Wet snow topples a birch tree in Racine, Wisconsin, March 10, 2023
Wet snow topples a birch tree on Webster St. in Racine, Wisconsin, March 10, 2023.

Another Week: Number 11

by | March 12, 2023

It’s that time of year when you wish you could be spreading pre-emergent crabgrass preventer.

Instead, though, you’re fishtailing your wife home from work in the snow — where, finally settled in front of your cozy TV, the power goes out for the second time in two weeks.

So you just go to bed. You’ll have to get up early anyway to shovel the six or eight inches of heavy slush.

Sometimes I wonder why we live here.

But then I remember how all this stupid snow and ice will make summer’s humidity and mosquitoes that much more glorious.

Below are some tidbits from the past week.


The Midnight Special on YouTube

As I became interested in rock music during the decade before MTV, one of the only pipelines for getting the stuff in a video version was The Midnight Special, a 90-minute show every Friday night on NBC following Johnny Carson.

At last, after years of tolerating clips culled from wrinkled VHS tapes, The Midnight Special finally has an official YouTube channel featuring pristine recordings of those live (never lip-synched) performances from the era of K-tel, mustaches, and bell bottoms.

Clips are being added day by day, but there’s already a bunch of David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, and — Amy’s favorite — The Bee Gees.

The show was often too brightly lit and recording technology has greatly improved in the last 50 years, but there are some gems among these clips and they’re fun to browse.


Tár (2022)

Hoping to take in another Oscar nominee or two before the big Academy Awards show, we rented Tár on Tuesday night knowing only that its stars Cate Blanchett.

Blanchett plays Lydia Tár, the acclaimed conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic — an EGOT winner with a lengthy scroll of impressive lifetime achievements which are ticked off during a New Yorker Festival interview as the movie opens. She leads a busy, exacting life jetting between Europe and the U.S., and she can be unkind and even cruel at times.

As we meet her, Ms. Tár is climbing toward yet another career peak, a live recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony to complete her Mahler grand slam. But as she makes her final ascent, peripheral tremors are felt and unexpected cracks appear. There are flashes of foreboding as in a horror movie.

Tár is a character study that depends entirely on Blanchett, and she is astonishing as this world-renowned virtuoso trying to navigate under mounting pressure. She makes her gambits, registers danger, then recalculates, barely missing a beat.

The story necessarily incorporates many classical music references but does not depend upon the viewer being familiar with them. At two hours and thirty-eight minutes, the movie is longish but doesn’t feel like it. It’s a tense, gripping ride.

The moment in Tár that really made my hair stand up, though, was just pure personal coincidence.

In the opening interview, Tár credits Leonard Bernstein as a major inspiration. Much later, she revisits a video of one of Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts.

Last week, browsing through YouTube recommendations, I happened to add a clip from a Leonard Bernstein lecture to our queue. Amy and I were both awestruck when it played on our TV.

For such similar material to then pop up in this movie a few days later was freaking eerie.

 The movie’s ending was not perfectly clear to me, and I’ve read several explanations.

The one by Esther Zuckerman at The Daily Beast was fine — until I read S. P. Sucharitkul’s take at The Hollywood Reporter. He even considers the crocodiles.


Hello Tomorrow!

We’re good sports, so we keep giving Apple TV+ new chances to justify its $7 per month subscription fee. So far, this includes the popular Ted Lasso, which returns on March 15, and the excellent Bad Sisters, which has been renewed for a second season.

The Morning Show was a two-season detour to disappointment. That series initially seemed to be going somewhere — but ultimately drove off a cliff. The best thing about it was Billy Crudup, perfectly suave in walking the tightrope between network interests and personal relationships.

For his sake, we have now watched four half-hour episodes of Hello Tomorrow!, the new retrofuturistic whatever-it-is about a sales team selling condos on the moon. It stars Crudup and Hank Azaria.

As a comedy, it’s not funny. As a drama, who cares?

All it has is the supposed hook of the mid-century past — door-to-door salesmen in pleated wool pants — meeting the spacey future: they’re selling condos on the moon! Their classic cars hover! Their tabletop video phone screens are black-and-white!

Get it?

Hank Azaria says the show has been described as The Jetsons meets Mad Men. This might be accurate considering that The Jetsons repeated the same “the more things change” joke over and over again, and Mad Men began as promising nostalgia but dead-ended into nowhere.

Hello Tomorrow! feels like a show generated by artificial intelligence — which was actually the premise of a bit Billy Crudup acted out during his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! promoting the new series.

It was funnier as a three-minute skit. I think we’re going to bail.


Fleishman Is in Trouble

We saw a promo for this miniseries a while back and it seemed like it might be something, so I added it to our Hulu list.

At first, I was afraid there was some sort of wacky supernatural dating app premise because star Jesse Eisenberg was getting flooded with matches from lots of ladies on his phone.

Instead, Fleishman Is in Trouble has turned out to be an unexpectedly rich and layered story about a failed marriage and career building and gender roles and distracted parenting and infidelity — and we’re only four-eighths in.

Clever production is used to switch back and forth between various threads, giving Fleishman Is in Trouble the feel of a novel — and it turns out the show is created by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, based on her 2019 first novel of the same title.

It’s very funny at times, but also tragic and deep. Eisenberg plays Dr. Toby Fleishman, a hepatologist in New York City. Claire Danes is Toby’s ex-wife Rachel, a talent agent. The story is narrated by Toby’s good friend Libby, played by Lizzy Caplan.

This is a series we will finish. Really good.


Kate Berlant: Cinnamon in the Wind

On Friday night, Amy and I watched a standup comedy special on Hulu from last September by a woman we had never heard of. It was a strange and thrilling performance with quite a few laughs.

Kate Berlant has a blatantly eccentric presence with a physicality reminiscent of silent film comedians, and her Cinnamon in the Wind special is presented in black and white, with makeup to match.

But Kate Berlant is not silent.

This woman can talk. She is a firehose of rapid free association, bizarre references, and audible internal dialog while moving oddly around her small stage and generally turning any expectations of a precisely crafted comedy set inside out.

The Bo Burnham-directed hour — actually 44 minutes without commercials — is strongest up front, when the element of surprise and Berlant’s physicality are strongest.

But the whole show is striking and refreshingly different. We literally looked at each other and mouthed the word “Wow.”



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