How Being a TV Critic Prepared Me for Self-Isolation

Professional tips and tricks to help you stream responsibly

click to enlarge Adam Driver and Lena Dunham in "Girls" — a representation of TV critic Jac Kern's current state. - Photo: Jojo Whilden/courtesy of HBO
Photo: Jojo Whilden/courtesy of HBO
Adam Driver and Lena Dunham in "Girls" — a representation of TV critic Jac Kern's current state.

In the past few weeks, many of us have gotten acquainted with terms and actions including "self-isolation," "social distancing" and "quarantines," rapidly moving from learning their definitions to implementing them into our daily lives. With folks being encouraged to work remotely if possible, avoid groups of people and venture out only for essential trips, cabin fever quickly set in for many.

But not me!

I’ve been covering TV for CityBeat for eight years and watching since birth — screen-time limits weren’t a thing in the ’80s. That’s a whole lot of hours logged on the old boob tube. As a rare 20-something with a decent TV and cable, I used to always have friends over to catch our favorite shows, but Sundays were a big deal. From True Blood to The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, we’d gather weekly for themed watch parties complete with snacks, drinks and the occasional costume. It lasted a few years, but as we all grew up, got married, moved farther apart, lost our hangover tolerance and began requiring more sleep, our loyal TV club gradually dissolved, leaving me and my husband to watch everything — just the two of us.

And yet I find myself consuming more content than ever before. Weeknights are for catching up on the DVR, weekends are for streaming what’s new. Even if I won’t have time to review something for the ’Beat, I still want to take in as much as I can, feeling pressured to have the perfect suggestion any time anyone asks in passing, “So, what are you watching right now?”

This is all to say I am uniquely suited for this new, isolated lifestyle. There is an endless bounty of entertainment awaiting on cable, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Disney+, Apple TV and beyond. And while I definitely don’t take coronavirus or social distancing lightly, there’s no reason we can’t make the most of being indefinitely cooped up. Here are some tips from a self-proclaimed homebody and TV junkie.

Balance is key

I’m a big believer in a well-balanced diet when it comes to what you watch: high-brow and junk, comedies and dramas. Need to decompress after a heavy prestige series, like Hulu’s excellent tech thriller DEVS? Flip on Bravo. Feel like the Kardashians are melting your brain? Expand your mind with a stimulating docu-series, like HBO’s McMillion$, which exposes the McDonald’s Monopoly fraud.

Get inspired

TV isn’t just about entertainment and passing time. Check out cooking and DIY shows for off-screen inspo: Chopped can elicit ideas for cobbling together a meal out of leftovers and back-of-the-pantry fodder. Clean out your closet with the help of Marie Kondo. Fantasize about your ideal quarantine HQ by watching House Hunters.

Catch up

Have you never seen Mad Men, Breaking Bad or The Sopranos but refuse to talk about it to avoid an annoyingly shocked response? Now is your chance! Find that series you’ve always wanted to watch but missed the boat on and treat yourself.

Binge wisely

It’s easy to get sucked into a story if you have few distractions. That’s not always a good thing. If you’re feeling anxious, steer clear of tense dramas and apocalypse-related entertainment. Take a break, go on a walk, read a book, pet your dog.

Share your log-ins

Even though many of us can’t physically be with our friends and family, we can share the love — and that includes streaming accounts! I have every subscription under the sun, thanks to a gracious network of friends who share their log-ins with me, and vice versa. Don’t charge your friends like a cheapskate — swap info if you can. There’s a flurry of new movies coming to streaming and on demand, too — just like many studios are delaying theater releases, some are making films available early (Frozen 2, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, The Invisible Man and more).

And when you inevitably butt heads with loved ones after being stuck in close quarters for days nonstop, firing up a dumb show you can all enjoy or an old quote-worthy classic can bring everybody back to sanity. You don’t even have to be in the same place to watch something together: There’s a Chrome extension called Netflix Party that allows users to stream remotely with friends, synchronizing video playback and adding a group chat for long-distance binge sessions.

As for me, maybe I’ll finally finish The Wire.

Contact Jac Kern: @jackern

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