Tituss Burgess on Season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
I’ve only seen the first three episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s sophomore season, but so far it’s been a slump. Most of the jokes have been fine, and the performances, passable, but very rarely has it made me laugh the way it did last year. The show’s one saving grace has been, of course, Tituss Burgess AKA Tituss Andromadon, whom the show relies on infinitely more as an seemingly unending fount of funny.
Though he gets plenty of opportunities for rapid-fire witticisms, Burgess’ best laughs come from his surprising facial expressions. In the pilot, after explaining that the three pizzas he planned to eat himself were found, not purchased, he pulls his head back and his eyes bulge like bullfrog trying ward off a predator. It’s completely unexpected and yet completely fits the character. It’s the kind of comedy magic that we see rarely anymore — comedy that’s completely unexpected but fits into a well-established framework. — Michael Epstein, Editorial Apprentice
The Second Episode of Season 2 of Fear the Walking Dead
Fear the Walking Dead is not the greatest show on television, and it’s probably not better than The Walking Dead, contrary to what this headline says. But this season’s second episode, titled “We All Fall Down,” found our families on a secluded island, at the mercy of a survivalist nut who had tricked his own family into Jim Jones-ing, and it was one of the best hours of TV I’ve seen this year.
This episode had it all: addict Nick extending his post-heroin usefulness by snooping in places non-addicts wouldn’t think to look; gloomy Chris taking up arms and finding catharsis, though remaining kind of a shit-head; Strand calling to some unknown entity; and, oh, a child inadvertently committing suicide, transforming into a zombie, and chewing off the face of her own mother. Key to understanding the creepiness of this particular episode is the scene in which Nick bonds with the survivalist family’s young son, who had painted the heads of action figures with red dots to indicate whether or not they should/did die. It’s an encounter that sounds contrived as hell, but through careful acting and subtle direction ends up being oddly touching. It forecasts the New World Order in a way that all of The Walking Dead‘s scenes of Carl’s miseducation could only dream. — Shane Barnes, Associate Editor
I first became aware of Canadian musician Cat Jahnke (pronounced “yong-kee”) watching the web series CTRL, starring Veep’s Tony Hale; Jahnke provides the theme song. Exploring her body of work, I discovered a creator of minor-key folk melodies that sound like Fiona Apple crossed with Danny Elfman. There’s both a quirkiness and a darkness to Jahnke’s lyrics, like describing cutting up a lover’s body piece by piece in “Transient” or being kept captive by sinister reptiles in “Crocodiles.” Her first true music video is downright ghoulish. Though she has released four albums independently and her songs have appeared in video games and TV shows (including Degrassi, which I assume is a badge of honor in Canada), mainstream popularity still eludes the artist that one reviewer called “poetic, down to earth, and wonderful to listen to.” I hope I can shine a small spotlight on Cat Jahnke and drive some new fans for her weird and wonderful music. —Jason Ginsburg, Social Media Editor
Jada Yuan on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s Asian Bro Legacy
In its stellar first season, which ended on Monday, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend brought us many joys: Laugh-out-loud funny musical numbers, great writing, a very specific and unusual TV setting, and most of all, an amazing cast of characters played by talented singer/actors.
As New York Magazine writer Jada Yuan points out, one of the show’s most valuable contributions is not just its choice of a Filipino actor to play the male love interest, but creating an Asian character that we often see in real life but not so much on TV. “Of all the wonderful things to come of the beloved CW show’s first season,” Yuan writes, “I’d posit that the show’s most subversive act was placing Josh Chan — a ripped and wonderfully chill Filipino skater dude (played by Broadway vet Vincent Rodriguez III, also Filipino) — front and center as the love interest of a prime-time sitcom.” Amen to that. — Lara Zarum, Contributor, TV
Elliott Smith, generally
I’m not going to pretend this is a good sign, but I’ve been listening to Elliott Smith solidly for the last few weeks, and in addition to soothing my soul, it’s reminded me just what a wonderful musician and songwriter he was — very few people have written with as much compassion and clarity about addiction and heartbreak. But perhaps the thing I’ve noticed most is his guitar playing; as someone who has never managed to rise above the level of “enthusiastic dilettante” with an instrument, the fluid ease and virtuosity of his accompaniments are a mystery and an inspiration. — Tom Hawking, Editor-in-Chief
Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End
Parade’s End (as Graham Greene said of all Ford’s novels) is a book for adults that makes other novels seem as if they were written for children. It is arguably the greatest English novel about World War I; Auden considered it to be one of the few genuinely great English novels about anything. (Or, to be accurate, the greatest collection of novels: the book is actually four high modernist novels. Graham hated the last one and excised it; he shouldn’t have.) For my part, Parade’s End is a kind of anti-Magic Mountain; I wish more readers would admit that Mann’s novel is one of literature’s most ambitious and perfect YA fictions. Oppositely, Parade’s End requires adult experience (to appreciate its intense sexual politics) and complicated sympathy (for the mental wreckage brought down on the “English public official class” by the war). In any case, it features one of the most interesting married couples of any novel I’ve ever read. And after you read it, you can watch Benedict Cumberbatch pull crazy faces in the TV version (written by Tom Stoppard). — Jonathon Sturgeon, Literary Editor