Is this the best pop culture weekend ever?
Praise Jesus! It’s 2:00 PM on Friday, and this Easter weekend is already shaping up to be one of the best in pop culture that we can ever remember. The bountiful Spring harvest of new stuff from beloved cult franchises, returns of critically acclaimed television shows, and even few sleeper hit movies is almost hard to list all in one place. But we’ll give it a try.
The Best TV Returns!
First, let’s talk TV. Three of the most critically acclaimed television series of the modern era ALL returned to the small screen this week:
Better Call Saul
On Monday, we saw the debut of the third season of Better Call Saul. The Breaking Bad-spawn quickly proved itself worthy of comparisons to its more famous parent, and after two seasons of top-notch storytelling, has become perhaps equally beloved (although still less of a cultural phenomenon). The third season promises the long-awaited debut of the “Saul Goodman” persona, as well as a certain terrifying fried chicken magnate who dabbles in being an international drug lord.
On Wednesday, Noah Hawley’s Fargo anthology series returns to FX. This season stars Ewan McGreggor playing a dual role as two brothers whose rivalry threatens to tear apart an entire town. Between the prior two seasons of Fargo, the surprise success of Legion, and even a ripping good novel After the Fall, Hawley is on an incredible winning streak. With this season of Fargo already earning rave reviews, I wouldn’t expect that streak to end anytime soon.
I’d forgive you if you stopped watching The Leftovers during its dreary first season. This show took some time to really find its voice. But any lingering reservations I had about The Leftovers were smashed to bits by its incomprehensibly affecting second season. By bringing its damaged characters to the one town in America that wasn’t touched by “the departure,” the show managed to inject a ray of hope into its otherwise dismal universe. At the same time, it perfected its storytelling technique by focusing each episode on a single character’s narrative. The pieces wove together to tell a complete story, but by honing in on one point of view, the series was really able to explore its central concept of grief, faith, and how we can go on living despite inexplicable mysteries.
Season two of The Leftovers narrowly defeated season two of Fargo for my favorite show of 2015. While both shows are incredibly deft at exploring humanity within off-the-wall narratives, I found The Leftovers’ episodic structure more ambitious. Every episode was like a crazy tight-wire act (check out “International Assassin,” where protagonist Kevin Garvey returns from death by singing karaoke at a hotel bar–seriously), and the fact that it all held together until the climactic season finale was a truly astounding feat of storytelling. If this final season manages to wrap things up in a similarly audacious fashion, Lindelof will have finally made up for writing Prometheus.
Cult Properties Come Back!
If you live on Earth and have an internet connection, you’ve already heard about the Star Wars trailer (read our take here!). But forget “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.” This weekend, we’re even more excited about what’s going on in “the not too distant future, next Sunday A.D.”
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return
That’s right, MST3K is back, with twelve NEW episodes available on Netflix RIGHT NOW.
Rebooting a property this beloved is a tall order, and we’ll admit to some apprehensiveness about the new crew. It should be easy enough for Jonah Ray to fill the shoes of “guy forced to watch bad movies in space,” but his robot companions Tom Servo and CROOOOOOOW established defined personalities over the courts of the original show’s ten seasons. It may be hard to warm up to the new comics (Baron Vaughn and Hamilton Yount) voicing those rolls.
But there are plenty of reasons to have confidence in this reboot. The MST3K format is tried and true. It shouldn’t be too hard to find comic fodder in the nearly 20 years’ worth of movies released since the show went off the air. Perhaps most encouraging, the writing talent behind the scenes–including original ceator Joel Hodson, comic geniuses Dan Harmon and Patton Oswalt, and veteran mocker of reality TV Joel McHale–is almost impossibly good.
We’ve booked our ticket on the Satellite of Love this weekend, and we bet you will too.
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the new season of impossible-to-kill science fiction favorite Doctor Who. It’s long-time showrunner Steven Moffat’s final season (which many fans welcome), and also the final bow for Peter Capaldi, one of our favorite actors to ever wield the sonic screwdriver. As if that weren’t enough, this season will also see the debut of brand new companion Bill, played by Pearl Mackie, the first LGBT character to ride in the TARDIS full-time. You can bet there’s something big stories planned to do justice to all of those hellos and goodbyes.
But let’s get serious: we’re nerds, and this is Doctor Who. We’d be tuning in no matter the circumstances. Allons-y!
Sandy Wexler, or Wait, did Adam Sandler just make a decent movie? What year is this???
Perhaps no one in the movie business has taken more of a critical drubbing over the last twenty years than affable SNL alum Adam Sandler. And with shit like Jack and Jill, Pixels, and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan on his resume, it’s easy to see why. Yet we are old enough to remember a time when a new Adam Sandler release was synonymous with cool. In those early days when we all swung golf clubs like Happy Gilmore and peed our pants Billy Madison, a new Adam Sandler movie was a new handbook for whatever lines you’d hear shouted in the hallways at your junior high for the next year. And we have to admit, those movies were fun.
We’re not quite ready to forgive Sandler for all that has happened in the meantime. His status as the poster boy for lazy cash-in film-making is well-earned. But we have to admit, if he pulled a Bagger Vance and “found his swing” again, it might be niece to have him back on the scene.
Maybe that explains our tentative excitement at seeing reviews for “Sandy Wexler” that aren’t completely hostile. The AV Club gave it a B- and used the words “often quite funny” in its review. Indiewire was less charitable, but even they admitted the movie was “mildly amusing” and “objectively [Sandler’s] best movie since Funny People.” That’s something!
We’re still pretty sure we won’t like “Sandy Wexler,” but it’s the first Sandler-helmed picture in a long time we feel some obligation to at least check out. We haven’t been able to say that since we were children.
Sleeper Surprises at the Box Office!
Hopefully you already read our review of “Your Name,” a popular Japanese romantic comedy / sci-fi mashup that made its debut in Salt Lake City this week. The movie earns our stamp of approval.
Joining it at Salt Lake Film Society’s Broadway theater this weekend is “Colossal,” another romantic comedy / sci-fi mashup that has been a hit on the festival circuit. The film stars Anne Hathaway, returning to the less polished type of character she perfected in “Rachel Getting Married,” as a drunk in America who is somehow controlling a Kaiju that is destroying South Korea. If you don’t think that premise on its own is enough to get us in the theater, you haven’t been listening to Blacksite Podcast.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t add that Hathaway’s co-star is “guy who is suddenly in everything” Dan Stevens, who we loved as David Haller in Legion and the Beast in the new Beauty and the Beast.
Count us in for this!
The Lost City of Z*
Joining all the frivolous fun we’ve described up to this point is the first film of 2017 that critics are lining up to call a bonafide masterpiece. Director James Gray’s previous film “The Immigrant” was one of our favorites in recent years. More than any director working today, Gray has mastered the look and feel of classic cinema, giving his movies an air of refined legitimacy simply by virtue of how they look. Luckily, he fills them with story and characters to match the lofty atmosphere.
His latest tackles a favorite topic of classic cinema: obsession. Charlie Hunnam plays an explorer on an endless quest to find a lost city that will cost him nearly everything else. Are you already drawing comparisons to Apocalypse Now? If anyone can match the expectations that come with invoking such a classic, its James Gray.
*This was released in New York and Los Angeles, but it hasn’t quite hit screens in Salt Lake City yet. Keep an eye out.
Phew! Is that enough stuff to watch for one weekend, or what? I don’t know how we’ll even have time to mock Trump’s doomed Easter Egg roll with all of these worthy distractions.
Do any of these releases have you particularly excited? What are YOU watching this weekend? Let us know in the comments.