With that second wave cresting, now’s the time to stay home, stay safe, and binge some classics. If you’re anything like me, after a year that has been anything but ordinary, the endless trope of Christmas movies is not inspiring the smallest bit of seasonal joy or spirit. So, what are we to do with the world going mad, and gimmicky formulaic content filling up every streaming platform? Find the best alternative, anti-Christmas viewing, of course! Here are my top, most binge-worthy shows to keep you company this holiday, while you’re avoiding the plague, like, well, the plague.
This neon-lit, hard-hitting show quickly gained a reputation as edgy, for its focus on drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and teenagers being reckless, self-destructive and self-harming.
The first of two special episodes recently dropped, titled “Trouble Don’t Last Always”, and it is a dramatic change of pace. Most of the episode takes place in a diner, where Rue (after snorting coke in the bathroom) tries to convince her sponsor Ali that she’s fine – that drugs are actually what’s keeping her sane and together. The moody, dramatic undertones work well to frame Rue’s struggles with addiction and trauma and is impeccably scripted and acted, especially by Zendaya. It’s sombre, sober viewing, and a reminder that the festive season isn’t always festive for everyone. Watch the full first season and the special episode on Showmax.
The gripping script makes this tale about the banking industry a binge-able series. It follows a group of interns trying to make it big at Pierpoint & Co, an investment firm in London. The push themselves to survive in a cut-throat work environment, to land the coveted permanent position. Hari does anything to get ahead – surviving on energy drink and sleeping in the office toilets. Also, there’s the question of Harper’s university transcripts – how much of that is true? Watch it unfold on Showmax.
The Wilds (Prime Video)
What got my attention about this Amazon series is the number of women behind it, from the cast to the directors, to the stunts. It’s Lost meets Lord of the Flies, but with girls.
The group of young women band together to survive after being stranded on a tropical island in the middle of nowhere, while they confront a lot of their demons. That’s what makes this such a compelling watch – it’s the cross-genre story-telling: one-part survival story, one-part coming of age tale, with enough intersectional bias thrown in to keep it interesting.
The Third Day (DStv & Showmax)
If suspenseful atmosphere is not enough to draw you in, Jude Law’s performance as Sam in the first chapter, “Summer” might. You’ll find yourself questioning what’s real, what’s a hallucination, and pure fantasy in pure cinematic beauty.
The series is split into two chapters, Summer and Winter. Both feature a luckless, unsuspecting traveller to the small, eyrie island of Osea – which is only accessible from the mainland for a few minutes, twice a day. Add to the mix weird pagan festivals and it makes for riveting viewing over the summer. Watch the latest episodes online on DStv and on Showmax.
Snow. Trains. What could be more Christmas-sy?
Based on the movie of the same name, in Snowpiercer, the world has suffered a catastrophic climate change which has left it frozen and uninhabitable. The wealthy elite funded the building of a train 1,001 self-sustaining carriages long. A murder happens in the middle-class carriages, and as the train is a delicately balanced eco-system, the murderer needs to be apprehended before the first-class citizens become upset. It’s an interesting commentary on class and sexism and something that’ll fill your festive hours while you’re avoiding people.
1917 (DStv and Showmax)
This immersive film brings home the full horror of WWII as two soldiers, Schofield and Blake must travel deep into enemy territory to deliver a message. It’s a race against time. If they don’t make it, thousands of men will be slaughtered in an ambush – Blake’s own brother among them.
It’s visually spectacular, bold and emotive, with an attention to details that really puts you in the centre of the action. These are perfectly balanced with powerful low-key moments that are pure sucker-punch to the feels kind of stuff, that really hammers home the human cost of war. Watch it online on DStv and Showmax.
Also, did I mention that Benedict Cumberbatch makes an appearance?
Dark/Web (Prime Video)
Looking for something to fill that Black Mirror-shaped whole? Dark/Web might be it. While it’s also an anthology series, it’s a tad creepier, with an overarching storyline tying everything together. Molly Solis, a cyber analyst, mysteriously vanishes one day. She leaves behind cryptic messages for her friends – all filled with grim tales of technology ruining the world.
Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
The show that caused a dramatic increase in the interest of chess the world over. Yes. It’s that good. And, no, you don’t need to understand the rules of chess to appreciate this masterpiece.
Beth is orphaned at 9 when she’s sent to a home for girls, where she and the other orphans are kept compliant with tranquillisers. She befriends the janitor, who introduces her to chess – a game she proves to be really skilled at. But, with genius comes a certain degree of madness, right? Anya Taylor-Joy is simply remarkable – she brings the right amount of charisma to odd-ball Beth, making her relatable and fascinating to watch as she unravels under the pressures of the game.
Robot Chicken (Showmax)
If you’re not familiar with Robot Chicken, or anything from Adult Swim, you’re in for a treat. The dark, twisted, humour makes this a must-watch for any time of year. And, since it’s the festive season, there’s a holiday special to sink your teeth into.
Aptly titled “Robot Chicken’s Santa’s Dead (Spoiler Alert) Holiday Murder Thing Special” it’s the perfect salve to any Christmas blues. It’s satirical “Murder on the Orient Express” storyline combines everything we love about Christmas: trains, snow, reindeer, snowmen, and a dead Santa. It’s entertaining, violent, and irreverent. Grab your popcorn and settle in for adult viewing that’ll lift your spirits as it plumbs the depths of the darkest humour. Watch it now on Showmax.
Big Mouth S4 (Netflix)
It’s hard to imagine Big Mouth getting any better. Part of what makes this rather absurd and utterly profane show so fantastic is the characters age, giving the show depth.
The fourth season tackles some intense social and cultural topics like being transgender and what it means to be black in a world made for white people. There’s a host of new characters too, most notably, Mona, Missy’s assigned hormone monster (voiced by the incredible Thandi Newton).
Dexter S1-8 (Showmax)
‘Tis the season for slaying (or sleighing). But, everyone’s favourite serial killer is probably not what most people had in mind. It is, however, perfect binge-watching – plus, after the series ended in 2013, Dexter (Michael C. Hal) has been revived and is coming back for season nine!
Dexter Morgan is a forensic investigator, specialising in blood splatter analysis, by day. Serial killer, with a very strict honour code, by night. Dexter is, for the most part, a well-liked member of the Miami police force – bringing doughnuts into the office for his cop colleagues. The plot twists and clever writing will keep you guessing, while the murder of the week storylines will fascinate and disturb in equal measures. It’s a great series that is unmissable watching, with all eight seasons available to re-watch on Showmax.
The Alienist S2 (Netflix)
Based off of Calebs Carr’s Laszlo Kreizler series of books, the Alienist is riveting viewing following the crime-solving alienist (the field of psychology was just starting to emerge. People who were suffering from psychological conditions were thought to be alienated from themselves). Season 2 of this crime-caper focuses less on Laszlo, and more on Sara Howard, who’s started her own private detective agency.
A young mother is falsely put to death for murdering her own child, in spite of the lack of evidence. A second infant goes missing – from a Spanish diplomats home. There are tensions between America and Spain and talk of war, which is why Sara is brought in to help solve the mystery. It’s gritty, dark, and completely riveting viewing that’ll unsettle at times, but keep you hooked.
Watch it all now: https://www.netflix.com/search?q=the%20alienist&jbv=80149395
Dark S1-3 (Netflix)
Without a doubt, this the most underrated show on Netflix. It’s a German-language Netflix original that’s been dubbed into English – don’t let that put you off. There’s time travel, murder, and a nuclear apocalypse, all fantastically written and brilliantly cast.
Season 1 starts with a young boy’s disappearance from the small, picturesque town of Winden. While the town might be pretty, it’s got a strange history and even stranger future, and the nuclear power plant plays a key part. It’s a bit of a mind-bender, with an official guide to help you unravel some of the more confusing bits. But, all the different threads of the story come together so beautifully by the end of season 3 you won’t really need it.
Jack Ryan S2 (Prime Video)
While this is your classic spy trope, it’s still highly entertaining and binge-worthy. Plus, John Krasinski is superb as CIA analyst Jack Ryan. There’s a shipment of illegal arms making its way to Venezuela, which Jack discovers and is sent to investigate. Of course, there’s a bigger, far-reaching conspiracy here. But, how far does it go?
Season 2 feels a lot more polished than season 1, but it’s still just as fun and action-packed, with multiple storylines coming together wonderfully. Yes, it’s a bit retro. But, some of the best things are.