Symptoms: Fear and despair over the state of the world
Treatment: Stranger Things.
It’s supposed to be a horror series—bizarre stuff happens, and some of it is quite scary—but its real hook is nostalgia. Specifically 80s nostalgia: Steven Spielberg of the Close Encounters and E.T. era; Stephen King’s The Body/Stand By Me, It, Firestarter; Goonies; a smattering of 80s music from The Clash, Joy Division, Foreigner, The Bangles and others; Winona Ryder as a harried single mom whose Dungeons and Dragons-playing kid goes missing. The early episodes are the best: they create a mood of unease and “What the hell!” while telling us nothing. When they start explaining the baffling events, the intensity slackens. The series becomes less interesting, but by that time you’re emotionally invested and you have to see it through. Part of the fun lies in identifying the movie references and predicting what happens next. Kids protecting a fugitive and fleeing the authorities on bikes: Will they fly?
Effects: Watching horror mysteries makes us feel that we can make sense of the absurd. And nostalgia is very comforting: it takes us back to a past in which we believed we could understand what was going on.
Symptoms: Life has lost its flavor, and you are mired in ennui.
Treatment: The Great British Bake-Off.
I’ve never been much interested in reality show cooking competitions in which judges terrorize the contestants and reduce them to tearful blobs of jelly. That does not happen here. Everyone is polite, the hosts are funny, the competitors don’t try to destroy each other (if they do, it’s not in the final edit), and the criticism is constructive (The judges soften the blow because life is hard enough as it is).
Effects: Observing the process of creating cakes and pastries is deeply soothing.
Symptoms: You suspect you will never fulfill your ambitions and that you have wasted your life.
Treatment: Sing Street
This musical drama-comedy by the guy who made Once and Begin Again (and got a lot of flak for bad-mouthing Keira Knightley) is about a bunch of kids in economically-depressed Ireland in the 80s who deal with domestic strife and school bullies by forming a band, writing songs and making primitive music videos. The pastiches of songs by Duran Duran, The Cure, Hall and Oates are actually good. I would buy “Drive It Like You Stole It”. The film features the best brother in the world, who makes the nerdy kid listen to Joe Jackson and tells him to follow his dreams while everyone else is mocking or ignoring him. Listen, it’s corny and it’s usually an over-promise, but everyone needs to hear some variation of the “Go for it” speech as a kid. (Technically I got a lot of “Go for it” speeches but they were couched as “Why are you wasting your time when you could be blah blah blah.”) Jack Reynor plays the big brother, and Littlefinger Mayor Carcetti is the dad. Think of it as The Commitments, junior edition.
Effects: The film has a contagious joyfulness, and may remind you of your younger, brasher, more optimistic self.