A handful of older films, games, and TV shows that I enjoyed in 2021

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.

At this time of year, practically every outlet – from dying newspapers to new social media channels – churns out list upon list of the best entertainment products of the year. The top threes, top fives, top tens and more of 2021 abound! I have something similar in the pipeline, but today I wanted to take a look back at a handful of films, games, and TV shows from previous years that I found myself enjoying in 2021.

I have long and seemingly ever-growing lists of films, games, and TV shows that I keep meaning to get around to! I still haven’t seen Breaking Bad, for example, nor played The Witcher 3, despite the critical and commercial acclaim they’ve enjoyed! I also have a huge number of entertainment properties that I keep meaning to re-visit, some of which I haven’t seen since we wrote years beginning with “1.” In 2021 I got around to checking out a few titles from both of these categories, and since there are some that I haven’t discussed I thought the festive season would be a great opportunity for a bit of positivity and to share some of my personal favourite entertainment experiences of 2021… even though they weren’t brand-new!

Film #1:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03)

We’ve recently marked the 20th anniversary of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s magnum opus. The passage of time has done nothing to detract from these amazing films, and this year a 4K Blu-Ray release has them looking better than ever before.

The early 2000s had some serious pitfalls for film and television. CGI was becoming more mainstream and many filmmakers sought to take advantage of it, but just look to the Star Wars prequels and how outdated the CGI in those titles is; it hasn’t held up well at all. The majority of the special effects in The Lord of the Rings were practical, and combined with clever cinematography even incredibly dense and complex battle sequences still look fantastic two decades on.

Though I don’t re-watch The Lord of the Rings every single year without fail, I’m happy to return to the trilogy time and again – and I almost certainly will be for the rest of my days! The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Middle-earth was one of the first fantasy worlds I encountered as a young child; I can vaguely remember the book being read to me when I was very small. The conventional wisdom for years was that The Lord of the Rings was unfilmable – but Peter Jackson proved that wrong in some style!

Film #2:
Despicable Me (2010)

I spotted this while browsing Netflix one evening, and despite having seen at least one film with the Minions, I hadn’t actually seen the title that started it all. I have to confess that I didn’t have particularly high expectations, thinking I was in for a bog-standard animated comedy. But Despicable Me has heart, and there were some genuinely emotional moments hidden inside.

The Minions got most of the attention in the aftermath of Despicable Me, and can now be found on everything from memes to greetings cards! The critters are cute, but they’re also somewhat limited – and I think it’s for that reason that I didn’t really expect too much from Despicable Me except for maybe a few laughs and a way to kill an empty evening. I was pleasantly surprised to find a much more substantial film than I’d been expecting.

There were still plenty of laughs and a ton of cartoon silliness to enjoy and to keep the tone light-hearted. But there was a surprisingly emotional story between the villainous Gru and the three children he adopts – especially Margo, the eldest. I can finally understand why the film has spawned four sequels, fifteen shorts, and a whole range of merchandise!

Film #3:
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

The Final Frontier has a number of issues that I’m sure most of you will be aware of. It arguably suffered from a little too much involvement from William Shatner, who sought to put Captain Kirk at the centre of the story at the expense of others. But The Final Frontier has some truly great character moments, including one of the final times that Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy would be together before The Undiscovered Country brought an end to Star Trek’s original era.

The film has some truly funny moments, too: the scene where Uhura catches Chekov and Sulu pretending to be caught in a storm being one, and Scotty’s moment of slapstick being another that never fails to win a chuckle. The Undiscovered Country was a great send-off for Star Trek’s original crew, but it was quite a heavy film with a lot of tense moments and high-octane action. The Final Frontier brings more light-hearted moments to the table, and that’s something I can appreciate when I’m in the right mood.

There are some exciting sequences too, though. The shuttle crash is a very tense and dramatic moment, and the final confrontation with the entity at the centre of the galaxy, while silly in some respects, does succeed at hitting at least some of those same dramatic highs. Though I wouldn’t suggest that The Final Frontier is anywhere near the best that Star Trek has to offer, it’s well worth a watch from time to time.

Game #1:
Control (2019)

Though hardly an “old” game, I missed Control when it was released in 2019. It had been on my list for a couple of years, and I was pleased to finally get around to playing it this year. The game had a far creepier atmosphere than I’d been expecting, with protagonist Jesse having to battle an unseen enemy called the Hiss.

One thing I really admire about Control is the way it made incredibly creative use of some fairly plain environments. The entire game takes place in what’s essentially a glorified office building, and rows of cubicles or the janitor’s workspace could, in other games, come across as feeling bland and uninspired. But Control leans into this, using the environments as a strength, juxtaposing them with incredibly weird goings-on at the Bureau of Control.

I also liked that, for the first time in years, we got full-motion video sequences in a game! FMV was a fad in gaming in the early/mid-1990s I guess, primarily on PC, and titles like Command and Conquer and Star Trek: Starfleet Academy made use of it. It had been years since I played a game with FMV elements, and it worked exceptionally well in Control – as well as being a completely unexpected blast of nostalgia!

Game #2:
Super Mario 64 (1996)

Despite the serious limitations of Super Mario 3D All-Stars on the Nintendo Switch, which I picked up last year, I can’t deny that it’s been fun to return to Super Mario 64. One of the first fully 3D games I ever played, Super Mario 64 felt like the future in the late ’90s, and even some titles released this year, such as Kena: Bridge of Spirits, owe parts of their 3D platforming to the pioneering work that Nintendo did with this game.

Super Mario 64 is and always has been good, solid fun. There doesn’t need to be an in-depth, complex story driving Mario forward to collect stars, because the game’s levels and bosses are all so incredibly cleverly-designed. Jumping in and out of different painting worlds is relatively quick and feels great, and the sheer diversity of environments is still noteworthy in 2021. Mario goes on a journey that takes him through snowy mountains, a sunken shipwreck, sunlit plains, cities, clouds, and more.

I can’t in good conscience recommend Super Mario 3D All-Stars. The way these games have been adapted for Nintendo Switch isn’t worth the asking price. But even so, going back to Super Mario 64 has been one of my favourite parts of 2021, a chance to reconnect with a game I played and loved on the Nintendo 64. If you’ve never played it, track down a copy and give it a go. You won’t regret it.

Game #3:
Red Dead Redemption II (2018)

I’d been meaning to get around to Red Dead Redemption II for three years – but I’d always found a reason not to pick it up (usually it was too expensive!) It took forever to download on my painfully slow internet connection, but it was well worth the wait. I’ve had a fascination with America in the 19th Century for as long as I can remember – I guess partly inspired by playground games of “the wild west” that were fairly common when I was young. I even had a cowboy hat, toy gun, and “Davy Crockett” hat when I was a kid!

Red Dead Redemption II transported me to that world in a way that I genuinely did not think was possible. Films and TV shows can do a great job at pulling you in and getting you lost in a fictional world, but the interactive element of video games can add to that immersion – something that was absolutely the case with Red Dead Redemption II. The amount of detail in the game’s characters and open-world environments is staggering, and having finally experienced it for myself I can absolutely understand why people hail this game as a “masterpiece.”

I wasn’t prepared for the many emotional gut-punches that Red Dead Redemption II had in store. In many ways the game tells a bleak and even depressing story, one with betrayal, death, and many examples of the absolute worst of humanity. But every once in a while there are some incredibly beautiful moments too, where characters sit together, sing, play, and revel in their bonds of friendship. Red Dead Redemption II gave me the wild west outlaw fantasy that my younger self could have only dreamed of!

TV series #1:
Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-69)

I’ve re-watched quite a lot of The Original Series this year, probably more episodes than I’d seen in the past few years. Because of its episodic nature, it’s easy to dip in and out of The Original Series, firing up an episode or two to spend an hour with Captain Kirk and the crew without feeling the need to commit to an entire season of television.

The Original Series started it all for Trekkies, and I’m always so pleased to see that modern Star Trek hasn’t lost sight of that. In this year’s episodes of Lower Decks and Discovery we’ve gotten many references and callbacks to Star Trek’s first series, keeping the show alive and relevant as we celebrated its fifty-fifth anniversary – and the centenary of its creator, Gene Roddenberry.

Though dated in some ways, many of the themes and metaphors present in The Original Series are still relevant today. Society has changed since the 1960s, but in some areas we’re still fighting the same or similar fights for acceptance, for equality, and so on. The Star Trek franchise has always had a lot to say about that, being in some ways a mirror of society and in others depicting a vision of a more enlightened, optimistic future.

TV series #2:
Fortitude (2015-18)

I went back to re-watch Fortitude this year, for the first time since its original run. The series starts very slowly, seeming at first to be little more than a murder-mystery in a different setting. But it builds up over the course of its first season into something truly unexpected, crossing over into moments of political thriller, action, and even horror.

There are some truly shocking and gruesome moments in Fortitude, and it can be a harrowing watch in places. But it’s riveting at the same time, and I managed to get hooked all over again by the complex characters, the mysteries and conspiracies, and the bleak but beautiful arctic environment.

Fortitude featured some star names among its cast, including Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, and Dennis Quaid – the second-most-famous Dennis to be featured on this website! Although it was fun to watch it weekly during its original run, Fortitude is definitely a show that can be enjoyed on a binge!

TV series #3:
Family Guy (1999-Present)

Family Guy’s sense of humour sometimes runs aground for me, dragging out jokes too long or failing to pay off neat setups with decent punchlines. But with the full series (up to midway through Season 20 at time of writing) available on Disney+, I’ve found myself putting it on in the background a lot this year. The short runtime of episodes, the lightheartedness, and the way many of the jokes are often disconnected from whatever nonsense plot the episodes have going on all come together to make it something I can dip in and out of while doing other things.

There are some insensitive jokes, and some entire storylines in earlier episodes have aged rather poorly. But Family Guy seldom strikes me as a show punching down; it satirises and pokes fun at many different groups. In that sense it’s kind of halfway between The Simpsons and South Park; the former being more sanitised and family-friendly, the latter being edgier and meaner.

I rarely sit down and think “gosh, I must watch the latest Family Guy episode.” But if I’m in need of background noise or something to fill up twenty minutes, I find I’ll happily log into Disney+ and put on an episode or two.

So that’s it.

There have been some great films, games, and television shows that were released in 2021. But there were also plenty of entertainment experiences from years past that, in different ways, brightened my year. As we gear up for New Year and for everyone’s end-of-year top-ten lists, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday, or just a relaxing day yesterday! I did consider writing something to mark the day, but I found that I had remarkably little to say that was different from the piece I wrote last year. 2021 has been “2020 II” in so many respects, unfortunately. However, unlike last Christmas I will be able to visit with some family members – I’ll be seeing my sister and brother-in-law later this week, which will be a nice treat! So here’s to 2021’s entertainment experiences – and as we enter the new year, it’s worth keeping in mind that we don’t only have to watch and play the latest and newest ones!

All titles on the list above are the copyright of their respective broadcaster, distributor, developer, network, publisher, studio, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five television shows that ended too soon

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

A few days ago I put together a list of five television shows that ran too long. This is the counterpoint to that list, because today we’re going to look at five television shows that ended too soon! As I said last time, I’d always rather be in a position of lamenting a show cancelled before its time rather than feeling a series dragged on too long and ran out of fun material. As we’ve recently seen with Game of Thrones, a bad ending can sour audiences on the entire show, and even shows that started off great can be a chore to go back and re-watch if they got worse as time went on.

So speaking for myself, I find it better for a show to end too soon, while it’s still good, rather than run and run until storylines are exhausted and the show becomes a shadow of its former self. But that doesn’t mean seeing a favourite series unceremoniously cancelled is a nice feeling! All of the shows we’re going to look at today had potential to be so much more than they were, if only they’d been able to run for at least one more season apiece.

Game of Thrones didn’t drag on too long, but its disappointing ending means going back to re-watch it isn’t something I’m keen on at the moment.

There can be different reasons why it feels like a show ended before its time. In some cases it’s obvious – a major storyline unresolved, mysteries still unexplained, and a narrative unfinished. Some of the shows on this list fall into exactly this category. But other shows conclude having generally wrapped up most of their narrative elements and after resolving character arcs and points of drama, yet still the feeling of wanting more can persist.

As always, this is just one person’s opinion. If you disagree, or if you think these shows ended at just the right time, that’s great! We’re all entitled to our opinions about entertainment and media, and if my opinion doesn’t align with yours this time, that’s okay! So without further ado, let’s take a look at my picks.

Number 1: Terra Nova (2011)

Promo poster for Terra Nova.

Terra Nova began with a very interesting premise – the discovery of a wormhole-like singularity that allowed humans to travel to the distant past and establish a colony. The 22nd Century, when part of the series is set, was nightmarish and dystopian due to overpopulation and pollution, which is what drove protagonist Jim and his family to make the dangerous journey back in time.

I mentioned Terra Nova last time, and it was only when I thought about the show again – ten years after its cancellation – that I considered putting together this list! As with other entries on the list, lower than expected viewing figures almost certainly explains the show’s premature cancellation. Perhaps we can blame that on the shift in viewing platforms in the early 2010s away from broadcast television toward streaming, but even so perhaps Terra Nova’s premise was just too niche for mainstream audiences.

Stephen Lang as Nathaniel Taylor in Terra Nova.

What I liked about Terra Nova is the creativity in its premise. Not only was there some kind of conspiracy tied to the faction operating the time-wormhole, but events at the colony were unpredictable as well, with a renegade faction battling the established leadership. In addition, Terra Nova introduced new fictional species of dinosaurs to its prehistoric setting, something that the Jurassic Park franchise wouldn’t do for another four years!

Terra Nova ended on a very strange and tantalising cliffhanger, but with its cancellation, that story was never resolved on screen. In a half-hearted effort to reach out to fans of the series, the DVD box set came with a “make your own motion comic” feature, allowing fans to download some artwork to make up their own continuations – but by all accounts, the motion comic was pretty limited in its options. Thus the Terra Nova story ended in disappointing fashion, despite showing promise. It’s worth a watch if you’re interested in sci-fi and dinosaurs, but if you do sit down to watch the only season of the show, just be aware that its story was never finished.

Number 2: Space Precinct (1994-95)

The opening title of Space Precinct.

Gerry Anderson is renowned among a certain subset of sci-fi fans – most of whom are probably British – for creating shows like Space: 1999, as well as “supermarionation” (i.e. filmed with puppets) kids shows Thunderbirds, Stingray, and Captain Scarlet – all of which were mainstays of my childhood television viewing! In the mid-1980s, Anderson began working on the concept that would eventually become Space Precinct – a police procedural show set in space.

Space Precinct is set in the year 2040 – which means, in 2021, that we’re closer to when it was set than when it was made! Just in case you didn’t feel old enough already! Main protagonist Patrick Brogan transfers from the New York City police force to a role in the Demeter City police on the planet Altor – a kind of “space ’90s New York” complete with rampant crime and corruption!

Captain Podly – a Creon. The design of both the aliens and costumes in Space Precinct were unique and fun, and while arguably “of their time” I think they still look pretty good today!

What I appreciated about Space Precinct when I watched it in the mid-1990s was the blend of sci-fi and policing. Almost every episode could have been, with a few tweaks and a few less aliens, part of a modern-day police procedural, and that gave it a unique selling point. The show had some wonderful alien designs, realised with physical prosthetics for the most part, and the way aliens like the Creons and Tarns were created could have become iconic.

Sadly, Space Precinct only got a single season before it was cancelled – allegedly due to poor viewing figures in the United States. Sky and the BBC, who broadcast the show here in the UK, invested a decent amount of money in the project, and I remember collecting a number of action figures based on the main characters – though goodness only knows where they are now! It’s still possible to pick up the series on DVD, and if you can find it it’s well worth a watch, and easily holds up when compared to other early/mid-90s sci-fi fare. Oh, and it has a great theme tune!

Number 3: Firefly (2002)

Promo photo showing the cast of Firefly.

No list of prematurely cancelled shows would be complete without Firefly. A truly bizarre decision on the part of schedulers and executives at American broadcaster Fox saw Firefly’s first few episodes aired out of order. Though the show does have episodic elements, some storylines work far better when viewed in the correct order, and that may be one reason why the show failed to connect with audiences first time around. Rather than give it time or make another attempt, Fox cancelled the series before the first season had even concluded.

Firefly was a fascinating mix of sci-fi and western, with a far greater western emphasis than the likes of Star Trek and Star Wars. It had a fun cast of characters and the excellent writing was backed up by some beautiful world-building, leading to the world of Firefly feeling genuinely real in a way few franchises ever manage to pull off. It was such a shame that it didn’t get a fair shake from its broadcaster and original audience.

Nathan Fillion as Mal in Firefly.

I only encountered the series a couple of years after it went off the air, when a colleague recommended it to me. Like many folks, I discovered Firefly thanks to the DVD box set, and even though I knew going in that the series had no ending, it was still disappointing to reach the final episode and have to leave Mal and his crew with no conclusion.

As you may know, however, a fan campaign succeeded in reviving Firefly for a one-off film. 2005’s Serenity wrapped up the story in a bittersweet way. Considering the original plan was for a seven-season run, one season plus a feature film still leaves me feeling short-changed, even if the film was a solid conclusion to the original characters’ stories. So far, the world of Firefly has never been revisited – but I truly feel there’s scope to do so. A spin-off or a show set in the same universe would make for a wonderful addition to Disney+ – and I believe that The Walt Disney Company will own the rights to the show following their acquisition of large parts of Fox. Will it ever happen? Doubtful, but a fan can dream!

Number 4: Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-05)

The Season 1 cast of Star Trek: Enterprise.

It wouldn’t be one of my lists without at least some Star Trek, right? Unlike other entries on this list, Enterprise managed a decent run at four full seasons and just shy of 100 episodes. And also unlike the other shows we’ve talked about, I actually fully understand the decision to cancel it. By 2005, Star Trek had been in continuous production for almost twenty years – longer, if we trace production back to the films as well as television shows. And there was a sense that audiences were beginning to get burnt out after four television shows and six films.

Enterprise had been threatened with cancellation going back to at least its second season, but had managed to survive two prior cancellation scares. However, its fourth season would turn out to be its last. Because we’ve subsequently learned about potential storylines for the unproduced Season 5, I think Enterprise warrants a place on this list – because it sounds like a season of television I’d have loved to see!

The NX-01 Enterprise.

According to some of the production staff who have been interviewed in the years since Enterprise went off the air, Season 5 would have focused on the Earth-Romulan War, a conflict first mentioned in The Original Series. And if we look at some of the events in Season 4, notably the trio of episodes The Forge, Awakening, and Kir’Shara, we can see what could be argued to be the beginnings of a Romulan storyline in the show.

I’ve explained previously that I wasn’t a huge Enterprise fan during its original run, only tuning in sporadically. But despite that, Enterprise’s cancellation struck a raw nerve in 2005, and it seemed for a time that Star Trek was dead and never coming back. Ultimately, though, Enterprise being cancelled led to a reimagining of the franchise, culminating in Discovery, Picard, and the other shows and films we’re enjoying currently. So while I can say I regret not seeing this unproduced Earth-Romulan War story in Season 5 of Enterprise, things worked out alright for Star Trek in the end!

Number 5: FlashForward (2009-10)

Title card for FlashForward.

FlashForward had a unique premise, one which took sci-fi and time travel concepts but mixed them up in a way I had never really seen before. The basic premise was that practically everyone on Earth lost consciousness at the same moment and experienced the titular “flash forward” – with everyone seeing what appeared to be a vision of their lives around six months in the future. The show follows a team of FBI agents as they try to unravel the mysterious event.

I’d really never seen anything quite like FlashForward, which I watched at the behest of my partner at the time. We got very into the series when it was running, and we were both disappointed to learn it had been cancelled. The first and only season of the show ended on a cliffhanger, with a second “flash forward” event taking place.

Peyton List in FlashForward.

FlashForward had a great cast, including John Cho (Sulu in the Kelvin films) and Peyton List (Rizzo in Picard Season 1). It was a well-financed production with great special effects and set designs to compliment its exciting premise, and felt like a show that was headed for success. At the time, around the turn of the last decade, shows like Fringe and Lost were showing that sci-fi shows with different and unique settings could be a success – but sadly, FlashForward was only given a single season.

Initially a ratings hit for network ABC, FlashForward saw a big drop in viewership as its season rolled on, and its this decline that led to it being axed. Unfortunately the story was already set and the final episodes had already been filmed, meaning there was no way to conclude the story.

So that’s it. Five shows that ended too soon to stand in contrast to the other list of five shows that outstayed their welcome!

Season 33 of The Simpsons is coming up later this year, while most of the shows listed above only managed one season. Life is so unfair sometimes!

Though it’s always better for a series to end on a high note leaving fans clamouring for more, rather than running too long and seeing a decline, the entries on this list were cancelled prematurely. Television executives always seem very quick to pull the plug on an underperforming series, even when there seems to be genuine potential for a revival.

Most television shows take at least a full season to establish themselves. It takes time for actors to get to know their co-stars, for audiences to familiarise themselves with aspects of the story and setting, and thus it’s often not until a show hits its second or even third season before everything falls into place. Some executives don’t allow that to happen, which is a shame. And sadly we’ve begun to see this attitude spill over to streaming services, with Netflix in particular killing off several of its own shows while they were still very popular with fans. Hopefully it’s a trend that will decline as audiences find new ways to access entertainment and media – but I’m not holding my breath!

I enjoyed all of the shows on this list, but sadly that enjoyment is tinged with at least a little disappointment at the stories we never got to see, or the mysteries left unresolved. While I can heartily recommend all five, that recommendation has to come with a caveat as a result of their being cut short.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective network, broadcaster, studio, and/or distributor. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Inappropriate things to watch while self-isolating

Depending on where you are in the world, you may have been suggested, requested, or outright forced into self-isolation as a result of coronavirus. I’m one of the people you’re keeping safe by self-isolating – I have a fairly complicated set of health issues, several of which tick the boxes for putting me at greater risk from the illness. So thank you for helping to keep me safe, I appreciate it!

But being stuck at home is awful if you aren’t used to it, so as a way of saying thanks for staying indoors and limiting the spread of this disease, here are a few television series and films that would make for highly inappropriate quarantine viewing.

Spoiler Warning: There may be spoilers ahead for the titles on this list. If you haven’t seen one and want to be certain of avoiding spoilers, skip ahead to the next entry just to be safe.

Film #1: Contagion (2011)

Bodies being buried in mass graves in Contagion.

Contagion takes a realistic approach to a global pandemic, focusing on the doctors and scientists leading the response and trying to find a cure. It demonstrates how a pandemic can easily get out of control, and how those tasked with leading the response can be just as in the dark as everyone else in the early stages of an outbreak. There’s a great performance from Lawrence Fishburne in particular.

Film #2: I Am Legend (2007)

Will Smith in I Am Legend.

A scientist attempting to find a cure for cancer accidentally releases a pathogen which kills more than 90% of the world’s population and turns almost all of the rest into zombie-like creatures. Dedicated to his research, he stays in an eerily abandoned New York City trying to reverse the effects. I Am Legend is, in parts, a very emotional film, and its ending, while deliberately ambiguous, seems to suggest that the zombies were a lot more “human” than they were given credit for.

Film #3: 28 Days Later (2002)

London is deserted in 28 Days Later.

A man wakes up from a coma in a hospital to find it deserted and the world outside ravaged by zombies. No, this isn’t television’s The Walking Dead, but it’s 28 Days Later, a film directed by Danny Boyle. Set in the UK in the aftermath of a virus called “rage” that turns people into living zombies, a small group of survivors look to escape London and find safety.

Film #4: World War Z (2013)

Brad Pitt in World War Z.

This Brad Pitt-led film gets somewhat of a bad rap, perhaps because it was so different from its source material. As a zombie infection begins to spread, a scientist must travel across the world in search of a cure. Things get progressively worse as society collapses around him.

Film #5: The Road (2009)

Father and son share a drink in The Road.

Not specifically about a virus – though that could perhaps be the cause of The Road’s unspecified disaster – this film focuses on a father and son as they try to survive in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event. A strongly character-driven story looking at a dark, gritty post-apocalyptic environment where people will do anything to survive, it’s a fascinating, if depressing, film.

Film #6: The Shining (1980)

Jack Nicholson in one of cinema’s most iconic scenes.

What better to watch when stuck in place with no one to talk to than a film about a man being driven insane by being stuck in place with no one to talk to? This adaptation of the Steven King novel is a classic, and one of Jack Nicholson’s most legendary performances. It recently spawned a sequel – Doctor Sleep – but that film didn’t seem to have recaptured the magic.

Film #7: The Purge (2013)

Masked attackers terrorise a family in The Purge.

If you want to torture yourself with fears about being burgled and having your home broken into in these days of a supposedly limited police response to what they deem “less-important” crimes, why not check out 2013’s The Purge? In an America which has solved crime by legalising crimes for one night of the year, the film sees a family hunker down in their home as criminals try to break in. Can they survive the night?

Film #8: The Hole (2001)

Teenagers trapped underground in The Hole.

A group of teenagers end up locked in an underground bunker after a party goes wrong. They begin to run out of food and medicine while trapped, unable to leave the “hole” – they should’ve stockpiled toilet paper and pasta. A deeply claustrophobic film, The Hole is perfect quarantine viewing!

Television series #1: Survivors (2008)

Abby wakes up in a post-apocalyptic world in Survivors.

A small group of people must survive in a post-apocalyptic UK, after a disease has ravaged the world and killed the vast majority of the population. The disparate group must pull together to overcome obstacles in the world the virus has left behind, and contend with people who become incredibly selfish in the face of survival. As a show that examines the duality of human nature in the face of disaster, Survivors is a fascinating look at the post-apocalypse.

Television series #2: The Andromeda Strain (2008)

A dead body in The Andromeda Strain.

A loose adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel, The Andromeda Strain is a miniseries which looks at a disease that comes from space – an extraterrestrial microbe. Naturally humanity has no immunity or resistance to the infection, as it comes from space, and it quickly spreads through an American town. Primarily focused on the government response, the miniseries looks at how a situation can spiral out of control.

Television series #3: The Last Ship (2014)

The USS Nathan James in The Last Ship.

This show made my list of the top ten shows of the 2010s a few months ago, and for good reason. It’s a fascinating look at survival and rebuilding in a global pandemic. The action is focused on the crew of the USS Nathan James, a US Navy ship which is tasked with researching and curing a disease called the “red flu”. During Season 1, it becomes clear to the crew that the virus is far worse than they imagined and that society is on the precipice of collapse. Along with lone virologist Dr Rachel Scott, Capt. Chandler and his crew race to find a cure before it’s too late for humanity’s remaining survivors, but they must contend with a Russian ship which is also researching the disease. Later seasons introduce other antagonists, like the crew of a rogue submarine and pirates in East Asia, and look at how American society is slowly being rebuilt.

Television series #4: Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak (2019)

Title card for Pandemic.

I actually have a review for this series already posted on the blog – you can find it by clicking or tapping here. A documentary looking at various aspects of pandemic prevention, including attempts to synthesise a general cure for all kinds of flu, Pandemic is an interesting look at its subject matter – if somewhat politically slanted and limited by its focus on specific individuals. It attempts to be a broad overview of the subject matter, and although an incomplete picture, it is genuinely interesting.

Television series #5: The Stand (1994)

Gary Sinise in The Stand.

Based on a Steven King novel, this miniseries looks at the accidental release of a biological weapon based on influenza, which is rapidly spread across the United States. The disease has a massive death toll, leaving only a few survivors worldwide. The miniseries featured some great performances from actors who either were big stars already or who would go on to find further fame later on, like Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe, and Molly Ringwald.

Television series #6: Helix (2015)

Promotional image for Helix.

Helix is one of those shows that starts off great but gets progressively worse as its story progresses. At a remote research station in the Arctic, a disease has infected a number of scientists and workers. A team from the CDC is dispatched to bring the infection under control, and the plot then spirals into a zombie story, a family drama, and a global conspiracy of silver-eyed immortals. Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager) guest stars, and the cast is led by Star Trek: The Next Generation guest star William O. Campbell.

Television series #7: The Strain (2014)

One of The Strain’s vampires.

The way this vampire story unfolds – particularly in its first few episodes – focuses very much on how the infection spreads from one “master” vampire to everyone else. Focusing on a CDC doctor in New York City, this show has a great cast – including David Bradley, whose performance is outstanding – and is a fun bit of fantasy-horror in a modern setting.

Television series #8: Twelve Monkeys (2015)

Title card for Twelve Monkeys.

Based on a film from the 1990s, Twelve Monkeys is a time-travel series that starts off with a fascinating premise: a man must travel to the present day from a future where a deliberately-released disease has killed off most of humanity. Over the course of the first season, the time-traveller unites with a doctor from our time to track down the source of the virus. Later seasons go off the rails and stop looking at the disease, focusing on a conspiracy to destroy time itself(?) at which point I stopped watching. But the first season in particular is outstanding and thoroughly worth a watch.

Video game #1: The Last Of Us (2013)

Promotional image for The Last Of Us.

Another one of my top tens of the 2010s, this time in the video games category, The Last Of Us is essentially a road trip that sees a man escort a young girl across America, twenty years after a fungus-based disease brought down society. In a few secure locations, some semblance of the American government still exists, but for the most part it’s everyone for themselves out in the wilderness. There are some beautiful locations for players to explore – even though the game was released on last generation’s PlayStation 3. And not to spoil anything, but the final act of the game is incredibly emotional and a great example of a videogame telling a story that would be just as at home on the big or small screen.

Video game #2: Plague Inc. (2012)

Promotional screenshot for Plague Inc.

Now available for PC, this game started on smartphones just at the right time, when phones were taking off and becoming a legitimate gaming platform. Rather than taking on the role of humans facing a disease, Plague Inc. sees players take on the role of the disease itself. There are various types from viruses to bacteria to fungal spores, and diseases must be upgraded in order to achieve the goal of wiping out humanity. Striking the right balance between being sufficiently contagious, able to remain undetected, severe enough to cause mass deaths, and able to adapt to and outsmart human researchers is no easy challenge – so be prepared for a lot of defeats before you’re finally able to get your version of coronavirus to kill everyone.

Star Trek has looked at diseases, quarantines, and issues surrounding isolation at many points in its history, so as an addendum to the main list, here are a few episodes from various iterations of the Star Trek franchise which would also make for inappropriate self-isolation viewing!

Star Trek episode #1: The Conscience of the King (The Original Series, 1966)

Kirk must solve the riddle of this man’s identity.

Years before he assumed command of the Enterprise, Captain Kirk was resident on a colony which ran out of food. In an attempt to save lives, the colony’s governor condemned half of the population to death so that the remaining food could be rationed among the other half – those he deemed worthy of survival. When a man beams aboard the Enterprise who may be the tyrannical governor, Kirk must put the pieces together.

Star Trek episode #2: The Deadly Years (The Original Series, 1967)

A terrified Chekov in The Deadly Years.

Several senior Enterprise crew members are afflicted with a disease which causes rapid ageing. Dr McCoy and his medical staff must try to find a cure – before it’s too late! Not even Spock is immune, and it seems as though the ship and its entire crew are in danger.

Star Trek episode #3: Starship Mine (The Next Generation, 1993)

Picard talks to the mercenaries in Starship Mine.

Trapped alone aboard a deserted Enterprise-D, Picard must contend with intruders set on stealing a byproduct of the ship’s warp drive. Without any of his friends or crew to help, Picard must outsmart the mercenaries using only what he can find on the deserted ship. Starship Mine is actually one of my favourite episodes of The Next Generation.

Star Trek episode #4: Genesis (The Next Generation, 1994)

Barclay attempts to diagnose himself, kicking off the events of Genesis.

An attempt to cure a case of the flu goes horribly wrong, resulting in the “de-evolution” of the Enterprise-D’s crew into various inhuman monsters. Picard and the immune Data must synthesise an antidote before it’s too late!

Star Trek episode #5: Armageddon Game (Deep Space Nine, 1994)

Chief O’Brien is in a bad way in Armageddon Game.

Infected with a biological weapon, O’Brien is dying and trapped in hostile territory with Dr Bashir. This episode would mark a major milestone in the friendship of these two characters, whose relationship would be a significant factor in later seasons of Deep Space Nine.

Star Trek episode #6: The Quickening (Deep Space Nine, 1996)

Dax and Bashir work on a cure.

The Dominion used a biological weapon (the titular “quickening”) to punish a wayward planet. Dr Bashir attempts to find a cure for the disease, which can cause rapid death, in an episode which was an interesting look at how doctors cope with an “unwinnable” situation.

Star Trek episode #7: Phage (Voyager, 1995)

Tom Paris and The Doctor work to help Neelix in Phage.

Voyager encounters the Vidiians, a species suffering from a centuries-long plague which causes their bodies to rot. They survive by becoming pirates, capturing others and stealing body parts to replace their own disease-ravaged ones. The Phage would crop up several times in Voyager, and despite the best efforts of the crew they never managed to find a cure.

Star Trek episode #8: Year of Hell, Parts 1 & 2 (Voyager, 1997)

The USS Voyager suffers extensive damage in the two-part episode Year of Hell.

A time-travel story in which the Voyager crew see their ship constantly attacked and running out of energy and resources. Crew members die and become maimed, the ship falls apart and whole sections become uninhabitable, and resources dwindle to the point where Capt. Janeway gives the order to abandon ship.

Star Trek episode #9: A Night in Sickbay (Enterprise, 2002)

Porthos in A Night In Sickbay.

Capt. Archer’s beloved pet dog becomes ill with an alien virus, and he spends a tense night in sickbay with Dr Phlox as they wait to see whether Porthos will pull through. A Night in Sickbay is a surprisingly emotional episode that any pet owner can relate to.

Star Trek episode #10: Observer Effect (Enterprise, 2005)

Sato and Tucker suffering from the effects of a virus.

Sato and Tucker are infected with a silicon-based virus in this Enterprise episode, while the crew are being observed by a noncorporeal race who want to see if they can figure out a cure in time. Observer Effect served as a semi-prequel to The Original Series episode Errand of Mercy, featuring the same alien race.

So that’s it. I hope we can all stay safe and well during these strange times, and if you are told to stay at home please follow the instructions of the authorities in your local area. I know it can be frustrating and that “cabin fever” is a real sensation, but if we all comply we’ll all come out the other side and life can get back to normal.

Staying at home isn’t just for your own selfish benefit – it helps people like me, who have health issues and would be more likely to suffer complications from coronavirus. It also helps doctors, hospitals, and healthcare providers to not become overwhelmed with tens of thousands of cases all at once. I’ve seen lots of people, including in some major national newspapers, arguing that because coronavirus is “not that bad” that everyone should just carry on as normal. And while we should all certainly be avoiding panic-buying, things cannot carry on as normal, at least not in the short-term. By staying in, avoiding as much contact with people as possible, and maintaining a high level of hygiene, we can slow the spread of the disease which will relieve the pressure on hospitals and allow more time for the development of a vaccine. Staying at home isn’t actually all that difficult, especially with YouTube, Netflix, Disney+, digital videogame platforms, hundreds of television channels, and the entire internet providing us with so much to do.

If none of the shows, films, or episodes I’ve semi-jokingly listed seem like something you’re interested in, then stay tuned because I’ll be bringing you more lists and reviews of things to watch while you’re stuck indoors. Once again, I urge all of my readers to follow local advice and requirements, and do what you’re told to avoid making things worse and inadvertently spreading this nasty disease to others.

Stay safe everyone!

All episodes, games, television series, and films listed above are the copyright of their respective studios, publishers, distributors, producers, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.