Are you a little fried? I bet you are. I am, for sure, what with everything happening all the time, relentlessly. While television shows and movies can often be ways to relax and turn the volume down in your brain a little bit, sometimes even the sweetest, nicest options you can find — a Ted Lasso or a Schitt’s Creek — run a little hot. No, sometimes you want to shut it all down. This is fine. It’s good. And now A World of Calm is here to help.
The show, available on HBO Max, is maybe the most soothing thing I’ve ever seen. Created by the people behind the Calm meditation app, it’s just ten half-hour episodes about nature and food and glass and birds, all narrated by celebrities with peaceful voices. It says a lot about the world as it is presently constructed that this was the show I was most looking forward to this fall, and it did not disappoint. I had no idea how badly I needed to hear, like, Kate Winslet talk about horses or Keanu Reeves talk about trees. Turns out the answer was “a lot.”
Below, I have ranked all 10 episodes from least to most soothing. They’re all soothing, though. This is just splitting hairs. And now I want an episode about getting a haircut, narrated by, oh, let’s say Helen Mirren. Watch this show. You’ll understand.
10. Episode 6 — “The Great Beyond”
Narrated by: Idris Elba
Official summary: As we take giant leaps in the advancement of space travel, the vast, complex beauty of galaxies reveals itself with a level of clarity and reach that prior generations could only dream of.
What watching it feels like: Like doing one very slow zero-gravity somersault after another, just spinning freely with no resistance, which an astronaut in this episode actually does.
Additional notes: This one has a lot going for it. Idris Elba’s voice is wonderful and many of the space shots — especially the ones of Saturn’s rings — are captivating. The issue here is that I didn’t particularly want to comprehend my insignificant place in the vast expanse of the cosmos, at least not while I’m trying to relax. A bit much!
9. Episode 4 — “Snowfall”
Narrated by: Cillian Murphy
Official summary: After completing an epic voyage through the atmosphere, the real journey for snow begins after it touches down on earth, blanketing the world with promises of wonder and adventure.
What watching it feels like: Like being a little baby rolling around on a puffy white cloud in the sky, just staring at things with wonder-filled eyes, without enough knowledge to fear any of it, but just enough to be relentlessly amazed by all of it.
Additional notes: Here’s the problem, and I fully cop you this being a Me Issue more than it is a critique of the show: I watch Peaky Blinders. I love it. And in that show, Cillian Murphy plays a gangster named Tommy Shelby, a man who goes entire episodes moving and speaking slowly, deliberately, before erupting into furious fits of violent rage directed at his enemies or whoever happens to be standing closer to him than his enemies. So listening to him talk about snow in gentle, soft tones was wonderful until I remembered the Peaky Blinders of it all and half-expected him to burst into the frame with a Tommy Gun and start spraying it into snowmen. Again, definitely a Me Issue. But these are my rankings. So the point stands.
8. Episode 2 — “The Glassmaker”
Narrated by: Zoe Kravitz
Official summary: Aided by a deep understanding of the natural world, one of the Netherlands’ leading glassmakers harnesses the elements – earth, wind, fire, and air – in order to transform sand into wondrous works of art.
What watching it feels like: Lying in a field and just watching windmills spin very slowly as they catch the passing breeze.
Additional notes: A few pros and cons here.
PRO: Lots of shots of bright, fire-red glass melting and becoming a liquid, oozing itself into shape; a Dutch glassmaker named Bibi who seems awesome; etc.
CON: Too many shots of lava flowing wherever it wants, barreling through and destroying anything in its path.
7. Episode 9 — “The Gift of Chocolate”
Narrated by: Priyanka Chopra Jonas
Official summary: Celebrate one of the world’s most prized and venerated trees, the cacao, a symbol of fertility and abundance once traded as currency¬ – and a gift from nature that, above all else, gives us chocolate.
What watching it feels like: Sitting on a couch with a blanket wrapped around your body and nothing to do for an hour or so.
Additional notes: This was lovely and made me realize I would 100 percent just watch footage of people making chocolate in slow-motion even with no narration. I’d even watch an hour of them just pouring melted chocolate from one container to another. It’s fine. We’re all doing great!
6. Episode 10 — “Water, Giver of Life”
Narrated by: Mahershala Ali
Official summary:As water in all of its various forms weaves a tapestry across the globe and permeates every facet of life, take a moment to reflect on its journey and offer gratitude for all it provides.
What watching it feels like: When you’re cutting wrapping paper with scissors and everything lines up perfectly for a second and the scissors just start to glide through the paper like a fish swimming downstream.
Additional notes: Oh hell yeah, I will listen to Mahershala Ali talk about babbling brooks. I will listen to it forever. Mahershala Ali, if you are reading this, come hang out with me next to a real babbling brook. I’ll be quiet, I promise. I’ll let you talk. But only about the babbling brook. Please do not change the subject. We can talk about whatever you want next time. This one is strictly brook chat.
5. Episode 3 — “The Birds’ Journey”
Narrated by: Nicole Kidman
Official summary: As spring arrives and birds around the world take flight for their yearly migrations, a system of interconnected moving parts help keep nature driving forward.
What watching it feels like: Soaring through sky with your wings extended, looking down at the ground below, not even focusing on anything in particular, just kind of scanning while soaring.
Additional notes: It should be noted that people who have a British or Australian or South African accent have a bit of an unfair advantage here, as their voices are just objectively better at narrating nature documentaries than anyone else’s. Imagine watching 30 minutes of deeply soothing footage of birds narrated by some goon with the thickest Philly accent you’ve ever heard. “Watch cleauslee as the eauree-ole seaurs among the clay-ouds.” Absolutely not. Nicole Kidman, though? Yes. She can talk about birds all she likes.
4. Episode 1 — “The Coral City”
Narrated by: Lucy Liu
Official summary: As the breaking dawn illuminates the thriving underwater metropolis of coral in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago, a multitude of tiny, majestic creatures work together to keep the reef alive.
What watching it feels like: Kind of like that GIF up there of the turtle.
Additional notes: At one point in here we meet a little dude whose people have lived in the ocean-adjacent land near the reef for centuries. He rules. There are so many shots of this kid paddling his boat through the sea or swimming underwater with a slew of brightly-colored tropical fish and I don’t know if I’ve ever been more jealous of another human being in my entire life. I hope he never changes. Kid has it all figured out, man.
3. Episode 5 — “Living Among Trees”
Narrated by: Keanu Reeves
Official summary: In order to fulfill a childhood dream, a Latvian man roots himself in the slow and steady rhythm of the natural world to craft a canoe from one of its massive, yielding tree trunks.
What watching it feels like: Floating on a tranquil lake, in a canoe you made yourself, staring up at the sky and listening to birds chirp around you in the woods surrounding the water.
Additional notes: The thing here isn’t so much that there’s an episode of television where Keanu Reeves tells you about a cool Latvian dude who lives in the forest and builds an entire canoe out of a single tree, to the degree that he makes a tar out of its roots and uses that tar to waterproof it, which we see when he paints it on in long, slow strokes that are shown at what appears to be 10 percent of its natural speed. No, the thing here is that it took us until the end of 2020 to make this. What have we been doing? Why didn’t this exist over a decade earlier? I honestly do not know. I’m glad it’s here now, though.
2. Episode 8 — “A Horse’s Tale”
Narrated by: Kate Winslet
Official summary: Uncover the true magic of horses – free, beautiful, and calm spirits who embody power, gentleness, and adaptability.
What watching it feels like: Watching many majestic horses sprint in slow-motion across a desert
Additional notes: This would have been number one, easily, if not for two developments. One, the episode opens with a look at a group of small horses who live on a tiny island that they share with a huge population of seals, and they survive the harsh conditions by eating the vegetation that grows naturally when the seals poop and ocean water fertilizes the soil, and when this all started to sink in — little horsies and seals living peacefully on an island fertilized by poo — I shouted “WHAT?!” at a volume that cannot be described as “calm” or “relaxed. ”
Two, look at this freaking guy.
I was a little too amazed to be soothed. Decent problem to have.
1. Episode 7 — “Noodles”
Narrated by: Oscar Isaac
Official summary: The story of a family recipe lovingly passed down through generations exploring the origins of the humble noodle from China to Italy and back to the USA.
What watching it feels like: I mean, it’s like watching Oscar Isaac explain noodles to you. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory.
Additional notes: No notes. Just more screencaps.
I needed this. Thank you, Oscar Isaac. And thank you noodles, too, I guess. Real team effort here.