Mmmm, whatcha say?
The music of 'The O.C.,' Nathan Fielder's 'Cursed,' 'For All Mankind' returns, 'Blue Eye Samurai' kicks ass, and more
This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up just as soon as I ask what dorm you were in at FSU…
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California, here we come
There are now only 18 days until the release of Welcome to The O.C. (Which is still available to preorder, and to get a free bonus chapter for preordering!) In this week’s shameless plug, it’s finally time to talk about the music of The O.C.
There are plenty of TV shows with killer soundtracks. (Matt Zoller Seitz and I practically could have written a second Sopranos book — or, at least, a novella — on David Chase’s music choices.) But The O.C. is one of two shows in TV history (Miami Vice is the other) that completely changed how the medium used music. In this case, it was both the type of artists being featured — primarily indie rock acts like Phantom Planet and Death Cab for Cutie, many of them straight off of creator Josh Schwartz’s iPod — and the way that the record industry began to treat the show as an important stop on the promotional tour for any new album. Bands like The Killers performed at the show’s fictional music venue, The Bait Shop, while big label artists like Beastie Boys, U2, and Coldplay premiered new songs on the show. (As Schwartz and music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas tell it, “Fix You” wasn’t even meant to be a single until they decided to use it in the Season Two finale, rather than some other tracks from X&Y that the label was more excited about.)
So of course Welcome to The O.C. devotes a whole chapter just to the sound of the series, to how Schwartz and Patsavas picked out the songs, and more. I interviewed music executives from the time, plus members of notable O.C. bands about what being on the show did for — or, in some cases, did to — their careers. (Ben Gibbard from Death Cab is wonderful in discussing the complicated, intertwined relationship that developed between Seth Cohen’s favorite band and Seth Cohen’s TV show.)
In the course of doing this book, my researcher Oriana Schwindt and I talked to an awful lot of people associated with the series in some capacity. We got nearly everyone we wanted, with a few exceptions. Chris Pratt was ever so slightly busy as one of the world’s biggest movie stars. And every time we were on the verge of reaching out to Olivia Wilde, there was some crazy new development in the Don’t Worry Darling press tour that made us think now would not be the right time to ask for an interview.
But in many ways, my biggest disappointment is that we couldn’t connect with any member of Rooney — aka, the first band to appear as themselves on the show. If you watched The O.C., you will of course remember this detail forever, because the episode where the gang attended a Rooney concert name-checked the band approximately 900 times. (There is a reason for this, explained in the book.) The success of that episode in turn inspired the creation of The Bait Shop, and emboldened the creative team to lean even more heavily into the world of music.
One thing I can do here that I can’t do in a book is to show you a few examples of how beautifully this worked, rather than simply describe it in prose. Let’s start right at the start, with Phantom Planet’s “California” being used so effectively in an early montage that it of course became the show’s theme song:
Here’s an early Ryan and Marissa kiss that suddenly feels mythical when scored to “Paint the Silence” by South:
The O.C. also became well known for its cover songs, starting with Seth running through the airport to Nada Surf’s take on OMD’s “If You Leave”:
Here’s a perfect confluence of show and artist, with The Killers playing The Bait Shop only a few months after the release of Hot Fuss:
I could keep going with these forever, but for now we’ll leave it with not only the most iconic O.C. music moment, but arguably the most famous moment of the whole series, with a huge assist from “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap:
One of the highlights so far of doing press for the book: I got a chance to serve as guest DJ for an episode of “Lights, Camera, PopRocks,” a show on SiriusXM’s PopRocks channel that looks at famous soundtracks from the ‘90s and ‘00s. That should be going into rotation on the day the book is released, November 28. And as a guy whose musical tastes were largely forged in this era, it will be weird to hear myself talking on a station I listen to a lot.
Anyway, before we move on, I give you Luke Ward’s heroic journey through the Rooney episode:
Back to work, everybody!
On Wednesday night, SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP announced a tentative deal to bring the months-long actors strike to an end. At this writing, the only details publicly available are what the SAG-AFTRA Twitter account posted in a thread, but it seems like another promising result for organized labor.
The audience isn’t going to feel the impact of this for a while. But it sounds like many productions are prepared to ramp up within the next few weeks, and there may be something vaguely resembling normal TV schedules by the spring.
And in the meantime, Jon Hamm gets to to the talk show circuit to plug the new season of Fargo. So in a sense, everybody wins.
Curses! Recapped again!
As alluded to recently, I’m back in the Rolling Stone recapping game again, this time with the new Showtime drama The Curse. Created by Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie, and co-starring them and Emma Stone, the show is as weird and anxiety-provoking as you might expect from the respective minds behind Nathan For You and Uncut Gems. As you can probably tell from my review, I have mixed feelings about The Curse. But it’s also fascinating in a lot of ways, so we’re going to see if I have 10 weeks’ worth of thoughts on it. The premiere is already streaming on Paramount+ with Showtime, ahead of Sunday night’s premiere on the good old-fashioned pay cable channel, and my recap of the episode is live now, and you can read it whenever you’ve had a chance to watch.
This is one where I’m more interested than usual to see how people respond to it. It is, as you might imagine, a LOT.
Blue Eye badassery
In the midst of a very busy newsletter week, I don’t want to give short shrift to Netflix’s Blue Eye Samurai. I didn’t get around to the adult animated action epic until after it debuted last week, watching at first out of curiosity, and then because I couldn’t get enough of the stunning imagery and even more stunning fight scenes. In my review, I did my best to capture what makes it special. It’s extremely graphic in its use of both violence and sex, so it’s not at all something for the kids who have graduated from Avatar and Legend of Korra and are looking for something new. But I was utterly engrossed throughout.
Odds and/or ends
The Taylor Sheridan catalog has generally not been my thing, with lots of slow and dour rehashing of familiar genres and clichés. Before this week, the last one of his shows that I even reviewed was Mayor of Kingstown, a few years ago. Lawmen: Bass Reeves is the first Sheridan-produced show to be created by someone else — in this case Chad Feehan — and it’s definitely the most I’ve enjoyed one of these in quite some time, if not ever. But a lot of that is simply from the force of David Oyelowo’s performance, and from the remarkable nature of the Bass Reeves story itself. And the more I watched, the more frustrated I became that the series couldn’t live up to the incredible life of its main character.
I‘ve started using the Substack Chat feature to expand my best of the year polling, now allowing people to name multiple things per question. Already this week, we’ve done best episodes, best performances, and best new shows. I’ll probably hit more next week. This is always useful for me, both as a way to take the temperature of the room, and simply to jog my memory on various TV things that I might have forgotten about without this community.
And if you want to discuss. the Loki finale, I published a separate post about it to put out a dumb theory I have.
Get your ass to Mars!
Finally, it’s For All Mankind time! As you may recall, the second season of the sci-fi drama — set in an alternate timeline where the Russians beat America to the moon, thus extending the space race indefinitely — was one of my favorite TV seasons of the last several years. I was more mixed on Season Three, mainly because so much of it was devoted to Danny Stevens, an absolutely terrible character that the creative team found way more interesting than the audience did.
But Danny’s gone when Season Four begins, and, as I say in my review, the seven episodes I’ve seen so far felt more consistent and satisfying than most of the previous batch. In particular, the seventh episode ends on a delightful note that had me frantically texting all-caps messages to fellow critics whom I knew had already watched all the screeners. It’s not perfect, but even the flaws are somehow better. The most significant new character, blue-collar Helios employee Miles, is pretty boring, at least in the hands of actor Toby Kebbell. But slightly dull is still a vast upgrade over the sheer narrative black hole that Danny was last year.
The Curse is going to be my late fall recap show for Rolling Stone, which makes FAM a good candidate to get the Poker Face recaplet treatment here on the newsletter. There are just two catches. The first is that episodes drop on Thursday nights, only hours before this newsletter usually publishes. The second is that Fargo is back in a few weeks (with Hamm, Juno Temple, and Jennifer Jason Leigh), and that also seems like a good recaplet candidate. Perhaps I’ll cover both briefly, like how I wrote about multiple shows per day back in the earliest phase of the original What’s Alan Watching? blog. Maybe I’ll alternate in different weeks, or leave FAM in Substack Chat so spoilers are easier to avoid for people saving the episodes for the weekend.
When I commit to recapping something for Rolling Stone, then I’m committed to do it all the way through a season. Here, though, there are no strict rules, so I am open to your feedback on what you’d prefer. For this week, I’ll skip the spoilers, but you’re more than welcome to discuss anything and everything from the season premiere in the comments, whether you want to talk about the latest changes in the show’s timeline, how convincing you find the old age makeup, or whether we now need to refer to Margo as Poor Margo, in the same way Martha on The Americans quickly became Poor Martha.
That’s it for this week! What did everybody else think?