Pop Culture Live with Alyssa Rosenberg: Is 'Watchmen' the next big thing?

Oct 21, 2019

Is your favorite book or show over? The discussion here is just starting. Pop culture writer and editor Alyssa Rosenberg will be online every Monday at 1 p.m. Eastern for Pop Culture Live, where she'll talk about the best (and worst) in pop culture. She'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. Submit your questions comments on pop culture and her latest columns.

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Happy Monday! How are you all doing? I enjoyed having a weekend with very little to do other than to get my house in order and cook, but now I'm super-eager to talk about HBO's "Watchmen" adaptation; I'm finishing up the pilot as I type this, and I think the whole thing is really stunning. Other topics on my mind: Steven Soderbergh's "The Laundromat," which strikes me as kind of a mess, and the conversation I had with George R.R. Martin last week, which I'm still processing. Let's get to it.

I read what you wrote last week about not wanting to watch "El Camino." I did watch it this weekend. Strictly speaking, it's unnecessary -- aesthetically, we don't really need to know what happens to Jesse after he disappears from "Breaking Bad"-- but it got me thinking about the price(s) that Jesse had to pay because of Walter White. And it's made well; it's a reminder of how good a writer and director Vince Gilligan is. I recommend it.

In so much as anything about "Breaking Bad" can possibly be underrated, I think it's possible that Aaron Paul's performance as Jesse Pinkman is mildly underrated. To take a person that initially vapid and of-the-moment and to invest him with those sorts of moral depths is a genuine accomplishment. I still think the look on Paul's face when Walt finds Jesse in the lab is one of the most aching expressions of despair the Golden Age of television has bestowed upon us. I'll get around to "El Camino" at some point, if only for that reason. 

I've heard that the reason the LGBQT community is mad with Chick-Fil-A is because they're supporting of hate, but as far as I can tell, the CEO simply has views on gay marriage that were similar to Barack Obama in 2012 when he was first interviewed about it, and he simply believes in what the bible says about it. He doesn't go out delivering speeches against the gay community but rather if he's pressed in an interview, he says he believes in the bible. There have been no recorded instances of discrimination in service or employment for LGBT, and the whole controversy of the organizations that he donated to:. It was the Salvation Army and Fellowship for Christain Athletes, for god's sakes. I would say that this incident has turned me off to that side of the aisle and found me agreeing with the rightest of the right wing sites for once

Ah, the Chick-fil-A controversy, which is somewhat tangled, so bear with me for a second. There are a couple of discrete things that the founder of the company and an individual franchisee did that called the company's politics into question. An individual franchise sponsored a conference on marriage with an organization that had actively tried to stop a state ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The foundation that the Chick-fil-A founders started has, at various times, banned same-sex couples from the retreats it sponsors on marriage, and the group has given money to places including the Family Research Council and Exodus International, which is most famous for supporting conversion therapy. I think it's reasonable to decide that trying to prevent people from gaining protection against discrimination and funding organizations that support conversion therapy are endeavors that do genuine harm and that you'd rather not be associated with them. In recent years, the company and the foundations affiliated with it have scaled back their giving and attempted to avoid political entanglements, though it's true that they still have connections to the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. While those organizations may not do anything quite as extreme as Exodus International, neither is exactly committed to LGBT equality. Again, I think it's reasonable for individual consumers to decide they don't want any amount of their money going to those organizations, however indirectly.

All of this aside, I think it's unwise to base your political affiliations on tactical choices made by other people. Either you find policy proposals and animating ideas on one side of the aisle or other attractive or you don't.

I think we have only four white actors (Beck Bennett, Kyle Mooney, Alex Moffatt, and Mikey Day) to cover all the parts of the white men on the show. Pete Davidson I'm not sure of his ethnicity but he looks sort of middle-eastern/ethnic. Perhaps, that's the reason they're giving so many political parts to Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant. I'm not saying it's not exciting to say an Asian guy or Chris Redd or women like Heidi Gardener thrive but is it politically incorrect these days to say "SNL should hire more white guys"?

It's pretty easy to look this up: Pete Davidson is of Jewish and Irish ancestry and was raised Catholic. Perhaps a better question than "Is it politically incorrect these days to say 'SNL should hire more white guys'?" is "Who are the most important newsmakers right now and how will we balance everyone's workload if we want to impersonate this range of people?"

Any predictions on the Canadian election today?

Oh boy is this the wrong chat for this question!

What ever became of that movie about Rob Ford scandal starring Damian Lewis in a fat suit as Rob Ford?

This sent me down something of a rabbit hole! As far as I can tell, it premiered at SXSW this spring, but then didn't find distribution. It doesn't appear to be streaming anywhere, and I don't see that it's slated to appear in theaters at any point. I think it may just be one of those movies that sounded promising because of a combination of subject and casting, but that has sort of disappeared into the vortex.

What is your opinion on the findings of Dr. Mark H. White II's social science survey of Star Wars fandom? https://www.markhw.com/blog/sw-survey-pt1 Is the Star Wars fandom truly fractured due to The Last Jedi, is SW fandom truly corrupted by anti-PC and sexist beliefs, and is The Rise of Skywalker truly destined to unleash thousands of hours of angry troll videos on YouTube? Has Star Wars truly worn out its welcome in the pop culture space? For that matter, do we really need another Batman movie after incel-friendly Joker?

So this is not one question, but several! I've been editing David Byler, the Post Opinions section's resident stats wizard, for the last year, and if there's one thing he's taught me*, it's to read the methodology on any survey before I decide whether or not to take it seriously. And as White makes clear in his sampling method section, this is a fairly dicey sample: he cold emailed fan sites, which may or may not be representative of the nebulously-defined fandom; he used Mechanical Turk to artificially boost the number of women in his sample since not many were responding, and manually removed people he perceived as trolling, etc. As he acknowledges, "Since it isn’t sampled in a representative way, I cannot speak to how accurately estimates like “75% of people liked the movie” are to the Star Wars fandom as a whole. It means there are unobserved dependencies in the data (e.g., two friends taking the survey are likely to have similar answers), which can create trouble when trying to estimate uncertainty. Because of this, I will be more conservative in how I interpret uncertainty, and I’ll assume there is probably more uncertainty than what the math tells me."

The fact that White is acknowledging this makes me think well of him, but it doesn't incline me to get overly-invested in his numbers, since we can't be sure what, exactly, they represent. I also don't know if it *matters if "The Rise of Skywalker" is "destined to unleash thousands of hours of angry troll videos on YouTube," except in the sense that these folks could make life harder for actors like Kelly Marie Tran. I take that seriously as a social phenomenon, of course, but I'm not sure it tells us anything about the state of American culture that we didn't already know.

As for whether "Star Wars" has worn out its welcome in the pop culture space, the box office so far suggests not so much! If it craters, or starts to decline, we'll have something else to go on.

*It's definitely not just one.

After not catching up on the first season until earlier this year, I fallen so hard for this kooky, open-hearted show two seasons in. I simultaneously want to demand that more people watch it and feel kind of relieved that it's so niche, because watching it feels like being let in on a secret. Obviously, I want the TV I like to have enough support to be able to continue, but I also sometimes think the conversations around really buzzy shows like Game of Thrones or, recently, Succession tend to flatten out some of their complexities in favor of memes and broad talking points/debates. How do you think a TV show's popularity shapes people's perception of it? Do you have any shows where you feel like how I feel about Lodge 49, where you sort of want to keep it for yourself?

This is a great question! Let's discuss in this week's newsletter.

WOW. I didn't read the comic so it's all new to me, but it had me at Regina King born in the state of Vietnam and squid falling from the sky. Jeremy Irons getting his thighs massaged is just icing on the cake. I have no idea what this show is about but I am ALL. IN.

Oh MAN. Look, I highly recommend you read the comics at some point, since they are an absolute masterpiece. But yeah, I so appreciated how fully-realized the whole thing felt right from the get-go.

Wait now I want to youtube this. Which scene was this - when Walt finds Jesse in the lab?

Sorry, it's been a while: maybe it's not when Walt sees him, but when we see what's become of him in the lab. 

I just thought it was such a bold, stunning and shocking choice to choose the Tulsa Riots of 1921 to open the show. It's a part of history not often taught in schools and should be a part of the conversation of the history of race in America. I've always been a fan of Lindeloff (sp?) with Lost and the Leftovers, but I have such an appreciation for giving this event in history some proper cinematic context. I'm all aboard for this show!

Yeah, and given how the episode closed, I'm wondering how they'll be weaving the massacre in to the rest of the show's plot. But as one observer on Twitter noted: how many people will know that the events depicted in that scene really happened, down to the attack by air?

I went to see the Downton Abbey movie this weekend. A delight in all aspects, an engaging story with low stakes, gorgeous costumes, was essentially a good visit with dearly cherished characters. A good movie to go see when you need a mood elevator.

Yeah, 100 percent. Not everything has to be a masterpiece. Sometimes you just want something genuinely relaxing and visually attractive, and "Downton Abbey" is absolutely that.

Hi, Alyssa! Not sure whether you're a CBS All Access subscriber, but if you are (or someone you know can give you access), I highly recommend a series that just wrapped up what I assume is a one-season run: "Why Women Kill." Your colleague Hank Stuever gave it a tepid review, which I totally understand on the merits. But I gave it a chance largely on the strength of Lucy Liu being one of the stars, and I'm really glad I did. In some ways, it was predictable, but the finale did some marvelous cross-cutting across the three stories (set in 1962, 1984 and 2019). Anyway, I encourage any of your chatters who has the CBS app to check it out (and no, I'm not affiliated in any way with the network or the show. I'm just a fanboy!).

I'll pass along the recommendation. This reminds me that I need to actually get a subscription so I can binge "The Good Fight," which has been on my to-watch list for forever.

hi, i work from home and like to have the tv on in the bkground, i know, i know, a bad habit - one of many but i swear i do get my work done.... anyway, any suggestions for comfort bkground noise? in the past i had on grey's anatomy, blue bloods, bloodline, i like a series with lots of episodes so i can kinda zone in and out....

"Bones" might be a good one for your, then. Lots of episodes, good character development, but also a certain amount of technical stuff you can feel free to zone out on.

Should probably be mentioned that SNL is possibly casting women in some of the political parts to get under Trump's skin, since he sees himself as an alpha male. Also, when they don't have black women, or only have one, in the cast, the black men often perform in drag.

Maybe, though this might also be overthinking some of it.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, I would challenge the OP who tacitly approves the "soft" bigotry of Chik-Fil-A, and the organizations it supports, with the words of James Baldwin: "We can disagree and still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist." There is no way to accept that Chik-Fil-A supports organizations that regularly demean gay people without also endorsing these anti-gay positions. Either you accept my humanity and right to exist and repudiate those organizations that demean me, or you endorse them. There is no moral middle ground.

I definitely think it's worthwhile for the original poster to familiarize him or herself with the details of why folks were irked with Chick-fil-A in the first place. Facts are useful!

Is he/it on your watchlist? I'm surprised USA has gone with a stealth launch approach to the final season given Rami Malek's Emmy and Oscar wins, especially after a two year gap from the last season. I think so far, so good on the first three episodes. Esmail seems to have recovered his mojo after the so-so season that preceded it.

I'm really far behind, and unlikely to catch up in time.

Seems that physical stores are going way out of their way to make shopping entertaining. Ulta being the example that pops to mind - the last time I was there they had a DJ so loud I told the staff to tell management it was a real turn off. Bill Penzey's e-mails practically make his stores a destination for the resistance. And I was in World Market the other day and they are practically incoherent with trying to push Halloween, pumpkin everything (which I guess covers Thanksgiving) and the Christmas stuff is out as well. I get that there is worry the economy is slowing a bit and with only 4 weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas, retailers are trying to push early, but this year is particularly frantic. It seems like a change in tone similar to expensive movies edging toward appeal to foreign markets which ups the explosions and action over the characters' smaller interactions.

I am not sure this comparison really holds. Ulta doing in-store entertainment is part of a long tradition of in-store concerts and promotions, and it's not really the same as the Penzey's Spices folks branding themselves as a resistance cooking company. World Market is an entirely different kind of retail altogether. The retail strategies these companies pursue have almost nothing in common, and they're not driven by the same imperatives that are turning blockbuster movies into bland expressions of some sort of ill-defined world taste.

I also like have old "Law & Order" episodes on. I've found all but SVU easy to have on in the background. There are a million old episodes.

Hah, yes, "Law & Order" for sure.

I know that he is of white ancestry but he looks darker skinned than some ppl who are half black or full on middle eastern. Isn't race a construct defined by outward appearance?

Race is absolutely complicated! I have black friends who are lighter-skinned that Davidson, but who identify as black because their parents are, and out of family history and shared culture. The point is: you don't get to define Pete Davidson based on how you think he looks.

And those are discriminatory organizations. Maybe the OP should look up what they do and why people have issues with them.

Indeed! Facts are our friends in these disputes. It's worth giving people who are upset about something a full hearing. We can decide later or not if we agree with them, but it's always useful to know the full context for why they're upset.

They need women in the cast to, you know, do sketches to satire other stuff.

Indeed!

Yes, I should have led with "The Good Fight"! You can catch up on the first three seasons while waiting for Season 4, which should drop in March 2020.

That at least is a viewing schedule I might be able to handle, given the other demands on my time!

Could... you elaborate? The context isn't clear to me.

See above, and apologies for my faulty memory!

such a great show, especially season 2. Of course, I love anything the Kings do ("Brain Dead" was especially a riot, especially to this DC resident) - in fact, I'm rewatching the entire 7 years of "The Good Wife" as it's excellent viewing for keeping me on the rowing machine!

Hah, I really need to get back in shape up to the point where my workout viewing is dramas rather than comedies. Where do all of you parents find the time?

Another worker-from-home chiming in. I go through spates of binging old Dark Shadows episodes on Amazon. A great blast from the past even with the on-camera gaffes and stumbles - and still way better than the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie.

I do wonder if slower-paced older shows make for better background viewing.

Okay, folks. My 2pm meeting beckons. It'll be lovely to discuss "Watchmen" with you guys again next week. Hope you have a wonderful, culture-filled time in the interim.

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