Your weekly supply of smart things to say about pop culture. We’ll take you into the writers’ rooms, songwriters’ heads, and novelists’ thoughts that are fueling pop culture conversations. And we’ll give you the smart insights, factoids, and conversation starters to get you through your next cocktail party conversation about the latest in TV, music, movies, and books. Seriously: You don’t even have to binge watch that whole season or read that whole book. Just listen to Pop Literacy and you’ll be the smartest person in the room.
And as for our own credentials, you can see our bios below, but basically we are pop culture expert soulmates who have four-hour-plus lunches discussing such matters and also have persuaded the people at Vulture, Yahoo, Entertainment Weekly, BBC Culture, and lots of other places that we know what we're talking about.
Now Playing: Prison Life in Pop Culture: Why Are We So Obsessed?
Orange Is the New Black, The Night Of, Oz, Rectify… they’re the finest examples of what TV has offered viewers in depictions of prison life. Add in classic movies like The Shawshank Redemption, Cool Hand Luke, The Green Mile, and American History X, and there’s no lack of quality storytelling when it comes to Hollywood’s spin on the unique system of rules and roles that make up life inside the penitentiary.
We’re fascinated by these tales, because they give us access to a world most of us – hopefully – will never know firsthand. The very best of them are also great character studies, allowing us insights into the struggles and motivations and redemptions of people we otherwise wouldn’t know. But how realistic are these portrayals? Showtime’s new limited series Escape at Dannemora, which unfolds the story of the real-life 2015 escape by prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York, is the latest entry onto the list of terrific TV prison dramas. And Dannemora writers, producers, and director Ben Stiller made the effort to ensure their story would get all the details just right, with the help of former Clinton inmate Erik Jensen.
Erik, our guest on this week’s Pop Literacy, is a technical consultant, actor, and writer who worked hands-on with the Dannemora cast and crew to make an incredibly accurate and impactful series. Erik talks to us about how he helped make Escape at Dannemora one of the year’s best dramas, how his time in Clinton led to his thoughtful escape to a new life and career that also includes working with James Spader on The Blacklist, and what Hollywood does and doesn’t get right about life in prison.
Meet Your Hosts!
Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, where she spent most of her time putting on shows in her parents’ garage, studying TV Guide, devouring Sweet Valley High books, lip-synching to Debbie Gibson, and memorizing every note of every George Michael song. This finally came in handy when she got a job at Entertainment Weekly, where she worked for a decade. Her work has since appeared in many places, including BBC Culture, The New York Times Book Review, Vice, New York Magazine, and Billboard. She’s the author of the New York Times best-seller Seinfeldia: How the Show About Nothing Changed Everything; a history of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted; and Sex and the City and Us: How Four Single Women Changed the Way We Think, Live, and Love. She now lives in Manhattan. You can visit her online at JenniferKArmstrong.com.
Kimberly Potts grew up in a very small Ohio farm town, where she spent time reading any magazine she could get her hands on, feeling certain no one would ever be funnier than Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton on "Family Ties" (she was right), listening to and cataloging Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 40 countdown each week (look it up, kids), and, most importantly, plotting her eventual escape to New York City, because, duh, that’s where Duran Duran and Madonna hung out. Fast forward to that Manhattan arrival, which has been followed by writing six books, getting paid actual cash to watch and write about television (the greatest form of pop culture) for the likes of Vulture, TV Guide, The Los Angeles Times, Variety, and Yahoo, and interviewing her TV heroes, including Bryan Cranston, Carol Burnett, Robin Williams, Bob Newhart, Mary Tyler Moore, Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Betty White, Henry Winkler, Ron Howard, Laurie Metcalf, and Conan O’Brien. Oh yeah, Shaquille O’Neal once called her Kimberly Wimberly.