This Could Be The Year That We Save The World

Story is an essential component of human society: Story is how we get to know one another, how we come to understand the world, and how we decide on and live out shared values.

From the moment Thespis first stepped out of the chorus and became the first actor to speak words in a play, drama has been the way many of the stories most important to society get told. From Aeschylus’ The Persians to Norman Lear’s All In The Family to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the most popular drama reflects and comments on the ways we are responding the questions our context pose to our essential humanity.

And as societies changed over time, the general trend of cultural and technological development has been to place greater and greater emphasis on drama’s visual elements: Changing architectural trends made it possible for larger audiences to have clearer views of the stage; the ability to project giant glowing images on darkened walls gave every audience member the ability to see an actor’s every expression; televisions invited actors into an audience’s living room for family scrutiny.

Now, during an era when technology allows people to pour themselves into TV shows on noisy trains, stare at their screens while waiting in line and cradle movies in their bed as they fall asleep, dramatists often rely on actors having a specific look to make a certain point about their inner character or to explore a certain theme.

In order to continue producing the kind of drama that we need to develop, refine and evolve our culture, we need talented, inspired writers and directors who are empowered to produce the best work they possibly can. Until recently, when story-tellers needed an actor to portray a woman with dark hair, fair skin and light eyes, their options were limited, and the most prominent of them was Zooey Deschanel.

And I hope we can all agree that that should never happen.

ZD

No dramatist should be reduced to that. I don’t know Zooey Deschanel personally, so I have no idea whether she’s a nice lady or not. I assume that she is, because I don’t have any evidence to the contrary. And she has a nice voice. And a very striking, very specific look. A look that I can understand a director wanting or even needing in specific roles. However, when you give her lines to memorize and then recite as though for the first time, she becomes a personality vortex that drains the life out of any scene she’s in. She makes it harder for other people around her to act.

For example, in a film adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that featured a charmless Ford Prefect and a Zaphod Beeblebrox whose second head was hidden beneath his neck, Zooey Deschanel as Trillian was the big problem. Believe it or not, she was the worst thing about Tin Man, a mini-series created to punish people with indiscriminate taste. Even in movies that are otherwise good—movies like Elf and Almost Famous—her performances are jagged blemishes in otherwise polished, beautiful feats of entertainment.

The thing is, this isn’t 2004 anymore. This is 2013. Zooey Deschanel isn’t the only dark-haired, fair-skinned, light-eyed actress in Hollywood: Alison Brie exists. Lizzie Caplan exists. Alexis Bledel keeps disappearing for a while then popping back into the world again. Hell, Silver Linings Playbook proved that, in a pinch, we could also just dye Jennifer Lawrence’s hair and put her in a movie instead of Zooey Deschanel. There are plenty of better options for finding a female actor who fits the part. Any part.

Alison Brie, Lizzie Caplan, Alexis Bledel, Jennifer Lawrence

Q: Which one is a better actor than Zooey Deschanel?
A: All of them. All of them are better actors than Zooey Deschanel.

There are plenty of actresses with dark hair and light eyes now—there’s no need to keep putting Zooey Deschanel in movies and on TV.

And please, for the good of future generations, don’t watch New Girl. You’ll only encourage her.

Congratulations, America: This is your fault.

Well, Bunheads is cancelled. I hope you’re happy.

Sutton Foster macing children

You mean I maced those kids for nothing?


For those of you who weren’t paying attention (which, statistically speaking, is pretty much all of you), Bunheads was a dramatic comedy about a dance-prodigy-turned-showgirl trying to start a new life in a small coastal town. It was breezy, humane, literate, quirky, heart-wrenching and, above all, fun. Watching it would have been the easiest way in the world to get better TV shows made and fight the cultural tide of degradation of women, as I’ve mentioned before, but apparently none of you wanted to have fun while doing a little bit of good at the same time: ABC Family executives have said that the ratings were terrible and there wasn’t enough growth in digital viewings after the season ended to justify making a second season.

For anyone who is still interested in checking out this weird, wonderful show, Amazon Prime members can stream it for free (for now). Everyone else, I hope you enjoy Law & Order: Graphic Descriptions of Sex Crimes and Two Broke Girls And A Bunch Of Racist Caricatures, because it’s apparently what you’re already watching.

Via Hollywood Reporter

A Dose Of Realism: Arrested Development 2.0 Doesn’t Look Very Good

arrested-development-season-4-netlfix-promo-tobias-cut-offs__oPtLook, I’ve lived through Lost. I understand that when you’re a fan of certain TV shows, anticipating the show’s return can be as much a part of the fun of being a fan as actually taking in the show itself. In that spirit, I’ve been riding the wave of Arrested Development mania that has been built up over the past year, cresting (and breaking) with this weekend’s debut of season four on Netflix. I’ve made my cutoffs, I’m preparing the ingredients for a Skip’s Scramble, and I’m having friends over to watch at least all of it this weekend, just like dozens of you.

I want to caution you, though: It might not blow you away.

The Prosecution presents exhibit A, a scene from the new season that was released last month as a promotional piece:

Now, you may recognize that there is a joke in there: That Buster Bluth has an uncomfortably intimate relationship with his mother. However, you’ll probably also notice that this scene goes on for far too long. The first three seasons of the show crammed so many jokes into every frame that every time I watch an episode (even an episode I’ve seen scores of times like “Afternoon Delight”) I’m still finding new jokes tucked away in the corners. There was never an inert scene, let alone one that dragged on for a full minute and a half after it ran out of new jokes to throw at you.

The Arrested Development of old was no stranger to repeating a single joke. And it wasn’t even a stranger to repeating the same joke several times in the same scene. But when it did, each repetition revealed something about the characters and/or added to the humor of the situation. In less than a third of the time of the scene above, the series’ original run could tell a joke, repeat it, repeat it again, comment on it, and use it as a way to exposit the Bluth family dynamics:

(Gob seeing everyone doing their chicken dance and exclaiming, “Wait! I have the perfect thing!” before running away to grab his chicken mask was lobbed off of the above clip.)

So, the show may not be as fast-paced, generous and rewarding as it was in its younger and our more vulnerable years.

And secondofly, as Exhibit b, I present to you the recently released Season Four trailer:

There are a LOT of jokes in there, and only two of them are funny (or at least only two of them made me laugh): Michael screaming when he grabs the car door handle, and the woman at the bar disgustedly telling Gob that she has lupus.

I’m not saying don’t watch the new season. We should all watch. I want so many of us to watch that we bring down Netflix’s servers and make them regret not having this available on DVD and BluRay. (Seriously, Netflix, it’s the one historically profitable part of your business and it’s the one you keep trying to kill off.) I’m just saying, let’s all set our bars a little lower. Better to be pleasantly surprised than to see the thing we love crushed under the unbearable weight of our own expectations.

Did you people learn nothing from Lost?

Revisiting The Shining

A long response to a long-awaited documentary just as soon as I wax nostalgic about the documentary’s subject…

I don’t hold much in common with my parents, especially when it comes to the cultural experiences that we most enjoy, so what common ground we share is precious to me. My father and I commune over the Daniel Craig-era James Bond movies. Though I lean more toward Bobby Darrin and Dean Martin than Frank Sinatra, I still inherited a love for the Rat Pack from my mother. And one thing all three of us have in common is that none of us are horror junkies. Or even horror enthusiasts. I’m probably the most open to violence or brutality in a movie if it serves a worthwhile artistic purpose, but horror for the sake of horror has never been something any of us are interested in.

Except for The Shining.

Steven Weber in The Shining

“The Shining?” Is that about a dreamy croquet star?

When I was twelve years old, ABC began heavily promoting a mini-series based on Stephen King’s novel The Shining. It was going to be three feature-length installments about the Torrance family—recovering alcoholic father Jack, suspicious mother Wendy, slightly psychic son Danny—who are snowbound for three months in the Overlook, a grand hotel with a rich and checkered history. To complicate matters, the hotel is haunted—either by literal ghosts reliving the hotel’s decades of violence or by the metaphorical ghosts of Jack’s anger, alcoholism and failed ambition.

My mother told me that when she was just out of college and working as a nurse, she made the mistake of picking up The Shining and reading it while she was exiled to the graveyard shift at her hospital. After that, every gust of wind set her on edge. For weeks, she had to beat against irrational terror with the knowledge that it was just a book in order to work up the courage to do her nightly rounds. She handed me an issue of TV Guide that led with an extended feature on the upcoming mini-series, and said she’d like to watch it with me.

Suburban children of the 80s and 90s mark the memories of their youth by cultural artifacts as much as by actual experience, and returning to those books, movies and TV shows is frequently disappointing. I’ve been relieved to find that some of the artifacts that were most formative to me still have artistic merit now, two decades later: Ghostbusters is one of the greatest American comedies; The Legend Of Zelda continues to evoke a sense of exploration and possibility unmatched in video games; and my continued passion for superheroes and ancient mythology is well-documented.

Steven Weber from WINGS

That shirt is such a horror!

The Shining was my childhood’s last great enthusiasm. The mini-series thrilled me. Over the course of three installments, Jack’s sanity melts away. Watching Steven Weber, who I had only known as “the guy from Wings,” go from dry drunk to tightly wound ball of nerves to spitting, howling demoniac, was harrowing.

By the end of the second installment, Jack’s anger, unchecked and intensified by his months-long inability to get to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, had boiled over. He no longer cared whether the hotel’s ghosts were real or just figments of his family’s imaginations. He would let them in. It would be easier to just do what they want. He’d kill his wife and son.

Sensing the change in his father’s demeanor, Danny calls out to Dick Halloran, the hotel’s aged and arthritic summer cook, who shares his psychic gift.

“Dick is gonna come back and go tool on Jack!” I remember telling my mother when she asked what I expected of part three. After all, that’s what most stories I had enjoyed up to that point had trained me to expect: An altruistic underdog, strengthened by the righteousness of narrative necessity, would confront the antagonist and emerge victorious.

The next night, Dick hopped a plane from Florida and fought the blistering Colorado winter to come to Danny’s rescue. As he walked into the hotel, I readied myself for warm and comforting catharsis.

"Oh, THAT'S what that's for!"

“Oh, THAT’S what that’s for!”

And then Jack beat him unconscious with a croquet mallet. That was probably my first confrontation with the irrefutable fact that everyone is vulnerable.

A friend’s parents had taped all six hours of the miniseries (on a single VHS, by the way, so the quality was crap). My friend lent me the tape, and I never returned it. I can’t even begin to estimate how many times I watched it.

That summer, I purchased and devoured a paperback copy, and talked at my camp R.A. about the differences and similarities between the mini-series and the book. At length. When I got home, I got on AOL (that’s what we called the internet back then) and started reading everything I could about the mini-series and the book. I learned that Shining fans fell into two camps: Those who preferred the book (and mini-series), and those who preferred Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation. So, I picked up Kubrick’s film, and The Shining became the first cross-media intellectual property that I critically engaged as an adult.

You mean to tell me this guy ever STOPS beating people with hammers?

You mean to tell me this guy ever STOPS beating people with hammers?

I didn’t find Kubrick’s film as satisfying as the book or the mini-series: For one, Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance projected tightly-coiled violence from the opening scene. The horror of the mini-series and the book was in watching Jack Torrance’s rage and indignity escalate, rising from tepid through simmering until it eventually boiled away the mooring he relied on to be a better husband and father. Nicholson’s Jack Torrance, on the other hand, was clearly frustrated, violent and abusive from the get-go. His wife lived in terror of him and his son was deeply mistrustful, and there was never any question in their minds (or the audience’s) that he was actively looking for an excuse to beat them again.

Kubrick’s film was also fudgier than the book and mini-series on the question of whether or not the hotel’s ghosts were actually there. Kubrick leaned toward interpreting them as extensions of the characters’ emotions and expressions of their trauma. The book and mini-series, however, leaned toward these ghosts having sentience and agency independent of the Torrance family, and when I was younger, that was scarier to me.

Despite all of that, though, my real reservation was that Kubrick’s movie left me unsettled in a way I couldn’t quite articulate as a twelve-year-old. I found it unpleasant, and I didn’t want to go back to it.

Eventually, though, I started consuming more and increasingly varied books and films. As I did, I began appreciating Kubrick’s ambiguities more. I eventually started to see that Kubrick’s The Shining offered tropes and concepts that I really enjoy—unreliable narrators and a pliable, Borgesian understanding of the flow of history. If the ghosts and horrors in every scene are projections of each of the three Torrance’s psyches, then there’s no way for us to actually know what happened at the Overlook that winter. And if Jack’s occasional moments of deja vu and that maddening final shot of a framed photo of Jack at the Overlook in 1921 mean anything, then this wasn’t the first time the Torrance family died there, and it won’t be the last.

Kubrick’s The Shining is a rorschach of a movie, a versatile frame frame on which you can hang any number of interpretations or meta-narratives.

Which is good news for Room 237, a documentary about the various obsessive theories about the film that have sprung up on the back corners of internet forums over the years. The documentary has been making the festival rounds for a couple years, but is just seeing a wide theatrical release now. (Check your listings, you may already have missed it…)

Some of the theories seem sensible, even if their proponents seem extreme. (IE, The woman who began hand-drawing maps of every room and hallway depicted in the film so as to figure out if Kubrick deliberately designed his Overlook to be an impossible, Escher-esque labyrinth.) Other theorists (IE, The historian who insists that Nicholson’s ad-lib of a line from “The Three Little Pigs” as he’s chopping down the door in the famous “Here’s Johnny!” scene is an obvious reference to an obscure Disney interpretation of the fairy-tale, and thus irrefutable evidence that the film is really a backdoor effort to comment on the holocaust) seem to be reaching, tacking their own agendas onto the movie from outside of it. Still others (IE, The commentator who is convinced that he is being spied on by the government because he figured out that the film is a coded confession that the moon landing was faked) are at best fun until you think too hard about the kind of mind that comes up with that.

What is true across the board, and what allows for such varying interpretations, is the fact that Kubrick’s film is passionately, gloriously, masterfully messy. Yes, the Overlook has hallways, windows and doors where there couldn’t possibly be hallways, windows and doors. Danny passes an elevator then rounds a corner to pass a door that should open into the elevator shaft. But are details like these meant to disorient us, to claw at our subconscious, as some of the documentary’s subjects claim? Or is it possible that Kubrick’s set designers included that door because the hallway looked too empty without it?

“Kubrick is a master filmmaker,” several of Room 237‘s subjects say of the random bits of texture they are trying to knit together into a tapestry of significance. “He was obsessive about detail and couldn’t possibly have made such a mistake or done something on such a flimsy whim.”

In response, I point to one the most memorable moments in one of the greatest films of one of history’s greatest filmmakers: the famous kiss in Notorious, by Alfred Hitchcock:

The story behind why this is considered the longest kiss in movie history is too long and too digressive to share here. (Why it is considered one of the most erotic kisses in movie history should, I hope, be obvious.) Hitchcock, however, had this to say about it:

The actors, of course, hated doing it. They felt dreadfully uncomfortable in the manner in which they had to cling to each other. And I said, “I don’t care how you feel—I already know what it’s going to look like on the screen!”

Hitchcock, arguably the most masterful of cinema’s master class, never thought twice about using utterly unnatural blocking or using filmic trickery to fudge logically impossible choreography because it looked better on camera. Masters can aim for something other than naturalism without having an ulterior motive.

Ultimately, though, my lasting impression from Room 237 is one of dread.

We never see documentary’s subjects on camera. They all recorded audio of their commentary and theories on the movie, and the filmmaker cut them together over footage from The Shining broken up by illustrative clips from other films where appropriate. By about halfway through the film, though, I realized I had a growing sense of apprehension, even terror. I couldn’t figure out why: There was no narrative happening on screen to suck me in, and the audio was interesting and even funny, so why the fear?

Because terror is built into the film’s visual geometry. The camera’s smooth, low movements as it follows Danny riding his tricycle in a loop around the hotel’s grand concourse; the way Jack Nicholson’s face is framed so as to leave the shot’s composition feeling unbalanced; and, of course, the film’s painstaking chronicle of Shelly Duvall’s on-camera nervous breakdown. The Shining is a testament to the fact that Kubrick knew—whether academically or intuitively—how to shoot photographs that evoked emotional responses. And the emotional response he wanted to evoke with The Shining was dread.

Room 237 has brought me full-circle with Kubrick’s The Shining. My relationship with it started as a child—purely visceral, purely aesthetic. As I learned more about it, I began engaging it as a text, as an object to be taken apart, reconstructed, understood. Now, thanks to Room 237‘s most extreme possible deconstruction and reconstruction of Kubrick’s film, I’m finally able to engage with it as a purely visceral and aesthetic experience again.

And that’s what I’ve been missin’.

In all seriousness, Steven Weber playing crazy was totally effective.

In all seriousness, Steven Weber playing crazy was totally effective.

The Unpretentious Connoisseur: Roger Ebert Dead at 70

roger-ebert-jaw-cancer-photo-esquire-0310-lg

The great Roger Ebert, after losing his jaw to cancer several years ago.

Well, this sucks.

Roger Ebert died just hours ago of complications from a long fight with cancer.

I didn’t know Roger Ebert personally—though I did meet him once at a book signing less than a year before the cancer took his jaw—but I had a world of respect for him, and the number of lives he’s enriched is inestimable.

Over the next few days, the internet will be replete with obituaries written by fans who, like me, related to Ebert’s work the way we relate to the friends whose conversation we most enjoy. (I don’t know anyone who always agreed with him, but his reviews were always substantive and fun to wrestle with.) Before too many of those get written, though, I want to let you know why you should care:

Roger Ebert was probably one of the most widely engaged art critics ever. Part of that is an accident of history: His career spanned the mid-1960s to early 2013, the most populous half-century in human history. And at the same moment that traditional media were at their peak in terms of the percentage of that large population they could reach with a single, unified message, his newspaper columns and television shows were syndicated across the country (and around the world).

Ebert’s nearly peerless knowledge of cinema history and deep appreciation for its potential as an art form made him someone academics and film students read for fun when they put down Aristotle and Kael. Three generations of writers, directors, producers, actors and photographers—the people who shape our cultural values and teach us how to live and feel—have had their hearts and minds shaped by Roger Ebert.

Meanwhile, a contagious, indefatigable love for the experience of going to a movie and being transported into another world made Ebert someone that everyone outside of the academy and the arts turned to for advice. Ebert never stopped loving movies. He never lost his ability to get lost in the stories playing out on the screen in front of him.

Roger Ebert’s greatest accomplishment was not fifty years of separating wheat from chaff. No, his great legacy is that he rescued art from the prison of the arthouse. He defied the notion that entertainment needed to be diversion, or that we couldn’t get swept away by stories that also evoked deeper truths. For Ebert, a film’s ambition was not anathema to its ability to be damn fun to watch.

He knew as much about cinema as almost anyone else in history, but he didn’t need to flaunt it. His public and professional identities weren’t built around being someone who knows a lot about film, they were built around the fact that he knew how to enjoy film. That crucial difference is how he taught millions of friends—er, readers—to not be afraid of classics, to let themselves get lost in Casablanca and enjoy the mind-bending ride of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s why he championed breathtaking thrillers like Dark City. And that passion is what enabled him to write some of the most blisteringly funny eviscerations of crap-tastic movies ever written.

If you had to boil 50 years of Roger Ebert’s writing about film down to a single message, it is this: You don’t need to be afraid of things that matter. For all of life’s messiness, ambiguity and hard lessons, you can still enjoy it passionately.

In the morning, we’re all going to wake up in a world without Roger Ebert, and that’s a pretty damn good reason for us to all be a little sad for each other. Don’t worry, though, because he left us plenty of artists who we’d want to help us through the grief.

The Reverse Superman

Superman, as told in reverse

As Found By SuperheroStuff.com

So, Uh, What? And AWESOME!

Do you want to see a trailer for a 70’s-style cop movie that has cast Japanese children in all of the lead roles? Of course you do!

No word on whether this is just a parody trailer, or whether it’s an actual trailer for a parody film. I hope it’s the latter, but if you have time find out for sure, let me know in the comments.

If You Complained About Seth MacFarlane But Don’t Watch Bunheads, Shut Up

Seth MacFarlane

That was one of the more polite headlines…(Photo from The Guardian)

On Sunday night, Seth MacFarlane hosted the Academy Awards (now re-branded as “The Oscars”), and according to the online commentariat, it was a shockingly misogynistic and mean-spirited affair. From his opening act (which included a musical number entitled “We Saw Your Boobs”), to his description of Zero Dark Thirty as “a movie about how women can never let anything go,” to his assertion that what Salma Hayek says doesn’t matter because she’s attractive, every line was dissected and pounced upon within a matter of hours. By the next morning, MacFarlane was one of the most reviled people on the internet. Writers from small blogs to usual suspects like Jezebel to more august publications like The New Yorker were frothing at the mouth and calling for a revolution in the way women are portrayed in the media.

But most of those writers are just spewing bullshit. They don’t care about women in Hollywood, or the portrayal of women in the media, or the role of women in our popular consciousness.

Wanna know how I know that?

Because Hollywood’s most human, complex, powerfully drawn characters this side of Mad Men are all women. They’re all on the same show. And the day after MacFarlane’s ignominious turn hosting the Oscars, that show finished its first season with little fanfare and just as little hope of a second-season renewal.

The show is ABC Family’s weird, wonderful Bunheads.

Sutton Foster and Kelly Bishop in a screengrab from Bunheads

Foster and Bishop could be an all-time-great comedy team if they weren’t so good at drama, too.

For those of you who don’t know (which, let’s face it, is most people), Bunheads follows ABT-dance-prodigy-turned-Vegas-showgirl Michelle Sims (played by the incredibly talented Sutton Foster) as she tries to start a new life in the sleepy, well-read, quirky coastal town of Paradise, California. She forms a strained, often-volatile relationship with Madame Fanny, an accomplished dancer who has retired and now teaches ballet in Paradise. (Madame Fanny is played by Kelly Bishop, who is an absolute force of nature.) She also forges a deep camaraderie with four teenage dance students who are intrigued by what—to their parochial experience—is Michelle’s “glamorous” past.

These six characters are written and played with a level of nuance and depth that is nearly unheard of in American television. Their dreams, ambitions, fears, insecurities and shortcomings are all handled with such grace and empathy by the people behind the show that just watching those six characters play off of one another for an hour every week would be compelling enough to keep me coming back. But the town of Paradise is just as much a character on the show as any of the leads, and its wider population is as endearing as any crowd of Springfieldians or Pawneeans you could assemble.

Also, Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off is in it sometimes. Haven't you watched it yet?

Also, Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is in it sometimes. Haven’t you watched it yet?

Look, I’m selling this show short. Let me put it this way: Three quarters of the way through its 18-episode first season, they introduce Michelle’s brother (played by Sutton Foster’s real-life brother). They each laugh over the way the other has dealt with their deeply dysfunctional family, and as that laughter slowly melted into a violent argument, I suddenly realized for the first time that all of the lead characters are women. Even though the lead characters’ points-of-view are deeply rooted in the female experience, the show is so funny and so compelling that you never stop to care about the gender of the leads.

Sutton Foster macing children

Seriously, I’ll mace myself and a roomful of children if it will get you to watch.

Watching Michelle struggle with shame and regret over the way she squandered her talent, hoping for a second chance but knowing that it’s too late; watching Fanny’s attempts to appropriate a surrogate daughter after the sudden loss of her son; watching four incredibly talented young actresses portray four very different approaches to dealing with the shift from adolescence into adulthood; and watching them all try to love their small town without losing sight of the wider world has been TV’s most unexpected delight since Parks and Recreation found its voice in its second season.

And it went all but ignored by most Americans. No matter how much certain segments of society may cry out for change, if the only shows people tune in for are dark, edgy dramas about morally ambiguous male anti-heroes, then producing dark, edgy dramas about morally ambiguous male anti-heroes is going to remain the most bankable business model for TV executives. Diverging from the established formulas by deepening female characters and making them stand as compelling agents of drama and comedy in order to capitulate to appeals from society’s better angels isn’t going to be worth the effort for them.

Four Actresses From Bun Heads

Seriously, they even do a great job of casting girls that affirm a range of body types. Why aren’t you watching this show?

These are the stories that shape our cultural values, and anyone who recognizes the significant problems with the way women are portrayed in most of our media–primarily as sexual agents rather than primarily as people–should have a vested interest in getting more stories like Bunheads told.

I understand that righteous outrage without any kind of active commitment is a huge and deeply loved component of the American way of life: We are the country that complained about the OJ verdict while shunning jury duty, and posted Kony 2012 image macros rather than rather than volunteering with organizations that promote good governance and rescue people from human trafficking. We like getting credit for being politically and socially aware, but we don’t like the inconvenience, work or sacrifice that being engaged often entails.

But watching TV—and entertaining TV, at that!—requires hardly anything of you. Seriously. This show is smooth on the palate.

If you didn’t watch Bunheads live, DVR it to watch within three days, or subscribe to it on iTunes or Amazon Instant, you have no right to complain about Seth MacFarlane or the role of women in the media. You’re part of the problem.

Okay, if you really need a connection to a more mainstream show, her brother looks kinda like Peter Dinklage from Game Of Thrones. And every once in a while the show gets a little Twin Peaks-ian for a moment. Seriously, just watch it.

Okay, if you really need a connection to a more mainstream show, her brother looks kinda like Peter Dinklage from Game Of Thrones. And every once in a while the show gets a little Twin Peaks-ian for a moment. Seriously, just watch it.

Listen To This: Cloud Cult’s New Album Streaming on NPR

I’m going to keep this one short, because you’re going to want to get to the music as quickly as possible:

Cloud Cult Promotional Shot

Cloud Cult’s hard-earned sincerity is infectious and winsome.

Cloud Cult, a great Minnesota-based band that uses the fire of terrible personal tragedies to forge songs that are dense with joy and acceptance, has a new album coming out next week. The folks over at NPR, in what I’m sure is an act of pure generosity toward their listeners and not at all a well-orchestrated promotional event developed in concert with a band whose music truly warrants a wider audience, is streaming the whole album for free until next week’s release. Just go to their webpage and hit play—no need to make an account, give a credit card number, or send in a check (in exchange for an awesome tote bag).

Enjoy.

George Saunders, Everyone! George Saunders!

We’re a scant four hours away from the new George Saunders book hitting the shelves, which means it’s time for me to put on a costume*, go to a midnight release party at my nearest bookstore, and commune with the rest of the teeming masses who are crowding the aisles while eagerly waiting to be allowed to hold our pre-purchased copies of Tenth of December.

Okay, George Saunders isn’t a hot enough pop-cultural property to warrant midnight release parties, but he should be, if only because those parties would be well worth remembering.

Saunders is a short story writer who came out of the gate already charging at full tilt with 1996’s CivilWarLand In Bad Decline, a debut collection with a voice that seemed impossibly disciplined and a satirical point-of-view that was both deeply empathetic and painfully cutting all at once. He followed it up with 2000’s Pastoralia and 2006’s In Persuasion Nation, cementing his reputation for short stories that skewered the grotesqueries at the heart of western culture and politics.

But everything I just wrote makes his writing sound inaccessibly intellectual. It’s not. It’s immediate. It’s visceral. It’s fantastical and fatalistic and serene and—most of all—it’s hilarious.

I will always love my high school English teacher Mrs. Gosbee for her reply to a starry-eyed classmate who interrupted a lesson on choosing precise adjectival phrases to ask, “How do you say something is indescribable?”

“You don’t,” Mrs. Gosbee spat back. “If you’re writing about something, the words exist to describe it.”

I believe that that is true—I’m just not good enough to describe writing as fun and exciting as George Saunders’. Trust me: He’s good. Pick up his new book tomorrow. You won’t regret it.

*How would one even dress up for a George Saunders release party? Well, you could try stripping down to your underwear. But maybe dressing like an employee of an amusement park.