Sunday, July 02, 2017

Q2 Pop Culture Update

These last few months were an intense time in terms of my intake of culture, especially on the small screen, as there were at least a half-dozen shows that aired over this past quarter that were squarely in my wheelhouse. I knew that I would not be able to keep up with all of the new shows, and I didn't - at least until I got sick in the last week of June and caught up on the two most pressing releases (the third seasons of Better Call Saul and Fargo).

There was a relative dearth of interesting movies that were released, which helped offset the onslaught of worthwhile television, but by far the most significant experience I had was in playing through The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I spent a hundred hours in the game, and I still have not even finished it yet because I just do not want it to end.

Here's a snapshot of what I experienced, what I missed, what I skipped, what's still in the queue, and what's coming up in the next few months of my ongoing journey through pop culture.

What I experienced

The BadChristian podcast - I started listening to this podcast in mid-March, but I wanted to see if it would stick, so I left it off my Q1 Update. Well, it has stuck around for me, and I really enjoy the conversation for the most part. There are times at which I think that they are a little sophomoric, but that's part of their thing; there are also some times when I think they are really contributing to the dialogue in a positive way and really generating some interesting points to consider, so it more or less evens out. I'll stick with it for now at least.

Rob Bell - What is the Bible? - I included my review of Bell's latest book in a recent post, and yeah, I am a fan.

Better Call Saul (Season 3, AMC) - I am not sure that there is a more meticulously crafted show on television right now than Better Call Saul. The web continued to expand to include Gus Fring and others, and Jimmy McGill continued his inexorable path toward transformation into Saul Goodman as the show continues to find fascinating ways to build into the world established in Breaking Bad. Michael McKean as Chuck was easily the highlight of the season, though, and I would not be surprised if he won the Emmy for his performance this year.

Fargo (Season 3, FX) - The limited anthology series returned with its strangest and most unresolved story yet, replete with symbolism, Jewish mythology, Biblical imagery, thematic resonance about reality and fiction, and what seemed to be more than a few possible red herrings along the way. It did not exceed the heights of Season 2 - not that I was expecting that it could - but I do think it was better than the mostly straight-forward first season. I also found it interesting that this season seemed to evoke The Big Lebowski and A Serious Man (in addition to the one episode that pulled heavily from Barton Fink) more than any other Coen movies. There's a lot to digest, and the show raises more questions than it gives answers, but it continues to be one of the more engaging properties on the small screen.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - Here's the tl;dr from my review and thoughts: I really enjoyed this movie (sometimes in spite of itself), and Guardians is easily my favourite superhero film franchise right now (and it's not even close).

Kendrick Lamar - DAMN. - As I have written before, I am not a huge hip-hop/rap guy; even though I feel like a bit of a tourist when I am listening to something new in the genre, I do feel the need to keep up with some of the highlights, and Kendrick is definitely one of the biggest out there right now. DAMN. is a fascinating contrast to To Pimp A Butterfly - which I think will stand as one of this generation's defining albums - in its much more minimalist musical manner and lyrical introspection. I do not really understand or identify with his journey, but I can definitely appreciate the artistry involved in its construction and presentation; plus, the song "XXX" features U2, and it's really interesting as a part of their canon - a continuation of the legacy of "Bullet the Blue Sky", perhaps.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U) - I cannot think of any gaming experience I have had that is like Wild, save for perhaps my first times playing The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time almost two decades ago. I was almost ninety hours into Wild before I even thought of playing anything else, and even then, I still decided to keep playing it. I still have not finished the final boss because I am still enjoying exploring new areas and I am nowhere near done with the game - and that's without factoring in the DLC that was just released.

Survivor: Game Changers - Mamanuca Islands (Season 34, CBS) - I wrote most of my thoughts on the latest season of Survivor here, but suffice to say that I enjoyed this season in spite of itself.

Veep (Season 6, HBO) - I was not sure what they would do with Selina and crew post-presidency, but any concerns I may have had were allayed with the brilliance of the circumstances in which she tries to establish her legacy. The quality was a slight drop-off from the sustained crescendo of the electoral shenanigans the last season and a half, but that was to be expected, given that seasons 3 to 5 rank among the best seasons of comedy in television, ever. I will add, however, that there were a few more even more cringeworthy moments than here had been in the past

Wonder Woman - I finally watched the movie that everyone has been talking about, and I found myself mostly underwhelmed by what it did as a (superhero) movie aside from the fact that it featured a woman; then again, I'm not sure it's really possible to put that fact aside, since it's arguably as big a deal as almost anything that has happened in pop culture in the past several years. I found myself not really drawn in by the movie, but I think I can completely understand why it has been embraced so strongly and forcefully. Still,

Also: Rob Bell - What We Talk About When We Talk About God; Nadia Bolz-Weber - Accidental SaintsBrooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 4, Fox); Fleet Foxes - Crack-UpKubo and the Two Strings; Lorde - Melodrama; Moana

What I missed

Bruxy Cavey - (Re)union - The Canadian author of The End of Religion, one of my favourite books on faith from the last decade, finally published a new book, and I'm very excited to finally read it.

Doctor Who (Series 10, BBC) - Peter Capaldi might be my favourite Doctor, which is really saying something, so I'm looking forward to watching through his final season this summer.

GLOW (Season 1, Netflix) - Alison Brie stars as a lady wrestler in the '80s. Seems like it should be fun.

Great News (Season 1, NBC) - This sitcom comes from people who were involved with 30 Rock. I'm looking forward to checking it out.

The Handmaid's Tale (Season 1, Hulu) - After rereading Margaret Atwood's classic dystopian novel over the course of a day in preparation for the series, I just did not get around to watching the series. I think I might binge it at this point

Chuck Klosterman - X - Chuck is one of my favourite cultural essayists, so I'm looking forward to reading this latest collection of thoughts from the pre-eminent pop cultural philosopher of our times.

Master of None (Season 2, Netflix) - Everything I have heard about Aziz Ansari's second season is that it is even better than the first, which I started but stopped after only a couple of episodes. This might be worthy of a binge this summer.

U2 - The Joshua Tree Tour - Well, I did not see it live, but I did spend a fair bit of time on YouTube watching clips of the opening show in Vancouver. I was particularly fascinated by the first performance of "Red Hill Mining Town", as well as the the new song "The Little Things That Give You Away"

Also on my radar but missed: The Big SickCars 3; Coldplay - Kaleidoscope EP; Dan Auerbach - Waiting on a SongDespicable Me 3; Feist - Pleasure; Trial and Error (Season 1, NBC)

What I skipped

I used to feature "What I missed" and "What I skipped" as the same section in my quarterly recaps, but it seems to me that the things that I deliberately skipped are worthy of their own section. For the record, I tend to include pieces here that I made a decision to skip, even though they might otherwise have been in my wheelhouse - hence why you will not see mention of, say, Transformers: The Last Knight.

Alien: Covenant - I promised myself I would never give more money to the Alien franchise after Prometheus. It turns out that Ridley Scott made that promise even easier than I had imagined.

American Gods (Season 1, Starz) - One of the two pillars of the new wave of "weird TV" that initially piqued my interest, until I started reading about the show. I think I'm good for now with Legion and Mr. Robot in terms of my weirdness quotient.

The Americans (Season 5, FX) - I think there's a good chance that The Americans will earn a spot on my list of "shows I feel like I should have watched but did not get around to at the time and now probably will not end up watching but that will stay on a list to watch for a lot longer than it should due to the pop culture guilt I feel about not having watched it", along with Mad Men, the last three seasons of Friday Night Lights, and The West Wing (among others).

The Circle - I was initially very intrigued by this adaptation of the Dave Eggers Silicon Valley novel due to the really catchy trailers, but my enthusiasm soon waned upon reading the tepid reviews of the movie. Oh well - maybe Eggers just can't translate well to the screen. (Of course, there are those who would say he doesn't translate well on the page either, but that's just a bit harsh, innit?)

The Get Down (Part 2) (Season 1, Netflix) - Although I am still nominally interested in this series about the birth of hip-hop in 1970s New York, its recent cancellation has taken away some of my desire to get into the show. Then again, it's guaranteed to be a short watch now, so maybe I'll get around to it. Or not.

The Leftovers (Season 3, HBO) - See my thoughts on The Americans, but notch it just outside the top ten of that list (and yes, it's an easy ten).

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales - I was foolhardy enough to see the fourth Pirates movie back in 2011. I'm older and wiser now.

Twin Peaks (Season 3, Showtime) - As much as I thought I might be more interested in what happened after a quarter-century, I did not end up getting into this return; then again, I never watched the original, so that should not come as a surprise.

In the Queue

This is only the second time I have included this section as part of this feature, so I'm still figuring out how it works. For now, I'm including things that I have mentioned in recent memory as having missed, including from this past quarter. I will probably have to tweak the lists down at some point (especially in the already extended and elongated television lists, which now include almost twenty shows between the three of them), but for now, I will leave them as is.

An asterisk (*) indicates a new addition to the list.

Movies: Get Out*; Logan*; Manchester by the SeaMoonlightO.J.: Made in America; Split*

Television top five: Doctor Who (Series 10)*; The Handmaid's Tale (Season 1)*; Master of None (Season 1-2)*; Sherlock (Season 4); Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 3)*

Television backlog: Black Mirror (Season 1-3); Broadchurch (Season 2)*; The Hour (Season 1-2); Morton and HayesTop of the Lake (Season 1)*

Television to investigate: BoJack Horseman (Season 1-3); Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (Season 1); GLOW (Season 1)*; Great News (Season 1)*; Powerless (Season 1); Superstore (Season 1-2);  Trial and Error (Season 1)*

Video Games: Chrono Trigger (DS)*;  Earthbound (SNES)*; The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D (3DS); Pikmin 3 (Wii U)*

Non-Fiction Books: BrenĂ© Brown - Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection; Bruxy Cavey - (Re)Union*; Chuck Klosterman - X*; Ann Voskamp - The Broken Way and One Thousand Gifts*

Fiction Books: Kim Stanley Robinson - Mars trilogy*

Looking forward to Quarter 3

Summer is always an interesting time for pop culture, as it often features a mix of overhyped IP and surprises that come out of nowhere (especially by the time August rolls around). There are a number of interesting pieces being released over the next few months, but most of them come from relatively underestablished pieces of IP, which means that there could be some interesting things that emerge from the next few months.

Aside from catching up with all of the culture I missed over the past few months, there are a few things that might grab my attention from now until the end of September.

Baby Driver (June 28) - Edgar Wright's heist/getaway movie is already getting great early reviews, and he has not let me down yet as a director, so I'm in, baby.

The Dark Tower (August 4) - After a long time in development hell, the Stephen King sci-fi classic is getting an adaptation with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Expect a lot of profile shots.

Dunkirk (July 21) - Christopher Nolan is going for all of the Oscars in his WWII epic. I can't wait.

New summer TV shows - There are always a few new interesting shows that networks drop over the summer to see if they will work. There's a decent track record in recent years, with shows like Mr. Robot and Stranger Things taking over the cultural conversation for much of July and August in the past couple of years.
  • Get Shorty (Season 1, Epix, August 13) - I did not see the film adaptation, but Justified taught me that Elmore Leonard's work can translate very well to TV; also, Chris O'Dowd!
  • Ozark (Season 1, Netflix, July 21) - Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, and drug problems in the Ozarks; could be interesting.
  • Snowfall (Season 1, FX, July 5) - This new series is set in the crack cocaine epidemic in 1983, and from the description, it sounds like Traffic meets The Wire meets The Shield. It might be really intense, but FX has a strong enough track record in recent history that it's worth looking into.
  • Will (Season 1, TNT, July 10) - Okay, so it's a show about the life of young William Shakespeare, which seems like it's a tired trope even though it has really only been done once or twice. But the creator is Craig Pearce, who has worked with Baz Luhrmann for two decades, so there's a possibility that this could be a really great summer watch - or it could be terrible.
Revisionist History (Season 2) - Malcolm Gladwell's podcast returned a couple of weeks ago, but I have been saving up the episodes for the summer.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7) - I know, I know - but I just can't help myself, and besides, it looks like Marvel will do Spidey right, judging by Civil War.

Star Trek: Discovery (Season 1, CBS All-Access, September 24) - Seriously, just watch the trailer and tell me this doesn't look amazing.

The Tick (Season 1, Amazon, August 25) - Peter Serafinowicz brings back the titular blue hero in another live-action adaptation. SPOOOOOOOOOOOONNNN!

Wind River (August 4) - Writer Taylor Sheridan adds to the already formidable reputation he has built with neo-westerns Sicario and Hell or High Water with his thriller directorial debut. Having Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen as stars doesn't hurt, either.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21) - The most expensive French production of all time is a crazy sci-fi from the director of The Fifth Element, which has a permanent spot on my list of "guilty pleasure" movies. And, like Element, this looks like it might be absolutely cuckoo-bananas - in a good way.

Also intrigued by: Broadchurch (Season 3, BBC, June 28); Marvel's The Defenders (Season 1, Netflix, August 18); Splatoon 2 (Nintendo Switch, July 21); Top of the Lake: China Girl (Season 2, Sundance, September); War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14)

And, just for reference, here are some of the things that I'm looking forward to (or at least mildly intrigued by) in Quarter 4: Blade Runner 2049 (October 6); Coco (November 22); Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season 9, HBO, TBD); Darkest Hour (November 24); The Deuce (Season 1, HBO, TBD); Downsizing (December 22); John Green - Turtles All The Way Down (October 10); The Killing of a Sacred Deer (November 3); Mary Magdalene (November 24); Mr. Robot (Season 3, USA, TBD); Phantom Thread (December 25); Pitch Perfect 3 (December 22); The Shape of Water (December 9); Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch, October 27); Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Dec. 15); Stranger Things (Season 2, Netflix, October 31); Suburbicon (November 3); Thor: Ragnarok (November 3); U2 - Songs of Experience (TBD)

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