Review: 'The Prom' : Pop Culture Happy Hour Based on a sudsy, splashy 2018 Broadway musical, The Prom has been adapted for Netflix with big stars like Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Keegan Michael-Key and James Corden. But will the theater-people in-jokes land in your living room the way they did on Broadway?
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Let Us Be Your +1 To 'The Prom'

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Let Us Be Your +1 To 'The Prom'

Let Us Be Your +1 To 'The Prom'

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LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Hi. I'm Linda Holmes. I'm here with our newest addition to the POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR team, Aisha Harris. Hi, Aisha.

AISHA HARRIS, HOST:

Hey, Linda.

HOLMES: So I have to tell you something that we haven't talked about yet too much. As you may have realized, we here at POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR feel it's very important to be able to have a pet that you can show during our daily meetings. So I ask you the important question - do you have a pet who will be available to visit with us during our daily meetings?

HARRIS: All the time. I have two, in fact, Liz Lemon and Lucille Two (laughter).

HOLMES: Liz Lemon and Lucille Two - you have two television-themed dogs.

HARRIS: I do. I do. They are lovely, and they are getting along splendidly.

HOLMES: I knew that we made the right choice in adding you to the team. I've been delighted to have you with us. This is the first time you've participated in this part of the year, when we ask folks to support our work and the rest of NPR and the public radio system by going to their local station and donating there. You can do that at the link donate.npr.org/happy.

Aisha, I'm sure you will have noticed that our producers are able to set us up with all kinds of wonderful things that make it possible for us to record at home.

HARRIS: Yes. Now that we're recording at home, we have to basically create our own little studio setup. And it's been really great to be able to do that. And one of the ways we've been able to do that is because of the donations that everyone sends us. So everyone should donate and make us happy.

HOLMES: That's right. Make us happy this week.

HARRIS: (Laughter).

HOLMES: Go and find us at donate.npr.org/happy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HARRIS: The new Netflix film "The Prom" is based on a splashy 2018 Broadway musical about four self-obsessed, self-satisfied New York theater actors who descend on a small town in Indiana, uninvited, to rally behind a young woman named Emma who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom.

GLEN WELDON, HOST:

The film's directed by Ryan Murphy. It's his first musical. And the Broadway cast has been swapped out for big names like Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, Keegan-Michael Key and - you knew this was coming - James Corden.

HARRIS: Just like the Broadway show, the film is packed with theater people in-jokes. But will they land in your living room the way they did in a big theater packed with row upon row of eager Broadway nerds? I'm Aisha Harris.

WELDON: And I'm Glen Weldon. We're talking about the prom on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.

Here with me and Aisha from his home in New York City is culture critic and reporter Mark Blankenship, who is also the co-author of the new book "Madonna: A to Z." Welcome back, Mark.

MARK BLANKENSHIP: Hi. Thank you. Glad to be here.

WELDON: And from her home in Boston is Margaret H. Willison, who is one half of the Two Bossy Dames newsletter and one third of the "Appointment Television" podcast. Hey, Margaret.

MARGARET H WILLISON‏: Hi, Glen. So nice to be here.

WELDON: Great to have you.

All right. Let's do some table setting. You've got Emma, played by Jo Ellen Pelman. Her girlfriend Alyssa, played by Ariana DeBose, is still in the closet. And the couple plans to use the prom as a coming-out event. Alyssa's mother, played here by Kerry Washington, is the head of the PTA. She cancels the prom, turning Emma into a pariah. Meanwhile, back in New York, Broadway diva Dee Dee Ellen - that's Meryl Streep - and the flamboyant Barry Glickman, played by the great ubiquity, the inescapable inevitability that is James Corden...

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: ...Along with pals played by Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells, decide they need to power wash their tarnished reputations by adopting a cause. And Emma fits the bill.

Aisha, as we mentioned, this thing is a pile-up of theater people making fun of theater people. There's a joke that - where the punchline is a Drama Desk Award.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: Did it work for you?

HARRIS: Overall, it definitely worked for me. As a theater person, I really enjoyed all the nods to Fosse. There's a moment where Dee Dee Allen talks about trying to silence someone in the audience who was using their cellphone. And then it turns out to be Dee Dee Allen...

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: ...Whose cellphone went off during her performance. So I really appreciated those super nerdy in-jokes.

I did not see the original Broadway run of this, so this is all new to me. And I appreciated it. Now, I will say - I understand what part of the point of the show is that these are narcissists. It's a critique of the way in which celebrities try to jump on causes, especially in this era now when we all need to be somewhat socially conscious or your fans will come for you if you aren't or if you pretend that you don't live in a world where politics is happening.

At the same time, I do feel like I came away from this feeling as though Emma is the least interesting character. And I wish she had a little bit more personality beyond just being gay.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: Like, what is she - like, what kind of music is she into? Is she, like, a nerd who's into anime. Or does she - like, does she have any sort of personality outside of being this, like, symbol? And the show/movie tried to have it both ways in which she specifically says, like, I don't want to be a symbol, I don't want to be this cause celebre. That's not what I want to be. And I appreciate that. And I don't think she necessarily had to be someone who wanted to be, like, this social justice warrior. In fact, I think it works because she isn't. But I wish she had been more than just this, like, thing for these other characters to hang their hat on. Like, it feels like, as progressive as this show and movie are, it does feel as though it still comes back to being all about these characters, even though they often say, it's not about me.

But I really did appreciate the music, the performances. I loved Meryl Streep when she's funny. I know we all love to give her awards for the most part when she's not. But to me, like, peak Meryl Streep is when she is hamming it up, when she is playing this diva. And she's got pretty good pipes. So more of that from Meryl Streep, please.

WELDON: Absolutely. Absolutely. Mark, I do want to get to your general impressions, but let me start off by asking what James Corden is doing here.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

JAMES CORDEN: (As Barry Glickman, singing) Your whole look could use a shake-up. You can borrow all my makeup and the pair of Spanx I currently have on.

JO ELLEN PELLMAN: (As Emma) I think I'll pass.

WELDON: Is it a hate crime or a war crime? Do we, as queer people, need to involve the Hague? - I guess is my question here.

BLANKENSHIP: OK. It's a complicated situation that we find ourselves in to have a straight actor like James Corden, playing not just a gay character, but like a swishy, Paul Lynde-adjacent, stereotypical gay character. I look at this role, and I remember what Brooks Ashmanskas did when he was on Broadway, and I look at what James Corden did. And I think the problem is less with a straight actor playing it, and it's more about an actor with less sensitivity to nuance playing it because I think that James Corden's performance just scratches the surface level of what Barry Glickman is. It's very easy to just leave him as being nothing but fabulous and you left your phone in your wig, diva - like, OK, sure, yes.

But Brooks Ashmanskas was able to invest that with more pathos. I can't believe I'm using the word pathos with connection to "The Prom," but here we are. If James Corden had actually found any of the layers that Brooks Ashmanskas had found in the role, I don't think I would be as mad. So I think it's not a war crime because a war crime is horrible in all cases. But I think this is just a specific type of art crime that could have been avoided.

WELDON: I see. I see. General impressions, then - what'd you think?

BLANKENSHIP: Yeah, I like "The Prom." I saw it twice on Broadway. That's partially because at the time I was working for a company that was doing marketing for "The Prom." I didn't work on "The Prom" directly. But because I was adjacent to them, I got to go. It's fine. I don't think that it's a masterpiece. Like, it makes me cry at the end because, like, sweet homosexuals finding love is very charming and moves me. And like the inevitable scene where the parents are like, I love you, gay child, and everyone cries and dances - great. I'm a sucker for that. I can't complain.

I feel like, though, that "The Prom" has a fundamental tone problem that, Aisha, you were getting at, which is are we a serious show about politics and rights, or are we a funny show where we skewer the arrogance of actors? I think to borrow your phrase, it wants to have it both ways a lot. And I think that this movie very often collapses under its attempt to be both sincere and cutting. And I found myself wishing that it had just made some tonal decisions. Going back, also, to Aisha's comments about Jo Ellen Pellman's performance, this is the first number that she has in the show. She has just been the recipient of some intense homophobic bullying at her school where there's, like, a stuffed animal with a knife in it and some hateful graffiti on a Post-it note, and cheerleaders are telling her that she's terrible. And this is how she responds to that hellish treatment.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

PELLMAN: (As Ellen, singing) Note to self, don't be gay in Indiana. Big heads-up - that's a really stupid plan. There are places where it's in to be out, maybe San Francisco or thereabout. But in Indiana, without a doubt, if you're not straight, then guess what's bound to hit the fan.

BLANKENSHIP: I just feel like that is a bit sunny. And there's an actual sunbeam that hits the actress when that scene happens - like, an actual sunbeam. And she's just smiling like she just won a puppy. And I feel like that tonal confusion frustrated me throughout most of the film.

WELDON: Yeah. That sunbeam hit her. I thought, Ryan Murphy, there you are.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: I didn't notice you before, but there you are. All right. Thank you, man. Margaret, I'm curious to get your take. I'll be honest, I'm hoping you liked it. I'm not sure that you did. What'd you think?

WILLISON‏: Oh, I'm so sorry, Glen. I did not. I didn't prefer it, no. So to build on some of the things that Aisha and Mark have said so far, in addition to not really developing Emma, I don't think we get any sense of the Indiana that she's living in - which is a really huge story problem because to go from we're going to leave a stuffed animal stabbed in your locker to, oh, Andrew Rannells sang us one song about biblical hypocrisy, and now we think you're great, it completely robs the story of any stakes. Like, if it was always this easy for the homophobia of the town to be set aside, then what's the story? And I think that that comes down to, like, you have no idea what's driving any of the characters in Indiana to make any of the choices that they make. And it's because you don't have any sense of what that community is actually like.

And then, second, in terms of the layers of the characters, always when you're turning a Broadway musical into a movie, there's this tug of war. Are we going to cast Broadway actors, or are we going to cast movie actors? And a lot of the times the argument for movie actors is, well, they're more capable of conveying nuance on film. You know, theater is such a broad, big thing, but here they'll know how to work with the camera. I didn't find that to be true of any of the big movie stars playing the Broadway stars. We were getting that same sort of undifferentiated broadness. We weren't really getting a lot of emotional nuance or grounding, and it just kept me at a remove from the story, those two things. And if you're at a remove from it, it's not like it's a brilliantly constructed musical in and of itself. And with a Ryan Murphy production, it's going to be all over the place.

BLANKENSHIP: Yeah.

WELDON: Absolutely. One of the jokes at the top of the show is that they are incredibly condescending toward the flyover states. And then we get this weird cutaway joke where they go to a monster truck rally. So it's exactly as you guys were saying, they're trying to have it both ways. They're they're making fun of the fatuousness of these actors. At the same time, they are doing some things to underscore it.

But as for me, I mean, let's talk process. I was a theater critic for years, and partly as a result of that, I'm always going to be on board for making fun of actors, of theater people, of the preciousness, of the self-importance. I have attended I don't know how many cast parties and heard variations of the sentiment, I know I'm changing lives, delivered with this gravid sincerity. So everything about that, especially that opening number, clicked for me right away. I know these people. I mean, these characters are turned up to 11, yes. But the people they're based on are already working at 10, so it's not that big a deal. So for me, this thing is what we big-time professional cultural critics call a hoot. That is the term of art. I love the Broadway stuff a lot more than the high school stuff. But that tracks because I love Broadway and I hate high school.

So I would find my attention lagging whenever we were focusing on just the kids. But then a song would kick in, and I for one would be locked right back in because I find these songs insanely catchy. We should mention the music's by Matthew Sklar and the lyrics by Chad Beguelin. I mean, I have called out these lyrics before on the show. It means this tour de force will not be forced to tour. Tour de force, forced to tour - that's amazing. And if you can watch this thing and not have one thing's universal, life's no dress rehearsal bouncing around in your head for weeks afterwards, you have a stronger constitution than I do. My vote here for stealth MVP is Keegan-Michael Key, who plays the principal of the school who is also a heterosexual fan of Dee Dee Allen, which makes some kind of a unicorn. And I think on Broadway, that part got a little overshadowed through no fault of the actor Michael Potts, who was great. But I think he was directed to play it as the only adult in the room. You know, he's a lot more reserved, more grounded. Key is really leaning into the fanboy elements much harder. He's more flat-out comedic, which just matches the tone of the show. I mean, it's a varying tone, but I think that's what happened. Now, Meryl, hot take - she's good. Hot take from Weldon.

BLANKENSHIP: What?

HARRIS: (Laughter).

BLANKENSHIP: Hold on.

WELDON: She goes for it. We've got a clip of the song that Dee Dee sings when she shows up to that PTA meeting for the first time. And she just nails, in that opening verse, everything that makes the character who she is.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

MERYL STREEP: (As Dee Dee Allen, singing) I know what's going on here. And frankly, I'm appalled. I read three-quarters of a news story and knew I had to come. And unless I'm doing "The Miracle Worker," I won't play blind, deaf and dumb.

WELDON: Da-da-da-da-da-da (ph).

BLANKENSHIP: Meryl slayed that vocal right there, P.S.

HARRIS: Yes, yes.

WELDON: She really did. I think she did "The Lady's Improving" a little bit better. But I want to make one thing clear, the least interesting, the least meaningful, the least useful, certainly, thing that we could do is sit here and just keep comparing the film to the Broadway production because just logistically - right? - the Broadway show was seen by a few thousand, hundred thousand - I don't know math - but like, a certain number of people. And this thing has the potential to be seen by millions. So what's the point? You're just saying, oh, the Broadway show is better. Also, that show was basically written for the two theater actors who were its two main roles, Brooks Ashmanskas and Beth Leavel. So why waste everybody's time just comparing Meryl Streep's performance to Beth Leavel's? Here's why.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S NOT ABOUT ME")

BETH LEAVEL: (As Dee Dee Allen, singing) I know what's going on here. And frankly...

WELDON: Listen to that tone. Listen to the clarity. It's like a bell.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S NOT ABOUT ME")

LEAVEL: (As Dee Dee Allen, singing) ...I read three-quarters of a news story and knew I had to come. And unless, I am doing "The Miracle Worker"...

WELDON: Wait for it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S NOT ABOUT ME")

LEAVEL: (As Dee Dee Allen, singing) ...I won't play blind, deaf and dumb.

WELDON: Now, Mark, I know, yes, Meryl Streep did great on that. But her voice just isn't Broadway. It doesn't have that clarity of tone. It's a little raspier. And when I heard they were making this film, I was really excited. I mean, Ryan Murphy seemed random, but OK. Then, the casting announcements come. And I get it, this is how Hollywood works. And I mean it, I have nothing against James Corden who, by all accounts, is just this incredibly affable dude, big Broadway booster. But he has become the truffle oil of musical comedy. He's great. Maybe he could take a break and let us miss him again.

But you know what? The original cast album is still out there, so I don't mind this. I kind of wish they pushed it a little bit harder on the vocals, but I would urge people to check out the Broadway cast album 'cause it's pretty great.

BLANKENSHIP: I feel like I can't quite walk with you into the woods of that particular truth.

(LAUGHTER)

BLANKENSHIP: I think that Beth Leavel is sensational, amazing. Her voice is great, but Meryl Streep's voice is great in a different way. And I think that what Meryl Streep does as she acts through song is equally exciting. I also am very, very much a Meryl Streep apologist, I guess, because I just think she's always great - you know, shocker. I know, again, here I am with you, Glen, making bold statements. But I feel like - that both she and, I thought surprisingly, Nicole Kidman found real character in their vocal performances. And there's a difference between what, like, Russell Crowe did to us all in "Les Mis," where it just sounded like seven frogs being choked simultaneously.

WELDON: (Laughter).

WILLISON‏: Well, that's live singing, Mark, you know? That's real art.

HARRIS: It was live - so live.

BLANKENSHIP: Was it? Yes. And then I was dead by the end, but not in a positive I'm-dead way (laughter). So that's just - I would say thumbs up to both Meryl and Beth Leavel there.

WELDON: OK.

WILLISON‏: I will agree with you, Glen, that Keegan-Michael Key is fantastic in this. As a "Playing House" fan, I'm just always so excited to get to see him play a romantic lead because he can really, really nail it. In quarantine, that's just even more important to me. So that was fantastic. I will quibble, though, Mark, with your assessment of Nicole Kidman. I felt like she was one of the weakest links. It's like someone watched the, like, 10 seconds of her being really giddy and over the top in "Moulin Rouge!" and was like that, but the whole performance.

(LAUGHTER)

WILLISON‏: And I just kept seeing Laura Benanti in the role and imagining how good she would have been in it and resenting both that Nicole Kidman was sort of having her time wasted with this small part that wasn't really directed to have much meat on it and that, like, that would have been an incredible star turn for a less known movie performer who's really famous on Broadway to just nail.

BLANKENSHIP: Right.

WELDON: Good point.

HARRIS: I actually wrote in my notes about halfway through, like, why is Nicole Kidman here...

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: ...Because she's, like, kind of in the background.

WILLISON‏: Yes.

HARRIS: It's so focused on Corden and Streep for the first, like, 45 minutes to an hour. And then, like, all of a sudden, she comes out and does this Fosse number. But I was just like, oh, this feels like a waste of time, as Margaret said. Can we just talk briefly, very briefly, about just the visuals of this, because the product placement in this movie was, like, over the top. There was Applebee's or Bees of Apples or however, (laughter) Meryl Streep's...

BLANKENSHIP: Apples and Bees, yes.

HARRIS: (Laughter) Apples and bees. They had several scenes in malls. And I just could not get over how much product placement there was in this. It was kind of distracting, actually.

WELDON: Yeah.

HARRIS: And I hated that (laughter).

BLANKENSHIP: I agree with you. And it goes right back to what Margaret was saying, I think, about how there is no real Indiana here because it's just all shiny product placement that is just as shiny as the Broadway world. So the two worlds of the show seem exactly the same. And that sameness is selling me things.

WELDON: Right.

HARRIS: Right. And also, like, I'm sorry, but I feel like even in the middle of America, like malls are not a thing anymore. They're not...

(LAUGHTER)

BLANKENSHIP: Yeah.

HARRIS: Like, before the pandemic, there was already this talk about, like, people aren't going to malls anymore. So what year is this supposed to be set in?

WELDON: Right. It's set in the year of Broadway people's understanding of what Middle America is like. That's the year that's it's set in.

HARRIS: Clearly.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: And also, you know, for all the money that Netflix throws at stuff, this Indiana is, basically, a mall, somebody's house, the school. That's pretty much it. That's all we really get. But I take your points. I disagree.

WILLISON‏: (Laughter).

WELDON: I thought it was great. Tell us what you think about "The Prom." Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/pchh. Or tweet us at @PCHH. When we come back, it will be time to talk about what's making us happy this week. So come right back.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WELDON: Welcome back to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR. It's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, what's making us happy this week? Aisha, let's kick off with you. What's making you happy?

HARRIS: Well, I'm not sure if I have expressed my utter love for Carly Rae Jepsen on this show before...

WILLISON‏: (Laughter).

HARRIS: ...But I love her (laughter). I have seen her live twice. I met her once at a meet-and-greet.

WELDON: (Laughter).

HARRIS: She is shorter than I am, and I am very, very short. And she has a new song out. I also love Christmas music. And it's called "It's Not Christmas Until Somebody Cries" (ph).

WILLISON‏: (Laughter).

HARRIS: And it is the perfect holiday song for 2020 because it is very tongue-in-cheek. There is a lyric that I love. It is, your boyfriend is a vegan, so they fed him fish.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S NOT CHRISTMAS TILL SOMEBODY CRIES")

CARLY RAE JEPSEN: (Singing) My uncle made it worse by talking politics.

HARRIS: And it's all about having a really, really crappy holiday. But it's also got this, like, upbeat, Carly Rae Jepsen sound to it. Take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S NOT CHRISTMAS TILL SOMEBODY CRIES")

JEPSEN: (Singing) It's not Christmas 'till we all break down in tears. It's not Christmas, it's the best time of the year.

HARRIS: So yes, that is Carly Rae Jepsen's "It's Not Christmas Until Somebody Cries." I love it. You should listen to it. It's not a conventional holiday song. And that's what's making me happy.

WELDON: Excellent. Thank you, Aisha. Margaret Willison, what is making you happy this week?

WILLISON‏: So what's making me happy this week is a complicated answer. And it's not a straightforward happiness. But I have two friends who are doing a really, really interesting project that I'm very moved by. So I lost my dad when I was 16. It was a really, really hard experience. And I think a lot about how we process grief culturally and how ill-equipped we are to deal with it and how difficult that is. And I have two friends, Jonathan Krieger and Hilary Krieger, who, in April, lost their father, Neil, to COVID.

Obviously, this is an incredibly hard time for a lot of people. We're all coping with a lot of grief both individually and then sort of in a community sense. And there's no way to gather and effectively process it. And what my friends have done that I think is really, really fascinating is they have started a campaign to get a word their father convinced them was real until, I think, Hillary was 25 into the dictionary for real. The word is orbisculate. And it is, like, if you're cutting into a citrus fruit and it squirts juice in your eye, it orbisculated you, or a grapefruit orbisculated you. I just think that it is a really creative way to process some of the loss that we're all going through, to seize onto something so specific and ground our processing in the reality of the people that we've lost. And so I think it's great they're doing it in a really, really fun way. They are raising money for a charity called Carson's Village that helps support grieving families in coping with the costs of all of that stuff. And so if you want to talk with me about your grief, please come find me on Twitter. And definitely check out this project, orbisculate.com (laughter).

WELDON: Thank you, Margaret. Mark Blankenship, what is making you happy this week?

BLANKENSHIP: Oh, wow. What's making me happy this week is Dionne Warwick's Twitter.

(LAUGHTER)

BLANKENSHIP: So Dionne Warwick just recently stepped in and took over the reins of her official Twitter account. And it all started, for me, at least, when she said, hi, Chance the Rapper. If you are very obviously a rapper, why did you put it in your stage name? I cannot stop thinking about this.

(LAUGHTER)

BLANKENSHIP: That is Twitter A-plus. That's an A-plus Twitter. And then she followed up with, I am now Dionne the Singer. And it's just so, like, funny and cheeky. And I love it. And then the best part is that Chance the Rapper responded by being like, I can't believe you know who I am.

(LAUGHTER)

BLANKENSHIP: So it was, like, very, like, pleasant, the whole thing. Some more excellent tweets came, and then the coup de grace. Dionne Warwick responded to people who were suggesting that her tweets were being written by, quote, "her team."

WILLISON‏: (Laughter).

BLANKENSHIP: And here's just a little snippet of Dionne Warwick's response to those who think that she is not her own tweeter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DIONNE WARWICK: You see, I have a wonderful niece. Her name is Brittani. And she said, Aunt Dionne, you'll have a lot of fun if you get on this with me. I said, OK. Teach me how to do it. And she did. And I am doing it. So that should quell all of you naysayers. And if it doesn't, deal with it.

(LAUGHTER)

BLANKENSHIP: The phrase that should quell all of you naysayers...

WELDON: Yep. Yep, yep.

BLANKENSHIP: ...Is my phrase of 2020. And I just want to add that...

(LAUGHTER)

BLANKENSHIP: ...The reason this is making me so happy is that it really is rooted in kindness. Like, everybody's having a good time. Everybody's respectful of Ms. Dionne Warwick and her excellence. Dionne Warwick has also taken the time to just tweet songs that she likes by younger artists. Like, it's just a joy bath. And I'm glad to be steeping in it

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: Completely agree, glad you chose that. Just the phrase stage name when applied to a rapper is just so (laughter) - it's kind of great.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: There's a great disconnect there that I really love. OK. What's making me happy this week? "I Hate Suzie" on HBO Max is a British series. It's just eight episodes long, as is their want, stars the great Billie Piper as an actress whose phone gets hacked. And her nudes end up on the Internet. She then proceeds to make a series of wildly terrible decisions to deal with it - or not deal with it.

Every episode is named for a stage of grief and finds her dealing with that particular emotion - anger, shame, whatever - which might lead you to believe that the show is going to be really overdetermined and kind of schematic. But Piper is the co-creator of the show, along with Lucy Prebble, who's a writer on "Succession." And they have a lot of room for nuance and emotional resonance along the way. It's really effective. It is not for everyone. In many ways, this show is the anti-Ted Lasso. It is not comforting. It is not warm.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: You'll know if it's for you in the first episode, where this huge crowd of people descends on her home to do a photo shoot, you know, in their living room even as she's just finding out that these photos have leaked. So it's incredibly tense because she can't find any place just to be by herself. She's trying to keep it from her husband. It's very tense. It's very nightmarish. And so much of it takes place in just this tight close-up of Piper's face. You can see it all happening there. It's really great. If you stick with it - you won't always like Suzie because the name of the show...

WILLISON‏: (Laughter).

WELDON: ...Is kind of the mission statement of the show. But where she ends up in the final episode called - spoiler - "Acceptance" is so much more satisfying because of it. That is "I Hate Suzie" on HBO Max. And that is what's making me happy this week. If you want links for what we recommended and plus more recommendations exclusive to our newsletter, subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter.

That brings us to the end of our show. You can find all of us on Twitter. You can find me at @ghweldon. You can follow Aisha at @craftingmystyle. You can follow Margaret at @MrsFridayNext and Mark at @IAmBlankenship. You can follow editor Jessica Reedy at @jessica_reedy, producer Candice Lim at @thecandicelim and producer Will Jarvis at @willyfrederick. You can follow producer Mike Katzif at @mikekatzif. That's K-A-T-Z-I-F. Mike's band Hello Come In provides the music you are bobbing your head to right now. Or maybe you're sitting there stoically. I don't know your life - life's rich pageant. Thanks to all of you for being here.

HARRIS: Thanks.

WILLISON‏: Thanks for having me.

BLANKENSHIP: So much fun.

WELDON: And, of course, thank you for listening. And if you'd like to support the work we do at POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR and NPR, donate to your local member station at donate.npr.org/happy. Again, that's donate.npr.org/happy. And we'll see you all next week.

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