Watching the election results roll in is going to be about as pleasant as getting a tooth pulled—only for your dentist to discover you've got, like, five other chompers that need to go and yanking those out, too. It's hypothetically possible that we're in for a landslide, and everything will be over by the time you're ready for bed… but more likely, it'll be days (if not weeks) before the presidential race actually gets called.
Maybe you're a masochist, and you want to spend Tuesday evening frantically pacing around your living room while CNN's Map Guy rattles off a bunch of highly specific, largely unintelligible facts about an obscure voting precinct in northwest Wisconsin. Or maybe, instead of torturing yourself for 8-plus hours, you'd like to try blocking the whole thing out—to accept that what will be will be, whether you have your eyes glued to the news or not, and to preserve the small shred of sanity you still have left by simply not watching this shit.
If you do opt out of the Election Night TV Bonanza this year, you're going to need something to keep you distracted. Ideally, you'd spend November 3 in a cabin in the woods somewhere, or on a private island where you could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time, but unfortunately, most of us can't do that. What you can do, however, is watch so much soothing, pleasant fluff on TV that your brain gets numb and you basically forget you're alive. And that's where we come in!
We've put together a list of things you can watch instead of tonight's election coverage—a collection of movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos engrossing enough to hold your attention, but innocuous enough to prevent you from thinking about politics whatsoever. Everything we've included is designed to calm you down, taking your mind away from the imperiled state of our broken democracy and focusing it instead on, say, noodles, or sea creatures, or a big old train. There's approximately one (1) shitton of content here. If you really wanted to, you could spend weeks on end watching it all, rising from your couch only to grab another bag of Cheetos or pee into a milk bottle or whatever—but at a minimum, it should easily get you through Tuesday night.
A World of Calm
Where to Watch: HBO Max
Total Runtime: 3.5 hours
Each episode of HBO's A World of Calm—which could just as easily be called ASMR: The Show—focuses on something extremely benign, from coral reefs to chocolate-making, and features narration from actors with deeply soothing voices. One installment, narrated by Oscar Isaac, is all about noodles; it's filled with ultra-HD shots of hand-made spaghetti and udon and pappardelle, complemented by the comforting sound of Isaac saying things like "every noodle has a tale to tell." Whether you're listening to Keanu Reeves talk about a guy who lives alone in the woods in Latvia, or Zoë Kravitz muse on the wonders of glassmaking, A World of Calm will make you feel like the world is a beautiful, innocent place, made up of nothing but purity and people with really nice voices.
Where to Watch: YouTube
Total Runtime: Pretty much forever
Slow TV is basically just footage of any ordinary thing happening in real time, from start to finish. Often, that "thing" is some kind of journey, like a nine hour train ride through the Arctic Circle, an 11-hour boat trip on Norway's Telemark Canal, or a 5-hour drive along Washington State's Olympic Coast. But Slow TV isn't confined to various modes of transportation. In fact, it's not really confined to anything at all. Just type in "slow TV [thing]" on YouTube, and chances are someone has made an absurdly long video of that thing being done, from axe-carving to scuba diving to walking through rural Japan.
The Great British Baking Show, Seasons 1-7
Where to Watch: Netflix
Total Runtime: 42 Hours
This is, admittedly, a bit of an obvious choice, but it's a good one. There's no better balm for the soul than watching a bunch of sweet, everyday British people bake things in a "competition" that's barely a competition at all. There are no real stakes to The Great British Baking Show (a.k.a. The Great British Bake Off, a.k.a. GBBO). Yes, each episode has a "star baker"; but earning that honor doesn't actually get you anything. It's just a nice pat on the back, one that leaves you no closer to winning the competition than before, and confers no immunity from being eliminated in the next round. If you're crowned the winner of a season, you get some flowers and a trophy, but—unlike most American competition shows—you don't get anything else. There's no cash prize, no contract for a cookbook, not even a free oven or a nice set of cookware or anything. You just… win. In the world of GBBO, somehow, that's enough. Crucially, it also means that everyone involved doesn't care that much about winning, so they're all really, really nice to each other.
You might be wondering why we've excluded the newest season of GBBO here. The reason for that, in short: It sucks. But the first seven seasons are great!
The Big Flower Fight
Where to Watch: Netflix
Total Runtime: 5.5 Hours
The Big Flower Fight is pretty much identical to GBBO, only instead of baking, the contestants make gigantic flower sculptures. Feels like we can just leave it at that.
Your Comfort Blanket Movie
Where to Watch: ???
Total Runtime: ???
Everyone has a movie they put on when they're extremely stressed out and need to turn their brain into a pile of mush. It's a movie you've seen so many times that you don't even really process what's happening on screen as much as you simply let it wash over you, bathing you in a familiar procession of scenes that feel good because you know how every single second of them will unfold. For me, that movie—my "comfort blanket" movie—is The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I've probably seen it, like, 200 times, and I've fallen asleep before Frodo and Sam even leave the Shire half of those times, which is among the most pleasant, indulgent feelings I've ever experienced. I can't tell you what your comfort blanket movie is, but I know you know what it is. Tuesday would be a good day to watch it.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
Runtime: 1 hour and 40 minutes
Maybe you don't want to sink 15 hours into watching a train roll through the upper reaches of Norway or spend two straight days binging the first seven seasons of GBBO; instead, maybe you just want a brief breather from CNN or MSNBC or whatever, a little window of stimulation that allows you to forget about the election, for a moment, before returning to it in an hour or two. If that's the case, consider watching The Booksellers, a documentary on Amazon about the world of rare books, and a handful of New York-based dealers who peddle them. To be honest, hearing them talk about their collections is only mildly interesting—but when your brain is basically on fire, "mildly interesting" is exactly what you need.
California's Gold and Visiting With Huell Howser
Where to Watch: The Chapman University website
Runtime: At least one full week
Huell Howser is a goofy guy with Big Dad Energy who somehow made a career out of really, really loving California. His two shows on PBS, California's Gold and Visiting With Huell Howser, showcase charming little slices of the state, from a "happy chicken farm" in SoCal to a retirement community in Newport Beach, home to an elderly ukulele band called the "Oasis Ukulele Strummers." There are hundreds and hundreds of episodes of Howser's shows on Chapman University's website, each more innocuous, quirky, and emotionally cleansing than the last.
Woodstock (The Director's Cut) and The Last Waltz (Special Edition)
Where to Watch: Ideally on DVD, but Amazon Prime also works
Total Runtime: 6 hours
This recommendation comes by way of Kate Dries, the editorial director of VICE's Features Desk. Her take:
I once spent all of Christmas evening watching the director’s cut of the Woodstock documentary and special edition of The Last Waltz back-to-back, and it’s a zen I’ve rarely achieved since. While the latter is only two hours long, the former is almost four, and when combined, the pair create a seamless wash back in time to the 1970s, when future Boomer optimism ruled the world, Jimi Hendrix was alive to shred, and technology was forced to evolve simply so we could edit cocaine off people’s faces. I’d suggest pairing both of them with the herbal refreshment of your choice. If you have a DVD player, make sure to check out the special features, which expand “the vibes” even further.
David Attenborough's Nature Documentaries
Where to Watch: YouTube
Runtime: Days on end
When it comes to making your brain as smooth as possible, it's hard to beat listening to David Attenborough be David Attenborough over a bunch of crystal-clear footage of, say, a bird doing a mating dance, or hippos playing around in a pond. That said, you've probably already seen the entirety of Planet Earth, and while Our Planet is great, the fact that it talks in depth about climate change makes it a little too dark to be considered escapist TV. That doesn't mean the Attenborough canon is off the table, though. A handful of his documentaries (that aren't a part of the Netflix collections) are available to watch for free on YouTube. If you're looking for somewhere to start, why not watch his "investigation" into the life of Jumbo, the giant elephant; his special on a tiger jungle in India; or his documentary on "desert seas," whatever those are. High-definition wildlife footage and sentences like "tiger courtship lasts several days" abound.
Whether you're hoping to escape eight hours of election coverage on Tuesday or the next eight weeks of what will likely be utter chaos in America, hopefully the contents of this list serve as a place of refuge for you. To those of you planning to actually watch the results roll in, I salute you; and to those of you planning to do everything you possibly can to avoid that shitshow… I'll see you on the 11-hour boat ride through the Telemark Canal.
Follow Drew Schwartz on Twitter.