Pre-kids, Thanksgiving for me was often my favorite time to get together with family members and pick up a few movies, or a great TV series, so that we could all avoid talking to one another, and yet leave the family get-together with the feeling that it was a success. Much of that success would depend on what we watched, and if you were the guy who brought Joe Dirt, you might earn a few points with your cousins or your drunk Uncle, but the rest of the family would forever hold it against you.
With Netflix, it’s easier now than ever to avoid talking about religion or politics with your family members, and the key to a successful visit is often getting your parents or uncles or cousins addicted to a new series. On the other hand, the vacation is only a few days long, and you don’t want to send them home without seeing their reactions to the conclusion, since that is often the most satisfying part of sharing a discovery.
As such, I scanned through Netflix Instant and picked out nine good-to-great series you could watch in their entirety in under nine hours, which seems like an ideal time frame for a Thanksgiving binge watch. If you’re with your family on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, that’s three hours each night after the kids have gone to sleep for you to enjoy each others’ company, and by “enjoy each others’ company,” I mean “sit next to each other and eat leftovers while watching television.”
Sherlock — Really, honestly, Sherlock is the best iteration of the Sherlock Holmes to ever air on television. The British series from Steven Moffat stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freemn, and despite the fact that it has bee updated, it brilliantly captures the same spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories. It’s fast-paced, engrossing, brilliantly acted, often very funny, and frequently tragic. I admit that I have come around on the CBS Sherlock series, Elementary, but it is still leaps and bounds away from the genius of this series. The two seasons (with three movie-long episodes a piece) is highly addictive, and perfect for Thanksgiving viewing (after the little ones have gone to bed). If you watch now, you’ll also be ready for season three come January.
Top of the Lake — The Elisabeth Moss series from Jane Campion is a slow burn, but it is an engrossing, incredibly well acted mystery thriller about a missing, pregnant 12-year-old girl and the many secrets of a small New Zealand town. It is basically a better version of The Killing crossed with Twin Peaks that will pull you in, keeping you guessing the entire series, and then gut punch you with a twist that I never saw coming. The seven episodes are better meted out over two or three nights, because the heaviness may be hard to take in one binge-watching session. Elisabeth Moss also gets nude, if that’s your bag.
The Fall — The five-episode psychological thriller starring the lovely Gillian Anderson offers a new and compelling twist on the serial killer series: There’s no mystery in the identity of the killer; the mystery is in if and how he will be caught. The series follows both sides of the serial-killer equation, alternating back and forth between the serial killer and his deeds, and the detective and her investigation. It’s a beautifully shot, well acted, and nicely written series, and very cool (in fact, downright chilly at times).
House of Cards (British) — Much of the reason why Netflix decided to remake House of Cards with Kevin Spacey and launch it as the service’s first major original series was the fact that the original British series performed so well with the Netflix audience. Netflix wanted a guaranteed hit, and they knew an adaptation of this series would do it for them. It follows a story similar to Kevin Spacey’s tale of politics and political intrigue and manipulation, but if you don’t have the time to devote to 13 episodes of the American remake, you can watch the original in under four hours and you can snootily say that you’d never watch Spacey’s version because it could never do justice to the original (you’d be wrong, but still …)
Jekyl — This is another Steven Moffat mini-series, that updates the tale of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde in a contemporary setting. It is dark and mesmerizing, but I’ll be honest, though: It’s a decent series, but not a great one. However, the gorgeous Michelle Ryan is great in it, James Nesbitt, who plays the title role, is absolutely, scene-chewingly brilliant, and the six-episode series is honestly worth watching for his psychopathic performance alone.
Spaced — The geek series that would essentially launch the careers of Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, and Edgar Wright, as well as their amazing Cornetto Trilogy, is incredibly addictive, incredibly fun, and an almost necessary cult series for anyone that considers themselves a serious geek and television watcher. It is flat-out hilarious, and squeezes in more awesome movie and television references into its 14 half-hour episodes than three seasons of Community.
Derek — To be honest, I haven’t seen the new Ricky Gervais series yet, though it’s something I am personally hoping to squeeze in over the break. Everything that I’ve heard about the seven-episodes series, however, suggests that the first episode is a hard nut to crack, but once you’re in, Derek flowers into a real masterpiece, that mixes humor with pathos as well as any sitcom in recent memory. It’s more mature than anything Gervais has done to date, and more heartfelt and tragic than outright funny.
The League of Gentleman — I haven’t seen League of Gentlemen in nearly a decade, having binge-watched it myself over a Thanksgiving weekend the old-school Netflix way (with physical DVDs in red envelopes), but I scarfed down all 18 episodes in one day. It is a comedy like nothing you’ve ever seen: It is Monty Python crossed with Twin Peaks, and it is very weird, very dark, and at times, so out there that you can’t believe that a show like it actually aired on television. The three main guys — Mark Gatiss (from Sherlock, and the upcoming season of Game of Thrones), Steve Pemberton, and Reece Shearsmith, wrote the series, and play most of the characters in the small town depicted, and they are fantastic. I am truly surprised that The League of Gentlemen hasn’t yet become a huge Netflix cult hit in America, because it absolutely deserves to be.
Terriers — So, I cheated slightly with this one: The 13-episodes at 42 minutes pushes Terriers just a few minutes over the nine-hour mark, but a Netflix recommendation list on Uproxx just wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of Terriers, the beloved cancelled-too-soon series that should be seen by everyone. If you haven’t yet done so, check out the darkly comic, wonderfully structured, smartly acted priviate-detective series from part of the brain team behind The Shield, the screenwriter of Ocean’s 11, and Donal Logue. If you get to be the one to introduce it to your family at Thanksgiving, you will forever be their favorite family member.