Mediaite’s Picks For What TV and Movies to Binge on During Coronavirus Lockdown
One of the many unfortunate by-products of the coronavirus crisis is the hours of confinement that effective social distancing demands, and since playing “Twister” is out of the question, one great way to occupy your time, keep your mind off the less-than-encouraging news and stay sane is a good TV binge — or five.
To that end, Mediaite has put together our staff’s picks for movie and TV marathons to pass time that you might otherwise have spent going out to restaurants, attending professional sporting events, or reading things that might actually be useful to your life. Hopefully, we’ll also spare you the countless hours you were going to spend browsing Netflix adding things to your list that you never actually end up watching.
So take a seat 6 feet away from your family members, put your feet up on that case of Charmin you hoarded, and enjoy Mediaite’s Picks For What Movies and TV to Binge on During Coronavirus Lockdown. Remember, as always, to follow guidelines on avoiding public places and stay safe. We’ll get through this together.
On the first night of my self-quarantine, I happened to watch two movies which were prison-themed. I wasn’t consciously looking for prison movies, but in retrospect, it made sense that I picked those films, considering I was trapped in my home. So for my selections, I thought I’d expand on the prison genre — with one slight exception to give some love to a classic show about a rogue cop trying to put the bad guys behind bars, while trying to avoid being sent away himself.
The Hurricane — As a part-time boxing writer on top of my duties here at Mediaite, I’m always partial to any film which includes the sweet science. Denzel Washington’s Oscar-nominated performance as middleweight contender Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who spent decades fighting for justice after being wrongly convicted of murder in the 1960s, is one for the ages.
The Shawshank Redemption — This 1994 masterpiece is a new arrival on Netflix. It’s one of the most rewatchable movies ever made. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman shine as two lifers in a New England correctional facility who try to break free from the physical and spiritual walls that confine them.
The Great Escape — A dynamite cast sparkles in this 1963 epic about Allied POWs detained in a German prison camp. McQueen. Garner. Bronson. Attenborough. Coburn. Doesn’t get much better than that.
The Longest Yard (1974 version) — By nature, most prison films are about escape. This fun movie, though, is about a football game between the inmates and the guards. Burt Reynolds absolutely aces his role as an ex-NFL quarterback who leads his fellow convicts into gridiron battle.
The Shield — When prestige television shows of this era are discussed, this classic is often omitted. But it might well be the greatest of them all. Every single hour of this show over the course of seven seasons is a thrill ride. Michael Chiklis is consistently mesmerizing as a dirty cop in Los Angeles who breaks all the rules. The very first episode will leave you speechless.
The key to good coronavirus bingeing is a mix of cathartic terror, calming nostalgia, and unapologetic escapism, so my picks are
Contagion — This propulsive plague thriller — which first warned us to stop touching our faces so much — will terrify you with echoes of our current situation, but leave you knowing that this too shall pass, and it coulda been a lot worse. Especially if your name is Gwyneth. Available on Vudu and Cinemax On Demand.
Outbreak — If you like your pandemic realism mixed with improbable conspiracy plots, Dustin Hoffman and company have just the thing for you in this Ebola-adjacent thriller that stars a pre-scandal Kevin Spacey, a radiant Rene Russo, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. vomiting in a biohazard suit. Available on The Flix. That’s Netflix, for you olds.
The West Wing – For a nostalgic look at a time when the worst thing a president did was come to a sudden arboreal stop, you can’t beat Aaron Sorkin’s prequel to the Obama presidency. Available on Netflix.
Hunters — This polarizing Amazon original series features Al Pacino as the head of an ass-kicking team of Nazi-hunting badasses during the late seventies. The quality of the writing suffers in the later episodes, but the early episodes are shot through with heartbreak that tempers the subversive humor and relentless action.
The Good Place — This NBC comedy just entered its own afterlife with a sweetly funny series finale that matched the rest of its run. At just over 20 minutes per Hulu episode, TGP is an easy-to-eat binge that really is as good as people tell you it is.
I’m usually more into movie marathons than TV show bingeing, but we’re all home together for the duration of this thing so compromises must be made. That’s how we get through global disasters after all: by agreeing to compromise on entertainment options.
In that spirit, my household has come up with a mixed marathon experience, spanning from the blockbusters of Vudu to the ancient wonders of Netflix. From the outer space of Prime to the inner space of Hulu.
It’s important to remember that social media is going to be your social outlet as you’re hunkered down indoors, so you want to be up on the buzzy shows. That’s why Masked Singer on Hulu and Picard on CBS All Access (and Amazon Prime) have to be top of list. Baby Yoda, you were here too soon and will return too late for Pandemic Theater. For now we have to get our space fix from the awesome return of Captain Picard and Seven, plus some other characters, as they pursue a slowly, slowly, unfolding plot. Naturally, Star Trek has been and always shall be your best choice for binge viewing, new or repeat. So don’t shy away from The Next Generation (Netflix), Deep Space Nine (Netflix), Voyager (Netflix), Enterprise (Hulu), or Discovery (CBS All Access).
As for the Masked Singer: it featured Sarah Palin singing “Baby Got Back” while shaking her … pink bear costume. Enough said. Be part of the group and just watch it already.
For movies, I always prefer horror. And what better time for a horror film than when you’re already stressed to the hilt and worried about dying? That’s why my pandemic list includes Nicholas Cage in Richard Stanley’s adaption of the H.P. Lovecraft tale The Color Out of Space, a movie that one critic described as “paranoid, cruel, ludicrous and radiation-poisoned.” Perfecto. Also on the horror list: The Carrier (free with ads on Vudu), every Purge movie (duh), 28 Days Later and Train to Busan for that zombie fix, 2008’s Rhona Mitra joint Doomsday (the only best post-viral apocalypse movie to feature castles and sword fights), and of course (if you’re picking up on a theme here), both poorly rated shaky camera view classic Quarantine, and Jay Roach’s 2019 flick Bombshell.
Of course, there are still more pandemic hours to fill. There’s always the dozens of Law & Order iterations, which have a combined total of 93 million episodes. For some woke cops and firefighters fare, there’s the two 9-1-1 series.
Now, some people are keen to do chores, house repairs, and other projects while stuck at home. But if you’re more sane and lazy, you can just watch TV shows about other people doing those things. We like Chopped, the cooking competition, or Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which is a show about you crying at the end.
Look, you’re going to be home for a couple of weeks. You might be working from home, but the TV is RIGHT THERE, so it might as well be on. And if you can’t spend countless hours binge watching Star Trek or horror movies when you’ve got some coronavirus downtime, then honestly, what are we even fighting for?
You can’t take yourself too seriously during self-isolation, so my Covid-19 binge-list is here to make you laugh.
Booksmart — The perfect movie if you’re missing your friends during self-isolation. It’s hilarious, clever, and somehow, miraculously, manages to make you miss high school.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — Science-fiction can be intimidating, especially during a global pandemic, but this comic-book movie is just so fun. A seriously impressive take on my favorite NYC hero (sorry, Batman). Not to mention, it has a killer cast.
Fleabag — Starting to talk to yourself while in quarantine? This show makes that seem totally normal! But seriously, if you haven’t binged QUEEN Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag yet, go do it — now!
Insecure — Issa Rae is a genius and her show has one of the best soundtracks ever, so it’s also perfect if you’re trying to add to your coronavirus playlist!
Love is Blind — If you rolled your eyes when you saw this on the list, I get it, but hear me out! It literally teaches you how to date with a wall between you and your partner — something we might all have to do pretty soon. Plus, if you’re anything like I am, you need something ridiculous to get your mind off the news, and I promise, there is nothing more ridiculous, and addictive, than Love is Blind.
As much as I personally enjoy really dark stories, I think right now we all just need to laugh. So with that in mind…
Space Ghost Coast to Coast — All of late night is off for the foreseeable future, so check out this ahead-of-its-time hilariously dumb animation/live action hybrid of a talk show. Where the cartoon superhero Space Ghost interviews real-life celebrities like Weird Al and Bobcat Goldthwait. Explaining any further would just ruin the fun.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels — Michael Caine and Steve Martin in a buddy comedy duo about two con men trying to outdo each other? Do I even need to say more?
Muppet Treasure Island — Because everyone loves the Muppets. This one’s a little darker than the other Muppet movies, but it’s still a classic with Muppet pirate action plus Tim Curry! (Though the “Cabin Fever” number may hit a little too close to home right now…)
Clue — In addition to featuring another great Tim Curry performance, it’s just a fun campy movie with a great cast bringing the iconic board game to the big screen.
Pretty much any Mel Brooks movie — The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Spaceballs are obviously good picks, but The Twelve Chairs, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, History of the World Pt 1… you get the picture. There’s a reason Brooks is a comedy legend.
I’m a peak TV guy. Any other time I would be very into an ensemble drama about a global pandemic that sends shudders up and down world governments. Now, not so much. Below are some shows I’m watching or I think are perfect if, like me, you’ve watched a lot of the big HBO or Netflix tentpole shows everyone tells you to watch.
The Crown — One of the popular shows a lot of folks have watched that I missed at the time and I’m watching now. It’s got Queen Elizabeth, soaring instrumentals, decadent decor, John Lithgow well-cast as a grumpy Winston Churchill, and teaches you a lot about a time period you may not be familiar with. Though, a plot early in the series featuring the government grinded to a halt as patients pile up in hospitals during a health crisis, hit a little close to home.
Little Drummer Girl — One of my favorite series of the last decade, brings John le Carré’s best-selling novel to life, and is the most memorable examination of terrorism (remember that?) I’ve seen in TV or film. The twisting plot featuring an excellent Florence Pugh, Alexander Skarsgård, and Michael Shannon is big on espionage, but my prevailing memory from the show is that it felt like art on the screen.
The Knick — This Steven Soderbergh Cinemax series featured Clive Owens acting like an insane person in a hospital drama set in the early 1900s, but was very entertaining. The surgeries featured tons of blood and the show dreamed up unique scenes featuring cocaine — your mileage may vary on each of those.
Peaky Blinders — Just noticed this list has a British or early 1900s vibe, and Peaky Blinders is no exception. Cilian Murphy is great in it, as is Annabelle Wallis, and Tom Hardy and Aidan Gillen, who you may remember from blockbuster movies and shows. If you told me to watch a show about razor blade-wielding gangsters, I would probably want to pass, but was hooked by the creativity of the plotting a couple episodes in.
American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson — To bring this list back to the States: Nothing is more American than the worldwide, sensational trial of O.J. Simpson. If you were a little young on the fateful summer day of the white Bronco chase in 1994 you’ll be enthralled as issues of race crackle and you’re confronted by an America that hurts to look at, but feels all too familiar.
A proper coronavirus quarantine is daunting. I know it well myself — I spent 7 long days of isolation after CPAC.
I suggest gorging yourself on ABC’s Shark Tank featuring the always brash Kevin O’Leary, and QVC mogul Lori Greiner, a figure who has been a frequent coronavirus cable news guest, Mark Cuban, among others.
And of course, as a dutiful media reporter, I watch Sean Hannity’s Fox News show at 9 p.m. EST to stay informed on all things Covid-19 and “the deep state.”
Personally, I’m a fan of escapist entertainment — I’ve devoured everything Pixar and Marvel have produced in recent years — but I still want the storylines to have a point, to care about the characters and their development, etc.
Doctor Who — I’ve successfully converted several friends into Whovians and if you like sci fi, history, or British humor, you should give this show a chance. Plus, there is a seemingly endless amount of content available from the show’s nearly 60 year history, including television and radio episodes and a few movies.
The 2005 reboot of the BBC classic brought with it increased special effects budgets and some serious acting talent. If you’re not familiar with the show, the premise is that “The Doctor” is an alien who looks human and travels through space and time with human friends, and can “regenerate” into a new person instead of dying. The episodes include both sci fi episodes where they visit strange planets and those where they travel back in time and encounter important figures in human history. If you want a sample before diving right into episode 1, “Blink” (series 3, episode 10) and “Vincent and the Doctor” (series 5, episode 10) are stand-alone episodes and fan favorites.
If I can’t talk you into Doctor Who, then I recommend the following, all available on Netflix:
The Good Place — It’s a unique mix of moving character drama and absurd escapist humor, sharp pop culture commentary, and the core six characters develop over the four seasons into an excellent ensemble cast. The show also manages to tackle deep, fundamental questions about morality and what it means to be human. Highly entertaining with an uplifting message about the power of being kind to each other — very timely right now!
The IT Crowd — Anyone who’s ever worked in an office (especially in an IT department) will sympathize with the characters’ plights — and if you’re a fan of The Office, this may be a good option instead of binging that series for the 37th time.
Halt and Catch Fire — Compelling storyline about modern technology and how it changes people’s lives, starting in the early 1980s and spanning to the early dawn of the internet age.
Great British Baking Show — The contestants make some truly amazing confections and breads, and the British hosts are sharp and witty. If you like baking at home, you’ll get some great inspiration for your own recipes, and for everyone else, it’s fun to watch someone try to make an Eiffel Tower out of cookies — and honestly a bit of schadenfreude if that cookie tower crashes to the ground.
To match the conflicting messages and feelings during this coronavirus crisis, I have curated a selection of apocalyptic material with elements of romance. Also, some flicks to STAY CALM to.
Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia — A pretentious arthouse movie about a newly-discovered planet smashing into the Earth, and the existential horror of three adults and a child who struggle to come to grips with the fact that there’s nowhere to hide! Skip to the last 30 minutes when the action starts, the rest is boring.
The Day After Tomorrow — Another movie about the end of the world. Tokyo gets pelted by a freak hail storm, Los Angeles gets destroyed by tornadoes, New York City is flushed away by a mega tsunami (and then frozen).
Doomsday Preppers — Spend hours binge-watching this television show about intensely dedicated preppers who would have all their stuff stolen at gunpoint as soon as SHTF.
Riverdale — A camp teen drama based on the Archie comics. If murder mysteries, romantic backstabbing, a hooded serial killer, and the Gargoyle King don’t take your mind off an uncertain pandemic, nothing will!
Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 — One of the best in the saga: an epic battle with a series of tear-jerking moments, including (but not limited to) Bella and Edward’s wedding dance to the same song they danced to at prom in the first movie and the beautiful montage at the end. Still quality nearly ten years later.
I’m in the middle of an absolutely obsessive, months-long Philip Seymour Hoffman binge. The Master, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Almost Famous, Punch-Drunk Love, Boogie Nights, Capote, Charlie Wilson’s War and, of course, Along Came Polly. He doesn’t miss!
I also just finished watching The Night Of, from HBO. It’s one harrowing, electrifying season of television.
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]