Recommendations, 5/10

This week: eating chocolate, mediocre genre TV, radio plays, and absurdist 3D animation.


Last week I visited a farm on the Big Island of Hawaii that grows cacao trees. As part of the tour, I got to harvest a cacao pod (involving poles, machetes, and waist-mounted reed baskets–fun for about the first three or four pods, maybe not over a whole day of harvesting), hack it open with a knife, and taste raw cacao beans. I expected something mild and pleasantly earthy, sort of like eating a handful of cocoa nibs.


I was wrong. Each bean is covered in a slippery white rind, which tastes like a mix between lychee and durian. The bean itself is an eggplant-purple and chalky, like a Tums tablet. It also tastes exactly like Grannick’s Bitter Apple, a chewing deterrent for dogs that maybe some owners want to try to see just how bitter it actually is. (Tip: if you spray it directly onto your mouth it will make you throw up).

The take-away here? Simple: eat chocolate, and marvel at the amount of ingenuity, craftsmanship, and sheer physical labor that goes into turning these horrible little chalk-pods into something as wondrous as chocolate.


Over the past year I’ve become obsessed with podcasts. While there are some downsides — I’ve slowly weaned myself off of listening to music, which has led to the fear that I’m becoming my father, who will soon be listening to right-wing radio shows as they’re the only talk radio available in this town — there are some amazing shows, my favorite of which is The Thrilling Adventure Hour.

It’s a collection of comedy radio plays, though they are all recorded in a live stage show in Los Angeles. While there are many shows under the Thrilling Adventure Hour umbrella, the most easily accessible series are Beyond Belief, a Thin-Man style supernatural mystery series, and Sparks Nevada: Marshall on Mars, a sci-fi western.

I’ll admit that I’m particularly disposed to the medium — the only art that’s ever made me cry was a radio play, so they’re some type of emotional kryptonite — but these shows are both long-running, hilarious, and emotionally potent, and I laud them without hesitation.


Nick recently showed me David O’Reilly’s animated short film “External World,” which I somehow missed when it made the internet rounds in 2011. It was perhaps the strangest, most unexpected seventeen minutes of my life. You should watch it right now. I’ll wait.

Amazing, right?

I adore O’Reilly’s animation, which favors bright, soft colors and smooth shapes over detail and texture. But what really comes through here is his wicked sense of humor. “External World” is an outlandish universe, grounded in references to old cartoons and videogames. I don’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. The experience reminded me of my first viewing of Don Hertzfeldt’s Rejected or the original Adventure Time short so many years ago.

Speaking of which, Cartoon Network recently aired an episode of Adventure Time that was written and directed by O’Reilly called “A Glitch is a Glitch.” It’s a great fit: a weird universe, for O’Reilly to bend and color with confident, hilarious absurdity.


If you aren’t busy this weekend, I recommend two mediocre genre shows: Continuum and Grimm. Continuum is a Canadian export (the first series is on Netflix) with one neat twist to distract you from the underacting. The twist is that in the future, the bad guys are anti-corporate terrorists and the supposed hero works for some kind of monolithic GooglePolice. Sci-fi usually pits underdogs (or cyborgs) against powerful, soulless corporations (Omni Consumer Products, Weyland-Yutani, Tyrell Corporation, etc.). In Continuum our heroine (Rachel Nichols) is a corporate shill who time-travels back to 2012 with a group of 99%er revolutionaries. Aided only by her perpetually pained expression, her form-fitting wearable smartphone, and a Nerd Ex Machina (Erik Knudsen) perched in a nest of computers, she sets about trying to stop the bad guys from doing some kind of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff to the future. Continuum is a competent passer of time where, this being Canada, nobody gets too excited. The apocalypse is contemplated with about as much urgency as a Tim Horton’s menu.

Grimm (NBC Tuesdays) is also perfectly acceptable and mostly entertaining. In Grimm, various fairy-tale type creatures (called Wesen) walk, unseen, amongst the few remaining normals left in Portland, Oregon. (Most non-shifting, non-monsters move to Gresham, I guess.) And this guy, Nick (David Giuntoli) is a Grimm who can see the creatures as they really are. Also, there’s gonna be some murder mystery each week because, unlike the 10-episode series Continuum, the writers have to come up with 20+ episodes each season. Nobody seemed as surprised by Grimm’s success as the creators of the show: they re-invent characters, make-up strained “mythology” on the fly, and write characters off for weeks on end. And yet, Grimm is rather charming, due in no small part to Silas Weir Mitchell as a werewolf, excuse me, Blutbod. Mitchell was given the part of Mr. Exposition but transformed it into the most compelling character on Grimm. He is, as Mitchell has described him, “a complex dude.” An episode of Grimm won’t blow you away, but (thanks to Mitchell) it beats mowing the lawn.