Staff Picks: ‘Nathan for You,’ Amara Karan and Jeannie Berlin’s Performances in ‘The Night Of’

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. Scroll through for our picks below.

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The People v. O.J. Simpson on Blu-ray

When I eagerly consumed the documentary mini-series O.J.: Made in America last spring, I was struck by how it inadvertently yet effectively intersected with the docudrama mini-series American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson – how these two independently produced explorations of the same subject fed off each other, entirely accidentally. Now that People is out on Blu-ray, I’ve found myself revisiting it with Made in America in mind, and finding it even more remarkable. And it is still something of a mini-miracle; what sounded like a recipe for disaster (this story remains an equal mix of hot buttons and tabloid trash, and Ryan Murphy isn’t exactly known for his gentle touch) became gripping viewing, thanks to the intelligent, layered writing (much of it by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the pop culture whizzes behind Ed Wood and The People vs. Larry Flynt), and stunning performances. Still tops: Sarah Paulson’s masterful Marcia Clark, Sterling K. Brown’s dizzyingly complicated Chris Darden, Courtney B. Vance’s eerily convincing Johnny Cochran, and Cuba Gooding, masterfully playing every scene (at least) two ways. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor


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Nathan For You

I’ve just begun watching Nathan for You, Comedy Central’s hilarious spoof of a business improvement reality TV show, thanks to the recommendation of my Flavorwire colleagues. Nathan Fielder offers local businesses tips for getting to the “next level,” and they gradually escalate from having a zany logic to absolutely absurd, and often deeply offensive (the Holocaust awareness outerwear brand particularly comes to mind). It’s the perfect 22 minutes of comedy, with each segment building slowly until you’re howling at the screen at one particularly outrageous moment. I never thought I’d return to “gotcha” comedy in the post-Borat era, but Fielder has me hooked. Also, I feel like there’s a vaguely anti-capitalist subtext to the whole thing, although that may just be how I justify Fielder’s occasional humiliation of his interview subjects. — Sarah Seltzer, Deputy Editor


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Younger

This delightful TV Land comedy has the gigantic benefit of star Sutton Foster, whom we warmly welcomed to our TV screens in 2012, when she played a reformed Vegas showgirl in the ill-fated Amy Sherman-Palladino series Bunheads. Unfortunately, the premise of Younger doesn’t leave much room to watch the two-time Tony winner sing and dance, but Foster is still irresistible as Liza, a single mother from New Jersey fresh off a divorce who lies about her age to get an entry-level publishing job. Co-star Hilary Duff is equally charming as Liza’s co-worker and confidante, and Debi Mazar rounds out the cast as the friend whom Liza crashes with in Brooklyn while she attempts to reboot her career in the disguise of a fresh-faced 26-year-old. Sounds silly, I know, but it’s a delightful, bubbly series with a surprising amount of butt-play jokes for a TV Land show. And if anyone can convince you that a 40-year-old could pass for 26, it’s the baby-faced, sprightly Foster. If you have a cable provider, you can stream Seasons 1 and 2 of Younger on TV Land’s website; Season 3 premieres Sept. 28— Lara Zarum, TV Editor


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Amara Karan and Jeannie Berlin’s courtroom battles in The Night Of

The generally excellent The Night Of‘s generally inane last minute plot-line for one of its best characters — Chandra Kapoor — in its final two episodes will not be mentioned in detail here for spoiler purposes, except to say that people were right in being frustrated with the nuanced series’ sudden, inconsistent, and sensational decisions for the character. That said, Amara Karan managed to play even Kapoor’s inconsistencies in such a way that — before deciding that no, it was just a poor writing choice — I questioned whether it was in fact inconsistent, or whether this character was just so complex as to do something entirely shocking and misguided. If these choices had been either explained, or if her part of the narrative hadn’t felt so carelessly abandoned in aftermath of her choices, perhaps it would have worked. But it didn’t. It mostly didn’t because Karan was too damn awesome in her role, and especially when her character was in court, for viewers to let her go as easily as the story did.

For, the reason Kapoor’s odd character twist was so irksome was in part because of how, from within her supporting role, Karan made Kapoor the show’s most relatable character (as Naz — played by the also excellent Riz Ahmed — remained somewhat taciturn, and as the prison system led him to assist in some morally reprehensible stuff). As a young, immensely adept but also uncertain lawyer thrust into a case far beyond her experience (yet whose abstract social connotations she understood on a personal — and partially experiential — level), Karan evoked a feeling of triumph from viewers when her character succeeded, and one of deep concern for her when she was feeling inadequate. (The scenes before her courtroom moments — where she’d silently sit on the bench and refuse to talk to anyone — were among some of the more tense moments in the very tense series.)

Ultimately, my favorite scenes in the show were those with Karan and Jeannie Berlin (as her rival on the case, District Attorney Helen Weiss) in the courtroom. Though we knew little of either of their personal lives and pasts, the battles between these two boundlessly adroit (well, until Kapoor does the things that shall not be mentioned) lawyers made for superlative, riveting television.

Weiss is older, and far more aware of her powers, and is empowered by an added dose of self-righteousness that comes with trying to prosecute a man she thinks is a murderer. Meanwhile, Kapoor is fascinating because she’s coming at it all with an air of electric newness and the moral uncertainty of defending someone who may have brutally murdered another woman her age: when she does well, she, herself, is shocked. We get glimpses into Karan’s character’s life beyond the courtroom, but for Berlin, all she has are scenes like this — performative moments in front of a jury, or at work in some way or another. Berlin’s Weiss is intriguing insomuch as she’s not your stereotypically performative lawyer — her odd cadences, cracking voice and bounty of evidence against Naz rather make her seem wholly real and earnest — which, for people worried for Naz, makes her a very complex figure. We get so much from Berlin through these scenes, and learn so much about her character, practically without knowing anything whatsoever about her.

The courtroom moral and intellectual oneupmanship between these two characters may make up some of the best fight scenes you’ll watch all year — somehow, both Karan and Berlin manage to load court scenes (so often stereotyped as stuffy) with tense, emotional multitudes by simply hinting at the subtext of what goes on in the minds of two people who’re frighteningly good at what they do. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor