Low-cost horror and high-cost superheroes rule the box office; science-fiction and fantasy flicks often earn a nice bit of a cash, too. Hollywood knows to grab us geeks by the eyeballs and not let go.
It didn’t take long for TV to glom onto that fact. From the CW to SyFy and all the channels in between, shows for dorks like us are fully in command of the schedule. That goes double for streaming services.
No one has the superb slate of nerd shows, and the money to make them, like Netflix. It began with a show about werewolves (Hemlock Grove). Since then, Netflix has worked with the people behind The Matrix movies (Sense 8), and cut a deal to get a small slice of the Marvel Cinematic Universe all to itself. It’s snapped up series from other networks and countries, taken risks on programming that would have been too “cerebral” for network TV, and even revived a few classics. And I’m not talking about Fuller House.
If you are a fan of genre shows—sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and the like—and don’t have a Netflix subscription, you’re missing out. If you do, you lack geek-cred until you’ve watched these 10 programs at the very least. They’re the best Netflix has to offer to fandom at large.
The plot to Altered Carbon, based on the novel by Richard K. Morgan, is dense: Kovacs is a mercenary who’s been frozen for 250 years after he tried to lead an uprising against the government, and now he’s got a choice: go to prison or solve a murder. That might seem simple, but the person murdered is the one hiring him, since people in the year 2384 can upload their consciousness into devices that implant into other bodies. That’s just the opening of this ultra-violent, nudity-filled, 10-episode cyberpunk noir. The second season is coming, and as you’d guess from the premise, the whole cast of actors will change. Kovacs will still be the main character, but for season two, Anthony “The Falcon” Mackie takes over for Joel Kinnaman. An anime companion series is also in development.
Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, co-run by Annabel Jones, is the heir-apparent to The Twilight Zone, telling a new buzz-worthy tale with each new episode. It started on Channel 4 in Britain, and did so well, Netflix has kept it alive with seasons 3, 4, and 5.
The “black mirror” of course is a screen—the show’s not-so-subtle quick-take is that technology hurts society. Sometimes, the dystopian nightmares of each story are overshadowed by the handful of positive episodes (season 3’s “San Junipero” is an uplifting and joyous take on future love). But every season has a standout. I love season 4’s stunning “USS Callister,” the second season’s romantic and heart-wrenching “Be Right Back,” and the first season’s “The Entire History of You,” which depicts a time where all of us will have the equivalent of Google Glass implanted in our heads to record every single thing we see. That isn’t as far off as you’d think. For more, read Every Episode of Black Mirror, Ranked From Best to Worst.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
The Archie Comics character of Sabrina has had her ups and downs—you probably remember the Teenage Witch of the 1990s. The comics took her in a new horror-filled direction a few years ago, and this TV series of the same name sticks with that. Created by the same producers as Riverdale over on The CW—where Sabrina was originally supposed to air—this half-mortal/half-witch/all-teenage Sabrina is played by Kiernan Shipka from Mad Men. Netflix had such confidence in the show it ordered two seasons up front that were shot back to back; Season 3, Part 2 debuts in January.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
One of the greatest fantasy films of the 1980s, plus it’s one of the greatest films starring Muppets, is The Dark Crystal. That it got a prequel series a full 36 years later—and one that is fantastically well done, much as the original film—seems like a gift from a Henson on-high. The voice cast is amazing, with names like Anna Taylor-Joy, Jason Isaacs, Simon Pegg, Awkwafina, and Mark Hamill. Puppeteers include Kevin Clash (the original Elmo) and Dave “The Great Gonzo” Goelz. No word yet on a second season, but this one is miracle enough for fans to enjoy.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Where Jim Carrey failed, Neil Patrick Harris succeeds. A Series of Unfortunate Events started as an incredibly famous series of 13 children’s books about the very put-upon Baudelaire children, constantly pursued by Count Olaf for their supposed inheritance. The movie version tanked; it needed the series treatment to fit the stories and the budget to give it movie-like production values. Enter Netflix!
It doesn’t hurt to have many of the episodes directed by Barry Sonnefeld, the auteur behind the Addams Family and Men in Black films, who also is an executive producer on the show. The cast is perfect, but of course, Harris as Olaf is the true ace-in-the-hole. He piled on makeup upon makeup to play the old actor with the murderous designs on the kid’s money. All three seasons, telling the full story, are available now.
Lost in Space
The previous attempt to reboot the campy 1960’s series Lost in Space barely got off the ground, but this re-imagining of the classic Swiss Family Robinson tale in outer space got a thorough re-working for 2018. The changes are both massive (the robot is an alien!) and miniscule (Dr. Smith’s a lady—and far creepier) and the family is far more believable than the 1960’s archetypes. It all works toward a better whole than the old “monster of the week on a new planet” show created by Irwin Allen. Season 2 arrives on Christmas Eve.
Based on the Norwegian TV series of the same name, Maniac is a mini-series about two strangers (who may both be a little crazy) who meet and connect at an even crazier drug trial. Patrick Somerville wrote every episode, and each was directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga—the director behind season one of HBO’s True Detective. Visually stunning, the story doesn’t take itself as seriously as you’d expect from the outset, which is a very, very good thing as it gives stars Emma Stone and Jonah Hill a chance to shine as the drug trial gets nuttier and more dangerous as they go.
- Marvel’s Jessica Jones and Marvel’s DaredevilWe’re cramming two shows in one here, but you’ll see why.Years ago, Marvel made a deal to put Daredevil on the small screen via Netflix, making the adventures of the blind lawyer with super-senses the cornerstone in the plan to bring the MCU’s New York street-level fighters to the land of streaming.One of those other heroes is Jessica Jones. Creator Melissa Rosenberg took a popular but obscure Marvel Comics character—a foul-mouthed PI with some basic super-powers—and expanded her backstory. The first season is mostly about the utter, abject abuse by Kilgrave, a person with the power to make everyone obey anything he says. As played by former Doctor Who David Tennant, Kilgrave is also arguably the greatest bad guy in the long history of the MCU. The series is a treatise on how to overcome abuse and gaslighting and much much worse—with or without super powers. Jessica, played to perfection by Krysten Ritter, is tough as nails and fed up with being a victim.The second season of Daredevil starring Charlie Cox got bogged down by a lot of setup for the lackluster team-up show The Defenders. But season three brought the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen back to the streets and back to form, and featured the return of Wilson “The Kingpin” Fisk (played by Vincent D’onofrio, chewing all the scenery he can).Sadly, as the show crested a wave of S03 glory, Netflix cancelled it (along with it’s other so-called MCU shows). Maybe someday those characters will come to Disney+, but until then, DD and JJ both remain worth watching on Netflix.
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