Life Is Sci-Fi Skepticism For an Era Whose Problems Science Can’t Solve
Outer space is humankind’s most tantalizing unknown, too vast to comprehend, but just beyond our reach. Since Georges Méliès took A Trip to the Moon in 1902, the void of space has called to filmmakers, but where some look up at the stars and wonder, others shudder in fear.
Life does the latter. With its vaguely solemn title and a cast that includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Life aims for some type of grand, profound statement about humanity’s adventurous spirit. Credit goes to the marketing team for a clever bait-and-switch. Life is a B movie with A-list stars, following more closely in the footsteps of Val Kilmer’s hokey 2000 Red Planet—or, if we’re being generous, Alien—than the sunnier space movies of recent years. Life has virtually no plot or characterization, and it’s short on scientific rigor. What it does have is a badass monster who keeps its characters and its audience terrified for 90 minutes straight.
The alien life form they capture is a single-celled organism, but in the ship’s oxygen-rich environment, it grows rapidly, evolving from a cute little blob to a stingray with the world’s ugliest face in a matter of minutes. Once it escapes the lab, it easily navigates the ship’s nooks and crannies, always staying one step ahead of the poor humans destined to become its food. As in the monster movies before it, the humans get picked off one by one in increasingly gruesome ways—the alien crawls inside one character’s mouth and destroys him from the inside—ultimately leaving a pair of them to make a difficult but predictable choice between self-sacrifice and self-preservation.
Although Life was, like most movies, conceived and made over a period of years, it has arrived right on time, reflecting the country’s rising anxieties and the panic over the state of our world. The unending, nightmarish terror, in which one disaster is averted only to find the alien creating another one down the hall, feels like the perfect representation of the U.S.’ current political predicament. Is the alien cleverly distracting our endangered heroes, or is it simply acting on instinct? Is it playing chess or checkers? Those of us frantically following the high-stakes battles in Washington may have found a film that mirrors our panicked sensibility. It’s not an adventure; it’s a horror show.
On film, science is often portrayed as human civilization’s greatest achievement, but in Life it amounts to hubristic overreach. The astronauts’ mission is to experiment on this new life form and learn from it, working in low Earth orbit so as not to risk bringing such an unknown entity back with them. “Its curiosity outweighs its fear,” says one scientist, misreading the then-tiny organism’s outstretched arm, but the same could be said of the humans. They’re so eager to learn about the universe that they ultimately risk bringing about their own obsolescence.
Science fiction has been on a roll in recent years, with The Martian and Arrival earning multiple Oscar nominations and Interstellar tipped for one before audiences became bitterly divided over its bold but often frustrating vision. Although these films deserve credit for their artistry, they also came burdened with self-importance. Isn’t science fiction supposed to be fun? They revel in the practicalities of space travel, pleasing science geeks all over the world and impressing the value of science education onto a rapt audience, but as the genre leans into its respectability, it risks losing the playful, subversive edge that defined it for decades.
This self-serious sci-fi almost felt like it was doing the work of the previous presidential administration. Obama was a science booster, even appearing on the cover of Popular Science in his last month in office. While he made only perfunctory overtures toward expanding space exploration, his entire candidacy, and at least the first couple years of his actual presidency, were centered on instilling faith in our ability to solve our biggest global problems through science. 2008’s Wall-E may have started this recent trend, but films from Gravity to the new Star Trek movies trade on ultimately optimistic visions of the future.
In film at least, this idealism has started to feel perfunctory. Every fall, a sci-fi film comes out with an Oscar pedigree and a pro-science message. That makes Life a refreshing change. Here is a sci-fi movie more interested in fiction than science, one that revels in the cinematic possibilities of space exploration rather than its serious, real-world implications, one that doesn’t comfort its audience with wish-fulfilling tales of human ingenuity. Movies like The Martian, Interstellar, and Arrival argue that the sciences can save the world. Forgive my pessimism, but right now, that particular notion doesn’t ring true. Life, with its sheer terror and its critical view of human naiveté, is the movie of our moment.
The 7 Strategies for Defending Your Problematic TV Show or Movie—and Why They Don’t Work
Marvel’s Iron Fist premiered on Netflix last week, finally introducing the last member of the quartet who will make up the core cast of The Defenders debuts later this year. But the show’s arrival was overshadowed by controversy over casting English actor Finn Jones, whose Danny Rand is a superhero whose powers hinge on mastering kung fu and Asian mysticism—even after a passionate campaign for Netflix to cast an Asian-American actor instead.
This is hardly the first time racially insensitive casting has dominated the conversation about a television show or movie’s debut—the upcomingThe Ghost in the Shell, an adaptation of the manga series by Masamune Shirow, has already been similarly lambasted for casting Scarlett Johansson as a character Japanese in both name and appearance. But what makes the saga of the Iron Fist controversy notable is the wide variety of excuses and explanations that Jones offered up in interviews to defend his casting, rather than just sticking to one. And while a publicist really should have intervened long before Jones got around to blaming the election for Iron Fist’s poor reception, the ordeal proved that stars are still strangely unprepared to have serious conversations about casting controversies, even when, in 2017, they should come to expect them as inevitable.
If Jones had been adequately prepared, for instance, he would already have known that none of his excuses was going to be effective, because, for the most part, we’ve already heard them before. And yet Jones isn’t an exception: Actors, directors, and studios keep dredging up these same failed talking points every time this happens, in spite of the fact that they almost always fan the flames instead of dousing the fire.
So, let’s say that you, like Jones, are an actor or filmmaker or studio head whose project has been called out as problematic. Maybe the complaints are perfectly justified. Maybe they’ve been blown out of proportion. Regardless, you now find yourself in the undesirable position of having to defend your casting/screenplay/direction to reporters and fans. Here are some of the tactics you’ll almost certainly turn to while trying justify your involvement—and more importantly, why they don’t convince anyone.
1. Blaming the Industry
The argument: It’s unfair for critics to call out your TV show/movie in particular for not casting actors of color, because lack of representation is an industry-wide problem. Besides, you really did want to hire an Asian or Middle Eastern or Native American actor, but the studio said you had to cast a big Hollywood star, and that means putting a Christian Bale or an Emma Stone in the lead.
Where we’ve heard it before:
- Ridley Scott justifying hiring white actors in Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings (“I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such.”)
- Producer Dana Brunetti on whitewashing the real-life protagonists of 21 because no “bankable” Asian-American actors were available
- Matt Damon defending his casting in The Great Wall from accusations he was playing a“white savior”: “I think there are two different conversations. There’s this movie and then there’s the much larger conversation [about diversity in Hollywood], which is a really important one.”
Why it isn’t convincing: It’s undeniably true that there is a widespread diversity problem in Hollywood, but expanding the conversation to the industry as a whole makes it look like you’re trying to wiggle out of any responsibility for your own part in said problem. The “bankability” excuse is a self-defeating one: Studios won’t risk casting Asian actors because they aren’t blockbuster movie stars, but Asian actors can’t become blockbuster movie stars because studios won’t risk casting them.
What’s more, as Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu has pointed out, a big-name movie star is no guarantee of success, making it a poor excuse for not “risking” casting a lesser-known actor of color: “Why not try to be better?” she wrote in a post responding to Damon’s casting in The Great Wall. If white actors are forgiven for having a box-office failure once in a while, why can’t a POC have one?” And diverse casts did not prevent—and quite arguably added to—the success of The Force Awakens or Creed or the Fast and the Furious franchise.
2. Misunderstanding the Criticism
The argument: You are baffled by the outrage your movie has received, because, for whatever reason, you have fundamentally misinterpeted the cause of that outrage.
Where we’ve heard it before:
- Matt Damon took umbrage with the term “whitewashing” being used in connection to his role in The Great Wall, telling AP that he thinks of as Caucasian actors putting on makeup to appear to be of another race, like Chuck Connors in Geronimo. “I didn’t take a role away from a Chinese actor,” offered Damon. “It wasn’t altered because of me in any way.”
- In his apology for the controversy surrounding Aloha, Cameron Crowe focused solely on the casting of Emma Stone, who is white, as Allison Ng, a mixed-race woman who is white, Hawaiian, and Chinese. “The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local,” he wrote.
Why it isn’t convincing: If you don’t understand the issues at stake, then of course you won’t be able to adequately defend yourself against them. The criticism surrounding The Great Wall’s marketing campaign was never that Matt Damon was pretending to be Asian—that would be “yellowface.” Critics were responding to the insulting notion that a fundamentally Chinese story had to be centered around a white man for people to care about it (something which we’ve seen again and again). In the case of Aloha, Stone’s casting was just one part of a much larger problem, namely that the film seemed to be using Hawaii only for its exotic backdrop, while populating it almost entirely with white characters (something else we’ve seen again and again). It’s always a good idea to be fully informed before responding to criticism.
3. “Who Cares?”
The argument: All right, so your project, despite heavily incorporating Asian imagery or themes, has a white protagonist, and maybe that isn’t great. But here the thing: Your movie is just that: A movie. What’s more, it’s a fantasy. Or science fiction. Or a superhero story. The point is, it’s not supposed to be 100% historically accurate. It seems ridiculous for people to be getting all worked up over who gets cast in a movie while there are children starving in Africa.
Where we’ve heard it before:
- Jake Gyllenhaal on being cast as the titular Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time instead of a Middle Eastern actor: “To me, it’s not something I gave a lot of thought because all of it such a fantasy. It’s based on a video game, not something out of history. There’s nothing real about this. It’s just an adventure and it’s fun and it’s strange in a way to hold one part of it and say, ‘That’s not real or right.’”
- Finn Jones in Vulture: “C’mon, let’s get angry at the real fucking injustices in the world, yeah? The real problems in the world. Not just in television. There’s some real shit happening in the world right now that people need to get angry about. Let’s get angry about that. Not just a TV show that hasn’t even aired yet.”
Why it isn’t convincing: This whole argument is strange, because don’t you want people to care about your project? Didn’t you spend a significant amount of time and effort making it? Entertainment doesn’t have to be mindless, and it’s fallacious to suggest that someone can’t criticize a television show for some racially uncomfortable casting while also being aware of and angry at the many other horrible things going on in the world. And if you wanted to talk about those things instead, maaaybe you shouldn’t be doing an interview about the projects you just made.
The argument: Fine, so diversity is important. You are definitely on board with diversity. In fact, if people would just look past the white leads of your movie and focus on the supporting characters, they might realize that you are one of the good guys, someone who understands the importance of and champions representation. You may have cast a white actor in a story with an Asian setting, but by doing so you opened up so many supporting roles to actors of different ethnicities.
Where we’ve heard it before:
- Finn Jones explaining that despite its problematic lead, Iron Fist is actually an inclusive show after all: “To be honest, this is one of the most diverse shows I’ve ever worked on. It’s got an amazing cast from all different backgrounds, playing all different types of roles.”
- M. Night Shyamalan calling his adaptation of The Last Airbender “the most culturally diverse tent-pole movies ever released, period,” after outcry over three out of four leads being white despite the visibly Asian-inspired source material. Shyamalan was also very proud of the fact that there were black people in the movie.
- Ghost in the Shell producer Steven Paul: “There [are] all sorts of people and nationalities in the world of Ghost in the Shell. We’re utilizing people from all over the world. ... There’s Japanese in it. There’s Chinese in it. There’s English in it. There’s Americans in it. [...] I don’t think it was just a Japanese story. Ghost in the Shell was a very international story, and it wasn’t just focused on Japanese; it was supposed to be an entire world.“
Why it isn’t convincing: Not to Blame the Industry, but part of the reason this argument doesn’t hold up is because there are so few leading roles for Asian actors. Sure, having an international cast is great, but not if it comes at the expense of a consistently underrepresented group in Hollywood. And isn’t it a little strange that these international casts are all centered around white people?
The argument: Fine, so your lead is admittedly white, while people of color are regulated to supporting roles, but hey, look how many women there are in your show. Does anyone realize how rare it is for women to find substantial roles in Hollywood? Glass ceiling! Lean in! Girl power!
Where we’ve heard it before:
- Doctor Strange’s writer also praising the casting as pro-women: “Tilda is an instance of us taking a male role and putting a woman in it, which I think the film badly needed.” Swinton seconded this in an email exchange with Margaret Cho.
- Zoe Saldana on accepting the role of the darker-skinned Nina Simone in the biopic Nina on the grounds that she helped a female-drive script get produced: “Do I continue passing on the script and hope that the ’right’ black person will do it, or do I say, ’You know what? Whatever consequences this may bring about, my casting is nothing in comparison to the fact that this story must be told.’” [see also: Blaming the Industry]
- Scarlett Johansson, who plays the ostensibly Japanese Major in the upcoming Ghost in the Shell adaptation, responding to a question about diversity by pointing out that it’s a rare opportunity for an actress to be able to star in a female-fronted franchise.
Why they aren’t convincing: Yes, it’s difficult for women in general to find substantial roles in Hollywood, and better female representation is a worthy goal. But you know who has it hardest in that industry? Women of color. Calling Tilda Swinton’s casting a victory for female representation doesn’t take into account that that victory would have been a victory for women and people of color had the production gone with an Asian actress as they had first considered doing. In social justice circles, this lack of consideration for others’ struggles is known as “white feminism.” In non-social justice circles, it’s known as “being kind of a dick.”
5. “Actually, We Were Shattering Stereotypes”
The argument: This is all just a big misunderstanding. True, you did cast a white actor in a role that some would say should have gone to a person of color. But that was in the name of sensitivity! You were trying to avoid offending people by not putting a person of color in a role that might be deemed stereotypical (or that definitely was stereotypical in the movie’s source material). If you hadn’t whitewashed the role, people would just be even more angry at an offensive depiction of a minority.
Where we’ve heard it before:
- Joe Wright explained casting Rooney Mara as Pan’s Tiger Lilly because he worried about the message he’d send by having a Native American tribe in the movie
- Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson on why he cast Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, who is an Asian man in the comics: “In this case, the stereotype of [the Ancient One] had to be undone. I wanted it to be a woman, a middle-aged woman. Every iteration of that script played by an Asian woman felt like a ‘Dragon Lady.’ I’m very sensitive to the history of ‘Dragon Lady’ representation and Anna May Wong films. I moved away from that.”
- Star Trek Into Darkness screenwriter Bob Orci on why Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as Khan Noonien Singh, a Northern Indian Sikh character played in Wrath of Khan by Mexican actor Ricardo Montalbán: “Basically, as we went through the casting process and we began honing in on the themes of the movie, it became uncomfortable for me to support demonizing anyone of color, particularly any one of Middle Eastern descent or anyone evoking that.“
Why it isn’t convincing: Let’s accept in good faith that you’re being sincere when you say you want to avoid perpetuating an egregious stereotype. And yes, your source material was definitely offensive. But rewriting the character so that they are played by an actor of an entirely different race is at best, not a very creative solution, and at worst, just plain lazy. If you are trying to fix the sins of screenwriters past, why not instead expend a little thought and energy to give the existing character a more considered, nuanced update without changing their race?
6. Owning It
The argument: Well of course the casting is problematic. It wasn’t an accident. You did it on purpose.
Where we’ve heard it before:
- Finn Jones engaged in a Twitter conversation about Danny Rand: “There are a lot of characteristics in Danny which are problematic, that’s the point, rather than shy away from them we inspect them. It makes for a rich, intelligent, thought-provoking show.”
- Johnny Depp on playing Tonto with a cliche broken-English accent: “It was a kind of a trick in a weird way to sort of suck [the audience] in, and then switch them around. So in a way, I had to embrace what is deemed as cliche for Tonto … in terms of speech pattern or whatever.”
Why it isn’t convincing: Sure, you meant to do that. We believe you.
The argument: Mercifully, there isn’t any. You listened to fans’ and critics’ concerns, and while you might not necessarily agree with all of them, you do at least understand the reasons they are upset. What’s more, you’re going to stop being part of the problem and maybe even work on being part of the solution, whether that means giving a sincere apology and promising to do better, using your platform to promote more inclusive casting, or simply expressing regret for something that, in hindsight, was pretty problematic. It turns out, when you stop being defensive and simply acknowledge people’s concerns, it can go a long way toward calming a controversy. Some actors and filmmakers never reach this stage. But I have faith in you.
Where we’ve seen it before:
- Rooney Mara admitting that while Joe Wright’s intentions were honorable, Pan should not have had four blonde, blue-eyed leads. ”I really hate, hate, hate that I am on that side of the whitewashing conversation. I really do. I don’t ever want to be on that side of it again. I can understand why people were upset and frustrated.”
- Lionsgate and Gods and Egypt director Alex Proyas offering rare and, more importantly, straightforward apologies for the film’s all-white cast in spite of the Egyptian setting, without offering any weak justifications for the casting.
- Transparent’s Jeffrey Tambor using his Emmys win as an opportunity to ask the industry to give trans talent a chance: “I would very much like to be the last cisgender male playing a transgender female. I think we are there now.”
Listen to Kendrick Lamar’s New Single, “The Heart Part 4”
On Thursday, Kendrick Lamar wiped his Instagram account and posted a lone, cryptic photo on of the Roman numeral “IV” on a black background. This, of course, prompted immediate fan speculation that the rapper had a new release forthcoming, especially given that he has released three previous albums, his latest being 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to ponder this mystery for long, as Kendrick has now deleted his original post after dropping a new single, “The Heart Part 4.” You can listen to the new track here:
Lamar has spoken about his next record in a recent interview with T Magazine. “I think now, how wayward things have gone within the past few months, my focus is ultimately going back to my community and the other communities around the world where they’re doing the groundwork," he said, calling the new project “urgent.” Some of the lyrics are certainly timely:
Niggas is fake rich, bitches is fake bad
Blacks that act white, whites that do the dab
Donald Trump is a chump, know how we feel, punk
Tell ’em that God comin’ and Russia need a replay button, y’all up to somethin’
Electorial votes look like memorial votes
But America’s truth ain’t ignorin’ the votes.
The track also mentions Lamar’s next album and teases, “Y’all got ‘til April 7 to get y’all shit together.” As far as clues go, that one doesn’t seem nearly as cryptic.
Frances McDormand and Martin McDonagh Are a Match Made in Heaven in This Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Trailer
Frances McDormand is coming off of a career-best performance in the HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge, and the Oscar winner is showing no signs of slowing down now. Her next lead role is in Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which is slated for release later this year and appears to be another perfect showcase for the actress’ strengths. Here, in the same breath, you can watch McDormand tenderly grieve the loss of a child and kick a row of teenagers in the crotch, with no apparent remorse. And you thought movies were dying?
The film centers on Mildred Hayes (McDormand), a woman who takes matters into her own hands after her daughter’s murder is left unsolved and mostly forgotten by the police. She puts up billboards in her small town calling out the cops, who she says are “too busy torturing black folks to solve actual crimes,” and provides a catalyst for a bloody all-out brawl between town residents and those employed to protect them. McDormand leads a cast made-up, primarily, of McDonagh mainstays, including Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and character actor Zeljko Ivanek.
This first red-band trailer unveils an unsurprisingly perfect pairing. McDonagh, a playwright who broke out into movies with In Bruges, brings a brand of foul-mouthed profundity that lands right in McDormand’s sweet spot. Early indications are Ebbing, Missouri will launch at a major festival and generate some awards chatter for McDormand, but for now, let’s just get excited at the prospect of the actress spewing some of that wonderfully profane McDonagh dialogue.
Jimmy Kimmel and Patton Oswalt Investigate the Shockingly Terrible Comedy of Mike Huckabee
Mike Huckabee’s Twitter “comedy” has been an object of fascination for liberals recently, if only for one unfortunate reason: His jokes are really, really terrible. So terrible, in fact, that his tweets could reasonably be construed as parody—knowingly bad humor where the point rests in its mediocrity.
On Thursday night, Jimmy Kimmel enlisted Patton Oswalt to test this theory—to perform some of Huckabee’s more infamous tweets to see if there’s something we’re not just getting. If you’re unfamiliar with the Arkansas Governor’s insult comedy routine, then you’re in for a painful treat. And if you already are? Well, Oswalt’s gloriously cringe-inducing readings are unlikely to change your mind on the matter. At the very least, it's funnier listening to Oswalt stumble through saying “Poop Dogg” than having to read it on your iPhone.
A Worthy, Trump-Era Successor to The Wire, American Crime Dares Us to See the Real America
In the wake of Donald Trump’s stunning election victory, ABC’s president of entertainment, Channing Dungey, signaled a change in direction for the network. “With our dramas, we have a lot of shows that feature very well-to-do, well-educated people, who are driving very nice cars and living in extremely nice places,” she said at the Content London media summit in November. “There is definitely still room for that … but in recent history we haven’t paid enough attention to some of the true realities of what life is like for everyday Americans in our dramas.”
American Crime, created by Oscar winner John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), has been an exception to that nice-cars-in-nice-places rule. The ambitious anthology drama burst onto the scene in early 2015 and was immediately recognized for its unsparing exploration of drug abuse, class divisions, and mass incarceration—exactly the kind of content Dungey suggested her network was in serious need of. In that first season, it could feel preachy and didactic, a little cold and humorless, but the show was admirably invested in the problems plaguing everyday life. And where Dungey’s “everyday Americans” was taken by many industry observers as a reference to Trump’s white working-class base—the “real America,” Ridley managed to invoke many of the campaign’s themes without erasing people of color or religious minorities.
American Crime has drawn comparisons to HBO’s The Wire from the outset. But those comparisons were often at the new show’s expense: Notwithstanding its visual panache and impressive ensemble of actors, American Crime in its first season could feel like a dour lecture, relentlessly pummeling viewers with issue-centric dialogue. The series improved exponentially in Season 2, starting from a clean slate with new plotlines and characters and shifting its focus toward LGBTQ identity, gun violence, and consent; it retained the first season’s polemical nature, but compensated with richer character dynamics. By the end, the season’s ambitions became a liability rather than a strength, but at its best, the story of a gay working-class teen’s allegation of rape showcased American Crime’s astonishing potential, placing achingly human faces onto pressing sociopolitical problems. Its third season has perfected that formula. Through a sweeping but meticulous approach to rural America, American Crime has emerged, at last, as the true successor to The Wire—the essential TV series for the Trump era.
Two Former Power Rangers Kids See the New Reboot (and Kind of Love It)
The only proper way to deal with the existence of a new Power Rangers movie is to send two millennials—the Power Rangers generation—to see it and then chat about it. Their conversation is below.
Jeffrey Bloomer: Aye yai yai yai yai, Heather, we’ve just watched the Power Rangers reboot no one particularly wanted. We should talk about our shared history with this franchise, but first I feel obligated to report that the movie is ... not bad? I actually had fun!
Heather Schwedel: Morphin’ time waits for no man! Which is to say, me too. But before we get to that, I must know about your pre-existing relationship with the Power Rangers.
Bloomer: Well, I was the Green Ranger, if that’s what you’re asking. Like many kids, I was very into the show when I was younger. That said, until this movie, I had forgotten almost every detail about it. Do we have collective Power Rangers amnesia?
There’s So Much New Gorillaz Music All of a Sudden
Where other artists tease with glimpses of their forthcoming albums, Gorillaz, the ever-shifting musical entity headed up by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, is flooding the zone, releasing four new songs from their forthcoming album, Humanz, which is due out April 28.
The complete album will consist of 14 tracks, 19 on the deluxe version, and will also be available as a “super deluxe vinyl box set” with each of the 14 tracks on a separate 12” slab, backed by an alternate version. A list of the album’s featured artists includes Vince Staples, Peven Everett, Popcaan, De La Soul, Danny Brown, Grace Jones, Mavis Staples, Pusha T, and Carly Simon, with actor Ben Mendelsohn narrating the album interludes.
Here’s the music, and note that the Hewlett-directed six-minute video “Saturnz Barz (Spirit House),” which contains clips from all four songs, is available in both regular and, via supported web browsers, 360-degree versions.
“Saturnz Barz (Spirit House)” (featuring Popcaan)
“We’ve Got the Power” (featuring Jehnny Beth)
“Andromeda” (featuring D.R.A.M.)
“Ascension” (featuring Vince Staples)
“Saturnz Barz (Spirit House)” (360-degree version)
“Bingeing Is Bad”: Read Damon Lindelof’s Letter to Critics Before The Leftovers’ Final Season
Damon Lindelof has had a turbulent online relationship with critics of his TV shows, eventually quitting Twitter entirely after deciding that engaging with his haters was “unhealthy.” But that doesn’t mean he’s entirely given up on trying to control the narrative around his shows. HBO today sent seven of the eight episodes in The Leftovers’ third and final season to critics, but that release was preceed by a note from Lindelof asking them to not rush through all seven back to back, and a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that he might be micromanaging their release just a tad.
Lindelof’s missive, which is reprinted in full below, also tweaks the famously controlling letters sent out with screeners by Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner, which enjoined critics from revealing even the most minute details of his season premieres—by Mad Men’s final seasons, all that Weiner would allow anyone to see in advance. The Leftovers has done exceptionally well by critics, who have played a significant role in keeping the low-rated show alive and giving Lindelof and Co. a chance to wrap up their story as they see fit—and Lindelof knows, and is grateful for, that. But he’s still not going to send his baby out into the world without at least a note pinned to its backpack, and if anyone starts tweeting out opinions on The Leftovers’ endgame seven hours from now, they can expect to hear from him again.
Here's the letter.
Dear Critical Community,
G’day! Welcome to the third and final season of THE LEFTOVERS. On behalf of our entire team, I just wanted to say one thing before you embark on the journey.
Bingeing is bad.
I am old school. And not just because I agree with Joss Whedon about everything. Never before in the history of the English language has “binge” been associated with something healthy or productive. Just because there is an entire can of Pringles in front of you does not mean you should eat them all in one sitting. Every time I have done this, I feel sad and guilty, and then mad at The Pringles Corporation. Which is probably not even a thing. But I also must acknowledge times have changed. I must acknowledge there is not just too much television, but too much good television (“Fleek TV?”) and in order to make any kind of dent, we folks who produce it have to get out of our rocking chairs and get hip to the times. Which probably includes not ever saying “hip” again. Anyhoo…
We’re providing you with seven of our eight episodes. Watch them however you see fit. Review them however you see fit. It’s not my place to suggest how to do your jobs. I’d rather you not spoil some stuff, but I ultimately think it’s ridiculous to list that stuff, as it would seem completely arbitrary. All I ask is that if you were surprised by something that happens on the show (either positively or negatively), it would be cool to maintain that same surprise for the audience. For example, when Liv Tyler shoots lasers out of her eyes in Episode 4, we want that to be as shocking for them as it was for you.
Liv Tyler does not shoot lasers out of her eyes in Episode 4.
It’s Episode 6, actually.
But aren’t you bummed that I told you?
You get it. You’re pros. The point is, I’ve never sent out this many episodes in advance and I feel scared and I am trying to mitigate that fear by controlling things, but the way I’m controlling them is by trying to convince you that I’m okay with not controlling them. I also ate an entire can of Pringles last night while watching the entire first season of FLEABAG until three in the morning, so y’know, hypocrite.
One last thing. Please do not reveal the year this season takes place nor the new architectural design of STERLING, COOPER, PRYCE, GARVEY & JAMISON.
Trevor Noah Defends Conservative Tomi Lahren, the Bill O’Reilly to His Jon Stewart, After Her Blaze Suspension
There’s more all-caps BREAKING NEWS in a single day of the Trump administration than a reasonable person could be expected to keep up with. Trevor Noah certainly understands the struggle to stay well-informed. He simply does not have time to address all of the country’s major headlines in a single episode of The Daily Show, which is why he introduced a new segment, Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That, in which he rattles off the news stories he might otherwise not cover at all. Its first installment tackles the hearing of Supreme Court nominee and whitest man alive Neil Gorsuch as well as Ivanka Trump’s ethically questionable level of involvement in the White House.
But the highlight of the segment was Noah's coverage of reports that Glenn Beck’s network, the Blaze, suspended conservative media darling Tomi Lahren after she made pro-choice remarks during an appearance on the View. “I’m someone that’s for limited government. So I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government but I think the government should decide what women do with their bodies,” Lahren said. “I can sit here and say that, as a Republican and I can say, you know what, I’m for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well.”
Lahren had previously appeared on The Daily Show for a fascinating, if often uncomfortable, debate with the obviously liberal Noah about Donald Trump (she’s for him), Colin Kaepernick (she’s against him), and Black Lives Matter (she has compared them to the KKK). At times, the conversation recalled the days of Jon Stewart sparring with Bill O'Reilly, with whom Stewart disagreed on virtually every topic but still enjoyed a weird, begrudging kind of respect. Noah showed that Lahren truly is his O'Reilly, as he called out the Blaze for being hypocritical after so often accusing the left of being easily offended “snowflakes” who can’t tolerate different opinions. “Tomi comes out and speaks her truth, says that she’s pro-choice, and then suddenly her bosses go, oh, you like choices? How about you choose a new job?”
Apparently, snowflakery doesn’t just belong to liberals after all. But while Noah says he was offended by the double standard and wants to show support for Lahren, protesting the decision is out of the question. Why? “Unfortunately, there’s no type of black-people protest that Tomi is comfortable with.”