Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Jan. 22 2017 10:15 PM

Oh, Saturday Night Live, Honey, No

Oh jeez, Saturday Night Live. You didn’t have to do this. Really, you didn’t. You got away with the Hillary-Clinton-singing-“Hallelujah” thing, but that was a uniquely terrible week (and long before it was apparent that Hillary Clinton had, in fact, given up). But once was enough—too much even. This is just, and I’m saying this because I care about you, kind of embarrassing for everyone.

And “To Sir, With Love,” from a movie in which Sidney Poitier teaches respectability politics to unruly students? Was that supposed to be a meta-joke that nobody got or was it, oh no. It was sincere, wasn’t it? This is an elaborate homemade valentine to a popular boy who doesn’t know your name. Let’s just pretend, you and me, that we never saw it, ok? You can take it off the internet. It’ll be like that Shazaam movie that doesn’t exist. We’ll all claim we never heard of such a thing, that it would never fly in the United States, where we have presidents, not kings.

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Presidents leave after eight years. Sometimes they do good things, sometimes they do bad things, but what’s good or bad are the things. They’re employees, they’re not friends, and they’re definitely not brooding high school teachers. Just because our new president is dedicated to enthusiastically doing bad things—and George W. Bush was no picnic either—is no excuse for building a cult of personality around our last president. I’m gonna go now, but when I come back, could you do a fake lawyer ad or something? We don’t have to talk about this again, I promise. I was never here. This never happened.

Jan. 22 2017 6:22 PM

Here Is a Song About the Video of White Nationalist Richard Spencer Getting Punched in the Face

By now, you’ve seen the video of white nationalist and ethnic-cleansing advocate Richard Spencer getting punched in the face. Maybe you think it’s hilarious that a guy who Sieg-Heiled his way through a Trump victory celebration got punched in the face. Maybe you think Nazis are the price we pay for our precious civility.  (Maybe you should donate to the North Carolina Republican Party about it!) But wherever you stand on the very difficult decision of whether it’s American to punch Nazis, Tim Heidecker has a message for you: God says it’s ok.

Heidecker, half of Adult Swim’s absurdist duo Tim & Eric, was last seen at the women’s march with Bob Odenkirk. Somehow he also found the time to write and record a piano ballad about Richard Spencer getting punched. It’s called “Richard Spencer,” it contains the moving, emotional lyric, “If you see Richard Spencer, why don’t you punch him in the head?” and here it is:

Jan. 22 2017 4:57 PM

President Trump Must Book These Five Acts For His Second Inauguration

The Trump presidency is already fiascos wherever you look, from Trump sending his press secretary to tell absurd lies to the press on his second day to Trump sending Kellyanne Conway to offer an even more absurd defense of his press secretary’s absurd lies on his third day. But no failure has been more embarrassing to our embarrassing new President than his absolute inability to book A-listers, or even C-listers, to perform at his inaugural balls. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that President Trump devote his full energy between now and 2020 to booking a killer lineup for his 2020 inauguration. (If this took up so much of his time that he didn’t really do anything else as President, we’d be okay with that.) So here are the five must-have acts President Trump absolutely has to book, as soon as possible, for 2020. Our nation’s dignity depends on it.

Jan. 22 2017 2:46 PM

Beck Bennett and Cecily Strong Have Had It With Your Lack of Enthusiasm for La La Land

Sometimes it seems like there’s a conspiracy to enforce middlebrow tastes in America, especially as award season ramps up (full disclosure: Slate is not always part of the solution!). This week Saturday Night Live showed us the gritty underside of the culture industry, a police interrogation room where Beck Bennett and Cecily Strong grill Aziz Ansari for not liking La La Land enough.

The conversation will be familiar to anyone who’s good friends with a big fan of La La Land, or really any movie, but the specific details make this maybe the sharpest writing all season. Take Strong yelling “Ryan Gosling didn’t learn piano from scratch so some little prick can come and nitpick!” In one sentence you get a joke, a sort-of-true fact offered up in support of the movie, and a sideswipe at the tendency for audiences to confuse a difficult performance with a good performance. Bennett and Strong aren’t exactly wrong about La La Land; Bennett’s defense of the Griffith Observatory sequence with, “It’s just lovely, and that’s ok!” is spot on. It’s the relentlessness of their belief that everyone should be as enthusiastic about it as they are that rings truest.

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But the moment that really sends this over the top is when Ansari brings up Moonlight. Instantly Bennett and Strong put on their earnest faces and praise Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece as “so good,” and “so important.” But, as they reluctantly admit, neither one has seen it, because, according to Strong, “I know it’s gonna be a whole thing.” This is how garden-variety intellectual laziness becomes a consensus around overpraising unchallenging art. Now let’s all agree that this short comedy sketch from Saturday Night Live offers deep insights into our culture, our minds, and indeed, our very souls, and share it widely on every social network. What else are you going to do, go see Moonlight?

Jan. 22 2017 4:29 AM

Saturday Night Live Lets You See What’s Going On in Kellyanne Conway’s Head (It’s a Musical)

Saturday Night Live has consistently done its best work on Trump and his circle when the writers dive into surrealism and dream-logic, and this week was no exception. A sketch that opened like typical SNL fare—Kellyanne Conway is interviewed by Jake Tapper, in a sketch where Kate McKinnon’s imitation of Conway is the main attraction—turned into something more interesting. Asked what she got out of working for Trump, Conway suddenly transitioned the interview to a musical number.

And not just any musical number: She’s singing a Conway-ified version of “Roxie” from Chicago. McKinnon and whoever directed this segment did a pretty good job duplicating the film—not quite Jimmy Fallon–level, but good. And once again, coming at a Trump acolyte from the most bizarre angle anyone in the writer’s room could dream up—let’s meticulously restage a Rob Marshall movie that everyone’s politely forgotten about!—turned out to be the secret to really getting into Conway’s head. A tinhorn con artist dreaming of being a different tinhorn con artist, with choreography by Rob Marshall—that’s about right.

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If for some reason you haven’t seen Chicago since it won six Oscars back in 2003 (Really! Including Best Picture!), here’s the original version of the song:

Jan. 22 2017 3:24 AM

Aziz Ansari Used His Saturday Night Live Monologue to Ask Trump to Denounce “Casual White Supremacy”

The day after the inauguration of a bozo of world-historical proportions and the same day as nationwide protests against that same bozo is probably not the ideal night to host Saturday Night Live. You just want to get the crowd pumped up for the “Loud Family who Talks Loudly” skit you’ve been working on, but everyone else expects you to use your monologue to respond to history. Aziz Ansari did about as well as anyone could under the circumstances, denouncing the casual racists of the alt-right and encouraging President Trump to join him.

After making a deliberately unconvincing case against demonizing all Trump voters (he compared them to Chris Brown fans), Ansari zeroed in on the ones he’s fine with demonizing: “the people that as soon as Trump won, they’re like, ‘We don’t have to pretend we’re not racist anymore! We don’t have to pretend anymore!’ ” Calling them a “lowercase KKK movement” founded on “casual white supremacy,” Ansari then moved from comedy to some sort of centrist fantasia where our new President wasn’t part of the problem:

Jan. 20 2017 4:54 PM

Al Gore Prepares to Fight Climate Change Under President Trump With An Inconvenient Sequel

Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is finally hitting theaters after years of speculation. The follow-up to the landmark documentary focuses on Gore’s continued efforts to combat climate change with “human ingenuity and passion,” vying to help influence global environmental policy and helping to educate potential leaders of the movement. It appears to have been made very much in the spirit of the original, which is credited as a major catalyst for the environmental movement’s revitalization and won two Academy Awards, including Best Documentary.

Whether Truth to Power can capture the country—and the world—as An Inconvenient Truth did, however, remains to be seen. At the very least, Gore striking a combined note of paranoia and optimism should resonate strongly for those concerned about climate change and environmental protection under a President Trump. (It’s worth noting that Gore unveiled “Flooded,” the first footage of Truth to Power released so far, on the day of Trump’s inauguration.) The movie was reportedly met with a “rapturous response” at its Sundance Film Festival opening night premiere, with a post-screening Q&A quickly delving into our turbulent political climate. “We will win,” Gore told the Sundance crowd. “No one person can stop this movement. We want this movie to recruit others.”

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An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power hits U.S. theaters on July 28.

Jan. 20 2017 3:25 PM

CNN’s Inauguration Coverage Was One Long Existential Crisis About How Not to Normalize Trump and Still Be CNN

One question hanging over the cable news networks as they covered President Trump’s inauguration was whether they were going to “normalize” it by covering it as though it were any other inauguration. This question hung so heavy over CNN, in particular, that the network raised it during the endless hours before the inauguration began. Anderson Cooper mentioned to the CNN panel that there were concerns about “not wanting to normalize this day,” concerns that David Axelrod, for one, said he found “bewildering.”

But CNN’s inauguration coverage was intimately concerned with normalizing, or rather with not being seen to be either normalize or, for lack of a better word, abnormalize. In an incredibly polarized political and media environment—CNN was called “fake news” by Donald Trump just last week—CNN covered the inauguration like someone trying to thread a needle with trembling hands. Pretending everything was normal was not a viable option. But, for a nonpartisan news network, neither was constantly beating the drum about how abnormal everything was.

Jan. 20 2017 12:32 PM

Donald Trump’s First Twitter Background as President Was a Photo From the Inauguration of Barack Obama

President Donald Trump officially took over the @POTUS Twitter account on Friday:

The new Twitter background made me wonder: Whose inauguration is this from? The answer:

Yeah, it’s from President Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
Yeah, it’s from President Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

carterdayne/Getty Images

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Maybe the background was Melania’s idea?

Update, 1:20 p.m.: The team at Full Frontal With Samantha Bee has provided Trump a more accurate background:

Update, 1:55 p.m.: For the record, the background wasn’t a vestige of Obama’s account—here is a screengrab of how Obama’s @POTUS Twitter page looked just Thursday evening:

Obama’s Twitter background yesterday.
Obama’s Twitter background yesterday. (The photo, his longtime background, showed the 50th anniversary march in Selma.)

Screengrab by Slate’s Sam Adams

Regardless, someone on Trump’s social media team must have seen that they’d been caught, because they’ve changed the background for the second time today.

Trump’s new Twitter background, hastily added this afternoon.

Screengrab by Forrest Wickman

At least they seem to have chosen the right flag?

Update, 2:50 p.m.: @POTUS has changed Twitter backgrounds for the third time today, this time to a photo that is clearly a little too grainy to make an ideal header. Maybe someone can tweet him a higher-resolution image?

Screengrab by the author

Screengrab by the author

The smooth transition continues!

Jan. 20 2017 11:57 AM

There’s No Such Thing as “Indie TV,” but Sundance Wants to Help Change That

Some people come to Sundance for the movies, some to take meetings, and others just for the chance to spot a celebrity making his or her way over a Park City, Utah, snowdrift. But in the last several years, a new possibility has emerged: going to Sundance to watch TV. Although it wasn’t the first time the festival had shown TV, the 2013 screening of Jane Campion’s six-part miniseries Top of the Lake seemed to break the dam for good. Every year since, there’s been a steady increase in the amount of episodic work screened during the course of the country’s most prestigious film festival, further blurring the line where television stops and movies begin. (Film and TV critics spent the end of 2016 fighting over who would get to put O.J.: Made in America on their top 10 lists.) This year, there are over a half-dozen events organized around advance screenings of shows like Amazon’s I Love Dick, ABC’s Downward Dog, and Fox’s Shots Fired, as well as the CNN miniseries The History of Comedy and Netflix’s Abstract: The Art of Design.

In past years, Sundance’s TV programming has largely amounted to a carefully curated sneak peek at already-completed shows, but this year, for the first time, the festival opened up its submissions process to episodic work and virtual reality, getting some 500 entries in all. The result was three separate showcases, one dedicated to independent pilots and two to short-form episodic series, with subjects ranging from “the elitist parenting culture of Silicon Beach” to a teenager who discovers she is pregnant with an alien baby. This will also be the fourth year the Sundance Institute has convened an Episodic Story Lab, which admits writers who have never previously sold a pilot to an intensive 10-day program followed with a year of support from Sundance’s staff and the lab’s experienced advisers.

“This is totally a fascination and an interest of ours, and we feel like this is just the beginning,” says Sundance programmer Charlie Reff. “We’re totally in experimentation mode for now, just seeing what it’s capable of.”

TV used to be where independent directors went to pick up a paycheck in between films; scroll through the credits on a season of Six Feet Under, and it’s like a Sundance family reunion. But increasingly, it’s become the place for at least some of those directors to spread their wings, following an audience for idiosyncratic work that is steadily migrating from the big screen to the not-so-small. Brett Morgen is a Sundance veteran who’s been bringing movies to the festival since 1999, but his latest project is When the Street Lights Go On, the pilot for an as-yet-unproduced series about murders in a small suburban town.

Street Lights began life as a feature film script hot off the 2012 Black List, which Morgen, known for documentaries like On the Ropes and Cobain: Montage of Heck, planned to be his fiction debut. “I’d been doing commercials for 17 years,” Morgen says. “I couldn’t think of anything better to do with my own money than to buy a property I really wanted to develop.” But even with a modest projected budget of $7 million and an actress whom Morgen calls “without question the biggest star of her generation” attached as a lead, the movie was dead in the water. “I figured we’d hit the end of the road,” Morgen says. “But then I got a phone call: ‘What do you think about adapting it as a TV show?’ ” And with that, he says, “I’ve basically just walked you through the last seven years of independent cinema.”

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