Watching: Stream These Shows For Free
by Margaret Lyons
March 16, 2020
I hope you are all staying safe and stable. Given how much more time we’ll all be spending at home in the immediate future, we’re going to bring you this newsletter three times a week instead of the usual two. We hope you find the additional recommendations helpful.
See you Wednesday. Here’s a golden retriever with one ear who is definitely making the most of it.
Ken Burns announced over the weekend that he had asked PBS to make his documentary series “Baseball” available free. If you’ve never watched it, this really is the perfect time: It scratches the sports itch and the history itch, it’s hopeful but not naïve about American institutions, and it’s one of the quintessential “I always meant to watch this” shows. The nine episodes are each about two hours long, which feels like the right length for an evening of social distancing.
Even if you are not interested in “Baseball,” the PBS app has a lot of terrific free shows. (The functionality of the app itself is pretty lousy, and it confusingly lists all the free-to-stream shows and the pay-to-stream shows together. Boo! You can download the app here, or just watch episodes on your computer.)
Here are some of my favorites:
“Circus” is a six-part behind-the-scenes documentary from 2010 about the Big Apple Circus, and it’s fantastic. The series covers both the romantic and the ramshackle aspects of circus culture: You can run away and join it, but wherever you go there you are, and now a bunch of acrobats are there, too. If you like listening to “This American Life,” you will like this. (Then read this.)
For a real dose of hard-core PBS-ness, go for “Finding Your Roots” and “Craft in America,” and remember that even though some of the episodes sound boring, none are. There’s also something so triumphant baked into both shows, reminders that human suffering and cruelty and ignorance are not new, but neither are compassion, solidarity and hope.
If you are considering using some of your at-home time to explore your creative side, or if you are trying to provide some kind of educational viewing for younger members of your household, watch “Art School.” The episodes are only about 5 minutes long, and the artists profiled on the show work in a wide variety of disciplines and media. They’re all great starting points for “let’s watch this person, and then we are going to try something inspired by what they do” projects, too.
For those of you missing cultural outings in particular, a few episodes of “Great Performances” and “Live From Lincoln Center” are available, and you can crinkle your candy wrappers to your heart’s content.
Finally, if you were a theater kid or are hunkered down with one, “Broadway or Bust,” a three-part mini-series from 2012, is required viewing. It follows high school performers competing for the Jimmy Awards, which are sort of the Tonys of teendom. I wish this series happened every year.