No matter how many new entertainment options this great world has to offer, there are a few movies, television shows, books, albums and other miscellaneous items I always go back to when I'm feeling down or annoyed or bored, or I just want to experience something familiar. I always tell myself I should branch out and try something new when I find myself listening to a song or watching an episode for the 12,000th time, but then I realize that there's nothing wrong with finding comfort in something - especially if it's something really good.
So here are a few of my favorites, the ones that never let me down.
"The Office" - Now, don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the American version of the TV show - in fact, I love the American version - but I'm talking about the British one. I think my good friend Dan originally told me about this work of comic genius and J and I eventually rented and watched all the episodes. I've written about this before, so I'll try not to go off the deep end here, but instead provide a few reasons why I love "The Office" so much. There are only 12 episodes in all, plus a Christmas special that wraps everything up at the end so you feel like you've just watched a movie in several increments, rather than a weekly show. This, I think, is part of the series' charm - that it ends when it should end so you aren't dealing with years of unresolved romances, character developments and the same jokes over and over like you are when you watch most sitcoms. The storyline and characters are very similar to the American version (in some respects nearly identical) since the American version was based on the British show and the same team produces it. The boss in the British series, David Brent, played by Ricky Gervais, is, if you can believe it, a much more awkward character than Steve Carell's character in the American version, but the payoff of getting all uncomfortable watching him get into one unbelievable situation after another is getting to experience one of the most hilarious and touching shows I've ever seen. I've watched "The Office" so many times that even the sound of the BBC music that plays at the beginning of the DVD is enough to put me in a happy mood.
"The Ricky Gervais Show" podcast - After my positive (obsessive) experience with "The Office" I naturally wanted to check out more of what Ricky Gervais had done and so started listening to "The Ricky Gervais Show," which was my first experience listening to podcasts. The show's format is really pretty simple: Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant (who co-created "The Office," and "Extras") sit around talking with their old radio producer, Karl Pilkington, who Gervais often refers to as a "shaved chimp." The best part of the show is when the other two brutally make fun of Pilkington for his (as they put it) "idiotic theories." The show is incredibly funny, but there's more to it than that. I can listen to those three discussing the same things over and over again. It's always a welcome break on a long car ride to turn off the news and put on one of those podcasts, no matter how many times I've listened. I can't quite figure it out. I mean, I like listening to episodes of "This American Life" and "The Splendid Table," too, but never more than once. Maybe it's the witty, unrehearsed banter, or the anticipation of my favorite parts, but whatever it is, I'll never be bored in the car again. Well, not for a few years, at least. You can download "The Ricky Gervais Show" on iTunes.
"Lost in Translation" - It could be the flashy Tokyo scenery or the fact that I like Bill Murray so much. Or that I'm never sure exactly what this movie is about, or that it seems to be about something different with every viewing, but I can watch "Lost in Translation" any time and am hooked from the moment it begins until the credits roll. I watched it again today, in fact, because I had a couple hours to spare and wanted to lay on the couch all wrapped up in a blanket and relax with something I know and love. And I did absolutely love it, just like I do every time.
"The Catcher in the Rye" - I read J.D. Salinger's well-known novel when I was a teenager because I figured it was a teenager thing to do. But unlike most teenager rites of passage, like buying "cool" clothes at the thrift store (a phase I sincerely hope I've grown out of for good) and reading Kerouac's "On the Road" (which I found cocky and annoying), I not only loved every word of "The Catcher in the Rye," I read it again, about a year after I'd done so the first time, and then about a year after that...Holden Caulfield never growing a tiresome character...his complaints about life never growing trite or immature, but simply endearing the character to me more. I've never felt too old to read that book, and so I re-read it again, and again. In fact, it's been some time since I've pulled out "The Catcher in the Rye" and it might just be the perfect time to do just that.
"Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" by Wilco - I try to make a point of not religiously reading Pitchfork music reviews because the sometimes-snobby, hipster review site can make you feel like you don't know anything about music. Or that even if you love an album, you should actually hate it, and here's why...But Pitchford awarded "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" a 10.0 rating - their highest score - so I'll just let them do the talking on this one. And if you'd like to form your own opinion, you can check out the "Records" page on the Wilco site where you can listen to previews of some of their songs. Click on "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and check out "Jesus, etc." Then go buy the album, if you haven't already.
"Arrested Development" - I haven't quite gotten to the stage where I can consider this amazing comedy series one of the television shows I have watched over and over again, but I'm on my way. The first time J and I saw this show, starring Jason Bateman, one Sunday night several years ago, we stopped what we were doing because it just seemed so...different...and so incredibly funny. Unfortunately the show was cancelled because not all Americans felt the way we did about it, but I know many people who can't get enough of the show, and for good reason, so if you're looking for a new series to rent during this writers' strike, I highly recommend this one. Michael Cera playing Bateman's on-screen son, George Michael, is reason enough to watch every single episode.