Time Travel

Now is the time to plunge into historical dramas and memories

When the coronavirus shelter-in-place started in Oregon, I joined what I later found out was called a “quarantine family.” I am single and live alone with my dogs and cat. Socializing only with my companion animals was going to get old fast, even if I still was heading into the office to work at the paper. But luckily I have good friends who are also neighbors. We soon started having movie night at their place.

My friends are Republicans. I note this because (1) yes, I am the editor of a liberal paper and have really good friends who are Republicans, and (2) I admit to stereotyping Republicans as haters of public media, when in fact not only do these folks watch Oregon Public Broadcasting, they are the only people I know who have  ever actually gone on one of the Viking River Cruises in Europe that sponsors shows like Downton Abbey. 

And yes, my friends loved Downton Abbey. 

Movie night started even before the pandemic with Outlander on Starz. What can I say? We just wrapped up Season 5 of a show whose premise is a WWII nurse was transported back in time through some Stonehenge-esque rocks and winds up meeting, marrying and having hot sex with a Highland warrior. 

Love a good romance, you will love Outlander. Not into sex and violence? Well, it’s less violent than Game of Thrones, but as the series moves from the battle at Culloden to the Revolutionary War, there’s death and rape. Most viewers seem to concentrate on how hot Jamie (Sam Heughan) is, but I will leave that to your discretion. Starz subscription needed.

WWII, however, brings me back to public television and Masterpiece Theater. Where Outlander, despite its somewhat less-than-credible time travel premise, really does strive for historical accuracy, World on Fire is less concerned with the details of the war and more with storytelling and bringing diversity to historical fiction. Something badly needed right now.

World on Fire focuses less on the big events of the war and more on a web of characters all inextricably bound together through the evil taking over the world — not a bad series to be watching during a global pandemic.

Helen Hunt is Nancy, an American journalist broadcasting on the radio live from Berlin, who, as the L.A. Times put it, uses her airtime to throw “shade at the Nazis” under the ears of her minder. Her gay nephew is a doctor in Paris in love with a Black jazz saxophonist. 

Sean Bean, finally, spoiler alert, in a role where he doesn’t die, is a shell shocked veteran turned peace activist and father to a young woman whose boyfriend dashes off to Poland only to marry a Polish girl who later murders Nazis.

That’s just a taste of the interconnected characters that make this series so engrossing and a perfect distraction from the fact that the whole reason I am home watching OPB is because there’s a virus making it impossible to go to the movies. Available via OPB Passport, which also gives you access to dramas like Poldark, The Great British Baking Show and NOVA, to name a few. 

My Republican friends absolutely loved Belgravia, based on a novel by Julian Fellows of Downton Abbey fame. The historical drama kicks off with the Battle of Waterloo, and, like World on Fire, has intrigue and babies out of wedlock. If you liked Downton, this will give you your fix of wealthy Brits and their intriguing servants. Available on Epix.

Downton wasn’t my favorite show, so sometimes I sneak away to watch the one show I know my less liberal leaning neighbors probably wouldn’t like — The West Wing. It’s just what I need to flit off to a place where the president (Martin Sheen) is smart and caring and surrounded by fascinating, quirky (and very, very liberal) characters. And the show, which ran from 1999 to 2006, is incredibly prescient in its dealings with everything from white supremacy and gun violence to gay marriage. I am making my way through all seven seasons and periodically checking in with Rob Lowe, who played Sam Seaborne, on his Instagram feed, where his kids make fun of his preening. 

Liberal or conservative, we all need a little time travel and political fantasy right now. Just remember: Someday the misery and fears of COVID-19 will be another generation’s historical drama.