Media Diet: February 2020

March 1, 2020

This year I’m aiming to reflect on the media I consumed each month. Here, I’ve listed each book, movie, TV show season, and podcast I finished in February 2020. I’ve only included those works which I’d never completed previously, or which I’d finished so long ago it felt unfamiliar.

This is not my complete media diet. I also watched a lot of TV that isn’t worth recapping, notably a bunch of Simpsons episodes, plus NBA games. I also subscribe to several podcasts which I enjoy, but don’t listen to every episode: The Right Time with Bomani Jones, The Lowe Post, and WTF with Marc Maron. I also listened to a bunch of back episodes of the Grierson and Leitch movies podcast, focusing on their Reboot segments in which they discussed movies I’d seen before.

I don’t have much loyalty to specific websites, but I do make sure every day to read Kottke, Dear Prudence on Slate (free entries only), and I check ESPN. I subscribe to several newsletters, but actively look forward to the ones from Will Leitch, Anne Helen Petersen, and the Action Cookbook by Scott Hines.

I’m in the midst of quitting Facebook as much as work allows, and someday I’ll find a way to kick my Twitter habit. Instagram sucks, too, but less than the other ones, probably because I’ve resisted following celebrities. This month, I think got through a lot less media than usual, probably because I took a significant vacation and on my flights I was mostly trying to sleep (unsuccessfully).

Let’s get to it.


Shrill (Season 1)

I wanted to like this show a lot more than I did. Aidy Bryant has had some exceptional highs on SNL, and she was part of a fun dramedy ensemble in The Big Sick, and she’s radiant here, a star through and through. However, the show’s writing comes up short, time and again. Perhaps it’s because I’m familiar with Lindy West’s work (she’s credited as an executive producer and the show is inspired by her memoir), but at various times I feel the show heads toward making a point about how fat people are unfairly judged and demeaned by others who don’t see how malicious their behavior is, yet doesn’t follow through and actually make the point. It comes through clearly that Annie is subject to unkind and thoughtless behavior by strangers and loved ones alike, but it leaves out a key final step.

For example, when Annie gets into a confrontation with Gabe, her boss at work (an alt-weekly editor apparently based on Dan Savage, played by John Cameron Mitchell), she says he’s simply being demeaning by telling fat people they ought to lose weight, while he argues that he’s simply encouraging fat people to be healthier. Maybe the characters say it at some point and I missed it, but I don’t think Annie or anyone else homes in on the specific flaw in Gabe’s logic: Fat people can be healthy. Fat people are not necessarily unhealthy. No conversation explicitly goes this direction, and the it just kind of… hangs over everything.

There are also occasional scenes that are weirdly cliched or sloppy, as when (SPOILER ALERT) Annie speaks with a troll, and he straight up says he trolls because he used to be a big kid and doesn’t like himself. Fortunately, there are many more scenes when the writing is tight and hilarious, like when Annie goes to a strip club to review the buffet and the strippers explain go into detail about their profession. All in all, I’m looking forward to the second season (which is on Hulu now).


Pete Davidson: Alive from New York

This short standup special is much better than I expected it to be, but I don’t expect it to have much staying power. A good amount is spent on topical stuff, like Davidson’s brief relationship with Ariana Grande, but the best material is probably when he talks about his late father’s friends and, generally, his own Staten Island roots.


Slow Burn (Season 3: Tupac and Biggie)

As with Slow Burn’s season on the Clinton impeachment, there’s a lot of information presented here that hasn’t made it into the popular narrative, just because time and memory change things. I wasn’t a Pac or Biggie superfan, as they died just before I hit my prime teenage years, but I know the broad outlines.

That probably means I’m not in the prime target demographic for this season. That said, the final couple episodes, talking about the investigations into the murders, were standout entries and I found myself wishing those episodes had been expanded to a full season. That’d be a different show, but probably one I’d enjoy a lot more.


Normal People • Sally Rooney

Rooney is clearly a tremendous talent. Normal People was one of my favorite books to read in the past year just because of her prose. Her writing is seemingly straightforward, yet layered and textured in a way that reflects the story, about Marianne and Connell, two young people negotiating young love, first in their small Irish town, then at their university in Dublin. Rooney masterfully conveys the high stakes of their romance and how they carry the experience through their lives. I only wish the novel was longer, so as to follow Marianne and Connell further into adulthood, as it feels like the story’s natural arc was cut short. We can dream of a sequel.

Out of Sight • Leonard Elmore

Confession: I’ve never seen the movie starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. But I’ve liked every Leonard book I’ve ever read, starting with Riding the Rap, which one of my high school teachers assigned. This story is everything you could want from a Leonard novel: Lots of action, sharp dialogue, and a propulsive plot that ends the instant it can and no later. Prison break! Kidnapping! Fugitives in disguise! A heist! It’s beautiful.

City Primeval • Leonard Elmore

I read this 1980 novel immediately after Out of Sight (1996) and was pleasantly surprised to see the protagonist here, Raymond Cruz, was a guy we briefly met in the previous story. (There’s a reporter here who also makes an appearance in the later novel.) Leonard described this novel as a western set in Detroit, and that makes all kinds of sense — there’s a feeling of lawlessness that pervades everything, and Cruz and his small team are the ones fighting against a tide. It bears noting Leonard made one big misstep: Cruz sleeps with a woman, and the setup is deeply weird and unbelievable. Plus, there doesn’t seem to be any real reason for them to sleep together, as it doesn’t come to bear later on.

(Image: "2Pac" by $amii. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license)