After a roller skating accident left her with a broken ankle, SF Examiner reporter (and former SF Weekly news writer) Ida Mojadad has been glued to her couch, with HBO Max, Apple TV, and the rest of the wide, wonderful world of streaming content to keep her company — that is, of course, when she’s not chasing down her next big story.
Our own staff writer, Grace Z. Li, is in a similar situation, minus the broken ankle. In her words, she has “literally nothing else to do” and would “rather fall asleep to the sound of New Girl than my own thoughts.”
Several weeks and TV shows later, both Ida and Grace have more than enough recommendations to keep readers relatively happy and placated as the world continues to fall apart.
As is the case with so many facets of our culture, roller skating owes Black people big time. The pastime is inextricably linked to the civil rights movement — and hip-hop! However, that legacy in danger of being erased, as a recent resurgence in interest around the activity (see: my broken ankle) has a new generation of enthusiasts picking up a pair of skates without necessarily picking up a proper history lesson. United Skates is there to correct that. The documentary follows a string of heartbreaking closures of rinks that have been in families for generations, give Black youth a vital creative outlet, and keep people connected despite modern forms of segregation. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. It’s also a bewitching display of skating, shot through with numerous distinct regional regional styles that have me inspired to strap my skates back on as soon as I’m back on my feet.
Mystic Pop-Up Bar
Centuries ago, in ancient Korea, a shaman’s daughter — Wol-joo (Hwang Jung-eum), fell in love with the crown prince after healing him from nightmares. But after a series of tragic deaths, Wol-joo was sentenced to 500 years of life on Earth, where she must settle the grudges of 100,000 humans. If she succeeds, she’ll be reincarnated. If not, then it’s straight to hell, where an eternity of endless torture awaits. This KDrama has it all: a charismatic cast, satisfying plotlines, and plenty of hilarity in between gut-wrenching moments. Every episode transports the viewer to comedic highs and heartbreaking lows. Part historical drama, part modern-day romance, I rushed through all 12 hours of Mystic Pop-Up Bar in about a week… and I’m thinking of rewatching the whole thing again.
—Grace Z. Li
First HBO changed the way people thought about television with The Sopranos, then they did it again with The Wire. This is so much more than the rare cop show that ages well. Written by former Baltimore police reporter David Simon, it was ahead of its time for its scathing indictment on the failed War on Drugs and — setting a low bar here — and humanizing Black and brown communities trapped “in the game,” while offering no clear villains or heroes. For those who miss Game of Thrones but don’t want to relive the bungled ending, The Wires has a wide cast of engaging characters in which to invest, and their fates will break your heart. It is a masterclass in storytelling and sadly evergreen.
Rilakkuma and Kaoru
In the first episode of this stop-motion series, Kaoru (Mikako Tabe), a woman in her 30s who lives with two bears and a little chicken, is ghosted by her college friends. They make plans for their annual cherry blossom picnic, but one by one, everyone bails because they’re too busy with their careers, family, and dating lives. “Am I really… being left alone?” Kaoru laments. It’s a horrifying realization of modern adult life — when everything you’re doing seems to be contradictory to all the annoying standards everyone else has placed for you. The rest of this show playfully comments on these contemporary quirks, poking fun at the ways we set arbitrary goals for ourselves. “Every flower blooms in a different period,” the series says. It’s good advice, especially for Kaoru, who has the most adorable roommates to back her up whenever “adulting” goes wrong.
—Grace Z. Li
This DC Universe show rescued by HBO Max is crudely hilarious and earns its mature rating right off the bat. It centers on Harley Quinn with a similar throughline to Margot Robbie’s Birds of Prey, which revisits her abusive relationship with Joker and makes her more of a character to be reckoned with in her own right. But foremost, it’s cleverly written, has a lot of quick wit, akin to early seasons of Archer, and doesn’t need its audience to be into superheroes — who are very much in the periphery here — to think it’s funny and underrated.
I Draw, You Cook
This is technically a Buzzfeed series and not a TV show, but I watched all three seasons of I Draw, You Cook at the start of quarantine for the blissful escapism it offered. Structured like a low-stakes cooking competition, every episode hosts a different kid with a big imagination. They draw their wildest food dreams for two Tasty chefs to recreate, like a pixie dust drink fit for a fairy, or a superhero dessert complete with “radioactive” milkshakes. It’s so fun to see how creative each chef gets with their own interpretations, bringing in magical color-changing tea leaves or cake pops frosted to look like eyeballs. Catch Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3 online.
—Grace Z. Li
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet
The minds of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Community joined forces to bring a workplace comedy with a unique office subject: the developers of a wildly popular game. Mythic Quest has an ace ensemble cast of characters led by the likes of Sunny’s Rob McElhenney as a Jack Dorsey-looking egomaniac and Community’s Danny Pudi as the ruthless business exec — but shining through them all is breakout star Charlotte Nicdau as the game’s bubbly, exasperated lead programmer. Its special quarantine episode was a perfect and sweet encapsulation of the cast’s dynamic while tackling the severe mental health impacts caused by the pandemic’s isolation. And while it confronts its game culture in all its triumphs and toxicity, being one of those nerds isn’t a prerequisite to eat it up.
A Touch of Sin
Directed by Jia Zhangke, A Touch of Sin’s Chinese name (天注定) means “heaven’s doom.” Its characters — based on true stories — are ordinary workers flung into violence’s warpath. Or, they become unwitting perpetrators of its wrath. All of this might feel like they’ve all been subjected to a curse by some cruel celestial being, and that in part is aided by the movie’s languid, haunting pace, ominous motifs and subtly eerie visuals. But we all know that capitalism is the actual higher-power dictating their unfortunate fates, rearing its ugly head when the characters least expect it. In 2013, A Touch of Sin won Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival, and was even nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or. You can watch it now on Kanopy, a streaming service made free courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library.
—Grace Z. Li