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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Thursday
Feb042016

In Which We Knew A Wizard Once And He Was A Dick

Dumbledont

by ETHAN PETERSON

The Magicians
creators Sera Gamble and John McNamara

For one magnificent moment, The Chronicles of Narnia is mysterious, frightening, and full of possibilities. Then it introduces Jesus, a lion. At least, when those white kids entered that wardrobe, there was the possibility something entertaining would come out of it. The Magicians, adapted from Lev Grossman's trilogy of the same name, does not even have that.

How boring is The Magicians? Well, let me get your take on how much you care about the emotional problems of white Ivy leaguers, who are the central characters of The Magicians. OK, so you know that doofus Rory Gilmore was dating whose father owned a newspaper? His name was Logan Shewterprince or something like that. That guy was a selfless, altruistic champion compared to these people.

My professors — not at any Ivy League-affiliated institution — used to tell me that I used too many rhetorical questions in my writing. When I asked them why this was a problem, they explained they weren't sure, but they had been told it was a sign of bad writing. Well, if they were telling the truth then both myself and the writers of The Magicians have a lot to answer for, since seventy percent of the dialogue in this thing is questions, and no one has the answers.

Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) is a white guy with big problems. Driving a car makes him nervvies, so he Narnia-enters a magic liberal arts college in upstate New York, Brakebills, to study magic. (The campus looks vaguely like Columbia.) It is emphasized that few of the students or faculty are very good at magic, except for a blonde woman named Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) who wears skirts that end at the midpoint of her thighs. Alice can't really act very well, so it is good The Magicians will write her off the show basically after the first season.

And there will be future seasons. Despite the fact that The Magicians spends a lot of time hinting at satire of C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling, holding back the criticism just enough to ensure none of the jokes are actually funny, The Magicians is at least better written than most of the trash that has made its way to the execrable SyFy network. This is maybe not saying very much.

The scenes with Coldwater at his school are pretty bad. Ralph is a good-looking fellow, but an incredibly low energy actor and he more whines than delivers most of his lines. He makes two other white friends and starts vibing with the blonde girl. No indication is given why any of these people care for him at all; he is the male Mary Sue and don't you forget it. In a much more amusing subplot, Quentin's muggle friend Julia Wicker (the super-charismatic Stella Maeve) is denied entry to his magic Cornell and starts learning these arts in a cult where tattoos mark the levels of achievement involved.

College and the process of education is not only ripe for satire, but this journey can also feature a tremendous amount of satisfaction for the viewer. Within moments of Quentin's entrance to Brakesbill, we are told that the university is not very important, the faculty are shit and no one has a terribly great grasp of what magic is or how to operate it. At least we got the sense that Hogwarts was an important place where lots of smart, important people walked the halls. Brakesbill might as well be a homeless shelter with a bar.

Even avoiding parody, The Magicians cannot succeed on its own enthusiasms. Magic in The Magicians is wacky, pointless, stupid and ill-defined. Without extended explication, we can never know what any of the stakes are in this battle over what being white and privileged really means. Recently, some universities revealed they were sending students to a white privilege conference, where they could fully fathom the meaning of their advantages. Some white idiot is always trying to do good and he ends up doing bad or worse, insignificant. This is the only moral of The Magicians.

In order to test Julia's magical aptitude, a white man locks her to a radiator in the women's bathroom of a bar where whites go to congregate. I am not joking, there are two people of color in The Magicians. The black character has his eyes torn out and the Indian-American named, for some reason, Penny (Arjun Gupta) experiences unprotected sex and summons a demon from an alternate reality. This is just in the first episode! Was this show executive produced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences?

The only interest here lies in the future of Julia Wicker, who quite clearly should have been the protagonist of The Magicians. At her birthday, Julia thinks she is about to be raped in the bathroom by a guy (David Call) who looks like the genetic cross between Ryan Gosling and Peter Dinklage. He chains her to the radiator in the squalid restroom. She chafes at her constraints and breaks them. Her master is so impressed by this move that she is subsequently locked into a walk-in freezer in Brooklyn. Unbeknownst to Julia, her companion in the cold is the master of this coterie, a ginger woman (Kacey Rohl) who explains in a squeaky voice that she is impressed with her.

Julia is looking for some kind of meaning from life, since now that she knows there is magic, she no longer has the slightest bit of interest in Yale Business School. She ignores her white boyfriend and spends all her time brooding about how she wasn't accepted at the university Quentin Coldwater gained admission to after performing a few card tricks in front of the admissions committee. It's a good thing neither of them were Asian, Latino or black, since they would not have had chance at Brookbills to begin with.

Ethan Peterson is a contributor to This Recording. He last wrote in these pages about The Dark Forest.

"Until We Go Down" - Ruelle (mp3)

 

Wednesday
Feb032016

In Which We Monitor Everything About Your Young Life

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Hey,

My boyfriend Kirk received a Christmas gift from his brother. It was a FitBit, and apparently it is an extremely advanced model, since Kirk feels the need to discuss it at every single moment. It monitors his sleep, his resting heart rate, and a variety of other bodily functions. I'm surprised at this point that it doesn't estimate the amount and variety of his shits.

The amount of focus on what is going on in Kirk's body is in some sense healthy, but I'm not sure how much longer I can talk about this. I've thought about just smashing the FitBit in a trash compactor or giving it to Goodwill. Is there any way to make this madness end?

Amy B.

Dear Amy,

There is no reasonable solution to your problem. Setting back technology will only retard the progress of the human race. Soon your boyfriend will be driving an electric car, reading Kant on a holographic display, and guesstimating the number of his pubic hairs at any given time.

The best practice is to give him another hobby, since men can rarely enjoy more than one at a time. He sounds like a do-gooder, so perhaps he would enjoy a pasttime which benefits those less fortunate than himself, like synagogue or the Bernie Sanders campaign?

If he simply won't move from this state of hyper self-focus, trying talking about the things you like a lot: The Bachelor, Amber Rose's fashion sense, and how cream cheese is actually made.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. 

Hey,

I have been dating my boyfriend Pelle for around six months. (We met on Tinder.) Previously to this, I had a somewhat tumultuous thing with another guy who pretty much ghosted, leaving me with a lot of unanswered questions and anger towards him. I don't feel any residual attraction or desire for this asshole, but it's hard to not keep thinking about it, especially when we do things in the same city, in my same apartment. I find myself getting depressed because of this, and I am unsure how to explain it to Pelle without making him question what we have. Is there any remedy for this?

Lauren E.

Dear Lauren,

Jesus, this whole thing sounds like an Elliott Smith song, and didn't his significant other stab him with a knife or something? I recall reading that in Spin.

Bad, failed past relationships haunt us all, especially Christie Brinkley. People will tell you it goes away with time, but for those of us with excellent memories, this luxury is more difficult to come by. Some of these horrid individuals from our past are not terribly effective at giving us closure, either, popping up out of nowhere for reassurance or penetration.

It sounds like you have a good thing going with your new boyfriend, By no means tell him about your ex for any reason, this would be disastrous. Everyone gets depressed sometimes, and most reasonable people find this an attractive quality, given that it allows them to do something for you; e.g. make you feel better.

If there are aspects of your current surroundings that remind you of your ex, change them. If they cannot be physically altered, replace them with a new specific memory — but not one with Pelle, since if you break up with him because he sleeps with your friend Justine, this would just mean the trigger would be doubly awful.

"Strangers" - Monica Lionheart (mp3)

"Taylor" - Monica Lionheart (mp3)

 

Tuesday
Feb022016

In Which Chip Baskets Has Lost A Considerable Amount Of Body Fat

Renwah

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Baskets
creator Louis CK, Zach Galifianakis & Jonathan Krisel

Chip Baskets' mother (Louis Anderson) has these plants in her house with large fronds. She won't trim them because it would be like doing harm to something she loves, no matter how much they get in her way as she attempts to ascend the stairs of her home. This is the kind of compassionate, dispassionate attitude assumed by virtually everyone in the brilliant new FX series Baskets, except for its central character: a California clown named Chip Baskets (Zach Galifianakis). Unlike the rest of the people in his life, he knows exactly who he is.

Chip's identical twin brother Dale runs a correspondence degree mill that pumps out certificates in occupations like middle management and cell phone repair. He is used to his brother coming to him for money, and doesn't really resent the imposition. Chip asks him for $40, money he plans to use to fund the HBO subscription of a French woman who no longer has any interest in him.

Louis CK recently released the painful first episode of Horace and Pete, a three camera comedy that stars himself and Steve Buscemi as white brothers running a bar. You can feel CK's presence in Baskets, but it is more in the subtle diassociation from reality.

CK has not received enough credit for bringing some of the character of live theater to television; in Horace and Pete this melding such a disaster the show feels like a parody of Death of a Salesman. On his own HBO series, Louie, this unique feel to the television product made it seem vaguely otherworldly, and the same effect is achieved by the marvelous Baskets.

Chip Baskets' world is Bakersfield, California, which consists of the places he ventures as he rollerblades from the rodeo to his home base and back again. He only goes somewhere else when he is escorted, since he cannot afford a car and a bee caused him to crash his scooter.

Galifianakis is at his best when he is not playing too weird. The fact that he is about half the man he once was made him look like a turtle without his shell in recent performances. By now we are used to the slimmer version. At base, Chip Baskets is the kind of good-natured simpleton, but Galifianakis plays Chip with a depth the character sorely requires and maybe does not deserve. As Chip fails out of French clowning school because he amusingly speaks no French whatsoever, we have quickly finished sympathizing with his naivete: the man is no charity case, he simply needs to figure things out.

To set him on the garden path, his mother purchases him a Costco executive membership from Chip's only friend, a woman named Martha (Martha Kelly). The role of Chip's buddy is written exactly to suit the stand-up comedian, whose deadpan, unenthusiastic delivery never exactly made her a roaring hit onstage. Some of the ways Chip dismisses Martha seem a little too pat, but Baskets works better as a personal journey rather than a love story anyway. Chip responds well to Martha's understated nature and tries to ape it in his clowning, and eventually in his life.

Although Chip performs at a rodeo, lots of obvious jokes are avoided in favor of more personal storylines. In the show's second episode, Chip takes an interest in the clowning career of a Juggalo (Adam William Zastrow) with no experience in the art. Through Chip's intervention, the young man is able to pursue a fruitful career as a cashier at Arby's. Amidst the dark humor involved with Chip's maudlin existence in Baskets, there is an inspiring undercurrent about what positive things we can absorb from other people without even meaning to do so.

This is maybe not the hilarity audiences would expect from Zach Galifianakis as a clown, but who cares? There has not been a comedy as good as Baskets on television for a long time. Watching other comedies becomes the observation of a race towards a singular joke. Once achieved, the entire paradigm is thrown away for some other gag. Angie Tribeca, a horrid series which recently premiered on the equally unwatchable network TBS, at least attempted to turn this into a Mel Brooks-type zaniness.

Unfortunately Mel Brooks is not funny unless you are under ten years old or substantially more interested in puns than you ought to be. Rashida Jones is wasting her career as the titular detective, and honestly she was never really cut out for these sorts of gagfests anyway.

What comes across in Baskets is the same sort of basic humanity that is represented in everything Louis CK admires. He honestly appears to respect regular people a lot more than he does his actual friends and peers, so he casts them in the roles of working class individuals. Horace and Pete descends too far in this direction; it is too obvious that the entire cast not who they appear to be. The show even makes Rebecca Hall resemble a regular person, forcing her to kiss Louis CK on the lips as part of the show's opening moments. Although this dull sense of normalcy is more deftly done in Baskets, on the whole this humbling is a welcome change.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"You're Mine" - Lola Marsh (mp3)