While coronavirus threatens our lives and livelihoods, social distancing, isolation, and quarantine have become the new norm. Suddenly, our nation is filled with people asked to stay home and cut off most casual interactions with the world outside. In this environment, the art, hobbies, rituals, and entertainments we love have become ever more vital to our mental wellbeing. As a new, and (hopefully) limited new series on Lewton Bus, Isolation Nation aims to give our editors and contributors space to talk about the things that are giving them a little comfort in this isolated world, for your social distancing entertainment.
Will Hyland – Hannibal
I’ve long been a fan of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels (even “Hannibal,” in all its oversized Grand Guignol excess as a ‘fuck-you’ to all the dumbass fans out there who thought Hannibal Lecter was a badass and should be the hero), and I was as skeptical as anyone when a TV show was announced to be on the horizon. And now I am in the place where I’m using quarantine as an excuse to go through the Hannibal series for the fourth time, or so. Not only did Bryan Fuller understand the appeal of the books as well as anyone since Jonathan Demme, he also loved them all as part of a whole, including the excesses of the later ones. Less a direct adaptation of the novels than a borderline abstract remix of them, Hannibal was often the most perversely beautiful show on television, awash in rich and sumptuous frames and loaded with stomach-churning violence that was almost shocking for a program that aired on network TV. Both an impressionistic dance with the devil by the pale moonlight and a gothic romance between two men who are the only people who could possibly understand each other, the show also benefited enormously from Mads Mikkelsen’s radically new, blank and almost biblically terrifying take on the character – a world away from Anthony Hopkins’ coiled theatricality. Breathtakingly unafraid to be ridiculous (Mason Verger drinks the tears of children, there’s a mechanical bear-man killer, etc) and increasingly confident in its idiosyncrasies with each passing season, I still hold out hope for its eventual return.
Jared Eves – Nat’s What I Reckon
YouTube cooking shows are, like most anything on YouTube, a dime a fucking dozen. Some of them are useful, and a bunch of them are trash. I have no idea if the recipes from Nat’s What I reckon are any good as I have yet to cook any of them, but they are damn entertaining to watch!
His videos are all about making cooking accessible and practical for everyone, and he does so with a down to earth sense of humour (and bad language, if you’re sensitive to/into that sort of thing), honesty, and a spin and a whistle.
There’s not much left to say except “fuck jar sauce.”
Shannon Hubbell – Endless Sky
Escape Velocity, from Ambrosia Software, was a late 90s, shareware space role-playing game for Mac OS. You start off with a weak little shuttle. You start going on missions. Running trade routes. Transporting passengers. Smuggling. You make more money so you can upgrade your ship and your weapons. Join a military alliance? Become a pirate? It’s up to you. Escape Velocity was a big part of my teen years. But that was a long time ago, back in the days of North American megafauna, and EV is no longer with us. Hell, Ambrosia Software itself died last year. I’ve missed Escape Velocity a lot, to the point of wanting to learn the Unity game engine just so I can make a version of my own1.
It turns out somebody beat me to it! Endless Sky is a cross-platform, open source Escape Velocity clone and it really, really scratches the itch. The story may be different, the UI may have been tweaked, and the graphics may have been given a slight upgrade2, but the core of Escape Velocity is there, and it’s lovely.
Either way it’s free! All that’s missing is Cap’N Hector.
Ryan Roch – Elementary
In this house, we love and respect Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary deductionist.
I’ve long been a fan of detective fiction, mysteries, procedurals, and Sherlock Holmes, in particular. As a kid, my parents bought me a children’s reader version of The Hound Of The Baskervilles, that I was honestly a little too scared to read, at the time. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, in their many film and television adaptations, became a strangely comforting part of my life in the following years, despite my never fully latching on to any one interpretation over any other.
However, despite the fact that I was sure I’d watched this particular iteration at some point in the past3, when my wife and I sat down to the pilot earlier this week, I was surprised to find that this is all completely new to me. Airing on CBS starting in 2012 and running for 7 seasons, Elementary reimagines Holmes as a quasi-disgraced consultant to both Scotland Yard and the NYPD in recovery for heroin addiction, and Watson as a former surgeon, now working as a ‘sober companion’ recently assigned to Sherlock after being hired by his estranged father.
We’ve now watched 8 episodes of the show in the past week, and we are absolutely hooked. Elementary seems to achieve the perfect mix of episodic appeal and responsibly serialized growth, while eschewing the network TV pitfalls so common in procedurals and male/female co-protagonist shows. So many shows seem to be unable to avoid falling into the X-Files trap4, where, just because two people of the opposite sex clearly have chemistry, they must eventually become romantically involved. It’s that impulse where everything seems to constantly be reaching for this eventual stasis of Hart to Hart, which hasn’t worked for pretty much any show5. More importantly, the show treats Holmes and Watson – and the extended cast – with genuine humanity, allowing them to be so much more than iconic. Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu’s Dr. Joan Watson aren’t drawn to each other by self-destructive impulses or crudely-realized lust. They simply realize that their lives are enriched by working together. The things that they’ve been missing since they emerged from their own personal crucibles begin to materialize as they slowly build on a trust and a friendship.
“And lest you think this is an act of charity, a gift from a grateful client, let me assure you it is not. I am… better with you, Watson. I’m sharper, I’m more focused. Difficult to say why exactly. Perhaps in time I’ll solve that as well.”
The way the show is working in major and minor elements and characters from the books is very enjoyable, as well. Aidan Quinn’s Captain Gregson and Jon Micheal Hill’s Detective Marcus Bell operate as excellent partners (and foils) to the duo. And probably the biggest compliment I can pay to the show is that as elements from the ‘lore’ are introduced, they are almost always perfectly recontextualized to reinforce the characters and themes present, rather than as a chance to create outrageous twists and shocks to dance in front of the audience, or establish the perfection and infallibility of our heroes (I’m looking at you, Sherlock).
While we prepare to endure another week of Covid-wary isolation, it feels so good to know I’ve got 6.5 more seasons to spend with these characters.
Reinier van der Zouw – Cowboy Bebop
Even though I enjoy my fair share of anime movies, I’d never really been able to dig into proper anime series. Until about a month ago, when I decided to shell out on a nice Cowboy Bebop blu-ray boxset, which has since been fully watched. Now, I feel like a fool for holding out for so long. To be honest, I was sold from the moment the impossibly jazzy theme song “Tank!” first blasted out of my tv speakers, but over the course of 26 episodes I also grew to really love the cast of characters – the crew of the titular spaceship Bebop, which consists of a cool ex-syndicate member bounty hunter, an ex-cop with a robot arm, an amnesiac with a gambling problem, a 13 year old radical computer hacker, and a corgi – and the sense of style that director Shinichiro Watanabe brings to the proceedings. Which all leads to the two-parter finale, which is one of the most thrilling and emotional conclusions I’ve ever seen to any medium, so, you know, it’s pretty good. Even if you’re similarly anime-series-averse like I once was, Cowboy Bebop has my highest recommendation.
That’s it for this week’s edition! We hope you enjoyed it and found some new direction to point that endlessly turning cranium of yours. We also hope you’ll check back as we publish new pieces in this regular column, and give some inspiration back to us in the comments!
Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay happy.