As I sat down to watch some episodes of HBO Max's new series World of Calm, something weird and amazing started to happen. All the clutter in the background — the pressure of playoff baseball, the swelter of a late September heat wave in Oregon, the crippling stress of work — quickly began to melt away. Nicole Kidman was telling me about flamingoes while images of migrating birds filled my screen, and nothing else mattered.
The new series, a collaboration with the Calm app, aims to help viewers relax, which is no small feat when the world around us is burning down and people are reporting record-setting levels of anxiety and depression. A couple deep breaths help, but have you tried Kidman cooing in her Australian accent about migrating storks flying over flower farms that span the whole color spectrum? The greatest thing about World of Calm is that it works as advertised, instantly, in fact, making it the most useful television program out today.
The formula here is simple, but effective: Each 22-minute episode features high-quality footage of calming imagery — the natural beauty of Earth, expert craftsmen quietly working their trade, the serenity of the cosmos — and is accompanied by a soundtrack populated by gentle pianos and mellotrons while a celebrity — good ones, too — narrates. Kate Winslet cradles you in her voice while she informs you about horses, Idris Elba's lullaby carries you into the weightlessness of outer space, Lucy Liu soothes with a mellow essay about the majesty of coral reefs, and more. The transformative effect of World of Calm can not be denied. It's a return to the womb.
Television isn't a stranger to inducing calm. Many of today's programs are intended to make their audiences feel better, a direct response to the chaos around us. The Good Place, Schitt's Creek, The Great British Baking Show, and more are all lauded for their status as feel-good shows, but even though they tell stories of overcoming adversity, forgiving family dysfunction, or becoming better people through friendly competition, they still feature adversity, dysfunction, and competition. Even similar shows to A World of Calm like Planet Earth eventually show a clip of an abandoned lion cub left to die alone or an iguana navigating a minefield of predatory snakes. Not so with A World of Calm, it's chill to the core.
There's a wealth of variety in the 10 episodes, too. While the episodes focused on animals and nature had the best effect on me, Oscar Isaac would love to lower your blood pressure by telling you about noodles. Yes, noodles. Keanu Reeves speaking about an expert Latvian woodworker is a mental colonic. Priyanka Chopra Jonas grounds you with the secrets of chocolate.
A World of Calm opens up the medium of television to a whole new world and audience, and with more than enough room on the billions of streaming services available, it's about time that television finds a more helpful way to contribute to society. This is televised therapy, it's a safe space on your screen, it's medicinal media. It's the television equivalent of a warm bath, a glass of pinot noir, and a Xanax chaser, and it's essential now more than ever.
A World of Calm is now available on HBO Max.