Archive | February, 2015

The Ups and Downs of the Parks and Recreation Finale

27 Feb

Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation is a first-ballot hall of fame TV show, and while its final season wasn’t its peak, it was overall a very solid season, better than the one that preceded it, and did everything that the final season needed to do for the show to feel complete. Yet the series finale, while very true to the show itself, rubbed me somewhat the wrong way.

Composed of a series of flash-forwards where we see every major character’s future, it was just too much; everyone getting exactly what they’ve always dreamed, unadulterated happiness, emotional crack. At first, I was concerned if this was a problem with me and not with the show. I wondered if I was just too cynical or too pessimistic too handle this unrelenting optimism, and that I needed to just sit back and enjoy. And while those may still be personal problems, and I probably should simply enjoy more, after some thought I was able to reckon with my issues with the finale in more impersonal terms.

The emotional highs in the series finale were manipulative in a way that the many emotional highs throughout the series were not because they were unearned. Parks and Recreation was a very, very, funny series, but some of its best remembered and most canonical moments are notable because of the way they made you feel rather than laugh. Parks and Recreation handled emotional arcs better than any other contemporary sitcom. The show built investment over a long period of time in likeable and well-constructed characters, so when payoffs happened over the course of the series, they felt like the deserved fruits of years of labor and hard work.

There are many such moments, both personal and professional over the series’ run, but the pinnacle may be Leslie’s election to the Pawnee City Council. The goal was long-held and the process was excruciating and obstacle filled. We saw her work towards this goal over episodes and seasons, through ups and downs, though the agony of defeat before the ecstasy of victory. We were there with her every step of the way, and when she won, there was a wonderful euphoria.

This is the case for big personal moments as well. Ben’s proposal to Leslie was both tontally perfect and felt earned, as did Andy and April’s marriage, which was an inevitable triumph after they had struggled to get together for a long time.

This was the exactly opposite of Tom and Lucy’s proposal, which felt completely and totally out of nowhere. Didn’t Lucy just break up with her boyfriend and episode or two before Tom and her got engaged? It felt like there were episodes missing, as if Parks and Recreation forced the events just to make sure Tom was married by the end of the series.

In the finale, each character got to virtually live out their ideal fantasies with no sense of the road that took them there. Sure, Leslie gets to be governor, just like that, in five minutes. Tom is rich, and then broke, and then rich again.

The most clear example of the problems of these flash forwards may reside in April and Andy’s segments Andy and April are discussing having a child. Andy is super excited to have kids, but April is wary. Leslie wisely advises April that having kids is a tough decision, and one they need to make together and after much though. Then, 30 seconds later, without any of the discussion that was supposed to accompany this we see April, nine months later, giving birth. This is a major decision! This should be thought over and talked about, and then if and when they both agreed and eventually had the child, all the warm fuzzies would be well deserved. Here that’s fast-forwarded, an unfair cheat.

Parks and Recreation is a great series and the finale was certainly true to the show itself; relentlessly optimistic, both for its characters, and for the general idea of people of all stripes working together rather than against one another, maintaining friendships in the face of ideological differences. Still, the decision to branch forward into future outcomes without supporting the personal wins with carefully laid groundwork prevented the finale from being an all-time classic.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 23-20

25 Feb

Four more on the docket – a first year show, a second year show, a third year show, and an eight year going on 35th year show.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here and 27-24 here.

23. Girls – 2013: 26


As Girls moves firmly into its fourth season, the great hype and controversy that accompanied its start have mostly fallen away in favor of the meat-and-potatoes business of making television, one season at a time. Here, Girls has a mixed record. Girls remains constantly interesting TV even when it struggles. Almost every Girls episode contains bits of strong material, and every season contains a couple of really strong episodes where the show forgets its shortcomings for a half hour and puts it all together. “Beach House,” the seemingly annual episode that really brings the four titular girls together for 30 minutes was one, and “Flo” which featured Hannah saying goodbye to her dying grandmother was another. Girls always seems to have a hard time giving its four primary characters the screen time and arcs they need to really dig in to their characters in depth and propel their storylines forward. Hannah is consistently the most fleshed out, and though the character can drive me crazy sometimes, she’s generally well-built. As for Shoshanna, Marnie, and Jessa, well, not as much; Girls’ boys Ray and Adam are often more interesting. Sometimes it doesn’t quite make sense why they’re all friends, although I vacillate on how much of a problem that actually is. As frustrating as Girls can be though, I’ve never considered stopping watching, and while some of that is because it’s so easy (a mere 12 half hour episodes a season) some is because no matter what I at least count on Girls to offer up something interesting which in and of itself raises it above many other shows.

22. Doctor Who – 2013: Not eligible

Doctor Who

I completed a years-long catch up of the new Doctor Who (meaning starting with the 2005 ninth doctor Russell T. Davies edition) last year, and while I’ll never be a true obsessive, I grew to really enjoy the show. Relative expectations were key to enjoyment. Breaking Bad or Mad Men Doctor Who isn’t. Doctor Who is pure fun at its best, all about the journey rather than destination. There’s always a deus ex machine coming in the nick of time to solve whatever convoluted crisis the doctor has got himself into and there are no long-held rules that can’t be broken on a whim because the Doctor says so. While technically a science fiction show, it’s as soft as science fiction can get, sometimes, at its best, sharing a sensibility with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Doctor Who has done an excellent job casting Doctors, which has been essential to really making the show work, and the 12th doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, is no exception. A crankier, older, slightly more cynical doctor is an excellent contrast to the past few Doctors to keep the show interesting. Doctor Who is definitely not for everyone, and the lack of serial-ness makes it stand out in an increasingly serial world television world, making it feel less like essential viewing. Still, during its best episodes Doctor Who cleverly blends a combination of sci-fi, fantasy, action, and horror tropes with witty banter, a silly irreverent tone, and memorable antagonists, and can be a whole lot of fun.

21. True Detective – 2013: Not eligible

True Detective

True Detective absolutely took over the internet for eight weeks last winter, and was hailed as the second coming, before a slow, slight backlash put the promising HBO debut back where it belonged to be all along, as a very good, very solid debut season, but one that was not truly transcendent. The appeals of True Detective are obvious and plentiful. The direction is brilliant, as is the cinematography; the one-take ending the fourth episode may not entirely all come together from a plot perspective, but it’s a startling and visually stunning technical achievement. The acting is excellent. The story, well, it’s definitely good, and I found the mystery satisfying all the way through, though some did not – anyone who expected a major victory rather than a minor one wanted a different show. True Detective was definitely a bit exploitative, on top of merely the lack of strong female characters, which plagues many television shows, including many good television shows, the depiction of female nudity often felt gratuitous and added little to nothing to the show. The layers of myth and aura and the general Rust Cohle-ness which provided the show with much of its tone could be ham-handed sometimes and a bit much, but at the same time was essential to the very core of the show. On the whole, I don’t want to be down on the show; I merely want to tamper down the initial euphoria, though time has probably done that. True Detective, despite dealing in the most trod over profession in all of TV, was interesting because of its direction and because of its tone, and I look forward to the second season.

20. Nathan for You – 2013: Not eligible

Nathan for You

A show unlike any other show on this list, Nathan for You involves enough unscripted interaction with real people that I almost deemed it ineligible for this list. But I didn’t, so here it is. Nathan for You’s high-concept is that comedian Nathan Fielder is a business expert who is looking to help struggling small businesses with new innovative strategies. Of course, these strategies are silly, absurd, and sometimes downright asinine, and watching the process is frequently hilarious. There are several different types of stories within this range on the show. Sometimes the idea is out there but oddly clever, sometimes it’s too stupid for words. Sometimes Nathan gets along well with the business owner and other characters and they seem to be on the same page, sometimes he has antagonistic relationships, and sometimes the awkwardness borders on the most awkward that British comedy has to offer. Some segments are short and sweet, some spin out of control and take up a entire episodes. Nathan for You can be hit and miss, but when it hits, it is laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes even offers oddly poignant social commentary to boot. The defining episodes of last season were “”Souvenir Shop / E.L.A.I.F.F.” and “Dumb Starbucks,” both full episode tour de forces that saw Nathan taking his ideas to extremes in order to comply with contract and parody law.

Spring 2015 Review: The Slap

23 Feb

The Slap

The Slap isn’t really a good show, but it’s not really a bad show either. What it definitely is is one of the stranger high-concept network series I’ve seen in a while. The Slap definitely displays some serious ambition, and though that ambition is misplaced and mishandled, there’s something worth saying for at least the effort. 

Everything about The Slap is both strange and screams of wanting to be important and meaningful. The show begins with a third person omniscient narrator who, over the course of the episode, chimes in occasionally but not very often, making one wonder why the show possibly bothered having a narrator at all. The narrator starts to tell us about Hector’s day. It’s Hector’s 40th birthday, and he’s anticipating a big promotion in his job in city government. He’s extremely disappointed when he’s passed over, but does his best not to show it. Hector is stressed out about his job and his upcoming birthday party and chooses for some reason not to reveal his lack of promotion to his wife, who assumed the promotion was a mere formality.

All this stress highlights Hector’s lingering fantasy of having an affair with his wife’s teenage coworker, who also serves as their babysitter. Although it was hard for me to tell if this was real or fantasy, it seemed like they had kissed once but nothing more; it wasn’t too late to come back from, and Hector knows an affair with a teenager would be a terrible idea, but he can’t help dwelling on it.

The party causes additionally stress when his overbearing Greek parents and his wife fight; his parents bring way too much food and overstep their bounds (ethnic parents, right) and buy the whole family plane tickets to Greece without checking the dates with anyone else. Additionally, some other couples at the party get into some serious political bickering. Ur-capitalist suburban car dealer Harry and liberal creative-type Gary argue and argue, to the annoyance of their wives and just about everyone else. Different couples’ kids are playing in the yard, and Hector who wants to be anywhere but at this party, moves to talk and flirt with the babysitter in the corner and seems on the verge of making mistakes he wouldn’t be able to take back. Meanwhile, one of Gary’s kids is not behaving and is dangerously swinging a bat around.

And then, forty minutes in, right-wing Harry, in the spur of the moment, with no thought, frustrated by his indiscriminate bat-swinging delivers the titular slap to Gary’s child, prompting chaos and anarchy as different guests yell at and over one another, Harry defending the slap, Gary threatening to beat him up, sue him, or both, and everyone else taking sides. Hector is incidentally saved by the slap; as everyone disperses in the wake of Slap-gate, he finally tells his wife about his promotion gone wrong, they make up, and he realizes how lucky he is to have been interrupted before making a huge mistake.

Presumably, every episode will be from a different perspective of someone at the party, and will investigate how the slap changed his or her life. The Slap really is a strange show. There’s narration, as mentioned above, but just a little and serving no real purpose. Is there supposed to be a grand narrative, or merely a series of vaguely related vignettes? The very meaningful themes and subtexts of political bickering, child abuse, and parental rights would lend credence to the former, but choosing to start the series focusing on a character whose mini-arc is only peripherally slap-related seems to be point to the latter.

The Slap is hardly awful by any means but it is puzzling and none of the characters nor the writing are intriguing enough to actually watch further episodes; the most interesting aspect is the odd set up but while it does kind of make me want to know what’s going on it doesn’t really make me care enough to watch more. In another world, everything could have been a little more put together, a little sharper, and this could have been a legitimately interesting show. In this world, though, it’s just one shade off of interesting in about every way.

Will I watch it again? No. The Slap was actually a weird pleasure to watch the pilot of; too many mediocre pilots are just incredibly boring, while The Slap was just strange and all over the place. So it has that going for it. But that doesn’t make it good.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 27-24

20 Feb

Onwards to 27-24. Two shows coming off a rest year, one drama in its last season, and one sci-fi drama.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here.

27. Louie – 2013: Not eligible


Louie took me a long while to really sink firstmy teeth into, longer than most. By the end of the two seasons, I more or less recognized its general excellence and groundbreaking features even while I would never quite have ranked it as highly as many TV fans and critics. Still, Louie, by refusing to confine to TV norms, has continued to put out an excellent product. Louie, understandably, took off a year between the third and fourth seasons to take the time to come up with new ideas. Unfortunately, in this past fourth season, the show made its first prolonged missteps. There were strong moments to be found; the mini-movie, “In the Woods” which harkened back to Louie’s childhood was charming, sweet, and affecting, if not groundbreaking, and the episode in which Louie dated an overweight woman, portrayed by Sarah Baker, set the internet afire, stroking up worthy conversations which didn’t necessarily have obvious answers. The second half of the season, though, the Pamela episodes in particular, stopped being charming and instead because occasionally troubling, sometimes unfunny, and for once, what Louie never was: TV. At its absolute worst was a scene in which Louie clearly sexually assaulted Pamela, which the show didn’t seem to get, but that troubling scene aside, dating Pamela brought out Louie’s worst wish-fulfillment wanting-to-love-being-in-love qualities, with Pamela as the demonic manic pixie dream girl. If the show used this to continue to show how poor a match Pamela and Louie were, this would be understandable, but it seemed to keep trying to bring them together against the objections of sense and logic.  Louie has earned enough leeway to continue to be must-see television, but last season it seemed to finally lose a little steam.

26. Sons of Anarchy – 2013: 29

Sons of Anarchy

A member of FX’s breakthrough generation of dramas, alongside Justified, Sons of Anarchy’s last season was fairly emblematic with its entire run, filled with strong points, continually struggling to figure out who its best antagonists are, and dropping the ball occasionally in critical situations. About half of the episodes were really strong and packed with plot which really brought the season into motion, with a powerful sense of forward momentum. The other half felt like filler episodes indicating there was enough plot movement for an 8 episode final season stuffed into 13 episodes. The penultimate episode was the true finale; momentous and moving, though many of the plot developments which occurred had become inevitable, they still packed weight. The actually finale was not bad as much as anticlimactic; everything had been determined the episode before and there were no surprises. The show successfully developed a second wave of strong secondary characters like Wendy and Nero in the second half of the show’s run which led to a late renaissance, but the unrelenting meaningless cycles of violence and two gangs squaring against the others while Sons utter “no more bloodshed” could get tiring and repetitive. Sons of Anarchy’s place in the TV canon may take time to settle, but for now, I’m putting it firmly in the grade B second tier, with shows like Dexter and Battlestar Galactica.

25. Orphan Black – 2013: 20

Orphan Black

I’m going to come right out and say what anybody watching both seasons of Orphan Black is thinking. Orphan Black’s plot is pretty stupid. At best, it feels like a giant MacGuffin for the character interaction between clones which is the beating heart of the show, whuile at worst, it feels like a stuttered descent into science fiction nonsense. The creators have no real plot goal, and simply must dig a deeper and more techno-bio-babble ditch every season to keep going. Why do I keep watching and why is it not ranked lower? Well, in short, Tatiana Maslany, who does an acting job unlike any other in TV. She’s brilliant as every clone and most of the best and most important characters, and when the show is on, it’s extremely fun to watch. Like watching 24 at its best, the lack of ongoing plot coherence matters less because you’re enjoying yourself in the here-and-now. Alison is the obvious hilarious highlight character, but Maslany is a delight whenever on screen, even when just about nothing makes sense around her. Her banter with Felix is a treat, as he is the one non-Maslany character worth caring about in the entire show. Orphan Black definitely risks going off a cliff if it sucks the fun out with meaningless plot, which it hinted out at the end of the last season, but I still believe there’s a path there for its success.

24. Sherlock – 2013: Not eligible


Sherlock is another show, like Orphan Black above, that hinges on the delightful and joyous interaction between the primary characters. Sherlock’s third season was overall not as strong as either of the first two, but the obvious chemistry between Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and Martin Freeman’s Watson make the show fun even when the plot isn’t, as in the third episode, which promises big things, only to be somewhat disappointing and anticlimactic. Unlike the first two seasons, whose middle episodes were their respective seasons’ weakest, the middle here is the clear winner, as it places even more emphasis than usual on the comedy of the Sherlock-Watson interaction, with the two going on a bachelor party (or stag night, as the Brits call it) for John, bonding, and making wonderful idiots out of themselves. The plotting was not as tight as the first two seasons, but because of Freeman and Cumberbatch if nothing else, I’ll continue to watch Sherlock as long as they make it.

Spring 2015 Review: Fresh Off the Boat

18 Feb

Fresh Off the Boat

Fresh Off the Boat has something many sitcom debuts would kill for, especially the popular subgenre of nostalgia-coms narrated by the protagonist, always a kid during the events of the show, but as an adult later remembering the events of his childhood (and it’s almost always a his). In Fresh off the Boat, the emotional foundation that underpins the show works.

Most of these nostalgia-coms are extremely generic and trope-y. There’s a hard-ass, emotionally distant father (think, The Goldbergs), a fussy more-attentive mother who puts up with him, a somewhat down-to -earth protagonist and a couple of wacky siblings. The world of Fresh Off the Boat is certainly wacky, but the wackiness is primarily by way of the world; the family members are the relative normal ones, compared to everything that surrounds them. And that makes perfect sense within the premise of Fresh Off the Boat. This premise involves an Taiwanese-American family moving from Washington DC, where they have friends, family, and Taiwanese culture, to Orlando where they have none of these in order so the patriarch, Louis, can open his own restaurant.

Because sitcoms featuring Asian-American families are so rare and in particular because this sitcom is deliberately taking on the immigrant experience and generational assimilation into American culture, there is a potentially unfair weight on the show straight away. It’s on Fresh Off the Boat to authentically, sympathetically, and accurately portray this experience while hopefully having the freedom to develop real characters who are not mere archetypes. While I can’t speak to the immigrant struggle from a first person perspective, I can speak to the qualities of emotional connection and depth of character on television, and Fresh Off the Boat does an impressive job of developing these qualities in just 21 minutes.

The family includes the father Louis, who is excited to be full-on American, opening his own Boulder Creek-style American western-motif restaurant. Jessica, his wife, is more wary of the move and was reluctant to leave her friends and family but is trying to make the best of it and encourages her children to do the same. Younger children Emory and Evan (I’m not sure which is which yet) have no trouble fitting in, while narrator Eddie is more like his mother, struggling to fit in in the mostly white suburbs. The members of the family clearly care for one another. Eddie’s childhood struggle feels real, and as obvious of a moment as it was, it was affecting when Eddie, who believes his parents have it in for him with their tough love, hears them stand up for him to his new principal. Childhood is a time of frequent doubt and it’s harder to fit in without believing your parents are on your side.

These are all good things. The missing ingredient, which is rather important for something intended to be a comedy (and, make no mistake, even in this increasingly genre-less world, this is clearly intended as a comedy designed to make you laugh), is the comedy. I get the jokes; they’re not subtle, and they’re generally on the broader end of humor designed to appeal to people like me. ABC is exactly where this show should be, as the tone and style fits in with their block of family comedies like Modern Family, the recently deceased Suburgatory, and The Middle. But the jokes are just off most of the time. For example, there’s a cutaway, where Jessica negatively compares strolling the aisles at the immaculate American mega-supermarket to the calming experience of shopping at a Taiwanese market, where we see her batting people away and yelling. It’s an obvious joke, her opinion contrasting with what we see on screen, which could work, but it just doesn’t quite connect. These humor issues are hard to diagnose and can be difficult to fix, but are fixable. They fall on fine points of timing, chemistry. Fresh Off the Boat isn’t there yet.

Will I watch it again? I don’t know. I have a pretty crowded plate at this point, and while it ha strong points, the lack of any laughs means I don’t feel any urge to necessarily tune in immediately. I’ll wait and see.

Spring 2015 Previews and Predictions: CBS

16 Feb


(In order to meld the spirit of futile sports predictions with the high stakes world of the who-will-be-cancelled-first fall (edit: spring, now) television season, I’ve set up a very simple system of predictions for how long new shows will last.  Each day, I’ll (I’m aware I switched between we and I) lay out a network’s new shows scheduled to debut in the fall (spring, again)(reality shows not included – I’m already going to fail miserably on scripted shows, I don’t need to tackle a whole other animal) with my prediction of which of three categories it will fall into.

These categories are:

  1. Renewal – show gets renewed
  2. 13+ – the show gets thirteen or more episodes, but not renewed
  3. 12- – the show is cancelled before 13

Additional note: Since more and more series on network TV are following cable models with set orders for shorter seasons, and mid-season replacements tend to have shorter seasons in particular, I’ll note any planned limited runs in my prediction section for each show)

Only three new shows for CBS, since they just don’t have as many spots to fill in their schedule. One comedy remake, one drama spin off, and one drama from two highly esteemed TV minds.

The Odd Couple – 2/19/15

The Odd Couple

I watched the preview, but as happens with a few new shows every year, I didn’t really need to. Of course, this is particularly obvious here, because The Odd Couple’s two primary characters have been in the pop culture conscience for half a century now; the current show is a remake of a tv show of a movie of a play. It features the pretty standard time-tested tropes of the obsessive-compulsive neat freak (Felix Unger, played here by Thomas Lennon) and the easy-going slob (Oscar Madison, played here by Matthew Perry). They’re opposites, so they constantly put each other in awkward situations, but they’re also friends at the end of the day! You know how it goes. Who was actively calling for an Odd Couple reboot, I haven’t the faintest idea.

Prediction: 13- Matthew Perry is developing an impressive reputation as a show-killer since Friends (Studio 60, Go On, Mr. Sunshine) and I sure wouldn’t want this show to end the streak.

Battle Creek – 3/1/15

Battle Creek

Battle Creek is a procedural that seems like maybe, just maybe, it could be better than your average CBS procedural. It’s co-created by heavyweights Vince Gilligan and David Shore, and while this is not going to be Breaking Bad, the fact that names like those are attached still carries some weight. Josh Duhamel stars as a perfect, handsome FBI agent who comes to assist the underfunded police in the town of Battle Creek, Michigan. Dean Winters plays the gruff top dog whose position is in danger when golden boy Duhamel comes to town. I wouldn’t necessarily bet on it being good, but it might not be awful, which already puts it above most CBS pilots.

Prediction: Renewal – it’s on the right network, and it’s got the pedigree. Every stroke CBS makes these days still seems to work out. I really want to dock it for the tagline “You Can’t Fight Crime without Going to Battle” but I just can’t.

CSI: Cyber – 3/4/15

CSI: Cyber

You know the brand. It’s been almost 15 years since the original’s debut and it’s long past time to bring on the fourth show in the CSI universe. “I’m a Cyber Cop” is a real line Academy Award winner Patricia Arquette utters in the trailer. Later she utters, “You work dark alleys. I work the dark net.” The Who plays. There is a self-acknowledged silliness to CSI; to its credit I don’t believe takes itself all too seriously. Still, I’m almost certainly never going to watch this show again after the debut until it starts showing in syndication at weird hours on weird networks.

Prediction: Renewal – Granted, NCIS is the new, currently more popular CSI, but still the shortest-tenured member of the CSI franchise, CSI: New York, lasted nine seasons. I’m not ready to bet against Cyber lasting two.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 edition: 31-28

13 Feb

Four more shows on my list. A great show coming off its worst season, a cancelled show coming of its best, a new show, and a consistently good but not great sitcom.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here.

31. Jane the Virgin – 2013: Ineligible

Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin is an excellent new entrant to the TV sphere. The first word that comes to mind as emblematic of the show is delightful. Jane is more than that – it’s funny, clever, heartwarming, and emotion-packed, but on the whole, in the wake of so much heavy, humorless, prestige television, like the recently covered AMC’s The Walking Dead, Jane the Virgin is a real pleasure to watch. The writers traipse across the world of telenovelas and soaps with a winking meta-eye, but in the course of that wondering, develop a world of characters we care about. The best of these are Jane and her family, including her mother, grandmother, and recently discovered father, all of whom (except occasionally Jane, who is occasionally a little too sainted) are riddled with believable flaws, and then strung together by love and the ability to see past these flaws for the bigger picture. Gina Rodriguez delivers an absolute breakout performance as Jane who centers the show. The overall vision is occasionally muddled; from episode to episode, the tone can be inconsistent, veering more serious, or more humorous, more real, or more absurd, but on the whole, Jane the Virgin is a treat.

30. The Mindy Project – 2013: 30

The Mindy Project

The Mindy Project has struggled to find itself, with many minor problems over its first couple of seasons. The one major problem was the show’s utter inability to develop solid supporting characters, which continues to this day. The show got one thing really, really right though, and it had the smarts, like The Bridge which I wrote about earlier, to recognize what the core of the show should be when it appeared even if it wasn’t part of the initial plan. In the first two seasons, Mindy went through a series of love interests, several which were more appealing than most of the other regular characters on the show, until she finally started dating Danny. While I’ve often complained about the cheap and unsatisfying strategy of going to the main-characters-dating-each-other well, Mindy is an example of a show in which that trope simply works. Mindy and Danny as the core of the show are strong, both as individual characters and in their relationship. The show is still constantly struggling to work around them. Side characters are in and out, the show has struggled to make meaningful plots using Jeremy, the only other remaining character from the premiere, while Adam Pally, who had been the best tertiary character outside of Morgan, is leaving. The Mindy Project has the Mindy and Danny relationship, however, despite all that, and that counts for a lot.

29. Justified – 2013: 5


Justified has been, over the course of its life, a great, not good, show, and it pains me to put it so low. Unfortunately, in this golden age of television, one slip, like this past weakest season of Justified had, and so many other show are ready to jump right ahead. The fifth season, after a promising start, was largely a disappointment. The writers didn’t really know where they wanted to go, and it showed. Justified relies on its antagonists to provide a strong contrast for our heroes; like the better seasons of Dexter, the antagonist is in some part, a vehicle against which Raylan Givens measures himself. The rival Crowe family, led by Wendy, a lawyer trying to go legit, and her brother, Darryl, part somewhat competent and somewhat incompetent crime boss, and the Kendal, a boy torn in the middle. Justified specializes in both competent and incompetent criminals, and it seemed as if it couldn’t make up its mind about which one Darryl, the lead antagonist should be. Eva’s prison side plot had potential but felt disjointed throughout. While even this inferior season had occasional highlights, including the performance of surprisingly excellent kid actor Jacob Lofland of Mud as Kendal, the season on the whole was a letdown.

28. The Bridge – 2013: 40

The Bridge

The first season of The Bridge was a mess. There was potential, and some things worked, but it never quite came together. The two main actors were fine, and the idea of exploring the border between Mexico and Texas and the drug trade which overwhelms everything else in the area was promising. That exploration though seemed to just be a stalking horse for a psychopathic serial killer with a personal vendetta against one of the protagonists, which was a disappointment. The second season, though, exhibited a rare quality. The creators clearly went back, saw plainly what worked and what didn’t, and doubled down on what worked, while slowly peeling away what didn’t. This seems like an obvious approach, but it’s shocking how infrequently it happens, either because writers don’t see what’s wrong with their shows, don’t want to see, don’t want to risk messing up what they have, or feel unable to improve it. The reporter side characters, a highlight of the first season, had much larger parts, while Charlotte and creepy Linder, obvious weak points, were slowly written out. Rather than one freak serial killer, the season dived into the murky corruption and government rivalries and tensions at the heart of the Mexican-American relationship. Because of this stark improvement, I was particularly saddened that The Bridge was cancelled. It’s sad to see a show really finding its feet only to have its head chopped off.

Spring 2015 Review: Better Call Saul

11 Feb

Better Call Saul

Following a show regarded as one of the best shows in television history is difficult to do. Expectations are inflated and every line, scene, and character will be compared to the original. Better Call Saul could have chosen to try to downplay its Breaking Bad connections and make it very clear that it is its own show by avoiding traces of anything Breaking Bad-like in its debut.

Instead, Better Call Saul proclaims its identity a different way. First, the creators know that every viewer is immediately connecting Better Call Saul to Breaking Bad and thus they choose to acknowledge the connections straight away rather than pretend to be unaware. Second, Better Call Saul leans into to its association, with Breaking Bad character Mike as a main cast member and with Breaking Bad antagonist Tuco appearing in the first two episodes. The opening scene picks up with Saul’s life after the events of Breaking Bad, reminding us of the end point in the journey we’re about to embark upon.

One scene in particular is emblematic of the way Better Call Saul declares its identity in relation to Breaking Bad. In the second episode of the two-day two-part premiere. Saul, now using his birth name Jimmy McGill, is in the desert. A serious of unfortunate events, some his fault, some not, has him and two idiot twins who he hired to run a con (ironically, with the intent of using it to generate legitimate business) at the mercy of a very scary, very stupid, and somewhat unhinged gangster. We know this gangster in fact; he’s Tuco, the first real scary drug trade character Jesse and Walt tangle with in Breaking Bad.

Here’s the crucial moment where Better Call Saul lays down its cards on the table. Here’s where we learn about the critical DNA ingredients that separate Better Call Saul from Breaking Bad. Walt has been in this scenario before, and now Saul’s in it. We see Saul in action, and he handles the problem in a totally different way than Walt would. He bargains, he cajoles, he goes on and on with his motor mouth, stammering, unwilling to stop talking, as if the criminals can’t take action until he runs out of words of his own volition. Walt, at least, as Heisenberg, would never bargain, would never admit his own failings. Walt would seek to intimidate, would seek to play his enemies in a game of chicken, calling their bluff and counting on the fact that he was simply too important to them in a realpolitik sense to ensure he made it out alive.  For Walt desperation was weakness; for Saul, it becomes a strength. He does his best lawyering in this scene, the highlight of the episode, bargaining Tuco down from killing the twins to breaking one leg for each.

Saul seemed like the smartest choice of any character to spin off out of the existing options on Breaking Bad and the pilot validates that initial opinion. Saul, has the advantage of not being fatally compromised character-wise by the events of Breaking Bad; there’s enough we don’t know about him to allow Gilligan and Gould plenty of room to paint.

Saul is everything Walt isn’t. Walt is unbridled ego, Saul is insecurity. Walt would never take a strategic loss. His ego wouldn’t allow it. One of Walt’s strengths, even early on, was a sheer competence; he was damn good, and he knew he was good, even when he didn’t get to show it. Walt was a teacher, a well-respected profession, living a respectable life with a wife and kid. His hunger, dormant initially, but always simmering underneath, was for what he could have had. Saul is a broken-down unsuccessful lawyer, a profession which is by nature scorned and ridiculed. He has nothing. The cruel joke is his far more successful mentally ill older brother, who to add insult to injury, sides against Saul, asking him to change the name of his law firm due to potential confusion with his brother’s former much larger firm.

One highlight of the premiere is Saul’s closing argument which comes very early in the episode, urging 12 bored Albuquerque jurors to remember what it was like to be 19, in the course of defending three idiots who sexually abused a corpse. Spending an hour a week listening to Saul, or Jimmy, or whatever name he chooses to go by, gesticulate is something I’ll sign up for gladly.         

Will I watch it again? Yes. I will. I don’t want to get ahead of myself but I think we have this year’s first for certain winner.

Best Albums and Songs of 2014: I Have to Use These Metaphors Just to Say I Like You

9 Feb

We can finally close the books on 2014, musically. Here’s my top 100 tracks and top 50 albums. As always I intend to quickly regret some of my placements soon after, but it’s a solid snapshot in time. If you so choose, there’s a couple of different ways you can listen – first, here are 8tracks links to my top 40, if you want to listen and be surprised.

Next, here’s a spotify playlist – songs not on spotify have links to YouTube next to their names below.

The lists – my top 100 songs of 2014.


  1. Banks – Beggin For Thread
  2. Jenny Lewis – Head Underwater
  3. Clean Bandit – Rather Be feat. Jess Glynne
  4. MØ – Maiden
  5. Chloe Howl – Disappointed
  6. Vanic X Machineheart – Circles
  7. Twin Peaks – Making Breakfast
  8. Real Estate – Talking Backwards
  9. Angel Olsen – High & Wild
  10. Rookie Magazine – Go Forth Feminist Warriors
  11. Ariel Pink – Put Your Number In My Phone
  12. YG – Who Do You Love?
  13. Niia – Body
  14. Alvvays – Archie, Marry Me
  15. QT – Hey QT
  16. I LOVE MAKONNEN – Tuesday
  17. Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting On You)
  18. First Aid Kit – Master Pretender
  19. Tinashe – 2 On
  20. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Warning
  21. Joyce Manor – Heart Tattoo
  22. Drake – 0 To 100 / The Catch Up
  23. Speedy Ortiz – Bigger Party
  24. Tokyo Police Club – Hot Tonight
  25. Candy Hearts – I Miss You
  26. Jessie Ware – Tough Love
  27. Lykke Li – No Rest For The Wicked
  28. EMA – So Blonde
  29. Röyksopp & Robyn – Do It Again
  30. SOHN – Artifice
  31. Charli XCX – Boom Clap
  32. Maddie & Tae – Girl In A Country Song
  33. Kiesza – Hideaway
  34. Kenny Chesney – American Kids
  35. Vance Joy – Riptide
  36. Woods – Moving to the Left
  37. Kira Isabella – Quarterback
  38. R.L. – Ugly Heart
  39. Miguel – Simplethings
  40. Beverly – Madora
  41. Migos – Fight Night
  42. Music Go Music – Nite After Nite
  43. Shamir – On The Regular
  44. Spoon – Rent I Pay
  45. Sylvan Esso – Coffee
  46. Tune-Yards – Water Fountain
  47. 5 Seconds Of Summer – She Looks So Perfect
  48. Honeyblood – Super Rat
  49. Boots – Ride Ride Ride
  50. Grimes – Go
  51. CEO – Whorehouse
  52. Future – Move That Doh
  53. Cloud Nothings – I’m Not Part of Me
  54. Tinashe – Pretend
  55. JJ – Dean & Me
  56. Perfume Genius – Queen
  57. MKTO – Classic
  58. Milky Chance – Stolen Dance
  59. Benjamin Booker – Violent Shiver
  60. The Apache Relay – Katie Queen Of Tennessee
  61. Angel Olsen – Forgiven/Forgotten
  62. One Direction – Steal My Girl
  63. Vincent – Birth In Reverse
  64. MØ – Don’t Wanna Dance
  65. Foxygen – How Can You Really
  66. Ariana Grande – Break Free
  67. Ryan Adams – Gimme Something Good
  68. Saint Motel – My Type
  69. Run The Jewels – Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) [feat. Zack De La Rocha]
  70. Ty Segall – Manipulator
  71. How To Dress Well – Repeat Pleasure
  72. The Rosebuds – Blue Eyes
  73. Miranda Lambert – Automatic
  74. Posse – Interesting Thing No. 2
  75. Ed Sheeran – Don’t
  76. FKA twigs – Lights On
  77. Lana Del Rey – Brooklyn Baby
  78. Sharon Van Etten – Every Time the Sun Comes Up
  79. Beck – Blue Moon
  80. Kelis – Breakfast
  81. Kendrick Lamar – i
  82. Chumped – Hot 97 Summer Jam
  83. SOPHIE – Lemonade
  84. Dierks Bentley – Drunk On A Plane
  85. Ought – Today More Than Any Other Day
  86. Rich Gang – Lifestyle
  87. Tove Lo – Habits (Stay High)
  88. Chromeo – Jealous (I Ain’t With It)
  89. Dum Dum Girls – Trouble Is My Name
  90. Porter Robinson – Sad Machine
  91. Ex Hex – Don’t Wanna Lose
  92. Lilly Wood and The Prick – Prayer in C – Robin Schulz Radio Edit
  93. Duke Dumont – I Got U
  94. Bleachers – I Wanna Get Better
  95. Nick Jonas – Jealous
  96. White Lung – Snake Jaw
  97. Alex Winston – Careless
  98. Taylor Swift – Blank Space
  99. Merchandise – Enemy
  100. Sam Hunt – House Party

And my top 50 albums of 2014…


  1. Tinashe – Aquarius
  2. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness
  3. MØ – No Mythologies to Follow
  4. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
  5. Charli XCX – Sucker
  6. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
  7. Twin Peaks – Wild Onion
  8. Dum Dum Girls – Too True
  9. Real Estate – Atlas
  10. EMA – The Future’s Void
  11. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
  12. Spoon – They Want My Soul
  13. Ex Hex – Rips
  14. How to Dress Well – “What is the Heart?”
  15. Taylor Swift – 1989
  16. Miranda Lambert – Platinum
  17. Clean Bandit – New Eyes
  18. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE
  19. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
  20. Tune-yards – Nikki Nack
  21. Ty Segall – Manipulator
  22. Eric Church – The Outsiders
  23. Alvvays – Alvvays
  24. Jj – V
  25. FKA Twigs – LP1
  26. Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again
  27. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
  28. Chumped – Teenage Retirement
  29. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
  30. Azealia Banks – Broke with Expensive Taste
  31. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
  32. Future Islands – Singles
  33. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
  34. Kelis – Food
  35. Posse – Soft Opening
  36. Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso
  37. Parquet Courts – Something Animal
  38. YG – My Krazy Life
  39. Ariana Grande – My Everything
  40. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
  41. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Days of Abandon
  42. Lykke Li – I Never Learn
  43. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
  44. Ought – More Than Any Other Day
  45. Metronomy – Love Letters
  46. Porter Robinson – Worlds
  47. White Lung – Deep Fantasy
  48. Beck – Morning Phase
  49. Katy B – Little Red
  50. Banks – Goddess

What Freaks and Geeks and Broad City Have in Common and Why it’s Great

6 Feb


Freaks and Geeks is an all-time great show for many reasons. It’s an incredibly honest and nuanced portrayal of suburban high schoolers struggling through puberty and fitting in. There’s plenty of awkwardness and frustrating but an underlying current of incredibly strong bonds of friendship and family. Within all of this, there’s one small but notable plot point I’d like to praise and focus on, and compare it to a similar brilliant tack current great show Broad City just took.

Sam Weir, one of the titular geeks, is high school freshman with a seemingly unattainable crush on popular cheerleader Cindy. Cindy is generally cordial to Sam, but the affections run one way. He’s laughed at by his friends and fellow students for believing he has any shot at her.

There’s two obvious ways this situation could go that fit with relatively common patterns that occur throughout TV and movies. In the most classic pattern, he’d end up with Cindy anyway, in spite of all odd against, and though they have nothing obvious in common, they’d be a great opposites-attract match and end up together. Secondly, in the slightly more modern and depressing trope, Sam’s hopeless crush would never be realized. He’d either be consumed by it or he would eventually grow out of it, but there would never be any chance of it realistically happening.

While there’s no inherent problem with either of these approaches, and the choice should depend on the exactly nature of the characters and situation, what Freaks and Geeks ingeniously does is proceed with a third option. Sam does, against all odds, actually ends up going out with Cindy. Unfortunately it turns out that she’s terrible.

The result was immediately saddening, when Sam has his dream crushed, but in the longer term strikingly heartening; Sam is better than this. What you think you want isn’t always what you want; it’s easy to unfairly and unjustly idealize from afar.

Broad City, which isn’t particularly like Freaks and Geeks in any other way aside from also being a great show, took a similar tack in last week’s episode. Jeremy, Abbi’s neighbor, has been Abbi’s crush object throughout Broad City’s run. They’ve chatted here and there, and occasionally hung out, but Abbi’s generally been too flustered to mount a normal conversation, or, more than that, to ask him out on a date. Finally, they have a moment; she’s bold enough to ask, when drugged out of her mind after getting her wisdom teeth removed, and he says yes, despite her incoherent babbling and they’re off and running.

After the first date goes well (ending with Abbi pegging Jeremy, which is great, but not incredibly germane to this point), things go down from there. While he does spend his time and effort helping children, which is great and all, he also reveals himself to be an oversensitive, pretentious, snobby, jerk. And all that tension between Abbi and Jeremy for the season and a half leading up to this is over just like that. The spell Jeremy cast over Abbi is broken. Jeremy was so beguiling to Abbi because he was in her mind just what she’d imagined she’d be, while now Abbi knows she can do a whole lot better.