The Checklist

Television

The Normal Heart (HBO, May 25)  
Larry Kramer’s groundbreaking drama of AIDS activism receives its long-awaited screen adaptation, nearly three decades after its stage debut. Among its star-studded cast (which includes Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts) are two gay Houstonians—Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer—whose success as uncloseted actors would have been unimaginable when The Normal Heart first electrified audiences in 1985.

Wyly Like a Fox

From the witness stand, Sam Wyly didn’t look like a man who could upend the way the federal government prosecutes white-collar crime. The 79-year-old Dallas billionaire cupped his hand behind his ear to hear his lawyer’s questions. He admitted repeatedly to confusion about some of the key business transactions that had made him a billionaire. “I sometimes get it garbled in my mind,” he said when asked by the judge about inconsistencies in his testimony.

The Runoffs Rundown

Thanks to the domino effect of Rick Perry’s retirement, an unusual number of high-profile Republican politicians have been vying for statewide office this year. Add to that the intensity that the tea party insurgency has brought to ideological debates within the GOP, and you’ve got a recipe for an extremely volatile primary season. Which is exactly what we’ve seen in the current election cycle, leading, as in 2012, to an atypically large number of runoff races. This year’s will be held on May 27.

Where the Jest Begins

For nine months, the same amount of time required to gestate a human being, real scientists at an actual university crunched data in order to answer a question that has never haunted anyone: Which big city in the United States is the funniest? They calculated the number of comedy clubs per square mile, surveyed comedians, and tracked visits to humorous websites.

The Effluent Society

As Kenneth McAlister drives down the buff caliche roads of Wichita County, he points out the changed landscape: Receding stock tanks wreathed with hoofprints. Dust whipping over a naked field and its failed cotton crop. Prickly pear multiplying like a virus, covering this country in a way it never has before. “It makes me wonder if the desert’s on its way,” he says.

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