Three Easy Pieces


By Rev. Adam McKinney on January 2, 2020

Welcome to Three Easy Pieces, where I examine a piece of pop culture from its birth to today. This month, I'm acutely aware that the world's a nightmarish hellscape of suffering and dread. What type of entertainment pairs best with that? Nicecore! Coined by critic David Ehrlich, nicecore concerns a type of show or movie that embraces a wild, loving optimism in the face of real-world sorrow. While the term is relatively new, the roots of nicecore run deep in pop culture, including touchstones like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. For this list, I'll be focusing on programs for adults (or, really, people that aren't little kids, since kids don't watch the news and thus don't need as much confirmation of humanity's goodness). Most of what I'll mention is available to stream, by the way. I know how winter can be.

BIRTH: Stop Making Sense (1984)

Honorable mention: The Joy of Painting, My Neighbor Totoro, The Red Green Show

I would start by talking about The Joy of Painting, but most everybody knows about the healing powers of Bob Ross -- a man who started adult life as a belligerent drill sergeant, but grew into a totem for tranquility and the simple pleasures of creating. He was ASMR before that was a thing.

Instead, I'd like to guide your attention to Stop Making Sense, the late, great Jonathan Demme-directed concert film that shows Talking Heads at the height of their brilliance. Beyond being the best, most electric concert film ever made, Stop Making Sense shares The Joy of Painting's feeling of wonder when it comes to a group of artists putting their whole being into a singularly beautiful show, smudges and all.

Every ounce of copious sweat poured out by David Byrne and company is only in service of making the audience happy, and by the time the finale arrives, you can see a band and an audience united as one, giddy over the sheer power of music. Watching Stop Making Sense, you can imagine yourself as that radiant audience member, leaving the experience walking a little taller than you did when you arrived.

DEVELOPMENT: The Great British Baking Show (2010)

Honorable mention: Adventure Time, Once, Parks and Recreation

There's perhaps no other program that better defines the modern manifestation of nicecore than The Great British Baking Show. Here is a competition show that eschews every bad impulse of reality television: manic editing, forced confrontation, manufactured drama, catty judges, and even the inherent greed of gunning for a marvelous cash prize.

What you get, instead of all that, is possibly the gentlest reality show ever created. A handful of amateur bakers converge on a tent in the middle of a bucolic meadow, where they compete for the right to eventually get a bouquet of flowers and a firm handshake. It is a common experience to see the bakers band together to help a competitor who's struggling with a challenge, and the viewing of even one episode will firmly lock the phrases "tight crumbs" and "soggy bottoms" into your head for the rest of your life. The Great British Baking Show is too pure for this world, and I will die defending its honor.

TODAY: Joe Pera Talks with You (2018)

Honorable mention: Making It, Paddington 2, Queer Eye

Joe Pera Talks with You is ostensibly a comedy show -- not to say that it isn't funny, but its style of humor is so odd and warmhearted that it frequently reads like a show made by an alien who's just so excited about the human experience. In many ways, it shares the same spirit as another David Byrne movie, True Stories, which saw Byrne as a curious visitor marveling at the banalities of small town life.

Joe Pera stars as a version of himself, working as a choir teacher in a sleepy town in Michigan. He's single, a little lonely, but loves the companionship of his dog and talking directly to you, the viewer. When he gets into adventures, they amount to things like the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree, or being overjoyed at hearing The Who's "Baba O'Reilly" for the first time. Joe Pera Talks with You is a sweet, quietly absurd treasure.

Three Easy Pieces will return, next month, with: Anti-rom-coms.