Kevin Smith — comic-book guru, writer-director of Clerks and Chasing Amy — shares some of his must-see movie and TV recommendations with NPR's Steve Inskeep. Smith is the latest guest in Morning Edition's series Watch This.
The show, a mockumentary in the style of The Office, follows a once-famous actress who has the chance to regain relevance and popularity on a new sitcom while simultaneously starring on a reality TV show.
Despite only running for one season, the HBO comedy, starring Lisa Kudrow, earned the actress an Emmy nomination — and critical acclaim — after her long-running hit Friends went off the air.
"It is, like, pitch-perfect Hollywood satire" Smith says. "It's hysterically funny, in places really touching and heartbreaking. But it was a really clever and well-done idea that didn't really get enough attention or exposure."
The Bad News Bears
This 1976 film stars Walter Matthau as the coach of a terrible Little League baseball team. "People go, 'Oh, I've seen that story before.' And then you go, 'Well, yes, but this was the first time," Smith says. And that's what makes this film one of his picks.
Smith not only appreciated the originality of the film when he first saw it, but also admired its heart.
"It had incredible honesty, authenticity and edge. Nobody seems like they're acting."
Where the film really shines, according to Smith, is in its frank characterizations of children in the 1970s. "The kids are cursing, dropping racial epithets. The kids are bullying one another," Smith says. "It was literally a movie you'd watch and say, 'This doesn't even feel like a movie. This feels like my Little League team.' "
"This, to me, is a show that every man who's married needs to watch," Smith says. Now in its ninth season on the Oxygen network, Snapped features the stories of real women who have been accused of murdering their husbands.
Smith admits that he uses the show for research.
"I sit there and watch it with my wife. I constantly look over at her to see if she's taking down notes," Smith says.
"It's crazy how many of these chicks break out the antifreeze," Smith says. "Because — and this is something I learned from Snapped — it tastes sweet," he adds as a caution. "So now I'm tasting everything — giving a little bit to the dog before I taste it."
The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead, based on the graphic-novel series of the same name, follows a group of zombie apocalypse survivors. Smith believes the AMC drama is best enjoyed with its talk-show counterpart, Talking Dead.
"The beauty of The Walking Dead is that they take their time telling the story. It's literally like a soap opera," Smith says. He compares his attitude toward The Walking Dead to his grandmother's love of The Young and the Restless.
The appeal of the companion show, Talking Dead, in Smith's opinion is in its similarity to sports commentary.
"For years, whenever you watched sports, man, there's like, an hour of the game and two hours of people pontificating about the game. Now, with Talking Dead, you've got a program that's kind of the same thing."
Hockey: A People's History
The CBC's 10-episode documentary series, produced in 2006, traces hockey's history through re-enactments, archival footage and interviews with some of the game's greats.
"It's a really wonderful telling of the story of not just the game that Canada created, but the land that spawned it and the people that populate it."
Smith is not Canadian but is a self-proclaimed "Canadaphile."
In the series, hockey is serious business.
"They show you just how important that game is to that country, and how it actually helped create a national identity," Smith says. "I've not seen a miniseries that engaged me so thoroughly."
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's get some more TV and movie recommendations from our series "Watch This." The latest advice comes from Kevin Smith, the filmmaker, actor and comic book writer best known for the movie "Clerks."
Mr. Smith's first pick is a TV show starring an actress famous for the sitcom "Friends," and also a past guest on "Watch This" - Lisa Kudrow.
KEVIN SMITH: "The Comeback" was this HBO series that they did for one season only. And I guess it was Lisa Kudrow's post "Friends" follow-up project. Of the, you know, mocumentary genre, you know, that Christopher Guest and company made popular - and then, you know, has swept TV over the last few years, thanks to "The Office" - I felt like it was one of the best.
It's about an actress who had been on a sitcom back in the '80s, and then had kind of faded back into obscurity; who now has a chance to be on a current-day sitcom, with a reality show crew following her around. And it's called "The Comeback." So it is - like, pitch-perfect Hollywood satire.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "THE COMEBACK")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As charactor) What about your character? Is she in every show?
LISA KUDROW: (as Valerie Cherish) Oh, yeah. No, Lainie is one of the four. Yeah, she's the smart one; slightly older. She's an architect. Her name's on the lease, so...
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As charactor) Well, I pray you get this sitcom because I'm two years from retiring, and I need those health benefits.
KUDROW: (as Valerie Cherish) Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As charactor) They found two more questionable melanomas.
KUDROW: (as Valerie Cherish) Oh...
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As charactor) But don't cry for me, Argentina...
KUDROW: (as Valerie Cherish) Oh, here we are. I'm sorry, darling. Just put a pin in that. This is the network, my old stomping ground.
SMITH: It's hysterically funny; in places, really touching and heartbreaking. But - and it was just a really clever and well-done idea that didn't really get enough attention or exposure. And it is so worth watching.
INSKEEP: You have also sent us - for your list here - a movie that always causes the "1812 Overture" to come into my head, "The Bad News Bears."
SMITH: Oh, God. This is a flick that not enough people still talk about, to this day. It was one of my favorite films from childhood because it had incredible honesty, authenticity and edge. Nobody seems like they're acting - even Matthau, who we all know...
INSKEEP: Walter Matthau, we should explain for people, becomes the coach of a Little League baseball team that's terrible.
SMITH: Yes. It's - and it's by - if I put it to you like that; of like, it's about an underdog baseball team, you know, that kind of make their way through the playoffs, people go, oh, I've seen that story before. And then you go - like, yes, but this was the first time.
SMITH: This was the first time they ever made that movie. And the kids were just - so honestly mirrored the times that the movie was set in, which is like, the mid '70s; that - the kids are cursing, dropping racial epithets; the kids are bullying one another. It's everything that like, nowadays, most people would be like, oh, my God, what is wrong with these people? But in that time, in that era - man, it was literally a movie that you watch, going - like, this doesn't even feel like a movie. Like, this feels like my Little League team.
SMITH: It really does. It's such an American movie. It's such a hard-core, wonderful piece of American cinema.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE BAD NEWS BEARS")
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR: (As charactor) We just want to say, you guys played a good game and we treated you pretty unfair all season. We want to apologize. We still don't think you're all that a good a baseball team. You got guts - all of you.
VIC MORROW: (As Roy Turner) Well, let's give them a cheer. Come on.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP OF CHILD ACTORS: (As charactors) Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? Bears. Bears. Yay.
CHRIS BARNES: (As Tanner Boyle) Hey, Yankees. You can take your apology and your trophy, and shove it straight up your (BLEEP)
SMITH: Like, anybody who's listening going, I don't want to watch a movie from the '70s: Kids, this movie is not dated. It plays as current as possible.
INSKEEP: You have also called our attention to a couple of current TV series. One of them is "Snapped" on Oxygen. What is it?
SMITH: This, to me, is a show that every man who's married needs to watch. It's a show about women who kill their husbands. And it's like - always begins with, "They were the perfect couple, but then she snapped." And so for me, it's research. They're wonderful. They're half-hour - sometimes - mostly, an hour episodes, where you go over the incident of what some person - usually this woman, usually a married woman - did - killed her husband, boyfriend, a woman she was jealous of.
They trace the crime, how she was caught, the legal process - everything. And it's great research, man. I sit there and watch it with my wife. I constantly look over at her to see if she's taking down notes. It's crazy how many of these chicks break out the antifreeze. Because - and this is something I learned from "Snapped" - you can't - it tastes sweet.
SMITH: So now I'm tasting everything. I give a little bit to the dogs before I taste it. Because you never know - there could be some antifreeze in it, based on watching "Snapped." It is possible I watch too much "Snapped," as well. And we also watch...
INSKEEP: Don't let this happen to you - that's what's on your mind.
SMITH: Exactly; cautionary tales.
INSKEEP: If it does happen to you, though, that might get you to the next TV program that you recommend, called "The Walking Dead/Talking Dead."
SMITH: There it is, yes. I think this combination is fantastic. AMC cracked the code of geek programming by making a TV series about zombies. "The Walking Dead" is the series that's predicated on, you know, a very similar territory to "Dawn of the Dead." We're all familiar with the trope of suddenly the dead start rising. But what's the beauty of "The Walking Dead" is, they take their time telling the story. It's literally, like a soap opera; such a great program.
I think about it the way - my grandmother used to love to watch "The Young and the Restless." And, you know, I'd be over at my grandmother's a lot. We played cards. But, you know, from 12:30 on, she's watching "The Young and the Restless," and you couldn't bother her. Those were her stories. She would be like, you can't talk to me; my stories are on. That's how I feel about "The Walking Dead." When "The Walking Dead" is on, I'm like, shhh, go out of the room; my stories are on.
SMITH: And my stories happen to be about people getting chowed-down on, by the living dead. Now, the companion piece to it - it's a show called "The Talking Dead." So it's by Chris Hardwick. And basically, this show is simply people sitting around, talking about the episode that just happened. And it reminds me of sports. Like, for years, whenever you watched sports - man, there's like, an hour of the game, and two hours of people pontificating about the game. Now, with "The Talking Dead," you've got a program that's kind of the same thing.
INSKEEP: We've got time to talk about one more of your recommendations here. And it's called "Hockey: A People's History." What is it?
SMITH: "Hockey: A People's History" was a documentary series that - I think it was the CBC put together, a couple years back - might be coming up on 10 years soon. And I guess the easiest shorthand to describe it to the audience is, think of Ken Burns' "Baseball," but this is about hockey. And it's a really wonderful telling of the story of - not just the game that Canada created, but the land that spawned it, and the people that populate it. You know, and somebody spent all that time going through all this wonderful old footage and stuff that we, as Americans, would never see. But as a hockey enthusiast - or as a Canadaphile, like myself - it's like watching porn, man - it's porn for Canadaphiles and hockey fans.
INSKEEP: So it's one of those things that it takes a subject that is supposedly not that serious; but they sneak up on you and suddenly, they're being quite serious here.
SMITH: They show you just how important that game is to that country, and how it actually helped create a national identity. It's nice to hear the history of the neighbors to the north, man. I've not seen a miniseries that engaged me so thoroughly. Oh, that's enriching.
INSKEEP: The feature is called "Watch This." We're talking with filmmaker Kevin Smith. Thanks very much.
SMITH: Thanks for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.