New Releases

Chris Pratt's "Parks and Rec" Band, Mouse Rat, Announce Debut Album

The album arrives on the 10th anniversary of Li'l Sebastian's death.

Mouse Rat

Legendary Parks and Recreation band Mouse Rat will finally release their debut album.

The fictional Andy Dwyer-fronted rock group (which have also previously gone by Threeskin, Everything Rhymes With Orange, Fleetwood Mac Sexpants, Scarecrow Boat, Just The Tip, Alabaster Fart, and Tackleshaft) announced that the 16-track debut will hit streaming services on the 10th anniversary of Li'l Sebastian's death.

For those who don't follow the show, Li'l Sebastian was the official horse of "Pawnee, Indiana," the fictional town where Parks and Rec takes place.

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TV News

The "30 Rock" Reunion "Upfront Event" Sounds Annoying as Hell

Fans are being deprived of a true 30 Rock reunion in favor of a weird meta-marketing event

Update 7/15/2020: As it turns out, the promotional nature of the upcoming 30 Rock reunion special is not a hit with everyone.

According to a new report from The Wrap, several large NBC affiliate groups have opted not to air the hour-long special which amounts to little more than an hour-long infomercial for the next year of NBC programming—and for NBCUniversal's exclusive streaming service Peacock—interspersed with some comedy from Liz Lemon and the TGS crew.

This means that many viewers who tune in to their local NBC channel to when the reunion special is airing at 8:00 Thursday night will instead be greeted by... something else.

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CULTURE

"Parks and Rec" Stars Reunite in a Brand New Episode for Charity

And the whole thing was shot from their homes.

It's hard to believe it's been over five years since the final episode of Parks and Recreation aired.

For a start, 2017 has come and gone, and in a world without Gryzzl we continue to be deprived of transparent, holograph-projecting phones and tablets—though folding phones are kind of a thing finally. But now, the old crew is getting back together for a one-episode charity event to benefit Feeding America.

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TV Features

Binge-watching Challenge: Start a Show at Season 3

It's possible to spare ourselves the slog of shows when they're just starting out.

Quarantine: when jobs have either been lost or relegated to the living room, wherein social functions are limited to Zoom, wherein the 24-hours in a day can really be felt.

With less to physically fill the time, the time remains unfilled. Fortunately, sequestered humans have never had such a bevy of entertainment options available to them. But that kind of freedom can be paralyzing. Never has there been a better time for binge-watching, but what are we to binge? And how?

Since all this free-time demands discipline, here's an unconventional suggestion: Pick one of the all-time great shows, something you've always wanted to watch but couldn't find the motivation nor time to do so, and start not at the beginning, but at season three instead. Whether it's a comedy or a drama or simply something you've put off watching because the plot is too involved or the show is too hyped, ignore the first two seasons entirely, and fall into a world that's already in motion. Using our knowledge of television in general, and by tapping into the cultural conversation of characters and references, we can spare ourselves the slow starts of seasons one and two, and get right to the meat of the matter. Why sit around waiting for a show to find itself? Why settle for less than the best?

First seasons are often uneven or uncertain, anyway. Second seasons are often better and more compelling, but shows that make it to season three emerge with a clear tone and complete characters: two necessities for any show with long-term success.

Examples abound of shows finding themselves in their third seasons. Arguably, the greatest comedies of the 21st century are The Office and Parks and Recreation, though contenders such as It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Curb Your Enthusiasm are important to the discussion, as well. As for dramatic examples, look to the Olympic podium of TV's Golden Era: Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Mad Men.

Mad Men Season 3 Promo Photo

A weighted-review aggregation site like Metacritic is not the law, but it is useful. The numbers almost universally favor third seasons and beyond. Parks and Rec improves in score from a 58 in season one to an 83 in season three, a change signifying an ascension from "mixed or average reviews" to "Universal Acclaim," in the critics' words. The Office's highest overall score is season three's 85. Breaking Bad starts solidly with its first two season garnering scores of 73 and 84, but in its final three earns marks of 89, 96, and 99, an unprecedented run of greatness. Game of Thrones' two highest marks of 91 and 94 are for seasons three and four, respectively. Mad Men is the lone outlier of the bunch, as its second season outscores its third by a single point. However, its fourth season, ruled a 92, is the series' high-point. Why? Shows generally hit their strides in season three.

First, character development peaks at season three. First seasons tend to be myopic about their characters, hoping that closeness will lead viewers to love them. Season two is the experimentation room, wherein worlds shift, and season three is the fruit of that labor, with confident characters and expanded worlds.

By season three, the main characters have been poked and prodded for two full seasons, experimented on until their truest selves have been revealed. How? Conflict. Characters are made complete, in mold and mindset, through consistent conflict. They are built through what are essentially a series of thought experiments: How would x react if y? A byproduct of such conflict is a fleshing out of a show's world. Conflict requires fresh subjects to be placed before a character, be they fresh faces, strange circumstances, or unfamiliar situations.

For instance, two of Parks and Rec's most iconic characters, Ben Wyatt and Chris Traeger aren't introduced until the very end of season two, where they immediately begin foiling Amy Poehler and Rashida Jones, the series leads. Breaking Bad's first two seasons lack the series' big bad, Gus Fring, creator of the fictional restaurant, Los Pollos Hermanos, the logo of which adorns the show's most popular merchandise; yet, it's only introduced in concept at the tail-end of the second season. The Office changes dramatically in season three, adding mainstay Andy Dwyer, flirting with a young Rashida Jones, and cementing Jim and Pam's relationship, which was until then a typical will-they-won't-they situation. Once resolved, it formed the literal backbone upon which the show is built.


Once they got together, Jim-and-Pam as a concept burst outside the confines of the show they were in, taking up real-estate in the general pop culture consciousness. The great shows, the all-timers, the ones you really should be watching in this quarantine time, share this Jungian trait. One doesn't need to have watched Seinfeld to understand the terms "shrinkage" or "close-talker." "We were on a break," is just part of our dialect.

Though this principle doesn't inform our viewing of many great shows, it does so with some of our touchstone comedies, like the aforementioned It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Curb your Enthusiasm. Shows of this format don't have one cohesive story pulling them along; it's possible, if not normal, to jump around to the great episodes through seasons, without care for continuity. Once it's known that the characters in Always Sunny are narcissists who work at a bar, it's easy to understand any episode, to jump in without further background. Ditto Curb, where Larry David is culturally understood to be an off-putting schmuck, and that's all one must know for maximum enjoyment.

Because the DNA of these two shows, and their dramatic brethren like Grey's Anatomy and NCIS, is accessible via collective unconscious, we culturally understand that it's unnecessary to sit and watch every single episode in a row. We know enough from our general human wanderings that we can skip the fluff and enjoy the standout performances and pieces, allowing superfluous details to slowly fill themselves in, as they always do.


Grey's Anatomy Season 3


Which of the truly great shows don't also already exist in our cultural consciousness? Nobody goes in blind to any piece of art nowadays, so it's hard to think of even one. Everyone knows Tony Soprano is a gangster in therapy. Lost takes place on an island post-plane crash. Jon Snow in Game of Thrones is a bastard, and if that isn't abundantly clear, they'll say it five or six times an episode.

No show is ever entered into truly blind. Between our bevy of previous cultural knowledge and the practice we've had in consuming other content en media res, it's possible to spare ourselves the slog of shows when they're just starting out. We've just never strayed from the unimaginative formula that shows are best began at the beginning. But that's clinging to tradition alone. Shows in season three will contain characters at their most compelling, jokes at their most pointed, worlds at their most alive. The show itself will be easier to enjoy, and that enjoyment will come quicker. Is that not the point? Maximum enjoyment, minimum commitment.

And when it's all over, when you love these people desperately and want so bad to live in their world for just a few minutes more, you can rejoice! For there are two more seasons for you to watch, saved, untouched. Their growing pains will seem quaint, their iffy characterizations cute. And the exercise alone will make you feel powerful, able to ground yourself in a world in movement.

Music Lists

Leave Your Man at Home: A Galentine's Day Playlist

From Diana Ross to Beyoncé, here arethe songs you need to celebrate.

Galentine's Day might've started as a bit in the Parks and Recreation universe, but Leslie Knope's holiday for celebrating her favorite women has since become an occasion for many ladies in real life.

Intended for celebration on February 13, Galentine's Day is best spent sharing the love with your closest gal pals—we recommend a potluck complete with wine and copious amounts of dessert—before sharing the following day with your sweetheart. If you're single this season, Galentine's Day and the following weekend also mark the perfect occasion to hit the town with your fellow bachelorettes, soaking in each other's companionship instead of wallowing over a lack of romance.

No matter how you're spending Galentine's Day, you need a playlist. We've compiled plenty of empowering hits—from classics and modern pop stars alike—to get your day (or night) started on the right foot.

Robyn, “Dancing On My Own”

Robyn's biggest hit to date is simply magical. It's a relatively simple dance-pop song that remains pretty level throughout, but "Dancing On My Own" still has a cathartic power that's made it the definitive sad banger. It's irresistible to sing along to, but the best part is you won't actually be on your own—you'll be dancing with your girls.

Follow the playlist on Spotify!

Galentine's Day

CULTURE

Revisiting Babe.net in Light of Aziz Ansari's "Right Now": A Kind-of Review

Right Now is Aziz Ansari's reckoning with himself.

Netflix

Like everyone else, the burning question on my mind going into Aziz Ansari's new Netflix special, Right Now, was whether or not he would address the Babe.net article.

He did––barely a minute into his set, in fact. Right off the bat, Aziz Ansari is more grounded, less hyper, so clearly transformed from the Aziz Ansari of yesteryear. The entirety of his monologue on the topic can be read here, but this was the most important part:

"There's times I've felt scared. There's times I've felt humiliated. There's times I've felt embarrassed. And ultimately, I just felt terrible that this person felt this way. And after a year or so, I just hope it was a step forward...I always think about a conversation I had with one of my friends where he was like, 'You know what, man? That whole thing made me think about every date I've ever been on.' And I thought, Wow. Well, that's pretty incredible. It's made not just me but other people be more thoughtful, and that's a good thing."

On his last point, Ansari was right. In many ways, the Babe.net article felt like a watershed moment in a movement already chock full of watershed moments. Up until that point, the #MeToo movement (at least in my limited perception as a straight, white dude) had been about speaking truth to power, exposing the many abuses that women faced at the hands of affluent men who felt they could get away with anything. Yes, the movement led many men to introspection, but for a lot of us, especially the "woke" ones, there was also a certain degree of detachment.

tom haverford NBC

The perpetrators of the most prominent #MeToo cases were men like Harvey Weinstein: true predators who intentionally wielded their substantial power and social clout to target and rape women. Even someone like Louis C.K., who wasn't outright raping or physically assaulting women, displayed consistent patterns of using his status to target and sexually harass women around him.

None of that applied to me. I already respected women in the first place. I had been in a committed relationship for nearly seven years, and I was 100% positive that I had never used my status (I'm another writer in Brooklyn; what status do I even have?) to pressure anyone into doing anything sexually that they didn't want to do. Of course I'd strive to empower the women around me. Of course I'd call out sexual abuse if I saw it in the workplace. Of course I supported the #MeToo movement wholeheartedly. But #MeToo wasn't about me.

Then the Babe.net article about Aziz Ansari came out. The piece followed "Grace," a girl who went on a date with the comedian after a chance encounter. Grace described how they went back to Ansari's place after dinner, he made it clear that he wanted to have sex, and she spurned his advances multiple times. They did engage in sexual contact (not sex, but he kept attempting), during which Grace signaled that she felt uncomfortable.

This excerpt from the article stood out to me:

"Most of my discomfort was expressed in me pulling away and mumbling. I know that my hand stopped moving at some points," she said. "I stopped moving my lips and turned cold."

Whether Ansari didn't notice Grace's reticence or knowingly ignored it is impossible for her to say. "I know I was physically giving off cues that I wasn't interested. I don't think that was noticed at all, or if it was, it was ignored."

Ultimately, Grace texted Ansari after the date, telling him that the encounter made her uncomfortable. Ansari apologized to her directly and later clarified in a public statement, "It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said."

babe.net Tab Media

Journalistic issues with Babe.net aside, the whole situation sat poorly with me. Unlike all the other publicized #MeToo stories—wherein I could safely say that the perpetrator was, indeed, a remorseless, sexist predator who should never work again ("How is Max Landis even the same species as me?")—Ansari's case felt murkier.

I immediately recognized his behavior as uncouth. He was selfish and gross. If a friend came to me and told me that was how her date went down, I'd say something like, "That guy sounds like a massive a**hole, hope you never see him again." But I probably wouldn't say, "He sexually assaulted you, put him on blast."

Part of my hesitation came down to Grace's description that most of her cues were nonverbal. As a person on the high-end of the autism spectrum, nonverbal cues are a pain point for me in general––I have a very hard time reading and interpreting them, and I always ask people close to me to verbalize explicitly what they want from me, sexually or otherwise.

My point in bringing this up is that while nonverbal cues are practically imperceptible to me, they aren't necessarily natural to everyone else, either. Through that reasoning, it was easy for me to imagine a scenario wherein Ansari genuinely read the sexual encounter as fully consensual and Grace genuinely tried to stop it through nonverbal cues. In that situation, Ansari would be in the wrong, but it would still be hard for me to consider him a sexual predator, as opposed to it just being a really bad date.

But the situation at hand was even more complicated. Grace did verbally tell Ansari that she didn't want to have sex, and he still persisted in trying to move their encounter in that direction. I had the distinct thought that if it had been me in Ansari's shoes, I definitely would have stopped at that point, even if I hadn't picked up any of the nonverbal cues.

At the same time, I didn't understand why Grace wouldn't just leave his apartment––even in her recounting of the experience, she never seemed to feel unsafe. She was also in an entirely different industry, so there wasn't the same subtextual pressure that might have existed if she had been a budding stand-up comedian. Obviously, no one has the right to judge whether or not another person should feel unsafe in a given situation, but I wanted to fully empathize with the story, and I felt that my lack of understanding was preventing me from connecting. I couldn't wrap my mind around what kept her there, but I wanted to.

So I asked my girlfriend what her thoughts on the situation were, and she told me that she fully understood what Grace had felt. And I read articles on the topic written by women, most of whom fully understood what Grace had felt. Moreover, almost every other woman to whom I brought the subject up had a similar take––encounters like the one between Ansari and Grace are ridiculously common, and nobody really knows if it's "sexual assault" or not. But, at the very least, it's not a good thing.

So maybe it's not useful to get bogged down in technicalities. Shouldn't we be holding our sexual encounters to a higher standard than "not technically sexual assault?" If so many women are leaving sexual encounters with men feeling like they were, at the very least, deeply uncomfortable, that means we need to do a whole lot better. Doesn't it?

Grace's story brought to light a deep rift in the way men and women are socially conditioned to communicate, especially in sexual scenarios. Men are taught to be aggressive. Women are taught to be demure and non-confrontational. This means that in uncomfortable sexual situations, a lot of women will respond physically through subtle physical cues to avoid making a scene, instead of shouting "NO" or outright leaving––and a lot of men aren't conditioned to pick up on those cues.

Again, this means we need to do better. Our sexual encounters should not be defined by whether or not the other person literally ran away.

And sure, it would be great if every woman felt comfortable enough to outright say "NO" when they didn't want things to move further, but women are also put in very precarious situations should men respond with violence––and the fact that most men would never react like that doesn't change the fact that some men do, and women don't know which until it's too late.

In the end, it doesn't matter if Aziz Ansari did or didn't technically sexually assault Grace. What matters is that she left the date crying because she felt violated and didn't feel comfortable enough to express that in the moment.

What's important is that men who feel uncomfortable with the story––especially the "woke" ones––take the opportunity to confront their own dating experiences, come to terms with how their own behavior might have made someone else feel that way, and hopefully use the reflection to grow into a better person.

aziz ansari right now Netflix

Incidentally, this seems like exactly what Aziz Ansari did. The frenetic, hyperactive Aziz Ansari who played Tom Haverford in Parks and Recreations is no more. While he still goofs on his cousin Harris after nearly a decade, his main point is deconstructing how jokes evolve, mature, and rarely age well with time. Aside from that, Ansari performs a sober set exploring the mortality of parents and the subtle racism that pervades modern, liberal white culture. Finally, Ansari concludes:

"That old Aziz who said, 'Oh, treat yo' self,' whatever, he's dead. But I'm glad, 'cause that guy was always looking forward to whatever was next: 'Oh, am I gonna do another tour? Am I gonna do another season of the show?' I don't think that way anymore. 'Cause I've realized it's all ephemeral. All that stuff, it can just go away like this. [Snaps fingers.] And all we really have is the moment we're in and the people we're with."

It's not the world's most hilarious stand-up special, but it isn't supposed to be. Right Now is Aziz Ansari's reckoning with himself.

Perhaps, if we truly want to be the "good guys" we claim to be, we should all aim to do the same.