Critics' Picks

What you need to see, read, do this week: Quintessential Lynda Barry, a fetishistic femme fatale and one wacky season of "Weeds."

By Salon Staff

Published June 14, 2008 11:00AM (EDT)

"What It Is" by Lynda Barry
The problem with most guides on how to revive your creativity is that the people who write them create little more than guides on how to revive your creativity. Lynda Barry, the great comics artist, is an exception, and this book is part autobiography, part workbook, filled with moving stories and evocative collages. The emphasis is on memoir, with exercises asking readers to list every dog they've ever known or contemplate the feelings that come up when they think about their first phone number. Honest, awkward, funny and shot through with yearning, this is quintessential Barry. -- Laura Miller

"Weeds," Season 3, on DVD
One of the best things about Showtime's "Weeds" -- aside from Mary-Louise Parker and Elizabeth Perkins -- has always been its delicate balance of seriousness and camp. But, for whatever reason, during the show's third season (just released on DVD) its writers decided to leave all pretense of earnestness behind and veer into full-fledged satire. The show became all the better for it. The writers expanded their targets to include both religious fundamentalism and the American military, and introduced a host of fantastic new characters -- including Mary-Kate Olsen as a pot-dealing Christian and Matthew Modine as a land developer trying to peddle a river of sewage. But the season is worth watching if only to see, in one of its final episodes, one of the most memorably sacrilegious set pieces in television history. I won't ruin it for you, but it involves an empty house, a stolen church-mounted cross and one very large batch of weed. (Also note: The new season of "Weeds" premieres on Showtime on Monday, June 16, at 10 p.m.) -- Thomas Rogers

The Cubby Bernstein videos
In the unlikely event that "Xanadu" takes home the best-musical prize at Sunday night's Tony Awards, the show's producers can thank a 10-year-old publicity wunderkind named Cubby Bernstein. In a very funny series of Web shorts, the fictional Cubby, who has made the camp-tastic show his personal obsession, can be seen laying waste to Broadway's rank and file as he propels "Xanadu" toward Tony glory. Reputedly created by the show's book-writer Douglas Carter Beane, the shorts bristle with inside jokes and nods to cultural signifiers such as Paul Rudnick and Susan Sontag. (One recalcitrant actress is set straight with "Notes on Camp.") Best of all is a ripe sequence with Nathan Lane in the "Xanadu" dressing room, surrounded by men in dance belts. "This is like the Marx brothers stateroom scene," says Lane, "as directed by Sean Cody." Yes, it is. And to quote Cubby's slogan: "Yes, it can!" -- Louis Bayard

The Ting Tings, "We Started Nothing"
In pop music, it's generally true that everything new sounds at least a little like something old. Many people complain about this, but I find it a relief, evidence of the regenerative nature of rock 'n' roll. So what if some of the songs on the debut album of the Manchester, U.K., pop duo the Ting Tings sound a little reminiscent of old Blondie singles (or even not-so-old Lily Allen singles)? There's so much spontaneity and energy here that everything still sounds fresh. That disarmingly modest album title says it all: The Ting Tings see the value in making new things from old. -- Stephanie Zacharek

"Secret Diary of a Call Girl" on Showtime
Based on the bestselling diary of a high-priced prostitute, this British comedy import (premieres at 10:30 p.m. EDT Monday, June 16, on Showtime) demonstrates once and for all just how unreasonably fun and exciting it can be to sell your body for money. Although viewers might not buy the repeated claims by the show's heroine, Hannah (played by "Doctor Who" sidekick Billie Piper), that she loves her job, this clever series is definitely worth a look. Piper is a fine actress who's captivating to watch, and even as her alternately intrepid and sullen heroine lands in situations that can feel a little sugarcoated, the cleverness of the dialogue and the depiction of the profession's pitfalls -- creepy men, isolation from the straight world, longing for real intimacy -- are palpable and haunting throughout. -- Heather Havrilesky

Vera Farmiga in "Quid Pro Quo"
I'm always dubious when people say, "It's a pretty bad movie, but so-and-so is really awesome in it." Like, if s/he's so damn good, why does the movie still suck? So here I am telling you that the mediocre indie noir called "Quid Pro Quo," generally a picture short of conviction and atmosphere, is almost redeemed by Vera Farmiga, who pushes her odd, gawky brand of beauty into off-the-charts weirdness as Fiona, a femme fatale who favors fetishistic support undergarments and likes to travel by wheelchair (although she's able-bodied). Although Fiona's a nutcase from the word go, we can see why radio reporter Isaac (Nick Stahl) can't resist her; Farmiga's performance is perfectly balanced between transgressive sex vixen and lost kitten on the doorstep. -- Andrew O'Hehir ******

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