Staff Picks: Kelela, ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ and Chantal Akerman’s ‘News From Home’


Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Check out our picks, and tell us what you’ve been loving in the comments.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

As someone who is supposed to have an open mind towards all things culture, it might not be the best idea to publicly admit that I hate musicals. Categorically. I cringe whenever a musical theater friend bursts into song; I’ve long since blocked all mentions of Hamilton from my social media feeds. Combined with the title—obviously ironic upon viewing the pilot, but still cringe-inducing on paper—I was ready to write the CW’s new musical comedy off with the rest of this fall’s new shows. Fortunately, the network was smart enough to pair it with Jane the Virgin, the best dramedy about unplanned pregnancy on television, and YouTube star Rachel Bloom’s manic (but never pixie dream girlish) charm roped me in from there. The story of an unhappy corporate lawyer who idealizes a high school ex to the point of following him across the country, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is clever, empathetic, and best of all, uses music that could easily feel out of place to deepen its portrait of a multilayered protagonist struggling with mental illness. — Alison Herman, Associate Editor

“A Message” by Kelela

After Flavorwire’s Matthew Ismael Ruiz said that Kelela’s new EP Hallucinagen — and especially the track “A Message” — is “music to grind to…in the bedroom or on the dance floor,” I started listening, and unconsciously grinding, obsessively — everywhere. And it turns out it holds up in the kitchen and on the couch, too. I’ve made meals to this song, vacuumed to this song, and done laundry to this song (or at least a more domestically responsible alter-ego of mine has). Whatever activity you are or aren’t doing, this track is dynamic enough to completely overtake you, and make anything feel like the most sensual thing that’s ever happened to you. The beauty of it is that it’s not just presenting a heightened depiction of sexuality, but also a sense of resolve about its finitude — and of finding sensuality beyond someone else’s body. It 180s from dense, gasping harmony (which, interestingly, is all made up of Kelela’s voice) to its isolated and direct chorus, showing an effortless shift from interpersonal connection to equally stunning self-sufficiency. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

The last of Mad Men on Blu-ray

Thanks to their roughly concurrent appearance on the pop culture landscape, Mad Men has always gone hand-in-hand with Blu-ray for this viewer; I watched the show’s first season in a rushed binge-watch on my shiny new player, and have since revisited every season after it hit the format. They were just a good match—Mad Men was always one of the best looking shows on television, and the flawless high-definition transfers beautifully captured the show’s gorgeous cinematography and impeccable production design, the shiny surfaces that gave way to darkness and ennui. (Plus, you could always depend on the creative types at the show to give good special feature, from the featurettes describing those design elements to the high-spirited, chatty group audio commentaries.) So the arrival of Mad Men: The Final Season, Part 2 on Blu-ray this week feels like the real ending of the series, for me at least; it’s one last spin with Don and Peggy and Roger and Joan, and one more chance to marvel at the quiet perfection of that last episode (that pay phone scene plays even more like a trip to the confessional, and Don’s embrace of a stranger still packs an emotional wallop) and its sublime closing images. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Chantal Akerman’s News From Home

It was the crushing news of Akerman’s death last week that pushed me to spend some time with the Belgian filmmaker’s singular body of work. This feature-length documentary, released in 1977, juxtaposes shots of New York City with letters Akerman’s mother sent her after the director moved there in her early 20s. And that, really, is it. The thing about Chantal Akerman’s films is that they force you to slow down and notice the kinds of quotidian images and actions that whizz by in most movies. In News From Home, that’s the way her mother’s concerned messages start to repeat themselves, organizing themselves into sad, little choruses; the way Akerman captures New York as anyone who lives here would see it: as a pedestrian, through the windows of a subway car, from inside a city bus; and the contrast between the suffocating warmth of the letters and the cold — but maybe welcome — anonymity of a teeming metropolis. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

Steve Jobs

Aaron Sorkin and Steve Jobs were both formative influences in my youth, so it seems like it should be a foregone conclusion that I would love Steve Jobs, but I went in skeptical. Sorkin had given me reason to renew my skepticism, both with The Newsroom and with some of his thoughts about journalism from the last year. Luckily, the two of them end up being a perfect fit. Though Sorkin’s obsession with the myth of the great man sometimes gets the better of him, Steve Jobs is driven by a systematic analysis of the human flaws that live in the shadows of our accomplishments, even if we don’t always recognize them. — Michael Epstein, Editorial Apprentice

The Democratic presidential debate

In all seriousness, my staff pick was the Democratic presidential debate on CNN. All the major candidates and the network had moments of sublime brilliance and utter failure, but after the two clown-car style GOP debates it was exciting to watch a debate that genuinely felt more like, well, a debate. It was an impassioned back and forth on the issues and we heard some genuinely good ideas and pressing concerns. And although I remain far to the left of the party on issues of foreign policy and others, I felt like the candidates were genuinely responding to the electorate and to grassroots movements; feminism, occupy wall street, black lives matter. Who knew political substance could be entertaining? — Sarah Seltzer, Editor-at-Large

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Season 3

Given American audiences’ obsession with period pieces, feminism, and binge-watching, it’s absurd we haven’t all caught on to this spectacular Australian show. The titular Miss Fisher is an independently-wealthy fortysomething bachelorette living in 1920s Melbourne who, instead of flitting around society functions as a proper lady should, solves murders as a private detective. She holds a flame for the very handsome local police inspector but will never be tied down, sleeping with a different man (usually half her age) nearly every episode. And the costumes…oh, the costumes. They’ve gotten better every season, and in the latest one (which Netflix added sometime in the past few months) they’ve transcended into a heavenly plane of ethereal sheer floral prints and decadent evening dresses. The mysteries are clever, the atmosphere is lush, and the characters are endearing. You deserve a break from serious TV sometimes. Take a note from Miss Fisher and indulge. — Zoë Leverant, Social Media Editor