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Recent Entertainment articles from Daily Dot

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    The matching of a multidimensional approximation of data might not seem like the foundation for a bright, engaging webseries, but Matching Pursuit, the story of a mathematician facing an existential crisis, is far more than an exercise in number geekdom.

    Our hero is Rachel Blumenfield-Goldenfeinberger, an obsessive, laser-focused grad student whose academic skills far outweigh her social acumen. Her advisor, friends, and even her bubbe urge her to seek a life outside of algebraic equations and predictive analytics. Trying to find the balance between her pursuit of personal achievement and finding her life’s match (hence the show’s name) becomes the theme played out in Matching Pursuit’s first six of eight episodes.

    It is fascinating to watch Matching Pursuit mature with each passing episode. Fiffer as the lead brings talent and experience to the role, and as we follow the up-and-down trajectory of her life and career, the sometimes-inconsistent supporting actors begin to play off the Blumenfield-Goldenfeinberger character with greater ease. The story arc is quite compelling with a strong “wonder what will happen next” element that will bring audiences in and keep them engaged.

    The show is the brainchild of actress Nora Fiffer and writer Rachel Abrams, who met as college roommates at New York University. As young students thrown together by chance often vow, the pair dreamt about working together on a project sometime in their future. Matching Pursuit represents the fulfillment of that ambition with Fiffer in Chicago and Abrams in New York combining talents despite the meaningless 780 miles that separate them.

    True to her calling as an actress, Fiffer told the Daily Dot that the character of Rachel grew out of some dialogue she improvised in a dressing room before a performance. 

    “She needed a life beyond the improvised world of the dressing room,” Fiffer said. “We began to uncover her goals in life and in romance. At that point the nature of show started to grow beyond who the character is.”

    The first eight episodes of Matching Pursuit were done in two phases. The first three were self-funded and done with cost savings in mind and employed a cast and crew that represented a mix of established actors with a few newcomers added. For example, the role of the bubbe—modeled after Rachel’s grandmother—was tackled by the mother of one of Nora’s friends.  “She looks and feels like family,” Fiffer noted of the actress who had no previous theatrical experience. “She embodies the character beautifully.”

    The remaining five episodes—three of which have been released—were produced with the assistance of a Kickstarter campaign that raised $10,580. That additional funding allowed Fiffer and Abrams to take their passion project to a more sustainable level. “We decided to crowdfund because we wanted to keep the story going and keep our heads above water,” Fiffer explained. The goal, as co-producer and writer Abrams added, "is to continue to develop the character and go beyond proof of concept to a possible longer-form presentation.”

    In a time in which distance no longer gets in the way of creativity, the two work together in various online forms while Fiffer is in Chicago and Abrams is in New York. For some of the shoots, which are done in Chicago, Abrams has flown to the midwest for the filming. She's also done costume consulting from home via image-sharing and phone conversations.

    Fiffer and Abrams are letting the show’s popularity and positive feedback dictate its future. One of their goals is to enter Matching Pursuit in a number of Web festivals, but for now the focus is on the full run of season 1. 

    Screengrab via Nora Fiffer/Vimeo

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    If you're a fan of the HBO series The Wire, and come across someone who's never seen it, there's inevitably a pained silence in which you try to not be That Guy and blurt out, "You've never seen The Wire???" 

    The show has a devoted fandom, one that's likely rewatching HBO's Wiremarathon this weekend. As an extra of sorts, Baltimore Sun crime reporter Justin Fenton has been pairing photos of iconic Baltimore locations in the series with photos of those locations now. 

    If you haven't seen The Wire, just watch the season 1, episode 1 intro, and you'll be hooked. 

    Photo via urbanfeel/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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    As entertainment moves to the streaming and Web spaces, everyone from James Franco to the kids from your college theater club is picking up a camera and trying out a webseries. That means there’s a glut of entertainment options out there, on a variety of sources that constitute the digital space. A few years ago, something produced by Hulu or Netflix might make its way onto a year-end webseries list, but now those shows have carved their own streaming niche and crossed over into Emmy-award winning and mainstream attention. The path from digitally produced content to the prime water cooler conversation piece is getting shorter and shorter as YouTube-incubated shows like Broad City and Epic Meal Time make the digital leap to our TVs. In 2014 more brilliant shows have been cooking up on the Internet, many with backing from traditional media companies like AOL or MTV, but others with more tried and true digital roots.

    Which webseries caught our eyes in 2014? Read on to find the 9 series that stood out, from deadpan character studies to travel shows to cartoons and everything in between.

    9) Pancake Breakfast Critic

    Joe Pera’s character comedy about reviewing charity pancake breakfasts and other small town is a welcome bit of weird in the webseries landscape. Pancake Breakfast Critic is true to its name, with Pera rating pancake breakfasts on the “OK” scale and chatting with local townsfolk. The series is produced by MTV Other, which is a bastion of off-kilter Web content that harkens to the golden days of culture-defining MTV moments.

    By episode 2 Pena picks up a sidekick, the profane Jeff Katsman who’s meant to liven things up and clearly get under Pera’s skin. Katsman swiftly steals Pera’s coveted rhubarb-judging position, and you watch the anger simmer under Pera’s otherwise monotone demeanor. The series is short, but hopefully there’s more to come.

    8) 52 Ways to Break Up

    52 Ways to Break Up explores the moment in a relationship when you know it’s over. Each episode stars creator Megan Rosati as half of the ill-fated couple as they decide to call it quits. In each vignette, the viewer gets a story with as much emotional punch as other webseries take full seasons to build. “Bad Timing” explores when two people who’ve hit it off on a first date realize they’ll be unavailable to each other for more than two years, while in “Give Up,” a longstanding couple admits that it’s already over. The series combines people’s noisy tendencies with their hopeless romanticism, and you can’t help but click next video. So far the series is only nine deep of its implied 52, and each feels as fresh as the first.

    7) True Trans With Laura Jane Grace

    As fictional trans people like Sophia on Orange Is the New Black and Transparent’s Maura gain screentime and their actors and actresses critical acclaim, online there’s a webseries that dives into the reality of the trans community. The AOL Originals series True Trans follows Laura Jane Grace, frontwoman of Against Me!, who announced her transition in 2012 in the pages of Rolling Stone. The series focuses both on Grace’s individual story of transition and the support of her family, friends, and musical community, but also on the stories of trans people Grace encounters as she travels with Against Me!. With so many fictional champions in the trans community, it’s refreshing to see digital media celebrating the real people living outside of a TV show.

    6) Everything But the News

    Steve Goldbloom has gotten the break of his lifetime as a cub reporter for PBS, and of course immediately things start going wrong. The Jim Lehrer-inspired reporter strikes out to create content about a tech world he barely understands, all while his producer calls and berates his output. It’s true to its title: We see a lot more of the ideas and bits behind how Goldbloom wants to put together a news piece than the news he’s supposed to be sharing, but because this is PBS Digital Studios, the learning sneaks in. Each topic mirrors a hurdle in Goldbloom’s professional and personal life, and by the end of season 1, it’s all predictably gone off the rails.

    Luckily, a second season has just started, putting Goldbloom back in the tech saddle, but this time instead of segments that try to cover a plethora of business under a single umbrella, the series focuses more on one-off or single-persona profiles.

    5) #HeyUSA

    Two of YouTube’s biggest comedic stars partnered on a travel adventure that took social suggestion into account in 2014. In #HeyUSA, vloggers Grace Helbig and Mamrie Hart explored the country and engaged in travel activities as suggested by and voted on by their fans on social media. That meant the duo drank vodka shots made with glacial snow, kidnapped their biggest fan Coby, and learned the two-step. Despite having a full crew at their disposal, Hart and Helbig approach this project the same way they do their vlogs, which means no-holds-barred talk about their cramps and only belatedly realizing their sound guy has to listen in. Even more unique, that take makes the cut, giving travel shows a much needed shake-up. While short clips are available on the Astronauts Wanted channel, full episodes are available on

    4) Video Game High School

    Video Game High School is one of YouTube’s biggest productions, in more ways than one. It draws high-profile guest stars (like Conan O’Brien and Tony Hawk in the first few minutes of its third and final season premiere), it took home Streamy Awards for Best Ensemble Cast and Best Directing, and it has flashy, well-done special effects that put it on par with any Hollywood production. But it’s the story of BrianD’s accidental admission to a prestigious video game–focused high school and his interactions with the cast of characters there that keep fans coming back, and its imaginable future of esports domination makes it one of YouTube’s best.

    3) James Franco: Making a Scene

    James Franco has had a busy year in 2014. Aside from being a part of an international data leak scandal and unprecedented movie industry moment, he also fronted a highly successful webseries. Making a Scene has a simple premise: Franco’s production team sits together and dreams up reinventions of iconic film scenes, either by mashing two together or changing the genre. They spin a wheel, brainstorm for a few moments, and then launch into a version of the scene starring Franco—and that’s where it truly comes alive. It’s not boring even done 10 times, since in each turn, Franco gives a fresh performance and his creative team. Sure, the idea of Franco as avant garde artist is a little exhausting, but his webseries is anything but.

    2) Bee and Puppycat

    Although the first episode of Bee and Puppycat aired in 2013 on Frederator, it took 15 months and $872,000 of backing from fans to transform the amazing 10-minute short into a full-fledged series. Bee and Puppycat is an animated series featuring Bee, a lethargic but compelling young woman, and her mysterious intergalactic “puppycat” that she finds on the street. Bee and Puppycat’s creator, Natasha Allegri, is a staff writer for another Frederator project Adventure Time, and the aesthetic she brought to her new series generated legions of fans. This year the newly minted series introduces us to more characters, expands on the few we’d already met, and taps various YouTube talent like Hannah Hart for voiceover roles.

    1) Frankenstein, M.D.

    From the creative minds that brought us The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved, this year’s literary adaptation from Pemberley Digital broke the mold. Frankenstein, M.D. is a reimagination of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with a genderbent lead who’s researching at a university. The vlog style remained, but the series marked a partnership between Pemberley and PBS Digital Studios that transformed it from simply a narrative to an educational series.  PBS Digital has long served up educational programming, and Frankenstein M.D. succeeded by mashing up will-they-or-won’t-they suspense with actual, practical modern science applications for reviving human life. And if YouTube loves anything, it’s a mashup.

    Screengrab via PBS/YouTube

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    It’s a holiday that unites all of us around the world—in hating it.

    John Oliver, who’s still on hiatus, continues his tradition of returning briefly to lampoon a holiday we seem to love but actually truly, truly despise. This time his target is New Year’s Eve, which is terrible even away from the madness of Times Square. We just seem to forget that outside of Dec. 31.

    “It combines three of the least pleasant things known to mankind: forced interaction with strangers; being drunk, cold, and tired; and having to stare at Ryan Seacrest for five solid minutes waiting for him to tell you what the time is,” he explained.

    Sounds just awful, right? Good thing Oliver is here to help, and he’s got some pretty solid advice for getting you out of that party you didn’t really want to attend but went anyway.

    Scheduling a Lord of the Rings marathon on New Year’s Eve would also be a valid excuse, although you risk the person you’re trying to avoid wanting to join in, so proceed at your own risk.

    Screengrab via Last Week Tonight with John Oliver/YouTube

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    Another day, another stomach-turning detail in the Bill Cosby saga. 

    The comedian has allegedly hired a team of private investigators to “dig up dirt” on the private lives of his accusers, the New York Post reports. Cosby is reportedly paying the investigators six figures to unearth any salacious details in his rape accusers’ pasts, and is looking for information that might discredit them.

    Over the past few months, more than two dozen women have come forward with allegations that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them. Now, sources close to Cosby, including an “insider” quoted by the New York Post, claim that Cosby's private investigation firm to dig into the pasts of his accusers, including former model Beverly Johnson and Katherine McKee, an ex-girlfriend of Sammy Davis, Jr. who claims Cosby raped her in the 1970s.

    “If you’re going to say to the world that I did this to you, then the world needs to know, ‘What kind of person are you? Who is this person that’s saying it?’” Cosby reportedly told his legal team, according to the “insider.”

    The source also reports that Cosby specifically referenced Johnson, who alleges that Cosby spiked her coffee before attempting to sexually assault her: “You can’t say that I put something in your coffee, threw you in a cab and then you go on and live a high-profile life, a famous life, and you never complain. You mean you never reported it to the police? You never tell anyone?” he reportedly said.

    Because the “multiple sources” in the New York Post article are not identified, it’s best to err on the side of caution and take all of this with a grain of salt. (Though it’s certainly not surprising that a man as powerful and reportedly as arrogant as Cosby would think it was a good idea to do damage control by smearing the reputations of his accusers.)

    But while Cosby’s legal rep Marc Singer declined to comment on allegations that Cosby hired private investigators to discredit his accusers, he did tell the New York Post, “You [the media] don’t need private investigators to find out information about the accusers. A simple Google search will obtain the information.”

    (If you Google “Beverly Johnson,” by the way, the first hit that comes up is a website for her hair extension brand. Other than that, pretty much every search result is related to her allegations against Cosby.)

    Up to this point, Cosby has stayed relatively quiet, refusing to answer reporters’ questions and becoming enraged when the topic is brought up in interviews. So far, the 77-year-old comedian has only commented to the New York Post, telling reporter Stacy Brown that he expects predominantly African-American publications and journalists “to uphold the standards of excellence in journalism” and have a “neutral mind.”

    Cosby’s wife, Camille, also recently commented on the allegations, comparing the media’s treatment of her husband to Rolling Stone’s shoddy reporting on the University of Virginia rape story. “No one will ever want to be in the position of attacking a victim. But the question should be asked—who is the victim?” she wrote in her statement.

    H/T New York Post | The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) 

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    Parodies are an aggressive way to put your elbows on the proverbial dinner table of a narrative. This was most evident and loathsome in the 10 or so days following that video of a woman walking around New York City for several hours. The clip's point—that catcalling is an institutional peril—was ignored in favor of click-baiting spinoffs for bad laughs.

    As the Daily Dot wrote about the flood of parody clips:

    Some have been clever, and some have been satirical. Others have been hilarious addendums to the original. And many have been dismissive, mocking the intent of the original video and ridiculing the idea that women have anything to fear.  

    This vein of clips embodied the worst in parodies—opportunism, tonal insensitivity, existing first and foremost for Web traffic. Still, 2014 offered bundles of ingenious, cutting, strange, worthy parody clips. Here are the 10 best—and no, none of them were made by late-night talk show hosts.

    10) DurhamAcademyComm — "Durham Academy Weather Announcement"

    Here, school officials announce a snow day with a cornball rap. It's unabashedly lame but exists as a public service for a niche audience. Equal parts earnest and considerate, it went viral seemingly on its own merit. You can't watch this and not think, "Boy, what pleasant human beings."

    9) The Holderness Family — "Kin and Juice"

    This is absolutely the last hip-hop video made by affluent people that do not appear particularly engaged with the genre. It's something this family does fairly regularly; he's a former local TV news guy and she's an actress and I can't bring myself to dislike their adorable children. I think it's funny that he's wearing his University of Virginia T-shirt (this clip dropped shortly before the damning Rolling Stone feature) because it's probably the whitest individual piece of apparel available in American society. Yes, they did make an "All About That Bass" parody.

    8) Zack Galifianakis — Between Two Ferns With Zack Galifianakis: President Obama

    Maybe the best state-sanctioned comedy ever, from President Barack Obama's appearance. "Is it going to be hard in two years when you're no longer president and people will stop letting you win at basketball?" "What are we going to do about North Ikea?" An apex for this long-running talk show parody series.

    7) Saturday Night Live — "100 Greatest Guys"

    This one, pulled from the regretful James Franco show, didn't make it to air. But it's a textbook parody and the best sketch that SNL has churned out this season. The target is innocuous: VH1's talking-head-driven countdown shows. Yet the final product expertly speaks to the banalities of those arbitrary and generally useless countdowns.

    6) Oh My Disney — "DuckTales Theme Song With Real Ducks"

    A lot of work went into this, you guys.

    5) CBS Follies — "Bitch in Business"

    Of all the Meghan Trainor reworkings, this one from Columbia business school students was OK and had nice things to say. 

    4) Trav G — "WorldStar Through History"

    WorldStarHipHop, an aggregating harbor for hip-hop culture's sweltering and fiesty id, lends its signature treatment to iconic historical tragedies. In a recent interview, creator Lee "Q" O'Denat was defensive about the site's notorious habit of prominent street fight videos: "Sometimes in life you have to fight it out," he said. "I'd rather people fight than pull a gun out."

    3) Boyoncé — "7/11"

    Released eight days after Beyoncé's purposefully loose but artfully coordinated "7/11" surprise drop, a bunch of dudes fearlessly recreated the thing with an on-point brand of zestful masculinity that elbows heteronormativity under the basket. Obviously it was cleaned before filming, but extra props for the pristine house.

    2) Adult Swim — "Too Many Cooks"

    So much to love, so much going on. A parody video so giant it inspired its own parody video because humanity needed to talk it out. Yeah, fam, we got thinkpieces

    1) Steven Rosenthal — "This Is What Every Celebrity Commercial Sounds Like"

    Riffing on an ad from R&B singer Jay Sean, this thing beautifully sticks it to the modern age of celebrity advertising: I'm a real person with dreams, and this product navigates me through everyday life. I'm giving it the slight edge over "Cooks" because it's so effortless and it bugged me when VH1 countdowns would defer to "American Pie," "Hey Jude," "Stairway to Heaven," and "Free Bird" just because they were long-ass songs.

    Photo via Docklandsboy/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

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    Facebook is testing a new video section for its official “pages” feature that looks an awful lot like YouTube channels.

    First spotted by TechCrunch on the Facebook page for ABC News, the layout for the new video section prioritizes one video, which receives prominent placement at the top of the page. Its accompanied by the comment feed to its right, making it easier for users to watch and interact with others about that video.

    Below the featured video, the pages would feature a series of playlists that offer access to other videos organized around specific topics—again, not unlike what YouTube channels currently look like.

    This is a significant change from what the video tabs on Facebook pages used to look like:

    This is Facebook’s latest salvo in its ongoing attempt to compete with YouTube for video eyeballs and ad dollars. In addition to courting YouTube stars to upload content to its social network, and signing major media companies to do the same, Facebook has been adding features to its video product that mirror what people have grown accustomed to on the web. For instance, until a few months ago, Facebook did not provide any statistics on how many people watched a particular video—now it does.

    With this latest update, Facebook is not only interested in pushing video clips out in front of users who are most likely to watch them in their news feeds, but it also wants to create hubs for video content that users can come back to on a regular basis. By doing so, the network has the ability to increase user time spent and engagement.

    That said, don’t overlook how such an update to Facebook pages also impacts advertising on the social network. One can imagine all of the different ways Facebook can weave video ads on to these pages. That’s important for the company’s video business, which grows in audience size but largely remains un-monetized.

    A Facebook spokesperson says the new video layout is currently being tested on a handful of pages, with a wider rollout planned in the coming weeks.

    Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III

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    Congrats, America. You did it. The Interview is now Sony’s top-grossing digital release.

    You were told by Seth Rogen that if you want to be an American hero, you had to see The Interview on Christmas Day. It was a free speech issue, of course, a patriotic duty, and smaller theaters were stepping up so we wouldn’t be silenced into not seeing a Rogen-Franco movie.

    Some people caught on to the fact that they’d been “honeydicked” into seeing what is essentially a two-hour fart joke by the movie’s marketing, which smelled more and more like an elaborate PR stunt with each passing day. But it was too late. By the time the film had been released into theaters and onto YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, and less regulated channels, it had already garnered Sony more than $15 million in digital sales, and $2.8 million in theater sales.

    On Sunday, Sony claimed the film had been streamed or purchased online more than 2 million times since Christmas Day, crowning it as the company’s most successful digital release ever. Still, Sony is expected to lose money on the film, which racked up roughly $30-$40 million in marketing costs—and they're still reeling from a cyberattack

    At this point, The Interview has become a movie within a movie. North Korea is releasing shade-filled missives and demanding evidence from the U.S. that it was involved in the initial Sony hack. Internets are being knocked offline. People are singing patriotic songs during Interview screenings. This really is like an episode of Black Mirror.

    Photo via the Interview/Sony | Remix by Fernando Alfonso III

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    Some people are good at solving puzzles, but this guy may be the best Wheel of Fortune contestant ever.

    Wheel of Fortune has had its share of bad contestants and really bad contestants, but Matt DeSanto is one of the best contestants the gameshow has ever seen. On Friday's show, with "character" as the puzzle category, Matt correctly solved the three-word puzzle with only a letter "E" revealed. The winning phrase was "The Lone Ranger." Astounded, host Pat Sajak joked, "I don't want to cause trouble at home, but I think there's a connection with you and Vanna."

    DeSanto wasn't the firstWheel contestant to solve a puzzle after just one letter, but the speed with which he did it is truly impressive. He went on to dominate the rest of the episode and, as reported by People, posted the biggest total win for a contestant going into the bonus round.

    Screengrab via YouTube

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    America: The only country in the world where you can get fired for not coming to work half-naked. 

    That’s what we learned Sunday night on Undercover Boss, the CBS reality series where bosses and executives go undercover to suss out bad employee behavior. This week, the TV show focused on Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill, an eating establishment that CEO Doug Guller loving refers to as a “breastaurant.”

    In the episode, which you can watch here, Guller fires a woman for refusing to wear a bikini top on camera. To clarify, she was willing to take her top off during work hours, as it is part of her job description; she just wasn’t OK with showing her boobs on national television.

    The low point of the scene—but probably the high point, from a CBS reality TV producer perspective—is when the employee, Jessica, starts crying. To console her, Guller offers to help her find work by getting “[her] resume out there.” Which sounds like a magnanimous offer, until you consider that Jessica works at a breastaurant, so in this case “resume” is may just be a synonym for “bikini photos.”

    In another scene, Guller offers a different female employee breast implants during a performance review, as an incentive to get her to work harder. Nothing against ladies who get breast implants or anything, but frankly, this doesn’t seem like a decision that should be discussed between a supervisor and an employee. For instance, I had my performance review last week, and at no point did my boss try to get me to work harder by offering me breast implants. 

    Naturally, the Internet wasn’t too happy with Undercover Boss, taking umbrage with Guller’s unbelievably sexist behavior. (As an aside, you can check out a list of the businesses he owns here.) Viewers also took CBS to task for airing the episode in the first place:

    But let’s be honest, guys: We’re talking about a show where high-level white dudes wear fake glasses and Groucho Marx mustaches so they can spy on their employees and then fire them on air. Giving a platform to a sexist asshole who thinks employees should be judged solely by their cup size is bad, but has CBS really had any shame to begin with?

    H/T Jezebel | Photo via Allan Ferguson/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

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    Warning: This article contains images that may be NSFW.

    If you feel like you haven't seen enough of Chelsea Handler’s nipples this year, then we've got an early New Year's present for you: The comedian (and her nipples) are continuing to fight the good fight against Instagram censorship... by posting yet another topless photo on Instagram.

    On Friday, Handler posted the photo on Instagram, in which she posed topless and pretended to look for her dog Chunk.

    After Instagram deleted the photo for violating its terms of service, Handler posted yet another topless image on Twitter, with the message: “Finding Chunk. Instagram had him!” 

    (You can see the uncensored, NSFW shot here.)

    Handler’s been taking a stand against Instagram's anti-female-nudity policy since October, when she posted a snapshot of herself mocking Vladimir Putin’s famous shirtless horseback-riding photo.

    A few weeks later, Handler posted a nude photo mimicking Kim Kardashian’s famous #BreakTheInternet photo shoot, which she superimposed next to the original photo of herself topless on a horse. Instagram allowed users to post the photo of Kardashian, while Handler's version was removed. 

    “Just so I’m clear, Instagram… it’s ok to use nudity to sexualize yourself on your site, but not to make a joke?” wrote handler. “I’m just so confused.” 

    Handler is not the only celebrity to participate in the #freethenipple campaign, the social media movement against censorship of female toplessness on sites like Facebook and Instagram. Last summer, Scout Willis was photographed walking around New York City topless to protest Instagram suspending her account.

    On Sunday, Miley Cyrus, who first brought attention to #freethenipple when she tweeted a photo of herself topless with the hashtag in December 2013, posted another topless photo on Instagram, alongside bizarre doctored topless images of a younger, Hannah Montana-era version of herself.

    There’s also a Free The Nipple movie, directed by Cyrus’s friend Lina Esco, which was released in select theaters earlier this month.

    H/T Uproxx | Photo via Chelsea Handler/Instagram, Twitter

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    Perhaps you weren’t one of the millions of American heroes who madeThe InterviewSony’s most successful digital release yet. Perhaps you don’t want to pay American dollars to see it. You’re in luck because Seth Rogen livetweeted the film last night.

    The marketing push behind The Interview is a puzzle we’re all still putting together, but Rogen’s tweets were a throwback to a simpler time: to, say, a month ago, when Sony hadn’t been hacked and we all blissfully livetweeted our favorite shows. Were we ever so young?

    If you read Rogen’s tweets out of sequence, they turn into a sort of stoner poetry, much like North Korea’s missives to the U.S.

    Photo via Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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    While you might have had a very Swifty Christmas this year after Santa left you a deluxe edition of 1989 under the tree, it likely pales in comparison to the gift that two musicians got from Taylor Swift herself. What could Tay have possibly gifted these fellow singer-songwriters with, you ask? A hand-carved locket containing photos of Olivia and Meredith? A lock of Karlie Kloss’ hair preserved in amber?

    No, something even more priceless: Her stamp of approval. Over the weekend, Swift caught wind of the “Blank Space”/“Style” mashup by Nashville-based artists Louisa Wendorff and Devin Dawson and got busy plastering it all over social media. Swift fell so deeply in love with the call and response the two crafted from the tracks that she even put it on her Google + page. Now that's a true honor! 

    H/T Vulture | Photo via evarinaldiphotography/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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    The year in pirating has been an interesting one, but the illegal downloading of TV shows and films continued to flourish despite protestations. Game of Thronesis still the most pirated TV show in 2014, to no one’s surprise. Drake’s 2013 album Nothing Was the Same is apparently the most pirated album of all time. Put that in your thinkhole.

    As for films, copyright infringement detectors Excipio recently released the top 20 most pirated movies of 2014, and The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese's three-hour ode to the F word, slides in at No. 1 with 30 million torrents. Frozen’s not far behind with 29 million. RoboCop, Gravity, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug round out the top five. Interestingly, the 2014 RoboCop remake and the 1987 original combined downloads to put it at No. 3. The rest of the top 10 is pretty action movie-heavy, and people are still pirating Captain Phillips for some reason.

    Here’s the full list:

    1. The Wolf of Wall Street: 30.035 million

    2. Frozen: 29.919 million

    3. RoboCop: 29.879 million

    4. Gravity: 29.357 million

    5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: 27.627 million

    6. Thor: The Dark World: 25.749 million

    7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: 25.628 million

    8. The Legend of Hercules: 25.137 million

    9. X-Men: Days of Future Past: 24.380 million

    10. 12 Years a Slave: 23.653 million

    11. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: 23.543 million

    12. American Hustle: 23.143 million

    13. 300: Rise of an Empire: 23.096 million

    14. Transformers: Age of Extinction: 21.65 million

    15. Godzilla: 20.956 million

    16. Noah: 20.334 million

    17. Divergent: 20.312 million

    18. Edge of Tomorrow: 20.299 million

    19. Captain Phillips: 19.817 million

    20. Lone Survivor: 19.130 million

    Screengrab via Paramount Pictures/YouTube 

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    Our2ndLife—the YouTubesupergroup of online friends turned teen idols—announced today that it is "end[ing] … on a high note" and abandoning its massive channel. This after 2.8 million subscribers, two and a half years on the rise as a bubbling digital content mill, and the departure of breakout star Connor Franta

    The five remaining vloggers, Trevor Moran, Ricky Dillon, Sam Pottorff, Kian Lawley, and Jc Caylen, still consider each other "best friends" and apparently still live together in Los Angeles. For the channel, the rest of 2014 will be a "goodbye week" littered with individual clips and postmortem interviews about time in the group.

    The reason for the breakup, the group said, is chiefly a mixing of priorities coupled with the fact that each member is famous enough to not need a reliance on the moniker. Caylen specializes in comedy, as does Lawley. Dillon and Moran have solo musical projects slated for January. Last month, a compilation of artists that Franta hand-picked into a mixtape cracked the Billboard 200

    "We feel like lately this has not been our best," said Dillon. "No matter what happens after this video, O2L will live on forever."

    The hashtag, #o2lforever, began trending nationally Monday.

    Stay tuned to the guys' individual channels to find out what's next for the second life of Our2ndLife.

    Screengrab via our2ndlife/YouTube

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    Five years after Scrubs went off the air, stars Zach Braff, Donald Faison, and John C. McGinley posed together for a holiday selfie Sunday night.

    The mini-reunion became a quick trending topic across social media platforms. It's a pleasant and nostalgic photo. 

    But it's also a stark reminder that it is almost 2015. This decade is half over and the teens (is this what we're going with? Has anyone called this decade anything at this point in human history?) are forging an identity loosely rooted in "whoa it's 2014 and we have cyborgs" moments of self-actualization. All the while, however, 2014 still feels like a mild-mannered, almost flavorless extension: Barack Obama is still the president, and this age will be combed historically as "the early 21st Century."

    That's why the Braff-posted selfie was so jarring. Scrubs feels rooted in the early 2000s in terms of cultural iconography and because reruns were a go-to for many bored watchers of basic cable during the aughts: Hey WGN has Scrubs reruns hon, let's watch an hour of this in our bedroom because the cable allows us to just patch in another big glass TV in here as opposed to forking over extra for an additional digital receiver

    Picture 2005 and a whole other world instantly appears. Look, there's Common as a respectable rapper, bands investing in MySpace and not YouTube, Facebook as an elite community of academic minds, those leather bands that men wore in place of wristwatches. We've almost evolved to a point where we can begin missing those years. 

    This means that sentimentality for the recent past is right on schedule. The selfie is proof positive. 

    Steven Hyden wrote a whole essay about blog rock this spring and my immediate reaction was to give in to that tugging romanticism and make a mix of trendy-at-the-time indie rock that dominated college radio five-to-10 years ago. In honor of the Braff selfie and what Braff almost surely does whenever he gets melancholy about time, here is that blog rock-inspired playlist.

    Sorry in advance for not bundling these files and uploading them to zSHARE.

    Photo via Zach Braff/Instagram

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    It was a grotesque and vastly unpleasant year for the United States, especially as a singular whole that is digested globally via damning headlines. You couldn't even go to a Turkish soccer game as an American without facing global judgment for how we treat our citizens of color.

    Domestically, the best music punted on the news and stuck to short-term solutions (go to the club on a Tuesday and just party, man). But the cable news violence did forge an important soundtrack. Here it is, presented as the 10 best protest songs of the year.

    10) Lynyrd Skynyrd — "Sweet Home Alabama"

    Asshole members of America's police force need protest songs, too. And so, a Chicago Police Department good ol' boy in blue decided to blare "Sweet Home Alabama"—a timeless Southern pride anthem—out of his cruiser's loudspeaker during an Eric Garner protest in Chicago attended by mostly African-Americans this month. Two Americas and whatnot.

    9) Sole & DJ Pain 1 — "Fire the Police"

    I appreciate it when white, bearded rappers get indignant about the police and do good. It can be useless in scope and audience because the work lands at reaffirming, Fair Trade coffee shops, but that doesn't make the exercise any less earnest and pointed.

    8) The Orwells —"Who Needs You"

    The loogie-hocking Chicago punks began the year with a rowdy Letterman performance that left the host in awe. When the band returned in the fall, David Letterman insisted "Who Needs You" likewise come back for an encore. The song itself is this expertly constructed Cheap Trick knockoff about futile futures and beer-shotgunning nihilism: "You better toss your bullets, you better hide your guns, you better help the children, let 'em have some fun." 

    7) The Peace Poets — "I Can't Breathe" 

    I don't think this song is any good. It's written by four slam poetry nerds and is tinged with white-guy reggae. It's the worst, really. Except that its brevity and simplicity works outdoors in the cold, and it's a helpful instrument to meaningful protests. It's been performed by hundreds of good Samaritans at once, and that's nothing to poke fun at.

    6) Stick to Your Guns —"What Choice Did You Give Us?"

    It's fun when hardcore bands with a youthful fan base release songs that spell out every literal-to-a-fault lyric. On Sept. 11, 2001, I distinctly remember listening to "Boom" by nu-metal bros P.O.D. for solace. For teenagers, loud noises can be optimally cathartic.

    5) The Game — "Don't Shoot (Mike Brown)"

    Everyone is on this thing, and the beat is understated and hollow but reverberating like a deep well. Game uses his children on the hook, and it's downright hair-raising. Best of all, none of the distinct, lending voices—Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, etc.—compromises their individual style, so it's this overloaded sundae bar monstrosity that works as a unified memo from the mainstream.

    4) Migos —"Struggle"

    "Everybody been through it, everybody used to it" goes the hook from hip-hop's materialistic maestros. This one punts on the timeliness of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in favor of generalities, yet its clunky cobblestone performances from three high-volume, flashy voices is a distinctly 2014 occasion. The headlines were impossible to ignore, even if you're an Atlanta trio that raps chiefly about selling drugs and buying designer retail with drug money. But zone out and you miss Quavo's biting warning: "RIP to Mike Brown—I heard my n***a fuck with us / middle finger to the police, dare them n***as fuck with us." 

    3) Hozier — "Take Me to Church"

    This massive and sudden pop hit—the Irish singer-songwriter bailed on a small-stage Austin City Limits engagement to instead perform on Saturday Night Live in October—is an anthem penned about homophobia. Talking to Pink News this month, Hozier was clear about its targets and points: "The song is about loving somebody, and the video is about people who undermine what it is to love somebody."

    2) Yakki Divioshi — "Hands Up"

    OK, we've checked off the all-star gathering 'round the microphone and the buttoned-up turn toward somberness from an otherwise loud crew. Here, 808 Mafia and Atlanta rapper Yakki Divioshi produce a post-Future banger that shopping carts the community urgency and unrest. It's an all-in, abrasive gamble that pays off beautifully. 

    1) D'Angelo — "1000 Deaths"

    The year's fuming apex, in just under six minutes. D'Angelo baked in samples from New Black Panther Party's Khalid Abdul Muhammad; disses at the "cracker Christ"; lyrics like "I won't nut up when we up thick in the crunch, because a coward dies a thousand times, but a soldier dies only once"; timeless musicianship; and this crescendo of purposeful, golf club-swinging destruction because it wasn't a good year.

    Photo via MOD/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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    Pharrell Williams hasn’t had the best luck with lawsuits this year. First he and Robin Thicke were countersued by Marvin Gaye’s family for the sampling of “Got to Give It Up” in “Blurred Lines.” Now he’s being sued for bowing out of a YouTube show.

    According to Radar Online, Williams was supposed to shoot a second season of the YouTube interview series Artst Tlk, but his new coaching job on The Voice, and the exclusivity contract that goes with it, prohibited him from doing another show at the same time. Artst Tlk’s producers are suing him in federal court, though Williams' lawyers claim he’s open to joining the show again once his contract is up… in four years. They also claim there was no binding contract, just an “agreement to agree.”

    However, the lawsuit states that his contract had been “fully negotiated” and that Williams bowing out of the show goes beyond a “scheduling conflict.” According to TMZ, when he was told producers would be going ahead with season 2, Williams reportedly said, “Holding me to a contract that prohibits The Voice exclusivity requirement? It’s The Voice!”

    Artst Tlk debuted in 2012 and featured interviews with Leonard Nimoy, Usher, and Henry Rollins. The 12-episode season racked up more than 1 million views. Producers were hoping to shop the second season to TV networks, but now that Williams has backed out of his contract, they say that won’t be possible. No word yet on whether producers could just find someone else to host the show.

    In other Williams lawsuit news, a group representing him, the Eagles, and other artists is threatening YouTube with a $1 billion lawsuit that claims the company does not have rights to use his music in their new Music Key service.

    Photo via Shawn Ahmed/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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    Rob Thomas, songwriter and frontman for Matchbox Twenty, had a little mishap while preparing breakfast this morning, slicing off part of his middle finger. Fortunately, he only needed his thumbs to tweet some surprisingly chill updates on his injury and hospital visit.

    Ouch, dude. Hope it doesn’t affect that soulful guitar fretting.

    Photo by Jessica S./Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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    Hit podcast Serial is still topping the charts nearly two weeks after its final episode left listeners with more questions than answers. If you were among those who longed for a more conclusive resolution to the maddeningly addictive podcast, you may have spent the last couple weeks weaning yourself from your Thursday obsession. But the Internet is not ready to let this story die just yet.

    The Intercept, best known for its scoops about the National Security Agency thanks to Edward Snowden's leaked documents, has released part 1, in a multi-part interview series with Jay Wilds, Serial’s most elusive character, and the prosecution’s key eye witness.

    Wilds, who testified to Adnan Syed’s guilt in the 1999 murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee, was notably absent from the podcast. Serial host Sarah Koenig did attempt to speak with Wilds, but he declined to be recorded and gave her little less than lip service in her quest for the truth.

    According to both his testimony and his interview with The Intercept, Wilds helped Syed bury Lee's body in a Baltimore park—though the exact details of his involvement have shifted. Wilds received a reduced sentence for allegedly helping Syed by testifying against him.

    Syed is currently serving a life sentence for the first-degree murder of Lee, his ex-girlfriend.

    According to The Intercept, Wilds feels he was portrayed unfairly in the podcast and wished to tell his side of the story. The story he tells includes a new timeline for the day and night of the murder, and, fittingly, just as many holes as his testimony and police interviews. Interestingly, reporter Natasha Vargas-Cooper notes that the interview “has been edited and condensed for clarity.”

    While the details Wilds offers fail to clarify what really happened on the day of Lee’s murder, they do offer intriguing notions of the character of those involved in Lee’s untimely death. Wilds, a former marijuana dealer who was a friendly acquaintance of Syed's, describes himself as a concert-goer who would attend “like anything from Wu-Tang to Warped Tour.” He was also “a bit of an outdoorsman, adventure seeker, fishing, camping, learned to ride a motorcycle. Went canoeing.” And, perhaps most curiously, he notes, “I wasn’t exactly angry, but I did resent [Woodlawn High],” the high school attended by all the major players in Serial.

    Wilds says Syed's demeanor made it "[look] like he had never lost anything before.” He said Lee "was really independent" and "seemed to be more mature … [l]ike she was a junior in college. The way she moved and went about her day. She just seemed like an older chick who happened to be in high school.” He also states that Lee was not part of the magnet program at Woodlawn, a detail that contradicts Koenig’s reporting.

    Wilds explains that the inconsistencies in his testimony and what he told police was due to a deep distrust of law enforcement—something he portrays as a common sentiment shared by residents of late-90s Baltimore—and lies told to protect his friends who weren't involved in the murder.

    Rabia Chaudry, fierce advocate for Syed’s innocence, has already called out multiple inconsistencies in the interview and openly mocked Wild’s credibility on Twitter.

    Photo of Adnan Syed via

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