Of all the bills I incur each month, Netflix is the one I truly don’t mind paying, since the streaming service is probably the greatest bargain in the entire world right now, and I don’t see how anyone could argue otherwise.
For as little as $7.99 each month, or less than $100 a year, Netflix offers limitless entertainment of all kinds — movies, TV shows, documentaries, stand-up comedy specials, adult and children’s animation, talk shows, etc. It has everything you could possibly want and more, so to say I took full advantage of my Netflix subscription in 2017 would be an understatement. I basically watched Netflix until my eyes bled or my ass went numb.
And yet, because there’s almost too much content on Netflix, some curation is needed, and that’s where I come in. Allow me to share some of my favorite programming from the past year, so the next time you find yourself sitting on your couch saying, “there’s nothing good to watch,” you can consult this list and solve the problem. These were my favorites of 2017.
Top 10 Netflix Shows
1. Mindhunter – If you’re as fascinated by the criminal mind as I am, and serial killers in particular, look no further than this quietly hypnotic series from creator Joe Penhall and executive producers David Fincher and Charlize Theron. Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany are both excellent as a mismatched pair of FBI profilers on a mission to find out what makes guys like Ed Kemper (an Emmy-worthy Cameron Britton) tick. You may have to be a sick twist to really enjoy this interview-focused series, but hey, I’m guilty as charged.
2. Ozark – This binge-worthy crime drama felt like one of the summer’s biggest hits. Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are fantastic as a money-laundering couple who move from Chicago to the backwoods of Missouri to start paying off a ruthless Mexican drug lord. This series kind of picks up where Breaking Bad left off (at least in spirit, anyway) and makes an interesting counterpart to Narcos.
3. Master of None S2 – Aziz Ansari’s delightful comedy went to new and unexpected places this season, delivering one of the year’s best romantic storylines — that of Dev and his Italian crush Francesca, played by the lovely Alessandra Mastronardi. The ambitious “Thanksgiving,” which was the only S2 episode co-written by co-star Lena Waithe, was a clear standout this season, though Ansari himself did a wonderful job directing the first two and last two episodes, while “First Date” hit close to home.
4. GLOW – Talk about a pleasant surprise! This is one of the best pilots I’ve seen in years, and just a really entertaining show. As much as I love watching Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin go at it (learn why in an earlier write-up), it’s Marc Maron’s coked-up director Sam Sylvia that stole my heart. Creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch have something special on their hands here, and I can’t wait for the second season to drop.
5. Narcos S3 – I’ll be honest, I gave up on Narcos about halfway through the season. I watched three or four episodes and thought to myself, “eh, the Pablo Escobar stuff is over, Boyd Holbrook is gone, these two new DEA agents aren’t great, I’m just gonna cut out and fondly remember the first two seasons.” And that was that. Or so I thought. Just before the holiday break, news came that the fourth season of Narcos would star Michael Peña and Diego Luna, and just like that, I was back in. So I caught up with the rest of the third season and let me tell you, it was great! I really got wrapped up in the fate of Jorge Salcedo (Matias Varela), head of security for the Cali Cartel, and the scene where Agent Pena (Pedro Pascal) nearly nabs Miguel Rodriguez had me on the edge of my seat. It was actually kind of nice having a towering figure like Escobar out of the way so the show could focus on bringing down this Godfather-like family. Stick with this one, because the future of this series looks bright. Which brings us to…
6. Dark – This German-language sci-fi series cast a spell over me early on, and while it might’ve benefitted from having fewer episodes, there’s no denying that the first season ends on a hell of a high note. It helps that this show is simply gorgeous thanks to director/co-creator Baran bo Odar, who cranks up the atmosphere and has a knack for casting interesting faces. For more, click here.
7. The Punisher – I may not have even bothered to watch Iron Fist or The Defenders this year, but Marvel TV nailed this one, as I knew it would the second Jon Bernthal was announced as Frank Castle. This guy is a fucking animal, and I love it. Most tough-guy actors are just posturing for the camera, but I wouldn’t want to find myself in a dark alley with Bernthal, who strikes me as the real deal as far as action stars go. I loved Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Girls) as Micro and was super-impressed with Ben Barnes, who has come a long way from playing Prince Caspian. Honestly, I just liked the whole cast, as Bernthal is surrounded by a hell of an ensemble here. As far as superhero projects go, this Netflix series was right up there with Logan for me this year.
8. Black Mirror S4 – As I said in my review last week, this was a pretty consistent season for Black Mirror, which offered one great episode (“USS Callister”) and didn’t really feature any outright stinkers. Let’s hope Charlie Brooker continues to find inspiration in the dark side of technology and its many applications.
9. Stranger Things S2 – This season may have lacked the freshness of the first season, but it was hardly a sophomore slump for the Duffer brothers, who introduced some great new characters like Bob (Sean Astin) and Billy (Dacre Montgomery), and managed to make Winona Ryder’s Joyce a lot less annoying. It was nice to get Will back, as Noah Schnapp is a solid young actor who did a good job selling his character’s ongoing struggle to escape the Upside Down. As long as Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein keep dropping those tight synth beats, I’ll keep watching this homage to all things ’80s, but please, let “The Lost Sister” stay lost. Thanks in advance!
10. American Vandal – Like Narcos, this is another series that I starting watching and liked, only to relegate it to the backburner before coming to my senses and finishing the show. This was the last TV series I made time to watch in 2017 and I’m glad I went back, as the mystery behind #WhoDrewTheDicks was strangely gripping. I was worried that the series would run out of steam based on its one-joke premise, but co-creators Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda as well as writer Dan Lagana found a way to keep this high school story both relevant and interesting. I’m all for another investigation from Peter Maldonado and Sam Ecklund, especially if it involves bad boy Dylan Maxwell (the always-game Jimmy Tatro).
Honorable Mention: (tie) Big Mouth and F Is for Family S2 – I don’t watch a lot of animated shows, so when I do, you’d better believe they’re worth your time. No, I don’t watch BoJack Horseman or Rick and Morty, and I moved on from South Park and The Simpsons long ago. But these two adult series from Nick Kroll and Bill Burr, respectively, had me binging pretty hard this year. Both series have star-studded voice casts and real heart beneath all the dirty jokes. Just remember to catch up with these shows after you’ve put the kids to bed!
Top 5 Netflix Movies
1. Mudbound – It’s telling that the first three entries on this mini-list are all about families in crisis. With Mudbound, director Dee Rees did a great job with limited resources (i.e. time and money) in telling this post-war story about two veterans (Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, both great) and the way their families are impacted by their return. Mary J. Blige has been getting all the love this awards season, but I thought Rob Morgan was terrific as her husband. Virgil Williams did a solid job adapting Hillary Jordan’s book with Rees, and cinematographer Rachel Morrison really helped bring the story to life with her powerful images.
2. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – Noah Baumbach’s latest snuck up on me, as it involved three siblings coming home to care for their ailing father — something I did this fall with my own mother. Adam Sandler turns in another surprisingly strong performance and he’s joined by Dustin Hoffman, who reminds us why he’s considered one of the greats.
3. First They Killed My Father – This was one of the last films I watched in 2017, as you have to be in the right mood for it. Angelina Jolie delivers her best movie yet with this searing tale of one brave little girl’s fight for survival as the Khmer Rouge force her family to flee their home in Cambodia. Again, at first, it felt like I had seen this all before, but by the end, this film had me in its grip and it moved me. I’m just glad Netflix is getting behind stories like this one and Beasts of No Nation, both of which involve child soldiers.
4. Gerald’s Game – I was no fan of Mike Flanagan’s Oculus, but I’ve gotta hand it to the guy and give credit where it’s due — between this film and Hush, he clearly has horror chops. Aided here by a heck of a performance from Carla Gugino, Flanagan delivers a solid Stephen King adaptation (no small feat) and one scene that literally had me screaming in my living room as I watched the gore unfold. Hands, er, hats off to him!
5. (tie) Tramps and Win It All – These were two of the better “true indies” of the year, each driven by strong lead performances. Joe Swanberg’s Win It All finds Jake Johnson playing a gambling addict, and I liked it a lot more than, say, The Gambler or Mississippi Grind, and overall, I think it stands alongside Drinking Buddies among Swanberg’s best work. Meanwhile, writer-director Adam Leon marked himself as a filmmaker to watch with Tramps, which finds rising stars Callum Turner and Grace Van Patten (also in The Meyerowitz Stories) running all over New York City in search of a missing bag. These may be smaller films, but both of them get by on their wits and charms.
Honorable Mention: Okja – This movie gets a little messy at times, but I’m glad Netflix is willing to spend this kind of money on Bong Joon-ho film starring a young South Korean actress, who even managed to upstage some of her A-list co-stars (looking at you, Jake Gyllenhaal). This movie may not have fully worked for me, but it was one hell of an effort, and I appreciated its ambition.
Top 5 Netflix Documentaries
1. Icarus – Bryan Fogel’s doc about doping in sports got Russia banned from the Winter Olympics, so what more do you really need to know?
2. Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press – As a reporter and someone who has long been invested in the first amendment and our right to free speech, I really enjoyed this look at the war against journalism, which examines how Peter Thiel’s lawsuit against Gawker led to the site shutting down, among other issues of the day. Very interesting stuff here.
3. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Present-day Jim Carrey may prattle on a bit too much for my taste, but there’s no denying that this is a fascinating look into one actor’s creative process, and how Carrey flew a bit too close to the sun while playing his idol, Andy Kaufman, in Milos Forman’s Man on the Moon. The behind-the-scenes footage on display here is stunning to behold.
4. Voyeur – This is just a really interesting look at the complicated relationship between a reporter and his subject, and the dangers of getting too close to a story. The film is never as sordid as its title implies, but it’s certainly unique, and I was into it the entire time. It’s one of those strange-but-true stories, with plenty of twists and turns along the way.
5. Casting JonBenet – This wasn’t what I was expecting at all. Kitty Green’s documentary merely chronicles the casting process for a fictional film about JonBenet Ramsey, and you see how all the actors approach their roles differently, based on their own ideas about the young girl’s death. It’s all about artistic license and interpretation — choices, if you will — and it would make an interesting doubleheader with Robert Greene’s 2016 documentary Kate Plays Christine.
Honorable Mention: Long Shot – I’m not going to say much about this one besides the fact that it’s 40-minutes long and co-stars Larry David. It would be the clear #1 on this list if it had been feature-length, but as it stands, its running time is absolutely perfect. If you watch one movie or TV show or comedy special in this entire article, make it this one. Trust me.
The Best Standup Comedy Specials and 10 More Comedians Whose Specials You Should Watch
Gold: Jerry Before Seinfeld
Silver: Judd Apatow: The Return
Bronze: Neal Brennan: 3 Mics
Honorable Mention (in order): Dave Chappelle (x4), Sarah Silverman, Todd Barry, Joe Mande, Mike Birbiglia, Marc Maron, Patton Oswalt, Jim Gaffigan, Brian Regan, Bill Burr
The Netflix Programming I Regret to Have Missed
1. The Keepers
2. 13 Reasons Why
3. (tie) The Incredible Jessica James and Deidre and Laney Rob a Train
4. The Discovery
5. Five Came Back
6. (tie) Dear White People and She’s Gotta Have It
10. (tie) Love S3 and Real Rob S2
Other Netflix Titles I Watched in 2017
Friends From College
Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie
House of Cards S5
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
Little Evil (well, half of it, anyway)
Santa Clarita Diet
Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later
18 Things to Look Forward to on Netflix in 2018
1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – The Coen brothers head to Netflix with this intriguing anthology series, and James Franco is along for the ride. Sign me up!
2. Maniac – Jonah Hill and Emma Stone working with Cary Fukunaga? Yes, please!
3. Daredevil S3 – Vincent D’Onofrio is back as the Kingpin. What more could you want? Filming wrapped last year, so don’t be surprised if this bows in the summer.
4. Luke Cage S2 – If Jessica Jones is premiering this spring and Daredevil drops this summer, then perhaps we could see Luke Cage return this winter. After all, star Mike Colter said filming is expected to wrap in March. A holiday release leaves plenty of time for editing.
5. Apostle – The Raid filmmaker Gareth Evans teams with Dan Stevens here, so yeah, I’m in!
6. Chris Rock special – Chris Rock is the best in the biz, and now he’s taking his talents from HBO to Netflix. I expect my face to hurt from laughing. And speaking of…
7. Ali Wong special – I had never heard of Ali Wong before I sat down to watch her first Netflix special Baby Cobra, but she totally crushed that one, and I have no doubt she’ll do the same again here. This woman is a rising star in the comedy world, so pay attention!
8. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee S10 – Let’s keep the laughs coming! Jerry Seinfeld took this show about as far as it could go on Crackle, but now that it has a new home at Netflix, expect a lot more eyeballs. This is already one of the most enjoyable short-form shows on television, so put me down for another refill.
9. A Futile and Stupid Gesture – David Wain and Will Forte take on the origin story behind National Lampoon. I plan to catch this one at Sundance, but the rest of you won’t have to wait much longer to see it, as it debuts on the streaming service at the end of the month.
10. The Week Of – Yup, it’s another Adam Sandler Netflix comedy, but this one seems a bit more promising than Sandy Wexler and The Ridiculous Six, if only because it co-stars Chris Rock. He and the Sandman play dads whose kids are marrying each other. What could go wrong? Hopefully hilarity will ensue…
11. Game Over, Man! – Imagine the guys from Workaholics in a Die Hard situation, but funny. Oh, and it arrives on 4/20? Good timing, Netflix!
12. Mute – Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) directing a sci-fi movie starring Paul Rudd and Alexander Skarsgard? You had me at hello.
13. Come Sunday – Maria Full of Grace director Joshua Marston returns with this Sundance-bound drama starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Martin Sheen, Phylicia Rashad, Danny Glover, Lakeith Stanfield and Jason Segel. If this one is any good, I could see Netflix giving it an awards push later in the year.
14. Roxanne Roxanne – Produced by Forest Whitaker and Pharrell Williams, this drama about a female rapper was a festival favorite at Sundance last year. I’ve taken to calling this film Mahershala Mahershala, since it co-stars Mahershala Ali, which is more than enough to get me to watch it.
15. Altered Carbon – The Killing star Joel Kinnaman returns to TV with this trippy-looking sci-fi series from creator Laeta Kalogridis. Plus it features a character named Quellcrist Falconer, so really, how can you afford to miss that?
16. Seven Seconds – Hey, speaking of The Killing, this crime drama hails from the same creator, Veena Sud. It follows a black teen who is run over by a white cop and the tensions that flare following the ensuing cover-up. I’m a big fan of star Beau Knapp, so here’s hoping Sud finds success once again with this timely story.
17. Dogs of Berlin – I don’t know much about this German series besides the fact that it hails from Christian Alvart, who directed the excellent 2005 thriller Antibodies. That film impressed me just as Baran bo Odar’s The Silence impressed me several years later, and he went on to make Dark, so I’m thinking Alvart deserves the same benefit of the doubt.
18. Safe – I don’t know much about this series besides the fact that it stars Michael C. Hall (Dexter) and was created by author Harlan Coben (Tell No One), two things that bode quite well for this project, which is said to be in the vein of Netflix’s other dark family dramas, Bloodline and Ozark.
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief