Television fans must love the holidays, because it’s the one time of year when studios unleash a host of massive box sets collecting their favorite dramas and comedies. But while we like to devour an entire TV show just as quickly as the next person, sometimes a little self-discipline is required, which is why we’ve devoted most of this year’s guide to some less time-consuming (and more affordable) suggestions. If you don’t find anything for your friends and family here, a Netflix gift card works just as well.
Click the links within the write-ups to purchase each product online, and check back throughout the week for more additions to our Holiday Gift Guide.
American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson
There’s been a lot of great television this year, and FX’s “American Crime Story” is right up there at the top. Though most people of a certain age remember the media circus surrounding the so-called Trial of the Century, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” manages to feel like an entirely fresh experience, revealing things about the case you may not have known before while also recapturing all the infamous moments. Told largely from the perspective of the lawyers, the show examines topics like race, gender, celebrity and the criminal justice system and how each one affected the outcome of the trial. There’s hardly a dull moment throughout the show’s debut season, including the excellent bottle episode “A Jury in Jail,” which details the mental and physical strain placed on the jurors throughout the lengthy court case. At its core, however, “American Crime Story” is just a really excellent actor’s showcase that features award-worthy performances by Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance and Sterling K. Brown, among others. The series is so engrossing and expertly cast that it’s like watching the murder trial all over again, only this time, with an unrestricted view of the chaos and drama.
The Night Of
“The Night Of” was originally supposed to star James Gandolfini before the actor’s untimely death, but within the first few episodes of the HBO limited series, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than John Turturro in the role. The veteran character actor is so riveting as the down-on-his-luck attorney that it seems a near-certainty he’ll walk away with an Emmy for his performance. He’s that good, and the same could be said for the rest of the cast, including co-star Riz Ahmed and supporting players like Bill Camp, Michael Kenneth Williams and Peyman Moaadi. However, what really elevates “The Night Of” beyond the typical crime drama is the superb writing by co-creators Richard Price and Steve Zaillian, which delivers a probing examination of the systemic problems in the U.S. criminal justice system (from the police, to the prisons, to the lawyers) and how one crime can affect the lives of not only the accused but the people connected to them as well. Though the actual investigation feels a bit rushed, and the series doesn’t hit as many highs in the later episodes, “The Night Of” is an excellent piece of filmmaking that challenges the way we watch television and tell stories.
Game of Thrones: The Complete Sixth Season
The sixth season of “Game of Thrones” was undoubtedly the Year of the Woman, with characters like Cersei, Daenerys, Arya, Sansa, Yara and Brienne all emerging as genuine power players across the Seven Kingdoms. It’s also a season that, despite the dense and complex nature of its storytelling, really put the pedal to the floor as the show barrels towards its inevitable conclusion, inspiring the hashtag #EfficiencyisComing in the process. And this year was nothing if not efficient, even if it spent two whole episodes pretending that Jon Snow was permanently dead when everybody knew that wasn’t the case. Minor quibbles aside, Season Six is one of the best in the show’s history, boasting strong performances from Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (among many others) and top-notch episodes like “The Door” (RIP Hodor) and the Miguel Sapochnik-directed twofer “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter.” For a season that could have easily felt like the banal but necessary prelude to the much-anticipated climax, it doesn’t disappoint, delivering all the drama, political intrigue, action and comedy that “Game of Thrones” fans have come to expect.
Narcos: Season One
With the amount of new content that Netflix debuts every month, you’d be forgiven if a show like “Narcos” flew completely under your radar. Although not as buzzworthy as some of the streaming service’s flagship programs, “Narcos” is a fascinating and well-acted drama about the history of the Medellin cocaine cartel (and in particular, its leader Pablo Escobar) that’s every bit deserving of its high praise. Brazilian actor Wagner Moura is excellent as the notorious drug kingpin, right down to the constant fidgeting with his pants, striking the perfect balance between charming and ruthless. Unfortunately, while co-star Boyd Holbrook handles the exposition-heavy narration really well, his onscreen persona pales in comparison to the charismatic Moura, as well as supporting players like Pedro Pascal and Juan Pablo Raba. Whenever Holbrook isn’t involved, however, “Narcos” rarely disappoints. Though the show starts to lose steam in the final episodes due to the decision to stretch Escobar’s story across two seasons, he makes for such a compelling subject that it’s hard to complain.
Preacher: Season One
Based on Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s groundbreaking comic book series of the same name, “Preacher” is so unlike anything else on television that it’s a small miracle it even exists. Though it’s a bit slow at times, namely due to the thumb-twiddling nature of the first season – which takes place largely before the events of the comic – “Preacher” is the type of show where the journey is more exciting than the destination. It also balances out those quieter moments with some gloriously bonkers sequences (like the airplane, church and motel fights) and a trio of charismatic performances from its three stars. Dominic Cooper is perfectly cast as Jesse Custer, the ex-con turned small-town preacher who becomes possessed by a supernatural entity, but up-and-comers Ruth Negga (as Jesse’s badass ex Tulip) and Joseph Gilgun (as wise-cracking vampire Cassidy) both outshine him in flashier roles. Although the season finale feels like a giant middle finger to those who invested their time in the show, that anarchic energy is exactly what makes “Preacher” such a bizarre and unique TV-watching experience.
Star Trek: 50th Anniversary TV and Movie Collection
It’s hard to imagine anyone who considers themselves a diehard “Star Trek” fan doesn’t already own the original TV series and movies on Blu-ray, but for those who’ve been holding out or just want to upgrade their collection, this massive box set is for you. Released in conjunction with the September 8, 1966 airing of the very first “Star Trek” episode, the 30-disc set includes every TV show and feature film (including the fan-favorite director’s cut of “The Wrath of Khan”) made with the original crew, as well as “Star Trek: The Animated Series,” which has been remastered on Blu-ray for the first time. Other goodies include a new retrospective documentary with over two hours of footage, an exclusive Starfleet pin commemorating the anniversary and mini-posters by artist Juan Ortiz for all six films. Though we’re not crazy about the slapdash packaging of the discs themselves (for instance, the entire TV series is contained within a single, unwieldy plastic case), the outside box will make a great display piece for those who like to showcase their “Star Trek” fandom with pride.