Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week’s entries come from: Rachel Stewart, Hawk Ripjaw, Caemeron Crain, and John Bernardy.
Rachel: Ain’t No Con like Dragon Con
Last weekend was Dragon Con 2019, and I’m still feeling it all the way into this weekend. What’s a Dragon Con, you ask? Every Labor Day weekend, geeks from all over the globe gather in Atlanta, Georgia, to celebrate all the nerd-tastic things they love. This includes but is in no way limited to: cosplay, comics, movies, art, robots, wrestling, and partying. From Thursday to Monday, there are panels, dances, workshops, photo ops, autograph sessions, and cosplay meet ups. Other traditions have grown over time as well —some people meet up to trade and hide swag throughout the numerous hotels, while others gather to try apple pie (delicious apple-spiked liquor).
But most of all, there’s that Dragon Con vibe. In the past, the Marriott Marquis used to have this intricate but extremely loud carpet. A few years ago, the hotel replaced the carpet, and thus, the cult of the carpet was born, with people dumpster diving and selling carpet as well as using the pattern for badge lanyards, clothing, and even sneakers. This year, a new cult arose with the cult of Jon, based upon a FedEx cutout placed in one of the many sky bridges linking the convention hotels. Over the course of the weekend, the cutout was decorated and many began to worship until it was kidnapped and thus a funeral was held, complete with violin. Multiple Facebook groups have been made and FedEx Jon cosplays begin in earnest. #gowithjon
Now, to the non-con goer, this all sounds ridiculous, but that’s Dragon Con. It’s a 24-hour geektastic Mardis Gras where eleven choirs sing, people recreate epic speeches from Independence Day, and turn Dr. Frank-n-Furter into a band of Disney princesses. (Disney did buy Fox, so they’re not wrong.)
This year, I did a drive-by of con with a fellow cosplayer, nabbing a photo op with David Tennant and Freema Agyeman and attending a Good Omens cosplay meet up, which included swearing to the heavens, drinking, and singing Queen songs in a park.
Managing through the sea of people, there was something amazing at every turn, from Freddie Mercury and Elton John popping up multiple times in the crowd of ever present Scoop Troopers, to even more obscure cosplays—I saw a masked Eyes Wide Shut cosplayer slip through a busy walkway amongst the 85,000-plus attendees.
I’ve been going to Dragon Con since 2005 and every year I say I’ll skip (and there’s been a couple of years I have) but it’s got an unmistakable magic other cons don’t have. Till next year, con fam—now I’m gonna sleep for three days.
Hawk: Since I didn’t get a chance to finish Season 3 of The Good Place when it was airing, I was pleased to find this week that it is now on Netflix. The Good Place, for those that haven’t watched it, is a serialized comedy about a woman named Eleanor (Kristen Bell) who dies and goes to “The Good Place,” this show’s nondenominational version of Heaven.
Eleanor learns from the angel Michael (Ted Danson) that she has been sent to The Good Place on account of her good behavior in life. However, Eleanor was a horrible, selfish human being so there’s been a mix-up. The remainder of Season 1 is her trying to be a better person in order for her to earn her spot in The Good Place.
What makes this show so good is how it has transformed its characters through the course of its three seasons so far. As Eleanor actually puts in effort to do good to others, she finds that she enjoys it. The antagonistic relationship between the three other people she’s been partnered up with: Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) begins to develop into a genuine friendship.
The first season ended with a massive twist that changed the course of the show, but opened the door for even richer character development subsequently. The characters are put through multiple reset versions of the afterlife, their memories wiped each time, and in every version they become better versions of themselves. Eleanor becomes less self-centered, the fatally indecisive Chidi stops seeing things as completely binary, and Tahani learns to let go of material obsessions and fame. It’s one of, if not the most wholesome shows on television, championing kindness and selflessness.
A major arc of the third season is Eleanor’s reaction to being shown that in at least one of the past versions of the Good Place, she and Chidi fall in love. A major element of Eleanor’s character is her extreme aversion to confronting her feelings. By now in the show, the group is closely-knit and constantly looking out for each other, so the show can really start delving into the finer elements of their characters and their pasts, finding them peace and happiness. Meanwhile, the leaders of The Bad Place are angling to take the group back to where they were originally meant to be.
There’s also plenty of room for some of the wackiest humor on mainstream television. Michael’s most common companion is Janet (D’Arcy Carden), a program of sorts who acts as a guide to members of the afterlife. She is a limitless source of information and can will nearly anything into existence, but frequently has mild malfunctions that threaten the fabric of reality as she, too, begins to develop human emotions. Michael has an intense disgust towards the idea of humans eating. The way the Good Place and the Bad Place operate as gigantic bureaucratic operations, such as an office staffed by people who assign karmic point values to every action imaginable (there’s one miserable being assigned to “weird sex stuff”) is constantly inventive and hilarious.
The Good Place has been renewed for a fourth and final season (to begin September 26th), which allows creator Michael Schur to end the show on his own terms and give the characters we have grown to love proper closure.
Season 3 ends on a devastating cliffhanger of sorts as two characters make an emotional and tear-jerking decision for the good of others. It drives home, once again, how wholesome and fun the show is, but it also has genuine character development over the course of its three chapters so far and turned a group of unpleasant fictional people into characters you can actually feel affection and emotion. That’s great television.
John: It’s a rare thing to watch a show with your kindergarteners and and be laughing just just as hard as they are, so of course I have to recommend it as soon as possible. Molang is an endearing cartoon (typically under four minutes per episode) that centers around Molang, a giant blob of a rabbit, and his best friend Piu Piu, an equally adorable tiny yellow bird. The character was designed by Korean artist Hye-Ji Yoon and the show was created by the French animation company Millimages.
Looking at a still image, you might think the show will make you vomit from preciousness, but by the end of the first episode you really want those guys to get out of the trouble they fall into. By the third episode, you realize the show is healing your soul.
The two characters work together, play together, get scared together, and laugh together when they get out of their jams. Whenever someone needs help, they ask politely and the other characters say “okay!” enthusiastically, helping without hesitation. When they get into trouble and it looks like they’re going to die (which they do often as they regularly encounter Looney Tunes-style misunderstandings and perils) their eyes become white circles. But then when they get out of the jam and everyone’s physically okay, they laugh it off. There’s no blame or anger in this show. They really live in the now and enjoy each other’s quirks.
The show’s language is quite clever. The characters speak in gibberish, but it’s an intelligible one. They’re in the same high register as the Lums from Rayman games, if that means anything to you, and they have a cadence to their sentences so context clues make it easily understandable to us. We even hear the characters call each other by name regularly. You can see how everyone’s friends by how they’re treating each other.
But it’s the hijinks that make my whole family laugh, and the friendships and respect that make us need the show in our lives. Try one when you’re having a rough day, it’ll feel like a warm hug.
Caemeron: Tool’s new album, Fear Inoculum, was released last week, and while I have written a fuller review/interpretation, I think it is worth a brief recommendation here as well.
Tool fans waited 13 years for this album, so it is no wonder that expectations were high. Personally, I was about as excited as I have ever been for anything’s release, with the exception of the new Twin Peaks a couple of years ago.
Looking at the reaction of fans online (in Facebook groups, for example), there certainly seem to be a good number who are disappointed with the album. And to some degree, at least, I understand their complaints. But I do think it is something of an odd criticism that combines a claim that the album sounds too much like past efforts with one that it sounds too little like them.
But, I get it. This album is pretty consistently mellow, particularly in terms of Maynard James Keenan’s vocals. If you’re looking for the anger of a lot of Tool songs from days past, such as “Ticks and Leeches,” you aren’t really going to get it here. Rather, the predecessors of this album would seem much more to be tracks like “Lateralus” and “Wings for Marie.”
And I can see how one might find some of the instrumentals on Fear Inoculum to be almost too reminiscent of other Tool songs, but I have to say that, for me at least, that impression faded once I listened to the album multiple times.
These tracks stand on their own two feet. They are rich and complex. And, taken on its own terms, the album is brilliant. Adam Jones’ guitar work, in particular, shines in a way that surpasses what he has done before.
But this is difficult stuff. Listening to a new Tool song for the first time is a journey. One doesn’t quite know where the path will lead or what will come next (I think this has been true since at least 10,000 Days, or Lateralus). There are insane polyrhythms and time signatures. The first time I listened to Fear Inoculum, I felt a certain anxiety as I proceeded through each track, not knowing where it would go next. In fact, I think this is Tool’s most difficult album.
But, taken on its own terms, it is a truly brilliant piece of work. The more I’ve listened to it, the more I like it. The rhythms are complex, but when you find yourself keying into them—as I first did when I realized I was tapping my foot along with “Pneuma“—it is something of a transcendent experience.
If you like your music easy, this album may not be for you, and it does seem that even some longtime Tool fans aren’t liking it. I’m tempted to say they haven’t given it enough of a chance, but perhaps that is pretentious, and I apologize.
Regardless, I would recommend Fear Inoculum to anyone, whether they have listened to Tool before or not. I’d be curious to hear the reaction of someone for whom this was their first exposure to the band. Each main track is something of an opus, and part of what has always impressed me about Tool is that you get a different experience depending on which member’s contribution you focus on, or if you focus on the whole. But you almost can’t do that until you’ve listened to the song a few times.
Check out what is currently my favorite track on the album, “Pneuma”:
Those are our recommendations this week. What are yours? Let us know in the comments!