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Social Distancing Made Easy: The Spectrum Culture Guide to Isolation: Day 20

Social Distancing Made Easy: The Spectrum Culture Guide to Isolation: Day 20

We’re all in this together.

Hello, everyone.

We here at Spectrum Culture understand that the world is a scary place right now. With the spread of the novel coronavirus, it’s time to stay home. As one meme states:

We’re here to help. This feature is a running list of all music, film and books that we’re consuming while housebound. We’ll be updating it daily and hopefully giving you some ideas of how to pass the time.

Feel free to recommend what you’ve been listening to, watching and reading. We’re all in this together.

The Mentalist

I’m not necessarily a fan of procedural television, though I can definitely see the comfort in watching intrepid crimesolvers crack a case every week. But while I’ve been building an island paradise in Animal Crossing, my spouse has been working his way through the Simon Baker-led television series “The Mentalist,” which ran from 2008 to 2015 on CBS. Created by Bruno Heller, a co-creator of HBO’s “Rome” and the developer of Fox’s “Gotham,” “The Mentalist” follows the exploits of a sleuthing former con-artist who joins the California Bureau of Investigation in order to track down the murderer of his wife and child.

Baker’s Patrick Jane is a pretty annoying protagonist, like a Ken-doll Sherlock Holmes who always gets the last word. Baker is great, it’s just what the smartypants role calls for, like David Caruso’s Horatio Caine (of “CSI: Miami” fame) and Kyra Sedgewick’s Brenda Leigh Johnson (from TNT’s wonderful “The Closer). The real draw here is The Craft’s Robin Tunney’s Teresa Lisbon, Jane’s CBI handler. Tunney’s ability to simultaneously bring strength and vulnerability to a character is a hallmark of her eclectic career. This was on display when she found teen stardom with “The Craft” and when she received early acclaim for her role as a woman with Tourette’s syndrome in Niagra, Niagra (which won her the Venice Film Festival’s famed Vopli Cup for best actress). Though these moments seemed to prime her for a career of interesting roles, she’s mostly appeared in small roles in underrated films since, and that’s just as big of a crime as anything investigated on “The Mentalist.” – Mike McClelland

Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [Streaming on Criterion Channel]

Today is the not the first time that film premieres have been canceled or postponed until a future date. Stanley Kubrick’s nuclear age masterpiece was also pushed back, as it was set to release on 22 November 1963 (the day that Kennedy was assassinated) but instead came out at the end of January 1964.

I’m not exactly breaking news by telling you that Dr. Strangelove is good; it is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest films ever made. But perhaps I can convince you that the time is ripe for a re-watch (and the Criterion Channel version has excellent bonus footage as well). It is both hysterically funny and poignant. It is an eschatological film for a different sort of end times, but if you are staring down the apocalypse, be it atomic or coronaviral, isn’t it better to scream with laughter rather than fear? Plus, Kubrick’s version of executive leadership in a time of crisis is one that compares quite favorably to the current leadership coming from the White House. It makes me cringe to say it, but Dr. Strangelove almost makes me nostalgic for the days of nuclear brinksmanship. – Ryne Clos

Bojack Horseman [Streaming on Netflix]

Despair, man. How much can you take? We’re all in the process of finding out, but one thing seems clear: stories are the only thing that make it bearable. We need that escape hatch from the ghastly present. Months ago, before the plague hit, I remember thinking that the title sequence for Bojack Horseman felt like medicine. At the end of a long day (at the office! surrounded by people!), I would revel in the woozy trip-hop theme with its honking sax. The ultra-clean animation shows Bojack himself floating towards the camera through scenes of his wayward life, and that encapsulates the whole show: a tour of despair, from the half-blitzed perspective of a bipedal horse. And built into that, like DNA: both comedy and pathos in huge doses.

A lot of shows in the past decade have played with the spectrum of laughs and drama. “Breaking Bad,” in addition to being an intense thriller, was also hilarious. Even more so with “Better Call Saul,” and the brilliant “Barry.” It’s what makes those shows feel like novels. There’s a depth to characters that can cross that spectrum. “Bojack Horseman” fits into this novel category. Six seasons into the show, I feel like I’ve been reading a juicy Vonnegut paperback that makes me laugh out loud three times on every page. About half the characters have animal heads on human bodies. Bojack is a potbellied horse in a Cosby sweater, Princess Caroline is a pink cat in a power suit, and Mr. Peanutbutter is a yellow lab in a douchy v-neck with sunglasses perched on his head. The endless sight gags are pure joy–two big-horned sheep, staring at their phones, accidentally clank horns as they collide on the sidewalk–and many of the scenes are a cascade of one-liners. But as the show deepens, the characters get more complex and the storylines tangle and then tangle some more. This is the anti-sitcom. There are no tidy resolutions, and the story doesn’t reset to zero for every episode. “Bojack” gets dark. Real dark. One minute you’re giggling about Mr. Peanutbutter turning in circles before settling into bed, and the next you’re tearing up over Bojack’s eulogy for his abusive mother. Pranks and hijinks from season one come back to haunt Bojack years later, cast in the new light of regret. Sound like a bummer? Come on–there’s a bunch of high-strung penguins in suits working at Penguin Books.

And every time an episode ends, another is waiting to begin. The auto-play activates, and your mood resets to zero as the story goes on. No matter how many episodes I watch, I never skip that title sequence. It’s my medicine. – A.C. Koch

This Mortal Coil – Filigree & Shadow

Back when 4AD had a signature sound, perhaps no other group on the label defined it better than This Mortal Coil, which really wasn’t an actual group at all. Instead, 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell assembled a ragtag collection of musicians to do unlikely, gloomy covers of artists ranging from Gene Clark to Van Morrison to Big Star.

Only three albums exist and the middle one, Filigree & Shadow, is considered the weakest because of its over length. Recently, one of my friends suggested listening to Filigree (and subsequent release, Blood) as if four mini-EPs, allowing the content to become more digestible and the small pleasures to reveal themselves.

It is true that that back half of Filigree & Shadow drags a bit. However, there are some tracks that are absolutely essential and heartbreaking. Featuring an array of guest vocalists, the core group features Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde, arranger Martin McCarrick, producer John Fryer (of Nine Inch Nails fame) and Ivo-Watts.

The album, like much of 4AD’s early output, is all atmosphere. The hallmark reverb, shimmering guitar and echo are all there. But if you divide the album up into quarters, beautiful songs such as a cover of Jean-Luc Ponty’s “Tarantula” and Clark’s “Strength of Strings” begin to emerge.

In a time of sadness, somber music can help. All three of This Mortal Coil’s albums are worth a listen, a ripple of melancholy in a time where its okay to sad. – David Harris

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