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    Dec 23, 2014

    13 TV Shows You Should Watch Over The Holidays

    Because obviously TV is better than spending time with your drunken family.

    The holiday season is all about three things: family, relaxing, and watching as much TV as you possibly can.

    There are a few criteria for what makes a good holiday TV show. Your show of choice should be one of these three things:

    1) A widely discussed show from the past year that you missed.

    2) A show returning from hiatus (or being rebooted) sometime in the next year.

    3) A show with a small enough number of episodes that you can easily binge your way through them while waiting on Santa to get his shit together and just bring your presents already.

    These rules aren't always hard and fast, but keeping them in mind, here are some shows to watch this holiday season.

    1. The Missing

    BBC / Starz

    Why you should watch: This show, about a man wracked with grief following the disappearance of his son and the subsequent investigation into what happened, is both gripping in the masterful building of its central mystery and in its profound examination of family and loss. We cycle between two timelines and two investigations while watching as the marriage between Tony (James Nesbitt) and Emily Hughes (Frances O'Connor) disintegrates slowly under the weight of the growing investigation. And from the gruff French detective (Tchéky Karyo) to the shifty construction mogul (Ken Stott), the characters surrounding the investigation provide a backboard for Tony and Emily to play off, illuminating the depths of their characters — whether for good, or for bad. The Missing will keep you questioning the truth of what really happened to little Oliver Hughes (Oliver Hunt) until the very end.

    Where to watch: Viewers in the United States can catch the entire series on Starz Play or watch a marathon starting Dec. 27 at 5 p.m.

    2. Getting On

    Lacey Terrell / HBO

    Why you should watch: This show hits two of the big categories that make for good holiday watching: It's a show that just ended its second season to much critical acclaim, but is short enough that you can power through the whole series in a single day if you want. Based on a British series of the same name (the U.K. is on fire these days, tbh), Getting On provides a hilarious look into the often questionable workings of the extended care unit at the Mount Palms Hospital. Whereas other shows look at aging and death largely as a source of grief and drama, Getting On allows its elderly patients a sense of humanity and true life. We see them laughing, flirting, causing havoc; this is not a neutered look at illness and mortality. That's not to say the show doesn't get deep — there are certainly moments that will make you cry, especially at the hands of the terrific Niecy Nash.

    Where to watch: You can catch up via HBO Go. It's only 12 episodes. Do it.

    3. Black Mirror

    Channel 4

    Why you should watch: OK, so this one is certainly not for the faint of heart. Black Mirror is an anthology series, with each episode offering up a new story about a not-so-distant future in which the intersection of technology and society has produced some startling, often disturbing, results. One episode sees the British prime minister blackmailed into having sex with a pig on live television, while another follows a woman being chased by attackers while bystanders simply record the scene on their phones. They're scenarios that feel impossible to us now — unless you stop and really think about the subtle truths in which they are grounded. And that's what is most disturbing overall; even in dismissing these scenarios as pure fantasy, you can't help but wonder what would happen if one of them were to come true.

    Where to watch: The series has been out in the U.K., where it is based, for a while, but just arrived on Netflix for other audiences.

    4. The Fall


    Why you should watch: The ultra-badass Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) heads an investigation into a spate of killings and won't let up until she's got her man, Paul Spector (played by Jamie Dornan, now famous for starring in 50 Shades of Grey). The Fall is a spectacular game of cat and mouse, eschewing mystery about who the killer is in favor of exploring how and why his psychology has developed in that way. The beauty of the show is in the parallels drawn between Gibson and Spector — thematically, of course, but even simply in the way the show is shot (in its use of mirrors and reflections for both characters, for example).

    Where to watch: Season 2 just finished up in the U.K., but for American viewers, Season 1 is currently available on Netflix while Season 2 debuts Jan. 16.

    5. Jane the Virgin

    The CW

    Why you should watch: These days it's rare for network programming to inspire the same kind of acclaim and fervor as cable programming, which is seen as the province of "high-quality" television. And yet, that's what you've got with Jane the Virgin, a show that takes tropes of "low-quality" programming, like soap operas, and infuses them with a spirit, voice, and lead character that can't be denied. As the titular Jane, Gina Rodriguez helps to elevate the soap opera-esque plot points and make everything not only believable, but poignant. Jane is a show that knows you don't need to sacrifice fun in the name of quality and after its recent mid-season finale, you have plenty of time to get on board before the show resumes in mid-January.

    Where to watch: The five most recent episodes are available for free through The CW website. The beginning of the season is available on Amazon, but costs money.

    6. The Americans

    Craig Blankenhorn/FX

    Why you should watch: Because it's coming back for a highly anticipated third season on Jan. 28. As a way to spite some of the major award shows for all of the times they've snubbed it. Because you get to watch Felicity (fine, Keri Russell) beat people up. The Americans is a spy show — in theory — but is more so a portrait of a marriage that is struggling under the pressure of Cold War politics and the demands of raising two children in a culture that's vastly different from the one they grew up in. It mixes graphic violence and frank sexuality (part of what some have called a sexual revolution on TV in 2014) with quieter moments of familial introspection, and asks what it means when two identities are playing tug of war with your mind and your loyalties. And, again, it features Keri Russell kicking ass. So...

    Where to watch: Season 1 is on Amazon Prime, Season 2 will cost you money.

    7. Fargo

    Chris Large/FX

    Why you should watch: One of the most lauded shows of 2014, Fargo is a wickedly dark mini-series based on the classic 1996 film of the same name. The movie had a very strong tone and it wouldn't be wrong to have assumed that the TV show would fumble in its attempts to pick it up. But it doesn't. The show builds on the uniquely Midwestern atmosphere of the film and keeps broad swaths of the plot that made the film so successful — there's an inquisitive police officer (Allison Tolman) and a missing (well, dead in the show) wife (Kelly Holden Bashar) driving much of the plot. Of course, it distinguishes itself from the original in numerous ways, and creates its own uniquely memorable characters in the form of people like requisite "bad guy" Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) and oversexed widow Gina Hess (Kate Walsh). Fargo will be back for a second, potentially related season, so make sure to catch up on Season 1 now.

    Where to watch: You'll have to purchase it, but the series is available on Amazon. There will also be a marathon on FXM on Jan. 1 starting at 2 p.m.

    8. Twin Peaks


    Why you should watch: It may seem strange to include a show that's almost 25 years old on a list of programs to watch in 2014, but after the announcement this fall that Showtime will produce nine new episodes, now is the perfect time to get acquainted with the bizarre and enthralling town of Twin Peaks, Washington. And the emphasis is definitely on bizarre — this is a show filled with strange dream sequences, moments of brilliant dark comedy, and a central murder mystery that's investigated by, perhaps, the most idiosyncratic FBI agent (Kyle MacLachlan) ever. Even if the reboot hadn't just been announced, Twin Peaks is enough of a cult classic to merit viewing if you've never watched it before.

    Where to watch: You can find the series on Netflix.

    9. Happy Valley


    Why you should watch: Yet another British series on this list, Happy Valley tells the story of a kidnapping gone wrong and how it intersects with the personal vendetta held by police sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire). At the heart of the series is the interplay between hope and desperation as we watch characters on the edge of breakdowns — both personal and professional — attempt to maintain composure in the face of bleak circumstances. The valley is, contrary to its nickname, not happy at all; the valley is a place of poverty, drug abuse, and more. And yet, for viewers willing to persevere through the series' gloom, there is an enthralling story to be seen.

    Where to watch: All six episodes are streaming on Netflix — a perfect, short commitment for this holiday season.

    10. Outlander


    Why you should watch: Outlander has a little something for everyone — time travel, a searing romance, and plenty of adventure. Plus all the British accents you can handle. Based on a popular series of novels, the show tracks World War II nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall (Caitriona Balfe) as she inadvertently travels to the 18th century and must learn to adjust to her new surroundings, even as she looks for a way to return to her home and husband (Tobias Menzies). Along the way, she meets and falls in love with Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), which, naturally, complicates things a bit. Season 1 is currently in the midst of a LOOOOONG mid-season break, not returning until April. But hey, that gives you plenty of time to get caught up.

    Where to watch: You can catch the first eight episodes on Starz Play, or catch a marathon on Starz starting at 3 p.m. Christmas Day (because TV is so much better than sitting through your drunk relatives' arguments).

    11. The Returned (Les Revenants)


    Why you should watch: The Returned is a series about the dead coming back to life, but it is most certainly not a zombie show in any traditional sense. Rather, it explores the personal, ethical, and philosophical implications of having a loved one return from the dead, all against the backdrop of a beautiful French village (for those with wanderlust). Can you ever really return to the way things were or does death cause an irrevocable change, even if it can be undone? The Returned originally premiered in France in 2012, and made its way to the United States in fall 2013, so it's been a long wait for the second season — but with plans for it to air in late 2015, now is the perfect time to prepare by binging Season 1.

    Where to watch: You can catch it streaming on Netflix.

    12. Homeland

    David Bloomer/SHOWTIME

    Why you should watch: Homeland had a bit of a resurgence in the just-concluded fourth season following a rocky third season. Well, perhaps it's less a resurgence of the Homeland we once loved, and more the emergence of a different, but similarly compelling Homeland. Season 4 begins bogged down in the same problems that made Season 3 a mess — too much melodrama, for instance — but, halfway through, it turned a corner and decided to just focus on being the best damn spy show it could be. The pace quickened, the stakes elevated, and the focus remained on the intrigue of intelligence, deceit, and some terrific action sequences. If Homeland had fallen off the tracks in recent seasons, it has now found itself on a different track entirely, but one that is definitely worth watching.

    Where to watch: Catch up on Showtime Anytime.

    13. Girls

    Craig Blankenhorn / HBO

    Why you should watch: No matter how you feel about Lena Dunham's Girls, you can't deny that this oft-divisive series has been a major cultural touchstone for the past few years. The show offers an unflinching, and often unflattering, window into the lives of numerous twentysomethings who remain adrift in the morass of post-college life; a portrait that feels simultaneously exaggerated and devastatingly real. Girls is about navigating those in-betweens, that liminal space between who you are and who you want to be. Whether it is always successful in that goal is highly contested, and you can be sure that the arguments will only continue once Season 4 premieres on Jan. 11. Make sure to catch up now so you can handle whatever post-premiere think pieces come your way.

    Where to watch: You can find Girls on HBO Go.

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