1. “The Crown” Season 2 (available December 8)
Why Should I Watch It? “The Crown” is the new ruler of Netflix. With “House of Cards” on the outs (take that as you will), the streaming giant’s other big-time awards player is assuming, ahem, the crown. Peter Morgan’s historical drama may not be for everyone — period drama fans will swoon, while anyone looking for surprises will snooze — but it’s an unequivocally well-made show, with pristine production design and impeccable performances. Sure, you may wish for more corgis and less melodrama, but the stuffiness is largely overshadowed by astonishing grandeur. This will be a perennial awards player for the foreseeable future, so you may as well try it out.
Best Episode: Season 2 lacks an obvious standout — Season 1’s arguable choice would be the penultimate episode, “Assassins” — but I’d argue Episode 4 of Season 2, titled “Beryl,” is the best of the lot. Focusing on Princess Margaret, who’s still recovering from losing her husband-to-be, Vanessa Kirby delivers a commanding, moving turn in an episode that breaks the cold mold encasing much of the rest of the series. It feels alive, and not just because it’s surprisingly steamy. “Beryl” finds life outside the palace and does so with an unrepressed, and quite memorable, vigor.
2. “Halt and Catch Fire” Season 4 (available December 14)
Why Should I Watch It? By Season 4, “Halt and Catch Fire” reaches a point of comfortability. That’s not to say it’s lazy — far from it. Unlike a lot of shows that struggle to find a wide audience, the AMC drama isn’t stretching to unearth extra conflict. Creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers are comfortable with their characters, and the season benefits immensely from the trust they put in themselves as writers, as well as their core five-some. There’s a timeless element to Season 4, to the point you feel like you’re living with these people. Every moment matters, from phone calls that stretch into the night to kids who are growing up too fast. Inspirational, heartfelt, and honest, the final season is one to be savored; which is good, because it also feels like it never ends.
Best Episode: I mean, the season itself is pretty much perfect — and the last four episodes are so perfect they practically shine — but if I have to choose, I’ll go with Episode 8, “Goodwill.” Without spoiling anything, all I can say is it’s a uniquely personal, attentive, and authentic means to examine an event often chronicled on television, but rarely so effectively. Everything that needs to be said is said so well it could be considered poetry… except that would ruin the whole authenticity part. Just go with it. It’s beautiful.
3. “Easy” Season 2 (available December 1)
Why Should I Watch It? “Easy” is exactly that: easy, but in the best possible way. Because each episode works as a standalone short film — tied together by loose connections between characters and their shared Chicago setting — Joe Swanberg’s anthology series can be sampled, binged, or watched in any order you like. If you just want to see Aya Cash’s episode, do that. If you want to watch back-to-front, knock yourself out. If you want to do one per night, you don’t have to worry about forgetting where you are or what’s going on. It’s a refreshing experiment, and one filled with diverse characters, challenging ideas, and charming performances.
Best Episode: Honestly, I’m torn. Due to an innocent screener snafu, I didn’t see Episode 6, “Prodigal Daughter,” ahead of time. “What’s one out of eight?” I thought. “Certainly it won’t be better than Episode 7, ‘Lady Cha Cha.'” Well, I might have been wrong. Having just watched the sixth episode — about a high school senior who’s pushed into the church and learns something profound in her rebellion from it — I’m not sure if it’s better than Episode 7 (about a couple who challenge each others’ feminist beliefs), but it’s right up there. For now, they share the top spot (but a full ranking of Season 2 episodes is in the works, so check back to IndieWire for a final decision).
4. “Planet Earth II” (available December 25)
Why Should I Watch It? It’s “Planet Earth.” That’s why you should watch it. This is literally one of maybe two shows ever created that everyone can enjoy. (The other is obviously “I Love Lucy.” If you don’t love Lucy, you, sir, are a monster.) Whether you’re pants-pooping one-year-old or a… pants-pooping 90-year-old, “Planet Earth” offers allures for all ages. Stare in wonder at the glorious life discovered across our beautiful green globe. “Ooo” and “ahh” over the technical accomplishments of an elite documentary crew who capture some of the best visuals ever broadcast. Or take the whole thing as a reminder we need to protect our environment, as the six-episode season does take the time to tell us that our planet is dying. This is “Planet Earth.” This is us. And it’s for all of us.
Best Episode: Call me a sucker for bobcats, but I’ll take Episode 2, “Mountains,” over the rest. That being said, whoever pushed for and put together the final entry — “Cities” — deserves credit for pulling it off. Surprising, smart, and relevant.