Beat the Virus with Some Picks from Iris
Art by Kirsten Hemrich
As we tried to come to terms with the quarantine and all it brought crashing down on us (farewell, UVA friends and life), we started cobbling together our recommendations for what to watch and read and play. Some of us had big lists, some small. Some of us had a lot to say, some of us little. That’s kind of how it’s all been. But big, small, loud, quiet, Iris is here for you, with our picks for getting through this thing… enjoy! And share your picks with us!
I am finding it hard to consume anything that is super heavy right now, definitely not one of the people that would choose to watch Contagion while facing a contagion in real life. Instead I am choosing to rewatch light-hearted sitcoms that I know have brought me joy in the past. I am choosing to throw myself into the cliches and happy endings of romantic comedies.
I am currently applying for jobs within the publishing industry, so finding a romance novel about a girl who works at a publishing house falling in love is right up my alley. I was able to finish The Hating Game by Sally Thorne in one sitting and highly recommend it to anyone in search of a fun read. I also picked up another romance book from the Women’s Center during their initiative to read 20 books by 20 women of color throughout 2020 (a goal I am now working to accomplish on my own). I read The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guilory during the first days of coronation and it helped me to remain sane amongst all the craziness. My final suggestion would be Ask Again, Yes by UVA alumni Mary Beth Keane. This book is definitely on the heavier side dealing with themes of loss, addiction, and mental health.
All Time FAVORITE TV shows guaranteed to make you laugh and help you not take life too seriously:
Movies (more specifically romantic comedies):
Sitting in my childhood bedroom has caused me to slip into my Lorde days (do they ever really leave us) so I have been listening to Melodrama on repeat over coronacation. That album is perfection. Did you know that there is a website called infinite playlist in which you can plug in a song and it will play it forever, continuously, on loop. Plug in “Ribs,” turn off the lights, lay down in your childhood bed, and let the teenage angst/nostalgia fuel the tears. In terms of new music, Conan Gray recently came out with a new album called Kid Krow that definitely deserves a listen. Mxmtoon captures teenage angst, puppy love, and fear of the future in her album Masquerade while also creating the soundtrack for many a trend on TikTok.
Like Caroline, I have found myself gravitating toward comforting, familiar stories that take the edge off as the world seems enveloped in uncertainty. As we near two months of socially-distanced living, I’ve read more and watched more TV than I have at any point in the last four years. Is this troubling, considering the fact that real life, as strange as it is, stops for no woman? Perhaps. But, as long as the work does get done (pray for me), I see no problem in investing an hour or three trying to decide once and for all which of Rory Gilmore’s boyfriends or which Bake Off contestant was the best among the bunch (Team Jess and Team Andrew, always).
What I’ve been watching:
- Anne with an E is—and I don’t say this lightly—the best show on Netflix. Moira Walley-Beckett (of Breaking Bad fame) takes the beloved Canadian children’s tale in a darker, more sophisticated direction that has proven controversial with some diehard fans of the source material. But for me, the world that Walley-Beckett creates in Anne with an E is so addictive and so, so good. The scope of the show travels far beyond the original novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery, giving formerly peripheral characters nuanced backstories and thoughtful storylines which still manage to be true to the initial spirit of Anne of Green Gables—a heady blend of imaginativity and intellect. All in all, it is a remarkable achievement that was cancelled far too soon, and you don’t need to have read the books to find it delightful, trust me.
- Tiger King, like the rest of America. I’d recommend doing some homework after watching this one and reading up on the way this documentary series turns people into characters—glossing over some disturbing tidbits in favor of others, and generally leaving its viewers with more questions than answers. It’s strange and flashy and addictive, and I don’t think I’ll ever overcome the urge to begin all my Zoom calls with “hey, all you cool cats and kittens.”
- Gilmore Girls, for the aforementioned Boyfriend Olympics and because it sometimes makes me feel good to watch Rory fail (bonus points if you listen to the Gilmore Guys podcast while watching the show, definitely a bit of an endeavor, with about 160 lengthy episodes, but well worth it to hear Jason Mantzoukas rave about his love for Amy Sherman-Palladino, if nothing else).
- I Love Lucy—an unorthodox choice, perhaps, but I dare you to feel anything but pure joy while watching the magic that is Lucille Ball doing absolutely anything at all. Plus, there’s something about the fifties nostalgia, those American Dream, pre-Cold War aesthetics that does a great deal to soothe my frazzled nerves. I tell myself, if Lucy can drunkenly stumble her way through saying “Vitameatavegamin” in full glam and high heels, then I can write my thesis without access to any of my usual paper-writing spots (stay tuned for my ode to the second floor of Grit and the basement of the Women’s Center).
- The Great British Baking Show, for obvious reasons. This show has given me a lot of things—high aspirations for future bakes and a general disdain for the Hollywood handshake among them—but I am most grateful for how it has allowed me to perfect my British accent, at least when it comes to baking terminology. My family is most definitely over the way I watch them eat cakes and breads, still warm from the oven and ask, repeatedly, “You’re sure it’s not claggy? Not stodgy? Oh it’s scrummy? Absolutely chuffed.” Mary Berry would be horrified—and your family can be, too!
- The Bon Appetit Youtube Channel. I love every single member of the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen, each of them a charming character with quirks and flaws that make them even more lovable. Until someone can make the same argument for Game of Thrones, I will maintain that Gourmet Makes is the greatest epic of the 21st century.
- Honorable mentions go to Golden Girls, The X-Files, Raising Hope, New Girl, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Disney’s Tangled—the only animated princess story I will ever care about.
What I’ve been reading:
- The entire Jhumpa Lahiri Literary Universe
- Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age which is, fittingly, a very fun read. Reid strikes the rare balance between stark, honest commentary on race, class, and gender (in that order) while still managing to imbue her prose with a levity that I found myself savoring as I tore through this book—I recommend setting aside an evening or afternoon for this one, as you will also likely find it difficult to step away from Reid’s finely drawn world and characters once you begin to spend time with them.
- Fatima Farheen Mirza’s A Place for Us is a true family epic, and a masterful one at that. Mirza is a beautiful writer, and her characters feel so achingly real that you will take their joys and heartbreaks as your own. This story is about people more than it is about a plot—I return to it because I am so charmed by Mirza’s prose and love for her characters. Read it with a parent, sibling or friend, and get ready to shed some tears.
- Chekhov—all the short stories, although I would personally recommend “Ward 6,” “A Dreary Story,” and “The Little Trilogy.” Chekhov is a master of form, and there is always something to be learned from his brilliant, tightly knit prose. There is something cleansing about reading Chekhov, always, but particularly in the midst of a global pandemic. I think it has to do with the writer’s second, “official” life as a doctor in provincial Russia. Many of these stories take place in and among hospitals, dealing with illnesses of the mind, body and society. Chekhov writes of illness in the experienced voice of a clinician and with a deep understanding of the various systems that protect and fail to protect vulnerable people. The effect, for me, is not one of increased anxiety but of clarity and reflection.
- Honorable mention to Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
What I’ve been listening to:
- Adam Schlesinger, who passed away from complications related to COVID-19 last month. Schlesinger was a prolific musician and songwriter whose work appears in a variety of places (he wrote for Nicki Minaj, Bowling for Soup, and the Jonas Brothers, among others). I am most partial to his songs with Fountains of Wayne, the band which cemented the tone of the early 2000s with their single “Stacey’s Mom.” My favorite Schlesinger-penned Fountains of Wayne track is “Valley Winter Song,” from their album Welcome Interstate Managers. Schlesinger also wrote over 120 songs for CW’s excellent show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which recently finished its four season run, and demonstrates the most impressive quality of Schlesinger’s writing—every song tells a story.
- Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake, an incredibly enjoyable experience from an artist at his very best. This album is an hour long and laced with influences that range from the Philadelphia rap scene to 2000’s pop punk. I’ve been listening to some of these songs for months—Lil Uzi is beloved by the SoundCloud crowd, and a great deal of his work appeared there before its official release—and I am still not tired of them.
- Turnover, a longstanding favorite. The band, which got its start in Virginia Beach (!) has endeared itself to me for the way its songwriting oscillates seamlessly between melancholia and gentle positivity (much like myself, these days). Each record has its own merits, although I am particularly inclined toward their 2017 release Good Nature and 2015’s Peripheral Vision. Both albums have a certain therapeutic value, and have never failed to put a smile on my face. I am also a fan of the “social distancing” playlists Turnover has been releasing on their band’s Spotify account, and highly recommend them for anyone who is looking for a change after twelve continuous hours of “lofi hip-hop beats to relax/study to.”
Sailor Moon (just now re-starting this)
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones (its a children’s book but I don’t care because that it’s a book makes me want to be a writer)
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Minecraft (seriously the best game ever made, you can never run out of something to do and you can play with friends)
Skyrim (made in 2011, still play it to this day, actually I’m playing it as I write this)
Viva Piñata (this is a blast from the past I’m just now rediscovering)
- Love Island (Toxic, yet addicting)
- Vampire Diaries (For nostalgic reasons)
- All American (Not amazing, but has important scenes)
- The Real (Happy fri-yay)
- Tom and Jerry (Reminds me of a simpler time)
- Insecure (Support awkward Black women)
- A Black Lady Sketch Show (Support Black women—periodt.)
- Black-ish (Surprisingly entertaining)
- Bojack Horseman (A masterpiece.)
- Parks and Recreation (A classic. Sometimes better than The Office. I said what I said).
Don’t forget to stretch and get some fresh air—if you are able!
Even when the world isn’t staring down a pandemic, I tend to prefer media that make my heart feel light. So while there is a right time to blast Taylor Swift’s All Too Well (peak autumn, after a failed calculus exam), or to binge a documentary that seismically shifts your outlook on life (3:00 am, alone in your room), I think 2020 has been up front in telling me: Now’s not the time. So, if you’re able, join me in brewing your favorite tea and taking a few deep breaths. Here are my picks to carry you through quarantine—pants-less Zoom calls and all.
*all available on Netflix US
Hilarity ensues in these three episodes of long-form improv, which made me laugh out loud more heartily than any show in recent memory.
- The Great British Baking Show
- British accents, kind competitors, and buttercream frosting you could only dream of.
- John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch
- One of my favorite SNL alums befriends a group of children way cooler than I’ll ever be… and it is delightful in all of its strange, nostalgic glory.
- The Crown
- The grandeur of Buckingham Palace meets cinematic scenes of the countryside, with history lessons surrounding Queen Elizabeth II carried by an enrapturing cast.
- New Girl
- Spoiler alert: Season 4, Episode 18 witnesses Nick Miller duct-taping his slipper shut, which I think is something we can all understand.
For Their Sound
These songs have a joyful feel that makes me want to dance through a field of sunflowers or skip down a city street of buzzing neon lights. While social distancing, listen to these songs to sonically satisfy that nagging sense of wanderlust.
- “Let’s Fall in Love for the Night” by FINNEAS
- “The King of Rock ’N’ Roll” by Prefab Sprout
- “Fallingwater” by Maggie Rogers
- “Wildflowers” by Tom Petty
For Their Lyrics
I’m a sucker for some good lyrics. These songs each hold a special place in my heart, tucked away as “poetry” in my mental filing cabinets. Give them a listen if you want to delve into a world of words to live by.
- “Democracy,” cover by the Lumineers (originally by Leonard Cohen)
- “Stubborn Love” by the Lumineers
- “Note to Self” by Ben Rector
- “The Men That Drive Me Places” by Ben Rector
- “The Age of Worry” by John Mayer