It’s been a long week. Here’s what NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour crew has been turning to for joy – and what you should check out this weekend.
She’s a Beast and Burnt Toast
I highly recommend two email newsletters I subscribe to. One is called She’s a Beast by Casey Johnston, and it’s very heavily about weightlifting, which may or may not be a thing you’re into. Meanwhile, Burnt Toast by writer Virginia Sole-Smith is about diet, culture, anti-fatness, and all of the many things wrapped up in that.
They are both, in their own ways, about seeing your body as something other than a thing you have to make skinny. And while this may sound very serious, they are honestly joyful. These newsletters are undoing decades of programming that a lot of us have been through, and any time I open them, I feel a little bit happier. – Danielle Kurtzleben
I am an avowed Top Chef fan. I really like the process and competency of food shows, but The Bear hit me in an unexpected way. It’s about a young up-and-coming chef, played by Jeremy Allen White, who returns to Chicago to take over a restaurant owned by his brother di lui. He butts heads with his staff di lui, gains their respect di lui and tries to put the restaurant on a new path with different kinds of food, while still honoring what makes it so popular within the neighborhood.
I have been a Jeremy Allen White fan since Shameless, but I was really drawn in by his performance here and by the complex questions that the series asks, like the role food has in our memories and in our conceptions of self. So I was really annoyed when I watched all eight episodes and there were not more. – Roxana Hadadi
“Training Montage” by The Mountain Goats
One of my favorite songwriters in the world is making a comeback. The great John Darnielle from The Mountain Goats has written some of the most viscerally intense anthems of all time, songs like “No Children” and “This Year.” But in recent years, the group has been putting out these much mellower concept albums about Dungeons and Dragons, goths, or wrestlers, but then couch those impressions in these very mellow, low key, polished and streamlined sounds that don’t necessarily match up for me.
Well, they’re getting back into shout-along anthem mode in a way I’m really excited about. They’ve got another concept album coming out in August called Bleed Out, and each song from it is supposed to evoke classic action movies. Their new single “Training Montage” is my favorite new Mountain Goats song in more than a decade and is very much in that vein. It builds up to this great chorus where you can actually pump your fist and shout, “I’m doing this for revenge!” And what could possibly be better? – Stephen Thompson
“The Wire at 20 “
June marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of this little show called The Wire. The New York Times did a package series called “‘The Wire’ at 20”, and I want to give a shoutout to my former colleagues over at the TV desk there because they did some great, interesting work. There are a few stories, including one where they talk to the creators, and another where they speak with some of the actors, who break down some of the five definitive scenes of the show.
But what I found most interesting was an article about the impact of the show on Baltimore, in which they interviewed people who grew up or are currently living there. In sort of oral history-style snippets, these locals talked about their sometimes mixed feelings or anti-feelings about the show, what it’s meant, and how it depicted Baltimore, race, and urban living. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re a fan of The Wire. – Aisha Harris
More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter
It’s Pride Month, Black Music Month, and the month everyone suddenly started talking about club music and its Black, queer origins. So I highly suggest checking out critic Craig Seymour’s rich history of Black gay men in pop music; it’s a great primer that looks at artists who influenced the blues, gospel, hip-hop, and, yes, club music. It comes in two parts, and includes an accompanying playlist.
I really dug Chloea six-episode miniseries that aired in the UK earlier this year and is now streaming on Amazon Prime. It’s a psychological thriller about Becky (Erin Doherty), a young woman who becomes obsessed with the mysterious death of a well-known socialite and cons her way into her inner circle di lei by assuming a fake identity. Be forewarned: This is a very twisty show, sometimes frustratingly so, and I don’t think the landing quite sticks. But for the most part, I liked the suspense and Doherty’s performance di lei as a (possibly?) Unreliable narrator. If a scammer-meets-Single White Female narrative intrigues you, this is worth a shot.
Work and life stuff – have I mentioned lately that I’m writing a book? – have found me slacking on my board games. But recently some friends introduced my partner and I to Splendor, and it has pretty much everything I look for in a board game: quick and easy setup, a fairly even balance of strategy and chance, and a not-too-long play time (about 30-45 minutes once you’ve gotten the hang of it). The gist of it: it’s the Renaissance (of course) and each person is a merchant trying to collect gems and stuff. Get into it! – Aisha Harris
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