There were plenty of good TV shows that came out this past year, and even a few great ones, beautiful and surprising and fascinating — “I May Destroy You,” “Ted Lasso,” “Teenage Bounty Hunters,” “How To With John Wilson.” But oftentimes I wanted more direct reflections of the world around me, the kind of contact that was, that is, impossible when you’re effectively housebound. I wanted something more like validation, where everyone was miserable too.
I listened to Esther Perel counsel couples in various lockdowns on “Where Should We Begin.” When self-recrimination spirals took over for generalized malaise, I listened to “Dead Eyes,” a podcast where the actor and comedian Connor Ratliff investigates in tremendous detail the time he was fired from “Band of Brothers” — a real making-lemonade-from-deep-emotional-wound lemons.
I never miss an episode of “Stop Podcasting Yourself,” a genial Canadian comedy chitchat podcast hosted by Dave Shumka and Graham Clark whose overheard (and “overseen”) segment is now even more of a treasure to me, given how little in-person overhearing we do these days. This is the longest I’ve gone in my life without singing in a group, and an entire wing of my spirit has atrophied, so I listen to the pop music theory show “Strong Songs.”
Turns out the prudes are right, and too much screen time will fry you from the inside. Characters appeared in my dreams, or I’d catch myself thinking, “who was I just talking to about this?” when the answer was “that conversation happened on a TV show.” But then quarantine hardened me I guess, and now it feels as if everything is behind glass, and TV shows barely register unless I’m concentrating extra hard on them for work. To keep it together this year, though, required a state of emotional hibernation alongside the physical one, and podcasts are just small enough to get into my small little loser bear cave. There’s less emotional buy-in than with a scripted drama, but they possess a legitimacy and honesty largely absent in reality and unscripted television.
In the coming months, when, please, oh please, aspects of our old lives re-emerge, and we all slither out of the anti-chrysalis that turned us back into caterpillars, maybe I will go to a ballgame, or the theater, or to the movies, or, oh God, even a party. And on my way there, I will be listening to a podcast.