Netflix released more original content than ever this year, so here’s your guide to the very best Netflix originals of 2017.
Netflix has become a producing powerhouse. In 2017, they had over 50 exclusive stand-up comedy specials, more than 40 original films, and nearly 40 new documentaries. That doesn’t even include all their incredible original TV series! I spent a lot of time this year binge-watching it all. Here are my top picks for the best Netflix originals of 2017.
This article is part of Hypable’s 12 Days of Fandom, a celebration of 2017 and a preview of 2018. See new content every day from December 14 through Christmas!
‘The Mars Generation’
The Mars Generation follows a group of teenagers at Space Camp as they prepare for futures in science, engineering, and space exploration. This was my favorite documentary of the year because it’s different. The internet is full of murder mysteries and true crime documentaries, and this provided some much needed variety.
This documentary made me feel hopeful about what we’ve accomplished and what humans can do in the years to come. We have a generation of intelligent, hardworking people preparing themselves for opportunities to do something amazing. Going to Mars is cool; working together to develop technology, relationships, and a future is even cooler.
‘Gaga: Five Foot Two’
I watched Gaga: Five Foot Two on September 8, the day it premiered on Netflix, and I still haven’t stopped thinking about it. The documentary is beautifully produced. It captures life and art in ways I haven’t seen many other documentaries capture them. It tells a powerful story about pain, loss, and music. Gaga is a delight to watch any time, but is especially captivating in this documentary.
‘Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press’
I went into Nobody Speak thinking it would just be about the Hulk Hogan vs Gawker legal case. That case happened a few years ago when I was in a journalism law class, so I thought it would be interesting to take a deeper look at it. This documentary gave me a deeper look — and so much more.
This documentary was faithful to its name, showing how the free press has been put on trial in the last few years. It showed the power of journalism and why it is so important to protect. This documentary showed many good journalists fighting for what I hold nearest and dearest: the truth.
‘Our Souls at Night’
Jane Fonda and Robert Redford are both Hollywood legends. Seeing them together on my screen again was a joy. Our Souls at Night tells their own kind of love story, as they find comfort in each other now that their spouses have died.
The film’s plot matches its tone and message. It’s full of the small moments Addie and Louis share that make them feel less lonely. Their love makes you feel a little less lonely, too. It’s the perfect movie for a quiet night in.
I generally prefer TV shows to movies, but Naked made me a believer in movies again. Naked is funny and romantic. It even manages to play with time travel in a way that doesn’t make my head hurt. I know many people had qualms with its repetitive scenes, but I found them endearing and enjoyable.
More importantly, this movie lets Marlon Wayans embrace the role of goofy romantic lead without reservation. It’s an entertaining watch that plays right into the Netflix sweet spot of something binge-able and fun.
‘To the Bone’
The past few years, our culture has grown more open about mental illness. We’re still getting to a place where we can openly share and support one another, but discussing mental illness is not as taboo as it used to be. Eating disorders, however, which have obvious physical symptoms, are still shuffled to the background. They’re not easy to talk about.
To the Bone takes that discomfort and uses it to reach those background corners of our culture. It shares how to trust, how to heal, and how to help others who are struggling.
Best Stand-Up Comedy Specials
‘Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King’
This isn’t just one of the best stand-up specials on Netflix this year; it’s one of the best stand-up acts I’ve ever seen. The special is hilarious, but it gets down to something even deeper. Minhaj weaves a story that is deeply personal and incredibly timely. He uses comedy to the greatest of its abilities: to teach, to connect, and to even make you cry (guilty!). It will have a place on my best-of lists for a long time.
‘Sarah Silverman A Speck of Dust’
Unlike the other two specials on this list, Sarah Silverman’s stand-up special doesn’t do anything particularly revolutionary — though her comedic take on women’s rights makes her jokes feel more relevant than ever. It just plain made me laugh.
This special is intimate in ways many of the other specials this year were not. Silverman makes you feel like she’s your best friend, telling you jokes on your old, worn-out couch. The cellphone video at the end, which shows her in the hospital cracking jokes just before surgery, enhances that intimacy. She invites you in, and when you spend hours a day watching Netflix, another friend is more than welcome.
‘Maria Bamford: Old Baby’
Maria Bamford’s stand-up special is incredibly intimate as well. She doesn’t end up on a stage in front of a traditional audience until the special is more than halfway over. She starts by talking to herself in a mirror. Then she moves on to performing her set in front of her husband. As she performs in front of larger and larger audiences, she retains that sense of self she started with in front of the mirror.
Bamford makes it feel like she isn’t really performing — she’s just embracing herself. She made herself laugh (and she definitely made me laugh, too!), and that’s enough for her. Who are we, anyway? What is comedy, anyway? Embracing that ambiguity was freeing for me, and made the special that much more enjoyable.
Best New Series
GLOW made a splash when it premiered this summer. It was a strong female-led ensemble cast just when we needed one the most. While GLOW hit on some heavy themes, it wasn’t afraid to be silly and fun.
The cast is the best part of this show. They all gave memorable and nuanced performances to what could have been a too-campy topic. Now that we know season 2 is on the way, I’m even more excited about this show. We’re sure to be in for another wild ride.
‘One Day at a Time’
One Day at a Time is everything I’ve been wanting in a Netflix show. It has the easy watch-ability of a network show, without any of the restrictions. Because it’s on Netflix, One Day at a Time is allowed to go there. It talks about race, sexuality, and PTSD. Each of those topics is approached with heart and plenty of laughs.
It lifts up the voices of women of color, providing stories and empathy we need from our media. One Day at a Time feels timely and political without sacrificing any of the entertainment. Season 2 is set to premiere next month, and I can’t wait to see what stories it tells next.
’13 Reasons Why’
I’ve never seen the internet buzz about a show the way it did about 13 Reasons Why. Everyone had something to say about it. While the show had its critics, the fact that it existed on our screens allowed for important conversations. In its own small way, it helped lead the way for real women to tell their stories of sexual assault and say, yeah #metoo.
From my perspective, the story itself was also told well. It was about the effects we can have on each other and why we need to be more understanding and empathetic. I think we could all use that reminder.
Best Returning Series
‘Grace and Frankie’
Grace and Frankie has yet to slip (in entertainment value, at least; Grace and Frankie themselves have not always been so lucky). Season 3 was just as hilarious and fun as the last two. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin deliver again and again. The show has women in their 70s as the protagonists, but these two make the experiences feel universal.
I’ve learned a lot from Grace and Frankie. I’m glad they’re still telling good stories.
‘Master of None’
I’m sure you know this already, but Aziz Ansari can tell a great story. The team he works with on Master of None only elevates that talent. The stories they told this season had everything we loved about Master of None season 1 and delivered some new aspects to love as well.
The Thanksgiving episode made this season an especially important one, as it uses the backdrop of the November holiday to tell Denise’s coming out journey. It takes place over many years and many Thanksgiving dinners, showing the nuances of coming out we don’t always get to see in a TV show. It’s one of the best episodes of a Netflix show I’ve ever seen.
Season 1 of Stranger Things is one of the best drama series Netflix has ever released. It turned into a cultural juggernaut. I was worried that season 2 might hit a sophomore slump and not live up to the original, but I’m so happy my fears were squashed. Season 2 was — dare I say it? — even better than season 1.
We got more answers, more mysteries, more monsters — and then some! Stranger Things has some of the best child actors on TV right now. Noah Schnapp gave an incredible performance this year and Millie Bobby Brown can do anything. The rest of the cast is just as strong. Stranger Things delivered laughs, scares, and lots of nostalgia this year.