Slate's Culture Blog

Aug. 22 2014 9:02 AM

The One Video Music Award Worth Caring About

It’s probably safe to say that no one cares about the awards that are actually handed out at the VMAs as much as Kanye West does—and certainly few of us outside the pop music industry care at all. Like the BET Awards, the VMAs are an excuse to corral the biggest pop stars of the moment inside one room and watch them provide career-defining performances and crazy, unexpected moments. The awards themselves are an after-thought. Do you remember who won the purported biggest award of the night, Video of the Year, 20 years ago? Do you care? (Aerosmith, for “Cryin’,” if you’re curious.)

But on Sunday, Beyoncé will join an exclusive club that includes David Byrne, Madonna, and Guns N’ Roses when she’s awarded the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award—the one VMA worth caring about.

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Aug. 21 2014 10:43 PM

Welcome to Sweden vs. Real-Life Sweden: Amy Poehler and Aubrey Plaza Edition

Welcome to Sweden is NBC’s summer sitcom starring Greg Poehler (Amy’s brother) as a Midwestern accountant named Bruce who moves to Sweden to be with his girlfriend Emma (Josephine Bornebusch). My wife, who was born and raised in Sweden, and I thought it would be fun to watch the show and see how well it matched our own cultural experiences.

Thursday’s first episode starred Patrick Duffy as Bruce’s conservative father and Illeana Douglas as Duffy’s taken-for-granted wife. “Did you see who it was, Jer? Bobby. Bobby from Dallas,” Kristine noted when he came on screen. “He doesn’t look much older than in Step by Step.” Kristine then started singing the theme song from Duffy’s ’90s sitcom. “Step by step, day by day— remember, there was a roller coaster at end?” Apparently they had TGIF sitcoms in Sweden.

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The premise of this episode is that Duffy is an uncouth American who can’t stop saying obnoxious things about Europeans. But the show missed an opportunity when Bruce and his parents walked past a famous Stockholm photography museum: It would have given Duffy a ton of fodder to criticize had they gone in. When Kristine and I visited with my brother-in-law and our then 2-year-old niece, they were hosting a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit. I had never seen so many mothers and small toddlers in a room full of phallocentric photographs in my life. Patrick Duffy would not have approved. 

Duffy makes a sexist comment about his wife, and Kristine does not take kindly to it. Then he jokes that Swedish women are “easy.” “Oh my God I’m gonna murder Bobby Ewing,” Kristine says. “Do you know how we’ve suffered from that reputation. Try to live in France with that reputation. Try to vacation in Spain with that reputation.” Soon after that, Duffy shushes Illeana Douglas and his fate is sealed.

Later, Emma’s father explains to Duffy the Swedish concept of “allemansrätten.” It’s basically a Swedish property law that gives people the right to roam in nature even when trespassing. “I don’t think people can come walking into your garden, but basically that’s the idea,” Kristine tells me. Duffy jokes about shooting trespassers, which Kristine considers another heavy-handed stereotype about Americans.

At the dinner table, he becomes even more of a cliché, trashing cohabitation as a sin against God. The Swedish family tries to explain that the practice—they even have a special word for it, “sambo”—is perfectly normal. Kristine and I are married, but she defends sambo. If you have a wedding, she notes, “You have to pay for an expensive venue, invite all your friends and have your family fight over where to have it,” she says. Sambo apparently is the way to go.

The episode’s final gag involves Bobby Ewing thinking that all the Swedish men are gay because they’re stylish. Bruce and Bobby Ewing walk into a gay bar, because they can’t tell it from a regular European bar. The punchline: Duffy loves the place. It’s a cheap gag, but it reminds me of the first time Kristine was in Washington, D.C., and she said that everybody walking around in Dupont Circle, historically D.C.’s gay neighborhood, looked European. That stereotype will become a running gag in the show and I’m still not sure if it’s homophobic, accurate, or both. (We should probably “Ask a Homo.”)

Thursday’s second episode guest-stars Greg Poehler’s real-life sister Amy as a version of herself who is an abusive jerk that needs Bruce to get her out of a jam with the IRS. “Celebrities love to play themselves as evil,” Kristine points out.

The episode opens with Bruce eating a disgusting looking breakfast of blood pudding and tube caviar on a Swedish cracker. Kristine asks, “Is he putting caviar on his knäckebröd? Also, is he putting the blood pudding and caviar together?” I can’t tell the difference between the disgusting things you’re supposed to eat and the disgusting things you’re not supposed to eat, but in the show Emma asks the exact same question. “That’s frozen pig blood. No wonder he’s miserable,” Kristine says. “I wouldn’t even eat that. It’s literally the most disgusting thing ever.”

Kristine didn’t used to feel this way about refried pig blood. When she was a kid, she loved it, until her brother told her what it was. “When you don’t know what it is and you eat it fried with Lingonberry jam it’s not that bad,” she says. “You can eat it cold, too. It comes wrapped in plastic. Just heat it up, eat it. Nom.” Kristine is now a vegetarian.

Emma mistakes Bruce’s attempts to immerse himself in Swedish culture—by say, eating a disgusting breakfast sandwich—as a sign that he’s depressed. (Kristine also thinks he’s starting to dress like a Swede, but I can’t really tell.) So Emma’s mother tries to psychoanalyze him. “I bet my parents are watching and they’re trying to find similarities with you,” Kristine says.

Aubrey Plaza also guest-stars on this episode as Bruce’s ex-girlfriend, and she plays an even bigger jerk than Amy Poehler. She stalks Bruce, makes fun of all the Stockholm activities he takes her to, and litters, which is the thing that stands out to Kristine. “She’s throwing trash into nature?” Kristine says. “That’s just rude.” Kristine thinks it’s a Swedish cliché about American disdain for the environment, and at this point she takes offense on behalf of her adopted country. “Just because Bush refused to sign the Kyoto protocol? That’s offensive.”

Aug. 21 2014 8:39 PM

The Only Restaurant Commercial That Can Accurately Be Described as Epic

“Do you ever wonder what your ancestors during the early ages or medieval era ate for lunch?” If the answer to that question is yes, you will want to watch this commercial for newly opened Staten Island restaurant Troy, flagged by Eater. Director Edward Izro did not shy away from bold cinematic gestures for the ad, in which a heavily accented man in a white suit takes viewers through all of human culinary history in just 69 seconds.

It’s difficult to choose the best part of the commercial: The baroque harpsichord soundtrack? The anthropomorphic bowl of raw meat? The random eruption of flames that bursts into his face? If any of these features pique your interest in this dining location, rest assured that Troy Restaurant is a real place. In an interview with Gawker, the owner explained, “It’s European style, what can I tell you.”Gawker also asked the director, Eduard Izro, if the humor in the ad was intentional. He told them:

Aug. 21 2014 6:05 PM

10 Tips for Enjoying the 552-Episode Simpsons Marathon

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Starting today at 10 a.m. ET, FXX is going to play every single Simpsons episode back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. It's an impressive undertaking on the network's part that is also utterly overwhelming for any viewer. We're talking over 550 episodes and a movie. It lasts 12 days! There's no way to watch everything, and you shouldn’t try, but that doesn’t mean you can't enjoy it. Here are 10 very helpful tips that will allow you to make the most out of the marathon. (Note: Every time we instruct you to “watch” a particular episode, feel free to replace “watch” with “DVR.” We know you have jobs and/or children and/or responsibilities.) Happy watching!

Aug. 21 2014 3:14 PM

Run the Jewels Return With Even More Intensity in New Song

When hip-hop heavyweights El-P and Killer Mike joined forces last year as rap duo Run the Jewels, they not only birthed one of the best pairings in hip-hop, but put out what we named one of the top 10 albums of 2013. So far this year, the two have been busy touring and tweeting (they’re both worth a follow), and, most recently, Killer Mike has been in the news for his thoughts on Ferguson. They’re also set to bless 2014 with another free album, Run the Jewels 2, on Oct. 28, and its first single, released today, turns up the heat.

Aug. 21 2014 1:34 PM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Tomato Soup

The glowing scarlet tomato soup of my youth served mainly as a dipping sauce for grilled cheese, and that’s the way it should be. The Campbell’s variety, paired with white bread and American cheese, was my introduction to comfort food. It was also the first meal I learned how to “cook” myself, speckling my mother’s kitchen with red splotches and burnt breadcrumbs. It was and always will be a perfect childhood meal.

Glad we got that out of the way. Any adult who has recently reached for a can opener to make tomato soup can attest to the inevitable disappointment that results. The tinny puree slides out of the can and doesn’t improve no matter how long you let it bubble on the stove. It has the mouthfeel of tomato-juice concentrate, dull and processed beyond recognition. When I prepared a can I found tucked into my family’s pantry one recent holiday, I felt betrayed—never have warm, comforting memories conspired so cruelly to mislead me. The soup tasted like diluted runoff liquid from chopped tomatoes, and we won’t speak of the smell.   

Aug. 21 2014 12:58 PM

Hear Lauryn Hill’s Painfully Prescient Song for Ferguson

The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri that has followed the shooting death of Michael Brown is now well into its second week, with seemingly no end in sight, and several prominent figures in hip-hop are beginning to speak up (after BuzzFeed criticized those in the genre for not doing enough). Last weekend, J. Cole visited Ferguson after releasing a powerful tribute song to Brown, “Be Free.” Run the Jewels’ Killer Mike offered some insight on the situation in an op-ed for Billboard and in an interview on CNN. T.I., too, released a sobering new song about violence in America. Now, rap icon Lauryn Hill has lent her voice to the mix by releasing a “sketch” recording of a song called “Black Rage.”

Aug. 21 2014 11:10 AM

The 10 Simpsons Episodes You Need to DVR

FXX’s #EverySimpsonsEver marathon has begun, and you are probably at work. But don’t worry: The earliest episodes are not as good as the show would later become. The real trouble for fans who want to relive the show’s glory days begins Friday night, when some of the finest installments of the series start to air at ungodly hours. What to do?

Sleep like a normal person and DVR these 10 episodes, each of which will air between 2 and 5 a.m. Eastern time. If there’s one you personally can’t miss airing a little earlier or a little later in the day, arrange your schedule accordingly. But these hard-to-catch episodes should not be missed—especially since, as we noted previously, FXX will be airing their full, original versions, before switching to the syndication cuts post-marathon.

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For arguing (and other) purposes, the full schedule of the marathon can be found here.

“Stark Raving Dad,” airing Aug. 22, 3:30 a.m.
Michael Jackson’s guest spot is the most fascinating celebrity cameo in the history of the show: Credited as John Jay Smith for contractual reasons, he plays a mentally disturbed man named Leon Kompowsky who believes he’s Michael Jackson—but Jackson only provided Kompowsky’s speaking voice; his singing was done by Kip Lennon. (Supposedly Jackson intended this as a joke on his brothers, somehow.)

“When Flanders Failed,” airing Aug. 22, 4:30 a.m.
The story of Flanders’ Leftorium, with a fun B plot about Bart’s karate lessons and “The Touch of Death,” is not quite as strong as some of the later episodes on this list, but it’s a good early Flanders episode—and a lovely example of the emotional sweetness of the first few years of The Simpsons.

“Krusty Gets Kancelled,” airing Aug. 23, 2:00 a.m.
On Saturday night, FXX will be airing the strongest stretch in the history of the show, and one approach would be simply to stay up all night on Saturday. Either that or make sure there’s plenty of room on your DVR for the next several episodes on this list, starting with this celebrity-crammed Krusty episode.

“Cape Feare,” Aug. 23, 3:00 a.m.
Possibly the single best Sideshow Bob episode, with some of Kelsey Grammer’s finest voice work and classic, rake-based slapstick.

“Homer Goes to College,” Aug. 23, 3:30 a.m.
“I am so smart! S-M-R-T … I mean, S-M-A-R-T!” Sing that tune to yourself as you set your DVR to record this Animal House homage, the last episode with a script credited solely to Conan O’Brien.

“Rosebud,” Aug. 23, 4:00 a.m.
How many people under the age of 40 were introduced to Citizen Kane by The Simpsons? The tale of Bobo the stuffed bear complicates the villainy of Mr. Burns while paying worthy tribute to Orson Welles’ masterpiece. Plus: the Ramones.

“Treehouse of Horror IV,” Aug. 23, 4:30 a.m.
Best Halloween episode? A strong case can be made. “The Devil and Homer Simpson” segment is particularly good, but “Terror at 5 ½ Feet” and “Bart Simpson’s Dracula” are also terrific.

“Bart Sells His Soul,” Aug. 24, 3:30 a.m.
Best Simpsons episode period? Probably. And it includes what has been rightly recognized as Bart’s best line: “I am familiar with the works of Pablo Neruda.”

“Lisa the Vegetarian,” Aug. 24, 4:00 a.m.
Second-best Simpsons episode? Quite possibly. And one of Lisa’s finest half-hours, with excellent Apu airtime and a great guest spot by Paul McCartney.

“The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson,” Aug. 25, 3:00 a.m.
A fine episode in its own right, made moderately mythical after it was pulled from syndication following the Sept. 11 attacks. Watch the (full!) episode again, revel in the jokes, and reclaim this one from the conspiracy-minded lunatics.

Aug. 20 2014 8:14 PM

Watch Nick Offerman Read Some of Reddit’s Funniest Shower Thoughts

It’s hard to tell where Nick Offerman ends and Ron Swanson begins, but it’s inarguable that both the comedian and his Parks and Recreation alter-ego have a knack for kooky aphorism. That ability has been put to excellent use in a new Mashable video, which has Offerman read some of Reddit’s shower thoughts in all his gruff, manly, deadpan glory.

Aug. 20 2014 5:45 PM

Woo Hoo! The Simpsons Marathon Will Air Scenes That Were Cut in Syndication.

As Simpsons superfans know, Simpsons reruns that you can watch at various hours of the day and night in TV markets around the country are, in most cases, not the full, original episodes: They are typically shortened for syndication. The fan-run Simpsons Archive even maintains a guide to all the scenes that have been cut in syndication for episodes from Seasons 1 through 20.

As the Archive explains in its handy FAQ, episodes are shortened so that the stations airing the reruns can squeeze in more commercials.

But to the delight, presumably, of Simpsons fans everywhere, the much-ballyhooed FXX marathon of#EverySimpsonsEver will air the original, uncut versions of the episodes.

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