no. 20: What to watch while the world is in chaos AKA comfort watches!

in which I talk (briefly) about how The Doctor, Amy, and Rory, are my ultimate comforts; Scott shares the wonder that is Joe Pera Talks with You; and Kati recommends the ultimate comfort books.

no. 20: What to watch while the world is in chaos AKA comfort watches!

Sometimes things are busy and writing is hard – this past week I dealt with both. I'm finally coming up for air (which is why this issue is a week late). It's been a slow week of words for me (which is why the feature is so short), but you will definitely enjoy the words of Scott Johnson and Kati Bowden.

Happy reading and see you tomorrow (hopefully)!

Something about the Ponds

by Sydney Bollinger

Recently there has been lots of talk of comfort shows and comfort characters—the things you watch and seek out when everything is just a dumpster fire. Let’s be honest, most of the past two years has been absolute shit.

Of course, there’s jokes going around online. Someone says Midsommar is their comfort film. Their comfort character is that guy from YOU whose name I can’t be bothered to Google (Joe?). In a time of endless bad things, we all need a little bit of comfort. I have my own comforts — Mad Men, The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Bring It On, Heathers — but for me Doctor Who reigns above them all.

Doctor Who began as a comfort show for me — I first watched it after getting my wisdom teeth removed. I had taken so much medicine and after three watches of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I needed something new. Immediately, I loved the show. I had always love sci-fi and fantasy — I was obsessed with Star Wars for most of my teenagedom and could not shut up about the Harry Potter books. It wasn’t a huge leap for me to start a show about an intergalactic time-traveling alien.

I sped through Eccleston’s and Tennant’s seasons; Doctor Who became my hobby. Even though my high school existence was just moving from one extracurricular to the next, I watched an episode whenever I could. Eventually, I got to Matt Smith’s seasons. His incarnation of the doctor came with rapid fire charisma, platonic soulmate Amy Pond, and Most Loyal Person Ever Rory Williams.

This trio quickly defined the show for me and I watched their seasons with such intense emotional connection that it took me a few weeks to get over the events of “The Angels Take Manhattan.”

After their departure, I found myself drawn back to the same 2.5 series of Doctor Who over and over. I’d start with season 5 episode 1 and end with season 7 episode 5, on a loop, ad infinitum. My favorite series of episodes, though, started with “The Pandorica Opens.” Something about that story in particular, whether it was the fantastical elements of the plot or the sheer power of friendship, spoke to me in a way that other stories didn’t. After that, we’re right into season six where the relationships between Amy, Rory, and The Doctor reaches its highest point.

I became so comforted by the “The Pandorica Opens,” "the Big Bang," and series six that I now have a ritual. In times of change — especially when I’m moving (and I’ve moved a lot) — I watch that stretch while I’m prepping and packing, eventually sinking into bed or settling into bed with the show still on in the background.

Joe Pera Talks with You

by Scott Johnson

The trickiest part of diving into comfortable media is the need for constant engagement. You don’t want the media to become so formulaic and drawn-out to the point where comfort turns to contempt and enjoyment detaches into background noise. What makes the Adult Swim program Joe Pera Talks with You such a compelling, comfortable show is the focus on genuine self-reflection rather than immersing you in a new reality. The approach is similar to Bob Ross inspired gentleness that embraces stream-of- consciousness thought and off-kilter, observational humor.

So much of the comedy comes from Joe Pera’s very essence, whose awkward delivery mixed with heightened portrayal of himself makes him such an endearing yet captivating presence.  He is often described as an old man in a 30 year old’s body, who can fill entire episodes talking about simple pleasures from grocery shopping to geographic history. His ability to narrate over stock footage takes the grounded, feel-good material and transforms it into a more serene, soothing experience only to be broken by surprised laughter.

Since Joe Pera Talks with You takes place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it can’t help but feel like a wintertime show. Episodes are deliberately centered on how to fight boredom when it’s too cold outside or even directly from Joe Pera’s cozy bedroom. The show’s goal of simple yet warming comfort resonates like wrapping yourself in a blanket or drinking the perfect cup of hot chocolate. And thanks to the program’s small form approach, it never outlasts it’s welcome, giving you enough comfort to clear your head without wanting to indulge yourself.

What’s important to underline is that this is not a show that wants to escape from conflict. Although Joe feels unnaturally cool, he’s offset by his more expressive cast. His prepper girlfriend played by Jo Firestone or his hot-tempered neighbor played by Connor O’Malley are able to inject anxieties in the program though they never feel like characters we’re supposed to feel anger towards. They create scenes that can be uncomfortable, but their purpose feels intended to tell the audience that these feelings will pass and these characters can change for the better. Joe Pera Talks with You understands that in our modern world we can’t turn off our brains’ thoughts or obsessions; so we should embrace the occasional absurdity and brilliance of their passing.

I believe Joe Pera and his crew wanted to create a new form of outsider comedy. Comedy that is completely free of cynicism, though isn’t afraid to be realistic or strange. That’s what makes it so unique as it comforts me through it’s home-spun charm. By acknowledging this kind of mundane existence combined with relatable introspection makes the world feel less busy and less misanthropic. Joe Pera understands that to combat the loneliness of winter isn’t to hide away from the rest of the world, but rather to put on the right clothes and state of mind to help those you care about.

Screen Break (400-600 words)

by Kati Bowden

This week, we're talking about series and shows that bring us comfort. When I'm looking for a comfort read, I reach for something that guarantees a happy ending, a sweet story that I know will dip into the depth of human emotion without dragging me too deep into an internal spiral of questioning and overthinking. Typically, I find this light sweetness, this touch of saccharine dipped in wonder and dusted with serious reality, in the pages of Young Adult romance stories, particularly queer stories and stories that represent other minorities that have rarely been awarded joyful representation in the mainstream. Below, I've recommended my top 3 comfort reads, stories that make my inner teen happy, and that offer such sweet stories to readers who may need to see these stories on their shelves.

The Falling In Love Montage by Ciara Smyth

Saoirse doesn't believe in true love and happy endings, because she knows that real life is much more difficult than movies. She's had her heart broken enough, thank you, both by her ex girlfriend and by watching her father put her mother in an assisted living facility instead of helping her himself. So, Saoirse isn't looking for anything serious when she somehow stumbles into a kind-of-fake, kind-of-not situationship with Rose, a pretty girl with a penchant for rom-coms. Rose convinces Saoirse that they don't need to actually fall in love to have a summer of fun together, and so begins The Falling in Love Montage. Packed with romantic cliches, swoony moments, and heartbreaking reality, this is the sapphic love story I would have gobbled up as a teen.

Heartstopper by Alice Oseman

If you haven't heard about this beautiful graphic novel series yet, now is the perfect time to catch up on the first four volumes. Following shy Charlie and rugby-star Nick, Heartstopper has been renowned for its masterful handling of serious topics such as homophobia, mental health, and eating disorders, as well as the sweet romance at its core. Charlie Spring is pretty sure that his crush on school athlete Nick is safe and inconsequential. After all, Nick is handsome, athletic, and popular--half of the neighboring girls' school probably has a crush on him. Too bad Charlie's been made into a social pariah since being outed to the whole school. But then it seems like Charlie's crush isn't quite as one-sided and unrequited as he thought. From the kindness of unlikely friendship, to the full blown romance of first love, Heartstopper is a beautiful story that celebrates queer identities and mental health. The final volume of the graphic novel is expected to be released near the end of 2022, and a live-action TV adaptation is coming this spring.

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

From one of today's most prolific Young Adult romance authors, Instructions for Dancing tells the emotional, hopeful, jaded story of Evie Thomas, who has stopped believing in love after her parents' harsh, messy divorce. Once a romance novel aficionado, Evie finds herself in possession of a most unfortunate (but timely) power: if she sees a couple kiss, Evie can see all of the major points of their relationship--how they met, how they fell in love, and how they'll end. And they always end. When Evie joins a local dance school on a whim and is paired with the enigmatic, charismatic X, she's pretty firm in her beliefs. But X is passionate, daring, and undeniably cute. Can Evie risk growing attached to her dance partner if she knows that they'll inevitably come to an end? Instructions for Dancing brings its readers through the hardships of a splitting family, as well as up the joys of young love and down the pitfalls of devastating heartbreak.

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A Reflection on Rom-Coms

Pitch Sydney by Thursday, February 3.

The season of love is here, which means it’s time to snuggle up with your S/O and watch a romcom. These are movies we know will have a happy ending, where love overcomes all. Most of our favorites are from bygone times and outside of holiday movies, romcoms have not been as popular as of late. For this issue, I want pitches on why we all still love our late 2000s/early 2010s romcoms, the terrible representation of diverse sexualities in romcoms, why everyone should watch your favorite romcom, the role of a romcom in the age of dating apps and TikTok lesbians, and how the plots of romcoms influence modern dating.

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