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 — Explain yourself, Gustavo
I usually try to avoid spoiler-heavy discussions of recent episodes of television in the opening section of this column, but there’s no way around it this week. There is an important issue that needs to be discussed. It happened on Monday’s episode of Better Call Saul. I will attempt to explain it in a way that non-viewers will understand, but if you have yet to see the episode and plan to see it, go do that and then come back here.
Okay. For reasons relating to ongoing drug wars and subterfuge, Gus Fring — the ice-cold Chilean drug kingpin introduced in Breaking Bad who runs a chain of fried chicken restaurants as a cover — trashes and blows up one of his locations. The way he did it was wild and involved a kind of Rube Goldberg set-up with a frozen chicken on a sheet pan that was angled down toward a bubbling deep fryer in a kitchen that was filling up with gas rapidly. It was genius and kind of funny and until a few people reached out to me on Twitter about it, I did not see any issue.
Let’s jump back to the first episode of this season when Gus was discussing the construction of an industrial refrigerator for his restaurants as a cover for the actual construction of a drug-making superlab. Someone makes the mistake of referring to it as “a freezer.” This offends Gus Fring deeply, for reasons explained in this screencap, which I am including as evidence.
It will never not delight me that Gus takes such pride in the food at his restaurants even though their primary purpose is to give him cover to transport a massive amount of drugs through the American Southwest. He probably earns, what, five percent as much at these restaurants as he makes moving drugs for the cartel? Less? I am not joking when I tell you that I think about this as much as I think about, like, planning for my retirement.
Anyway, you see where this is going, right? Gus says his chickens are never frozen. And yet, when it came time to blow up his restaurant, he marched right into his cooler and pulled out a frosty bird. More evidence.
There are, as far as I can tell, three possibilities at play here.
- Possibility Number One: Gus Fring is a damn liar.
- Possibility Number Two: Gus Fring is not a liar and he froze this chicken special and by itself for the sole purpose of blowing up his restaurant, which is backed up by the fact that there is clearly only one chicken on a cling-wrapped sheet pan on the shelf.
- Possibility Number Three: I am thinking too much about this, by a lot.
Right now, after almost a full week of thought, I’m leaning toward a combination of numbers two and three. Part of my reasoning is the thing about the chicken being alone on the individually wrapped sheet pan. If he was freezing all of his chickens, he could have just pulled one out of the pile. No, this was planned out very deliberately. I like to think he spent no less than 25 minutes selecting the chicken he would use for the arson. The man is nothing if not meticulous.
The other part of my reasoning is that, for some reason, I don’t believe that Gus — a notorious drug dealer and murderer who may or may not have committed a number of war crimes in his native country before fleeing to America — would lie about or take shortcuts with the preparation of the food at the restaurant he runs to hide his lucrative narcotics business. Is that weird? Is it weird that I’m willing to accept him as a cold-blooded killer and criminal but not as a man who tries to pass off frozen chicken as fresh? I don’t think it is, which is itself pretty weird. Gus Fring has respect for a quality product. It’s the same with his meth and his chicken. It’s why he eventually brings in Walter White. The man demands the best and there are consequences for failing him.
Still, though. The chickens are “never” frozen? That’s been proven false. A more accurate statement would be “our product is never frozen unless I need to stage an explosion to blow up the restaurant as part of ruse involving my hated partner and nemesis in the drug cartel that employs me.” I guess that’s a bit of a mouthful, though. I’ll cut him a little slack, mostly because I’m terrified of him.
Look at this guy. Come on.
Freeze all the chickens you want, buddy. Just please do not hurt me.
ITEM NUMBER TWO — A perfect song
Adam Schlesinger passed away this week from complications related to the coronavirus. I’ll leave the eulogies to the people who were more familiar with his entire body of work, but it is important to note here and everywhere that the Fountains of Wayne frontman wrote the titular song from That Thing You Do!, a perfect little song in a mostly perfect little movie. It’s not just that the song was relentlessly catchy on its own, in the way that timeless pop songs often are. It was that the entire movie hinged on the song being relentlessly catchy. No pressure or anything.
My colleague Josh Kurp wrote a lovely tribute to the song this week that said all of this better than I have or can. Let’s blockquote him:
The drums! The harmonies! The hook! The bridge! Every time I hear it, I turn into Liv Tyler running down the street, losing her mind when she hears the song on the radio. “That Thing You Do!” sounds effortless, but it’s not like “I Want to Hold Your Hand”-level bops come out of nowhere; Schlesinger had to write a song from another era that you hear multiple times in its near-entirety, and if it wasn’t instantly irresistible and you didn’t believe it was the biggest song in the world, the entire movie would fall apart. (It’s one of the reasons, among many, that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip failed: the in-show sketches were supposed to be funny; they weren’t. Unlike 30 Rock, where “Fart Doctor” is intentionally awful, and therefore, hilarious.) “That Thing You Do!” was a 1960s song written for a 1990s movie that still sounds great in the 2020s. It’s timeless.
This is all correct. Let’s play this song all weekend. And a bunch of Schlesinger’s other songs. And let’s also try to remember to be better about honoring people while they’re alive, too. While they’re around to hear it. Tributes are great. Celebrations are better. I know it’s hard to think about that now, but try letting someone you admire know how important their work has been to you. Do it this weekend. Do it today. You never know, you know?
ITEM NUMBER THREE — Please kneel before the Queen of America
Ina Garten is the greatest. This much we knew already, although the video embedded above is a nice little refresher. Just the Barefoot Contessa quarantined at home in the Hamptons and mixing up a cocktail as big as her entire head. It’s perfect and beautiful. She’s one part Queen of America and one part everyone’s fun aunt, which I believe makes all of us second-tier princes and princesses, the kind that have money and jewels and castles but no actual responsibilities. The best kind. Queen Aunt Ina rules the land with her giant cocktails. The people love her and she loves the people.
This also gives us a great excuse to go back and read Choire Sicha’s wonderful profile of her from 2015. Does it give you some background on her rise to fame? It does. Does it feature hilariously alpha quotes from Martha Stewart? Yes, plenty of them. Does it include a number of paragraphs about her husband Jeffrey, a fascinating man who may or may not have secrets? I am pleased to report that it does. Here, look:
Jeffrey appears in the show as comic relief, a bumbling Jew doing big shtick. Ina likes to use the hashtag #drunkhubby to describe him on Instagram. In the season eight premiere, they’ve rented a house in Napa, so that, ostensibly, Ina can get away and Jeffrey can write a book. There is a whole subplot in one episode that amounts to absolutely nothing, in which Jeffrey, having flown in for Friday night chicken dinner, is filmed driving through the Napa roads. “I hope I can find the rental house,” he says, in an example of how people say everyday, totally acceptable things which then come off on the show — or, to be fair, on all such shows — as flat and deranged and even a little Lynchian. He really hopes he can find that rental house!
Haha, what a silly man. Who is also an extremely successful financial wizard. And again, may or may not have secrets.
Jeffrey Garten is not a bumbling idiot. He finds the house in Napa without difficulty. After all, any reasonably close reading of his resume suggests that he certainly either was, or equally likely was not, working for the CIA in Asia and Latin America for decades.
What a fascinating couple. I want to live in their guest house and observe them for weeks on end. Months, perhaps. Not even for a profile or a documentary. Just for my own curiosity. Especially when you consider this…
“Personally, I’m a big vegetable fan and I have to be very cautious of what I eat and how much I eat of it. And yes, have they had to come up to me and say ‘Chef, you’ve got two more locations today. You cannot have all the enchiladas’? And have they taken them out of my hands? Yes, they have.”
Ahhh, whoops. It appears I have accidentally included a quote from another Food Network icon, Guy Fieri, from a piece in Variety this week. I wonder how that happened? I guess we’ll never know. Or we will know because I will tell you: It happened because the visual of a producer yoinking an enchilada out of Guy Fieri’s hands has been cracking me up for days. Picture his face. He must have been so sad. Let Guy have his enchiladas!
I would pay top-tier boxing title fight PPV prices for a three-hour special where Guy and Ina criss-cross America in a Winnebago.
ITEM NUMBER FOUR — “Ba-wubb-ah bayyyyy-eth”
Two things that are true:
- Maya Rudolph’s pronunciation of the phrase “bubble bath” in character as Connie the Hormone Monstress on Big Mouth is one of the truly great things in the world and we should stop to remember that from time to time
- I have always wanted to see her say it in real life because — like all of the other voice actors on the show — she appears to be having an absolute blast with it
That wish was granted during the Big Mouth quarantine live-read that took place last weekend. Behold, a champion.
You know what? It’s exactly like I pictured it, right down to the puffed lips as she blasts out air on every hard b. I’m so happy and grateful I got to experience this. Dreams do come true.
ITEM NUMBER FIVE — I feel like this will help
Hey, do you like fun things that are probably good? Great, me too. That’s what I am happy to inform you that John Mulaney and Nick Kroll are embarking on a new project: a weekly podcast, in character as the maniacs from Oh, Hello, George St. Geegland and Gil Faison, who they played on Broadway and in a Netflix special and in the above clip, in which Mulaney, as St. Geegland, sets up a prank involving O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark and an absolutely mammoth tuna sandwich by saying “You’re about to get the second biggest surprise of your life.”
It’s a good bit. And that’s before you even get to the description of the podcast.
She was the People’s Princess and they were two men who hung out at Duane Reade. But now worlds have collided. From the stars of “Oh Hello, on Broadway” and the video taped version of “Oh, Hello on Broadway” comes a podcast on the life and death of Princess Diana.
Yes, this will do. This will do nicely. We’ve all earned this. Let’s enjoy.
If you have questions about television, movies, food, local news, weather, or whatever you want, shoot them to me on Twitter or at email@example.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.
I was looking for something to watch last week and for some reason your years-old recommendation of The Wine Show on Hulu popped into my head. I have now watched the entire first season of The Wine Show. It’s like televised Xanax. I would be fine with a version of heaven that is nothing but wine experts talking to Matthew Rhys and Matthew Goode about wine gadgets. This is me saying thank you for that.
I had forgotten about The Wine Show until I saw Danny’s email. I have now also watched multiple episodes of the show since then. “Televised Xanax” hits the nail on the head. Just two very charming British actors bouncing around Italy tasting wines and cracking jokes and doing poor James Bond accents whenever they try out a new gadget. It is especially wild to see Matthew Rhys in this if you only know him as the perpetually sad Russian spy he played on The Americans. He’s bearded and giggling and having the best time throughout the entire show. Total goofball, complete 180 from Philip Jennings.
Highest possible recommendation. Watch The Wine Show.
AND NOW, THE NEWS
To the Northwest!
A man was arrested Sunday after leading troopers on a high-speed chase with his dog sitting in the driver’s seat, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Patrol said.
Hmm. Go on.
The suspect was driving “absolutely recklessly,” and a pursuit ensued at 109 miles an hour, she said. One of the troopers attempted to corner the suspect’s car, looked inside and realized a pit bull was sitting in the driver’s seat while the suspect steered, Axtman said.
More. Tell me more.
Eventually troopers were able to use spike strips to end the pursuit. During the arrest, Axtman said the suspect gave them one explanation: He was “trying to teach his dog how to drive.”
If I were this guy’s lawyer, and if he is reading this please consider this an official offer, like I would blow the inch of dust off my decade-old law degree and fill out the mountain of paperwork to get active, I would make two arguments here: One, how can you charge my client with any traffic offense when the dog was the one driving? Two, how is the dog supposed to get good at driving if we don’t let him practice?
If neither of those work, I’ll start flinging around phrases like “in this economy” and “in these troubled times” until I see one member of the jury start nodding along. I’ve seen every episode of both Law & Order and Franklin & Bash. I can get a hung jury at least on this one. Probably an acquittal. I guarantee it.