Jonathan McNicol | Connecticut Public Radio
WNPR

Jonathan McNicol

Producer, The Colin McEnroe Show / Host, The Second First Season

Jonathan started at WNPR as an intern in 2010 and was hired later that year. In his work, Jonathan is always just trying to figure out a little bit of how the world works, while paying special attention to the absurd and the just plain goofy. He is as likely to produce a show on America’s jury system as he is a story on all the grossest parts of the human body. His work has been heard nationally on Here & Now and locally on WNPR’s talk shows, on Morning Edition, and on All Things Considered.

Jonathan comes to radio from a background in, of all things, graphic design. He lives in the greater New Haven area.

Ways to Connect

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In 2017, The New York Times uncovered a program at the Defense Department which investigated unidentified flying objects.

This year, the former chair of Harvard's astronomy department published a book arguing that we may recently have been "visited by advanced alien technology from a distant star."

This week, The New Yorker has a long piece on changing attitudes and fading taboos around UFOs.

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Semiotics is the study of sign process, which is to say: it's the science of the search for meaning.

And then, part of the underlying premise of semiotics -- which just happens to be part of the underlying premise of The Colin McEnroe Show, itself -- is that there's meaning... everywhere.

Why do people smoke cigarettes even though everyone knows they're terribly harmful? Why do women wear terribly uncomfortable high-heeled shoes? Could it simply be because those things are... interesting?

Netflix, Inc.

Elon Musk will host tomorrow night's Saturday Night Live. It is, if nothing else, an odd choice.

Speaking of choices, Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Best Sitcoms of All Time is out this week.

Finally, This Is a Robbery: The World's Biggest Art Heist is a four-part Netflix docuseries about the 1990 robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The burglary was the largest museum heist in history in terms of value (thought to be as much as $600 million) until 2019.

zenilorac / flickr creative commons

Numbers are so fundamental to our understanding of the world around us that we maybe tend to think of them as an intrinsic part of the world around us. But they aren't. Humans invented numbers just as much as we invented all of language.

This hour, we look at the anthropological, psychological, and linguistical ramifications of the concept of numbers.

And we look at one philosophical question too: Are numbers even real in the first place?

Trevor / flickr creative commons

As we were preparing for our show on underdogs, I kept saying that we shouldn't overlook the fact that, often, to be an underdog in the first place, you have to be relatively bad at the thing you’re an underdog about.

The more we talked about it, the more I found myself making the case that losers and losing are fascinating.

And they are. There's a whole podcast about political candidates who lost. We romanticize losers in movies and TV and songs and stories.

MARCO VERCH / flickr creative commons

Seriously: a show about towels.

There's the history of towels, towels in Christianity, Terrible Towels, Towel Day.

Oh, and there are actual towels too.

Because when has a bad idea ever stopped us before?

Jonathan McNicol / Connecticut Public Radio

No one likes a cloudy sky. A cloud on the horizon is seen as a harbinger of doom. We feel like clouds need to have silver linings.

But here's our thesis: Clouds are unfairly maligned.

Consider this: From almost any vantage point (literally -- any vantage point in the universe), clouds are planet Earth's defining characteristic.

They're what changes, what moves. They're what's going on on our pale blue dot.

Janus Films

André Gregory has directed and acted in the theater for more than 50 years. He has appeared in a number of movies, including Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, Woody Allen's Celebrity, Brian De Palma's The Bonfire of the Vanities, Peter Weir's The Mosquito Coast, and many more. He has starred in three movies about the theater with the playwright, actor, and comedian Wallace Shawn: A Master Builder, Vanya on 42nd Street, and the iconic My Dinner with Andre.

Gregory's memoir is This Is Not My Memoir. He joins us for the hour.

Sharon Mollerus / flickr creative commons

Hartford native Sol LeWitt was one of the giants of conceptualist and minimalist art.

As an artist, he abandoned the long histories of painting and drawing and sculpture in favor of his Wall Drawings and Structures.

And as an art figure, he abandoned the conventions of celebrity and resisted ever even having his picture taken.

This hour, a look at Connecticut's own Sol LeWitt.

Republic Records

Taylor Swift has announced plans to re-record six of her previous albums in order to own master recordings of her older catalogue. Fearless (Taylor’s Version), which came out last Friday, is the first of these six re-recordings to be released. Fittingly, this would appear to be the sixth Nose that is substantively about Taylor Swift.

And: If you're socially anxious (and who isn't, really?), you're gonna miss Zoom when it's gone. Oh, and speaking of social anxiety, meet Prancer, the Chihuahua who hates almost everyone.

THIERRY EHRMANN / flickr creative commons

Popeye. The World According to Garp. Good Morning, Vietnam. Dead Poets Society. Awakenings. The Fisher King. Aladdin. Mrs. Doubtfire. Jumanji. The Birdcage. Good Will Hunting. What Dreams May Come. One Hour Photo. Death to Smoochy. Insomnia. Night at the Museum.

And that's just a super-abbreviated version of Robin Williams's filmography. And it completely ignores his career as one of the all-time great standup comedians. And it ignores Mork & Mindy. And Comic Relief. And so much more.

This hour: A look at Robin Williams, who would've turned 70 this year.

Apex Photo Company / Wikimedia Commons

During his remarkable career with the Boston Red Sox, Ted Williams earned many nicknames: The Kid, The Splendid Splinter, Teddy Ballgame... but the only nickname that he ever wanted was "the greatest hitter who ever lived."

PBS

At Connecticut Public, there's a smallish corner conference room thing that we think of as The Crying Room. I, personally, haven't ever seen anyone cry in there, but I've had my suspicions. In any case, where people go to cry is part of the essential geography of the modern office. On the other hand, do we even have offices anymore?

And: Hemingway is a three-part PBS documentary directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. It premiered this week, and all 5½ hours are streamable now.

Jonathan McNicol / Connecticut Public Radio

Elvis left two legacies. Musically, he pulled several American musical traditions out of the shadows, braided them together, and made them mainstream. Personally, he created a far darker template for the way a musical celebrity could be devoured by the very fame he avidly sought.

Recorded live in front of an audience -- long before the pandemic hit -- as part of Colin's Freshly Squeezed series at Watkinson School, an hour about the artist who defined the birth of rock and roll and was the genre's first superstar.

CHRISTEL ØVERLAND PRETENI / flickr creative commons

humor = tragedy + time

OK, but then the logical next question is: How much time?

If it's OK, at this point, to joke about, say, The Spanish Inquisition... what about, for instance, the Holocaust? Or AIDS? September 11th? The #MeToo movement?

...Derek Chauvin?

Legendary / Warner Bros.

So celebrities and their giant water bottles: It's a thing, I guess. And then there's the ABC Carpet couches email thread. Plus: Netflix's dwindling, dying DVD library.

And then: Godzilla vs. Kong is the fourth movie in Legendary's MonsterVerse. It's a direct sequel to both Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), and it's the 12th King Kong movie and the 36th Godzilla movie, overall. Godzilla vs. Kong's theatrical opening (both internationally and domestically) has been the largest of any movie's during the pandemic.

Jonathan McNicol / Connecticut Public Radio

For a period of about 50 years, many of America's top cartoonists and illustrators lived within a stone's throw of one another in the southwestern corner of Connecticut.

Comic strips and gag cartoons read by hundreds of millions were created in this tight-knit group -- Prince Valiant, Superman, Beetle Bailey, Hägar the Horrible, Hi and Lois, Nancy, The Wizard of Id, Family Circus... I could keep going.

This hour, a look at the funny pages, and at Connecticut's cartoon county.

Apple

As with all weeks, it's been a strange week.

First there were the Cinnamon Toast Crunch shrimp tails. And then an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal. And now there might be another toilet paper shortage. Which would be bad for the Amazon drivers who have to poop in their trucks.

Maybe it's been an especially strange week.

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On March 6, Lou Ottens died in Duizel in the Netherlands. He was 94. I don't think I had ever heard of Ottens before, but the news of his death quickly filled my social media feeds. Ottens, you see, invented the compact cassette in the 1960s.

There's a certain romance to the cassette tape, right? They're more fun than mp3s, for sure. And it turns out they're having a little mini resurgence right now.

Focus Features

It might just be that the pandemic is starting to wind down. Advertisers are anxious to act like it is. We're all maybe anxious to get some hugs back into our lives, or maybe we'll all just always be anxious about hugs. And: How does this all work for half-vaccinated couples? Plus: The Nose sees some parallels in the sexlessness of superheroes.

And: Promising Young Woman is Emerald Fennell's feature-film debut as a writer, director, and producer, and it's made her an Academy Award-nominated writer, director, and producer. The movie is nominated for five Oscars overall, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Carey Mulligan.

Chion Wolf / Connecticut Public Radio

Every year around this time, there's a big-old college basketball tournament. So every* year around this time, for every* year that this show has been on the air, we've put together a big-old hour of radio about said big-old college basketball tournament.

Until last year, of course.

Green Fuse Films Inc.

On the one hand, obituaries are an amalgam of a bunch of different kinds of journalism: they're feature stories, they're profile pieces, they cover history, and they're hard news too.

On the other hand, the subject is always... dead.

Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.

Jeopardy! has been part of the fabric of American TV, in a couple different forms and across a couple different breaks, since 1964. It is the longest-running nationally-televised game show in U.S. television history.

At the 2015 Emmys, John Oliver quipped, "The sun could burn out, humanity could flee to another galaxy, time as we know it could cease to exist, but Alex Trebek will still be there scolding librarians from Ames, Iowa, to answer in the form of a question."

Except, of course, Alex Trebek died last year. And before that, Jeopardy!'s long-time executive producer and its long-time contestant coordinator both left at the end of last season.

So what's in store for this quiz show institution?

Discovery Communications, LLC

Criminal Minds. Mindhunter and Manhunt. Cracker and Profiler. Nearly the whole of the Hannibal Lecter universe: Manhunter, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal (the movie and the TV series), Red Dragon, and now Clarice.

It seems we're fascinated by forensic psychology, by mindhunting, by criminal profiling.

This hour, we look at three different criminal profilers: James Brussel, the psychologist who helped catch the Mad Bomber of New York in 1957; James Fitzgerald, the forensic linguist who caught the Unabomber; and Bill James, the father of sabermetrics, turns his data analysis on a century-old serial killer mystery that no one had even realized was a serial killer mystery before he and his daughter figured it out.

HBO

This Week (or so) in Reassessing Not-Necessarily-Current Bits of Culture: Seuss enterprises pulled six mostly early Dr. Seuss books from future publication. Disney+ added content warnings to certain episodes of The Muppet Show. Amazon tweaked its app logo to look less like, uh, Hitler. Turner Classic Movies launched a new series called Reframed Classics that will, well, frame movies like Gone with the Wind and Breakfast at Tiffany's with discussions of their problematic aspects.

And: Allen v. Farrow is a four-part HBO documentary series that chronicles the sexual assault allegation against Woody Allen by Dylan Farrow.

RKO Radio Pictures

Over just six years, from 1954 to 1960, Alfred Hitchcock made four movies -- Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960) -- that are routinely mentioned among the very best movies ever made. It's maybe an unparalleled run in the history of cinema.

And that's just those four movies. Hitchcock's filmography is full of classics: Notorious (1946), Strangers on a Train (1951), The 39 Steps (1935), The Wrong Man (1956), The Birds (1963). The list goes on.

HARU_Q / flickr creative commons

There's a theory that ours isn't the only universe. That there are, actually, infinitely many universes.

That there are, then, infinitely many yous.

That there are infinitely many different yous reading infinitely many different versions of this show synopsis. That there are infinitely many universes that don't even bother to include you. Or this show synopsis. Or even reading.

Fox Searchlight

On Thursday, Hasbro announced that its Mr. Potato Head brand would drop the "Mr." in a move toward inclusiveness. But they also made clear, in a move toward not being yelled at by the internet, that the Mr. Potato Head character (and the Mrs. Potato Head character, for that matter) would continue.

Also this week, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a new design for its mail trucks. The internet yelled about that some, too.

And: Nomadland is Chloé Zhao's third film as writer and director. It is nominated for four awards at this weekend's Golden Globes, including two for Zhao (Best Director and Best Screenplay) and one for Frances McDormand (Best Actress in a Motion Picture -- Drama).

Carol Rosegg

Thornton Wilder's Our Town debuted more than 80 years ago. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and, over the decades since, it has continuously been one of the most produced of American plays.

It is known for its spare set -- just some chairs and tables, perhaps some ladders -- and lack of props and sometimes even costumes. It's known for its metatheatricality and its Stage Manager character, who addresses the audience directly and rarely participates in the action of the play, as much as there really is any.

It is known as old-fashioned, sentimental, nostalgic and, simultaneously, obviously and intentionally not old-fashioned, sentimental, and nostalgic.

This hour, a look at perhaps the quintessential American play: Our Town.

We had trouble mustering enthusiasm to wrap up our final episode of this second season of Pardon Me. Last week's roller coaster of a trial culminated in 43 senators choosing to acquit on a weak and deceptive defense -- despite a factual and painstaking accounting of how bad the breach was, how bad it might have been, and how Donald Trump incited it.

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