Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The great HBO show you’re not watching and 4 more can’t-miss entertainments

Illustration for article titled The great HBO show you’re not watching and 4 more can’t-miss entertainments

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


Enlightened (airing now on HBO)
Though its HBO slot-mate Girls grabs all the attention—the New York Times is practically publishing a weekly foldout at this point—Enlightened has grown into one of the most compelling half-hours on television, a character study that has recently morphed into suspenseful corporate cloak-and-dagger. Much of the credit goes to Laura Dern’s brilliant performance as a former company power player who retreats to a Hawaiian New Age therapy center after a breakdown and comes back looking to apply its hippie-dippie ideals to her workplace and herself. That she fails terribly and repeatedly—and that she’s often monstrously narcissistic—gives the show a wellspring of painfully funny comic opportunities, but creator Mike White (who also does fine work as Dern’s shy but smitten co-worker) takes her seriously, too, and keeps finding a little decency and integrity in the character. The second season has Dern and White working to expose corporate malfeasance, and while it sometimes feels like a subplot that’s spun out of control, it’s also given the show a fresh jolt of energy.  [Scott Tobias]

Oneohtrix Point Never, Rifts (in stores now)
The massive reissue of Daniel Lopatin’s 2009 compilation Rifts should be mandatory listening for anyone enamored with the “B-movie sci-fi soundtrack” side of electronic music. Collecting all of Lopatin’s early releases as Oneohtrix Point Never—2007’s Betrayed In The Octagon, 2009’s Russian Mind, and 2009’s Zones Without People—then adding an extra handful of tracks to clock in at over three hours, Rifts is a sprawling, cinematic experience, one that ostensibly tells a tale about a lonely astronaut, not that there’s much evidence of plot here. (Even though many song titles—“KGB Nights” and “Terminator Lake” in particular—would make for a fine shitty movie.) What is evident is Lopatin’s masterful command of the whole spectrum of synthesizer drone and sweeping arpeggios, on pieces that run the gamut from Terry Riley’s dizzying loops to Aphex Twin’s acid warps to the static-y melancholia of his own breakout 2011 work, Replicas. For best results, put it on and stare pensively at a dying city. [Sean O’Neal]

Kurt Vonnegut: Letters (in stores now)
It’s remarkable—but maybe not surprising—how closely Kurt Vonnegut’s voice in his novels resembles that found in his personal correspondence, some of which is collected in this excellent book. Vonnegut’s friend Dan Wakefield provides the introduction and some helpful notes (who’s being written to, context, etc.), but mostly just lets Vonnegut’s insightful, no-nonsense profundities speak for themselves. There’s lots of shop talk with editors and such, but also personal letters to his occasionally estranged daughter and frank exchanges about money, success, and life itself. [Josh Modell]

Tegan And Sara, Heartthrob (in stores now)
It’s possible to interpret Tegan And Sara’s seventh album as a sell-out, what with its hyper-slick production, radio-friendliness, and bubblegum-y fixation on love and romance. But those things are just extensions of what Tegan And Sara have always been about, and the fact is that Heartthrob is just a darn good pop record, stacked with monster choruses and lyrics that insinuate themselves quickly but expand and reveal new sides on repeat listens. Album opener “Closer” possesses one of the most immediately engulfing refrains this side of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own,” and the rest of the slight—or rather, tight—10-song album has many points that come close to hitting that same high: the vibrant “Goodbye, Goodbye,” the new-wave-y “I’m Not Your Hero,” and especially the remarkable “Now I’m All Messed Up,” which loses none of its energy in its shift to mid-tempo, and gains much more in its lyrical poignancy. Heartthrob may be slick, but it’s not superficial, and Tegan And Sara’s songwriting doesn’t just avoid being swallowed by the album’s polish; it shines brighter within it.  [Genevieve Koski]

Film Crit Hulk’s Tom Hooper/language of cinema column (Badass Digest, Jan. 9)
It’s odd that some of the smartest, most elaborate film criticism being posted online at the moment is being written in all caps with deliberate grammatical lapses. That’s the gimmick of Film Crit Hulk, who writes lengthy essays on topics like the fallacy of the plot hole and why not to hate directors. The shouty caps may induce headaches (FCH himself suggests using ConvertCase to fix them), but The Verge’s smart interview with FCH reveals a philosophical method to the madness that goes beyond gimmick. (Still, scroll down to the bottom for a “Bruce Banner Mode” button to lose the caps there.) There’s a real cognitive dissonance between the “HULK SMASH” voice and intelligent discussion of semiotics, but leaving voice aside, FCH’s January 9 column on Les Misérables, director Tom Hooper, Stanley Kubrick, and the fundamental language of cinema is one of the most thoughtful things that’s been written about the film. It starts with a breakdown of what different kinds of framing and camera movement mean, then explores why Les Mis does it all backward and upside-down. But the best thing about it is that it’s full of lessons that extend past one film; it’s a helpful key to better understanding cinematography in general. [Tasha Robinson]