The Quantum Leap sequel series couldn’t help but feel a little manufactured. Made-in-a-lab. Only because the original show was so utterly weird and idiosyncratic that any return to the story was going to feel a little over-produced. But having watched the pilot, “July 13th, 1985”, I think the sequel is off to a good start, heading in an interesting direction—and the cast more than makes up for any initial bumps in the quantum accelerator.
I begin this essay with a confession: I have not yet read all of David Mitchell’s work. I’m going to, but I live in the tension between wanting to ingest all of it so it’s in my head, and wanting to ration his books out so I always have one to look forward to. Because of this I hesitate to write about him—I know I’m missing stuff, but also I want to miss stuff.
Does that make sense?
This is my roundabout way of explaining that in this month’s TBR Stack I’m going to look at Utopia Avenue, but just one specific thread of Utopia Avenue. I’m going to dig into spoilers for Utopia Avenue, The Bone Clocks, Slade House, A Tale of Two Cities, and, possibly, human civilization.
Today is Star Trek Day, and Paramount+ celebrated with a day of conversations with the various Star Trek cast members, along with some sneak peeks of upcoming episodes, brand new images, and backstage tours. Check out news for Strange New Worlds and Picard, and read on for highlights from Lower Decks, Prodigy, and Discovery!
The Black Phone was pretty much made in a lab for me. Between the retro setting, the violent, foul-mouthed kids, the objectively real presence of the supernatural, the fraught family dynamics, Ethan Hawke—it’d be weird if I didn’t like it. That’s why it makes me extra happy to say that The Black Phone genuinely creeped me out.
I seem to be un-scare-able. Hereditary didn’t phase me, I love The Evil Dead, I’ve written already about my fondness for Poltergeist, I’ve seen The Exorcist 167 times, and it keeps getting funnier every single time I see it.
Which is why I was surprised at myself when I needed to pause The Black Phone. More than once.
We got a surprise episode of The Sandman! The adaptation of “A Dream of A Thousand Cats” and “Calliope” premiered on Netflix on Friday, and, like the rest of the series, was a strong adaptation of the comic that sometimes even improved on its source.
As my discussion of the episode deals with the choices made in adaptation, it is necessarily spoiler-y! So if you haven’t watched the episode yet, and plan to, please come back to this one at a later date.
I’m not sure that Glorious is a good film, exactly. It’s fun for most of its runtime, and weird, and, somehow, by the end, emotional. I’m not sure it always works. But I’m glad I watched it, and I think horror fans will find a lot to like.
Mostly I’m glad that Glorious exists. The last few years have seen amazing additions to the horror canon, and the fact that a small movie can be unapologetically gross and splatter-y, but also make a big thematic swing, and mostly work, and find large-scale distribution, makes me very, very happy. Join me in the rest stop bathroom for a non-spoiler review, won’t you? (I’ve included a few images that might be NSFW, depending on your line of W, so please be aware of that.)
Last season on Evil, the show introduced a beautifully effective framing device: a pop-up alphabet book, in which each letter stood for something absolutely terrifying, This season they’ve kept the pop-up book format, but instead of letters each entry is a different type of demon, e.g.: The Demon of Cults, The Demon of Memes, The Demon of Sex. Each episode explores its demons in surprising ways (the Demon of Sex is preying on a pair of virginal newlyweds who are still figuring things out; the Demon of Memes is using Google Streetview to spread an urban legend) while also checking in on the various dramas of our characters (Kristen is still dealing with the fallout from her violence and her confession to David; David is wrestling with his new status as a priest; Ben keeps falling into bed with women he should stay the heck away from). But all of this is nothing more than barest plot synopsis. Surely if you’re a fan of Evil—as you should be—your only question is: was this season as delightfully unhinged as usual?
Oh yes, dear reader. This season murdered every hinge, brought it back from the dead, and then murdered it again.
There is not a hinge in sight.
A Head Full of Ghosts is literary catnip: a modern possession that turned into a reality TV show? A modern possession that might not be possession at all?? Catholicism???
But like all great horror stories, it ends up being about human emotions more than anything, with, yes, an element of incisive class commentary, and, even better, an ongoing conversation with both The Exorcist and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
There’s a lot of pressure on the (hopefully) first season of The Sandman. The show had to cover the first two major arcs of an iconic comics series, introduce dozens of new characters, and multiple fantasy realms, all while finding a consistent tone in a story that starts as a series of episodic chapters before turning epic, and starts as horror before turning into fantasy. (They also had to ditch a bunch of DC Comics continuity.) And, just as the comics had to do back in the ‘80s, the show needed to find a way to keep people invested after the bloody meatgrinder of John Dee’s visit to the 24-hour diner.
In the comics run, Issue #8, “The Sound of Her Wings”, is when The Sandman becomes The Sandman. It reestablishes the story’s theme, gives us new empathy for Dream, and introduces Dream’s sister, Death. It’s also a nigh-perfect issue, a compact jewel of a story that feels enormous. So in the midst of the pressure to get The Sandman as a whole right, the episode that adapted “The Sound of Her Wings” needed to capture a certain spirit to lead viewers onto solid ground, and send them off into the second half of the season.
I think Episode Six does this beautifully well, and it does it through tiny choices in adaptation.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes, it’s very good. Yes, it’s faithful to the comics in all the right ways, but also isn’t afraid to use the comics as a jumping off point that not only gives new life to the story, but makes me hopeful for the future seasons this show better get. Yes, the ending sets up one such future season. Yes, if it only gets one season the ten episodes here are satisfying as hell.
Honestly, I have a few minor issues, and I’ll talk about them below, but I watched this show in one marathon, stopping only a few times for basic necessities like gin, and for most of those ten hours I was very absorbed and very, very happy.
Welcome to Close Reads! In this series, Leah Schnelbach and guest authors dig into the tiny, weird moments of pop culture—from books to theme songs to viral internet hits—that have burrowed into our minds, found rent-stabilized apartments, started community gardens, and refused to be forced out by corporate interests. This time out, Leah waxes poetic about maggots, haunted meat, and a few highlights of ’80s cinema.
Last month was Poltergeist’s 40th anniversary. As it was a formative film in my childhood, I jumped on the chance to revisit it, and was surprised by just how weird and idiosyncratic it was. But the moment that stood out, just as it did when I was a child watching it, was The Meat Scene.
Y’all remember The Meat Scene, right? I think it might be one of the primary touchstones of ’80s cinema.
Series: Close Reads
This should be easy. I’m going to sum up the 75-issue-plus-some-extra-stuff run of Neil Gaiman’s iconic Sandman comics, and do a quick spin through some of the most important characters of the first two main arcs to get us all up to speed for Netflix’s Sandman series.
“I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.”
Great movie line, or greatest movie line?
It’s a brief moment in Hayao Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso, when seaplane pilot Marco Rossellini—a man cursed with a pig’s head—meets up with his old pilot buddy Rory. The two have a clandestine conversation in a movie theater, and Rory warns Marco that the Italian Air Force wants to recruit him, and they’re not going to take no for an answer. This scene comes about 40 minutes into the movie; until now, the only stakes were whether Marco would make enough bounties to cover the cost of repairing his plane. But now Marco has a choice to make.
He can join the Italian Air Force, and the war that looms on Europe’s horizon, or he can remain an outlaw, and live with death threats over his head.
He can return to the world of men, or remain a pig.
One of the best things about Porco Rosso is that Miyazaki leaves this choice hanging in the background of every frame of the movie, but he never, never, gives it any real discussion beyond this exchange, because it doesn’t deserve it. Instead he proves the absurdity of fascism by showing us a life lived in opposition to it—a life free of bigotry, authoritarianism, and meaningless bureaucracy.
A life of pure flight.
You know how sometimes you’ll read a particular author and find that their cadences and word choices are creeping into your own head-voice? Or sometimes into your writing? I ask because I have spent these last few days reading a lot of Chuck Tingle, and my brain is currently a CAPSLOCK wonderland filled with buckaroos and sentient jet-skis.
The purpose, you ask? Well, aside from the sheer joy of proving love, I thought it might be a fun quest: is it possible that such an eccentric body of work could yield practical writing advice?
When I’m reading a book here are two things I love above all else: stories that aren’t afraid to follow their own weird paths, and stories that dig into class. I’m ecstatic to report that The House Next Door does both of those things! And it’s scary!
Last month my beloved colleague Molly Templeton talked about Summer Reading Assignments in her column, Mark as Read. For once I’ve given myself a summer reading goal: I’m trying to work through as many haunted house books as I can fit into my eyeballs before Spooky Season. First up is Anne Rivers Siddons’ modern classic The House Next Door, a book I’ve been meaning to read for years.
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