Content for dark times: Streaming my way through the chaos

Turn it off. That's what I've been told by colleagues, my doctor, friends, and family. The news and social media are designed to keep us outraged and glued to the incessant stream of breaking news and chaos. We wake up in the night, pick up our phones, scan the headlines. Doomscrolling, they call it. Webster has taken note.

The privilege of being able to turn any of this off is not lost on me, as so many don't have the luxury of frivolous escape or self-care. Purposefully turning away from injustice, a public health crisis, and the undermining of American democracy, even for an evening, can feel like acquiescence.

Many of us, however, benefit from getting out of our own heads for a bit, to interrupt the constant stream of chaos. Like the flight attendants say, "Secure your own oxygen mask before helping others."

Hobbies, meditation, exercise, cooking, home improvement, or just being with family are great ways to disconnect. I'm sure most doctors would not recommend television as the best way to disconnect. However, for folks like me whose thoughts and worries tend to remain somewhat present during the above unplugged activities, there's nothing like getting lost in a narrative, another world, or to view life from another perspective to take us out of my real-world worries for a little while.

Thankfully, during this time when scripted film and television production has largely come to a halt due to COVID, there's an abundance of riches at our fingertips due to the explosion of streaming platforms and the race to amass deep catalogs of original programming. Never in history has there been so much quality content available to us.

The following are a few of the shows that have served as an oasis of sorts during this period of darkness, providing much-needed laughs, wisdom, enlightenment, or sheer distraction for a moment.

Stath Lets Flats:
A hidden gem currently streaming on HBOMax (two seasons), this British comedy import's premise feels derivative of The Office and Parks & Rec (incompetent but lovable cast of employees shot in documentary style), but the writing and the ensemble cast are so good and so funny that you won't care. The show stars real-life brother and sister Jamie and Natasia Demetriou (you know the former from Fleabag and the latter from What We Do In The Shadows), as Greek-Cypriot transplants working in their father's struggling apartment rental agency. It's consistently gut-bustingly funny, cringe-inducing, and ultimately sweet.  And it just took home two BAFTA awards, in case those kinds of accolades help to sell you. 

What We Do In The Shadows:
I initially resisted this show, which is based on the 2014 mockumentary movie of the same name. I loved the movie, and its characters so much, that I feared the show (featuring different actors in the central roles) might pale in comparison. If you have resisted it for any reason, I can assure you that this is the funniest, smartest, most satisfying and absurd show show on the planet right now. Give it two or three episodes for its characters, its aesthetic, and its world-building to sink their teeth into you. As it turns out, the mostly British starring cast is absolutely perfect, and after two seasons, I can't imagine anyone else in the roles. This has quickly vaulted into my top 3 all-time favorite list.


Another British import, Brassic is an incredibly funny, and surprisingly heartfelt comedy-drama about a ragtag bunch of friends stuck in a dead-end Northern town with little opportunity. The main character, Vinnie, is bipolar, and the show is smart (and funny) in its handling of mental health, just as it is with its exploration of class and privilege. The show does a great job of making this madcap pack of ne'er-do-wells, petty criminals, and goofballs completely human and likeable. It's a gem. 

If you've seen the ads, you might dismiss it as yet another teen drama. It *is* a teen drama, but there's something really special about Euphoria. Sure, it's incredibly graphic -- nudity, sex, violence, substance abuse, profanity, you name it -- but it's also very real, incredibly honest, and thoroughly compelling, with a top-notch ensemble cast.  The characters feel real, and they’re navigating real-world problems: high school, sexuality, gender identity, peer pressure, body image, social media, addiction, abuse, trauma, etc. It's messy, profane, and shocking, much like teen life. But the show treats its characters with great care and authenticity. 

I May Destroy You:
Like 'Euphoria,' HBO's 'I May Destroy You' is graphic, honest, and authentic, with a stellar cast. Like Euphoria, it unflinchingly explores modern societal issues, mostly relating to consent, sexual assault, and the complex intersectionality of race, class, sexuality, and gender. It's an ambitious show, deftly examining the nuances -- and messiness --  of #MeToo from an array of perspectives. Like Euphoria, it's consistently compelling storytelling with the power to open minds, to educate, and to inform. At times, 'I May Destroy You' and 'Euphoria' get a little heavy, and may not be the escape from reality you might be seeking right now, but I feel like I needed both of these shows. Both have the power to impact how we perceive those who are different from us. Both are reminders that everyone is fighting battles we know nothing about. Both illustrate the importance of looking out for one another, persevering, and questioning even our deepest held convictions. 

Amazon's genre-bending animated series is one of those shows that most people explain by saying, "you just have to see it." According to Amazon, 'Undone' explores "the elastic nature of reality through its central character, Alma. After getting into a near fatal car accident, Alma discovers she has a new relationship with time and uses this ability to find out the truth about her father's death." That's not a bad elevator pitch, but it leaves out the fact that it's visually stunning, using an animation technique called rotoscope to produce the mind-bending visuals necessary to tell this interdimensional time-travel story. Similar to the style of Richard Linklater's 'A Scanner Darkly,' these are real actors (including Rosa Salazar and Bob Odenkirk) playing the roles, but it's as if each frame has been painted over by hand, giving it a dream-like quality, in which characters can float or be transported to another time, space, or dimension. It's a lovely, thought-provoking, and thoroughly engaging meditation on mental illness, loss, grief, family, and heritage.


This Ridley Scott-produced HBO Max sci-fi serial has to be the most pleasant TV surprise of 2020. I'm not a huge sci-fi nerd, although I do count Brazil, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Blade Runner among some of my favorite movies. I like my sci-fi dystopian, aesthetically stunning, intellectually stimulating, and I prefer to do some work rather than be constantly spoon-fed every detail or plot point. Raised by Wolves is all of this and more, exploring the nature of belief, morality, and free will (and so much more). Like Blade Runner, it also explores the nature of artificial intelligence -- at what point is an artificial life human, and can we trust artificial intelligence to make the most ethical/moral choices?
While there are many shows that compel you to binge, to devour as much as you can in one sitting, Raised by Wolves is a show to savor.  While it moves at a brisk pace, and is never dull, there is so much to take in, and lots to think about.  It's a show that rewards repeat viewings, and you may find yourself spending time reading critical analysis of each episode, or brushing up via the show's Fandom wiki. It's a show that takes place in its own unique speculative universe, with its own history, and much of the first season is spent acclimating you to its world-building. Four episodes in, and I'm hoping that the show continues for years -- it's that good.  

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