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What's making us happy: A guide to your weekend viewing

Pedro Pascal plays Joel Miller in <em>The Last of Us</em>.
HBO Max
Pedro Pascal plays Joel Miller in The Last of Us.

This week, we checked in with Punxsutawney Phil, revisited childhood friendships, and were inspired by new YA books about identity and overcoming hardships.

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

The Last of Us

What's making me happy is this new HBO series called The Last of Us. I don't play video games anymore, but back in the day, I was a heavy videogame person. It was one of the last games I did play and I remember just being really moved by the story. I think it's one of the great stories in a video game. There's this idea that video game adaptations are awful and can't be done.

The show is on its third episode now and is created by the creator of the miniseries Chernobyl. It's also co-created by the creator of the game themselves. I think they've just made a really strong and moving series so far.

It's a post-apocalyptic story. This fungus, which is based on reality, usually infects ants and things. It mutates and infects humans and devastates the world. Only a few survivors are remaining. I think a lot of apocalyptic or dystopian dramas revel in the societal decay and the brutality that an apocalypse would bring. I think this show is going another route. There isn't a lot of violence to it. I think it is focusing on: "What are we left with morally when the world ends?" The latest episode had this really wonderful love story between these two men. It's one of the happiest episodes of dystopia I've ever seen, and it's the biggest departure from the game so far — I think it's a really successful departure. So far the show is just becoming about the things that we choose to hold on to, and the lives we choose to make for ourselves, even when there isn't much left.

— Marc Rivers

The Looney Tunes Show

I always watch cartoons. That's kind of like one of my things, but it made me think, "What are cartoons that an adult can watch and enjoy and that do really smart things, like punch above their weight?" One of these shows that I think a lot of people missed is The Looney Tunes Show. It ran on Cartoon Network for a couple of years. I think the problem with this show is that it couldn't really find its audience, because it ran on Cartoon Network for kids.

But when you look at it, it's set like a sitcom with Bugs and Daffy as roommates. All the other characters are like their neighbors or their friends, and it's really almost like Seinfeld. A lot of the jokes are just jokes an adult would enjoy.

I always loved the show ... and I just went back to it because it just does so much that you would not expect with a kid show and it's not rated R. I feel like adult cartoons lean into the raunchiness, but you don't have to be raunchy to be funny. I don't mind raunchiness, but raunchiness for the sake of raunchiness doesn't work for me. Kristen Wiig played Lola Bunny. I feel like with shows that can appeal to adults you don't even have to be that nasty, you can just be funny. I watch it on the app Boomerang.

— Ayesha Rascoe

Ice Merchants

The Oscar nominated animated shorts, as they always are, are a very mixed bag. My personal favorite is Ice Merchants by João Gonzalez. This is an entirely wordless, animated short about a man and his son who live on a house literally on the side of a cliff far above a town. They do business with the town. In a strange way, it is beautiful. If you have a fear of heights, it can be troubling, but it is so effortlessly, exquisitely gorgeous and warm in a strange way and sneaks up on you. The ending might not land on you. The ending landed on me. I was surprised that it did. You can find Ice Merchants on YouTube or also on The New Yorker's screener site.

— Glen Weldon

More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter

by Linda Holmes

You might know Jen Agg from her restaurants, her commentary on the restaurant business, or her book, I Hear She's a Real Bitch. But she wrote really beautifully this week about her experience as a caregiver and spouse after her husband had a stroke early in the COVID outbreak.

If you're not listening to the If Books Could Kill podcast, which is a take on terrible airport books through the years and hosted by Michael Hobbes (also of Maintenance Phase) and Peter Shamshiri (also of 5-4), I really recommend it. Yes, it's a great, spirited takedown of all kinds of pseudoscience nonsense, but I also laughed and laughed listening to them take on Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. In particular, they examine the ways in which John Gray was just writing about his own issues with women, and it's really, really funny.

Conversations about op-ed columns are often unproductive, and I was fascinated by this effort to grapple with a recent New York Times op-ed by genuinely writing the note one would write as an editor. It might not be as satisfying as a savage takedown in the typical sense, but at least it's something new.


NPR's Teresa Xie adapted the Pop Culture Happy Hour segment "What's Making Us Happy" into a digital page. 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.

Marc Rivers
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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.
Teresa Xie
Teresa Xie is a reporter who specializes in media and culture writing. She recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied political science and cinema. Outside of NPR, her work can be found in Pitchfork, Vox, Teen Vogue, Bloomberg, Stereogum and other outlets.