Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Social Distancing Journal: Week 5 (April 13-April 19, 2020)

Roger Ebert's Film Festival - Virginia Theatre - Champaign, Illinois
April 13, 2019 - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
If these were typical times, I would have spent April 15-18, or some portion of it at least, in Champaign, Illinois for Roger Ebert’s Film Festival. I’ve been attending since 2001 and had been hoping to make it back for the full festival after having to miss part of the event three out of the last four years because I was taking graduate school classes. Work might have interfered this year, but I had a plan in mind to get me there for as much of the fest as possible.

Of course, requesting time off became a non-factor when the 2020 Ebertfest was canceled because all large gatherings were called off and we’re supposed to be staying home. As with a lot of things that would ordinarily be happening, initial news of the cancellation was felt more than the absence. For me this reaction is likely the product of being unusually busy. I clocked sixty hours of work from home this week. What time is there to dwell on what I’m missing if I barely have time to think about much of anything? Is that healthy? It probably is in that I have more purpose every day and probably isn’t in that I recognize I am working too much, even if plugging away for up to thirteen hours a day can be necessary to get the job done and is lucrative.

Bonneville Salt Flats - Tooele County, Utah - June 26, 2019
Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
A yearning to travel hasn’t emerged yet, but if staying at home, aside from essential trips to the grocery, becomes the smart choice for months, I imagine I’ll feel the allure of going somewhere else. Right now I’m especially glad that I made a 5,000-mile round trip drive from mid-June to early July last year that took me as far west as Boise, Idaho. I went on the journey because time was one thing I had in abundance, and I didn’t know when the opportunity to do something like it might be possible in the future. That’s also why I made a short trip to Annapolis, Maryland and northern Virginia about a month later and stopped for a night at Niagara Falls in Ontario before attending the Toronto International Film Festival. I didn’t know what employment I might have and how my time off might be limited, so I tried to take advantage of what was available. I think I needed to travel then and certainly don’t regret doing it, especially when I have no idea when this can be indulged next.

I have a hotel reservation for this fall’s TIFF, but if I’m being honest with myself, I have a hard time believing the film festival will be held. Even if it is, I doubt that attending would be a responsible decision regardless of how much I’d like to be there. I’m guessing that for most people one of the hard parts of social distancing is the growing imbalance between what makes sense and what we want. If we’re being rational, our internal scales are tilted toward knowing it is wise to reduce the risks for ourselves and others no matter how long it takes, yet as this goes on without a clear resolution, the desire for things to return to normal threatens to tip the scales. I’ve stayed focused on each day rather than thinking down the line, and I feel like doing this has kept me level. Will that be true if this situation endures through the summer and into the fall? I can’t say, but it works here and now.   


Last night I realized that I’ve gone five weeks almost entirely free of in-person face-to-face interactions except for checking out at the grocery store. What a weird way to live. We recorded new episodes of the podcast this week via Webex. Previously we recorded Filmbound in a studio. I wasn’t sure how this would work remotely or if the technical qualities would be where I would like for them to be. Using the Webex recording for editing demonstrated that the tech is good enough but far from perfect as we probably sound at varying times like a vocoder effect has been applied to our voices. While editing I could tell that changing the medium of our discussion also altered how the discussion unfolded. Our dialogue overlapped less, something I was a thankful editor for, especially when I switched up to cutting this week’s episode from our separate phone recordings. (Episode 111 sounds much better than Episode 110.) Still, I think it does illustrate that while remote interactions are worthwhile, they are far from perfect replacements.


Checkerboard Dishcloth - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
Work on the podcast soaked up a good bit of my free time this week, but I managed to fit in some other activities. It’s been a long time since I knitted anything, but I was bound and determined to make something this week. A dishcloth was the ideal project, as it was something I could complete relatively quickly while relearning skills that have eroded from non-use. Years ago I took up knitting as a stress reducer. Making this useful item was a nice reminder of the relaxation that comes from engaging in the craft. I can say the same for spending time in the kitchen. Baking was also limited, but I whipped up some blueberry muffins so I would have something quick to pair with a smoothie for work day breakfasts. 


Music-wise, I listened to a lot of the same stuff I’ve been spinning, so there isn’t really anything to say about that this week. Actually, there wasn’t much that I watched either, which strikes me as fairly strange when considering my viewing habits pre-social distancing. Going to a movie theater isn’t an option right now, but usually I went two to three times a week, with some of those trips including two or three movies. Since I’ve been staying at home, I’m watching a lot fewer films than I have in a long, long time. It’s mainly a time thing--I don’t have enough--but it still seems weird that in these circumstances that my viewing has reduced so dramatically.

In terms of films, the only one I saw this week was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which I watched for the podcast. (The episode is now available here and here, among other places.) My co-host had never seen it, much to my surprise, and I felt like the adventures of Harrison Ford’s archaeologist were sufficiently escapist to part ways with my intention to stick primarily to comedies. That’s not to say this movie lacks humor. In many regards it’s a looser, funnier film than a lot of today’s event movies. I don’t recall when I last saw this film, but I was stunned at how much of it came flooding back to me. It’s my least favorite of the Indiana Jones films of the 1980s, so I assume the over-the-top violence and gross-out humor in the form of disgusting delicacies and creepy crawlies made an impression when I saw this as a kid. Temple of Doom holds up better than I expected and than I think its reputation is, so it made for fun viewing in spite of the scenes of human sacrifice that helped spur the PG-13 rating’s creation.

In television, I watched the finale of Schitt’s Creek. Like a lot of people who found the sitcom, I caught up with early seasons on Netflix and watched the last two seasons as they aired after locating Pop in my cable channel guide. I’m still not sure that the show’s name was the best choice, as it suggests a cruder and broader show than this warm and generous comedy is, but ultimately it didn’t prove to be an impediment to success. It doesn’t hurt that Schitt’s Creek is highly meme-able and GIF-able, qualities that I feel have become critical for TV shows to catch on. I don’t really have anything of consequence to say about the series other than to give it a chance if you haven’t heard of it or if the name puts you off.

I’ve mentioned watching Survivor, and I just want to chime in about a part of this episode that producers must think is crucial and which I find very uninteresting. This week featured visits from the cast members’ loved ones, a segment that took up way more of the episode’s time than was necessary and had no visible influence on players’ strategies. I understand that taking part in this reality show/game show must take an emotional toll on people as trust is something inherently in flux, if not outright absent, while living with the other players. And yes, I suspect that reactions are amplified for the sake of cameras as much as the charged circumstances. Maybe it’s because right now so many of us are separated from people we would like to see--and for a longer time than this season’s Winners at War returning players have been away from their friends and families--that the segment hit such a wrong note. The situations are not comparable, obviously, but for a segment that has increasingly become a disposable one on the show, this one really was a clunker. 

Previous Social Distancing Journal Entries:
Pre-Social Distancing

Monday, April 13, 2020

Social Distancing Journal: Week 4 (April 6-April 12, 2020)

Pink moon - April 7, 2020 - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
Four weeks into social distancing I feel as though I’ve generally adjusted to how things are. That doesn’t mean I prefer to be at home almost twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I’m just saying that I suppose I have accepted this as normal for the time being, however long it will last, and figured out how to deal with it as best I can. Maybe that statement makes me sound resigned or defeated, but I hear it as a net positive. I wrote the first four entries in this series over a day and a half a week ago, so hindsight surely mitigated what I wrote about how I felt the first week or two of social distancing. The first week especially was rough, not in any way that should be cause for serious concern but rather in a manner probably similar to grieving. And why not? Collectively I think we are mourning even if we’re not certain what exactly we’ve lost.

So I can recognize that incremental emotional progress even if I would be happy with not having to have gone through it to arrive at this place. Keeping busy and maintaining a routine have been part of that. Texting and Slack messaging through work have provided a considerable boost to my mood as well. Whether the conversations are substantial, whatever that means, or not, they provide connections and support that I think we all need--OK, fine, I’ll be direct and say that I need--when there’s so much uncertainty. I worry about seeming too earnest when telling friends I’ve made at work that I appreciate them, but it’s better to let others know you value who they are and how they help you than not do it, right?


I called my 88-year-old great-aunt this week to check on her, although to my surprise it required making two phone calls to reach a voice on the other end. No one picked up the first time I called, which let my mind wander a little because surely she must be at home. As it turns out, she was walking down the farmhouse lane to the mailbox when I first called, so I demonstrated impeccable timing in giving her a ring at about the one moment when she wasn’t near the landline phone. I forget if she said she’d only driven somewhere twice this year or twice per month, but seeing as the doctor’s office, the grocery store, and possibly church are her only destinations, two times away from home for 2020 would not be a stretch.

It’s funny then that she of all people would lament feeling housebound. She’s never liked going that far from home anyway, so she should be perfectly suited for when we’re all being advised to stay put. I believe she has more contact with people over the phone than with visits, so the times shouldn’t affect that. My guess is that she’s reacting to the perceived loss of choice. If she wanted to stay home all the time before, that was her decision. Now that doing so is recommended, does it feel less like exercising her own will?

Rabbit practicing social distancing - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
With the number of hours I logged working this week, I didn’t get out much myself. I did drive to a supermarket on the chance that they had a Nintendo Switch that I decided I wanted to get. I came up empty with that search but did come across toilet paper, one of the other seemingly rare items in the market right now. (Eventually I purchased a Nintendo Switch preorder bundle online, meaning I have to be patient waiting for it to ship by month’s end, which feels like an eternity.)

Other than that my time outside for the week was limited to popping out to look at April 7’s pink moon and going for a post-work walk as the sun was going down. Outside my apartment I came across a rabbit that definitely wanted to ensure at least six feet of social distancing. In regard to nature, I’ve become more aware of the Canadian geese honking outside my place in the morning and afternoon, and I like to watch the squirrels and birds that skitter across my small patio area.

On my walk this week, regrettably just the one, I noticed the caution tape around the playground equipment in the park and realized that the rims were not on the basketball backboards likely to avoid tempting anyone to shoot around. The park in my neighborhood is adjacent to an elementary and middle school, places where no one is expected to be, so imagine my surprise after 8 p.m. on a Saturday night to see someone under a light in the parking lot dribbling a basketball with his right hand and tossing a ball in the air with his left. There was nothing exceptional about this. Would I have even paid any attention under normal circumstances? It just seemed so strange as I passed by under the cover of night while wearing my improvised face mask.

Dalgona coffee - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
I didn’t do as much baking as I did last week, but I tried making pancake muffins, which probably looked better than they tasted. I blame the frozen blueberries, which were virtually tasteless, and me substituting milk for buttermilk the recipe called for. Hey, you use what you have on hand. I also made dalgona coffee, the social media phenomenon. That turned out better, although drinking it out of a mug had the effect of the coffee foam sliding away from the milk. Stirring it into the milk as a kind of latte was more effective.


Talking Heads’ greatest hits compilation Sand in the Vaseline: Popular Favorites was among what I listened to this week and made the biggest impression. I’m very familiar with their hits, and of course I’ve seen the joyful Jonathan Demme concert film Stop Making Sense. Somehow their albums eluded my attention, though. Revisiting this best-of overview was revelatory in how timeless their music sounds even as it can also be pegged to when they made it and how I’d been overlooking a lot of great songs that weren’t singles.

“(Nothing But) Flowers” was familiar to me, but the lyrics landed differently now. David Byrne sings of a new Eden that has overtaken (or retaken) a landscape of fast food restaurants and highways while feeling wistful for a 20th century world subsumed by nature. I think the song expresses a lot of what many of us are feeling in this specific time. Those things we took for granted--going to a movie theater, window shopping at the mall, driving any distance, working in a cube farm--aren’t available to us and feel like they may fundamentally change. Even if we felt indifferent about or disliked boxy suburban developments and nondescript exit ramp dining and shopping centers, they were the world we knew, which provides its own familiar comfort. 


I didn’t watch much this week because I didn’t have the time, and what I did carve out hours for was necessary viewing for the podcasts we’re planning to record tonight. (If you’ve not listened, 109 episodes of Filmbound are currently available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and probably wherever else you subscribe to podcasts. Some episodes are better than others, but isn’t that a given for everything?

Because I need to finish prepping for recording, I won’t say much about Onward and The Last Starfighter, which I squeezed in this week. I didn’t see Onward during the one week it was in theaters before they all temporarily closed, so I had to catch up with it on Disney+. I don’t think this is going to be anyone’s favorite Pixar film or animated movie under the Disney umbrella--the formula seems too apparent to me--but its message of acknowledging and being grateful for what you have rather than fixating on what you’ve missed out on strikes me as coincidentally well-timed and not hammered too hard.

For the most part the podcast has focused on new releases, but those aren’t really in the mix right now. I liked Trolls but am not dropping $20 to stream Trolls World Tour so we can have a wider release film to discuss. Plenty of indies are out there too and available for streaming rentals in conjunction with local theaters, but the Brazilian film Bacurau and Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, both of which I saw at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, are political hot potatoes I don’t want to touch. I liked Bacurau but can only imagine the fireworks that might result from that discussion, and I much prefer I, Daniel Blake to Sorry We Missed You among recent Loach portraits of the modern economy’s cruelty toward the working class, not that I’m in the mood to watch either right now.

I suggested we discuss a couple more escapist films from the 1980s. I pitched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom mainly because I couldn’t believe my co-host had never seen it. I offered The Last Starfighter as an option because it seemed sufficiently frivolous. Both films should yield some good talk, if just about how movies have changed since these came out in 1984. I vaguely recall liking The Last Starfighter as a kid, an evaluation that doesn’t hold up today. It’s not necessarily the film’s fault, but when I think of how many 1950s science fiction films look silly to a young audience seeing them decades later, the same is true of this movie. The Last Starfighter copies the skeleton of Star Wars--teenage nobody is the hero the galaxy needs--while lacking the filmmaking chops and grandeur from the source it pilfers. I appreciate that there is sincerity here emblematic of the era, a quality that has shifted to favor grittiness in similar films today, but beyond nostalgia, I don’t know that there’s much to take from this.

Previous Social Distancing Journal Entries:
Pre-Social Distancing

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Social Distancing Journal: Week 3 (March 30-April 5, 2020)

Social Distancing Baking - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
Three weeks into social distancing, I can’t say I like it, but I feel as though I’ve come to terms with it if this is the foreseeable short term future. This arrangement will be the case through April, but let’s not fixate on an end date, please. Taking the situation day by day rather than anticipating when things can return to some degree of normalcy is how I deal with it, even though I suspect this is going to last longer than I want.

On my days off I’ve been doing some baking, which can be a good distraction and (hopefully) produces something worth eating. In an unexpected turn, on lockdown I’ve been making better choices in what I eat, but perhaps the baking offsets any positive strides. This week in the  kitchen I made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with pecans and cinnamon rolls. Yeast is among the things local supermarkets haven’t had available, but I found some this week and was eager to make the rolls. They turned out well, but wow, the amount of butter in the recipe was significant.


In keeping with listening to more upbeat music, I revisited Fountains Of Wayne’s catalog. I don’t recall if I started doing this before or after seeing the news that Adam Schlesinger was ill and died from coronavirus, but at some point in listening to the funny, poignant, and ridiculously catchy songs he contributed as one of the band’s main songwriters, doing so was tinged with sadness at the loss of at a clever and tuneful artist. 

Fountains of Wayne is best known for “Stacy’s Mom,” a synth-rock earworm reminiscent of The Cars and which gave the group their biggest mainstream hit, likely thanks to a risqué music video that’s an homage to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Fans of the band and Schlesinger’s work for film, television, and theater have been quick to stress that his legacy is greater than a novelty hit that mass culture may remember him for, an irony when considering he wrote the song for a fictional one-hit wonder in the Tom Hanks’ film That Thing You Do! I don’t think there’s a weak spot in Fountains of Wayne’s five albums, plus their two-disc rarities collection, so rather than point you to anything from there, I’ll highlight Schlesinger’s perfect pastiche of ‘80s pop with “PoP Goes My Heart,” a delightful Wham! imitation from the underrated romantic comedy Music and Lyrics.

The sheer volume of new music and a busy schedule mean it’s impossible for me to pretend to keep up, so as online music coverage has tilted toward poptimism in recent years, it follows that I’ve gravitated toward what is receiving positive attention. For the uninitiated, the rockism vs. poptimism debate can be reduced to perceptions of authenticity vs. artifice, with the former being considered more worthy of respect. (The Wikipedia page on rockism and poptimism gives a good overview if you want to know more.) For me, greater critical appreciation for such music, which I liked when I heard it but may have dismissed as disposable, too slick, manufactured, or artistically unserious, was a key to opening my ears to performers whose work was catchy but didn’t fit a prescribed notion of “good music,” whatever that is. As with any critical theory, poptimism can overreach and overcorrect in pushing against the rockist mindset. I find it useful in dismantling the idea of guilty pleasures, which I’ve expounded on before. You like what you like. What’s the harm in admitting it?

Anyway, that’s all prelude to saying Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia earned the most spins from me this week. I have a weakness for strong melodies--I know, what a rare opinion--and disco, and both are prominent elements on this album. Social distancing or not, you will not see me dancing at clubs--or at clubs, for that matter--but I enjoy the hooks, uptempo beats, and sonic landscapes on this album quite a bit. The single “Physical” is more evidence that the Drive soundtrack and ‘80s pop continue to wield major influences on those chasing a chart-topping spot. The bouncy “Levitating” is my current favorite on the album. “Love Again” sounds like a surefire contemporary hits radio smash, at least if it gets an edit snipping the profanity that, at least in my college radio days, the FCC would have frowned upon. I don’t know if listening to it while working helps with my speed, an important part of the job, but it keeps the minutes flying by.


Work days ran long this week, so my viewing lagged a fair bit. I polished off Criterion’s Jackie Chan set and watched Police Story 2 (Ging chaat goo si juk jaap). The sequel is not as good as the first, in part because it gets distracted with additional characters and the plot. There’s enough of the parts one wants from Chan’s films for it to still be worthwhile, but seen in close proximity to its predecessor, I found it a little disappointing.

Having finished the Korean TV series The Sound of Your Heart, I moved on to The Sound of Your Heart Reboot. True to the title, it offers more shenanigans with webtoon artist Cho Seok and his family but with the roles all recast. Based on a couple episodes, I prefer the cast in the initial series. We’ll see what I think as I make my way through it.

This journal isn’t intended to be comprehensive, but I’m keeping up with new episodes of Black-ish, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Superstore. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has had some strong episodes of late, and I hope this strong ensemble comedy continues to flourish now and find fans when it got a boosted profile switching to NBC last season.


Previous Social Distancing Journal Entries:

Social Distancing Journal: Week 2 (March 23-29, 2020)

Virginia Commonwealth Rams vs. Dayton Flyers - January 14, 2020 - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
I’m a big sports fan, so it was a crushing blow for me when the NCAA Tournament for men’s basketball was canceled this year. The University of Dayton was enjoying the best season I’ve ever witnessed the Flyers have, and the previously unthinkable was possible as they had a legitimate chance to be a #1 seed and win the whole thing. Then just like that, it all evaporated. More than the postponement of the start of Major League Baseball--go figure, there’s reason to believe the Cincinnati Reds could contend for the title if this season happens--or another Columbus Blue Jackets playoff push, March Madness going bust this of all years was a major letdown.

Yet here we are, and I’m not missing sports. I reckon that will change as the weather improves and it seems like games should be there to watch or have on in the background at night. This feeling may stem from being pretty busy as it is and follow in the steps of having reduced some sports consumption because of school and work obligations the last two years. (It also probably didn’t help that the Reds were lousy and the Bengals were being their bungle-iest in recent years.) I haven’t lost interest, but for the time being, I’m not feeling the hole that is there.


With a week of social distancing under my belt, I decided it was important to establish a daily routine and, on off days in particular, maintain some kind of purpose. It’s not necessarily about being productive, although that does factor in with catching up on editing the podcast episodes that have been in the can for a month or more. The impulse is to foster some kind of normalcy during this abnormal time. If I don’t do what I think I might do to fill the day, that’s OK. Taking a nap instead or playing a game on my phone are perfectly valid activities.

Prior to social distancing I’d been listening to podcasts more than music, but that came to a screeching halt when a commute was no longer in the picture. About the last thing I need at the moment is paying too much attention to politics and the news. Limiting myself to how much I check the news or whatever people are fuming about on Twitter definitely falls into the self-care category, although I’ll admit to breaking this self-imposed rule at times, especially at the end of the day. Not a great idea!

If I’m going to listen to music, what do I choose? For instance, I like Radiohead a lot, but I don’t think that it is well-suited when the images conjured in much of their work feel all too omnipresent and gloomy. Upbeat greatest hits collections from artists with 1980s heydays seemed like a better option, so I turned to groups like Hall & Oates, Duran Duran, and The Outfield. Tread carefully, though, because something like Duran Duran’s early ‘90s comeback hit “Ordinary World” can hit like a hammer if hearing some of the lyrics through the filter of what’s going on. 

I also did some extensive listening to R.E.M. from an Apple Music channel Siri created in place of ignoring my request to play a particular album. For the better part of an evening doing some baking and another day while working, I listened to tracks from all over their catalog, including some good band and band-adjacent rarities the algorithm programmed. I was reminded how strong and consistent their body of work is. But beware, “Everybody Hurts” cues up and can reduce you to a puddle just like that.

March 27, 2020 - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
I hadn’t left my place for four days, and a friend suggested it would do me some good to go for a walk. After a long day of working from home, I ventured into the neighborhood for a stroll in the dark accompanied by Beach House’s Bloom. Getting some air and physical activity was advisable. As twilight passed into nightfall, the soundtrack the music provided made the park and schools I circled seem somewhat magical and eerie. By this point almost everyone who had been out walking in the neighborhood had returned home. The gauzy dream pop in my ears accentuated the beauty and suburban desolation.


As for viewing, I’m still feeling like comedies are what I want to stick with. A friend recommended some Korean shows on Netflix, so I started watching The Sound of Your Heart (Maeumui sori), a 2016 sitcom about a webtoon artist and his family. (This is not to be confused with the 2018 series The Sound of Your Heart Reboot, which uses the same characters but features a different cast.) I’ve seen my fair share of films from South Korea, but as with a lot of global entertainment, the bulk of those have been genre movies or dramas that are probably easier to export to the U.S. and translate across cultures than comedies. While there are clearly some references in this lost on me, The Sound of Your Heart plays effectively as broad comedy about the Cho family’s hijinks and their subsequent embarrassment. I was particularly amused with the recurring gag of Cho Seok hiding from loved ones to spring a surprise on them and having the situation backfire on him. Kim Byeong-ok stands out as a prototypical sitcom dad always creating messes for himself to extricate himself from.

I did branch out slightly, although Jackie Chan’s Police Story (Ging chaat goo si) certainly has enough comedy for it to qualify as the light entertainment I’m seeking. I know Chan’s work mostly from the American edits of his films that played in U.S. multiplexes and the movies he’s made in Hollywood. Police Story provides a fantastic showcase for him to do what he does best. In his softer moments in this film, he comes across as so pure in his dedication as a boyfriend who makes mistakes but has the best intentions to set things right in the end and as an upstanding police officer who wants to see justice done. Comparisons to silent film stars are practically required when talking about Chan, and you can see why, whether it’s him blissfully unaware of his car rolling behind him while strolling with his girlfriend, played by Maggie Cheung, or the choreography as he tries to juggle multiple calls with phones spread around the office.

Not to sound like a crank, but viewers who’ve grown up on a diet of action movies edited to smithereens and enhanced with digital effects might have their minds blown by the practical effects in Police Story’s best scenes. Cars tearing down a hill through a shanty town, Chan taking a shortcut on foot down a steep incline to cut off a bus, and the mall fight scene, with a stunt shown three times from different angles as a glorious appreciation of the daring, look incredibly dangerous through judicious and exquisitely timed edits and because they had actual risks. (Part of Chan’s status as a legend comes from end credits bloopers in his films that show the brunt he and others actually take in trying to capture something amazing.)

It’s been a long time since I’ve dug into special features much, but the Criterion Collection set of the first two Police Story films includes worthwhile extras that enhanced my appreciation for Chan’s craft as a performer and a filmmaker. Right now, a little awe of what people are capable of doing is welcome.


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Social Distancing Journal: Week 1 (March 16-22, 2020)

Because I had been out of town and then immersed in work, I hadn’t been able to go to the grocery store to stock up for a week or two. I’d gleaned from social media that stores had been cleaned out. Sure enough, certain aisles looked like something out of a dystopian thriller. Good luck getting toilet paper, paper towels, flour, rice, and more. To me this ransacking of consumable and utilitarian staples seemed like an overreaction on the part of a public weaned on years of pop culture steeped in apocalyptic stories. You’ve seen The Hunger Games and scores of zombie movies; now you can play-act your own prepper and doomsday fantasies from the comfort of home! Still, I felt like I was able to get most of what I needed. Why worry too much because this will be over in two weeks, right?

So social distancing begins, and social media is there to help keep us connected. Bzzt! Look, I was already not feeling great about social distancing, and seeing how Twitter had devolved into a sewer pit wasn’t helping. (Insert joke about how it was already one before all this transpired.) Ironically, Facebook seemed like a less stressful place to check, perhaps because people were less concerned in commenting about the Presidential race and more interested in putting on brave faces for the start of staying at home.


With a little more time on my hands, now would mark the occasion to dig into some of the Criterion Collection Blu-rays I’ve amassed but haven’t watched. Problem is, I’m just not feeling it. Based on my mood, I quickly decided that I was going to direct my viewing toward comedies, with exceptions carved out for Survivor and Shark Tank. (Blame the MBA for turning me into a regular viewer of the latter. I thought it might be useful for when I took an entrepreneurship class.)

I landed on two shows available on Netflix. I rewatched Great News, a 30 Rock-ish sitcom that ran for two short seasons on NBC in 2017 and 2018. The series focuses on Briga Heelan as a cable news segment producer and Andrea Martin as her irrepressible mother, who goes back to school and starts interning on the program. It’s a shame this silly workplace comedy didn’t get any traction among the peacock network’s Thursday night comedies to earn a longer run, but the twenty-three episodes that exist are highly satisfying.

I also relaxed with Shaun the Sheep: Adventures from Mossy Bottom, a new Netflix series that continues the funny and inventive escapades of the barnyard animal and pals. The 2015 Shaun the Sheep Movie from Aardman Animation is a comedic treasure. While this new series and the 2019 film A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, finally available here exclusively on Netflix, don’t reach the same heights, the gentle humor and setpiece creativity in both provide a soft escape from the daily news.

On the film front, I rewatched Wet Hot American Summer, which I reviewed six years ago. That review is just mildly positive, an assessment I’d push upward based on how I feel about the film now and the goodwill it earned from the series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. I even foresaw this happening when I concluded the piece stating that the film already seemed better in my memory than the grade I was giving it. Is the lesson that things do get better over time?


Previous Social Distancing Journal Entries:
Pre-Social Distancing