Tonight in Pandemic Viewing
Escaping into all available streaming services is, if not a universal response to the current state of affairs, definitely a widespread one. According to Hub Research, 28% of consumers added a streaming service since February, and Disney+ hit its five-year subscriber goal already this year. Warner Brothers announced December 3 they’ll release their entire 2021 slate on HBO Max the same day the films hit theaters, a broad recognition our viewing behaviors have been shifted at scale. While many of us will one day return to the dark, popcorn-scented comforts of our local theaters, at least for now, our home theaters will have to serve.
So, what to watch?
Around our house, the viewing has been various and sundry. We’ve certainly tried out content we might otherwise have skipped. And we’ve gone back to tried-and-true shows and films, taking the opportunity to share our youth with our teenagers, themselves going quarantine crazy. I’ve taken to documenting our watching behavior on Twitter – perhaps not a complete inventory, but certainly often enough to catch up with friends who share their recommendations and occasionally pick up some from Clan Barbour.
Here’s how I’ve tracked Tonight in Pandemic Viewing:
Epidemiological dystopia and zombies: Did you re-watch Contagion in the early days of lockdown? Yeah, we did, too. Possibly not the most reassuring option, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s patient zero origin reveal at the end was disquieting. Despite the hyperbolic approach to the speed of the spread and impact of the movie virus, it was a timely reminder of what could befall us all if we fail to take action.
What could follow Contagion, but World War Z. Sure, it’s not a likely outcome of this particular pandemic, but in for a penny, in for a pound, right?
When the pandemic hit, all sorts of shows suffered, not least of which was The Walking Dead, meaning we had to wait until October for S10:E16, but at least Maggie returned, and Beta expired!
Controversial opinion: Human abuse of technology as epidemic, resulting in dystopia is my summary of Black Mirror. Just fascinating, each episode a story unto itself, and yet the arc shaped over its five seasons offers plenty of opportunity to re-watch in a Bandersnatch-y machete order or chronologically, if you so choose. “San Junipero” is my favorite of the series
Norwegian Twilight/Vampire Diaries, but with Norse gods: The Netflix interest algorithm is a wonder. Which is how we came to watch Ragnarok. This tale of Magne and his coming of deity-age story in a small Norwegian town suffering the impacts of climate change lest he intervene was a surprisingly good watch. And I was glad to learn season 2 is on its way next year(!!).
Norwegian disaster films: As a child of the 70s, disaster movies are standard fare, and after Ragnarok, Netflix decided all manner of Norwegian film-making was likely in our wheelhouse. So we were served up The Wave, and its sequel, The Quake. Lessons learned? Norway is gorgeous, but beware which fjords you select for your holiday, and if you know a Norwegian geologist named Kristian, either listen to everything he has to say, or run very quickly in the opposite direction.
After both our epidemic binge and Norwegian disaster binge, Netflix merged the two to suggest a Catalan film, The Last Days, which brings us into an epidemic of people dropping dead when they go outside. Nature is healing at the end, though, so maybe there’s hope for us.
It was after this point the Netflix algorithm broke and suggested British flick Survivorz, which is utter garbage just chock-full of that particular brand of idiocy rampant in horror films, and I mention it only to save you from watching it.
British binging: I could watch Fleabag 5,000 times and love every viewing. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a goddess. I didn’t think it possible to love Andrew Scott more than in his turn as Moriarty, and as The (Hot) Priest, he was a delight. Olivia Colman is deliciously duplicitous. Is the entire premise highly problematic and somewhat disturbing? Sure, but she makes the entire thing make perfect sense.
I’m similarly obsessed with Peaky Blinders, which I began re-binging not long ago. Cillian Murphy positively smolders, and I’ve claimed Polly as another honorary [and fictional] aunt. Plus, we get a bonus Anya Taylor-Joy ahead of her lead in…
The Queen’s Gambit. My family plays chess. I do not. I don’t know what I’m looking at. I know maybe one or two relevant facts about chess, and yet it was riveting. I loved the story, the characters, the amazing set dressing and costuming and hair… And I loved Beth Harmon not giving a single **bleep** about what anyone thought about her and just playing to her strengths. And facing her demons.
And the premier British series, The Crown [S4]. Highly bingeable, very much into the Charles-and-Diana dramz this season. Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher… just slay me. Olivia Colman continues to earn my love. And the various TikToks and tweets inspired by this season are hysterical.
Current events: Anyone who’s met me for longer than a minute knows I’m a political beast. I can’t help it, it’s how I was raised, and though my views have taken a considerable journey over the years, my interest level in our body politic has never waned. This is why I love The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth, it’s why I fangirled over walking past John Heilemann at ACL a couple of years ago [while my companions couldn’t figure out who I was even talking about], and it’s why being Alex Wagner would be amazing. My Ari/Joy/Chris/Rachel/Lawrence evening routine is my go-to, but The Circus adds flavor.
When the absurdity of the Space Force was turned into a series, we were in. I’m hopeful season two proves to be more ridiculous than actual real life, which has been hard to do in the past few years.
In keeping with the Steve Carell theme, Irresistible, which managed to keep me off MSNBC for an evening, and yet still delight me with all the same skullduggery and shenanigans.
It’s over-the-top, sure, but it’s also closer to real life than it ever should have been. Yes, Idiocracy. And thanks to IMDB, I learned it was shot all over Austin, which makes weird sense.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm serves as proof you can make people do nearly anything. Including Rudy Giuliani.
Series rounding: The streaming version of the stack of books on my nightstand is the series-viewing-in-progress. It’s maddening. Oddly shaming. So, when I have the chance, I like to tidy things up and catch up on my series-in-progress.
The Witcher. Technically a re-watch with my husband, but I love it. I wish I had purple eyes like Yennefer. Can’t wait for S2!
Travel Man: 48 Hours In… If I could choose a bonus aunt and uncle, they would be Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Richard Ayoade. Perhaps Richard could invite Phoebe on a future episode of Travel Man. But where would they go??? I loved this show more than is reasonable. We’re here… but SHOULD WE HAVE COME? Shout-out to Nicole neversgerd for suggesting this one long ago.
Raised by Wolves seems a lovechild of Terminator and Westworld, and an allegory on the dangers of religious authoritarianism.
The Boys (season 2), which also works under current events, actually. Painfully illustrates how people’s innate fear of otherness can result in hate when left unchecked. And just a riotous romp besides.
The Last Kingdom. Formulaic? Sure. Something you can watch while you fold laundry or experiment in the kitchen? Definitely. But Alexander Dreymon is a smokeshow, and I will hear nothing further on the matter.
The Alienist. Moody, filled with annoyingly misogynistic characters [as befits the age], but also a fierce aspiring detective in Dakota Fanning.
Mrs. America. I’m a lock for anything with Cate Blanchett, but this was an excellent series, packed with fabulous actors, and a compelling consideration of the personalities and politics behind the battle for equal rights.
The Right Stuff. A new take on the Tom Wolfe book, with actors all well taller and far better looking than the astronauts actually were.
Killing Eve. Again with the PWB love, but truly, a well-written, engagingly acted series, and highly recommended.
The Undoing. Think you know your life and those around you? Yeah, guess again.
Good Behavior. Somehow, I missed this when it was first released, but Michelle Dockery’s another actor I’ll watch in nearly anything, and I adore [Aunt Lydia] Ann Dowd.
The Third Day. Jude Law and Noemie Harris vacation separately off the coast in Kent. Or something like that. <winks>
What We Do in the Shadows. I’m here for every vampire trope, great actors absolutely gnawing up the scenery, Colin Robinson the energy vampire, and double-double entendre. BAT!
Scaring ourselves sane: I’m not a big horror movie person, but as science tells us, horror films can offer us the benefit of catharsis in the midst of trauma, which I think we can all agree we’re in some depth of at the moment. So, may I recommend a bit of horror healing?
Jordan Peele is a genius. We hadn’t gotten around to Us just yet, but it’s one of those you end up thinking about for ages. Let’s just hope I never meet my Tethered self.
Lovecraft Country was made for 2020. I enjoyed its compartmentalized episodes which still built to an arc [somewhat like Black Mirror], and it was a visual feast. Plenty of horror, but the scarier part was how Black people were treated – and still are.
It was a trip, to be sure, but Midsommar I didn’t quite understand why people would have left the theater during the movie. I loved the terror taking place in broad daylight. I also recommend the many available YouTube analyses of various symbols in the film.
You Should Have Left, in which Kevin Bacon seems to channel Harrison Ford in What Lies Beneath, but in the walls of his Welsh Airbnb instead of the lake outside his Vermont home. Made for home viewing, not full price trips to the theater.
Not quite as scary, but certainly in the neighborhood is Dracula, from Messrs. Mark Gatiss and Stephan Moffatt. Episodes 1 and 2 are worth your time, but feel free to skip 3. Like their work on Sherlock, it starts brilliantly, but loses its way over time.
Rockin’ documentaries: We started with ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas, which follows Billy, Dusty, and Frank as they figure out their sound, with plenty of vintage footage, and a more intimate session recorded at Gruene Hall [just south of us here in Austin].
One iconic musical trio begs another, which led us to The Beastie Boys Story, which is highly recommended. With the volume way up. When your teenage kids come into the living room to complain it’s too loud – it’s just right.
While not as musical as the first two, Class Action Park takes you right back to the 80s as it relates the myths and truths of New Jersey’s Action Park.
Pete Souza has been in rooms we never will, and his lens has captured countless historical moments. In The Way I See It, he shares his unique perspective having photographed Presidents Reagan and Obama and reflects on a career unlike any other.
Werner Herzog considers the impact [heh] of meteorites on our little planet in Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds.
Those we lost too soon: I don’t know there’s ever a time we’re ready to lose our heroes, but John Lewis: Good Trouble reminds us of the battles fought by our greatest, and the power of standing up against those who would silence us.
Watching Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods was an unintended preparation for Chadwick Boseman’s passing a few weeks later. Followed up with Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame it was just a sliver of his body of work, and a reminder of what a talent he shared with us – on top of just being a really good human. Yibambe.
I was devastated to learn of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing in September, and RBG reminded me the fight is still on. May her memory be a revolution.
For the kids: One of the occupational hazards I endure is HAVING LEON ADATO adatole SPOIL MOVIES FOR ME. So it was withSpider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which I finally got to see this pandemic season, and it was as good as everyone said it was. Easily my current favorite animated film.
If I were a girl again, I’d want to be Millie Bobby Brown. Especially as Enola Holmes, and particularly with Helena Bonham Carter as my mother. Further, Sam Clafin should henceforth be allowed only to act in period pieces, though the distance between his Mycroft and Oswald Mosley in Peaky Blinders is… considerable. MBB is feisty as the titular character, and it’s a refreshing change of pace from how girl detectives were portrayed in my youth.
The Mandalorian counts for kids, right? That’s my default approach to all parts of the Star Wars universe, and Din Djarin’s adventures with The Child certainly count, I think.
War is hell: The Outpost, based on a book by Jake Tapper, tells the story of a group of U.S. soldiers attempting to control Taliban supply chains as they come under attack at their camp in a valley in Afghanistan.
I’m sure plenty of you are familiar with The Old Guard from the graphic novel on which it’s based, but it was new to me, and pretty badass. Charlize Theron channeled a bit of Imperator Furiosa as actual-immortal-not-Immortan-Joe. I look forward to the next one.
I’m not sure how much of Tom Hanks’ catalog is war-related, but I think it’s a lot. Greyhound was no exception, with Hanks protecting American ships from a pack of German U-boats in a suspenseful Atlantic crossing between air cover territory.
Parental coaching: Part of our pandemic parenting has involved required viewing for our teenagers. Which… might look a bit different in our house than in others.
Deadpool. Did then-13 laugh himself silly? Absolutely. Did 16 pop her head out of her room to ask if watching it was a coming-of-age ceremony in our house? Also yes.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. A natural transition from the end of Deadpool. Still my favorite, and given that I birthed my own personal Ferris, a certain circle of life completed.
And then there was the entire Terminator film anthology. Yes, that means The Terminator (1984), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009), Terminator Genisys (2015), and Terminator Dark Fate (2019). And now I won’t have to do that again.
Airplane! was as hilarious to 14 as it was to us back in the day, so it holds up well. Then there was Weird Science, in which we pointed out young Iron Man to our son, blowing his mind. That led to a Monty Python two-fer, with Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python’s Life of Brian. It’s fun when your sense of humor finally hits your own kids.
Next was a Shekhar Kapur two-fer with Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. My beloved Cate in my favorite of her roles, and Geoffrey Rush positively riveting as Walsingham. As much as I loved the first one, seeing QEII reckoning with her age was fascinating.
Hamilton. I’m incredibly late to the party here. But Disney+ made it possible for me to get myself and the whole fam back on the cultural reference train, despite me being essentially the only person in our family who cares a whit about musicals. That, and 14 was picking apart the whole thing for historical inaccuracies, because that’s his jam. The original cast is amazing, and I finally get all of the obsession around it.
Screaming in my heart: I’ve got a few dates saved on the calendar for the coming weeks, as it’s not like we’re traveling anywhere soon or have amazing evening plans.
The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. We’re Bee Gees fans in these parts, so this is required viewing on HBO Max December 12.
All I want for Christmas is to watch Wonder Woman 1984 about a dozen times. Of course, now that the runtime is out ahead of its release [finally], it’s officially 2:31, so I can get only nine full viewings in on the day itself. BLESS YOU, HBO Max!!!
Final take: We’ve watched a LOT during the pandemic. Scrolling back through my Twitter feed was a ride. And this wasn’t nearly everything, because I honestly forgot to track it all, which is probably for everyone’s benefit.
One of our unexpected favorites also happens to best accentuate the positive was Ted Lasso. How could they turn a series of ads into an entire series? No clue – but it worked. Jason Sudeikis was sweet and funny and acting out a split while one was happening in real life. Hannah Waddingham was glamorous and strong and hilarious as his boss. And whether you are a proper football fan or understand it as little as Ted does, it’s the sort of show which really leaves you feeling good. If you haven’t watched it, do yourself a favor over the holidays and check it out.
So that’s an exhaustive list of our household’s pandemic viewing. Hopefully you’ve watched some of the same and either agree completely or think I’m nuts. Now, it’s your turn.
What did you think of what you watched this year? What films and shows should I add to our list?