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Thursday, July 18, 2024

10 good TV shows to stream over the holidays

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We don’t just play videogames at PC gamer. Sometimes we watch other people play videogames on Twitch. And sometimes we watch actors on TV pretend to be characters we know and like from videogames. And sometimes we just watch regular TV shows. So, we’re normal, more or less. 

Like many other normal people, we’ve made a habit of sharing TV recommendations with each other, which has been especially useful this year, when even if you’re burnt out on videogames, there’s not much to do but go for walks outside if you can or find something else to do at home. We thought we’d share some of those recommendations, so if you’re looking for some non-interactive entertainment over the holidays, here are some of the shows we’ve been bugging each other to watch.

We’ve put this list together with a slight bias for new shows and shows that are at least vaguely related to gaming, but we’ve also included some old anime just because, as well as a show based on an NBC Sports promo, so the emphasis is on slight.

Ted Lasso

Where to stream it: Apple TV+
Why you should watch it: It will make you happy.

If you haven’t watched Ted Lasso yet, you’re probably sick to death of hearing people talk about it. So I’ll be quick: One of the writers and creators of this show is Bill Lawrence, the man behind Scrubs. Like Scrubs at its best, it manages a sublime balance of sweetness, goofiness, and sincerity. Its characters are ridiculous, and yet manage to feel like real people. You may expect it to be cloying, but instead it’s disarming. You don’t have to care a bit about sports to love this show, and every day of the holiday season you spend watching it is a day you’ll feel a little bit happier. And then, uh, play Football Manager or something. —Wes Fenlon

The Witcher

Where to stream it: Netflix
Why you should watch it: It’s a pulpy fantasy vacation from the problems of Earth.

The Witcher season two has been in production off and on throughout the year, and no one is sure when exactly it’ll release. Mid-to-late 2021, if I had to guess. In the meantime, it’s been a year since the first season released, and that’s enough time to have gotten fuzzy on the details of this particular adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher books. Maybe now’s the time for a rewatch?

If you haven’t watched season one of The Witcher, it’s often goofy—Henry Cavill wrestles with a little devil goat guy in the second episode—and its best bits are when two characters are alone together, annoying each other. When it zooms out to the fantasy epic scale, it’s a little less successful, but still fun. The first episode contains snippets of everything to come, although I thought it was one of the weaker episodes, so you might want to try giving it two before making a call on whether or not to watch the rest. James wrote more about it last year.  —Tyler Wilde

The Expanse

Where to stream it: Amazon
Why you should watch it: It’s 4X Sci-fi Strategy game: The Show.

Season five of this excellent show based on James S.A. Corey’s novels just hit, which means you’ll have a couple dozen hours of grounded sci-fi and galactic conflict to untangle. Don’t let the first season’s clearly limited budget throw you—The Expanse eventually gets the pretty sets and effects it deserves. Watch it for the cool ship battles that hinge on realistic treatments of G-force, and some slow burn, truly ‘other’ alien encounters. Most unbelievable though? How The Expanse grows its pulpy cardboard characters into fascinating, pained people. —James Davenport

What We Do in the Shadows

Where to stream it: Hulu
Why you should watch it: Vampires with heart.

We didn’t get Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 this year, but we did get another season of a whimsical and surprisingly touching vampire comedy. It’s a small miracle that What We Do in the Shadows adapts a cult movie into a thematically consistent TV show with an all-new cast, surely helped that Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s hands are all over it. The visual language and mockumentary style of meta-interviews gives the show a pleasant rhythm, and the stories don’t indulge too much on horror references. 

The must-watch episode from season two is “On The Run” (when you’re done, read an oral history of the ep over on Decider), where one of the leads, Lazlo, goes on the lam and stumbles into a micro-show of its own. Matt Berry’s DNA-level absurdity and stately intonation are given so much room to shine in this episode. —Evan Lahti

Derry Girls

Where to stream it: Netflix
Why you should watch it: It’s ’90s Irish Booksmart set at the end of the Northern Ireland Conflict.

Derry Girls is, without a doubt, one of the best shows on TV right now. For a show set at the tail end of a decades-long conflict, it’s incredible how well Derry Girls weaves its backdrop into the lives of its characters without swallowing the story whole. The two seasons out now are supremely funny and often wholesome, propped up by spectacular episodes like the Season 1 pilot and Season 2’s road trip to Belfast. None of it would work if the core group of women (and one James) at its center weren’t tremendously well-acted. It’s also a great way to virtually tour Ireland’s gorgeous deep green countryside, especially for a Californian desert boy like me.  —Morgan Park

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Where to stream it: Adult Swim
Why it’s good: The best iteration of a long-running series about future cops.

Less famous than the 1995 movie, this early 2000s Ghost in the Shell series is the best realization of Major Kusanagi and her team of special forces operatives. Its first season, especially, is brilliant, weaving in and out of a perfect cyberpunk mystery about a hacker called The Laughing Man who no one can identify. There’s corporate espionage, political corruption, great action scenes, and some surprisingly thoughtful ruminations on what makes one human in an era of sophisticated robots and advanced cyberbrains. It manages all this while also fleshing out characters who are kinda just there in other versions of Ghost in the Shell. Even if it stars the cops rather than the punks, it’s still among the smartest, coolest cyberpunk you can watch. —Wes Fenlon

How To With John Wilson

Where to stream it: HBO Max
Why you should watch it: It’s human and hilarious.

There are only six episodes of How To With John Wilson, but they’re all tied for the best episode. John takes his camera through New York filming everything and trying to answer a question, like how to improve your memory or how to split the check. And he usually winds up miles away from that topic due to the oddball New Yorkers he meets along the way. There’s a fair share of cringe (the executive producer is Nathan Fielder of Nathan For You, master of cringe) but it’s also a very human show and often a bit moving. Please note: if you watch it, actually fucking watch it. With your eyes. The whole time. Don’t scroll through your phone while you listen, because so many of its jokes are told through its brilliant editing. —Chris Livingston

Bubblegum Crisis

Where to stream it: Retro Crush
Why you should watch it: A dozen cyberpunk influences put in a blender with ’80s J-pop.

Made at the height of boom-era Japan’s anime excess in the late 1980s, this series stars a quartet of girls (with perfect ’80s hair) fighting an evil dystopian megacorp and the Terminator-like robots they unleash on Tokyo. They fight in exosuits, naturally. Expect loads of lasers, cool motorcycles, montages set to pop rock interludes, and ideas cribbed from all over the place. If you’ve ever seen “rock & roll fable” Streets of Fire, Bubblegum Crisis’s intro is a straight copy, just with sci-fi and J-pop instead of classic Americana. Where Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is serious, thoughtful sci-fi, this is pure bubblegum fun. —Wes Fenlon


Where to stream it: Vudu (Season 1 only), VRV (Seasons 1-3)
Why you should watch it
: It’s a bunch of comedians and actors playing D&D and having their adventures animated.

I wish Netflix would pick this show up already. It’s gold. Dan Harmon (Community, Rick & Morty) plays D&D (technically Pathfinder, I think) with comedians Erin McGathy and Jeff B. Davis, and their adventures are wonderfully animated. Each episode a different guest plays with them, including Nathan Fillion, Patton Oswalt, D’Arcy Carden, Kumail Nanjiani, Aubrey Plaza, Tom Kenny, Elizabeth Olsen, and tons more comedians and actors. It’s a great mix of improv comedy, role-playing, and animation, and despite all that star power the real hero of HarmonQuest is game master Spencer Crittenden who wrangles the cast, keeps the adventure moving, and is just as brilliantly witty as all the comedians playing.—Chris Livingston


Where to stream it: HBO Max
Why you should watch it: It’s a show based on how videogame open worlds work.

There are plenty of reasons to watch Westworld, but one of the pleasures I found here is how influenced it is by open world games. The basic concept of the original film on which this series is based is a theme park that fulfills a wild west fantasy: humans pay and go in, ‘live’ their cowboy dream with android actors, then leave. Of course things don’t go quite that smoothly, and I won’t say any more, but this reimagining shows the park operating like any big-budget open world game, with NPCs having set paths and story arcs that can be interrupted by ‘players’, and the park responding to these actions with emergent behaviours and pre-planned story loops. If you ever wonder about how games push your buttons, and make you feel in control when you’re not, this is the show to watch.  —Rich Stanton

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