Hello and welcome to The Guide, the Guardian’s new and improved weekly pop-culture newsletter. Every Friday, I’ll be cramming the biggest film, TV, music, podcasting and gaming stories into one handy, inbox-friendly missive.
From next week, I’ll be getting to the bottom of a big pop-cultural talking point, be it the changing shape of the blockbuster, the rise of the introspective teen pop star, or simply which of the Roy family in Succession is the most gloriously, unapologetically loathsome. (Answer: probably Logan, though Kendall might push him hard for that title in season three.)
Plus, for those of you seeking recommendations – well, we’ll still have them by the boatload: box sets to burn through, albums to amble away the hours, podcasts to soundtrack your perambulations.
Meanwhile, some of you might be displaced readers of the original Guide, the print entertainment supplement from which this newsletter takes its name and its spirit. For you, we’ll be bringing the greatest hits from the archive: Charlie Brooker’s acid-tipped TV columns; cartoonists Modern Toss’s scabrous strips; interviews with the great and not-so-good of pop culture. And I’ll also be asking for your input for our new regular Top 5 feature – more on that at the bottom of the email.
Have a great week. I’m looking forward to No Time to Die (in cinemas Thursday), naturally, and am also keen to see The Problem With Jon Stewart (Thursday, Apple TV+), which sees the Daily Show satirist return to telly for the first time since 2015. We’ve definitely missed him!
Stuff we’re watching, listening to and generally enjoying
STREAM: Pen15 (available on NowTV in the UK and Hulu in the US), the best teen comedy since Freaks and Geeks, is back for the second half of its second season later this year, but, as a stopgap, an animated one-off launched last month. Can Maya and Anna possibly be as cringey in cartoon form as they are in real life? You wouldn’t bet against it.
CUE UP: My favourite podcast of the moment is Slate’s Decoder Ring (available on all good podcast platforms), hosted by culture journalist Willa Paskin. Each week she cracks a different cultural mystery, from the strange rise of Cabbage Patch Kids dolls to why the Segway flopped. The most recent episode is a particularly good one. Revisiting author Jonathan Franzen’s spat with Oprah Winfrey over the inclusion of The Corrections in Oprah’s Book Club, it considers why the practice of “selling out” used to be such a huge cultural no-no, and why it’s so widely accepted today.
LISTEN: As much as I’d love to pretend that I only listen to freshly squeezed 2021 future pop, much of my Spotify most-played at the moment is filled with gnarly guitar bands from my adolescence. So, I’m delighted to report that Distant Populations (available on streaming platforms and good, old-fashioned CD), the new album from 90s hardcore heroes Quicksand, is an absolute ripper, full of buzzsaw riffs and shout-along choruses.
READ: Speaking of Succession, there are so many absurdly juicy details in this New Yorker profile of the show’s creator, Jesse Armstrong, including the real-life story behind that visit to the sex party in season one. Side note: I’m incredibly jealous of anyone who can get supporting quotes from the most elusive man alive, Chris Morris, as writer Rebecca Mead has managed here. Vulture’s own Succession profile is also worth a gander, with some great anecdotes from filming in the Tuscan sun, and a truly awe-inspiring shoot. Plus, it might be worth your while to loiter round the Guardian website in the coming weeks for our own Succession coverage, which I promise will be worth your while!
LOG ON: I am utterly enthralled by this episode of Phil Donahue’s 80s US talkshow Donahue, in which he heads to Granada studios to pair up the casts of Cheers and Coronation Street, for reasons that are pretty mystifying. Highlights: George Wendt (AKA Norm Peterson) showing complete disdain for the Rovers Return’s best “bitters”, and William “Ken Barlow” Roache managing to out-pseud Frasier Crane himself, Kelsey Grammer.
From the Guide archive
Let’s start at the end: last week was the final issue of the original Guide (The OG, if you will), and we signed off with a look back at its 28 years of pop-cultural coverage. As part of it, we caught up with Charlie Brooker, who discussed his time as a TV reviewer and what he’d be laying into if he was still writing his columns in 2021. Plus a surprisingly insightful discussion on power-washing …
So you still have a love for television?
The jealousy does ruin things. Succession was so good it made me furious with envy. Even if I enjoy your show, I don’t really enjoy it any more. That’s awful, isn’t it? But to be honest I have those feelings all the time, it doesn’t have to be watching TV. The other day I had to use a jet washer on the patio. Have you ever used a jet washer?
Those ones that really clean the grime with a lot of force?
Yeah. So if you’ve got a grimy patio, you get a jet washer, and it cleans a small area at a time, but it really cleans it. It’s transformative. It was like doing a big scratchcard. So I had to use one of those the other day to clean the patio. And I genuinely had the thought within the first 10 minutes: this is the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. It makes a mockery of my entire career. I should have been jet-washing. Without any exaggeration, I thought: why haven’t I just been doing this? Why did no one tell me about jet-washing as a career path? That lasted about another 20 minutes and then I was just cold and covered in grit. It’s actually awful.
Every week we’ll be asking you to nominate your favourite moments on a pop-cultural theme. It could be a huge topic – devastating ballads, eerily prescient sci-fi movies – or it could be something far more daft. Let’s start with the latter: to coincide with the terrific Mads Mikkelsen film Another Round arriving on VOD, let’s have your favourite performances by actors acting drunk. I suspect a certain pair of sozzled, struggling thesps will feature heavily here, but I’d love to hear your pick of the less heralded but equally great turns. Email me here.