Chloë Sevigny, leading the way in lockdown etiquette | Rebecca Nicholson

The actress has reluctantly adopted videocalling, but knows that there’s nothing like the real thing

There is a famous scene in the first episode of Friends in which Ross says: “I just want to be married again” and Rachel runs into Central Perk, right at that moment, wearing a wedding dress. “And I just want a million dollars,” Chandler quips, holding out his hands.

A few weeks ago, before the lockdown, I wrote about how I had tried to revive the old-fashioned phone call, wondering if ringing people for a chat might make a comeback. I missed the human connection of talking and when texting became our primary mode of communication, I felt the absence of a simple natter keenly.

And I just want a million dollars. Six weeks in and here we are. We phone, we FaceTime, we Zoom, we Houseparty. I even did a Skype. In the absence of face-to-face human connection, the videocall is king. In her cover interview with The Cut last week, Chloë Sevigny admitted that she had not previously been a fan of videocalling. “It’s always so terribly unflattering,” she said. Still, needs must and Sevigny admitted that under lockdown she now FaceTimes her friends.

The necessary shift from the total remove of texting to seeing people during almost every communication is like popping out for one quiet drink and returning home several nights later with a buttock tattoo and a new nickname that ends in “dawg”. It is a sensory overload, a 0-60mph in 2.4 seconds. Before social distancing, I tended to FaceTime only children, because it is hard to pull faces at kids using just audio. Now, almost everyone expects a videocall, no matter how old. (The face pulling is less in demand.)

It requires some adjustment, not so much because it’s unflattering, but because the usual rules of communication no longer apply. How does a conversation between more than two people suddenly seem like a finals-week-of-Strictly manoeuvre? In real life, it just sort of flows. On screen, it’s a “no, after you” comedy of manners. Where does one angle the camera? Up, it seems: recently, a judge in Florida had to remind lawyers to dress appropriately during virtual hearings; one man appeared topless, a woman while still in bed, under the sheets.

More importantly, how does anyone manage to end a videocall without seeming rude? Ordinarily, I’d go for a “sorry, reception’s bad”, but that’s impossible to pull off when your bad acting is right there on display. Even Sevigny knows where to draw the line. “I’m not doing any Zoom parties,” she said.

Race Across the World: travel show was life-affirming, not torture

Emon and Jamiul Choudhury
Winners with heart: Emon and Jamiul Choudhury. Photograph: Adam Wiseman/BBC/Studio Lambert

Over the last few weeks, watching a series all about travelling prodigious distances and exploring the wonders of this planet should have seemed as appealing as squeezing lemon juice into a paper cut, but Race Across the World has been one of the loveliest television shows in ages.

During the first of the BBC Two series, five teams had to make their way from London to Singapore by land, without smartphones, using only the cash equivalent of the airfare. This time, the teams had to travel the length of South America, from Mexico City to Ushuaia at the tail end of Argentina.

The finale was astoundingly tense, but when uncle and nephew team Emon and Jamiul Choudhury signed their names in the book first – 20 seconds ahead of the runners-up – it was hard to deny they deserved the win. They pulled it off by bartering MP3 players and ditching their bags before running up the final hill. But what made it the most life-affirming show I’ve seen all year was that the winners were so affected by seeing children sleeping rough in the streets in Brazil’s São Paulo that they donated half of their £20,000 prize fund to charity. They have since pledged another £5,000 to an orphanage in Bangladesh. I already thought it was Hunted for nice people and then they hit us with that.

In the chaos of our present lives, watching people become more self-sufficient than they thought possible was almost as joyful as watching how much strangers can be willing to support each other when they really need to. As a series, this was a convincing advert for fundamental human decency. I thought University Challenge ending would be the biggest blow but now that Race Across the World is gone, too, I don’t know how I’ll manage.

Christine Baranski: vamping it up at virtual cocktail party

Christine Baranski and a large glass of red
Christine Baranski and a large glass of red during The Ladies Who Lunch. Photograph: YouTube

I imagine that one day there will be a corner of the internet that caters to everyone’s wildest dreams, no matter how niche. Last week, my corner appeared. During Take Me to the World, the online celebrations for Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday, a title card appeared, reading “The Ladies Who Lunch/Company”. The musical Company is having a bit of a moment – not only was the gender-flipped West End revival, which turned Bobby into Bobbie, a deserved smash in 2018, but Adam Driver gave new breath to Being Alive in the film Marriage Story, belting out an intense rendition that could only be described as very dedicated.

This performance of The Ladies Who Lunch began with the inimitable Christine Baranski pouring herself a glass of red and it only got better: on a Zoom call, Baranski’s Mamma Mia! co-star Meryl Streep appeared, mixing herself a martini, then Baranski’s The Good Fight co-star Audra McDonald joined in the fun. I thought Britney Spears casually letting it be known via Instagram that she had burned down her gym (“I had some candles, and, yeah, one thing led to another”) would be the best thing on the internet last week, but no, it was three icons, singing the line “another vodka stinger”.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist


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Rebecca Nicholson

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