Bookends

Sunday Letter | #345

Cutout metal sign from reverse; blue sky and thin clouds in the background.
Java Hutt, Ferndale, MI

Went to a friend’s wedding this past weekend, a beautiful and zany-at-times 150-person event in Ann Arbor. It was the first time that Julia and I had been at a gathering that large since before the pandemic—and we both found our socialization muscles to have significantly atrophied. While other friends stayed out late for the hotel-pool afterparty, we were asleep in bed by 11pm.

If I had to pick two cultural objects that bookend the pandemic for me, they would have be 1) the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso and 2) Bo Burnham’s Netflix special, Inside. Ted Lasso for a refreshing optimism that knows the challenges of our times without needing to present them through the lens of some brooding, cynical protagonist. It reminds me a lot of great middle grade novels, actually, as my co-hosts and I discuss in a forthcoming episode of Booksmitten. Lasso feels like a better, more hopeful version of the world-hologram we encounter in the news—and the first rider of a new horde of wholesome television comedies.

Inside, on the other hand, is the musical funhouse mirror that I didn’t know I needed. Burnham wrote, filmed, edited, and scored the entire special while isolated in his flat, and it reminds you that you don’t need millions of dollars to make people laugh and cry. I imagined other comedians watching it and kicking themselves for not having the idea first; it makes you think that if only you had the sheer creative will, you too could produce an entertaining Netflix special.

But that same feeling is short-lived, because you quickly realize that not only does Burham have plenty of professional recording equipment, he also has the talent and genius to make full use of it. Over the course of the show, you see his facial hair grow longer and more disheveled (signaling how long he’s been alone working on the special), and the jokes get darker and more (cabin-)feverish. For me, Inside simultaneously captured the feeling of both a neverending pandemic and a neverending creative project. It hit uncomfortably close to home.

But: sometimes you want a sad song when you’re sad. And sometimes you need a wild-haired man singing in his underwear to remind you that, no—what you’re feeling is not unique to you. That this too, shall pass.