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Along with everything else, the coronavirus has upended pop culture: Movie theaters are closed; concerts and other live events are canceled or postponed; TV production is all but shut down. But the powers of the internet and digital media prevail! Whether old or new, there are still plenty of movies and TV shows and TikToks to watch, games to play, songs to listen to, and books to read.
Here at Vox Culture, we’ve been working hard to recommend all kinds of entertainment that might help you during your time at home. And in the process, we’ve been consuming oodles of it ourselves. So every weekend for the month of May, we’ll be sharing the pop culture we’ve been loving in our own lives; we think you might love some of it too.
This week, TV was king. Here’s what we’ve been watching.
The wacky catering comedy Party Down
I missed Party Down when it aired on Starz in 2009 and 2010 — which is great because it means I get to watch the show now. It’s short: two seasons, comprising 20 half-hour episodes in all. And it boasts a genius concept: A group of caterers has a whole bunch of weird experiences at the kinds of lavish and occasionally disturbing events that caterers are frequently hired to work at, from Sweet 16 parties for moguls’ kids to gatherings of precocious college Republicans to mixers for elderly singles to porn industry awards. The show is set in Los Angeles, so most of the characters are failed actors of one kind or another, adding to the comedy (and, at times, the drama). With a killer core cast (including Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Jane Lynch, Martin Starr, Ryan Hansen, and Ken Marino) and a startling array of guests from the world of comedy, it’s the perfect thing to pop on at the end of the night, when I’m too tired to think but want something smart and wry that will make me laugh.
ESPN’s Chicago Bulls docuseries The Last Dance
When you grow up a tall kid, everyone tries to make you play basketball. Sadly, I wasn’t really built to shoot baskets, so I was never any good. That goes for watching it, too; TV is made for cartoons and video games, not sports, DAD.
But when I was really little, before my height mattered so much, I was fascinated by one team: the Chicago Bulls. This was in the late ’90s, when the members of the Bulls-filled Olympic Dream Team were American heroes, Space Jam was the kids’ favorite movie, and Air Jordans were the most coveted sneakers. Michael Jordan transfixed me as the embodiment of the Bulls’ wild success. Michael Jordan was perfect. Michael Jordan could fly.
ESPN’s 10-episode docuseries The Last Dance is ostensibly about the Bulls during the 1997-98 season, Jordan’s last before he retired. As such, it’s meant to be a comprehensive look at many of the team’s fantastic players, how they all contributed to its excellence. But the world of the Bulls — and basketball at large — revolved around Jordan both on- and off-court, and The Last Dance is fully aware of that. It’s both an illuminating and nostalgic watch, recounting one of the most interesting times in American sports culture in easy hour-long chunks. The Last Dance isn’t turning me into a basketball fan, but for those 60 minutes each week, I’m 4 years old again, idolizing Michael Jordan and how he could fly.
The Last Dance airs Sundays on ESPN at 9 pm ET, with two hour-long episodes debuting each week. Each episode is available to stream for free on ESPN.com, or in the ESPN app with a subscription or cable login. —Allegra Frank
The delicious return of Top Chef with Top Chef: All-Stars L.A.
The joy of watching reality competition series’ all-star seasons is that they allow us to remember the contestants we once rooted for, to hope they get whatever redemption they might be seeking, and to vociferously boo any villains who come back.
Top Chef: All Stars L.A. is Bravo’s second all-star installment of its sleek, long-running cooking competition, and it handily checks the boxes of any good all-star setup. Top Chef wrangled favorites like Lee Anne Wong (season one), Melissa King and Gregory Gourdet (both finalists in season 12), Nini Nguyen (season 16), and the somber Voltaggio brother, Brian (season six). There’s also an emerging villain in season 3’s frenetic Brian Malarkey, who is flashing more subterfuge and a more cutthroat persona than when we last saw him.
Drama, possible sabotage, exquisite pork crumbles and artistic corn soup, special guest judge Kelly Clarkson — the season, which debuted on March 19, has had everything, while also spotlighting Los Angeles landmarks like the Santa Monica Farmers Market and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. But by far the best episode so far was episode two, a special installment dedicated to the late, award-winning food writer Jonathan Gold. It honored Gold’s life, his adventurous spirit, and his ability to help people understand the personal stories, predominantly stories of immigrants, behind the food that makes Los Angeles so great.
New episodes of Top Chef: All Stars L.A. air Thursdays on Bravo at 10 pm ET. The season is available to stream on the Bravo TV app (with a cable login), or you can buy episodes on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu. —Alex Abad-Santos
The magical bread-baking anime of our quarantine dreams
Unlike so many others, I haven’t been baking any bread during the pandemic. But I have been thinking a lot about bread-baking, and bread eating, and, just, yummy yummy bread. So I’ve been returning to an old fave and rewatching episodes of silly, sunny Yakitate!! Japan, the popular 2004 anime series about, uh, bread baking.
Yakitate!! is a highly tongue-in-cheek parody of shounen sports manga/anime tropes, which means it’s a coming-of-age story about a plucky kid on a path to greatness. He achieves this greatness through lots of action-packed competition … over bread. Our plucky kid is Azuma Kazuma, a boy whose unconventionally warm hands give him the ability to speed up the process of rising dough — thus allowing him to create inhumanly delicious bread, which he calls, wait for it, Ja-Pan. He’s such a prodigy that he gets a job straight out of junior high school at a bakery called, wait for it, Pantasia, where he’s thrust into an endless series of challenges and thrilling competitions as part of his quest to bring a uniquely Japanese style of bread to the world.
If that sounds appealingly ridiculous and delicious, this is the show for you. Yakitate!! is a hilarious meta-parody, absolutely stuffed with puns and wordplay and knowingly over-the-top riffing on straightforward conceits of shounen anime. And although this anime existed years before The Great British Baking Show made competitive baking a familiar sight on TV, it frequently feels like a parody of older food competition shows like Iron Chef. Even better, you learn things about bread and the fundamentals of baking and cooking throughout the series — and the whole time, you’re treated to mouth-watering images of food. It’s as tasty as TV gets.
The surprisingly sensitive rapper comedy Dave
I’m halfway through the 10-episode first season of the new FXX comedy Dave, about a white, uppity, exasperating Jewish rapper named Dave — stage name Lil Dicky — who’s trying to get his career off the ground. I didn’t connect the dots before I started watching that Dave is a semi-autobiographical story about its star, David Burd, a.k.a. the real-life comedian and rapper Lil Dicky. Nor did I expect much more than a funny-enough comedy with a lot of raunch and dick jokes. But Dave has a surprisingly sweet and sensitive side, and I’ve found myself more and more impressed and drawn in as it’s built out its characters and their relationships. It isn’t a perfect show, but it seems to have some interesting ideas about hip-hop and masculinity. And having just watched the standout fifth episode, “Hype Man,” about one character’s struggles with mental illness, I’m excited to see where it goes next.
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