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Winter TV Watch List: Go West, and a Double Sendoff for Hailee Steinfeld

A look at some highlights from the world of TV and streaming for the week of December 18-24

Christmas time is almost here and the networks and streamers are breaking out the biggest packages they have to keep you relentlessly entertaining during the break. That means the spin-off of one of the biggest shows on television, two huge finales, and some of the most colossal movies of the year. And that’s to start!

On with the television!

1883, LaMonica Garrett as Thomas and Sam Elliot as Shea of the Paramount+ original series 1883.
©2021 ViacomCBS, Inc. All Rights Reserved

1883”
Sunday, December 19, Paramount+

The “Yellowstone” universe is expanding. Paramount’s hit series gets an out-and-out Western prequel with “1883,” which follows an earlier generation of the Dutton family as they travel from Texas to Montana and establish the Yellowstone Ranch. (Kevin Costner plays modern-day John Dutton in the main series.) The new cast is superb – Sam Elliott plays a cowboy who helps the group travel West, and real-life husband-and-wife duo of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill play James and Margaret Dutton (John’s grandparents), homesteaders striking out for a better tomorrow. Also, the guest stars are already insane – the premiere is a two-episode event; Billy Bob Thornton shows up in the first episode as a sheriff and in the second episode none other than Tom Hanks makes an appearance as General George Meade, a real-life historical figure known for his defeat of Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg. This not only sounds like a fun addendum to “Yellowstone,” one of the most popular shows on television, but also a rousing adventure in its own right. We’re ready to lay claim. [TRAILER]

winter tv finale
Hailee collage
Disney+/Apple TV+

“Hawkeye” / “Dickinson”

Wednesday, December 22, Disney+ / Friday, December 24, Apple TV+

It’s a double dose of Hailee Steinfeld finales! First, on Wednesday, Marvel Studios’ “Hawkeye” comes to an end (or does it?), as Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop and Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) finally face down the Tracksuit Mafia and the man behind the operation, Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio). At Christmas, no less! This has easily been the most enjoyable, most handsomely produced Marvel Studios TV show so far. It’ll be interesting if, like “Loki,” Disney+ throws a post-credits tag that tease’s Kate Bishop’s return for a season 2. (It’s our Christmas wish!) Certainly not returning for another season is Steinfeld’s other beloved prestige streaming series, “Dickinson.” Friday marks the very end of this kooky, revisionist period drama based on the life of fabled poet Emily Dickinson (played, of course, by Steinfeld). After nearly 30 episodes, Emily will be putting down her pen for good. It’s so hard to say goodbye to these Steinfeld-led gems (much less twice) and we do so with a heavy heart. [DICKINSON INTERVIEW]

winter tv watch list movie
Matrix Resurrections
Photo: Warner Bros

The Matrix Resurrections”

Wednesday, December 22, HBO Max

There are a lot of big movies coming out this week (see below); you will have no shortage of first-rate cinematic options this holiday. But the most essentially (and indeed the most vibrantly entertaining) is “The Matrix Resurrections,” the fourth chapter in the saga started in 1999 and seemingly concluded in 2003 with the release of the second and third installments (incredibly released a little more than six months apart in the same calendar year). So what brought Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss back? Well, as a wise man once said, no one can be told what the Matrix is, you’ve got to see it for yourself. But it’s fair to say that this is the funniest, most playful entry in the franchise yet, one which ponders its own reason for being just as much as any of the characters searching for their own existential truth. With a terrific supporting cast including Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick (who steals every scene she’s in), Jonathan Groff and most of the actors on the Wachowskis’ beloved Netflix series “Sense8,” it definitely feels new and fresh while still being a part of that “Matrix” world we love so dearly. Also, not a bad idea to brush up on the earlier films, particularly the contentious sequels, before watching this new one. [FIRST IMPRESSIONS]

winter tv watch list documentary
Reopening Night
HBO

“Reopening Night”

Monday, December 20th at 10 pm, HBO

This new feature-length documentary, directed by Rudy Valdez, has inauspicious timing. While the documentary charts New York’s fabled Public Theater as it deals with the impact of the pandemic and the racial reckoning of last summer (spurred, in part, by the killing of George Floyd), theater itself is having a setback amid the emergence of the Omicron variant. (As of this writing, many big Broadway shows have gone dark as a result of breakout infections among the cast and crew. Not great for the critical holiday tourist corridor.) Still, the documentary offers a peek behind the curtain of a genuine New York artistic landmark. Who cares if the whole time you’re just bracing yourself for the sequel? [TRAILER]

winter tv watch rewatch of the week
Sense8
Netflix

“Sense8”
Netflix

As mentioned above, a good portion of the “Sense8” cast shows up in “The Matrix Resurrections,” which is directed by one of the show’s co-creators Lana Wachowski, and written by “The Pit,” the hive mind behind the show’s feature-length finale (Wachowski, David Mitchell and Alexander Hemon, with help from Tom Tykwer). If you’ve never experienced “Sense8,” it is a singular work of television in an era where many shows claim that but few deliver. The show follows a group of individuals, scattered around the globe, who find themselves connected in unique and unexpected ways. If that sounds cliché, the actual execution is anything but. “Sense8” was formally daring and still seems like a trailblazer thanks to the diversity of its cast, not only ethnically but also in its use of trans and LGBTQ+ performers and characters. Time to let your freak flag fly and get lost in the world of “Sense8.” Neo would want it that way. [WATCH]

winter tv watch best of the rest

“Being the Ricardos”
Tuesday, December 21, Amazon Prime Video

Writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s latest true-life drama charts the rocky relationship between Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnez (Javier Bardem) and the production of their hit show “I Love Lucy” over the course of a single week. If you’re a Sorkin fan, you’ll probably really enjoy “Being the Ricardos,” all of his hallmarks are certainly there – rat-a-tat dialogue, condensing multiple historical details into a single streamlined narrative, and moments where every character gets to have a big, emotional moment. And while not everything about the film works (there is a baffling talking-head wraparound device), it is just as blustery and full of life as anything else Sorkin has created. It’s also the perfect watch-at-home-with-a-bunch-of-the-family movie. [REVIEW]

“Emily in Paris”
Wednesday, December 22, Netflix

Emily is back! The surprise Netflix hit, which stars the great Lily Collins as an American who moves to Paris to give an American perspective to a French marketing firm. Of course, when she gets there, she falls in love multiple times and wears a bunch of outrageous hats. The second season of the show, which was created and is executive produced by “Sex and the City’s” Darren Star, looks like it’s doubling down on everything that you loved about the first season while adding even more complications for our heroine. Not even her French class is free of romantic entanglements. Exhausting! [TRAILER]

“The Silent Sea”
Friday, December 24, Netflix

Could this be the next “Squid Game?” Netflix’s latest South Korean genre import looks to be similarly gripping appointment television. The premise is positively gripping: In the near future, a group of astronauts travel to a research outpost on the moon to retrieve vital samples. While there, they start to uncover deadly secrets and something decidedly more sinister than they were expecting. It looks like a terrific combination of “For All Mankind” and something like “Alien.” And the cast is wonderful too, led by Gong Yoo (from “Squid Game”) and the enchanting Bae Doona (from, yet again, “Sense8”!) The eight episodes will undoubtedly make for an edge-of-your-couch holiday binge. [TRAILER]

“Encanto”
Friday, December 24, Disney+

Coming to Disney+ on Christmas Eve, “Encanto” is the 60th feature-length animated film from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Magnificently animated, the film charts the Family Madrigal, a Colombian clan whose members are each given a magical power … all except Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who has a startling vision of the family losing their magic. Both relatable and utterly transporting, the story of “Encanto” is surprising and fun. Directed by “Zootopia” veterans Byron Howard and Jared Bush, with a soundtrack full of dazzling new songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Encanto” is the kind of Disney classic that you want to watch again as soon as you finish it. And now you can finally do that! Don’t wait to unwrap this one. It’s very special indeed. [INTERVIEW]

“Don’t Look Up”
Friday, December 24, Netflix

“Don’t Look Up” is one of the bigger Netflix original movies of the season, one that looks to straddle the populist and awards audiences. “The Big Short” director Adam McKay’s satire stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as astronomers who discover a planet-killing asteroid hurdling towards Earth. Of course, this being 2021, they are met with disbelief and outright hostility – from the media (like talk show hosts played by Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry), from the U.S. government (Meryl Streep is the president and Jonah Hill is her idiot son chief-of-staff) and from the corporate establishment (Mark Rylance plays a more sinister Steve Jobs-type figure who wants to harvest the asteroid). As bleak as it is funny, the film feels like a synthesis of the two types of movies McKay has made throughout his career – a goofball comedy like “Step Brothers” and the more piercing social satire of “Vice.” [REVIEW]