keeping track

The Vulture Diaries: John August’s Week in Pop-Culture Consumption

Photo: Dana Edelson/NBC; Disney; ITV; Waterwheel, Inc. DotEmu SAS; FOX; Scientific American/Farrar Straus and Giroux;

For years, our sister site Daily Intel’s “Sex Diaries” has published the weekly logs of an eclectic group of people’s every sexual thought and act. Here at Vulture, we get off on entertainment, so we’ve taken a different, less graphic tack: For our recurring feature “The Vulture Diaries,” we will be asking prominent creative types (authors, directors, actors, musicians, etc.) to keep track of their cultural consumption in a given week. This week, we have screenwriter John August, who has written several Tim Burton movies, including the director’s latest — Frankenweenie.

Day One
8:20 p.m.
Thursday night has always been a big TV night in the August household. I was a very early adopter of the DVR (I had the original Replay) and became a huge proponent of Slightly Delayed Viewing — waiting just long enough into a show that you can watch it without stopping for commercial breaks. Tonight begins with a Saturday Night Live special. Jay Pharoah’s Obama is a good impersonation but not especially funny. He’s a remarkable talent who they haven’t quite figured how to write toward. Cecily Strong’s “Girl at a Party” sketch with Seth Meyers works much better. My favorite moment is when she reaches into her purse and sends a quick text.

I’ve watched every episode of The Office, British and American. I’m happy to see them writing more stuff toward Ellie Kemper, who plays such a specific kind of dumb so keenly. And I always love to see David Denman (Roy). He was in both Big Fish (which I wrote) and The Nines (which I wrote and directed). I keep him on my short list for everything: He can play a teddy bear or a grizzly bear with equal aplomb. Considering my husband and I are gay dads through surrogacy, we should be in the bull’s-eye for The New Normal. But the show drives me crazy, and I stopped watching halfway through the episode. It’s like Glee with just Sue Sylvester and no songs.

The new South Park is a football episode. It’s not bad. The best South Parks (“Scott Tenorman Must Die”) go somewhere you never see coming, and here the ending was clear from about 30 seconds in. Still: Butter’s Goo was a good idea. Parks and Rec: solid, though it feels forced to have Leslie questioning her political convictions at this point.

Last up, Jordan Mechner’s The Last Express now on iOS. It’s less a game and more a playable graphic novel. Ingenious and immersive.

Day Two
8:30 a.m.
Driving to the gym, I listen to Slate’s “Political Gabfest” at double speed. Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz are a great trio, even though I can’t consistently tell John and David’s voices apart. I really appreciate how organized their shows are: three topics with set time limits. I stole their “Cocktail Chatter” closer for the “Scriptnotes” podcast I do with Craig Mazin. (We call it “One Cool Thing.”)

10:15 a.m. On the drive back, I listen to the “Throwing Shade” podcast by Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi. It’s filthy, and I love it. They’re both extraordinarily good at improv, and it’s amazing to hear them spin impossibly ornate tangents. This week’s involved Billy Jean King’s tennis-themed concept album, which somehow segued into a visit to Color Me Mine to make fake pregnancy casts.

8:00 p.m. Confession time: I’ve watched every season of MTV’s The Challenge, or as we call it in our house, “The Crazy People Show.” If you haven’t seen it, the show follows the drunken hookups of a bunch of aging twentysomethings forced into dangerous stunts in exotic locales. It’s basically Hostel without the gore. We hadn’t realized the new season had started — MTV keeps changing the title, so the DVR doesn’t automatically grab it. We  downloaded the first episode from iTunes. While I’m disappointed not to see some familiar faces (CT, you beautiful monster), at least it won’t be another season of boring long-forged alliances spearheaded by Johnny.

After that, we watch the first episode of season three of Downton Abbey. (We have a U.K. iTunes account because we’re fancy.) The first hour is a bit of a slow-starter, but the new season seems promising. Shirley MacLaine arrives as Cora’s mother, which could have gone deliriously over the top. Instead, it’s well handled. This week, there’s a lot of talk about formalwear and telegrams from lawyers, which puts us squarely back in the territory of the first season’s entail drama and not a disfigured-fake-heir soap opera.

Day Three
10:20 a.m.
Entertainment Weekly comes on Friday but usually gets read on Saturday, often at my daughter’s swim lesson. It’s one of the only paper magazines we still get. This issue has a long piece on Tina Fey, about whom too many words could never be written. I wish her book Bossypants were written on Möbius paper. I’m glad someone thought to resurrect Libby Gelman-Waxner’s column. She’s the only one brave enough to tell the truth: “Most convicted felons are just people who were not taken to museums or Broadway musicals as children.” We need more columnists like her, if you ask me.

And while we’re at it, someone bring back Spy magazine. Thanks.

I wanted to see Rian Johnson’s Looper today, but a succession of birthday parties and wedding receptions made it impossible. So, please, no spoilers.

Day Four
Driving to Idyllwild (in the mountains near Palm Springs) and am catching up on a lot of back podcasts, including John Gruber’s “The Talk Show” and Marco Arment’s “Build & Analyze”.

4:30 p.m. Screening and Q&A for The Nines, part of the annual Cinestory workshop. I wrote and directed this 2007 movie, which features Ryan Reynolds, Melissa McCarthy, Elle Fanning, and two future Oscar winners (Octavia Spencer and Jim Rash) and played for approximately three seconds in theaters. (It’s on Netflix Instant.) The movie theater in Idyllwild doubles as a video store, which is weirdly perfect. They moved our screening earlier because the school play needed the theater for rehearsal.

Day Five
7:45 a.m.
Driving back to L.A., more podcasts, including John Siracusa’s “Hypercritical”.

On the whole, I like iTunes Match, but today it’s having a hard time finding a lot of my music. The same Frank Ocean track keeps repeating.

4 p.m. After another round of press interviews for Frankenweenie, I listen to NPR’s “All Things Considered.” My NPR name would be Caleb Gwandoya-Gjelten.

6:40 p.m. I’m coming down with something, so I send my regrets for a screening of Don’t Say No Until I Finish Talking: The Story of Richard D. Zanuck. He was an amazing producer and colleague.

I watch The Amazing Race season premiere on the DVR with my daughter. She has already seen the episode and has no sense of spoilers: “They’re in last-place now, but they’re going to get ahead at the end.” After all these seasons, the show is still amazingly well cast. It’s villainless, which is refreshing.

Day Six
8 a.m.
Triage on 121 unread e-mails, then a check through my RSS feeds. I’m trying not to read reviews for Frankenweenie, but I’ll check Rotten Tomatoes just to get a general sense. So far, so good.

4 p.m. My new Kindle comes, the one with the sidelit screen. It’s solid, and the interface is noticeably improved. I’m reading Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? by Jesse Bering, which looks at the evolutionary biology (and psychology) behind human stuff. I like it, but it really feels like a bunch of magazine columns strung together, never getting into the kind of detail one might hope for. There’s a lot of, “One theory I enjoy is … “

8:20 p.m. Another Frankenweenie screening, this time at USC. Disney makes all the students leave their backpacks in the lobby and place phones in paper bags. My rep Gillian and I entertain ourselves by doing Twitter searches for “frankenweenie black white,” which returns a list of users outraged that the movie isn’t in color.

10:15 p.m. Watch the second episode of The Mindy Project. It’s terrific. I had worried that the pilot was one-off great, but the show feels sustainable. Crucially, they experiment with scenes that don’t involve Mindy Kaling, so the show can share the burden.

Day Seven
9 a.m.
We love our new car (a Nissan Leaf), but the Bluetooth pairing requires a Byzantine path of menus. So instead I listen to Classical Pops on XM. If I can identify a piece without looking at the screen, I feel like a Jeopardy champion.

10:30 a.m. I watch the Lone Ranger trailer. The first 22 seconds are logos. That feels like a misallocation of resources. More entertaining is Bad Lip Reading’s new creation, “Paul Ryan’s Video Diary”.

3:15 p.m. Hulu for last night’s Ben and Kate. Like The Mindy Project, the show is terrifically cast. I know the actual Ben Fox, so it’s weird but nice to see Nat Faxon’s version, which ping-pongs between nerd-rage and odd charm.

6 p.m. Presidential debate. By the time anyone reads this, every other blogger will have already written every meaningful opinion on how it went, and I’ll have read far too many of them. I’m addicted to the interactive electoral college map on Real Clear Politics, which lets you play Risk with our nation’s future.

And that’s a week! I’m not a diary person by nature, so this kind of cataloging is an odd exercise for me. But fun. I can look back at this in ten years with nostalgia for a time when media wasn’t beamed directly into our brains.

The Vulture Diaries: John August