It’s no secret we’re living in trying times. Here’s what’s helping the Merry-Go-Round staff stay sane this week.
HAVE A GOOD TRIP: ADVENTURES IN PSYCHEDELICS (Netflix)
Admittedly, watching HAVE A GOOD TRIP: ADVENTURES IN PSYCHEDELICS, you’re left with the impression that it would make for a better YouTube channel than it would a feature-length film, the number of talking heads you’ll see scattered throughout disproportionate to the number of full-on stories told and a kind of (I suppose appropriately) scattered structure guiding it. But that doesn’t make watching Netflix’s clearly long-in-development documentary about psychedelic drugs any less worthwhile, a breezy hour-and-a-half jaunt with various celebrities investigating experiences in the worlds of mushrooms, LSD, peyote, DMT, and other hallucinogens. While you’ll come for a generation of funny people (Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer, Rob Corddry, Rob Hubel, Sarah Silverman, among many other modern improvers), you should really press play to see lengthy stories from both Anthony Bourdaine and Carrie Fisher, both of whom passed away several years ago. And don’t miss the great Fred Willard, who just passed away several weeks ago, in a small but memorable skit cameo. Worthwhile stories from Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch and Sting, as well as a soundtrack provided by legacy indie rock royalty Yo La Tengo, make it a pretty easy and distracting 90 min that will have you messaging friends for ‘shrooms the moment it ends (allegedly). [CJ Simonson]
MAD MEN (Netflix)
A good TV show is hard to find. With one as illustrious as MAD MEN there’s a desire to renew its relevance in our uncertain time. This is a noble goal, but one that’s ultimately motivated by the market. MAD MEN is irrelevant. The ‘60s and ‘70s have passed us by, just as they did the characters in the show. They are witnesses to history, but only barely, perhaps because the second world of the Internet wasn’t even a twinkle in some engineer’s mind, but also because time’s passing never matters. It’s whiskey in a cup soon to be drunk. It’s a good monologue, a compelling composition, a smile. It’s there and then it isn’t. MAD MEN is filled with characters escaping the past, running towards an uncertain future, maintaining a level of privacy and power nearly impossible to achieve in 2020. The show visits them in their darkest moments, and finds them struggling to form and maintain identities (ad man, wife, writer, “good person”) they barely understand or care for, as some of the most consequential moments in modern history fly by, only stopping to rest for a moment.
TV has changed. MAD MEN saw us into the total dominance of “web-based television.” MAD MEN, like many AMC shows, benefited from its licensing and clever placement on the services that would come to erode its very existence. But its vision of television is ancient in comparison to what’s produced today. The experience of the crew of artists and craftspeople that produce television may be in some part intact, but what’s produced is not. MAD MEN harkens back to a time when TV was TV and that meant something. An episode meant something. Plot was secondary to the slow dance of characters stepping awkwardly and gracefully into a new world. MAD MEN is irrelevant because it would never be made today, but wherever it lands after its June 10th exit from Netflix will see it not as a show, or a clever case of product placement, but as a valuable “asset” for some coming “streaming war.”
Returning to MAD MEN during quarantine is actively leaning into the show’s nostalgia, yes, but it’s also reminding myself what can be good about television at a time when it seems like every chance will be taken to dilute any sense of creativity in the medium for subscriptions and better ad profiles. Television exists because of advertising, but it also exists in its own right and is home to such a specific and interesting kind of storytelling that it defined a majority of our modern culture. We are living in the world the ‘60s and ‘70s created, we are living in the culture the old style of television created, and like the characters in MAD MEN, History and its partner Tragedy are passing us by every day. We need a better way to negotiate what’s going on, what we enjoyed about the past and the present (however small) and what world we’ll wake up in if this ever truly ends. I’m watching MAD MEN because at its best it’s a meditation on those very things and at its worst it’s a very good TV show. [Ian Campbell]
TEEN WOLF (MTV)
While the notion of growing up on Tumblr. is one met with either the spit of strangers or a haunting recollection of one’s own cringe, I self-identified as a “Superwholock” at the age of 17 and I have to accept that! Although, despite nine seasons of SUPERNATURAL’s bullshit under my belt, a 2013 train I never bought a ticket for was Jeff Davis’ Saga, TEEN WOLF. Black and White GIFs of queerbaited couples like Sterek filled my dashboard and my subconscious at its mere uttering, but I was always a bystander to it. In quarantine, ie. astral-projecting directly into the eighth circle of hell, I figured why not start? Fellow writers of this magazine Aya Lehman and Amanda Ball watched the first few episodes with me and, as veterans, advised to only watch up to Season 3B, “The Dark Stiles” season. Unfortunately for my friends, they didn’t know I watched all seven seasons, front to back, of Alan Ball’s masterpiece TRUE BLOOD. Needless to say, I don’t do anything half-assed when it comes to fantasy, especially teen fantasy. TEEN WOLF is a show that feels hard to comment on. It truly exists in the fabled “gray area.”
The first three seasons are filled with tender, naive adolescence juxtaposed with paranormal threats. The acting, while abysmal, elicits a need to protect from its audience as the characters deal with more than the average high school experience. It would also be remiss not to mention that there has not been a hornier show on air than TEEN WOLF S2. The line “you should’ve seen the scratches she left on my back pre-Wolf” intercut with a sex scene and then a shower scene relays that GREY’S ANATOMY owes penance. That being said, while S3 is by far TEEN WOLF’s best season, it also jumpstarts the show’s unnerving need for abject body horror. Flies pouring out of open wounds, eyes being plunged out, and hearts being eaten during open-heart surgery are all realities in the world of Beacon Hills. Explicit body horror, however, is only a small shortcoming of the show as S4 begins. The tokenizing of Kira Yukimura and the vessel of her untimely exit is grounds for the guillotine. Plot lines make less sense, an excessive amount of villains lose impact, and unfortunately, like most fantasy shows, no one ever grows. The aforementioned is especially true of the “Teen Wolf” himself, Scott McCall. While his idiocy and compassion is heartwarming, his entire character refuses to divert from “my moral compass always point due north.” That’s not mentioning that he contracts anime protagonist disease of “truly nothing kills this fucking teenager.”
I could articulate more, such as the irrefutable thesis that “pussy heals all wounds.” Before anyone fires off in the comments about that, I would like to remind you that Derek banged Julia whilst literally bleeding out. Yet I could push all of those aside, if the writers would deal with the main problem of TEEN WOLF, which is that no one, NO ONE, is allowed to address any trauma on that show. The love of Scott’s life dies in his arms while her dad watches and what? He cries in his mom’s arms and then the wound is permanently patched?. Also, don’t even get me started on how much trauma Lydia should be dealing with. I realize this review is harrowing and the point of this series is to find some levity in quarantine. Therefore, while I’ve been a bit scathing, TEEN WOLF is unmistakably fun, addicting, and heartfelt. Fantasy shows from BUFFY to TEEN WOLF to TRUE BLOOD are my bread and butter, my comfort food almost. My search history of countless hours looking for the perfect “Allison Argent” T-shirt could easily be considered testament to my love for this show. If you “grew up” on Tumblr. like me, and you miss sepia .gifs and fictional characters with adorned titles like “Maid of Gevaudon” and “The Impossible Girl,” TEEN WOLF will plop you comfortably back home. You might want to act fast, though, as a quarantine reunion of the cast was set for June 5th. [Jesse Herb]