Pop Culture Summer School
EVEN THOUGH SUMMER-SPANNING vacations ended when we got real jobs after university (except for teachers, who definitely deserve the break), somehow we’ve all agreed that warm weather corresponds with a decrease in thinking. Summer movies are big, loud, brainless thrill rides; beach reads are plot-heavy potboilers that don’t require much more than skimming pages looking for dialogue; summer TV used to be a wasteland of reruns and cheap reality shows. There’s nothing wrong with all of this, really. There’s a time and a place for everything, including mindless entertainment.
The problem is, we’ve seen what happens when society revels in anti-intellectualism and lizard-brain-satisfaction. The least we can do is pretend our summer entertainment has merit.
So welcome to Summer School. All the stuff you should watch, read, and listen to — conveniently packaged to make it sound, you know, smart. Shockingly, some of it actually is.
one thought a movie involving a talking racoon and a giant fighting tree would be any good — but we’re probably not. Redundant Studies in Redundancy II: The Re-tellings REQUIRED VIEWING: Despicable Me 3, Transformers: The Last Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, War for the Planet of the Apes You’ve taken this course before. You know how it ends.
Genre Studies 201
REQUIRED VIEWING: Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde There are very few things more thrilling in cinema than an original story, expertly — and idiosyncratically — told. When material and maker come together to create something more than the sum of their parts. These films might not be great, but they are at least satisfying in a pulpy way. This summer, Edgar Wright — the man behind genre pastiches Hot Fuzz and Sean of the Dead — makes Baby
Driver, a film that just might dethrone Drive as the best car chase movie of our generation. And in
Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron shows how much more badass she could have been in the last Fast and the Furious
movie. Pretentious Studies 101
REQUIRED VIEWING: Dunkirk, A Ghost Story These films — one, the true story of an epic WWII battle, the other, a fictional story about Casey Affleck wearing a sheet — will be the most serious films you should see this summer. They might even be as good as you pretend they are.
REQUIRED VIEWING: I’m Dying Up Here
Comedy nerdism has flourished these last few years, but outside of podcasts (Marc Maron’s WTF, Comedy
Bang Bang, and so on), and Pete Holmes’s
Crashing, the culture at large hasn’t quite tapped into the insider world of stand-up. I’m
Dying Up Here does just that. Produced by Jim Carrey (who, you may recall, was a successful stand-up once), the Showtime series stars Melissa Leo as the owner of a comedy club through which a torrent of striving young comedians pass, trying to make their mark. It’s a gritty, not-always-funny look at what it takes to make it in the comedy world — dramatized, for your viewing pleasure.
Introduction to Identity Politics
REQUIRED VIEWING: Orphan Black
Orphan Black might be the best show you’re not watching. Now entering its fifth and final season, the series stars Canada’s own Tatiana Maslany as Sarah Manning — and her multiple clones, each with their own distinct personalities. In this last season, which premieres in June, the show will attempt to answer all the lingering questions about its central conceit. And even if science fiction isn’t your thing, Maslany’s award-winning performance is reason enough to tune in.
REQUIRED VIEWING: GLOW
The 1980s renaissance continues with this new Netflix series, starring Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin as the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, players in a professional women’s wrestling circuit. The show is wickedly funny, but we’ll be honest: we’re mostly here for the spandex.
REQUIRED VIEWING: Game of Thrones
Until last season, the hit HBO show had been relying on George R.R. Martin’s formidable source material for its content, so voracious (read: obnoxious) readers already knew what was coming. But, much to the chagrin of Martin’s legion of fans online, HBO has run out of source material. This season (premiering in July) moves ahead with completely original storylines, adding cast members Jim Broadbent and Tom Hopper. And even though some of the initial hype has fallen off, the series has shown no signs of slowing down.
REQUIRED VIEWING: Ballers
Who doesn’t love The Rock? While Dwayne Johnson is busy taking over the multiplex this summer (in
Baywatch and Fate
of the Furious), his best work might be on the small screen. Produced by Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg, this comedy about a professional sports agent is a little like Entourage with football — and a more likeable leading man. It returns for a third season in July. But if you’re one of the millions of people who follow Johnson on Instagram, you already knew that.