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Maureen Ryan

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What To Watch On Netflix, Part 4: Reader Recommendations

Posted: 10/25/2013 5:15 pm

You're really going to have to clear your schedule.

I recently published three lists of recommendations for those who like to watch TV via Netflix streaming. Several dozen potential binge-worthy programs made my lists of Classic Shows, Pretty Good Bets and Overlooked Gems, but I'm not done yet.

Actually, what I mean to say is, you're not done yet.

I asked readers to suggest shows on Netflix worth checking out in the comment areas of each post, and dozens of you came through. Thank you! I love it when I don't have to do any work. Well played, readers!

Seriously, in spite of the fact I've devoted a lot of time to watching TV, I haven't seen everything, and it's great to get input from those who have searched out worthy fare from the more obscure corners of Netflix. If you've got time to binge during the next few months, I hope that the shows below, as well as those on the three previous lists, provide something fun, interesting or perhaps even bonkersawesome.

Here are the usual caveats that go with these lists.

  • These lists do not contain shows currently in production, on the air or otherwise uncanceled. Before you yell at me in the comments about something that isn't on these rosters, remember: If a show is still creating new episodes or will do so in the near future, it won't be found on any of the lists.
  • The shows on this list are available on Netflix in full, with a couple of exceptions here and there. Those exceptions are very rare, and I tried hard to stick with shows available in their entirety.
  • I'm not counting Netflix's own shows in the mix. No "Arrested Development," "Orange Is the New Black," "House of Cards," etc.
  • You'll only find scripted programs on these lists. There are fine documentaries and reality shows on Netflix, but I'm sticking with fictional, episodic TV for the purposes of these rosters.
  • This is not a list of all shows worth watching (that would be much longer). This is just a selection from what's available for streaming right now on Netflix in the U.S. If a show is not available for streaming here, preferably in its entirety, it's not on the lists.
  • Final caveat: Netflix's lineup changes from time to time, and its offerings vary by country, so these lists are not set in stone and may contain shows that are unavailable where you live.

I've grouped this final list into a few different categories, and in each writeup, I've supplied comments from readers as appropriate. Thanks again for the input!

Comedies

  • "A Bit of Fry and Laurie": Here's Netflix's description of the show: "This sketch-comedy series from Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie finds the multi-talented British humorists pushing the envelope of funny in episodes brimming with inspired sketches, outlandish characters and other mayhem." This comedy compendium was suggested by a number of readers, one of whom cautioned that some sketches were so dependent on English popular culture that they might not quite translate for American viewers (and given that it debuted 25 years ago, it's also a bit dated). The comedy is still well worth a look, especially for fans of both actors.

  • "Black Books": Commenter Julia R recalled watching this show about a cranky bookshop owner on a plane, and she "was crying and biting my tongue, I was laughing so hard. Much funnier and more consistent than 'Spaced,' in my opinion."

  • "Coupling": This is the comedy that put Steven Moffat on the map in the U.K. I found it a bit dated to my tastes (and the way Moffat writes the comedy's female characters is frequently off-putting), but there are some good performances and scenes, and fans of English comedy will probably find it worth a look.

  • "The IT Crowd": Many readers have recommended this over the years, and I feel bad that I've never gotten around to watching it. Here's the Netflix description of "The IT Crowd," which stars Chris O'Dowd and Richard Ayoade: "In the age-old clash of IT vs. the corporation, a pair of basement-dwelling dweebs square off against their cloddish owner-come-lately, with their ambitious but tech-illiterate manager running interference."

  • "The Kids In the Hall": I can't believe I left this out of my original lists. This is definitely something that should have gone on my Pretty Good Bets roster, and it's a must for fans of sketch comedy. I still know several of these sketches by heart and still quote from the show regularly ("I'm only crushing your head!").

  • "Red Dwarf": This long-running U.K. comedy, set aboard a spaceship, pokes fun at any number of sci-fi TV cliches. I found it kind of repetitive over time, but this low-budget, knowing satire has some scruffy-yet-winning qualities.

  • "United States of Tara": This Showtime drama's first season was patchy, to say the least, but it gained assurance over time and Toni Collette's nuanced performance as multiple characters was always interesting to watch.

American Dramas

  • "Damages": Commenter Collateral 96 said this complicated legal drama, which starred Glenn Close, Rose Byrne and a host of terrific supporting actors, "may not be for everyone, considering the dark tone of each season, but it's terrifically acted."

  • "Eureka": This gentle Syfy comedy-drama may have gone in circles a fair amount when it came to the overall plot, but it's still quite charming and enjoyable a good bit of the time. (I'd say the same of "Warehouse 13," three seasons of which are available on Netflix.)

  • "The Dresden Files": This one-season show, which starred Paul Blackthorne and was based on the series of Jim Butcher novels, wasn't perfect, but it had a fair bit of potential as an escapist genre procedural. Syfy didn't see it that way, but there are some good episodes to be found among the dozen TV adventures of Chicago private eye Harry Dresden.

  • "The 4400": Songbird2384 accurately characterized this sci-fi show (which I think is strongest in its earliest seasons) as being "in the same genre as 'Alphas' and 'Heroes.'" It certainly had a cool premise: What if 4,400 people who'd been mysteriously abducted from Earth over the course of 50 years suddenly all turned up at once?

  • "Highlander": There can only be one! From Netflix's description: "Adrian Paul stars as 400-year-old Scotsman Duncan MacLeod, who's one of the immortals -- a group of entities who for centuries have waged a war between good and evil that's destined to culminate in the Gathering ... where only one force can triumph."

  • "The Good Guys": This one-season show from "Burn Notice" creator Matt Nix couldn't quite manage a consistent grip on what it wanted to do, but the show, which enjoyably reveled in every cheeseball cop-show cliche, still supplied enjoyable performances from Colin Hanks, Bradley Whitford and Bradley Whitford's mustache.

British Detective Shows

  • "George Gently": Commenter smpj noted that this show is "set in the mid-'60s [and is] rough-and-tumble at times, but very well written, with characters that start growing on you immediately."

  • "Foyle's War": From Netflix's description: "Set in the English coastal town of Hastings during World War II, this compelling crime drama follows police inspector Christopher Foyle, who discovers that crooks don't stop for anything -- not even war."

  • "Wire in the Blood": From Netflix: "This tense British crime series follows the work of Dr. Tony Hill (Robson Green), a psychologist with a peculiar talent for understanding how serial killers think and for using that knowledge to help law enforcement apprehend them."

  • "Luther": As noted above, these lists are made up of shows that are, for the most part, available in full from Netflix. The third (and presumably final) season of "Luther" is not on Netflix yet, but many, many people brought up its omission on previous lists; consider your voices heard, gentle readers! "Luther" is not perfect -- it has a tendency to rush pell-mell through sometimes melodramatic plot points -- but it can't be denied that Idris Elba is excellent in the lead as troubled detective John Luther. And far be it from me to stand in the way of people's desire to enjoy Stacker Pentecost's TV gig.

  • "Rosemary and Thyme": Smpj called this show "a bubbly little British series built around two lady landscapers. The stories are gentle murder mysteries reminiscent of 'Murder She Wrote' and are as soothing as a glass of warm milk. But the real star of the show is their sturdy Land Rover Defender I."

  • "A Touch of Frost": From Netflix: "An arrogant nonconformist who despises following the rules, keenly observant Det. Jack Frost (David Jason) avoids serious trouble with his disgruntled superiors by consistently solving his hometown's most perplexing criminal cases."

British Dramas

  • "House of Cards": Ocaptainmycaptain called the original U.K. version of this political drama "better than [Netflix's new Kevin] Spacey version, and that's saying something."

  • "Monarch of the Glen": Phoebequeen called this low-key chronicle of life in Scotland "funny and heartwarming, with beautiful scenery."

  • "Robin Hood": Nenya called this adventure series "a great British show with a fantastic cast and a compelling retelling of the classic tale. This Robin has a hipster haircut and a curved sword, and Guy of Gisborne is played by Richard Armitage."

  • "Kingdom": Nenya called this show "another Stephen Fry gem. I haven't finished the whole thing yet, but Fry is a solicitor in a small town, so it has all those great small-town show characters. There is also a drama in his own family, with a crazy sister and a missing, ne'er-do-well brother."

  • "Jekyll": C-tom called this modern adaptation of "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (from "Doctor Who" and "Sherlock" writer/producer Steven Moffat) "thrilling, sexy, frightening, and funny."

Special mention: "Doctor Who"

  • I'm bending the rules a bit for this one, because, hey, why not? I did say that these lists were meant for shows that are not producing new episodes, and of course "Doctor Who" is still going strong as it comes up on the 50th anniversary of its birth. But I've made an exception for "Doctor Who" because there's just so much of it and you should definitely give it a shot if you've never had a chance to see the interstellar classic. Get hold of some DVDs of classic Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison or Patrick Trougton episodes, if you can (you can never go wrong with "City of Death," which was written in part by legendary author Douglas Adams and is one of Baker's finest outings). Beyond the DVDs, most of the seasons since the 2005 reboot are on Netflix, and share an elusive quality -- a lot of the time, they really are fun for the whole family. Every season has its patchy moments, but there are also a lot of standout episodes (especially the all-time classic "Blink"). In any event, the premise isn't overly elaborate (the Doctor, a Time Lord, whizzes around the universe in a big blue box and usually has a companion or two assisting him on his interplanetary adventures). So even if you just watch a sampler of what's on Netflix, you should be up to speed enough to enjoy the 50th anniversary special that airs Nov. 23. Take it away, Matt Smith!

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