The Best Shows on Netflix to Fill Every Second of Your Free Time
From prestige drama to bingeable reality TV, here's your chance to catch up on everything
New year. New Netflix. With every month, it seems like Netflix’s expansive library continues to grow, and then you’re there, stuck watching the same shows over and over because you freeze in the scrolling process. Well. What it we narrowed down that selection? What if we picked out some perfect gems for you to investigate—short list the good ones, if you will?
If you’re looking for a new show to start, the only problem you’ll have is narrowing down which one to watch first. Our list of the best includes classics like Breaking Bad to newer originals like The Queen’s Gambit, ensuring that you’ll never get bored. Grab your weighted blanket and settle in with one of these top-tier shows currently on Netflix.
The docuseries that took Netflix viewers by storm early 2020 follows Navarro College’s elite competitive cheer squad as they prepare to win yet another national title.
American Horror Story
Although each season acts as a miniseries with a plot different from the rest of the show, each story has the same loose idea of how supernatural fears and horrors can play into humankind. Catch up now before the tenth season drops later this year.
In the arena of recent reality shows, it seems that the more passion its contestants have, the better. Recreating that Great British Bake Off vibe is difficult, but Blown Away gets very close. Following a group of quirky, artsy glassblowers, each episode comes up with a brief: some specific challenge that requires the artists to turn up the heat, melt down some glass into molten material, and shape it into magical forms. It’s nearly as hypnotic as it is wholesome.
This fan-favorite show depicts the life of Queen Elizabeth II throughout her reign. Its fourth and latest season arrives at the Margaret Thatcher era of British politics, and covers the tumultuous relationship of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
Is it for kids? Is it for adults? The answer is yes. The fourth season of Nick Kroll’s often bawdy, always sincere Big Mouth continues with the show’s mantra of not giving a fuck. It follows a crew of seventh graders as they navigate the incredibly difficult throes of adolescence amidst a changing culture, social media, and of course body odor. Take yourself a buh-bull-bath and turn it on for some big laughs and cringey flashbacks to middle school.
A nostalgia-fueled dive back into the world of the Karate Kid, Netflix’s Cobra Kai brings back Johnny Lawrence to reopen the Cobra Kai dojo. There, he finds himself back at odds with his old rival, Daniel LaRusso.
If Ryan Murphy creates a series and Sarah Paulson isn’t on the scene to show everyone up with her acting, did it really happen? In Ratched, Paulson plays the infamous Nurse Ratched in a highly stylized, very Murphy-esque interpretation of the nurse-turned-malpractice monster.
Netflix’s space thriller Away blasted onto the scene late this year and has held viewers’ attention since. The freshman drama only has one season, but Hilary Swank shines as Emma Green, an astronaut who leaves her family behind in pursuit of a daunting space trip to Mars.
The Great British Baking Show
Not even a pandemic can stop a new season of the world’s gentlest reality show. The music. The muted drama. The kind words each baker offers to one another, no matter how their bake turned out. The Great British Baking Show is the pinnacle of soft-core television that works as a salve for our often conflict-afflicted psyches.
This critically acclaimed historical drama (based on books by the same name) originally premiered on Starz in 2014, but now all five seasons are available to binge on Netflix. It follows the adventures of former World War II nurse Claire Randall, who pinballs between her current life in the 1940s and the world of 1740s Scotland, where she lands thanks to a time travel mishap. Time travel, tragedy, Scottish accents, romance, war, spies— literally what more could you ask for?
Yes, it’s an oldie, but it’s also good. Zooey Deschanel’s sitcom centering on a group of friends sharing one gorgeous loft apartment is more self-aware than Friends ever tried to be, but not in an annoying way. If you’re looking for a solid seven-season binge watch, this is your ticket.
Period dramas may not be everyone’s thing: we get it. But you have to give this one a shot. Shonda Rhimes’ first big flashy Netflix show is out, following the Bridgerton family through trials of love, loss, and everything in between. Also, did we mention there’s some voice work from the GOAT of queens: Julie Andrews?
The Queen’s Gambit
The Netflix adaptation of Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel has been the talk of the (digital) town recently, and for good reason. The engrossing miniseries follows orphan Beth Harmon’s journey to become the world’s best chess player.
We all know the wonderful Tracee Ellis Ross now, but many probably aren’t familiar with her early 2000s beginnings on The CW sitcom Girlfriends. She plays Joan, a young woman doing her best to navigate her career, romances, and friendships. There’s plenty of conflict, lots of laughs, and some special appearances from familiar faces like Wayne Brady, Kelly Rowland and Al Sharpton over the course of the eight seasons. This throwback is a new addition to the Netflix lineup–and perfect for when you need a lighthearted dramedy in your life.
Love on the Spectrum
Netflix has been on a roll with their reality shows, including this unique dating adventure that got a whopping 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. It follows seven young adults on the autism spectrum as they dive into the world of dating, love, and relationships. Not only is it truly heartwarming to watch, but it also offers important insight into an experience that many people may not consider or understand. The first season is full of awkward encounters and beautiful moments that will have you cringing, soft-smiling, and absolutely needing to see these journeys through.
For some reason, megachurches always seem to serve as an ideal backdrop for family drama. Oprah Winfrey executive produces and appears in this series centered around the Greenleaf family, who run a major Memphis megachurch, Calvary Fellowship World Ministries. Of course they come off as a perfect, caring, God-fearing clan, while scandal, lies, and rivalry secretly thrive beneath the surface. It has everything you need in your next guilty pleasure drama.
Perhaps the greatest time loop series ever made (or possibly the only time loop series), Russian Doll stars Natasha Lyonne as a bitter New York woman who is hit by a cab on her birthday and lives the same day over and over again. In eight breezy episodes it finds heart and hilarity reliving the same 24 hours. Sweet birthday baybee!
Better Call Saul
Finished all five genius and intense seasons of Breaking Bad? Well we have a gift for you. Vince Gilligan’s genius prequel series shows the origin story of the shady lawyer Saul Goodman, played by the incredible Bob Odenkirk.
The Baby-Sitters Club
Adapted from the iconic middle-grade novels by Ann M. Martin, The Baby-Sitters Club revisits a group of beloved fictional tweens babysitting in picturesque Stoneybrook, Connecticut by vaulting them headfirst into an updated world of smartphones and social media. This new and improved Baby-Sitters Club tackles modern themes like trans acceptance and growing up biracial, but the show doesn’t skimp on the timeless growing pains of girlhood that made the beloved books what they are, like crushes, conflicts between friends, and yes, getting your period.
Time to Eat
Starring Nadiya Hussain, the fan favorite winner of The Great British Baking Show, Time to Eat is a refreshing departure from the elitism characteristic of so many cooking shows. In her colorful, crush-worthy kitchen, Hussain serves up easy recipes characterized by pantry shortcuts, cost-cutting measures, and time-saving hacks. She also travels the United Kingdom to glimpse the behind-the-scenes process of bringing her favorite products to the grocery store, from Scottish salmon to Vegemite. You’ll be hauling off the couch and into the kitchen in no time.
In this four-part miniseries, one of Netflix’s first scripted primarily in Yiddish, a young woman born and raised in Brooklyn’s ultra-conservative Hasidic Jewish community flees to Germany to escape her loveless marriage. However, while she pursues her dreams at a German conservatory, her past life proves difficult to escape, as her heartbroken husband and a louche cousin cross the ocean hellbent on bringing her back to Brooklyn.
Never Have I Ever
In this touching dramedy dreamed up by Mindy Kaling, high school sophomore Devi returns to school after the death of her father and a fleeting grief-induced paralysis, determined to turn over a new leaf by losing her virginity to a popular boy. While struggling to balance friendships with romance, Devi also navigates a complicated relationship with her mother and interrogates her Indian-American upbringing. Deeply funny and unexpectedly moving, Never Have I Ever is among Netflix’s most standout offerings.
This is the strange docuseries to beat them all in 2020. The eight-part series follows a man by the moniker of Joe Exotic, as he stays embroiled in the near-absurdist world of captive big cats. His grandiose lifestyle entangles him in a bitter rivalry with a fellow big cat owner, a throuple marriage that ends tragically, and a conviction that lands one of the parties in jail for years (no spoilers!). Oh, and there are some incredible music videos to be taken in, too.
The Big Flower Fight
If you’re a fan of Great British Baking show, and the trend of nice reality TV, then The Big Flower Fight is your next calming binge watch. A group of florists are challenged in each episode to construct massive, beautiful, flower sculptures, with the winner taking home Best in Bloom and the loser bidding a tearful farewell. It’s an absolute delight with charming personalities, high stakes flower drama, and brilliant artistic talent.
The Twilight Zone of our era, this techno-thriller anthology series has predicted many real-world horrors that have come to pass. Each different story shows how technology that is supposed to benefit human lives has a dark side.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Yes, this is a cartoon, and no, that’s not an error. Avatar: The Last Airbender is a recent addition to Netflix’s canon, but the Nickelodeon series has a huge following. Don’t mistake the animated series as a children’s program—the series has been lauded for simplifying complex themes like authoritarianism, feminism, and genocide into digestible episodes that pack an emotional punch, yet are suitable for children. That’s talent.
Dead to Me
Dead to Me is Netflix’s answer to a soapy dark comedy that you can binge on a rainy afternoon. Now with two seasons, the Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini led series is part murder mystery, part comedy, and a whole lot of messed up emotional trauma.
The two seasons that Pose has released have been an absolute revelation for FX. The series, which begins in the late ’80s, follows the AIDS crisis and ballroom culture in New York City. Created by Steven Canals, it has the air of a Ryan Murphy venture (he produces), without it being ripped from the Ryan Murphy playbook. Canals and Janet Mock craft an incredible world that manages to capture the grit and elegance of a scene that largely existed underground until the last few years.
This Canadian sitcom shows a riches to rags story in the funniest way possible. When the Roses lose their fortune, they must relocate to a small town and live in a motel. Much like the family, the show takes a little time to find its footing, but by the second season you’ll be hooked.
Awkward, shy Otis reluctantly starts an underground sex therapy clinic at his high school when a few classmates learn his mother is a sex therapist. Otis quickly becomes an expert on the subject. Not only is the show funny and entertaining, but it also sheds light on how poor public school sex education really can be.
One of the first shows to put Netflix originals on the map, Stranger Things shows a small town in Indiana in the ’80s affected by paranormal and supernatural life. Season Four has been confirmed, so binge now to be totally caught up in time. In the meantime, light a candle for Hopper.
The notorious gangsters of Peaky Blinders make up one of the most powerful gangs of 1919 England. Its leader, Tommy Shelby, returns from war a hero and sets his sights higher than running the streets.
A crush between a bookstore manager and writer quickly takes a dark turn when Joe (Penn Badgley) becomes obsessed with his new girlfriend and is determined to get close to her at the expense of everyone who gets in the way of that.
Another limited series based on a true story follows two different timelines: one about Marie, a teen raped in her home who goes to the police before eventually recanting her statement after police call her a liar. Another follows two detectives hunting down a serial rapist presumed to be the same man who attacked Marie.
Billy on the Street
Billy Eichner serves as host of this game show, featuring a whole slew of different celebrity cameos. Eicher runs through the streets of Manhattan with a microphone asking strangers pop culture questions. The chaotic energy from this show can’t be found anywhere else.
The Good Place
Kristen Bell plays Eleanor, a self-absorbed woman who dies and goes to the afterlife. When she realizes she’s there only because she’s been mistaken for someone else, she attempts to become a better person in order to stay. By the end of the series, the Michael Schur-creation becomes a whole new series entirely.
Knowing his terminal cancer diagnosis will financially destroy his family, high school chemistry teacher Walter White uses his scientific expertise and the help of a former student to create and sell crystal meth out of an RV. The whole series is available to stream, and yes, it’s mandatory.
When They See Us
This limited series helmed by Ava DuVernay focuses on the real-life story of the Exonerated Five. When a woman is brutally attacked in Central Park, five teenage boys from Harlem are falsely accused and tormented by the judicial system. The drama was a stalwart on the awards circuit, but more importantly, it brought attention to an oft-overlooked side of the story.
In the 1970s, two FBI agents attempt to understand and catch serial killers by diving in and studying their psychology. Their work even helps to begin the development of modern serial-killer profiling along the way.
This docuseries focuses on a new topic each episode, ranging from athleisure to cults. Each episode runs only 16-25 minutes, giving you interesting information in a short period of time. Plus, there’s spinoffs like The Mind Explained as well as Sex Explained if you can’t get enough.
In this animated Netflix original, Will Arnett plays BoJack, a middle-aged, washed up sitcom star from the 90s, who happens to be a horse. The underrated comedy offers some of the most insightful commentary on mental health and substance abuse on television today. Yes, really.
This story about the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling set in 1980s LA follows a group of misfit actresses that turns into a story with deeper themes like female friendships and competition. Come for the inventive concept. Stay for Betty Gilpin and Allison Brie’s powerhouse performances.
This 2018 crime drama is not only extremely relevant, but also extremely well done. Starring the unstoppable Regina King, along with Michael Mosley, Claire-Hope Ashitay, Russell Hornsby, and more, you’ll be instantly sucked into the aftermath of a hit-and-run accident involving a Black teenager and a white police officer in New Jersey. The racial tension, attempted police cover-up, and legal struggles feel real and unfortunately familiar. Seven Seconds takes an emotional toll, but it’s definitely worth the watch.
A reboot of the early 2000’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Netflix’s spin takes the same basic formula of five gay men transforming other peoples’ (mostly straight men) lives by teaching them everything from grooming tips and how to French tuck to emotional vulnerability and finding confidence in themselves.
The first season of this Israeli television series premiered in 2015, but the recent third season brought it back onto our radar. It was developed by Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff based on their experiences in the Israel Defense Forces, documenting the story of a commander as his team pursues a terrorist known as “The Panther.” It’s an interesting, intense, and emotional thriller that will keep you captivated through all three seasons.