Binge-Watching in the Time of Quarantine: A List

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Excuse me, do you have the time?…Thank you. Er, how about the day? Yes, I did ask what day it is. Okay, thanks. And also the month, if you don’t mind? Oh, May already, is it? How the time flies, and also drags, when you’re in the middle of a pandemic.

Oh, I’m not going to whinge about being bored. That’s an insult to the medical personnel, grocery store employees, and other essential workers who haven’t stopped helping the rest of us since this whole thing started. Bless them. Me, I’m still not working the day job (loosely affiliated with retail), yet I haven’t written those dozen novels I had been planning on writing either. And I like to bake, but not that much. Come on, now.

Let’s face it—what the psychiatrists and trauma experts warned us about, that we’re going to spend a lot of time doing nothing at all, is definitely a thing. Most important, they said it was okay to do that.

So I’ve embraced it. When the only motivation I have is to stare off into space, I’ve decided to stare at movies and TV shows instead. Hey, stories are stories are stories, as far as I’m concerned, so that’s, like, research, right? Anyway, the only TV series I follow “live” are Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (if you aren’t obsessed with this perfect show, what are you doing, really?), Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Better Things (pure genius), and Grey’s Anatomy. Because those are over with for the season, I’ve been amusing myself with my favorite rewatch-a-thousand-times movies (but that’s another topic entirely) and perfecting the art of binge-watching series.

Yes, I said art. It’s gotta be like this for me: The series has to be entertaining, not too many seasons because of my current fractured attention span (GTFO with your Game of Thrones—this is the wrong pandemic for that), and not too dark (also GTFO with The Walking Dead for the same reason).

I’m working on a mix of old and new across several platforms (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, as well as the network sites). If you’re looking for ideas, here’s what I’ve covered so far. And if you have any suggestions, please do share.

Reaper (ABC site): I think I went looking for this Kevin Smith comedy from the mid-2000s when my son got his learner’s permit. If you didn’t catch it the first time around, it’s about a guy who turns 21 and finds out his parents sold his soul to the devil and is now tasked with capturing souls who escaped from hell. And the DMV is an actual portal to hell where Sam has to deliver the recaptured souls. There’s nothing more perfect than jaded DMV employee/demon Gladys droning, “Place the vessel on the mat…” Anyway, hilarious, cute, goofy, and even touching. Both (very long) seasons are on the ABC site.

Hart of Dixie (Netflix): Wow. Wow, this was a long series! As with Reaper, I forgot how long a season used to be way back in the last decade. These seasons are, like, 22 shows each or something! And Hart of Dixie has four seasons. Yet I rewatched every candy-colored, sun-dappled moment of the classic big-city-doctor-goes-to-work-in-a-twee-small-town and didn’t regret a minute of it. Although I was never Team Wade. (Don’t @ me! I was Team Lavon, but alas, it was a daring, outlier shipping.)

The L.A. Complex (CW Seed site): Absolutely bananas show about young hopefuls trying to make it in L.A. while partying it up at a residence motel with a weird superintendent, a house band, and pool parties every night. The young hopefuls were wannabe actors, sure, but also dancers-moonlighting-as-strippers-turned-porn-stars, rap producers, standup comedians, filmmakers, you name it. And so, so much over-the-top drama. Two seasons, the first one more interesting than the second. I admit I drifted off in the middle of the second season to watch other stuff, but I’ll get back to it. It’s too insane not to.

Never Have I Ever (Netflix): Omigod, omigod, omigod you guys, this is fabulous. Mindy Kaling at her Mindyest (and that’s a good thing) producing and writing this first season of a YA show about a Desi high schooler crushing on the coolest guy in school and navigating all sorts of family- and friend-related chaos. Hilarious and poignant and—game changer—the teenagers look and act like teenagers. (The show makes fun of the obvious adults playing teens in Riverdale, which is hilarious.) Idiot teachers had me rolling. Plus Sendhil Ramamurthy as the dad (heart eyes)!

Upload (Amazon Prime): I confess that I was pretty upset by the first episode of this new show and nearly stopped watching. It was mainly because it takes place in a pretty bleak future, and the first episode is filled with a lot of sad people out in a blue-filter-washed depressing NYC wearing facemasks on public transit. Hit a little too close to home, if you know what I’m saying. But I’m glad I persevered, because I ended up loving it. In the future, self-driving cars are as scary as we think they’re going to be, the divide between the haves and the have-nots is even broader, and you have the choice to “upload” yourself into a virtual reality instead of dying and taking your chances on what, if anything, happens after that. Nate, the main character, uploads after a car accident into a very posh virtual reality his rich girlfriend is paying for. But he notices that his “angel,” the customer service rep assigned to him, is really cute…It’s is a great comedy with a bonus mystery on the side. I was totally hooked and jonesing for a second season as soon as I finished.

Wonderfalls (YouTube): One brief, wonderful season is thankfully preserved on YouTube. I was willing to tough out the sketchy quality of the videos just to enjoy this Bryan Fuller masterpiece from 2004 again about Jaye, an underachiever in an overachieving family who has a chip on her shoulder, an agonizingly horrible job at a souvenir store in Niagara Falls (retail sufferers represent!)…and a weird affliction where inanimate objects “with faces” (like animal figurines or a fish mounted on a wall in a bar) talk to her. They try to get her to help other people, but they only say a few words over and over, so she has to figure out what they’re trying to get her to do. Brilliant. Plus Lee Pace!

Hollywood (Netflix): Um…okay. Ryan Murphy doing his thing, this time in Old Hollywood. I’m a sucker for anything about the Hollywood of the first half of the 20th century, so I was all for this, but…hm. It’s a fictionalized, idealized version of what Hollywood of that era might have been if people were more tolerant of racial, sexual, etc. differences that early on. But…I keep wondering why it was structured the way it was, mixing imaginary people with real actors, agents, and producers of the era, but changing the real people to fit this what-if wish-fulfillment narrative. I’ve taken to calling it the Tinseltown Titanic. Not that it hit an iceberg, but I feel about it the same way I feel toward the movie Titanic—Like Jack and Rose, the fictional storyline sucked all the air out of the room, stepping all over the true stories, and I ended up wanting to tell the fictional stuff to get the hell out of the way so I could learn what happened to the real people. Personally, I felt like the true stories of persecuted minorities would have been far more educational and interesting. But hey, that’s just my opinion.

Sex Education (Netflix): Okay, okay, I’m late to the party on this one, but I finally got around to it, and I’m really enjoying all-things-awkwardly-sexual among British teenagers. Just finished the first season, so I’m off to dive into the second season as soon as I finish this post.

Still to be binged: a rewatch of Being Erica (Hulu), Derry Girls (Netflix), and Pushing Daisies (CW Seed site), and finally seeing what Schitt’s Creek is all about. I’m sure I’ll find more along the way as well. What are you bingeing?

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