We’ve reached the final Friday edition of Popculturology for 2023 — and it’s a newsy one. But before we jump into the pop culture news of the past week, a few quick bits …
While I’m now questioning if Apple TV+’s For All Mankind has crashed and burned (I haven’t watched today’s episode yet, so there’s always the chance it pulled a miraculous 180), I can confidently say that Monarch: Legacy of Monsters has become one of the best shows on the streaming service.
Absolutely impressive storytelling and special effects that the team has been pulling off on television. Here’s to Chris Black and Matt Fraction for developing the show, Mairzee Almas and Karl Greenfeld for directing and writing the episode “Terrifying Miracles,” Leopold Ross for his score and the wizards creating the special effects.
“We didn’t kill it. Jesus Christ, we didn’t kill it.” Chills from that line by Wyatt Russell’s Lee Shaw.
Rick and Morty wrapped up its seventh season over the weekend, the first without Justin Roiland involved in the show in any capacity. I know that there’s a bit of exhaustion when it comes to Rick and Morty, but I thought this season was a lot more cohesive than past seasons.
Caitlin and I began our annual Lord of the Rings rewatch on Wednesday night. (Not sure how these films became holiday viewings, but it seems to be a thing.) The past few years, we’ve watched the films via whatever streaming service they’re on. This year, I broke out the 4K Blu-rays of the original trilogy. (Physical media, folks!)
Not only do the special effects in the Lord of the Rings movies hold up two decades later — and in 4K! — they look better than the special effects in movies that have come out in 2023.
I still don’t understand how Peter Jackson went from this ageless quality of work to giving us the PlayStation 3-grade special effects in the Hobbit trilogy.
On Wednesday, I republished my chat with Brian Jay Jones from last year where we did a deep dive on A Muppet Family Christmas — the greatest holiday special that you also weirdly can’t watch in any official way. Talking with Jones, who wrote the definitive Jim Henson biography, remains one of my favorite things I’ve done since relaunching Popculturology in 2022. Check it out below in case you missed it earlier this week.
As always, thanks for reading Popculturology. Whether you’ve been a reader since the beginning or have just discovered this newsletter, I’m always appreciative that you’ve welcomed me into your inboxes or apps or browsers during 2023.
I love having this outlet to share my thoughts on pop culture, and I’ve loved seeing the number of people subscribing to this newsletter grow.
Thanks for 2023. Here’s to 2024.
Popculturology will be off until Jan. 5, 2024. I hope you all have (and are having) a great holiday season. Please enjoy Ryan Gosling singing a Christmas version of “I’m Just Ken.”
NEWS, NOTES AND TRAILERS
Guilty of assault and harassment, Jonathan Majors dropped from the MCU
With a guilty verdict now on the books, Jonathan Majors’ time in the Marvel Cinematic is over. Shortly after news broke that the actor was found guilty of assault and harassment, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Majors has been dropped by Marvel Studios. Read the story at The Hollywood Reporter.
(Covering real stories about assault and violence through the lens of “BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR THE MCU?!” makes me squeamish, but that angle is unavoidable here.)
Let’s take a quick step back and look at how Marvel and Majors reached this point:
July 14, 2021: Majors makes his MCU debut, playing He Who Remains (a variant of Kang) in Loki’s Season 1 finale.
Feb. 17, 2023: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania premieres. In addition to playing Kang the Conquerer, a credits scene teases Majors as an infinite number of Kang variants.
March 25, 2023: Majors is arrested on charges of strangulation, assault and harassment.
Oct. 19, 2023: The Loki Season 2 episode “1893” premieres. Majors plays Victor Timely, a variant of He Who Remains. “It felt hasty to do anything without knowing how all of this plays out,” Loki executive producer Kevin Wright told Variety when asked whether Marvel had thought of making changes to the show after Majors’ arrest.
Dec. 18, 2023: Majors is found guilty of assault and harassment. Marvels drops the actor.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “the studio intends to move forward with the film.” No word yet on whether Marvel will recast the role of Kang/He Who Remains/Victor Timely or if they’ll shift gears to a new villain like Doctor Doom for the Multiverse Saga. A Variety report back in November claimed that Marvel was exploring both options.
A dynasty unraveled? While the next Avengers movie was publicly revealed last summer to be titled Avengers: The Kang Dynasty, The Hollywood Reporter notes that at Marvel, it’s “now being referred to as Avengers 5.” Based on the original title, Majors was going to be the lead villain (or, going by the whole variants angle, lead villains) in that one. We already got a glimpse of the multiverse of Majorses with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’s credits scene.
Keeps the Doctor away: I get that a lot of people want to see Marvel shift gears to Doctor Doom. With a Fantastic Four reboot on the way before Avengers 5, it would make sense. But just recast Kang. There are so many talented actors out there without baggage.
Marvel’s move: Marvel Studios had stayed quiet on Majors since his arrest. Season 2 of Loki was released without any changes to Majors’ role in it. But with a conviction and possibly jail time on the horizon, it looks like Marvel was finally ready to cut Majors loose.
Why did Marvel stick with Jonathan Majors for so long? looks into the delay game Marvel played with Majors in his most recent edition of his Commentary Track newsletter.
Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount talk merger
One of Hollywood’s biggest (and more controversial) studios is possibly on the verge of getting bigger. Axios reported on Wednesday that Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount are discussing a possible merger.
The report reveals that WBD CEO David Zaslav and Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish met on Tuesday to discuss a deal. “WBD’s market value was around $29 billion as of Wednesday, while Paramount's was just over $10 billion, so any merger would not be of equals,” Axios notes.
News of a WBD/Paramount merger comes less than two years after Discovery, Inc. completed its acquisition of WarnerMedia from AT&T. Read the article at Axios.
- The haul: Warner Bros. Discovery already controls the Warner Bros. film/TV studio (Superman, Batman, Harry Potter, Sesame Street, Looney Toons …), DC Comics, CNN, HBO, TNT and a majority stake in the Food Network in addition to the Max streaming app. Merging with Paramount Global would add the Paramount film/TV studio (Mission: Impossible, Transformers, Star Trek, Yellowstone …), CBS and a bunch of cable networks that include Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon in addition to the Paramount+ streaming app.
- Too big to flail: There’s been a lot of speculation the past few months that WBD was ripe to be bought itself. An October report from Variety named Universal as a likely candidate. (Is WBD making a play for Paramount a move to make it too big to acquire?) Looks like Zaslav is still in the driver’s seat. Is he a trustworthy driver? Do we want him in control of Paramount’s library? Lots of new things to delete over there all for a tax write-off …
Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes jumps 300 years into the future
When the impressive first trailer for Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes debuted a few weeks ago, there was the question of just how far after War for the Planet of the Apes did this film take place. Did humanity completely fall in a generation? A hundred years?
Try 300 years.
Empire revealed this week that the upcoming Apes sequel is set three centuries after Caesar led his revolution against mankind, with the film focused on Noa.
“Noa has no idea who [Caesar] is,” Owen Teague, the actor performing Noa, told Empire. “Part of his journey is a discovery of that legacy and its various interpretations. Noa has to make sense of what it all means.”
“There’s always some type of tyrant who comes along”: We got a glimpse of Proximus Caesar, the film’s villain, in that first trailer. He’s played by Kevin Durand, who I’ll always remember as Martin Keamy on Lost.
“Caesar is almost a religious figure, and Proximus has taken on the name Caesar because it was the highest position held in ape society,” Durand told Empire. “It was a self-proclamation that was achieved by any means necessary, to ensure that apes continue to evolve. So you’re seeing the influence and the evolution of what Caesar left. And, like in every morsel of human history, there’s always some type of tyrant who comes along and scares everyone into believing them.”
Future stories — but maybe from other directors: With Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes director Wes Ball next tackling a Legend of Zelda film for Nintendo, his involvement in any future Apes sequels seemed to be up in the air. (Matt Reeves didn’t take on any new projects between directing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes.) Ball acknowledged to Empire that someone else might step in as the franchise moves forward, telling them that “I’m certainly talking to [the studio] right now about the next story,” but “I have other movies I want to make.”
Unlikely inspiration: Ball also told Empire that he pitched his take on the film as “Apocalypto with apes.” Yes, the Mel Gibson film.
🎞️ What If…? Season 2 kicks off today
A new episode of What If…? goes live on Disney+ every day from now until Dec. 30.
Curb Your Enthusiasm returns for its final season in February
The speculation that the upcoming season of Curb Your Enthusiasm would be the show’s final outing turns out to be true. HBO recently announced that Larry David’s sitcom will return for its twelfth and final season on Feb. 4, 2024.
“As Curb comes to an end, I will now have the opportunity to finally shed this ‘Larry David’ persona and become the person God intended me to be — the thoughtful, kind, caring, considerate human being I was until I got derailed by portraying this malignant character,” David said in a statement. “And so ‘Larry David,’ I bid you farewell. Your misanthropy will not be missed. And for those of you who would like to get in touch with me, you can reach me at Doctors Without Borders.”
I assume we should have a trailer soon …
FX puts a stake in What We Do in the Shadows
Speaking of final seasons, the upcoming sixth season of What We Do in the Shadows will be its last. Vulture broke the news on Tuesday, citing an FX source.
Look, if you haven’t been watching What We Do in the Shadows, I don’t think we can be friends. One of the best shows on TV these past few years, What We Do in the Shadows has found new ways to repeatedly reinvent itself with each new season. It also gave us Matt Berry as Laszlo Cravensworth.
Frank Darabont might direct a few Stranger Things episodes
Frank Darabont is no stranger to horror movies and shows. In addition to being the original showrunner for The Walking Dead, Darabont wrote and directed adaptions of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist. (Stephen King has even said that he likes Darabont’s ending to The Mist better than his own ending.)
According to a new report, Darabont will get a crack at one of pop culture’s biggest current horror franchises: Stranger Things. The InSneider reported on Tuesday that Darabont is in talks to direct two episodes of the Netflix hit’s final season.
🎞️ Echo to premiere earlier
Echo is going to set some new ground for the MCU. In addition to being presented as one of the more violent movies or shows in the MCU (there’s a lot punching in the trailer below), it’s also going to premiere all five episodes on both Disney+ and Hulu.
Love the little reminder at the end of this trailer to make sure your Disney+ account is set to allow access to MA-14 content.
James Gunn debunks news that Pom Klementieff has joined Superman: Legacy
I’ve said it before in this newsletter, and I’ll say it again: I love how open James Gunn is when it comes to addressing casting news on his films. The DC Studios co-chief was at it again last week when he took to social media to debunk a report that Pom Klementieff had joined Superman: Legacy in an unknown role.
“Despite Pom being one of my favorite actors to work with, this is 100% not true,” Gunn said of the news that his Guardians of the Galaxy buddy had been cast. “Not only is Pom not in the movie, but no one has ever even discussed her being in the movie, nor do I have any idea what role she would possibly play.” Read the post on Threads.
THR tries again: After Gunn’s pushback, The Hollywood Reporter scrambled its original story, erasing any mention of Klementieff (they admitted to the mistake in an endnote) but sticking with their assertion that Miriam Shor, another one of Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’s actors, had joined Legacy. Read the story at The Hollywood Reporter.
“It’s not looking too good”: You’d be forgiven for thinking Jason Momoa was talking about Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’s box office chances with that quote, but he was actually discussing the possibility of playing the title character again.
“The truth of it is, I mean, if the audience loves it, then there’s a possibility,” Momoa told Entertainment Tonight. “But right now, I’m like, ‘It’s not looking too good.’” Read the article at Entertainment Tonight.
“Not a lot of requests”: You know who definitely won’t be reprising a DCEU role in the future? George Clooney. The Batman & Robin actor made it clear to The Hollywood Reporter that his cameo in The Flash was a one-off. Read the article at The Hollywood Reporter.
New episodes of Bluey coming to America
Sorry, to clarify, these aren’t new new episodes of Bluey. They’re episodes of Bluey that have already premiered in Australia but will be new to Disney+.
The ten episodes that American audiences will now officially (some of us have already watched these episodes thanks to the magic of the Internet) be able to watch on Jan. 12, 2024, are: “Cubby,” “Exercise,” “Relax,” “Stickbird,” “Show & Tell,” “Dragon,” “Wild Girls,” “TV Shop,” “Slide” and “Cricket.”
The release of these ten Bluey episodes is on top of “The Sign,” the 28-minute episode that will premiere simultaneously around the world sometime in 2024. (Rad and Frisky getting married? Chilli having another baby? Grandad dies?)
Jeopardy! cuts ties with Mayim Bialik
After a wave of turmoil after longtime host Alex Trebek’s death (the Mike Richards fiasco …), Jeopardy! seemed to have settled into a routine where Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik were splitting hosting duties.
That plan was upset over the past few months, with Mialik refusing to shoot new episodes while the writers were on strike. With both the writers and actors strikes over, it looked like Jeopardy! would be able to return to normal, but it appears that the show’s new normal is now without Bialik.
The former Big Bang Theory star announced last week that she has been let go from hosting duties by Jeopardy!
“As the holiday break begins in Hollywood, I have some Jeopardy! news,” Bialik wrote on Instagram. “Sony has informed me that I will no longer be hosting the syndicated version of Jeopardy!”
- “Maintain continuity for our viewers”: Sony released a statement on Bialik’s departure, saying: “We made the decision to have one host for the syndicated show next season to maintain continuity for our viewers, and Ken Jennings will be the sole host for syndicated Jeopardy!. We are truly grateful for all of Mayim’s contributions to Jeopardy!, and we hope to continue to work with her on primetime specials.” (via TVLine)
- Reasoning: Beyond Sony’s statement, speculation over why Bialik was let go has been bouncing around the Internet. An MSNBC piece touches on Bialik not crossing picket lines, her “past statements about vaccines and birth control” and her thoughts on the Israel-Hamas War. Read the piece at MSNBC.
Platonic surprisingly gets a second season
I enjoyed Platonic. Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen are always fun together, and they still have the chemistry that made Neighbors (and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising) a success. I’m not sure the show needs a second season, though …
Apple TV+ announced last week that it had picked up Platonic for a second season, defying what seemed like a pretty clean ending for the series after its Season 1 finale.
“We’re so thrilled to have the opportunity to tell more stories with Seth, Rose and everyone at Apple TV+ and Sony,” Platonic co-creators Nick Stoller and Francesca Delbanco said in a statement. “Season two spoiler alert: Will and Sylvia won’t get together this time either.”
Jon Hamm finally gets his own Apple TV+ show
There was a commercial a year or so ago featuring Jon Hamm lamenting how he was the only actor who didn’t have a show on Apple TV+. While Hamm sort of checked off that box with a supporting role in The Morning Show, the former Mad Men actor will soon have his very own Apple TV+ show.
The streamer announced last week that Hamm will star in Your Friends and Neighbors, playing “Coop, a recently divorced hedge fund manager who, after being fired, resorts to stealing from the wealthy residents in his tiny upstate New York suburb in order to keep his family’s lifestyle afloat. These petty crimes begin to reinvigorate him until he breaks into the wrong house at the wrong time.”
You can also currently catch Hamm in the fantastic fifth season of Fargo.
Jacob Elordi to host SNL
Saturday Night Live is taking a monthlong break, going dark until Jan. 20, 2024. When the show returns, Euphoria and Priscilla star Jacob Elordi will host for his first time. Mean Girls (the movie based on the musical based on the movie) star Reneé Rapp will be the musical guest.
Cut for time: Molly Kearney’s wild family holidays
SNL has used Molly Kearney sparingly this season, which is unfortunate since they landed some great bits over their freshman season. (Remember the time Lorne Michaels sent Kearney out to kill Vladimir Putin?)
Kearney’s Weekend Update appearance was cut for time this past weekend, but it’s definitely worth the watch. Major Melissa McCarthy energy with the bit of physical comedy that closes out the appearance.
- Zack Snyder, the Director People Love to Hate (Dave Itzkoff, The Atlantic)
- See You in 2025? Box Office May Take $2B Hit Next Year Amid Delays (Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter)
- “You Better Be as Good as Letterman!” Conan O’Brien’s Wild First Year: An Oral History (Andrew Buss, The Hollywood Reporter)
- Oppenheimer 4K Blu-rays Sold Out in One Week. So Why Are Retailers Pulling Physical Media Off of Their Shelves? (Todd Gilchrist, Variety)
- The 84 Sentences That Explain 2023 (The Ringer)
- My Ketamine Clinic Visit Was Absolutely Terrifying (James Hebberd, The Hollywood Reporter)
- Elon Musk’s Big Lie About Tesla Is Finally Exposed (Ed Niedermeyer, Rolling Stone)
- McDonald’s Ice Cream Machine Hackers Say They Found the ‘Smoking Gun’ That Killed Their Startup (Andy Greenberg, Wired)
AND FINALLY …
John Oliver breaks down Elon Musk
Despite his show repeatedly winning Emmys over Seth Meyers and Late Night, John Oliver does good work. During his final show of the year, Oliver tackled the Elon Musk problem, breaking down the billionaire’s year of bad decisions and outsized role across several American industries.
“Even if you think Elon is a net positive, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about the harm he’s doing along the way,” Oliver said of Musk during Last Week Tonight.
- Masterful gambit, sir: Musk, ever the master of a good joke, responded on Twitter: “Oliver was great several years ago, but stopped being funny when he sold his soul to wokeness where humor is basically illegal.”
Cookie Monster picks the best type of cookies
Yes, a second entry in the “AND FINALLY …” category kind of defies the theme (it would be like Steve Jobs announcing “one second more thing” at the end of an Apple keynote), but it’s the holiday season so enjoy watching Cookie Monster giving Bon Appétit’s Chris Morocco a hard time.