Well, we’re a week into January and it’s cold (at least where I live). The world outside remains…well, let’s not talk about it. Let’s talk about the good things like TV shows we’ve recently discovered, or that we’re excited to have return, books, films, music and games we think you might enjoy, and so on. 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: Couples Therapy, Let’s Build a Zoo, The Righteous Gemstones, Miss Subways, Saint Jude, and Mass (2021).
TV Recommendation: Couples Therapy
Daniel Siuba: Last weekend I watched the first season of the Showtime original series Couples Therapy. The show follows several couples as they engage in therapy sessions with psychoanalyst Orna Guralnik. In addition to excerpts of couples therapy, there are also intermittent scenes where Orna visits another psychologist named Virginia, who serves as her clinical advisor. Throughout this series, I was struck not only by the willingness of the participants to be vulnerable and honest with one another (and on film, no less), but also with Orna’s ability to observe, name, and articulate the complex interpersonal dynamics occurring between these couples in real time. There are numerous shots where Orna is leaning forward with her eyes open, unblinking. Her presence is palpable, and she listens with her entire being. Guralnik’s ability to highlight the reality of each participant’s lived experience while still framing it in terms of their subjectivity is, in a word, masterful.
Contrary to what you might expect, Couples Therapy doesn’t feel voyeuristic; it’s not like reality television, rather, it’s more like a mixture of art and education. Watching this show also elicited a deep sense of compassion, because I recognized bits of myself in every single participant, as well as Orna. Once I started the series, it was hard to turn off, and I’m looking forward to watching Season 2. If you have a long-term partner and you’re feeling adventurous (and perhaps a little foolish) I would suggest watching this show together. I watched a few episodes with my partner, and afterward we had several exuberant conversations about what we observed, both in the participants and in ourselves.
The first episode is available for free on YouTube.
Game Recommendation: Let’s Build A Zoo
Lor Gislason: Due to some unfortunate issues with plumbing and frigid Canadian winters, we lost water as our Xmas gift. While I did a ridiculous amount of back and forth between the plumbers and condo association, I played Let’s Build A Zoo after a friend gifted it to me. I now have over 25 hours in the game.
If you’re familiar with Zoo Tycoon or the more recent Planet Zoo, you know what you’re getting into here; starting from nothing, you construct facilities for animals, hire staff, build many hot dog stands and slowly rake in cash. Some fun additions to the formula are a morality system and hybrid animals. Because I am a goody two shoes, my moral meter is squarely in the positives, netting me clean energy and farming. If I turned to the dark side, I could literally turn my zoo into a factory farm.
Hybrid animals are unlocked after acquiring five out of ten variations of a species, then chucking two DNA strands together in a CRISPR unit. A snake head with a pig body, a duck-goose hybrid, an ostrich horse…they are both terrible and beautiful creatures. Surely people will flock to see the majesty of nature!
The game has become quite addictive as I’m a bit obsessed with getting my hands on every animal I can. Providing optimal enclosures and enrichment (I love giving them trampolines. It’s pure joy) never gets tiring. I don’t even have half the total animals yet. I think I’ll be here for a while and I’m enjoying the ride.
Book Recommendation: Miss Subways by David Duchovny
Christopher Pilbeam: It has been said many times that New York City is a melting pot…well, prepare to hear it said again. Seen by protagonist Emer is a world where fantastic beings from Jewish, African, and Irish folklore share the same subway routes. Duchovny is most famous for being an actor, but it is well worth reading his novels even if you never watch his shows. He makes his mark as an author by writing about things that he loves; Miss Subways is driven by a love for New York City, and for storytelling itself.
In light of the latter, the reason I am buzzing about Miss Subways is not the story (which I found compelling despite some flaws) but the way that it is told. As a writer myself I find Duchovny’s signature playful style inspiring, and I appreciate his fondness for genre. Miss Subways explores not only the content of different myths, but the nature of mythology itself—how it, like our lives, exists in repeating cycles. I really enjoyed Miss Subways and I think any reader would too.
Another TV Recommendation: The Righteous Gemstones Season 2
Caemeron Crain: I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the first two episodes of the new season of The Righteous Gemstones, which premieres on Sunday Jan 16th, and man is it great to have this show back. It’s been a long two years! I refreshed my memory on the first season recently, but from the beginning of Season 2 I’m not sure how necessary that is, if I’m honest. I tend to think that if you don’t remember all of the events of Season 1 perfectly, you’ll be just fine. Maybe read a summary somewhere.
In addition to the returning ensemble, The Righteous Gemstones Season 2 sees the addition of Eric Andre, Jessica Lowe, Jason Schwartzman, and Eric Roberts of all people. I don’t know why I say that, I like Eric Roberts! I do still think of that South Park episode I can’t believe is more than 20 years old at this point, though.
The plot is new, but not disconnected from Season 1. The show is as funny as ever. And somehow, despite all their darkness and hypocrisy, I love these characters. If you haven’t seen the show at all, check it out, and if you have be sure to watch the two-episode premiere on the 16th and check back for my thoughts on each episode after they’ve aired.
Music Recommendation: Saint Jude, Diary of a Soul Fiend
Steve Swift: One album. Only one. But what an album. This is Saint Jude’s Diary Of A Soul Fiend, released in 2010 to understandable plaudits, it made a really interesting sound.
This was Soul and Rock combined with no joins, big guitars, some blues, real warmth and Lynne Jackaman’s powerful but caressing voice on top.
A second album was readied, but guitarist Adam Green passed and things understandably didn’t continue.
Lynne is still producing rather excellent music akin to this, but St Jude were so special they shouldn’t be overlooked.
This diary should be a daily entry.
Film Recommendation: Mass (2021)
Alix Turner: I was going to watch a film and then go to bed, but I’m stunned; I can’t lie down just yet. The film I watched was Mass, written and directed by Fran Kranz, about two couples (Reed Birney & Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs & Martha Plimpton) meeting together for the first time several years after a horrendous event that affected them all. I didn’t feel like I was watching a film though, but that I was in the same room with these people; either there in the humble church room where they sat down, or perhaps watching the script played out on a stage. The simplicity of it, the scale, the precise delivery of the carefully crafted script…it all cried out theatre to me. Yet Mass is not dramatic, but rather tense in in its examination of down to earth domestic emotions. I felt that tension throughout and kept asking myself why. What did I expect was going to happen? There are just a few people talking.
The acting across the board was pristine, but I didn’t expect anything else. What surprised me and kept me mentally wide-eyed throughout was the writing; characters and dialogue alike. There is authenticity, pain, a range of parental experiences, the awkwardness of other people’s feelings…all topped off with social commentary that doesn’t smell like a pamphlet in the slightest. Seriously, I will refer anyone I know who wants to write to watch this film. Oh and then I discovered that this is the writing and directorial debut of an actor who played the Fool in a favourite film of mine! I love it when talented people suddenly flourish another gift.
Mass travelled widely on the festival circuit last year, premiering at Sundance and stopping at BFI London Film Festival in October. It’s been available digitally for a few months in some areas, and will be arriving on Sky in the UK later this month.
What have you been into this week? Let us know in the comments!