The Summer of our Binge
Friday, July 10th, 2020
I have been asked to emerge from my shaving and pants optional COVID-Cave to share potentially life-saving information: What do you binge next? By this point you’ve shamefully completed your twentieth pass of Parks and Rec (in my case I re-watched Community, go Human Beings!) and you don’t think your roommate has the mental fortitude to do a “Jim and Pam only” run of the Office. Well, have no fear; the powers of ADHD give me the lack of focus and attention needed to imbibe two to three pieces of media at once and, as such, I have winnowed down a few more options for y’all. To keep this (relatively) succinct I’ll try and do a paragraph per medium and keep the tangents to a (relative) minimum.
I started the summer off with some nice, light reading; We Were Eight Years in Power by Te’ Nihisi Coates. I wasn’t planning on it but after finally ticking Between the World and Me off my reading list (by the same author) I wanted some more, and by that I mean incredibly well written and poignant essays about the black perspective, and experience, in the United States. The former was through an almost autobiographical retrospective as he presented context for eight of his most famous articles in The Atlantic, one for each year of the Obama Presidency, and the latter was him, in essay form, giving his son “The Talk” and letting the readers listen in. After that I needed something a little more light hearted and so I delved into The New Jim Crow, a timely accounting of one lawyer’s revelation and subsequent postulation that our Jim Crow laws never left but instead morphed into a systemic quagmire where every bit of machinery reinforces its dehumanizing end.
Okay, seriously though, after that I really needed a “brain candy” break and a friend of mine just so happened to suggest a BBC radio play of one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors, Night Watch by Terry Pratchett. The play was perfect listening while I was out running with my dog but it did something else too; it made me realize I needed the perfectly blended mix of relentless optimism, piercing satire, horrendous puns, and genuine humanity that I always find in his books. And, with the BLM protests and national discussions of systemic police brutality and racism, rereading through his City Watch series gave me a much healthier lens in which to view and process everything that has been going on. For those that are curious there are eight books in that specific series (many, many more in the Discworld brand overall) and they follow a small group of policemen in a satirical version of our world as they grow and try to find the mote of humanity and “fairness” on the edge of law and sanity. With fart puns.
Currently reading: These Truths by Jill Lepore and The Poison Squad by Deborah Blum.
Finding a good swerve and slide for movies was difficult for me this summer. Hell, its difficult any time because I try to give a movie my whole and undivided attention; so much craft normally goes into every scene and line and subtext that having it on in the background just feels like its snubbing it. At least for the type of movies that I would set aside a night to “experience”; like opening a difficult novel knowing you may have to reread a page or two in order to give it the go it really deserves. This is obviously not a big deal for your tentpole movies, of which this giant nerd loves to death. In fact, it was me finally running out of those on my “to watch” list that lead me to some of the better ones I’ve seen and have ever seen. First off, avoid Ad Astra unless you enjoy Brad Pitt’s attempt at DiCaprio bear-punching their way to an Oscar. And, honestly, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was the better award vehicle and better movie overall (even though I did enjoy the hard sci-fi of Ad Astra). I heartily recommend watching Trumbo and Hail Caesar! back to back and keep the Coen Bros. movie as your closer just to make sure you end on a frivolous note. In the former you get an initially hammy biopic about a screenwriter (it grows past its Lifetime Movie dialogue in the first twenty minutes) and in the latter you get a tightly paced farce like only the Coen’s can do. Both deal with the McCarthy era and blacklisted Hollywood writers, albeit in much different tones. You will also get to see John Wayne called a coward and Channing Tatum do a full song and dance number (with tap dancing).
Next bit of back-to-back cinema I’d recommend is Da 5 Bloods and Malcolm X, both by Spike Lee. I wasn’t planning on watching Malcolm X but Da 5 Bloods transitioned into such a good movie that I wanted to explore its underlying themes even more, and bless Netflix for making sure I knew that X was available at my leisure. The former, like Trumbo, doesn’t start off on a strong point but I think that is more the characters settling into their archetypes (and they are more archetypal than 3-dimensional) because once the stodgy introductions are made the movie morphs into something truly special and hilarious. Please be aware that it is incredibly explicit and when I say it’s funny, it’s definitely dark humor. If you think that one of the four black men heading back to Vietnam to find a friend’s remains is the black dude behind Trump at his rally’s holding a “Blacks for Trump” sign is funny then this movie is for you. There isn’t much to say about Malcolm X that hasn’t already been said beside that my first time watching it has shown me it was worth the praise it received. If you’re still in the mood for topical and Spike, Inside Man is great and also on Netflix and, if you can find it, Blackkklansman is one of my favorite movies from prior years.
Other notables I watched: The Master, The Laundromat, Magnolia, The Most Hated Woman in America, The Color out of Space (if you love Lovecraft, like I do, this was amazing)
And here we go, the granddaddy of them all and probably what I was asked to do in the first place. The thing is I honestly do not watch a lot of shows. As much as I like to have things on in the background I tend to keep them in the sphere of “things I genuinely enjoy” more than just “noise”. That being said, Netflix and others have knocked some doozies out of the park in the last few months. First, cause it’s the most important for you to watch: HANNIBAL. Hannibal on Netflix is a bloody revelation. If you’re a fan of cinematography, you’ll love it. You watch the Food Network just cause its delicious to tempt yourself? Well, that’s here too, the level of care the food preparatory scenes receive are on par with entire film productions. But beyond that, it is a slow burn psychological thriller that revels in its sexiness and style and knows exactly what and where its end point is going to be. Fair warning, it is gruesome and it never shies away from the monstrousness that the cavalcade of killers exemplify. But there is beauty in it, and the elevator pitch of “Hannibal Lector and his partner hunt down other serial killers” is hard to turn down. Secondly, one that I don’t think is getting the attention it deserves: Harley Quinn. Yes, the cartoon series on the now defunct (and bought out, so don’t worry) DC Streaming service. If you are any fan at all of DC comics then hear, and believe, me when I say that this may be the most accurate depiction of the DCU ever put to screen. The fact that it is literally laugh out loud hilarious with writing that is contesting Rick and Morty in its sharpness and wit isn’t just icing on the cake. Its cake all the way down. I will personally buy you a cheese curd if you don’t walk away in love with a shark.
Other notables: Better Call Saul, Community (6 seasons and a movie), Last Week Tonight, Rick and Morty (would’ve included it but I feel like y’all are already watching it), Frankenstein Chronicles
P.S. I was also asked about comedians that I watched and, while I’ve watched a few and most of what I recommended are comedies (or comedy-adjacent), I wanted to take this opportunity to single out one stand-up’s show that I thought was powerful and present. Dave Chappelle – 8:46.
Thank you for reading!
What have you been up to over the summer? We'd love to hear from you!