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The 20 Best Netflix Shows of All Time — Ranked

It’s been a rough few years for the once-dominant streaming service, but Netflix has still managed to produce some of the best television ever


Netflix finally got some good news last week — sort of — after a long stretch of the bad kind. In its latest earnings call, the streaming giant announced that it had lost almost one million American subscribers over the second quarter of 2022. How is this good news? Because the company had previously projected it would lose two million.

Netflix was once out so far ahead of the competition that it may as well have been the entire streaming video business for a while. Now, though, many of its most-watched library titles, like The Office and Friends, have moved to streamers owned by their respective corporate parents, while the most buzzed-about originals of the last couple of years also tend to come from non-Netflix streamers, whether it’s Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso and Severance, Disney+’s The Mandalorian, or Hacks on HBO Max. Things have gotten so rough for the floundering streamer that it’s planning to introduce a cheaper, ad-supported plan next year to attract new subscribers (or, at least, to keep from losing more).

So what happened? How did Netflix go from wiping Blockbuster off the map to potentially becoming a business school cautionary tale in its own right? Some of it is simply competition; once every entertainment conglomerate realized it needed its own streaming service to survive, Netflix ceased to be everyone’s first choice for where to spend their home-entertainment dollars. Still, some of it seems to be the result of an ethos among Netflix executives to aim not for great shows, but for ones that are just good enough. The suits trusted that the superior caliber of their user interface, the power of their recommendation algorithm, and a heavy emphasis on serialization and cliffhangers would make people want to keep watching more and more Netflix, no matter what. And when few Netflix shows feel as essential as what can be found elsewhere, that’s how you get to a huge subscriber loss being presented as relatively “good” news.

But it hasn’t all been intentional mediocrity for Netflix. In the nine-plus years since House of Cards debuted and changed the streaming originals landscape, some excellent shows have escaped the algorithm’s clutches and made their way onto our screens. Some have been well-executed versions of familiar TV forms, while others have seemed so wholly new that it’s hard to imagine them existing in the pre-streaming era. Here, we count down our 20 favorites.

From Rolling Stone US


‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ (2015-2019)

We have to blur the lines to call Kimmy a Netflix original, since the first season was produced to air on NBC, before network executives there panicked that the show — about a young woman (Ellie Kemper) rescued from years trapped in a doomsday cult’s underground bunker — would be too weird or sad to work for them. But Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s creation had a healthy and frequently hilarious four-season run when it surely would have died within a few weeks on NBC. A win-win.


‘One Day at a Time’ (2017-2019)

Even beyond Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix built an early reputation as a viewer-friendly place by rescuing canceled shows from broadcast and cable networks. Eventually, the roles reversed, and we had a situation where this smart, funny, and poignant Norman Lear revival — starring Justina Machado as a Cuban American single mom raising teen kids with the help of her mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno), and dealing with hot-button issues like immigration, sexuality, and PTSD — was canceled by Netflix and then revived for a fourth season by the cable channel Pop.


‘Unbelievable’ (2019)

Netflix and actress Merritt Wever have been a strong team over the years. She won an Emmy for her gun-slinging role in 2017’s Godless, stole scenes in Marriage Story, and was phenomenal here as an empathetic cop (alongside Toni Collette) on the trail of a serial rapist. TV is inundated with mediocre true-crime dramatizations, but Unbelievable — which featured a fantastic Kaitlyn Dever as a victim of the rapist who was somehow charged with lying to police about it — is one great enough to live up to its title.


‘Master of None’ (2015-Present)

Aziz Ansari’s Master of None was among the best of the wave of auteur-driven TV in the 2010s. He wrote, directed, and starred in the show’s ambitious and lovely early seasons, which mixed stories of his alter ego, Dev, who was looking for love, with tales of the people in Dev’s life: his immigrant father’s journey to America, his friend Denise (Lena Waithe) gradually coming out to her family, even a digression about New York cabbies. After a long break, it returned last year with a Scenes From a Marriage-inspired story about Denise, which was less interesting, even as it suggested that Ansari and Waithe had not run out of ambition.


‘I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson’ (2019-Present)

Each season of Tim Robinson’s sketch-comedy delight is six episodes of less than 20 minutes apiece. Yet within that efficient packaging exist indelible, explosive comedy bits, many of them about people who take some dumb belief and refuse to let go of it until everyone around them is deeply uncomfortable. Bonus points for the hot-dog car sketch (“We’re all trying to find the guy who did this!”) becoming the single most useful meme of the past four years.


‘Big Mouth’ (2017-Present)

An animated show about middle schoolers that probably shouldn’t be watched by middle schoolers, Big Mouth focuses on the rampaging horniness of characters like Nick (co-creator Nick Kroll), Andrew (John Mulaney), Jessi (Jessi Klein), and the pillow-molesting Jay (Jason Mantzoukas). And that’s even before we get to all the filthy fantasies put into the kids’ heads by hormone monsters like Connie (Maya Rudolph). Yet for as graphic as the series gets, it has a fundamental empathy for kids going through one of the most uncomfortable stages of life.


‘American Vandal’ (2017-2018)

Speaking of scatological adolescent ridiculousness, consider this note-perfect spoof of true-crime podcasts and docuseries in which a pair of high school filmmakers investigate two mysteries: Who defaced 27 cars in the faculty parking lot with drawings of penises, and who contaminated the cafeteria lemonade to make their classmates lose control of their bowels? As satire alone, it was wonderful. But beneath all the dick and poop jokes was an insightful and poignant look at the kids caught up in all this gross-out behavior.


‘Russian Doll’ (2019-Present)

We’re finally entering the realm of Capital-G Greatness. Natasha Lyonne graduated from the next show on this list to her own co-creation: a high-concept series that bent genre as easily as it bent the laws of physics. In the flawless first season, Lyonne’s irrepressible Nadia was cursed to die and be reborn over and over again on her 36th birthday. In the messier but still delightful second season, she began quantum leaping into the young lives of her mother and grandmother. Russian Doll is brimming with ideas and energy in a way few recent series (on Netflix or otherwise) can equal.


‘Orange Is the New Black’ (2013-2019)

House of Cards was the kind of middle-aged-male antihero drama that television had seen plenty of before. Orange, a dramedy set at a federal women’s prison with an enormous cast crossing boundaries of race, sexuality, gender, and more, felt brand-new, and like a sign that the streaming era would have lots of room for TV to keep evolving. That’s not quite what happened, and Orange was more creatively uneven than many shows on this list. But its best moments were remarkable and symbolize a road the streamer hasn’t taken nearly as often as it could.


‘BoJack Horseman’ (2014-2020)

Yes, the one indisputable Netflix masterpiece is an animated dramedy about a depressed horse (Will Arnett) who once starred in a bad Nineties family sitcom and now contents himself with abusing both drugs and the trust of anyone who cares about him. BoJack was a parody of modern dramas about middle-aged male antiheroes who get away with everything. But it was also a supreme example of the form, as laugh-out-loud ridiculous and as soul-crushingly sad a show as has been produced during the streaming era.