"Silflay hraka, u embleer rah!"
The Green Knight, The Comeback, and the thrilling conclusion to Watership Down
Hello again! This newsletter is going out a bit late because I made a promise last time that I wanted to keep: I finished a book! More about that below. I also was just really enjoying the book so I spent all my time finishing it instead of writing this newsletter. Anyway, read on!
It’s been a slow two weeks for movies, but I did go to the ~*theatre*~ to see The Green Knight, which is of course an adaptation of the ancient anonymously-written poem (Ye Olde Greene Knighte withe Hims Littel Greene Axxe). When I was a kid, I had a picture book version of the story, so I had a basic idea of what was going on, but honestly I didn’t really remember much, so I ended up asking Peter a lot of clarifying questions. I’m sure it was not annoying at all! Regardless, it was a very beautiful film and (I think?) a good adaptation. My prevailing feeling was that it basically just told the story artfully, in an aesthetically-pleasing way, and didn’t fuck with the narrative in some kind of “contemporary” way. Like Gawain didn’t vape or anything like that.
Regrettably, since one of my only reference points for Camelot-related-stories is Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I had songs from the movie stuck in my head for the duration. I swear to god, I tried to quiet the voices in my head. I really did enjoy the film! But for the entire 125 minutes, my brain was all, “I HAVE TO PUSH THE PUH-RAM-A-LOT.” I’m sorry, Dev Patel, you did your best.
Whether you’re a Camelot fan, a Dev Patel stan, or you just like everything A24 distributes (honestly, that one is me, and I am not ashamed)—you should go see The Green Knight. If nothing else, watch it for Sean Harris’ portrayal of King Arthur as a kindly uncle figure who pronounces Gawain “Gar-win.” It’s very charming.
In past newsletters, I’ve talked about the shows that we (Peter and I) have on our current rotation: Fringe, which we are still enjoying, although worried about the direction of season three; Search Party, which is on hold for now, but we will definitely get back to; I Think You Should Leave, which is perpetually playing in the background (sometimes just in our heads); and Lost, which we still haven’t finished with our Lost fan club because the lockdowns ended and we are, at the moment, allowed to do more than just sitting at home watching TV with one (1) other household. Peter and I watch a lot of TV, it’s true. Peter also works more than 40 hours a week while I putz around the house between contracts. I need to occupy my solo time with something, so I seek out TV shows to watch on my own. These cannot be shows that Peter wants to watch, obviously, but he usually ends up being interested in them anyway.
The Comeback (2005/2014) was one of these shows. I had always wondered about it because it has a certain legacy with some of my more film-and-TV-literate friends. Here’s the shortest summary I could find:
Veteran sitcom actress Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow) attempts to revive her acting career through a new sitcom after a decade-long hiatus. She then struggles to stay relevant and participates in a reality show.
Genre: Cringe comedy; Satire; Mockumentary
I fell into an easy trap with this show when it came out: I assumed from the poster that the veteran actress was Lisa Kudrow herself and it was some odd grasp at a post-Friends career. In retrospect, it is hilarious that I ever believed this. The show is fictional, and apparently the character of Valerie Cherish was one that Lisa Kudrow had been workshopping for years.1 Valerie is vain, clueless, and stuck in the 80s—but she’s a real person, someone you can (weirdly) relate to. The show starts in 2005 when she is selected to be part of a reality show that follows her around on the set of a new sitcom, “Room and Bored.” A decade later, the second season catches up with Valerie when she finds out that one of the “Room and Bored” writers wrote a show about her – and then she gets casted in that show to play a version of herself. It’s a wild implosion of the original plot and incredibly, for a late second season, it really does everything right.
As you can see from the synopsis above, it’s “cringe comedy,” and that distinction is not messing around. I can understand why some people would not want to watch a show that constantly makes them fold into themselves from second-hand embarrassment. But isn’t that what The Office is all about, among many other very popular shows?
The Comeback is more than its cringe. It’s a very compelling story about self-worth. It’s also about learning how to prioritize the people who love and prioritize you, and that is a lesson we can all get behind. I can’t recommend it enough.
At last! I have something to talk about in this section. Last newsletter, I promised that I would finish a book, and that promise did actually make me prioritize reading! I have mentioned before that the pandemic has turned my brain into soft goo, and I hate how little I read now. One of my attempts to re-energize my old reading habits was to read books meant for kids,2 so when I was on Spring Garden Road one day, I grabbed a paperback copy of Watership Down from the Bookmark II.
Much like with The Comeback, I underestimated Watership Down. I think the 80s cartoon conditioned me (and the rest of the world) to assume the book was a devastating tale about rabbits being massacred by humans, foxes, and other rabbits. It’s not. There are deaths in the book, for sure, but they are spoken of with sincere grief and regret, even if the death is of an enemy. The delicacy of Richard Adams’ writing is so wonderful, so fitting for a book about bunnies.
More importantly, Watership Down feels vast and impressive in its scope; you can feel the Tolkien influence very strongly. Adams acknowledges up front the book The Private Life of the Rabbit by Dr. R.M. Lockley, which comes up multiple times in the narration. These are not rabbits by way of human allegory: they’re just rabbits. They have their own language: I found this really great article about how it helped someone learn English. They have their own mythology, peppered into the main narrative as stories told during tense moments, about the rabbit god and the rabbit grim reaper. The myths slowly become reality as our warren of rabbits risk their lives to make a good home.
But anyway, this book is about much more than rabbits. It’s a story about building a community that supports the smallest, least capable member. While cities around the world are kicking homeless people out of the only safe accommodations they can find, and people in my town working full-time jobs are just barely scraping by, Watership Down has been a good escape to a world in which community members risk their lives and actually get to have a nice community at the end of the story. I still have hope for us. In the meantime, it’s never too late to read this book.
I have nothing to say about music except to tell you that my favourite David Byrne album, Look Into the Eyeball, is back on streaming services. Go listen to it. It includes the song that was secretly hidden on every Windows XP computer. Also this song which is simply the best:
Goodbye for now! Thank you for reading this very long newsletter! Here are some sparkly giraffes.
I can’t seem to find the source for this again, but it was in an interview I read after finishing the series.
Now that I have read it, I really don’t understand why people think Watership Down is a kids’ book. Kids can definitely read it – it’s very kid-friendly! – but it’s just plain old Fiction.