Traveling at Home: A Lockdown Viewing Tour

Those four walls inch closer every day. You know every dog on your neighborhood walking circuit by the sound of their bark. There’s not a weed to be found in the garden beds, while there’s less and less sleep to be found in your bed. You actually look forward to suiting up for your weekly Mad Max grocery expedition, because it’s the only thing that will happen all week.

Maybe it’s time to go somewhere.

If you’re through binging Tiger King, consider branching out into obscure corners of the streaming world. This is a great time to travel virtually. Keep in mind, most streaming services are offering extended free trials. Here are few streaming recommendations for Americans trapped at home, some new and few pulled from recent years.

Happy Valley – series
Netflix
UK

Crime drama set in Yorkshire’s Calder Valley, nicknamed “Happy Valley” for its rampant drug use. Unusually humane and poignant portrait of ordinary life in England’s declining provincial back-country. Sarah Lancashire plays a grieving, no-fucks-to-give street officer, demoted from her former position as a detective in the wake of her daughter’s suicide. Alternately hilarious and depressing, the performances make it impossible to turn off. For Americans there’s the adding twist of watching “the little differences” in crime practice and portrayal in a place where guns, and gun-violence, are rare. Unless you have lots of experience in Britain, use closed captioning. Those Yorkshire accents are brutal. Even in the UK viewers have complained about “poor sound quality” as a proxy for this problem.

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations – series
Hulu
US

Anthony Bourdain is the nearest thing I’ve had to a hero. His death was a terrible loss. From a 2018 post:

“Anthony Bourdain fought to create a sense of authenticity in a food and travel medium dominated by feel-good bullshit. Bourdain was to the travel and food world what The Ramones were to music; honest, raw, irreverent, but most of all playful. He elevated a previously banal medium into some of the most moving art of our time. He created a way of seeing the world that did not previously exist.”

His Mozambique episode in season 8 is a great starting point.

Tigertail – film
Netflix
Taiwan/US

If you enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians, but thought it was too glossy, commercial and cheesy for your taste, Tigertail may be what you’re looking for. A complex, sophisticated intergenerational tale of struggle and lost romance. A boy whose family struggles under the Kuomintang dictatorship, agrees to an arranged marriage and immigrates to the US. Beautifully rendered cinematography makes this a remarkable stay at home travel experience.

My Brilliant Friend – series
HBO
Italy

Based on the novels by Elena Ferrante, it’s a coming of age drama beginning in a freshly-built, post war settlement at the edge of Naples. Two girls who are rivals at school become friends. Only one is able to remain in school, her family scraping together the money to maintain tuition. Their friendship and rivalry grow more painful as their lives diverge. The story develops into a Mad Men-esque portrait of women’s repression and resistance in the years before the rise of the women’s movement. You can’t go to Italy right now, but this is a chance to immerse yourself in the language and history of the place.

Babylon Berlin – series
Netflix
Germany

Highly stylized crime drama set in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis. Fascinating view of ordinary life for Germans and the forces at work there in the 20’s. Season 1 is riveting, if the plot is occasionally a little strained. Season 2 can be skipped. It’s a mess, with a campy plot more appropriate to a Scooby Doo episode, with tacked on elements aimed at keeping the wider setting in view. They probably should have stopped with a single season, but that first season (as with True Detective) is enough to earn a recommendation.

Roma – film
Netflix
Mexico

Complex portrait of the relationship between an affluent Mexican family and their beloved and overlooked indigenous domestic worker. Delivers at glimpse at an era of political oppression in Mexico seldom noted by Americans. Of particular interest is the awkward power relationship between the “woman of the house” and servant, and the degree to which their fates are shared.

Train to Busan – film
Netflix
South Korea

It’s a fine exemplar of the zombie story, but that’s not enough to land it on this list. As with Happy Valley, part of the interest comes from the “little differences” across cultures that can explain so much. Watching this film from our present perspective a few things jump out. We get a peek at the pandemic obsession, a hangover from the SARS experience, that has morphed into a zombie obsession there, dribbling into other popular works like the series, Kingdom.

A Very Secret Service – series
Netflix
France

A wry satire, centering on a young man’s effort to climb the ladder in the French Secret service. Scenes from a mission in the Soviet Union are absolutely hysterical. Ties between contemporary leaders of the service and the occupation-era Nazi regime are a dark, running joke. There’s a flow to this story that takes a little time for an American to appreciate, but it’s worth the investment.

Parasite – film
Hulu
South Korea

An allegory centered on a poor family who devise a scheme to earn a living providing services in the home of the wealthy Parks. Their efforts seem harmless enough until they discover the other family they have displaced as they worm their way into the Park’s world. The plot is good, but the filming is amazing, each scene freighted with layers of meaning. This one will stick with you, rolling through your brain for days.

10 Comments

  1. Sorry, I just want to throw out there:

    A lot of independent small repertory cinemas have agreements with their equally small indie distributors to showcase streaming new releases with “digital tickets” that go toward the cinema that would otherwise have been showing their films. It’s sort of a courtesy toward a reverse relationship: those cinemas are the only places the indies can get screened, so now those indies are the only way cinemas can get box office revenue.

    Please consider looking up the websites of your most local independent cinemas and checking to see if they have digital screenings available. Look through their listings and watch something new.

  2. I’ve been watching a Mexican coming-of-age crime drama road trip series called Unstoppable on Netflix. It’s the type of story where all the characters are realistically obnoxious but you’re rooting for them to grow up and succeed anyway. Think like, Y Tu Mama Tambien meets Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

    Story aside, the imagery and color of this show are gorgeous. Shot very pretty. It’s nice to have on muted while you’re working from home so you get some color to look at too.

  3. Happy Easter!

    Why does the Easter bunny hide his eggs….he doesn’t want anybody to know he has been fucking a chicken.

    I call Easter zombie day, Jesus was the first zombie, or was it Lazarus. Both supposedly rose from the dead, take your pick.

    Thanks for the suggestions Chris.

  4. I would add 2018’s The Death of Stalin (think it is on Netflix).
    This is one of the funniest things I have seen.
    And I do mean intentionally funny. Like dark, intentional funny.
    Same guy that did Veep.

    Completely unrelated, and of no real value, given the horrible recording in Italy, China, and the U.S., but sometime today the U.S. will pass Italy as the country with the most “official” deaths.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.