Welcome to Grantland Recommends, in which members of the Grantland staff share some of their favorite discoveries and obsessions of the month, whether new, old, or new again. This month we’re loving an everyman revenge thriller, rich dicks, the unholy union of MTV and Major League Baseball, and everything in between.
The Chris Gethard Show
Bill Barnwell: One hundred and twenty–plus episodes into its run as a Manhattan public-access show, The Chris Gethard Show has become my favorite thing on television. Nominally a panel show built around Gethard and a variety of fellow UCB New York improvisers, the show has evolved into its own absurdist world of riotous one-note characters (“The Guy Who Likes Cream But Not Too Much Cream,” for one), self-referential story lines (the “Random,” a show tradition where somebody unknown to the cast and crew is suddenly made a member of the panel for 15 weeks), painful games (like the above clip of Gethard being leg-kicked for failing to match a blind fact to the appropriate panelist), and often-bordering-on-uncomfortable levels of chaos. And, after all that, there’s a surprising amount of earnestness within the show; Gethard, a veteran of the NYC punk crowd, infuses the show with that scene’s inclusiveness, evoking memories of another show from a son of New Jersey that embraced weirdos, “The Best Show on WFMU.” It’s almost impossible to be vulnerable and funny at the same time in 2014, but TCGS pulls that off on a weekly basis. Where to begin? An easy starter is Episode 90, in which Zach Galifianakis joins the panel to give crowd members haircuts of his choosing, or Episode 106, in which the beloved Random Messenger Bag (long story) is presented with a Sophie’s choice. Get to watching soon, too; the show recently taped a pilot for Comedy Central, so this is your last chance to hop on the bandwagon.
Mark Lisanti: Do you like revenge thrillers? You do? Of course you do. Life provides us almost daily opportunities to muse about the possibility of righting wrongs, of taking matters into our own hands. OK, so now look at the guy sitting in the cube next to you. Imagine him as the hero (or antihero, depending on your relationship to cinematic violence) of a revenge thriller. No, maybe the other guy two cubes over. The guy who has absolutely no business attempting to exact vengeance against, say, some dangerous people who killed his parents. The guy having a hard time adjusting his fantasy baseball roster. Him.
Now imagine that guy’s vigilante mission going very, very wrong almost immediately. Imagine him seeing it through to the end anyway, no matter the cost. Imagine that cost being very, very high.
Blue Ruin’s Dwight isn’t exactly that guy two cubes over. But he’s close enough. It doesn’t go well for anybody.
Off the Bat From the MLB Fan Cave
Ben Lindbergh: Major League Baseball’s core demo is old enough to be MTV2’s core demo’s dad, which makes the idea of a crossover between the two brands seem like an exercise in confusing as many people as possible. Watching the weekly, half-hour product of that partnership — filmed at MLB’s lower Manhattan media hub and executive-produced, believe it or not, by David Ortiz — does nothing to dispel the sense of wonder that anyone OK’d it. Fortunately, the confusion is fun.
The show isn’t short on ambition: Two minutes into the premiere, rapper/cohost Fat Joe assures us it’s going to be both epic and legendary, adding that Off the Bat is “the first time baseball and pop culture come together” (much like “Lean Back” was the first time music and physical movement merged). Each episode is just like it sounds in the synopsis: a mishmash of things that have no business being together, semicoloned into one kinda-coherent whole.
Recorded comedy segments segue into in-studio player appearances featuring aggressively irreverent contests and banter about Beyoncé, all tied loosely together with production values that make it possible for the same person to bend space and time by competing at the front of the Fan Cave and, in the very next shot, appearing in the audience in a different outfit, vigorously applauding his own performance.
The show doesn’t take itself too seriously, so it’s worth tuning in to hear Fat Joe proclaim his affection for the Yankees while wearing a White Sox cap, or mispronounce multiple words while reading from the baseball rulebook. (In fairness to Fat Joe, this really is the first time the word “horsehide” and hip-hop have come together.) Better yet, the setting seems to put the players at ease, making them much more personable than they usually are in uniform.
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Off the Bat might not be baseball’s big break in the under-50 bracket, but there’s no way Bud Selig would watch it, so that’s a start. Regardless, it’s not going away: MTV2 ordered 30 episodes, which means we’re almost guaranteed to get as large a library of Off the Bat as we did of Freaks and Geeks plus Firefly.
Love & Rockets
Alex Pappademas: Jaime Hernandez’s The Love Bunglers collects a serialized story, originally published in 2010 and 2011 in issues of Love & Rockets: New Stories, about Maggie Chascarillo and Ray Dominguez, old friends and ex-lovers who wind up back in each other’s lives in middle age. Hernandez has been writing and drawing comics about these characters on and off since 1982, and the last few pages of this book have the force of 30 years behind them. It feels like a culmination, although Hernandez has been trying and failing to say good-bye to these people for years. There are many wise suggestions out there as to how best to approach the vast and untidy reading experience that is L&R, but I suggest that part of that experience is diving in and finding your own way; this is a singularly great performance by a cartoonist, and no one who’s even slightly interested in this sort of thing should miss it.
Cloud Nothings, Here and Nowhere Else
Steve McPherson: There’s a particular smell that rehearsal spaces have. Stale beer and cigarette-and-weed-smoke-soaked carpets, yes, but there’s also a way that cold cinder blocks and concrete smell. Damp wooden overtones, a monochromatic, dirty emptiness. That smell and the feel that comes with it are what Here and Nowhere Else by Cloud Nothings evokes for me.
Everything about it buzzes and rattles — there’s a hum of well-worn amplifier tubes in the brief silences of “Quieter Today.” The band jackknifes through tempo shifts and Dylan Baldi’s voice nearly rips itself apart at the end of “Just See Fear.” In the broadest possible terms, it’s post-punk, but the whole thing feels cold and dark, like a low, overcast March sky. It’s like television snow, like a painted metal surface scraped down to dull steel.
Maybe that doesn’t sound inviting, but I can’t stop listening. One spin through its 31-minute, eight-song length and I had to go back and start again. What comes through on multiple listens are (a) angular but resolute hooks you’ll find yourself humming, and (b) an unexpected level of craft and care regarding how the songs are built up. Maybe that’s what brings it back to those rehearsal spaces: a sense that for all its fury and caterwaul, the record’s best quality is how intimate and personal it is, like a product of sleepless but purposeful nights lost inside those rented spaces.
An Evening With Dr. Katz
Tess Lynch: For the past year, I’ve been revisiting Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (and The Critic, because a mid-’90s vacation is incredibly restorative). Anyway, this road led me to the YouTube clip cache of An Evening With Dr. Katz: Live From the Comedy Central Stage, a (obviously not animated) performance including Maria Bamford, Kathy Griffin, Andy Kindler, and Paul F. Tompkins (along with O.G. Katz cast members H. Jon Benjamin, Laura Silverman, and Jonathan Katz). It’s strange to watch Dr. Katz without the wobbling cartoon element, and even stranger to hear laughs invade the psychotherapy space, but it’s an interesting spin on the Katziverse. The special is included in Dr. Katz: The Complete Series, which also includes extras like lost episodes, new shorts, follow-ups, and a 28-page booklet. Sixty-six dollars isn’t pocket change, but it’s still cheaper than real therapy.
Bob’s Burgers Buttons on Etsy
Rembert Browne: I have this denim long-sleeve button-down that allegedly is something called “chambray,” and while it’s neither a jacket, a robe, nor a lab coat, it has transformed into all three. Usually all on the same day. Half–thinking cap and half–Linus blanket, it’s typically worn unbuttoned, unless I’m at an event that turns out to be more formal than I expected.
Because of this, my daily decisions have become more streamlined. I care less about my T-shirts because 90 percent of every day, 90 percent of my T-shirt will be covered. But, despite this, I’m still an individual, one who likes to express himself with his wardrobe. Which is why I’m now really into buttons.
Dressing up my plain denim frock with one or two buttons is my new thing. Old political buttons are the main go-to, but so are those depicting weird musicians and birds. Yesterday, a new category entered my life: Bob’s Burgers pins. Here’s a Louise one with the caption “I SMELL FEAR ON YOU,” a Tina one with the caption “Trust No Bros,” and another Tina one captioned “If you think about it any box could have vibrators in it.”
There are more. And I will find them. And wear them. Often.
The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft
Brian Phillips: It hit me a few weeks ago that I didn’t have enough writhing-faced tentacle-monsters from beyond the margins of sanity in my life, so I decided to read all of H.P. Lovecraft straight through, in chronological order. I feel a weird kinship with Lovecraft because the “H.P.” stands for “Howard Phillips,” which was my grandfather’s name, which if this were a Lovecraft story would end with me eating my psychiatrist, but whatever. I can’t unreservedly recommend the chronological Lovecraft experience. It’s a lot of racism to swallow all at once (even if Lovecraft’s racism mostly just seems sad, a lonely prude in a parlor trying to convince himself he’s not isolated because he’s got membership in one exclusive club), and many of the stories are terrible, and the non-terrible stories hit the incomprehensibly-vast-universe-shatters-human-reason note so relentlessly that they start to make the universe, ironically, feel pretty small. That said, I’m a sucker for those last late flashes of geographical mystery that you sometimes get in 1920s pulp fiction — the sense that there are still unmapped places in the world, that you can start out with a steamer berth and a revolver and wind up stumbling onto Eskimo cults, voodoo sacrifices, lost jungle ruins, underground civilizations, nameless cities in the desert, alien statues, underwater temples, scraps of writing in a language that mystifies the top philologists at Miskatonic U. If you feel like going deep, deep into the cosmic fissures whence modern horror crawled screaming, a blogger called Cthulhu Chick has helpfully compiled Lovecraft’s entire oeuvre into a free e-book you can download here.
Million Dollar Listing New York
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Mallory Rubin: When I moved to Los Angeles last fall to work at Grantland, I had to leave New York City behind. So, at the most basic level, I enjoy watching Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing New York because it allows me to spend 40-ish minutes each week “in” the city I love and miss. One of the show’s stars, Luis, even lives in my old building in Battery Park City! He’s on a much higher floor, in a much nicer unit, with a much more direct view of Leonardo DiCaprio’s living-room windows, but still. It’s nostalgic, and it’s fun.
But boy, oh boy, are there other reasons to watch. Like the porn, both real estate and actual. If you want to know how the other half lives, there are few better ways than by getting to see their corner terraces, built-in wine coolers, and million-dollar shitters. Unless you’re loaded (good for you!) or really great at pretending to be loaded for long enough to trick a broker into taking you on a penthouse tour (teach me, please; I’m far too awkward and twitchy to master these dark arts on my own), this is probably the closest you’re going to get to living like Manhattan royalty.
And the actual porn? Fredrik, one of the top brokers in the city and the closest thing the show has to a protagonist, used to dabble. It was a past life that he’s moved beyond in every way but one: Ryan, the show’s third and final star, publicly torments Fredrik about those recorded Swedish dalliances whenever he can, including in the harrowing Season 2 finale. And while that particular showdown was legitimately uncomfortable to watch, it signaled the birth of one of TV’s new, true villains. Ryan’s got the pearly whites and helmet-hard hair of an all-American male … and apparently that makes him think it’s OK to call Fredrik a “cheap, shiny import.” And he’s so tall and muscular that he can’t find pants that fit … and apparently that makes him think it’s OK to tell the diminutive Luis to “aim high” when Luis threatens to punch him in the face. Ryan’s as gaudy as the suits he wears, but he knows how to sell an apartment, and he sure knows how to make good TV.
Through the Language Glass, by Guy Deutscher
Holly Anderson: Through the Language Glass was originally released in 2010, which is about how long I’ve had it since borrowing it from my then editor, which was three editors or so ago. (Don’t be like me! Read it in a timely fashion!) The subtitle is Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages, which is both exactly what’s going on here and sort of vague. But in the spirit of helping you figure out right up front whether this is your kind of thing, here’s an excerpt that should sort you out. Have you been craving a dive into how and when cultures develop words for the color of the sky and whatnot?
First, Berlin and Kay discovered that color terms were not so arbitrary after all. Although there are considerable variations between the color systems of different languages, some ways of dividing the spectrum are still far more natural than others: some are adopted by many unrelated languages while others are not adopted by any.
It was their second discovery, however, that left the academic community reeling. This was the revelation, which Berlin and Kay themselves termed a “totally unexpected finding,” that languages acquire the names for colors in a predictable order.
(PS If this is definitely not your kind of thing, the book I swapped in this trade is Mark Abley’s Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages, which is a lot less wonky but a lot faster of a read and will still get you suspicious side-eye on the pool deck this summer.)
Rafe Bartholomew: You don’t have to be Filipino or Filipino American or familiar with Philippine culture to see that the awkward and hilarious brilliance of Ask Margie has cross-cultural appeal. Well, “appeal” might not be the right word, since my first experience with an Ask Margie clip felt like the first time my cousin played Faces of Death for me.
Ask Margie is a sex-ed web series produced by the Philippine news site Rappler and hosted by a middle-aged psychologist named Margie Holmes. It’s an important public service in a very Christian, very Catholic nation where many people don’t have great access to information about sexual health. Margie looks and sounds like a typical Filipina auntie — like she can cook a mean pot of chicken tinola and she enjoys nothing more than pinching cute toddlers’ cheeks. But start watching Margie’s videos and you realize she is not simply someone’s sweet, church-going tita. She cracks wise about how well she performs oral sex, advises women to be suspicious of boyfriends who suddenly want to use condoms (because they’re probably STD-carrying cheaters), and admits that her favorite flavor of latex is ube, or purple yam (“joke only!“). The incongruity between Margie’s appearance and her sexual straight-talk express makes watching her videos sometimes disturbing, sometimes hilarious, and always transfixing.
Just the Tips
Sarah Larimer: Hello, best friends! Can I interest you in this delightful web series, which stars two pals who break down the hot DIY tips they found online? It’s my favorite thing on the Internet! Let’s watch, shall we? I chose a sports-themed one to start with, because Grantland:
I found these via The Hairpin, so thanks to The Hairpin. Ace work all around. Anyway, as someone who still does not understand the point of Pinterest, exactly (I’m not planning a wedding. Is it for planning weddings? Seems like it’s for planning weddings), I highly endorse this. Sometimes the Internet is the best, especially when it is poking fun of things that are the worst. You can find the series here, and follow it on Twitter here. Conclusion: This tip is a winner.
The April Issue of Roundup Magazine
Bryan Curtis: I joined the Western Writers of America because I think of myself as a visitor on the East Coast, my (very kick-ass) Carhartt jacket my only protection from the next cold front. Reading the WWA’s monthly magazine, Roundup, is even better than boarding a westbound flight out of JFK. It’s like stepping into the Back to the Future Part III time machine and emerging in a land of cowpokes, horse thieves, and wandering Civil War vets. It brings to life a home people like me wish we’d known.
Roundup has an extraordinary books section that ranges from fiction titles like Kansas Bleeds to history texts like Banking in Oklahoma Before Statehood. For April, the editors decided to put together a baseball issue. Did you know the Apache leader Geronimo once went looking for a young jockey, found him batting at a baseball game, and then chased him around the bases after the jockey hit a home run? Me neither.
Did you know about the barnstorming Nebraska Indians, founded 1897, a team that included members of the Omaha and Winnebago tribes and put together a putative record (this is beyond even Retrosheet) of 1,237-336-11? Me neither.
These facts come from an essay by Gregory Lalire, who also notes that Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum’s team once won the South Dakota Baseball League. Johnny D. Boggs, Roundup’s editor, chips in an astute article about baseball in Western film and fiction (Satchel Paige made a movie with Robert Mitchum), and then the book reviews kick in. The achievement of Roundup is to show that the barbed-wire fence around baseball was clipped long before the Dodgers left Brooklyn. Someday, I hope to follow them.
Emily’s Breakfast Smoothie of the Month
Emily Yoshida: I fully expect you to ignore this.
- ½ large frozen banana cut into chunks (freeze a bunch of peeled halved bananas when they’re ripe)
- 1 pitted date, cut into pieces
- Biggest handful of kale or spinach you can grab
- 1 scoop unsweetened protein powder of your choice (I’m ALMOST ready to tell you which one I use, but maybe we haven’t yet reached that point in our relationship, Internet)
- ¾ cup almond milk
- 2 shakes cinnamon
- Pinch of sea salt
- 3 ice cubes
- Ice water as needed
Combine everything in a blender (I am still in a long-term committed relationship with my NutriBullet, but use whatever suits you) and blend 15 seconds longer than it looks like you need to (unless you like date chunks at the bottom of your smoothie). Drink while reading this essay written by Dave Hickey after the death of Hunter S. Thompson. Be well.