Three staffers, three unabashed recommendations.
Netflix’s true-crime-doc parody American Vandal isn’t gut-bustingly hilarious at first, even though its premise is patently silly: The true crime being investigated here is the spray-painting of 27 penises on faculty members’ cars in a high school parking lot. But the filmmakers take that silliness and weave it into a pitch-perfect satire of Making A Murderer and especially Serial, which actually seems to be more of an inspiration. At first, it seems like an open-and-shut case, with dumb-as-nails student Dylan Maxwell already expelled for the crime. But over eight episodes, American Vandal twists and turns in ridiculous fashion—but those twists and turns are rarely more ridiculous than the ones that take place in the show’s targets. Add to that some pretty incredible performances by the young actors, and it’s a smart, weird treat that I bet will gain a following in the months and years to come. It’s probably two episodes too long, but you’ll forgive that when you get another interview with Calum Worthy as the weaselly Alex Trimboli. [Josh Modell]
I was an unabashed band geek in high school and classically trained on the piano, but because it wasn’t an instrument in symphonic band, my tribe was the 18-piece jazz orchestra. We played Count Basie and Sammy Nestico arrangements as an ensemble, and when called upon, we soloed with whatever blues scales we memorized, throwing out random notes and hoping some landed cleanly. I recently began playing the piano again and trying to pick up jazz, this time with a more structured pedagogy. I turned to the regarded classics: Mark Levine’s The Jazz Piano Book, Tim Richard’s Exploring Jazz Piano, the many books by Jamey Aebersold, which all lean on voicings and theory. A good foundation, but I learned more playing by ear.
Then I stumbled on a lovely improvised cover of “Another Day Of Sun” from La La Land by pianist Peter Martin, who, I discovered, has an Open Studio series of online video courses teaching pianists how to become jazz musicians. The company features an impressive roster of jazz professionals, including bassist Christian McBride and trumpeter Sean Jones. I was able to test-drive Martin’s Jazz Piano For Beginners (a monthly subscription costs $47; lifetime access, $197), meant for those who can play rudimentary songs with both hands. Martin, a genial teacher, approaches jazz as many of the great musicians do: playing by listening. As much as one learns about “shell voicings” (the essential notes of a chord), he discusses more intangible concepts like swing, groove, and timing. What makes these courses better than the two-minute YouTube tutorials, in addition to getting the quality you pay for, is the site’s design interface. Onscreen sheet music, dancing along like a karaoke bouncing ball, makes it easy to follow along note by note. Yes, jazz piano is a rather esoteric skill, but rediscovering my love for playing has proved rewarding, and short of hiring a teacher for expensive weekly lessons, Open Studio is hands down the most effective way to learn. [Kevin Pang]
For my money, there are few comedies better than Green Acres. Perhaps it’s because I grew up watching the show, but I’ve always found its surprisingly dry fish-out-of-water pastiche to be both sharply funny and charmingly delightful. That’s why I was thrilled to find out that Shout Factory was issuing the show’s entire 170-episode run on DVD on October 17. The show’s six seasons have been floating around individually for years, and I’ve always considered picking them up to check in on ol’ Oliver and Lisa Douglas, but when I saw the complete set, I knew I had to pull the trigger. Although the special features are understandably limited—they didn’t make a lot of behind-the-scenes featurettes back in the late ’60s—what is there is great, including footage of Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert on The Merv Griffin Show in 1966. It’s a great look at a time that once was, and a weirdo world that undoubtedly influenced the creators of shows like Parks And Recreation. Screw watching old reruns of The Office on Netflix. Pick this up instead and get to know your TV history. [Marah Eakin]