Armchair Sleuthing, Olympic Feats & Summer Blockbusters: July Favorites 2021

And another month bites the dust! The roundup of my favorite media from this month included a lot of action—thank you Natasha, Kitty, and every incredible athlete currently competing in Tokyo—and plenty of armchair detective work. My July favorites included Marvel's Black Widow, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, PBS' Renegades: Kitty O'Neil, the final season of Buzzfeed Unsolved: True Crime, and the podcast Finding D.W.


What were some of your favorite films, television shows, web series, books, or podcasts from July? Let me know what you're looking forward to or would recommend seeing in August!

Black Widow

Dir.: Cate Shortland

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt & Ray Winstone

Where to Watch: Disney+


Natasha Romanoff (Johansson), aka Black Widow, confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.


Let's be honest: This film is long overdue. Easily, by a decade. The fact that it took Marvel 13 years to develop, produce, and release a solo Black Widow movie is kind of ridiculous. I will die on this hill. That all being said, I'm glad that she's finally here.

In my opinion, is it the best film in the Marvel lineup? No. But is it as bad as Thor: The Dark World (2013)? Definitely not. The action sequences are great, the dynamic between Natasha and her "family" is entertaining, and the supporting cast is outstanding. I'm interested to see how characters introduced in this film may reappear in future Marvel projects.


Tokyo Summer Olympics

Production Team: International Olympic Committee & NBC Sports

Where to Watch: Hulu | Peacock | YouTube


The 2020 Summer Olympics, officially the Games of the XXXII Olympiad and branded as Tokyo 2020, is an ongoing international multi-sport event held from July 23 to August 8, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.


In 1996, I had an Olympic-themed birthday party to coincide with the Atlanta Summer Games. My friends and I competed in silly competitions and relay races and received plastic medals as party favors. My birthday cake was shaped and decorated like Centennial Olympic Stadium, complete with a Starburst-and-frosting podium in the center. Inspired by Dominique Dawes and Kerri Strug, I desperately wanted to become a gymnast. I begged my parents to let me "start training." I had one lesson at the local Y before the coach quit because the gym was "too hot." In her defense, Southern summers are pretty miserable.

So, while I never became a world-class gymnast (but honestly, it was probably for the best), I still love watching the Olympics. My favorite summer events are gymnastics, swimming, and beach volleyball, but I've also really enjoyed seeing skateboarding and surfing join the lineup this year.


And, although this year's games are very different from what we're used to seeing, thanks to Covid, it's still inspiring to see these athletes who have worked so hard compete at this level. This year hasn't been free from controversy (justifiably so), but it's still fun to root for the home team and cross your fingers and toes for the underdogs, too.


Renegades: Kitty O'Neil

Dir.: Day Al-Mohamed

Cast: Lachi

Where to Watch: PBS | YouTube


In the pilot episode of PBS' new digital series, musician and disability inclusion advocate Lachi explores the cultural contributions of people with disabilities and how they transformed America. Renegades investigates the amazing life and accomplishments of Deaf stunt legend and speed racer Kitty O'Neil (1946-2018) and how her deafness impacted her career in Hollywood in the 1970s.


Kitty O'Neil was a racecar driver, stunt legend, and daredevil. Known as "the fastest woman in the world," O'Neil broke the land speed record in 1976, clocking an average of over 512 mph in a three-wheeled rocket car across Oregon's Alvord Desert. That same year, she became the first woman to join Stunts Unlimited, the leading stunt agency in Hollywood. O'Neil was a stunt double for Lindsay Wagner on The Bionic Woman (1976-1978) and Lynda Carter on Wonder Woman (1977-1979). And she did it all while being Deaf.


Unfortunately, this "digital episode" isn't as in-depth as most of American Masters' features. Renegades still offers a great overview of O'Neil's impact as a woman in a male-dominated field and as a Deaf woman working in film and television. However, as this is the pilot episode, PBS has also released a survey so viewers can provide feedback, so hopefully, future episodes will be more in-depth.


Buzzfeed Unsolved: True Crime S8

Dir.: Katie LeBlanc

Cast: Ryan Bergara & Shane Madej Where to Watch: Prime Video | YouTube


Conspiracy theory enthusiast Ryan Bergara deep-dives into mysteries surrounding notorious unsolved crimes in order to convince his dubious friend Shane Madej that, sometimes, the evidence isn't always as it seems.

As a 90s kid who used to watch Unsolved Mysteries partially covering my eyes (the intro music still gives me goosebumps), I've always loved mystery docuseries. Tapping into that sense of nostalgia and morbid curiosity, I've been a fan of Buzzfeed Unsolved since its first episode aired back in 2016. While most mystery docuseries bank on the creep factor, Buzzfeed Unsolved is the perfect blend of fun, funny, and weird...although I'm still kind of confused by the "Hot Doga."

This is Buzzfeed Unsolved: True Crime's final season, with the series finale of Buzzfeed Unsolved: Supernatural airing in the fall. While I'm sad to see the Ghouligans' adventures come to an end, I am interested in seeing the content Bergara, Madej, and Steven Lim develop on their own YouTube channel Watcher.


Finding D.W.

Host: Jason Szwimer

Where to Listen: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify


Former voice actor Jason Szwimer is on a mission to find and interview seven male strangers who all have one thing in common with him: They all played the voice of D.W., the little sister character on the popular children's cartoon, Arthur.


For me, Arthur is as synonymous with my childhood as Mr. Rodger's Neighborhood or Sesame Street. Arthur was a constant repeat for me at the library, and I was thrilled when I got even more adventures with Arthur and the gang from Elwood City on PBS. And as an adult, the show's memes became the gift that keeps on giving. This particularly relatable meme is a personal favorite of mine:

Dora Winifred Read, probably the sassiest preschooler in all of literature, has been a fan favorite of the show for over 25 years. Interestingly, D.W. has been played by boys this whole time! In Finding D.W., former D.W. performer (seasons 7-10) and host Szwimer reaches out to the other actors in this strange club to talk about their experiences. Each episode is around 30 minutes long and features the cast of D.W.s: Michael Caloz (seasons 1-3), Oliver Grainger (seasons 4-6), Robert Naylor (seasons 11-15), Jake Beale (seasons 16-17), Andrew Dayton (seasons 18-19), Christian Distefano (seasons 20-21), and Ethan Pugiotto (seasons 22-25).

And, unfortunately, now that the iconic series has been canceled after 25 seasons, I'll take all the Arthur content I can get.


PAIGE TAYLOR WHITE / TORONTO STAR
Host Jason Szwimer is on a mission to find and interview the seven voice actors who have played D.W. on PBS' hit show "Arthur."