A couple of weeks ago I did my top 5 Netflix movies so as a companion piece, here are my Top 5 Netflix drama series (doesn’t include documentaries / docu-series such as Tiger King and The Last Dance which will form part of my next list, *warning* writing lists can become addictive) if you have a few weeks to spare now that your summer holiday plans lie in tatters!
Ozark (3 seasons of 10 episodes, 50 mins per episode). For those of you with a Breaking Bad shaped hole in your lives, this is the perfect filler. Taking the formula of mild-mannered guy gets himself into a Mexican drug-cartel shaped mess, Ozark tells the story of Marty Byrd and family who are abruptly forced to leave their cosy life in Chicago and move to the Ozarks in mid-west America. If like me you had never heard of the Ozarks, it is a geographic region in mid-west America, specifically Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. In particular the series takes place around the lakes and waterways that were created when the US government dammed a number of rivers in the area. This widespread damming created more waterfront than the entire coast of California and a whole tourism industry has grown up around it, with added red-necks and hillbillies (apparently there is a difference between the two as a Mexican drug lord finds out to his cost) to spice things up. Throughout the series, Marty is continually tasked with laundering a significant amount of drug money and is forever just short of his target, looking for one last piece of risky business to get his family’s heads above water. I really enjoyed the tight plot-lines, the consistent menace of the setting and the strong performances. Laura Linney is truly excellent as Wendy Byrd but the show really hinges on Jason Bateman (the aforementioned Marty) and whether you are able to wipe his Arrested Development heritage from your mind. Initially I struggled with this (and I know some who never got over it) but just like Bryan Cranston who was once the goofy dad in Malcolm in the Middle but will forever be Walter White, in my mind Bateman has made the tricky transition to serious actor! The series also has the added bonus of knocking off characters without warning (much like Game of Thrones) which always keeps you on your toes!
Community (6 seasons made up of 110 episodes in total, c. 25 mins per episode). For those of you looking for something lighter, this comedy series set in a US community college (a type of interim step between high school and university) could be your thing. The plot centres around Jeff, a disbarred lawyer who is seeking a legitimate legal degree, who sets up a study group so that he can spend more time with his object of affection. And thus our core gang of misfits is formed, ranging from Annie (Alison Brie of Mad Men fame) the young, anxious over-achiever to Pierce (Chevy Chase), a retired millionaire who enrolls out of boredom. I was drawn to it originally by Chevy Chase’s involvement (Fletch remains one of my guilty pleasures) but quickly realised that the joy in the programme came from the verbal sparring between the mismatched study group including constant pop-culture references and parodies. For example there is a recurring gag involving a holo-deck (taken from Star Trek the Next Generation) and a paint-ball episode which parodies The Matrix, Rambo and the movies of John Woo. The real clincher for me was the episode where the study group have to play themselves as characters in a platform video game, which in fact is a recurring dream of mine!
Maniac (1 season of 10 episodes, 26-47 mins per episode): I know this one is going to be marmite, you either love it or you hate it. For me, I definitely hate marmite but I absolutely loved this wacky show. Originally a Norwegian series (which probably explains some of its wackiness), Maniac is set in an alternate near-future (which looks very much like a 1980’s version of the future) and follows Owen (Jonah Hill) and Annie (the excellent Emma Stone) as people with “issues” who get involved in pharmaceutical trials for a mind-bending drug which purports to cure all mental disorders. Still with me? The joy of this series is in the dream-like sequences when Owen and Annie are brought under by the drug testing. If like-me you enjoy the juxtaposition of a scene involving a magician’s seance in 1940’s America with a fantasy quest involving elves, then this is one for you. These scenes enable our two main characters to explore and heal their pain. Back in the present / near future there is a self-aware, psychotic yet melancholic computer in charge of the whole process. Some people viewed it as a big mess, I just thought it was a wonderful mix of ideas brought to life by excellent performances by Stone, Hill and a strong supporting cast including Gabriel Byrne, Justin Theroux and Sally Field.
Stranger Things (3 seasons made up of 24 episodes, 45-70 mins per episode): Okay so you’ve probably already made up your mind about this one and you’ve either (a) binge-watched it as soon as it was released and are constantly scanning the internet for details about season 4, (damn you covid-19 for delaying its production) or (b) you can’t understand all the fuss about this 80’s nostalgia filled, science fiction horror romp. Well in the unlikely event you are not in one of these camps, I urge you to give it a try. As someone who tends to watch anything with even the slightest element of horror / shock through my fingers or preferably behind the couch, I was a late convert to this series with very scary monsters. Eventually my love of all things 80’s overcame the knots in my stomach and I soon became a fan. The series centres on the rural town of Hawkins, Indiana and investigates how the weird and not so wonderful experiments taking place in the local National Laboratory spill over into the lives of the residents with horrific consequences. In particular how a group of school friends who appear to have been taken straight from the set of ET befriend a mysterious girl with psychic abilities and repeatedly overcome the odds to save the day. The series is full of tension, has wonderful music, brilliantly explores the joys of childhood and has kids dressed up as Ghostbusters, what’s not to like!
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (14 seasons made up of 154 episodes, 20-25 mins per episode): This one may not be to everybody’s taste, indeed whenever I watch it Niki (my wife) will say “you’re not watching those horrible people doing horrible things to each other again!” and I must admit the first season is a bit rough (production values dramatically increase once Danny DeVito comes on board in season two). But having said all that, I can honestly declare that this is the programme that has given me the most belly laughs in my adult life. The series follows a gang of five narcissistic, unethical and not very clever friends who run an Irish bar (named “Paddy’s Pub” of course) in south Philadelphia. Most episodes detail how one of the gang comes up with a get rich quick scheme which from the outset is obviously not going to work. As the episode plays out it will involve some form of humiliation (self-humiliation in most cases but can also be directed towards another member of the gang) like when Dee (the only female in the gang) and Frank (her father played by Devito) pretend to get married in order to get their hands on some inheritance money and how low they will stoop to make this con believable. Some say the series is a metaphor for how ignorant America has become. I just like the corny gags, for example when Charlie gets drunk staking out a rival pub he is amazed and impressed that the pub has a room where pirates live, the door is clearly marked “private”. Well I laughed and I hope you will too!
That’s my Top 5 picks and I hope you give them a go, if they are not to your taste there is always Modern Family and Suits, they are quite good also!