What do Breaking Bad, Hannibal, and The Americans have in common? Sure, they’re all top-quality shows deserving of all awards that came their way, but they’re also dark, heavy, and difficult to watch when you’re stressed out or have a lot on your mind.
Sometimes you just want to come home, plop down on the couch, and watch a palate cleansing-type of show to help you unwind. For that, you’ll want to check out these relaxing Netflix shows.
NB: You won’t find any traditional sitcoms or standup comedies on this list. We’re delving into the more unusual corners of Netflix in search of real relaxation. If you believe laughter is the best medicine then see our articles on the best Netflix sitcoms, overlooked Netflix sitcoms, and the best Netflix standup specials.
1. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
Imagine a talk show hosted by comedian Jerry Seinfeld where every guest is one of his comedian friends—and takes place inside a cafe as well as during the car ride there. No scripts. No self-promotion. It’s entirely authentic, genuine, and absolutely hilarious.
Just look at the name of the show, it says it all: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. The episodes are about 15 to 20 minutes long, and each one features a vintage car picked by Seinfeld himself to match the personality of the episode’s guest.
It’s the ultimate show for when you want to shut off your brain and just have a laugh.
2. Bob Ross: Beauty Is Everywhere
Bob Ross: Beauty Is Everywhere is basically the same thing as The Joy of Painting, but the episodes are taken from the 1991-1992 seasons of the show, and not all of the episodes are there.
But who cares? Nothing beats the feeling of watching Bob Ross paint up another scenic masterpiece, complete with his soft voice and gentle encouragements. Looking for a show you can fall asleep to? Look no further.
3. Chef’s Table
Have you seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi? If you did and you liked it, then you really should watch Chef’s Table. Directed by the same person (David Gelb), Chef’s Table is one of the best Netflix documentaries for foodies.
Every episode focuses on the life and cuisine of a world-class Michelin-starred chef, and brings out the human element that’s often missing in food documentaries.
But if that sounds boring, think again. Not only is Chef’s Table one of the most beautifully shot shows, period, it’s deeply engrossing and even inspirational. The hours will melt away as you watch. There’s nothing quite like it.
While Explained is a Netflix show, it feels more suited for a YouTube series in that every episode is about 15 minutes long, educational, entertaining, and entirely self-contained to a single per-episode topic.
As of this writing, there are Explained episodes for: cryptocurrency, K-pop, esports, the stock market, cricket, the longevity of life, and more. It’s enough to give you a general understanding of a topic’s history and importance, and it’s presented in a mostly unbiased way that’s engaging—and surprisingly relaxing.
5. The Great British Baking Show
Also known as The Great British Bake Off, this show is perhaps the most wholesome reality TV competition you’ll ever watch (rivaled only by MasterChef Junior).
The Great British Baking Show has amateur bakers face off in a series of elimination rounds until there’s a winner. But the best part is that it’s devoid of the hardcore competitive spirit that props up most American reality shows. It oozes with kindness, humor, and great food. What’s not to love?
6. Terrace House
Have you ever wanted to watch Big Brother or Real World but without any of the fabricated drama or scripted narratives? Well, that’s Terrace House for you.
Six strangers come together to live in a shared house for a month, with hidden cameras everywhere. But this is a Japanese reality show, and there’s a different culture and atmosphere than what you normally see in American reality TV. It’s soft, it’s polite, and it’s a joy to watch.
The original Terrace House (Boys & Girls Next Door) ran for three years in Japan, but Netflix revived it in 2015 with Boys & Girls in the City. This was followed by the sequels Aloha State and Opening New Doors. Only the Netflix-produced ones are available on Netflix.
7. Planet Earth
Planet Earth is the third highest ranked show on IMDb. The first show on that list? Planet Earth II.
These two shows comprise the most incredible nature documentary experience currently available. Using state-of-the-art technology, they capture some of the most secret moments in all of wildlife. In the case of Planet Earth II, it’s all captured in 4K.
Each episode took years to produce, and you can tell. There’s a reason why Planet Earth sits atop our list of the best BBC documentaries on Netflix.
8. Samurai Gourmet
Samurai Gourmet is a lighthearted show that follows a newly retired Japanese man who roams his neighborhood and explores the rich culinary offerings therein.
In a word, Samurai Gourmet is refreshing. Few shows are as easy to watch as this one, and it demands nothing of you.
Aggretsuko is a Japanese anime, but don’t let that turn you away. It’s ultra cute, but it’s not a kid’s show. The cuteness contrasts against the main character’s mundane and frustrating office life, as well as her secret love of death metal karaoke.
The episodes are short at just 15 minutes, so you can pop them on whenever you—like the main character—feel like you need to blow off some steam.
10. Curious & Unusual Deaths
This show is a bit of an oddball on this list, but I back it wholeheartedly.
In each episode, Curious & Unusual Deaths explores three different unusual deaths that actually happened in the past, and investigates how these strange deaths happened. The deaths are often thematically related (e.g. Trapped to Death).
Despite the morbid subject, Curious & Unusual Deaths is downright fun to watch because the deaths are just so weird. Not to mention how corny the narration is. Every death is wrapped up with a groan-inducing pun, and that just adds to the experience.
Relax Even More With Netflix’s Slow TV
The “slow TV” fad seems to have come and gone, but you can still find some beautiful slow TV shows on Netflix. Notable titles include Moving Art, Fireplace for Your Home, and Train Ride Bergen to Oslo.
Never heard of slow TV before? To cut a long story short, it’s a kind of realism where the footage is played back in real-time as it was recorded. Using the example above, watching a recording of a fireplace counts as slow TV. It’s devoid of any drama, making it perfect for when you just want to zone out to get away from the stresses of everyday life.
Learn more in our quick guide to slow TV.