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Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (April 24)

Apr 24, 2017

When the credits come up at the movies, the pages in a book run out, or the last commercial rolls over the end of a television episode, the story might be over. But the discussion is just getting started. Here at Act Four, we’ll get together every week to talk about the best (and worst) in pop culture. We’ll also try to sort out why the stories we love mean so much to us, and what they mean for the rest of the world.

Hey everybody! Sorry for the delay. I am doing some emergency childcare for a friend and got locked out of our chat software. But I'm here now, and as long as the baby doesn't unplug my laptop, we should be good to go. Thoughts about "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" and the return of "Silicon Valley" especially welcome.

I recently finished watching season 2 of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix. Then I looked to see if there would be a season 3, and to my relief there will be, despite really poor ratings. I was wondering -- how do viewers like me affect the economics, and therefore the renewal decisions, for a show? By watching on Netflix, I'm not seeing any commercials, and my viewership is being recorded pretty late in the game (after the season is finished). Also, it's criminal that more people aren't watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It's one of the best shows on TV.

This is an interesting question with a complex answer. To be frank, by watching "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" the way you're watching it, you probably don't factor into the renewal calculus very much at all. As you said, your viewership is recorded quite late, and by Netflix, which syndicates the show, rather than by the CW, which actually makes and distributes it. If you watched "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" on the CW's streaming app, you could watch the episodes closer to the air date, and probably give the CW a better sense of what the show's immediate audience is. 

That said, syndication revenue from a source like Netflix is probably pretty important for a series like "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," which doesn't have a huge day-of viewership. So if Netflix knows that it has passionate watchers for the sure, they're more likely to continue paying the CW for it, which in turn, helps the CW keep the series going. Basically, it's timeliness versus subscription dollars. I can't tell you which is more important right now. But you probably don't have to feel totally penitential about this watching approach.

I remember when was the time was you caught up on "The Simpsons" episodes one missed during the school year, but not much else. Maybe watched "The Kids in the Hall" too. Now it seems there are a bunch of shows designed to be released and air over the summer. Just curious if you've watch any screeners yet and which ones to seek out and which ones to avoid?

"The Handmaid's Tale," which debuts on Hulu this Wednesday, is tremendous: if you're going to pick one serious must-watch of the summer before "Game of Thrones" comes back, that would be the one I would choose. The new season of "Silicon Valley" is also extremely strong. But I still have to watch "American Gods" and a bunch of other stuff, since I've been tied up for the past couple of weeks watching screeners for my big project this fall.

I need to rent a car to drive to NY/NJ, since my car has almost 200k miles on it. Any suggestions about which booking service or rental company to use? I just need a compact automatic, radio, a/c.

I'm a Hertz gal, myself, but I am probably not the best-qualified person to give advice. Where are you coming from? And will you be returning the car to the same location? Our chatters may have better regional advice.

So this was odd, but figured a pop culture live chat was as good a place as any to share it. I was describing this weekend a movie I saw with the two leads to where Michael Fassbender and Jessica Chastain. I was talking to the group at a party, I realized this wasn't a movie, but just a vague dream I'd had. I got a bigger laugh off admitting that so embarrassing, but got off pretty mild for it. Realized that Michael Fassbender and Jessica Chastain have never been a movie together which just seems wrong. I figured you can your outsized influence on Hollywood studios to get some good Fassbender & Chastain projects greenlighted as soon and as frequently as possible please.

I am so incredibly flattered by this estimation of my influence!

But come on, what was the dream about? Action? Romance? "Shame"-style drama? I have to know your grand vision before I can poke the various writers I know on Twitter. :) Personally, I'd like to see them both do some sort of comedy. Fassbender in particular can be so darn grim sometimes. Let's do an old-fashioned rom-com where he has to pursue her, shall we?

Okay, you've convinced me to give this franchise a try. Where should I start? What should I skip? I've heard so many jokes about Tokyo Drift...

As long as you watch the movies with an open Corona by your side (the franchise has a long-running product placement deal with them) and a healthy sense of silliness, I think it's hard to go wrong. I would start with "The Fast and the Furious," since it establishes the basic dynamics and themes of the series, and also so you have a benchmark so you can see how utterly ridiculous the whole thing gets over time. Then, I'd skip to "Fast & Furious" and go from there. And please, please report back.

If the writers' end up striking on May 1, would that affect Netflix/Amazon/Hulu as much as the regular networks?

Writers for shows produced for "High Budget Subscription Video On Demand" services are covered by the Writers Guild, and so if the WGA goes out on strike, presumably those writers would go out on strike as well. That said, services like Netflix and Hulu tend to write, shoot and edit their entire seasons in advance, and Netflix tends to release all of the episodes of its shows at once, so those streaming services are less vulnerable to a situation where they might run out of episodes of an existing season to put on the air. They also just have larger content libraries, so they're a bit cushioned: audiences don't go to a place like Netflix or Hulu and watch "Netflix" or "Hulu," the way they might turn on NBC or Fox. Instead, they go to those sites, and pick what they want to watch. During a strike, those services will be able to operate as they always have.

As someone who finds classic Hollywood fascinating, I wanted to like Feud but ultimately found it shallow and, frankly, shoddily executed. Thinking about it right now, I've realized that most of the modern takes on old Hollywood that I like tend to revolve around unfamiliar or entirely fictional characters (Hail, Caesar and The Artist are two examples that come to mind), so I was wondering if you have any recommendations for recent depictions of classic Hollywood icons that are actually good/interesting, preferably non-documentaries.

This is a great and interesting question, to which I do not have a spectacular answer. If other people have thoughts on fictionalized stories about real, but not major, old-Hollywood figures, fire away in the comments. I know you said no documentaries, but could I recommend two books? The first is Donald Bogle's "Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams," which is his history of black Hollywood. I consider it absolutely essential reading for understanding the origins of the industry's inequalities, and simply for seeing how the business works. If that makes it sound dry, please don't be deterred; it's a lot more revealing and entertaining than I can make clear here. I also highly recommend William J. Mann's "Tinseltown," which had a significant influence on my big police project last year. It's a fascinating history of a murder case that contributed to the moral crackdown on Hollywood, and the way the industry responded with a regime of self-regulation that persists to this day.

I was a fan of NBC's Grimm, which just ended. I will miss it, just as I missed Lost, Law & Order, Star Trek, and many other shows that ended. But some people are really going overboard. I can't tell you how many have vowed never to watch NBC again. Some people are even boycotting network television! How much great television like This Is Us will they miss? It seems totally ridiculous to me. Give it up, people!

Huh, this seems really intense. "Grimm" had solid, but not titantic ratings, and in an era of radical experimentation in television, I think it's pretty impressive that it got to 123 episodes over six seasons! I've written in the past that I often think fans are too quick to want shows to either live for forever or to be revived after they've been cancelled. Series change, and it's hard for them to be good ad infinitum. Especially if a show ends, it's difficult to recapture the precise conditions and chemistry that were involved in its first round of production. I totally understand the desire to spend a lot of time in a world and with characters you've come to love, but you're absolutely correct that there are a lot of terrific worlds, and a lot of wonderful characters out there, and it's not worth grieving the loss of one such that you refuse to engage with another. That said, I suspect this extreme reaction you're seeing won't last for forever. People will have their feelings, and then they'll feel the hole where "Grimm" used to be heal over, and they'll come back for something new.

I take the bus whenever I can. Usually Vamoose from Bethesda (they also go from Virginia). They have a very good rescheduling policy. And they are still close to Penn station when you arrive (not much further west). And even paying full price it is cheaper than driving my own car just on gas and tolls. Never mind parking and rental.

There are a lot of good, reliable bus options from DC to New York, if that's the route you're taking. Do let us know, and we can try to help!

As long as it's not at an airport and you return to the same location, I've named my own price at Priceline with good results. $7 a day usually.

Another point of view.

I remember you saying a couple weeks ago that you had just seen Hamilton and that you'd have some thoughts on it soon. I couldn't find anything in a Post search. Did you ever publish anything regarding Hamilton? What were your thoughts?

So, I first saw "Hamilton" in November thanks to some surprise tickets from a very generous person. And then my husband and I saw it again in April on tickets I'd gotten him for our first anniversary. I'm hoping that tomorrow the piece I've been working on about seeing the show with more distance from the Obama administration will go up. If not tomorrow, sometime this week. I promise. I did write about my first round with the show back in December, if that's of interest.

A co-worker (who knows more about this particular topic than I do) asked to see something I wrote and emailed back that it's all got to be revised. I'm typically okay with constructive criticism, but this co-worker is a bit annoying (knows it all, not a clear communicator, her was is the best and only way...), and I'm trying to figure out how to elicit useful information without getting all snappish. Any advice?

So, a couple of questions here. First, why did this person ask to see your work? Are they in your chain of command? Are they feeling anxious that someone else was assigned to do something that's in their area of expertise? Thinking clearly and carefully about what this person's motivations are will probably help you as you try to respond. I got a little prickly with a wonderful editor here at the Post last week who told me she thought a column I was working on just didn't make sense. I felt bad and defensive, but because I trust her and I know she only wants the best for me and holds me to high standards, I was able to put my feeling aside, look at the piece honestly, and make it much better. If this person is being petty or mean, you may not have to take their suggestions. If they're a frustrating communicator but genuinely wants the work to be as good as it can be, it may be worth incorporating their suggestions. Whether they're being personal or professional, try to fix their motivations in your mind before you figure out how to respond.

Second, does this person have a final say over the work you're doing? If so, then it's probably worth adopting whatever suggestions they have if they're annoying.

Third, if they're a subject-matter expert and pointed out information that was incorrect or could be clearer, accept their advice *about that information* even if you feel nit-picked. As a former fact-checker, I can say it's always worth getting things right, even if that means revisiting your argument or toning down your claims. 

Fourth, you mentioned that this person is not the greatest communicator. Does he or she communicate better in one medium or another (by which I mean writing or talking)? If so, I would go back in whatever is this person's strongest medium and try to get the information you need to revise (if you decide to make changes) by asking extremely specific questions. Be cheery and positive, and present yourself as if you're trying to do the best you can to meet their requests. Ask things like "Does this clause seem clearer to you?" "Does this argument feel stronger if it's in the second paragraph instead of the fourth?" This will either get you the information you need, or get the person to back off.

Please let me know how it goes, and feel free to email me at if you'd like to discuss this in greater specificity in private.

When is Lady Dynamite coming back for season 2? Are you aware it's the best thing on Netflix?

No word yet. And I would be curious to hear your argument for its greatness in more detail!

I think CW shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are probably much lower budget than regular network shows, which makes it easier to renew them despite low ratings. Also, a lot of people come in via Netflix and then watch later seasons live or via the app (which is how I got hooked on both Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin). Well, except that time Crazy Ex-Girlfriend blew through all their production money in their season premiere and had to replace Darryl with a broom wearing a mustache.

That's not necessarily the case. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has all those songs to write and dance numbers to choreograph, which involve extras who have to be able to do more than simply walk down a set talking to themselves. A series like "The Flash" or "Arrow," which involves a bunch of special effects, is potentially going to start out a higher price point than the first episode of a sitcom without famous actors in it. There's a lot to factor in!

The first commenter must be my spirit animal. I too, a man of nearly 40, have just discovered the genius of Rachel Bloom's Rebecca Bunch. I'm about to wrap up season 1 on Netflix and I LOVE this show. I literally LOL on the elliptical multiple times every episode. BTW - I totally support your remake proposal for #TheFugitive

It's funny, all the most passionate "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" fans I know are men in their forties. So you are not alone!

And for context, this reader is talking about a joke I made on Twitter last night where I proposed that the remake of "The Fugitive" should be gender-swapped and about Theranos, the fraudulent Silicon Valley blood-testing start-up.

Alyssa, I meant to post this to the travel chat! So thank you to the poster who suggested Priceline. For the poster who suggested taking the bus, as much as they sound flexible, I don't think Vamoose would take me on a nostalgia tour of Teaneck, Hackensack and River Edge NJ, or take me down to Cape May.

Hey, we're a full-service chat here! Happy to be of service. 

Why in the world would Comedy Central think people will want to end their night watching a faux Trump after enduring an entire day with the real thing? For THIS they canned Larry Wilmore?

It's a mystery to me. Also, I have no idea how you compete with Alec Baldwin's Trump. It's just perfection.

But one thing always struck me. (spoiler on set up information, but not much more than is already in the reviews) In a society where only a few women are still fertile, and set up as an authoritarian oligarchy, the big need is to replace the workers as efficiently as possible. For growing food, factory work and almost certainly an army. Assigning fertile women to maybe get pregnant (and maybe not) by being assigned to an elite couple where the man may or may not be able to father children, is wasteful of a very limited resource. I don't recall if the only women who were made handmaids were ones that "looked" like the wives of the men in power and others were assigned elsewhere, but it seems like in a near future US, at least, there would be racial divides at least in this situation.

Yeah, it's definitely not efficient, but remember, the Republic of Gilead's defining feature isn't necessarily pure efficiency: it's theocracy. The setup is the way it is because it's Gilead's idea of a revived biblical relationship between infertile women and the fertile women who were invited into their households and to bear their children. 

As a pop culture guru, I'd love to hear your take on the Hallmark Channel. My SO is a very bright girl, but she insists on watching Hallmark features. They are brain dead, formulaic, poorly acted, repetitive and downright boring. Why do people like these movies?

I would bet you she finds them soothing. That she watches stuff like this doesn't make her stupid or lacking; it just means that for her, entertainment is a way to turn off, rather than another thing to set her brain to analyzing frenetically. If there is something that you find works the same way for you, but that you'd like to share with her, maybe present it in those terms and see if she's willing to give it a try. And also, ask her, not me, about why she likes what she likes!

And it was cool but to be honest I need to either re-watch it or read a bunch of recaps to figure it all out. It's not a show for the modern short attention span era, and I think the so-so ratings reflect that. I'm hoping the second season is slightly less opaque. It doesn't have to be totally dumbed down but I think it wouldn't hurt to be slightly easier to follow. What did you think? I'm certainly guilty of being distracted by my phone etc. sometimes when watching and that hurt my enjoyment of the show. That's on me, but I still think even without that I would have had trouble keeping up.

I really enjoyed "Legion" and kind of surrendering to the series, trusting that it would reveal itself to me over time. I also found that the episodes went extremely quickly, since they were all so devoted to the core story; I was much less-tempted to check my phone during them than I normally am when I'm multi-tasking (or just hanging out on the couch). Maybe try putting your phone out of reach when you watch things, like in another room in your house entirely? So much of our short attention span is habit, I think. We can cultivate different habits if we truly want to. So maybe make "Legion" an occasion to try out something new?

Okay, folks, I gotta rock and roll. Have a wonderful day, don't get too drenched, and see you all back here next Monday.

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Alyssa Rosenberg
Alyssa Rosenberg blogs about pop culture for The Washington Post's Opinions section.
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