularly as tastes change and titles come and go from the platform. We’re sure it’ll leave everyone dissatisfied in one way or another. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be a very good list. —Matt Brennan
75. Wynonna Earp
2016 | TV-MA | 4 Seasons | LGBTQ TV Shows
Created by Emily Andras
Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano), the quippy great-great-granddaughter of the famed lawman Wyatt Earp, returns to her hometown of Purgatory and activates a family curse that tasks her with sending resurrected demons back to hell with her ancestor’s magical gun. Despite her insecurities and aversion to responsibility, she’s loyal to those she loves and knows it’s up to her to save the day. Her support network includes her younger sister Waverly, town sheriff Nicole Haught and gunslinger-turned-vampire Doc Holliday.
This supernatural western, loosely based on a comic book series by Beau Smith, is a show about family and love and embracing who you are meant to be, wrapped in a package that includes whiskey, donuts, steamy romance and creepy monsters. “Wynonna Earp’s” feminist perspective and LGBTQ-inclusive storytelling quickly drew a passionate following of fans known as “Earpers.” It’s a TV fandom known not only for its commitment to the show but also for its collective niceness. —Tracy Brown
2020 | TV-MA | 1 Season | TV Dramas
Created by Chris Van Dusen
This charming and addictive series, based on the romance novels of Julia Quinn, is set in the competitive marriage market of Regency London’s high society, where wizened matriarchs present their eligible offspring at an exhausting number of balls, luncheons and parties in a sumptuous pageant of exquisite gowns, sparkly tiaras and silken waistcoats.
But underneath all that finery is the raw desire, lust and treachery you’d expect from a production helmed by creator-showrunner Chris Van Dusen, Shonda Rhimes’ protégé and former producer on both “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
The uptight decorum and prudish manners of the era are reimagined through a modern lens. Historians and Jane Austen purists may take offense, but this well-crafted, escapist drama — where orchestras play covers of Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish hits — is not meant for them.
A powerful gossip columnist known only as Lady Whistledown, voiced by Julie Andrews, narrates the series, though her identity remains a mystery until the season’s closing moments. Central to the game of human chess are the lovely Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and dashing Duke Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page). Daphne is sheltered and naive to the ways of the world, but she is clever when it comes to navigating the perils of high society. —Lorraine Ali
73. The Umbrella Academy
2019 | TV-14 | 2 Seasons | Sci-Fi TV
Created by Steve Blackman
“The Umbrella Academy” is a superhero series adapted from the comic book created and written by My Chemical Romance’s frontman Gerard Way, and it stars Elliot Page, Tom Hopper and Mary J. Blige. The sibling rivalries and roller-coaster emotions of the characters play a central role in this not-so-average family drama.
Their narrative starts with a global phenomenon: It’s the 1980s and 43 unrelated women who showed no signs of pregnancy suddenly give birth to infants on the same day. Wealthy inventor and philanthropist Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) adopts seven of these miracle babies, creates the Umbrella Academy and teaches them to hone their powers and become superheroes. Good thing they have a strategic edge. Vanya (Page), a.k.a. No. 7, is the only one without powers — or at least that’s what they all think.
“The Umbrella Academy” stands out among the countless other superhero series splashed across billboards and viewing queues.—Lorraine Ali
72. The Haunting of Hill House
2018 | TV-MA | 1 Season | TV Mysteries
Created by Mike Flanagan
“The Haunting of Hill House” is “based on” Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel of the same name, which is to say it lifts a setting, a couple of characters, several names, selected incidents, odd details and occasional passages of prose from the book and makes something almost entirely different out of them.
Meet the Crains, late 20th century edition. Mom Olivia (Carla Gugino) and dad Hugh (Henry Thomas) have taken temporary possession of an imposing old Massachusetts mansion they intend to restore and flip to become rich. (That this is a ghost story, and a less ambiguous one than Jackson’s, means that just who is in possession of what, or what of whom, will be in question.)
Meet the Crains of today. A quarter-century has passed. (The series hops back and forth in time.) Mom is no longer in the picture; dad (Timothy Hutton) isn’t around much. Steven (Michiel Huisman) has gotten rich writing books about ghostly phenomena, beginning with one about the summer his family spent in what came to be known as “America’s most famous haunted house,” though he has never seen a ghost himself. Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), having discovered her calling young, is a mortician who has no time for phantoms. She is not happy about Steven’s book.
One senses that creator-director Mike Flanagan felt this material keenly and that he had some things of his own about parents and children and brothers and sisters and life and death he really needed to say, and said them all, literally to the last word. —Robert Lloyd
2010 | TV-MA | 3 Seasons | Social Issue TV Dramas
Created by Adam Price
Thrusting an intelligent idealist into a leadership position is a time-honored method of chronicling the corruptive nature of power, particularly the political variety. In recent years, television writers have done a bit of narrative multitasking by making that person a woman — in the U.S. it was “Commander in Chief,” in the U.K., “The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard.” For Denmark, in case you were wondering, it’s “Borgen.”
One part “The West Wing,” one part “The Newsroom” and more dramatically ambitious than either, the series follows the career of Birgitte Nyborg Christensen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a leader of the moderate party who unexpectedly becomes prime minister only to discover many things we already know: Government is run by an unsavory combination of narcissists and lackeys; fear and greed, shaken or stirred, is the beverage of choice; being a leader requires a certain level of ruthlessness; no one is to be trusted completely; and holding political office is tough on a marriage. It’s a smarty-pants show, but it’s provocative rather than explosive, and these days, that’s a rare and wonderful feat. —Mary McNamara
70. I Think You Should Leave
2019 | TV-MA | 2 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Tim Robinson and Zach Kanin
Potty humor gets a surreal twist in Tim Robinson’s antic sketch comedy show. The former “Detroiters” star often plays the person who should leave — usually because he insists he’s in the right despite all signs to the contrary. The humor derives from the absurd lengths his characters are willing to go to to prove their point, whether he’s the guy in the hot dog costume who is determined to find the person who crashed a hot-dog shaped car into the window of a clothing store — a sketch that went on to become one of the late Trump era’s most resonant memes — or a guest who keeps interrupting a Victorian ghost tour with profane interjections. Each episode runs for about 15 minutes — just two Quibis! — and there are only 12 of them, so you can watch the entire series in about the time it would take to view “The Irishman.” You will probably laugh a lot more. —Meredith Blake
69. Call the Midwife
2012 | TV-MA | 9 Seasons | Social Issue TV Dramas
Created by Heidi Thomas
Set in London’s East End starting in the late 1950s and based on the memoir of Jennifer Worth, “Call the Midwife” chronicles the adventures of a group of midwives working at the Nonnatus House, a nursing convent named for the early cesarean-surviving patron saint of childbirth.
Although first and foremost the tale is about the plucky middle-class “gels” (hard g) learning about life, “Call the Midwife” is also a timely valentine to socialized medicine. The midwives, as well as the clinics, doctors and ambulance drivers who tend to the East End’s poor, are employees of Britain’s newly established National Health Service. Nary an episode goes by without the reminder, often via voiceover by the glorious Vanessa Redgrave, that this baby or that mother would have most certainly died without the services provided by the NHS.
The stories revolve around the young and comely Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine), who becomes a midwife out of a desire to do good but also to escape the perils of a thwarted romance. She joins two other young women, as well as a terrific quartet of nuns; Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) runs the place, and not since “The Sound of Music’s” Mother Superior have we seen such regal kindliness. —Mary McNamara
68. My Next Guest Needs No Introduction
2018 | TV-MA | 3 Seasons | Political TV Shows
A decidedly more casual version of America’s longest-reigning late-night host greeted an ecstatic studio audience with characteristic understatement: “I’m Dave Letterman. I had a show for a while, then I got fired.”
The Obama interview was the premiere episode of a monthly series that includes sitdowns with George Clooney, Jay-Z, Tina Fey and activist Malala Yousafzai in the first season; Kanye West, Ellen DeGeneres and Melinda Gates in the second; and Kim Kardashian West, Robert Downey Jr. and Dave Chappelle in the third.
Letterman gave a simple explanation of why he decided to host another show: “You never know when you might learn something, and that’s what this is about for me. These are people that I admire.” —Lorraine Ali
67. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
1993 | TV-14 | 7 Seasons | Sci-Fi TV
Created by Rick Berman and Michael Piller
Despite the guiding absence of the late Gene Roddenberry, who left the galaxy before the premise for the third live-action “Star Trek” series was in place, this iteration is as pointedly progressive as its predecessors.
A reluctant Cmdr. Sisko (Avery Brooks) has been appointed by an impassive Picard (Patrick Stewart) to take charge of the title space station, a run-down and looted piece of hardware orbiting the distant planet Bajor. Said station was recently deserted by the villainous, furrowed-brow Cardassians, who subjected the native, furrowed-nose Bajorans to a 100-year reign of terror; plenty of representatives of both warring factions are still around, and none too forgiving. It’s soapy fun, flirts with actual ideas and has great stereo-surround effects during the explosions. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy “Nine.” —Chris Willman
2017 | TV-14 | 4 Seasons | Teen TV Shows
Created by Robia Rashid
The tacit social cues. The subtle body language. The veiled conversation. It’s all Greek to the autistic teen who’d rather talk about the migration habits of Antarctica’s chinstrap penguin population, but funnily enough, that’s not the best chick bait.
Yet if Sam (played with humor and sensitivity by Keir Gilchrist) ever hopes to have a girlfriend, he must decode this odd courtship ritual between humans. Complicating things is that he’s like any other teen on the precipice of adulthood — confused, annoyed and dismayed.
Those who’ve raised, loved or cared for someone autistic will recognize their story in “Atypical,” a series that understands the minutiae and big picture of living on the spectrum, or living with someone who others may see as weird, odd or “not all there” (as one student says about Sam while she’s trying to defend him against bullies). But this is not a sob story, or autism explainer, or an after-school special about tolerance.
“Atypical” is a fast-moving family drama that often borders on comedy. The series is as compassionate as it is snarky, pairing a deep understanding of everyday life on the spectrum with a sense of humor rarely found in productions that deal with autism. “Atypical” risks offending some, but it does more good than harm by demystifying a sensitive and painful subject with unapologetic candor. —Lorraine Ali
65. Neon Genesis Evangelion
1995 | TV-MA | 1 Season | Sci-Fi Anime
Created by Hideaki Anno
Since its debut in 1995, Hideaki Anno’s “Shinseiki Evangelion” (“Neon Genesis Evangelion”) has remained one of the most popular, influential and controversial series in the history of Japanese animation.
“Evangelion” (pronounced with a hard “G”) is derived from the German evangelium, which refers to the Christian Gospels but is also slang for absolute truth. Anno’s watershed series was not the first anime series to combine giant robots with apocalyptic Christian symbols and elements of Jungian psychology, but it did so with exceptional panache. It’s an intriguing and sophisticated work, utterly unlike any American animated film.
The story unfolds in 2015, 15 years after the Second Impact, a cataclysmic explosion in Antarctica that devastated much of the Earth. Although reported as a meteor strike, the explosion was caused by a human encounter with Adam, the first of the powerful, sentient creatures known as Angels to appear on Earth. The Angels are now attacking the planet, and the defense of Earth rests with the secret U.N. agency NERV. The only effective weapon against the Angels are the Evas (short for “Evangelions”), NERV’s enormous cyborg robot suits piloted by psychic teenagers. —Charles Solomon
64. The Keepers
2017 | TV-MA | 1 Season | TV Mysteries
Directed by Ryan White
The seven-part documentary series “The Keepers” looks at one of Baltimore’s most vexing cold cases through the eyes of the women who continue to push for justice for Sister Cathy: her former students at Archbishop Keough High School.
Sister Cathy Cesnik went missing on Nov. 7, 1969. Two months later, her body was found in a field not far from her apartment. Nearly five decades later, the murder of the young nun and high school teacher remains unsolved.
Now in their 60s, Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub have spent decades trying to get to the bottom of the murder of their beloved teacher, who was 26 at the time of her death. But as “The Keepers” shows, the unsolved case has wider implications than your average whodunit, and the series lays out a number of compelling theories. —Lorraine Ali
63. Dear White People
2017 | TV-MA | 4 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Justin Simien
In the appealing comedy “Dear White People,” Justin Simien expands his 2014 movie about Black life at a mostly white Ivy League college into a streaming series that has a sort of round-robin structure, each episode focusing on a different character, moving the story forward as it replays earlier action in a new context, adding backstories and side plots for depth and breadth.
At its axis, more or less, is Winchester University student Samantha White (Logan Browning). A “junior media-studies major and local provocateur,” Sam hosts a college-radio program called “Dear White People,” in which she takes calls and talks mainly about how white people get Black people wrong, even when acting out of what they perceive as genuine interest or brotherly/sisterly goodwill.
The series’ inextricable mix of the personal and the political makes for the best of both worlds in the end, because Simien is sweet with his characters, who are, finally, sweet with one another. Principles matter here, but people matter more. —Robert Lloyd
62. Seven Seconds
2018 | TV-MA | 1 Season | Social Issue TV Dramas
Created by Veena Sud
Peter Jablonski (Beau Knapp) is driving distractedly through a snowy Jersey City park in what, on a sunny day, would be the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, when he hits something — a Black teenager on a bicycle, it eventually transpires, named Brenton Butler.
Police arrive on the scene as he waits in his car, and it seems for a minute that Jablonski will turn himself in. But he turns out to be one of them, the rookie member of an elite narcotics squad.
Butler is discovered the next day, bringing together our raggedy heroes, Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and Det. Joe “Fish” Rinaldi (Michael Mosley) — lonely outsiders catching what looks at first, especially through the filter of her exhaustion and his cynicism, like a nothing case. They have wonderful, aggravated chemistry.
She’s the black sheep of an upper-crust Black family, drinking too much, showing up late and unprepared to court. He has come to Jersey City from the NYPD after a divorce. She is moody, hungover; he’s a needling, jokey chatterbox who has filled his bachelor apartment with senior rescue dogs for love.
Like the Veena Sud-developed “The Killing,” this is ultimately a story about families and surrogate families and improvised families — the comfort they offer and the damage they do. “Seven Seconds” does keep you in suspense with the expectation that bad things will happen, and they do. Nevertheless, the series is more hopeful than not. To find out just what that means you’ll have to watch. I recommend you do. —Robert Lloyd
2018 | TV-MA | 3 Seasons | TV Thrillers
Created by Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble
Part psychological thriller and part social commentary, “You” follows unassuming New York bookstore manager Joe (Penn Badgley) as he stalks aspiring writer and grad student Beck (Elizabeth Lail). “We were meant for each other,” he tells himself as he peers through her curtain-less apartment windows days after meeting her over a brief transaction at the bookstore.
Creepy, addictive and full of dry humor about social media, millennials and dating in the age of Tinder, “You” twists the usual victim-perp plotline — she’s terrorized, he’s sickeningly aroused — by placing them both squarely in the #MeToo era.
Joe is a dangerous, delusional mess, but is he any worse than the lechy professor who demands sex for a paid position at the university; the cheating, vapid boyfriend; or the bestselling author who feigns interest in her work as he runs his hand up her skirt?
Not really. The other predators and abusers don’t need to move through the shadows or hide because their brand of harassment is socially acceptable. It’s just the way things are — the price a young woman has to pay to get ahead. —Lorraine Ali
60. New Girl
2011 | TV-14 | 7 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Elizabeth Meriwether
In “New Girl,” Zooey Deschanel is Jess, who becomes the roommate of three buddies (Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris) after she breaks up with her cheating boyfriend. It’s an uncertain arrangement at the start, but if there’s any doubt why it works over the long haul — for the characters and for viewers — there’s the Deschanel factor to consider. Strongly —Jay Bobbin
59. Immigration Nation
2020 | TV-MA | 1 Season | Docuseries
Created by Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau
Covering the spring of 2017 to the winter of 2019, “Immigration Nation” documents the implementation of President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration framework, a central theme in his 2016 campaign, and its effect on the migrants who must grapple with it — casting the lens on the enforcers and the immigrants. (None of the participants were compensated for their participation.) The series hails from directors Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau, the team behind 2017’s “Trophy,” which explored both sides of the debate over big-game hunting. —Yvonne Villarreal
2020 | TV-MA | 2 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez
Based on a 2016 web series, “Gentefied” is a small-town (within a big town) comedy that announces its intentions in its very first scene, when what looks like a robbery about to happen turns out to be the return of a library book. In one nice stroke, it plays to television’s habitual criminalization of the poor and reminds us that life everywhere is, well, normal.
The action, set in the predominantly Mexican American neighborhood of Boyle Heights, centers on three cousins and their grandfather, called Pop (Joaquín Cosío), who runs a taqueria named for his late wife and stands for the honored and perhaps fatally intransigent older generation. (He is grumpy but poetic.) Erik (Joseph Julian Soria) works for Pop and has a baby coming with Lidia (Annie Gonzalez), his former girlfriend who in almost every respect is his superior. Ana (Karrie Martin) is an aspiring artist, with a young daughter and a female partner, Yessika (Julissa Calderon).
Chris (Carlos Santos) is back in town after a decade, having earned a business degree that allows him to say things like “That’s just the free market” when it comes to discussing the changing economics of the neighborhood. But he’s working in the kitchen at a fancy Arts District restaurant and hoping to enroll at Le Cordon Bleu. Their shared concern is the survival of the taqueria, which is behind on the rent.
The show is certainly topical and political — Trump and his wall, the threat of ICE and toxic masculinity all get a shoutout, as do “greedy landlords waiting to replace us with ramen spots.” But ultimately “Gentefied’s” strengths are personal: a universally understood, mostly sunny story of people driving their loved ones a little crazy while they sort out their lives. You may relate. —Robert Lloyd
57. Sex Education
2019 | TV-MA | 3 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Laurie Nunn
America may dominate popular culture with the power of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, but Europe often still leads in terms of subject matter. Consider this U.K. import, which imagines an awkward high school kid who with a little help follows in the footsteps of his sex therapist mother (an excellent Gillian Anderson) by counseling his classmates through their intimate issues.
While it’s entertaining enough to imagine how far such a TV series might progress through an American network, “Sex Education” manages to be even more rewarding with a mix of outrageous comedy and gentle empathy. —Chris Barton
56. Unsolved Mysteries
2020 | TV-MA | 2 Seasons | Docuseries
Executive produced by Shawn Levy
If you were a child in the ’80s or ‘90s — and maybe even if you were an adult — you probably lost a few nights’ sleep to “Unsolved Mysteries.” Hosted by the leathery-voiced Robert Stack and featuring one of the eeriest theme songs in TV history, the long-running reality show scared the bejesus out of a generation with stories about brutal murders and baffling disappearances, yeti sightings and alien abductions, medical mysteries and long-lost loves.
Now, like so many other nostalgia-steeped properties from the 1990s, it’s been revived for the streaming era on Netflix.
The spooky theme song is back in a new arrangement, and the franchise has likewise been retooled to suit contemporary tastes: There’s no host, no narration and no more literal reenactments. Each episode focuses on a single subject, allowing for a greater level of detail and nuance. Stylistically, the reboot — executive produced by Shawn Levy — shares as much DNA with “The Jinx” or “Making a Murderer” as the original “Unsolved Mysteries.” —Meredith Blake
2018 | TV-Y7 | 2 Seasons | Kids’ TV
Created by Luke Pearson
I have a weakness for cute creatures, and “Hilda” is packed with them. A young girl who’s grown up in a house out in the wilderness with her mother, Hilda is much more comfortable sketching rock-like trolls, negotiating peace with tiny elves and hitching rides on the backs of flying round puppies than trying to make friends with children her age. But when her mother decides it’s time for them to move to the city early in the first season, Hilda has to learn to adapt. And it turns out there are plenty of magical creatures within the urban landscape too. The show’s embrace of the weird and whimsical is charming, but it’s the touch of wistfulness that seeps through as we watch Hilda grow that makes it memorable. —Tracy Brown
54. Big Mouth
2017 | TV-MA | 4 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett
Countless books, TV shows and movies have re-created the cringe-inducing traumas of adolescence, but perhaps none have been as simultaneously filthy and emotionally insightful as “Big Mouth.”
The animated comedy puts a fictional spin on the decades-long friendship between co-creators Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg — a relationship that dates to the mid-’80s when they met as first-graders at their school in the suburbs of Westchester County.—Meredith Blake
53. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
2018 | TV-MA | 1 Season | Social Issue TV Dramas
Created by Ryan Murphy
Details surrounding the Italian fashion designer’s 1997 murder by serial killer Andrew Cunanan weren’t burned into the American psyche, largely because Cunanan was a male escort and the majority of his victims were gay. And in the wake of an AIDS epidemic, the inference was that these were men already leading risky lifestyles, dabbling in the avoidable. Ignorance and bigotry allowed much of America to emotionally divorce itself from the crime.
In a painful scene after Versace (Édgar Ramírez) is found dying on the front steps of his South Beach mansion, his significant other, Antonio D’Amico (Ricky Martin), is grilled by a detective who can’t quite grasp what kind of partner D’Amico is (“business?”) — and if they were romantically involved, why were they bringing other men home from clubs? It’s D’Amico who ends up being interrogated about his lifestyle, rather than possible suspects.
Penélope Cruz is stone-cold perfect as Versace’s muse and sister, the hardened Donatella, and Darren Criss is chillingly convincing as the psychopathic Cunanan.
The series attempts to recast Versace’s “assassination” at age 50 from a fading headline to a human tragedy, and for the most part succeeds. —Lorraine Ali
52. The End of the F— World
2017 | TV-MA | 2 Seasons | TV Comedies
She’s a nihilist. He’s a potential serial killer. Both need to flee the constraints of their disapproving families and conventional town. Alienation and angst are embodied in this quirky and sardonic British series.
James (Alex Lawther) wants to graduate from small animals to larger prey when he meets Alyssa (Jessica Barden). She sees him as a malleable accomplice in a quest to find her estranged father. Together they learn they need each other to make it through a world that’s more messed up than them. Based on the comic book series by Charles Forsman, this coming-of-age, misfit tale is the true outsider’s answer to the soppy teen drama dilemma. —Lorraine Ali
51. Black Mirror
2011 | TV-MA | 5 Seasons | TV Thrillers
Created by Charlie Brooker
Named after the visual reflection of our devices when powered off, “Black Mirror” began in 2011 as an import from the U.K.’s Channel 4, and memorably kicked off with a bizarrely prescient episode about a prime minister’s close relationship with a pig (Google it). Since then it has resembled a sort of “Twilight Zone” for the digital age, imagining not-too-distant futures of Yelp-like ratings for people, a dystopian endgame for “American Idol” and how digital footprints could yield a haunting sort of immortality. Of course, for all its cautionary examples of technology run amok, the series earned its greatest notice for “San Junipero,” a timeless, digitally enhanced love story that constituted its most hopeful moment. —Chris Barton
50. Kim’s Convenience
2016 | TV-MA | 5 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Ins Choi and Kevin White
Originally based on Ins Choi’s stage play, this CBC sitcom centered on the day-to-day happenings of a Toronto convenience store and the Korean Canadian family who ran it. Throughout its five seasons, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Jean Yoon played the immigrant parents, often getting laughs for their deadpan delivery; Andrea Bang and Simu Liu (the latter of whom went on to star in Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”) played their kids. The heartwarming show reached an international audience via Netflix, and gained acclaim for its normalized depictions of Korean culture and its understated take on the intergenerational relationships that can get strained within a family. It’s already so rare for a series to center on an Asian family, and it’s even more uncommon when its storylines are less about their identity markers and more about their universal humanity. Plus, it’s hilarious. —Ashley Lee
49. Avatar: The Last Airbender
2005 | TV-Y7 | 3 Seasons | Fantasy TV Shows
Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
The premise of “Avatar the Last Airbender” is straightforward: Aang, a 12-year-old with the ability to control air through an elemental martial art called airbending, must complete his training to master the other three elements — water, earth and fire — in order to stop the Fire Nation’s attempts to conquer other lands and bring balance back into the world. Helping Aang on his journey are siblings Katara and Sokka, who discovered him frozen in ice, and other friends he makes along the way. The groundbreaking animated series, set in a world inspired by Asian and Indigenous cultures, has been praised for its worldbuilding, ambitious storytelling, excellent animation and handling of complex topics including colonialism, imperialism, genocide, sexism, systemic inequalities and more. It’s a series often credited with showing American audiences the possibilities of deep, serialized storytelling in animation. But above all “Avatar” is fun and funny, even while packing emotional gut punches. —Tracy Brown
48. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
2011 | TV-14 | 1 Season | Anime Series
Created by Gen Urobuchi
Heavier and more brooding than typical magical girl stories in Japanese fantasy, the anime “Puella Magi Madoka Magica,” a multiple-feature repackaging of the 2011 television series, gives voice to the notion that superpowers aren’t always a gift.
Studded with colorfully trippy sequences that dramatize the battles between magical girls and doom-spreading villains known as “witches,” “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” is strange, at times numbingly repetitive and, when least expected, thematically intriguing about the rules behind this all-girl parallel world of freedom and risk.
Mostly, its mix of cute aesthetics (giggling uniformed girls, furry creatures), hallucinogenic art and allegorical coming-of-age melancholy is worthy of consideration for anime aficionados who might dismiss this subgenre as so much super-tween silliness. —Robert Abele
47. Documentary Now!
2015 | TV-14 | 3 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers and Rhys Thomas
It is only the established star power of onscreen creators Fred Armisen and Bill Hader and off-camera co-creator Seth Meyers that could make a show like “Documentary Now!” a reality.
The series is an anthology of affectionate, informed parodies of documentary styles and films, framed as a 50th-anniversary celebration of landmark works from a fictional public-broadcasting program. (Your host: Helen Mirren.) The references range from Robert Flaherty’s genre-defining “Nanook of the North” to a nostalgia-tinged rock doc to the contemporary quick-cut, split-screen, graphics-happy, globe-trotting hipster journalism purveyed by Vice.
And yet, as specific as the humor can be — there are jokes about Janus Films, “The Great Train Robbery” and craft services — it’s also a framework for slapstick and dress-up and an occasion for Armisen and Hader, old “Saturday Night Live” castmates, to work together in a double act. Their types are classically complementary. Hader is an all-American boy off the Great Plains who disappears into his characters, where Armisen’s oddness shines through whomever he’s playing. Even at rest, their pairing seems like a bottle you don’t want to shake. They are clearly enjoying themselves. —Robert Lloyd
46. Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts
2019 | TV-Y7 | 3 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Radford Sechrist
The post-apocalyptic world of “Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts” features dangerous creatures roaming its vibrant wasteland, and it’s quite a sight. Thirteen-year-old Kipo has spent her entire life in an underground community and is excited by every new thing she sees on the surface world — even more relatable now that every trip outside can feel equal parts risky and liberating. But whether you are relentlessly optimistic like Kipo or extremely cautious like her new surface-dwelling friend Wolf, the show’s unique mutant creatures and soundtrack are what make its wonderland worth checking out.
Set 200 years after the rise of giant, intelligent mutants has driven most humans underground, the series follows Kipo after she’s suddenly thrust into the dangerous surface world. Kipo’s earnest positivity is magnetic, and the teen’s ability to see the humanity in everyone is a balm at a time when real-world politics have emboldened some to be more open in their hate toward those they consider “different.” Plus, all the dangerous mutants Kipo encounters, from lumberjack cats to K-pop singing narwhals, are adorable. And the soundtrack is fantastic. —Tracy Brown
45. The Last Dance
2020 | TV-MA | 1 Season | Sports & Fitness
Directed by Jason Hehir
He’s the most famous athlete of his generation, one of the most famous public figures ever. He appeared in six NBA Finals, won all six, and was the MVP each time. So why would Michael Jordan take part in a 10-episode docuseries when its director said up front that it would go to some very uncomfortable places?
The framework of “The Last Dance” is the fraught-yet-glorious 1997-1998 season that capped the second of the Bulls’ three-peats, so there’s plenty of breathtaking basketball action. There are backstories of indispensable teammates, their sometimes inexplicable actions and the insurmountably toxic conflicts between the team’s key architect, General Manager Jerry Krause, and others, including Coach Phil Jackson and secondary superstar Scottie Pippen.
The warts-and-all series goes there with Jordan’s less-shiny moments and other difficult chapters (such as his gambling habit and the shocking murder of his beloved father), and that’s good: What makes Jordan so fascinating is not simply his athletic talent but his indomitable will. It’s what made him who he is, what sets him apart from mere humans. —Michael Ordoña
44. Lady Dynamite
2016 | TV-MA | 2 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Pam Brady and Mitchell Hurwitz
“Lady Dynamite” is cheerful, dark, surreal, profane, aspirational, meta-fictional and packed with people playing versions of themselves or other people entirely (or playing versions of themselves playing other people entirely); it plays with visual and verbal puns, with moods and acting styles and moves around in time and dimension.
“Lady Dynamite” is right: When things aren’t actually exploding, they feel liable to; there is always the potential for mayhem, for one reality to intrude on another. A living room might suddenly become a Japanese game show, a person might become, briefly, a sheep, or a family a family band.
Star Maria Bamford is wonderful throughout. With her querulous way of speaking and her way of walking on the balls of her feet, like a child keeping its balance, she can seem fragile and strange. But, like some comedians less affected by chemistry, she is not self-loathing; this is a show about putting the blown-up back together. It is rich with hope and, for all the weirdness, moving. —Robert Lloyd
43. The Legend of Korra
2011 | TV-Y7 | 4 Seasons | Fantasy TV Shows
Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Set in the world of “Avatar the Last Airbender,” “The Legend of Korra” tells the story of the next incarnation of the Avatar, a confident teenager named Korra. The series kicks off 70 years after the events of the original series. Korra has already mastered three of the four elements and heads to a large metropolitan city — to learn airbending from Aang’s son, Tenzin — where he joins a team of professional bending brothers, Bolin and Mako. The world has prospered since the end of the war instigated by the Fire Nation, shepherding in a new age of industry and technology. “Korra” expands on the lore around the Avatar — the one person in each generation able to bend all four elements, tasked with maintaining balance and harmony in the world — and retains its glorious animation style, while continuing to tackle serious and complex topics including capitalism, weapons technology, fascism, inequity and trauma. The series has also been praised for its (subtle) inclusion of a same-sex romantic storyline, which was groundbreaking at the time in children’s programming. —Tracy Brown
42. Chappelle’s Show
2003 | TV-MA | 2 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Dave Chappelle and Neal Brennan
“Chappelle’s Show,” often profane and racially incendiary, is kind of like a raunchy salon with Chappelle as host, usually dressed in floppy hats and baggy street clothes, introducing comedic ideas that are then illustrated by filmed sketches that star Chappelle. Chappelle’s host persona somehow channels both the emcee qualities of Bob Hope and the languid gait of Snoop Dogg. He has a way of diminishing his edge with a smile and a “Who me?” nonchalance.
Almost everything on “Chappelle’s Show” is written by Chappelle and Neal Brennan, his writing partner going back to the 1998 pot-inspired feature “Half-Baked.” Sometimes too there are musical guests. It is evident in the sketches that Chappelle can do a lot of characters and voices — white, Black and otherwise — and that his comedy is all about inverting racial stereotypes to find the humor in still-uncomfortable issues. —Paul Brownfield
41. A Series of Unfortunate Events
2017 | TV-PG | 3 Seasons | TV Comedies
Developed by Mark Hudis and Barry Sonnenfeld
“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” a TV series based on the series of children’s books written by Daniel Handler under the pen name Lemony Snicket, stars Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf and Patrick Warburton as Snicket, who narrates retrospectively from within the story.
Slipping in and out of various disguises, Olaf, a self-styled “ac-tor” attempting to steal a fortune from young siblings, is at once grotesque and banal, a villain with the heart and habits of an annoyed and impatient teenager, a know-it-all short on information: “All of the artistic and financial aspects of my career are finally coming together like two pieces of a bread in the middle of a sandwich.”
As in most stories for young people, children must ultimately fend for themselves. The Baudelaires possess complementary talents. Violet (Malina Weissman), 14, is an inventor; Klaus (Louis Hynes), 12, handles research; and infant Sunny (Presley Smith, baby talk by Tara Strong) is the muscle, on the strength of her four-tooth bite.
Although basically comic, and not without moments of beauty and relief, the series is a dream in which you escape one trap only to fall into another, elude your pursuer only to find him somehow before you, and where hope springs eternal only so it can be eternally snatched away. But you should watch it, anyway, and take your time. —Robert Lloyd
40. Tuca & Bertie
2019 | TV-MA | 1 Season | TV Comedies
Created by Lisa Hanawalt
A few episodes into Lisa Hanawalt’s terrifically funny animated series “Tuca & Bertie,” there’s a moment when a puffin in a pink suit calls a crowded auditorium to attention. In the process, she tidily summarizes the show’s twisted and (yet undeniably human) perspective.
“Ladies and gentle-birds,” the emcee begins, “and plants, humans and sometimes inanimate objects that talk — what a weird world!”
Featuring standup stars Ali Wong and Tiffany Haddish as a pair of bird best friends at the cusp of their 30s, their home of Birdtown is a freewheeling dreamscape where the subway is a snake and freeways loop like roller coasters around cat-infested yarn hillsides and lakes of grape jelly.
Though rendered in candy-colored hues and framed by a sunny, dance-funk soundtrack, the series fearlessly but beautifully makes room for issues around childhood trauma, social anxiety and sexual harassment in a way not dissimilar from “BoJack Horseman’s” candid depictions of depression. —Chris Barton
39. Selling Sunset
2019 | TV-MA | 3 Seasons | Reality TV
Netflix has joined Bravo in probing the cheesy conventions of L.A.’s celebritized real estate world. Its offering, a guilty pleasure docu-soap “Selling Sunset,” featuring people pleaser Chrishell Hartley (a soap opera regular), who wades into the shark tank to meet four mostly trash-talking female agents at Sunset Strip’s Oppenheim Group.
The firm’s principals — identical twins Jason and Brett Oppenheim — largely keep to their laptops, while the women tour properties for clients but also spend much of their onscreen time gossiping: hunky men; client poaching; and if moissanite, a faux diamond, counts as an engagement ring (of course it doesn’t).
Oh, and the show includes some Westside real estate, hovering around the $5-million mark with a few standouts. —R. Daniel Foster
38. The Midnight Gospel
2020 | TV-MA | 1 Season | TV Comedies
Created by Pendleton Ward and Duncan Trussell
“Adventure Time” creator Pendleton Ward surrealistically, psychedelically animates around interviews from collaborator Duncan Trussell’s mystically minded “Duncan Trussell Family Hour” podcast, framing them, to consonant or contrasting effect, as virtual interplanetary travel. (Are you with me?) The overarching theme is spiritual balance in a universe where everything dies, and its realization accordingly combines the dark and the light, the chaotic and the meditative, the dreadful and the funny, the sort of familiar and the most definitely weird. And it is always something to look at. —Robert Lloyd
37. Marvel’s Jessica Jones
2015 | TV-MA | 3 Seasons | TV Shows Based on Comics
Created by Melissa Rosenberg
The press, law enforcement and the public can’t decide what to think of Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), the hard-drinking PI with superstrength whose superhero “costume” is often the same rumpled jeans and T-shirt she slept in the night before. Is she an avenger, criminal or victim? The scrutiny wreaks havoc on the misanthropic Jones, who would rather hide out at her local bar, drinking away past traumas.
Arguably the most popular character of Netflix-Marvel’s superhero franchise, “Jessica Jones,” which is headed up by Melissa Rosenberg (“Twilight”), helped popularize the streaming service’s series that kicked off with “Daredevil” before Jones’ debut, then went on to introduce “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist” and “The Punisher.” —Lorraine Ali
36. Grace and Frankie
2015 | TV-MA | 7 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Marta Kauffman, Howard J. Morris
Thirty-five years after Jane Fonda recruited Lily Tomlin as a co-star in “Nine to Five,” the two teamed again, this time for a TV series, “Grace and Frankie.”
Fonda plays Grace; Tomlin is Frankie. We meet them at a fancy restaurant, and it is clear from the get-go that all they have in common are their husbands, business partners Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston), who arrive presently to announce that they are in love with one another and want to get married because, says Grace’s Robert, “you can do that now.” And we’re off.
I found myself caring more about the actresses than the characters they played — finding their show a little wan but wanting it to work, both out of a lifetime of respect and because there could stand to be more series in which the main characters are not designed to appeal to TV’s hallowed 18-34 demographic. The series does get better as it goes on and grows less concerned with telling you who these people are and more interested in watching them. —Robert Lloyd
35. Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj
2018 | TV-MA | 6 Seasons | TV Comedies
The last correspondent hired by Jon Stewart at “The Daily Show,” Hasan Minhaj joined late-night topical comedy with a weekly Netflix series. The first Indian American to host his own comedy show, Minhaj proved to be a fearless comic voice. And in a political climate of rising Islamophobia and ongoing concerns about immigration at the federal level, his distinctive perspective on politics and culture feels especially essential. —Chris Barton
34. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
2018 | TV-Y7 | 5 Seasons | Fantasy TV Shows
Created by Noelle Stevenson
In “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power,” many of the most powerful warriors in the war over the fate of the universe are magical princesses. They are strong and they are brave, and you believe they’re going to win in the end.
One of the things that has been abundantly clear since “She-Ra’s” 2018 debut is that the animated DreamWorks/Netflix series is set in a world that is completely, casually LGBTQ-inclusive.
On Etheria, princesses are just as likely to be married to each other as they are to have boyfriends. Not even the most ruthless villain around has trouble remembering anybody’s pronouns. It’s a planet where gender isn’t constricted, heteronormativity does not exist, and queer people just get to be. —Tracy Brown
33. Arrested Development
2003 | TV-MA | 5 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Mitchell Hurwitz
“Arrested Development” is loosely organized around Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), the relatively normal son (with a relatively normal son of his own, George-Michael, played by Michael Cera), whose periodic attempts to distance himself from his family ever fail: “You always come back to save the family, Michael,” his brother Buster (Tony Hale) says. “We joke about it all the time.”
They are a television family, fated to remain more or less in one another’s company. But this dynamic is woven into the fabric of “Arrested Development” more tightly than usual; a line of narration sums up the Bluth dilemma nicely: “Resentful of his family, Michael came up with a plan to make them come back.”
It is a devilish contraption, a finely worked out farce that marshals the classic tools of mistaken identities, misheard statements, cross purposes, backfiring deceptions and a desire for sex into a modern serial sitcom. With the exception of Michael and George-Michael, whose attempts to be bad go awry as reliably as his attempts to do good, the Bluths are variously dishonest, deluded, incorrigible and incompetent — though they are not without feelings and a need to be loved. —Robert Lloyd
2015 | TV-MA | 3 Seasons | TV Dramas
Created by Simon Mirren, David Wolstencroft
My favorite drama is one you’ve probably never watched. I’ve spent a few years lost in the lush gardens, ornate wardrobes and myriad scandals of “Versailles,” a historical drama chronicling the rise of King Louis XIV as he constructs the opulent testament to his power just outside Paris.
Most of its characters are based on historical figures, though my favorite — the brooding, mysterious and feared chief of police Fabien Marchal — is a product of dramatic license.
The series was frequently shot on location, so when Louis (played by George Blagden) strolls through the Galerie des Glaces in his exquisite buckle-top heels, he preens in the same mirrors and stands on the same floorboards that the Sun King did more than three centuries ago. When characters such as his scheming lover Madame de Montespan (Anna Brewster) and her frenemy Madame de Maintenon (Catherine Walker) needed to take in some fresh air — i.e. conspire in secret — their chats may have taken place along the real Grand Canal. —Lorraine Ali
2017 | TV-MA | 3 Seasons | TV Thrillers
Created by Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams
Jason Bateman, America’s sweetheart, plays Marty Byrde, a Chicago financial advisor. He is cautious, boring and, for the moment, obsessively distracted by a snippet of what looks like amateur pornography. For a while, you might think you are embarking on a rather dreary, and drearily familiar, drama of domestic breakdown and dinner-table scenes in which family members — wife Wendy (Laura Linney, another of America’s sweethearts); 15-year-old daughter Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz); and 12-year-old son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) — can barely sustain a conversation.
And, in part, you are embarking on that drama. But slowly the story you thought you were watching turns into something different. One thing we learn is that Marty’s laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel and that his partner has been secretly taking a little of that lettuce home for himself. This prompts the arrival of upper-middle-management crime figure Del (Esai Morales) and the drama proper.
One thing leads to a horrible another, and in a moment of improvisation, Marty persuades Del not to kill him but instead send him down to the Lake of the Ozarks, painting this “redneck Riviera” as a potential criminal paradise, far from the much-seeing eye of the feds.
But the show comes fully alive in its secondary characters, particularly an extended family of petty criminals who fall athwart of more serious sorts; as their teenage de facto matriarch, Julia Garner is especially good, and her story line is arguably the most engrossing that “Ozark” has to offer. —Robert Lloyd
30. Love Is Blind
2020 | TV-MA | 1 Season | Wedding & Romance Reality TV
Ever been on a date and thought: I’d have more fun talking to a wall?
Netflix’s matchmaking reality show “Love Is Blind” brings that scenario to life, with 15 single men and 15 single women splitting off into pairs and getting to know each other, one on one, sight unseen: Think Catholic confessional meets Tinder.
Roughly 10 days later, after much gabbing, those who share a strong connection get engaged and meet for the first time before jetting off for a honeymoon-esque stay in Mexico. If the connection is still thriving — this being reality TV, it won’t be drama-free — the couples then venture back into the real world, where they live together for four weeks, meeting family, friends and pets. If, after all of that, the spark remains, the couples exchange vows and join the ranks of other made-for-television love stories. —Yvonne Villarreal
29. Call My Agent
2015 | TV-MA | 4 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Fanny Herrero
Set in a Paris-based talent agency, “Call My Agent” — “Dix Pour Cent” (“Ten Percent”) in its native France — is salted with real French screen stars, including Isabelle Adjani, Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jean Reno, and American Sigourney Weaver playing ironic versions of themselves, and shot in real Paris locations. And though it is obviously not completely original — it’s a workplace comedy in more than one television tradition — it’s also different in the way that one language is different from another even when a sentence says the same thing.
At the end of the first episode, the agency’s founder dies, and much of what happens in the four seasons that follow is involved with keeping the ship afloat. Walking abreast in the opening credits are the surviving four partners: Mathias (Thibault de Montalembert), a powerful agent; Andréa (Camille Cottin), a passionate agent; Gabriel (Grégory Montel), an emotional agent; and Arlette (Liliane Rovère), who has seen it all. Introduced as assistants are Hervé (Nicolas Maury), a novel mix of ambition and self-doubt; Noémie (Laure Calamy), territorial, devoted to Mathias; and Camille (Fanny Sidney), the new girl in town. Along with receptionist and aspiring actress Sophia (Stéfi Celma), they will wind up somewhere different in the end. Assaad Bouab plays Hicham, an internet millionaire who buys into the agency in the second season.
Like “The West Wing” (and every other Aaron Sorkin series), “Call My Agent” is a story of people who love their work, even though it drives them crazy and ruins their lives. —Robert Lloyd
28. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
2016 | TV-MA | 1 Season | Crime TV Shows
Created by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
What at first seemed little more than a campy retelling of the trial that transfixed the nation became its own cultural artifact, one that attracted a new generation of TV viewers to the cast of characters who made their cases for and against O.J. Simpson before Superior Court Judge Lance Ito.
The series crafts dramatic tension by inverting audience expectations. Using history as horror, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” drops references that spur dread in viewers familiar with the case — when we meet Mark Fuhrman, when Marcia Clark wants a haircut, when trying on gloves is contemplated. The tension comes not in wondering what will happen next, but in knowing for certain what the future holds.
What “American Crime Story” understands, ultimately, is that the Simpson trial was the flap of butterfly wings that triggered the cultural and political tsunamis that still plague the country: The series set out to tell the story of the trial but, more important, to tell the story of America as it existed in that moment. It’s a recognizable place. Little has changed, even as everything has changed. —Libby Hill
27. City of Ghosts
2021 | TV-Y7 | 1 Season | Kids’ TV
Created by Elizabeth Ito
Los Angeles is often misunderstood by those who don’t bother to see it beyond shallow pop-culture clichés and outsider hot takes. A solid rebuttal is “City of Ghosts,” an all-ages animated series that follows a group of kids who look for ghosts around the city to document their stories.
As quirky and cute as it is soothing and informative, the show is a celebration of L.A.’s often overlooked history, diverse communities and neighborhoods. The series also shows that topics like discrimination, gentrification and cultural appropriation can be approached in ways that even younger viewers can understand. —Tracy Brown
2009 | TV-14 | 6 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Dan Harmon
The beloved comedy about a study group at a community college that is not about a study group at a community college so much as it is a comedy about a comedy about a study group at a community college that is only incidentally a study group — and so on. At some point in its first year “Community” jettisoned any pretense of sticking to its premise and embraced its true nature, as an avant-garde meta comedy that plays with form and content with almost childlike glee.
That’s a tough thing to pull off week after week, season after season — after you’ve proved you can do anything, some of the thrill is bound to be lost — and there were times that the show seemed unfocused and obvious. In trying to find a way between invention and feeling, it could grow conventionally, rather than unconventionally, sentimental, or too eager to point out the smart thing it was doing. But there have been fine, surprising episodes — the puppet musical, one in real-time — and its ensemble is one of TV’s greatest. —Robert Lloyd
25. The Queen’s Gambit
2020 | TV-MA | 1 Season | Social Issue TV Dramas
Created by Scott Frank and Allan Scott
Based on Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel about a female chess prodigy, “The Queen’s Gambit” is a sports story, a coming-of-age story and a becoming-human story, and also a kind of mortal version of that popular modern genre, the inner life of a superhero.
The first thing to say about it is that it is very good — thoughtful, exciting, entertaining. It is also, in screen terms, something like a cross between “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” — a lovingly decorated period piece, stretching from the late 1950s through most of the ‘60s, concerning a young woman triumphing in what was then considered a man’s game — and “A Beautiful Mind,” as an attempt to concretely represent the workings of an unusual intelligence living way out in the abstract.
But perhaps most important, it’s about chess as chess; there is something almost audacious in making a series in which the main dramatic action involves two people at a table, moving little carved pieces of wood around, punching a clock and taking notes. —Robert Lloyd
24. Derry Girls
2018 | TV-MA | 2 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Lisa McGee
Inspired by New Yorker journalist Patrick Radden Keefe’s can’t-put-it-down, made-me-cry-on-the-beach history of the Troubles, “Say Nothing,” I dove headlong into “Derry Girls” — a pungently funny comedy with the generations-long conflict in Northern Ireland as a backdrop. Drawing on writer Lisa McGee’s upbringing in the border city in the 1990s, the series never shies away from the damage wrought by the fighting. But “Derry Girls” blissfully refuses to depict life during wartime as an unrelenting struggle, and in doing so deflates more than a few hardened Catholic and Protestant stereotypes. Perhaps most of all, it’s a perfect vessel for that distinctly Irish sense of humor — cunning, morbid, irreverent to the point of being blasphemous. You’ll wear a holy smirk the whole time. —Matt Brennan
2018 | TV-MA | 2 Seasons | Social Issue TV Dramas
Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals.
Like “Glee,” “Pose” is a story of people who find themselves through competitive performance. You may be reminded of the aspirational movie musicals of the 1980s: “Purple Rain,” “Footloose” and “Flashdance.” It has something too of the giddy spirit of Baz Luhrmann’s hip-hop origin story “The Get Down,” cut down in its nostalgic prime after a single season.
The balls, described here as “a gathering of people who are not welcome to gather anywhere else, the celebration of a life the rest of the world does not deem worthy of celebration,” involve a host of fashion-derived and dance-based categories in which contestants seek to display superior “realness,” skill or style. There are trophies (big ones) and titles. Frequent winners gain the title “legendary.”
Throughout, the series runs on a kind of self-supporting enthusiasm and is borne aloft by some extraordinary performances. Most notable are Mj Rodriguez as Blanca, who breaks away to form her own House of Evangelista (“inspired by Linda Evangelista, who stole my look”); Indya Moore as Angel, who joins her there; and Billy Porter, a 2013 Tony winner for “Kinky Boots,” as Pray Tell, who emcees the balls, sews costumes and works at Macy’s as a “cologne spritzer.” —Robert Lloyd
22. Jane the Virgin
2014 | TV-14 | 5 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Jennie Snyder Urman
“Jane the Virgin” tells the story of a young Miami woman who becomes pregnant despite never having had sex. (It’s not a miracle but a medical mishap.) Like “Ugly Betty,” it is based on a Latin American telenovela (the Venezuelan “Juana la Virgen”), and like that show, it has kept its transplanted Latin roots with a quietly remarkable title-role performance from Gina Rodriguez.
Jane is almost engaged to police detective Michael (Brett Dier) but remains mindful of what her grandmother (Ivonne Coll) told her at 10, in Spanish — that once gone, virginity is gone for good. The flower her grandmother crushed for metaphorical illustration is framed above 23-year-old Jane’s bed.
The series is unusually successful in its mix of tones: farcical, serious, melodramatic and metafictional. It both mimics and comments on the telenovela form; indeed, it becomes part of the storyline, with an omniscient narrator (Anthony Mendez in a Ricardo Montalban “rich, Corinthian leather” mode) who gives the narrative a kind of legendary spin. —Robert Lloyd
21. Halt and Catch Fire
2014 | TV-14 | 4 Seasons | Social Issue TV Dramas
Created by Christopher Cantwell, Christopher C. Rogers
With a title that refers to a computer term and an opening that speaks for itself — the lead character coolly runs down an armadillo — “Halt and Catch Fire” quickly establishes characters to both personify and transcend the particulars of its story.
The armadillo killer is Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), a fast-talking alpha-male maverick late of IBM who understands that, conventional wisdom notwithstanding, the tech wars are not over. They’re just beginning. Joe’s new employer, however, isn’t buying it. Cardiff Electric is a family business, slow-moving and middle of the road; they need a new salesman to push product, not reinvent it.
But Joe didn’t come to Texas for the waters, or the status quo. He came to enlist the aid of Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), a brilliant engineer who stalled out when his version of a personal computer tanked. Currently, Gordon is just another tech grind, trying to stay sober and keep his family afloat while his wife (Kerry Bishé), who works as a programmer for a toy company, looks on in frustration and despair that quickly turns to anxiety when Joe persuades Gordon to reverse-engineer an IBM PC in order to develop their own. —Mary McNamara
20. One Day at a Time
2017 | TV-PG | 3 Seasons | TV Comedies
Developed by Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce
“One Day at a Time” preserves the domestically framed, socially engaged flavor of the Norman Lear original while mixing in new verve. And it has turned out very well: smart, fun, bighearted and less noisy and hectoring than Lear works of old could sometimes be.
In the new show, developed and run by Gloria Calderón Kellett (“How I Met Your Mother”) and Mike Royce (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) and filmed before a live audience, the setting has moved from Indianapolis to Echo Park; the family is now Cuban, which determines the details but is less the point than it would have been if this were 1975. (Gloria Estefan has set the show’s original theme song to a Cuban beat; it’s a natural fit.)
Justina Machado plays Penelope Alvarez, a former Army nurse and Afghan war vet, still the mother of two: daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez) and a son, Alex (Marcel Ruiz). Schneider, still called Schneider, has been transformed into an aging rich kid (Todd Grinnell) who owns the building where the Alvarez family lives. And the series gains an extra generation with Rita Moreno as Penelope’s spark-plug mother, Lydia; Moreno, a vital 85 at the time of filming, is playing 70 here, which does not seem a stretch. I imagine her contract stipulates that only so many minutes can elapse in any episode before she is allowed to dance. —Robert Lloyd
19. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
2015 | TV-MA | 4 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna
Rachel Bloom was best known for a handful of hilarious viral videos, one of which is titled “Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song.” In it, she performs a knock-off Belle, trilling her way through a medieval town in hopes of finding the prince who will impregnate her so she can die in childbirth.
That was how screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”) came to know Bloom, and together they came up with “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
Though live-action, the series is fueled by the same sardonic effervescence, and it often requires Bloom to burst into sweetly stinging song. It’s an intoxicating if precarious concoction, capable of exploding or imploding at any moment, which only adds to the fun.
Rebecca Bunch (Bloom) is a lawyer at a high-powered New York firm where nervous ambition and bad lighting have sucked the bloom from her cheek and the joy from her life. In a bit of magic realism borrowed perhaps from sister show “Jane the Virgin,” signs begin appearing: “When was the last time you were happy?” Finally one includes an arrow that points to the sidewalk below and the haloed form of her teenage crush, Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III). He’s delighted to see her (yay!), but he’s just about to move back home (boo!). Home being West Covina. And so, of course, Rebecca follows him. —Mary McNamara
18. When They See Us
2019 | TV-MA | 1 Season | Social Issue TV Dramas
Created by Ava DuVernay
“When They See Us” is a docudrama in four parts — one might even say “movements,” for each has its own musical speed and spin — about the Central Park Five.
If this bit of history has faded from your memory, or never made it that far — and one suspects creator Ava DuVernay has made this film specifically to remedy either possibility — it involved the arrest and wrongful conviction of five Black and Latino Harlem juveniles, for the 1989 rape and beating of a white female jogger, Trisha Meili, in New York’s Central Park. Five boys — Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise — were charged with the assault. Their mutually contradictory confessions, made under duress, were quickly recanted, but all were convicted on the strength of those confessions, in spite of a lack of physical evidence. The convictions were vacated in 2002 when the actual rapist came forward; DNA evidence and his detailed knowledge of the event supported the confession. —Robert Lloyd
17. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
2015 | TV-14 | 4 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” wonderful odd duck that it is, might well have foundered and floundered in the roiling waters of broadcast TV — it is just the sort of left-of-center comedy that NBC once specialized in and has now purged from its schedule. The series stars Ellie Kemper (“The Office”) as a woman freed after 15 years from an underground bunker, where she was held as an unwilling member of a post-apocalyptic cult. After a “Today Show” appearance with her fellow Indiana Mole Women, Kimmy decides to remain in New York City, to live life. She’s like “That Girl,” out of a bunker.
In short order, she acquires a dotty landlady (Carol Kane) with a radical past, a roommate with show business dreams (Tituss Burgess, star of Broadway), and a rich uptown boss (Jane Krakowski), who hires her and fires and hires her again to watch her entitled, unhappy son (Tanner Flood) and stepdaughter (Dylan Gelula). The leads are all marvelous, with a complementary elemental division of attitudes: Kemper, air; Burgess, fire; Kane, earth; and Krakowski, water, as I reckon it. They rise to the occasion and make it an event. —Robert Lloyd
16. Russian Doll
2019 | TV-MA | 1 Season | TV Comedies
Created by Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne and Amy Poehler
“Russian Doll” is a beautiful puzzle piece, a circular, multiplane, existential mystery-comedy set in the villages of Lower Manhattan. Peopled with memorable characters, it’s a show that having watched once you may want to watch again to admire its machinery and find the clues you might have missed, but also because it feels just as good the second time around.
Natasha Lyonne, who co-created the series with Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland (“Sleeping With Other People”), plays Nadia, a video game software engineer who keeps dying violently, often to slapstick effect, on the night of or day after her 36th birthday. Each time she returns to the bathroom of the loft where her artist friend Maxine (Greta Lee) is throwing her a party she’d rather not be at for a birthday she’d rather not be having; Harry Nilsson’s sonically cheery, lyrically weary “Gotta Get Up” greets her on the soundtrack at every return.
Is “Russian Doll” a Russian doll — those increasingly smaller wooden figures that nest one inside another — past the fact that Nadia is Russian and, relatively speaking, doll-size? In a sense, perhaps, in that the world begins to contract. (Keep an eye on the flora and fauna.) Solving the mystery does become a kind of race against time, if only to add endgame pressure to a story that otherwise could cycle forever, until the end of television, as viewers grew old and Nadia remained 36. But maybe it’s just an intriguing title. —Robert Lloyd
15. Never Have I Ever
2020 | TV-14 | 2 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher
This half-hour comedy about an Indian American teen coming of age in the San Fernando Valley is the series I wish existed when I was in school, in the San Fernando Valley, embarrassed about my dad’s “weird” immigrant culture and hopelessly out of step with high school norms.
Co-created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher and starring the multitalented Poorna Jagannathan (“The Night of,” “Ramy,” “Big Little Lies”) as strict Indian mother Nalini and impressive newcomer Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as rebellious high school sophomore Devi, the new series is a masterwork of first-generation angst and alienation. When we meet the pair, they’re grappling with the loss of husband and father Mohan (Sendhil Ramamurthy), who died eight months earlier. Grief, anger and denial abound as they struggle to navigate their relationship and lives without him, using tools from their respective upbringings to make it through. So many themes hit home in this delightfully warm and funny series, particularly if your parents are from somewhere else and you grew up here. —Lorraine Ali
14. Stranger Things
2016 | TV-14 | 3 Seasons | Teen TV Shows
Created by the Duffer brothers
In a small Indiana town, 12-year-old Will (Noah Schnapp) goes missing. Will’s mother, Joyce (1980s icon Winona Ryder), begins immediately and hysterically demanding that the scruffy, boozy and clearly damaged Chief Hopper (David Harbour) find her son. But Hopper has many other things on his mind, including a shocking local death and reports of a mysterious runaway. So it falls to Will’s friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) to begin tracking him down.
A trio of geek brio, they are knowledgeable acolytes of both technology and epic fantasy. So when they encounter the above-mentioned runaway, a saucer-eyed and initially mute girl played with astonishing power by Millie Bobby Brown, it seems only natural that they would hide her, “E.T.”-like, in Mike’s basement.
Eleven, named for the number tattooed on her wrist, is obviously terrified. On the run from “bad men,” headed by a stone-faced Matthew Modine in a sinister blue suit and ignorant of basic human relationships, El (as the boys call her) is more alien than “E.T.” ever was, but she reluctantly aids the search for Will. “Stranger Things” is genuinely creepy and sincerely sweet, two great tastes that may taste great together but are difficult to blend successfully. —Mary McNamara
13. Monty Python’s Flying Circus
1969 | TV-14 | 4 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, John Cleese and Terry Gilliam
Long before “Saturday Night Live” became TV’s sketch-comedy standard-bearer, the Brits pioneered the form with “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” which premiered on the BBC in 1969. In just four seasons and 45 episodes — that’s about two years’ worth of “Law & Order,” for those playing at home — the Pythons’ surreal, anarchic and quintessentially anti-authoritarian style lampooned seemingly every last bastion of British elitism and rigidity, and spawned a series of followup films (“Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Life of Brian” and “The Meaning of Life”) that are still regarded as classics. But perhaps its most lasting influence was to suggest that TV, already episodic, and humor, especially pithy, were an ideal marriage. “And now for something completely different!” isn’t just the credo of the “Flying Circus,” it’s a fair working definition of the art form at its best. —Matt Brennan
2019 | TV-MA | 1 Season | Crime TV Shows
Created by Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon
“Unbelievable” follows the lines of “An Unbelievable Story of Rape,” a 2015 article by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong co-published by the Marshall Project and ProPublica.
Like the article, the series switches between two places and times. We begin in the Seattle suburb of Lynwood, Wash., in 2008, where teenager Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever) is raped, reports it and — under pressure from detectives who are influenced by the doubts of Marie’s former foster mother — recants. (The series does not fail to note that she has been violated twice.)
Meanwhile — which is to say, three years later, in Colorado — Det. Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever) learns from her husband, Max (Austin Hébert), that the rape case she’s working on bears similarities to one being investigated in the nearby division where he works. This brings her into contact and, eventually, partnership with the more experienced, better funded, not-as-jaded-as-she-seems Det. Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette). You will realize quickly that these cases have something to do with Marie’s.
It’s worth mentioning that “Unbelievable” does not make the criminal a character. Too often, we are invited to tiptoe through their traumatic backstories, to look over their shoulders as they plot their next attack, or engage their pursuers in games of cat and mouse. “Unbelievable” sticks close to its protagonists instead. —Robert Lloyd
11. Schitt’s Creek
2015 | TV-MA | 6 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Eugene Levy and Daniel Levy
“Schitt’s Creek” focuses on the Rose family, defrauded of their fortune and forced, by their own inability to frame a better option, to live in two connecting motel rooms in a monetarily worthless town they happen to own. It’s a familiar idea on paper, but in execution it has a life all its own, and indeed the story of the rise of this plucky little comedy has been told many times now, like a folk tale.
At first most notable for starring two Canadian pillars of comedy who had worked together on and off since “SCTV” — Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara — it built slowly, then quickly, from a spark to a conflagration. It was the secret you couldn’t wait to share, and then suddenly the thing everyone you know was telling you about. (That is how it happened with me.) And it doesn’t take a degree in media studies to recognize that Netflix, which began streaming the series in 2017, was the bridge that carried that little engine from beloved obscurity to mainstream mania.
That TV’s little engine that could, did — culminating in an unprecedented Emmy sweep at an unprecedented Emmys — is only fitting, because “Schitt’s Creek” really is special. Its message of acceptance and self-acceptance, of welcoming love where it turns up — even within one’s own family — were just what some of us needed in an angry and divided time: a comedy that could reliably afford you a good cry. —Robert Lloyd
10. Breaking Bad
2008 | TV-MA | 5 Seasons | TV Thrillers
Created by Vince Gilligan
It would be easy to be put off by “Breaking Bad,” about a high school chemistry teacher hit by the one-two punch of a midlife crisis and a diagnosis of terminal cancer, who sets himself up in the manufacture of crystal meth. But it’s very good, sad and disturbing.
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is as pale a figure as his name, an Albuquerque milquetoast professor whose real love of his subject is shared by none of his students. He has a wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), a teenage son with cerebral palsy (RJ Mitte, who has cerebral palsy), and a brother-in-law (Dean Norris) who also happens to be a federal drug agent. Looking for a way to leave some money for his family, Walt blackmails an ex-student, Jesse (Aaron Paul), into taking him on as a partner in the manufacturer of methamphetamine.
The series oversells Walt’s meekness at first. His life’s not so bad — he has a good-looking, short story-writing wife more than a decade his junior, and his son seems to actually like him — but once things go off the rails, it’s all completely gripping. —Robert Lloyd
9. Dead to Me
2019 | TV-MA | 2 Seasons | TV Dramas
Created by: Liz Feldman
“Dead to Me” brings together two excellent actresses who became known on television playing teenagers: Christina Applegate, whose 21st century career might be seen as recovery from a decade on “Married With Children,” and Linda Cardellini, the sweetheart of “Freaks and Geeks.”
Applegate plays Jen, a Laguna Beach real estate agent whose husband was killed by a hit-and-run driver. In an attempt to move forward, she visits a grief support group, Friends of Heaven, where she is approached by Judy (Cardellini), who would like to give her a hug. (Jen would like not to be hugged.) In the time-honored, time-worn tradition of fictional opposites, they will complete each other. They bond, drinking wine, eating cookies and discussing which “Facts of Life” character they resemble. Jen enlists Judy in her search for the driver of the car that killed her husband.
The pilot ends with a twist, as other episodes will. But this is less a story of bad dudes and the damage they do than one of female friendship forged in fire. Almost everything of value in the series happens in the space defined by Applegate and Cardellini, and all a concerned viewer wants is for them to stay friends and be OK. —Robert Lloyd
8. The Crown
2016 | TV-MA | 4 Seasons | TV Dramas
Created by Peter Morgan
In 2016, Netflix premiered what it billed as the most expensive television series ever: “The Crown,” an epic true-life drama of the British aristocracy.
In the first of six planned 10-episode seasons, “The Crown” follows Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) from the eve of her 1947 wedding to Philip Mountbatten (Matt Smith), when she is yet a princess, to the eve of the Suez Crisis, by which time she has become very much a queen; in subsequent seasons, the monarch is played by Olivia Colman and Imelda Staunton, alongside a changing cast of Philips, Charleses and Dianas. The series was created by Peter Morgan, who has made hay from the royals before: His 2006 film “The Queen” concerned the royal family’s reaction to the death of Princess Diana; his 2013 play “The Audience” imagined meetings between Elizabeth and a number of her many successive prime ministers.
Like those works, “The Crown” is about people condemned by an accident of birth to embody abstract ideals. Morgan looks a little askance at the forms and the institutions and with more than a little sympathy at the titled mortals who follow them. As a production, it is very much a romance — sumptuous with palaces and castles and couture — yet oddly modest in a postwar-appropriate way. The plotting can be obvious at times, but it is always very watchable and never less than smart. —Robert Lloyd
2017 | TV-MA | 3 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by: Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch
In the lovely, lively comedy “GLOW,” named for an actual ‘80s wrestling show, Alison Brie plays Ruth, a never-hired actress in 1985 Hollywood who stumbles into the world of professional wrestling when she answers a call for “unconventional women” and finds herself in a gym among actresses of all shapes, colors and dispositions, most of them outsiders in one way or another. Facing them is Sam (Marc Maron), a director of low-budget horror fare who has been hired to make the world’s first women’s wrestling TV show.
It’s a tale of conflict and cooperation, about teamwork disguised as rivalry, and rivalry subsumed in teamwork, of plucky outsiders fighting for respect and self-respect. And the story of women living in close proximity has something in common with “Orange Is the New Black”; the wrestlers move into the same motel while they train, and though they are free to leave, one might say they are prisoners of their need to stay. —Robert Lloyd
6. Better Call Saul
2015 | TV-MA | 4 Seasons | Crime TV Shows
Creators: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould
Far more lighthearted and less immediately violent than its progenitor “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul” centers on the man who would become Saul Goodman — Jimmy McGill, an all-American loser. Not the brilliant but marginalized borderline personality so popular in today’s television, but the real deal, a creature held together by flop-sweat, desperate cunning and doggedly delusional ambition.
A two-bit Albuquerque attorney whose “office” is a utility closet, Jimmy ekes out a living as a public defender, representing the kind of clients who are depraved enough to sexually abuse a corpse and stupid enough to videotape the proceedings. He drives a banged-up yellow Suzuki that belches enough black smoke to blur the ironic name of its model (“Esteem”) and never manages to get enough validation stickers to park it.
You’ll either like star Bob Odenkirk’s nervy, nervous and surprisingly soulful performance or you won’t. But it’s pretty hard not to like. —Mary McNamara
5. BoJack Horseman
2014 | TV-MA | 6 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
For reasons known only to creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, “BoJack Horseman” exists in a universe where some people are people and some are talking, bipedal versions of various animals. BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) is an upright horse who is also a washed-up sitcom star. In the ‘90s, he headlined “Horsin’ Around,” the “Full House”-like tale of a bachelor horse who finds true happiness when he adopts three orphan children.
That show was such a huge hit that BoJack never recovered. Now he lives in one of those big glass houses in the hills favored by writers seeking to make a statement about Hollywood, with a couch-surfing slacker leech/assistant (Aaron Paul). BoJack spends his days watching his own reruns while his agent/sometime lover, Princess Caroline (a pink cat voiced by Amy Sedaris), fails to find him even a walk-on in “War Horse.”
Instead, she pushes him to finish his memoir, which he hasn’t even started. Princess Caroline eventually hires Diane (Alison Brie), a ghostwriter who happens to be living with BoJack’s “nemesis,” Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), a golden retriever who had a show similar to “Horsin’ Around.” Diane is there to get BoJack to face his fears, tell his story and, presumably, become a better … horse. —Mary McNamara
4. The Great British Baking Show
2010 | TV-14 | 9 Seasons | Reality TV
A niche favorite of Anglophiles and foodies here in the United States, “The Great British Baking Show” is a certified national obsession across the pond. The series follows 12 amateur contestants through a series of highly technical, labor-intensive baking challenges. It feels almost like an insult to describe it as a reality show since it defies so many conventions of the genre.
Filmed in a countryside tent decorated in soothing pastels, the show presents a sunny and perhaps not entirely accurate version of “Brexit”-era Britain where it rarely seems to rain and people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the glossiness of their Italian meringues. The contestants range from precocious teens to eccentric pensioners, from firefighters to fashion designers. Though we see almost nothing of the contestants’ lives outside the tent, their personalities nevertheless shine through. It turns out you can tell a lot from the way a person bakes. —Meredith Blake
3. The Good Place
2016 | TV-14 | 4 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by: Michael Schur
In the smart and delightful “The Good Place,” Kristen Bell plays Eleanor, who opens her eyes to find herself in the afterlife. Ted Danson is Michael — a famous angel name, though the milieu is essentially secular — who manages and also designed the portion of it where Eleanor has been assigned to spend eternity.
It also turns out that she is there by mistake, having lived an insufficiently good life on Earth to get into what turns out to be an extremely exclusive post-life club, its members selected “using a perfectly accurate measuring system” that weighs good deeds and bad. On the negative side these might include “Use ‘Facebook’ as a verb” or “Ruin opera with boorish behavior,” and on the plus, “Hug sad friend” or “Remain loyal to Cleveland Browns.”
“The Good Place” is a utopian small-town comedy whose less well-known players also shine, and a serial story — its episodes are introduced as “chapters” — with surprises in store. As in any system where nothing supposedly can go wrong, things will. That’s not a spoiler. That’s just comedy. —Robert Lloyd
2. Orange Is the New Black
2013 | TV-MA | 7 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by Jenji Kohan
When “Orange Is the New Black” debuted on Netflix in July 2013, it boasted no major stars and a relatively modest budget. Several prestigious cable networks had already passed on the series, which was adapted by “Weeds” creator Jenji Kohan from Piper Kerman’s memoir about her time in a women’s prison. In what was then a novelty, all 13 episodes were available for viewers to watch at any time. But with its grim setting, challenging subject matter and hourlong format, “Orange Is the New Black” hardly seemed the kind of escapist fare viewers would consume in giddy binge-watching sessions.
Yet “Orange” would end the year as Netflix’s most-watched original, and it received 12 Emmy nominations for its first season — instantly establishing the streaming network as an awards powerhouse. The series also resonated in a way that went beyond industry bragging rights, helping push criminal justice reform and transgender rights to the forefront of the national conversation. Through flashbacks that showed how each character wound up in prison, “Orange” encouraged viewers to identify with a vast array of characters whose race, religion, class, politics or gender identity often differed from their own.
“Orange” was neither Netflix’s splashiest original series nor its most prestigious, but it became the model for a new kind of hit in the streaming era: a show with little star power that debuted quietly but grew into a phenomenon, fueled by social media, the mysterious Netflix algorithm and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. —Meredith Blake
1989 | TV-14 | 9 Seasons | TV Comedies
Created by: Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David
There may be no greater indicator of “Seinfeld’s” enduring influence than the dustup over Netflix’s transfer of the curmudgeonly NBC sitcom: More than 30 years after its debut, “the show about nothing” is still worth fighting over. Indeed, if the streamer’s 16:9 aspect ratio for “Seinfeld” is all wrong — potholes be damned! — the series itself remains as right as ever, delivering one of the highest rates of classic episodes, unforgettable images and culture-defining catchphrases in TV history: “yada, yada, yada,” the puffy shirt, the “soup Nazi,” Festivus, “master of my domain” and countless others. Even its much-maligned jailhouse finale now feels like a canary in the coal mine of the Golden Age of Television, rife with darkly funny ambiguity and a high-than-usual dose of discomfort. I’ve started to think of it as a distinctly Seinfeldian prelude to “The Sopranos’” cut to black. —Matt Brennan