Here’s our second serving of pop culture comfort food from the TLF founding editors. Enjoy!
While being stuck in the house I’ve really enjoyed being able to virtually travel to out of reach places, real and imagined, and thus I’ve been enjoying the fantastical (but still realistic enough New York City as portrayed in Katy Keene, on The CW, a spinoff of Riverdale.
Katy Keene is set in a very stylized and colorful NYC and I can’t tell if it’s set in the present day, the 1920’s, the 1970’s – or all of the above – and that’s part of its charm. It’s the kind of fantasy New York City that entices people to move there, the kind of place where colorful characters exist on every corner, where you can rise to the top with your dream and a lot of hard work.
If you like the corny and unrealistic adventures of young Carrie Bradshaw in The Carrie Diaries back in the day, you’ll like the glossy fun of this show. But the show isn’t completely starry eyed, though, focuses on issues of feminism, LGBTQ, and intergenerational career politics, but like its vintage (?) sister, it delves into meaty topics without getting so heavy it brings down your day.
I also find a bit of literal comfort food in watching Dining With The Chef. Not at all a new show, and there’s no gimmick or competition involved, it’s just a cooking show, but I find it so inspirational for my own cooking, and an opportunity for me to revisit my past culinary adventures in Japan. There are two hosts but my favorite is Chef Rika Yukimasa; her recipes are very accessible, easy to make, and don’t require a lot of specialized ingredients (or have ingredients and utensils that can be easily swapped out.) Especially now while sheltering at home, being able to recreate her dishes make me feel like I’m going on a trip in my kitchen, and allow me to explore a bit of my own creativity in a low-pressure way.
There’s a lot of buzz about the documentary Crip Camp on Netflix, and the hype is all true. Crip Camp tells the story of a unique summer camp in New York State in the early 1970s that planted the seeds of the disability rights movement.It’s inspiring without falling into the usual “inspiration porn” tropes of disability, peppered with music, humor and super-relatable personal stories. When the film shifts gears to 1977’s 504 Sit-In (a protest that led to changes in the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, a forerunner to 1990’s Americans with Disabilities Act), the transition is seamless, as an audience we are already invested in the subjects and eager to see how the camp transformed their lives. It’s the kind of story (“summer campers grow up to change the world!”) that one would imagine to be fictional if we didn’t know better, and it’s a taste of the kind of undersold stories of disabled history that everyone needs to hear.
Many Waters cannot quench love, nor rivers sweep it away: Song of Songs/Song of Solomon 8:7
During the Now times, I have been reminded about love stories where the lovers are separated — frequently physically, but also emotionally, and by time. These stories comfort me that love exists, despite boundaries. All of these are appropriate for teens (with the possible exception of certain chapters at the end of the novel version of The Untamed, but that’s why I listed TW).
My favorite Jane Austen novel is Persuasion, where the main characters, Anne and Frederick, have never stopped loving each other, but due to life, spend the entirety of the book until the end apart, not realizing that the other still feels the same as they did during the brief season of their engagement. Seven years apart means that both of them have more life experience, and unlike many of the other main couples in Austen’s work, this is not the first bloom of love, but is referred to as Anne’w second bloom, where the foundation of who they are has now been more firmly established. [TW: PD, W]
I realize I’m likely the only person that sees the parallels between Persuasion and the Untamed! This might seem like quite a jump from my first suggestion to the second, but both are love stories where the main couple is separated for years and by not understanding how strongly they feel for each other.
Others have written in more depth, so I will just recommend all of the iterations of The Untamed (live version)/ Mo Dao Zu Shi (the novel/manga/animated, versions). The story is Chinese Jane Austen-style Lord of the Rings, with a queer/gay main couple, separated also by their different ideologies and priorities. The non-novel versions are censored, but still v.v. obvious (they don’t include elements such as they get married in the novel). The main couple demonstrates how much they care for each other throughout all of the timelines within all versions, which stands in contrast to the overall trope in Western media of minimizing or “burying your gays” despite the freedom from government censorship of LGBTQ+ storylines! [TW: CDUSW, C/TD, CT, NC, PD, SD/SI, SD, UCD, TW]
Another book I recommend is Rilla of Ingleside, by L.M. Montgomery. While this book is part of the Anne of Green Gables saga, it focuses on Rilla, Anne and Gilbert’s daughter, figuring out who she is during wartime. It does have a romance, but it mostly focuses on the homefront, including the previously directionless Rilla raising a motherless child until his father comes back from war. [TW: PD, SD, UCD, W]
If reading is not your thing, I have other love from a distance options!
InuYasha, one of the best anime shows, focuses on the team of demon slayers around InuYasha, a half-human demon in the past and Kagome, a teen girl from our time, who is the reincarnation of his kickass dead true love. The show is really long, but has an actual ending that fits all of the characters. [TW: CDUSW, C/TD, CT, PD, SD, T, UCD, W]
Two recent Korean dramas also have a love from a distance focus. Chicago Typewriter starts out slow, but moves into a very touching love/friendship story in two different timelines about three people who must chose between their ideals during a revolution or those they care about. Frequently, the last few episodes of kdramas run out of steam, but this show works the opposite. [TW: SD/SI, T, W]
Crash Landing into You is likely the lightest story in the list, but what keeps the leads apart is no less real — the separation of ideologies and physical space between the Koreas. This show manages to walk the line between not being too light-hearted or too serious. The main couple have amazing chemistry, but if you don’t like long kdrama slice of life segments, skip this one. [TW: SD/SI, SD, T, W]
[List of Trigger Warnings because everyone deserves to be warned now: Character Death that is Undone in Some Way, Child/Teen Death, Creepy Things, NonCon, Parental Death, Serious Depression/Suicidal Ideation; Sibling Death, Unexpected Character Death, Torture, War]