'one nation, underwood.'
Your New Daddy – House of Cards
Television nurtures our fetish for competence. This holds true in virtually all types of programming: Jeopardy champions become viral sensations as more and more people tune in to watch them extend their win streaks; we watch HGTV renovation shows to see experts gut and rebuild homes with taste and speed and dedication we could only hope to match; and virtually all prestige dramas are workplace shows wherein we can vicariously experience the innovation and problem-solving of hackers, aspiring tech moguls, ad men, and drug kingpins. We can root for anyone, even the Frank Underwoods of the world, because we want to bask in their ability to get shit done. To will the outcome they desire.
Although creator and former showrunner Beau Willimon is no longer involved with House of Cards, the characters and their self-made problems have become comfort food in this fifth season. These people are who we thought they were. Frank continues his search for an admiring lover to compete with Claire’s, Doug tries to punish himself by dating a normal woman for once, and LeAnn wonders every minute if she’s backed the right horse.
And it’s unclear if this change is due to the showrunner shake-up, but House of Cards has gotten just a touch weirder around the edges, and I am here for it. Claire is smoking her cigarettes about 10% harder in an 80% silkier nightgown in the Oval Office, Frank’s giving us 30% more campiness as he flirts with every man who pays him a compliment, and Doug is investing 100% of his energy into poor coping mechanisms. And through the magic of the Twelfth Amendment, both Underwoods have a shot at ending up president this time.
Before the fifth season of House of Cards dropped this week, I considered the possibility that the show’s appeal would now be lost on me. Not because I’d lost my interest in seeing competence on the screen, but because I’m so overloaded with actual political drama, I would have no appetite for the fictional flavor.
But it turns out the show is still fun. And the constitutional crises that poison all three branches of government can be deeply entertaining when the players are almost uniformly competent. Competent narcissism, even competent commission of high crimes and misdemeanors, is all deeply watchable. And surprisingly comforting.
#BelindaIsBack – My Dad Wrote A Porno, Series 3
The first podcast I ever loved was The Ricky Gervais Show, which, as it goes, is arguably the first podcast to ever exist. It defined the medium, and was a straight, chat-based comedy show starring Gervais, Stephen Merchant, and producer/oddball-genius Karl Pilkington. And it was the most consistently funny podcast ever. Even their old XFM radio show, the antecedent to the pod, showed that they already had the formula down pat: three people, taking turns ganging up on each other, and letting the music and news of the day lead them to improvised bits and insults that accrete comedic value over the weeks and months and years.
Now, My Dad Wrote a Porno has picked up the torch as the funniest podcast hiding in your phone waiting for you. The premise is simple: Jamie Morton’s dad wrote an erotic novel, it’s awful, and Morton and his friends James Cooper and Alice Levine share one chapter each week, with frequent stops to critique the text. Levine’s insights into the mind of the author, the pseudonymous Rocky Flintstone, are especially funny, but the whole team is great. The third series of the pod, which will tell the third book in Rocky’s Belinda Blinked erotica series, has just started.
The show also has several celebrity fans, including Rachel Bloom and Elijah Wood, who have appeared in special Footnotes episodes to discuss Rocky’s work. The Michael Sheen episode is an instant classic. His love for the show is as pure as Rocky’s ignorance of anatomy or the mechanics of sex.
Late To The Party – Dates on Hulu
About four years ago I got hooked on Dates, a single-series drama that first aired on Channel 4 in the UK. Each of the nine episodes focuses primarily on a single date between two people, with some characters weaving in and out of future episodes as their lives intersect in different permutations. I loved it, binged it, and would think about it in the intervening years whenever one of the actors in the show would pop up in Utopia or Gavin and Stacey or Game of Thrones. And this week, it re-appeared on Hulu and I re-watched the premiere episode, titled “Mia and David.”
Now that I’m not caught up in the plot and who might end up with whom, I was able to focus just on the performances and writer-creator Bryan Elsley’s cleanly pitched storytelling. There are no wasted words, and each grumble and half-finished admission is delivered expertly by Oona Chaplin and Will Mellor. The second episode shifts to two new characters and a more suspenseful, unnerving date, but it all stays anchored in the mundanity of real people’s awfulness. And extraordinary acting.
This is worth a watch and, clearly, a re-watch after at least one Summer and one Winter Olympics.
 Movies, too. But, you know, one thing at a time.