As many of us face quarantine, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong picks the world’s most diverting shows, including a Japanese romcom and a drama from Brazil.
By Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
A third of the world’s population is now living in lockdown with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, searching for hope and ways to connect – but also just something to do besides follow the news. When watching TV to fill our time, we can also build our empathy with other countries going through the same thing: closed borders don’t apply to culture. Here are 11 shows to watch in quarantine that will uplift or distract you, while also opening your mind and heart to other cultures.
Call My Agent! – France
A group of Paris talent agents scramble to keep their business alive after the unexpected death of their firm’s founder, while also competing with and betraying each other, in this three-season dramedy that premiered in 2015. There are fun machinations, office politics, and inside-showbusiness references (a plotline in the pilot hinges on a Quentin Tarantino movie). Call My Agent! is frothy while still being engaging, with plenty of beautiful shots of Paris. Available on Netflix.
O Negócio – Brazil
This HBO Latin America drama (which ran for four seasons, from 2013-2018) follows four high-priced prostitutes preparing to break free from the control of pimps and club owners and start their own business. It keeps things reasonably light and glamorous, making it a nice distraction, though it also resonates with reality, starting its first season with the Brazilian financial crisis of the early 2010s. Essentially, it’s Sex and the City meets Hustlers in São Paulo – a winning combination. Available on Amazon Prime.
Good Morning Call – Japan
Originally screened in 2016, this romantic comedy tells the story of a high-school girl who is forced to live with the most popular boy in school because of a rent scam. (They both have difficult family situations; just go with it.) Video game effects amplify the subjective point of view, and leads Haruka Fukuhara and Shunya Shiraishi are ridiculously charming, making for a sweet series that’s hard to resist. Available on Netflix.
Moone Boy – Ireland
Actor Chris O’Dowd created, co-wrote, and stars in this sweet sitcom about a young boy growing up in a small Irish town in the 1980s, confiding in an adult imaginary friend (played by O’Dowd) along the way. In the tradition of The Wonder Years or Everybody Hates Chris, it focuses on the everyday problems of growing up, such as school bullies and difficult sisters, but provides unique enough takes on them. Adding to the cosy vibe, there are plenty of nostalgic details, including shots of Dynasty on the television and four-colour pens. Available on Sky One/Now TV and Hulu.
Please Like Me – Australia
Australian comedian Josh Thomas created and starred in this charming dramedy, playing a gay 20-something opening up to his sexuality while helping to care for his mother after she attempts suicide. The four seasons ran from 2013 to 2016, totaling 32 episodes – a good length for bingeing. Please Like Me is full of awkward, clever humour, and delightful characters you fall in love with instantly. It’s also a perfect reminder of how much we all depend on each other. Available on Hulu.
The Good Place – US
This philosophical comedy about the maybe-afterlife offers a clever, supernatural, brainy twist on the traditional US sitcom. As a ragtag foursome negotiates what may or may not be heaven together, they learn about how to be better people. US stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson shine, while discoveries such as William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden, and Manny Jacinto nail some of the most loveably offbeat characters in sitcom history. And, yes, the series finale delivers, against all odds. Available on Netflix.
Schitt’s Creek and Letterkenny – Canada
On paper, Schitt’s Creek would appear to be a bitchy send-up of formerly rich folks getting their due: the American Rose family, beneficiaries of a video store empire, get their comeuppance when their investments go awry and they must move to a small, rustic town named Schitt’s Creek that they once ironically purchased. The result, however, is beating with such surprising heart that you will be sobbing by the final episode. If you want to take your Canadian bonhomie to the next level, try Letterkenny, a small-town, wacky comedy in which farmers, ice hockey players, polyamorists, Mennonites and more all try to live together in harmony. Schitt’s Creek is available on Netflix and Letterkenny on Hulu.
Elite – Spain
You cannot help but be transported and transfixed by this teen thriller-soap that takes every possible dramatic opportunity to its extreme. After a public school collapses, three working-class kids get scholarships to Spain’s most elite private school and immediately clash with the richest and most popular among their new classmates. We’re shown through flash-forwards that it all leads murder. You can’t ask for a better diversion than The OC meets Gossip Girl meets Cruel Intentions with an extra murder mystery on top. Available on Netflix.
Signal – South Korea
This 16-episode series from 2016 follows a present-day police detective team who discover a mysterious walkie-talkie that allows them to talk to a detective in 1986. They collaborate across decades to solve several cold cases, but their actions also have unintended consequences that they must race to counteract. It’s riveting from the beginning, with plenty of mysteries to keep you engaged and distracted. Available on Netflix.
Sex Education – UK
A little bit Skins, a little bit Degrassi, and a whole lot of fun, Sex Education focuses on awkward teen Otis and his extraordinary knowledge and understanding of sex, which he has gained from growing up with a sex therapist mother. Though he’s still a virgin himself, he starts a teen sex therapy clinic at his school with a rebellious classmate named Maeve. (Their own romantic tension ensues, of course.) It offers a bracing mixture of erotic candour, humour, pathos, and fun, with an endlessly watchable performance by The X Files’ Gillian Anderson as Otis’s mother. (She’s doing her best Emma Thompson, which is the highest of compliments.) An absolute addictive delight that will take your mind right off the news. Available on Netflix.