New year, new shows. This January, there are plenty of TV shows and movies coming to streaming, and between an animated horse show and a Swedish death cult, there’s something for everyone. Check out everything that’s new on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and Amazon Prime below, as well as a few personal selections from the Ringer staff.
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.
Midsommar (Amazon Prime, January 3)
Adam Nayman: On a purely technical level, Midsommar is as accomplished as Hereditary while cultivating its own distinct look: a sunblind brightness awash in gauzy pastels. There is some of the same geometric precision in cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography, but instead of Hereditary’s concentric style—frames within frames and miniatures within miniatures, all keyed to the theme of characters inhabited by invading forces—the emphasis in Midsommar is on wide-open spaces and high-ceilinged structures, surrounded and filled with verdant greenery that, à la the haunted forest in Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, appears to sway and undulate of its own accord. There are no shadows here, no dark corners with lurking ghosts: Everything is visible, or hiding in plain sight. The superlative production design, meanwhile, encodes narrative information (and several foreboding clues) into the various books, tapestries, and paintings on display. If there is one thing that Aster has taken from The Shining, it’s the idea that decor can tell its own story, and that the background can become foreground in an effective way.
Lodge 49, Season 2 (Hulu, January 13)
Miles Surrey: Lodge 49 doesn’t lend itself to a succinct logline. There are ruminations on alchemy and whether some unseen force is aligning the destinies of the series’ protagonists. There is a secret library with a mummified corpse lying on a cot in its center. There are ancient, long-missing scrolls from Egypt, suspected to be somewhere in Mexico. There are loan sharks, and also a literal shark. At one point, when a character is delivering a speech, a tapeworm begins crawling out of his nose. Watching Lodge 49 can be jarring, but you also get the impression that every minuscule detail, no matter how eccentric or mundane, was planted there for a reason by creator Jim Gavin. Scant threads slowly begin weaving together in the first season to ask a question that just so happens to repeatedly appear on the show in a string of billboards: “Is there another way to live?”
Grown-ish, Season 3 (Hulu, January 17)
Alison Herman: Grown-ish retains the distinctive, candid voice that makes Black-ish such a valuable addition to the modern sitcom roster. Black-ish may be firmly PG, but Kenya Barris and Larry Wilmore (who hosts Larry Wilmore: Black on the Air on the Ringer Podcast Network) infused it with a sneakily razor-sharp ethos. This is the same show that frankly addressed the role of rape in the history of biracial Americans and frequently makes casual jokes about Dre not loving his eldest son. Consequently, Black-ish doesn’t need to make nearly as big a leap to subplots about sex and drugs as other kid-friendly shows might, especially since Grown-ish takes on those subjects with the same topic-of-the-week lens that Black-ish is so fond of.
9-1-1: Lone Star (Hulu, January 20)
Surrey: Fox’s adrenaline-fueled clusterfuck comes from Ryan Murphy, the mind behind artistically ambitious, critically acclaimed projects like the American Crime Story, American Horror Story, and Feud anthology series. 9-1-1 is not that.
Love Island, Season 6 (Hulu, January 20)
Andrew Gruttadaro: Love Island, the British reality show ... is perhaps the perfect reality show. Pulling in elements of Big Brother, Are You the One?, and Bachelor in Paradise to create a show about a group of strangers who are sequestered in a Spanish villa and forced to couple up and then earn the affection of a voting public, Love Island is both a stunning spectacle, a mind-bending powder keg, and a savage social experiment (that yes, comes with ample baggage). More kindly, it is also a testament to the idea that relationships are better fostered with straightforward honesty and nonstop communication, as the Islanders’ proximity forces them to confront their issues with each other head-on.
Dr. Pimple Popper, Season 1 (Hulu, January 22)
Claire McNear: The patron saint of cringecore is Dr. Pimple Popper. In 2015, Sandra Lee, a Southern California–based dermatologist, began regularly filming her work and uploading it to YouTube. Her videos took off, to put it mildly: She’s amassed 3 million followers on Instagram and 5 million subscribers on YouTube, where her obliterations of blackheads and lipomas routinely reach seven-figure views. In 2018, she got her own eponymous show on TLC; this past Super Bowl Sunday featured a six-hour Dr. Pimple Popper marathon. You can now purchase a variety of Lee-sanctioned pimple-popping swag, including a “Popaholics Anonymous” T-shirt, official Dr. Pimple Popper blackhead tweezers, and a board game called “Pimple Pete.” (You begin each round by “loading” the “squishy pimples”; “If you pull any pimple too hard,” the rules caution, “you risk setting off the Mega-Zit on his nose—and the pimple juice will spray your way.”)
The Bold Type, Season 4 (Hulu, January 24)
Herman: Between its freshman and sophomore efforts, The Bold Type switched showrunners from creator Sarah Watson to Amanda Lasher, an alumna of MTV’s cult rape-revenge series Sweet/Vicious. But in fairness to Watson, the pivot away from a Pollyannaish view of journalism started almost as soon as The Bold Type had laid out its premise. After a few episodes writing mostly fluff, Jane began to take on more serious assignments like political profiles, finally matching Scarlet’s bark—Kat likes to boast of the magazine’s “stealth feminism”—with its bite. Jane made screw-ups that corresponded with that boost in responsibility, too: When she didn’t take sufficient precautions to protect a subject’s anonymity, the subject sued Scarlet for defamation despite an otherwise flattering portrayal, teaching Jane a valuable lesson about best intentions. And later in the season, the specter of layoffs and budget cuts loomed over Scarlet and its parent company, a surprisingly frank acknowledgment that the magazine world is well past the days of expense accounts and fat profit margins.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Season 3 (Netflix, January 24)
Herman: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is not the fright fest its title might suggest. The Netflix series starring Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka in the titular, iconic role is, in truth, a bit all over the place—caught somewhere between a bona fide piece of horror, a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the same, and a sincere coming-of-age story, plus a hefty dose of muddled feminist metaphor. Sabrina, the Teenage Witch this is not.
Were we discussing some other show, this description might come off as a criticism. Here, it registers as part of the creators’ grand design. Chilling Adventures 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.
The Ranch, Season 4 (Netflix, January 24)
Chris Ryan: The Ranch has way more in common with Atlanta and Horace and Pete than it does with Two and a Half Men (which Ashton Kutcher also starred in for a spell). It is largely uninterested in The One Where This Happens sitcom structure, instead taking full advantage of the 10-episode block as a storytelling device, doing away with A-plot, B-plot rigidity. Colt comes home full of piss and vinegar, learns to work and eventually love the ranch, falls back in love with his ex, and helps family through an emotionally and financially dire winter. The Ranch’s elevator pitch was conservative values with blue language, but the show’s theme is universal: Not having money in America is really hard.
There’s just enough drama—will the Bennetts make it through the winter; will-they-or-won’t-they plots with Sam Elliott and Debra Winger, and Kutcher and Elisha Cuthbert—to compel you to continue. But the real draw is how lived-in the show feels. The sets have incredibly detailed dressing, and the acting is naturalistic, especially as the season gets its legs and the show finds its voice. It feels more like a play than a sitcom. Despite the audience, the performers never play to the crowd for winking LOLs; they’re present, because they’re playing in a world where something sad can happen right after something funny.
BoJack Horseman, Season 6, Part B (Netflix, January 31)
Herman: Art is often where we go to work through impossible problems on a more manageable scale. Since 2014, one of the most dependable venues to do so has been Netflix’s BoJack Horseman, the animated show that filters a standard lovable-asshole story through a prism of self-reflexive satire and visual gags. BoJack’s show-business commentary has always included a silly-yet-sharp portrayal of Hollywood’s vested interest in protecting known abusers, as when a Season 2 episode introduced a powerful late-night host with elements of both David Letterman and Bill Cosby. Season 5, released last week, continues mining that series-long concern, though this time, the message finds itself amplified by accidental echoes of the three-dimensional world.
“It’s been interesting to see how the show has skipped across the surface of what’s happening in the real world,” says creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg. Every chapter of BoJack represents a phase in the title character’s slow, halting process of improving himself for the better. In Season 3, the embittered has-been sitcom star bottomed out; in Season 4, BoJack came to the hard-earned conclusion that change is difficult, but not impossible. By asking where one goes from there, BoJack dovetails with a discussion that’s dominated headlines for the last several weeks: Once you’ve admitted your screw-ups, how do you start to make up for them? What does it actually mean to try to do better? Or, as BoJack himself puts it: “How do you make something right when you’ve made it so wrong, you can never go back?”
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 Witcher, Season 1 (Netflix)
Herman: A witcher is a professional monster hunter, equipped with genetic mutations—super-slow heart rate, heightened sense of smell, extreme swole-ness—that assist them in monster hunting. But mutations by whom? For what purpose? And why do people seem to hate witchers, which they demonstrate by heckling them in various medieval-ish taverns? I guess I’m already stacking questions at this point—which is a pretty good summary of Witcher.
The Mandalorian, Season 1 (Disney+)
Herman: What little we see of the Mandalorian’s backstory is standard lone-warrior stuff, a jaded fighter whose new protégé puts him in touch with his own lost innocence, Lone Wolf and Cub–style. Where The Mandalorian excels is in world-building, fleshing out a Star Wars subculture until it has all the heft of Jedi lore. The Mandalorian quickly establishes itself as a PG-13, extraterrestrial answer to John Wick, a window into a “guild” with ancient traditions and all-important bylaws. We’re clued in to the rules with dialogue that’s swift and deft, never clumsy: Mandalorians are a tribe that replenishes itself with initiates known as “foundlings”; the iconic armor, best known as Boba Fett’s costume, appears to have an almost religious significance. The raw material is accepted as a down payment for a job, and it’s suggested—though not confirmed—that Mandalorians aren’t allowed to remove their helmets. (That’s pretty much the only excuse I’ll accept for hiding Pedro Pascal’s face. At least Rian Johnson did us the service of getting Kylo’s mask off!)
The Grand Tour, Season 4 (Amazon Prime)
Michael Baumann: The Grand Tour’s Season 4 premiere ... features Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond piloting boats down the Mekong River from Cambodia to Vietnam. And while there are some slightly cringey fish-out-of-water moments, it manages to run 90 minutes without veering into overt racism. More than that, though, it’s a genuinely informative and fun travel program, defined by gorgeous scenery, funny pranks, and enough local history that it feels like something more than empty calories.
The Expanse, Season 4 (Amazon Prime)
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 mankind 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.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Season 3 (Amazon Prime)
Herman: In its third volume, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel allows its heroine to do what its frustrating sophomore effort would not: become good enough at her new vocation to settle into a routine, a machine sufficiently oiled for Susie to step away without fear of collapse. Maisel spent two full seasons dwelling on the same conflict: Would Midge embrace the craft, and unorthodox lifestyle, of stand-up comedy in the aftermath of her divorce, or would she revert to the affluent Jewish family life she was raised to replicate? There wouldn’t be much of a show if Midge seriously entertained the latter, and yet Maisel kept worrying at her identity crisis, stalling her professional progress for lavish, frivolous detours to Paris and the Catskills. But the latest batch of episodes, out Friday, finally allow us to see Maisel’s protagonist as a working comic with an established set of skills and priorities, freeing her for all that comes after the initial commitment.
A random collection of movies and TV shows that are a little more off the beaten path.
What to watch when you need a Hilary Duff fix: A Cinderella Story is a cult classic—the first one, not the five remakes that followed. Don’t watch those, as tempting as they sound (A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish, I’m looking at you!). This 2004 take on the fairy tale features peak pop culture royalty in post–Lizzie McGuire Hilary Duff and One Tree Hill heartthrob Chad Michael Murray. Plus: flip phones! Yes, this is a high school love story, but it’s more of a rich, historical commentary on AIM and why instant messaging was so cool. Also, if you fell in love with Regina King from HBO’s Watchmen this past season, then you’ll adore her as the diner-coworker-turned-fairy-godmother in this movie, I promise. Honestly, not watching this movie more than once when it hits Netflix in January is like waiting for rain during a San Fernando Valley drought—useless and disappointing. —Jordan Ligons
What to watch if you miss The Grinder: ABC single-camera sitcom Bless This Mess (streaming on Hulu), now in its second season, is an archetypal fish-out-of-water comedy: Newlyweds Rio (Lake Bell) and Mike (Dax Shepard) move from New York City to Bucksnort, Nebraska, trading in their careers in therapy and music journalism, respectively, for farming and animal husbandry. In the country, of course, they discover that their strange city ways seem as odd to their new neighbors as Bucksnort’s customs do to them. What elevates Bless This Mess far above the basic premise is its charismatic cast, led by Bell, Shepard, and two wacky local couples (Ed Begley Jr. and Pam Grier, and David Koechner and Lennon Parham). Add a dose of New Girl’s endearing linguistic looseness—the series was cocreated by Bell and New Girl creator Elizabeth Meriwether—and some sweet sentimentality and life lessons, and you’ve got a sitcom stew going. Bless This Mess feels a lot like the dearly departed The Grinder, which (like New Girl and Bless This Mess) was also executive produced by Jake Kasdan, but unlike The Grinder, it got a second season and might still get a third. If you start streaming now, you can catch up before its return in mid-January. —Ben Lindbergh
What to watch to learn about the history of drag: Filmed in New York City in the late ’80s, 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning is mostly about Harlem’s ball culture, which gave queer and trans people of color a place to dress up, show off, and create surrogate families. There’s no shortage of contemporary TV featuring drag––it’s at the center of dramas like Pose and competition shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, and even YouTube series like Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova’s outstanding UNHhhh. That drag shows up everywhere in today’s pop culture makes Paris Is Burning an even more fascinating watch; it’s a catalog of the real-life people and places that inspired today’s pop culture. It’s no surprise, then, that the contents of the film feel relevant even three decades later; a primer on throwing shade is as useful now as it ever was. —Charlotte Goddu