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What's making us happy: What to watch, read and listen to this weekend

Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth and Anya Taylor-Joy as Olga in director Robert Eggers' Viking epic <em>The Northman</em>.
Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth and Anya Taylor-Joy as Olga in director Robert Eggers' Viking epic The Northman.

This week, viewers commemorated the finale of HBO's Insecure and the film world mourned the loss of director Jean-Marc Vallée.

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


The Northman

The trailer for Robert Eggers film The Northman recently dropped. It comes at just the right time, because I spent most of this year grinding through Assassin's Creed Valhalla and God of War, and I was missing long boats and throwing axes and berserking.

I don't know what you call this genre – the Viking genre – but if nobody has come up with "Raids and braids" yet, then ™ me. The film stars Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and somehow, inevitably, Björk. I think Björk plays a witch and maybe also a valkyrie, and that's important to me because it's not just battle and pillage. It's also magic and gods, and that's how it hooks me. It comes out in April. I'm here for it. — Glen Weldon

"Grace Against the Machine," a mix by Stephen Thompson

One of my little pop culture side projects in 2021 was starting to put together a series of mix CDs for my daughter, Grace, who is a big fan of the heavy sounds from 1989 to 2005: everything from Guns N' Roses to Korn and Linkin Park. She actually expressed to me an interest in my recommendations, which is something really neither of my kids has ever done.


I put together, if I do say so myself, a pretty fantastic mix that I called "Grace Against the Machine." A mix that includes, of course, Rage Against the Machine as well as Hole, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Helmet and PJ Harvey – the kind of heavier sounds of the 90s. — Stephen Thompson

"A plastic water bottle and a paper towel roll" — Elmo

A Twitter user posted this short cut of Elmo saying "a plastic water bottle and a paper towel roll." I have listened to this at least a dozen times and I crack up every time.

For context, it is from a Sesame Street episode from 2020 starring Hailee Steinfeld, and they're singing a song called, "I Wonder, What If, Let's try." And it's all about trying to find alternative options for doing things. Elmo, who's portrayed here by Ryan Dillon, is trying to make a structure higher. They just have a plastic water bottle and a paper towel roll to do that. So ridiculous. But it's all about the way that he says it. — Aisha Harris

<em>The School for Good Mothers</em> by Jessamine Chan.
/ Simon & Schuster
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan.

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

This is a sort of near-future speculative fiction novel about a mother, Frida Liu, who leaves her daughter at her house for a couple hours by herself. People find out that she left the kid at home, and this kicks her into a version of child protective services – she's separated from her daughter and sent to a prison-like school that re-educates women to be good mothers.

It's kind of a political story, reflecting on the real-life instances in which parents are sucked into punitive systems for single offenses.

It's also about the pressure that's put on mothers and the pressure that's placed on women. I think some people will be satisfied with its efforts in this area and some won't. The book explores what kinds of women are most likely to find themselves in this situation. It talks about why she, as a woman who has somewhat more means, is better off. There's no equity either between women or between mothers and fathers.

It sounds dark and weird, and it is kind of dark and weird, but I found it really, really absorbing. — Linda Holmes

NPR Kroc Fellow Mia Estrada adapted this Pop Culture Happy Hour segment into a digital page.

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