Finding The Right Isolation Movie Isn’t Rocket Science

Plus: The Boys In The Band, The Legend of Korra, and What’s Making Us Happy

by Linda Holmes
Welcome! It was the week when Saturday Night Live showed off its newest political impression. It was the week when we remembered Helen Reddy. And it was the week when we got our first look at Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis in the upcoming movie Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Let’s get to it.

Opening Argument: Finding The Right Isolation Movie Isn’t Rocket Science

Okay, look, that title is terrible. It is a terrible pun, and I am sorry, and I apologize, and I’ll never do it again. 

I didn’t watch the debate on Tuesday night. Debates don’t do much for me as information, and they tend to irritate me. And at a time when I’m already irritated so much of the time, I chose not to subject myself to that. I watched Apollo 13

Apollo 13, as most of you will know, is based on the true story of the April 1970 crewed space flight that was intended to land on the moon. There was an explosion on board, and mission control in Houston spent several days working with the crew through a series of emergencies — what about oxygen, what about water, what about accumulating carbon dioxide — in order to keep them alive long enough to get home, which they did. The 1995 movie, directed by Ron Howard, stars Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton as the crew and Kathleen Quinlan as Hanks’ wife, plus Ed Harris and a murderers’ row of white character actors of the 1990s in mission control. 

I tend to have limited patience for Let Us Celebrate The Great Men Of History movies, particularly when they are about the same kinds of men (white, working in space travel) who have often been celebrated in the past. But this is a movie I will always, always watch. 

It’s not just that things turn out all right for this crew, although there’s no way I would have turned to it this week were that not the case. It’s the reasons why things turn out all right. It’s the fact that the NASA folks on the ground take responsibility for the safety of the crew, and the crew takes responsibility for each other, and no one questions that they must do absolutely everything they can to bring the crew home safely. It’s the fact that what initially appears to be an impossible problem — too many systems failing at once for there to be any plausible path forward — is broken down into a series of smaller problems to be repaired one at a time. Get through this issue, find a solution, move to the next one. Some people work on what’s happening this second; some work on what’s coming in a few hours; some work on what’s going to happen right at the end. 

There’s a terrific BBC World Service podcast called 13 Minutes To The Moon, and while the first season was about Apollo 11, the second season is all about Apollo 13. It makes heavy use of real NASA tapes, which reveal that although the movie certainly dramatized some elements, lots of dialogue comes directly from real life. The biggest difference is that when you hear the tapes, you realize they were even more determined than they are in the movie to remain calm, even in the worst moments of the crisis. 

They have faith in science, and in work, and in the knowledge they’ve gained. But more than anything, they have faith in the idea of a shared fate — that failure to save the crew would be a failure by the people on the ground. Shared responsibility is something that’s always an option, but not always an option that we choose, you know? We can choose to feel that what happens to other people reflects on what we’ve done. Might just get people home safe. 

Apollo 13 is available for rent on most of your major platforms. 

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We Recommend:

I’ve been finding ways to scratch my Great British Baking Show itch all through quarantine, but it was only this week that I tried Great British Baking Show: Masterclass, in which Paul and Mary (we miss you, Mary!) do a lot of the technical and other challenges from several of the show’s earlier seasons in order to demonstrate how they should actually be accomplished. Several seasons are available on Netflix.

I’m a little short of recommendations this week (it happens!), so let me bring back a favorite: You can still watch Friday Night Lights on Hulu, and the first season remains one of the best seasons of television I’ve ever seen. 

What We Did This Week:

Jim Parsons, Robin De Jesus, Michael Benjamin Washington, and Andrew Rannells star in the new Netflix adaptation of The Boys in the Band.
Scott Everett White/Netflix
We worked on NPR’s fall television preview, which will help you find things to watch even in this very unusual moment. 

Our Wednesday show was our take on The Legend Of Korra

Glen wrote a lovely piece about the Netflix version of The Boys In The Band, and we invited a marvelous panel to talk about it on the Friday show, including Sam Sanders, Tobin Low, and Mark Blankenship. 

Stephen helped out with NPR Music’s feature on the top music of September

What’s Making Us Happy:

Every week on the show, we talk about some other things out in the world that have been giving us joy lately. Here they are:
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