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May is Mental Health Awareness Month!

What's making us happy: A guide to your weekend reading, listening and viewing

<em>His Dark Materials </em>on HBO is an adaptation of Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy.
HBO
His Dark Materials on HBO is an adaptation of Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy.

This week, we hunted monsters, learned how to be better movie watchers, and relished in a Met guard's love for art.

Here's what the NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour crew was paying attention to — and what you should check out this weekend.

Scriptnotes podcast

Craig Mazin is the creator of The Last of Us, but he also has the most amazing podcast called Scriptnotes, which I discovered because I was listening to the podcast for The Last of Us. The podcast is also hosted by John August, who wrote Big Fish, and together he and Craig have this really beautiful chemistry. They're just really funny and light and also give you a lot of great insight into the WGA and what's happening there, if you're keeping track of the current ongoings in that situation. So I've been learning a lot from this podcast.

— Joelle Monique

Hysterical by Elissa Bassist

<em>Hysterical </em>by Elissa Bassist
/ Hachette Books
/
Hachette Books
Hysterical by Elissa Bassist

It's part memoir, part medical mystery, part cultural criticism. She started having issues with her physical voice and through looking for why that was happening and the health issues around that, came to understand how much of it was tied to trauma and her own efforts to kind of keep herself quiet over the years.

It just touches on so many things that I know women deal with in the world. It weaves the science in — in a great way where you're both reading about what this woman has gone through, but you're learning something at the same time.

— Daisy Rosario

His Dark Materials on HBO

What's making me happy this week is HBO's adaptation of the His Dark Materials trilogy, which I recently finished binging. I never read the books, because I grew up evangelical. There was a big boycott of that when I was growing up, because the main character Lyra gets pulled into basically a war against God and her father is out to kill God. It did a good job of pulling someone who was not into this world, into this world. The casting is fantastic. Ruth Wilson is just incredible as the evil Mrs. Coulter. I really also love James McAvoy in full bad dad mode. I didn't even hate his man bun, so I highly recommend the His Dark Materials adaptation. It's all on HBO.

— Mallory Yu

Oscar-nominated documentary short Haulout

What's making me happy this week is Haulout. That is an Oscar nominated documentary short. It is just 25 minutes long and directed by Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev. I think the less you know about this movie going in, the better. So I'll just say on a remote beach in Chukotka in the Siberian Arctic, which is basically the top of the world, there's a man named Maxime who sits in a lonely, ramshackle little hut, and he's waiting for something to happen. That something is a naturally occurring phenomenon. We spend some time with him and the general run of his days as he waits for it. Then one morning he opens his sad, rickety ass front door, and it's happening. What is happening is just remarkable. It's also tinged with sadness, because climate change plays a very central role in what's happening. The way the directors frame their shots and once the event is happening, the way they find little stories in it without imposing any kind of fake, tidy, anthropomorphic worldview on it is gorgeous. For one thing, it's fascinating. It's one of several Oscar nominated shorts available at www.newyorker.com/video.

— Glen Weldon

More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter

by Glen Weldon

Cunk on Earth is a Netflix series produced by Black Mirror's Charlie Brooker. It stars comedian Diane Morgan as the confident yet clueless TV host Philomena Cunk. The series satirizes nature and historical documentary series, with Morgan's presenter blathering on about important moments in human development and witlessly interviewing actual experts, most of whom are in on the joke. These expert segments are great, but my favorite bits of the show are the stretches where Cunk's getting her Attenborough on and pompously pontificating about the nature of Man. As she strolls along a windswept beach or through the ruins of some ancient civilization, she dryly delivers monologues packed to the gills with very, very dumb jokes, without ever giving the game away.

Much has been written and said about the passing of Burt Bacharach. By the time I was six or seven, the man's music had already become a staple of the "Easy Listening" radio station my parents played on every car ride. I'm not proud to say that for years I associated "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head" and his other hits with low-level carsickness and the odor of my mother's Winston-Salems. It took a concerted effort on my part, once I reached my 20s, to disentangle those associations and appreciate his work. The news of his death triggered another association, too: A series of TV ads for vermouth that he did with his then-wife Angie Dickinson. The reason I can still quote them in their entirety is how much they fascinated a very young me – everything about them seemed adult and self-possessed and mysteriously unconcerned with anything having to do with kids. The way they fit into their clothes. The way the two of them traded off being the one who makes the sales pitch, commercial to commercial. The blasé way Bacharach tosses off the jingle, like he's composing it on the fly. The way it looks like they decided to throw a party and the theme is turtlenecks. The way they look at each other at the end of the ad and whisper, "yeah." I remember thinking, as a kid: This is sex. This is that sex thing everyone talks about. And I wasn't entirely wrong.

We've already discussed how I'm angling for the terrific 1973 mystery film The Last of Sheila to attain a kind of cultural currency in this, the year of its 50th anniversary. Sadly, the passing of Raquel Welch supplies a fresh news peg to urge you, yet again, to check it out. It's one of her most grounded, nuanced performances and she blends effortlessly into the film's ensemble cast.


NPR's Teresa Xie adapted the Pop Culture Happy Hour segment "What's Making Us Happy" into a digital page. If you like these suggestions, consider signing up for our newsletter to get recommendations every week. And listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joelle Monique
Daisy Rosario
Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.
Teresa Xie
Teresa Xie is a reporter who specializes in media and culture writing. She recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied political science and cinema. Outside of NPR, her work can be found in Pitchfork, Vox, Teen Vogue, Bloomberg, Stereogum and other outlets.