9 Movies and TV Shows to Watch and Beat the 'Summertime Blues'
When you’re down, there’s a temptation to wallow in despair, listening to sad music or experiencing sad art because “misery loves company.” While sad music and art can help some people with their depression, I have a history of making poor pop culture choices — listening to music or watching movies that are particularly dreary when I am in a depressed state.
I’m not depressed right now, but the other day, I turned on episode one of the fourth season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu, which debuted its season finale a few weeks ago. It’s been a favorite show of mine for the first three seasons, but a few minutes in, continuing the story, I was like, “Hmmm… I don’t know if I feel like watching this; it’s really depressing.”
I told my therapist about my brief encounter with “The Handmaid’s Tale” and he said to me point-blank: “Don’t watch ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ Doctor’s orders.”
I really like the show, its dystopian universe and themes of feminism, rebellion and down-with-the-patriarchy attitude. But OMG, is it ever bleak?
So, what’s not bleak? I know everyone has already seen the award-winning comedy “Schitt’s Creek” on Netflix, winner of Outstanding Comedy Series at the 2020 Primetime Emmy Awards, but if you haven’t, make it your first priority or watch it again. Same goes for “Stranger Things.” In the past, I’ve also recommended the recent Netflix film “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” an animated romp that is pure fun.
But the feeling I got watching just a few minutes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the same feeling that has engulfed me in the wintertime when I experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a perpetual melancholy usually brought on by the cold and lack of sunlight that happens in the winter, which is why I escape to see my parents in Hawaii every year as soon as winter comes. But, SAD can also occur in the summer, due to too much sunlight, which leads to changes in melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle, also known as circadian rhythms. Depression is a risk.
So we’ve established that you maybe shouldn’t watch glum entertainment, but what should you watch instead? I don’t recommend Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia,” one of my top nine films about mental illness, for example.
But I do recommend this assortment of premium television that will brighten your mood in these dog days of summer. These laughter and smile-inducing pieces of uplifting pop culture can be totally therapeutic.
Here are my recommendations for what to watch now:
1. “Summer of Soul”
Available: Hulu and in theaters.
Jump off that sofa and dance as you watch this documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival in NYC. “Summer of Soul” — directed by Questlove — is a feast of powerful Black voices in an otherwise previously unknown cultural touchstone. This is “Black Woodstock.” Regular Woodstock got all the attention, but this festival was equally vitally important also for its political impact. The festival featured artists like Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Nina Simone, The 5th Dimension, as well as speeches by Jessie Jackson.
It was shot in the summer of 1969 over six separate weekends of shows, and it also documents the plight of the poor in Harlem, New York as well as the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party. Producers scored precious footage of the festival but it sat silently in a warehouse over a period of 50 years… until now. It features modern-day interviews with the stars reflecting on the concerts.
In a memorable moment from one of the doc’s many wise talking heads, the Rev. Al Sharpton says: “ was the pivotal year when the Negro died and Black was born.” This one has “happy” written all over it. It leaves you with nothing more than goosebumps.
2. “In The Heights”
Available: HBO Max and in theaters.
New York City in the summertime is the star of this movie musical made by Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame and the director of “Crazy Rich Asians” Jon M. Chu. The film takes place in a gentrifying Washington Heights, in the far reaches of Upper Manhattan, a neighborhood inhabited by many Latinos including Dominicans and Nuyoricans. Things kick off with a heartwarming and grandiose title song, with a huge cast of characters in the barrio dancing and singing in the streets. It follows bodega owner Usnavi who has dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic.
On a windfall, he comes up with a very large sum of money. I won’t tell you what he does with that money, but he does decide to stay in the neighborhood after all. Throw in some romance and salsa dancing and this movie is totally fun.
Trigger warning: pills.
“Fear Street Part 1: 1994” is hot off the presses — released July 2 — and it is a slasher horror flick that is not scary. If you’re a ‘90s kid, you will be psyched about the hefty parade-of-hits soundtrack, which features Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Snoop Dogg, Soundgarden, Portishead, White Zombie, and the Pixies among others.
“Fear Street” is based on a story by R.L. Stine, who has been called the “Stephen King of Children’s Literature” But don’t let that be a turnoff; this is an R-rated, adult movie.
The film follows a group of teenagers who are haunted by a flurry of mysterious killings in their town. Of course, it’s supernatural, and the characters spend the duration of the movie trying to break the curse that is causing these murders.
You might not be laughing at this one, but it’s a total nostalgia trip for anyone who lived in that decade or watched the horror movies of that era. What’s more? The sequel “Fear Street Part Two: 1978” is already out as of July 9.
Directed by former “SNL” fave Amy Poehler, Moxie reminds me of my days as a punk rocker in the 90s. It’s a high-school dramedy in which a girl named Vivian writes a zine calling out sexism on campus.
Zines are homemade magazines that are xeroxed and stapled together and often associated with punk rock, feminism, queer culture and left-wing ideology among other topics. They had their heyday in the early 90s.
The film wouldn’t be complete without the all-girl teenage feminist rock band The Linda Lindas, whose portrayal of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Grrrl” is not only totally badass but a riot grrrl blast from the past.
Gaining some fame from the movie, The Linda Lindas has signed a deal with punk label Epitaph Records and also appeared on “Jimmy Kimmell Live.” Their original tune “Racist, Sexist Boy” is also a tour de force.
5. “Emily in Paris”
This one was a COVID-19 binge for me. Absolutely gorgeous shots of Paris blanket a story about a young American woman named Emily, who moves to the City of Light to work for a marketing company that represents luxury brands. She’s a crackerjack at her job, constantly trying to not only please the Parisians but belong in an affluent world of fashion designers, launch parties and celebrities.
Basically, each episode allows you to live vicariously through Emily, who rocks the fabulous life in one of the world’s most stunning and engaging capitals.
Available: Amazon Prime.
You may or may not have caught this one, a dramedy about an NYC Upper East Side housewife who moonlights as a comedian in the 1950s while juggling kids and a divorce.
Midge Maisel’s comedy is particularly edgy for its time, and the show chronicles her rise to the top as well as her relationship with her eccentric and quirky Jewish family.
It’s hilarious and highly deserving of its four-time award-winning dominance at the 2018 Emmys. Little birdies (friends of mine in New York) have spotted Rachel Brosnahan — who plays Midge — in NYC locales filming season four, which does not have a release date yet, but has me on pins and needles.
Lupin is a smart action show about a clever jewel thief in Paris and his misadventures as “the gentleman burglar.” Season two just premiered last month. French dubbed to English, or French with English subtitles.
Available: Amazon Prime
Trigger warning: cocaine.
The decidedly escapist “Flack” stars Anna Paquin — HBO’s “True Blood” — as a celebrity publicist (PR flack) headquartered in London. A workaholic, she is constantly putting out fires for her celebrity clientele.
Everyone on this show talks really fast and there are British accents, so I recommend turning the subtitles on.
The incredible story of a young gay teen, Victor, who is trying to figure out his place in the world and at his new school.
What shows or movies would you recommend to cure the summertime blues?
Lead Image via YouTube/HBO/Netflix