Pop Diary: "Pen15" and "The Electrical Life of Louis Wain"

What I've been watching, lately

Pen15. I'm sorry to see this comic cringefest go, but, on the other hand, its two short seasons were absolutely perfect. 

Thirty-something co-creators and actresses Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle masterfully captured the awkward misery of junior high and, somehow, managed to be completely believable playing middle schoolers.  It shouldn't have worked, but did. 

Playing characters who share their real-life first names, the duo reminded us of the sometimes jarring confusion of moving from childhood into young adulthood. Maya and Anna are making the transition a little more slowly than most of their peers, which makes things even more challenging. Body changes, sexual feelings, shifting social orders and norms - they bumble their way through it all. It's all very real, very funny and very sad. 

They could've gone on mining this territory for a few more seasons to come, but there's also a lot said to quitting while you're on top. I see this show becoming a beloved cult classic, much like "Freaks and Geeks," another show that ended in its prime.

Electrical Life of Louis Wain. The trailers are completely misleading for this Benedict Cumberbatch-starring, based-on-a-true-story film about an eccentric 19th Century artist who specialized in surrealistic depictions of cats. 

We went in expecting something offbeat and zany and left bored and depressed. In short: Wain's wife, played by the excellent Claire Foy of "The Crown" fame, dies far too young and Wain goes slowly off the rails with grief, although his weird art is ultimately held in high esteem. There's nothing wrong with a sad story, but this one seems pretty pointless, there's just not enough story to the story to make it effective. A big letdown, considering the power of the cast.

Merry Christmas from Jimmy Stewart!


Video find: Dean Martin sings "It's a Marshmallow World," Dec. 23, 1971

Watch "The Christmas Martian" from 1971

Hot Trax '71: Led Zep, Three Dog Night, Ray Charles and more!

New songs on the charts 50 years ago this week.

Listen to the Hot Trax playlist! 

Led Zeppelin - Black Dog

Wilson Pickett - Fire and Water

Three Dog Night - Never Been to Spain

Ray Charles - What Am I Living For

Alice Cooper - Under My Wheels

The Bar-Kays - Son of Shaft

Rufus Thomas - Do the Funky Penguin