I really hope this is even half as awesome as the book.
Recently, I’ve been rewatching the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End). That in itself is unsurprising, even inevitable, as I’ve done that on average more than once a year (for the first two, at least). Yet, this particular round of rewatching has me thinking about all the reasons why so many of us rewatch things at all. Why watch something, as some us do, not just twice, but five or eight or twelve times? As often as people offer lazy, oversimplified answers as to why we might watch or read something over and over again, there is simply no catchall reason. The reasons why I revisit 30 Rock are different from the reasons why I revisit Wes Anderson movies, and the reasons my brother and I watched Newsies and Bedknobs and Broomsticks every weekend as kids differ quite a bit from the reasons my friends and I watched Swingers over and over again in college. I don’t just mean that these reasons differ in the obvious and specific ways, the particular characters and strengths that vary with each example. I mean they differ in profound philosophical and psychological ways. They are different in the way my need to sleep differs from my need for water; I require both to stay alive, but each serves a very distinct purpose.
I’m definitely not the only one who returns to old favorites again and again, either. Revisiting stories is as old as stories. Myths, religious liturgies, fairy tales, oral histories, and the timeless tradition of theme and variation are all examples of the way we return to certain stories over and over again, retelling and rereading as we remake our tales and they remake us. As is the case with anything that has been central to the human experience for as long as there has been evidence of language, it would be a mistake to try and oversimplify it or nail it down conclusively. The reasons are countless, they are nuanced and overlapping, and some are hidden in the realm of the individual and collective unconscious where Jung’s archetypes reside.
Even at just a passing glance I can identify some of the more obvious reasons why we keep returning to favored stories.
We rewatch seeking a relic that remains the same for us as everything else becomes unfamiliar and strange. In other instances, the opposite is true, we rewatch a film or show because it is new every time we return to it, since we are never the same when we experience it and thus will see it with new eyes every time.
We rewatch for a version of comfort food or a security blanket. The familiar characters feel like family, the cherished jokes still make us laugh, or a film is linked to a formative time in our lives and we feel a unique nostalgia connected to a particular cultural artifact. These stories then become a connection to a home we can’t otherwise return to. This particular category would be the easiest in which to identify attracts us to keep rewatching. Yet, even though there are some obvious reasons we can see, each is most likely entwined with more subtle and nuanced factors that keep calling us back.
Other things we return to because of how brilliantly constructed they are, because the beauty of some scene or moment or performance or shot or writing, or combination of all those elements, just won’t let go of our imagination, won’t stop triggering a deep feeling of wonder and so we go back to it again and again to suck all the marrow out. Yet, even these examples are more complicated than that, the beautiful construction was probably a vehicle for a thought or sentiment that connected with us very personally. There are so many well-crafted movies, and not all of them connect with each of us to the same degree. While the artistry is a huge part of what draws me toward the work of Kurosawa, there are other factors at play that make his films impact me the way they do.
All of that to loosely illustrate that there isn’t a final answer we can land on to explain the human habit of continually revisiting some collection of cherished stories again and again. We can say things about it that are true, but that truth is never exhaustive.
I don’t know exactly what is happening when I find joy in seeing a movie for the eleventh time. What I do know is that there is goodness to be found when we acknowledge that there is beauty in something and pore over it. It can reveal beauty that is in the artifact itself, and it can reveal beauty from within us by showing what we find to be admirable and worth returning to again and again. We can learn by looking closely at the things we find worth celebrating, or emulating.
Thus, all these thoughts I’ve had about why we rewatch things, combined with a recent desire I’ve had to thoughtfully return to many of my favorite stories, has led me to start a new theme here where I revisit an old favorite and attempt to discern some of what it is that I cannot escape. For example, as I rewatch the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy again, what are some of the true but not exhaustive reasons I return to these movies again and again? That will be the first post in this theme, so stay tuned.
There are more great shows on now than there ever have been. It is well documented that we are in the golden age of scripted television… or I guess I should just write ‘shows,’ because ‘television’ is less and less accurate all the time.
With all these great shows, it gets harder and harder to keep up with all new things there are to watch, and to keep up with the shows you already love.
The last thing you need is some asshole trying to add even more to your “to watch” list.
Here are some more shows to add to your “to watch” list.
1. Moone Boy
This Irish show, now available in America thanks to Hulu, is based on the childhood of creator and co-lead writer Chris O’Dowd, who also stars in the series as the protagonists imaginary friend. The entire cast is charming, I sort of wish I was a member of the Moone family. The setting of a small Irish town as the 80’s turn into the 90’s is a delightful blend of alien and familiar, since I grew up at the same time, just a few years behind young Martin Moone.
Moone Boy is a unicorn, one of those rare shows which is simultaneously light and sweet and still smart and well-written.
I’m so sad this the show only has one episode left ever. Please give us a movie, or at least a Christmas special!
The first two seasons are available on Hulu.
2. Man Seeking Woman
The latest in the FX (and FXX) hit parade of comedies, Man Seeking Woman is a show about the pressures, anxieties, social rules, and oddities of being a single man in 2015. What sets it apart is the fact that it takes all those elements and exaggerates them into ridiculous metaphors. Louie has always done this really well, but Man Seeking Woman takes it to another level on the crazy meter.
Getting set up by his sister with an actual troll, finding out that most other guys were taught “spiral eyes” by a wizard when they hit puberty to make talking to women easier, drinking a dram to fake his own death when a series of casual hookups gets too serious, getting too drunk and forgetting his penis at the bar before taking a woman home, finding out his ex is dating Hitler, strategizing in a war room to craft the perfect text… just a few of the crazy metaphors Josh finds himself living in that make this such a winning show.
The first season is available on Hulu.
3. Attack on Titan
I’m still slow getting into anime. Not because I have an aversion to it, but more because the genre is so huge and varied. It’s hard to know where to begin, or at least where to go after mega-classics like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Attack on Titan is a great step into that world. Crazy visuals and concept, over-the-top emotional cues, harrowing odds, bad-ass leads… all the things I expect from anime, as a novice of course.
I liked the early episodes, but for some reason it was when I got to episode four that the show really clicked for me.
Obviously, this is the most particular recommendation on this list, because anime is most certainly not everyone’s particular brand of whiskey.
The first season is available to stream on Netflix.
I know I’ve been banging this drum for a while, but that’s because no one is listening! I still don’t know anyone outside of Emily who watches this show, which is just stupid. Stupid, I tell you!
Perhaps it is because all of my friends are liberal intellectuals who either grew up on one of the coasts or in another country altogether, and thus have trouble getting excited about a US Marshall from the remote hollows of Kentucky. I don’t know if that’s really the reason, but I can’t think of other reasons why folks would be hesitant about this show.
Well, set your mind at ease liberal whackos, here are some fun facts to remember:
1. You know who else is a crazy, liberal, intellectual, from New York of all places, but still really loves this how? That’s right, ME!
2. The show is based on a character created by celebrated crime writer Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty, Out of Sight).
3. The collection of liberal whackos known as television critics also love Justified. The final season (only two episodes left!) is the second highest rated show of the current television cycle (tied with Broad City and behind the third season of The Americans).
I can’t find a promo that does the show justice, so instead, read what Matt Zoller Seitz (New York Magazine/Vulture) has to say, which feels like it was lifted from my own soul: “Every conflict or showdown is emotionally or physically concrete yet at the same time metaphorical, the stuff of future legends. And the My Dinner With Andre and His Guns dialogue is so off-the-charts lyrical that you can hear the writers chuckling.”
The first five seasons are available to stream with Amazon Prime.
5. The Mind of a Chef
Narrated by Anthony Bourdain, The Mind of a Chef focuses on some of America’s best chefs (with a few jaunts abroad) and examines all the things that make them great. Their inspirations, culinary philosophy, the science of cooking, as well as the relationships and stories that make them who they are as a chef is all explored in a style that is funny and engaging. The show follows the brilliant, hilarious, and charming David Chang (Momofuku) through the entire first season, then for seasons two and three each year is split between two chefs.
Every episode I laugh, find inspiration to strive above mediocrity, and learn something new.
The first two seasons are available to stream on Netflix.