They Write the (Fake) Songs
Great tracks by fictional bands, 'The Mandalorian,' 'History of the World' & 'Perry Mason' return, 'Daisy Jones & The Six' rock out, and 'Poker Face' does its best episode yet
This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up just as soon as I have some kind of a moose warning…
Thanks for reading What's Alan Watching?! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
I did not expect this week to be as full of stuff as it turned out to be, but when it rains articles, it pours them. So let’s get to it all…
Fake bands and the people (including me) who love them
If you do what I do for a living, thinking aloud on a company Slack channel can be akin to volunteering in the armed forces. Before you know it, an editor has seen your idle brainstorm and commissioned a 10,000-word article on it, due last week.
That is not quite how things worked out with the Rolling Stone list of the 50 best songs by fictional bands. I made a joke about such a list maybe a year ago, somebody said, “That’s a good idea,” but then we all forgot about it and moved on. Then when Amazon announced the premiere date for its adaptation of Daisy Jones & The Six (more on that below), we couldn’t resist putting it into practice, and it finally published this morning.
As happened with the best TV theme songs ever list, I was put in charge of making eligibility rules, which this time meant no cover songs (sorry, Commitments), as well as no songs by artists who are basically playing themselves (or else most of the top 10 would have just been the Purple Rain soundtrack). And I roughed out a first draft of the list, before other staffers and editors offered their own input, we had arguments, etc. (Everyone knew, for instance, that the list would have a song from This Is Spinal Tap, but there was a lot of disagreement as to which song.) We tried to incorporate a wide range of song types as well as eras, and to find a good balance between quality of the song itself and how memorably it was used within the movie or show. About the only thing that never changed was the number one choice, and if you know me at all — and/of if you know the history of this particular type of songwriting — I imagine you can guess what that is.
We had a long list of difficult discards, including “Eep Opp Ork Ah Ah” from The Jetsons, “All Over the World” from Still Crazy, and “Killer Tofu” from Doug, among many, many others. Please proceed directly to the comments to complain about the many things we snubbed, how the order is entirely wrong, etc.
One thing I will reveal about my own thought process: there was a very long stretch where “On the Dark Side” from Eddie and the Cruisers outranked “Light of Day” from Light of Day. At a certain point, though, I just couldn’t allow imitation Springsteen — even great imitation Springsteen — to finish higher than the real thing. Especially when the latter is sung by Joan Jett and Michael J. Fox in very feathered hair.
The return of Mando and Grogu
Breaking out my recap of The Mandalorian Season Three premiere from my other articles this week. It’s either been two-plus years since we last saw the show, or a little over eight months, depending on whether you consider The Book of Boba Fett to be its own show or a kind of stealth Mandalorian Season Two And A Half. Jon Favreau and company sure seem to be treating it the latter way, given how the premiere didn’t bother to explain anything about how Mando and Grogu reunited after Season Two’s emotional goodbye.
At some point, I may have to just accept defeat on my argument that shared universe shows and movies should reward people who watch everything without punishing the viewers who don’t. But for now, it’s still worth railing against, because it’s hugely annoying.
What else is Alan writing?
So, this week’s other posts:
HBO’s Perry Mason is back from a nearly three-year hiatus on Monday. You may recall that I found Season One largely frustrating, even though I had never read the books and had barely seen the Raymond Burr version. The original showrunners, though, often seemed embarrassed to be making a Perry Mason show at all. Season Two, though, is run by The Knick creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler. They don’t throw out everything — or, really, anything — their predecessors did, but they manage to make all of it work much better this time around. Not a great show, and at some point I would love to see Matthew Rhys play a character who smiles a lot, but it’s significantly more entertaining.
Forty-two years after it was first promised, Mel Brooks finally gives us History of the World Part II — sort of. Instead of another movie like 1981’s History of the World Part I, it’s an 8-episode Hulu series. And while Brooks is involved, Nick Kroll, Ike Barinholtz, and Wanda Sykes are the more direct creative forces, Kroll especially. Like the film, the show is a collection of historical sketches. And like the film, some of it is hilarious, some terrible, and some kinda both? Lots of additional thoughts in my review.
As mentioned earlier, the fake bands list wound up being pegged to Amazon’s 10-episode version of Daisy Jones & The Six, which I reviewed here. I loved the book, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The show has its moments, and I really like Riley Keough and Sam Claflin in the lead roles, but it can’t overcome two problems: 1)The creative team can’t find a way to recreate the evasive POV of the book’s oral history structure, and without that, it’s a pretty clichéd Fleetwood Mac pastiche; 2)With one exception (discussed in the fake bands list, in fact), the songs are all just kind of okay, which is a problem when we’re told this was for a time the biggest band in the world, and when the soundtrack is peppered with actual Seventies classics, all of which leave The Six’s songs in the dust.
If the latest episode of The Last of Us wasn’t quite the epic tearjerker of the Offerman/Bartlett episode, it came awfully close, thanks to magnificent work from Bella Ramsey and Storm Reid.
Poker Face recaplet: '“Escape From Shit Mountain”
Finally, we have the newest title-holder for best Poker Face episode yet, only a week after “Orpheus Rising” so clearly seized the crown.
Directed by Rian Johnson and written by showrunners Nora and Lilla Zuckerman, with a guest cast including Stephanie Hsu from Everything Everywhere All at Once, David Castaneda from The Umbrella Academy, and Johnson’s frequent muse Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Escape From Shit Mountain” is Poker Face somehow breaking out even bigger guns than having Natasha Lyonne direct an episode featuring Nick Nolte, Cherry Jones, and Luis Guzman.
It does not feel like a coincidence, by the way, that the season’s two biggest highlights so far both clocked in around 60 minutes. Where brevity is often an unfortunately rare art in the streaming drama era, Poker Face is a show where more tends to be more. Last week, it allowed us extra time to marinate in Charlie and Arthur’s friendship, which made her desire to seek justice for him resonate much more. Here, Johnson and the Zuckermans use the extra time in service of a number of flourishes: 1)The long, Groundhog Day-esque sequence of JGL’s Trey struggling with the limitations of his house arrest; 2)The lengthy montage of Charlie’s idyllic life during the warm months on Shit Mountain with the hot shirtless guy, followed by the hilarious cut to her looking miserable in the filthy snow; and, especially, 3)The sheer amount of time spent in and around the motel once the story kicked in.
This one was just a masterclass in suspense, because Charlie is at such a seeming disadvantage this time: terribly injured, isolated, and outnumbered, especially since Hsu’s Morty is mostly out for herself. I kept waiting for the moment when Charlie would push Castaneda’s Jimmy into defeating Trey, or else for Charlie to improbably escape both men. Instead, Trey shoots Jimmy when it becomes clear he can’t manipulate his lackey anymore, and then he stabs Charlie and throws her back into “the spot.” But the ultimate resolution — with Trey being foiled by the ankle monitor he’d been so keen to be rid of — feels much more satisfying than if Charlie had somehow beaten the guys up with an antique ski pole and driven off in Trey’s Lamborghini.
Also? That shot of Morty holding a gun and flashlight on Trey out in the woods is a goddamn thing of art. Johnson and his longtime director of photography Steve Yeldin are very good at what they do.
Sad we only have one more to go until next season, but looking forward to seeing what happens now that Cliff and Sterling Sr. know where Charle is, and at a moment when she can’t exactly run away from them.
That’s it for this week! Don’t forget to subscribe, share, tell your friends and relatives and Postmates person all about this newsletter. There are even buttons sprinkled throughout here that will help you do those things!
How could you leave out Captain Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters? Certainly the best performance of a fictional band by a fictional band.
After watching that ep of "Poker Face" I tipped the GrubHub person extra.