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These strange locations inspired a movie about the ‘occult, mythic feeling of L.A.’

John (Aaron Moorhead, left) and Levi (Justin Benson) in the indie sci-fi "Something in the Dirt."
John (Aaron Moorhead, left) and Levi (Justin Benson) encounter the inexplicable in an L.A. apartment building in the indie sci-fi film “Something in the Dirt.”
(Aaron Moorhead / Sundance Institute)
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Welcome to Screen Gab, the newsletter for everyone … who knows that living in L.A. can be surreal. Very surreal.

That’s the crux of the indie sci-fi film “Something in the Dirt,” whose masterminds check in with Jen Yamato in this week’s Guest Spot. Plus, we prepare you for the “White Lotus” finale, offer two streaming recommendations for your weekend, and more.

And, as always, we want to know what you’re watching too! Pretend we’re at the water cooler and give us your review of a TV show or streaming movie you’ve loved and it may be included in a future edition of Screen Gab. (Submissions should be approximately 100 to 150 words and sent to screengab@latimes.com with your name and location.)

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Kirstie Alley as Rebecca and Ted Danson as Sam in “Cheers.”
(NBC / NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

How ‘Cheers’ stars Kirstie Alley and Ted Danson made one of TV’s most iconic pairings: Against Danson on “Cheers,” as in “Veronica’s Closet” and “Fat Actress,” Alley, who died Monday at age 71, was a screwball heroine of the small screen.

A plea deal ‘buried’ the abuse at a Mexican megachurch. A new doc hopes to unearth it: With “Unveiled: Surviving La Luz del Mundo,” filmmaker Jennifer Tiexiera wanted to tell a “completely survivor-driven” story. Here’s how she did it.

The 5 juiciest tidbits from Netflix’s ‘Harry & Meghan’ doc (so far): The first half of Liz Garbus’ docuseries about Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, premiered Thursday. Here’s what to know.

Inside Trevor Noah’s tearful goodbye to ‘The Daily Show’: The South African comedian, who replaced Jon Stewart in 2015, ended his seven-year run on the Comedy Central program Thursday. Here’s how it went down.

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Recommendations from the film and TV experts at The Times

Five young women in gymnastics uniforms in a locker room
Spirit Priester, from left, Kanon Sugino, Stasia Sewell, Kate Louissaint and Tatianna Burchette in a scene from “Random Acts of Flyness.”
(Rog Walker / HBO)

After four years, Terence Nance’s singular “Random Acts of Flyness” returns for a second season on HBO. “Welcome to Urgent Subversions of Television” reads a title in one episode, and that’s about the size of it. The series is genuinely avant-garde, not only because it goes places commercial TV constitutionally disdains — well, never thinks about at all — but because in its juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated events, its combination of the ordinary and the uncanny, its manipulations of sound and image, its Afrosurrealism exists within an artistic tradition staked out by Cocteau and Godard and Robert Wilson. Where the first season had a satirical, sketch-oriented bent — a variety show from space — the new episodes are more of a piece, knitted together with repeating motifs and a kind of dramatic throughline, glimpsed through thick layers of information, incorporating a love story and the development of a video game. The series is operatic, incorporating rituals, myth, animation, texts, dance and music — the beautiful score is written and performed by Chicago jazz musician Angel Bat Dawid — into a kind of Black techno-spiritual experience. —Robert Lloyd

I’ll be honest: I only found out “A Big Fat Family Christmas” (Hallmark Channel, Peacock) exists because my co-workers and I were laughing about how the holiday rom-com, set at a major California newspaper, has sparks flying between a reporter and a photographer as they collaborate on a cover story. I threw it on for curiosity’s sake, and even though it’s chock-full of thin banter and questionable journalism practices, the Hallmark title — helmed by an Asian director and starring two Asian leads! — also lightly touches on San Francisco’s history and how the frustrations a person feels about their racial identity can impact their familial relationships. Plus, Tia Carrere plays a supporting role full of humor and heart and reminds everyone watching that she’s well overdue for a comeback vehicle. —Ashley Lee

Catch up

Everything you need to know about the film or TV series everyone’s talking about

Two women on the steps in front of an Italian church.
Meghann Fahy, left, and Aubrey Plaza in “The White Lotus.”
(Fabio Lovino / HBO)

After its freshman outing became last year’s summer sensation, one might’ve expected Season 2 of “The White Lotus” (HBO, HBO Max) to begin with more of a bang. But the series’ journey to Italy, with reference to Monica Vitti and “L’Avventura,” has channeled the languor of the country’s midcentury cinema perfectly: There’s nothing quite like opulent palazzi and sun-kissed squares, after all, as a backdrop for seduction, infidelity, ennui. Led by Aubrey Plaza and Meghann Fahy in standout performances as a pair of differently disaffected wives to hunky, lunkheaded husbands, the sex-soaked slow burn has upped the ante on interpersonal intrigue through each of its six episodes to date, all without sacrificing its devilish sense of humor. It’d be enough to make you forget there’s a mystery to be solved in Sunday’s highly anticipated finale — that is, if there weren’t enough fan theories about the corpse and the killer floating around to give creator Mike White a head start on writing Season 3. —Matt Brennan

Guest spot

A weekly chat with actors, writers, directors and more about what they’re working on — and what they’re watching

Justin Benson, left, and Aaron Moorhead at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019.
Justin Benson, left, and Aaron Moorhead at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead met in 2009 working at the same Hollywood production company before forging their own idiosyncratic brand of heady indie sci-fi/horror as co-directors on “Resolution” (2012), “Spring” (2014), “The Endless” (2017) and “Synchronic” (2019). (Their credits also include Marvel’s “Moon Knight” and the upcoming second season of “Loki.”) In their fifth feature, “Something in the Dirt,” filmed in the early pandemic and out now on VOD, the duo also star as Levi (Benson) and John (Moorhead), mismatched neighbors in the same Laurel Canyon apartment complex who stumble onto an inexplicable phenomenon — and, like many a dream-chasing Angeleno, spin out into an echo chamber of conspiracy and madness trying to harness it. The filmmakers stopped by Screen Gab to deep-dive into the film, up for the John Cassavetes Award at the 2023 Spirit Awards, and share some of their favorite mystique-laden corners of L.A. Who better to ask than the guys who named their company after Los Feliz’s own Ye Rustic Inn? —Jen Yamato

It’s scary how relatably “Something in the Dirt” captures how bizarre living in Los Angeles can be. What inspired some of the ideas you wrote into the film?

Justin Benson: Just after “Resolution” premiered at Tribeca Film Festival, we started getting opportunities to go pitch. It would be like, “We want your original take on this piece of IP, be as weird as you want!” We would go and pitch and they’d be like, “That is unfortunately way too weird, and no one’s going to make that.” But in the process of doing that for about a decade, we came up with enough ideas, things that we just never stopped thinking about, from these failed pitches. And many of those things ended up in “Something in the Dirt.”

Aaron Moorhead: Do you know the Trocadero? Before the pandemic, it had the best happy hour in Los Angeles. Justin and I were there once with a few friends, it was rush hour, Sunset. It was this weird, magical moment. For some reason all the traffic didn’t just stop, it cleared — and everything went silent. You know how when you’re having a conversation and suddenly you realize you’re the only one talking and you’ve got to shut up, and everything gets weird for a second? It was like that. Right then a coyote trots down Sunset Boulevard as if it owns the place. Stops, looks at us sitting and having our martinis, and then runs up the hill. And then the traffic resumed. It was such a weird little pause. Like the simulation took a break.

The discovery of a cosmic phenomenon in Levi’s apartment sets the film in motion. But as he and John try to understand it, they start noticing strange synchronicities and symbols around the city that are so well hidden in plain sight, a viewer might even wonder if they’re actually there in real life.

Moorhead: That was inspired by us walking around or driving around. We’d look around like, why does that just have a statue of a dragon on it? Or the Hollywood & Highland Center, which is this [Babylonian]-themed thing that apparently is from [D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance”]. But if you don’t know that, it’s just crazy.

Benson: A lot of the places we put the symbol onto are buildings in Hollywood where the tourist trinket shops and the Walk of Fame are. When you live here, you go, “That’s just a touristy part of town.” But there is actually really interesting stuff in those neighborhoods, most notably the architecture. You home in on specific elements of it, whether it’s the moldings of the buildings or the giant corroded antennas on top of the old Hollywood Pacific Theatre. Even as a person who does not believe in ghosts, I find it feels haunted.

Moorhead: Would you say “Sunset Boulevard” the movie captures the weird, occult, mythic feeling of L.A. the best of any L.A. movie? Is it “The Big Lebowski”?

Benson: There’s something haunting about seeing a movie [like “Sunset Boulevard”] in black-and-white that is about a bygone era itself, about a character from that bygone era, when you can still go look at that today and it still looks almost exactly the same.

What’s one uniquely L.A. place that intrigues you in a way that you injected into the movie?

Moorhead: The Museum of Jurassic Technology. It’s a museum that doesn’t overtly let you know as you’re going through — the exhibits are a little strange, and they get stranger and stranger as you go up and up, and at a certain point if you’ve done no research on this museum and just gone in, it’ll click in your brain that some or all of this is fabricated. You just don’t know what. It’s like, a hubcap is right next to a chupacabra. Our movie is very much like the Museum of Jurassic Technology, where you just kind of don’t know where the real ends and the fake begins, but it’s all fun.

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Recommendations from Screen Gab readers

David Suzuki, host of "The Nature of Things," in the CBC editing room.
David Suzuki, host of “The Nature of Things,” in the CBC editing room.
(Doug Griffin / Toronto Star via Getty Images)

“The Nature of Things” with David Suzuki (CBC, Tubi) is a Canadian documentary series that debuted in 1960. Many of the episodes document nature and the effect that humans have on it, although the program’s scope includes all aspects of science. From the search for other life in the universe to the psychology of babies, from the furry animals that invade our backyards to the consequences of human progress, “The Nature of Things” opens the door to the wonder and accomplishments of science.

My first recollection of this series was watching Suzuki explaining DNA on PBS. The most memorable feature was the large array of file cabinets with each drawer filled with paper showing the four constituents of DNA. Much has changed in the interim, including the complete definition of human DNA. Still, the original programs featuring David Suzuki still have a sweet spot in my mind.

After 43 years of hosting the program, Suzuki will retire in 2023, and I, personally, will miss him.

Steve Cherry
La Quinta

What’s next

Listings coordinator Matt Cooper highlights the TV shows and streaming movies to keep an eye on

Fri., Dec. 9

“America’s Test Kitchen: The Next Generation” (Freevee): Home cooks go toque-to-toque in this new competition hosted by Jeannie Mai Jenkins.

“Christmas Bloody Christmas” (Shudder): A software glitch sends an animatronic Santa on a murderous rampage in this 2022 horror comedy.

“Emancipation” (Apple TV+): Oscar winner Will Smith portrays an enslaved Black man who takes his future into his own hands in Antoine Fuqua’s 2022 historical drama.

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” (Netflix): The Oscar winner reimagines the tale of the wooden puppet who becomes a real boy in this stop-motion-animated 2022 fantasy.

“Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage?” (Disney+): The Tony winner (“Wicked”) preps for a concert at Madison Square Garden in this intimate documentary.

“It’s a Wonderful Binge” (Hulu): They wanna rock and roll all Christmas Eve and party Christmas Day in this 2022 sequel to the 2020 satire.

“Little America” (Apple TV+): The star-studded anthology series exploring the immigrant experience is back with new episodes.

“Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again” (Disney+): The fantasy comedy franchise returns in animated form in this 2022 sequel.

“Something From Tiffany’s” (Prime Video): It ain’t breakfast, we can tell you that much, in this 2022 holiday rom-com. With Zoey Deutch.

“The Most Colorful Time of the Year” (Hallmark, 8 p.m.): An optometrist hooks up with a hunky schoolteacher in this new TV movie. With “30 Rock’s” Katrina Bowden.

“A Recipe for Joy” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.): An aspiring cooking-show host hooks up with a hunky chef in this new TV movie.

“Battle of the Bling” (HGTV, 10 and 10:30 p.m.): These houses need make-unders in this new series hosted by Kim Myles and Todrick Hall.

Sat., Dec. 10

“The Match” (TNT, 3 p.m.): Golf’s Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, et al., hit the links for charity in the return of this annual competition.

“Christmas Class Reunion” (Hallmark, 8 p.m.): Former classmates reconnect during the holidays in this new TV movie. With Aimee Teegarden.

“Kirk Franklin’s the Night Before Christmas” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.): An estranged mother and daughter seek shelter during a blizzard in this inspirational TV movie.

“Saturday Night Live” (NBC, 8:29 and 11:29 p.m.): Steve Martin and Martin Short — “Steve Martin Short” for short — co-host, and Brandi Carlile performs.

“A Christmas Fumble” (OWN, 9 p.m.): A crisis-management expert reconnects with her former football star beau in this new TV movie.

“Serial Killer Capital: Baton Rouge” (Oxygen, 9 and 10 p.m.): This new series investigates a spate of unsolved murders in the Louisiana capital between 1992 and 2004.

Sun., Dec. 11

“Christmas in Rockwell” (Fox Nation): A movie star (pro wrestling’s Trish Stratus) goes home for the holidays in this new TV movie.

“White House Christmas 2022” (HGTV, 6 p.m.): See how they deck the halls at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in this new special.

“National Christmas Tree Lighting: Celebrating 100 Years” (CBS, 8 p.m.): LL Cool J hosts, and Gloria Estefan and Shania Twain perform in Washington, D.C.

“Dirty Jobs” (Discovery, 8 p.m.): Host Mike Rowe gets back to mucking about as the unscripted series returns.

“The Holiday Sitter” (Hallmark, 8 p.m.): A hunky bachelor hooks up with his hunky neighbor in this new LGBTQ-themed TV movie.

“Single and Ready to Jingle” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.): A toy company executive gets her groove back with a tropical vacay in this new TV movie.

“Must Love Christmas” (CBS, 9 p.m.): A romance novelist (“The Equalizer’s” Liza Lapira) can’t decide which hunk to hook up with in this new TV movie.

“This Is Life With Lisa Ling” (CNN, 10 p.m.): The journalist takes a deep dive into “LA’s Mental Health Crisis” in this new episode.

“Loan Wolves” (MSNBC, 10 p.m.): This new docuspecial examines the student loan debt crisis.

Mon., Dec. 12

“Midsomer Murders” (Acorn TV): The veddy British mystery drama is back for its 23rd season.

“Dogs of the Year 2022” (The CW, 8 p.m.): This new special shares “tails” of particularly praiseworthy pooches.

“American Masters” (KOCE, 9 p.m.): Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning author Saul Bellow is remembered in a new episode.

“Baking It” (NBC, 10 p.m.): “SNL’s” Amy Poehler is Maya Rudolph’s new co-host as the competition returns with a star-studded holiday episode.

“POV” (KOCE, 10 p.m.): Gentrification threatens an elementary school on Chicago’s South Side in the 2022 documentary “Let the Little Light Shine.”

“CMT Crossroads Christmas” (CMT, 10 p.m.): Christian pop duo For King & Country performs with special guests.

Tue., Dec. 13

“Dr. Seuss Baking Challenge” (Prime Video, Freevee): They’d better not be making green eggs and ham in this new series. Tamera Mowry-Housley hosts.

“Kindred” (FX on Hulu): A Black woman in L.A. is transported back in time to the pre-Civil War South in this new drama based on Octavia E. Butler’s acclaimed novel.

“Last Chance U: Basketball” (Netflix): This docuseries about a college hoops team in East L.A. tips off a second season.

“Tom Papa: What a Day!” (Netflix): The comic’s comic cracks wise about parenting, relationships, etc., in his latest stand-up special.

“30 for 30” (ESPN, 5 p.m.): A female Korean American pool player turns the tables in the new sports doc “Jeanette Lee Vs.”

“O Holy Night: Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir” (KOCE, 8 p.m.): Broadway’s Megan Hilty joins the ensemble in this new special.

“In a Different Key” (KOCE, 9 p.m.): A mother with an autistic son seeks out the very first person ever diagnosed with the developmental disorder in this new documentary.

“Pelosi in the House” (HBO, 9 p.m.): House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is profiled in filmmaker daughter Alexandra Pelosi’s latest documentary.

“The Nine Lives of Vince McMahon” (Vice, 9 p.m.): The controversial pro-wrestling impresario is profiled in this new docuspecial.

“Christmas Wars” (A&E, 10:30 p.m.): You’re gonna find out who’s naughty or nice in this new reality series featuring clips of revelers, shoppers, et al., behaving badly.

Wed., Dec. 14

“Don’t Pick Up the Phone” (Netflix): This new docuseries tells the bizarre story of a prank caller who impersonated a police officer telephonically for truly nefarious purposes.

“Grails” (Hulu): This new docuseries follows two golf-loving Black entrepreneurs as they build their game-changing sportswear brand.

“National Treasure: Edge of History” (Disney+): A young Latina tries to solve an ancient mystery in this new series based on the Nicolas Cage films. With Lisette Olivera and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

“Survivor” (CBS, 8 p.m.): See who outwitted, outplayed and outlasted whom in the competition’s season finale.

“The Earthshot Prize” (KOCE, 8 p.m.): Environmentalists and their plans for saving the planet collect kudos from Britain’s Prince William at the annual ceremony.

“A New Diva’s Christmas Carol” (VH1, 8 p.m.): Dickens’ classic tale gets a modern musical twist in this new TV movie. Ashanti stars.

“Masters of Illusion: Christmas Magic 2022” (The CW, 9 p.m.): Put a little abra in your holiday cadabra with this new special.

“Nova” (KOCE, 9 p.m.): “Rebuilding Notre Dame” tracks efforts to restore the iconic Paris cathedral to her former glory following a devastating 2019 fire.

“Finding Harmony” (ABC, 10 p.m.): John Legend joins forces with a community choir director to bring music to the masses in this new special.

“Awake Surgery” (TLC, 10 p.m.): Anesthesia, schmanesthesia! Meet a surgeon who operates on patients without putting them under in this new series.

Thu., Dec. 15

“Call Me Miss Cleo” (HBO Max): The infomercial psychic with the memorable catchphrase and phony Jamaican accent is recalled in this new documentary.

“The Game” (Paramount+): The rebooted version of the sports dramedy kicks off its sophomore season.

“The Hunt for the Versace Killer” (Hulu): The shocking 1997 murder of the famed Italian fashion designer is revisited in this new docuseries.

“Love for the Ages” (Peacock): Three long-married Latinx couples are tempted to scratch that seven-year itch in this new reality series.

“Sonic Prime” (Netflix): The blue hedgehog from the video games feels the need for speed in this new animated series.

“Who Killed Santa? A Murderville Murder Mystery” (Netflix): Det. Terry Seattle (Will Arnett) is on the case, ably assisted by guest investigators Jason Bateman and the aforementioned Maya Rudolph, in a special holiday episode.

“The Great Nickmas Tree Sliming ... Hosted by That Girl Lay Lay” (Nickelodeon, 7 p.m.): The slime must flow in this new holiday special.

“Christmas Around the USA” (The CW, 8 p.m.): See how your fellow citizens are celebrating in this new special.

“Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration” (ABC, 8 p.m.): A tale as old as time is told once again in this star-studded salute to the animated 1992 musical. With H.E.R. and Josh Groban.

“Record Breaking Christmas” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.): A world-records adjudicator hooks up with a hunky small-town doctor in this new TV movie.

“The Parent Test” (ABC, 10 p.m.): Disparate parenting styles are put under the microscope in this new reality series.

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