Cross Country Checkup

Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tegan and Sara, Colm Feore and more share their lockdown media picks

Checkup assembled an all-star roster of Canadian artists to share the albums, movies, TV shows and books that are helping them get through the weeks and months of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Canadian artists share the albums, movies, TV shows and books helping them get through the pandemic

Colm Feore, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Sharon Bala, Tegan and Sara Quin, Colin Mochrie, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan. (Clockwise from top left:Stratford Festival/Chris Young/CP, Vanessa Heins/CBC, Peter Power/CBC, Arthur Mola/Invision/AP, Mark Blinch/CP, Amy Sussman/Getty Images) (Compilation)

People around the world are spending most if not all of their time at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we near the two-month mark of physical distancing and many working from home, it's time for some new recommendations.

Checkup host Duncan McCue spoke to an all-star list of Canadian artists to get their picks for their favourite albums, TV shows, films and books — whether for their own creative inspiration or, like most of us, as a mental salve to help get through the weeks and months of self-isolation.

Tegan and Sara

Pop rocker twin duo Tegan and Sara Quin's summer tour was cancelled because of the pandemic. They're currently in lockdown in their respective homes in Vancouver.

Tegan Quin says she's had more time than usual to listen to music — something she calls a "pandemic perk."

Sara Quin, left, and Tegan Quin, of Tegan and Sara, participate in the Queer Headliners 2019 panel at Billboard and THR's Pride Summit on Aug. 8, 2019, in West Hollywood, Calif. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press)

She's been "absolutely smitten" by Colombian-Canadian artist Lido Pimienta's new album Miss Columbia.

"Just what a fantastic talent. And just so cool that she's from Canada," said Tegan.

Sara Quin said she's been diving into her interest in electronic music, including Suddenly, the new album by Dan Snaith, a.k.a. Caribou.

"It sort of got my brain back into that that specific sort of genre of electronic music that I absolutely love," she said.

Sharon Bala

Sharon Bala, award-winning author of The Boat People, says listening to podcasts like Death, Sex and Money, hosted by Anna Sale, has helped her to harness her creative energy during self-isolation.

"It's [about] all these things that we never talk about in polite conversation. You get to voyeuristically listen to people talk about [this stuff], and Anna is such a great incisive and thoughtful interviewer. She somehow has this magical way of getting people to open up about the most intimate and painful and interesting parts of their life," Bala said.

Sharon Bala is the author of The Boat People. (Peter Power/CBC, McClelland & Stewart)

As far as books go, Bala just finished Ky Maclear's A Stray Love, which is set in London and Saigon in the 1950s and '60s.

The first-person narrative allows her to get into the head of the main character Marcel, who feels lonely and isolated as well — just in a different way than most people are today.

"It's sometimes hard to get out of your own head. And if you're in a character's head, and the character's feeling all the same things you're feeling, it makes you feel a little bit connected to everyone you can physically see around you."

Colin Mochrie

Improv comedian Colin Mochrie usually feeds off of a live audience. But now, he's had to make "an interesting sort of transition" by taking part in virtual shows, interacting with his co-stars via video chat.

"As someone who is sometimes used to not hearing laughter, it was fine for me. It is a little odd because there are times where you sort of wait for the laugh and you go, "Oh yeah. There are people watching. They're not anywhere where I can hear them,'" he said.

"We're still trying to figure out the things we can do and can't do in this. So in a way it's kind of exciting, trying to figure out where our limitations are."

Colin Mochrie says it's more difficult to play off an audience when they're watching you over a livestream. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

Like several other Checkup listeners, Mochrie has been watching After Life, the Netflix show starring Ricky Gervais, whose character grapples with the loss of his wife, who recently succumbed to breast cancer.

"It deals with grief, but it's still very darkly funny and it has an optimistic "life goes on" feel to it," said Mochrie.

He's also been enjoying comedic British TV panel shows such as Would I Lie To You? and Taskmaster.

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan

Missisauga, Ont.-raised Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is the star of Netflix's latest hit Never Have I Ever. And like thousands of 18-year-olds right now, she's stuck at home with her parents.

Ramakrishnan plays an American high schooler of Tamil descent named Devi. That resonates deeply with Ramakrishnan, who is herself of Sri Lankan Tamil descent.

Canadian Maitreyi Ramakrishnan was cast out of thousands of hopefuls to star in Never Have I Ever, a new teen comedy series executive produced by Mindy Kaling. ( Lara Solanki/Netflix)

"We don't get that much representation as South Asians. And the fact that the character is directly who I am — because usually we're bubbled as just 'Indian' — it's amazing to be able to have that accurate representation," she said.

Ramakrishnan has been watching the latest season of Brooklyn Nine Nine. She's also been watching classic movies ranging from The Shining to The Breakfast Club.

"Yeah, my tastes are all over the place," she said.

Colm Feore

Acclaimed stage actor Colm Feore was supposed to open this year's Stratford Festival playing the lead role in Shakespeare's Richard III. But now the entire festival has been shut down because of the pandemic.

Feore says the ripple effect on the local economy, including restaurants that rely on the festival's crowds, has been dire. But he's also witnessed residents' collective resolve to make it through the pandemic.

Colm Feore, pictured at the new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre in Stratford, was scheduled to play Richard III at the Stratford Festival in 2020. (Stratford Festival/Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

"We meet people as we walk around the lake, at a good social distance, who just express an enormous amount of support but also a great deal of sadness, and hope that we can all push through ... to see a focus beyond," he said.

One song in particular has become Feore's soundtrack for the lockdown: No Song Left To Save Me, from the new musical Here's What It Takes. Scored by Steven Page and written by playwright Daniel MacIvor, it also happens to be directed and choreographed by Feore's wife, Donna Feore.

"The reason it's one of my favourites is because it just keeps playing in my house," he said.

Buffy Sainte-Marie

When Checkup host Duncan McCue greeted legendary Cree singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie, he noted that they happened to also be speaking on Mother's Day.

Sainte-Marie was a regular cast member on Sesame Street in the 1970s and '80s. In a famous scene from a 1977 episode, she is seen breastfeeding her son, and then explains it to an inquisitive Big Bird.

"When I started Sesame Street, I didn't have any kids. And I became pregnant during my first year on Sesame Street, and I thought they'd let me go. But instead they embraced motherhood and babyhood and they were just the best," she said.

Sainte-Marie paid tribute to rock'n'roll legend Little Richard, who died this week at the age of 87.

"I'm telling you, the angels are preparing for a party today," she said. "What a great contributor to music to keep it that much fun."

Cree singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie has released 17 solo albums, won five Junos, an Oscar and a Golden Globe, all while paving the way for Indigenous musicians across Canada. (Vanessa Heins/CBC)

Sainte-Marie, who describes herself as a bibliophile, also recommended Max Lugavere's food science book Genius Foods.

"So many of us have been taught either nothing or the wrong thing about staying healthy with food. And Genius Foods is really a lot of fun to read," she said.

Duncan McCue

Checkup's own host isn't immune to the beck and call of binge-watching during the pandemic, either.

"My guilty pleasure has been binge-watching the BBC version of Sherlock Holmes," said McCue.

"The brainy crime series is an ideal respite from the troubles of COVID — Sherlock solves everything."

Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue has been bingeing on BBC's Sherlock and introducing his son to classic Indigenous cinema. (Jason Vermes/CBC)

He's also been introducing his son to classic Indigenous cinema, thanks to a lineup of films available on CBC Gem and NFB.

"We've watched Rhymes with Young Ghouls, The Lesser Blessed, Biidaaban, The Mountain of SGaana, Maina, and Uvanga. Next up is one of my favourite movies ever made, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner."


Written by Jonathan Ore. Interviews produced by Levi Garber, Kirthana Sasitharan and Kate Cornick.

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