With a growing body of innovative original productions, from House of Cards and Lilyhammer to Orange Is the New Black and Marco Polo, Netflix has proven it deserves a place in the vanguard of TV programming.
Yet the streaming site's most buzzed-about offering this month isn't one of its own shows. It's the British import Black Mirror, a sci-fi anthology series whose six one-hour episodes have driven critics and sci-fi geeks to distraction with passionate praise.
Created by satirist Charlie Brooker (Screenwipe, Dead Set), who also wrote most of the stories, Black Mirror uses the anthology format to present fresh, original mini-sagas that engage with some aspect of technology.
The title refers to "the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone," writes Brooker, "a screen you'll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand."
The stories are set in an alternate future, in which folks must pay a fee if they want to turn off the reality shows, porn movies, and TV ads that stream endlessly on the many screens that dominate their living and working space. It's a world where a cartoon character almost wins a parliamentary election.
But despite mining the fantastic, Black Mirror deals with themes of interest in our current reality.
In one particularly moving episode, a young widow (Hayley Atwell) signs up for an online service that re-creates the personality of her late husband Ash (Domhnall Gleeson), piecing together every trace of his online interactions. At first, she texts the machine-made-man. By the end of the episode, she buys an android custom-made to look, feel, talk, and think like Ash.
With a unique sense of irony and a facility for telling dark, bleak yarns, Brooker crafts each story as a lyrical poem about our ambivalent love affair with technology, a relationship that can be unsettling if not downright disturbing.
Take the opening story, "The National Anthem," about an avant-garde artist who kidnaps a member of the royal family (Lydia Wilson), vowing to kill the princess unless the prime minister (Rory Kinnear) has sex with a pig on live TV.
Another yarn, "The Entire History of You," is about a world where everyone wears a chip in his or her head that records everything seen and heard - and which can be projected on a screen for all to see. Consider what happens when a jealous husband (Toby Kebbell) demands that his wife (Jodie Whittaker) show him all her interactions with a former lover (Tom Cullen).
Hollywood has taken notice.
Robert Downey, Jr., beat out a lineup of A-listers, including George Clooney, for the rights to remake the latter story as a feature.
One early fan, Mad Men star Jon Hamm, compares Black Mirror to Rod Serling's masterpiece, The Twilight Zone.
"I can't think of anything really like this since The Twilight Zone, which was 50-60 years ago," Hamm told The Independent. "That kind of storytelling and creative originality is sorely missed."
Hamm so loved his meeting with Brooker that he signed up to star in the Black Mirror Christmas episode, which premieres Tuesday on Britain's Channel 4. (No word on if or when an American outlet will show it here.) A third season will soon follow in Britain. And perhaps here, too.
A lemur for all seasons
Last year, Netflix signed a much-publicized megabucks deal with DreamWorks Animation that is to yield a dozen new shows by 2016, beginning with the current hit, Turbo FAST.
On Friday, Netflix will post the first five episodes of another animated family series, the oddly addictive All Hail King Julien.
A spin-off of the Madagascar franchise and peopled (animaled?) with many of the same characters, each 22-minute episode will deal with the adventures of the young lemur king (voiced by Danny Jacobs) as he takes over rule from his aging uncle (Henry Winkler).
While it won't make animation history, Julien is a droll musical comedy with enjoyable story lines and lively characters, including the court spymaster, Maurice (Kevin Michael Richardson).
The series even addresses politics.
In the opening episode, young Julien becomes choleric when he finds out he's not as popular as his uncle - the youngster has only a 99 percent approval rating. So he goes out in search of that ungrateful one percent.
Julien would rather party than rule. In one episode, he puts a dummy of himself on the throne so he can play hooky. Yet he gets responsible and ends up saving his kingdom from evildoers.
Netflix will post more episodes throughout 2015.
All six episodes now on Netflix (http://nflx.it/1zfUU4Q).
All Hail King Julien
Premieres Friday on Netflix (http://nflx.it/1AzDVZq).