15 fantastic shows to binge on over the holidays

23 Dec 201619 Shares

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The Christmas feast looms, the couch beckons and you’ve got more than a week left before you have to go back to work. The only thing to do is binge. On TV.

There are a limited number of hours in any given day. Once you’ve dispensed with sleeping, eating and work, that’s not a whole lot of time for the masses of quality TV shows that seem to be appearing with more and more frequency.

Enforced downtime – like that which you experience over the holidays – is the optimum time to catch up on some of what you’ve missed over the last 12 months (and before).

Here, we’ve gathered some of the shows that we loved this year. This guide should help you decide what to binge on this holiday season.

Slight spoilers lie ahead.

Westworld

While early reviews of Westworld mooted it as the next Game of Thrones, it soon became clear that it was something else entirely.

A reboot, for want of a better word, of the 1973 movie of the same name, Westworld centres on a park inhabited by robots (hosts), where no rules apply and guests can live out their most sordid fantasies.

A star cast – Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright and Sir Anthony Hopkins – imbues Westworld with life, turning bots and puppeteers into nuanced characters and making sure you’re heavily invested in their fates.

Westworld is operatic and sprawling. Although largely confined to the park, it never feels claustrophobic – the breadth and labyrinthine nature of the story see to that.

A typically HBO show, Westworld starts out slow, but builds momentum for a dramatic finale. While you may see many of the twists coming, their execution will keep you enthralled.

The latter half of the finale episode tees up an incredible Season 2. Make sure you’re caught up before that airs.

The Man in the High Castle

Based on the Philip K Dick novel of the same name, The Man in the High Castle paints an incredibly grim alternate timeline – one in which the Nazis didn’t lose World War II.

The series follows lead characters Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) and Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) as they navigate the horrors of an America split between the Greater Nazi Reich and the Japanese Pacific States.

The plot is driven by Crain and Blake’s efforts to help resistance movements from the two imperial enclaves to carry banned films depicting our reality to the mysterious man in the high castle.

While no one in the Siliconrepublic.com bullpen has had time to get stuck in on the show’s second season – released just last Friday (16 December) – we’ll confidently recommend the first.

You can catch it on Amazon Prime.

Sense8

Sense8 is one of Netflix’s more divisive shows. You either love it or you hate it – there’s no in-between.

The series follows a group of eight strangers as they discover – with sometimes comic, sometimes heartbreaking, but always entertaining results – that they’re intimately connected.

Sense8 is genre-spanning, ticking off sci-fi, drama, comedy, romance, thriller and action. It’s no-holds-barred, funny, sweary, gory, filthy fun.

The perfectly balanced cast carries off the potentially tricky nuances of the script well, and the Wachowskis’ expert direction makes it a joy to watch.

With a Christmas episode released today (23 December), and the rest of Season 2 appearing on May 5, this is the perfect time to catch up on the first 12 episodes of Netflix’s most globetrotting show.

The Crown

It was hard to know what to expect from The Crown when first sitting down to watch it. With the potential for straying into straight biopic territory, it could have turned out dry and uninteresting.

What actually materialised from Netflix’s most expensive show to date was a can’t-stop-watching drama, hinging on Queen Elizabeth’s first years on the throne. The Crown focuses on Lilibet’s relationships, both personal and political.

Drawing just enough from the public history of the royals to remain entirely plausible, you feel like you’re watching a documentary – it’s just the most entertaining documentary you’ve ever seen (Planet Earth II notwithstanding).

Don’t mistake this as a romp, though. The pomp, circumstance, bling and parties are neatly – and occasionally devastatingly – balanced out by the crushing weight of the young queen’s responsibilities.

A must-watch for biting insight into very human relationships, the Byzantine nature of power and the yoke of responsibility.

This Is Us

The schmaltziest entry on this list by a long stretch, NBC newcomer This Is Us is also one of the most enjoyable to watch.

Starring, most recognisably, Mandy Moore (A Walk to Remember), Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes) and Sterling K Brown (The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story), This Is Us tugs on the heartstrings on a weekly basis.

The sprawling family drama follows the Pearson family as they live their lives, sometimes together and sometimes far apart.

Offering a healthy dose of humour, sorrow and dysfunctional-family tension, This Is Us depicts real life, both as it is and as we want it to be. In the world of This Is Us, perfection lies on the surface, but turbulence lies just beneath, and that’s what keeps the show just this side of saccharine.

The Night Of

Based on a BBC production called Criminal Justice, The Night Of is an eight-part thriller that takes the viewer down several uncomfortable paths as a murder case develops in New York.

A young, naive Pakistani-American student wakes up to a blood-soaked room and a dead body, with no memory of the night before. We spend the subsequent seven episodes finding out the complicated, grisly order of events.

John Turturro (The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?) is the standout star, acting as an unconventional lawyer for the accused, with Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler) also excellent in the lead role.

Episode one is a tour de force, setting up the storyline and creating a perfect mystery for viewers to navigate through in later episodes. It’s impossible to predict how the story will go. With surprises at every turn, viewers are never quite sure who to root for.

Watch now on HBO and Sky Atlantic.

Atlanta

The low-key hit of the year, Atlanta (penned and helmed by Donald Glover/Childish Gambino) is all over must-watch lists this year, and we’re not about to stray from the rest.

A far cry from Glover’s earlier televised work – Community, most notably – Atlanta is a mellow, heady summer afternoon of a show, sauntering along from episode to episode. But it’s the fact that it also holds a mirror up to the black experience that makes it worth watching.

While ostensibly focused on Glover’s character, Earn, as he tries to manage his rapper cousin to success, the show takes in everything from poverty to homophobia in the black community, and handles it all with no small amount of dark humour.

Although the series – which has just one season under its belt – starts slow and generic, it soon morphs into an entirely different beast, eschewing standard 22-minute formats in surprising ways.

A true must-watch.

Stranger Things

The perfect marriage of ET, The Lost Boys and Stand By Me, Stranger Things turns the nostalgia up – appropriately enough – to 11.

This is peak 80s, in a way that even the most ardent hater of the 80s can appreciate.

The story starts with a young boy vanishing into thin air and a gifted young girl seemingly materialising out of it. From there, Stranger Things takes you on a thrill ride of monsters, other worlds and romance, culminating in a bittersweet cinematic ending.

While early promos were built around the casting of Winona Ryder, it’s the kids who make Stranger Things. Be prepared to fall in love – and be blown away – by Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown.

The first season is now available on Netflix, with a second due in the hopefully-not-too-distant future.

The Night Manager

BBC miniseries The Night Manager – based on a John le Carré novel of the same name – was unmissable TV when it aired earlier this year.

Starring Hugh Laurie as Richard Roper and Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine, The Night Manager told the story of a hotel night porter who gets drawn into a sordid underworld when a hotel guest is murdered.

A tour de force for both Laurie and Hiddleston, The Night Manager was a pacey, tense, thriller of a show, drawing viewers deep into the seductive world of arms dealing, undercover work and the glamorous billionaire lifestyle.

Laurie’s turn as an unhinged and dangerous arms trader was ably matched by Hiddleston’s ability to imbue Pine with all the slipperiness and charm an undercover agent requires.

The background players don’t disappoint either, with star performances from Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) and Tom Hollander (the Pirates of the Caribbean series) standing out.

BrainDead

Describing BrainDead to new people can be a challenge. A present-day sci-fi political satire set in the very real world, the CBS show is part West Wing, part Mars Attacks.

The series takes place in Washington DC, where a sudden rash of political extremism has taken hold on both sides of the aisle – political extremism driven by aliens eating people’s brains.

More simply, what BrainDead offers is the only logical explanation for the madness and vitriol Republicans and Democrats trade in on Capitol Hill.

BrainDead is full of little flourishes that make sure it stands out from everything else that aired this year, from salami-infused sex scenes to Jonathan Coulton singing all of the ‘Previously On’ intros.

We’ve only been treated to one season of BrainDead thus far, but we’re optimistic. Thanks to President Trump, Season 2 – should it materialise – will have a wealth of material to draw on.

Significant effort to binge

Star Trek

To binge on Star Trek in its entirety would require significant commitment and, perhaps, for you to use up 2017’s allotted tranche of holidays in January. Even just with casual viewing, though, you should at least be able to make a decent dent in it before you have to trudge back to work.

Star Trek was the original space opera, spanning races, species and centuries. It broke barriers in the ’60s with The Original Series. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, The Next Generation turned Starfleet into nation builders. The 1990s’ Deep Space Nine and Voyager took it all to a darker place. We don’t talk about Enterprise.

The complete series – including movies – was brought to Netflix earlier this year, so watching will be easy.

And there’s no better time to start than now. The latest season is expected to air and stream simultaneously in 2017.

Rick and Morty

Based heavily on Back to the Future characters Marty McFly and Doc Brown, Rick and Morty takes the basic idea of the time-travelling duo and adds in a thick dollop of madness, science fiction and gross-out humour.

Developed by Dan Harmon (Community) and Justin Roiland (Adventure Time), the show revolves around the absurdist adventures of Morty and his grandpa Rick as they travel across space and different dimensions, with Rick – a gaseous alcoholic – regularly getting them into trouble.

In the two seasons since its release, it has developed a cult following, not only for its bizarre humour, but for very touching moments surrounding life and death.

Featuring a cast that includes Sarah Chalke (Scrubs) and Chris Parnell (Archer), the show’s third season is expected to air in the new year.

Until then, however, Netflix users can now laugh and cry at the pair’s antics in two stellar seasons.

Gilmore Girls

The recent Gilmore Girls revival, which took fans on somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster in November, was received with much fanfare, and for good reason. If you have been waiting to watch it until after you powered through the original seven seasons, here’s your chance to get started.

Even if you’ve never seen a single scene, you’ll know the main plot point: talk fast and talk a lot. Not that that’s a detriment.

Following the lives of mother and daughter duo Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, Gilmore Girls is heart-warming and heartbreaking, funny and sad, quirky and sweet.

Set in Stars Hollow, a small town in Connecticut, Gilmore Girls is full of charm, from its characters to its storylines.

Most importantly, though, it features some of the best relationships you will ever see committed to film, all centred around Lorelai and Rory.

And it will just make you feel good. Promise.

How to Get Away with Murder

One of Shondaland’s star attractions, How to Get Away with Murder joins Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal as one of the many strings to creator Shonda Rhimes’s bow.

The Emmy award-winning How to Get Away with Murder follows a group of law students as they learn about criminal law from cut-throat defence attorney Annalise Keating (Viola Davis of Suicide Squad, The Help).

The show grips from the very first episode, which opens with four panicked students standing in the woods discussing – as the name may suggest – how to get away with murder. It quickly cuts to three months earlier, and the series continues in that timeline.

Flash-forwards peppered throughout reveal a little more information every time – just enough to keep you bingeing.

How to Get Away with Murder is currently on mid-season hiatus in its third season, but you can stream the first two on Netflix.

One with promise

The OA

Another show that no one in Siliconrepublic.com Towers has been able to get to just yet, The OA is, nevertheless, on a lot of our to-watch lists.

We’re refusing to read reviews or spoilers, so we can’t give you much more than that it looks pretty good.

According to Netflix, the show centres on Prairie Johnson (Brit Marling), a blind girl who had gone missing from her home seven years before the start of the series. In the pilot episode, she returns with her sight restored, but no memory of her family.

The only people she will take to about her time away are four teenage boys, to whom she tells her story in order to recruit them for a mission.

Additional reporting from Jenny Darmody, Colm Gorey and Gordon Hunt.

Kirsty Tobin is Careers Editor at Siliconrepublic.com, covering careers-related news, features and interviews

editorial@siliconrepublic.com