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The Perfect Escapist Sci-Fi Series



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Good morning, and welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer reveals what’s keeping them entertained.

Today’s special guest is Emma Sarappo, an associate editor on The Atlantic’s Books team. Emma is also a frequent contributor to our Books Briefing newsletter, having recently written about books for a changing planet and making sense of the divide between technology and humanity. Right now Emma is looking forward to a once-in-a-lifetime cross-country concert trip, scratching her brain with the Two Dots smartphone puzzle game, and gearing up for the 60th-anniversary special of Doctor Who.

First, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:

The Culture Survey: Emma Sarappo

The upcoming event I’m most looking forward to: I’m going to see Joni Mitchell, plus Brandi Carlile, play in Washington State next weekend. It’s a bit of a wild trip—I’m heading all the way to the West Coast from Washington, D.C., and only staying for three days—but my best friend and I figured this might be a once-in-our-lifetime opportunity, so we agreed we had to do it. [Related: The unknowable Joni Mitchell (from 2017)]

Something delightful introduced to me by a kid in my life: Last year, my teenage cousin got me to watch Heartstopper, Netflix’s adaptation of the webcomic and graphic-novel series by Alice Oseman, which is so delightful and fun. My cousin is Norwegian but apparently adores the books so much that she buys and reads them in English in order to get them sooner. [Related: Heartstopper and the era of feel-good, queer-teen romances]


Something I loved as a teenager and still love: Sometimes I feel like I carry my teenage self around in my front pocket; her tastes are still so influential to me today. She loved Doctor Who, and she was right—it’s still perfect sci-fi escapism—and we are so excited for the forthcoming Doctor Who special that’ll bring back the actors David Tennant and Catherine Tate, plus Yasmin Finney (whom I loved in Heartstopper)! Then we’re due for a series with Ncuti Gatwa (whom I loved in Sex Education). [Related: How Doctor Who survived 50 years (from 2013)]

The last museum or gallery show that I loved: I was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art the other week and made a point of spending time in the room that holds Cy Twombly’s Fifty Days at Iliam, a series of 10 paintings that evoke the Iliad and the Trojan War through gesture, color, and writing. They inspire really strong responses, because they’re so large and so surprising—at first glance, they appear scribbled or imprecise. If you stay long enough, you’ll hear some gasps, or laughs. I loved that experience.

A painting, sculpture, or other piece of visual art that I cherish: So many, but one of the first that genuinely changed my life as a young adult is Félix González-Torres’s “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), on view at the Art Institute of Chicago. I hear that teenagers are talking a lot about it on TikTok, which is sweet. When I was younger, we were all reblogging González-Torres’s work “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers) on Tumblr.

Something I recently rewatched, reread, or otherwise revisited: I started listening to the Smiths again after their bassist, Andy Rourke, died last month. They’re another formative teenage band for me—two generations deep, because I got the CDs from my dad, who also found them formative in his youth. Today, lead singer Morrissey’s racist rhetoric casts a pall over the band for me, but listening to the music, I understand entirely why I was so obsessed with it long before I’d ever read anything about the band. Rourke was a huge part of that. This video of the guitarist Johnny Marr inviting a kid onstage, basically daring him to play “This Charming Man,” a crucial Rourke song—and the kid suddenly, improbably, nailing the riff—is one of my favorite things on the internet.

A piece of journalism that recently changed my perspective on a topic: Katie Engelhart’s “The Mother Who Changed: A Story of Dementia” from The New York Times Magazine last month. There are no easy answers here, so it didn’t have me reverse any of my positions, but it opened my eyes to questions about autonomy and aging that I’d never considered.

A favorite story I’ve read in The Atlantic: Painful to pick just a few. Patricia Lockwood on To the Lighthouse was tailor-made for me. I just sent someone Dara Mathis’s story on the Black-liberation movement she grew up in. I read William Langewiesche’s story on Flight MH370 exactly once and haven’t stopped thinking about it, but I will never read it again (too frightening).

My favorite way of wasting time on my phone: Two Dots. It frees me from the social web and scratches my brain perfectly.


An online creator that I’m a fan of: My TikTok is basically all cooking and jokes, which is ideal. I especially love videos from Bettina Makalintal (@bettinamak) and Chuck Cruz (@chuckischarles).

The last debate I had about culture: Less a debate than a round of cooperative overlapping about why Taylor Swift refuses to make her best songs the singles from her albums (justice for “Cruel Summer”).

A good recommendation I recently received: I finally gave in to my best friend’s multiyear urging that I watch The Americans, and, after finishing the series, I must demand that you all watch The Americans. [Related: The Americans is the realest, scariest spy show on TV. (From 2014)]

A poem, or line of poetry, that I return to: I just saw my sister graduate from college with an engineering degree; she was telling me about a humanities class on German culture and literature that she had to take. Her class had read this poem about some old statue, she said, and the abrupt turn at the end knocked them all out—they laughed, and they made memes, because the suddenness of the speaker’s realization felt so dramatic. She couldn’t remember it verbatim, so I finished the line automatically: “You must change your life,” from Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo.” I know I’m old now, because that kind of lightning-flash epiphany inspired by art was so strange to a class of undergraduates, but so familiar—and so moving—to me. [Related: ‘To work is to live without dying.’ (From 1996)]

Read past editions of the Culture Survey with Adam Harris, Saahil Desai, Yasmin Tayag, Damon Beres, Julie Beck, Faith Hill, and Derek Thompson.

The Week Ahead
  1. The Idol, the buzzy (and contentious) new series from the Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, and Reza Fahim, starring Tesfaye and Lily-Rose Depp (premieres on HBO and Max tonight at 9 p.m. ET)
  2. Countries of Origin, the debut novel by Javier Fuentes, which tells the story of a blossoming romance between two young men from very different worlds (on sale Tuesday)
  3. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, a reboot of the live-action film franchise based on the popular Hasbro toys and animated series, starring the In the Heights actor Anthony Ramos (in theaters Friday)

Illustration by The Atlantic. Sources: Matt Squire / Lookout Point / AMC.

The Most Compelling Female Character on Television

By Sophie Gilbert

The last time we saw Happy Valley’s Catherine Cawood, she was trying—and quite magnificently failing—to capture one of her police-force colleagues, the nebbishy John Wadsworth, who’d finally been implicated in the murder of his lover. The pursuit is a bleak comedy of errors: Directed by her superiors not to pursue John down train tracks, Catherine mutters “bollocks” and follows him anyway. The pair end up on a bridge in relentless rain. Catherine, who says that she’s never trained in negotiation, asks John—who’s successfully talked down 17 people from various ledges—what to say to compel him not to jump. She has to keep him talking, John says. “You’ve got to be assertive. Reassuring. Empathetic and kind. And you’ve got to listen.” Catherine tells John to take his time, that she’ll be there. His face discernibly changes. “I love my kids,” he tells her; he propels himself backward.

Read the full article.


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