I haven’t written anything here in a while, and the last thing I did write was about struggling with depression and maybe that’s not the coolest way to leave things. Long story short, still depressed but managing it better. Been dealing with insomnia for the last six months and on a good stretch I can sleep every other night. Not super healthy but I’m going to make it.
I don’t know how your anxiety levels are right now as the country burns down around us, but mine are very high. As a result, I find myself really gravitating toward comforting entertainment. There are exceptions, but mostly I’m enjoying things that are pleasant. And beyond that, I’m dealing with entertainment being an entirely solitary pursuit. For me it’s usually only mostly solitary. Beyond the fifty or so hours of podcasts pumped directly into my personal ears, I watch TV alone. But I usually go to one or two movies every weekend and hopefully experience something with strangers, and for years (at least a decade?) I’ve gotten together with friends to watch TV on Sunday night. I’m in charge of curating what we’ll be watching, so it’s inevitably something I’ve seen, but experiencing it with people I care about really means a lot to me. I hadn’t really thought about that until it was gone, but watching Fargo or The Good Place or Joe Pera Talks With You with my friends was a high point of the week, and it’s been seven months now and I miss it.
We’ve kept in touch with socially distant porch sits, but this is Michigan and it’s getting cold. In a couple of weeks we won’t be able to do that safely and there’s every chance that I won’t look anybody I care about in the eyes until March or April. It’s going to be tough.
Fargo is a show that I watched by myself as it aired because how do you not watch Fargo. But we went back and watched the first three seasons together and as good as this current season is, it hasn’t really clicked with me on an emotional level because I think of it as a group show now. I miss my friends and their reactions, whether it’s enthusiasm for shot composition or getting mad at me for violent scenes as if I had told Noah Hawley we really need to see the nail go through Dodd’s foot. I’m watching Fargo every Sunday and it’s great, but it’s not going to be important to me until that group viewing when we all get to enjoy Jessie Buckley’s performance and the fact that there’s a character named Doctor Senator. And they’ll just have to deal with me telling them that Doctor Senator played Mayor Royce on The Wire, probably more than once.
On the comforting front, I’ve been watching a lot of the DuckTales reboot, which I’ve talked about at length before and probably will again. I’m amazed at how it resurrects properties that were long after my time and I suddenly care very much about the way they’ve folded Darkwing Duck into this world. I’ve never seen TaleSpin, but the villains from TaleSpin are on the show now and they’re great. There was an episode about a literal robot boy, which is how I tend to describe myself, and it was beautiful. I almost wept with joy when I learned the season finale would be a Christmas episode. DuckTales, you guys.
Continuing on with things it would be less weird if I watched them with a child, the Disney+ talk show Earth to Ned is a delight. Ned is an alien tasked with destroying Earth who fell in love with pop culture and now abducts celebrities to appear on his talk show. All the aliens are creations of the Henson shop and it’s so good to see that kind of puppeteering magic again. It’s surprisingly funny, the guests are committed in that old Muppet Show way (Guys, it is a straight up shame that Gillian Jacobs was never a guest of the actual Muppets.), and the writing staff includes a lot of podcast favorites like Eliza Skinner, Nick Wiger, and Jordan Morris.
On the Disney front, I’m really looking forward to Friday’s return of The Mandalorian. I’ll be honest with you, I thought the first season was just OK. The middle of the season was pretty repetitive and it kind of played out like somebody banging Star Wars action figures together. Not Boba Fett and Not Yoda are having adventures and sometimes Not IG-88 shows up to help. But it’s that very familiarity that has me kind of excited right now. I need Baby Yoda being adorable and some easily solved conflicts and references to things I like. Carl Weathers is really funny and makes the most of some pretty dire dialogue. Gina Carano is a regular this season and she was awesome. We’re getting Timothy Olyphant this season and they’re threatening us with the return of actual Boba Fett, and I couldn’t care less about the last part. Boba Fett is cool armor without a character and the main character of the show has the same cool armor. But it’ll be good to get some straightforward sci-fi action where Not Boba Fett fights Gus Fring. (The man is a villain on this show, The Boys, Better Call Saul, and the voice of Lex Luthor on the Harley Quinn cartoon. He’s every villain.)
We’re only one episode to, but How to with John Wilson is set to be a new favorite. This HBO comedy is like if Nathan Fielder (an executive producer on the show) and Joe Pera raised a child. Shot mostly first-person, John Wilson learns how to do things. The first episode is about making small talk and it starts out silly but leans into the kind of surprise emotional content that Pera and Fielder do so well. There’s a bit where Wilson makes small talk with a guy who just seems like a drunk idiot but their paths keep crossing and Wilson gets to know somebody who at first seems entirely objectionable and there’s this simple beauty to it where it made me feel better about our dumb world for just a second.
I took a break from watching Doom Patrol because I love it and I was too depressed to enjoy it. But I jumped back in and had a blast. There’s something about these weirdos that make them the perfect superheroes for 2020. The guy who has to be wrapped in special bandages to protect the world, the woman who sometimes loses control of her skin, the depressed, poorly-built robot with a human brain. It’s kind of perfect. And for a Doom Patrol OG like myself, the fact that this show can bring us Dr. Time, Valentina Vostok, and Red Jack is just a blast. It’s been renewed for a third season and I’ll be interested to see what they do after leaning so heavily on Grant Morrison’s run on the comic for plots – they’re pretty much used up his material. But there’s been enough completely original stuff that I suspect they’ll step up nicely.
It’s weird to talk about upcoming seasons of things because who knows when they’re going to be able to shoot. And I’d rather they wait if there’s any question. The cast of Better Call Saul is a precious resource and they should not be taking unnecessary risks. We’ll wait. I’m way behind on Handmaid’s Tale and Pennyworth. I’m not hurting for things to watch.
Everything you’ve heard about Ted Lasso is true – it’s this wonderful, sweetheart comedy that will make you feel good. Jason Sudeikis is a football coach hired to come to England and coach the other kind of football. It’s great. It’s co-created by Bill Lawrence of Scrubs and you’ll see a lot of that here. Not the wackiness but things like the way the supporting characters are so immediately appealing that you love them right away and any time they combine in new ways it’s really rewarding. It’s one of my favorite shows of the year.
I’ve enjoyed new seasons of previous favorites like The Boys and A.P. Bio. I gave up on the original Walking Dead years ago but I think the current incarnation of Fear the Walking Dead is really good. Adult Swim’s violent caveman cartoon Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal is fantastic. As I write this, The Eric Andre Show is about to come back and I could really use some of his weird and offputting energy right now. I’m loving Archer‘s return to spycraft – I was worried about creator Adam Reed stepping down as showrunner, but the energy is still there after eleven seasons.
And obviously, there’s that Borat sequel on Amazon Prime. I wasn’t convinced there was a good reason to bring back Borat fifteen years later. But all the stuff about Giuliani touching his genitals in front of a woman he was led to believe was fifteen years old (It’s actually not clear from the movie whether he was told that before or after he jammed his hand down his pants, but either way it’s not a good look.) And, you know, I was interested to see how Sacha Baron Cohen could play his incredibly famous character and still catch people off guard. Well, he kind of can’t, but that’s a plot point in the movie. And where the original felt like he had to search for people who’d make for good comedy, it’s much easier to be an openly terrible person in 2020 and you can find a baker who won’t flinch when you ask her to put an anti-Semitic message on a cake.
I don’t want to spoil too much, but it’s really funny and there is a surprisingly effective emotional story. You will probably tear up, and nobody expected that from Borat. Plus, it’s directed by spunkybuddy Jason Woliner (Eagleheart, Parks and Recreation, The Last Man on Earth, a million other things) and he’s incredible. Part of this movie was shot post-lockdown and I have no idea how he managed that or how they prepared a completed movie less than three months after shooting ended. Woliner definitely remembers when I interviewed him nine years ago after he sent me a nice message – maybe I should see if I can get the scoop. (I definitely can’t.)
But here’s another thing about Borat that made it so special to me. I watched it long distance with a good friend, and it was the best time. Yes, we were 2,000 miles apart and communicating on one screen while watching the movie on another screen, but the experience of sharing a piece of entertainment with somebody I love in real time was so powerful. We were laughing at the same jokes and experiencing the emotional beats together and that’s something that I’ve missed so much. Having that connection over a fun movie meant the world to me and it made me feel like maybe I’m going to make it through the winter without completely losing my mind.
So those are the things you should watch and I’d also look into getting an amazing friend or two. A year ago I probably would have been more focused on the TV shows, but it’s entirely possible that I’ve grown as a person despite my best efforts.