Hard Pass: True Detective Season Two, Episode One

The further I get from Sunday night’s second season premiere of True Detective, the more my fog of confusion is burned off by “WTF?!?!” rage. The tone of the season two opener was grim, and it’s hard to see how the show will be able to escape the dreary world it’s built. The episode introduced us to four disparate main characters with little to no relationship to one another—so it’s fitting to present a character rundown in much the same way:

Detective Ray Velcoro

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Colin Farrell gives us his best Difficult Man, but instead of delivering the character in shades of gray, he’s a complete garbage person. Our friend the flashback teaches us that he was once a noble sheriff, but then his wife was beaten, raped, and impregnated with a ginger son of questionable paternity. Then, they got divorced. These days Velcoro spends his time getting lit with Vince Vaughn and beating the shit out of reporters while wearing a ski mask (a desperate callback to the meth-cooking masked man from season one, crying out “Remember last year? Remember how much you loved us? Let’s do that again.”).

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This script actively alienates us from Velcoro. He threatens to spank his chubby, victimized son in front of the kid’s classmates and stepfather. He uses brass knuckles to beat the crap out of a suburban dad and tells that guy’s kid to cut the bullying or else he’ll “come back and buttfuck [his] father with [his] mom’s headless corpse on this goddamn lawn.” He drinks himself into oblivion in the saddest bar in America, but then, Jimmy McNulty-style, miraculously drives himself to the crime scene where the episode ends. Frankly, this episode tried to buttfuck us all.

Detective Ani Bezzerides

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She has a couple things going for her. First of all, flawless haircut. If I had Rachel McAdams’ jawline, I’d go get it right now. She also does some kinky sex stuff (seemingly backdoor-related) with the guy from Motocrossed, fulfilling the dreams of early 2000s pre-teens everywhere.

BUT her full name is Antigone (whyyy), so named by her hippie guru father. A tip about a missing girl takes her and her partner to her dad’s “institute,” which is essentially a mansion/commune. It clearly will be relevant to the crime storyline this season, providing Ani with ample opportunity to work out her daddy issues on the clock. How convenient. Even more family problems: she completely slut shames her sister Athena (oy, no, I refuse) after busting the sexy webcam house where Athena works.

It pains me, but Ani is a textbook frigid bitch. Thank you, Nic Pizzolatto. We almost forgot that you’re halfway trying to make up for a whole season of television that used women solely as props for sex and violence. Pro tip: you’re not off to a great start. Oh, and she’s a drunk, too. Le sigh. I wanted so much better for you, Rache.

Officer Paul Woodrugh

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Oh, Taylor Kitsch. You so pretty. I remain unconvinced you’re not Tim Riggins IRL, and the Friday Night Lights people weren’t like “Well, we have to give you a different name in the show,” and you were like, “Ok, but it’s still just me, right?” and they were like, “Yes, just say whatever you want, and we’ll make the show around you.” You’ve got like four faces, and they’re all variations on a theme.

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I’m troubled, you see.

Just substitute Ruddrugh’s war crimes and impotence for Riggins’ daddy issues and alcoholism, and we’re in business. Also, he’s got a death wish: that helmetless motorcycle ride in the pitch-black genuinely scared me.

WWRD? What would Riggins do? Probably tell Paul to stop being a little bitch, but then secretly cry because he’s got a heart of gold. Texas forever.

Sidenote. This seems unfair, IMDB:

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Frank Semyon

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I totally zoned out during all Vince Vaughn’s parts, and I’m not rewatching this episode just to gather little nuggets of comedy gold for you monkeys. This is what I gathered: he’s a (former? attempting to be former?) mob boss. He and his wife are going to try IVF. He’s involved in a high-speed rail land development deal (zzzzzzzzz), but it’s not going well? He’s very insecure about his choice of venue for the big party. Vince, there’s no way you got to the top of the crime food chain or whatever by second guessing yourself. Fake it til you make it, Señor. But whatever. Do what you want. I don’t care about you at all because you were very boring.

Also, he supposedly helped Velcoro track down his ex-wife’s rapist back in the day, which is why the detective is so crooked now. He owes Semyon. But hello, everyone, Vaughn’s character has a weasle-y ginger crony that is 100% definitely rapist material. Calling it now: that guy is the father. YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST. [Note: I could not find a picture of the guy, but…just trust me.]

Welp, that wraps up the rundown. I got through each of the four leads without even mentioning what promises to be the dominant mystery of the season, which speaks volumes for the writing. I want it to get better. I really do. But even keeping in mind my high expectations, season two is like a flat (circle? heh) version of season one. Regardless, 100% I will be hatewatching the rest of the season. I’m nothing if not a masochist.

—Alison

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It’s Better In German

German is the coolest language. Ausgang. Erdnusse. Strasse. So much consonance. Everything sounds much more important—it’s like Germans carry all their historical baggage in the words they speak. Their signage alone is astounding—have you ever visited Berlin? If not, may I suggest that when you do, venture down a strasse for the pure pleasure of attempting to pronounce its name?

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I really like German. Also: I love a good war story, dig spies on TV and will watch anything produced by Sundance TV. I was primed to adore Deutschland 83the network’s new Cold War period-piece about an East German soldier going undercover in West Germany to ascertain American intentions re: nuclear weapons (real life spoiler alert—still unclear).

Deutschland 83 is a televised, stylish love letter to the classic spy thriller novel. I say novel for two reasons. One: structure. This is not a Golden Age-style, intellectual deep-dive into the undercover agent psyche (see Alias or The Americans). Like most decent spy novels set in wartime—Ken Follet’s Eye of the Needle, for example, or anything written by John le Carré—expository info is dispatched at the top. Meet our hero (sidebar—gorgeous), here are his circumstances (ugh, boring girlfriend) and this is his mission (hilarious undercover outfit, brought to you by a very special corporate sponsor).

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puma 2 Are Puma sneakers the same as Adidas? Both give men very feminine-looking feet.

The second reason? You read the show. That’s right! Deutschland is the first ever German-produced, German-language television show to air stateside. All German, all the time—except for the amazing Anglo 80’s synth-pop soundtrack. All else is subtitled.

If you’re like me, subtitles do not offend. I go out of my way to watch foreign films, particularly at old-timey theaters like Chicago’s Music Box or the San Francisco’s Film Institute. I do this primarily to feel fancy, but have also discovered truly delightful movies I would’ve otherwise missed.

But this might be the first television show I’ve read along with, and to my surprise: I totally paid attention. A sad and ridiculous truth about my (admittedly insane) TV-watching is that I’m often multitasking while I do. This makes me a highly unreliable television critic (hey—it’s not like I’m getting paid here), but more than that—I miss moments. Often I’ll be goofing around on my phone while a show plays, hear a line of dialogue delivered by Jon Hamm or Keri Russell and force myself to rewind. I can tell I’ve missed something.

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Deutschland is fantastic fun, straightforward and smart but not too heavy—a welcome relief now that Game of Thrones and Mad Men have wrapped (though nothing can save us from True Detective, which has returned to HBO on Sunday nights). After a few antsy, uncomfortable minutes—forced to keep my eyes on the screen—I was able to relax into the Deutschland story. I placed my trust in the writers and their characters, instead of dividing my attentions—and they did not disappoint.

I was reminded just how much energy quality television demands of its viewers. It’s the absorption reminiscent of a darkened movie theater, where you are immersed in an experience you really can’t escape. All good shows deserve this kind of undivided attention. For Deustchland, I was wholly engaged—at first because I had to be, and then because I was enjoying myself, and so dedicated an entire forty-two minutes to simply watching. And reading. And not missing a thing.

Deutschland 83 airs Wednesdays on Sundance TV at 11/10pm C.

–Elise

Summer Reading

The season of summer reads is upon us. Bustle has a must-list, and last week’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast featured a boisterous panel of romance novel aficionados stacked with recommendations.

There is a special quality to a summer book—well, there is a special quality to summer everything. Road trips! Light! Music in parks! But a truly excellent book devoured during the hottest months is one of life’s great pleasures.

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I get nervous and sweaty when people ask me what kind of books I like for the season. I’ve never been a genre girl: I’ll read anything on a beach, as long as it’s well written. And that’s a lame answer. What I know is that in the summertime, I want big, bright colors. Stories with straight lines, that are also thematically ambitious—about love and family and growing up, with a touch of magic and theater.

Guess what. I found them.

Young adult fiction has undergone a remarkable transformation in the past decade—earlier, if you mark Harry Potter as the beginning of its renaissance. Novelists embraced the challenge of writing for an adolescent but freaky-smart, imaginative readership that rejects condescension. Readers that enjoy fantastical worlds and believe in first loves, but are also trapped in the day-to-day drudgery of growing up.

So-called “teen fiction” is explosively popular among all ages—see The Hunger Games, The Fault In Our Stars, the Divergent series (shout out to fellow Northwestern alum, Veronica Roth—can I borrow eleventy thousand dollars??).

These past few weeks, I’ve immersed myself in gorgeous stories and my own memories of teenage life-or-death, do-or-die, fill-your-soul and drown-your-body crushes, humiliations and freak-outs. That time my eighth grade boyfriend pointed skyward and named a pair of stars after the two of us. How my best friend and I had a knock-down, screaming fight over a Dido CD. Et cetera.

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Remember middle school? That was—literally—the worst. But also kind of the best, right? The good days were THE GREATEST DAYS, even if followed by ones filled with ultimate despair. Man, does that make for good reading and good writing.

Want a mini summer-starter book list? Here you go:

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

I’ll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

I’ve fallen madly in love with every one of these writers and their characters. Rowell, Nelson and Wein write with all the mad intensity of high school wallflowers. Jandy Nelson is a particular badass—to wit, an excerpt from I’ll Give You The Sun, about teenage twins who can’t live together and can’t live apart:

He reaches for my hands, takes them in his. Our eyes meet and hold, and the world starts to fall away, time does, years rolling up like rugs, until everything that’s happened unhappens, and for a moment, it’s us again, more one than two.

“Wow,” Noah whispers. “IV Jude.”

“Yeah,” I say, the enchantment of him feeding my very cells. I feel a smile sweep across my face, remembering all the light…

It’s more feeling than words, right? You know that sensation in your gut—but would probably never think to call it an IV hooked up to your loved one. A young person overcome by the poetry of a moment might, though. Nelson’s Jude, Rowell’s Cat and Wein’s Kittyhawk inherit the highest of stakes (more obviously so in Verity, the story of captured British spies in Nazi-occupied France)—but each story ends in triumph. Earned triumph—not a default happy ending.

Maybe that’s because every day you survive as a teenager is a victory. I don’t know. But I think I do—I remember it, kind of. And I’ll be reliving all that I can stand in the summer sun.

–Elise

Eurovision 2015: A Selective Recap of My Come-to-Jesus Experience

Sometimes, I’m late to the pop culture party. There are only so many hours in the day, and sry, but I’m a human woman. I like to think that for those items worth consuming, I always get there eventually. (Except for The Simpsons. There’s too much, and just the idea of starting makes me want to cry.) Case in point: I can’t believe it took me 27 years to discover Eurovision. Robert, friend of the blog, forced me to watch it with him in a bar instead of attending a potentially-Tony-award-winning musical on Broadway. I have zero regrets: I will never miss Eurovision again. What is it, you ask? Oh, my dear American friend, let me educate you.

The Eurovision Song Contest is a music competition featuring most European countries (and Australia, who made their first appearance this year).  Each country submits a song, which is then performed live on TV and the public votes for their favorite performances. Countries cannot award points to their own submissions. Most are performed in English, and the event is campy as hell. Imagine the best of the Olympics, American Idol, and that international guy from your college dorm who was into “clubbing,” all in one. The contest has been going on for 60 years, and most Americans have never even heard of it. But this show is not fucking around. ABBA won Eurovision in 1974 with “Waterloo.” Celine Dion sang for Switzerland in 1988.

Enough background. Here are a few representative songs. I’ve included a mix of music videos, Semi-Final, and Final performances. (This is a potentially obscene amount of videos to watch, but like, what are you doing right now anyway? Work? Girl, please.)

Last year’s winner was Conchita Wurst from Austria with “Rise Like a Phoenix.” And yes, she is a beautiful drag queen with a beard. Because why wouldn’t she be? (Austria got zero points this year, even though they set a piano on fire. Oops!)

Spain’s entry is a perfect example of the batshit stuff you see year after year. Can you say “Barthelona”? The video is incredibly cheesy, but also takes itself very seriously. A shirtless man jogging in leather rags? A princess that turns into a tiger? Awkward green-screen plus a non-sequitur hawk? YES, YES, AND YES.

Lithuania is so cute! Also, they kissed for so long in the Finals that they missed an entire line of the song. Pandering.biz… (This is the Semi-Finals, where they really nailed it.)

I’ll quote our friend Robert verbatim describing Israel’s song, “Golden Boy” –

* Starts out and you’re like — do you think you’re Queen?

* Then you quickly realize that, no, it’s just a Bar Mitzvah video

Here’s the 2015 winner – Sweden! Remember when Beyonce danced with herself at the Superbowl? Remember wishing to yourself that she was a handsome but forgettable guy dancing with a chubby, cartoon twelve-year-old? Well, your dream came true. In the original video, the kid wore a dunce cap, so at least they fixed that. This is basically an Imagine Dragons song, but with shittier lyrics: “We are the heroes of our time, but we’re dancing with the demons in our minds.” Aren’t we all, Sweden, aren’t we all…

Russia came in second, which was very controversial at our bar in Hell’s Kitchen because of, you know, Putin and stuff. Everyone booed whenever the singer was awarded points. But I thought she was cute, and the song is the sort of power ballad that makes you roll your eyes but also warms your heart. I’ve included her Semi-Finals performance, because she had a shaky, deer-in-headlights vibe at the Finals.

Latvia’s song was just badass. I have nothing snarky to say.

Ditto Belgium. He’s like Lorde as a teenage boy.

Armenia was like, let’s make it sound sort of like the musical Chess, and also put every type of singer in it and hope that something sticks. Opera? Yeah, fer sher! Also, though the lyrics “don’t deny you and I” are ostensibly about a relationship, when played as a soundtrack to a music video with a slowly emptying family portrait they seem like a pretty pointed message about…genocide,…Obama.

If you just watched all those videos, congratulations! You now have Eurovision Fever. Now, go forth and spread the Good Word, but prepare yourself for a lot of blank looks.

–Alison

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Conchita Wurst is a trans woman.