This is The Good List — I’m Tsh Oxenreider.
I’ve mentioned already how much I’ve been thinking about World War II during this pandemic — not that it’s on scale with that time period (not at all), but that there are certain echoes of that time period, when people had to “make do” on a level we can’t even fathom right now in 2020. I’m already a sucker for stories set in that time period (I know, I’m super original and not at all cliche in that regard), but even more so since we began quarantining, I’m just here for it. Give me all the books, all the movies, all the music, all the everything about WWII right now. I love learning about that spot of time in our history, how good overcame evil, how so much darkness (even on the “good side”) was exposed, the aftermath for decades to come even today, in some ways, and maybe most significantly during this pandemic, the solidarity of so many people around the world fighting a common enemy.
Well, there is a Masterpiece show I love, and if you haven’t seen it yet, I think you may really enjoy watching it now during quarantine. It’s called Home Fires, and I recently watched it for the second time not too long ago. It first came out in 2015, and it’s about a rural English village on the verge of WWII, and in particular, it’s about the women who kept the home fires going as the war raged on. It’s also about the men they loved, the men they hated, and in all this, paints a really vivid picture of what everyday life was like in wartime Britain. For those of us Americans, it does a really good job reminding us that even though we fought in the war, it never quite hit our home turf in the same way it did in the UK.
It’s about their resourcefulness during this time, coming together as a village to do things like raise funds for ambulances, turn every available green space into a victory garden, live in rations, plan out village bomb shelters, and serve the troops literally housed in your backyard. Yes, there’s a certain drama to it — there’s enough storylines to give it a sort of highbrow soap opera feel to it, but don’t dismiss it because of that; those things add a certain humanity to the reality of life during WWII.
The music is great, the costumes are great, the scenery is great, the camerawork is great… The only thing that isn’t so great is that it’s only two seasons long. And the second season ends on a massive cliffhanger — apparently the show was canceled and caused quite a stir from its die-hard fans. I can still find fan forums online talking about whether the show will return, will Netflix buy it and keep it going, stuff like that. I’d LOVE to see that happen, because I didn’t know it ended abruptly when I first watched it, and I about flipped my lid when I was left with the ending. So, you’ve been warned — it feels like a ‘to be continued’ TV series. But it’s absolutely worth watching, and it feels like comfort food to me right now — there are enough echoes of camaraderie, resilience, and finding contentment of the unknown to feel just a little bit familiar right now. And maybe it will for you, too.
Right now it’s on both Amazon Prime Video and pbs.org here in the U.S., so watch it while you have the chance. It scratches that period-piece-drama-of-a-bygone-era itch.
I’m gonna pause quickly for a break to thank some sponsors, and then when I’m back, I’ve got a short conversation to share with you with a new friend of mine. I’ll be back in just a minute.
Alright, we’re back. About 2 months ago, I had the honor of talking with Mel Joulwan, who’s an American that lives in Prague. I’ve long known her blog and her subsequent cookbooks, Well Fed and Well Fed 2, and she’s got a new blog and podcast out in the world called A Strong Sense of Place, which is totally up my alley because of my love of stories and travel. If you’re a subscriber of my own Books & Crannies, you know what I mean.
Anyway, Mel shared with me a fun and surprising work of art on her Good List, and it made me so happy. In fact, afterward, I introduced the kids to this, and they’ve been into it ever since. Here’s that chat with Mel Joulwan.
Tsh: Hi Melissa, how are you?
Melissa: I’m so good. I’m really excited to be talking to you.
Tsh: Same, same. I’ve loved your work for a super long time. Tell me what is currently on your good list right now?
Melissa: I thought really hard about which thing I wanted to talk about and I pick the one that I thought was weirdest, which is the TV show Jeopardy.
Tsh: Oh my gosh, I love that. It’s so good. So, why?
Melissa: Here’s why it’s Jeopardy. I work at home and I live in Prague, so I’m here, I’m not going to say all day, but a very big chunk of the day in our flat. For other people who work at home, they will probably understand it is very difficult to break from workday to personal time in the evening. What’s perfect is that Jeopardy has become this dividing line between work and evening and it’s just this really nice, clear demarcation between what I’ve been doing all day and easing into making dinner and relaxing and winding down and getting ready for the evening and personal time.
Tsh: I love that. I have such fond memories now of coming home from school and watching Jeopardy. I had forgotten about that.
Melissa: What’s really funny is that I did not watch Jeopardy as a kid. I distinctly remember in high school I had a social studies teacher who would hold Jeopardy games in the classroom to prepare us for tests and I had no idea what he was talking about and I didn’t understand the whole answering with a question thing. He was really weird. I didn’t know what was going on, but I started watching it maybe, I don’t know, 20 years ago now is when I lived in Austin. I got in the habit somehow and the thing that I really like about it is that it’s different than watching a regular TV show for me because I am super engaged. I’m going to nerd out for you right now. I have an app that lets me play along with the show so I can keep track of my score.
Tsh: Oh my gosh, that’s fantastic.
Melissa: It’s called Jeop-o-score.
Tsh: I’m going to look it up right after this. I’m writing it down right now.
Melissa: I literally, when I win, hold the phone up to the TV and yell, suck it nerds. I am not competitive usually, it brings up all my competitive side. But what I like about that is that it’s not just like passively watching a TV show, I am fully engaged and it’s really fun. It’s like a little bit of playtime at the end of the day, which I really like.
Tsh: I love that. That is such a fantastic, I mean to me it reminds me of like doing Sudoku or doing a crossword because it’s brain engaging, but it’s just still a game. But it’s so classically old school in all the right ways. I think it’s fantastic. Now, do you stream it somewhere or are you watching it as it still comes TV?
Melissa: No, we have a service where we get it. It’s not the same, we’re behind. Other people have seen these shows months ago.
Tsh: Got it. I’ve seen that. I think it’s on, is it Netflix or something?
Melissa: There are some shows on Netflix, yeah.
Tsh: Okay, that’s cool. Did you see the recent ones, what do you call them? The greatest people who’ve ever, I guess the GOATs on it?
Melissa: Yeah, I am such a hardcore Ken Jennings fan and I love his books. I don’t know if you’ve read any of these books.
Tsh: Oh my kids have read them all.
Melissa: He’s such a great writer and I watched him when he was on the show, however many years ago that was, and was fully invested in him and his experience. When he retired from the show and started writing, I was his number one nerd fan. I feel so like somehow I had something to do with it. I’m so proud of him, it’s really weird. I love the way he writes. And I also really love his podcast Omnibus. It’s so good.
Tsh: I’ve seen his podcast, but I haven’t listened to it. I just follow him on Twitter and he’s a great Twitter follow.
Melissa: He is really entertaining on Twitter. And Omnibus is great because they tackle, he and his cohost tackle one subject and it’s usually something in pop culture and they go off on tangents, but because they’re so smart, the tangents are also really fascinating. It’s kind of like eavesdropping on two super smart people talking about something.
Tsh: Right. I think that’s kind of up my alley for sure of the people who would listen to this, podcast alleys. But that sounds perfect for us. This is such a great one and honestly, it was very unexpected and I love it. I love being surprised. So that is fantastic.
Okay. We have our four categories. Would you call this a work of art then? Because I’m leaning towards that or is this like a habit of yours? I don’t know what this would be.
Melissa: Wow. I mean, I guess a work of art. Yes. Let’s get a work of art. I’m going to believe in jeopardy. I am not going to be apologetic about liking a TV show.
Tsh: I love it. It’s a perfect one. I love that earlier when I lived overseas too, there were little things that I would hold onto like that, that just felt, even if I didn’t necessarily practice those things back in my home culture, that just make me feel like I have still a little bit of a string connected to where I’m from.
Melissa: It is really fun.
Thanks so much Mel Joulwan for that chat — you can find her new blog and podcast at strongsenseofplace.com.
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Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, and thanks, as always, to Caroline TeSelle and Kyle Oxenreider for their help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. I’m Tsh Oxenreider, and I’ll be back with you in just a few days — thanks for listening to The Good List.