During this time of uncertainty, people are using their time to master a new skill, like needlepoint or knitting. Some are baking bread or learning an instrument or language or writing a book. I’m doing none of that.
We are conditioned to use every spare moment for self-improvement so self-distancing at home and ‘doing nothing’ feels wrong. It’s normal to want to attach meaning to something catastrophic, like a global pandemic, but sometimes situations are just kind of sh-tty and if we get through the sh-ttiness without a new hobby, that’s OK, too. Here are a few of my recommendations to kill time without guilt or an iota of personal growth.
This is a meta experience that is part mockumentary, part inside-baseball dramedy about TV. Lisa Kudrow plays washed-up sitcom star Valerie Cherish who is trying to make a comeback (her claim to fame was a sitcom that ran just shy of 100 episodes). In order to get cast on a new show, she has to agree to a film a reality show to go along with it. As a middling but working actress, Val experiences all kinds of humiliation on set and from the executives, playing the part of both the on-set mother and writers’ room punching bag. The second season takes place 9 years later (both in real life and on the show) – Val is again trying to stage a comeback, this time self-producing a reality show and dealing with her husband Mark, who went from mildly amused at the cameras to outright furious at their loss of privacy. Lisa Kudrow is fantastic as the desperate, clueless and good-hearted Val. And you will be pleasantly surprised by Kellan Lutz. (Yes, it’s true!)
Do You Mind If I Cancel?
Writer Gary Janetti is Instagram-famous thanks to his Prince George Instagram account (which is being turned into an animated series). In his book of essays, he has just the right amount of bitchiness to be funny but not cruel. And who doesn’t want to read about how a suburban Saks employee prepares for Susan Lucci’s arrival?
Gary is also entertaining the masses with his Bradbucks storyline on husband Brad Goreski’s Instagram – they set up a “coffee shop” and each day Gary visits and has Brad the barista make his drink. This sounds like a porn setup but I swear it isn’t.
If you have kids at home, I feel you. Nailed It! is family-friendly viewing that twists those ridiculous baking shows reveals (you know, the ones where they put a working slot machine inside a cake or whatever) into good-natured fails. It’s silly and the contestants are in on it – no one here is meant to do well, but it’s not at all mean-spirited, especially because host Nicole Byer is a ray of sunshine.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
This bestselling book snagged a coveted spot on Reese Witherspoon’s list (and is reportedly set to be made into a movie). What I loved about the prickly Eleanor is her dry sense of humour and the way this story isn’t framed as trauma porn (despite Eleanor’s very traumatic past); the main character is written in a way that even if the Very Bad Thing hadn’t happened, I’d still care about her story. Also, Eleanor’s most meaningful relationships happen at work, which is interesting world-building.
The Favorite Sister
I’ve mentioned Jessica Knoll before because I love her writing; her book The Favorite Sister is a great read for people who both love and hate reality TV. It’s set around the fictional cast of a show called “Goal Diggers,” a group of “rich” women vying for camera time. Sound familiar? Though the premise is entirely fiction, it has a lot of insight into the mind of a female reality TV star of a certain age – what it takes to succeed in that world and why that subculture is so addictive, not just to the audience, but to the cast who make up the show. No one gives up their spot voluntarily.
Ozark is the bluest show on TV – I don’t mean in tone, I mean the show is literally blue. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s bingeable and dark, but not in a way that will keep you up at night. Also, Laura Linney is always fantastic and Jason Bateman isn’t playing the deadpan funny guy for once. He’s a deadpan dad in New Balance sneakers.
This is a traditional network sitcom with a unique premise: it’s not often you see addiction, recovery, and relapses treated so normally on TV. You can pick it up in any season for a random afternoon viewing. You don’t need to follow along the storylines as the show has retooled a few times, dropping characters and plot points. Anna Farris and Allison Janney anchor the show and give shape to and elevate the (sometimes mediocre) material.
This Bravo show is getting a lot of shine on social media as a WASPy Jersey Shore. Basically, a bunch of Manhattanites rent a summer share in the Hamptons where they can play dumb games wearing dumb costumes and have dumb fights, and go back to their regular life during the week. It’s not as contrived as other reality shows because the cast isn’t very famous and it feels less produced than a lot of other reality shows.
I discovered this site through Lainey, but it’s worth mentioning now as most of us are cooking more: Chungah Rhee’s recipes are accessible and simple, don’t use overly complicated processes or ingredients, and generally are good to make in big batches for freezing/leftovers.
Many people are not shopping right now, but for browsing (or looking for deals), I love Le Catch. It’s run by former Conde Nast editor Marlien Rentmeester, but this isn’t about head-to-toe designer looks. Instead, she often showcases one inexpensive piece and then builds a look around it. Alternatively, she will focus on a trend and find a selection of pieces to pull it off. Yes there’s some Gucci, but there’s also H&M, Zara, and Mango. She also curates sale items for sites like Shopbop, which can come in handy when there are dozens of styles to look through.