Fresh Air

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Opening the window on contemporary arts and issues with guests from worlds as diverse as literature and economics.

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

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DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

The documentary Meru charts the attempts of a trio of American climbers to be the first to scale Meru Peak, a 21,000-foot Himalayan mountain that begins near the headwaters of the Ganges River in India.

It's the sort of movie that's frequently called "inspiring" for its depiction of humans testing themselves physically, emotionally and perhaps even spiritually against the elements, and I get that. But I wasn't inspired. I was nearly out of my mind with terror.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, has reviews of two very different new TV projects, IFC's "Documentary Now!" which premieres tonight, and AMC's "Fear The Walking Dead," which begins Sunday.

From Rosie, the Jetsons' robot maid, to Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg in The Terminator, popular culture has frequently conceived of robots as having a humanlike form, complete with "eyes" and mechanical limbs. But tech reporter John Markoff says that robots don't always have a physical presence.

"I have a very broad definition of what a robot is," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "A robot can be ... a machine that can walk around, or it can be software that is a personal assistant, something like Siri or Cortana or Google Now."

Though Larry Wilmore had always hoped to be a performer, his early career was as a comedy writer. He wrote for shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and In Living Color, and he created The Bernie Mac Show. He moved in front of the camera as The Daily Show's "senior black correspondent" in 2006. So when Stephen Colbert ended The Colbert Report last year, Comedy Central tapped Wilmore to host the replacement show.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

The star of the film Grandma and the Netflix series Grace and Frankie married her partner of 42 years, Jane Wagner, in 2013. She spoke with Fresh Air about being more open about her sexuality.

"I've been out for ... 10 or 11 or 12 years or something. I mean, finally somebody printed it. ... [If asked about her sexuality during a 1989 interview with Terry Gross] I probably would have said something like, um ... 'yes, I am.' I couldn't have lied — it would have been too diminishing to lie."

After the Republicans held their lively first debate, you heard people saying what they always say nowadays — that our media-driven political discourse has become shallow and petty, even clownish. Hearing this, an innocent young person might believe that, not so long ago, America was a latter-day Athens in which political arguments were magnificent in their purity and eloquence.

Since coming out as a lesbian in 1980 at the age of 19, graphic novelist Alison Bechdel has made it a point to be open about her sexuality. It was a decision she made consciously as a reaction to her father, who was gay and closeted, and who died four months after Bechdel came out.

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

By now, viewers know what to expect from a David Simon drama. You expect an intense study of a precise location, as with Baltimore in The Wire and New Orleans in Treme. You expect flawed, fascinating and unforgettable characters — like Omar in The Wire, just to name one. And you expect the story to raise issues, especially about race and politics, that are unfortunately relevant to today.

Graphic artist and professor Phoebe Gloeckner had an unconventional upbringing. When she was 15, she lost her virginity to an older man — who also happened to be her mother's boyfriend. Gloeckner chronicled the experience in her teenage diaries, which she put aside and then revisited when she found them decades later.

"I remember I opened the box with the diaries and I was just stunned to start reading," Gloeckner tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "To hear this child's voice, kind of, talking to me as an adult, it felt like it was crying out to be heard."

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