Hey there! It’s been an interesting few weeks, hasn’t it? Well, if you’re curious, here’s what I’ve been watching when I haven’t been obsessively refreshing Apple News and Twitter, or standing on street corners with signs.
Ramy - I met Ramy Youssef a few times, back in New York, and I knew he was funny as hell, but I didn’t know he could make me cry, too. I never know what to expect from this show, where it’s going to go, and I love that about it. I think season two has made me love Hiam Abbass even more, she is a force. Ramy’s mom Maysa is my favorite kind of comedic character: so earnest it’s heartbreaking, but also hilarious.
Quiz - Speaking of people from Succession, Matthew Macfayden is becoming one of my weirdest crushes. I don’t know what it is about him, but I think Pride and Prejudice changed something in me. He’s wonderful in Quiz, as is the whole cast. I never got that into Who Wants to be A Millionaire, and I think sometimes I’m too good for game shows. But in the first few minutes of Quiz they asked how long the Titanic was, and when I was sure I knew the answer, I could feel my adrenaline surge. I’m clearly not too good for this at all.
I’d never actually heard the true story this was based on before, about a British couple who may or may not have cheated on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire back in its early days. Apparently they got quite a bit of abuse and harassment for it. But I think the social climate has changed a bit: I feel like nowadays, probably far more people would hear about contestants outsmarting a major corporation out of their money and just think, “hey, good for them!”
The Boy Friend - After my last entry, I figured I should actually watch a Ken Russell movie. I chose this because it’s apparently one of his more accessible ones, but also, we did this musical at my arts boarding school when I was in eleventh grade. I think it’s a stupid choice for a high school musical, because it’s a satire, but nobody knows what it’s a satire of! No teenager is familiar with British musicals of the 1920s, not even the biggest musical theater nerd.
But I’m a sucker for spectacle, and this had lots of it. Tommy Tune never failed to charm me. Also, Twiggy! She can act! She did seem more at home with the backstage scenes than the play-within-the-play, which makes sense, because the acting in The Boy Friend is intended to be farcical and over-the-top, and that’s hard to keep up.
The Apple - Hey, hey, hey! BIM’s on the way! I watched this at my friend Harry’s suggestion, after we saw Vladek Sheybal in The Boy Friend, and after I saw BAKOON tweeting about it. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it: I tend to get bored with bad movies. But while this wasn’t a good movie, in any sense, I was entertained the whole time. It’s a musical, sort of an Adam and Eve story, sort of a dystopia, and it ends with one of the most literal deus ex machinas I’ve ever seen. The thing is, as awful as this movie was, the premise wasn’t actually that absurd. Influencing people through music, partnering with the government, privatizing parks and buildings only for those who are part of a special organization — nothing Boogalow does would be beyond, say, Jeff Bezos. (Except perhaps literally being the devil. He’s not stylish enough for that.)
Duck Soup - Sometimes you read a book or watch a movie that you know was influential, and years of references that always went over your head suddenly make sense. Now, I knew a lot of Marx Brothers jokes: I had a Borscht Belt-esque algebra teacher who would write things like “Go, and never darken my towels again!” as the Quote of the Day on the blackboard, and one of my mother’s favorite books to reread was Harpo Speaks! But upon finally watching Duck Soup, I feel like I finally understand where so much of American comedy came from. The pacing, the staging, the archetypes… I was also in awe of the sheer quantity of jokes, which made me think of one of the really classic episodes of The Simpsons—but then, where did I think they learned it from? It also made me realize that while I spent so many years being pretentious and thinking I only enjoyed witty, erudite humor, I really love physical comedy. nothing made me laugh harder and delighted me more than Harpo’s sight gags. I think he may be my favorite.
The Normal Heart - Six years of theater school, and years of compulsively reading plays after that, and yet, somehow I missed out on reading Larry Kramer. But I knew about him, and his impact, and was devastated when he died. So I decided to watch this in his honor. I know some people think the film version is a little too slick and polished, and I can see that. But I was still deeply moved. Stephen Spinella broke my heart, and he was onscreen for maybe ten minutes, total. And Mark Ruffalo! I’ve never seen him play a truly angry person, besides the Hulk, who doesn’t really count. I’ve been thinking a lot about anger, in general, lately, and I think Ned Weeks (Ruffalo’s character, essentially a stand-in for Kramer) is a good example of how anger can be used to fuel activism and change. I think a lot of people don’t really understand that, but maybe they are beginning to.
I Am Not Your Negro - James Baldwin was one of those writers and thinkers who said things better than anyone else could. The film is based upon a letter to his publisher, because he wanted to write a book about the lives and deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and his relationships with them. What strikes him, as he’s writing the letter, is just how young these men all were. James Baldwin may have been one of the most eloquent men who ever lived, and it’s remarkable to hear him (well, Samuel L. Jackson) talk about these men’s lives, and his own life, in his own words. I particularly loved hearing about his friendship with Lorraine Hansberry, a massively underrated writer who also died far too young.
13th - What can I even say? I wish students watched this in schools. It’s just a perfect synthesis, showing the roots of our painful realities. It made me angry and heartbroken and resolute to keep fighting. It’s on Netflix, please watch it.
Stuff I Did This Week: Oof. Well, there’s been a lot going on, so it’s mostly just been fundraising and supporting protests and speaking out. But some things have been happening! For example, I found out I will be receiving an award from Miry’s List! It’s the organization I volunteer for that helps resettle newly-arrived refugees, by giving them the things they need to live their lives. Can you imagine coming to a completely new country with young children, and them not even having beds? That’s the reality for many resettled families, who have often already struggled for a long time, and Miry’s List finds out what they need and helps give. I am so incredibly, well, honored, to be honored by them!
Also, I am very excited to announce that Rhett Miller, one of my favorite musicians and an all-around sweetheart, asked if I wanted to help create a playlist for the show he’s doing June 12th on StageIt! I said yes, of course, and let my brother Jon (who first introduced me to the Old 97’s) and his wife also pick some songs. It’s at 6:00 Pacific Time, definitely tune in!
Fake BBC Show of the Week: Just Shut It, Jo!