If you are traveling for the holidays this year it’s probably safe to say you are experiencing some pre-holiday stress. With travel restrictions, perhaps seeing family for the first time in a while, and you know, the NORMAL holiday traveling frenzy, it can be a lot. So we wanted to share our recommendations for binge-able escapist entertainment in hopes that it’ll be one less thing you need to think about this year. These are the movies, tv shows, podcasts, and books that we’ve devoured this year (and from years past) and we hope they entertain you and might give you something to talk about with family besides politics ;). Here we go:
The Guilty (Netflix): I watched this randomly having no idea what it was about but as soon as I turned it on it I was hooked. A police dispatcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) gets a disturbing 911 call and does all he can to save the parties involved and there’s a great twist at the end. It’s a short little movie but very suspenseful.
The Devil All The Time (Netflix): OHH this one is good. It’s dark and creepy and extremely well done plus it’s based on a book so you know the story is good. Tom Holland is one of the main characters and he’s so good in it and Robert Pattison plays a creepy pastor VERY well. Almost too well.
Army Of The Dead (Netflix): For fans of Ocean’s 11 and zombies this is for you. It’s a zombie heist movie! It’s based in Las Vegas, gory but not too gory, and it has a very sad ending so I obviously cried.
Booksmart (Hulu): Two best friends graduating high school realize they’ve spent their entire high school focusing on school so they decide to have one wild party night before their graduation. Classic story. Beanie Feldstein is a gem and it’s such a funny little flick about friendship and life after high school. Also directed by Olivia Wilde!
The Spy Who Dumped Me (Netflix): I never thought I would have any interest in this movie but my cousin wanted to watch it so I agreed. Let me tell you I was falling off the sofa, the action was so riveting! Plus it’s obviously funny given that Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis are the leads. A solid good time that will have your heart racing.
Ricky Valez: Here’s Everything (HBO MAX): Outside of seeing him in The King of Staten Island, I didn’t know anything about comedian, Ricky Valez. But when he was the guest on some of the podcasts I listen to, promoting this special, I quickly knew I wanted to watch. This special made me laugh out loud multiple times and I highly recommend it!
Promising Young Woman (HBO MAX): OOF this was SO GOOD. It’s suspenseful, at times hopeful but also super devastating. Oh and stunningly shot. If you haven’t seen it it’s a must-watch in my opinion.
Unpregnant (HBO MAX): I’m sensing a theme here. Two young girls (friends when they were younger but once they got older, stopped), drive across the country for one of them to get an abortion. It’s somehow extremely fun, earnest, and even suspenseful at times but also shines a HUGE light on the complete horror show that is women’s rights. I think everyone should watch this movie because it’s just good and important.
500 Days of Summer: Chase and I agree that watching RomComs is even better when you’re on a plane. If you just watched Zoey Deschanel in Elf then now’s the time to watch her in this (it’s the best).
When Harry Met Sally (Hulu): Just rewatched this, it’s still SO SO GOOD.
For heavier shows, we loved Scenes From A Marriage (Trigger warning – don’t watch it with your partner if you aren’t in a great place right now – it’s VERY REALISTIC). Succession (duh), and White Lotus (obviously). For the lighter, bing-able I super enjoyed Virgin River (like a Hallmark movie, but a series), Sweet Magnolias (Southern sweetness), Outerbanks (townies versus rich kids trope that I love), and Bridgerton (maybe not while on a plane where people can see your screen).
Insecure (HBO MAX): Probably my favorite show. It’s creative, funny, heart-wrenching, heart-warming, and THE FASHION. There’s nothing not to love and right now they are two episodes away from the series finale (this season is the best one), so you can binge it from start to actual finish.
Sex Lives of College Girls (HBO MAX): Brand new and great! So fun to be taken back into college but with a focus on female power, ownership, friendships. and mistakes. Ok, I want to sell it better but I promise it’s awesome and has that Mindy Kaling genius and humor all over the place.
Full Bloom (HBO MAX): Non-stop feast for the eyes with THE BEST group of contestants and judges on television. The number of happy tears I cried and inspiration/solid flower tips can’t be counted. If you even just “like” flowers this is a MUST-WATCH.
Glow Up (Netflix): I’m not a makeup person but I LOVE this show. The creativity is off the charts, the hosts are great, and each final challenge ends in a “face-off” and it’s perfectly intense.
Love Life (HBO MAX): Two seasons. Two different people’s love life stories (you are taken through years of their journeys). Both are riveting yet so freaking relatable. I can’t decide which season I love more so you should just watch both.
My Unorthodox Life (Netflix): Honestly I don’t know how exactly to feel about this show because it’s textbook “crazy reality tv” BUT the story of the mom (Julia Haart) leaving her Orthodox Jewish community the day after her eldest daughter got married to then build a modeling agency and fashion company is so inspiring. The show is all about her and her kids continuing to adjust to living outside of most everything they were taught growing up. She is nothing if not a force!
On The Verge (Netflix): People did not talk enough about this show when it came out this year! It’s about four 40-something female friends living in LA, all going through different “mid-life” struggles. It’s warm, funny, maddening, and just so good! I really love and am grateful for these kinds of shows. I want to see interesting, complex stories about women beyond 35 because women don’t just stop being amazing at a certain age:)
Pretend It’s a City (Netflix): My god I loved this. Sure, my love for New York is still as strong as ever, but Fran Leibowitz is the New Yorker, is an incredible storyteller, and her dry, matter-of-fact humor is all I want. I wish there were more! Come on Scorsese, are we getting another season??
Reno My Rental (Discovery+): Even though I hope all of you have seen Carmeon’s show, I had to add it. Her transformations are so creative, beautiful, and are super budget-conscious. Plus she’s just so fun to watch!
The Bold Type (Hulu): Julie must have told me to watch this show for a year before I finally gave it a shot. Of course I was in it quick! It’s basically like a new, younger version of Sex and the City. Highly recommend it for fun, easy watching that also touches on some really important topics.
Reservation Dogs (Hulu): This is the best show of 2021 in my opinion. It’s about 4 indigenous teenagers who live on a res who are hustling to get money so they can move to California. You fall in love with the characters and their lives instantly. It’s not necessarily ha ha funny but it’s witty and very smart.
Hacks (HBO MAX): I started watching this show because Megan Stalter plays a small part in it (and she’s hilarious btw) but I kept watching because Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder are an incredible duo. The writing is fantastic and it’s a great depiction of what it’s like being a woman in comedy.
Gentefied (Netflix): We need more shows like this one. It’s about a Mexican-American family chasing the American dream while also just trying to be there for one another and keep their family-owned taco shop from going under. It’s wholesome, lighthearted, funny, and heartwarming. It’s also the only show I’ve personally seen that is actually bilingual and I would love to see more of that.
Superstore (Hulu): This is a great throw-it-on show if you just want to escape. It’s really funny, all the characters are lovable and weird, and if you’ve ever worked at a store like Costco or Walmart (I worked at Costco for two years whoop whoop) you will love how relatable it is. Oh and America Ferrera is fantastic as per usual.
Unbelievable (Netflix): This is based on a true story (trigger warning it is about sexual assault) and it’s very well done. It’s one of those shows you just can’t stop watching and wish there were more episodes. I am pretty sure I watched it in one day and I’ve even rewatched since then. Merritt Wever plays one of the lead detectives and is such a badass.
Mad Men (Netflix): Nothing new here, but this is MY FAVORITE SHOW EVER. It took me a few times to get REALLY into it, but once I did, I could not stop. It transports you to such a fun world & I cannot recommend it enough if you haven’t seen it or it’s been a while.
Succession (HBO Max): BRB, can’t write a description, must rewatch the whole thing after that season 3 finale!!! I know this can be a hard show to start – they have to lay a lot of groundwork and every character is awful – but my personal turning point was Greg’s ‘California Pizza Kitchen’ talk with Tom in episode 6. Stick it out, it’s worth it!!!
Dave (Hulu): So underrated!!! It’s laugh out loud funny and tender and real (like, this is an accurate portrayal of working in music in LA). You can fly through both seasons in a day and both season finale episodes are absolute slam dunks. PLEASE WATCH.
Ted Lasso (Apple TV+): I mean…what can I say about Ted Lasso that hasn’t already been said? (Or that I haven’t already, like, typed – probably in all caps – in a link up?) Put this on and the world will be a little brighter for 35 minutes.
Shrill (Hulu): Three seasons of bingeworthy goodness, baby!!! It’s fun to see the self-actualization of someone whose life looks so similar to mine. The casting is incredible and Aidy Bryant’s wardrobe stylist deserves a medal. I’m devastated that it’s over!!
I BINGED so many podcasts this year walking the dogs two sometimes three hours a day, with some standout favorites
Just Enough Family: This documents the rise and fall of a New York family, told through Liz Lange’s perspective (an heir to the now non-fortune). This is one of my favorite subjects – the behind-the-scenes lives/crimes of the hyper-wealthy – it’s never how it all seems. I’m hoping for a second season.
I’m a massive Armchair-y and don’t miss an episode, so it was hard for me to name my favorites of 2021, but the following all absolutely stood out, either educational/inspirational or just pure entertaining: Prince Harry, Amy Poehler, Van Jones, Drew Barrymore (this surprised me), Stanley Tucci, Nick Offerman, Matt Daman, Sanjay Gupta, Khalil Gibran Muhammed, Andrew Huberman, and Chad Sanders.
I loved The Shrink Next Door (starting the HBO series this weekend) and Suspect, as well as the Kristin Smart mystery, Your Own Backyard.
Morbid: For big fans of true crime I recommend Morbid. Hosted by a niece and aunt duo, they recount the most disturbing serial killer cases, survivor stories, and listener tales. I’ve listened to a lot of true crime podcasts and this one might be my favorite (way better than Sword and Scale IMO).
To Live And Die In LA: I binged the entire season on Adea Shabani’s disappearance in like a day. So good and well told.
The Rewatchables: If you love movies and more importantly rewatching your favorite movies over and over, you will enjoy this podcast. They did an episode on my favorite movie (Good Fellas) and it’s ALMOST as good as watching the movie itself.
My Brother My Brother And Me: This is my go-to feel-good comedy podcast. It’s three brothers who give readers “advice” but it’s mostly an hour of hilarious banter and sarcasm. I love these boys so much.
Armchair Expert: THIS IS MY FAVORITE PODCAST AND I NEVER SHUT UP ABOUT IT. If you’re just starting to listen, I recommend the Mila Kunis episode, Alison Brie, and Andrew Huberman. Oh also Bradley Cooper’s just came out and it’s fantastic.
How I Built This by Guy Raz: This podcast is SO good if you love learning about businesses and how they are built. It’s super interesting to listen to & I’ve been into it for YEARS and it doesn’t get boring
The Deep Dive: To be honest this one took me a hot sec to get into but now I can’t wait until Wednesdays. I’m pretty obsessed with June Diane Raphael and her and Jessica St. Clair’s banter is incredibly fun. It’s a show for women, by women so definitely check it out!
Busy Philipps Is Doing Her Best: The Stacy London Episode: I listened to this episode on a flight a few months ago and let me tell you I could have listened to this interview all day long. Stacy London (yes, the Stacey from What Not to Wear) started a company that focuses on Menopause called State Of. Menopause isn’t something I’ve taken more than five minutes to think about up until now. A real “I’ll deal with it once I get closer” kinda mindset. But once I finished this episode, I wanted to scream from the rooftops, “WHY AREN’T WE TALKING ABOUT MENOPAUSE ALL OF THE TIME?!” It’s a MUST-listen I promise.
Reply All: This is my desert island podcast – it’s kind of like This American Life meets the internet. Every episode is funny and warm and human and timeless. If you’re looking for an entry point, this 2019 episode about a mild-mannered guy who decides to become a real-life supervillain is UNREAL.
Why Won’t You Date Me: Oh baby!!! Listening to this is the audio-equivalent of a boozy brunch with friends. Like, yes, tell me about all the weirdos on dating apps! Tell me about your breakup! Tell me how you met your partner! If you’re the booker for this podcast, please reach out to me. I will overshare.
2 Black Girls, 1 Rose: THE. BEST. BACHELOR. NATION. PODCAST. I pay $10 for this every month (though I think they have cheaper tiers) and it’s worth every penny. At this point, I’m mainly watching the franchise just so I can laugh along with Natasha and Justine the next day. It’s smart and sharp and witty, which are words I don’t normally associate with reality TV. 10/10.
Sway: Kara Swisher is terrifying, in the best way. She’s a no-nonsense interviewer with an incredible BS detector and listening to her eviscerate tech CEOs is one of the few things that brings me joy. (Check out this recent interview with Andrew Yang, who cannot seem to charm Kara despite his many attempts. It’s awesome AND informative.)
Admittedly I’m flying through either contemporary or Victorian-era romance novels every night and they are bringing me so much comfort (I’ve read probably 75 since the pandemic started). Some are like watching a Hallmark or Christmas movie (bad but so comforting) and others are more fun, steamy and you just can’t put them down (Beach Read, Hating Game, and The Roommate). If you really want to take it up a notch (and can handle explicit details) I LOVED Bombshell and flew through it in 2 days (would have been one if I hadn’t needed to “work” and “feed children”). The Evie Dunsmore series has an awesome feminist bent (set during the suffrage movement in England). But probably my favorite novel since Covid is Station Eleven (and I’m so excited about the series launching this week on HBO). As far as non-romance page-turners go I loved The Last Flight (thriller), Dark Matter (fantasy thriller), and don’t forget The Vanishing Half (social thriller). Also A Good Marriage and Such a Fun Age. If you haven’t read the Wedding Date series it’s so fun and you get into it by page one – it’s a great vacation series. Also, if you want me to do a whole post dedicated to romance novels, my favorites, and what they add to my life JUST ASK 🙂
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: France during World War II. Two Sisters are separated and both end up helping the Nazi resistance in their own ways. I don’t even want to give more away but before this book, I’ve always said we need more stories about women during wartime and specifically how women fought however they could. This book is that (but fiction). Also, I bawled hysterically at the end. Just read it and you won’t be sorry.
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd: This is the fictional story of Jesus’s (yes that Jesus) wife named Ana. I know what you are thinking but stay with me. It’s a great love story by a fantastic writer and it offers a feminine perspective on religion and humanity. I read it with an open mind and really loved it.
The Secret History by Donna Tart: My all-time favorite book. If you know you know, but Donna Tart is a wizard when it comes to story-telling. You are not ready for the wild ride she takes you on and I guarantee you’ve never read a story like this. This book has been around for a while so if you’ve heard it but haven’t read it, THIS IS YOUR SIGN. You’ll be so happy you did.
You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie: Part memoir part poetry part epitaph to his deceased mother. This is Sherman Alexie’s latest book and it’s beautiful and tragic. It’s about grief but it’s also about life, identity, and family and the mixed genre makes it very easy and exciting to read.
Emma In The Night by Wendy Walker: File this under I read it in less than a day. It’s not the best writing but it is a real page-turner and if you want to get lost in a wild story you should try it out. It’s a thriller about two missing sisters who disappeared one night until one sister suddenly returns with no explanation. It’s twisted and a fun quick read that you can easily finish on a plane or car ride.
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey: I’m in the process of reading this currently and it’s INCREDIBLE. I love Matthew McConaughey so much more after reading this. It’s full of humor, motivation, and gripping stories from his life. His perspective on the world is so interesting and makes you absolutely fall in love with living life.
My Body by Emily Ratajkowski: This book is next on my list to read FOR SURE. I’ve read this excerpt on The Cut and thought it was fantastic, so if you like it too then I recommend you read the book!
Normal People by Sally Rooney: Largely due to my need for visual stimulation, I just don’t read a ton of books. God I hate admitting that! But the last book I couldn’t put down was Normal People by Sally Rooney (I know this was crazy popular so not new news). It’s very sexy, dark, and intoxicating. I also FINALLY watched the show on Hulu last week and absolutely loved it! Highly recommend both but definitely don’t watch the show with family…
Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths: I’m reading this right now and I knew I had picked the right book when it described my current dating strategy – which I picked for its mathematical correctness – as the optimal dating strategy. Basically, if you want to let data run your life (I do) so you can make the right choice most of the time (oh, gosh, please), this is the book for you. It’s an easy read, too – not nearly as technical as the title makes it sound.
No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood: Full disclosure – this is very cerebral and weird and it’s not a traditional narrative structure, so this may not be for everyone…but I read this back in February and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It’s about the internet and family and a bunch of other things told with prose that kinda kicks (/body slams) you right in the gut.
Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell: What do QAnon and Heaven’s Gate and the Peloton Leaderboard have in common? Well, first is that I know a lot more about all 3 after SAILING through this book in a day…but second is that they all use language in the same way and it’s FASCINATING. I love non-fiction but hate being bored and that can be a tough niche to enjoy, but this book has nailed the funny:educational ratio.
The Collected Poems and Drawings of Stevie Smith by Stevie Smith: Smith’s been my favorite poet since high school. This is my go-to book when I’m feeling sad and want to feel sadder. (Sometimes you really just gotta lean into your misery for a day, you know???)
Alright sweet friends, those are our recs but as always we want to know what you all loved this year. Drop them below and safe travels! xx
Opener Image Credit: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | Designed and Styled with Velinda Hellen and Erik Staalberg for EHD | From: Reveal Alert: The Color Trend We’re VERY Into (That You’ll Love, Too)