Netflix first proved itself to be a real contender in original content starting with “House of Cards,” followed soon after with “Orange Is the New Black” and the bonkers “Hemlock Grove.” Since then, it’s expanded its drama slate to include sci-fi, superhero shows, international stories, period dramas, and whatever “The OA” is.
The variety of offerings are as wide as the emotions they elicit. While many of these series have some lighter, humorous moments, their main intent is not to inspire laughter but instead provoke thought, fear, wonder, melancholy, anger, and joy. But in the end, they just plain entertain.
Below, IndieWire has ranked the best Netflix original dramas so far.
[Editor’s Note: The list below does not include shows such as “3%,” which will be saved for a more dedicated list of international co-productions in the future.]
“Bloodline” lived and died with its cast, and if we were ranking Netflix dramas on performance alone, this would be in the top five. Kyle Chandler quickly made viewers forget about the best dad of all the high school dads by breaking oh-so-bad in the first episode. Sissy Spacek brought earnest dilemma to a matriarch left in the lurch by her secretive family. Ben Mendelsohn stole the show from his award-winning co-stars before rightly winning two awards for “Bloodline” all on his own. And then there’s Sam Shepard, who needs no adjectives to emphasize his importance.
When the series sagged, dipping into redundant plots or predictable twists, the cast was there to protect the emotional core. When it soared, the cast deserved credit for giving this juicy drama added depth. Even if the ending could never live up to the beginning, Season 2 remains a near-constant peak worth remembering.
14. “The OA”
If you’re dissatisfied with “The OA’s” explanation for its acronym, may I humbly suggest the following two descriptors as rightful substitutes: “original” and “ambitious.” Brit Marling and Zal Batmangaij’s first scripted television series takes both of those words to the extreme, crafting a dark fairy tale filled with fresh ideas and bold strokes. From abnormal episode lengths to its twisty story structure, the eight-episode first season did things its own way.
Some of those choices — like a “powerful” interpretive dance sequence — rubbed people the wrong way, but every aspect of “The OA” was designed with a purpose. It sports its own tone, its own timing, its own world, and what some fans saw as bafflingly bad decisions were deeply rewarding for others. TV doesn’t have to cater to everyone, and “The OA” refused to abide by any pre-established rules.
Juan Pablo Gutierrez/Netflix
For all the well-deserved praise heaped upon former series lead Wagner Moura, “Narcos” actually improved once he dispersed. Pedro Pascal quickly proved himself a more than capable leading man in Season 3, and the popular Netflix drug series, which spent its first 20 episodes tracking the life of Pablo Escobar (Moura), found invigorating new purpose in DEA agent Javier Pena.
That being said, the first two seasons were a little too straightforward. Moura was the most original aspect of a biopic that had been told often and with more ambition in other projects. Once the story expanded beyond Escobar’s well-known story, “Narcos” showed its true potential. In coming seasons, this one could move up the list.
More than just a kooky sci-fi concept or an excuse to get many beautiful people together for the next-level flash-mobbing, the Wachowskis and Michael J. Straczynski series put the “no man is an island” idea into practice in the most inventive and visually stunning way possible. The tale of eight strangers from around the world who are born on the same day and psychically linked initially appears to be a fun fantasy: Whatever skill or trait one person lacks, another in the “cluster” has, such as the actor can take over for someone who’s tongue-tied or the fighter can step in for someone who’s being attacked.
Despite its use of conspiracies and evil scientists as antagonists, the series is an optimistic look at a world full of issues about gender, identity, politics, sexuality, and religion. This message of acceptance struck such a chord with viewers that even after Netflix canceled the show after Season 2, a very persistent and vocal fan campaign prompted the streaming service to bring it back for a film to wrap up storylines. That in itself, is a testament to how powerful the concept of positivity is needed in this world.
11. “Marvel’s Luke Cage”
Having a bulletproof black superhero in this political climate has never been more important, but beyond making a political statement, “Luke Cage” is badass and just plain fun. Colorful and energetic, it’s clear that the show is having almost as much fun as viewers are, as evidenced by the numerous Easter eggs contained within. Creator Cheo Hodari Coker showcases the vibrancy, diversity, ambition, and the spirit of Harlem in just a few short episodes, and placing the charismatic Luke (Mike Colter) in the mix as a reluctant hero poses the question of what is holding back an ordinary citizen from speaking up, stepping in, and making a difference.