The Best TV Shows on Netflix UK in 2021

·20-min read
Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

An average evening at home always goes as such: switch on Netflix, begin the infinite scroll through options, argue with housemate/partner about what to watch, toy with the idea of an art house classic from 1998 for a bit of culture, decide against it, put on Peep Show again, bed. Look, this is just what modern living has come to. We don’t make the rules.

But it doesn’t need to be like this. If you were armed with, say, a list of the greatest TV shows for your viewing pleasure from the streaming site, life would be much easier and much more fulfilling, wouldn't it? Well without further ado, we present to you the best series currently available on Netflix UK:

The Best Comedies on Netflix UK

Derry Girls

This coming-of-age comedy - set against the backdrop of the Troubles in 90s Northern Ireland - has all the usual teenage angst for the girl gang of Erin, Orla, Clare and Michelle (not forgetting English tag-a-long bloke, James), but with a massive dose of Irish humour at its heart.

WATCH

I’m Alan Partridge

A-ha! You know the drill. Loser local DJ with ideas above his station, this cringeful comedy excels when Alan tries with every fibre of his being to work his way back up the greasy pole of the media world. Oblivious to his gaffs and with a talent for turning every encounter into a monumental misstep, it’s no wonder this series will forever be Steve Coogan’s greatest comedy turn.

WATCH

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

For some reason, IASIP has never picked up that much of a UK fanbase, but all the hilarious exploits of the deranged gang are available to watch in full on Netflix. Their mad-cap schemes always border on the unsavoury, but the charming nature of the characters almost makes up for the fact that they’re essentially disgusting human beings.

WATCH

People Just Do Nothing

Another group of misfits attempting to make their way in the world, the Kurupt FM lot are trying to break out of pirate radio into international stardom, but everyone else weirdly isn’t on their frequency. Such is the success of this BBC mockumentary that ironically, in real life, the stars have gone on to tour as a musical act of their small-screen personas.

WATCH

Schitt’s Creek

You’ve been putting off watching this, haven’t you? Despite clearing up at the Emmys, it still has the reputation of “gets good, once you get through the first few series”. But there’s a reason for all the accolades: stone cold-wit with a group of characters you can’t help but fall in love with. Catherine O’Hara as Moira Rose has now risen to living icon as have her co-stars, Eugene and Dan Levy and Annie Murphy. Stick with it - this is slow burn comedy at its best.

WATCH

Spaced

Probably last watched while you were at uni, this indie comedy that initially aired on Channel 4 in 1999 perfectly encapsulates life in a houseshare in your early 20s, while figuring out what the hell to do with your life. The first outing for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the often surreal series are tinged with homages to classic cinema, while Jessica Stevenson as the loveable but hapless Daisy launched her own comedy career into the stars.

WATCH

Crashing

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s almost-forgotten first crack at TV comedy is definitely worth a rewatch, even if her character, Lulu, does continually bring out a ukulele. A bunch of obnoxious 20-somethings squatting in an old office block proves to be fertile ground for comedy; weaving in dramas about relationships, friendships, career woes and the general angst of being alive that will be instantly recognisable to anyone with a pulse.

WATCH

Back To Life

It’s the blackest of comedies for this series, written by and starring Daisy Hoggard, who plays Miri, who has just been let out of prison for an as-yet undiscovered offence. The show follows her awkward transition back into her old life and community after 15 years, with her crime hanging over her like a black cloud. As she attempts to make amends, surprisingly, it’s often laugh-out-loud funny, despite the bleak premise.

WATCH

Master Of None

Aziz Ansari plays Dev, a sort of fictionalised version of himself: a 30-year old actor who can’t decide what he wants from life, nor how to get it. Said to be loosely based on the comedian’s real-life experiences, in this Emmy-award winning show we see him struggle in New York’s toxic dating pool, crash out at auditions, deal with racism, all the while at least getting stuck into some epic dining situations - series two in Europe will have you drooling as he eats his way through his love woes.

WATCH

Chappelle’s Show

If you’re ever stuck for inspiration for classic comedy show: Chappelle’s Show is it. First broadcast back in 2003, this part stand-up/part sketch show features Dave Chapelle expertly and often explicitly skewering modern culture and race relations in America to hilarious effect - like his friendly neighbourhood crack addict character, Tyrone Biggums.

WATCH

The Best Thrillers on Netflix UK

Better Call Saul

A spin-off from Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul - telling the backstory of how Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) morphed into the ethically-challenged lawyer Saul Goodman - bucked the trend of disappointing accompanying series from its opening episode in February 2015. Creating a world which is filled with easter eggs and nods to Breaking Bad, it’s the perfect series for the ‘heads or as a standalone thriller.

WATCH

Breaking Bad

A teacher finds out he has cancer, and worries how he’ll support his wife and kid. Of all the options available to him, cooking and selling meth is probably the most unexpected and extreme course of action to take, but it makes for an absolutely gripping series. Regularly named one of the greatest TV shows of all time, Walter White’s transformation over five seasons into a ruthless drug lord is as unforgettable as it is deeply troubling.

WATCH

Fargo

Taking its inspiration from the 1996 film of the same name, the four seasons of Fargo so far have been a masterclass in how to spin a yarn. From vintage postage stamp heists to accidental serial killings, the focus on intriguing and eccentric small-town Americana characters is always riveting, as is watching the stories escalate out of control.

WATCH

Giri/Haji

Criminally (hah!) overlooked on its 2019 release, this action-filled eight-part series takes place in both London and Tokyo, as Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira) searches for his lost brother, who has become embroiled with the Yakuza. The sprawling thriller takes you deep into global dark underworlds - if you can find your way out again.

WATCH

Homeland

This political and psychological thriller is a career high for Claire Danes, who stars as Carrie Mathison, a counter-terrorism CIA agent. With more twists than Alton Towers’ Nemesis, this multi-Golden Globe winning series focuses on both the paranoia within the US administration and the infiltration of malevolent forces and terror groups into the country.

WATCH

Kingdom

The discovery of a brutal plague that could wipe out life as we know it? While this might sound familiar, the concept for Kingdom is anything but. An engrossing period zombie-thriller set in Korea’s Joseon era, this is one for fans of Game Of Thrones looking for a new epic series - it’s more than a worthy contender to the throne.

WATCH

Line of Duty

One of the BBC’s greatest thrillers to date, the AC-12 anti corruption unit jump over to Netflix with five series to feast on, for those for who it passed by. Bent coppers! Undercover double agents! Grimy criminal activity! LoD has it all, and with the sixth series airing on the Beeb in March, perhaps the arch-villain(s) known as H will finally be unmasked.

WATCH

Lupin

This cool-as-ice French crime story features the elusive Assane Diop (Omar Sy) who exacts revenge on the wealthy family that sent his father to his death when Assane was a child. Slick and smart, we now have a new TV anti-hero in the shape of Diop.

WATCH

Money Heist

Money Heist - or La Casa De Papel, to give it its original Spanish name - was the surprise hit of 2017, and focuses on scams to raid the Royal Mint of Spain, and the Bank of Spain. While it sometimes veers towards the melodramatic, it’s always suspenseful, full of black humour and with a banging soundtrack.

WATCH

Russian Doll

If there’s one concept that doesn’t need explaining to anyone after the past year and a half, it’s that of Groundhog Day. Which is exactly what Nadia (Natasha Lyonne), a game developer, finds herself stuck in when she repeatedly dies, then lives the same day over and over again. Veering towards the philosophical by the end of the series, one thing you won’t forget is the Harry Nilsson song, Gotta Get Up, which will remain in your brain, on repeat, forevermore.

WATCH

The Best Fantasy/Sci-Fi on Netflix UK

American Horror Story

Over nine seasons, American Horror Story has taken tales from old ghost yarns, urban myths and folklore, and turned the fear factor up to 11. Sometimes psychological thrillers, sometimes all-out gore fests, the show has also attracted a stellar guest cast such as Kathy Bates, Lady Gaga and Chloe Sevigny.

WATCH

Black Mirror

Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones initially set out to make an updated Tales of The Unexpected for a modern audience, but the series soon morphed into a prophetic “what if technology…” look at a dystopian world to come. Equally absorbing and disturbing, now five series in, we’re not so sure if the future’s quite so bright after all.

WATCH

Snowpiercer

The world’s met an apocalyptic end, and the last humans on earth are living on a train that travels infinitely around the world. It’s an intriguing premise for the series, and that’s even before director Boon Joon-ho gets his hands on it. Covering themes of survival, classism and social justice, it’ll probably make you want to give Southern trains a miss for a while.

WATCH

Stranger Things

An homage to all things supernatural from ‘80s pop culture, this supremely bingeable Duffer Brothers’ series made international stars of the five young actors who accidentally discover The Upside Down place. The Hawkins National Laboratory would have got away with it, if it wasn’t for those pesky kids.

WATCH

The Witcher

Henry Cavill - aka Superman - stars in one of Netflix’s biggest hits, as The Witcher, aka The Geralt of Rivia, who in his spare time is a monster hunter. The medieval romp follows him on his missions in a medieval fantasy land, as well as the formative moments that lead him to princess Ciri, his destiny.

WATCH

Misfits

A strange electrical storm bestows supernatural powers on this group of young adults currently doing time in community service - what would you do if you suddenly found yourself telepathic, able to rewind time or become invisible, the five series ask? The answers are often illegal, silly, dark and funny, and the 2009 Channel 4 show went on to make stand out stars of actors like Game of Thrones’ Iwan Rheon and This Is England’s Joe Gilgun.

WATCH

The Best Dramas on Netflix UK

Squid Game

In terms of quality, Netflix productions run the gamut. So it'd be easy to sniff at a concept of 'deadly playground games with a big cash prize for the sole survivor'. But in Squid Game, the streaming service has found its most popular TV series of all time. It is more than worthy of that honour. Touching performances from a South Korean cast that've become global megastars overnight add nuance, depth and emotion to a saga that could've easily been all gore and no guts. But in this late capitalist parable, there's plenty of both, and Squid Game is one of 2021's biggest winners.

WATCH

Call My Agent

Who knew the French were so funny? This smart, stylish and funny series proved that you shouldn’t let subtitles get between you and some truly excellent viewing. Similar to Mad Men, if it were set in a modern day Parisian actors’ agency, the programme looks at the wheeling and dealing of the Agence Samuel Kerr agents, mixed in with the micro-dramas of the amiable colleagues and with some genuine A-listers popping up from time to time as well.

WATCH

Sex Education

Well, Sex Education at our school certainly wasn’t like this. Otis’ mum (Gillian Anderson) is a sex therapist, and despite Otis having his own hangups about s-e-x, he decides to set up an advice clinic for his fellow students with classmate Maeve (Emma Mackey) in the school bogs. A frank, touching and often funny look at the trials and tribulations of being a teen at the mercy of your hormones.

WATCH

Top Boy

Drake played the surprising fairy godmother to this gritty tale about life on the streets and in the estates of Hackney when he rescued it after being dumped by Channel 4. New life was breathed into the series when it moved to Netflix, and season three took it next level with its uncompromising look into the drugs gangs shotting on the streets - and the effect it has on the community and personal relationships of those involved.

WATCH

Pose

And the category is: greatest TV show about the emerging ballroom scene in late ‘80s New York. Set in the banging underground LGBTQ+ scene of the time, the marvellous Billie Porter MCs the action at the parties as Pray Tell, while the different Houses - lead by the striking Blanca (MJ Rodriguez) and Elektra (Dominique Jackson) - and their adopted families battle it out on the dancefloor.

WATCH

Peaky Blinders

The exploits of the Shelby family and their criminal enterprises in Brum have had audiences hooked since the BBC premiered the series in 2013. Its move to Netflix now means a much bigger global audience and the chance to catch up on the full story - and those flat cap and braces trend - before its sixth and final season airs later this year.

WATCH

When They See Us

This dramatisation of one of the US’s worst miscarriages of justice came to light as the same time the Black Lives Matter movement was rising in America - and its powerful but harrowing viewing makes an important statement on the state of race relations in the country. Following the stories of five men falsely charged with the rape of a jogger in Central Park in 1989, the Ava DuVernay series examines what led to the false imprisonment of the men and sadly, highlights that nothing much has changed in the justice system, 30 years on.

WATCH

Borgen

Who knew that Scandinavian politics could be so gripping? This series, set in Denmark, charts the fictional rise of the first female prime ministers, Birgitte Nyborg Christensen, interplaying fierce political dramas with intimate home crises. Like House of Cards and The Thick Of It, Borgen ended up eerily predicting the political climate and certain events in Denmark, and the good news is there’s a fourth series expected in 2022.

WATCH

Unorthodox

One of 2020’s surprise success stories was Unorthodox, the streamer’s first series primarily in Yiddish. It told the story - inspired by the real-life tale of Deborah Feldman - of a Esty, a young and unhappy wife in the Satmar sect of an ultra-Orthodox community in Williamsburg, New York, and her escape to try to find freedom and happiness. With incredible performances by Shira Haas, this eye-opening series transports you into the heart of a culture we on the outside know little about, and the struggles of the women - and men - who are part of it.

WATCH

The Best Documentaries on Netflix UK

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

The TV and cheffing world are still grieving the loss of Anthony Bourdain, but here’s a chance to experience the host and cook at his best once again. The joy of watching Bourdain is that he knows that the best way to begin to understand the culture and history of a new country is to sit down and break bread with the locals. Part travelogue, part geopolitical history, and part delicious meal, he visits places far off the usual tourist trail, from Bhutan to Kenya or Armenia, taking us - in our armchairs - with him on his eye-opening travels.

WATCH

Making A Murderer

The documentary series that kick-started everyone’s obsession with true-crime series hinged on whether Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendon Dassey, really did rape and kill Teresa Halbach in 2005. The pair are currently in prison and deny the crime, and there’s some extremely pointed theories that the Manitowoc County authorities planted evidence to frame the pair. Frustratingly, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know the full story, and whether this has been yet another US miscarriage of justice.

WATCH

The Defiant Ones

What’s life like for two of the biggest names in the music industry? As you might expect, pretty, pretty good, actually. This four-part series - also told through key music world players from Kendrick Lamar to Bruce Springsteen - examines the rise and rise of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, and the collaboration between the two that led to the creation of Interscope Records and Beats Electronic.

WATCH

The Last Dance

Even if you’re not a massive basketball fan, it’s hard not to get caught up in the energy of this fascinating series which charts Michael Jordan’s final season at the Chicago Bulls in ‘97-98, seen by many as the last golden age of the game.

WATCH

The Staircase

In 2001, the crime writer Kathleen Peterson was murdered near the staircase in her home in North Carolina. Shockingly, her husband, Michael Peterson, was charged and convicted of her murder. He maintains his innocence, and this documentary series examines all the theories surrounding Peterson’s death - even a preposterous one involving an owl attack on the stairs - and who was really to blame for the case.

WATCH

We Are The Champions

What drives people to become the very best at obscure activities? This documentary helps us discover the passions for eccentric hobbies, which include dislocating shoulders by throwing yourself down an almost vertical hill, a fight to eat the world’s hottest chilli pepper and the world of competitive hair sculpting. It truly takes all kinds to make the world go round.

WATCH

Wild Wild County

An absolutely incredible true story about a religion (or a cult? It’s debatable) run by Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his right-hand woman, Ma Anand Sheela, as they took over a small piece of farmland in Oregon with their followers. Instead of love, peace and harmony, it quickly escalates into almost all-out war with the locals, with Sheela accused of spiking the water supply with...liquidised beavers. “Tough titties,” as Sheela might say.

WATCH

Ugly Delicious

David Chang - owner of New York’s Momofuku chain - travels the world in search of delicious food. Look, it's a hard job, but someone has to do it. Each themed episode takes a dive into a banquet of a particular food (tacos, pizza, fried chicken) but as well as tasting some of the best the world has to offer, he also frames the food in a wider socio-political frame, while always asking for seconds, of course.

Pretend It’s A City

It might feel like the age of the raconteur has passed, with icons like Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde’s witty repertoire only remembered through their past works. However, that’s overlooking Fran Lebowitz; writer, sometime actor and living legend. This seven-part series sees her in a humorous conversation with Martin Scorsese, with a lifetime of sharp anecdotes and observations on New York; everything from the subway to the hot-dog stands.

This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist

A robbery of a Boston museum in the 1990s has still never been solved, despite the two thieves getting away with $600 million worth of artworks by Degas, Vermeer and Rembrandt. This fascinating four-part documentary series goes into forensic detail as to what happened, explains far-reaching theories about the theft and draws you in to speculate who committed the crime.

Seaspiracy

If Cowspiracy made you go veggie, Seaspiracy will surely get you tossing our crustacean pals back into the sea. With the alarming statistic that there may be no fish left in our oceans by 2048, this documentary exposes how little we actually know about the fish on our dish and explores the idea that there can be really no such thing as sustainable fishing, especially when the balance of nature on the planet is so precariously aligned with ocean life.

The Best Netflix Originals

The Crown

What more really needs to be said about The Crown, other than, if you haven’t already seen this, where the hell have you been hiding? Telling a (semi) fictionalised version of the Royal Family from HRH Elizabeth II’s coronation up to the end of the century, the Peter Morgan-created series has been as controversial as it has been supremely watchable.

The Queen’s Gambit

Stay with us: okay, a seven-part series about a girl who plays chess doesn’t exactly scream thrilling. But the producers - alongside the beguiling Anna Taylor-Joy as Elizabeth Harmon - achieve the impossible and make it totally arresting. Stylish, fast-paced and far from deploying the usual ‘poor orphan’ trope, the series was quite rightly one of Netflix’s biggest hits in 2020 - and sparked a new trend for chess-playing to boot.

The OA

It’s more paranormal goings-on at the centre of this show, in which a young woman called Prairie Johnson seemingly returns from the dead, but having previously been blind, she’s now able to see. Oh, she’s also got access to a portal to another dimension, if anyone’s interested in a quick trip?

Narcos

Based on the story of Pablo Escobar, the thriller walks us through exactly what it takes to become a drug cartel boss and kingpin in ‘70s Mexico. Having reviewed all the dangerous and murderous activity it takes to get there, it’s probably best to leave it to the experts.

House of Cards

Before Kevin Spacey’s alleged crimes led him to be dumped from the show in 2017, this was one of the most gloriously machiavellian dramas on the streaming site. Featuring the twisted and power hungry Frank and Claire Underwood, the series follows their dark rise to President(s), as they ruthlessly annihilate anything in their path to get there: reporters, ex-colleagues, even a poor old dog.

BoJack Horseman

The fact that a cartoon about a half man-half horse could give one of the most accurate portrayals of depression, addiction and general self-loathing is a credit to the creators. The tragi-comedy must have been a hard pitch for Netflix, but it excels in perfectly capturing the current malaise of the 21st century, skewering pop culture as it does so.

The One

Typical: you wait ages for a Black Mirror-esque TV show about dating matches based on our chromosomes, then two come along at once. While Soulmates is Amazon Prime’s offering, Netflix have The One, a slightly darker-in-tone series about Rebecca Webb, CEO of the DNA, and the people drawn into the creepy service. It’s enough to make you swear you off love for good.

The Irregulars

Do we need another series in the world of Sherlock Holmes, we questioned on its release? Probably not, but it’s fun enough following this gang of YAs who are brought in to help out Holmes (Henry Loyd-Hughes) with cases of the supernatural in Victorian Britain. It’s an intriguing take on the classic tales of Arthur Conan Doyle that shows even 100 years on, there’s still life in old Sherlock yet.

You Might Also Like

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting