Ahhh, a long holiday weekend; maybe two in a row this year, with Christmas and New Year's both falling on a Monday. Had a stressful year? I KNOW. Time to unplug from the parties, shopping and annoying holiday music with some thoughtful media consumption.
You may have missed out on these very watchable (yet somewhat undersung) shows from the last year, but they're perfect fare to enjoy with your feet tucked into those new wool socks you got from Grandma and that plate of sugary treats you brought home from the cookie exchange. I chose some smart stuff for you, some gripping thrillers and some guilty pleasures. This is a golden age of TV, they tell me, so add some sparkle to your bleak midwinter with these excellent and binge-worthy shows.
This series has been called "Twin Peaks meets the Archie comics" thanks to the hip crime procedural vibe that frames it from the beginning. If you grew up with these comics, as I did, you'll love this deliciously subversive update. Smart, funny and well-acted, this show unfolds with erotic tension and terrific insider references. It's glossy as a lipstick palette made of spun sugar (I mean, duh, it's the CW) and that's part of its yummy charm.
This gripping true crime documentary Netflix series tries to unravel what happened to two young women murdered in Baltimore in 1969; one of them was a nun whose death broke the hearts of many of her students, two of whom started a Facebook group to collect information as they researched clues. This series is an artful cinematic experience as well as a suspenseful whodunit, and a scathing indictment of corruption in a Catholic parish.
Maybe you want to indulge your religious-themed horror with a narrative series; if so, the rumors you're hearing about The Exorcist being better than anyone expected are true. Based on William Peter Blatty's novel and William Friedkin's iconic 1973 film, this Fox series has quietly built a loyal fan following among horror aficionados and occult media enthusiasts. A stellar cast (including Geena Davis) and excellent character-driven writing have elevated this reboot's quality, but its renewal to a third season is unsure unless fans rally. For related content in a sexier, snarkier package, check out Lucifer, also on Fox; and Fox, please try to carry on with the occult-themed programming after that merger with Disney goes through.
Issa Rae's Youtube series Awkward Black Girl developed a messianic following, inspiring and propelling this HBO series (co-created with Larry Wilmore), which Rae pointedly insists "is NOT for dudes or white people." Nevertheless, the show's diverse writers room and crew are winning accolades across a wide demographic spectrum. It stars Rae and Yvonne Orji as former college friends and young career women Issa and Molly, who struggle to maintain the mythic trope of Strong Black Women in a world that tries consistently to tear them down.
Halt and Catch Fire
This stylish high-tech thriller from AMC is full of cool intrigue and stunning cinematography. Despite being set in the 1980s, it's timely and terrifying, given its focus on computer startups run amok and the corporate-groomed wizards trying to rein them in. The marvelous cast includes the brilliant, underused Toby Huss; a compellingly nebbishy Scoot McNairy, and Kerry Bishé in the best role of her career. The fourth and final season aired on AMC this summer, but you can catch up on the first three seasons on Netflix.
HBO's post-apocalyptic drama (co-created by Tom Perrotta, who wrote Little Children, and Lost's Damon Lindelof) features a star-studded cast (Christopher Eccleston, Amy Brenneman, Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Ann Dowd, Liv Tyler) playing a group of suburban survivors of a mysterious cataclysm. The show is artfully made, and quite gritty and dark. Perfect for the times we live in.
I loved Damages (a splendidly binge-worthy series from FX), and this original Netflix show, set in the Florida Keys, utilizes the same innovative narrative structure of flashbacks and flash-forwards that piece together events and motivations from multiple perspectives. Sissy Spacek and the late Sam Shepard run a luxury inn on the beach, and their adult children (Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz) react negatively when the oldest (Ben Mendelsohn) returns home after a long absence. Your own family dysfunction will seem not so bad in comparison. If that cast wasn't already raising your blood pressure, there's also Chloë Sevigny, John Leguizamo, Jamie McShane and Andrea Riseborough.