In each issue of my Be You Be Great Newsletter, I make a recommendation for something I think is worth your time. It could be a movie, a book, an album, a specific episode of a show, or even a must-eat food.
This page is the archive of all Random Recommendations featured in the newsletter.
Remember, you can always find every BYBG Newsletter issue in full here on the website. Subscribe to receive new issues every other Wednesday.
Enjoy the recommendations! ? #BYBG
Photo Credit: Grace Rivera (@__gracerivera)
Volume 1 Issue 1
What: Pancake Bread
Where: Trader Joe’s
Why: It’s downright delicious. The secret is to microwave it for 8 seconds.
Volume 1 Issue 2
What: The Two Popes
Who: Anthony Hopkins & Jonathan Pryce
Why: Based on a true story, the movie tells the story of Pope Francis’s rise to the Papacy and the relationship he develops with his predecessor, Pope Benedict. While there is certainly artistic liberty taken, it reminded me why I enjoyed studying Catholicism. There is beauty in exploring religious & philosophical questions, and that beauty shines brightest when leaders are not just for the people but of the people. I’m a staunch critic of the Church, but it is the Catholicism of people like Pope Francis that I deeply respect. I hope he continues to lead by example, and I wish him well.
Cost: Your friend’s Netflix subscription.
Bonus: Jonathan Pryce was nominated for Best Actor for this role.
Volume 1 Issue 3
What: Evil Apples
Who: People who make you ugly laugh.
Where: Apple App Store & Google Play
Why: This game is set up exactly like Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity, but this is the only option I’ve found to play online and with your friends. (You can play with strangers, but I don’t.) I played with my friends and family on my Quarantined Birthday, and it was everything I needed. We’ve been playing a bunch ever since. It’s a perfect way to get the pandemic off your mind and laugh til your stomach hurts, but warning: the game is definitely Rated R. Oh, and be a little patient because the game can run slowly sometimes.
Bonus: Start up a Google Hangout or Zoom while you play. It’s not the same without it!
Volume 1 Issue 4
What: Baby Cobra
Who: Ali Wong
Why: This is Wong’s debut stand up special from 2016. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to. Wong is hilarious. She talks about pregnancy, sex, marriage, feminism, and growing up as an Asian American. Especially with the endlessly frustrating circumstances of the quarantine, we all could use an hour of escapism and laughs.
Cost: Your friend’s Netflix subscription.
Bonus: She did a 2nd stand up with Netflix in 2018 called “Hard Knock Wife,” which is definitely worth a watch. And she’s pregnant in that one, too!
Volume 1 Issue 5
What: Everyday Matters
Who: Danny Gregory
Why: I’m not going to lie to you, the premise of this graphic novel is sad. Danny’s wife is seriously injured after being run over by a subway train, and this is the story of their family in the aftermath of her accident. However, it is a profoundly honest & uplifting story — one that brought me much more joy than sadness despite an opening that in undeniably heartbreaking. I was new to non-superhero graphic novels, but this book enthralled me. The illustrations remind me of Roald Dahl (minus the Nazism, of course), and it finally made sense to me why some folks swear by graphic novels. The visuals perfectly complement the prose.
These past 2 weeks were some of the toughest of my quarantine experience. There was a lot of sadness, and there are no two ways about that. I found myself thinking about this book and how it made me feel, and I hope it brings you some of the comfort it brought me. I first read Danny’s story about a year ago mostly during my now sorely missed rides on the subway (ironic for this book, I know). In the age of COVID-19, with all the depressing news and equally daunting uncertainty about the short and long term future, I’m reminded of Danny’s family, their struggle, and the grace they shared.
Where to Buy: Check your local bookstore before going to Amazon.
Cost: Approximately $10 depending on the bookstore.
Volume 1 Issue 6
What: Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Who: Written & Directed by Céline Sciamma; Starring Noémie Merlant & Adèle Haenel
Why: Simply put, it’s a love story like I’ve never seen before. The premise is this: a wealthy woman in 18th century France is set to be married off by her mother. In advance of the arranged marriage, the husband-to-be wants to see his future wife, so the woman’s mother commissions an artist to paint her portrait. Then, they fall in love. It’s not a story with wild twists and turns. Rather, it’s one that dives deep into the two characters and tells their story of forbidden love with the grace and thoughtfulness that gay love stories are too often deprived of. Instead of sensationalization and fetishization, there’s honesty and beauty.
The pace is methodical, the dialogue is calm, and the cinematography is stunning. By the end, I found myself fully invested in the love these two women shared. Certainly enhanced by the fact that I’m a mush, the next few days had me thinking a lot about love, companionship, and the millions of gay love stories that were never allowed to blossom because of homophobia. It’s a story that I imagine will push some folks outside of their comfort zone, but that’s ok. That’s a good thing. Enjoy!
Cost: You know the drill. Hit up your friend with Hulu
Bonus: At the 2020 César Awards (which is the French equivalent to the Academy Awards in the U.S.), Roman Polanski received 12 nominations and won in 2 categories. Polanski is a sexual abuser, rapist, and pedophile who has been a fugitive of the U.S. since 1978 after raping a 13-year-old girl. Obviously, there was widespread disgust at Polanski’s nominations. When he was announced as a winner, Adèle Haenel walked out in protest and shouted “Well done, pedophilia!” — she was joined by Céline Sciamma. Haenel has been very public about the abuse she suffered as a 12-year-old girl at the hands of a man in the film industry. It’s gross that Polanski was honored, and it’s enraging that survivors like Haenel are forced to see such reminders that their abusers are protected.
Volume 1 Issue 7
What: An Anti-Racist Resource Guide
Who: Everyone’s contributions are sourced and credited.
Where: Click here.
Why: The recent iteration of protests against police brutality and the entire system of racism and White Supremacy in this country is on a huge scale. While the tactics used by police, the injuries suffered by protestors, and the entire system itself are hardly new, there are a few things about these protests that stand in contrast to previous iterations like those that took place in Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere. One of those contrasts is the massive increase in the number of White people and non-Black people of color who are (for the first time) engaging with these issues.
As a result of this influx of newcomers, there has been a matching increase in the number of digital resources created by anti-racists across the country. These resources have come in the form of guides, graphics, articles, and videos. Ironically, with so many people putting together such great resources, I saw folks scrambling trying to figure out which ones to share. I’ve gone through and scoured the internet for these resources — individual materials as well as lists of materials — to make it easier for these folks’s hard work to be shared and used. All those who compiled their own lists are credited here. Be sure to credit them yourself. Teamwork makes the dream work.
Photo: Captured by TAYOJR.
Volume 1 Issue 8
What: An American Marriage
Who: Tayari Jones
Where: Check your local bookstore before going to Amazon.
Why: I remember when a slew of my friends read this book back in 2018, and when they told me how good it was, I added it to my ever-growing list of books to read. I’m glad I did. Tayari tells the story of a middle-class Black couple, Roy and Celestial, struggling to deal with Roy having been incarcerated for a rape he did not commit. The chapters are all told in the first person, which allows you to more fully walk in the shoes of each character and feel the rawness of what they are going through. It’s not a long read, and I found myself quickly invested in the characters and grateful for the way Tayari chose to end the book. Don’t worry, no spoilers here.
When I was done with the book, I realized it reminded me of Toni Morrison in a subtle but important way. (No, I’m not trying to put this on the level of anything Morrison has written.) Morrison wrote and spoke often about how her work was designed to speak to Black people, not White people. She never wanted her stories to feel racially voyeuristic, and she candidly critiqued Black authors who she felt wrote too much for White people, whether they were doing it on purpose or not. Anyways, long nerdy story short: Tayari wrote about a Black couple featuring a dynamic Black woman and did so for a Black reader. That’s not to say White people can’t enjoy it — I certainly did — but it’s that Tayari didn’t write the book for me, which is perfectly fine. In that way, she wrote in the spirit of Morrison, which remains a noble and brilliant endeavor.
Cost: Approximately $12 depending on the bookstore.
Volume 1 Issue 9
What: Frederick Douglass’ Descendants Deliver His ‘Fourth Of July’ Speech
Who: Produced by NPR
Why: Every Fourth of July, there’s a brilliant speech by Frederick Douglass that makes the rounds on the news and social media. Delivered by Douglass on July 5, 1852 in Rochester, New York, the speech is titled “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Douglass asks what independence is there to celebrate in a country that is founded on the enslavement of Black people and the genocide of Indigenous people. Especially with the fervor around racial justice in 2020, the questions he poses remain unanswered, and his critique of American Independence Day remains potent. This country has yet to reckon with our foundation, and the vestiges of slavery are alive and well in modern systemic racism.
NPR brought together Douglass’ descendants to read his speech as the living embodiment of his work. The video is under 10 minutes and well worth the time. The speech is, of course, a worthwhile read — and not just the short excerpts that make it to Twitter — but this is a particularly great way to learn about the speech if you’ve never engaged with it before. All that said, I’ll let them do the rest of the talking.
Bonus: If you are a non-Black person who is having some difficulty in your conversations with non-Black friends and family, this is a great video to share with them. It’s a subtle and effective way to personalize the words of someone easily written off as just another historical figure from a long time before any of us were around.
Volume 1 Issue 10
Who: Featuring so many amazing trans people, including the ever incredible Laverne Cox.
Why: The premise of Disclosure is simple: most of what people know and think about trans people is shaped by what depictions of trans people they see in the media. Therefore, it’s imperative to understand the history of Hollywood’s portrayal of trans people so trans representation can continue to improve. This is a necessity in the fight for trans rights and gender equity.
What I found so powerful about the documentary is how effortlessly it weaves together trans voices addressing their personal stories and the history of trans people in America at large. There are parts of the film that are deeply distressing and difficult — the story of trans people in this country is fraught with pain & anti-trans prejudice — but it’s absolutely necessary to engage with this pain so we can learn and grow as cisgender people. I certainly learned a lot, and I’m grateful to everyone who shared their story. I felt my eyes well up a few times watching this documentary, and I’m as committed as ever to speak up for trans people.
Cost: Your friend’s Netflix subscription.
Bonus: One of the people interviewed is Trace Lysette, who I met awhile back in LA. She’s an incredible actor and activist. Check her out!
Volume 1 Issue 11
What: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
Who: Frans de Waal
Where: Check your local bookstore before going to Amazon.
Why: Cutting edge science can often be unapproachable and difficult to understand. It often feels like there are only two options — either it’s way too complicated to understand without a graduate degree in the field or it’s been simplified and dumbed down into a catchy headline. Frans de Waal offers a middle ground with this book. The science is not dumbed down, but it is presented an explained in a way that anyone can feel comfortable approaching it.
This is a book I pick up now and then to read a chapter or two because it’s not (for me) what I’d like to read non-stop. However, I find it absolutely fascinating every time I pick it up. The extent to which these scientists have gone to carefully and ethically explore animal abilities is inspiring. And, to be frank, it’s just downright amazing what various animals can do. So yes, your dog that you think it’s actually brilliant probably is!
Cost: Approximately $13 depending on the bookstore.
Volume 1 Issue 12
What: Music League
Who: Friends (whose music taste you trust) with Spotify
Where: Click here.
Why: One of my best friends, Ethan Tomas, is a brilliant producer, DJ, curator, and overall musical guru. Throughout the pandemic, he’s been DJing on Twitch, and in addition to the public sets he does, he’s created a group chat of friends who can zoom together during his sets. It’s been a real joy every week to “party” with good folks from all over and who all appreciate Ethan’s skills. Then, Ethan introduced us to the Music League App through Spotify and whew, it is fantastic. (And you don’t have to download anything!)
Here’s how it works: you create a league, choose how many songs each player will submit, then select the number of upvotes and downvotes each player gets to use each round. Then, you can pick a prompt for the round — one of our prompts was “Rap + R&B Linkup: Songs that feature both hip-hop & r&b artists, but it cannot be the same artist doing both.” You pick a deadline for submissions, then everyone votes and you get your winners. The best part, though, is it creates the playlist on Spotify automatically for you to easily listen anytime. It works with up to 25 people. Check it out, and let me know how you like it!
Cost: Free.99 (you do not need Spotify Premium)
Volume 1 Issue 13
What: Palm Springs
Who: Starring Andy Samberg
Why: Ok so I can’t tell you what the movie is about. Trust me, it’s better that way. It’s not some creepy, weirdo, disturbing storyline, though, so no need to worry. Plus, you trust me. (Right?) All I’ll say about the story itself is that it’s a modernized version of a movie I practically grew up with and love re-watching to this day. Palm Springs has been added to the list of movies that I can watch basically anytime anywhere and be perfectly content.
While I can’t reveal too much else, what I can tell you is that it’s clever and funny and poignant and certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are a lovely pair. They each have some quirks, and they complement each other nicely. Honestly, just go watch it. Thank me later. Enjoy!
Cost: Your friend’s Hulu login.
Volume 1 Issue 14
What:The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Who: Stieg Larsson
Where: Check your local bookstore before going to Amazon.
Why: This Swedish book and the series of novels that came after are among my favorite fiction books ever. They are phenomenally written – the pacing is perfect, the characters are compelling, and the story is just off the wall enough to be quite plausible. The series follows two main characters: Lisbeth Salander (a super badass and mysterious punker with unbelievable tech skills and lots of secrets) and Mikael Blomkvist (a savvy investigative journalist who’s on a bad luck streak it seems). In this first book, they work to solve a 40-year-old murder. As you can imagine, things go left!
Yes, they made a movie adaption with Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, which was very good but did not go beyond the first book. There’s also a full film Swedish adaption of the trilogy, which is probably better than the American movie. Definitely worth watching them all once you’ve read the books.
P.S. – The author was not actually known during his lifetime for being a fiction writer. He was a magazine editor and “a leading expert on anti-democratic and right-wing extremist organizations.” If you’re interested, the histories and current dynamics in many Scandinavian countries regarding right-wing extremism are fascinating (though upsetting, of course).
Cost: Approximately $7 depending on the bookstore.
Volume 1 Issue 15
What: Country of Liars
Who: Reply All – Hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, from Gimlet.
Where: Wherever you listen to podcasts: Spotify, Apple, their website.
Why: If you are not familiar with QAnon at all, that’s ok. I’d read this article for a brief and useful overview. The podcast episode covers some of the substance of what QAnon is, but it is primarily focused on the people involved with the origin and spread of the conspiracy theory. What it got me thinking about was the way in which many people still do not understand how the internet actually functions as a social and cultural space. There is still so much dismissal of something as not real simply because it exists primarily on the internet. With conspiracy theories and violent hate speech, though, that’s a dangerous oversight as we are seeing with QAnon now.
I’d never listened to Reply All before, but I liked this episode so I checked out some others. There’s a good one about the origin of the INVCEL community. I’m not a huge podcast person, but this is definitely a well-produced and well-researched one with cool topics. Enjoy! (And thanks, Zicky, for putting me on.)
P.S. – The QAnon extremists have tried to “steal” certain issues and tie them to their extremism. For example, QAnon people talk a lot about “saving children and women from trafficking” but that’s not actually what they are talking about. It’s gotten so bad that actual non-profits have had to push back against the hijacking of their work by conspiracy extremists. Be careful with what you share online.
Volume 1 Issue 16
What: Raised by Wolves
Where: HBO Max
Why: Ok so boom: 2 androids land on a new planet with the goal of raising a family to save humanity after a devastating war that ruined Earth forever. The war was between a religious group and atheists with androids being used by both sides (sorta) as servants/weapons. How the androids came to possess the human fetuses, who programmed them to raise the children, and what really happened on Earth are all mysteries. Everything seems more or less fine until a spaceship of the religious humans from the war arrives on the planet — that’s when things get messy.
It’s a really thorough and well paced science fiction story with strong visual effects. I binged all 10 episodes in about a week after the first 2 episodes got me hooked. Recent sci-fi shows have frustrated me because they’ve felt way too heavy handed, but this one strikes the right balance between good ole fashioned melodrama and refined subtlety. Plus, androids and fight scenes and super technology! The show is already renewed for season 2, I’m already ready to inject season 2 directly into my bloodstream.
Cost: It depends on your current HBO subscription if you have one and your cable package if you have one. When in doubt, share accounts!
Volume 1 Issue 17
What: Swing Left
How: Find a time that works for you.
Why: We are finally approaching the end of the 2020 election. Voting ends in less than a week. I won’t repeat everything we all already know. We need to win. So much is on the line.
If you can, spend some time to get out the vote. It’s not the only thing you can do. It is, though, a great option.
Volume 1 Issue 18
Who: Starring Julie Andrews, James Garner, and Robert Preston
Where: On Demand (Amazon Prime)
Why: The premise sounds pretty wild. Victoria is a struggling and starving singer in 1930s Paris. Shortly after befriending Toddy, they hatch a plan to turn their luck around: Victoria, managed by Toddy, will pretend to be a man so that she/he can get singing jobs as a female impersonator (which was common in those days). The Paris music scene adores Victor, but things get complicated when you’re a woman pretending to be a gay man pretending to be a woman for show business. And then the Chicago mob gets involved! Victor/Victoria hilarious and beautiful and messy and an absolute classic.
Very rarely does a movie age as well as this one has, especially when identities like LGBTQ are a focal point. So often, it’s cringy to watch movies and tv shows from decades past. Sheesh, there are still plenty of cringy examples today. I grew up watching this film with my family, and it was one of the first media representations of gay people and gay culture and gender dynamics that I saw. As mentioned in the transgender representation documentary, Disclosure, it was remarkably progressive for its time managing to talk about gender and sexuality and identity with grace and humanity. Representation is not itself a solution to bigotry, but it is a powerful tool, especially when it’s organic and authentic rather than contrite and heavy-handed. Anyway, enjoy the film. It’s phenomenal for all ages.
Cost: Rent for $3.99, Buy for $12.99
Volume 1 Issue 19
What: Native Women on the Real Thanksgiving
Who: Teen Vogue
Featuring: Laurel Cotton, Duannette Reyome, Evannah Moniz-Reyome, Kiera Thompson, Wacantkiya Mani Win Eagle, and Wanbli Waunsila Win Eagle
Why: I enjoy Thanksgiving because my family has made it our own holiday rather than celebrating colonization and genocide. We’ve got sentimental traditions, good and plentiful food, and a strong focus on gratitude and family. For us, like for many folks, the holiday is an opportunity to be with loved ones (even if that’s virtually due to the pandemic). However, it is impossible to ignore the truth of Thanksgiving and the terror it represents for Native people.
It is also impossible to ignore the way in which Native communities are disproportionately impacted by COVID because of the same government and societal neglect they have faced for generations. Allyship and solidarity with Native people is not a one time thing and is not limited to land acknowledgments or any other singular act. However, Thanksgiving is a good place to start as any to educate ourselves about Native communities, the issues they face, and how we must play a role in inclusion and equity with them.
Volume 1 Issue 20
What: The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
Who: Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson
Where: Hulu and Amazon Prime
Why: Go watch this! Like right away! I have so many good things to say about this movie. The story follows a sometimes sympathetic, sometimes dickhead, named Tyler (Shia), who is on the run in search of a fresh start and a profoundly admirable man with Down’s syndrome, named Zak (Zack), who is on the run from a state-run nursing home hoping to become a pro wrestler. The two men cross paths and become family while Tyler’s enemies and Zac’s caretaker simultaneously try to find them. It’s absolutely beautiful.
Here’s the part that gets me, though. It is devoid of the classic and demeaning stereotypes about people with Down’s syndrome. There’s no clunky dialogue to present Tyler as a savior or Zac as a child. There’s authentic, genuine character development. There’s meaningful and realistic conversation about how to support and uplift people with disabilities. And there’s an ending that had me hyperventilating (but in a good way). Check it out. Don’t fetishize people with disabilities. And don’t you dare let anyone tell you they care about the disabled community if they vote against their rights.
Cost: You definitely have at least one friend with either Hulu or Amazon Prime lol.
Volume 1 Issue 21
What: Sex Education
Who: An ensemble cast of talented & mostly new (to me) British folks.
Why: My sister put me on this show recently, and I became a huge fan basically right away. I binged through both seasons and CANNOT wait for Season 3. This is not your regular, cookie cutter high school dramedy. First of all, it’s British so there’s quirky Britishness plus so many accents. The premise of the show is also phenomenally preposterous. Otis isn’t exactly a playboy, but he starts giving sex advice to his peers based on what he’s learned from his Mom, a local sex therapist. As you can imagine, that leads to quite a bit of laughs and blunders.
What makes me such a big fan, though, is how well the show talks about sex without having it sound like a clunky educational interlude. It’s just part of the story. It’s seamless. And hilarious. And educational. Plus, there’s that balance of characters you like, hate, relate to, have empathy for, and can’t help but be invested in. Oh, and the wardrobe decisions are so strange but in the best way. Enjoy your binging!
Cost: Shoutout to that one friend that still hasn’t changed their Netflix password ??
Volume 1 Issue 22
What: Frederick Douglass Speech on Haiti
Who: Fredrick Douglass at the World’s Fair in Jackson Park, Chicago on January 2, 1893
Why: January 1st is Haitian Independence Day, but it’s not usually celebrated all that much in this country outside the Haitian community. In fact, the Haitian Revolution is not even taught in most middle schools and high schools. It should be, though. Haiti’s independence changed the course of world history for the better, and we would all benefit from being more knowledgeable about it.
Since I’m recommending you read a speech, I’ll just leave it at that. Enjoy the brilliance of one freedom fighter talking about the triumph of fellow freedom fighters. (Here’s an extra article recommended to me by my friend, Clint Smith.)
Volume 1 Issue 23
What: The Hill We Climb
Who: Amanda Gorman
Where: Watch here and read here.
Why: If you have not already heard, Amanda Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history and the first National Youth Poet Laureate. She performed a spoken word poem yesterday at the inauguration. It’s worth watching and reading. If you have already heard, it’s worth re-watching and re-reading.
So often, we exceptionalize people like Amanda. She is sensational and phenomenal and deserving of every last ounce of praise and then some. She also is not the exception to the rule; she is proof of it. In classrooms all over the country, there are budding Amandas who are never given the support and room to fly. That’s what part of her poem is about: that her flight is not meant to be a solo one, that headwinds are more easily managed as a flock, and that we do all of ourselves a disservice to believe otherwise. As Toni Morrison said time and time again, “If you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees, then you have a serious problem. And white people have a very, very serious problem.”
Volume 1 Issue 24
What: Operation Odessa
Who: Tiller Russell (director)
Why: A Russian strip club owner affiliated with the mafia, a Miami sometimes-legit/sometimes-not car salesman slash black market importer, and a Cuban-American drug smuggler for a Colombian cartel are working together in South Florida — because of course Florida — to buy a Russian military submarine. Need I say more?
Firstly, I appreciate this is a real documentary rather than a multipart miniseries that’s 3 episodes too long and drags the story out for views. Second, it’s just really well done. It focuses on the interviews, not narration, which allows the story to tell itself from the perspective of the motley criminal crew and the law enforcement agents trying to stop them. Lastly, it’s genuinely impressive how much the director got these guys to say on camera. A fun watch. (Shoutout to my guy Mike for putting our group chat on.)
Cost: You still have your ex’s login. It’s ok. Use it.
Volume 1 Issue 25
What: The Scheme
Who: Christian Dawkins (the main focus of the doc)
Why: I am a sucker for anything that highlights how downright evil the NCAA is and how profoundly corrupt American college athletics is — and this does exactly that. The film tells the story of Christian Dawkins, a rising star in the world of pro-basketball player agencies, who found himself at the center of an aggressive and at times questionable federal investigation. Christian’s personal story is compelling in its own right, perhaps especially because he’s not a perfect protagonist. He’s also razor-sharp smart and enjoyable to listen to.
The film has been criticized for being biased against the NCAA and too nice to Christian. To me, that rings hollow, but you can be the judge of that yourself. All I’ll say is this: I’ve studied the NCAA a fair bit, and after having done so, I don’t know how anyone could ethically present the organization or the industry at large in a positive light. Pay the players, let them unionize, let them secure professional representation, cap public school coach salaries at absolutely no more than $1 million, and remove the non-profit status of the NCAA. Asaptually.
Cost: I know you know someone with a login, you got this.
Volume 1 Issue 26
What: Last Week Tonight segment on Police Raids
Who: John Oliver
Why: John Oliver’s show does a deep dive every episode, and what distinguishes his approach is how he makes important topics understandable, especially for issues that can otherwise become mundane or too dense to follow for folks not entrenched in it. This time, he covers police raids.
After the murder of Breonna Taylor, new attention was paid to no-knock warrants and police raids, which have become exponentially more common since the beginning of the failed War on Drugs. They are — surprise, surprise — predictably dangerous and predictably used disproportionately against poor and non-white people. Even with some recent reforms in Kentucky and Virginia, there is still so, so much much to do. John Oliver breaks it down really well with help from Radley Balko and his research. For more: check out Radley’s book, Rise of the Warrior Cop.
Cost: YouTube is for sure stealing all your personal data, but that’s a chat for another day. Enjoy the video!
What: Wind of Change
Who: Pineapple Street Studios, Crooked Media
Where: Spotify (exclusively)
Why: Did the CIA somehow write a pro-democracy rock ballad for a West-German band that helped win the Cold War and take down the Soviet Union? A journalist heard a rumor and couldn’t not look into it. The result is a really interesting exploration into the CIA’s methods during the Cold War, the role of music in cultural and political change, and a lot of the kinds of coincidences that make you wonder… is it really just a coincidence?
Normally, anything covering the CIA would make me pretty angry thinking about all the international crimes and overthrown governments. And there’s a little bit of that. But it’s mostly focused on unearthing the truth behind a decades-old rumor floating around the intelligence community and the punk rock community. (Shoutout to my aunt for putting me onto this!)
Cost: Listen you Apple Music folks, it’s ok to switch… but either way, get your Spotify friend to help you out on this one.
What: Uncle Frank
Who: Starring Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi; Directed by: Alan Ball
Where: Amazon Prime Video
Why: Finally found the time to watch this and so glad I did. It’s 1973 and Frank finds himself stepping away from his job as an NYU professor to road trip down to where he grew up in South Carolina for a family funeral… joined by his 18-year-old niece and kinda sorta secret partner. Frank is forced to reckon with his traumatic and complicated relationship with his family while trying to be a good role model for his niece and a good partner to the love of his life. Not to mention the homophobia he still navigates on a daily basis.
The film is a beautiful and honest exploration of the struggle so many LGBT folks have faced and continue to face even today. There were parts that hurt to watch and parts that brought a huge smile to my face. Perhaps most importantly, the film does not wrap everything up in a neat bow. That’s not how life is. Also fun fact: the director and the male supporting actor are partners. Love that!
Cost: Amazon is *vom* but we both you know can find a login.
What: I Can’t Date Jesus
Who: Michael Arceneaux
Where: Bookshop (where you can shop for books online while supporting local bookstores)
Why: I have told everyone I know to read this book. Michael’s voice is a gift we all get to enjoy. I don’t know anyone else who can write with such bite and humor while simultaneously being so full of grace and empathy. He shares stories of growing up in Houston, of discovering and negotiating his sexuality, of navigating complicated family dynamics, and so much more.
Michael is a good friend, and I tell him often that I’m so glad he’s a brilliant writer. This way, I can shamelessly plug his work and mean every word of it! I could go on and on about his talent and how he will one day be talked about the way we now talk about the legendary cultural critics from Wilde to Pryor to Sedaris and others. Check out his other book, I Don’t Want to Die Poor, too. You can follow him on Twitter where he’ll share essays and articles he publishes.
What: Slow Burn Season 1: Watergate
Where: Apple & Spotify (and lots of other podcast platforms)
Why: The premise of Slow Burn is to take marquee sociopolitical events that you have almost certainly heard of and probably have a baseline understanding of and break them down into much greater detail. Usually, these kinds of events can be boring to dive into, but Slow Burn does it through incredibly archival audio along with thoughtful interviews. As y’all know, I’m absolutely a nerd — but this is interesting even for folks who are not as heavy into political history.
Watergate was a truly unprecedented moment in American history, and I found it alarmingly insightful into processing the Trump era. Beyond the obvious crook comparisons, the way this country’s conservative and moderate bloc responded to Watergate will surprise you with just how similar the thought processes are to the modern-day iterations we have to deal with. My favorite factoid: some Nixon henchmen kinda sorta definitely kidnapped a gossipy woman who they were worried would ruin their cover-up.
Cost: Free as a bird. (Slate Plus is $60/year giving you access to bonus materials. I don’t have Slate Plus and won’t be getting it. Sorry Slate!)
What: Hip Hop Uncovered
Who: Some of the greatest & most influential folks in Hip Hop history: from Bimmy, Deb Antney, Big U, Trick Trick, Dr. Dre, Haitian Jack, and more
Why: I am very grateful for journalistic deep dives into Hip Hop like this docuseries. Despite being a global force, Hip Hop is still a young art form and continues to face racism in the way it’s reported on and studied. As my friend Marc likes to say, “these OG’s are finally getting old enough and safe enough to feel like they can tell more of their stories.” Marc is right, and I would add they are able (more and more but still not enough) to tell their stories on their terms.
While I was watching, three things stayed on my mind. First, it is impossible to understand what it means to be American without understanding the Black American experience. Second, there is no art form in modern world history that has been as transformative and powerful — and over such a short period of time — as American Hip Hop, driven by Blackness and Black people. Third, I’m really glad these old heads can get their flowers, but I’m sad knowing how many more of them should have made it this far alive.
Bonus: my favorite quote from the whole series comes from Deb Antney when she says “I’m not proud of some of the things I’ve done, but I am no longer ashamed of them.” Amen.
Cost: You know the deal, find a login ?
Who: Stephen Yeun, J.K. Simmons, and lots of other great voices
Where: Amazon Prime
Why: Whew. You can just tell this show is different from the beginning. By the end of the first episode, you will be hooked. One of the best cliffhangers I’ve seen in a while, and they do such a great job of teasing possible solutions to the mystery throughout the whole 8 episodes. The finale sets the series up for another season but is still satisfying to finally understand what the hell is going on.
While there are plenty of “not your average superhero” stories being made, which is great, Invincible really carves out a lane for itself. I would describe it as absurd in a good way — the twists and turns are far from predictable, and I enjoyed the whole season. Warning, though, it is graphically violent. Lastly, my friend Rick is opposed to animated shows for adults, but he’s wrong. Try this one, Rick!
Cost: You know someone with Prime, I know you do.
What: Ted Lasso
Who: Jason Sudeikis as Ted
Where: Apple TV
Why: When I first saw a trailer for the show, I thought it seemed kinda dumb, and it was nowhere near the top of my watchlist. When I finally gave the first episode a try, I was blown away by how wrong I was. Well, kinda. The show is dumb — but in the best way. Within 10 minutes, I tweeted that I would follow Ted Lasso into the pits of hell. And I meant it! I love Ted. Who wouldn’t?!
There is a lot of serious, disturbing news, and it seems unyielding. Ted Lasso is unyielding, too, but in place of dark news, it’s the kind of feel good storylines from which we can all benefit. Jason Sudeikis absolutely shines as Ted, and the show, despite all its goofiness, has you developing quite the attachments to all the main characters. Can’t wait for season two.
Cost: Apple TV? Random, I know. But you got this.
Who: Amy Brittain, The Washington Post
Where: All podcast platforms here
Why: Trigger Warning for sexual assault. One jarring case of sexual assault in Washington, D.C. leads to a long-suppressed story almost 1,000 miles away in Birmingham, Alabama. I highly recommend NOT reading about this story before listening to the podcast. The journalism on display by Amy Brittain is top tier — the right balance between deeply personalized and respectfully objective. Allow her to take you on the investigative journalistic journey herself.
This story matters for so many reasons. Three stick out to me. First, it demonstrated the interconnected nature of our society with these two women’s stories seeming simultaneously so disparate and so similar. Second, it lays out what thoughtful, honest, human, fair journalism looks like explicitly and implicitly — kudos to Amy and journalists like her. Third, and most importantly, this story matters because the people in it matter — I worry with the non-stop news cycle we too often lose sight of the people at the center of any given news story.
Bonus: I love the canary metaphor. When you hear it, I think you’ll like it, too.
Cost: Free as a bird.
Who: Megan Thee Stallion, Jameela Jamil, Leiomy Maldonado, Law Roach
Where: HBO Max
Why: Ballroom culture is the foundation on which huge elements of modern pop culture are based. From the language and the looks to the music and the moves, underground ballroom culture still does not get nearly enough credit. To learn more, check out this introduction. This reality show competition honors the legacy of ballroom while bringing new fans into the fold.
My girlfriend and I binge watched the first season and are trying to find time to binge the second season. This is the kind of show that will have you talking at the TV as if you’re one of the all-star judges. On top of just how much fun it is to watch and how downright impressive the whole show is, it is difficult to describe the joy I feel to see such a powerful culture be shown in such glamour on a major platform like HBO. We need more of this. Much more.
Cost: Find the homie with HBO.
What: A Quiet Place II
Who: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski
Where: Amazon Prime & Paramount
Why: Firstly, please go watch the first one if you haven’t already. It is fantastic — so good, in fact, that I want to watch it followed by the sequel right away to get the full experience. The premise is simple: evil aliens have overrun humanity. The aliens are completely blind but have impeccable hearing, which they use to hunt and kill. Seriously, the slightest sounds attract them — think the myths about sharks and a single drop of blood in the ocean. The Abbott family is trying to survive and keep each other together, but their enemy is relentless.
Is this groundbreaking cinema? Probably not. However, it is just phenomenally executed. The plot is a classic survival thriller with the twist that the aliens are blind. John Krasinski, who also wrote & directed the films, creates remarkable tension with his use of sound and the absence of it. I enjoyed rooting for the Abbotts, and I hope you will, too. And before you ask, it’s not a horror movie really — the violence is intense but not gratuitous.
Cost: Two platforms means two chances to find a friend with a login.
What: Your Honor
Who: Bryan Cranston
Why: My friends reading this will text me “Sam, Your Honor is old at this point” but listen, I’m trying to share how much we all loved this show far and wide. Bryan Cranston stars as a NOLA judge whose idiot son gets himself into a big legal problem. I cannot emphasize the words idiot and big in that sentence enough. Adam, the son, is perhaps the single best worst character I’ve seen in a long time. Within the first 20 minutes of Episode 1, it’s a constant cluster fuck of everything going wrong. And I loved it.
There are two things I think made my friends and I enjoy this show so much aside from the obvious that the actors are sensational. First, we hated damn near every character. It’s one of those shows. I genuinely was never sure who I was rooting for in part because I thoroughly enjoyed watching all of their lives fall apart (with a few exceptions, of course). Second, the plot doesn’t try to do too much. It’s about murder and corruption and family and tragic characters, all of which aren’t exactly new topics so they don’t try to make it something it’s not. I loved that for me as a viewer. Can’t wait to watch the glorious dumpster fire I’m sure Season 2 will be.
Cost: You already know what I’m gonna say.
What: I Spy
Who: Foreign Policy Magazine
Where: Wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Why: Overly complicated podcasts are not my thing. Instead, I like simple done well. I Spy is quite simple — each episode featuring a former intelligence professional sharing one story of a project or mission they did. The episodes are around 30 minutes, and rather than feature a lot of talking from the interviewer, it’s edited to be overwhelmingly the voice of the guest. Which, after all, is who we want to hear from.
This podcast is not investigative, though, so don’t expect that. Guests are not challenged by the interviewer the way an investigative journalist would poke and prod, especially around controversial issues or gaps in the story. I’ve found myself more than a couple of times critiquing the guest in my head — the way they characterized an enemy or a period of time. Some guests are more self-aware than others. I enjoy the podcast because it’s a first-person insight into something about which I have little first-person education. The world of international intelligence is not a neutral one, which means normally I’d scoff at a non-investigative (if not combative) approach to journalism coverage. But this podcast, if you’re willing to do the critiquing yourself, is thoroughly worth the time. Enjoy (and stay sharp)!
Cost: Free as a white child roaming around an airport.
What: Untold: Malice at the Palace
Who: Produced by: Chapman Way & Maclain Way
Why: Having nothing to do with the content of the story, y’all know I appreciate a good documentary, and I especially appreciate when they aren’t dragged out into a 12 part nonsense when it could be a great 90 minutes. This is a great documentary. You have not seen the Malice at the Palace covered like this. Rather than participating and promoting racist stereotypes and garbage double standards, this film examines what actually happened, who suffered, and who is responsible for the damage.
Athletes are people, and this film finally offers a much needed perspective on how these athletes were treated like animals and objects. Instead of shying away from the real ugliness of the fight, the film leans into it. That’s proper storytelling, and it stands in defiance of the pseudo-journalism covering for racist and dehumanizing lies that took place for years after the incident. Here’s a bit on how I feel about how harassing fans should be handled…
Cost: Text your ex for the login, see what happens.
Who: Written & Directed by Ari Aster
Where: Amazon Prime
Why: This so-called folk horror movie went semi-viral not all that long ago, and you might have even seen memes from it without realizing it. Here’s the thing: I’m not gonna tell you what it’s about. At all. You just need to watch it. Trust me! And don’t worry about “liking” it or not. It’s an experience — I don’t like or dislike it either.
What I will tell you, though, is what you need to be prepared for and what I’d like to plant in the back of your mind as you watch. How to prepare: this movie is weird. Really, strikingly, jarringly weird — so make sure you’re in a weird mood. You won’t enjoy it if you’re in the mood for mainstream. What to ponder while you watch: what does it mean to find your peoples and what does it feel like to be free?
Cost: Fuck Jeff Bezos.
Must Watch Movie
What: Old Guard
Who: Starring Charlize Theron
Why: Cause it’s a badass action movie with genuinely interesting twists and turns in the plot as opposed to the same ole glorified remakes that production studios seem to be obsessed with. Charlize Theron is one of several superhuman soldiers, who have lived for hundreds of years and find themselves under attack from a mysterious enemy hot on their trail.
What I love about this movie is the combination is top-notch action sequences with the kind of emotional attachment to the characters that makes the action 10x better. Crazy fight scenes are a dime a dozen; what makes them engaging is when you’re on the edge of your seat about who is doing the fighting. This movie also has a high re-watchable factor.
Cost: You already know what I’m gonna say…
What: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Who: All your galactic faves plus some incredible “new” characters
Why: Ok, so much to say, strap in. I’ve been watching this show here and there for a while, slowing making my way through the 7 seasons (each episode is about 23 minutes). The earlier seasons feel a bit childish, which is fine given the intended audience, and the animation is noticeably aged. Mind you, the first 6 seasons were released between 2008 and 2014. As the seasons progress, the writing and the animation get better and better. Season 4 is when things really get spicy. And Season 7, which was released in 2020 (6 years after Season 6), is strikingly good. You’re fully engrossed in the characters and intertwining story arcs, and the animation is on a whole other level.
As for the plot – whoa. If you at all like Star Wars (like even a tiny bit), this show focuses on what you probably liked and leaves out some of the frustrating melodrama and bad acting endemic to the Star Wars feature films. The series fills in SO many plot holes from the movies, fleshes out important back stories never otherwise discussed, and introduces new characters who become favorites. Lastly, it’s easy to watch! Quick episodes, not too deep, but so much fun. I could talk about this series for hours. Enjoy!
Cost: Streaming services are a scam. Share a login!
What: Exploding Kittens
Who: crazy kittens, bombs, and superpower cards
Where: Anywhere you can buy board/card games
Why: Because BOOM, that’s why. This game is as ridiculous as its name suggests. The gameplay is very similar to Uno, though it might best be described as reverse Uno because you always have to pick up a card. The goal is to survive. You have to outlast the other players. If you’re really feeling frisky — see what I did there — you’ll try to set up your opponents for an exploding kitten to knock them off one by one.
I had two friends put me onto this game with a week of each other, and it was so much fun to play. Learning the rules doesn’t take too long. It was so good, in fact, that by the time we had gotten back to my apartment, my girlfriend had already bought the game and an expansion pack. It’s now a game night staple!
Cost: Approximately $15 (try to buy local)
What: The Dropout
Who: ABC News
Where: All podcast platforms here.
Why: There can never be too many ludicrously entertaining and diabolically absurd stories of tech idiots lying their way to the top. Elizabeth Holmes is a caricature of herself, and it would be just funny if it wasn’t for the people she hurt along the way — and no, I’m not talking about the rich investors. Instead, it’s funny if for no other reason than it is absolutely enraging.
The podcast has 2 seasons. Season 1 gives the backstory and Season 2 follows her trial. Here’s a takeaway, though, you should know in advance: never assume someone is smart or good because they are successful. There are lots of rich idiots and successful losers.
Cost: Freer than Holmes will be when she gets off on all charges. Ugh.
What: 544 Days
Who: Jason Rezaian; produced by Gimlet/Crooked Media/A24
Where: All podcast platforms here.
Why: Foreign affairs can feel so disconnected from our daily lives, especially as Americans. Any time someone can make these issues feel more “real” and more easily communicated, the better. Jason Rezaian was held hostage by the Iranian government for 544 days. He tells his story so well, and he so thoughtfully connects his story to the big picture.
Perhaps most importantly, Jason and (most of) the people he interviews make sure to maintain the humanity of the Iranian people — even his captors — while holding nothing back about the cruelty they inflicted. Too often, we choose to process humanity’s horrors by creating monsters out of the perpetrators rather than reckoning with the fact that they are just as human — even if “evil” — as we are.
What: In the Heat of the Night
Who: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger
Why: First and foremost, rest in peace and power to the legend, the talented, the hero, the absolutely iconic Sidney Poitier. This film is a classic. It is based on a novel of the same name, and it tells the story of a Black Philadelphia detective called Mr. Tibbs, who finds himself at the center of a murder investigation in a small town in Mississippi. You can imagine the racial dynamic at play.
Poiter is a legend for all kinds of reasons, and this film puts so many of them on display. The story is driven by Poitier’s power on screen. His character is a tough, kind, unrelentingly brave believer in right and wrong but no fool for lofty idealism. I learned a lot from Mr. Tibbs when I first watch this movie when I was 9 years old. To the real-life hero, Mr. Poitier, I will always be grateful.
What: Dopesick and The Crime of the Century
Who: Michael Keaton & Peter Sarsgaard and Alex Gibney (director)
Where: Hulu and HBOMax
Why: I’m giving a double whammy this issue. Dopesick is a TV show based on a true story about the opioid crisis. The Crime of the Century is a documentary about the same. I recommend watching them in that order because you’ll enjoy (though it’s not exactly enjoyable) the storyline of the show more if you don’t know how it ends. Then, the documentary offers a more in-depth look into the epidemic. I was already fairly familiar with the story, but both pieces are still worth watching.
The show features sobering acting performances and impressive pacing given the timeline, and the documentary provides valuable context to make it easy to connect the dots between the systems that enable the epidemic. The crisis is still ongoing, and without giving too much away to those unfamiliar with the history, this country has done little to reckon with how we got here. Surprise, surprise.
What: Love Is Blind: Season 2
Who: Some really mean people
Why: This is my first recommendation to not do something, and it is really necessary. Love is Blind Season 1 was, like any reality TV show, filled with plenty of stupidity and melodrama nonsense. Ultimately, though, it was focused on folks who, crazy as they were, were trying to find love. I’d suggest that part of what makes it funny and entertaining was that the cast seemed actually invested in the experiment, which remains hilariously silly to me.
This new season, though… ew. All but a few of the cast members are mean, offensively immature, desperately in need of therapy, and uninterestingly annoying. All but maybe 1 or 2 regularly display behavior that reeks of “I just wanted to be on TV” which really sucks the fun out of the show. I know we all have our own lines in the sand for when reality TV veers from fun to just angering, and this is past my line. Don’t waste your time, and if you see Shake or Shayne or Shaina out in public, give ’em a strong “fuck you” for me.
What: Captain Fantastic
Who: Viggo Mortenson, Frank Langella, Kathryn & Steven Zahn, George MacKay
Why: I have the vaguest memory of seeing a trailer for this back when it came out in 2016 and totally forgetting about it. I’m glad I came back to it. Viggo Mortensen is a father of 6 raising his children in the forests of the Pacific Northwest away from the hustle-bustle of the city. They live a weird but beautiful life. Then, Viggo’s wife, the mother of the children, dies. What follows is a dangerous trek to her funeral and a thorough testing of the family’s resolve.
This is a weird movie for sure but in the best way. Viggo is very good at weird, and the children all shine in their performances (especially the oldest, George MacKay, who was most notably the star of 1917). It is a thoughtful, beautiful, and sad story that does justice to our human instincts to protect those we love. Perhaps it is the quirkiness itself that brings together the grace with which this family navigates living in a frustratingly complicated world as frustratingly complicated people. Enjoy (and there are some really great laughs in here, too).
Who: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons
Why: The story is remarkably simple: Teller is an aspiring jazz drummer at a highly competitive conservatory, and Simmons is the legendary and brutal jazz band conductor. From start to finish, you are rooting for Teller to succeed both in his musical ambitions and his gladiator-esque battle with his band leader. For what it’s worth, there were moments where I burst out laughing because, even though he’s so, so cruel, some of Simmons’s comments definitely funny.
Films like this build tension slowly and progressively so that by the time you reach the climax, it seems both a perfectly sensible next step and a completely shocking moment. That means everything about the film rides on the ending, and this ending is exactly what it needed to be. Teller and Simmons leave it all on the stage (see what I did there), and the ending succeeded in making me deeply uncomfortable with my conflicting feelings.
What: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Who: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd
Why: How do I even describe this movie? Roger Rabbit is worried his lovely girlfriend, Jessica, is cheating on him. He hires cartoon-hating detective Eddie Valiant. Together, much to their dismay, they stumble into taking on the most diabolical criminal enterprise in both the toon world and the human world.
Despite being made alllll the way back in 1988, the special effects are impressive even by today’s standards. Somehow the crossover between live-action and animation is seamless. The cinematography is far more elevated than you would expect. On top of that, it’s quite a compelling story, and to balance out the slapstick comedy, the climax is remarkably intense. It’s sure to be a new favorite for kids and adults alike.
What: The Negotiators
Who: Foreign Policy and Doha Debates
Where: Wherever you listen to podcasts — link.
Why: Whether or not you find foreign policy interesting already, I recommend this podcast. If you’re new to these kinds of topics, this podcast is a great place to start. It doesn’t try to overcomplicate the stories being told, but it doesn’t dumb them down as if you can’t understand. How is that possible? The interviewers and guests are deliberate about speaking in common vernacular and providing common sense examples to draw out the nuance of any given episode.
To me, foreign policy is about a surprisingly small group of people relative to the impact of the outcomes of any given crisis or negotiation. Unlike a business negotiation, diplomatic negotiations tend to have a more complex and human set of variables affecting the conversation and consequences hanging in the balance. The stories matter as do the people behind them. I hope there’s a second season.
What: The Deer Hunter (1978)
Who: Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken (and lots of other famous folks)
Where: Not streaming anywhere 😢 but worth renting.
Why: This film is lauded as a classic and a staple of the era of Vietnam War movies. The story is broken up into two parts, and it is the kind of plot that when summarized in just two sentences seems quite simple but is actually richly complex and nuanced. The film opens with a wedding and introduces you to a group of friends in steel country Western Pennsylvania. Then, there’s the deer hunt inspiring the title. The second part takes place in Vietnam, where three of the friends are soldiers whose lives are forever changed by the war.
The film is powerful enough if interpreted exclusively as a sociopolitical commentary about working-class American life and the horrors of war. However, the film takes on an entirely new meaning if you can see what I believe to be an equally powerful story running concurrent to the observable plot. That secondary story is a gay love story. I believe two of the friends are, in fact, in love. I won’t tell you who, but it isn’t that subtle. I admit this is a bit of a hot take, but it strikes me as perfectly sensible.
What: The Most Through Case Against Crypto on The Ezra Klein Show
Who: Ezra Klein (host), Dan Olson (guest), The New York Times
Where: The Podcast-verse
Why: Wait wait wait. Slow down. Before you either cheer because you too believe crypto is a giant, stupid scam or jeer because you’re taking your favorite coins to the moon 🚀 leaving idiots like me behind… just listen to the podcast. Ezra Klein is a skilled “conversational journalist” as I like to call them. He knows his guests better than the material, which allows him to be both a curious listener like the audience while guiding the conversation strategically to cover as much ground as possible as thoroughly as possible. (Also, here’s Dan’s full and semi-famous YouTube called, Line Goes Up.
If you are pro-crypto, this may not change your mind, but it is prudent to hear if for no other reason than to understand the perspectives and rationale of those with whom you disagree. Whether it’s about the technology of blockchain, its implementations, or the personalities that permeate the space, it’s worth your time. And even if you already agree that crypto is nothing but shit with sprinkles on top, this specific critique will sharpen your own.
What: George Carlin’s American Dream
Who: Directed by Judd Apatow
Where: HBO Max
Why: Few comedians are cited as frequently as George Carlin, especially with respect to topical news and current events. He is sharp, smart, and angry. You’ve probably seen clips of him even if you’ve never seen one of his stand up specials in full. This 2 part documentary dives deep into who Carlin was off stage and how that shaped the Carlin we all saw on stage. It’s a well done (albeit long) film that humanizes a comedy icon.
What makes Carlin so powerful as a cultural figure to me is that he chose to punch up instead of down. His comedy was never predicated on pointing and laughing at folks with less power than him. Instead, his comedy was explicitly designed to question those with power and prompt the audience to start asking questions of their own. Carlin wasn’t always right in my view, but he was just about always headed in the right direction. And that’s worth remembering.
What: Slow Horses
Who: Starring Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jack Lowden
Where: Apple TV+
Why: Based on a book series, the show follows the rejects of the British intelligence service, MI5. Think James Bond except each character, for one reason or another, has been banished to secret agent Siberia to be given meaningless assignments for whatever remains of their careers. Yet, this rag tag group of losers finds themselves caught up in a very real James Bond like case. As the show progresses, both the characters and the audience begin to unearth the many secrets the big wigs at MI5 don’t want anyone to know about.
This show has already been renewed for a second season and for good reason. Rather than taking cheap shortcuts in the inaugural season, the writers take their time to build the characters methodically. Before I knew it, I was far more entrenched in their lives than I was expecting. By the end, I was thoroughly annoyed at not being able to binge the next season asaptually, and that’s as good of a sign as anything else that the show was worth it. A solid, well written, and occasionally quite funny (in a British way) spy thriller. Lastly, this is a show where you need to pay attention — if you look down at your phone, you might just find yourself a bit lost. It’s all in the details! Enjoy!
What: Jerrod Carmichael: Rothaniel
Who: Written & Performed by Jerrod Carmichael; Directed by Bo Burnham
Where: HBO Max
Why: This is one of those times where I really want to let the art do the talking. There’s so much to say about Carmichael’s brilliance in this special, but pretty much everything I want to say I would rather you read after you hear from him, not before. The special was released in April, and I absolutely feel like I should have made time to watch this months ago.
At the risk of being overdramatic, I just think it’s important for as many folks as possible to watch this. Funny, cerebral, real, sad, searing… all the things. The grace and comedy he brings to his story, particularly and especially when it’s sad, reminds me of Richard Pryor in a lot of subtle ways. There were lines that made me ugly laugh/cackle/shriek at the TV, and there were moments where I felt the low thunder in my throat that churns heavy tears welling up in my eyes. Thank you, Jerrod.
Surprise! I’m doubling up on the recommendations because I was sick and had to skip 2 weeks ago. So boom, I’ve got another stellar piece of art for you to enjoy…
What: The Bear
Who: Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Ayo Edebiri
Why: Having literally just finished the Season 1 finale, I am fresh off the feels of this show. The premise is a young fine dining chef leaves NY and comes home to his native Chicago to take over his late brother’s struggling sandwich restaurant. Dealing with the after effects of his brother’s suicide, trying to turn the business around despite everything going wrong, and grasping at straws for his own identity, Carmy is a character for whom we can all root.
There is a ragtag staff, including his incessantly loud and idiotic cousin who you really want to dislike (because he’s a real prick) but somehow can’t (because he’s also got a real good heart). His narrative counterpart, though, is a smart and kind and promising young Black chef who secretly steals the whole show and whose cooking I would absolutely fly to Chicago for. The Bear is laugh-out-loud funny while not shying away from real darkness, and its finale brought me to the soft tears of some sadness and some joyful relief. Rather than a stressful cliffhanger, it provided the perfect conclusion to the beginning of a story I am eager to keep following.
What: The Old Man
Who: Starring Jeff Bridges, John Lithgow
Why: Based on the 2017 book of the same name, this show is a slow burn that follows a mysterious former CIA operative named Dan Chase. There are seemingly endless people who want him dead, and despite being a gray-haired old man, he will not be stopped before he can get back his previously peaceful life even as he is tracked by his former CIA colleague, now a big wig at the FBI. I can’t reveal any more without compromising all the mysteries and twists you uncover through the inaugural season.
While the show is certainly a slow burn, it really only takes the first episode to get hooked. Jeff Bridges puts on a sensational (and very Jeff Bridges) performance. He is warm and ruthless. John Lithgow (in very John Lithgow fashion) brings depth to a character you want to be annoyed by. I’ll admit: there’s one episode out the eight that was a bit dry. Otherwise, though, it was superb, and my roommate and I watched in real-time, so we were looking forward to each episode drop. Now we’re stuck waiting a lot longer than a week for Season 2.
Surprise! I’m doubling up on the recommendations for the second consecutive issue because why not? Who knows, maybe we’ll make this a more regular thing. Enjoy!
What: Bullet Train
Who: Starring Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry, Krioyuki Sanada, Bad Bunny
Where: In Theaters
Why: My roommate, Etienne, randomly decided we were going to the movies, and I’m so glad he did. This was a fucking joyride from the title to the credits. Brad Pitt is a thief for hire tasked with stealing a mysterious briefcase on a bullet train in Japan. Then, absolutely all hell breaks loose nonstop for two hours.
It is an all-star cast with fun performances all around, and the show was possibly stolen (at least a little bit) by Bad Bunny. Even though it’s totally over the top, it’s hilarious, action-packed, and wildly entertaining. Think Guy Ritchie-esque in terms of how punchy the twists and turns are, but on a bullet train! Also, this was the first movie I’ve seen in theaters since pre-Covid, and it was a helluva movie to come back to.