NOT OPTIONAL takes a quick weekly look at five essential releases, some recent, some not.

Kroll Show (rerunning on Comedy Central)
Comedian, actor, and man of a thousand voices Nick Kroll specializes in lampooning the toxic self-absorption of the histrionic megalomaniacs who inhabit the high-drama, low-substance world of reality television. Like the similarly dense Mr. Show before it, Kroll Show is dedicated to nailing the details of whatever it’s spoofing, whether that means perfectly replicating the visual language, editing, and beats of aggressively brainless shows about publicists or capturing the creepily expressionless visage of a plastic sturgeon for animals. Kroll Show hilariously captures the tacky, fickle, fame-obsessed nature of our ADD-addled pop-culture world; a particularly insightful running gag recently featured a reality show about the aforementioned animal plastic surgeon that spun-off into increasingly preposterous offshoots reflecting the split-second attention span of a pop-culture world forever fascinated by the next new thing. It’s a brilliant, extended bit that perfectly captures the way fame is increasingly transmitted like an STD in a world where everyone’s a star and everyone is battling for the camera’s attention. Nobody does this type of thing as brilliantly as Kroll, who knows these repellent but weirdly charismatic characters at a molecular level. [Nathan Rabin]


A Wrinkle In Time: The Graphic Novel (in stores now)
I’d compare my experience reading Hope Larson’s illustrated adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time to Noel Murray’s: It’s been years since I devoured the original, but each page of Larson’s graphic novel contains a reminder of why I fell so hard for L’Engle’s prose in my middle-school days. Updating a story that readers have held dear for more than six decades is a tricky proposition, but Larson doesn’t play it safe, turning some of L’Engle’s most abstract concepts into easy-to-grasp visuals and casting her panels in a cool, minimalist color palate of blues and blacks. (All the better for a story that involves traveling tremendous interstellar distances in mere seconds.) To adult eyes, the religious allegory of L’Engle’s narrative can appear a touch heavy-handed, but Larson’s expressive, cartoonish figures imbue the book with a necessary lightness, lending an accessibility to subject matter that can be difficult for readers to wrap their heads around, no matter their age. [Erik Adams]

Searching For Sugar Man (on DVD and Blu-ray now)
Following its recent Academy Award win for Best Documentary Feature—and many, many recommendations from one Nathan Rabin—I finally decided it was time to watch Searching For Sugar Man. As promised, it’s a masterful piece of storytelling. Recounting the musical journey of Sixto Rodriguez, a singer-songwriter from Detroit, the film clearly adores its subject and should in no way be considered impartial. There is a very clear narrative at work, and the filmmakers reveal information in a specific way. Though the conclusion has been a bit spoiled by the attention surrounding the film, it remains a riveting tale of a man who lost his record contract after two failed albums, only to become a musical superstar in South Africa, a fact unbeknownst to anyone in the U.S.—including the artist himself. According to one interviewee, in the ’70s there were three LPs that every South African music lover had: The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Rodriguez’s Cold Fact. [Andrea Battleground]

When Pride Still Mattered: Lombardi (in stores now) 
The ironic title of David Maraniss’ brilliant 1999 Vince Lombardi biography refers to an academic scandal that rocked the Army football team in 1951, when the future Green Bay Packers coach was working as an assistant under Earl “Red” Blaik. While Lombardi was well insulated from the cheating violations that would decimate the team, Maraniss makes it clear that his biography isn’t about preserving the past—and the Lombardi legend—in amber at a time when football (and the culture at large) seems thoroughly debased. Yet at the same time, Maraniss isn’t interested in demythologizing Lombardi just for the sake of it. The man that emerges in When Pride Still Mattered is enormously complicated: a brilliant tactician and motivator, an inattentive husband and father, and more sensitive than his famous temper would indicate, including to matters of race. Like all great biographies, the book is about more than its subject: It’s about immigration and assimilation, dramatic cultural changes in the middle third of the American century, and the rise of the professional game at a time when college football was dominant. [Scott Tobias]


Newsreaders (Thursdays on Adult Swim)
Childrens Hospital has forged an unlikely path from web curio to Emmy-winning television series, and now it has a sort-of spinoff. NewsReaders had a back-door pilot through a special episode of Childrens Hospital, but the shows don’t overlap. NewsReaders functions as a 60 Minutes parody, complete with Ray Wise as an unhinged Andy Rooney-type commentator. It also has traces of IFC’s Onion News Network in its ridiculous stories and bizarre throwaway jokes. One recent episode examined a camp for gay teens that had serious Third Reich overtones, and another profiled a guy who turns abortion-clinic protests into dance parties. It’s all anchored by Louis La Fonda (Mather Zickel), who nails the aloof smugness of broadcast journalists. At only 15 minutes, it’s a minimal time investment, too. [Kyle Ryan]