Advertise here with Carbon Ads

This site is made possible by member support. ❀️

Big thanks to Arcustech for hosting the site and offering amazing tech support.

When you buy through links on kottke.org, I may earn an affiliate commission. Thanks for supporting the site!

kottke.org. home of fine hypertext products since 1998.

πŸ”  πŸ’€  πŸ“Έ  😭  πŸ•³οΈ  🀠  🎬  πŸ₯”

kottke.org posts about tv

The USPS Honors Alex Trebek With a Stamp

a sheet of USPS stamps honoring Alex Trebek

The USPS is honoring longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek with a stamp that cleverly mimics a blue Jeopardy! answer β€” and the whole sheet of stamps looks like the game board. The text of the answer reads:

This naturalized U.S. citizen hosted the quiz show “Jeopardy!” for 37 seasons

And the question is, of course: “Who is Alex Trebek?” You can buy your Forever 73Β’ Trebek stamps from the USPS website.

Reply Β· 1

How Tennis Balls Became Yellow, Feat. David Attenborough

Somehow, I didn’t know that until quite recently, tennis balls were white instead of yellow (Wimbledon used white balls until 1985). Here’s a British PathΓ© film from 1961 that shows how tennis balls were made, along with Wimbledon ball boy training:

I also didn’t know that many people think tennis balls are green when they are actually a color called “optic yellow”. Oh and that David Attenborough had a hand in the switch from white to yellow.

The change in color happened due to the demands of television transmissions. In 1972 television was already in color all over the world (although in Spain it was not generalized until five or six years later). At the end of the 1960s, the person in charge of the BBC broadcasts (which, of course, was in charge of Wimbledon) was the renowned documentary filmmaker David Attenborough. And he noticed that the visibility of the traditional white ball was not perfect, especially if it approached the lines of the rectangle of play.

In that year of 1972, tennis was in full growth: the professional and amateur circuits had unified and women’s professional tennis was also growing. Tennis was becoming a great world spectacle and in this context television was fundamental. The International Tennis Federation, in charge of the rules, commissioned a study which showed that the yellow ball was more visible and therefore easier for viewers to follow. The courts, moreover, began to be multicolored once the use of synthetic materials in official tournaments was approved.

Reply Β· 2

The Cookie Monster Alphabet

In case you or someone you know needs a little levity or pick-me-up today, might I suggest what might be the cutest thing that’s ever aired on television: a little girl named Joey and Kermit the Frog saying the alphabet.

Reply Β· 6

Trailer for Season Three of The Bear

I have to admit, The Bear is a little up and down for me. But the highs (Forks, Fishes, Honeydew) are so high that it’s well worth the effort. Anyway, the trailer for season three dropped yesterday and, no surprise, it looks intense.

So. Much. Unaddressed. Trauma. That these people are inflicting upon one another. (Men will literally open a Michelin-starred restaurant instead of going to therapy.) It seems like Carmy, not the restaurant, is the titular Bear. (via laura olin)

Reply Β· 7

A Documentary Film About Jim Henson

Two of my biggest childhood touchstones were Sesame Street and the Muppet Show. The creative spark behind both shows was Jim Henson, the subject of a forthcoming documentary directed by Ron Howard. From the press release:

Produced with the full participation and cooperation of the Henson family, “Jim Henson Idea Man” is an unprecedented, intimate look at Henson’s illustrious, revolutionary career and complex personal life. Using never-before-seen personal archival home movies, photographs, sketches, and Henson’s personal diaries, as well as interviews with those who knew him best, the film is the definitive portrait of one of the world’s most inspiring and iconoclastic creators.

Jim Henson Idea Man will be available to stream on Disney+ on Friday. (via the kid should see this)

Reply Β· 2

Contenting Ourselves With Stories

I just started a rewatch of Chernobyl and was struck by the opening lines of the first episode spoken by Jared Harris, who plays Soviet nuclear physicist Valery Legasov:

What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all. What can we do then? What else is left but to abandon even the hope of truth and content ourselves instead with stories? In these stories, it doesn’t matter who the heroes are. All we want to know is: Who is to blame?

Which reminds me of what historian and philosopher Hannah Arendt said in a 1974 interview:

The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie-a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days-but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

And also what On Tyranny author Timothy Snyder wrote a few days after the January 6th attack on Congress:

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump β€” like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia β€” is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.

Reply Β· 5

Trailer for Season Two of The Rings of Power

I am apparently one of the few people who really liked the first season of the Lord of the Rings prequel series, The Rings of Power. I mean, it had its rough spots and maybe there was a little too much table-setting, but in general it left me wanting to see what was going to happen next. The trailer for season two just dropped and it looks pretty action-packed and stocked with characters & events that would be familiar to those who have read the main book series. Here’s the synopsis:

Sauron has returned. Cast out by Galadriel, without army or ally, the rising Dark Lord must now rely on his own cunning to rebuild his strength and oversee the creation of the Rings of Power, which will allow him to bind all the peoples of Middle-earth to his sinister will. Building on Season One’s epic scope and ambition, the new season plunges even its most beloved and vulnerable characters into a rising tide of darkness, challenging each to find their place in a world that is increasingly on the brink of calamity. Elves and dwarves, orcs and men, wizards and Harfoots… as friendships are strained and kingdoms begin to fracture, the forces of good will struggle ever more valiantly to hold on to what matters to them most of all… each other.

And they also released a behind-the-scenes look at the production of season two:

The second season of The Rings of Power premieres on August 29 on Amazon Prime.

Reply Β· 6

We’re in the Golden Age of Mid TV

TV critic James Poniewozik writing for the NY Times:

Mid TV, on the other hand, almost can’t be bad for some of the same reasons that keep it from being great. It’s often an echo of the last generation of breakthrough TV (so the highs and lows of “Game of Thrones” are succeeded by the faithful adequacy of “House of the Dragon”). Or it’s made by professionals who know how to make TV too well, and therefore miss a prerequisite of making great art, which is training yourself to forget how the thing was ever done and thus coming up with your own way of doing it.

Mid is not a strict genre with a universal definition. But it’s what you get when you raise TV’s production values and lower its ambitions. It reminds you a little of something you once liked a lot. It substitutes great casting for great ideas. (You really liked the star in that other thing! You can’t believe they got Meryl Streep!)

Mid is based on a well-known book or movie or murder. Mid looks great on a big screen. (Though for some reason everything looks blue.) Mid was shot on location in multiple countries. Mid probably could have been a couple episodes shorter. Mid is fine, though. It’s good enough.

Above all, Mid is easy. It’s not dumb easy β€” it shows evidence that its writers have read books. But the story beats are familiar. Plot points and themes are repeated. You don’t have to immerse yourself single-mindedly the way you might have with, say, “The Wire.” It is prestige TV that you can fold laundry to.

Bullseye. Although I also agree with this caveat from Alan Sepinwall:

I’d only take issue with this excellent Poniewozik essay in the sense that not all Mid TV is created equal. Poker Face and Mr. & Mrs. Smith are great examples of the kinds of shows they want to be. I’d rather have those than all these wild swings by people who don’t understand how to make TV.

For me, the problem with Mid TV is differentiating it from actual good TV…finding shows that you actually don’t want to fold laundry to. I’ve gotten burned a few times on shows that I thought were going to be challenging & interesting β€” Constellation, 1899, and Mrs. Davis come to mind β€” but were just sort of aggressively fine (so much so that it turned me off).

Two more thoughts, from the comments section of Poniewozik’s piece. I love this re: specificity:

Shogun is by far the best show released this year, and it has an enormous amount to do with its *specificity* of artistic vision. All of the “mid” shows otherwise referenced here are trying to achieve too many things at once or appeal to too many demographics to have much of an impact. They are content, not art.

It’s a contradictory truth that if you want to create something that really connects with people (even a lot of people), you gotta make it specific or personal (or both). Shōgun is right at the top of my to-watch list (after I finish the five shows I’m stinge watching).

Writer of TV here. I won awards for an iconic HBO show. I can tell you that 95 percent of the blame here lies with the executives who are now so scared to lose their jobs that they just go right down the middle β€” to the mid, if you will. It’s easier to say yes to a show they have seen before than take a risk on something outside the box.

And yes, they are using AI to give us “notes”. I feel very lucky to have worked in this medium when it still rewarded real creativity.

Sounds about right.

Reply Β· 12

Papyrus 2: A Bold New Look for Avatar

Ryan Gosling was on Saturday Night Live this weekend and they did a sequel to one of my favorite SNL sketches (which is completely dorky in a design nerd sort of way) ever: Papyrus. Behold, Papyrus 2:

Avatar spawned worlds, right? Every little leaf of every little flower, every little eyelash of every little creature: thoroughly thought out. But the logo: it’s Papyrus, in bold. Nobody cares. Does James Cameron care? I don’t think so.

Reply Β· 4

On TV: ‘Free to Be… You and Me’

I didn’t know (or had somehow forgotten) that Marlo Thomas’s seminal children’s album Free to Be… You and Me (Spotify, Apple Music) was turned into a TV special that aired in 1974.

The basic concept was to encourage post-1960s gender neutrality, saluting values such as individuality, tolerance, and comfort with one’s identity. A major thematic message is that anyone β€” whether a boy or a girl β€” can achieve anything.

The TV show starred Thomas, Mel Brooks, Harry Belefonte, Dionne Warwick, Carol Channing, Michael Jackson, Dustin Hoffman, and many others. You can watch the whole thing (commercials included) on YouTube:

Times TV critic James Poniewozik wrote about the show for its 50th anniversary.

The opening sketch features Thomas and Mel Brooks as cue-ball-headed puppet babies in a hospital nursery, daffily trying to work out which of them is a boy and which is a girl β€” the Brooks baby declares himself a girl because he wants to be “a cocktail waitress” β€” and setting up the bigger themes of the special: What is a boy and what is a girl?

As newborns, they’re indistinguishable, just base line people - eyes, ears, hands, mouth. They haven’t yet been programmed with all the lessons about boy things and girl things, boy colors and girl colors, boy games and girl games. The rest of the special gives its young viewers a decoder ring for those messages, and permission to disregard them.

Take “Parents Are People,” a duet with Thomas and Harry Belafonte, which remains one of the most innocently radical things I’ve ever seen on TV. The lyrics explain that your mom and dad are just “people with children,” who have their own lives and a wide range of careers open to both of them.

Back in 2012, Dan Kois wrote a three-part series on the album.

Mel Brooks’ session was more eventful. Thomas had written to him that the album “would benefit the Ms. Foundation,” and when he came in the morning of his recording, he told her that he thought the material Reiner and Stone had written was funny but that he didn’t know what it had to do with multiple sclerosis. Once set straight about the MS in question, Brooks joined Thomas in the recording booth, where they would both play babies for the album’s first sketch, “Boy Meets Girl.”

“When I directed,” Alda recalls, “I would be meticulous and relentless. I would do a lot of takes. But Mel is not a guy who’s used to doing a lot of takes. He’s not used to taking direction from anybody β€” you know, he gives direction.” Alda didn’t love the first few takes of “Boy Meets Girl”; in the end it took, Alda remembers, 10 or 15 tries, with Brooks improvising madly all along the way. Rodgers was there that day to record “Ladies First,” and she still remembers standing in the control room laughing harder with each take. “Mel was generous,” Alda allows, “and he let me egg him on.”

We listened to Free to Be… quite a bit in the car when the kids were younger. Nice to see it pop up again.

Reply Β· 5

Mr. Bean, to the Tune of Bush’s Glycerine

Ok, this video is targeted at a pretty small audience and is super goofy, but it hit me square in the forehead and so I can’t help but post it here: it’s footage from Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean with Bush’s 1994 alternative rock hit Glycerine playing over it. And yes, there is a change of lyrics at a critical point. 100/100, no notes. (via @jamesjm)

Reply Β· 3

Stinge Watching Is the Opposite of Binge Watching

a screencap of the cast of Schitt's Creek walking with a pause symbol over it

Last weekend, my daughter and I watched all 8 episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians on Disney+. We binged it. That’s how people watch TV shows now: streaming services have entire shows available at the click of the “next episode” button. Many shows are uploaded a whole season at a time for maximum bingeability β€” no need to wait more than the time it takes to skip the credits to continue the story. It’s an all-you-can-eat media buffet. The mechanics and economics of streaming media have changed how we watch TV and movies β€” the binge watch reigns supreme.

But recently, I’ve found myself watching some shows in a much different way. When I find a new show I really like or I’m digging into the newest season of a favorite series, instead of getting hooked and then blasting through all the available episodes, I’ll slow down or even stop watching so as to prolong the pleasure…or to delay the end. I feel like a squirrel, hoarding nuts for the winter. It’s stinge watching instead of binge watching.

Schitt’s Creek was the first show I recall stinge watching. I just didn’t want to stop spending time with those people and so I went from watching 1-2 episodes per day to a few a week. The final season’s 14 episodes probably took me longer to watch than the first three seasons put together. I’ve also done this with The Great British Bake-off, The Expanse, and Silo. And it’s gotten worse β€” right now, I’m in the middle of four different shows that I am loving but cannot bring myself to actually watch: Reservation Dogs (love those shitasses), For All Mankind (haven’t watched the last episode of the most recent season), Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (stalled out on the second-to-last episode of s01), and The Great (I stopped in the middle of an episode where something Very Dramatic happens and I just can’t seem to continue).

Wondering if anyone else has been stinge watching and curious about what their motivations might be, I asked about it on Instagram and found that dozens of others swim against the fierce current of binge watching…and even stinge read books.1 The Sopranos, Ted Lasso, The Wire, Firefly, Escape at Dannemora, Fleishman Is in Trouble, The Bear, Griselda, and Brooklyn 99 were all cited as shows too good to keep watching. One reader told me she still hasn’t watched the end of Schitt’s Creek “because those characters all grew so much and I knew the last episode would be really emotional and I wanted to avoid crying”.

This was a common theme amongst the stinge watchers, particularly with series finales. Digital media producer Micaela Mielniczenko didn’t want to finish Gilmore Girls “because I loved the characters so much and I didn’t want the story and world to end”. I felt the same way about The Expanse β€” I wanted to live in that world and with those characters forever, a testament to the world building and character development by the writers, directors, showrunners, and actors.

My friend Adriana X. Jacobs, a professor of modern Hebrew literature, poet, game designer, and long-time stinge watcher, says she has trouble with denouements. She told me:

They put me in a melancholy mood. I prefer the build-up, that long stretch when a character is tunneling (literally or figuratively) their way into or out of a problem. But the story interests me a lot less once the issues start to resolve. This is why it took me YEARS to finish Oldboy (dir. Park Chan-wook), a movie I kept pausing and abandoning when the protagonist was still trapped in that unholy hotel room.

I knew that the story would take him out of the room but I wanted to remain in the mess and confinement. It’s the same thing with Normal People. Even though I’ve read the book and know that the ending is (thank god) open-ended, by not finishing the series, I leave these chaotic characters even further suspended in that beautiful, very human state of uncertainty and possibility.

Wow, yes, exactly.

Andreas, who normally hoards shows to watch in the “dark days of winter” in Berlin, said that he had trouble finishing Wednesday on Netflix: “God I loved that so, so much, I could not bear the thought of it ending so soon.” He rewatched the entire first season immediately after finishing the show and even “did a whole keynote speech only with [Wednesday’s] quotes as slides”.2

Courtney Walsh, who is holding off on finishing Brooklyn 99, told me:

Delaying the finale keeps the characters in stasis and delays me feeling sad when it’s over. By keeping it in the queue, I’ll be happy when I watch, not sad.

Several other people told me they hold off on watching certain shows until they need them. When I asked her when she was going to watch the rest of Brooklyn 99, Walsh said:

When I need a guaranteed, bittersweet day. When I’m thinking about the past and I know that these 8-10 episodes will fit the bill. Probably in the next year or two. Bittersweet is a hard emotion to plan for and keep for later. When I can, I do!

Ryan N said that he keeps a stash of Queer Eye episodes because they’re “like soothing medicine in dark times”. Mielniczenko keeps the last episode or two (or sometimes a whole season) of a show in her queue because she likes “the idea that I can finish these shows at any point”. I definitely held back on the final episodes of Schitt’s Creek until I was emotionally ready and on GBBO episodes until I needed a guaranteed pick-me-up on a particularly gloomy day.

Josh Puetz is portioning Firefly out in drips and drabs β€” he last watched an episode in Dec 2022 as a treat to himself for being sick β€” and I asked how he was going to decide when to finish the rest of it:

I think…when I’m ready to let go of the characters and story on my terms. So many endings and changes in life are out of our control, but this one little thing (ending a series, saying goodbye) happens when I need it.

Puetz said he’s not a binge watcher at all (one-in-a-row is the most he can muster), but I both binge and stinge. Several of the shows I mentioned above (like Reservation Dogs & ST: Strange New Worlds), I binged several episodes at a stretch before slowing down when I realized, oh god, I’m going to run out! I loved Succession and could not wait to watch the series finale last May. The second season of the Gilded Age aired over two months last fall and I gobbled up each episode as it aired on Sunday nights.

Mielniczenko said she doesn’t horde every book or show; her stinge watch candidates “usually have a world that is unique/exciting or comforting/wholesome”. Like I said above, for me it usually comes down to the characters and the world and whether they overcome my need to find out how the plot wraps up. When something is soapy or sensational, like The Gilded Age or The White Lotus, I have to watch to find out what happens. But if my desire for the company of beloved characters and the comfort of a familiar place outweighs my desire for plot closure, I slow down and bank those shows for later.3

Streaming services are definitely geared towards binge watching, but the creators of particular shows have worked their magic so well, creating realities that feel unusually real, that some of us want to stay in them for as long as we can. My Brilliant Friend, one of my favorite shows of the last few years, is returning this year for a fourth and final season on HBO, and I am at once deliriously excited to meet those characters again but am also already bracing myself to have to say goodbye to them. At least I’ll have fellow stinge watchers to commiserate with.

Are you a stinge watcher? Let us know which shows you’re stuck on and why in the comments.

  1. I hoard books too, but it’s more difficult to do with audiobooks and ebooks. Sometimes I’ll get to the end of an audiobook without realizing it and the “Audible hopes you have enjoyed this program” trods on my spirit a bit.
  2. I don’t know about you, but I would love to see that keynote deck! (This reminds me of the time I suggested to my daughter that she do a school project about the philosophy of The Good Place because she’s seen that show seven times. She did not take my advice.)
  3. Several people said that they don’t hoard shows, they just rewatch them, sometimes just after they’ve finished. I do that too, but rewatching doesn’t feel the same. Knowing what happens is comforting in a different way, but the novelty is important to me in terms of spending time in worlds with characters.
Reply Β· 46

What If The Bear, But a Commercial for Coke?

If the vibe of this commercial for the Coca-Cola Company seems familiar, perhaps it’s because Christopher Storer directed it β€” Storer is the creator of The Bear and wrote & directed Fishes, the intense season two Christmas episode. No homemade Sprite in this video though…they got to use the real stuff! (via matt)

Reply Β· 0

Electronic Music of the Future from Jean-Jacques Perrey in 1966

In 1966, electronic music pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey was on the game show I’ve Got a Secret and (spoiler!) his secret was he could play a single musical instrument that sounded like a number of other instruments. Perrey’s instrument was called the Ondioline, which was first developed in 1939 and was a forerunner of the modern electronic synthesizer. Perrey was a leading practitioner of the Ondioline:

Thanks to the Ondioline, I could imitate instruments from around the world, such as bagpipes from Scotland, American banjo, Gypsy violin, soprano voice, Indian sitar, and so on. I made a world tour in music and finished it with a gag of whistling a tune. At the end, the whistling was still going on (thanks to the Ondioline), but I was drinking a glass of water. We all laughed.

In the video from the game show, Perrey imitates a bunch of instruments and then plays an original composition with his collaborator Gershon Kingsley, which sounds at once wildly futuristic and laughably dated.

P.S. I first heard of Jean-Jacques Perrey courtesy of his 1970 song E.V.A., which sounds just as modern today as it did when I heard it back in the late 90s remixed by Fatboy Slim.

Reply Β· 1

What’s Your Go-to Comfort Media?

I reckon most of us have certain books, movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, and other media that we turn to when we need some comfort. These are things we’ve seen, read, or heard before β€” often many times β€” and know exactly what we’re going to get from them.

What we reach for depends on our needs. When I just want something familiar on in the background while I’m doing something else, to provide a vibe and the barest hint of a plot to follow, I often turn on Star Trek: TNG or old episodes of Doctor Who on Pluto TV. A few years ago during a really tough period, I read several of Tom Clancy’s novels (The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Red Storm Rising) to keep my brain reliably engaged but also unfettered by challenging prose or the deep emotional lives of the characters. I rewatch Star Wars and Avengers movies for their reliable entertainment, characters I’m invested in, and predictable-but-satisfying outcomes β€” these are often good plane movies.

When I’m feeling a lot of relational feelings and need a bit of salt to make them feel even more intense (and punishing), I’ll watch season two of Fleabag or Midnight in Paris or even 50 First Dates (which is as close as I get to rom-coms). Radiohead is a great all-arounder for many situations β€” I’ve leaned on Everything In Its Right Place, True Love Waits, Videotape, and even Burn the Witch at various times in my life. The Great British Bake Off is reliably low stakes, entertaining, and nothing but good vibes.

So how about it? What’s your go-to comfort media?

Reply Β· 91

Some Wonderful Things from 2023

view of the green rolling hills of Vermont under a mostly sunny sky

As the bulk of 2023 recedes from memory, I wanted to share some of the things from my media diet posts that stood out for me last year. Enjoy.

Succession. I did not think I would enjoy a show about extremely wealthy people acting poorly, but the writing and acting were so fantastic that I could not resist.

25 years of kottke.org. Very proud of what I’ve accomplished here and also genuinely humbled by how many people have made this little site a part of their lives.

Fleishman Is in Trouble. Uncomfortably true to life at times.

Antidepressants + therapy. I was in a bad way last spring and it is not too strong to say that finding the right antidepressant and arriving at some personal truths in therapy changed my life.

The Bear (season two). I don’t always love it (especially when the intensity ramps up) but there’s definitely something special about this show.

Barr Hill Gin & Tonic. The best canned cocktail I’ve had, by a mile.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Brutal and inspiring.

Crossword puzzles. A few times a week, a friend and I do the NY Times crossword puzzle together over FaceTime. It’s become one of my favorite things.

AirPods Pro (2nd generation). Am I ever going to shut up about these? Possibly not. The sound quality is better than the first-gen ones and the sound cancelling is just fantastic. I used these on several long flights recently and you basically can’t hear much of anything but your music.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Visually stunning.

The Kottke Hypertext Tee. Might be bad form to put your own merch on a list like this, but I’m just tickled that these exist. Putting an actual physical good out into the world that people connect with is somehow satisfying in a way that digital media is not.

ChatGPT. This very quickly became an indispensable part of my work process.

Downhill mountain biking. I did this a couple years ago and it didn’t click for me. But my son and I went last summer and I loved it…it’s one my favorite things I did all year. Gonna try and get out more in 2024!

Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland. Probably the best TV thing I watched last year. Listening to survivors of The Troubles talking about their experiences was unbelievably compelling.

Au Kouign-Amann. One of my all-time favorite pastries. Looks like a boring cake, tastes like magic.

Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America by Heather Cox Richardson. An extremely clear-eyed explanation of how Trumpism fits in with the Republicans’ decades-long project of weakening American democracy.

The Creator. I liked this original sci-fi a lot β€” more stuff that’s not Star Wars and Marvel pls.

Northern Thailand Walk and Talk. I will write this up soon, but this was one of the best things I’ve done in my life.

BLTs. I could not get enough of this simple sandwich at the end of last summer β€” I was eating like 4-5 a week. When the tomatoes are good, there’s nothing like a BLT.

The little hearts my daughter put on the backs of the envelopes containing her letters from camp. Self explanatory, no notes.

The smoked beef sandwich at Snowdon Deli. The best smoked sandwich I’ve had in Montreal.

The Last of Us. A bit too video game-y in parts but overall great. A couple of the episodes were incredible.

Photo of a Vermont vista taken by me this summer while mountain biking.

Reply Β· 16

My Recent Media Diet, the End of 2023 Edition

Over the past few months, I’ve had some time away from the computer and have taken several very long plane trips and some shorter car rides, which means a bit more reading, TV & movie watching, and podcast listening than usual. Oh, and holiday movies.

But the main story is how many things I’m currently in the midst of but haven’t finished: the latest season of the Great British Bake Off, season 3 of The Great, season 4 of For All Mankind, season 2 of Reservation Dogs, season 2 of The Gilded Age, the Big Dig podcast, On the Shortness of Life by Seneca, Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier by Kevin Kelly, and I’ve just dipped a toe into Craig Mod’s Things Become Other Things. That’s five TV shows, one podcast, and three books. I’m looking forward to tackling some of that (and maybe a new Star Trek series) over the upcoming holiday weekend.

Anyway, here’s my recent media diet β€” a roundup of what I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, and experiencing over the past few months.

The Killer. The excellent Michael Fassbender portrays a solitary, bored, and comfortable killer for hire who has a bit of a midlife crisis in fast forward when a job goes wrong. (A-)

Fortnite OG. I started playing Fortnite in earnest during Chapter 3, so it was fun to go back to Chapter 1 to see how the game worked back then. (B+)

Northern Thailand Walk and Talk. I’m going to write more soon but this was one of the best things I’ve ever done. (A+)

Edge of Tomorrow. Speaking of video games… Still love this under-appreciated film, despite a third act that falls a tiny bit flat. (A)

The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff. I did not enjoy this quite as much as Matrix β€” especially the last third β€” but Groff is one hell of a writer. (B+)

New Blue Sun. Good on AndrΓ© 3000 for not doing the expected thing and instead releasing an instrumental album on which he plays the flute. (A-)

Songs of Silence. I can’t remember who clued me into this lovely instrumental album by Vince Clarke (Erasure, Depeche Mode), but it’s been heavily in the rotation lately. (B+)

Trifecta. A.L.I.S.O.N.’s Deep Space Archives is a favorite chill work album for me and this one is nearly as good. (B+)

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Entertaining but lacks the zip and coherence of the first film. (B)

Shoulda Been Dead. I had no idea that Kevin Kelly appeared on an early episode of This American Life until someone mentioned it offhand on our Thailand walk. What a story…listen all the way to the end. (A)

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. Oh the writing here is exquisite. (A)

Avengers: Infinity War & Avengers: Endgame. These are endlessly rewatchable for me. (A)

Elemental. Good but not great Pixar. (B)

The Wrong Trousers. I watched this with my 16-year-old son, who hadn’t seen it in like 9 or 10 years. We both loved it β€” it still has one of the best action movie sequences ever. (A+)

The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler. Are AGI robots intelligent? Are octopuses? Are humans? This novel plays entertainingly with these ideas. (A-)

Myeongdong Kyoja. I stumbled upon this place, extremely cold and hungry, and after a brief wait in line, I was conducted to an open seat by the no-nonsense hostess running the dining room. The menu only has four items, conveniently pictured on the wall β€” I got the kalguksu and mandu. The hostess took my order and then, glancing at my frozen hands, reached down and briefly gave one of them a squeeze, accompanied by a concerned look that lasted barely half a second before she returned to bustling around the room. A delicious meal and a welcome moment of humanity in an unfamiliar land. (A)

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts. This made me want to give notice to my landlord and take off for somewhere else. (A-)

Barbie. Second viewing. Entertaining and funny, but this is a movie that has Something To Say and I still can’t figure out what that is. (B+)

Emily the Criminal. There were a few hiccups here and there, but I largely enjoyed this Aubrey Plaza vehicle. (A-)

Midnight in Paris. Not going to recommend a Woody Allen movie these days, but this is one of my comfort movies β€” I watch it every few months and love every second of it. (A)

Gran Turismo. Extremely predictable; they could have done more with this. (B)

The Rey/Ren Star Wars trilogy. I have lost any ability to determine if any of these movies are actually good β€” I just like them. πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ (B+)

Loki (season two). This was kind of all over the place for me but finished pretty strong. Glorious purpose indeed. (B)

Die Hard. Still great. (A)

Home Alone. First time rewatching this in at least a decade? This movie would have worked just as well if Kevin were 15% less annoying. (B+)

The Grinch. My original review stands: “I wasn’t expecting to sympathize so much with The Grinch here. The social safety net constructed by the upper middle class Whos totally failed the most vulnerable member of their society in a particularly heartless way. Those Whos kinda had it coming.” (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here. What good things have you watched, read, or listened to lately?

Reply Β· 15

Watch the Newly Remastered Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988) on YouTube

The entire episode of Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988) is on YouTube, fully remastered in 1080p HD. Special guests include Annette Funicello, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Whoopi Goldberg, Magic Johnson, Grace Jones, Little Richard, and Joan Rivers. From a Vulture piece on the special:

Christmas at Pee-wee’s Playhouse, the 1988 primetime CBS special from comedian and actor Paul Reubens, is one of the strangest, most glorious, most improbable, most confident pieces of entertainment to appear on television. Thirty-five years after it aired, and in a period of reconsideration after Paul Reubens’s death, the Pee-wee Herman Christmas special still looks like one of the major pinnacles of Reubens as an artist, full of silly delight and winking subversion, all framed inside the relative safety of a big sparkly Christmas extravaganza.

And after declaring “This special is one of the gayest things I’ve ever seen”:

What’s so brilliant about it as a piece of queer art is that it is presented so earnestly, and the iconography they’re playing with is Americana. It plays as camp to our modern view of over-the-top earnestness. But it’s a mix of camp aesthetic and an alternative comedy aesthetic of laughing at bad jokes, like the series of fruitcake jokes, which were at the time a clichΓ©, that fruitcake was bad. Why are we going to make this joke about fruitcake over and over again? Because it’s stupid!

(via austin kleon)

Reply Β· 1

Trying Out ‘The Crown,’ Season One (Comic)

From 2021.
british-crown-1.jpg
the-crown-season-one-1.jpg
the-crown-season-one-2.jpg
richard-iii-snippet-1-copy.jpg
richard-iii-copy.jpg

Reply Β· 1

A 2-Minute Clip From 3 Body Problem

The premiere date for the Netflix adaptation of Liu Cixin’s Three-Body Problem trilogy by Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff inches ever closer and, well, I just really want this to be good (because I enjoyed the book series so much). Between the teaser trailer and the clip above, I am cautiously optimistic. 3 Body Problem is out on Netflix on March 21, 2024.


My Recent Media Diet, Fall 2023 Edition

I know I always say this, but I didn’t mean for so much time to elapse since the last installment of the media diet. But I have a slightly different reason for the delay this time: I have been really busy with work and family stuff, so much so that I haven’t been reading or watching as much as I usually do. So I needed to wait a couple of months to collect enough stuff.

Anyway. Here’s my recent media diet, a roundup of what I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, and experiencing over the past few months. ✌️

The Creator. Original, engaging sci-fi with good action, heart, and something to say. Madeleine Yuna Voyles is the best child actor I’ve seen in years. (A)

Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America by Heather Cox Richardson. I’m still making my way through this one but I’m going to review it now because Virginia Heffernan was absolutely correct in saying that the first part of the book is “the most lucid just-so story for Trump’s rise I’ve ever heard”. Richardson ties so many things together so succinctly that by the end of it, Trump feels not like an abberation but more like the result of a plan that conservatives have been striving towards for decades. (A+)

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. Watched this twice: once in the theater and once at home. I didn’t like this quite as much as Fallout (or Top Gun: Maverick tbh), but this is a top-notch action movie. The tiny car chase on the streets of Rome is πŸ’―. (A-)

The ocean. Still undefeated. (A+)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 & 2. *sigh* Like many of you, I am extremely disappointed with the weird & harmful anti-trans crusade the author of the Harry Potter book series has embarked on over the last few years and it’s prompted me to attempt a reevaluation of my relationship to these movies and books. But I’ve had some difficulty doing so because the Potter wizarding world is so wrapped up in spending quality time with my kids (particularly after their mom and I separated) that it’s hard to have anything but extremely fond feelings for it all. Over a period of five or so years, we read the whole series together at bedtime and I can’t even put into words how meaningful that time together was. We’re listening to the series on audiobook in the car right now…it’s one of the few things my two teens and I really enjoy doing with one another.

Anyway, all that is to say that when some recent changes in our schedule together β€” good, developmentally appropriate changes for them but changes nonetheless β€” caused some parental melancholy, I watched these three films on back-to-back-to-back nights just to feel close to my kids in some way. It was just the thing. (A)

American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. Perhaps not the beach read I needed, but the one I deserved. I liked this maybe a bit better than the movie, but still not nearly as much as Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb (and its sequel, Dark Sun). (A-)

Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland. This was excellent. Listening to actual people who lived and worked in Northern Ireland during the Troubles β€” victims, murderers, police officers, bystanders, family members of those who were killed β€” was completely enthralling and brought the 30-year conflict to life in a way that Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing couldn’t, as good as it was. I’ve been thinking about this series a lot over the past few weeks as the latest tragedy unfolds in Gaza. (A+)

The Repair. Another excellent podcast series from Scene on Radio, this one on climate crisis. I’ve read quite a bit about the climate over the past decade or two, so I thought I knew what to expect going in, but this takes a pretty unique angle. For one thing, they don’t start with the Industrial Revolution…their lead-in to the topic is the Book of Genesis. And it keeps going in unexpected directions from there. I think even a seasoned observer of the crisis will find something interesting here. (A)

The Belan Deck by Matt Bucher. Maybe a better choice of beach read than American Prometheus…I finished this slim, creative tome in one sitting on my final day at the ocean. Here’s a better review than this one. (B+)

The Postal Service & Death Cab for Cutie: Give Up & Transatlanticism 20th Anniversary Tour. Saw this in New Haven in a former outdoor tennis arena. So wonderfully nostalgic. I’m a bigger fan of Give Up but the track of the evening for me was Transatlanticism by Death Cab…it sent honest-to-god chills down my spine. (A)

The mashed potato pizza from Bar. I’d tried this once before and found it kinda meh. But not this time around…I couldn’t stop eating it. (A)

the exterior of the Hotel Marcel, a brutalist building desgined by Marcel Breuer

Hotel Marcel. If you’ve ever driven on I-95 through New Haven, you’ve probably noticed the brutalist building unceremoniously situated in the Ikea parking lot. Designed by Marcel Breuer, the former Armstrong Rubber Company Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2021 and converted to the Hotel Marcel a year later. Pretty cool to be able to stay in such a well-designed building. (B+)

The Super Mario Bros. Movie. This was perfectly fine. But it had that tightly controlled and over-engineered feeling that many franchise movies have these days. (B)

Arrival. Still an absolute banger and one of my all-time faves. And I notice a little something new every time I watch it. (A+)

The Flash. Better than I expected! And I bought the Quick Bite emote in Fortnite. Can we staaaahpp with the multiverse tho? (B+)

Legally Blonde. First time. Enjoyed it! (B+)

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Second time. It’s not the best Indy but I think in the long term, it will be rewatchable. (B+)

Tycho’s Burning Man Sunrise Set for 2023. Not quite up to past years, but it’s still in the while-working rotation. (B)

Ahsoka (season one). Hmm. This was slow, enjoyable, boring, engaging β€” sometimes all at once. Space whales tho? (B)

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. This is Wes Anderson, unplugged: simple sets, lots of acting, spare-but-precise cinematography, and a meta narrative. (A-)

Downhill mountain biking. Ollie and I went to a local ski area that offers lift service to mountain bike trails a few weeks ago and did several rides on a intermediate flow trail and it was the most fun I had all summer. I even got some air. (A+)

Boundaries, Burnout and the ‘Goopification’ of Self-Care. For the Ezra Klein Show, guest host Tressie McMillan Cottom (one of America’s leading public intellectuals) interviewed Pooja Lakshmin about what she calls Real Self-Care. Not yoga and juice cleanses but more like setting boundaries and practicing self-compassion. An excellent listen. (A-)

Wool by Hugh Howey. After really enjoying the Apple TV+ series, I was looking forward to dipping into the first book of the trilogy. But I preferred the show…and was also surprised when the book, well before the end, continued on past the events of the show. I stopped reading at that point and will revisit after the show’s second season. (B)

Killers of the Flower Moon. I wanted to like this more than I did. Great acting (particularly by De Niro, Gladstone, and Plemons) and it looked amazing but it lacked oomph. Plus I didn’t have a clear sense of what Scorsese was trying to say… (B+)

Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises. I watched these with my son (a budding Nolan fan) and I know this is sacrilege, but my favorite of the series is The Dark Knight Rises. Heath Ledger’s performance though… 🀑πŸ”₯. (A-)

I also have a bunch of stuff in progress, including The Vaster Wilds (good so far, need to make more time for it), the new season of The Great British Bake Off (my fave got eliminated in the first episode 😒), and Loki (skeptical this can match the style & weirdness of the first season). I stalled out on season three of The Great but I’m going to go back to it. I’m two episodes into Reservation Dogs (after many recommended it) and I love it already. And I haven’t even started Emily Wilson’s translation of The Iliad!

How about you? What have you been into lately? Anything you would particularly recommend? Let us know in the comments! (Just don’t argue with my grades…we all already know they don’t make any damn sense!)

Reply Β· 66

An Inspiring Message From General George Washington About Our Nation’s Destiny

In this SNL sketch featuring host Nate Bargatze as George Washington, the commander of the Continental Army gives a rousing speech to a group of his soldiers about…measurement systems. So good.

Also good from the same episode: a soul food cooking competition:

As Tressie McMillan Cottom says: “Every time he says ‘I’m sorry’, it gets funnier.”


Comedy and Tragedy

Pete Davidson hosted Saturday Night Live last night and somehow said exactly the right thing to open a comedic television program after an unspeakably tragic week.


The Official Trailer for Season Four of For All Mankind

Last month we got a glimpse of the newest season of the Apple+ series For All Mankind (“Imagine a world where the global space race never ended.”) in the form of a teaser trailer that did not give a whole lot away. Well, a proper trailer has dropped and it looks like the gang will be colonizing Mars and harvesting precious metals from asteroids. as I wrote last month:

Is it just me or, if you tilt your head and squint, can you see For All Mankind as a prequel/origin story for The Expanse?

It is maybe too much to ask of a prestige drama these days, but it would be cool to see the birth & development of a Belter-like language a la the beginnings of an Antarctic accent.


Our Frasier Remake

Over 130 animators, actors, filmmakers, and even puppeteers joined forces to remake a 1994 episode of the TV show Frasier called My Coffee With Niles. The episode was split into 185 sections, each 6-12 seconds long, and a different animator or filmmaker took charge of each section. Love this…just an incredible array of styles on display here.

You can read more about the project on their Instagram account. (via @spiritduplicator.bsky.social)

Update: Cartoon Brew has an interview with the project leader about how it all came together.


The Trailer for All the Light We Cannot See

This new series from Netflix looks pretty good β€” and it’s got an impeccable pedigree: it’s based on Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, a Pulitzer Prize winner, National Book Award finalist, and a bestseller to boot. The four-part limited series premieres November 2nd.


Coming Soon: Planet Earth III

Planet Earth III will begin airing later this year on BBC and, presumably, at some later time in the US. The latest installment in the legendary series, 17 years after the first one was released, will once again be presented by Sir David Attenborough, now 97 years old and still as enthusiastic about sharing the wonders of nature as he ever was.

‘The opening of the series with David was filmed in the beautiful British countryside in exactly the location where Charles Darwin used to walk whilst thinking-over his Earth-shaking ideas about evolution. It seemed the perfect place for David to introduce Planet Earth III and remind us of both the wonders and the fragility of our planet. ….and for him, of course, the sun shined under blue skies one of the only days it did all summer!.’

The video above is a quick first look at the series and here’s a trailer as well:

Looking forward to this…the Planet Earth series is still the gold standard for nature documentaries.


Making It So, a Memoir by “Severe Bastard” Patrick Stewart

Fall always brings brisker days, earlier sunsets, and a whole raft of new books that are impossible to find the time to read. Add this memoir by Patrick Stewart to the pile next to your bed: Making It So (bookshop.org). The Hollywood Reporter has a great video excerpt with audio from the audiobook (narrated by Stewart himself, naturally) about his early days on Star Trek: The Next Generation:

From an accompanying article:

So when he was on set shooting the show’s debut season and co-stars like Jonathan Frakes, Denise Crosby and Brent Spiner would tease him or ad-lib a joke or laugh when they flubbed their lines, it would low-key infuriate him.

“I could be a severe bastard,” he writes. “My experiences at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre had been intense and serious… On the TNG set, I grew angry with the conduct of my peers, and that’s when I called that meeting in which I lectured the cast for goofing off and responded to Denise Crosby’s, ‘We’ve got to have some fun sometimes, Patrick’ comment by saying, ‘We are not here, Denise, to have fun.’”

“In retrospect,” Stewart continues, “everyone, me included, finds this story hilarious. But in the moment, when the cast erupted in hysterics at my pompous declaration, I didn’t handle it well. I didn’t enjoy being laughed at. I stormed off the set and into my trailer, slamming the door.”

Update: Gideon Lichfield has a great interview with Stewart for Wired.

Q: There’s a passage where you say that, from your father, “I drew Picard’s stern, intimidating tendencies. But I like to think that my mother is in the captain too, in his moments of warmth and sensitivity.” Do you see Picard as your way of reconciling that conflict between your parents?

A: Very much so, yes. Both Star Trek and therapy have been responsible for that. Having to open the doors into my childhood in order to be an actor became utterly intriguing to me in a way that it never had been before. And I regret that when I look back on some of the roles I played, what I might have brought to them if I just released myself a little bit more.

(via @samuelwade)


A Teaser Trailer for Season Four of For All Mankind

The first teaser trailer for season four of the Apple TV+ series For All Mankind takes the form of a recruitment video encouraging people to join the burgeoning workforce in space. It doesn’t give us much in the way of plot or character updates, but here’s the season synopsis (spoilers if you’re not caught up to the end of season three):

Rocketing into the new millennium in the eight years since Season 3, Happy Valley has rapidly expanded its footprint on Mars by turning former foes into partners. Now 2003, the focus of the space program has turned to the capture and mining of extremely valuable, mineral-rich asteroids that could change the future of both Earth and Mars. But simmering tensions between the residents of the now-sprawling international base threaten to undo everything they are working towards.

I have to admit my interest in the show waned a bit after the first season, but it’s still a pretty great show and I will be tuning in for season four on November 10. And is it just me or, if you tilt your head and squint, can you see For All Mankind as a prequel/origin story for The Expanse? (via gizmodo)