This post is very long, so I'll keep the introduction short. It's taken me forever to get another pop culture post up, but when you consume as much pop culture as I do, it's hard to figure out what to write about and even harder to find time in between watching episodes of my shows. So without further ado, here is a very belated installment of Pop Culture, I Love You. Also, I apologize for how long these posts end up being.
I haven't been watching a lot of new TV lately. Between rewatching "The X-Files" and "30 Rock," I've lazily just been opening Netflix and turning to things that I know I'm going to like because I've already seen them. Then, magically, "Transparent" arrived. The show is one of Amazon's first original series, and it's pretty much the only one of Amazon's shows that I've been seeing legitimate buzz about. After watching it (okay, hardcore binge watching it), I can absolutely see why. The show stars the brilliant Jeffrey Tambor ("Arrested Development," "The Larry Sanders Show") as Mort, a man who has struggled with gender identity his entire life and is finally ready to make the transition and come out as trans. The show begins as Mort, now living as Maura, is gearing up to finally tell his family. His three adult kids all share their own struggles with gender identity, sexuality, and intimacy, and the picture "Transparent" paints of the Jewish family in :Los Angeles is incredible.
The show has so much going for it that it was sure to be a critical hit from the start. The writing is perfect, the characters are all complex and completely nuanced, the commentary on gender identity and sexuality is important, and the cast is incredible. Gaby Hoffman, Amy Landecker, and Jay Duplass star as Maura's children, while Melora Hardin, Carrie Brownstein, Judith Light, Rob Huebel, and Kathryn Hahn having are equally as wonderful in supporting roles. The show is timely, especially coming off the heels of "Orange Is The New Black," but it's completely unique and one of the best shows out there at the moment.
I've talked about "Harmontown," the podcast, many times on here, but before I talk about "Harmontown" the documentary, let me refresh your memory as to what exactly it is. Dan Harmon is the creative genius/eccentric manchild who created two of my favorite comedies, "Community" and "Rick and Morty." His podcast is a weekly "town meeting" where he and Jeff Davis ("Whose Line Is It Anyway?") have hilarious conversations, bring up audience members and special guests (sometimes celebrities), and play Dungeons & Dragons. It's basically an hour and a half of pure comedy gold every week. After Harmon infamously got fired from "Community," he, Davis, his girlfriend Erin, and their dungeon master Spencer took the road and hosted Harmontown in 20 cities while a documentary crew filmed them.
I already wrote about my surreal experience attending a screening of the documentary and Q&A (where I met Harmon), but what I really want to talk about is the documentary itself. Neil Berkeley (who was also there) directed a piece on not only Harmon, but the world he has created with "Harmontown." It of course discusses Harmon's work and his forced exit from "Community," but it's more so a study on self-destruction and being a misfit or outsider. The doc puts just as much focus on Harmon's fans — "A Harmenian is a nerd full of love" — and how he's inspired so many of us. Most notably, however, the doc takes a kind of unexpected focus on Spencer (who I also got to meet, which was very exciting), a 20-something living with his parents who showed up to the podcast taping one day just hoping to play D&D with Harmon and instead became an integral part of the show. He's an incredibly fascinating person. one who obviously doesn't (or at least didn't) realize just how funny he is or how much fans genuinely love him, and turning him into the hero of the story is an inspired take.
I know this all seems like a very niche thing, and I can't deny that, but I honestly think the documentary is a well-made piece of film that anyone can enjoy, even those who don't listen to the podcast or are very familiar with Harmon. That said, I highly recommend the podcast too. And "Community." And "Rick and Morty."
I should start this one off by saying that I have a huge weakness for comedians taking on serious roles. Some of my favorite performances of all time include Jim Carrey in both "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (one of my favorite movies of all time) and "The Truman Show," Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation," and Adam Sandler in "Punch Drunk Love." So even though I'd probably see any movie starring Kristen Wigg and Bill Hader as siblings, I was especially excited to see that their project, "Skeleton Twins," was a drama. The pair play estranged twins who are both depressed and who end up back in each other's lives after Milo's (Hader) suicide attempt. They both have their own secrets and struggles, but at its core, the film is about the relationship between the two. It's not only dark, but also darkly funny at times, as to be expected. Both Wigg and Hader are excellent and give subtle and on-point performances. As an added bonus, two more comedians, Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell ("Modern Family") are wonderful in supporting roles, and Burrell especially shines as he plays against type.
Ever since I saw the trailer for the film "Frank," I was intrigued. If you've seen the trailer or even a poster, you can probably understand that it would be hard not to be at least a little interested. The film's biggest hook is not so much the fact that it stars Michael Fassbender, but the fact that it stars Fassbender hidden under a giant paper mache head. Yes, that's really Fassbender under there, and yes, he wears it the entire movie. With that said, know that the head is not gimmick. It's an important part of this character, and it's a stellar film with or without it. The indie film is about Jon, (Domnhall Gleeson) a young wannabe musician, who gets the opportunity to join an experimental band he loves. The band moves into a cabin for a year to get inspiration and record an album before Jon gets them a gig playing at SXSW. The band is made up eccentric artists, but they're portrayed in much a different way than in most films about musicians. It most likely won't receive a wide release any time soon, but it's worth renting online partially for the sweet, funny, and surprisingly deep story, but mostly for Fassbender's performance. It's safe to say that it's unlike anything else he's ever done.
I fought watching "The League" for a very long time. I don't give a damn about football, and I certainly don't care about fantasy football, so why would I watch a show about it? Eventually, though, my brother and best friend's urges to me to give it a chance finally convinced me. I couldn't deny the great cast, and they had told me enough times that I'd like it even if I didn't care about football, and they were right. I finally watched it all sometime either last year or early this year, and I've been hooked ever since, which is why I'm very excited that season six started last month. Sure, I don't get (nor do I care about) the football references, but my God, it's funny. I love everyone in the cast on their own, but watching them improvise episodes together is like a work of art. The new season has especially been funny, and I can't help but compare it to another of my favorite shows (also on FX), "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." When it comes down to it, they're both about groups of terrible people doing terrible things, who hang out with each other even though they don't actually like each other all that much. It's great. Plus, the added gag of having Ruxin in Korea and being shown through video chat on an iPad has been wonderful the past few episodes.
I really love "The X-Files." Because I'm young (as people like to remind me), I didn't actually watch through it all until a couple of years ago or so, but my love for it is strong. It wasn't a show I had planned on rewatching any time soon (if only because it ran for so many seasons), but once I discovered "The X-Files Files" podcast, I couldn't help but think it was time to watch through it again. The podcast is hosted by Kumail Nanjiani, who I had known from his work on "Silicon Valley" (an incredible show on HBO) and his appearances on "Harmontown." I've become quite the fan of Nanjiani's in recent months, so when I discovered that Nanjiani had started a podcast to discuss his favorite show of all time while he re-watched it, I figured I should check it out. After the first episode, it became pretty clear that I needed to start rewatching it too and listen along. On the podcast, Nanjiani discusses two episodes of a time with a guest, and they talk about personal experiences with "The X-Files," ratings, fun facts, and most interestingly, what people were saying on message boards while the show was airing, A.K.A. the beginning of the Internet as we know it. Nanjiani is just incredibly witty and smart, and he's had some great guests like Kevin Smith, Paul Scheer, and tons of others, including some involved with the show. The great thing about the podcast, though, is that he specifically stays that it's meant to be both for people re-watching and for people discovering "The X-Files" for the first time. So whether you haven't seen the show in years or you just never got around to it, it's a great excuse to give it a watch and listen to the podcast in between episodes.
I don't have a ton to write about "Happy Christmas" other than that it's a wonderful little film. I'm a fan of Joe Swanberg, and his newest film is another great mumblecore (if you're into that kind of terminology) fare. Swanberg's films are definitely not for everyone. They don't follow a strict narrative, and not much really happens by the end. Instead, what you get is strong performances, three-dimensional characters, and realistic dialogue that is entirely improvised. "Happy Christmas" stars Anna Kendrick as Jenny, a girl with no sense of direction in her life who moves in with her brother's family after a breakup and continues to float through life without considering the consequences of her actions. Swanberg, the always terrific Melanie Lynsky, Lena Dunham, and Mark Webber (who I've had a crush on ever since "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World") round out the cast, and all turn in great, subtle performances. It's not the type of movie that will change the way you think, but if you're a fan of Swanberg's style of filmmaking, it's definitely worth the watch.
Art by Jillian Kaye
You guys, "New Girl" is back! It's funny; when "New Girl" first started, I absolutely hated it. I had been a Zooey Deschanel fan for some time, but when I watched the first few episodes, I couldn't help but think that it was campy, annoying, and uninspired. So, I gave up on it. Somewhere toward the end of the first season, though, people I know (whose tastes I trust) started talking about how good it was and telling me that I should give it another try. I did, and I was surprised at how much better it got after the first few episodes. The show suddenly became self-aware, realizing that they were overdoing it with Jess' quirkiness and letting the supporting characters have more to do while toning her down. I've been hooked ever since, and I stuck with it even when the third season turned out to be pretty disappointing. The fourth season has only had three episodes so far, but I'm happy to say that it already seems much better with the last and more on par with the stellar second season. It already feels like a return to form and like new life was breathed into it. Plus, Nick Miller wearing tap shoes in the first episode of the season, only mentioning it once, and then being able to subtly hear the taps throughout the episode, is one of my favorite jokes the show has done.
I'm also into:
The return of "Bob's Burgers" // The first volume of "Rat Queens" // Getting ready to read volume three of "East of West" // This Gregory Alan Isakov music video // This Tweedy music video directed by Nick Offerman // Shamelessly watching "@Midnight" almost every day // Listening to an insane amount of podcasts and considering devoting an entire post to them // Finally catching up on "Garfunkel & Oates" and "Maron" on IFC // Going on angry rants about the "Ghostbusters III" news // GETTING EXCITED ABOUT THE "TWIN PEAKS" NEWS