Pop Culture Happy Hour guests and hosts share what’s bringing them joy : NPR

The cast of DesiQuest, a Dungeons & Dragons actual-play show on YouTube.


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The cast of DesiQuest, a Dungeons & Dragons actual-play show on YouTube.


This week, one of our greatest neurotics said goodbye, The Rock gained ownership of “Candy Ass,” and Georgia took steps to slow down some of the tax credits that have made it a filming favorite.

Here’s what NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour crew was paying attention to — and what you should check out this weekend.

The Open Ears Project, from WNYC

The Open Ears Project

The Open Ears Project is a classical music podcast that has just returned after a years-long hiatus. They bring on a guest for each episode — sometimes it’s someone very famous, sometimes it’s just an interesting creative person or a thinker. And the guest talks about a piece of classical music that means a lot to them. It’s a monologue, not an interview — they’re just speaking about why they love this piece of music. Then, in the second half of the episode, you hear the piece in its entirety. I think classical music can be really overwhelming and if you want to get into it, sometimes you don’t know where to start. It’s really lovely to hear people talk about things that move them. — Wailin Wong

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

The Poppy War

R.F. Kuang is my favorite writer working right now. I am absolutely obsessed with her. I finally got the first book she came out with called The Poppy War — it’s a trilogy. It is a devastating read. Difficult with a capital D — but also deeply profound. The way she explores oppressed people’s rage is really interesting to me. It’s something I get from a lot of Black feminist writers, but not a lot in my fiction. It is deeply satisfying and thought provoking. She uses traditional Chinese mythology and religion and storytelling and imbues it into all of her stories. She has exposed me to an entirely new world of fantasy and religion and culture that I’m deeply inspired to explore further. It’s beautiful, and if you finish this trilogy and need more, you should read her next book Babel. — Joelle Monique



DesiQuest is a Dungeons & Dragons actual-play YouTube show with an all-Desi cast. If you like D&D but want to expand beyond the kind of Eurocentric tonsures-and-tunics medieval vibe, this drops you into a gorgeous world inspired by the mythology of the Indian subcontinent. These great performers are bringing deeply shared cultural references to their gameplay with such passion and humor. I’m loving this story, I’m loving the players, I’m loving the characters, and I’m learning a lot. At one point this character is trying to persuade this other character to do something and it’s going fine — the dice are with him. But then he decides to call this other character “uncle,” and everything changes. The vibe goes completely off, and it’s filled with moments like that that are so wonderfully specific. — Glen Weldon

The Taste of Things

The Taste of Things was France’s entry to the Academy Awards. It didn’t get nominated for the International Feature Film Oscar, but it’s one of my favorite films I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a movie about food and two chefs who live in 19th-century France. It stars Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel. And it may seem like your cliché international Oscar submission, but I found it to be a really stunning film that was thoughtful about relationships, about creativity and about making art. — Bilal Qureshi

More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter

by Linda Holmes

We’ll be talking about the new FX/Hulu adaptation of Shōgun in a while on PCHH (sometimes it’s better with a weekly show to give people time to see some episodes), but I do think it’s well worth watching — and I say that as a person who is not always big on historical epics. It’s clearly very conscious of keeping its focus on the intrigue among the Japanese characters and centering them in the story, and there is a whole lot of great-looking production and strong performances.


I absolutely adore Priya Krishna’s series On the Job on The New York Times Cooking YouTube channel, and her latest installment is a big winner. The whole series is about highlighting people who do different jobs in the New York food world, and this episode is about Dre, a fabulously charismatic and engaging guy who washes dishes at a busy restaurant. What the episode focuses on is how key his role is and how good he is at keeping the whole place operating. Examinations of work can end up feeling uncomfortably anthropological, like “What’s it like to live in the grim world of a dishwasher?” or something. This is not that; it’s his personal story, and it’s a profile of the importance and skill of the position, as well as how it fits into Dre’s potential career path.

I was so delighted to see this piece at NPR from Brianna Scott about the way the Oscars tend to ignore horror films. I was just talking to NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe about her love of horror, because this year, the Oscars represent what’s really going on in movies better than they often do (given nominations for Oppenheimer and Barbie and so on), but the big exception to that is horror. You wouldn’t know from the Oscars how critical horror is to the theatrical business at the moment. So, again — read or listen to Brianna’s piece.

Beth Novey adapted the Pop Culture Happy Hour segment “What’s Making Us Happy” for the Web. If you like these suggestions, consider signing up for our newsletter to get recommendations every week. And listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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