(UN)POPULAR CULTURE

The home of writer & author A. J. BLACK

Welcome to May! Because there’s not enough useless information floating around on the internet, I thought I would update readers of this blog as to what I’ve watched/read over the previous month, each month, in the form of TV, movies and books.

Some of this I will have reviewed on Cultural Conversation but others I’ve just been watching for enjoyment with Mrs Black.

Let’s start this month with Film…

FILM

It’s been another fairly slim month for movies and one dominated primarily by the all-consuming superhero genre – principally the wonderful Avengers: Endgame. More on that here and while it’s not a film critically without problems, it was a joyous experience. Twice. Keep an eye out for two podcasts in which I will be discussing aspects of it very soon…

Speaking of Marvel, I had less of a great experience with Ant-Man and the Wasp which I finally caught this month. Surprisingly important to how Endgame rolls out, it nonetheless was a mess of bad plotting and weak writing, even if Paul Rudd and the rest of the cast are hugely charming. It deserves a stronger third film to cap the trilogy off one day.

I wasn’t that jazzed by Deadpool 2 either, which I saw as part of a catch up. The first Deadpool really stood out as a witty, naughty slice of meta-satire but this felt more like a sleazy uncle thinking he can repeat the tricky twenty years past his prime. Another morass of iffy plotting and jokes which didn’t land half as much as in the first film. Feels like a franchise which should have stayed at one terrific inversion of a genre the sequel ends up kind of becoming in many ways.

Equally I was shocked to not be blown away by The Incredibles 2. While by no means bad, nor even a disappointment as such, it just didn’t have the usual Pixar magic or heart this time around. Maybe we take what Pixar do for granted now. Or maybe this just didn’t quite click. It could well have been about 5 or even 10 years too late for a sequel which expects to pick up where it left you reeling with joy in 2004.

TV

What a month for telly I’ve had though! Some incredible experiences, with one disappointment firmly lodged in the middle.

Let’s get that out of the way first: Star Trek Discovery Season 2. I’ve talked way too much about why it was an empty, fan-baiting mess riven with histrionic nonsense but if you want more on why, this should do. Plus a bonus if you want some details on how a fair few butt hurt Star Trek fans just can’t cope with the idea that Discovery may have been, well… a little bit pants this year. Oh well – here’s to Season 3!

Onto the good stuff, then. First order of business was finishing Breaking Bad and it was, predictably, as incredible at the end specifically as people said. Ozymandias… wow. Easily one of the best hours of television ever made. Have many finales really stuck the landing like Breaking Bad? It’s hard to imagine. So glad I’ve finally watched this show after all this time and, in the spirit of that, we’ve now just started my first watch of David Chase’s seminal The Sopranos, so… that’s the next one off my TV bucket list to come!

It’s been a good month for comedy too. Fleabag came to a close in predictably magnificent fashion, cementing Season 2 as a real masterpiece. I discuss why more here but Fleabag really will go down as one of those classic two-season British shows. Long may Phoebe Waller-Bridge reign supreme and the news she’s re-writing parts of Bond 25 is pretty magical…

Going back into the vault, I’ve been doing a rewatch of 90’s sitcom Men Behaving Badly, from Simon Nye. I’m writing about the show in three parts covering all six seasons and the specials, but this has been a terrific rewatch of a show I grew up loving as a teenager, perhaps because it felt like being ‘in’ on the life of older blokes. As a bloke now their age (and some), you get a different perspective on it. Thankfully it’s mostly still as funny, even if some of the scenarios have aged and the jokes wither a little under the scope of our modern sense of equality and taste.

Last but not least, of course, is the last season of Game of Thrones, which I’ve been doing immediate thoughts on each week. It is, predictably, a thrilling and intense experience and I’m going to miss it enormously when it’s over from mid-May…

BOOKS

Finally, I’ve done well with books this month, topping off four completed and one in progress.

I started with David Quantick’s All My Colors from Titan Books, which I received a preview copy of. You can read my review here but it’s a delightfully acerbic slice of satire and horror mixed in a heady, Stephen King-esque brew. Really enjoyed it and burned through it fast.

One that has taken me a while, for good reasons, is Monsters of the Week: The Complete Critical Companion to The X-Files, from TV critics Zack Handlen & Todd Van Der Werff. A collection of reviews for every single of the 200+ episodes of my favourite TV show of all time, and it’s one I wanted to savour after picking it up last Autumn. Loved every minute of the analysis. Zack & Todd discuss the book more on my X-Files podcast, The X-Cast, in conversation with Darren Mooney – do give it a listen.

I was surprised to find myself struggling, for the first time, with both Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman in reading Good Omens, in advance of the TV adaptation arriving at the very end of May. I’m a big fan of Pratchett’s Discworld but I found Good Omens a bit impenetrable for the majority of it, lacking the funny bone I’ve enjoyed in much of Pratchett’s work. My enjoyment of it increased the closer we got to the end, and I can entirely see why it’s so well regarded but… hmmm, didn’t entirely work for me sadly.

My current read is on similar lines to the X-Files book in TV (The Book), Alan Sepinwall & Matt Zoller Seitz’s exhaustive look at the best shows in American TV history. It’s already made me want to watch all of Cheers for the first time so it’s doing its job right, clearly!

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