Reality check: Many Saratogians are going to be working from home over the next few weeks (and possibly longer) because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Maybe you’ve already been home, trying to wrap your head around next steps and wondering whether you should even set foot outside. If you have kids, that’s more than likely the case.
No, this isn’t the easiest time to be a Saratogian, but one glimmer of hope during this time of inconvenience is all of the wonderfully entertaining options that already exist within the confines of your home. No, I’m not talking about that copy of War and Peace that’s been staring you down since freshman year of college. I’m talking about binge-able TV and movies. What’s a better escape than popping some popcorn and getting engrossed in a new TV series or epic movie?
For those of you spending (forced?) family time together in the coming weeks, I’d suggest first taking a deep breath—then getting lost in these great movies and TV shows with Saratoga connections. Here are the 10 best options.
Saratoga (1937) – What better way to kick off your mandatory staycation with a black-and-white classic. Saratoga was actress Jean Harlow’s final movie—she died at the tender age of 26 in June of ’37. (She was sort of a proto-Marilyn Monroe.) Harlow, who died before the movie wrapped, causing Director Jack Conway to finish it using stand-ins, acts opposite the great Clark Gable. It’s got an 84 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, so it won’t be like Christmas ’88, when Uncle Dan decided to rent Ishtar.
Saratoga Connection: What’s in a name?
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) – Fun fact: The little boy in Kramer vs. Kramer, Justin Henry, who became the youngest actor to ever receive an Oscar nomination, years later attended Skidmore College. The film is one of the best—but saddest—on this list, as it hinges on a messy divorce. But it stars Dustin Hoffman (see below) and Meryl Streep, so the top-notch acting will make up for the “I’m not crying, you’re crying” that’ll be going down that night.
Saratoga Connection: Little Billy Kramer’s a future Skiddie!
Billy Bathgate (1991) – When I was a fifth-grader at Lake Avenue Elementary School, my classmates Sanford Mirling and Maureen Toomey—Patrick’s sister—tried out and got the part of extras in Billy Bathgate, a movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Nicole Kidman, which filmed some scenes in Saratoga. (I deeply regret the decision not to follow suit.) While it’s not the world’s greatest movie, it’s worth the watch just for the Saratoga-peeping. It also co-stars Bruce Willis, who, at the time of filming, was two films deep in the Die Hard canon.
Saratoga Connection: Saratoga scenes include glimpses of Saratoga Race Course and the Saratoga Spa State Park
Sneakers (1992) – This is sort of a ’90s version of those movies that come out these days that you can pretty much assume the cast did just for the hefty paycheck. (Hey, look, we all gotta make money, right?) But it’s actually a pretty fun movie—perfect for an open holiday evening. You don’t really need to think too hard about it. It also stars Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, Sidney Poitier and a late-career River Phoenix, who tragically died in 1993.
Saratoga Connection: In one of the better cameos in Capital Region history, former broadcast news anchor Ernie Tetrault, who spent his entire 42-year career at our local CBS affiliate, makes an appearance in the film. Blink, and you’ll miss him. Thank the lord for our TV-pausing capabilities.
Becoming Bond (2017) – If you’re a fan of the 1969 James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which features the only one-time Bond, Aussie George Lazenby, you’ve probably wondered why he only struck once. Saratogian Josh Greenbaum, a talented director and documentarian, tracked down Lazenby and created this wonderful documentary on his life leading up to and directly after the movie. It’s exclusively on Hulu.
Saratoga Connection: Director Josh Greenbaum is a graduate of Saratoga Springs High School.
The Americans (FX) – Yeah, so the Russians hacked our last presidential election. That much we know. The cable show, which premiered in 2013—and takes place in the early ’80s—follows two deep-cover Russian KGB agents, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, respectively), who are posing as American citizens in Washington, DC. They have two kids, live a normal life, work a normal job—but when nobody’s looking, the Jennings pop on disguises and carry out assassinations for the Reds. It’s a truly gripping, binge-able show.
Saratoga Connection: The show’s spooky score was written by Skidmore College graduate Nathan Barr.
Stranger Things (Netflix) – Depending on how much vacation time you took over the holidays, you could easily binge the first three season of Stranger Things. MILD SPOILER ALERT: The Season 3 finale features a hilarious duet between Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and his new girlfriend, Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo), which ends up saving the world.
Saratoga Connection: Schenectadian Pizzolo, who you have to wait until nearly the final scene in the Season 3 finale to see, got her start in showbiz performing at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, among other local arts venues.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video) – This is must-watch streaming TV, and there are three amazing seasons to binge. Following the glorious life and times of Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a Jewish housewife, who takes up standup comedy after her husband leaves her, Mrs. Maisel is a joy from start to finish. You could watch one a day to keep the suspense building—or just binge the entire damned thing in a single night. It won’t be the first time.
Saratoga Connection: The fellow who plays Maisel’s ex-husband, Joel, is none other than Skidmore grad Michael Zegen. A friend’s mother told me all about him at a recent Passover seder. He sounds like a real mensch.
The Walking Dead (AMC) – This might be one you want to watch late-night, long after you’ve put your tots to sleep. (Or, because of the subject matter, that you just want to avoid altogether.) You’re probably not going to be able to binge ten seasons of this zombie apocalypse smash-hit over the course of the COVID-19 outbreak, but let me tell you: The first few seasons rush by quickly, because they’re gripping, thrilling and full of gore that you might be embarrassed you enjoy as much as you do. Look out for Jon Bernthal, a one-time Skidmore student, who plays the loud, brash adulterer cop, Shane Walsh.
Saratoga Connection: Actor Jon Bernthal
Friends (Netflix) – Despite Friends not being available on Netflix anymore, you can still rent it, for a nominal fee per episode, on Amazon Prime or iTunes—or, dare I say, dust off your old DVD player and order the boxed set and go to town. Like The Walking Dead, this one-time NBC hit stretches over 10 seasons, so there’s a lot of ground to cover. Plus, there are some wonderful connections to Saratoga embedded in the show.
Saratoga Connection: Back in September 2018, Saratoga Living published the ultimate guide to connections between Saratoga and Friends. One of the most obvious ones? The show’s Executive Producer/Director Kevin S. Bright actually lives in the area and is on the board at Ballston Spa’s Gateway House of Peace and Saratoga’s Caffè Lena, among others.