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11 great ways to pass the time this holiday weekend

Got lots of time ahead of you? Here are some recommendations for great things to watch or play.

HBO, Super Giant Games, Showtime
I May Destroy You, Hades, and The Good Lord Bird are all fantastic choices for your holiday weekend.
HBO, Super Giant Games, Showtime

If you’re living in the United States, there’s a good chance you have a long weekend coming up, in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. Many people will have Thanksgiving off; some will even have the whole four-day weekend off. That leaves plenty of time for rest and relaxation and plenty of time to find new ways to entertain yourself.

In a year when the spike in Covid-19 cases makes gathering with family and friends an especially bad idea, you might be looking for diversions you can enjoy with your immediate household, your romantic partner, or even by yourself.

And if that’s the case, we have you covered. Here are 11 terrific entertainments — six to watch and five to play — to help pass the time. All of them are possible to complete over the long weekend, too, so you can emerge on the other side with something new to recommend to your friends.

Things to watch

City So Real

Steve James knows Chicago; in several of his films, from the Oscar-nominated 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams to 2011’s The Interrupters to the 2018 docuseries America to Me, he’s explored the third-largest city in the US through the stories of its residents, often illuminating the complexities of bigger national issues by showing how they actually play out in individual lives. Any of these works would make for a great weekend marathon watch — they’re all highly entertaining and thought-provoking.

But in 2020, the clear choice is James’s docuseries City So Real, for which he focused on the groundbreaking 2019 Chicago mayoral election. The race featured a crowded field of candidates seeking to distinguish themselves and gain constituents’ trust, against the backdrop of protests over the impending Lincoln Yards development project and the trial of police officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. The winner, Lori Lightfoot, took over the city during a period of immense unrest and has been criticized for her response to everything from protests over police brutality to Covid-19. So after City So Real’s festival run pre-pandemic, James directed a fifth episode of the series focusing on how Chicago has been changed during this very unusual year. It’s an engrossing, enlightening portrait of a city — and a country — at an inflection point, and a love letter to Chicago, too. (City So Real is streaming on Hulu; five episodes)

—Alissa Wilkinson

The Good Lord Bird

An adaptation of James McBride’s National Book Award-winning 2013 novel of the same name, this seven-episode Showtime miniseries is a surprisingly comic romp through the life of abolitionist John Brown, as played by Ethan Hawke.

Brown led the 1859 raid on an armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in the hope that his actions would inspire a nationwide rebellion against slavery; Hawke gives a tremendous performance in the role, both ferocious and funny, and his character’s relationship with a young slave named Onion (Joshua Caleb Johnson) who ends up traveling with him provides a poignant center for the series.

The central question of The Good Lord Bird’s narrative — what is the most effective way to act when you believe your nation is complicit in evil — is always relevant, but it’s rarely presented in as lively a fashion as it is here. (The Good Lord Bird is available to Showtime subscribers across all Showtime platforms, and the series premiere is available for free on Showtime’s website; seven episodes)

—Emily VanDerWerff

How To With John Wilson

How To With John Wilson is both thought-provoking and absolutely hilarious, truly the most winning of combinations any television show can offer. Director John Wilson films everything around him, everywhere he goes, capturing footage in his neighborhood in Queens, at an office building in Midtown Manhattan, on the floor of a scaffolding industry trade show in New Orleans.

Then he sorts it into themed episodes and narrates it all, making himself the active lead character in this fascinating “instructional” docuseries about a variety of topics he finds interesting or elusive. Wilson has an impeccable knack for observational commentary, and every image that appears on screen is perfectly curated and arranged to match the script, making for some of the smartest visual humor on TV now or ever.

If you’ve ever wondered about how to make small talk or how to cover your furniture to protect it from your cat’s claws, well, so has John Wilson. But each new search for answers leads John to surprising places, and you will love following along with every step of the journey. (Available to stream on HBO and HBO Max; six episodes once the season one finale airs Friday, November 26)

—Allegra Frank

I May Destroy You

Michaela Coel is transfixing in I May Destroy You, a riveting and elegiac series that’s part mystery, part drama, part comedy, and part dream. Arabella (Coel, who created the show and wrote every episode) is a millennial writer with a new book deal, one that she landed after her first book, based on her funny tweets, enjoys huge success.

But Arabella is distracted by too much else in her life to really get the ball rolling on her sophomore effort. The biggest thing robbing her of her focus is her rape, which happened one night at a bar when she was drugged by a man she can’t remember. It’s a heavy and dismaying premise, and the show never lets you forget that.

Still, I May Destroy You isn’t all about dragging Arabella through the mud as she tries to solve her own mystery; the show’s surprising charm comes from how conscious it is that Arabella has a busy life that soldiers on beyond that one terrible night, with joy, with reckoning, with ambition — even as the trauma seeps into nearly every part of it. (I May Destroy You is available to stream on HBO and HBO Max.)

—AF

Love Fraud

It happens more than most of us realize: A woman meets a nice man who compliments her, makes her feel special, takes her dancing, tells her she’s his soulmate. They move in together. They get married. And then one day he’s just gone. Efforts to locate him unveil a dark truth: He was never who he said he was.

This story has been told before — the podcast and resulting TV show Dirty John is one of the most famous examples — but Love Fraud, a four-episode Showtime documentary series, tells it in a way that underscores how cons like this are both mundane and totally wild. Love Fraud centers on one man, Richard Scott Smith, who was at large when production began. The series is full of twists and turns, and what it learns about Smith is eye-opening. He’s not conning wealthy women or murdering them, like so many men of his kind; he’s targeting ordinary women who fall for him and then leaving them.

Sometimes he takes money as he disappears, but mostly it seems like he’s after their dignity. Love Fraud is highly bingeable, but it’s not just gawking at a trainwreck; it’s asking us to consider what kind of a man would do this sort of thing, and what it would take for women, and the society around them, to fight back. (Love Fraud is available to Showtime subscribers across all Showtime platforms; four episodes)

—AW

We Are Who We Are

Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino’s keen eye for coming-of-age tales is a huge boon to this eight-episode HBO series about two teenagers meeting at a US Army base in Italy. A young man named Fraser arrives at the base in the series’ first episode alongside his two mothers — the series’ queer representation is matter-of-fact and lovely — and quickly finds himself drawn to Caitlin, a girl around his age.

But Caitlin, Fraser soon learns, is navigating complicated feelings around gender, and will sometimes ask Fraser to use the name Harper when they’re hanging out together. That could make We Are Who We Are sound like a story about trans identities, but the series gains its power from the way it blends smart storytelling about gender into a larger narrative about teenage loneliness and the importance of finding exactly the right friend at exactly the right moment. (We Are Who We Are is available to HBO Max and HBO subscribers; eight episodes)

—EV

Things to play

Among Us

For an easy-to-play video game that just about anyone can get into, Among Us is a popular choice. Gameplay requires a group of friends, strangers, or both (up to 10 players total; you can log in by yourself to be matched with other players or set up private games with friends) to work together on a spaceship, keeping the machinery up and running while completing a variety of tasks.

But at least one person in the group will be designated as a secret schemer whose role is to take out the other players without getting exposed. Debates can get heated when everyone comes together to deliberate on who among us is the imposter, but it’s all in good fun. Even AOC is a fan. (Among Us is available free on iOS and Android devices and $4.99 for Windows PCs)

—AF

For the Queen

For the Queen is the best tabletop role-playing game out there for beginners. It’s quick, easy, and fun for players of all skill levels. Plus, it’s playable with anywhere from two to six people, which makes it a good fit for families of all sizes.

Players take on the roles of a retinue traveling with a queen on a long journey. The queen can be a traditional fairy-tale queen. She can be a queen bee. She could be the homecoming queen. The important thing is nobody actually plays her. Instead, by answering open-ended questions about the queen and her followers, read off cards as they are drawn, players fill in details about the ruler and the journey. Playable in under two hours and available on the online platform Roll20, For the Queen is a great way to spend an afternoon. (Available in physical and digital form from Roll20)

—EV

Hades

This video game stretches the definition of “you can complete it in a weekend” by assuming that you will pour all of your free time into it (and given how much is contained within it, you might never discover all of Hades’ secrets). But honestly, Hades is such a good game that you just might want to give an entire weekend to it.

Players control Zagreus, the son of Hades, Greek god of the underworld, as Zagreus attempts to escape the afterlife. He dies in the process. He dies a lot. But because he’s already in the underworld, Zagreus gains new abilities and knowledge from each escape attempt, and his relationships with the other gods and mythic figures in the underworld evolve over time.

Hades is very difficult, but the fact that dying actually adds new content to the game makes it easier to push past frustration and keep going; alternately, if it’s too difficult, playing in “god mode” reduces the difficulty level to zero so you can just experience the story, which is compelling and fascinating on its own. And because the layout of the underworld changes with every new playthrough, the game is incredibly replayable. (Available on Steam, the Epic Game Store, and Nintendo Switch)

—EV

The Pathless

The Pathless is an atmospheric video game where players assume the role of a young hunter roaming a wide-open world, mostly following her own compass. This wandering hero is avowed to lift a curse off the island she’s found herself on, armed only with a bow and arrow and her adorable eagle sidekick to help her get around.

The game provides no world map to direct the hunter as to where to go: She is guided only by her own instincts about where the dangerous, evil spirits haunting the island may be hiding. The good thing is that the hunter can do this with abandon, as there is no way for her to die; only her items are lost in this game, not her life. The Pathless is a stylish and not-very-long adventure that will immerse you within a beautiful world; you can even pet the very cute eagle that follows the hunter around. (The Pathless is available as part of an Apple Arcade subscription, or on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PCs for $39.99)

—AF

Rummikub Onyx

One of the best board games out there is also one of the simplest. Rummikub has existed in Europe and Israel since the 1940s, but it only became a success in the US in the late 1970s. Up to four players draw numbered tiles out of a bag. The tiles come in four colors; a player can lay down a run of three or more consecutive numbers in the same color, or a set of three or more tiles of the same number in different colors.

Once a player has made their initial play (of tiles equaling 30 or more points), they can add tiles to the sets laid down by other players. If you don’t have any playable tiles you have to draw a tile, and the first person to play all their tiles wins. Rummikub really is that simple, but it’s also one of those games that’s a little different every time through, and it’s suitable for children who know numbers and colors (though they might need a little time to catch on).

The game’s new Onyx edition mostly gives everything better production values — sleek black tiles, in particular. But either way, Rummikub is a great tabletop game that most people can pick up right away. (Available anywhere board games are sold; there’s also a free digital version on the Apple and Google Play stores)

EV