Culture Klatch

Watch/Listen/Love: Our September Pop Culture Obsessions

This month: Harry Belafonte, Stranger Things, charming British bakers and more.

By Staff September 15, 2016

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Image: Courtesy HBO

Kay Kipling, executive editor

I’ve been watching HBO’s The Night Of, and it’s as good as all the reviews say it is. It has outstanding casting, including John Turturro as a sad sack but persistent lawyer and Riz Ahmed as a young Pakistani-American who’s accused of a terrible murder; along with taut, suspenseful direction, and such smart writing (by Steven Zaillian and Richard Price) that runs the gamut from cynical to heart-breaking to funny. And a wonderful sense of New York’s darker sides, along with a truly depressing view of the prison system. Don’t miss it.

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Image: Courtesy Netflix 

Ilene Denton, senior editor

We just finished binge-watching Netflix’s eerie new original series, Stranger Things. Part sci-fi thriller, part horror film, it poses the eternal question, “Should I stay, or should I go?” (A nod to The Clash, whose song plays a pivotal role in the series.) I’m not a fan of either genre, but I was sucked in by the pack of adorable boys at the heart of the mystery, the great ‘80s vibe and the way the writers spool out the storyline one tempting tidbit at a time. Hurry up, Season 2.


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Hannah Wallace, associate editor

“We put the body in the coffin in the ground on time.”

I’ve been totally charmed by Wooden Overcoats, a sitcom podcast about rival funeral directors on a tiny (fictional) English isle. It's everything you want in a radio comedy: lovable oddballs, rapid-fire dialogue, cinnamon-scented embalming fluid and humor spanning dry to dark to silly. The action centers on Funn Funerals and obstinate Rudyard Funn, his dour twin sister Antigone, and their unflappable assistant Georgina, contending with popular new-in-town funeral director Eric Chapman, who can seemingly do no wrong. After plowing through the first eight episodes, I’m stoked for season 2, due out Oct. 27.

“Stick the kettle on and make me some tea.”
“No, Georgie, this isn’t a brothel.”

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Cooper Levey-Baker, associate editor

I've spent large chunks of my free time this year reading through America in the King Years, Taylor Branch's encyclopedic three-volume, 2,300-page history of the civil rights movement. The books are a monumental achievement—filled with impeccable research and told with a rare narrative elan, with an arc both inspirational and tragic. It's the kind of work that tends to take over your whole imagination while you're reading it, and so it's little surprise that it's inspired a new interest of mine in the music of Harry Belafonte, who raised money for King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee time and time again. Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, released in 1959, has become a particular favorite; on it the singer belts out a huge array of global standards with his brawny but subtle voice. In a time when sports fans are quick to dispense their #hottakes on Colin Kaepernick's decision to sit during the national anthem, it's worth remembering that artists and entertainers have for decades used their celebrity to call attention to the causes that matter to them.

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Megan McDonald, web editor

The Great British Bake Off, the U.K. series about amateur bakers (shown as The Great British Baking Show in the U.S.), turns the idea of reality TV on its head. There's no manufactured drama, screaming or cutthroat behavior--instead, the 12 home cooks who've been chosen to participate mix, frost, scoop, smile and help each other out--all against the backdrop of the sun-dappled English countryside, where baby animals frolic in the background and judges named Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry (no, seriously) judge their bakes. "A good Bake Off for me is just about cakes and nice people," host Sue Perkins once told The Telegraph. It may sound boring, but it's strangely addictive; I blew through the first season, which is available on Netflix (later ones are shown on PBS), in just a few days, finding myself suddenly entranced by vol au vents, bread sculptures and tennis cakes. And I'm not the only one: the show has gained massive popularity all over the world. Ironically, the almost aggressively drama-free show is this week in the midst of a new kerfuffle as it prepares to leave the BBC and Perkins and co-host Mel Giedroyc abruptly quit; I'm crossing my fingers that somehow, some way, everything will resolve itself.

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