Pop Culture Diet: Clueless Expert Jen Chaney Spends A Week With Roz Chast, Amy Schumer, and More

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Each week we share a pop culture diet from someone that we think is glom-worthy and help you find new things to glom on to! This week: Jen Chaney, author of As If! The Oral History of Clueless and pop culture journalist shares a week of her pop culture obsessions with you.

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The problem with writing about pop culture for a living— and I use the word “problem” as loosely as it’s possible to use a word—is that no matter how much you binge, digest, and process, it never feels like you’re consuming enough.

I primarily write about film and television, which means I must keep up with the new theatrical releases and latest episodes of key series. Which, of course, is impossible. The TV landscape alone can make a writer feel as though she’s forever trapped underneath something heavy.

I say all of this as a preamble to this snapshot of my pop culture diet, which namechecks a number of movies, TV shows, and books, yet still feels embarrassingly slim. Anyway, here it is.

 

Sunday

imgresI sneak in some time at my neighborhood pool, and manage to blow through Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, which, having dealt with the deaths of both of my parents and been a caretaker of sorts to my mother for many years prior, I relate to right down to my bone marrow. The tug-of-war between wanting to run away from Mom and Dad and feeling desperately guilty for not doing enough for them is captured vividly via Chast’s prose and illustrations, including some photos of her parents’ hoarded belongings that rip my heart out. It’s upsetting and hilarious, and I find myself both giggling and wiping away tears in between the whistles for adult swim.

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Soon enough, it’s Sunday night, otherwise known as the Perpetual Night of Too Much TV. Seriously, there are always more programs airing simultaneously than my DVR canhandle. Choices have to be made. And so, on this Sunday, I choose to postpone the viewing of True Detective — a choice that’s not hard to make in this particularly tedious second season — and watch AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire instead. As I said in a review of Halt’s second season or Esquire, this very good series about the PC wars circa the 1980s has been upgraded to exceptional in its second season. The stakes are higher, and Lee Pace’s character is even more inscrutable, and the female leads — Mackenzie Davis’s Cameron and Kerri Bishe’s Donna — become more layered and interesting every week. Plus, as a nostalgist by temperament if not, officially, by profession, I very much enjoy the ‘80s-ness of it all.

Monday

I carve out some time to watch the season three premiere of Masters of Sex, which I did not screen in advance, nor on Sunday night due to my insistence on watching Halt and Catch Fire first. My summary of this somewhat jarring episode: we’re back with Masters and Johnson, but we’ve flashed forward and now we’re on a summer vacation with Virginia (Lizzy Caplan), and Bill (Michael Sheen), and Bill’s wife Libby (Caitlin Fitzgerald), and all of their kids who are suddenly way older, and everyone’s kinda getting it on except, of course, for the two people who are actually married. Oh, and there’s a cliffhanger at the end. I have mixed feelings about all of this.

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Paul Rudd as Ant-Man. Image c/o EW.com.

That evening, I go to an advance screening of Ant-Man. My hopes are high on one hand because: Paul Rudd. But the fact that Edgar Wright, the brilliant filmmaker behind Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and The World’s End, parted ways with Marvel before he could direct the project gives me pause. I’m pleasantly surprised, though. The plot’s a little convoluted. And when it comes right down to it, it’s the same damn scenario we see in every Marvel movie, or for that matter, every action movie: very useful and advanced technology has been developed , but someone with an enormous amount of hubris wants to use it for evil and dammit, he must be stopped! Nevertheless: it’s fun, and Rudd is (no surprise) incredibly charming, and at certain moments, I can see Wright’s fingerprints all over the thing. (He is still credited as a co-writer and executive producer.) Plus, kudos to director Peyton Reed for picking up a ball in motion and running so competently with it.

I get home from Ant-Man and, as a nightcap, watch Rudd tell an awesome story about flashing his junk at co-star Michael Douglas during The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.

Tuesday

Another advance screening tonight. This time, it’s Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, which is one of those movies that elicits so much laughter from the audience that sections of dialogue are completely drowned out. When I do my radio spot later on WTOP, a news radio station in Washington, D.C., I recommend it because, overall, it’s entertaining and Schumer actually gets to demonstrate some real emotional range. It’s also, in the tradition of recent films directed by Judd Apatow, much longer than it needs to be and too wedded to hitting expected beats. What I love about Inside Amy Schumer is the way those sketches constantly surprise, sticking it to The Man (and, sometimes, to men) in ways that aren’t expected. Trainwreck doesn’t quite do that, but it’s still very enjoyable, enoughso for me to tell people to go see it.

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When I get home, I watch the Monday night episode of UnReal that I missed the night before. I have never been able to get through an entire episode of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, not even for snark-a-thon purposes. But this Lifetime drama about what really goes on behind the scenes on a Bachelor-esque reality series called Everlasting is just riveting to me. It manages to take a guilty pleasure and turn it into a pleasure that’s less guilty and far smarter than its source material.

I still have not watched this week’s episode of True Detective. 

Wednesday

9781101875049_custom-2530bbc044a296d664777653b80993e8ce51c081-s300-c85I go to the library and discover that Judy Blume’s latest, In the Unlikely Event, is miraculously sitting on the express check-out shelf, begging to be read. I snag it, thinking maybe I can bring it with me when I travel to L.A. on Friday. Then I remember the book is about a plane crash and go: Oh. Maybe I’ll start this when I get back.

Later that evening, I catch Key and Peele. One of the sketches is about the horrifying realities of menstruation, which marks the second time in 24 hours that I’ve listened to a Comedy Central star expound on the grosstasticness of surfing the crimson wave. (It happens in Trainwreck, too.) I conclude that when two male comedians can make a convincingly accurate case for the nastiness of women troubles, it is a good time to be an American.

I still have not watched this week’s episode of True Detective.

Thursday

I watch the live stream of the Emmy Award nominations. Immediate takeaways: I hope that Amy Poehler, Jon Hamm, and Elisabeth Moss finally earn long overdue wins in their respective categories. Also: am apoplectic over the omission of The Americans in the best drama category because: come ON.

I RSVP to attend an upcoming press screening of Pixels, starring Adam Sandler, Tyrion Lannister and a massive Pac-Man that tries to eat New York City, I guess? Guys: being a film critic is HARD sometimes.

That evening, I attend a screening of (big shocker) Clueless at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Md., not far from where I live. Since I wrote a book about it (buy it here! Even EW likes it!), I host a trivia contest beforehand, then do a Q&A afterward. The organizer of the event tells me that in between, I can stay to watch the movie or go grab dinner and come back. I opt to stay. I love hearing the audience crack up pretty much any time Dan Hedaya-as-Mel Horowitz says anything, and hoot when Josh and Cher seal their ex-stepsibling love with wedding kiss. Obviously I’ve seen this movie many times during the past few months. I am still not sick of it.

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Actor Breckin Meyer with Silverstone and Murphy during a break from shooting the Val-party scene. By Nicole Bilderback/Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

I still have not watched this week’s episode of True Detective.

Friday

It’s a travel day so no time for movie screenings or TV binges. On the plane, I read the New Yorker story about the catastrophic earthquake that will eventually destroy all of Northwest America, possibly tomorrow for all we know. It’s an extraordinary, scary, sobering piece. On the plus side: I’m so worried about the ground shaking once I arrive on the West coast that I don’t worry at all about the mild turbulence we encounter in-flight.

I also dig in to the very beginning of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which, as a lover of ‘80s nostalgia, I have been long overdue to read. I only cover the first couple of chapters before we land but am hooked in by the Family Ties references. Sha-la-la-LA.

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Saturday

So: I am here in Los Angeles to attend a Clueless screening organized by Street Food Cinema and sign copies of my book, As If! It’s an outdoor screening because in L.A., it never rains. Like, never. Seriously: this place has been suffering from a terrible drought since approximately 1995, when Clueless was released. So what happens on this day? It rains for most of Saturday. Not wimpy drizzles, either. Frequent downpours. With thunder, even, which I am pretty sure no one in L.A. has ever heard before. The screening gets cancelled. I am despondent.

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Mona May, the Clueless costume designer who was supposed to appear at the event along with me and cast member Nicole Bilderback, salvages my evening by inviting me to the debut of an exhibit on outstanding TV costumes at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum. I get an up-close look at the ensembles from series such as Gotham, Better Call Saul, and The Mindy Project, among others. It’s great fun. I also spot the woman who plays Mrs. Chesterfield on Jessie, which impresses my son when I tell him about it later.
Before I leave, I stop in the gift shop and — being the sophisticate that I am — purchase two coloring books: Colour Me Swiftly, a Taylor Swift coloring book (it’s for my son … you know, technically), and Colour Me Good ’80s. I contemplate buying Colour Me Good ’90s, but there are no pictures of Clueless in it, so I reject it on principle. Think I have time for ’90s nostalgia that doesn’t acknowledge Clueless? As if!

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You can find As If! by Jen Chaney at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound. Check out asifbook.com for more information.

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