Ah, the Holidays! All year we look forward to gathering together with our extended families, catching up with distant relatives and getting reacquainted with our roots. And just as quickly, we do whatever we can to retreat to the safety of the TV.
This year, we thought we'd put together a recommended watchlist that will help you use that me-time to see some great shows and maybe even learn something too. Just try to give family time a chance before opening up Netflix, OK?
Abstract: The Art of Design (Netflix)
This beautifully-produced series of one-off profiles looks at designers in every corner of the field, and never ceases to inspire. You'll finish the series with a newfound appreciation for the objects around you, and maybe even some new creative tools in your toolbox.
With beautiful cinematography, Michael Pollan explores cooking traditions around the world and the power they have to shape who we are. Is there anything more beautiful than a steak being seared in slow motion?
Black Mirror (Netflix)
This one's a little dark, but we don't think a show exists that has been more prescient about how technology is changing - and challenging - our society, though Mr. Robot would have to be a close runner-up. Only for those of strong constitution.
Samurai Gourmet (Netflix)
Netflix Japan produced some of the most original series of 2017, and this is one of our favorites. When an introverted retiree impulsively orders a beer with lunch, his "inner samurai" is released, and he begins a journey of self-discovery by exploring the restaurants of his home town.
Search Party (TBS)
If you find Broad City's humor a little, well, broad, consider checking out this more nuanced black comedy, a sort of Millennial take on Scooby Doo that stars Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development.
Neo Yokio (Netflix) -
This ersatz-anime is a cultural and stylistic melting pot: created by Ezra Koenig of indie pop band Vampire Weekend, it was animated in Korea, stars Jaden Smith and Tavi Gevinson (with Susan Sarandon and Steve Buscemi in supporting roles) and is packed with Gen Z ennui and clever New York City references.
Travel Man (YouTube)
In each episode, the wonderfully dry Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd) and a celebrity guest spend 48 hours in a new city, attempting and sometimes even succeeding to fit in with the locals. We've all been there.
In a year where our nation felt more divided than ever, Sarah Silverman travels across the country on a mission of empathy, looking to find the common threads that tie us together. Roughly structured as a talk show, this is still highly experimental TV, and when it pays off it's great.
Don't have time to get sucked into a two-season binge session? We've also got some movie recommendations:
Director Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth is a favorite in our office, and his latest creation is a return to form. Riffing on The Creature From the Black Lagoon, del Toro cleverly explodes the monster genre to create something with more soul than scares. If you need an excuse to get out of the house, this is it.
Sean Baker's visually striking film about life below the poverty line in Florida is never condescending; it portrays its characters with empathy, compassion and humor.
It's a little disorienting to see a film set historically in 2003, but Greta Gerwig's directorial debut is a powerful coming-of-age story and, based on Rotten Tomatoes rankings, "the best-reviewed film of all time." We think it's well-deserved.
And if you'd rather stay in:
What the Health (Netflix)
This Joaquin Phoenix-produced documentary became the Food Inc. of 2017, turning a critical eye toward the meat industry and some of the world's leading health organizations. Though it has since seen some backlash, it's still crucial viewing to understand the motivations of today's leading-edge consumers.
Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (FilmStruck)
Anyone who loves food can appreciate Les Blank's 1980 documentary, an ode to garlic across cultures. Seen today, it's a perfect time capsule of an era before food blogs, Instagram and celebrity chefs (though Alice Waters and Chez Panisse make a welcome appearance), and it may just inspire you to turn off the TV and spend a little more time around the kitchen table with your family.
Finally, a podcast for when you're on the road:
This episode of EconTalk features wonderfully irreverent Food Channel star Alex Guarnaschelli speaking candidly about the realities of opening and running a restaurant. Eye-opening listening for those of us who enjoy eating out.
Happy watching (and socializing) from everyone here at CE. We wish you an inspiring, safe, creative new year!