OK, let’s admit it, the Venn diagram of those of us who write about film and TV for a living and those of us who have a Vitamin D deficiency just looks like two big overlapping circles. But in our attempt to flatten the curve and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in our communities, IndieWire’s team is spending even more time in front of our screens than usual.
Between advance screeners provided to press, huge libraries of TV content on DVD sitting on shelves, and our own fiscally irresponsible number of subscriptions to streaming services, what are we watching? Why? And should you watch it too? After all, it’s only considered self-isolation if you don’t consider TV your friend.
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We’ll be updating this throughout the coming days as both a guide, a diary, and a forum. We live in interesting times, and hopefully sharing our coping mechanisms will help.
It also should be stated at the outset, of course, that for our own mental health we really should turn off the goddamned news, but that’s why we have second screens:
Kristen Lopez, TV Editor: If you want to know the first show I ever got obsessed with — I’m talking lived, ate, breathed every single thing about the series, I have to point to “Roswell.” This series from 1999, airing on the what was then known as the WB Network, followed a group of teenagers going to high school in Roswell, New Mexico. Of course, a story about teenage angst taking place in Roswell could only mean one thing: aliens. Yep, no better series for an 11-year-old to latch onto as she was dreaming about high school than one about a star-crossed romance and literal teenage aliens.
This is all to say that, because of my deep love for the series I was hesitant to watch The CW’s reboot of the franchise, “Roswell, N.M.” But what started out as just one episode blossomed into bingeing the entire series. Like its predecessor, the series still revolves around a star-crossed romance and aliens, but the high school setting is replaced by twentysomethings and the aliens, in this case, also bring into question the nature of immigration. The series is a dazzling mix of typical CW melodrama with great acting and social commentary. Thank goodness I finished this just as Season 2 starts this week — because I wouldn’t have been able to get through the last few months!
Ryan Lattanzio, Weekend Editor: In these dark days, I’ve for whatever reason decided to go darker. The recent reports of Harvey Weinstein’s experience at Rikers Island — which he’s now left for Bellevue Hospital — inspired me to check out a documentary series from a few years ago I overlooked: “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” from 2017. Directed by Jenner Furst, the five-episode series (available on Netflix) is a harrowing look at the psychological breakdown that occurs in the infamous New York prison, which mayor Bill de Blasio vowed in 2017 to shut down. It still stands, and with about 7,000 inmates.
The documentary centers on Kalief Browder, a black Bronx teenager arrested for a petty crime he didn’t commit — stealing a backpack — with no evidence or witnesses to support the charge. He ended up spending three years at Rikers, where the corrupt hierarchy of correctional officers working in tandem with violent inmates (known colloquially as “The Program”) crushed his soul and drove him to terrified psychosis. Shortly after being released from Rikers, he killed himself. Much like the Oscar-winning “O.J.: Made in America,” “Time” uses a high-profile case as a microcosm for larger social issues — including the indifference of the justice system and the futility of a “due process” that wrongly incriminates the innocent as they’re forced to endure the punishing rigamarole of a soulless legal procedure. Notably, the 2016 fiction series “The Night Of” also plunges you into the experience of the hell that is Rikers Island.
Leonardo Adrian Garcia, Creative Producer: Like Ann I’ve already exhausted my “Devs” and “Westworld” screeners, and much like Christian I too have seen a 1,000% uptick in the amount of 24-hour news coverage I’m absorbing. Speaking of which, please take a look at MSNBC’s set design from earlier today, or what I referred to as the world’s scariest game show:
But I digress, after watching the meandering hour plus our current president spent in the Rose Garden spreading misinformation (and likely, as he has not as of yet been tested, the coronavirus), I’m definitely craving some executive escapism in the form of the too-good-to-be-true Josiah “Jed” Bartlet. That’s right, this weekend while self-quarantining and burning through all my perishables, I’ll likely settle in for several hours of “The West Wing.” Aaron Sorkin’s fictionalized account of an executive branch that cares about its citizenry and works tirelessly in an effort to better the nation it serves should act as a welcome respite from the walking, talking punchline currently occupying the Oval Office. Though, I must say, it would be fun/cringe to watch anyone in the current administration attempt a C. J. Cregg and lip-sync the words to Ronny Jordan’s “The Jackel.” My money’s on Jared Kushner.
Steve Greene, Associate TV Editor: The regular TV release schedule doesn’t leave much room for a steady diet of the classics, so one of my non-work projects is catching up with the 1976 BBC miniseries “I, Claudius.” It’s a 12-episode adaptation that’s also a fascinating time capsule not just of where TV production ambitions were four and a half decades ago, it’s a chance to see a cast including Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed, John Hurt, and a spry young Patrick Stewart gnaw on the immediate scenery as only they can. It’s unapologetically theatrical in a way that taps into the same “palace intrigue” DNA that’s powered shows set in the White House, Buckingham Palace, and everywhere in between.
But the twin motivation for digging into this show now is that, to watch something that can still lead to some sense of community, this happens to coincide with the ongoing release of “I, Podius,” a companion podcast on the Maximum Fun network. Hosted by John Hodgman and Elliott Kalan, the show is bringing the ideal mixture of reverence for the place the show holds in the TV pantheon while engaging with the parts of it that haven’t aged nearly as well as Stewart has. After a very “Hunters”-esque 90-minute opening chapter, the rest of “I, Claudius” plays out in roughly hourlong chapters, right in that overall sweet spot between “impossible triple-digit episode catchup” and “take a nap and you’ll miss it” viewing experiences. It’s just enough time for someone to record 17 episodes of “The Podsoner.” (For anyone in the greater L.A. area with a library card, “I, Claudius” is also a chance to take advantage of Hoopla, which is streaming the series for free. It’s also on Acorn and available for purchase elsewhere.)
Libby Hill, TV Awards Editor In times of trial or, as of late, daily, there’s nothing that brings me more comfort than network comedies, specifically ones I’ve already watched a thousand times before. Back when coronavirus was still a tricky little bug an ocean away, I went ham on one of TV’s greatest shows of all time and a personal (if problematic) fave, “30 Rock.” It was my first revisitation of the show since it left the air more than seven years ago and I’m happy to say that it totally holds up. So successful was my rewatch that, upon concluding, I immediately started over, which is the real problem with the series, as it boasts a pitch perfect final season that serves primarily to remind the audience why they love the show. This week, however, fearing the judgment of friends and family if I started a third “30 Rock” binge, I’ve moved on to “Bob’s Burgers,” which features similarly goofy antics in another bite-sized 22-minute package. Plus, there are nearly 200 episodes so I’m good for, like, at least three more days of social distancing.
Ann Donahue, Executive Editor, TV: What I should be watching are shows that are going to be contenders in the Emmys race this season. I’m an Academy voter, and I’ve been so caught up in the tsunami of peak TV that I’ve missed some of the standard-bearers: the most recent season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,”; I’m behind on “Schitt’s Creek”; I watched one-and-a-half episodes of “McMillion$” and very much want to finish it out. But what I am instead watching is creepy, end times TV. I loved “Devs” and I’m working my way through the “Westworld” screeners. Am I looking for survival strategies and/or examples of tenacity in difficult times? Maybe. But I may also just be looking for comfort in shows where the answers aren’t always apparent.
Kate Erbland, Deputy Editor, Film: In these fraught and confusing times, there’s nothing quite as refreshing as unfettered honesty, which is this: The majority of my at-home watching (and you better believe I am very at-home right now) is pure, repetitive, easily digestible comfort food. When I flip on the TV at home, I instantly gravitate to old standards: reruns of “Friends, “Seinfeld,” and “The Office,” plus a generous dash of “Chopped” and “Beat Bobby Flay.” Last night, however, I took a small detour and watched the Patrick Dempsey- and Michelle Monaghan-starring rom-com “Made of Honor” on HBO. My initial thinking (rom-coms are always good to make you feel better!) was soon waylaid by something maybe even better, or at least far more distracting (these people are all hateful morons and deserve each other, what a freak show this is, but God bless Busy Philipps for always being the best part of anything she’s in).
Tambay Obenson, Staff Writer, Film, TV: Other than screeners for the second season of “Black Monday,” which I have to write a review of before Sunday night’s premiere, it’s been a steady diet of alternative news media for me. That means a lot of YouTube and very little actual television. Once those are exhausted, it’s horror movies (my favorite genre) on Hulu or Netflix until I fall asleep. In the last couple of days, I re-watched “The Descent,” as well as the first two films in the original “The Omen” franchise (the 2006 remake was awful!), and Guillermo del Toro’s “Mimic,” because, well, haven’t you heard? Underground predators that have a taste for human flesh, the Antichrist, and human-sized, mutated cockroaches are kind of in right now! But seriously, “Monos” is now streaming on Hulu. See it!
Kristen Lopez, TV Editor: I’m a nerd already, so I spend a large part of my day watching TCM in general. With the cancellation of the TCM Classic Film Festival, I’m planning to watch my black-and-white movies while weeping. I’ve been fortunate to watch a lot of great movies over the last few weeks, from Fred MacMurray’s “An Innocent Affair” to Esther Williams in “Neptune’s Daughter” and as things shake out throughout the month, my TCM membership is gonna be what gets me through. On the TV front, I can’t recommend “Guy’s Grocery Games” enough. You get the joys of “Supermarket Sweep” with actual cooking! Who doesn’t want to watch someone create culinary gold with nothing more than Velveeta mac and cheese? I’m also catching up on NatGeo’s “Serengeti” series and if you want the beauty of a nature show with the high drama of “Desperate Housewives” (Will Bakari, the baboon, be able to raise his adopted baby on his own?), this is for you!
Christian Blauvelt, Managing Editor: Way, way, way too much cable news. I am an addict and I need to quit this cold turkey. (MSNBC is on right now.) Like Kristen, I’m also a TCM fan, however their lineup in the next few days does not impress me. (I am looking forward to seeing John Ford’s “The Lost Patrol” on Watch TCM after it airs at 3:30am ET Saturday morning.) Thankfully, the Players tournament is about to begin with coverage Thursday and Friday on the Golf Channel and Saturday and Sunday on NBC. I like watching golf in general because, to me, it’s soothing wallpaper. It’s quiet, with even the announcers speaking in hushed tones — an oasis in an age when everyone wants to shout at each other. It’s about communing with nature. I can’t think of anything better to have on in the background and half-watch while you’re working from home. And the Players is my absolute favorite golf tournament. Seriously, I’m an obsessive when it comes to The Players. Set in Ponte Vedra, FL it has the most beautiful course I’ve ever seen, with each round facing a decisive make-or-break moment on the 17th hole: the Island Green, which forces each player to launch their ball across a huge lake and onto a small circular spit of land. Dozens are lost in the water each year during The Players, and it can be mesmerizing to watch even, say, Tiger Woods utterly stymied by this hole. The Masters? It’s OK. The Open? Decent. But it’s all about The Players, as far as I’m concerned, and I will never stop eliciting puzzled reactions from people by asking “Hey! Are you excited for The Players this weekend?”
UPDATE: The Players tournament has been canceled.
Ben Travers, Critic and Deputy Editor, TV: Right now, I’m giving Christian the exact puzzled look he expects, even though watching golf brings me a similar relaxing connection — and it may be the only sport still being played, so we’ll all have to find ways to appreciate its slow-moving drama. Anywho, most of what I’m watching is work-related, and since I don’t think anyone needs to hear more from me on “Westworld” until the new episode airs, and I’m not allowed to share my thoughts on “Ozark” until the review embargo breaks, let me provide a quick list of overlooked shows you should be catching up on. Anyone working from home has a bit of free time, and anyone trying to spend more time indoors will need a few extra recommendations — and if one more former friend asks me about “Love Is Blind,” I’ll stab my eyes out — so here’s a few hidden gems:
- “Mrs. Fletcher”: Plenty of you motherfuckers missed out on one of the best series of 2019 — Tom Perrotta’s return to television! Kathryn Hahn! Topical commentary on sexual agency! Kathryn Hahn! A breakout turn from Jackson White! And Kathryn “Give Me a TV Show, You Cowards” Hahn! HBO’s seven-episode miniseries could still become an ongoing series if more people tune in, so make the most of your pricey subscription and tear through these delightful episodes. (Stream it on HBO.)
- “Better Things”: Pamela Adlon’s beautiful, sharp, and adventurous FX comedy just kicked off its rain-themed Season 4 — which should hold even more weight with Los Angelenos this week — and all three previous seasons are now available on Hulu, making this the perfect time to catch up. (Stream it on Hulu.)
- “Kidding”: Jim Carrey’s spin on a dark fate version of Mr. Rogers may be too bleak for some, but it’s second season found the sweet spot between honoring its serious themes and exploring them in creative, engaging, and digestible fashion. With episodes directed by Michel Gondry (including one entry co-starring Ariana Granda and set entirely within Mr. Pickles’ show) and sharp writing from creator Dave Holstein, this one deserves a second look from any fans of Carrey, Mr. Rogers, and good TV in general. (Stream the full series on Showtime and stream the first season on Amazon Prime.)
- “John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch”: This hourlong special won’t take long to finish, but it’s an ideal break between episodes (or seasons) of the above shows. Mulaney’s inventive children’s special highlights quite a few talented kiddos while making room for bizarre and very entertaining adult guest stars, including a must-see turn from Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s worth a watch just to feel good for an hour straight. (Stream it on Netflix.)
- “Billions”: OK, you just want to zone out in front of the same show for a week? It’s time to watch “Billions.” Showtime’s popular but awards-starved series (with more great performances than I can list) has four seasons already available with a fifth on the way in May — that’s 48 hours of teeth-gnashing, simile-spouting, big-money drama to keep your mind off the real-world news cycle (though if all the trade talk reminds you too much of the real-world stock market, I understand). (Stream the full series on Showtime and stream the first season on Amazon Prime.)
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