I've been meaning to talk about Showtime's new show, Episodes, but I wanted to wait until I got a better sense of the show as a whole. In the interim I watched a show starring David Cross that premiered on IFC in October, The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret, and realized that the two shows raise some really interesting comparisons. So, here we go, two shows at once!
Episodes is about a married British writing team who come to LA to help produce an American adaptation of their BAFTA-winning show, Lyman's Boys. The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret (hereafter known as TIPDOTM or simply Todd Margaret) is about an unqualified temp who gets sent to England to sell a toxic energy drink called Thunder Muscle when his company gets taken over by Brent Wilts (Will Arnett), the loudest, angriest, douchiest guy you're ever going to meet. Both shows find humor in these classic fish-out-of-water scenarios, where expectations and long-held stereotypes are tromped on all over the place. However, even just three episodes in, I can tell that Episodes is already much funnier and much better put-together than TIPDOTM has any hopes of being.
I'm not sure how many times I've had to repeat that to people whom I'm trying to convince to watch the show. Even fans of The Office often balk when faced with the similarly-formatted comedy, citing rip-offs or it simply being too similar. But really, the format is the only real similarity. Oh sure, it takes place in a workspace and has a cast of quirky characters, but P&R deals with small-town government, which is a completely different world than private sector business, and you can find quirky characters in any ensemble comedy ever. SO - quit your griping and join me in celebrating just what makes Parks And Recreation unique.
I grew up in a time when NBC's Must-See TV Thursday night line-up was booming; Friends and Will & Grace were hugely popular in addition to being at the top of their game, and the block of comedy was followed by a not-yet-irrelevant ER. This was the time that NBC would like to see return ("Make it 1997 again by magic or science"). As a result, Thursday nights just feel like comedy night to me. So, while I am saddened and angered by the NBC/Comcast merger that will most likely guarantee that episodes like last night's 30 Rock will never make it to the air, I am so, so happy to see the shuffling off of the blight that was Outsourced to a timeslot no one will watch and the return of Parks & Recreation to its rightful Thursday night spot. I'll be writing another post about Parks & Rec as a whole, but for now I want to focus on last night's funny in particular.
Well, I was going to write about Downton Abbey, which I watched last weekend and it is fabulous; you should all check it out. Anyone who loved Gosford Park will enjoy this show, it's created by the guy who wrote that movie, Julian Fellowes, and takes place around approximately the same time. Superb acting by everyone involved including, yes, Dame Maggie Smith. But since everyone and their mom is talking about it now (and honestly, Pop Culture Happy Hour is starting to get supremely on my nerves because I care not for comic books, musicals, The Bachelor, or the pretentious way they dismiss Seth Rogen), I want to talk a little about awards season.
Tonight is the Golden Globes, and while I would watch if I could (the Golden Globes being one of the more fun awards show; they should just call it Drunk Celebrities Say They Damndest Things), I do not currently have a TV. So I'll have to check out highlights online tomorrow, which is totally fine with me.
I started watching awards shows when I was 12 and Titanic won everything (except an Oscar for my love, Leo) and I haven't really stopped since. However, my interest has dropped off steeply in the past couple years as movies have taken a turn for the worse. How on earth anybody could believe that No Country For Old Men, possibly the most boring and ultimately pointless movie I've ever seen, deserves a Best Picture award is far, far beyond me. You may think, Hey, but I liked that movie! No, you didn't. You were just told that you should. But even beyond that, I just find myself having little to no interest in seeing most of the movies. And I love movies! I love movies that are beautiful and that make me laugh and that are poignant and artfully written - and they don't even have to do all three at once. But those movies are never the ones that win, unless they're Return Of The King. Seriously, Scott Pilgrim was probably the best movie of last year, but good luck competing against Toy Story 3 ("Let's turn a fun romp into something incredibly dark and irredeemably threatening!") or True Grit (surprise, surprise, the Coen brothers make a western with a single strong female character - and it's a remake) or Black Swan, which I still haven't seen because I don't care about (a) scary ballerinas or (b) Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis making out because (c) Natalie Portman gets on my nerves like nobody's business, and she wears boring dresses. See, the lack of nominated movies that I want to see makes me care only about the clothes (I fully admit that I am a red carpet addict - but finding the right host is key; I dig Ryan Seacrest, but Giulana Rancic makes me want to jump into my TV and bludgeon her about her fat-hating self with a crystal clutch). I mean, a horribly sexist and mostly inaccurate movie about FUCKING FACEBOOK of all things will probably win best picture. This is a time to not care about movies and instead loudly judge the work of crappy stylists.
But that's one of the things that is so great about the Golden Globes! I mean, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are a bunch of crack smokers that will get things totally right one minute and then completely wrong the next, but at least there's some recognition for awesome television, which has almost entirely surpassed film in terms of quality, that isn't from the fucking Emmys. And its fun to see all the television actors and movie actors in one place, which doesn't really happen otherwise. Plus, for the second year, the Golden Globes will be hosted by Ricky Gervais, who, as we all know, doesn't hold back on being either straightforwardly biting or funny. And since the Oscars will be hosted for some unimaginable reason by Anne fucking Hathaway, the GGs really should be awesome. Mad Men FTW all the way!
To prepare yourself for this most nonsensical of seasons, you might want to go watch For Your Consideration, the movie Christopher Guest made a few years ago about what can happen to actors with a little Oscar buzz. It was, for no good reason, almost completely ignored by critics, probably for a similar reason as the neglect of I'm Still Here - it completely took to task the Hollywood machine and the culture that celebrates talent but abhors flaws of any sort. Yes, Catherine O'Hara actually did that to her face, and although it was all temporary, shows some serious commitment to her art - not only to acting, but also satire. That link will take you to Netflix; they put it on instant streaming just in time for awards season.
So, there might be some bitching around these parts about who won what and who was completely overlooked, but when it comes to movies I don't particularly care anymore. Hollywood needs to change things up and recognize the unexpectedly deserving instead of continuing the sad, dull circle-jerk they've got going on.
I just watched the Joaquin Phoenix/Casey Affleck documentary(?), "I'm Still Here. This is what I am feeling about it.
"I'm Not Here" is a little like "Inception". Whether or not it's real is both up to the viewer and, ultimately, inconsequential. What is undoubtedly authentic about the film is how quickly the Hollywood machine will turn on someone who refuses to go along with The Way Things Are Done. However, since Joaquin has done no acting or, to my knowledge, public appearances, since, in my opinion there is no reason to doubt that his actions and emotions are anything but authentic, even if the film may be, in some ways, scripted.
It is a tragic story, but one that serves to illustrate to what extent the players in Hollywood are in collusion with each other. I'm pretty convinced that the reason "I'm Not Here" didn't get much critical recognition is because of how completely it reveals the cruel flaws in the media system. Yes, there are occasionally drugs involved, and yes, Joaquin's brother River died of a drug overdose. But why? Because they were both put in a position where no one is telling them not to? Because they are troubled souls whose fragility informs their art but plagues their life? Who really knows. What we do know is that for a celebrity to break out of their assigned box and try to do something different when faced with nothing but mockery and criticism can be life-alteringly difficult.
"You're my children, and I love you, but you're all terrible at what you do...here."
H. Jon Benjamin has me rethinking the way I feel about cartoons. First came Archer, where he voiced a rather incompetent spy, accompanied by Jessica Walter, Chris Parnell and Aisha Tyler. Now, with the premiere of Bob's Burgers (8:30 Sundays on Fox), he's done it again.
Benjamin plays the title character, and although the additional voice work (especially that done by two of my Flight Of The Conchords favorites, Kristen Schaal and Eugene Mirman) is quite good, Bob is the glue that holds the family and the show together. The writing is sharp, just bordering on offensive - not in the Family Guy way where the mere fact that you're offended is supposed to inspire laughter, but in the good way, where you laugh because it's funny, and then feel slightly guilty afterwards.
But - and it's hard to write about something as ephemeral as a voice - Benjamin's voice is what makes me sure that I'll be tuning in for at least the next few weeks. It's a funny show, but his delivery takes it just beyond funny to classic. It's telling that Benjamin can voice both the smooth, good-looking Archer and Bob, the schlubby father of three, with both characters working to a pitch-perfect degree. It's not just that his voice is mellifluous, which it is, but also that it's got this dry tone to it...I really can't describe it. His voice. Is awesome. And that's all you really need to know.
And, ok, Kristen Schaal is doing some heavy lifting as the precocious youngest child, Louise, but each character does bring something special to the mix. All in all, an extremely strong pilot, and they should be proud of themselves for getting me invested in a cartoon that isn't The Simpsons or South Park. Watch it now!
And if that just whet your appetite for more H. Jon Benjamin, go check out Archer before the new season starts. Last time I checked you could stream them on Netflix...
*the sound of clock tower chimes plays on a cassette tape boombox*
It is time. Time to talk about Community, the little comedy that could.
So, what is Community even about, Girl?
Community is a show about a community college called Greendale that is ostensibly set in Colorado, but it definitely never snows there. Although Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) is the Theoretical Main Character (TMC), it is absolutely an ensemble comedy, with each character (including Dean Pelton (Jim Rash), Senor Chang (Ken Jeong), and Professor Ian Duncan (John Oliver)) filling a key role. The main action centers around a study group that is so diverse it includes "one of every kind," as the diversity-obsessed Dean remarks upon entering. The show follows the study group (and the Dean and various Professors) as they pass time each semester, searching for the easy classes and struggling to maintain their personal identities as they all face various comedic crises. Sounds awesome, right? Before we go any further into the show as a whole, I want to delve into each individual character.
(Dean Pelton's voice blasts over the PA, announcing there will be continued announcements) "I like it. It makes every ten minutes feel like the beginning of the new scene of a TV show - of course the illusion only lasts until someone says something they'd only say on TV, like, how much their life is like TV. There - it's gone."
Just as Jeff is the Theoretical Main Character (TMC) of Community, I have friends who believe that Abed (played with comedic brilliance by Danny Pudi) is the Actual Main Character. I don't agree - to me, Community really is an ensemble piece - but I do believe that Abed is the heart and soul of the show. Although he's never reveals it explicitly, it is understood that Abed has Asperger's, and that before coming to Greendale he had immense trouble making personal connections and being understood, even by his own family. Dan Harmon, the show's creator, mentions in the commentaries that Abed has a large Asperger's fan base - people with the syndrome appreciate the positive representation that doesn't focus on the negatives but instead presents a complicated, brilliant, and well-rounded character who has "self-esteem coming out [his] butt". It doesn't hurt that he's hilarious. Within minutes of the pilot beginning, Jeff tells Abed, "I see your value now," and Abed replies, "That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me." When, by the end of the episode, those lines are reversed, the viewer really sees Abed's true value - as a shaman who will give you soup, yes, but also as an unlikely mentor and guide for Jeff. Because he is an incredible observer, Abed is able to offer the best advice and insight on emotional and interpersonal issues that he may struggle with himself.
Ok guys, I know I've been absent, but even bloggers need to take a vacation sometimes (and I can't say that day I spent watching almost all of Arrested Development Season 2 was wasted). But now I'm BACK, and the new year will bring lots of wonderful stuff from Girl Glows Green: Parks & Recreation returns, Episodes (with Matt LeBlanc) and Mr. Sunshine (with Matthew Perry) are gonna be starting soon, and of course, my giant Community post is on the way. I finished watching the commentaries over winter break and now am just waiting for the giant chunk of time I call the weekend to sit down and hammer it out. But FO REALZ it should be up by next week.
The new year of shows has already started, and How I Met Your Mother turned out a bang-up episode, with NPH doing a great job as Barney's chill doppelganger. BUT then it ended tragically in a way that I can't really deal with and don't want to write about, so I might take the week off next week from HIMYM. Tragedy and sitcoms only mix when there's funny and sad at the same time. All sad, with people sobbing and whatnot, just brings us all down from the escapism of television.
But this should cheer you up! From the minds that brought you PaceyCon, here's a lovely little tidbit that shows, once again, why Dawson's Creek and the actors therein are awesome. Well, except Katie Holmes. Apparently Funny Or Die realized the greatness of this and are having a whole VanDerWeek over there with a new video every day. Anyway, I've been laughing at crying Dawson for years! And then some genius decided to make it into a gif. If I knew how to make gifs I'd make a whole glossary of Creek gifs, because they're just that awesome.