Netflix first made a name for itself with dramas such as “House of Cards,” “Hemlock Grove” and “Orange is the New Black” (which, despite its initial insistence to the contrary, was indeed a drama). But comedy wasn’t far behind. The streaming giant first got into the comedy game in 2013 with the “Arrested Development” revival, and by 2015, premiered signature shows like “Master of None” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
Befitting its desire to offer something for everyone, Netflix has quickly cast a wide comedy net — dark comedy, multi-camera shows shot in front of a studio audience and absurdist humor, among other variations. The best original series from the streaming giant evoke more than just a few chuckles, to be sure. They share insights into the world we all share and offer various perspectives from around the globe. They tell exciting, addictive, and yup, sometimes even alarming stories that will surprise.
But the good ones, quite simply, make you laugh. Below, IndieWire has ranked the best Netflix original comedies so far.
[Editor’s Note: Animated comedies — like “BoJack Horseman” — were not considered for this list. Serialized, live-action comedies only. This list will be updated as new series are released.]
Boasting a distinct comedic voice and plenty of variation, “The Characters” is a hit-or-miss comedy series that gets by with quality hits and intriguing misses: What’s good is very good and what’s bad has an endearing quality inherent to the effort. Eight comedians are given a chance to write and star in one half-hour episode, assuming multiple identities in segments eviscerating reality shows, honoring classic variety series, and everything in between. They weren’t given any rules other than to make it funny, and most of them pulled it off. It’s an experimental episodic format grounded in a tried-and-true formula for comedy: Give talented comedians the mic, and get out of the way.
“The Ranch” isn’t one show, but two. The first and most obvious version follows Ashton Kutcher as Colt Bennett, a former college football star returning home to the family ranch after burning out in the pros. He’s verbally and physically accosted — in playful, loving fashion — by his brother Rooster (Danny Masterston), but he picks things up well enough to help out, earn a living, and bond with his family (not to mention a number of local women).
But that functional but flat laugh-track enhanced comedy is the lesser half of “The Ranch.” The version that’s helped the comedy sustain three “parts” — God only knows why they’re not called seasons — is led by Sam Elliott’s Beau Bennett, the family patriarch and one of the last surviving true blue ranch hands. He’s proud of his business, his work, and — though he’d never admit it — his family, but these things are all being slowly taken from him. His fight is what makes “The Ranch” among Netflix’s best comedies, even if his story is the least funny. (And we say “least” because that zinger about Colt’s Uggs is still golden.)
“Dude, nobody’s normal.”
Such wisdom is imparted to 18-year-old Sam, a young man who’s on the autism spectrum and intent on cracking the code for dating – or at least getting laid. And if that sounds like any other teen comedy, then that’s not entirely wrong either. But it’s easy to say that “nobody’s normal” when they may not stick out socially as much as Sam does. Not everyone else uses obscure arctic animal facts to explain their ideals, and not everyone gets overwhelmed with the urge to yell “TWAT!” at a total stranger.
Beyond all the awkwardness and cringes, or perhaps because of them, “Atypical” is heartbreakingly, hilariously relatable. Sam’s nuclear family — overweening mom Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), frustrated dad Doug (Michael Rapaport), and passionately protective sister (Brigette Lundy-Paine) — give viewers the normalizing context for Sam, and as the series goes along, it delves into their lives to reveal how they’ve been affected by Sam. “Atypical” may be unsubtle in its messaging, but it’s endlessly entertaining and earnest.
While the story of two people falling in love has been done to death, Judd Apatow’s “Love” feels fresh and modern and unflinchingly honest. As wild Mickey (“Community’s” Gillian Jacobs) and nebbishy Gus (Paul Rust) circle each other, come together, and repeatedly clash, their patterns of dependence and destruction are a complete mess, which makes this show all the more addictive.
While the plots don’t really matter much on the series, it reserves its genius into its prismatic, complex characters, which makes Mickey and Gus both lovable and horrifying at once. Plus, supporting characters like Mickey’s Australian roommate Bertie (Claudia O’Doherty) are a delight. “Love” builds terror and tension, awkwardness and anxiety, to the point where it’s not clear if viewers should actually be rooting for Gus and Mickey to be together. But ultimately, their fate may not matter as long as the show remains this layered and meaningful.
Netflix, oh resurrector of past series that once worked, in its infinite wisdom decided viewers needed to have a high-concept outlet to snark at truly awful movies (Next season: Adam Sandler’s oeuvre! We kid) with this revival of the original Comedy Central series. As familiar as the Robot Roll Call in the theme song, “MST3K: The Return” doesn’t veer too far off course from its primary trajectory, in which a hapless fellow (Jonah Ray) is forced to watch bad flicks with his robot pals for science.
Absurd, crude, goofy, and charming, the series is a romp with favorite nerd friends like Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt on board to embrace its campiness. Big-name guest stars such as Neil Patrick Harris, Joel McHale and Jerry Seinfeld fill in the gaps with songs and sketches, adding a variety show element to the film commentary, and — a new feature for the series — a more ongoing narrative element that adds drama to the comedy. While comparisons are expected, “The Return” is perhaps seen as an evolution in the comforting formula that adds another meta layer onto the viewing experience.
Continue reading for more of the best comedy series on Netflix.