Alice Cottrell, Publisher
During lockdown in Melbourne I only wanted to watch funny, warming TV shows, and my two favourites of the last few months are The Bisexual (Stan) and Taco Chronicles (Netflix). The Bisexual is a comedy drama series following Leila (played by writer, director, actress and show creator Desiree Akhavan), who explores dating men for the first time after breaking up with her long-term partner, Sadie. It’s a moving and funny show about grappling with your identity in that strange post-break-up period of self-reinvention. (I also loved Akhavan’s debut feature film Appropriate Behaviour when I saw it at MIFF in 2014). Taco Chronicles is a lovely culinary docu-series about the history and culture behind Mexico’s favourite street food. Each episode a different taco is featured (the narration is BY THE TACO ITSELF, which I love), with interviews with food writers, historical experts and the owners of the stands selling the tacos. It’s such a joyful and celebratory show and will make you very hungry.
I recently finished reading Life After Truth by Ceridwen Dovey (read my interview with the author) and it’s one of my favourite books of this year. It’s like Big Little Lies meets The Secret History in the best possible way. Fifteen years after graduating from Harvard, five close friends on the cusp of middle age head back to campus for their school reunion. During the weekend the most infamous member of their class, Frederick—senior advisor and son of the recently elected and loathed US president—turns up dead. It’s a wonderfully readable and thoughtful novel about privilege, friendship, parenthood and ageing.
Alan Vaarwerk, Editor
After watching the first few episodes of Fargo (SBS On Demand) recently out of curiosity, given the hype around the new fifth season, I decided that before I went any further I needed to watch the Coen Brothers’ 1996 film (available on Stan), upon which the series is (tangentially) based. I’m no outlier in saying this, but gosh it’s a great film—a mix of absurd comedy and violence that is graphic without being gratuitous, and a magnetic performance by Frances McDormand as the mild-mannered but eagle-eyed Marge Gunderson. Shots linger and expand across the frozen landscape, but tight storytelling means not a second of the film’s 90 minutes is wasted; partly why I’m so keen to get back to the TV series and spend more time basking in this particular version of the Upper Midwest.
My housemate also recently put me on to the podcast Wind of Change, in which journalist Patrick Radden Keefe (Say Nothing) tries to get to the bottom of a rumour that the German band Scorpions’ titular ‘power ballad that ended the Cold War’ was in fact written by the CIA. It’s a great mix of pop-culture history, espionage, and puzzle solving, as Keefe tries to crack the Agency’s notoriously impenetrable wall of silence.
Justina Ashman, Editorial Assistant
This month I’ve once again confused Netflix’s algorithm into thinking I have a young child by watching kids’ shows on repeat. I have been thoroughly enjoying Julie and the Phantoms, a show about a sixteen-year-old girl who rediscovers her love for music after the death of her mother by forming a band with the ghosts of three teen boys who died right before their big break. It’s extremely sweet and fun and filled with catchy songs, endearing characters and the kind of delightfully dramatic villain that kids’ media excels at.
I’ve also been loving chef Sohla El-Waylly’s new YouTube series, Stump Sohla. In each video, Sohla is presented with a new food challenge, putting a twist on an otherwise ordinary meal or ingredient. The series is a celebration of culinary creativity and experimentation, from making mac and cheese in the style of 18th Century cooking to creating a seven course degustation menu using entirely convenience store ingredients. The show is based on attempts to ‘stump’ Sohla—her failure is not only possible, it is ostensibly the ultimate goal. It’s comforting to watch Sohla’s unfazed positivity and problem solving culminate in successful and surprising dishes, but for me the real enjoyment comes from her focus on the joy of the challenge above the quality of the end result. In one episode she says, ‘It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be a thing’—that’s an approach to creative output that I both admire and aspire to.
Kalhari Jayaweera, ‘What Happened To Bend It Like Beckham‘s Post-Racial Utopia?’
While writing What Happened to Bend It Like Beckham’s Post-Racial Utopia, I found myself watching hours of clips of Goodness Gracious Me in the name of research. (The show features Meera Syal, author of Anita and Me, and Sanjeev Bhaskar, who plays the father in the movie.) This skit in particular, ‘Going out for an English’, which turns the tables on the British pastime of going out for Indian food, is a perfect mix of comedy and scathing cultural commentary.
Reading Women is a books podcast that has exponentially expanded my TBR list. It’s US-based, but the background and interests of the hosts and contributors means that its focus is very international, and intersectional—there are several episodes on Australian literature, episodes on the Partition of India, Afrofuturism, beauty privilege and more. I also stumbled across a podcast called The Seen and the Unseen, following a post by Samanth Subramanian, who wrote This Divided Island, (one of the few books I’ve found on the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war). Host Amit Varma is an economist, and the podcast touches on everything from education, economics, politics, the arts and history, as it affects India. It’s gloriously digressive, philosophical and comforting.
Hayley May Bracken, Podcast Producer
I’m currently listening to comedian Maria Bamford’s recent Audible release You Are (A Comedy) Special, a 15 step audiobook to help you ‘forcibly force yourself to do a full hour of stand up comedy’. The book gives genuine and hilarious insight into Bamford’s process and perfectly encapsulates her ability to spin comedy gold from stories about anxiety, depression, OCD and stints at inpatient psychiatric units.
My first encounter with Bamford’s self described ‘mental health schtick’ was her 2007 web series The Maria Bamford Show, a low budget portrayal of her mental illness recovery at her parents home in Duluth, Minnesota. In the short lived series Bamford describes herself as a ‘marginally successful comedian who never got their own show.’ Nine years after the web series was cancelled, Bamford was given her own show, a considerably more expensive looking, slightly surreal, fictionalised version of her post-breakdown recovery titled Lady Dynamite. Watching Lady Dynamite is made all the sweeter for knowing how unexpected this late career pay-off was for Bamford. Her status as a cult comic is evident in the incredible cast and cameos throughout the show’s two seasons. Listen and watch Maria Bamford content if you like your comedy off-kilter, based on vulnerable experiences and delivered in constantly varying vocal inflections.
Sam Rodgers, ‘The Joyful Voyeurism of Reaction Videos’
HBO’s I May Destroy You was so good I watched all twelve episodes twice. It is one of the best commentaries on 2020 online discourse and so well written by lead actor, Michaela Coel, that it demands to be seen. Having said that, I’m not looking forward to reading the hot takes from the people it skewers.
Reading-wise, I’ve enjoyed Lana Guineay’s noir novella, Dark Wave, and I’m currently reading Susan Napier’s Miyazakiworld after a year of comfort-watching Studio Ghibli movies and repeatedly listening to the soundtracks to Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbour Totoro on vinyl.