It was a tough week. Even though we're working from home, it's been difficult to stay productive, even with the knowledge that merely having work to do is a massive privilege at a moment when an unprecedented number of people are filing for unemployment. Still, at some point you've got to shut the laptop or close Twitter and do something else, so we asked the Input staff about all the media they're consuming outside of the downright dystopian news cycle that seems so difficult to escape.
Evan Rodgers: Devs is an FX limited series running on Hulu right now and it is wild. It's directed by Alex Garland, the man who gave us Ex Machina and Annihilation, and without giving too much away, it's about a Silicon Valley startup (in our world and time, more or less) that has almost perfected quantum computing. Of course, since this is Silicon Valley we're talking about, the innovation the company and its CEO Forest, played by Nick Offerman, have achieved may threaten the entire world.
We're getting close to the end of this first season, and even though it's just a bit of a mystery box like Westworld, Devs hews a lot closer to Garland's others works where narrative twists and turns lead to heart pounding moments, rather than Westworld's confusing and somewhat tedious multi-timeline... situation.
Devs does have flaws — sometimes the acting leaves a bit to be desired — but I'm genuinely curious about where Garland will take us for the finale. Plus the cinematography is gorgeous. Never has San Francisco looked so menacing.
Tiger King (Netflix)
Craig Wilson: It’s hard to talk about Netflix’s new documentary show Tiger King without spoiling it. It’s a show with so many specifically insane parts that trying to discuss them in the abstract doesn’t merely do the show a disservice, it’s sort of impossible. But I’m going to try and give you a few highlights, which should be enough to make it clear to you whether you’re a Tiger King sort of person or not. Trigger warning: There are lots of animals in this show and they are not treated well. But the show isn’t really about the animals, it’s about the people who own them.
First, a little about the star of the show: the titular monarch of tigers. He’s a man with a bleached mullet, a handlebar moustache, and an extensive collection of leather, tasselled vests. His earlobes are heavy with rings. He walks with a limp that’s never really explained. At one point, he's marries two men at once, neither of whom are gay. He has bullet-hole tattoos on his torso. He fakes making his own country music songs, complete with homemade music videos. Oh, and he keeps 200 big cats in Oklahoma. Not, like, Maine Coon big cats. Leopards, lions, tigers, that sort. His name — at one point at least — is Joseph Schreibvogel-Maldonado-Passage, but he chooses to go by “Joe Exotic” instead. And he desperately wants to be famous.
Joe’s chief rival, Carole, ostensibly runs a big cat rescue facility ("ostensibly", because it looks a lot like a zoo, too), only owns and wears cat-themed garb, and is the prime suspect in the disappearance of her ex-husband, who she may or may not have fed to her rescue tigers. The show has two amputees with three missing extremities between them, a self-styled mystic / guru / polygamist (nope, not Joe, another polygamist who calls himself "Doc" but is not a medical professional in any sense,) and the only voices of reason are a former ammunition salesman turned political campaign manager, and a former stuntman/news anchor turned reality TV producer.
Tiger King is the most American thing I’ve ever watched. Almost everyone in it is a reprehensible human being, and the whole thing feels like a weird mix of reality TV, documentary, and poverty porn. It’s uncomfortable viewing, but also hard to turn away from — like rare animals mating, I imagine.
Play (while crying)
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Evan: There’s a new Animal Crossing out, and despite my best efforts, I just can’t be moved to play it. Pokemon Sword and Shield are out too, but when I play them… I feel nothing. The spark is gone. The Witcher III was on sale last weekend and I bought it hoping it would hook me, but of course, it didn’t.
Given the current state of things, it’s okay to retreat. It’s okay to take refuge in a memory from when things weren’t so complicated. That’s why I’m playing Pokemon HeartGold, a game released all the way back in 2009 for the Nintendo DS, despite the fact that I have a perfectly good Switch sitting right next to me.
The original Pokemon Gold was the last Pokemon I legitimately played before, well, growing up. Things got difficult for my family around that time. Crystal came out, then Ruby and Sapphire, but I couldn’t afford them. And before I knew it I lost touch with the series.
They say you can never stand in the same river twice. But for today, I can visit Johto and be happy. Just for a little while.
Cheyenne MacDonald: Perhaps you read a month ago about how I unexpectedly fell in love with Bandai’s Tamagotchi On. Perhaps not. In any case, the world is very different now than it was then — which feels like years ago — and I cherish this basic but simple toy now more than ever. Life is grim, virtual pets and cutesy animations are anything but.
Salt Slow by Julia Armfield
Cheyenne: It would be difficult to describe this collection of stories without doing it injustice. There are elements of horror, of mystery, of the grotesque, yet somehow also of intense realism and the coming-of-age journey. Above all that, Salt Slow captures the weirdness of womanhood like no other.
There are monsters — human and not — and there is love, heartbreak, and loneliness. Beyond that, I hesitate to say too much about this book, it feels like one you need to pick up without knowing anything about it at all. And you should. It is lovely.
Also: Faithless (comic)
Cheyenne: I recently picked up this newish title from BOOM! Studios because it looked sexy, queer, and rooted in witchcraft (aka, my personal brand) and so far I’m not disappointed. Confused? A little unsettled? Kind of feeling like I need a bath after? Yes. But not disappointed. The story is fun, the art is gorgeous, and it’s undoubtedly different from everything else out there right now. Some questionable decisions were made in regards to the main characters’ romantic relationships, and that’s sure to throw a lot of people off, but it’s still interesting enough to stick with and see where it goes.
Death Note (All-in-One Edition) by Tsugumi Ohba
Ray Wong: I'm a huge sucker for print. Having read the original 13-volume manga multiple times, I finally pulled the trigger on the complete series bound into this 2,400-page omnibus. I wish the pages were larger and the compilation included all of the stunning covers by manga artist Takeshi Obata, but the twist-filled story by Tsugumi Ohba still holds up 14 years after the series ended.
The book's three-pound weight might be a turn-off for some people, but come on, it's not like you're going anywhere. Find a nice spot on your couch or favorite chair and take your sweet time reading Death Note. Really appreciate the detailed illustrations. Manga doesn't get better than this.
The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
Matt Wille: Despite spending most of my childhood reading, I somehow managed to not know ofThe Wheel of Time’s existence until just last year. It’s a perfect form of escapism for me because the series is earnest, lively, and enormous. And I do mean enormous: the main series — 14 books and a prequel — clocks in at nearly 12,000 pages. Listening to the audiobooks nonstop would take just over 19 days (or so says Wikipedia.) I’m on book three right now. It’s going to be a long journey.
The first book will feel very familiar for fans of The Lord of the Rings; Robert Jordan has himself said he modeled the series’ beginnings off of Tolkien’s. From there on out, though, it’s unexplored territory, but fantasy at its best.
Granted, the length of the series will be daunting to some. And yes, sometimes Jordan’s prose is clunky. But I love the idea that I could be immersed in this complex story for years — that my connection to it will outlast the pandemic. Because the series focuses so heavily on plot and world-building, you don’t have to think too much to enjoy it, either. Not that that’s always a bad thing, because right now I just want to get lost.
Tom Maxwell: Many books have been written about life in Silicon Valley and the idiosyncrasies of this tech “utopia.” This one comes from the perspective of someone who has forged ahead in spite of immense challenges every step of the way. Susan Fowler grew up in rural Arizona being homeschooled, eventually teaching herself from textbooks until she convinced Penn State to admit her without any high school education or other prerequisites. Fowler found a love for physics and pursued a PhD before she was sexually harassed out of her department and forced to abandon those dreams. Ending up at Uber, Fowler discovered Silicon Valley isn’t nearly as progressive as it likes to think it is — especially with regards to the treatment of women. Uber's intense culture of winning at all costs, in particular, marginalized all but the loudest voices.
Fowler’s book was the catalyst for a reckoning at Uber that led to the ouster of CEO Travis Kalanick and major reforms to its culture. It also kickstarted a broader movement to name and shame tech leaders who only pay only lip service to the ideals they like to espouse, like the importance of equality and technology's role as a leveler of the playing field. What I took away from Whistleblower is a reminder that software is inherently biased because it comes with all the baggage of fallible humans — behind every piece of software, and every line of code, is a person making a human decision. Those people decide who gets to participate in its creation and who doesn’t, and ultimately those decisions trickle down and affect the people using the software, too.
This Podcast Will Kill You (podcast)
Ryan Houlihan: There are too many podcasts and most of them feature two comedians talking about LARGO and SERIAL KILLERS and NETFLIX or whatever bullshit comedians think is important — I should know, I've been on a few of them! What there aren't enough of are entertaining podcasts by actual experts in their field. Which brings me to This Podcast Will Kill You.
This show is by two grad students, both named Erin, who study the field of disease ecology. Each week they dissect one illness in microscopic detail, summing up the sickness's history, symptoms, and cures in terms normies can digest. During our current pandemic, it's reassuring to hear two intelligent people doing what they do best to help the public understand everything we've unraveled about bacteria, viruses, allergens, and more.
Recently they dropped a multi-part series about COVID-19 containing interviews with experts and physicians that dives into everything we currently know about the virus. If you can't handle any more discussion of this damn plague (and who could blame you,) they've amassed a whole back catalog of episodes about all kinds of interesting ailments both historical and present day.
I continue to find comfort in the fact that the world does indeed contain at least a handful of smart people. I cannot recommend reminding yourself of that fact more.
YHLQMDLG by Bad Bunny (album)
Edgar Alvarez: Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, better known as Bad Bunny, was bagging groceries in Puerto Rico just a few years ago. Today, he’s the biggest superstar in Latin music, and he did it all while breaking the mold of what a male trap artist should be. In his new album, YHLQMDLG (short for Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana, which translates to “I do what I want”), Bad Bunny unleashes a set of tracks ranging from love letters about ex-girlfriends, to anthems like “Yo Perreo Sola” that express that when a woman wants to twerk all by herself, she should be left the hell alone.
Since its release on February 29, YHLQMDLG is basically all I’ve been listening to. And while the whole album is in Spanish, I don’t believe you need to speak the language to appreciate it — the trap beats are fresh enough to stand on their own, though I fully recommend translating Bad Bunny’s lyrics, because his melodies are a rollercoaster of emotions.
This is why, after all, I like to refer to him as the Latinx Shakespeare.