We sat through all of the African original shows commissioned, produced or distributed by Netflix and bring you a list of the very best titles.
It can be a tricky preoccupation penciling down what exactly a Netflix Original means. It can be a project commissioned and executive produced in house by the world’s biggest streaming giant, but it can also be applied to films funded independently and picked up later by Netflix — or licensed exclusively through other sources.
In any case, television shows tagged as Netflix Originals are usually branded with the streamer’s logo and distributed exclusively on the platform. We sat through all of the African Original shows commissioned, produced or distributed by Netflix so far and bring you a list of the very best titles.
10. King of Boys: The Return of the King
Kemi Adetiba’s 2018 box office hit, King of Boys was identified by Netflix as a franchise starter and plans for a feature sequel were immediately put forward. Color us surprised when the project was eventually announced as a 7-part limited series. The Return of the King picks up five years after the events of the original, with antiheroine Eniola Salami (Sola Sobowale) returning to her familiar haunts in the underworld as well as the corridors of power. The Return of the King plays as a talky 7-hour film culminating in a bloody, over the top finale that abandons narrative logic for breezy fan service.
Before Queen Sono, there was Shadow. This short-lived action drama anchored by Pallance Dladla as a mysterious ex-detective working as a vigilante for hire has a shaky start. The acting is not exactly promising, the tropes are well worn, and the Hollywood style framing threatens to bleach out local context. But stick with it and there is some mindless fun to be had watching Dladla’s often shirtless titular hero punch his way through Johannesburg on a vengeance mission. Think Luke Cage meets Punisher meets The Equalizer and you have a solid handle of what Shadow is about.
Netflix shows aren’t famous for expressing joy. Jiva! Is the happy exception. Created by Busisiwe Ntintili and Bakang Sebatjane and set in Durban’s townships, Jiva! Is a colorful celebration of South African street dance culture. Noxolo Dlamini plays Ntombi, a talented dancer forced to give up her artistic dreams in the wake of a family tragedy. Can her passion for dance be reignited in time to train and compete for a contest promising a million rands in prize money? Mixing flamboyant dancers with performing actors, Jiva! is a fun, energetic and often dazzling romp through an interesting dance culture.
7. Blood & Water
If the second season of Blood & Water wasn’t so determined to stretch every nerve of credulity via plot gaps and eye-rolling coincidences, it might have ranked higher on this list. Still there is plenty to be excited about this soapy drama about a young cast of high schoolers growing up, solving mysteries and being silly. Showrunner and director Nosipho Dumisa alongside her team of co-writers and directors Daryne Joshua and Travis Taute, in two uneven seasons unspool an often-intriguing story of love, loss and the ties that bind. The conflicts are of class, family and history.
6. Blood Sisters
Billed as the "first Nigerian Original Series" (don’t ask us, ask Netflix), BloodSisters is a thoroughly entertaining yarn that gathers a cast of Nollywood royalty, some in minor roles, to unspool a Thelma & Louise style caper about the bonds that women adopt in the wake of oppression from both men and privilege. The noir-ish four-episode limited series helmed by the duo of Biyi Bandele and Kenneth Gyang tracks a bride and her best friend on the run from the law after the groom, the abusive favorite of an influential family goes missing on his wedding day.
5. Queen Sono
Truth be told, the Pearl Thusi-fronted Queen Sono did not get a fair shake. Cancelled in the wave of pandemic influenced decision making, this lavish set spy thriller did not arrive fully made. But it was promising and could have used some more room to grow into itself. Thusi’s titular superspy is a field agent in the secretive Special Operations Group. Between hunting bad guys, dodging bombs and bullets, nursing her mommy issues and juggling a weird situationship, she has got her hands pretty full. QueenSono gave social commentary, political tension, and race relations, all in one continent hopping package.
4. Senzo: Murder of a Soccer Star
This five-part true-crime docuseries about the shocking 2014 murder of beloved South African football star Senzo Meyiwa is directed by Sara Blecher (Otelo Burning). Meyiwa, captain of the South African national soccer team, was shot and killed in the home belonging to the mother of his girlfriend, pop singer Kelly Khumalo. There were six eyewitnesses at the scene. Securing the backing and participation of Senzo’s family plus scoring access to investigators and key witnesses, Blecher’s docuseries tries, not always successfully, to unpack the still unfolding truth behind this tragedy.
3. Young, Famous & African
A welcome addition to Netflix’s ballooning content library of reality television series, Young, Famous & African has the good sense to make a surface level celebration of extravagance and celebrity instantly arresting. Executive produced by Forbes Africa correspondent, Peace Hyde, the streamer’s first reality show on the continent assembles a group of wealthy young Africans with some claim to fame and gives them reasons to bond, scheme, fight, gossip and in one instance, renew marital vows. Impeccably produced, Young, Famous & African doesn’t say anything new but it brings on the drama thick and fast. And who can resist drama?
2. Savage Beauty
Sex, lies and secrets are plentiful in this soapy revenge drama that follows a mysterious young woman, Zinhle (Rosemary Zimu) infiltrating a powerful business family and taking them on for size. Created by Lebogang Mogashoa, SavageBeauty has enough interesting characters, plot turns and coincidences to keep audiences invested in its six-episode arc. The show plays in that wealthy milieu that Netflix show seem to thrive in but the actors are invested and the production manages to keep things fresh even when recycling familiar tropes.
1. How To Ruin Christmas
The competition isn’t exactly tight but How to Ruin Christmas is the rare Netflix property to get even better with a second outing. Funny, messy but retaining an emotional core that grounds the chaotic energy, the two-season series (so far) has become somewhat of a yuletide tradition in many households. A divine comedy of errors—and manners—How to Ruin Christmas introduces two families separated by social class yet united by love and tradition. The series gathers the members of both families in a space and trusts them to create madness and magic out of their tensions. The Sellos and the Twalas already ruined a wedding and a funeral. We wonder what social event is next.
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