Slate's Culture Blog

Nov. 25 2014 9:04 PM

The Cut SNL Sketch That Skewers Def Comedy Jam and TED Talks

SNL recently began uploading cut sketches online, an interesting trend that, depending on the sketch in question, provides either fodder for haters or a fun glimpse of the show’s weirder, more experimental material. The latest is “Def TED Talks,” a short written by Michael Che and Bryan Tucker that, as the name suggests, parodies both Def Comedy Jam and TED talks.

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Nov. 25 2014 7:10 PM

Birdman Leads the Charge in Independent Spirit Awards

Oscar chat has been buzzing for months, but as Thanksgiving fast approaches, it’s safe to say that we are officially in full-on awards season mode: Recent early screenings ofInto the Woods and Selma have each been widely tagged as having the makings of a front-runner. And today, the Independent Spirit Award nominations are out, giving us a closer look at the playing field.

Birdman has the most nominations—six—including for its star, Michael Keaton, and director, Alejandro Iñárritu. Boyhood, Selma, and Nightcrawler are close behind, with five each. While many of the choices are to be expected—the buzzed-about Dear White People and Whiplash, for instance, garnered nods—there are a couple of surprising acknowledgements as well. 

Nov. 25 2014 5:45 PM

Tink’s “Tell the Children” Is a Haunting Song About Police Brutality

Last night’s announcement that Ferguson, Mo. officer Darren Wilson will not be indicted for killing Michael Brown prompted a number of black musicians to reflect on the state of racial inequality in America. This morning Timbaland protégé and rapper Tink added her voice to the fray, finding resonance between what’s happening in Missouri and the tensions in her native Chicago.

Nov. 25 2014 4:53 PM

Hear Mike Pesca’s Full Interview With Sarah Koenig About Serial

Fans of Serial, the investigative podcast from This American Life, know that host Sarah Koenig and her staff are not releasing an episode this Thursday. To fill the void, we’ve got two special episodes of the Serial Spoiler Special this week.

Nov. 25 2014 3:11 PM

The Trailer for Joe Wright’s Pan Teases a Peter Pan Origin Story

Peter Pan, that cultural property that never seems to grow old, is having another moment. Next month, NBC will air its campy-looking Peter Pan Live! musical. Last week, Deadline reported that Melissa McCarthy will star as the fairy Tinker Bell in an upcoming comedic take on the J. M. Barrie story. And before that movie comes out, Pan will fly across movie screens next July in director Joe Wright’s new take on the character, Pan.

But from the looks of the first trailer, there’s not likely to be much flying involved in Pan. With newcomer Levi Miller as Peter, Pan envisions an origin story of sorts—there’s no fairy dust or Wendy and less magic than we’re used to from the character.

Nov. 25 2014 3:07 PM

The Real Reason Homeland Is Good Again

This post contains spoilers for Season 4 of Homeland.

In her review of Homeland Season 4, Slate’s Willa Paskin asked that fans “let it crash on your couch for a probationary period,” promising that the show had “become a much more straightforward, and largely effective, spy show.” It felt like a long shot: After a brilliant, nail-biting first season, the show got lost in the shaky love story between CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and POW-turned-terrorist-turned-CIA-puppet Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis). It got so lost, in fact, that showrunner Alex Gansa had to basically waste an entire season killing Brody off just to get the series back on track.

And that’s exactly what happened. This season, Homeland has stopped trying to make Carrie the kind of relatable character who lets falling in love complicate her career. Season 4 Carrie issues a heat-of-the-moment order to kill Haissam Haqqani (Numan Acar), a Taliban leader who evaded her previous drone attack, despite the presence of captured Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), her mentor, nearby. She manipulates Haqqani’s nephew, Aayan (Suraj Sharma), with sex, in order to make him a CIA informant (a plan Haqqani ultimately derails).

As fun as this has been, though, the vacating of Carrie’s humanity (we did see a glimpse of it in her drug-induced stupor two weeks ago) isn’t what made Homeland good again. And it wasn’t “going back to its basics” or shrinking its scope that did the trick either, as Time’s James Poniewozik has argued. Most of the credit for this season’s success goes to something new—specifically, the great additions to the ensemble cast.

Nov. 25 2014 12:37 PM

They Just Went and Made a New Dinosaur in the Trailer for Jurassic World


In the long-delayed fourth Jurassic Park movie, a theme park full of dinosaurs is such an unthreatening thing that Judy Greer is excited to send two young boys there alone.


But then humanity has to go and push things too far again. They’re not just reviving old dinosaurs anymore. They’re cooking up new ones. And Chris Pratt is pretty sure that’s a bad idea. His exact words: “You just went and made a new dinosaur? Probably not a good idea.”

Nov. 25 2014 12:29 PM

Why Mockingjay Is the “End of Men” Movie of the Year

My favorite scene in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is somewhat ancillary to the main plot, which follows a moody, traumatized heroine vacillating between love interests as the repressive society around her descends into civil war. The scene I have in mind is a rare twinkle of levity. Julianne Moore’s icy-but-kind (we hope) dictator Alma Coin has just given a speech, and her adviser Plutarch Heavensbee, played with sly, bemused understatement by Philip Seymour Hoffman, joins her on the balcony afterward to offer an unasked-for critique. Effie Trinket, Elizabeth Banks’ newly poignant diva-flibbertigibbet, stands off to the side. As Plutarch instructs the rebel president—who has been capably leading District 13 in secret for years—about “salesmanship,” Effie and Alma share a look. Listen to this guy sounding off, the look says. Plutarch is oblivious. “Of course, you don’t want to suck all the air out of the room,” Alma finally replies, in a mild voice. Titters (male and female) rippled through my showing. Mansplaining jokes have reached Hollywood blockbusters.

Nov. 25 2014 11:16 AM

The One Piece of Equipment You Need for Perfect Mashed Potatoes

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving, you’re looking at making 8 to 12 dishes for approximately as many people. This is not a situation that allows for perfectionism. Success on Thanksgiving depends on making the turkey, stuffing, and yams efficiently—because if you devote too much attention to detail, you won’t be able to serve dinner till 11 p.m. The aphorism “Perfect is the enemy of good” is never more true than on Thanksgiving.

There’s only one exception to this general rule. Not only can you make perfect mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, you can make perfect mashed potatoes more quickly than you’d be able to make mediocre mashed potatoes. All you need is one weird-looking, bulky piece of equipment: a ricer. Check out the video below for the details, then consider this recipe if you’re the mood for an extra-garlicky mash.

Nov. 25 2014 10:40 AM

How to Make Your Last Name Plural This Christmas Season

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog at

Nothing quells my Christmas cheer as quickly as a stray apostrophe. Every year they assault me.

Usually it’s in the middle of an otherwise quaint moment: I am padding around my parents’ house, wearing pink slippers, sipping on some hot chocolate. Snow is falling outside the window, and Josh Groban’s Christmas CD is filling the downstairs with peace on earth and mercy mild. My mother is baking a pie. She’s about to ask if I want to lick the spatula (which, duh, I will).

First, though, I find a stack of Christmas cards and begin to flip through them—pausing to marvel at how big so-and-so’s kids have gotten. And then I spot it: anapostrophe in a last name that isn’t supposed to be possessive.