This month, the AE team is bringing you our Pop Culture Picks from our home offices! British Columbia has just extended COVID restrictions to early January so we’re focusing on the things that support our physical and mental health. Keep scrolling to find out what’s helping us through these challenging times – we hope they can help you too!
Truth Seekers (TV Series – Amazon Prime)
In short: Sean of the Dead meets the Sixth Sense.
This year Amazon Video released Season 1 of the Truth Seekers starring Nick Frost playing Gus Roberts and Samson Kayo as broadband installers for Smyle internet in the UK.
The series is based around Gus Roberts and his low-budget, and low viewership, YouTube Channel called Truth Seekers. Gus has a fascination with the paranormal and investigates old crime scenes and haunted buildings for his audience. Gus gets a new partner, Elton John played by Samson Kayo, and together they install broadband and investigate the weird and spooky.
A cast of characters is slowly built up around the duo including Malcolm McDowell who plays Gus’ father-in-law and the brilliant Susan Wokoma as Elton John’s shut-in sister. And of course Simon Pegg is there playing Dave, Gus’ boss at Smyle internet.
The show has the classic Pegg and Frost banter and bounces easily between horror and comedy. But there’s less P+F scenes than I anticipated and it’s quite lovely to see Frost shining on his own in many scenes and the episodes were scarier than I’d thought.
If you love Pegg and Frost you won’t be disappointed. I think this is some of their best work because the cast is so strong and the underlying story is well crafted. Enjoy the preview.
Thief – Dan Mangan (album)
TL;DR: Canadian musician Dan Mangan covers a diverse selection of songs in his album Thief.
I discovered this album after hearing the cover of Cake’s ‘Love you Madly’ and was very impressed by both the selection of tracks covered and Dan’s twist to each one.
I really enjoy cover albums where the artists create their own unique take to the original track rather than doing a note for note cover of the original. Due to this I found myself revisiting a lot of the originals not only to compare but also because they are all sign-posts back to great albums.
The album includes a lot of great covers, including R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”, Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Airplane over the Sea” and Elliot Smith’s “Waltz, No 2”.
Dan Mangan has won two Juno awards. His concert company Side Door and its ticketed livestreams have also turned out to be a great help to the Canadian music scene during the pandemic.
TL;DR: If I could sum myself up in one phrase it would be “a life-long learner” and the iPad is a great tool for those productive hobbies.
My pick is the new iPad Air (4th generation). It is thin, light, and feels great when I hold it. I have never had a tablet before and this one has worked its way into my daily life in that sweet spot between work and play. I use the Notability app for all my work notes (up until now I always had a paper notebook with me) and also for all my Coursera notes. The Coursera app is great as well and works perfectly with the iPad’s split screen feature. I put Coursera on the left and Notability on the right, and then I can take notes while working through whatever course I happen to be doing at the time (Coursera courses to me feel a bit like this).
I also discovered the cloudLibrary app where I input my library card information and it lets me borrow e-books from my local library. This has been great because all the books I wanted to read have big waitlists on them, but those same books have digital copies available within days through this app. Nice! I’ve also been using my iPad for my daily Duolingo practice, and I got the celebrated app Procreate for creating art. That last one’s not my strong suit though but it’s fun to play around with.
I got the Apple Pencil 2 to go with it and I can highly recommend this accessory. It has a good weight to it and charges automatically when I magnetically attach it to the iPad. It also came with a free engraving where I added a quote from one of the greatest movies of all time.
Ted Lasso (TV Series – Apple TV)
TL;DR: Ted Lasso is a comedy series on Apple TV that stars Jason Sudekis as an American college football coach who is hired to coach a soccer team in the English Premier League.
Jason Sudekis was sports comedy gold during in run on Saturday Night Live. His character Pete Twinkle hosted many women’s sporting events and his enthusiasm for reading sponsor promos was right on the edge of funny/cringe worthy. As the English would say, that bit was brilliant.
However, his new series Ted Lasso makes those SNL skits seem very pedestrian. With shades of the baseball movie Major League, the rich female owner of AFC Richmond hires Lasso (Sudekis) to coach a team and a sport he doesn’t know in order to embarrass the team and its former owner, who is her ex-husband. I thought the series would be heavy on the fish out of water experience of an American in the UK, but that fades pretty quickly after the first episode, instead diving deep into personal relationships and teamwork against the background of a fictional Premier League Football team.
The Lasso character could have easily been fairly one dimensional but comes across as Forest Gumpian coaching savant who spends as much time on the people as the X’s and O’s of managing a soccer club. The writing is again, brilliant in a very English way, and even the villains – the former owner, the current owner, and the pretty boy star player – are shown as having real human frailties. And the local soccer fans are depicted in the same way – serenading coach Lasso with chants of “Wanker” in times of both criticism and praise.
In a time when so many series are based on dark back stories and tragedies, Ted Lasso is the series that 2020 needed.
A Muppet Family Christmas (movie)
In short: A Muppet Family Christmas brings me some much needed nostalgic holiday cheer.
Thanks to COVID, us British Columbians are unfortunately having to miss out on holiday gatherings with friends and family. This is a tough one for me – spending time with the fam at Christmas is probably my favorite part of the year. Needless to say, I’m looking for a little holiday pick-me-up and I’ve been watching the Christmas movies my brothers and I adored when we were kids.
The 1987 made-for-TV movie A Muppet Family Christmas truly fits the bill. It’s funny, heartwarming, relatively short and doesn’t require a ton of mental energy – the perfect quarantine movie!
The premise: Fozzy Bear decides to surprise his mother for Christmas by bringing all his muppet friends to stay at her farmhouse. The problem? Fozzy’s mother was supposed to go on a trip of a lifetime to Malibu and is renting her home to Doc and his dog Sprocket (yup, from Fraggle Rock!). Doc and Sprocket are just looking to spend a nice, quiet Christmas in the country but when Fozzy and his friends show up, Fozzy’s mom decides to let them stay. Of course, shenanigans ensue.
And, not to spoil anything… but the Sesame Street gang shows up about 20 minutes into the movie. Ever wanted to see the Swedish Chef get excited about the thought of cooking Big Bird as the Christmas turkey? I bet you do now. Okay, one more spoiler. There’s a cameo by Jim Henson right at the very end of the movie that never fails to make a huge Muppets fan like myself tear up – especially since A Muppet Family Christmas was the last full-length Muppet production before Jim Henson’s death in 1990.
The only problem with this movie is that the North American VHS and DVD releases are a highly edited version due to licensing issues. As someone who watched this Christmas special sometime in the early 90s on TV, it was super disappointing to find this out when I finally got my hands on a DVD. Luckily, the full, uncut version is out there – so if you want the full Muppet Family Christmas experience and you don’t live in the UK, you can certainly find it on your video streaming platform of choice (hint: it’s the 47 minute long one ?).