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17 Best Netflix Original Series 2021
At this point, your scroll through, across, up, and down Netflix is an evening staple after a long day. Here at Esquire, we usually know what’s coming out on the platform each week because this is our job, and still most nights witness us perusing through the best TV for longer than we’d like to admit. So we’ve compiled a list of the best bets on the platform from this calendar year—an abbreviated rundown that’ll keep you from getting arthritis in your remote-thumb. (It’s a thing.)
From true crime documentaries that’ll keep you up at night to new adaptations of classic films, Netflix is pumping out something for everyone. Maybe you’re here for some heavyweight comedies. Or perhaps you’re itching for a series about a deer boy who’s being hunted by people who have nothing better to do during a pandemic (this is not a documentary). These are the best of the original series that have been released so far.
Clickbait took Netflix by storm, and deservedly so. The thing about the death of Adrien Grenier (we will not be referring to him by his character name because he is, and always will be, Adrien Grenier first) is that it only gets more interesting as the show goes on. The mini series also starring Zoe Kazan and Betty Gabriel is unwieldy and erratic but damn if it doesn’t check that pulpy crime drama box. By the end of episode eight, you’ll be a full blown resident in Crazytown and for that, we offer both congratulations and our sympathies.
In Netflix’s college campus drama The Chair, Sandra Oh plays the newly appointed chair of the English department at a fictional Ivy League. As she struggles to modernize the English department amid budget cuts and academic culture wars, Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim has her own romance and family issues to contend with, too. One of Netflix’s best dramas in years, The Chair is a sharp, funny portrait of modern academia.
I Think You Should Leave
After his hot dog sketch-turned-meme went viral, Tim Robinson is back for for Season 2 of his instant classic sketch comedy series I Think You Should Leave. Hilarious and absurd, you’ll breeze through all six 15-minute episodes easily in one sitting. And yes, the hot dog is a returning motif.
The first French show to break into U.S. Netflix’s Top 10, Lupin is a thriller that follows suave gentleman burglar Assane Diop (Omar Sy) as he attempts to expose the corruption of an affluent Parisien philanthropist and in doing so, clear his late father’s good name. The good old-fashioned heist series is action-packed and suspenseful, but also smart and full of emotion. Seasons One and Two are streaming now.
Produced in part by Robert Downey Jr. and based on the work of the same name by Jeff Lemire, Sweet Tooth is a fantastical dive into the post-apocalyptic world where “The Sick” has taken just about everyone out and the children being born? Half-animal, half-human. The “hybrids” are killed off in a mass exodus, but a few remain. This story follows Gus, aka Sweet Tooth, as he tries to make it to a safe haven in Colorado.
High on the Hog
The four part docuseries from Netflix is some of the best food, nay, general TV content that’s come out in years. Food writer and host, Stephen Satterfield, paces the series perfectly as he traces the lineage of American gastronomy from West Africa to the United States. The most beautiful part is that he allows the people who know better than him to tell their own stories, opening up a whole global history all through the lens of food.
Sons of Sam
Not your standard Netflix true crime doc, Sons of Sam is rewriting history instead of retelling it. The doc is told with the help of the archives of journalist Maury Terry, who spent his life trying to convince the world that notorious New York serial killer David Berkowitz did not carry out the murders he pled guilty to alone. Instead, the docuseries presents Terry’s evidence to show that Berkowitz was part of a Satanic cult—while also positioning Terry as an obsessive unreliable narrator who spent his life going too far down the rabbit hole. It’s both a biography of Terry and a fascinating display of his life’s work, compelling and powerful enough to forever impact the way we remember the infamous Son of Sam case.
Shadow & Bone
The fantasy book series comes to life on Netflix in this new adaptation, which won’t disappoint its die-hard fans. The Grishaverse is mostly done justice in Shadow & Bone, which follows orphan mapmaker Alina Starkov as she discovers her powers—which create for her great allies and enemies alike—in war-torn Ravka. The series is perhaps slightly confusing to follow for non-book fans, but hey, isn’t that what fantasy worlds are all about? (Also, we can help with that.)
Last Chance U: Basketball
We’ve come to expect to shed a tear or two whenever a new season of Last Chance U lands on Netflix, and this season of Last Chance U: Basketball is no different. On the heels of cultural phenomenon Cheer, Last Chance U: Basketball follows the hopeful D1 athletes at East Los Angeles College. Touching, hilarious, and raw, the season, which features some of best personalities we’ve ever seen in the series, is not to be missed.
With drugging, robberies, and brutal murder, BBC/Netflix series The Serpent is not for the faint of heart. It’s an eight-part dramatic retelling of the terrifying real life crimes committed by Charles Sobhraj around Asia in the 1970s, as well as the story of the Dutch diplomat who worked to bring him down. What’s more chilling is that Sobhraj is still alive today, serving a life sentence in Nepal for one of the murders depicted in the series—but he has never been arrested or prosecuted in Thailand, where the bulk of his crimes occurred.
Murder Among the Mormons
Perhaps the niche world of rare Mormon document dealing does not immediately come to mind when you think of criminals, bombs, and murder. But Murder Among the Mormons, a new docuseries from filmmakers Tyler Measom and Jared Hess, is an unbelievable tale of crime and deception that shook the Latter-day Saints Church in 1985 Salt Lake City, and it will undoubtedly shock you, too.
Pretend It’s A City
In Pretend It’s A City, the viewer traverses and discovers New York City with the guidance of legendary writer and humorist Fran Lebowitz. In a series of conversations with Martin Scorsese, the documentary serves as both a roast and celebration of New York’s quirks, crannies, and foul smells with love and honesty.
Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer
This four-part docuseries chronicles the crimes and investigation timeline in the infamous Night Stalker case. Kidnapper and serial murderer Richard Ramirez terrorized Californians in the mid-eighties for nearly a year until his arrest, and this series, told primarily from the perspectives of the detectives who worked the case, highlights the long-winding and frustrating investigation, as well as the victims and survivors of the attacks.
Fate: The Winx Saga
Fate: The Winx Saga is Netflix’s new teen drama series inspired by the Nickelodeon animated series Winx Club. In it, fairies attend a magical boarding school where they learn to master their powers while balancing their friendships, love lives, and fighting monsters. You know, all the normal high school stuff. The cliffhanger at the end of the six episodes will certainly leave you awaiting a Season Two announcement.
The third season of Netflix’s fan favorite Cobra Kai, a martial arts comedy-drama based on the original Karate Kid films, hit the streamer this January. A smash-hit with fans of all ages, the wait until Season Four might be a while, so catch up on the first three seasons of high-stakes Karate school drama now.
Bling Empire is Netflix’s chaotic new reality show that follows a handful of ultra-wealthy Angelenos as they shop, bicker, and dine in style. The first American reality series helmed by an all Asian-American cast, the drama-filled series is both a window into Asian culture and a very welcome escape to a world of couture, private jets, and Gucci party favors at children’s birthday parties.
Lauren Kranc is an editorial assistant at Esquire, where she covers pop culture and television, with entirely too narrow of an expertise on Netflix dating shows.
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.
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