Re: Holiday Card, 2015

Or, A Year of Mess and Mayhem

As I write this, Facebook is exploding with holiday affection. Tags from JFK, ORD, SFO, ATL, PDX flood my feed—friends passing through city hubs, on their way back from family-filled suburbs and small towns.

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My impression is, one to two weeks at home is just long enough for most people to miss and hug their loved ones without winding up in the kitchen, aggressively doing dishes to drown out the sound of mom suggesting that you “talk to a professional,” while dad speechifies in a wildly inappropriate Indian accent the next room over.

One of the greatest parts about living in DC is that, beginning December 21 or thereabouts, the city goes silent. Like all of Congress, I am a proud and steadfast procrastinator. Come Thanksgiving, I believe there isn’t anything I could do that can’t get done in January. So for the last few months of the year, instead of bettering myself, socializing or being productive in any fashion, I binged the best television of 2015. Turns out, this was incredibly appropriate endeavor for a season often characterized by nervous breakdowns and family squabbles.

In 2015, television was filled with dysfunctional people and uncomfortable mayhem. So-called comediessitcoms!—went all-in on some troubling stuff. The halcyon days of Friends and Gilmore Girls are no longer! TV goes, WE REFLECT YOUR FRACTURED REALITY, MILLENNIALS! SHOW NO MERCY! I just wanted to watch some stories and drink eggnog. Just kidding, eggnog is gross.

Take Hulu’s Casual, for example. A stupendous Michaela Watkins stars as Valerie, a newly-divorced mom living with her teenage daughter and emotionally stunted brother, Alex. Supposedly, the show is a portrait of casual dating—the online variety, hookups at bars, terrible setups, etc. Awkward sex with a bartender! Fantasizing about your hot photography teacher! Discovering that your absolute soul mate is “open,” and that you’re totally not cool with it! Too real.

But really, Casual is about family. Alex and Valerie were wrecked by their wackadoo parents, and work like hell to protect Valerie’s daughter from the same insanity that has made them both incapable of commitment. The series is an enormous heartbreak, one episode at a time.

We wait our whole lives for our parents to apologize. They wait their whole lives for a “thank you.” No one ever gets what they want.

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 Ditto season 2 of Transparent, which as been universally adored and think-pieced (I will not subject you to more here). Transparent and Casual are filled with objectively selfish, messed-up people. But these folks are also painfully aware of their shortcomings, and fight them every day—not because they want to be better, but because they want to be happy.

Basically forever, television has been an art form contingent upon empathy. We root for our heroes—and the particular deliciousness of watching The Sopranos and Breaking Bad is in sympathizing with evildoers. Valerie, Alex and the Pfeffermans aren’t villains—they’re clueless jerks. To be human is to commit small, mean crimes against the ones we love most. We all get that, just as anyone can understand the desire to be content, at whatever cost.

These are your people. They love you no matter what.

TRANSPARENT

The most poignant illustration of this phenomenon: season 2 of FXX’s You’re the Worst. This spectacular series follows Jimmy and Gretchen—truly odious people that are made for each other, in all their shitty glory. The first season was a standard (if slightly unpleasant) love story. This year, the show took an unexpected turn: Gretchen falls into a deep depression, and everything falls to pieces.

I can’t tell him my brain is broken.

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Depictions of depression are tricky, and I leave it to cleverer critics to judge whether or not Aya Cash’s portrayal is “truthful” or “accurate.” I’m much more interested in the way that Gretchen’s boyfriend and best friends deal with her. Some comfort her. Some look the other way. Jimmy gets angry, and almost leaves about a hundred times.

This is not unexpected. The premise of You’re The Worst is that the characters suuuuuuck. So, it’s almost easier to watch Jimmy say the terrible things we wish we could say when our loved ones are suffering: SNAP OUT OF IT. MAKE A DIFFERENT CHOICE. WHAT ABOUT ME. Still, Gretchen and Jimmy both deserve happy endings.

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Casual, Transparent and You’re The Worst are billed as comedies. A bundle of laughs, all of them! Except I did laugh. A lot. Not the way I giggle at Bridesmaids or Parks and Rec. But—as anyone who has taken Intro to English Lit will tell you—great comedy goes hand-in-hand with immense sadness.

I want to say: watch these shows. You’re like, kind of a bummer gift for the New Year, no? Well, I don’t care. I didn’t get to pick my Secret Santa, and you don’t hear me complaining about my iTunes gift card. 2015 was a weird and amazing year—for me, and for TV. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.

–Elise

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Holiday Card, 2015

Happy Holidays, friends and lovers! How I’ve missed you. I hope the ups of your 2015 outpaced the downs, and that you didn’t have too many unbearable hangovers. 

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Merry Christmas from this girl, whose sweater is equal parts comfortable and insane.

Let’s catch up. As my (belated) Festivus gift to you I present: a letter full of hot recs!

PODCASTS

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If I had to distill the most important thing I took from 2015, it was Self Care. My life hashtag has been #notimeforscrubs for quite a while now, but I’ve expanded it to include more than just idiots from my dating life, past and future. #notimeforscrubs means no time for toxic friendships, negative self-talk, or events for pure obligation’s sake. It means more time for yoga, chiropractic appointments, and face masks. I started therapy this year, and I tried ear acupuncture. My 2016 resolution is to floss. I’m really trying to get it together. A huge influence for me in this realm has been the Buzzfeed podcast Another Round. Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu make a point to discuss the practicalities of taking care of yourself, and they ask each of their guests (including Hillary GD Clinton!) how they take care of themselves, too. Just as important, they are hilarious, and I wish they were my real-life friends.

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I don’t usually recommend people go back to the beginning of a podcast, unless they’re a freak completist like me. It’s overwhelming and time-consuming. But the best thing about Hello from the Magic Tavern is the fully formed fantasy world Arnie Niekamp, Matt Young, and Adal Rifai are building, and it’s worth it to get in on the ground floor. The backstory: Niekamp is a human who fell through a portal in Chicago to the magical land of Foon. He’s joined every episode by pals Usidore the Wizard (Young) and Chunt the shapeshifting badger (Rifai), and they have a roundtable chat with a local colorful character. Think Dungeons and Dragons meets Professor Blastoff (RIP). The most impressive feat the show pulls off is the continuity between episodes. Even one-off guests readily reference rules of the universe established in previous weeks. Usually fictional podcasts are not my bag, but this hits all the right notes of the most fun improv you’ll ever see except in audio form. Full disclosure: As of this posting, Adal coaches my improv team, but he will likely never read this, so NO I’M NOT SUCKING UP.

Elise mentioned Mystery Show in her summer postcard, but I’d like to reiterate how incredible that show is. Start with the “Belt Buckle” or “Source Code” episodes. Really, anything on the Gimlet podcast network is worth your time, if you’re looking for something new. Reply All is unmissable, too. Honestly, I will listen to anything Gimlet puts out; they’re doing good work.

TV

FX had a stellar year, upping the ante on a bunch of their shows. The Americans, You’re the Worst (yeah, yeah, technically FXX), and Fargo all blew their previous seasons out of the water.

I’ve also continued upon my inadvisable rewatch of original 90210. Unless you unapologetically like bad TV, like some people I know, you have better ways to spend your time.

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What is anyone wearing, ever

MOVIES

Well, what about a little indie gem called The Force Awakens? Truthfully, I’d like to just list it here ten times, but that feels lazy. I’ll just say it was the most fun I’ve had at the movies in literal years, and if you’re not a Star Wars person, I still think you’d like it. But I’m a little too close to the material to know for sure. I could seriously watch BB-8 give a thumbs-up on repeat for five hundred years.

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Spotlight is also great. It’s part procedural, part thriller, and covers the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, as brought to light by The Boston Globe. Though it dramatizes true events, it doesn’t add any extraneous nonsense to make the story more big-screen friendly. It’s just a bunch of 2000s journalists in hideous outfits doing their jobs really well. Pro tip: I spent the whole movie thinking Cardinal Law was some sort of catechism, but it is, in fact, a person’s name. So much for 13 years of Catholic school.

Sisters isn’t getting much love, which is sadly fair. But if you like Tina and Amy at all, their chemistry certainly justifies a rental. I will be plagiarizing many of my future sick burns from the script, including: “I respect your jumpsuit, but not its contents.”

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BOOKS

In October, I successfully completed my Goodreads challenge to read forty books this year and felt a powerful sense of accomplishment, because my self-worth is determined by To Do lists. Unsurprisingly, I have significantly slowed down since then. Currently I’m reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It’s sad as fuck, guys. But so beautifully written. Now that I’ve finished my challenge, I am savoring the act of reading, instead of blowing through pages to cross another novel off the list.

MUSIC

My new music consumption is pathetic. As I edit this, I am listening to The Head and the Heart’s 2010 self-titled album, which I have heard approximately eleventy-bajillion times already. Sure, I bought Adele’s new album (and tickets to see her in concert, doi), and I have intensely lip-synced to it around my apartment. I like Leon Bridges’ album a whole lot, but usually when I put on Spotify, I head straight for the “Focus” section because I have work to do. I’ve written many jokes to the energizing instrumentals of the “Productive Morning” playlist. (And not always in the morning, either.)

I guess what I’m asking, dear reader, is what music should I be listening to? What were the albums you couldn’t live without this year? No aggressively dissonant music need apply, but I am otherwise open.

I’m trying to try, though. I even bought a record player this year! And my transformation to completely insufferable is now complete! Unfortunately, I had to replace my turntable within a month, and the new one was also non-functioning, so now I have about 15 records with no way to play them. Take pity on me and my virgin copy of Dolly Parton’s Greatest Hits.

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Thats it! Merry happy, everybody, and see you in 2016!
Alison

He Lives: True Detective Season Two, Episode Three

I had a sad realization this week. Covering True Detective has forced me to pay closer attention to it than anything I’m actually enjoying on TV right now. Like Elise, it’s rare that I watch TV without multitasking. I spend most of UnREAL browsing Hinge despite the fact that I’m truly invested in what’s happening onscreen. But because I have to take effing notes on this trainwreck, I can tell you more details about Colin Farrell’s mustache than names of contestants in So You Think You Can Dance’s Top Twenty. You’re all welcome.

Anyway. Let’s say what up to our buddies.

Detective Ray Velcoro

Yup, not dead. DOI EVERYONE. Of course he’s alive. If this season of True D has proved anything, it’s that the long shadow of season one has made it scary for the show to take risks.

Besides being alive, Velcoro is sort of boring this week. He has daddy issues, and he refers to weed as “grass,” which, no. If the character was black, Pizzolatto would probably have him call it a “jazz cigarette,” while playing the trumpet.

Sidenote: Has Farrell been wearing a bolo tie this whole time? (A quick image search says: “Yes.”)

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Frank Semyon

“It’s unnatural. Don’t feel right,” Semyon says upon failing to pop a boner in the IVF sample-collecting room. (Sorry, Red. You can take your v generous bj and scram.) Vaughn even sounds stilted dropping the subjects from his sentences. Please. For the love of McConaughey. Stop giving him these ridiculous lines. He cannot do them. He is doing a bad job.

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“I want to sex it up, but I’m so, so sad.”

One of Semyon’s toadies describes someone as “half anaconda, half great white” without irony. What?!? That sounds like exactly zero humans that exist.

Frank is impotent all over the map in this episode. He can’t get it up at the doctor’s, and he doesn’t have any pull with his old buddies from the underworld. Actually, the latter dynamic piqued my interest. He’s lost his cache from trying to go legit. When he needs his #squad, no one’s having it, and in his frustration, we see more of the Old Scary Frank. He certainly seems more at home threatening people, or pulling their teeth out, as it were. If his desperation leads to more of his inner thug shining through, then I’m all for it.

Detective Ani Bezzerides

Maybe it’s my unmitigated love of Rachel McAdams, but I’m coming around on her just a little. She’s a capable cop, perhaps the most capable of our motley crew. She and Velcoro are forming an unlikely bond, too. It’s unclear how genuine it is, but even a fake connection between the two is a relief.

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She has a touch of “Be Like a Man to Be an Interesting Woman” Syndrome, but that might be the best we can hope for in a female on this show. She dumps Motocrossed without ceremony, and he’s the one that has a stereotypically-feminine meltdown. “You started this!” he exclaims incredulously after she tells him it’s done. Oh, buddy. You’ll learn in time to play it cool. And instead to express such sentiments to your closest fourteen friends via text.

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I KNEW HE WAS GAY, I KNEW IT I KNEW IT. And the gay hustler at the end is my favorite character in the entire season so far. Oh, look! A smile! And the heavens parted, and God said, “it was good.”

In case you haven’t heard, Taylor Kitsch and Rachel McAdams are reportedly dating, combining two of the greatest Canadians exports into a hockey-playing, Drake-listening supercouple. When they’re driving together to the mayor’s gaudy mansion, all I can think is “THEY ARE FALLING IN LOVE RN, AND WE ARE WATCHING.” She backhandedly compliments his looks, and he smiles, and PROBABLY TAKES IT PERSONALLY AND CONTINUES ON THIS ROLLER COASTER JOURNEY OF HAPPINESS.

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[Insert heart-eyed cat emoji here.]

And if that’s the only good thing to come out of True Detective this season, I’ll take it.

—Alison

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).

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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.

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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

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.

mad men

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