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Top 10 Netflix Shows With The Best Performances

VO: Rebecca Brayton
We’ll say this about Netflix: they hire some damn fine actors. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Netflix Shows with the Best Performances. For this list, we’ll be looking at various Netflix Originals with universally great performances. We’ll only be discussing live-action shows, so voice performances won’t be included.

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We’ll say this about Netflix: they hire some damn fine actors. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Netflix Shows with the Best Performances.

For this list, we’ll be looking at various Netflix Originals with universally great performances. We’ll only be discussing live-action shows, so voice performances won’t be included.

#10: “Lady Dynamite” (2016-17)

“Lady Dynamite” has seemingly fallen by the wayside of Netflix Originals. It’s rarely talked about online, and when the best Netflix shows are mentioned, “Lady Dynamite” is usually, and mysteriously, absent. And we have no idea why, because it is an absolutely hilarious show. “Lady Dynamite” is a surreal comedy loosely based on the life of comedian Maria Bamford, and her performance is both hilarious and honest. She walks a delicate tightrope between outrageous zaniness and troubled sincerity when it comes to her mental illness, and she’s surrounded by game guest stars. It’s a shame that this was cancelled after two seasons, because it’s filled with talented individuals who deserve more attention and respect.

#9: “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (2015-)

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is another show that walks a delicate line between absurdist humor and painful realities, although it never quite reaches the darker depths of “Lady Dynamite.” That said, it’s arguably the funnier series, and its actors are more-than-game to inhabit these kooky characters. Standouts include Tituss Burgess as the flamboyant Titus Andromedon and Jane Krakowski as the arrogant Jacqueline, but it’s Ellie Kemper’s star-making performance as Kimmy that steals the show. She nails the typical fish-out-of-water character, and her unique, adorable charm is on full display through her persistent good will and optimism. You have to respect these actors for going to such ridiculous lengths to get a laugh.

#8: “GLOW” (2017-)

We all wondered what Alison Brie was going to do after “Community.” We finally got our answer. “GLOW” is a great show about the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a female wrestling promotion that consisted of actresses and models hoping to make it big. The series contains a host of breakout stars and known actors, including the aforementioned Alison Brie and podcast host Marc Maron, who is surprisingly great as GLOW’s director, Sam Sylvia. The show at once embraces the campy female archetypes of GLOW while at the same time showing the realistic and three-dimensional women behind the roles, and the cast pulls it all off with pathos and humor alike.

#7: “Grace and Frankie” (2015-)

Like “Lady Dynamite,” “Grace and Frankie” has somewhat fallen by the wayside in terms of popularity. You never really hear about it, but that’s probably because it’s a little outside of Netflix’s core demographic. That said, it’s still a great comedy featuring all-stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as women who discover that their respective husbands are in love with each other. Lily Tomlin is especially good, having been nominated for three Emmys, two SAGs, and a Golden Globe. The concept and jokes are a little cliché, but Tomlin and Fonda’s grounded, hilarious performances elevate the material into something better than it has any right to be.

#6: “Mindhunter” (2017-)

Movies or shows about serial killers walk a tricky line. Too melodramatic, and you risk losing the necessary realism. If an actor is too inexperienced or campy, then you lose the necessary creepiness. All this is to say that “Mindhunter” perfectly nailed the aspect of serial killers that make them so compelling to so many people. While some people complained about the acting of leads Jonathan Groff and Hannah Gross, the serial killers were praised, particularly Happy Anderson as Jerry Brudos and Cameron Britton as Edmund Kemper. They were all scary without being excessive, and humane enough that we felt fascinated by their stories.

#5: “Master of None” (2015-)

Netflix certainly knows how to capture a demographic. “Master of None” is a perfect show for confused millennials growing up in the 2010s. It speaks to a generation through a host of realistic performances led by Aziz Ansari, whose real-life dating exploits came to the fore in early 2018 and brought a new perspective to the series and its themes. He’s not “Master of None”’s only standout either; Lena Waithe’s performance as Denise has also earned considerable praise. It also hosts a ton of amazing guest actors, including Angela Bassett, Claire Danes, and Shoukath Ansari, the latter being Aziz’s hilarious real-life father. We see ourselves in these actors, and it hurts just as much as it comforts.

#4: “Stranger Things” (2016-)

Child acting has had a real rocky history in Hollywood. Sometimes it’s great, like in most of Spielberg’s work. Other times, well… it just sucks. Fortunately, the child actors of “Stranger Things” are excellent, infusing their characters with humanity and heart while still being entertaining as ever. Also, props to Noah Schnapp: that kid killed it in Season 2. Of course, the adults are no slouches, either. Winona Ryder gives her best performance in years, and breakout star David Harbour made Chief Hopper a fan favorite through his character’s sadness and maturity. The cast certainly deserved that Screen Actors Guild Award and then some.

#3: “House of Cards” (2013-)

The one that started it all, “House of Cards” proved that Netflix could battle with the big boys. While its later seasons did not receive as universal acclaim as its earlier ones, the show is still a compelling political drama, with a barrage of big names filling out the cast list and offering up powerhouse performances. Kevin Spacey’s fantastically creepy and psychopathic Frank Underwood was front and center for the first five seasons, supported beautifully by his partner in politics, Claire – played to icy perfection by Robin Wright. While the 2017 sexual misconduct allegations against Spacey ended his time on the show, Wright, Michael Kelly and the rest of the revolving supporting cast were more than capable of keeping the show afloat without him.

#2: “Orange Is the New Black” (2013-)

Following “House of Cards” was “Orange is the New Black,” and while the former focuses on a particular set of characters, the latter allows its entire ensemble to shine, and they all do respectable jobs of bringing their complex characters to life. Many of its actors were unknowns at the time of release who have since blown up due to their obvious talents, including Danielle Brooks, Samira Wiley, and breakout star Uzo Aduba, who has won a Critics’ Choice, two Emmys, and two SAGs. The cast has won three SAG awards for Best Ensemble, and it’s not hard to see why. They’re all hilarious, they’re all poignant, and they’re all amazing.

Before we unveil our top picks, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Easy” (2016-)

“Jessica Jones” (2015-)

“Ozark” (2017-)

#1: “The Crown” (2016-)

Netflix went all out for “The Crown.” The settings and costumes for one episode alone probably cost more than you’ll ever make, and it secured some incredibly talented actors. While some people may scoff at the idea of another pretentious period piece, “The Crown” is worth watching for the sheer power of its acting. These people completely disappear into their roles and become notable historic figures, including Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II, and particularly John Lithgow as Winston Churchill, who arguably makes a better Winston Churchill than Winston Churchill. “The Crown” is less a period piece than it is an authentic look into the reign of Queen Elizabeth; the acting is just that convincing.

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