The Best Netflix Original Series of 2021 Offer An Escape Into the Streaming Void

The streaming giant has everything from dramas to comedies and guilty-pleasure reality TV.

The Best Netflix Original Series of 2021 Offer An Escape Into the Streaming Void
The Best Netflix Original Series of 2021 Offer An Escape Into the Streaming Void

Ever scrolled by means of Netflix in search of a new binge-watch and felt overwhelmed by the literal 1000’s of choices? We get it: decision paralysis is actual. With such a staggering glut of unique content material, it may be tough to pin down what rises to the highest, quality-wise. Certain, everyone is speaking about that new Ryan Murphy sequence, but does that imply you must watch it? We’ll let you in on a bit of secret: it’s okay to skip among the latest releases, as a result of some aren’t the best.

Here’s the place we come in: we’ve put within the legwork to identify what’s price watching, and what you may skip. Our favourite Netflix originals of the yr embrace comedies, dramas, and documentaries, but one factor they don’t embrace are any lemons. Learn on for a full rundown of the best of Netflix’s 2021 offerings–all hits, no misses.

White Lines

Ibiza is the party capital of the world, so it makes for the ideal setting for a show about decadence, debauchery, and dance music. 20 years ago, DJ Axel Collins and his three best pals left Manchester for the Spanish isle, where they built a clubbing empire before Axel’s mysterious disappearance. Now, his mummified body has turned up in the desert—and his younger sister heads to Ibiza to solve his murder. Don’t worry, she makes time for plenty of partying and a steamy holiday romance, too.

The Big Flower Fight

The Great British Bake Off, but make it flowers. That’s pretty much all you need to know about this soothing reality competition, which finds pairs of florists, artists, and landscapers facing off to build giant living sculptures out of plants and posies, all under the guidance of comedian hosts Natasia Demetriou and Vic Reeves, and florist-to-the stars judge Kristen Griffith-Vanderyacht. (And if you’re a celebrity florist not named “Kristen Griffith-Vanderyacht,” just give up right now, because that is the best possible celebrity florist name ever.)

Cheer

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.

Blown Away

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.

The Crown

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.

Big Mouth

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.

Cobra Kai

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.

Ratched

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.

Away

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.

Outlander

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?

New Girl

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.

Bridgerton

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.

Blood & Water

There are few teen show tropes more classic than “middle/working class kid goes to fancy private school.” Gossip Girl, The O.C., and even The Fresh Prince used that winning formula, and the latest series in that venerable tradition is South African drama Blood & Water, which follows 16-year-old Puleng as she transfers into the ritzy Parkhurst Academy in order to solve the mystery of her missing sister. She also gets to gawp and the fancy houses and incredibly complicated romantic lives of her crazy-rich classmates, which really is what these shows are all about.

Selena

In the first season of this family friendly, nine-episode series, the incredible rise of Tejano superstar Selena Quintanilla is lovingly traced from childhood to adulthood. With an emphasis on Selena’s homegrown rise to stratospheric stardom, the series depicts her early years in the family band, Selena Y Los Dinos, and her fervent desire to cross over into English pop music. Produced by the late singer’s older sister, Suzette Quintanilla, Selena is a meaningful labor of love.

Big Mouth

The fourth season of Big Mouth is as lewd, crude, and imaginatively rude as ever, but with the lovable weirdos of Bridgeton Middle School scattered to the winds after potentially friendship-ending conflicts, it breaks new emotional ground. Over the course of a stellar, gut-busting season, the characters are knit back together, each of them growing smarter and kinder through personal trials with racial, gender, and sexual identity. But lest you think Big Mouth is going soft on us, don’t worry–this season features an extended sequence in which a character gives birth to an infant-sized bowel movement. Never change, Big Mouth.

Love Is Blind

Netflix’s serialized reality dating show Love Is Blind is The Circle meets Married At First Sight—incredibly watchable in an I-want-to-tear-my-eyeballs-out sort of way. The show brings 30 Atlanta singles to a set specially built for ‘blind’ dating–the men and women live in separate quarters and go on dates in small pods where they are separated by a glass wall and can only hear each other speak. After ten days of dating, the participants must either get engaged to someone they have never laid eyes on or go home. If they do choose to get engaged, only then do they meet in person, and the three week countdown until their wedding begins! What could go wrong? It’s a whirlwind of drama, tension, and true madness, like any good reality dating show. Spoiler: very few happy endings come from dating this way, but a good bit of entertainment does. Why is it so enjoyable to watch other people mess their lives up?

The Crown

In season four of The Crown, creator Peter Morgan took Netflix’s historical juggernaut to the place viewers have anticipated all along: the infamously troubled marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The Crown doesn’t disappoint, ferociously excavating the infidelities, cruelties, and emotional starvation that drove the ill-suited couple apart. All the while, the show looks outward at the state of the realm, depicting the growing tension between the Queen and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as Thatcher’s reforms decimate Britain’s social safety net. You’re in for a harrowing look at the perilous degree to which the royals feel emotionally stranded in the monarchy, so don’t expect anyone to crack a smile.

Away

Netflix’s space thriller 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.

Ratched

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.

Cobra Kai

In 2020, nostalgia gets the job done. Cobra Kai dives back into the world of Karate Kid. Over three decades out from their original meeting, Johnny Lawrence is back, reopening the Cobra Kai dojo where he finds himself at odds (all these years later!) with his old rival, Daniel LaRusso.

Love On The Spectrum

First broadcast in Australia in 2019, Love On The Spectrum follows several young Australians on the autism spectrum as they navigate dating and romance. Over the course of five episodes, the show introduces a charming cast of characters including two happy couples and a handful of singles looking for love. It’s, at long last, a reality dating show akin to real dating—awkward speed dating nights, uncomfortable split the bill conversations, tangible nerves, real disappointment, and long, prickly pauses between conversation topics. Love On The Spectrum celebrates challenging first dates to successful long-term relationships in a beautiful, real way. Plenty of tears and laughs guaranteed.

Selling Sunset

Anyone who tells you that the newest season of Selling Sunset did not drastically improve their quarantine is simply lying. Following the dealings of The Opphenheim Group, the LA real estate brokerage working to sell multimillion dollar homes on Sunset Strip, the show is an incredibly fun and entertaining binge. With a team of powerhouse women, wild homes, and certainly no lack of drama, you’ll plow through the first three seasons and soon enough be stuck with us, waiting impatiently for Season Four.

The Umbrella Academy

Netflix’s partnership with Marvel may be a thing of the past (RIP Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage, and the rest), but that hasn’t stopped the platform from creating some great superhero content that’s all its own. This series, based on comics by My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way, tells the story of a superhero team made up of seven emotionally stunted adopted siblings. And while the show definitely leans on genre tropes (“Will these unlikely heroes be able to stop the apocalypse?”), the Hargreeves kids otherwise live in a world filled with delightfully weird touches like a monkey butler and a goldfish time lord. Combined with deft characterization and a killer soundtrack, Umbrella Academy feels like a fresh take on a familiar superhero story.

Indian Matchmaking

Netflix’s streak of wild 2020 reality dating shows continues with Indian Matchmaking. The series follows matchmaker Sima Taparia as she matches singles all the way from New Jersey to Mumbai. With a magnetic cast of picky characters, family drama, and way too many awkward dates, it’s a profoundly entertaining binge watch. And here’s an update for when you finish (which will be in one sitting, we promise).

Unsolved Mysteries

If you love a good mystery, this one is for you. But a warning that the title holds true—these ones are all unsolved—so be prepared for cliffhangers. The series is a reboot of the classic ’90s hit Unsolved Mysteries, and each of the six episodes in Netflix’s version highlights a different cold case. From strange disappearances to paranormal activity, there’s something for everyone, and the show has even been able to make an impact on the progress in some of the cases it features. Happy sleuthing.

The Queen’s Gambit

It’s been a while since we’ve been this into chess, but the Netflix adaptation of Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel is catching a lot of people’s attention. The miniseries follows orphaned Beth Harmon’s incredible trajectory as she aims to become the world’s best chess player. Riddled with addiction issues, the series spans 14 years and no—before you ask—it’s not based on a true story. But that’s a testament to just how good the show is because it’s rare that a story this good isn’t based in some semblance of reality.

The Haunting of Bly Manor

The second iteration of the “Haunting” series debuted on Netflix late this year and just in time for Halloween. This one, less of a jump-scare series and more of a narrative-driven one, follows an incredible cast through Bly Manor. Here is the chilling psychological tale of a nanny who happens to sign up for the worst au pair job available. Why? Too many damn ghosts.

Great British Bake Off

The Great British Bake Off returned just in time to ease us through a tough Q4 for the world. This season, host Sandi Toksvig was replaced by Matt Lucas (who you might have seen from Bridesmaids), but the gist remains the same. Amateur bakers descend on the big white tent in pursuit of the title of being the U.K.’s best baker. There are no big cash prizes. No deception. Just an unbridled love of making pastry, profiteroles, and pasties. Even more endearing: they’re all quarantined together for the duration of filming, making those earnest goodbyes even more heartfelt.

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. Brilliant updates to the source material place the girls in modern situations, though not simply for kicks; rather, each update enriches the characters Martin created. Yet even with all the updated bells and whistles, perhaps the best thing about The Baby-Sitters Club is its worldview—one of warmth, empathy, and optimism. In an age of rampant corruption and bigotry, not to mention a global pandemic, this ten-episode diversion into Stoneybrook is like manna from heaven.

Anne With an E

In 2020, Netflix’s beloved adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series came to an end with a third and final season, in which the intrepid Anne Shirley Cuthbert searches for answers about her biological parents and prepares to begin her adult life at Queens College. The third season was poignant, heartfelt, and high-spirited, with Anne barreling down a journey of self-discovery that illuminates her past and propels her into the future. Netflix claimed that the third season would be the show’s last, but fans aren’t going to take it lying down–in fact, they spammed Twitter with over 13 million tweets and took out billboards protesting the show’s cancellation. If that level of enthusiasm doesn’t prove a show’s quality, then what does?

Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich

There were few 2019 news stories bigger than the arrest and suicide of Jeffrey Epstein, one-time high-society financier and convicted sexual offender. And while this four-part docuseries includes interviews with Epstein’s former colleagues and associates—and particularly chilling deposition footage of Epstein himself—director Lisa Bryant focuses on the stories of the survivors, women who were drawn into Epstein’s circle and are brave enough to share their accounts with the world.

Outer Banks

When you’ve got teens from warring tribes going head to head, there’s going to be drama. Just look at the Montagues and the Capulets, or the Greasers and Socs. This time, it’s the Pogues, working-class youngsters on the North Carolina coast, and their posh rivals, the Kooks. They’re into surfing, being impossibly attractive, and solving the mysteries around their leader’s missing dad and a buried treasure. What could be more binge-worthy than that?

Time to Eat

Are you as fatigued as we are of cooking series featuring rarefied ingredients, complicated recipes, and expensive culinary equipment? If you are, then Time to Eat is the show for you. 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. You’ll be hauling off the couch and into the kitchen in no time.

Too Hot To Handle

Too Hot To Handle is the ultimate mind-numbing reality watch. The show is Netflix’s third original reality show of the year, and the game is this: fifteen bathing suit-clad contestants living together in a villa must abstain from all physical contact with one another to keep their $100,000 cash prize fund intact. Each breach of the rules depletes the pot further, so it’s more like a celibacy support group, complete with self-discovery workshops. Spoiler alert: there is very little celibacy.

Dead to Me

Dead to Me’s Season Two comes in just as powerfully as the first. With a bit of a role reversal, the series dives deeper into the darkly broken psyches of Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini), while never failing to infuse a bit of humor in the mix. Part buddy-comedy, part murder-drama, the series is probably the easiest five-hour binge you’ll watch this year. Also, no spoilers, but the way that James Marsden mysteriously continues on as a main character is the biggest treat of the season. While Applegate and Cardellini anchor the series, it’s the unnervingly suburban supporting cast that takes this series to a 10.

Trial By Media

In this gripping miniseries, documentarians revisit some of the splashiest, most media-saturated crimes in recent history, from a murder following an appearance on The Jenny Jones Show to the media circus surrounding the crimes of disgraced Chicago politician Rod Blagojevich. Executive produced by George Clooney, the series even-handedly examines the role of television and newspapers in defining the public conversation that enveloped these crimes, as well as the lasting legacy of miscarriages of justice.

The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show

Executive produced by and starring Iliza Shlesinger herself, this wacky sketch show sees the popular comedian revisit some of her favorite themes, only in sketch form: feminism, dating, and diet culture, just to name a few. Shlesinger sends up everything from commercial airlines to the popular meme “it me” in these daffy, satirical sketches, which are bound not just to brighten your day, but to get you thinking about the problematic world we live in.

Never Have I Ever

The new teen dramedy from Mindy Kaling is the perfect distraction for right now. After her dad’s sudden death and a brief period of paralysis, Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) enters her sophomore year of high school struggling to navigate her family, friendships, and boys. Never Have I Ever touches on the complexities of grief, budding sexuality, and the Indian-American experience all in easily digestible half hour episodes. Be prepared to get immediately invested in this very fun and often moving journey through the madness that is adolescence.

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness

If you haven’t yet succumbed to the Tiger King hype, now is the time. Netflix’s bizarre seven-part documentary series tackles big cat ownership in America as it follows Joe Exotic, a tiger breeder and private zookeeper in Oklahoma, through his various campaigns for office, polygamous marriages, music videos, and vicious feuds. With a cast of characters whose wild quirks and crimes must truly be seen to be believed, the show is as engrossing as it is flawed. At the very least, it’ll take your mind off the news cycle for a few hours.

Unorthodox

Unorthodox is the story of a young Hasidic Jewish woman who flees from her life in Brooklyn, her community, and her arranged marriage to start anew in Berlin. The four-part series is based on Deborah Feldman’s memoir Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, and is Netflix’s first foray into Yiddish content. The show is a nuanced, thoughtful portrait of a community and what it means to be an individual within it. The cast’s wonderful performances make it a gripping watch from start to finish.

Gentefied

Gentefied is the beautiful result of what happens when companies like Netflix allow communities to tell their own story. Latinx from top to bottom, Gentefied is a peek inside a California neighborhood that is seeing the firsthand effects of gentrification. Most complexly, it also asks its three main characters exactly what their role is when it comes to the neighborhood’s ever-changing population. As hilarious as it is thoughtful, Gentefied feels like the little engine that could, and that little engine is delivering a dose of representation that the streamer could really use.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez

Whether or not you’re into sports, Netflix’s documentary mini series, Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez, is a haunting portrait of the NFL star who became a convicted murderer. The documentary revisits the 2015 murder of Odin Lloyd for which Hernandez was found guilty, as well his trial for the 2012 double homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado for which he was acquitted. But beyond the crimes, the documentary paints a picture of the man himself with new audio recordings of Hernandez’s phone calls from prison—to his lawyers, mother, and his young daughter. The docuseries also illuminates the extreme dangers of football to the brain and shines a light on what it means to be a closeted gay man in the NFL. A must watch.

Sex Education

Sex Education brings all of the same endearing characters and retro vibes to Season Two while also highlighting the very real issues associated with the show’s namesake. While Season One entertained us with many honest and uncomfortable stories of budding teen sexuality, this season got even more real and made even more of a statement by addressing things like female pleasure, consent, asexuality, anal sex and the epidemic of misinformation surrounding STDs. It’s somehow hilarious and touching and powerful all at the same time, making it an absolute must-watch for 2020.

The Stranger

If you like thrills, murders, and being confused, The Stranger is an engaging—albeit overly complicated—mystery, with many a spooky storyline to follow. Based on Harlan Coben’s novel of the same name, The Stranger mostly follows a—you guessed it—stranger, who goes around town revealing people’s secrets. The stranger’s motive varies—sometimes she blackmails people for money, others she tries to help by revealing truths. If you like crime and the occasional pop-up, The Stranger definitely won’t bore you.

The Pharmacist

Somehow, The Pharmacist manages to be about three different series in one. It starts out as a murder mystery documentary about the shooting of a 20-something white man attempting to buy crack cocaine. But Netflix’s limited docuseries wraps up the mystery around that murder by the end of Episode Two. From there, the series dives into how one pharmacist in New Orleans managed to blow the opioid crisis crippling his community wide open. A stirring portrait of the drug issues in our country right now, The Pharmacist is the rare limited series that manages to reinvent itself twice over by the time its six episodes wrap up.

The Circle

The Circle, on paper, seems like a really, really terrible idea—a reality show centered on a group of seemingly loud, very online humans brought into an apartment complex, kept in isolation, and only allowed to communicate through a social media network called, you guessed it, The Circle. The trick is, you can also catfish your fellow competitors, adding an additional layer to the game. What starts out as a series akin to an MTV reality show revamp turns into a thoughtful competition series that highlights how good we can actually be to one another online. Judge the premise all you want, but if the proof of the adorable friendship between a bro with slicked back hair and an awkward nerd isn’t enough for you, then your cold heart is the problem here.

Cheer

No one has ever wanted to be “on mat” more than they do after watching Cheer. Following the insanity behind competitive cheerleading (specifically the Navarro College cheerleading team based out of Navarro Community College in Corsicana, Texas), the series reveals just how grueling and extreme the sport of cheerleading can be. For a select group of athletes, Navarro represents the pinnacle of their craft, and they only have a limited amount of time to reach excellence. As insightful as it is compelling, Cheer is one of Netflix’s most alluring offerings this year. You’ll never question the power of a cheerleader again.

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