The cast of Farscape

Image: Courtesy Syfy

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, maybe you’re buying from one of these Black-owned Portland brands. 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 help you along, here’s the stuff filling our queues at Portland Monthly this week, from art heists to space muppets to pizza histories. 

Farscape

Do you like science fiction? Do you like Muppets? Then you’re going to love Farscape, now streaming on Amazon Prime. This bizarre Australian-American space adventure ran from 1999 to 2003 and was the Sci-Fi network’s first original show during a time when it was willing to do and spend almost anything to build the brand. It was developed by Rockne S. O’Bannon and Brian Henson of the Jim Henson Company, and featured a cast of both humans and puppets.
The story revolves around astronaut John Crichton, played by American actor Ben Browder, in classic fish-out-of-water style, who goes through a wormhole during an experimental spaceflight and ends up in an unknown part of the galaxy far from Earth, stranded aboard a living spaceship named Moya, crewed by a mismatched group of escaped prisoners of different alien races. They are being pursued by the Peacekeepers, a militant organization dedicated to controlling the galaxy. The show was weird, wild and strangely sweet at the same time, as this group of misfits learn to live together and escape their oppressors.
 
Largely created in the pre-CGI era, the puppets are fantastic and emotive, and their interaction with the live characters is beautifully seamless. It has the added bonus of Ben Browder spouting a non-stop stream of ’80s and ’90s-era pop culture references that will really take you back. Less Star Trek and more Mad Max mixed with The Wizard of Oz, it will leave you confused and amused in equal proportions. Farscape ran for four seasons, until abruptly getting canceled on a cliffhanger ending. It was subsequently rebooted as a three-hour miniseries to wrap up the plot, and has become a much beloved cult fave among the sci-fi set. —Mike Novak, art director

The Painter and the Thief

Anyone who knows me will be shocked to find out that I’m not picking First Cow—Kelly Reichardt’s tender, Oregon-shot buddy western that hits VOD on Friday—for this week’s roundup. I’ve written about it extensively, I drink my morning coffee from First Cow mug, and I field weekly texts about the movie’s appearances in the press. It’s magnificent. Still the best movie of the year. You should watch it.

Once you do, chase it with The Painter and the Thief (now streaming on Hulu), Benjamin Ree’s astonishing stranger-than-fiction doc about the friendship between a Czech artist and the man who stole her paintings from a gallery in Oslo. Like First Cow, it’s a modest, small story of two friends that’s so sensitively and carefully told it telescopes outward to become something like an essential moral and political text. Ree starts with Barbora, “the painter,” and walks us through her decision to befriend and paint Bertil, “the thief,” after meeting him in court. Then we move to Bertil’s perspective, Rashomon-style, as he teases out some of Barbora’s darker impulses. “She sees me very well,” he says in the film’s most indelible line. “But she forgets I can see her, too.”

Part of Ree’s goal, clearly, is to humanize a quote-unquote “criminal” (Americans will cringe, no doubt, at glimpses into Norway’s comparatively utopian justice system), and he does so, movingly. But he’s also interested in the mechanics of friendship, its power to unite and fracture and fill and empty and illuminate. His nonfiction film is as literary a musing on the subject as I can imagine. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor

Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi

At a time when we can neither go out to eat nor travel, a new Hulu series from model and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi called Taste The Nation promises a welcome escape. Lakshmi, who immigrated from India at the age of 4, explores the food of immigrant and indigenous communities across the country. 

In the first episode, Lakshmi takes us to El Paso, Texas, where she explores the colonial roots of burritos wrapped in flour tortillas and tastes traditional tacos made with freshly nixtamalized blue corn tortillas. She also visits H&H Coffee Shop, an old-school counter-service diner that shares space with a car wash. At first, the freshly battered chiles rellenos drew me in. But then the coffee shop’s owner, whose family has Syrian roots and came to the United States via Juárez, says he “loves [Mexicans] and they know it,” yet he’d still vote for Trump even though his policies have made life significantly harder for his Mexican employees who commute across the border every day. Lakshmi and the owner hold hands throughout the conversation—actually, he commandeers her entire forearm—which made me completely lose interest in the chiles rellenos and want to scream, “Run, Padma!” I’m only a couple of episodes in, so I’m not ready to make a final verdict on the show—though I’ll keep watching for the episode on the Gullah Geechee people of South Carolina and the San Francisco episode on chop suey featuring Ali Wong. —Katherine Hamilton, food editor

Thunderstorm Artis

You know he has to be good when his literal birth name is Thunderstorm. When my college roommate first heard the now 24-year-old, round-rim-glasses-wearing singer perform at the Sisters Folk Festival, she half-jokingly considered leaving her fiancé for him the second he opened his mouth. The Hawaii-native singer-songwriter stepped into the public eye earlier this year when he took third place on The Voice, where he was swept under the wings of Team Nick Jonas—but really, his vocal talent speaks for itself. Much of his musical skill comes from performing with his family band alongside 10 siblings, and he turned to singing as a way of coping with grief when his father suddenly passed away from a heart attack. His 2018 EP Haunted is especially beautiful. With his soft acoustic guitar and gently soulful voice that sounds a little like John Legend but rough around the edges, Thunderstorm has STRUCK me hard. —Lauren Carlos, editorial intern

Ugly Delicious

Holy cannoli, do we spend a lot of time in the kitchen these days. My husband, Ashod, and I already liked cooking together, but being trapped at home for [checks watch] 7,000 years now means we have really upped our game making fancy things for each other. I’ve made some steamed buns with miso mushrooms I am unreasonably proud of, a cherry pie from scratch that Agent Dale Cooper would definitely call “damn good,” and an epic dumpling fail with dough so bad Paul Hollywood would’ve sent my ass packing from the Great British Bake Off tent. In kind, he showed me how to spend a day churning out the Armenian Yalanchi from his youth, and perfected a chickpea, corn, kale, honey curry that was just a pure delight.

All this not-so-humble bragging is to say there’s a lot of talk of food in this house. Which has led to an increase in watching other people talk about food in this house. Having gone through every episode of the Brits baking on GBBO, we somehow stumbled upon Netflix’s Ugly Delicious series. Hosted by Momofuku chef David Chang, each episode takes us into a deep dive on topics like tacos, fried rice, and pizza. It’s far more than the typical Chopped-type cooking show of pitting chef against chef—these are big conversations about food as culture, how race plays into acceptance of food, and whether tradition matters as much as innovation. 

As the series progresses, you grow attached to Chang, so by season two, when he comes to Portland to talk to Peter Cho and Sun Young Park about running their restaurant Han Oak with two little kids as Chang’s own wife is preparing to give birth to their first, you’ll be crossing your fingers for many more episodes to come. —Eden Dawn, style editor

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