Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The thrilling conclusion to "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

Look, regardless of how rough some of these posts have been (and some of them are rough), I'm not gonna pretend I'm not at least happy with myself that this project I started six months ago has actually reached its completion. It took longer than expected, as evidenced by this post's publication on New Year's Eve, but it's finished. 30,000+ words on 25 shows across all six major networks, a few more cable channels, and even spanning two continents. And at least in terms of the show I picked for this final entry, I think I've saved the best for last.

After the break: We will all learn the reason for compensation.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Year End 2013: Cream of the crop in a big harvest

Wow. Wow, wow, wow.

That's my reaction to the year in television. There were so many good new and returning shows that cutting down my list of favourites into hard lists of 10 and 20 was so much more difficult than I could have imagined. I mean, it's one thing for there to be just so much great stuff on. It's completely another to consider that I have a show in my top 10 that isn't in English. If you had told me that would be the case on January 1, I never would have believed you in a million years. But I guess that's a good sign that I'm expanding my horizons to at least try and keep track of it all.

I closed my top 10 of 2012 post by asking "Whattaya got, 2013?" Well here's what they got. And it's incredible. My top ten shows of the year after the break.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Year End 2013: A great year for TV still has some black marks

Year end caveat: I watch TV. Some shows I like. Some shows I don't. You might disagree. That's okay. Some good shows I don't watch or haven't caught up on. They won't be on my top 20 list. Some shows are too bad for me to even bother with. They won't be on my worst of list. Some shows I love ("30 Rock") didn't air long enough in the calendar year for me seriously consider giving them a spot in a very, very good year for television. I hope I'm not offending you. We cool? Cool.

I think last year I got a little carried away with my "worst of" list, so this year I've made a conscious effort to cut down what I think were the 10 worst/most disappointing shows I watched (even if only briefly, but left a lasting bad impression). The list is unranked, presented only in alphabetical order, because even someone as cynical as I feels no need to spend any more time determining which of these shows is worse than any others.

Snark after the break...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Year End 2013: What just missed the cut, or, the 10 best shows of basically any other year

Year end caveat: I watch TV. Some shows I like. Some shows I don't. You might disagree. That's okay. Some good shows I don't watch or haven't caught up on. They won't be on my top 20 list. Some shows are too bad for me to even bother with. They won't be on my worst of list. Some shows I love ("30 Rock") didn't air long enough in the calendar year for me seriously consider giving them a spot in a very, very good year for television. I hope I'm not offending you. We cool? Cool.

I feel better knowing that actual paid critics had just as tough a time cutting down top 10 and 20 lists as I did this year, since it leads me to believe a) I didn't miss very much, and b) this was such a phenomenal year for the small screen that all the shows in today's "second ten" list would absolutely be top 10 shows in a year that lacked for more quality shows. Good thing the outstanding freshman class of 2013 was properly recognized by yesterday's Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations, right guys?

My 20 through 11 positions for 2013 after the break. For comparison's sake, here's my second ten of 2012.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Year End 2013: My favourite episodes of the year

Year end caveat: I watch TV. Some shows I like. Some shows I don't. You might disagree. That's okay. Some good shows I don't watch or haven't caught up on. They won't be on my top 20 list. Some shows are too bad for me to even bother with. They won't be on my worst of list. Some shows I love ("30 Rock") didn't air long enough in the calendar year for me seriously consider giving them a spot in a very, very good year for television. I hope I'm not offending you. We cool? Cool.

Well I was all ready to enjoy a nice, relaxing February when I looked at my calendar and saw it was December. Good lord, I feel like I just did year end lists, and now it's time for them again.

Last year, I broke down my year end stuff into four categories over four weeks: favourite episodes on December 10, my second ten shows that didn't make the cut for my top 10 list on December 17, my list of worst shows of the year on Christmas Eve, and finally my top 10 on the final day of 2012. This year, I'm going to be doing the same but likely without sticking to those dates. My second ten list is already finished and I will probably post that tomorrow rather than dragging it out a week for no reason.

So first up, here are my favourite TV episodes of 2013!

Monday, December 02, 2013

"The Walking Dead" tosses aside its crutches, but it's still not ready to bear weight

     If someone could please cast David Morrissey in something
     good again to wash out the taste of The Governor, that'd be
     great. Paul Abbott, are you still sure you don't want to do
     another season of "State of Play"?

For a long time, I've been trying to figure out how exactly the writers of "The Walking Dead" realize that title is a metaphor for the characters who inhabit its world. Aside from its literal reference to the zombies, you get the sense showrunner Scott Gimple and the team he oversees writing the biggest, baddest show on mighty, prestigious AMC think it's enough to ride the idea that the show's main characters might as well be walking corpses as well. In reality, I think a lot of people (myself included) have realized the title is a lot more meta than they realize, considering how much of tonight's mid-season finale "Too Far Gone" I spent trying to remember anyone - and I mean, literally just one person - on this show I care about in any way.

"The Walking Dead" was a show I really, really enjoyed in its first season, even if I was able to recognize it was a show I enjoyed only as a guilty pleasure. These were just some people trying to stave off the weekly zombie attack. Did I know their names? Nope, but that was largely because no one really ever said them. In life after zombies, your name didn't matter, and I was on board for that. Excluding the legitimately good pilot episode, "The Walking Dead" as it was back then never felt to me like a show that wanted to be more than people running around shooting and stabbing the undead. It was a show largely void of any ambitions and while in theory that made it an outlier on what was at the time a quality-driven AMC, it never really surprised me that the show was easily their most popular.

Sometimes I think more shows should settle. And even though that makes me feel weird, I'm gonna continue to say it. For reasons I can't really explain, I watched the entire first season of the Cinemax drama "Banshee" last spring, and the faster I realized it was only gonna be a show about a guy who solves his problems through punching, the more I was able to enjoy it. "Banshee" wasn't trying to be one of the best shows on TV. I don't think it was even trying to be the best show on Cinemax, the similarly punch-heavy "Strike Back". Similarly, there are parts of "Boardwalk Empire" I really enjoy, but too much of the show felt like clutter I didn't really care about for me to stick with it into the second season. And one of the things I read about that show that really stuck with me was the idea that "Boardwalk," and its creator Terence Winter, wouldn't be satisfied until it was the best show on television.

All of which is to say I find it kind of confusing that after a first season whose ratings more than doubled that of AMC's second most watched series "Mad Men," "The Walking Dead" became a lot more ambitious without realizing that this new kind of audience the channel had acquired outside of their boutique shows didn't really care about that. And through now three and a half seasons, unable to develop a group of characters that never felt designed to develop, it has only become laughable that Gimple and co. expect me to care about anyone on this show simply because the events of tonight's episode happened to them. Even the ones we've known the longest, like Rick and Corral. Just as blood and explosions don't automatically equal drama, time spent with a person doesn't automatically equal love and appreciation.

Take good ol' Brian "Don't Call Me The Governor" whatshisface, finally extinguished at least eight episodes too late, and after wasting the last three of them for a deceptive "redemption arc" that now certainly doesn't mean anything going forward. For reasons unknown, he survived last season's abysmal finale, the conclusion to a 16-episode story that was set up very well in the fall 2012 episodes, stumbled along in its spring 2013 episodes, then concluded much like the alternate ending to "Casablanca" shown on "The Simpsons". The question mark leaves the door open for a sequel, and as we've all been discussing recently regarding the idea of a sequel to "It's a Wonderful Life," things will always be better if they just keep going.

Then there's baby Judith, seemingly killed tonight as everyone raced to escape the prison. We saw her bloody, empty car seat, and so did Rick and Corral, breaking down at the continued dwindling of their already tragically decimated family. But I suppose we didn't see the body, and it's possible she's still alive somewhere. And my God, that makes me want to put my hand through the TV. Sure, when it comes time to quickly escape the prison, maybe carrying the baby in the heavy car seat is impractical, though certainly not more impractical than taking the time to remove her from it at all. And if it turns out Beth or whoever did do that for no good reason just so this show could manipulate us into feeling sad about a dead baby, seriously, fuck these people (if I needed any confirmation that this show is absolutely not for me and my quitting on it was long overdue, it's that internet commenters are less concerned with the disgusting consequences of Judith possibly being alive than they are with being right about predicting that she's alive, or at the very least, claiming they were not duped by the show if it does happen).

And yet of all the terrible, stupid things that happened on tonight's mid-season finale (which included the little girls abandoning the baby in the first place just because Carol once told them shooting guns at stuff is important, and the absolutely horrible performance from Andrew Lincoln overemphasizing every beat of what could have been a non-terrible, understated monologue about coexistence), perhaps the thing that infuriated me the most was that I walked away from tonight's episode believing that it was Maggie who had delivered the final blow to the Governor. Why is that? Well for one, the overwhelming nihilism of the show wouldn't give me any reason to believe that Maggie hasn't reached a point where she would kill the man who beheaded her father. But it was also because the actress they cast to play Lilly, the woman who became the Governor's love interest in the last two episodes, looks so much like Lauren Cohan and apparently no one noticed or cared about this at all. It's one thing to try to get me to care about people and fail. It's totally another to spend episode after episode desperately trying, then to suddenly stop trying to distinguish your boring characters in any way and just ride an attitude of "zombies, fuck it".

In watching "Too Far Gone," I accepted fairly quickly that whatever was coming wouldn't satisfy me. Either the prison was going to win or the Governor was, and neither one of those outcomes was going to knock the show out of inertia like it desperately needs. Both crutches were ultimately eliminated, but what remains problematic is that "The Walking Dead" still hasn't proven itself a series that's ready to bear weight on its broken legs. For a show with this many characters, this much action, and so much "happening," "The Walking Dead" might be TV's least interesting show right now.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The penultimate edition of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

Two left to go and I've run out of preamble. To the writeup!

After the break: A long awaited sequel is finally unearthed!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Week 23 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

We're winding down here and I think I'm becoming more satisfied with these entries as I go along. Some of today's post was pre-written many months ago, as it was originally intended to be the first one I started this little series with. And there's a marked difference between what I wrote then and what today me turned that into. The goal was to develop my skills as a writer by forcing myself to just write about lots of different things, and I think I saw for the first time today that maybe it's actually happening. But as always, I report, you decide.

After the break: I've never told anyone I like this episode, not even Scruffy!

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Week 22 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

Swap out week! Yes, I ditched "How I Met Your Mother's" "Slap Bet" (and even managed to take a swing at in this week's post, always a good sign for anything I write) and substituted this episode, which like a few others on this list, is one no one has ever heard of. They tend to be the ones I like best...maybe this project should have been "25 Most Obscure Episodes of TV That I Love, Now Shut Up". But hey, that's the kind of ridiculous 20/20 hindsight that really powers today's entry.

Another thing: I try to include photos in all of these posts, but this is one I had trouble with. According to my Google image search, there are about two still images of this episode on the entire internet. You'd also be surprised to hear that ten year old posts from ABC's press site don't hold up so much anymore. So enjoy this monochromatic 2,000+ word slog.

After the break: I push for a classic sitcom character to go ghost hunting.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Week 21 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

I might be violating the spirit I intended for this list, in that I shouldn't hastily make changes based on anything that has just recently happened. But that's what I'm doing today. And part of what makes me okay with is that A) when I really think about, I think I like today's episode better than the one I originally intended to write about, and B) even if I had written about the episode I intended to, I could have told you a different episode was actually my favourite tomorrow.

After the break: I am going to make you sad about a cartoon character, dammit.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Week 20 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

A brief notification of a swap out: I have eliminated "How I Met Your Mother's" "Slap Bet" from this list and substituted in one of the episodes I mentioned here. I still like "Slap Bet," but I don't think I have much to say about it other than "How is it a show that is now so miserable once gave us an episode so funny?" so I don't think it warrants a full writeup. And if you've been reading these posts with any regularity, you know the bar my writing has to clear to be published is low.

On to today's entry, which is regrettably the only episode on the list of a non-American show. I know. I suck. I will try to become more cultured in the future, and also watch more TV episodes that aired before 1990.

After the break: They'd only been gone one night, but somehow the town seemed different. Smaller.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Week 19 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

It's too bad that I went into watching this week's episode with as much trepidation as I did. But given some of this show's more recent offerings in this vein, I think I had reason to worry about how will this would hold up. But then I started watching it, and it all just fell away. I was right back there enjoying it just as much as I did the first time. I remembered why this episode was not any of the ones that tried to one up it. And if that's not reason to put this on the list, I don't know what is.

After the break: If this show doesn't rebound in its new season, my tears will be real today.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Week 18 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

I have reservations about this pick. I don't know why, but it feels somewhat blasphemic to pick an episode of this show that aired in 2009. For some reason, all of the Internet trolls and the nostalgia I do not have are making me feel weird about it. But thankfully, it was only recently that the creator of said program told me that it's the episodes you watch in high school that are your favourites, because staying up late to watch them is fun and exciting when you don't have money or a driver's license. So if you take issue with this (you really won't), I have a television legend on my side. And no, I still don't know why I'm always trying to be mysterious with this.

After the break: He definitely knows his way around.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

2013 Emmys roundup: W-R-O-N-G

     "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan accepts the 2013
     Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series.
     Photo Credit: Reuters, ATAS, CBS

Just as the title indicates, these Emmys were pretty much nothing but wrong, in a few senses of the word. As a piece of televised entertainment, this was an especially weak Emmy telecast, stuffed with bad, time wasting musical performances that only occasionally had some connection to television. And on the awards side, all of the trophies they gave out were either wrong in the "just plain wrong" sense (Jeff Daniels, Gail Mancuso, etc.) or were wildly pleasant, left-field choices that I imagine did an even bigger number on my yearly predictions than usual.

It was interesting to hear Grantland's Bill Simmons describe being in the theatre for the actual show. While the overly long and inconsequential Elton John performance was unbearable to those of us watching at home, the actual audience in the Nokia Theatre welcomes this sort of visual stimuli to pass the three hours they're stuck in their seats. While I felt the dance routine choreographed by the nominees in the Outstanding Choreography category to be an interesting idea that was poorly executed, I understand why that's a nice break from giving out trophies to the celebrities who actually attend the event, and especially to those who found out early in the night that they hadn't won.

Steve Levitan (and if there is one thing I am most furious about in this entire telecast, it's that we came so close to making it an entire year without having to listen to him giving ANOTHER speech upon his mediocre show being hailed as the second coming of Christ in 22 minute form) called attention to the somber, deathly tone of the show, and he wasn't wrong for doing so. I understand why people don't like the necrology because people are always left out and always will be no matter how many award shows we live to see. But paying specific tributes creates two problems: as mentioned, the repeated reminder of death casts a shadow over an event that is ultimately a celebration. There's nothing wrong with life being the thing you're celebrating, but the tribute segments meant the somber feeling was inescapable. If you pay all tributes during the "in memoriam" segment, you can fade to commercial and then come back with the wacky stars of "The Millers" and pretend that nothing happened. This made jarring tonal shifts a constant component of the telecast.

The second is that even more than the complaints of people left out of the necrology, this creates such a disgusting popularity contest out of death. Jack Klugman's son was understandably disappointed that the Academy chose not to give his father a specific tribute during the show, and Larry Hagman, arguably the biggest TV star of the 1980s, didn't get one either. For the Academy to give the thumbs up to creating a situation in which it was now a competition to see which lost icons were more worthy of attention than others is so ridiculous and dumbfounding that it could only come from the same organization that votes for the Emmy awards. And on the note of death as a popularity contest: I happened to catch Emmy host Neil Patrick Harris on "The Talk" late last week, where he specifically mentioned that he didn't like it when the audience can be heard clapping at varying levels for celebrities of varying levels during award show necrologies. He assured that any noise from the theatre would be muted during the actual telecast, and of course, come Sunday night, we got to hear about 6,000 people remember to continue clapping for agents and studio executives they didn't know while the applause escalated for talent who worked in front of the camera. Just a disaster.

Simmons also mentioned that during commercial breaks, clips were shown of past Emmy acceptance speeches. A nice tribute to television, which the Emmys seemed to be sorely lacking this year. I actually found myself missing the way the show used to separate the night by categories, if only because we didn't get the "Year In (Comedy/Variety/Miniseries/Reality/Drama)" montages of actual TV clips from the past year that we've gotten for the last few telecasts. I also understand why people didn't like that the extended tributes to James Gandolfini, Cory Monteith et al. also did not feature any clips of the actors performing (or in the case of Gary David Goldberg, clips from the shows he worked on), though if you couldn't tell, that's not my biggest gripe about how those were handled.

Neil Patrick Harris proved to be a somewhat problematic host. His reputation as a song-and-dance man who opens awards shows he doesn't even host (like that weird duet he did...by himself to open the Oscars that one time) precedes him, and I think it was an interesting idea to say up front "I'm not doing that this time." But all of the comedic bits about him saying that weren't funny in the slightest. Even his opening monologue, which wasn't intended to be all that funny so that the past hosts could berate him for doing such a bad job, never turned a corner into anything actually entertaining.

Show highlight: Even though she's great on "Veep," I wasn't all that happy to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus repeat. I would have much rather seen Laura Dern or Amy Poehler pull off a surprising but well-earned victory. But the moment of the night was easily seeing the "Veep" cast all in-character as Louis-Dreyfus accept her award, with fellow Emmy winner Tony Hale standing right behind her, holding her purse and reminding her what to say, while nominee Anna Chlumsky sat in the audience on her phone.

Show lowlight: "Hi, I'm Elton John. Here's my latest single. It kind of reminds me of Liberace, a guy who HBO made a movie about this year but has actually been dead for 25 years. Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, please stand perfectly still for these next six minutes as I play the song in its entirety. As I play, be sure to put your ear right up to the television. You might be able to hear all the speeches that will be cut off for the rest of the night."

The results of my predictions after the break...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Weeks 16 and 17 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

Trying something a little different today. I realized that the episode I was planning on writing about this week was very similar to another one on the list, so there doesn't seem much point in writing up two entries that are about basically the same thing. Woo hoo, I just saved myself a week! And let's be honest, I also saved you, a beloved reader, the chore of reading the exact same blog post twice in the same month. (Shut up, I know how many of these read as the same regurgitated garbage). And that's what matters most. Protecting my VAST readership. And, uh, ahem...*Rodney Dangerfield collar grab*

After the break: Would you like a full history of the professional relationship between Conan O'Brien and Jack McBrayer? I figured as much, so I anticipated your next move before you even got there. Like chess. SITCOM CHESS.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Week 15 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

There are ten weeks left in this little project, which should take me into early November. Though I'm heading back to school and will busy with that, there shouldn't be many interruptions going forward. I might take a week off here and there if I feel particularly swamped, but my goal was to finish this project in 2013 and that's still my intention. With that being said, I decided to dick around my last week of vacation and procrastinate this final post-summer entry, to the point that I put a lot more work into the ABC comedy fall preview thing I posted yesterday late in the week not realizing that it has no set schedule, while this does. So once again, I'm late with a fairly short writeup. What you call lazy and corner-cutting, I call short and sweet.

After the break: Who knew "case of the week" could be such a gut punch?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Week 14 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

As you'll see in the actual post itself, it turned out to be a really happy accident that I was able to time my Rob Thomas double bill for these last two weeks. God, was I happy to revisit this week's show, but perhaps not as ecstatic as I am for next week. But anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. If you've never heard of this one, and you have the means, I highly recommend picking it up.

After the break: "Tower of Terror" is kind of a shitty movie but I really, really enjoy watching it.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Week 13 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

This was one that I very seriously considered cutting at the last minute to replace with something else. And of course, as tends to happen when I think about doing that, it ended up being one of the most fun re-watches for me on the list and absolutely confirmed why it's an all time favourite, even if the show as a whole is probably nowhere near my top 25 list of series.

If you're interested, here's a list of 15 shows I really like but don't have an episode on this list, and the episode I probably would've picked: "The Sopranos" ("College"), "Parenthood" ("Road Trip"), "Undeclared" ("God Visits"), "24" (season 1 finale), "Miracles" ("The Battle at Shadow Ridge"), Ricky Gervais' original "The Office" ("Training"), "Extras" ("Chris Martin") "Peep Show" ("Dance Class"), "Homeland" ("Q&A"), "Louie" ("Duckling"), "Girls" ("The Return"), "Happy Endings" ("Party of Six"), "New Girl" ("Chicago"), "Suburgatory" ("The Wishbone"), and "Shameless" ("A Long Way From Home"). But anyway...

After the break: I must've been the only person who wasn't hoping it was you at the door.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Week 12 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

This week, the blog takes a bittersweet - and sadly more culturally relevant than ever - look back at one of my all time favourite comedies, and without a doubt one of the best TV episodes of the 2000s. If I had an audience and allowed comments, this might be a CRAZY week because today's episode is all about race and isn't that controversial? But I don't, and it won't be, which is frankly all the better. It wouldn't be that controversial at all, actually. I would have a hard time liking anyone who didn't like this week's show. Anyway, everyone* loves when I use a new "Top 25" picture right? (*Few to none.)

After the break: Only two seasons and 26 episodes, but they can walk away tall. Walk away. Tall.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Week 11 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

We've almost hit the way halfway point, and thankfully I still have some hour long shows on this list to alternate weeks. That being said, today's hour long show is still technically a comedy, so get ready for a mediocre entry that doesn't say very much! In all honesty, I'd suggest you actually watch this episode rather than read why I like it because damn, this is a good one.

After the break: An entire "before they were famous" cast doing some of the best work of their careers.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Review: ITV's "Broadchuch" crosses the Atlantic to join a growing list of great crime dramas

     David Tennant and Olivia Colman star in "Broadchurch".

"Broadchurch" airs Sunday nights on Showcase in Canada (episode 1 already aired this past week - watch it here). In the United States, it premieres tonight at 10pm on BBC America.

It's time for those who make television to understand that the best "crime dramas" are not really about the crime.

When AMC's "The Killing" ended its first season in June 2011, viewers and critics were understandable frustrated that a show with thin characters and thinner plots failed to tell them in 13 long, slow hours whodunnit, despite a promotional campaign that leaned almost exclusively on the question "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" They grew tired of the blatant red herrings. They grew tired of the cliffhanger endings that almost always cleared a suspect in the first five minutes of the next episode. And after the finale, the conversation become one about tiring of the season-long, murder mystery format altogether.

Last year, I marathoned my way through "Veronica Mars" with a good deal of skepticism. Some swear by the show and in the end I was satisfied with its first season. But I couldn't help but feel like by the time I got to the end of hour 22, I was gonna be left feeling duped. I was going to have invested a lot of time into what would eventually be a twist ending that rang false based on what I had come to know and love about the residents of Neptune, California.

And thankfully, that didn't happen. What was most bizarre about the whole thing, though, was that I never even finished the first season of "The Killing". A show's supposedly horrible twist ending was so bad, based on all the terrible things I'd read about it, that even that was enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth about season-long mystery shows in general.

A statistic often tossed around in business classes, job training, and the Internet in general states that a customer who has a positive experience doing business will tell about three or four people. If they have a negative experience, they're more likely to tell about nine or ten. Yes, the Internet in general is loud and obnoxious and it's the only place where vocal minorities make even the tiniest waves. This isn't a new concept. They're the people who popularized the idea that "Lost" had a bad finale because it didn't answer every last question and tie up every single loose end (where did Kate's horse come from?!?!?!) ever presented in the run of the series.

But after so many people had a bad experience with "The Killing" and told nine or ten friends about it, they were able to watch three or four new similar dramas that were much better and tell three or four friends about each of those. A genre that was ready to be sworn off based largely on one show has thankfully been redeemed with superior outputs like Sundance Channel's "Top of the Lake," Netflix's "The Fall," FX's "The Bridge," and now "Broadchurch" (this could be reverse applied to how tired everyone was of serial killers on TV with terrible shows like "The Following," only for "Hannibal" to come along and remind us that there's still material to be mined from the genre).

On the Dorset coast of England lies the town of Broadchurch, population 15,000. It's a town whose local newspaper, the Broadchurch Echo, "celebrates the ordinary" according to its reporters. There's very little crime in the area - the occasional DUI is reported, along with some small drug busts. It's not a town where you'd expect anything to happen. Until 11-year-old Danny Latimer washes up on the beach - dead. And suddenly, no one is innocent, and no one is safe.

Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) is returning from maternity leave only to discover that the job of Detective Inspector she was promised has instead been given to Alec Hardy (David Tennant), an investigator with a troubled past. The two are reluctantly paired together on the case of young Danny's demise, each attempting to reconcile the personal and professional aspects of the case. Hardy's desire to identify a killer lies much more heavily in demons from his past, while lifelong Broadchurch resident Miller knows the Latimer family well and finds that keeping her personal connection separate from the investigation is actually not as hard as she initially thought it would be.

"I hate what I'm becoming," Miller tells Hardy in the fourth episode.

"A good detective?" Hardy asks.

"Hardened," replies Miller.

When the eight episodes are over, you will learn who did what to Danny Latimer. But far more importantly, you'll learn what everyone else did to each other, and that's what makes "Broadchurch" worth your time. While a child is dead and police are trying to figure out why, a town virtually free of crime is dealing with an unexplainable outlier of a tragedy. Friends, neighbours, and even family lose all sense of trust as suddenly, this supposedly peaceful seaside paradise (which looks great thanks to director James Strong) has become a place where nothing is sacred and anything can happen. And none of it is played sensationally - the show remains simple, realistic, and at times unsettlingly relatable.

Also making "Broadchurch" worth the journey is its outstanding cast, led by Tennant and Colman. I had only seen a couple episodes of his work as "Doctor Who" so I wasn't overly familiar with him as an actor, but here (using his native Scottish accent), he sells the hell out of Hardy's damaged and unrelenting drive to bring justice not just to the Latimers, but for himself as well. And it's been quite a while since I was blown away by a performance as much as I was by Colman, who I had never seen in a dramatic role before. I've long known Colman for her work with British comedy duo Mitchell and Webb, playing a number of roles on their sketch shows "That Mitchell and Webb Look" on TV and "That Mitchell and Webb Sound" on radio - she also played the love interest, Sophie, for many years on their Channel 4 sitcom "Peep Show". More than anyone, Miller struggles with accepting that the bloom is off the rose in Broadchurch and by the last episode, she's just as much an emotional wreck as the viewer is from watch Colman play her.

It's always unfortunate when a show like this comes along on the heels of things that have pretty much all but poisoned the water. But it can also be very refreshing to be reminded that even a familiar idea can feel new if the concept is simple and the execution is done correctly. So consider this my way of telling three or four friends that I had a very good experience with "Broadchurch".

Friday, July 26, 2013

Week 10 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

Ten weeks in! Another comedy episode that I really just love. Something I've learned during this exercise is that the idea I've always had about how much worse I am at writing about a drama than a comedy is probably actually the opposite. In any case, here's a relatively short pre-vacation entry. Because of that vacation, this series (or whatever) will take next week off and then resume on Friday, August 9 (it is important my millions of fans don't wonder where I've gone).

After the break: A little David Cross goes a long way. Or sometimes none at all.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

2013 Emmy nominations post-mortem: Good enough?

     Aaron Paul of "Breaking Bad" and Neil Patrick Harris of "How I Met
     Your Mother" (both Emmy nominated, Paul for "Bad" and Harris for
     producing and hosting the Tonys) announcing the nominations for the
     65th Primetime Emmy Awards last Thursday (July 18) morning.
Emmy nomination day! Everyone loves it! And by "loves", I mean "has incredibly mixed feelings about". Sure, the Emmys are never gonna get everything "right" considering there are no right answers.  And they're never gonna make everyone happy. Like every year, I've found that there are just as many nominations that make me incredibly happy as snubs that have left me feeling pretty annoyed. But credit to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences that I don't think there are that many obvious nominations this year that piss me off or leave me completely baffled, and I've found that far more than last year the person or show I feel is most deserving is actually likely to win. So let's go category by category as I give you expert analysis and reactions and predictions or something. Like last year, I'll be predicting winners in the major categories that will come back to haunt me the Monday morning after the Emmys when I realize I had a success rate of less than 40%.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Week 9 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

Rolling right along now, here's an on time instalment that carries over quite nicely from last week's entry in a way that I didn't ultimately plan, much in the same way that following up "Lost" with a parallel narratives episode of "Malcolm in the Middle" was also unintentional. I could have deleted all of that, I suppose, and presented myself as an evil genius the likes of which are written about in today's entry. But this blog and its author are firm believers in journalistic transparency.

After the break: All I can say is that this episode just flat out rocks minerals.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My hypothetical 2013 Emmy ballot

With the Emmy nominations just a day away, it's time for me to once again submit a fake Emmy ballot. I had fun doing this last year when I watched far fewer shows, and though it was a bit trickier this time to weed out some very good performances and such, I think I'm happy with my choices. Of course, none of this matters because tomorrow the Television Academy will give a lot of nominations to "The Big Bang Theory" and "The Newsroom". Sorry, but it wouldn't be Emmy season without outrage and cynicism! If you're wondering what sort of ridiculousness you're in for after the break, you can take a look at my picks from last year, in which I just completely forgot to make picks in the Drama Lead Actor category. I suck.

After the break: Watch as I pad the miniseries categories by giving a lot of nominations to "American Horror Story" actors solely for their participation in the ridiculous but awesome "Name Game" scene. Plus, I only cheated twice!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Week 8 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

I regretfully present a late instalment of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV," an entry that heads in a number of different directions in the hopes of making a larger point about the series in question as a whole. It's a thing I tend to do sometimes. I hope it makes as much sense on paper (or...Internet, whatever) as it does in my brain.

After the break: Every damn time I wrote it as "Louis" and had to change it back to "Lois".

Friday, July 05, 2013

Week 7 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

Another week, another favourite episode. I feel like every week I think "Wow, I'm so happy I get to write about this episode because I think it's one of my favourites on the list," and then I remember what I'm doing and what the point of it is. Duh doy.

But seriously, this is one of my very favourites on the list. I'm fairly confident this is a top five contender, even though this list is in no particular order because narrowing down to 25 was hard enough. This turned out to be more of a piece on why this show works in contrast to lesser copycats, but I do touch on why this episode is great and all in all, I'm very happy with it. Also, new picture!

After the break: I managed to hold off a surprisingly long time before devolving this entry into unrelenting rage minor annoyance towards "The Event".

Friday, June 28, 2013

Week 6 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

We have arrived at one of my most favourite entries on this big list of favourites. Much like the "South Park" episode I wrote about a couple weeks back, I can't imagine this one will ever get old for me. You might even say that if we were playing "desert island," this would be one of my five episodes. (I would of course still agonize over the other four slots, though.)

After the break: Write down your guess as to how much of the episode's dialogue is transcribed below. Closest to the full percentage point wins a jar of jellybeans.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Week 5 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

Some real life drama didn't keep me from staying on track with "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV," but it did prevent from writing a whole lot about this week's selection. It's a brisk, 1,230-word read, though the more I think about it, the more I'm fairly certain this would have fallen into that category I described at the start of the project where I just list off the awesome scenes and talk about how awesome their awesomeness is anyway. Oh well - this episode rules and that's all I need to tell you. Much better analysis than I can provide can be found with a something search.

If you're noticing a recency bias, it's probably because I was born in 1993. Hopefully I'm not disappointing all two of my readers when I say that only one episode on this big list predates my birth.

After the break: Forgive any typos. Also, take a drink every time I use the word "just".

Friday, June 14, 2013

Week 4 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

On to week 4 of a project I'm calling "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV". This week, I'm not gonna say much up here except for, "God damn. This is exactly why I decided to do this."

After the break: If I'm not still laughing at this episode after 100 more viewings, I will be shocked.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Week 3 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

This was a fun one, probably because no one has ever seen or heard of this show before. Maybe it doesn't actually exist and it's just something I hallucinated in a Don Draper fever dream. Or a Don Draper meth high. Or a Don Draper hashish bender. No wait, I have pictures and video, so it must be real! Or maybe the video exists only on a YouTube that I hallucinated in a Don Draper fever dr- yeah, let's move on.

After the break: A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Week 2 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

Wow, what do you know? This project actually continues into a second week, and right on schedule. Last week we made the list's only check in on reality TV, and this week we look at - well I don't know what the hell you'd call it. But it's the episode on this list that aired the most recently, so there's that. Not really sure why I'm choosing to be so cryptic about this, because it's painfully obvious what's coming.

After the break: Because this blog sure needs another 1,800 words about this show. Spoilers ho.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Upfronts 2013: What's new, what's dead, and what's weird

     NBC unveiling "Revolution" at their May 2012 upfront.
     How'd that work out for ya?

I've been busy the last couple days trying to get a few weeks ahead on my 25 Favourites list, and I completely forgot to write anything about last week's upfronts, in which the major U.S. television networks unveil their fall schedules in front of advertisers in New York City. Some scheduling decisions intrigue me, some seem utterly ridiculous. Let's go network by network: all the fall shows are listed in bold and new shows will hyperlink to a trailer whenever one is available.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Kicking off "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

Today, I'm beginning a new series on this blog in which I write about my 25 favourite episodes of TV ever. I'm hoping that by starting this and trying to stick to a consistent schedule of one post every Friday, I will actually complete this project in 2013 like I've always intended since I thought up the idea back in the winter. I've looked over my list and I'm pretty happy with it, but if anything gets replaced between now and November I'll try to make a note of it. Also worth keeping in mind is that while I'll be talking about why these are good episodes, these are not reviews. I won't be surprised if a few of these write-ups are largely recaps full of funny jokes and moments and me saying something to the effect of "You guys, seriously, this episode" after each one. If that's the case, so be it - I will have effectively laid out why I like the episode. TL;DR: My blog, my rules.

Up first: I believe my only reality episode on this list. I'm probably going to hell. But I had fun on my way there!

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Review: MTV's "Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous" is great, as I breathe a heavy sigh of relief

     Zach Stone (Bo Burnham) sets up a shot on "Zach Stone
     Is Gonna Be Famous."
     Photo Credit: MTV

"Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous" premieres tonight at 10:30pm on MTV in the United States. In Canada, the show premieres Tuesday, May 7 at 10:30pm on MuchMusic.

Three or four years ago, a high school friend turned me on to the comedy of Bo Burnham, a lanky, awkward, teenaged theatre geek who first gained attention with original comedy songs he posted on YouTube like "My Whole Family" and "My Little Secret". As his popularity began to grow and his material matured, with songs even more complex and pun-filled like "New Math" and "Cookout," Burnham emerged as the poster child for late aughts Internet fame that would have been unheard of even five years prior. At 18, he became the youngest comedian to ever get his own Comedy Central standup special, and though he had plenty of critics tear him apart for his supposedly illegitimate use of music and rise through YouTube, he cemented his status as one of the most popular comedians of a burgeoning generation.

Burnham is a sort of perfect storm creation: no other comic had the same sharp writing and somewhat antagonistic stage presence, combined with his youth. It's a perfect energy to carry a television show, and I was thrilled when he and MTV announced in September 2010 that they were developing a comedy project.

The months went by. There was no news to report on the show's development. Burnham seemingly fell off the map in 2011, spending the better part of two and a half years touring, writing an hour of new material for an upcoming album, and creating "Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous". And as those newsless months became years, I started to have serious trepidations about this new show. When I found myself listening to tracks from his self-titled debut album or his follow up "Words, Words, Words," I often asked myself the same question:

"This Bo Burnham MTV show is gonna suck, isn't it?"

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Here's a fun thing I wrote about gender portrayals in the media

     If the Aerie Girls went to Neptune High, no doubt they
     would have tried their best to torment the kick-ass
     Veronica Mars.

The theme of the final assignment for the "Journalism and Social Change" course I just completed was simply "gender," which meant I was given another opportunity to get away with writing something fun for school. While catching up on "Veronica Mars" over the past several months, I came across some articles on The CW's dreadful "Aerie Girls" promotional campaign, and I used that as a launching pad to talk about some issues I've had with advertising lately. You can read the column I wrote here, and I would also encourage you to click here to read the features written by my friends and classmates. Or if you'd prefer, you can just click here and cringe at the vapidity of the Aerie Girls.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

How will NBC's unaired "Hannibal" episode affect the show's reputation?

     Hugh Dancy as Will Graham on "Hannibal".
     Photo Credit: NBC

Early last Monday (April 15), Bryan Fuller, the creator of the dark, disturbing, and excellent new series "Hannibal," approached NBC with a request not to air an upcoming episode of the series, which focuses on FBI profiler Will Graham and his experiences with a pre-imprisoned Dr. Hannibal Lecter from Thomas Harris' series of books and their film adaptations. The episode, entitled "Ceuf," features Molly Shannon playing a disturbed mother (who has lost her own child) kidnapping kids and then brainwashing them into murdering their families.

Most of "Hannibal's" 13 episode order was filmed last year, before the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. In light of the tragedy, Fuller was rightfully uncomfortable with the episode's "kids murdering other kids" subject matter and NBC agreed to skip over the episode. The announcement of the episode's removal from the North American market came last Thursday (April 18), and many sources initially reported (wrongly) that the Boston bombings last week were responsible for the shuffling. Most of these reports were later corrected, and NBC prepared to skip to episode five.

Small problem: while "Hannibal" does contain a case of the week (the Molly Shannon side of things), there's an ongoing arc involving the case from the pilot episode and how it has affected the main characters. Particularly, the unaired episode contains a good deal of development in the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and Abigail Hobbs, the victim of the pilot's antagonist. When critics were sent episodes to review earlier this month, they were sent episodes 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6, and in watching the "Previously on Hannibal" segment realized they had missed these developments from episode four. To help eliminate confusion, Fuller "cannibalized" the episode (haha, because you see, Hannibal Lecter...never mind) into six short webisodes, running in total for about 22 minutes. This way, fans could follow along with the arc in future episodes but not have to see whatever disturbing violent images (that were actually probably topped in episode five) from the case of the week.

While the episode has been eliminated from the U.S. and Canadian rotation, the full episode will still air overseas. AXN, a Sony-owned channel that holds the broadcast rights to the show in parts of Asia, aired the uncensored version of "Ceuf" earlier tonight in India and the rest of the continent is expected to see the episode on Tuesday. And because it's 2013, that means it won't be too long before the full version makes its way online.

Confused? You won't be after this week's episode of..."Hannibal!" (Actually, you might still be very confused. I wouldn't blame you.)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Catchup: 15-year-old Claire Danes stands out in the occasionally flat "My So-Called Life"

     Cast of "My So-Called Life," from L-R: Jared Leto, A.J.
     Langer, Wilson Cruz, Lisa Wilhoit, Devon Odessa, Claire
     Danes, and Devon Gummersall. Not pictured: Bess
     Armstrong, Tom Irwin.

The date? July 20, 1995. The location? Hollywood, California, where dreams go to die. The event: the Academy of Television Arts and Science's announcement of the 47th Primetime Emmy nominations. The category: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Round up the usual suspects: Angela Lansbury of "Murder, She Wrote"; Sherry Stringfield of "ER"; Kathy Baker of "Picket Fences"; and Cicely Tyson of "Sweet Justice".

The fifth name on that list? 15-year-old Claire Danes of "My So-Called Life," a low-rated show that had left ABC's airwaves in January after only 19 episodes. By God, did the Emmys just get something right? Was there actually a time when these awards were able to recognize quality and not fall into slumps in which the Outstanding Comedy Series trophy has gone to two shows in the last six years, each winning three in a row?

It happened. It happened as much as "My So-Called Life" being loosely adapted into a German sitcom that aired for six seasons in the early 2000s happened. But more importantly, a pretty great and tragically ignored TV show happened.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Slate's ultimately sexist "Guys on Girls" column fails to validate its existence

     Lena Dunham and Patrick Wilson on "Girls".
     Photo Credit: HBO

This essay was originally submitted as a web feature assignment for my "Journalism and Social Change" class on February 28. That piece was capped at 1,000 words, but the version I've included here is slightly longer (I excised some unnecessary critical blather that made it extremely obvious how badly I was getting away with writing about a TV show for a school assignment). I also got some excellent quotes from Mo Ryan at The Huffington Post that unfortunately came too late to be included in the piece (my fault for leaving it so late, as well as making the piece so long that I wouldn't have been able to fit her quotes in anyway). Probably fair to point out that Emily Nussbaum did have something nice to say about the guys' discussion of Adam and Natalia's bad thing in the "On All Fours" episode on March 10. As for the others, who knows if they have had a change of heart re: the "Guys on Girls" feature, or whether they've kept up with at all. I know Jaime Weinman said he wasn't reading it regularly when I asked about it.

General disgust after the jump...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

An open letter to Netflix

     Photo Credit: HBO

Dear Netflix,

My name's Brendan, and I'm one of millions of people who subscribe to your instant video service. I know there are about 28 million subscribers in the U.S., but I'm from Canada so I don't have an exact number to count myself among.

Let me begin by saying that I can feel the greed flowing through me as I type this. To ask anything of you right now seems ungrateful of me, because in May you will be providing me with 14 new episodes of "Arrested Development" that I never thought I would see. That should be more than enough. Your response to anyone asking you for anything at the moment, even basic tech support, should be, "Sorry, what's that? I can't hear you over the new 'Arrested Development' episodes we're giving you." And yet I do have something rather important to ask of you, and it's this:

Millions of years after mankind has died out, leaving the Earth nothing but a dust-collecting, burnt to a crisp ball of dried mud, what will be your legacy to humanity?

Monday, March 18, 2013

"Girls" - "Together": See you next fall

     Adam (Adam Driver) saves the day (I guess?) on "Girls".
     Photo Credit: HBO

I recently started watching "My So-Called Life" for the first time and I've been following along with Amelie Gillette's old-ish reviews on The A.V. Club. I haven't been as impressed with them as I have with some other things written for that site, but I do enjoy her reviews especially because she watched "My So-Called Life" when it originally aired on ABC back in 1994, and it provides her with an interesting perspective. Her review of the sixth episode, "The Substitute," notes that her opinion of it had largely changed over the years because upon first watching it as a student of creative writing, she felt it was an inaccurate depiction of the process - "I had an aversion to anything that made writing seem like something anyone could do if given an inspirational teacher and a few candles, as well as anything that reduced good creative writing to something that 'does better than make sense. It makes you feel,'" Gillette wrote.

I mention this because I'd like to highlight what I felt was the sole positive of the season two finale of "Girls" that aired this past Sunday (March 17) before I tear apart what was otherwise a disappointing conclusion to the season.

"Girls" has had its fun with Hannah's writing career this season (can I make one last mention of Murjashiway?) and as something of a writer myself, I can appreciate that the show doesn't attempt to portray it with any kind of glamour - I'm not sure how they would do that, but you get what I mean. I didn't necessarily love the story, but I did find her troubles amusing and thought that Lena Dunham got some Lena Dunham-y lines to read in her Lena Dunham-y delivery that were quite funny, such as telling her father that she was able to self-diagnose her scarlet fever by reading Louisa May Alcott. I would have probably really enjoyed an episode that was just a day in the life of Hannah the writer. Obviously "Girls" isn't the kind of show where she could have buckled down and cranked out her book in that one day, but I think I still would have enjoyed watching her fail at that rather than give up immediately and try to get her parents to bail her out as always (I know it's Hannah, but she should really learn how futile it is to ask them for money at this point).

We couldn't get that episode, however, because it was season finale time. Only this wasn't "She Did". It wasn't "Casino Night". It wasn't "Shut the Door. Have a Seat." Little to none of "Together" felt like it was happening organically, for any reason other than the show was going to be away for awhile and some things needed to be brought to a close. The Shoshanna and Ray breakup we all knew was coming happened, but wasn't brought about by any new developments in this episode. They might as well have broken up in any of the last two or three episodes, because in the interim we saw the same beats of Shoshanna realizing what a crummy relationship that was that we only needed to see once (probably in the Radhika episode where she makes out with the doorman).

I was also extremely disheartened by the end of the Marnie arc this year. Marnie has been making an ass of herself in front of Charlie all year and it's been at times quite painful, and at times quite funny (often both). But that arc doesn't end with her and Charlie together in a happy relationship where she's ready to have his brown babies. It ends with Marnie realizing that Charlie is making her do stupid things that she shouldn't be doing because he's just Charlie and she's not a good or prosperous person when she's around him. I had enjoyed this arc through the preceding nine episodes and was happy that character was given more to do than the first season made Allison Williams seem capable of. I trusted the writers to give her the wake up call she needed by the season's end, and they didn't give it to her. Marnie is just as much a screwup as Hannah in her own right, but she doesn't deserve that kind of shaft. If anything, I'd like to selfishly find some weird way for Christopher Abbott to return to "Enlightened" as a regular for season 3 (which, psh, is totally happening, duh) so that the temptation of Charlie can be eliminated for her altogether.

And while I was slightly amused by Hannah's earlier misadventures in writing, her final scene with Adam left me very confused about that relationship as well and what the show was telling me about them. I get that Adam is the person in Hannah's life who tells her to keep away from the broken glass, but I neither understood nor felt the apparent triumph or heroism that was him running shirtless all the way to her apartment through Facetime. I think the takeaway was supposed to be that in the end, Adam's a good guy and he's the one person she can really count on no matter what she might otherwise feel about him. But to me that's such a bleak statement about their relationship ("At least Hannah has one person she can always count on...oh, but it's...Adam") that I think sells short a lot of their history and the things that make them their most interesting when paired together.

To me, it felt like a strangely sad appropriate capper to a season that's seen higher highs and lower lows than the show saw in 2012. This season gave us some really tremendous episodes like the "Louie"-esque adventures "One Man's Trash" and "Video Games". But as good as those half hour standalones are, they're really detrimental to the overall arc of the season. There were 10 episodes in total, but only seven or eight of them lived within any kind of story continuity, a short amount of time to develop a plot on a television show ("Veep," the former neighbours of "Girls," produced only eight episodes for their first season and wisely opted out of any attempts at a running arc last year). That means when it's time to wrap everything up, it's hard to tie everything up in a nice bow the way a delicate show like "Girls" needs to.

I'm hoping the third season, which will consist of 12 episodes, will let them have their cake and eat it too by writing outstanding standalone episodes that don't cut into time that could be better spent on fleshing out and concluding the 2014 adventures of Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna. In the meantime, I'm okay with "Girls" taking a bit of a breather to refocus - if need be, possibly get a whiff of a few candles.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Girls" - "On All Fours": Can't get much wronger

     Marnie (Allison Williams) in the midst of the worst
     decision she's ever made.
     Photo Credit: HBO

Something happened on "Girls" this past Sunday (March 10) that I don't think has ever happened before: part way through the title card, the logo changed colour. When it first appeared, it was pink on a purple background, then transitioned to green on a yellow background. According to colour theory, pink evokes feelings of immaturity and silliness, but also of nurturing and unconditional love. Green suggests self-reliance, but also an unhealthy possessiveness.

I didn't look into previous title card colours as they aired, and I don't have the time to do it now. Who knows whether Dunham and co. ever take the logo colour into consideration. But the actual changing of those specific colours in this episode doesn't seem accidental. "On All Fours" was a fairly natural extension from last week, where we revisited Hannah's onset OCD in a much more horrifying form (personally, I'm pretty squeamish about things being done to my ears so that whole story was hard to watch). We knew from last week that Adam having a girlfriend would make its way back to Hannah at some point, and she took it about as embarrassingly as she could have, trying to think up reasons to like her only knowing her first name and nearly crying when Adam calls her "kid". Shoshanna continued to have no clue what she wanted out of her relationship with Ray other than knowing that she wanted it, which made it all the more disheartening for her to hear Ray described as an asshole by nature. I know the whole point of that relationship is that nothing about it makes sense and there's really nothing to it, but I'm starting to find it uninteresting and I hope there's some more serious development on that front in next week's finale.

I recently mainlined all 18 episodes of "Enlightened," which has its own cringeworthy moments. But show me the most hard-to-watch moment of "Enlightened" and I will show you Marnie singing "Stronger" at Charlie's party, which is maybe the most excruciating but simultaneously hilarious sequence ever televised. In fact, this was a really funny episode despite how dark things got at times. Hannah telling her parents about the 12-15 very close friends she had was a classic Lena Dunham delivery, and pretty much everything happening at Charlie's party (especially the douchebag talking about how restaurants are just a part of him and Shoshanna's reaction) was hysterical. Even as bad as things got between Adam and Natalia, Adam Driver got to work in some good physical comedy in their dance scenes.

So let's talk about Adam and Natalia and the thing she really didn't like, possibly the most excruciating and not at all hilarious sequence ever televised. Credit where credit is due, the show went for it. Nothing about this show is whitewashed, so why start with rape? The "too far" moment for me was the actual shot of Adam's semen. When you're paying a monthly fee to subscribe to HBO, you expect sex, nudity, and violence as a compensation. But I think I still would have understood just how horrifying that was without the borderline pornographic "evidence". If we're choosing to read into the logo colour, it seems like any break Natalia will be making from Adam will be as clean as the one Hannah made from him. I might have a better idea of where this would be headed in a 12 episode season, but with only 30 more minutes to go, my guess is as good as yours.

Season two of "Girls" ends this coming Sunday. Here's hoping I handle the breakup better than Marnie.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Review: HBO's "Enlightened" is the best show you've never heard of

     Laura Dern as Amy Jellicoe in "Enlightened"
     Photo Credit: HBO

Since around its eighth season, Comedy Central's "South Park" has been known particularly for its sharp cultural satire. That isn't to say the show never did satirical episodes before that, mocking suburban life and celebrity culture - many consider the Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez skewering "Fat Butt and Pancake Head" from the seventh season to be the show's best episode. But Trey Parker and Matt Stone see season eight as the point where the show stopped being just an aimlessly wandering cartoon devoid of any law or precedent and started being the show whose six-day turnaround gave them television's first crack at a takedown of current events.

One of the seemingly less beloved episodes of "South Park," season 12's "Britney's New Look," was a dark examination of celebrity and tabloid culture through a story in which the boys, trying to sell a picture of Britney Spears to the paparazzi, push her to the breaking point as she puts a gun in her mouth and pulls the trigger. Spears survives the attempted suicide, despite the fact that she is now missing most of her head. And through the remainder of the episode, the boys attempt to help revitalize her career to no avail as Spears' critics continue to nitpick flaws in her appearance and vocals, barely registering that there's nothing above the flapping mouth that she can no longer speak out of. The episode's plot and themes pay homage to Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," a good reminder that "South Park" apparently didn't learn to distance itself from esoteric parodies following their disastrous "Great Expectations" takeoff "Pip".

In the DVD commentary track for "Britney's New Look," Parker and Stone acknowledge that the episode's bleak and unattractive shell are off-putting to the audience, making it difficult for fans to appreciate the intended message. Specifically, Parker mentions that such an episode is one in a handful of episodes through the years of "South Park" that requires the full trust and acceptance of the viewer. You're either on the train or you're not, and if you're not, it's gonna be a 22 minute bummer.

HBO's "Enlightened" asks something similar of its viewers. It's a half hour show, but like so many of those on premium cable, it isn't really a comedy outside of awards purposes (its comedic moments are really limited to Timm Sharp's Dougie). Yet it's not quite a drama, because everything happening is so wonderfully ridiculous. "Dramedy" is a word that never had any positive meaning and yet has somehow lost all meaning, especially when you see things like the "Silver Linings Playbook" ad where Bradley Cooper explains that the movie is both "a drama and a comedy, much like life". This show defies classification like no other unique show that has come before it. Co-creator Mike White extended his hand and said "Come with me and I'll show you something awesome. Just trust me." And unless you were expecting highlights of his time on "The Amazing Race," he delivered.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

"Girls" - "It's Back": No one can hear you scream

     Peter Scolari, Lena Dunham, and Becky Ann Baker on "Girls".
     Photo Credit: HBO

We've all had a person in our life who is either a horrible influence or brings out the worst in us. In some cases, we don't tend to realize this about that person until they're gone from our lives. They weren't necessarily trying to push the dime bag closer to us and asking us whether or not we want to be cool, but they do behave and think in a way that is, below the surface, ultimately toxic. The behaviour seems so normal that outside perspective is the only way to finally realize what a mess that person is.

Countless TV shows have dealt with the trope of a protagonist reuniting with an old friend. "How I Met Your Mother" depicted a phenomenon known as "revertigo" in an episode where the presence of Lily's high school friend reactivates her urban slang. In fact, most shows that tackle this subject are comedies depicting a humorous personality clash in the former friends. I always enjoyed the way that "Freaks and Geeks" handled the pseudo-fallout between Lindsay and Millie because of its complexities. Lindsay knew creatively and spiritually that Millie and the geeks were not going to bring out her full potential, but she also realized academically and sensibly that Millie was a positive influence, and that made it difficult to constantly reject her. And because Millie is too nice and believes she can bring Lindsay back from the dark side, she always welcomes Lindsay back to her with open arms, trying to do whatever she can to help her. Sunday (March 3) night's "Girls" gave us the opposite, in that almost every main character is confronted with the person or people who are their biggest impediment to success. And in a way, even the title "It's Back" could suggest that these people are akin to horror movie villains, back to finish the job they don't realize they were drafted for.

Shoshanna is just beginning to find some kind of stable adult life with Ray when her old friend and party girl Radhika (like "30 Rock," "Girls" appreciates the funniness of funny names) reappears. Radhika isn't pushing that lifestyle on her, but in reflecting on her recent progress, Shoshanna realizes that regardless of whether or not this was a life she at one time wanted or wanted to feel comfortable with, it certainly isn't any longer. Yes, Shoshanna ends the night confused as ever about her feelings for Ray, but it was hard to do worse than Marnie, who once again makes a complete ass of herself in front of Charlie. Marnie knows exactly what's wrong with her. She just thinks those things are either Charlie's fault or flaws of Charlie himself. But...progress! Right? (Yeah...we'll see.)

By all means, Hannah isn't capable of taking care of herself, but her parents (the always great Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari) aren't doing her any favours by dragging her to a pediatrician to cure her onset obsessive compulsive disorder (which...weird right? It's never been my understanding that OCD comes and goes, but who knows). It wasn't a terribly gripping storyline, at least not with the track record "Girls" has had with the Hannah character, but it featured some good work by Lena Dunham and the previously mentioned Baker and Scolari (and hey look, HBO favourite Bob Balaban!) and was an interesting counterbalance to what seemed to be the episode's major story.

I was not impressed with the direction Adam was taken early in the season, as it seemed a lot of the work done to humanize him in the end of the first season was being undone because of the mistaken belief that a creepier Adam is a funnier Adam. I enjoyed the Adam and Ray scenes in "Boys," but Adam's dinner date with Natalia was the first time all season the character really intrigued me. Natalia's stories about working as a decoy for a private investigator made me wish that that had been the outcome of the date instead simply because it would be hilariously tragic, but I'm much more interested in seeing a happy Adam, and no one has any reason to sick a PI on him.

Not their best episode, but one that exhibits promise for the season's remaining two weeks.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Stay tuned: The past 24 years of the Super Bowl lead out show

     The 1996 "Friends" episode "The One After the Superbowl"
     is still the most watched Super Bowl lead out show ever.

Here’s the thing about not being a professional: you’ve got to make sure real life is taken care of first before you commit to what you’re passionate about. And with that in mind, I present to you an examination of Super Bowl lead out shows in March.

The question that seems to constantly perplex the networks is, “What makes a successful, and hopefully good, lead out show?” Just because a network figures something out one year, doesn’t mean it can be emulated for their next Super Bowl year, or even the next calendar year.

So for no real reason other than me liking lists, I decided to take a look at the last two decades of lead out shows (1990-present), arbitrarily put them into “great,” “good,” “bad,” and “ugly” columns, and talk about where and why things went right or wrong. At the end, we’ll regroup and talk about what we’ve learned and what the postgame slot might go to next year.

Monday, February 25, 2013

"Girls" - "Video Games": Continue?

     Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) enjoy a
     home-cooked meal on "Girls".
     Photo Credit: HBO

Okay, let's run through some of the contradictory things I've written about "Girls" over the past few weeks:

I claimed "One Man's Trash" to be my favourite episode of the series, citing a preference for "Hannah Show" episodes like "The Return" from season 1. The week after, I praised "Boys" for putting new characters together like Adam and Ray, and I finally considered the cast to be an ensemble the show would be best served to use. Not only did I write that I preferred a sort of "all or Hannah" approach to the cast, but this week's episode featured Hannah and one other main cast member, like most of the episodes this season have, and I thought it was terrific.

And a few weeks back, I wrote about the ultimately toxic relationship between Hannah and Jessa, even if they have their moments of clarity and understanding. And now after Sunday (February 24) night's episode "Video Games," I'm going to revise that statement if not rescind it completely.

Hannah and Jessa are in very few ways similar people. As Hannah points out when first arriving, Jessa and her father speaking in their heavy accents made her feel like they were speaking different languages. When Jessa offers Hannah supposed words of wisdom about how her life will never get any better than it is right now, it's clear how little Jessa understands Hannah and an episode like tonight proves how bad Jessa is at showing Hannah she cares about her. Jessa has never had a good relationship with a parental figure, as we saw in her breakdown with her dad (Jemima Kirke. Emmy nomination. Now please.), so it's not surprising that Hannah yelling "slow down!" from the backseat of their speeding car is off-putting to her. The last thing Jessa wants in a friend is another parent. But the things that bring the two of them together are not just straws they grasp at to keep their friendship alive - Jessa is not the kind of person who would pretend to be friends with anyone -  they're reminders why they are friends and why they enjoy each other's company when they can spend a lot of time not having the time of day for each other. As Aimee Mann's "How Am I Different?" plays over the end credits, I'm left wondering why I ever thought this relationship was on life support.

We had spent the early part of the season seeing only glimpses of Jessa, and I convinced myself we were ramping up to crazy Jessa/Thomas John antics late in the season. Thomas John is gone, but Jessa and Johansson family insanity were in full swing tonight. With a character like Jessa, a good origin story (not exactly the correct use of that term, but you get what I mean) is essential but almost guaranteed to be a letdown. Because Jessa leads such a ridiculously misguided life, a plot synopsis describing a visit to her parents makes me think, "Oh wow, Jessa's parents! She's so screwed up, this is gonna be good!" And surprisingly, it really, really was. Ben Mendelsohn and Rosanna Arquette (playing "Petula," which is a pretty funny name but not as good as Murjashiway) brought some hilarious quirks to their roles and I had no reservations believing those three as a family. On a side note, actor Nick Lashaway played Frank, and I spent most of my viewing being very frustrated that I couldn't place where I knew him from. (The IMDB tells me I recognize him as one of the teenage boys at the health clinic that Steve Carell takes Kat Dennings to in "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and as one of Michael's co-workers at his telemarketing job in the "Money" episode of "The Office".) Note to self: attempting to mentally cut a character's bad haircut isn't very helpful in trying to place the actor in a previous role.

Like "One Man's Trash," "Video Games" was a "Louie"-esque short story that ignores any sense of continuity from episodes that precede it. But what "Girls" does so well is it does use episodes like that to establish continuity for later episodes. I have no idea where we're headed next with Jessa, and I won't be surprised if we don't see her again this season.

I'd like to say this is my new favourite episode of the series, but I feel like I will say that three to five times a season with a show like this. So just know that I actually preferred this to "One Man's Trash," and I won't replace my favourite episode week after week. If "Louie" won't be back for another year, then I am perfectly happy to accept short film episodes of "Girls" as a worthy placeholder.