1. “Pretend It’s a City” (available Friday, January 8)
Why Should I Watch? “Pretend It’s a City” is a Martin Scorsese-directed documentary series about Fran Lebowitz. Honestly, that’s all you need to know. Enjoy.
Bonus Reason: OK, fine. The seven-episode limited series is Scorsese’s second documentary on Lebowitz, the famed New York author and public speaker, except this one is nearly four times as long — and arriving in the nick of time. Framed as a guide book to the city through the eyes of two true locals, “Pretend It’s a City” is like a long walk through the Big Apple, pre-COVID of course. If it so happens to frame the essayist’s life, as well, all the better. With Scorsese in the driver’s seat, there’s bound to be excitement around every corner.
2. “Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer” (available Wednesday, January 13)
Why Should I Watch? This winter, Netflix wants to send viewers on the least relaxing vacation ever. The good news: You’re going to Los Angeles, during the sweltering summer of 1985. So it’ll be nice and warm! But… well… there are murders. Lots and lots of murders. Starting in March of that year, “Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer” follows the notorious California killing spree committed by Richard Ramirez that had investigators flummoxed for more than a year. The series of murders and sexual assaults at first appeared utterly disconnected, with little overlap in the victims’ personal traits or locations, but Detective Gil Carrillo and homicide investigator Frank Salerno did the work to find their man. This four-part docuseries uses first-person interviews, archival footage, and photography to provide the definitive telling of an infamous L.A. horror story.
Bonus Reason: To be perfectly honest with you, I had never heard of Richard Ramirez or his very silly-sounding nickname until this Netflix docuseries hit the release calendar. At that time, my wise and wonderful IndieWire colleagues inundated me with requests to review, analyze, or otherwise comment on the new series, and I must say their fervor spiked my interest. The… Night Stalker? That’s the name they came up with? For real? Once they told me it all happened in the ’80s, the first-thought title made sense, but the rest remains a mystery. So, if you’re like me and unfamiliar with what happened in the City of Angels during the mid-’80s, why not educate yourself? Apparently, it’s quite a story.
3. “Disenchantment” Part 3 (available Friday, January 15)
Courtesy of Netflix
Why Should I Watch? Matt Groening’s Netflix creation continues in its third season, or part, depending on how technical you want to get in describing the third set of released episodes. Following the medieval misadventures of Princess Bean (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), her elf companion, Elfo (Nat Faxon), and her personal demon Luci (Eric Andre), “Disenchantment” travels through Dreamland fighting the good fight and meeting the good — and not so good — magical citizens of the kingdom. But no matter how far you travel, there’s nothing like coming home. Look for that theme to pay off in the latest… pason?
Bonus Reason: Eric Andre’s demon is an enticing agent of chaos on his own, but he’s even more entertaining when you think of him as the animated embodiment of your most vexing cat. You know the one. He knocks things off shelves for no reason but his own amusement. He chews on everything that isn’t food. He wakes you up at 3 a.m. by jumping on your face or screaming into your ear. Luci may not do any of these things exactly, but the glee he gets in seeing people pushed to the edge of darkness is eerily reminiscent of what my cat looks like when torturing me.
4. “Cobra Kai” Season 3 (streaming now)
COURTESY OF NETFLIX
Why Should I Watch? The only truthful answer to this question is, “nostalgia.” “Cobra Kai” originated as a YouTube original series before being licensed and eventually sold to Netflix moving forward. It picks up the “Karate Kid” story 34 years after the original film, with both William Zabka and Ralph Macchio returning as Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso, respectively. Reframing events from the former antagonist’s perspective, “Cobra Kai” finds fresh ways to talk about how violence and karate can shape kids’ lives, but it still finds plenty of time for fights. That, after all, is what the audience demands.
Bonus Reason: Heading into Season 3, the dojo is in peril, Daniel may be done with karate forever, and Johnny is forlorn as ever. I’m guessing all of these issues will be resolved rather quickly, and maybe that’s all you’re looking for right now. It’s the start of a new year after an incredibly hard 2020. TV can be easy, and easy can be nice, especially when nothing else comes that way. So if all you want to do is escape to a past that’s pretending to live in the present, by all means. Netflix is here for you.
5. “History of Swear Words” (available Tuesday, January 5)
Adam Rose / Netflix
Why Should I Watch? There are two basic reasons for wanting to watch Netflix’s six-part docuseries “History of Swear Words.” The first is innate, unclouded curiosity. You genuinely want to know where words like “fuck,” “shit,” and “pussy” originated, as well as why they became such taboo terms in societies worldwide. For these potential viewers, take comfort in knowing that this history-via-talking-heads doc does speak with actual lexicographers (who wrote definitions for Miriam Webster), cognitive scientists (who do research on language), authors, and historians to explain the term in 25 minutes or less. Yes, there’s an actual education to be had here, even though I’m guessing many will tune in more for reason No. 2…
Bonus Reason: Nicolas Cage screams “fuuuuuuuccccckkkkkkk” and tries to turn his name into a replacement for “dick” (“Hey nichead, eat a nic.”) and quotes movie lines and basically goofs around for a quick paycheck that he nonetheless earns in its likely ample entirety. As the host of “History of Swear Words,” Cage intros each episode and kicks off a slew of celebrity commentators, mostly comedians, who do their best to liven up the discussion around definitions, word origins, and proper usage. Nick Offerman, Sarah Silverman, Jim Jefferies, Zainab Johnson, Nikki Glaser, Open Mike Eagle, and, as the star commentator of Episode 2, “Shit,” Isiah Whitlock Jr, all provide their off-the-cuff thoughts on their favorite swear words for your enjoyment, and, considering the episodes are pretty short, it all comes together fairly well! So whatever reason brings you to “History of Swear Words,” you’ll likely leave with a bit more appreciation for your verbiage than before.
6. “The Magicians” Season 5 (available Friday, January 15)
Why Should I Watch? Sera Gamble and John McNamara’s Syfy original series is the rather unexpected heir to “The Americans,” in that just about every critic I know tells me how great it is and encourages everyone within earshot to watch. Granted, “The Good Fight’ may be the more direct successor, given its prestige pedigree and repeated pleas for awards attention, and there are a number of genre favorites that have their ardent fans (“Legends of Tomorrow” comes to mind), but after a mixed reception for Season 1, “The Magicians” never seems to disappoint. Those who keep up — and there are more every day — swear by its magic touch (pardon the terrible pun), and that should be more than enough to get people bingeing. So hop to.
Bonus Reason: Season 5 marks the final season of “The Magicians,” so if your excuse was that you were waiting to see if it ended well, now you no longer have that excuse! Again, get to it! Netflix doesn’t offer a more rewarding marathon this month.
7. “Headspace Guide to Meditation” (available now)
Courtesy of Netflix
Why Should I Watch? Brought to you by the mega-popular Headspace app and Vox Media, “Headspace Guide to Meditation” is the latest interactive TV series and the first of three series from these two teams. (“Headspace Guide to Sleep” and an additional experience are coming soon.) In these eight episodes, former Buddhist monk and Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe guides viewers through the benefits and science behind meditation. (I’m not sure if that’s necessary, given David Lynch meditates, and we should all try to be a little more like David Lynch.) Still, each entry exemplifies a different mindfulness technique and ends with a guided meditation to help you practice. At the very least, you’ll get a moment of peace and quiet from the daily onslaught of anxious headlines and hectic schedules.
Bonus Reason: Again, because I can’t stress this enough: You definitely want to be more like this man. So unless you’ve got Laura Dern waiting in the wings to be your new best friend, why not try meditation?
The Rest of Incoming TV
“Bonding” Season 2 (available soon)
“Dream Home Makeover” Season 2 (available now)
“Monarca” Season 2 (available now)
“Abby Hatcher” Season 1 (available now)
“The Haunted Hathaways” Seasons 1 and 2 (available now)
“Nailed It! Mexico” Season 3 (available January 5)
“LA’s Finest” Season 1 (available January 5)
“Surviving Death” (available January 6)
“Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons” Season 5 (available January 8)
“Last Tango in Halifax” Season 4 (available January 12)
“Carmen Sandiego” Season 4 (available January 15)
“Henry Danger” Seasons 1 – 3 (available January 15)
“Kuroko’s Basketball” Season 1 (available January 15)
“Hello Ninja” Season 4 (available January 15)
“Call My Agent!” Season 4 (available January 21)
“Blown Away” Season 2 (available January 22)
“Busted!” Season 3 (available January 22)
“Fate: The Winx Saga” (available January 22)
“Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous” Season 2 (available January 22)
“We Are: The Brooklyn Saints” (available January 29)