Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A sweeping score, a tried-and-true comic, and a splendid video game series

Achewood's Phillippe

Carter Burwell’s Olive Kitteridge score

I hadn’t gotten around to watching HBO’s adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge by the time it came one award short of a clean sweep in the Limited Series categories at last year’s Emmys. With so much great television on, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get around to it, but I was certain I had to track down Carter Burwell’s terrific score after hearing snippets of it as Olive Kitteridge’s many winners walked to the stage to collect their awards. It hasn’t been made commercially available, which is a bummer because the only way to hear it is to visit Burwell’s website. But it’s worth the trip, since the piano-heavy compositions are as beautiful and emotive as anything Burwell has done. That’s high praise considering his long-running creative relationship with Joel and Ethan Coen, but apparently Frances McDormand is his muse. [Joshua Alston]



Pop culture writing is full of unnecessary, hyperbolic superlatives—the best this, the most important that, the worst whatever of all time. (I’m as guilty of it as anybody else.) So it’s with that understanding that I call Chris Onstad’s Achewood—a serialized story I’ve been reading for my entire adult life—one of the most emotionally powerful works of the 21st century. That’s some heavy baggage for a webcomic that’s ostensibly about cartoon cats telling each other dick jokes, but the long view on Onstad’s work—which stretches from 2001 all the way to today, as the strip dallies with the latest in a long line of tentative resurrections—bears it out. It’s all in the voices that Onstad has gifted to his characters, each completely distinct and human: Cocky Ray, prickish Pat, and Onstad’s depressive masterpiece, Roast Beef, a character who talks the way anxiety and depression feel, breathless and small. Onstad’s speech is stylized, in a way that would sound alien if spoken out loud, but which lives perfectly in the panel, and with which he expresses a cynical empathy for the ugly thoughts and worries that afflict the modern male. Case in point: the heart-breaking 2009 strip in which an anxiety-crippled Beef thinks about his marriage and reflects that, “Sometimes love is wondering if you’ve trapped an innocent person.”

That grasp of the characters’ speech patterns, and how they think, unifies the strip’s wildly varying tones and genres, which veer from action adventure, to sober reflections on mortality, to North Korean magical realism text adventure (as interpreted by a drunk, illiterate squirrel) whenever Onstad’s sometimes worryingly short attention span dictates. The strip’s other consistent feature, meanwhile, is the quality of the humor—after everything solidifies, anyway, sometime around 2003’s excellent starting point, “Oregon Trail”—with Onstad’s latest output (like a recent strip in which Lemmy-mourning Motörhead worshiper Lyle builds a ghoulish tribute to his fallen hero and declares, “He might be doin’ dead chicks in hell, but his death is our new roommate”) matching up to anything from the last 15 years of his work. [William Hughes]

Other Places

So often when we’re playing video games, we do so with our nose to the grindstone, and it’s easy to not notice the craft that goes into creating the environments around us. The living worlds of big-budget games are magnificent and meticulous creations, and it’s a shame the details of their visual splendor often go underappreciated. The YouTube series Other Places is a celebration of those settings and a revelatory way of seeing familiar video games from a different point of view. Created by Andy Kelly, these short videos treat virtual locations and landscapes like the stars of a meditative nature documentary. With evocative music playing in the background, Kelly composes arresting views of these places and lets his camera linger, leaving the games to breathe and live before moving on to the next scene. In some delightful cases, he’s even able to capture the idle lives of game characters—their rituals uninterrupted by some bumbling lunatic of a player. Kelly’s shot more than 50 games so far across his 62 Other Places videos, and is currently running a Patreon to keep the series going. [Matt Gerardi]


Share This Story

Get our newsletter