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A Streisand & 'Stranger Things' Thanksgiving: How TV can help keep us talking

Some TV talking points for a Thanksgiving free of politics, sexual harassment, and anything else that might upset your digestion.

Barbra Streisand performs during a 2103 concert in Tel Aviv, Israel.  On Nov. 22, Netflix will premiere her new concert special, “Barbra:  The Music… The Mem’ries… The Magic!”
Barbra Streisand performs during a 2103 concert in Tel Aviv, Israel. On Nov. 22, Netflix will premiere her new concert special, “Barbra: The Music… The Mem’ries… The Magic!”Read moreDAN BALILTY/AP/File

If Thanksgiving 2016 was a tough one for families split along political lines, keeping things light at this year's feasts may be just a little bit harder.

At least last year, we didn't have to try not to talk about the accusations against Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Louis C.K., and way, way too many others.

"How 'bout them Iggles?" may work at your dinner table for sidelining touchier topics, but I'll be eating Thursday in Patriots territory — and no one in my sports-minded family expects me to know anything about football, anyway.

So I'll be thankful for the many hours I've spent not watching cable news this  year, and for my 10-year-old nephew, Jake, who dressed up as Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) from Netflix's Stranger Things for Halloween, demonstrating awesome taste in TV characters and maybe giving the two of us something to talk about besides how ridiculously tall he's getting.

Thanks to Barbra Streisand, this could be a big holiday weekend for Netflix to bridge generation gaps, as people who love people with legendary voices discover that the concert special Barbra: The Music… The Mem'ries… The Magic!, which premieres on Wednesday, can be watched only on the streaming service,  estimated to be available in a bit more than half of U.S. households.

Plenty of people Streisand's age and older have embraced streaming, though  others have rejected the added costs, not the technology. But if there's a tech gap in your family, this could be the season to work on closing it. Not just for Streisand (who, when she's not singing selections from the No. 1 albums that now stretch over six decades, does occasionally get a tad political), but because the "traditional" TV that people 65 and older watch more than any other group doesn't always love them back. If a show has commercials, it's nearly always interested in delivering younger viewers to advertisers. When A&E canceled its contemporary western series Longmire in 2014 after three seasons, it wasn't the size of the audience, but the age of the viewers, that got the blame. 

Netflix picked up the series, but it's not clear — because streaming services don't share ratings — how many Longmire fans followed it to its new home. (The sixth and final season was to premiere Friday.)

But you don't have to get someone hooked on Netflix (or Amazon, Hulu, or Acorn, or any of the niche services that serve a variety of audiences) to find TV topics that shouldn't raise anyone's blood pressure, including:

  1. The Good Doctor. This new ABC drama about Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore), a young surgeon with autism whose prodigious knowledge — he also has the rarer savant syndrome — usually outweighs his social awkwardness, is this season's This Is Us, a breakout hit lots of people didn't see coming.  Talking point: In 2008, Mary McDonnell played a cardiac surgeon identified as having Asperger's syndrome in an arc on Grey's Anatomy, and TV in recent years has featured a number of  major characters who share characteristics, if not labels, with people on the autism spectrum (including Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory and its hit spin-off, Young Sheldon). Does the success of The Good Doctor, adapted by David Shore (House) from a South Korean drama,  mean we're seeing the potential of people with autism differently?

  2. This Is Us. The new-car smell may have faded, but we're still watching this one, right? Talking point: Do we like Dan Fogelman's time-hopping family drama because it  does its best to flush out our tear ducts every single week or are we sticking with it because we really, really want to know how Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) dies?

  3. Star Trek: Discovery vs. The Orville. One's a CBS show you can't see on CBS, the other's a Star Trek homage on Fox produced by, and starring, the creator of Family Guy. Both take place on starships and have already been renewed for second seasons. Talking points: Has anyone at the table taken the plunge and gotten CBS All Access so they can watch Discovery, or the streaming service's only other original, The Good Fight? Would they recommend it?  And where do Orville fans think Seth MacFarlane ranks in the long TV history of starship captains?

  4. The National Dog Show. If we've learned nothing else from Facebook, it's this: Drooling over dogs beats fighting over politics any day. On Thanksgiving, the Kennel Club of Philadelphia again will be in the national spotlight as NBC presents its show for the 16th year, beginning at noon. (The actual show is scheduled for Nov. 18-19 in Oaks.) Talking point: Hosted by actor John O'Hurley (Seinfeld, Dancing with the Stars) , the Kennel Club show is one of only six "benched" shows left in the U.S., which means the dogs hang around after they're judged — and get to meet the public — rather than leaving after they've been shown.

  5. Blasts from the past.  Will & Grace came back this fall, and it seemed to make people happy. Among the many things headed our way in 2018 are TLC's reboot of  the design show Trading Spaces,  ABC's version of American Idol, another season of  Fox's The X-Files, and nine new episodes of Roseanne. Talking points: What long-running, long-canceled show do you wish a network would bring back? Or, after seeing the new X-Files (or Netflix's Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life), would you rather remember your favorites at their best?