As 2020 has dragged on, it has become harder to look at our living rooms as an escape. Ars Technica has long been a work-from-home enterprise, but even we no longer think of plopping on the couch after a long work day as the best way to unwind.
Still, more time at the house, whether alone or with families, has led us to different TV, film, and streaming options. Sometimes, we still use TV as a way to collapse at the end of the day. Other times, we sneak streams and videos into our workday, especially if we’re juggling a full house from 9-5.
Hence, this is a different “favorite Ars binges” list than we’ve prepared in the past, and we invite you to share the series and streams that have proven comfortable or cozy during your own weird 2020.
Less COVID, more choux
All I’ve wanted this year are adorable British bakers fretting over soggy bottoms, lousy lamination, and whether their sponges are “scrummy.“ I love baking and have long watched The Great British Baking Show. But revisiting all the old episodes and binging on my favorite bakes—even the tensest of judgings—has been my safe haven from this hellish year, along with my particular working news beat of doom and despair. I would happily live a double life in that baking tent, savoring that bucolic English setting and soaking up every detail of baking precision.
Oh, we should prepare for “significant disruption of our lives,” CDC’s Nancy Messonnier says. “Wow, the puff on that choux pastry is so good… I should make eclairs this weekend.” Goodness, New York City hospitals are getting overwhelmed—I should look up Nadiya’s marshmallow fondant recipe. Trump is pulling the US out of the World Health Organization? During a raging pandemic?! Oooo, it’s the Baked Alaska #bingate scandal episode! US deaths just topped 200,000. Mary Berry’s Charlotte royale really does look like a giant brain. There were over 170,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases today. Can we all just agree that Kim Joy’s choux space turtles in a melting chocolate galaxy sphere is the best freaking dessert ever?? —Beth Mole, Health Reporter
Quite ridiculous, that’s how much
I have a guilty pleasure on YouTube—the long-running variety/stunt channel How Ridiculous. The series’ three leads—Scott Gaunson, Brett Stanford, and Derek Herron—began recording fairly elaborate trick shots, bottle flips, and other basic stunts in their backyards in 2009 as a lark. The channel’s popularity skyrocketed after the trio added “dropping heavy things from great heights” to its repertoire, which is how I discovered them several years ago.
This is not highbrow content—but that’s a large part of the appeal. It’s just three goofballs having a blast with silly concepts like “bowling ball vs anvil,” involving dropping one thing on another thing from extreme heights. That’s fine by me. Where else are you going to see somebody drop a 660-pound stainless steel Hulk Fist onto a refrigerator from a 45-meter tower?
HR has collaborated with other YouTube personalities pretty frequently. In one crossover, the guys got to fire the main gun of an M4A2E8 “Easy 8” Sherman Tank through ten refrigerators—which, spoiler alert, did not go well for the fridges. They’ve also gotten various YouTube blacksmiths and engineers to build things for them, ranging from a trampoline strong enough to bounce a car to a ten-foot forged steel “droppin’ sword.”
You’ll absolutely learn things by watching the channel—in particular, how surprisingly durable both Go-Pro cameras and cheap rubber dinosaur toys really are—but not because the show itself is particularly educational. It’s pure, dumb fun, and that’s OK. —Jim Salter, Technology Reporter
No heroes on board
One more from me [Jim Salter], if you’ll allow it:
Avenue 5, now streaming on HBO, is a blackly humorous romp featuring Hugh Laurie (House, MD) in a sci-fi setting. Avenue 5 is one of a series of enormous planetary cruise liners operated by the world’s dumbest capitalist, who happens to be aboard when things go very awry.
The show itself isn’t really sci-fi at all—it’s a rather dark parody of human foibles, something like what you’d get if you rewrote Atlas Shrugged along the lines of A Confederacy of Dunces. There are no heroes onboard Avenue 5, which somehow works in its favor. You might think a never-ending crescendo of bumbling, failure, and pettiness could be rough to binge, as the majestic ship limps its way through the solar system.
Yet Avenue 5‘s biggest strength is the way it deftly builds on its own running jokes. The ship and its situation get more ridiculous with every episode, as the characters’ bad decisions accumulate. Its only real flaw is its sheer relentlessness about its own theme of human failure. —J.S.