TV

The Rundown: James Wolk Is Peak TV Royalty

The Rundown is a weekly column that highlights some of the biggest, weirdest, and most notable events of the week in entertainment. The number of items will vary, as will the subject matter. It will not always make a ton of sense. Some items might not even be about entertainment, to be honest, or from this week. The important thing is that it’s Friday, and we are here to have some fun.

ITEM NUMBER ONE — All hail, the Prince of Television

Watching as much television as I do means you eventually start to notice patterns. All kinds of patterns. There was the thing a couple years ago where multiple shows featured death via air conditioner. There was the thing a few weeks ago where both Lodge 49 and The Righteous Gemstones featured non-lethal lightning strikes less than 24 hours apart. There are sometimes patterns involving people. Scoot McNairy pops in a really incredible number of shows, which is great because Scoot McNairy is awesome. He was also killed by a falling air conditioner in Fargo. A pattern within a pattern. Layers.

Another one that I notice is how often James Wolk appears in shows I adore. It’s getting ridiculous at this point. In a good way. You probably know Wolk best for portraying human enigma Bob Benson in Mad Men. He wore an incredible swimsuit. He was the Bob in the legendary “Not great, Bob!” scene. His status as an icon would be cemented forever based on those two things alone.

But there’s more. He also appeared in Billions. He played a kind of fictional and very sexy Elon Musk. He slept with Paul Giamatti’s character’s wife and later died in a rocketship explosion. And he was in Goliath, the Amazon original about a loose cannon lawyer played by Billy Bob Thornton. And he was also the star of my beloved Zoo, CBS’s short-lived series about animals mutating and trying to destroy the human race.

In fact, that brings up another point. I’ve already mentioned the “Not great, Bob” thing. That moment is a first-ballot GIF Hall of Famer. It stands up on its own, living a life outside its context. People who never even watched Mad Men know about “Not great, Bob.” But I would argue it’s not even his best GIF moment. I would argue that his best GIF moment is this one from Zoo.

CBS

That, to be clear, is James Wolk backhanding an evil four-star General while demanding to know the location of a kidnapped sloth that has developed the power to cause earthquakes with its shrieks. God, I miss that show. But its cancellation has freed up Wolk to appear in other shows to extend his Peak TV legacy, from his aforementioned rocketship explosion to his current role as an Oklahoma senator with a secret on Watchmen.

The nice thing about this latest role is that Watchmen is super weird in about a million different ways, which means there’s a very real chance he’ll end up with another big memorable moment in a big memorable show. Will he be able to top “yelled at in an elevator by a man whose mother just went overboard on a cruise ship” and “blown up in a rocketship while a room filled with traders cheers because they shorted his company’s stock” and “slapped an evil four-star general while shouting about the location of a mutant sloth”? Man, I don’t know. But I don’t see how we can put it past him. Not on this show. Not with his history. The man is a legend. We should spend more time recognizing that.

ITEM NUMBER TWO — I would like to discuss the cash truck

20th century fox

Terrific news, everyone. Jason Statham is going to star in a movie titled Cash Truck. Cash Truck! This is already perfect. How can you possibly improve on the concept of Jason Statham starring in a movie titled Cash Truck? Maybe… I don’t know, maybe if Cash Truck is the name of his character? Is Cash Truck the name of his character?

IS CASH TRUCK THE NAME OF HIS CHARACTER?!

Statham stars as H, a cold and mysterious character working at a cash-truck company responsible for moving hundreds of millions of dollars around Los Angeles each week. Weaving through a carefully constructed narrative, the film shifts across timelines and among various characters’ perspectives.

Ah, dammit. Fine. I admit that I was flying a little close to the sun there. That’s on me. But the movie does co-star Holt McCallany — Tench from Mindhunter — as a character named “Bullet.” Just “Bullet.” I can’t wait to see this movie. I might go hang out in the lobby of the theater until it premieres next year, like Tom Hanks in that movie where he gets stuck living in an airport from months. How long can an adult male live on Sour Patch Kids and Diet Coke? I guess we’ll find out!

Anyway, between this movie and the 1995 Snipes-Harrelson film Money Train, I am now obsessed with thinking up names of fake movies with the (term for currency) + (method of transportation) structure. So far my favorite is Loot Zepplin. Take a few minutes to play around with it yourself. Have a little fun.

ITEM NUMBER THREE — Pesci time

There’s lots of Joe Pesci talk this week what with The Irishman press tour kicking into high gear and the actor popping his head up out of semi-retirement. That’s cool. Joe Pesci is the best. It’s wild how he was, like, everywhere for a substantial slice of my life — Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Home Alone — and then he just zipped off to mind his own business and do Joe Pesci things. That’s kind of the dream right there. Do enough and then do nothing at all. In a way, Joe Pesci is my idol.

Seeing his name pop up all over the place sent me down a YouTube rabbit hole of Pesci things, which led me to the above appearance on Letterman. Please carve out some time to watch it. It’s wonderful. Some highlights:

  • Smokes a cigar through the entire interview
  • Discusses golfing with Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper, which sounds like a euphemism for some kind of insane drug experience (“Sorry I missed your birthday party. I was golfing with Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper, if you know what I mean”)
  • Brushes aside Jack Nicholson’s famous “smashed a fellow motorist’s car with a 9-iron after a traffic dispute” incident with a very casual “sometimes you get upset,” which is the most Pesci thing I’ve ever heard
  • Tells a story about hanging out with Marlon Brando and Michael Jackson

It has long been the position of this column that aging celebrities who no longer give a shit are our greatest natural resource. Just press record and let them talk. I know Joe Pesci doesn’t do interviews or press very much anymore but, come on. Give me one hour of Joe Pesci telling Hollywood stories. He can smoke the cigar if he wants. We’ll crack a window.

ITEM NUMBER FOUR — Finally, at long last, the Penguin is hot

Focus Features

If there’s one complaint I’ve had about the Batman universe, one single quibble with the decades of films and television shows based on the Caped Crusader and the various villains he vanquished, it’s that the Penguin has not been hot enough. Look at the Penguins of the past. Burgess Meredith? Great actor. Great voice. Not hot. Danny Devito? An absolute legend and a delight in a million ways. Also not hot. That is why it brings me great pleasure to report — or, like, pass along Deadline’s report — that Colin Farrell is in talks to play Penguin in the latest iteration of the franchise.

Will Colin Farrell do a good job as Penguin? I bet he will! Colin Farrell does a good job in most things. Will his version of Penguin be a fiend for mojitos? Lord, I hope so.

But mostly, I’m just glad that the Penguin will now be very hot. The time has come for a hot Penguin. I hope Colin Farrell spends the whole movie absolutely smoldering on-screen but also doing the weird “quackquacksqawk” thing that Burgess Meredith did as Penguin, too. With a monocle on. The people deserve it.

ITEM NUMBER FIVE — A nice reminder that Popstar is a good movie

This week brought us my favorite New York Times op-ed since the time Maureen Dowd took too many edibles and freaked out in a Colorado hotel room. It was titled “It’s Time to Take Down the Mona Lisa” and it was mostly a passionate plea for the Louvre to move da Vinci’s most famous work to a new area that won’t cause overcrowding and congestion. Which, fine. I hate crowds. I can dig it. The fun part came in a little later, though, when the Mona Lisa slander started. Here, look:

Yet the Louvre is being held hostage by the Kim Kardashian of 16th-century Italian portraiture: the handsome but only moderately interesting Lisa Gherardini, better known (after her husband) as La Gioconda, whose renown so eclipses her importance that no one can even remember how she got famous in the first place.

“Handsome but only moderately interesting.” First of all, same, but more importantly, what a fabulous and vicious burn of the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa! Handsome and moderately interesting! Try describing a woman you know like this over the weekend. See how well that goes over. Handsome and moderately interesting. My God.

It continues…

Mona Lisa, you’re an overrated piece of shit
With your terrible style and your dead shark eyes
And a smirk like you’re hiding a dick
What the fuck is this garbage?
Mona Lisa, the original basic bitch
Traveled thousands of miles to see your beautiful smile
Talk about a bait and switch, you ugly

Ahh, whoops. It appears I have accidentally blockquoted the lyrics to “Mona Lisa” from the movie Popstar. Why, you could almost imply that the whole reason I mentioned this story was to blockquote the lyrics to “Mona Lisa” from the movie Popstar. Like I used this entire section just to remind you that the movie Popstar is perfect and wildly underrated and you should watch it again as soon as possible, perhaps in a Criminally Disrespected Music Biopic Satire double bill with Walk Hard.

Hmm. Well, that would be an interesting twist. If I did that. Which I might have. Hmm.

READER MAIL

If you have questions about television, movies, food, local news, weather, or whatever you want, shoot them to me on Twitter or at brian.grubb@uproxx.com (put “RUNDOWN” in the subject line). I am the first writer to ever answer reader mail in a column. Do not look up this last part.

Brandon:

Brian, The Thomas Crown Affair (yes, this is an excuse for a bunch of Pierce Brosnan pictures to be in the post). About the time that Rene Russo comes into Dumb-And-Dumber-haircut Denis Leary’s world, she goes to the break room. And absolutely inhales a can of Pepsi ONE. I have questions.

1) Why? Was this a product placement where the Pepsi execs demanded that she absolutely house a can to show how delicious it was? Was it an acting choice by Rene?

2) No one in history has inhaled a carbonated beverage (much less DIET SODA) and not immediately unleashed an earth-shaking belch. Is this an unexplored character trait? Is there a deleted scene where she did a beer bong and just walked away?

3) Is this the only proof that Pepsi ONE exists? Is Pepsi Blue jealous somewhere because it didn’t even get that?

Brandon, I owe you an apology. I read your question and assumed you were exaggerating. I said to myself “I’m sure she takes a few glugs but I’ve seen this movie many times and I think I would remember if Rene Russo drank an entire can of Pepsi One like a fraternity pledge shotgunning a can of Dakota Kick.” But then I opened up the movie to check and, sure enough…

United Artists

Actually, Brandon, I owe you two apologies. One for doubting you and one because I will not be able to answer your questions about this. I’m too confused. Look at that. The woman must have a stomach made of cast iron.

AND NOW, THE NEWS

To Poland!

A “colony” of up to one million cannibal ants trapped in a nuclear bunker for years have escaped, scientists in Poland have said.

Oh. Cool.

The ants, which had no food source other than their dead nestmates, were first discovered in 2013 were found to be solely made up of worker ants meaning they could not reproduce—how their numbers grew so large was a mystery.

I don’t want to alarm anyone but, in the CBS drama Zoo (two Zoo mentions in one column, huge day for me), there was an episode about electrocharged ants that stormed a particle accelerator in an attempt to blow up most of Switzerland. I’m not saying these Polish nuclear cannibal ants are up to something similar, but I will say that we should at the very least spray the entrances of nearby particle accelerators with Raid, just to be safe.

[A]fter returning to the site two years later, scientists found the colony was not only still there, but that it had grown in numbers. This was despite there being no obvious food source, no heat and no light. A population estimate suggested there were hundreds of thousands, if not one million ants living in the bunker.

One million nuclear cannibal ants is too many nuclear cannibal ants. Just an unacceptable number of nuclear cannibal ants. A more reasonable number would be zero. I’ll go as high as one. One nuclear cannibal ant. That’s it.

“The survival and growth of the bunker ‘colony’ through the years, without producing own offspring, was possible owing to continuous supply of new workers from the upper nest and accumulation of nestmate corpses,” the team concluded. “The corpses served as an inexhaustible source of food which substantially allowed survival of the ants trapped down in otherwise extremely unfavourable conditions.”

“The corpses served as an inexhaustible source of food” is a phrase I could have done without reading this morning. Or ever. But it’s in my head now and it’s probably in yours, too. Do you think a nuclear cannibal ant gets stronger when it eats another nuclear cannibal ant? Does it acquire that nuclear cannibal ant’s powers? Is it like that Jet Li movie, The One, where he zips around parallel universes and kills the other Jet Lis and gets stronger each time? Does this end with one nuclear cannibal ant the size of a city bus just leveling cities across Europe, with people stuffed into bomb shelters and terrified to go outside lest they be crushed by its powerful glowing jaws?

I mean, it’ll solve that Mona Lisa overcrowding problem. So that’s a silver lining, I guess.

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