Top Ten TV Shows on Netflix UK

Following on (sort of) from my post on the Top Twenty-Five Films on Netflix UK, I decided to write a list of my favourite TV shows on Netflix UK. This time around there will only be ten entries. Mainly because TV series take a lot longer to watch than films and so I normally don’t like to commit the time. Some shows are just so good they’re worth it. Others on the list have short episodes and don’t really have a continuing narrative which makes them ideal for watching occasionally when you have a spare twenty minutes. Before you start asking me “But what about South Park and Breaking Bad?” I know there are loads of other great shows available, let’s not forget Dexter, The IT Crowd and The Inbetweeners, but everyone’s either seen these shows or decided never to watch them because that douchebag at work drones on about them every day. I’m not here to tell you what you already know so I’ve tried to pick shows that are underrated or that just haven’t received a lot of love here in the UK.

Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black is one of the first original series to be partly produced by Netflix in a bold move by the company to create new content. I’ve watched most of the first season and have been pretty impressed with the quality on offer. Taylor Schilling plays Piper Chapman, a woman sent to prison for smuggling drugs. In a cruel twist of fate, the crime was committed ten years before the start of the show, in the meantime Piper has built a comfortable life for herself with that pie-fucker guy from American Pie (sometimes known as Jason Biggs). Her world is turned upside down when she’s convicted and sentenced to eighteen months inside. Most of Orange is the New Black is set in a women’s prison, so the characters are mainly female which is pretty refreshing to see. Don’t expect much gritty prison soul-searching or any kind of violence on the level of Prison Break though; the show focuses more on the personal bonds and enmities which form between the prisoners. There’s also a lot of humour, mainly coming from an overly-friendly lesbian known as Crazy Eyes and a perverted, moustachioed prison guard named George ‘Pornstache’ Mendez.

Jericho

When the small town of Jericho is cut off from the outside world in a sudden and unexplained disaster the inhabitants are left to pick up the pieces. They hold meetings, ration out food and try to generally get on with life as much as they can. However, with the cause of their isolation unknown, suspicion and anxiety begin to cause rifts between groups. There are political power plays, gunfights and brawls. And when they finally begin to put together the pieces of the puzzle with clues gleaned from foraging trips and outsiders who wander into town, conspiracy theories begin to take hold. Jericho is a pretty thorough take on the post-apocalyptic survivor drama that seems to be popular these days. It’s like a more grounded version of Mad Max, but with less Australians. And a lot less dust. The characters are all well developed; everyone has an angle to play or a secret to keep. The only criticism I will make of the show is that the acting’s terrible at times. The worst culprit here is actually British actor Lennie James (Sol from Snatch), which will undoubtedly come as a shock. James’ American accent is appalling and repeatedly detracts from the tension when you find yourself laughing at it. And Billy from Scream seems unable to move his eyebrows, which leaves him in a constant state of painstaking concentration.

Justified

Justified is based on a short story by Elmore Leonard about a U.S. Marshall named Raylan Givens who is transferred to rural Kentucky. The show’s biggest draw for me is the sheer stupidity of the hillbillies, with the exception of Boyd Crowder, who looks the most idiotic but is quite possibly the smartest. In fact, Boyd repeatedly steals the show from Raylan himself. He instantly became my favourite character after brazenly destroying a church with an RPG fired from the back of a pickup truck… Raylan Givens is a bit of a douche; he constantly goes against orders like some kind of lone ranger, charging into dangerous situations with no backup. The great thing about Justified though, is that Raylan doesn’t always win. I got bored watching 24 because Jack Bauer is absolutely unstoppable and comes out of every situation on top. When Raylan Givens gets clever with a loudmouth stranger in a bar he gets his ass handed to him. And his hat stolen. Not only that, he’s humble enough to go and ask nicely for it back later in the episode. Raylan is a moron surrounded by even bigger morons. Except Boyd, who’s probably a genius. And has great hair.

Modern Family

Modern Family is a show about Sofia Vergara’s cleavage. What? Oh, sorry, I got distracted. Seems I’ve already let the main reasons to watch this show out of the bag. Aside from Sofia Vergara’s boner-inducing cleavage, Modern Family is a show about family values. Modern ones. The Pritchett family are a close-knit bunch of oddballs who put each other through all kinds of awkward situations but always come together in the end. Jay is the head of the family, and in comedy terms he’s also the straight man. Mitchell, his son, is the gay man. And so is Mitchell’s partner Cameron… Then there’s Jay’s second wife Gloria (with the cleavage) and her son Manny, who have emigrated from Colombia. Jay’s daughter Claire is the neurotic mother of three mental kids but has more trouble with husband, Phil, who is an idiot. Phil’s probably my third favourite character in Modern Family (behind Gloria’s boobs). He’s always trying to teach his wife and kids life lessons which backfire on him in hilarious fashion every time. The show gets a bit sentimental occasionally but as long as you don’t have a problem with that you’ll get a lot of laughs out of Modern Family.

Drawn Together

This show is weird, wacky and at times pretty offensive. If you don’t see the point of reality television (me neither) Drawn Together is the perfect antidote. The show is a satire of reality garbage like Big Brother, but each character is also a parody of a cartoon. Like I said, it’s weird. It’s also very, very funny. There’s Captain Hero; an extremely vain and immoral superhero. There’s Foxxy Love; a mystery-solving black musician. There’s Xandir; basically a gay version of Link from Legend of Zelda. There’s Clara; the fairy tale princess who has a monster vagina that tries to eat everyone. But the best character in the show is undisputedly Ling Ling; the little Pikachu-type creature whose cute Japanese cartoon noises are translated in the subtitles into constant threats of murder and mutilation. Each episode of the show is like a window into the mind of a deranged cartoonist on a lot of drugs.

The Killing

I hate to admit it, but I watched the American version of The Killing and I actually really liked it. Having said that, I haven’t seen the original European series so I’m not saying this is better. I’m just saying it’s good. Writers Soren Sveistrup and Veena Sud worked on both so that could explain the quality of the remake. The mystery of missing girl Rosie Larsen will draw you in from the first episode and keep you guessing until the very end of season two. Netflix kept the show going for a third season, with the same two detectives delving into a new case but the first two seasons are undoubtedly the best. The show’s sometimes difficult to pin down as it combines elements of family drama, police procedural and political thriller, but it’s always gripping. The Larsen family go through several levels of hell (including a few of their own making) in the search for the truth about their missing daughter. There are so many red herrings along the way that you’ll find yourself questioning the plot’s plausibility, but they are so masterfully handled that it ultimately won’t detract from the experience. I will say that The Killing is one of those shows where you don’t really like the main character; Sarah Linden is a self-destructive, inconsiderate, obsessive who neglects her son in favour of a dead girl. Luckily the supporting characters are interesting enough to offset the annoyance of Linden. Joel Kinnamon is especially good as rookie detective Stephen Holder, particularly when he’s frustrated with his irritating partner.

Luther

Another police drama. Or at least it would be, if not for the powerhouse performance of Idris Elba as the eponymous John Luther. Elba made a name for himself playing iconic criminal Stringer Bell on The Wire, and here he plays a similarly iconic character on the opposite side of the law (supposedly). I read an interview with the actor recently and he said that in one particular scene, during an argument with Luther’s wife, he was supposed to punch a door in anger. Elba said the scene was shot at a difficult time in his life. I don’t want to ruin the moment for you so just watch the show and you’ll see why I mention it. I guarantee you’ve never seen a door obliterated so completely. Luther is a hideously conflicted detective who often steps so far over the line he can no longer see it. The show asks the age-old question; can you face evil without being tainted? Luther answers that question in the first episode. And then asks it again and again. As a character, Luther is extremely flawed; his morals are skewed, he’s emotionally unstable and he often gets violent in the pursuit of what he thinks is right. He hates corruption yet allows himself to be corrupted for certain people. There’s a strong supporting cast of cops and crooks to complement Elba. The crimes themselves are also bold and brutal in many cases. But most people will only watch Luther for Idris Elba, and ultimately it’s him that elevates it over so many other comparable series.

Afro Samurai

An anime cartoon about a Samurai with an Afro. Do I really need to say anything else? No, probably not. But I’m going to anyway because this show is inspired. Afro Samurai features voice work from Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Perlman and Kelly Hu. And remember Marvin, the guy who gets his head blown off by John Travolta in Pulp Fiction? Somehow that role didn’t leapfrog him to Hollywood superstardom, one of life’s great injustices… but he’s in Afro Samurai. Along with Mad Murdock of The A Team. The soundtrack is outrageously atmospheric and haunting, as you would expect from legendary producer RZA of the Wu Tang Clan. The action takes place in a futuristic feudal Japan in which fighters are ranked by mystical headbands. Afro’s father was killed by the wearer of the number one headband and he has a deep thirst for vengeance. But only the wearer of the number two headband can challenge the champion, and so Afro must attain the heights of number two for his chance at revenge. Of course, when he does become number two he has to face all the challengers who want to take his place. The fight scenes are bloody but there’s plenty of comic relief courtesy of Jackson’s character Ninja Ninja. And there’s an evil Samurai teddy bear.

Californication

Hank Moody, the unreliable protagonist of Californication, is my personal hero. He’s irreverent, narcissistic, self-deprecating and promiscuous. And he’s an author. Occasionally. Moody is basically a massive pimp whose first novel made him famous but left him forever trying to live up to the persona it created. He’s constantly unfaithful to Karen; the love of his life and mother of his daughter. He disappoints said daughter at every opportunity. He drives his agent insane by refusing to write anything. He sleeps with every woman who crosses his path, before casting them aside for Karen. And he tries to solve most of his problems with his fists. Nothing ever works out for him and it’s always his own fault. But you just can’t help liking the guy. He’s hilarious. Not many actors get to play two iconic characters in long-running series during their career. David Duchovny is therefore a legend for bringing both Moody and Fox Mulder to life. Of course, Californication wouldn’t work without such a strong supporting cast. Natascha McElhone has the hardest job to do as Karen, perpetually forgiving Hank’s little (or enormous) indiscretions. You’ll really want things to work out for Hank and Karen because they’re both such likeable but flawed characters. Same goes for Hank’s agent Charlie Runkle and his foul-mouthed wife Marcy. And Lew Ashby, the lonely, coke-addled rockstar whose biography Hank is supposed to write. And Mia, the mixed up daughter of Karen’s almost-husband, who steals Hank’s new book and claims it as her own. There are also many memorable guest appearances: Rob Lowe playing psychotic actor Eddie Nero; RZA as a rapper named Samurai Apocalypse; and Kathleen Turner as the nymphomaniac head of an L.A. talent agency. I’ll end with a warning; if you don’t like nudity, don’t watch this.

Arrested Development

Probably the most consistently funny TV show I’ve ever seen. It’s very hard to think of anything as amusing as Arrested Development. Everything about the show is ridiculous. The storylines are mad, and yet they make perfect sense. The characters are insane caricatures, and yet they’re strangely familiar. The jokes are often obvious and overused, but they’re always funny. I don’t understand how any of this happened but it’s the greatest comedy of all time. Arrested Development is the story of the Bluth family as they struggle (mostly against each other) to keep their multi-million dollar real estate business afloat. With the head of the family, George Bluth, sent to prison for tax evasion, it’s left to the only level-headed member of the family, Michael, to run things. Unfortunately for Michael, his mother and siblings do everything they can to derail his efforts. A few memorable plotlines involve: George Bluth opening a desert retreat to swindle cash out of greedy millionaires; Michael’s younger brother Buster getting his hand bitten off by an angry seal; Michael’s son, George Michael, trying desperately not to fancy his cousin; and the other brother Gob (pronounced Jobe) making the family yacht disappear as part of his terrible magic act. The show is flawlessly cast, it’s impossible to imagine any of the roles being played by anyone else. Jason Bateman is suitably weary as Michael Bluth. He’s joined by Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Jeffrey Tambor and Fonzie. I almost forgot to mention that Arrested Development is pitched as a documentary about the Bluths, and is narrated by Ron Howard, who also appears as himself in later episodes.

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