We’ve entered a new age. An age when boxing ourselves up into our homes has become more rewarding than ever. The abundance of high-definition television and audio at our fingertips along with very comfortable couches in short reach of the fridge and toilet, has led to us exploring the world from our lounge-suites. But with every home having something close to the full immersion of a cinema attached to an endless stream of data, everything now is beamed to us unavoidably – wether it be good or bad.
Many of us Typospherians will be taking to our typewriters and using this as quality time to get reacquainted with our beloved machines and in turn our friends. And this is great. But you won’t want to spend your entire day at the keyboard. So down below I’ve got a few suggestions about what I feel will be a quality and positive use of your time that will expand your horizons and make you feel far less isolated and alone.
But first, a little update from my life.
Notes from Melbourne:
For me personally a lot of what is going on has become a taxing to manage. I work in two frontline healthcare roles where I’m constantly in contact with patients. When I get home I can’t avoid news updates blasting through television and social media, often frustratingly as so as much of the “information” I read is frankly terrible. I often respond to the social media posts, but mostly I do so in work hours while taking a break, as to avoid too much of it filtering into my home life.
Ms J however is in her element as an infection control specialist, but right now it’s exhausting for her and she is working very hard. This isn’t her first rodeo and times like these were foreshadowed at our wedding where my own vows included a line pledging my support to her in a pandemic.
What to watch…
When thinking about these I had a criteria for selection. I wanted shows that would uplift and be optimistic, that engage with an audience that have a love of history. And at a time where travelling has become so difficult could transport us around the world so we didn’t feel so trapped. I wanted shows that didn’t drone or revolve around the overstimulated stupidity of ‘Reality TV’. Most of all I wanted shows that had enough material to fill some potentially long days stuck under a blanket while you recover if you indeed catch the Covid. Most of these are free to access on YouTube or are on subscription TV.
As I wanted big content shows, unfortunately none of the typewriter related Youtube channels are really applicable.
Item one: The Silk road, series 1.
This is quite possibly the most remarkable documentary series of all-time, and is even more rewarding to watch today as it was back when it first was broadcast in 1980
The premise is simple. A team of Japanese academics – archaeologists, historians and sociologists travel from Xi’an and attempt to trace along the ancient Silk Road trade routes that lead from China to Rome.
Episode 1 of 12
Narrated in English by an Australian, the first episode tumbles through a catalogued look at things that have since become major tourist attractions in China. But this series becomes magical when the group hit outside of the easily travelled regions and start to explore inaccessible ruins and shifting deserts. In later episodes as they arrive in far western China the show becomes an incredible document about the lives and cultures of the remote Uyghur people. It is a truly amazing document of both ancient history and of daily life in outer China in 1979.
Episode 2 of 12
The Silk Road was filmed as the last embers of the cultural revolution in China died off, just as the economic expansionism began to boom. The China of then is nothing like the China of now, and as the group follows the furthest reaches of The Great Wall in an eerie desert landscape, you can’t help but feel you are breaking new ground with them at the time before the world was paved with endless bitumen to make it more accessible.
This show is a must. I watched it as a child and was amazed, as an adult with much more of an understanding re-watching this was a wonderful experience.
Item 2: Only In Japan + Only In Japan GO
John Daub is a little eccentric. Just enough to make him eternally comfortable with pointing a camera at himself and talking about the minute details of life and places in Japan.
As a Canadian living in Japan who works with a variety of television companies there, his work is well researched and often quite fun. As he isn’t producing these for clients or a broad market, the pretences of travel television have been dropped so you won’t have to endure a shallow script read out by a smiling blond, or a celebrity personality joking their way through things with a wink and a nudge. This makes for engaging watching that runs with quick episodes that get into genuinely interesting corners.
YouTube page: Here
But John has another trick up his sleeve. Much more akin to the ‘slow television’ movement, John frequently loads his mobile phone onto a gimbal and walks Japan in search for snacks, people, interesting stuff and the occasional drunken salaryman.
These are telecast live via YouTube, which allows people to message John as he walks – so he often stops to acknowledge people and answer questions. The videos are all saved on the YouTube channel for you to watch. It can be compelling viewing, especially when he travels to historical sites. With his genuine boyish charm it’s great to watch if you feel a little stuck at home – as though you are travelling with a friend.
The channel can be found: Here
Item 3: The Silk Road Series 2
Taking up where the first series left off, the group of documentary makers lose their bus-load of Chinese television officials and minders, and cross the border out of China.
Episode 1 of 18
The first series often references the 16th century Chinese novel Journey To The West, and its exploration of buddhist beliefs. Here that path is explored more as they travel through mountainous regions and through the ‘Stans of western Asia towards Myanmar. After that they push through Iraq and many other middle eastern countries until finally arriving in Rome. The closing shot of their red and battered Nissan patrol parking beside the Colosseum after trudging through such harsh and dangerous countryside is almost surreal, making you realise how much you feel watching this has been an epic journey of discovery of your own.
Episode 2 of 18
The series’s narration duties are taken up by a far less excited Brit who sounds a bit like Bill Nighy turning up to meet a contractual obligation while hung-over. But what makes this series so compelling are the regions that it visits that after filming have since been torn apart by dictatorships and war. Bustling Baghdad is a world away from how it looks today. Myanmar is equally strange as not long after it became shut off from the world for 30 something years with many atrocities committed. Everything seems so optimistic and beautiful, even though you know that nothing you see stayed that way for much longer. If a show can make Baghdad a place you want to visit, it must be special.
Item 4: Somebody feed Phil (Netflix)
Phil is a bit of comedian. I’m pretty sure Phil has been looked after by his mother for so long that he frankly doesn’t know how to cook. Phil used to produce and write Jokes for ‘Everybody likes Raymond’.
What’s great about Phil is that he’s keen to just walk around the world, check out stuff and be endlessly positive. While I’m more inclined to Anthony Bourdain’s social exploration, in times like now I feel people need a bit of an awkward lanky Jewish man in their lives who films himself stuffing his face, travelling, and video-calling/Skyping/facetiming his elderly parents.
It’s just fun. And goes for at least 3 series.
Item 4: OCTB (YouTube in Cantonese, but Netflix for English subtitles)
This one I am putting up as it is a massive, massive time-filler. It’s a little bit of a shift away from the less cynical entries I have posted up here, and probably an odd choice seeming how I want to theme this post, but hear me out.
Episode 1 of 30.
The premise is fairly straight-forward. Mostly set in the 1990’s just before the handover of Hong Kong to China, It centres around a policeman that worked undercover for 7 years who uses his insight into organised crime families to fight crime. It features some of the best actors to come out of the region, and follows in many of the traditions of old Hong Kong gangster cinema.
This series was made ultra-cheap and was only shown on YouTube until Netflix picked it up. Although the series dips into the supposedly dark world of the ‘Organised Crime and Triad Bureau (OCTB)’ it’s quite optimistic and often upbeat, to the point of straying into day-time soap-opera like family drama. Occasionally this gives way to violence and silliness with the final episodes virtually ripping off American superhero cinema and cold-war spy drama at the same time. It is much lighter than a lot of the Triad dramas it owes its existence to, but for sure isn’t an episode of Seinfeld.
With 30+ hours of episodes though, it’ll keep you occupied.
Item 5: British Pathe
Pathe is a footage and recording archive that have been slowly putting big chunks of their catalogue online.
While some of these items do lurch to historically dark events, British Pathe’s YouTube channel has literally thousands of hours of video to watch on it. Finding a subject and just watching the footage related to it can burn many hours. The typewriter topics are often fun, but I especially love it for some of the 60’s and 70’s new articles about travelling in airplanes.
Don’t knock it until you try it.
Midnight Diner – Tokyo Stories.
Easily one of my all-time favourite shows, this episodic series on Netflix (subtitled again) is set in a late-night eatery in Tokyo’s Shinjuku entertainment district. It has a new story every episode of drama and redemption that stems from a single favourite food that a character likes.
The Good Place (Netflix)
Again, quite uplifting and fun. This series follows a group of characters that have found themselves entered into heaven after their deaths.
These are only a handful of suggestions. If you have any yourself to offer, please leave them in the comments below. Just keep them to the same criteria – is interesting culturally or historically. Set outside of a studio and a confined space. Has a bit of brain engagement, and has plenty episodes.
I’ll put together another list soon if people need more! Also, I think it is time to do a review of the Typewriter resources on YouTube.
Have a great quarantine!