My recommendations for the best television, film, writing, audio — and other assorted bits of culture — that I've come across recently.
The Best Television
Based on the much-loved Elmore Leonard novel — already adapted into a film in 1995 — this is a really fun take on the material. Chris O’Dowd is charm on legs, and Ray Romano has become something of a delicacy in this second act of his career. It can be a bit too violent at times, and there’s so gratuitous sex (it’s on Epix, after all), but it is a ton of fun to be with these deeply unlikeable but very loveable characters for a whole season of television.
Grace & Frankie
I mean, this is just delightful television. Who doesn't want to spend hours on end with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin? The premise is that the titular Grace & Frankie find out that their husbands have been cheating on them, with each other. They've now decided to get divorced and live as gay men in their seventies, openly for the first time. The show deals with where this places Grace and Frankie having to rebuild their lives from scratch. It is an endearing portrayal, played for laughs, co-created by Martha Kauffman of Friends fame. It also look at some interesting aspects of life as a 70something, and how it's never too late to start exploring who you are.
This is my favourite show in a very long time. It follows the power struggles at the heart of the Roy family as the patriarch seems set to retire as CEO of a media conglomerate. Created by Jesse Armstrong — he of Peep Show, The Thick of It, Black Mirror — it starts off as a workplace comedy-drama played for wry laughs, but shifts to something extremely powerful mid-season. There are echoes of the real-life drama at the heart of the Murdoch family, but it also seems particularly apt in light of American's first family being the Trumps, and the kind of odd family dynamics that evolve from amassing so much wealth and power. It is truly a wonderful piece of television, and I'm actually watching the season a second time to look out for the beautiful little details I missed the first time around. #TeamCousinGreg #Connor2020
A Damn Fine Book
Every Man a Menace
I'll just leave you with the back cover description of this excellent book by Patrick Hoffman. It really is as fun as this makes it sound.
"Patrick Hoffman burst onto the crime fiction scene with The White Van, a bank heist thriller set in the back streets of San Francisco and a finalist for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award. Now he returns with his second novel, Every Man a Menace, the inside story of a ruthless ecstasy-smuggling ring.
San Francisco is about to receive the biggest delivery of MDMA to hit the West Coast in years. Raymond Gaspar, just out of prison, is sent to the city to check in on the increasingly erratic dealer expected to take care of distribution. In Miami, the man responsible for getting the drugs across the Pacific has just met the girl of his dreams - a woman who can't seem to keep her story straight. And thousands of miles away in Bangkok, someone farther up the supply chain is about to make a phone call that will put all their lives at risk. Stretching from the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia to the Golden Gate of San Francisco, Every Man a Menace offers an unflinching account of the making, moving, and selling of the drug known as Molly - pure happiness sold by the brick, brought to market by bloodshed and betrayal."
Brilliant Arab Noir Cinema
The Nile Hilton Incident
I've been meaning to watch this for a while, but it had a very limited release in the UK. Which is a crime in and of itself. Helmed my Swedish-Egyptian director Tarek Saleh, and staring Swedish-Lebanese actor Fares Fares as a Cairo police officer investigating the murder of a famous club singer at the Nile Hilton Hotel, it has earned deserved comparisons to the classic of the Noir genre, Chinatown. Set against the backdrop of the Tahrir Square protests, it follows the investigation into the seedier, more corrupt sides of power in Egypt, and seems to say that as much as we might think things are changing, very little actually does.
The Best Long Reads (with audio options)
The free speech panic: how the right concocted a crisis – podcast (THE GUARDIAN)
"Snowflake students have become the target of a new rightwing crusade. But exaggerated claims of censorship reveal a deeper anxiety at the core of modern conservatism."
This podcast should be required listening for anyone who feels like we've reached some sort of intractable stage in the culture war-driven schism between Left and Right. I think it's an interesting companion piece to a book I recommended a while back, Angela Nagle's Kill All Normies. It's focussed on UK politics — such as the recent Free Tommy marches — but is ultimately about something more universal, with a strong focus on campus no-platforming.
The man who captures criminals for the d.e.a. by playing them (The NEw Yorker)
This is just an epic piece of journalism by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee at The New Yorker. It follows Spyros Enotiades, a Cypriot actor for hire who specializes in the role of cartel boss, middleman, or money manager in sting operations. The piece goes into great detail about some of his elaborate stings, his larger than life character, and a couple of close calls. It also takes a look at what happens to someone who has led this life when they try to leave it behind for a more simple existence. And whether that is even possible.
The Most Interesting Podcast
Slow burn Season 2: The Clinton Impeachment (Slate)
It is so easy to see the current state of global politics, and US politics in particular because it is the loudest globally, as something utterly unique to our era. Presentist bias, seeing the world exclusively through the lens of the present, is both overwhelming and ahistorical. So it's interesting to listen to this deep dive into the events surrounding the Clinton impeachment and the Ken Starr investigation to realize that what is now amplified by Twitter as a kind of constant shitstorm of anxiety, is not unprecedented. It's also interesting to reevaluate responses to the Clinton affair and see quite how wrong a lot of liberals got it back then.
A Couple of Things I Wrote Recently
Have we reached Peak True Crime?
Watching The Staircase got me thinking about where we are at in terms of consuming stories about true crime in the wider culture. So I wrote a piece about it for Little White Lies.
The State of podcasts in The Arab World
I decided to combine two things dear to me, Arab creators and podcasts, to write this piece for Arab News. I got to speak to some of the region's most exciting podcast hosts and producers, and came away very hopeful for the future of the form in the Arab world.