1. “Bridgerton” Season 1 (available Friday, December 25)
Why Should I Watch? Starring “Derry Girls” icon Nicola Coughlan and featuring Julie Andrews as a narrator named Lady Whistledown, Shonda Rhimes’ first Netflix original series already has three solid gold reasons to try out the hipper, hotter version of “Downton Abbey,” but here are a few more details. The period drama is based on Julia Quinn’s historical romance novels, where Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor), the eldest daughter of the powerful Bridgerton family, makes her debut onto Regency London’s competitive marriage market. But the eight-book series (yes, eight) obviously needs more than just one character’s love story to fill all those pages, so you can expect to see the other Bridgerton children caught up in romantic entanglements of their own (plus Coughlan as Penelope Featherington — seriously, the names alone make “Bridgerton” worth watching).
Bonus Reason: A sexy period drama from the mind behind “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” that’s also an adaptation of a massively popular book series where all the young dukes and duchesses aren’t exclusively white? Again, what more do you want? Well, for the TV nerds out there, “Bridgerton” marks the next test of Netflix’s talent acquisitions team. Back in 2017, when the streamer lured Rhimes away from her hugely successful home at ABC, the top-tier TV producer was given the mandate to bring those eyeballs over to Netflix. “Bridgerton” is Shondaland’s first shot to do just that, and plenty of executives will be watching to see if she’s able to deliver. The streamer can ill-afford another costly investment that doesn’t pay off, so here’s hoping the only drama from “Bridgerton” is onscreen.
2. “Big Mouth” Season 4 (available Friday, December 4)
Courtesy of Netflix
Why Should I Watch? Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett’s Emmy-winning Netflix comedy has already delivered three hilarious, horrifying, and honest seasons of pubescent teen struggles, and Season 4 is another gem. Still acting as a fierce advocate for understandably angsty adolescents, the brazen animated sitcom balances its sweet side with an onslaught of age-appropriate crudity, which manifests in Season 4 via self-explanatory episodes like “The Hugest Period Ever,” “Poop Madness,” and “A Very Special 9/11 Episode.” Starting off at Summer Camp, Nick (voiced by Kroll) copes with a swarm of Anxiety Mosquitos (Maria Bamford) while Andrew (John Mulaney) makes new friends… who can’t help him with a very personal bowel problem. Yet again, “Big Mouth” is focused first and foremost on making private embarrassment public, so younger viewers can avoid feeling as isolated as their animated analogues — and older viewers can reminisce on just how horrible it was to be that age.
Bonus Reason: “Big Mouth” made the good kind of waves this summer when the series announced a new cast member in a pre-existing role: Ayo Edebiri was taking over as Missy, replacing Jenny Slate, who asked to leave the part in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Slate’s departure spurred a number of voice casting changes, where white actors playing people of color stepped down, but “Big Mouth” handles their particular hand-off extremely well. Slate still voices Missy for most of the season, but as the bi-racial young woman learns more about her racial identity from her Black cousins, Missy starts to change, and Edebiri takes over in the penultimate Season 4 episode. It’s a graceful, self-aware, and highly effective switch worth talking about, in another season filled with natural conversation starters.
3. “Song Exploder” Volume 2 (available Tuesday, December 15)
Courtesy of Netflix
Why Should I Watch? Based on the acclaimed podcast of the same name, host Hrishikesh Hirway blends interviews, various recordings, and archival footage to help break down how some of the world’s best musicians built their sound. “Song Exploder” is a docuseries for music geeks that’s still super-accessible for curious fans of all sorts. Initial episodes focused on Alicia Keys and her song “3 Hour Drive,” Lin-Manuel Miranda and his “Hamilton” hit “Wait For It,” and even R.E.M. going long on their classic track, “Losing My Religion.” The new episodes turn their spotlights on The Killers (“When We Were Young”), Nine Inch Nails (“Hurt”), Dua Lipa (“Love Again”), and Natalia Lafourcade (“Hasta La Raiz”).
Bonus Reason: Hirway, who also hosted the original audio-only podcast, enlisted Oscar-winner Morgan Neville to help shape the look of the docuseries, which included putting its charismatic founder even more to the front. Hirway is an ideal conduit for these conversations, getting the most out of his subjects without losing the easygoing vibe of the show. For more on how the collaboration paid off, read Steve Greene’s interview with Hirway here.
4. “The Office,” “The West Wing,” and a Whole Lot More (unavailable after December)
Why Should I Watch? With just about every major network either being absorbed into their parent company’s streaming plan or launching their own “+ marks the spot” streaming service, the great IP shuffle is underway. Rather than lease their most prized properties to a competitor (i.e. Netflix), services like HBO Max, Peacock, and more are bringing their shows in-house — which makes the last month of 2020 a virtual bloodbath for series turnover. Both Steve Carell’s iconic NBC comedy and Aaron Sorkin’s landmark NBC drama are leaving their longtime Netflix home in December, and there are a whole lot more jumping ship along with them:
- “Hart of Dixie” Seasons 1-4 (leaves December 15, new destination TBA)
- “The West Wing” Seasons 1-7 (leaves December 24, new destination: HBO Max)
- “Dexter” Seasons 1-8 (leaves December 30, new destination: Showtime, and probably Paramount+ eventually)
- “Hell on Wheels” Seasons 1-5 (leaves December 30, new destination TBA)
- “Nurse Jackie” Seasons 1-7 (leaves December 30, new destination TBA)
- “Gossip Girl” Seasons 1-6 (leaves December 31, new destination: HBO Max)
- “The Office” Seasons 1-9 (leaves December 31, new destination: Peacock)
Bonus Reason: Save for “The Office,” which starts streaming on Peacock January 1, 2021, there’s no telling exactly when these series will be available to stream after they leave Netflix. So even if you already subscribe to HBO Max, Showtime, and all the premium streamers, shows like “The West Wing” and “Gossip Girl” may not be one click away anytime soon. So pick your favorites, and settle in for one more marathon: After all, there’s still a pandemic going on, and this is a great reason to stay inside.
5. “Dare Me” Season 1 (available Tuesday, December 29)
Why Should I Watch? A teen cheerleading drama garnering comparisons to Hitchcock? Where do I sign up? “Dare Me” was the definition of a cult favorite, but not quite a cult hit, when it debuted on USA Network in December 2019. Following two high school seniors chasing their dream of making the state’s cheerleading Regionals, this obsession-worthy adaptation of Megan Abbott’s 2012 visceral coming-of-age novel blends aspects of hit teen dramas like “Euphoria” and “You” without falling prey to similar patterns. It’s a thriller, it’s neo-noir, it’s juicy melodrama. But most of all, its ambitious and new, with strong lead performers. (Marlo Kelly is one to watch.)
Bonus Reason: To be honest, I haven’t seen that much of “Dare Me.” The first episode is solid, but its late-2019 release timing and lack of convincing promotional material led to this one getting lost in the shuffle… until now. Thanks to its ease of accessibility via Netflix and the continued enthusiasm shown by head cheerleader Steve Greene (plus so many more critics), this one will go beyond my “to watch” queue and straight into my eyeballs. Plus, you never know. Maybe a viewership surge can help the creators make more seasons (or more shows like it). Lord knows either way, they’d have fans.
6. “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” Part 4 (available Thursday, December 31)
Courtesy of Netflix
Why Should I Watch? The four-season curse continues. Not even witch’s sorcery could extend “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” beyond four “parts,” and whatever you want to call the latest batch of episodes, they’re officially the end of Kiernan Shipka’s award-winning and critically praised supernatural teen drama. So savor them! Given the show’s upward trajectory, there should be plenty to enjoy, and at the bare minimum, you’ve got Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto to look forward to. And for those who’ve been putting off dipping a toe in the cauldron, go right ahead. This brew cooked up just fine.
Bonus Reason: I mean, it’s gotta be Shipka? Sure, there’s Salem, and cats are always a nice bonus when they pop up in good TV shows, but watching the former “Mad Men” child star come into her own over 36 episodes is worth it just to be ready for whatever she does next. And there will be a next.
7. “Selena: The Series” Part 1 (available Friday, December 4)
Courtesy of Netflix
Why Should I Watch? Well, early reviews mostly argue you shouldn’t. The dreaded Netflix bloat has been repeatedly cited as one of the problems bogging down this two-part, 20-episode biography of Chicana singing icon Selena Quintanilla. One of the most influential Latin artists ever, Selena became a star before she turned 20 — releasing breakthrough studio albums, climbing the charts with hit singles, and eventually delving into fashion and film — but tragically didn’t live to see her 24th birthday. The series starts off in the early years, tracking her rise to the top through small local gigs and plenty of hard work, but the existence of “Selena” — the 1997 feature film that helped turn Jennifer Lopez into a star — can’t be doing this new, longer version any favors. How do you follow up an iconic turn, and how do you expand on a story that’s already been told so well? So far, new Selena actress Christian Serratos and series creator Moisés Zamora don’t seem to have the right answers.
Bonus Reason: J. Lo’s movie isn’t streaming anywhere (but you can rent it), so if you’re craving an in-depth look at Selena’s story, this is your easiest path forward. That being said, there’s plenty of good writing out there about the dazzling icon’s life, so consider taking a screen break and doing a little reading. Or, you know, you can always just listen to the woman herself.
The Rest of Incoming TV
“ARASHI’s Diary – Voyage” Episodes 18-20 (coming soon)
“The Holiday Movies That Made Us” (available now)
“Are You the One?” Seasons 1-2 (available now)
“Gormiti” Season 1 (available now)
“Ink Master” Seasons 1-2 (available now)
“Stargate SG-1” Seasons 1-10 (available now)
“Alien Worlds” (available now)
“Bhaag Beanie Bhaag” (available now)
“The Great British Baking Show: Holidays” Season 3 (available now)
“Kings of Joburg” Season 1 (available now)
“Detention” (available now)
“Manhunt: Deadly Games” (available now)
“Lovestruck in the City” (available now)
“Mr. Iglesias” Part 3 (available now)
“The Surgeon’s Cut” (available December 9)
“Alice in Borderland” (available December 10)
“Giving Voice” (available December 11)
“The Mess You Leave Behind” (available December 11)
“Hilda” Season 2 (available December 14)
“Tiny Pretty Things” (available December 14)
“Black Ink Crew New York” Seasons 1-2 (available December 15)
“The Challenge” Seasons 10 and 13 (available December 15)
“Pup Academy” Season 2 (available December 15)
“Teen Mom 2” Seasons 1-2 (available December 15)
“How to Ruin Christmas: The Wedding” (available December 16)
“The Ripper” (available December 16)
“Run On” (available December 16)
“Vir Das: Outside In – The Lockdown Special” (available December 16)
“Home for Christmas” Season 2 (available December 18)
“Jeopardy! Champion Run V and VI” (available December 18)
“Jeopardy! Teacher’s Tournament” (available December 18)
“Jeopardy! College Championship” (available December 18)
“Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions” (available December 18)
“Sweet Home” (available December 18)
“Timmy Time” Season 2 (available December 22)
“Sakho & Mangane” Season 1 (available December 27)
“Best Leftovers Ever!” (available December 30 — despite the implication of its title, this series has nothing to do with the actual best “Leftovers” TV show ever, “The Leftovers,” which is available to stream on HBO Max)
“Equinox” (available December 30)
“Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy: Chapter 2: Earthrise” (available December 30)