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Monsters, Wizards, and Trashy Reality TV: Rolling Stone’s Staff Picks for Quarantine Viewing

RSWatching

Like the rest of you, the Rolling Stone staff has been self-isolating, holed up in our respective apartments and carefully planning out our grocery runs and six-feet-away neighborhood strolls. And like the rest of you, we’ve been watching a lot of stuff during our off hours to distract us, delight us, or to simply help us pass the time. Here are a few of the things we’ve been checking out over the past week — consider it a loose RS Recommends guide for quarantine viewing. Remember, we’re all in this together, folks.

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The Circle (Netflix)
For a positive example of how social distancing works (kind of), check out Netflix’s reality competition show where strangers move in next door to each other and make friends via social media, sight unseen. The goal is to become the most popular person in the social circle. Some players just try to be their best selves to be likable (Shubham “Shuby” Goel is new to social media; it’s cute watching him figure it out), while others use phishing profiles (Seaburn Williams borrows his girlfriend’s profile but can’t do the girl-talk in the females-only chatrooms — he doesn’t fully understand feminine biology). Although it’s a competition, and you can’t help but cringe when two of the phishers hit on each other, you can see them making genuine friendships without ever speaking or seeing each other. They even dress up fancy for social media cocktail parties. If these people are any kind of role models, quarantine may be easier than we thought.—Kory Grow, Senior Writer

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Doctor Who (Amazon Prime)
I’d been meaning to catch up on Jodie Whittaker’s Time Lord, yet it never seemed that urgent with all the other bingeable new shows beckoning. But what better way to spend evenings avoiding the frenzy of push notifications and Twitter factions than watching the Doctor (the 13th if you’re counting, and the first female incarnation) fixing all of the universe’s problems? Season 11 gets off to an iffy start as she collects her ragtag crew: Ryan, Yaz, and Graham. Eventually, the stakes are raised and things get less corny; we even get a Dalek to tackle by its end. And with Season 12 — which begins with the ingenious two-part “Spyfall” — things really get rolling. You’ll be happy to watch Whittaker’s doc take her TARDIS anywhere to battle extraterrestrial bad guys rather than fixate on the invisible boogeyman outside.—Jerry Portwood, Digital Director

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Gilmore Girls (Netflix)
My family started watching The Gilmore Girls a couple of months ago, and, man, what a lucky break for us. Stars Hollow, Connecticut — an indie-rock Mayberry where Grant Lee Phillips was the town troubadour and the dream of the Nineties was still blissfully alive well into the Bush years — is the perfect place to spend an hour or three in any era. But it’s especially soothing after a long day of enforced social distancing and global economic collapse. In our new collective coronavirus reality, the show offers a new, more viscerally immediate kind of utopian fantasy. When supercool single mom Lorelai Gilmore and her wonderful daughter, Rory, want to go out to grab coffee at Luke’s Diner, they just go grab coffee at Luke’s Diner! Crazy, right? They leave the house, they sit down next to other people, they flirt with Luke, and they crisply toss around wryly whimsical, knowingly ironic pop-culture-saturated banter like Howard Hawks characters by way of the Cure and the Breeders. There isn’t a bottle of hand sanitizer or a face mask in the whole joint! Did people once go about their daily lives in this fashion?—Jon Dolan, Reviews Editor

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Godspell (Amazon, iTunes, Vudu)
Look, it’s not like I decided to watch Godspell. It just happened. One minute I’m texting with a friend who started binging Alias, then I’m sucked into an argument over Victor Garber’s peak era of hotness, next I’m watching YouTube clips of the Garb playing Jesus in the 1973 film of the flower-child musical. But like the apostles who hear John the Baptist blowing his horn from Central Park, I fell into a Magic Hippie Dream Jesus vortex. I’ve always devoured every NYC 1970s flick I could find, but I drew the line at Jesus mimes … until now. And, wow — there are the streets of New York, totally deserted, just like this week. The summer glow of the West Village sans pedestrians, just a ragtag crew of apostle clowns. Imagine dancing free in those streets, without the fear you’ll accidentally touch a doorknob! Imagine splashing joyfully in your underwear in the Central Park fountain! “All for the Best” on the roof of a brand-new skyscraper that turns out to be the World Trade Center! Garber’s Garfunkel-esque messiah-fro! Dear Lord, one thing we pray: May the streets look half this delectable when we can go back out there.—Rob Sheffield, Contributing Editor

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The Harry Potter Movies (Amazon, iTunes, YouTube)
In times of personal turmoil, a movie theater’s magnetic pull is always oddly pacifying: the enveloping darkness, an omnipresence of wafting butter, and those plump polyester seat cushions. So, when the world starts spinning in overdrive and theaters close, I reach for particularly cinematic films — visuals that belong on a big screen, emotive scoring, and a sense of adventure. I can, at least in part, recreate that escapist’s sanctuary within the home. I don’t want to relate to something “real.” I want to be elsewhere, which is why I recommend revisiting the Harry Potter series. The triumphant story of the boy wizard is incredibly detailed and, for the most part, lighthearted. Magnificent dragons soar through the air and wand-delivered spells cause brick walls to avalanche, while rooting for an awkward child protagonist feels particularly uplifting. Sure, I could sit here and list my go-to Alfred Hitchcock and Jean-Luc Godard picks. But really, nobody should be taking themselves too seriously right now.—Samantha Hissong, Staff Writer

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Love Is Blind (Netflix)
If it’s escape you’re looking for, there is no greater soporific than watching dozens of strangers pursue the emotionally mortifying quest for love … on television. Love Is Blind sends marriage-hungry millennials on cloistered speed dates where a man and a woman each occupy an octagonal “pod” and talk to each other through the walls, sight unseen. Incredibly, after a matter of days, a handful of these pairs are engaged. That’s when the couples get to see each other — and the shit hits the fan. The point of this “experiment,” in the show’s parlance, is to pseudo-scientifically answer an age-old question we already know the answer to. Is love blind? Of course not. The cast is composed of attractive young people, stacking the deck in favor of an eye-pleasing reveal. And even so, thanks to the ever-mysterious laws of attraction, once these couples see each other, several cute people look at other cute people (people they were professing their undying love for just days earlier!) and think, “…Eh?” The lesson, perhaps, is tailor-made for the age of the coronavirus: Sometimes, life is better lived strictly in the safe confines of your room.—Maria Fontoura, Entertainment Editor

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Money Heist (Netflix)
A gang of criminals in red jumpsuits and Dali masks enter Madrid’s Royal Mint. They take the staff and numerous civilians, including a British ambassador’s daughter, hostage and begin playing cat-and-mouse with the police. But are these robbers genuinely after the loot? Who, exactly, is “the Professor,” i.e., the bespectacled brains of the outfit who planned the operation? Will the cops’ head negotiator be able to outsmart him? And what’s the real endgame here? Like Inside Man reimagined as a soap opera, this Spanish import falls right in the ideal Venn-diagram middle of gritty heist flicks and guilty-pleasure melodramas. It has an insanely photogenic cast, some truly steamy couplings, nail-biting action set pieces (though please refrain from biting your nails or even touching your face at all, please), thrills, spills, chills, and at least two major, tune-in-next-week plot developments/twists per episode. All this, plus a charismatic brainiac at the center of it all (viva Álvaro Morte!), who’s an expert problem solver and the kind of leader who’s great in a crisis. Which … yeah. Right. Exactly. Season 4 drops on Netflix on April 3rd. Start binging now.—David Fear, Entertainment Editor

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Monsters, Inc. (Disney+)
When all else fails, turn to Pixar. Specifically Monsters, Inc.: a film about a child who refuses to stay put in her room and causes an entire city (Monstropolis, a city full of monsters that is powered by the scared screams of children) to be partially quarantined. It’s a much better pandemic film than Contagion, which is a little too real for my anxious brain at the moment; it was also the first film I turned to after emergency-purchasing a Disney+ subscription this weekend. Amid the sight of panicked Child Detection Agency members in hazmat suits trailing after Sulley, Mike, and their new human friend Boo, the film ends up being a soothing and much-needed reflection on the power of joy. —Brittany Spanos, Senior Writer

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Rectify (Amazon, iTunes, Netflix)
This beautiful drama — in which Daniel Holden (Aden Young) is convicted of murder as a teenager, then released from prison after 19 years on Death Row — is about many things, including family, spirituality, and forgiveness. But it’s also about the emotional toll that comes from being physically isolated from others, and about how difficult it can be to return to the real world after an extended time apart from it. Sound at all familiar? Even without that tie to our strange new reality, Rectify is an incredible show, packed with stellar performances (by Young, Abigail Spencer, J. Smith-Cameron, and Adelaide Clemens, among others) beautiful photography, and emotionally overwhelming moments; it’s just suddenly become a timely show, too.—Alan Sepinwall, Chief TV Critic

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Schitt’s Creek (Netflix/Pop)
A family finds itself in financial ruin, homeless and hunkered down together in a small space: What’s not to love, or at least relate to in a cutting way that wasn’t intended? In terms of worst-case binge scenarios, Schitt’s Creek is far better than rewatching any random season of, say, The Walking Dead…because this worst-case scenario is, at least, funny. Scammed by their business manager, the upscale Rose family is forced to move into two adjoining rooms in a motel in a backwater town they’d bought as a joke. As parental units Johnny and Moira, the ever hilarious Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara are caricatures of clueless One-Percenters, as are their children (played by Annie Murphy and Levy’s son Daniel, also the series’ creator). The show relentlessly milks its rich-fish-outta-water humor: “I feel like one of the Manson girls,” David says during his first-ever turkey hunt. But with each season, the Roses grow tolerant of their new home and increasingly taken with the eccentric, down-home characters who live there. And in light of current circumstances, that message — making the best of being up a certain creek and adjusting to it — is weirdly, strangely reassuring.—David Browne, Senior Writer

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The Twilight Zone (Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, Netflix)
For me, there’s really only one show that both mirrors the world’s current situation and allows you to escape into a literal alternate universe. Rod Serling’s original The Twilight Zone, which ran for five seasons from 1959-1964, remains the gold standard for supernatural sci-fi television; it’s still the perfect blend of suspenseful escapism and cautionary tale. Unprecedented real-world fear and uncertainty perversely heighten the tension in the majority of the episodes, yet the surprise endings — while not always optimistic — can still act as a mental salve during these insane times. The self-contained works means you can pop on a random episode to while away your quarantine in 25-minute increments. The “dimension of imagination” never seemed more necessary.—Jason Newman, News Director

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UHF (Amazon, iTunes, YouTube)
I’d never seen UHF until Sunday night — but it turns out that Weird Al Yankovic’s 1989 cult classic about a daydreaming loser that saves a struggling TV station was a much-needed distraction to the horrifying pandemic. Scenes like the bizarre Wheel of Fortune parody Wheel of Fish actually speak to the current moment. Like the contestants on the game show, I can either choose the adventurous red snapper and risk getting sick, or I can stay inside with my mystery box and let it reveal that I’m going to do absolutely nothing. I also realized that every day trapped at home feels like an episode of Uncle Nutzy’s Clubhouse (hosted by a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards) where I’m washing my hands with the same intensity as the kid getting hit with the firehose and cleaning every nook of my apartment like Stanley Spadowski with a mop. “Hey kids!” Spadowski says. “Where do you want to go?” Outside. I want to go outside.—Angie Martoccio, Staff Writer

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