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5 Netflix Shows for Writers to Binge-Watch

"Netflix and chill" takes on an entirely new meaning when you're a writer looking for inspiration. With the plethora of shows and topics available for a small fee per month, it's now easier than ever for writers to find storytelling inspiration while also achieving down time in the form of media consumption and relaxing to a great series.

With this in mind, here are the top shows on Netflix that you simply shouldn't miss if you're a writer. From expert dialogue, to storytelling genius, to character arcs that would even impress Tolstoy, here are five Netflix shows you absolutely must see to perfect your craft.

Russian Doll

Screenshot from Russian Doll, starring Natasha Lyonne.
Russian Doll, starring Natasha Lyonne.

Imagine being a single woman on the night of your 36th birthday but reliving the same night again and again—all in an attempt to make sense of the extraordinarily cynical mess that your life has become. From fatally funny to mournfully sad, Russian Doll takes on a life of its own after the first few episodes of the protagonist returning to the same night in this eight-part Netflix series aimed at exploring mid-life crisis at its finest.

This review from NPR's Linda Holmes sums the show up best:

A woman whose curly red hair spills past her shoulders stands in front of a bathroom mirror as a party rages outside. She looks at her reflection. People bang on the door to get in. She turns and leaves, through a door with a handgun for a handle, out of the bathroom where the areas of the walls and door glow with blotches of chilly blue light. As she leaves, two women push their way past her into the bathroom, and she moves into the room where the party is. Friends swarm around her. A woman cooking in the kitchen offers her a joint laced with cocaine. Something is wrong. She is a quick-witted New York game designer who seems to smoke in part for the smoking itself, but also in part so she can gesture, in quick little jabs, with her cigarette. And she can't figure out quite what's going on. "What was I just doing?" she asks her friend.

Linda Holmes, NPR

The fact that Natasha Lyonne, one of the stars of Netflix's original, Orange is the New Black, leads the cast doesn't hurt the intense effect of the show. The actress is brilliant at playing a lost 30-something party girl coming to terms with her life decisions and future choices. All in all, the show is an amazing dive into deep character study and unique storytelling, and would be a welcome addition to any writer's exploration into what makes us human after all. Particularly those of us who think too much.

The Walking Dead

Screenshot of The Walking Dead, starring Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus
The Walking Dead, starring Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus

Don't watch The Walking Dead for the gore. In fact, don't watch the show because of zombies or apocalyptic fiction at all. Simply watch it for the character study in a Lord of the Flies-esque exploration of how society collapses under the pressure of survival of the fittest.

Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic, says of the first season:

In an early scene we see the emotional toll the killings can take and in several instances, Grimes and others pay homage to the former humanity of their predators. But still, zombies are clearly not human. Or rather they are the nightmare version of humanity, the fear that our friends and family are not to be trusted because they are capable of turning on us at any time.

That same anxiety is played out among the survivors—the suspicion that what civility we have is merely a habit, that any shift in the order of things will reveal the hidden bullies and tyrants, the murderers and rapists and thieves. The Walking Dead, like any good horror tale, still believes in the importance of monsters, perfectly balancing the struggle of basic human decency with those palsied four-in-the-morning moments when we are convinced that everyone around us is trying to eat us alive.

Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times

Black Mirror

Screenshot of Black Mirror, starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Hannah John-Kamen
Black Mirror, starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Hannah John-Kamen

Techno-paranoia, dystopia, suspense—Black Mirror's anthology-like approach to all we're uneasy about in our world is a guaranteed way to turn your mind upside down and inside out. From the darkness inherent in social media to the lives we try to keep hidden despite "big brother," Black Mirror explores the darker side of technology and human nature when the two of them combine to create a real sense of madness.

In reflecting our decidedly freakish and dark 21st Century existence back to us, Black Mirror, created by Charlie Brooker and executive produced by Brooker and Annabel Jones, is a show that is guaranteed to get any writer's mind whirling with possibilities—from dystopia to cyberpunk and all the realms of possibilities in between.

Emily Nussbaum, reviewer for The New Yorker writes:

Anyone who has skimmed Guy Debord's Wikipedia page or watched the American Music Awards could condemn our culture as a masquerade, a spectacle of virtuality. But what's refreshing about Black Mirror is that Brooker goes deeper than that, aiming past the obvious targets—the know-nothings and narcissists of the Internet. Instead, his villains are the bad-faith cynics, like the reality-TV judge, in one episode, who murmurs, with cagey calculation, "Authenticity is in woefully short supply." In Black Mirror, the danger is not complacency, or, at least, not that alone: it's letting your outrage turn into contempt, a pose of transgression that is, in the end, more deadly than any desperation to be loved.

Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker

Meanwhile, Michelle Orange, writer for Vogue, suggests Black Mirror might be "the Twilight Zone of the Digital Age," and writes:

Black Mirror [is] pretty tough to watch. What's caught in its dark reflection might look a lot like you. There are high-handed moments and a schematic quality basic to its project, but overall the show is earnestly and intelligently, imaginatively engaged with its times, which makes it—ironically, given the central indictment of spectatorship—hard to look away. The stories set archetypal human dilemmas—death, identity, fidelity—within an entirely new context, which is exactly how we are living them. What they reveal of human nature is not new but newly captured. In the future of Black Mirror, technology has set us, which is to say we have set ourselves, a perfect trap.

Michelle Orange, Vogue

The Killing

 Screenshot of The Killing, starring Joel Kinnaman And Mireille Enos.
The Killing, starring Joel Kinnaman And Mireille Enos.

While admittedly, the audience and critic reviews tend to swoon downward as the series progresses, The Killing starts off with a bang that's hard to beat when it comes to police procedural and crime drama action.

Critic Troy Patterson from Slate Magazine, who compares The Killing to the infamous Twin Peaks, writes: The prologue practically functions as a schematic diagram of all the police procedurals—with their virtuous investigators and their quasi-necrophiliac tone—that The Killing seems to deconstruct and reassemble on a higher plain.

David Bianculli, as heard on NPR's Fresh Air program, again equates The Killing to Twin Peaks and suggests that it, along with some of the world's best-known recent crime series, have come from Scandinavian countries, including Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. He also notes:

The Killing is intentionally slow, and doesn't provide any of the usual staples of the genre as high-octane relief. No gun battles, no car chases—just cops doing their duty, politicians looking for ways to spin things to their advantage and parents facing their worst fears. There's one scene, in which the parents are called in to identify the body of their daughter, where their individual reactions are nonverbal, unconnected and emotionally scalding. The husband and wife don't even hold or look at each other. In that awful moment, they're hit by their own individual grief. It's astoundingly good acting—but, like so much of The Killing, it's tough to watch.

But it deserves to be seen—and the persistence of these detectives is a little reminiscent of Columbo, where their unassuming, unorthodox approach ends up unearthing certain hidden clues—and, at the same time, getting us to root for them strongly along the way.

David Bianculli, NPR's Fresh Air

Bianculli continues to note that The Killing is AMC's most depressing series yet—and this is from a network that has given us apocalyptic zombies and a terminally ill crystal meth manufacturer.

Stranger Things

Screenshot of Stranger Things, starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, and Millie Bobby Brown.
Stranger Things, starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, and Millie Bobby Brown.

There can't be a list of binge-worthy Netflix shows for writers without adding my personal favorite, Stranger Things.

With the first season set in 1983 in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, Stranger Things is a nostalgic trip back to childhood in the 80s, with storytelling that is as taut as it is perfectly executed. Although the cast is large, it becomes hard to pick a favorite, as each character becomes as dearly beloved as one's childhood playmates.

Any adult who grew up riding bicycles with friends, exploring the woods, and trembling at night to spooky stories told beneath blankets will feel a genuine connection with the kids. Any parent who has ever felt helpless as their child experiences trauma will feel instant empathy for the adult characters in the show.

It's really difficult to describe Stranger Things to someone who hasn't seen it. There are genuine horror elements inspired by Stephen King's literary universe, combined with nail-biting chapter installments that make it difficult to NOT binge-watch the show. Combined with a perfectly matched soundtrack and stellar acting, Stranger Things should be on any writer's radar—particularly for a lesson on how to craft a story that achieves sympathetic characters, while appealing to the emotions and primal fears of an audience. As reviewer Wenlei Ma notes, Don't just watch it for the nostalgia or the genuine creeps, watch it because it's compelling storytelling.

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