Stories & Features

Below-the-radar streaming and podcasts in the time of COVID-19

Image of a couple sitting on a sofar, eating popcorn and laughing
Looking for something out-of-the-ordinary to watch or listen to? Communications staff at BC Hydro put on their pop culture hats to come up with some recommendations for time well spent during the pandemic.

Once you've exhausted your binge-worthy list, check out these gems

While working from home or just shut in with our family or housemates, we're in danger of running out of fun ways to entertain ourselves. You probably already have a few friend-recommended series on your list, but once you're through that, we have series, movies and podcasts that will help you shake the boredom of The New Isolation.

To help parents, we've included commonsensemedia.org's ratings when available.

Missing March Madness (and other sports)

Sports fans feel they just got kicked where it hurts; Canucks making a run for the playoffs, Raptors defying the odds, and the NCAA men's basketball tournament all wiped out. Starting with hoops, here are a few ways to revive your love of the game.

Hoop Dreams (Amazon Prime)

In case you missed it, Hoop Dreams is a nearly three-hour immersion in the American basketball dream through the eyes of two young African-American stars from Chicago. One of the best sports documentaries ever.

Rated 15+ by Common Sense Media

The Book of Basketball (theringer.com)

Sports enthusiast extraordinaire Bill Simmons follows up 2009's "The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy", with the Book of Basketball 2.0 podcast, a series of in-depth takes on star players and key moments in recent NBA history. Among the standouts in the series are his discussion with Golden State coach Steve Kerr, a one-on-one with Canada's own Steve Nash on his career and his Phoenix Suns' devastating 1994 playoff series loss to the San Antonio Spurs, and a look way back at the genius of Bill Russell.

Some mature content, mostly swearing.

Bull Durham (Amazon Prime)

We've time-tested this classic baseball movie on a teenager, and he couldn't resist its charm. It's amazing how young Kevin Costner looks in the role of aging triple-A catcher Crash Davis trying to curb the worst instincts of young pitcher Nuke Laloosh. "When you get in a fight with a drunk, you don't hit 'em with your pitching hand." Beautiful.

Rated 17+ by Common Sense Media

Last Chance U (Netflix)

Season 1 of this docuseries is a fun ride, with a look at the powerhouse East Mississippi Community College and its band of star athletes given another chance after screwing up – academically or otherwise – elsewhere. A riveting and revealing look into the underbelly of U.S. college athletics, complete with a steal-the-show turn by academic advisor Brittany Wagner.

Rated 15+ by Common Sense Media

Image of a still from Long Shot
Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron try to get along in the surprisingly strong rom-com Long Shot.

About now, we really need to laugh

There's a whole lot of great comedy, old and new, you may have overlooked or flat-out missed. Dozens of ideas, including a few that are family friendly.

Long Shot (Amazon Prime, HBO Canada)

In year of excellent movies, this 2019 romantic comedy went largely unnoticed. Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen create surprising chemistry, backed up by a strong supporting cast including Alexander Skarsgard as our Canadian Prime Minister.

Rated 15+ by Common Sense Media

Community, Seasons 1-6 (Netflix)

A deep dive into a group of misfits at a community college in Colorado is a treat for pop culture geeks as the satire assaults familiar TV and film clichés on the strength of a diverse and outstanding cast. Back on Netflix as of April 1.

Rated 14+ by Common Sense Media

Megamind (Starz)

Not up there with animated favourites such Toy Story or The Incredibles, this Dreamworks production is still time well spent, in large part due to the voices of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Brad Pitt. A rarity, in that the film's Tomatometer and audience scores are identical, at 72.

Rated 6+ by Common Sense Media

Derry Girls, seasons 1 and 2 (Netflix)

British dark comedy series provides big laughs via 20-to-30 minute episodes about teen life in 1990s Northern Ireland.

Rated 15+ by Common Sense Media

Sex Education, seasons 1 and 2 (Netflix)

Often sweet comedy about a sex therapist and her sexually uneasy teenage son.
Rated 16+ by Common Sense media

Kids in the Hall (CBC Gem)

Bizarre, absurd comedy is a welcome antidote to all the serious stuff happening now, and stands the test of time. If you're not familiar with Head Crusher, Thirty Helens Agree or The Chicken Lady, you're missing out. Beware... it's about to get weird.

Dolemite is My Name (Netflix)

Eddie Murphy is funny again, and his role as a 1970s pimp-turned-filmmaker is a feel-good story with a raw edge. Fans of this movie may also want to try to seek out the blaxploitation movie satire Black Dynamite, in which a Shaft-esque, kung-fu fightin' man hilariously tries to avenge his brother's death while getting to the source of a new drug ravaging the black community.

Rated 17+ by Common Sense Media

Ray Romano: Right Here around the Corner (Netflix)

Not everybody loves Raymond, but if you're a fan, there's a good chance you'll love this comedy-in-a-small-room special.

Image of a sea anemone
Beautiful images like this up-close shot of an anemone amplify the story of the decline of coral reefs in the documentary Chasing Coral. (Photo courtesy of Jayne Jenkins/Coral Reef Image Bank.)

What's up (docs)

Night on Earth (Netflix)

Follow animals after dusk. Full of surprising creatures and behaviours.

Rated 10+ by Common Sense Media

100 Humans (Netflix)

An eye-opening look at ourselves – quirks and flaws included – in this reality TV series.

Rated 14+ by Common Sense Media

Chasing Coral (Netflix)

A jaw-dropping exploration of the decline of coral reefs around the world.

Rated 9+ by Common Sense Media

What's My Name: Muhammad Ali (HBO Canada)

Until the classic Ali documentary When We Were Kings becomes widely available, learn about the boxer and the man in this 160-minute dive into the boxer's greatest triumphs and comebacks.

Rolling Thunder Revue (Netflix)

Even if you're not a huge Bob Dylan fan, this doc is a stunner that will (among other things) remind you just how many songs popularized by other artists were written by Dylan.

Image of a still from Atypical
The Netflix drama Atypical leans on solid acting and great humour to delve into the world of an autistic teen.

Nutritious serials

Time for binge-watching. Here we go.

The Mandalorian (Disney +)

Hit TV series based on the Star Wars universe follows the adventures of a bounty hunter in a futuristic sci-fi world.

Rated 10+ by Common Sense Media

Alias Grace (Netflix)

That other Margaret Atwood series gets overlooked but is arguably as good or better than Handmaid's Tale. Inspired by the true story of a young Irish immigrant in Upper Canada accused of an infamous 1843 double murder.

Rated 15+ by Common Sense Media

Atypical (Netflix)

The life of an autistic teen and his (and his family's) challenges may sound like the good idea for a movie. But over three seasons (with a fourth on the way), Atypical has offered humour, drama and insights into not just the struggles of the autistic, but of teens and family in general. It's also cool enough to watch with teens, although the mature content is best for those 13 and older.

Rated 13+ by Common Sense Media

The Stranger (Netflix)

A stranger tells you a secret about your life. Why? That's a long story. This is an addictive thriller not for the squeamish.

Rated 16+ by Common Sense Media

Avatar: The Last Airbender (Netflix)

It's hard to believe this cherished animated series spawned one of the most disappointing big-screen movies ever (5% on Rotten Tomatoes). By contrast, the series earns a 100% rating for its mix of spirituality, great music, and fabulous life lessons in a martial arts epic fantasy.

Rated 8+ by Common Sense Media

Great British Baking Show (CBC Gem)

Each season of this wildly popular series involves 10 amateur bakers competing to become the crème de la crème of amateur bakers.

Rated 8+ by Common Sense Media

Bodyguard (Netflix)

This tense drama turns the trick of generally positive reviews from critics and big support from viewers as it follows a young war veteran's new job as a protector of a controversial conservative Home Secretary.

Rated 16+ by Common Sense Media

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (HBO)

A profile of Robert Durst, the scion of a wealthy New York real-estate family who has been accused of three murders over three decades. A disturbing mix of dramatizations and interviews.

Mature content, not rated by Common Sense Media

Image of a still from The Proposition
Among the best westerns of the past two decades, The Proposition is a brutal but moving story out of Australia with a dynamite cast including Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, and Emily Watson.

Movies

Whiplash (Prime)

And you thought hockey coaches could be mean. A dizzying look at the journey of a young jazz drummer studying under a fearsome maestro at a top music school.

Rated 15+ by Common Sense media.

Missing Link (Prime)

Fun animated adventure follows the adventures of 8-foot-tall and furry Mr. Link.

Rated 8+ by Common Sense media.

Hitchcock movies on Crave

This is fun. Starting April 3, Crave is featuring 15 classics from the Master of Suspense, including Dial M for Murder, North by Northwest, Psycho, Rear Window, Rope, The Birds, and the Man Who Knew Too Much.

The Age of Innocence (Netflix)

Martin Scorcese usually has his pick of actors, and he got it right here with Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Winona Ryder forming a love triangle in 1870s New York.

Rated 11+ by Common Sense media

No Country for Old Men (Prime)

This Coen Brothers' masterpiece is violent, unrelenting, and anything but uplifiting. But what a film.

Rated 17+ by Common Sense media

The Proposition (Prime)

Arguably the best western in the past 20 years comes from Australia. This is an overlooked gem written by screenwriter and musician Nick Cave, and featuring a first-class cast including Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, and John Hurt. Like this premise? The member of a brutal gang of outlaws is forced to pursue justice by tracking down his own brother. Violent and compelling.

Mature content, not rated by Common Sense Media

Election (Prime)

A young Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick are in excelling form in this darkly funny satire centred on a student election at a high school.

Rated 16+ by Common Sense media

Booksmart (Prime)

Who to believe? The many critics who liked it or the many viewers who found it only mildly funny and disappointing? It's an original, off-beat look at teenagers with some fabulous performances and an abundance of charm.

Rated 16+ by Common Sense media

Troy (Netflix)

It hardly passes as educational, as it's The Iliad lite and isn't an accurate tale of the Trojan Wars, still debated as historical or pure myth. But older teens will be entertained by the battles in this sometimes cheesy film, and mom will be happy to see Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom.

Rated 16+ by Common Sense media

Image of the Song Exploder logo
The Radiotopia podcast network includes the podcast Song Exploder, which talks to artists about where a song came from, details how it was constructed, and then plays it in its entirety.

Podcasts

There's nothing quite like listening to a good podcast while driving, doing your taxes, or going for a long walk. In addition to the Book of Basketball 2.0 mentioned above, here are some gems among the many options out there.

The Rewatchables (theringer.com)

The idea of having two or three people geeking out on a movie for 90 minutes could have been disastrous. But The Ringer's staff's movie buffs are ridiculously well-informed and funny, and these podcasts never drag. Search The Rewatchables archives for movies you know well, then either rewatch them to freshen your memory in preparation for the podcast, or dive right in. Recent highlights include The Breakfast Club, Dunkirk (with Quentin Tarantino as a guest), Skyfall, and Gone Girl.

Song Exploder

You don't have to be a musician to enjoy this fantastic series, which invites singers, songwriters and musicians to talk about the genesis and evolution of a song, piece by piece including early demo tracks, before the song is played in its entirety at the end. Artists covered are varied, from Carly Rae Jepsen and Wilco, to U2, Metallica, Solange, and Fleetwood Mac.

Stuff You Should Know

Podcast about a wide variety of subjects strikes a nice, docile tone in troubled times. A go-to anxiety reducer in the evenings.

99% Invisible

Eclectic and thought-provoking, the 99% Invisible podcast explores the world of architecture and design, but probably not the way you'd expect. Episodes include a look at the birth of Cynthia, a 1930s mannequin so revolutionary she went on "dates" with her creator and attained celebrity status, the worst video game ever, and the fact that shade is becoming increasingly elusive in many cities.

Making Sense (samharris.org)

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, philosopher, and best-selling author whose reasoned discussions with bright people take on issues ranging from artificial intelligence, the future of work, identity politics, sex and power, and meditation. Sometimes controversial, Harris is steadfastly on the side of science and fact in a podcast that can be enthralling, even as it often moves beyond 90 minutes.

Discover (and support) new music

Spotify provides access to a whole lot of music, but many artists don't make much money from the service. Right now, a lot of bands are struggling with no opportunity for live gigs outside of YouTube sessions from their couches. But there's a way to help.

You can support artists directly by buying music from Bandcamp, including everything from up-and-comers to established bands and B.C. faves such as Dan Mangan, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, and kids artist Rattle and Strum. With so much time at home, you can also explore new music via internet radio on the likes of Seattle's iconic kexp.org and somafm.

And in the end, if you don't want to fork out for music you get as part of your subscription, you can always go to a band's site and buy a tee shirt or other merchandise.