If quantity is the most important factor for you in determining which streaming service to sign up for, Netflix is the clear winner in that regard. But what about quality? Sure, there are a lot of great Netflix originals... but there's also a fair amount of complete trash as well.
On the other hand, Amazon's Prime Video service is still slowly building up its catalog, but it already is pretty heavy on the quality. In fact, the still-growing service— once a somewhat forgettable bonus to getting free shipping but now worth it entirely for the original content— already has a bunch of original series and movies under its belt that blow away just about anything you're going to find on Netflix.
20 Good Omens
When a show's source material is a novel written by two of fantasy fiction's biggest names— Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett— expectations are obviously going to be pretty high. Remarkably, Amazon's adaptation of Good Omens meets those expectations, thanks in large part to the performances of leads Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex) and David Tennant (Doctor Who) and a strong supporting cast that includes Jon Hamm, Frances McDormand, Miranda Richardson, and Michael McKean.
19 I Love Dick
Unfortunately, one thing a lot of shows on this list have in common is that they were cancelled too soon, some after only one season. That is definitely one area where Amazon needs to get its act together. Take, for instance, one of its far-too-many one season wonders, I Love Dick, starring Kevin Bacon and featuring a frank and funny look at gender roles, sexuality, and infatuation. Only eight episodes were made, but on the bright side, it makes for an easy weekend binge.
18 Sneaky Pete
One of the first— and most high-profile— things that Bryan Cranston did after Breaking Bad gave him endless television clout was to co-create Sneaky Pete, a crime drama series starring the criminally underused Giovanni Ribisi. Like Cranston's previous hit, Sneaky Pete somehow managed to get better with each of its (sadly only three) seasons, with the last one earning a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
While sexual harassment allegations made against star Jeffrey Tambor— and his subsequent exit from the show as a result— brought Transparent some undeservedly negative attention, that shouldn't take away from what is still a brilliant and groundbreaking series that covers LGBTQ issues in a more open and mature way than is typically seen on television. Bonus points for the show's full-on musical finale film that was just released last month.
Documentaries have become a hot commodity on all of the streaming services, and Amazon has been no different. But it can be argued that its multi-part miniseries about Lorena Bobbitt and her subsequent dismembering of her husband's you-know-what showed that Amazon has a much defter hand and keener eye for documentaries about well-known events than Netflix has proven to. Maybe it's just how familiar with— and fascinated by— this particular story we are, but Amazon was still the service that nabbed it, so they get the credit.
15 The Tick
For being such a cult character, The Tick has sure stuck around for a long time and gotten an unusually high number of chances at adaptation. Beyond the original comic books, there was the Fox animated series, the short-lived Fox live-action series, and most recently, Amazon's live-action attempt. Sadly, like most versions of The Tick, Amazon's didn't last very long— but it's at least as good as the beloved cartoon, if not better. More episodes would've been nice, but what's there is great, and a nice break from the usual Marvel and DC stuff.
14 Red Oaks
The whole "coming-of-age" conceit is tough to get right in television form. It's something that Netflix has tried many times, and failed spectacularly a couple of those times— Insatiable, for instance, is one of the absolute lowest-rating shows currently on the air, on any platform. Amazon, on the other hand, knocked it out of the park with Red Oaks, not surprising with big names like Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's Eleven) and David Gordon Green (Eastbound & Down) behind it.
13 Mozart In The Jungle
Speaking of Amazon shows with an impressive pedigree, a veritable dream team consisting of Paul Weitz (American Pie), Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore), and Roman Copolla (Moonrise Kingdom) all came together to produce Mozart in the Jungle, based on the memoirs of a classical musician and his life of debauchery. The show has racked up multiple Golden Globe and Emmy awards for both its actors and production work. Though now cancelled, it lasted four seasons which is thus far a long run for an Amazon show.
Though star Michael Dorman is still an up-and-comer, he's supported in his political dark comedy series Patriot by an all-star cast of TV veterans that includes Kurtwood Smith (That '70s Show) and Terry O'Quinn (Lost) along with acclaimed film actress Debra Winger. Patriot might be one of the lesser-known Amazon shows— and is probably unfairly lumped together with, and subsequently overshadowed by, Jack Ryan— but it's one of the service's best hidden gems.
11 One Mississippi
Netflix may have been doing an admirable job of giving quirky comedians their own series— Aziz Ansari's Master of None, Maria Bamford's Lady Dynamite, Nick Kroll's Big Mouth, et al— but few comedians are funnier or sharper than Tig Notoro, and no recent comedian-based show is better than her One Mississippi.
While Amazon cancelled the series with the annoying reasoning that they are trying to move toward more mainstream fare, One Mississippi is still indicative of their general eye for quality and a sense of risk-taking they will hopefully return to.
10 A Very English Scandal
Amazon is still fairly wet behind the ears in original movies/miniseries, but they've already proven that they have come to play in that department. While Netflix has one or two smart, adult movies for every dozen that star Adam Sandler, Amazon seems as if they want to be known for deeper, more intelligent fare— as evidence by A Very English Scandal, a whip-smart dramedy based on a real-life political scandal in the 1970s and starring Hugh Grant and Ben Wishaw.
Sitcoms initially seemed an odd fit for streaming services, but it's a genre that is quickly becoming a favorite among streaming subscribers thanks to hilarious entries like Catastrophe (actually a BBC series in its native England but an Amazon original in the U.S.). With a supporting role by the late, great Carrie Fischer in addition to brilliant leads Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, Catastrophe tells the story of a fling that suddenly becomes a relationship when the woman gets pregnant. Not the most original premise, but when it's this well-done, who cares?
8 The Man In The High Castle
Amazon seems to have an infatuation with Philip K. Dick— but then, who doesn't? While the anthology series based on his work, Electric Dreams, didn't make this list because it isn't quite as good as Netflix's Dark Mirror, the series based entirely on Dick's The Man in the High Castle shows that the acclaimed author didn't only write sci-fi— and even when he didn't, his work was still brilliant. The show's first episode set a new viewership record for Amazon original programming, and the series as a whole has gone on to receive numerous awards and accolades.
Though he has always been a steadily-working actor, Billy Bob Thorton wasn't getting the attention in recent years that he got during his film career's peak— but that all changed when he switched gears to television, beginning with his wonderfully terrifying performance in FX's TV series Fargo. He followed that up with Amazon's Goliath, just beginning its fourth season, seeing Thornton at the top of his game as a disenfranchised lawyer trying to regain his respectability. The role earned Thornton his second Golden Globe Award.
Given how busy its two stars are— especially Fred Armisen, who seems to be doing five shows at once at any given time— it's probably just as well that Forever only saw a single, eight-episode season. But the unsurprisingly off-kilter series, which co-starred Maya Rudolph, was a wonderful showcase for these two Saturday Night Live alums of both their individual talent and of their chemistry together. Shows like this are always destined to have a short life, but we still wish we could've gotten at least one more season of the bizarre adventures of Oscar and June.
One of the standout peripheral actors from FX's Sons of Anarchy, Titus Welliver was as deserving as anyone on that series to get a shot at headlining his own show. And Amazon's Bosch proves that he can not only carry a show, but will probably never be a secondary character again. The police procedural has elements of film noir and isn't afraid to take its time in an old-school detective drama kind of way, refreshing in this era where the endless amount of choices has forced far too many TV writers to keep their shows fast and flashy at all times for fear of losing viewers with short attention spans.
4 King Lear
Here is another wonderful example of how Amazon wants to be the streaming service that makes movies for grown-ups. There have been a million film and TV adaptations of William Shakespeare's King Lear, but there is a reason for that— it makes for an incredible experience when done well.
And who do you get to star in your movie if you want it to be done well? Why, Sir Anthony Hopkins, of course, who plays the iconic character in a unique, alternate-future version of the classic tale. Some have even called it one of Hopkins' best performances to date.
There was a time when a film actor making the move to television was seen as a step down, indicative of a career on the decline. That hasn't been the case for some time now, and very few Hollywood actors haven't stepped into a TV role in the last decade or so— especially with the Hollywood-caliber production values that streaming services offer. In her first-ever television role, Julia Roberts starred in the first season of Homecoming (she isn't returning for season two), and it's clear that the famously picky star choose this particular show to be her TV debut for a reason.
If you hadn't heard of Fleabag before, you probably have now, as it was a big winner at the Emmy night this past September. And if that didn't make you want to check it out already, you're missing out on one of the funniest shows to grace a streaming service— or television in general— in years. Across its two 100%-scoring Rotten Tomatoes seasons, star Phoebe Waller-Bridge has proven why she deserved to win this year's Emmy for Best Lead Actress over such heavyweights as Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Catherine O'Hara.
1 The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
We can do a pretty direct Netflix vs Amazon match-up with this one, as it involves comparing two projects by writer/director/producer Amy Sherman-Palladino. For Netflix, Palladino brought back her classic Gilmore Girls with a four-part miniseries that received an overall lukewarm response.
For Amazon, she created The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is not only way better than the Gilmore revival but is probably her best show, period. It is one of the most acclaimed shows on television at the moment, racking up awards and accolades at the level of the all-time great TV comedies. Netflix only wishes they had a show this good.
Sources: ETonline, Variety, Netflix, Amazon