The People of LWON have spoken. As promised, here is our annual list of what to watch over the holidays. For more recommendations, please refer to last year’s list.
Erik: It’s hard to make a suspenseful drama around the Revolutionary War. “Ooo! Who will win? The scrappy Americans or the evil redcoats? I just don’t know!” And yet, somehow the AMC show Turn does just this. Not only does it weave a fascinating and riveting tale around the country’s earliest spy ring, it paints the war in a nuanced light where the sides of this iconic struggle are blurred. And Samuel Roukin creates easily one of the most evil and fun-to-watch characters on television today.
Jennifer Holland: Romantic comedies often suck, but I love the wacky show Catastrophe, one of the Amazon Prime offerings. (Yes, you have to pay for Prime to see it, but lots of people do, so I figured it was worth including here.) Sharon Horgan is funny and real and wonderfully crass, and you just want to hug Rob Delaney because he’s exactly the guy we all wish we could bring home. Together they are hilarious and sweet and totally organic. There’s only one season so far, so it’s not a huge commitment. Give it a go.
More from Jennifer: Meanwhile, even if you don’t get Comedy Central, you can sneak around on YouTube and laugh yourself silly, for free, at Amy Schumer’s fake commercials and skits from her show Inside Amy Schumer. When I saw her early stand-up a few years ago I’ll admit I found her style a little irritating, but it’s all good now–she’s hit her stride and is making a run for it. I’ve come to love her irreverent, self-deprecating bits and her perfect SNL-style parodies. This isn’t high-brow or politically correct stuff. Watch it after the kids go to bed.
And (Jennifer again), if you know and love the Sad Cat Diary on YouTube, stay seated for zefrank’s other offerings…just click your way through his educational and hilarious posts about owls, cuttlefish, mantis shrimp, sloth, and a zillion others. You’ll actually learn something and you’ll pee your pants laughing. Promise.
Ann Finkbeiner: Jenny reminds me, YouTube counts as visual art. A YouTube series called Convos with my Two Year Old uses as a script, an actual conversation between a parent and a two-year old. The actors, however, are grown men. That is, the two-year old is played by a tall, thin man with a two-day growth. It’s gone on long enough now that the two-year old is five. And though not all episodes are equally funny, they’re all dead-on accurate. In the first episode, a father comes home, says hello to his wife, asks her what they should do for dinner. A tall, thin man with a barrette in his hair and little gold heart on a necklace comes around the corner and said, “You can’t talk to her.” “Yes, I can,” says the husband, “she’s my wife and I can talk to her.” “No, you can’t,” says the tall man, “she’s the princess. I’m talking to her. Go sit over there.” The series is so good not because watching a tall, thin man wear onesies and tutus is so funny, but because that actor has nailed for all time the willfully uncomprehending stare, the authoritative and insane certainty of a two-year old who’s going to get what she wants. And seeing these tiny psychopaths in the body of a reasoning adult? For some reason, that’s awfully funny.
Jessa: Everything I’ve watched this year has been pretty lightweight, which is what happens when I work harder than usual — I have little capacity to challenge my brain outside of writing. So while there’s nothing particularly profound in any of these, there are three movies that stand out as greatly entertaining. What We Did On Our Holiday is an English comedy about children whose grandfather dies playing on the beach with them, and they immediately give him a viking funeral. Far From the Madding Crowd, starring my Hollywood girlfriend Carey Mulligan, is a highlight of its genre, and In a World…, directed by, written by and starring Lake Bell, is an elegant execution of the comedic premise that the top ranks of movie trailer voice over acting are intractably dominated by men.
Cassandra Willyard: I want to second Jennifer’s recommendation of Inside Amy Schumer. Not for the kids, but you can definitely breastfeed a newborn watching this show. I did. Babies can’t remember anything. “I sent you to the store for milk, baby! Do I have to write EVERYTHING down?!”
And I’m late to the party with this one, but the Homeland! Claire Danes plays a seriously off the rails CIA agent. She gives new meaning to the word dysfunctional. And did you know that her boss is played by Mandy Patinkin? The same Mandy Patinkin who played Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. “You killed my father. Prepare to die.” He is a delight. Season 1-4 are available through iTunes for about $20 a pop. So worth it. (Not for people who abhor violence, loose women, and ethical ambiguity). If you make it to the end of Season 3, your head will explode. I sat on the couch for like an hour muttering, “WTF. WTF.”
Michelle Nijhuis: [(The Imitation Game + Sherlock) – Benedict Cumberbatch] + 4 x (brilliant women played by excellent actors) = The Bletchley Circle. Two seasons, seven episodes in all, and lots of murdery, brainy fun. Perfect for your dark winter evenings.
Rose Eveleth: Okay this is very much not a new piece of media, but it’s one that I think LWON readers will be interested in, and one that I have thought about nearly every day since I saw it. Born in Flames is a 1983 science fiction film directed by Lizzie Borden. It takes place in a future New York City, ten years after the “social-democratic war of liberation.” The film features dueling pirate radio stations, gangs of women on bicycles who beat up rapists, a socialist newspaper and a feminist uprising. All to a pretty rad soundtrack.
You can actually watch the entire film on YouTube, it’s just over an hour long and in my opinion totally worth your time. And particularly over the past year, as police brutality, sexism and deepening economic divides dominate the news, this post liberation New York City feels very, very real. The women in the film each struggle with how to respond to the injustices they see in the world — some want violent action, others turn to writing, others want to keep quiet and work from the inside to change things. The conversations they have about which kinds of action are most effective and about how to respond to brutality and bias feel particularly relevant amidst the current #blacklivesmatter movement and the increasing calls to make feminism more inclusive.
I don’t want to spoil what happens in the movie, but I’ll just say that there were some news events this year that made me freeze up and think “that is almost exactly the plot of Born in Flames.” It’s a weird movie, made on a small budget full of actors you’ve probably never heard of. But if you’re interested in science fiction and social justice it’s totally worth your time.
Image: Original illustration from Far From the Madding Crowd, 1874