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A&E knows best: Expanding your entertainment horizons

Here at A&E, we never claim to be arbiters of taste; but let’s face it, we’d all like to be. It’s the nature of a section made up primarily of reviews to be a bit self-important about our own opinions — otherwise, what would be the fun in expressing them, much less asking you to read them?

I only mention this because for my last feature as section editor, I’m taking some of the arts and entertainment world’s most popular artists and works and suggesting you try out a similar but lesser-known rendition in the hopes it turns out to be equally or perhaps even more awesome than its trendy counterpart.

Think of this brief list as a parting gift. I’m aware it’s a bit self-indulgent, but I think it may be worth your time. Here we go:

If you like Bon Iver’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver, you’ll love Aunt Martha’s Norway, ME:

Calling an album “more upbeat than Bon Iver” is like calling a film “more reserved than a Tarantino”: ninety-nine percent of the time it goes without saying. But tempo is one of the key differences between Bon Iver’s self-titled 2011 full-length and the New Hampshire trio’s release from October of the same year. Both are full of masterfully woven folk gems, simultaneously hopeful and forlorn and driven by beautifully haunting vocals; but whereas Bon Iver features Justin Vernon’s serene falsetto over lingering synths, Norway, ME favors lilting acoustic guitar and subtle vocal harmonies.

Yet the two albums are spun from the same meditative cloth, evoking a sense of nostalgia that makes you long for a cloudy winter day to mull over failed love affairs or ponder the nature of human existence. If you don’t believe me, check out Norway ME’s “Blue Buildings.”

If you like Girls, you’ll love Tiny Furniture:

No shocker here: As any Lena Dunham fan would know, Tiny Furniture is the 2010 feature film that served as the launching pad — creatively and professionally — for the actor/director/writer’s polarizing HBO series. The film stars Dunham as Aura, a New York City millennial struggling to “figure things out” after graduating with one of those pesky liberal arts degrees. Sound familiar?

Fortunately, for those who find Girls’ Hannah too insufferable to bear for extended periods, Tiny Furniture’s tight 90-minute runtime allows for just enough post-adolescent angst to intrigue the viewer without alienating us with an overdose of entitlement. The indie dramedy deservedly cleaned up on the 2011 festival circuit and garnered Dunham an Independent Spirit Award, which we assume she keeps on an undersized shelf somewhere.

If you like New Girl, you’ll love Ben and Kate:

Dysfunctional families have been sitcom gold since Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s “loving” marriage played out in 1950s living rooms. These two Fox comedies stick with the winning formula, although the single-camera filming style and focus on sexual humor demonstrate the genre’s dramatic evolution since I Love Lucy days. Both series follow the lives of atypical “families” — New Girl’s 30-something coed roommates and Ben and Kate’s single-mother-plus-brother dynamic — and both are set in sunny Southern California with a heavy emphasis on quick dialogue and unapologetic quirk.

The cast of Ben and Kate is just as quirky as Zooey Deschanel and co., but they’re not as intent on shoving their eccentricities down our throats on a weekly basis. Dakota Johnson is hilariously anxious as Kate, an overprotective young mother whose irresponsible but loving brother Ben (Walk Hard’s Nat Faxon in an appropriately goofy role) moves in to help her raise daughter Maddie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). But the real prize here is Lucy Punch as Kate’s best friend BJ, a British bombshell whose biting wit is matched only by her smoldering libido. Her wildly inappropriate interactions with Maddie single-handedly make Ben and Kate’s wacky world worth a visit.


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