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Column: Entertainment diversions can get you through the pandemic

Books, films and TV series to consider during COVID-19
Tracy Sherlock crop
Tracy Sherlock writes about education, parenting and social issues in her columns at the Richmond News.

We’re all either sick of COVID-19 or sick with COVID-19, so I’m writing something a little different this week. Here are a few entertainment items to lighten up your January or get you through a period of self-isolation.

If you’ve got Amazon Prime, one treat to be found is Yellowstone, a drama with four seasons ready for binge-watching. It’s a sort of modern day western – it takes place on a Montana ranch – about a wealthy, dysfunctional family. Kevin Costner plays the patriarch who messes up his children with power plays and money.

Fans of Succession will love Yellowstone, and if you haven’t seen Succession, quickly turn on your TV and check it out. Succession recently won best TV drama at both the Emmys and the Golden Globes. It’s loosely based on the life of media baron Rupert Murdoch, emphasis on loosely, and his dysfunctional, power-hungry family. So good.

People either love or hate the new Netflix movie Don’t Look Up. Count me among those who thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a statement on our world – the media, politicians, everyday people – and how they react to existential threats. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep. It’s a comedy, based on a very serious issue. While I didn’t find it to be a perfect movie, I did get a kick out of its message.

Netflix show Maid is based on a true story written by American author Stephanie Land, who tells of her life as a single mother with no money fleeing an abusive relationship. It’s a tough story to watch, but also inspirational. It stars actresses Andie MacDowell and Margaret Qualley, who are mother and daughter in real life and in the series. MacDowell is in some ways the comic relief in this heavy tale, and she pulls it off with aplomb.

Another interesting Netflix movie is The Lost Daughter, starring Olivia Colman (she played the Queen on The Crown), which features Maggie Gyllenhaal directing a story written by Italian author Elena Ferrante. That’s a lot of star power. If you’ve yet to see The Crown, it’s a don’t miss and Colman’s performance as the middle-aged Queen caps off her roles in BroadchurchThe Favourite (for which she won best actress) and Fleabag, all shows I highly, highly recommend.

Author Ferrante wrote the My Beautiful Friend series of books, which are great reads for dark winter days about two girls growing up in Naples, Italy. Those books have been made into a TV series, another wonderful piece of entertainment. If you enjoy Ferrante, you will likely enjoy The Lost Daughter. It’s quirky and certainly not action-packed, but it’s also a tale of feminism and motherhood that will resonate with many.

Another book I’ve absolutely loved this fall is Beautiful World, Where Are You?, written by Irish author Sally Rooney. She’s only 30 years old and has written three wonderful novels, each with great insight into the world today. This one is about two Irish young women who are friends and how they make their way in the world. It’s full of inner dialogue, self-doubts and wicked perception.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by American author Anthony Doerr, who also wrote All the Light You Cannot See, reminds me a bit of Don’t Look Up. I can’t explain why without spoiling the stories, so if you want to find out you will have to read and watch. Cloud Cuckoo Land weaves together timelines taking place in centuries in both the very distant past and the far-off future. It’s a love story to books and libraries, so bibliophiles should check it out.

Speaking of love letters, the quirky film The French Dispatch is a love letter to journalism. It written and directed by Wes Anderson, who also made Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, and stars Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Frances McDormand and others, all playing bizarre roles keeping a small magazine alive. If you’ve seen any other Anderson films, you’ll know what you’re in for. If you love him, you love him.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I hope you find something here to get your mind off the pandemic, at least for a little while.

Tracy Sherlock is a freelance journalist who writes about education and social issues. Read her blog or email her