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Shows to watch while social distancing that aren’t comforting at all

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There are comfortwatches aplenty to wrap around yourself like a Slanket in this time of social distancing. Throw on your favourite SchurVerse sitcom for an entire weekend, keep it wholesome with every PG rom com you can find, or finally watch The Good Wife or The West Wing, which technically counts as a fantasy series these days. Or go to the other end of the spectrum, and opt for gory catharsis and controlled tension with a horror film.

But at some point, you may find yourself sick of comfort, yet also too tense to watch the news. Perhaps it’s starting to feel weird to disappear into cosy or fantastical worlds when outside feels like a movie you can’t turn off. Or maybe you perversely want to pick at your barely suppressed existential panic like a scab. It’s OK! There’s honestly no right way to react to all this! (As long as you stay inside, wash your hands, and take care of your mental health as best you can.)

So for those times when you really just want to lean all the way into this moment, here are some of the least comforting, most stressful, and decidedly too-close-to-home things you can stream right now 

Contagion

10 things to watch while social distancing that aren’t comforting at all

Image: Warner Bros / Kobal / Shutterstock

I mean, duh. No, you don’t have to watch it. But you can! 

Steven Soderbergh’s matter-of-fact, star-studded Contagion is just one of the pandemic-themed entertainments people have been embracing over the last weeks and months, but it’s probably the most relevant to our current situation. 

The disease in this film is far more deadly than we currently know COVID-19 to be, but it’s perversely satisfying to hear newly familiar phrases like “social distancing” and “R-0” thrown around, watch the grim competence at work behind the scenes of this fictional pandemic, and wonder how far off we are from full-on supermarket looting. 

For extra germy goodness, you can of course seek out classics like Outbreak, The Andromeda Strain, or ebola docudrama The Hot Zone.

Where to watch: Amazon

Chernobyl

10 things to watch while social distancing that aren’t comforting at all

From China to Trump, government denial and downplaying of the coronavirus outbreak has been compared to the badly bungled Soviet response to the Chernobyl disaster. Thanks to HBO’s nerve-shredding 2019 miniseries, the lethal secrecy and bureaucratic hubris of the Kremlin’s response, and its preference for face-saving over life-saving that filtered all the way down through to local officials, were laid bare for a new generation. 

Not only is it a story about an invisible, deadly threat, and the kind of TV that demands words like “unflinching,” “harrowing,” “visceral,” and “oh god why can’t I stop watching this”, it’s also just incredibly good: heartbreaking performances across the board, a pitch-black seam of grim humour, and a score by the now Hildur Guðnadóttir.

Where to watch: HBO

Children of Men

10 things to watch while social distancing that aren’t comforting at all

Image: Jaap Buitendijk / Universal / Uip / Kobal / Shutterstock

Children of Men is a devastatingly tense near-future dystopia that’s all the more effective because it’s such a recognisable extrapolation of our own. We’ve now actually entered the decade in which Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 masterpiece is set — specifically, a version of 2027 where no babies have been born in 18 years. 

Where to watch: Amazon

Dead Set 

Before Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker created this short series imagining what would happen if the zombie apocalypse hit during a season of Big Brother. (There are actually at least four Big Brother seasons filming right now, and even without subtitles, watching the casts of the Brazilian and German versions find out about what’s going on out here is pretty intense.)

There’s some attempt at updated Romero-style ~social commentary~ about ’00s reality TV culture that feels a little dated now, but also an early-career Riz Ahmed (who apparently does not age). Most importantly, you, too, are cooped up inside, so embrace this version of cabin fever — and remember, this is Charlie Brooker, and he’s not known for copout feel-good storytelling.  

Where to watch: Netflix

28 Days Later

10 things to watch while social distancing that aren’t comforting at all

Image: Peter Mountain / Dna / 20th Century Fox / Kobal / Shutterstock

Really, any zombie media is a bit of a vibe right now — from Shaun of the Dead to World War Z to the whole Romero canon, you’ve got options if you want stories about some mysterious pathogen spreading amongst the populace, causing widespread chaos and bringing out the best and worst in humanity. But this one feels especially relevant, if only for the early scenes where Cillian Murphy finds himself wandering an eerily empty London that’s not far off reality.

Where to watch: Amazon

The Leftovers

10 things to watch while social distancing that aren’t comforting at all

In the midst of all the numbers and predictions being thrown about in coronavirus coverage, that mortality rate is one of the most misused. Saying that only one or two percent of the population would die from COVID-19 sounds not-that-bad until you actually do the maths. As this meditative, underrated Damon Lindelof show about grief and survivor’s guilt demonstrates, two percent of the population is a LOT. 

Ponder the future aftermath as you watch this impeccably acted prestige drama and sink further into your couch dent, weeping softly.

Where to watch: HBO

Doctor Strangelove

10 things to watch while social distancing that aren’t comforting at all

Image: Hawk Prod / Columbia / Kobal / Shutterstock

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and accept that the people in charge are just as chaotic, selfish and stupid as the people they’re in charge of.

If you’ve never seen this stone-cold classic, watching the real-time deliberations of people with access to big red buttons descend into farce is exactly the grim wallow you should dive into. 

Where to watch: Crackle

Snowpiercer

10 things to watch while social distancing that aren’t comforting at all

Image: Moviestore / Shutterstock

Bong Joon Ho’s pre-Parasite breakthrough (in the West) is a high-concept post-apocalyptic thriller about a train on an infinite track, housing all the humans alive, on a snow-covered, lifeless Earth. Poor folks are at the back eating protein cubes, rich people are up the front eating actual food, and one man (Chris Evans) finds himself making his way up carriage by carriage to discover just how unfair this system is. Between the cabin fever and the class war, this is definitely something to help you stay mad about, say, the unjust distribution of proper healthcare access — and also remind you that climate change is still a thing.

It’s also been made into a TV series, which premieres at the end of May. You don’t even need to watch anything to feel freaked out about what the world might look like in two months! Bonus!

Where to watch: Netflix

Years and Years 

10 things to watch while social distancing that aren’t comforting at all

Not even this forward-looking British series predicted a global pandemic. Years And Years follows an ordinary (though very privileged) British family through the 2020s, teasing out what might be next, and next after that, for a world already grappling with political populism (there’s Emma Thompson, the scariest she’s ever been as a “straight-talking” commentator turned politician), refugee crises, climate emergency, and technological advancements. 

While it’s great at showing how the small joys of life, love, and family keep sprouting up, even when the world keeps falling apart around you, watching its bleakly plausible predictions at the end of 2019 was almost corrosively stressful. Watching it now, when history has already diverted into distinctly different version of this already-dark timeline, might be better — or just stress you out more and remind you how much other bullshit we’ll still have to deal with whenever this is over. 

Where to watch: HBO

Avengers: Infinity War

10 things to watch while social distancing that aren’t comforting at all

Dr Fauci, I don’t feel so good.

For maximum bleakness, watch this, move straight onto Endgame, sit through the oppressive grief of the survivors and haunting images of a shut-down, decimated New York, then switch it off at the beginning of the rat scene. 

Where to watch: Disney+

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