Set yourself up for a fruitful fall in TV, movies, and culture

Don’t be a pumpkin this autumn.
Don’t be a pumpkin this autumn.
Image: Netflix
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If spring is for cleaning your literal home, then let autumn be the time to clean your metaphorical entertainment and culture house.

The summer is over, and it’s time to take stock of what you missed when you were at the beach, and think about what you’re looking forward to watching, experiencing, and taking in over the next few months

Fall can be a busy time, with holidays and fourth-quarter deadlines looming and kids back in school, so things need to be a little bit more regimented than they are during the summer. That includes your culture diet. So let us give you a few tips and tricks to have the most enjoyable fall in culture yet.

Go on at least one cultural “excursion”

My girlfriend and I finally went to the New York Botanical Garden and the New York Historical Society this summer after four years of living in Manhattan and meaning to go. There’s probably something like that—some cultural institution or experience—that you’ve been thinking about seeing, but have not yet visited. The fall is a great time to finally check off that place off your to-do list.

Be it a museum, theater, dance performance, or sculpture park, aim for something that requires you to actually leave your home, to go somewhere you don’t usually go. The cool thing about museums, in particular, is that a lot of them are free to the public, or super cheap if you get tickets in advance. (If you happen to live in New York, the botanical garden has a pumpkin garden on display from now until Halloween and the historical society is about to launch its Harry Potter and the History of Magic exhibit.)

Spend an afternoon in a book store

Amazon and e-readers have made brick-and-mortar book stores obsolete for some people, but for me there’s still nothing quite like browsing a dusty bookshelf or leafing through a pile books for something to read. Next time you’re looking for a new book, head to your local bookstore—be it a corporate behemoth on its last legs like Barnes & Noble, or a tiny hole-in-the-wall independent shop. Or better yet, join your local public library!

We live a block from the famous Strand bookstore in Manhattan, and while it’s usually packed with tourists, sometimes I like to wander in there with no intention of actually buying anything. (Nine times out of 10 I end up walking out with a new book or two.) There’s something about holding a physical book in your hand that is just so appealing. Maybe it’s because it makes me feel smarter? Who knows. But go buy some real books to read this fall.

Finally clear out your DVR

If you are part of the dwindling but still large population that continues to use DVR in the age of Netflix and streaming, there’s a good chance you’ve got a backlog of stuff on there that you haven’t yet watched. Many set their cable boxes to record entire seasons of shows, then forgotten about it, only to rediscover an ocean of unwatched content at some point months or years, later. Don’t be this person. Declutter your digital world. Even if it’s just deleting your unwatched shows, you’ll feel so much better.

Block out a weekend day for a TV or movie marathon

This is one of my absolute favorite things to do, and something I generally plan at least once or twice a year. With so many holiday weekends in autumn, now’s a perfect time to set aside a cozy weekend day on a long weekend, especially a rainy one. (When you have Monday off, Sunday morning is the perfect day to start a marathon, and be done in time for dinner.)

The holy grail of movie marathoning is, of course, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I wrote up a detailed guide on how to make the most of your LOTR binge—which I think is a perfect way to spend any weekend of the year—and I suggest you peruse that if you’re serious about marathoning the greatest fantasy film franchise ever made.

But that’s only one of many, many options. Other suggested marathons: Bond movies, The Twilight Zone, and 1980s horror classics (A Nightmare on Elm’s Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc.) I was sick one day recently and watched all of the German Netflix sci-fi mystery series Dark, which is kind of a cross between Lost and Stranger Things (if it was raining in every scene and all the characters were very angry all the time).

Listen to jazz

The great thing about jazz (okay, one of its many great things) is its versatility. You can work to it, you can relax to it, you can dance to it, you can put it on in the background and totally ignore it. There is almost no setting in which jazz is not an appropriate musical accompaniment. I’ve long maintained that people who say they don’t like jazz don’t actually dislike it, they just don’t know they like it yet. You don’t even have to actively like jazz for it to serve as the soundtrack of your fall.

My girlfriend and I love Spotify’s “Coffee Table Jazz” playlist, which we put on in the background while cooking or reading. It’ll instantly turn your kitchen or living room into a 1920s speakeasy, and who doesn’t want that? For more uptempo jazz, the soundtrack to Whiplash is a lot of fun—it features original music but also includes some renditions of the classic charts, like Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.”

Tackle that TV show you’ve been meaning to watch forever

You know the show. The one that’s been “on your list” for a very long time, that everyone’s been telling you you absolutely must watch, but for whatever reason haven’t gotten around to it. The Wire is a popular one on these kinds of lists. Breaking Bad is another. (But seriously you need to watch both of those shows.) Since I write about TV, there isn’t a whole lot of stuff I haven’t seen, though a few years ago I started The Americans about two or three years after it started, and that was easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s now one of my favorite shows ever.

Sometimes the lengths of these shows can be daunting, and that’s why people are reluctant to dig in, since it’s such an investment. You don’t have to finish a new show this fall, but you should try to start one. If you don’t like to binge, try spacing out episodes once or twice a week as if you were watching new installments live on TV. That brings us to the next tip…

Find at least one TV show you like to watch live

Remember when people used to watch TV episodes, you know, when they actually aired? When TV was an “event” you had to plan for? That was once called “appointment television.” I can probably count the number of TV series that I’d consider true “appointment” shows nowadays: Game of Thrones is one. If you watch This Is Us (I don’t), that’s likely one.

These are the kind of shows in which you have to be immersed in the immediate conversation—so you feel like you’re not missing anything (and so you avoid spoilers). With so many popular shows released all at once (Netflix and Amazon do this, and now Hulu is starting to do it as well), the notion of having a weekly TV appointment is dying.

But not if you don’t let it. For me, Lost was the ultimate TV appointment (it ended in 2010) and I badly miss that feeling of anticipating a new episode and watching at the same time as the rest of the world, reacting in realtime. That might be hard to recreate, but there are plenty of exciting new shows to look forward to this fall—pick one and make it a weekly appointment.

Take stock of the movies you want to see in a theater

We’ve all had some version of this conversation:

Do you want to see this movie?


Is it worth a $20 movie ticket?

Probably not. Let’s just wait till it’s on Netflix or on-demand.

Sounds good.

Some movies are worth spending an extra few bucks on to experience with a crowd in a theater (Get Out, Black Panther, or anything by Christopher Nolan are a few examples). These are big, fun, zeitgeisty movies that you should see on the biggest screen possible, along with an invested audience. While that’s my ideal movie experience, not everything absolutely demands that you watch it exactly that way. And with ticket prices often expensive and so much available to watch at home, not everything is worth leaving the comfort of your couch.

Take 15 minutes to browse the list of movies coming out this fall and make a note of which ones you think you’d want to see in a theater, which ones you’d like to see but can wait till they’re available online or on TV, and which ones you can skip altogether. My picks that are worth springing for a theater ticket: First Man, A Star Is Born, and Widows.

Host weekly movie nights

Quartz writer Annaliese Griffin had a great idea in her edition of the Quartzy newsletter this week—an idea that I shall now steal. Instead of wasting precious time scrolling through Netflix for movies to watch, she and her husband have themed movie viewing projects:

We used to be more ambitious, exploring film history through French New Wave cinema or film noir. These days we’re more likely to choose a director with a broad body of work, like Ridley Scott (Alien, Bladerunner, G.I. Jane), or a theme, like urban apocalypse movies (Robocop, Judge Dredd, Ghostbusters). Favorite actors are a good way in, too—you can watch their performances change depending on co-stars and directors, and see themes emerge in their work. Narrowing your choices cuts down on feeling overwhelmed, or annoyed by the way your significant other wields the remote. It’s just the right amount of abundance.

They don’t have to be weekly—they can be biweekly or monthly or bimonthly or just a one-off thing. But having a specific themed night to look forward to on occasion is a perfect way to both respect your time and also indulge your movie appetite. Best of all, when you finish one theme, there’s always another one to center your movie-watching around. Think of it as programming your own personal film festival.