Archive | April, 2016

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2015 Edition: 30-27

27 Apr

All comedy all the time in this entry. Here we go.

Intro here and 58-55 here and 54-51 here and 50-47 here and 46-43 here and 42-39 here and 38-35 here and 34-31 here.

30. The Mindy Project – 2014: 30

The Mindy Project

It’s easy to bash shows for what they’re not, rather than what they are. I’m as guilty of this as anyone; I can’t really complete a sentence about Brooklyn Nine-Nine without talking about how it could be better, even though I watch it every week and laugh. For years, and with good reason, there were complaints from others as well as myself that the Mindy Project was solid but felt unfinished, like subsequent and slowly improving drafts rather than a final product. In particular, the show had  a problem assembling solid supporting characters. But sneakily during the end of its run on Fox, and onto Hulu, it’s become a smart, funny, rom com with one of the great sitcom relationships, between Danny and Mindy. In so many shows I complain about the two leads getting together, and I was definitely initially doubtful here but when it works, it works, and in Mindy it works and propels the show forward. Oh, and Morgan is fantastic; no blurb is complete without mentioning that.

29. New Girl – 2014: 11

New Girl

New Girl’s second half of its fourth season, the only stretch of episodes that aired last year, as the fifth didn’t begin until early 2016, didn’t quite live up to the hit percentage of the season’s first half, but was still easily back on track from New Girl’s off-kilter third season. Damon Wayans Jr. continues to be an excellent cast addition to the season, and really rounds out the ensemble nicely, providing an extra character to spice up the A and B plot combinations. There are plenty of classic funny New Girl moments this season that continue in the line of what has made the show work when it at its best, particularly from Nick, where the show relishes its sitcomness, digging deep into its over-the-top silliness and ridiculousness,. Some of the segments that when described sound incredibly stupid end up as show highlights between of the specific word choices and the performances and chemistry of the cast.

28: Bob’s Burgers – 2014: 15

Bob's Burgers

Bob’s Burgers is the best kind of show to watch before bed because it will always leave you smiling and send you off to dreamland in a positive mood. Most TV is serial, and that’s great, I prefer it that way, and most comedies now even have occasionally wrenching emotional arcs. These are all good things. Most comedies that aren’t serial are awkward, hard to watch, laugh-out-loud affairs. As they say, though, variety is the spice of life, and Bob’s Burgers is something else, a largely non-serial comedy which isn’t awkward but is both funny and disarmingly heartwarming, Bob’s Burgers in some ways hearkens back to the old tried-and-true pre-00s family sitcom in a more successful way than any current live action example, with plots focusing on different combinations of Belcher family members in most episodes ending in moments where the family, though they may have been fighting or on each others nerves over the past twenty minutes, truly loves each other and stands next to one another against the world. This could be cheesy and I’m as skeptical of easy emotional manipulation as anyone, but because the characters and their relationships are so lovable and well constructed, it works. Last fall’s Halloween episode where the family teams up to scare Louise, leading a legitimately shocked Louie to thank them profusely is just one example.

27. Childrens Hospital – 2014: Not Eligible

Childrens Hospital

Goofy; silly, and only vaguely and arbitrarily serial when it feels like it (the hospital remains in Brazil), Childrens Hospital is about as close to a cartoon as a live action show can be. It’s all about the laughs, and it’s fun, light and silly; because everything is so over the top, and obviously so far removed from the real world, there’s not any sense of awkwardness or hard-to-watchness.  Childrens Hospital has an ear for parody, rather than satire; the barbs are spot on, but delivered with a gentle touch. The best episode of the season may have been “Fan Fiction,” in which a fan contest winner gets an episode produced based on her script, complete with many of the tropes of the genre. “Home Life of a Doctor’ was also excellent, where Jewish doctor Glenn Richie goes home to dinner with his parents, evoking a pastiche of Woody Allen/Neil Simon old-school Jewish families.

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Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2015 Edition: 34-31

25 Apr

Three comedies, two of which are only occasionally funny, on purpose, and a Netflix drama.

Intro here and 58-55 here and 54-51 here and 50-47 here and 46-43 here and 42-39 here and 38-35 here.

34. Louie – 2014: 27

Louie

Evert year, feel like I rank Louie too low. Louie has the misfortune of appearing towards the bottom of a dozen or so shows that form a tier, and while I could definitely justify ranking it a bit higher, I’d then have to think about which shows it passes, and since if I thought more about this I’d never write it out, it’ll have to just put it right here. While it took me a while to get on board, I eventually came around to the genius of Louie, and though season 4, in 2014, had some serious missteps, season 5 is largely free of them. Louie is only ranked lower this year because there were simply so many more exemplary shows. Louie is always thought provoking, and like I wrote about the previous show on this list, Orange is the New Black, Louie is unique; Louie is the direct-to-our-screens vision of one man and is definitively unlike any show on TV. Louie has definitely suffered a little bit of the new ideas drain that these types of shows can face, and there weren’t so many mind-blowing conversation-starting episodes as there have been in earlier seasons. But when you start any new episode of Louie, you know there’s a chance for greatness, and that’s enough to keep watching Louie as long as he keeps making it.

33. Parks and Recreation – 2014: 13

Parks & Recreation

If I dislike putting Louie this low, I absolutely hate putting Parks and Recreation this low, an absolute first ballot hall-of-famer of a comedy that simply did everything right. It’s not, like Louie, a particularly different or unique series, but boy was it so much better at doing what it did than almost any other similar show. In fact, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, its fine but inferior descendant, shows just how difficult it is to create the all-around magic that was Parks and Recreation. The final season was actually pretty solid, better than the previous season, and could easily have moved higher in this tier. This particular rank is mostly an indictment of its fantastical finale, which, while probably exactly what I should have expected from the world of Parks and Recreation, contained more emotional manipulation than well-earned wins for our favorite characters. Parks and Recreation momentarily forgot that what make its emotional moments so powerful was the hard work, time, and struggle it took for the characters to achieve them, and tried to overdose us on feels by having all the characters get exactly what they want for all of the rest of their lives in the span of an hour.

32. Girls – 2014: 23

Girls

Girls trudges on year after year, and like a veteran athlete quietly putting up solid numbers years after being a rookie sensation, it remains a force amongst those who watch it if not the polarizing zeitgeisty culture magnet it was in its first couple of seasons. Girls hasn’t blunted its ambition due to whatever criticism came it’s way and that’s a good thing. While the characters can drive me, and each other, crazy, and their arcs often find them walking two steps forward and one step back, the characters are well developed and their adventures make for compelling television, along with the welcome growing roles for the expanded cast, the boys of the show. Season four also contained the gleefully terrible Desi, who was as fun to hate as any character on television in recent years.

31. Narcos – 2014: Not Eligible

Narcos

There’s probably a couple of other shows on this list that meet the following description, at least in some way, and it sounds like a backhand compliment but it doesn’t have to be. Narcos is a high floor, low ceiling show, and while I have a hard time imagining it ever making it to the top 15, it’s floor is pretty damn decent, and it’s a nifty little show that is a lot better than it could be (which also sounds like a backhand compliment, but really isn’t). It’s compulsively watchable and that’s not a quality to be sold short. When 24 was at its best, there were always lapses with the show, and it lacked a lot of the depth and development that some of the shows higher up on this list are awash with. But when you finished an episode, dammit, you wanted to watch another. Narcos has that same feeling, and being on binge-friendly Netflix, it’s ideal for said binging. I watched one and then paused, but when I eventually got back to the show I knocked it down in just a couple of days.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2015 Edition: 38-35

11 Apr

A Netflix original, a Yahoo Screen original, a British show, and a Fox third-season comedy. Moving on.

Intro here and 58-55 here and 54-51 here and 50-47 here and 46-43 here and 42-39 here.

38. Peep Show – 2014: Not Eligible

Peep Show

The 9th and final season of Peep Show, which has to be some sort of British record, aired last year, three seasons after the previous. Peep Show may have had over its lifespan more boisterous laugh out loud moments than almost any show I’ve watched, and while it was certainly not at its peak last year, there were just enough moments of vintage Peep Show to earn its place here. It can be painfully hard to watch at times, and the characters are such morons, but no one, not even Michael Scott from The Office, can screw up a dinner party as gleefully as Mark does this season, leading to perhaps both the most awkward and funny scene of the season. Peep Show brought back just about every important character for a minute for one last go around and gave a fittingly miserable send off to Mark and Jeremy.

37. Other Space – 2014: Not Eligible

Other Space

Other Space sadly will not be returning last year largely because no one watched it, at least in part because it was on the short-lived Yahoo Screen, Yahoo’s ill-advised attempt to compete with Amazon and Netflix with original streaming content which resulted in massive failure. Other Space is a zany comedy about a crew of future outcasts who ventured off the grid in outer space. The production values are low, low, low; almost every episode feels like a bottle episode stuck in a few rooms on the ship. Other Space is smartly, however, perfectly tailored towards such an environment, and takes advantage of how silly and low budget it looks. The largely unknown actors (the most famous are Joel, the original host of MST3K, and Lily from the long-running series of AT&T commercials) do a good job, and the comedy smartly takes advantage of the engine that powers most great sitcoms – constantly rejiggering different combinations of characters interacting together. I’m still not sure why this show didn’t catch up at least in a small way with more of the tv-watching internet.

36. Brooklyn Nine-Nine – 2014: 19

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Brooklyn Nine-Nine has settled into its place as a second tier comedy, good for a few laughs an episode, and the occasional breakout episode, but never quite reaching the synthesis of top quality writing and character development that would see it ranked any higher. I’ve said it before, but little has changed; I’ve given up on hoping Brooklyn Nine-Nine will ever reach the heights of its spiritual predecessor Parks & Recreation and have done my best to try to enjoy it for what it is. The characters have begun to occasionally grate on me over time; while they’ve definitely improved since the outset, sometimes the development seems permanently stunted – the characters have trouble becoming more than the over-the-top traits that initially defined them, especially Charles (can we go an episode without him talking about his food snobbishness?). There are still plenty of fun moments, I like the cast a lot, regardless of their character shortcomings, and we’re high enough on the list that I’m in no danger of stopping watching. It’s just hard to shake the notion that this show should be a bit better than it is.

35. Orange is the New Black – 2014: 14

Orange is the New Black

I watched most of Orange is the New Black’s third season in a short period with a couple of friends, and though I generally enjoyed it, we ended up pausing for some reason which I don’t recall with about four episodes to go. I didn’t watch for a while, thinking we’d get back together again, until eventually it seemed like momentum had stalled and even once I figured it’d be okay for me to finish it out solo, I didn’t really want to, having a negative impression of the season in my mind. And then eventually one day, I ran through the episodes, and though the problems of the third season were still present, I enjoyed the end of the season a lot more than I remembered and couldn’t quite figure out why I had held off for so long. And that’s kind of where Orange is the New Black stands. The third season was not its most stellar; it was less focused than the others, and some of the plots fell flat, particularly Piper’s. Luckily, however, Piper is no longer the protagonist. The show has become a true ensemble, and the protagonist, really, if there was one last season was Caputo. The show still offers a perspective different than any other show on TV, with a large and diverse female cast unlike any on TV, and that’s still worth something.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2015 Edition: 42-39

8 Apr

Three new shows up for their first rankings, all of which should be back next year, and a cable comedy in its 10th season. Moving on.

Intro here and 58-55 here and 54-51 here and 50-47 here and 46-43 here.

42. Casual – 2014: Not Eligible

Casual

As I’m getting to this point, I realize that within my rankings-within-rankings of sad white people in Southern California shows, I might have swapped this with Togetherness, but they’re close enough both in reality and on the list that it’s not a huge deal either way. Casual, like many shows at this point in this list has it’s problems; I don’t recommend it heartily and I’m not sure I’d watch it if it was an hour instead of half an hour. That said, it does have points to recommend for it, and the fact that I did watch all of it, and relatively quickly, says a fair amount; there are many shows, even half hours, which I’ve stopped due to lack of momentum. The three primary actors are all excellent, particularly the always great Michaela Watkins. The uniquely close and comfortable family relationship between Watkins, her brother, and her daughter works and holds together the center of a show that could easily spin out of hand as each family member finds his or her way into hit-or-miss adventures. Watkins’ brother (I’m not going to get into names because it’s the last line of this and you’re not going to remember, but he’s played by the sports agent who dated Mindy in the first season of the Mindy Project) has the potential to be obnoxious (and is) at many times, but pulls away and/or shows enough pathos to avoid passing the point of no return.

41. Daredevil – 2014: Not Eligible

Daredevil

As we’re not yet in the land of full-scale recommendations for everyone, Daredevil is only for people with a toleration for the kind of comic superhero tomfoolery Marvel fans have come to expect, but unlike some of the DC properties below, I’m more confident people who like this sort of thing will like Daredevil. The characters aren’t as deeply defined in a season as I’d like them to be, but Daredevil is one of the Marvel characters with a stronger backstory and the street-level organized crime plot of the first season is a welcome counter to the super-powered and universe-spanning problems of the Marvel movies and DC TV shows. I don’t think primary antagonist Kingpin as played by Vincent D’Onofrio is the genius villain that many do, but I’d be remiss to say that he doesn’t bring a manic energy that’s often delightful. Additionally, unlike so many comic villains it’s a pleasant surprise to find one that’s neither emotionless nor crazy, intimidating but not infallible. There are some weaker moments, and the writing can be a little lazy, counting on viewers to connect the dots and follow the idea of where they’re going, because you can pretty much figure it out, but it’s binge-friendly without being House of Cards-stupid; you don’t need to think and digest every episode, but there are thrills to be had from moving forward in the story and you certainly don’t feel dumber having watched it.

40. Another Period – 2014: Not Eligible

Another Period

Another Period is just a stupid, over-the-top comedy about a wealthy family with servants early in 20th century New England, but it’s about as low on period accuracy as could be aside from wearing digital watches and using smart phones. I would guess it was inspired by wanting to mock the upstairs/downstairs Downton Abbey, but all the American actors didn’t feel like putting on British accents all the time. The jokes are fired off at a rapid pace, and while some don’t work, there are more than enough that do, and those that don’t are inoffensive enough to sit through for a couple of good solid laughs an episode. The cast definitely raises it a cut above the material, with many of my favorites like David Wain and Michael Ian Black, and comic relative newcomers like Christina Hendrix and Jason Ritter.

39. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Not Eligible
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

This show and the next show have a lot in common (they were originally in the same post, but got bumped around, so you’ll have to wait to figure out the next show is). They’re both show about ostensibly terrible people which can be awkward and difficult to watch, hands-over-your-eyes stuff, but which are entirely about the laughs. There are half hour shows that are ostensibly comedies that aren’t very funny, there are shows in the Parks & Recreation vein that are true comedies but with deep investment in character and storyline, and there are shows like Sunny and the next that are just for laughs. Thus then, they’re actually relatively easy to judge; if you laugh while watching, they’ve done their job. Last year’s 10th (!) season wasn’t the show’s finest, but managed to be a lot better than it could have been considering how long the show has been on. Sometimes the ideas can feel reused but the characters and the cast know how to get the most from the lines, and while the show can get too meta at some points, a little bit of meta here and there can differentiate the later seasons.

Ranking the ShowsThat I Watch – 2015 Edition: 46-43

4 Apr

A very real dramedy followed by three shows which depart from the realms of the real. Three of these four debuted last year.

Intro here and 58-55 here and 54-51 here and 50-47 here.

46. Togetherness – 2014: Not Eligible

Togetherness

One of the plague of sad-white people with pre-midlife crises shows running amok on TV, Togetherness actually pulled together to be a little bit better by the end than I thought it would be at the beginning. It’s hardly mandatory viewing, but the characters are drawn relatively well and feel somewhat realistic, and the feuds and conflicts feel plausible and unforced, which sounds like a low floor but really isn’t. Mark Duplass’s character is the worst part of the show, but he’s balanced by his best friend on the show, Alex, who is the best character. 

45. Mr. Robot – 2014: Not Eligible

Mr. RobotMr. Robot is a show I’ve expended many words about, written, and in person, and although I’m still not sure if I’ll watch it again this year, I’m glad I did. Few shows actually capture the internet television watching community every year, but Mr. Robot was one of them, and while I’m not a fan of many of the show’s creative choices, I do understand some of the appeal, and some of why the appeal now. If the two shows coming up next after Mr. Robot were classic high-floor low-ceiling affairs, Mr. Robot is the opposite. There was a lot going on, generally more of which I didn’t like than did, but it’s the type of show for which I at least have a level of appreciation for the craft of even if I disagree fundamentally which several of the decisions made. I probably liked the next two shows on this list better, but if someone I didn’t know asked me which season of television they should watch it should probably be this one.

44. Doctor Who – 2014: Not Eligible

Doctor Who

Doctor Who is by no means for everyone, and sometimes I’m not even sure it’s for me, but although I doubted myself while watching several seasons over the course of a year, in the end it was a worthwhile project. There’s a low ceiling; there are never any real stakes in Doctor Who, and whatever suspense there is is trying to figure out what the deus ex machina is going to be, not if there will be one. The character development is limited at best, but the show makes up for it by being relentless silly, casting strong choices as the Doctor, like current Doctor Peter Capaldi, and having at least once every few episodes smart, sci-fi homages and mashups that play well with common tropes even if the end results aren’t surprising. What I just wrote is really true about any season of Doctor Who more than merely the last, but that’s about what this show is.

43. Marvel’s Agent Carter – 2014: Not Eligible

Marvel's Agent Carter

Agent Carter isn’t great or relevatory (it sounds like I’m repeating similar words a lot, but that’s where we are on the list) and it fits in well most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero oeuvre – it’s light on its feet, with a low ceiling and a high floor, featuring heroic tales of patriotic derring-do conducted by heroes who care about the greater good more than themselves, all balanced by some sense of humor to attempt to prevent it from being too mired in its own self-seriousness. What puts Carter slightly above the mean is the chemistry between the two leads, heroic Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) who has been buried deep in mundane paperwork as a woman in an all-male workplace in the post-war 1940s, and Jarvis, Howard Stark’s butler, full of British charm and snobbery who, increasingly as the season goes on, wants to show he can do more than cook, clean, and aptly manage Stark’s many lady friends. The ‘40s make for a great setting, and the show doesn’t go light on the constant sexism towards Carter, which actually makes the setting feel more authentic and the eventual triumph greater.