An Ethically Fraught (Yet Genius) New Comedy

Entertainment musts from Saahil Desai

a still from "Jury Duty"

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Good morning, and welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer reveals what’s keeping them entertained.

Today’s special guest is Saahil Desai, a senior associate editor for Science, Technology, and Health. Saahil also writes for The Atlantic, most recently reporting on the (maybe) AI-powered future of political polling and the pizza-delivery box as an industrial-design failure. He’s currently a fan of the “genius and deeply problematic” gonzo-comedy series Jury Duty; rereading a 73-year-old Atlantic article introducing readers to a tasty, exotic dish called pizza; and relishing his midwestern roots with a particular Twitter paean to middle-American architecture.

First, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:

The Culture Survey: Saahil Desai

My favorite way of wasting time on my phone: Trust me, you have not truly lived until you’ve gotten hooked on time-lapse-plant YouTube. (Stick with me here.) The absolute best is a pumpkin plant that, in 90 seconds, goes from a seedling to a monstrosity the size of a tennis court, producing a 1,323-pound pumpkin. Watching, in a matter of seconds, the months-long process of the orangey gourd inflating like a water balloon puts my brain in low-power mode when that’s exactly what I need.

The television show I’m most enjoying right now: The new series Jury Duty is like nothing I have ever seen—at once charming, genius, and deeply problematic. The premise of the show is that it’s part mockumentary, part social experiment: An unsuspecting citizen named Ronald is picked as a juror for what he doesn’t realize is a staged trial. The jury—all actors, Ronald aside—get sequestered in a hotel, and from there, everything becomes progressively more absurd; there’s an appearance from the purported inventor of something called “chair pants” (chants!), and the actor James Marsden calls the paparazzi on himself inside the courtroom. In spite of the mounting wackiness of the gags, Ronald never seems to realize that he has been Truman Show–ed, and it is pure comedic gold. [Related: The paranoid style in American entertainment (from 2020)]

A favorite story I’ve read in The Atlantic: Since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, I have become completely pizza-obsessed. (You don’t want to get me started on all the reasons I think you should buy a pizza oven.) For a story I wrote earlier this year about why the pizza box is abominable, I stumbled on this amazing Atlantic article from 1949, which talks about pizza as if it’s a completely alien concept—which, at that point, it was for most Americans. The headline is just “Pizza,” and the first few lines get me every single time:

The waiter moves aside the glasses of red wine, and sets before you a king-sized open pie. It is piping hot; the brown crust holds a bubbling cheese-and-tomato filling. There is a wonderful savor of fresh bread, melted cheese, and herbs. This is a pizza, Italian for pie.

Something I loved as a teenager and still love: Like other mildly pretentious, highly annoying 17-year-olds in the 2010s, I was a Wes Anderson bro in high school—and I still have a huge soft spot for him. Anderson’s movies have stuck with me as embodying sprezzatura, the Italian word for “studied carelessness” (which I know only as someone who is mildly pretentious and highly annoying!). Anderson’s obsession with in-your-face whimsy has gotten a bit stale, but his 2014 hit, The Grand Budapest Hotel, does something for me that few films can. It’s both silly and serious in a way that could easily flop, but doesn’t. [Related: The Grand Budapest Hotel is a thoughtful comedy about tragedy. (From 2015)]

Something I recently rewatched, reread, or otherwise revisited: I’ve been on a bit of a Jai Paul kick of late. The enigmatic British musician is touring after his first live performance ever. His story verges on music lore at this point: In 2013, a collection of his demos leaked online and were nothing short of a sensation. Then Paul simply vanished. His hit single “Str8 Outta Mumbai”—finally on Spotify and other streaming services—is still a delight today, splicing together colorful pop beats with Bollywood samples.

A YouTuber, TikToker, Twitch streamer, or other online creator that I’m a fan of: Here’s a niche one: the Twitter account Midwest Modern. The guy behind it, Josh Lipnik, goes around the Midwest posting photos of the region’s weird, beautiful, and usually unheralded architecture. His photos of Art Deco everything in my hometown of Cincinnati are amazing, but what I love most is just how many downright incredible buildings he finds in small towns where you might not expect them. May I introduce you to the Union National Bank Branch in Youngstown, Ohio; St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Zilwaukee, Michigan; and the People’s State Bank in Berne, Indiana?

Read past editions of the Culture Survey with Yasmin Tayag, Damon Beres, Julie Beck, Faith Hill, Derek Thompson, Tom Nichols, and Amy Weiss-Meyer.

The Week Ahead
  1. Quietly Hostile: Essays, a new collection by the humorist and best-selling author Samantha Irby (on sale Tuesday)
  2. Rainn Wilson and the Geography of Bliss, in which the actor traverses the globe in search of the happiest societies on Earth (begins streaming Thursday on Peacock)
  3. Fast X, the tenth (but not final) installment in the Fast & Furious film franchise (in theaters Friday)

illustration of a ripped blue Post-It over a rose-printed wallpaper image
Illustration by Anthony Gerace

A Better Way of Buying—And Wanting—Things

By Lily Meyer

It can seem, these days, like we are meant to be constantly acquiring things while also constantly getting rid of them. Mass consumption is everywhere—endless online shopping; always a new iPhone or device—as is the reactionary minimalist ethos that demands that we declutter our lives. But the relationships we have with our things tend to be more complicated than either of those extremes allow. Objects are more than just the sum of their parts. I would never give up my copies of my grandmother’s cookbooks. I’m also not going to quit my search for the perfect pair of jeans. I remember a great outfit, and what I did in it, for a long time.

The writer Katy Kelleher is seemingly no different. In her debut book, The Ugly History of Beautiful Things, she seeks to understand both her collector’s impulse and her longing “for more, always more, even when I know I already have enough.” A magpie’s nest of research and anecdotes about the objects that attract her, the book examines the tension she feels between wanting the things she wants—clothes, cosmetics, home goods—and acknowledging the murkier story of how some of those items were made and marketed. “I’ve never found an object,” she writes, “that was untouched by the depravity of human greed or unblemished by the chemical undoings of time.”

Read the full article.

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