The Sundae TV Awards 2021

We’ll not beat around the bush: watching TV was not as fun as usual for us this year. It can already be hard to get excited about the quantity-over-quality glut of Peak TV when there’s decades of classic TV to watch instead. But less new TV was released than usual due to the pandemic, so it was harder to just skim the cream off the top, and lots of ongoing shows we love didn’t release a new season, so we couldn’t even turn to our old reliables. Also, GLOW got cancelled in the middle of production on its fourth and final season for either no good reason or in retaliation for cast members criticising the producers for sidelining the show’s characters and actors of colour. Netflix said it was because COVID restrictions made filming a show about professional wrestling too logistically difficult, which was very hard to take seriously considering how many actual professional wrestling shows continued filming throughout lockdown. This has nothing to do with why TV was less fun this year, but it was a bullshit decision and we’ll be mad about it for at least a decade.

But life finds a way and there’s still been some fantastic television over the last TV season (June 2020 – May 2021). Enough that we decided to expand the awards to include two new categories this year. We’ve previously used special achievement awards to honour television that didn’t always fit neatly into drama or comedy categories. On reflection, the majority of that television comprises a general category of TV – the largest category of TV, in truth – contrasted with the narrative fiction of conventional TV drama and comedy. Our new categories will celebrate the best of reality, variety and documentary television, including game shows, professional wrestling and whatever Eric Andre is doing at any given minute. We picked our winners by consensus, so only shows we both watched were eligible to win, but we each picked a runner-up, regardless of whether the other has seen it.

You can find each of our full slates of nominees at the bottom of the post. We recommend checking them out if you’re looking for recommendations. 

Continue reading “The Sundae TV Awards 2021”

August Van Sant: A Film Diary

Until we recorded the fifth episode of our podcast, I’d only seen two Gus Van Sant films: his infamous 1998 shot-for-shot remake of Psycho and his 2018 biopic of the late cartoonist John Callahan, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. I thought the former was interesting, but not necessarily enjoyable, and the latter I thought was simply a good film. But I was never really drawn to Van Sant as a filmmaker. I’m not sure why. I’d heard high praise for some of his films, especially My Own Private Idaho, but I’d heard others panned into the ground. Maybe it’s just because he doesn’t have a public persona the way a lot of directors do: he’s a private enough guy that he doesn’t even have a personal life section on his Wikipedia and he doesn’t seem to have much appetite for self-promotion or even making calculated career moves.

Then I watched Good Will Hunting and it piqued my interest in the films of this mysterious man with a name that just about rhymes. So, I decided to watch them. All seventeen of them, over the month of August. I initially recorded my brief thoughts on each over on my letterboxd, now I’ve compiled them here, with some elaboration. I found very little advice on navigating Van Sant’s filmography when I started, so hopefully this can act as, if not a guide, then at least an example of how someone did it for others to follow or ignore as they see fit. You can hear my thoughts on Good Will Hunting on the podcast, but the rest of the gang is all here.

Continue reading “August Van Sant: A Film Diary”

Way Down East: The Sundae Presents Episode 6

Ciara and Dean co-host The Sundae Presents, a podcast in which each of us makes the other watch films they haven’t seen. This episode, Dean shows Ciara D.W. Griffith’s 1920 silent melodrama Way Down East. They talk about its weird Christian feminism, silent film acting and sleepy kitties.

Way Down East The Sundae Presents

Listen on Anchor

Listen on Spotify

Listen on Google Podcasts

Listen on RadioPublic

Listen on Breaker

Listen on Pocket Casts

Circle Calls Our Conscience To a Vote [Certified Forgotten]

Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione’s 2015 film Circle opens in a dark room.  Fifty people are waking up, confused and disorientated. They don’t know why they’re here or what’s going on. They’re standing arranged in concentric circles around a black dome with red lights. Then there’s a flash, and they start dying. 

Every two minutes, one of them is killed. It can be from a beam of light that comes from the dome. It can be if someone tries to leave, stepping outside the small red circle under their feet. But every two minutes, someone dies. The early parts of Circle are nervous chaos, as the group’s attempts to figure out what the hell is going on are interrupted by another death. They talk about what they remember from before they woke up here. They discuss if there are any connections between the people in the room. They theorize about how they might buy time. But every two minutes, flash, another body drops. 

I wrote about Circle, talky sci-fi and cynicism for Certified Forgotten! Read it here.

Revisiting Steven Spielberg’s Undersung Masterpiece, Catch Me If You Can [Film Daze]

Catch Me If You Can is a well-loved but still underappreciated film: the kind of movie that, were it made by almost anyone else, would be rightfully thought of as their masterpiece. But it was made by Steven Spielberg, who has made so many masterpieces that Catch Me If You Can gets lost in the shuffle. But at almost two decades’ distance, it stands out as a shining bright spot of the latter part of Spielberg’s career. It is one of the films that made me fall in love with cinema.

It’s one of the films that I watched as a kid that really blew up what I thought films could be and do. I have watched it so many times, and I’m always taken off-guard by how extraordinarily well-made it is: impeccably structured, bursting with extraordinary performances, and so goddamn exciting. Just as thrilling as the first time, every time. 

I wrote about Catch Me If You Can for Film Daze. Read it here.

Good Will Hunting: The Sundae Presents Episode 5

Ciara and Dean co-host The Sundae Presents, a podcast in which each of us makes the other watch films they haven’t seen. This episode, Ciara makes Dean watch Good Will Hunting for the first time. They talk about class, toilet humour, and whether Ben Affleck is a good actor. 

Good Will Hunting The Sundae Presents

Listen on Anchor

Listen on Spotify

Listen on Google Podcasts

Listen on RadioPublic

Listen on Breaker

Listen on Pocket Casts

Cancelled Too Soon: Mindhunter

This article is part of the Cancelled Too Soon series. Previously, Lodge 49.


Television has changed so drastically in the last decade that it’s hard to comprehend in hindsight. The history of television is full of drastic change, from the move to colour to the rise of cable and satellite channels, but the emergence of streaming has exploded the very concept of what television is. Something literally no longer has to appear on TV to be a TV show. We watch TV shows on computers and telephones, instantly available and on our own schedule. So much of what we call TV now would not be recognised as TV by time travellers from twenty years ago. Cable television was small fry by comparison: it was still recognisably television, there was just a lot more of it. A dozen new places to watch Murder She Wrote reruns. 

Streaming is different. It’s not just the rise of major new companies in the TV landscape, it’s the transformation of both how we watch TV and how TV gets made. In 2013, Netflix started pivoting in earnest to original programming with Orange Is The New Black and House of Cards, and in the years since, basically every tech or media company has decided to launch its own subscription streaming service, each offering original, exclusive programming. Most of it is released a full season at a time, although Disney+ and Apple TV have tried (with varying degrees of success) to release episodes weekly. The season lengths are generally short: if the typical seasons of American television were twenty-two episodes or so on a network and around thirteen on cable, recent streaming shows tap out at about ten. While short seasons are typical of how TV is produced in a lot of countries – six episodes has been the consistent norm in the UK for decades – those old-fashioned long seasons are now at death’s door in the US, too. 

This is important because it’s transformed what TV is actually like. In the early days, the rise of streaming services was often discursively bundled in with the Golden Age of TV that was set off by The Sopranos: complex, serialised storytelling, the story goes, was now possible on television, usually in the form of dark antihero dramas. If the rhetoric about the Golden Age of TV was sometimes overblown – a strange form of backhanded snobbery that put television as a medium down in order to praise its programmes – it was describing something real and tangible and exciting. Watching Breaking Bad for the first time was one of the greatest thrills I’ve had with any piece of art. Although to this day Wikipedia frames this golden age as ongoing, there was a clear shift at a certain point. Bundling modern streaming television in with The Sopranos totally misses what streaming shows are actually like to watch. 

Television as a medium has traditionally been both short and long: you watch it for half an hour or so, but over months and years. Streaming television has effectively reversed this: episodes bloat and bleed into one another, which combined with the shorter seasons, gives the feeling of a stretched-out movie. And then it gets cancelled prematurely. So much of great old television is tight, short episodes churned out for the better part of a decade – an epic mosaic made from tiny, carefully crafted individual artworks – and so much of modern television is two bloated and sluggish seasons and then cancellation. The second season of Jessica Jones was such a bloated mess that didn’t even really feel like it had episodes, it just rolled credits at around the hour mark. Most people around me seem to have adjusted to the new television landscape fairly well, even if I am convinced they have forgotten exactly what they’re missing. When people talk about binging shows, too often it sounds to my ear less like they are enjoying the show so much they want to stay with it that bit longer and more like they’re racing to get it over with. 

If you love television – and I do, dearly, since I was a tiny tot sat in front of the box to watch cartoons – it’s easy to despair and retreat into old detective shows and classic sitcoms. Emily VanDerWerff captured my feelings perfectly

The things I love about older TV are precisely the things that are missing from TV right now. In the olden times, TV sprawled and took its time and unfolded over many episodes over many years. Even a show like Breaking Bad took several years to unspool its story, and when you look at something like Cheers, it’s impossible to imagine something with that level of depth and complexity getting that long to tell its story today. We are built not for the long haul, but for an endless assault of the new… That makes me sad, or maybe it just makes me old. But it does seem like whatever this medium I love is becoming, it’s not quite the thing that made me fall in love with it.

But it is possible for great shows to still get made. Great shows get made all the time, in fact. I Think You Should Leave is quite possibly the greatest sketch show of all time, and it probably wouldn’t have gotten made in any previous era of American television. But too many great shows feel like they were born too late, trapped in a time that can’t appreciate them the way they deserve. Shows like Mindhunter

Continue reading “Cancelled Too Soon: Mindhunter”

Eternal Subscriptions of the Spotless Mind

We’re living through a time that future media historians will call a major turning point in the digital era. The younger, techier companies that created the modern streaming market, like Netflix and Amazon, have used up their first mover advantage and the regrouped old guard are gearing up to crush them. (Apple are on the tech side, but did not use their first mover advantage, because they’re idiots, presumably.) The biggest conglomerates in the film industry – Disney, AT&T, Comcast, ViacomCBS – will stop licensing their films to streaming services owned by other companies in favour of exclusively streaming them on services they own: Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock and Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) respectively. It’s gonna take a few years to make the shift, as deals that were signed before launching these services cannot be rescinded. But they’ll pretty much all be expired by the end of this decade and very few will be renewed, especially once HBO Max, Peacock and Paramount+ go international. That’ll leave any streaming service without a major studio archive increasingly reliant on their original releases as enticement to stay subscribed, which will always be a worse value proposition for a consumer than original releases plus loads of existing films. Amazon seem to be futureproofing Prime against this threat by buying MGM and securing a back catalogue of their own. Netflix and Apple seem to be doing sweet fuck all, but that could change any minute. It’s Silicon Valley vs Hollywood in a fight to the death over which shower of assholes in California get to shape the future of global media, and it terrifies me.

Streaming has only been around for the bones of a decade and it’s already transformed the industry so much, mostly for the worse. Suffocating overproduction, cinemas decimated, expanding power of corporations to censor art. The casualties of the first streaming war (June 2011March 2020) have already been severe, and that was before Disney, one of the most awful, nihilistic media companies in human history, got involved. What fresh horrors will come now the second streaming war (May 2020 – present) is afoot? I obviously can’t know what Bob Iger and his ilk are cooking up in their high rises, but I can try to think like them. I’ve looked at graphs of market trends and nodded slowly, I’ve brainstormed and wordclouded and powerpointed, I’ve put a photo of Martin Scorsese on a dart board and shot it with a revolver. I’ve danced with Minions in the pale moonlight, huffed the helium from Walt Disney’s cryopod and sought prophecy in the entrails of a still-living Boots the Monkey. I’ve read the fucking Economist. And lo, the Invisible Hand came forth from the great maelstrom of the market, laid a single finger on my forehead and answered my prayers. I have seen the future that Disney and all the other rogues will bring about in their ruthless, pointless pursuit of wealth. It has come to me as if in a vision, and, buddy, it is fucked up.

Continue reading “Eternal Subscriptions of the Spotless Mind”

Speed Racer: The Sundae Presents Episode 4

Ciara and Dean co-host The Sundae Presents, a podcast in which each of us makes the other watch films they haven’t seen. This episode, Dean shows Ciara his favourite film released in his lifetime: the Wachowski Sisters’ 2008 children’s action blockbuster Speed Racer. They talk about digital effects, sensory overload and whether blockbusters can be anti-capitalist.

Speed Racer The Sundae Presents

we also mentioned: “In Defense of Disco” by Richard Dyer || Sean T. Collins on Speed Racer‘s “fossil-free future” || Lazy Town || Chapo Trap House’s Avatar episode || Speed Racer Is Not an Art Film

Listen on Anchor

Listen on Spotify

Listen on Google Podcasts

Listen on RadioPublic

Listen on Breaker

Listen on Pocket Casts

Nightmares / Phases / Professions

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Asked to picture a mental hospital in a horror film, most of us would think similarly. From old B-movies to Halloween to the recent Happy Death Day and IT, they house dangerous maniacs itching for an escape, a weapon and an unsuspecting innocent to murder. It’s a trope A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors plays into: a nun reveals that Freddy Krueger was the result of her gang-rape in an asylum, making him “the bastard son of a thousand maniacs.”

But Dream Warriors also flips this on its head. Our heroes, teenagers in a psychiatric unit, are all tormented by Freddy in their dreams, and Freddy is both a metaphor and a catalyst for mental health problems. Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) lands in the hospital after Freddy slits her wrists, but the other kids – in desperate attempts to stay awake or just deal with the trauma of their dreams – exhibit symptoms of mental illness. Jennifer puts out cigarettes on her arms. Will is paralyzed at the waist after a botched suicide attempt. Joey, once a high school debater, is mute.

Continue reading “Nightmares / Phases / Professions”