Ugly Americans seek love, a British detective seeks the truth and Al Pacino hams it up into obscurity
Watch: 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 days
What: A bananas reality show about bananas people with bananas expectations
Who: Honestly, we’re not sure who to credit for this spectacular train wreck
How: TLC, clips on YouTube
Look, you can’t always control the remote when you’re quarantining with housemates. And I admit, when my brother’s coparent first began watching this reality show spinoff, I may have judged her from my perch of snide self-regard and prestige cable snobbery. But then I started paying attention to the international lengths ugly Americans will go to avoid loneliness—and I rediscovered the joy of trash talking.
My favorite targets are: David’s seven-year (!) quest to meet a Ukrainian woman he’s only communicated with through a dating website; Lisa’s alternately icky and demeaning pursuit of a Nigerian hip-hop artist 22 years her junior; Big Ed’s off-putting attempts to both romance and groom a Filipina woman younger than his daughter; and sweet, trusting Yolanda, so infatuated with a catfish hiding behind buff stock photos that her grown children are reduced to facial expressions worthy of The Office.
With only a couple episodes left, I recommend Zoom-bingeing this disaster epic with friends, so you too can deconstruct relationship hurdles (it’s not that Geoffrey has a prison past; it’s that he concealed it), choose alliances (Team Erica all the way), shout advice at your screen (Avery, you are way too good for the nervous-blinking, pseudo-spiritual Ash) and get enraged at the STFU cliffhangers (I haven’t been able to pick up my jaw since episode 12).
I can’t call Before the 90 Days a good show—and I have no desire to watch any other seasons or spinoffs (of which there are conservatively a gazillion). But this is that rare kind of garbage series that invites you to enjoy the experience while also trashing it. And what’s more American than schadenfreude?
Read: The Daughter of Time
What: A 20th century mystery novel about a very old cold case
Who: Revered mystery author Josephine Tey
How: Thriftbooks.com, Audible or wherever books are sold
Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant, recuperating in a hospital from a broken leg and “concussed” back, is sick of staring at the ceiling and too grumpy to read the books stacking up on his nightstand, which represent to his eviscerating mind a diarrhea of unworthy thoughts. “It might be a good thing, Grant thought as he turned his nauseated gaze away from the motley pile, if all the presses of the world were stopped for a generation.”
Then, one day, an actress friend drops off a sheaf of historical portraits and the professional scrutinizer of faces finds himself drawn to the haunted gaze of none other than Richard III. What follows is a bracingly clever bedside investigation to determine if the notorious “crouchback” of lore was as cruel and corrupt as legend has bludgeoned us to believe. I’m halfway through this slim novel, originally published in 1951, but I’m a prisoner of its tantalizing spell. Tey has crafted a time-hopping mystery whose answers lay buried under centuries of accepted apocrypha. This is a puzzle that depends on interrogating the sources of our shared history—and I can’t think of a more resonant read for 2020.
At a time when baseless conspiracies become as unshakeable as religious beliefs and a cottage industry has cropped up just to enumerate the president’s lies, The Daughter of Time serves as a prescient reminder that an unchallenged falsity can shape a nation’s identity. In Tey’s unceremonious thread-pulling of British history, which takes its title from the proverb, “Truth is the daughter of time,” it’s comforting to think that facts always prevail. Even if it takes 500 years and a really bored detective to unearth them.
Kick yourself for missing: Al Pacino in We’re No Animals (No somos animales)
What: The hambone acting legend gives his most quotable performance in decades
Who: John Cusack and Alejandro Agresti’s alternately diverting, alternately groan-inducing coming-of-middle-age meditation about aging Gen Xers
How: Sadly, Netflix removed this title in February
In all likelihood, you have neither seen nor heard of this semi-experimental 2013 movie about an unhappy movie star (John Cusack) traipsing to Argentina with his bros to wear bandanas and make an art house flick about life and stuff. And that’s OK. This black-and-white indie is so on-the-nose meta that you may have to stuff your nostrils with tissues just to get through its 90 navel-gazing minutes. So thank Brando’s ghost for Al Pacino.
The all-time devourer of scenes pops up just a few times as Cusack’s puckish agent—and somehow creates the most delightfully outré character I’ve seen in years. I’ve no earthly idea where Pacino summoned the inspiration for his flamboyant sprite, who speaks in a kind of keening singsong and dresses like Keith Richards’ spiritual guru. But I’m pretty sure seances were held and animal pelts were burned. He’s so wonderfully daffy that I am crestfallen no one ever assembled a supercut of his cameo and uploaded it to YouTube. And enraged that now we may never get the chance.
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