A lunatic drummer, Steve Coogan, and 3 more pop-culture musts

A lunatic drummer, Steve Coogan, and 3 more pop-culture musts

NOT OPTIONAL takes a quick weekly look at five essential releases, some recent, some not.

The Best Show On WFMU
Tom Scharpling’s beloved community-radio institution The Best Show On WFMU exists in two worlds. It inhabits a real world where its brand of free-form independent radio is an endangered species kept alive by the generosity and compassion of a motley assortment of kindhearted iconoclasts. But it also inhabits the fictional universe of Newbridge, which Scharpling and partner Jon Wurster (who moonlights as one of the most in-demand drummers in music) have transformed into a fully fleshed-out universe on par with The Simpsons’ Springfield or SCTV’s Melonville. Wurster’s calls to The Best Show as a series of outrageous, angry, and almost universally aggressive and unhinged characters (in one of the show’s many cherished traditions, several of the calls end with a death threat) are invariably highlights and have been collected into the spin-off podcast Best Show Gems. If Best Show Gems compiles the punchy, crowd-pleasing singles of the Best Show universe, then The Best Show On WFMU is more like a lovingly assembled double album full of deep cuts. Through it all, Scharpling presides as a righteous grump forever waging war against the crimes of a terminally half-assed pop-culture universe. The Best Show isn’t just an unusually beloved radio show. It’s a world onto itself, full of rituals and repetition and its own alternate history. Given the sad state of contemporary commercial radio, the world needs a righteous, unruly pirate ship like Best Show more than ever. [NR]

Howdy, Kids!: A Saturday Afternoon Western Roundup
As the baby boomers enter their retirement years and long for memories of their childhoods, Shout! Factory is right there to remind them of the TV they watched back when the invention was changing the way Americans structured their evenings and weekends. After a series of successful DVDs filled with early Saturday-morning kids programming, the company has turned its focus toward the Western serials that aired in the afternoons back in the ’50s. (The packaging says “Saturday Afternoon” to draw a direct link between this package and Shout’s earlier sets, but many of these programs were syndicated daily or broadcast every afternoon through other means.) Nobody is going to confuse anything on this set with one of the greatest TV shows of all time, but there’s a lot of fun to be had here, particularly at watching early TV trying to get around budgetary limitations and other constraints of a medium figuring itself out. The episodes have been chosen to elide some of the more problematic elements of the genre—though Tonto’s always going to be a difficult character to view through modern eyes—and if you don’t swoon at the sight of the Lone Ranger swooping in to the rescue, or at my mother’s favorite, Sky King, doing the same, the set at least makes it easier to imagine why kids of the ’50s were so enamored of their favorite heroes. (Howdy, Kids! comes out April 9.) [TV]

Gimme The Loot
Adam Leon’s directorial debut won the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW in 2012, and it’s fitting that it picked up the award in the Austin of Richard Linklater’s Slacker, because the film shares a similar curiosity and delight over the people and culture of its Bronx locale. The genius of Gimme The Loot is that it feels like a Linklater hangout movie, but with a plot that keeps it surging through its 80-minute running time. Charming amateurs Ty Hickson and Tashiana Washington star as friends and partners who run schemes and graffiti buildings around the neighborhood, but get little respect from their peers, especially a Mets-loving gang that’s encroaching on their territory. The pair have in mind the tagging Holy Grail: “Bombing the Apple,” that odd protuberance that rises up from the center-right wall in Shea Stadium—they refuse to call it “Citi Field”—whenever the Mets hit a home run. But first, they have to raise the $500 necessary to pay off the stadium employee who’s promising them access to the grounds after hours. This leads to a wonderfully discursive, ultimately impossible quest that takes them into the homes of eccentric neighborhood types and finally to the matter of how they feel about each other. In look and tone, the film bears a strong resemblance to Raising Victor Vargas, another sweet and funny NYC indie from a decade ago, but Leon has a sharper sense of how teenagers talk to each other and a greater willingness to veer into unexpected detours. (Gimme The Loot opened in New York on March 22nd to the highest per-screen average in the country, and will be available via IFC On Demand while it rolls out elsewhere.) [ST]

Saxondale
When you meet exterminator Tommy Saxondale in the first episode of this British TV comedy, he may come off as merely another walking punchline from the aging-rocker mold. He routinely waxes nostalgic about his days as a roadie for ’70s bands like Genesis and The Who, and he bristles against the tame trappings of suburban life. But Steve Coogan plays this role, one of his lesser-known characters, with appealing dignity and depth. As Tommy struggles to reconcile the two sides of his being—the side that drives a classic Ford Mustang Mach 1 and the side that putters around town in his doofy pest-control van—an erratic wisdom emerges. As Coogan put it in a 2009 A.V. Club interview, Saxondale will “sometimes say things which were genuinely well-observed and insightful and funny, and still in the next heartbeat, be an asshole.” It’s an underappreciated show that stands up to repeat viewings, and the whole series is available for streaming on Netflix. [JT]

Beware Of Mr. Baker
Ginger Baker was one of the greatest drummers of the 1960s—miles beyond the likes of Keith Moon and John Bonham, according to multiple talking heads in the documentary Beware Of Mr. Baker. But his drumming is only half the story, or perhaps less than half: The more widely interesting part of Beware is that Baker is a complete fucking lunatic whose life of hard-partying has been marked by massive left turns. He was a huge rock star in the late ’60s as part of Cream, but abruptly moved to Nigeria to play with Fela Kuti—then fell in love with the game of polo, which caused some friction between his revolutionary friends and those that owned the wealth in the country. After a stint in America, he ended up back in Africa, where he lives on a ranch whose front sign gives this movie its name. Director Jay Bulger—whose Rolling Stone article inspired the doc—has incredible access to Baker; it’s a personal relationship that offers insight into Baker that a simple interview never would’ve. Baker is comfortable enough with Bulger to speak freely, to yell, and even to physically assault him. It’s an incredible portrait of a talented guy who absolutely couldn’t give a shit about what anybody else thinks. (Beware Of Mr. Baker is available via most on-demand services now, and comes to DVD on May 14.) [JM]

More NOT OPTIONAL