If you really, really want to look for a bright side to the coronavirus outbreak, and the prospect of 14 days of self-isolation, you can at least clear out your Netflix and Amazon queues.
There you will find every genre of television show imaginable – though, based on recent trends, coronavirus has only made us want to watch equally bleak tales of misery.
The improbable iTunes success of Steven Soderbergh’s gloomy pandemic thriller Contagion has indicated that, at least for now, we’re not desperate for pure escapism.
But whether you’re in the mood for something terrifying or are already tired of hearing about hand-washing, toilet rolls and not touching your face and want a light comedy instead, here are 70 of the best series currently available to stream on Netflix UK and Amazon Prime.
Despite being largely unknown outside of its devoted fanbase, Bosch is in many respects Amazon’s flagship drama – one of its longest-running and most interesting series, built around a rare and much deserved starring role for character actor Titus Welliver. Inspired by Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels, it is a grizzled and grimy contemporary noir, with Bosch a gruff LA detective caught up in child murder, sex rings and police brutality.
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Grim, nihilistic and incredibly funny, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s adults-only superhero thriller was adapted from a cult comic book by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, and has proven to be one of Amazon’s biggest successes. Set within a world dominated by superhero corporations and two rival factions of super-powered beings, it has tackled sex, violence, masculinity and feelings of emotional disillusionment so far.
Homecoming is a compelling mystery thriller filled with Hitchcockian visual flourishes and a central performance from Julia Roberts that practically defines star power. From the wild brain of Mr Robot creator Sam Esmail, it stars Roberts as an employee of a mysterious government facility, and is awash with conspiracies, repressed memories and paranoia. A second season, which sees Roberts succeeded in the leading role by none other than funk visionary Janelle Monáe, is due in 2020.
This adaptation of Chris Kraus’s seminal and polarising 1997 novel was never going to be widely embraced, particularly when it was long argued to be unfilmable anyway. But the resulting series, a short-lived intellectual adventure featuring startling, brilliant work from Kathryn Hahn and Kevin Bacon, is still worth seeking out. Hahn is Chris, an artist and filmmaker shackled to her academic husband and underwhelmed by life; Bacon is Dick, an artist and philosopher who unravels Chris’s sexual repression and artistic boundaries.
The Marvellous Mrs Maisel
Currently the jewel in Amazon’s crown, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel has proven to be a bigger hit with awards ceremonies than it has with actual audiences. But it was also never going to be a serious zeitgeist breakout, either, with creator Amy Sherman-Palladino retaining the lightning-fast dialogue of her series Gilmore Girls, and the show driven by the niche specifics of Fifties stand-up comedy. It is very good, though, and in the starring role of an aspiring comedian slowly climbing the ranks, Rachel Brosnahan is a revelation.
Anne Hathaway and Gary Carr in ‘Modern Love’
Modern Love is a gentle, funny throwback to classic Nineties romantic comedies about wealthy New Yorkers plagued with problems of the heart. Inspired by the much-adored New York Times column, it is glossy, tender and endlessly charming, as well as stacked with a A-listers including Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Dev Patel and Andy Garcia.
The epitome of a smart, unassuming comedy, Mozart in the Jungle quietly chugged away in the background before being cancelled after four seasons. It has an intriguingly unique premise (the soapy romantic entanglements of musicians in the New York Symphony) and a dreamy cast that includes Gael Garcia Bernal, Malcolm McDowell, Lola Kirke and Bernadette Peters. It’s talky and low-key and very New York – think Woody Allen without any real-world baggage – and stays charming for the entirety of its run.
Red Oaks is wonderful as both a silly pastiche of John Hughes movies, and as a heartwarming tale of young adulthood and discovering your passions. Starring Submarine’s Craig Roberts as a New Jersey college student working for a country club during the summer, it feels like a deliberate throwback to the coming-of-age tales crafted by Richard Linklater and Cameron Crowe.
Matthew Weiner’s expensive follow-up to Mad Men was a polarising affair, an anthology series that swung haphazardly between enormous highs and middling lows. But it was always captivating, with a consistent sense of urgency and confidence and a cast direct from the gods. Isabelle Huppert, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery, Diane Lane, Aaron Eckhart and Kathryn Hahn were among the names tasked with being tart, neurotic and moneyed.
A twisty family drama underpinned by cons and betrayals, Sneaky Pete is in many ways a throwback to the glossy US dramas of the late Nineties and early Noughties – with small, self-contained stories serenaded by larger story arcs. At its centre is Giovanni Ribisi’s? fresh-from-jail con man, whose impersonation of his cellmate and subsequent immersion into the man’s estranged family gives the show its pulse. Margo Martindale, that most ubiquitous of great supporting actors, is his “grandmother”, and unsurprisingly steals the show on a regular basis.
Peter Serafinowicz and Griffin Newman in ‘The Tick’
Cruelly cancelled in 2001, and then cruelly cancelled again just as it was hitting its stride on Amazon, Ben Edlund’s The Tick is a delicious, hyper-real satire adapted from his own cult comic book. The latest version stars British comic Peter Serafinowicz as a superhero sporting an enormous blue muscle-suit and determined to fight crime. Broadcast in easily digestible half-hour chunks, this is a smart, inventive comedy very much worth your time.
Doing exactly what it promised on the tin, Amazon’s Jack Ryan adaptation delivers action, spectacle and all-American patriotism, with John Krasinski upending all pre-existing expectations in his role as the heroic CIA analyst of the title.
Despite coming and going with surprisingly little fanfare considering the cult filmmaker responsible for it, Too Old to Die Young was one of the coolest shows of last summer, with Drive’s Nicolas Winding Refn presenting another murky slice of surreal, neon-soaked LA noir. Part crime drama and part horror movie, the limited series sees Miles Teller play a grieving cop embroiled in an underworld odyssey. Jena Malone, John Hawkes and William Baldwin are among the freaks and monsters he encountered along the way.
Transparent has been mired in disappointing controversy since the misconduct allegations levelled at star Jeffrey Tambor, and his subsequent firing from the series. But it still remains one of the most important TV shows of the past decade – a moving, heartfelt depiction of trans identity that grew stronger and more politically astute as it went on.
A cartoon about a talking horse, starring the goofy older brother from Arrested Development… on paper little about BoJack Horseman screams “must watch”. Yet the series almost immediately transcended its format to deliver a moving and very funny rumination on depression and middle-age malaise. Will Arnett plays BoJack – one time star of Nineties hit sitcom Horsin’ Around – as a lost soul whose turbo-charged narcissism prevents him getting his life together.
Almost as good are a support cast including Alison Brie (Glow, Mad Men), Aaron Paul, of Breaking Bad, and Amy Sedaris as a pampered Persian cat who is also BoJack’s agent. Season five touches the live rail of harassment in the movie industry, offering one of the most astute commentaries yet on the #MeToo movement with an episode based centred around an awards ceremony called “The Forgivies”. The sixth and final series was split in two, with part one debuting on 25 October and part two on 31 January 2020.
Did he do it? Does it matter considering the lengths the Durham, North Carolina police seemingly went in order to stitch him up? Sitting through this twisting, turning documenting about the trial of Michael Peterson – charged with the murder in 2003 of his wife – the viewer may find themselves alternately empathising with and recoiling from the accused. It’s a feat of bravura factual filmmaking from French documentarian Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, which comes to Netflix with a recently shot three-part coda catching up with the (very weird) Peterson clan a decade on.
Stranger Things: the Euro-Gloom years. Netflix’s first German-language production is a pulp romp that thinks it’s a Wagner opera. In a remote town surrounded by a creepy forest locals fear the disappearance of a teenager may be linked to other missing persons cases from decades earlier. The timelines get twisted and it’s obvious that something wicked is emanating from a tunnel leading to a nearby nuclear power plant. Yet if the story sometimes trips itself up the Goonies-meets-Götterdämmerung ambiance keeps you hooked. Series two introduced further time-hopping and a nod towards Mad Max and Terminator.
If you’re curious as to how Cary Fukunaga will handle the Bond franchise – No Time to Die is due in November – his limited series, starring Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, drops some delicious hints. It’s a mind-bending sci-fi story set in an alternative United States where computers still look like Commodore 64s and in which you pay for goods by having a “travel buddy” sit down and read you adverts.
Stone and Hill are star-crossed outcasts participating in a drugs trial that catapults them into a series of trippy genre excursions – including an occult adventure and a Lord of the Rings-style fantasy. It is here that Fukunaga demonstrates his versatility, handling potentially hokey material smartly and respectfully. 007 fans can sleep easy.
Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff in ‘Mindhunter’
David Fincher produces this serial killer drama based on the writings of a real-life FBI psychological profiler. It’s the post-Watergate Seventies and two maverick G-Men (Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) are going out on a limb by utilising the latest psychological research to get inside the heads of a motley assembly of real-life sociopathic murders – including the notorious “Co-Ed” butcher Ed Kemper, brought chillingly to live in an Emmy-nominated performance by Cameron Britton. Series two is arguably even better, as we meet Charles Manson and became acquainted with the Atlanta child murder case.
This drug trafficking caper spells out exactly what kind of series it is with an early scene in which two gangsters zip around a multi-level carpark on a motorbike firing a machine gun. Narcos, in other words, is for people who consider Pacino’s Scarface a touch too understated. Series one and two feature a mesmerising performance by Wagner Moura as Columbian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, while season three focuses on the notorious Cali cartel. Reported to be one of Netflix’s biggest hits – the company doesn’t release audience figures – it turns its attention in its fourth and fifth season to Mexico’s interminable drugs wars, with Diego Luna playing Guadalajara cartel honcho Mguel Gallardo.
You can almost smell the shoddy sanitation and horse-manure in this lavish murder-mystery set in 19th New York. We’re firmly in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York territory, with a serial killer bumping off boy prostitutes across Manhattan. Enter pioneering criminal psychologist Dr Laszlo Kreisler (Daniel Brühl), aided by newspaper man John Moore (Luke Evans) and feisty lady detective Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning).
Judd Apatow bring his signature gross-out comedy to the small screen. Love, which Apatow produced, is a masterclass in restraint compared to 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up etc. Paul Rust is Gus, a nerdish movie set tutor, whose develops a crush on Gillian Jacobs’s too-cool-for-school radio producer Mickey. Romance, of a sort, blossoms – but Love’s triumph is to acknowledge the complications of real life and to disabuse its characters of the idea that there’s such a thing as a straightforward happy ending. Hipster LA provides the bustling setting.
Who says reality TV has to be nasty and manipulative? This updating of the early 2000s hit Queer Eye for the Straight Guy has five stereotype-challenging gay men sharing lifestyle tips and fashion advice with an engaging cast of All American schlubs (the first two seasons are shot mostly in the state of Georgia). There are laughs – but serious moment too, such as when one of the crew refuses to enter a church because of the still unhealed scars of his strict Christian upbringing.
The Fab Five in ‘Queer Eye’
A high-gloss revamping of the traditional TV food show. Each episode profiles a high wattage international chef; across its three seasons, the series has featured gastronomic superstars from the US, Argentina, India and Korea.
Mad Men’s Alison Brie is our entry point into this comedy-drama inspired by a real life all-female wrestling league in the Eighties. Ruth Wilder (Brie) is a down-on-her luck actor who, out of desperation, signs up a wrestling competition willed into being by Sam Sylvia (podcast king Marc Maron). Britrock singer Kate Nash is one of her her fellow troupe members: the larger than life Rhonda “Britannica” Richardson. Season three relocated the action of Las Vegas. Glow has been renewed for a fourth and final series.
Deadpan animated satire about an idiot super spy with shaken and stirred mother issues. One of the most ambitious modern comedies, animated or otherwise, Archer tries on different varieties of humour for size and even occasionally gives you the feels.
Breaking Bad for those with short attention spans. The saga of Walter White took years to track the iconic anti-hero’s rise from mild mannered everyman to dead-eyed criminal. Ozark gets there in the first half hour as nebbish Chicago accountant Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) agrees to serve as lieutenant for the Mexican mob in the hillbilly heartlands of Ozark, Missouri (in return they thoughtfully spare his life). Bateman, usually seen in comedy roles, is a revelation as is Laura Linney as his nasty wife Wendy. There is also a break-out performance by Julia Garner playing the scion of a local redneck crime family. Bateman recently won a best director Emmy for his work on the series, seizing the gong from beneath the noses of Game of Thrones’s David Benioff and DB Weiss. Season three is due 27 March.
It’s been forever and a few years since The Simpsons was even vaguely essentially viewing. But Matt Groening’s Homer mojo clearly hasn’t abandoned him yet. His Netflix series, just back for a second season, is a hilarious pastiche of fantasy tropes, with Abbi Jacobson as a hard-drinking princess, Eric Andre and Nat Faxon as her demon pal and elf sidekick and Matt Berry as – to quote Wikipedia – “Prince Merkimer, from the kingdom of Bentwood, who is arranged to marry [Princess] Bean, but was turned into a pig”.
Netflix has been binning shows as if it is going out of fashion. But that didn’t stop Drake from persuading it to revive the Channel 4 drama about rival drug dealers in a fictional south London neighbourhood. Middle-aged Irishman Ronan Bennett captures the reality of life for many young black British people with tremendously sensitivity, while the cast is headed by Ashley Walters, Kane “Kano” Robinson, rapper Little Simz and Mercury Prize winner Dave.
A police procedural adapted from a long-form magazine exposé of American justice’s entrenched misogyny sounds like nobody’s idea of a fun night in. But Unbelievable makes serious points about how sufferers of sexual assault are marginalised and victim-blamed while also drawing the viewer into a compelling mystery. Unflinching yet never gratuitous, it stars Toni Collette and Merritt Wever as hard-bitten detectives investigating a serial rapist. Booksmart’s Kaitlyn Dever, meanwhile, plays a young woman wrongly accused of crying wolf when a man attacks her in her apartment.
Time becomes a loop in this sci-fi parable about a troubled New Yorker who finds herself reliving the final hours of her life over and over. Is the cosmos itself trying to tell her something? Or is she simply losing her marbles. Natasha Lyonne excels as damaged, potty-mouthed Nadia. Her improbable love interest is played by Charlie Barnett.
Natasha Lyonne in ‘Russian Doll’
The Haunting of Hill House
A rare TV horror that genuinely gets under the skin. Very loosely adapted from 1959 Shirley Jackson gothic classic, Mike Flanagan’s series chronicles the adulthood agonies of a family whose childhood was traumatised by a run-in with a creepy mansion. Rather than lazy jump-scares, the series ratchets up the dread slowly yet unyieldingly. A few episodes in and you may find yourself holding your breath, so searing is the tension. To really freak you, Flanagan has also inserted dozens of hidden ghosts into the background. See how many you can spot – and good luck getting to sleep afterwards.
Bonkers on a swizzle stick, this series from Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij makes Twin Peaks look like an Only Fools and Horses repeat. Prairie (Marling) is an inter-dimensional wanderer with a strange past and an even weirder future. She recruits a group of high school students, teaching them the “movements” that permit travel across time and space. That’s the jumping off point for a meditation on existence, identity and fate. Controversially cancelled after just two seasons – and the mother of all cliff-hangers – The OA is nonetheless a sensory experience worth your time. Did we mention the talking octopus?
Netflix has lately turned cancelling shows into a competitive sport. This new animated drama from the creators of BoJack Horseman was canned just two months after its debut despite much critical acclaim. In Netflix’s defence, it is rather wacky. To quote Deadline, it tells of “the friendship between two 30-year-old bird-women who live in the same apartment building, Tuca (Tiffany Haddish), a cocky, care-free toucan and Bertie (Ali Wong), an anxious, daydreaming songbird.” The humour is surreal but, just like BoJack Horseman, the emotional beats – specifically its depiction of the central relationship – yank the heartstrings.
Reality TV, the Netflix way. Imagine Bake Off with glass-blowing instead of marzipan manipulation and YouTube star Nick Uhas in for Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig. Ten artists test their glass blowing mastery in a series of challenges. The winner walks away with $60,000 and a residency at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. Just like Bake Off, it’s riveting viewing even if you can’t tell a kiln from a kangaroo.
Linda Cardellini and Christina Applegate join forces for this super-dark comedy about two women who meet at a therapy group for the recently bereaved. They strike up a natural friendship – but, as we slowly learn, each has secrets they’d rather not share. James Marsden is fantastic as the smarmy ex of Judy (Cardellini) while the behind the scenes involvement of producers Will Ferrell and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy director Adam McKay provides a clue as to the mad-cap humour. A word-of-mouth success, it has been picked up for a second series.
Paul Rudd in ‘Living with Yourself’
Feel-good reality TV was once a contradiction in terms. But the vibes are agreeably optimistic in this fashionista contest in which professional designers compete for a $250,000 price. Presenters Tan France and Alexa Chung bring the common touch and the contestants appear to be enjoying themselves rather than undergoing the ordeal of a lifetime. Essentially, it’s Bake Off on the catwalk.
Joe Hill’s bestselling graphic novels receive the YA treatment in this urban fantasy about a house full of portals to other worlds and the grieving family who make their home there. The break-out performance is by Emilia Jones – daughter of singer Aled – playing middle child Kinsey Locke. Hill, the son of Stephen King, moved heaven and earth to bring his story to the screen and the effort has paid off.
David Attenborough’s Our Planet has hoovered up all the attention. But this UK-made series, narrated by Orange is the New Black’s Samira Wiley, brings a new perspective to wildlife TV. Shot using heat-sensitive cameras, Night on Earth features lions romping by moonlight and cacti blooming under the desert stars. It’s like journeying to another world, with reality only returning as the sun rises.
Paul Rudd and Aisling Bea have good chemistry in this mordant comedy about a white collar schlub (Rudd) who, in the depths of a midlife crisis, accidentally clones himself. He is forced to compete with his happier, more confident, wittier alter-ego while his wife (Bea) tries to make sense of the transformation. You’ll chuckle rather than fall over clutching your sides but the leads are likeable and the script hums along.