OPINION: We live in a world where everyone gets a trophy for participating - no matter how poor their efforts are.
I've been a recipient of such a plaudit, having been given a piecemeal award at the end of my first ever skiing holiday back when I was a kid.
My prize? A badge for simply being able to stand up on skis without falling over.
The pinnacle of this cotton-wool-reward-everyone philosophy is Netflix's baking shaming show
Nailed It! - and I simply can't get enough of it.
The series, which takes three amateur US bakers and gives them ludicrous challenges to master, has just dropped a clutch of holiday-themed episodes in time for Christmas.
Fronted by comedian Nicole Byer, whose inability to stifle laughter when the contestants reveal utter disasters reflects how all the audience feels, it's one reality baking show I can get behind.
Maybe it's the celebration of failure that speaks to us all, maybe it's the fact it's never mean, is frequently laugh-out-loud funny and is a mirror of how our kitchen attempts turn out.
From making cake pops of the three wise men to one contestant inadvertently creating a black baby Jesus thanks to over-zealous use of fondant, the 30-minute show is a festive blast.
But if the contestants are the cake, the icing on this tasty treat is Nicole Byer.
Sassy and definitely street-smart, Byer's quick wit and larger-than-life personality brings out the best in everyone. Especially in these festive episodes where the contestants' final efforts are more naughty than nice.
From the guest judges to drooling over a "hot" fireman contestant, Byer is the friend you wish you had, the mate who'd tell you the truth but in a way that would never make you hate her for doing so.
In truth, she's the secret ingredient to why Nailed It's public shaming is such a generous and amusing time, rather than a condescending parade of pity awards.
In terms of nailing it, Wellington Paranormal What We Do In The Shadows
Wellington Paranormal(series 1 on DVD) certainly hit a zeitgeist moment, with its inept coppers now in a nationwide police recruitment ad. The
What We Do In The Shadowsspin-off greatly benefits from a second viewing.
BlacKKKlansman(Blu Ray, DVD) is a social shaggy dog true story with current political bite. Its jaw-dropping premise about a black man joining the Ku Klux Klan may astound, but Spike Lee's execution (aside from OTT end) is compelling. -
IF YOU HAVE A MOMENT THIS WEEKEND
The video rental store will soon be as extinct as the dodo.
With just a few stores hanging on by their nails, and due largely to reputation and place within their community, it's a dire time for what was once the staple of the weekend entertainment and those looking for second hand rentals.
While streaming services continue to eat away at more "traditional" methods of viewing, I can't help but feel the lack of options on the high street is going to culturally kill us all off. Sure, you can "own" a show if you've bought on a provider (as long as the digital rights don't lapse) but for me personally, there's never been nothing better than holding a DVD in my hand - rather than pressing a "Select now" button on your remote.
So, why not take the time this weekend to rally round your neighbours, and see if they want to pool viewing resources and start a community equivalent of the video store? Sure, you may scoff initially, but I know of a few of these already popping up around Auckland where mates loan each other classic films, films others have never seen, or even proffer new alternatives for viewing.
They're grass roots at their very best, and while I'm not advocating for charging or late return fees via a code of honour, it's deeply heartening to see this form of community spirit coming out.
Now, if I can just fix my OCD so that I can loan out my limited edition sets of various TV shows and not worry they'll be returned battered, I may start a lending library of my own.
- DARREN BEVAN
WHAT TO WATCH
Jimmy Carr's takeover of TV is now truly global.
The British comedian, best-known for his trademark laugh, suit and troubles with the taxman, has added to his suite of hosting duties with a new Netflix series The Fix.
The panel programme charges two teams of two (one always head by US stand-up D.L. Hughey, the other by Carr's regular Canadian partner-in-crime Katherine Ryan) with trying to find a solution to one of the modern world's great problems. These include the aging population and the gender pay gap, a subject which Carr jokes that, "if you don't think it's a problem, let me mansplain it to you".
On that particular episode, guests Nikki Glaser and Nicole Byer were shocked by US statistics that said the average hispanic woman would have to work until 118 to earn the same average wage as a white male did at age 64 and that female financial advisers only earn 59 cents for every dollar their male counterparts do.
After former Hooters employee Ryan revealed she used to sell socks as a "side hustle" ("there are some troubled young men out there"), she proposed her solution of a religion just for women. Feminism-ism would "funnel your money back to you tax-free". "It worked for L Ron Hubbard," Ryan reasoned, in reference to the sci-fi author's much-maligned Scientology. Members would "pray to Lord Beyonce, get Antoni from Queer Eye to turn water into rose and re-enact Madonna's Like a Prayer video".
Hughey's plan put the onus on men. Inspired by "that great 'documentary' Three Men and a Baby", he advocated six weeks compulsory "Mannying" for all the nation's young men.
With this mix of shameful statistics and innovative, hysterically funny solutions, it looks like Netflix is onto a entertaining winner.
For those after something more edgy, acerbic and a higher jokes quota, Roast Battle UK (Comedy Central, Tuesday, 8.50pm) delivers on its promise of "more put downs than a feature-length episode of Supervets". Carr and Ryan are joined by Jonathan Ross in judging stand-up comedy head-to-heads where each contestant gets five jokes and "nothing is off limits".
That's immediately followed by Your Face or Mine (9.40pm), where the same dynamic duo grill couples semi-famous and unknown about what and who they and the general public find attractive. The results can be horribly and hilariously brutal.
As Carr succinctly puts it, "it takes two people to make a relationship and one TV show to ruin it".
- JAMES CROOT
THE RIGHT COMEDY FOR THE... SITUATION
Sitcom became kind of a dirty word for a little while there, didn't it? Low brow, lowest common denominator stuff like Two Men and and Little Assault Charge, Kevin Can Go Straight To Hell Please, and the Big Bang Hypothesis ruled the roost.
Then along came the cable/streaming revolution to reclaim this portmanteau its - well it never had much dignity, but some mana at least, and definitely the "com" part of the package.
If there's one surefire way to know a genre's having a come back it's when Oscar nominees and winners are having a go at it. Netflix's
Easily the most charming sitcom in decades, you'd be an absolute schmuck to miss it.
Netflix is all about sitcoms with unusual premises. There's
Then, proving the UK has really picked up its sitcom game, there's
- KYLIE KLEIN NIXON
WHAT TO LISTEN TO
Anderson Paak just keeps delivering. He's like a major league baseballer who steps up when it counts and hits a home run. In fact, his third album under his own name,
Oxnard, — which takes its title from the coastal California city where he was born — is out of the park with it's lyrical honesty against a backdrop of a difficult upbringing and the faith that carried him through.
Musically, he steps away from the free and easy groove and flow that he's known for (his first album was released under the pseudonym Breezy Lovejoy) into funkier and sonically more challenging hip hop territory. That's not going to appeal to everyone, even with a guest list including Q-Tip, J Cole, Dr Dre, Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T, Snoop Dogg, The Last Artful and Kadhja Bonet, but Oxnard shows all the signs that Paak is going to continue to be a force in hip hop for years to come.
And, while it may be fashionable for hip hop and modern urban pop and RnB to be crammed full of cameos, it's also a common theme on recent releases by Rosanne Cash, Alejandro Escovido and Andrea Bocelli.
Cash, who has forged a notable career in the huge shadow her father, Johnny, cast is joined by Elvis Costello, Kris Kristofferson, Colin Meloy and Sam Phillips on her first album in five years. She Remembers Everything is as fragile and poetic as Cash has ever been on a collection of "women's narratives" borne out of frustration and grief (
Seriously under-appreciated Texas-based songwriter Escovido puts his own twist on the American dream with
The Crossing. It's passion personified with a cinematic touch underscored by contributions from Joe Ely, Wayne Kramer, James Williamson, Peter Perrett and John Perry.
Tenor Bocelli's comeback album Si is highlighted by the tear-inducing
If Only, a duet with Dua Lipa, who is among a guest list including Josh Groban, Ed Sheeran and Bocelli's son Matteo.
- MIKE ALEXANDER
PODCASTS FOR NEWS JUNKIES
Leading the way is the New York Times with The Daily, which spends about 20 minutes tackling the news leading conversation that day. Presented by journo supremo Michael Barbaro, the podcast draws on the extensive national and international resources of the Times' bureau journalists. With a reported 1.75 million weekly listeners, this podcast has set the standard for how news is covered in a pod.
In early November, The Guardian UK launched their daily news offering, Today in Focus, presented by Anushka Asthana. This one sums up the news stories that have the most impact on the UK, but they played it big in their first fortnight, looking at the Cocaine trafficking industry in South America, the legacy of Islamic State in Iraq and numerous explanations of Brexit. There's a great mix of cheeky yarns and the more hard-hitting news stories.
Following suit and launching last week is The Washington Post's daily news podcast Post Reports presented by Martine Powers, who at 29 is one of the younger pod news presenters. This pod cover three stories each episode and the variety of stories (so far) makes for a pod with pace.
WHAT TO READ
Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy 1945-1975, by Max Hastings
On February 25, 1969, a group of US Navy Seals landed in the Vietnamese village of Thanh Phong in the country's south. The community had reportedly been infiltrated by the Vietcong, and Lieutenant Bob Kerrey had been ordered to flush them out. Almost immediately, the operation turned into a bloody mess. The communists launched an ambush, trapping women and children in the crossfire. But Kerrey's men fought heroically and won the day.
A week later, the fortunes of war turned against him. Leading his team on a daring night assault, Kerrey was hit by a grenade and lost his foot. He stanched the bleeding and directed a counterattack before being airlifted to safety. After 50 days, his war was over. Richard Nixon awarded him the Medal of Honour.
Kerrey returned home a hero. A former college football star, he later became governor of Nebraska and a US senator. At one point he dated the actress Debra Winger, famously joking that she "swept me off my foot". But then his story took a horrible turn.
In 2001 the New York Times uncovered the truth about Thanh Phong. Kerrey's men had been butchers, not liberators. On arrival they had slaughtered the inhabitants of one hut with knives, then rounded up at least a dozen unarmed villagers and murdered them. Half were women and children. The last to die was a screaming baby. Confronted with the evidence, Kerrey did not deny it. "It's far more than guilt," he said. "It's the shame. You can never, never get away from it."
As Max Hastings's magnificent and moving new history shows, few wars have been as poisonous as Vietnam. In France, which fought unsuccessfully to retain its grip for 10 years after 1945, defeat was a national humiliation. In America, which committed 500,000 soldiers to Vietnam, it consumed the lives of more than 58,000 men, blighted the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Nixon, and left deep scars that endure to this day. And for the Vietnamese it was an environmental and human disaster, taking the lives of at least 2 million people and leaving the survivors under a cruel Marxist regime. Not for nothing does Hastings's subtitle call it an "epic tragedy".
For Hastings, this is a book with a personal history. As a young journalist he was once invited to the White House to hear Johnson defend the war. Later, he reported from the battlefield for the BBC. And, in April 1975, he was in Saigon during the last, desperate days of South Vietnam.
Although Hastings deals with the high politics brilliantly, it is his account of the war on the ground that lifts this book above its competitors. Unlike almost all other military historians, he is never boring and never gets bogged down in obscure data. And he has a peerless eye for colourful and revealing details: the North Vietnamese civilian diet of stewed rat and silkworm larvae; the US lieutenant who reads Conrad and Hardy during observation patrols; the marijuana and heroin use that reaches epidemic proportions among bored soldiers; the heady, erotic atmosphere of Saigon at night. He even points out that experienced American soldiers rarely wore underpants, because the humidity bred "crotch fungus". "Everything rotted and corroded quickly over there," one veteran says, "bodies, boot leather, canvas, metal, morals".
Was Vietnam a uniquely immoral war? Probably not, but it was unusually savage. During the peak of the bombing campaign, US planes dropped millions of tons of explosives on industrial towns and peasant villages alike, far more than they had on Japan. But as Hastings points out, many historians, writing from an antiwar perspective, give a simplistic and one-sided picture. The Americans certainly committed atrocities, most famously the massacre of more than 400 villagers at My Lai. But the Vietcong ruled by terror, disembowelling and castrating peasant adversaries, slitting the throats of babies, burying whole families alive when they refused to take up arms. And as the late John McCain found, they treated prisoners with sadistic brutality.
Even by Hastings's own standards, this is a masterful performance: deftly balanced, immaculately researched and written with immense flair. He is admirably clear-sighted about the Americans' failures. But he is also clear about their opponents, repressive Marxist revolutionaries who celebrated victory by throwing 300,000 South Vietnamese into concentration camps and launching a catastrophic collectivisation programme.
In the final pages, Hastings quotes a former army medic, David Rogers, who years later returned to Vietnam as a reporter. Rogers found that his old enemies had been instructed to treat Americans especially warmly because they needed Congress to pass a trade deal. "If all you guys wanted was a McDonald's," he wondered, "surely we could have worked this out a long time ago?" -
Reviewed by Dominic Sandbrook for The Sunday Times. (HarperCollins GB, $39.99)
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