In a year of few silver linings, we’re happy to say that in 2020, Netflix has been there with a veritable smorgasbord of new original series and films to keep us entertained at a time when we’ve never needed it more.
Since January, the streaming giant has given us A-list documentaries, cringe-heavy teen dramas and one of the most bizarre reality TV concepts we think we’ve ever heard of – and that’s without even delving into the decapitated alpaca and the cartoon horse contemplating his existence.
With a few months left of 2020, there are still a few must-watch picks to come, including the much-awaited fourth series of The Crown, Ryan Murphy’s latest Ratched and Katherine Ryan’s debut sitcom The Duchess, which could well be making our list in the not-too-distant future.
For now, though, here are our top 10 favourites from Netflix’s original offerings so far this year...
10. The Stranger
Released: 30 January
Tell us about it: Netflix first branched out into ITV-esque mystery dramas in 2018 with Safe, but it’s that show’s successor The Stranger that really made waves upon its release this year.
Full of twists and turns, the crime thriller features a cast including Siobhan Finneran, Richard Armitage and Jennifer Saunders (in the Ab Fab star’s first “dramatic” role) and storylines involving decapitated alpacas, faked pregnancies and teenage drug misuse. And that’s literally just episode one.
The whole thing is over-the-top and verges on silly, particularly towards the end of the 10 episodes, but if borderline-ridiculous British dramas packed with plot twists that come so thick and fast they make your head spin are your thing, then The Stranger is definitely worth a stream.
Best time to watch: If you need a new drama to watch that’s equal parts British grit and extreme camp.
9. Circus Of Books
Released: 22 April
Tell us about it: Come for the scandal, stay for the actually-quite-moving story. Circus Of Books tells the unusual tale of the Masons, a fairly regular nondescript elderly couple who ended up becoming, in their own words, “probably the biggest distributor of hardcore gay films in the United States”.
The documentary – helmed lovingly by their daughter – documents how, when down on their luck, they ended up acquiring the titular book and pornography shop, and helping it become an institution for gay men in West Hollywood in the 1980s.
It’s an unbelievable story, but one that’s full of more heart than you might expect, to the point we actually found ourselves blubbing during those poignant final moments.
Best time to watch: When you need some cheering up, maybe.
8. Love Is Blind
Released: 13 February
Tell us about it: We still can’t quite believe this show even happened, in all honesty. One of Netflix’s most ambitious originals to date, Love Is Blind saw them venture into the world of dating shows, with a group of singles meeting through “pods”, without actually being able to see one another.
Kind of a The-Circle-meets-Love-Island situation, right?
Well... not quite.
You see, the contestants are only allowed to meet one another once they become engaged, which happens at an alarmingly fast rate. From there, they have a few weeks to spend time together one-on-one, before walking down the aisle. Once hitched, they then have to work out if they want to spend the rest of their lives with someone they’ve only just met.
Totally deranged yet completely addictive, Love Is Blind is impossible to look away from, and makes for compulsive viewing as the couples plan their big days, meet each other’s families and, of course, discover more about each other as the days rolled on.
Best time to watch: When you’ve got a hankering for some trashy TV that you just can’t ignore anymore.
7. Selling Sunset
Released: 22 May (season two) and 7 August (season three)
Tell us about it: Listen, we’ve been hooked on Selling Sunset since the first season arrived in 2019 with little fanfare, so we’re glad that 2020 has been the year the rest of the world finally caught up.
This year gifted us not one but two new series of the show that mixes high drama with sun-drenched property porn in perfect measure.
At just eight episodes long, each season is the perfect length for binging, and once it’s all over the chances are you’ll want to put it straight back to the beginning, to look around all those insane houses, if nothing else.
Best time to watch: When the sight of the same four walls is really starting to get you down.
6. RuPaul’s Drag Race
Released: 29 February, with new episodes every week
Tell us about it: After of the strongest launch episodes in recent memory, kicking things off with both a fashion and music challenge, Drag Race hit a bit of a bump in the road, with scandal surrounding contestant Sherry Pie and arguments between the queens that made some viewers a little uncomfortable.
Still, while some opined that this could have derailed the entire series, as the weeks rolled on season 12 ended up being our favourite run of Drag Race in recent memory.
True, Snatch Game might not have been one for the Drag Race herstory books, but the show more than made up for it with the iconic Madonna: The Unauthorised Rusical group number and the hilarious political debate challenge.
And it says a lot that a winner as strong and deserving as Jaida Essence Hall had some stiff competition right until that very last lip sync... even if we’ll never quite get over RuPaul’s choice to wear a facekini in the finale.
Best time to watch: When you’re in need of some laughs, some surprises and, of course, some fabulousness.
Released: 1 May
Tell us about it: Hollywood marked TV super-producer Ryan Murphy’s first official collaboration with Netflix after signing a multi-million-dollar deal with them in 2019. And with this miniseries, he made sure his arrival was a big one.
Arriving at a time when lockdown fatigue was really starting to sink in, Hollywood provided some much-needed escapism, not just throwing it back to those gorgeous and glamorous days of old Hollywood, but correcting some of the wrongs that were made back in the day, too.
In this reimagining of cinema history, fictional characters rub shoulders with real-life figures from the film industry, in what turns out to be a rose-tinted version of “what could have been”, complete with an out Rock Hudson walking the red carpet with his boyfriend and a Black woman taking home Best Actress at the Oscars in the 1940s.
It was anything but subtle and at times verged on cheesy, but as we wrote at the time: “We can’t help but feel that a show as lavish, sunshine-soaked and expensive-looking as Hollywood has come along at just the right time.”
Best time to watch: When you’ve worked your way through all of Ryan Murphy’s other shows on Netflix.
4. Tiger King
Released: 20 March
Tell us about it: Undoubtedly the wildest thing to debut on Netflix in 2020, the seven-part documentary Tiger King centres on the weird and wonderful world of big cat conservation.
The subtitle “Murder, Mayhem and Madness” sums things up pretty succinctly, with polygamy, drugs, murder-for-hire plots and, of course, tigers forming a key part of the action.
Netflix has been killing it with their factual shows in 2020, but none as much as Tiger King has had us watching open-mouthed in disbelief, leaving us with the big question: “Did we really just watch that?”
Best time to watch: When you are ready (and we mean ready) for a genuinely wild and unpredictable ride.
3. Bojack Horseman
Released: 31 January
Tell us about it: We were a little bit gutted when it was announced that Netflix was pulling the plug on Bojack Horseman at the end of its sixth series, but at the very least, we knew that if the show was going to give us one final run, it wasn’t going to be one we’d forget in a hurry.
The first batch of episodes debuted towards the end of 2019, while the final eight arrived on 31 January. Naturally, we’d devoured the lot by 2 February.
During its six years on Netflix, Bojack Horseman had taken us to some pretty dark places, but while the first half of its final series suggested there may be redemption for the titular character, the second half truly pulled the rug from under us.
While the whole thing is worthy of praise, we have to single out the penultimate episode, The View From Halfway Down, for being particularly strong. Taking place entirely in Bojack’s imagination, he is reunited with dead figures from his past, complete with a deeply unsettling musical reprise, some stunning animation and a truly chilling poetry reading from Will Arnett.
It has to be said, we still think Bojack had a lot of life left in it, but if it had to go out in the way it did, we applaud the way it was done.
Best time to watch: When you’re feeling in a strong frame of mind and are somewhere comfortable. This final series is dark and we do not recommend if you’re already feeling a bit fragile.
2. Sex Education
Released: 17 January
Tell us about it: We loved the first series of Sex Education, but we loooved the second series, which built on everything that made the initial run so popular, and added a few extra bits too.
Ncuti Gatwa is still on fine form as Eric, with Otis’ right-hand man caught in a love triangle for most of the series, while Maeve’s back story is explored further with the introduction of more of Emma Mackey’s character’s family.
And while sex has always taken more of a back seat in the hit teen drama than its name would suggest, we still have to hand it to the Sex Education team for the way they handled taboo issues and lesser-known sexual themes in season two, including everything from sexual assault and internalised homophobia to asexuality and anal douching.
All in all, another great season, and we can’t wait to see what mortifying adventures they take Otis on next year.
Best time to watch: Any time, really, but if you needed a bit of cheering up, this would probably do the job.
Released: 8 January
Tell us about it: We never anticipated that a six-part documentary about college cheerleading would be our top pick of 2020, but that was before we watched Cheer.
Netflix has proved and time and time again that they’re not afraid to explore unusual areas when it comes to their documentaries, 2019′s Don’t Fuck With Cats, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and, of course, the aforementioned Tiger King being three great examples).
In Cheer, they lift the lid on a world few of us knew even the first thing about: the ultra-competitive world of college cheerleading - and the weird and wonderful characters who inhabit it as they strive to try and “make mat”.
Among our favourites are the fabulous La’Darius, underdog tumbler Lexi, always “on” Jerry and, of course, the perfectionist coach Monica.
Best time to watch: When you feel like becoming totally engrossed in something completely new to you.