Last Updated: January 16th
There’s no shortage of prestige TV series on Netflix, but sometimes, you just need a good guilty pleasure binge-watch.
That’s where these shows come in. Each of the entries on this list packs on the drama, navigating the high-stakes world of politics, the even more cutthroat halls of high school, and giving us characters so eccentric, so over-the-top, you can’t help but love them. Or, love to hate them. We tune into these stories for their entertainment value, to be mesmerized by the melodrama, to enjoy all the juicy gossip, shocking betrayal, and eye-rolling cat fights that come with them.
These are the best guilty pleasures on Netflix right now.
1 season, 10 episodes | IMDb: 6.4/10
Renee Zellweger turns on the melodrama for this 10-episode anthology series about a San Francisco billionaire and the young scientist whose company she funds. Zellweger plays Anne Montgomery, a high-profile member of San Francisco’s elite upper class. She has plenty of money and the attitude to back it up. Jane Levy plays a wunderkind named Lisa, whose promising medical company is broke and needs a helping hand from Anne, who agrees, but her money comes with a price. If daytime soaps are your thing, you’ll probably love this one.
3 seasons, 57 episodes | IMDb: 7.4/10
Riverdale is a dark teen comedy based on characters from the Archie comics. It mixes in elements of a conventional teen drama — romance, small-town life, and the high-school ecosystem — with a compelling, adult murder mystery. The series takes place in a small-town with a 1950s vibe (despite being firmly set in the present) where a high-school teenager is found dead under mysterious circumstances that implicate much of the community as suspects. Riverdale is powered not just by the mystery, but by characters who are instantly likable (Betty, Veronica, and Jughead are all standouts) and is easy to invest in. The mystery is so incredibly intriguing that it’s almost impossible not to get wrapped up in it as the storyline guides us through numerous red herrings. It’s a madly addictive series, occasionally campy, and just self-aware enough not to take itself too seriously.
2 seasons, 20 episodes | IMDb: 7.9/10
Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley returns as a scumbag we can’t help but swoon over in this Lifetime drama that’s now been handed off to the streaming platform. Badgley plays Joe Goldberg, a seemingly-sweet guy who works at a bookshop in the city and courts a beautiful blonde named Beck (Elizabeth Lail). Unfortunately, that’s where the rom-com portion of this thriller ends. You see, Joe’s “courting” includes stalking the object of his affections, breaking into her apartment, holding her boyfriend hostage, and peeping in on her most intimate of moments. And that’s only in the first episode. If anything, this show is proof that the modern dating world can be a terrifying hellscape.
6 seasons, 121 episodes | IMDb: 6.8/10
Ryan Murphy’s musical coming-of-age drama checks all the boxes of a great guilty pleasure. There are song and dance, teenage angst and hormones, betrayal, bullying, witty one-liners, and Jane Lynch in a tracksuit. The show follows a group of high schoolers who join their defunct Glee club, help it to rise from the ashes, and form complicated bonds along the way. Everything is heightened here, and Murphy makes sure to include any and all issues a teen could possibly face in their school career, so expect plenty of rivalries and teen pregnancies and even one teen stripping on the side to make a little money.
7 seasons, 124 episodes | IMDb: 7.8/10
Shonda Rhimes’ political thriller starring Kerry Washington started its run strong, focusing on a black woman in power who served as a fixer for some of the most corrupt, questionable politicians on Capitol Hill. As the seasons went on, Olivia Pope confronted more and more drama — her ex lover-turned-president-of-the-United-States still had the hots for her and made a show of it often, she was surrounded by liars and manipulators at her job, she fell for a secret agent spying on her under her estranged father’s orders, she was kidnapped and held hostage. All of that happened before the show’s final season, which had to wrap up all of these plot lines in a satisfying manner. For the most part, it did, and we’ll always remember the melodrama and inhumanly long monologues that the series delivered.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
2 seasons, 21 episodes | IMDb: 7.7/10
Kiernan Shipka stars in this witchy revival of a sitcom classic. This Sabrina Spellman is darker than what millennials are used to. As a half-mortal, half-witch, Spellman is an outcast with the magical community, and the first season explores the cult-like fervor of magic users, their worship of Satan, and why Sabrina is being pressured to sign her name over to the Dark Lord. The show also tackles issues of romance, friendship, and sexism in clever, crafty ways, and with season two newly released, expect things to get even more nightmarish for the Spellman clan.
6 seasons, 121 episodes | IMDb: 7.4/10
Teen dramas are notoriously difficult to pull off. There’s an unwritten recipe that exists detailing the perfect amount of angst, triviality, romance, and existentialism needed to make a show about the inner workings of high school interesting and enjoyable without being over-the-top and camp. Gossip Girl often walked that fine line, giving us characters to root for (Serena van der Woodsen, Dan Humphrey) and characters we loved to hate (Chuck Bass). The storylines could be trite, sometimes filled with glaring potholes, and eye-roll inducing, but watching this cast enact the lives of those elite Upper East Siders, the ones completely removed from the realities of everyday life, more worried about galas, balls, charity functions, and business takeovers — well, that’s a form of escapism worth anyone’s time.
3 seasons, 19 episodes | IMDb: 7.4/10
Normally, a baking competition like The Great British Bakeoff would make this list, but it turns out Netflix’s own spin on the pastry competition format is just as addictive, for different reasons. Nicole Byer hosts this so-bad-it’s-good series about home cooks who can’t, well, cook, taking on timed baking competitions and presenting their dishes to a panel of judges. Watching these hopeless chefs flounder is most of the fun here.
Jane The Virgin
5 seasons, 100 episodes | IMDb: 7.8/10
Based on a Spanish telenovela, Jane the Virgin plays more like a brilliant but genial satire of conventional Latin TV staple. Gina Rodriguez plays the virgin here, who is impregnated through an accidental artificial insemination. Matters are complicated, however, because she has to break the news of her pregnancy to her deeply religious family, as well as her fiancé, with whom she has never had sex. Jane also develops feelings for another man who just so happens to be the baby’s father. It sounds like a premise that could not sustain itself beyond five episodes, but the writing is so good, and the characters so delightful that Jane never gets bogged down by its crazier storylines. It’s a genuinely delightful, heartwarming show, and Gina Rodriguez lights up the screen every second she is on it.
American Horror Story
8 seasons, 106 episodes | IMDb: 8.1/10
Ryan Murphy’s horror anthology on FX is an unpredictable tour-de-force that, when it sticks its landing, is one of the best shows on TV. The series chronicles truly terrifying, mind-warping plots across multiple seasons, connecting some, ignoring others. What grounds these outrageous storylines involving haunted hotels, murder houses, insane asylums, cults, and covens is the cast, most notably Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, and Evan Peters. Murphy relies on their visceral portrayals of individuals unhinged to sell this wacky, nightmare-inducing rollercoaster, and sell they do.