Like most of the country right now, The A.V. Club staff is practicing social distancing and spending the foreseeable future working from our respective homes. The downtime is giving us a chance to catch up on the pop culture we’ve been missing or to re-visit what we love. So today we’re asking:
What are you listening to/watching/reading/playing while you’re stuck inside?
Hey, have you heard of HBO’s quiet, feel-good dramedy Succession? It’s the story of a loving, attentive family going all-in on a super cute media company. They even play softball together from time to time! But, seriously, the amalgam of back-stabbing, long-standing father issues, and poor Cousin Greg’s good-natured bumbling has been a treasured escape from everything, including my own tax bracket. I’m amazed by this show’s ability to make me feel even a glimmer of empathy for any of these terrible people, but that’s part of the fun: hating these figures one moment and wanting to give them a very brief hug the next. I still have to watch the season two finale, which I’m sure will end with everyone getting exactly what they want, like Kendall earning his father’s respect, and Willa finally looking as if she can stomach proximity to Connor for more than 10 seconds.
There’s a bar a few blocks from my apartment. I like going there as much alone as with other people. Good cocktails, good lighting, good music. One of the owners is into books, and we often talk about whatever we’re reading. I can’t go there right now, and a television show certainly isn’t any replacement for face-to-face interactions, but I’m finding Cheers to be just what the doctor—I’m sorry—ordered. Sure, I skip the intro because the extraordinarily sentimental theme song makes me sad, but once I’m in, I feel comforted and entertained. There are no complicated plot lines to remember (Sam and Diane always find some way, hard as they might try to hide it, to let everyone know just how much they love or hate each other in any given episode), the jokes come easily, and the stakes never get too high. Cheers is not a bad place to hole up for a few drinks—or months, as the case may be.
If you told 12-year-old me that I’d ever grow tired of sitting in front of the TV, I would have said in a high-pitched voice, “That’s impossible.” But over the weekend—after our fifth straight hour on the couch—my husband suggested we do a puzzle. “It’ll take a couple hours, max,” we thought naively. Almost 10 hours later, as the clock approached 2 a.m. and our dog approached livid, we finally placed the last pieces—even the one Jolene had chewed on around hour three.
I take in a lot of comfort media as it is (something about covering the news, I dunno), so as it became clear that I’d need a meatier distraction, I settled on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the more manga-faithful remake of the original anime from the early 2000s. I never got into Fullmetal, but I’m digging Brotherhood a lot more than I expected. The mythology, which involves massive genocidal conspiracies and a pair of sad brothers cursed by their use of evil science/magic, is just fantastical enough to get into, and it has a fun knack for flipping wildly between humor, body horror, and ridiculously over-the-top action.
Seeing Blinded By The Light
in theaters last year was one of the most joyous moviegoing experiences, one that I look forward to repeating later this week, even if it is in the confines of my home. Gurinder Chadha’s film about a British Pakistani teen discovering Bruce Springsteen’s music (based on journalist Sarfraz Manzoor’s own fandom) is essentially the story of falling in love with pop culture. Blinded By The Light is immensely relatable, even when it digs into the tense father-son dynamic between Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) and Javed (breakout Viveik Kalra). Generation gaps are bridged, teens run exuberantly through the town square, and Hayley Atwell shows up as a literary mentor—all while “Born To Run” plays in the background. Who wouldn’t want to watch that over and over (though, hopefully not for the next three months)?
I like video games, but I am very, very slow at video games. I clock in probably two to three hours a week, at most, on whatever game I’m playing, so I’m usually locked into a title for months before beating it. I’ve been inching through Hideo Kojima’s hilarious and frustrating Death Stranding since early January, and my natural gravitation toward meaningless side quests has ensured that weeks upon weeks were spent ignoring the main story in favor of fruitlessly chasing boxes of “disc-based media” down the side of a mountain. That’s since changed, as I’ve spent much of my mandated indoor time laser-focused on reaching the game’s pivotal (and long) cut scenes, the likes of which I finally have the space to sit through now that the air is poisoned.
The great thing about having a regular gaming group is that it’s wonderfully easy, when needs must, to switch things to an online venue—social distancing without inflicting too much in the way of social distance. On Sunday, my regular tabletop friends and I logged on to Discord and blasted out a couple of hours of the raucous online multiplayer battler Duck Game; tonight, at least a few of us are finally going to get together (so to speak) to bring our dreams of a collective Minecraft server to life. Games are one of the great communal activities; reaching out to the people you care about to play them can do a lot to alleviate the isolation blues.
I don’t usually need help filling my time with pop culture, and the same has, at least so far, proven true for this quarantine period. Most of what I’ve been watching have been screeners for films from the SXSW that wasn’t (more on that later in the week), but one thing that proved exceptionally diverting—and not under embargo—was an impromptu marathon of the Poltergeist movies. There’s something about horror movies, particularly rewatching horror movies you’ve already seen, that just serves as a balm for an anxious soul like mine. We may all be stuck at home, but that’s better than being stuck in the netherworld between dimensions, right? Small blessings...
Other Podcast: The Ride installments might instill some longing for the pre-coronavirus days, when it was safe to leave the house and stand less than 6 feet apart from thousands of strangers for hours on end. But the 15-part (18-part for Patreon subscribers) Downtown Disney Ordeal tempers that premature nostalgia with Mike Carlson, Scott Gairdner, and Jason Sheridan’s own self-imposed confinement—in the various Super Mario Bros.-mimicking levels of the mall next to Disneyland, but also in the miniseries’ premise, as they heap hilarious degrees of mythology onto the established, ghost-child-in-purgatory setup of the Ordeal’s precursor in “extremely necessary” theme-park-adjacent-retail journalism, The CityWalk Saga. The Downtown Disney Ordeal invites the listener to share in its creators’ madness, until you too are googling the finer points of Planet Hollywood honcho and Earl Of Sandwich founder Robert Earl’s résumé and goading whomever you’re isolated with to say increasingly mundane phrases in the gravelly, extraterrestrial voice of Stitch from Lilo & Stitch.