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It’s pretty strange that it’s basically May already, which means that it’s basically Summer already. It’s hard to say what the effects of missing out on all of Spring by spending it in doors will be. I suspect it’ll just cause 2020 be a very unmemorable year, despite the fact that it has been a year that has seen us living through most unusual circumstances. That said, if you’re not a healthcare or essential worker, then these have mostly been a mundane couple months of sitting indoors playing Animal Crossing or watching Tiger King or however you’ve chosen to spend these housebound weeks and months. Anyways, here’s what I did with some of my hours this week…

Middleditch & Schwartz

As someone who used to do improv and has kind of fallen out of love with the art form, I was intrigued to see that Ben Schwartz and Thomas Middleditch had put out a Netflix special that is 1) the kind of off-the-rails longform improv I love, and 2) something people seemed to like. Improv specials are not nearly as abundant as stand-up specials, for the simple reason that the element of spontaneity that drives an improv show doesn’t quite translate to film. I’d say there is some truth to this addage, but Middleditch & Schwartz makes the case that improv specials actually can work, as long as you have some master improvisers doing it, and that their choices on stage are big and bold enough to hold your attention for a full hour.

I’ve watched 2 out of the 3 specials so far, and I’m trying to save the third for as long as I can. This is because I know these specials aren’t going to be an itch I’m going to be able to fill after I’m done with it, considering filmed improv — especially with this production value — is barely a thing. Then there’s the obvious fact that no one is doing live improv right now in front of an audience, but this special is fortunately the next best thing.

Double Threat

While we’re on the topic of comedy duos, I figured I’d share a podcast I’ve been listening to, even if it’s one that’s particulary suited to my own comedy tastes. For a long time, I’ve been both a huge fan of Tom Scharpling’s Best Show and Julie Klausner in general, even if their brand of comedy seems doomed to cult circles in perpetuity. So I was delighted to see that at the dawn of the quarantine times, the two of them had teamed up to do a podcast together. I’ve listened to two of the first three episodes so far, and it’s about what you’d expect in all the right ways. Scharpling and Klausner have been friends on- and off-mic for years now, and have such a great report and willingness to go to the darkest regions of the pop culture universe. This includes an extended bit about obscure playwright Fred Stroppel as well as a bit that illustrates their knack for giving Woody Allen the business.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire was a movie that technically came out in 2019, but didn’t get a wide theatrical release until early 2020. So it not only got shafted out of that end-of-year prestige, but also got shafted out of anyone going to see it in theaters. Which is a little disappointing, considering it’s the type of slow-burning drama that probably works better in a theater than watching it casually on your couch on a lazy Sunday night. It’s the kind of austere same-sex love story that’s starting to become a little more familiar with each year, and yet Céline Sciamma’s film still finds fresh ways to deconstruct how an artist captures their muse. Also, there were like, no men in this movie. That’s always cool.

John Prine – John Prine (1971)

One of the more high profile deaths from COVID-19 was John Prine a few weeks ago, though I can’t pretend that I was familiar enough with his work to be all that affected by it. Still, I felt a desire to check out some John Prine music, and his 1971 debut seemed like the most acclaimed and suitable place to start. Just based on this album, it seems a little apparent why I wasn’t compelled to do a deep dive on Prine’s music earlier, in that it is folk/country that has a very traditional sound to it. However, Prine is such a funny, evocative lyricist, that’s it’s hard not to chuckle listening to some of the lines he rattles off with the nasally mischief of early Dylan. Prine clearly left a deep body of work that seems worthy of further listening, so let’s hope this is a small step towards becoming more acquainted with this singular talent.

Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

Dua Lipa is throwing a quarantine dance party and everybody’s invited. Well, except entitled men, apparently. That’s the vibe I got from Future Nostalgia, an extremely fun album that I did not think I needed in my life. Fortunately, due to its brash nostalgia-fueled production and confident vocals courtesy of Lipa, I’ve been proven quite wrong. It’s a reminder that I should probably check out some of Madonna’s early albums, since that kind of “anything goes” aesthetic is a big influence here. But for now, the tasty dance jams of Future Nostalgia will do.