Marijke Rowland

Settle in for a long winter’s TV binge watch

Sony Pictures Television

With the holidays fast approaching, many of us are settling our brains for a long winter’s nap.

The coming days will be filled with family, food and, if we’re lucky, some much-needed free time. But instead of using that time to just let visions of sugar plums dance in your head, why not put it to even better use?

The holiday break is a perfect time to binge-watch some shows you might have missed this year. I mean, you’ll already have a fridge overflowing with leftovers and seasonal sweets. So really, the hardest part of binge watching will be done for you: gathering up enough snack food to make it through a marathon session on the couch.

The second hardest part, then, is deciding what to watch. With the seemingly endless options available to us on TV, Internet and streaming services, it can be a bit daunting. But before you go wasting your time catching up on something like “Under the Dome” (spoiler alert: They’re still under it), here are some recommendations to make you feel like a right jolly old elf this season.

The bounty of good programming in the past year has been truly impressive. If you haven’t already devoured “Orange Is the New Black,” do so immediately. Skip the holiday feast with the family and lock yourself in a room with your Netflix account. You can compliment Aunt Carol on her sweet potato casserole next year.

But for those who already have done some time with the ladies of Litchfield – and I hope that is most of you – here are a few new shows that may have escaped your radar. Plus, all these shows are short enough to fit into your holiday down time.

▪ “Transparent” on Amazon Instant: This freshman series from creator Jill Soloway is perfect for those preparing for their own dysfunctional yet loving family reunion. The show stars “Arrested Development” alum Jeffrey Tambor as a transgender parent coming out to her three adult children. The series is filled with subtle insights and shrewd laughs. Best of all, for those with limited binge time, the first season is only 10 30-minute episodes.

▪ “Outlander” on Starz: This new series combines period drama, even older period drama, time travel, mysticism and romance in a seamless swirl of lush adventure. It follows a World War II nurse who goes with her husband on a Scottish vacation in 1945 only to get whisked through time to the Highlands in 1743. The result is stirring, swoony and surprisingly feminist. This will set you back eight one-hour episodes. So plan accordingly and find a proper Scottish tartan blanket to wrap yourself in while watching.

▪ “The Fall” on Netflix: This BBC Two drama stars “X-Files” veteran Gillian Anderson as an English police detective tracking down a serial killer. If you’re expecting an episode of “Criminal Minds” where the killer is caught tidily in 60 minutes, this is not the show for you. Instead, this is a slow-boil cat-and-mouse affair punctuated by a riveting performance from Anderson. As a bonus, American audiences can get a sneak peek at Jamie Dornan, soon to be steaming up the big screen as Christian Grey in the movie adaptation of that naughty book your grandma swears she didn’t read. The first season is five one-hour episodes, which will have you ready for the second season when it debuts on Netflix in January.

Those should at least get you started. So get mama in her kerchief, and yourself in your cap. And settle yourselves in for a long winter’s binge watch.

Elsewhere around the Scene:

Speaking of what to watch, be sure to check out former Modestan Nick Shakoor in a recurring role on the new NBC political drama “State of Affairs.”

The series stars former “Grey’s Anatomy” regular Katherine Heigl as a CIA analyst who handles the daily intelligence briefings for the president, played by Alfre Woodard. Shakoor said he cannot say much about his role, which begins in episode five, airing Monday. According to IMDb, Shakoor will appear in at least three more episodes as a character called Al Moosari, whom intelligence teams are trying to track down.

Shakoor moved to Los Angeles a year and a half ago to pursue acting. He lived in the Central Valley for three years but has had family here for over a decade. His other work includes an appearance on the TV show “The Unit,” a part in the film “Battle for Haditha” and extensive voiceover projects. “State of Affairs” airs at 10 p.m. Mondays on NBC. …

You can catch another former Modestan, singer Sharon McNight, live in San Francisco starting Thursday.

The Modesto native and former Tony Award nominee will present her holiday show, “Twisted Xmas: A Druid’s View of the Holidays,” at Feinstein’s cabaret at the Hotel Nikko for two performances: 8 p.m. Thursday and Dec. 27. “Twisted Xmas” is filled with alternative, irreverent holiday songs rather than traditional carols. Tickets are $25-$40 and are available now by calling 866-663-1063 or visiting

And, finally, looking to laugh this season? Then check out the Christmas in Riverbank Comedy Show on Saturday.

Comedy Co-Op members Ric James and Eddie S return after presenting a sold-out show in October. Joining them will be headliner Kabir “Kabeezy” Singh, as well as fellow comic Dane Madden.

Singh recently appeared on the Comedy Central series “Gabriel Iglesias Standup Revolution.” He has opened for stars including Dave Chappelle, Dane Cook and Russell Peter. The 21-and-older show starts at 8 p.m. at Club 108. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. For more, call (209) 969-7399 or visit

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on Twitter @marijkerowland.