From Nicole Kidman to Lucy Lawless, from Taika Waititi to the Brothers Hemsworth, Hollywood has long benefited from the wealth of talent coming out of the Antipodes. But while most Americans would be able to name at least enough Australian and/or Kiwi actors to fill an Australian rules football team (roster space: 22), chances are slim we’d do even half as well if asked about the state of Antipodean TV. Sure, most of us would be able to name-check Flight of the Conchords (Kiwi, by way of hipster HBO), and a fair chunk of us might be able to recall Dance Academy and Kath & Kim (both Australian, both iconic), but for the vast majority of TV-watching Americans, that’s likely to be it.
On the one hand, this is a shame, as both Australia and New Zealand have long been in the business of making excellent television that American audiences really would dig. On the other hand, though — standing as we are, smack in the middle of the streaming boom — it’s an enormous opportunity. Never before, after all, have there been so many ways to watch so many different shows hailing from Adelaide to Wellington to the bush in between.
To that end, we’ve curated a list of 20 of the best Australian and Kiwi series available to stream right now. In general, the bias on this list is toward titles streaming anywhere but Netflix, which obviously has the deepest bench of every kind of international import and which also makes it easy to search for, say, “Australian TV shows,” and come back with 30 perfectly reasonable options, rendering us fairly redundant. Still, the OG streamer plays host to enough heavy hitters that we haven’t excluded it entirely. In any case, whether you’re looking to the other side of the globe for your next gritty crime drama, a sexy summer romp, or a bit of clean fun for the whole family, we’ve got you covered.
A favorite of families (and adults!) the world over, Bluey is one of the rare shows — made for kids or otherwise — that might reasonably be called an Instant Classic. Following the mostly domestic adventures of 6-year-old Bluey Heeler*, her little sister, Bingo, and their parents Bandit (David McCormack) and Chilli (Melanie Zanetti), Bluey takes as its central concern the inherent value of imaginative play. From a magical xylophone that renders its targets utterly motionless to a home “surgery” that follows literal cat-and-mouse procedural logic to a cross-cultural camping experience where the language of play transcends every linguistic barrier, Bluey presents its viewers with a world in which no game is too far outside the imaginative bounds. More importantly, it presents a world in which no adult is ever too grown-up to set aside their Grown-Up Worries and join in. Truly: a joy. (Available on Disney+)
*Per series creator Joe Brumm, the identities of the various kid actors are kept secret for their privacy.
Hannah Gadsby’s Oz (Documentary/Cultural Criticism)
It’s a shame that Topic’s UX is so frustrating to navigate, as it’s home to one of the most wide-ranging and eclectic collections of international television streamable by American audiences. Case in point: Hannah Gadsby’s Oz, a three-part documentary that finds the Australian comedian, maybe best known to American audiences for Nanette, putting her background in art history to expert use by both cataloguing and interrogating the history of Australian fine art. Gadsby’s Oz is a critical look at an entire swath of colonialist history American audiences are likely to know even less about than our own that nevertheless manages to be an incredibly easy, one might even say fun, watch. As a bonus, once you’ve zipped through the series’s collective 81-minute run time, you can navigate on over to Hannah Gadsby’s Nakedy Nudes (another art documentary), F*!#ing Adelaide (a domestic sitcom), or Enterprice (not Australian, just very fun). Get the most out of that trial subscription! (Available on Topic)
Jack Irish (Noir/Thriller)
One of those titles you’ve probably seen floating around in the past decade with the qualifier “critically acclaimed,” Jack Irish — both in its original film incarnation and in its latter-day TV one — is a perennial hard-boiled favorite. Adapted from Peter Temple’s Jack Irish novels and starring Guy Pearce as the titular ex-lawyer turned private investigator/debt collector, the series revels in sending the hard-knock Irish tumbling through the darker corners and meaner alleyways of modern-day Melbourne in pursuit of conspiracies, cons, and downright bad dudes. A “pretty blokey show,” to hear one professional Irish devotee describe it, Jack Irish might not act like it’s interested in being everyone’s cup of tea (or rather, pint of the prince of Prussia’s finest), but the rough-and-tumble contemporary-noir genre has fans in every corner. If you count yourself among them, maybe give Jack Irish a look. (Available on Acorn TV)
Kath & Kim (Sitcom)
Fans of cult comedic duos, rejoice: Jane Turner and Gina Riley’s iconic Y2K-era sitcom, which ran for four seasons from 2002 to 2007 and included two stand-alone film outings (2005’s Da Kath & Kim Code and 2012’s Kath & Kimderella), is currently available on Netflix in its entirety. A suburban satire filmed with a mockumentary cinéma vérité lens—think This is Spinal Tap meets mall-walking Melbourne—Kath & Kim stars Turner as Kath Day-Knight, a brassy, fitness-loving empty nester, and Riley as Kim Craig, Kath’s romantically flighty, self-obsessed adult daughter. Broad, awkward, and goofy to the extreme, Kath & Kim is the ultimate slice (pun intended) of Australian television history. As a bonus: Already the ne plus ultra of mother-daughter cringe comedy, Kath & Kim manages nevertheless to up the absurdist ante with the fact that Turner and Craig are just one year apart in age — a surreal detail echoed by one of today’s own cringe cult comedies, PEN15. It’s the circle of (satiric) life! (Available on Netflix)
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries/Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries (Cozy Period Mysteries)
Regular viewers of PBS will already be familiar with Essie Davis’s delicious portrayal of Miss Phryne Fisher, lady detective, but for everyone who hasn’t spent the last decade watching Masterpiece Mystery!, take this recommendation for the clanging siren it is: Run, don’t walk, to your nearest Acorn TV subscription, as the 1920s-set Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is the proverbial bee’s knees. What’s more, its 1960s-set spinoff, Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, which launched its second season earlier this month and stars a sparky Geraldine Hakewill as Peregrine Fisher, Phryne’s long-lost niece, is the cat’s pajamas. More than the cat’s pajamas, it’s hot. If Phryne always found a way to play the sex-positive femme fatale in 1929 Melbourne, the Melbourne Peregrine lands in in the 1960s is downright horny. Match the series’ many eclectic murders up with two solid supporting casts, some luscious costuming, a couple of smo(u)ldering hot romances, and this this cheerfully sexy, unapologetically feminist vibe, and you’ve honestly got the perfect double-feature summer binge. (Available on Acorn TV)
Mystery Road (Mystery/Thriller)
Adapted from a 2013 film of the same name, Mystery Road is, aside from being a taut longform mystery anchored by a handful of truly exceptional performances, one of the most visually striking television series to be made anywhere in the last few years. Starring Aaron Pedersen as Indigenous Australian Detective Jay Swan, the series uses desolate rural crimes — at a cattle station on disputed land in the outback in the first season, in the mangroves and on a coastal archaeological dig site in the second — to investigate the tensions, both generational and interpersonal, between white beneficiaries of settler colonialism and the descendants of the Aboriginal communities that same settler colonialism exploited and dispossessed. It is heavy stuff, but writers Michaeley O’Brien, Steven McGregor, Kodie Bedford and Tim Lee and Indigenous Australian directors Rachel Perkins (series one) and Warwick Thornton and Wayne Blair (series two) handle each story with expert precision, while Pedersen ties it all together onscreen. News of a third season hasn’t yet come down either way, but with the first two seasons working as well as they do as stand-alones, there’s no reason that should stop anyone who’s interested from giving this utterly arresting series a shot. (Available on Acorn TV)
Playing for Keeps (Soapy Sports Drama)
Not to be confused with the 2012 Gerard Butler movie of the same name, Sundance Now’s Playing for Keeps is a soapy drama ostensibly about the WAGS (wives and girlfriends) attached to a professional Australian rules football team in Melbourne that ends up being so much more than it seems. Well, okay — with the very Desperate Housewives promise its trailer makes of Sex! Lies! And Scandal!, it is, in many ways, exactly what it seems. But while sex, lies, and scandal absolutely abound, the show’s decision to really anchor the viewer in the Everywoman perspective of Cecelia Peters’ new-to-the-team Paige Dunkley adds a layer of disarming self-awareness that makes humanizing the rest of the series’ more classically glamorous WAGS much easier than it might otherwise have been. When the end of the first episode takes a sharp pivot and someone winds up dead, that same disarmament works further in the show’s favor — what might have felt like tonal whiplash without Paige having already thoroughly rejiggered our expectations instead feels just like one more tick on the Yes, please, next episode checklist. All that said, a word of warning: While season two ends on a massive twist of a cliffhanger, the series itself has been officially canceled. So maybe just watch through that season’s villain getting their comeuppance, then shut it down. Or don’t! It is 2021, after all; no cancellation ever really means never.(Available on Sundance Now)
Please Like Me (Millennial Comedy)
Please Like Me, Josh Thomas’s debut sitcom about food, friendship, coming out in your 20s, and confronting headlong the specter of suicidal ideation from the person you love most, holds the dubious distinction for many fans of having been simultaneously one of the most exquisitely lovely comedies to come out in the last decade, and one of the most physically painful comedies to actually sit down and watch. (A distinction his sophomore series, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, shares; see below.) While anyone who has yet to give Please Like Me a chance may not find that to be the ringing endorsement they might have hoped to find, fans of the series will understand it for the high praise it is. Please Like Me, like life, is funny and awkward and frustrating and sexy and meaningful and meaningless all at once, and it would be bone-crushingly painful to watch any of it back again once you’ve already lived it. And, just like the string of jaunty title sequences threading through the series’ four seasons note, that will be fine. (Available on Hulu)
Rake (Political Satire/Legal Dramedy)
A big enough success in its native Australia to have inspired a (short-lived) American remake, Rake arguably turned the tides in scripted Australian television from satire (see Kath & Kim above) to more hybrid/serious fare. Not that it’s really all that serious: The story of a whip-smart, self-destructive barrister who prefers to defend the most hopeless, most obviously guilty clients — loosely based on the real life of Sydney’s own Charles Waterstreet, who co-created the series — Rake delights in skewering every bloated part of the Australian legal scene it can. While different fans might point to any number of things as reasons for the show’s critical success, everyone will agree that star Richard Roxborough’s incendiary charisma is top among them. That said, if Roxborough himself isn’t a big enough name to draw you in, consider this: Having debuted in 2010 and run for eight long seasons, the series also has the distinction of playing host to a real rogue’s gallery of familiar Australian names, including John Noble, Rachel Griffiths, Hugo Weaving, Sam Neill, Toni Collette, Elizabeth Debicki and Cate Blanchett. Not a bad grab for your next Netflix binge. (Available on Netflix)
Total Control (Political Thriller)
Co-starring Deborah Mailman and Rachel Griffiths, Total Control is at once a quietly powerful portrait of one Indigenous Aboriginal woman’s fight to represent both her individual soul and her people’s country and a wild political thrill ride pitting Mailman’s virtuous David against Griffiths’s corrupt Goliath. Given that this series shares much of its creative DNA with Mystery Road, it’s unsurprising that it ends up being so well balanced. But where Mystery Road thrives on the desolate beauty of Australia’s forgotten corners, Total Control finds its energy in the friction that naturally exists between the Indigenous communities that Mailman, as first-term Senator Alex Irving, sets out to fight for, and the faceless Canberra political machine that Griffiths, as the scheming Prime Minister Rachel Anderson, does her best to paint a convincing shade of neo-feminist. In its short first-season run, the series succeeds in weaving a remarkable number of ideas together, the bad guys most deserving of comeuppance getting at least something in the ballpark of justice, but potential fans will still be gratified to know that a second season is officially on its way. (Available on Sundance Now)
Upright (Bleak Comedy)
One of the odder Odd Couple buddy comedies to come out in recent memory, musician Tim Minchin’s Upright is a slick exercise in artistic vision. Minchin’s strung-out, laughably named Lucky Flynn struggles to get a rickety old upright piano from one side of Australia to the other for reasons that remain unclear until the very last. His co-lead is the impossibly charming Milly Alcock, whose prickly teen runaway, Meg, ropes Lucky into taking her along after he accidentally runs her off the road and breaks her arm. If all this sounds bleaker than a comedy ought to be, you’re not wrong — it can be a lot! But Minchin and Alcock are an electric duo, their bristling anti-chemistry transmuting their characters’ respective funks from mostly unwatchable to genuinely compelling. Whether they reach their final destination — and what they do if and when they get there — that’s for you to find out. (Available on Sundance Now)
The Brokenwood Mysteries (“Blue Skies” Police Procedural)
One of the longer-lived series on this list, its seventh season landing just this March, New Zealand’s The Brokenwood Mysteries is another police procedural that feels like a throwback to USA Network’s “blue skies” era. Starring Neill Rea as the country music-loving Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Shepherd and Fern Sutherland as his ambitious, type-A second-in-command, Detective Kristin Sims, the series is a classic in the “unconventional outsider detective moves to a quaint country town; many murders ensue” canon. It’s not particularly challenging, and the dialogue can leave something to be desired, but in a time when gritty reigns supreme, it can be a relief to know there’s still at least one new comfortable procedural binge a click away. (Available on Acorn TV)
The Casketeers (Unscripted Docuseries)
As far as human experiences go, death is both the most mundanely universal and most exquisitely personal. The Casketeers, a tastefully lighthearted unscripted docuseries acquired by Netflix from local New Zealand outfit Southern Pictures, underscores just how true both ends of that spectrum are. Centering on Francis and Kaiora Tipene, husband-wife co-owners of Auckland’s Tipene Funerals Onehunga, the series opens a window to both the general goings-on of a modern-day working funeral home and the specific grief practices of Māori, Samoan, and Tongan communities —multiple worlds the average American viewer is likely to know very little about. Francis and Kaiora are ideal guides, dedicated to their clients and serious about the gravity of death, but amiable and cheerful enough to keep their team’s spirits high and the energy of the docuseries moving. As a portrait of Māori cultural practices, it is both thoughtful and thorough —which makes sense, as it was bankrolled in part by the government funding body, Te Māngai Pāho. As an examination of the business of death, it balances honesty with respect. The camera, when not focused on the Tipene staff or the living mourners in attendance at various funerary events, stays trained below any open casket’s edge. (Available on Netflix)
Mean Mums (Sitcom)
The absolute promotional void Peacock has given Mean Mums, the Morgana O’Reilly–starring sitcom from writer Amanda Alison that’s still actively in production in New Zealand, is baffling. A perfectly fun satire of private-school-mum culture in the 21st century — think Big Little Lies meets Kimmy Schmidt, as envisioned by Jemaine Clement — Mean Mums has mastered the art of sending up the current parenting moment’s goofiest obsessions without tipping into outright maliciousness. Key to this success? Using O’Reilly’s new-to-the-school Jess, who joins the junior campus’ fundraising team as a way to make new friends while supporting her son, as their primary tool. For example, the kid of one of the mums in the group, Heather (Anna Jullienne), is named Cinnamon, while the kid of the other, Hine (Aroha Rawson), is named Braxton Hicks. Elsewhere in the school? A Zinzan, a Zee-Kai, a Karma, and, if Heather’s plan to steer a tractable expectant mum away from taking the name Cinnamon for her own goes to plan, a Jessterday, in honor of Jess’s heroic Field Day Mum’s Run. (“It’s totally unique!”) Dry and broad at the same time, Mean Mums is perfect for anyone waiting for the next season of Netflix’s Workin’ Moms, or for the premiere of ABC’s Abbott Elementary.
My Life Is Murder (“Blue Skies” Mystery)
Technically an Australian series during its first season, Lucy Lawless’s private-detective joint, My Life is Murder, is set to move shop from Melbourne to Auckland for season two. Featuring Lawless as retired police detective/bread-baking aficionado Alexa Crowe, Ebony Vagulans as her data analyst–assistant, Madison, and Bernard Curry as her former colleague, DI Kieran Hussey, the series follows Crowe as she does what any self-respecting retired detective with a quirky private obsession starring in a “blue skies” era USA Network procedural must: She lets herself get lured back into the game by the mystery of a rooftop murder and the promise of all expenses paid. A cat also features, as does Lawless speaking some pretty impressive German (her high-end dough fabricator, it’s very fussy), but the biggest draw is obviously the breezy, grit-free satisfaction of the cases, themselves. (Available on Acorn TV)
Nothing Much to Do (Teen Shakespeare Adaptation)
Back before streaming made “television” and “web series” all but synonymous concepts, indie filmmakers were using YouTube to test the limits of what web-first, fan-engaged serialized storytelling could be. Reimaginings of classic literature, not surprisingly, were big — public domain, baby! — but while every creator managed to bring something new and fun to the vlogging table, few were more fun to watch than Nothing Much to Do, a teen movie take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing from New Zealand feminist film collective the Candle Wasters. The Wellington-set Nothing Much to Do didn’t just let viewers follow Beatrice and Benedick’s hilariously infuriating enemies-to-lovers journey in real time. It also made room for the tenderness between Hero and Claudio as well as Pedro and Balthazar blossom in a way that even a Shakespeare-length stage play can’t. It serves as a charming artifact of a brief, fruitful moment in the history of both YouTube and television, and a time capsule of the daily life of Wellington teens in the mid-2010s. (Available on YouTube)
Taskmaster: New Zealand (Absurdist Competition Series)
If you spent almost any time at all online this past year (which, well), you’ve almost certainly seen at least one person flailing to express a newfound devotion to Alex Horne’s BAFTA-winning absurdist competition series, Taskmaster. Ostensibly just one more entry in Britain’s long panel-show tradition, Taskmaster follows many of that genre’s most established traditions — take a handful of (mostly) comedians, make them engage in increasingly silly banter in front of a live studio audience — but with an absolutely genius, utterly pointless twist: Everything that happens in the studio happens after the competitors have spent months completing a series of tasks that range from the wildly mundane (make this block of ice disappear fastest) to the truly bizarre (make the best nesting-doll tasting menu). To win the series, each competitor must either execute their tasks with precision, or come up with funny enough reasons to convince the Taskmaster — a power-happy, capricious man, played in the British original by comedian Greg Davies — why they should get points regardless.
As a cultural export, Taskmaster has generally done better with American audiences in its original form (the less said about Comedy Central’s bafflingly truncated 2018 adaptation the better), but for anyone who has, understandably, already burned through the ten series available through the official Taskmaster YouTube channel, we’re here to recommend the first season of Taskmaster: New Zealand, which makes for a more than satisfying OG Taskmaster chaser. Starring Jeremy Wells as the Taskmaster and comedian Paul Williams as his assistant (a role performed in the original by series creator Horne), the season features comedians Angella Dravid, Brynley Stent, Guy Williams, Leigh Hart and Madeleine Sami, and makes an excellent case for Taskmaster as a globe-spanning franchise. (Available on YouTube)
Wellington Paranormal (Supernatural Comedy)
Wellington Paranormal doesn’t officially hit American screens until next week, but anyone who’s seen the original What We Do in the Shadows, the mockumentary film the FX series spunoff from, will already be familiar with its broad conceit. A pair of remarkably dense (but ever game!) Wellington police officers come into confused contact with various supernatural creatures over the course of their nightly shift before heading back to the precinct, none the wiser. In What We Do in the Shadows, it was a pack of blood-drenched vampires that Officers Minogue (Mike Minogue) and O’Leary (Karen O’Leary) crossed paths with; in Wellington Paranormal, it’s demonic possessions, ghosts, werewolves, and zombies. While Minogue and O’Leary acquit themselves exquisitely in their sudden starring turn, it’s Maaka Pohatu’s Sergeant Maaka who balances the series out. The knowing old-head to their rookie skepticism (slash obtuseness), Sergeant Maaka lends a dry gravity to the proceedings that just rounds it all out. (Available on CW Seed from July 11)
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (Family Dramedy)
Airing on Freeform alongside the likes of grown-ish, The Bold Type, and Good Trouble, Australian comedian Josh Thomas’s Everything’s Gonna Be Okay is technically American, but with Thomas on hand both as showrunner and star, and his best friend (and Please Like Me co-star) Thomas Ward co-writing and co-executive producing, it is, in its sensibilities, also not not Australian. So if you can’t manage to shell out for Acorn TV or Sundance Now, or if you really just love Please Like Me and want more Josh Thomas without having to go through the painful experience of rewatching Please Like Me (see above), maybe make Everything’s Gonna Be Okay you first pick from this list.
As a modern family drama, it is among the most real-feeling currently on the air — despite the fact that its premise sees Thomas’s Nicholas entering his half-sisters’ lives when their dad signs over surprise custody to Nicholas before dying of an equally surprising cancer diagnosis he just sort of skipped telling his family anything about. Dark, yes, but executed with such briskness (Dad’s out of the picture by the middle of the first episode) that it’s almost like ripping off a narrative bandaid. What follow are two meandering seasons of Nicholas, Matilda (Kayla Cromer, American television’s first actor with autism to play a character with autism), and Genevieve (Maeve Press) not just getting to build a relationship as siblings for the first time in their lives but getting to grow into the people they’re meant to become. It’s lovely, and awkward, and perfectly Josh Thomas. May it last for years to come. (Available on Hulu)
Starstruck (Romantic Comedy)
Created by Kiwi comedians Rose Matafeo (who also stars) and Alice Snedden, Starstruck is pretty much the ideal summer rom-com binge. Smart, sexy, and deftly paced, the London-set series tells the star-crossed story of two would-be lovers, Matafeo’s Jessie and Nikesh Patel’s Tom, in six parts, over the course of one calendar year. They hook up, they miscommunicate, they overcorrect, then can’t connect — they act, in other words, like any other pair of modern lovers. Only in Starstruck, Jessie is a “little rat nobody” and Tom is an A-list famous actor. This obviously adds some extra friction to their maybe-kinda-someday relationship, but Matafeo and Snedden wisely balance the disparity in Jessie and Tom’s public profiles by giving Jessie a complete lack of knowledge about Tom’s career before they met and an equally complete lack of interest in any of the trappings of Tom’s fame after they hook up. Sweet, brimming with chemistry, and a thousand percent fantasy, Starstruck is a series you’ll want to watch again and again — that is, at least, until the already-ordered second season hits HBO Max. And who knows? Tom’s an in-demand star. Maybe they’ll end up in Auckland. (Available on HBO Max)