Critics' Picks

Salon's culture gurus tip you off to their favorite things this week: A bawdy British sketch show, a book on the Bard's better half, the return of the Breeders.

By Salon Staff

Published April 12, 2008 11:00AM (EDT)

"That Mitchell and Webb Look" on BBC America
This sketch comedy show in the absurdist/Monty Python tradition can be hit and miss, but the hits -- a "savage" tribe living in a garden shop, a parody of American-style legal dramas and Numberwang, a glitzy game show with no discernible rules in which people simply shout out numbers -- are giddily hilarious. The show airs Fridays at 9:20 p.m. EDT; check out clips on the BBC's Web site. -- Laura Miller

Erykah Badu's "New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)"
Is Erykah Badu's first album since the 2003 EP "Worldwide Underground" a brief for the Nation of Islam or a cautiously optimistic welcome for the new day that just might be dawning? Either way, the sound is more honey than thunder. Badu turns the line "Hold on, my people" into a soothing chant, or possibly a warning, but when she looks toward the horizon, she still sees one nation under a wary, hopeful groove. -- Stephanie Zacharek

"Shakespeare's Wife" by Germaine Greer
Her husband blew her off in his will, leaving her only his "second best bed," and generations of (mostly male) critics haven't been much kinder to poor Ann Hathaway, aka Mrs. William Shakespeare. Riding to her rescue comes Germaine Greer, who, when she's not windmilling at demons, can be a redoubtable scholar. "Shakespeare's Wife" makes the provocative case that Hathaway was not the ball and chain of popular myth but an active and influential partner in her husband's life and work. -- Louis Bayard

Bahman Ghobadi's "Half Moon"
Beginning with the unforgettable "A Time for Drunken Horses" in 2000, Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi has become his people's artistic ambassador to the world. As you'll see in his most recent picture, "Half Moon" (just out on DVD), he also possesses a distinctive vision, both tragic and whimsical, that is framed by the rugged countryside of the Iran-Iraq borderlands and the political divisions that separate Kurds from one another. In "Half Moon," Ghobadi's most delicate and beautiful film to date, an aging Kurdish-Iranian musician leads a pilgrimage of his sons into Iraq to celebrate the fall of Saddam Hussein -- but it's a long and difficult journey, and as much a spiritual as a physical one. -- Andrew O'Hehir

The Breeders' "Mountain Battles"
Done with drugs (again), twin sisters Kim and Kelley Deal have resurrected their band the Breeders after (another) long silence, six years this time. Their new album, "Mountain Battles," bursts with energetic, Pixie-ish punk, balanced by a rootsy ballad or two, showing almost as much confidence as 1993's "Last Splash." Wait, Kim can kind of sing! Hey, a guitar solo! -- James Hannaham

"The Real Housewives of New York City" on Bravo
Substitute pitchers of margaritas and fake boobs for litchi martinis and dysfunctional handbag dogs, and you've got "The Real Housewives of New York City," a show that's about 50 times more entertaining than "The Real Housewives of Orange County." (The first-season finale airs at 10 p.m. EDT Tuesday, April 15.) These so-called housewives are much more amusing than the O.C. crowd: Alex and her husband, Simon, are the most awkward social climbers ever recorded on camera, making everything from St. Barts to Fashion Week look hopelessly dorky by association. LuAnn refers to her husband as "The Count" but blows money on break-dancing lessons for her son in an effort to stay hip. But our favorite has to be single entrepreneur Bethenny, who distances herself from those desperate women with their ticking biological clocks, and then has the cojones to throw back several martinis and pressure her boyfriend into cohabitating while the cameras roll. Now that's quality television! -- Heather Havrilesky

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