26 Sad TV Shows on Netflix That Are Guaranteed to Make You Ugly-Cry
A good ugly-cry can be a beautiful thing. Crying can sometimes be just as cathartic as exercise and will release just as many endorphins (while also leaving you red-faced and out of breath), and TBH, everyone should do it more often. If you’re in the mood to get in your feels, then a few episodes (or a whole season) of a sad TV show might be just the thing you need. From medical melodramas to family soap operas, we’ve rounded up the most harrowing, heart-rending TV series Netflix has to offer. Be sure you keep a box of tissues handy – you’ll need them.
Created by Ryan Murphy, Pose takes on the underground ball culture world of 1980s New York City, and the series has made history by featuring the largest cast of transgender actors in series regular roles ever. Set against the background of the AIDS crisis, Pose manages to feel like a sexy queer fever dream without ever losing touch with the very real (and very devastating) things happening outside the club.
This adult animated series follows the titular BoJack, a humanoid horse who was once the star of a ’90s sitcom, but is now boozed-up, washed-up D-lister hoping to make a Hollywood comeback. Yes, it’s technically a comedy, and yes, it’s a cartoon, but BoJack Horseman offers a surprisingly poignant exploration of addiction, self-destructive behavior, and the human experience.
13 Reasons Why
Based on the novel of the same name by Jay Asher, this melodramatic series follows the aftermath of a young woman’s suicide and the consequences of the tapes she left behind, each tape explaining one of the reasons why she decided to take her own life. Admittedly, this series goes a little (okay, a lot) over the top at times, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic.
When They See Us
This Ava DuVernay-directed miniseries is based on a true story, revolving around a 28-year-old investment banker who raped and killed in 1989 and the five young men from Harlem who were wrongfully convicted of the crime. Hearing the story of the “Central Park Five” will likely break your heart – and make you lose all faith in the justice system.
This family drama follows an interracial lesbian couple and all of the ups and downs of raising a multiethnic clan of biological, adopted, and foster children under one roof. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry . . . though mostly it will make you cry.
Orange Is the New Black
One of Netflix’s first original series (and one of its most-watched original series) ran for a wonderful seven seasons, telling the story of privileged New Yorker Piper Chapman, who was sent to a minimum-security prison due to her involvement with a drug runner 10 years earlier, as well as a gang of delightfully colorful characters. While there are plenty of laughs in this one, there are definitely just as many tears.
Based on a memoir of the same name by Deborah Feldman, this part-Yiddish series follows a young Orthodox woman who decides to leave her arranged marriage and strict religious sect behind in Brooklyn escape on her own to Berlin. This one will definitely tug at your heartstrings, but it’s also incredibly empowering.
Starring Kaya Scodelario (whom you might know better as Effy Stonem from Skins), this drama revolves around a competitive ice skater who – after taking a devastating fall during a competition – attempts to make a comeback by teaming up with a new partner. Accurately portraying mental illness without relying on tropes is difficult, but Spinning Out succeeds in depicting Kat’s bipolar disorder in a way that is sensitive, nuanced, and will definitely make you tear up.
If you loved Friday Night Lights, then you should definitely watch All American. The series revolves around a South Central high school football player who is recruited to play for Beverly Hills High School, causing some major class tensions and new rivalries. To call this one “sad” would be a gross understatement.
On My Block
This coming-of-age dramedy revolves around four friends – Monse, Ruby, Jamal, and Cesar – as they attempt to navigate both the streets of Freeridge (a predominantly Hispanic and Black neighborhood in South Central LA) and the halls of their high school. This is another one of those shows that is hilarious one moment and devastating the next, and you can never anticipate when that shift will happen.
Inspired by real-life events, this drama miniseries revolves around a teenager (played by Kaitlyn Dever) charged with lying about her sexual assault and the two female detectives (played by Toni Collette and Merritt Wever) who must investigate to find out the truth. The justice system may fail them, but this show won’t fail to make you sob.
Set in Paris, this musical drama stars André Holland and Amandla Stenberg as a failed NYC jazz-pianist-turned-failing-club-owner and his daughter, who shows up unexpectedly from New York and throws a wrench into her father’s freewheeling lifestyle. Cue the drama!
Based around four women working at the brand-new National Telephone Company in 1920s Madrid, this series follows Lidia, Carlota, Ángeles, and Marga as they discover new talents, find their voices, and overcome their own private tragedies. This show isn’t just wildly underrated – it’s also unbelievably heartbreaking.
Tales of the City
Based on the book series by Armistead Maupin, this miniseries stars Laura Linney as Mary Ann Singleton, a woman who returns home to reunite with her family and the residents of 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco, 20 years after leaving behind her daughter (played by Ellen Page) and ex-husband to pursue her career. Trust us when we say that there’s a lot more tragedy than you’d expect.
The Haunting of Hill House
Based on the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel of the same name, this supernatural show follows the five Crain siblings as they struggle to come to terms with their childhood, when a house flipping gone wrong left their mother dead and the children haunted. This one may primarily be a horror series, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also really, really sad.
This dark British series – which was created, produced, and directed by Ricky Gervais, who also stars in the series – centers around a man named Tony who decides to throw caution to the wind following the death of his wife, becoming a reckless misanthrope his friends no longer recognize. Who knew that Ricky Gervais could be so . . . dramatic?
Based on the Norwegian TV show of the same name, this dark dramedy follows two strangers (played by Jonah Hill and Emma Stone) in near-future NYC who participate in a pharmaceutical drug trial, hoping to escape their inner demons. However, rather than using their mental illnesses as a punchline, the show handles their struggles with sensitivity and works to challenge the idea of what’s “normal.”
Set in Mexico City, this teen drama series follows three spoiled 20-somethings as they embark on a road trip to escape from their predictable lives. However, they encounter a mysterious, desperate woman along the way, and she ends up changing the path of their lives forever. This series is a slow burn, and it’s definitely worth the wait.
Set in Bristol, England, this scandalous series revolves around the lives of wild teens, tackling everything from substance abuse, to sexuality, to mental illness. Though the cast changes every two seasons after their characters graduate from sixth form, it’s hard not to fall in love with every last one of them, and it’s impossible not to shed some tears over the many breakups, breakdowns, and deaths.
In this Netflix crime drama, three working-class teens displaced by an earthquake are enrolled in the most exclusive school in Spain, and the clash between the classes erupts into a battle that eventually turns fatal. Think Gossip Girl set in Spain but even more dramatic (and far more poignant).
Call the Midwife
Adapted from the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, this BBC drama is set in 1950s and 1960s East End London, following the trials and tribulations of novice midwife Jenny after she’s assigned to work at a nunnery. Before you begin this one, make sure you’re prepared for eight seasons of heartache.
This family drama revolves around the titular Greenleaf family, who runs a Memphis megachurch and – on the surface – appears to be a kind, loving clan. Of course, that isn’t really the case, and this series explores all the rivalry, greed, and adultery taking place behind closed doors.
In every episode of Queer Eye, the Fab Five – which is composed of Tan France, Antoni Porowski, Bobby Berk, Jonathan Van Ness, and Karamo Brown – help new participants (or “heroes”) turn around their lives, helping them improve their knowledge of fashion, food and wine, interior design, grooming, and culture. And the result isn’t just a chic new wardrobe and haircut. The difference that Queer Eye has made in the lives of its heroes is very real, and you’ll shed just as many happy tears as sad ones.