There are only so many ways I can phrase it: The reality we’re living in sucks. People are battling the novel coronavirus, are out of work, and some are learning to grieve without being able to hug their loved ones; health care workers are facing supply shortages and trying to not get sick themselves, and we're all generally waiting for some sense of normalcy to return.
If Instagram is any indication of what we should be doing when faced with time indoors, then there are crafts to learn, recipes to try, and fat to burn. But sometimes you just need to sit on the couch and reconnect with the characters you love. We recommend going back to those shows and movies you can watch and rewatch again and again; the ones that make you feel like you're living in a different time, with soundtracks you can't get enough of. Here’s what we consistently rely on to get us through it (whatever “it” may be).
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Dazed and Confused
All movies are time capsules, really. Especially movies about high school. The particular high school time capsule I prefer to swallow most often is Richard Linklater's 1993 masterpiece, Dazed and Confused. Not only is it a miracle of casting, writing, production design, and music licensing, but it's spiked with a very specific strain of low-key chill that many lesser movies have tried and failed to replicate.
The characters are familiar. Even though the film is set in Austin, Texas, in 1976, each of these teens has traits and mannerisms you'll recognize from somebody you knew in high school. (It's also easy to spot yourself; I'm Adam Goldberg's Mike for sure.) And that's what makes the movie so rewatchable. Hanging out with these carefree kids—riding in cars with them, eating fast food with them, carousing at the moontower with them, watching the sun come up with them—is pretty close to hanging out with your own friends. And every time you press play, you get to relive the best night of your lives all over again.
Parks and Rec
Parks and Recreation is a workplace comedy like The Office, but it tastes like funnel cake instead of pepper flake-laced sausage pizza. Both feature a delicious ensemble cast but whereas The Office is a little hurt-y and savage, Parks and Rec melts in your mouth like a golden memory of a small-town life that sort of never really existed in the first place. Also, Rashida Jones appears in both.
My 11-year-old has been rewatching the entire series from his quarantine couch, which means that I’ve been rewatching it too, and it now seems like quaintness squared. Look at all those people! In a room together! Touching! Solving picayune problems like the city planning process for a harvest festival in the total absence of a complete and total global cessation of public life! The series gets better as it goes on, so if you don’t like season one, press on. Because this show is just so nerdy. What other show gets Madeline Albright, John McCain, and Michele Obama on as cameos? Or makes good governance a plot point, whilst also giving the meat-eating, gold-hoarding, wood-working character of Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) a nice firm manly handshake. And if you make it to the Cones of Dunshire episode, just … keep going to see how the world shakes out when earnest inventor-nerds confront vapid techno-snoops.
Oh, to be traipsing around a city, smoking arguably too much weed and getting into shenanigans with my squad. Broad City is hilarious. Despite having watched it a few times now, I still double over laughing at least once every episode. But it’s also thoughtful, discussing real-life struggles behind its veil of humor. Watching Abbi and Ilana navigate their friendship has reawakened me to the importance of platonic intimacy—especially right now, while all of my friends are out of reach.
Life can get messy, and life can get tough, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the world is changing all around us. We still have each other. And someday (hopefully) soon, we’ll be able to hug, and get drinks, and do all of the things I miss the most. For now, though, I’ll be living vicariously through the screen.
A few holidays ago (when we could still be together), my parents' kitchen was packed full of family when the broom propped in the corner suddenly fell over. My mom, two sisters, and I all stopped what we were doing and said, "company's coming," as if on cue. The line is from Practical Magic, a movie I've seen so many times that small pieces of regular life remind me of it—stirring a cup of tea, midnight margaritas, wrapping a cardigan around myself as the wind blows. I love it so much, I even have a tattoo inspired by it.
On the surface, the story is about witches, but it's more than that (as most witch stories are). It's about the bond of sisterhood and family, love, and women standing up for themselves and each other. Anytime I’m longing for my sisters, I curl up with a blanket, light some candles, and watch Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock as the Owens sisters. I may or may not also pretend to cast spells.
Stream it on: Amazon
Full disclosure: I will watch and rewatch any Richard Curtis film (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually). They all have the same spectacular British character actors filling the same familiar tropes—the bumbling aristo, the jerk best friend, the wild-at-heart sister, and the beautiful, feisty American who grabs the stuttering, sheepish hero by the hand.
Yes, I understand how insular this world is, where everyone is white as snow, no one ever seems to work, and they all have a familial castle and famous friend tucked away somewhere. It doesn’t matter. About Time unlocks some encrypted code to oxytocin in my brain. I bask helplessly in the charisma and goodness of Dohmnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams, in this imaginary world where even the smallest side characters have moments of whimsical joy, and where all our problems can be solved if we just held our loved ones a little tighter and looked at them a little closer. More than ever, I need that right now.
Star Trek: Voyager
Few Trekkers probably list Voyager as their favorite series. It has a lot of Star Trek's best qualities, and a lot of its worst. For a ship stranded 70,000 lightyears on the other side of the galaxy, the chummy 150-person crew of Voyager rarely deal with the maintenance or emotional problems that would accompany such extended isolation. They mosey through their seven seasons meeting fun new alien species each week, taking countless unnecessary detours to explore space, despite their perilous 70-year journey back to Earth.
Voyager may be lost, but the show takes me back home. For seven years, it was always my Star Trek. I thought Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) was a badass, and rooted for the prickly holographic Doctor as he kept working to get recognized as a person, not a program. My mother and I would watch it religiously each week. We never missed an episode—even when I was in the hospital. When I left home, I introduced it to my friends in college, too. And now I'm rewatching it with my wife as we spend our weekends cooped up. I've had a tougher time watching serious dramas these days, but Star Trek is always an adventure and always gets you thinking. That's what I love about it.
—Jeffrey Van Camp
Stream it on: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, CBS All Access
Phineas and Ferb
The jaunty opening titles sum up the premise of the Disney animated series: In each episode, two brothers devise a new project to fill the hours of a summer’s day. That’s right, these youngsters are on eternal summer vacation. Sound familiar? Luckily, our kid protagonists have a knack for invention, able to fashion time-traveling machines and roller coasters in record time. (“Aren’t you a little young to be a roller coaster engineer?” goes a running refrain from the show’s adults. Phineas replies, “Yes, yes I am.”) Its script sparkles with original musical numbers, wordplay, and wry winks at children’s TV tropes.
Watching it is like eating cotton candy by the fistful, but it is also persistently hopeful. It’s about kids who build stuff, not in service to #thegrind, but for the fun of it. It’s a reminder that glee can continue to exist in this strange, shapeless quasi-summer. Am I a little old to be binge-watching a show that features a song titled “SIMP Squirrels In My Pants”? Yes, yes I am.
Seinfeld is the perfect quarantine rewatch—reliably funny, but near-impossible to get emotionally invested in. Plus, it's a portal to a New York where people still sit down to gab at diners, hang out with their neighbors, and take pleasure in complaining about city life. Oh, the complaining! Nobody complains better than Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George. For anyone who cannot deal with even an iota of additional sentimentality right now, Seinfeld is an ideal viewing experience.
Skins is not a typical feel-good show. It’s dark, shocking, and riddled with the sort of coming-of-age angst that brings back uncomfortable memories of teenagedom. Maybe it’s regression that’s to blame for me returning to a show that got me through my formative years, but I’ve been rewatching nonetheless. With relatable characters, a killer soundtrack, and envelope-pushing plotlines that border on the wrong side of dramatic, it’s hard to look away. The series also has seven seasons’ worth of hour-long episodes, so it’s perfect for a long watching session. When the credits roll, I’m left with one thought: No matter how bad things get, at least I’m not a teenager anymore.
Stream it on: Netflix
I rewatch movies a lot, but I rarely rewatch a full TV series from start to finish more than once. When it comes to Parenthood, though, I can't remember how many times I’ve seen this. And not just watch an episode here and there, but binge every season over and over again, and laugh and cry like it's the first time. The series follows the four Braverman siblings as they navigate their adult lives, dealing with each other, their parents, jobs, and children.
I turn to this show for everything: when I’m feeling sad or out of sorts, need a good pick me up, or just want to feel connected to the Braverman family again. Even if I can't relate to their upper middle class San Francisco suburban existence, I do understand the siblings' strong bonds and the need to stick with family through it all.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel
Joss Whedon’s cult-beloved shows about a suburban vampire slayer and her motley crew of high-school misfits are equal parts coming-of-age tales and action-packed adventures. Both the original series and later spinoff Angel (which ran after Buffy starting in the fourth season) are masterpieces of character development that foreshadow the golden age of TV.
Fantastic screenwriting and near-perfect casting makes each episode as funny as it is profound, with both shows tackling tough themes—self-discovery, love, and unavoidable loss—with surprising delicacy. They'll have you bawling your eyes out over a fallen friend one second, laughing at rubber-suited demons (gloriously ‘90s practical effects!) the next. Each episode gives me a slightly more hopeful outlook; if Buffy, Angel, and their friends can cope with a world that’s constantly on the verge of collapse, maybe I can too.
What the hell’s a Bruges? The strange name of this flick is what put it off my list of movies to watch for a long time until my brother recommended it. Don’t be like me and judge a movie by its title.
To answer my first question, Bruges is a city in Belgium. It’s the backdrop of this film, which is about two hitmen (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) laying low after a job doesn’t go as planned. The witty dialogue is fun, but the cinematography is the star. You feel like you’re being given a tour of this magical, medieval city. Did I mention it’s equal parts hilarious and dark? One moment you’ll be bursting with laughter about alcoves and the next you’ll feel the somber chill of what Ralph Fiennes’ character is about to do. It’s not the cheeriest of films, but there’s some manner of comfort I get from continuously rewatching these characters on screen and seeing them take in the oh-so-beautiful Bruges.
Stream it on: HBO Now, Amazon (and HBO through Amazon)
The Simpsons (Early Seasons)
In 1989, few TV shows were big on telling you the truth—that when you got older, authority takes off its teacher outfit and puts on a suit and tie. And that even though we look to them for guidance as kids, adults haven't figured the world out either. The early seasons (there are now more than 30 of them) were subversive as hell, but they were also the most tender and emotionally touching television of the time. Characters became better—but not angelic—people because they felt how their own shortcomings let down the people they loved. Not only that, but any episode focusing on Moe Szyslak or Monty Burns is comedic gold.
Stream it on: Disney+