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A Love Letter To The TV Shows That Got Me Through The Pandemic05:15
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In this screen grab released on April 4, 2021, Jason Sudeikis performs as "Ted Lasso" during the 27th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on April 04, 2021. (27th Annual SAG Awards/Getty Images for WarnerMedia)
In this screen grab released on April 4, 2021, Jason Sudeikis performs as "Ted Lasso" during the 27th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on April 04, 2021. (27th Annual SAG Awards/Getty Images for WarnerMedia)

I’ve been thinking so much about “this time last year.” I’m fully vaccinated and ready for hot mom summer. But last year, just before Memorial Day, my husband was moving back home after living on our boat for 10 weeks. He’d quarantined an hour away, as he ran an emergency room and treated the first surge of COVID-19 patients.

I’ve recounted those bizarre 10 weeks to a few people recently, as I figure out how to talk to people in person again. When I couldn’t take three little kids to Target early in the pandemic, friends left groceries on my doorstep. Anil weathered stormy nights on the boat, tied to a town wharf near the hospital. He had a key to the harbormaster’s shower and an iPhone 6.

The details sound unreal, like something I binge-watched this past year instead of waded through in real life. Which brings me to the true hero of the pandemic: my TV.

Anil’s phone buzzed nonstop in mid-March last year. “What is it?” I’d ask in the evenings. “Is it bad? Is it worse?” We were too stressed for “Tiger King,” but I think we watched “Better Call Saul.” (My memory of that time is foggy, like Jimmy’s walk through the desert in season 5.) I know we made a rule so we could try to sleep: no talking after 9 p.m.

When Anil moved onto the boat and I was suddenly alone in the house with my kids — then 10, 7 and 3 — I needed my nights to be as far removed from my days as humanly possible. So, I watched “Outlander” — for the sweeping landscapes and historical accuracy, obviously. I stayed up late, hoarding the few hours when my house was dark and silent and mine.

I didn’t want to feel any of the feelings that had taken up residence in my body -- anxiety, fear, uncertainty, claustrophobia -- but I did want to feel something.

In April, Anil started to come home for weekends. After I got over wanting to wipe him down like an Amazon package, we binged “Ozark.” We’d think, hey, Marty and Wendy Byrde aren’t doing so hot either.

In May, he was still on the boat, and I found “Normal People.” I loved the novel. I loved the Hulu adaptation. I followed “Connell’s Chain” on Instagram. I regret nothing.

I didn’t want to feel any of the feelings that had taken up residence in my body — anxiety, fear, uncertainty, claustrophobia — but I did want to feel something. I couldn’t read or listen to podcasts for more than 10 minutes. My TV let me feel like a person for a few hours each night, enough to be able to get up and do it all again the next day.

Watching Pamela Adlon cook on “Better Things” was free therapy, and the New Orleans wedding episode (with Randy Rainbow) made my strung-out heart swell three sizes. “Sex Education,” so full of wit and warmth and Gillian Anderson, buoyed me when I couldn’t find catharsis — or things to smash to bits — in real life.

Through the summer there was “Never Have I Ever,” the smart and touching teen rom-com from Mindy Kaling, Issa Rae’s always-brilliant “Insecure,” and is anyone more delightful than Aidy Bryant in “Shrill”?

Palm Springs!” It’s a movie, but if you watch it three times it starts to feel like a TV show.

As backyard firepits went on frostbite hiatus, and I hadn’t been inside another person’s house in a year, I watched “High Maintenance.” The characters were so loud, and they pushed up against each other in tiny apartments or crowded bars. I could almost forget I was alone. Then there was “I May Destroy You.” Just thinking about that finale makes me want to lay on the floor.

Together, Anil and I watched “Schitt’s Creek.” We laughed, and we cried.

Then we hit a lull. The winter COVID surge was looming, and it was dark at 4 p.m. In search of something that would get us out of our own heads, we tried re-watching “True Blood” on HBO. It was the ridiculous romp we needed to get through the pandemic holidays and, giddy, we blew through all seven seasons. We even watched it on Christmas.

The real gift, of course, was “Ted Lasso.” Talk about the valentine we didn’t know we needed.

Winter became our time to have no plans, no expectations and lots of TV. The routine was a balm. Anil was going into the hospital most days, and coming home with his scrubs in a trash bag. We didn’t take our time together for granted — even when we felt concentrated like orange juice in a can.

We binged the binge-iest shows: “The Queen’s Gambit,” “Bridgerton,” “WandaVision,” punctuated by quirkier ones like “Mythic Quest” or darker series like “The Boys.” We watched “Fresh Prince” with our kids, then binged “The Flight Attendant” at night. We bantered, texting one-liners from Portia and Elliott from “Search Party” when Anil worked a night shift. It was something we could share that wasn’t just, well, trauma.

The last series we watched this spring, before friends in real life got vaccinated and our calendar started pinging with plans that called for pants with a button, was “The Americans.” It’s one of my top three, but Anil hadn’t seen it. Living through a pandemic with your spouse on the frontlines is not unlike being Russian spies. You compartmentalize a lot. You cover your face. One of you is stoic, while the other finds solace in self-help. Anil asked how he’d never watched it with me the first time around. I said, we weren’t as close back then.

We put our boat in the water last week, and I’m happy to report that no one’s living on it. This summer, when I open the tiny bathroom cabinet below deck and see a thermometer and a giant bottle of Tylenol, I don’t think it will feel like a gut punch.

Also, I found a new show. It’s called “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay.” It’s about being messy, and awkward, and not always saying or doing the right things, and fiercely loving your people. It’s my summer vibe.

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Sara Shukla Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Sara Shukla is a writer with work in Cognoscenti and McSweeney's.

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