At the start of lockdown, I moved in with my best friend. We wanted to fill our days with TV shows, podcasts, documentaries, books and movies galore, but with one rule: everything had to be low-stakes. We had absolutely no time for drama, action or nail-biting suspense when it felt like the world was crumbling beneath us.
And so began my journey to find and absorb only the gentlest content. So if you're feeling like shows about murder, ghosts, explosions and unsolved crimes are too real for your brain right now, enjoy some of this wildly low-stakes content that helped me get through this dumpster fire of a year.
1. Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit (Documentary)
Catwalk is a life-changing documentary about the competitive world of Canada's cat pageants. It follows some extremely dedicated feline owners who travel across the country from cat show to cat show, hoping their babies will take out the crown of Canada's best cat. It's great because it's as low stakes as it gets for the viewer, but for the stars (owners and cats) it's basically life and death. It's gentle and heart-warming, with scattered moments of cat owner Kim being very unhinged as she jokingly-but-not-really-jokingly hopes something horrible happens to her number one competitor cat, 'Oh La La'. You come to love all the cats and cat fanatics, and follow along like you're watching an extreme sport. Special shout-out to this moment which made me laugh so hard I had to pause the show for a good 45 minutes.
2. 24/7 Animal Live Streams (The Internet)
Being stuck at home this year meant that I cuddled roughly 90% fewer puppies than I normally do. This took a toll on my emotional wellbeing, so I was extremely grateful for the animal cams from Zoos Victoria, who set up 24/7 live streams of some of their most treasured residents. You can watch the otters, snow leopards, penguins, zebras and more, while also learning about each of the critters. There's a feeding schedule so you can tune in at the best times; but the zebra cam lets you know if you can't see them at a particular time, they're "probably off visiting their best friends, the giraffes!" Please hold me while I cry about that. If you're tuning in at night and everyone's off to sleep, check out The San Diego Zoo's live cams to capitalise on that sweet, sweet time difference.
3. Nailed It! (TV Show)
Nailed It! is one of those shows that is utter perfection every time you put it on. While many cooking competitions are pretty intense to watch (Masterchef made me hyperventilate far too much this year), Nailed It! will soothe you from start to finish. The premise itself is fantastic: giving regular people who can't cook overly-complicated desserts and seeing just how badly they screw up. It celebrates failure, and somehow they always manage to find contestants who couldn't care less if things go horribly wrong. You'll genuinely laugh until you cry. While I personally would be having a panic attack if my cakes didn't set in time, the contestants on Nailed It! are constantly chuffed with their sub-par efforts and more than thrilled to have their five minutes of fame. (Plus, host Nicole Byer is a total babe.)
4. Reply All – The 'Yes Yes No' segments (Podcast)
Reply All is a podcast about the internet. Hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman are gentle, hilarious and deeply talented journalists who have garnered the show a semi-cult following. Despite being about technology, the show centres on human stories – how we interact with each other and ourselves in a digital world – in a reliably accessible and entertaining way. The episodes that blow up almost every time are the 'Yes Yes No' episodes, where their CEO Alex Blumberg comes to the show with internet content he doesn't understand. Usually in the form of niche Twitter memes, Alex and PJ then explain the extremely in-depth backstories, often weaving in and out of many different internet subcultures. Listen out for the episodes with comic actor Jason Mantzoukas (from Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place) who completely refuses to be on the internet, and thus has many, many questions. Some episodes take a slightly dark turn, but overall 'Reply All' is a bingeable, low-stakes and bloody brilliant podcast.
5. Tiny Gardens (Twitter)
I get a lot of my news from Twitter, so it's fair to say that this year it hasn't been the most soothing place to visit. That's why curating your Twitter feed is so important for those little flecks of goodness amid the hellscape. Tiny Gardens has been a saving grace for my feed. It's an open source Twitter and Mastodon bot created by Emma Winston that posts tiny emoji gardens a few times a day. There are a lot of soothing Twitter bots to follow, like Tiny Star Field or Tiny Seas, that will really balance out how horrible Twitter can tend to be. Look at them! They're so tiny and gentle!
6. Nothing Much Happens: Bedtime Stories To Help You Sleep (Podcast)
I can't think of a single night I got to sleep this year without this podcast. The premise is simple: it's a storytelling podcast where essentially nothing happens. Yoga and meditation teacher Kathryn Nicolai tells you extremely gentle stories in her deliciously ASMR-esque voice while you drift off to sleep. There's barely any plot to follow or characters to meet, just tender descriptions of peaceful moments, such as watching the snow fall outside or making a very simple pasta in a warm kitchen. I'm getting extremely sleeping typing this out. If you're struggling to get to sleep, let Kathryn take you with her deeply sooooothing stories. Oops, almost nodded off.
4. Steven Universe (TV show)
Steven Universe really ups the bar when it comes to gentle, heart-warming television. It's a coming-of-age show about a boy called Steven who lives with the magical alien Crystal Gems. Together, they fight to protect their fictional town of Beach City from evil. Steven Universe is Cartoon Network's first television show produced by a non-binary woman, and its storylines and character journeys are undeniably queer. It explores trans identities, queer friendships and relationships, complex family dynamics and mental health. The soundtrack is full of jam-packed with beautiful soothing songs that literally always chill me out. My favourite is "Here Comes a Thought", a song about allowing your anxious thoughts to float in and out, realising that they can't actually hurt you. Very important for 2020. (And always.)
More good stuff: