Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

March 27 2015 5:14 PM

Why You Should Be Watching Call the Midwife

Filmmakers have been putting damsels in distress since pictures were first made to move. And Call the Midwife, which returns to PBS for its fourth season on Sunday night, is the ultimate 21st-century feminist spin on the genre. Instead of kindly gents rescuing helpless women who’ve been tied to railway tracks by mustache-twirling villains, Call the Midwife shows a dedicated band of nurses and nuns saving pregnant women whose health and welfare are imperiled by poverty and misinformation.

Well, the young women in uniform usually save the day, but the terrible odds stacked against them—the lack of resources, the primitive state of obstetrics in the 1950s and early ’60s, and the frailty of the flesh, to name a few—mean that they don’t always prevail. The stakes on Call the Midwife are a matter of life and death, and that makes the show absolutely terrifying. When fetal heartbeats are monitored by placing an ear trumpet on a pregnant woman’s belly, humans seem alarmingly vulnerable.

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March 27 2015 4:35 PM

Fred Durst Is Not Robert Durst, Fred Durst’s Hoodie Confirms

Read all Slate’s coverage of The Jinx.

Two weeks ago, the Associated Press managed to make the mistake everyone was secretly hoping someone would make, by confusing Robert Durst, suspected murderer and subject of HBO’s The Jinx, with Fred Durst, frontman of Limp Bizkit.

Now to make sure there will be no further confusion, Fred Durst has taken to Instagram. If you ever find yourself feeling a little unsure, I suggest you consult the hoodie.

March 27 2015 4:22 PM

An Interview With the Illustrator of Lena Dunham’s “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend”

Lena Dunham’s Shouts & Murmurs in the latest issue of the New Yorker— titled “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend: A Quiz”—has not been received kindly by the Internet. Politico’s Ben White dubbed it “anti-Semitic garbage”; the website Kveller called it “not OK.” The piece, for the uninitiated, is pretty much what it sounds like: a list of traits—to the tune of “He doesn’t tip” and “He’s crazy for cream cheese”—that could, we are meant to understand, be plausibly attributed to either a pooch or a Jew. I might argue that “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend” is less offensive than mystifying: Dunham writes, “He once vomited on his seatmate in United business class”—do Jewish boyfriends do that? Do dogs?

March 27 2015 3:25 PM

Everything You Need to Know About Where The X-Files Left Off in Two Minutes

The X-Files is back, baby! But wait … How did it end, again? It’s been 13 years since Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully left our TV screens, but thankfully it wasn’t goodbye forever. The show is coming back to Fox for a six-episode continuation, and we’ve made this handy video to make sure you’re all caught up when it airs.

March 27 2015 1:24 PM

The Makers of Going Clear on the Evolution and the Future of Scientology

Check out all Slate’s interviews from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

One of the most compelling and controversial films to premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Going Clear, the new documentary from Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the RoomTaxi to the Dark Side) and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright, the author of the book of the same name. The documentary airs on HBO this Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern.

We sat down with Wright and Gibney in Park City to ask them about the challenges of making a documentary about Scientology and how the church developed its many connections to Hollywood. In this longer segment from the interview, we asked them about the ways the church differs (and does not) from the other religions they’ve studied, its evolution under charismatic leader David Miscavige, and whether the church’s days are numbered in the age of the Internet.

March 27 2015 11:59 AM

Watch the Trailer for the HBO Show Based on J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy

A three-part miniseries based on The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling’s first novel outside of the wizarding world, is coming to HBO in April—and from the trailer, it looks somewhat like a British small-town version of Game of Thrones. “Everyone’s got skeletons rattling in their cupboard,” a disembodied voice says ominously. “Everyone’s got something.”

The shocking death of Barry Fairbrother, played by Rory Kinnear, sets the plot in motion as everyone scrambles to take his place on the iron throne—I mean, as parish councillor. Let the intrigue and power plays begin! There’s also a woman who rips up her shirt, yelling, “LOOK AT MY TITS!”

March 27 2015 10:54 AM

How White God Gives Its Canine Hero a True Character Arc

It’s pretty easy for a film audience to fall in love with a canine star or sidekick. Photogenic dog actors excel at sad puppy-dog eyes, of course, so their mere presence draws us in to empathize with their “characters.” And Hollywood often subjects dog characters to peril – and doesn’t hesitate to kill them off

And so any animal lover watching the Hungarian film White God, which opens in theaters Friday, is already predisposed to care about Hagen, the mixed-breed dog who leads an uprising against careless humans. Hagen (played by canine actors Luke and Bodie) is gorgeous, with soft eyes and a shaggy face. But unlike many other films starring animals, White God and its director Kornél Mundruczó don’t merely rely upon his furry heroes’ movie star looks to build our emotional connection throughout this fascinating morality tale.

March 27 2015 9:22 AM

Why The Walking Dead Should Kill Off Its Most Beloved Character

This post contains spoilers.

There’s little doubt that Sunday’s season finale of The Walking Dead is going to be bloody. This season started out strong with three intense episodes, but has become bloated with half-baked story arcs that seem to have no resolution in sight. We spent half a season rooting for cheerful farm girl Beth, who proceeded to die in the most nonsensical way possible. And the guy she ostensibly died to save died nine episodes later. In the comics, Maggie becomes suicidal after losing her family.* But in the show, her emotional responses to Beth's death were all downplayed and condensed to make room for the reactions of another character—Daryl Dixon, the show’s ruggedly handsome, crossbow-toting, strong-but-silent type. So there’s one thing I’d argue needs to happen in the finale in order to rescue this season: The Walking Dead should kill off Daryl, its most beloved character.

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In a series that loves to remind viewers that no character is safe, Daryl seems unkillable. He’s got that effortless swagger, a no-nonsense attitude, and biceps that just won’t quit. The world of Walking Dead is crawling with deeply unlikable characters. (Looking at you, Fake-Scientist Eugene and Gabriel, Coward Extraordinaire.) Daryl is different—he inspires endless GIFs and posts to the tune of “14 reasons We Love Daryl Dixon.” And the source of his popularity—aside from those brooding good looks—is his unknowability: his blank stoicism in the face of disaster.

Daryl started out as one of the show’s most promising characters: a loner redneck stereotype who quickly turned into a fan favorite when he became hell-bent on finding meek-housewife-turned-badass Carol’s daughter, Sophia. Discovering Sophia was dead could have been a soul-baring moment, but it never happened. Sure, it made sense that the writers would want to maintain Daryl’s air of mystery for as long as possible. But this pattern of love, lose, repeat is basically the only storyline he gets every season—while the trauma has no recognizable impact on his closed-off demeanor. Even having to kill the zombified resurrection of his older brother, Merle, in Season 3 was not enough to crack Daryl open. Neither was finding out that Carol, one of his closest friends in the party, had been banished from the prison—an apparent death sentence. So at this point, Daryl’s mysteriousness has become a crutch that the writers use to justify his flatlining character development.

Daryl is always in action, and never gets to take the kind of reflective pauses that give other surviving core characters like Rick and Michonne such depth. We watched Rick go off the deep end after losing his wife, Lori. Since Season 1, we’ve seen Good Guy Rick, Ricktatorship Rick, Farmer Rick, and Crazy Hallucinating Rick, among others. But after all that’s happened, Daryl is still basically just a not-racist version of his former loner self—with longer hair. We’re only given crumbs to work with when imagining what could possibly lie within, like that poignant moment at Grady Memorial Hospital when the book he’d picked up about treating childhood abuse falls out of his bag in front of Carol, a domestic violence survivor herself. Because his inner workings are so hazy, Daryl’s distinguishing features are his abilities, not his personality. And at this point, being good at killing stuff isn’t enough to make you special on The Walking Dead—everyone except the baby and the useless priest can hold their own in combat.

The time Daryl spent with Beth in Season 4 was as close as we’ve gotten to really seeing what makes him tick. He vaguely (and angrily) alluded to a sad backstory while they were drinking, and then let off steam by torturing a walker. Yes, we found out that somewhere deep inside, he’s scared and vulnerable and harbors demons. But then Beth disappeared, he raced to find and rescue her, and she ended up dead. (Because everyone Daryl loves dies.) And now, with Beth gone, he’s quickly returned to his favorite pastimes: Fighting, sulking and briefly branching off from the party for brief, treacherous adventures. This character who initially seemed like an emotional time bomb, an intriguing blank slate to be filled, has proven completely unbreakable in every possible way—and that’s boring, especially in a show that predominantly develops through characters’ evolving vulnerabilities.

I know it’s unlikely that Daryl will die. There’s a whole group of viewers who say, “If Daryl dies, we riot.” This has been a popular battle cry for years, complete with T-shirts and petitions. (Petitions aren’t exactly rare for this fandom, to be fair—here’s one to build a statue of Rick on horseback in Atlanta.) I’m still holding out hope that the writers really do have a slow-burning plan to develop Daryl. It’s been pretty heavily implied for several seasons, from the time he first became so focused on finding Sophia to the time he grabbed that book, that Daryl was abused as a child. But for five seasons, the writers have proven they're unwilling to let their brooding hero open up about it, and when viewed from the outside only, it’s hard to engage with that inner turmoil. All we’re left with is his far less interesting invincible exterior. Daryl doesn’t just weigh the narrative down—he also disrupts multiple characters’ story arcs. As long as he’s on the show, the writers will be forced to adjust the narrative in the comic books, since Daryl was never in the comics to begin with. (And by “adjust,” I mean shortchange other characters and kill them off prematurely.) So for the sake of the future of Walking Dead, it’s time to get rid of Daryl for good.

Correction, March 27, 2015This post originally misstated that in the comics Beth’s death prompted Maggie’s suicide attempt. In the comics, Maggie attempted suicide because she lost her brother and father.

March 27 2015 8:46 AM

Jazz Pianist Robert Glasper on His Role in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly    

Robert Glasper may not be a big name in pop music, but the chances that you’ve heard him are growing by the day. Although he’s primarily a jazz pianist, he’s recorded with a wide range of rappers and R&B artists, including Common, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Norah Jones, and Snoop Dogg. And this month he appeared on one of the year’s biggest hip-hop albums, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

Even though the genres are deeply interrelated, there aren’t many examples of jazz musicians playing live on hip-hop recordings. (A few major exceptions: Ron Carter’s bass on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Verses From the Abstract,” Maceo Parker on De La Soul’s “I Be Blowin’,” and trumpeter Olu Dara playing with his son Nas on “Life’s a Bitch.”) But Glasper’s contributions to Butterfly aren’t just prescribed background lines. We spoke with the pianist by phone about what it was like to work with Lamar and what he brought to the album.

March 27 2015 8:16 AM

Every Will Ferrell Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Will Ferrell will turn 48 years old this summer. That’s how old Marlon Brando was when he was in The Godfather. Ferrell’s post-SNL movie career—and he has been gone from the show for 13 years—has been among the most successful in the show’s history; he has now been headlining big-budget studio comedies for more than a decade. This means there’s a trove of Ferrell movies to dig through and rank. Twenty-seven, to be exact. Now, to properly rank Ferrell movies, we had to put down some ground rules: No movies in which Ferrell is only a voice actor—this excludes Megamind, but not The Lego Movie; no movies that went direct to video—sorry, 1997’s Men Seeking Women, in which Ferrell was a supporting actor to Grant Shaud. And no glorified cameos—sorry, Wedding Crashers, Starsky & Hutch, and, yikes, Boat Trip. This list isn’t solely a ranking of the best films to feature Ferrell, though there’s an aspect of that; it’s more a ranking of the films by their maximizing of Ferrell’s essence. Which movie best captures the Will Ferrell Experience? As always, this list is purely scientific and unassailable.

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