The holidays. It's a time of joy, giving, kindness, and time off of work. But all of that free time on your hands can sometimes seem intimidating, and going to see all of the big Oscar contenders in theaters can get pretty expensive, so we've decided to help you out by coming up with a better, less costly use of your time. We're sure there are plenty of television shows that you've been wanting to watch all year, but haven't had the time to check out. So, we've rounded up the best of them to give you a foolproof guide to catching up on television over the holidays. Consider it our gift to you.
The Ones You've "Been Meaning to Get To"With all of the shows currently airing on television, it's understandable that you wouldn't have had time to get to them all. But since you're likely to have some free time over the holidays, why not take the opportunity to catch up on those shows that you've had saved on your DVR for months, the ones you keep hearing your friends talk about, and the ones you want to start watching before they start winning all kinds of awards next month.
Rectify. When it comes to shows that you should be watching but just haven't gotten around to, Rectify is probably at the top of the list. Set in a small town in Georgia, the show picks up after Daniel Holden has been released from prison after spending 19 years on death row, and follows Daniel, his family, and the people who live Paulie as they try and deal with the aftermath of Daniel's release. The show has topped almost every television critic's end-of-the-year list, and has been declared to be a must-see. With only six episodes in the first season, it should be easy to catch up over the holidays - all of the episodes are available on DVD - so that you can finally check it off your list, and start feeling superior to your friends how haven't discovered it yet.
Broadchurch. You may have missed this British drama when it first aired at the end of the summer, but there's no excuse for not catching up on the mystery now. The show aims to portray how the death of a child in a small town affects all of the people living in Broadchurch, and shows both the human aspect of the murder as well as the investigation being performed by the two leading detectives, Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman). If you're looking for a twist on the standard crme procedural, are interested in seeing Tennant take on a completely different role, or were one of the few people truly upset by AMC's decision to cancel The Killing (again), then Broadchurch is the show for you.
House of Cards. Sure, Orange Is the New Black was the runaway hit of the summer, but if there's any show currently streaming online that you haven't gotten around to yet, it's probably House of Cards. Kevin Spacey stars as Francis Underwood, the House Minority Whip, as he schemes, plots, and deals his way through Washington DC. Even if you don't get sucked into the fascinating and addicting world of underhanded politics, it's worth watching House of Cards to see Spacey chew the scenery and mastermind every move the Senate makes. Plus, there's an incredible supporting cast, including Robin Wright as Francis' equally devious wife Claire, Corey Stoll as Peter Russo, the representative who is juggling his position in the House with his numerous addictions, and Kate Mara as the ambitious journalist Zoe Barnes. Trust us, when the second season is released on Netflix on Valentine's Day, you don't want to be the only one out of the loop.
The Ones You Forgot AboutSometimes the best shows on television don't earn dedicated fanbases or win a clean sweep of awards. Sometimes, you pass them by when flipping the channels on the way to something else. Well, allow us to point out a few of those smaller shows that are a much better use of your time than yet another Law and Order marathon.
Shameless. Most of the time, when US networks remake British shows, the result is a disaster that alienates fans on both continents. But occasionally, the result is a show that is somehow better and more compelling than the original. This is the case with Shameless, the Showtime series that showcases the up and downs of the Gallagher family, warts and all. Led by the alcoholic, thieving Frank (William H. Macy), the Gallaghers do whatever they need to to survive life on the Southside of Chicago. High school dropout Fiona (Emmy Rossum) works odd jobs to care for her siblings, Lip (Jeremy Allen White) uses his intellect to scheme his way out f responsibility and into some money, Ian (Cameron Monaghan) is closeted and carrying on an affair with his married boss, Debbie (Emma Kenney) is trying to navigate middle school and reconcile her father and her sister, and Carl (Ethan Kutkosky) keeps setting fire to everything. It won't take much for you to be drawn into the Gallaghers' struggles, and after the first season, you too will begin bemoaning the injustice of Rossum's lack of Emmy nominations. And if you catch up now, you'll be ready to watch the fourth season when it premieres in January.
Trophy Wife. With a title that terrible, it's no wonder you put this ABC sitcom out of your head, but it has turned out to be one of the best new shows on television. Malin Ackerman stars as Kate, a former party girl who fell in love with and married and older man (Bradley Whitford), and now must balance her new role as a stepmother, his two ex-wives and her old, still-partying friends. The show is surprisingly accepting, and is more about a blended family learning to love all of its members than drawing humor from its fish-out-of-water premise. But let's be real, here: the real reason to keep watching is Bert, who, played by Albert Tsai, is arguably one of the mot consistently funny characters on television right now. The show's still in its first season, so there's not too much for you to catch on before it returns from hiatus in January; what better way to bond with your own family than by watching this hilariously dysfunctional one try and balance it all?
The Hour. Part espionage thriller, part behind-the-scenes look at the makings of television and entirely brilliant, The Hour is probably the best show you've never seen. The British drama focuses on Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), the producer tasked with getting The Hour, the BBC's first nightly news program off the ground in the 1950s. She's joined by her good friend, Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw), who s more interested in integrity and chasing the story than he is with catering to the network bosses, Lix Storm (Anna Chancellor), the worldly foreign correspondent who acts as Bel's mentor, and Hector Madden (Dominic West), the program's cocky new anchor. The acting is incredible, the writing is exquisite, and the stories are exciting and compelling, and once you've started The Hour, you'll understand just why it's "the hour you can't miss". Although it's no longer airing, having been cancelled after its second season ended on a cliff-hanger, but it's easy enough to find online,a nd is sure to be the perfect way to spend a few hours of your time.
The Ones With The Hardcore FanbasesSometimes, a television show connects so strongly with a particular audience that its fans become more than just causal viewers; instead, they feel the need to talk about their favorite show whenever they get the chance, constantly recommending that you watch it, and refusing to take no for answer. Well, sometimes, those intense fans are right, and the shows they love are actually really good, even if their fanaticism may put you off. Here are the recommendations you should be taking seriously.
Orphan Black. This is probably the millionth time someone has recommended that you give Orphan Black a shot, but that's because it really is worth a watch. Starring Tatiana Maslany as seven different and distinct characters, the show is probably best described as a sci-fi mystery as well as being one of the most addicting shows currently on television. The plot follows Sarah Manning, an English grifter who watches a woman - who looks just like her - commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. After Sarah decides to adopt the dead woman's identity, she is thrown into a major conspiracy that will force her to question everything she thought she knew about herself. his show definitely lives up to all of its hype, and once you watch it, you too will find yourself with a brand new favorite actress.
Sleepy Hollow. When Sleepy Hollow was first announced this fall, nobody thought it would turn out to be a decent show. And sure, it might be a lot more ridiculous and campy than many of the shows on this list, but if you're looking for a fun, entertaining way to spend some time this holiday, then this is the show for you. The off-the-wall plot, which centers around Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), who has been sent forward in time 200 years to modern-day Sleepy Hollow, New York, where he must team up with Detective Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) to stop the impending apocalypse, is balanced by compelling, engaging performances. It's got the perfect combination of self-awareness, goofy adventures, supernatural spookiness and well-rounded characters to make it perfect holiday comfort viewing.
Bob's Burgers. You may have noticed us recommend this show before, but we strongly believe this little show about the weirdest, funniest, most accepting family on television is one everyone should watch. Every episode is hilarious, well-acted and original, and it's rare to see a family on television who are so loving and accepting of one another, from Linda's inventive songs to Louise's appetite for chaos and destruction to Tina's hormonal awkwardness to Gene... well, being Gene. Just trust us on this one, and give it a try. You won't regret it.
The One You Gave Up On That Got Better
The Mindy Project. There's no denying that the first season of The Mindy Project was fraught with issues. However, when it returned for a second season this fall, it brought with it sharper jokes, better paced episodes, more character development, and a cast overhaul, all of which resulted in it being a much stronger show than it was before. Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) is just as much of a mess as she was before, but she has wittier one-liners, and she has settled in to a much more comfortable rapport with her co-workers, who include a newly-added Adam Pally as the frat bro doctor Peter Prentiss. If you liked or were indifferent to the show before, the holidays are a perfect time to give the new episodes a chance, because you just might find that the show you gave up on has gotten better when you weren't watching.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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