The Crap I Watched While Sick with COVID-19

The virus not only affects your sense of smell, it affects your cultural taste

Word on the street says this naughty COVID-19 coronavirus is “just a cold” and “like the flu.” Sure, sometimes it can get murdery, but there’s usually not much to worry about. Know this: the street lies. My twelve-year-old daughter and I both got sucker punched by COVID-19 in late March, and the worst thing about this horrible beast is not the wheezing, or general old-man-without-his-oxygen vibe. Neither is it the month of fevers, or 45+ days of fatigue. You expect those virally-inflicted cruelties, but there’s a nefarious side-effect no one mentions. COVID 19COVID-19 not only snatches away one’s physical health, but also their ability to enjoy quality entertainment. Gasp! (So to speak.)

Reading is not an option, because books are heavy, and it’s impossible to follow along during a spurt of heaving coughs. You must also avoid must-stream binges, because brain fog dominates. Focus is a distantly remembered notion. Instead of whiling away the hours in silent misery, the daughter and I turned our attentions to the moving picture box, seeking unchallenging content simultaneously interesting enough to view, but uninteresting to snooze through without regret.

Gilmore Girls

Though the ladies Gilmore may be the sprightliest mother-daughter duo around, certainly more sprightly than my COVID-19-riddled daughter and me, this show has played in my house enough to soothe us with its storytelling rhythms. It remains a travesty that all the trophy-giving organizations failed to properly hail Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel for their impeccable work as the show’s ever-at-odds daughter and mother. The quips flow as readily as the feelings, and Stars Hollow proves a fantastic spot to while away the day. Though the show rarely resists meandering into tweeness, the truthful portrayal of family dynamics that sometimes soar and sometimes suck draws me in every time.

The Food Network

Supermarket Stakeout

When in doubt, find an entire network dedicated to follow n’ forget programming, the best being The Food Network. They serve up easy fare in abundance, and their app offers ample free and subscription programming. It’s weird humans enjoy watching people cook before listening to other people describe how the food they’ll never eat tastes. Why is that relaxing?

It turns out the Spring Baking Championship hired national treasure Clinton Kelly of the authoritative What Not to Wear as their host. Though Clinton offers generic enthusiasm and feigns interest with finesse,it’s probable he’s never baked anything in his life. The contestants fret through challenges, hoping the judges will admire their loosely “spring” themed bakes, which fall under vernal categories like Trolls World Tour, Puppies and Kitties, and Mom’s Spring Getaway to Mexico. You know, everyone’s favorite parts of the season.

These contestants are always ready to prove something to their children, who are likely too young to even understand the concept of a TV competition, let alone to learn from their parent’s experience nailing that perfect faultline cake. We all know the competitors are angling for the cash prize and hoping their appearance will lead to more baking for money, on the air or off. And it’s fine! Man, those cakes look pretty.

Supermarket Stakeout is a weirdly watchable recent addition to the cooking competition genre. Four contestants gather in the parking lot of a prominently-branded grocery store in a random location to compete for $10,000 to buy a year’s worth of groceries. Host Alex Guarnaschelli plays it casual, gamely eliciting small talk from the competitors and acting like this show isn’t really bizarre. Each player starts with $500 to last them throughout the game, and their task is to buy groceries from shoppers who happen to walk out of the store during the round to make an on-theme dish for the judges, all within 45 minutes.

In round one, the chefs may purchase full grocery bags from as many shoppers as they choose, but they can’t look inside. Round two limits the competitors to buying from only one person, but they can look through their bags first. In round three, they can buy five individual items from up to five individuals. This means shoppers step outside in their post-grocery daze, only to have four people run at them asking how much they paid for their groceries while trying to entice them to sell them for ever so slightly more.

In today’s COVID-19 atmosphere, something different might happen if someone charged at a lady with a cart full of groceries while aggressively offering her $120 for her $100 purchase while rifling through her stuff. In the pre-viral world of Supermarket Stakeout, shoppers are often startled enough to play along. Each round removes one chef from the game until Guarnaschelli declares a victor. The progressively-growing crowd cheers, and there is much rejoicing.

The Brady Bunch


Sometimes, a show becomes a classic because it’s elegantly made and timelessly impeccable. Sometimes, a show becomes a classic because it’s old. The Brady Bunch definitely remains impeccable. This show may have been so completely atrocious when it was made that time has not worsened it, which is quite an achievement.  I turned to the Bradys when my daughter fell asleep amidst her millionth play-through of something Michael Schur made that we’ve seen too many times. It’s the comfort viewing of many of my childhood sick days. The Bradys didn’t believe in complicated A/B/C storylines. One story was more than enough for them, thank you, as the cameras stayed still, the children walked onscreen to clunkily deliver their lines, and the laugh track told us this was funny stuff. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

The Masked Singer

Turns out, the pièce de résistance, the ultimate in COVID-19 viewing bliss, happens to be The Masked Singer. If your body hurts and your brain can’t think thoughts, this show will get you through. Someday, historians will study the current number one show on network television and wonder what the ever-living fuck. Each judge’s name and credentials appear onscreen frequently to remind us who they are and why they’re qualified to weigh in on the performances. Anonymous “celebrities” in furry costumes sing and dance for the crowd after a stilted clue package hinting at their true identity plays. These contain whistleblower-ish voice modulation and provide some mighty strange acting jobs for a bunch of extras.

The crowd is either rolling hard on Molly or ridiculously easy to please. They dance ecstatically while Astronaut sings Signed, Sealed, Delivered cry too hard when Rhino performs Have a Little Faith in Me. Perhaps no one expressly knew they wanted to see Ken Jeong and Sharon Osborne debate with Jenny McCarthy Wahlberg about Banana’s identity, but it happened, and we watched it.

The tacit agreement here is that of course we all realize the “major stars” are more likely to be side Housewives or Kardashian-adjacent players than Dolly Parton or Liam Hemsworth, but the what-ifism pings that same hopeful part of the brain as a lottery ticket. Judges heartily praise the performers by mutual agreement that it’s necessary to convince the Tony Hawks of the world that no one will laugh at them if they put on an elephant costume and sing Friday I’m in Love. At the end of each episode, the audience votes for their favorite performance, though we never see that breakdown, because no one wishes to sully the dignity of Frog. For all we know, he’s the ghost of Michael Jackson, and deserves our acclaim. Whether ‘rona-free or COVID-19-having, it’s possible we all need to turn off our brains to exactly this level right now.

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Paula Shaffer

Paula Shaffer has worked on shows for a variety of networks including ABC, Hulu, A&E, HGTV, and WeTV. Her family zom-com script, Chompers, was a selected work of the Stowe Story Labs Feature Campus in 2021, and a 2022 semi-finalist in the Emerging Screenwriters contest, which led to placement on the Coverfly Red List.

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