Staff Picks: Flavorwire’s Favorite Cultural Things This Week

Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Click through for our picks, and tell us what you’ve been loving in the comments.

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Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXIX

The sheer duration of each movie-length episode and the rights complications therein made full-season sets of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 an impossibility (or, at least, an improbability), but Shout Factory has done a bang-up job with their every-few-months collections of episodes, which tend to feature a show from the embryonic first season, another from the tenure of creator/original host Joel Hodgson, and a couple from the later, Sci-Fi Channel era. That’s the formula for the latest set, Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXIX, which features four lesser-known but very fine episodes: the laughable Italian Superman rip-off The Pumaman, the schlocky black-and-white horror pic The Thing That Couldn’t Die, the sword-and-sandal epic Hercules and the Captive Women, and the goofy teensploitation drama Untamed Youth. (The genre movies tend to get the most love among fans, but I’ve always had a soft spot for their ‘50s juvenile delinquent flicks; The Violent Years and The Beatniks also leap to mind). Standing out among the bonus features are new interviews with Pumaman star Walter G. Alton, Jr., who is charmingly earnest and candidly self-effacing, and the legendary Mamie Van Doren, star of Untamed Youth, who is very much, well, herself. None of these are iconic episodes, but 24 box sets in, they’re still putting out sturdy collections of very funny shows. —Jason Bailey, Film Editor

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Matilda the Musical

Matilda the Musical is the first Broadway show I’ve seen on actual Broadway, and now I’m worried my expectations for the future might be set a little too high. The stage, first of all, is a mosaic of different-sized squares that spring up in different formations like a pop-up book to create each scene. And the child actors, vocally gifted miniature acrobats, were so hilarious and energetic that I’d often snap out of reverie to realize my mouth was actually hanging open. Standouts were (OBVIOUSLY) ten year-old Paige Brady, who plays Matilda, and Grace Capeless who plays her best friend Lavender. Matilda‘s opening number, “Miracle,” is a funny and accurate commentary on the current state of parenting, where each child is the most special snowflake of all. The show doesn’t give quite as much attention to Matilda’s telekinesis as I’d like, but the special effects used for it are mesmerizing. See this immediately. —Isabella Biedenharn, Editorial Apprentice

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Real Estate, Atlas

Real Estate just keep getting better and better with each album. With their latest, Atlas, I have another album to listen to on repeat throughout the spring and summer. In that sense, the band is getting a lot like another New Jersey band, Yo La Tengo, who I spend most of my autumn listening to. —Jason Diamond, Literary Editor

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Bates Motel

I don’t know if Bates Motel is good, exactly, but it features committed camp from Vera Farmiga (as “Mother” herself), a fine, eerily Anthony Perkins-like performance from Freddie Highmore, and it is basically set in fake Twin Peaks. It’s the story of how Norman Bates became Norman Bates, and it’s got an elegiac small-town sadness and spookiness to it that’s been growing on me, even if the show’s a teen drama one minute and completely scary the next. —Elisabeth Donnelly, Nonfiction Editor

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PJ Harvey, White Chalk

Uninspired by this week’s musical new releases (the situation was so dire I came close to listening to Kylie Minogue’s Kiss Me Once and the Game of Thrones mixtape), I decided to revisit one of the least popular albums by one of my favorite musicians: PJ Harvey’s White Chalk. The album has been deemed unlistenably bleak, but after spending a week making friends with it, anything remotely “listenable” now sounds like saccharine toxic waste. All of the joys (relative term) of Harvey’s prior works — gravelly vocals, menacing guitar — had, on this album, been silenced. In their wake, Harvey adopted an air of rotting Victoriana, shifted into a falsetto (with a baffling fusion of callow and crone-like diction), and clumsily plucked and tapped out-of-tune harps and pianos; to amplify the sound of her songs’ brokenness, she deliberately played instruments she’d never learned to play. While once Harvey threatened to “twist your head off” while making you “lick [her] injuries,” here her threats lie in the nonverbal, and they’re far scarier: with the heavy atmosphere of innocence turned putrid, the album’s 11 tracks all kind of sound like a kid practicing chopsticks… on their deathbed, as cholera seeps them dry. On the track “Grow Grow Grow,” Harvey, playing the stunted adult, wails, “Teach me, Mommy/ How to grow/ How to catch someone’s fancy/ Underneath the twisted oak grove.” Listening to the album, you get the feeling that it’s all one character — someone with longings so sealed that their whole being has been pickling for decades. If you’re looking for an ebullient album to summon spring, close your ears. But if you’re resigned to being bone-chilled by winter a little longer, let this highly underrated album make your endless winter just a little chillier. —Moze Halperin, Editorial Apprentice

Tess Paras’ “Royals” Parody

I thought I was over “Royals” parodies, like, back in November, but this one made me actually, literally LOL. It’s about the lack of leading roles for women of color in Hollywood, and it’s one sad-but-hilarious truth bomb after sad-but-hilarious truth bomb (“but every breakdown’s like/ sassy sidekick, bitchy nerd or neighbor/ oversexed Asian, urban girls with flavor”). And quite catchy, to boot. —Brie Hiramine, Editorial Apprentice