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Glen Weldon

Glen Weldon is a regular panelist on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics, and more for the NPR Arts Desk.

Over the course of his career, he has spent time as a theater critic, a science writer, an oral historian, a writing teacher, a bookstore clerk, a PR flack, a completely inept marine biologist, and a slightly better-ept competitive swimmer.

Weldon is the author of two cultural histories: Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, and The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate, McSweeney's, and more; his fiction has appeared in several anthologies and other publications. He is the recipient of an NEA Arts Journalism Fellowship, an Amtrak Writers' Residency, a Ragdale Writing Fellowship, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts for Fiction.

HBO Max, WarnerMedia's new streaming service launching Wednesday, grants subscribers access to all HBO series and hundreds of movies, as well as some shows in the Warners stable that were originally broadcast on other networks — like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Big Bang Theory.

The service also launches with a handful of original series. We've got a quick preview of those that were made available to media early.

Craftopia

When we first meet The Great's young Catherine (Elle Fanning), she's dreamily pushing herself back and forth on a swing entwined with lush flowers. The year is 1762, or thereabouts.

"My time in Washington," Eleanor Roosevelt (Harriet Sansom Harris) says at one point in the Netflix miniseries Hollywood, "taught me a lot of things. I used to believe that good government could change the world. I don't know if I believe that anymore. However, what you do — the three of you — can change the world."

The nation's drag revues are shuttered, for now. Across the country, even as you read this, lace fronts are drying out, false eyelashes the size of tarantulas are losing their curl, and sequined gowns are gathering dust in dark closets, far away from any follow-spot that could set them shimmering. The collective experience of a live drag show, where you can smell the performers' perspiration, desperation and wig glue, is a pleasure denied us indefinitely.

The premise is big, bold, even broad: When they broke up in college, fifteen years ago, Ruby (Merritt Wever) and Billy (Domhnall Gleeson) promised each other that if either one of them ever texted the word "RUN" to the other ... and the other texted it back, they would drop everything and meet in Grand Central Station, hop on a cross-country train, and see what happened.

See? Big idea. High concept. Great elevator pitch. Sold in the room.

Note: This review discusses events depicted in the final season, and final episode, of Schitt's Creek.

From the opening moments of the first scene of last night's Schitt's Creek finale episode, it was clear: Nothing would change, and everything would.

The streaming service Quibi — short for "quick bites" — calls itself "the first entertainment platform designed specifically for your phone."

Translation: They're doling out their shows in 7-to-10-minute chunks — er, episodes — at a rate of one per day. Quick bites, get it? Perfect for the busy, distracted, on-the-go consumer! Too bad none of us are on-the-going anywhere these days.

Quibi divides its shows into three categories: Movies in Chapters (read: serialized narrative), Unscripted and Documentaries (read: episodic nonfiction) and Daily Essentials.

In these unsettled, unsettling times, some of us look to things like horror movies and dystopian novels as a means to keep things in perspective. Things are bad, these people think, as they delight in characters meeting various grisly ends, or huddling around barrel-fires in fishnet stockings and fingerless gloves, but they're not this bad.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When it comes to videogames, I'm no bitter-ender.

In the opening minutes of Disney/Pixar's Onward, we are met with various manifestations of loss.

The first two episodes of Devs drop on FX on Hulu on Thursday, March 5th. The remaining six episodes will be published over the following six weeks.

Slow Burn premieres Sunday February 16th on EPIX.

Slow Burn isn't the first hit podcast to be adapted into a television series, and it won't be the last. In this, the age of streams and verticals, of IPs and platform-agnosticism, we are about to be deluged with content that began life nestled in millions of earbuds.

The degree to which any given Marvel or DC/Warners movie manages to distinguish itself from the slew of punch-em-ups that have come before is a function of tone, more than anything else. The demands of the genre (innocents to protect, evil to punish, MacGuffins to procure, training to montage) are such that filmmakers are forced to innovate around the margins.

Avenue 5 premieres on HBO Sunday, January 19th.

"A problem," decrees a character on HBO's sci-fi comedy series Avenue 5, "is just a solution without a solution."

The problem facing the crew and passengers of Avenue 5 — a massive space-cruise-ship in the not too distant future on its maiden 8-week cruise around Saturn — has to do with its trajectory.

The New Pope debuts on HBO Monday, January 13th.

There's an argument to be made that Catholicism is to Paolo Sorrentino's The Young/New Pope television series as Media is to Succession, as Oil was to Dallas and Dynasty, as Wine was to Falcon Crest, as McMansions are to the Real Housewives.

Which is to say: merely the setting, the ostensible backdrop before which the real drama plays out: endless, internecine struggles, betrayals, maneuvers, schemes and retribution.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

NPR's movie critic and Pop Culture Happy Hour hosts picked 20 of their favorite films of the year.

1917

The thing about the act of plate-spinning is: It's not about the plates. Not really.

NPR's TV critic and Pop Culture Happy Hour hosts pick 19 of their favorite television and streaming series of the year.

Chernobyl (HBO)

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Superman is secretly reporter Clark Kent. Everyone in the real world knows that because as "Superman" superfan Jerry Seinfeld pointed out back in 1979...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

Just six years after the Disney film Frozen unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace the soaring power ballad "Let It Go" — a song that proved no mere harmless earworm, but instead a devastatingly memetic musico-epidemiological event, a tuneful tapeworm that proceeded to infect the world's theater auditions, cabaret acts, drag repertoires and (especially) car rides to and from your kids' swim lessons — its sequel Frozen II now lies in wait, gestating in its bowels another song of similar belty pandemic virulence that, this coming weekend, will secure itself a billion or so

The third season of The Crown drops on Netflix on Sunday, November 17th.

"One just has to get on with it."

That's Elizabeth II (played by Olivia Colman, taking over from Claire Foy), in the first scene of The Crown's third season. She's addressing her assistants, there, who have just unveiled to her the more-current portrait of the Queen set to replace her younger self on a postage stamp.

Has abject misery ever been such fun to watch?

Has soul-sick dread ever looked so gorgeous?

As depicted in Robert Eggers' hauntingly hilarious new film, the life of two keepers who maintain a remote lighthouse — time and place unspecified, but most likely the late 1800s, off the New England coast — is one of ceaseless, back-breaking toil.

When a joke would bomb — or rather, when an audience would fail to join him in laughing uproariously at a joke he'd just finished — Rip Taylor would switch off.

For just a second, he'd drop the merry mirthful maniac bit: He'd stop laughing and frown, his handlebar mustache would droop, his woolly-caterpillar eyebrows would knit. He'd look out at the audience, mock-annoyed.

"Folks, I don't dance," he'd say. "This is it. This is the act."

Or

"You'll get these when you get home and laaaaaugh."

Or

In the comics and cartoons — and on film, as played by Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and (checks notes) Jared Leto — the Joker, Batman's archenemy, is an agent of chaos.

The premise was simple. Clean. Direct. If one were feeling uncharitable, one might even say thin.

In a series of 21 videos posted to Will Ferrell's Funny or Die website, comedian Zach Galifianakis played a version of himself, interviewing celebrities. That was it. Now: It was a pinched version of himself. A bored, distracted, irritable Zach Galifianakis, lobbing questions that were condescending and dismissive at best, and jaw-droppingly insulting at worst.

There is nostalgia, and there is Downton Abbey.

Nostalgia bathes the past in a golden light that falls patchily, shining clear and steady on what was tidy and genteel, while leaving an era's ugliest, most brutal recesses sunk in shadow.

Good morning from Toronto, where the NPR Movies team has decamped for the next seven days or so, as we attend the Toronto International Film Festival, the largest film festival in North America.

It's an old tradition that endures, even amid the year-round deluge of programming brought to us by the age of streaming. It is the fall TV preview.

Turns out fall is the perfect time to refocus on television after a summer filled with vacations and outdoor distractions. So our pop culture team collected the coolest TV shows coming your way over the next few months as a guide through the madness. We haven't seen all of these programs yet, but we've learned enough to know they're worth checking out.

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