100 things we watched, read and listened to


“Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda chats with USA TODAY’s Brian Truitt about homeschooling his 5-year-old, quarantine grocery shopping and more.


At this point in quarantine, it can feel like you’ve watched every single TV show Netflix has to offer. 

It’s been four months since the coronavirus pandemic upended daily life. In those long days indoors, many of us have spent vast amounts of time entertaining ourselves at home, which means we’re watching more TV, streaming more movies, blasting more music and reading more books. At least, it meant that for the USA TODAY Life staff, since we spend most of our time finding the best entertainment choices for our readers.  

To entertain a group of entertainment reporters, a movie, TV show, book, album or podcast has to be more than just good enough. It has to stand out from all the pop culture we spend our time reviewing and writing about. So here are 100 things that managed to divert and distract us from the news at a difficult time (and a few that fell decidedly flat). 

Civil rights activist Angela Davis is interviewed inside an abandoned train station for ‘The 13th.’ (Photo: Netflix )


1. “13th”: I was not prepared for the visceral reaction I had when I watched this Netflix documentary. Directed by Ava DuVernay, this powerful film tackles the history and policies that have produced the current prison boom in the United States, from the enactment of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, to the present day prison system where African Americans are unfairly over-represented. It is a must-watch film. -Mary Cadden

2. “American Psycho”: We’ve all been feeling a little “psycho” being locked up during stay-at-home orders, but nothing compares to the serial-killing tendencies of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a wealthy New York investment banker. -Jenna Ryu

3. “Athlete A”: I’m a former gymnast and a current journalist, so when those two worlds collide, I’m all in. This documentary, chronicling how the Indianapolis Star broke the story of systemic abuse at USA Gymnastics, is triumphant and gut-wrenching in equal measures. It speaks to the power of a free press and the ability of the human soul to overcome tragedy. -Alison Maxwell

4. “Bad Education”: A story of school administrators embezzling from a high-achieving, Long Island, N.Y., school system doesn’t sound like the most scintillating movie pitch, but Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney create compelling, entertaining characters in HBO’s darkly comic look at the corrupting effects of the American drive for success. -Bill Keveney

5. “Barry Lyndon”: A grievously underrated 1975 Stanley Kubrick masterpiece. I spent three full hours exclaiming, “Look at that depth of field!” and “It’s like a painting!” to an empty room. I am cool and all the boys like me. -Barbara VanDenburgh

6. Black-and-white movies: More time at home offers a chance to revisit film classics or finally get to ones you’ve heard about but haven’t seen. My random sampler includes: “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946), which poignantly depicts the toll war takes on the winning soldiers; “A Face in the Crowd” (1957), which offers a sharp-eyed, early look at the demagogic power of television; and Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” (1964), a dark comedy about nuclear self-destruction famed for Peter Sellers’ three-role tour de force. -B.K.

Matt Damon takes aim in ‘Jason Bourne.’ (Photo: Universal Pictures)

7. The “Bourne” film franchise: Matt Damon as an amnesiac spy with a devastating kill set delivers the thrills, even upon repeat watching. For a decidedly different action film set in Europe, try 1968’s “Where Eagles Dare,” an exciting if somewhat implausible World War II rescue adventure starring a fascinating duo: Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. -B.K.

8. “Braveheart”: July 4th weekend felt like a good time to conquer this three-hour event of a movie, which lived up to its campy, bloody and epic reputation. -Kelly Lawler

9. “Dark Waters”: A must watch for anyone who loves a legal thriller or a movie based on a true story, about chemical contamination of a small town. -Morgan Hines

10. “Disclosure”: Quarantine is an opportunity to educate oneself. The documentary, which counts Laverne Cox as an executive producer, traces transgender representation in TV and movies. -Erin Jensen

11. Disney animated movies (a lot of them): After several weekend days spent in the wonderful world of Disney+, I have the following assessments: The “Frozen” music is mostly terrible, the live-action “Lady and the Tramp” is wildly underrated and we should go back to the glory days of 90-minute animated musicals like “Mulan” and “Aladdin.” – K.L.

12. “Elf”: One day in lockdown, my pre-K daughter wanted to pretend it was Christmas. We decorated sugar cookies with red and green sprinkles, made Santa hats from construction paper and watched Will Ferrell prance around New York City in tights proclaiming, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” –Jennifer McClellan

13. “Emma”: Anya Taylor-Joy is perfectly cast as Emma, a wealthy youth with hubristic views on her matchmaking abilities. The chemistry between her and Johnny Flynn’s Mr. Knightley is undeniable and, like all great Jane Austen adaptations, peaks while they are dancing at a ball. -J.M.

14. “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”: If there was ever a time for a feel-good movie, it is now. And that movie is “Eurovision.” Inspired by the actual Eurovision song contest, and even featuring some of its past contestants and winners. The Netflix film is a perfect balance of sweet and slapstick. Stars Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams are everything.Well, almost everything. Dan Stevens steals quite a few scenes and there is, of course, the music of Abba. I laughed, I cried, I downloaded the film’s “Song a Long” and have it on constant repeat. -M.C.

15. “Hamilton”: Having never seen the stage production, I’d always regretted not being able to watch Daveed Diggs rap 6.5 words per second while jumping off a table during “Guns and Ships.” On Disney+, “Hamilton” was as good – if not better – than I expected. But it was the little things that stood out to me while watching the filmed performance of the Broadway musical: the use of the bullet as a character, that look on Leslie Odom’s face when he defiantly sings, “I am the one thing in life I can control” during “Wait for It.”  All in all, I’m satisfied. -Jayme Deerwester

16. “Her”:” Maybe watching a 2013 movie about a man falling in love with a Siri- or Alexa-like voice wasn’t the greatest idea during the height of quarantine and lack of human connection. But also, who cares? Get yourself some catharsis and watch a movie for which Joaquin Phoenix should’ve won an Oscar. -David Oliver

17. “Hitch”: I rewatched the 2005 Will Smith film during quarantine, and it remains my favorite rom-com. Enough said. -M.H.

18. “Inception”: Ten years after its release, I rewatched “Inception,” a movie I had never conceptually been able to understand until now (kind of). The 2010 Christopher Nolan film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, follows a corporate espionage plan to infiltrate the dreams of a competitor. -J.R.

19. James Bond movies: About halfway through an attempt to watch all of the Bond films, I mostly resent my parents for letting me watch “Austin Powers” before showing me what inspired the parody. -K.L.

20. Orson Welles films (other than “Citizen Kane”): If you like “Kane” (1941), often voted the greatest film of all time, don’t miss two other Welles-Joseph Cotten collaborations: as director and star in 1942’s “The Magnificent Ambersons” and as actors in 1949’s “The Third Man,” which has the added bonus of zither music! -B.K.

21. “Palm Springs”: Yes, the plot is just like Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day.” I don’t care. This winning comedy starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti was a treat on Hulu, after bypassing theaters. The pair had great chemistry and the movie was sweet, funny and sort of thought-provoking, too. -Gary Levin

22. “Showgirls”: I don’t know what it says about me that watching 1995’s “Showgirls” (streaming on HBO Max) for the first time has been a highlight of self-quarantine. I love a movie that’s so bad it’s good, and this is an all-timer of the genre. -B.V.

23. “The Surrogate”: This 2020 feature debut of filmmaker Jeremy Hersh tells a thought-provoking story of a woman (Jasmine Batchelor) who agrees to carry a child for her married gay friends, only to learn the fetus has Down Syndrome. It’s a complex and emotional film that deftly explores weighty issues of race, class and ability. -Patrick Ryan

TV shows

24. “13 Reasons Why”: I started this show back when it first made waves years ago, but after going back to the beginning and watching all four seasons during the pandemic, I highly recommend you don’t do the same (at least not when the world is already stressful enough). This Netflix series is packed with heavy and disturbing elements, so instead of providing an interesting escape, it turns into a depressing undertaking. -Sara Moniuszko 

25. “Better Call Saul”: With final-season production postponed by the pandemic, you’ve got time to catch up with AMC’s “Breaking Bad” prequel, which might be the best spinoff series ever. Bob Odenkirk is great in the title role, but Rhea Seehorn’s Emmy-worthy performance was the jewel of the just-concluded Season 5. -B.K.

26. “Big Little Lies”: I’m embarrassed to say it took me this long to watch HBO’s incredible miniseries. Although a lot of the plotlines and themes are heavy, the series provides the perfect binge option that will keep you hooked. (And the twists and turns may even help you escape from the world’s problems for a bit.) -S.M.

27. “Damages’’: Glenn Close and Rose Byrne are terrific in every season of FX’s legal thriller. -Dawn Gilbertson

28. “Dead to Me”: The Netflix series starring Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini will surely take you to the “Are you still watching?” screen. With twists and turns in every episode, we’re grateful they are renewing it for a third and final season. -Amy Haneline

29. “A Discovery of Witches”: Witches and vampires. Good and evil. Love and hate. Supernatural power struggles and scientific discovery. This Netflix  series (and book series on which it’s based) has it all (including Matthew Goode as a brooding, love-struck vampire). -J.M.

30. “Dispatches From Elsewhere”: Created by Jason Segel (“How I Met Your Mother”), AMC’s “Elsewhere” focuses on four diverse strangers, struggling through challenges in life, who unite to find magic in the world. It’s fantastical, surreal, mind-bending, and one of the few things that has made me smile during this dark time. –A.M.

31. “Doc McStuffins”: When you become a parent, your bingeing takes a turn. But we admittedly love watching Disney Channel’s confident Black doctor care for her toys even when we wish to never hear “time for a checkup, time for a checkup” ever again. -A.H. 

32. “Elementary”: I had always loved Sherlock Holmes-like detectives on shows like “Monk” and “Psych,” and enjoyed this CBS take on the most famous literary detective, played by Johnny Lee Miller. But the real reason I devoured all seven seasons  was Lucy Liu’s Watson. -K.L.

33. “Expecting Amy”: Anyone who loves Amy Schumer’s brand of honest comedy will enjoy this HBO Max docuseries, an unwatered-down recount of her difficult pregnancy, during which she suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, an extreme form of morning sickness, and attempted to tour and film a stand-up special. -E.J. 

34. “Felicity”: I adored J.J. Abrams’ college-set WB series, even if I was one of the fans who checked out after Felicity Porter’s (Keri Russell) ill-advised Season 2 haircut. Finally, I’m seeing this Felicity-Ben-Noel love triangle (Team Noel!) through to graduation. -Kim Willis

35. “Five Came Back”: This documentary series on Netflix highlights the work of five Hollywood directors who, at the top of their careers, joined the U.S. military during World War II to document the many facets of the war. Modern-day directors analyze both their predecessors and the films. It’s powerful on its own, and life-changing if paired with the documentary “Nazi Concentration Camps,” which shows some of the government-funded footage shot by the directors. -M.C.

A triplet trio evaluates an escape route on Netflix’s ‘Floor Is Lava.’ (Photo: Adam Rose, Netflix)

36. “Floor is Lava”: I started watching this Netflix competition show about an extreme version of the childhood obstacle game to be ironic, and now I can’t stop. -Hannah Yasharoff

37. “Friday Night Lights”: An NBC show that I watched only sporadically the first time around, this combo of sports and soap, which followed Buzz Bissinger’s book and a movie, won me over. -G.L.

38. “The Good Wife” and “The Good Fight” I rewatched “The Good Wife” and caught up on “The Good Fight,” and couldn’t help but fall in love all over again. Both are perfect ways to view how the world changed under both the Obama and Trump administrations, respectively – with smart writing and brilliant performances. Watching both series is like taking walks up and down a spiral staircase: Spinning around and around only to arrive somewhere new yet alarmingly familiar. -D.O.

39. “The Great British Baking Show” My favorite form of comfort TV is this quaint British series full of soggy bottoms and delectable treats. I watched all the streaming seasons in the first few weeks of quarantine. -K.L.

40. “Holey Moley” Come on. Sometimes, you just want to see a miniature-golf player knocked into the drink by a whirling windmill blade. If so, ABC has you covered. -B.K.

41. “Jane the Virgin’’: This CW series (streaming on Netflix) has long been on my to-watch list and I loved it, even the over-the-top antics of Rogelio de la Vega (Jaime Camil). -D.G.

42. “John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City”: John Mulaney’s performance in his Netflix stand-up special “Kid Gorgeous” is as close to a perfect routine as I’ve seen. -E.J.

43. “Justified”: I binge-watched six seasons of this FX gem on Hulu in less than a month, one of them in a single day. And now I desperately miss Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). -D.G.


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reviewed this book and it was the first that entirely held my attention. I was so enthralled by the plot that I woke up thinking about it at 3 a.m. after the first afternoon of reading. -M.H.

77. “Followers” by Megan Angelo: I came for the interesting premise of two women trying to game the social media influencer system; I stayed for the nail-biting commentary about the dangers of internet usage and the downsides to celebrity culture. -H.Y.

78. “Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression” by Studs Terkel: The current economic climate is stressful and I thought I might read up on a similar time – the Great Depression. I have heard stories from my parents, who were born into the Depression. They have passed, but I found a great deal of additional perspective from the late author and historian Terkel, who compiled a book of experiences from a cross section of people, both socially and economically diverse, who lived through that dramatic period of history. -M.C.

79. “How to Make a Plant Love You” by Summer Rayne Oakes: To supplement my quarantine gardening hobby, I picked up this highly recommended book on plant parenthood. More than a guide on how to not kill plants, the book ponders our relationship with nature, something I’ve been thinking about a lot from the confines of my apartment. -K.L.

80. “Know My Name” by Chanel Miller: Miller, the survivor in the Brock Turner rape case formerly known as Emily Doe, tells her empowering story about reclaiming her name and healing after surviving sexual assault. -J.R.

81. “Learn to Lucid Dream” by Dr. Kristen LaMarca: The internet has endless resources on how to lucid dream (should you be as interested as I am on the topic), but LaMarca’s book efficiently condenses all of the most effective practices into one book. So far, I’ve had two lucid dreams! -C.M.

82. “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara: Who knew someone could write 800+ pages of torture and never let up? A trigger warning disguised as a novel, this disturbing work is full of unrelenting trauma. I will discuss this book with you if you read it, for sure, but I can’t in good faith recommend it. To anyone. -D.O.

83. “The Long Call” by Ann Cleeves: In the North Devon-set novel, Detective Matthew Venn investigates a murder that hits close to home: One that could possibly involve the church community he turned his back on years ago or his beloved husband, with whom he has made a new life. A serious page-turner that keeps you guessing. -M.C.

84. “A Man Called Ove’’ by Fredrik Backman: I haven’t stopped recommending this beautiful book about a curmudgeon and his outgoing neighbors. -D.G.

“Normal People,” by Sally Rooney. (Photo: Hogarth)

85. “Normal People” and “Conversations With Friends” by Sally Rooney: After binge-watching and falling in love with Hulu’s “Normal People,” I went back to read the source material. I didn’t think I could love it more than the series, but I did. That prompted me to read Rooney’s earlier hit, “Friends,” which Hulu is also developing into a series. Book or series, Rooney’s meditations on the messiness of love will hook you. -A.M.

86. “Red, White and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston: The queer romantic comedy novel I wish I had as a kid. The president’s son and the Queen of England’s grandson falling (literally) into a forbidden romance? Don’t walk – run – to read this. Surprisingly steamy to boot. -D.O.

87. “The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company” by Robert Iger: I’m a Disney junkie, so I jump at the chance to learn about anything behind the scenes from the House of Mouse. In addition to providing an interesting look into Disney’s relationship with Pixar, Marvel and more, it has some great insight about how one of the world’s most recognizable CEOs got to where he is today. -H.Y.

88. Ruth Ware’s books: Ware is the contemporary queen of the psychological crime thriller. Here’s my ranking of the books from best to great: “The Death of Mrs. Westaway,” “The Lying Game,” “The Turn of the Key,” “The Woman in Cabin 10,” “In a Dark, Dark Wood.” -A.M.

89. “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo: Oluo’s book was written for many types of people, including white people working toward becoming effective allies. For that group, I can say that it’s an educational gift. -C.M.

90. “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy: OK, so I still have 300 pages left, but I’m in the home stretch of this massive Russian tome. I plucked my dusty, unread copy off the shelf back in March,  so when people asked what I did during the great plague of 2020, I could say I read “War and Peace.” -B.V.


91. “Chromatica” by Lady Gaga: This high-energy pop album was probably meant to be blasted at crowded clubs rather than in my living room with just me and my dog, but I’ll take my dance parties where I can get them. -C.T.

92. “Dear Evan Hansen Original Broadway Cast Recording”: The soft pop score of this Tony-winning musical, with vocals from the great Ben Platt, helped get me into a work-from-home groove, unseating other Broadway cast albums in my recently played feed on Spotify. -K.L.

93. “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” by Fiona Apple:  Apple couldn’t have known the world she’d be releasing her fifth album into when she recorded it, but this primal scream of righteous anger is exactly what these plague times call for. “Kick me under the table all you want/ I won’t shut up” is my new life motto. -B.V.

94. “Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording”: What’d I miss? Five years of listening to this infectious blend of rap, R&B, jazz and good ol’ musical-theater standards, that’s what. Spotify may think I have a problem. -B.T.

95. “Let’s Dance” (2018 remastered) by David Bowie: I’ve head-bobbed my way through the opening hook of “Modern Love” about a hundred times since quarantine started, and it’s not getting old. When this classic Bowie album was released in 1983, we used to have family dance parties around the record player in our living room. Now I’m streaming it as I do burpees and push-ups inside my condo. It’s still perfect. -A.M.

96. “RTJ4” by Run the Jewels: Rap duo Killer Mike and El-P wrote most of this album in 2019, well before the racial reckoning currently cascading across the U.S., but the lyrics are eerily prescient. Listening now is a powerful call to action, a message of urgency to fix so much that is broken. You’ll be signing earworm “Ooh la la” for days. -A.M.


97. “Armchair Expert”: The weekly podcast by actor Dax Shepard and co-host Monica Padman isn’t exactly an escape from reality, but their conversations with celebrities, journalists and academics about deep things like addiction, racism and yes, even the coronavirus pandemic, are sure to stretch your mental muscles. And there’s no better time than now to try to improve upon ourselves. -A.H. 

98. “The Happiness Lab”: The show from Laurie Santos, the professor behind the super-popular Yale course about “the science of well-being,” is the soundtrack for my outdoor walks because it has a winning podcast combination: fascinating stories, science and self-help. -C.M.

99. “The Office Ladies”: To keep myself from re-watching “The Office” for the billionth time, I instead turned to a weekly recap podcast that goes episode by episode, hosted by actresses Jenna Fischer (who played Pam Beesly) and Angela Kinsey (Angela Martin) with occasional cameos from the rest of the cast. -H.Y.

100. “This Is Love”: The latest season of this audio series about romance and connection (which I listen to while I fold my laundry) is all about animals. Of course, I tear up over the episodes of a heroic guide dog and the goose with a human BFF. I tend to immediately retell the “Love” stories to my loved ones. -C.M.


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