2020 Election Distractions: Studio Ghibli movies, Grey's Anatomy, and More : Pop Culture Happy Hour Election Day is stressful. It's full of news that might or might not mean anything. The stakes are high, and the consequences are serious. And whatever you do from that point forward, first, you have to get through today. So we want to offer you some ideas for things you can use purely to manage Election Day itself. To stay away from the incremental updates and the high anxiety until you actually know what's happened. Which might take a while.
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2020 Election Day Distractions

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2020 Election Day Distractions

2020 Election Day Distractions

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Election Day is stressful. It's full of news that might or might not mean anything. The stakes are high, and the consequences are serious. And whatever you do from that point forward, first, you have to get through today.


So we want to offer you some ideas for things you can use purely to manage Election Day itself. Stay away from the incremental updates and the high anxiety until you can actually know what has happened, which might take a while. I'm Glen Weldon.

HOLMES: And I'm Linda Holmes. Today, we're talking about recommendations for Election Day on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR, so don't go away.


HOLMES: Welcome back. You just met Glen Weldon of NPR's Arts Desk. Also with us from his home in San Antonio, Texas, is Sam Sanders, the host of NPR's It's Been A Minute. Welcome back, Sam.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Good to be here. Thanks for having me.

HOLMES: And also here from her home in Maryland is writer Kat Chow. Hey, Kat.

KAT CHOW, BYLINE: Hey, thanks for having me.

HOLMES: It's always so good to have both of you with us. And what we wanted to do today, as I mentioned in the intro, is Election Day is only the beginning of whatever the next several years bring. But we wanted to make sure that we offered what we could as a way to just avoid just the scrolling Twitter and the pins and needles and some things that might help you kind of get over the hump of at least that day. I'm going to start with you, Glen. Glen, give me something people can use as a little bit of a distraction on such a difficult day.

WELDON: OK, well, my thing is a distraction, but it's not just a distraction. This thing is about being absorbed, obsessed, such that when you look up at the clock, you will find that hours have passed, I guarantee it.

It's a mobile puzzle game for your phone. It's called Grindstone. Now, at its heart, this game is Bejeweled, it's Puzzle Quest, it's Candy Crush. You got the seven-by-seven grid. And you connect things that are all of the same type, the same color, and you can do it vertically, horizontally, diagonally on that grid. And when you do that, they disappear. More stuff drops down. You know this.

Here's what's new. Here's what matters. It's the details - the music, the sound design, the art, and the animation in particular. You are this tiny, little over-muscled barbarian named Georgie (ph). And you're working your way up Grindstone Mountain. And you do this by going through a series of grids/dungeons, which are filled with four different kinds of monsters in four different colors. And I just want to give a shoutout to the game designers here because for a colorblind person like me, these games can be really frustrating, but the colors of these monsters, as far as I can tell (laughter) - who knows what colors they really are? - are yellow, purple, green and orange. I can see those colors. So you look at the grid, you plan your little path. And you can, you know, double back and go all around. And you do that to avoid obstacles, but also to be the most efficient, which is my favorite part of this game. And you create this path of destruction.

And if you do get 10 or more monsters of the same color in a row, then what happens is a little jewel drops down a grindstone. So in your next turn - like, say you're going yellow, yellow, yellow monster - you hit the grindstone, you can then change color - purple, purple, purple - whatever. And the higher you get on the mountain, the more you can go back to the inn next to the mountain to refill your health, get more hearts, get more weapons, get more potions, arrows. And, of course, for the homosexual in all of us, you can choose new little outfits for your little dude.


WELDON: My favorite thing about the game, though, is early on, you get to swap your sword for a pickax, which allows you to - there's boulders in these grids. And you can go through the boulders and get a little gold nugget, but that's not what's cool about it. What's cool about the pickax is when you tell your little dude that he's going to be using it on this next run - you press the little pickax button - he looks up at you, and he lifts the pickax over his head. And he gets just this goofy expression on his face of pure-wrapped joy, like he's about to have some fun. And it just soothes my soul.

And, you know, it's 2020, and we're still innovating Candy Crush. And I get that. But when it's done with this much love and attention to detail - and again, this animation is great - you are going to lose hours at this game. This is called Grindstone for your phone.

HOLMES: Wonderful. Thank you very much, Glen Weldon. I'm going to have to try that out, if only to get that little pickax animation...

WELDON: You should.

HOLMES: ...Because that sounds awesome and right up my alley. All right, I'm going to go next to our friend Kat Chow. Kat, what are you recommending as an Election Day distraction/occupy-your-brain?

CHOW: So I can recommend - well, hopefully, I can recommend this. This is just what I'm planning on doing. I am planning on spending my Election Day baking a very involved birthday cake for a friend. I have a lot of friends who have birthdays right around the election. And I plan on making this cake called the Russian Honey Cake. It's on The New York Times' cooking website. Samin Nosrat wrote about it. And it is this very, very intricate cake that involves caramelized honey, a lot of beautiful cream.

And as that's baking, I think I'm going to turn on a bunch of Hayao Miyazaki films from Studio Ghibli - maybe "My Neighbor Totoro," maybe "Spirited Away," maybe "Howl's Moving Castle" - just something that's kind of familiar and comforting because I want this bomb. I don't think I need to experience new things on Election Day. I think I just need to have something that's sort of childhood comfort. I know what's coming. It's going to give me maybe a mild glow of love and no existential terror. So I think that is what I recommend because, hopefully, that's what I'm going to be doing (laughter).

HOLMES: Excellent. Well, look; I agree with the baking thing. I've been doing, also, a lot of crafting, making a lot of little paper cards and things like that for a similar reason. You've got to keep your mind busy, and you've got to do things for other people.

CHOW: Yeah, stay physical.

HOLMES: Yes, that is the best way I often find to keep myself occupied in a positive way. Thank you very much, Kat Chow. Sam Sanders, what can you recommend?

SANDERS: For me, the perfect watch to forget about the current state of everything is Shonda Rhimes' "Grey's Anatomy."

HOLMES: I had a feeling. I had a feeling.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah.

HOLMES: You have been deep in this. Can I just ask you, did you start watching "Grey's Anatomy" for a specific thing?

SANDERS: No, Netflix just told me to watch it.

WELDON: (Laughter).

SANDERS: So I watched probably three seasons when I was in college. And I was an RA, and I would have the guys in my dorm watch it with me.

WELDON: (Laughter).

SANDERS: But then we all checked out when they had the plotline of Izzie saving the deer in the hospital parking lot. I was like, I'm done with this show. And I never looked back. But in the midst of lockdown, Netflix was like, maybe you want to watch it again. And they were right.

HOLMES: (Laughter).

SANDERS: In about two months, I'm already on Season 9. It's insane. And the great thing about "Grey's Anatomy," especially right now, is that there are no elections in "Grey's Anatomy."

HOLMES: It's true.

SANDERS: It is so divorced from the current state of the world. It is this wonderfully isolated space that is not real and is full of characters whose plotlines are so distracting that you can't think of much else.

This show is either really, really good or really, really bad. There is no in between. But the thing that makes it the perfect escape is that you end up caring for at least four of the characters at any point, and you are invested in their plotlines and storylines. So you have to keep paying attention. It's not one of those shows where you can look away for a few minutes 'cause somebody's going to die.

HOLMES: It's true.

SANDERS: Like, you have to focus on this show. And it's a nice way to just distract yourself. For those who haven't watched it before, start from the beginning. For those who have watched it before, I think the two-hour season finale of Season 6 of "Grey's Anatomy" - I think it's actually perfect network television. And there are some scenes that are so well-written and so dramatically overacted that they just etch onto your soul. Mandy Moore is in this episode...

CHOW: Whoa.

SANDERS: ...As a patient who was trapped in the hospital during the hospital lockdown with the shooter. And dare I say, it's one of the best Mandy Moore performances I've ever seen in my life.

So Shonda knows exactly what she's doing. The show will go to these amazing highs and then have amazing lows, like the musical episode, but it's always exciting. And I'm always trying to keep up.

And another fun thing I do now is that, like, when I'm done watching "Grey's" for the night, I will, like, read up on the backstory of the show. So Ellen Pompeo, the star, and Shonda Rhimes, the creator, they have both been very vocal, especially recently, about their struggles as women in Hollywood. And there are any number of interviews where they talk about how hard that show was, how toxic ABC was and how they changed the culture of "Grey's" over many years. And the most interesting to read about Shonda that I had saw recently was her explaining to The Hollywood Reporter why she left ABC for Netflix. She left because ABC execs wouldn't give her an extra Disney day pass. And she was like, screw you. I'm out of here.

HOLMES: It's an amazing story.

CHOW: Wow.

HOLMES: I mean, I think when I read that, I was like, I think you have to be really at the end of your rope already for that to be the reason, which she pretty clearly was. But it is amazing to realize that, like, it was ultimately just, like, a sign of disrespect that put her over the edge, you know?

SANDERS: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

CHOW: I can't believe they wouldn't give that to her.

SANDERS: Right? There's also this wonderful reality about Shondaland and that show over time. It becomes this space that you can feel is entirely run by women. Ellen Pompeo was a producer on that show. Debbie Allen was kind of low-key the showrunner for several years. They created this world in which the women won, and they're in charge, and they call the shots. And it's nice to see that, especially right now (laughter).

HOLMES: I agree. I endorse "Grey's Anatomy" as an excellent binge any time, including on Election Day. Thank you very much, Sam Sanders.


HOLMES: So from me, on Friday, you heard us talk about "The Great British Bake Off"/"The Great British Baking Show," depending on what location you're in, which obviously is a U.K. show that then came to PBS for a while and now is on Netflix. And somehow, I had not fully absorbed the existence on Hulu of two seasons of something called "Best British Home Cook."

This is a BBC show that has a very similar format, except it isn't just baking; it's also cooking. So you'll also get, like, you know, main dishes and stuff like that. But one of the judges is Mary Berry, who was one of the original judges from "Bake Off" who has left. Mary Berry is still just as gentle and lovely and kind on "Best British Home Cook," which they've now renamed to "Best Home Cook," so you might find it under either of those titles, depending on where you're looking.

The host is a woman named Claudia Winkleman. She's just delightfully warm. And then the structure is similar to "Bake Off" in some ways. They have an opening round where you make your version of some challenge, right? And then the people who do the best in that challenge have to work together to choose a main ingredient that then becomes the focus of the second round. So, like, then in the second round, you have to make something that really highlights, like, cheese or pears or something like that. And then after those two rounds - this is the part of it that I think is somewhat genius - the judges choose some people. And it can be just a couple people, or it can be a lot of people. They can completely freely choose how many compete in a final round where it's similar to the technical challenge in "Bake Off," where everybody has to make exactly the same thing from exactly the same recipe and ingredients. Whoever does the worst, then that's who goes home.

Now, there are times when it's awfully harsh 'cause one of the things they do is when they give you the ingredients, they only give you enough to make it once. So, like, if the thing is supposed to be, like, eggs Benedict with two eggs, they only give you two eggs. So if one of them breaks, you're hosed. So it can be very stressful. But the tone of it is very - to me, very original "Great British Bake Off."

I ripped through the two seasons of it that are on Hulu. I think that's all there is. I am eager for there to be more of it. I will watch as much of it as they make. And you can definitely spend your Election Day in the company of this very lovely show if you have not already watched it. So that is - my recommendation for Election Day is "Best British Home Cook" on Hulu.


HOLMES: And we want to know what you think. What are your recommendations to help you keep busy on Election Day? You can find us at facebook.com/pchh, on Twitter at @pchh. And that brings us to the end of our show. Thanks to all of you for being here to share your recommendations.

WELDON: Thank you.

CHOW: Thank you.

SANDERS: Thanks for having me.

HOLMES: And if you want to hear more Sam Sanders, make sure to check out his NPR podcast, It's Been A Minute - might've heard of it. And if you need a place to start, check out last Friday's episode, when our own Aisha Harris and myself talked about some of our favorite TV shows and movies about elections and politics.

And speaking of politics, we want to give you a heads-up. We are going to be talking about "The West Wing" - da, da, da (ph) - and we want your questions. Email us a voice memo to pchh@npr.org. Ask your "West Wing" question. Again, email a voice memo to pchh@npr.org.

We will see you all tomorrow, when we have a very interesting show lined up about the Netflix miniseries "The Queen's Gambit."


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