The Sweet Smell of Succession

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HBO’s Succession is one of the most compelling shows on television and it’s returning for a second season on August 11th. And I’m launching a new podcast to recap it with Tara Ariano! You can find the podcast at successionpodcast.com, where we’ve already recapped season 1, and you can support the show at successionkickstarter.com.

For those who aren’t aware, Succession chronicles the power moves of the Roy family and their patriarch, Logan Roy. Logan is the founder of a a gigantic media conglomerate called Waystar Royco which has generated obscene wealth not just for himself, but for his four children. While they each defend against outsiders that would threaten to infiltrate their circle, they must also contend with their biggest obstacle: each other.
Succession’s portrait of the Roy family is funny, biting, tragic, and heartbreaking. It offers so much fodder for discussion and we’re looking forward to breaking it all down with you.

On a personal note, this marks my first real collaboration with Tara Ariano. I first encountered Tara’s work over a decade ago, when I became a huge fan of her website, Television Without Pity, one of the first TV recap sites ever. TWoP managed to combine snark and insight into an irresistible package. It was essential reading for show watchers and showrunners alike (Famously, the site was referred to obliquely in an early West Wing subplot). It’s not an exaggeration to say that sites like Television Without Pity paved the way for some of the work I’ve done with my own TV recap podcasts.

Tara and the founders of TWoP also went on to create the Extra Hot Great podcast, a weekly general interest TV podcast which is a exceptionally well produced. Extra Hot Great manages to capture what makes television wonderful and transcendent but also, occasionally, truly terrible. Still, the podcast itself is always a delight and continues to this day.

In any case, I couldn’t be more excited to work with her on this new venture. I hope you have a chance to check out our first episode at successionpodcast.com. You can also support the show via Kickstarter at successionkickstarter.com.


Some other interesting links from the week:

The medium is the message: On Disney’s new Lion King

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One of the things that’s important when you’re about to embark on a creative endeavor is to ask what medium you should use to tell your story. Should the story you’re telling be a film? Or would it benefit from listeners being able to binge-listen it in the form of a podcast? Should it be animated, so that abstract concepts and fantastical ideas can be conveyed more easily? Or maybe it only needs to be a well considered essay or novella.

Each medium has specific strengths and weaknesses. Figuring out how to navigate them is an essential part of the storytelling process.

Sadly, that seems not to have been something the creators of the new Lion King considered. This new version has photorealistic animals and surroundings but while it’s impressive as a technological feat, it falls short when for one basic reason: The lions can’t emote.

The hand drawn animation in the original Lion King gave the characters a memorable expressiveness. I still remember the horror on Young Simba’s face as the wildebeest stampede began, threatening to take his life and the life of his father. Jeremy Irons’ delicious performance as Scar was greatly augmented by that character’s over-the-top facial animations. All of this is lost in the conversion to the photorealistic 2019 version.

This might be acceptable and potentially even interesting if this movie veered in an entirely different direction with the story. Instead, many sequences are remade almost shot-for-shot, only with lions that can’t express themselves and with musical numbers that remove much of the fantasy and visual magic that helped propel the original tracks to become 10x platinum (the highest selling soundtrack ever for an animated film). Unfavorable comparisons are inevitable.

Siddhant Adlakha breaks it down well over at his Patreon page (free for now):

What this film is, though, is an exercise in nostalgia. Not the wistful tinge of memory — rather corporate nostalgia, as a tool of commerce, wherein bare-minimum familiarity is a benchmark for trade. As someone who enjoys Disney and Universal theme parks, the concept of manufactured nostalgia isn’t lost on me (sign me the fuck up for the obnoxiously expensive Galaxy’s Edge), but where the new Lion King departs from its ilk is how nakedly it puts Disney’s soulless corporatism is on display. Watching it is no more or less ethical than watching Avengers: Endgame, though it feels far more ugly.

The Lion King (2019) is a film that flattens expression. Its pursuit of “photorealism” has rendered its characters zombies, unable to emote even as much as real animals. Twelve-year-old JD McCray performs admirably as young Simba, his otherwise sprightly voice breaking and quivering as he discovers Mufasa’s body — the most hard-hitting scene in the original. Though here, in the “live-action” re-creation, the lion prince’s discovery is met with a deadpan expression, and a prodding akin to curiosity rather than desperation.

Jon Favreau is a supremely talented filmmaker and what he’s accomplished here hasn’t really been done before. I hope that he and the incredible visual effects artists that helped to make this movie are next able to apply their talents where form and function work more hand in hand.

A few other takes on Lion King worth considering:


The next episode of my new podcast, Culturally Relevant, is out now! I chatted with The Farewell director Lulu Wang. Then, my wife and I review the film from a Chinese-American perspective. If you are so inclined, check it out and leave a review. I have a lot planned for this season of the show and I’m excited to share it with you all.

Plus, in the podcast, I recommend and discuss some of the following pieces:

Announcing Culturally Relevant, a new culture podcast

When I first started podcasting 12 years ago, it came out of a desire to preserve interesting conversations that I had with other people and to put them out into the world. On a fundamental level, I believed that when people can have access to meaningful dialogue about topics they’re passionate about, it makes them feel less alone.

In addition to creating an intangible camaraderie, podcasts also open people up to new perspectives and interesting arguments. If I started podcasting from the position of wanting to find people who affirmed my opinions, I’ve tried to get to the point where I seek out those that challenge my own. Only in the crucible of a blistering, incisive argument can your own point of view be truly tested and validated, I’ve come to conclude. And podcasts are an amazing vector for all of these interactions.

In the intervening years, I’ve been fortunate to meet dozens of fascinating and talented individuals, including filmmakers and writers and authors and artists from all walks of life. But despite all the podcasts I’ve created, there still hasn’t really been a vehicle for the full breadth of these conversations. That’s what I’m hoping Culturally Relevant will be.

Every weekly episode will feature an in-depth conversation about an interesting topic, whether we are discussing a creator’s own work or reviewing something else. I hope it’ll be a mix of the casual and the formal, deliberate and off-the-cuff. I have absolutely no idea if it’ll work but I’m hoping you’ll join me for the journey.

Spider-Man: Far From Home spoiler video review

I was really grateful to Ben Pearson for joining me to discuss Spider-Man: Far From Home. We delve into what this movie does to Peter Parker’s arc, the reliance of these movies on the legacy of Tony Stark, and the possibilities of future MCU films.

Also: I ran into some difficulty with my video in this one. My Sony A7III ran out of battery while I was shooting the first half of my video. Despite the camera’s promises to recover the file after I booted it back up, it didn’t work and I lost the entire first half of my side of the video. Making things even worse: I was monitoring the battery life the entire time and it plummeted suddenly from about 18% to 0%. This genuinely shook my faith in the camera system. How can I record interviews with this thing if the camera might die and take my video with it?

In any case, I’m grateful to Daanish Syed for stepping up and helping me out with some photoshopped images that I used to fill in the video above. Check them out. I hope you enjoy them.

Interesting links from around the web (early June 2019 edition)

It’s been awhile since the last link round-up, so here are a bunch of interesting things from the internet:

Netflix’s “Always Be My Maybe” from an Asian-American Perspective: Details You Might Have Missed

I was thrilled to see that Netflix recently released a new romantic comedy featuring two Asian-American leads (Randall Park and Ali Wong). There were so many things that the film nailed that I made the above video with my wife to talk about them. We discuss what the film gets right about the Asian-American experience, and dive into details you might have missed. Check it out.

One Second for Every Day of My Life (2018-2019)

For the past seven years, I’ve recorded one second of video for every day of my life, then combined them all to create a 5-6 minute video that summarizes that year. Here is this year’s video.

Highlights from this year:

  • I saw David Byrne live in concert at the very last Sasquatch Music Festival
  • I attended XOXO fest in Portland
  • I climbed to the top of Kokohead Crater in Oahu
  • I joined a new team at Amazon (at Prime Video!)
  • I ate lots and lots of food and saw lots of movies and shows

Thanks for taking a look at my life through this unique lens.