Many a pair of knickers were in a twist last month, when contract issues threatened to remove the bulk of BBC titles from the Netflix library. Thankfully, an 11th hour renewal deal saved the day, thus ensuring the sun would not set on our favorite programs from across the pond.
What follows are the best offerings available on the streaming service, an assortment of period dramas, murder mysteries, broad comedies and a few of Britain’s most beloved exports. Note that the number of seasons—or series, in telly speak—listed for each title reflects what is on Netflix now, and not necessarily the show’s complete run.
(And sorry, fans of Black Adder, Fawlty Towers, MI-5 and Red Dwarf—those series were dropped on February 1.)
20. The IT Crowd
Chris O’Dowd (St. Vincent
, the adorable Hulu series Moone Boy
) stars in this silly sitcom that focuses on a daft trio of tech-support staffers at a large corporation. Dowd’s schlubby slacker and Richard Ayoade’s buttoned-up computer genius are a droll odd couple whose typically uneventful business hours—“Have you tried turning it off and on again?” is a common troubleshoot—are upended by their new coworker (Katherine Parkinson). Marked by decidedly British pacing (you could drive a Mack truck through some of the comic beats here) the essentially one-note joke lasts a lot longer than it should, thanks to its game cast and all-in approach to utter absurdity. The IT Crowd
is a much broader, less refined version of The Office
(we’ll get to that in a bit).
19. Classic Doctor Who
It’s rather mind-boggling to consider that the TARDIS was first operational a half century ago, but 52 years and 12 actors later, the good Doctor keeps on doing his signature time warp. Netflix is made for the kind of binge-watching needed to catch up on the sci-fi series’ rich history, from William Hartnell’s original Time Lord through Paul McGann’s eighth incarnation, and all the Daleks and Cybermen in between. The show’s prolific first run (through 1996) is a time capsule in more ways than one—the productions of evolving, often laughable quality, a cameo performance by the Beatles and, of course, that iconic police box. Before dialing up the 2005 revival (see No. 6)—or its spinoff, Torchwood
(also available on Netflix), see where this cult universe began.
Set in the dodgy Five Points neighborhood of 1860s New York City, this stylishly made series is really a western to the saloon born—so it’s not too shocking to learn that Copper
is in fact a BBC America
undertaking. The network’s first original scripted series is produced by Homicide: Life on the Street
’s Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, to boot. Tom Weston-Jones (MI-5
) is magnetic as Detective Tom Corcoran, an Irish cop doing his best to keep his moral compass true north in the wake of his daughter’s murder, his wife’s disappearance, and a bloody post-Civil War struggle of class, race and wealth. A promising crime drama of equal grit and polish, with fine performances featuring Franka Potente (Run Lola Run
) as the local madam and Corky’s lady friend, Copper
was canceled after two seasons.
17. Agatha Christie’s Poirot
A tour of the BBC would be incomplete without some Agatha Christie. Fortunately for us, this is an ace adaptation, helmed by David Suchet’s masterful performance. As the Belgian super sleuth, Suchet—whose waxed ‘stache and effete affectations Johnny Depp seems to have co-opted in the current Mortdecai
—exudes effortless elegance and dry humor amid the mysteries, each Christie story played out during the course of an episode. There’s something to be said for a complete, stand-alone tale, yet viewed collectively, Suchet’s thorough ownership of the dapper detective—all 25 years of it—is all the more impressive, so immersed is he in Christie’s world. His Poirot is a comprehensive character study, and a terrifically fun one at that. (Check out the 2013 documentary Being Poirot
for more about the actor’s career-defining role.)
16. A Young Doctor’s Notebook and Other Stories
Daniel Radcliffe portrays an out-of-his-league physician in this gory, darkly funny compendium adapted from the autobiographical short stories of writer Mikhail Bulgakov. Fresh off the boat, Radcliffe’s nameless character arrives in a small Russian village around the time of the Revolution, bright-eyed and bloody clueless. Reminding him of this reality is his older self, played by Jon Hamm as his now morphine-addled (read: questionable) conscience and guide. “So what if you’ve never done anything like this before; don’t forget, you have great grades!” Hamm’s character half taunts, half encourages his younger self. Radcliffe nails a gobsmacked mix of naiveté and hyper-eager anxiety; he wants to save the world, “one peasant at a time,” but bristles at the dirty work. The series revels in the grosser details of the human anatomy and its myriad functions, but damned if Hamm—his deadpan wit on prime display here—and Radcliffe don’t make it all rather endearing.
15. Foyle’s War
A poignant look at the various effects of war on the home front, this WWII-set drama is elevated by Michael Kitchen’s (GoldenEye
, Out of Africa
) quiet, nuanced performance as a wary lawman on the southern coast of England. As the series opens, Detective Chief Superintendent Foyle wants a transfer—the crime rate is half the standard, and he’s tired of pencil pushing and traffic policing. Surely he can make himself of more service at a military post. Foyle’s superior is quick to note, however, there will be consequences for training half the country to kill. Way to bring it home, boss. The murders stack up, and so Foyle does his investigative duty while anti-German—not just Nazi—sentiments mount locally. Over the course of the series, creator-writer Anthony Horowitz (Poirot
, Midsomer Murders
) excels in the moral grey areas of the battlefields abroad and at home—and the mysteries therein that cannot be solved.
14. The Inbetweeners
The horny adolescent hijinks of American Pie
come to mind with this randy coming-of-age sitcom, right down to Jason Biggs’ brother-from-another, Simon Bird. As earnest but hapless nerd Will, Bird narrates his way through his three schoolmates’ efforts to get booze, get girls and get into bars so they can get girls. A sophomoric premise, sure, but The Inbetweeners
is perfectly cast, sharply written and smartly edited—Entourage
is far more juvenile. Along with Will’s grounding voiceovers, the series benefits from Freaks and Geeks
-ish charm and sincere, if at times begrudging, friendships that balance out the nonstop sexual shenanigans. Outsiders, Inbetweeners
or just plain wankers, this entourage is nothing if not watchable.
13. The Bletchley Circle: Cracking the Killer’s Code
Murder mysteries and the BBC go together like tea and crumpets (see also: Ripper Street
, George Gently
, this list). What sets this drama apart are the four women at the center of the puzzle, a quartet of former code breakers from the same WWII think tank as that in The Imitation Game
(granted, these characters are fictional). Susan, Lucy, Millie and Jean reunite a decade later, in 1952, to track a serial killer. As they decipher the clues and patterns, the ladies must juggle their sleuthing efforts with their newly civilian lives—to avoid suspicion, de facto leader Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin) and co. tell their husbands they’re in a book club. Early women’s lib-meets-whodunit in this intriguing ensemble drama, which contrasts the murder investigations with post-war gender roles.
12. The Paradise
Describing The Paradise
as Downton Abbey
in a department store might be a shade oversimplifying, but that’s often what this veddy proper, occasionally beguiling melodrama about the rich and the help calls to mind. And since the similarly themed, Jeremy Piven-starring PBS show Mr. Selfridge
isn’t available on Netflix, this story of a small-town girl who moves to London for a coveted retail job is definitely worth a look. There’s even a Piven lookalike (Emun Elliott) as the titular store’s too-suave owner. At its center is young Denise (Joanna Vanderham), The Paradise’s new shop girl and the eyes to the many dramas—a shocking discovery in ladies wear!—behind the immaculately merchandised scenes. Gorgeous to look at and with a sumptuous score to match, the series is Victorian-era consumer porn.
11. Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond
The veracity of this four-part miniseries is admittedly dubious, but it sure makes for an enjoyable origin story. Ian Fleming stars as a spoiled playboy who sulks in the shadow of his favored brother—that is, when he’s not hopping beds and downing martinis. With World War II on the horizon, he’s recruited by British Naval Intelligence, where he quickly displays a knack for espionage and its glamorous trappings. Dominic Cooper is spot-on as the man who created 007, who’s posited here as a blatant remaking of the profoundly insecure author. It’s impossible to not draw parallels between several pivotal figures in Fleming’s life and his fictional characters. His affair with his future wife (Sherlock
’s Lara Pulver) is sexy and taut, as is the brisk pacing and lush production design. A serious biopic, this is most certainly not—there are keen nods to Fleming’s unreliability as his own storyteller. Still, for the journey from reckless man-child with mommy issues to unflappable super spy, Fleming
is a slick, if familiar, ride.
10. Peaky Blinders
Cillian Murphy and Sam Neill star in this rock ’n‘ roll gangster drama—music from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, PJ Harvey and the White Stripes adds a modern touch to the period proceedings—set in 1919 in the West Midlands industrial city of Birmingham. Murphy is a soldier-turned-ambitious kingpin of the Shelby crime family. Neill is the equally ruthless inspector out to dismantle his organization, who enlists a lovely mole (Annabelle Wallis, also of Fleming
) to aid his campaign. (Tom Hardy joins the cast in the second season.) As the steely, azure-eyed Tommy Shelby, Murphy brings his trademark quiet intensity to a multidimensional antihero, one of several thoughtful characterizations in the Shelby clan. As for the gang’s/ show’s namesake, picture razor blades sewn into the brim of its wearers’ caps and you’ll get the head-butting, eye-gouging extent of Peaky Blinders
9. The House of Cards Trilogy
If you think Kevin Spacey’s machinating Frank Underwood is a smooth-as-molasses sumbitch, the late Ian Richardson’s Francis Urquhart is a Machiavellian monster on a whole other level. Not that the stateside adaptation of this lauded 1990 series veers all that much from its British blueprint, and Andrew Davies’ screenplays. But without Spacey’s snake-oil southern drawl and signature physicality, the U.K. original gets real dark, real fast. As the jilted Conservative Party whip in spiteful pursuit of the prime minister post, Anderson minces neither words nor pleasantries, his glassy stare refusing to register the slightest of scruples. He’s Macbeth in an After-Thatcher political realm—emotionless, depraved and on occasion delighted in his cunning superiority. Different but every bit as outstanding—some would argue more so—than its American successor, The House of Cards Trilogy
(that’s three books by Michael Dobbs, three seasons, four episodes each) is calculating satire in the best possible way.
8. The Office
Another title that begs comparison, The Office
has a very loyal, very vocal camp who swear by the Ricky Gervais-Stephen Merchant original. And while some feel the opposite, still others chalk it up to a “potato-potahto” situation, there’s no denying the brilliance of the initial sitcom, which ran just two seasons. Influential in its single-camera, mockumentary staging, The Office
was deeply awkward, slyly self-aware and stultifyingly mordant in its petty day-to-day operations. American Office
writer-star B.J. Novak revealed that they deliberately made Steve Carrell’s boss more likable than Gervais’ unfailingly inappropriate dipshit, David Brent. That’s the unique appeal of its British predecessor; David and his staff of paper peddlers are far sadder, more humdrum and much drier. If that’s your tepid cup of tea, the U.K. program is funnier, too.
Kenneth Branagh is marvelous in this moody procedural based on the novels of Henning Mankell, and the original Swedish film adaptations (the second and third series of which are also available for streaming on Netflix). A police officer on southern Sweden’s picturesque coast, Branagh’s Kurt Wallander must solve a run of freakish crimes. He’s also up to his grizzled scruff in the throes of an existential tailspin, which makes, say, the image of a 15-year-old girl seeing him, panicking and setting herself on fire an even tougher trauma to process. Branagh gives an aptly measured, introspective performance—he’s a man who observes everything, but can’t make sense of anything anymore, the very least of which is himself. Wallander
is a study in visual contrasts: saturated color schemes, dramatic plays of shadows and light, extreme changes in focus. It’s an artful complement to the detective’s largely internal struggle, which also includes issues with his adult daughter and Alzheimer’s-afflicted dad (David Warner, exceptional as ever).
6. Doctor Who
A new generation of Whovians got TARDIS-envy when the cult sci-fi series was rebooted in 2005. Contemporary in its vibrant, almost retro comic-book production, interpersonal relationships (Welcome to the future, sexual tension!) and winks to its standing in pop culture history, the new Who
is a sincere delight. Casting is uniformly on point; each doctor holds a devoted fan base, be it Christopher Eccleston (the Ninth), David Tennant (the Tenth), or Matt Smith (the Eleventh)—and the Thirteenth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, a Time Lord for a little more than a year now, has fast gained his own disciples. Unabashedly cheesy, cheeky and more suspenseful than haters would like to admit, Doctor Who
remains sheer fun. There’s a reason he’s stuck around for so long—and it’s not just because of that time-traveling police box.
5. Call the Midwife
“Midwifery is the very stuff of life,” proves this incredibly moving, often provocative series, based on the memoirs of British nurse Jennifer Worth. Set in 1950s London—read: pre-choice, not pro-choice—Call the Midwife
focuses on the nurses and nuns who work at a convent in the East End. Vanessa Redgrave narrates the experiences of Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine), a privileged young woman who must quickly adapt to life in an impoverished district, where medical resources are precious and newborns are plentiful. Predictably meticulous in period detail, the ensemble drama brims with joy and compassion while maintaining a bracingly unromantic grip on pregnancy and parenthood. Disease, labor complications and tragedies like miscarriage, stillbirth and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome are common—along with domestic violence, rape and unwanted pregnancy—yet the show warms as many hearts as it breaks. Call it feminist, call it what you will, Call the Midwife
is brave television.
Though stateside audiences may have last seen David Tennant in this season’s Fox show Gracepoint
, the former Doctor Who actually starred in the original British production, a riveting crime drama that focuses on the murder of a young boy. Tennant is detective Alec Hardy, who with his partner Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman here, Breaking Bad
’s Anna Gunn in the U.S. remake) must infiltrate a close-knit community on Britain’s Jurassic Coast. Of course, everybody in town has a secret, and no one takes kindly to the mounting media attention. As Hardy and Miller continue their investigation, the mystery unfolds in a slow, deceptively languid fashion, lingering on the effects of the child’s death upon the town’s residents. Creator-writer Chris Chibnall (another Doctor Who
vet) is a master of atmosphere (a haunting, piano-driven score, the glistening seaside vistas)—by taking his time with the details, he keeps the whodunit at a slow boil that rewards patient viewers.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary sleuth gets a modern makeover in the series that launched a thousand memes. Benedict Cumberbatch, in his breakout role, solves crimes alongside his trusted sidekick, Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman, the U.K. Office
, the Hobbit
movies). Not unlike CBS’ present-day Holmes-Watson drama Elementary
, the Sherlock
team wisely play it straight—no winks, no questions, no classic literature context. They’re a duo from the pages of history who just so happen to exist in the 21st century. Whip-smart writing and pacing to match, coupled with a crafty, inventive visual approach—clues are revealed with onscreen text—cast Sherlock as an Information Age rock star. Then there’s the crackling chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman, pitch-perfect in their respective roles. Sophisticated and straight-up hip, Sherlock
is addictive viewing.
Idris Elba (The Wire
) kicks ass and pays the consequences as an emotionally damaged police officer who can’t leave his work at the office. “You care about the dead more than the living,” John Luther’s estranged wife accuses him. She’s right—the detective chief inspector is consumed by his cases, and a months-long suspension seems to have done little good for his mental health. Luther is nothing short of mesmerizing, slicing through suspects with the angry efficiency of a man on the brink. His already tenuous grasp on civility and basic sanity is tested further by the mind games of a woman (The Affair
’s Ruth Wilson, seductive and threatening) he knows to have killed her own parents. Psychological sparring aside, this is Elba’s show, so white-hot is Luther in his rage and determination to overcome it. “Do you not worry you’re on the devil’s side without even knowing it?” wonders the tormented cop. Luther’s dread is palpable—and contagious.
1. The Fall
Let it be known that before he was Christian Grey, Jamie Dornan proved his acting chops and charisma as a disturbingly undisturbable murderer in this superb psychological thriller. Dornan’s mild-mannered husband, father and grief counselor (!) is among the most terrifying onscreen serial killers in recent memory. Paul Spector is a stalker, as exacting and methodical as his eventual pursuer. Enter Gillian Anderson’s Stella Gibson, a British detective superintendent called to Belfast to look into a spate of gruesome murders. As the cat-and-mouse game intensifies, Anderson’s characterization is its own triumph: analytical, uncompromising, reserved, but brazenly sexual on her own terms, entirely unfazed by the politicking and dick-swinging of her male colleagues. That we know the identity of the killer from the show’s first frames, and yet can’t take our eyes off the screen is a testament to the stealth creep with which The Fall
operates. Dornan’s star may blow up this Valentine’s weekend as the S&M-loving billionaire, but this performance will make your blood run cold.
Amanda Schurr is Assistant Movies Editor at Paste and a Pac NW-based culture writer. You can follow her on Twitter.