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 …)