5 Unsung Netflix Shows You Likely Haven’t Seen
I had previously written about some of the most renowned International shows on Netflix Australia here, and while all of these are highly recommended and also feel worthy of the criteria of an ‘unsung’ list – Babylon Berlin and Dark still feel remarkably under-valued despite being two of the most celebrated foreign language shows ever made – I elected to go with some more broadly accessible options for this list. From supernatural horror thrillers, to charming rom-coms, to impactful documentaries, here’s a small but diverse selection of unsung shows available to watch right now on Netflix Australia.
Last Chance U (2016-2020)
Last Chance U is a docu-reality series that has chronicled, in often-unfathomable depth, the football programs of three Community Colleges – including key contributing players and coaching staff and often their extended families, as well as influential members of the local community – across five compelling seasons. The first two seasons focus on the dominant campaigns of East Mississippi Community College, under long-time head coach Buddy Stephens, before shifting to the struggling Independence Community College in season 3, coinciding with the arrival of brash coach Jason Brown who is brought in to develop a winning culture via any means necessary. The 5th season shifts to Oakland’s Laney College, where veteran coach John Beam’s legacy is put to the test throughout a challenging, injury-riddled season.
What is particularly impressive about the series is how it so honestly presents the ‘characters’ of these stories; young people from underprivileged backgrounds thriving both athletically and academically before your eyes, and flawed men owning their mistakes and seeking to grow and improve themselves. The show chronicles the not just the teams’ intense training sessions, dramatic performances on the field and the often volcanic locker room confrontations, but also the players’ individual academic journeys as they try to meet the graduation requirements and forge opportunities for the future. I was often tremendously moved watching these series, and in awe of not just the spectacular coverage of the matches, but the access allowed for the camera operators into privileged interactions, as well as the candid to-camera addresses. There are also two seasons of Last Chance U: Basketball available if football isn’t your thing.
In Flowers Maurice (Julian Barratt, The Mighty Boosh), a depressed children’s author, and his wife Deborah (Olivia Colman, The Favourite), a music teacher, struggle to keep their marriage afloat while their rival twins (Daniel Rigby and Sophia Di Martino) cause chaos as they pursue their vocations in unusual ways. The series is the complete creative inspiration of young writer/director Will Sharpe (you’ve seen him recently in The White Lotus), who also stars as Maurice’s Japanese live-in illustrator, Shun.
A truly original series, Flowers is an often hilariously bleak (if that makes sense) comedy-drama series that presents a rather startling study of complex behavioural issues. What makes this such a tragic portrait, at times, is that these characters and their emotional states feel disconcertingly familiar. As a viewer you’re amused by their trials but may also find yourself feeling bad for enjoying their misery, perhaps recognising similar challenges in your own life that have caused friction amongst your relationships. This is an honest and sensitive portrayal of mental illness and social alienation, elevated by the imaginative set design and that wonderful cast.
Love is the co-creation of Judd Apatow, Paul Rust and Lesley Arfin, and it enjoyed a strong 34-episode run across 3 seasons. Rust and Gillian Jacobs are the heart of this charming romantic-comedy series, starring as Gus and Mickey, but there are a host of memorable supporting characters and cameo appearances (including Australia’s Claudia O’Doherty) that enrich the experience.
People-pleasing nice-guy Gus, after moving into a trendy apartment complex and taking on the job of an on-set tutor for a child actor, has a chance encounter with Mickey, an aimless wild-child who has a unfulfilling job in radio. Both are recently single, their only thing in common, but despite this they are drawn to each other and find an unexpected comfort in their newfound friendship (or is it love?).
Those familiar with Judd Apatow brand of comedy – Knocked Up, Trainwreck – will find a similar style here. Heartfelt explorations of the nitty gritty complexities of relationships, showing warts and all. You really root for Gus and Mickey here as they attempt to figure out their lives, and deal with the dueling extremes of the euphoria and devastation throughout their rollercoaster relationship, ultimately hoping that a happy ending is in store for them.
Alias Grace (2017)
This masterful 6-part adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale) is an intriguing and twist-filled mystery, with a powerful and haunting performance from Sarah Gadon (11.22.63). Written by Sarah Polley, who recently won an Academy Award for Women Talking, and directed by Mary Harron (American Psycho), this is a premium historical drama set in 19th Century Canada. It is actually based on a real murder case. Irish immigrant, Grace Marks (Gadon), and James McDermott (Kerr Logan), a fellow servant in the household of Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross), were convicted of murdering Kinnear and his housekeeper-lover Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin).
Atwood’s novel probes into tenuous questions surrounding Grace’s guilt versus innocence, what factors might have ultimately led to this horrific crime, as well as the shrewd mutation of Grace’s personal story by the class distinction, gender association, and anti-immigrant sentiment at the time. A doctor (Edward Holcroft) is assigned to uncover the truth and weigh up the possibility of whether Grace should be pardoned due to insanity, and it is in these lengthy interactions between Gadon and Holcroft where the core of the mystery is unraveled. While The Handmaid’s Tale became a water-cooler special over the years, Alias Grace significantly clears that series as an Atwood adaptation in my opinion.
Midnight Mass (2021)
This thrilling gothic horror drama series comes from the genius mind of Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House, Doctor Sleep), who followed up a bit of a misfire in The Haunting of Bly Manor with this landmark chiller, his strongest creation to date.
The series is set on the isolated Crockett Island and establishes an increasingly foreboding tone as it follows the arrival of a young man (Zach Gilford), who is returning to his hometown hoping to rebuild his life after a service in prison. His return coincides with the arrival of a mysterious and charismatic priest (Hamish Linklater), who begins to revitalise the town’s flailing faith. However, deep-rooted divisions within the community are soon exacerbated as mysterious events befall the town.
Featuring an extraordinary cast (get Kate Siegel and Zach Gilford their own movie ASAP), this is a well-oiled production all-round. The unraveling mysteries do unfold at a modest pace, and Flanagan interrogates his ambitious themes of death, faith and guilt with patience and interest, but the unforgettable climactic episode is well worth the investment.