Pomo Picks

What to Read, Watch, and Listen to This Week: Aug 5

The content in our queues, from Shel Silverstein to Supermarket Sweep

By Portland Monthly Staff August 6, 2020

There’s a lot going on right now. Maybe you’re protesting, maybe you’re donating, maybe you’re keeping tabs on the way your representatives are responding to the present moment. Keep doing that!

Our lives are not one thing, though, and you’re also probably looking to escape, however briefly, into a show or a book or an album that might help you shut out the world or understand it a little better. To get the wheels turning, here’s the stuff filling our queues at Portland Monthly this week, from Shel Silverstein to Supermarket Sweep

MasterChef Junior

Now that quarantine’s got me cooking nearly every meal myself, I’ve turned for inspiration to MasterChef Junior, home to some of America’s best young home cooks aged 8 to 13. Whenever I feel overwhelmed trying to make a complicated dish at home, it’s humbling to watch these kids fillet a whole salmon that weighs nearly as much as they do, cater a wedding of hundreds of guests, or make a deconstructed apple tart with cranberry coulis that makes judge Gordon Ramsay lick his plate.
Admittedly, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the show in the past. While the notoriously cruel Ramsay tends to tone down his hostile demeanor for the young chefs, former judges Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot often make remarks to the pint-sized contestants that reinforce racism and sexism. I’m currently binge watching the seventh season, where Milk Bar pastry chef Christina Tosi and chef Aarón Sánchez of New Orleans restaurant Johnny Sánchez join Ramsay on the panel of judges, and so far, they’ve been much more thoughtful, inclusive, and fair. —Katherine Chew Hamilton, food editor

The Miniature Wife

What I love about Manuel Gonzales’s 2014 debut short story collection is its uncanny subversion of the mundane. Underneath every seemingly straightforward, everyday backdrop is some fantastic phenomenon, exposing characters to their flaws, desires, and deepest fears. A man sits aboard a plane—that’s been circling the city for 20 years. A woman wakes to the sounds of morning—only to discover the noise has taken on a violent physical form. A couple finds a new home—full of stray animals. A scientist loves his work, his home life, and his wife—and one day, he accidentally shrinks her down to the height of a coffee mug.

The stories in The Miniature Wife & Other Stories are funny, tragic, bizarre, and exciting. We’re delighted by their imagination, shocked by their strangeness, and moved by their humanity. Gabriel Granillo, digital editor

Supermarket Sweep

Apparently the rest of the world was already briefed on this one, but if you, like me, were not alive when ’90s game show classic Supermarket Sweep premiered and were busy mainlining Disney Channel original content during its syndication heyday, let me introduce you to the concept. People with names like Doreen and Chuck are plucked from a studio audience while holding conspicuous name brand products. Invariably, they are dressed like actors in a Tim & Eric sketch—the most plaid you have ever seen. David Ruprecht, the host, who is openly bad at his job, stumbles through weird small talk with everybody and bravely refuses to crack even one single joke. Teams of two play ludicrous mini-challenges like "What Costs More, These Peanuts Or This Shampoo?" and then Ruprecht shills for an insane ’90s product like, for example, a kitchen knife that launches Ritz crackers (real). 

All of this leads to an impossibly athletic, deeply surreal climax: The Big Sweep. One representative from every team sprints through a fake supermarket built on a studio backlot, filling up their carts with the most expensive merchandise they can find. The camera crew chases them. An announcer who is not Ruprecht clocks in, narrating each team’s every move like it is the World Cup: Brenda from USC breaks for the diapers, but NOT before Cindy Sue makes a killing with the jumbo jars of mayonnaise! Three episodes in and you’ll be forever plagued by images of jumpsuit-clad hopefuls burning rubber through an artificial meat aisle, slinging massive hams as though it will be their last action on earth. 

Reader, I cannot tell you what this show means to me. The dayglo decay in every frame; the self-parodic vaporwave transition music; the sounds of brand tie-ins gasping for air. It is why there’s TV. Art that knows it’s art has absolutely nothing on the perverse aesthetic pleasures of Supermarket Sweep, which is apparently getting revived sometime this year with Leslie Jones behind the mic. In the meantime, an assortment of OG episodes hit Netflix recently, which thrust the show back into the cultural spotlight. I watch it every day. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor

Topher Fixes The Giving Tree

The Giving Tree. Gak. The beloved Shel Silverstein paean to a kind of narcissistic selflessness on the part of an apple tree has long been liber non gratis in our house. There’s no way I want my kids to watch that brattish child who has a great time in her (yes, it’s a she/her tree and that does not feel like an accident) branches, eating her apples and the like, until he gets older and wants money and then, one day, her branches, her trunk, the whole shebang. And he still isn’t happy. (Spoiler alert: it ends with the serially abused tree being HAPPY that the boy-turned-old-man is now sitting on her stubby trunk without so much as a thank you.)
Thankfully, not any more. Atlanta playwright Topher Payne—he also writes films for the Hallmark Channel, according to Wikipedia, which ... tell me more please—has created a “Topher Fixed It” series for young children, providing alternate endings to some of the worst kids book offenders to be printed for free (and, if you are rabid about it like certain people who are writing this, pasted over the original). In the Topher Fixed It version, the book is renamed: The Tree Who Set Healthy Boundaries begins the same way, with the Boy swinging on branches and eating apples, but takes a sharp turn from the foundational text when he asks for a house. Hands—ahem, branches—on hips, the tree responds with a firm, “I love you like family, But I am not going down like that.” There follows a lecture on friendship, and a contrite Boy decides, for once, to help the tree. The tree and the Boy open a business together, the money rolls in, the Boy’s kids and grandkids get to enjoy the tree, and everyone is happy.
“Setting healthy boundaries is a very important part of giving,” Payne’s TWSHB tells us. “It assures you’ll always have something left to give.” (And if you do, Payne suggests donating to the Atlanta Artist Relief Fund, helping the city’s arts community survive the devastation of COVID 19.) Fiona McCann, senior editor-at-large
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