If there’s one thing that Netflix can boast about since its arrival in the UK back in 2012, it’s its transition from being the online equivalent of the bargain bin at the local WHSmith to being one of the leading providers of new, exciting and original programmes.
The streaming service has produced serious dramas like House of Cards, it has provided a home in this country for quality shows like The Good Place, and even led the revival of cult favourites like Arrested Development.
But amongst the Epic movies like Outlaw King and worthy films like Roma, there have been a few hidden gems tucked away way down the back of the library, including the following animated shows – made with an adult audience in mind – such as F is for Family, which arrives for its third season today.
Quite widely publicised at the time of its release earlier this year, mostly because it was made by The Simpsons and Futurama creator Matt Groening, this animated comedy was met with a lot of hype – and a degree of trepidation. While the quality of latter seasons featuring the loveable yellow family has fallen off a cliff faster than a fat balding middle-aged man skateboarding across a gaping chasm, there is still a certain amount of leeway given to Groening as a creator. It was not a gamble for Netflix to allow him the opportunity to have another crack at a high concept sitcom.
The fantasy series about the laddish flunky Princess Bean and her sarcastic demon and naive elf pals is not Groening at his creative best. It never reaches the levels of humour that those classic The Simpsons episodes do, the stories are nowhere near as intelligent as Futurama manages to deliver, but Disenchantment has an emotional intelligence and maybe even a maturity that goes some way to reminding viewers just what Groening is still capable of. And there is at least one guaranteed laugh per episode.
Blood. Guts. Gore. Mayhem. Sounds like the title of a metal album but is also an applicable descriptor for the fan-favourite video-game adaptation by the legendary British writer Warren Ellis. Castlevania‘s art style is clearly inspired by the out-there graphic novels that Ellis is famed for, as much as it is Japanese anime, and indeed the immortal game series; but the American-made show also draws on the lore of the platformers it is based on.
More than that though, Castlevania is not just for fans of the games. Sure, retro-gaming has never been more en vogue than it is right now thanks to releases such as the NES / SNES Classic Mini and the PlayStation Classic, but Ellis takes the time to tell a layered story about the disgraced Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage) and his continuing feud with Dracula (Graham McTavish) in medieval Europe. It looks great, it’s as cleverly crafted as you would expect it to be and with just 12 episodes 25-minutes in length, you could binge them all in an afternoon – and it would be an afternoon well spent.
3. Big Mouth
Puberty has probably never been as craftily handled as it has in Big Mouth. The series follows a bunch of adolescent school chums who experience changes in their bodies, deal with hormones, try to figure out their own identity, and face all the same dilemmas that everybody faced at that age. But with an added imaginary character who has a floppy phallus for a nose.
It is crude, sometimes puerile and immature, but it articulates the weirdness of that period in life quite unlike any other show before, in both a relatable and completely voyeuristic fashion. There doesn’t seem to be a single topic off the table for discussion. It boasts a voice cast of Nick Kroll, John Mulaney and Fred Armisen (amongst many, many others) who masterminded the whole project with their familiar edgy comedy. The show is up to its second season now – but is probably not one to try for the squeamish.
2. F is for Family
And we arrive at the whole reason for this list being created in the first place. Bill Burr’s semi-biographical series initially feels like a halfway house for Netflix somewhere between BoJack Horseman and Family Guy. It wants to heap on the pathos and wants you to laugh along with this sad dysfunctional family in 1970s America just as much as it wants you to laugh at them and their japes. But as the show progresses, it realises its ambition to get the audience as invested in the fivesome’s tribulations.
Bill Burr’s schtick has not been without its critics. His stand up routines can come across as misogynistic or “old-fashioned”, but the keenness of his writing is so sharp and incisive. Being so offensive all the time is a form of protection for the father of the family, Frank (voiced by Burr), who deflects feelings of inadequacy and disappointment by projecting onto others. The show explores how this affects those around him and how his own “toxic masculinity” and need to “man up” just increases his own self-loathing. It is a highly sophisticated series that does not get the love it deserves – and, on top of all that, it is absolutely hilarious.
1. BoJack Horseman
There was only going to be one winner here. To briefly synopsise the plot as being about a former sitcom star turned alcoholic drug abuser in ‘Hollywoo’ (who is also a horse, voiced by Will Arnett) would be to discredit the sheer enormity of depth and scale to this brilliant, brilliant show. The scope that creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg has attempted to cover across the five seasons so far is breathtaking – even within individual episodes. Season three gave us the stupendous dialogue-free underwater episode ‘Fish out of Water’, while season five’s eulogy ‘Free Churro’ might be the goddamn best episode of anything Netflix has made so far.
A slight blip in season four was soon recovered in the phenomenal latest season. From self-referential Flinstones-esque animal puns, to cripplingly arresting visual and narrative representations of depression, there doesn’t appear to be anything that BoJack Horseman can’t do, and can’t do well. Also, if this was a list about the greatest Netflix Original theme tunes instead, then BoJack Horseman would also walk that too.