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Pop-culture passwords a thing of the past
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Pop-culture passwords a thing of the past

Scrolling through the multiple streaming services on my Apple TV this week, I started thinking about monoculture (as one does).

In last week’s Applause, I recommended a police drama called No Offence on Acorn, the British-focused streamer to which I quite frequently forget I subscribe. The week before, my TV pick was Detroiters, a 2017 Comedy Central sitcom available via Crave that I only discovered because I started following one of its stars on Twitter.

Setting aside the fact that the above paragraph would have been incomprehensible gibberish in 1991, I was simultaneously struck by how incredible it is to have so many options at our fingertips and how bizarre the notion of not being familiar with a TV show would have been 30 years ago.

It’s hard to convey to generation Z (and even to younger millennials) how monolithic pop culture used to be, lest one risk sounding like a withered old hag who remembers the days when the phrase “Must-See TV” was taken literally.

But oh, those misty watercolour watercooler moments, where you could be assured at least half the office would be ready to dissect the latest episode of whatever network show had gripped the national consciousness the night before.

(The flip side of this was the collective paranoia that swept my elementary school after the 1983 broadcast of the terrifying nuclear holocaust TV movie The Day After, which was watched by a staggering 100 million people, leaving permanent psychological scars on most of them.)

By the same token, the things that diverged from the mainstream felt secret and special, like a password to a club. While having access to everything has allowed niche genres to flourish and find fans, and allowed those fans to find each other, we’re so shotgunned with options that we’ve lost a bit of the cultural shorthand that used to connect like-minded peers.

Lifelong friendships were formed by seeing someone wearing the right band T-shirt at a party; hand-lettered cassette tapes from a friend’s older sister were an eye-opening journey to a world beyond what could be heard on the radio.

I’m likely romanticizing the past — I’m incurably nostalgic — but seeking out the weird or offbeat used to be a labour of love that’s largely been replaced by an algorithm’s suggestions. And when you found something you loved, you often found your people along with it.

As often as I recommend Detroiters to people (and I do bang on about it), it’s unlikely that I’ll see a glimmer of recognition if I drop a line from the show in mixed company; there are just too many other things clamouring for people’s attention. And while I luxuriate in my many viewing and listening options, I miss that spark of connection just a little.

Now, gather round, children, while I tell you a tale about how if you forgot to set the VCR to record Moonlighting (Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC), you would just NEVER SEE THAT EPISODE.

Got a favourite collective pop-culture moment? A show that nobody else seems to remember existing? Email me at

Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson

What’s up this week

The Winnipeg Art Gallery presents Cliff Eyland: Library of Babel — A Retrospective, an exhibition celebrating the life of the late local artist. Curated by his longtime collaborator Robert. B. Epp, it explores Eyland’s lifelong love of the library (his 3-5-inch index card paintings can be found at the downtown Millennium Library) with a broad overview of his career, covering about 40 years and featuring more than 1,000 works of art, along with photos, videos and archival documents.


The planned public opening had to be postponed owing to the pandemic, but a community celebration is being organized for April 29 at 7 p.m. – see for details. Library of Babel runs to May 15.

What’s off this week

In response to travel restrictions and health regulations, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra is shifting its Feb. 5 concert, Two Pianos: Mozart, Hotoda & Woo, to March 5, in place of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in Concert, which will now be presented May 18 and 19.



The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. (DANIEL CRUMP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES)

Li Keur, Riel’s Heart of the North, a large-cast musical theatre work scheduled for Feb. 11-13, will be postponed until further notice out of an abundance of caution for the safety of the performers. Instead, the WSO will present Unforgettable Classical Favourites, Feb. 12 at 7:30 and Feb. 13 at 2 p.m. at the concert hall.

Finally, Russian pianist Alexei Volodin’s Rachmaninoff performance on Feb. 18 and 19 has been postponed. In its place, maestro Daniel Raiskin presents a program of Mozart and Beethoven.

Prairie Theatre Exchange is cancelling the Winnipeg run of Ins Choi’s Bad Parent, scheduled for March. The company hopes to be able to present it next season.

What’s coming up

West Coast singer-songer Frazey Ford’s postponed January show at the Park Theatre has been moved to April 25. Tickets are $36.75 at; if you already purchased tickets, expect an email regarding the new date.

Frazey Ford. (CNS / PNG)


TV: I’ve been loving Yellowjackets (that season finale!) and liking Stay Close, the latest British adaptation of one of Harlen Coben’s preposterous everyone’s-got-a-dirty-secret thrillers, but sometimes you need a break from all that overheated drama and violence.

Enter Somebody, Somewhere, a tender, steeped-in-realism look at a middle-aged Midwestern woman (Bridget Everett) struggling to find her place in her hometown after the death of her sister. Everett — a cabaret comic best known for broader, brassier performances — is captivating as Sam, an aimless, shlumphy 40-something who only comes alive when capturing the show choir triumph of her youth. Jeff Hiller, a memorably snarky presence in bit TV parts here and there, is absolutely lovely as Joel, a supportive former schoolmate with a sly goofy wit.

Only two episodes are available so far (it’s on Crave), with new eps airing Sundays.

Podcasts: Dave Holmes, a former MTV VJ (and a hilarious writer: his Esquire review of 50 Shades Freed is truly glorious), is the same age as me, right in that generation X sweet spot that had a yellow Sony Walkman and remembers who shot J.R. but also hate-watches Emily in Paris and tries to use emojis correctly, and his obsessions are my obsessions.

His new podcast, Waiting for Impact, is (sort of) about his mild but decades-long obsession with a band that appears for about 10 seconds in the 1991 Boyz II Men video for Motownphilly. (The four white guys of Sudden Impact point at the camera as if to say: “We’re coming for you, pop charts” and then are never heard from again.) But it also somewhat tangentially dips into the idea of how the early ‘90s saw the monoculture shattered forever by the internet. It’s about passion, dreams and how we measure success, and it’s for you if you’re delighted to find out that the first band to top the album charts after the debut of Soundscan technology was hair-metal act Skid Row.

New in music

Billy Talent is going for it with big statement album ‘Crisis of Faith’

Reviews of this week’s CD releases

Festival opener spans emotions with wild sonic ride

Weekend Playlist: Toronto punk group PUP return with angsty new single, Beach House drop another batch of dreamy shoegaze and more music you need to hear

New on screen

Toronto actor Kevin Alves talks about filming ‘Yellowjackets’ and the thrill of not knowing what comes next

Archive 81 unspools outmoded analogue dread

‘Downton Abbey’ creator’s new series, plus a busy day for Netflix drops: Here’s what’s streaming for Canadians this week

After getting his start on ‘The Office’ Toronto showrunner Anthony Q. Farrell is creating opportunities for others

New in books

Dystopian desk jobs make for dark, fascinating fiction

Dream-home thriller sits on uneven foundation

Satirical, comical cruise-ship novel marred by somewhat uneven keel

Crackerjack medical officer returns in Cornwell’s latest whodunit

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