Pandemic binge
TelevisionVirus-induced binge watching

Pandemic binge

The Chronicle staff's TV quarantine picks

Fauda screeshot from
Fauda screeshot from

Days can be long during a quarantine, with most venues for recreation and leisure activities shut down and stay-at-home orders in place anyway. No gyms, no theaters, no museums. While it’s better than the fate of those seven castaways stranded on “Gilligan’s Island” all those decades ago (“no phone, no lights, no motor cars”), life at home — and only at home — nonetheless can be daunting.

But we still have our TVs, and in this golden age of programming, with hundreds of viewing options available thanks to cable and streaming, there is no shortage of entertainment for those spending more time indoors, socially distancing from friends and colleagues.

Here is what the staff of the Chronicle is watching during these coronavirus days and pandemic nights.

I’ll take Potpourri for $400, Alex
Unfortunately, this crisis has kept me busier than ever managing the Chronicle. While I do watch some TV news because I have to, I find that I have less time to watch TV for recreation.

My one television vice is watching “Jeopardy” each day, which we record and view at some point while zipping through the commercials. We know that they tape the show far in advance, so we are very curious to see when “Jeopardy” will make reference to the pandemic, and especially when they will practice social distancing, eliminate the live audience, and perhaps stop producing new shows and switch to reruns. Of course, we play along, smiling whenever there’s a Jewish or Israeli answer that stumps the contestants, all the while knowing that Pittsburgher Abby Schachter’s brother is the show’s editorial producer.

My only other TV indulgence during this pandemic has been watching the four-part series “Unorthodox,” which gives a fascinating insight into the world of the Satmars even if the show is not as good as “Shtisel.”

— Jim Busis, CEO and publisher

The woes of a sports fan
My TV binging centers around the lack of live sports programming. Those who know me know that I have been a consumer of sports programming my entire life. To not be able to tune in to a Penguins game or an NBA playoff game, even a Pirates game, has rendered me into a state of live sports impotency. I find myself viewing reruns of sporting events that I watched live years ago. Even decades ago. I even have sat down to watch a golf major from 2005 to help fill the void … and I am not a big golf fan! Lastly, if for no other reason than to point out how dire my “condition” has become, I just recently watched a match between the Bay Area Bombers and the New York Chiefs — of the men’s professional Roller Derby League, from 1966.

— Phil Durler, senior sales associate

Immersed in the familiar
In the midst of uncertainty I’ve found comfort in familiarity. Unlike others who may have used available time at home to explore new content, I’ve dedicated my watching habits (and by design, the viewing practices of those around me) to storylines already known and movie quotes seared into memory. I could say that I subjected my girls to the X-Men series because there’s merit in discussing Erik Lehnsherr’s post-Holocaust wrestlings with retribution and vengeance, or I could posit that forcing them to observe Marcus Burnett’s teeterings of self-awareness in “Bad Boys II” provides a glimpse of shifting generational struggles with finding professional worth in light of family. Maybe another person would hypothesize that the value in exposing today’s youth to 142 minutes of “The Shawshank Redemption” is in making it clear that with grit it’s possible to crawl through 500 yards of filth “and come out clean on the other end,” but that’s not the reason why I believed it imperative to be watching these movies now. Depending on one’s window, the world outdoors looks gray. To see that which I wanted, I needed to hear the words I already knew: “I hope.”

— Adam Reinherz, staff writer

Comedy, history and wrestling
“Curb Your Enthusiasm”: My wife and I watched the last three seasons, so we’re taking this opportunity of forced isolation to catch up on Larry David’s second hit sitcom. It’s been interesting to watch the show progress from a strictly improvised, single camera production with odd camera angles forcing feelings of discomfort, to the rather conventionally filmed program of the last several seasons. Given David’s feelings about society and large gatherings, I don’t know if there’s a show more suited for social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

“The Plot Against America”: Philip Roth’s dystopian work of speculative fiction follows an alternate history in which Charles Lindbergh has won the presidency and become an ally of Adolf Hitler. It’s told through the eyes and experiences of one family and, depending on your viewpoint, has many parallels to today’s world.

“Dark Side of the Ring”: No Jewish themes here, no great art. Rather, “Dark Side of the Ring” tells the sad tales of some of professional wrestling’s biggest names. Subjects include the murder-suicide of Chris Benoit and his family, WWF star “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka’s girlfriend’s death and the debacle that was the Brawl to End It All. Heavy on sensationalism, this is cheap tabloid TV at its best.

“Mrs. America”: Three episodes of this nine-part miniseries have been released so far on Hulu/FX. It depicts the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and focuses on conservative Phyllis Schlafly and feminist icon Gloria Steinem.

— David Rullo, staff writer

Then there’s Doron …

I am not one for watching television unless I’m settling in for a full-on sensory engagement. A good FBI/CIA psychological thriller movie will do it for me. I didn’t find binge watching to be satisfying … until “Fauda.”

“Fauda” brings it. Binge watching season 3 of “Fauda” is akin to turning pages in an unputdownable novel in a series. I’m invested in these characters, badass male and female Israelis, determined to defend the people and the land that they love, that I love, at any cost. They are speaking in Arabic or in Hebrew and I am voraciously reading the subtitles as if I am right there, in Israel, with them. I am not particularly paying attention to the military or political flaws presented; I am too engrossed in the strong storylines of both the Arabs’ and Israelis’ lives (told by an Israeli writer) and the talented cast capable of making these stories believable. And then there’s Doron. Oh, Doron …

What pandemic?

—Kelly Schwimer, sales director

Comfort food for the heart
In 2006, I baked a cake called “Triple Chocolate Explosion,” printed in the Kosher By Design “Entertains” cookbook. It was stunning and delicious. I followed the recipe to a T, and even sourced the kosher glitter the recipe called for. And it took me three days to make it. Three. Days.

After that, I went back to my old standby, Duncan Hines.

The fact that I am not much of a baker has no bearing at all on my fascination with “The Great British Baking Show,” which I binge on Netflix. I am currently on season 6 of the reality competition, which is unlike any other reality competition I have seen on television.

The show pits 13 amateur bakers against each other to be crowned Britain’s best. Each week, the contestants gather under a large tent, replete with ovens, counter space and kitchen tools, set in the beautiful rolling green hills of the British countryside, to compete in a series of challenges. Their culinary creations — often spectacularly creative — are reviewed by two judges and evaluated on taste and presentation. At the end of each episode, one baker is crowned Star Baker, and another is sent home.

Here is what sets “The Great British Baking Show” apart from other reality competitions and why I think it is the perfect show to watch during a pandemic: Everyone is just so darned nice to each other. If one baker is having trouble completing his mille-feuille in the time allowed, another baker will step in to help with the icing. When it is announced at the end of the episode who will be going home, the other bakers envelope her with tearful hugs. And even though there is no flashy prize or generous check presented to the ultimate winner of the competition — rather, the victor is presented with a glass cake plate — the sheer joy of being crowned the best seems to be more than enough.

It’s just a sweet show, in every sense of the word. 

— Toby Tabachnick, editor PJC

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