Social isolation has given us a surge a free time. While we here at Paste are bingers of all kinds of content—everything from TV and albums to movies and audiobooks—all year round, we’ve found ourselves with even more reason to dive into something new these days. If that TV show or book (or whatever) provides a little comfort and routine to an otherwise unsteady schedule and anxious environment, then that’s even better. We polled our staff to see what is getting everyone through this quarantine. Here are our picks, listed by type.
Feel Good, which stars stand-up comedian Mae Martin as herself, parses the intricacies of addiction and sexuality with an amount of care I haven’t seen in a long time. TV often portrays addicts as washed-up criminals or emotionally absent parents, but this show reminds us that there are plenty of seemingly well-adjusted twenty-somethings struggling with substance abuse. What’s most heartening, though, is that even though Martin’s character deals with this, plus a resentful mother, an unsustainable living situation and the external and internal pressures of being one half-of a queer couple, she keeps trying to overcome these things and tell jokes about being Canadian. —Assistant Music Editor Lizzie Manno
My friends and I joke that my taste in TV is “dumb, loud and set in New York City,” and while Younger checks two of those boxes, it’s a whole lot smarter than some of the other “dumb, loud” NYC shows I’ve logged in the past (looking at you, Real Housewives of New York City and Gossip Girl). Younger, starring Broadway star Sutton Foster and ex-Disney darling Hilary Duff, is a clever examination of millennial culture, full of topical episodes and socially relevant plot-lines, but it’s also just a soapy good time with a soundtrack that sounds like something they’d play inside an H&M. Younger remains light-hearted while giving its viewers a little something more than the TV equivalent of junk food. —Assistant Music Editor Ellen Johnson
I knew from the very announcement of David Fincher’s Mindhunter that the series was probably going to be up my alley, but an ever-expanding list of responsibilities and entanglements in other TV series and film projects meant that it took a pandemic for me to finally sit down and start watching it. And oh, how quickly it set its hooks in me. I had expected to be fascinated, as so many of us are, with the portrayals of incarcerated serial killers such as Ed Kemper or Jerry Brudos, both of which generated critical acclaim when the first season of the show was released in 2017. But what caught me by surprise was the show’s more human element, revolving as it does around three genuinely compelling characters: An idealistic FBI agent who believes his organization needs to quickly adapt to changing times; a troubled father struggling with an adopted son he can’t seem to properly connect with despite his best efforts; and a closeted lesbian academic who recognizes the breakthrough in psychology that serial killer profiling might offer. I’m not even finished with the first season yet, but I now find myself watching not out of macabre fascination with the killers, but genuine concern for the work of our protagonists. That’s perhaps Fincher’s most impressive achievement here. —Staff Writer Jim Vorel
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
Watching Anthony Bourdain’s ravenous consumption of culture and the food that represents it can leave some viewers feeling wistful for the bounty of beauty that this world has to offer—especially amid the current pandemic, when an outing to a local park proves risky. Yet there is no better time to immerse oneself in the oeuvre of one of the finest travelers of our time.
Not only does Bourdain highlight the most underrated cultural hubs around America, but the writer-turned-TV travel guide also conducts deep dives on capitol cities and major destinations around the globe, providing insight from citizens and sources that are often not given a voice on large-scale platforms.
No Reservations aired on the Travel Channel before Bourdain embarked on his legendary CNN show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, which he filmed until his death in 2018. While Parts Unknown might contain some of the most enduring commentary from the world traveler, No Reservations is classic Bourdain. Watch him badmouth everything from Guy Fieri to hipsters while he connects deeply with once-strangers from once-strange lands. Seasons seven and eight are currently available to stream on Hulu. —Editorial Intern Natalia Keogan
Legends of Tomorrow
There’s something to be said for escapism right now, especially stories that feature the fate of the world hanging in the balance and a team of superheroes trying to save us all. Even if those superheroes are a flawed mess. I’d given most of the DC shows on the CW a fair shake, but none of them kept my attention beyond a few episodes. Legends of Tomorrow has proved the exception, though I skipped straight to Season 2 on the recommendation of Paste’s TV editor Allison Keene after watching the terrible pilot. And I’m thankful for it right now, watching a group of DC B-teamers travel through time and space and alternate realities to mostly clean up their own messes. With story lines like the hottest new plush toy becoming a god to Leif Erikson’s viking warriors to Julius Ceasar stealing a history book and reshaping the world, the show isn’t afraid of its own silliness. It’s fun when fun is in short supply. —Editor-in-Chief Josh Jackson
Dragon Age: Inquisition and Far Cry 5
In this time of coronavirus, two games have helped get my mind off of the crushing existential dread of daily life. One is a 300-hour (or more) fantasy RPG, Dragon Age: Inquisition (the third in the Dragon Age series, and yes, it is worth going back and playing Origins at least), and the other is a madcap, fantastically glitchy open-world shooter, Far Cry 5.
Inquisition is one of the most time-consuming games I’ve ever played, even as someone who likes to RP vanilla Skyrim and avoids fast travel. Inquisition takes things to an entirely new level with deeply layered lore, a mind-boggling amount of quests and areas to explore, and opportunities to get to know your 15+ possible companions better (and perhaps romance a few). Its world is beautifully crafted, its story is compelling, and there’s just so much of everything—not a bad way to spend your (perhaps now copious) free time among dragons and mages and Qunari and the like.
As for Far Cry 5, its “find and destroy the doomsday cult taking over rural Montana” story certainly is rewarding, but the game is even better in co-op mode. Plus, it allows you to practice social distancing without self-isolating! I came to this game thanks to infamous co-op playthroughs of Twitch streamers Ezekiel_III and SourKoolAidShow; once you finish a quick tutorial, this world is yours to explore. It’s wonderfully simple, and there’s no leveling (just perk points to increase your ammo packs, etc); pick up weapons and use them. You can also use any car, boat, or plane (!) that you find immediately, and crash into silos for your own amusement, see how many cult roadblocks you can run through with an 18-wheeler, or accidentally blow yourself and your partner up with a rocket launcher just before completing a quest because you accidentally pressed X (“X to glide!”). It is genuinely a rootin’ tootin’ good time, and a game that taught me (as someone raised on punishing platformers) that it’s not only OK to do things wrong, but there’s an art to it. Embrace the chaos and keep laughing. —TV Editor Allison Keene
Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Street Fighter V: Champion Edition & Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
I have been drowning myself in videogames not just because that’s my job but because at one point in my life I actually enjoyed them. All three of these games have reminded me why that once was true, in different yet equally edifying ways. Since I’m not leaving my house again until 2022 I have committed myself to becoming a real-deal Street Fighter guy, which means I spent money that I really shouldn’t be spending on a fight stick and have clicked and clacked away at that for hours at a time. I even won an online round once. Street Fighter V: Champion Edition has been the tournament of choice but I’ve dabbled here and there in the whole series courtesy of Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection. Street Fighter V is notoriously just fine—it’s one of those sequels that seems to exist solely because it must, and not because the designers had any great ideas on how to improve the superior Street Fighter IV—but its fantasies of skin-on-skin contact and one-vs.-the-world combat hold extra power in these solitary times. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, meanwhile, provides me with the rigid order that real life is currently missing, breaking my time down into strict two minute blocks and putting the burden entirely on my own ability to engage with its clearly defined rules. I am playing a GameCube copy running through a Wii, with the same save files I’ve had on there since 2002, and trying to finish off games I started almost 20 years ago provides a sense of continuity that isn’t all that replicable with other media. I’m not going to grab a book I read 75% of 18 years ago and start right up where I left off, but I was able to do exactly that with Pro Skater 3. And yes, of course, I’ve been dawdling through Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which has been the go-to jam for hip kids on the ‘tine scene. We’ve reached the point in the Animal Crossing discourse where the initial hype over how perfectly relaxing it is has given way to the actually-it-makes-me-anxious counterarguments, and in fact both sides are entirely accurate. New Horizons has been the ideal quarantine game for so many not just because it can feel so calm and stress-free, but because its efficient focus on collecting things—bells, Nook miles, fish, bugs, fossils, fruits, furniture, friends—provides ready-made to-do lists for housebound people who can’t do anything else, with whatever amount of stress or pressure your mind typically reads into to-do lists. For me it’s less of a stressor than a soft commitment—something I accepted into my life knowing that I would have to tend to it every day, but only for however long I want to. —Senior Editor Garrett Martin
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
After two years of massive insecurity, trust issues and never feeling good enough, I made the best decision of my life and gave up on my Bloodborne playthrough. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was my replacement of choice, and I feel my gamer’s ego healing. What captivates me in this game is how much freedom I have in such an open world. I earn more XP by exploring what I want and building the skills that are best suited for my interests, instead of needing the main quests to progress my character. His name is still Prisoner, because I sneezed and pressed R2 and X at the same time when I named him in character creation, but he’s full of individuality, nonetheless. Prisoner is an educated, professional High Elf undergoing his first (and worst) “bad boy” phase. Right now, he dabbles in destruction magic and necromancy, but he’ll be a full-blown vampire by the end of quarantine. —Editorial Intern Jarrod Johnson II
Tabletop via Discord/Roll 20
For the past two years, I’ve been playing tabletop roleplaying games every single week with three other friends, particularly those in the open source series known as Powered by the Apocalypse (or PBTA), popularized by the award-winning tabletop game Apocalypse World. Basically, there’s more of an emphasis on storytelling, community and togetherness than in Dungeons & Dragons. There’s a game for nearly everyone in the ever-growing pantheon of PBTA games, from the emotional teen superhero game Masks to games as specific as the feminist psychological horror game Bluebeard’s Bride.
Riding the coattails of an excellent campaign of gothic crime thriller Blades in the Dark (which is so popular it has its own spin-off system), we had just ran our first session with me as Dungeon Master, playing a Bloodborne-inspired monsterhunting game called Beneath a Cursed Moon. Later, I received a message from a friend in our group expressing hesitance about the next meeting because of the growing COVID-19 crisis. Despondent, we all tentatively agreed to try playing online, either through Roll20 or Discord.
We landed on Discord, and it went great. Each Wednesday, at 7 p.m., we all log on and spend about 30 minutes updating each other on the happenings of our week. Then we fight ghosts, unravel mysteries and expand ourselves creatively. I don’t know where I would be without my tabletop group, quarantine or not, and I’m so happy I can hear their voices each week. I strongly recommend anyone who loves games and coping poorly with the quarantine to get involved with a tabletop group. It’s extremely rewarding, and there’s tons of resources and a very welcoming community out there on Twitter, itch.io and Reddit, a bunch of creators dedicated to making new and innovative games with genuine heart. —Editorial Intern Austin Jones
Jupiter Styles: Ultra St. Opera
Ultra St. Opera, Sean Neumann’s (Ratboys) 2019 album under the name Jupiter Styles, is one of the few things that made me smile during these past few weeks. The Chicago singer/songwriter merges charming lyrics with scruffy, folk-tinged power-pop that necessitates passionate, kooky singalongs—either alone or with your best friends over FaceTime. —Assistant Music Editor Lizzie Manno
Julie Byrne: Not Even Happiness
Julie Byrne’s music is a hot bath, a warmed eye pillow, a spritz of lavender oil in your face and a glass of your favorite drink all wrapped into one. Her spiritual folk songs span a range of topics—from nature and atmosphere to love and heartbreak—but the actual sound of Byrne’s voice, a leathery, rounded alto, is what makes each of her songs so incredibly comforting. Her 2017 album Not Even Happiness has been on constant rotation for me the last two weeks. —Assistant Music Editor Ellen Johnson
Sally Rooney: Normal People & Conversations With Friends
I’ve been getting back into reading during quarantine, thanks in large part to the inimitable Sally Rooney. Reading her work during this unusually self-isolationist time, I find there is something comforting about being totally absorbed in Frances’ journey in Conversations With Friends or Marianne’s all-encompassing voice in Normal People. The Irish author is known for her distinct writing style, such as the omission of quotation marks, use of first person, deft ear for dialogue and the sense of intimacy and urgency that she evokes. I feel like I am inside characters’ minds and am never really sure where I am or how much time has passed. And that’s also what quarantining is like: Stuck inside, while time and place seem foggy. —Editorial Intern Isabella DeLeo
Madeline Miller: Circe
When the worries of the day have made getting to sleep difficult, the commanding voice of Perdita Weeks (Higgins in the Magnum P.I. reboot) reading Madeline Miller’s modern classic Circe has put my mind at ease. Miller relays many of the tales from Greek mythology through the eyes of the nymph sorceress Circe, and hers is a gripping, epic tale. An immortal with a heart for humanity, she’s at home among neither gods nor men. It’s a centuries-long tale of finding agency, purpose and love, told with deep wisdom and detail. Drown out your own worries with those of a goddess. —Editor-in-Chief Josh Jackson
War and Peace
Since obsessively listening to the cast album of Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 a few years ago, I’ve known that I have wanted to read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. This year, I finally made the goal easier by using my Audible trial credit on the first half of the audiobook. The Naxos recording read by Neville Jason fit all of my requirements, as it is unabridged, expressively read (and well-rendered even at 1.4x speed!), and translated in English by the Maudes, who received Tolstoy’s stamp of approval. Describing the plot makes me feel like SNL’s Stefon describing New York’s hottest club and saying, “This place has everything”: obsessive math about assassinating Napoleon, society gossip, rumination about purpose in life and a pair of hot, chaotic, vaguely incestuous siblings. Like most, I naturally sympathize with and relate to the protagonist Pierre. He spends his first appearance in the novel being awkward and ungainly at a social gathering and engaging in mutual admiration with his conventionally cool friend Prince Andrei. The primary characters of War and Peace, recognizable not as archetypes, but people, feel written as if for the purpose of being understood and often adored.—Social Media Intern Jane Song