Welcome to Grantland Recommends, a new feature 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 some classic Stephen King TV adaptations, an incredibly addictive number game, and everything in between.
Steven Hyden: In the annals of scenes from obscure rock documentaries in which iconic rock stars engage in drug-induced blabbing with medium coherence while sitting in the back of limousines, two examples stand head and shoulders above the rest. The first is the “Bob Dylan and John Lennon are clearly stoned out of their goddamn gourds” scene from the unreleased late-’60s tour curio Eat the Document. The second is the “David Bowie listens to Aretha Franklin and drinks directly out of a milk carton, possibly during an L.A. coke binge” scene from Cracked Actor, a 1975 film that originally aired on the BBC. I’ve wanted to see Cracked Actor for years, but only recently tracked it down via YouTube. It captures Bowie at a turning point between his Ziggy Stardust period and the anorexic R&B dandy identity of his Young Americans album. Bowie looks unwell but he’s still magnetic, which is evidenced by the long line of weirdos who flock to his shows and eagerly dispense spaced-out gibberish for the BBC’s cameras. But it’s during those unforgettable scenes in the limo, where Bowie sits with his milk and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and his expatriate ennui, that Cracked Actor is an indispensable portrait of rock stardom in its truest and most desolate form.
Holly Anderson: I slept on Enlisted for the first couple months it was on the air, finally picking it up once I found out it involved Keith David and not the markedly inferior David Keith. Then we found out Keith David has a fake foot on the show, and that the foot is white, and there’s a story there, and there was no choice but to dive in. Fox’s half-hour military comedy is quietly hilarious, quietly overflowing with real humanity, and quietly living out a meager existence in the barren wasteland of Friday-night prime time, where it is quietly watched by not very many people. Veronica Mars fans unsatisfied with the Piz screen time in the just-released VM film will find ample time during which to watch Chris Lowell squint and be funny and generally drip too-good-looking-to-be-a-bad-boy adorability all over the place; sports fans will be captivated with Parker Young’s resemblance to Tim Tebow and unable to stop comparing his moments of ill-timed hysterics with the Florida football enthusiast’s famously galvanizing tears. Support the fictional troops a little bit, why don’t you? Did you know a recent episode guest-starred Dean Stockwell? Don’t act like you’re too good for Dean Stockwell. Let’s not start off by lying to each other.
How to Dress Well, “Words I Don’t Remember”
Danny Chau: Tom Krell began releasing music as How to Dress Well in late 2009. The sound was half-familiar — like if a friend recorded you singing R&B jams in the shower from out in the living room, touched it up in a studio, and sent it to you without mentioning an artist. Buried under the miles and miles of fuzz, hisses, and crackles, How to Dress Well could’ve been any one of us.
Layers of that dense lo-fi murk have been stripped away in each subsequent release. Nearly five years in, Krell has delivered “Words I Don’t Remember,” the clearest track he’s made to date. It’s gorgeous. After the song is over, you might be tempted to play it again, or something in the repeating chords might compel you to revisit Biggie Smalls’s Life After Death.
Two weeks ago, I watched Krell perform songs off his upcoming album to a room of less than 400. He asked the lighting crew and sound tech guys to follow his lead. He wanted the lights down. He wants his songs to be deafening. For most of the night, the sound tech failed him. But all was forgiven once the opening chords of “Words I Don’t Remember” emerged. It led off a crushingly loud two-song finale that flattened the room, and we all shared in a communal catharsis. He got what he wanted. Better late than never.
Karina Longworth: I’ve recently become re-addicted to Jeopardy! I’ve watched the show sporadically since I was a kid (I actually used to have a recurring nightmare about a cardboard cutout of Alex Trebek popping up in different places in my childhood home), but then I started DVRing it during Arthur Chu’s recent reign as champion, and after reading Chu’s interview with The A.V. Club in which he revealed a few key things about the show’s production (they tape a full week of shows in a single day!), I’m more fascinated by it than ever. Jeopardy! is the perfect thing to put on at the end of the day when you’re probably too tired to really watch anything at all. It’s barely 20 minutes long, and there are no ambiguities (unless you count Trebek’s sometimes cryptic, almost always passive-aggressive comments in the “chat with the contestants” segment, which is my favorite). I play along at home, and it activates this weird corner of my brain; I find myself spitting out random bits of knowledge, things I wasn’t even fully conscious that I knew, without really thinking about it at all. This feels really good, and my addiction has ramped up to the point where the six episodes on my DVR each week are starting to be not enough. Luckily, I discovered there are a number of classic episodes streaming free on Crackle, which, if nothing else, are amazing as cultural artifacts. The hair! The sweaters! The analog video!
netw3rk: Imagine time-traveling back to “I Like Ike”–era America and transporting an amiable Jerry Mathers–esque sitcom WASP to our modern post-everything world and using him as a proxy to explore some of modern life’s darkest corners, and you have Comedy Central’s hilarious and subtly deep Review. Andy Daly plays Forrest MacNeil, a television life-pundit of sorts, whose audience sends in requests of various experiences they want to see reviewed and rated according to a five-star system. MacNeil is an affable, happily married, upper-middle-class dad, who — for reasons still unexplained — has dedicated his life to following through on any and every review request submitted to his show.
So far, MacNeil has reviewed stealing, addiction, prom, making a sex tape, racism, hunting, eating 15 pancakes, and divorce. What makes Review more than just a collection of skits in which we get to see sight gags like the ultimate straight man doofus banging a $5,000 sex doll or snorting cocaine is the meta way the repercussions of MacNeil’s reviews accrue over the course of the episodes. MacNeil doesn’t just get addicted to cocaine; he goes to rehab (twice) as his wife weeps over his drug problem. MacNeil divorces her because an audience member wants to know what divorce is like and we see him bottom out, his family torn apart, sleeping in his office on two pushed-together chairs.
Review, Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central. 5 stars.
Todd Terje’s It’s Album Time and SOHN’s Tremors
Emily Yoshida: It’s only April, but I’m feeling pretty good about the summer of 2014, purely from a jams perspective. Two debut albums that can serve different but important roles in your summer soundtrack arrive next week, and lucky for you, they are now available to stream for free!
The first is It’s Album Time, from Norwegian DJ Todd Terje, which kind of plays like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories without all the bombast and pretense of it being, y’know, a Daft Punk album. The tracks ride up to the retro nostalgia line until you think it’s going to be pure derivation, but then they throw in something utterly unexpected, as on “Svensk Sas,” which sounds like what would happen if a conga line danced its way into a cyberpunk rave. And “Inspector Norse,” which Terje originally released in 2012, is still an immensely satisfying build, perfect for an interpretive electric slide in the waning hours of a picnic. Terje makes dance music that not only takes its cues from the ’70s and ’80s disco/house era (and the influence of the late, great Frankie Knuckles, whom we sadly lost this week) sonically, but spiritually, too, making each moment joyfully inclusive and identifiably human behind the bleeps and bloops.
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For the ride home, you can switch gears and put on British producer/songwriter SOHN’s full-length debut, Tremors, then mope beautifully as you gaze at the sunrise and imagine you’re in a SoCo joint. SOHN makes atmospheric electronic vibes and sings in a perfectly forlorn male falsetto over them, with the result being something like a poppier James Blake. He just got signed by Dr. Luke’s publishing company, and he’s currently working on who-knows-what loveliness with Lorde and Miguel. You can sense the push to turn him into the next producing wunderkind written all over the album, but I for one am very interested to see what he cooks up with some of the more adventurous mainstream pop stars out there. “Lessons,” which originally dropped late last year, is still my favorite.
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Katie Baker: There aren’t many new print publications launching these days, but one of my favorite magazines only just celebrated its first birthday. The latest issue of Modern Farmer included a Q&A with the agriculture minister of Denmark, a feature on vineyards in Russia, an investigation into “animal rain,” and a beautifully photographed charticle, printed on paper stock that would be a stationer’s dream, about the different breeds of pet pig. It’s true that reading Modern Farmer can feel a lot like wearing yoga pants around town; I’ve only poseurishly dabbled in either underlying activity, and in both cases it was mostly back in high school. It’s also instinctive to roll your eyes about the magazine’s concept — sort of Wired–meets–New York–meets–National Geographic — which seems like something that would be carried at that kooky bookstore in Portlandia. But the magazine never lapses into self-parody, because it has far too much self-respect. A story on floating farms wouldn’t have been out of place in any thoughtful publication, and even the smallest little blurbs provide the sort of imaginative content you won’t find everywhere else. (Even sports fans can find relevant content: The back page of the spring issue features rancher and Washington Nationals pitcher Ross Ohlendorf.) If you’re so digital-only that your idea of modern farming involves encryption and bitcoins, you can also check out the magazine — and links to its official HamCam — at @ModFarm.
Baseball Prospectus: The Print Edition (Yes, print. Shut up.)
Dan Fierman: I recognize what this says about me. (1) I enjoy baseball. (2) I’m old. (3) I buy things that weigh almost two pounds and tote them around like some kind of half-witted alpaca.
I get it. Really, I do.
That said: Every year this book brings me more pleasure than almost any website or absurdist email chain. It perches at my bedside for the three months that span spring training and fantasy drafts and the start of the season. Then it migrates to the den, where it’s a vital oracle that can answer questions like “Wait. LaTroy Hawkins is still ALIVE?” (That he’s on the Rockies is somehow less surprising.) The Prospectus has always been a mixed bag, writingwise. But the genius of PECOTA and its more evolved descendants aside (h/t to our witchy siblings), the BP annual has grown into a source of premium entertainment for the onetime hard-core fan forced casual by age, by work, and by the demands of parenthood and time. I have a feeling Ryan Howard’s agent is still recovering from the one-sentence summation of his mid-to-late career: “We told you so.”
Ben Lindbergh: Before The Walking Dead, Contagion, and World War Z — and after countless other cookie-cutter, high-corpse-count productions — there was Survivors, a regrettably short-lived reboot of a 1970s series that originally aired on BBC One from 2008 to 2010.
Survivors (whose corpses cooperate by sitting still) stands out from the postapocalyptic pack because it’s well-acted enough to sell the sometimes clunky script. It asks the same core questions as The Walking Dead — can the living keep their consciences clean and their hair coiffed? — but with characters you care about, a lot less exposition, and a sliver of hope for a happy ending.
The show has its fair share of schlock. The score is a mix of skittering strings and on-the-nose orchestral cues, and some lines don’t land. (“We’re getting credible reports that people are dying!” says one well-sourced member of a media scrum, days into an outbreak that’s already brought Great Britain to its knees.) But get past the pilot, which is boilerplate extinction stuff, and you’ll be hooked despite the tired tropes.
You can take down all 12 episodes of Survivors on Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Instant Video before Game of Thrones and Mad Men fill your Sunday TV void. The bad news: The series was canceled before a planned Season 3, so the ending is decidedly Deadwood-y. Still, if you’ve binged on Black Mirror, Sherlock, Luther, and the rest of the best of British TV, I urge you to set your sights a little lower and try out Survivors. That’s my pitch; put it on the poster.
People you’ll recognize from other series, since there are only seven actors in England: Daisy from Downton Abbey; DCI Gray from Luther; bonus Balon Greyjoy
Moment when you’ll question my taste:
Stephen King TV Miniseries
Molly Lambert: I am not the first person to make my way through the Stephen King television movie canon, nor will I be the last, but I am possibly one of the latest. My journey began with the 1994 ABC miniseries version of The Stand, for which King wrote the script. The stars of this ’94 TV megaevent include Gary Sinise, Ossie Davis, Rob Lowe, Laura San Giacomo, Molly Ringwald, and Ruby Dee. From there I took to the skies for ABC’s 1995 adaptation of The Langoliers, which features Dean Stockwell, the always excellent David Morse, and the eternally slimy Bronson Pinchot. After that I went back in time to 1993 for the ABC version of The Tommyknockers, with Jimmy Smits, Marg Helgenberger, and Traci Lords! Then I traveled all the way to 1990 for the Rosetta stone of King TV minseries, It. While the cast includes John Ritter and Tim Reid, people tend to mostly remember Tim Curry’s indelibly freaky performance as Pennywise. I’m currently in the middle of the 1997 TV version of The Shining, which, as you might imagine, is nowhere near as good as the Stanley Kubrick movie. But I’ve also been watching reruns of Wings, and my thirst to see Steven “Brian Hackett” Weber as Jack Torrance was too great.
It was probably True Detective that touched off my hunger for contemporary mysteries tinged with (or soaked in) the supernatural. Now that I’m in it, I can’t stop. Join me on my quest. We all float down here!
Aquarium Drunkard and Music Syncing
Tess Lynch: I’m sure a few of you already know about Aquarium Drunkard, a music blog headed by music supervisor/consultant Justin Gage, but I’m recommending it anyway because I love it so much and what if you don’t know? I found it in 2009 via a spectacular summer mixtape from Mondo Boys (here’s the track listing, though the download link has, sadly, expired) and have been a fan ever since. I check it once a week, and it always feels like stepping into a friend’s immaculate rec room. The prose that accompanies the audio posts is thoughtful, appreciative rather than critical (also good: the interviews), and it’s persuasive — I’ve downloaded more music because of this site’s recommendations than probably any other. Gage makes a track — or an entire album — personal even before you hit play, but he never snobs you out of the experience.
Here’s the other thing I am recommending, because it looks like I enjoy this new recommendation series even more than you do: scouring the old dusty nooks of the Internet for suggestions of movie/album syncs. Next time I’ll let you know whether I can endorse the marriage of Julie Taymor’s Titus with the soundtrack to The Wedding Singer. But now I must excuse myself to travel 12 years back in time to interview the person who wrote this comment in a sync-up thread: “This isn’t a movie and a album thing … but I always thought the song ‘Paranoid Android’ matched up perfectly with ‘Moby Dick’ (except you’d have to read it real fast) … I even wrote a paper on it my freshman year. I could never find anyone else (online at least) that shared my sentiments. But there were some haunting similarities.” I want to be haunted by art like user ZipperJJ.
My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles
Edited by Peter Biskind
Sean Fennessey: So much truth here: Three hundred pages of Orson Welles accosting the Irish, telling sordid tales of Hollywood’s midcentury leading ladies, and explaining which proteins give him gas. Also, lots of Byronic wisdom about failure and greatness in a failing American industry. Because these are ancient conversational passages with the filmmaker Henry Jaglom, they’ve been diced and edited and occasionally filled in with ribald editorial glee — so this reads like one long night with that cantankerous uncle who can out-eat, out-drink, and out–dirty joke you. You’ve been warned/inspired.
Broad City, “The Last Supper”
Mark Lisanti: Look: I can’t tell you what to do with your life, or how to spend your time. And it’s quite possible that you’re already watching it, or at the very least have a friend who’s incessantly nattering in your ear about the one where Abbi and Ilana are hiding marijuana in their ladyparts, or when Rafi from The League and Badger from Breaking Bad tried to back the girls into some poorly orchestrated group sex, or even the thing where someone shits in a sneaker. I can’t pretend this is some great secret I’m sharing with you. Cat’s out of that bag of lost cable remotes and p***y weed already.
But I also can’t take the chance that you’re not watching the show, because we all lead busy and important lives and things fall between the DVR cracks, is it your turn to change the baby, she won’t stop crying, go heat up the breast milk? So what I have to do, as a person who Officially Can’t Shut Up About This Show, is recommend Broad City’s season finale, which, perhaps bizarrely, also makes an excellent entry point for the uninitiated. There is a cringe-inducing-but-still-relatable sex-horror thing. There is a broke-fish-out-of-poor-water deal involving a pricey French restaurant and some truly gruesome shellfish-related repercussions. There is an Amy Poehler cameo.
You can start here, at the end, and work your way backward. You can change your life. And by that I mean you can maybe get me to Finally Shut Up About This Show for a minute. But probably not.
Patricia Lee: If you haven’t heard of this game before, your mind is about to be blown, and your productivity is about to dip to zero. If you have, well, you already know what I’m talking about — don’t worry, I won’t judge you if you keep getting stuck on 512. So, the premise of this game: Use your arrow keys to combine the 2s that keep appearing, combine like numbers to make bigger numbers (2 –> 4 –> 8 –> 16, etc.), and keep going until (a) you hit the magic 2048, or (b) you run out of open spots and get the dreaded “Game over!” note. It’s a fun way to procrastinate on work, assignments, going to the gym, laundry, and making tomorrow’s lunch while not feeling too guilty about doing so.
Already beat the game? Don’t worry, there are variations. The Fibonacci version, 2584, the harder 4096, the version you can play with your friends, the much more manageable 4, and the ridiculous Flappy Doge 2048. There are always more if you insist, but those should take up more than enough of your time.
Sorry in advance for ruining your life. Apparently the game has sort of ruined this guy’s life, too.
[Editor’s note: This review was edited for conciseness in a manner that unintentionally came off as insensitive to the creators of Threes, a game widely considered to be the inspiration for 2048. We encourage everyone to check out their statement about the copycats, and Threes itself as well.]
Mallory Rubin: First, a disclaimer: Castle is not a good show. I know this, I promise. I started watching it for the purest of reasons: I think Nathan Fillion is dreamy, so spending 44 minutes looking at his face each week seemed like a great idea. For four seasons, Fillion’s will-they-or-won’t-they tension with costar Stana Katic kept me coming back, even amid increasingly derivative, laughable, and predictable plotlines.
And then they hooked up. I was elated. I couldn’t wait for Season 5, even though I feared what the show would become minus its longtime propelling force. Sure enough, it stunk. The episodes piled up on the DVR. My fiancé and I watch a lot of TV; we’ve currently got 83 hours built up on the DVR, which probably tells you that we’re not very discriminating viewers. But he won’t watch Castle with me. That’s where he draws the line. And so I’m forced to wait for those rare moments when I can open the Castle folder and plow through four or five of these bad boys in one sitting.
One of those precious opportunities arose recently, with my betrothed out of town on business and Fillion on my mind. Season 6 is even worse than Season 5, but you know what? I love watching it this way. If you see a Devil Wears Prada rip-off one Monday night and a Carrie homage the next, you’re probably not coming back that third week to find out whether they’re toasting The Ring (again) or resisting the parody pull long enough to let Fillion’s character play spy with his absentee father. If you watch it all at once, though, you can’t help but nod approvingly at the show’s commitment to the sampling craft.
I know only two other people who watch Castle (let’s call them “Shmallison” and “Shmeve” to protect their identities), and when I told Shmeve I was going to talk about Castle for the first Grantland Recommends post, he asked: “So you’re ironically recommending that people watch Castle? Or you’re recommending that people watch Castle ironically?” Well, neither. Or maybe both? Mostly, I’m recommending that you be honest with yourself, especially if that means admitting it’s worth stomaching a little Alexis to get a whole lot of Caskett.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
Zach Dionne: I know you know about Blue Is the Warmest Color. Coming-of-age lesbian drama. French. Blue-haired girl. Winner of the Cannes International Film Festival’s Palme d’Or. Controversial for the realism of the prolonged sex scenes, and the way director Abdellatif Kechiche spent 10 days filming them. But have you seen this thing, which just recently hit Netflix? Mon dieu, is it astounding and transportive. I hadn’t seen something that had me so humming with unbidden sensations like this in ages. And the sexy times are only a sliver of what I’m talking about, ya pervs — everything young Adèle feels, from the grass in her hair to her confused rage at being bullied about her sexuality, you feel, fully and without effort. Add to that a slew of scenes with people cogently philosophizing about life and literature and love — side-stepping Hollywood bullshit at every juncture — and you’ve got an unforgettable film that demands you rewatch all of its three hours as soon as possible. (It’s based on a graphic novel, which I hear is similarly fantastic.)
Kyle Kinane, Whiskey Icarus
Sean McIndoe: It’s always awkward to mention “discovering” a new stand-up comedian, because you’re inevitably talking about someone who’s been working away for 10 or 20 years and you sound like an idiot. But I’ll take that risk, because I clued in to Kyle Kinane only over the last few months and holy crap, is he funny.
I can’t remember the first Kinane bit I heard, but I suspect it was “Pancakes on a Plane.” Or it could have been the one about sending back a mimosa. Or maybe it was a story about loneliness in Green Bay that I can’t link to because you’re at work and it will get you fired. But in any case, Kinane pretty much immediately achieved “shush everyone in the car when his name comes up on the satellite radio display” status. Which, come to think of it, is probably why both my kids won’t eat Twizzlers anymore.
His first stand-up special, Whiskey Icarus, came out on CD and DVD in 2012 and you need to own it.
Little Mix, “Move”
Juliet Litman: If you haven’t heard of Little Mix, it’s understandable. It is a girl group that was created on the original U.K. X Factor in the fall of 2011, and to their credit, the members have been rocking crop tops well before Kim Kardashian heard they were on the way back in. The band has four members — Perrie Edwards, Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, and Jade Thirlwall — all of whom can actually sing, thus setting them apart from their male counterpart, One Direction. It’s just come out with its second album, and holy cow, does it have a jam on it. The lead single is called “Move,” and the beat ably lives up to the name. I struggle to stay still at my desk as I listen to it on repeat. It’s the perfect song for a choreographed dance made up in the hours between the final activity of the day and dinnertime at sleepaway camp.
The undeniable rousing quality is not lost on the group. In addition to the official music video, it’s also released an extended dance routine version and a video of its dance rehearsal. With all this forethought, I’d expect better moves. Even if the four girls are not capable of more complicated footwork, couldn’t they have brought in some backup dancers? I’m looking for more turn-of-the-century, Fatima Robinson–inspired movement. As a global society, I think we can do better than this. Until someone comes up with a better routine, enjoy the song.