The Best Drama Shows on Netflix Right Now (November 2019)jessie tan
Sometimes you just need an immersive drama, and thankfully, Netflix delivers. From what are now TV classics (like Breaking Bad and Mad Men) to Peak TV gems (Hap and Leonard, Mindhunter), Netflix is home to some of the most wonderfully crafted and engaging television of our time.
Over the next several weeks, we’ll be rolling out more lists of TV subgenres on the streaming giant, including the Best Crime Series, Best Fantasy, Best TV Comedies, Best Horror Series, and more. So if you don’t see you favorites here, keep checking! And of course, for a full list of everything Netflix has to offer TV-wise that we recommend, you can head over to our master list of The Best TV Shows on Netflix.
This list will continue to grow, but for now check out our list of the best drama shows on Netflix below, and let us know some of your other favorites in the comments:
Created by: Joe Penhall
Cast: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Anna Torv, Hannah Gross, and Cotter Smith
Executive produced and essentially showrun by David Fincher, Mindhunter is one of TV’s best shows, period. The series is based on true events and follows the early days of the FBI’s criminal profiling unit in the late 1970s. Two FBI agents from the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit—Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany)—set out to interview imprisoned serial killers to see if they can understand why they did what they did, to help create a profile for the FBI to catch these kinds of killers. The show is methodical, wildly engrossing, and surprisingly funny, and Fincher himself directs multiple episodes throughout the first two seasons, resulting in terrific piece of filmmaking as well. It’s an addictive series that refuses to go down easy or well-worn paths, instead finding brand new ways to chronicle stories that have been told countless times, and as a result offering wholly new insight into human behavior. Oh yeah, and it’s deliciously entertaining. – Adam Chitwood
Created by: Patrick Somerville
Cast: Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux, Sally Field, Sonoya Mizuno, Gabriel Byrne, Julia Garner and Billy Magnussen
The limited series Maniac is unlike anything else on television, made all the better by the fact that True Detective and Bond 25 helmer Cary Fukunaga directed all 10 episodes. The series takes place in a slightly more advanced version of Earth in which two depressed and despondent individuals—played by Emma Stone and Jonah Hill—take part in a mind-bending pharmaceutical trial meant to cure them of their ills. The trial sees them mentally living out various different fantasies and scenarios, which then gives Fukunaga the opportunity to traffic in various genres as Stone and Hill play different versions of themselves in everything from a Coen Brothers-esque crime story to a Lord of the Rings-like fantasy world. It’s admittedly a little uneven, but the performances are fantastic and it’s a truly unique spin on a sci-fi drama. – Adam Chitwood
The West Wing
Created By: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford, Alison Janney, Rob Lowe, John Spencer, Richard Schiff, Janel Moloney, and Dule Hill
Given that The West Wing is probably my favorite TV show of all time I may be a little biased here, but this is Aaron Sorkin‘s magnum opus. An ode to good people trying to do their jobs well, the series is not only an incredibly engaging look “behind the scenes” of the White House, it’s also a hilarious comedy, a moving drama, and a charming love story all rolled into one. Granted, the show goes downhill after Sorkin leaves, but while Season 5 is straight up bad, the series rebounds for its final two seasons as it settles into a new, slightly different creative voice under new showrunner John Wells. But man, you’d be hard pressed to find anything better than those first few seasons. And that cast! If you’re looking for something that’s smart, fun, and slightly addictive, make your way to The West Wing. — Adam Chitwood
Created By: Peter Morgan
Cast: Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Jared Harris, John Lithgow
Netflix’s most expensive series yet, The Crown examines the early reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth II. The series is beautifully directed in sumptuous yet staid tones, as young Elizabeth (Claire Foy) — newly married to Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (Matt Smith, playing against type) — first lives as a privileged princess before having to transition into the position of Queen. From there, as her grandmother cautions her, there will be two Elizabeths at odds with one another: one who is a young woman with her own hopes and dreams, and one who is a royal, whose life will be full of duty and sacrifice. “But the crown must always win.”
Foy is again exceptional, as she always is (we last saw her as Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall, a far cry from the kind of monarch she plays in The Crown). Her huge blue eyes and placid, doll-like features can easily go from a questioning innocence to a stern acceptance of duty in a moment, and she imbues Queen Elizabeth’s story with striking warmth and humanity (something that can be forgotten when regarding someone who has been a monarch for over half a century). The excellent casting extends to every role, from Smith’s take on the handsome but irreverent Philip to Jared Harris’ anxious, measured King George VI. Perhaps most inspired of all is John Lithgow as an aged Winston Churchill, whose story is reaching its twilight as Elizabeth begins her rise.
The Crown is a fascinating and easily engrossing portrait of a young monarch in a fairly modern age, and benefits from having one writer (creator Peter Morgan) to lend it narrative continuity. The story, which offers a glimpse of many familiar faces associated with government at the time, glides through history and crosses the globe, yet is most effective when its examining the nuances of Elizabeth’s life and the lives of those around her who must change the way they regard her (from a wife, sister, and daughter, to a monarch they must defer to at all times). The trappings of power, such as they are, are shown here as being claustrophobic and wearisome, even though the lavish lifestyle it seems to offer is also seductive. And that is why, once you enter into the regal world of The Crown, you will not want to leave. It always wins. — Allison Keene
The Honourable Woman
Created by: Hugo Blick
Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Andrew Buchan, Lubna Azabal, Steven Rea
Hugo Blick’s 8 episode miniseries The Honorable Woman is a political thriller that is dense, emotional, difficult, and wonderfully made. It stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as Nessa Stein, who along with her brother Ephra head up an important Middle Eastern peacekeeping organization. From the very beginning, however, the endeavor is fraught with political intrigue and interference, and dual timelines from the past and present weave together a complex story that involves kidnap, murder, sexual assault, spycraft, and an exceptional number of secrets and betrayals. The series doesn’t waste time in clearing up what seem to be central mysteries, but even when the revelations and explanations occur, they only raise more questions.
Gyllenhaal is exceptional in the role of Nessa, balancing so many complicated emotions with naturalism and grace. She feels completely real in the role, and is an extraordinarily personal anchor to a story that deals with the overarching political intrigue and posturing of the American, British, Israeli, and Palestinian special forces. It’s a beautifully bingeworthy drama that will surprise you at every turn. – Allison Keene
The Haunting of Hill House
Creator: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Carla Gugino, Michael Huisman, Kate Siegel, Mckenna Grace, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Elizabeth Reaser, Victoria Pedretti, Lulu Wilson, Timothy Hutton, Violet McGraw, Julian Hilliard,
Hush and Gerald’s Game filmmaker Mike Flanagan delivers his most ambitious Netflix project yet (and that’s really saying something when you’re talking about someone who successfully adapted Gerald’s Game) with The Haunting of Hill House. Inspired by Shirley Jackson’s seminal ghost story, the series carries over almost none of Jackson’s narrative (though occasionally too much of her prose), and focuses instead on the haunted lives of the withering Crain family. Bouncing back and forth between the summer the Crain’s spent in the titular haunted mansion and the years of grief and family trauma they endured in the aftermath. Flanagan has proven in previous works that he’s got a knack for upsetting visuals and well-composed scares, but his great success in The Haunting of Hill House is the way he ties the scares into a rich, intertwining tale of family tinged with tragedy. Led by a spectacular ensemble, the series veers between emotional revelation and moments of horror that give you full-body chills. It’s the most moving and honest portrayal of mortality and grief this side of Six Feet Under, but it’ll give you a whole lot more nightmares. — Haleigh Foutch
Anne with an E
Created by: Moira Walley-Beckett
Cast: Amybeth McNulty, Geraldine James, R.H. Thomson, Lucas Jade Zumann, Dalila Bela
Even though Moira Walley-Beckett’s retelling of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables stories leans heavily into the darker side of Anne’s orphan upbringing and the bullying she experiences in school once she gets to Prince Edward Island, Anne with an E is a happy one. And in case you forgot, yes! Dramas can be joyous!
The second season moves away somewhat from its beloved source material, but in doing so, it’s able to find its own voice and become even better. The series is also finding modern relevance with the inclusion of more “woke” storylines, but it never feels forced — it all fits in with Anne’s (McNulty) optimistic view of the world and the people in it. Anne is joyous, funny, and ultimately a delightful exploration of teenage life. And though it’s set over 100 years in the past, the series does an exceptional job creating a deeply relatable mood and aesthetic, one that makes both the perils and precious moments of growing up feel as raw and real as they do in real life. The new season is full of triumphant moments and joyous subplots, as well as scenes of sorrow and hardship. It all adds up to an uplifting season that concludes with Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, and all those around her, looking towards the scope of possibilities in an ever-widening world. — Allison Keene
Hap and Leonard
Developed by: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici
Cast: James Purefoy, Michael K. Williams
Based on Joe R. Lansdale’s series of novels, Hap and Leonard is a wonderfully funny, action-packed, and unique story about two unlikely friends — one a white, hippie-cowboy, and the other a black, gay, Vietnam vet — who live in East Texas in the 1980s. They often get into scrapes and accidentally end up in the middle of a crime they never planned on investigating, but the series is as dark, deep, and soulful as it is manic, violent, and often hilarious. The show walks a difficult line in each of its brisk 6-episode seasons, balancing humor and heartbreak as its heroes, villains, and the gorgeous landscape all pop colorfully off of the screen. Ultimately, it does so with aplomb. Each season is a complete story, like the novels, that tackle very different tales, making it an easy and satisfying binge. The southern-fried banter and unique dynamics also help make Hap and Leonard a wonderfully unique gem of Peak TV. — Allison Keene
Created by: Vince Gilligan
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, and Giancarlo Esposito
It’s entirely possible that Breaking Bad will go down in history as the most influential TV drama ever. Creator Vince Gilligan makes good on a single story arc over the course of five seasons: Taking chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) from Mr. Chips to Scarface. That arc tracks, but along the way we get an engaging, twisty, character-rich story that can vacillate between deeply emotional and edge-of-your-seat thrilling. The show begins with the mild-mannered White receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis and opting to go into the crystal meth trade to put together some money to leave behind to his family. But as the story wears on and obstacles arise, Walter White morphs into something far more dangerous and terrifying—or was it always there, bubbling under the surface? – Adam Chitwood
Halt and Catch Fire
Created by: Christopher Cantwell, Christopher C. Rogers
Cast: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Davis, Kerry Bishé, Toby Huss
It’s such a shame that more people didn’t watch Halt and Catch Fire. It premiered on AMC back in the summer of 2014 and wound up running for four seasons. Even though critical praise has been sky high—especially for seasons two, three, and four—the ratings were not, so I must insist that you take to Netflix to watch this underrated gem. The show begins in Dallas in 1983, covering the dawn of the personal computer. If you are at all intrigued by technology and how the machines we’ve become so attached to came to be, the premise alone should be enough of a draw, but then Cantwell and Rogers also populate the world with five extremely driven and destructive main characters who are absolutely fascinating to track. – Perri Nemiroff
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Created by: Ryan Murphy
Cast: Darren Criss, Edgar Ramirez, Penelope Cruz, Ricky Martin, Cody Fern, Finn Wittrock, Judith Light, and Jon Jon Briones
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is not the show you think it is. The limited series was marketed as a show about glitz, gamour, and fame, but in reality it’s an American Psycho-esque portrait of a spree killer that hones in on issues relating to homophobia and self-hate. In 1997, fashion designer Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez) was shot dead by a man named Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). As it turns out this was only part of the story, and The Assassination of Gianni Versace unfolds backwards in time (each episode is set before the events of the previous one—think Memento, but as a TV series) as it tracks Cunanan’s other murders and delves into his personal life, trying to understand just what made this young man turn so violent in such a public way. It’s every bit as engrossing and enlightening as People v. O.J. Simpson, and you’ve no doubt noticed it sweeping every TV awards ceremony over the last year. Now see for yourself. – Adam Chitwood
Created By: Jed Mercurio
Cast: Richard Madden, Keeley Hawes
Bodyguard should come with a warning. There are several stretches of this twisty new thriller series that are so anxiety-inducing, with such unbearable tension, that I almost had to leave the room. I could have paused it, sure, but I didn’t actually want to stop watching it. I just wanted to grimace and sink as far down into the couch as possible, my heart pounding as I attempted to rationalize that the story couldn’t really do this or that, right? RIGHT? It’s stressful — in the best of ways.
Netflix’s 6-episode series comes from Jed Mercurio, and first aired on the BBC (to staggering viewership numbers). It follows the story of a metropolitan police officer, David Budd (Richard Madden), a war veteran who uses his special training while off-duty to help diffuse a potential terrorist attack in the first fifteen minutes of the series. But Bodyguard is not interested in becoming Jason Bourne or Jack Ryan, at least not yet. What makes the series work — including all of those ultra-tense moments — is how well Madden sells his badass character as a man who also has deep emotional connections and a compassionate heart. As David is tasked with being the bodyguard (hey!) for a Conservative Home Secretary, Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), the show really ramps up its tension (and sexiness). Ultimately, the show offers up an exhilarating ride that truly showcases Madden as a major talent,, one who is capable of not just leading Winterfell’s bannermen in Game of Thrones, but leading this breakout series and others — or even a certain movie franchise. — Allison Keene
Created By: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro
Cast: Michael Peña, Diego Luna, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Alyssa Diaz, Joaquín Cosío, José María Yazpik
Whether you’ve seen Narcos or not, it’s not hard to understand and be compelled by the world of Narcos: Mexico, which immediately introduces its opposing forces and sets the stage for their eventual clash. At this point (in the late 1970s and early 1980s), Mexico’s drug trade was chaotic and split up into tiny territories, most of which were constantly at war. When they weren’t, the government came in and burned fields as a show of strength for those who didn’t pay their dues and play their game. This is where Diego Luna’s drug lord Félix Gallardo (who at the time was just an underling to a territory boss) starts to see an opportunity to create an “OPEC of weed.” He’s shrewd and ambitious, and wants to turn drug making and drug running into a business; in other words, to organize.
His opponent is Kiki Camerena (Michael Peña), a DEA agent who moves his family to Guadalajara from California for a new job opportunity. Like Félix, Camerena is smart and focused, but finds the outpost in Guadalajara lacking in both drive and resources. His assertion that there is something big happening to change Mexico’s drug trade, coupled with his tenacity to prove it despite being thwarted by Mexican officials, lights a fire within his coworkers there. Soon, they have also organized — into a cartel-fighting task force.
With a tense, stirring score from Gustavo Santaolalla, Narcos: Mexico is a really series of meetings and standoffs, with outcomes that have real stakes. There’s an investment and connection to both Félix and Kiki’s operations, and a savviness the show has in fostering empathy for both characters equally, which is a tricky line to toe. But it does so by keeping things as grounded as possible. The series doesn’t glorify the drug lord lifestyle so much as paint it as an ephemeral, cautionary tale — for all involved. — Allison Keene
Created By: Ray McKinnon
Cast: Aden Young, Abigail Spencer, J. Smith-Cameron, Adelaide Clemens, Clayne Crawford, Luke Kirby, Jake Austin Walker
Rectify is quite possibly the best prison drama on television that no one seems to have watched. The Sundance TV series debuted in 2013 and ran for four critically acclaimed seasons, but if you saw it, now’s the perfect time to catch up. The plot centers on Daniel Holden (Aden Young), a Georgia man who has been let out of prison due to questionable DNA evidence after serving 19 years on Death Row for the rape and murder of his then 16-year-old girlfriend, Hannah. Despite protests of locals and some family members, Holden returns to his childhood home upon release.
While the mystery element of whether or not Holden was actually guilty provides an excellent hook for the show, the real draw to Rectify is its excellent Southern Gothic character study of Holden and the folks of Paulie, Georgia. Holden has a few allies, but many more detractors in town; both sides interpret the evidence, or lack thereof, in their own ways. It’s up to viewers to decide which side they’re on, though Young’s performance – at times aloof, innocent, or downright disturbing – keeps you guessing. – Dave Trumbore
Better Call Saul
Created by: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould
Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael McKean
AMC’s Breaking Bad spinoff goes back to find Saul Goodman (Odenkirk) at a time when he was known as Jimmy McGill (or “Slippin’ Jimmy”), a hustler with courtroom ambitions, whose life had yet to be turned upside down by Walter White. Though as comedically quirky as expected, the languid and artistically rendered Saul also proved to also be very dark, affecting, and dramatic, thanks to Odenkirk’s outstandingly nuanced performance. Jimmy’s complicated relationship with his brother Chuck (McKean) drives the emotional undercurrent of the season, alongside his being thwarted in his ambitions to join a real law firm. When he opens up his own business (in the closet of a nail salon), a revolving door of crazy clients appear, but it’s the selfless work that Jimmy does on behalf of an elderly contingent in town that imbues his journey with meaning, and gives the series truly dramatic stakes.
Still, at every step, Jimmy finds himself running into walls, and his frustration with the misfires and betrayals that litter his life eventually start adding up to his transformation as the slick Saul Goodman. The show is at its best when it distances itself from Breaking Bad, and though it starts off slow with some curious digressions, Better Call Saul picks up tremendously towards the end of the first season. Ultimately, being swept along in the chaos, hilarity, and sadness of Jimmy’s rise and fall (and eventual resurrection as Saul) is an immersive experience — Allison Keene
Created By: Matthew Weiner
Cast: Jon Hamm, January Jones, Elisabeth Moss, John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks, Robert Morse, Kiernan Shipka, Jared Harris, Rich Sommer, and Aaron Staton
Despite a somewhat puzzling “falling out of favor” with the Emmys in recent years, Mad Men remains one of the best shows to ever air on television. That it wrapped up with a near-perfect series finale makes the watch that much sweeter, but while creator Matthew Weiner was certainly dealing with serialized storytelling, he took a cue from his prior employment on The Sopranos by tackling much of Mad Men’s episodes like short novels unto themselves. Character is king in Mad Men, and sometimes that means we don’t necessarily need to focus on all the characters in a given episode. Weiner’s fondness for time jumps not only between seasons but also between episodes allowed the full thematic weight of each installment to sink in, untethered from connecting the dots from event to event.
Mad Men also features some of TV’s best performances in history, despite a lack of acclaim from the Emmys in that department (though it did tie The West Wing’s record for most Best Drama wins in a row with four). Standout episodes are too numerous to list, so I’ll just say that if you’ve been putting off watching this new classic, stop. It’s right there, waiting for you on Netflix, and you won’t be disappointed. – Adam Chitwood