Ah, the recently departed holidays. Finally some downtime to catch up on the movies, shows, books, music, and games everyone else had been talking about. Even though we cover pop culture for a living, we at The A.V. Club also had stuff we were jonesing to get to over those valuable vacation days. So, we’re curious:
What pop culture did you spend the holidays with?
As 2019 turned to 2020, I relished the opportunity to consume a bunch of media with zero obligation to immediately render an opinion. I couldn’t suppress every workday reflex, though, which is how I found myself rueing my blown chance to evangelize on behalf of Joe Pera Talks With You’s spectacular second season. The gentlest live-action show on Adult Swim continues to be so special, so strange, and so funny that I just couldn’t find the right words to say “You should watch this” within the confines of a formal review in early December. So I say them now: If you see the sublime in the mundane, if you seek a comedy that can balance the primal screams of Conner O’Malley and a lovingly arranged tableau of a Friday fish fry, you owe yourself a visit to Joe Pera’s Marquette.
Before adjourning for the holidays, I had written a list of all the shows that I planned on binge-watching in an effort to catch up. It turned out to be a fool’s errand: When I wasn’t checking out this year’s Oscar contenders, I mostly stuck to a pretty ambitious rewatch of The Office. However, one new show that I devoured in a snap was Netflix’s all-Black sketch comedy wonder, Astronomy Club: The Sketch Show. With each side-splitting scene, it quickly turned into the show that I would lovingly force Christmas visitors to watch. In just six way-too-short episodes, the cast flexed a mastery of satire with an eclectic humor that was all at once cultural, observational, relevant, and entirely odd. I’m more than ready for a second season.
I saw a ton of movies over the holidays: Little Women (which is as amazing as everyone said it was), the Star War, even the Jumanji sequel. But my favorite two-plus hours in the theater over break involved taking my 13-year-old-daughter to see 63 Up, the latest installment in the series that began with 1964’s Seven Up! Every seven years since, director Michael Apted has made a documentary starring the same group of (now former) schoolchildren, and there’s no other film project like it. The last one I saw was 35 Up in 1991, and I found it fascinating. There’s something inherently intriguing about Apted’s take on the Jesuit saying “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man”: How much do we change, really? So I was determined to see this latest and possibly final version (Apted, who’s helmed every installment but the first, is now 78), and with 63 years to look back on, the subjects got even more lively and profound. My daughter had the same reaction I did to earlier Up chapters and was riveted. For my middle-aged self, 63 Up offered valuable perspectives about the various paths we take in life, especially when that journey seems to be growing shorter. Although one subject cheerily cautions Apted, “There’s still plenty to do; it’s not all over yet.”
I don’t watch any reality shows that don’t involve foolishly serving risotto to Tom Colicchio, but in the span of a week my wife and I went from “Maybe we should watch Terrace House?” to “Now we watch nothing but Terrace House.” For those who don’t know Netflix’s greatest Japanese import, Terrace House is like a low-key Real World except everyone is nice and nobody speaks English. The best part, though, is the panel of commenters who check in throughout each episode to unpack what’s going on, giving simple dinner conversations the weight of an epic battle. It seems silly, but when big things do happen—like the discovery of a secret relationship hidden from the cameras—it’s so much more exciting than you’d expect.
On the opposite side of the coin, I crammed so much movie-watching into November and early December that I used the holidays as an opportunity to air out my brain a bit. That meant more reading and less screen time, so beyond introducing my dad to The Mandalorian, I actually didn’t watch all that much over the holidays. Instead, I tucked into Esmé Weijun Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias, an essay collection exploring the author’s experience living with schizophrenic illness. Some aspects of Wang’s writing—her deliberately opaque use of psychology jargon, her fear of being seen as an illness first and a person second—are relatively universal, while others—like the essay in which Wang gives readers a portal into what it’s like to feel reality slipping through one’s fingers through an anecdote about seeing the movie Lucy—are specific to her lived experience. All of Wang’s observations are trenchant and eloquently expressed, for an eye-opening reading experience that brings some much-needed empathy to a diagnosis that’s still laden with stigma.
I decided to relinquish my holiday joy and indulge in some true crime by watching Don’t F**k With Cats. I can safely say that I still had a merry Christmas and a happy new year, but this three-episode miniseries packs a suspenseful punch showing you just how vast the World Wide Web is and how even the smallest detail of information can be a vital piece in a gigantic puzzle. True-crime documentaries don’t usually give me the creeps, but this one certainly had me rethinking every choice I ever made regarding my social media footprint. Though the holiday season is supposed to renew my faith in humanity, Don’t F**k With Cats did just the opposite.
We’re often told to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” but The Imagineering Story wants you to do the exact opposite. This six-episode Disney+ docuseries offers a rare behind-the-scenes look at the makers of the magic responsible for all of Disney’s theme parks. In addition to providing insight into how your favorite ride was created, the series is refreshingly candid about Disney’s darker days, like the protests that marred the opening of Euro Disney and the rush job that led to the eventual complete revamp of California Adventure. Don’t tell Baby Yoda, but this is actually my new favorite Disney+ show.
Like Katie, I found myself needing a way to turn off my brain for a bit over the break, which made Cats the Jellicle choice for me. What can I say about it that hasn’t already been expressed in reviews, including our own, to pummel Tom Hooper’s ill-advised, incomplete adaptation of the musical? Well, I fell asleep once Rebel Wilson started eating roaches, and woke again when Jennifer Hudson began to sing, which left me ill-prepared for the air of “death cult” that permeates the whole production. But as far as giving my brain a rest: mission accomplished.