You’ve Watched Friends, now what?
When it comes to English language television there is so much more than just Friends!
It’s true. Friends offers easy access to learners at any level. The series has repetitive jokes and “physical humor”, or jokes you’ll see if you’re watching even without understanding what’s being said, and short story lines (each episode is less than 30 minutes long). This all makes any one of the 236 episodes perfect for learning English!
However, Netflix has thousands more shows than just Friends. There are more sitcoms and comedies and there is a whole world of other types of shows that might be a better fit for you as a learner.
New movies and TV series are constantly coming out, joining the Netflix library and available for streaming. And any one of the thousands of titles on Netflix could be used for English learning. There is so much available to watch, enjoy, and use for English learning.
Where to even start?
For sure, it can feel overwhelming.
Most native English speakers hear about television shows from friends and family. It seems that everyone is talking about a certain show and you just have to watch in order to keep up with a friendly chat. As a language learner, it can feel like we’re outside of those pop-culture conversations.
If you have Netflix or any of the other streaming platforms, you’ve got thousands of choices. That might be too much choice! Your Netflix feed has hundreds of titles. When you’re faced with all those choices, sometimes watching an episode of Friends for a third time just feels easier. But let’s challenge ourselves, that’s how we keep learning. Let Woodpecker help you watch something new.
The shows on this list are filled with dialogue, expressions, and situations that native speakers will find familiar and comfortable. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them, too. Have no fear.
Use this guide to steer you in the right direction for what to watch next. Please Note: We have chosen globally available shows on Netflix. Keep in mind content on Netflix is always changing. Some shows may not be available in your region or may have left Netflix since this was published.
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As we mentioned above, the sitcom is an easily accessible style of show for English learning. It’s why Friends is probably THE most popular television show option for learning English globally. The “Sitcom” is a situational comedy. Sitcoms get their humor from the situations the characters are put in. Because each show is based on humorous situations, it is accessible for learning. So, enjoy this medium and try this one next:
Check out Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Kimmy Schmidt escapes a life in an underground bunker and starts her new life in New York City. She is clueless about the world and then goes on to navigate life – paying bills, friendships, new relationships, and life’s many choices.
Kimmy Schmidt’s creators also started some of the funniest shows on American television (30 Rock, which is on Netflix for the US), the writing in Kimmy Schimidt is quick and hilarious. Jokes will come and go at times faster than Friends. The show is still enjoyable on its surface level as well, this means as your English improves you’ll discover the layers of humor.
We love this show because the humor is not only in each situation, but also in that Kimmy should be the ignorant one. 15 years underground missing YouTube, iPhones, the internet’s development… everything we take for granted. Yet, she often seems more knowledgeable about life than the people she meets. In the opening episode, “We don’t really like the term ‘Mole Women’” she tells Matt Lauer in an interview, Matt ignores her and launches into his next question “So, what’s next for the Mole Women?”
The dialogue (talking in the show) sounds natural, like Friends, it is how native English speakers actually speak. There are many subtle layers to sarcasm and humor in natural conversation and with this series. Understanding these layers (or “nuances”) in the series will help your English improve. The quick pace and modern situations will also help your listening comprehension. Your English is going to improve. Whether or not you care about the layers, you’re going to find this show enjoyable.
If that’s too challenging, or not quite your style, check out Modern Family
Goofy characters, funny situations, a hint of drama. This series follows three related families in Southern California. The series is filmed in “mockumentary” style, which means it is fictional (or fake) but made to look like a real documentary series about a family. A documentary series would follow a real family with cameras and feel like you’re looking into their lives. This series, with its highly awkward situations, provides a lot of laughs and has a lot of emotion, too.
Netflix has lots of great content from the United Kingdom, as well. This lets you sample the accents and culture of Britain. The style, habits, culture, and, of course, the accents are all different from American shows like Friends.
Stephen Fry, a British actor and writer commented that, and we paraphrase here: The American comic hero is a wisecracker and above life and those around him. The British comic heroes are those who want life to be better, but for whom life just dumps on. This is very true of Friends, where the characters seem to poke fun of each other and the situations they find themselves in, always better than them.
You can sample a British sitcom to see how it differs, see below. If you loved Friends, you may or may not enjoy a British sitcom. We wanted to highlight a different kind of show.
We love The Crown
Yes, this is the standard when it comes to lists of what show to watch to improve your British accent. Here’s why we love it:
This series follows the lives of the British royal family as Elizabeth II ascends the throne and keeps her family and the country calm and carrying on through the 20th century. The stories the show covers will make you want to learn more about modern British history and the culture of the monarchy. All beneficial if you plan to travel or work in the UK or potentially anywhere in the Commonwealth.
More than that, the expressions and accents are wonderful. The royals speak with RP, the standard high-class accent of England. The supporting characters have a wide range of accents from across the UK and the Commonwealth. History and culture collide in this historical drama. Its performances are wonderful. The show runners (creator and producers) claim to keep the events close to real life, but they have to guess what happened behind the scenes of the Windsor family. That’s what we see in The Crown.
The show is twice the length of Friends and the stories are heavier. “Heavier” means sometimes darker, not necessarily uplifting, and they always make you think. There are, of course, funny lines and humorous characters, but the situations aren’t meant to be funny. This means it will be more challenging than Friends, but it will also help your English loads!
If The Crown is too heavy…
Yes, The Crown, with its award winning performances and magnificent production value can be a bit too real or “heavy”. If you’re looking for something lighter from the British Isles, check out The IT Crowd. This series focuses on tech department workers and their lives. This lighter show will provide laughs and a comedic life in a British corporation. And this will let you explore how the British sitcom compares to Friends and other American sitcoms.
TV dramas or dramatic television often centers around the workplace, whereas sitcoms often focus on an individual’s life or a group of friends. There’s more happening in dramas. Each character gets their own story in each episode or in multiple episodes. There’s still humor in the dialogue and jokes throughout. Overall, though, the show isn’t meant as a lighthearted look at a situation. Because of the multiple story lines, denser language, and more complicated stories, you will push your English skills further.
If you could follow Friends, challenge yourself.
Push your skills further with a drama like Suits.
This series is set in a law firm. You will learn words often used in a law firm, courtroom, and business law settings. While the show uses legal language, it is still accessible as it follows a hotshot (high performing) lawyer as he hires a man without a law degree into his New York City law practice.
While Suits is not a sitcom, it offers a lot of humor in the funny things that some of the partners and associates (employees at a law firm) say to each other. These insults are similar to things you might hear in a college setting or in a workplace in the United States.
While the situations are slightly more complicated than what you might find in Friends, the show still follows a pretty general order of things with a legal case or other drama that will be solved before each show’s conclusion.
If a law firm isn’t your style, try The Good Doctor
Similar to Suits with the main character being a highly talented person who doesn’t necessarily get accepted, The Good Doctor provides a look inside a hospital with complicated language that comes with medicine. We follow the story of a young savant (gifted and talented individual) with autism. Despite the hospital setting, the show is accessible. While the themes, setting, and characters are different from Friends, it might be just “what the doctor ordered” (what you need) to improve your English further.
Sometimes life seems too calm and content. We need something “edgy”, something that adds a little anxiety or takes us completely out of our normal, humdrum lives. Tense dramas follow stories that tend to have far more layers than a traditional sitcom. They also aren’t written for laughs. The characters make choices that constantly build on one another. Unlike most sitcoms, which allow you to jump in at any time, you’ll want to start from the beginning of these shows and follow through. These shows often make you ask yourself, what would I do in the same situation?
These stories follow an anti-hero, a main character who isn’t the typical “good” hero, as they proceed down a path of wrong choices. While the choices aren’t the legal or correct choice for society, they seem totally justified and acceptable every time our character makes each choice.
The characters are more complicated and the situations more convoluted (complicated and not simple). Oftentimes each situation is tied to many other factors that were caused by previous choices the character made earlier in the series. If your friend sees you watching season 4 episode 7, and asks you to recap what’s happening so they can jump in, you’ll find your explanation will take longer than the episode!
The stories are fascinating and here are some of our top picks to challenge your English and go far beyond Friends.
Try out Breaking Bad
The show is an extremely popular show, possibly thanks to Netflix. The premise: a high school chemistry teacher gets diagnosed with cancer and starts making drugs. This proves a slippery slope.
The term “to break bad” was popularized by this show, entering mainstream across the United States. It means to make a decision that breaks with socially acceptable morals, often leading to a life of continuing to break with society’s expectations. Each episode has more new choices that each seem to call our anti-hero to “break bad” again.
The story line is highly engaging, suspenseful, and, of course, dark. You’ll want to keep watching.
As you keep watching, you’ll discover the English used in the show is varied, with a range of accents and ways of speaking. While drug users and dealers will speak one way, the main anti-hero and his family have a more common or socially acceptable way of speaking. You’ll be drawn into the story and want to keep watching, watch your English improve as you go through the series.
Check out Sherlock
The much loved Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman star in this British series about the brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes set in modern times. Enjoy the anxiety of solving cases and the antics of anti-hero Sherlock. This series is still heavy and dark, but not quite as intense as Breaking Bad. And, after all, Sherlock is doing a lot of good in the world, so maybe not as much the anti-hero, though he still makes some questionable, anti-social choices! The perk here is you get interesting stories, fantastic characters (and acting!), and British accents.
Reality Television is very often not actually anything like anyone’s real life. All the same we still call it that. This type of show is completely different from Friends and other television shows on this list.
Through reality TV we look into the lives of real Americans (or Australians, or Brits), even if they are the kinds of people you’ll never meet. We get to hear how they talk and what they think is normal. Keep in mind, the camera and producers behind the scenes probably help make them exaggerate (overdo or amplify) their behavior.
Use reality TV as another tool to explore the culture of the English speaking world, but remember just because it’s called reality TV doesn’t mean it’s normal life for everyone in that country. Quite the contrary! It’s still great for entertainment and challenging your listening skills in English.
Competition style shows can keep you hooked and let you improve English as you follow your favorite “characters” to the final.
We love “The Circle”
The premise reality TV show, with versions from the UK, US, and Australia: a dozen strangers move into an apartment building, each document their lives on social media and choose who is the most popular of the group, all while never meeting in real life.
While the premise is silly, this show couldn’t be better for helping you pick up how people speak naturally. The unscripted nature of the show means you get to see how people might introduce themselves, respond to questions, talk to each other in text message, while chatting, and in colloquial English. It’s like Friends online, in real life, in modern times with complete strangers. Throughout the competition series, the narrator comments on each participant’s life with a humorous tone at a fast pace, so this will really help your English skills. Can you understand their jokes?
What you hear are the expressions and catchphrases you might hear on a college campus or at a party in the United States. Get familiar with this type of English, it won’t hurt you, but remember, try not to speak like they do when you’re in your IELTS speaking test or a job interview!
After completing Friends, or any of the shows above, you might want to get more educational. Learn something and entertain yourself with these shows.
Learn something with the Explained series
This series of mini video essays from Vox is a great choice for diving into American cultural topics while improving your English. It touches on science, psychology, and culture while exploring various topics.
With Friends you follow the characters and pick up on English along the way. With this series you learn something and along the way your English will improve. We love the interesting topics this show makes and its entertaining format.
If you’re looking for something with a more personal touch,
Dive into Inside Bill’s Brain. This documentary is built on a series of interviews with Bill Gates. Discover his habits, what makes him tick (who he is, according to the shows creator), what he’s worried about in life, and get to know one of the wealthiest people on the planet.
In the same vein as the educational content above, you can use your interests to improve your English. If you’re learning English and love to cook (or eat), this show may inspire you while improving your English skills.
Follow the story of Cooked
Michael Pollan, the author of the book by the same name, dives into this documentary. He explores our relationship to food through the four elements (fire, earth, water, & air). This series looks at the history and anthropology (study of culture) of cooking. It explores where we’ve come from, what makes today’s meals possible, and where things are going. While told from an American perspective, the show looks at cuisines and cooking rituals from around the world.
The Woodpecker App lets you touch any word you don’t know while watching videos meant for native speakers. With Woodpecker for iPad you can watch your favorite shows on Netflix and touch any word to look it up.
As you move on from Friends, you will come across more and more words you don’t know. Watch with confidence with Woodpecker. Try out one of the shows above, and when you hear a word, phrase, or pop-culture reference you don’t know, simply touch it in the subtitles. Read more, save it to your word history, and improve your English.
Netflix doesn’t have a free trial period. You can sign up for a month here. Then get Woodpecker for iPad and try the Woodpecker Unlimited Video player free for 7 days. Download free Woodpecker here for iPad, iPhone or Android.
If you don’t have Netflix, you can use Woodpecker to discover new content on Youtube meant for native speakers. Touch any word you don’t know to look up its meaning.