It’s a cold and rainy night. You just want to sprawl out on the couch, order some food, and see what’s on Netflix (or Hulu or Amazon or HBO). Then comes the realization: Despite having thousands of movies and shows to choose from, there’s nothing for you to watch.
We get it. It’s easy to drown in the deluge of TV and film content now available to you at the click of a button. Wouldn’t it just be so much easier if someone just told you about all the cool, hidden gems that were on each streaming service so you don’t have to waste precious time reading plot descriptions and trawling Rotten Tomatoes? That’d be great, huh?
Here we present 16 TV shows and films, spread across the four major streaming services, that are worth trying. These never saw the hype of Game of Thrones or Stranger Things, but they’re excellent nevertheless. They’re the needles in an increasingly large and convoluted television haystack:
One of the most underappreciated TV dramas of the 21st century, Rectify is a stirring Southern Gothic about a man who returns home after spending 19 years on death row, wrongfully convicted of rape and murder. The Sundance Channel show has been called “a quiet marvel,” “the best damn show on TV,” and “among the most radical storytelling on TV.” It’s a pity so few watched it when it aired, but perhaps its second life on Netflix will lead more to discover its patient, perceptive beauty.
Available in: US, Canada, Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden
Who drew the dicks? The unyieldingly deadpan commitment of American Vandal to answer that question is what makes the true crime parody so special. An eight-part mockumentary in the vein of The Keepers or Making a Murderer, American Vandal delves deep into a (fictional) crime at a California high school, where someone spray-painted two dozen penises on cars in the faculty parking lot. As the New Yorker elegantly put it, the show is “like Serial, but with dick jokes.” If that premise appeals to you, well, what are you waiting for? There’s a whodunit to solve.
Available in: everywhere (Netflix original)
Based on the 2014 film of the same name, Dear White People the TV series is even more critically acclaimed than the film. Lauded for its sharp satirical commentary and compelling characters, the series follows the struggles of a group of black students at a fictional, predominantly white Ivy League university. It’s an important and timely story, exploring racial tension on American college campuses as real-life protests swirl across the country.
Available in: everywhere (Netflix original)
A miniseries about installing fiber optic cables might not sound like compelling stuff, but it is. Oh, it really, really is. Maggie Gyllenhaal is superb as an Anglo-Jewish businesswoman who inherits her family’s company and attempts to lay data cables through the West Bank. It quickly turns into a white-knuckle political spy thriller, set amidst the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict. The Peabody-winning series originally aired on the BBC in the UK and Sundance TV in the US, before finding its way to Netflix.
Available in: US, Canada, Australia
The Thick of It was Veep before Veep was Veep, and some have argued it’s better than the HBO comedy it inspired. Created by the satirist Armando Iannucci, The Thick of It is a cleverly cheeky, gleefully foulmouthed, often uproarious parody of the British government and the ham-handed minister of its fictional “Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship.” Iannucci would go on to create Veep, which is essentially the American version of The Thick of It. If you’re a fan of Veep, you owe it to yourself to watch The Thick of It too.
Before Jordan Peele was taking over Hollywood as the director of Get Out, he was half of the brilliant sketch comedy duo Key & Peele, with comedian and actor Keegan-Michael Key. Since several of their sketches have gone viral on the internet, you may have seen some already, but every sketch, from every episode, are worth watching—and Hulu has them all. The show ended in 2015, just in time for the two genius comedians to dive into the mainstream.
One of those true stories that makes you go, “Huh,” Batman & Bill tells the tragic but fascinating story of Bill Finger, one of the two co-creators of Batman who, for most of his life, received little to no credit for his work producing the iconic comic book superhero. It was Finger, not the more often credited Bob Kane, who gave Batman a cape and a cowl, came up with the Batmobile and Batcave, and decided to turn the character into a detective. Replete with interviews from comic book writers, artists, and experts, Batman & Bill is required viewing for anyone interested in the genesis of the Caped Crusader.
Films that are turned into animated TV series routinely disappoint fans of the original, but Black Dynamite is an exception. An animated continuation of the live-action 2009 blaxploitation cult classic of the same name, Black Dynamite the series is a hilarious, stylish, exuberant romp following the titular Vietnam War veteran and former CIA officer as he tries to rid his community of drugs and crime.
(Hulu is currently available only in the US and Japan.)
The weirdest and funniest show you’re not watching, Patriot is a unique black comedy about an American spy who goes undercover at a factory that makes industrial piping in order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. A delicious combination of the Jason Bourne series and Office Space, Patriot might be a bit of an acquired taste, but it’s one you should see if you have a palate for. It’s also a sneaky satire of American capitalism and features actor Terry O’Quinn’s best role since his Emmy-winning turn as John Locke on Lost.
A brilliant show from top to bottom, Justified is squarely among the great American dramas of the decade. Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by other cable dramas, in both the ratings and awards departments, but it deserved far more attention. Based on a character by the late novelist Elmore Leonard, Justified tells the tall tale of Deputy US marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) as he’s reassigned to his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky to suss out its criminal underbelly. Justified is always perfectly comfortable in its own skin, refusing to be anything other than its loquacious, wryly thrilling self.
Starring award-winning Irish actress Sharon Horgan and “the funniest person on Twitter,” comedian Rob Delaney, Catastrophe is a delightful and poignant dramedy about relationships and parenthood. The series, which airs on Channel 4 in the UK and exclusively on Amazon Video in the US, strikes the perfect balance between humor and meaningful human moments. It also features Carrie Fisher’s final role on television before she died.
A vibrant, hypnotic trek into the unknown, The Lost City of Z is a film entirely worth its 2.5 hour runtime. Directed by James Gray, The Lost City of Z stars English actor Charlie Hunnam in a career best role as Percy Fawcett, the real-life explorer who searched for an ancient lost city in the Amazon in the early 1900s. The gorgeous film, released early this year, is at once a gripping adventure story and a dangerous journey into the mind of an obsessed man. Don’t make the mistake of missing this one.
(Amazon Video is now available in more than 200 countries.)
Carnivàle is one of those TV shows that was too far ahead of its time for its own good. A lot has changed in the television industry since the show launched in 2003, and if it were on the air today, it might find a bigger audience. A fever dream that plays out across the Western United States, Carnivàle follows a young farmer during the Great Depression who discovers he has strange powers and then joins a traveling circus. It’s a wild, contemplative show, that often feels more like a story told around a campfire, or something you’d read in a dusty old book you found in your grandparents’ attic.
HBO does a lot of things well, but most of all, it knows how to make a damn good miniseries. John Adams is the rousing story of the second American president, following his trajectory from a Massachusetts lawyer, to one of the orchestrators of the Declaration of Independence, to a chief intellectual voice in the creation of the US Constitution, and finally, to his term as president. Paul Giamatti portrays Adams in this detailed glimpse at a revolutionary moment in history.
David Simon is best known for creating The Wire (and more recently, The Deuce), but he has several other fine pieces of entertaining storytelling in his repertoire. One is Generation Kill, the 2008 miniseries about the American invasion of Iraq, based on the book of the same name by Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright, who was embedded with one of the US Marine Corps battalions leading the charge. Simply put, it’s the best and most enlightening TV series about modern warfare.
Rounding out our HBO recommendations is The Sunset Limited, the made-for-TV film based on the play of the same name by legendary American author Cormac McCarthy (who adapted his own work for the screenplay). Starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson in the only two roles, the entire film takes place in an apartment as the two converse about heady topics such as life, death, God, and suicide. It’s the sort of project that could only be made on HBO.