Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month.
Also: Did you read, watch, listen to, play something this month that you particularly enjoyed? Feel free to share in the comments! I’m always looking for recommendations.
Note: The following post contains spoilers for Horizon Forbidden West (Playstation game), Heartstopper (Netflix series), Love, Victor (sort of), Shoresy (Hulu series), Letterkenny Live, and The Heart Guy (Australian TV series).
What I’m doing for fun (sort of)
Peloton app: I’ve been happily using the Les Mills+ app almost exclusively for close to a year now. I first discovered the app after finding one of their free dance workouts on YouTube (featuring Nina Dobrev) and even though I was initially disappointed to learn that none of the other workouts on their platform are actually like that one (though the workouts in their dance program, Sh’Bam, come close), I loved the programs they did have so much that I didn’t care. Les Mills workouts are tough but fun and totally worth it. Even better: I have yet to discover a trainer on the app that I don’t like. That said, even the best workout platforms get a little old after a while, so recently I went in search of alternatives. The Peloton app was actually recommended to me by a family member back when I was first getting into Les Mills. I was interested to find out that you don’t need one of their bikes or treadmills to use their app so I finally decided to try it out. Mostly, it’s fine. I’ve done a few of their HIIT cardio workouts as well as some dance cardio, strength, and stretches. The only workout I tried that I didn’t like was a shadowboxing one. Generally, I love boxing-type workouts but I guess I’m used to ones with some kind of set choreography that the instructor leads you through. This was more like some guy standing there demonstrating a couple of combination for a few seconds and then talking the camera while not actually doing anything. Super annoying. The HIIT workouts are pretty standard fare with the main difference being the quality of the music (Peloton must pay a shitload for the rights to this stuff). I liked the dance cardio workout I did a lot but it seems like the platform has discontinued those–there’s only a handful available and no new ones since November 2021. Mostly, I find that there’s nothing here that FitOn isn’t doing equally well and for free except maybe the strength workouts (and the sense of community, if that’s your thing–it’s not really mine). I really like the quality and variety of strength workouts on Peloton and even though I don’t like how prescriptive they can sometimes be about how much weight you should be using for each exercise, I think they do a better job of showing the necessity of using different weights for different exercises than most other platforms I’ve used (the biggest exception being FitnessBlender). Is that enough to keep my subscription? Maybe, for a little while. It’s nice to have choices but not having a Peloton bike or treadmill does make me feel like a bit of an afterthought and the variety of the other kinds of workouts isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be, though the quality of the workouts is good.
What I’m playing for fun
Horizon Forbidden West (update): I started playing Horizon Forbidden West in February and am still plugging away at it on weekend afternoons. Now that I’m further into the game, I had some additional thoughts. First, I’m still enjoying the game overall. I just completed what I think is the first major section where Aloy has to participate in the Kulrut in order to retrieve a piece of the artificial intelligence that she has to bring to Gaia in order to save Earth from extinction. (Or something…I honestly don’t pay that much attention to the plot.) Now I’m completing a bunch of errands and side quests that I seem to keep discovering before moving on to the next section. On the one hand, this is pretty enjoyable because I’ve gotten good enough at figuring out the correct weapons and strategies to use even in the more challenging quests (which are hovering around Level 30 right now–my skill level at the moment is Level 38) feel doable. But jeez there’s a lot of stuff to get done. I realize that all of the side quests and errands are optional so I could very well just ignore them. And it’s not like I’m a completist–I make a point of ignoring any timed “gauntlet runs” that are supposed to test your skill because I find stuff like that more frustrating than enjoyable. But if I’m going to pay $60-$70 for a game, I like to get as full of an experience as possible. But overall I really do feel like there’s maybe just a little too much going on here, with the errands and the side quests, and the collectables. Like, I’ve found several of the black boxes that you’re supposed to retrieve and return to…someone for valuable resources. But I have no memory of who I’m supposed to return them to or which of the many settlements, camps, and communities I’ve encountered so far that person is supposed to be at. Same thing with other stuff I keep finding. Also, at first I liked the slightly more complicated approach to things in the original game that were relatively simple, like buying stuff from merchants. Now there are different kinds of merchants for different kinds of resources (weapons, outfits, medicine, tools, etc.) and each one only sells a few things. That would be fine except that the way each camp is designed makes it maddeningly frustrating to find any of these people even when you’re using the wayfinder to look for them. And it’s much harder to tell whether and how each item they sell might be an improvement over what you already have, even when using the option to compare. One of my favorite things from the original game was switching between outfits because I easily understood which ones were better for stealth missions, which were better for when you were expecting ranged combat, and which had better defenses against some of the machines’ powers (like frost, fire, shock, etc.). This time…I have no idea. I’ve been wearing the same stupid outfit forever and instead of looking for new or better outfits, just focusing on finding the materials I need to upgrade this one. Same with weapons. Part of me enjoys the new level of complication because, after all, this is the sequel game and it makes sense that it would take a bit more skill to get through. But I’m far enough into the game that I feel like I should have figured it out by now and the fact that I haven’t is affecting my overall attitude toward it. Despite these complaints, this is still a game that I can easily get absorbed in for hours at a time. It feels challenging without frustrating me to the point of apoplexy (so far) (1) and that’s really all I ask from any game. Now that it’s summer, I know I’m going to be spending a lot of my down time during the vacations I have planned to keep going with this and despite some of the frustrations I’ve experienced so far, I’m looking forward to it.
What I’m watching for fun
Heartstopper on Netflix: I was having a sad day recently–one of those days where you need to just kind of curl up on the couch for hours at a time and let something play on the TV in between bouts of crying.(2) My usual choice for days like that is mindless procedurals because the familiar and predictable rhythms of such shows can be weirdly comforting. For some reason, on this particular day, I chose Heartstopper instead. I’d been reading reviews of the show, which is a love story between two high school-age boys based on a graphic novel by Alice Oseman, online since it came out and it seemed like it had gotten a positive reception. It was on my to-be-watched list but nothing I’d been planning to get to any time soon. Well, despite the circumstances, I’m glad I got to it a little faster than I expected. For one thing, it ended up being pretty much perfect for the mood I was in that day in the sense that it’s a very gentle kind of show featuring characters whose problems are important on a personal level but not, like, world-ending. It reminded me a lot of Love, Victor but with two leads I actually wanted to see get together.(3) It’s all very sweet with not a trace of bleakness to be found which I feel like you don’t see in a lot of shows anymore in general, but especially not shows about teenagers. I mean, I like Elite and have heard Euphoria is good but it’s nice to have something where the characters have normal high school problems and aren’t, like, investigating the horrible murder of a fellow classmate or anything like that. That said, this is the first show I’ve watched in a while where the teenaged characters are played by actual teenagers (or people who are very close to that age). It’s a little jarring. They look so young! But you really can’t help but root for all of them, especially Charlie and Nick (the main couple). Basically, just a happy little show. Glad it’s already been renewed for two more seasons.
Shoresy on Hulu: A few months ago, I was lucky enough to get to see the main cast of Letterkenny live on stage here in Albany as part of their COVID-delayed North American tour. The show itself was nothing groundbreaking but it was pretty delightful seeing all the Hicks, the Hockey Players (including Coach), and Stuart in person. (Evan Stern, who plays Roald, was also supposed to be there but couldn’t make it that night.) Mark Forward, who plays Coach on the series, was a surprising highlight of the night.(4) Another highlight was a surprise “appearance” by Shoresy, who from behind his usual bathroom stall door and with the usual sound effects, told a joke about the Hudson River, climate change, and the hockey players’ mothers that was so dirty I almost died laughing.(5) That said, Shoresy is a character whose antics I have to be in the right mood to enjoy at all and even then I mostly only like him in small doses. So an entire spinoff of Letterkenny starring him sounded like kind of a nightmare. I was, therefore, pretty surprised when the show came out to a) find an actual review of it on Hollywood Reporter and b) find that the review was generally positive. Intrigued, I decided to check it out after all. The plot of the show is basically that after leaving Letterkenny, Shoresy finds himself on a third rate hockey team that’s in danger of folding and he needs to find a way to prevent that from happening. First, I’ll admit that, as an American who knows next to nothing about hockey even though I’ve lived close to Canada my whole life and I’ve been to actual live hockey games, a lot of the hockey-related stuff in the series was over my head. However, I was surprised by the show’s ability to turn Shoresy into something resembling an actual human being rather than just a dirty joke delivery machine (though he is also still that). And there’s also, dare I say, an actual plot going on. A plot that was apparently stolen from the movie Slapshot (and probably every other sports movie in existence) but still…a plot. An actual story. That was weird enough but even weirder is not only seeing Shoresy’s actual face for the first time (as part of a great moment in the first episode) but seeing Jared Keeso, who plays Shoresy, get to have, like, actual facial expressions after 10 seasons of watching him play the very stoic (and generally expressionless) Wayne on Letterkenny. In fact, his expressions here are so animated (relatively speaking) that they are sometimes the whole joke of a scene. It’s great! If I had to describe this show, I would say it’s an odd and oddly effective mix of Ted Lasso and Letterkenny. If you like Letterkenny, you’ll probably like this even if you’re not the biggest fan of Shoresy specifically. If you like Ted Lasso and have never seen Letterkenny, you will have no idea wtf this even is and probably hate it. But honestly part of the fun of being a fan of Letterkenny (and now Shoresy) is getting it and appreciating it for what it is, even if a lot of other people wouldn’t. Will watch more.
Doctor, Doctor/The Heart Guy on Hoopla: So I have no idea what the name of this show actually is. It’s listed as “Doctor Doctor” in IMDB but when I searched for it in the Hoopla app (after finding out it was streaming there from JustWatch), I couldn’t find it because it turns out it’s listed under the title The Heart Guy. I’m guessing this is due to some kind of title change for the show’s U.S. release. No matter, just a weird hiccup I ran into when I went looking for it after becoming interested in finding additional series starring Rodger Corser after seeing him in Glitch (which is available on Netflix). Like Glitch, The Heart Guy is an Australian show. It stars Corser as a House M.D. type character who is banished back to the small, poorly funded clinic in his hometown as part of some kind of professional probation following some questionable behavior in his personal life. I’m about halfway through the second season and so far it’s like a cross between the aforementioned House and something like Everwood, with a big city guy settling into a quirky small town setting. (Except that he already knows a lot of the quirky people because he grew up there and his family, including his parents, brother, and former ex-girlfriend who is now his sister-in-law still live there.) The show follows a lot of predictable patterns of similar shows: Hugh, the main character, resents that his genius is being wasted in a small town setting but eventually warms to the place as the people there teach him to have a little more empathy for his fellow humans. There are inevitable setbacks on the road to being less of an asshole. But despite its predictability (or maybe because of it), I’m finding the show to be enjoyable overall. It has a good balance between the quirky small town relationship stuff and the often ridiculous medical stuff. One thing I like about the show is that even though Hugh describes himself and is described by his fellow surgeons as a genius, the show makes it clear that his genius is (realistically) limited to the area of medicine that he’s been specializing in for ten years. When it comes to the general practitioner stuff, he doesn’t have some magical ability to discern exactly what’s wrong with a patient as soon as he looks at them. In the first episode, in fact, he has to secretly Google his patients’ symptoms to come up with diagnoses. He also misses things and sometimes makes stupid mistakes because he doesn’t know how to listen to patients. (Of course, on the way to him becoming a Better Human Being, one of the things he has to learn is how to be a better listener and have more empathy.) It’s not exactly comforting to think of a doctor having to Google your symptoms to figure out what’s wrong with you (and hopefully not terribly realistic), but portraying Hugh this way still makes for a nice change from shows like House or Chicago Med or Grey’s Anatomy where the doctors are basically psychics even when it comes to recognizing the symptoms of the incredibly rare conditions they encounter with what should be alarming frequency. The show does have some soapy elements related to the love triangle with the ex and Hugh’s brother as well as Hugh’s widowed boss. But in terms of Australian TV series, on a scale of “early McLeod’s Daughters” to “late McLeod’s Daughters,” it so far does not even register. I’ll be interested to see if that changes as I keep watching.
(1) Part of the reason I only play video games on the weekend is because they really do stress me out sometimes. I don’t understand people who find video games relaxing. I once spent a six-hour-long session getting past the Saw Mills zombie hoard in Days Gone and was so stressed out afterward that I couldn’t sleep properly for days. FOR DAYS. My hands were literally shaking. So apoplexy may be an exaggeration for comic effect…but not by much.
(2) Everything’s okay now
(3) No disrespect to Love, Victor but, at least to me, the chemistry between Victor and Benji is just not there and never has been. I was very much rooting for Rahim in the second season.
(4) I only say “surprising” because, through little to no fault of the actor who plays him, Coach is not my favorite character on the show. That said, the short standup routine Mark Forward did between skits was a lot of fun. Even better was the skit he did with Reilly and Jonesey, which featured Coach telling the hockey players dirty stories about trips he and his wife used to take to various national landmarks. In the show, these interludes tend to go on too long to be all that funny but in a live setting, Dylan Playfair (who plays Reilly) and Andrew Herr (who plays Jonesy) couldn’t stop cracking up at Forward’s over the top line delivery. It was hilarious to see them lose it like that after spending so much time watching Letterkenny and wondering how the actors on the show keep such straight faces all the time.
(5) This skit was basically an extended mad libs of local place names inserted into the usual “your mum” jokes that you see on the show. I suspect when they do this skit in other places, the body of water that they name is one that’s local to whatever area they’re in.