In a normal year, we'd say the holidays are a perfect time to kick back, relax and catch up on all the movies and TV you missed during the year. But given that many people have been stuck at home since March, with TV as a sole respite from the hellscape outside our doors, we wouldn't blame you if you've been in bingewatch mode for a while. No judgment! But there's still a chance you missed out on some quality content this year, so here are a couple of suggestions for things to watch.
The Queen's Gambit
This show has already set viewership records as Netflix's most popular limited series, so just skip ahead if you've already seen it. But if you've been resisting the siren call of high-stakes chess and Anya Taylor-Joy's entrancing eyes, we suggest giving it a shot. Based on Walter Tevis's novel, The Queen's Gambit follows an orphaned girl who discovers she's a chess prodigy, and uses the game as her ticket to a better life. The show's period setting and globe-trotting narrative are the perfect antidote to lockdown blues.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
If you're looking for a new holiday film, and something that has the potential to be a classic down the line, David E. Talbert's Jingle Jangle is worth a look. It tells the tale of Jeronicus Jangle, a successful genius inventor who is betrayed by his young apprentice, and whose life subsequently goes down hill quickly. An older Jeronicus, played by Forest Whitaker, gets a second chance at a happy life thanks to his granddaughter, Journey. Sure, it may follow the template of so many other Christmas fables, but Jingle Jangle stands out thanks to its stunning art design and catchy musical numbers (including new songs from John Legend).
Christmas probably isn't the best time to dive into a TV show that explores the nature of evil and a group of psychopaths trying to push the world into chaos, so maybe call Evil our anti-holiday suggestion. Like The X-Files crossed with The Exorcist and The Silence of the Lambs, it's about a forensic psychologist (Katja Herbers) who ends up working with a priest in training (Luke Cage's Mike Colter) and a sceptical investigator as they explore paranormal phenomena. It's a show that isn't afraid to get weird and creepy, so horror fans will eat it up, even though it's originally a CBS drama. It's yet another series from Michelle and Robert King, the creators of the Good Wife and Good Fight, two other shows you should definitely watch.
Also on Netflix:
My Octopus Teacher : A filmmaker forms a touching bond with an octopus that changes his life forever.
Tiny Creatures: Mini-adventures about small animals across America, captured ingeniously in a UK backyard set during the pandemic.
Avatar the Last Airbender & The Legend of Korra: Two of the best animated shows ever made.
The Old Guard: Charlize Theron leads a group of immortal warriors in this action-packed comic adaptation.
I May Destroy You
Michaela Cole's follow-up to Chewing Gum is one of the best shows of the year, full stop. She stars as a successful young influencer who blacks out during a night of partying, and later learns that she may have been raped. The series is an exploration of that assault and its impact, but it also dives into many issues women and LGBTQ people face. It may sound relentlessly serious, but it's lightened by Cole and her excellent cast, who ground the series with a genuinely close friendship.
How to with John Wilson
Every episode of How to with John Wilson begins with a fairly simple self-help goal: "How to make small talk," or "How to cover your furniture." But while it may seem straightforward at first, the show often veers into wild tangents, like host John Wilson finding himself in the middle of MTV's Spring Break filming, or outside of a Las Vegas hotel before it makes national news for collapsing. Nothing this year captures the beauty and weirdness of New York City better than this show's endless footage. Just be careful about watching the furniture covering episode with your parents or kids, because it goes to some... extreme places.
Also on HBO Max:
The Flight Attendant: A blast of a murder mystery with a healthy dose of travel porn, for those who miss flying.
Bad Education: Hugh Jackman's portrayal of a crooked high school principal makes this one of the best films of the year.
Doom Patrol: It was easy to ignore this show on DC's streaming service, but now that it's easily accessible, I'd recommend it to anyone who wants a fresh spin on superheroes.
If you're a Star Wars fan, you probably don't need any convincing to watch Disney's flagship TV show. But now that it's in its second season, I can't help but shower more praise on it. With a simple setup -- a lone bounty hunter must protect Baby Yoda -- the show captures the essence of Star Wars’ Western and samurai influences. It's pretty much Lone Wolf and the Cub in space, except there are sometimes dogfights and light saber battles. Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni have managed to craft one of the best live action spins on Star Wars yet -- it's so good, it'll make you forget about The Rise of Skywalker.
Also on Disney+:
Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian: A behind the scenes look at how the series was crafted. It's worth watching just to see how Favreau and crew are using massive LED panels to shoot the show.
Gargoyles: The classic TV series is available in its entirety, and it still holds up with excellent writing and voice acting. It’s worth having Disney+ just for this, to be honest.
A typical home for the holidays film with a twist: Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis star as a lesbian couple who have to hide their relationship from an uptight family. Happiest Season stands apart from typical Hallmark-level dreck with a funny script, one of the best casts in recent memory (Victor Garber! Mary Steenburgen! Allison Brie! Aubrey Plaza!), and genuinely realistic emotional beats.
Also on Hulu:
Animaniacs: A timely reboot of the classic series.
Woke: A cartoonist learns how to use his art for more than just laughs.
Palm Springs: Two people find themselves stuck in a time loop, but it's not just another Groundhog Day.
Other things to watch
Ted Lasso (Apple TV+): One of the funniest shows of the year. It's the perfect dose of optimism in a pretty crummy year.
Central Park (Apple TV+): From the creator of Bob's Burgers comes a musical comedy set in the middle of Manhattan's iconic park.
Sound of Metal (Amazon Prime): Riz Ahmed stars as a drummer who loses his hearing, and is forced to confront an entirely new way of life.
Small Axe (Amazon Prime): Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen's series of films exploring the West Indian community in the UK. Be sure to check out Lover's Rock, one of the most romantic films released this year.
Counterpart (Amazon Prime): J.K. Simmons plays dual roles in a sci-fi tinged espionage thriller, where two alternate realities wage an endless cold war.
Gangs of London (AMC+): Director Gareth Evans (The Raid) brings his visceral action sensibilities to an epic British gangster story.
Saved by the Bell (Peacock): No joke, Peacock's whip-smart reboot is one of the funniest shows in recent memory, mostly because it acknowledges that the original show was kind of terrible.
Indie theaters: Be sure to visit your local theater’s website, because they’re likely streaming films to watch over the internet. There’s no better way to support theaters right now.