The Best Shows I Have Binge-Watched During the Covid-19 Pandemic
Some good shows have helped pass the time during this trying year
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced more people to seek at-home entertainment than ever before. Fortunately, there is no end to the number of options that can be slowly consumed, or if they really grab hold of you, binge-watched. I have lost count of the number of shows I have devoured over the past eight-plus months, but I do remember well the best I have come across during this trying time.
The Queen’s Gambit: Despite orphan Beth Harmon growing up in a haze of substance abuse and emotional detachment, she discovers chess is her constant. Learning the game from the dour handyman in the basement of an orphanage, she in short order becomes a world-class player who finds financial success and the stability she lacks elsewhere.
You don’t have to be a chess nut in order to enjoy this seven-episode first season. They delve into the strategic game enough to show the intricate mental exercise necessary of the best players in the world. However, they don’t hammer it into you to the degree that it becomes boring. Star Anya Taylor Joy is compelling in the lead role, as her teacup saucer-sized eyes are a striking contrast to her character’s aversion to vulnerability.
The Crown: The British monarchy has been an institution for centuries; both in symbolism and notoriety. Covering the lengthy reign of Queen Elizabeth II and her family, the series has now completed four seasons, which was originally set in the 1930s and has made itself up to the 1980s and the height of Princess Diana’s popularity.
The Royal Windsor family has always projected and protected an image of perfection but behind the scenes there have been many charades that create the illusion. “Based on a true story,” the show does primarily stick to the facts but like all good productions, they allow themselves some creative license. There are so many characters, so many plot lines and such beautifully written and spoken dialogue that you could watch it several times over and still not get all the texture and substance.
Unsolved Mysteries: As a child in the 1980s, I was simultaneously horrified and fascinated by the original series hosted by Robert Stack. The stories trying to bring closure to the unknown were varied and interesting. Meanwhile, the theme song was creepy as hell, literally keeping me up at night more than once and even now sends a child down my back.
This new version is sleeker, contemporary and of course absent Stack, who passed away 20 years ago. The theme music is slightly updated but still spine tingling, and the stories are even more compelling than before. An entire French family who simply vanished from their home to the death of a mysterious unknown woman found dead in a hotel room — some real doozies are tackled. The original series depicted several mysteries in a single episode, while the reboot tackles just one. The material has been carefully curated and anyone enjoying a good mystery will be instantly sucked into these cases that continue to baffle.
The West Wing: Having never caught the show when it ran on NBC 1999–2006, the current political strife in the country made it feel like a good time to finally check this out. Covering the administration of fictitious president Jed Bartlett, he and his staff don’t do everything right, but their hearts are always in the right place, even if not everyone knows it.
Given the ugliness of President Donald Trump’s tenure and final days in office, it was rather cathartic to watch this show for a reminder of what real leadership is like. The cast is brilliant, with Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff and Dule Hill being just a few of the regulars who make this procedural so worthwhile.
Schitt’s Creek: Saving the best for last, it’s highly encouraged that you run, and not walk, to watch this show, regardless if you have already seen it or not. Despite the silly double-entendre name, this fish-out-of-water story is much more than recycled material.
The sitcom is the creation of Dan Levy and his father Eugene Levy, who headed the writing and also play father and son on the Canadian show. It tells the story of the Rose family (mother, father and two adult children — all four of whom are ridiculously spoiled), who were once extremely rich and suddenly lost it all, only to have to move to tiny Schitt’s Creek, which they once bought as a joke and now find impossible to sell.
While the premise may sound familiar, its substance is anything but. The characters are rich and memorable, and there is an infectious positive spirit that never relents. The true focus on the show is human growth and an LGBTQ-affirmation that is lacking in other productions. Rarely have I ever seen something that has been so clever and endearing while making me feel so good.