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Editors’ Picks 10/19: The League of Cheap Black Mirrors

This week in Editors’ Picks: James finds that cheap, crappy headphones can be extremely useful, Rollin likes a show about sports even though he doesn’t like sports himself, and Ian gets caught up in a dark blend of comedy and drama.

James’ pick: Cheap, Crappy Headphones

Sure, fancy headphones perform a variety of noble tasks, but they’re oddly not very good at some more menial, everyday tasks. Your gym life will be much better if you have a pair of crappy earbuds, rather than a huge headset bouncing around, and if you’re walking down the street and receive a phone call, it’s much more convenient to pop in some cheap earbuds with a mic rather than pull your expensive headset out of your cushioned bag.

Cheap, crappy headphones are also damn convenient, as you don’t have to carry that backpack around to keep your expensive headphones safe — you can just shove your cheap ones into your pocket– and if it’s raining, you certainly shouldn’t wear your big, expensive ones around your neck. If your cheap wires die in six months, just spend another fifteen bucks, who cares?

If you’re an audio snob and just can’t be seen with inferior headphones, well, have fun running on that treadmill. You should at least have a pair of cheap ones to use when it’d be more convenient.

Rollin’s pick: The League

I’m not much of a football fan. In general, it’s just not something that interested me as I was growing up. One might think that living in Indiana would have given me a passion for the Indianapolis Colts, but it was sadly not to be. I’d follow the games from time to time, but my connection to the sport was always tenuous at best. It all seemed rather boring and staged.

I’ve recently come to love The League, though, the FX sitcom about a group of people playing fantasy football. The show has managed to find its way into my heart because of Netflix’s constant recommendations. After running out of everything else that even vaguely interested me, I finally gave the show a shot, and it stuck.

The interactions between the characters are genuinely funny while not being overly outrageous. Even when it completely stretches to being beyond credulity, it quickly returns to semi-reality in a way that allows us to forgive any previous lapses. It’s like a group of friends that folds the viewer into the group before talking incredibly offensive trash about them while smiling.

It has also somewhat surprisingly improved my ability to recognize and understand different aspects of football. For example, just this week I learned what a safety does on the field. It might not be much, but I’m proud of myself.

Ian’s pick: Black Mirror

I love it when my friends come to visit, and not just because it’s always a really good excuse to drink to excess and eat at all my favorite restaurants for a week. It’s also because my friends, being exceedingly brilliant and wonderful people as a rule, always have excellent suggestions for things I should be watching, like the Channel 4 mini-series Black Mirror.

Produced by British media commentator, writer, and pretty much just unfairly talented guy Charlie Brooker, the series consists of three hour-long episodes, each connected thematically around the way we we are influenced by new technologies like social media, gamification, and constant surveillance. The program’s commentary on modern technology and media is up there with titans like The Twilight Zone and Network — exaggerated just enough to bring it into the realm of fiction, but maintaining enough grounding to keep it utterly believable. (If this sounds like it’s up your alley, you should also check out Brooker’s excellent 2008 “zombies and reality TV” miniseries The Dead Set.)

Billed as a dark blend of comedy and drama, it’s definitely most appropriate for folks looking for something on the dramatic side. The first two episodes do have their lighter moments, but even these provide grin-and-bear-it laughs at best. The excellent final installment, though — a tale of marital strife and domestic distress that feels at points like a bleeding edge update of Edward Albee’s classic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — is a beautifully shot and precisely executed exercise in unremitting bleakness. I’d challenge anyone to turn away for even one gut-wrenching moment, and there are plenty.

If there’s a problem with the series, it’s that three episodes seems entirely too brief for material this good, even if by the end of that third episode, I was ready to take the kind of break that involves a comically large glass of scotch and a good cry. Luckily, there’s a second helping of the series already in the works that should begin airing in 2013.

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