Your SEARCH for a New TV Sensation Is Over

WHO:

  • Creator: Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer, The Baxter, Hello, My Name Is Doris)
  • Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development)
  • John Reynolds (the mustachioed police officer in Stranger Things)
  • Meredith Hagner (the hack artist who changed her name to “Montana” in Younger)

WHAT: This dark comedy series from the minds of Michael Showalter, Sarah-Violet Bliss, and Charles Rogers satirizes NYC millennials who get caught up in an absurd disappearance mystery. The hilariously named Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty) goes missing, and pictures of her appear throughout the city. Wayward Dory (Shawkat) recognizes her as some girl from college she barely had contact with, and the spark to find her missing “friend” is born. But her disaffected friends Elliott (John Early) and Portia (Hagner) along with her bland boyfriend Drew (Reynolds) seem to be completely uninterested in Dory’s case of intrigue. As amateur sleuth Dory grasps at clue after clue, her friends’ lives weave in and out of the story, as a larger picture appears to form.

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WHY: Shawkat’s relatable take on Dory has us just as convinced as she is that she alone can solve this case. Piecing together the clues along with her is half the fun in this series. Although the downside is that they throw in as many frustrating red herrings as they do actual clues, leaving us, the at-home Poirots, to flounder when they don’t pan out. But the hijinks of her little clique help smooth out the otherwise rough season. The struggle to balance comedy with the dark side of the disappearance case is something the writers don’t quite perfect until the end of the season. But, when they finally do, the payoff is so extraordinary that I was in a fit of laughter for hours.

The satirization of millennials is so on point that it almost feels like they were just going for authenticity. Hagner especially is the breakout star in Search Party. Playing a struggling (heterosexual, white, blonde) actress who ends up getting cast as a Latina cop in a popular series leads to quite the few colorblind jokes aimed at the industry. (Bonus shout-out to her mother who is played by Broadway actress Christine Ebersole!) But, like any successful series, it is the dynamics of the four of them as a group that keep you coming back for more.

If you start the series and find the mismatching tones too dissonant, just stick with it. I promise you it’s worth it (if not for the great surprise guest stars along the way). And know that the season finale combined with the premiere of season two (already airing) is one of the funniest hours of television that I’ve seen.

WHERE: TBS (and Amazon)

WHEN: Season 1 is streaming online; season 2 airs Sunday nights at 10.

BONUS PAIRINGS:

  • for a similarly darkly comedic take on millennials: You’re the Worst (2014-present)
  • for a blend of dark comedy and criminality: Weeds (2005-2012)
  • for a deeply sarcastic amateur sleuth: Veronica Mars (2004-2007)

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One Man’s JUNK Is Another Man’s Treasure

WHO:

  • Ayad Akhtar (Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of Disgraced);
  • Doug Hughes (Tony Award-winning director of Doubt);
  • Steven Pasquale (Broadway: The Bridges of Madison County; Off-Broadway: The Robber Bridegroom, TV: The Good Wife, American Crime Story: The People v O. J. Simpson);
  • Joey Slotnick (TV: The Good Wife, Nip/Tuck, Alias)

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WHAT: Set in the 1980s, this fast-paced play dives into some of the brightest (and vilest) in the financial world that exploited junk bonds (some sort of useless piece of paper that is never coherently defined in the play) and the repercussions of their high-risk deal making. Financier Robert Merkin (Pasquale) is our anti-hero who is dead-set on taking over a manufacturing empire that was founded on the quintessential American industry: steel. He manipulates the market, the buyer, and the head of
the generations-old steel company Everson Steel. His actions lead to an all-out war (with Shakespearean undertones) between him and Everson. And all the while, the FBI is closing in on Merkin’s empire.

WHY: Why, indeed? The show is itself is captivating. Every actor delivers a solid performance (even when you can barely hear Teresa Avia Lim’s line delivery as hard-hitting journalist Judy Chen). The stark stage (by John Lee Beatty), comprised of two rows of four boxes, keeps focus on the quick-moving set and story changes as we bounce around the United States watching this drama unfold. And Akhtar’s play does a mostly good job of explaining to the audience how exactly these characters are manipulating not only each other but also the stock market itself (although my eyes glazed over more than once during some of these discussions). He also sets up an intriguing dichotomy of the American Dream between Everson (Rick Holmes) clinging to old-fashioned ideals and Merkin trying to manipulate the system to achieve his dreams.

But why this play? That it is entertaining, I will certainly allow. By the end of act one I was rooting for the rest of the play to just continue. That I felt emotionally invested in the characters and their comeuppances cannot be doubted either (at least in the moment). But after leaving the theatre and returning to the real world, I found that the show quickly disappeared from my mind. I was quick to forget any finance mumbo jumbo I had heard and found that I didn’t really get anything lasting out of the play. I had an enjoyable evening puttering around Lincoln Center and enjoying the thrills of this well-done production. But Junk is hardly a play worth revisiting or recommending (but if you can see it for free, why not?).

WHERE: The Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center

WHEN: Opened on November 2nd; Closing date is January 7th

BONUS PAIRINGS:

  • The Big Short (2015)
  • American Psycho (either the 1991 book or the 2000 film…or, if you’re feeling extra nerdy, explore the 2013 London musical)
  • a double pour of scotch (to numb you to the dark look into the financial world)

CHASE Down HARRY WINSTON on Audibook

It’s all been downhill since Lauren Weisberger’s successful 2003 bestselling debut novel The Devil Wears Prada (whose film adaptation is even more successful and beloved than the novel—or supposed roman a clef—was). Her second novel Everyone Worth Knowing was fun and readable though hardly substantial, but her third novel Chasing Harry Winston is quite possibly her worst book to date (even more so than the drivel that is Revenge Wears Prada). However, as terrible as the book Harry Winston is in textual form, a curious thing happens when you listen to the audiobook: it becomes highly entertaining and engaging!
Chasing-Harry-Winston-275375The audiobook is voiced by Lily Rabe, who is singlehandedly the reason the book is so successful in this format. Rabe dives into the story, bringing unique voicing to the trio of women who serve as protagonists for the novel. Her Emmy is squeaky and unsure of herself going into her thirties as a recently dumped single woman. Adriana comes off as chic and confident and endlessly entertaining with Rabe’s deep, throaty, sultry voice for the character—sounding like a completely different person. And Leigh, in Rabe’s “normal voice,” is the stubborn one whose struggles with her impending marriage and her job as an editor feel the most fleshed out and relatable. Overall, Rabe sounds like she is having so much fun acting out the story that you can’t help but enjoy it, even at its most eye-roll-inducing.
And Harry Winston induces eye-rolls in spades. The crux of the novel involves these three women make a pact to change their lives—through anonymous sex or hunting for a serious relationship—which sounds like the beginning of any romantic comedy ever. And the story’s devolution into a mash-up of clichés merely begins there. While blessedly spared of extraneous details and dialogue that make reading the book so tedious, the abridged audiobook actually feels too short and quick. That’s how incredible Lily Rabe is. She actually leaves you wanting more from Entertainment Weekly’s “#1 Worst Book of 2008.”
I will forever love and read Lauren Weisberger if only for the nostalgia of when I first read her novels and loved them with all the joy of a guilty pleasure. But her novels translate better into audiobooks, letting strong actresses (like Merritt Wever!!) bring out the best, entertaining aspects of the novel. And Chasing Harry Winston is such a treat as an audiobook.