10 Culture Essentials for a Pandemic July


When everything went off the rails in March, we at Brooklyn Based had a discussion about the continued viability of our monthly Culture Essentials feature during a time when it seemed there would be no events to preview. The thought was to give it shot for April, highlighting the smattering of virtual gatherings that crossed our radar alongside new TV, movie, and book releases, with the understanding that after that we’d probably table this column until things got somewhat back to normal. This is our fourth installment of Culture Essentials since then, however, and I’m sort of shocked at how much there still is to write about even as the global health crisis shows no signs of letting up anytime soon (pro tip: try a media blackout if crippling depression isn’t really part of your plan for today). In summers past, I’d be breathlessly exhorting you to ride the F train out to Forest Hills for a sunset summer concert, or to bring a blanket and a bottle of wine to the park for an outdoor movie screening or performance by the Philharmonic. There would be art openings and BBQ fests and book festivals and theater premieres and Bastille Day petanque tournaments to attend, and I’d be faced with the difficult task of choosing just ten of them to recommend to you for the month of July. This time around, we’re dealing with a much smaller universe, but—thanks to the incredible, inspirational resilience of the creative community—the content is still there for the taking if you know where to look. You just have to do it from home, much like everything else these days. That is not the worst part of this time we are living through, guys, and I don’t know about you all but I’ve been feeling a counterintuitive sense of freedom lately—the flip side of having no plans at any point is the ability to be completely spontaneous and do exactly what you want to do whenever you want to do it. Plus, if you’re watching/streaming any of the events below from home, you’ve got the time to whip up these super-easy key lime pie popsicles and treat yourself to a really special evening.

1. Nobody Knows I’m Here, streaming on Netflix

My former pandemic roomies (my sister and my mom) both loved Nobody Knows I’m Here, a Chilean film about a recluse with a dark secret in his past that is currently streaming on Netflix. If their repeated reminders that I need to watch it weren’t enough, I am separately intrigued by the fact that the protagonist is played by Jorge Garcia, an actor I haven’t laid eyes on since he was Hurley on the spectacularly infuriating Lost during the aughts. According to my family members, the cinematography is gorgeous and the story is moving, and I’m pleased that it only requires an hour and a half of my attention, which is pretty much the upper limit of what I can muster up these days. 

2. Unsolved Mysteries, streaming on Netflix

I’m unreasonably excited about the 2020 Netflix reboot of Unsolved Mysteries, a show that I watched in rerun form near constantly while I was in grad school a zillion years ago, so much so that my boyfriend at the time staged a bit of a strike over it (I recall one direct quote being “I refuse to watch an ‘unsolved’ mystery that was probably solved in 1996!”) If you are the type who needs to have TV on in the background to distract you while you are grinding through relatively mundane work, this show, which explores true-life unsolved crimes, disappearances, and paranormal encounters, is the perfect candidate for that task. Sadly, Robert Stack is not available, so the new version has no narrator, but I’ll take it if, like the original, it leads me down internet research rabbit holes about alien abductions and dissociative fugue states. 

3. Greenlight Bookstore party, July 2

Like so many other beloved Brooklyn businesses, Greenlight Bookstore has been closed to the public for nearly four months, but has been consistently finding innovative ways to serve the community and realize some fraction of its normal revenue. Case in point: on July 2 at 7:30pm, the shop is hosting a Virtual Reopening Party and All-Star Revue featuring appearances from a ridiculously stacked slate of writers, including Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Lethem, Colson Whitehead, Ann Patchett, and Min Jin Lee. The BYO cocktail party is hosted by poet Saeed Jones, and tickets will run you $20 each, not counting any extra you choose to spend on books to be sent to wherever you are riding out the pandemic. 

4. Hamilton, Disney+,July 3 

In a time when there is so little to look forward to, the announcement that Hamilton will be available to stream on Disney+ starting on July 3 is one of the more exciting things to happen in recent memory. As I’ve sheepishly admitted in this forum before, I never managed to get tickets to see it on Broadway, a fact which never ceases to make me feel like an absolute failure of a New Yorker, so I’m particularly keen to finally see this thing (with Lin-Manuel Miranda in the titular role, no less), even if I’ll be watching it with scores of far-flung Americans who probably yell at people in stores for wearing masks or whatever. 

5. Cool for America, July 7 

My inability to read a single book from beginning to end since this all started in March has been a maddening byproduct of “these times,” and I’m constantly on the lookout for something that sounds like it will outmatch my infinitesimal attention span and general malaise. I have high hopes for Andrew Martin’s Cool for America: Stories, and not just because one advance review I read likened his writing to Sally Rooney’s (although given how fast I plowed through Conversations with Friends and Normal People before the world imploded, it certainly didn’t hurt). Short stories seem like the right format for the beach or Prospect Park, two venues where I spend a lot of my socially-distanced time these days, and if those stories are “hilarious” and about “the dark zone between artistic ambition and its achievement,” all the better. 


6. Haim, Women in Music Pt. III

One indulgence I have allowed myself under the guise of improving my home office setup is a deck of really high quality, over-the-ear, noise-canceling headphones and wow these things are life-changing. As a result of this new acquisition, I’ve found myself listening to music much more than I had been in recent years, and one album I’ve really gotten into as I’m puttering my apartment in what feels like an endless loop is the latest from Haim, Women in Music Pt. III. I’m not the only one, as the album has been critically received as the trio of sisters’ best output to date. It’s breezy, summery, and poppy with a relatable dark edge to the lyrics that I really dig. 

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti appear in Palm Springs by Max Barbakow, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Chris Willard.

7. Palm Springs, July 10

In a summer that feels like the end of Hollywood as we know it, there doesn’t seem to be much to look forward to, especially as the release of Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated spy thriller, Tenet, has been delayed yet again and will not happen this month. There is at least one bright spot coming up, though, in the form of Palm Springs, a rom com that has been compared to Groundhog Day, stars Andy Samberg, and was a Sundance darling. It debuts on July 10 on Hulu and might just be the summer movie. 

8. Richard II, July 13-16

Of beloved NYC summer traditions that have been casualties of COVID this year, Shakespeare in the Park ranks high on the depressing index. That’s why I was happy to see that The Public Theater and WNYC are teaming up to bring Richard II to the radiowaves. The new, live production will air in four installments over July 13-16, and has big names like Phylicia Rashad and Estelle Parsons attached to it. Sure, it won’t be the same as the al fresco performances that have marked summer in the city for the past 60+ years, but I for one am over ready for something that feels a little more highbrow than whatever dreck I’m muddling through on Netflix at the moment. 

9. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Sundays on HBO

When Michelle McNamara died suddenly in her sleep a few years back, the world lost one of its most passionate and talented true crime writers. Her death was covered obsessively by the press, not just because she was the wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, but also because she was hot on the trail of the elusive Golden State Killer when she passed away. The book on the subject she’d been working on, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, was published posthumously and in temporal proximity to the eventual capture of the prolific rapist and murderer who had escaped the authorities for decades. Now, the book is fodder for a new six-part documentary series on HBO that’s being hailed by critics—one even said that it does for TV what In Cold Blood did for books. The series’ first episode aired on June 28, so there’s still plenty of time to catch up and watch it in real time if that’s your preference. 

10. Celebrate Brooklyn! Live Everywhere, July 25-26

I was looking through old pictures on my phone the other day and was struck by how many of them were taken at the Prospect Park bandshell at some or other Celebrate Brooklyn! concert over the years. Summer after summer, it’s been the scene of great live music performances and SO many fun nights with friends, dates, random run-ins with people I haven’t seen in years, dancing in the rain, and once, after my whole department at work was laid off in 2013, a drunken sobbing debacle. It’s one of the things that defines summer in Brooklyn for me and so many others, so it wasn’t easy to accept that it simply isn’t happening this year. But wait, everybody, don’t despair! We aren’t completely forsaken—BRIC has just announced a special streaming event happening at the end of the month called Celebrate Brooklyn! Live Everywhere. Over two nights on July 25 and 26, artists like Common, Yemi Alde, Angelique Kidjo, and Lila Downs will perform live and for free, and we’ll even be treated to a DJ set from the one and only Questlove. It’s not going to be exactly the same, to be sure, but it’s a lot better than nothing, especially when you consider that this iteration involves nary a one port-a-potty. 

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