Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #24 Considers Holiday Viewing: What’s Canon?

Join Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt for a special "snake draft," where we take turns picking the holiday films and TV specials that we think are (or should be) part of America's yearly viewing traditions.

Were I to list all the shows and films we mention, that would give away our picks now, wouldn't it? Compare your intuitions about what is classic or seminal or over-rated with ours!

Here are some articles with most of the likely suspects to get you warmed up:

We did NOT beforehand actually look at IMDB's Top 25 Christmas Movies or their Greatest Christmas Specials list, but YOU certainly can. Neither did we look this ranking of the various versions of A Christmas Carol by Dave Trumbore. While we're at it, here are times where TV shows ripped off It's a Wonderful Life.

Other references and information: 

When does A Christmas Story take place? 1940; read trivia about that film. The Dare Daniel podcast has a brutal take-down of the little-seen 2012 sequel  that serves as a great substitute for actually viewing that pile of garbage.

You can watch the quick version of the very funny Rifftrax running commentary on the Star Wars Holiday Special on YouTube or buy the whole thing. Did George Lucas really want to smash all copies of it as Mark said?

Brian refers to this article, "Diagnosing the Home Alone Burglars' Injuries: A Professional Weighs In" by Lauren Hansen.

It's actually the Thanksgiving Charlie Brown special that has been blasted as racist, not the Xmas one. Here's an article about the history of Franklin being included in the strip.

Whenever discussing or watching It's a Wonderful Life, I can't help but think of the Saturday Night Live "lost ending" to the film.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

David Lynch Turns Twin Peaks into a Virtual Reality Game: Watch the Official Trailer

When David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks premiered on ABC in 1990, viewers across America were treated to a televisual experience like none they'd ever had before. Four years earlier, something similar had happened to the unsuspecting moviegoers who went to see Lynch's breakout feature Blue Velvet, an experience described as eye-opening by even David Foster Wallace. A dedicated meditator with an interest in plunging into unexplored realms of consciousness, Lynch tends to bring his audience right along with him in his work, whether that work be cinema, television, visual art, music, or comic strips. Only natural, then, that Lynch would take an interest in the artistic and experiential possibilities of virtual reality.

Last year we featured the first glimpse of a Twin Peaks virtual reality experience in development, revealed at Lynch's Festival of Disruption in Los Angeles. "The best news is that the company developing the game, Collider Games, is giving creative control to Lynch," wrote Ted Mills, and now, with the release of Twin Peaks VR's official trailer, we can get a clearer idea of what Lynch has planned for players. As Laura Snoad writes at It's Nice That, Lynch has used the opportunity to revisit "well-known environments featured in the series, such as the iconic Red Room (the stripy-floored, velvet curtain-clad parallel universe where Agent Cooper meets murdered teen Laura Palmer), the Twin Peaks’ Sheriff’s Department and the pine-filled forest around the fictional Washington town."

This will come as good news indeed to those of us Twin Peaks enthusiasts who've made the pilgrimage to Snoqualmie, North Bend, and Fall City, the real-life Washington towns where Lynch and his collaborators shot the series. But Twin Peak VR will offer a greater variety of challenges than snapping photos of the series' locations and chatting with bemused locals: Snoad writes that each environment is constructed like an escape room. "Solving puzzles to help Agent Cooper and Gordon Cole (the FBI agent played by Lynch himself), players will also meet some of the show’s weird and terrifying characters, from the backwards-speaking inhabitants of the Black Lodge to the terrifying Bob himself."

Available via Steam on Oculus Rift, Vive, and Valve Index this month, with Oculus Quest and PlayStation VR versions scheduled, Twin Peaks VR should give a fair few virtual-reality holdouts a compelling reason to put on the goggles — much as Twin Peaks the show caused the cinéastes of the 1990s to break down and watch evening TV. Enjoying Lynch's work, whatever its medium, has always felt like plunging into a dream: not like watching his dream, but experiencing a dream he's made for us. If virtual-reality technology has finally come anywhere close to the vividness of Lynch's imagination, Twin Peaks VR will mark the next step in his artistic evolution. But for now, to paraphrase no less a Lynch fan than Wallace, the one thing we can say with total confidence is that it will be... Lynchian.

via It's Nice That

Related Content:

Watch an Epic, 4-Hour Video Essay on the Making & Mythology of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks Actually Explained: A Four-Hour Video Essay Demystifies It All

David Lynch Is Creating a Virtual Reality Experience for Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks Tarot Cards Now Available as 78-Card Deck

Watch the Twin Peaks Visual Soundtrack Released Only in Japan: A New Way to Experience David Lynch’s Classic Show

David Lynch Directs a Mini-Season of Twin Peaks in the Form of Japanese Coffee Commercials

Play the Twin Peaks Video Game: Retro Fun for David Lynch Fans

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Pretty Much Pop #22 Untangles Time-Travel Scenarios in the Terminator Franchise and Other Media

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Time-travel rules in The Terminator franchise are notoriously inconsistent. Is it possible for someone from the future to travel backwards to change events, given the paradox that with a changed future, the traveler wouldn't then have had the problem to try to come back and fix? Neither the closed-loop series of events in the first Terminator film nor the changed (postponed) future in the second make sense, and matters just get worse through the subsequent films.

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by Brian's brother and co-author Ken Gerber to talk through the various time travel rulesets and plot scenarios (a good starter list is at, covering Dr. Who, Back to the Future, Looper, Dark (the German TV show), time loop films a la Groundhog Day (Edge of Tomorrow, Happy Death Day), time-travel comedies (Future Man), historical tourism (Mr. Peabody and Sherman), Timecop's "The same matter cannot occupy the same space," using time-travel to sentimentalize (About Time) or clone yourself (see that Brak Show episode about avoiding homework), and freezing time (like in the old Twilight Zone).

Some articles we looked at included:

You can find the Brian and Ken short stories we talk about at Listen to them podcast together and read the science fiction stories they publish at The Partially Examined Life podcast episode Mark hosted where the dangers of AI are discussed is #108 with Nick Bostrom.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Improv Comedy (Live and Otherwise) Examined on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #20


What role does improv comedy play in popular culture? It shows up in the work of certain film directors (like Christopher Guest, Adam McKay, and Robert Altman) and has surfaced in some of the TV work of Larry David, Robin Williams, et al. But only in the rare case of a show like Whose Line Is It Anyway? is the presence of improvisation obvious. So is this art form doomed to live on the fringes of entertainment? Is it maybe of more apparent benefit to its practitioners than to audiences?

Mark, Erica, and Brian are joined by Tim Sniffen, announcer on the popular Hello From the Magic Tavern podcast, and a member of the Improvised Shakespeare Company and Baby Wants Candy (improvised musicals). He’s also written for Live From Here and other things. We discuss different types of improv, a bit of the history and structure of Second City, improv’s alleged self-help benefits, how improvisation relates to regular acting, writing, podcasting, and other arts, and more.

Here are a few improv productions to check out:

For further reading, check out:

For musical improv, try Nakedly Examined Music #30 with Paul Wertico and David Cain, and also #55 with Don Preston (Zappa’s keyboardist) whom Mark quoted in this discussion.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.


82 Animated Interviews with Living, Dead, Celebrated & Sometimes Disgraced Celebrities

Who wants to live in the present? It’s such a limiting period, compared to the past.

Roger Ebert, Playboy 1990

Were Ebert alive today would he still express himself thusly in a recorded interview? His remarks are specific to his cinematic passion, but still. As a smart Midwesterner, he would have realized that the corn has ears and the potatoes have eyes. Remarks can be taken out of context. (Witness the above.)

Recent history has shown that not everyone is keen to roll back the clock—women, people of color, and gender non-conforming individuals have been reclaiming their narratives in record numbers, airing secrets, exposing injustice, and articulating offenses that can no longer stand.

If powerful, older, white heterosexual men in the entertainment business are exercising verbal caution these days when speaking as a matter of public record, there’s some goodly cause for that.

It also makes the archival celebrity interviews excerpted for Quoted Studios' animated series, Blank on Blank, feel very vibrant and uncensored, though be forewarned that your blood may boil a bit just reviewing the celebrity line up—Michael JacksonWoody Allen, Clint Eastwood holding forth on the Pussy Generation 10 years before the Pussyhat Project legitimized common usage of that charged word….

(In full disclosure, Blank on Blank is an oft-reported favorite here at Open Culture.)

Here’s rapper Tupac Skakur, a year and a half before he was killed in a drive by shooting, casting himself as a tragic Shakespearean hero,

His musings on how differently the public would have viewed him had he been born white seem even more relevant today. Readers who are only passingly acquainted with his artistic output and legend may be surprised to hear him tracing his allegiance to “thug life” to the positive role he saw the Black Panthers playing in his single mother’s life when he was a child.

On the other hand, Shakur’s lavish and freely expressed self pity at the way the press reported on his rape charge (for which he eventually served 9 months) does not sit at all well in 2019, nor did it in 1994.

Like the majority of Blank on Blank entries, the recording was not the interview’s final form, but rather a journalistic reference. Animator Patrick Smith may add a layer of visual editorial, but in terms of narration, every subject is telling their own undiluted truth.

It is interesting to keep in mind that this was one of the first interviews the Blank on Blank team tackled, in 2013.

Six years later, it’s hard to imagine they would risk choosing that portion of the interview to animate. Had Shakur lived, would he be cancelled?

Guess who was the star of the very first Blank on Blank to air on PBS back in 2013?

Broadcaster and television host Larry King. While King has steadfastly rebutted accusations of groping, we suspect that if the Blank on Blank team was just now getting around to this subject, they’d focus on a different part of his 2001 Esquire profile than the part where he regales interviewer Cal Fussman with tales of pre-cellphone “seduction.”

It’s only been six years since the series’ debut, but it’s a different world for sure.

If you’re among the easily triggered, living legend Meryl Streep’s thoughts on beauty, harvested in 2014 from a 2008 conversation with Entertainment Weekly’s Christine Spines, won’t offer total respite, but any indignation you feel will be in support of, not because of this celebrity subject.

It’s actually pretty rousing to hear her merrily exposing Hollywood players’ piggishness, several years before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke.

For even more evidence of “a different world,” check out interviewer Howard Smith’s remark to Janis Joplin in her final interview-cum-Blank-on-Blank episode, four days before here 1970 death:

A lot of women have been saying that the whole field of rock music is nothing more than a big male chauvinist rip off and when I say, “Yeah, what about Janis Joplin? She made it,” they say, “Oh…her.” It seems to bother a lot of women’s lib people that you’re kind of so up front sexually.

Joplin, stung, unleashes a string of invectives against feminists and women, in general. One has to wonder if this reaction was Smith’s goal all along. Or maybe I’m just having flashbacks to middle school, when the popular girls would always send a delegate disguised as a concerned friend to tell you why you were being shunned, preferably in a highly public gladiatorial arena such as the lunchroom.

I presume that sort of stuff occurs primarily over social media these days.

Good on the Blank on Blank staff for picking up on the tenor of this interview and titling it “Janis Joplin on Rejection.”

You can binge watch a playlist of 82 Blank on Blank episodes, featuring many thoughts few express so openly anymore, here or right below.

When you’re done with that, you’ll find even more Blank on Blank entries on the creators’ website.

Related Content:

Alfred Hitchcock Meditates on Suspense & Dark Humor in a New Animated Video

Joni Mitchell Talks About Life as a Reluctant Star in a New Animated Interview

The Outsiders: Lou Reed, Hunter S. Thompson, and Frank Zappa Reveal Themselves in Captivatingly Animated Interviews

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, December 9 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Dennison’s Christmas Book (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Pretty Much Pop #19 Discusses Race and the Target Audience w/ Rodney Ramsey

We’ve all felt at various points (maybe at most points) that some media creation has reached us by mistake, that we are not the target audience. 20th century American TV was aimed largely at a white majority, with a parallel, underfunded channel of content aimed at people of color.

So how have things changed? There still seem to be “black shows,” but how do they fit in to a landscape where inclusiveness is a tool by which shows attempt to appeal to everyone (i.e. get all the money)? Comedian/actor/writer/producer Rodney Ramsey joins Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss the experience of watching outside your demographic, whether identifying with characters requires physical commonalities, “black voice,” and the evolving TV landscape.

We touch on WatchmenAtlantaBlack PantherInsecureSorry to Bother YouBlacKkKlansman, Tyler Perry, Dear White PeopleBlack Jesus, and the black Herminone issue.

Some of the articles we considered included:

Follow Rodney @Rodney_Ramsey.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Watch Nirvana Go Through Rehearsals for Their Famous MTV Unplugged Sessions: “Polly,” “The Man Who Sold the World” & More (1993)

“Fame is a prison,” tweeted Lady Gaga, and many Twitter wars ensued. She was only echoing an old sentiment passed down through the entertainment ages, from Greta Garbo (“I detest crowds”) to Don Johnson. The emotional toll of celebrity is so well-known as to have become a standard, almost cliché, theme in storytelling, and no recent artist has exemplified the tortured, reluctant celebrity more prominently than Kurt Cobain.

Cobain may have wanted to be famous when Nirvana broke out of Washington State and signed with major label Geffen, but he did not want the kind of thing he got. At the end 1993, when the band recorded their MTV Unplugged in New York special, he seemed positively suffocated by stardom. “We knew Cobain didn't seem all that happy being a rock star,” recalls music journalist David Browne, who sat in the audience for that legendary performance, “and that Nirvana was essentially acquiescing to industry dictates by taping one of these shows.”

Cobain’s rare talent was to take his bitterness, despair, and rage and turn them back into deftly arranged melodic songs, stripped down in “one of the greatest live albums ever,” writes Andrew Wallace Chamings at The Atlantic. “An unforgettable document of raw tension and artistic genius. While intimacy was an intended part of the [Unplugged] concept… parts of the Nirvana set at Sony’s Hells Kitchen studio feel so personal it’s awkward.”

The performance reveals “a singer uncomfortable in his own skin, through addiction and depression” and the continued demands that he make nice for the crowds. The clipped interactions between Cobain and his bandmates, especially Dave Grohl, have become as much a part of the Nirvana Unplugged mythology as that frumpy green thrift-store cardigan (which recently sold at auction for $137,500).

Kurt’s disheveled crankiness may have been part of Nirvana’s act, but he also never seemed more authentically himself than in these performances, and it’s riveting, if painful, to see and hear. Five months later, he was dead, and. Unplugged would become Nirvana’s first posthumous release in November 1994. In the quarter century since, “accounts have emerged,” writes Browne, that show exactly “what was taking place in the days leading up to that taping.”

“The rehearsals were tense,” Browne continues, “MTV brass weren’t thrilled when the promised guests turned out to be the Meat Puppets and not, say, anyone from Pearl Jam. Cobain was going through withdrawal that morning.” And yet every song came together in one take—only one of three Unplugged specials in which that had ever happened. “The entire performance made you feel as if Cobain would perhaps survive…. The quiet seemed to be his salvation, until it wasn’t.”

Marking the album’s 25th anniversary this month, Geffen has rereleased Unplugged in New York both digitally and as a 2 LP set, announcing the event with more behind-the-scenes glimpses in the rehearsal footage here, previously only available on DVD. At the top, see the band practice “Polly,” and see a frustrated Grohl, whom Cobain considered leaving out of the show entirely, smoke and joke behind the scowling singer.

Further up, see Cobain strain at the vocals in “Come as You Are,” while Grohl shows off his newfound restraint and the band makes the song sound as watery and wobbly as it does fully electrified. Above, Cobain and guitarist Pat Smear work out their dynamic on Bowie’s “The Man Whole Sold the World,” while cellist Lori Goldston helps them create “the prettiest noise the band has ever made,” writes Chamings. Even 25 years on, “there is no way of listening to Unplugged in New York without invoking death; it’s in every note.” Somehow, this grim intensity made these performances the most vital of Nirvana’s career.

Related Content:

Animated Video: Kurt Cobain on Teenage Angst, Sexuality & Finding Salvation in Punk Music

How Kurt Cobain Confronted Violence Against Women in His “Darkest Song”: Nevermind‘s “Polly”

Watch Nirvana Perform “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Just Days After the Release of Nevermind (1991)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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