Over the last 20 years, Netflix has effectively changed the media viewing experience. In 2007, following ten years of growing its successful DVD by mail business, Netflix introduced streaming media. In 2010, the company expanded internationally, becoming available in Canada. Today, the service boasts nearly 100 million subscribers, worldwide. The concept of “Netflix and Chill” has become a household term, because who doesn’t love consuming mass amounts of media content from their couches?
With the rise of Netflix came the decline of cable TV, mirroring the decline of the movie theatre in the 1950s, as cable TV became commonplace. But Netflix did not stop there; next, it re-vamped an old Hollywood tactic that was officially outlawed in 1948 – vertical integration. This was a distribution system by which a studio (Paramount Pictures) held exclusive rights to produce, exhibit and distribute its own content, wholly controlling the market. Sound familiar? Netflix original content – produced, exhibited/distributed – is only (legally) available to Netflix subscribers. Of course, Netflix originals are not the only content available; the magic of Netflix is its seemingly unlimited selection.
The phenomenon of binge-watching is all about media gluttony, and Netflix is almost everyone’s favourite dealer. Yet, in reality, Netflix simply doesn’t have it all. Content availability varies from country to country, and although Netflix attempts to close the gaps in what we want and what we can’t have by creating its own content, the truth is it has limitations. Here are 15 hit TV shows you won’t find on Netflix.
Black-ish is not your typical suburban sitcom - it centres on a black upper-middle-class family. Man of the house, Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson), finds himself struggling to maintain his black identity and pass his cultural values onto his children, who are being raised in a predominantly white neighbourhood. Andre and his wife, Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), are both successful professionals who are proud to be such strong financial providers for their family, but Andre can’t help but wonder if their rich and easy lifestyles have separated his children from their heritage. To make matters worse, his own parents continuously criticize how their grandchildren are being raised, accusing their son of forgetting where he comes from.
Black-ish combines real-world and cultural issues with light family sitcom humour. It not only challenges racial stereotypes, but confronts them head-on. Though critics have accused the show of being uncertain about who its target audience is, it has also been praised it for addressing diversity. It is currently airing season 3, and holds an average rating of 7.1 on IMDB.
14 The Magicians
Magic isn't just for kids anymore. The Magicians is a fantasy-horror series that follows Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) and his friends, all of whom are grad students at the secret Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. Based on novels by Lev Grossman, The Magicians takes the best of coming-of-age and magic favourites such as Harry Potter and Narnia, but significantly ages and modernizes the story. Insert levitating sex and anti-depressants.
Simply put, The Magicians is for and about young adults who were once outcast children who fantasized about magic being real. However, the old adage “be careful what you wish for” is quickly invoked. After being unexpectedly recruited to the magic college, the appeal of magic is called into question when the Quentin and friends learn that within it lies darkness and danger. Most significantly, in the form of Beast, a deadly creature that is out for blood. A New York Times review calls the show both more engaging, and more credible than the average basic-cable TV show. It is currently on season 2 and holds a 7.5 average rating on IMDB.
Being a young adult is tricky - juggling racial identity and womanhood only adds to it. Insecure is a comedy series about Issa (Issa Rae), a black woman in her late 20s struggling to find her footing. Based on a web series also created by Issa Rae, the show explores the chaos of the end-notes to young adulthood. Trudging through a faltering romance and a less-than-perfect workplace scenario, Issa comedically examines old issues with a fresh voice. Although the show is not explicitly political, like Black-ish, it does manage to address issues of race and diversity.
The rarity of exploring the everyday through the eyes of a black woman has garnered the show quite a bit of critical praise, and Rae’s performance was nominated for a Golden Globe. Brian Moylan of The Guardian writes: “Insecure is a great show. It’s not a great show about black people or a great show about women, but it is absolutely richer and more distinctive because of those things. It is just damn good.” The season one finale aired in November, and it holds an average rating of 7.6 on IMDB.
In a very different take on the family-drama, Transparent centres on a family of adult siblings who have just learned that their father (Jeffery Tambor) is trans. As each of the siblings begin to accept this major life-change, they also have to accept how it will change the family dynamic. Faced with the reality that their family is full of secrets, both the past and the future are quickly called into question. Despite the emotional ups and downs, Transparent manages to keep a sense of humour while bringing LGBTQ issues to the forefront. Meanwhile, the show itself becomes more daring with each season. At its core, though, this is a show about family, something to which everyone can relate.
Maintaining very high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, a steady critic consensus describes the show as sophisticated, entertaining, compelling. The season three finale aired in September, and the series holds an average rating of 7.9 on IMDB.
Whoever said politics were dirty, was right. Veep is a sitcom that centres on Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the fiction Vice-President of the U.S. It blends political satire, with raunchy humour to the effect of an amped up addition to the office-woes genre. This isn’t exactly The Office, nor Parks and Recreation – it’s something of a combination, dialled to 11. What remains impressive is the foundational concept that Selina once had a strong political presence, was a viable candidate for the presidency, and still finds herself unable to affect real change in office. The utter frustration of it all sets the tone for the entire series.
James Poniewozik of Time magazine praises the cast, all of whom are enjoyable characters, and although he suggests the show stumbles as treads the line between sitcom and satire, he is also quick to admit that it’s an entertaining series, worthy of viewership. Season 6 will premier this year, and it holds an average rating of 8.1 on IMDB.
10 The Americans
The Americans is a crime-drama set during the cold war, and is the story of two KGB agents living in the U.S. and posing as an American suburban couple. Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings (Kerri Russell and Matthew Rhys) are loyal agents who have devoted their entire lives to fighting against capitalist America; however, after many years undercover they are finally beginning to feel the heat of living double-lives. Especially since their children are getting older, and asking questions. Elizabeth struggles with the idea of raising children with the very values she is secretly fighting against, while Phillip struggles with the simple notion of how to be a good parent.
Drama, mystery, violence. The Americans has it all. Maureen Ryan of Variety writes: “It’s never had the ratings it deserves, but in pursuit of bigger numbers or a higher profile, executive producers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields never pandered or turned up the dials on the show’s more sensational aspects.” Season 5 will premier in March, and the series holds an average rating of 8.3 on IMDB.
9 The Young Pope
The Young Pope is a drama series that centres on Lenny Belardo (Jude Law), the fictional Pope Pius XIII, during his ascension as history’s first American Pope. The bold premise of the series is made more so by its thematic inclusion of media strategies executed by the college of cardinals, the young Pope’s modern sensibilities, and his attractiveness – all highlighted in the show’s blatant use of LMFAO’s hit, Sexy and I Know It. The new Pope stubbornly resists the traditional, and relies first and foremost his chief advisor Sister Mary, he begins his reign as an all-new flavour of Catholic leadership.
Although HBO claims its depiction of the Catholic church is “not wildly inaccurate”, it does openly admit that it is taking advantage of creative license. Rolling Stone magazine excitedly points out the cleverness of the show, which plays on the sexualization of Catholic iconography with pop-confection and familiar music cues. Season 2 is currently in production, and the series holds an average rating of 8.5 on IMDB.
8 Sneaky Pete
Sneaky Pete is an Amazon original crime-drama series centered on Marius (Giovanni Ribisi), who, upon being released from prison, assumes the identity of his cellmate hoping to hide from gangsters to whom he owes money. Taking on Pete’s identity comes with its own challenges though; namely, integrating into his family made up of a varied cast of unique characters. Anticipation is heightened when we learn the family business is one of bail bonds – his hideaway could easily become his downfall. Insert cousin who is a cop, and suddenly, the show has a layered approach to character dynamics.
Indiewire praises the show for not falling into the typical cable-network trap of overused and predictable themes. Instead, its originality makes it a “fun binge” with a bright future. The season one finale aired this month, and the series holds an average rating of 8.5 on IMDB.
No best of TV list is complete without a violent-yet-romanticized period piece – Vikings is just that. The historical-drama series is centred on the legendary Norse hero, Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel). We follow Ragnar as he rises to God-like status as a result of his bloody and successful raids on England. Our complicated nostalgia for more brutal times is perhaps most apparent in this History channel series, led by show-runner Michael Hirst who previously brought us The Tudors.
A review by The Guardian warns newcomers to the show not to dismiss it as Game of Thrones-lite, applauding its intensity and historical relevance. The show is not just about the violence, it’s about the lifestyle – the cultural and spiritual beliefs of the Norse. And to be clear, there is no sorcery, and no dragons. Vikings has been renewed for a fifth season, and holds an average rating of 8.6 on IMDB.
Golden Globe nominee Atlanta is a comedy series that explores the reality for black men in – you guessed it – Atlanta. Through the dynamic between Earn (Donald Glover) and his over-night success of a cousin Paper Boi (Bryan Tyree Henry), the show explores themes such as race, music, modern media, police brutality, violence, and sexuality. Of course, having such an array of intense and realistic daily issues addressed in a comedy can lead to uneven shifts in the tone, and yet these feel purposeful and expertly executed.
Earn’s displeasure with both his own life, and the state of the world are reflective of show creator Donald Glover’s own ability to observe, consider, and discuss. Cinemablend calls Atlanta “legal proof that Glover can do no wrong” and praises Glover’s ability to create such a poignant “glimpse into the lives of black people in Atlanta.” The FX series has been renewed for a second season and will likely continue to turn heads. It currently holds an 8.6 average rating on IMDB.
5 Mr. Robot
The overwhelming popularity of superheroes is proof enough that the public loves a good vigilante. Mr. Robot capitalizes on this with a new kind of hero, one for the new-age, and vigilante hacking is his unique brand of justice. Grounded in reality, Eliott (Rami Malek) does not have any supernatural abilities – but he is a computer genius, which might count. So, who is the Supervillain? Corporate America. When Elliot is recruited by an underground hacker organization, his life’s mission becomes taking down The Man.
The cyber-revolution premise of this Golden Globe nominated series has been described by The Telegraph as “The Matrix meets Fight Club meets Robin Hood.” The fast-paced thriller is not only thematically modern, but cinematically too. Stylistic choices like breaking the fourth wall puts it ahead of the game for bringing something new to the table. Season 3 will air this year, and the series holds an average rating of 8.7 on IMDB.
4 It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
12 seasons and still running strong, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is perhaps the single most subversive, daring, and raunchy comedy on television today. With jaw-droppingly bold humour akin to South Park, this live-action series never shies away from an opportunity to shock. The characters display utterly repulsive behaviour, and yet, the show’s attraction is its ability to write unapologetically bad people.
Every unethical thought or moment of selfishness any viewer may have once momentarily experienced is put on display – loud and proud. However, the show does so without ever condoning such behaviours, but rather ridiculing the absurdity of a person who might not recognize their own awfulness. It’s a comedy, but it’s also a cautionary tale that reminds us to think before we speak or act. Rotten Tomatoes rightfully describes the show’s characters as Seinfeld characters on steroids, “clowning their way through story lines that 'Seinfeld' writers wouldn't have touched.” The FX series holds an 8.8 average rating on IMDB.
3 This is Us
Still in its infancy, This is Us is a drama series that follows a group of people, who are connected in unexpected ways. It relies on fragmented and non-linear storytelling to draw the viewer into a multitude of stories, building anticipation for a climax that will bring it all together. In the meantime, the writing is manipulative in its approach to elicit tears, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Reminiscent of Parenthood, This is Us is all about real people, real life, and all the unhappy goodness that comes with that.
An initial review by The New York Times noted that the show is a nice change of pace from all of the superhero, sci-fi, and courtroom programs currently dominating network TV. Though it immediately threatened to teeter on too sappy, the program has been able to hold its own, even being nominated for a Golden Globe. Season 1 is currently airing, with an average rating of 8.9 on IMDB.
We are arguably in a golden age of sci-fi dystopia, but while most TV shows and film studios are busy adapting young adult novels, Westworld is taking on a whole new approach. The dark and disparaging world of Westworld is populated exclusively by adults, and its themes are a reminder of that. Set in a presumable future, the show conceives of an amusement park wherein guests can pay to enter a world that resembles the wild west, and condones all of the disgusting and violent behaviour associated with that. Hosts (robots designed as part of the imaginary world) look and act incredibly human, and guests can do with them as they please. Unfortunately, this most often includes rape and murder.
As Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair points out, the question quickly becomes, is it ok to abuse a robot, even if the robot thinks it is a human? Matters are further complicated when the robots begin to retain memories of the atrocities being committed to them. This is very dark and very adult sci fi series that is all about the most difficult questions of humanity, morality, and life. Season 2 is upcoming, and the series holds an average rating of 9.1 on IMDB.
1 Game of Thrones
It’s no well-kept secret that Game of Thrones is made of all the stuff for which we turn our televisions on. Set in an alternative past that involves magic and dragons, GoT relies on an extensive cast of characters all vying for power and survival. Though at times the text becomes convoluted as a result of having so many storylines, a striking benefit is that there is something – or, more aptly, someone – for everyone. Not to mention, the ever-appealing over-the-top sensationalism of sex and violence.
Criticisms of the series have included: violence against women, gratuitous female nudity, and problematic images of race and slavery. Heated debates can be made for either side of these arguments, but the point is, viewers keep coming back. GoT holds records for both Most Emmy Awards Won by a TV Series in a Season, and Most Pirated TV Show (for four consecutive years). Fans are anxiously awaiting season 7, and it holds a 9.5 average rating on IMDB. Ultimately, what this tells us is the sustainable popularity of GoT is steadfast – even without Netflix support.
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