The final weeks of the year are upon us and daylight is fading fast. It’s a hectic time, with parties and plans and dinners and desserts, and simultaneously more large chunks of free time than many people have had all year. And while hanging out with friends and family, particularly after two-ish years of a global pandemic is sure to be delightful, it’s safe to say that people are going to need a way to decompress after 37 rounds of Apples to Apples.
If TV is your game, it’s important to spend your viewing time wisely, keeping on top of the best that the medium has to offer and take in a little quality alongside your quantity. In that spirit, we’ve chosen five shows, potential awards contenders, no less, that you should try to sneak in while everyone else slips into a tryptophan-fueled slumber. All five series are new this year, so there’s no back catalog to catch up on and most have already completely released the whole of their season.
“Only Murders in the Building” (Hulu)
“Only Murders in the Building” is a charming murder-mystery-cum-comedy, with lush production design and impeccable costuming starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez as an unlikely trio of true crime podcast fans brought together by a potential murder in their very own Upper West Side apartment building. Once the three are brought together they quickly decide to do what any true crime junkies would do: They start their own podcast.
The series captured critics’ eyes and audiences’ hearts during its weekly release on Hulu and it’s exactly the type of show you want to watch while hunkered down on your couch with your loved ones softly snoring around you.
Significantly less fun than the last pick, “Maid” is nonetheless an engrossing limited series focused on a young mother struggling to keep her head above water while trapped in a system which makes it near impossible to succeed. Margaret Qualley delivers yet another breakthrough performance (see also: “The Leftovers,” “The Nice Guys,” “Fosse/Verdon,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) as Alex, a woman who takes her young daughter and leaves her emotionally abusive partner. Like “Squid Game,” “Maid” is another series taking a long hard look at the debilitating effects of poverty. Also like “Squid Game,” it hasn’t left the Netflix Top 10 since its October 1 debut.
“Swagger” (Apple TV+)
“Swagger,” from Kevin Durant and Reggie Rock Bythewood, is centered on a preternaturally talented and driven 14 year-old boy and his team competing on the AAU circuit, trying to achieve greatness and trying above all, to stay alive. “Swagger” is not “Friday Night Lights” and that’s amazing. It’s easy to compare the two as they compete on adjacent playing fields, but while the latter feels like it happened in a universe long ago and far away, the former is rooted in the here and now. The opening card on the pilot reads Before: ABC, revealing the letters stand for Ahmaud, Breonna, and COVID-19, two murders — Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor — and a global pandemic, all of which turned 2020 upside down. “Swagger” has all of the open-hearted goodness of young athletes wanting to be great, but adds the frightening reality of trying to survive as a Black child in America.
“Reservation Dogs” (FX on Hulu)
Created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, “Reservation Dogs” is set on a reservation in rural Oklahoma and revolves around the four teens as they do potato chip-related crimes and get into gang-related (paintball) warfare, all while trying to scrounge up enough cash to leave their dreary surroundings in the dust and head west to California. The series not only employs all Indigenous writers and directors, the vast majority of its cast and crew are also Indigenous. As a model for expanded and remodeled media representation, “Reservation Dogs” is great. And as a funny, coming-of-age story about lifelong friends, it’s even better. Devery Jacobs as Elora is a star turn and Zahn McClarnon is a dang delight as Officer Big, a too rare chance for him to stretch his comedic legs.
“Hacks” (HBO Max)
Centered around Deborah Vance (a never better Jean Smart) and Ava Daniels (dynamic upstart Hannah Einbinder), “Hacks” is a marvel from the first. Deborah is a slightly long-in-the-tooth stand-up comedian, whose career was not what it could have been thanks to systemic injustices. She nevertheless became the comedy queen of Las Vegas. Ava is a Gen Z comedy upstart, who found her meteoric rise derailed by a few unsavory jokes in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are, as you might guess, something of an odd couple. “Hacks” is funny and Smart is a queen. You can’t go wrong here.