Crisis is an unpleasant but inevitable part of life. It’s hard to argue that we can’t experience the positivity of change and growth without some degree of discomfort, and oftentimes our difficulties force us to come to terms with how we live and how we engage with everything around us. Naturally, we might be physically struggling, feeling mentally lost or depressed, or even spiritually numb or raw with the reality of life. If any of this is you right now, stop. Take a deep breath. Inhale. Observe where you are in this present moment. Exhale… and relax.
It may not seem like in the moment, but eventually, we all make it through. Things will work out one way or another. These hard times can represent a call to self-reflection, a moment to slow down, let ourselves heal. They can allow us to find a way to cope and accept the slow-motion disasters of the conflicts around us.
In the meantime, it’s good to find positive things to focus on to help us find comfort as we go through hardship. Some of the best places to go can be found within the world of visual mediums such as film, television, and video gaming. This is a list of pieces of media that I’ve personally been indulging in and loving as a source of warmth and joy to distract myself away from the heaviness that existence can bring.
1) Animal Crossing: New Horizons (video game)
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way: since its release in March 2020, the latest Animal Crossing installment for the Nintendo Switch has taken the stay-at-home world by storm. In this game, you essentially become the owner of your own living space on a tropical island inhabited by talking animals you can interact with and make friends with. It essentially exists as a home away from home. It lets you build your own house, tend your own garden, explore the island while fishing and catching bugs, invite other players online into your space, etc. It’s become a source of comfort for those who play it—a place of stability that you can customize and work with in any form you like. You can go crazy and do something unique and novel, like host your own wedding or graduation. Or, you can play it just for a few minutes a day doing various small things, just enjoying the scenery and inhabitants around you.
Most especially, this is a game that encourages you to find communities of people to play with. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve spent playing online with my wife and her sister just frittering away on each other’s islands, interacting with each other, and feeling like the world wasn’t quite so scary anymore. It’s a much-needed feeling and push that helps combat some of the harsher feelings of difficult times and stresses in a way that I haven’t seen many other games accomplish so well. Granted, it’s a bit harder to find than other pieces on the rest of this list as you do specifically need a Switch to play it with. But if you do manage it, then ‘New Horizons’ is a sunny getaway you shouldn’t miss.
2) Welcome to Night Vale (podcast)
Warning: things are about to get weird. “Welcome to Night Vale” is a long-running podcast (and this writer’s personal all-time favorite) focusing on a small desert community in the middle of the American Southwest. There, the sun is hot, the moon is bright, and strange lights pass overhead as the community pretends to sleep. Narrated in the form of a radio show by the enigmatic Cecil Palmer, it’s a mysterious and very eerie podcast with an obvious cosmic edge and inspiration to it. It takes supernatural and unspeakable horror and makes it all simply a part of mundane living while also playing with the audio format in ways that we as a culture haven’t seen since the days of the 1930’s radio plays. But it’s one that’s also engaging, funny, and surprisingly comforting all at the same time.
There’s just something about the atmosphere of this unsettling world that comes to grow on you over time. You only ever have the vaguest sense of where you are and what characters and concepts discussed really look like. Things such as the floating spectral cat in the bathroom, the literal five-headed dragon that’s running for mayor, or why you should never ever ever EVER mention the Dog Park are described in a way that brings a strange and frankly alluring sense of stability. It’s somehow comforting to know that even in the strangest and most absurd of places, we can find a form of weird normalcy. There’s a reason that this podcast is one of the most popular in the United States right now. It gives listeners a way of learning to find solace with things that are terrifying—whether they be within the real world or the unreal one told to us through the spoken word.
3) Shakespeare Uncovered (TV show)
Plenty of great documentaries and documentary series making the rounds on various online platforms could’ve taken a spot on this list. But for this writer and his love of all things Shakespeare, “Shakespeare Uncovered” is perhaps the best example of something less than accessible made accessible. The plays of Shakespeare are easily some of the most important pieces of story-telling in the English language. Yet, I find that so many people seem to either dismiss them as art higher than them or only something to be taught in a classroom setting with no relevance outside of a classroom setting.
This TV series challenges that notion with the way it makes these plays utterly relatable to our modern-day struggles. With each episode, some of the most prominent actors and stars of the day spend their time with a specific play, what it means to them, what it’s really all about, and what we can take from it in a modern-day context. You get to watch David Tennant discuss the play “Hamlet,” Helen Hunt discuss the comedic romance of “Much Ado About Nothing,” Brian Cox’s take on the Greek epic “Julius Caesar,” and so many more throughout three seasons of analysis and content. It really grounds these stories down for a more casual audience and allows you to see just what power these stories still have and how we can find meaning from them. As someone who is greatly missing going to his local Shakespeare festival this year, this series is an absolute godsend and has been a source of creativity, strength, and inspiration.
4) The Midnight Gospel (TV show)
Several meditation and yoga teachers have recommended this show to me over the past few weeks and the reasons why are honestly fairly surprising. “Midnight Gospel“ is a surreal adult Netflix show along the lines of “Rick and Morty”. While it has a more holistic approach to its content, it keeps the same outlandish graphics and style. The premise is essentially an animated intergalactic podcast with a… human? Alien? It’s hard to say. Some sort of strange humanoid named Clancy Gilroy travels the ‘verse and interviews various other beings on topics such as life, religion, enlightenment, and the like, with the eventual outcome of finding peace in his own way. It’s the very definition of strange but it’s also weirdly compelling and somehow very soothing.
Each episode tackles a variety of complicated subject matter, but in a way that lets you soak it in without triggering you into an emotional reaction. It enables you see these issues from an outside perspective that other shows never truly manage quite so fluidly. As a result, it gets you to think without you realizing you are even thinking at all. Through his experiences in each adventure, Clancy learns more about how to meditate, find something new to keep your hopes up for, connect with others, and even get out of your head through daily mindful rituals. Go figure in that perhaps the weirdest entry on this list also happens to be the most mindful.
Keep in mind; this show is not for everyone as it often gets fairly graphic and M-rated with its imagery. But if you can stomach something truly unique, then “Midnight Gospel“ is a short but meaningful ride to help you process life while also taking you on one heck of a colorful bender.
5) Jojo Rabbit (film)
“Jojo Rabbit” is one of those ‘love it or hate it’ films with one of the most outlandishly jarring controversial premises of all time. Set towards the end of WWII, the story follows a young boy who is working to join the Nazi Youth Army, encouraged by his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler. But when he discovers that his single mother has been hiding a Jewish girl in his attic, he suddenly finds himself confronted with the negativity of all of the beliefs that he thought he would die for. He begins a journey of self-discovery that brings comedy, tragedy, and eventually understanding. The end product is a lovely mixture of genres and styles that knows exactly when to bring each moment and how to allow it to hit hard, whether it be from laughter, focus, or sadness and tears.
While the movie has a lot to say about prejudice, misguided views, and how to develop yourself and grow, it is also simply well-made and frankly hilarious. It has many laugh-out-loud moments, a well-developed script and plot, and an ending that’s both challenging and very heart-warming. It’s a well recommended oddball comedy with a deep message and heart that cuts to the bone of what we need to break down barriers and eventually find well-deserved peace on the other side. It really doesn’t get enough attention and is definitely one to check out if you need a dose of some oddball comedy with a deep message that cuts to the bone.
6) Insecure (TV show)
“Insecure” is a show that I came across somewhat accidentally as I would always catch the end of various episodes right before I caught my “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” fix. At first, I was never all that interested in it, feeling like the romantic drama of a millennial black woman in Los Angeles was far from relatable to someone who represents almost the exact opposite in terms of demographic and interests. But the more I saw, the more intrigued and open to it I became. The writing and dialogue seemed to cut through established stereotypes and make each character not only interesting but especially real.
Headed by the incomparable Issa Rae, these people drew me into a world that I had little exposure to before. The show is inviting, enlightening, and powerful. It doesn’t sugarcoat a lot of its struggles both in terms of the color of its skin and the age of its respective focuses but neither is it trying to really stand out or do something amazingly different. In a refreshing way, it simply wants to exist, make you laugh, get you to empathize with its characters, and learn and feel something along the way. It also doesn’t use all of the ironic or cynical traps that many other romantic drama-comedies fall into. Through its outstanding writing and storytelling, “Insecure” simply allows its cast to speak for themselves and let you as the viewer draw your own engagement and conclusions. A feel-good show worth checking out.
7) Frozen II (film)
If you happen to be a parent with children, then chances are you may have already seen this film anywhere from one to over a dozen times by now. While it might not be the billion-dollar smash hit that the first film was, I still find “Frozen II” to be the better product. It has a lot more to say about its given themes and imagery, with a far more memorable story and atmosphere in its own right. It sees the titular princesses Elsa and Anna journeying far beyond their kingdom in order to set right a deep and troubling pain from the past. In the process through both of their experiences, the pair are able to discover and find comfort in who they are as individuals in the midst of intense change. It’s a very resonant plot to dwell on when you are going through difficult and even traumatic times of trial. Something about their anthem-like songs just seem to stand out and have more of a lasting impact than the more traditional fairy-tale ballads of the first film.
From the warm but subtly threatening fairytale of “All is Found” to the fiery passion of Elsa’s search for herself “Into the Unknown” to Anna’s search for anything to hold onto in doing “The Next Right Thing,” every note seems to hit just right, announcing that a transition is happening. Nothing may ever be the same again. The visuals are typical Disney spectacular with the exploration of a wide variety of settings. There’s still plenty of humor to be found for the youngsters in snowman Olaf’s antics, and even if the plot tends to get lost in the woods at times (*wink wink*), it’s remarkably confident in what it has to say.
It teaches us about handling change gracefully, accepting your past, and moving forward in different directions towards an uncertain but hopefully bright future. It’s become a new personal favorite for me in Disney’s extensive library.
8) Assassin’s Creed: Origins / Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (video game)
If “Animal Crossing” and its quiet online multiplayer experience isn’t your thing and you want some great solo player action, then the latest “Assassin’s Creed” games might be right up your alley. I’ve been a fan of the Creed games ever since the first one came out in 2007 and these newest iterations are not only some of the best this franchise has to offer, but they are also by far the most accessible. Anyone can play these games regardless of whether you’ve ever played any other installment. With ‘Origins’ in 2017 and ‘Odyssey’ the following year, there’s been less of a focus on specific stealth-based combat and more of a collective action-RPG aspect that makes them broader and more interesting.
Although some would rightly argue that this makes these games quite as Assassin-y as others before, it’s also brought a wider audience to the table that would otherwise never have jumped into these games while still staying true to their core. The ancient worlds created by these developers (Egypt in ‘Origins’ and Greece in ‘Odyssey’) are perhaps the truest representations of what these civilizations must have looked like in their heyday. There’s even a Discovery mode for those people who aren’t about gameplay and simply want to learn more and get enveloped in the history and atmosphere of the time. This makes these two games perfect for some great energetic mindful gaming no matter your system (PS4, Xbox, PC, etc.) and no matter which time period you decide to delve into.
9) Avatar: The Last Airbender (TV show)
There aren’t many examples of serialized media that I would flat out call perfect but if there’s one that comes exceedingly close, it’s ‘Avatar.’ Don’t let the more kid-friendly animation or the younger nature of its protagonists fool you: this is one of if not THE best for-all-ages television shows out there and one that was recently added to Netflix soaring to become its number 1 show in the US. There are so many things that make this series the juggernaut that it is (especially compared to its also great but more flawed successor “The Legend of Korra”).
What it does best is tell a creative and well-written story that not only has the power to entertain but also to get you to think at the same time. The mystical and extremely varied world of elemental benders draws you in almost instantly. The complex characters it creates, from the young but inexperienced Avatar Aang, to the troubled and traumatized villain turned anti-hero turned full-on hero Prince Zuko are all written with intention and care. Not one element of its three-season run feels astray. Through gorgeous colors, warm humor, wonderfully and unusually conveyed messages that you rarely see in quote ‘children’s media,’ it creates a distinctive balance. The journey that these characters and this world go through feels relevant even to this day, and it’s left an immense impression on all those who watch it, even after being off the air for more than a decade. If you haven’t had a chance to discover this show yet, remedy that immediately; this is a very special piece that more than deserves your time and attention.
10) “Bob’s Burgers” (TV show)
Ending the list with a bit of adult comedy, “Bob’s Burgers” has been the mainstream TV show I find myself going to of late, especially after a very long day. It is often compared to its spiritual predecessor “Family Guy,” which had its great moments but ultimately devolved into bad writing and spiteful humor. This show gives you the crazy shenanigans and stupidity of what it’s all about while also trying to be there for you in a strange way. It never talks down to you or treats you like an idiot with its comedy, and it feels far more realistic with its portrayal of familial relationships in modern living. Bob, Linda, Gene, Tina, and Louise are all characterized as real people, not stereotypes of people, and the way they work through what’s thrown at them is tailored and written in a much more organic light.
Anyone who has a large family with siblings KNOWS these people and each dynamic between young and old is handled realistically with everyone getting plenty of time in the spotlight to display how unique they are. And yes, the jokes can be a little over the top and gross, but they never once feel mean-spirited or at the direct expense of someone else. It may not be exactly a laugh riot all the time but this is a show with a passion and a heart to it that makes you chuckle, relax, and feel comfortable. It’s quirky, it’s stupid, but most of all it’s accepting, and I find that’s one of the best things you could ask for in times of hardship and difficulty.
So if you need a very real hit of mindful comfort, check some of these pieces out in the course of your daily experience. Most importantly, however, don’t forget to take a deep breath regularly, relax, and enjoy!
Edited by Ely Bakouche