We’ve often wondered, what would the past year have been like if we didn’t have Netflix? We know we would have survived and probably even spent more time picking up old hobbies our tech-centric life sometimes distracts us from. But we’ve also admittedly been so grateful for the streaming platforms and how their shows and movies have carried us through the past year.
Today the Verily team is rounding up the shows and movies that accompanied us through the turmoil of this past year (we’ve thrown a few books in there for good measure, too).
For years, I’ve seen commercials for this show and always thought it looked like a show that really wrestled with meaningful topics (just my kind of show), but I never took the time to watch it—until this past year—and I binged it in just a few weeks..
The show centers around a group of friends in Boston whose relationships started when the four men were trapped in an elevator together for several hours. By the end of their ordeal, the men agreed to get season tickets to the Bruins hockey games, a tradition that carried on for close to a decade. The plot starts heavy with one of the men, Jon, dying by suicide and viewers learning another man in the group has been carrying on an affair with Jon’s wife. But remarkably the show is uplifting, encouraging, and dare I say it, heartwarming.
I found myself watching this community of friends and thinking about my own groups of friends. The self-sacrifice, emotional depth, and ways they simply show up for each other in their grief and their life was captivating. In many ways this group of friends act like family to each other, but I loved how they showed many of the characters’ families, too—making it clear that friends can’t and shouldn’t replace family, but there certainly can be friendships that become like family members.
Some plot lines were unrealistic and as is typical with Hollywood, they don’t show how messy and damaging things like affairs in marriage and one-night stands are. But there was enough that was relatable that I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the characters when they return in season 3 on March 11, 2021. —Meg McDonnell
The Kindness Challenge // book
The Kindness Challenge was so good, I read it twice—once because I couldn’t put it down, and once to let it really sink in. It didn’t just challenge me: it changed me.
Author Shaunti Feldhahn breaks down the nitty-gritty of what kindness is (and isn’t). She challenges readers to look with new eyes at our everyday interactions, and she explains how practicing kindness can drastically alter not only our relationships, but also each of us as individuals. Kindness, according to Feldhahn, isn’t just about the way we treat other people—it’s rooted in our own thought patterns and tendencies. She spends a lot of time talking about negativity, as well as the connection between thought and behavior. As a Christian author, Feldhahn also makes biblical connections.
At the end of the book, there are 30 days of action prompts readers can apply to someone in their lives—there’s a section for wives, for husbands, and for any relationship, whether it be with a family member, friend, or coworker. — Kellie Moore
Virgin River // Netflix
This show feels like a bit more serious version of a Hallmark show. The main character, Mel Monroe, is leaving behind city life for a position as a nurse practitioner in the small town of Virgin River. Everyone knows everyone in town, and that creates its usual sense of charm and community but also frustration when people meddle where they are not meant to meddle.
The show explores the difficult past that Mel left behind, as she falls in love and out of love with the manager of the local pub in town, Jack Sheridan—who is handsome, philosophical, emotionally intelligent, and has his own past he’s neglecting. But Mel and Jack’s drama and love aren’t the only characters and storyline the show follows—the supporting stories are just as captivating. I stayed up way too late a few nights watching “just one more episode” so that I could know what happens in certain plot lines.
There are two seasons on Netflix, and it’s been renewed for a third season (thankfully, given the cliffhanger they left us on!). —Meg McDonnell
Ah, the pleasure of escapism. Written by Australian author Liane Moriarty, this was one book that I absolutely couldn’t put down: it features a community of kindergarten parents, their messy behind-the-scenes lives, and a murder. Even better was that it launched me into the rest of Moriarty’s books, many of which feature outlandish circumstances perfect for taking a break from reality (in What Alice Forgot, for example, a woman tries to make sense of her life after losing ten years’ worth of memories; Nine Perfect Strangers features a health retreat that uses, uh, unorthodox methods on its unsuspecting guests).
Big Little Lies is also an HBO series. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, and Zoë Kravitz, it was well worth the watch: while the first season covered the plot of the book, the second one (which adds Meryl Streep to the cast) extends the story, and rumor has it that a third season is in the works. (Worth keeping in mind: abuse is a major theme of the story, and there is occasional very explicit content.) —Laura Loker
American Royals // book
In the midst of the turmoil of 2020, it was a fun exercise to consider what the United States would be like if the founders had established a monarchy, instead. This novel follows the lives of the 20-something princesses and prince of the House of Washington, notably Princess Samantha, who is poised to be the first queen of America.
The story is full of all the usual Royal drama we’ve come to know and love—tension between love and obligations to the Crown, paparazzi, drama, and visions of closets the size of rooms, royal jewels, and castles in Washington D.C. This was a quick, enjoyable read! —Meg McDonnell
The Marvel movies and Wandavision // Disney+
Back at the beginning of quarantine, my husband and I decided to watch all 23 Marvel movies in chronological order, starting with Captain America. (We skipped the Spiderman movies and The Incredible Hulk, since they’re not on Disney+, bringing our total to 20.) The heroes and villains of the MCU accompanied us through the rest of 2020: we finished our marathon in December.
If you’ve never seen the Marvel movies in order, I highly recommend it: I made connections I wouldn’t have otherwise made, and saw certain details with new significance. And aside from the joy of escapism in each individual film, our marathon provided us with a good overarching story to get lost in for the long haul. Unlike bingeing a show, a short-lived pleasure, this lengthy movie marathon gave my husband and me something to come back to, week after week, month after month, even as the pandemic dragged on.
It was also good preparation for Wandavision—a show that’s carrying me through early 2021. Elizabeth Olsen unleashes her excellent acting skills as Wanda Maximoff, who is in several of the Marvel movies but isn’t the star of a standalone Marvel film. Honestly, this is so much better: her story builds over nine episodes, most of which are done in the style of a sitcom from a different era of television. Because of the long build, there’s a chance to dive deep into her character in a way the movies just can’t. Aside from trying to figure out what’s really going on, the show also provides fodder for thought about some much bigger themes: namely, grief and loss. — Kellie Moore
Brooklyn Nine-Nine // Hulu
I’m usually not that into crime shows—honestly, it’s easy for me to lose track of complicated plot lines, and the violence and strung-out autopsy scenes tend to make me feel that they’re not really worth it. But when my sister introduced me to Brooklyn Nine-Nine (a show with a cult following and slated for its eighth and last season in 2021), I was hooked, and it’s made our many stay-in evenings so much more enjoyable. Like a cross between Psych and The Office, this is a crime show that isn’t really about the crimes—it’s a sitcom set in a police office. Instead of chasing mysterious clues and shootouts with bad guys, the show spends its time building meaningful relationships between the characters and realistic character development arcs.
One thing I particularly love is that all of the characters—not just some—have foibles, and all of the characters also have redeeming qualities. It’s just as funny as The Office, with a little bit more human sympathy and character depth. Keep in mind, though, that it’s a typical modern sitcom, so not a family-friendly pick. —Emily Lehman
This show first aired on NBC in January 2020, but I didn’t start watching until December, when my mom and sister recommended it. With its enticing tunes, clever choreography, and balance of a wide range of emotions, it hooked me immediately.
Zoe (played by Jane Levy), a coder at a tech company, suddenly gains the ability to hear other people’s thoughts—in song and dance form. These “heartsongs” range from musical theater classics to pop hits, and occur unbeknownst to the other person. As you can imagine, this leads to some comically uncomfortable scenarios. But it also gives Zoe the ability to connect with people in a much deeper way—including her father, who is suffering from a degenerative disease.
This show is downright fun, but also heartwarming—and sometimes heart-wrenching. There are a few episodes that have brought me to both laughter and tears. Both seasons are available on Peacock, NBC’s free app. Season 2 is currently airing on NBC and is also on Hulu.
Whatever you’re watching, I highly recommend pairing it with chocolate cake in a mug—another staple of pandemic life. —Kellie Moore
The Queen’s Gambit // Netflix
The Queen’s Gambit, which recently took home two Golden Globes, provided remarkable television for me and my husband, who has thrown himself into online chess this past year. For a show that tackled many difficult themes, including mental illness and addiction, along its fantastic plot of a chess child prodigy growing into her greatness, it maintained a human and relatable feel as I watched it. Far from glamorizing the protagonist’s foibles, Anya Taylor-Joy’s acting revealed moments of regret, reflection, and growth. As the series neared its end, I wondered if the story would take an unexpected turn and disappoint, but it did not! And what a pleasant surprise that was. —Mary Rose Somarriba
Merlin // Netflix
I didn’t watch the fantasy drama Merlin when it was coming out between 2008 and 2012, and desperate for something to watch in quarantine, I queued up the first episode on a whim. Little did I know I was stepping into the perfect escapist storyline to distract me from quarantine woes: myth, magic, great (and mediocre) acting, and lovably campy melodrama and special effects. What Merlin lacks in realism and coherent plot lines it more than makes up for in heart and imagination.
The show was an escape to my childhood love of fantasy, and watching the coming of age drama of a young Merlin, Arthur, Guinevere, and their friends reminded me that there’s a big, beautiful world out there where friendships can thrive—and anything could happen. As a note, skip the last season—the story comes to a satisfying end in season 4, and season 5 starts to unravel some of the show’s powerful world-building and characterization to milk one last season out of the premise. —Emily Lehman
I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time // book
The pressures of the pandemic forced me to reevaluate how I was spending my time as a working mom, and this book by TED Talk veteran Laura Vanderkam was just what I needed. Vanderkam’s analysis of numerous women’s solutions to work-life balance problems offer ideas for any person to consider applying a personalized version to her own life, and best of all does so with a voice of encouragement. The tough decisions the pandemic pressed me to make led to results that have helped improve both my productivity and quality family time, and I wouldn’t have made them without being inspired by Vanderkam’s writing and the women whose stories she shared. —Mary Rose Somarriba
Harry Potter // the book series
I was one of those kids who never read the Harry Potter series. Deciding that now as a full-grown adult I’m out of reach of any deleterious effects they might have on young minds, I mentally set aside the series last fall to read in my next quarantine. When my area went into full-blown, stay-at-home lockdown, I devoured this series in a couple of weeks. I was enthralled by J.K. Rowling’s imaginative world-building, lovable characters, and complex plotlines.
Reading the series for the first time as an adult brought a lot of joy—with new plot twists around every corner—but I have no doubt that I will return to the series again and again, and I’m sure it would be a joy to revisit as a childhood classic. The first few books were a welcome, joyful escape into fantasy; the last few hit close to home, as Harry’s story became more intense and his fight against evil more difficult and discouraging. When I emerged from lockdown, it was as if Harry and friends had accompanied me along the dark and lonely road. —Emily Lehman