You’ve done Breaking Bad and House of Cards, obviously – you have watched those, haven’t you? – but those are just the beginning of the TV riches on Netflix. Delve beyond the big shows and you’ll find plenty of treasures that never hit big in the UK.
Silence your phone, get some snacks in and then prepare to be still sitting on the sofa, unwashed and barely dressed, about three months from now.
White Collar (Seasons 1-3)
This has a fantastic premise. Neil Caffrey (Matt Bomer) is a con artist who makes a deal with the FBI to help agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) catch people who commit the kind of crimes that landed Caffrey in jail. So, essentially, it’s a crime procedural in which one of the detectives is a criminal. A large part of what makes it work so well is that Caffrey’s con-artist skills mean you never know when he’s about to switch things round and just which side he’s working for.
Archer (Seasons 1-3)
Shows that riff on James Bond are nothing new, but Archer, which has the added distinction of being animated, does it much better than most. It’s a workplace comedy set in a spy agency, with Archer a dim secret agent who spends much of his time boozing, trying to get women into bed and bickering with his mother, who is also his boss. It’s bizarre and frequently very, very witty. Imagine if someone asked the characters of Arrested Development to deal in espionage.
Justified (Seasons 1-4)
Watching Justified is almost a litmus test of whether or not you really enjoy good television. It’s like when Breaking Bad was on and if you said you hadn’t actually seen it there was a certain type of person who’d sneer at you as if you’d just said, “I only watch Jeremy Kyle and cereal adverts”. Those people are awful; Justified is not. Timothy Olyphant is a deputy U.S. marshal who’s sent back to his home town, which is riddled with bad’uns, after an incident in which he may have unlawfully shot a man. Despite being set in modern times it has a bit of the feel of a brooding western, where nobody says more than necessary and crimes are simple and brutal rather than overly elaborate. Every season has a new, brilliant villain.
Chuck (Seasons 1-5)
Big in America, but never over here, Chuck is excellent. A young man (Zachary Levi) working in a dead-end job who, through a series of events that are easier to watch than to explain, he becomes a walking repository of government classified data, which means this unremarkable guy is thrown into a world of spies and grand plots. It runs with the potential of this set-up into areas you couldn’t possibly predict. One of the most enjoyable shows of the past decade.
Portlandia (Seasons 1-3)
A show about hipsters has become every bit as hipsterish as the people it sends up, in that being a Brit who watches it is a badge of cool. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein lead a cast in a sketch show set in Portland, Oregon, a town with great enthusiasm for all things organic, artisan and holistic. It lampoons a lot of people that are easy to make fun of – the holy-than-thou cyclist; musos who only like things until they’re mainstream; people who lovingly craft things nobody needs – but they do it affectionately and almost always hilariously.
Arne Dahl (Season 1)
Another high quality Scandinavian crime drama. Based on the novels by Arne Dahl (actual name Jan Arnald), this series isn’t as slick or clever as The Killing or The Bridge, but it’s still well above most British crime thrillers. In a mildly implausible but fruitful premise, a group of detectives are recruited from across Sweden in order to combine their talents to solve a series of murders. As much of the interest comes from them sussing out each other as it does from them deducing the killer.
Reaper (Seasons 1-2)
As a rule, if you sell your soul to the Devil you’re given some kind of incredible reward, for which you will pay with eternal damnation. On his 21st birthday, Sam (Bret Harrison) discovers that years ago his very ill dad promised his first child to Lucifer in return for restoring his health, a debt he never thought he’d have to pay as he didn’t intend to become a father. Unfortunately he did, so Sam gets all the punishment and none of the reward. He’s now sworn to help Old Nick collect souls that have escaped Hell. Reaper is a Buffy-ish comedy about a group of friends who can’t make their own lives work but are nevertheless entrusted with keeping all hell from breaking loose.
Trailer Park Boys (Seasons 1-7)
From Canada, land of few TV exports, Trailer Park Boys focuses on, as you’d imagine, a community living in a trailer park. It centres on a pair of childhood friends, Ricky and Julian, who concoct a constant stream of money-making schemes, which usually go completely wrong and land them in jail. The stand-out character, though, is Bubbles, a sensitive soul in bottle-thick glasses who lives alone with countless cats. Such is its popularity in Canada that it’s spawned three movies.
Spiral (Seasons 1-4)
Scandinavia isn’t the only place that can produce high quality drama in a language you don’t understand. Spiral begins with a body being found in a Parisian rubbish dump and as the circumstances of her death are investigated it becomes evident that the links between the dead girl and those ordering the investigation are closer than they should be. Spiral isn’t nearly as bleak as its Scandi counterparts. It’s aggressive, funny and terrifying, and it will help you brush up your French.
The Unit (Seasons 1-4)
Instead of just following the action-heavy part of the lives of a group of men in an elite Special Forces unit, this show also spends time with the wives they leave at home. So it’s a mixture of run-and-gun drama but also domestic drama. That’s a tricky balance to pull off – like trying to meld 24 with Desperate Housewives – and if The Unit doesn’t manage the weight over all its four seasons, it’s a show that’s genuinely unlike any other and when it’s on form it’s superb.