50 best TV shows to watch on Netflix right now: 'Archive 81,' 'Rebelde'

·15 min read

Every month Netflix giveth, and every month Netflix taketh away.

The streaming giant regularly updates its vast library, adding TV shows and films for your binge-watching pleasure and removing those it no longer has the rights to stream. Mix in the huge number of original series and films Netflix debuts each weekend, and there's a ton of programming to sort through if you're just looking for something new to offer distraction and calm amid a crazy world.

We have curated the best of the TV shows Netflix has available to stream as of January 2022 (in alphabetical order), from its smart new originals to absolute TV classics.

1. "30 Rock"

Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan make an endlessly appealing trio in this award-winning NBC sitcom that goes behind the scenes at a sketch comedy series. The show is also available on Hulu, Amazon Prime and NBCUniversal's streaming service Peacock.

2. “American Crime Story”

Between “The People v. O.J. Simpson” and “The Assassination of Gianni Versace,” Ryan Murphy’s true-crime anthology has delivered narratives that lack the seedy exploitation so often associated with the genre. Instead, each season is a historical reckoning with huge cultural moments, portrayed with impeccable acting and writing.

3. "Anxious People"

Eight people suddenly find themselves hostages when an incompetent bank robber goes rogue on a group of prospective home buyers at an open house. Contrasting narratives of what actually happened set the stage for an oddly bewitching comedy-mystery. The combination of wackiness and dark humor make this limited series an amusing watch.

Legend of Korra
Legend of Korra

4. "Archive 81"

Archivist Dan Turner finds himself wrapped up in a supernatural quest when he takes up a job restoring the videotapes of a filmmaker who was investigating a cult in the mid-'90s. The suspenseful rush of mystery and horror guarantees this sci-fi thriller is a perfect addition to your postholiday watch list. (Begins streaming Jan. 14)

5. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and "The Legend of Korra"

A Nickelodeon animated series with a devoted adult following, “Airbender” is a fantasy epic in kid's clothing with drama to rival “Game of Thrones.” The gorgeously drawn series takes place in a world torn apart by war and genocide, where a pint-size chosen one might be able to save lives, if he can train hard enough and face his greatest fears. A follow-up series set a generation in the future and aimed at an older audience, "Korra," surpasses its source material in maturity and storytelling complexity, becoming a modern classic.

6. "The Baby-Sitters Club"

Season 2 of Netflix's heartwarming and sweet family series, based on the novels by Ann M. Martin, arrived last October and was just as wonderful, if not better, than Season 1. The series, about a group of middle school girls who form a babysitting business, is full of life lessons, great acting and humor for all ages. "Baby-Sitters" remains one of the best shows on TV.

7. “Better Call Saul”

A rare spin-off to outpace its source material in quality and complexity, Bob Odenkirk’s “Breaking Bad” prequel continues to reach new heights in every season and has long since stepped out of its parent show’s shadow.

8. "Big Mouth"

Nick Kroll's animated celebration of preteen debauchery is one of the most reliably funny series on TV (and definitely the most cringeworthy). The animated middle schoolers navigate first periods, crushes and every other pubescent nightmare, along with actual Hormone Monsters (and a monstress) causing problems along the way. No series will make you happier that you've already lived through adolescence.

9. “BoJack Horseman”

A misanthropic Hollywood horse (Will Arnett) leads this animated satire series that is deeper, more clever and more thought-provoking than most live-action series even aspire to be.

Regé-Jean Page is the Duke of Hastings and Phoebe Dynevor is Daphne Bridgerton in Netflix's "Bridgerton."
Regé-Jean Page is the Duke of Hastings and Phoebe Dynevor is Daphne Bridgerton in Netflix's "Bridgerton."

10. "Bridgerton"

A bodice ripper taken seriously by its writers and stars, "Bridgerton" is a marvelous first entry in power producer Shonda Rhimes' Netflix deal. The series follows a group of pretty upper-class Brits navigating the marriage market in Regency-era England. The resplendent series is an expensive, glossy manifesto for the weightiness of the romance genre: a story that deals with love, class, race and a host of other topics while expertly landing every choreographed ballroom dance.

11. “Call the Midwife”

This British period drama, set among nurse midwives serving poor families in 1950s London, is like an epidural injecting joy, tears and adorable babies into your life. Although it gets a little repetitive in later seasons, its raw emotion and British sensibility make it a must-watch for the “Downton Abbey” crowd.

12. “Cheers”

Sometimes you just want to go where everybody knows your name. The classic Boston bar-set sitcom still holds up after all these years.

More: The 40 best TV shows to watch on Paramount+ right now, from 'The Good Fight' to 'The Real World'

13. "Cobra Kai"

The fantastic revival of "The Karate Kid" franchise, featuring Ralph Macchio and William Zabka in their original roles, is one of the smartest ways to bring a kids' story into adulthood. It picks up three decades after the All Valley Karate Tournament, with Zabka's Johnny Lawrence a gentler hero and Macchio's Daniel LaRusso playing the villain.

14. “Community”

Wacky, weird and often wonderful, NBC’s comedy about a diverse group of friends at a community college defies genre and label in its first few excellent seasons to create engrossing television. The later seasons are fine but never as good as the first three.

15. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"

A magnificent mélange of musical might, the four-season CW series ambitiously put original song and dance on network TV week after week. Anchored by creator/star Rachel Bloom as struggling heroine Rebecca Bunch, “Crazy Ex” mixed earworms with one of the best depictions of a mental health journey ever on TV.

Olivia Colman raises a salute as Queen Elizabeth II in "The Crown."
Olivia Colman raises a salute as Queen Elizabeth II in "The Crown."

16. “The Crown”

For devoted anglophiles and royal rejecters alike, Netflix’s dramatization of the reign of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II makes a juicy soap out of the royal family, in a prestigious, Emmy-winning package. Season 4 introduces Princess Diana (Emma Corrin), Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) and a lot more drama to the Windsors.

17. "Deaf U"

This smart, addictive reality series follows college kids at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hard of hearing. In addition to illuminating the deaf and hard of hearing community, the show is incredible at creating relationship drama and comedy out of the lives of the students it follows, and it has the rare reality ensemble that pops off the screen with charm.

18. “Dear White People”

Stronger and more self-assured than the movie on which it’s based, this series, about Black students at an elite university full of microaggressions and outright racism, is whip-smart and often hilarious.

19. “Derry Girls”

You may have to watch with subtitles to parse the strong Irish accents, but this series about Catholic teen girls in Northern Ireland during the 1990s portion of the “Troubles,” the violent religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants, is one of the funniest shows on TV, even for Americans unfamiliar with the history.

Alvaro Rico, Ester Exposito, Aron Piper, Miguel Bernardeau, Danna Paola and Maria Pedraza in "Elite."
Alvaro Rico, Ester Exposito, Aron Piper, Miguel Bernardeau, Danna Paola and Maria Pedraza in "Elite."

20. "Elite"

One of the many stellar foreign-language offerings on Netflix, "Elite" is a captivating and thrilling teen drama from Spain. Set in a prestigious high school, the series follows three students enrolled on scholarships and some of their wealthy classmates. While it owes something to "Gossip Girl," "Big Little Lies" and "The O.C.," the series never feels derivative or tired. The chemistry of the cast and mystery elements make "Elite" an easy and addictive binge-watch.

21. "Emily in Paris"

From the creator of "Sex and the City" and "Younger," this romantic comedy series revolves around Emily Cooper, a young woman who finds herself living in the City of Lights after being hired by a marketing firm to bring an American touch to the branding of chic French fashions. The show's combination of titillating drama and lighthearted fun is a great palate-cleanser from darker fare.

22. “Friday Night Lights”

The drama on NBC's acclaimed high school football series undeniably makes it one of the best shows to binge-watch, equally entertaining for teens and adults. They don’t make high school dramas like this anymore. (The drama is available on Peacock and Hulu as well.)

23. "Girlfriends"

Tracee Ellis Ross, Golden Brooks, Persia White and Jill Marie Jones anchored this hilarious and affecting 2000-2008 UPN sitcom about the love lives and friendships of four Black women in Los Angeles.

24. “The Good Place”

NBC's recently ended afterlife sitcom feels like a dose of palliative care with its bright colors, puns and visual gags. Underneath its appealing aesthetics, "Place" has great performances, great writing and some sincere thoughts about ethics and philosophy.

'Grace and Frankie': Our protagonists (Lily Tomlin, left, and Jane Fonda) are still coping with the fallout of their husbands having married each other.
'Grace and Frankie': Our protagonists (Lily Tomlin, left, and Jane Fonda) are still coping with the fallout of their husbands having married each other.

25. “Grace and Frankie”

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are a magnetic duo in this sitcom from the “Friends” creators. The actresses play the eponymous retirees who learn their husbands are leaving them (for each other). The sometimes raunchy series proves it’s never too late to start over.

26. “The Great British Baking Show”

Warm, friendly, full of soggy bottoms, underproofed loaves and decent people doing their best, this British import is one of the happiest TV series ever made. Don’t miss one of the early seasons (which aired in 2012 in the U.K.), billed separately from the rest under the title “The Great British Baking Show: The Beginnings.”

27. “Grey’s Anatomy”

Shonda Rhimes' seminal hospital drama is still on the air after so many seasons for a reason. Sure, the series crossed over from soapy to full-on soap opera early in its tenure, but amid its constant barrage of tragedy and medical grotesquery are compelling relationship dramas that are emotionally honest.

28. “Halt and Catch Fire”

This short but impactful drama started as a “Mad Men” knockoff about the 1980s computer industry, but greatly improved on a so-so first season. “Halt” evolved into a complex story about communication, connection and women's struggles to achieve power at home and work.

29. "Happy Endings"

One of the many "Friends"-like hangout sitcoms to emerge over the past two decades, ABC's "Endings" is on the quirkier, more heightened side, following five thirtysomethings in Chicago.

30. “Jane the Virgin”

The telenovela-style story of a virgin who's artificially inseminated by accident started strong and rode high for five excellent seasons. Although the moving series isn't a laugh-out-loud sitcom, its moments of joy and levity are plentiful.

31. "Jojo's Bizarre Adventure"

This Japanese action-adventure series centers on the psychically-inclined Joestar family, as each generation battles the evil of supernatural forces. Season 5 tells the story of Jolyne Cujoh, who faces a 15-year sentence in Green Dolphin Street Prison after she's blamed for a deadly car accident. A pendant sent by Cujoh's father unlocks a latent power within her, teeing up a series of fantastical adventures and nonstop action that make this show a must-add to your list.

32. “Lovesick”

If you like a sweet (but not too saccharine) romantic comedy, this short British series is a good choice. The story starts with a man diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease reaching out to his former flames and morphs into a touching and surprising will they/won’t they love story.

33. “The Magicians”

Like an R-rated mashup of “Game of Thrones,” "Harry Potter" and "The Chronicles of Narnia," the superb fantasy series follows a group of adult magicians who discover a fictional world from popular children's books is real – and deathly dangerous.

34. “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”

There are comedy classics, and then there are the genre’s very foundations. If you are a fan of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” but have never seen the hysterical, groundbreaking sketch TV show from comedians Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin that came first, now is the time to correct that error.

35. “Never Have I Ever”

Mindy Kaling's teen sitcom is a breath of honest, awkward fresh air. Loosely based on Kaling's experiences, the series follows Devi (sparkling new talent Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), an Indian American teen fumbling her way through an angry, frustrating adolescence.

36. “One Day at a Time”

Like Norman Lear's original, which premiered in 1975, this family sitcom reboot, about a Cuban American family in Los Angeles, is expert at combining frank discussion of social issues with hilarity. A shortened fourth season is available on Paramount+, but the first three wonderful years are still streaming on their original home.

37. “Orange Is the New Black”

Netflix’s groundbreaking series had ups and downs over its run, but especially its first three seasons are exquisite character portraits in a space we’ve rarely seen: the inside of a women’s prison.

38. "The Orbital Children"

This futuristic anime centers on two groups of children — one from Earth and one from the moon — and what ensues when they meet aboard a space station. Created by Mitsuo Iso ("Ghost in the Shell," "Neon Genesis Evangelion"), the colorful and whimsical graphics offer a heartwarming escape (Begins streaming Jan. 28).

39. “Pose”

The LGBTQ drama, set in 1980s ballroom culture, is ambitious, tragic and complex. It’s gorgeously filmed with especially strong performances from Emmy winner Billy Porter as Pray Tell, Mj Rodriguez as Blanca and Indya Moore as Angel.

Marielle Heller as Alma Wheatley and Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in "The Queen's Gambit."
Marielle Heller as Alma Wheatley and Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in "The Queen's Gambit."

40. "The Queen's Gambit"

The story of a fictional 1960s chess prodigy (Anya Taylor-Joy, at her absolute best) battling addiction as she rises through the ranks of the chess elite is far more engrossing than it sounds. The miniseries, from the writer of "Logan," manages to make its chess matches as epic as any football game and features a superb cast.

41. “Queer Eye”

Inspiration, triumph, overcoming obstacles: All those heartwarming attributes are here when the Fab Five swoop into someone's life to offer as much help as they can in a week.

42. "Rebelde"

This musical drama, streaming Jan. 5, follows a group of young performers at an elite boarding school, as they strive to win their school's battle of the bands competition amid the highs and lows of adolescence — plus the intimidating antics of a secret society. Based on the Mexican telenovela of the mid-2000s, this reboot offers a mixture of angst, raucous fun and heart that makes for a joyously nail-biting watch.

43. “Schitt’s Creek”

Full of beautiful romance, sunny settings and plenty of humor, Pop TV's sitcom about a rich family that loses it all but gains love and a little perspective is always a mood-booster.

Catherine O'Hara as Moira Rose in a scene from Emmy darling "Schitt's Creek."
Catherine O'Hara as Moira Rose in a scene from Emmy darling "Schitt's Creek."
"Seinfeld" is now on Netflix.
"Seinfeld" is now on Netflix.

44. "Seinfeld"

If you've never seen Jerry Seinfeld's landmark NBC sitcom (previously streaming on Hulu), now is a good time to start. Famously a show about "nothing," "Seinfeld" is one of the comedies that (mostly) stands the test of time, from its hilarious and talented cast (also including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards), to its enduring jokes and even its own created holiday (a Festivus for "the rest of us").

45. “Star Trek”

The iconic TV show that started it all still holds up after all these years. The other installments in the franchise have plenty to offer, but the original series is so wonderful and smart, it’s worth watching at least once through during your life.

46. “Stranger Things”

The nostalgic and paranormal series became one of Netflix’s first real sensations, and it almost lives up to all that hype. With fantastic kid actors, terrifying horror homages and all the 1980s pop culture references you can handle, the three seasons of “Stranger” are compelling and alluring.

47. “Unorthodox”

This slightly under-the-radar miniseries is based on the true story of a woman who escapes an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in New York and runs away to Germany. Often using Yiddish dialogue and authentic costuming, the series is an immersive, addictive journey.

"When They See Us" (Netflix) with Aunjanue Ellis and Ethan Herisse.
"When They See Us" (Netflix) with Aunjanue Ellis and Ethan Herisse.

48. “The Witcher”

There are TV series that are so bad they’re good, and then there’s “The Witcher,” a bacchanalia of B-movie tropes, nonsensical plots, unnecessary nudity and terrible dialogue that finds the sweet spot of being silly and sensational at once. The writers and actors, including star Henry Cavill, take this fantasy thriller both too seriously and not seriously at all, making it one of the most surprisingly delightful series on Netflix.

49. "The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window"

Starring Golden-Globe nominee Kristen Bell ("The Good Place"), this dark satire eerily plays with the contours of reality, as Anna tries to piece together what she suspects to be a murder in her neighborhood. The haunting desperation and slow-burning paranoia make this limited series a spellbinding must-see. (Begins streaming Jan. 28)

50. “You”

The soapy stalker thriller starring Penn Badgley was a pleasant surprise in its original home on Lifetime and became a sensation once it moved to Netflix. Of all the current series that traffic in bad men doing bad things, “You” remains one of the few that asks interesting questions about its bad guy.

Contributing: Edward Segarra

Have a different streaming service? Here are the shows worth checking out:

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 50 best Netflix shows in January 2022: 'Archive 81,' 'Rebelde'

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