Glen Weldon

Glen Weldon is a regular panelist on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics, and more for the NPR Arts Desk.

Over the course of his career, he has spent time as a theater critic, a science writer, an oral historian, a writing teacher, a bookstore clerk, a PR flack, a completely inept marine biologist, and a slightly better-ept competitive swimmer.

Weldon is the author of two cultural histories: Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, and The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate, McSweeney's, and more; his fiction has appeared in several anthologies and other publications. He is the recipient of an NEA Arts Journalism Fellowship, an Amtrak Writers' Residency, a Ragdale Writing Fellowship, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts for Fiction.

Slow Burn premieres Sunday February 16th on EPIX.

Slow Burn isn't the first hit podcast to be adapted into a television series, and it won't be the last. In this, the age of streams and verticals, of IPs and platform-agnosticism, we are about to be deluged with content that began life nestled in millions of earbuds.

The degree to which any given Marvel or DC/Warners movie manages to distinguish itself from the slew of punch-em-ups that have come before is a function of tone, more than anything else. The demands of the genre (innocents to protect, evil to punish, MacGuffins to procure, training to montage) are such that filmmakers are forced to innovate around the margins.

Avenue 5 premieres on HBO Sunday, January 19th.

"A problem," decrees a character on HBO's sci-fi comedy series Avenue 5, "is just a solution without a solution."

The problem facing the crew and passengers of Avenue 5 — a massive space-cruise-ship in the not too distant future on its maiden 8-week cruise around Saturn — has to do with its trajectory.

The New Pope debuts on HBO Monday, January 13th.

There's an argument to be made that Catholicism is to Paolo Sorrentino's The Young/New Pope television series as Media is to Succession, as Oil was to Dallas and Dynasty, as Wine was to Falcon Crest, as McMansions are to the Real Housewives.

Which is to say: merely the setting, the ostensible backdrop before which the real drama plays out: endless, internecine struggles, betrayals, maneuvers, schemes and retribution.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

NPR's movie critic and Pop Culture Happy Hour hosts picked 20 of their favorite films of the year.

1917

The thing about the act of plate-spinning is: It's not about the plates. Not really.

NPR's TV critic and Pop Culture Happy Hour hosts pick 19 of their favorite television and streaming series of the year.

Chernobyl (HBO)

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Superman is secretly reporter Clark Kent. Everyone in the real world knows that because as "Superman" superfan Jerry Seinfeld pointed out back in 1979...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

Just six years after the Disney film Frozen unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace the soaring power ballad "Let It Go" — a song that proved no mere harmless earworm, but instead a devastatingly memetic musico-epidemiological event, a tuneful tapeworm that proceeded to infect the world's theater auditions, cabaret acts, drag repertoires and (especially) car rides to and from your kids' swim lessons — its sequel Frozen II now lies in wait, gestating in its bowels another song of similar belty pandemic virulence that, this coming weekend, will secure itself a billion or so

The third season of The Crown drops on Netflix on Sunday, November 17th.

"One just has to get on with it."

That's Elizabeth II (played by Olivia Colman, taking over from Claire Foy), in the first scene of The Crown's third season. She's addressing her assistants, there, who have just unveiled to her the more-current portrait of the Queen set to replace her younger self on a postage stamp.

When a joke would bomb — or rather, when an audience would fail to join him in laughing uproariously at a joke he'd just finished — Rip Taylor would switch off.

For just a second, he'd drop the merry mirthful maniac bit: He'd stop laughing and frown, his handlebar mustache would droop, his woolly-caterpillar eyebrows would knit. He'd look out at the audience, mock-annoyed.

"Folks, I don't dance," he'd say. "This is it. This is the act."

Or

"You'll get these when you get home and laaaaaugh."

Or

In the comics and cartoons — and on film, as played by Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and (checks notes) Jared Leto — the Joker, Batman's archenemy, is an agent of chaos.

The premise was simple. Clean. Direct. If one were feeling uncharitable, one might even say thin.

In a series of 21 videos posted to Will Ferrell's Funny or Die website, comedian Zach Galifianakis played a version of himself, interviewing celebrities. That was it. Now: It was a pinched version of himself. A bored, distracted, irritable Zach Galifianakis, lobbing questions that were condescending and dismissive at best, and jaw-droppingly insulting at worst.

There is nostalgia, and there is Downton Abbey.

Nostalgia bathes the past in a golden light that falls patchily, shining clear and steady on what was tidy and genteel, while leaving an era's ugliest, most brutal recesses sunk in shadow.

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