Thanks to the proliferation of subscription streaming services and digital retailers, it’s incredibly easy these days to watch top-shelf movies and television shows, just by pushing a few buttons on a remote control. And yet perhaps because the outside world seems to be in a constant state of crisis, it’s also perhaps harder than ever to be thankful for the good things in life — including quality home entertainment.
So with a long Thanksgiving weekend ahead, here are a handful of streamable films and TV series that might make you feel more grateful. Some you can watch for free with an internet connection, some you can buy or rent and some require a subscription. All are excellent and a testament to humanity’s remarkable ability to find new ways to tell good stories.
Fifteen years after the quintessential ’90s sitcom went off the air, new generations keep discovering the simple pleasure of hanging out with six neurotic New Yorkers. Viewers in the United States should enjoy “Friends” on Netflix while they can, since it’ll be moving to the new subscription service HBO Max in May. In the meantime, fans can still spend the holiday weekend with a show responsible for some of the funniest Thanksgiving-themed TV episodes of all time.
‘The Good Place’ (Netflix/Hulu/NBC)
If “Friends” was NBC’s flagship sitcom 20 years ago, one could argue the network’s current champ is this inspired afterlife comedy, about a quartet of misfit humans trying to prove they deserve to spend eternity in paradise. Besides having a clever premise, “The Good Place” offers useful reminders of what it takes to be a decent person. The first three seasons are all on Netflix, while the most recent episodes from the fourth and final season can be found on Hulu or on NBC’s website.
‘The Irishman’ (Netflix)
Last year, Netflix distributed the acclaimed, award-winning film “Roma.” This year, beginning on Thanksgiving weekend, the service is pushing another sure-fire Oscar contender in director Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.” There’s a lot to be jazzed about here: from American acting legends Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci sharing the screen; to Netflix letting Scorsese tell an expensive, lengthy, elegiac story, about an aging criminal reflecting on his many mistakes. This film is a work of art and may leave viewers pondering what makes life meaningful.
‘The Mandalorian’ (Disney+)
It’s been streaming for only a few weeks, but “The Mandalorian” is already one of TV’s most talked-about new series. This lean action serial, set in the “Star Wars” universe, has generated social media enthusiasm and fresh memes with each episode. This science-fiction/western hybrid has been a blast, with its thrilling capers and with its adorable central relationship, between a laconic bounty hunter and a super-powered infant best described as “Baby Yoda.” It’s also been fun to see a television show make people on Twitter happy for a change.
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ (CBS All Access)
Despite all the new subscription services debuting this year and in 2020, TV fans shouldn’t neglect CBS All Access, which features some of the streaming world’s strongest original shows (like “The Twilight Zone” and “The Good Fight”) alongside old and new CBS favorites (like “Gunsmoke” and “Evil”). “Star Trek” fans in particular should be grateful that the service has poured so much money into a prequel series with the sense of adventure and camaraderie of the original show but combined with modern prestige TV’s emphasis on serialized storytelling and “wow” effects.
‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ (Amazon Prime Video)
The third season of this delightful retro comedy is due on Amazon in a couple of weeks. Until then, revisit the first 18 episodes, which tell the story of a bored 1950s Manhattan housewife (played with sparkle by Rachel Brosnahan) who discovers a knack for standup comedy. Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino — best-known for the beloved mother-daughter dramedy “Gilmore Girls” — “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is fast-paced and colorful, filled with fabulous fashion and keen observations about evolving gender roles in the mid-20th century.
‘Sweetheart’ (various digital retailers)
Fans of well-crafted genre films are lucky to live in an era when Blumhouse Productions backs so many unusual projects — such as this underseen survivalist thriller, about a shipwrecked young woman (played by Kiersey Clemons) trying to stay alive on the same remote island as a giant, ravenous monster. With its sharp visual storytelling and its expressions of feminist exasperation with controlling men (and beasts), “Sweetheart” is the kind of smart gem that has made Blumhouse’s reputation … and has delighted horror buffs.
‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ (various digital retailers)
What Blumhouse has done for the B-movie business over the last five years, A24 has done for arthouses. Just this year alone, the company has distributed the likes of “The Souvenir,” “The Farewell,” “Midsommar” and “The Lighthouse” — as well as “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” a one-of-a-kind film about two friends fighting to preserve the history and soul of their rapidly gentrifying hometown. This is the kind of personal, profound indie film that seems to be vanishing from the movie landscape. Yet A24 lately has been handling about a dozen of these new classics a year. That’s cause for hope.
‘For Sama’ (PBS)
One of the year’s best documentaries educates viewers about what’s going on in Syria — and may also make some parents hug their children more tightly. Shot over the course of five years, “For Sama” assembles footage of a young couple who gets married, has a baby, and tries to lead a happy and productive life in Aleppo, as it’s being regularly bombed. The film puts a global hotspot into its proper perspective. Unlike some of the other items on this list, because this one was produced by PBS Frontline, it’s available online for free.
‘NewsRadio’ (Sony Crackle)
Speaking of free, anyone who can’t afford all of the new subscription services should know there are still a lot of great TV shows and movies available online for nothing, to viewers who don’t mind watching a few ads. Browse through services like Tubi or IMDb TV — or, in this case, Sony Crackle — and you may even find a peerless comedy masterpiece like the zippy ’90s sitcom “NewsRadio.” That’s something to be thankful for.