December may feel like the most harried month of the year, but that’s no reason you can’t plunge into a new podcast while you’re driving around shopping for presents or cue up a TV show or documentary in that gloriously unproductive week many take off between between Christmas and New Year’s. Here are some suggestions for just such an occasion, with ties to famous (and infamous) Southerners.
Papa’s Got a Brand New … Murderer?
The James Brown Mystery, CNN Audio
Five years ago, a circus singer named Jacque Hollander called CNN reporter Thomas Lake with a bold claim: The Godfather of Soul didn’t die of natural causes in Atlanta back in 2006—he was murdered. Since then, Lake has painstakingly worked to unravel and confirm Hollander’s increasingly wild story, a thrilling mystery he weaves for listeners of his in-progress podcast, The James Brown Mystery. Seven episodes are available now, with the last one dropping Friday, December 9..
High and Low Notes
George & Tammy, Showtime
The tumultuous and hit-single-producing relationship between George Jones and Tammy Wynette—one of country music’s hottest duos (and, for a handful of years, married couples)—gets the biopic treatment in Showtime’s six-episode George & Tammy series, the first of which premiered Sunday, December 4. Leads Michael Shannon (who plays Jones) and Jessica Chastain (Wynette) have garnered so many award nominations for their acting over the years, chances are they’ll be as riveting as the real deal.
Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty, HBO Max
By now—largely thanks to journalist Mandy Matney’s exhaustive Murdaugh Murders Podcast—millions have been captivated by the tangled web spun by Alex Murdaugh, a lawyer from a powerful family in South Carolina’s Lowcountry indicted for (among many, many other alleged crimes) the murder of his wife and son, who were shot to death on their estate in June 2021. What the three-part HBO Max docuseries Low Country adds: A quicker overview of the drama for those still out of the loop, and visuals that bring the players and landscapes to life, in all their moss-drenched, straight-out-of-a-Grisham-adaptation glory.
From Scratch, Netflix
Yes, this eight-episode drama came out at the end of October, but I’m boosting it in case you haven’t seen it yet: From Scratch, a heart-rending, fictionalized adaptation of Houston native Tembi Locke’s eponymous memoir, was created and, in part, written by Locke and her equally talented sister, the award-winning novelist and screenwriter Attica Locke. I won’t give it all away, but the series follows Locke’s avatar, Amy (played by Zoe Saldaña)—also from a big cowboy-hat-and-boot-wearing Texas family—as she studies art in Florence, Italy, and falls in love with a Sicilian chef. By the last episode, if you’re not crying, your heart is made of pietra.
In a Cavern, in a Canyon
The Caverns Sessions, PBS
This year, PBS rebranded its Bluegrass Underground series as The Caverns Sessions, and this new season has been chock-full of G&G endorsed artists such as Molly Tuttle, Adia Victoria, Asleep at the Wheel, Shooter Jennings, Moon Taxi, and more. The acoustics in the subterranean venue, the Caverns at the base of Monteagle Mountain in Pelham, Tennessee, are unlike that of any other spot (G&G readers agreed, as it won our Southern Music Venue Bracket earlier this year). You can catch old episodes for a brief time on the PBS site for free (and always with a Passport subscription), or often on Saturday nights on your local PBS affiliate.
The Little Rover That Could
Good Night Oppy, Amazon Prime
Before Perseverance started combing Mars for signs of past life, there was Opportunity, a tenacious rover that launched from Cape Canaveral in 2003 with an expected ninety-day lifespan and finally went dark fifteen years later. In a documentary sure to delight space enthusiasts and WALL-E fans, director Ryan White, an Atlanta native and Duke grad, tells the rover’s tale through interviews with a gregarious cast of scientists and engineers, archival footage, and gorgeous CGI renderings. But it might be Oppy’s grainy selfie, which she beamed down to her many proud “parents” on her five-thousandth sol (Martian day), that pulls your heartstrings the most.