The films and TV shows that may just cure your ills
Looking for a mood enhancer? A way to unleash your tears? Need help falling asleep? Or just a cure for a really bad day? Here's what Dr Birch has been prescribing...
It's a rough life, isnt it? Even with all the technology and aids to daily living (and in some cases, because of them), the majority of us lead quite stressful, rushed lives, with tons of responsibilities heaped on shoulders that haven't evolved fast enough to handle the load.
We may not have to pursue our own meals any more, but chasing trains, hunting for jobs and battling bills and budgets are just as taxing on the wellbeing of the modern man and woman, and takes its toll on minds and bodies.
The medical profession and proper care has its place, but what about the more now age (not to be confused with new age) resources we have available to help us cope when we don't quite need the benefits of traditional medicine, or want to avoid gorging on comfort food or resorting to illegal or harmful substances?
Entertainment media, the best of it, is designed to move us in some way, to elicit some emotion or thought that we live in during its duration, and with exceptional examples, take away with us for spans of hours to lifetimes.
We all know that certain songs can instantly and magically transport us back to a precise moment in our lives, even decades earlier. But to change our mood or outlook, we often need to see outside of ourselves, to a bigger picture than our own little worlds encompass.
Books can take us anywhere and immerse us more deeply among other places and perspectives, situations, and company than visual sources. But they're the time-released kind of self-help, if you will, and if you're in need of a fast-acting fix, nothing beats TV and films, that speed through your system in under 30 minutes to a couple of hours.
Here's our own favourite recommendations of at-home treatments for what may ail us temporarily from time to time and we'd love to hear what you watch when you need that certain something to raise your spirits or forget your woes for a while...
When you're feeling put-upon, unappreciated, overworked, overlooked, have to put up with slackers, bigots, misogynists or misandrists at your job, or have a week where you've drawn the short straw at work or at home more often than seems fair, it's always a great relief and release to watch some bad guy get what he deserves.
Our personal preference for symptoms of the 'woe mes' is The Shawshank Redemption. It's a difficult film to watch in parts, but all the better for it as, if you can make it past the brutality, there's a warm glowy feeling to be bathed in when all the evil-doers suffer like they should, and our not exactly heroic, but the closest the film has to offer protagonists finally achieve freedom.
Not all the innocents escape unscathed, but it's a great tale of comeuppance and justice, the human kind, triumphing in the end.
If you don't need the extra strength solution and would love a little fantasy and romance in the mixture, Amelie is a film we turn to time and time again for its restorative powers and regenerative effects when we're feeling worn down by the world and rough around the edges.
Amelie manages to turn the tables on an emotional torturer, cheer up her widowered father, restore an old man's youthful memories and find love, all in the space of 122 minutes, and with such gorgeous visuals, it's nearly impossible to come away anything less than lifted.
For a more diluted, but no less potent vindication observation, many films from childhood are well suited for situations when we feel a bit trodden upon.
A great choice would be Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, where we get to watch each unworthy in turn get what's coming to them, until, at last, the truly deserving Charlie remains to inherit all.
If you'd like your feel good factors meted out each week, then our recommendation is Chuck, a TV show with so much heart, any shortcomings are barely noticeable.
Chuck has upped the smile factor in many a geeky household for four seasons now, so there's an ample supply for refills.
Trapped tear releasers
Everybody could use a good cry now and again. It's incredibly liberating as it clears away the grievance cobwebs and irksome irritation dust, valid or irrational, that tends to build up as we keep stuffing feelings down week on week. So, what better remedy than a logically scheduled cry, set off with a weepy of our choice?
Television has grown more and more capable of the tearjerker episode, most often found in the conclusions of long running or much loved series, when we've established emotional (as much as the glass and wires allow) ties to characters whose fates we're interested in. There's a top collection of examples here, and everyone has their own memorable moments when the waterworks flowed in front of the small screen.
Our earliest recollection of the film that first made us cry was 1933's King Kong. As the beast toppled to death on a cold hard pavement, so did our composure.
That trend of animal-induced tears continued through Disney's Bambi, The Yearling, Old Yeller, Charlotte's Web, Watership Down, and The Plague Dogs.
More recently, it's still been animated feature films that can make us (and we'd guess many) cry, in the touching montages of Carl and Ellie's life together in Up and the recent floods in theatres let loose by Toy Story 3.
While we're not huge fans of soppy romantic comedy, we do want to avoid the truly depressing plights of The Elephant Man and films of that nature, which are too painfully realistic in their portrayal of human suffering for our needs.
We turn instead to Truly, Madly, Deeply and the outstanding performances of Juliet Stevenson, Alan Rickman and Michael Maloney when we need a great big girly sobfest.
If you're unfamiliar with this superior tear inducer, we wrote about the film here, in our non-rom-com recommendations.
Sometimes it's easy to momentarily lose your faith in mankind. Spend too much time on any one forum and you can easily begin to feel the cruel and nasties outnumber the reasonable and tolerant among us.
In those cases, we reach for one film and that's Seabiscuit. On the surface, it's a film about a horse, but its story is more about faith in man, family and oneself, lost and regained.
A brilliant cast including Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper and Tobey Maguire, and effective narration by David McCullough, carries you into a story that should draw the most ornery and jaded of viewers out of a temporary funk about the state of the world and its clingers-on.
Although it's a rather large pill, forcefully administered at times, the Depression era story, especially now, reminds us that troubled times are cyclical, things could be a hell of a lot worse, and people persevere, provided they've surrounded themselves with good people who can help bolster them through the worst life has to throw at us.
A cure for almost all ills
Clichés are clichés for a reason and laughter is truly the best medicine. Many TV addicts currently depend on their weekly doses of Modern Family, 30 Rock, Community, and Parks And Recreation, and a break in airdates is enough for the onset of the shakes.
But here in the UK, where we can't always rely on the sun doing its job on our dark day psyches, there's at least a reliable cabinet full of old and new shows that never fail to bring an invigorating chuckle or banish work worries with a good healthy guffaw.
The best of Peep Show, Spaced, The Ricky Gervais Show, Mock the Week, Red Dwarf, Fawlty Towers, Alan Partridge and Saxondale, The Royle Family, Father Ted and others are in constant rotation in our houses.
And if we want a more cinematic pill, the home-grown Monty Pythons (The Holy Grail always provides) or imported National Lampoon's Vacations are constantly within easy reach to climb out of the doldrums.
The scope of choice here is, of course, as vast as it is divisive, with one person's laugh-out-loud film another's bile stirrer.
Far too often it's difficult to completely shed the burdens of the day and a good night's sleep seems the impossible dream. We don't have space enough for all the films that could swiftly send you to slumber land, but those would be films failing, rather than achieving.
However, in the land of telly, there's only one programme that's so easily recommendable to whisk you off to the Land of Nod feeling calm and cuddled and that's The Joy Of Painting.
If you're not familiar with the series, its host, painter Bob Ross, completed one oil painting from start to finish during each half hour show, which ran from 1983 through 1994, before his death in 1995.
The soft spoken host had quite a way with words, and as he painted he imparted, not only art-related tips and advice, but soothing philosophical titbits about happiness and self-fulfilment that could easily work as self-hypnosis, to the world's benefit.
While describing the shadowed areas beside trees and shrubs (which he often painted in pairs so they'd have a friend), Bob Ross wouldn't talk in artsy terms of contrast, but rather, he'd ask you to imagine places where little (unseen and unpainted) critters and creatures could live cosily, and a constant lyrical mantra was that there are no mistakes in art, only "happy accidents".
So dulcet were Mr Ross' tones that even a looped recording of him saying "phthalo blue", "alizarin crimson", "Van Dyke brown", and our personal favourite, "yellow ochre" can instantly have you breathing easier, relaxed and ready for Zs. Add in the shoop-shoop, tap-tap and fwap-fwap of the brushes, and you're snoring in no time.
We feel strongly that there's no more comforting way to drift off to dreamland, should you need the help to reach it, and reckon if the show had had a wider audience, it may be a more peaceful planet altogether.
Here's a little demonstration of how you can be lulled to sleep by painting instruction. Watch with caution, or your co-workers may find you drooling down your desk before you know it.
Those are our, admittedly, very personal picks. What shows and films would you prescribe to help alter the mood of the modern day worrier?
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