Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

July 28 2016 3:42 PM

Matt Damon Fights Strange Creatures in the Visually Stunning Trailer for Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall

In the trailer for The Great Wall, Matt Damon is a 15th-century warrior defending humanity from—monsters? Dragons? It’s a little tough to tell, but whatever they are, they’re not human, that’s for sure. The Great Wall marks Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s English-language debut with a multinational cast that also includes Tian Jing, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau, and Willem DaFoe.

Zhang is best known for visually spectacular films like House of Flying Daggers and Hero, so it’s no surprise to see that the trailer contains glimpses of some stunning vistas. The Hollywood-China co-production is being billed as the largest production ever shot entirely in China, with a budget of reportedly $135 million.


The Great Wall was supposed to debut in November, but has been pushed back and will now hit theaters Feb. 17, 2017.

July 28 2016 3:11 PM

It Is Perfectly Reasonable for Tim Kaine to Carry Four Harmonicas

Tim Kaine’s two big speeches since his announcement as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee have relied heavily on his biography. America knows that Kaine helped out in his father’s welding shop, became a civil-rights lawyer, learned Spanish while volunteering for the Peace Corps in Honduras. But until recently, many voters were unaware of another central fact of Kaine’s life: his eagerness to play harmonica at a moment’s notice.

So this tweet from the Atlantic’s Molly Ball caused quite the firestorm during the veep nominee’s convention speech Wednesday night:

A naïve reader might imagine that four harmonicas would be overkill—that surely a primary harmonica and perhaps a backup in case of loss or damage would suffice. In fact, serious players have good reason to carry multiple instruments. Most harmonicas are diatonic, meaning that they are in a fixed key: If you want to jam and you don’t want to be stuck in one key, you’re going to need to pack a lot of harps. (That’s why Blues Traveler’s John Popper, the recognized master of playing a lot of notes on the harmonica very quickly, wears that cool-looking bandolier.) You need a dozen harmonicas to cover the full range of major key signatures; for a serious harp player who also happens to be a U.S. senator and thus probably can’t wear a bandolier all the time, four is a perfectly reasonable compromise.

The election of a harmonica-playing vice president wouldn’t be a milestone: Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Ronald Reagan all played. Al Gore was known to blow harp, too, although in his diffidence he was Kaine’s polar opposite:

July 28 2016 1:03 PM

HBO Fired Three Beloved Old-Timers from the Sesame Street Cast. Watch Some of Their Best Moments on the Show.

Sesame Street is moving to HBO, and the show is undergoing some changes during the transition, including a switch from hour-long to half-hour episodes, the addition of some new faces, and a major overhaul of the set. This also, it turns out, means some heartbreaking departures: At a Q&A in Florida earlier this month, original Sesame Street cast member Bob McGrath announced that he, Emilio Delgado, and Roscoe Orman (aka Bob, Luis, and Gordon) had been “graciously let go” from the HBO series.

Executive producer Carol-Lynn Parente told Entertainment Weekly in January that the switch to HBO meant that the new Sesame Street would focus more on core characters, especially Muppets like Elmo, Abby, and Cookie Monster, to better appeal to tech-savvy kids. In a statement on Twitter, Sesame Street assured those concerned that McGrath, Delgado, and Orman would remain “a beloved part of the Sesame family and continue to represent us at public events.” But knowing that those characters will be departing from the screen is still pretty devastating for grown-ups.


Bob McGrath, now 84, has played the character Bob since Sesame Street’s premiere episode in 1969. After a brief but successful singing career in Japan, McGrath was initially reluctant to appear on children’s television, but joined the cast after being impressed by Jim Henson’s vision. The character sang many of Sesame Street’s songs over the decades, including “People in Your Neighborhood” and “I Am Your Friend.”

Emilio Delgado has played Luis, a handyman, on the show since 1971 and was crucial to introducing Latino culture to Sesame Street. Luis and Maria, played by Sonia Manzano, who recently retired, married on the show in 1988 and went on to have a daughter, Gabi.

Roscoe Orman joined the cast in 1974, becoming the fourth actor to play Gordon, the patriarch of the Robinson family, after Garrett Saunders, Matt Robinson, and Hal Miller. Gordon, who is a science teacher, was the first character introduced in Sesame Street's pilot. Chris Knowings, who plays Gordon’s nephew, will remain with the show, as will Alan Muraoka, who joined the cast in 1998.

July 28 2016 12:05 PM

Stephen Colbert Officially Retired “Stephen Colbert” Because Corporate Lawyers Made Him

The world rejoiced recently when Stephen Colbert, host of the Late Show, brought back “Stephen Colbert,” beloved host of The Colbert Report, to cover the Republican National Convention alongside Jon Stewart.* Viacom, parent company of Colbert’s old stomping grounds Comedy Central, on the other hand, did not. Instead, as the host put it on Wednesday evening, Viacom’s corporate lawyers contacted CBS’ corporate lawyers to claim “Colbert” as their intellectual property. “[It’s] surprising,” he said, “because I never considered that guy much of an intellectual.”

July 28 2016 11:00 AM

A Cartoonist Remembers His Hero, Cul de Sac’s Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson, the cartoonist who created the comic strip Cul de Sac and whose work was featured for years in the Washington Post Magazine, died Wednesday at the age of 58 of complications from Parkinson's disease. Cartoonist John Martz drew this appreciation.


July 28 2016 10:28 AM

John Oliver Offered Some of His Own Dad Jokes in Honor of America’s Stepdad Tim Kaine

Tim Kaine charmed the internet on Wednesday night by giving a very dadlike speech at the Democratic National Convention, complete with terrible impressions and cheesy jokes. Now, “America’s stepdad” can count John Oliver among his fans: On The Late Show, Oliver told Stephen Colbert that Kaine is just what the doctor ordered after a difficult campaign season, calling the VP candidate “a tall glass of Lactaid” and admiring his break-into-a-harmonica-solo-at-any-moment demeanor, along with all the "jokes and impressions that came out of that man's soft face."

The two former Daily Show correspondents also chatted about the RNC, Oliver’s Instagram feud with a Chechen warlord who lost his cat, and his shoutout in the new Gilmore Girls trailer. (Yes, Lorelai, John Oliver does think you’re hot.)

July 28 2016 8:02 AM

Deep Down, BoJack Horseman Is a Hopeful Show

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Very sad and serious things happen on BoJack Horseman. The third season alone, which recently dropped another motherlode of Hollywood satire and unrelenting bleakness onto Netflix, features storylines involving tragic drug overdoses, abortion, pop songs about abortion, alcohol abuse, sexual harassment, and potentially terminal cancer diagnoses. Everyone on this show is miserable, self-involved, and either in the middle of an existential crisis or merely taking a brief break before the next round of soul-crushing “Why am I here and what’s the meaning of life?” questions start again.

July 28 2016 7:32 AM

The New MadTV Is Not Nearly As Offensive As the Original. Or As Interesting.

Like practically every cultural property made within the last 25 years or so, MadTV has risen from the dead: On Tuesday night, the long-running sketch comedy show returned to kick off a limited eight-episode primetime run, nearly a decade after it first went off the air. A new crop of relative comic unknowns are leading the pack, with original cast members, including Nicole Sullivan and Will Sasso, returning to make cameos as their signature characters. Instead of airing on its original network, Fox, its revival is on the CW.

Aside from giving birth to the far superior Key & Peele (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key both started as MadTV cast members), the show is probably best remembered as a scrappy, less sophisticated cousin of SNL. Like its predecessor In Living Color, which ran from 1990 to 1994, MadTV specialized in boisterously broad and scathing humor, trafficking unabashedly in racial, gendered, and sexual stereotypes. This identity didn’t make it a critics’ darling, but it was popular with audiences for some time. (Yes, the show was nominated for 35 Emmys, but almost all of them were for technical awards, like hair and makeup.) In 2016, many—most?—of these caricatures don’t hold up well, if they ever did to begin with. And so the biggest question surrounding this resurrection—besides “Why?” and “Wait, did this show really stay on the air for 14 seasons?”—was this: Will the new MadTV adjust to the current cultural climate and be a little less … politically incorrect in its new incarnation?

July 28 2016 12:06 AM

Netflix Flack: Black Mirror Back!

Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s anthology series about the unintended consequences of technology, will return with a new six-episode season, Netflix announced Wednesday. As with earlier seasons, each episode will stand alone and feature its own cast, including Bryce Dallas Howard, Jerome Flynn, and Mackenzie Davis. Directors will include Atonement’s Joe Wright and 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Dan Trachtenberg. All six episodes will be released at 12:01 a.m.. Pacific time on Oct. 21. Here’s the full episode list:

  • “San Junipero,” directed by Owen Harris, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis.
  • “Shut Up and Dance,” directed by James Watkins, starring Jerome Flynn and Alex Lawther.
  • “Nosedive,” directed by Joe Wright, starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Alice Eve, and James Norton.
  • “Men Against Fire,” directed by Jakob Verbruggen, starring Michael Kelly, Malachi Kirby, and Madeline Brewer.
  • “Hated in the Nation,” directed by James Hawes, starring Kelly MacDonald.
  • “Playtest,” directed by Dan Trachtenberg, starring Wyatt Russell and Hannah John-Kamen.

It’s unclear yet what the individual episodes will be about, but we can only hope Brooker, who wrote them all, has finally tackled Mallory Ortberg’s famous Black Mirror pitch: “what if phones, but too much.”

July 27 2016 9:35 PM

PSA, Y’all: Y’all Is Second Person Plural

Headlander, the newest game from Double Fine and Adult Swim Games, is a charming mix of ’70s sci-fi themes, Metroid-style gameplay, and the kind of weirdness that has always characterized games from both companies. It also has a character named Earl who completely kills any suspension of disbelief in the very first seconds of the game, which you can watch above. Here’s his dialogue:

And I’m through. Y’all should be hearing my on your helmet radio now. I know y’all got a lot of questions, but there ain’t no point in trying to talk, because you ain’t got no lungs. Y’all just come out of stasis, so you don’t likely remember much. This is gonna be a hard pill to swallow, but—hell’s bells! Shepherds again! Y’all gonna need yourself a body.  Welcome to the future! Ain’t much sure why, but Methuselah wants a hold of you. We gotta get y’all off this ship.

For a large proportion of Headlander’s audience—and Double Fine’s entire staff, apparently—there’s nothing about that dialogue that sounds wrong. But for anyone who’s spent any time in the South, it’s nails on a blackboard. In five out of 10 sentences, Earl uses y’all to address a single person. Not even a person, actually, but a severed head, making it even less likely Earl is somehow referring to the main character and her family or some other implied collective group: She’s literally just a head. This is more wrong than waking up as a lungless head in a space helmet, more terrifying than rogue artificial intelligences or killer robots or any futuristic horrors Double Fine could ever dream up. Maybe it’s part of the game—maybe Earl is a bad simulation of a Southerner. Or maybe the simplest rule in Southern dialect has somehow been botched once again. I’ll never know, because I couldn’t get past the beginning out of fear of how Earl might mangle the language next.

In fairness to video game writers, it’s not always a hard-and-fast rule. Arika Okrent took a look at the issue for Slate back in 2014, and concluded that the singular y’all was occasionally used, in a few special situations: particularly when Southerners exaggerated their speech to get better customer service from Northerners. (I’ve never heard that, but I’ve heard the possessive use, as in her example of How’re y’all’s grits?) But even in those rare cases, no one uses y’all exclusively instead of you, the way Earl does, even in the far distant future. And the one thing everyone agrees on is that Southerners, who actually use the word, are the ones who are most likely to insist it’s plural only. So if your character’s from the South, odds are he or she is not going to use it as a singular. (If your character’s a Northerner who is misusing the word out of ignorance or spite, you’re probably doing something too complicated for a video game.) So a good rule of thumb for non-Southerners: just use it as the plural. They still teach Latin at Andover or wherever, right? Or Spanish, at least? Would you use vosotros or ustedes or voi or whatever second person plural you’re familiar with? Use y’all. Otherwise, just play it safe and stick to you. If foreign languages make you uneasy, memorize this handy mnemonic:

If you’re speaking to one person,
Using y’all will make things worsen.
But if all of you would work,
Then it’s time for y’all, you jerk!

Don’t get fancy and don’t showboat. You’re probably already naming a character “Earl” or something, so you’re on thin ice to begin with. So let me address all of you, as in more than one of you, as in plural: Y’all have made sure that anyone who’s ever had the slightest hint of a Southern accent is an expert in what it’s like to have people think you’re dumb because of the way you talk, so trust us on this one: Y’all have gotta stop screwing this up, ’cause it’s making y’all sound stupid.