This week, we rooted for drag queens who refuse to be silenced, mourned the loss of Bobby Caldwell, and enjoyed a satirical novel that skewers religious institutions without mocking faith itself.
Here's what the NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour crew was paying attention to — and what you should check out this weekend.
Inside is a film that's in theaters now in limited release. It stars Willem Dafoe as an art thief who gets trapped inside this amazing high-tech penthouse apartment that's filled with priceless works of art, when he trips the alarm. The entire film is just Dafoe on screen for 105 minutes minus a dream sequence or two, and he's there trying to figure out how to get out. As the days pass and his food and water run out, the temperature controls in the apartment start going nuts.
Dafoe. It's Dafoe. He's always fascinating to watch. He makes big choices, and here he's playing someone who gets increasingly desperate and increasingly unhinged as the days pass. I've read some reviews from folks who aren't willing to go on this journey, and that's fair. I mean, understand, you will feel those days pass. You will feel the weight of them. That is the entire point. And as it goes on, the film starts to play with notions of art and life and death and whatever might lie beyond it. It is a very small film with great big ideas, and Dafoe really holds your attention. So if you're up for it and not everyone will be, it is definitely worth seeking out. That is Inside in theaters now.
— Glen Weldon
Louder Than A Riot
What is making me happy is the long awaited new season of Louder Than A Riot, an NPR music podcast. The first season was about the intersection of hip hop and incarceration in America. Obviously, I am biased. These are my colleagues. These are my friends, but this is a phenomenal show. Season 1 took this fascinating deep dive into the way that hip-hop lyrics can be used as evidence in criminal cases. It reported news, it made news, and it won awards. It generally made us proud and made us very excited about Season 2.
The first episode of Season 2 dropped this Thursday, and it goes even deeper. I maybe already even like it more. It starts with the trial of Tory Lanez, who was convicted of shooting Megan Thee Stallion. It uses that trial as a jumping off point into some kind of surprising directions. It examines hip-hop's relationship with women and, as the season progresses, with queer people.
It's amazing how much this show sounds so effortless and conversational. Sidney Madden and Rodney Carmichael are the hosts and they talk to each other and to producer Gabby Bulgarelli, who was great here. They're untangling extremely complex ideas about race and gender, fandom toxicity and so much more in a way that feels effortless but clearly is not effortless. So much reporting and editing and hosting talent went into making this show great. I just savored that first episode. I can't wait to hear more each week.
— Stephen Thompson
More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter
by Stephen Thompson
One last bit of Oscars reading: If you hated The Whale like I hated The Whale, you'll love how much – and with how much profanity – Lindy West hated The Whale.
In need of a new bit of reality-TV escapism, I discovered the Food Network's Tournament of Champions, in which Guy Fieri – that most underrated Mayor of Flavortown – presides over a (seasonally appropriate) bracket-style competition among famous chefs. Season 4 is going on now, with a supersized 32-person field, but I'm still on Season 1. Among the many joys here, the casting pays off my many years spent watching TV cooking competitions: You get Top Chef winners galore, ubiquitous cooking-show judges and other names you didn't know you'd retained. It's lively and friendly, which is crucial.
NPR's Teresa Xie adapted the Pop Culture Happy Hour segment "What's Making Us Happy" into a digital page. If you like these suggestions, consider signing up for our newsletter to get recommendations every week. And listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.