Us Chicagoans are now starting up our fourth week of shelter-in-place orders amidst the greatest pandemic of modern history. Since mid-march we haven’t been able to visit bars, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, and yes, our workplaces.
In my apartment I find myself surrounded by more screens than a Las Vegas sportsbook, alas with no sports to be played.
It is truly a tragedy out of the Twilight Zone.
In these high-pressure days, I’m watching a shitload of TV. Like, a metric fuckton of television. It’s been too cold for my taste to run in the mornings so far, though that should change shortly here, so I’m confined to the couch at the golden hour.
Since time literally has no meaning whatsoever, my body clock is transforming me into my father: up at 5 am, for no fucking reason, stretching just for the sake of stretching, and taking great pride in the fact I’m the first person in a 1,000-mile radius to read the front page of the newspaper. (This is where the apple falls farther from the tree. I listen to the NYT podcast The Daily instead of reading the paper, though I still do get a paper on Sunday’s, for some reason.)
After these rituals are complete, I have roughly three hours until I clock into work. Since I write in order to make money at my nine other jobs, I find my pen to be most productive during these quiet hours of the morning.
But when I have little to do or write about, I turn to the television. For inspiration. For escape. For catharsis. And most importantly, amusement.
Since I’m a writer, I think I have the best taste. And I want to tell you all about how mature and refined my palate is for the small screen.
Below is an exhaustive list of the TV and movies I’ve been watching as of late, ranked in order from best to Love is Blind.
I’m also including the movies I’m watching and other shit I’ve been doing. Because at this point this is becoming more for me than it is for you.
Better Call Saul: AMC
I just can’t get over how good this show is. I’ve been keeping up with Saul since it started airing five years ago, and it is hitting its stride in the current season in a form rarely seen on TV. At this point, it has unquestionably surpassed its predecessor, Breaking Bad, in terms of quality.
But I would not be able to enjoy Saul to the degree I do if not for its source material. If you’re a BB fan and haven’t started this yet, what the Hell are you waiting for? The first four seasons are streaming on Netflix.
Rhea Seehorn, if you’re reading this... why haven’t you responded to my DMs?
The Young Pope, The New Pope: HBO
I watched the Young Pope when it aired in 2017. I remember liking it, and that’s about it. When the new season came out starring John Malkovich in February, I decided to revisit the first season because what is time, y’know?
I enjoyed the Young Pope on second viewing much more than I remember. It’s the perfect combination of weirdness, humor, and sensory overload in a TV show about the Vatican church. I found the New Pope to be inferior to its predecessor, but still worth the watch. It might be the most aurally and visually pleasing show I’ve seen.
And the soundtrack absolutely S L A P S.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: HBO
This season of Curb has been absolutely, positively brilliant. The Jon Hamm episode is probably the single funniest 40 minutes in television history, while Spite Store is on Mt. Rushmore.
Larry David remains a fluorescent pale light in the dark.
The Plot Against America: HBO
As of this writing, only three episodes have aired in David Simon’s latest work, but the most recent installation was a fantastic hour of television. It’s not the most cathartic watch in these times, but the allegory and story arcs are masterful. And I normally don’t care for alternative history.
But I do care for John Turturro with a southern accent.
This show was adapted by Andy Greenwald, a former TV critic for Grantland. The source material is an old, obscure novel of the same name by one Ross Thomas. I started reading Thomas’ books after Greenwald and Chris Ryan wouldn’t shut up about them on their podcast years ago. It’s been a delight watching Greenwald adapt an old novel into a modern action thriller dramedy.
I’ve been a fan of Greenwald since college. I read his TV criticism, and listen to his podcast religiously. I’ve never met him, but I feel like I know him. When I watch Briarpatch, I feel a weird sense of pride for my friend. I can tell when he’s left little Easter eggs in the show that only devout listeners would understand. The way he deviates from the source material (which is often) in the show is just classic Greenwald.
Starring Jay R. Ferguson, Rosario Dawson, and a handful of other familiar-but-not-nameable character actors, this show is like Twin Peaks for a more cowardly generation.
Great job, Baranski!
From the same guy who brought you Ex Machina, Devs is a great SciFi show starring Nick Offerman as a Tech billionaire who wants to rewrite history. Literally.
So far, Devs has high highs and low lows, but I think the payoff will be worth it.
Top Boy: Netflix
Consider this show like The Wire, but in modern London. It was originally just two seasons across the pond, but then Drake picked it up and brought it back to life on Netflix. I friggin’ love British television and this does not disappoint.
And yes, I have to watch this with subtitles, because cockney is closer to Cantonese than it is English.
Tiger King: Netflix
You’ve probably already watched this. There’s nothing I can say about it that you haven’t already thought to yourself.
My only take is this: it’s fine. Highly enjoyable, but this turd sort of shines in the light of a pandemic where everyone is glued to their couch and Twitter at the same time.
So far, Tiger King is the only winner of the quarantine.
Love is Blind: Netflix
Fuck this show with a tire iron.
What’s in the queue:
Zero Zero Zero, Amazon. Season three of The Crown, Netflix. Sex Education, Netflix. Years and Years, HBO. Hunters, Amazon. Little Fires Everywhere, Hulu.
I’ve only watched two movies for the first time under lockdown: Snowpiercer and Apocalypse Now.
The former was bizarre, if not entertaining. Though I am really mad about the way the train cars were arranged. And the way it ended. I want to talk about it, but I won’t ruin it for you.
The latter was good, if not a little disappointing since my expectations were sky-high for it. And why were they hiding Marlon Brando’s face the whole movie? I’ll probably watch it again, but it helped me develop the following take:
The only GREAT Vietnam movies are Good Morning Vietnam and Tropic Thunder.
I’ve also watched like five James Bond movies, Clue, for the umpteenth time, and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Clue the movie is so fucking good and TMR is an all-time classic.
On the even smaller screen, I’ve been watching tons of YouTube videos in bed before I fall asleep each night. I normally was staunchly against bringing a watching device into my bedroom because it hurt my slumber, but again, time doesn’t matter anymore.
I LOVE everything on the Bon Appétit YT channel. I’ve cooked approximately two recipes from there despite watching almost every video. There’s just something about watching a professional work in their dojo.
In that same vein, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Alton Brown, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, and Matty Matheson. Watching all these cooking shows without having access to all the ingredients (or cookware) is truly a prison of my own design.
Ina Garten is my queen.
I’m not going to embarrass myself with my music tastes here, but I will say I’ve been injecting myself with a healthy dose of John Coltrane during the workday.
I’m a voracious podcast-listener however, and the following pods are my favorites:
- The Pants Party (duh, and returning soon, hopefully).
- SpoCo Radio (duh, again).
- The Daily (I find it to be perfect and imperfect at the same time).
- The Watch (Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan’s aforementioned TV podcast. So good).
- The Shutdown Fullcast (honestly, this is required listening for any college football fanatic).
- The Press Box (as a former journalist and current huge nerd, this is really interesting).
- Hang up and Listen (pound for pound I think this is the best pure sports podcast on the airwaves).
- This American Life (the OG).
- Curious City (nice listening for any Chicago resident).
- Freakanomics (if I could only listen to one podcast the rest of my life, it’d probably be this).
- Oh, Hello: the P’dcast (this just dropped from John Mulaney and Nick Kroll and it’s so damn stupid and hilarious).
I’ll dabble in some others, like Bill Simmons (it’s become a hate-listen at this point) and some in-season sports stuff, but the above are my regular listens. If you want to really fuck yourself up, listen to Dopey. Honestly, I’m still chasing the podcast high I got from S Town a while back. I might fire that back up, if I have the time.
I’m embarrassed by how little I’ve read the past three weeks. The only book I’ve picked up is Briarpatch, as a re-read in anticipation for the show. I have about a dozen of unread books on my shelf, but since I read so much during my job, I just can’t be bothered to pick anything up outside 9-5 (or whatever) as of late.
I’ve read over a dozen of Thomas’ novels, and my favorite is Missionary Stew. I can’t recommend any of his books highly enough.
I’ve been playing a ton of Fortnite. Please don’t @ me.
And I’m absolutely rocking my roommates in Settlers of Catan. (<—holy shit, pandemic price gouging is real).
My real diet:
Since you didn’t ask, here’s what I’ve been putting in my body!
Chicken, pork, and beef. I think skirt steak is my new favorite #cut.
Spinach, riced cauliflower and broccoli. Carrots—they truly are a whole different vegetable when you cut and peel them instead of buying bagged baby carrots.
Eggs and bacon and Polish sausage.
Kerrygold butter. It’s worth it.
At this time, I have six different cheeses and three different salamis in my fridge.
Magic Spoon cereal and almond milk. Halotop ice cream (vanilla, salted caramel, cake batter and mint chip are the best flavors). Smart Sweets candy and Trader Joe’s blistered peanuts. Cake batter Quest Bars. I love pork rinds. I am a monster.
Water, cherry Coke Zero and coffee.
In another metamorphosis into my father, I’m becoming a complete and total coffee snob. I’ve always made a French Press each morning, but I used to just buy the cheapest beans at Trader Joe’s (their proprietary medium roast, which I still believe to be among the best beans out there). Lately I’ve been ordering beans online though, and I can see why my dad is up at the ass crack of dawn every day.
He can’t wait to drink this stupid hot bean water. And now, neither can I.
I’ve started blooming the grounds, like I imagine the most anal-retentive art critic would. I now brew extra hot water to put in my mug while the coffee brews, so the coffee doesn’t go in a *gasp* lukewarm vessel. I look down on those who use cream and sugar.
I’m going to be alone forever.
I just bought a 5-lb bag of Sputnik beans and it’s like drinking melted chocolate. Support your local roasters boys and girls. My dad lives in Minneapolis, and he’s partial Spyhouse, if that fancies y’all. I also know he’s drinking Modist beer (Dreamyard gets two thumbs up from the Ross men) and frequents Lowry Hill Meats.
I will also take this time to plug some local places for take-out. Maybe that’ll help me sleep at night. I know most of you don’t live in Chicago, but some of you do!
- Coalfire Pizza
- Bird’s Nest
- The Bageler’s Coffeehouse
- Andy’s Thai Kitchen
- Athenian Room (incorporating value, theirs is the best steak in Chicago. I’ll fight you).
- Alinea (yes, that Alinea. We carried-out their beef Wellington comfort meal last week and it was so good).
- Fiore’s Deli
- Pasta Bowl
- Jay’s Beef
- Racine Plumbing
- Paulina Meat Market
- Whittingham Meats (I ordered a Corona Care Package and got free next-day delivery! It came while I was writing this.)
My alcohol consumption has toned down considerably during this. I’ve always thought drinking more a social event than otherwise, and well I’m just not social anymore. It also fucks with my sleep even more than usual lately. And at this point I’d rather eat my carbs and calories than drink them.
When I do imbibe, I’ve been drinking Son of Juice from Maplewood. The hazy IPA craze is the first time I’ve really fallen into a craft beer trap and I’m not apologizing for it. I haven’t enjoyed a beer this much since I was able to get fresh Pseudo Sue back in my college days.
Inexplicably, I also have a newfound love for Pacifico.
For the harder stuff, it’s been mostly Old Grand Dad—a cheap 100-proof bourbon that tastes like a moderately-priced 90-proof bourbon. When I can’t get Buffalo Trace, it’s my go-to.
I just finished a bottle of Wathen’s single barrel and that just might be one of the best-kept secrets in the bourbon world. My all-time favorite is Henry McKenna and Weller 12, but you can’t really find either of those in Chicago anymore. I have a nice bottle of Willet Estate I’m saving for when the world plugs itself back in.
Maybe I’ll tell you guys about my at-home workouts sometime. But probably not.
Venmo me 13 bucks and I’ll send you the pandemic pickup lines I’m using on dating apps these days.
Please drop any recommendations for anything at all below! Or don’t. Nothing matters. Those who suggest Ozark or Succession will be spambanned automatically.
Stay safe, and if you can’t be good, be careful.