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kottke.org posts about tv

The Dutch Angle

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2021

These days, movies, TV shows, and even commercials all use something called the Dutch angle,1 a filmmaking technique where the camera is angled to produce a tilted scene, often to highlight that something is not quite right. The technique originated in Germany, inspired by Expressionist painters.

It was pioneered by German directors during World War I, when outside films were blocked from being shown in Germany. Unlike Hollywood, which was serving up largely glamorous, rollicking films, the German film industry took inspiration from the Expressionist movement in art and literature, which was focused on processing the insanity of world war. Its themes touched on betrayal, suicide, psychosis, and terror. And Expressionist films expressed that darkness not just through their plotlines, but their set designs, costumes… and unusual camera shots.

This got me thinking about my favorite shot from Black Panther, this camera roll in the scene where Killmonger takes the Wakandan throne:

It’s the Dutch angle but even more dynamic and it blew me away the first time I saw it. I poked around a little to see if this particular move had been done before (if director Ryan Coogler and cinematographer Rachel Morrison were referencing something specific) and I found Christopher Nolan (although I’d argue that he uses it in a slightly different way) and Stranger Things (in the scene starting at 1:33). Anywhere else?

  1. As with Pennsylvania Dutch, the Dutch in Dutch angle is a bastardization of Deutsch (German).

David Fincher’s VOIR

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2021

A few weeks ago, I posted about David Fincher’s new project with Netflix. Unfortunately, it’s not a third season of Mindhunter. But, here’s what it is: a 6-episode series of visual essays about movies and filmmaking, not unlike the YouTube videos I post here all the time (many of which you can find under the film school tag).

VOIR is a series of visual essays celebrating Cinema and the personal connection we each have to the stories we see on the big screen. From intimate personal histories to insights on character and craft, each episode reminds us why Cinema holds a special place in our lives.

Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos of the dearly missed Every Frame a Painting are contributing to at least one of these visual essays, so that right here is reason enough to rejoice. VOIR drops Dec 6 on Netflix.

The Simpsons Library

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2021

Lisa Simpson holding a book called Tales of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Sister

Lisa Simpson holding a book about The Simpsons

Lisa Simpson reading a book called Backdoors to Citizenship

Marge Simpson reading a book called Love in the Time of Scurvy

The Simpsons Library Instagram account has been documenting all of the books, magazines, and other printed matter that has appeared on the long-running sitcom.

Trailer for Season Two of The Great

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2021

Oh, I’m excited for this one. I’m not saying The Great was the best show I’ve seen over the past couple of years, but it’s definitely one of the most fun and enjoyable. A synopsis:

The Great is a satirical, comedic drama about the rise of Catherine the Great from outsider to the longest reigning female ruler in Russia’s history. A fictionalized, fun and anachronistic story of an idealistic, romantic young girl, who arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage to the mercurial Emperor Peter. Hoping for love and sunshine, she finds instead a dangerous, depraved, backward world that she resolves to change. All she has to do is kill her husband, beat the church, baffle the military and get the court onside.

The Great was created by Tony McNamara, who co-wrote The Favourite — both have the same punchy, ribald dialogue. You can catch up on season one on Hulu while we wait for the season two premiere on Nov 19.

The Design of TV Key Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2021

When the TV watching experience moved from checking “your local listings” or TV Guide and surfing channels with your remote to scrolling through visual onscreen menus on streaming services, key art was born. Key art graphics are the images that identify shows in streaming menus — ok here, it’s just easier to show you:

key art for The Americans

key art for Chernobyl

key art for several other TV shows

Like the best movie posters and book covers, these images are bold and simple promotional signifiers of a larger piece of media, but as Rex Sorgatz argues in today’s edition of Why is this interesting?, key art is its own thing with its own set of constraints and challenges.

Good key art is so evocative, so iconic, that it becomes the image that springs to mind whenever you think about a show:

One neglected characteristic ties all these images together: They are all horizontal.

It sounds trivial, but going wide helped differentiate TV key art as its own medium, distinct from book covers and movie posters. And because these images appear on streaming platforms, they are unencumbered by other marketing copy, like taglines, cast and credits, and multifarious blurbs.

There is a simple purity to key art.

Sorgatz maintains an archive of his favorite key art here.

The Most Important Device in the Universe

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2021

You’ve probably seen it: a dual-tubed generator console that’s appeared in movies and TV shows like Star Trek (all of them, pretty much), Knight Rider, V, Austin Powers, The Last Starfighter, and even Airplane II. This prop was originally built in the 70s and in the decades since has been placed in scenes requiring an impressive piece of high-tech equipment. The video above is a compilation of scenes in which the console has appeared (parts two & three of the compilation).

Watch A Cook’s Tour, Bourdain’s First Travel/Food TV Show, for Free Online

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2021

After Anthony Bourdain died in 2018, I listened to the audiobook version of his fantastic Kitchen Confidential (read by Bourdain himself) and in retrospect, the trip he took to Tokyo documented in one of the final chapters was a clear indication that his career was headed away from the kitchen and out into the world. His long-time producer Lydia Tenaglia saw this too…she cold-called him after reading the book and pitched him on doing a TV show called A Cook’s Tour, where the intrepid Bourdain would travel to different locations around the world to experience the food culture there.

I met him at a point in his life where he had never really traveled before. He had written a book, Kitchen Confidential, and I had read somewhere that he was going to try to write a follow-up book called A Cook’s Tour. I approached him — I kind of cold-called him — and I said, “Listen, I work in television.” And at that point I was freelancing for other companies as a producer and a shooter and an editor. I called Tony, and he was still working in a kitchen at the time, and I said, “Would you mind if me and my husband, Chris, came and shot a short demo and we try to sort of pitch the idea of A Cook’s Tour — meaning you traveling the world, kind of exploring the way other people eat — as a television series?” And he was like, “Yeah, sure. Whatever.” I don’t think he had any expectations at that point. Again, he hadn’t really traveled.

A Cook’s Tour intrigued the folks at the Food Network and the show ended up running for 35 episodes over two seasons. And they are now all available to watch for free on YouTube. I’ve embedded the first episode above, where he goes (back) to Tokyo, but he also visits Vietnam, San Sebastian, Oaxaca, Scotland, Singapore, and Brazil during the show’s run. More from Tenaglia on how the show came about:

So that was the start of our relationship and our time together. We, fortunately, were able to pitch and sell that idea, A Cook’s Tour, to the Food Network. Me and Chris, my husband, and Tony, just the three of us, all went out on the road together for that first year, and we shot 23 episodes of A Cook’s Tour, and we kind of figured out the format of the show on the road. It was really Tony tapping into the references he did have — you know, films and books and things he had seen and knew about only through film and reading.

So he was able to bring all of those cultural references to the table, and the three of us together were able to kind of play with the format of what those visuals would look like, so that it wasn’t just about him eating food at a restaurant. It was really about everything that was happening around him — or the thoughts he was having internally as he had these experiences or the references that he had seen through film that he loved and books that he had read, like The Quiet American, and how those things related to what he was experiencing.

So it became this kind of sort of moving, evolving format that was very much based on, predicated on the location that we were in and those references that he could call up. The show just kind of began to take shape. I mean, really there was no format of the show going into it. We just said, “Hey, we’re going to travel around the world, and this guy … he’s a chef, and he’s written this great book, and he’s going to try food in other countries.” And that’s what sold the project to the Food Network at the time. Then, as we went and actually made the show, we really started to play with the format and turned it into something else.

I would say that 17 years later the show has gone through various iterations. We did the two seasons of A Cook’s Tour on the Food Network, and then we did eight seasons of No Reservations on the Travel Channel, and now we’re on Parts Unknown. And the show has evolved as Tony has evolved, as the crew has evolved, as the technology has evolved. The show has sort of turned into this kind of, you know, one man’s initial foray into the world, and I think today, 17 years later, he’s really kind of evolved into more of a cultural anthropologist.

The show’s very sociopolitical — it’s about people and characters. The food and the people are just the entry point. It’s really about all the context around it. The more you can bring story to that and the more you can bring references to that — film references … character references — the more you can introduce interesting, unique characters into the equation, I think that’s what keeps the show very fresh and why it’s continuing to evolve all these years later. Each show is very different from the one before it.

It’s fun to watch the prototype of what eventually became a very beloved and different show. (via open culture)

My Recent Media Diet, the Summer/Fall Switchover Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2021

Oh, I’ve let it go too long again. It’s been almost four months since I’ve done one of these media roundups and there’s lots to share. If you’re just joining us — welcome but WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN THO?! — I do a post like this every few months with short reviews of all the movies, books, music, TV show, podcasts, and other things I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. The letter grades are very subjective and inconsistent — sorry! Ok, here’s what I have for you today.

The Land That Never Has Been Yet. This podcast series by Scene on Radio on American democracy is essential listening. The episode on how a small group of libertarians have had an outsized influence on American life is especially interesting and maddening. (A)

The Legend of Korra. Watched this with the kids and we all enjoyed it. (B+)

The Expanse. A little uneven sometimes, but mostly compelling. I’ve got crushes on about 4 different people on this show. (B)

Galaxy Quest. The teens were skeptical about this one, but Alan Rickman’s presence won them over. I love this movie. (A)

The Truffle Hunters. The first movie I’ve seen in the theater since March 2020. The pace of the film is, uh, contemplative — I never would have lasted more than 10 minutes if I’d started watching this at home — but full of wonderful little moments. (B+)

The Ezra Klein Show, interview with Agnes Callard. I don’t catch every episode of Klein’s podcast, but this interview with Agnes Callard was particularly wide-ranging and good — I want to know her opinion on anything and everything. (A-)

NBC Sports’ Premier League recaps. I don’t get to watch as much football as I’d like, but I look forward to catching up with all the action at the end of the day. A lot of the networks’ recaps are pretty shabby — incomplete, rushed, no goal replays — but the ones from NBC Sports are really good. You see each of the goals (and significant near-misses) from multiple angles and get a real sense of the flow of the match. (A-)

Nomadland. I didn’t seem to like this quite as much as everyone else did. Frances McDormand is excellent as usual. (B+)

Mare of Easttown. Kate Winslet. I mean, what else do you have to say? I raced through this. (A)

Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation. Great exhibition at the MFA of one of the golden ages of NYC. (A-)

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis. It’s a little early to write the definitive book on what went so wrong in America with the pandemic, but Lewis did about as well as can be expected. The CDC doesn’t fare well in his telling. (A-)

Alice Neel: People Come First. Great show at the Met of an outstanding portraitist. (A-)

Nixon at War. The third part of the excellent podcast series on the LBJ & Nixon presidencies. Nixon’s Watergate downfall began with the Vietnam War…when Nixon committed treason to prolong the war to win elected office. (A)

Rashomon. Hard to believe this was made in 1950. A film out of time. (A-)

Velcro ties. Unobtrusive and super handy for organizing cords — wish I’d gotten these sooner. (B+)

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché. Documentary about film director French film director Alice Guy-Blaché, who pioneered so much of what became the modern film industry, first in France and then in the United States. (B+)

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. Compelling dystopian science fiction from Nobel-winner Ishiguro. An interesting companion book to The Remains of the Day. (A-)

Handshake Speakeasy. Super creative and delicious. Maybe the best new bar I’ve been to in years. (A)

The Fugitive. Great film…still holds up almost 30 years later. (A)

Speed. This doesn’t hold up quite as well as The Fugitive but is still entertaining. (B+)

Edge of Tomorrow. Underrated action/sci-fi movie. (A)

No Sudden Move. Solid crime caper movie from Soderbergh. Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro are both excellent. (B+)

Black Widow. Struck the right tone for the character. Florence Pugh was great. (B+)

Summer of Soul. Wonderful documentary about 1969’s Harlem Cultural Festival. Director Questlove rightly puts the music front and center but cleverly includes lots of footage of people watching too (a la the Spielberg Face). Beyonce’s Homecoming used this to great effect as well. (A)

Loki. Loved the design and architecture of the TVA. Great use of color elsewhere as well. (B+)

Nanette. Very clever and powerful. (A)

Fleabag (season two). Perhaps the best ever season of television? (A+)

Consider the Oyster by MFK Fisher. The highest compliment I can pay this book is that it almost made me hungry for oysters even though I do not care for them. (B+)

The Green Knight. Even after reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and seeing this movie, I’m not entirely sure I know what this story is trying to convey, thematically or metaphorically, or if it’s even that entertaining. (B)

The Dark Knight Rises. Probably sacrilege, but this is my favorite of the Nolan Batmen. (A)

Bridge of Spies. Mark Rylance was superb in this and Spielberg’s (and Janusz Kamiński’s) mastery is always fun to watch. (B+)

Luca. A fun & straightforward Pixar movie without a big moral of the story. (B+)

Solar Power. Not my favorite Lorde album. (B-)

Reminiscence. I have already forgotten the plot to this. (B-)

The ocean. Got to visit the ocean three times this summer. One of my favorite things in the world. (A+)

The White Lotus. Didn’t really care for the first two episodes and then was bored and tried to watch the third — only made it halfway through. I “finished” it by reading Vulture recaps. Why do people like this show? (C-)

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes. Between Emily Wilson, Madeline Miller, and now Natalie Haynes, I’ve gained a unique understanding of the Iliad and Odyssey. (B+)

TWA Hotel. A marvelous space. (A-)

Turbo. Like Cars + Ratatouille but by Dreamworks and with Snoop Dogg. (C)

Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin. A love letter to NYC, printers, Apple computers, and the late, great Tekserve. Another banger from Shopsin. (A)

Donda. Beeping out all the swear words while managing to keep the misogyny in seems apt for an artifact of contemporary American Christianity. Too long and very uneven, I hate that I really love parts of this album. (D+/A-)

Certified Lover Boy. Same ol’ same ol’ from the easy listening rapper. Nothing on here that I wanted to listen to a second time. (C-)

The Great British Baking Show. I’ve only seen bits of one season so far (#6), but I can see why so many people love this show. It’s the perfect combination of soothing but competitive and about a topic that everyone loves — baked goods. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

“What Are We Going to Say This Year?”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2021

The Wire creator David Simon wrote about his friend and colleague Michael K. Williams, who died suddenly last week at the age of 54. The Question Michael K. Williams Asked Me Before Every Season of ‘The Wire’:

And from that moment forward, his questions about our drama and its purposes were those of someone sharing the whole of the journey. It became something of a ritual with us: To begin every season that followed, Michael K. Williams would walk into the writers’ office and sit on the couch.

“So,” he would ask, “what are we going to say this year?”

He gave us an astounding gift — an act of faith from a magnificent actor who could have played his hand very differently. Television usually chases its audience — if they love them some Omar, you feed them more Omar. If they can’t stop looking at Stringer, you write more Stringer. Never mind story and theme.

Instead, Mike bent his beautiful mind to a task that even the best writers and show runners often avoid. He thought about the whole story, the whole of the work.

Perhaps more than any in that talented cast, I came to trust Mike to speak publicly to our drama and its purposes, to take personal pride in all that we were trying, however improbably, to build. He became increasingly political as the show aged, and in interviews took to addressing societal and political issues, his arguments ranging well beyond Omar’s arc.

“I started to realize that, oh, this is not about me,” Williams once told an interviewer, looking back. “It had everything to do with … just great tapestry, this great narrative of social issues … things that are wrong in our country.”

See also tributes from Wendell Pierce and other actors & filmmakers who worked with Williams.

Ignorance and the Curious Idiot

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2021

From an interview with the Ted Lasso creative team, here’s co-creator and star Jason Sudeikis on where the idea for the show came from:

The thing Bill and I talked about in the pitch was this antithesis of the cocktail of a human man who is both ignorant and arrogant, which lo and behold, a Batman-villain version of it became president of the United States right around the same time. What if you played an ignorant guy who was actually curious? When someone used a big word like “vernacular,” he didn’t act like he knew it, but just stops the meeting like, “Question, what does that mean?”

Austin Kleon riffed on the unusual relationship between ignorance and curiosity:

That last point might be the most important: care is a form of attention, and unlike talent or expertise, it can be willed into being at any time.

If you care more than everybody else, you pay better attention, and you see things that others don’t see. To ask the questions that need to be asked, you have to care more than others about what happens, but care less about what others might think of you in the moment.

Which makes me think about my favorite scene from Lady Bird, summarized here by A.O. Scott:

Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith), the principal, has read Lady Bird’s college application essay. “It’s clear how much you love Sacramento,” Sister Sarah remarks. This comes as a surprise, both to Lady Bird and the viewer, who is by now aware of Lady Bird’s frustration with her hometown.

“I guess I pay attention,” she says, not wanting to be contrary.

“Don’t you think they’re the same thing?” the wise sister asks.

The idea that attention is a form of love (and vice versa) is a beautiful insight.

These thoughts resonated with me today because I recently had a falling-out with someone I care about, in part because I paid insufficient attention to who they were as a person. I was ignorant and incurious in our relationship, a disastrous combination that caused deep pain. In the aftermath, I instinctively reached for the comfort of a rewatch of the first season of Ted Lasso, hoping for some laughs. But what I especially noticed this time around was how much effort Coach Lasso puts into deciphering who people are, who they really are, so he can help each individual be their best selves, which is perhaps the hallmark of a wonderful partnership. It was a good reminder for me of attention as a form of love but also of the work I need to do to actually practice that consistently in my life.

John Oliver Loves Octopuses

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2021

John Oliver’s HBO show is on hiatus for the summer, but he really wanted you to know some facts about the many species of amazing octopuses out there (and why it is “octopuses” and not “octopi”).

See also My Octopus Teacher and A Dreaming Octopus Changes Color.

Succession Season 3 Teaser Trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2021

Ok I know you’ve probably seen the teaser trailer for season 3 of Succession by now but I was away and missed it so we’re all going to watch it together mmm’kay? New season starts “this fall”, whatever that means. I guess that’s enough time for a rewatch of the first two seasons?

Believe

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2021

The second season of Ted Lasso starts on July 23rd and this new trailer has me all fired up. The first season was a very welcome diversion during the height of the pandemic and was an almost magical unicorn of a TV thing.

Sourcing Design Objects Used in Star Trek

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2021

Production designers working on science fiction movies and TV shows are part-time magicians because they routinely have to invent the future using things from the present. The site Star Trek + Design is collecting the futuristic design objects — chairs, cups, silverware, sofas — that designers used on the sets of Star Trek movies and TV shows to depict the future.

Being drawn to the aesthetics of Trek, especially of The Next Generation, made me curious about the specific objects that set designers used to create the visual embodiment of what living and working on a starship would look like in a technologically-advanced, post-scarcity future.

For instance, this is an RBT Chair by Teknion used in Star Trek: Discovery:

a chair used in Star Trek

Park Avenue glasses made by Anchor Hocking were used for barware in TNG:

a drinking glass used in Star Trek

Voyager used Arne Jacobsen’s AJ Flatware in several episodes (as did Kubrick’s 2001):

flatware used in Star Trek

Check out the site for many more sourced objects.

See also Film and Furniture, a Site About the Decor in Movies.

Patrick Stewart Does Hamlet on Sesame Street

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2021

Patrick Stewart, displaying the Shakespearian acting chops that landed him the role of Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation, appeared on Sesame Street in 1996, performing a parody of Hamlet’s soliloquy with the letter “B”. Stewart never doesn’t give it his all when acting.

Bo Burnham Welcomes You to the Internet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2021

I have been hearing nothing but good things, and lots of them, about comedian Bo Burnham’s new show on Netflix called Inside. Burnham did the entire thing by himself in his house during the pandemic — writing, music, cinematography, editing, etc. In this clip from the show, Burnham performs a song called “Welcome to the Internet”. (via waxy)

My Recent Media Diet, the Fully Vaccinated Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2021

Every few months for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since early February, accompanied by a mini review.

How To with John Wilson. What happens near the end of the risotto episode got all the attention, but I’m all about the bag of chips saga. (B+)

Black Art: In the Absence of Light. I can listen to artists and critics talk about art all day long. Also? Everyone in this has impeccable eyewear. (A)

Spirited Away. A masterpiece. (A)

Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine (BNT162b2). Possibly the best experience of the past 5 years. (A+++++)

Casino Royale. The best of the Daniel Craig Bonds IMO. (B+)

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante. Another marvelously constructed world with vibrant characters by Ferrante. (A)

Wandavision. A love letter to television. Watched this with the kids and we all loved it. (A)

Looper. This is perhaps my favorite type of movie: clever sci-fi with a creative director and good actors that give a shit. (A-)

Sonic the Hedgehog. Jim Carrey is the highlight here and not much else. (C+)

The Remains of the Day. One of my favorite movies. I’ve watched this every few years since 1993 and what I get out of it changes every time. Great book too. (A+)

Judas and the Black Messiah. Fantastic performances by Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield. (A)

Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Way too long and nearly pointless. This is what happens when you start treating the director of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole like an auteur. (B-)

A Promised Land by Barack Obama. I recommend the audiobook version of this. You can really tell the bits of the book he cares about and the stuff he phones in a little bit more. The tone of his voice when he talks about Michelle — that love is real. (B+)

Making Sense — The Boundaries of Self. I listened to this conversation with the poet David Whyte at the beginning of March and it was exactly what I needed to hear at that time. I must have listened to his short essay on Friendship about 5 times. (A)

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. About the invention of the wireless telegraph and the beginning of our abundantly connected world. (B+)

Still Processing - The N Word. The way that Morris and, particularly, Wortham use inclusive language is fascinating. They invite people into the conversation without any loss of insight or critical capability. A bracing rebuttal to the idea that using so-called “woke” language is hamstringing discourse in America. (A-)

Matilda by Roald Dahl. Read this aloud to the kids and was told my rendition was not nearly as good as Kate Winslet’s. (B+)

You’re Wrong About (The continuing OJ saga). This has become the show’s version of Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine, with entire episodes dedicated to explaining mere minutes of the trial. I am here for it. (A)

Godzilla vs. Kong. I watched this after eating an edible and I think that’s the perfect way to do it. Monsters, roar! (B)

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. One of my favorite Trek movies. (A-)

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Less popular with me and the kids than Wandavision. Occasionally fun but also kind of a mess, especially when it comes to the “moral of the story”. (B)

The Talk Show with Craig Mod. Every single second of this 2.5-hour-long conversation between Craig Mod and John Gruber felt like it was created specifically for me. (A-)

Rough Translation - Liberté, Égalité, French Fries… And Couscous. A follow-up to a classic episode about a French McDonald’s that was commandeered by its employees. (B+)

Unstoppable. The perfect movie. I wouldn’t change a thing. (A)

Pac-Man 99. A nice update to this venerable game. The kids dismissed it as “too hectic”. (B+)

Fortnite. The perfect game for introverts — you can actually win by cleverly avoiding crowds and then dealing with a much more manageable 1-on-1 situation. But also I am old and there are too many buttons on this controller. (B+)

Croupier. Young Clive Owen, wow. (B+)

HazeOver. Recommended to me by Mike Davidson, this macOS app dims background windows to help you focus on your work. (B+)

Titanic. Had to rewatch after Evan Puschak’s video about it. Still an amazingly effective blockbuster movie. (A)

For All Mankind (Season One). So many people have recommended this to me over the past year and I finally got around to watching it. I was hooked within the first 5 minutes. (A)

The Mitchells vs. The Machines. Entertaining and stylistically interesting. (B+)

NYC. So much to say about this city and the resilience of the people who call it home. Still undefeated. (A)

Throughline — The Real Black Panthers. Great podcast on the political agenda and strategy of the Black Panther Party. A natural companion to Judas and The Black Messiah. (A)

Frick Madison. They have like 10% of the world’s Vermeers in just one room! (B+)

The Whitney. Great to be back here to see the work of Dawoud Bey and Julie Mehretu. (A)

The outdoor dining situation in NYC. The city has to keep this and the pandemic pedestrian areas reclaimed from cars. More room for people, less room for cars. (A)

Fairfax. This is the sister restaurant to my two favorite places in NYC, both of which closed permanently because of the pandemic, and the first restaurant I’ve been to since March 2020. We ate outside, I had too many cocktails, and it was perfect. (A+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Bart Simpson feat. Daft Punk & Giorgio Moroder

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2021

Part of what makes this so good & funny is the obvious level of care put into making it, right down to the smallest details. The audio distortion? Perfect lip syncing? The Doppler effect?! It’s just a meme, you didn’t have to go so hard! (via the xoxo slack)

Ted Lasso Believes in You

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

Catherynne M. Valente has written an absolutely fantastic review of Ted Lasso that gets to the heart of why so many people love the show so much. I will quote from it at length:

Ted Lasso is like if Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross, Coach Taylor, Leslie Knope, and David Tennant’s Doctor all got together and had a big strange baby. It is a completely formulaic premise that turns around and refuses to follow the formula. It’s wholesome without being boring, kind without being trite, smart without being pedantic, so loving it’ll take your breath away, and gut-bustingly funny. Scripts so tight and hilarious that even one guy just saying his name and the paper he works for is not only a meme but makes you smile each and every time.

Do you know how fucking hard that is to pull off?

It is so much easier to be funny while being cynical. Everyone knows life sucks, it’s easy to get them onside by accessing that universal experience. To sneer and punch down and stand back from the world wrapped up in a sense of coolness that comes at the expense of everyone else and call that edgy. It is so much harder to stay funny while you’re being kind. In a show for adults. For cynical adults who are having a thoroughly rubbish time of it — and that was everyone in 2020. It’s nearly impossible, honestly. Even Parks and Rec constantly shit down Jerry’s neck. The Good Place was full of demons to balance out the philosophy with that kind of humor.

Ted Lasso is just a guy. It’s not the afterlife, it’s not in space, it’s not in a medieval morality play, it’s not even something as high-concept as the fantasy life of JD in Scrubs. He’s just a guy, who has problems, not insignificant ones, but also maybe the secret of life, moving through a traditional comedy plot — in fact, the actual plot of Major League — and handling it like comedy characters never do because it’s easier to do a madcap plot when everyone is being stupid and not communicating and running on the rails of their particular archetypal tropes.

How they managed to make radical empathy funny is just miraculous. And also:

I actually think Ted’s progressive jokes are rather desperately important, as far as TV is ever desperately important. There’s this crushing, dominant idea that real comedy, edgy comedy, modern, cutting-edge comedy is by nature regressive, offensive, in your face, dirty, snickering about women and minorities and LGBTQ folk because if those pious SJWs don’t like it, it must be hysterical. So to speak. That if you’re not offending people, you’re not doing it right. And the intersection of comedy and sports is where this attitude is likely to be EXTREMELY firmly rooted and taken for granted.

But here it’s just…gone. There are zero jokes made at the expense of…really anyone except Jamie and Roy, who both need to experience not being bowed down to in order to become who they need to be. Ted doesn’t even think before deftly acknowledging that Rebecca is funny, but on the off chance she actually has a trans parent, he’s excited and interested to discuss her experience with her without judgment. And yet nothing is lost in terms of fun or laughs, because in every scene, Ted lets everyone be in on the joke with him instead of being a target.

Art can be like this. Art can be like this and nothing is lost. There’s still plenty of edge to go around.

If I were you, I would read the whole thing, especially if you liked this previous post: Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man.

Life in Color with David Attenborough

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2021

A new three-part nature series premiered today on Netflix: Life in Color with David Attenborough.

Animals can use color for all kinds of different reasons — whether to win a mate or beat a rival, to warn off an enemy or to hide from one. To understand how these colors work, we need to see them from an animal’s perspective. With new cameras developed especially for this series, now we can.

Trailer for The Underground Railroad

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2021

This is the trailer for The Underground Railroad, a limited series from Amazon based on the Pulitzer-winning novel by Colson Whitehead, directed by Barry Jenkins. The series will contain 10 episodes and be available to stream on Amazon Prime from May 14.

Ted Lasso Season 2 Teaser Trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2021

Apple just announced that season two of Ted Lasso will be premiering on Apple+ on July 23. That’s it, that’s the news. Watch the trailer. Rejoice. Be happy.

See also Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man.

Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2021

Greta Thunberg took a year off of school to travel the world to better understand the changing planet, a journey captured in this three-part BBC series set to debut on PBS this Thursday (April 22, aka Earth Day). I found out about this from Lizzie Widdicombe’s short profile of Thunberg in the New Yorker.

Thunberg is on the autism spectrum, and the film illustrates how the condition lends a unique moral clarity to her activism. “I don’t follow social codes,” she said. “Everyone else seems to be playing a role, just going on like before. And I, who am autistic, I don’t play this social game.” She eschews empty optimism. Her over-all reaction to the coronavirus pandemic is to compare it with her cause: “If we humans would actually start treating the climate crisis like a crisis, we could really change things.”

Her uncompromising words can give the wrong impression. “People seem to think that I am depressed, or angry, or worried, but that’s not true,” she said. Having a cause makes her happy. “It was like I got meaning in my life.”

Also from that piece: Thunberg doesn’t live at home; she lives in a safe-house “in a kind of witness-protection program” situation because, one would assume, she gets a lot of threats due of her work.

The Zemo Cut

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2021

Marvel’s newest TV series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, contained a scene in the third episode that featured a tantalizingly short glimpse of erstwhile villain Zemo dancing awkwardly in a nightclub. Fans clambered for more, and so Marvel released an hour-long video of Zemo dancing, cheekily called “The Zemo Cut”. Tag yourself — I’m the clapping. (For some reason, this reminds me of Mad Men’s Ken Cosgrove dancing to Daft Punk.)

How Sounds Are Faked For Nature Documentaries

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2021

Foley artist Richard Hinton talks about how he creates sounds for nature documentaries like Planet Earth. I love watching Foley artists do their thing, but I have mixed feelings about these made-up sounds!

Despite the veneer of neutrality of nature documentaries, I know there’s no such thing as objective truth when you’re dealing with cameras and film editing. And silent video is boring. But on the other hand, just making up sounds that spiders don’t actually make — I don’t know. I’ve posted about this before, regarding a video series about how Planet Earth II was made:

I hope the third program is on sound, which has been bugging me while watching Planet Earth II. I could be wrong, but they seem to be using extensive foley effects for the sounds the animals make — not their cries necessarily, but the sounds they make as they move. Once you notice, it feels deceptive.

See also How Fake Are Nature Documentaries?

Is it manipulation? Or good storytelling? And what’s the difference between the two anyway? A silent security feed of a Walmart parking lot is not a documentary but The Thin Blue Line, with its many dramatizations and Philip Glass score, is a great documentary.

(via open culture)

The Year Earth Changed

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2021

Produced by BBC Studios Natural History Unit and narrated by David Attenborough, The Year Earth Changed is an upcoming documentary that looks at what happened to the natural world when much of the world’s human population stayed indoors for a few months.

From hearing birdsong in deserted cities, to witnessing whales communicating in new ways, to encountering capybaras in South American suburbs, people all over the world have had the chance to engage with nature like never before. In the one-hour special, viewers will witness how changes in human behavior — reducing cruise ship traffic, closing beaches a few days a year, identifying more harmonious ways for humans and wildlife to coexist — can have a profound impact on nature. The documentary, narrated by David Attenborough, is a love letter to planet Earth, highlighting the ways nature bouncing back can give us hope for the future.

The Year Earth Changed debuts on Apple+ on April 22, aka Earth Day. (I can’t believe they resisted calling this Nature Is Healing though…)

The Secret Life of Machines

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2021

In the late 80s and early 90s, a show called The Secret Life of Machines aired in the UK and the US. Each episode focused on one piece of technology (television, vacuum cleaner, refrigerator) and how it worked — the show is definitely a precursor to the hordes of explainer videos on YouTube, and, increasingly, streaming services. Show creator Tim Hunkin has been uploading digitally remastered episodes of the show to YouTube with newly added commentary from Hunkin at the end of each one. (via @TimothyHelmuth)

Update: I got distracted and forgot to include that Hunkin is doing a new series called The Secret Life of Components about things like chains, hinges, and LED lights. (thx for the reminder @rou_revisionist & @kylevanhorn)

Eyes on the Prize to Re-Air on PBS

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2021

The fantastic civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize will soon be available for viewing on public media and online. WORLD Channel and PBS will begin airing the 14-part series in early April. The first part of the series, covering the civil rights movement from 1954-1965, will also be available to watch online starting in mid-April. Check out the press release for more info.

Eyes on the Prize, created by Executive Producer Henry Hampton, is an award-winning and critically-acclaimed in-depth documentary series on civil rights in America. Hampton set out to share his vision of what he called “the remarkable human drama that was the Civil Rights Movement” through the experiences and challenges of those fighting for justice. Produced by Blackside Inc, Eyes on the Prize tells the definitive story of the civil rights era from the point of view of the ordinary men and women whose extraordinary actions launched a movement that changed the fabric of American life and embodied a struggle whose reverberations continue to be felt today.

With contemporary interviews and historical footage, the Academy Award-nominated documentary traces the civil rights movement from the Montgomery bus boycott to the Voting Rights Act; from early acts of individual courage through the flowering of a mass movement and its eventual split into factions. The late Julian Bond, political leader and civil rights activist, narrates.

If you’ve never seen Eyes on the Prize, you should definitely take this opportunity to check it out. (via @jbenton)

The Bookshop: One of John Cleese’s Favorite Comedy Sketches

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2021

In 2014, John Cleese listed five of his favorite comedy sketches that he had written over the course of his career. Among them was one I’d never seen before but soon had me in stitches: The Bookshop.

I also watched another of the sketches he mentioned (The Cheese Shop) and it fell totally flat — Monty Python-style humor is very much a hit-or-miss thing for me, so YMMV. (via open culture)

All the Sitcom References from WandaVision Explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2021

In this extensive video, The Take not only explains the themes and ending of WandaVision (spoilers, obvs) but walks through all of the sitcom tropes, references, and Easter eggs present in the show, from The Dick Van Dyke Show to the beeping Stark toaster commercial to Bewitched to Full House (Olsen sisters!) to The Office. Weirdly, they kinda glide right over perhaps my favorite trope referenced in the show: the recasting of the Pietro character a la Darrin in Bewitched and Aunt Viv in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

The video pairs well with this interview with WandaVision creator Jac Schaeffer.

The first thing was the notion of, how do you do this? How do you take sitcoms and combine them with Wanda and Vision who, up to this point in the M.C.U., were such self-serious characters and dramatic characters with so much sadness surrounding them. They weren’t funny. What’s the synthesis? I’m a big fan of “Lost,” and I was very inspired by shows like “Russian Doll,” “Forever” and “Homecoming.” I relished the opportunity of a slow burn. It seemed like an exciting, sneak-attack way to have a bit of a social commentary and a very large story of character and grief.

I thought how they constructed the entire show was really fantastic — I loved every minute of it.