Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Dec. 13 2017 12:17 PM

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Dominates SAG Nominations, But No Love for Globes Fave The Post

The 2018 awards season field continued to take shape Wednesday morning with the announcement of the nominees for the Screen Actors Guild Awards. It was a good day for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which scored the most nominations at four, while Lady Bird wasn’t far behind with three.

The SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast is considered a strong predictor for the Oscar Best Picture race—it’s been 22 years since a movie won the Academy Award without getting at least a nomination for the ensemble award—meaning the category is likely to include The Big Sick, Get Out, Lady Bird, Mudbound, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, though some critics are pushing back against this. (As Mark Harris points out, SAG voters and Oscar voters do not consist of the exact same pools of people.)

Dec. 13 2017 11:25 AM

The 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Include Nina Simone, Bon Jovi, and the Cars

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced its 2018 inductees:

Performer Category

Bon Jovi
The Cars
Dire Straits
The Moody Blues
Nina Simone

Award for Early Influence

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

The list was narrowed down from 19 nominees announced in October, which included Radiohead, Kate Bush, LL Cool J, and Depeche Mode. It looks like fans might look forward to a mini–Bon Jovi reunion next year, as the frontman has told Rolling Stone he’s open to performing alongside former members Richie Sambora and Alec John Such at the ceremony. (No word yet on the chances of a reunion for Dire Straits, who haven’t performed together in 25 years, or the Cars.) The ceremony will take place on April 28.

Dec. 13 2017 11:00 AM

Doug Jones Ended His Victory Speech to the Tune of “Teach Me How to Dougie”

On Tuesday night, C-SPAN2 viewers who tuned in past the end of Doug Jones’ victory speech were treated to an extra dose of the ecstatic mood in the room as his team celebrated his close win over Republican and alleged sexual assaulter Roy Moore.

Dec. 13 2017 10:31 AM

The Best Movies and TV Shows to Stream on Netflix Before They Expire in January

Every month, Netflix adds dozens of new titles to its growing collection of streaming movies and TV series. At the same time, it rotates out some of its older titles. Below, we’ve chosen the best movies to watch before they’re removed from Netflix Instant in January. (All titles expire Jan. 1 except where otherwise noted.)

Must Watch

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Pulp Fiction

Good Watch

Chicago
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Dressed to Kill
(1941)
Fantasia (Jan. 5)
Fantasia 2000
(Jan. 5)
Gremlins
The Manhattan Project
Miss Congeniality
Saw
Three Coins in the Fountain
Young Mr. Lincoln

Binge Watch

Lost: Seasons 1–6 (Jan. 4)
Sirens: Seasons 1–2 (Jan. 15)
Futurama: Seasons 7–10 (Jan. 30)

“Dun Dun” Watch

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Fifteenth Year
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Fourteenth Year
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Seventeenth Year
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Sixteenth Year

Nostalgia Watch

The Addams Family
Daddy Day Care
Grease
The Parent Trap

Family Watch

Free Willy
The Mighty Ducks
Pokémon the Movie: Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction
Pokémon the Movie: Hoopa and the Clash of Ages
Pokémon: Indigo League: Season 1
Pokémon: XY: Seasons 1–2
The Secret Garden

“Grool” Watch

Mean Girls

One and Done Watch

Requiem for a Dream

If You’re Bored

Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood
Forrest Gump
Four Brothers
I Am Sam
License to Drive
Made of Honor
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous
Mona Lisa Smile
Police Academy
Saw II
Saw III
Saw IV
Saw V
Saw VI
Saw: The Final Chapter
Someone Like You
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
The Man With One Red Shoe
The Switch
White Chicks
VHS
(Jan. 3)
The Host (Jan. 5)

Dec. 13 2017 8:50 AM

The Case for Midi-Chlorians

vulture_bug

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

In the lead-up to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we look back at the first Jedi (narratively speaking) with a series of stories about the much-beloved and never-disparaged prequel trilogy.

There is precious little that makes my experience and enjoyment of Star Wars special. I like the films everyone likes, and am ambivalent about the other ones. I thought The Force Awakens was fun, if derivative. I’ve dabbled in various spinoff-media products, but have never been anything resembling a completist. I have standard-issue opinions about the mythology’s politics (the Rebel Alliance’s multiculturalism is nice, the Jedi concept is troublingly aristocratic, Jar Jar Binks is a racist abomination, and so on). All of that said, I do have one take so hot that it’s been searing a hole in my brain for nearly 20 years. Okay, deep breath. I’m ready.

The midi-chlorians aren’t that bad.

Indeed, I’d even go so far as to say they’re fascinating, albeit not necessarily in the way they were intended to be. This stance puts me into a tiny minority. Ever since George Lucas first introduced the world to these tiny organisms in 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace, they’ve been one of the leading bugaboos for prequel skeptics. In that film, we learn about them from noble Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. Perhaps I should just let the dear, departed Qui-Gon explain them to you as he does to wee Anakin Skywalker, after the latter has learned that he possesses an abnormally high midi-chlorian count:

ANAKIN: I heard Master Yoda talking about midi-chlorians. I’ve been wondering: What are midi-chlorians?
QUI-GON: Midi-chlorians are a microscopic life-form that resides within all living cells.
ANAKIN: They live inside me?
QUI-GON: Inside your cells, yes. And we are symbionts with them.
ANAKIN: Symbionts?
QUI-GON: Life-forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you’ll hear them speaking to you.

This felt like a radical change from the conception we’d previously had of the mysterious Jedi-powering entity known as the Force. In the original trilogy, it had been described in more ethereal terms. “It is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together,” an aged Obi-Wan told Anakin’s son Luke. As Yoda put it in the movie after that one, “Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us.”

For decades, that was about it, as far as explanations of the Force went. Then, all of a sudden, per the first prequel, it seemed that Force abilities were caused by little bugs in your bloodstream. To make matters worse, Qui-Gon at one point suggests that Anakin’s mom may have been impregnated by midi-chlorians. Ersatz God had been abruptly trumped by garbage science in the eyes of dejected fanpeople.

“One word ruined Star Wars for me, and probably for a generation of fans, too,” wrote Evan Narcisse in Time, still ticked off more than a decade after the movie’s release. “That word wasn’t Jar Jar or Watto. It wasn’t a character. It was ‘midi-chlorians.’ With that one word, the mechanisms of the Force became less spiritual and more scientific. Major bummer.” Another luminary of the geek commentariat, Charlie Jane Anders, called them “a clumsy retcon that screws up an explanation we already had.” Lost and The Leftovers co-creator Damon Lindelof railed against them while describing why he didn’t want to get into the science of Lost’s island: “I feel like you have to be very careful about entering into midi-chlorian territory,” he said. “Never once did anyone ever say to me or did it occur to me to say, ‘What is the Force, exactly?’” Trawl message boards and you’ll find blunter assessments: As a user of the Ars Technica forum put it, “Star Wars - the force is a mystical energy = fantasy. Star Wars - the force is caused by mitichlorians [sic] = fuck you.”

Okay, so, first off: Yes, the Star Wars mythos would have been just fine, if not better, if it lacked the handful of bits in the prequel flicks that talk about midi-chlorians. There wasn’t anything wrong with the way the story had presented the Force previously. I’m not going to say the critters were a net positive for the franchise. Writers have struggled with them in canonical and quasi-canonical Star Wars spinoff stories ever since: There was a tale having to do with mapping the Jedi genome; an in-universe manual talked about how rock creatures without organic cells might interact with midi-chlorians; and some dude named Darth Tenebrous created things called maxi-chlorians, about which the less is said, the better. All of that could go out the window and we would, for the most part, be better for it.

But we live in a world with midi-chlorians, and it’s one where people are altogether too angry about them. That anger comes from a pair of misconceptions. For one thing, just because midi-chlorians exist doesn’t mean the compellingly airy-fairy nature of the Force goes away. Look at what Qui-Gon says: “They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force.” That in no way means midi-chlorians are the Force, just that they help connect us to it. The Force is still vaguely defined, allowing you to map whatever meaning you want onto it—it just so happens that there might be little creatures that help us become more sensitive to it, and some people have more of them than others. Ask yourself: How different is it from our other notions of the Jedi? It had already been established that they’re people who are somehow born with greater sensitivity to the Force, meaning we already accepted the idea of the Force as a birthright reserved for a chosen few, fundamentally different from the rest of us. Is it that big of a leap to say that their differences show up in biology, too?

This idea that midi-chlorians are a kind of baseline prerequisite, but not anywhere near the full explanation of the mystical nature of the Force, has recently become the canonical method of sewing them into the Star Wars legendarium with as few seams as possible. They’ve been addressed and explained most prominently in a pair of 2014 episodes of the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. In “Voices” and “Destiny,” Yoda grapples with questions about the nature of life and death, specifically as they relate to the soul. What makes up a person’s essence, and what happens to it after the body is felled?

He is visited by the disembodied voice of long-dead Qui-Gon (shockingly, Liam Neeson returned for the performance), who tells him that the Force has two components: the Living Force and the Cosmic Force. “Living beings generate the Living Force, which in turn powers the wellspring that is the Cosmic Force,” he tells the little green Jedi Master. “All energy from the Living Force, from all things that have ever lived, feeds into the Cosmic Force, binding everything and communicating to us through the midi-chlorians.” Later, Yoda travels to a planet where the midi-chlorians first emerged. Some ghosts appear before him and talk about how the midi-chlorians are what “connects the Living Force and the Cosmic Force” and that “when a living thing dies, all is removed; life passes from the Living Force into the Cosmic Force and becomes one with it.” Doesn’t that leave the Force, itself, as something sufficiently metaphysical?

Yoda’s journey in Clone Wars also brings us to the second misconception that bedevils midi-chlorian haters: the belief that the Jedi have any idea what they’re talking about. He goes on his quest because he realizes that, even after 900-odd years of existence, there’s still a wealth of information that he doesn’t grasp. The Republic-era Jedi Order is certain that there is no life after death, but Yoda discovers that there is. Who’s to say the Jedi aren’t wrong about, well, everything?

If you look at the prequels from that perspective, they become far more engaging than if you assume these self-confident men (and they are usually men) have all the answers. It’s not that big of a stretch, to be honest. Take, for example, the prophecy of the Chosen One. Qui-Gon believes that young Anakin’s destiny was foretold by ancient Jedi who predicted the advent of a person who would bring balance to the Force. The audience is supposed to have enormous respect for Qui-Gon, but Jesus, given the whole “Anakin turning into Darth Vader and committing genocide” thing, was he wrong about that. Or think about the Jedi’s participation in the Clone Wars. These supposedly wise analysts of the world became unwitting warriors in the service of the Sith Lord Palpatine, helping to throw the entire Galaxy into bloody mayhem. If they’re so smart, how’d they miss that?

Same goes for midi-chlorians, in one possible interpretation. Maybe midi-chlorians are as stupid an explanation of the Force as their real-world critics say they are. What if high midi-chlorian counts had a loose correlation to Force sensitivity, but weren’t actual causes of it, and the Jedi just misinterpreted their data? What if this was something like medieval doctors rambling on for centuries about humors and leeches—a faux-scientific delusion that was wholeheartedly embraced by a guild of people who loved to preach their own greatness to the hoi polloi? Perhaps the Jedi had thunk themselves into utter stupidity on an array of matters. Midi-chlorians were just one manifestation of their high-minded idiocy. From that point of view, the prequels are a tragedy about well-intentioned intellectuals whose myopic condescension led them onto a path of war and self-immolation.

Which leads us to my personal fan theory about these loathed microorganisms. You’ll note that Obi-Wan and Yoda don’t tell Luke—the first of the new Jedi, who presumably should have as many facts as possible if he’s going to start up the old traditions again—anything about midi-chlorians. You may think that’s because Lucas hadn’t come up with his dumb idea yet when he made the first Star Wars picture. Oddly enough, you’d be wrong. According to J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars, Lucas saw them as part of the mythos as early as 1977. “It is said that certain creatures are born with a higher awareness of the Force than humans,” the progenitor wrote in a guide on the rules of the universe. “Their brains are different; they have more midi-chlorians in their cells.” He didn’t feel there was enough time to effectively explain the organisms in the original trilogy, but he had them in the back of his mind. So how do we explain the fact that Luke’s trainers don’t mention them?

I like to think it’s because they realized in their old age that midi-chlorians aren’t worth worrying about. Yoda and Obi-Wan had decades to ponder the nature of the Force and refine their conception of it down to its essence. Maybe, in looking back on the downfall of the Jedi, they realized that hewing too closely to specific explanations of the Force was a fool’s errand, a pseudo-intellectual distraction from what’s really important: spiritual contemplation and selfless deeds. As such, they may have thought Luke had the opportunity to build a future Jedi Order that wouldn’t repeat their mistakes. Like their decision to hide Leia’s familial relationship to him, they felt that Luke was better off without certain tidbits—and, unlike their dissembling about his sister, this was a worthwhile sin of omission. A condescending one, yes, but hey, old Jedi habits die hard.

In making that choice, we can see Obi-Wan and Yoda doing what we all have to do with Star Wars: choose what works and ignore the rest of it. To say midi-chlorians ruined the franchise for you is to avoid the fact that you have to turn a blind eye to a ton of Star Wars stuff in order to enjoy the good parts. Even in the original trilogy, the writing and acting is often stilted and wooden. There are way too many coincidences and plot holes to make for a sensical plot. The heroes are, arguably, uncompromising terrorists. And so on and so on. But none of that really matters. As is true of the midi-chlorians, you either forget that those problems exist, or you engage with them in a constructive way. This is how one teaches a Jedi—or enjoys flawed fiction. Even in a Galaxy far, far away, it’s OK if your fave is problematic.

Dec. 13 2017 8:45 AM

All the President’s Men Took Katharine Graham Out of the Washington Post’s History. The Post Puts Her Back In.

All the President’s Men is famous for its accuracy. Whenever possible, director Alan J. Pakula shot the story of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s Watergate investigation on the locations where the real-life story took place, and when the Washington Post’s newsroom wasn't available, the production built a meticulous recreation, even importing trash from the Post’s wastebaskets to fill their own.

The Post’s publisher, however, wasn’t accorded the same respect as its garbage. For all that it gets right, All the President’s Men steps flagrantly wrong in its treatment—and, frankly, its erasure—of Katharine Graham. But she’s the central figure, played by Meryl Streep, in Steven Spielberg’s new drama The Post: a lesser film, to be sure, but one that does a great to deal to correct the popular perception of this important woman.

Graham was the daughter of Eugene Meyer, who bought the bankrupt Post in 1933 and restored its finances and reputation. Thirteen years later, Meyer retired and handed the reins to Katharine’s husband, Philip Graham, who battled alcoholism and depression even though the paper continued to thrive. When he ended his own life in 1963, Katharine took over, overseeing not only the paper’s turn to profitability but its ascension from local publication to national investigative force—first via their publication of portions of the Pentagon Papers and then by breaking the story of the Watergate burglary and its cover-up.

And yet, Graham is barely represented in the film version of All the President’s Men. She’s never seen, and mentioned only once, in a scene in which Bernstein calls Attorney General John Mitchell for comment, and his furious response includes the growled warning, “Katie Graham’s going to get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.” In the next scene, Bradlee decrees that the quote will run, but without the words “her tit,” because “this is a family newspaper.” That, according to the film, is the extent of Graham’s participation in the Watergate investigation.

All the President’s Men was bound to its source material, and Woodward and Bernstein’s book mentions Graham a mere nine times—10 if you count the acknowledgements. But in fact, she was the first person the Post’s managing editor, Howard Simons, called on the morning of June 17, 1972, acting on a tip from Joe Califano (lawyer for both the Post and the Democratic National Committee). He spoke to Graham and not Bradlee that morning—the executive editor, according to Graham’s autobiography, Personal History, “was at his cabin in West Virginia, with a phone that didn’t work”—before calling metropolitan editor Harry Rosenfeld, who called city news editor Barry Sussman, who assigned the story.

From there, Graham writes, it went to Bob Woodward and eventually Carl Bernstein, whose "extraordinary investigative and reporting efforts" she duly credits. But she also adds, carefully, “the cast of characters at the Post who contributed to the story from its inception was considerable.” Graham does not detail her own day-to-day involvement in the story, but in his own book A Good Life, Bradlee does. “Katharine’s support was born during the labor pains that produced the Pentagon Papers,” he writes. “She was coming down before she left almost every night, and generally once or twice more every day. What did ‘we’ have for tomorrow, and what were ‘the boys’ working on for the next day or two?”

He notes, of the ultimate triumph of the story, “We had been supported by the publisher every step of the way, and she had withstood enormous pressures to stand by our side. Pressures from her friends as well as her enemies.” That dramatic element—the stern warnings she received from friends and acquaintances in her Beltway social circle like Nixon’s Secretary of Commerce Peter Peterson, Henry Kissinger, and even John Ehrlichman—is entirely absent from All the President’s Men, as are the public, personal attacks from Republican attack dogs like Senator Bob Dole. (“Oh, you know,” he later told her, “during a campaign they put these things in your hands, and you just read them.”)

The simplest rejoinder to these complaints is that Graham, as an executive, fell outside the purview of the on-the-ground reporting that was the focus of Woodward and Bernstein’s book and its film adaptation. By her own admission, within the time frame covered by the film (its Teletyped postscripts aside, it concludes with Nixon’s second inauguration, in January of 1973), she had “hardly any contact with the reporters.” But even her minimal interactions had juice; in their book, Woodward and Bernstein conclude, of the “big fat wringer” story, “At the Post the next morning, Mrs. Graham asked Bernstein if he had any more messages for her”—a grace note that’s repeated in both Bradlee’s and Graham’s books but not in the movie.

What The Post ultimately dramatizes, and ATPM skips, was the public validation of the paper’s key figure. After the Watergate dam broke, Bradlee writes, “Katharine Graham, God bless her ballsy soul, was going to have the last laugh on all those establishment publishers and owners who had been so condescending to her, and all those Wall Street types turned statesmen who warned her every day that we were going too far.” That conflict gives The Post much of its soul and its substance. It details this powerful woman’s struggle to claim her place among men who don’t even have the courtesy to lower their voices when issuing slags like “Katie throws a great party, but her father gave the paper to her husband"—and eventually her triumph in her field.

The Post has its own accuracy issues—most notably, it overstates Graham’s initial naïveté at the service of her dramatic arc—and a few of its moments of empowerment, like the gaggle of young women gazing upon her visage as she descends the Supreme Court steps, are more than a little corny. But it takes pains to set the record straight about Graham in particular and the place of women in journalism in general, in sharp contrast to ATPM, in which the only women in the newsroom are secretaries and reporters who are only able to help our heroes via their personal/sexual interactions, rather than their investigative acumen.

The Post ends with an homage to ATPM that is the newspaper-movie equivalent of a Marvel post-credits crossover scene. But the dialogue between the films surpasses just explicit echoes. In Bradlee’s book, in the midst of his Watergate chapter, he goes off on a long tangent about Duke Ziebert’s, “an extremely exclusive and sexist club” where he frequently dined with attorney Edward Bennet Williams and columnist Art Buchwald; “Kay would eat with us from time to time,” he writes, but they childishly teased and withdrew the possibility of Graham becoming a member. When she wasn’t there, they would entertain themselves thus: “From time to time during our meals—liberated as we all were—we would play quick games of ‘Wouldya’ as persons of the female persuasion crossed our fields of vision.”

That was the atmosphere in which Katharine Graham was operating, a boys’ club, in which women were either objects of aesthetic gratification or invisible. And perhaps from this distance, that’s the best lens through which to view All the President’s Men: as a contemporaneous example of exactly the kind of casual sexism that Graham battles in The Post and, frankly, battled throughout her life.

Dec. 13 2017 8:28 AM

The Honest Trailer for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi  Dares to Defend the Ewoks

 

Ahead of the release of The Last Jedi, revisit the third leg of the original Star Warstrilogy with the new Honest Trailer for Return of the Jedi. Be warned, though, that there are some harsh criticisms ahead as Screen Junkies poke fun at the 1983 film's childish antics and comparatively low stakes, which all add up to “a finale that’s almost silly enough to make you question why your identity is so tied to a soap opera about space wizards.”

 

That said, the Honest Trailer clearly has a lot of affection for Return of the Jedi, even going so far as to defend the cuddly Ewoks, which have long been a point of contention among fans. Haters might complain that the little bearlike creatures were only there to sell toys and were no match for the Empire in battle, but the trailer has an answer for that, too. “There’s no way the mighty Empire would struggle against a smaller, poorly armed force,” the trailer’s narrator explains sarcastically. “What do you think this is, Vietnam? Afghanistan? Little Bighorn? The American Revolution? The Maori? Ethiopia? Afghanistan … again?”

Dec. 13 2017 2:01 AM

Now That Roy Moore Has Lost, Laugh Along With Jimmy Kimmel at His Dumb Spokespeople

There hasn’t been much opportunity to kick back and laugh at the mind-bogglingly stupid things Donald Trump and the Republican Party have been doing lately, at least not without feeling simultaneously demoralized by the fact that these boneheads are in power. Tonight was an exception. Doug Jones won his Alabama senate race, defeating Roy Moore, who was comically loathsome even before the allegations that he preyed on teens surfaced. Not electing a child molester isn’t a high bar for a nation to clear, but by God we cleared it.

Which means that we can all snicker at Moore’s clown car of a campaign without the sickening feeling that he’s going to get elected anyway! Jimmy Kimmel didn’t know that his jokes would be guilt-free when he taped his segment about Moore tonight, but he’d already made up his mind about the race, as he explained:

Anyway, I don’t know the results yet, the polls just closed. But I do know that Roy Moore—Roy Moore shouldn’t even be in the race. And I’m not talking about the Senate race, I mean the human race is what he should not be in.

We can’t do anything about Moore’s place in the human race, but it turns out he’s not going to Washington. So please enjoy Kimmel’s retrospective of the Moore campaign’s greatest hits: Kayla Moore confessing that “one of our attorneys is a Jew,” Roy Moore saying his wife had “closer contact with kids than I do,” Moore’s Vietnam buddy defending him by telling a story about their trip to a child brothel, and, most of all, Moore campaign spokesperson Ted Crockett rendered completely speechless by the news that you don’t have to use a Christian bible to be sworn into office. Wait a minute: Those aren’t the Moore campaign’s greatest hits. Everything Kimmel is talking about happened in the last day or so. Imagine the kind of stunts Moore would have pulled with a few years in the Senate! Now that he’s lost—even if he hasn’t conceded—Roy Moore and his supporters have moved from “genuine threat” to “guy stepping on a bunch of rakes,” so watching Kimmel make fun of him is an unalloyed delight. Good riddance.

Dec. 12 2017 4:29 PM

Jada Pinkett Smith Goes Off on the Golden Globes for Failing to Nominate Tiffany Haddish

The Golden Globe nominations were announced on Monday, and among the biggest head-scratchers from the list was the absence of movies and performances like The Big Sick and Tiffany Haddish’s standout role in Girls’ Trip, and nominations for directing for Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird). Perhaps(?) coincidentally, those critically acclaimed crowd-pleasers all prominently involved women and/or people of color, as many have noted. After vaguely expressing her own disappointment yesterday, Jada Pinkett Smith, one of Haddish’s co-stars, revisited the subject in more depth on Twitter today.

Dec. 12 2017 4:05 PM

This Faux-Swedish Pop Song About Penises Was the Best Part of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Midseason Finale

What did we do to deserve Donna Lynne Champlin? She’s a Broadway-caliber performer, an unbelievable singer, and, as Paula on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the ideal ride-or-die best friend. Paula has long outgrown her role on the show as Rebecca’s sidekick—last season saw her decide to have an abortion, start law school, and fix her crumbling marriage—but she’s still the most reliable person in Rebecca’s life, which this season has meant helping Rebecca through her breakdown and the first steps of her recovery. Now that it’s underway, though, the show has found more time to devote to Paula’s own arc.

Paula returned to her hometown of Buffalo on this week’s episode to take care of her father (Eddie Pepitone), a man we’ve only heard about through terrible anecdotes. (“You’re a breeder, not a leader,” was one of his mantras for his daughter when she was growing up.) Sure enough, Paula hasn’t been home more than five minutes before he starts to insult her and make racist remarks, so she escapes to the supermarket to get more supplies. There, Paula sees her high school sweetheart, and we get a fun recreation of the scene from Season 1 where Rebecca runs into her beloved Josh at the supermarket: There’s a puff of smoke as this stranger opens the freezer door, a curious employee with an afro looks on, and Paula uses Rebecca’s preferred phrase to describe the encounter, “like glitter is exploding inside me.”

Paula’s “Josh Chan” is even named Jeff Channington, with the result that the episode, “Getting Over Jeff,” has the distinction of being the first Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episode ever without Josh’s name in the title. After all that build up, when Paula bursts into song at the sight of this long-lost crush, you’d expect something romantic, right? Well …

It’s an ABBA parody about penises! Or at least, one very special penis in particular. The “Mamma Mia” imitator, “First Penis I Saw,” is so marvelous and unexpected that it’s hard to know where to start doling out the praise. Kathryn Burns’ jaunty choreography is a gift. Props to the props department for making it look like every cereal box and bottle of laundry detergent in the entire store says “Jeff!” (And of course, for the very suggestive vegetables, complete with the sign that says “Suggestive Vegetables” overhead.) The writers, of course, deserve hearty congratulations, too—it’s almost as though they were sitting around the table trying to see who could come up with the most surprising penis rhyme: seen his, mean is, cleanest, greenest, keenness, ingenious.

And Donna Lynne Champlin. Oh, Donna Lynne Champlin. “First Penis I Saw” is one of the best songs of the season, but it’s also one of the best the actress has ever delivered on the show, right up there with “After Everything I’ve Done for You (That You Didn’t Ask For)” and “Maybe This Dream.” Every single one of her facial expressions is just waiting to be gif-ed.

After the giddy highs of hearing someone say penis so many times in a row on network television, the episode’s other song, “My Friend’s Dad,” is a comedown. While Paula is off having her own adventures, Rebecca, who has tagged along on this excursion, gets to know Paula’s father better and finds she’s unbothered by his drunkenness, bigotry, or general grossness, because, hey, he’s not her dad. This leads to a Shirley Temple-style tap number:

This song is a bit of a bummer! It doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know about Rebecca or Bob, and I don’t think the relationship being described here, “girl and girl’s friend’s elderly, racist father,” is universal enough to warrant a musical number otherwise. I guess we’re supposed to be shocked by the combination of the wholesome genre and grossness of the subject matter, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has already done that this season much more successfully, with “Maybe She’s Not Such a Heinous Bitch After All.” All in all, not a strong note to go out on for the midseason finale.

Oh, well. At least we’ll always have the penis song.

Best Song of the Week: “First Penis I Saw” blows “My Friend’s Dad” out of the water.

See also:

READ MORE STORIES