While tradition holds that you should spend the holidays gathered around a tree or a blazing fire, one of the holiday season’s greatest meeting places is actually in front of the television screen. And with good reason: The holiday season provides the lull in professional and social obligations necessary to catch up on important TV shows and get prepared for the onslaught of new programs and returning favorites in the new year. Here are our picks for shows to revisit before 2013 arrives.
The most talked-about show of the year is coming back for its second season on Jan. 13. If you’re not familiar with the first season of the show, now is the perfect time to immerse yourself before Hannah Horvath and her overeducated, underemployed cohorts return for more quarter-life misadventures. Additional incentive to get caught up now: The coming season will feature great guest stars like Rita Wilson and Donald Glover.
The adventures of the aristocratic Crawley clan will promenade into a third season starting on Jan. 6 (in the U.S.; British fans have already seen the episodes)—and with Shirley MacLaine along for the ride, no less. Why not steep yourself in their family history? Wthout a firm grasp of The Dowager Countess’ barbs, Mary Crawley’s love life, O’Brien’s forelocks of evil and all of the other bits that make the show such a pleasure to watch, you won’t be able to appreciate the twists that surely await them.
Don Draper won’t stride back onto TV until the spring, so you have months to take in the first five seasons of AMC’s hit show about mid-century ad men and the odd, boozy lives they lead. And while eggnog hasn’t played a primary role on the show yet, feel free to catch up on old episodes with that—or any other alcoholic drink—in hand.
Skyfall newcomer Ben Whishaw and The Wire alum Dominic West are just two of the great-looking things on The Hour, the BBC series about a 1950s London newsroom and the drama (and amazing clothing) that come along with it. We’re halfway through the second six-episode season of the show in the States, and with episodes at about an hour each, there’s no reason not to catch up in one long session. Just be sure to turn up the volume, as the Brits talking for British audiences can occasionally be harder to decipher than some of the plot’s twists and turns.
ABC’s Revenge, which charts the Hamptons-based vengeance of Emily VanCamp’s character, Emily Thorne, has been one of TV’s most buzzed-about shows since it premiered in 2011. Now that the soapy drama is in its second season—it comes back with new episodes on Jan. 6—see what all the chatter is about before you get too far behind to ever catch up. Bonus: Watching over the holidays will give you plenty of time to hatch ideas for your own evil plots before the summer season begins on Long Island.
The delightfully named British actor Benedict Cumberbatch is going to have a big year in 2013 with roles in the new Star Trek movie, Peter Jackson’s Hobbit franchise, an upcoming Wikileaks movie, and more. There’s no better time to check out one of his most important roles to date, that of the titular detective in this British series with two seasons under its belt and a third said to be coming in late 2013. You’ll also be ready to root for Cumberbatch, a nominee, at Jan. 13’s Golden Globes ceremony. He could use the support—he’s considered a long shot to win.
TRUE BLOOD & SIX FEET UNDER
TV visionary Alan Ball has been a Sunday night guest in millions of households for years, thanks to the two cable shows he’s created. And it would be wise to reacquaint yourself with them, considering that Banshee, his new series for Cinemax, premieres on Jan. 11. While True Blood is about vampires and other things that go bump in the night and Six Feet Under followed a family that ran a funeral home, Banshee focuses on a conman pretending to be the sheriff of a Pennsylvania town and the antics that ensue.
While some TV fanatics never recovered from Keri Russell’s 1999 haircut—a chop blamed for lowering the ratings on the generation-defining show, which ran from ’98 through 2002—now’s a great time to revisit the J.J. Abrams-created show. Why? Not just because of the allure of a young Scott Speedman, but because Russell, who’s kept a low profile in recent years, will come roaring back to TV in January with The Americans, an FX series about 1980s Soviet spies in sleeper cells impersonating everyday Americans.