What's making us happy: A guide to your weekend reading, listening and viewing
This week, we mourned the loss of Olivia creator Ian Falconer, learned how high school theater could be the next battleground in the culture war, and looked back at Oscars history.
Here's what NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour crew was paying attention to — and what you should check out this weekend.
Atsuko Okatsuka's The Intruder
What's making me happy this week is Atsuko Okatsuka. She is a stand-up comic with a special that dropped on HBO and HBO Max last December. It's called The Intruder. She's been around for a while, and if you're extremely online, you might know her already because in 2019, she was performing on stage in Pasadena when an earthquake hit, and she helped keep the crowd calm. That became a moment. She also created a TikTok phenomenon called the "Drop Challenge," in which people slowly squat while Beyonce's "Partition" kicks in.
And any time a stand-up becomes known for something besides stand-up first, it can be worrisome. No need to worry here. She's got the goods. This special is very funny. Her presence on stage is so warm and open. I've heard people call her childlike. I don't quite buy that, because I think it's more that she's wise, strong and very self-determined. The special revolves around an intruder in her backyard that keeps coming back. I watched this thing twice because it is so well structured and it's got a very funny ending that it builds to kind of inevitably. And of course, the whole reason we're talking about her is she's got a comic voice that is all her own. She sounds like nobody else. She's on a lot of lists of comics to watch. This special really bears that out. It's a great place to start with her.
— Glen Weldon
I am a board game fan, and one of the great things about board games is that they encourage you to "do" things that you wouldn't actually do in real life. So with something like Suburbia, I can build a government and an entire town. With Photosynthesis, I can plant trees. But now I'm obsessed thoroughly with Wingspan. It's been sitting in our living room, and my partner and I finally started playing it. It is so fun.
I don't care about birds in real life, but the whole point of this game is to play birds and put them in different habitats, including the forest and the wetlands. It's really pretty. It's beautifully designed by Elizabeth Hargrave, and it's just really fun. It's gotten to the point now where we have just left it on our table so we can just go and start playing the game randomly during the day. That's how obsessed I am with it. It's for one to five players. I've never played it solo, but it's very fun with two players or more. I think it's good for anyone who has kids that are younger, like 10 or 12 years old. I think they will really enjoy this.
— Aisha Harris
A Heart That Works
So last night, in just a few hours, I blew through a really funny, sad and thoughtful book called A Heart That Works by maybe my favorite person on the internet, the great Rob Delaney. We have talked about Rob Delaney on this show before. He's one of the stars, writers and creators of the TV show Catastrophe, which I also love. He is also maybe the funniest person on Twitter.
As many people who follow him know, Rob Delaney's two-year-old son, Henry, died of brain cancer in 2018, and Delaney has written beautifully about grief and depression in the past. This book reaches beyond just grief and depression. It is extreme. It is vivid. It doesn't pull any punches. But it's also written by Rob Delaney, who cannot not be funny. This book is so humanistic and so disarming. It made me think more deeply about love, gratitude, parenthood and the ways that humans connect with each other and enrich each other's lives.
He writes from a truly bottomless well of affection about his wife, his kids, family, caregivers friends, and art that helped him. There is so much gratitude in this book, and there's something so fearlessly, persistently loving in this piece of writing, which I just adored. My partner and I checked this book out from our local library. My next order of business is going to be to buy a copy to have on hand, because I'm going to want to loan this book to friends. I'm going to want to reread it, which I had never expected. When I cracked it open, I thought it was going to feel like homework, and it doesn't.
— Stephen Thompson
If you have been on Netflix any time over the last few weeks, you may have been served up the show Physical: 100. This is a Korean competition show that indeed starts with 100 people who compete in a series of physical battles, challenges and various things. You have to pull a boat in a group. You have to wrestle people in water. You have to do various extremely physical things. In fact, eventually I'm just going to spoil this much, you actually become Sisyphus, pushing a rock up and over and over again. And I was not sure how I was going to feel about this when I watched the first episode.
They do indeed try to introduce you to 100 people. I feel like I'm never going to be able to keep track of all these different people. This is not 100 people from all walks of life. It's not like, "This is a schoolteacher. This is a stay at home parent." It's all like CrossFit or skeleton riders or Olympic athletes. A lot of them are already quite famous MMA fighters. If you decide to watch this, I want you to ignore all the kind of portent at the beginning where they're talking about setting out to find the perfect body. That is sort of goofy. It's really just a competition of extremely physical people doing extremely physical stuff.
They're all pretty likable, and they all have pleasant attitudes for the most part. So there's not a lot of interpersonal drama. When they got down to about 20 people, eventually I started to figure out who everybody was, because that's about as many people as I can keep track of. So anyway, it's called Physical: 100. I binged it all in one day. If you see it go by on Netflix and you're the kind of person who likes watching people wrestle or run around doing a shuttle run or something or you like the idea of a real life Sisyphus, check out Physical: 100 on Netflix.
— Linda Holmes
More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter
by Linda Holmes
NPR's Elizabeth Blair had a great story this week about a high school theater production that was almost stopped in its tracks, and how it fits into the pattern of challenges to art of all kinds. She says in the piece, "Don't mess with theater people," and she's right.
If you're looking for a fun piece of television, I am a slightly late arrival to Cunk on Earth, a mockumentary project jam-packed with jokes as a clueless presenter takes you on a tour of world history. It's on Netflix, and it made me laugh and laugh.
Did you like The Traitors in its U.S. incarnation? Then you might also enjoy The Traitors in its U.K. or Australian incarnations. Both are on Peacock; both are fun.
I had a few conversations with people this week about why a video circulating on TikTok of a guy cleaning out a storm drain with a rake was so satisfying. But if you found the TikTok version satisfying, you'll love the 18-minute YouTube version, in which he cleans out a whole bunch of storm drains and single handedly unfloods a road.
NPR's Teresa Xie adapted the Pop Culture Happy Hour segment "What's Making Us Happy" into a digital page. If you like these suggestions, consider signing up for our newsletter to get recommendations every week. And listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
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