The Friday Weekly Round-Up

December 18, 2020 Edition

Do you ever have one of those dates that lives in your head as a marking a milestone very far away? Like, Oh, when I get to December 18th I know I can relax? Well, I do and today’s that day so this Weekly Round-Up is especially heartwarming because–I’m on the cusp of two. whole. weeks of glorious vacation and I’m clawing my way to the finish line…but I’m so, so close.

That said, of course I’ve been watching and doing (primarily watching) interesting things to keep it spicy (but very gringo on the spicy scale, as someone my pallor tends to….) So here we go:

Favorite show giving me life this week: Conan O’Brien’s Clueless Gamer Archive

When is Bill Hader not adorable? Such a nerd, so talented.

Conan O’Brien is a national treasure. There, I said it.

Though technically not a “show,” these bits that Conan would do on his show make me laugh in that very deep place in my gut that sparks true joy. The entire premise of these is that Conan, who clearly states in every episode that he doesn’t play video games and doesn’t really like them, plays a video and gives his simultaneous commentary on each game. Always flanked by his straight man– “webnerd” and a Conan show web producer Aaron Bleyaert– and often joined by a celebrity guest, these nutshells of Conan in the digital wild just can’t help but be funny. He’s so fast and so relatably funny. I don’t play video games either and that’s probably why I love it so much.

All told, there’s probably 20-25 of these on the Team Coco YouTube channel, so if played back-to-back (as I have and do), run the length of at least one feature film. If you love Conan’s humor, you can’t find a better running joke as only he could pull off. If I were you, I’d start with the early ones: Lara Croft Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto IV (I think), and my go to most favorite Hitman: Absolution. The Gods of War episode pictured here is always an honorable mention.

One notable downside: The repetitiveness of YouTube commercials will inevitably bring you to your knees. I’m just too cheap to pay for YT to take out the commercials but I was stuck in an Herbal Essences nightmare loop during my last viewing. Fair warning.

update: how’s Packing for Mars going?

Not great. Check back later.

old and new: tv tried and tv tried again: Westworld (HBO Max) and Night Manager (Amazon Prime/BBC)

The reality of so much time at home is that watching tv, as a category of action, is no longer enough. It now becomes necessary to stipulate different categories of watching and I’m happy to do it. Because I’ve been consuming a. lot. of. youtube, I made a conscious effort to choose some actual scripted shows that I could dig into again or anew and broaden my mind.

Westworld has been on my list for years but the last time I got on that train (actual show reference), it didn’t stick for me. Season 1 was an incredibly alluring venture. Season 2 felt strained and, frankly, crazy and I didn’t finish. Wyatt? What? Yet now that HBO Max is here in this very house, and my appreciation for Evan Rachel Wood as an actress has evolved, I thought I’d give it another try and watch it a straight through as possible…if only to get some closure. My sojourn back through Season 1 (I think I’m halfway) has been delightful, actually, as I’m catching all kinds of clues I missed the first time around. I still really hate Ed Harris in this Man in Black part but…I’m trying to transcend. At least it’s blessedly short in terms of seasons (unlike Game of Thrones which will take years to rewatch…a project not up for consideration at this point especially because of that faceplant ending…ugh…I can’t face that trauma again).

The Night Manager, on the other hand, is brand new to me but stumbling upon it on Amazon Prime while on my quest to find something fresh and new, I gave it one chance to work for me…and it did. John Le Carre novels aren’t my usual genre but this is outstanding and making me reconsider my position. I cannot say I’m a Tom Hiddleston fan nor that I could see him as a spy but he’s growing on me. It’s nice to see Hugh Laurie in something that doesn’t refer back to Gregory House M.D. at all. And dear god, the locations. With a backdrop of largely beautiful Spain, you can almost ignore the talking, marvel at Tom Hiddleston tanned, and still be engaged. Season 1 aired on the BBC in 2016 which is why it’s new to me but I love BBC programs in that they’re longer episodes but shorter “seasons” (as we’d have them here in the US), so the investment doesn’t feel nearly as long but ends up being much more satisfying. Also no commercial breaks (and if there were in the original airing, you’d never know in this streaming version). The supporting cast, gleefully dotted with BBC supporting actors that are thoroughly recognizable from other, surely Jane Austen-inspired BBC shows, and with Olivia Colman in there in a part I can’t even imagine for her was a great, semi-frumpy surprise. I’m certainly in on this one.

shout out of the week: Mozart and singing masks

Praise for Mozart should go without saying in any general setting, but specifically in this context, it’s his Mass in Bb Major that I have sung at Christmas Eve Mass for the last 10 years at my church. For me it’s the sound of Christmas. This year, mangled by the COVID-19 pandemic, revealed singing to be a lethal activity and thus, all singing ceased mid-March, leaving choir nerds everywhere to sing along to youtube and scream into the silent void. Until….the invention of the singer’s mask.

Not a real member of my choir.

Fully safe and with medical- grade filters, this mask builds out a little “cage” around your mouth so you can sing and your voice can be heard while nose and mouth are still fully covered. I’ll admit singing in a mask is like running on a treadmill during a VO2Max test–my body’s capacity to run strictly on exhaled carbon dioxide and Ricola-breath increases exponentially every time I wear that…I’m practically an anaerobe…but the joy of 1) normalcy and 2) creating art via shared performance again is worth it.

Of course, we can’t have regular Christmas Eve mass due to mass gathering restrictions but an octet was called to sing a recorded liturgy and…good godDAMN, it sounds and feels good. Definitely a bright spot in what are now almost entirely dark and cold days with a killer pandemic threatening our existence.

trend I question: blow up Christmas lawn decorations

When I was a kid (in the 80s…so 1,000 years ago culturally) we asked this question about those hard plastic, light up Frostys and reindeer lawn things that would inevitably be blown into some disturbing tableau on your tacky neighbor’s front lawn. My favorites were the manger scene hard plastic light up lawn ornaments…because nothing says Christmas like a faded, snowed on Baby Jesus nugget.

Now, in the same vein, I question these blow-up things that when turned off during the day, when everyone can still see them, look like piles of dirty laundry chucked about the front lawn. When turned on, though…oh the beauty and charm of…1) a blow-up Santa sitting on a toilet with the outhouse door swinging open to reveal him “in the position” 2) the Grinch…not as the heart-grown-three-sizes benefactor of Whoville but as the miserly, mean-to-his-dog Grinch 3) an image of Will Farrell as Buddy the Elf 4) penguins, bears, and a leftover spider from Halloween wearing Santa hats.

America, what are we doing here? Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and whatever other seasonal holiday you celebrate arguably hold the greatest potential for being the most drop. dead. beautiful of any of the holidays without much effort. String up one string of white lights and bam, classic elegance. Throw a red bow on a tree–immediately dressed up. Why have we turned celebrating with tacky, gross, blow-up lawn detritus a part of the season? I almost find it offensive just because it seems like the agenda is to take the very few “nice things” we collectively still possess and continue to destroy them.

Plus, these damn things freak out my poor dog June who cannot discern yet whether these are real beings or pointless, tacky, not funny, lawn graffiti (and honestly, that’s an insult to graffiti…) America, Chicago, Roscoe Village: get ahold of yourselves and DEFLATE.

source of joy this week: Thursday I woke up to a fine, perfectly white and unmarred blanket of snow shrouding the entire neighborhood. I felt visceral, real, memorable joy. And it was gone before it could get city-gross (if you know, you know).

true moment of gratitude: I finished off the Sociology 101 class for this semester (3 hours on Zoom, once a week–god love ’em) and after ending the call for the last time, felt like I’d honestly miss them. Up to that moment, I didn’t realize how much I liked teaching them even in this completely bizarre, virtual classroom kinda way.

I think that about does it for this week. Sure, I’ve had other things go on but these are the things rising to the surface of my reflective thought pool for this week.

May your last couple days before Christmas be merry and bright in whatever way you need them to be. I gotta go get some lights up on my tree.

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