Staff Picks: ‘Nathan For You,’ ‘It’s in the Air’ and Empress Of’s “Need Myself”


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. Scroll through for our picks, and tell us what you’ve been loving in the comments.

Sleater-Kinney’s 5-date “Vanishing Tour” in NYC

It’s been quite a year for the ladies from Olympia; their reunion and subsequent record and tour has been a smashing success. It comes to a close tonight in Brooklyn, where they play the soft re-opening of one of the borough’s more memorable DIY spaces, the Market Hotel. It’s the last night in their 5-night run through New York City, which started at the cavernous King’s Theater in Flatbush and continued at smaller and smaller venues before concluding tonight at the formerly DIY Bushwick venue. From their earliest cassette recordings, Sleater-Kinney has always embodied the DIY spirit, even if their guitarist is a TV star now. Sleater-Kinney may not have any real ties to New York, but the show is still a fitting event for Market Hotel’s re-opening. Because in NYC, most people are from somewhere else, and DIY never dies, it just grows up—and gets its paperwork in order. — Matthew Ismael Ruiz, Music Editor

Classic Films on TV

This season is all about the beginning of holiday TV. I’m not talking about specials with schmaltzy singing and eggnog, which I generally deplore, but about actually good movies on TV, a trend that continues through Oscar season. Since Thanksgiving alone I’ve caught part or all of The Godfather trilogy, Groundhog Day, Trading Places, Titanic, The Departed, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. I can’t wait to see what’s on next weekend. There’s nothing more decadent to me than watching a classic film I know well while the weather turns cold and dark and there’s a good supply of fluffy blankets and delicious tea on hand. — Sarah Seltzer, Editor-at-Large

It’s in the Air

Unlike his contemporary Bob Hope, Jack Benny was never able to translate his radio and television fame into movie stardom – perhaps because, with the sole exception of To Be or Not To Be’s Ernst Lubitsch, nobody could write him a character as engaging or entertaining as “Jack Benny,” the persona he’d honed over years on stage and in front of the microphone. Filmmakers tended to either cast him as a weak-sauce variation on that persona, or in Hope-esque roles of fast-talking con men, which is the case with It’s in the Air, a 1935 MGM programmer (recently debuting on DVD via the Warner Archive Collection) from director Charles Reisner, who also worked with Keaton, the Marx Brothers, and Abbott & Costello. Cast here as a Damon Ruyon-esque gambler and general smooth operator, Benny does pretty well, earning a few chuckles and working up some sharp chemistry with co-star Una Merkel (great years later in W.C. Fields’ The Bank Dick). It’s fun to watch him stretch this other muscle, and the film itself is a modest treat – not exactly a great movie, but a pleasant diversion on a lazy afternoon. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Empress of — “Need Myself”

Perhaps the best “go to hell, I’m awesome” song of 2015, “Need Myself” is a standout from Empress Of’s beautiful album Me. The lyrics “Can we stop watching the tv/ Can I get up off of my knees/ And find a rhythm for my own” sung in Lorely Rodriguez’s strong-yet-stilted voice are solid on their own, but the buoyant production takes this to another level. It’s one of the year’s best bangers and certainly the best self-empowerment jam I’ve heard in a long, long time. — Shane Barnes, Associate Editor

Nathan for You‘s “Smokers Allowed”

I was unfortunately only just turned on to the hilarity (and surprising profundity) of Nathan for You this week. This particular episode manages to form an odd mashup of so many things I hold dear but often question: drinking, cringe comedy, immersive theater, and secondhand smoke. With his feigned earnestness, Nathan Fielder here performs one of the weirdest and sharpest spoofs (or loving homages?) of artistic/critical pretensions I’ve ever seen. Sure, it’s funny as hell that he’s able to convince a bar to turn itself into a living play in order to get around smoking laws (simply by placing an audience — including local theater aficionados — in a corner while everyone else extemporaneously drinks and smokes… because they’re customers). But even more uproariously hilarious are the responses from audiences/the actors he eventually gets involved — the attempts to extract meaning from this masterful exercise in trolling. It underscores how we can desperately look for something in nothing, yet it’s open to the fact that this tendency is both something to laugh at and be immensely proud of. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

Channel 33 Podcast

In 20 or so years I have had a mind capable of grasping the basic concept of culture, The Real World and Road Rules has always existed and I have never been interested in it. I’ve watched episodes of the show due to various circumstances outside of my control and I don’t hate it, but nothing about it has ever drawn me to it. So the fact that in less than half an episode, Juliet Litman and Bill Simmons were able to drive me to hysteria with their discussion of MTV’s “The Challenge” has to be a sign of their TV discussing-prowess. The Channel 33, which is actually a sort of rotating set of sub-shows by Simmons, Litman and their former Grantland co-worker Andy Greenwald, keeps alive the modern pop culture salon that was Grantland’s pop culture section… Or at least the TV part. — Michael Epstein, Editorial Apprentice

Year-End List Season

Is reducing the state of art to a hard number and a handful of blurbs both an exercise in futility and utterly beside the point? Of course. But I find myself enjoying the yearly onslaught of “Best of” lists, and even writing my own, anyway. No single list can hope to be either all-encompassing or objectively right, but cumulatively, everyone’s picks serve as a reminder: of the joys of individual tastes, with all their quirks; of great shows, movies, and books that I’ve missed and can finally get around to over the holidays; of what happened in culture as a whole this year. It’s an opportunity to take stock of the arts on both the smallest and largest of scales, and I’m glad there’s an annual occasion for it. — Alison Herman, TV Editor