What to Binge Watch Over the Holidays
The quality of ready-to-stream content never ceases to amaze, and now that services from Netflix to HBO are churning out docs, shows, and miniseries at an exceedingly rapid clip, keeping up without letting a few gems slip through the cracks is getting increasingly harder to do. Here, our can’t-miss list.
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold Netflix, Out Now
This incredibly intimate documentary chronicles the storied career and traumatic life events that shaped the most famed works of literary legend Joan Didion. The film is directed by Didion’s nephew Griffin Dunne, who sprinkles in beautiful personal glimpses into Didion’s early life, as well as her darkest moments. This is a moving, incredibly inspiring portrait of one of the most influential writers of our time.
IcarusNetflix, Out Now
Director and avid cyclist Bryan Fogel set out to make a documentary about performance enhancing drugs, assigning himself as the guinea pig. During filming, the subject matter took a rapid and surprising turn, morphing into something like a geo-political thriller. As Fogel attempts to beat his best race time, he unwittingly exposes the doctor who masterminded the Sochi Olympic Russian team doping scandal, which was just as shocking to the filmmaker as it is to the viewer.
The Defiant Ones HBO, Out Now
HBO’s new four-part series, The Defiant Ones, brings together two iconic American dreamers—Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine—from polar-opposite backgrounds: the status-quo shattering Compton rapper and the ambitious Italian producer from Brooklyn, respectively. Working with three-years worth of footage (a mix of home videos and interviews with everyone from Bono to Tom Petty to Snoop Dog), director Allen Hughes seamlessly weaves the individual stories of their early career struggles and subsequent rise to fame with glimpses into their unbreakable, and at times hilarious, friendship.
The KeepersNetflix, Out Now
Traveling back in time to the 1960’s, this riveting crime docu-series deep-dives into the unsolved murder of twenty-six-year old nun, Sister Cathy Cesnik. Each episode re-scrutinizes the case with help from journalists, former high school students, and documentarian Ryan White—all of whom believe there’s a connection between Sister Cathy’s untimely death and the controversial late priest, Father Maskell. Most unsettling of all: former female students open about Maskell’s sexual abuse, backed up by the mounting evidence of a church-endorsed coverup. Similar to Making a Murderer, you’ll likely be left with many haunting questions.
Old Show, New Season
Stranger ThingsSeason 2 | Netflix, Out Now
While you won’t get as much out of this if you haven’t seen season one—definitely take the time to catch up if you haven’t already—season two is everything you’d want from a sophomore follow-up: slightly less doom-and-gloom and delightfully self-referential, with a healthy dose of charm from its young cast (which is more than welcome). Also of note: lots of great moments with Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven, who is really the best reason to tune in.
One MississippiSeason 2 | Amazon, Out Now
In the second season of her Amazon original series, Tig Notaro returns with more of her particular brand of dry, and at times dark, humor. While the semi-autobiographical first season focused on loss, the second season examines the process of moving past grief—touching on deep social and political issues in the process, but in a way that’s witty and charming rather than bitter or angry.
The Girlfriend ExperienceSeason 2 | Starz, Out Now
Say goodbye to every character you loved (or loved to hate) in season one—season two is essentially an entirely new show. A two-in-one concept, here, DC’s sterile political scene is examined through the lens of a blackmailing super-PAC finance director in one episode, then contrasted in the next by a former girlfriend experience-provider attempting to escape her past. The masterful layering of the mania of the escort business under what appears to be an ordinary life is what continues to make the show a must-watch.
Top of the LakeSeason 2 | Hulu, Out Now
Although the show took a four-year hiatus, it’s finally back with a follow-up, Top of the Lake: China Girl, in which Elizabeth Moss’s detective Robin Griffin attempts to rebuild her life in Sydney. The first season left us with the kind of twisted ending that really stays with you, and the second season continues to tighten the knot: While investigating the grizzly murder of a brothel worker, Griffin has to face issues surrounding her personal life, including a complicated relationship with Mary, her estranged biological daughter, and Mary’s adoptive mother (played by Nicole Kidman).
The Mind of a ChefSeason 5 | Netflix, Out Now
Several shows attempt to demystify the magic of what goes on in the kitchen, but few are as ambitious as this Anthony Bourdain-produced series. Its fifth season follows Ludo Lefebvre, a French expat—and one of our favorite chef dads—whose unexpected passion for American fast food produced The Staples Center’s LudoBird. Lefebvre speaks with as much reverence for a square of Kraft cheese as he does for buttered escargot, making for an endearingly poetic subject.
EasySeason 2 | Netflix, December 1
Joe Swanberg’s beloved anthology returns this December with more hilarious (and heartbreaking) vignettes on love, sex, and the increasingly vague—or completely non-existent—rules of modern relationships. The show’s brutal honesty and the fumbles of every character, many of whom are familiar faces from season one, is relatable to just about everyone. Same as before, the dialog is often improvised in the moment to make every episode as fresh and unexpected as falling in love.
2017’s Most Binge-Worthy
OzarkNetflix, Out Now
A seemingly upstanding Chicago financial advisor, Martin Byrde, played by Jason Bateman, is forced to relocate his family to the rural Ozarks in Missouri to execute a complex money laundering scheme after getting tangled up with the Mexican drug cartel. It sounds like a fairly textbook fish-out-of-water narrative, but once the locals start getting in the way of the Byrde’s big agenda, chaos ensues. The entire cast is great, but Laura Linney as Martin’s complex, badass wife is a staff favorite.
She’s Gotta Have ItNetflix, Out Now
Modern reboots of classics can be hit or miss, but Netflix’s expansion of Spike Lee’s debut film into a series is a slam dunk. She’s Gotta Have It resurrects the voice of Nola Darling, a young woman from Brooklyn claiming ownership of her sexual independence. The storyline hardly needs reworking to stay relevant, but it’s clear Lee has a new audience in mind (in the teaser, Nola describes herself as “a sex-positive, polyamorous pansexual.”)
Alias GraceNetflix, Out Now
For those of us suffering The Handmaid’s Tale withdrawals, Netflix’s mini-series Alias Grace is another for-TV adaptation of a brilliant Margaret Atwood work—and while this one is based on a true story, parallels to The Handmaid’s Tale are peppered throughout. Young Irish immigrant Grace Marks, who has escaped her abusive father’s grip to work as a domestic servant, is accused of murdering her employers. The evidence all points to Grace’s guilt, though questions about her mental health and the specific circumstances of the murders cast doubt on the initial conviction. Fair warning: The ending can be a bit maddening to some.
The Marvelous Mrs. MaiselAmazon, November 29
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is writer Amy Sherman Palladino’s (she of Gilmore Girls fame) newest and is also Amazon’s first ever multi-season series pick-up. Set in New York City in the 1950’s, the show follows Midge Maisel—a hilarious character loosely based on Joan Rivers—as her marriage disintegrates at same time as she discovers a talent for standup comedy. Rachael Bronsnahan, who plays Mrs. Maisel, does an incredible job of navigating Palladino’s famously quick-paced banter.
The DeuceHBO, Out Now
Set in 1970’s New York City, The Deuce—a reference to pre-clean-up-efforts 42nd Street—revolves around the rise of the porn industry, plus the violence and drugs that accompanied it. The storyline drags the viewer directly into the seedy world of organized crime and sexual exploitation, weaving the narrative around an amazing cast of characters: barkeepers, hustlers, cops, pimps, and sex workers. (If it sounds graphic, that’s because it is.) HBO renewed the series, so stay on the lookout for season two.
Big Little LiesHBO, Out Now
Everything about this mini-series is nothing short of amazing, from the breathtaking visuals of Monterey, to the soundtrack—which you’ll want to download for your next California road trip—to stunning performances from every one of the female leads. It’s at once both darkly comic and deeply sad, with a mounting, urgent tension that makes getting through all seven episodes in just a few sittings a breeze. Do it before season two debuts.
Tough to Watch, but Important
The White Helmets2016 Short | Netflix
At times, this incredibly powerful, gritty 40-minute short is gut-wrenchingly tough to watch, but the subject matter is too important to ignore. Director Orlando von Einsiedel doesn’t hold back depicting the horrific violence and turmoil in Syria and Turkey, and neither do the White Helmets, a group of volunteer workers who continuously put their lives on the line to save victims. The brutality of the daily airstrikes that plague the area is heart-breaking, and the selflessness of the men who rush to rescue civilians from the rubble shows the best side of human nature.