RuPaul’s Drag Race (TV, Stan)
It’s probably fair to say that most reality TV just functions as a circus of human misery. Shows like Bachelor in Paradise and Big Brother make mockeries of their contestants, contriving impossibly mean-spirited antics from seemingly normal people. That’s part of the appeal, of course, but at a point the weight of it all can mount, the game of emotional Jenga being played with both audience and contestant crumbling in a second.
Consider, then, RuPaul’s Drag Race: a reality competition show that revolutionises the format, balancing the bitchiness of its contestants with profound, avant-garde artistry; the emotional antics and convoluted twists with gob-smacking acrobatics and a refreshingly twisted sense of humour. A competition to find “America’s next drag superstar” over the course of its 17 seasons – 12 in the main show, five in its supercharged “All Stars” edition – Drag Race has become an exemplar of well-constructed reality TV, rarely sacrificing the humanity or artistry of its contestants for cheap fights or stunts.
Rife in its later seasons with in-jokes and throwbacks, Drag Race is also a perfect binge-watching show, often operating by its own unique internal logic that is reliant on intimate knowledge of the program. But that’s what’s great about making it through the show’s immense canon: it can feel like an entry point into an entirely new frame of culture. At its best, the show provides a platform for some of America’s most unique and groundbreaking artists; at its worst, it’s still a reality show with spades more empathy than its closest competitor. (A tip: It’s probably best to start the show between seasons four and six, and then proceeding with the show’s main and All Stars seasons in the order in which they came out, before returning to seasons one through three.) – Shaad D’Souza
Paddington 1 & 2 (film, Netflix)
I don’t know what films and shows are on the rest of this list, but I know that none of them rival Paddington. The two Paddington films are pure distillations of joy. They are flawless monuments to kindness and community. Whenever anything bad happens in my life I watch them as ritual. It’s like slowly spreading marmalade across my tired brain.
Based on Michael Bond’s marmalade-loving bear of the same name, the Paddington films follow the polite cub from “darkest Peru” (voiced by Ben Whishaw) as he finds a new home in London. Unfortunately he also finds mischief and trouble at every turn. If you haven’t yet been won over by Paddington’s bumbling charms: no, these movies are not just for kids. At its release, Paddington 2 was the best reviewed film in history. I genuinely think it was robbed of a Best Picture Oscar, and I’m not alone.
I could talk more about the comedy or the surprising dramatic heft or Hugh Grant’s incredible self-parodic performance as a villain, but all you really need to know about is the joy. These films are a big warm bear hug – pun absolutely intended. – Meg Watson
America’s Funniest Home Videos: cats and dogs compilations (YouTube)
Take it from someone who is currently crying while listening to Billy Ocean’s Get Outta My Dreams (Get Into My Car) very loud because they, who do not drive, will not be allowed inside a car with friends nor family for six weeks: stage four lockdown sucks. Intellectual rationality has been replaced by something more slippery, where the threat of economic catastrophe can be faced with a stiff upper lip but dropping your toast on the kitchen floor is enough to bring on a breakdown. As a result, I have returned to the sacred texts: two ancient YouTube rips of turn-of-the-century America’s Funniest Home Videos compilations titled, respectively, Funny Cats (2007), and the altogether less evocatively named Dogs (2006).
These two videos have been my constant companions through dark times, including what was, in late 2007, the worst depressive spell of my life (prior to 2020 am I correct?!). There’s not much to tell you by way of explanation – they’re literally just a bunch of videos of dogs and cats doing silly things, set to amusing music – other than to say I am yet to meet someone whose mood cannot be lifted by an immediate (and often immediately repeated) application of Funny Cats and Dogs.
In the TikTok age, there’s something reassuring in the nostalgic quality of these video snippets, with their degraded VHS tape interference and unseen camera, people’s horrified/delighted reactions (“WHOA!” “Hey—”) to, say, the cat tearing into the bathroom and leaping, unsuspecting, head first into a full bath. We may feel like everything we know and love is crumbling around us right now, with self care being torn away with each new restriction, but it pays to remember that once upon a time, all we needed to feel happiness was around 1:20 wittily edited minutes of complete, cathartic chaos. – Clem Bastow
Bugsy Malone (film, SBS on Demand)
With the great British director Alan Parker having passed away on the weekend, the time is ripe to revisit his 1976 feature film debut – perhaps one of the strangest movie musicals of all time, in a genre not exactly known for fidelity to realism. The film is set in Prohibition era America and explores characters caught up in a turf war between two rival gangs, one of which gets their mitts on a “deadly” new machine gun. “Deadly” is in inverted commas because the weapons in Parker’s sweet-toothed alternate universe fire whipped cream and other dessert ingredients instead of bullets.
Oh, and all the characters are children who – if all this wasn’t weird enough – have adult voices when they break into song. Bugsy Malone is nutty as a fruitcake, with an elastic tone that bends between moments of pathos – i.e. the poignant Tomorrow – to a conviviality, such as the show-stopping You Give a Little Love. That song, sang during a food fight grand finale, is a great pick-me-up, with its messages of unity (“It’s been decided, we’re weaker divided”) and of forging meaningful personal legacies (“You’re gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do”). So weird; so good! – Luke Buckmaster
The First Wives Club (film, Netflix)
The undeniable truth is that The First Wives Club begins with a funeral, and I cannot change that. But once you get past the funeral, you will be treated to some absolutely delightful moments. Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton connecting over cocktails! Jokes about lip fillers! Dance sequences! Revenge on middle-aged men with wide faces! Cashmere cardigans! Maggie Smith! Sarah Jessica Parker! Therapy!
This First Wives Club came out in 1996, which was the prime time for comedies about rich New Yorkers yelling at each other. It is about three college friends reuniting in their 40s to wreak revenge on their terrible ex-husbands, who have cast them aside for various deplorable reasons. This movie is very, very funny, but it’s Goldie, Bette and Diane’s friendship – and resilience in the face of people who have dismissed them for being too old, too timid or too traditional – that I find very comforting. And did I mention there was a dance sequence? – Sinéad Stubbins
The Great British Bake-Off (TV, Foxtel)
You might think you’re familiar with competitive cooking shows, but nothing matches the sheer, wholesome delight of The Great British Bake Off. Picture this: a dozen bakers, reflecting the geographic, age and cultural diversity of the UK, holed up in a tent in the English countryside, cooking up génoise sponges and gingerbread while the iconic Mary Berry exclaims “Marvelous!” and “Simply delightful!” between mouthfuls of shortbread.
Sure, it is a competition show. But it’s free of the kind of over dramatic and confected narratives that dominate most reality TV. The bakers regularly help each other out, there’s saucy jokes, some healthy flirting and a lot of extremely delicious food. It’s my go-to comfort watch and you won’t regret making it yours. – Osman Faruqi
Rosehaven (TV, ABC iView)
Those harbouring a tree change fantasy maybe once got their kicks watching rural reality real estate show Escape to the Country – until something became glaringly obvious: no one was actually buying the houses. Instead, the rural real estate show we should all be watching is ABC comedy Rosehaven.
Created by and starring Luke McGregor and Celia Pacquola, the show is set in the fictional Tasmanian town of Rosehaven, where McGregor’s character has returned to help run his family’s real estate business. He’s joined by his best friend, played by Pacquola, and the dynamic between the two is where the show gets its magic spark.
Rosehaven isn’t demanding; it’s not serious, or issues-based. In fact, its stars have described it as “the best thing to watch when you’re hungover”. – Brigid Delaney
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (TV, Seasons 1-6 on Netflix, season 7 on SBS)
From the minds of sitcom kings Dan Goor and Michael Schur, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has all the hallmarks of their other hit show, Parks And Recreation; just replace local government with local police and you get the gist. Sure, you could say it’s a little formulaic (you can more or less line up the characters with their Parks counterparts) but I prefer to call it comforting.
Set in a Brooklyn detective precinct, B99 exists in a dream world where all cops are adorkable and woke do-gooders who solve crimes and pull off office pranks with equal enthusiasm. The whole cast, led by Andy Samberg, is utterly charming, but the show’s worth watching alone for Chelsea Peretti as Gina: the receptionist more concerned with her Twitter than fighting crime. Seven seasons in, the show remains as sharp as ever, as snowballing jokes and yearly themed episodes – such as a Halloween competition where detectives try to steal a trophy – only get bigger and better. It’s as wholesome as it is funny. – Jared Richards
Strangers (web series, Facebook)
Strangers is an eminently likeable comedy web series about a couple of messy young queers finding their way in the world: Isobel (Zoë Chao), a somewhat anxious Eurasian bisexual who’s just been dumped by her boyfriend after cheating on him with a woman; and Cam (Meredith Hagner), her perennially cheerful white BFF who is the most wholesome Lothario you’ll ever meet. Each 10-20 minute episode then introduces new “strangers” (including some well-known faces like Jemaine Clement and Leisha Hailey) as guests staying in Isobel’s other room, who offer advice, obstacles and counterpoints as she navigates the new terrain of her post-breakup life.
Created by Mia Lidofsky, the series premiered in 2017 on Facebook Watch where it’s still available to stream. It feels a bit like a west coast answer to Broad City in that the heart of the show is Isobel and Cam’s friendship, but the other relationships are satisfying too, with insider-y representations of queerness and polyamory, and big bright romances you can’t help barracking for. – Jinghua Qian
The Family Law (TV, SBS On Demand)
After watching all six seasons of Schitt’s Creek from beginning to end, twice, in an effort to perfect my Moira accent (impossible because it is “unrecognisable”: “seems one part British/Canadian/mid-Atlantic with a retro Hollywood spin”; is sprinkled with “a kind of unhinged verbosity”; and is frankly just plain “bonkers”), I was feeling sad, defeated and lost. What could take my mind off the horrors of 2020 in the evenings before bed? What could make me laugh like Schitt’s Creek or just sit in front of the telly smiling, feeling lovely and romantic and being reminded that even if it’s just on TV, there is some good in the world?
That’s when I logged onto SBS on Demand and saw to my absolute delight that all three seasons of The Family Law are now streaming. Binge-watching The Family Law – a series based on Benjamin Law’s memoir – makes it even funnier, more ridiculous and more thoroughly groundbreaking than watching an episode a week as I did the first time round. I’m finding even more thrills, scoffs and hoots than before. This family is just the trick to take my mind off the horrors going on outside.
At the very heart of both of these shows is the warmth that families bring, even amid the dramas and upsets, marriages, divorces and separations; we crave families to soothe our souls and when they do – well, there’s not much better. And being trained to laugh at my own, rather than be mortified by them, is certainly a lesson I’m happily learning (sorry, mum!) – Gabrielle Jackson
Mostly Martha (film, SBS On Demand)
While there is no shortage of cooking shows, great films depicting the human love affair with food are few and far between. Thankfully, however, there’s 2001 German film Mostly Martha: a sublime and heart-warming exploration of love in and out of the kitchen (and the inspiration for the far inferior US version, No Reservations).
Many of us are familiar with the tropes of romantic comedy, but the heroine is often flawed in flimsy, insignificant ways – she’s clumsy and always picks the wrong guy. This is not that story. Mostly Martha is a masterclass in character evolution, depicting the slow burn of connection for talented but single-minded chef Martha (Martina Gedeck), who is consumed by her work in the kitchen. Circumstances move her towards soulful connections with her recently-orphaned niece Maxime (Lina Klein) and a new sous-chef Mario (Sergio Castellitto), who subtly help breathe life into Martha (without “saving” her). Poignant, comical and gorgeously sensual, you will never look at pasta the same way again. – Amal Awad
• For more recommendations of what to stream in Australia, head to our Stream Team column
• Did we miss your favourite film or show that fits the self-soothing criteria? Please add it to the comments below. We need as many as we can get