Weekly recommendations from Pop Culture Happy Hour hosts and guests
It’s been a hot week full of court documents and news drops. And now, we’re ready for a calmer and cooler break with time to breathe. And fortunately, we’ve got recommendations for podcasts, binge-able television and good reading for your holiday weekend.
Netflix has a show called Sex/Life and the reason I am interested in it is that it is yet another example of Netflix’s strange positioning in the streaming wars. It’s sort of like if you took Fifty Shades of Grey but actually put sex in it, but then also overlaid a Lifetime movie on that. It has that feeling of softcore Showtime from the ’80s. It’s funny as hell, and campy, and silly … and you know, they don’t make movies like that anymore — your Slivers and your Basic Instincts — your sex thriller or your disaffected housewife infidelity film.
The ’90s had a whole world of that and Netflix is weirdly jumping in that pool and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe streaming is bringing back a diversity of programming — like all these little genres that kind of fell away under the Marvel steamroller. So I can’t recommend Sex/Life, necessarily — but I’m happy that the streaming wars are still bringing us new things. I like that we’re in that moment. – Audie Cornish
The Jean Smart Renaissance
What’s making me happy is the Jean Smart-ification of HBO. The fact that she stars in the amazing comedy Hacks. She’s got a juicy, completely different role in the drama Mare of Easttown. She killed it in Watchmen. Jean Smart has been doing the work for decades. I was a fan back in the Designing Women days. She was incredible in the season of Fargo where she played the mother of a Jewish organized crime family. She is such a good actor with such a wide range. And right now she’s everywhere and I’m thrilled about it. Give me more Jean Smart — comedy, drama, thriller. I don’t care. All of it. I’ll take it.
There is an amazing YouTube video in which the comedian Megan Stalter — who has a bit part in Hacks and is also having a moment — interviews all the members of the cast of Hacks and just bulldozes them and does her thing and there is a genius moment where she’s interviewing Jean Smart and it becomes clear that she is confusing Jean Smart with Kim Cattrall from Sex in the City. And to see Jean Smart’s reaction in the moment, it’s perfect comedy. — Ari Shapiro
@jay.nedaj on Instagram
There’s this guy named Jay Nedaj on Instagram. He has this cornucopia of wigs and outfits, and I came across this video he did where he was reenacting ’90s girl group videos and all the tropes of those videos — the wind blowing the hair and the shifting, the posing they do in “Say My Name.”
Lately he has been doing these great videos, to try and get the attention of Beyoncé. He is just taking clips from her various live performances and he’s in his living room — sometimes his dog is in the background just being like, “What are you doing?” And he’s just lip-syncing these moments.
It really just makes my heart warm. I love seeing all of the different outfits and the commitment. It’s desperate and it’s also just filled with so much love. I highly recommend if you’re a Beyoncé fan and also love random parodies of Black movies and TV shows and Black music — follow Jay.nedaj. — Aisha Harris
New ways to discover music at NPR.org and Arooj Aftab’s album, Vulture Prince
NPR Music just launched a new blog called Now Playing where you can get quick recommendations of new songs. We’re trying to take the fire hydrant of new music and turn it into a fire hose of new music. I’ve been contributing to that — everybody at NPR Music has — and there’s tons of great music there already.
We also just launched a package with the best music of the year so far, which gave me a chance to finally write about my favorite album of 2021 — Vulture Prince from Arooj Aftab. She was born in Pakistan, and is based in Brooklyn, and she’s kind of reimagined South Asian music. She grew up listening to singers like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and she creates these absolutely hypnotic and breathtaking songs. I have been marinating in this album for days, and days, and days now. – Stephen Thompson
And a couple more bonus picks from Linda Holmes:
The Plot Thickens podcast, with Julie Salamon
Julie Salamon’s book The Devil’s Candy, about the making of the movie The Bonfire of the Vanities, is a favorite of mine. I was delighted to hear that Salamon herself was making and narrating a new season of the Turner Classic Movies podcast The Plot Thickens, which tells the story in podcast form. The first episode is entertaining — and just as juicy as the book.
@Ryan_Ken_Acts on Twitter
One of my favorite recent Twitter follows is Ryan Ken, a master of the “looks easy to get right, is actually hard to get right” captioned video comedy format. Their stuff is often not just funny, but provocative and insightful.
All That Glitters, HBO Max
Last weekend, I binge-watched the HBO Max (originally BBC) show All That Glitters, which is meant to be the jewelry-making equivalent of The Great British Baking Show or The Great Pottery Throw Down or the glass-blowing show Blown Away. While it didn’t thrill me quite as much as some comparable programs do, it was a very enjoyable afternoon of viewing, and I know a lot more about bracelets than I used to.
“John Benjamin Hickey Is Still Figuring Out What It Means to Be an ‘Elder’ “ by Dave Holmes, Esquire
The terrific actor John Benjamin Hickey talked to the terrific writer Dave Holmes for Esquire about getting older as a gay man, and their conversation is a great read.
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