During the first lockdown, many of us felt scared but somewhat excited about the fact restrictions would mean more time to relax and enjoy films, TV and books. By the second, we were bored of all stimuli, and now, a full year on from March of 2020, we’ve gone beyond boredom to a higher level of fatigue and inertia. We’ve absorbed all the entertainment we can.
Still, in the moments you’re ready for more, here are some recommendations from VICE staffers who write about culture, to keep you busy for the next few weeks.
This Sam Esmail-directed drama is kind of like WandaVision but without the Marvel easter eggs and boring Twitter drama. Julia Roberts plays a secretive psychologist who may or may not be doing Bad Things to her group of young army vets fresh from a tour of the Middle East. Are they in a Truman Show-esque medical facility? What’s with the weird onscreen aspect ratio? Why can’t Julia Roberts remember anything?
I strongly believe that Sam Esmail may well be one of the most slept-on prestige TV makers in the UK, in part because all his shows so far have been condemned to Amazon Prime here. If you’re curious about Mr Robot (which we recently named the defining show of the 2010s) but can’t quite bring yourself to commit to four seasons of hackers running around in New York, Homecoming is a great introduction to the work of this truly unique director. — Zing Tsjeng
Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell
Digging out new and exciting material on Netflix can feel like searching for a gold tooth in a septic tank. When a new documentary about rap superstar Biggie Smalls was announced earlier this year, I thought I knew better than the people behind the film, because I grew up in the 2000s and therefore watched loads of videos with titles like “East Coast Versus West Coast Rap Beef” and “Who Killed The Notorious B.I.G – SOLVED”.
Thankfully I was wrong. Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell actually does away with all the cheap-weed-smoke mythology fostered by teenage rap fans, and peeks into the Bed-Stuy pocket of Brooklyn where Biggie was raised. Guests include Biggie’s mum, local rap acts, hustlers and childhood friends; lots of the archive footage comes via longtime pal Damion “D-Roc” Butler and is genuinely “rare” and “unseen”. Focusing on these characters and background offers a fresh and fleshed out perspective. It’s a story you think you’ve heard, but one that’s never been told like this. — Ryan Bassil
I recently “ran out of things to watch”, meaning I’m all caught up on Real Housewives and cannot face watching another documentary about murder, and the perfect antidote has been a teen drama on BBC iPlayer. Based on the YA novel by Gretchen McNeil of the same name, in the show we follow four girls who attend a fancy private school and create a secret group – with their own little chant – all in the name of taking down bullies and their nonce teacher. Of course, there’s a murder too. Imagine if Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and Riverdale had a baby who just so happened to be British, and you have Get Even. – Nana Baah
Misc. online reading list
I’ve avoided reading words on websites throughout the pandemic, and pivoted instead to books and being a Goodreads nerd (Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer and Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again by Katherine Angel are two recent favourites). Anything to give my eyes and brain a rest from the 6+ hours a day of TV I can squeeze into my day.
That said, here are three solid online reading suggestions. Firstly, The Hollywood Reporter managed to track down Shelley Duvall, the actress who played the leading female character in The Shining. She became a total recluse in recent years, bar the infamously sad and worrying appearance on Dr Phil. I’ve definitely recommended this on the internet a dozen times already, but Liz Pelly’s Spotify column for The Baffler is worth returning to. There are plenty of ways streaming services exploit us and the artists whose music they sell, and Pelly investigates a fair few of them here. The other day I read this old account by Joanna Kavenna of a mad, lustful, aggressive female writer, Norma Scott. I googled her immediately to learn everything and buy one of her books – she was a total flop and arrogant boozehound apparently – but found nothing. It’s fiction; somewhere between a short story and an obituary of an unsung (and imaginary) legend. Would read. – Hannah Ewens
Luster by Raven Leilani
If you haven’t read Luster yet, you’ve probably seen its pout on your Instagram feed. The cover of Raven Leilani’s debut novel is emblazoned with a pair of glorious red lips. After nearly a year spent indoors, pawing at the outside world through our screens, it’s a visceral reminder of the power of IRL human bodies.
The story follows Edie, a 23-year-old artist floundering in a series of dead-end admin jobs, who’s trying to figure out why she can’t make herself paint anymore – the only thing she really enjoys. When she meets Eric, a much older white man in a sort-of open marriage, Edie, who is Black, finds herself at the centre of a confusing and, at times, surprisingly tender love triangle.
Luster opens with Eric and Edie on a rollercoaster, and the emotional lurches that follow offer the same queasy thrill. I wanted to get off, but also couldn’t stop turning the page to see whether Edie really would follow Eric’s slightly terrifying wife into a hospital morgue. In other words: Luster is a perfect dose of drama for anyone who feels done in by the absolute staleness of lockdown 3.0. – Phoebe Hurst
Outside of the depression that has, at this point, become part of my lockdown package deal (along with “elasticated trousers again” and “nuggets in bed, even more”), successive COVID-19 quarantines have kicked my arse in another way, too. They have finally broken me and made me a “podcast person”. I think this is down to the fact that other than texting and occasional video calls, I have been quite isolated from my friends for the past year, so listening to people speak about the stuff I’d otherwise discuss with my pals has been very invigorating. This is where my favourite show, Las Culturistas – hosted by the comedians Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang – comes in.
Whether going it alone or joined by guests, Matt and Bowen’s warmth and insight into the topics they care about – which range from Taylor Swift’s catalogue, to US politics, to being stoned at Busch Gardens – is basically what I turn to every time I’m in a shit mood. I think what I’ve learned with podcasts, as a relatively new convert to the medium, is that you have to find the one that makes sense for you. And though I’ve been listening to and loving the show since the beginning of quar (the episodes titled “The Top 200 Moments in Culture History” is a wonderful place to start, and includes recognition for “JIM CARREY AS GRINCH IN THE FILM GRINCH” in at number 93), it truly was when Matt Rogers confidently announced that Babu Frik from Star Wars was “one of the most sexually stunning men in the world” that I knew in my bones that I too could be a podcast person, and that Las Cultch was the podcast for me. Listen to it and avoid being a jester flop forever! – Lauren O’Neill
White-Collar Crime and Corporate Greed
I have a long-standing obsession with mysteries. Especially if they involve some kind of fraud or swindle. And especially if they involve the fraudster nearly getting away with it, but not quite. If you’re into all of the above, I fully recommend Swindled, which – until I rinsed all four seasons – was my go-to throughout the latter half of lockdown. Each hour-long episode tells a different story – from a life-long con artist impersonating a Saudi Arabian prince, to Anna Delvey pretending to be a wealthy German heiress – and they come out bi-monthly, so there’s plenty to choose from.
Another thing: this one is good if you listen to podcasts to get to sleep. My personal rule of thumb for a “getting to sleep” podcast is that it has to be interesting enough to focus on, but the voices can’t be too jarring. Swindled is perfect because the anonymous host’s voice is extremely one-tone and hypnotic, but you will most certainly not get bored. – Daisy Jones
Current entertainment just didn’t have the chops to see me through a third lockdown. Faced with the intense monotony and ambient dread of an entire calendar season spent indoors, only the past would do. So for anyone else who has spent the last three months feeling like a poltergeist in their own flat, may I recommend: many hours of lovesick pop, jazz and doo-wop music from the 1950s and 60s. The Shirelles, The Ronettes, The Dubs, Brenda Lee – the kind of stuff you’d expect to hear rattling out of a jukebox in rural America, only it’s you (me), wafting performatively around a shared kitchen every evening like Audrey Horne if she was lost in the contents of an Oddbox instead of her own mind or whatever.
It’s a wistful little bubble where everyone is “blue”, everything is “fading” and reality is something you deal with tomorrow. Difficult to recommend one thing in particular without sounding like Michael Bublé doing a radio special, but someone made a playlist of every song that appears in Mad Men in chronological order, so if you listen to the first half of that, that’s basically what I’m on about. – Emma Garland
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