Quarantine has flung my family headlong into a desperate search for anything that will make us laugh.
It didn’t happen right away. For the first week or so, we rode a wave of adrenaline as everyday life corkscrewed into something we didn’t recognize. No school, no office, no carpools, and only a dwindling supply of toilet paper to mark the passage of days. By week two of the shutdown, I began to sob spontaneously during newscasts. My children, tenuously tethered to school at that point, spent an inordinate amount of time watching TikToks, which only depressed me more.
We needed levity. So my kids and I turned to stalwarts like "Seinfeld" and "Community." We watched Eddie Murphy bits online, and replayed John Mulaney specials. We even stumbled onto a couple of new favorites, like "The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show" on Netflix.
To be honest, I didn't expect John Krasinski's "Some Good News" to become part of our lockdown comedy rotation. Based on the "SGN" sign alone, which fans now know was painted by his kids, it had the whiff of something well-intentioned but treacly. And perhaps in someone else's hands, the YouTube series would have been just that, a sentimental tour of uplifting news bits culled from the web each week.
But Krasinski isn’t interested in that -- or only in that. He infuses some schtick into the proceedings, delivering his feel-good news in a suit and tie and with an occasional glint of Ron Burgundy-esque puffery. Nor is he above getting self-referential, like when he cuts to Steve Carell to recount some behind-the-scenes silliness from “The Office.” Their conversation is both hilarious and poignant, two words not generally associated with most Zoom calls.
Carell isn’t the only famous face to pop up on “SGN.” Robert De Niro surfaces briefly. So does Tom Brady, though only in a wet T-shirt photo. Actress Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s wife, also makes cameos, such as when she jokingly trash talks her “Mary Poppins Returns” costar Lin-Manuel Miranda, who does her one better by rounding up the original cast of “Hamilton” for a video sing-along.
The last bit was for a sweet cause. Krasinski heard that a 9-year-old “Hamilton” super fan named Aubry had been waiting to see the show, now canceled because of the shutdown. So he brought the actors to her online, a starry lineup that included Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Jonathan Groff. Aubry spent much of the singalong wide-eyed with amazement, and frankly so did we.
“SGN" is far from the only outlet to focus on uplifting news and funny social media bits, and the actor/writer/filmmaker makes sure to point that out and direct viewers to those sites, too. What’s notable, however, is that Krasinski and his team got the YouTube show up and running in just a couple of weeks. In early March, he and Blunt were on the red carpet in New York for the premiere of their latest movie, “A Quiet Place Part II,” a sequel to the 2018 blockbuster he cowrote, directed, and starred in. Four days later, the film was delayed as coronavirus fears triggered shutdowns across the US. But it wasn’t long before he’d put out a call on Twitter asking fans to send him stories “that made you feel good this week or the things that just made you smile." The first video, released March 29, has now been viewed more than 16 million times.
Perhaps most striking about “SGN” is that Krasinski manages to give the videos some edge, tossing in asides about copyright infringement, unsolicited criticism from viewers, and his own pique at never getting to play a superhero. Of course, his deadpan only elevates the heartfelt moments he strings together. The third episode gathers videos of recovered COVID-19 patients cheered on as they leave hospitals, including a 104-year-old WWII veteran in Oregon believed to be the oldest survivor of the novel coronavirus. But viewers also get a glimpse of nuns rocking out in a convent and parental homeschool fails. In one bit, Krasinski rings up Joe Buck to do play-by-play on household activities that pass for “sports” these days, like competitive dishwasher emptying and laundry hurling.
Yeah, so about sports. Krasinski, like the rest of us, clearly pines for their return. And as a kid from Newton, he takes any opportunity to name check local teams on "SGN," whether it's the Patriots plane flying in more than a million masks from China, or David Ortiz on a call with the Beth Israel Deaconess COVID unit to donate Red Sox tickets to hospital workers.
But it’s more than just a hometown thing for Krasinski. When the Beth Israel staffers, in masks and scrubs, head into an empty but still lyric Fenway Park to throw out the “first pitch” of the season, it feels hopeful. Not just to Sox fans but to anyone, no matter who your team is, or where you live, or how uncertain things feel right now. And with hope, a dash of humor, and some good news, we might just get through this together.