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'Platinum Age' Is An Engaging Guide To Great TV

Nov 16, 2016

As the longtime television critic for NPR's Fresh Air, the founder of TVWorthWatching.com, and a professor of TV and film, David Bianculli has spent decades waxing passionately about his favorite entertainment medium. But his new book, The Platinum Age of Television, does more than simply reaffirm that passion.

Superheroes are democratic ideals.

They exist to express what's noblest about us: selflessness, sacrifice, a commitment to protect those who need protection, and to empower the powerless.

Superheroes are fascist ideals.

They exist to symbolize the notion that might equals right, that a select few should dictate the fate of the world, and that the status quo is to be protected at all costs.

Both of these things are true, and inextricably bound up with one another — but they weren't always.

Two brown girls from North London council estates want to be dancers. In the same dance class, the same shade of nut-brown, they are "two iron filings drawn to a magnet," friends before they speak. One, Tracey, is a natural dancer: intuitive, genius, even. The other, the narrator of Swing Time, is talented in another direction: She is an observer, a wallflower given structure by stronger, surer women around her. Unnamed, unsure, neither black nor white, the narrator is fittingly indistinct in this brilliant novel about the illusions of identity.

In his belligerently funny novel The Sellout – the first American novel to win Britain's top literary award, the Booker Prize – Paul Beatty eviscerates racial politics in the U.S. by aiming some of his sharpest stabs at that old and vicious shaming device: the food slur.

Fox News host Megyn Kelly became known to many people across the country in 2015, when she moderated the first Republican presidential debate and pressed then-candidate Donald Trump about his disparaging comments about women.

In the summer of '65, Leonard Cohen, the great poet-singer who died last week, spent many happy hours in a warehouse by the St Lawrence River in his hometown, Montreal. As he watched the boats go by, his friend, a young bohemian dancer named Suzanne Verdal, whose warehouse it was, served him tea and oranges that came all the way from China.

I was boarding a plane to Istanbul when a friend recommended the Yashim series of mystery novels.

Great reads, he told me, about a Turkish detective who whips up marvelous feasts in between solving crimes. That sounded promising, so I downloaded the first book for the flight. And I was hooked, racing through chapters with Yashim as he prowls Istanbul's dark alleys, spice markets and kitchens.

In Bernie Sanders' new book, Our Revolution, the Vermont senator tells the story of his life, his career and his run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

He also spells out the programs he believes the country should adopt to combat such ills as inequality, discrimination and lack of opportunity, not to mention the burdens of college and health care costs.

Sanders says he was not shocked by Donald Trump's victory. But he says the election results show it is time for the Democratic Party to undergo a fundamental reassessment.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Growing up, Anna Kendrick was a diminutive child with a powerful singing voice. When she was 6, she began performing in community theater, and by 12 years old she had made it to Broadway, where she was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the musical High Society.

When Amelie Ning Kang opened her restaurant MáLà Project in New York's East Village at the tail-end of 2015, she had only a few rules: She refused to have dragons decking its walls, and there would be no dumbing down of her eatery's signature dish, the Sichuan specialty mala xiangguo, a stir fry heavy on the numbing spice that gives Sichuanese food its bite.

Grapefruit's bitterness can make it hard to love. Indeed, people often smother it in sugar just to get it down. And yet Americans were once urged to sweeten it with salt.

Ad campaigns from the first and second world wars tried to convince us that "Grapefruit Tastes Sweeter With Salt!" as one 1946 ad for Morton's in Life magazine put it. The pairing, these ads swore, enhanced the flavor.

This year, the National Book Awards ceremony comes at a time when the nation has rarely seemed more divided. The bitter presidential campaign exposed a fault line in the United States that will not easily be repaired. And while there's no one simple answer, Lisa Lucas, head of the National Book Foundation, recommends one way to understand the other side: read.

"My life is small" she says, "and I think books are a way to make your life larger."

Editor's note: We identified Slave Punk and Sunset Park as already published; they were announced in 2015 but are not yet out.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When the Cubs won the World Series on Nov. 2 — remember that? — the person who told the world it had happened was sportscaster Joe Buck. He has been broadcasting the NFL on Fox since 1993 and Major League Baseball since 1995. He has now written a memoir about his life in broadcasting, called Lucky Bastard: My Life, My Dad, and the Things I'm Not Allowed to Say on TV.

We thought everyone could use a little distraction this week, so we've invited Buck to play a game called "It's all just kittens and rainbows!"

Since 1996, sportscaster Joe Buck has been announcing Super Bowls, golf tournaments, bass fishing, motorcycle jumps and, of course, baseball. In fact, he did the play-by-play for seventh game of the World Series this year between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs — a game that drew the largest audience in a generation.

Even a well known story depends on where you begin to tell it.

In the summer of 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy visiting Mississippi, was lynched by white men who said he'd flirted with a white woman. Till's body was returned home to Chicago where his mother insisted on an open casket. Photos were wired around the globe and the world saw his mutilated body. His murderers would be free within a month.

"I'll never be able to speak their words!"

That cry of frustration comes from linguistics professor Louise Banks in the new movie Arrival. Banks, played by Amy Adams, is confronted with a hard jolt of reality in a fantastic situation: Aliens have arrived from outer space and we have no idea how to talk to them.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Film critic David Edelstein has a review of the new sci-fi drama "Arrival" starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker, co-star.

All My Exes Live In Texas

Nov 11, 2016

Gear up for a final round where every answer contains the letters "E-X," in that order. For example, "our neighboring country to the south" is "Mexico!"

Heard on Brooklyn Decker: Two Truths And A Lie, Lie, Lie

Brooklyn Decker would have been named Brooke--after her mom's best friend's horse--but her dad decided to spice it up and go with Brooklyn. "He's the epitome dad joke guy," the actor explains. Though now it's considered a trendy name, she told host Ophira Eisenberg at the Majestic Theater in Dallas, Texas that she was teased for it while growing up in North Carolina. She even ended up living in Brooklyn for a time, "which was a thing in itself."

I Love The 1880s

Nov 11, 2016

Ophira and Jonathan dig deep into Dallas history with this trivia game about the rocking 1880s.

Heard on Brooklyn Decker: Two Truths And A Lie, Lie, Lie

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

Billies Seen

Nov 11, 2016

In this music game, Jonathan Coulton reworks Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" to be about other people--both real and fictional--named Billie.

Heard on Brooklyn Decker: Two Truths And A Lie, Lie, Lie

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Mystery Guest

Nov 11, 2016

Mary Walker is kiiiind of a big deal — find out why when host Ophira Eisenberg and Jonathan Coulton become the contestants in this Dallas installment of Mystery Guest!

Heard on Brooklyn Decker: Two Truths And A Lie, Lie, Lie

Texas Towns

Nov 11, 2016

Texas is the second largest state in the Union, so there's bound to be a unique town name here and there. Guess which town is fake in this Texan trivia game.

Heard on Brooklyn Decker: Two Truths And A Lie, Lie, Lie

Franchise Rebranding

Nov 11, 2016

North American pro sports teams are getting a revamp in this word game. Each team's imagined owner wants to change the name by adding one letter. So, if we said, "LensCrafters bought this Texas hockey team," the answer would be "The Dallas Stares!"

Heard on Brooklyn Decker: Two Truths And A Lie, Lie, Lie

Lazy Eye, writer/director Tim Kirkman's unhurried two-hander romantic drama, opens with Dean, a Los Angeles graphic designer played by Lucas Near-Verbrugge, being prescribed trifocals. "It's perfectly normal for vision to change in middle age," his optometrist assures him. But Dean's eyes remain expressive enough to register his alarm at the phrase middle age. When he gets an out-of-the-blue e-mail two scenes later from Alex (Aaron Costa Ganis), an ex- who left him without explanation 15 years ago, Dean's first impulse is to tell him to get lost.

Like the most dreaded Secret Santa at the office holiday party, Hollywood is a shameless re-gifter, passing off the same ensemble comedy-drama every year or two in lieu of a more thoughtful present.

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