This Christmas will certainly look different, amid pleas to reduce travel and large gatherings. One silver lining: Streaming is here to help get you through the stay-at-home holidays.
It’s shaping up to be a huge month as classics hit Netflix, Oscar hopefuls like Mank premiere, and fan favorites like The Expanse return. Even the superhero genre will come to streaming in December with a massive, unprecedented premiere. Check out everything that’s new on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, and more below ...
What’s New to Streaming in December
A selected list of movies and TV shows coming this month that The Ringer is very excited about.
Any Given Sunday (Hulu, Dec. 1)
Jake Kring-Schreifels: Through its kaleidoscopic perspective, Any Given Sunday tells a tale of corporate greed, racial injustice, and medical malpractice, all while establishing the visceral and visual gut punch of a gladiator’s game. “I think Oliver [Stone] tries to take an honest look at the humanity and point out the good and the bad parts of everything,” says assistant football coordinator Mark Robert Ellis. Despite pivoting toward a mainstream topic, Stone couldn’t shake his investigative roots and storytelling instincts, stirring more controversy within a bold and flashy sports movie. “I stepped in one cow puddle to the next,” he laughs.
A League of Their Own (Amazon Prime, Dec. 1)
Katie Baker: Directed by Penny Marshall, A League of Their Own is a mostly faithful historical tribute to the overlooked women like the Callaghans, who played professional baseball in the wartime 1940s for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Its cast is brilliant, featuring a post–Thelma & Louise Geena Davis, a post–Point Break Lori Petty, and Tom Hanks juuuust before he won back-to-back Oscars. It is, in my possibly blinded by love but also correct opinion, one of the best sports movies there is. And it is an honest ode to women and sisters and friendships, with a story that breezes through the Bechdel test by the end of the opening scene.
Eyes Wide Shut (Hulu, Dec. 1)
Adam Nayman: By the end, Alice (Nicole Kidman) is doubled over with laughter, at which point the film’s elegant Steadicam perspective gets supplanted by a bobbing, handheld camera—the image becoming destabilized right along with our (anti?)hero’s self-confidence as a husband, lover, and master-of-the-universe alpha male. After all, the larger joke about Eyes Wide Shut is that it’s a two-and-a-half-hour movie in which Tom Cruise can’t get laid.
City on a Hill (Amazon Prime, Dec. 1)
Alison Herman: City on a Hill may not be a particularly novel or exceptional instance of the form, but it does seem like part of Showtime’s efforts to establish a presence in one of television’s most crowded spaces. Showtime’s latest moves aren’t quite radical enough to call a rebrand, nor drastic enough to call much attention to themselves. But quietly, the channel is undergoing a version of the process many of its peers are undertaking in more dramatic fashion.
Big Mouth Season 4 (Netflix, Dec. 4)
Herman: The first and most obvious upside to Big Mouth’s animated format is how it sidesteps the awkwardness of having actual children act out the indignities and embarrassments of their tween years. The presence of grown-ups frees Big Mouth to get very grown-up with its humor. There is uncensored cursing, but also gleefully explicit discussions of masturbation (male and female; Kristen Wiig makes a cameo as Jessi’s friendly vagina), menstruation, and sexual intercourse with a pillow enhanced by two room-temperature bags of lentil soup. Big Mouth doesn’t shy away from talk of bodily fluids, irrepressible urges, and horniness so acute a particularly ripe tomato is all it takes to set it off. Instead, the show embraces the entire process zits and all, taking a time of life practically defined by crippling shame and approaching it in precisely the opposite spirit—one of openness, candor, and even celebration.
Mank (Netflix, Dec. 4)
Adam Nayman: As a “love letter to the movies,” Mank is as coded and cryptic as any of the Zodiac’s missives; as a study of media titans remaking the world in their image, it’s as quietly frightening as The Social Network. That David Fincher’s achievement falls short of Citizen Kane is less important than its mixture of principle and showmanship, the same synthesis sought separately and together by Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz, which was in short supply then and even more so now.
Mulan (Disney+, Dec. 4)
Jason Gallagher: If you’re an adult who is overly precious about late ’90s animated movies, then either buckle up or stay home. If you are a child or the parent of a child who is looking for a “big kids” movie that’s not too crazy, you’ll have a good time.
Euphoria: Trouble Don’t Always Last (HBO Max, Dec. 6)
Herman: Without the censors that muzzled American TV’s past efforts to emphasize the “adult” in “young adult,” Euphoria could actually deliver the intrigue, and the headlines, previously reserved for imported fare like Skins. But creator Sam Levinson, who wrote all of the first season’s eight episodes and directed most, took a somewhat conflicted approach to his underage subjects. Sometimes, Euphoria wanted us to look past the panicked trend pieces and music video staging to the confused, conflicted people underneath. And sometimes, Euphoria was happy to camp out right there on the surface, leering at intoxicated kids and their impaired judgment like a Dateline correspondent facing a deadline.
Ralph Breaks the Internet (Disney+, Dec. 11)
Rob Harvilla: Ralph Breaks the Internet is a B+ kids movie and an A+ parental nightmare. It is the sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph, in which John C. Reilly voices the titular Donkey Kong–esque bad guy in an ’80s arcade game. Ralph is a burly sweetheart who longs to be a good guy, and so he sets off on a series of arcade-roiling misadventures and is eventually joined by his improbable best friend Vanellope von Schweetz, a candy-flecked race car driver voiced by Sarah Silverman. It’s a typical 21st-century kids movie in that it relies on parent-baiting nostalgia for things that actual 21st-century kids have very little experience with: namely, video arcades. “The gamers say we’re ‘retro,’” Ralph says near the end, “which I think means ‘old, but cool.’” Try explaining Q*bert to a 7-year-old sometime.
The Challenge Seasons 10 and 13 (Netflix, Dec. 15)
Herman: The Challenge’s great innovation is its contestants. This show’s genius — or rather, the genius of Bunim/Murray Productions, which also gave us The Real World, Bad Girls Club, Project Runway, and the Kardashian Komplex — is its recognition that truly great reality stars are a nonrenewable resource. There’s a finite amount of people with fuses this short and inhibitions this low, and casting them out into the world after a single season is a waste of talent. Enter The Challenge, a reality show with a cast sourced entirely from other reality shows, including The Real World, Are You the One, and increasingly, itself. It’s a greatest hits collection of emotional dysfunction, the personality equivalent of running clothes through the dryer one too many times until they’re weird and misshapen. Over as much as a decade (a decade!) these people have been put in front of a camera and paired off and pitted against each other until they become the most concentrated possible version of a pure, animal drama machine. It’s the reality TV equivalent of pure-breeding. Or incest.
The Expanse Season 5 (Amazon Prime, Dec. 16)
Miles Surrey: The simplest log line for The Expanse is that it’s basically “space Game of Thrones.” (But considering how poorly that series just ended and how many Thrones imitators are flailing, such a comparison might now be a disservice.) Here’s the longer pitch: Set 200 years in the future, the story finds humanity spread throughout the solar system and on the brink of interplanetary war. The three main factions are people still on Earth, the militaristic Martians (meaning: humans on Mars), and those living around the Asteroid Belt, known as Belters. These tensions are elevated by the discovery of the protomolecule, a mysterious alien substance from the far reaches of space that humankind wants to weaponize. Thankfully, once it’s revealed that the substance appears to have its own beguiling agenda, a fragile peace is attained by the factions as a unified front against the protomolecule threat. By the end of the third season, the protomolecule has done a lot of weird shit on its own—including opening the Sol Ring, a gateway to a new galaxy with unexplored, and potentially habitable, worlds.
You Cannot Kill David Arquette (Hulu, Dec. 22)
Thomas Golianopoulos: Why is David Arquette—millionaire actor, husband, father to three children—wrestling at the age of 49? It’s the focus of the new documentary You Cannot Kill David Arquette and a question that Arquette still struggles to answer. “I don’t know,” he tells me, removing his clear Dita frames. “I don’t know why I did it. I just felt a drive to do it. I knew I had to lose weight and was going on a weight-loss journey, so why not tie it in? I knew I was getting too old to do it again.” But a middle-aged actor doesn’t go full Randy the Ram just to get skinny (for the record: Arquette lost 50 pounds). More pointedly, Arquette’s return to the ring—and the documentary about it—feels like the actor coming to grips with himself, with his rise and fall as an actor, with the feeling of unbelonging that he’s carried with him his whole life, with the substance misuse issues that have plagued him. David Arquette wants to make a comeback, but mostly he just wants some sort of acceptance.
Wonder Woman 1984 (HBO Max, Dec. 25)
Surrey: HBO Max has struggled to pull in subscribers since launching in the spring, despite perhaps having a better slate of offerings than every other streaming service. (Especially if you don’t have children and aren’t obsessed with Baby Yoda.) In Warner’s best-case scenario, this decision will convince people to get HBO Max to watch Wonder Woman 1984, and those people will stick around for additional DC movies, the full Studio Ghibli catalog, acclaimed HBO series like The Wire and The Sopranos, and so on. (HBO Max really does rule, even if Warner Bros. doesn’t know how to market it.)
Dare Me (Netflix, Dec. 29)
Herman: Based on the 2012 novel by Megan Abbott, who cocreated the show with Gina Fattore, the protagonists of Dare Me are in high school, not college, and live in small-town Ohio, not small-town Texas. That said, the similarities [between Dare Me and Cheer] far outweigh their differences. Both are shot in an artful style that announces their seriousness, even if Cheer’s palette leans sepia where Dare Me’s skews neon. And both center on a female coach whose relationship with her athletes is alternately inspiring and endangering, supportive and manipulative.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 4 (Netflix, Dec. 31)
Herman: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is the second show in as many years to adapt an Archie Comics title for the small screen, and while it shares a literal universe with Riverdale, the smash hit teen soap airing on the CW, the two shows also operate within the same tonal register. They’re a little bit dark, a lot bit camp, and altogether a very different kind of teen TV than generations past first projected their hormone-stoked feelings onto.
Some New-ish Things You Might’ve Missed
Because it’s hard to keep up with everything, here are a few things that have premiered somewhat recently that may be worth catching up on.
The Undoing (HBO Max)
Herman: And yet what hurt The Undoing as a show may have helped it as a phenomenon. It’s true that the camp qualities of Big Little Lies, Kidman and David E. Kelley’s previous effort, were intentional while The Undoing’s were accidental. But whether camp is accidental or not matters little to the viewer guffawing at the star of Notting Hill admitting he “killed the family sister.” Even though The Undoing quickly sidelined the social satire of moneyed Manhattan socialites, it offered up plenty of goofy details to ironically obsess over. Kidman’s pre-Raphaelite wig restoring her hair to ’90s glory! A nonsensical grab bag of accents! Leisurely East River chats about a murder trial, somehow sans paparazzi! And it offered them up week by week, culminating on the weekend after Thanksgiving, the most couch-bound days of the year—even by shelter-in-place standards.
The Flight Attendant (HBO Max)
Herman: Kaley Cuoco stars as Cassie, the titular stewardess on the fictional Imperial Atlantic Airlines whose hard-partying lifestyle is all fun and games until a one-night stand with a handsome passenger ends with his throat slit in a Bangkok hotel room. With no memory of what transpired before waking up next to his bloody corpse, Cassie has to evade suspicious authorities while doing some investigative work of her own. There’s also some forced introspection about the trauma and coping mechanisms that left Cassie vulnerable to getting caught up in such international intrigue, for which her jet-setting job serves as a scenic backdrop.
Gangs of London (AMC+)
Surrey: This is what sets Gangs of London apart from its crime drama contemporaries: The fight scenes absolutely rip, and you’re guaranteed at least one glorious action sequence per episode. While the pub fight has received plenty of well-deserved fanfare, the second half of Gangs of London’s two-part premiere arguably has an even better set piece, courtesy of this same character having to deal with a mountain of a man covered in another person’s blood wielding a meat cleaver. (Meat Cleaver Man is also wearing only underwear and boots, which makes him, frankly, even more terrifying.)
Small Axe (Amazon Prime)
Herman: Small Axe takes its title from a proverb turned ’70s Bob Marley track: “If you are the big tree / We are the small axe.” (Less quoted is the subsequent line: “Ready to cut you down.”) This antagonistic, David-and-Goliath spirit is reflected in two of the three chapters screened for critics in advance, both based on true stories. Mangrove centers on Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), a restaurant owner who became an unlikely leader when his business was the target of police harassment in the late 1960s. Red, White, and Blue follows Leroy Logan (John Boyega), a research scientist who decides to take on the burden of becoming a Black officer in London’s Metropolitan Police. (The fourth film in the series, Alex Wheatle, chronicles the namesake novelist who was imprisoned as a teenager following the Brixton uprising in 1981.) Protest, race, and policing are consistent themes, evergreen subjects that have nonetheless grown more urgently topical since Small Axe was filmed.
The Crown (Netflix)
Brian Phillips: [In Season 4], we’re coming up to the good bits—which is to say, to the epoch of sustained personal tragedy, political turmoil, and anguish that befell this group of real people, most of whom are still alive. (Thinking about The Crown will make you feel like a moral vampire; still, contentment and stability never made for great TV.) The arrivals of Thatcher (Gillian Anderson, mannered, raspy, helmet-haired, and hugely watchable) and of Princess Diana bring us up to something like the modern era in media and politics. The main plots here are the material much of The Crown’s audience remembers—the stuff we don’t have to Google afterward.