Knife, black midi, Mueller, and More!

Tim Robinson is hunched over with his hands wide in a shot from his Netflix show I Think You Should Leave

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: Brien Allen, Don Shanahan, Bryan O’Donnell, John Bernardy, Hawk Ripjaw, and Andy Hageman.

Bryan: The new London-based experimental rock band black midi released their debut album, Schlagenheim, on June 21, and I have to say that it has hooked me big time. It would be close to impossible to describe black midi or come up with a comparison to another band. They have elements of punk rock, noise rock, and stuff that’s more jammy (oh, and their drummer is awesome).

For the new album, I’m really digging the first two songs and find myself listening to those over and over, but the entire album seems to constantly keep surprising me the more I listen to it—it’s definitely a grower. Schlagenheim opens with “953,” a riff-based punch in the face that begins with a barrage of noise that melts into a strong groove. The second track, “Speedway,” has elements of a Radiohead Kid A/Amnesiac-era song, and just shows the range that black midi can pull off.

The eight-minute “Western” begins with easy-going, smooth interaction between guitar, bass, and drums. Then out of nowhere it explodes, and the song has morphed into a full-out rocker with a killer bass line. The song ends back where it started, with a care-free attitude and even a banjo makes an appearance. Schlagenheim closes with “Ducter,” six-plus minutes of musical buildup culminating with a great album ending that makes me want to start listening to the album from the beginning again.

The vocals on the album may be my one hesitation (I feel like I can only understand a small percentage of the band’s lyrics and it almost sounds like they’re singing in a different language), but the more I listen, the more I’m appreciating them. Schlagenheim and black midi may not be for everyone, but if you like music that dabbles in weirdness, is layered and complex, and at times absolutely rocks, check out this album. I’m having a blast listening to it.

Don: I’ve got a short film discovery for folks this week. Star Wars fans will quickly have their sensors triggered when they note the A Bad Feeling title of this short film from Charlotte Barrett and Sean Fallon, the team behind 2011’s Virgin Alexander. It is a nod to a running gag that is said as often in Star Wars films as the classic line “May the Force be with you.” The phrase alludes to a character’s audible dread and the heebie-jeebies warning of something awful, visible or invisible, on their horizon. The characters in those movie moments say it and mean it. In A Bad Feeling, the central husband and wife figures know their trouble, entirely feel it, but don’t announce their fears when they should.

The lingering destructive force in question for Karen and Jim, a spousal unit of Star Wars cosplayers played by American Horror Story actress Lily Rabe and prolific TV character actor Eric Laden, is something very real and not from a galaxy far, far away. It’s miscarriage. They are sitting in the parking lot of a convention center in full costumes a day after the loss of an unborn child. Eye contact isn’t happening as they struggle to discuss where they are in each other’s headspace.

Karen is reeling and all of Jim’s feeble attempts at conversation only seem to dig holes deeper. Neither want to go home and they talk themselves up into hitting the convention floor. He keeps trying to make the best of it, memorabilia hunting, posing for pictures, and scoring autographs from the likes of Star Trek’s Robert Picardo and Rosana DeSoto (nice cameos). She, however, is in a malaise of increasing frustration that manifests in little daydreamed moments of harsher penalties towards Jim.

For those expectant parents who have experienced one of the 10–25% of pregnancies that reach this unfortunate end, you know what Karen and Jim are feeling. You know the sudden grief. You know the physical aftermath like a D&C and the bleeding. You know exactly how impossible the smallest things become for a while and how that can fracture a loving relationship. For those that don’t, look up an article or two and have your eyes opened wider than a widescreen scrolling title crawl.

As hinted at earlier in the opening, we have two people not saying what they mean when they need to. They fear that the spoken truth will hurt more than it does being suppressed and ignored. To paraphrase Darth Vader, their “thoughts betray them.” Jim catches on to the empathy and patience he’s missing and expresses himself better. Karen finds a safe way and place to vent her bottled emotions to a prepared and listening ear. Honesty brings compromise and that’s this couple’s first real step forward.

Even with the constricted communication, A Bad Feeling speaks its own volumes. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Film Invasion LA and the Jury Award of the Pensacon Short Film Festival, these are thirteen minutes of sheer bravery to present comedy alongside such a heavy topic as miscarriage. Pristine and intimate cinematography from Aaron Meister (Sushi Girl) stays tight on the lead duo while soaking up the chatter-filled ambiance of the comic-con location. Much appreciation is earned by Sean Fallon and Charlotte Burnett to deal with this weight in a frank, honest, and tidy fashion. Even in contracted form, the timing and pacing is excellent. This festival short is unafraid to reach a point of returned love while dropping a real “I know” to follow. See it for yourself.

Hawk: Since Netflix released the sketch comedy show I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, I’ve not only introduced no fewer than a dozen friends to the show, but it’s also become my go-to “I’ve got nothing to watch” feature on the streaming platform. I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson is the brainchild of, if you can believe it, Tim Robinson. Robinson’s most recent work previously was the Comedy Central sitcom Detroiters (tragically killed before Robinson’s mad genius could reach its apex), but here he draws from his early work in his Saturday Night Live days to craft some truly absurd sketches.

As far as I am concerned, this is simply the new gold standard for sketch comedy. The nugget of an idea at the core of I Think You Should Leave is to take a simple setup for a sketch and then let it veer wildly into absurdist territory. For example, an early sketch finds a bunch of friends at a birthday party, and when the giftee is visibly lying about his enthusiasm about a gift, the gift-giver insists on eating the gift receipt to call his bluff—and upon becoming sick afterwards, accuses the giftee of not using enough toilet paper when he “made a mud pie” (this show’s oft-repeated colloquialism for pooping). The genius in the sketch is where it eventually ends up, which is an absolutely perfect escalation of the original concept.

Robinson plays the aggressive gift-giver, and frequently returns throughout the show playing equally insufferable characters. It’s not just him, though: nearly everyone in this show, be it in a simple escalating sketch, a fake commercial, or something else, is some degree of demented. The world that I Think You Should Leave occupies is punctuated by the show’s very title: any of these characters would be politely ushered out of the room by the end of the situation.

Robinson has stated that the length and the order of the skits are carefully calibrated. Many of the sketches were scripted and shot in a longer, outrageously excessive form, then edited down to a more manageable length. Essentially, Robinson wanted to ensure that the skits and jokes didn’t outstay their welcome. Each of the six episodes are less than 20 minutes long, and always seem to end right around the time where you’d like just a little bit more, but just before you’d want to take a break.

The sketches are also arranged in a way that the more irritating and cruel characters aren’t too close to each other, so the sketches featuring unpleasant people are usually followed by a palate cleanser of something more goofy and weird, such as an absolutely looney segment about a Christmas Carol sequel featuring a Cyborg “Ghost of Christmas Way Future” recruiting Scrooge to battle Skeletrex and his Bone Brigade in a post-apocalypse.

A consistently pleasant surprise of I Think You Should Leave, as is the case with many sketch shows, is the revolving door of surprise guests playing featured roles in the sketches. Past SNL legends in particular enjoy roles here and there. Fred Willard, Will Forte, Sam Richardson, Andy Samberg, Cecily Strong, Tim Heidecker, and Vanessa Bayer all show up for a sketch, and seeing each of them is a delightful surprise.

After several views, I Think You Should Leave has pretty much ingrained itself in my brain, but it’s still funny after all this time and it’s even better to keep introducing friends to it and watch their reactions to how wacky things get. Watch it with a group.

Andy: For crime fiction aficionados, this is a glorious summer: first the new L.A. novel from James Ellroy, This Storm, and now Jo Nesbø’s 12th installment in the Harry Hole series, Knife.

If you’re already an avid reader of Nesbø’s detective fiction, you’re already likely to continue exploring the brilliant love and horror and humor of Harry Hole in this latest book. As someone who’s read the full series as well as Nesbø’s standalone crime novels, I’ll share that I rank this as in the top two best Hole novels. Observing the detective who struggles as hard with addiction and the haunting and exhilarating powers of love and loss as he does with reading crime scenes and collaborating with police colleagues is thrilling. We get to note which elements of Harry remain in place and/or deepen over time as well as which ones fall away or accrete.

If you’ve not yet read one of Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels, this could be an intriguing place to start. I’ve experimented with reading some long-running fictional characters in reverse order of publication, and exfoliating a fascinating person’s life can be its own insight-provoking experiment. Furthermore, Nesbø writes Knife with seamlessly integrated expository moments that point back to earlier cases and relationships–and his unparalleled skill at this can serve as a new reader on-ramp just as well as it serves to refresh the memories of long-time readers who may have read the earlier books years ago.

Two points to highlight the ultra-buzz-worthiness of Knife:

One, Nesbø delivers a virtuoso performance of articulating complex human interiority through mystery-integral scenic details. Just one of many examples is a place mid-novel where Harry reflects on the photographs that people choose to adorn their home spaces with. Do we pick our pics because they contain more accurate memory data than our memories? Do we pick them to display fragments of our life the way we wish it had been or still was? How does our unconscious become visible and potentially readable in these gallerizing acts at home? The scene places Harry’s own soul searching into a dance with his detective work, and he inhabits the room in a manner between mysticism and rationalism. As such, Harry Hole shares something deeply in common with Special Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks.

Two, the dramatis personae of Knife includes a formidable range of women. While the novel is ostensibly a Hole novel, if you’ve read the previous ones, you know that Nesbø shows a detective defined and evolving through his relationships with colleagues and families, loves and nemeses. The narrative Knife unfolds is inextricable from its network of characters, and not only are many of these women, but they’re women navigating partnerships and professions among the many iterations of structures of social power. And because the novel’s set in Oslo, Norway, its characters and navigations share similarities with US counterparts, but they also diverge enough to give a refracted view of gender, love, police, crime, and power to American readers.

An image of the cover of Jo Nesbo's Knife has a knife on it

John: This week’s podcast recommendation is for Younger Uncovered, the podcast companion to the TV Land show Younger. We started watching the Darrin Star-created Younger when it was halfway through Season 2, and we’ve been loving it ever since. It’s all about Sutton Foster’s Liza, who is newly divorced and wants to resume her career in the publishing industry except she can’t get a job because of ageism.

Just because she’s 40, no company wants to give her a chance, so she says she’s 28 to get her foot in the door at Empirical. And from there we get to see the complications of Liza’s double life. Sure it’s got a love triangle between Liza, Charles (publisher, Liza’s actual age bracket, and played by Peter Hermann) and Josh (tattoo artist, the same age as Liza’s pretending to be, and played by Nico Tortorella) but there’s a ton more fun to be had. It glamorizes the publishing industry, shows women supporting women, and it’s always taking on topics of the day in inventive ways that happen organically just like the show’s statement on ageism. Characters always come first.

The Younger cast and writers who’ve previously appeared on the Younger Uncovered podcast have proven over time that there’s no end game planned for whether it’ll be Charles or Josh in the end for Liza, and anyway, they all know the one true relationship of the show is the friendship between Liza and Kelsey (Hilary Duff). This podcast has proven over time that the Younger cast and crew are a family environment. There’s trust and exploration and everyone works together for the best storytelling possible. It honestly sounds like the best gig in the industry right now.

The Younger Uncovered podcast gets all the cast and crew to appear weekly because it’s an in-house production. Host Taylor Strecker is the PR member of the family…she may not write for the show, but she knows how to frame the stories from the inside so they can best be shared with us on the outside. You can tell Strecker is a fan as well as an employee, and she does the job really well. This podcast is essentially a modern version of a DVD Special Feature (a great trend that’s also being done by The Good Place) and Younger proves to be just as compelling behind the scenes as the episodes are themselves.

This week’s episode is “Uncovering ‘An Inside Glob’ with Miriam Shore” Shore plays the acerbic so-serious-she’s-comedic PR executive Diana, but she’s also directing her second episode of Younger this week, so we get a lot of information about what it takes to create the show from the ground up. Shor talks about directing scenes she’s acting in, how that amazingly choreographed dinner scene worked, how much Debbie Mazar’s improvising makes it into the final show, and how amazing Nico Tortorella was with the baby. Shor explains how the show does its best to work with the babies so they don’t have to be on set more than needed, and how actors can join the writers room and even pitch story ideas.

While Diana doesn’t have much of a sense of humor, Shor definitely does and it comes out all over this interview. I’m happy she’s had the chance to begin directing on this show, and it’s really nice that we get to learn what she learns as she’s learning it. It’s fun and educational.

They’re not saying who the guest will be next week, but I suspect it’ll be Peter Hermann, since Charles is going through a reinvention phase now like Liza was in Season 1. And the big bombshell hit at the end of this episode…plenty to love about being a Younger fan right now.

Brien: I’m the type of guy who “reads” almost exclusively in audiobook format now. I don’t know when and where it happened—probably sometime around when I became a parent (ya think?)—but my sitting on the couch with a good book time just seems to have evaporated. However, I do have plenty of yard work/commuting/doing the dishes time where I can listen to an audiobook in the background, making the task at hand much more enjoyable.

So this past weekend I was all tapped out. All my downloaded podcasts and audiobooks were listened to, and the lawn was more than a tad shaggy. Having a few unused credits on Audible, I went perusing through their popular and recommended titles for something new. Low and behold, one of them was The Mueller Report: an Audible exclusive recording of the complete report, clocking in at just over 19 hours. And dig this, it’s free. No credits need be expended.

Now, I’m not ordinarily much of a political guy. I’m a strong independent with liberal leanings, who will happily “throw away” my vote if neither party puts up a candidate worth voting for (a condition I like to refer to as: “the usual”). I listen to Sam Harris’ Making Sense podcast regularly, and he’s had episodes on both the Russian hacking of the 2016 election and the content of the Mueller Report, so I already had a pretty good idea what I was going to be hearing. It might be a bit dry, but this is no-kidding history in the making, and I’d like to hear it for myself so that I can have a more substantiated opinion on it. Plus, did I mention it was free?

First of all, I’m fascinated by the shear enormity of this project. As someone who has written a few large technical documents in the course of my job, I can see how just organizing all of this content into sections and subsections alone had to have taken a team of writers weeks to sort out. The written report released for the public was 448 pages. It’s broken down into two volumes. The first volume addresses the findings of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and its interactions with the Trump campaign. The second volume addresses the obstruction of justice inquiry into President Trump’s actions and conduct towards the investigations by both the FBI and Special Counsel.

Spoiler alert: the Russians interfered with the 2016 election. If you didn’t know that already, this will be an eye-opener for you. The first substantive paragraph of the report starts out: “The Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” That’s the premise here. The FBI and CIA independently came to that conclusion pretty much as soon as it happened, as did many foreign intelligence services. That’s the whole reason why this Special Counsel formed. The Russians accomplished this “interference” through a social media campaign favoring Trump over Clinton and by hacking US entities and employees of the Clinton campaign and releasing stolen documents.

If you’re not really interested in the political or criminal aspects of all of this, you should at least read the initial section on the social media campaign. This aspect began all the way back in 2014, before we even knew it was going to be Trump versus Clinton. The Russian organization responsible had fake US persona accounts and group pages on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Tumbler, and Twitter, making tens of thousands of posts that reached literally millions of followers. These were not just targeting right-wing causes like anti-immigration and Tea Party activists. They also had fake grassroots groups for left-wing causes like Black Lives Matter, LGBQT, and even Muslim-Americans. They were stirring up both sides against each other, with literal “fake news” reports and paid-for advertising. They would invent “flash mob” protests out of thin air and dupe their US followers to take charge of these events and carry them out. The audacity and insidiousness is impressive. They played us, plain and simple.

The hacking of the Clinton Campaign staff and the Democratic National Committee (amongst other victims) was actually carried out by the Russian military. Not some expendable independent group that the Russian government could claim was acting of their own accord, the Russian military. No shit. I’m not really much of a crazy-patriotic American, but that really of pisses me off.

Now, of course the Trump campaign was going to be interested in the potential dirt that was being dug up against their opponent here. Ethics and politics don’t seem to mesh too well together on either side of the fence, so honestly I don’t find that all too surprising. To what degree their pursuit of that information was criminal, and whether or not they were coordinating efforts with the Russians, is what takes up the majority of Volume 1. I won’t spoil that for you, mainly because I’m still working my way through that stuff right now (at 6 ½ hours in). Volume 2, the obstruction of justice investigation, from what I’m led to understand, is going to read like a retelling of Watergate, but this time the president was surrounded by people smart enough to say “no” to his more outlandish requests.

Audible has arguably performed an amazing public service by providing this audio recording free of charge and turning it out only four days after its release to the public. The original source material is not as dry as you would think it should be, and the narrator does a great job. It doesn’t take very long at all to get used to the meter and pacing of his reading. The footnotes are inserted seamlessly right where they are called out. The redacted material, of which there is quite a bit, is always pointed out, but without following along in the written version, you don’t get an idea of the scope of how much was left out (because the information would reveal investigatory techniques, personal privacy data, or data relevant to other ongoing investigations).

Regardless of your political leanings, if you’re an American, you should want to know what is in this report. You should also want to understand how easy it is for your computer to be hacked, and worse yet, how easy it is for your brain to be hacked. We should all want to never let this happen again, and reading this report is step one in the process of making that a reality.

Written by TV Obsessive

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