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Welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer or editor reveals what’s keeping them entertained. Today’s special guest is Katherine J. Wu, a staff writer at The Atlantic who has reported on what we still don’t know about long COVID, the devastation of the bird flu, and the mysteries of fetching behavior in cats.
Katherine recently started watching Chad, a show that parallels the conceit of Pen15 and reminds her why cringe comedy lands. During her downtime, she can be found browsing Buy Nothing groups on Facebook, rewatching Parks and Recreation episodes, or reading Fuzz, by Mary Roach, who never fails to make her “laugh and gasp with wonder.”
First, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:
- Lab diamonds are too perfect for their own good.
- Older Americans are about to lose a lot of weight.
- Plenty of people could quit therapy right now.
The Culture Survey: Katherine J. Wu
My favorite way of wasting time on my phone: Since we moved into our new home last year, my partner and I have opened our eyes to the magical and addictive world of Buy Nothing and Everything Is Free Facebook groups. (So strong was the allure that I—gasp—revived my years-dead Facebook account, which was an unbelievable slog of multifactor authentications and a dubious step that asked me to upload a screenshot of a government-issued form of identification.) The offerings are hit or miss, and people amuse themselves a bit too much with the jokey posts (“half eaten nanner, porch pick-up”). But I love that we’re cutting down on waste, cleaning out our surplus, and saving a ton. Just last weekend, we brought in a haul of furniture that would’ve easily cost us $800. We appreciate our new town all the more. [Related: Seriously, what are you supposed to do with old clothes?]
The entertainment product my friends are talking about most right now: A few of the people in my life have deep, passionate feelings about the original animated Avatar: The Last Airbender. (“Possibly my favorite single show of all time?” one friend texted me.) With the live-action Netflix adaptation slated to debut later this month, there’s now some excitement and apprehension among the show’s biggest stans, many of whom seem grimly committed to watching with low expectations—in the desperate hope, it seems, that they’ll be pleasantly surprised. (I’m less die-hard than most fans, but I’m not one to turn down More Content.) The trauma of the debacle that was the M. Night Shyamalan live-action film is still fresh. But it’s also set an extremely low bar that even a preschool puppet production would probably clear. The only remaining question: Why, exactly, did the show—to which animation imparts so much of its inherent whimsy—need a live-action version at all?
The last entertainment thing that made me snort with laughter: My partner and I just started watching Chad, and … Well, the humor is definitely making us cringe and squirm more often than it’s making us snort with laughter, but trust me when I say that the jokes deliver. The show toys with the limits of acceptable discomfort: We can watch only an episode or two at a time without our innards completely inverting. (Fans of Pen15 will relate.) But Chad is also an excruciating reminder of why cringe comedy lands. There’s truth to the awkwardness and relief in realizing that we have (mostly) outgrown it. [Related: Hormone Monsters and the trials of early adolescence]
The television show I’m most enjoying right now: After bingeing our way through a glut of serious dramas over the holidays, my partner and I needed a palate cleanser that still felt satisfyingly wholesome. We started All Creatures Great and Small a couple of weeks ago and have been in its warm, idyllic embrace ever since. The show will never go down as one of my favorites—it’s British, and a period piece, and deeply white; the episode arcs, although entertaining, carry about as much dramatic tension as a 20-year-old elastic waistband. But if the elastic is 20 years old, it’s because you loved the pants enough to keep putting them on.
An actor I would watch in anything: Sharon Horgan has been a consistent source of entertainment for me for several years now. I first found her through Catastrophe, which I finally finished last year after starting the show in grad school (and promptly forgetting about it); the likely-now-defunct This Way Up is just the right amount of devastating; Bad Sisters was hands down one of my favorite shows of 2022. Horgan excels at capturing sisterly dynamics in particular, which I find addictive to watch. [Related: A powerhouse of a comedic actress]
The best novel I’ve recently read, and the best work of nonfiction: Two recent novels that have stuck with me—in wildly different ways—are Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin, which might be the only cultural product I’ve ever experienced that’s made me care about gaming, and The Perfect Nanny, by Leïla Slimani, which chilled me with not only its unnerving plot but also its measured prose and subdued yet incisive reflections on gender and class. On the nonfiction front, I’m finally reading Fuzz, by the incomparable Mary Roach, who never fails to make me laugh and gasp with wonder. [Related: The eerie horrors of The Perfect Nanny]
Something I recently rewatched: Parks and Recreation is a staple comfort rewatch in our household—a show that, unlike so many other favorites from the era, has mostly aged well.
The show is special for another reason too: Although I’ve been a fan of Parks and Rec since I was a teenager, my partner started watching it only after I goaded him into it just shy of a decade ago, when we began dating. On the day we met, he told me that he’d often been compared by friends, classmates, and co-workers to the athletic, endlessly optimistic Chris Traeger but admitted he had no idea what that meant—a gap in knowledge I immediately had to address. (Reader, I fixed him.) In the years since, we’ve both realized that although my partner is maybe superficially Traeger-esque, at his core he’s actually a bizarre hybrid of Ben Wyatt and Ron Swanson: martyrish but confident, nerdy but gruff, conscientious but deeply distrustful of rules and authority, and deeply, deeply loyal.
The Week Ahead
- The New Look, a biographical drama series about Christian Dior and other fashion icons, including Coco Chanel and Pierre Balmain, as they navigate the fashion world during World War II (premieres Wednesday on Apple TV+)
- I Heard Her Call My Name, by Lucy Sante, a memoir about coming to terms with gender identity and navigating a journey of transition (out Tuesday)
- Bob Marley: One Love, a biopic chronicling the life of the acclaimed reggae singer and songwriter (in theaters Wednesday)
More in Culture
- How a playwright became one of the most incisive social critics of our time
- Toby Keith had more to talk about than his politics.
- “I don’t know if I can call myself a mom.”
- Six books about winter as it once was
- 17 indie films you must see in 2024
- What Joni Mitchell proved at the Grammys
- What’s a kids’ fantasy show without wonder?
- A Godzilla movie that’s actually terrifying
- A rare moment Americans could all share
- The SNL cameo that was a big miss
Catch Up on The Atlantic
- The Supreme Court is eager to rid itself of this difficult Trump question.
- Biden’s age is now unavoidable.
- Zelensky finds a general.
Wildfires ravaged several areas in Chile, where the death toll has risen to at least 131 people. Our editor gathered photos of the destruction here.
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