Netflix’s Best (and Worst) Original Shows
It seems like just yesterday that Netflix first announced it would jump into the realm of original content. Soon after, House of Cards premiered in February 2013. Years later, Netflix has established itself as a force to be reckoned with among content creators, going toe to toe with the biggest television networks. But while three years has been long enough to establish some true winners, it has also been long enough to release some losers along the way. Here are five of Netflix’s best original series to date and five of its worst, in no particular order.
1. Master of None
Aziz Ansari’s hilarious and surprisingly poignant series Master of None was released this past fall and quickly found a home with viewers, along with universal acclaim from critics. If you go over to Rotten Tomatoes you’ll see that Master of None is one of the few to score a perfect 100% from critics who have gushed about the series and its ability to multitask different issues successfully. “It’s an adorable but mature rom-com. It’s an idea-packed bulletin on technology and social mores. It’s a showbiz satire. It’s a casually multicultural, multiracial comedy that’s also acutely conscious of how identity still matters,” writes James Poniewozik of the New York Times.
2. Orange is the New Black
While House of Cards was Netflix’s first breakout hit, Orange is the New Black was its first critical darling. The series from Jenji Kohan (Weeds) follows a New York woman as she adjusts to federal prison with a strong ensemble cast filling out her fellow prison mates. With season four set to premiere on June 17, Orange is the New Black will look to continue its status as one of Netflix’s most critically acclaimed series. “The return of Orange Is the New Black is always welcome,” writes the New York Times’ Libby Hill, “not merely because the series is funny and fresh and unlike anything else on television, but because it’s one of the few shows that go all in on the relationships and struggles inherent to being a woman.”
3. Jessica Jones
The Netflix/Marvel team-up has proved to be a very fruitful partnership with some very interesting superhero stories coming out of Daredevil (which could have easily been on this list) and Jessica Jones. But of the two Marvel series so far, Jessica Jones has proved to be the more interesting of the two by creating a strong female superhero, establishing dark and adult themes, and commenting on important contemporary issues surrounding women — specifically sexual assault. “In a genre format that is often reflexively juvenile about sexuality, Jessica Jones is distinctly adult, an allegory that is unafraid of ugliness,” writes Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker.
4. House of Cards
The first original Netflix series is still one of the best, despite hitting some snags in its third season. House of Cards’ recent fourth season was a return to form and has set up some exciting possibilities for the next season as Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright continue to excel as everyone’s favorite evil couple. “In its fourth season, House of Cards is proving that it’s gotten a new lease on life,” writes Daniel D’Addario of TIME.
The story of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s rise and fall is rich with the kind of detail that makes long-form storytelling the perfect place for Narcos. Stylishly shot and filled out with a strong and capable cast, Narcos‘ unflinching direction allows the story to unfold in a murky gray area where everyone — good, bad, and in-between — are treated in a way that humanizes them. And for a story like this based in real events, with horrible acts committed by real people, an attempt to humanize all the parts in the cog that allowed it to happen is what pushes Narcos to another level.
1. Hemlock Grove
One of Netflix’s first original shows, Hemlock Grove was a mess from the start and never found its feet. Based on the novel of the same name, the series takes place in the fictional Pennsylvania town Hemlock Grove where a young girl’s murder and supernatural occurrences spark an investigation into the town’s underbelly. Newsday’s Verne Gay writes, “It’s a high-concept, low-budget genre-busting gothic horror soap that’s full of non sequiturs, loose ends, dead ends and split ends.”
2. Fuller House
Presumably there was, and is, a market for this Full House followup, since it not only got one season, but is also set to have a second season in 2017. But it still seems like something that no one particularly wanted and something that critics definitely don’t care for. “No one expected Fuller House to exhibit the level of quality of other Netflix series like Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards,” writes the San Francisco Chronicle’s David Wiegand, “But when it doesn’t even measure up to the mediocrity of the original series, Full House, you’ve got a problem.” Ouch.
A comedy series from Will Arnett and Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz sounds like a recipe for success, but the end result was anything but. Flaked is about a man-child, self-help guru named Chip whose persona begins to crumble around all his lies when the series begins. It’s a starting point that feels full of potential considering the names involved, but critics were fairly unanimous in saying that Flaked has one huge problem: It’s boring. Brian Lowry of Variety was particular scathing in his review of the show, writing, “The premium TV world is a magnet for vanity projects, but few are as pointless – or unnecessary – as this one.”
4. Grace and Frankie
Grace and Frankie’s second season was recently released on Netflix, and while it’s getting a slightly better reception than its first, it has some ground to make up because of where it started. Starring Jane Fonda and Lili Tomlin as they bond in the wake of their husbands’ announcement that they are in love with each other and have been having an affair, Grace and Frankie is another show with a fantastic concept and strong actors to carry it. Unfortunately, it was plagued by mixed responses from critics, some of whom praised its acting and a story not usually explored in television while others said that it, “strains very hard for laughter of any sort.”
5. Marco Polo
Marco Polo has had a difficult road, having started at Starz and then was released back to The Weinstein Company after attempts to shoot in China failed. The Weinstein Company eventually linked up with Netflix to make the expensive series, and when it was finally released in 2014, it was savaged by critics and viewers alike. Look no further than The Washington Post’s Hank Stuever to get a perfect sense of what many viewers experienced watching the show. “This is all precisely the opposite of the Netflix way of watching: When you get to the end of an episode of Marco Polo, the last thing you feel like doing is queueing up one, two or five more.” He added, “It’s practically binge-proof.” And this doesn’t even begin to deal with the show’s problems related to orientalism that were covered prominently in the media following the show’s release.
Even if it is “binge-proof,” Marco Polo somehow got a second season, so maybe they can turn it around. But they’re going to have a lot of work in front of them to right the ship.
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