Kate Siegel, Michiel Husman, Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Elisabeth Reaser in Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House.

Image: Netflix

There’s a lot going on right now. Maybe you’re protesting, maybe you’re donating to wildfire victims, maybe you’re keeping tabs on the way your representatives are responding to the present moment. Keep doing that!

Our lives are not one thing, though, and you’re also probably looking to escape, however briefly, into a show or a book or an album that might help you shut out the world or understand it a little better. To get the wheels turning, here’s the stuff filling our queues at Portland Monthly this week, from octopus affairs to Hill House hauntings.  

The Great British Baking Show

“Same old bake off. Familiar, comforting, lovely,” intones Prue with a heavy dash of posh, adding a layer of British teeth and topping it all with bright blue glasses. And she is not wrong. The camera pans over the green fields of somewhere bucolically English, and once more we’re in the beloved tent, where no harm can befall us. Neither tear gas nor Trumpian bombast shall permeate here. And yes, things are different: Sandi has been replaced by British comedy staple (and Bridesmaids star) Matt Lucas, who stepped jauntily into the role with his first, comically-timed, bellowing “BAKE!” The bakers are in a COVID-required bubble, and the season controversially kicked off with cake week—some exemplars of which took disturbingly human form—but other than that, it’s the same beloved Baking Show, keeping calm and carrying on.
Truly, this is the only competitive show where the entrants seem genuinely intent on helping each other, taking setbacks on the chin, soldiering through melting frosting and burnt caramels, recklessly plopping rosewater into random sponges when we know that’s never going to work with the judges, while revealing some of the best of human nature to leave you feeling lighter than a Victoria sponge and warmer than a fresh crumpet. In the end, it all comes as a blessed relief to know that cakes will rise, souffles fall, soggy bottoms and bad jeans make their occasional appearance, but still the 12 bakers raise the checkered tea towels and bake on. What could be more comforting and lovely than that? Fiona McCann, senior editor at-large

The Haunting of Hill House

When I say I like horror, I’m most certainly not talking about what the country and the world had to bear witness to during the first presidential debate. I’m talking about, you know, scary stuff: scary movies, scary TV shows, scary books. As October rears its spooky head each year, I’ll likely watch some classics: The Thing, The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby. This year, without a doubt the spookiest of years, I started early by rewatching The Haunting of Hill House in preparation for its second season, The Haunting of Bly Manor, set for release on October 9.

Loosely based on the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel of the same name, The Haunting of Hill House follows the Crain family’s supernatural experiences in a place called … Hill House. When the family moves in with the intention of renovating the mansion and using that money to build their “forever home,” they instead get a lot of black mold and lingering ghosts. Told through two interwoven timelines (one in 1992, the other in the present day), the show explores how the supernatural experiences continue to affect the Crain family, who are reunited after a sudden tragedy.

Part The Shining, part Hereditary, the show’s exploration of family, grief, and loss are deeply moving and relatable, and its horror lives in those moments of vulnerability: always a long, terrifying gaze instead of a quick flash. Much of the ensemble cast is returning for season two, but it promises a new location and a new terror. —Gabriel Granillo, digital editor

The Lying Life of Adults

Every night, when the job is done and the dinner is finished and the homework is helped with and the dishes are clean(ish) and the laundry is whirring, there is a blessed hour or so of "free time." Now, when the election that will decide the fate of the nation is on the line in just over a month, my temptation is to spend that time anxiously checking the latest election forecast on fivethirtyeight.com, or using the New York Times' interactive "Path to 270" feature to consider whether Joe Biden could lose Florida and Pennsylvania and still capture the presidency. (Yes, but he would need to win Iowa, all of Maine, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and a chunk of—oy—Nebraska to do it.) This is not, however, the healthiest way to spend the hour before bedtime, as it is guaranteed to give you truly hideous nightmares.
 
Instead, I recently put down the screen and picked up the latest novel from Italy's most famous recluse, Elena Ferrante, best known for the Neapolitan quartet, a propulsive exploration of a decades-long, deeply felt female friendship. Ferrante's newest is The Lying Life of Adults, and is a straightforward coming of age story, set in a more modern era than her earlier works. The narrator is Giovanna, who when we first meet her is on the cusp of adolescence, at exactly the age when you realize that your parents are mortals. An overheard remark of her father's sends her into what can only be described as a shame spiral. Giovanna eventually reconnects with her father's estranged sister, who lives in a grittier, coarser section of Naples; via her crude aunt, Gio's eyes are opened to the realities of sex and infidelity all around her. I love Ferrante's writing for its matter-of-factness—all credit to translator Ann Goldstein too—and for her ability to capture the wonder and indignity of growing up female on the page in a way that no other author I know has ever quite managed. It's (almost) enough to make me forget about the polls. —Julia Silverman, news editor

My Octopus Teacher

I love a nature show, but for an animal lover they can be traumatizing because nature is harsher than all my exes lined up in a room and asked to weigh in on what went wrong. But still, I search for a good nature doc. I yearn for it. One where you get all the beauty of this glorious planet, but where I can also pretend all the creatures frolic in harmony. One where lions hug gazelles and owls and mice work on TikTok dances together, so I don’t sob myself into a fetal position of depression. And while I still cried heavily in Netflix’s My Octopus Teacher, this one is worth the tears.

The documentary follows diver Craig Foster, who began curing his depression with daily freediving trips into a kelp forest near his home at the tip of South Africa, where he visits one small female octopus in her den every single day until they form a friendship. The underwater photography is as stunningly beautiful as anything you’ll ever see, and the true story of a man finding an octopus friend who teaches him to love animals, nature, and even himself, is unbelievably pure. Watch it at once. Have tissues ready. —Eden Dawn, style editor

Sofia Coppola Movies

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been placating my movie-hungry mind with virtual screenings from the New York Film Festival. One of the higher-profile titles on my roster has been On the Rocks, the latest from Sofia Coppola starring Rashida Jones and Bill Murray. It’s a breezy father-daughter comedy about agency and parental trauma, and it's totally fine: Jones is fantastic, it looks great, it fizzles at the end, and Bill Murray drinks a lot of martinis in it. Crucially, though, it reminded me of other, better Sofia Coppola films, most of which I saw once as a teenager, reblogged on Tumblr, and never touched again.

This week, that changed. I treated myself to repeat viewings of Lost in Translation (still wonderful) and Marie Antoinette (even better than I remembered), plus a first time screening of 2010’s Somewhere (fragile and magical). I will likely rewatch The Bling Ring and The Beguiled before the week is up. As a teenager, I regarded Coppola’s work as pretty, transporting, and a little opaque—semi-boring visual feasts that held my curiosity without earning my full-blown affection. Now, as a 20-something locked away from the rest of the world due to forces beyond my control, I regard her as some sort of prophet. 

Her movies are exceptionally Cool; a lot of them are scored by Phoenix (whose lead singer is now Coppola’s husband) and feature songs by The Strokes. But they’re also about cool: about the baffling experience of watching other people find you impressive when you know you're just ... you. She never overplays her hand or tries to posit that success or adoration is some sort of tragedy—just that watching others watch you is a less enlightening and more alienating experience than it should be. Her movies are remarkably attuned to physical sensation without threatening to dissolve into Malick-adjacent mysticism, and she treats her befuddled, frustrated, thinly-drawn protagonists with so much empathy it almost hurts. On the Rocks is a rare miss, and I hear the "do we really need to explore the alienation of rich white people at this moment in history?" dissent loud and clear. But I'm gonna continue living in her gauzy, ennui-soaked worlds for now, and I expect I'll learn something about myself while I'm at it. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor