Anyone who truly loves TV will fall hard for “The Grinder,” Rob Lowe’s short-lived meta comedy about an actor who leaves his cushy job as a TV lawyer to try to become a real one. Filled with nods to the TV world — Lowe’s favorite episode involves his character setting up a focus group for his father — this one will have the whole family talking about its subtle satire (and heart-warming family story).
An underappreciated gem for true film scholars, “Documentary Now!” is an ode to a genre worshipped by its followers and oft ignored by the mass public. Such love comes through in every entry thanks to Bill Hader and Fred Armisen’s commitment to their craft — and the past crafts of great filmmakers. This one’s for the family who goes to the theater every Christmas (but chooses Werner Herzog over superheroes).
Everything you need to know about this one is in the title…well, OK, that’s not entirely true. The cast is stellar — from Peter Krause to Lauren Graham to Mae Whitman — and the stories cover far more than the parent’s perspective. These kids have their own lives to live, and the combination of the two groups creates a fascinating study of families. Not enough people watched this when it was on NBC, so make sure you catch up if you missed out before. It’s an excellent binge.
Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda’s new series may begin with the titular characters’ learning that their husbands are gay (and dating each other), but the truly progressive series also deals with death, women’s rights, and more. Yes, there’s plenty of honest discussions about homosexuality, but this deft blend of drama and comedy scores points for pushing the boundaries in many more areas than one. Oh, and even though it’s about the elderly, it’s not made exclusively for your grandma and grandpa. “Grace and Frankie” is a delight for us all.
“Once Upon a Time”
Sit back and marvel at the production design behind one of ABC’s more bluntly synergistic series. “Once Upon a Time” pulls together many of your favorite Disney characters, ABC’s parent company, and does so with great style. It’s a far easier pill to swallow than all those family trips to Disneyland on “Black-ish” and “Modern Family” — especially when you’re doing it for your kids.
Food. Porn. OK, Netflix’s original docu-series is much more than food porn, but it’s still serves that purpose quite well. Lavish visuals of food being grown, prepared, and served make “Chef’s Table” an artistic achievement in presentation, but the content is killer, too. And, perhaps most importantly for families, it’s one kind of porn that’s suitable for all ages.
Bob’s burger puns are truly an artistic accomplishment on their own, but “Bob’s Burgers” celebrates food and animation in equal doses. Loren Bouchard’s long-running family comedy features some of the most innately warm and inviting visuals on the air, and its love of food can sometimes only be accomodated by an homage to Hayao Miyazaki.
Sometimes the holidays can bring out more melancholy than merry feelings, and Sofia Coppola’s peek inside Bill Murray’s head is made for those fine folks. Everyone gets a little down from time to time — even Bill Murray. So who better to wallow with and pick you back up?
Netflix has proven its animation isn’t strictly for kids with originals like “BoJack Horseman,” but “F is for Family” focuses on a traditional family in an untraditional way. Angry and vivid, Bill Burr’s six-episode, half-hour comedy is filled with four-letter f-words, so put the kids to bed before flipping this one on.
Let’s face it: If you’ve got half a dozen little ones running around the tree, they’re the ones in charge of what’s on the TV. It has to be age appropriate and engaging enough to settle them down. So let a cute cat do the work for you, as Netflix’s serialized adaptation of the film character popularized by Antonio Banderas is a winner for all ages. Think of it like “Shrek”: You still like “Shrek,” don’t you?
In the spirit of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.” comes the breakout Netflix original, “Stranger Things.” Filled with mystery and a few corresponding frights, the eight-episode first season isn’t exactly for all ages, but those 12-and-up should find a lot to love: Younger viewers should identify with the kids at the story’s center, and older viewers will appreciate the many homages to older films.
Listen, you may not want to admit it, but you’ve got secrets from your family. You do. You just do. They could be small secrets, like, “I broke the Santa Claws cat Christmas dish in 2004,” or they could be big secrets, like, “I’ve been married for four years and haven’t told anyone because I didn’t invite them to the wedding.” Either way, secrets are a part of family life, and watching “Bloodline” — where the Rayburns’ secrets are so big, they’re criminal — will make you feel better about whatever you’re hiding from Mom and Pop.
Those who support equality on the TV set will make time for this female-focused mother-daughter story, both to tilt the male-dominated landscape back toward the ladies and to enjoy some sharp pop culture banter. Let mom have the remote, for once, people!
If you have to watch a superhero show, make it “Supergirl.” Not only is Melissa Benoist charming, but her adventures aren’t as dark as fellow spandex-wearing Netflix heroes, “Arrow” and “The Flash.” Light and fun is just fine for the holidays.
OK, so Tim Allen’s ABC series isn’t terrible, but if you choose it over all the other entries in this list then you, my friend, are a hater. And you’re likely from a family of haters, so sit back and enjoy hating on something largely worthy of your disdain.
Not only does Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) consistently threaten to abandon his family when they repeatedly cross the line, making the show itself strongly identifiable to anyone who’s struggled with their own kin, but everyone loves “Arrested Development.” If you can’t stand each other, at least you can all enjoy the Bluths.
We’re not even going to link to this one in the title. Seriously: If you inflict this on your family, you’re hurting yourself just as much. Don’t do it. Just watch something else. Literally anything on this list.