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kottke.org posts about tv

My Recent Media Diet, Barbenheimer Edition

Hey folks. I’m trying to get into the habit of doing these media diet posts more frequently than every six months so they’re actually, you know, somewhat relevant. Here’s what I’ve been watching, reading, listening to, and experiencing over the last two months.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. One of the most visually stunning movies I’ve ever seen. A worthy sequel to the first film. (A)

On Being with Krista Tippett: Isabel Wilkerson. I will take any opportunity to listen to Isabel Wilkerson talk about her work. (A)

Deep Space Archives. Been listening to this album by A.L.I.S.O.N on heavy rotation while working recently. (A-)

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Bleak and powerful, science fiction at its finest. (A)

Asteroid City. I liked Wes Anderson’s latest effort quite a bit. Not quite as much as The French Dispatch but more than many other folks. (A-)

Dunkirk. Rewatched for the 5th time. For my money, this is Nolan’s best movie. (A+)

Beef. I wanted to like this but I only lasted two episodes. Not for me, YMMV. (C)

Antidepressants. It took a bit to home in on the right one, but even my relatively low dose has helped me out of a particularly low point over the last few months. (A)

The Diplomat (season one). Burned through this one in just a few days — an entertaining political thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously. (B+)

Ooni Volt 12. Ooni was kind enough to send me this electric pizza oven to test out, so take this with a grain of salt, but I’ve been having a lot of fun making no-fuss pizza. Need to work on my dough game tho. (A-)

Silo. This hooked me right away and didn’t let go, although it got a little bit ridiculous in places. I’m eager to see where things go in season two. (B+)

Interstellar. Watched this with the kids and we all enjoyed it. The musical score does a lot of heavy lifting in all of Nolan’s films but in this one especially. (A-)

The Age of Pleasure. My only complaint about this album from Janelle Monáe is that it’s too short. (A-)

Barr Hill Gin & Tonic. The best canned cocktail I’ve had. And it’s turned me into a G&T fan. (A)

VanMoof S3. *sigh* Figures that I finally pull the trigger on getting an e-bike and the company that produces it files for bankruptcy. No matter: this thing is fun as hell and has flattened all the hills out around here. (A)

Átta. You always know what you’re going to get with Sigur Rós: atmospheric, ambient, abundant crescendos, ethereal vocals. (B+)

Air. Ben Affleck has a bit of a mixed record as a director, but this Air Jordan origin story is really solid and entertaining. Viola Davis is great as Michael Jordan’s mother Deloris. (A-)

The Bear (season two). There are aspects of The Bear that I don’t like (the intensity seems forced sometimes, almost cheesy) but the highs are pretty high. Forks was a fantastic episode. More Sydney and Ayo Edebiri in season three please. (A-)

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Solid Indy adventure and I love Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the sidekick/partner. I know some folks didn’t like the climax but seeing Jones get what he’s always wanted was satisfying. (B+)

Rebranding beloved brands. Max? X? No. So dumb. (F)

65. Oh dear. Adam Driver needs to choose his projects more wisely. Interesting premise but the rest was pretty lifeless. (C+)

Pizzeria Ida. The pizza is expensive (esp for Vermont), the ingredients top-notch, and the service rude (if you believe the reviews). We had a great time and this is probably the best pizza you can get in VT; it wouldn’t be out of place in NYC. (A)

Oppenheimer. Epic. Almost overwhelming at times. Don’t see this on anything but a big screen if you can help it. Perhaps not Nolan’s best but it still packs a wallop. (A-)

Barbie. I enjoyed this very much but found it uneven in spots. And no more Will Ferrell please. But it was great seeing people dressed up for the occasion — Barbenheimer felt like the first time since before the pandemic that you could feel the buzz in the audience, an excitement for what we were about to experience together. (B+)

Currently I’m reading American Prometheus (on which Oppenheimer is based) and Wool (on which Silo is based), so I’ll have those reviews for you next time hopefully. I don’t have a TV series going right now and nothing’s really catching my eye. Maybe I’ll dig into season three of (the underrated) The Great — I’ve heard it’s back to top form after a s02 dip.

Past installments of my media diet are available here.


Watch 1969’s Apollo 11 Moon Landing “Live!”

Apollo 11 TV Coverage

54 years ago today, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon and went for a little walk. For the 15th year in a row, you can watch the original CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first Moon walk on a small B&W television, synced to the present-day time. Just open this page in your browser today, July 20th, and the coverage will start playing at the proper time. Here’s the schedule (all times EDT):

4:10:30 pm: Moon landing broadcast starts
4:17:40 pm: Lunar module lands on the Moon

4:20:15 pm - 10:51:26 pm: Break in coverage

10:51:27 pm: Moon walk broadcast starts
10:56:15 pm: First step on Moon
11:51:30 pm: Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew
12:00:30 am: Broadcast end (on July 21)

Set an alarm on your phone or calendar! Also, this works best on an actual computer but I think it functions ok on phones and tablets if necessary.

Back in 2018, I wrote a bit about what to look out for when you’re watching the landing:

The radio voices you hear are mostly Mission Control in Houston (specifically Apollo astronaut Charlie Duke, who acted as the spacecraft communicator for this mission) and Buzz Aldrin, whose job during the landing was to keep an eye on the LM’s altitude and speed — you can hear him calling it out, “3 1/2 down, 220 feet, 13 forward.” Armstrong doesn’t say a whole lot…he’s busy flying and furiously searching for a suitable landing site. But it’s Armstrong that says after they land, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”. Note the change in call sign from “Eagle” to “Tranquility Base”. :)

Two things to listen for on the broadcast: the 1201/1202 program alarms I mentioned above and two quick callouts by Charlie Duke about the remaining fuel towards the end: “60 seconds” and “30 seconds”. Armstrong is taking all this information in through his earpiece — the 1202s, the altitude and speed from Aldrin, and the remaining fuel — and using it to figure out where to land.


The Final Plunge of the Titanic in Movies & TV

This is a supercut of the final moments of the Titanic as represented in various films and TV shows, from 1912’s La Hantise to a 2012 British TV series written by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes. It also doubles as a demonstration of the increasing capabilities and aspirations of filmmakers and their special effects teams throughout the years, although in terms of budget and effort, James Cameron’s effort in 1997 marks the high point.


How to Make the Potato Chip Omelette from The Bear

If you were left hungry by the food in season two of The Bear, Binging With Babish has got you covered. In this video, he recreates the potato chip omelette that Sydney makes in the second-to-last episode of the season. And then, he makes an adjacent dish, José Andrés’s tortilla española with potato chips. Just to contrast, here’s Andrés making it:

Double yum. See also How to Make Perfect Soft-Scrambled Eggs, Hey, Let’s Watch Jacques Pépin Fry Eggs (and make omelettes), and 59 Ways to Cook Your Eggs.


The Secret to Delicious Food: Simultaneously Too Much and Too Little Salt

There’s a small moment in second-to-last episode of the season two of The Bear (extremely mild spoilers) that I liked even though you blink and you’ll miss it. One of the new chefs is tentatively salting some steaks and Sydney says “I need you to salt that like a sidewalk”. Cut to Carmy, who walks up muttering “Where’d you grow up, Arizona?”, takes the salt, and absolutely just drenches the steaks in salt. And I was like, yeah, that’s how you salt a steak!

Several years ago, I started noticing in various cooking videos how much salt chefs put in & on food, particularly meat. I already knew that ample salting was important to the flavor, but I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t going far enough. I was being timid with my salting, afraid of oversalting and ruining dinner. Around this time, I read a Wired piece by chef David Chang about his Unified Theory of Deliciousness and I’ve been following his recommendation about salting food ever since:

My first breakthrough on this idea was with salt. It’s the most basic ingredient, but it can also be hellishly complex. A chef can go crazy figuring out how much salt to add to a dish. But I believe there is an objectively correct amount of salt, and it is rooted in a counterintuitive idea. Normally we think of a balanced dish as being neither too salty nor undersalted. I think that’s wrong. When a dish is perfectly seasoned, it will taste simultaneously like it has too much salt and too little salt. It is fully committed to being both at the same time.

This is the way. You’ll screw it up sometimes and go overboard, but if you can consistently get right up to that edge, your food will taste the best it possibly can. This works particularly well with steaks and burgers…my burger went from “pretty good” to “holy shit” solely on the application of the proper amount of salt.


The Radical Theology of Mr. Rogers

From Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, a piece on the still-radical teachings of Fred Rogers, who emphasized the “love thy neighbor” part of the Bible rather than the twisted “persecute the other” version that has taken hold in so-called Christian communities in America over the past few decades.

Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister whose life’s work was, I believe, built almost entirely (if not entirely) around Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself: I am God.” Hence… the neighborhood. In practice it that looked like this (all of these are his words): “To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way [they are], right here and now.” and “Everyone longs to be loved. And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.”

Part of his philosophy was acknowledging that, because we loved them, we needed to have truthful, difficult conversations with our children.

When Bobby Kennedy was murdered that same year, he did something that’s pretty much impossible to our world today.

He had a puppet tiger ask an actor:

“What does ‘assassination’ mean?”

He knew that small children would be hearing this word, and that they would be aware that something major had happened. And that most of the time, when adults are preoccupied with communal tragedy and trauma, children get left out-to their own detriment.

Better they should know, in an age-appropriate way, and be given the tools to cope, than to be left out in the cold, as he put it, “at the mercy of their own imaginations.”

Again, naming true things and simply holding space to let children deal with them — rather than trying to hide or minimize or gaslight because it seems too hard.

That’s love.

(via @CultureDesk)


The Trailer for 3 Body Problem

I loved Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem trilogy (read it twice!) and was excited/apprehensive when Netflix announced they’d partnered with Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff to adapt the books into a TV series. Well, the first trailer is here and has tipped my scales more towards excited. Really looking forward to when this premieres in January March 2024 — if they get it right, this could be something really special.


Shows That Are Other Shows

Title card for Game of Thrones but it's called 'Dragon Succession'

If you watch TV for more than a couple of minutes, you start to notice that certain successful plots/ensembles for shows are repeated over and over. Rohita Kadambi recently categorized dozens of shows into a few archetypes; for example:

Golden Girls = Elderly Sex and the City
Insecure = Black Millennial Sex and the City
Will & Grace = Gay Friends
What We Do in the Shadows = Vampire Friends
Yellowstone = MAGA Succession
Game of Thrones = Dragon Succession
Arrested Development = Goofball Succession
Mad Men = Sexy 60s West Wing
The Bear = Sandwich West Wing
Ted Lasso = Soccer Office
Cheers = Bar Office
Schitt’s Creek = Riches to Rags Full House
The Addams Family = Goth Full House

Some of these would make pretty good Midjourney prompts but I will leave that as an exercise to the reader.1

  1. Mostly because I’ve never had the patience to figure out the Rube Goldbergian process for using Midjourney. Step 1: sign up for an account on a gamers chat app??! No thank you.


My Recent Media Diet, Summer 2023 Edition

Mad Men's Peggy Olson saying 'Oh shit. It's June 1st?'

Oh no. It’s June? Where what how?!? I did not mean to let this much time elapse since the last installment of my media diet, all the way back on Dec 2 in a completely different calendar year. But there’s nothing to be done about it, we’re all here now, so tuck your arms inside the carriage and let’s do this thing. Here’s what I’ve been watching, reading, listening to, and experiencing over the last six months. Enjoy.

Fire of Love. Superb documentary on volcanos and obsession. The footage, mostly shot by the subjects, is unbelievable. (A)

Star Trek: First Contact. Maybe my favorite Star Trek movie? Ok, maybe not favorite but I like it a lot. (A)

Splendor. This is one of my favorite engine-building games that I’ve played — it strips the concept down to the bare bones. That makes it easy to get the hang of but there’s a lot of room for different strategies as skill levels rise. (A-)

Ted Lasso (season three). I almost didn’t watch this because season two was not my favorite and the critics were just tearing into season three, but I’m so glad I did…this is one of my favorite things I watched over the past few months. This was more like free therapy than a “sitcom”, which probably explains why some people didn’t care for it. (A)

Mercado Little Spain. José Andrés’ Spanish version of Eataly. I’ve only been there a couple of times, but omg the food. The pan con tomate is the simplest imaginable dish — bread, tomato, olive oil, garlic, salt — but I could easily eat it every day. (A)

Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure. Such a gift to see so much of Basquiat’s art in one place. Loved it. (A+)

Wood stove. An actual fire inside of your house that warms and captivates. Perfect, no notes. (A+)

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. A memoir about loss, grief, food, and the Korean American experience. (A-)

The Bourne Identity. Over 20 years old and still a great action thriller. (A-)

AirPods Pro (2nd generation). I’ve been using the first-gen AirPods Pro for the last few years and they’ve been great. But these 2nd-gen ones are next-level: the noise cancelling is way better and they are much more comfortable…been wearing the hell out of these since I got them. (A+)

Succession (season four). Has any show ever hit it out of the park on every episode like this? The whole last season, including the finale, was just fantastic. (A+)

China’s Van Goghs. A Chinese man who’s been painting replica van Goghs for half his life visits Holland and France to see the original paintings and the locations where van Gogh painted. Fascinating. What makes someone a “real” artist? (A-)

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Got to ski here with my kids a couple of times this winter and I can see why they love it. (B)

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. Better than I expected and perhaps better than a superhero holiday special has any right to be. (B+)

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. If you’ve ever enjoyed a long collaborative creative partnership with another person or group of people and that collaborative frisson felt like the highlight of your life, you will probably like this book. (A)

Glass Onion. Super fun. (A-)

Andor. I really enjoyed this but was also kind of perplexed about the hype around how much better this series was than the rest of Star Wars. Again, I liked it but it didn’t seem too far apart from the whole. (A-)

The 2022 World Cup. This whole thing gets an F for the corruption, human rights abuses, and idiotic TV coverage in the US, but as a long-time fan of Lionel Messi, watching Argentina win the trophy was 💯. The final against France was one of the peak sports viewing experiences of my life. (F/A+)

Rogue One. Had to rewatch after Andor. Still a favorite. (A-)

1899. This gave me Lost and Westworld vibes (that’s bad) but I’d heard good things so I stuck with it for two more episodes than I should have. Stopped watching halfway through and then read the Wikipedia page and, yep, thankful I didn’t spend anymore time on it. I have to stop watching these puzzle box shows. (C-)

Bullet Train. People seemed to like this more than I did. Seemed like a Guy Ritchie Tarantino sort of thing, but a bit flashier? It was fine? (B)

Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. This movie gets better and better every time I watch it. Two world-class hams, William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban, trying to see who can chew the most scenery, the first movie scene wholly generated by computer, and Scotty playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes? Come on! (A+)

White Noise. Fine, I guess. But the end credits were the best part. (B)

Acupuncture. I tried acupuncture to address a chronic injury. It didn’t end up working for that purpose, but each time I went, I felt an incredible sense of relaxation and calm after the session. (B)

Wonderland Dreams. I posted about Alexa Meade’s “living still lifes” more than 13 years ago and I finally got a chance to see her work in person in NYC. (A-)

Edward Hopper’s New York. Always good to visit the Whitney. (B+)

Avatar: The Way of Water. Oh dear. Amazing effects but the plot & dialogue were right out of a B movie. And yeah, just a few months after seeing it, I can’t name a single character. (B-)

Fleishman is in Trouble. This wrecked me and I loved it. So much of this rhymed with my life — very uncomfortable at times! (A+)

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Read this straight after I finished the show. (A)

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. Entertaining time travel adventure from the author of Station Eleven. (B+)

Ambient 23. Moby made an 2.5-hour-long ambient album and it’s pretty good. (B+)

The Fablemans. I liked this quite a bit — it’s one of those films that grows in your esteem as you think back to it. Curious to see it again in a month or two to see how it holds up. (A-)

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. I hadn’t read any Hemingway since high school and ok, I get it now. Enjoyed the first half more than the second though. (A)

Minions: The Rise of Gru. I enjoy the Minions more than, what, I should? And what’s not to like about Steve Carell doing a funny voice? (B+)

The White Lotus (season two). I didn’t care for the first season of this (I stopped watching halfway through), but I loved this season. I did think the ending was a little weaker than the rest of it. (A-)

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Picked this book up after a viral tweet by Bigolas Dickolas sent it screaming up the Amazon bestseller charts. Not bad (time travel, causality, etc.) but the writing style was not my favorite. (B+)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. My kids and I went to see this the other day and afterwards had an interesting chat about how you can make a movie where one of the themes is animal cruelty and then the rest of the movie is just a lot of hyper-violence with a surprising amount of yelling (at children!) and also mindless killing of some cyborg animals (during the rescue of other cyborg animals). Honestly disappointing and kind of a muddle. (B)

The Rihanna Halftime Show at Super Bowl LVII. It’s been years since I watched the Super Bowl (or American football), but my daughter and I were excited to catch Rihanna’s halftime show. We both loved it, a great performance. (A)

Raiders of the Lost Ark. A perfect action/adventure movie. (A+)

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie. Listened to this on audiobook with my mystery-loving daughter — it made some long drives fly right by. (A-)

The Last of Us. Some of the episodes showed their video game roots (side quests, NPCs, etc.) a little too much but maybe that’s just how most action drama is written now? (A)

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. The kids and I agreed this was just fine but wasn’t as fun as the other two Ant-Men. (B)

The Book of Mormon. Live things are always a hell of a lot of fun, but I think this played a lot differently when it premiered in 2011 than it does today. (B+)

Speed Racer. Not a fan of the visual style of this movie. (B)

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout. I’ve been in a mode of my life for awhile now where I identify with the characters of books I read and movies/TV that I watch and it makes it difficult to actually be objective (ha!) about it, even with myself. Did I like this or did I just identify strongly with the characters? And what does it matter if I got something valuable out of it even if it wasn’t “good”? (B+)

Ivory. I’ve mostly quit Twitter and this app from Tapbots makes Mastodon feel a lot like Twitter for me. Well, without the right-wing owner and increasingly fascist rhetoric. (B+)

Triangle of Sadness. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to everyone, but I loved it. The dinner scene had me hyperventilating with laughter. (A)

Combustion Predictive Thermometer. I preordered this years ago when I was doing a lot more grilling. Mixed results so far. The thermometer is designed to stay in the meat while you cook it, but the heat of my hardwood charcoal grill was too much for it (I run it *hot*) and I had to take it out. But doing the oven part of the reverse sear is a total breeze with this thing…worth it just for that. (B+)

The Complete History & Strategy of LVMH. I am not usually a VC/startup bro podcast listener, but my pal Timoni strongly recommended this episode on luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and it ended up being really fascinating. The episode is 3.5 hours long and I wanted more. (A)

ChatGPT. I wrote about this extensively back in March and I’m still using it several times a week, mostly as a programming assistant. (A)

The Mysterious Benedict Society. Watched with the kids and I think we all agreed it was a bit better than the first season? But Disney cancelled the show and removed it completely from Disney+ 👎 so good luck watching it… (B+)

Star Trek: Picard (seasons two & three). I’d heard not-great things about season two so I wasn’t super-curious to watch but with the buzz around season three, I decided to give it a try. I ended up watching both seasons in the space of a couple of weeks during a particularly tough period. I just really like spending time in that universe with those people. (A-)

The Mandalorian (season three). This season really dragged in spots — I guess I don’t care about the Mandalorian back story that much? (B+)

Crossword puzzles. I’ve never been a crossword puzzle person, but I’ve been doing the NY Times crossword with a friend for the past few months (mostly over FaceTime) and I’ve become a fan. (B+)

The Wager by David Grann. The beginning is sort of unavoidably slow due to having to explain global geopolitics and how the British Navy functioned in the 18th century, but the rest of the book is just plain masterful and unputdownable. (A)

The Five Lives of Hilma af Klint by Philipp Deines. A graphic novel based on the diaries and art of Hilma af Klint — better than I was expecting. (B+)

Nuun Sport Tablets. I drink a lot of water during the course of my day but also too many sugary drinks. I don’t like seltzer so I’ve been on the lookout for a beverage that tastes good (or at least not terrible) without a lot of sugar. In her excellent newsletter, Laura Olin recommended these and I’ve been enjoying them so far, particularly the citrus flavors. (B+)

Superman. Christopher Reeve would be just 70 years old right now if he hadn’t died in 2004. Wish he were still around; he was a hell of an actor. (A-)

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Strong word-of-mouth got me to sit down and watch this and it didn’t disappoint. Solid action/adventure that reminded me of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. (B+)

Poker Face. I’m only a little more than halfway through this, but Natasha Lyonne solving mysteries while on the lam across America in a TV series by Rian Johnson? In. (B+)

Mrs. Davis. I wanted to like this! I’d heard good things! But it was giving me Lost vibes so I had to stop after two episodes. I do not know how to describe it, but I do not like television shows that are confusing/mysterious in the particular way that this show is. See also Lost, The Leftovers, and Watchmen – all, not coincidentally, written and created by Damon Lindelof. (C)

The Great (season two). I loved season one but season two took me forever to get through – like 7-8 months – and I still have the last episode left. I’ve heard season three gets good again, so I’m gonna push through and give that a chance. The leads are marvelous. (B)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.


George Takei Recalls His Childhood in a WWII Internment Camp

In this short video from the BBC narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, activist and actor George Takei talks about his imprisonment in an American concentration camp during WWII because he was of Japanese descent.

I began school in Rohwer, a real school, in a black tar paper barrack. There was an American flag hanging at the front of the classroom and on the first morning, the teacher said, “We’re going begin every morning with the pledge of allegiance to the flag. I will teach it to you and you are to memorize that.” But I could see right outside my schoolhouse window the barbed wire fence and the sentry tower as I recited the words “with liberty and justice for all”. An innocent kid, too young to understand the stinging irony in those words.

Takei has done many talks & interviews over the years about his experience, including for the Archive of American Television, Democracy Now!, and a TED Talk back in 2014:

He also published a graphic novel about his time in the camps called They Called Us Enemy.


Tour the Bridges of All of Star Trek’s Starships Enterprise

Drawing from the materials of The Roddenberry Archive, this video takes us on a virtual tour of the 3D rendered bridges of every iteration of the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek, from the original 1964 sketches to the final scenes of Star Trek: Picard. I’ve watched a bunch of Star Trek recently and it was neat to see the evolution of the design and presumed technology. Designing for the future is difficult and it’s even tougher when, for instance, you need to design something that for the future that looks contemporary to now but also, somehow, predates a design that looked contemporary 30 years ago. (If that makes any sense…)

You can also head over to The Roddenberry Archive to check out all of the Enterprise designs in more detail, inside and out. (via open culture)


Channel Drift (Or: Why Cable TV Networks Are All the Same Now)

MTV used to show music videos. Bravo was home to opera and jazz programming. The Learning Channel focused on educational programming. The History Channel aired shows about history. Discovery: nature shows. A&E: fine arts and educational content. Now they all air a lot of reality TV programming like Vanderpump Rules, MILF Manor (I had to look this one up to make sure it’s an actual show), and Duck Dynasty. This video from Captain Midnight explains how and why “channel drift” happened (hint: follow the money).


The Fictional Brands Archive

the Bluth Company's stair car from Arrested Development

a box from a Looney Tunes cartoon containing ACME trick balls

screenshot from Succession showing an ATN News anchor reading the news

a rundown Buy N Large staore from Wall-E

The Fictional Brands Archive is a collection of fictional brands found in movies, TV shows, and video games — think Acme in Looney Tunes, Pixar’s Monsters, Inc., and Nakatomi Corporation from Die Hard. Very cool. But gotta say though, the dimming mouseover effect makes this more difficult to use than it needs to be… (via sidebar)


A “Perfect Scene” from Mad Men

I loved this analysis of a scene from the final episode of season three of Mad Men.

The scene shifts. The partners go from standing in disarray around the room to orderly sitting, two by two across from one another. They go from tense standing disagreements to calm, relaxed collusion.

This video is also a reminder of what a great show Mad Men was (it’s in my all-time top 5) and how they just don’t make TV like this anymore.


The Joy of Fortnite

This was me a couple of years ago when I first started playing Fortnite, as satirized by Adam Driver and the SNL gang:

I found this sketch via a piece that Tom Vanderbilt wrote about playing Fortnite with his daughter (and her friends).

It’s not as though Sylvie and I discussed the problem of free will as we dodged RPG rounds. For the most part, our interactions weren’t nearly so high-minded. We stole each other’s kills and squabbled over loot. She badgered me for V-Bucks so she could buy her character new baubles in the Item Shop. But sometimes, after playing, we’d go for a walk and analyze how we were able to notch a dub — Fortnite-speak for a win — or how we might have done better. We’d assess the quality of newly introduced weapons. (The best were OP, for “overpowering,” but often the makers of Fortnite would later “nerf” them for being too OP.) She’d chide me for trying to improve by battling more, rather than by practicing in Creative mode — which suddenly made her open to hearing about the late Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson’s theories of “deliberate practice.” (Like many kids, she had a built-in filter against my teachable moments.) We actually were, per Adam Driver’s character, bonding.

And in our Fortnite games I saw her cultivate prowess. I’m not talking merely about the widely discussed perceptual and cognitive benefits of video games, which include an improved ability to track objects in space and tune out cognitive “distractors.” I’m talking about that suite of abilities sometimes referred to as “21st-century skills”: imaginatively solving open-ended problems, working collaboratively in teams, synthesizing complex information streams. “Unfortunately, in most formal education settings, we’re not emphasizing those very much,” argues Eric Klopfer, who directs the Education Arcade at MIT. “Just playing Fortnite doesn’t necessarily give you those skills — but playing Fortnite in the right way, with the right people, is certainly a good step in that direction.”

This is the plain and perhaps embarrassing truth: During my sabbatical, I didn’t pursue any activity (with the possible exception of mountain biking) as diligently as I did playing Fortnite. My kids have been playing it for awhile, both together and separately, and it was fun to watch them working together to complete quests and sometimes even win. I tried playing with them a few times the previous year, but the last shooter game I played was Quake III in the late 90s and so I was comically bad, running around firing my weapon into the sky or the ground and generally just embarrassing my kids, who left my reboot card where it landed after I’d died more often than not.

Early last year, even before I left on my sabbatical, I decided I wanted to learn how to play properly, so that I could do something with my kids on their turf. I played mostly by myself at first — and poorly. Slowly I figured out the rules of the game and how to move and shoot. I played online with my friend David, who was forgiving of my deficiencies, and we caught up while he explained how the game worked and we explored the island together. I finally got a kill and a win, in the same match — I’d found a good hiding place in a bush and then emerged when it was down to me and some other hapless fool (who was probably 8 years old or a bot) and I somehow got them. A friend who had arrived for dinner mid-game was very surprised when I started yelling my head off and running around the house.

Over the summer after I started the sabbatical, I played most days for at least 30 minutes. I got better and was having more fun. I won some matches and bought the Battle Pass so I could get some different skins and emotes. Even though I got a late start in the season, I grinded on quests to get the Darth Vader skin, which is amusing to wear while you’re trying out different emotes. (You haven’t lived until you’ve watched Vader do the death drop or dance to My Money Don’t Jiggle Jiggle, It Folds.1) When the kids got back from camp, I was good enough to at least not slow them down too much and get a couple of kills in the meantime. I learned the lingo and how to work as a team, with my kids leading the way.1 I’m still not great, but it’s become one of our favorite things to do together and I’m enjoying it while it lasts.

  1. I am surprised but delighted that a huge media conglomerate like Disney allows their character/intellectual property (e.g. Vader) to perform the signature move of another character (Trinity’s slow-motion spin kick from The Matrix) owned by a competing media conglomerate (Warner Bros. Discovery), and vice versa.

  1. I know some parents have a hard time with this, but after having been surpassed by my kids several years ago in skiing prowess and now basically being a lowly private in their Fortnite squad, I am a firm believer that every parent should experience, as early as they can, the sensation of your kids doing something much better, like an order of magnitude better, than you can and then letting them lead the way with it. It will change your relationship with them for the better, remind you that you are not “in charge” (and never really were), and reveal that kids are often much more capable than we give them credit for.


Why Is There an Empty Picture Frame in Joe Biden’s Oval Office?

For his new video series, David Friedman of Ironic Sans finds out the secret behind an unusual object that Joe Biden has placed in the Oval Office: an empty picture frame. The object turns out to be….well, I won’t spoil it, but a few other presidents have had this thing in their Oval Offices as well.

Joe Biden put an empty picture frame in the Oval Office and it’s got a lot of people asking questions. Has a photo been removed? Is something being censored and hidden from the public? I have the answer! And it takes us down a bit of a rabbit hole.

Friedman also uploaded a copy of the White House tour brochure for Biden’s White House.


Jon Stewart Calmly Dismantles Gun Zealot

*sigh* I get it. I get why people are so enthused about this Jon Stewart video. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a clip from Stewart’s show on Apple+ where he’s debating a Second Amendment purist gun nut who also happens to be a state senator from one of the states that’s trying to take away health care, reproductive rights, and persecute/prosecute LGBTQ+ people for daring to exist in public — basically a real “rights for me but not for thee” dickbag.

Anyway, I guess it’s fun to see Stewart dismantle this guy but arguing with a dimwitted ideologue in this manner is like that old saying: “What’s the sense of wrestling with a pig? You both get all over muddy…and the pig likes it.” Conservatives in America want what they want and don’t care about the arguments against it or facts or consensus or bipartisan anything. They only care about their radical ideology and their constituents who agree with them (and their constituents who don’t can go fuck themselves, I guess). In fact, they welcome arguments because it wastes the time and energy of people who would argue with them and they can’t lose because they don’t care about facts and they increasingly have no shame. See also Can You Really ‘Back The Blue’ If You’re Weak on Guns? from the same show.

Anyway, anyway, anyway…it’s gonna be a fun Monday here I guess.


Succession, The Final Season

The official trailer for the now-confirmed final season of Succession (until they do one more, like 12 years from now). Premieres on HBO Max March 26. As I said when the teaser trailer dropped in January, Succession is my current pick for The Best Show on TV Right Now and I’m excited (and sad) for this final season!


The Most Iconic Song in Cartoon History

You’ve probably never heard of Raymond Scott’s Powerhouse, even though it’s one of the most well-known songs of the 20th century. Powerhouse is the slapstick “the chase is on!” and relentless “assembly line” music that you’ve heard in many Looney Tunes shorts and other cartoons, including The Simpsons and Spongebob. Here it is in the 1946 ‘toon, Baby Bottleneck:

From Cartoon Brew’s appreciation of Powerhouse on the 86th anniversary of its recording:

I’m sure Raymond Scott never would’ve guessed that he was sealing his legacy when he sold his publishing rights to Warner Bros. Music in 1943. This little transaction gave genius composer Carl Stalling free reign to plug Raymond Scott’s melodies into his scores for the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. The propulsive energy of Scott’s quirky instrumental jazz compositions made perfect fodder for the likes of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, and Stalling found immediate use for his new library; Stalling’s first quotation of “Powerhouse” appears in the Frank Tashlin classic Porky Pig’s Feat (1943).

The peculiar strains of Raymond Scott’s music and the screwball slapstick of the Warner Bros. cartoons were a match made in heaven…

That CB post has a bunch of embedded videos of different uses of the song, along with this gem of Scott and his “Quintette” playing Powerhouse on TV in 1955:

(via @tcarmody)


HBO’s Gritty Prestige TV Adaptation of Mario Kart

If you’ve ever wondered what HBO and the producers of The Last of Us might do with some slightly different source material, Pedro Pascal and the cast of Saturday Night Live took a crack at a gritty adaptation of Mario Kart. I mean, I would 100% watch this.


A Table Read for The Muppet Show

a still from the opening credits of The Muppet Show, showing all of the puppet entertainers in stage windows

In film and television, a table read is an early part of the rehearsal process where, as the name suggests, all the performers read their scripts together around a table, out of costume.

But what do you do when the performers are also operating puppets? The rehearsal process becomes more iterative; the table read is a kind of sketchboard, and the performance moves quickly from spoken dialogue to early filming in full costume. These two videos (less than six minutes long in total) follow the rehearsals of The Muppet Show (1976-1981) from a table read to filming.

One thing that might surprise you (I admit it surprised me) is how much the puppeteers use floor monitors to guide their performances. As Jim Henson says in the second of these two videos, “when we’re working, our entire reality is on the screen. You are performing, and at the same time, you’re seeing your performance the same as the audience does.” On the one hand, this makes perfect sense: on the other, it’s just another point of focus, another degree of difficulty in making an entire performance come together.

@muppetmarissa they really put so much into the muppet show #themuppets #themuppetshow #muppets #muppet #muppettok #muppetcore #muppeteer #muppeteers #ReadySetLift #behindthescenes

@muppetmarissa they really put so much into the muppet show #themuppets #themuppetshow #muppets #muppet #muppettok #muppetcore #muppeteer #muppeteers #ReadySetLift #behindthescenes

(Thanks to Ethan Marcotte)

Update: The full documentary (nearly an hour!) is on YouTube (again, thx Ethan)


Succession. Season Four Teaser Trailer. Boom.

With soooo much TV these days, everyone has their own pick for The Best Show on TV Right Now and my pick, aside from the excellent & underrated My Brilliant Friend, is Succession. Since the middle of the first season, I have eagerly looked forward to each episode and I’ve been jonesing for season four since about 2 seconds after the final episode of season three aired. Plus, the opening credits are unskippable. Succession starts up again on HBO Max on March 26.


The “Contagious Visual Blandness” of the Netflix Look

Haley Nahman on the contagious visual blandness of Netflix:

It’s actually, specifically, about how movies these days look. That is, more flat, more fake, over-saturated, or else over-filtered, like an Instagram photo in 2012, but rendered in commercial-like high-def. This applies to prestige television, too. There are more green screens and sound stages, more CGI, more fixing-it-in-post. As these production tools have gotten slicker and cheaper and thus more widely abused, it’s not that everything looks obviously shitty or too good to feel true, it’s actually that most things look mid in the exact same way.

Yes, yes, 1000 times yes. This has been bugging me for years now — movies and TV shows are too blandly shiny these days (or is it shinily bland?) It’s easy to make everything look just so — and so filmmakers do, without the visual zip of a Wes Anderson or David Fincher. This comment from Reddit captures the vibe:

I actually think it looks too “perfect”. Everyone is lit perfectly and filmed digitally on raw and tweaked to perfection. It makes everything have a fake feeling to it. Commercials use the same cameras and color correction so everything looks the same. Every shot looks like it could be used in a stock photo and it looks completely soulless.

No film grain, no shadows on faces, and no wide shots. I have a theory that going from tungsten to led lightning added to this as well. Tungsten allows for more accurate color in camera but LEDs are cheaper, cooler, and more convenient. So the solution is to film on a nice digital camera and fix the color in post. However, this makes for less creativity on set and less use of shadows.

Green screens make it worse as they also require flatter lighting to work. Marvel films are very obviously mostly made in post and they all look very flat and not real. Even shitty low budget 90’s comedies look better and I think this can be attributed to the lighting.


The Mandalorian. Season Three. Official Trailer.

The length of winter near the northern 45th parallel requires events to look forward to in order to feel like you’re not forever adrift in cold and dark. Big things like vacations and reunions with friends & family as well as small things like getting outside in the afternoon, having something delicious planned for dinner, or just, like, getting to the end of the day having consumed enough water.

One of the things I am looking forward to in the early spring is March 1st because a) the sun will set at an almost respectable 5:38pm instead of the current 4:40pm, and b) season three of The Mandalorian starts. This is the way.


The Best Opening Title Sequences of 2022

The Art of the Title, Print magazine, Slashfilm, and Salon have each compiled their picks for the best film and TV opening title sequences for 2022. There’s quite a bit of overlap, with the opening titles for Severance (which I added to the Unskippable Intros Hall of Fame earlier this year), The White Lotus, Peacemaker, and Pachinko making multiple lists. I haven’t seen After Yang yet, but I love that title sequence. Always a fan of lots of creativity and expression packed into small times and spaces.


Avatar and the Papyrus Typeface

I know I’ve posted this before, but with the new Avatar movie out in theaters, it’s a good time to revisit the SNL sketch where Ryan Gosling is driven mad by the typeface choice for the movie’s logo.

I had forgotten about the title card at the end. Perfection.

Update: From Jake Kring-Schreifels at The Ringer last month: The Intertwining History of the ‘Avatar’ Papyrus Font and the ‘SNL’ Sketch That Spoofed It.

There actually is one single person responsible for Avatar’s Papyrus-esque logo: Peter Stougaard. The former senior vice president of creative advertising for 20th Century Fox willingly takes credit for selecting and tweaking the movie’s much-maligned font, but he doesn’t mince words. “I didn’t aimlessly pick Papyrus,” he insists. “I chose it very strategically.”

I can’t believe they got it off of the cover of Cameron’s copy of the script. (thx, matt)


In Perfect Unison

Jon Lefkovitz has created a video montage of moments from movies and TV where characters “do or say the same thing at the same time”. As you might imagine, it’s a little bit mesmerizing.

This reminded me of Synchronized Basketball.


Trailer for The 1619 Project TV Series

Hulu and the NY Times are teaming up to bring Nikole Hannah-Jones’ The 1619 Project to television.

In keeping with the original project, the series seeks to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. The episodes — “Democracy,” “Race,” “Music,” “Capitalism,” “Fear,” and “Justice” — are adapted from essays from The New York Times No. 1 bestselling “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story” and examine how the legacy of slavery shapes different aspects of contemporary American life.

The six-episode limited series will premiere January 26 on Hulu.


Some Wonderful Things From 2022

looking out over the Atlantic Ocean

As 2022 recedes into the rearview mirror, I took some time to go back over my media diet posts to pick out some books, movies, TV shows, and experiences from the past year that were especially wonderful. Enjoy.

Everything Everywhere All at Once. I’ve seen this a few times now and I still don’t know how the filmmakers pulled this off. A chaotic martial arts action comedy romance multiverse movie with heart? It is a miracle of a film. Definitely my favorite movie of the year and probably in the past 2-3 years.

Glass Onion. I don’t know, maybe this shouldn’t be here because I just watched it the other day, but whatever. This movie is fun. Janelle Monáe and Blanc’s bathing costume were the highlights for me.

Fortnite. The one thing I worked on more than almost anything else during my sabbatical was my Fortnite skills. My kids play and I wanted to join them, so that we could have an activity to do as a family, one that was on their turf and not mine. I’m still not great at it, but I’m more than competent now and it’s been a great addition to our routine.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Seeing this painting in person is a whole other deal. I think I stood in front of it for a good 10 minutes and then circled back later for another look.

Station Eleven. You can see the ending of this coming a mile away and it still caught me by surprise when it happened. I didn’t think I wanted to watch a TV show about a flu pandemic causing the end of civilization, but it was actually perfect.

Severance. It’s comforting to know that TV shows on these massive streaming services can still be weird. I didn’t love this as much as many other people did, Severance did keep popping up in my thoughts in the months after I watched it.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. If you’ve ever worked on a creative project with someone and that collaborative frisson felt like the highlight of your life, this book might be right up your alley.

Tár. Cate Blanchett is just ridiculously good in this.

My Brilliant Friend. The most underrated show on television? This was so much better than a lot of other shows I kept seeing praised but not a lot of people seem to be talking about it.

Kimi. Soderbergh does Rear Window + The Conversation. The direction is always tight and Zoë Kravitz is great in this.

Middlemarch by George Eliot. By far the best thing I read during my sabbatical and an instant addition to my all-time favorites list. For whatever reason, I thought this was going to be stuffy liht-tra-chure but it turns out it’s hilarious? Almost every page had me laughing out loud. The writing is exquisite and Eliot’s observations about human behavior are still, 150 years on, remarkably astute. And there’s a scene near the end of the book that is almost cinematic — she painted such a vivid picture that it took my breath away (like, literally I was holding my breath).

Her Place. This Philly spot is getting a ton of attention and end-of-the-year kudos; it’s well-deserved. The food is great but it’s the casual family-style dinner-party vibe that really makes this place special. People will try to copy this concept — it’ll be interesting to see if they can do it as well.

The Lost Daughter. Based on an Elena Ferrante book and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, the acting and cinematography are the central strengths of this film. Olivia Colman & Jessie Buckley shine as an ambivalent mother at two different points in her life and the tight shots keep them smoldering the entire time.

Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman. Correctly lauded as a masterpiece.

Top Gun: Maverick. I was shocked at how much I liked this movie — a Top Gun sequel didn’t have any right to be this entertaining. Straight-up no-frills thrill ride that’s best on a big screen. Loved Val Kilmer’s scenes.

Matrix by Lauren Groff. I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what I liked so much about this book, but it has something to do with its surprising entrepreneurial bent, its feminist startup vibe. Groff’s Marie de France is one of my favorite characters of the year.

Bar Kismet. The type of place where you instantly feel like a regular. And with the ever-changing food and cocktail menus, you’ll want to become one.

Schitt’s Creek. I was worried that I wouldn’t jibe with the show’s humor — nothing worse than a comedy that isn’t funny — but it delivered so many laugh-out-loud moments that I lost count. The show really hits its stride after the first season or two when it makes you start caring about what happens to these annoying weirdos. I would have watched 10 seasons of this.

The Bear. Again, I didn’t love this as much as some others did, but my thoughts kept returning to it often.

Saap. When someone says a restaurant in Vermont is “good”, you always have to ask: “Is it actually good or just Vermont good?” Saap is great, period.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. I don’t know how to think about the kind of stories that Chiang writes — they are simple and complex and deep and fantastical and familiar all at the same time. It’s the perfect kind of sci-fi for me.

The US and the Holocaust. Essential six-hour documentary series about how the United States responded (and failed to respond) to Nazi Germany’s persecution and murder of European Jews in the years before, during and after WWII. Another banger from Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. I can’t say that this book made me want to become obsessed with surfing, but maybe it made me want to become obsessed with something again. Beautifully written and personally resonant.

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. All nonfiction books should aspire to be this compelling.

Mercado Little Spain. José Andrés’ Spanish version of Eataly. I’ve only been there a couple of times, but omg the food. The pan con tomate is the simplest imaginable dish — bread, tomato, olive oil, garlic, salt — but I could easily eat it every day.

Photo of the Atlantic Ocean taken by me on my trip to Portugal this summer.


What Happens When a Group of 12-Year-Olds Is Left with No Supervision for Five Days?

As part of a British reality TV series in the late 2000s, two sets of 11-to-12-year-old children, one group of 10 boys and another group of 10 girls, were left by themselves in a house for 5 days. They had food, bedding, games, paint, toys, bikes, furniture, etc. They had each taken a cooking course beforehand. None of the children had met before. At any time, they could ring a bell to talk to the production team, a parent, or a child psychiatrist. They were free to leave at any time. To produce the videos above, camera crews were in the house to film, but they were not allowed to speak to the kids and could only intervene for safety reasons. (Content warning: both videos include a few instances of homophobic slurs.)

So what happened?

Initially, there’s a bit of chaos in each house but then things diverge — but not as much as you might expect. After a brief attempt at cleaning, the boys completely trash their house, eat mostly sugar, divide into factions, and somehow trash the house even more. A representative bit of narration about the boys:

The atmosphere is becoming hysterical and aggressive. Almost everything has been destroyed.

The girls also somewhat trash their house, have trouble eating regularly, and two of the girls leave early. But they also, IMO, are more successful than the boys at living together.

Two of the children have left and eight have stayed. Close friendships have grown and split apart and then re-formed. Though the girls have argued and fought, they’ve also been able to forgive each other, to comfort each other when upset, to help each other.

Some reflections and observations:

  • I wonder how much the presence of cameras and their operators influenced their behavior. Clearly there was some initial showing off and pushing of boundaries, but after a couple of days, the surveillance may have receded into the background.
  • Individual kids can be smart, clever, and kind but a group of them often is not. I believe this often applies to adults as well.
  • Both good and bad actions are contagious within groups like this, but bad actions are easier to do and their results more difficult to undo. Like, it’s much easier to squirt ketchup all over the carpet than it is to clean it up.
  • Some would watch these videos and say, “well, boys are like that and girls are like this, it’s just nature”. Others might say that girls and boys are socialized differently, resulting in more violent behavior in boys, and more relational behavior in girls, etc. I am not sure this experiment offers any clarity into what the balance is here.
  • Everyone in the houses was able to exercise a high degree of personal freedom during their stay, but doing so often greatly impacted the group as a whole in a negative way. Sure, you can trash the living room if that’s what you feel like, but it ruins it for everyone, not just you.
  • Watching this, I remember why I hated middle and high school so much.
  • Were these “experiments” ethical? For that matter, is sending kids to American middle school ethical?

Anyway, fascinating to watch.