What We’re Watching: Quick Reviews for TheHumanist.com Readers

Check out what staffers at the American Humanist Association are watching in their free time! Also be sure to check out what we’re reading here.

Maggie Ardiente, Senior Editor, TheHumanist.com: Like so many others, I’m a big fan of House of Cards on Netflix, and joined those who binge-watched the entire Season 2 over the course of a wintery weekend. The show is deliciously anti-humanist as it tracks, and in some ways celebrates, the narcissistic and often vile maneuvering of former South Carolina congressman now Vice President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey, one of my favorite actors). Under a veneer of southern Democrat charm, Underwood is scheming, manipulative, and, as we discover in the exciting first episode of the second season, a ruthless murderer for the second time. His wife, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), now the Second Lady and second-in-command to Frank’s political wheeling and dealing, is just as evil, perhaps even more so. It’s intelligent and cleverly written television for fans of political dramas.

Jennifer Bardi, Senior Editor, TheHumanist.com:My family and I are still enjoying Cosmos immensely, but with Homeland and Downton Abbey in between seasons I’ve been searching for a new show. I recently watched the first two episodes of the new half-hour HBO comedy, Silicon Valley, which seems to nail the tech culture of the SF South Bay with alacrity. The main character, who’s on the verge of becoming the “next big thing” in the world of digital software applications, has humility and other redeeming qualities to match his brilliance, but is surrounded by others who seem destined to become the next big jerks in high tech. It’s a fun watch because it feels absolutely fingers-on-the-pulse, has characters you truly want to root for, and others whose comeuppance is a treat. From the Google-type leader who consults his guru in “shoeless” shoes to the wheeler dealer stoner who houses the young geniuses in his “incubator” (what he calls his Palo Alto Eichler-style home where he lets up-and-comers live for free in return for small percentages of future apps), the show is full of all types of nerds, inflated personalities, and spot-on satire.

Rachael Berman, Grassroots Coordinator:

My mother recently introduced me to the HBO documentary program Vice, and I am already addicted. The show follows journalists as they travel around the world to cover intense topics such as addiction, the Arab Spring, child suicide bombers, and much more. The Vice journalists immerse themselves in situations and topics that need to be brought to everyone’s attention. I can’t get enough of Vice!

Peter Bjork, Managing Editor, TheHumanist.com:As an unabashed TV super-fan who happens to think that we are living in the golden age of television programming, choosing to highlight just a few of the shows I’m watching is challenging. I’m thrilled that my HBO babies Game of Thrones and Veep are both back in my life, and I will admit to being wildly entertained by the brilliantly campy RuPaul’s Drag Race on Logo TV (controversy aside).

But in the brain-stimulation category, I’ve stumbled upon a little-discussed PBS series called Your Inner Fish that’s almost like Cosmos for the human body. The three-part series follows paleontologist & evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin (who wrote a book of the same name) as he traces the 350 million year-long evolutionary path that’s led to modern humans. For a topic that can be inaccessibly broad and complex, Shubin elegantly explains both how we got to where we are as a species and how we can attain this knowledge through modern science.

Matthew Bulger, Legislative Associate:I’m currently watching The Moaning of Life with Karl Pilkington on Netflix. This series, which is a follow-up to the famous An Idiot Abroad series also featuring Karl, takes him around the world to see how people in different cultures deal with important issues like death, marriage, children, vocation, and other topics. Karl, who shot to fame as the slightly dull friend of Ricky Gervais, provides unique insights into each of these topics in his trademark comedic manner. Especially interesting was the episode on death, in which Karl reveals his views on the concept of an afterlife and his lack of belief in a God.

Fred Edwords, United Coalition of Reason Director:I recently watched Martin Scorsese’s 1973 Mean Streets, starring Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel. While the action is disjointed at first, and the narrative seemingly irrelevant, burdening the viewer with the petty lives of petty hoods, the story soon starts to get its grip. The young De Niro (age 29 when he made this) turns in a masterful performance as a man not only incurably but arrogantly unreliable. While Keitel’s character does all he can to make things better, he only gets dragged down himself. The sobering lesson here might well be directed at the longsufferingly compassionate humanists among us. Wake up, the film tell us, lost causes do exist. And prudence might well dictate our timely disengagement therefrom.

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