December 3, 2022

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Omicron options: Chronicle critics share their picks for entertainment if you’re stuck at home

Watching television is a good way to kill time when under the weather or trying to avoid getting people sick. Photo: Nico De Pasquale Photography / Getty Images

With the omicron variant on the rise, many people are finding themselves back behind closed doors, isolating in an attempt to keep the coronavirus from spreading. And they’re going to need something to while away the long, lonesome hours.

With that in mind, The Chronicle offers this list of recommendations of entertaining ways to stay occupied in isolation.

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‘Search Party’

If the thrill of solving a mystery is strong enough to get you out of the COVID funk, “Search Party” delivers that thrill in excess, while adding gripping humor into the mix.

The Comedy Central/HBO Max comedy series stars Alia Shawkat (“Arrested Development”) as Dory Sief, a Millennial woman living in New York City who steps out of the monotony of her life to investigate the sudden disappearance of her college acquaintance Chantal Witherbottom. With the help of her boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds) and best friends Elliott (John Early) and Portia (Meredith Hagner), Dory solves the initial puzzle and finds herself at the center of its bombastic aftermath, taking viewers through police investigations, media frenzies, courtroom drama and the horrors of captivity, among other surprising plot developments.

With the show’s fifth and final season set to premiere Friday, Jan. 7, now’s the time to sit back and catch up on this hidden gem of a show before it unveils its final chapter.

Stream it: Available on HBO Max. Season five premieres Friday, Jan. 7.

— Jose Alejandro Bastidas

‘Yellowjackets’

There’s something satisfying about watching stories of survival when faced with a difficult personal moment. As I hunkered down for my own COVID-19 isolation, catching up on Showtime’s new mystery thriller “Yellowjackets” proved to be an entrancing pastime.

Many shows have tried to mimic the pop-culture sensation of ABC’s “Lost,” which followed the survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island. More than a decade after the end of that iconic series, Showtime’s new drama elevates the premise with two alternating timelines and a focus on the female gaze.

“Yellowjackets” follows the members of a high school girls soccer team after a plane crash leaves them fighting to survive in the wilderness in 1996, with little to no hope of being rescued. Then in 2021, the series catches up with four of the surviving members as their seemingly ordinary lives are plagued by the trauma they lived through, and a looming threat that may bring the secrets of their survival to the surface.

With a few episodes left to premiere in season one, “Yellowjackets” may inspire the conspiracy theorist in you long after your quarantine period ends.

Stream it: Available on Showtime. New episodes released Sundays through Jan. 16.

— Jose Alejandro Bastidas

​​’Yellowstone’ and ‘1883’

Stuck at home and can’t travel? Sometimes the best remedy is to watch a show that brings the great outdoors right to your living room. But, to be clear, this is no “Planet Earth.”

“Yellowstone” stars Kevin Costner as the Dutton family patriarch in the Paramount+ drama series, which just wrapped up its fourth season, created by Taylor Sheridan and John Linson. It’s an intense, modern-day cowboy tale that ropes you into the story of the Duttons’ Montana cattle ranch and all the dirty work it takes to protect its borders, including conflicts with neighboring Native American reservations and land developers.

If you were a fan of FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” or BBC’s “Peaky Blinders,” this is a must-watch.

And once you’re done bingeing “Yellowstone,” check out the series’ spin-off “1883,” which premiered last month. Starring Sam Elliott, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, it’s the origin story of the Dutton family and it brings audiences along on their journey from Texas to a better life in Montana.

Stream it: Available to stream on Paramount+, Peacock and Amazon Prime Video.

— Mariecar Mendoza

‘Borgen’

This is a miniseries from Denmark, which I’d heard about for years but never had the time to watch until the pandemic. It’s the story of a Danish prime minister (Sidse Babett Knudsen), with a very shaky majority in Parliament, doing her best to do good and stay in power. The show follows the press, the political strategists and the jockeying among the politicians. Who ever thought that Danish politics could be so fascinating?

Knudsen, one of the best actresses in Scandinavia, is just terrific, and the series is brilliantly written — with the first two seasons off the charts. And here’s the amazingly good news: The fourth season, the first in nine years, premieres on Feb. 22.

Stream it: Available on Netflix.

— Mick LaSalle

‘Money Heist’

If you’re a devotee of crime caper movies, you already know the pleasures of the genre — in particular, watching a meticulous plan unfold with clockwork precision, or adapting to meet unexpected obstacles. But you also know the drawbacks. There’s a limit to how many plot twists can be compressed into a couple of hours of screen time. There’s rarely room for character development. They’re male-dominated. Most of all, there’s a tension between filling viewers in on the heist plans ahead of time and letting us watch them unfold in action, a tension that almost no caper films get quite right. (Looking at you, “Ocean’s Eleven”!)

“Money Heist,” the magnificent Spanish miniseries that became an unexpected global sensation, nimbly solves all those problems. It’s stylish, sexy, funny, elaborate and tender. The characters are fully rounded, making space for emotional plotlines along with the caper mechanics, and the female characters are central. The heist unfolds with plenty of surprises, but the audience always has enough information. And at 41 hour-long episodes, there’s enough material to keep you happily bingeing as long as you want.

— Joshua Kosman

‘The Great British Baking Show’

You don’t have to be interested in baking to get lost in this British series. What’s appealing here is the human drama of people, from every possible background in Great Britain, competing against each other for the approval of two celebrity judges.

Paul Hollywood has been one of the judges from the beginning. For the first seven seasons, his partner in judging was Mary Berry. Now it’s Prue Leith. There are also comedian presenters, the latest of whom are the best, in my opinion — Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas.

It’s a lovely, warmhearted show, and the beauty of it is that there are 12 seasons, so you’re not likely to completely exhaust it before the pandemic is officially over. Let’s hope.

Stream it: Available on Netflix.

— Mick LaSalle 

‘Hollywood: A Celebration of American Silent Film’

This is one of the greatest documentary series about movies ever made, and it couldn’t be made today. It’s a 13-part BBC documentary, narrated by James Mason and directed by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, about the entire silent film era. And because they made it in the 1970s, they were able to interview the actual stars and directors from that era, who were all in their late 70s, 80s or 90s.

It’s incredibly entertaining, as well as poignant, featuring a brilliant score by Carl Davis, the world’s premier composer for silent film. It’s the best education about silent movies you will ever receive. There’s no source, either in film or print, that gives you such an overview of the period, as well as a sampling of what you might want to investigate further. I’ve rewatched this series, from beginning to end, at least 10 times.

Stream it: Available on Amazon Prime.

— Mick LaSalle

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Olivia Colman stars in “The Lost Daughter.” Photo: Netflix

‘The Lost Daughter’

If Maggie Gyllenhaal and Olivia Colman’s partnership on the Netflix adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel has left you thirsting for more, the source material, first published in 2006 and translated into English in 2008, might conjure a strange state in your mind. It’s almost unbearably painful, and yet you can’t stop reading.

Leda, an academic, is supposed to be escaping her daily life for a seaside town, but she makes a couple of dark, impulsive decisions that deeply entangle her with a chaotic Neapolitan family.

Fans of Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet might recall the profound significance the author gives to dolls; here the toy becomes not just totem or charm or avatar but something grotesque, a receptacle for our most inexplicable urges.

The Lost Daughter
By Elena Ferrante
(Europa Editions, 125 pages, $16)

Stream it: The film adaptation is available now on Netflix.

— Lily Janiak

The podcast “You Must Remember This” recently charted the careers of Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin, pictured here flanking fellow Rat Packer Frank Sinatra in “Robin and the 7 Hoods.” Photo: Warner Bros. 1964

‘You Must Remember This’

Karina Longworth’s classic Hollywood podcast has been a delight since its debut in 2014, tackling subjects as varied as movie stars’ experiences during World War II, the racist legacy of the Disney film “Song of the South,” the overlooked filmmaker Polly Platt and Charles Manson’s ties to show business.

The podcast’s most recent season, “Sammy and Dino,” explores Rat Pack performers Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin with a unique central thesis. At the beginning of their careers in the 1930s and ’40s, Davis, who was Black, and Martin, who was Italian American, were both members of communities marginalized by the dominant white, Protestant culture of the time. But as the 20th century progressed, Italian Americans gained wider societal acceptance much faster than Black Americans, making their journeys to the Las Vegas stages of the 1950s and ’60s very different. As Longworth charts Davis and Martin’s careers, the specter of Rat Pack “Chairman of the Board” Frank Sinatra is ever-present, as are booze, drugs and a steady stream of sexual partners.

With almost 200 episodes from its various seasons, there’s a Hollywood story for almost every taste narrated in Longworth’s crisply enunciated yet slightly cooing voice.

Stream it: Available to stream on podcast apps or via www.youmustrememberthispodcast.com.

— Tony Bravo

This combination photo shows cover art for “Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of An American Dynasty,” left, and co-author Anderson Cooper at the 13th annual “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute” in New York on Dec. 8, 2019. Photo: Harper / Associated Press

‘Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty’

Television newsman Anderson Cooper has spent much of his life and career downplaying his famous Gilded Age ancestors, but in his third book (written with novelist Katherine Howe) he confronts the Vanderbilt history with few reservations.

Cooper’s maternal great-great-great grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt, known as “The Commodore,” built the family fortune in the New York ferry business and railroad industry. His statue stands at Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal to this day, which led Cooper to believe as a child that all grandparents turned into statues when they died. Since then, various descendants have been, in Cooper’s words, more interested in spending money than making it, depleting the fortune in most branches.

The book is not an exhaustive encyclopedia of the family, but rather highlights members and events in a way that places the Vanderbilts and their privilege in the context of their times. Chapters dedicated to the complicated Alva Vanderbilt, who was both a pioneering suffragette and a Southern-born racist, and to the last Vanderbilt descendants to live in the mansion-turned-museum the Breakers in Newport, R.I., are entertaining and enlightening beyond previous reporting on the family. But it is the final chapters of the book, dedicated to Cooper’s mother, celebrity denim designer and artist Gloria Vanderbilt, that are the most affecting. Cooper chronicles not only the 1930s custody case that made “Little Gloria” tabloid famous but also her role as a muse to author Truman Capote. The book also shares honest appraisals about how the Vanderbilt wealth and tragedies colored her life, as well as his own.

Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty
By Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe
(Harper, 336 pages, $18)

— Tony Bravo

“Beautiful World, Where Are You” by Sally Rooney Photo: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’

Millennial readers will likely feel seen in a new way by this blockbuster novel by Irish author Sally Rooney. She acknowledges and takes seriously the tics of contemporary life, from scrolling to swiping to anxiously waiting for a pulsating ellipsis to morph into text. Gently tracing the will-they-or-won’t-they exploits of two very different young couples, she makes sex suspenseful and erotic, dialogue barbed yet fragile.

Discursive epistles, fully transcribed, on everything from religion to aesthetics to the Bronze Age might look indulgent or pedantic elsewhere, but here they’re refreshingly deep dives into character and voice.

Beautiful World, Where Are You
By Sally Rooney
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 368 pages, $28)

— Lily Janiak

“Cloud Cuckoo Land,” by Anthony Doerr Photo: Scribner

‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’

The phantasmagorical new novel by Anthony Doerr is both a celebration of the art of storytelling and an irresistibly virtuosic example of it. Across expanses of space and time, Doerr weaves together seemingly disparate yarns of vividly drawn characters — an Anatolian herder at the fall of Constantinople, a curious teenager aboard a spaceship in flight from a dying Earth, a lonely American POW during the Korean War — only to fuse it all together in a final narrative coup.

Lovers of Doerr’s previous masterpiece, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “All the Light We Cannot See,” will recognize his signature style, a dreamy present-tense voice that infuses even the most mundane scenes with a seductive shimmer. The difference is that this time around, the plotting is firmer and more precise, the characters more lifelike, the themes more crisply drawn.

Cloud Cuckoo Land
By Anthony Doerr
(Simon and Schuster, 640 pages, $30)

— Joshua Kosman

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