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What's Making Us Happy: A guide to your weekend reading, viewing and listening

The cast of <em>Melrose Place</em> in 1998.
Worldvision
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The cast of Melrose Place in 1998.

This week, the Obama movie list came out, Chris Harrison was a little bit late to the news, and we bid farewell to Tom Smothers.

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

5-Second Films

5-Second Films is exactly what it sounds like. It's a group of folks who make these incredibly distilled, often very funny movies that are five seconds long. They've been at this since 2008. It's an exercise in narrative essentialism. You get just enough to establish the premise, the game, and then you get the ending. Not every one works, but their motto is: "Wasting your time, but not very much." You just gobble these things up like popcorn. Sometimes you go back to marvel at how much was conveyed using so little. It's obvious that a lot of work goes into these films, but it's all conceptual work — to kind of slice away everything that is unnecessary just to get that hit in five seconds. They're on TikTok, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and YouTube. — Glen Weldon

Isaac Butler's Slate article "The Virus Inside Your TV"

This article tells the story of a collective called The GALA Committee that smuggled political art into the set dressing of Melrose Place in the '90s. Things like: A set of sheets on the bed of one of the show's many sexually active men was decorated with unrolled condoms — once you see it, you cannot un-see it. Or, an un-openable cigar box with hinges on all sides meant to represent the Cuban embargo. They did this initially by having contact with the set designer, but then eventually the higher ups on the show knew about it and would tell them what was coming up so that they could prepare things. It is a completely fascinating piece. I highly recommend it. It is a stunner. — Linda Holmes

"Ça plane pour moi" by Plastic Bertrand

In 2024, the Summer Olympics will be held in Paris and to prepare us NBC has been airing commercials featuring a song from 1977 by Plastic Bertrand called "Ça plane pour moi." This may be the first cool song I ever knew. It came out when I was 5 or 6 years old — my cool Uncle Paul got into it, my mother got into it, my parents spoke a little French and were trying to pick apart the lyrics and couldn't make sense of it. It's not like this is some completely lost song, but hearing a song that so strongly connects to my childhood has been really delightful.

The song has a very weird history — every element has been disputed. It is plugging the French Olympics but Plastic Bertrand is a Belgian artist. There was a whole legal dispute because it's actually written and sung by a Belgian singer named Lou Deprijck who died this year. Plastic Bertrand has sort of been taking credit for this song for decades in kind of this weird Milli Vanilli story.

It came out in the late '70s amid the rise of punk and new wave, but it's a pastiche and it doesn't fit into anything neatly ... except a commercial for the 2024 Olympics on NBC. It delights me. I love the song. The song has not aged at all. It is just as inscrutable and weird and unbelievably catchy as it ever was. — Stephen Thompson

Rewatching 30 Rock

Have you heard of a little show called 30 Rock? Yes, I'm in the middle of a rewatch. I've been on a puzzling binge and when I do puzzles — like actual physical puzzles in my living room — I like to put on stuff that I don't have to think too hard about. I'm in the middle of Season 3 and, of course, parts of the show have not held up well. But I keep getting reminded — when this show was firing on all cylinders — of just how classic all of the songs were and how that was really that show's bread and butter, whether it's "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah," "Muffin Top," the"Make a Pizza" song, or the scene where they're all performing "Midnight Train to Georgia," this show just makes me so happy. Just getting to live with these characters yet again — it's great, and still funny. — Aisha Harris

More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter

by Linda Holmes

This week, I discovered the world's most soothing game for the PS5 (though it's also available on other platforms). What's it called? PowerWash Simulator. What do you do? You power wash stuff. I have already cleaned a van, a dirt bike, an entire yard full of gross rocks and dirty paving stones, a shed, a swing ... it is the most hypnotic, satisfying gift you can give yourself.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I also played The Stanley Parable, which I can only describe as sort of ... an existential examination of gaming itself? It's very strange and surprising, even though it starts with a very simple premise of a man sitting at a desk.

I recently started playing with the mobile game Operate Now: Hospital. It's a very rudimentary surgery simulator that walks you through fixing broken bones, taking out growths, stitching up what it eagerly labels "GAPING WOUNDS," and the like. Unfortunately, it also requires you to act like a hospital bureaucrat, staffing up and making people get their rest and building new MRI machines and stuff. All unnecessary. I just want to cut cut cut! Why do games always want me to run an office?


Beth Noveyadapted 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.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.
Aisha Harris is a host of Pop Culture Happy Hour.
Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.