Everything you should watch over the holidays

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Black Mirror Season 3

The Twilight Zone of our era is back on Netflix with a bigger budget, more episodes, and plenty of familiar faces aboard. This season, Black Mirror explores scenarios where your entire life is based your social media score; a game company that’s developed all too realistic augmented reality; and your mind can be backed up forever. It’s an eclectic mix of stories, as always, but that unshakeable feeling of dread and techno-anxiety that the series is known for is still around. This time around, there’s even — dare I say — hope?

Watch if you like: The Twilight Zone; The X Files; 1984
Where to watch: Netflix

Atlanta

You probably remember Donald Glover from Community, which he left abruptly to pursue a music career. Now he’s getting back into TV with Atlanta, an authentic look at what it’s like to be young and black in the American south today. He stars as a perpetual loser who’s managing his cousin’s fledgling rap career, all the while trying to make ends meet. Atlanta is genuinely funny, but it’s also unafraid to be genuinely poignant at times. Ultimately, it’s brave and refreshing television.

Watch if you like: Louie, Donald Glover, Do the Right Thing
Where to watch: FX

High Maintenance

After finding success as a web series about the adventures of a New York City weed dealer, High Maintenance managed to outdo itself with its first official season on HBO. For the most part, the show uses the weed delivery man (AKA The Guy) as a way to connect completely disparate stories. One episode deals with a young, gay hipster who’s in a fundamentally destructive relationship with his roommate, while another tells a love story between a dog and the world’s best dog walker. It’s one of those “dramadies” that manages to be both uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time, but its sheer originality helps it stand out from the crop of shows about Brooklyn twentysomethings.

Watch if you like: Girls, Bored to Death, Richard Linklater films
Where to watch: HBO

BrainDead

If it seems like this election has been insane, perhaps it’s because there are tiny space ants invading the brains of our politicians pushing them towards extremist beliefs. At least, that’s the explanation given by BrainDead, a biting political comedy that isn’t afraid of having heads explode (literally). It’s like The West Wing meets The Good Wife (it’s from that show’s creators) meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And it also has Tony Shalhoub delivering one of the funniest performances this year as a raging southern conservative. Need I say more?

Watch if you like: The West Wing, House of Cards, Scanners, Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Where to watch: CBS, Amazon Prime

Halt and Catch Fire

It’s not too often a show completely turns itself around, but that’s exactly what Halt and Catch Fire did in its second and third season. It starts out in the early 1980s, focusing on a group of tech wizards who have the moxie to build an IBM compatible PC for a small Texas computer firm. Exciting, right? Its early tech nostalgia was cool, but obviously an attempt at recreating the magic of Mad Men. Eventually, though, Halt and Catch Fire wisely learned to focus more on its characters and offer up a more expansive view of the tech industry. It’s as much about the creative process as it is about trying to figure out out what’s on the horizon for tech. (My suggestion: Watch the pilot and the latter bits of the first season, the good stuff really starts in season two.)

Watch if you like: Hackers, Mr. Robot, the ’80s
Where to watch: Netflix, AMC, iTunes, Amazon

Westworld

Chances are, you’ve already dived into Westworld. HBO didn’t waste any time hyping it up, because once Game of Thrones ends it needs another smash hit genre piece. A pseudo-reboot of the original Michael Crichton film, Westworld is set in a futuristic theme park where the very rich live out their Wild West fantasies with the help of incredibly realistic humanoid robots.

It’s ultimately an exploration of human nature: What would you do if you could play a complete villain in what’s ostensibly a very realistic video game? And at what points do the robots, who are routinely abused and have started going “off script,” become human? It’s well worth watching, with some of the best cinematography and production design you’ll see on TV this year. And even if it can’t satisfactorily wrap up its many mysteries, it’s worth basking in the tremendous performances of Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood, two bots rebelling against the system controlling them.

Watch if you like: Person of Interest, Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica
Where to watch: HBO

Channel Zero: Candle Cove

You wouldn’t expect a show based on a Creepypasta — viral horror stories made popular by sites like Reddit — to actually be good, but somehow writer Nick Antosca ended up crafting one of the creepiest horror series in years. Candle Cove centers on a child psychologist who’s trying to unravel the mystery behind a series of murders in his hometown (something he’s personally connected with). But, fundamentally, it’s about the existential dread of children’s TV shows and the power they can hold over kids. Channel Zero is more about psychological dread and slowly creeping horror than straight up jump scares, but I assure you the monster designs will work their way deep into your nightmares.

Watch if you like: Hannibal, Stephen King, Stranger Things
Where to watch: Syfy

Tickled

On the face of it, a documentary about competitive tickling competitions sounds pretty light. But as Tickled director David Farrier investigates, he quickly gets wrapped up in an exploitative online industry that’s taking advantage of young, good-looking men. It’s one of those documentaries that’s so strange, you’d think it would be made up if it weren’t completely true.

Watch if you like: Documentaries, The Witness
Where to watch: iTunes, Amazon

Days

A young high school kid joins the soccer team and is terrible at it — but through sheer determination he ends up playing an essential role in the team. There are plenty of sports anime shows out there, but Days’ strong handling of its characters and overall sweetness make it a joy to watch. Personally, it evokes the camaraderie and carefree days of playing soccer in high school. But it’s also a genuinely fascinating and inspiring exploration of the power of will.

Watch if you like: Sports anime, Friday Night Lights
Where to watch: Crunchyroll

Luke Cage

Luke Cage is what happens when Marvel actually lets people of color handle one of their properties It has a style and vibe that’s completely unlike anything else from Marvel’s superhero factory. Mostly, that’s all due to Mike Colter’s towering lead performance (we saw him first in Jessica Jones last year), the show’s love of Harlem and its keen musical soul. Its original score is by Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest, and there are plenty of choice cuts and tremendous live musical performances throughout. If you’ve ever wondered what a superhero show could look like when crossed with energy of a blaxploitation film, this is the show for you.

Watch if you like: Comics, music, blaxploitation films
Where to watch: Netflix

Honorable mentions:

  • Fireplace for Your Home (Netflix): Now in 4K!
  • American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson (FX): You need to see this dramatic reenactment of the O.J. Simpson trial. Trust me.
  • O.J. Made in America (ESPN, Hulu): This nearly eight-hour documentary dives deeper into the O.J. trial than ever before.
  • Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon): Few shows get the joy and pain of creating music as right as this.
  • Food Wars (Crunchyroll, Hulu): This food competition anime is incredibly addictive.
  • Thunderbolt Fantasy (Crunchroll): A wuxia fantasy epic with puppets. Puppets!
  • Pee Wee’s Big Holiday (Netflix): This might just end up being a holiday classic.
  • Goliath (Amazon): A reminder that David E. Kelly (The Practice, Ally McBeal) can still make a damn fine law series.

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