Every year, Netflix spends billions of dollars on original content to satisfy the fans who can’t get enough of their hit series. With the vast majority of their originals being renewed for consecutive seasons, the network is clearly doing something right commercially. They’ve even exceeded critic’s expectations, winning nine Emmys and racking up dozens of nominations.
The creative talents producing the shows are equally willing to take risks as well. Whether it be a scene or the series as a whole, boundaries are constantly pushed. For example, Master of None's second season impressively broke the form by following a series of characters other than the main star Aziz Ansari. Included are three interwoven character vignettes, one of which depicts a relationship from the perspective of a deaf woman. The episode suddenly becomes silent, likely causing most viewers to check the volume of their TVs. Did it pay off? It looks that way: the episode currently has a 9.4/10 rating on IMDB.
Clearly, Netflix is playing to win – but you can’t win them all. Sometimes an attempt to push the envelope goes too far. Here are 15 Netflix series that shocked, offended, and just generally cross the line.
15 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Titus the Garbage Bag
In Season 3, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) replaces Titus (Tituss Burgess) with a stuffed black garbage bag adorned with googly eyes and paisley pants. While Titus portrays some stereotypes as Kimmy’s homosexual black roommate, the show had previously avoided making the character’s identity neither two-dimensional nor the butt of the joke.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt receives unanimously positive reviews but continues to divide critics with its treatment of race. In previous examples of Titus (as with most of the show’s humor), the satire provides valuable social commentary. For example, after accepting a gig at a horror-themed restaurant, Titus finds that it’s easier to get a cab in New York dressed as a werewolf than as a black man; an exaggerated but honest look into what someone like Titus might endure in reality.
Here, the offensive garbage-bag-gag fails to provide some sort of satire and remains a heavy-handed attempt at fringe humor.
14 Flaked: Melodramatics
Fans of Arrested Development were excited to see Will Arnett produce and star in a new original series. Unfortunately, the funny man behind Gob Bluth was quite different in Flaked. It didn’t start out so bad: the cool aesthetic of Venice Beach was a great setting for Will Arnett’s character, Chip, the likeably aloof and insightful ladies man.
As it progresses, the show reveals more about Chip’s past. He’s a recovering alcoholic who killed an innocent man behind the wheel years ago. The incident tore apart his marriage and undoubtedly caused his downward spiral into womanizing and failed relationships. When his latest love interest, London (Ruth Kearney), is dramatically revealed to be the sister of the man he killed in his DUI, the show fails to recover from the melodramatic hole it digs itself into.
The coolness of a recovering alcoholic in Venice beach was enough to carry the show, but the unlikely and overdramatic twist went too far into a direction many weren’t expecting nor willing to take. There were several new twists in Season 2, but most people didn't get there after the first season's direction.
13 Making a Murderer: Omitting Incriminating Evidence
The Netflix true-crime series conveniently forgets to include evidence that further incriminates Steven Avery. Making a Murderer constructs the narrative that Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey were wrongly convicted, suggesting the Manitowoc Police Department vindictively framed Steven and his nephew. Undisputed evidence like Steven’s sweat was found in Halbach’s trunk, her phone and camera were found on his property, and both Steven and Teresa were frequently in contact (she even said she was “creeped out” by him).
These facts seriously undermine the show’s imposed narrative of Steven’s innocence, making their omittance a potential breach of ethical journalistic practices.
12 Chef’s Table: Moose Lips
If you’re opposed to getting a massive case of the munchies, then Chef’s Table goes overboard almost every other frame. For die-hard foodies and Instagram food photographers alike, Chef’s Table is a blessing for those looking for beautiful cinematography and compelling stories from around the world.
In its third season, the show goes to Russia to tell the story of the influential chef, Vladimir Mukhin. He’s anything but subtle or conventional in his mission to reinvent Russian cuisine. Part of this process is to rediscover the Russian recipes lost in the uniformity of communism. While describing his rediscovered recipe for “moose lip dumplings,” the show quickly cuts from Vladimir tenderly feeding a baby moose to a scene of him dramatically carrying severed moose lips into his kitchen. Both the audience and his cooking staff look on in horror while he butchers the unmistakeable meat.
While we’re certain it tastes like chicken, this feat of editing was unexpectedly gory.
11 Haters Back Off: Annie and “Uncle” Warbucks
It doesn’t get more cringe-worthy than Miranda Sings (Colleen Ballinger) in Netflix’s Haters Back Off. The self-absorbed teen is more than enough when it comes to being excessive. Perhaps the greatest cringe-inducing moment occurs in the episode “Staring in a Musicall.”
Miranda plans on staging her rendition of Annie in her backyard. While her performance of the original musical would have likely ranked high on this list, it’s her creepy Uncle Jim’s rewrites that cements the show’s place amongst those that just go too far.
Uncle Jim (Steve Little) has a creepy infatuation with Miranda and her pursuit of stardom. When he becomes involved in the play, he rewrites the narrative into a love story between Annie (to be played by Miranda) and Daddy Warbucks (to be played by Patrick after the original actor quits in disgust). What should be a heartwarming father-daughter drama is now a revolting projection of both Jim’s obviousness and implied perversions towards his own niece.
To make it worse, Annie is originally 11 years old in the unedited theatrical version. Yikes.
10 Real Rob: Casual Racism
In this show, Rob Schneider tries his hand at the life-inspired sitcoms that worked wonders for comedians like Jerry Seinfeld. The show jumps back and forth from the exaggerated moments of Rob’s life and his original stand up bits. The show doesn’t dance around the ups and downs that Rob has faced in his career since Saturday Night Live (and the slew of less than critically acclaimed films that followed). It’s clear that the brightest part of Rob’s life is his beautiful wife, Patricia.
The show crosses the line when Rob asks his wife to break open a lock for him. When she pushes back, questioning why he thinks she’s more suited to open the lock, he casually insinuates that her Mexican heritage makes her a better candidate for all things breaking and entering.
While any show that attempts to present the real world is commendable, Rob’s casual racism might be better left off-screen.
9 The OA: School Shooter
While The OA, a blend of fantasy, the supernatural, and science fiction seems far removed from reality, the school shooter at the end of season 1 seems all too real. Degrassi, One Tree Hill, American Horror Story, Glee and countless other shows have all depicted an active shooter in a school setting. In these series, the destruction that follows these sequences can be seen as a valuable way to communicate the insurmountable pain caused by gun violence amongst young people. This is where The OA definitely goes too far.
The shooter is magically apprehended by a group of students performing the mysterious five movements instructed by The OA (Brit Marling). The shooter becomes mesmerized for just long enough to be apprehended by a school employee.
The heavy-handed, fairytale solution to a real-world problem leaves a bad taste in your mouth, especially because it so effortlessly solves a complicated and sensitive issue close to home.
8 Atypical: Avoidable Stereotypes
The creators of Atypical want to articulate the experiences of those on the autistic spectrum with a sense of humor. Regardless of one’s stance on the show’s success in accomplishing this goal, the buzz surrounding Netflix’s recent series - both praise and outrage - has undoubtedly started a needed dialogue about the topic.
Sam (Keir Gilchrist) is a teenager on the autism spectrum who has recently decided he’s ready to start dating. While it’s likely that the show’s heart is in the right place, some viewers take offense to autism being used for laughs. Critics have argued that the show can play into some easily avoidable stereotypes that are experienced by those on the spectrum, encouraging the audience to laugh at Sam’s awkwardness or weird behavior.
In starting a much-needed conversation, Atypical may have gone too far by making someone’s disability the punchline to their joke.
7 BoJack Horseman: “Get Dat Fetus, Kill Dat Fetus”
The introspective adult cartoon is critically renowned for its subtle uses of dark humor while exploring the loneliness of fame. In the episode “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew,” Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) witness the live premiere of Sextina Aquafina’s (Aisha Tyler) hot new music video “Get Dat Fetus, Kill Dat Fetus.” From the very first verse, “I'm a baby killer / Baby killing makes me horny,” the show had already gone head-first into the deep end. But wait, there’s more! Another verse, 2 choruses, and an outro, to be exact!
While the lyrics are more than enough to trigger even the most stoic of viewers, the music video’s visuals are equally appalling. Sextina is featured on an operating table surrounded by scantily- clad nurses, later seen straddling a spaceship about to fire missiles at a planet in the shape of a dolphin fetus in utero. Lastly, as the final refrain rings out, “I hope and pray to god my little fetus has a soul/ Because I want it to feel pain when I eject it from my hole,” Sextina bops to beat, shooting finger lasers at her pregnant background dancers’ wombs.
6 Orange is the New Black: Torture
Binging season 5 of Orange is the New Black is not for those who lack dedication. The main storylines take a detour when the inmates start a prison-wide riot, rewriting the tropes, hierarchies, and structure of the previous four seasons.
Inmates of Litchfield Penitentiary begin to go missing after CO Piscatella’s (Brad William Henke) hellbent return to the prison. His story arc peaks in an act of pure evil: he’s apprehended and restrained by a group of main characters in a storage room during the boiling point of the riot. Piscatella then forces Red’s (Kate Mulgrew) closest friends to watch while he cuts the hair from her head. By the time the viewer reaches this point (the season’s climax), they’re forced to endure the extended torture of a beloved character.
One can’t fault the show for trying to up the stakes at the season’s high point. While it leads to a satisfying end to Piscatella’s deepening character arc, it’s overkill late in an already incredibly tense season.
5 House of Cards: Despicable Frank
The opening scene of House of Cards depicts US Congressman Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) choking the waning life out of his neighbor’s dog that was just struck by a car. Frank stares into the camera and delivers his first of many chilling monologues. It’s a masterful opening to a series that looks into the sociopathic mind of a power-hungry politician. In a way, the scene prepares us for far worse to come.
While the show doesn’t shy away from being provocative, a scene in season three takes it a step further by diving headfirst into sacrilege. Frank Underwood delivers an address to the audience within a church. He pauses in front of the altar and stands under a large porcelain statue of the crucified Christ. Frank states, “Love? That’s what you’re selling? Well, I don’t buy it” before spitting on the religious statue. In a moment of remorse, he tries to wipe the statue clean but accidentally knocks it down, shattering it into a thousand pieces.
4 Santa Clarita Diet: Tasty Digits
In February 2017, Santa Clarita Diet made world headlines only a few weeks after airing. Netflix had to pull its German advertisements after receiving too many complaints about their billboards. The ad displayed severed human fingers posing as french fries in a fast food carton. Similar advertisements showed a human finger chopped and served up like a bratwurst.
In the show, Sheila (Drew Barrymore) doesn’t take too kindly to her co-worker Gary’s (Nathan Fillion) sexual advances. That is until she turns into a bloodthirsty zombie. When Gary makes a forward advance in her backyard, she appears to like it, seductively sucking on his fingers. Gary loves it too until she bites them off and begins her feast.
The scene ends with Sheila’s husband Joel (Timothy Olyphant) returning home to find her feasting over the mutilated corpse. The unexpected and hyper-realistic special effects make this stomach-turning scene too gory for a casual TV binge.
3 Black Mirror: The Pig
There’s a lot to be said about a series that goes too far in its opening episode. Black Mirror is Netflix’s poster child for relevant, provocative, and well-written content. The series’ first episode, “The National Anthem” became infamous for its line-crossing bestiality scene.
Fictional British Prime Minister Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) wakes to the shocking news that a member of the royal family has been kidnapped. The abductor’s terms are simple: Princess Susannah (Lydia Wilson) will be killed unless the Prime Minister has intercourse with a pig on national television. After Callow exhausted all potential alternatives, he decides to submit to the kidnapper's demands and broadcasts the disturbing act to over a billion viewers.
The show is a shocking commentary on an unhealthy obsession with media – a theme continually built upon in the show’s later episodes.
2 Big Mouth: The Pillow
Following the episode where Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) extensively outlines how he simulates realistic fornication with his pillow, Big Mouth one-ups the pillow obscenity with even more surreal humor. Jay’s pillow is given human characteristics in the next “love scene,” delivering dreaded news to her new baby’s daddy. As the due date nears, the middle-schooler appears to be prepared for his commitments as a father. Hilarity ensues when the pillow child is born, striking an immediate resemblance to one of Jay’s brothers.
Generally well received by critics, Nick Kroll’s brutally honest take on puberty goes a little too surreal here. Regardless, fans of both the show and this unforgettable scene have Netflix to thank for taking a risk and producing a series that would otherwise NEVER be seen on cable TV.
1 13 Reasons Why: Suicide
13 Reasons Why can easily be considered Netflix’s most controversial show of the year. Teenager Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) takes her own life, leaving behind a set of cassettes addressed to the people in her life who contributed to her death. While it met positive reviews from some critics, it came under heavy scrutiny for dramatizing and glorifying a suicide revenge fantasy for an impressionable audience. Since releasing the series, Netflix has added additional trigger warnings directed at its teenage viewers.
The show’s main criticism is its normalization of the act, going into serious detail about Hannah’s suicide itself. The show is a revenge plot, thus perpetuating the idea that suicide will achieve something, causing many believe the show can be viewed as a “how-to” series for those with suicidal thoughts.
In addition to its problematic premise, the show features a number of scenes too graphic for young viewers, depicting incidents of bullying, suicide, and sexual violence.
What do you think about our 15 selections? Let us know in the comments!