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New Beginnings: A Pop Culture Primer to (Gently) Guide You Into 2014

The best of 2013, to help you head into 2014

New books, movies and television show recommendations to prepare you for the coming season of cultural conversations

Every year brings with it a spate of new books, new music, new television and new cinema. And we understand that you with your baby and job and friends don’t have the time to sample every thing from this never-ending glut of culture. No wonder you end up listening to U2 for the umpteenth time while watching reruns of Seinfeld on your laptop.

In this issue, the Red Bag delves deep into what 2013 had to offer,and helps you choose the pieces of culture that you absolutely must consume to stay a part of the conversation.

 

For those who liked Homeland

When we started watching Homeland , we were smitten with its nuanced take on the personal cost of terrorism. Nicholas Brody was the perfect fallen angel; and Carrie and her bipolarity seemed a reflection of America’s own bipolar attitude towards the Islamic world. We waited eagerly for every instalment that added one more twist to the  labyrinthine plot and exclaimed at every betrayal and reversal. Now, new episodes lie in our DVR purgatory for months before being deleted to make space for more Real Housewives.

For a similarly ambiguous take on America’s role in world history, may we suggest The Americans? This pulsating and oddly heartbreaking show-written by a former CIA agent- looks at the ‘marriage’ of a pair of Russian spies working undercover in America during the heydays of the Cold War. Saying any more would be spoiling the fun, but if the idea of a relationship-as-a-metaphor-for-Soviet-American-relationships appeals to you, or if you’re just fans of Keri Russell, you’re going to get hooked really fast.

For those who liked Modern Family

Most sitcoms age badly, and Modern Family is no exception. There is only so much of Gloria shrieking, Mitch and Cam fighting and Haley being oblivious you can take without moving on to something else.  If dysfunctional families are your jam, you’re going to love the Trophy Wife.  The ‘modern family’ in this case is that of a lawyer (Bradley Whitford) and  his young and sunny third wife (played with klutzy Scandinavian charm by Malin Ackerman),  his two children from his first wife (a pitch perfect Marcia Gay Haden as a Type A doctor), and his adopted Chinese kid from his second wife- a new-agey Michaela Watkins. The children are adorable without beginning to grate, the women properly fleshed out, and-unlike a certain other sitcom- the family members genuinely seem to love each other. Add this one to your roster if you like a good laugh with the family, or if you miss Michaela Watkins from her too-short SNL stint.

For those who liked 30 Rock

Ohh Liz Lemon! How we miss you, your love for Sabor Soledad,  and your rat-a-tat fast-flowing pop culture references.  The Mindy Project is not quite there yet, but it’s so refreshing to see a single career woman dating her pick of funny and good looking men after years of watching Ted Mosby and Jerry Seinfeld with their never-ending streams of hot girl friends. We approve of the show as feminists, and we like it because it’s really really funny. It takes a while to find it’s voice so we suggest you start from somewhere in the middle of Season 1. A good jump-in point will probably will be “The One That Got Away”. The cast has developed a nice chemistry by this point and once you get involved in the shenanigans of Dr. C and Dr. L, you’re not going to quit.  Also, Mindy Kaling is the queen of pratfalls and physical comedy. There is a strange kind of joy in watching her extremely committed and uninhibited performance where she will always go that extra mile for a laugh!

http://youtu.be/yFzv8yBu3sQ

For those who like Adele (which I am assuming at this stage is everyone)

Even though Duffy and Amy Winehouse released their first albums before Adele, it was she who heralded the era of big -voiced women- her notes  seemingly soaked in whisky and melancholy with just a hint of betrayal.

The 17-year old uber precocious Lorde has a similar voice, but her own distinct personality. She writes her own songs, identifies as a feminist, is remarkably fearless and unfiltered, and most of all -just sings some sweet sweet tunes. You’ve probably already heard Royals blaring from cars all over the places , but do also give a listen to the wonderful Team  and Tennis Court.

I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air
So there
I’m kinda older than I was when I revelled without a care
So there

For those who like Stephen King

There is no writer quite as good at mixing horror and humour and an authentic small town setting as Stephen King. Pity then that it’s been a while since he wrote his best and scariest books. So who better to take on the mantle than his own son! To  decide if Joe Hill’s Nos4a2 is likely to work for you, ask yourself if any of these appeal to you:

  • A kick ass heroine who is part-Buffy and part-Dr. Seuss
  • An overweight biking nerd with a heart of gold
  • An evil Dorian Gray-type obsessed with eternal youth and Christmas
  • Anthropomorphic symbols of good and evil in the form of a beat-up Triumph bike and a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith

Nos4A2 is one of those rare  horror books that that you don’t need to be a horror aficionado to enjoy because it’s just so fun. And at 700 pages it also makes a perfect book for a vacation or a long flight!

For those who like David Bowie or Prince

Very few artists embrace the sheer theatricality of pop. Some like Lady Gaga go overboard in their attempts to build an image, and others often seem too young to have discovered their inner divas- instead alternating between the shock-and-awe  or virginal mantles that their producers burden with them. But Janelle Monae- like David Bowie before her- seems to enjoy the performance of music.  She is not just Janelle Monae the singer- but also the originator of her own part-throwback-part-postmodern dance style. Her concept albums (and again, that seems like an almost quaint concept in this era of ‘singles’ and assembly-line music) narrate the adventures of her alter ego Cindy Mayweather- an android in a dystopian future. And if that sounds too complicated, then just surrender to her sound- the most insanely dance -friendly tracks in years. Let’s just say when the aliens descend, I wouldn’t be the least surprised if they choose Ms. Monae as their overlord.

For those who liked Krrish 3

If you are that starved for Indian science fiction, may we suggest venturing southward? You can start with looking at some of the back catalog- the batshit insane (in a good way) Kanthasamy or Anniyan, and then wait for Irandam Ulagam to release in DVD with subtitles. These films use ‘science’ to tell compelling stories, the masala driven plots do not wind themselves in knots trying to please a focus group. Even if the connection to reality is tenuous, there is an internal logic to the narrative that makes sense. Plus, the music is a million times better.

Irandam Ulagam is part  classic desi romance, part The Fountain (another movie we have an inexplicable soft spot for), and also features one of our favourite artists working in Indian cinema today- the gorgeous Anushka Shetty . Watch it to learn how you can make viable Indian fantasy/science fiction without ripping of scenes from the X-Men.

What were some of your favourite pop memories from the past year? Tell us in the comments below. We can’t wait to get ‘with it!

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