We might not be far into 2020 (even if January does feel about a decade ago), but Netflix has already given us a veritable smorgasbord of new original series and films to keep us entertained in the first half of the year.
So far, we’ve had A-list documentaries, cringe-heavy teen dramas and one of the most bizarre reality TV concepts we think we’ve ever heard of – and that’s without even delving into the decapitated alpaca and the cartoon horse contemplating his existence.
Even in the last few weeks, the streaming service has continued its run of must-watch shows and films, and we imagine that when the dust has settled on them, picks like A Secret Love and Hollywood could well be making our list in the not-too-distant future.
For now, though, here are our top 10 favourites from Netflix’s original offerings so far this year...
10. The Stranger
Released: 30 January
Tell us about it: Netflix first branched out into ITV-esque mystery dramas in 2018 with Safe, but it’s that show’s successor The Stranger that really made waves upon its release this year.
Full of twists and turns, the crime thriller features a cast including Siobhan Finneran, Richard Armitage and Jennifer Saunders (in the Ab Fab star’s first “dramatic” role) and storylines involving decapitated alpacas, faked pregnancies and teenage drug misuse. And that’s literally just episode one.
The whole thing is over-the-top and verges on silly, particularly towards the end of the 10 episodes, but if borderline-ridiculous British dramas packed with plot twists that come so thick and fast they make your head spin are your thing, then The Stranger is definitely worth a stream.
Best time to watch: If you need a new drama to watch that’s equal parts British grit and extreme camp.
9. Miss Americana
Released: 31 January
Tell us about it: As Taylor Swift’s star has continued to rise, the singer has made no secret of the fact she likes to be in control of the narrative surrounding her, so when it was announced that the she was to be the subject of a new docu-film, we weren’t surprised.
Miss Americana mostly focusses on the period after Taylor’s hit Reputation stadium tour, and the creation of her latest album Lover, but also touches on her journey from little-known country artist to one of the most famous (and polarising) women in the world.
If you’ve been put off by the chart-topping singer in recent years, Miss Americana might just change your mind about her, and there’s a lot to enjoy in the documentary for even the most casual fans.
Key scenes include Taylor discussing her struggles with an eating disorder for the first time, touching on her relationship with actor Joe Alwyn and, perhaps most notably, the lead-up to her first political social media post, and the rows it caused among her team.
Best time to watch: When you’re feeling curious about one of the most popular singers of a generation.
8. I Am Not Okay With This
Released: 26 February
Tell us about it: First off, it’s a fantasy teen drama set in a small town, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of Stranger Things, but it’s also from the same team as The End Of The F***ing World (they’re actually both based on graphic novels by the same writer), so will appeal to fans of that too.
The show reunites young actors Sophia Lillis and Wyatt Oleff, last seen together in IT: Chapter Two, with the former taking centre stage as Sydney Novak, a teenager who discovers she has telekinetic powers.
As Sydney struggles with both her new-found abilities and regular teenage life, the show becomes a mix of Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina and Carrie.
Don’t go thinking that this seemingly endless list of comparisons means I Am Not Okay With This doesn’t stand on its own too feet, though, as the show is more daring than most of its predecessors, and ventures to places that other teen dramas wouldn’t even consider.
Best time to watch: If you’re in the mood for a coming-of-age thriller in the vain of Stranger Things and IT.
7. Circus Of Books
Released: 22 April
Tell us about it: Come for the scandal, stay for the actually-quite-moving story. Circus Of Books tells the unusual tale of the Masons, a fairly regular nondescript elderly couple who ended up becoming, in their own words, “probably the biggest distributor of hardcore gay films in the United States”.
The documentary – helmed lovingly by their daughter – documents how, when down on their luck, they ended up acquiring the titular book and pornography shop, and helping it become an institution for gay men in West Hollywood in the 1980s.
It’s an unbelievable story, but one that’s full of more heart than you might expect, to the point we actually found ourselves blubbing during those poignant final moments.
Best time to watch: When you need some cheering up, maybe.
6. RuPaul’s Drag Race
Released: 29 February, with new episodes every Saturday morning
Tell us about it: Listen, we still have a few weeks to go on the current series, which is why Drag Race is quite low down on our list, but all early signs point to season 12 being another success for the long-running reality TV juggernaut.
The series opened with one of the strongest launch episodes in recent memory, kicking things off with both a fashion and music challenge, the latter of which was presided over by a very charming Nicki Minaj.
Since then, the queens have been put through their paces with an improv challenged inspired by American Idol, the “ball ball” fashion runway and one of the best acting challenges in years, Gay’s Anatomy.
Snatch Game might not have been one for the Drag Race history books, but the show more than made up for it with the iconic Madonna: The Unauthorised Rusical group number.
The queens themselves have proved to be an interesting bunch too, and while some have opined that the Sherry Pie drama may have derailed the current series, producers have done their best to handle the situation.
Best time to watch: When you’re in need of some laughs, some surprises and, of course, some fabulousness.
5. Love Is Blind
Released: 13 February
Tell us about it: We still can’t quite believe this show even happened, in all honesty. One of Netflix’s most ambitious originals to date, Love Is Blind saw them venture into the world of dating shows, with a group of singles meeting through “pods”, without actually being able to see one another.
Kind of a The-Circle-meets-Love-Island situation, right?
Well... not quite.
You see, the contestants are only allowed to meet one another once they become engaged, which happens at an alarmingly fast rate. From there, they have a few weeks to spend time together one-on-one, before walking down the aisle. Once hitched, they then have to work out if they want to spend the rest of their lives with someone they’ve only just met.
Totally deranged yet completely addictive, Love Is Blind is impossible to look away from, and makes for compulsive viewing as the couples plan their big days, meet each other’s families and, of course, discover more about each other as the days rolled on.
Best time to watch: When you’ve got a hankering for some trashy TV that you just can’t ignore anymore.
4. Tiger King
Released: 20 March
Tell us about it: Undoubtedly the wildest thing to debut on Netflix in 2020, the seven-part documentary Tiger King centres on the weird and wonderful world of big cat conservation.
The subtitle “Murder, Mayhem and Madness” sums things up pretty succinctly, with polygamy, drugs, murder-for-hire plots and, of course, tigers forming a key part of the action.
Netflix has been killing it with their factual shows in 2020, but none as much as Tiger King has had us watching open-mouthed in disbelief, leaving us with the big question: “Did we really just watch that?”
Best time to watch: When you are ready (and we mean ready) for a genuinely wild and unpredictable ride.
3. Bojack Horseman
Released: 31 January
Tell us about it: We were a little bit gutted when it was announced that Netflix was pulling the plug on Bojack Horseman at the end of its sixth series, but at the very least, we knew that if the show was going to give us one final run, it wasn’t going to be one we’d forget in a hurry.
The first batch of episodes debuted towards the end of 2019, while the final eight arrived on 31 January. Naturally, we’d devoured the lot by 2 February.
During its six years on Netflix, Bojack Horseman had taken us to some pretty dark places, but while the first half of its final series suggested there may be redemption for the titular character, the second half truly pulled the rug from under us.
While the whole thing is worthy of praise, we have to single out the penultimate episode, The View From Halfway Down, for being particularly strong. Taking place entirely in Bojack’s imagination, he is reunited with dead figures from his past, complete with a deeply unsettling musical reprise, some stunning animation and a truly chilling poetry reading from Will Arnett.
It has to be said, we still think Bojack had a lot of life left in it, but if it had to go out in the way it did, we applaud the way it was done.
Best time to watch: When you’re feeling in a strong frame of mind and are somewhere comfortable. This final series is dark and we do not recommend if you’re already feeling a bit fragile.
2. Sex Education
Released: 17 January
Tell us about it: We loved the first series of Sex Education, but we loooved the second series, which built on everything that made the initial run so popular, and added a few extra bits too.
Ncuti Gatwa is still on fine form as Eric, with Otis’ right-hand man caught in a love triangle for most of the series, while Maeve’s back story is explored further with the introduction of more of Emma Mackey’s character’s family.
And while sex has always taken more of a back seat in the hit teen drama than its name would suggest, we still have to hand it to the Sex Education team for the way they handled taboo issues and lesser-known sexual themes in season two, including everything from sexual assault and internalised homophobia to asexuality and anal douching.
All in all, another great season, and we can’t wait to see what mortifying adventures they take Otis on next year.
Best time to watch: Any time, really, but if you needed a bit of cheering up, this would probably do the job.
Released: 8 January
Tell us about it: We never anticipated that a six-part documentary about college cheerleading would be our top pick of 2020, but that was before we watched Cheer.
Netflix has proved and time and time again that they’re not afraid to explore unusual areas when it comes to their documentaries, 2019′s Don’t Fuck With Cats, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and, of course, the aforementioned Tiger King being three great examples).
In Cheer, they lift the lid on a world few of us knew even the first thing about: the ultra-competitive world of college cheerleading - and the weird and wonderful characters who inhabit it as they strive to try and “make mat”.
Among our favourites are the fabulous La’Darius, underdog tumbler Lexi, always “on” Jerry and, of course, the perfectionist coach Monica.
Best time to watch: When you feel like becoming totally engrossed in something completely new to you.