The 23 best web videos about life in quarantine (or to get you through it)
One advantage of the web over what we usually think of as television is that it is quickly responsive to current events and changing tastes. When the world turned sideways this spring, the web had the tools and templates to respond; and TV, when it adapted in turn, looked a lot like the web. Online media shapes itself to satisfy desires that shape the trends that satisfy the desires it shapes, and so on, even as it accommodates, in highly individual ways, its individual users — who, for that matter, often generate its content. There is something fundamentally, sometimes literally conversational about the web that can serve us well in this time of literal, not necessarily fundamental separation. I mean, it’s a web; we’re all one. (Sitar music plays.)
Here, we round up some of the most striking, funny, comforting or otherwise notable web responses to the coronavirus crisis — as well as a few favorites made before the pandemic began that are worth checking out while you’re staying at home.
We polled more than 40 TV critics and journalists, inside and outside The Times, on the best TV show to binge while stuck at home.
Celebrity good vibrations
In some ways, staying in has done for celebrity culture more good than a thousand issues of People magazine could. Because while it is not exactly true that the rich and famous are just like us — they have personal assistants and wear $500 T-shirts — it is also true that, seen under natural light, on a laptop camera with bad sound, wearing their glasses, needing haircuts, in daytime sleepwear, they can appear as vulnerable and isolated as anyone. And perhaps they are.
John Krasinski, whose 2018 sci-fi horror film “A Quiet Place” seems like a metaphor for our life on tiptoes, does dress up, at least above the waist, for his YouTube-based “Some Good News,” a compendium of positive clips, interviews, stunts and affirmations whose first episode has been viewed more than 15 million times in a couple of weeks. (Three episodes in, the channel already has nearly 2 million subscribers). It’s a homely production, yet powerful enough to remotely assemble the cast of “Hamilton” to perform for a little girl or to transport a Boston hospital’s COVID-19 team to the infield at Fenway Park to be applauded over the jumbotron by the mayor, the governor and the Red Sox. It’s “the undeniable power of the human spirit” that really makes it happen, says Krasinski, and it is nearly impossible to get through one of these things with dry eyes, which you can take as a warning and a recommendation.
Another ray of sunshine lighting up the cyberspace is comedian Ron Funches, who since 2018 has run his “Gettin’ Better” YouTube series, in which he interviews other comics and a smattering of professional wrestlers. As the title indicates, the emphasis is on self-improvement, breaking cycles, taking responsibility and being real. (His first guest was his mother.) “Make decisions out of love, not out of fear, even in this dreadful situation,” is Funches’ advice to you. Recent conversations are, of course, conducted remotely.
“So many people have asked me will I be their honorary granddaddy or their BFF or their gay uncle — that’s called a gunkle,” elfin actor Leslie Jordan says in the Easter edition of his faithfully maintained, effervescent, sometimes “gripey” Instagram video feed, which has earned him 3 million followers and a New Yorker profile. In an accent as wide as Tennessee — he is sheltering in Chattanooga, near family — Jordan describes life under lockdown, tells ancient tales of young dreams and sings even older songs while pretending to play an instrument: “My daddy was a shavin’, as the story goes/The razor slipped and it cut off his nose/The doctor sewed it on and sewed it upside down/And every time it rains my daddy nearly drowns.”
“Dinner With the Gaffigans,” coming under the umbrella of YouTube’s #StayHome #WithMe campaign, is a knockabout series of live (later archived) meals with comic Jim Gaffigan, his wife, Jeannie, and their five children in their New York loft, as they raise money for charity and talk over one another, sometimes with their mouths full. (And elbows on the table.) Chaotic, unprofessional and technically wanting — which is to say, like most everybody’s home videos — it’s a charming mess that takes the sport of watching celebrities in their natural habitat to a higher, and also lower, level. “It’s unique that everyone’s home,” says Gaffigan, of his brood and maybe yours, “and ‘unique’ I meant in a sarcastic way.”
Storytime for all
With invisible monsters lurking in the air and on hard surfaces, and taking possession of who knows whom, we are all a little shaky these days. A story would be nice. Dolly Parton’s “GoodNight With Dolly,” available over YouTube and on the website of Parton’s book-gifting charity Imagination Library, is not designed to allay adult fears — but don’t let that keep you from joining the Smoky Mountains songbird reading picture books in her pajamas. And LeVar Burton, beloved host for many years of “Reading Rainbow” and more recently of the podcast “LeVar Burton Reads,” has started reading stories on his Twitter page for kids, young adults and adults, in three weekly live streams (recorded for later playback).
And celebrities galore — including Glenn Close, Terry Crews, America Ferrera, Kelly Clarkson, Lupita Nyong’o, Chris Evans, Sen. Kamala Harris and the Backstreet Boys — have signed on to read favorite picture books as part of Amy Adams and Jennifer Garner’s Instagram-based #SaveWithStories, which raises money to provide meals to children in need. Julia Louis-Dreyfus presents “Yertle the Tertle” (the most “Veep"-like of Dr. Seuss stories), Lin-Manuel Miranda reads “¡El gallo que no se callaba!” and Ron Howard tackles “Harold and the Purple Crayon.” Not to be missed: Kate Winslet’s bonkers “Green Eggs and Ham.”
Unusual comedies from the relatively recent past
The internet is also an archive, and some of my favorite series of the century, on any platform, still live there.
“Ghost Ghirls,” a 2013 ghostbusting comedy created by stars Maria Blasucci and Amanda Lund, along with Jeremy Konner (“Drunk History”), was originally made for the late Yahoo Screen. Currently available on Vimeo, it’s an early demonstration that 10 minutes is all you need to make a fully formed sitcom episode. Bob Odenkirk, Jason Schwartzman, Natasha Leggero, Colin Hanks, Molly Shannon, Brett Gelman and Kate Micucci guest; some ghost. I would also eagerly direct you to Paula Pell and James Anderson’s potted “Hudson Valley Ballers” (2013 and 2015), in which the two friends ditch their “Saturday Night Live” writing jobs to open a “bed and brunch” upstate. Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Kate McKinnon Cecily Strong, Josh Charles, Natasha Lyonne and Lena Dunham drop by.
Amy York Rubin works mostly as a TV director, but in my more perfect world she’s a star. In her two fine web series — “Little Horribles,” from 2013, and “Boxed In,” made for IFC’s Comedy Crib in 2016 — she displays a sort of arms-length charm, as she ambles quizzically through a world that doesn’t quite get her and that she doesn’t quite get. Broadly put, the first series plays with themes of invisibility and insecurity (watch for “Broad City’s” Ilana Glazer as an office mate), while the second looks at identity, its uses and limits.
Most exciting of all to me, IFC has put online both seasons of Thu Tran’s delightful, delirious, demented “Food Party” (2009-2010), a sort of “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” meets “The French Chef,” as directed by Red Grooms, to understate its dream-logic weirdness. Anyway, there are puppets, and there is “cooking” of a sort, with impossible ingredients assembled by the Vietnamese American host. Tran’s resolutely nonprofessional delivery flickers between annoyance and a kind of dazed arousal; the handmade props and sets favor painted cardboard and are strangely beautiful and beautifully strange. (The concept began online as the work of bona fide art students; it has honest alternative roots.)
Tiny Desk Concerts, from NPR, has been going strong on YouTube since 2008. A pan-generational, multi-cultural, life-affirming deep well of joyfulness, the series, found on YouTube and the NPR website, has hosted hundreds of well-known and worth-knowing acts — including Los Lobos, Black Uhuru, Taylor Swift, the Jonas Brothers, Lizzo, the Wu-Tang Clan, Joshua Bell, Vijay Iyer and the Sesame Street Muppets — performing informally in a corner of the NPR office. Prefiguring the current rage for casual online concertizing, it has, like everything else, been decentralized to the homes of the artists: Post-lockdown players include Ben Gibbard, Michael McDonald and Tarriona “Tank” Ball of New Orleans’ Tank and the Bangas, who sings to the moment: “Don’t go out to the cookout… Like a good neighbor, stay over there.”
I love Queen guitarist Brian May more than I like Queen — I like them fine, don’t write in — for his animal rights activism; his late life PhD and his work in astrophysics; and because I saw him in my neighborhood once and so feel we are friends. On his YouTube page, BrianMayCom, he posts a mix of phone-shot “microconcerts,” tutorials, good wishes, good advice and the very sincere commentary of a man of science in an age of superstition. He had a grandfather in the First World War, “so perhaps what we’re being asked to do isn’t that bad.” And as Mark Bolan would say, he ain’t no square with his corkscrew hair.
For singers seeking virtual community, popular U.K. choirmaster and TV personality Gareth Malone, whom some will remember here from the absurdly moving BBC import “The Choir,” has been organizing “The Great British Home Chorus” via YouTube. Home recordings by participants will eventually be stitched into one massive single recording. And while I can’t say whether it’s too late to get involved with that project, or whether American citizenship is a bar to entry, there’s no reason not to audit the archived exercises and rehearsals, and Malone is just good company.
What else? Jazz pianist Ethan Iverson, late of the Bad Plus, is performing TV themes via his Twitter account; Diplo has been mounting “Coronight Fever” dance sets, which move from Instagram Live to YouTube (for “the after-party”), and Questlove is playing hours-long DJ sets on the Roots’ lively You Tube page while “The Tonight Show” shelters in Jimmy Fallon’s house. Red Sox organist and indie-rock sideman Josh Kantor takes requests every day on Facebook for a program he calls, appropriately, “Seventh-Inning Stretch.” And L7’s Donita Sparks is hosting “The Hi-Lo Show,” an art-punk “variety show” with the eager amateur feel of late-night cable access; it’s raising money to support musicians who’ve lost work during the pandemic. In one segment, the host lies on the floor and weeps, because: 2020.
Of the people, by the people, for the people
Tik Tok, the Short Attention Span Theater of our time, is not on the face of it a rich medium, but there is a kind of tapestry woven by the community as a whole, responding individually in great numbers to this or that hashtag (e.g., #reallifeathome, in which shelterers re-create the outside world inside) or joining in the latest app-sprung dance craze. It speaks to the human need to create, to participate and to show off. Most of it is nothing much, but much of it is artful. Riley Bona’s very, very short film, in which a pie-making demonstration is overtaken by an atmosphere of gathering doom, speaks to our collective emotional state. (It has a happy ending: pie.) It can get serious — the World Heath Organization has an account to preach good pandemic practices to the young, though you can get some of that information from a hamster there as well. Spending time on the app (also available via the web) is something like going through a bag of Halloween candy, in which you never know what you’ll get and won’t like everything — but, hey, candy.
Gamers were modeling this life of connectivity-in-isolation long before “coronavirus” entered the common lexicon. As a person who is interested in games, but not interested in — which is to say, no good at — playing them, I drop in occasionally to Twitch, where expert players the world over broadcast themselves rocking “Fortnite” and “Minecraft” and what have you. If you can’t last five seconds on “Final Fantasy” but would like to see what happens there, or would like to spend some time in the world of “Animal Crossing,” because you have read about it over and over again, this is the place for you: some of the fun, but none of the anxiety.
Finally, if you need somewhere to share your rage over those who feel that the social distancing does not apply to them, take strength from this small but mighty new genre: Italian mayors chastising residents who refuse to take lockdown seriously — patrolling the streets, ranting on video, chasing violators by drone. And there is this relatively hopeful Easter message from the mayor of Regiona Campana: “Let’s learn how to make desserts again at home. Let’s learn how to make ‘pastiera’ cakes. I’m not bold enough to tell you to eat them. Your first attempts will be disgusting.”
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