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What to Watch at Home: 3/20/2020

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In tough times, we crave comfort food. Now that staying home is vital to saving lives—to doing our part to stall the spread of COVID-19 before our health-care system becomes completely overwhelmed—home entertainment will taste like chicken soup for the soul at the end of an emotionally exhausting day of telecommuting, teleschooling, obsessive CNN-watching and/or household-surface sanitizing. A warning: screen entertainment has, through no fault of its own, become surreal to watch, triggering us every time a character touches his or her face, or prompting us to realize that everyone we see on screen is now, like us, dealing with a global terror. Worse, we may get the depressive sensation that we’re looking at a bygone world when people could go out on dates or play a game of pick-up basketball, a world with no definite return date. So your TV’s not going to be as escapist as you might hope. And yet we need entertainment and distraction more than ever as a form of mental-health self-care.

For starters, I’m not going to recommend virus thrillers like Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion or Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak (or community-breakdown dramas like David Koepp’s The Trigger Effect) just now—unless you’re someone inclined not to take this international crisis seriously, in which case you should intitiate a marathon of all of the above, plus all 212 episodes of The Walking Dead and spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, STAT. For sensible folk, we’ve already gradually adjusted to a “Netflix and chill” world, even if there’s now considerably less chill. Once through the respective paywalls, TVs, laptops, and phones can access not only Netflix, but Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Apple+, YouTube, soon-to-launch Quibi and old-stalwarts HBO and Showtime, among every other basic and premium channel in the TV marketplace.

You know what your comfort food is, as do your kids (although you may find yourselves switching it up, with the kids watching The West Wing and Game of Thrones while you assume the fetal position with Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood). In all seriousness, kids can find a couple of high-quality new films on Disney+: in addition to the newly added Frozen II, there’s the utterly charming mystery-comedy Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made and the heart-pounding, heartwarming dog-sled adventure Togo, starring Willem Dafoe. For slightly more grown-up fare, I recommend the best medicine: laughter. As per their “Netflix is a Joke” branding, the streamer is a great place for yuks, whether it be the standup of Wanda Sykes, Tom Papa, or Patton Oswalt, or binge-worthy sitcoms like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and the underseen but terrific Lady Dynamite and Great News.

In an unprecedented move reacting to the closure of movie theaters, Universal Studios has sent its current crop of theatrical releases to Video-on-Demand. As of today, gory, tongue-in-cheek blue-state-versus-red-state thriller The Hunt, Elizabeth Moss in psychological thriller The Invisible Man, and Jane Austen revamp Emma can be streamed online for $19.99 or less. All have their virtues if you’re jonesing for the latest Hollywood product. Trolls: World Tour and no doubt other studio-banked films will soon follow the same path. There’s also a way this week to see a new film from home while simultaneously supporting your favorite local shuttered indie cinema. Starting today at www.phoenixoregonmovie.com, you can buy a virtual ticket to the James Legros/Lisa Edelstein comedy Phoenix, Oregon and select which indie cinema should benefit from your purchase.

Indie films have offered quick access by VOD for quite some time, although they are increasingly being snapped up for exclusive streaming windows on streaming platforms. Today, for example, Amazon Prime Video premieres the indie gem Blow the Man Down, a feminist drama in the key of The Coen Brothers (think Fargo meets Steel Magnolias). Last Friday, saw Hulu’s release of coming-of-age dramedy Big Time Adolescence, starring Pete Davidson of SNL (assuming you have a tolerance for Davidson, it’s a sturdy, amusing reflection on a teen wistfully outgrowing immaturity). Netflix last Friday launched the superb true-crime drama Lost Girls, starring the brilliant Amy Ryan, and today premieres two foreign acquisitions—Spanish thriller The Platform and Italian drama Ultras—as well as Formula One documentary A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story.

My personal favorite recommendation has enough content to last you for weeks. The "On Cinema at the Cinema” universe is a sprawling comedy masterpiece that includes 12 seasons of bite-sized movie-review spoofery, each culminating in a disastrous live Oscar special; the truly incredible five-hour “Trial of Tim Heidecker”; and spinoff series “Decker,” all available for free on YouTube or at Adult Swim. The universe expanded last year to the feature film Mister America, a Trump-era political spoof now streaming on Hulu and elsewhere. If you love quirky cringe-comedy, you’re in for many treats. Stay safe, everyone—and stay home!

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