By Anne Brodie
We’re stuck at home, but with a little creativity, we can maintain good spirits and equilibrium. Watching shows and films is obviously the opiate of the people in the best of times. Now it’s crucial. Be sure to get outside for socially distant walks, bake, read and clean and commune with friends and family by whatever means you can. But each week I’ll offer suggestions to tame the anxieties, to dive into and face the anxiety, enjoy excellence and learn, and otherwise deal with pandemic and its limitations on our lives. This week, comfort shows are top of mind.
I Love Lucy remains the most loved sitcom of all time. Lucille Ball and husband Desi Arena were pioneering producers; Arnaz invented the three-camera shoot, Ball had the perfect showcase for her superlative physical comedy and the writers created deceptively simple scripts. It was magic. I Love Lucy is still on TV today, 69 years after its CBS debut. On CHCH.
At least two generations of fans can recite lines and catchphrases from another sitcom phenomenon, Seinfeld starring Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Richards, Jason Alexander and the extraordinary Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Four Manhattanites experienced nine seasons of nothing, minor stuff common to us all, and turned it into gold. Comfort, recognition, wit and friendship made this sing. Just the opening musical note makes the heart sing. On Comedy.
There are a few reasons for loving the Great British Baking Show and the Canadian version. Besides appealing, funny and witty hosts, the panoply of contestants’ personalities and diversity, there’s the learning factor, the fine print of baking, and the contest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pcafbc1SpbQ However, what is great is its ability to soothe – batter being stirred, icing being spread, decorating, presenting and eating. Mmmmmm. You’ll be inspired to bake! (and eat) On CBC Gem, YouTube, and Netflix.
What’s more diversionary than Absolutely Fabulous, Edina and Pats stumbling in and out of cars, seeking the next big thing that somehow evades, and the hilariously prickly relationship they have with Edina’s daughter? Not much. Again, highly quotable but be warned you have to listen closely to get all the funny bits that are just understated enough to make us bust a gut. Solid gold. On Out TV and occasionally Vision.
And those southern belles with their acidity funny tongues on Designing Women? Delta Burke, Annie Potts, Jean Smart and the late lamented Dixie Carter were upper crust Atlanta interior designers knew how to speak their minds. The show was polarising back in the day, many didn’t seem to “get” that they had strong opinions, would go after problematic sexists with a rifle or a tongue-lashing. Very funny and inspiring, plus Carter could sing a mean hymn. Watch them take down beauty contestants, Romeos, fakes and boors! On Shout TV.
Schitt’s Creek. Nuff said. We love Schitt’s Creek now in its sixth and final season. *Sigh* Find it on CBC Gem.
I’m blown away by the simple and sublime maritime noir Blow the Man Down on Prime Video. The coastal village of Easter Cove, Maine, with its choir of seafaring choristers singing sea shanties Go Down Ye Blood Red Roses and Ship in Distress, timeless, gooseflesh stuff. It’s an idyllic place on the surface, its traditional, tightknit and pretty but like any village, it has problems lurking beneath. For instance, Queen Bee (Margo Martindale) dominates. She’s pushed people around for decades and manages to run a brothel with zero legal consequences. She sidles up to two sisters mourning their mother’s death; one is attacked by a local and she takes drastic measures. Queen Bee shares disturbing info about their late mother, in this edgy mystery with all its secrets, lies, bodies, harpoons and danger. pile up. A terrific, beguiling film; smart, puzzling, and creepily seductive. The seafaring chorus is witness and reporter to events, and their songs are and guaranteed to give chills, but powerless to change a thing. Stars Morgan Saylor, Sophie Lowe, June Squibb and Annette O’Toole.
Phoenix, Oregon is the place where a guy stuck in a dead-end waiter job decides to turn his life around. He’ll invest his inheritance money in his friend’s scheme – a bowling alley serving “the world’s greatest pizza”. James LeGros and Jesse Borrego secure an investment from a billionaire and the game’s on. We see the small amusing details of life, macho bowling contests, and Le Gros can really bowl, taste tests, surly contractors, and its all good. And then… The writings clever, the characters mostly adorable and the result – amiable entertainment. The filmmakers offer a chance to see the film at home Log on to a theatre’s website and purchase a ticket to “Phoenix, Oregon” (a list of theatres where the movie is playing is available at www.phoenixoregonmovie.com, ) and email a copy of your purchased ticket or receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Netflix appears to have stockpiled programming for the next while – with a slew of varied and interesting shows. Self-Made: Inspired by the life of Madam C.J. Walker the true story of an African American woman, played by Octavia Spencer, who created a line to straighten women’s hair at the turn of the last century and died the richest woman and first female self-made millionaire in the US. Born Sarah Breedlove, the canny inventor succeeded through hard work, market research, salesmanship, and a product that worked, remembering her father’s advice to make her own money. Rather Hallmark in style, but a pleasant enough diversion. Co-stars Dorian Harewood and Tiffany Haddish. Soapy but Spencer works wonder, as usual.
Netflix’ Dirty Money: Jared Kushner will make your blood boil. Alex Gibney’s docuseries laser focuses on the bad deeds of the First son-in-law and heir to the Kushner real estate development company. Kushner shows a distinct lack of humanity, cruelty that is reflected back to him in Trump. In his mid-twenties, Kushner was put in charge of the family business when his father was jailed; like the Trumps, “family is business and your father is your boss”. Harassed and “physically and psychologically tortured” tenants of his 40 New York City and New Jersey buildings have filed thousands of complaints citing toxic mould, ceiling collapses, flooding, rats, asbestos, around the clock construction, all meant to drive them out so the buildings can be up marketed for huge profits. The stories are stunning; they show an evil character. Find out why he bought the New York Observer, how he harassed tenants who had long moved away with bogus fees, his penchant for gambling millions, and utter disdain for the law and endless lawsuits against bis company. And of course, his international influence has kept him very wealthy. Its all here.
Union looks at a little-known history of at least 400 women who passed themselves off as men to fight the Civil War. According to one account, a woman (Whitney Hamilton) assumes her dead brother’s identity aided by local First Nations who traditionally had no specific gender roles. “Henry” marries a widow (Virginia Newcombe) to save her farm and they fall in love. The crew shot for three years, in historic homes and battlefields in Alabama and Pennsylvania. The actors became Civil War reenactors playing both the Confederate and Union armies in this thoroughly researched passion project. Available on HBO PPV, iTunes, VUDU, Fandango, Flixfling, Frontier, Redbox, Direct TV, YouTube, Optimum, Google Play, Microsoft, Verizon, BRCT, Amazon
AMC Networks’ streaming service Sundance Now offers a rich selection of original and exclusive series from true crime to heart-stopping dramas and fiercely intelligent thrillers from around the world. They’re offering a free 30-day trial using special code: SUNDANCENOW30. On the menu A Discovery of Witches starring Matthew Goode and Teresa Palmer; the thriller Riviera starring Julia Stiles; British thriller The Cry starring Jenna Coleman; British psychological drama Cheat; New Zealand detective drama The Gulf; Nordic noir Wisting; French crime dramas The Red Shadows and The Bureau, plus State of the Union starring Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd, the miniseries The Little Drummer Girl starring Florence Pugh, Michael Shannon and Alexander Skarsgård; true-crime series Killing for Love with Amanda Knox’s podcast and Jonestown: Terror in the Jungle. www.sundancenow.com
And let’s not forget that Public Libraries of this province offer free movie and TV streaming through Hoopla Digital. All you need is a library card ad you’re good to go. A superior television lineup including British police procedurals and comedies, PBS library, fitness and exercise, home and lifestyle, homeschooling, reality programming, sci-fi, westerns and more than 796 titles. Hoopla’s massive film library offers everything you can possibly imagine – international, hit, genre, animation, documentaries and a world of subjects. And in the comfort of your home. https://www.hoopladigital.com/browse/movie/categories?page=1