Trilobites: Frog-Killing Fungus Found to Have Origins on Korean Peninsula


Image
An Oriental fire-bellied toad, which was imported into Europe from South Korea. CreditFrank Pasmans

In the 1970s and 1980s frogs and other amphibians seemed to be disappearing overnight. By 1999, researchers had determined the culprit was a deadly disease caused by chytrid fungus which infected the animals with tiny, swimming spores.

Today this disease, called Chytridiomycosis, is thought to be one of the deadliest pathogens on the planet. It infects hundreds of species of amphibians and is thought to have wiped out a third of all frog species. These animals are important contributors to biodiversity, insect and disease control and may even be sources of new types of medicine.

For decades, scientists hoping to save these semiaquatic animals from extinction have been trying and failing to pin down the origins of this mysterious killer. They knew it developed from a common ancestor, but couldn’t agree on where or when. Now, an international group of scientists has compared the genomes of 177 samples of the deadly fungus from six continents. They determined that the pathogen most likely arose on the Korean Peninsula 50 to 100 years ago and spread through global trade.

Their research, published Thursday in the journal Science, reiterates that the pathogen comes in many different strains, some more virulent than others. It suggests that new variations of the fungus can still develop and spread disease without proper protections.

Researchers collecting a sample of the fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, using a swab taken from an amphibian.CreditDirk Schmeller

Previous reporting on saving frogs and other amphibians

Critic’s Notebook: On Netflix, a Growing Wave of Shows for and About Teenagers


“Alexa & Katie” doesn’t mess around — it opens in a children’s hospital, from which Alexa is desperate to be discharged so she can start her freshman year.

Ms. Wordham and the showrunner, Matthew Carlson (“Malcolm in the Middle”), use this premise to give a twist to familiar story lines about wanting to fit in. Alexa wants to be normal, and she lashes out when she feels that she’s being pitied or given special treatment, leading to awkward situations with her overly protective mom (Tiffani Thiessen) and the math nerd she has a crush on (Jack Griffo). Her cancer — whose only visible consequence is hair loss, leading to a season-long focus on baldness and wigs — is like a mean parent, keeping her off the basketball team and forcing her to miss the school dance.

As a comedy, “Alexa & Katie” is about average, or a little below, if graded against the cable shows it resembles. But it’s a little more tough-minded than you might expect. The cancer theme leads to sentimentality, of course, but it’s also used to roughen Alexa’s edges: While she complains about being singled out, she also doesn’t mind taking advantage of her invalid status when it suits her.

With “On My Block,” the audience age range moves up a few years, and the TV comparisons shift to Freeform and MTV. The 10-episode series was created by Lauren Iungerich, Eddie Gonzalez and Jeremy Haft. Ms. Iungerich created “Awkward,” one of the best teenage comedies of recent years, for MTV.

Photo

Gabriel Bateman, left, and Chris Diamantopoulos in “The Dangerous Book for Boys.”

Credit
Giovanni Rufino/Amazon Prime Video

Ms. Iungerich grew up in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., and “Awkward” was set in that largely white and Asian-American environment. With “On My Block,” she’s stayed in Southern California but shifted the demographics, setting the show in a fictional section of Los Angeles called Freeridge, whose residents are predominantly Latino and African-American.

The show has drawn praise for promoting diversity, but its most distinctive feature is Ms. Iungerich’s sensibility, the same one she brought to “Awkward”: a kind of deadpan burlesque in which the jokes hit on the downbeat, and the young characters, no matter how bright, seem to exist in a constant state of irritable confusion.

“On My Block” is a coming-of-age story built around a love quadrangle — two girls (Sierra Capri and Ronni Hawk) and two boys (Diego Tinoco and Jason Genao) trying to sort out their mutual attractions and jealousies. A fifth friend played by Brett Gray, whose slightly abrasive style calls to mind Kevin Hart or (very distantly) a young Eddie Murphy, provides the pure comic relief in a subplot about an urban buried-treasure legend.

“On My Block” has the off-center charm and quirky comic rhythms Ms. Iungerich is known for, but it has a problem that’s tied to its setting. The stumbling block Ms. Iungerich has chosen for her young characters is the gang life: One of the boys is expected to join his older brother’s gang, which threatens to break up “the fam” (the group of friends) as well as the central romance.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that as a dramatic device (besides overuse), but it’s uncomfortably out of proportion in a half-hour teenage comedy. The shifts from football game high jinks or a character’s apple-bong-toking abuelita to the question of whether to shoot another teenager in the head are disconcerting, to say the least.

If neither cancer diagnoses nor street gangs are your idea of a children’s-comedy premise, you might shift your gaze from Netflix to Amazon, where “The Dangerous Book for Boys” has its premiere on Friday. In this fictionalization of the fanciful boy’s-life handbooks written by Conn and Hal Iggulden, the central conflict involves a family whose three young boys are recovering from the death of their gadget-inventing father. Warmhearted and perhaps imaginary adventures ensue, facilitated by the father’s identical twin (played by the always engaging Chris Diamantopoulos). If you like your nostalgia straight up, without “Stranger Things”-style monsters, it might be for you.

Correction: March 29, 2018

An earlier version of this review omitted the names of two creators of “On My Block.” The series was created by Lauren Iungerich, Eddie Gonzalez and Jeremy Haft, not just Ms. Iungerich.

Continue reading the main story

Review: Both ‘The Americans’ and the U.S.S.R. Will End. Can This Marriage Be Saved?


But unlike other bad-guy cable protagonists, they do it out of principle, however misguided. Elizabeth believes passionately in socialism. Philip’s politics are shakier, his loyalties more personal. They’re soldiers, recruited at a young age in Russia for an arranged marriage that over the years became a real one.

Philip’s bowing out has left them distanced. He’s always been more at home in America than she has. Now he’s all-in, giving motivational speeches about salesmanship and taking up country line dancing. She’s overworked and overstressed, juggling multiple covert operations.

The divide in their relationship parallels the one back at home, where the reformer Mikhail S. Gorbachev is being resisted by hard-liners in the K.G.B., who pull Elizabeth into a plot to undermine an arms summit meeting in Washington. She can tell Philip about none of this. Glasnost may be stirring in Russia, but an Iron Curtain is descending in their home.

It’s a jarring development in a series that’s been a story of marriage as equal partnership. In the season premiere, when Elizabeth bitingly cuts off Philip’s attempt to get her to open up about work — “I know you love to talk,” she says, dismissively — it’s as breathtaking as any act of violence in the series.

Photo

Paige (Holly Taylor), the idealistic daughter, has been drawn into the spy life.

Credit
Eric Liebowitz/FX

Where the previous season dragged — it was more like the first half of a season, all prelude — this one opens with a sense of things closing in. The first few hours suggest any number of ways things can end in heartbreak: for Oleg (Costa Ronin), a principled former K.G.B. agent who supports the reforms; for the Jenningses’ F.B.I. agent friend Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), who’s unwittingly been on their trail for years; for their son, Henry (Keidrich Sellati), happily oblivious to his family’s origins.

That’s true above all for their idealistic daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), now in college, whom Elizabeth has been easing into the spy life. As nerve-racking as it is to watch, “The Americans” makes Elizabeth’s decision understandable from her perspective: If you believe this is a battle for the future of every child, how can you exempt your own?

Espionage, it turns out, is a great bonding experience. Paige and Elizabeth spend hours with Claudia (Margo Martindale), Elizabeth’s handler, watching the Soviet movie melodrama “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears” and cooking up a batch of zharkoye, a Russian peasant stew. Elizabeth reminisces to Paige about her own mother making giant pots of it to fend off starvation.

Elizabeth is committed to Marxism as an idea, yes, but she’s fighting for more than an abstraction. Her nation is not just an ideology. It’s meat scraps and potatoes. It’s memory, taste, a history of shared privation and loss — an ancestral call that survives the rise and fall of regimes. All of this rings especially strong in 2018, when we know well that the end of the U.S.S.R. was not the end of history or of nationalism.

It’s that melancholy intimacy that makes “The Americans” more than the sum of its wigs, stabbings and spot- on period-music choices. (No plot point in “The Americans” is as big a spoiler as its soundtrack selections, so I’ll keep them to myself.)

The history itself is no spoiler; we know how the Cold War played out. But “The Americans” understands history as more than the record of which nations rise and fall. It’s also the story of individual people for whom life goes on, or doesn’t.

Continue reading the main story

Review: Both ‘The Americans’ and the U.S.S.R. Will End. Can This Marriage Be Saved?


But unlike other bad-guy cable protagonists, they do it out of principle, however misguided. Elizabeth believes passionately in socialism. Philip’s politics are shakier, his loyalties more personal. They’re soldiers, recruited at a young age in Russia for an arranged marriage that over the years became a real one.

Philip’s bowing out has left them distanced. He’s always been more at home in America than she has. Now he’s all-in, giving motivational speeches about salesmanship and taking up country line dancing. She’s overworked and overstressed, juggling multiple covert operations.

The divide in their relationship parallels the one back at home, where the reformer Mikhail S. Gorbachev is being resisted by hard-liners in the K.G.B., who pull Elizabeth into a plot to undermine an arms summit meeting in Washington. She can tell Philip about none of this. Glasnost may be stirring in Russia, but an Iron Curtain is descending in their home.

It’s a jarring development in a series that’s been a story of marriage as equal partnership. In the season premiere, when Elizabeth bitingly cuts off Philip’s attempt to get her to open up about work — “I know you love to talk,” she says, dismissively — it’s as breathtaking as any act of violence in the series.

Photo

Paige (Holly Taylor), the idealistic daughter, has been drawn into the spy life.

Credit
Eric Liebowitz/FX

Where the previous season dragged — it was more like the first half of a season, all prelude — this one opens with a sense of things closing in. The first few hours suggest any number of ways things can end in heartbreak: for Oleg (Costa Ronin), a principled former K.G.B. agent who supports the reforms; for the Jenningses’ F.B.I. agent friend Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), who’s unwittingly been on their trail for years; for their son, Henry (Keidrich Sellati), happily oblivious to his family’s origins.

That’s true above all for their idealistic daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), now in college, whom Elizabeth has been easing into the spy life. As nerve-racking as it is to watch, “The Americans” makes Elizabeth’s decision understandable from her perspective: If you believe this is a battle for the future of every child, how can you exempt your own?

Espionage, it turns out, is a great bonding experience. Paige and Elizabeth spend hours with Claudia (Margo Martindale), Elizabeth’s handler, watching the Soviet movie melodrama “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears” and cooking up a batch of zharkoye, a Russian peasant stew. Elizabeth reminisces to Paige about her own mother making giant pots of it to fend off starvation.

Elizabeth is committed to Marxism as an idea, yes, but she’s fighting for more than an abstraction. Her nation is not just an ideology. It’s meat scraps and potatoes. It’s memory, taste, a history of shared privation and loss — an ancestral call that survives the rise and fall of regimes. All of this rings especially strong in 2018, when we know well that the end of the U.S.S.R. was not the end of history or of nationalism.

It’s that melancholy intimacy that makes “The Americans” more than the sum of its wigs, stabbings and spot- on period-music choices. (No plot point in “The Americans” is as big a spoiler as its soundtrack selections, so I’ll keep them to myself.)

The history itself is no spoiler; we know how the Cold War played out. But “The Americans” understands history as more than the record of which nations rise and fall. It’s also the story of individual people for whom life goes on, or doesn’t.

Continue reading the main story

‘The Americans’ Goes Dark(er), With Help from a Painter


Mr. Fields and Mr. Weisberg called their friend, the gallerist Jim Kempner, with a request: Find a painter who ticks every box. Mr. Kempner returned with a shortlist. Ms. Monks’s name was near the top. As soon as the showrunners saw her canvases, they wanted them.

A painting of a woman slumped on a hotel bed looked like Elizabeth after a honey trap. A screaming face seemed to embody the pain she repressed.

“Some of the work seemed like it could literally be a representation of Elizabeth’s psyche,” Mr. Weisberg said. So they proposed what Mr. Fields called, “this weird creative partnership where we wanted to appropriate her real, beautiful art for our fictional character.” Ms. Monks agreed.

Photo

The showrunners of “The Americans” were drawn to Ms. Monks’s more dramatic works, seen here in her Williamsburg apartment and studio.

Credit
Christopher Gregory for The New York Times

I first met Ms. Monks in the late fall, in the Williamsburg studio that is also her apartment. She was wearing her uniform: boots, jeans, dark top, so much liner it looked like her eyes had fallen down twin holes.

Born in New Jersey, she earned an M.F.A. from the New York Academy of Art. She is an admired painter who worked in a more or less realistic style until the 2012 death of her mother pushed her into a more abstract form that emphasized imperfection and chaos.

In her home, the open-plan living room had been completely given over to painting. Drawings and paintings in various stages of completion covered the walls. Tubes, palettes, charcoal sticks and flammable solvents were arranged across carts and tables.

Ms. Monks has lent her painting out before — an album cover here, a movie there — but the idea of an ongoing collaboration that would bring a character to life, “that was exciting, attractive,” she said. The compensation worked out to about what she’d make on the sale of a large painting, the kind of canvas that takes months to create.

She pointed out some of the paintings “The Americans” had requested. “They were drawn to the more dramatic pieces,” she said, “because not all my work is this intense, right?”

She led me to a small one of a smudged face, a larger one of a woman shrieking behind a shower door, an even larger portrait of her mother, painted after her death, where the face seems to recede into a dark background. (That one made an FX publicist cry.) Though the images are more or less legible, they are often distressed — with solvents, with impasto, with various techniques that worry the painting. “Anything that makes the surface complex,” Ms. Monks said.

Some collectors wouldn’t part with pieces the show wanted, so she had been working 14-hour days recreating them. As she painted, she often played episodes of “The Americans.” “I’m learning a little Russian,” she said.

She could have tried it out an evening a few days later when she went to “The Americans” soundstage to help a team of set decorators with Erica’s bedroom. The room itself unsettled her. The hospital bed reminded her of her mother’s final illness. “This is very evocative,” she said, “very surreal.” While hammers struck a syncopated beat, she spread some drawings on the bed and arranged paintings across three of the walls. “That one on the bottom is upside-down,” she said gently to a crew member.

Finally, the crew stood back to admire the work. “I think we were able to get a good range,” Ms. Monks said approvingly. “They’re not all screaming faces.”

A few days after that, she was on the set again. The first two episodes were shooting, and Ms. Monks had been tapped to provide Erica’s sketch of a sleeping Elizabeth. One producer had tried to stash her in an unused quadrant of the stage — the set of a safe house — but Ms. Monks felt lonely in there, so she arranged her materials near a bank of monitors. She was worried she wouldn’t have enough time for a decent sketch. “My grad-school teachers will be so mad if she doesn’t have feet!” she said.

Still, she knew she shouldn’t make the drawing too perfect. She was drawing as Erica, after all. “There will have to be some jagged moments where she’s seizing with pain,” Ms. Monks reasoned. “I imagine the charcoal would break.”

Once she’d taken a photo of a sleeping Ms. Russell, Ms. Monks went back to her table, covering the paper with charcoal, then using an eraser to pull out lines and shadows and shapes. “Bloody hell, that’s fast,” the director Chris Long said.

Meanwhile, Ms. Shor, dressed as the dying Erica, sat up in bed, brandishing the charcoal fiercely for the camera and trying to make use of what Ms. Monks had taught her during a recent lesson. “It changed how I look at art; it changed how I thought about myself drawing,” she said. Ms. Monks is a good teacher. In the first episodes, it’s Ms. Shor’s hands you’ll see moving over the paper, not Ms. Monks’s, though both were shot.

The sketches and the paintings are the most obvious evidence of Ms. Monks’s collaboration with “The Americans,” but her influence is felt throughout the season. She’s had an impact on the design, arguing against some bold blue-and-gold wallpaper as an overly busy background for the paintings and substituting rubber bands for store-bought clasps on Erica’s drawing board. She has given notes on the scripts, too, nixing a moment when Erica’s husband covers up a sleeping Elizabeth while Erica is in mid-portrait. “Alyssa said, ‘He’s been married to her all these years,’” Mr. Fields recalled. “’If there’s one thing you know, it’s don’t screw with the model.’”

The Americans | Season 6: Official Trailer [HD] | FX Video by FX Networks

And while Ms. Monks hasn’t altered elements like who lives, who dies or who wears which wig, she has indirectly suggested new scenes and stories. “These paintings started almost infiltrating the imaginations of the writers and also the characters, something started to grow,” Mr. Weisberg said by telephone as the season finished shooting.

During a chat in January at the Forum Gallery, the Upper East Side space that represents her work, Ms. Monks said she didn’t know if the show would change her life or her sales. But it has given her renewed faith in her work. Before she’d joined up with “The Americans,” she’d felt afraid of the direction she was taking — “darker, more abstract, more emotionally evocative, a little riskier.” Her time on the show, she said, has “given me permission to go deep into it and find that there’s a lot of beauty there.”

I passed this tribute on to the showrunners. “That’s just the sort of backhanded compliment that we here at ‘The Americans’ like to get,” Mr. Fields said. “Here was an artist who was wondering whether or not things were too dark. Then she spent some time with us and realized she could go darker.”

Continue reading the main story