How else to explain the repeated pushing back of Tenet, his latest movie about time being weird, by a mere fortnight—as though movie theaters might somehow seem less like COVID incubators between July and August of 2020. Last week, however, Warner Bros finally caved and delayed Tenet’s release for the foreseeable future. Probably because very few people seem comfortable with the idea of going back in theaters until vaccines are as easy to obtain as movie tickets.
Tenet has now joined a rising glut of fully finished major movies we won’t be seeing for some time. White-hot properties like Halloween Kills, The Conjuring 3, and the new Wonder Woman are all currently just sitting on a shelf somewhere, going unfought about online. Meanwhile, a lot of TV shows that should be returning this fall or next spring are experiencing similar delays in even getting off the ground, their productions complicated by COVID. (Where art thou, Succession S3, Russian Doll S2, and the continued adventures of The Mandalorian?) Studios keep green-lighting cool new series and movies all the time, but these announcements seem impossibly optimistic in a world where it’s unsafe to go to a theater.
It can’t come fast enough.
Not that it’s going to be an actual drought. We’ll be seeing brand new Zoom-centered projects like Shudder’s Host and HBO’s Coastal Elites, more pandemic-themed episodes of existing shows, a lot of talking head-based TV, and a whole Spider-verse’s worth of animated movies the entire time—but not much else.
And that’s a good thing!
Every fool like me, trying in vain to keep up with pop culture, could stand to take a break from the forever-cresting tidal waves of newness.
Ever since Netflix became an original content behemoth, the explosion of streaming platforms has been downright oppressive. Their constant hyper-churn accounts for why, without hesitation, we now refer to material that often approaches art as “content” in the first place. On some level, our precious movies and shows have always been commodities—the crap between commercials—but in an era where every conglomerate wants to build out its own branded video library, they’ve never felt more like it.
After years of attempting to sop up every juicy droplet from a gushing content-geyser, a drought seems like a vacation. It’s a mandatory order to slow down for a beat and actually separate the content from the art.
It’s impossible to catch every show as it rolls off the assembly line, but lately it’s been hard even to know when to bother. For many years, I was aware that Eugene Levy and Catherine “The Great” O’Hara had a sitcom together, but never actually tuned in. What if it was just okay, or worse? It wasn’t until a groundswell of support for Schitt’s Creek’s erupted during its fifth season that I paid it proper attention. Because there are just that many shows.
Schitt’s Creek was where I realized that, statistically speaking, a significant number of “promising but who has the time?” TV shows must be quietly delivering the goods. In a semi-quarantined world with no new movies and shows, the person who finally has time for “promising but who has the time?” is you.
(Well, unless you have kids.)
It’s time to put a canyon-size dent in that Meaning to Check Out file. All those classic movies you never got around to watching. Every show not enough people talked about fondly and thus passed you by. Those animated shows everyone said weren’t just for kids. It might not be “fresh content” for the world, but if it’s new to you, it’s still new.
Not only is the content drought a perfect time for discovery, it’s also a moment for second chances and “completioning” (i.e. finishing a show you stop watching for no real reason). The need to explore every shiny new object you could potentially love makes it hard to stick with shows you merely like a whole lot.
There are so many sitcoms I haven’t seen all the way through, for instance, because they have no overarching story that requires having seen every episode. While Brooklyn Nine-Nine revamps its planned eighth season for Black Lives Matter reasons, I might finally check out the several seasons I haven’t seen yet. Maybe I’ll watch the second season of Barry, a show whose first outing I adored but which simply slipped from my mind upon its return a year later. Maybe I’ll binge on every show like Pen15 that I saw enough of to know I liked it but never explored any further.
The entertainment world is my oyster, and the quarantine is my super-shucker.
The coming content drought is also an invitation to rewatch movies and shows you already love. Remember watching things a second time? Picking up on little details you missed before and deepening your overall appreciation? It became harder to do once everyone adopted a mile-long Netflix queue and a surplus of must-watches. Having fewer hot new movies to check out makes it easier to find out that Ex Machina holds up, or determining once and for all that the second season of The Wire is criminally underrated.
And why not rewatch old movies when there are more fun ways than ever to do so? You can either throw a Watch Party with your friends on Zoom, go to one of the newly thriving drive-in theaters, or possibly watch Jaws at sea.
Options like these make the temporary loss of Tenet feel like not much of a loss at all.
When we finally conquer the coronavirus, and new movies and shows return, they might be all the better because of the wait. For one thing, whenever a tight turnaround is prized over quality control, movies and shows often suffer. SNL overlord Lorne Michaels famously said, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready, it goes on because it’s 11:30,” but that mentality need not apply to every project. A lot of movies and series get better when they have a little space and breathing room; when the creators took the time to make exactly what they wanted. (Mad Max: Fury Road, Titanic, Game of Thrones, and The Sopranos come to mind.) Maybe under quarantine, the editing of already-filmed movies and shows will be more cohesive in the absence of a ticking clock. Maybe some thwarted filmmakers will take the time to get their screenplay just right, unbeholden to a schedule. Maybe all the pop-culture junkies, insatiable gluttons that we are, will finally rediscover our sense of anticipation.
It sucks that Halloween Kills, The Conjuring 3, and Tenet are collecting dust and we can’t watch them. But imagine how much more excited we’ll be when we finally can.