House of Cards (2013)
I’ll just go ahead and get the obvious choice out of the way. If you haven’t watched, or even heard of, House of Cards by now then I’ve found your new priority. I was always envious of people older than me who experienced The Sopranos as it aired on HBO. Being the youngin' that I am, I had to watch the show on DVD, which certainly didn’t detract from how awesome it was, but there is no denying the shockwave the late James Gandolfini’s anti-hero sent through households when it originally aired. Luckily, the millennial generation has found an onscreen antihero of their own, Democratic Congressman Francis J. Underwood. Kevin Spacy plays Francis (he prefers Frank), a big gun on Capitol Hill who is owed more favors than most. After being snubbed from a position in the President’s cabinet, Francis decides to take matters into his own hands.
The dialogue is some of the best you’ll hear, the acting is phenomenal, and I really can’t think of a character as vicious as Underwood. House of Cards is also more important than you might realize. As a Netflix Original Series, it's basically the poster child for the future of television as we know it. Imagine a world where you can watch a show on your own time, where you aren’t held by the restraints of network air times. The show just announced that its second season will air in mid-Feburary, so there's plenty of time to catch up.
The League (2009-Present)
This show is the little engine that could. Made on a budget not much higher than zero dollars, The League is word-for-word one of the funniest semi-scripted comedies out there. The set-up is this: a bunch of guys, complacent in their semi-middle-agedness, spend their time shooting the shit and playing in a fantasy football league. This show was talking about bro-code before bro-code was even a thing. It really works because the guys seem like dudes that you or I probably know, thanks in part to none of them being high-profile actors. In fact, most of these guys—Nick Kroll, Jon Lajoie, and Paul Scheer—moonlight as stand-up comics. You won’t get anything profound out of The League, but if you’re looking for a quality comedy this is it.
The Fall (2013)
If Netflix is revolutionizing television as we know it, than BBC is the content producer that's getting on board. And, thus far, they’ve done a pretty good job. There are quite a few BBC shows now on Netflix Streaming, most of which are worth watching—but The Fall stands above the rest. Detective Stella Gibson is called in to investigate a string of haneious murders that take place in Belfast. The show gives equal airtime to the police’s investigation of the murders and a disturbing insight into the psyche of the killer himself. It differs from many police procedurals in that there is no quick resolution. The first season is made up of five 60-minute episodes, each one spent investigating that same string of murderers and following the same characters. Don’t think Law & Order or CSI. This is an in-depth character study of the motivations behind murderers and those who wish to stop them.
For some, this show is an acquired taste. But, like most acquired tastes, it's that much more enjoyable when you become a connoisseur of the product. Archer is created by the Adult Swim masterminds behind Sealab 2012 and Frisky Dingo, and it follows a team of spies working for the ISIS Agency in New York. The time period is supposed to be somewhere around the 1960s but this given circumstance is broken many times for comedy’s sake. Given that the show is a cartoon, Archer is very much a “talkie” show. The humor is often subtle, but can make your sides hurt if you catch on. If you are looking for something off-beat, vulgar, and freakin’ hilarious, Archer is the show for you.
The West Wing (1999-2006)
“What? That show my dad used to watch when I was in middle school?” You’re goddamn right. The West Wing is easily one of my favorite TV shows of all-time, and I’ve seen a lot of shows. The story follows the day-to-day duties of the White House senior staff and is set in a fictional world where Martin Sheen is Commander in Chief. This is another show that thrives on its dialogue. Some like to criticize writer Aaron Sorkin for his character’s discussions being “unrealistic.” I think it's sheer brilliance. The West Wing can get a little preachy at times, but it's a great example of well-intentioned people operating within the bounds of a system they know isn’t perfect.
Check out our other Netflix Instant picks here.