12 Streaming Shows You Need to Binge on This Thanksgiving Weekend
After you've had your fill of Thanksgiving trimmings, here are some meaty selections of currently airing shows you can, and should, catch up with over the three-day weekend, whether you're in the mood for a slice of something light or dark.
Better Call Saul (AMC)
The first season of Breaking Bad’s audacious spinoff was a huge relief for fans -- enough of a departure from the original, while still possessing the visual craftsmanship and smart writing that made Breaking Bad such a classic. Anchored by powerhouse performances from Bob Odenkirk as scrappy but goodhearted lawyer Jimmy McGill (whose evolution into Bad's sleazy attorney Saul Goodman is still in the pipeline) and Jonathan Banks as grizzled fixer Mike Ehrmantraut, the show is a slow burn at first, but give it a few episodes. Executive producers Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s meticulous character-building pays off and will have you totally immersed in their vision of Albuquerque as sunlit noir, just in time for season two's Feb 15 premiere.
BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
24 episodes (approx. 12 hours), via Netflix
Does the world need another weary showbiz satire? Maybe not. But, if we have to watch shows about depressed, washed-up sitcom actors, they should aim to be as clever, perceptive, and empathetic as this surprisingly nuanced animated show. And they should have to star a horse voiced by Will Arnett. With excellent supporting voice work from Amy Sedaris, Aaron Paul, and Alison Brie, BoJack -- which unloaded its second season in one fell swoop this past July, with a third confirmed -- merits a deep dive that allows you to soak up its comic despair.
As binge-worthy drama goes, Empire is like cocaine straight in your veins: a madcap, sequin-drenched Shakespearean tragedy-cum-hip-hop musical that packs a soap opera’s worth of murder, adultery, and, yes, catchy hip-hop jams into every episode. For those who missed the boat last season, Empire follows ailing record-label impresario Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) as he decides which of his three sons to name as his successor, while his ex-wife Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), newly sprung from jail, shows up to complicate things (and steal the show with her life-giving catchphrases and world-beating sass). This season's upped the ante substantially, as Cookie and a breakaway faction start their own rival imprint, resulting in plenty of double-crossing and many a heated rap battle. Have a taste, and then mainline the whole thing.
If you like, take your pick: there's writer/executive producer Noah Hawley's celebrated, inaugural stab at adapting the Coen brothers' tragicomic spin on Northwestern crimes and misdemeanors, which features A-list headliners Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman, and the bonus of some easter-egg allusions to the original Fargo. Then again, it's awfully tempting to gorge on the first seven, already aired chapters of its fine-tuned, supremely entertaining successor so you're primed for its Dec 14 finale. The latter season provides a backstory of sorts for the former, but they can be considered with mutual exclusivity. And they're both terrific: rear-view-retro riffs on American menace, conveyed with attention to both the finer failings of human nature and the curious environments that shape us. Fargo the series, per its muse, is bloody good fun.
The Goldbergs (ABC)
There’s no better family sitcom on the air right now. And don't flinch at the episode count: if you skip a couple or multitask during a few here or there, you won’t lose the plot (plus, they're really a mere 22 minutes a piece sans ads). And even if you commit to all 68, it’s no bigger haul than binging on the total runtime of a premium-cable drama’s first couple seasons. Whatever your approach, Adam F. Goldberg’s paean to his own 1980s childhood is kitschy, earnest, and spastic in all the right ways, and Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911!, Bridesmaids) is the TV mother of the decade as her clan’s well-meaning, shoulder pad-advocating, oddly foul-mouthed “smother,” Beverly. The Goldbergs is primetime comfort food you won’t gag on.
The Knick (Cinemax)
This baby of Ocean’s 11, Traffic, and Contagion director Steven Soderbergh is television’s most cinematic series -- and one with far too little attention paid. Without the soapy Shondaland breeze of network medical dramas, The Knick's turn-of-the-century exploits surrounding surgeon John W. Thackery (Clive Owen) are a tough sell for HBO’s struggling kid brother, Cinemax. So are racial tension, historical analysis, and gory streaks of life-or-death operations. That doesn’t seem to stop The Knick from relishing in it, leaving serialized hooks to Thackery’s burgeoning heroin habit. Drugs and brain surgery: terrible mix, great television. And there’s still time to pick up The Knick at what feels like just the second chapter of a potential 1,000-page tome.
The Leftovers (HBO)
Co-creator Damon Lindelof’s first post-Lost original series takes place in the wake of a Rapture-like event called the Sudden Departure, which caused 2% of the population to vanish with no explanation. As you might imagine, it’s pretty darn bleak, but it’s also easily one of the smartest and most unique shows on television. In this traumatized post-Departure world, survivors cling to religion, look for answers in mysticism or cults, or simply turn inward with nihilism and rage, making the show a fascinating staging ground to explore big themes like fate, religion, mortality, and grief. We suggest you start this one on Friday, so you can enjoy some leftovers with your Leftovers. Nothing simulates the taste of planet-wide mourning like microwaved mashed potatoes.
Luther (BBC America)
Catch up and observe the show’s Golden Globe-winning lead Idris Elba (as morally inscrutable London detective John Luther) in his comfort zone, i.e. ruthless, vulnerable, and unmistakably British. Not to mention The Affair’s flame-haired head-turner Ruth Wilson as his murderous muse. And because Luther is the real-deal procedural: ballsy, brainy, brawny, and devastating -- from the very first frame.
Mr. Robot (USA)
USA’s first critical smash in recent memory will rightly sit near the top of most year-end lists. Mr. Robot was 2015’s most unique small-screen vision, a blend of paranoid techno-thriller and wry cultural critique made by (i.e. creator Sam Esmail) and for obsessives. Robot knowingly seduces with a familiar, Kubrick-by-way-of-Fincher vibe, but sucks you in through the singular perspective of reclusive, psychologically brittle super-hacker Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) as he fights for his sanity and our freedom.
Once Benedict Cumberbatch blasts into stardom’s exosphere, braggarts will point to Sherlock with we-knew-him-when glee. And they’re right. The modernized take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Victorian sleuth is Cumberbatch’s The Wire. Don’t feel left out. The UK thespian is at his sharpest in Sherlock’s caustic, analytical head. With Martin Freeman playing Watson as an Iraq War-trained Jiminy Cricket, and creator/writer Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) wrapping character arcs around episodic mysteries, it’s a show worth investing in from the beginning that won’t give you binge-guilt (despite what Master of None says). The series is set to send its characters back to the 19th century for a one-off special this January, but before they do, experience the murders, romances, impolite behavior, and diabolical evildoers (see: Moriarty) that make this one of Britain’s essential imports.
10 episodes (five hours), for purchase via Amazon
This Amazon original dramedy, which returns for season two on Dec 11, got plenty of buzz for Jeffrey Tambor's Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning performance as Mort Pfefferman, a transgender parent coming out as Maura to her grown children and ex-wife. While Tambor’s performance stands out, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, and Gaby Hoffmann are all brilliant as Maura’s grown children, each of them suffering from some heavy-duty sexual and identity issues. Transparent certainly has some Cultural Studies 101 aspects, but it’s never didactic; rather, it strikes a perfect balance between poignant and laugh-out-loud funny, with universally relatable family dynamics. After a single episode, you'll both love and detest the Pfeffermans as if they were your own blood relatives, making it ideal, cathartic post-Thanksgiving TV.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
13 episodes (approx. 6.5 hours), for purchase via Netflix
Co-creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s fiendishly clever comic universe is the type of place you’ll be glad to get lost in for a weekend. Anchored by a beyond-charming performance from Office alum Ellie Kemper as the newly freed protagonist, the show (which returns this coming spring) paints a vivid, bizarro version of New York populated by strivers, dreamers, and lunatics, all capable of firing off jokes that make you laugh so hard you have to rewind to catch the next line. Besides, you can only rewatch 30 Rock so many times.
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