The television landscape has changed a lot over the past decade. The rise of streaming has brought about the diminishing of traditional cable seasons (remember sweeps?) TV shows don’t just kick off in the fall and spring, with summers filled with reruns and a holiday season stocked with specials anymore. Instead there’s just… kinda no end to the premiere calendar. Typically, you see big movies arriving between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But in the last few years, we’ve seen highly anticipated TV premieres like The Witcher and The Mandalorian happening over the holidays. There is simply no rest!
That can be great for consumers, and slightly less so for TV editors. Compiling, whittling, and shaping our Best of the Year articles takes time, and it also necessitates some early deadlines (like the end of November). So what happens to December? Does it roll over to the next year? That doesn’t feel quite right. Instead, we just honor that best of the month with its own list, the one that comes after all the rest, and acknowledges that TV stops for no one.
Below are a few of our favorites that missed the cutoff for Best of the Year, but you can check out all of those lists and more here. Happy scrolling and streaming!
Apple TV+’s Stellar Second Season of Slow Horses
Apple TV+ has slowly but surely become a serious contender in the streaming game. The second season of its stellar spy saga Slow Horses, based on Mick Herron’s Slough House series of novels, sees the show settle into a welcome, familiar groove as the lovable misfits of MI5’s Slough House embark on a game of cat and mouse when long-buried Cold War secrets rear their ugly heads. Led by an exceptional Gary Oldman as the frustrating and irascible Jackson Lamb and Jack Lowden as the driven River Cartwright, the series deftly balances the excitement of espionage with a dark sense of humor that makes every episode an absolute thrill to watch. —Kaitlin Thomas [Full Review]
Meghann Fahy in The White Lotus Finale
Gorgeous settings, glamorous casts, murder, mayhem… The White Lotus always goes big. But in its Season 2 finale, the best moment was its quietest. Throughout the season, we watched Meghann Fahy’s Daphne justify the behavior of her lout husband in order to protect her own happiness—and justify her own machinations of revenge in response. Many of these reveals were fairly subtle, like mentioning the hair and eye color of her personal trainer before “accidentally” showing Harper a picture of her children, who matched that description exactly.
Fahy kept Daphne upbeat and positive throughout, but she was no fool. And occasionally, it seems, she allowed herself to hope for something better. When Ethan reveals suspicions about their spouses cheating together, the camera lingers up close to Fahy’s beautiful, freckled face. The hundred emotions that pass across it are haunting; she’s unlikely surprised at her husband’s behavior (“I don’t have many female friends,” she once told Harper—probably because of that), but seems genuinely hurt that Harper would betray her and fall for his seduction after she seemed to see through him. From there, Daphne silently reckons with this, composes herself, and tells Ethan he shouldn’t worry about it. She gives some genuine advice about the benefits of mystery. Then she asks him to go for a walk and almost undoubtedly they have sex.
That’s Daphne’s formula: Acceptance, justification, revenge. And Fahy played it so stunningly it was all anyone could talk about in an episode that also included the murder of four people! A true standout. —Allison Keene
The Merrily Violent Adult Swim Yule Log
Never before in the history of television has a yule log been rated TV-MA for “violence, adult language, and brief nudity.” Adult Swim’s latest prank comes from Casper Kelly, the mad genius behind Too Many Cooks, and would feel right at home amidst Adult Swim’s surrealist 4 a.m. shorts – except this is a full-blown 90-minute horror movie that shockingly plays things straighter than you might expect.
Adult Swim Yule Log, alternately titled The Fireplace, does in fact start with footage of a fireplace… and then a gruesome murder happens in front of that fireplace. The camera then zooms out to reveal a young couple staying in this double-booked and haunted AirBnB cabin (shades of Barbarian in the set-up). From there, everything escalates into multiple levels of horror: slasher violence, time travel weirdness, alien invasions, and the history of racism and bigotry in America. I can’t say it’s fully coherent, but I was never once bored with Kelly’s feature debut. —Reuben Baron
Willow’s Charming First Season
Disney+’s Willow, a sequel to the 1988 film of the same name directed by Ron Howard, is a delightful fantasy follow-up to a beloved Lucasfilm classic, and a consistently entertaining December weekly watch. Swinging in the opposite direction of its peers Rings of Power and House of the Dragon, Willow picks up years after the events of the film, with Willow (Warwick Davis) and Queen Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) teaming up once again to take down a force of evil, but with a grown Elora Danon by their side this time around. Delivering the perfect balance of silliness and teen angst, Willow’s ragtag group, composed of the sorcerer Willow himself, outlaw Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), Princess Kit (Ruby Cruz), knight Jade (Erin Kellyman), chosen one Elora (Ellie Bamber), and Prince Graydon (Tony Revolori), is an adventuring party worth rooting for in their perilous quest to save one of their own.
Channeling the lighthearted charm of BBC’s Merlin and the sprawling, world-ending stakes of MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles, Willow embraces its campy roots while bringing its cookie-cutter story to new heights. While the series’ fight sequences and stunning scenery are attention-grabbing, Willow’s true heart lies with the relationships between its central characters, building beautiful found-family bonds within its first six episodes. Whether you’re swooning over the heartfelt scenes between Kit and Jade (and celebrating Kit’s status as Disney’s first ever openly queer Disney princess), gasping at the (sometimes predictable) twists and turns, or cracking a smile at the series’ unique brand of charming humor, Willow is a must watch for a cold winter’s day. —Anna Govert
Kenice Mobley’s Hilarious Follow Up Question
It’s high time you know Kenice Mobley’s name—and not just because she was included in Vulture’s 2021 list of “Comedians You Should and Will Know.” In 2021, she performed on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and this year she was featured in the Netflix is A Joke Festival’s “Introducing…” showcase. Most notably, though, Mobley released a hilarious, confident debut album, Follow Up Question, which was released December 9th via Blonde Medicine.
The Brooklyn-based comedian quickly establishes herself as both a bit of a dork (she somehow made getting high into homework) and unabashedly filthy. Mobley succinctly captures the dilemma of the millennial woman who wants to be smart and self-fulfilled… and also get laid (even if that involves thirsting after your therapist, which in her case, it does). Mobley’s unconventional and creative word choice accentuates her crassest jokes, culminating in a metaphor at the end of the album about genitalia and cheese. Some of her best stories involve her mother, who she’s extremely close with. These anecdotes are not just funny, but also help us get to know Mobley better as a person. Whether she’s talking about how her mom’s figure has “changed the pornography I can watch” or asking the audience about cum in jars, Mobley mines sophomoric comedic veins in hilarious and surprisingly incisive ways. —Clare Martin
Netflix’s Ambitious and Fun Dragon Age: Absolution
In this six-episode animated series inspired by BioWare’s Dragon Age game franchise, a group of six thieves—fighters and mages among them—plots to take a blood magic artifact from a stronghold in an enemy nation. But when one of the group betrays the others, things get progressively more complicated, especially as the past of one of the heroes reveals her own ties to the villain. With vibes that mix The Legend of Vox Machina, Carmen Sandiego, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, Absolution uses what’s best in both fantasy and heist stories to create a compelling and character-driven narrative that is a delight for both fans of the game and newcomers. —Alana Joli Abbott [Full Review]
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