Need a new show or movie to watch while you’re stuck at home?
Five film, television and digital media (FTDM) professors collaborated to give their top three shows and movies to watch during this quarantine period.
From Dr. Dustin Hahn:
We go to media for all kinds of reasons. If your reasons are to laugh, escape, and enjoy something (mostly) light-hearted, then check out the shows I’ve listed below that, despite excruciating breakups, global warming, and many, many deaths, may bring moments of levity in what can feel like uncertain times.
- America’s National Parks (Disney+): It’s no secret I’m a fan of our National Parks, and this helps to quench the thirst for peaceful adventure when stuck at home. National Geographic’s 2015 series gives viewers an escape from reality allowing them to step into nature. This series is for those who want a change in pace, something to help settle rather than stimulate. Pacing is slow, the narration is soothing, the cinematography is at times unimpressive and dated (okay, Planet Earth spoiled me), but the information, shots of wildlife, and soothing nature sounds (and sound effects) give me a breath of fresh media when my TV diet demands it. Want to dig even deeper? Explore The Hidden Worlds of The National Parks through Google’s immersive, virtual, online experience and tours by visiting their website.
- Brockmire (Hulu): On deck is IFC’s Brockmire. There may be no crying in baseball (not that we have any! 😭), but there are certainly viral (can we use that word here) tantrums if you’re a minor league announcer looking to rebuild an illustrious career following a very public meltdown. Brutal Brockmire has some highs and lows involving sex, drugs, and alcohol (TV-MA) in his quest to reclaim his former glory with his band of misfit friends and colleagues. Hank Azaria’s popularity began for me at a young age with his many voices in the Simpsons, and, if we can keep the clichés coming, he hit another one out of the park with Brockmire. The fourth and final season is airing now, but you can binge seasons 1-3 on Hulu.
- Onward (Disney+): Confession: I haven’t seen this one yet. But Rotten Tomatoes ranked this movie above Monsters University (an academic’s must-watch), Brave, and the entire Cars trilogy, so it’s fair to say it’s worth adding to your list. It seeks to mesh tried and true elements of family and magic with a story about loss for two brothers seeking to spend one more day with their father. If I know anything about Pixar, it’s that they have a way unlike any to pull at heartstrings without making you hate that they did. Will it be the next Toy Story? No. But maybe it’ll be on par with Frozen II (also available now on Disney+). With all that’s going on in the world, Disney kindly (see “strategically”) moved up the online release date of Onward to April 3.
From Dr. Kim Owczarksi:
- Misfits (Hulu) – While superhero content is the rage in popular culture, this UK show dares to ask the question: are superpowers really a gift? Trapped doing monotonous community service work for prior misdeeds, several young adults experience a traumatic event, then receive unusual superpowers. Trying to balance the problems of their own lives with these new abilities, they encounter threats from forces they cannot understand. Across five seasons, the Misfits and their unusual powers save the world from total calamity. Witty and daring, it is a completely different take on what it means to be a superhero in today’s world.
- Rectify (Netflix) – Originally aired on SundanceTV, Rectify focuses on someone wrongly incarcerated for nearly two decades and his rocky transition back to life in a small Southern town with his traumatized family after years of court cases. The show immerses itself in the determined contemplation necessary to survive in a small enclosed space, even after the bars have been removed. For four seasons, Daniel tries to reconnect with who he was before imprisonment, as the rest of his family also struggles to move on. Beautifully shot, acted, and directed, Rectify’s slow pace reminds you how long grief takes to heal.
- On My Block (Netflix) – In its third season, this show exemplifies the inability to leave your environment—in this case, a gang-infested area of L.A. On My Block seems silly at times as four teens engage in typical high school behavior. But against the tough streets they inhabit and their uneasy home environments, these escapades offer a new sense of liberation. And yet, the show’s dramatic moments make you re-evaluate all the fun you had before. Alternatively smart, hilarious, and thought-provoking, On My Block delivers a story about the challenging lives of multicultural teens rarely seen in mainstream culture.
From Dr. Tricia Jenkins
- Contagion (iTunes or Amazon): If you are already anxious about contracting COVID-19, I would probably avoid this 2011 Steven Soderbergh film. It follows the development of a novel virus that jumps from bats to pigs to humans in Hong Kong before spreading globally, killing tens of millions of people in just a matter of weeks. The narrative does not feature a traditional Hollywood structure, villain or hero; rather Soderbergh uses his standout ensemble cast (Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, etc.) to examine the science of pandemics, the social costs of quarantines, and those who seek to profit from their cures. If you are only going to watch one pandemic film this season, skip Wolfgang Peterson’s Outbreak (1995), which fails to stand the test of time and contains the most wretched helicopter chase sequence. Instead, head straight to Contagion. You’ll never look at casinos or touch screens the same way again.
- Love is Blind (Netflix): I am probably going to lose my credibility as a serious television scholar by recommending this series, but if you are looking for sheer distraction, emotional drama, and problematic models of romance to get you through COVID, then this is your show. In Love is Blind, a group of singles partake in their own form of social distancing by dating in “pods” where they can talk to, but not see, their prospective partners. The idea is that people may have a better shot at finding love by developing emotional connections first and physical attractions later. While this seems like a reasonable premise, the show devolves from there, mandating that couples get engaged before they are allowed to meet in person. And, of course, that’s when the drama ensues. When the couples are forced to go on vacation, meet each other’s parents, live in an apartment, and plan their legally -binding weddings together, rings are thrown, dresses are torn, dogs turn to wine, and, in some cases, sincere vows are exchanged. It’s must-watch, train-wreck TV at its best. Oh! And be sure to catch the cast reunion show on YouTube when you finish the series to see where each of the couples landed a year and a half after production wrapped up.
- Succession (HBO): The first few episodes of Succession are just OK, but stick with the show for a rewarding and razor-sharp look at dysfunctional wealth and its abuses of power. Nominated for the 2019 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Drama, the show revolves around the Roy family — thinly-veiled stand-ins for the Rupert Murdoch’s of the world, as they helm one of the globe’s most prominent media conglomerates: Waystar. When Logan Roy (Brian Cox), the family’s aging patriarch, suffers a stroke in the first episode, the children competitively vie for their father’s favor, as they work to earn the title of his successor. Drawing from the conventions of night-time soaps like Dallas and Dynasty, Succession is a far smarter look at unchecked power and abuse that will make you appreciate the craft of television writing and the fact that you don’t have to self-isolate with the Roys, even if it would be on a yacht.
From Prof. Richard Allen:
- Parks and Recreation (Netflix): You turn on the TV. The government is constantly in crisis mode. Inept civil servants are thwarted by circumstance, bad breaks, and their own ineptitude. No, you’re not watching the local news. You’re basking in one of 125 episodes of the deservedly iconic NBC sitcom, Parks and Recreation. My wife Sheri and I had heard that it was a brilliant and hilarious satire of politics, relationships and culture in the 21st century. With a cast of comic geniuses, led by a brilliant Amy Poehler and a sterling ensemble including Azziz Ansari, Nick Offerman and Rashida Jones, this show (co-developed by The Good Place creator Michael Schur) is giving Sheri and me a place to go (Pawnee, Indiana) to escape real-life calamity with comedic insanity. For 125 terrific half hours.
- Six Feet Under (HBO): It only ran for 63 episodes—but they are twice as long as Parks and Rec so it supplies even more minutes of binge-inducing entertainment. If you missed this HBO classic at the beginning of the millennium (it ran from 2001-2005), then there’s no better way to shelter in place than by moving into the Fisher & Sons Funeral Home and sharing life’s ups and downs with Nate, David, Ruth and Claire Fisher. Every episode begins with a death — and events usually go downhill from there as the Fishers and their friends, lovers and clients (dead and alive) cope with remarkably moving and relatable events that hook you in dramatically and emotionally, while making you laugh through occasional tears. And beyond the indelible performances of Lauren Ambrose, Michael C. Hall, and other greats, the show builds to the most satisfying series finale of all time. As of this writing, Six Feet Under’s dark humor is the most effective (and legal) relief for a pandemic.
- Queer Eye (Netflix) is pretty much the antithesis of Six Feet Under — it’s reality instead of fiction; each episode features a new subject; every problem gets solved, and nobody dies. Sheri and I never got hooked on Bravo’s original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy — which began with the premise that 5 stylish gay men could help countless classless straight men up their games to impress the ladies — but terrific word of mouth on Netflix’s new version compelled us to give it a try. We did. Thank goodness. For the current Queer Eye is a guaranteed spirit lifter. The lovable and talented Fab Five, led by the effusive Jonathan Van Ness and the intense Karamo Brown, take on hapless cases of all persuasions and backgrounds — gay, straight or otherwise — and bring them to heights of personal fulfillment that always makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy. There’s rarely a dry eye by the end of Queer Eye.
From Dr. Colin Tait:
Since we’re in another golden age of television, it’s next to impossible to only choose three shows that everyone should stream while stuck at home. In fact, there’s never been a better time to stay indoors, snuggle under a blanket and mainline between 8-10 episodes of anything in a single sitting. My choices are limited to the shows that moved me the most, and which I think, in their own various ways, are the most significant shows of 2019-2020.
- Chernobyl (HBO): There are a lot of shows that I wanted to put in this slot (and I’m going to cheat here by naming them – The Knick, Twin Peaks, American Vandal) but of every show I could think of, Craig Mazin’s five-episode chronicle of the events before, during and after the catastrophe at the Chernobyl power plant meltdown is one of the most compelling stories that I have ever encountered. Mazin states that his show is actually about the cost of lies, and the need for leadership especially on a massive scale, and the show is never far from my mind during the crisis we face now. Such a difficult view, but also such a rewarding one. (Bonus points for listening to the Chernobyl podcast, which supplements the series with great insights from Mazin, and the Watchmen podcast, which features incredible conversations between Mazin & Lindelof).
- Tiger King (Netflix): This spot was formerly occupied by Schitt’s Creek (“Ew David!”, which is absolute comfort food in these difficult days), but then I turned on Tiger King on Netflix. This documentary is simply bonkers. I can’t totally explain it, but in almost every scene I have watched so far, my mouth gapes open with a new revelation, a new wrinkle in the plot, or the introduction of a new oddball character. I think that the doc series is about people who raise tigers in private zoos, but Tiger King is better defined by the whole experience of watching it — which is indescribable in its own way. JUST WATCH IT! Preferably with someone you can turn to (either in real life or via phone) to share the craziness with. And do it right now!
- Watchmen (HBO) – No TV list would be complete without a show from Damon Lindelof. From LOST to The Leftovers and Watchmen, he continues to perfect and refine his storytelling with impressive results. Watchmen is no exception. Although Watchmen is an adaptation/remix/sequel to the 1980s comic book by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the show goes beyond most adaptations by making the original even better by its addition, while the new installment is something altogether new. It’s also one of the most significant engagements with the complex legacy of race in America in recent TV. Beginning with images from the often-omitted real-life events of the Tulsa Massacre in 1921, it forces viewers to confront the history of racism by showing the legacy and trauma visited upon African-Americans and come to terms with the legacy of white supremacy today. If that weren’t a hard enough task to juggle, it does so while somehow still entertaining us in the process and keeping us guessing what will come next.