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Meet the MC who dubs himself "Young Sinatra" and got a record deal with Def Jam. By Jeff Weiss
The rapper known as Logic—né Sir Robert Bryson Hall II—in his Los Angeles home. He comes back to Washington for concerts on March 4 and 5. Photograph by Emily Shur.

Pop quiz: In 2014, which rookie rapper scored the highest first-week sales for Def Jam, hip-hop’s most hallowed record label?

A) YG, the biggest West Coast gangsta rapper in a decade.

B) Iggy Azalea, the Australian Bratz-doll look-alike whose debut album went on to pick up a Grammy nomination.

C) Logic, a blue-eyed biracial artist who hails from Gaithersburg, a.k.a. the boondocks of hip-hop.

Because you’re reading a profile about him, you inevitably made a wise selection and chose C. The answer wouldn’t be obvious otherwise, because it’s the most improbable of the three.

Logic, a 25-year-old rapper with the boy-next-door looks of his middle-class Washington suburb, gave the industry its biggest surprise last year. He became rap’s breakout star after his first album, Under Pressure, streaked straight to number four on the Billboard charts and sold 73,000 copies in its first week, more than all but one other rookie in 2014.

The numbers wouldn’t be all that spectacular for an established recording artist. But for a relative newcomer, they’re impressive. In the music-on-demand-for-free era of Spotify, iTunes Radio, and Pandora, it’s tough for an unknown to build a following die-hard enough to shell out for the number of albums that’ll cause a splash. Remarkably, Logic did it without much of a gimmick or the kind of exaggerated persona that has become a prerequisite for musical superstardom today. Instead, his motto—and the key to his appeal, it seems—is “real all the time.” And for him, what’s real isn’t so pretty.

Under Pressure is autobiography. It tells the scarring narratives of Logic’s impoverished youth, the kind of life most locals don’t associate with Montgomery County: living on food stamps with absentee parents, watching drug deals go down, the first time he heard gunshots.

But another part of Logic’s heritage is also central to his album—and makes him stand out in hip-hop. Born to a black father and a white mother, he was frequently derided as “white boy” growing up because of his pale skin tone. Now he’s trying to make it in an industry that tends to second-guess white rappers. He’s used his music to grapple with his heritage and his looks. “Papa was a black man, mama was a racist,” he raps in a song called “Mixed Feelings,” about his desire to “break free of this biracial jail cell.”

Growing up she called me nigga, kids called me cracker / While the whites got whiter, and the blacks got blacker / I was hurting, doing everything I can / Perceived as a white boy with the soul of a black man.

The music’s emotional charge and soul-baring vulnerability resonate. “He’s earned the level of respect that comes when we know where you came from and what you love,” No I.D., Kanye West’s mentor, who produced Under Pressure, told me last year.

At the same time, Logic’s tales of woe are interwoven with unexpected verses pulsing with love, positivity, and straight-up striving. “He’s a modern, interesting artist who fits into a new era and style of MCs,” says Peter Rosenberg, the Chevy Chase-raised deejay who has become one of New York’s biggest radio stars on Hot 97 FM. “He totally blurs lines racially, has a very strong voice and very good lyrics. He can rap his ass off, has a really interesting life experience, and proves that you can reach the kids by being a good guy and cool.”

Logic has a thing for Rubik’s Cubes—he owns dozens and likes to solve them while he raps. Photograph by Emily Shur.

It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Logic is in a studio in Burbank, California, rapping at lightning speed while solving a Rubik’s Cube, his favorite pastime. Tell me how you feel / I feel like the grass is green . . . .

He’s had a couple of momentous months. In November, he made his first national TV appearance, on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Today’s rehearsal is for tomorrow’s performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Two days after that, he’ll turn 25. And on the 26th, he’ll head out on a 50-concert, two-month international tour, hitting most major US cities and college towns, along with London, Paris, and Amsterdam. On March 4 and 5, he plays two hometown shows at the 2,000-seat Fillmore in Silver Spring. Many of the dates are sold out. “It’s crazy as hell, but I want Coldplay stadium status, I want One Direction numbers,” he says.

Having heard himself sound maybe a little too real about his ambition, he backtracks slightly: “But this is all amazing and I don’t take it for granted.”

If you wandered in and were forced to identify the rapper from sight alone, Logic might not be the first one you’d pick in the room packed with musicians. Even though he’s three days shy of finally being able to rent a car, his skinny frame and partly pimpled visage call to mind, well, adolescence.

When he was starting out, one of the first mixtapes he released was dubbed “Young Sinatra.” Since then, he has partly styled himself after the crooner, whom he listened to and watched as a kid. His female fans, like Frank’s, are known as BobbySoxers. There’s the wavy hair and the ol’ blue eyes—Logic’s are a mineraly shade. He calls his entourage of friends and managers his RattPack. (The extra “t” is a nod to the “real all the time” motto.)

It’s an interesting stylistic choice, considering his conflicted feelings about his race. And one of the many things that make Logic a little different from a lot of the hip-hop stars in LA. He isn’t flashy. He is super-serious, and focused, almost exclusively interested in making music (and solving Rubik’s Cubes)—even something of a hermit who likes to stay home and work.

Today Logic is modestly dressed in his de facto uniform: baseball cap, black jacket and jeans, red retro Air Jordans. No jewelry. No visible tattoos. Throughout the day, he lavishes compliments on his band. When he notices someone else’s litter on the studio ground, he silently picks it up. For Hollywood, he’s so nice in person that it’s almost weird.

The song for Kimmel is “Buried Alive,” a big single from Under Pressure.

Battle the image inside of my mind / I know Imma keep going / Tell me I can’t but I’m already knowing / I know I’m gonna rise / Even though I’ve been buried alive / Buried alive, will I survive?

It’s what almost happened, back home in Gaithersburg, before he was Logic and everybody just knew him as Bobby.

Left, Logic's freshman-year photo from Gaithersburg High School. Right, a 2008 shot of Logic in his bedroom at Mary Jo LaFrance’s home in Montgomery County. Photograph of yearbook photo courtesy of Montgomery County Public Schools. Photograph of bedroom photo courtesy of Logic.

That’s short for Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, born January 22, 1990, to two parents who barely knew each other. A musician who sang and played conga with DC go-go bands, the elder Hall and Logic’s mother each had children by other partners. They never married and for most of Logic’s early years, he says, his father wasn’t around much.

The rapper’s preadolescent memories—multiple incidents in which he says he was accidentally abandoned in public places, all the drugs he says he saw relatives getting high on, birthdays and Christmases without gifts, refrigerators filled with only stale rice cakes and powdered milk—are almost uniformly traumatic yet recounted without the least bit of drama.

From fifth through eighth grade, Logic says, he wasn’t in school much. Instead, he passed the time skateboarding, watching anime, and writing and drawing his own stories. He eventually attended Gaithersburg and Seneca Valley high schools but never graduated from either.

“I used to dream about going to sleep and never waking up,” he says. “And in some way, I still always fear that I’m asleep and will wake up as a four-year-old again. And all this was bullshit.”

Though Logic says he hasn’t spoken to his mother in years, she’s the one he has to thank for his interest in music: “She taught me about Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones, Nirvana, and early hip-hop. Even though the bad far outweighs the good, I do want it to be known that there were many sweet moments in my life.”

His relationship with his father is more complex. They speak occasionally, but Logic says the conversation is often strained. On the title track of Under Pressure, he raps in character as the elder Hall, saying he’s two years sober and politely asking his son to stop rapping about his past drug abuse, then asking for money in the next breath. It concludes with an actual voicemail from Dad telling his son how much he loves him. (In interviews with MTV and Hard Knock TV, Hall has talked candidly about his drug use and his family’s history of addiction, saying that his son “saw a lot of things that he shouldn’t have.” In Hall’s words, “Shit does happen in Gaithersburg.”)

Logic, far left, with his brothers, his father, and an uncle. Photograph by Nick Mahar.
Logic and his mentor, Chevy Chase resident Solomon Taylor, in LA in 2014—years after Taylor bought the troubled teen equipment to get started as a rapper. Photograph courtesy of Logic.

How is it that Logic wasn’t buried alive? Credit a trio of mentors who watched over him in his teens.

The first was former Gaithersburg resident Solomon Taylor, who met Logic while videotaping games for the Rockville youth football league. When Logic told Taylor he wanted to rap, Taylor bought the boy a computer, a mike, and programs to make beats, and gave him hundreds of instrumental recordings to rap to. He fed him, pushed him, and tried to keep him out of trouble. Logic “wasn’t a knucklehead—he was unpolished but an obvious star even then,” says Taylor, who lives in Chevy Chase now and runs a nonprofit called Save Youth Football that helps fund sports programs throughout Washington.

Mary Jo LaFrance and her husband, Bernie, the parents of one of Logic’s close friends, let him move in. “We took him on vacation with us, discussed his future, and most importantly taught him how to set goals,” says Mary Jo, who works part-time at the Gaithersburg Historic District Commission. “Sometimes he had felt like his own safety was in question, and that’s a terrible place to be in. He was always incredibly funny, intelligent, and a natural storyteller.”

Eventually, Taylor lined up Logic’s first show: opening for the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah at the former End Zone bar in Gaithersburg. Taylor still remembers how police initially balked at letting the then 19-year-old rapper perform. (They came around.) And how, when Logic came out onstage, it felt like watching 8 Mile, the thinly veiled biopic starring Eminem. “It was the same exact scenario. A white kid in a baseball cap and hoodie murdering it, and everyone was shocked,” Taylor recalls. “There was one guy heckling him that night, but Logic never wavered.”

More shows followed, and Logic built a small buzz in DC’s hip-hop scene. To pay the bills, he worked at the Gaithersburg Safeway and Jiffy Lube and as a florist. He later bussed tables at Joe’s Crab Shack. Tumult, meanwhile, continued to reverberate through his personal life. In 2010, his close friend Josh LaFrance, the son of his surrogate parents, was sentenced to ten years in a state prison for stabbing a man in the stomach. “It’s bizarre to think that any of this happened,” Logic says. “He was raised in the nice part of town by two wonderful parents who loved him. In many ways, his fate should’ve been mine.” Instead, when he performed on Jimmy Fallon’s show in November, he says LaFrance watched from prison.

Bobby became Logic with the help of another hungry twentysomething. While surfing YouTube late one night in early 2011, Chris Zarou, a Long Island native, stumbled across a video of Logic freestyle-rapping a cappella. He’d been filming low-budget clips and posting them online with hopes of being discovered, but most were stalling out at a few thousand views. Only 21, Zarou was an aspiring music manager and decided he wanted Logic to be the flagship artist of his newly formed Visionary Music Group.

At the time, Logic was thinking only about how he could become the biggest rapper in Washington. There was heavy competition, including from Fat Trel and Shy Glizzy—two street rappers with strong followings. Washington was considered notoriously difficult for hip-hop artists to break out of. Its only major mainstream rapper was Wale.

But with Zarou’s marketing help, Logic’s music soon caught fire on music blogs with college-age readerships. Between 2011 and 2013, the pair released numerous songs and YouTube videos, then three mixtapes. There wasn’t a lot of science to it—just grassroots internet love from fans who spread the word through Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Logic started playing clubs across the country, booking larger venues each time.

Eventually, hip-hop’s most venerable label—Def Jam—wanted him, and Logic signed (for an undisclosed amount) with the record company. No I.D., the label’s executive vice president of A&R (artists and repertoire), agreed to executive-produce Under Pressure.

Logic moved to LA and started hibernating in his studio. The result was an album that pays tribute to his own favorite hip-hop acts. He pinches the alien voices of Outkast, the computerized narration of A Tribe Called Quest, the grandiose neon ambition of Kanye West, the intricate good-kid-in-a-mad-city narratives of Kendrick Lamar. (In “Gang Related,” a simulated news broadcast announcing “a massive manhunt” after a deadly shooting near the 400 block of West Deer Park in Gaithersburg is spliced in between a tale told through the eyes of Logic and one of his brothers.)

When Under Pressure debuted last October, the reception was overwhelmingly positive. The Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco hailed Logic as a better lyricist than Lamar, the Grammy-winning gangsta-rap deconstructionist. When the legendary New York rapper Nas met Logic, he quoted the Gaithersburg native’s own lyrics back to him. The hip-hop magazine XXL compared him to Kanye West and pronounced that Logic was here to stay. One of the few dissenting voices was Rolling Stone, which hailed his “technically excellent style” but said he lacked “emotional depth.”

In the five months since the album came out, Logic has mostly been gearing up for the biggest tour of his career. He says he’s uninterested in Hollywood clichés or temptations, and he lives pretty low-key. He rents a house in LA’s Tarzana neighborhood, which is mostly home to lawyers and professionals, not garish entertainers. By rap-star standards, his living situation is actually modest. He shares the three-bedroom house with his fiancée, Jessica Andrea, who sings backup for him; his day-to-day manager, Leon Ressalam, from Adelphi; and his longtime producer, 6ix (né Arjun Ivatury), a native of Bowie.

Rather than rent a tricked-out LA recording studio, Logic likes to stay home and work in a spare bedroom. By all accounts, parties and clubs don’t tempt him. His childhood vice—cigarettes—has been tamed, thanks to e-cigs. Logic’s only material indulgences seem to be a video projector, a vintage Akai MPC sampler, and dozens of Rubik’s Cubes. There’s no car (or even a driver’s license). Eventually, he’ll buy a BMW, he says. But not until he gets off tour.

Logic, backed by the Roots, in his first national TV appearance, on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” in November. Photograph of Tonight Show Performance by NBC Universal/Getty Images.

Hours before the Jimmy Kimmel taping, the line of Logic super-fans extends for blocks on Hollywood Boulevard. Mostly under 25, the RattPackers are a diverse crowd. There’s Tyler Caldwell, an 18-year-old who drove five-plus hours from San Jose. “I don’t necessarily identify with his past, but it’s inspiring to hear how he overcame it,” says the high-school senior wearing a Logic T-shirt.

There’s Jennifer and Francisco Valle, 22 and 24—a Latino brother and sister who drove in from their home in South LA. Francisco is wearing an autographed Logic basketball jersey. “You can bob your head to it, but it’s more about the message that he sends out,” Jennifer says, explaining why she likes the rapper. “He’s not afraid to tell people to stay in school or be positive. I watch a lot of his interviews on YouTube, and you can see that he’s real.”

Inside the Kimmel dressing rooms, Logic seems more stressed about solving a Rubik’s Cube in less than a minute than in putting on a show for 2.3 million viewers. “This is the only thing I’ve ever done that taps into the same memorization part of my brain as rapping,” he says to one of the observers.

The crowd is already roaring when Kimmel’s hype man finally announces him and Logic cruises onto the stage, all adrenaline and quick-twitch muscles as his backup singers, violinists, cellist, and deejay fire up “Buried Alive.” He stares, slightly dazzled at the size of the crowd. “This is crazy,” he says, beaming and flashing the peace sign to them. “It’s about to be my birthday. This is crazy.”

The show is all exuberance, Logic bounding across the stage, teenagers waving posters of his face, and RATT PACK POR VIDA! signs. When the song ends, Logic announces he’s going to give a four-song mini-concert in the Kimmel lot, and the applause spills out onto Hollywood Boulevard.

As tour kickoffs go, it’d be hard to top the excitement of the week Logic has just had. Two nights before the Kimmel show, his fiancée threw him a surprise party at home for his 25th birthday.

“Seeing all the people who care about me was wonderful, but scary, too,” he says. “It lets me know, not necessarily how much I have to lose, but that I’m creating a family. For the first time in my life, I know how important that is to me.”

Jeff Weiss (@passionweiss) is a writer in Los Angeles who writes for Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and LA Weekly. He can be reached at passionweiss@gmail.com.

This article appears in our March 2015 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 06:00 PM/ET, 03/01/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Catch up with all the characters before you dive in. By Caroline Cunningham
Photograph by Melinda Sue Gordon for Netflix.

It’s been a year and 13 days since Netflix subscribers were able to spend their Valentine’s Day devouring season two of House of Cards. In the wee hours of Friday morning, fans finally gained access to the next installment of the addictive political thriller. For viewers who—unlike this journalist—have a social life and haven’t had time to rewatch season two in the weeks leading up to the premiere, here’s a refresher on where we left off with each character.

Francis “Frank” Underwood

Or should we say President Underwood? Two murders—Congressman Peter Russo and journalist Zoe Barnes—and a lot of shady business later, Frank closes season two having finally secured what he’s been aiming for: the presidency. He spent most of last season working to drive a wedge between President Garrett Walker and his wife, Tricia, to distract Garrett from his power struggle with Raymond Tusk, the billionaire who made his money in power plants. When Frank discovers Raymond’s illegal financial dealings with Xander Feng, a corrupt Chinese investor, and a money-laundering operation masterminded by Raymond that’s affecting Congress, he uses the knowledge to stir up mistrust between Garrett and Raymond and get Garrett put under investigation. Things go from bad to worse when Reverend Larkin, who’s been counseling Garrett and Tricia about their marriage, is called in to testify and it’s revealed he was illegally coached by the White House. When Raymond reveals to a congressional committee that Garrett was involved in the money-laundering scheme, POTUS is forced to step down before he’s impeached. In the final episode of the season, Vice President Frank Underwood is sworn in as Commander and Chief. Highlight reel: Pushing Zoe in front of a train, his and Claire’s threesome with Secret Service agent Meechum, and that indelible image of him tapping his ring on the desk in the Oval Office.

Claire Underwood

Claire had her hands in all kinds of scandalous business in season two. Dealing with her former employee Gillian Cole’s threat to sue her for wrongful termination, announcing in a televised interview that she had an abortion after being raped in college, planting the seed in First Lady Tricia’s mind that her husband, President Walker is having an affair, and fending off accusations after photos of her affair with photographer Adam Galloway make headlines, but she still manages to manipulate the situation to her advantage, especially when she uses her rape story as a platform to introduce a military sexual assault bill. At the end of season two, Claire remakes Frank’s class ring as a “Congrats on scheming your way into the presidency” present. Highlight reel: Telling Frank that he’s about to pin a military star on the man who raped her, getting tipsy with Secret Service agent Meechum, and considering the possibility of becoming a mother.

Doug Stamper

After spending the season mooning over Rachel Posner, the call girl who’d become his responsibility to shield from the press, Frank’s trusty second-hand man is killed at the hands of his obsession. Highlight reel: Doug realizing Rachel is in love with another woman, and using a convicted hacker to trap Lucas Goodwin into committing a felony.

Garrett Walker

On threat of impeachment, Walker resigns his office at the end of season two, having been slowly picked apart piece by piece by Frank’s brilliant scheme. His marriage is on the rocks, he’s been implicated in money laundering, and he’s under investigation for having coached his witness. And even still, he and Frank end the season amicably, partially because Garrett is clueless to Frank’s involvement, but really because Frank writes a darn good letter. Highlight reel: Briefly earning our respect by turning on Frank for ruining him—only to lose it again by later absolving him of all wrongdoing.

Remy Danton

Primarily in charge of stirring the pot, Remy reveals Claire’s affair with Adam Galloway and barbecue joint owner Freddy’s gang life background. He also has a relationship with Jackie Sharp throughout the season, which gets messy when he tries to use their connection to turn her against Frank. Highlight reel: Actually making a pretty cute couple with Jackie when they leave off the shop talk.

Lucas Goodwin

A distraught Lucas suspects Frank had a hand in Zoe Barnes’s death. When he attempts to prove so by hiring a hacker, he gets arrested for cyberterrorism. Highlight reel: Meeting Cashew the guinea pig, the only definitively innocent character in the series.

Raymond Tusk

Though he briefly secured a presidential pardon for his illegal business dealings, when he finds out that he’s no longer safe, Raymond tells the Congressional Committee that Garrett was in on the money laundering. Unable to escape his actions, Raymond ends the season in prison. Highlight reel: Raymond watching Frank toss a very expensive steak into a pool.

Jackie Sharp

After becoming the new House Whip, this war veteran falls for Remy, which puts her in a tricky spot between her allegiance to Frank, who got her the gig, and her boyfriend, who is busy digging up dirt on the Underwoods. At the end of the season, Jackie leads the charge to get Garrett impeached. Highlight reel: Getting some pretty awesome tattoos on her ribs.

Season three is now available to stream via Netflix.

Posted at 03:52 PM/ET, 02/27/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Talks with beer, talks about beer, and a Wire star's standup act. By Jason Koebler
Learn about beer (while drinking it) this weekend. Image via Shutterstock.

Thursday, February 26

FUN LECTURES: Thirst, DC’s best beer-and-lecture series, is back—this time, you’ll hear from scientists who are going to talk about karma, the jerks of the field, art, and, of course, the healing properties of beer. Get started on that healing by downing a few at Hierarchy, the series’ new home. Tickets ($15) are available online. 7 PM.

FILM: The Washington Jewish Film Festival continues with 2 or 3 Things I Know About Him, a 2005 documentary by Malte Ludin in which, after years of ignoring it, he finally examines his father’s life as a Nazi officer. Ludin interviews most of his family, who deny his father’s actions and who eventually must come to grips with what their relative did. Lupin will answer questions afterward. Tickets ($12) are available at the door; call 202-289-1200 to check availability. 7 PM.

Friday, February 27

COMEDY: Don’t Block the Box, Wonderland’s very cheap and very funny comedy night, is this week. Five local comics (well, one is from Baltimore) will perform. Chelsea Shorte, who performed at Brightest Young Things’ Bentzen Ball, will headline, and beers are half-price during the show. Afterward, there's dancing. Lots of dancing. $3. 7:30 PM.

MUSIC: Wytold is a cellist (he’s got a guest ensemble as well) who mashes up classic rap songs with classical music. Think Dre and Beethoven, Biggie and Bach. Intrigued? Me too. He’ll be at Atlas Performing Arts Center. Tickets ($16.50) are available online. 9:30 PM.

VARIETY: Black Cat hosts Under the Sheets, a comedy, burlesque, and variety show featuring Glam Gamz and Dutch Oven, who I assume may be popular in their chosen field of work. Expect a carnival/sideshow vibe. Tickets ($12) are available online. 9 PM.

COMEDY: The Happy Buddha is a standup and improv comedy show dedicated to celebrating diversity in the comedy scene. This month, the show features Lawrence Gilliard Jr., whom you know as D’Angelo Barksdale from The Wire (and more recently, from The Walking Dead). There’ll also be an improvised telenovela, and three other improv troupes will perform. Don’t ask where Wallace is. Or do, maybe it’ll be funny. Tickets ($12) are available online. 10 PM.

Saturday, February 28

VARIETY SHOW: What the the DC Arts Center’s Capital City Showcase might lack in instant name recognition, it makes up for by being constantly surprising. Head to the latest show to see performers you might not have seen before but will likely want to seek out again. Tickets are $10 online or $15 at the door. 10 PM.

COMEDY: The Betches of Comedy are Liza Treyger, whom you know from Comedy Central, Megan Gailey of Marie Claire magazine, Jared Freid of Total Frat Move, and Sara Armour, who calls herself the “Jewish J-Lo.” They are the writers behind the blog and book of the same name—if you're into either of those, you’ll be into their live performance at Sixth & I Synagogue. Tickets ($20) are available online. 8 PM.

DANCE: Bliss is consistently one of the best dance nights in DC, and U Street Music Hall still has the city’s best sound system. Things usually get sweaty, so it's a good way to beat the cold. Free before midnight, $10 after. 10 PM.

Sunday, March 1

FILM: You’ve probably noticed that beer is having a bit of an extended moment. Well, not just beer—more specifically, craft brews that have popped up all around the country. Trace the rise and, well, continuing rise of the microbrew movement with Blood, Sweat, and Beer, a documentary being screened at the US Navy Memorial Heritage Center that follows two breweries through the startup process. Q&A with the filmmakers after and beer before, duh. Tickets ($20 with beer, $12 without) are available online. 1:45 PM.

THEATER: Bare is kind of like the movie Saved, but on the stage. It follows a group of teens through their senior year of Catholic school, when they realize that maybe their personalities (or sexualities) don’t necessarily match with what they’ve been taught in school. Also, it’s a pop opera, so be ready for that. Tickets ($22) are available online. 3 and 7:30 PM.

Posted at 11:11 AM/ET, 02/26/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The love affairs of Philip J. By Benjamin Freed
These two would probably not be great adoptive parents. Photograph by Craig Blankenhorn via FX Networks.

All four iterations of Philip Jennings appear in the latest installment of The Americans's brutal, heartbreaking fourth season. There's his slicked, hipster-glasses-wearing handler for Yousaf, the Pakistani agent helping him undermine Afghani rebels; there's "Clark," the nebbish unhappily married to FBI clerk Martha; "Jim," the skeevy lawyer who sets up teenage girls with weed and fake IDs; and then there's Philip himself, alone with his secrets and his dirty work.

Would the real Philip Jennings please speak up?

Of the four Philips, the latter two, especially "Jim," get most of the screen time in "Salang Pass." Kimberly, the rule-breaking daughter of the Jenningses' current CIA mark, is plenty enthusiastic to spend her weekend home alone with a much older man who will ply her with drugs and witty banter. Kimberly is supposed to be the key to bugging the CIA target, but at her age—15—she continues to be a proxy for Philip's relationship with Paige.

Paige is still on that baptism kick introduced last week, informing her parents she needs to pick out a dress for the big, dreaded day. Elizabeth, despite her disgruntled participation in Paige's church group, has never seemed less interested in her first-born's life than when she's asked to help pick out a baptismal wardrobe. Philip volunteers instead.

Having Philip jump from dress-shopping with Paige to partying with Kimberly is an obvious narrative trick, but it's an effective one. Philip's daughter is saintly and bookish; this other girl is spirited and rebellious. But neither have any clue what their fathers actually do for a living. Of course Kimberly would fall for "Jim," just as Paige embraced Pastor Tim last week. The sequence in Kimberly's house—with her and "Jim" rolling joints, making snacks, playfully tossing popcorn at each other—is a long and uncomfortable seduction. When it's time for "Jim" to go, Kimberly's passed out on the couch, and the alter-ego drops away. Philip carries her upstairs the way he would his own child, but when she plants a kiss on him in the bedroom, only the well-timed arrival of her parents saves Philip.

How did it get to this for Philip? As he confesses to Elizabeth, he knows how to "make it real," per his KGB training, revealed in grainy flashbacks as a series of encounters with all sorts of people—old women, flabby men, a freshly recruited Nadezhda. He makes it real with Martha, and he's made it real with other targets, but even if he can be honest with Elizabeth in this episode's tender bedroom coda, the Jenningses have never seemed more distant.

Field notes:

  • Stan has convinced himself that his Soviet defector Zinadia is actually a Soviet spy posing as a defector, and he's enlisted Oleg in hopes of eventually making a prisoner exchange for Nina. This partnership will not end well.
  • Elizabeth spends most of the episode working her Alcoholics Anonymous friend Lisa, who's up for a job at the Northrup plant that makes stealth bombers, if she can just get ahead of the competition. All it takes is Elizabeth dropping a car on some poor, unnamed schmuck's head.
  • Henry Jennings status update: seen eating dinner with his family—and Stan, who is the only one laughing at the kid's lame jokes.
  • Martha and "Clark" are thinking of taking in a foster child. There have to be better options for those kids.
  • Tonight's synthpop or new wave music: A Flock of Seagulls's "I Ran (So Far Away)." It was one of those "shut up and play the hits" weeks for the music department.

Posted at 11:24 PM/ET, 02/25/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
An indoor biking competition at Right Proper and Neil DeGrasse Tyson at DAR Constitution Hall. By Jason Koebler
Show off your biking prowess at Right Proper this Wednesday. Image via Shutterstock.

Monday, February 23

FILM: You probably watched the Oscars last night, or at least maybe heard the show existed. Really puts you in a movie-going mood, right? Well, the only thing better than a good new movie is a good movie that’s been missing for nearly 70 years. That's the case with It Always Rains on Sunday, being screened as part of the Washington Jewish Film Festival—it's a look at typical British life soon after World War II, if "typical" means involving train chases, suicide attempts, and a murder. Yikes. Tickets ($12) are available online. 9:15 PM.

Tuesday, February 24

SING: Valentine’s was a weekend to celebrate love, but now in the cold light of winter, there are probably a few relationships going south. Get out some of those feelings at People’s Choir, which meets at Stetson’s to sing obnoxiously loudly to the greatest hits of our time. This month’s theme is breakup songs, so come ready to hit the high notes, even if you’re feeling low. Free. 8 PM.

Wednesday, February 25

VARIETY: Wonderland Ballroom’s variety show, the Wonderland Circus, is back this month. The event features burlesque dancers, comedians, live musicians, and, of course, some sort of ringleader. Best of all, it’s free, and no animals were harmed in the making of your evening. Free. 8:30 PM.

BIKE: It’s been too cold to get outside and bike, but Right Proper is going to give you pedal-heads something to compete over: fixed gear, stationary bike racing. It's indoors, so you'll be warm, and there's lots of Right Proper beer available. $5. 5:30 PM.

Thursday, February 26

SCIENCE: Neil deGrasse Tyson seems like the only scientist in recent memory who can go on a large theater tour and actually come close to selling the place out. He’ll be at DAR Constitution Hall this week, talking about Cosmos, theoretical physics, and space. He’s a thoroughly entertaining guy, so even if you fear some of it will go over your head, his talk is worth checking out. Tickets ($43 to $125) are available online. 7:30 PM.

Know of something cool going on around town? E-mail Jason Koebler at jasontpkoebler@gmail.com, or find him on Twitter at @jason_koebler.

Posted at 10:13 AM/ET, 02/23/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
All-in-one theaters allow you to dine handsomely, have a drink, and take in a flick without leaving the building. But are you ready for a $100 movie night? By Ann Limpert
Our food editor rates the eats—and of course popcorn—at the new dine-in cinemas. Image via Shutterstock.

Angelika Film Center

2911 District Ave., Fairfax; 571-512-3301

Photograph of Angelika courtesy of Angelika Film Center; panini by Tom McGovern.

A gleaming-white, three-level spinoff of Manhattan’s cinephile mecca in Fairfax’s boutiquey Mosaic district.

Film fare: A movie geek’s dream mix of critics’ favorites, local films, vintage Oscar winners, and the occasional popcorn flick, on eight screens.

Food: All items from Angelika’s cafe can be taken into the theater—it even furnishes a recyclable tote bag. An upscale concession stand fills any yen for mid-show snacks, and you can discuss what you’ve seen in the third-floor bar/lounge.

Top dollar: $12.50 for the cheese plate.

Best eats: Mac and cheese with lemon olive oil; cheese plate; Jeni’s ice-cream cups.

Drinks: A beer nerd’s oasis, chock-full of esoteric craft brews.

Popcorn: Excellent, with toppings like beer-and-cheddar and an addictive tandoori yogurt.

Admission: $13.

What we spent for two: $84.

iPicTheaters

11830 Grand Park Ave., North Bethesda; 301-231-2300

Photograph of iPic Theaters and bao bun courtesy of iPic Theaters.

Dinner and movie? It all happens at once at this clubby, eight-screen cinema with low-lit table service and food that surpasses anything we’ve eaten at a movie theater, but doesn’t live up to the trendy-bistro prices.

Film fare: Action hits, thrillers, comedies, and kids’ movies with no pre-movie ads, probably due to pricey admission (which also tends to eliminate chatty teens).

Food: An ambitious menu overseen by former Wolfgang Puck pastry chef Sherry Yard and delivered by black-clad “ninja” servers.

Top dollar: $25 potato boats with smoked salmon and caviar.

Best eats: Steamed bao buns with short rib; tempura-fried green beans with hoisin.

Drinks: The perfectly tangy Augustine Sour (cherry-infused bourbon, lemon, maple syrup) leads a top-quality cocktail menu.

Popcorn: Nicely buttery and extra-salty.

Admission: $22 for table-service seating, including free popcorn and a reclining seat with pillow and blanket; regular admission is $13.

What we spent for two: $133.

ArcLight Cinemas

7101 Democracy Blvd., Bethesda; 240-762-4000

Photograph of Arclight Cinemas and popcorn chicken courtesy of ArcLight Cinemas.

This soaring, 16-screen multiplex in Westfield Montgomery mall has a Hard Rock feel, thanks to walls studded with glass-encased artifacts like Natalie Portman’s tutu from Black Swan. Discerning cineastes will appreciate the top-of-the-line Dolby Atmos sound system. If you plan on arriving hungry, arrive early. Service at the bar was so slow we missed the start of our movie.

Film fare: A wide array of slow-paced indies, 3-D fantasy films, and box-office chart toppers.

Food: The small bar has a cafe menu—you can take drinks but not plates into the theater; there’s also a well-stocked concession stand.

Top dollar: $15 for the lobster roll, charcuterie board, or cheese plate.

Best eats: Popcorn chicken with Buffalo and ranch sauces.

Drinks: The supermarket wine selection had us reaching for a big, icy Coke.

Popcorn: Better than average, thanks to toppings such as real butter and olive oil.

Admission: $13.75.

What we spent for two: $113.50.

Posted at 04:25 PM/ET, 02/20/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Deus ex Englishman. By Tanya Pai
This is what the end of a human auction looks like. Image via ABC.

For a large part of this episode, it felt like the show was spinning its wheels, dragging out the drama as the gladiators searched desperately for a Hail Mary chance to save Olivia’s life. And then Shonda Rhimes pulled out one of the most genuinely surprising twists of the whole show’s run. Let’s recap the key points.

Olivia’s poker face may need work, but her Farsi is flawless

Liv was sold to Iran at the end of last week’s auction, but her college-kid kidnappers have no idea who they’re dealing with. At the planned exchange, Olivia deploys her fluent Farsi to throw a wrench in the works, which leads to the deal being called off and the auction getting reinstated. When Huck’s bid fails and she gets sold to Russia, Cyrus concocts a plan to take her out—until the show drops the mother of all twists.

That Steven name-check last week was decidedly not a coincidence

“Who’s Steven?” you might have been asking yourself last night, until the memories kicked in and we all remembered Olivia’s right-hand man from way back in season one. Props to the writers for great use of a guest star and the show’s history—and the relatively subtle reminder of Steven’s existence in last week’s episode.

Mellie is really going after this "being President" thing

The only thing bigger than her hair might be her dreams, and though she hasn’t even announced her ambitions to the world, FLOTUS is already aggressively going after the White House. Which, in her world, involves forcing Liz to “pay the piper” and destroy VP Andrew, which Liz does by getting Huck to inject him with something that causes him to have a stroke. “You brought this on yourself,” Mellie coos in Andrew’s ear when she visits him in the hospital, and we all cower in fear.

Everyone is unimpressed with Fitz this week

My favorite part of the episode was Cyrus’s epic freakout in the Oval, in which he calls Fitz a moron and a child and then quits his job. Sadly, it was all a fantasy, but he still sees fit to go behind Fitz’s back and set up a strike on Olivia to “burn the leash” that’s holding Fitz back. Even Olivia, when she finally gets back to her (now-triple-padlocked) apartment, wants none of POTUS, pointing out that him throwing away his entire presidency to save her means everything she—and Cyrus and Mellie and Jerry, etc.—sacrificed to keep him in the White House means nothing. “You didn’t save me—I’m on my own,” she says as we all applaud from the couch.

A few other thoughts:

  • So…who gets the $2 billion?
  • How Papa Pope is spending his time off: fishing in Canada. How I’m spending my Thursday night: wondering how in the hell Ballard made it from DC to Canada so fast.
  • Speaking of timing, how long has Olivia been gone, exactly? Rowan says it’s only been a week since he left, but I have a feeling Liv’s blowouts last way longer than that.
  • Quinn gets Huck to promise he won’t make people bleed anymore. Guess she doesn’t know about his stash of extra-special chemicals.
  • Abby and Cyrus bonding: cute. And effective!

Posted at 10:23 PM/ET, 02/19/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Hill Country's chili cookoff, a Fifty Shades musical parody, and a no-phone dance party. By Jason Koebler
Image via Shutterstock.

Thursday, February 19

DANCE: The middle of winter, just after a snowstorm, seems like an odd time to have a cowboy party, but let's pretend we’re down in hot ol’ Texas anyway. Chinese Disco is hosting Daisy Dukes and Cowboy Boots, featuring $4 rails all night. Make sure you wear some leggings or something, at least to the bar. Free. 9 PM.

LITERATURE: Kramerbooks hosts an Erotica Slam, in which authors, poets, and pretty much anyone who's willing are invited to share love stories, sexual encounters, dirty poems, or anything else that might fit the format, as long as it’s three minutes or less. Anyone who reads will get a prize, and there will be free popcorn, plus drinks for that liquid courage. $5. 7 PM.

THEATER: More than a few of you have probably already seen the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. If you still require more, however, you can see a musical parody of it at Warner Theatre. Tickets ($47 to $58) are available online. 8 PM.

Friday, February 20

BEER: The craft beer renaissance has brought a lot of love for IPAs, but stouts don't always get the same recognition. Change all that at Black Squirrel’s Don’t Doubt the Stout, where you can try 13 different chocolate, coffee, milk, and other various stouts. Free. 5 PM.

INTERNET MEMES COME ALIVE: Laser Cat is a meme. It’s also now a 20-foot inflatable crowdsourced art installation … thing. It’ll be at Yards Park this weekend, along with a beer garden and deejays, including Thievery Corporation’s Eric Hilton. Space might have filled up, but you can always head over there and hope for the best. 8 PM.

DANCE: Discnotheque is a dance party at DC9 in which you cannot use your phone and, in fact, get in free if you decide to check it into a secure room. Can you do it? For a WHOLE NIGHT? Also, drinks are $2 each between 10:30 and 11:30 for you early arrivers. $2 before midnight, $5 after. 10:30 PM.

Saturday, February 21

EAT: It’s too late to enter Hill Country’s second annual chili cookoff, but it’s not too late to go there and eat lots and lots of chili. You can try ten kinds for a dollar apiece, and there will also be drink specials. Maybe bring some Tums. $10. 1 PM.

COMEDY: Myq Kaplan is a very funny guy who has killed it on Last Comic Standing, Conan, and Letterman. He’ll be at Bier Baron, amongst all the bier. Tickets ($12) are available online. 6:30 PM.

FILM: DC Shorts screens winners from past years and some films that didn't make it to the festival but instead went on to win Oscars. As usual, the films will be screened at the US Navy Memorial Heritage Center, and ticket prices are very reasonable. Tickets ($15) are available online. 7:30 and 9:30 PM.

THEATER: Play in a Day is the 48 Hour Film Festival of theater (with half the hours). Six professional companies from around the area will write and stage a ten-minute play in 24 hours, you get to watch the artistry/madness that ensues. Tickets ($15) are available online. 8 PM.

Sunday, February 22

FASHION: It’s DC Fashion Week—check out our preview of all the stylish events here. A highlight: the International Couture Collections Show at the Carnegie Library, featuring looks from all around the world. Tickets ($70) are available online. 5 PM.

COMEDY: The Upright Citizens Brigade’s touring company is coming back through Sixth & I Synagogue. The crew is among the best improv troupes in the country, and their shows are reliably hilarious. Tickets ($20) are available online. 6 PM.

OSCARS: Speaking of the Oscars, there are a slew of watch parties all around the city. Might I suggest Commisary’s? It starts early, ends late, and features a $3-to-$7 cocktail and appetizer happy hour during the red carpet portion of the evening. There are also Oscar-themed menu items, prizes, and a special prix-fixe menu. Free. 4 PM.

Know of something cool going on around town? E-mail Jason Koebler at jasontpkoebler@gmail.com, or find him on Twitter at @jason_koebler.

Posted at 12:58 PM/ET, 02/19/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Dance yrselves clean, Jenningses. By Benjamin Freed
Not a happy household. Photograph by Michael Parmalee via FX Networks.

For a series that deals out so many doses of weird subtlety, The Americans is never more unsettling when its at its most overt—which is basically the deal with the fourth episode of Season 3. "Dimebag," referencing a possibly lousy conveyance of subpar marijuana that appears at the end, features some of the most on-the-nose storytelling the show has presented so far.

Not that that's a bad thing. Philip and Elizabeth have arrived at their limits with regard to their spymasters' order to bring Paige into the fold; coyness has no place in the Jennings household right now. It's Paige's birthday, and she wants to celebrate with a simple family dinner, but with the company of pacificst Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin). Because what she wants most of all—more than Yazoo's Upstairs at Eric's LP, even—is to be baptized so she can "get [herself] clean for Jesus Christ."

"Jesus Christ," any militantly atheist Communist spy undercover in a country with deistic language woven into the national creed might mutter under his or her breath, possibly with the addition of a seven-letter middle name that does not appear in mainstream versions of the Bible.

Turns out Paige is just as good a schemer as her parents, even if her plot doesn't jibe with their agendas. Fortunately, there's another teenager for those ends this week. Enter Kimberly (Julia Garner), the teenage daughter of the Jenningses' CIA mark introduced last week, and her quest for a decent fake ID so she can get into DC's nightclubs. (The venue on the dingy block she and her friends are trying to enter is never named, so let's just fantasize that it was a stand-in for the original 9:30 Club.)

After some playground scouting by Elizabeth, it falls to Clark, posing as a skeevy lawyer-lobbyist-DMV fixer named "Jim," to recruit Kimberly, who despite her protestations of being an 18-year-old Georgetown student, is obviously closer to Paige's age.

"We've never used someone this young," Elizabeth says in the bedroom later. They've also never used such an obvious proxy for their daughter.

But that's OK! This is not a subtle episode at all. We even get Stan blowing his stack at those dopey Erhard Seminars Training meetings when the host calls on him to confess his wrongdoing.

"Don't call me an asshole, asshole!" Stan fumes instead. "This is bullshit!"

Indeed, but Stan's honesty earns him an invitation to get a drink with a fellow traveler played by Callie Thorne. But that's as orderly as Stan gets this week. He's melting down at work, with his guardianship of Soviet defector and Milky Way fan Zinadia bringing back memories of Nina. In Stan's partial defense, though, it is a little suspect to jump for a Milky Way bar before ordering dinner.

It all winds back to Clark's recruitment of Kimberly, though. By the episode's close, they're alone at night in park, with Clark advising her to buy better weed and Kimberly cluing him in on early 1980s synthpop, just like Paige did earlier when he gave her the Yazoo album. Clark, as "Jim," wraps Kimberly in his coat for warmth. It should be creepy, but as that lousy joint sparks up, the look on his face is strictly paternal.

Field Notes:

  • Henry Jennings sighting, with actual dialogue! He wants cheesecake (shot down by Paige) and needs to study hard for his big quiz on state capitals.
  • Turns out Evie from Belgium is in jail thanks to a spying boyfriend, and the regime wants Nina to break her.
  • Yazoo had to call themselves Yaz in North America to avoid a legal dispute with blues label Yazoo Records.
  • Upstairs at Eric's, which was released in the UK in August 1982, peaked at No. 92 on the Billboard 200 chart when it came out in the United States. But tonight's tracks were choice, especially the thumping, album-opening club jam "Don't Go" used to score Stan's fruitless bathroom search. Plus, if synthpop acts like Yazoo are what Paige and her friends are listening to, I fully expect to hear a New Order song or three by season's end.

Posted at 09:08 PM/ET, 02/18/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Mardi Gras parties and a talk about Twitter. By Jason Koebler
This week brings Mardi Gras parties galore. Image via Shutterstock.

Tuesday, February 17

MOVIES/RADIO: NPR is hosting a pre-Oscars party with Bob Mondello, Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, and Glen Weldon for a recording of the annual Oscars Omnibus NPR special. It's a good chance to get a leg up on the competition in your Oscar pools, and there will be a meet-and-greet with booze afterward. Tickets ($15) are available online. 7 PM.

PARTY: It's Fat Tuesday, and the weather is much, much better in New Orleans than it is here. But you can still party—get the scoop on all the parties and specials from Best Bites Blog.

Wednesday, February 18

TECH: Have a techy Wednesday at 1776, which is hosting a How to Crush It on Twitter class, which is pricey but might help you become Twitter famous in a matter of months. Or head to the MAA Carriage House, which is hosting a primer about the sharing economy. Either way, you'll leave feeling like you're ready to become a thinkfluencer.

Twitter: $45, 6:30 PM

Sharing Economy: $15, 6:30 PM

Thursday, February 19

THEATER: American University is putting on Rashomon, a classic Japanese story about a crime witnessed and perpetrated by four people. They all have different takes on it, which leads to some problems. The AU update will take into account campus crime and explore how it affects the entire community. Tickets ($15) are available online. 8 PM.

Know of something cool going on around town? E-mail Jason Koebler at jasontpkoebler@gmail.com, or find him on Twitter at @jason_koebler.

Posted at 12:53 PM/ET, 02/17/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()