Am I the only soul who hasn’t seen Bryan Cranston blitz the world in Breaking Bad? I came to “Your Honor” hesitatingly: what if he isn’t the compelling actor everyone claims he is? I need not have fussed. Peter Moffat’s storyline, about a New Orleans judge facing impossible choices when his son is involved in the hit-and-run of a mob boss’s child, is riveting, a vehicle tailor made for an intense character actor, and Cranston nails each and every scene. Over ten leisurely episodes, the sinuous tale twists in a manner almost always unpredictable but just so right. The cinematography is atmospheric, the music thrums with portent, and New Orleans figures as a character in its own right. Amazingly for such a lead-actor-centered drama, the large supporting cast is uniformly excellent, with special mention due to Hunter Doohan’s sensitive-waif portrayal of the judge’s son and Michael Stuhleberg malevolence as the crime lord. In Australia, at least, the streamed version of Your Honor was drip fed week by week. I watched each episode the hour it hit my iPad, so thrilling was the experience.
A superb five-part Russell T. Davies creation, “It’s a Sin” unfolds the lives of three young gay men who hit London at the start of the 1980s, just before the Aids epidemic laid waste to that entire community. Colin is the quiet Welsh boy, played with devastating subtlety by Callum Scott Howells. Roscoe flees his Nigerian religious father; Omari Douglas nails his exuberant defiance. And the heart of the series is Olly Alexander playing the supremely hedonistic Ritchie from the Isle of Wight. Oh, and I must not forget Ritchie’s university friend Jill, played with heart-catching earnestness by Lydia West, who glues together the entire narrative. Not a moment is wasted as the three friends, living in the same house, careen through the eighties in a vivid blur of wild, funny, real events and scenes. It’s a Sin illumes both the era’s homophobia and Britain’s willfully neglectful Aids response, and heartbreak looms large, but mostly it is a celebration of life and love and belonging. Destined to remain a classic.
No one can keep up with Robert Pollard’s unique outflow of unique garage-rock-style music, in a bewildering array of identities, and in practice, I suspect, few do. It’s not that his profligacy is full of filler—his amalgam of singalong melodies, rough prog-infused guitar music, and freeform lyrics never bores—but true brilliance is steady yet only partial. I seem to listen to only a tenth of the blur of releases. Luckily, he always comes back to his first group, Guided By Voices, and often those releases return to the mother lode. His 33rd GBV album, “Earth Man Blues,” seems to have found lockdown life. Nominally mostly rejects from previous GBV releases, they cohere wonderfully into something that resembles a harsher concept album from the early Genesis days, the fifteen inventive tracks often buttressed with woozy synths. Intoxicating stuff, Earth Man Blues is Guided By Voices at its magical best. Highlights include the two minutes of raging, melodic garage pop of “Trust Them Now”; “Lights Out in Memphis (Egypt),” a five-minute wig-out flitting between ponderous guitar riffs and 60s-style voiceovers; and the short, off-kilter swooning pop of “Sunshine Girl Hello.”
Two decades ago, I did enough research into the world of hackers and cybersecurity to know about black hats and white hats and the dark, sometimes romantic world they inhabit. I even worked for a cyber protection company for a few months. Well, reading “This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race” is an eye opener. How the software/online world has transformed! That old slapdash, cowboy world changed when so many software holes became apparent that some of them, “day zeros,” became tagged as special; money lurched after them; governments joined the gold rush; America rampaged all over the world but then its enemies stole or reverse engineered its goodies; and suddenly here we are, in Nicole Perlroth’s world. Seven years of dogged, brilliant journalistic investigation into the murkiest depths have yielded a mind-blowing book of coverage and revelation. Essentially, Perlroth tells us, we are fucked, although, of course, she tells the tale far more elegantly, for she’s a superb, sprightly stylist. Backed by hundreds of interviews, peopled by emblematic hackers and mercenaries and spooks, Perlroth’s jaw-dropping narrative begs the question: why hasn’t much worse befallen the world’s online/software-driven infrastructure? Reading her recommendations for ameliorative action at the end suggests, to me at least, that the answer is: good fortune. This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends is one of 2021’s essential reads and a pleasure to consume at that.