We Get the World We Deserve: True Detective Season Two, Episode Two

Episode three of True Detective‘s season two airs tonight, so let’s catch up with our characters, shall we?

Frank Semyon

Episode two opens on Semyon philosophizing in the middle of the night to his wife. (So many redheads this season!) “It’s like everything is papier mache,” he pontificates to two water stains on the ceiling. Turns out his father left him locked in the basement with rats, and he’s bad with money! Coolcoolcool. I ask again, how did this guy get so powerful?

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Pizzolatto is clearly trying to lay his metaphor-laden language on Vaughn this season, but the actor can’t quite carry it off like McConaughey did. It was a novel part of Rust Cohle’s characterization, but now in season two, it’s a tool we’ve seen employed before (and more effectively, at that).

Officer Paul Woodrugh

OMG IS HE GOING TO FUCK HIS MOM? (Cool cold sore, lady.) She is v into it. They’re like the Darmodys of the SoCal trailer park world. Hopefully, it will remain subtext, unlike Boardwalk Empire BLECH.

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Is he going to turn out to be gay? I hope so, if only to semi-justify his offhand story of a “fag” at the bank. (Cool homophobia, bro.) But between that and his moody gay-prostitute-spying at the end of the episode, it also feels a little…obvious.

Detective Ray Velcoro

Update: he’s still working for the bad side, which now includes the shamelessly hammered mayor.

We meet his ex-wife, whom we’ve seen before as “Big Hair on Legs” in Rectify and Burning Love. She meets him in front of Buffalo Wild Wings (gimme that Asian Zing!) and demands that his visits with their son now be supervised because of his violent and inappropriate behavior. He is, somehow, shocked. America, on the other hand, is not.

In the car, he tries to joke around with Bezzerides about feminism, but since it’s the first humor we’ve seen all season, it doesn’t quite play.

He ends up back at Sad Bar USA with the scar-faced waitress. We will almost certainly see her naked before the end of the season.

Then someone in a bird mask shoots him at close range in a sex safehouse. It looks like this is also the place where Caspere (season two’s resident dead guy) got his dick shot off. It’s all very David Lynch. But there’s no way Colin Farrell dead, right? Structurally, we’ll lose all direct connection with Semyon, and he’ll die an almost irredeemable character. I’m not buying it.

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Detective Ani Bezzerides

Despite her pretentious High Horsing with her sex worker sister in the first episode, she’s very absorbed by her internet porn research for the case.

I do appreciate that she calls Velcoro out for being crooked in the same episode she receives the information. His silence, deciding whether or not to be honest with her, is much more interesting than her sitting on that knowledge until midway through the season.

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Nice e-cig, gf.

Let’s see what they get up to tonight!

Alison

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Text me.

I have a friend who tells the best First Contact stories. It’s remarkable—complete strangers are drawn to her (I mean, she’s beautiful) and then go out of their way (and possibly their minds) to track her down and text her in the craziest situations.

Here, the guy who hit her car:

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Here, the immensely unethical Verizon Wireless employee, taking advantage in a moment of post-phone recovery weakness:

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I’m so glad he specified “white dress shirt.” Otherwise she might have been confused.

I have great respect for the maker of The First Move. It’s incredibly hard to get right. This, from a girl whose thing is sending a Facebook friend request the morning after we meet, then being like, my work is done—it’s your turn.

Actually, I do okay. I get the number, send the text or email. Frankly—and this is a sentiment shared by most single friends of mine—I don’t meet that many interesting people. It’s a shame to let one slip by. So, creepy roadside dude: respect. Except maybe work on your text etiquette?

Aziz Ansari, as confused and exhausted by all this as any normal twenty-to-thirtysomething person alive, partnered with sociologist Eric Klinenberg to really examine (read: gaze in disbelief upon) dating rituals in his aptly titled book, Modern Romance. This American Life previewed their “social experiment”—a data-driven analysis of millennial attitudes toward love and relationships—last Sunday in a segment titled, “Romancing the Phone.”

I became a regular This American Life listener while living in the show’s hometown, Chicago. I heard my very first episode sitting on the curb at the Fullerton El stop, waiting for a boy who was always late, not very nice and never returned calls or texts. Needless to say, I crushed hard on him hard forever.

More than five years later, not much has changed.

Sunday’s episode of This American Life features Aziz and Eric at a comedy shop in New York City, soliciting real-life First Contact exchanges from their audience members—some truly appalling, others merely kind of sad in their sincerity and confusedness. My favorite goes like this:

[Text from boy stranger]: Hi.

Girl text: Hi…is this Connor?

Boy text: This is.

I imagine a confused and silent few minutes here, before the saintly Girl replies: Hi, what’s going on? 

Boy text: I’m actually just waking up. Picking my mix out for the morning. So far it’s consisting of Goodbye Horses and Big Pimpin.’

Girl text: Oh, nice! [NOT REALLY] What are you up to tonight?

Boy text: Not sure yet. I’m thinking I’ll eat some mushrooms.

This is what we’re working with.

Following a lively discussion of case studies like these, Aziz and Eric settle upon some best practices. Guys (and girls, because we can do it too!)–when you are in the very first tender and awkward stages of texting with someone you miiiight like, follow these simple rules:

Be personal. Hey, you mentioned that you like The National–have you heard this one? Check it out–it’s amazing.

Be specific. Want to get a drink at around 8pm tomorrow in Columbia Heights?

Be funny.

I take issue with this one—being funny is really hard. Also subjective. I think this actually means “be yourself.” Let your weirdo personality shine through. Don’t be aggressive about it, but know that if someone doesn’t get sarcasm and you’re a deeply cynical, observant and slightly judgmental person, it probably won’t work.

Ansari is hilarious. Klinenberg is interesting and smart. And it’s so very true: dating is hard. Today—via text, email Hinge, Tinder, OkCupid—being honest, knowing yourself and trusting people is really, epically hard. It’s so easy to unknowingly strike the wrong tone when you decide to put it all out there—or to ignore someone else when they do.

So, if you’re where I am right now—interested, freaked out, not sure about my life but certain that I’d like some company while I figure it out—take twelve minutes and listen to this excerpt of an always phenomenally sensitive and relevant show. What this audio clip demonstrates to me is: we’re all in this together. That people are basically kind, and calculated risks pay off, and if you’re a socially inept turd, that’s probably not going to change and stop it right now.

The courage to make the ask will set you apart. Or at least, it’s better than waking up the next morning and wishing you had…right?

–Elise

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

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.

A Special Day

Today is a very special day. [A young but mature-sounding number of] years ago, Alison was born, and she was fabulous.

Actually, she—like me—was pretty dorky and strange. Proud to let her freak flag fly until middle school—then, unsure how to contextualize her beautiful weirdness in a sea of scary pre-teens.

Until—college! Freedom! Thick-framed hipster glasses! And of course, many years of ME IN HER LIFE.

But this is about Alison. To celebrate, I have here compiled a few of her (and my) FAVORITE things, thematically united by girl-friendship and powered by strong, feminine wonder.

We encourage you to listen, watch, subscribe and enjoy—and to send one-half of your favorite blogging dynamic duo some love on her birthday.

WOMP IT UP!

lennon and jessI have already written ecstatically about the Lennon Parham/Jessica St. Clair best friendship—which inspired the delightful comedy Playing House on USA (returning for its second season this summer). 

Parham and St. Clair recently launched WOMP IT UP!, a hilarious podcast featuring recurring characters from Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang Bang! television show and podcast.

Join high school senior Marissa Wompler (St. Clair) and her BFF/sketchy middle-aged mentor and teacher, Ms. Listler (Parham) for hours of unending fun.

RIP Joan Rivers.

VERONICA MARS

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This was the very first show that Alison and I binge-watched together. Veronica Mars, a spunky and disconcertingly brilliant high school-aged private investigator, tackles all things dark, difficult and mysterious while navigating her own twisty adolescent feelings. Her buddy Mac—girl-computer genius—stands by her side throughout.

Often funny, super-entertaining, and available in TV, movie and –finally!—book form! Brought to you by the ridiculously awesome Rob Thomas.

TWO BOSSY DAMES

Created by sassy chicks not unlike Alison and me, Two Bossy Dames is a weekly newsletter in which, by their own description: “Margaret [librarian and pop culture critic Margaret H. Willison] and Sophie [Sophie Brookover, librarian and writer extraordinaire] boss the Internet with impeccable discernment and insouciant charm. Cultural recommendations and commentary every Friday evening. GIFs aplenty.”

Try it! If you don’t fall in love with Dames Margaret and Sophie immediately, consider us, as they might say, “highly puzzled by you.”

EXTRA HOT GREAT, FEATURING TARA ARIANO AND SARAH D. BUNTING

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A classic and immensely great pop culture podcast, conceived by the minds behind Television Without Pity and Previously.TV. Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting co-founded both sites, along with Tara’s deliriously insane hubby, David T. Cole.

Each week, an in-depth gab-fest featuring uniquely sophisticated television and film commentary. These folks know literally everything about what’s on the tube. Also, a game-time segment at the end of each episode that is often bizarre and very fun to play along with in the comfort of your mind.

BROAD CITY

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If you have not already caught this show on Comedy Central, do yourself a favor—Youtube some clips, or catch season one for free on Amazon Prime.

These girls are adorably gross and in love with each other—a must-see for twentysomethings living in cities that haven’t a clue. Alison and I cannot decide who is which—probably both of us are Abbis, if we’re being totally honest.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BUDDY!

 –Elise