Jack of All Trades

Jack of All Trades

“Jack of all trades, master of none” is supposed to describe Master of None’s lead character, jobbing New York actor Dev, not the show itself. And yet.

Master of None has gotten pretty much universal critical acclaim and been nominated for lots of awards, but when you get down to it, it’s a pretty okay show with a handful of very good episodes. I rarely complain about things being derivative, because art being original is less important than its being well-executed, but it’s frustrating to watch Master of None get praised for inventing things that I’ve seen on TV or in movies many times before, from being a romantic comedy where the man has feelings (the works of everyone from Chaplin to Apatow mustn’t count, I guess), to doing a Slacker episode, which I felt like I’d seen a hundred times before and I haven’t even seen Slacker.

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The Last Slapstick Artist

The Last Slapstick Artist

If you know Kaitlin Olson at all, you know her as barmaid and failed actress Dee Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the best show on television. The only comedy actress on television in the same league as Kaitlin Olson is Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld and Veep, and in a better world, their rivalry would be the Emmy story of the past six years. We’d all hold our breaths right as they announce who’s won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series – is this Julia’s year or Kaitlin’s? Everyone would politely clap for Lena Dunham and Edie Falco and the other nominees, but we’d know it came down to Julia or Kaitlin, and if anyone else won, it would be the biggest upset of the night, like when Jeff Daniels won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for The Newsroom, a show that I like way more than the average person and which I would definitely never give an Emmy for anything.

Instead, we’ve had five years of Julia Louis-Dreyfus waltzing away with the award because her one true rival wasn’t there to challenge her.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Nostalgia

What We Talk About When We Talk About Nostalgia

Save the Tiger is the story of Harry Stoner, the owner of a clothing manufacturer in Los Angeles, as he tries to keep his company afloat through a season of hardship. He goes to numerous ethically dubious lengths to do so, and worst of all, he spends the whole time pining for the simplicity of his youth, when baseball players would put the spikes of their cleats right in your face and you knew how a plane stayed in the air because you could see the propeller on the wing. Even Jack Lemmon, the most charming man in history, can’t make Harry Stoner’s meandering trips down memory lane anything but annoying.

Then Harry stands at a podium to shill for his company’s new fashion line. He looks out on the crowd and his face turns white. His audience of middle-class drunks have been replaced by a legion of war dead, young men that Harry saw blown to pieces and shot to stillness in the Second World War. They stare at him in total silence. Harry tries to speak, but he can’t.

This is what we talk about when we talk about nostalgia.

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We All Live On a Lonely Island

We All Live On a Lonely Island

Five years ago, Andy Samberg made his final appearance as a cast member of Saturday Night Live. It was the end of a seven-year run in which he and his comedy partners, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, not only helped to save the show from cultural irrelevance but redefined popular culture for decades to come.

We gather today to remember their impact, their accomplishments and their dick jokes.

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Hamilton Tickets

Hamilton Tickets

We live in a time of great crisis and upheaval. The contradictions of the grotesque global atrocity known as capitalism continue to tear holes in the fragile fabric of the post-war liberal consensus that has guided the political culture of the western world for over seventy years. Each tear creates a new opening for resurgent fascists and other far-right extremists, who march openly in the streets of major cities for the first time in decades. The liberal centre offer no resistance to their rise, while conservatives, who have always been craftier and more pragmatic, prove eager collaborators.

After decades of failure by the professional political class, the dispossessed and disenfranchised of the world look elsewhere for solutions, and every attempt by the left to offer a more compelling alternative vision of the world than either the capitalists or the fascists is scuppered either by our own disunity or the constant treachery of centrist elites more afraid of a tax hike than eugenics. Meanwhile, poverty tortures and kills us, and the state tortures and kills us, and we torture and kill each other, and the greatest fear of all is not that some great and terrible calamity will happen, but that nothing will happen at all, and the only future is the violence and oppression of this present moment stretching infinitely forever and ever.

But let’s not talk about any of that today. Instead, it’s time we addressed another plague of modern civilisation, a malady that infects both our artistic and political culture, and threatens to consume everything that lays before it like a horde of rats.

I speak, of course, of the hit musical Hamilton.

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A Town Called Fortitude

A Town Called Fortitude

How do you talk about a show influenced by Twin Peaks without burying it in the shadow of Twin Peaks? Twin Peaks is widely considered one of the greatest TV shows of all time, and certainly one of the most important. Now more than ever we are awash in a sea of shows – good and bad – that follow an investigation into a murder or disappearance in a small town that kicks up buried secrets and drags unspoken darkness into the light. And whether a show like that is good or bad, someone is going to compare it to Twin Peaks.

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The Gang Fights Neoliberalism

The Gang Fights Neoliberalism

American politics, for the past couple of decades up until just recently, has operated on a binary: liberal/conservative. A lot of the time, this leads to weird semantic problems – calling Bernie Sanders “very liberal” when he’s not a liberal at all, calling Donald Trump a conservative when his ideology has very little to do with conservatism  – but the way we talk about ideas informs what ideas become. If you only see things in terms of liberal and conservative, you can deeply misunderstand things happening in front of you. Worse, when you lose the words to describe them, the possibility of other distinct political philosophies can disappear.

South Park is a libertarian show. It’s always been a libertarian show. I find it hard to imagine a show more upfront with its ideology than South Park. Yet there are countless posts and articles debating whether South Park is secretly liberal or secretly conservative, as if it’s secretly anything. Even more bizarre is the common idea that South Park has no ideology at all. Interviews with titles like “Matt Stone & Trey Parker Are Not Your Political Allies (No Matter What You Believe).” Academic articles with titles like “Pseudo-Satire and Evasion of Ideological Meaning in South Park.” If an ideology does not fit within either of the boxes I have in front of me, it must not exist at all.

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