It isn’t always easy to pick something to watch if you’re reuniting with your family over the holidays. Tastes vary radically between generations and individual family members, so does tolerance for sex, violence, profanity, conflict, religious or political messaging, or even specific genres. Each family is different, but in the wide world of streaming media, there’s always going to be something that hits the sweet spot and saves you from having to endure NCIS or The Big Bang Theory again. With that in mind, The Verge staff has assembled a list of streaming films and TV shows that have created enthusiasm in our personal family viewing — or at least a tolerable detente. Maybe these recommendations can help you prepare some companionable family downtime in the days ahead.
Who’s it for? Families with children, families avoiding strong content, families comfortable with recreational drug use, and everyone in between who can tolerate cartoons and fun.
Why? A whimsical, often surreal cartoon about a young boy named Finn and his talking dog Jake, Adventure Time has been delighting children and stoners since its seven-minute pilot went viral back in 2007. But there’s also a surprising sophistication hiding beneath its candy kingdoms and flying rainbow unicorns. Over the last 10 seasons, the show has turned silly characters like an ice king and a vampire queen into layered, complex characters who explore themes like love, loss, regret, and even mental illness in all-ages-appropriate ways. A close reading of the show even reveals that the magical Land of Ooo was built on the ashes of an apocalyptic event that killed billions of people a thousand years earlier, and that event continues to cast a subtle shadow for attentive viewers. There’s a lot of depth in the details, or you can just listen to dogs sing songs about bacon pancakes. The choice is yours.
Crazy Rich Asians
Who’s it for? Families, rom-com lovers, and anyone who’s ready to see more Asian representation in big American studio films.
Why? It’s a quirky romantic comedy about an Asian-American girl who travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s ridiculously wealthy family. The themes about family expectations, cultural differences, unconditional love, and, ultimately, learning to support one another above all should be relatable to most families. It’s also a lively, funny, and beautifully shot movie, the kind of candy-colored fantasy that lets its audience revel in the atmosphere of fancy spas, tremendous parties, and enviable-looking food.
Who’s it for? Reality TV lovers, people with short attention spans, anyone who isn’t easily offended by bad cooks.
Why? Maybe you totally bombed that crème brûlée you bought all-new bakeware and a mini blowtorch to make. Feel better about it by watching amateur bakers rush to re-create impossibly intricate cakes in a limited amount of time. It’ll remind you that sometimes failures are entertaining — as long as they’re not your own. Plus, each episode is less than 30 minutes long, so you can easily binge-watch for a few hours and come out with a better appreciation for fully cooked pies, even if dad did forget to buy the whipped cream.
Where to find it: Netflix. A new “holiday season” of the show is premiering on December 7th, so this is a good time to get caught up and prepped for further holiday streaming.
The Princess Bride
Who’s it for? As the frame story suggests, The Princess Bride was expressly designed for families to share. The bulk of the action is a longtime favorite fable an elderly man (Peter Falk) is reading to his grandson (Fred Savage), who starts out as a reluctant listener but gradually gets into the story. It’s a fantasy adventure, full of action and danger, and as Falk’s character says, “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” It’s also wryly funny enough to be disarming for adult viewers.
Why? The recent death of screenwriter William Goldman has sparked the inevitable resurgence in interest in his work, from his Oscar-winning scripts like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men to his lively Hollywood memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade. But The Princess Bride — which he wrote both as a comic fantasy novel and a screenplay — is his most widely accessible work. And Rob Reiner’s 1987 film adaptation streamlined the story while keeping the quotable dialogue and adding a tremendous cast.
The Good Place
Who’s it for? Families that run the gamut from religiously conservative to agnostically liberal. This is a show about the afterlife, but it’s designed to be accessible for everyone. It also doesn’t feature profanity or severely dark themes, so younger viewers should be welcome.
Why? The Good Place is like a prep course for a philosophy major: it explores what it means to be a good person. But it’s also endearingly funny. It offers the physical comedy we used to expect of Saturday Night Live, and it encourages families to discuss their own beliefs system in a really non-threatening way. Put it on to laugh mindlessly or to strike up philosophical conversations that avoid the pitfalls of modern politics and discuss what it truly means to be human.
The Great British Baking Show
Who’s it for? Anyone with a heart.
Why? This show is practically a cliché among safe streaming recommendations. The stakes are only as high as your leavened bread will rise. If you want to see a reality show that avoids every competitive instinct, and instead presents a blueprint of how people competing for the same goal can still support each other, it’s required watching. There’s no way you can really brawl with family over this! Bonus: you will legitimately learn more about puddings and pastries than you thought was possible.
Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman
Who’s it for? Anyone who loves sweets and can read subtitles or understand Japanese.
Why? There are lots of shows about people living double lives. There’s something thrilling about the tension of a seemingly regular person trying to maintain a veil of normalcy, while maintaining a separate identity as a serial killer or vigilante hero. Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman has that same tension, but with a much more lighthearted premise. Kantaro is a highly motivated, organized book salesman who’s frequently his company’s top-selling rep. But it’s all a front: in actuality, his life is entirely devoted to sweets. He plans his sales routes around restaurants and works extra fast so he has time to sneak in ice cream or pancakes before he goes back to the office. He even reviews his treats on an anonymous blog.
The show is all about him keeping this important part of himself secret, but the best part of the show is just how silly it is. Sometimes Kantaro will see peaches or sweet plums in his dreams. There a guest appearance from Leo Tolstoy. Memorable lines include “my peach-powered thighs are in season,” and “we are merely dancing in the hand of the great sugar Buddha.” It’s goofy and surprisingly sweet, and it will definitely prep your appetite for post-Thanksgiving dessert.
Where to find it: Netflix.
If You Are the One
Who’s it for? Anyone who loves gossip or hearing about other people’s love lives.
Why? If You Are the One — the Chinese title translates literally as “If you’re not sincere, don’t bother me” — is a silly dating game show where people discuss topics both deep and shallow, like how they want an ideal partner to treat them, whether a fanciful playboy can be faithful, and other interesting conundrums, all paired with a healthy dose of shade.
After a contestant declared she would “rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle” when it came to finding a lover, Chinese state officials stepped in to curb the show’s “wrong values.” As a result, the show no longer talks much about sex and money, making it a solid family pick. Take all of the love advice with a grain of salt, and be prepared to sink a good hour into hearing about how people in modern China are finding romance.
Where to find it: On YouTube with English subtitles.
What We Do in the Shadows
Who’s it for? Fans of Christopher Guest movies, Flight of the Conchords, and Thor: Ragnarok.
Why? Before Taika Waititi directed one of the best superhero movies of all time (Ragnarok, obviously), he teamed up with Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement on this perfect mockumentary about a group of vampires flatting together in New Zealand. The pair co-directed and star as two of the vampires: a prissy, chore-conscious romantic and a former terror who’s hopelessly determined to regain the fearsome glory of his bloodier youth. Their flatmates include an 8,000-year-old crypt-dweller and the (183-year-old) “young rebel” who plays pranks on humans before killing them.
The title might suggest a gritty, sad film in the vein of Let the Right One In or A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, but instead, it’s one of those movies you’ll have to pause so the family can manage their giggles over lines like “Would you like some… basghetti?” and “We’re werewolves, not swear-wolves!” It’s rated R for “bloody violent content, some sexual material and language,” but as long as your tween is okay with extremely exaggerated vampire bloodbaths and a few dick jokes, you should be good to go for family movie night. Bonus: you’ll be getting up to speed on Waititi and Clement’s forthcoming TV adaption for FX, which will follow a new gang of vampire flatmates in Staten Island. It’s slated to debut sometime next year.