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Chipotle Lets More Famous Authors Write on Its Takeout Bags, Initiates Book Report Contest

Chipotle Lets More Famous Authors Write on Its Takeout Bags, Initiates Book Report Contest

Chipotle is expanding the Cultivating Thought Series with Jonathan Franzen, Lois Lowry, and Anthony Doerr

It’s not enough to stuff your face with a carnitas burrito at lunch: You should be cultured while you do it.

You may want to grab your reading glasses before heading out on your next a burrito run. Chipotle is expanding its Cultivating Thought writing series featuring a new list of authors who will be contributing essays to be featured on Chipotle’s cups and takeout bags.Not only that, but Chipotle will also hold a Super Short Book Report contest for creative 103-character reviews of a Cultivating Thought essay.

New writers this time around include Jonathan Franzen (Freedom, The Corrections), Lois Lowry (Number the Stars, The Giver), Sue Monk Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees), and Stephen J. Dubner (Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics). Remember when Chipotle apologized during the last writers’ series for a lack of diversity, specifically of featuring Latino writers? Many of the 11 new writers are white, except Laura Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate), and Colson Whitehead (The Intuitionist), so there has not really been a change in the diversity.

“Our mission has always been to change how people think about and eat fast food, and in addition to highlighting our fresh ingredients, we seek to encourage curiosity in our customers about the world around them,” said Mark Crumpacker, chief creative and development officer of Chipotle in a statement. “Cultivating Thought has succeeded as an extension of that idea, by not only inspiring new ways of thinking, but by also extending the customer experience in our restaurants.”

If you’re inspired by one of the essays, feel free to submit your less-than tweet length book report here. You could win a Kindle!


It's Summertime and the Streaming Is Easy: What to Watch

As many of us in the academic world go into summer mode, which opens up a bit more time for streaming and watching media content, I thought I would offer a midyear list of things I have viewed and enjoyed since the start of 2021. Since almost all of this was watched streaming, I am not going to separate out film and television content (it’s a hopeless blur). I also include things here that I watched since the first of the year but which may have dropped in 2020 or in a few cases, even earlier. We are all catching up all the time these days. I have only included those series where I watched every episode so if it’s on the list, it’s a given that I liked it enough to keep watching. So you can take this list as a series of recommendations of things you MIGHT enjoy watching. Your mileage may differ.

How to, with John Wilson — quirky, observational, sometimes poignant, this series combines documentary and found footage with satirical commentary to explore everyday life on the eve of the pandemic.

Kim’s Convienence — I started this family sitcom about a Korean family running a coronership in Canada in 2020, but caught up with the two most recent seasons since the start of the new year. This is warm and pleasant, rarely descends into '‘cringe'“, and the characters like each other. If you want bittersweet chocolate, go elsewhere. This is milk chocolate and nougat all the way down.

Rutherford Falls — This series examines competing histories and the war over monuments in a small town. The writer’s room is heavily indigenous people and some of the most compelling characters are particular personalities from tribal communities. It is still a bit patchy by the end of the first season but several of the episodes are gems (especially one about a school history fair) and the characters develop nuance as they go along.

Young Rock — Do you like the Rock? Did you watch the WWE/WWF in the 1980s and 1990s? Then you will find this very specific sitcom to your taste. I loved seeing some of my favorite vintage wrestlers as recurring characters — Macho Man Randy Savage and Andre the Giant as you’ve never seen them before.

Run — This one falls on the cusp between comedy and suspense. THIS fast-paced romp combines Hitchcockian thrills with rom-com on a cross-country train trip. Above all, it allows Merritt Weaver to be playful, sexy, and smart and has crisp writing (and cameo role) by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The Flight Attendant — This is even less a comedy than Run. I almost gave up in the middle when it got boozy and downright depressive. But I am glad I stuck with it, because it kept me guessing and laughing throughout.

The Queen’s Gambit — I had trouble imagining how they could make a compelling series about chess, but I was wrong. I watched this series in a couple of long binge sessions. The core performances are compelling, the gender politics complex if still somewhat problematic.

Plot Against America — I could not bring myself to watch this series about the rise of an American fascist to political power until after the election got settled. This was the case of a series that was too timely. It’s still hard to watch but rewarding on many levels.

Bridgerton — Sudsy, Sexy, full of problems, but so much fun to watch.

Unorthodox — Another really specific series about a woman who tries to escape from the Orthodox Jewish community. It offered a window (a critical one) into a world I knew little about.

Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C. J. Walker — Octavia Spencer and Blair Underwood dramatize a progressive era chapter in the history of black entrepreneurship.

Normal People — A painful Irish romance which factors in issues of stigmatization and class. It has some of the most emotionally nuanced sex scenes ever shown on television. I was especially drawn to Daisy Edgar-Jones’s vulnerable and yet resilient performance.

Defending Jacob — Suspicion erupts within a family as they confront accusations that the high school aged son may have committed murder. Michelle Dochery and Chris Evans show us contrasting portraits of how loving parents and partners deal with enormous emotional pressure.

Genre Television

Paranormal — An Egyptian series in the tradition of The X-Files or more recently, Evil about a man who seeks to investigate paranormal experiences, mostly inspired by Islamic mythologies, which bring him to confront unresolved events in his own past.

Wanda vision — Marvel is really going to town with trans media extensions of the MCU into television. By now, you know how Wandavision uses sitcoms to explore the relationships amongst two of the least developed characters in the Avengers movies. You either loved it or hated it. I loved it.

Doom Patrol — I have only watched season 1 but this was a fresh take on superheroes with a cast that includes Brendon Frasier, Matt Bomer, Timothy Dalton, and Alan Tudyk. Here, the superhero team is seen through queerness and disability, sometimes super-dark, sometimes pretty raunchy, but these are its stronger qualities. And then there’s the matter of the sentient street…

Harley Quinn — Another series people seem to love or hate. I loved its anarchic energy, the depiction of the friendship between Harley and Poison Ivy, the snarky commentary on superhero cliches, and the bat shit crazy depiction of Jim Gordon, the kind-hearted representation of King Shark, and so much more.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — For me, this was more hit or miss than Wandavision, but there was more than enough to hold my interest, and the reclaiming of Isiah Bradley’s storyline was really rewarding for those who wanted to see critiques of the whiteness of the superhero brought into the Marvel media empire.

Invincible — I was initially a huge fan of the Invincible comics by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) but felt it lost its way fairly early in. This series reworks the core plot line (while remaining attentive to the original spirit) much as The Walking Dead involved a thorough rethinking of choices made in the comic series. The cast alone — Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, J.K. Simmons, among others — makes this one worth watching. But this has got to be the most bloodthirsty animated series I have seen in a long time so not for the faint of heart. Don’t ask me why I find it so hard to get into the brutal humor of The Boys but enjoy the violence here.

For All Mankind — I enjoyed the first season of this alternative history series where the Russians beat the Americans to the moon, but the second season was even stronger with a greater fleshing out of the female characters, more complex interactions with the Russians, more attention to the political context. I soaked countless tissues dabbing eyes during the season finale (word to the wise). Do not miss all of the trans media extras on Apple Plus besides the episodes themselves.

Reality and Documentary Series

The Bridge — A British reality series about an odd-ball mix of folks thrown together in a cabin and given the challenge to build a bridge together. Has some of the same qualities I love in Survivor, without the colonialist tribalism and without the obstacle races. The focus is purely on the social drama as they decide along the way who stays or leaves and who wins the final prize.

The Hustler — An interesting variant on the trivia quiz show with elements of The Mole thrown in. Not profound but a good way to escape the grimness of the world around us.

The Chase — Another fun trivia competition whether with the original British version (with the Beast) or the American version (with the three Jeopardy G.O.A.T.s).

The Great Pottery Throwdown — I will watch pretty much any reality competition series. This has the quirky charms of the Great British Bake-off but with clay. What do we care? You can’t taste the food prepared on Bake-Off in any case, and there’s a lot of sculpting and molding in that series to boot.

Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered — I lived in Atlanta during the time these events were unfolding and remembered them vividly. This series helps to put an historic frame around them. I found less that was new here than I had hoped, since the case has been reopen. They do not develop a fully considered alternative theory of the case — they just do what a good defense attorney would do, poke holds in the prosecution and hint at other possible suspects.

McMillions — This is a Coen Brothers movie waiting to happen full of small town eccentric characters — from minor league mobsters to a puppy dog-like FBI agent and lots of twists and surprises along the way. There is a dramatic film under development but not by the Coen Bros.

Q Into the Storm — I had mixed feelings while watching this, but it got under my skin and stayed there. It drags in the middle but they do get some place in the end and the implications for participatory politics are really disturbing.

The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling — If you are a fellow comedy nerd, this is for you. I was a huge fan of the Gary Shadling Show (that’s where the title of my How Do You Like It So Far? podcast comes from) and this takes us deep inside his twisted mind.

The Sit-In — An amazing documentary that fills a significant gap in our understanding of television history. Harry Belafonte takes over the Tonight Show from Johnny Carson for a week in 1968, brings serious reflections on race, the counterculture, and political/cultural change with guests that included Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Aretha Franklin, and so many others. I had no idea. The film does a great job reconstructing what happened, given much of the footage was lost, and why it mattered.

Crip Camp — This would have been my personal choice for the best documentary of the year. It’s a powerful depiction of an activist network that came together through a summer camp where they were allowed to find their voice and extends through three plus decades of disability activism.

The Mole Agent — Having seen My Octopus Teacher, I thought that this was going to be a film about a mole that takes a percentage and refuses to return your calls. Boy was I surprised by this quirky doc about an elderly man who goes undercover at an old folks’ home.

Time — This documentary about the impact of incarceration of the families who are left behind was emotionally intense and formally innovative, but it had gotten blown up too much for me and so it was less a revelation than it was to so many other people I know.

Becoming Mike Nichols — A really close look at the comedian, stage director, and filmmaker’s early career. I can wish that we got multiple episodes here which extended the time line, but Nichols died not long after the initial interview sessions so I will be thankful for what we have. I especially loved seeing the Nichols and May segments.

Behind the Mask — I am biased because I got some screen time here, but this is probably the most thoughtful documentary I have seen about the identity politics surrounding superheroes in contemporary culture.

Dramatic Features (Here I am only listing films that I liked)

The Assistant — This study of a toxic office culture is slow, contemplative, but packs a wallop. Julia Gardner is my favorite thing about Ozark and it was great to see what she could do with a film role.

Let Him Go — A net-western in the spirit of Hell and High Water.

News of the World — A more classical western, mostly of interest for its depiction of a forgotten chapter in the history of American journalism.

Personal History of David Copperfield — The comic aspects of Charles Dickens is pushed forward in this rapid-fire meta-fictional adaptation.

Nomadland — So much has already been said, most of it true (both the good and the bad)

The Life Ahead — I was glad that Sophia Loren got to make this. I enjoyed watching it. Now I barely remember it.

Radioactive — Gender politics in early 20th century physics (The Curies) based on a decent graphic novel. Not extraordinary but not bad if you like that sorta thing.

Soul — Personally I liked WolfWalkers much better — much much better. But any Pixar film is worth watching and the echoes of A Matter of Life and Death were warmly received by this Powell and Pressburger fan.

Promising Young Woman — I don’t know what to do with this one. There was so much I liked about it and so much I hated. The ending probably tipped the scales into the negative column for me.

Judas and the Black Messiah — It’s hard to make a mainstream film about radical politics, but this one went a long way towards getting people to take a fresh look at the Black Panther movement, helped along by some compelling performances.

Emma — A decent Jane Austin adaptation. Nuff Said.

The Father — Anthony Hopkins’ performance was spectacular, showing a degree of emotional vulnerability I had not seen from him before, and the ways that the film techniques help us to feel some of the shifting reality associated with his mental deterioration was innovative.

Wendy — Not as strong or original as Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild but in the same ballpark. A mythopoetic adaptation of Peter Pan, which is richly textured in its dealings with southern landscapes and cultures.

Cliff Dwellers — You never know what to expect from Zhang Yimou but this was a compelling vintage espionage story. I did not follow the plot for most of the movie but it’s formal treatment of the tropes of the genre were compelling to watch. The best use of snow in a movie since Doctor Zhivago. The most gunplay in a movie since John Woo left Hong Kong.

Genre films

Enola Holmes — This is probably objectively speaking not even a good film, but I loved so much about it, especially the relationship between Enola and her older brothers.

Justice League (The Snyder Cut) — OK, I still do not love it, but this was a better film than I expected. There is less comic banter than the Whedon cut (and I prefer that to Snyder’s trademarked doom and gloom) but more backstory especially for The Flash and Cyborg.

Godzilla vs. Kong — The big dumb giant monster movie I was waiting for and I got to see it on a large screen.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines — If you like Into the Spiderverse and The Lego Movie, have I got a film for you! It has the experimental mix of animation of the first and the snarky pop culture satire of the second.

Moxie — I spent much of 2020 giving myself over to my inner middle school girl with many teen-focused series. This film was a return to that mental state for me. A teenage comedy about zine culture, riot girl feminism, and mother-daughter relations. What can I say — I like stories of teenage resistance to authority. I also caught up with and liked Walkout about the walkout of the LA schools in the 1960s and its impact on the Chicano/a movement. Both are the kinds of stories I would have liked when I was high school wearing out my battered copy of the ACLU handbook on The Rights of Students.

Here are some things still on my summer watch list:

Henry Jenkins


It's Summertime and the Streaming Is Easy: What to Watch

As many of us in the academic world go into summer mode, which opens up a bit more time for streaming and watching media content, I thought I would offer a midyear list of things I have viewed and enjoyed since the start of 2021. Since almost all of this was watched streaming, I am not going to separate out film and television content (it’s a hopeless blur). I also include things here that I watched since the first of the year but which may have dropped in 2020 or in a few cases, even earlier. We are all catching up all the time these days. I have only included those series where I watched every episode so if it’s on the list, it’s a given that I liked it enough to keep watching. So you can take this list as a series of recommendations of things you MIGHT enjoy watching. Your mileage may differ.

How to, with John Wilson — quirky, observational, sometimes poignant, this series combines documentary and found footage with satirical commentary to explore everyday life on the eve of the pandemic.

Kim’s Convienence — I started this family sitcom about a Korean family running a coronership in Canada in 2020, but caught up with the two most recent seasons since the start of the new year. This is warm and pleasant, rarely descends into '‘cringe'“, and the characters like each other. If you want bittersweet chocolate, go elsewhere. This is milk chocolate and nougat all the way down.

Rutherford Falls — This series examines competing histories and the war over monuments in a small town. The writer’s room is heavily indigenous people and some of the most compelling characters are particular personalities from tribal communities. It is still a bit patchy by the end of the first season but several of the episodes are gems (especially one about a school history fair) and the characters develop nuance as they go along.

Young Rock — Do you like the Rock? Did you watch the WWE/WWF in the 1980s and 1990s? Then you will find this very specific sitcom to your taste. I loved seeing some of my favorite vintage wrestlers as recurring characters — Macho Man Randy Savage and Andre the Giant as you’ve never seen them before.

Run — This one falls on the cusp between comedy and suspense. THIS fast-paced romp combines Hitchcockian thrills with rom-com on a cross-country train trip. Above all, it allows Merritt Weaver to be playful, sexy, and smart and has crisp writing (and cameo role) by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The Flight Attendant — This is even less a comedy than Run. I almost gave up in the middle when it got boozy and downright depressive. But I am glad I stuck with it, because it kept me guessing and laughing throughout.

The Queen’s Gambit — I had trouble imagining how they could make a compelling series about chess, but I was wrong. I watched this series in a couple of long binge sessions. The core performances are compelling, the gender politics complex if still somewhat problematic.

Plot Against America — I could not bring myself to watch this series about the rise of an American fascist to political power until after the election got settled. This was the case of a series that was too timely. It’s still hard to watch but rewarding on many levels.

Bridgerton — Sudsy, Sexy, full of problems, but so much fun to watch.

Unorthodox — Another really specific series about a woman who tries to escape from the Orthodox Jewish community. It offered a window (a critical one) into a world I knew little about.

Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C. J. Walker — Octavia Spencer and Blair Underwood dramatize a progressive era chapter in the history of black entrepreneurship.

Normal People — A painful Irish romance which factors in issues of stigmatization and class. It has some of the most emotionally nuanced sex scenes ever shown on television. I was especially drawn to Daisy Edgar-Jones’s vulnerable and yet resilient performance.

Defending Jacob — Suspicion erupts within a family as they confront accusations that the high school aged son may have committed murder. Michelle Dochery and Chris Evans show us contrasting portraits of how loving parents and partners deal with enormous emotional pressure.

Genre Television

Paranormal — An Egyptian series in the tradition of The X-Files or more recently, Evil about a man who seeks to investigate paranormal experiences, mostly inspired by Islamic mythologies, which bring him to confront unresolved events in his own past.

Wanda vision — Marvel is really going to town with trans media extensions of the MCU into television. By now, you know how Wandavision uses sitcoms to explore the relationships amongst two of the least developed characters in the Avengers movies. You either loved it or hated it. I loved it.

Doom Patrol — I have only watched season 1 but this was a fresh take on superheroes with a cast that includes Brendon Frasier, Matt Bomer, Timothy Dalton, and Alan Tudyk. Here, the superhero team is seen through queerness and disability, sometimes super-dark, sometimes pretty raunchy, but these are its stronger qualities. And then there’s the matter of the sentient street…

Harley Quinn — Another series people seem to love or hate. I loved its anarchic energy, the depiction of the friendship between Harley and Poison Ivy, the snarky commentary on superhero cliches, and the bat shit crazy depiction of Jim Gordon, the kind-hearted representation of King Shark, and so much more.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — For me, this was more hit or miss than Wandavision, but there was more than enough to hold my interest, and the reclaiming of Isiah Bradley’s storyline was really rewarding for those who wanted to see critiques of the whiteness of the superhero brought into the Marvel media empire.

Invincible — I was initially a huge fan of the Invincible comics by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) but felt it lost its way fairly early in. This series reworks the core plot line (while remaining attentive to the original spirit) much as The Walking Dead involved a thorough rethinking of choices made in the comic series. The cast alone — Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, J.K. Simmons, among others — makes this one worth watching. But this has got to be the most bloodthirsty animated series I have seen in a long time so not for the faint of heart. Don’t ask me why I find it so hard to get into the brutal humor of The Boys but enjoy the violence here.

For All Mankind — I enjoyed the first season of this alternative history series where the Russians beat the Americans to the moon, but the second season was even stronger with a greater fleshing out of the female characters, more complex interactions with the Russians, more attention to the political context. I soaked countless tissues dabbing eyes during the season finale (word to the wise). Do not miss all of the trans media extras on Apple Plus besides the episodes themselves.

Reality and Documentary Series

The Bridge — A British reality series about an odd-ball mix of folks thrown together in a cabin and given the challenge to build a bridge together. Has some of the same qualities I love in Survivor, without the colonialist tribalism and without the obstacle races. The focus is purely on the social drama as they decide along the way who stays or leaves and who wins the final prize.

The Hustler — An interesting variant on the trivia quiz show with elements of The Mole thrown in. Not profound but a good way to escape the grimness of the world around us.

The Chase — Another fun trivia competition whether with the original British version (with the Beast) or the American version (with the three Jeopardy G.O.A.T.s).

The Great Pottery Throwdown — I will watch pretty much any reality competition series. This has the quirky charms of the Great British Bake-off but with clay. What do we care? You can’t taste the food prepared on Bake-Off in any case, and there’s a lot of sculpting and molding in that series to boot.

Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered — I lived in Atlanta during the time these events were unfolding and remembered them vividly. This series helps to put an historic frame around them. I found less that was new here than I had hoped, since the case has been reopen. They do not develop a fully considered alternative theory of the case — they just do what a good defense attorney would do, poke holds in the prosecution and hint at other possible suspects.

McMillions — This is a Coen Brothers movie waiting to happen full of small town eccentric characters — from minor league mobsters to a puppy dog-like FBI agent and lots of twists and surprises along the way. There is a dramatic film under development but not by the Coen Bros.

Q Into the Storm — I had mixed feelings while watching this, but it got under my skin and stayed there. It drags in the middle but they do get some place in the end and the implications for participatory politics are really disturbing.

The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling — If you are a fellow comedy nerd, this is for you. I was a huge fan of the Gary Shadling Show (that’s where the title of my How Do You Like It So Far? podcast comes from) and this takes us deep inside his twisted mind.

The Sit-In — An amazing documentary that fills a significant gap in our understanding of television history. Harry Belafonte takes over the Tonight Show from Johnny Carson for a week in 1968, brings serious reflections on race, the counterculture, and political/cultural change with guests that included Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Aretha Franklin, and so many others. I had no idea. The film does a great job reconstructing what happened, given much of the footage was lost, and why it mattered.

Crip Camp — This would have been my personal choice for the best documentary of the year. It’s a powerful depiction of an activist network that came together through a summer camp where they were allowed to find their voice and extends through three plus decades of disability activism.

The Mole Agent — Having seen My Octopus Teacher, I thought that this was going to be a film about a mole that takes a percentage and refuses to return your calls. Boy was I surprised by this quirky doc about an elderly man who goes undercover at an old folks’ home.

Time — This documentary about the impact of incarceration of the families who are left behind was emotionally intense and formally innovative, but it had gotten blown up too much for me and so it was less a revelation than it was to so many other people I know.

Becoming Mike Nichols — A really close look at the comedian, stage director, and filmmaker’s early career. I can wish that we got multiple episodes here which extended the time line, but Nichols died not long after the initial interview sessions so I will be thankful for what we have. I especially loved seeing the Nichols and May segments.

Behind the Mask — I am biased because I got some screen time here, but this is probably the most thoughtful documentary I have seen about the identity politics surrounding superheroes in contemporary culture.

Dramatic Features (Here I am only listing films that I liked)

The Assistant — This study of a toxic office culture is slow, contemplative, but packs a wallop. Julia Gardner is my favorite thing about Ozark and it was great to see what she could do with a film role.

Let Him Go — A net-western in the spirit of Hell and High Water.

News of the World — A more classical western, mostly of interest for its depiction of a forgotten chapter in the history of American journalism.

Personal History of David Copperfield — The comic aspects of Charles Dickens is pushed forward in this rapid-fire meta-fictional adaptation.

Nomadland — So much has already been said, most of it true (both the good and the bad)

The Life Ahead — I was glad that Sophia Loren got to make this. I enjoyed watching it. Now I barely remember it.

Radioactive — Gender politics in early 20th century physics (The Curies) based on a decent graphic novel. Not extraordinary but not bad if you like that sorta thing.

Soul — Personally I liked WolfWalkers much better — much much better. But any Pixar film is worth watching and the echoes of A Matter of Life and Death were warmly received by this Powell and Pressburger fan.

Promising Young Woman — I don’t know what to do with this one. There was so much I liked about it and so much I hated. The ending probably tipped the scales into the negative column for me.

Judas and the Black Messiah — It’s hard to make a mainstream film about radical politics, but this one went a long way towards getting people to take a fresh look at the Black Panther movement, helped along by some compelling performances.

Emma — A decent Jane Austin adaptation. Nuff Said.

The Father — Anthony Hopkins’ performance was spectacular, showing a degree of emotional vulnerability I had not seen from him before, and the ways that the film techniques help us to feel some of the shifting reality associated with his mental deterioration was innovative.

Wendy — Not as strong or original as Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild but in the same ballpark. A mythopoetic adaptation of Peter Pan, which is richly textured in its dealings with southern landscapes and cultures.

Cliff Dwellers — You never know what to expect from Zhang Yimou but this was a compelling vintage espionage story. I did not follow the plot for most of the movie but it’s formal treatment of the tropes of the genre were compelling to watch. The best use of snow in a movie since Doctor Zhivago. The most gunplay in a movie since John Woo left Hong Kong.

Genre films

Enola Holmes — This is probably objectively speaking not even a good film, but I loved so much about it, especially the relationship between Enola and her older brothers.

Justice League (The Snyder Cut) — OK, I still do not love it, but this was a better film than I expected. There is less comic banter than the Whedon cut (and I prefer that to Snyder’s trademarked doom and gloom) but more backstory especially for The Flash and Cyborg.

Godzilla vs. Kong — The big dumb giant monster movie I was waiting for and I got to see it on a large screen.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines — If you like Into the Spiderverse and The Lego Movie, have I got a film for you! It has the experimental mix of animation of the first and the snarky pop culture satire of the second.

Moxie — I spent much of 2020 giving myself over to my inner middle school girl with many teen-focused series. This film was a return to that mental state for me. A teenage comedy about zine culture, riot girl feminism, and mother-daughter relations. What can I say — I like stories of teenage resistance to authority. I also caught up with and liked Walkout about the walkout of the LA schools in the 1960s and its impact on the Chicano/a movement. Both are the kinds of stories I would have liked when I was high school wearing out my battered copy of the ACLU handbook on The Rights of Students.

Here are some things still on my summer watch list:

Henry Jenkins


It's Summertime and the Streaming Is Easy: What to Watch

As many of us in the academic world go into summer mode, which opens up a bit more time for streaming and watching media content, I thought I would offer a midyear list of things I have viewed and enjoyed since the start of 2021. Since almost all of this was watched streaming, I am not going to separate out film and television content (it’s a hopeless blur). I also include things here that I watched since the first of the year but which may have dropped in 2020 or in a few cases, even earlier. We are all catching up all the time these days. I have only included those series where I watched every episode so if it’s on the list, it’s a given that I liked it enough to keep watching. So you can take this list as a series of recommendations of things you MIGHT enjoy watching. Your mileage may differ.

How to, with John Wilson — quirky, observational, sometimes poignant, this series combines documentary and found footage with satirical commentary to explore everyday life on the eve of the pandemic.

Kim’s Convienence — I started this family sitcom about a Korean family running a coronership in Canada in 2020, but caught up with the two most recent seasons since the start of the new year. This is warm and pleasant, rarely descends into '‘cringe'“, and the characters like each other. If you want bittersweet chocolate, go elsewhere. This is milk chocolate and nougat all the way down.

Rutherford Falls — This series examines competing histories and the war over monuments in a small town. The writer’s room is heavily indigenous people and some of the most compelling characters are particular personalities from tribal communities. It is still a bit patchy by the end of the first season but several of the episodes are gems (especially one about a school history fair) and the characters develop nuance as they go along.

Young Rock — Do you like the Rock? Did you watch the WWE/WWF in the 1980s and 1990s? Then you will find this very specific sitcom to your taste. I loved seeing some of my favorite vintage wrestlers as recurring characters — Macho Man Randy Savage and Andre the Giant as you’ve never seen them before.

Run — This one falls on the cusp between comedy and suspense. THIS fast-paced romp combines Hitchcockian thrills with rom-com on a cross-country train trip. Above all, it allows Merritt Weaver to be playful, sexy, and smart and has crisp writing (and cameo role) by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The Flight Attendant — This is even less a comedy than Run. I almost gave up in the middle when it got boozy and downright depressive. But I am glad I stuck with it, because it kept me guessing and laughing throughout.

The Queen’s Gambit — I had trouble imagining how they could make a compelling series about chess, but I was wrong. I watched this series in a couple of long binge sessions. The core performances are compelling, the gender politics complex if still somewhat problematic.

Plot Against America — I could not bring myself to watch this series about the rise of an American fascist to political power until after the election got settled. This was the case of a series that was too timely. It’s still hard to watch but rewarding on many levels.

Bridgerton — Sudsy, Sexy, full of problems, but so much fun to watch.

Unorthodox — Another really specific series about a woman who tries to escape from the Orthodox Jewish community. It offered a window (a critical one) into a world I knew little about.

Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C. J. Walker — Octavia Spencer and Blair Underwood dramatize a progressive era chapter in the history of black entrepreneurship.

Normal People — A painful Irish romance which factors in issues of stigmatization and class. It has some of the most emotionally nuanced sex scenes ever shown on television. I was especially drawn to Daisy Edgar-Jones’s vulnerable and yet resilient performance.

Defending Jacob — Suspicion erupts within a family as they confront accusations that the high school aged son may have committed murder. Michelle Dochery and Chris Evans show us contrasting portraits of how loving parents and partners deal with enormous emotional pressure.

Genre Television

Paranormal — An Egyptian series in the tradition of The X-Files or more recently, Evil about a man who seeks to investigate paranormal experiences, mostly inspired by Islamic mythologies, which bring him to confront unresolved events in his own past.

Wanda vision — Marvel is really going to town with trans media extensions of the MCU into television. By now, you know how Wandavision uses sitcoms to explore the relationships amongst two of the least developed characters in the Avengers movies. You either loved it or hated it. I loved it.

Doom Patrol — I have only watched season 1 but this was a fresh take on superheroes with a cast that includes Brendon Frasier, Matt Bomer, Timothy Dalton, and Alan Tudyk. Here, the superhero team is seen through queerness and disability, sometimes super-dark, sometimes pretty raunchy, but these are its stronger qualities. And then there’s the matter of the sentient street…

Harley Quinn — Another series people seem to love or hate. I loved its anarchic energy, the depiction of the friendship between Harley and Poison Ivy, the snarky commentary on superhero cliches, and the bat shit crazy depiction of Jim Gordon, the kind-hearted representation of King Shark, and so much more.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — For me, this was more hit or miss than Wandavision, but there was more than enough to hold my interest, and the reclaiming of Isiah Bradley’s storyline was really rewarding for those who wanted to see critiques of the whiteness of the superhero brought into the Marvel media empire.

Invincible — I was initially a huge fan of the Invincible comics by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) but felt it lost its way fairly early in. This series reworks the core plot line (while remaining attentive to the original spirit) much as The Walking Dead involved a thorough rethinking of choices made in the comic series. The cast alone — Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, J.K. Simmons, among others — makes this one worth watching. But this has got to be the most bloodthirsty animated series I have seen in a long time so not for the faint of heart. Don’t ask me why I find it so hard to get into the brutal humor of The Boys but enjoy the violence here.

For All Mankind — I enjoyed the first season of this alternative history series where the Russians beat the Americans to the moon, but the second season was even stronger with a greater fleshing out of the female characters, more complex interactions with the Russians, more attention to the political context. I soaked countless tissues dabbing eyes during the season finale (word to the wise). Do not miss all of the trans media extras on Apple Plus besides the episodes themselves.

Reality and Documentary Series

The Bridge — A British reality series about an odd-ball mix of folks thrown together in a cabin and given the challenge to build a bridge together. Has some of the same qualities I love in Survivor, without the colonialist tribalism and without the obstacle races. The focus is purely on the social drama as they decide along the way who stays or leaves and who wins the final prize.

The Hustler — An interesting variant on the trivia quiz show with elements of The Mole thrown in. Not profound but a good way to escape the grimness of the world around us.

The Chase — Another fun trivia competition whether with the original British version (with the Beast) or the American version (with the three Jeopardy G.O.A.T.s).

The Great Pottery Throwdown — I will watch pretty much any reality competition series. This has the quirky charms of the Great British Bake-off but with clay. What do we care? You can’t taste the food prepared on Bake-Off in any case, and there’s a lot of sculpting and molding in that series to boot.

Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered — I lived in Atlanta during the time these events were unfolding and remembered them vividly. This series helps to put an historic frame around them. I found less that was new here than I had hoped, since the case has been reopen. They do not develop a fully considered alternative theory of the case — they just do what a good defense attorney would do, poke holds in the prosecution and hint at other possible suspects.

McMillions — This is a Coen Brothers movie waiting to happen full of small town eccentric characters — from minor league mobsters to a puppy dog-like FBI agent and lots of twists and surprises along the way. There is a dramatic film under development but not by the Coen Bros.

Q Into the Storm — I had mixed feelings while watching this, but it got under my skin and stayed there. It drags in the middle but they do get some place in the end and the implications for participatory politics are really disturbing.

The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling — If you are a fellow comedy nerd, this is for you. I was a huge fan of the Gary Shadling Show (that’s where the title of my How Do You Like It So Far? podcast comes from) and this takes us deep inside his twisted mind.

The Sit-In — An amazing documentary that fills a significant gap in our understanding of television history. Harry Belafonte takes over the Tonight Show from Johnny Carson for a week in 1968, brings serious reflections on race, the counterculture, and political/cultural change with guests that included Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Aretha Franklin, and so many others. I had no idea. The film does a great job reconstructing what happened, given much of the footage was lost, and why it mattered.

Crip Camp — This would have been my personal choice for the best documentary of the year. It’s a powerful depiction of an activist network that came together through a summer camp where they were allowed to find their voice and extends through three plus decades of disability activism.

The Mole Agent — Having seen My Octopus Teacher, I thought that this was going to be a film about a mole that takes a percentage and refuses to return your calls. Boy was I surprised by this quirky doc about an elderly man who goes undercover at an old folks’ home.

Time — This documentary about the impact of incarceration of the families who are left behind was emotionally intense and formally innovative, but it had gotten blown up too much for me and so it was less a revelation than it was to so many other people I know.

Becoming Mike Nichols — A really close look at the comedian, stage director, and filmmaker’s early career. I can wish that we got multiple episodes here which extended the time line, but Nichols died not long after the initial interview sessions so I will be thankful for what we have. I especially loved seeing the Nichols and May segments.

Behind the Mask — I am biased because I got some screen time here, but this is probably the most thoughtful documentary I have seen about the identity politics surrounding superheroes in contemporary culture.

Dramatic Features (Here I am only listing films that I liked)

The Assistant — This study of a toxic office culture is slow, contemplative, but packs a wallop. Julia Gardner is my favorite thing about Ozark and it was great to see what she could do with a film role.

Let Him Go — A net-western in the spirit of Hell and High Water.

News of the World — A more classical western, mostly of interest for its depiction of a forgotten chapter in the history of American journalism.

Personal History of David Copperfield — The comic aspects of Charles Dickens is pushed forward in this rapid-fire meta-fictional adaptation.

Nomadland — So much has already been said, most of it true (both the good and the bad)

The Life Ahead — I was glad that Sophia Loren got to make this. I enjoyed watching it. Now I barely remember it.

Radioactive — Gender politics in early 20th century physics (The Curies) based on a decent graphic novel. Not extraordinary but not bad if you like that sorta thing.

Soul — Personally I liked WolfWalkers much better — much much better. But any Pixar film is worth watching and the echoes of A Matter of Life and Death were warmly received by this Powell and Pressburger fan.

Promising Young Woman — I don’t know what to do with this one. There was so much I liked about it and so much I hated. The ending probably tipped the scales into the negative column for me.

Judas and the Black Messiah — It’s hard to make a mainstream film about radical politics, but this one went a long way towards getting people to take a fresh look at the Black Panther movement, helped along by some compelling performances.

Emma — A decent Jane Austin adaptation. Nuff Said.

The Father — Anthony Hopkins’ performance was spectacular, showing a degree of emotional vulnerability I had not seen from him before, and the ways that the film techniques help us to feel some of the shifting reality associated with his mental deterioration was innovative.

Wendy — Not as strong or original as Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild but in the same ballpark. A mythopoetic adaptation of Peter Pan, which is richly textured in its dealings with southern landscapes and cultures.

Cliff Dwellers — You never know what to expect from Zhang Yimou but this was a compelling vintage espionage story. I did not follow the plot for most of the movie but it’s formal treatment of the tropes of the genre were compelling to watch. The best use of snow in a movie since Doctor Zhivago. The most gunplay in a movie since John Woo left Hong Kong.

Genre films

Enola Holmes — This is probably objectively speaking not even a good film, but I loved so much about it, especially the relationship between Enola and her older brothers.

Justice League (The Snyder Cut) — OK, I still do not love it, but this was a better film than I expected. There is less comic banter than the Whedon cut (and I prefer that to Snyder’s trademarked doom and gloom) but more backstory especially for The Flash and Cyborg.

Godzilla vs. Kong — The big dumb giant monster movie I was waiting for and I got to see it on a large screen.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines — If you like Into the Spiderverse and The Lego Movie, have I got a film for you! It has the experimental mix of animation of the first and the snarky pop culture satire of the second.

Moxie — I spent much of 2020 giving myself over to my inner middle school girl with many teen-focused series. This film was a return to that mental state for me. A teenage comedy about zine culture, riot girl feminism, and mother-daughter relations. What can I say — I like stories of teenage resistance to authority. I also caught up with and liked Walkout about the walkout of the LA schools in the 1960s and its impact on the Chicano/a movement. Both are the kinds of stories I would have liked when I was high school wearing out my battered copy of the ACLU handbook on The Rights of Students.

Here are some things still on my summer watch list:

Henry Jenkins


It's Summertime and the Streaming Is Easy: What to Watch

As many of us in the academic world go into summer mode, which opens up a bit more time for streaming and watching media content, I thought I would offer a midyear list of things I have viewed and enjoyed since the start of 2021. Since almost all of this was watched streaming, I am not going to separate out film and television content (it’s a hopeless blur). I also include things here that I watched since the first of the year but which may have dropped in 2020 or in a few cases, even earlier. We are all catching up all the time these days. I have only included those series where I watched every episode so if it’s on the list, it’s a given that I liked it enough to keep watching. So you can take this list as a series of recommendations of things you MIGHT enjoy watching. Your mileage may differ.

How to, with John Wilson — quirky, observational, sometimes poignant, this series combines documentary and found footage with satirical commentary to explore everyday life on the eve of the pandemic.

Kim’s Convienence — I started this family sitcom about a Korean family running a coronership in Canada in 2020, but caught up with the two most recent seasons since the start of the new year. This is warm and pleasant, rarely descends into '‘cringe'“, and the characters like each other. If you want bittersweet chocolate, go elsewhere. This is milk chocolate and nougat all the way down.

Rutherford Falls — This series examines competing histories and the war over monuments in a small town. The writer’s room is heavily indigenous people and some of the most compelling characters are particular personalities from tribal communities. It is still a bit patchy by the end of the first season but several of the episodes are gems (especially one about a school history fair) and the characters develop nuance as they go along.

Young Rock — Do you like the Rock? Did you watch the WWE/WWF in the 1980s and 1990s? Then you will find this very specific sitcom to your taste. I loved seeing some of my favorite vintage wrestlers as recurring characters — Macho Man Randy Savage and Andre the Giant as you’ve never seen them before.

Run — This one falls on the cusp between comedy and suspense. THIS fast-paced romp combines Hitchcockian thrills with rom-com on a cross-country train trip. Above all, it allows Merritt Weaver to be playful, sexy, and smart and has crisp writing (and cameo role) by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The Flight Attendant — This is even less a comedy than Run. I almost gave up in the middle when it got boozy and downright depressive. But I am glad I stuck with it, because it kept me guessing and laughing throughout.

The Queen’s Gambit — I had trouble imagining how they could make a compelling series about chess, but I was wrong. I watched this series in a couple of long binge sessions. The core performances are compelling, the gender politics complex if still somewhat problematic.

Plot Against America — I could not bring myself to watch this series about the rise of an American fascist to political power until after the election got settled. This was the case of a series that was too timely. It’s still hard to watch but rewarding on many levels.

Bridgerton — Sudsy, Sexy, full of problems, but so much fun to watch.

Unorthodox — Another really specific series about a woman who tries to escape from the Orthodox Jewish community. It offered a window (a critical one) into a world I knew little about.

Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C. J. Walker — Octavia Spencer and Blair Underwood dramatize a progressive era chapter in the history of black entrepreneurship.

Normal People — A painful Irish romance which factors in issues of stigmatization and class. It has some of the most emotionally nuanced sex scenes ever shown on television. I was especially drawn to Daisy Edgar-Jones’s vulnerable and yet resilient performance.

Defending Jacob — Suspicion erupts within a family as they confront accusations that the high school aged son may have committed murder. Michelle Dochery and Chris Evans show us contrasting portraits of how loving parents and partners deal with enormous emotional pressure.

Genre Television

Paranormal — An Egyptian series in the tradition of The X-Files or more recently, Evil about a man who seeks to investigate paranormal experiences, mostly inspired by Islamic mythologies, which bring him to confront unresolved events in his own past.

Wanda vision — Marvel is really going to town with trans media extensions of the MCU into television. By now, you know how Wandavision uses sitcoms to explore the relationships amongst two of the least developed characters in the Avengers movies. You either loved it or hated it. I loved it.

Doom Patrol — I have only watched season 1 but this was a fresh take on superheroes with a cast that includes Brendon Frasier, Matt Bomer, Timothy Dalton, and Alan Tudyk. Here, the superhero team is seen through queerness and disability, sometimes super-dark, sometimes pretty raunchy, but these are its stronger qualities. And then there’s the matter of the sentient street…

Harley Quinn — Another series people seem to love or hate. I loved its anarchic energy, the depiction of the friendship between Harley and Poison Ivy, the snarky commentary on superhero cliches, and the bat shit crazy depiction of Jim Gordon, the kind-hearted representation of King Shark, and so much more.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — For me, this was more hit or miss than Wandavision, but there was more than enough to hold my interest, and the reclaiming of Isiah Bradley’s storyline was really rewarding for those who wanted to see critiques of the whiteness of the superhero brought into the Marvel media empire.

Invincible — I was initially a huge fan of the Invincible comics by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) but felt it lost its way fairly early in. This series reworks the core plot line (while remaining attentive to the original spirit) much as The Walking Dead involved a thorough rethinking of choices made in the comic series. The cast alone — Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, J.K. Simmons, among others — makes this one worth watching. But this has got to be the most bloodthirsty animated series I have seen in a long time so not for the faint of heart. Don’t ask me why I find it so hard to get into the brutal humor of The Boys but enjoy the violence here.

For All Mankind — I enjoyed the first season of this alternative history series where the Russians beat the Americans to the moon, but the second season was even stronger with a greater fleshing out of the female characters, more complex interactions with the Russians, more attention to the political context. I soaked countless tissues dabbing eyes during the season finale (word to the wise). Do not miss all of the trans media extras on Apple Plus besides the episodes themselves.

Reality and Documentary Series

The Bridge — A British reality series about an odd-ball mix of folks thrown together in a cabin and given the challenge to build a bridge together. Has some of the same qualities I love in Survivor, without the colonialist tribalism and without the obstacle races. The focus is purely on the social drama as they decide along the way who stays or leaves and who wins the final prize.

The Hustler — An interesting variant on the trivia quiz show with elements of The Mole thrown in. Not profound but a good way to escape the grimness of the world around us.

The Chase — Another fun trivia competition whether with the original British version (with the Beast) or the American version (with the three Jeopardy G.O.A.T.s).

The Great Pottery Throwdown — I will watch pretty much any reality competition series. This has the quirky charms of the Great British Bake-off but with clay. What do we care? You can’t taste the food prepared on Bake-Off in any case, and there’s a lot of sculpting and molding in that series to boot.

Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered — I lived in Atlanta during the time these events were unfolding and remembered them vividly. This series helps to put an historic frame around them. I found less that was new here than I had hoped, since the case has been reopen. They do not develop a fully considered alternative theory of the case — they just do what a good defense attorney would do, poke holds in the prosecution and hint at other possible suspects.

McMillions — This is a Coen Brothers movie waiting to happen full of small town eccentric characters — from minor league mobsters to a puppy dog-like FBI agent and lots of twists and surprises along the way. There is a dramatic film under development but not by the Coen Bros.

Q Into the Storm — I had mixed feelings while watching this, but it got under my skin and stayed there. It drags in the middle but they do get some place in the end and the implications for participatory politics are really disturbing.

The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling — If you are a fellow comedy nerd, this is for you. I was a huge fan of the Gary Shadling Show (that’s where the title of my How Do You Like It So Far? podcast comes from) and this takes us deep inside his twisted mind.

The Sit-In — An amazing documentary that fills a significant gap in our understanding of television history. Harry Belafonte takes over the Tonight Show from Johnny Carson for a week in 1968, brings serious reflections on race, the counterculture, and political/cultural change with guests that included Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Aretha Franklin, and so many others. I had no idea. The film does a great job reconstructing what happened, given much of the footage was lost, and why it mattered.

Crip Camp — This would have been my personal choice for the best documentary of the year. It’s a powerful depiction of an activist network that came together through a summer camp where they were allowed to find their voice and extends through three plus decades of disability activism.

The Mole Agent — Having seen My Octopus Teacher, I thought that this was going to be a film about a mole that takes a percentage and refuses to return your calls. Boy was I surprised by this quirky doc about an elderly man who goes undercover at an old folks’ home.

Time — This documentary about the impact of incarceration of the families who are left behind was emotionally intense and formally innovative, but it had gotten blown up too much for me and so it was less a revelation than it was to so many other people I know.

Becoming Mike Nichols — A really close look at the comedian, stage director, and filmmaker’s early career. I can wish that we got multiple episodes here which extended the time line, but Nichols died not long after the initial interview sessions so I will be thankful for what we have. I especially loved seeing the Nichols and May segments.

Behind the Mask — I am biased because I got some screen time here, but this is probably the most thoughtful documentary I have seen about the identity politics surrounding superheroes in contemporary culture.

Dramatic Features (Here I am only listing films that I liked)

The Assistant — This study of a toxic office culture is slow, contemplative, but packs a wallop. Julia Gardner is my favorite thing about Ozark and it was great to see what she could do with a film role.

Let Him Go — A net-western in the spirit of Hell and High Water.

News of the World — A more classical western, mostly of interest for its depiction of a forgotten chapter in the history of American journalism.

Personal History of David Copperfield — The comic aspects of Charles Dickens is pushed forward in this rapid-fire meta-fictional adaptation.

Nomadland — So much has already been said, most of it true (both the good and the bad)

The Life Ahead — I was glad that Sophia Loren got to make this. I enjoyed watching it. Now I barely remember it.

Radioactive — Gender politics in early 20th century physics (The Curies) based on a decent graphic novel. Not extraordinary but not bad if you like that sorta thing.

Soul — Personally I liked WolfWalkers much better — much much better. But any Pixar film is worth watching and the echoes of A Matter of Life and Death were warmly received by this Powell and Pressburger fan.

Promising Young Woman — I don’t know what to do with this one. There was so much I liked about it and so much I hated. The ending probably tipped the scales into the negative column for me.

Judas and the Black Messiah — It’s hard to make a mainstream film about radical politics, but this one went a long way towards getting people to take a fresh look at the Black Panther movement, helped along by some compelling performances.

Emma — A decent Jane Austin adaptation. Nuff Said.

The Father — Anthony Hopkins’ performance was spectacular, showing a degree of emotional vulnerability I had not seen from him before, and the ways that the film techniques help us to feel some of the shifting reality associated with his mental deterioration was innovative.

Wendy — Not as strong or original as Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild but in the same ballpark. A mythopoetic adaptation of Peter Pan, which is richly textured in its dealings with southern landscapes and cultures.

Cliff Dwellers — You never know what to expect from Zhang Yimou but this was a compelling vintage espionage story. I did not follow the plot for most of the movie but it’s formal treatment of the tropes of the genre were compelling to watch. The best use of snow in a movie since Doctor Zhivago. The most gunplay in a movie since John Woo left Hong Kong.

Genre films

Enola Holmes — This is probably objectively speaking not even a good film, but I loved so much about it, especially the relationship between Enola and her older brothers.

Justice League (The Snyder Cut) — OK, I still do not love it, but this was a better film than I expected. There is less comic banter than the Whedon cut (and I prefer that to Snyder’s trademarked doom and gloom) but more backstory especially for The Flash and Cyborg.

Godzilla vs. Kong — The big dumb giant monster movie I was waiting for and I got to see it on a large screen.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines — If you like Into the Spiderverse and The Lego Movie, have I got a film for you! It has the experimental mix of animation of the first and the snarky pop culture satire of the second.

Moxie — I spent much of 2020 giving myself over to my inner middle school girl with many teen-focused series. This film was a return to that mental state for me. A teenage comedy about zine culture, riot girl feminism, and mother-daughter relations. What can I say — I like stories of teenage resistance to authority. I also caught up with and liked Walkout about the walkout of the LA schools in the 1960s and its impact on the Chicano/a movement. Both are the kinds of stories I would have liked when I was high school wearing out my battered copy of the ACLU handbook on The Rights of Students.

Here are some things still on my summer watch list:

Henry Jenkins


It's Summertime and the Streaming Is Easy: What to Watch

As many of us in the academic world go into summer mode, which opens up a bit more time for streaming and watching media content, I thought I would offer a midyear list of things I have viewed and enjoyed since the start of 2021. Since almost all of this was watched streaming, I am not going to separate out film and television content (it’s a hopeless blur). I also include things here that I watched since the first of the year but which may have dropped in 2020 or in a few cases, even earlier. We are all catching up all the time these days. I have only included those series where I watched every episode so if it’s on the list, it’s a given that I liked it enough to keep watching. So you can take this list as a series of recommendations of things you MIGHT enjoy watching. Your mileage may differ.

How to, with John Wilson — quirky, observational, sometimes poignant, this series combines documentary and found footage with satirical commentary to explore everyday life on the eve of the pandemic.

Kim’s Convienence — I started this family sitcom about a Korean family running a coronership in Canada in 2020, but caught up with the two most recent seasons since the start of the new year. This is warm and pleasant, rarely descends into '‘cringe'“, and the characters like each other. If you want bittersweet chocolate, go elsewhere. This is milk chocolate and nougat all the way down.

Rutherford Falls — This series examines competing histories and the war over monuments in a small town. The writer’s room is heavily indigenous people and some of the most compelling characters are particular personalities from tribal communities. It is still a bit patchy by the end of the first season but several of the episodes are gems (especially one about a school history fair) and the characters develop nuance as they go along.

Young Rock — Do you like the Rock? Did you watch the WWE/WWF in the 1980s and 1990s? Then you will find this very specific sitcom to your taste. I loved seeing some of my favorite vintage wrestlers as recurring characters — Macho Man Randy Savage and Andre the Giant as you’ve never seen them before.

Run — This one falls on the cusp between comedy and suspense. THIS fast-paced romp combines Hitchcockian thrills with rom-com on a cross-country train trip. Above all, it allows Merritt Weaver to be playful, sexy, and smart and has crisp writing (and cameo role) by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The Flight Attendant — This is even less a comedy than Run. I almost gave up in the middle when it got boozy and downright depressive. But I am glad I stuck with it, because it kept me guessing and laughing throughout.

The Queen’s Gambit — I had trouble imagining how they could make a compelling series about chess, but I was wrong. I watched this series in a couple of long binge sessions. The core performances are compelling, the gender politics complex if still somewhat problematic.

Plot Against America — I could not bring myself to watch this series about the rise of an American fascist to political power until after the election got settled. This was the case of a series that was too timely. It’s still hard to watch but rewarding on many levels.

Bridgerton — Sudsy, Sexy, full of problems, but so much fun to watch.

Unorthodox — Another really specific series about a woman who tries to escape from the Orthodox Jewish community. It offered a window (a critical one) into a world I knew little about.

Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C. J. Walker — Octavia Spencer and Blair Underwood dramatize a progressive era chapter in the history of black entrepreneurship.

Normal People — A painful Irish romance which factors in issues of stigmatization and class. It has some of the most emotionally nuanced sex scenes ever shown on television. I was especially drawn to Daisy Edgar-Jones’s vulnerable and yet resilient performance.

Defending Jacob — Suspicion erupts within a family as they confront accusations that the high school aged son may have committed murder. Michelle Dochery and Chris Evans show us contrasting portraits of how loving parents and partners deal with enormous emotional pressure.

Genre Television

Paranormal — An Egyptian series in the tradition of The X-Files or more recently, Evil about a man who seeks to investigate paranormal experiences, mostly inspired by Islamic mythologies, which bring him to confront unresolved events in his own past.

Wanda vision — Marvel is really going to town with trans media extensions of the MCU into television. By now, you know how Wandavision uses sitcoms to explore the relationships amongst two of the least developed characters in the Avengers movies. You either loved it or hated it. I loved it.

Doom Patrol — I have only watched season 1 but this was a fresh take on superheroes with a cast that includes Brendon Frasier, Matt Bomer, Timothy Dalton, and Alan Tudyk. Here, the superhero team is seen through queerness and disability, sometimes super-dark, sometimes pretty raunchy, but these are its stronger qualities. And then there’s the matter of the sentient street…

Harley Quinn — Another series people seem to love or hate. I loved its anarchic energy, the depiction of the friendship between Harley and Poison Ivy, the snarky commentary on superhero cliches, and the bat shit crazy depiction of Jim Gordon, the kind-hearted representation of King Shark, and so much more.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — For me, this was more hit or miss than Wandavision, but there was more than enough to hold my interest, and the reclaiming of Isiah Bradley’s storyline was really rewarding for those who wanted to see critiques of the whiteness of the superhero brought into the Marvel media empire.

Invincible — I was initially a huge fan of the Invincible comics by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) but felt it lost its way fairly early in. This series reworks the core plot line (while remaining attentive to the original spirit) much as The Walking Dead involved a thorough rethinking of choices made in the comic series. The cast alone — Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, J.K. Simmons, among others — makes this one worth watching. But this has got to be the most bloodthirsty animated series I have seen in a long time so not for the faint of heart. Don’t ask me why I find it so hard to get into the brutal humor of The Boys but enjoy the violence here.

For All Mankind — I enjoyed the first season of this alternative history series where the Russians beat the Americans to the moon, but the second season was even stronger with a greater fleshing out of the female characters, more complex interactions with the Russians, more attention to the political context. I soaked countless tissues dabbing eyes during the season finale (word to the wise). Do not miss all of the trans media extras on Apple Plus besides the episodes themselves.

Reality and Documentary Series

The Bridge — A British reality series about an odd-ball mix of folks thrown together in a cabin and given the challenge to build a bridge together. Has some of the same qualities I love in Survivor, without the colonialist tribalism and without the obstacle races. The focus is purely on the social drama as they decide along the way who stays or leaves and who wins the final prize.

The Hustler — An interesting variant on the trivia quiz show with elements of The Mole thrown in. Not profound but a good way to escape the grimness of the world around us.

The Chase — Another fun trivia competition whether with the original British version (with the Beast) or the American version (with the three Jeopardy G.O.A.T.s).

The Great Pottery Throwdown — I will watch pretty much any reality competition series. This has the quirky charms of the Great British Bake-off but with clay. What do we care? You can’t taste the food prepared on Bake-Off in any case, and there’s a lot of sculpting and molding in that series to boot.

Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered — I lived in Atlanta during the time these events were unfolding and remembered them vividly. This series helps to put an historic frame around them. I found less that was new here than I had hoped, since the case has been reopen. They do not develop a fully considered alternative theory of the case — they just do what a good defense attorney would do, poke holds in the prosecution and hint at other possible suspects.

McMillions — This is a Coen Brothers movie waiting to happen full of small town eccentric characters — from minor league mobsters to a puppy dog-like FBI agent and lots of twists and surprises along the way. There is a dramatic film under development but not by the Coen Bros.

Q Into the Storm — I had mixed feelings while watching this, but it got under my skin and stayed there. It drags in the middle but they do get some place in the end and the implications for participatory politics are really disturbing.

The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling — If you are a fellow comedy nerd, this is for you. I was a huge fan of the Gary Shadling Show (that’s where the title of my How Do You Like It So Far? podcast comes from) and this takes us deep inside his twisted mind.

The Sit-In — An amazing documentary that fills a significant gap in our understanding of television history. Harry Belafonte takes over the Tonight Show from Johnny Carson for a week in 1968, brings serious reflections on race, the counterculture, and political/cultural change with guests that included Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Aretha Franklin, and so many others. I had no idea. The film does a great job reconstructing what happened, given much of the footage was lost, and why it mattered.

Crip Camp — This would have been my personal choice for the best documentary of the year. It’s a powerful depiction of an activist network that came together through a summer camp where they were allowed to find their voice and extends through three plus decades of disability activism.

The Mole Agent — Having seen My Octopus Teacher, I thought that this was going to be a film about a mole that takes a percentage and refuses to return your calls. Boy was I surprised by this quirky doc about an elderly man who goes undercover at an old folks’ home.

Time — This documentary about the impact of incarceration of the families who are left behind was emotionally intense and formally innovative, but it had gotten blown up too much for me and so it was less a revelation than it was to so many other people I know.

Becoming Mike Nichols — A really close look at the comedian, stage director, and filmmaker’s early career. I can wish that we got multiple episodes here which extended the time line, but Nichols died not long after the initial interview sessions so I will be thankful for what we have. I especially loved seeing the Nichols and May segments.

Behind the Mask — I am biased because I got some screen time here, but this is probably the most thoughtful documentary I have seen about the identity politics surrounding superheroes in contemporary culture.

Dramatic Features (Here I am only listing films that I liked)

The Assistant — This study of a toxic office culture is slow, contemplative, but packs a wallop. Julia Gardner is my favorite thing about Ozark and it was great to see what she could do with a film role.

Let Him Go — A net-western in the spirit of Hell and High Water.

News of the World — A more classical western, mostly of interest for its depiction of a forgotten chapter in the history of American journalism.

Personal History of David Copperfield — The comic aspects of Charles Dickens is pushed forward in this rapid-fire meta-fictional adaptation.

Nomadland — So much has already been said, most of it true (both the good and the bad)

The Life Ahead — I was glad that Sophia Loren got to make this. I enjoyed watching it. Now I barely remember it.

Radioactive — Gender politics in early 20th century physics (The Curies) based on a decent graphic novel. Not extraordinary but not bad if you like that sorta thing.

Soul — Personally I liked WolfWalkers much better — much much better. But any Pixar film is worth watching and the echoes of A Matter of Life and Death were warmly received by this Powell and Pressburger fan.

Promising Young Woman — I don’t know what to do with this one. There was so much I liked about it and so much I hated. The ending probably tipped the scales into the negative column for me.

Judas and the Black Messiah — It’s hard to make a mainstream film about radical politics, but this one went a long way towards getting people to take a fresh look at the Black Panther movement, helped along by some compelling performances.

Emma — A decent Jane Austin adaptation. Nuff Said.

The Father — Anthony Hopkins’ performance was spectacular, showing a degree of emotional vulnerability I had not seen from him before, and the ways that the film techniques help us to feel some of the shifting reality associated with his mental deterioration was innovative.

Wendy — Not as strong or original as Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild but in the same ballpark. A mythopoetic adaptation of Peter Pan, which is richly textured in its dealings with southern landscapes and cultures.

Cliff Dwellers — You never know what to expect from Zhang Yimou but this was a compelling vintage espionage story. I did not follow the plot for most of the movie but it’s formal treatment of the tropes of the genre were compelling to watch. The best use of snow in a movie since Doctor Zhivago. The most gunplay in a movie since John Woo left Hong Kong.

Genre films

Enola Holmes — This is probably objectively speaking not even a good film, but I loved so much about it, especially the relationship between Enola and her older brothers.

Justice League (The Snyder Cut) — OK, I still do not love it, but this was a better film than I expected. There is less comic banter than the Whedon cut (and I prefer that to Snyder’s trademarked doom and gloom) but more backstory especially for The Flash and Cyborg.

Godzilla vs. Kong — The big dumb giant monster movie I was waiting for and I got to see it on a large screen.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines — If you like Into the Spiderverse and The Lego Movie, have I got a film for you! It has the experimental mix of animation of the first and the snarky pop culture satire of the second.

Moxie — I spent much of 2020 giving myself over to my inner middle school girl with many teen-focused series. This film was a return to that mental state for me. A teenage comedy about zine culture, riot girl feminism, and mother-daughter relations. What can I say — I like stories of teenage resistance to authority. I also caught up with and liked Walkout about the walkout of the LA schools in the 1960s and its impact on the Chicano/a movement. Both are the kinds of stories I would have liked when I was high school wearing out my battered copy of the ACLU handbook on The Rights of Students.

Here are some things still on my summer watch list:

Henry Jenkins


It's Summertime and the Streaming Is Easy: What to Watch

As many of us in the academic world go into summer mode, which opens up a bit more time for streaming and watching media content, I thought I would offer a midyear list of things I have viewed and enjoyed since the start of 2021. Since almost all of this was watched streaming, I am not going to separate out film and television content (it’s a hopeless blur). I also include things here that I watched since the first of the year but which may have dropped in 2020 or in a few cases, even earlier. We are all catching up all the time these days. I have only included those series where I watched every episode so if it’s on the list, it’s a given that I liked it enough to keep watching. So you can take this list as a series of recommendations of things you MIGHT enjoy watching. Your mileage may differ.

How to, with John Wilson — quirky, observational, sometimes poignant, this series combines documentary and found footage with satirical commentary to explore everyday life on the eve of the pandemic.

Kim’s Convienence — I started this family sitcom about a Korean family running a coronership in Canada in 2020, but caught up with the two most recent seasons since the start of the new year. This is warm and pleasant, rarely descends into '‘cringe'“, and the characters like each other. If you want bittersweet chocolate, go elsewhere. This is milk chocolate and nougat all the way down.

Rutherford Falls — This series examines competing histories and the war over monuments in a small town. The writer’s room is heavily indigenous people and some of the most compelling characters are particular personalities from tribal communities. It is still a bit patchy by the end of the first season but several of the episodes are gems (especially one about a school history fair) and the characters develop nuance as they go along.

Young Rock — Do you like the Rock? Did you watch the WWE/WWF in the 1980s and 1990s? Then you will find this very specific sitcom to your taste. I loved seeing some of my favorite vintage wrestlers as recurring characters — Macho Man Randy Savage and Andre the Giant as you’ve never seen them before.

Run — This one falls on the cusp between comedy and suspense. THIS fast-paced romp combines Hitchcockian thrills with rom-com on a cross-country train trip. Above all, it allows Merritt Weaver to be playful, sexy, and smart and has crisp writing (and cameo role) by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The Flight Attendant — This is even less a comedy than Run. I almost gave up in the middle when it got boozy and downright depressive. But I am glad I stuck with it, because it kept me guessing and laughing throughout.

The Queen’s Gambit — I had trouble imagining how they could make a compelling series about chess, but I was wrong. I watched this series in a couple of long binge sessions. The core performances are compelling, the gender politics complex if still somewhat problematic.

Plot Against America — I could not bring myself to watch this series about the rise of an American fascist to political power until after the election got settled. This was the case of a series that was too timely. It’s still hard to watch but rewarding on many levels.

Bridgerton — Sudsy, Sexy, full of problems, but so much fun to watch.

Unorthodox — Another really specific series about a woman who tries to escape from the Orthodox Jewish community. It offered a window (a critical one) into a world I knew little about.

Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C. J. Walker — Octavia Spencer and Blair Underwood dramatize a progressive era chapter in the history of black entrepreneurship.

Normal People — A painful Irish romance which factors in issues of stigmatization and class. It has some of the most emotionally nuanced sex scenes ever shown on television. I was especially drawn to Daisy Edgar-Jones’s vulnerable and yet resilient performance.

Defending Jacob — Suspicion erupts within a family as they confront accusations that the high school aged son may have committed murder. Michelle Dochery and Chris Evans show us contrasting portraits of how loving parents and partners deal with enormous emotional pressure.

Genre Television

Paranormal — An Egyptian series in the tradition of The X-Files or more recently, Evil about a man who seeks to investigate paranormal experiences, mostly inspired by Islamic mythologies, which bring him to confront unresolved events in his own past.

Wanda vision — Marvel is really going to town with trans media extensions of the MCU into television. By now, you know how Wandavision uses sitcoms to explore the relationships amongst two of the least developed characters in the Avengers movies. You either loved it or hated it. I loved it.

Doom Patrol — I have only watched season 1 but this was a fresh take on superheroes with a cast that includes Brendon Frasier, Matt Bomer, Timothy Dalton, and Alan Tudyk. Here, the superhero team is seen through queerness and disability, sometimes super-dark, sometimes pretty raunchy, but these are its stronger qualities. And then there’s the matter of the sentient street…

Harley Quinn — Another series people seem to love or hate. I loved its anarchic energy, the depiction of the friendship between Harley and Poison Ivy, the snarky commentary on superhero cliches, and the bat shit crazy depiction of Jim Gordon, the kind-hearted representation of King Shark, and so much more.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — For me, this was more hit or miss than Wandavision, but there was more than enough to hold my interest, and the reclaiming of Isiah Bradley’s storyline was really rewarding for those who wanted to see critiques of the whiteness of the superhero brought into the Marvel media empire.

Invincible — I was initially a huge fan of the Invincible comics by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) but felt it lost its way fairly early in. This series reworks the core plot line (while remaining attentive to the original spirit) much as The Walking Dead involved a thorough rethinking of choices made in the comic series. The cast alone — Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, J.K. Simmons, among others — makes this one worth watching. But this has got to be the most bloodthirsty animated series I have seen in a long time so not for the faint of heart. Don’t ask me why I find it so hard to get into the brutal humor of The Boys but enjoy the violence here.

For All Mankind — I enjoyed the first season of this alternative history series where the Russians beat the Americans to the moon, but the second season was even stronger with a greater fleshing out of the female characters, more complex interactions with the Russians, more attention to the political context. I soaked countless tissues dabbing eyes during the season finale (word to the wise). Do not miss all of the trans media extras on Apple Plus besides the episodes themselves.

Reality and Documentary Series

The Bridge — A British reality series about an odd-ball mix of folks thrown together in a cabin and given the challenge to build a bridge together. Has some of the same qualities I love in Survivor, without the colonialist tribalism and without the obstacle races. The focus is purely on the social drama as they decide along the way who stays or leaves and who wins the final prize.

The Hustler — An interesting variant on the trivia quiz show with elements of The Mole thrown in. Not profound but a good way to escape the grimness of the world around us.

The Chase — Another fun trivia competition whether with the original British version (with the Beast) or the American version (with the three Jeopardy G.O.A.T.s).

The Great Pottery Throwdown — I will watch pretty much any reality competition series. This has the quirky charms of the Great British Bake-off but with clay. What do we care? You can’t taste the food prepared on Bake-Off in any case, and there’s a lot of sculpting and molding in that series to boot.

Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered — I lived in Atlanta during the time these events were unfolding and remembered them vividly. This series helps to put an historic frame around them. I found less that was new here than I had hoped, since the case has been reopen. They do not develop a fully considered alternative theory of the case — they just do what a good defense attorney would do, poke holds in the prosecution and hint at other possible suspects.

McMillions — This is a Coen Brothers movie waiting to happen full of small town eccentric characters — from minor league mobsters to a puppy dog-like FBI agent and lots of twists and surprises along the way. There is a dramatic film under development but not by the Coen Bros.

Q Into the Storm — I had mixed feelings while watching this, but it got under my skin and stayed there. It drags in the middle but they do get some place in the end and the implications for participatory politics are really disturbing.

The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling — If you are a fellow comedy nerd, this is for you. I was a huge fan of the Gary Shadling Show (that’s where the title of my How Do You Like It So Far? podcast comes from) and this takes us deep inside his twisted mind.

The Sit-In — An amazing documentary that fills a significant gap in our understanding of television history. Harry Belafonte takes over the Tonight Show from Johnny Carson for a week in 1968, brings serious reflections on race, the counterculture, and political/cultural change with guests that included Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Aretha Franklin, and so many others. I had no idea. The film does a great job reconstructing what happened, given much of the footage was lost, and why it mattered.

Crip Camp — This would have been my personal choice for the best documentary of the year. It’s a powerful depiction of an activist network that came together through a summer camp where they were allowed to find their voice and extends through three plus decades of disability activism.

The Mole Agent — Having seen My Octopus Teacher, I thought that this was going to be a film about a mole that takes a percentage and refuses to return your calls. Boy was I surprised by this quirky doc about an elderly man who goes undercover at an old folks’ home.

Time — This documentary about the impact of incarceration of the families who are left behind was emotionally intense and formally innovative, but it had gotten blown up too much for me and so it was less a revelation than it was to so many other people I know.

Becoming Mike Nichols — A really close look at the comedian, stage director, and filmmaker’s early career. I can wish that we got multiple episodes here which extended the time line, but Nichols died not long after the initial interview sessions so I will be thankful for what we have. I especially loved seeing the Nichols and May segments.

Behind the Mask — I am biased because I got some screen time here, but this is probably the most thoughtful documentary I have seen about the identity politics surrounding superheroes in contemporary culture.

Dramatic Features (Here I am only listing films that I liked)

The Assistant — This study of a toxic office culture is slow, contemplative, but packs a wallop. Julia Gardner is my favorite thing about Ozark and it was great to see what she could do with a film role.

Let Him Go — A net-western in the spirit of Hell and High Water.

News of the World — A more classical western, mostly of interest for its depiction of a forgotten chapter in the history of American journalism.

Personal History of David Copperfield — The comic aspects of Charles Dickens is pushed forward in this rapid-fire meta-fictional adaptation.

Nomadland — So much has already been said, most of it true (both the good and the bad)

The Life Ahead — I was glad that Sophia Loren got to make this. I enjoyed watching it. Now I barely remember it.

Radioactive — Gender politics in early 20th century physics (The Curies) based on a decent graphic novel. Not extraordinary but not bad if you like that sorta thing.

Soul — Personally I liked WolfWalkers much better — much much better. But any Pixar film is worth watching and the echoes of A Matter of Life and Death were warmly received by this Powell and Pressburger fan.

Promising Young Woman — I don’t know what to do with this one. There was so much I liked about it and so much I hated. The ending probably tipped the scales into the negative column for me.

Judas and the Black Messiah — It’s hard to make a mainstream film about radical politics, but this one went a long way towards getting people to take a fresh look at the Black Panther movement, helped along by some compelling performances.

Emma — A decent Jane Austin adaptation. Nuff Said.

The Father — Anthony Hopkins’ performance was spectacular, showing a degree of emotional vulnerability I had not seen from him before, and the ways that the film techniques help us to feel some of the shifting reality associated with his mental deterioration was innovative.

Wendy — Not as strong or original as Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild but in the same ballpark. A mythopoetic adaptation of Peter Pan, which is richly textured in its dealings with southern landscapes and cultures.

Cliff Dwellers — You never know what to expect from Zhang Yimou but this was a compelling vintage espionage story. I did not follow the plot for most of the movie but it’s formal treatment of the tropes of the genre were compelling to watch. The best use of snow in a movie since Doctor Zhivago. The most gunplay in a movie since John Woo left Hong Kong.

Genre films

Enola Holmes — This is probably objectively speaking not even a good film, but I loved so much about it, especially the relationship between Enola and her older brothers.

Justice League (The Snyder Cut) — OK, I still do not love it, but this was a better film than I expected. There is less comic banter than the Whedon cut (and I prefer that to Snyder’s trademarked doom and gloom) but more backstory especially for The Flash and Cyborg.

Godzilla vs. Kong — The big dumb giant monster movie I was waiting for and I got to see it on a large screen.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines — If you like Into the Spiderverse and The Lego Movie, have I got a film for you! It has the experimental mix of animation of the first and the snarky pop culture satire of the second.

Moxie — I spent much of 2020 giving myself over to my inner middle school girl with many teen-focused series. This film was a return to that mental state for me. A teenage comedy about zine culture, riot girl feminism, and mother-daughter relations. What can I say — I like stories of teenage resistance to authority. I also caught up with and liked Walkout about the walkout of the LA schools in the 1960s and its impact on the Chicano/a movement. Both are the kinds of stories I would have liked when I was high school wearing out my battered copy of the ACLU handbook on The Rights of Students.

Here are some things still on my summer watch list:

Henry Jenkins


It's Summertime and the Streaming Is Easy: What to Watch

As many of us in the academic world go into summer mode, which opens up a bit more time for streaming and watching media content, I thought I would offer a midyear list of things I have viewed and enjoyed since the start of 2021. Since almost all of this was watched streaming, I am not going to separate out film and television content (it’s a hopeless blur). I also include things here that I watched since the first of the year but which may have dropped in 2020 or in a few cases, even earlier. We are all catching up all the time these days. I have only included those series where I watched every episode so if it’s on the list, it’s a given that I liked it enough to keep watching. So you can take this list as a series of recommendations of things you MIGHT enjoy watching. Your mileage may differ.

How to, with John Wilson — quirky, observational, sometimes poignant, this series combines documentary and found footage with satirical commentary to explore everyday life on the eve of the pandemic.

Kim’s Convienence — I started this family sitcom about a Korean family running a coronership in Canada in 2020, but caught up with the two most recent seasons since the start of the new year. This is warm and pleasant, rarely descends into '‘cringe'“, and the characters like each other. If you want bittersweet chocolate, go elsewhere. This is milk chocolate and nougat all the way down.

Rutherford Falls — This series examines competing histories and the war over monuments in a small town. The writer’s room is heavily indigenous people and some of the most compelling characters are particular personalities from tribal communities. It is still a bit patchy by the end of the first season but several of the episodes are gems (especially one about a school history fair) and the characters develop nuance as they go along.

Young Rock — Do you like the Rock? Did you watch the WWE/WWF in the 1980s and 1990s? Then you will find this very specific sitcom to your taste. I loved seeing some of my favorite vintage wrestlers as recurring characters — Macho Man Randy Savage and Andre the Giant as you’ve never seen them before.

Run — This one falls on the cusp between comedy and suspense. THIS fast-paced romp combines Hitchcockian thrills with rom-com on a cross-country train trip. Above all, it allows Merritt Weaver to be playful, sexy, and smart and has crisp writing (and cameo role) by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The Flight Attendant — This is even less a comedy than Run. I almost gave up in the middle when it got boozy and downright depressive. But I am glad I stuck with it, because it kept me guessing and laughing throughout.

The Queen’s Gambit — I had trouble imagining how they could make a compelling series about chess, but I was wrong. I watched this series in a couple of long binge sessions. The core performances are compelling, the gender politics complex if still somewhat problematic.

Plot Against America — I could not bring myself to watch this series about the rise of an American fascist to political power until after the election got settled. This was the case of a series that was too timely. It’s still hard to watch but rewarding on many levels.

Bridgerton — Sudsy, Sexy, full of problems, but so much fun to watch.

Unorthodox — Another really specific series about a woman who tries to escape from the Orthodox Jewish community. It offered a window (a critical one) into a world I knew little about.

Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C. J. Walker — Octavia Spencer and Blair Underwood dramatize a progressive era chapter in the history of black entrepreneurship.

Normal People — A painful Irish romance which factors in issues of stigmatization and class. It has some of the most emotionally nuanced sex scenes ever shown on television. I was especially drawn to Daisy Edgar-Jones’s vulnerable and yet resilient performance.

Defending Jacob — Suspicion erupts within a family as they confront accusations that the high school aged son may have committed murder. Michelle Dochery and Chris Evans show us contrasting portraits of how loving parents and partners deal with enormous emotional pressure.

Genre Television

Paranormal — An Egyptian series in the tradition of The X-Files or more recently, Evil about a man who seeks to investigate paranormal experiences, mostly inspired by Islamic mythologies, which bring him to confront unresolved events in his own past.

Wanda vision — Marvel is really going to town with trans media extensions of the MCU into television. By now, you know how Wandavision uses sitcoms to explore the relationships amongst two of the least developed characters in the Avengers movies. You either loved it or hated it. I loved it.

Doom Patrol — I have only watched season 1 but this was a fresh take on superheroes with a cast that includes Brendon Frasier, Matt Bomer, Timothy Dalton, and Alan Tudyk. Here, the superhero team is seen through queerness and disability, sometimes super-dark, sometimes pretty raunchy, but these are its stronger qualities. And then there’s the matter of the sentient street…

Harley Quinn — Another series people seem to love or hate. I loved its anarchic energy, the depiction of the friendship between Harley and Poison Ivy, the snarky commentary on superhero cliches, and the bat shit crazy depiction of Jim Gordon, the kind-hearted representation of King Shark, and so much more.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — For me, this was more hit or miss than Wandavision, but there was more than enough to hold my interest, and the reclaiming of Isiah Bradley’s storyline was really rewarding for those who wanted to see critiques of the whiteness of the superhero brought into the Marvel media empire.

Invincible — I was initially a huge fan of the Invincible comics by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) but felt it lost its way fairly early in. This series reworks the core plot line (while remaining attentive to the original spirit) much as The Walking Dead involved a thorough rethinking of choices made in the comic series. The cast alone — Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, J.K. Simmons, among others — makes this one worth watching. But this has got to be the most bloodthirsty animated series I have seen in a long time so not for the faint of heart. Don’t ask me why I find it so hard to get into the brutal humor of The Boys but enjoy the violence here.

For All Mankind — I enjoyed the first season of this alternative history series where the Russians beat the Americans to the moon, but the second season was even stronger with a greater fleshing out of the female characters, more complex interactions with the Russians, more attention to the political context. I soaked countless tissues dabbing eyes during the season finale (word to the wise). Do not miss all of the trans media extras on Apple Plus besides the episodes themselves.

Reality and Documentary Series

The Bridge — A British reality series about an odd-ball mix of folks thrown together in a cabin and given the challenge to build a bridge together. Has some of the same qualities I love in Survivor, without the colonialist tribalism and without the obstacle races. The focus is purely on the social drama as they decide along the way who stays or leaves and who wins the final prize.

The Hustler — An interesting variant on the trivia quiz show with elements of The Mole thrown in. Not profound but a good way to escape the grimness of the world around us.

The Chase — Another fun trivia competition whether with the original British version (with the Beast) or the American version (with the three Jeopardy G.O.A.T.s).

The Great Pottery Throwdown — I will watch pretty much any reality competition series. This has the quirky charms of the Great British Bake-off but with clay. What do we care? You can’t taste the food prepared on Bake-Off in any case, and there’s a lot of sculpting and molding in that series to boot.

Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered — I lived in Atlanta during the time these events were unfolding and remembered them vividly. This series helps to put an historic frame around them. I found less that was new here than I had hoped, since the case has been reopen. They do not develop a fully considered alternative theory of the case — they just do what a good defense attorney would do, poke holds in the prosecution and hint at other possible suspects.

McMillions — This is a Coen Brothers movie waiting to happen full of small town eccentric characters — from minor league mobsters to a puppy dog-like FBI agent and lots of twists and surprises along the way. There is a dramatic film under development but not by the Coen Bros.

Q Into the Storm — I had mixed feelings while watching this, but it got under my skin and stayed there. It drags in the middle but they do get some place in the end and the implications for participatory politics are really disturbing.

The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling — If you are a fellow comedy nerd, this is for you. I was a huge fan of the Gary Shadling Show (that’s where the title of my How Do You Like It So Far? podcast comes from) and this takes us deep inside his twisted mind.

The Sit-In — An amazing documentary that fills a significant gap in our understanding of television history. Harry Belafonte takes over the Tonight Show from Johnny Carson for a week in 1968, brings serious reflections on race, the counterculture, and political/cultural change with guests that included Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Aretha Franklin, and so many others. I had no idea. The film does a great job reconstructing what happened, given much of the footage was lost, and why it mattered.

Crip Camp — This would have been my personal choice for the best documentary of the year. It’s a powerful depiction of an activist network that came together through a summer camp where they were allowed to find their voice and extends through three plus decades of disability activism.

The Mole Agent — Having seen My Octopus Teacher, I thought that this was going to be a film about a mole that takes a percentage and refuses to return your calls. Boy was I surprised by this quirky doc about an elderly man who goes undercover at an old folks’ home.

Time — This documentary about the impact of incarceration of the families who are left behind was emotionally intense and formally innovative, but it had gotten blown up too much for me and so it was less a revelation than it was to so many other people I know.

Becoming Mike Nichols — A really close look at the comedian, stage director, and filmmaker’s early career. I can wish that we got multiple episodes here which extended the time line, but Nichols died not long after the initial interview sessions so I will be thankful for what we have. I especially loved seeing the Nichols and May segments.

Behind the Mask — I am biased because I got some screen time here, but this is probably the most thoughtful documentary I have seen about the identity politics surrounding superheroes in contemporary culture.

Dramatic Features (Here I am only listing films that I liked)

The Assistant — This study of a toxic office culture is slow, contemplative, but packs a wallop. Julia Gardner is my favorite thing about Ozark and it was great to see what she could do with a film role.

Let Him Go — A net-western in the spirit of Hell and High Water.

News of the World — A more classical western, mostly of interest for its depiction of a forgotten chapter in the history of American journalism.

Personal History of David Copperfield — The comic aspects of Charles Dickens is pushed forward in this rapid-fire meta-fictional adaptation.

Nomadland — So much has already been said, most of it true (both the good and the bad)

The Life Ahead — I was glad that Sophia Loren got to make this. I enjoyed watching it. Now I barely remember it.

Radioactive — Gender politics in early 20th century physics (The Curies) based on a decent graphic novel. Not extraordinary but not bad if you like that sorta thing.

Soul — Personally I liked WolfWalkers much better — much much better. But any Pixar film is worth watching and the echoes of A Matter of Life and Death were warmly received by this Powell and Pressburger fan.

Promising Young Woman — I don’t know what to do with this one. There was so much I liked about it and so much I hated. The ending probably tipped the scales into the negative column for me.

Judas and the Black Messiah — It’s hard to make a mainstream film about radical politics, but this one went a long way towards getting people to take a fresh look at the Black Panther movement, helped along by some compelling performances.

Emma — A decent Jane Austin adaptation. Nuff Said.

The Father — Anthony Hopkins’ performance was spectacular, showing a degree of emotional vulnerability I had not seen from him before, and the ways that the film techniques help us to feel some of the shifting reality associated with his mental deterioration was innovative.

Wendy — Not as strong or original as Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild but in the same ballpark. A mythopoetic adaptation of Peter Pan, which is richly textured in its dealings with southern landscapes and cultures.

Cliff Dwellers — You never know what to expect from Zhang Yimou but this was a compelling vintage espionage story. I did not follow the plot for most of the movie but it’s formal treatment of the tropes of the genre were compelling to watch. The best use of snow in a movie since Doctor Zhivago. The most gunplay in a movie since John Woo left Hong Kong.

Genre films

Enola Holmes — This is probably objectively speaking not even a good film, but I loved so much about it, especially the relationship between Enola and her older brothers.

Justice League (The Snyder Cut) — OK, I still do not love it, but this was a better film than I expected. There is less comic banter than the Whedon cut (and I prefer that to Snyder’s trademarked doom and gloom) but more backstory especially for The Flash and Cyborg.

Godzilla vs. Kong — The big dumb giant monster movie I was waiting for and I got to see it on a large screen.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines — If you like Into the Spiderverse and The Lego Movie, have I got a film for you! It has the experimental mix of animation of the first and the snarky pop culture satire of the second.

Moxie — I spent much of 2020 giving myself over to my inner middle school girl with many teen-focused series. This film was a return to that mental state for me. A teenage comedy about zine culture, riot girl feminism, and mother-daughter relations. What can I say — I like stories of teenage resistance to authority. I also caught up with and liked Walkout about the walkout of the LA schools in the 1960s and its impact on the Chicano/a movement. Both are the kinds of stories I would have liked when I was high school wearing out my battered copy of the ACLU handbook on The Rights of Students.

Here are some things still on my summer watch list:

Henry Jenkins


It's Summertime and the Streaming Is Easy: What to Watch

As many of us in the academic world go into summer mode, which opens up a bit more time for streaming and watching media content, I thought I would offer a midyear list of things I have viewed and enjoyed since the start of 2021. Since almost all of this was watched streaming, I am not going to separate out film and television content (it’s a hopeless blur). I also include things here that I watched since the first of the year but which may have dropped in 2020 or in a few cases, even earlier. We are all catching up all the time these days. I have only included those series where I watched every episode so if it’s on the list, it’s a given that I liked it enough to keep watching. So you can take this list as a series of recommendations of things you MIGHT enjoy watching. Your mileage may differ.

How to, with John Wilson — quirky, observational, sometimes poignant, this series combines documentary and found footage with satirical commentary to explore everyday life on the eve of the pandemic.

Kim’s Convienence — I started this family sitcom about a Korean family running a coronership in Canada in 2020, but caught up with the two most recent seasons since the start of the new year. This is warm and pleasant, rarely descends into '‘cringe'“, and the characters like each other. If you want bittersweet chocolate, go elsewhere. This is milk chocolate and nougat all the way down.

Rutherford Falls — This series examines competing histories and the war over monuments in a small town. The writer’s room is heavily indigenous people and some of the most compelling characters are particular personalities from tribal communities. It is still a bit patchy by the end of the first season but several of the episodes are gems (especially one about a school history fair) and the characters develop nuance as they go along.

Young Rock — Do you like the Rock? Did you watch the WWE/WWF in the 1980s and 1990s? Then you will find this very specific sitcom to your taste. I loved seeing some of my favorite vintage wrestlers as recurring characters — Macho Man Randy Savage and Andre the Giant as you’ve never seen them before.

Run — This one falls on the cusp between comedy and suspense. THIS fast-paced romp combines Hitchcockian thrills with rom-com on a cross-country train trip. Above all, it allows Merritt Weaver to be playful, sexy, and smart and has crisp writing (and cameo role) by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The Flight Attendant — This is even less a comedy than Run. I almost gave up in the middle when it got boozy and downright depressive. But I am glad I stuck with it, because it kept me guessing and laughing throughout.

The Queen’s Gambit — I had trouble imagining how they could make a compelling series about chess, but I was wrong. I watched this series in a couple of long binge sessions. The core performances are compelling, the gender politics complex if still somewhat problematic.

Plot Against America — I could not bring myself to watch this series about the rise of an American fascist to political power until after the election got settled. This was the case of a series that was too timely. It’s still hard to watch but rewarding on many levels.

Bridgerton — Sudsy, Sexy, full of problems, but so much fun to watch.

Unorthodox — Another really specific series about a woman who tries to escape from the Orthodox Jewish community. It offered a window (a critical one) into a world I knew little about.

Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C. J. Walker — Octavia Spencer and Blair Underwood dramatize a progressive era chapter in the history of black entrepreneurship.

Normal People — A painful Irish romance which factors in issues of stigmatization and class. It has some of the most emotionally nuanced sex scenes ever shown on television. I was especially drawn to Daisy Edgar-Jones’s vulnerable and yet resilient performance.

Defending Jacob — Suspicion erupts within a family as they confront accusations that the high school aged son may have committed murder. Michelle Dochery and Chris Evans show us contrasting portraits of how loving parents and partners deal with enormous emotional pressure.

Genre Television

Paranormal — An Egyptian series in the tradition of The X-Files or more recently, Evil about a man who seeks to investigate paranormal experiences, mostly inspired by Islamic mythologies, which bring him to confront unresolved events in his own past.

Wanda vision — Marvel is really going to town with trans media extensions of the MCU into television. By now, you know how Wandavision uses sitcoms to explore the relationships amongst two of the least developed characters in the Avengers movies. You either loved it or hated it. I loved it.

Doom Patrol — I have only watched season 1 but this was a fresh take on superheroes with a cast that includes Brendon Frasier, Matt Bomer, Timothy Dalton, and Alan Tudyk. Here, the superhero team is seen through queerness and disability, sometimes super-dark, sometimes pretty raunchy, but these are its stronger qualities. And then there’s the matter of the sentient street…

Harley Quinn — Another series people seem to love or hate. I loved its anarchic energy, the depiction of the friendship between Harley and Poison Ivy, the snarky commentary on superhero cliches, and the bat shit crazy depiction of Jim Gordon, the kind-hearted representation of King Shark, and so much more.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — For me, this was more hit or miss than Wandavision, but there was more than enough to hold my interest, and the reclaiming of Isiah Bradley’s storyline was really rewarding for those who wanted to see critiques of the whiteness of the superhero brought into the Marvel media empire.

Invincible — I was initially a huge fan of the Invincible comics by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) but felt it lost its way fairly early in. This series reworks the core plot line (while remaining attentive to the original spirit) much as The Walking Dead involved a thorough rethinking of choices made in the comic series. The cast alone — Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, J.K. Simmons, among others — makes this one worth watching. But this has got to be the most bloodthirsty animated series I have seen in a long time so not for the faint of heart. Don’t ask me why I find it so hard to get into the brutal humor of The Boys but enjoy the violence here.

For All Mankind — I enjoyed the first season of this alternative history series where the Russians beat the Americans to the moon, but the second season was even stronger with a greater fleshing out of the female characters, more complex interactions with the Russians, more attention to the political context. I soaked countless tissues dabbing eyes during the season finale (word to the wise). Do not miss all of the trans media extras on Apple Plus besides the episodes themselves.

Reality and Documentary Series

The Bridge — A British reality series about an odd-ball mix of folks thrown together in a cabin and given the challenge to build a bridge together. Has some of the same qualities I love in Survivor, without the colonialist tribalism and without the obstacle races. The focus is purely on the social drama as they decide along the way who stays or leaves and who wins the final prize.

The Hustler — An interesting variant on the trivia quiz show with elements of The Mole thrown in. Not profound but a good way to escape the grimness of the world around us.

The Chase — Another fun trivia competition whether with the original British version (with the Beast) or the American version (with the three Jeopardy G.O.A.T.s).

The Great Pottery Throwdown — I will watch pretty much any reality competition series. This has the quirky charms of the Great British Bake-off but with clay. What do we care? You can’t taste the food prepared on Bake-Off in any case, and there’s a lot of sculpting and molding in that series to boot.

Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered — I lived in Atlanta during the time these events were unfolding and remembered them vividly. This series helps to put an historic frame around them. I found less that was new here than I had hoped, since the case has been reopen. They do not develop a fully considered alternative theory of the case — they just do what a good defense attorney would do, poke holds in the prosecution and hint at other possible suspects.

McMillions — This is a Coen Brothers movie waiting to happen full of small town eccentric characters — from minor league mobsters to a puppy dog-like FBI agent and lots of twists and surprises along the way. There is a dramatic film under development but not by the Coen Bros.

Q Into the Storm — I had mixed feelings while watching this, but it got under my skin and stayed there. It drags in the middle but they do get some place in the end and the implications for participatory politics are really disturbing.

The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling — If you are a fellow comedy nerd, this is for you. I was a huge fan of the Gary Shadling Show (that’s where the title of my How Do You Like It So Far? podcast comes from) and this takes us deep inside his twisted mind.

The Sit-In — An amazing documentary that fills a significant gap in our understanding of television history. Harry Belafonte takes over the Tonight Show from Johnny Carson for a week in 1968, brings serious reflections on race, the counterculture, and political/cultural change with guests that included Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Aretha Franklin, and so many others. I had no idea. The film does a great job reconstructing what happened, given much of the footage was lost, and why it mattered.

Crip Camp — This would have been my personal choice for the best documentary of the year. It’s a powerful depiction of an activist network that came together through a summer camp where they were allowed to find their voice and extends through three plus decades of disability activism.

The Mole Agent — Having seen My Octopus Teacher, I thought that this was going to be a film about a mole that takes a percentage and refuses to return your calls. Boy was I surprised by this quirky doc about an elderly man who goes undercover at an old folks’ home.

Time — This documentary about the impact of incarceration of the families who are left behind was emotionally intense and formally innovative, but it had gotten blown up too much for me and so it was less a revelation than it was to so many other people I know.

Becoming Mike Nichols — A really close look at the comedian, stage director, and filmmaker’s early career. I can wish that we got multiple episodes here which extended the time line, but Nichols died not long after the initial interview sessions so I will be thankful for what we have. I especially loved seeing the Nichols and May segments.

Behind the Mask — I am biased because I got some screen time here, but this is probably the most thoughtful documentary I have seen about the identity politics surrounding superheroes in contemporary culture.

Dramatic Features (Here I am only listing films that I liked)

The Assistant — This study of a toxic office culture is slow, contemplative, but packs a wallop. Julia Gardner is my favorite thing about Ozark and it was great to see what she could do with a film role.

Let Him Go — A net-western in the spirit of Hell and High Water.

News of the World — A more classical western, mostly of interest for its depiction of a forgotten chapter in the history of American journalism.

Personal History of David Copperfield — The comic aspects of Charles Dickens is pushed forward in this rapid-fire meta-fictional adaptation.

Nomadland — So much has already been said, most of it true (both the good and the bad)

The Life Ahead — I was glad that Sophia Loren got to make this. I enjoyed watching it. Now I barely remember it.

Radioactive — Gender politics in early 20th century physics (The Curies) based on a decent graphic novel. Not extraordinary but not bad if you like that sorta thing.

Soul — Personally I liked WolfWalkers much better — much much better. But any Pixar film is worth watching and the echoes of A Matter of Life and Death were warmly received by this Powell and Pressburger fan.

Promising Young Woman — I don’t know what to do with this one. There was so much I liked about it and so much I hated. The ending probably tipped the scales into the negative column for me.

Judas and the Black Messiah — It’s hard to make a mainstream film about radical politics, but this one went a long way towards getting people to take a fresh look at the Black Panther movement, helped along by some compelling performances.

Emma — A decent Jane Austin adaptation. Nuff Said.

The Father — Anthony Hopkins’ performance was spectacular, showing a degree of emotional vulnerability I had not seen from him before, and the ways that the film techniques help us to feel some of the shifting reality associated with his mental deterioration was innovative.

Wendy — Not as strong or original as Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild but in the same ballpark. A mythopoetic adaptation of Peter Pan, which is richly textured in its dealings with southern landscapes and cultures.

Cliff Dwellers — You never know what to expect from Zhang Yimou but this was a compelling vintage espionage story. I did not follow the plot for most of the movie but it’s formal treatment of the tropes of the genre were compelling to watch. The best use of snow in a movie since Doctor Zhivago. The most gunplay in a movie since John Woo left Hong Kong.

Genre films

Enola Holmes — This is probably objectively speaking not even a good film, but I loved so much about it, especially the relationship between Enola and her older brothers.

Justice League (The Snyder Cut) — OK, I still do not love it, but this was a better film than I expected. There is less comic banter than the Whedon cut (and I prefer that to Snyder’s trademarked doom and gloom) but more backstory especially for The Flash and Cyborg.

Godzilla vs. Kong — The big dumb giant monster movie I was waiting for and I got to see it on a large screen.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines — If you like Into the Spiderverse and The Lego Movie, have I got a film for you! It has the experimental mix of animation of the first and the snarky pop culture satire of the second.

Moxie — I spent much of 2020 giving myself over to my inner middle school girl with many teen-focused series. This film was a return to that mental state for me. A teenage comedy about zine culture, riot girl feminism, and mother-daughter relations. What can I say — I like stories of teenage resistance to authority. I also caught up with and liked Walkout about the walkout of the LA schools in the 1960s and its impact on the Chicano/a movement. Both are the kinds of stories I would have liked when I was high school wearing out my battered copy of the ACLU handbook on The Rights of Students.

Here are some things still on my summer watch list:

Henry Jenkins


It's Summertime and the Streaming Is Easy: What to Watch

As many of us in the academic world go into summer mode, which opens up a bit more time for streaming and watching media content, I thought I would offer a midyear list of things I have viewed and enjoyed since the start of 2021. Since almost all of this was watched streaming, I am not going to separate out film and television content (it’s a hopeless blur). I also include things here that I watched since the first of the year but which may have dropped in 2020 or in a few cases, even earlier. We are all catching up all the time these days. I have only included those series where I watched every episode so if it’s on the list, it’s a given that I liked it enough to keep watching. So you can take this list as a series of recommendations of things you MIGHT enjoy watching. Your mileage may differ.

How to, with John Wilson — quirky, observational, sometimes poignant, this series combines documentary and found footage with satirical commentary to explore everyday life on the eve of the pandemic.

Kim’s Convienence — I started this family sitcom about a Korean family running a coronership in Canada in 2020, but caught up with the two most recent seasons since the start of the new year. This is warm and pleasant, rarely descends into '‘cringe'“, and the characters like each other. If you want bittersweet chocolate, go elsewhere. This is milk chocolate and nougat all the way down.

Rutherford Falls — This series examines competing histories and the war over monuments in a small town. The writer’s room is heavily indigenous people and some of the most compelling characters are particular personalities from tribal communities. It is still a bit patchy by the end of the first season but several of the episodes are gems (especially one about a school history fair) and the characters develop nuance as they go along.

Young Rock — Do you like the Rock? Did you watch the WWE/WWF in the 1980s and 1990s? Then you will find this very specific sitcom to your taste. I loved seeing some of my favorite vintage wrestlers as recurring characters — Macho Man Randy Savage and Andre the Giant as you’ve never seen them before.

Run — This one falls on the cusp between comedy and suspense. THIS fast-paced romp combines Hitchcockian thrills with rom-com on a cross-country train trip. Above all, it allows Merritt Weaver to be playful, sexy, and smart and has crisp writing (and cameo role) by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The Flight Attendant — This is even less a comedy than Run. I almost gave up in the middle when it got boozy and downright depressive. But I am glad I stuck with it, because it kept me guessing and laughing throughout.

The Queen’s Gambit — I had trouble imagining how they could make a compelling series about chess, but I was wrong. I watched this series in a couple of long binge sessions. The core performances are compelling, the gender politics complex if still somewhat problematic.

Plot Against America — I could not bring myself to watch this series about the rise of an American fascist to political power until after the election got settled. This was the case of a series that was too timely. It’s still hard to watch but rewarding on many levels.

Bridgerton — Sudsy, Sexy, full of problems, but so much fun to watch.

Unorthodox — Another really specific series about a woman who tries to escape from the Orthodox Jewish community. It offered a window (a critical one) into a world I knew little about.

Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C. J. Walker — Octavia Spencer and Blair Underwood dramatize a progressive era chapter in the history of black entrepreneurship.

Normal People — A painful Irish romance which factors in issues of stigmatization and class. It has some of the most emotionally nuanced sex scenes ever shown on television. I was especially drawn to Daisy Edgar-Jones’s vulnerable and yet resilient performance.

Defending Jacob — Suspicion erupts within a family as they confront accusations that the high school aged son may have committed murder. Michelle Dochery and Chris Evans show us contrasting portraits of how loving parents and partners deal with enormous emotional pressure.

Genre Television

Paranormal — An Egyptian series in the tradition of The X-Files or more recently, Evil about a man who seeks to investigate paranormal experiences, mostly inspired by Islamic mythologies, which bring him to confront unresolved events in his own past.

Wanda vision — Marvel is really going to town with trans media extensions of the MCU into television. By now, you know how Wandavision uses sitcoms to explore the relationships amongst two of the least developed characters in the Avengers movies. You either loved it or hated it. I loved it.

Doom Patrol — I have only watched season 1 but this was a fresh take on superheroes with a cast that includes Brendon Frasier, Matt Bomer, Timothy Dalton, and Alan Tudyk. Here, the superhero team is seen through queerness and disability, sometimes super-dark, sometimes pretty raunchy, but these are its stronger qualities. And then there’s the matter of the sentient street…

Harley Quinn — Another series people seem to love or hate. I loved its anarchic energy, the depiction of the friendship between Harley and Poison Ivy, the snarky commentary on superhero cliches, and the bat shit crazy depiction of Jim Gordon, the kind-hearted representation of King Shark, and so much more.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — For me, this was more hit or miss than Wandavision, but there was more than enough to hold my interest, and the reclaiming of Isiah Bradley’s storyline was really rewarding for those who wanted to see critiques of the whiteness of the superhero brought into the Marvel media empire.

Invincible — I was initially a huge fan of the Invincible comics by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) but felt it lost its way fairly early in. This series reworks the core plot line (while remaining attentive to the original spirit) much as The Walking Dead involved a thorough rethinking of choices made in the comic series. The cast alone — Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, J.K. Simmons, among others — makes this one worth watching. But this has got to be the most bloodthirsty animated series I have seen in a long time so not for the faint of heart. Don’t ask me why I find it so hard to get into the brutal humor of The Boys but enjoy the violence here.

For All Mankind — I enjoyed the first season of this alternative history series where the Russians beat the Americans to the moon, but the second season was even stronger with a greater fleshing out of the female characters, more complex interactions with the Russians, more attention to the political context. I soaked countless tissues dabbing eyes during the season finale (word to the wise). Do not miss all of the trans media extras on Apple Plus besides the episodes themselves.

Reality and Documentary Series

The Bridge — A British reality series about an odd-ball mix of folks thrown together in a cabin and given the challenge to build a bridge together. Has some of the same qualities I love in Survivor, without the colonialist tribalism and without the obstacle races. The focus is purely on the social drama as they decide along the way who stays or leaves and who wins the final prize.

The Hustler — An interesting variant on the trivia quiz show with elements of The Mole thrown in. Not profound but a good way to escape the grimness of the world around us.

The Chase — Another fun trivia competition whether with the original British version (with the Beast) or the American version (with the three Jeopardy G.O.A.T.s).

The Great Pottery Throwdown — I will watch pretty much any reality competition series. This has the quirky charms of the Great British Bake-off but with clay. What do we care? You can’t taste the food prepared on Bake-Off in any case, and there’s a lot of sculpting and molding in that series to boot.

Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered — I lived in Atlanta during the time these events were unfolding and remembered them vividly. This series helps to put an historic frame around them. I found less that was new here than I had hoped, since the case has been reopen. They do not develop a fully considered alternative theory of the case — they just do what a good defense attorney would do, poke holds in the prosecution and hint at other possible suspects.

McMillions — This is a Coen Brothers movie waiting to happen full of small town eccentric characters — from minor league mobsters to a puppy dog-like FBI agent and lots of twists and surprises along the way. There is a dramatic film under development but not by the Coen Bros.

Q Into the Storm — I had mixed feelings while watching this, but it got under my skin and stayed there. It drags in the middle but they do get some place in the end and the implications for participatory politics are really disturbing.

The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling — If you are a fellow comedy nerd, this is for you. I was a huge fan of the Gary Shadling Show (that’s where the title of my How Do You Like It So Far? podcast comes from) and this takes us deep inside his twisted mind.

The Sit-In — An amazing documentary that fills a significant gap in our understanding of television history. Harry Belafonte takes over the Tonight Show from Johnny Carson for a week in 1968, brings serious reflections on race, the counterculture, and political/cultural change with guests that included Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Aretha Franklin, and so many others. I had no idea. The film does a great job reconstructing what happened, given much of the footage was lost, and why it mattered.

Crip Camp — This would have been my personal choice for the best documentary of the year. It’s a powerful depiction of an activist network that came together through a summer camp where they were allowed to find their voice and extends through three plus decades of disability activism.

The Mole Agent — Having seen My Octopus Teacher, I thought that this was going to be a film about a mole that takes a percentage and refuses to return your calls. Boy was I surprised by this quirky doc about an elderly man who goes undercover at an old folks’ home.

Time — This documentary about the impact of incarceration of the families who are left behind was emotionally intense and formally innovative, but it had gotten blown up too much for me and so it was less a revelation than it was to so many other people I know.

Becoming Mike Nichols — A really close look at the comedian, stage director, and filmmaker’s early career. I can wish that we got multiple episodes here which extended the time line, but Nichols died not long after the initial interview sessions so I will be thankful for what we have. I especially loved seeing the Nichols and May segments.

Behind the Mask — I am biased because I got some screen time here, but this is probably the most thoughtful documentary I have seen about the identity politics surrounding superheroes in contemporary culture.

Dramatic Features (Here I am only listing films that I liked)

The Assistant — This study of a toxic office culture is slow, contemplative, but packs a wallop. Julia Gardner is my favorite thing about Ozark and it was great to see what she could do with a film role.

Let Him Go — A net-western in the spirit of Hell and High Water.

News of the World — A more classical western, mostly of interest for its depiction of a forgotten chapter in the history of American journalism.

Personal History of David Copperfield — The comic aspects of Charles Dickens is pushed forward in this rapid-fire meta-fictional adaptation.

Nomadland — So much has already been said, most of it true (both the good and the bad)

The Life Ahead — I was glad that Sophia Loren got to make this. I enjoyed watching it. Now I barely remember it.

Radioactive — Gender politics in early 20th century physics (The Curies) based on a decent graphic novel. Not extraordinary but not bad if you like that sorta thing.

Soul — Personally I liked WolfWalkers much better — much much better. But any Pixar film is worth watching and the echoes of A Matter of Life and Death were warmly received by this Powell and Pressburger fan.

Promising Young Woman — I don’t know what to do with this one. There was so much I liked about it and so much I hated. The ending probably tipped the scales into the negative column for me.

Judas and the Black Messiah — It’s hard to make a mainstream film about radical politics, but this one went a long way towards getting people to take a fresh look at the Black Panther movement, helped along by some compelling performances.

Emma — A decent Jane Austin adaptation. Nuff Said.

The Father — Anthony Hopkins’ performance was spectacular, showing a degree of emotional vulnerability I had not seen from him before, and the ways that the film techniques help us to feel some of the shifting reality associated with his mental deterioration was innovative.

Wendy — Not as strong or original as Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild but in the same ballpark. A mythopoetic adaptation of Peter Pan, which is richly textured in its dealings with southern landscapes and cultures.

Cliff Dwellers — You never know what to expect from Zhang Yimou but this was a compelling vintage espionage story. I did not follow the plot for most of the movie but it’s formal treatment of the tropes of the genre were compelling to watch. The best use of snow in a movie since Doctor Zhivago. The most gunplay in a movie since John Woo left Hong Kong.

Genre films

Enola Holmes — This is probably objectively speaking not even a good film, but I loved so much about it, especially the relationship between Enola and her older brothers.

Justice League (The Snyder Cut) — OK, I still do not love it, but this was a better film than I expected. There is less comic banter than the Whedon cut (and I prefer that to Snyder’s trademarked doom and gloom) but more backstory especially for The Flash and Cyborg.

Godzilla vs. Kong — The big dumb giant monster movie I was waiting for and I got to see it on a large screen.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines — If you like Into the Spiderverse and The Lego Movie, have I got a film for you! It has the experimental mix of animation of the first and the snarky pop culture satire of the second.

Moxie — I spent much of 2020 giving myself over to my inner middle school girl with many teen-focused series. This film was a return to that mental state for me. A teenage comedy about zine culture, riot girl feminism, and mother-daughter relations. What can I say — I like stories of teenage resistance to authority. I also caught up with and liked Walkout about the walkout of the LA schools in the 1960s and its impact on the Chicano/a movement. Both are the kinds of stories I would have liked when I was high school wearing out my battered copy of the ACLU handbook on The Rights of Students.

Here are some things still on my summer watch list:

Henry Jenkins


It's Summertime and the Streaming Is Easy: What to Watch

As many of us in the academic world go into summer mode, which opens up a bit more time for streaming and watching media content, I thought I would offer a midyear list of things I have viewed and enjoyed since the start of 2021. Since almost all of this was watched streaming, I am not going to separate out film and television content (it’s a hopeless blur). I also include things here that I watched since the first of the year but which may have dropped in 2020 or in a few cases, even earlier. We are all catching up all the time these days. I have only included those series where I watched every episode so if it’s on the list, it’s a given that I liked it enough to keep watching. So you can take this list as a series of recommendations of things you MIGHT enjoy watching. Your mileage may differ.

How to, with John Wilson — quirky, observational, sometimes poignant, this series combines documentary and found footage with satirical commentary to explore everyday life on the eve of the pandemic.

Kim’s Convienence — I started this family sitcom about a Korean family running a coronership in Canada in 2020, but caught up with the two most recent seasons since the start of the new year. This is warm and pleasant, rarely descends into '‘cringe'“, and the characters like each other. If you want bittersweet chocolate, go elsewhere. This is milk chocolate and nougat all the way down.

Rutherford Falls — This series examines competing histories and the war over monuments in a small town. The writer’s room is heavily indigenous people and some of the most compelling characters are particular personalities from tribal communities. It is still a bit patchy by the end of the first season but several of the episodes are gems (especially one about a school history fair) and the characters develop nuance as they go along.

Young Rock — Do you like the Rock? Did you watch the WWE/WWF in the 1980s and 1990s? Then you will find this very specific sitcom to your taste. I loved seeing some of my favorite vintage wrestlers as recurring characters — Macho Man Randy Savage and Andre the Giant as you’ve never seen them before.

Run — This one falls on the cusp between comedy and suspense. THIS fast-paced romp combines Hitchcockian thrills with rom-com on a cross-country train trip. Above all, it allows Merritt Weaver to be playful, sexy, and smart and has crisp writing (and cameo role) by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The Flight Attendant — This is even less a comedy than Run. I almost gave up in the middle when it got boozy and downright depressive. But I am glad I stuck with it, because it kept me guessing and laughing throughout.

The Queen’s Gambit — I had trouble imagining how they could make a compelling series about chess, but I was wrong. I watched this series in a couple of long binge sessions. The core performances are compelling, the gender politics complex if still somewhat problematic.

Plot Against America — I could not bring myself to watch this series about the rise of an American fascist to political power until after the election got settled. This was the case of a series that was too timely. It’s still hard to watch but rewarding on many levels.

Bridgerton — Sudsy, Sexy, full of problems, but so much fun to watch.

Unorthodox — Another really specific series about a woman who tries to escape from the Orthodox Jewish community. It offered a window (a critical one) into a world I knew little about.

Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C. J. Walker — Octavia Spencer and Blair Underwood dramatize a progressive era chapter in the history of black entrepreneurship.

Normal People — A painful Irish romance which factors in issues of stigmatization and class. It has some of the most emotionally nuanced sex scenes ever shown on television. I was especially drawn to Daisy Edgar-Jones’s vulnerable and yet resilient performance.

Defending Jacob — Suspicion erupts within a family as they confront accusations that the high school aged son may have committed murder. Michelle Dochery and Chris Evans show us contrasting portraits of how loving parents and partners deal with enormous emotional pressure.

Genre Television

Paranormal — An Egyptian series in the tradition of The X-Files or more recently, Evil about a man who seeks to investigate paranormal experiences, mostly inspired by Islamic mythologies, which bring him to confront unresolved events in his own past.

Wanda vision — Marvel is really going to town with trans media extensions of the MCU into television. By now, you know how Wandavision uses sitcoms to explore the relationships amongst two of the least developed characters in the Avengers movies. You either loved it or hated it. I loved it.

Doom Patrol — I have only watched season 1 but this was a fresh take on superheroes with a cast that includes Brendon Frasier, Matt Bomer, Timothy Dalton, and Alan Tudyk. Here, the superhero team is seen through queerness and disability, sometimes super-dark, sometimes pretty raunchy, but these are its stronger qualities. And then there’s the matter of the sentient street…

Harley Quinn — Another series people seem to love or hate. I loved its anarchic energy, the depiction of the friendship between Harley and Poison Ivy, the snarky commentary on superhero cliches, and the bat shit crazy depiction of Jim Gordon, the kind-hearted representation of King Shark, and so much more.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — For me, this was more hit or miss than Wandavision, but there was more than enough to hold my interest, and the reclaiming of Isiah Bradley’s storyline was really rewarding for those who wanted to see critiques of the whiteness of the superhero brought into the Marvel media empire.

Invincible — I was initially a huge fan of the Invincible comics by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) but felt it lost its way fairly early in. This series reworks the core plot line (while remaining attentive to the original spirit) much as The Walking Dead involved a thorough rethinking of choices made in the comic series. The cast alone — Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, J.K. Simmons, among others — makes this one worth watching. But this has got to be the most bloodthirsty animated series I have seen in a long time so not for the faint of heart. Don’t ask me why I find it so hard to get into the brutal humor of The Boys but enjoy the violence here.

For All Mankind — I enjoyed the first season of this alternative history series where the Russians beat the Americans to the moon, but the second season was even stronger with a greater fleshing out of the female characters, more complex interactions with the Russians, more attention to the political context. I soaked countless tissues dabbing eyes during the season finale (word to the wise). Do not miss all of the trans media extras on Apple Plus besides the episodes themselves.

Reality and Documentary Series

The Bridge — A British reality series about an odd-ball mix of folks thrown together in a cabin and given the challenge to build a bridge together. Has some of the same qualities I love in Survivor, without the colonialist tribalism and without the obstacle races. The focus is purely on the social drama as they decide along the way who stays or leaves and who wins the final prize.

The Hustler — An interesting variant on the trivia quiz show with elements of The Mole thrown in. Not profound but a good way to escape the grimness of the world around us.

The Chase — Another fun trivia competition whether with the original British version (with the Beast) or the American version (with the three Jeopardy G.O.A.T.s).

The Great Pottery Throwdown — I will watch pretty much any reality competition series. This has the quirky charms of the Great British Bake-off but with clay. What do we care? You can’t taste the food prepared on Bake-Off in any case, and there’s a lot of sculpting and molding in that series to boot.

Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered — I lived in Atlanta during the time these events were unfolding and remembered them vividly. This series helps to put an historic frame around them. I found less that was new here than I had hoped, since the case has been reopen. They do not develop a fully considered alternative theory of the case — they just do what a good defense attorney would do, poke holds in the prosecution and hint at other possible suspects.

McMillions — This is a Coen Brothers movie waiting to happen full of small town eccentric characters — from minor league mobsters to a puppy dog-like FBI agent and lots of twists and surprises along the way. There is a dramatic film under development but not by the Coen Bros.

Q Into the Storm — I had mixed feelings while watching this, but it got under my skin and stayed there. It drags in the middle but they do get some place in the end and the implications for participatory politics are really disturbing.

The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling — If you are a fellow comedy nerd, this is for you. I was a huge fan of the Gary Shadling Show (that’s where the title of my How Do You Like It So Far? podcast comes from) and this takes us deep inside his twisted mind.

The Sit-In — An amazing documentary that fills a significant gap in our understanding of television history. Harry Belafonte takes over the Tonight Show from Johnny Carson for a week in 1968, brings serious reflections on race, the counterculture, and political/cultural change with guests that included Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Aretha Franklin, and so many others. I had no idea. The film does a great job reconstructing what happened, given much of the footage was lost, and why it mattered.

Crip Camp — This would have been my personal choice for the best documentary of the year. It’s a powerful depiction of an activist network that came together through a summer camp where they were allowed to find their voice and extends through three plus decades of disability activism.

The Mole Agent — Having seen My Octopus Teacher, I thought that this was going to be a film about a mole that takes a percentage and refuses to return your calls. Boy was I surprised by this quirky doc about an elderly man who goes undercover at an old folks’ home.

Time — This documentary about the impact of incarceration of the families who are left behind was emotionally intense and formally innovative, but it had gotten blown up too much for me and so it was less a revelation than it was to so many other people I know.

Becoming Mike Nichols — A really close look at the comedian, stage director, and filmmaker’s early career. I can wish that we got multiple episodes here which extended the time line, but Nichols died not long after the initial interview sessions so I will be thankful for what we have. I especially loved seeing the Nichols and May segments.

Behind the Mask — I am biased because I got some screen time here, but this is probably the most thoughtful documentary I have seen about the identity politics surrounding superheroes in contemporary culture.

Dramatic Features (Here I am only listing films that I liked)

The Assistant — This study of a toxic office culture is slow, contemplative, but packs a wallop. Julia Gardner is my favorite thing about Ozark and it was great to see what she could do with a film role.

Let Him Go — A net-western in the spirit of Hell and High Water.

News of the World — A more classical western, mostly of interest for its depiction of a forgotten chapter in the history of American journalism.

Personal History of David Copperfield — The comic aspects of Charles Dickens is pushed forward in this rapid-fire meta-fictional adaptation.

Nomadland — So much has already been said, most of it true (both the good and the bad)

The Life Ahead — I was glad that Sophia Loren got to make this. I enjoyed watching it. Now I barely remember it.

Radioactive — Gender politics in early 20th century physics (The Curies) based on a decent graphic novel. Not extraordinary but not bad if you like that sorta thing.

Soul — Personally I liked WolfWalkers much better — much much better. But any Pixar film is worth watching and the echoes of A Matter of Life and Death were warmly received by this Powell and Pressburger fan.

Promising Young Woman — I don’t know what to do with this one. There was so much I liked about it and so much I hated. The ending probably tipped the scales into the negative column for me.

Judas and the Black Messiah — It’s hard to make a mainstream film about radical politics, but this one went a long way towards getting people to take a fresh look at the Black Panther movement, helped along by some compelling performances.

Emma — A decent Jane Austin adaptation. Nuff Said.

The Father — Anthony Hopkins’ performance was spectacular, showing a degree of emotional vulnerability I had not seen from him before, and the ways that the film techniques help us to feel some of the shifting reality associated with his mental deterioration was innovative.

Wendy — Not as strong or original as Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild but in the same ballpark. A mythopoetic adaptation of Peter Pan, which is richly textured in its dealings with southern landscapes and cultures.

Cliff Dwellers — You never know what to expect from Zhang Yimou but this was a compelling vintage espionage story. I did not follow the plot for most of the movie but it’s formal treatment of the tropes of the genre were compelling to watch. The best use of snow in a movie since Doctor Zhivago. The most gunplay in a movie since John Woo left Hong Kong.

Genre films

Enola Holmes — This is probably objectively speaking not even a good film, but I loved so much about it, especially the relationship between Enola and her older brothers.

Justice League (The Snyder Cut) — OK, I still do not love it, but this was a better film than I expected. There is less comic banter than the Whedon cut (and I prefer that to Snyder’s trademarked doom and gloom) but more backstory especially for The Flash and Cyborg.

Godzilla vs. Kong — The big dumb giant monster movie I was waiting for and I got to see it on a large screen.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines — If you like Into the Spiderverse and The Lego Movie, have I got a film for you! It has the experimental mix of animation of the first and the snarky pop culture satire of the second.

Moxie — I spent much of 2020 giving myself over to my inner middle school girl with many teen-focused series. This film was a return to that mental state for me. A teenage comedy about zine culture, riot girl feminism, and mother-daughter relations. What can I say — I like stories of teenage resistance to authority. I also caught up with and liked Walkout about the walkout of the LA schools in the 1960s and its impact on the Chicano/a movement. Both are the kinds of stories I would have liked when I was high school wearing out my battered copy of the ACLU handbook on The Rights of Students.

Here are some things still on my summer watch list:

Henry Jenkins