Culture Crash 19-07: The Academy’s Unforced Errors

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine what’s new and old in entertainment.

As you may have heard, this year’s Oscars have been a disaster since the word “go.” Over the past few months, the Academy has announced a Best Popular Film award, that Kevin Hart would be the host, and that only two of the nominees for Best Song would be performing. All three of those ideas stirred up controversy and all three have been reversed. Best Popular Film has been shelved for discussion another year, this year’s awards show will not have a host, and all the Best Song nominees will perform.

So, problems fixed, right? Well, not so fast, because the Academy is committing another unforced error. Higher-ups at the Oscars have begun insisting certain awards will be announced during commercial breaks and occur off-air to trim the show’s runtime, and I guess to skip on giving hard-working craftspeople their shining moments.

Awards are, of course, arbitrary. Ranking art is a personal endeavor, so calling someone the Best Actress or Best Director of a certain year is relatively insignificant. What many of us who love awards shows like the Oscars are attached to is the celebration of an art form we cherish. I disagree with the winners more often than not, but I like seeing the craft celebrated; I like having a list of things worth checking out, and I like getting a glimpse behind the scenes at the editors, screenwriters, and costume artists who make the movies we all go see. To steal these moments from those artists is to ignore the greater purpose of the show in the first place.

It’s not supposed to be about stargazing celebrity obsession. I mean, okay, of course, it is. But it isn’t just that, or at least it shouldn’t be. It should also be a celebration of filmmaking. To eliminate so-called “lesser” awards so Lady Gaga or Christian Bale can have more time to shine is a shame. The Oscars air once a year. I wish the Academy would let that show serve to honor as many people as possible and not just the famous ones in the fancy tuxes.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 19-06: Missing Gems in the Deluge of ‘Peak TV’

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine what’s new and old in entertainment.

Vulture reported that 495 scripted television shows were broadcast and streamed for the first time in 2018. That’s up from the 216 series that aired less than a decade ago, back in 2010.

With such a boom in the sheer volume of the medium, thanks largely to the growth of streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video… it can be easy to lose track of everything you’ve been meaning to watch.

Case in point for me is the Showtime limited series, Escape at Dannemora. The show began airing just a few months back in November, but in TV time, that’s eons ago. Anyway, I meant to watch the show when it was coming out but forgot all about it until the show began hitting the awards circuit. Patricia Arquette specifically has won both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Award for her turn in the series, and that was what finally reminded me to give the show a try.

Boy, am I glad I did. Escape at Dannemora is based on a real 2015 prison break in upstate New York and stars Paul Dano and Benicio del Toro as two prison inmates, and Patricia Arquette as a prison employee who becomes tangled up in their web. All seven episodes of the series were directed by Ben Stiller, but make no mistake: this show is a dramatic thriller, not a whimsical comedy. It’s really good and now streaming on Showtime’s various web apps.

But Escape at Dannemora isn’t the only shows I missed in the waterfall of TV content.

High on my to-watch list are AMC’s The Little Drummer Girl, based on the John le Carre novel of the same name and Netflix’s Bodyguard, which is a hugely successful political thriller that originally aired on BBC One. Of course, at some point I may need some comedic relief, in which case I’ll turn to, maybe Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or Netflix’s American Vandal, two shows I’ve started but have not finished.

The reservoir of TV content is very, very deep. Sometimes, that can be daunting. And sometimes, that can mean stumbling back on something that dominated the zeitgeist for a few fleeting moments several months ago, and having a blast discovering those things for yourself.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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