TV

The Rundown: The Case For Always Watching TV With The Captions Turned On

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 could vary, as could 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 — I promise I am not crazy

It is my position that everyone should watch television with the captions turned on, all the time, with a few limited exceptions. I’m not a zealot about it, though. I’m not going to make you do it. It’s your life and your television and you can do what you like. I only came around myself in the last four or five years. Part of it was because of this job, or at least the way I do this job, which often involves making screencaps with the dialogue on the bottom to be included for comedic and/or dramatic effect. Part of it was a result of watching Peaky Blinders, a show that is technically in English but is filled with soup-thick accents and mumble-mouthed Jewish bootleggers played by Tom Hardy, to the degree that the captions are necessary until you get your feet up on the board and ride the wave into shore.

So there’s the practical aspect of it. Once you get used to having them, once you can start to train your eyes to not be hopelessly distracted by them, it becomes super useful. Did something a character said get lost in the background noise? Just glance down. Is your partner or child or parent or friend talking through a good scene about something they think is important enough that you can’t shout “WILL YOU SHUT UP? AGENT DOUG IS TALKING” without upsetting them in a way that will prevent you from watching the rest of the episode in peace? Just quickly glance down, read what Doug said, then continue to pretend to listen to whoever is talking. It’s a useful, utilitarian feature. It can save relationships. You should use it.

It can also, and this admittedly might be more of me thing than an anyone else thing, add a layer of comedy to almost any show. Remember how I said I started really using captions while I was watching Peaky Blinders? Well, that’s when I stumbled across this.

Netflix

It’s beautiful. I love it. And if I didn’t have captions turned on while watching Game of Thrones one time, I might have missed a horse galloping by in the fog with the caption “[NEIGHS HOARSELY]” underneath it (HOARSELY!), which, in hindsight, and I need to stress here that I am not joking, might be my all-time favorite moment from the show.

HBO

Or how about this shot from Billions, where Wags is making an evil little mischief face, as Wags will do. That would have been great on its own. Add in the “dramatic music” music cue and it takes it to a whole new level. Just perfect.

Showtime

My favorite example of this will always be Mike Ehrmantraut on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Jonathan Banks plays the character as such a cranky collection of grunts and sighs and I really adore that all of them are documented like this. My favorite is how specific the captions get about it: some are listed as groans, some as sighs, some as grunts. I like to picture a contentious meeting where six people are at each other’s throats around a conference table as they try to settle on which is which in any given scene. I mentioned a fair amount of this in my Better Call Saul recap this week but I don’t care. I’m mentioning it again now because it remains true. Look at my grumpy king.

AMC
AMC

There are a few limited exceptions, as I alluded to above. I don’t like to watch fast/smart comedies or standup specials with the captions on, at least not the first time through. I find that sometimes I get too excited and read the punchline before it actually gets delivered. That’s not good. It ruins so many good jokes. This is no one’s fault but my own, I know that. But I also know myself well enough to know that I sometimes need to protect myself from my own impatience. Your mileage may vary. That’s okay.

Do give it a try if you haven’t, though. Give it a real, honest try, mostly for the practical reasons, but also for the fun. One last example, with the mildest of spoilers from this week’s episode of Better Call Saul. Mike was out in the middle of nowhere, in a small town he didn’t want to be in, and he was walking around with just a classic Mike stink face going. It was great. He was so miserable. Here, look:

AMC

But now look at that same shot with the captions turned on.

AMC

See? Objectively funnier. Mike Ehrmantraut just shuffling around a dusty road like a grumpy lump, grunting and sighing and staring straight ahead out of his beady little intense eyes, with “[birds chirping]” right there underneath him on the screen. Don’t deny yourself that pleasure, people. You deserve it, especially this week.

ITEM NUMBER TWO — What a powerful week it was for Cats

Universal

Really, just an incredible performance out of Cats, the CGI-laden feature film adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical that had critics around the world saying “Why?” and “No, I’m being serious here, tell me why.” Let’s look at the highlights:

— Dominated the 2020 Razzie Awards, taking home six honors(?), including: Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay, Worst Director, Worst On-Screen Duo, and Worst Supporting Actor (James Corden) and Actress (Rebel Wilson)

— Got roasted pretty thoroughly by a very high Seth Rogen, who rented and watched the film and had a number of very sensible points to make

— Trended worldwide for an entire day during a global pandemic due to an alleged secret cut of the film that included the cats’ CGI buttholes and was scrapped when wiser and galactically less fun heads stepped in to have them removed

I’m so proud of Cats. This is almost exactly what I pictured for it when I first saw the trailer all those months ago, give or take a terrifying supervirus or two. It’s also, kind of, exactly what we all need right now. We can unite around this, just get lost inside the chaotic energy of the baffling experiment. I almost think we should all set a time and watch it together in the next week. Like, everyone acquires the movie, settles in, drinks a glass or two of wine if they like wine, smokes a little weed if they like to smoke weed, or comes in clear-headed to make it a fair fight if they’re brave, and then hits play at the exact same moment. It could be like a quarantined version of Rocky Horror Picture Show on social media.

I’m getting more serious about this as I type it out. We all need this, a two-hour breather from the apocalypse and a Twitter feed full of jokes about CGI buttholes. We must let Cats heal us.

ITEM NUMBER THREE — Quarantined celebrities, for better and worse

My opinion on the “Imagine” video is as follows: Things are weird out there and they tried. It didn’t quite connect the way anyone involved hoped for, in part, I think, because too many people are home and bored and have the kind of free time required to take a blowtorch to a collection of celebrities very earnestly singing a John Lennon song. I don’t know, maybe a different song would have helped, like “Ooh Child” or some other uplifting number or maybe “Triumph” by Wu-Tang Clan, with verses traded off by like Tom Holland and Kristen Wiig. Hmm, no. That definitely would have been worse. Funnier, sure, by a lot, but very much worse.

There were some good messages from quarantined celebrities this week, though. Let’s run through some of my favorites. We had Matthew McConaughey giving what feels like a halftime speech to a team that’s down 20, complete with the full McConaughey experience and hand gestures, from little flutters to connected fingers to show unity. Very solid.

Next up, Arnold Schwarzenegger smoking a cigar in his hot tub while wearing sunglasses and a hat that says “SHERIFF” and yelling at defiant spring break teens. I love this video very much. Even more than the one he posted earlier in the week that featured a surprise appearance by his mini-horses. This is the highest praise I know how to give.

And finally, here is Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins holding his cat Niblo. That’s all. He’s just holding the cat and talking to the camera. It’s somehow more effective than both the star-studded “Imagine” video and the movie Cats. Really impressive work.

More like these, please, celebrities.

ITEM NUMBER FOUR — Yup, that’ll do it

Getty Image

There’s a very good profile of Fiona Apple in the New Yorker this week, written by Emily Nussbaum. It’s full of insight and knowledge one acquires through, well, through being Fiona Apple for a number of decades now. You should read it. And when you read it, please be aware that it contains this passage in a section about her drug and alcohol use in the past:

She had quit cocaine years earlier, after spending “one excruciating night” at Quentin Tarantino’s house, listening to him and Anderson brag. “Every addict should just get locked in a private movie theatre with Q.T. and P.T.A. on coke, and they’ll never want to do it again,” she joked.

I mean… yeah. This one checks out. We need to figure out a way to recreate this as an immersive virtual reality experience and provide it to every rehab facility in America. We can save lives here, America.

ITEM NUMBER FIVE — My beloved Billions bastards are back, baby

Well well well, looks who’s back. And just in time. Perhaps you might argue that a show about morally-bankrupt one-percenters attempting to ruin each other at the expense of the public at large is not particularly helpful right now, in a time where the economy is going to hell and a few billionaires have probably figured out a way to profit off of it. I would argue the opposite. We need this. We need Billions. We need to watch these monsters tear each other apart. We need Wags, my sweetest mustache-twirling cretin.

I love this show so much. I can’t wait until it premieres in May in an otherwise barren entertainment landscape, with no movies in the theaters and no television shows in production, and we all agree to get way, way into Billions. That will be my time to shine. And Paul Giamatti’s. Me and Paul Giamatti, shining like diamonds as the world burns. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.

ITEM NUMBER SIX — THE OCHO

There are no sports right now. It’s a troubling state of affairs for me. I love basketball very much and spend the end of most nights in-season with a game on in the background as I drift off to sleep. I love March Madness very much, just for the chaos of it, like the time Florida Gulf Coast University dunked their way into America’s hearts. I even love baseball, the country’s most “I can enjoy this while reading a book” sport by far, surpassing even golf. Having no sports is really putting a hole in my life that I’m having trouble filling.

That’s why I was so pleased — giddy, even — to see that ESPN has decided to dig way, way into the vault for a special presentation of The Ocho, the yearly event where they take the fictional network from Dodgeball and make it real and just get weird as hell with it. A full day, 24 straight hours of weird sports, this Sunday. Highlights, per the press release, include:

Stupid Robot Fighting League: Created in New Zealand by John Espin (Yes, that is his actual name.), Stupid Robot Fighting is a rather unique form of fighting that pits two life-sized hanging puppets controlled by an operator sitting behind each Stupid Robot.

2019 Jelle’s Marble Runs: Races in which both participants and spectators are marbles.

Cherry Pit Spitting: The 46th Annual Cherry Pit-Spitting Competition is held each year in Eau Claire, Mich., with one goal for competitors—to spit the farthest cherry pit.

Sign Spinning: The 12th Annual World Sign Spinning Championship, held in Las Vegas, brought together AArrow Sign Spinners from more than 50 cities and a dozen countries to asses style, execution, and technical sign spinning ability.

2007 World Sport Stacking Championships: Sport stacking can be an individual or team sport where participants stack specially designed cups in predetermined sequences as fast as possible.

2019 Death Diving World Championship: An amateur diving sport performed from a 10m platform with separate competitions for Classic and Freestyle.

I really do recommend you click that link and peruse the full schedule. It’s magnificent. I will probably have this on all day. There’s something weirdly mesmerizing about it, how intense the competitors are about events that mean very much to them and very little to most of us. Slippery Stairs: College Tour at 8 p.m. is appointment viewing and, in a strange way, almost a perfect lead-in to Westworld on HBO at 9.

Watch this. Watch the people slip on the stairs. For self-care.

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.

From Anne Marie:

I feel like you may have answered this already but after the super danceable Better Call Saul montage on Monday, I gotta ask a) what your montage music would be and b) what, given the widest swath of blue sky imaginable, you’d be shown doing in each clip of your montage. You smack dab at the heart of a maple syrup heist, then trying to get on the podium after Foles Eli-ed Brady, then … ? The possibilities!

Oh wow, Anne Marie. What an interesting question. I’ve never thought about this before. I definitely haven’t been thinking about it for my entire life. Nope, no way. But I guess if I had to speculate about it…

THE YEAR IS 1986. I call into a local radio show with a witty and charming story filled with helpful advice. It becomes a whole thing. The station manager (lit cigar, tie loosened) demands that someone track me down because he’s facing a format change to easy listening and is furious about it and needs a miracle. I’m given my own show. This is where the montage starts. We have:

  • Shots of me taking calls from listeners
  • Shots of construction workers all over the city listening at lunch
  • Shots of businessmen in meetings pointing to charts that feature arrows rocketing toward the ceiling
  • Newspapers spinning toward the camera to display headlines like “LOCAL MAN BECOMES NATIONAL PHENOMENON”
  • Shots of the radio studio phone lines all lit up as the frazzled producer tries to answer them all
  • More charts, more spinning newspapers
  • Me getting fitted for expensive suits
  • People on the street recognizing me and giving me a thumbs up
  • Just so many charts and spinning newspapers
  • Me moving into a penthouse apartment that looks over the city

All set to “Push It To The Limit” from Scarface. But again, it’s not like I’ve spent years thinking about it or anything.

AND NOW, THE NEWS A GOOD VIDEO

This is usually the part of this column where I highlight some very dumb and/or silly news story, like a koala getting elected mayor or a diamond heist getting thwarted by a small child, neither of which have happened yet but both of which I have to assume will happen at some point, just based on a long enough timeline. It feels weird to do it this week, though. Even the fun news is kind of bad. Like, there was a toilet paper heist this week. Some dudes got caught with a whole tractor-trailer full of toilet paper. In a normal week, I am running with that sucker all the way to the horizon, good taste and good sense be damned. This week… ehhhhhhh. Less fun. Someone make a note to steal a truck filled with toilet paper maybe 6-8 months from now. Let’s pencil it in for October. I have the jokes right here. One of them just says “DUMP TRUCK.” Now just isn’t the time.

And so, instead, here is a very good stand-up set by a comedian named Gary Gulman, in which he recounts a fictional documentary about the process of abbreviating the names of all 50 states. You have to watch it. Shoutout to Dottie.

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