Brassic, A Benny Plush Toy, and Other Things We Recommend

A llama wears a muzzle in the trailer for Brassic

Welcome back! Each week you’ll find in this space a set of recommendations from our writers, ranging from TV and film to music and podcasts, or whatever else we might be into at the moment. These things may or may not be new to the world, but that’s not the point. What matters is what’s interesting, and what’s worth your time. This week’s entries include: Brassic, The Weird, Peacemaking, The Rescue, Crooked Shapes, and a Benny plush toy.

TV Recommendation: Brassic

Teddy Webb: The third season of the wild comedy-drama Brassic has recently aired, and despite its fairly prominent marketing by its creators at Sky, I’d still argue the show is incredibly underrated. Brassic is a whirlwind of a comedy series, carefully balancing an absurdist style of humour with a social realist undercurrent that makes for a properly unpredictable show. On top of this, Brassic is also a brilliant example of how to represent diversity in television without veering into the patronising territory of the Very Special Episode.

Brassic follows a ragtag group of small-time criminals trying to pull of heists and capers in which anything that can go wrong will go wrong. From antique furniture heists in Season 2 to the series of misfortunes that led the gang to try and offer a boa constrictor as a ransom payment this season, the scheme-of-the-week format of the show has audiences laughing along with the thieves they’re rooting for, almost in line with legends of Robin Hood. The core cast of the show are a genuinely sweet portrayal of male friendship, in which they can rip into each other as often as any band of brothers on telly without resorting to the “locker room banter” or casual bigotry you might see in a 2000s bro comedy. Even during their arguments, like leading man Vinnie’s fight with wise-cracking Tommo over the latter trying to smuggle drugs to sell on an outing that Vinnie’s young son unexpectedly tagged along for, there’s so much compassion between the characters.

Brassic definitely falls into the satire category, with the way it ridicules classic heist plots by filling them with absurd side characters acting as obstacles, or having the cast steal beehives instead of diamonds, but it never uses that satirical angle as an excuse to punch down. As a viewer, it’s hard not to extend them the same love. It’s a very human portrayal, in which almost every episode features characters behaving in selfish ways while simultaneously putting their necks on the line for each other.

The protagonist of the show, Vinnie, is perhaps the best example of subtle representation weaving perfectly in with the tone of the show. Inspired by the real-life experiences of actor and show co-creator Joe Gilgun, Vinnie has struggled with his bipolar disorder since Brassic’s first season. The discussions of his mental health are often intercut with brash sex jokes from his hapless therapist, in accordance with the show’s comedic style, but the subplot adds a dark underpinning to the character’s impulsive schemes and behaviours, which can now be read as a symptom of mania in a man who’s not being truly supported.

Once again, Vinnie’s bipolar doesn’t turn the show into something it’s not with heavy handed dialogue or simple linear arcs of healing. Instead, its undercurrents blend into the character’s personality and mannerisms, in a way that I think only someone with close personal experience with the condition could effectively write. There’s a personal level of honesty in the storyline, and this third season is the strongest yet at developing it amongst amongst all the farce we expect.

Documentary Recommendation: The Rescue

Christopher Pilbeam: This week my heart was stolen by this new documentary from directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (you may know their Oscar winning documentary Free Solo). It tells the story of the 12 boys and their coach who were trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand, and the people who rescued them. The Thai Navy SEALS, civilian volunteers, US military, groundwater experts, spiritual leaders, and a handful of amateur cave divers; they are extraordinary as individuals, and as a collective. The Rescue delivers on what I have come to expect from Jimmy Chin: challenging perceptions of what is and isn’t possible. It’s a documentary that combines genres in the best ways—it will scare you, enlighten you, and it has even got elements of a love story. There is one particular quote that has stuck in my mind: “generosity is the beginning of everything”.

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

Lor Gislason: While I don’t believe you need to read the classics of a genre to be a fan, I’ve been working through The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. With this tome clocking in at over 1000 pages, I think it’s safe to say I’ll be reading it for years. It’s really interesting to me seeing how weird fiction has evolved over the years–the stories in The Weird are in chronological order starting in 1908, with the latest, “Saving the Gleeful Horse,” by K.J. Bishop, published in 2010. As I write a bit of fiction in my spare time it’s also a bit of a learning tool, showing there’s no one (or two, or fifty) ways to construct a narrative.

Table of Contents: The Weird, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Benny Plush Toy (from Benny Loves You)

Alix Turner: One of my favourite films from last year’s London FrightFest Virtual Film Festival was Benny Loves You, a film about a man and his killer teddy bear; and it wasn’t just me that loved it: it won the Best Film First Blood award at that festival.

“Written, directed and other fings by Karl Holt,” Benny Loves You is about Jack (played by Holt), keen to grow up after a disastrous 35th birthday party, and so he has a good clear out. His red, cuddly teddy from childhood gets thrown out, and then guess what? Benny isn’t ready to part from Jack. Anyone who threatens Jack or comes between them is at risk.

If you like deadpan black humour, slapstick, or watching annoying pets/kids/people get stabbed, eviscerated and mutilated, you’ll have fun with this one for sure. Once the killings start, centred on Jack, the (adorable) police take an interest. Jack has to work out whether to defend himself, make peace with the deranged bear or…um, take creative inspiration from him! Of course: he works in a toy company.

So why am I so excited about Benny Loves You again now? Because I now have a Benny of my own, since Darkline Entertainment put a beautiful replica plush toy into production and released him into the world at the end of last month. The quality is lovely, each one being handmade and the fur so soft! He now lives happily with my chest burster (called Buster) and my Cthulhu; but unlike them, this toy can talk, with 12 phrases from the film. Fans have been so excited that a quarter of the stock was sold in the first day it was on sale.

If you want to know what the fuss is about, Benny Loves You is available on Sky Cinema in the UK and Showtime in the USA; and if you too can’t resist after watching, the plush toy is available here.

A red Benny plush toy rests against a pillow
Courtesy of Alix Turner

Music Recommendation: Crooked Shapes

Steve Swift: They may call themselves Alternative, but this power trio from Reading, UK (Crooked Shapes) produce souped up Blues Rock. And that could have been all we needed to see, another band of many who do the Rock Blues thing.

But this is different. Their debut album has off kilter Indie moments, burning Hard Rock guitars solos, metallic moments and marvelous melodies.

Always good to sidestep that heaving room for Blues Rock band, so full they’ve built an annex.

Peacemaking – Thích Nhất Hạnh

Daniel Siuba: This week I listened to Peacemaking, a two-part audio collection featuring a lecture and an interview with Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh (actually, I’ve listened to it twice in the past two weeks). In Session 1, the lecture portion, Thích Nhất Hạnh discusses the Buddhist perspective of anger, and offers practical advice regarding the establishment of daily mindfulness practices that are conducive to a more peaceful existence. He suggests that violence begins with the self, expands into our personal relationships, which results in conflict between small groups and communities; this collective anger and growing violence eventually manifests as war between nations. Session 1 culminates with a discussion of “interbeing,” or the notion that all beings are interdependent and interrelated: they “inter-are.”

In Session 2, Thích Nhất Hạnh is interviewed by Tami Simon (founder of Sounds True), and he discusses the Vietnam War at length. This discussion particularly striking, because he was in Vietnam at the time, and he, along with several other monks and nuns, established Engaged Buddhism, which is essentially a Buddhist-informed social work and nonviolent political activism. He and Tami also discuss how veterans can heal after returning home from war, the art of skillful protest, and nonviolence in general. In addition to this audio collection, I also recommend reading Thích Nhất Hạnh’s book, Creating True Peace, which is a detailed exploration of his work regarding Engaged Buddhism, mindfulness, nonviolence, and of course, peace.

What have you been into this week? Let us know in the comments!

Written by TV Obsessive

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