Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis is keeping millions isolated indoors. That includes the staff of Hyperallergic, all of whom are currently working from home. With so much downtime off-hours, our writers and editors have had more opportunities to catch up with what’s been streaming. We thought we’d share what we’ve been watching. Here are our recommendations, encompassing documentaries, TV, YouTube videos, shorts and features, classic and contemporary films, and more.
I started this with hesitation. I mean, how interesting could a docuseries about people scamming the McDonald’s Monopoly game really be? But I quickly became a binge watcher, finishing all six hour-long episodes in two days, and I’m currently almost done with the related podcast. It’s a wild ride that includes the mob, the FBI, and characters who seem like they could’ve easily walked off the boardwalk in Atlantic City or a Florida golf course. You’ll fall in love with Robin Colombo (and her fashion sense), the sincerity of Gloria Brown, the colorful and bubbly energy of Doug Matthews, and the strange psychology of a large family that has a lot to say about one another.
If it wasn’t for 9/11, this story would be more widely known (it broke right before the attacks). Now you have the opportunity to catch up. It doesn’t feel like a commercial for McDonald’s, the FBI, or anyone else, but a good story that makes you question who the victim actually is. —Hrag Vartanian
Joe Pera Talks With You
“Rain rapping on windows has got to be the #4 most soothing sound. Milk being poured into a glass is close behind. Whole milk is especially soothing. But then again, most liquid pours are. Watching liquids flow from a large container to a small container is a delight. Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my morning coffee! Just kidding; I’m happy to talk anytime.”
This is my favorite series on television right now, and the recently aired second season takes its singular treatment of everyday life to a new level. Joe Pera, a beautiful, simple man with a soothing voice and manner, shepherds viewers through the most mundane subjects with an almost supernatural magnetism. Beautifully shot, incredibly funny, acted with incredible nuance, gentle in a way too few things are, and all packed into 11-minute episodes, any given installment is the perfect way to alleviate your anxieties, if only for a short time. —Dan Schindel
The fourth season of Better Things is currently airing, and I’ve been devoting my Friday nights to watching it. Following a single mother (played by creator Pamela Adlon) and her three daughters, it’s a rare gem in television. In addition to being very funny, it’s its quieter, unexpected moments, such as when it devotes entire scenes to Adlon cooking elaborate meals for her family. A fair warning that the girls can be insufferable at times, but then again, so was I when I was young. —Elisa Wouk Almino
On My Block
Sometimes you just need a complete distraction, or at least I do. These days, I’ve been taking a break from cinema and indulging in more lighthearted fare, such as this series created by Eddie Gonzalez, Jeremy Haft, and Lauren Iungerich. Best described by a friend of mine as “sort of like Degrassi, but set in the hood,” it follows a close-knit group of teens in the fictional LA neighborhood of Freeridge, where a relatable ensemble of Black and brown families are doing what they can to get by, even as the ripple effects of dueling gangs constantly get in the way.
Headstrong Monse (Sierra Capri) and secret soft boy Cesar (Diego Tinoco) recall a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, while the delightfully eccentric Jamal (Brett Gray), not-so-secret soft boy Ruby (Jason Genao), and Jasmine (low key the best of them all, played Jessica Marie Garcia) are similarly navigating the ups and downs of being a teen in a neighborhood where you’re lucky to have an actual childhood. At times heartbreaking and at other times hella corny, On My Block won me over early, and on many occasions it’s kept me up late, eager to see how things play out. —Dessane Lopez Cassell
Thus far, I’ve succumbed to hate-watching Netflix’s reality dating series Love Is Blind, but this weekend I plan to get to some of the classic films I’ve been meaning to watch. First on the list is Eve’s Bayou (1997), Kasi Lemmons’s classic of Black American cinema. Set during a sweltering Louisiana summer, the film observes the tribulations of a Creole family, as 10-year-old Eve’s (Jurnee Smollett) ideas around her affluent upbringing slowly unravel. She grows closer to her psychic aunt as she explores killing her adulterous father (Samuel L. Jackson) with voudou. —Jasmine Weber
On Amazon Video
You need some steely patience to persevere before this sci-fi series gets going, but once it does, you’ll see it’s worth the wait. There is political intrigue galore among myriad factions, plus a bevy of interesting characters, who fully develop over time (and are not stereotypes). What holds all the strings together, in tension that slowly ratchets higher each season, is the intrusion of an alien species (or two) that presents an existential threat to humankind, but also presents the opportunity for new technological leaps. It has decent action sequences, brilliant visuals, and excellent acting. Each successive season is better than the previous one. The only failure is one Martian pilot’s ridiculously bad Southern accent, which sounds like it was learned from a glitchy machine. —Seph Rodney
“If Our Bodies Could Talk”
On the Atlantic
I have been mostly enjoying the comfort of old sitcom favorites that let me turn off my brain. But reading James Hamblin’s COVID-19 reporting for the Atlantic led me to revisit the magazine’s video series “If Our Bodies Could Talk” from a few years back. In it, he explores all kinds of questions, from “Do we really need to shower?” to “What should you not say to a pregnant person?” Hamblin is not only a great writer and doctor, but also a deadpan comedian (“I would imagine that the most common questions are due date, sex, the location of your placenta, the volume of your amniotic fluid …”), and these shorts are lighthearted while still being informative. Another favorite (which unfortunately won’t be useful in practice right now) is on techniques for talking to strangers. —Ellie Duke
Nisman: The Prosecutor, the President, and the Spy
Nothing consoles me during difficult times like the stories about people who are worse off than me and situations more stressful than my own. This docuseries does the trick. It’s about Alberto Nisman, an Argentine prosecutor who was found dead in his apartment the day before he was set to testify against the president in 2015. Regardless of whether you think his death was a murder or a suicide (both sides are represented), this series will easily take your mind off the pandemic. —Valentina Di Liscia
Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers
There’s a reason it’s been called the “Russian penicillin,” the “natural antibiotic,” and the “plant talisman,” among other praise for its medicinal benefits.Garlic was once the go-to remedy during epidemics liked typhus, dysentery, cholera, and influenza. It boosts the immune system and possesses anti-inflammatory qualities that have been found effective for treating asthma, digestive disorders, heart disease, infection, and respiratory disorders, among other things. Today, not enough people appreciate garlic’s healing powers, and that’s a shame.
This delightful 1980 documentary, directed by Les Blank and Maureen Gosling, is a loving ode to garlic throughout different cultures, and it’s surprisingly fun to watch. And now it’s more timely than ever, because if you’re looking to ward off COVID, you’ll find no better friend than garlic. A tip: Don’t take the supplements, eat the real thing (Ed. Note: Hyperallergic is not a medical publication and bears no legal liability for any health advice readers may follow.) —Hakim Bishara
My first time watching Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece is indelibly seared in my memory. It was during a series of snow days, for which I hunkered down with a stack of DVDs and library books. I was enthralled. No film since has given me the same sense of sheer wonder and astonishment, nor drawn out the gut-wrenching emotions that Miyazaki was able to with his magical bathhouse. Now, staying indoors at the behest of the CDC, I’m now going to revisit some Studio Ghibli films I haven’t seen in years, like My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), and others I have shamefully never seen at all, like Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), Princess Mononoke (1997), and Ponyo (2008). —Jasmine Weber
In 1945, Salvador Dalí began working on a project with Walt Disney, which was brought to a halt by the latter’s financial struggles. The film wasn’t completed in their lifetimes, but in 2003, Walt Disney Feature Animation finally produced Destino using the storyboards Dalí left behind. I find myself returning to this enigmatic, shapeshifting animation time and time again, especially in moments of loneliness or uncertainty. Scored by Mexican songwriter Armando Domínguez with a performance by singer Dora Luz, it’s short enough that it offers a momentary escape for all of us still working full-time. —Valentina Di Liscia
I love receiving Criterion’s weekly newsletter with recommendations of what to stream. Recently they spotlighted this unusual 1998 stop-motion short, about a cloistered nun. It was directed by Nietzchka Keene, best-known for her feature The Juniper Tree (Björk’s film debut). At turns meditative and psychedelic, the short begins with the nun being visited by birds, who become lenses through which we understand her life of piety. —Elisa Wouk Almino
“FAKE FRIENDS EPISODE TWO: parasocial hell”
This is my favorite video essay. An epic feature length, it exhaustively details the strange modern landscape of the internet and how it’s warped our relationships with people we don’t actually know. From a penguin who fell in love with a cardboard cutout of an anime characters to people who “ship” real-life figures, creator Shannon Strucci delves into how the simulacrum of connection is increasingly substituted for the real thing. —Dan Schindel