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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Culture Crash 18-38: The funny and philosophical TV comedy, The Good Place

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

Two years ago, NBC debuted a strange new comedy show called The Good Place. It was written by Michael Schur, a writer on The Office and the creator of Parks & Recreation, so people were willing to get it a change… but it’s logline was pretty out-there. It’s a half-hour comedy about people who died in the afterlife and, specifically, about Eleanor Shellstrop, a bad person who made it to heaven the good place thanks to a clerical error.

Usually, sitcoms and comedies are much simpler: A group of friends living in New York. A workplace comedy about a paper company or a superstore. Simpler is better, because each episode can take on a whole new identity. What The Good Place did was different. It was a comedy telling one story instead of endless stories. It’s serialized, every episode needs to be seen in order and, by the way, it’s phenomenal.

Sure, it’s a very high concept show about the afterlife and philosophy and, poignantly, what we owe to each other as human beings. It dives into what thinkers like Soren Kierkegaard and Plato thought about the universe, but it also never loses sight of its mission to entertain. The show began as a vehicle for Ted Danson and Kristen Bell and has evolved into a true ensemble, and now truly allows castmembers William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Darcy Carden and Manny Jacinto to shine.

I don’t want to say too much, because the show is a rollercoaster ride with surprises and fun world-building that will translate better on the screen. Seasons one and two of The Good Place are now streaming on Netflix. Season three premieres Thursday night, that’s September 27, on NBC.

You’ll have a blast, learn actual philosophy, and suddenly enter an inside joke with millions on the internet whenever you watch a Jacksonville Jaguars game. That will make sense, I promise.

I’m Evan Rook. 

18-25 Segment 2: How Comedy Became King

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We love to laugh. Our lives are filled with humor in various forms, from comedy shows to joke books. Ken Jennings, former Jeopardy champion and author of Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture, calls Twitter “one big joke contest.” Jennings explains more about the abundance of comedy in our culture and whether it’s a good thing.

Comedy was not always king. In fact, people used to value strength, hard work, and skills over humor. But as the world has become more automated, humor is one of the few human skills that can’t be replicated by a robot and, thus, is considered of prime importance. Often, it tops the list in what people are looking for in a partner.

Jennings points out two milestones in comedy’s takeover of our society, in advertising and in politics. Once this trend was started, everybody else had to keep up. This is why, now, we get our news from comedy shows and watch the Super Bowl for advertisements.

Humor, no doubt, makes people happy and has many positives. The increase of humor for activism purposes is one example of it being used for good. But, Jennings’ book has a punchline: “if everything is funnier, why aren’t we happier?” It may be that jokes are too plentiful, or it may be that they have infiltrated in areas where they aren’t appropriate. Comedy can often be used for ignoble purposes, to sell or cover up scandals for example. So, Jennings encourages us all to reevaluate our attitudes toward humor and make sure it plays an appropriate role in our culture.

To get your own copy of Jennings’ book, see the links below.

Guest:

  • Ken Jennings, former Jeopardy champion and author of Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture

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Coming Up On Viewpoints Show 18-25

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Domestic Violence: How It Happens and How to Stop It

Domestic abuse is something many women and men will experience in their lives. We talk to two psychologists familiar with the subject about what victims can do to remove themselves from the abuse and how being a witness to or a victim of abuse affects the intimate relationship, children, and the family dynamic.

How Comedy Became King

Comedy is all around us: all over social media, in advertisements, even on church signs. Former Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings says that while it can be fun, it does come at a cost when jokes are made in arenas where they’re inappropriate. We discuss the history and impact of jokes on our culture.

Culture Crash: A new Spider-Man movie worth getting excited for

Spider-Man movies have been done and redone several times now, but a new animated movie about the web-slinger is coming out in December, and it will finally tell the story from a fresh perspective.

15-27 Segment 1: Comedy and Comedians, How do they get so funny?

 

Synopsis: Everyone likes a good comedy show, and these days there seems to be a comedian around every corner. Comedy club comics, television shows, movies and plays that try to make us laugh at the absurdities of life are very popular, but did you ever wonder just how they come up with their material? We talk to a veteran comedy writer about the process of writing funny stuff and the successes and failures that make a comedian a star.

 

Host: Gary Price. Guests: Joe Randazzo, head writer for @Midnight on Comedy Central, former editor of The Onion, former creative editor of Adultswim.com, author of the book Funny on Purpose: The definitive guide to an unpredictable career in comedy.

 

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Click here to read transcript