Taylor Swift, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and More!

Adam Conover raises a finger in a promo shot for Adam Ruins Everything

Welcome to What’s the Buzz, where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. This week’s entries come from: Rachel Stewart, Andy Hageman, Caemeron Crain, and John Bernardy.

Rachel: Well, it’s been a week. Right out of the gate, Taylor Swift dropped her new video for “You Need to Calm Down,” in all its glorious gay and kitschy technicolor. The Internet has acted accordingly by not being calm at all. From breaking down all the cameos, wondering what it really means, to speculating on whether or not she stole the concept from Beyonce, fans and haters have been wild. One thing is crystal clear to me: here is a pop star using her platform and wealth to support human rights when LGBTQ rights are under fire in the United States, and well, frankly, lots of other countries around the globe.

The video is littered (and glittered) with references to gay icons (That “Mom, I am a Rich Man” painting is an iconic Cher quote) while giving LGBTQ celebs from Youtube, TV (RuPaul’s Drag Race and Queer Eye), and music (Hayley Kiyoko, Adam Lambert) their day in the sun. Swift isn’t shy or coy when it comes to calling out the very fanbase that built her early country-focused career (portrayed here as flannel-decked redneck types with slur-filled signs). If anything, girl has finally snapped and has had enough of the homophobia and hate. She’s been writing her state leaders and the video ends with a call to action to sign her petition for the Equality Act. I feel like she quit playing nice two album cycles ago, but girlfriend decided to make an irreverent but piercing pop statement on how we should treating one another. And girl, I AM LIVING FOR IT.

She’s putting her money where her mouth is and creating a summer bop in the process. I’m not the biggest fan (although I think 1989 is a pop album of perfect proportions), but I gotta give a fellow Tennessee girl props where they’re due. Since the video launched, GLAAD (who is name checked in the lyrics) has also seen an influx of donations. Between her and Miley (whose new EP is even more amazing and also features RuPaul), I’d say there’s more than one way to be a woke and compassionate southern lady these days. PLUS THANK GOD IT’S BEEN 84 YEARS AND THE KATY PERRY FEUD IS FINALLY OVER.

Andy: If you’re keen to find a summer read that is aggressively addictive, politically poignant, and downright dangers, This Storm by James Ellroy hits this sophisticated mark.

Every single line of the novel, like all of Ellroy’s previous Los Angeles crime fictions, bristles with energy as it drives the narrative forward. The prose drives at such a manic pace that reading This Storm is a haptic experience; you may need to take breaks every few pages to let your brain cool off and your blood pressure slide down a few dozen digits. What’s amazing is how Ellroy sustains this style for 581 pages, and he bends the speed towards combinations of horror and hilarity that seem paradoxical. You’ll experience affective short circuits one after another.

For readers already immersed in Ellroy’s work, the extension of Dudley Smith, Kay Lake, and many others who’ve featured in his other novels delivers a serious fix of what you’ve been craving. Having read the massive volumes of the L.A. Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, White Jazz), I recognize my own complicated appreciation of and addiction to the cast of characters who’re all by turns corrupt and endearing in often unsettling ways. I also yearn for more pages of Ellroy conjuring 1940s-50s Los Angeles. His fiction is a veritable time machine and somehow swerves wide of nostalgia even as it evinces city love.

For readers new to Ellroy, This Storm is best read after reading either Perfidia or a robust synopsis of that novel. In particular, Ellroy walks us into the life and mind of Dr. Hideo Ashida first in Perfidia, the plot of which unfolds in the days just before, through, and following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Ashida’s police science acumen is as effervescent as his character flaws, and all at this time in U.S. history when Japanese Americans were reprehensibly interned and had their wealth, land, and so on confiscated. Dr. Ashida stands as a stellar addition to the characters Ellroy has birthed into the literary world, and where Perfidia throws us into compelling empathy with this new person, This Storm lets us shadow him as he navigates ever deeper entanglements in police corruption that seem at turns outrageous and within the realm of possibility.

A final note on the political poignancy. The racism, misogyny, gun violence, and physical brutality in This Storm are as intense as you’ll find in any literature. I can see how some readers and critics may condemn this novel as overly lurid. Yet, I think there’s an argument to be made for the place of such aesthetics right now, especially in the U.S. The culture of violence on display in This Storm is set in the early 1940s, but there hardly feels like there’s any historical distance between the white supremacy of that era and what’s taking place today. As such, Ellroy’s novel can provoke readers to analyze the state of the nation today with a careful eye toward what’s come before.

But more significantly, Ellroy’s novel doesn’t provide characters and/or perspectives outside of such violence, and this can be a productive, if painful, scenario. In the absence of a moral character with whom readers can identity and thereby obtain a proxy position outside of the horrific elements of American history and culture, readers are confronted with our own complicity in power structures of exploitation. In short, This Storm is a summer read that’ll have you sacrificing sleep in order to see what happens next and then losing sleep as you investigate the implications of it all.

James Ellroy looks on next to an image of the cover of his recent book, This Storm

Caemeron: Adam Ruins Everything has been on my radar for awhile, what with some subway ad campaigns and other things like that, but I didn’t really start watching it until Netflix recommended it to me recently. At which point I proceeded to binge everything they have on offer.

The show features Adam Conover, who spends each episode explaining how commonly held notions about a topic are ill-informed, or, well…wrong. In this regard it is reminiscent of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!—a show which I also enjoyed—but may actually be better, as sources for factual claims frequently appear on screen, and the show seems to make more of an effort in that regard than Penn and Teller did.

Conover’s persona is potentially grating, but the show leans into that. In each episode, the conceit is that he is disillusioning some particular person with regard to the topic at hand, and the show tends to play it as if they hate him for it most of the time, before usually coming around at the end.

But Adam isn’t a dick, and this is important. He comes across as someone who genuinely wants the truth, and to share it with others. Part of his schtick seems to be to not understand why people might prefer to live with their delusions, and this makes him endearing.

So while he is “ruining” everything, really the show is about educating people in an entertaining way, with humor and compassion. And at the end of the day—if it’s possible—Adam tries to make us feel a bit better about how things actually are, and make suggestions about what we might do to improve them.

I’m a sucker for this kind of show, but I would pretty much recommend it to anyone. With each episode clocking in at a little more than 20 minutes, it’s easy to sneak one in or plow through a bunch if you’re feeling it.

The show airs on truTV, and besides the episodes that are available on Netflix, there are a number of clips one can watch on YouTube. I encourage you to check it out.

John: Neon Genesis Evangelion is now on Netflix! And I’m here to give you my first impression of the changes I’ve noticed.

The first thing is how the episode titles are written as the original translation from Japanese, rather than the Gainax-approved English translation. An odd choice, especially since the titles cards within the episodes appear to be the same as ever, and therefore different from the listed titles.

The thing that absolutely breaks my heart is that the classic jazz standard “Fly Me To The Moon” is no longer the end credits song, so all the variations and remixes we got in the first airings of Eva won’t be here. I’m concerned how they’re going to handle that when the “Fly Me To The Moon” melody is actually part of the score within episodes. Hopefully, those instances skirt around any licensing fees that made for the end credits switch.

What do we get instead of the wistful pleasantness of that song? A purely serious solo piano doing a rendition of Rei’s theme. Instead of the end credits having a certain call back to a different era, the tone is now really on the nose and also tied to the show’s present day.

I haven’t watched the whole thing but I have watched two episodes to get a flavor for how the new English voice cast will work together.

Shinji is less freaked out when presented with the giant Eva Unit 1. Casey Mongillo is less over the top than Spike Spencer but will handle the inner depths as well.

Sue Ulu will always be my Dr. Ritsuko Akagi. The new actress Erica Lindbeck is keeping Ritsuko’s personality close to the vest at work, so her sarcasm level is practically nil and she’s merely cold.
Carrie Keranen—the standout performer above the rest—also plays things as if Misato was more professional at work but she regularly reaches the levels Allison Kieth could. I wish Lindbeck went where Ulu did because the original vibe I got when Ritsuko and Misato shared a scene was a familiarity and playfulness. Now, instead of teasing each other it’s hard to tell if these coworkers even like each other.

Stephanie McKeon gives Asuka a level of posh, rather than Tiffany Grant’s choice to be brash. The new portrayal is still loaded with confidence, but it gives me the impression that Asuka is now a teacher’s pet rather than a force of nature. It works fine enough—especially considering that McKeon isn’t afraid to go all-in during battles—but it’s just not the same.

In the grand scheme of things, I think Eva’s a show that used to have a much-needed level of playfulness, and now it’s balanced differently.

Pre-Netflix, I loved how the goofy fun could level out the dark dramatics, but I don’t know if it operates the same way anymore. Used to be, the mood of the show would always have moments of “This is a Serious Show” inside it, but it still snuck up on you just how serious, until the humor dropped out in the 18th episode. And even then, episodes would still end with “Fly Me To The Moon”. There’s a juxtaposition in the original dub that Netflix actively chose to steer away from.
Is this a giant problem? Not necessarily, but this thing now reeks of “This is a Serious Show” most of the time rather than gradually leaning into it over time.

I still heavily recommend the show, especially if this is the only version you can find, but I also urge you, if you like what you see, to hunt down the original dubs to get the originally intended mood meant to go with the big ideas this show trades in.

Those are our recommendations this week! What would be yours? Let us know in the comments!

Written by TV Obsessive

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