Tag Archives: Happy Endings

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 2014 Edition: The Outcasts

14 Jan

Breaking Bad

It’s time for an annual beginning-of-the-year tradition over here at Drug of the Nation, the ranking of the shows I’ve watched during the previous year. This is my fourth annual ranking, and I’ll repeat the caveat I placed atop last year’s ranking introduction:

Because the TV season is no longer the fall-to-spring trajectory that it used to be, I arbitrarily rank things on a calendar basis, and that leads to strange situations where I’m occasionally ranking the end of one season and the beginning of the next season in the same ranking. It’s strange, and not ideal, but I have to pick some point in the year to do the rankings, so I’ll roll with the punches and mention within the article if there was a significant change in quality one way or the other between the end and beginning of seasons covered in the same year.

I’m only ranking shows I watched all of or just about all of the episodes that aired last year; if I’m just two or three behind I’ll rank it, but if I’ve only seen two or three, I won’t. I’m ranking three episode mini-British seasons but not shows with one-off specials (Black Mirror’s Christmas special is the most notable example this year) . These rules are arbitrary, admittedly, but any rules would be. No daily variety programs like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are eligible either.

The rankings this year were incredibly difficult, and a generally weak fall slate of TV shows had me forgetting just what an utterly strong year on the whole 2014 had been for television. I was forced to put shows I liked a lot towards the bottom of these rankings, and unlike previous years, there are just about no shows on this list that I’m one bad episode away from stopping, or that I’m just stringing out due to past loyalty until they finish. It’s absolutely brutal, and although I was forced to make tough choices, that doesn’t mean I don’t genuinely enjoy just about every show on this list. TV is that good, folks.

We start, as last year, with the shows that made last year’s list but didn’t make this year’s for one reason of another. This year these are almost entirely because they ended or didn’t air in the calendar year, so I’ll just run through them quickly, with some additional notes about the few that didn’t fall off due to simply not airing last year. This year I’m going to additionally throw in where a show ranked last year for context.

Here’s a quick link to last year’s final ranking as well. Now, on to the outcasts…

Breaking Bad – 2013: 1

Treme – 2013: 4

Eagleheart – Last year: 6

30 Rock – Last year: 10

Venture Bros. – 2013: 12

Top of the Lake – 2013: 15

Arrested Development – 2013: 17

Childrens Hospital – 2013: 21

Broadchurch – 2013: 23

Happy Endings – 2013: 24

NTSF: SD: SUV – 2013: 31

Black Mirror – 2013: 36

Family Tree  2013: 37

Siberia – 2013: 38

Luther – 2013: 45

The Office – 2013: 46

Dexter – 2013: 48

Enlightened – 2013: 6.5 (Initially, an embarrassingly mistaken omission)

Ben and Kate – 2013: 23.5 (Initially, an embarrassingly mistaken omission)

Take a deep breath. All of these shows did not air in 2014, so that’s the simple explanation why they’re not on the list. Many of these shows ended, Top of the Lake was a miniseries, several have extended offseasons and will be back in 2015 or later, and a couple are in extended hiatus, waiting to see whether they will return or not (looking at you, NTSF: SD: SUV). Easy enough.

Homeland – 2013: 41

Homeland

After a season and a half of utter frustration with the show’s inconsistency at best, and downright lousy and lazy writing at worst, I cut the cord, deciding not to watch the fourth season after a third season that really was not a very good season of television. People have told me the fourth season is better, and if a critical consensus emerges I’ll consider coming back, but I’m not that close to it. I got so sick of the show and Carrie and Brody in particular; if I had cut out earlier, I might have been more easily convinced to come back. It’ll always have an absolutely all-time first season, and is worthy fo remembering just for that, reminiscent of an athlete like Mark Fidrych who blows away the league in his first season only to never do anywhere close to the same again.

Under the Dome – 2013: 47

 

Under the Dome

Oof. Under the Dome’s first season makes the third season of Homeland look like the fourth season of Breaking Bad. It’s still stunning to me that I made it almost to the end of the first season (I never actually watched the season finale; either with only one left, I couldn’t bring myself to). The plot was incredibly stupid, the acting was generally pretty bad, and the characters were horrible. It’s hard to imagine a time when it could have been decent, but alas, a sneakily bad show is bound to end up getting watched sometimes when you watch so many shows.

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Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2013 Edition: 24-21

22 Jan

Four more shows, one comedy on its way out, one underlooked comedy that keeps on producing successful seasons, and two hour longs. Keep it going, below.

24. Happy Endings

Happy Endings

File Happy Endings away as a show that I didn’t appreciate enough until it was gone.  Well, not quite. I appreciated it not when it was gone but when, in the third season, it seemed as if its chances were grim. I savored each of the last few episodes, apologizing to my television for only really loving the show once it was already out of my grasp. It took me a while to really enjoy Happy Endings, because superficially it has markers of sitcoms I don’t particularly like, particularly Friends in its set up. When it comes down to it though, it was a consistently funny show with a fantastic cast with great chemistry that really seems like they’re enjoying themselves. The writing was sharp to begin with, but the cast made jokes work that some other combinations of actors wouldn’t have, through their timing and physical reactions. Not every episode was a gem, but by the end I was far sorrier to see it go than I had ever realized was possible when I started watching. Happy Endings with its no frills simple style, would have been a perfect fit on a cable network which makes its cancellation a particular shame.

23. Broadchurch

Broachchurch

A local boy is a small English seaside vacation town is murdered and a couple of detectives, one local, one Scottish, have to solve it. It’s a simple enough premise, but Broadchurch delivers on with surprisingly solid execution. The ending, which matters a lot for shows like this, satisfies; it’s heartbreaking and surprising but manages to not feel completely out of nowhere or too ridiculous. Broadchurch is only eight episodes long and the British desire to keep it short plays a large role in its success, preventing it from straying too far off the course with loads of red herrings and keeping a relatively tight focus. It’s not an all-time must watch but it’s surprisingly good and it’s a great eight episode pot boilder for weekend marathon viewing. Like with a good mystery novel, once I was halfway through I couldn’t stop until I got to the finish.

22. Masters of Sex

Mastes of Sex

Lizzie Kaplan and Michael Sheen play revolutionary sex researchers Masters and Johnson in this Showtime series set in 1950s St. Louis. Rather than feel just like another drama set in the past (which seem to be a possibly Mad Men-inspired cottage industry these days), Masters of Sex feels fresh and if anything is too ambitious; sometimes it summons ideas without having any plan what to do with them. Overall, though the ambition is admirable, and a surprisingly high percentage of Masters of Sex’s efforts work, more in the second half of the season than the first. The show discusses love, sex, and gender roles in an engaging way and features an assortment of well-built characters that stand to be enriched in future seasons; hopefully Alison Janey and Beau Bridges, who played recurring characters who star in bad CBS sitcoms, will be back. The future looks bright and this is a show that I think has no reason not to be even better next season.

21. Childrens Hospital

Childrens Hospital

I’ve been a long-time backer of Childrens Hospital and the fact that its this low says, as I find myself repeating a lot during this list, more about how much good television there is now, than anything about the lower quality of Childrens Hospital itself. That said, this probably wasn’t its best season yet, but there were definitely some classics. “Country Weekend,” a locked room mystery written by David Wain was a highlight, as well as “My Friend Falcon,” posed as a documentary with David Wain interviewing Childrens Hospital cast member Just Falcon, as played by Ken Marino. It’s the silliest and gentlest of the Adult Swim live action parody shows (basically, this, NTSF, and Eagleheart), and the most well-meaning – its satire is always in good fun rather than cutting. I honestly have no idea why Childrens Hospital has never caught on with a bigger cult audience and I recommend it frequently, as it’s usually safe to assume that people who I speak to about television, haven’t watched it. Give it a shot today, if you haven’t.

Saying Goodbye to Happy Endings

6 May

The Happy Enders My views on Happy Endings have changed over time.  I was introduced to the show by a friend who recommended it early in the second season and made me watch an episode while he was there. It had some funny moments, though I was hardly enamored with it.  Still, based on what humor there was and his recommendation, I plunged in further, and it was still fairly funny, but I didn’t love it.  More than that, even though I watched it, I found myself focusing on what it wasn’t rather than what it was. I complained that it was kind of funny, but kind of hit or miss, and I wasn’t wrong.  I complained that it didn’t have the ambition of shows like  Community or Louie, or the strong but not overly sentimental character development and consistency of Parks and Recreation or New Girl, and I wasn’t wrong.  The characters weren’t deep, it wasn’t always laugh out loud funny (it wasn’t funny enough like Curb Your Enthusiasm or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia that I didn’t give a shit about character development), and it didn’t seem to have any real thematic depth.  I noted that it was the volume shooter, the JR Smith, of sitcoms, firing away jokes at a rapid pace, sometimes hitting at high percentages, and often missing several in a row, and viewed that as a negative.

Sometime between the end of last season and the beginning of this, the third season, though, I realized that it was time to stop focusing on what Happy Endings wasn’t, and start focusing on what it was.  What Happy Endings is, is an often funny, and always fun show.  I’ve pronounced before that Bob’s Burgers has become my preferred choice for a show to watch before bed that will simply make me smile and lead me to good dreams before I go to sleep.  It has humor, and just general air of positivity and happy things that sometimes one needs after a tough day watching the Mad Mens and Breaking Bads of the world.  Happy Endings might be the next show on that list.  Even when you’re not laughing, watching the show, you’re usually smiling.  The cast, whose chemistry makes jokes work that wouldn’t, and makes jokes that don’t work, not seem like outright duds, is just having a great time and it absolutely shines right through the screen.  The volume shooter aspect was no longer a negative; I felt confident I’d get a few good laughs, and instead of frowning at the misses, I’d just be smiling through the camaraderie.  There are very occasional character building moments or relationship changes, but there’s none of the heavy and sometimes burdensome oversentimentality of How I Met Your Mother that drives me crazy.  Instead of having to choose between being a show where the characters really develop like Parks and Recreation, or a show that’s just one thousand percent about the laughs like Sunny or Curb, Happy Endings took a slightly middle path and instead of beng a comprimise, it works for them.  Almost every episode begins with the six characters together in one place having a good time, cracking jokes at somebody’s expense, and most episodes end the same way.

If Modern Family is a newer take on the traditional family sitcom (Home Improvement, Everybody Loves Raymond, and so forth), Happy Endings is a modern update of Friends, with the classic six friends, three guys, three girls set up.  However, while I never really liked Friends (and don’t love Modern Family much), Happy Endings takes the fun of six characters you like with a sense of humor updated for the second decade of the 21st century. In addition, Happy Endings was a meta-traditional sitcom, and it did that, embracing the 21st century’s obessession with meta-humor, as well as anyone, ir not better.  Instead of being limited by its traditional sitcom – these are six characters who only spend time with each other – format, it’s liberated by that.  When it wants to play with any classic sitcom-y storyline, it just adds in the characters and plot it needs, and cleverly hangs the lampshade by having the characters comment on the sitcom conventions they’re falling into.  It’s the most knowing, winking, sitcom on the air, in this way. In the season (and what turns out to be, unless another network (hear me USA!) picks it up, series) finale, sisters Jane and Alex’s older sister, Brooke, gets married.  Of course, fans of the show have never seen or heard of their other sister, and while old shows would glaze over this point, Happy Endings takes the opportunity to have the characters point out how unusual it is that they’ve never mentioned her, as Adam Pally’s Max says, “We never see her, we never talk about her, she never shows up in any of your flashbacks.”  When others are confused, Dave notes that “Flashbacks” are what Jane and Alex call their photo albums, which he produces to show to the room.  Simple, knowing, well-executed, funny.  Good show.  This is a trope employed over and over again by the show, and it was done deflty and funnily, and with the proper amount of winking, which made these jokes some of the best in the show.

There’s at least a possibility that this isn’t the end, and that a cable network will pick up the show.  I think it would be a good fit for basic cable.  That said, if it doesn’t get picked up, so long Happy Endings.  I’m sorry to see you go.

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 2012 edition: 24-22

8 Feb

Ranking the shows I watch, from 2012 – for the rules, see the intro here; 24, 23, and 22 below.

24.  Downton Abbey

Downtown Abbey

I thought the show was titled Downtown Abbey for a good year, like many.  The first season captivated me a lot more than I thought it would, and I’d like to make a shout out here to the wonderful theme music.  The second season, with more episodes, struggled a little bit (we’re using American air dates, so second season aired in 2012, rather than British air dates, where the third season was shown last fall).  While some people were stunned to realize they were watching an overblown primetime soap, albeit with interesting social issues at play, that much was obvious to me.  The problem rather was that some of the twists in the second season were pure daytime, most notably the absolutely ridiculous plot in which an injured soldier cons Edith into believing he’s a family member the Granthams thought dead on the Titanic in the first episode of the series (by the way, starting your show with a succession issue caused by the Titanic’s sinking? that’s high drama).  Matthew miraculously gaining the use of his penis (yes, penis) and legs back after having them paralyzed was a little much, though mostly inevitable; they could at least have had him suffer some kind of permanent damage to make the whole injury meaningful.  The show was also constrained by having to figure out how to get Matthew and Mary together and then apart and then together and then apart within the rules of high English society. By the end of the season, while I was certainly rooting for them, I just wanted something to be done and final.  The Bates murder trial never worked for me either.  Anyway, the moral is that the second season paled in comparison to the first, but still had some wonderful moments and the always excellent sniping of Maggie Smith’s dowager countess.  These problems are also easily correctable, so I’m looking forward to the third season.  Also, Downton is unusual in just how much time is spread out over a single season.  Years happen between episodes sometimes.  That’s neither here nor there, but I thought it bore mentioning.

23.  Boardwalk Empire

Boredwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire, like Sons of Anarchy earlier on this list, aspires to be a BIG series full of deep and meaningful themes, like The Sopranos, in particular, in this case, a show on which Boardwalk series creator Terrence Winter worked. It almost feels like the show was put together with The Sopranos as the ideal model, trying mathematically to adhere to the recipe that made the Sopranos so great, and hoping that after putting it all in the oven for 15 minutes, it would lead to a brilliant show.  The care put into the show is clear; the sheer filming technique is impressive and definitely significantly adds to the enjoyment.  That said, the formula doesn’t always click.  Main character Nucky Thompson is generally a strong one, packed with charisma and complexity, but few of the secondary characters can equal him, and those who could often don’t get the amount of screen time they need.  This problem was clearer in the third season than in the first two.  While there were several serious issues that made the season all right instead of very good, the biggest might have been that the creators chose the wrong secondary characters to get the bulk of screen time after Nucky gets his.  Whatever greatness is, I think it’s unlikely Boardwalk Empire is going to get there in more than glimpses and moments, but there is definitely plenty to enjoy in the craft if less so in some of the characters, and that alone makes it worth watching.

22.  Happy Endings

Happy Endings

The volume shooter of TV sitcoms, Happy Endings fires away jokes at breakneck speed, not even worrying about whether they hit or miss, because by the time they’ve thought about it, ten more jokes have been recited.  Like NBA volume shooters J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford, this leads to serious consistency problems, but also periods of time where it seems like every joke (or shot) goes in.  There are six friends, they’re all grouped together differently for A, B, and sometimes C plots in various episodes, and they’ve got lots of inside jokes and pop culture references are often flying. Sometimes after time goes by without watching an episode, I’ll remember the show as mediocre, and then watch a good episode and recall what I liked about it.  Because of the way the show works, it’s never going to be an absolutely transcendent show the way, say, Community or personal favorite Party Down can be.  Sometimes an episode will work a lot better than others, and even in an episode where a lot works, some won’t.  The flip side is that the show has a high floor; even when everything’s not clicking on all cylinders, there’s an excellent chance of at least a couple of solid chuckles coming through.  I have a hard time being extremely passionate about this show; it’s not great and it took me a while to get into enjoying it at all.  That said, the more I’ve watched over the years, the more I’ve become to appreciate its quirks, and like the best shows of its type, the excellent chemistry enjoyed by the cast, which turns some percentage of those jokes from misfires to winners.  I originally had the show lower and moved it up because for the first time, this season, I realized I’d very much miss it if it was cancelled, and sometimes that emotional connection tells you something that your brain doesn’t; while this will never be a favorite, I genuinely like the show.