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Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger.Laura Proctor/Handout

In the face of heavy headlines, it’s important to take a break. To that end, here are some light diversions, from easy reads to must-see TV, recommended by The Globe and Mail’s Arts staff.

What we’re watching

Pamela Adlon, left, and Celia Imrie in a scene from Better Things.Suzanne Tenner/The Associated Press

Better Things: One antidote to the world’s gloom is to tune out of the macro for a bit and watch a series about the more intimate big things, the happier (sometimes) ones: connections. Pamela Adlon – who writes, directs and co-created the series – stars as Sam Fox, a single mother of three. A world orbits around Sam, a magnetic L.A. actor. But life is changing; her children are growing up. Her youngest daughter is constantly on her phone; her middle child has opted out of college; the oldest is trying to find her place in the world – which might just be back home. This series on Disney+ – now in its fifth and final (sob) season – is like a poem, and a friend. New episodes release on Mondays; something to look forward to at the beginning of each gruelling week. – Marsha Lederman

A scene from Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.Warrick Page/HBO

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty: Basketball’s drama has traditionally translated much better on court than on screen – remember the feature-film flop The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh? Which is why the new HBO/Crave hoop series Winning Time, imperfect as it is, is such a welcome addition to the genre. The deep (often dark) dive into the run-and-gun “showtime” basketball of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s focuses on the franchise’s leading personalities: the brooding legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the tortured general manager Jerry West, the mesmerizing upstart Earvin (Magic) Johnson, the long-suffering arena manager Claire Rothman and the playboy owner Jerry Buss (portrayed appealingly by John C. Reilly). Some of the chyrons are corny and the fourth-wall breaking is overdone, but the offbeat examinations of misogyny and race are ambitious, with characters never portrayed simply. – Brad Wheeler

The second season of Upload premiered last Friday on Amazon Prime Video.Liane Hentscher/Amazon Prime

Upload: I’ve been missing the ridiculous, philosophical plot and endearing comedy of Netflix hit The Good Place, but this sci-fi series filled that void, and pull me into one: a digital afterlife. It follows a cutesy love story between Nathan (Robbie Amell), a resident of Lakeview, a computer-simulated resort where customers are uploaded after death, and Nora (Andy Allo), an “angel” who works at this not-so-perfect, high-class virtual heaven, as they uncover dark secrets behind the company in charge. The second season premiered last Friday on Amazon Prime Video, and tackles Big Tech issues with a satirical approach to class structures, while serving a much-needed dose of sentimentality and friendship. – Aruna Dutt

Broadcast News is now streaming on Disney+.Disney+

Broadcast News: William Hurt died and the first thing I wanted to do was crawl under the covers with one of my all-time favourite films. When James L. Brooks’s Broadcast News was released in 1987, I was a broadcast-journalism student who saw myself – or aspired to – in Holly Hunter’s Jane: news-obsessed, intense, ambitious, neurotic. Now streaming on Disney+, the film holds up: the newsroom drama; the favouritism of the sleek over the smart (and the viral over the important); the tears accompanying yet another round of layoffs; and the deep friendships formed in a hugely stressful working environment. Although on this side of life, I can’t imagine why Jane would not choose Albert Brooks’s brilliant, hilarious Aaron over William Hurt’s handsome, somewhat vacuous Tom. – Marsha Lederman

Cooper Hoffman, left, and Alana Haim in a scene from Licorice Pizza.Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc./MGM via AP

Licorice Pizza: I suppose this film might be called Licorice Pizza because it shouldn’t work. Released late last year but still screening in select theatres now and on VOD, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscar-nominated coming-of-age comedy has a loose plot, an unlikely romance and two untested lead actors. And, yet, there’s so much charm here. The talent of Cooper Hoffman is as clear as the pimples on his face, and Alana Haim deserves to win any award for which she is nominated and half the ones she isn’t. Set in a Hollywood-adjacent community in 1973, Licorice Pizza celebrates an uncelebratable era marked by gas shortages and pinball machines, while inspiring a bittersweet nostalgia for a short, weird window of time when waterbeds represented the future. – Brad Wheeler

Review: Paul Thomas Anderson’s beautiful, hilarious, complicated Licorice Pizza is the best film of 2021

What we’re reading

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Pure Colour: Toronto author Sheila Heti’s new novel is a meditation on life, death, love and art. A departure from the autofiction of her previous novels, Pure Colour centres on Mira, an aspiring art critic grieving her father and taken with a woman named Annie. The novel is not plot-driven; it depicts life and the world in a more philosophical, contemplative manner.

The slim volume is filled with heavy sentences: the kind that demand rereading, as you think about the world and its graces – and what we are doing to it. The climate emergency hovers over everything like a heat dome. What else to do but escape into a leaf? And then leave it, finally, when the possibility of the real world beckons. – Marsha Lederman

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Thinking & Eating: These days, what could be more useful than literal comfort food for the soul? In this hybrid cookbook/philosophy reader/self-help book, each recipe is suggested as a salve for a specific existential question or crisis. Need a kickstart? Sear some tuna. Looking to reintroduce goodwill into a romantic partnership? Roast some eggplants into a curry. Part of the publication wing of The School of Life, the Alain de Botton-founded pop-philosophy organization, Thinking & Eating is a recipe book for those who are looking to better understand how cooking, dining and sharing food can help improve their emotional well-being. Playful in its execution of serious ideas, the book explores how 16 specific ingredients evoke 16 essential virtues (olive oil for diplomacy, for instance, while lemons stand in for hope), then offers a collection of approachable recipes that each include at least one of these ingredients. – Rebecca Tucker

What we’re listening to

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Jerry Leger’s Nothing Pressing: Toronto-based Americana singer-songwriter Jerry Leger has a strong following in Europe, but only exists on the fringes in his home country. His new album is representative of his strengths: These are the worn-in songs and poetic melancholia of a welcome stranger, with a laconic style that lives somewhere between Blue Rodeo and Lucinda Williams. Leger writes lines such as, “Grabbed my favourite flashlight and shot a question into the night,” that will stop your mind for a second or two. His mild misery makes for sunset music and great company. – Brad Wheeler

Let’s Make a Sci-Fi: If comedians wrote sci-fi, you can be sure the works would be full of “dolphin-people” – one of the ridiculous premises proposed on this CBC podcast by Ryan Beil, Maddy Kelly and Mark Chavez, on their quest to create a sci-fi TV series. It’s a genre that is easy to poke fun of, but difficult to make, so the Vancouver comedians consult with writer/directors such Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Chappie), Simon Barry (Continuum) and actor Rainn Wilson (The Office) as they go from pitching, to world and character-building, to learning the “sci” of the sci-fi from Neil deGrasse Tyson. With help, they are able to avoid their impulse to go with the funniest ideas – and pursue a more intriguing story than “dolphin-people.” – Aruna Dutt

Spoon’s Lucifer on the Sofa: Few bands have been so consistently, well, consistent as Spoon. Case in point: Lucifer on the Sofa, the Austin group’s 10th album. It’s bigger, bolder and more brash than recent releases, and more evocative of their earlier efforts than 2017′s electro-tinged Hot Thoughts. From the opening track, a searing cover of Bill Callahan’s Held, to the exuberant On the Radio, Lucifer on the Sofa feels timeless. It’s only Wild, the album’s second single, that offers a real diversion – and that’s thanks to the hitmaking touch of pop-production impresario Jack Antonoff. It’s a welcome shift: Wild is a big, beautiful, anthemic track, overflowing with optimism. – Rebecca Tucker

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