Books. Bakes. Battlestar Galactica. (Recent Work and Upcoming Funtimes)

Hello! It’s been a while. One big reason is that it’s now gardening season and I spend every spare minute doing dirt-based outdoor therapy in my yard. I’m having a lot of fun with it, while also dodging a massive brood of dazed cicadas, who are truly one of evolution’s weirder tangents. (By the way, if you want pics of the garden or clues about other things I’m thinking about, I post images of my beautiful flower babies on my Instagram stories frequently. Day to day, you can usually find me there or on Bluesky. I’m pretty much off Twitter, and though I post on Threads occasionally, I do not like Threads; there, I said it! Almost everything about the design and user experience of Threads is irritating to me; of course, if you love it, I’m glad for you.). 

Anyway! I’ve also managed to do some work this year. And here are a few links and thoughts about those recent pieces, plus an update on what’s to come. (Cylon foreshadowing: I have a plan!)

First up, for Vanity Fair, I compiled a list of fantastic shows that probably got lost in the shuffle during the cicada-like proliferation of TV in the past decade. Line of Duty is the centerpiece of the list, and I have so much more I could say about that excellent drama. But instead I’ll point you to this interview that 5AM StoryTalk writer/creator Cole Haddon did with Jed Mercurio, the man behind Line of Duty, Bodyguard and many other compelling programs.

Arthur Hastings of Line of Duty: Incredible representation for irritable Irish Catholics who yell “Mother of God!” all the time! Especially when so many of the people around them do not live up to their stated ethical codes!

In the interview, Mercurio talks about being the working-class son of immigrants, and that gets at something I think about a lot:

If a writer doesn’t come from money or power or, in the UK, didn’t follow the usual Oxford-Cambridge-private school routes to the entertainment industry, that writer will likely have a different set of ideas about power, its uses and misuses than someone who did come from those more insulated worlds. No shade to folks from those realms — they are often immensely talented and creative — but to point out the obvious, power and abuse of power look different to those who traditionally have never had a lot of (or any) sway, influence or connections. And there tends to be a similarity to the points of view, questions and topics that arise when many or most artists are from backgrounds that are, shall we say, well-resourced on various fronts. (You know what you don’t see a lot of on TV these days? Working-class folks like the ones you often find on Abbott Elementary or Reservation Dogs. I grew up when those kinds of characters were far, far more common in American TV and film.)

As so many of us have talked about for years, our creative spheres need people with all kinds of histories, including working-class histories, to ensure that the kinds of stories we get are not too repetitive, blinkered or predictable. But as Mercurio points out, the commercial TV and film industries in the UK (and in the US too) have always been very hard for anyone to get into and stay in — and it’s only getting harder for everyone, especially those who don’t come from money and lack other kinds of resources and protections. All jobs these days, and certainly jobs in creative industries, are becoming ever more precarious (my friend, the terrific novelist Monica Byrne, wrote about the realities of living off book money here; it’s an excellent if sobering read). Money, insulation, access and career precarity were very much themes of my book and of the 2023 strikes, and Jed and Cole’s conversation is illuminating on all those fronts. They talked about other topics too; Jed is really smart about craft and inspiration as well. It’s a very good read (as is 5AM StoryTalk in general. I’m a bit biased because I recently did an interview with Cole — it’ll be out soon — and it was a fantastic experience).  

Also from my Underhyped Gems list: You might wonder how to watch the delightful Great Canadian Baking Show in the U.S. legally (or sort of legally? I hope?!). I can’t speak to how you’d do it in other countries, but we go to a site called DailyMotion, where people upload high-quality videos of each episode, and then we cast it to the TV. Retroactive thanks to all the heroes keeping us supplied with episodes of this excellent confection (and whyyyy hasn’t any US streamer picked up GCBS for legit distribution? Someone get on that!). 

It’s probably clear from the contents of that VF list that some lower-profile streamers may be worth a subscription, at least for a month or three. You and I already know how we feel about the big dogs of streaming; I probably don’t need to reiterate those pluses and minus. Of the less hyped US streamers, for my money, Hulu has always been a dark-horse contender for best service (its combo of library shows and current programs has always been strong).

That said, the services I’d be inclined to hype even more are AMC+ and BritBox. Both have a lot of really good shows, and AMC+’s library of current and recent good and great dramas is quite solid (and docs like the Heiress and the Heist are also interesting). Neither service’s interface is what you’d call fancy (but then I dislike almost every streamer’s interface; whoever designed Amazon Prime’s interface should be sent to their room indefinitely. It’s not easy to win the competition for Streaming Interface That Most Actively Repels Potential Viewers, but Team Bezos has really put in the work). BritBox’s interface is especially basic, but the library of shows on that service is, to use an arcane critical term, amazeballs. There’s really a lot to dig into on Britbox, especially if you like crime dramas and period pieces, and we’ve long found it worth the monthly fee (unlike some other streamers I could name). Anyhow, we are now finally done with Inspector Morse (and we watched all of Endeavour on PBS), and I genuinely don’t know who I am anymore, now that I’m without the nightly ritual of spotting award-winning UK actors in early or mid-career roles.

Another list: I contributed to a Vanity Fair roster of the best TV shows of the year so far. Speaking of Hulu gems, please watch Extraordinary, it is so good. More representation for Irish people who are complicated and often irritated/irritating but ultimately The Best.

And now for Mo Ryan Is Back on Her Bullshit: I wrote about Wynonna Earp and Warrior again! Check out the Wynonna Earp story to find out how and why creator Emily Andras is putting the band back together, but also to watch the video of the cast, who are reunited and still charming and dying to head back to Purgatory. Watching the Earpers go bananas when this story came out was a very welcome blast of joy. 

As for Warrior, it’s now on Netflix as well as Max. I really enjoyed talking to the cast and the creative team again about their favorite aspects of the show and its super-loyal fans. This new Tudum article about Warrior is meant as something of a primer for newbies, but I think all fans of the show would enjoy the information and observations in the piece. I’m really hoping Warrior’s renewed popularity on Netflix, where it dominated the most-watched charts when it arrived, leads to a fourth season. 

As previously noted, I love gardening and growing things, so interviewing the directors of the farming documentary Common Ground was really fun. Common Ground, which is in select theaters now, has a host of celebrity narrators, but its focus is firmly on forward-thinking farmers who are exploring regenerative agriculture as a means of making the land (and the planet) healthier and more livable. I don’t believe the doc is streaming anywhere yet, but I hope it is soon. It is a companion piece of sorts to the directors’ previous film, Kiss the Ground, which is streaming on Netflix in the US, and which explores similar themes and ideas. 

Now, we travel into the future! 

From May 30 to June 2, I’ll be at one of my favorite gatherings, the ATX TV Festival in Austin. I’ll be part of various events and panels, and if you are going too and you see me around, say hi! There are so many fun reunions and panels happening, and as usual, I will spend a lot of time eating my body weight in tacos. I will get to see many pals there, including the superb critics Alan Sepinwall and Dan Fienberg, who are doing an AMA panel. Please know that I’m grinding my teeth that I can’t attend due to scheduling conflicts. But in my stead, you can ask them about their favorite episode of Zero Hour. Or The Slap. Or The Event. Cavemen: Great network comedy or greatest network comedy? Hard questions need to be asked and I’m counting on my fellow ATXers to grill them! (It’s worth mentioning here that most ATX panels and presentations are recorded, and you can see a lot of past panels on YouTube or listen to them on the TV Campfire podcast).

On August 14, my pal Steve Darnall and I will chat at Chicago bookstore The Book Cellar, and I’m really looking forward to that. In 1997, Steve and Alex Ross published an excellent and prescient graphic novel called Uncle Sam, and on August 6, Abrams will reissue a special Election Edition of Uncle Sam. I’ll talk Burn It Down, Steve will talk Uncle Sam, and I’m guessing we’ll both talk about why both our books are are still pretty topical. We may also discuss being coworkers at a deeply eccentric magazine company in the ’90s, when our stories were printed on paper and dinosaurs roamed the earth. It should be fun!

Speaking of Burn It Down, it comes out in paperback on June 4. I’m very excited about that! Granted, this version of the book is less useful as a weapon or an improvised shield, given that it is substantially lighter and smaller than the hardcover. But it’s also got a bit of updated text (particularly around the 2023 Hollywood strikes), and it’s cheaper, so there’s that! Seriously, I’m truly grateful for everyone’s support of the book on so many fronts — for the past year, it has meant so, so much to me. 

As for what’s coming this fall… all this has happened before and will happen again.

I’m going moderate panels and do general hosting at a Creation Entertainment convention devoted to the 20th anniversary of Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica, my favorite television program of all time. Picture a dancing Cylon squealing with excitement, and that describes how I feel about this! Come on down to the Chicago-area hotel Oct. 25-27 if you want to be part of the fleetwide festivities. So far the announced guests include Mary McDonnell, Edward James Olmos, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, Kandyse McClure, Jamie Bamber, Michael Trucco, Kate Vernon, Rekha Sharma and Tahmoh Penikett. More names associated with the show might join that roster in the next few months, you never know! I will now return to wandering about and screaming with excitement, not unlike a newly emerged cicada.

We’re getting to the end of this post, I promise. But before I go, here’s a bonus movie recommendation. I highly recommend the 2023 Wim Wenders film Perfect Days (the one thing I find Amazon Prime convenient for is renting movies, and that’s where I watched it). (I won’t get into how broken the film industry is, in that a Wim Wenders film came out a year ago and I honestly was not aware of it at all? Maybe that was a me problem — last summer was pretty busy, after all. But I think the issues described in this post, Nobody Knows When Movies Come Out Anymore, are also a factor.)

Perfect Days is a moving, thoughtful and ultimately life-affirming film that features a wildly great lead performance from Kōji Hashimoto. What an absolute legend. He won the Best Actor award at Cannes in 2023, and he should have won every other award under the sun as well. The first half of the film is deceptively simple – this man cleans toilets for a living, and we just see the rhythms of his days and how devoted he is to doing his job well. You might think, well, there’s not much going on here (I thought that during the first hour, if I’m honest!). But this is Wim Wenders. He knows how to build up layers of meaning, context, subtle history and emotion until you know this lead character really, really well. And thus when there are a few complicated, dialogue-heavy scenes in the second half of the film – and those conversations are so well written and shot they should be taught in film school – those sequences land with incredible impact. 

A middle aged Japanese man and a young Japanese woman sit on a bench beneath a tree, looking up with pleasant expressions on their faces.

Kōji Hashimoto and Aoi Yamada in the Wim Wenders film Perfect Days.

Ultimately, the film is not really about a man who cleans upscale public toilets in Tokyo (and the story behind those toilets is fascinating, by the way). It’s about the nature of human existence. When I talked about it with friends who had seen it as well, my opening statement about Perfect Days was this: “If you want to know why I’ve studied and practiced Buddhism and meditation for more than 20 years, this film shows why. I’ve never seen a lead character who was more present for each moment of his life. And ‘present’ does not necessarily mean always happy – it means alive and curious and able to access some kind of openness, emotional connection or compassion.” I will be thinking about the beauty and the poetry and the sweet, complicated sadness and joy of Perfect Days for a long, long time. 

Finally, RIP Paul Auster. A great.  

A row of books by Paul Auster, including The Music of Chance, Mr Vertigo, Hand to Mouth, Moon Palace, The New York Trilogy, Leviathan, The Invention of Solitude and Oracle Night.

Some housekeeping: I’ll be crossposting newsletters to my own site each time going forward, so you can sign up for Burner Account or just visit when the mood strikes. Here are past issues of Burner Account, and here’s my Linktree, which has links to the places you can find me and my work. There is also a link to a video I took a few years back of baby wild dogs in Botswana. They are very cute.