Critics' Choice

By Jonathan Ross Margo Price Ellen E Jones
Author: Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross is a comedian, talk show host, film critic and one of Britain's most successful broadcasters.

Author: Ellen E Jones

Ellen E Jones

Ellen E Jones is The Independent's TV critic and a columnist for The Independent on Sunday and The i Paper. She runs regular review writing workshops and mentoring programmes for young journalists, yet still finds time to squeeze in a solid four hours of TV-viewing a day.

Author: Margo Price

Margo Price

Margo Price is an American country singer-songwriter based in Nashville, Tennessee.

Jonathan Ross says…

Writing for a newspaper has to be one of today’s most reviled professions. And sometimes with good reason. Some journalists are not averse to breaking the law to get the scoops they think they need to satisfy an audience’s desire for scandal and titbits about the lives of the rich and famous. Of course, that’s only part of the story, as just as often these people work long and hard to reveal miscarriages of justice, abuse of position and dirty-doings in the corridors of power.

You can find movies that offer both extremes of the profession. Kirk Douglas turned in one helluva performance as the unscrupulous, down-on-his luck Chuck Tatum in Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole. Sally Field was tremendous in Absence of Malice, where her careless reporting of facts had catastrophic consequences. Both great films. But there are far more examples in which movies show news reporters in a heroic light – as trustworthy crusaders for justice rather than sneaky newshounds.

All the President’s Men of 1974 is perhaps the classic of heroic journalism, but there are many others. In the same decade, Warren Beatty played an ambitious reporter investigating a senator’s assassination that revealed a vast conspiracy implicating a multinational corporation in the ground-breaking The Parallax View. While Spotlight, the 2015 drama that covered the Boston Globe’s revelations about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, was gripping and powerful.

The Post, the latest from those three titans of quality populism, Spielberg, Hanks and Streep, has all the hallmarks of a solid, old-fashioned political thriller. It tells of the bold decision taken by Katharine Graham, the inheritor and publisher of The Washington Post, to publish the Pentagon Papers, which revealed the scope of the US government’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

With the public’s trust of the press at an all-time low and the dismissive barb of ‘fake news’ being hurled around to silence those genuinely trying to find something resembling clarity and the truth in our weirdly cartoonish political landscape, The Post could not be more timely.

Margo Price on Music City

“I moved to Nashville in 2003 with $57 in my pocket. I didn’t have a job and in the first week I totalled my car, so I holed up in this small apartment listening to Bob Dylan. It was kinda bleak: I had to wait tables at a place called The Flying Saucer. We had to wear Catholic schoolgirl outfits. It was like a high-class Hooters.

For my early shows, it was really hard to book a show without a manager or a record. There was one open mic at this dive punk bar called Springwater. It was a great scene to meet other writers and figure out what I needed to do myself.

I find Nashville inspiring as a songwriter. The best musicians in the world are here – whether you’re playing or writing it’s a good place to cut your teeth and learn and grow. Even though it’s booming it still kind of feels like a small town – just in the way everyone knows everybody. People say, “It’s so cool, people support each other.” While I think that that’s true, there’s also a fair amount of cutthroat here. People play hardball.

There’s a lot of things going on in Nashville. If you’re visiting for the first time, go to the American Legion Hall – they’ve got great music and dancing. And there’s the Downtown scene in places like Robert’s and Lonnie’s Western Room, where most of the musicians play covers and older music.

My favourite bar is a little off the beaten path, though – it’s called Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge. Make sure you get yourself a Mezcal Mule. And go to Jack White’s Third Man Records store. They have a little booth where you can record your own song on to a single and it pops right out there for you to take home. I recently took my son and he sang Moon River and he put that little 45 on our record player. You should have seen his face light up.

The type of music I play is very different from what many people see in the mainstream. It’s all about the stories – and people playing real instruments, not just playing along to tracks and lip syncing. The kind of country music I love is the sound of the fiddle and the sound of pedal steel. It’s four chords and the truth.

Ellen E Jones says…

What is it about heavenly comedy The Good Place that makes it so forkin’ feel-good? One great joy is the show’s impressive commitment to ever-more inventive cuss-word euphemisms (because you can’t use bad words in heaven, duh!), but there’s so much more to it than that.

Created by Parks and Recreation showrunner Michael Schur, it stars Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop, a woman who wakes up in an apparently blissful afterlife, overseen by the angel Michael (Ted Danson). However, Eleanor soon realises she’s been admitted to this paradise by mistake. On Earth, she was the kind of truly terrible person who sells fake medicine for a living and chooses Kendall Jenner’s Instagram feed as her “favourite book”. Therefore, in order to avoid being moved on to eternal damnation, Eleanor must keep this secret from the good people around her. These include her soul mate and ethics professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper), socialite philanthropist Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and mute Buddhist monk Jianyu (Manny Jacinto).

Amid a sea of shows trying to be ‘the next Friends’, or ‘the next Girls’, Schur and his writing team have created an entire alternate universe, and one that seems coherent and fully realised from the off.

The Good Place has its own clearly defined rules – no swearing, everyone loves fro-yo, everyone has a soul mate – yet many of the best moments arise when these rules are bent, broken or reversed entirely.

And if ever we are in any confusion as to how things might work, then ‘Janet’, a kind of corporeal Siri, played by D’Arcy Carden, is on hand with a cheery explanation.

Some questions you might have include: Where do we go when we die? What is it that defines a good person? And how do we decide to do the right thing? Rest assured that The Good Place regularly confronts all these heavy moral philosophical issues and somehow manages to do so in 25-minute episodes that feel as sweet and airy as meringue. That’s why watching The Good Place might even make you a better person. If only we could say the same for Kendall’s Insta feed.