We love the holiday season — cookies in the oven, holiday tunes on the radio and lots of excellent TV to watch. Check all our critics’ holiday watch lists, below, plus get ready to dive into the most bingeable Netflix series, some tasty British bake-off specials and two top-flight movies opening on small screens this weekend. Pass the gingerbread … and the remote!
Ready for some holiday movie cheer in the comfort of your home?
Attila Dory/Walt Disney Pictures/Photo 12/Alamy Stock Photo; Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection
We thought so, which is why we’ve created a sleighful of watch lists for whatever holiday mood you’re in. Want a heartwarming Christmas flick? The best new holiday originals on Lifetime and Hallmark? Hilarious TV episodes? We’ve got everything here to make you merry!
We’re obsessed with this series and you should be, too
Money Heist, Part 5, Vol. 2
This Ocean’s Eleven-like International Emmy winner for best drama ranks as Netflix's most-watched non-English series of all time (and one of AARP’s 10 best foreign-language shows on Netflix). It's not hard to see why it has broad appeal: With flashbacks, time jumps and an unreliable narrator, this twisty crime drama follows a mysterious mastermind named the Professor (Álvaro Morte) who recruits a team of eight thieves to pull off high-stakes heists in the Royal Mint of Spain and the Bank of Spain. The team wears trademark red jumpsuits and Salvador Dalí masks, and the show is so popular that a number of real-life copycats have committed crimes while donning the same disguise! Netflix cashed in on the hit with a behind-the-scenes documentary, and now a second making of the doc: Money Heist: From Tokyo to Berlin: Volume 2, also on Netflix.
Watch it: Money Heist, on Netflix
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Here is the sweetest thing you can possibly watch on TV this week
The Great British Baking Show: Holidays, Season 4
'Tis the season to get your Christmas puddings, bao buns and illusion cakes on! While you hungrily await the next season of TV’s tastiest competition show, watch this holiday spinoff, with an episode each devoted to Christmas and New Year’s Eve treats. Past contestants return for a second shot at glory, competing in the standard three categories: the Signature, the Technical, and the risky, sometimes-thrilling Showstopper. Fans of the show may claim it has made them ace bakers — now it’s time to learn and deliver the goods yourself.
Catch the best Broadway plays in recent memory — on your sofa!
Some of the hottest new movies are made from plays — like The Humans and Spielberg’s West Side Story. And Broadway is gradually reviving its live season. If you can’t make it to the Great White Way, watch these 14 Tony Award standouts made into movies, all streaming right now.
Get the list: The Best Broadway Hits You Can Watch at Home
Don’t miss our powerhouse pair of Netflix watches of the week
The Power of the Dog, R
Who’s really the big dog on the Montana prairie? That’s the sly question propelling Jane Campion’s glorious, sweeping and intimate Oscar-bound Western. Set at the volatile crossroads of horse culture and the horseless carriage in 1925, change is in the air. The bachelor Burbank brothers have managed the family ranch for 25 years. Phil, menacingly played by Benedict Cumberbatch, rangy of build and cunning of eye, is a charismatic and cutting alpha dog. Beneath his bullying hide, he has repressed his authentic, vulnerable self. His secrets erupt when Phil’s temperate brother George (rock-solid Jesse Plemons) weds the widow Rose Gordon (a finely wrought Kirsten Dunst). She triangulates their relationship, moving in with her effete son, Peter (a sensational Kodi Smit-McPhee), and threatening Phil’s fierce frontier facade. Campion, who shockingly hasn’t made a feature since 2009’s Bright Star, crafts a compelling tale that connects viscerally with the audience and sticks its devastating landing.
Watch it: The Power of the Dog, on Netflix
Halle Berry, 55, doesn’t play nice in her gritty feature directorial debut. In a cross between Million Dollar Baby and Raging Bull, she stars as hard-drinking MMA vet Jackie Justice. The fighter’s spectacular flameout in the cage left the Newark, New Jersey, native in a spiral of booze, abuse and bad choices. When the 6-year-old son Jackie abandoned as an infant suddenly shows up, mute and damaged, it puts her at a crossroads: Can she regain her dignity and find her inner dragon mom? You betcha — and it will all end in one thrilling flyweight title fight, with a little help from Jackie’s gay trainer, Buddhakan (striking Sheila Atim). Go, Berry, for taking your muscular, agile self where Antoine Fuqua, 55, once took Denzel Washington, 66, and for showing audiences the magnitude of your range. Kick butt, break rules and direct your first feature after 50? Maybe Berry could be the next Bond.
Don’t Miss This: The 21 Best Things Coming to (and Leaving) Netflix in December
Are you the Master of your Domain?
If you get this headline, then you’re going to love our latest critics’ roundup. In honor of all 180 episodes of Seinfeld arriving on Netflix this weekend, we’ve picked the 20 best episodes in the landmark sitcom about nothing, and ranked them. Who wins — the Soup Nazi or Elaine dancing? Did your favorite make the list?
Check it out here: The 20 Best Episodes of Seinfeld, Ranked
What is the best, most hilarious TV sitcom of all time?
CBS via Getty Images; Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images; Mitchell Haaseth/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images
Is it M*A*S*H? I Love Lucy? The Jeffersons? Since 1951, great situation comedies have been brightening our prime times, and it’s high time to name the best of the best. Our critics went through the entire history of the small screen to name the 25 all-time best sitcoms. Bonus? We ranked them! Get the whole countdown, watch hilarious video clips, and see if our list matches yours.
Your feel-good watchlist of the week is here (and queer!)
Inspired by the movie Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the cinematic adaptation of a hit West End musical that follows a 16-year-old who dreams of becoming a drag queen, our critics have rounded up nine fantastic TV shows and movies that capture the fierce culture in all its glory. Bet you can’t stream just one!
Did you know that one man controls three entire nights of prime time network programming?
If you’re a Law & Order fan, you may already be guessing the right answer. It’s Dick Wolf, the 74-year-old crime-drama impresario who has — are you ready? — eight one-hour shows in prime time this season. Learn more about the amazing Mr. Wolf and what he’s got planned for our Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights this season.
Get the scoop here: The Man Who Gave Us Law & Order Is Taking Over Prime Time
Fans of Chip and Joanna Gaines, prepare to binge nonstop with our inside guide
If you love HGTV and home renovation shows, chances are you’ve fallen hard for Joanna and Chip Gaines, the married hosts of Fixer Upper. But did you know that the designers are in the process of launching their own entire television channel? The Magnolia Network is coming, but until it hits the airwaves in January 2022, we’ve got a shortcut (two, actually) to stream their new lineups of original unscripted programming, which officially launched this July. Start bingeing now, folks!
Love game shows? You’re going to love this watch list!
Turn the nostalgia up to 11, because network TV is officially in love with all our favorite game shows of the past and is rebooting them. We’re talking new versions of everything from The Dating Game and Supermarket Sweep to Name That Tune. Our critics have the lowdown on all the new shows and where to watch them. What is amazing TV for $1,000, Alex?
From football and ice hockey to professional wrestling, these TV comedies are all-star fun
Take your local live sports seriously? We know, we know. But there’s a wonderfully funny world of sports sitcoms out there, and what with Ted Lasso ruling the airwaves right now (have you watched?), our critics thought it was high time we named names. From Coach to this week’s new show Big Shot, check out our hottest new watch list: The Best Sports-Themed Sitcoms to Stream Now
Love Law & Order? Have we got a list for you!
If you’ve been part of Law & Order nation since Jerry Orbach was shaking his head at corpses on the mean streets of New York in the 1990s, we know you’ve followed the spin-offs and have watched some of them become blockbusters. But which ones are the best of the best? Our critics have ranked all seven Law & Order iterations, plus offered up the very best episode from each series to watch right now. It’s a dream come true. Check it out here: What’s the Best Law & Order Series of All Time?
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The Wheel of Time
Can’t wait for Amazon’s 2022 Lord of the Rings series? Try the new series based on Robert Jordan’s 14 rather Tolkienesque tales about a fantasy world where women have all the power (because magical powers drive men mad). Rosamund Pike radiates gravitas as the Gandalf-ish leader Moiraine, who has the power of the One Ring — oops, the One Power — and tries to find out which of the youngsters she meets is the Dragon Reborn. Could help (or hurt) her battle with the Dark One, orc-ish trollocs, a band of religious fanatics and more. The first Wheel books came out before Game of Thrones was ever dreamt of, so this series version may scratch your GoT itch. It’s not quite as great as the HBO juggernaut, but it’s exciting, imaginative, world-building and looks like a million bucks — actually, $10 million per episode.
Watch it: The Wheel of Time, on Amazon Prime
The Beatles: Get Back
There’s never been a better time to be a Fab Four fan. Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson turns 150 hours of 50-year-old footage of the Beatles in the studio creating 14 songs (and doing their last public performance) into a spanking-new docuseries with scenes you’ve never seen before.
Watch it: The Beatles: Get Back, on Disney+
Don’t miss this: Giles Martin, son of their first producer George Martin, tells AARP about his new, five-disk Let It Be album and the new documentary from Peter Jackson. Read it all here: Beatles Fans, Rejoice: New Documentary and Album Set the 'Get Back' Record Straight
The Shrink Next Door
Loved People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive Paul Rudd (52) and Will Ferrell (54) in Anchorman? Get ready for something way darker in this limited series about a therapist, Dr. Ike (Rudd), who manipulates his milquetoast client Marty (Ferrell) in outrageous ways. Though inspired by Joe Nocera’s nonfiction podcast of the same name, the story is bizarre beyond belief. Dr. Ike gradually takes the reins of Marty’s life, reducing him to a servant at parties at his own Hamptons beach mansion — with Ike as host. And both are convinced this is a good thing. Ike drives a wedge between Marty and his increasingly alarmed sister (a brilliant Kathryn Hahn, 48). It’s a comic situation in a way, but no sitcom — more unsettling than hilarious.
Watch it: The Shrink Next Door, on Apple TV+
Mayor of Kingstown
If you thought Mare of Easttown lived in a tough burg, wait until you see Kingstown, Michigan. This is a show about moral rot in a broken-down city that feeds vulturelike on the multiple prisons in its vicinity. The mayor in question — really more of a corrupt fixer — is Mitch (Friday Night Lights’ Kyle Chandler, 56). The not-very-heroic hero is his ex-convict brother Mike (The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner, 50), who tries to get everybody to be more reasonable, even when they’re police officers planning to execute a defendant who accidentally lit a fatal fire. Their mom (double Oscar winner Dianne Wiest, 73) sternly disapproves of her good/bad boys. Created by Taylor Sheridan, auteur of Kevin Costner’s smash hit Western series Yellowstone, it has some of the same pungent cynicism and brooding style.
Watch it: Mayor of Kingstown, on Paramount+
Tiger King, Season 2
A wild tale even by Florida standards, the massive hit docuseries that got lots of us through the pandemic is back — even though big-cat wrangler Joseph “Joe Exotic” Schreibvogel is doing a 22-year prison stint for hiring a hit man to murder his nemesis, Carole Baskin, the animal rights activist who tried to shut down his Exotic Animal Park. Now she owns the property, and unsuccessfully sued to stop this sequel, calling the show “low-brow, salacious and sensational.” Not sure that will discourage many fans of a show whose first season was subtitled “Murder, Mayhem, and Madness.” Could it get any crazier?
Watch it: Tiger King, Season 2, on Netflix
Actress Rebecca Hall, who is biracial, makes her directorial debut in an adaptation of the classic 1920s novel about two Black sisters, one who joins the Harlem Renaissance (Tessa Thompson), the other passing as white (Ruth Negga).
Watch it: Passing, on Netflix
Yellowstone, Season 4
One of TV’s biggest hits sounds a lot like Succession, only it’s got eight times as many viewers: Kevin Costner, 66, plays John Dutton, a fabulously wealthy Montana rancher whose kids fight for his approval, and he schemes to thwart developers, Indigenous tribes and other rivals for power. Think of it as Succession with murders, or The Godfather with cowboy hats. Costner's tall-in-the-saddle tyrant evidently survived last season's cliffhanger ending, when he faced a fusillade of bullets. But now he faces a scary new enemy. Market Equities, the deep-pocket firm that tried to heist his ranch and turn it into an airport/ski lodge development, just hired a new CEO (Jacki Weaver, 74, Oscar nominated for the must-see movies Silver Linings Playbook and Animal Kingdom). “She’s a city slicker walking through fields of cowpats in designer heels and classy tailored suits," Weaver told TV Insider. "She looks out of place, but she’s terrifying."
Watch it: Yellowstone, on Paramount Network
The Harder They Fall
Like a Tarantino romp, only faster-paced, Jeymes Samuel’s Black Western is a sort-of-historical hoot and a holler. It really is history-inspired: Blacks were a quarter of America’s cowboys, and the movie’s stampede of stars play wildly fictionalized actual people: Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo, 68), the West’s first Black deputy U.S. marshal; outlaws Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) and Nat Love (Jonathan Majors); and Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), the first Black U.S. mail carrier. Treacherous Trudy Smith (Regina King, 50) is a gas but not real. Get ready for tongue-in-cheek genre pastiche, high-noon showdowns and saloon shootouts, shot with flippant style and a killer soundtrack by everyone from Fela Kuti to Jay-Z (a coproducer). It’s overstuffed with terrific actors having a blast, and the fun’s infectious.
Watch it: The Harder They Fall, on Netflix
Don’t Miss This: 11 Gems From the Black Film Archive to Watch Now
Succession, Season 3
In the superb show about power struggles in a super-rich, entertainingly evil family, downtrodden son Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) has the upper hand over his domineering dad, Logan (Brian Cox, 75), who vows to “go full [expletive] beast” on his offspring. New cast members Alexander Skarsgard and Adrien Brody liven up the wicked mix.
Watch it: Succession, Sundays, 9 p.m. ET, HBO
Don’t miss this: 10 Things to Know About Succession
B Positive, Season 2
In the comedy series about a retirement community from the maker of The Big Bang Theory and The Kominsky Project, grownups are taking over. Linda Lavin (83) plays a sharp, witty resident of the Valley Hills Assisted Living facility, a surrogate mom to impulsive young Valley Hills van driver Gina (Annaleigh Ashford). The killer cast includes Celia Weston (69), Lavin’s costar on TV’s classic Alice, as the terminally ill wife of a brusque Valley Hills resident (Héctor Elizondo, 84), Jane Seymour (70), as a beauty who finds aging unwelcome, and Ben Vereen (74) as a retired professor with memory issues.
DON’T MISS THIS: Linda Lavin tells AARP her 16 steps to aging well
In a new Netflix original series adapting Stephanie Land’s best-selling memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive, Margaret Qualley plays a single mom and Andie MacDowell, 63 (her actual mom), plays her lively, apparently mentally ill mother who refuses treatment and acts out in a dramatic way that is God’s gift to an actress. A grueling but important study of domestic abuse, poverty and overwhelming dysfunction.
Watch it: Maid, on Netflix
The Wonder Years
The 1980s hit about coming of age in the ’60s is back, this time chronicling the life of a Black kid (Elisha “EJ” Williams) in Montgomery, Alabama, and his musician/professor father (Dulé Hill), working mom (Saycon Sengbloh) and teen sister (Laura Kariuki). But the most famous actor is the narrator, Don Cheadle (56), who says, “One thing about being 12 that hasn’t changed over the decades is that it’s around 12 that you figure out what your place is in the world.” It’s produced and directed by Fred Savage (45), who played the 12-year-old originally.
DON’T MISS THIS: It's Reboot Mania Right Now in TV Land
Don’t miss Sandra Oh’s comedy about the new chair of the English department at a floundering college. Jay Duplass is great as her fellow prof and maybe-lover-to-be, spiraling after his wife’s death, and Holland Taylor and Bob Balaban as irascible elder colleagues. It’s touching and funny, and a wicked satire of undergrad wokeness gone mad as a hatter to boot.
Watch it: The Chair, on Netflix
DON’T MISS THIS: Sandra Oh dishes on The Chair and turning 50
Who doesn’t remember the kitschy-fabulous original Fantasy Island that lit up Saturday nights in the late 1970s and early ’80s? Like everything nostalgic on TV, this juicy gem is back in a whole new reboot. Now Roselyn Sanchez (Without a Trace) steps into Ricardo Montalban’s shoes to help folks with fantasies learn a life lesson.
Watch it: Fantasy Island, on Fox
DON’T MISS THIS: It’s Reboot Mania Right Now in TV Land
AND SPEAKING OF FANTASY ISLAND: Take a beach walk down memory lane with our critics, who unearth some of the biggest celebrity appearances on the original show, including Michelle Pfeiffer, Sherman Hemsley and, yes, Tori Spelling.
Check it out: 16 Classic Celebrity Appearances on Fantasy Island
Ted Lasso, Season 2
If you watch only one show this summer, make it this one, a heartwarming, dark-horse hit comedy that’s the antidote to our bitter times. Jason Sudeikis plays a relentlessly upbeat American football coach who knows nada about soccer but gets hired to coach a soccer team in England. Apple TV+ has a first-week-free offer, and if you bought a new iPhone lately, you probably have a year’s free subscription on it.
Watch it: Ted Lasso, on Apple TV+
DON’T MISS THIS: 10 Facts You Need to Know About Jason Sudeikis’ Hit Show Ted Lasso
Atypical, Season 4
In a smart, heartwarming family show by the talented auteur of Horrible Bosses, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michael Rapaport play the parents of a son (Keir Gilchrist) coming of age on the autism spectrum.
Watch it: Atypical, on Netflix
DON’T MISS THIS: Jennifer Jason Leigh Isn’t Afraid of Anything
The Underground Railroad
(Amazon Prime Video)
You knew this 10-episode adaptation of MacArthur genius Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer and National Book Award-winning novel about escaping slaves by Oscar winner Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk) would be worth seeing. But it turns out to be an epic, Handmaid’s Tale-topping dystopian masterpiece that dwarfs every other new film or TV show.
DON’T MISS THIS: 11 Black Filmmakers You Should Know
In the intergenerational show of the year, Jean Smart (Designing Women, Mare of Easttown) stars as a Las Vegas comedy legend forced to mentor an up-and-coming comic (Hannah Einbinder). The show is much-buzzed, and insiders predict that Smart, who got Emmy nominations for Watchmen, Fargo and 24, may land her first lead actress nomination for this extremely juicy role. High time!
Watch it: Hacks, on HBO Max
DON’T MISS THIS: Getting Smart: Jean Smart shares her secrets about feeling sexy and nabbing the best roles of her life at 69
Godfather of Harlem, Season 2
Forest Whitaker, 59, returns for his second season as Bumpy Johnson, the real-life 1960s mobster who dated Lena Horne, played chess with Lucky Luciano and befriended Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. Joining the cast are Cliff “Method Man” Smith, as the Philly Black Mafia chief Sam Christian, and Annabella Sciorra, as mob wife Fay Bonanno.
Watch it: Godfather of Harlem, on Epix
Don’t miss this: Forest Whitaker talks with AARP about playing Bumpy Johnson and looks back on his life and shares what he knows now.
Bryan Cranston, who played a good-hearted teacher forced to go criminal to save his family on Breaking Bad, plays a New Orleans judge scheming to help his son escape a hit-and-run accident charge in a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game with the law.
Watch it: Your Honor, on Showtime
RELATED: Cranston talks with AARP about his two good bad-guy roles and his real-life near-recovery from COVID-19: Bryan Cranston Is Back to Challenge Our Loyalties in Your Honor
Netflix’s Black Lives Matter Collection
Netflix unveils a useful, intelligently curated menu of 48 or so top titles including When They See Us, Moonlight, Malcolm X and the current must-see, Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods (which could win star Delroy Lindo the Oscar he’s deserved for some time, and maybe the Emmy, too).
Watch it: Netflix
Tim Appelo covers entertainment and is the film and TV critic for AARP. Previously, he was the entertainment editor at Amazon, video critic at Entertainment Weekly, and a critic and writer for The Hollywood Reporter, People, MTV, The Village Voice and LA Weekly.