With the Lonestar State now officially in a declared “state of disaster,” we’re going to be getting a lot closer with our couches. On the bright side (we’ve got to try and find one), this is the perfect time to binge all those shows taking up space on your queue and flip through those books you’ve been meaning to read. At least, that’s what we’re doing. Here’s what Houstonia’s staff is enjoying while practicing the now necessary art of social distancing.
Outbreak. Yes it’s streaming on Netflix. And, yes, you better believe I revisited this 1995 classic, about a rampant ebola-like outbreak that comes to America via an adorable capuchin host, not only for the cameos by archaic cordless phones (!), bulky laptops (!!), and Patrick Dempsey as a metal-head monkey importer dude who dies quick (taking his babe down with him; sorry babe), but for the possible intel regarding our current sitch. Turns out, there wasn't any—it’s just a campy ’90s pandemic-classic right down to the helicopter chase scene, the over-acting by extras who were obviously commanded, “You’re Convulsing!” or “You have Jimmy legs!” or “You’re on the brink of death!,” and Donald Sutherland doing his best villainous Donald Sutherland (military edition). Also, it sent me down a Google rabbit hole into the world of capuchin actors—the one in Outbreak, named Binx in real life, also starred in two Ace Ventura films—which was a welcome respite from endlessly refreshing Twitter for more info on COVID-19. —Gwendolyn Knapp, associate editor
American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins
I’ve been hate-reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Before you hate me for doing that—I didn’t buy it. A friend of mine brought me a promotional copy from a library conference last year. It was going to be the hot book of 2020, she told me at the time. I thanked her, deposited it on my bookshelf, and then forgot it was there until I started seeing a slew of outraged stories about the idiotic things the author had written about the novel (“I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it”) as well as her cartoonish depictions of migrants, awkward Spanish, and depiction of the U.S. as some sort of utopia. Oh, and the damn barbwire-decorated flower arrangements at an early book party. It’s likely you know the rest—Cummins’s tour was canceled; Oprah kept the novel as a book-club pick but hosted a discussion about its problems with Cummins and Latina writers Esther Cepeda, Julissa Arce, and Reyna Grande, and, yup, the book became a bestseller. After I found my copy, I became curious and started reading it. The verdict: I do find it offensive and, just, not that good, but—ugh, full disclosure—it also made me cry at one point. So huh. Maybe I hate myself… —Catherine Matusow, editor in chief
Dave, FX (and Hulu)
Need a good, so-deep-it-counts-as-an-ab-workout laugh in these unprecedented times? Of course you do, and this brand-new FX series chronicling the (semi-fictionalized) come-up of satirical rapper/comedian Lil Dicky ("Freaky Friday," "Save Dat Money") is not to be slept on. The series, which premiered March 4, stars Lil Dicky—aka Dave Burd—as a TV version of himself, a late-20-something navigating viral fame as a neurotic white Jewish rapper trying to make it big. Overcome with panic? Take a deep breath, and enjoy watching Dave get ghosted by (actual) rapper YG's manager after wiring him $10,000—the entirety of his bar mitzvah money—for a YG verse that never materializes. Freaked out that you still don't have enough toilet paper? You'll forget all about it when you're ugly-crying-from-laughing during episode two in which Dave is pressured to create an original song for his first-ever live performance: a child's funeral. It's darkly hysterical, pitch-perfect humor for this weird, dystopian moment we find ourselves in. Plus, new episodes drop weekly (Wednesdays on FX, Thursdays on Hulu), so it'll keep you going for the foreseeable quarantined future—no risk of temptation to binge. We know self-control is at an all-time low right now. — Abby Ledoux, Lifestyle Editor
How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Jenny Odell (and Severance by Ling Ma)
I’m halfway through Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, a fascinating and well-researched manifesto on opting out of social media and online drudgery to re-center oneself in nature. It was one of Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2019. It’s a bit challenging, I’m not going to lie—this is not a simple self-help guide to weening yourself offline, and Odell, an avid birder, has an academic-style that takes work to fully digest. But it’s also quite beautiful, and definitely a book that will both calm and enlighten you during these very crazy times.
If you’re wanting a fast-paced, weird pandemic-y read try Severance by Ling Ma, which came out in 2018, and tells the story of a woman trying to survive after a strange disease turns the world into zombies (the sad kind, not the scary kind)—the illness, inhaled through fungal spores, causes people to get stuck repeating familiar, menial tasks from their daily lives, like setting a table or trying on a dress, until they die. It’s funny, too, in an end-times way. —Gwendolyn Knapp, associate editor
Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, PBS Kids
As a parent of two small children, one of whom is 3, there is only one thing I will be watching while quarantined at home: Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. For those who don't know about this cartoon (and somehow a spin-off of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood), here are the things you should know:
- Daniel was first a puppet on Rogers' Neighborhood, who lived in the Neighborhood of Make Believe with King Friday XIII, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, and others. Daniel takes after Mr. Rogers in that he wears a red sweater and ends every show by taking off his shoes. Also, he weirdly unbuttons part of his sweater showing his bare chest, and he never wears pants—except when he wears pajamas. Don't ask.
- Daniel's friends include an owl who hoots all the time, a cat who peppers in the word "meow" at the end of like every sentence (you know, because she's a cat), King Friday's son Prince Wednesday (his older brother is Prince Tuesday), and Lady Elaine's daughter Miss Elaine, who I swear to goodness calls Daniel "toots" like she's picking up an octogenarian at the meatloaf social.
- Every episode features a song aimed at reinforcing a certain good behavior. These songs, in which the same phrase is repeated a bunch of times and are usually played a few times per episode, are referred to as "strategy songs" by the show’s producers. Now, the producers may think the strategy is the lesson the kid picks up, but, to me, the strategy is how to drive a parent to want to bash his head against the coffee table because he can't get the song out of his head. So, the strategy works.
There's so much more to share, but this gives you an idea of the hell—I mean wonder—that fills my home all the time. Please, wish me luck as we forge ahead. —Timothy Malcom, dining editor
The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel
I’m not wild about being trapped at home, but if it had to happen, I’m delighted that it’s come right as Hilary Mantel’s third and final book, The Mirror and the Light—a tome chronicling Thomas Cromwell’s dizzying rise to power at the court of Henry VIII in 16th century England—has landed at my doorstep (I straight-up primed it, paid extra for same-day delivery, and have no regrets). Why am I so excited? For starters, let’s think about Tudor England. With its sweating sicknesses that could carry off whole families, and its complex power struggles involving tempestuous figures who could make or break your entire future depending on what sort of mood they’re in that day, well, let’s just say I can see some similarities. Mantel’s first two books in this trilogy, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, were tremendous works that have even changed how historians view the figure of Cromwell. And somehow, she still turns these books into page-turners when even the idlest Google will tell you exactly how this story turns out. So yeah, I’m reading that and gulping down Schitt’s Creek in my downtime. How does that show just keep getting better?!? —Dianna Wray, managing editor
If I'm being super honest, I'm getting sucked down a rabbit hole of Facebook videos. But I'm also taking this social-distancing opportunity to finally watch Outlander, because, well, who doesn't think seeing Sam Heughan in a kilt will make you feel better about being stuck at home? —Catherine Wendlandt, digital editor
The Devabad Trilogy, S. A. Chakraborty
I’ve always been a sucker for an epic fantasy novel—one that combines the action of a hero’s journey with thoughtful character development and top-notch world-building. S.A. Chakraborty’s The Devabad Trilogy delivers on all fronts. Set in the 18th century Middle East, the series follows Nahri, a young con woman, who unwittingly calls upon otherworldly forces and finds herself in the middle of a magical world she never knew existed. Not only has Chakraborty created an intricate world filled with all the socio-political complexities you’d find in a real city, it’s also deeply entrenched in Middle Eastern folklore—which makes it a refreshing change for other entries in the fantasy genre. The third and final book is slated to arrive this summer, so it’s the perfect time to catch up. —Emma Schkloven, associate editor