WCBE

Linda Holmes

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OK. We're going to talk a little bit about television now. Maybe you remember a gay lawyer and a straight interior designer who made TV history. Here they are playing a party game in the 1998 pilot of their TV show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WILL AND GRACE")

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The 2016 Tony Awards were fun, but undeniably a little anticlimactic. By then, it was in large part a coronation of Hamilton, a delivery mechanism for the many, many awards we all knew it would win. (And did.)

You don't need me to tell you how much more television there is than there used to be, or how many more places you can find it. You don't need me to tell you that its population of creatively ambitious and idiosyncratic shows has grown enormously, as has its population of cheaply made UCSs – Undiscovered Channel Shows, where you learn that a show is entering its third season and only then do you realize that (1) it exists and (2) your byzantine cable menu actually does get that channel (although perhaps not in HD).

Well, excuse me while I throw away my first draft, won't you?

Grey's Anatomy is back Thursday night for the second part of its 13th season. It's hard to last that long, but it does seem that Grey's is — in the words of a friend of mine — "unkillable." And when you press its viewers on their thoughts about it, you often get a clear-eyed, fully aware evaluation of strengths and weaknesses that add up to a habit that's endured for over a decade.

Mary Tyler Moore, who died Wednesday, wasn't just beloved. She was the kind of beloved where they build you a statue. Moore's statue is in Minneapolis, where her best-known character, Mary Richards of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, worked for the fictional television station WJM. She'd already won two Emmys playing Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, but Moore cemented her icon status when Mary Richards walked into that job interview. Even if she got off to a rough start with Lou Grant, her soon-to-be boss, who kept a bottle of whiskey in his desk.

Gene Demby of NPR's Code Switch team is in our fourth chair this week as we start by trying to make sense of all our reactions to HBO's new drama The Young Pope. The cardinals! The intrigue! The smoking! The ... unexpected animal cameos! It's a really interesting show that has us a little perplexed in places, so please join us as we try to figure out whether we like it or not.

Most television shows arrive accompanied by the question, "Is it good?" Revivals of old shows, however, often arrive with the question, "Is it necessary?"

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The Television Critics Association is ... okay, that's the easy part. It's an association of people who write about television, mostly as critics, although many function, either instead or in addition, as reporters. I'm in it, as is NPR's full-time TV critic Eric Deggans, as are a couple hundred other people. And twice a year — once in the summer and once in the winter — we gather in the L.A. area for what's referred to as either "press tour" or "TCA," so that we can hear about what's coming up on TV and get a chance to talk to the people who make it.

We have to posit first that baking itself can feel like magic. A simple loaf of bread might include only flour, water, yeast and salt, and it can still transform from a sticky blob to a pillowy ball with a texture unlike anything else you've ever handled to a final product that's perfectly crisp on the outside, perfectly tender on the inside. Not only that, but it will audibly crackle at you as it cools on the counter. It will pass through a perfect moment for consumption, and then that moment will be gone.

It's strange to describe the apparent purchase and forgiveness of nearly $15 million in medical debt as "impish," but bear with me.

NBC hyped its new Maya & Marty variety series, starring Maya Rudolph and Martin Short, as a sort of whimsical variety show. What actually emerged Tuesday night, on the other hand, was a slack Saturday Night Live imitator for the prime-time summer nights where reruns used to live.

We were very excited to be invited to participate in the Vulture Festival in New York on May 22, where we taped this live episode in front of a fantastic crowd. We wanted to have reliable weapons at our disposal, so in addition to our great producer, Jessica Reedy, who handled all the logistics and other tricks of her trade, we brought Audie Cornish to be our fourth chair.

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One of the best things I've gotten to do while hosting PCHH is have Glen Weldon introduce comics to me. I often don't have time to keep up with even ones I like, but I regularly get the chance for him to show me things I wouldn't otherwise have seen and remind me of just how much there is out there that I'm missing. And our best opportunity to do that is Free Comic Book Day.

Oh, American Idol. You were too good for this world.

OK, maybe not too good. Maybe too rooted in people voting via telephone calls.

Commentators both amateur and professional have turned over the events of the 1994-95 O.J. Simpson trial in their hands for a couple of decades now, trying to figure out how it got so distressingly ugly as a display, let alone as a legal proceeding. The FX series The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, based on Jeffrey Toobin's book The Run Of His Life, has come to the surprisingly compassionate conclusion, over and over, that a significant part of the problem was not malice but excess made worse by public attention.

If you follow Team PCHH on Twitter, you know that a week ago, we all trekked up to Manhattan and saw Hamilton, which we intended to talk about on this week's show. Unfortunately, I was struck down by the weirdest and most potent bout of laryngitis of my lifetime, and we had to postpone that show, which you'll get next week. In the meantime, fortunately, we have three conversations featuring awesome people who have never been on PCHH before. Fresh faces!

As you know if you are interacting with American commerce or popular entertainment at the moment, the Super Bowl is this weekend. Stephen Thompson, as he has explained for NPR in the past, has an annual Super Bowl party and chicken-eating contest called Chicken Bowl. This year will be Chicken Bowl XX — that is, Chicken Bowl 20, for those of you who are not Romans.

This week's show had our toes tapping, you can believe that.

Breaking the fourth wall is like putting gold leaf on a dessert: good for a quick jolt of surprise and superficial specialness, but the more common it becomes in the culture, the less impressive its deployment by any particular creator.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GREASE")

JOHN TRAVOLTA: (As Danny Zuko, singing) Why, this car is automatic. It's systematic. It's hydromatic. Why, it's greased lightning.

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As Stephen mentions early in this episode, the original nut of what became Pop Culture Happy Hour was a conversation he and I had about whether we should take conversations we'd been having in written form about American Idol -- like this one — and have them in audio form instead. So just as without Dawson's Creek (which eventually begat the first place I ever wrote) I would not be writing, without American Idol, there might be no PCHH.

NPR's Weekend Edition has been chatting with TV critics about shows that they believe flew a little too far under the radar in 2015 — Maureen Ryan talked about The 100 last weekend, and Alan Sepinwall talked about Review.

Note: This post discusses the events of Thursday night's episode. Be warned!

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[Caution: This post discusses the plot of the first and second seasons of Fargo, right up until the end of the second season and the finale that aired the night of Dec. 14. Please don't be surprised that if you haven't yet watched it, it will give away what happens. Again, this is a post about the second season of Fargo and as such discusses all events from the second season of Fargo.]

[You've been warned.]

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