Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Wednesday, November 25. All times are Eastern.
Happiest Season (Hulu, 12:01 a.m., premiere): “Mix The Family Stone with While You Were Sleeping, add a touch of My Best Friend’s Wedding, and give the whole thing a lesbian makeover, and you’ve got Happiest Season, Hulu’s much-anticipated new holiday rom-com starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis. If that makes the film sound a touch derivative, that’s kind of the point. Writer/director/longtime lesbian icon Clea DuVall set out to put a queer spin on the sort of comforting, feel-good holiday romances that straight audiences have been enjoying for decades. And like the similarly trailblazing teen movie Love, Simon, that means Happiest Season feels like nothing you’ve seen before and also like a lot of things you’ve seen before.” Read the rest of Caroline Siede’s film review.
Saved By The Bell (Peacock, 3:01 a.m., complete first season): “Let’s begin with the question we know you’re all asking: Is Zack Morris trash in Peacock’s new spin on Saved By The Bell? Yes. Oh, yes. As we learn in the first few minutes, Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), once the rambunctious ringleader of his high school’s unshakable clique, is now Governor Zack, having turned to politics as part of a Morris-like “scheme” to avoid paying a $75 parking ticket. His first order of business? Slashing $10 billion in education spending to, in part, “bail out the fossil fuel industry.” Good for the billionaires, maybe, but bad for the low-income students of California. With their schools closing en masse, Zack, in an effort to save face, mandates that these kids be shipped to the state’s more affluent schools. Enter: Bayside High, as colorful and dumb as it was in the iconic ’90s sitcom that spawned this revisitation.” Read the rest of Randall Colburn’s pre-air review.
Uncle Frank (Amazon, 12:01 a.m., premiere): “There are two movies at war with each other within Uncle Frank. In the first, Frank (Paul Bettany), a celebrated literature professor at New York University, crumples before the tombstone of a long-lost loved one. He lifts a desperate palm to the stone’s face and covers part of the name there, turning ‘Samuel’ into the more intimate ‘Sam.’ Grief pushes him into the dirt even as his self-loathing unmoors him from the island he’s built for himself; he’s somehow dragged downward and set adrift at once. But then, the second movie asserts itself. Frank’s young niece, Beth (Sophia Lillis), enters the frame and tosses a perfect little theme-nugget at his feet like she’s dropping a gas-station bouquet at a graveside. Like magic, that intricate web of rage and regret vanishes. The sun shines. The bees buzz. Frank smiles and sighs, for all’s well that ends well. And as for homophobia—well, let’s put it the way one of the characters does: ‘No problem.’” Read the rest of Allison Shoemaker’s film review.
The Christmas Chronicles II (Netflix, 3:01 a.m., premiere): “All Chris Columbus wants for Christmas is mayhem. He may not fully admit it, insulating his destructive impulses with protective layers of plastic sentiment, but from his screenplay for the first Gremlins to his direction of the first two Home Alone movies, he clearly yearns to inflict pain in between mandatory expressions of holiday cheer. (This includes the emotional sadism of Stepmom.) Merely producing the mildly slapsticky 2018 Netflix family adventure The Christmas Chronicles clearly didn’t sate his bloodlust, leading him to grab the reins of Santa’s sleigh for The Christmas Chronicles Part II as a director and co-writer, ordering a bunch of chattering CG elves to wreak havoc in the process. Brainwashing Santa’s army of helpers into a gang of violent Gremlin-like mischief-makers isn’t his sequel’s first order of business, but it’s the only change to the Christmas Chronicles formula that feels confident and full-hearted. The rest of his adjustments are simply loud.” Read the rest of Jesse Hassenger’s film review.
Nature, “Santa’s Wild Home” (PBS, 8 p.m.): Nature sent its cameras to Lapland for this episode, which sits firmly in the center of the Venn diagram of “shows about wildlife and nature” and “shows where Santa Claus plays a prominent role.”
The Mystery Of D.B. Cooper (HBO, 9 p.m., premiere): Here’s Katie Rife on HBO’s recent crop of true crime documentaries, which includes this doc on the titular, pseudonymous man who hijacked a 727 in 1971.
Next to its streaming competitors, HBO is a dinosaur. The original pay-cable network will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022, five decades in which it’s built a reputation—well, for many things. But one of them is for hard-hitting true crime documentaries like Paradise Lost (1996) and The Iceman Tapes (1992), films that are less stodgy than PBS and more detailed (and graphic) than an episode of Dateline. (Reruns of Autopsy, anyone?) Of course, the cord-cutting era has upended these dynamics, leaving everyone—even HBO—scrambling to catch up to Netflix and its string of 2010s docuseries hits.
As of November 18, the network is reasserting its dominance with a series of five films that have only two things in common: High production values, and tales of real-life violence and mayhem. Some are serious and straightforward, and some cinematic and speculative. Some search for answers, and some recount the details for posterity. Some, to be honest, are more entertaining than others. But all of them come burnished to a high shine with that HBO prestige gloss.
Keep an eye out for the rest of Katie’s piece, which will run later today.