Despite the ever-growing list of streaming platforms that seem to exist merely to tempt us into more monthly subscriptions, Netflix, the industry’s originator and innovator, is still the top dog. And with over 231 million subscribers in 2023, it’s clear that Netflix is here to stay. Since its first original series in 2012, the Steven Van Zandt-led mafia comedy Lilyhammer, Netflix has poured a significant portion of its yearly profits into churning out exclusive content for its subscribers.
Nowadays, Netflix originals comprise some of the finest programming for streaming viewers anywhere. Series like The Crown, Mindhunter, and Stranger Things have developed cult followings, garnered top-tier Hollywood talent, and brought in a lot of viewership and revenue for the streaming titan. Still, Netflix is no stranger to flops, and there have been more than a few in recent years. Thanks to high-profile competitors like Hulu, Max, and Paramount+ taking their original content game to the next level, Netflix has struggled to retain dominance.
Suffice it to say that 2023 hasn’t been Netflix’s strongest year. Its flagship original series Stranger Things made waves with its massive penultimate season last year, but the series’ concluding fifth season probably won’t make it to the air until late 2025. Netflix staples like Black Mirror and You returned this year, but both seem to be struggling with a marked decline in buzz in the wake of their premieres.
However, there’s still a lot of great programming to digest from the biggest streamer in the business, and we thought it would be nice for posterity’s sake to commemorate this year in Netflix with a list of their five best original series. From uber-dry travel comedies to hipster stalkers, let’s hop into the rankings.
5. You (Season Four)
Though this series initially aired on Lifetime, by season four, it’s now a true blue Netflix original. Since 2018, Penn Badgely’s “nice guy” stalker, Joe Goldberg, has charmed and repulsed viewers in equal measure. Season four of You flips the script on the guiding formula of the show’s first three outings, resulting in a London-based whodunit mystery that pits Joe against an even more psychotic killer.
The show’s strong suit has never been its social commentary, but unfortunately for us, that doesn’t stop it from ladling it down our throats more forcefully than ever in season four. But when the show isn’t reveling in its hamfisted caricatures of wealthy Gen Z socialites, it’s quite an enjoyable watch. Hardly anyone who watches and enjoys You will tell you it’s the most cerebral or thought-provoking series on television. But if you can forgive its subtextual shortcomings, it’s reasonably gory, tastefully trashy, and always entertaining.
Despite a noticeable lack of social media chatter around season four, You is still a wildly popular series for Netflix with a devoted fan base. If recent reports are accurate, it seems the fifth season Netflix has already greenlit will be Joe’s final chapter. This might be grave news to You super-fans, but it’s probably for the best. The showrunners did a decent job of switching up the recipe for season four, but the fact remains that You seems desperately close to either jumping the shark or wearing out its welcome.
4. Cunk On Earth
Comedian Diane Morgan’s brilliant mockumentary series Cunk On Earth is perhaps Netflix’s best sleeper hit of 2023. With bone-dry British wit and an uncanny ability to stay in character, Morgan tours some of Earth’s most interesting historical locales and interviews unwitting (yet surprisingly patient) academics and historians. Morgan plays Philomena Cunk, a lovably daft tour guide who produces the most ludicrously banal lines of questioning on any given historical subject.
Morgan’s Philomena Cunk has been making waves in the UK through multiple appearances on BBC, but 2023 marked her biggest incursion with international syndication. The series has developed something of a cult following, but a string of viral TikToks and YouTube shorts have resulted in a boon to the show’s exposure. In a quick five-episode run, Cunk On Earth somehow finds the time to cover the dawn of man through the Renaissance, then to the Cold War and the birth of the information age.
For fans of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s work in The Office and An Idiot Abroad, Cunk On Earth is bound to delight. However, the series isn’t without its minor blemishes. Not all of the jokes land as squarely as we’d hope, and the format could’ve used some slight innovations to separate it from the slew of historical mockumentaries that came before it. Still, Cunk On Earth is hilarious and certainly worth a watch.
3. I Think You Should Leave (Season Three)
Tim Robinson’s wondrously absurd sketch comedy series I Think You Should Leave didn’t become the darling of the alternative comedy scene for no reason. In season three, Robinson continues to push the envelope of insanity with over-the-top performances and whacked-out premises. This season boasts more guest stars than ever before, with appearances from comedic legends like Fred Armisen, Tim Meadows, and Tim Heidecker.
As with the series’ previous seasons, Robinson’s third showing manages to uncover poignancy underneath all the screaming and potty humor. I Think You Should Leave is the perfect sketch show for our times because it understands that comedy and tragedy no longer exist as polar dramatic opposites but instead as inextricable and interchangeable human responses to the horror and confusion of the 2020s. Bubbling underneath the surface of almost every sketch in this show is the deepening sense of alienation felt by so many of us trying to weave our way through the pangs of late-stage capitalism.
I Think You Should Leave takes a lot of risks. Due to its wide berth of subject matter and tone, it doesn’t always hit its mark. Some of the sketches meander, some end too abruptly, and some feel too minor to justify their own existence. Regardless, this third season will undoubtedly entertain fans of the earlier seasons and other eccentric sketch comedy series.
2. Black Mirror (Season Six)
As one of Netflix’s longest-running original series, Black Mirror has developed a large fan base and almost always makes an impression on the internet whenever a new season drops. In seasons prior, Black Mirror stayed in its highly uncomfortable comfort zone of the technological psycho-thriller genre. In season six, however, the series seems to be expanding its scope to include some elements from old-school horror.
Episodes like “Demon 79” and “Mazey Day” are set in the past and feature demonic entities and nightmarish werewolves; it’s a far cry from the technocentric fare found in the show’s first five seasons. Some of the chances Black Mirror takes in its sixth season pay off more than others, but on the whole, it’s a satisfying watch full of tense moments and thought-provoking screenwriting.
Despite making some changes this year, the show is still at its best when delivering biting social commentary on the role of technology in modern life. The Aaron Paul-led “Beyond The Sea” is one of the best Black Mirror episodes in years, tragically depicting the isolation and loneliness that can come as unwanted side effects from rapid technological advancement.
The aptly named Beef is the Netflix original that made the biggest splash in 2023. The story follows Danny (Steven Yeun) and Amy (Ali Wong), two unlikely foes who cross paths during a particularly destructive road rage incident. In the aftermath of their car chase, they both take potshots at one another, each praying and planning for the other’s demise. Not only is Beef eminently watchable, but it also contains a surprising amount of heart for a series with such a comedic premise.
As Danny Cho, Yeun proves once again that he’s one of the strongest actors in the business, and Wong elevates the series with a delightfully layered performance as Amy Lau. In a year where Netflix needed to separate itself from the pack to remind everyone their monthly subscription is still worth it, Beef came to the rescue at the most opportune moment.
Underneath all of the vindictive scheming and backstabbing in Beef, the heart of the series explores human connection. It reminds us that no matter how different two people might be, there’s always the connective tissue of the human condition that can help them see eye to eye, even in the face of intense distrust and anger.