The movies and shows that helped save me
Plus! What I'm losing my sh*t about this week
CW: Suicide, mental illness (only I could have a CW straight out of the gate…Don’t go! It’s fun too, I promise)
Three days after I tried - and failed - to take my own life, I turned on my TV. The big one, in the front room. The day of, I couldn’t imagine doing so. The day after, I thought about it, but couldn’t hold onto the thought long enough to put it into action. The day after, I got as far as the top of the stairs before deciding I was too tired. But the day after that, sometime in the afternoon, I got up from bed, walked downstairs and sat on the settee.
I was wearing pyjamas I couldn’t remember putting on. I knew I hadn’t washed my hair or my body, that I hadn’t brushed my teeth. I just lay, and sat, and slept and thought the terrible thoughts that, when you’re not thinking them, you can’t imagine ever thinking again.
My arm picked up the remote control. It was the first faint spark of my self, trying to come back after deserting me suddenly weeks before, with a brutality that still takes my breath away. Was it February or March? For once, I didn’t need to know.
I stayed on that settee for a few hours, until my son and my boyfriend returned home. Every morning when they left to start their days, rather than going into the office I’d been working from for the last year, I stayed in bed, blinds down. After a few hours, I’d summon up the energy to walk downstairs, where I’d lie down again, my limbs squashed into the now familiar contours of the settee and pick up the remote control. I couldn’t think about getting dressed, of leaving the house, of speaking to another person, but this, this I could do.
My screen tastes have long leaned towards the sad, the grim, the brutal, the ultra-violent. When I was a kid, I would watch Scum, Zombie, Kes, The Krays (The Kemp Brothers’ finest moment) and Goodfellas on a loop. It didn’t occur to me that it may not be appropriate viewing. Or that it could be laying down a track in my brain that would see my synapses firing like the final scene of Scarface (another favourite) every time someone stuffed a snooker ball in a sock or did imaginative things with a samurai sword. And it’s perhaps no surprise that my top five films are The Godfather: Part II, True Romance, the aforementioned Kes and Scum and finally, Dead Man’s Shoes. (Yes it’s in order. It’s always in order. Don’t tell me you’re one of those people who can’t decide an order. YES YOU CAN!).
Yet, this time, as the kindling of me rubbed, I was surprised to find that I couldn’t bear to look at violence, misery or even plain old everyday sadness. I craved happiness, joy, hugging and resolutions. In short: I wanted the right things to happen to the right people. I wanted sunshine, for fuck’s sake. Who was this person?
But then I remembered the La La Land days of 2016. A period of depression in which I watched La La Land something approaching 15 times in the pictures and then got my hands on a DVD for truly unfettered viewing. Those who knew me were confused about my obsession with this, well, musical (gasp). But it was the only thing I could bear, my senses and skin too alive. (Though we might have to discount the end of La La Land from this assessment. Oof).
Films and TV shows have always played a significant part in my life. Perhaps because they’ve been there are long as the people I love; as long as my mental illness; as long as my memory can stretch and bend.
When things were bad at home, when my mind first started to warp, I would borrow homemade videotapes off my schoolmate Debbie or take my babysitting money and visit the 50p shelf at the village video shop. Relief slipped out of the mouth of the machine as the video was pushed in. I would sit cross-legged on the floor, waiting as the tape whirred (someone had always forgotten to rewind it. Remember when we had to rewind tapes?! Wild). For the next 100-odd moments, my life was on pause. I was taken by the hand, pulled through the artex ceiling and the wet roof, into the heavy clouds and across unseen to other lands. The Goonies, Beverly Hills 90210, The Lost Boys, Stand by Me, Tales of the Unexpected, Prisoner Cell Block H, Return of the Jedi.
Now clearly, these other lands weren’t always sunlit, but they were elsewhere. That elsewhere has been there for me, as life has gone on. In my 20s after my first suicide attempt, when I barely knew the self I was trying to patch back together (Sex and the City, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, American Psycho, Boyz n the Hood, Six Feet Under, Dawson’s Creek). In my thirties, six months before my second, when I was living in the sky in New York’s SoHo and cracking right through the middle (Girls, Happy Valley, The Dark Knight Rises, Crimewatch).
It’s no exaggeration to say that movies and TV shows - along with prompt professional help, medication and a supportive family - helped get me through those, and my most recent period of depression, the latter being the very worst episode of my life. Months of hypermania crashed literally overnight into the depths (and depths) of depression. Now I was only capable of feeling nothing or pain. And as usual, I reached for stories and characters and yes, even song and dance numbers. For elsewhere. It reminded me that there was other stuff to feel, even if I couldn’t feel it. And distracted me, at least briefly. Which felt like a lifetime then. Man, I took briefly. It’s now been almost three months since the crash and its consequences. Each day is another step towards my normality, maybe even happiness. I still like to watch as much as possible, and my palate thankfully, has opened up again. Though I’m not ready for, “I’m the daddy now” quite yet.
Here, in case you ever find yourself in need of a distraction, of elsewhere, is the fairly random stuff that got me through this particular time.
Rizzoli & Isles
In a crowded field of fine procedurals Rizzoli & Isles just struck me as, well, it didn’t strike me at all. I knew it had that one from Law and Order, that one who’d been Gretchen in Dawson’s Creek (this should have made me watch instantly, TBH). and a pretty weird premise. A double act of a hard-ass cop who’s had to make it in a man’s world and a…medical examiner? There’s a reason the latter usually get one expositional scene per episode in the basement. Apart from, as I discovered over the course of the two days I mainlined it: it totally works. I’m not even sure how, and it’s my job to know how. Angie Harmon as Jane Rizzoli is a tough, bad-guy-busting and yet sensitive copper; Sasha Alexander is Dr Maura Isles, a bookish geek who speaks in run-on sentences and cares more than anything for her more emotionally-bunged up friend and colleague. Their chemistry is insane, plus there’s a long-running villain who makes Jigsaw look like a sweet, misunderstood grandpa. Lee Thompson Young played Harmon’s partner until he took his own life in 2014. The way the show pays tribute to the actor and his character should be the gold-standard for sensitively handling such a tragedy. As I watched it, for the first time since three days before, I cried.
Rizzoli & Isles is on Alibi and Amazon Prime Video
Meet The Parents
Of course, this wasn’t my first time with Meet the Parents. You know, it’s a Saturday night, ITV2 and/or Film4 is on and you can’t be bothered changing the channel because you’ve had two glasses of wine and you’re more comfortable than you’ve ever been and the remote control is RIGHT OVER THERE and so you watch it for the 89th time. So yes, watched, found it funny, never thought about it from day to day with any significance. Until now. I needed something light, funny, something about love but not too deep or overly sentimental. Definitely no heartbreak or emotional trauma. Enter Ben Stiller, Mr Trauma Free Zone. Meet the Parents was actually the very first thing I watched when I made it to the settee. I wasn’t yet up for finding something independently and the rolodex in my brain had ground to a halt, but the planner delivered. I started crying when the kids helped Greg spell out, “Will You Marry Me”. I cried when Robert de Niro read the poem about his dead mum. I cried at, “I have nipples Greg, can you milk me?”. I cried at the volleyball in the nose. The counterfeit Mr Jinx. The shit-covered back garden. You get the picture. It worked so well, that when it finished I watched it again, before going straight to…
Meet the Parents is on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video
Meet The Fockers (aka Meet the Parents 2)
As above but now with Actual Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman! And a strap-on breast! And a flying dried-out nub of an umbilical cord! It worked so well, that when I finished it I went straight to…
Meet the Fockers is on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video
Along Came Polly
This is where I began to think that it might be a case of diminishing returns with Ben Stiller. Not a drip-drop of chemistry, but excellent comedic timing from Jennifer Aniston as usual (have we had the Jen An is an underrated comic actor conversation? We should!). It still worked kinda well, so when I finished it I went straight to…
Along Came Polly is on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video
The Heartbreak Kid
The only one I hadn’t previously seen - and those returns? Fully diminished. No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no
The Heartbreak Kid is on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video IF YOU MUST
I’ve long espoused the ability of a procedural to soothe your woes, with its knit-tight formula and every episode resolution. And though I’d been obsessed with Without a Trace and its star Poppy Montgomery (Samantha Spade - what an arc!), Unforgettable passed me by (it doesn’t help that it sounds like Unforgotten and I kept expecting an unsmiling Nicola Walker to pop up with a bone brush). The premise is more batshit than your average procedural. Montgomery is Carrie Wells, a police detective who has hyperthymesia, a condition which means she remembers everything (and I mean, everything), visually. She joins her ex-boyfriend Al Burns (Dylan Walsh) in solving crimes, using her gift (which sometimes feels like a curse) for good. The heart of Unforgettable is the will-they-won’t-they-for-the-love-of-god-do-it-already between Carrie and Al, which plays out across the show’s four seasons. It also has one of the most memorable finales of all procedurals - please can you watch it so we can all talk about it? What the-
Unforgettable is on Alibi and Amazon Prime Video
The Greatest Showman
This should really be called ‘the film I defend the most to men who hate musicals’. But come on. That super superstar cast (Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson!). That incredible soundtrack (written by the Oscar-winning Benj Pasek and Justin Paul). Its message of accepting difference, demanding inclusivity and love conquering all! I went on set of The Greatest Showman in New York for Empire - for the ‘This is Me’ scene - and it might have been the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, but it was still the most joyful film set I’ve ever been on (even when Hugh Jackman was bleeding from the knees due to too many kneeslides). And you surely have to have a heart of rock and a soul of stone to not feel something in your belly when the Bearded Lady starts, “I am not a stranger to the dark…” .
The Greatest Showman is on Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video
After a tentative and coy start, I’d fallen heels over head for the first season of Rose Matafeo’s rom-com. The romance between (hilarious) millennial Jessie (Matafeo) and movie star Tom (Nikesh Patel) was utterly charming and weirdly, urgently compelling. Season two landed at the perfect time, as for the first time in weeks, I found myself able to think about navigating my way up and out there. I fancied that I could handle a little more abrasiveness, the spectre of something not entirely working out, tackling as it does what happens after the happy ever after. It’s as funny, incisive and brilliantly written as the first. A true, acerbic but tender and sincere romcom in an age that seems to have forgotten them (at least on the big screen). My heart was kickstarted. I could see the beginnings of normality - my normality - ahead.
Starstruck is on BBCiPlayer
Here is my Getting Through WatchList in full (linear order of my life):
Beverly Hills 90210
The Lost Boys
Stand by Me
Tales of the Unexpected
Prisoner Cell Block H
Return of the Jedi
Sex and the City
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Boyz n the Hood
Six Feet Under
The Godfather: Part II
Dead Man’s Shoes
The Dark Knight Rises
La La Land
Rizzoli & Isles
Meet the Parents
Meet the Fockers
Along Came Polly
The Greatest Showman
I’d love to know the films and TV shows that have got you through - let’s add them to list.
If you’re struggling with anything mentioned in this post, The Samaritans are there 24/7 at www.samaritans.org or you can call 116 123 (freephone).
I’m Losing My Shit Over…
There’s only one thing to talk about today, and it’s last night’s Instagram announcement by Russell T Davies (see below). WHO ELSE IS SCREAMING? The Tenth Doctor! Donna Noble (aka the most important woman in all of creation)! But how? What does it mean? As we all remember, Donna became DoctorDonna and had to have her memory wiped and return to her normal life, else she would die. So, what’s changed? Also, how is the Tenth (and Greatest) Doctor back? Is it a Parallel Universe? Are we going back in time? It can’t just be a flashback, surely. Is this the greatest dream we’ve ever dreamt (yes to this one, regardless). After a (literally) bumpy start, some of the Donna episodes are the best in modern Doctor Who history (‘Turn Left’ and ‘Journey’s End’ to name but two) and her final scenes with the Doctor were amongst the most genuinely heart-breaking, beaten only by Rose and the Doctor’s separation (“I’m burning up a sun….”).
Now, we knew Russell T Davies would have something pretty damn special planned for both his return and the 60th anniversary, but this? This is beyond (time and space)! It’s only last Sunday that RTD announced that the fourteenth Doctor would be played by the brilliant Ncuti Gatwa (Sex Education). What could next Sunday possibly bring? Six days to go, gang.
Thank you for reading this very first newsletter! I hope you liked it. It’s hopefully a taste of me, of White Noise, and of things to come. I’ll be writing essays, reviews, watchlists, reappraisals, news op-eds: whatever I think is most interesting and that I think you’ll enjoy the most! I’m Losing My Shit Over…will be a weekly item, and there’ll also be a watchlist every Friday.
If you have comments or anything you want to share (your top 5 films, the shows that got you through, DoctorDonna!) the comments will be open on this post on the Substack page.
Your next newsletter will be this Friday when I’ll be reviewing Top Gun: Maverick and sharing my Weekend Watchlist.
I’m shit with words so I’m just going to say fuck me I’m glad you’re still with us. What a knockout first edition, so beautifully written.
You’ve sent me down memory lane with the rewinding tape comments. I didn’t have a vcr growing up so we had to rent one along with the films (it was called moviebox in Sweden, not sure if they went by that name in the UK) and half the time they didn’t work. But when they did, what magic it was to escape into those worlds. The first ever movies I saw on vhs (I’m 48) was Romancing the Stone and The Terminator and I still love both .
Take care and I look forward to the next edition xx
Terri, sending you a huge hug. My heart broke when I saw the mention of your boyfriend and boy and I realised this was recent. I’m glad you’re here with us sharing your incredible words and heartfelt writing. Thank you for being so open and honest.
Films and TV have definitely been a huge escape for me through various ups and downs but especially recently. Last year my marriage broke down after I was told he didn’t love me any more, and that he didn’t want to fix things for us and our two boys - right before I was due to go to a screening of A Quiet Place 2! I still went and sat at the back, on my own holding back tears through the whole film, but as it went on I felt a strange sense of calm wash over me so I was able to face coming home again afterwards and carry on as normal for the boys.
Those next few months I would escape into any film I could get to in the cinema (perfect timing for me to have purchased my very first unlimited cinema pass!) - In The Heights was one I went back to over and over again, mainly for the sunshine and pool dance. At home it was Captain America: The Winter Soldier and I also found myself watching and falling in love with Zoë Kravitz and all her relationships in High Fidelity. For the rest of the year I binged through Friends, The Good Place, Schitts Creek and Parks and Rec which are my comfort shows that Inlaugh and cry along with regularly. Where would we be without our faithful films and shows to get us through? At least now I get to choose the film EVERY TIME and don’t have to suffer through the latest Transformers (apart from Bumblebee, LOVED that one!) or Fast and Furious!