The streaming landscape is starting to shift dramatically, as studios continue to set up their own services and attempt to build their own subscriber bases. Disney+ and Apple TV+ both launched in the last few months, with WarnerMedia’s HBOMax and NBCUniversal’s Peacock set to join them in 2020.
The biggest impact of this is on Netflix, which has dominated streaming for the past few years. The company has been steadily building its own catalogue of original and exclusive content, but with studio rivals removing their movies and shows, Netflix is increasingly in need of its own must-watch titles to keep existing subscribers and gain new ones. At the start of the year, Variety reported that Netflix was planning to spend a colossal $15 billion on original content in 2019, up 35% from what it spent just two years earlier.
So while the future of streaming remains unpredictable, for now it’s great for viewers. Netflix’s deep pockets have resulted in an incredible year of original programming, from acclaimed movies and ambitious TV shows to fascinating documentaries and cutting-edge comedy specials. While the company isn’t afraid to cancel series that aren’t connecting with audiences, it is also able to take chances with shows that networks never would, and far outspend the traditional movies studios on films that don’t have the commercial appeal of a superhero movie or franchise sequel. So here’s our picks of the best Netflix exclusives of 2019–and once you’ve read that, check out this look at all the streaming services that made an impact this year, and GameSpot’s guide to all the Netflix shows cancelled over the past 12 months…
10. Mindhunter, Season 2
True crime remains hugely popular as a subject for both documentaries and fictionalised shows, and Mindhunter mines our fascination with real-life killers. The genius of its premise–the formation of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit in the 1970s–allows the viewer to dip into some of the most notorious serial killer cases of the era while following a gripping overall storyline about the men and women involved with these pioneering psychological studies. While Season 2 does feature more notorious killers interviewed with their cells, most notably Charles Manson, the main story arc concerns the Atlanta child murders, which took place between 1979 and 1981 and claimed at least 28 young lives. Agents Ford and Tench’s attempts to crack the case allows us to see how these crimes affect a whole community, and how political and social forces both help and hinder such investigations. There is also as much emphasis on the often troubled home lives of agents Ford, Tench, and Professor Carr, all helped by tremendous performances by Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, and Anna Torv. And with directing duties handled by a trio of experienced filmmakers (David Fincher, Carl Franklin, and Andrew Dominik), Mindhunter Season 2 has a truly cinematic feel that made it one of the most stylish and visually striking shows of 2020. – Dan Auty
9. The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience
Popstar is one of my favorite movies, so when The Lonely Island revealed they had a special coming to Netflix–without ever mentioning what it was going to be about–I was pumped. Then, The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience launched, a 30-minute musical about ‘80s-era Oakland A’s players Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire–two of my heroes as a kid… along with Rickey Henderson. It was less of a short film and more of a fantastical journey filled with amazing songs written by Lonely Island and performed by Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer. Even if you weren’t into baseball during the ’80s, this was still one of the funniest things to come out of 2019. – Mat Elfring
8. Russian Doll, Season 1
At first glance, the Netflix show Russian Doll seems like a replay of the comedy classic Groundhog Day, in which a character finds themselves repeating the same day again and again. It’s a concept that Tom Cruise’s sci-fi movie Edge of Tomorrow and the horror comedy Happy Death Day also mined comprehensively, so what could this latest TV version add? Thankfully, Russian Doll is absolutely its own thing. While early episodes use the gimmick of main character Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) dying over and over for dark, drug-fuelled laughs, it quickly becomes clear that the show has deeper intentions. Once Nadia discovers that she is joined in a strange fatal bond with a man called Alan, who also dies every day and wakes up in the same place, it becomes a show about fate, morality, and redemption. Russian Doll is a multi-layered series that demands several viewings–the complex, looping narrative structure ensures that we see the same events played over and over with variations, and there are callbacks to earlier (and later) events scattered throughout. Hilarious and thought-provoking in equal measure, with a standout performance from Lyonne, Russian Doll is offbeat modern sci-fi at its best. – Dan Auty
7. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
While the rest of the world was freaking out about the end of Game of Thrones, I was deeply invested in my own fantasy series. Instead of dragons and Peter Dinklage, though, this show was filled with wonderfully detailed puppets. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance isn’t just a prequel to the cult favorite Jim Henson film from the 1980s, it’s also a deeper dive into the inner-workings of the planet of Thra and the various Gelfling tribes that inhabit it. This complex world is explored in great detail through the use of puppetry and massive physical sets for them to roam around in. But what’s most important about Age of Resistance is the story it’s telling, of the Gelfing rising up against the Skeksis in an attempt to reclaim their world. That’s it is told through puppets and still manages to be such an emotional tale is impressive. – Chris E. Hayner
6. The OA, Season 2
The mind-bending sci-fi series The OA is the sort of show that never played by the rules, and fans of Season 1 had to wait nearly three years for the second batch of episodes. Thankfully the wait was fully rewarded. Creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij delivered an incredible season that, while following directly on from the events of Season 1, was very much it’s own thing. It continues the story of Prairie Johnson (Marling) and her experiences after escaping from insane scientist “Hap” Percy, but it also introduced a gripping thriller subplot, as a detective hunts for a missing girl in San Francisco. There’s parallel dimensions, supernatural houses, sanity-consuming video games, dancing robots, and psychic octopuses, and it takes several episodes for the pieces of the puzzles to start to fall into place. But viewer patience is rewarded by some absolutely gripping sci-fi and moving emotional drama–and the ending has to be seen to be believed. The OA was cancelled by Netflix soon after it was released so there won’t be a third season. But as disappointing as it is, we should be glad we got such an ambitious and unique show in the first place .- Dan Auty
5. The Society, Season 1
Once upon a time during the reality TV boom of the mid-’00s, there was a show called Kid Nation that, honestly, is the best thing that has ever or will ever happen to TV. On it, an army of kids were given control of a ghost town and told to figure it all out. They created their own government, jobs, chores, and society. It was a weird little piece of controlled chaos that shows kids are smarter than given credit for and, even when they make dumb choices, they might just be able to solve their own problems and live peacefully in the end.
Enter: Netflix’s The Society. It’s as if someone watched the one season of Kid Nation and decided to adapt it into a post-apocalyptic drama. The show follows a town of teens and kids after they realize all of the adults have simply disappeared. There’s a variety of cliches, from the bad boy to the bookworm, and somehow they all come together to make their town work. Well, most of them do. After all, this is a drama in the streaming era. There’s sexual tension, underhanded political maneuvering, and just the right amount of dead bodies popping up here and there to keep you riveted to your TV. Thankfully, it’s already been renewed for a second season. – Chris E. Hayner
4.I Think You Should Leave
Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of comedian Tim Robinson before now. After you watch Netflix’s I Think You Should Leave, he’ll skyrocket to the top of your comedy favorites list. The Michigan native previously starred in the canceled Comedy Central sitcom Detroiters, but I Think You Should Leave is composed entirely of disconnected sketches–many of which are rejected remnants from Robinson’s days writing on Saturday Night Live. Understanding this is crucial, because the show’s humor is utterly unique, relying almost entirely on Robinson’s strange mannerisms, idiosyncratic ways of speaking, and carefully chosen words (you’ll never eat a “mud pie” the same way again). Robinson’s sketches may have been too weird for SNL, but if you give this show a chance, you’ll quickly be reminded why streaming is the future. – Mike Rougeau
3. The Irishman
Martin Scorsese’s directing career stretches back more than five decades and spans a wide variety of genres, but for many viewers, it’s his violent and sprawling crime movies that define this most revered of directors. His latest movie, The Irishman, returns him to this world, but it has a very different feel to classics such as Goodfellas and Casino. The Irishman feels like it has been made by an older man, in all the best ways; it’s a controlled, mature crime movie, the work of an experienced filmmaker taking a more reflective approach to familiar subject matter. Robert De Niro stars as a Frank Sheeran, a former World War II soldier who is taken under the wing of Philadelphia gangster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). As Sheeran climbs the mob ranks, he meets notorious Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), and becomes involved with the more violent side of the union movement. The de-aging technology that allows these older actors to play younger versions of themselves varies in quality, but the strength of the performances and Scosese’s grand visual sweep soon make us forget any technological deficiencies. The Irishman is a mature and dignified work that could only be made by an older filmmaker able to look back on his life and his work, but there’s little denying that Scorsese’s powers as a filmmaker remain at full strength. – Dan Auty
In the past year, there were two documentaries about the ill-fated Fyre Fest, the ultra-exclusive and expensive musical festival that was an immense failure in 2017. Hulu had one which featured interviews with the festival’s founder Billy McFarland. Netflix’s doc, simply titled Fyre, was produced by Jerry Media–an online curator of memes which helped promote the event. Jerry Media’s role in the festival is entirely wiped from the narrative of the film, but regardless, this story is so interesting and McFarland is such a despicable character that Fyre becomes a phenomenal film, even without the company that misled thousands of people. – Mat Elfring
1. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Let’s be perfectly honest: There’s no real reason for El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie to even exist, much less to be as good as it is. Turning up six years after the finale of Breaking Bad proper but starting the story mere seconds after the last episode’s final shot was a risky gambit for everyone involved, given just how much can and has changed in that time, yet somehow Vince Gilligan and Aaron Paul managed to pull it off. While it may not be weighty or revelatory in the bigger scheme of the Breaking Bad universe, it functioned as a beautifully crafted send-off for some of our favorite BrBa characters and felt like a totally unexpected (but very much welcome) kindness for a story that, more often than not, is full of heartbreaking cruelty. – Meg Downey
Source: Game Spot Mashup