Culture Crash 19-02: True Detective

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

Tonight marks the long-awaited, sometimes excitedly and sometimes with dread, but long-awaited, return of True Detective. The TV phenomenon of 2014 and possibly the biggest letdown of 2015 is back for its third season, and the early reviews suggest this should be more like the incredible first season and not like the dud of a season two.

Still gone is season one directing wonder Cary Fukanaga, but back is writer and creator Nic Pizzolatto, who has been attached to the show all along. This time he’s sharing the directorial duties with Jeremy Saulnier, the acclaimed director of Blue Ruin and Green Room, and Daniel Sackheim, an Emmy nominee with credits on Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, Ozark, and many other shows and movies. Even in his writing, Pizzolatto has sought some help from Graham Gordy and TV legend David Milch, who both co-write separate episodes of season 3.

Back on season 2, Pizzolatto faced a tough turnaround time, scrambling to make a second season that debuted just over a year after the first season finished. The end product seemed rushed, poorly plotted, and was generally hard to follow, even compared to the labyrinth first season. This time, Pizzolatto and co. have had more than three years to write a new season, that can hopefully recapture the old magic.

This go-around will be headed by Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali and takes place over three time periods in the Ozarks. The details are being mostly withheld, but it appears it will once again delve into a complex investigation of deeply macabre and disturbing crimes.

True Detective was a marquee hit for HBO back in 2014, and despite its stumble in 2015, it still represents a huge name-brand show for a network that will see its biggest hit, Game of Thrones, come to an end this summer. This is a show that matters for a network that still carries weight. For tonight, and the next seven Sunday’s, all eyes will be on HBO and True Detective. Let’s hope it rights this ship and enthralls us once again.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 18-52: Anthony Bourdain

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

As the year draws to a close, it’s the time on the calendar when we take a look back at who we lost this year. One such cultural giant was Anthony Bourdain, the famed chef and author turned travel documentarian.

His death is a curious one for me personally, because at the time of his death on June 8, I had very little exposure to his work. I had seen bits and pieces of his TV shows, but the night he died was the first time I ever watched an episode of Parts Unknown in its entirety. Bourdain’s library will be familiar to many of you: In each episode, he traveled somewhere in the world- it could be Houston or Chicago, Hong Kong or Puerto Rico, The Greek Islands or Hanoi, Vietnam. He would explore the terrain by eating their food and talking to locals about the cuisine and culture of whatever place he was in. By the time I went to sleep that night, I had zipped through four episodes, and was in love with his writing style and his adventures.

Since his passing, I have spent a lot of time with Anthony Bourdain. Before traveling to Melbourne last month, I made it a point to seek out an episode of his old show No Reservations where he went to Melbourne, and my wife and I modeled much of our trip after Bourdain’s. We sought out Middle Eastern food at two restaurants: Rumi and A1 Lebanese Bakery, both at Bourdain’s recommendation. We ventured into Chinatown, just as Bourdain had. I ate red chilis, barbecue quail, and a sausage at the Grand Victorian Market, just like Bourdain had. I was trying to retrace his footsteps, yes, but also he just had a way of describing food that made me absolutely have to try some of it for myself. Anyone on that trip to Australia with me heard me say his name at least a few times, because he became something of a travel guide for my trip. And the results were tremendous: the food was delicious and diverse. His words took us outside of the main Central Business District and urged us to take a trip to culturally rich corners of Melbourne I wouldn’t have even known about without him.

Since returning, I have spent the past few weeks reading his debut book Kitchen Confidential, where I have been able to learn so much more about him as a person: passionate, kind, and, yeah, rough around the edges with a certain brashness that lets you know he knows what he’s talking about.

When Anthony Bourdain died in June, I knew very little about him. But through his shows and his writing, I have gotten to know him like a friend. I’m so grateful for all that he left behind, and I so wish he hadn’t left the world of his own volition. There were more places that could have used a visit, or a return visit, from such a compassionate world traveler.

Resources for those contemplating suicide are always available at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or by calling 1-800-273-8255.

Anthony Bourdain was 61. 

I’m Evan Rook. 

Stay in the loop! Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook! Subscribe and review on iTunes!

Culture Crash 18-48: Watching Sports with a Second Screen

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

It used to be that when you were watching sports, you were only watching with the people in the same room as you. Maybe your family gathered around to watch Sunday Night Baseball, maybe you went to a friend’s Super Bowl party. Either way, you discussed the matchups amongst yourself, relying on the person next to you to pick up on any subtleties you missed.

Now, sports have become the gold-standard for entertainment that demands a second-screen. Watching a game is aided immensely by having your phone or a tablet at your fingertips. You can look up in-game stats, you can track scores of other games, or you can look through your Twitter timeline to share in the agony or ecstasy of your team’s failures and successes with a host of other fans and analysts in real time.

No longer do you have to sit at home and watch a game independently. Now, you’re at a bustling sports bar for every game, and the entire internet is sitting alongside you. The NBA Finals, World Series, and Super Bowl all completely take over the social media world, dominating the trending charts with hashtags and relevant players and coaches names. Within minutes of last year’s NBA Finals Game 1 ending, already the internet was full of memes making fun of the moment LeBron James yelled at JR Smith for not knowing the score in a crucial situation down the stretch.

It’s not all memes, though. The internet can also truly illuminate what’s happening on your TV screen. Have a question about a particular penalty or play? You can submit it to your local newspaper’s beat writer and occasionally get a response. Think Drew Brees looks slightly off in the third quarter? You can make that observation on Twitter and see if others agree or disagree with your assertion.

Management and coaching staffs have analytics guys crunching numbers to decide who starts and who sits. Now, us fans have social media, where we can parse through that same information to second-guess our teams every step of the way. Gone are the days when you have to watch a live event in the dark. Now, QB ratings, field goal percentages, and trade rumors are constantly just a click away, and as soon as the game your watching is over you can trust that social media has all the highlights you need to see from the other games you missed.  

I’m Evan Rook. 

Stay in the loop! Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook! Subscribe and review on iTunes!

Culture Crash 18-47: Amazon Prime’s Homecoming

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Director Sam Esmail has taken Gimlet’s hit podcast Homecoming and infused it with a whole lot of cinematic flair in his new Amazon Prime series that serves as a throwback to classic thrillers and a trailblazer for the brave new world of 30-minute dramas.

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Culture Crash 18-43: Netflix’s Binge-worthy Horror Drama, The Haunting of Hill House

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

It’s the week of Halloween, which means it’s the time of year to get a little spooked. Luckily, Netflix has your back.

Earlier this month, Netflix released The Haunting of Hill House, a 10-episode horror series loosely based on the novel of the same name by Shirley Jackson. The series follows the Crain family; two parents and five children, over the course of multiple timelines. We watch their time spent decades earlier in the Hill House, a creepy old mansion they moved into in an effort to flip the house, and we watch them in the present day. We know from the onset that whatever happened back in that mansion, it wasn’t good, and it still haunts them even now. 

It’s a scary show, and there are moments of pure horror, but mostly, it builds a lot of suspense. It’s also a well-done family drama. It features sibling rivalry, mental illness, drug addiction- it’s like This Is Us crossed with…The Shining.

Where many horror shows can feel like they exist just to gross us out with gore, this show feels created with a purpose. It will suck you in, thrill you, and haunt you. Perfect for a Halloween-week binge-watch.

The Haunting of Hill House is available to stream on Netflix now.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Culture Crash 18-41: Better Call Saul’s unique pacing and why it works so well

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

Television is a medium that heavily relies on shock. Over the years, cliffhangers have come to define TV. A season, or even an episode, almost always ends on a twist or a reveal designed to set up anticipation for the future.

One of the traditional ways that TV shows have kept these shock-and-awe moments coming is by moving things along quickly. As soon as some incredible act of deceit takes place, the show starts speeding toward that next signpost.

That’s where Better Call Saul, AMC’s Breaking Bad spin-off, differentiates itself. That show often moves at a glacial pace. It’s a law show with no case of the week format. It’s a show about drug cartels that focuses on the politics of the cartels much more than actual drug deals.

The nature of Better Call Saul is that it’s a prequel series to doom. We don’t want the flawed but lovable protagonist Jimmy McGill to become the scumbag we know we will become, Saul Goodman. As a result, Better Call Saul has a fanbase that revels in the slow, meticulous pace that sounds to outsiders like it would be boring. The faster the show moves, the quicker we’ll lose the characters to the madness that is Breaking Bad.

Most shows have no interest in slowing down, and for good reason. Audiences generally want to see the big moments, and don’t care much for the mundane ones. Better Call Saul has found a way to flip that dynamic on its head and still keep audiences totally engaged. It’s a daring experiment gone completely right.

The first three seasons of Better Call Saul are available to stream on Netflix. Season four is available on-demand through AMC.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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.