Pretty Much Pop #47: Sitcom Premises: Genius, Bonkers and Otherwise

Sitcoms provide a form of escapism that doesn't take one to a magical world of possibility, but instead to a basically unchanging, cozy environment with relatable characters engaged in low-stakes conflicts. So what are the limits on the type of premise that can ground a sitcom? While most of the longest lasting sitcoms have simple set-ups involving friends or co-workers,  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #46: “Casual” Games with Diner Dash’s Nick Fortugno

Famed game designer Nick joins Mark, Erica, and Brian to consider fundamental questions about the activity of gaming (Nick calls games "arbitrary limits on meaningless goals") and what constitutes a casual game: Is it one that's easy (maybe not easy to win, but at least you don't die), one meant to be played in short bursts, or maybe one with a certain kind of art style, or  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #45: Film Riffing with MST3K’s Mary Jo Pehl

We live in a commentary culture with much appreciation for camp and snark, but something special happened in the early '90s when Mystery Science Theater 3000 popularized this additive form of comedy, where jokes are made during a full-length or short film. Mary Jo Pehl was a writer and performer on MST3K and has since riffed with fellow MST3K alums for Rifftrax and Cinematic  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #44: Local News w/ Deion Broxton

Is news entertainment? To what extent has local news consumption decreased given the alternatives? Deion is an on-air reporter for NBC Montana who was recently memified for fleeing amusingly from some bison. He joins Mark, Erica, and Brian to discuss what we might be missing out on, the uses and abuses of news coverage, reality vs. media portrayals, and the current status of  Continue Reading …

PMP#43: The Korean Wave w/ Suzie Oh

We're seeing a lot of Korean media in American popular culture nowadays, what with Parasite winning the Oscar for best picture and K-Pop and K-Dramas finding an increasing American cult following. This is not an accident: The Korean government has as an explicit goal the growth of "soft power" through exported cultural products. This Korean Wave (Hallyu) was aimed foremost at  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #42: Star Trek Lives Long and Prospers (Intermittently)

The world-wide Tribble infestation and Star Trek: Picard dropping make this an apt time to address our most philosophical sci-fi franchise. 44 years of thought experiments (with photon torpedoes!) about what it is to be human should have taught us something, and Brian, Erica, and Mark along with Drew Jackson (Erica’s husband) reflect on what makes a Star Trek story, world  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #41: Made-for-TV Musicals w/ Craig Wedren

Craig (beyond being a rock god) has created music for many TV shows, including Glow, Shrill, Mrs. Fletcher, and Wet Hot American Summer. He joins Mark, Erica, and Brian due to his involvement with Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, which along with Glee, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Nashville, Rise, etc. represents a new era of musicals as mainstream TV. Why now? These shows all use  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #40: #MeToo Depictions in TV and Film

These stories are all heavily watched, which means they’re entertaining: The 2019 film Bombshell (about the predations of Roger Ailes), Apple TV’s The Morning Show (about a disgraced anchor), and Netflix’s Unbelievable (about reporting rape) and 13 Reasons Why (about teen suicide resulting from sexual assault). But what’s “entertaining” about sexual assault and harassment? What  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #38: Costuming w/ Whitney Anne Adams

How does clothing mesh with set design, cinematography, sound design, etc. to create the mood in a film? Whitney designed for and dressed leads and crowds on The Great Gatsby, the Happy Death Day films and several indie flicks. She joins Erica, Mark and Brian to discuss how clothes on screen relate to clothes in life, designing vs. curating, historic vs. modern vs. genre, when  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #37: Everything is LEGO

Why has a children's toy become a brand attached to virtually every media type, partnering with the most ubiquitous franchises, and serving as a pastime for many adult hobbyists who will gut you if you call LEGO a "children's toy." Brian Hirt (our resident AFOL, i.e. adult fan of LEGO) talks with co-hosts Erica Spyres and Mark Linsenmayer about creative play vs.  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #36: Criticism with Noah Berlatsky

Do we need professional critics regulating our entertainment intake?  Noah has written for numerous publications including The Washington Post, The Atlantic, NBC News, The Guardian, Slate, and Vox, and his work has come up for us in multiple past episodes. He was invited to join Mark, Erica, and Brian in spelling out the functions of criticism, the idea of criticism as art,  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #35: Video Game Storytelling w/ Don Marshall

Do you play video games for the plot? Given that most people don't actually finish most games, it would be unexpected if storytelling were the most important element. Mark, Erica, and Brian are joined by former video game professional (current TV development exec) Donald E. Marshall to talk through types of plots (linear, "string-of-pearls," and branching), ways of weaving  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #34: Escape Rooms and Other Puzzlers w/ Adal Rifai (Plus Bonus Aftertalk)

The comic and the tragic are well-established modes within entertainment, but what about the puzzling? Riddles may have been a chief pastime in days of yore (well, they're featured in Oedipus and The Hobbit, anyway), but does this way of being entertained have a place in today's age of mass media? Improviser and podcaster Adal Rifai joins Mark, Erica, and Brian to discuss  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #33: The Heroine’s Journey w/ Vi Burlew

Pretty Much Pop taps in to what today's youth are talking about... or at least what they're writing their term papers on. Our guest Vi Burlew has arisen, a shining figure clad in mail, carrying aloft a shimmering broadsword (...and presumably a trapper keeper; the kids today still use those, right? Damn, we are old.) to bring your hosts Mark, Erica, and Brian this topic about  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #32: Judging “The Good Place”

Mark, Erica, and Brian discuss Michael Schur's NBC TV show. Is it good? (Yes, or we wouldn't be covering it?) Is it actually a sit-com? Does it effectively teach philosophy? What did having actual philosophers on the staff (after season one) contribute, and was that enough? We talk TV finales, the dramatic impact of the show's convoluted structure, the puzzle of heaven being  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #31: Robin Williams’ Celebrity Struggles w/ Dave Itzkoff

Dave the New York Times culture reporter joins Mark, Erica, and Brian to consider issues raised by his 2018 biography Robin: What is with our f'ed up relation to celebrity, and what are strategies that celebrities use to deal with that asymmetric relationship to the world? While Robin Williams tried, in gratitude, to share himself with random fans, and was very anxious about  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #30: Why Every Film Will Win the Oscar! (A Debate)

The 2020 Oscars are almost up on us! (OK, realistically, most of you will find this episode well after they've already passed, but seriously, that's fine.) Your intrepid non-film-critic hosts have each been randomly assigned three of the best picture nominees to argue for either for why it should with the Oscar, or if we really don't like it, why we think it will win anyway.  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #29: Martin Scorsese the Auteur w/ Colin Marshall

We consider the highly lauded 2019 film The Irishman in the context of Scorsese's body of work and the styles and themes that his films tend to exhibit. Writer/podcaster Colin Marshall joins Mark, Erica, and Brian to talk about what we do and don't connect with in Scorsese's work and how these films qualify as "art films" despite their watchability, not to mention the big  Continue Reading …

Pretty Much Pop #28: The Alpha Female Trope w/ Margaret Colin

What's the deal with images of powerful women in media? The trope of the tough-as-nails boss-lady who may or may not have a heart of gold has evolved a lot over the years, but it's difficult to portray such a character unobjectionably, probably due to those all-too-familiar double standards about wanting women in authority (or, say, running for office) to be assertive but not  Continue Reading …