Monthly Archives: January 2016

My Favorite Shows of 2015, Part 3

Reviews are an odd art form in the age of spoilerphobia. It’s a near impossible task to describe why something is good without really describing it. A moment in a show can be really good, and you can describe all the things that make it awesome to help make a case as to why a show is worth watching. But then you might spoil an important plot point. It’s easier and harder with comedy. With comedy, you’re less likely to spoil something important, but then your delivery will always be inferior to the actual funny moment. Anyway, it means I have no idea what I’m doing when I’m describing these shows and then saying they’re worth watching. I probably should’ve written them to myself as if I was reminding myself why I loved the show.

Community / Parks and Rec

These shows both ended this year. The seasons were great and had their funny moments, but overall, they didn’t match the peaks. Community had to deal with another cast member leaving (Shirley), after they had already lost Troy and Pierce. In season five, I really enjoyed the addition of Jonathan Banks as Buzz Hickey, the surly criminology professor. When he handcuffed Abed to the cabinet, I liked how tense those scenes were, and how we got to see the darker side of Abed. His character had a weight to it, as if he already had a full backstory. Season six added two new cast members who both had great, funny moments, and knocked it out of the park, but I didn’t feel like they had the same weight as before. Keith David’s unceremonious good-bye kind of summed it up. It didn’t feel special or all that emotional, but it was still great and perfect in its own way. Season six, having moved to yahoo screen, was given more space, some of which was used on wacky, out-there post-credit endings, like the one with the Japanese kid pranking the Dean. Those were actually some of my favorite scenes in season six, but that’s kind of unfortunate when I really enjoyed the chemistry between the characters in previous seasons. I felt like losing so many cast members was just too much to overcome, and there wasn’t enough natural conflict between them. Yet the season was still streets ahead of gas-leak season four. What I liked about season five was the bitterness behind it and the fuck-you’s to season four. Season six was a little more mellow. But overall, it was a great good-bye to the characters we loved. It dealt with it the only way it could, meta to the end, trying to see how the show could stretch to further seasons and knowing that it couldn’t. We couldn’t have another season artificially keeping these characters together. It resisted shipping Annie and Jeff. It was fitting, and we got the best season of Community we could considering the circumstances. Definitely worth watching if you’ve loved the show from the beginning, I think. Every season, I wanted Community back, but I made peace with it ending, happy with what I got, but sad there wasn’t more. It kept rising from the dead. Season six wrapped it up, and I felt like I made peace with it ending, but on the show’s terms. It didn’t need to rise from the dead anymore. I don’t even need the movie.

Parks and Rec I felt had a little more success. The time-jump helped keep it a little fresher, and provided a great avenue for silly jokes about the future (especially the pop-culture stuff from Aziz’s character). (Footnote: Sorry, I switch back and forth haphazardly between character names and actor names.) The previous season or so felt like it was running out of steam, kind of running out of new stories to tell with these amazing characters. The last episode had flash-forwards showing us what happened with all the characters. It tied it all up and was super satisfying, especially with the hints that Leslie was president. The most optimistic show didn’t undercut it. I loved that this show existed and I’m happy I got to watch it.

It’s sad that both these shows, two all-time great sitcoms, are done. I thought the sitcom was dead, but then there’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine and You’re the Worst to fill the void.

Master of None

There isn’t really a thematic way to link this show with those two previous shows. The only real link is Aziz Ansari, a very talented comedian with a unique voice.

When the show won a Critics’ Choice award, Alan Yang said, “Thank you to all the straight white guys who dominated movies and TV so hard, and for so long, that stories about anyone else seem kind of fresh and original.” That about sums up why you should watch the show. It tells different stories (and feels fresh, compared to everything else on TV.) The second episode is particularly good, telling the stories of two characters’ immigrant parents. It also felt good to feel represented, as a child of an immigrant.

It’s great to see these shows, and if you wanted to be wrong, you could make an argument about progress. In Seinfeld, some Asians have obviously fake accents played for comedic effect. In Parks and Rec, Aziz gest to be part of the main cast but is still a more secondary character. In Master of None, he’s the main character and gets to critique what Seinfeld did. Representation is getting better. You could also point to Community where Troy and Shirley are main characters in an ensemble class, which is a step up from having just one black person or black people only as side characters. And then in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, we get perhaps a more diverse cast, with two Latina women and two black men (one gay) as part of the main cast. But black representation was better before on TV, and then blacks practically disappeared from sitcoms. That we can have shows with unique views doesn’t mean those unique views won’t disappear. So watch these shows, promote these shows, discuss these shows, and if they’re good, make sure that networks know that we want more shows like them.

The 100, Season 3, Episode 1

I’m watching The 100 and I want to write about it. So, here we go. These won’t be recaps. More like disjointed thoughts. Spoilers ahead, yo. Spoilers be here, yar.

Bellamy does the voiceover instead of Clarke in the intro. I guess that means that Bellamy is now less likely to be a main character to bite the dust, but who knows with this show. Maybe they’ll rotate the voiceover? But it seems like Bellamy makes more narrative sense than Clarke. This show owes so much to BSG, and you can hear the influence with the music. The biggest influences on The 100 are Lost and BSG, but it’s Lost and BSG in a post-Game of Thrones world. So, main characters can die. (Well, main characters on Lost and BSG died too, I guess, but the line between death and life was much more blurred on those shows.) And we have the map in the intro, which is definitely influenced by the Game of Thrones intro. I tried to see what was going on with the map, but I suck at geography, so I’m not going to bother, sorry.

It took two viewings to try to figure out wtf is going on with ALIE. Well, actually, I still don’t really know what is going on, but I figured out a little more. While Murphy is in the bunker, we learn that ALIE’s creator isn’t the dude who shot himself, but instead Becca. ALIE models her avatar after her creator. What we don’t know is why the lighthouse dude let ALIE out, or why she was put away (perhaps her homicidal tendencies?). In the lighthouse, two other guys show up, and they’re also there in the avatar sequence. (But Becca isn’t in the lighthouse during the bombing.) So, Becca had some buddies help her with ALIE? She seemed closest to the guy who killed himself. Maybe Becca locks ALIE up, then dies, and the other dude wants to see Becca again, so he lets out ALIE? It’s impossible to know at this stage.

We also know that ALIE wanted to improve life, but she thought there were too many people. I suspect Becca programmed her with that prime directive, but we don’t know what she thought about the rest. Given that ALIE was “let out,” we can probably gather that Becca did the trapping, and didn’t approve of some of what ALIE was doing.

What’s the City of Light? Jaha says it’s real. It seems to be some kind of digital thing. ALIE’s conversation at the end of season 2 let’s us know that synthetic and biological consciousness are basically the same thing in this universe. Jaha is in a meditative pose and ALIE tells Murphy that Jaha is “in” the City of Light. Perhaps his consciousness goes to this digital place. Is it networked? Or is it just in your head? Of course, maybe it’s not a real place and it’s more like a drug.

When they locked Murphy up, it must’ve been because of the dangerous work they were doing converting a bomb to an energy source. (Okay good, she doesn’t seem to want to murder the rest of humanity… yet…?) But what is it powering? They wanted to complete the work ALIE started with her creator, but what was that work? It has to be something beyond just that prime directive, right? Why do they need so much power? Was it to manufacture that weird crystal thing that Jaha gave Murphy? How many of those things exist?

Also, did the City of Light exist before Jaha got there and helped with the power source? I have to imagine it did to convince Jaha to help out, and to recruit all the mutants. And to not only help out, but to be a die-hard Kool-Aid drinker, who thinks that ALIE was justified in murdering everyone in a nuclear holocaust. (Sometimes you have to sacrifice the many to save the few?)

Jaha says that in the City of Light there’s no pain, no hate, no envy. He also says that in the City of Light, we’re all kings, and the outside world doesn’t matter. I suppose the show will address what makes someone a human through this storyline. Murphy replies that pain, hate, and envy are the “ABC’s of me” and that if you take them away, then there’s nothing left of him. If you take away all the bad stuff, maybe there’s no humanity either?

They brought back Emori, but at first I was confused by who she was. I thought maybe she was the person that jacked all their shit in the desert, and that seemed to be confirmed when Murphy asked who she stole the boat from. Nice touch. I wonder if she’s been to the City of Light.

When they’re about to leave, ALIE shows up in a red dress. Speaking of BSG influences, haha. Beardless Jaha is no longer Jaha-Moses; now he’s Jaha-Baltar. But seriously, can anyone else see her? Is she hooked up to his consciousness and more free to roam around?

And since we had the Iliad show up in the beginning, will she be some type of god meddling in human affairs? Hmm. A couple more answers with ALIE, but really, just more and more questions.

It’s interesting how this show is dealing with sexuality. In the beginning, I thought it’d be some standard CW love-triangle stuff that I’d have to suffer thorugh for the good stuff. It kinda reminds me of Korra and how much time they spent on that. Korra ends up being bisexual, but I can’t applaud there treatment of it. After spending so much time on other heterosexual relationships in the show, I’m supposed to be satisfied with a relationship that exists only in hints until the very end. Plus, we don’t even know if their relationship is frowned upon or what? In this show, Clarke is bisexual, and the show doesn’t really make a big deal of it either. She’s really in love with Finn, and they she kisses Lexa, but says she’s not ready for a relationship. The show seems to be establishing a universe where same-sex relationships are not stigmatized at all. This is further proved when it’s revealed that Miller had a boyfriend on Farm Station. But I don’t know yet if sexuality is just fluid for everyone, or if some people have preferences, or what. I like that this show does have these characters, and I don’t want to change anything here, but it does punt a little bit on sexuality on race because it takes place in the future. I guess the thought is that some of these concerns go away when survival is the biggest thing (but classism doesn’t go away?), but I like it when narratives get to confront racism and homophobia and show how characters are shaped by these forces but also their own agents. Still, props for having complex characters with different sexualities who aren’t props for main characters. (Bad pun, sorry.) I’m sure it’s awesome for people to be able to identify with these characters on the show.

While we’re on the topic of sexuality, Abby’s doctor helper dude (don’t remember his name), mentions that people are getting their contraceptive implants removed. I’m guessing that every female in the Ark gets one, probably at puberty, so that’s why everyone got to have sexy-time on the ground with no one worrying about getting pregnant. I’d call it a nice ret-con, but this show is pretty good with planning ahead.

Clarke’s got a new lady-friend, but that might be over already what with Clarke being caught by that bounty-hunter. It was interesting seeing how Niylah admired her and thought of her as a hero because she ended the reaping, but we know how much pain Clarke went through and that she’s still having nightmares (when she wakes up suddenly). I don’t have any further analysis beyond saying it’s an interesting dynamic.

We don’t get to know anything about Bellamy’s new girlfriend. Raven says “she’s too good” for Bellamy, whatever that means. I guess it means she’s not a selfish douche, haha. (Oh how far he’s come.) Also, she gives him The Iliad, which is a nice gesture, but it makes me think less about her and more about what elements this season is going to borrow from that story. Obviously, war. But will there be parellels between characters, events, or themes? A sack of Troy? Too early to tell, but there has to be significance in which tale they picked. This show doesn’t waste something like that.

Raven no longer has a boyfriend. I was reading in The AV Club recap comments that the guy who plays Wick may have gotten fired after saying racist stuff on Twitter. Kinda sucks because I enjoyed the character. Oh and speaking of Raven, did you notice that she still had Finn’s necklace? It was in the truck. This show is good, right?

I really enjoyed that scene where the original crew got to let themselves go and sing in the truck. It was nice seeing them have fun for once. I was really tense though, half-expecting someone to die or for the car to blow up.

Lincoln and Octavia talk about what it means to be tree-people and sky-people, and I’m not sure I quite understand Octavia’s motivations right now. The first time around, I was trying to figure this out, but the second watch-through, I focused more on what they were saying and Octavia mentions running away and that Luna’s clan will take them in. Lincoln says Luna is in hiding. So, who is Luna? Was she mentioned before? Was that where Lincoln was trying to run to before? Will she be a character later?

Time for some wild-ass speculation: It seems like this show is setting up Trikru & Skaikru vs. Ice Nation. They just broke the cease-fire, the Ice Nation is hunting for Clarke, and Farm Station may have crashed there and we have no idea what happened to the people. But perhaps this show will zag when we expect it to zig and we may see an alliance with the Ice Nation and Arkers instead. It would explain why Octavia and Bellamy are fighting in the season 3 trailer.

Parting thoughts: Is the Ice Nation in New England or Canada (or all of it)? I really want the Ice Nation to be Canadian for some reason. Is there a Fire Nation? Do they attack?

My Favorite Shows in 2015, Part 2

Binge-watching a promising first season, and then getting to jump in and watch an amazing second season is a really fun way to get into a show. Most comedies suck in their first season, or at least take several episodes to get going. Some shows get better, and some get canceled. It’s a big gamble when you try out a new show, even when there are actors you like or a creator/show-runner you love. So many things can go wrong. Well, it’s not that big a gamble because at worst you’ve lost some free time you were probably going to spend on TV anyway. What’s nice about binging a show before the second season is simply that you don’t have to wait for the second season. I did this with both You’re the Worst and Rick and Morty. I watched Bojack Horseman right when season 1 came out, but I’ll talk about that show today too because it fits thematically.

You’re the Worst

I think the premise might turn some people off. The easiest way is to describe it as Always Sunny meets rom-com. Two terrible people who fall in love.

What drew me into the show was how far it gets beyond its premise. The typical sitcom has very broad characters. Side characters are 1-dimensional, main characters probably don’t even reach 2-dimensional. Relationships suffer too, in terms of development. Characters don’t communicate in order to facilitate wacky misunderstandings. So you get shows like Friends, where most of the characters are people you’re supposed to identify with, but they’re actually terrible people and terrible friends. Some shows correct it by leaning into it, making the characters actual terrible people. You get Seinfeld and Arrested Development and Always Sunny. But You’re the Worst manages to somehow make the characters bad people and 3-dimensional. Even the side characters get more and more of an inner life, as you get further into the show. You’re the Worst has a lot of empathy for its characters and is willing to investigate why they are the way they are. I love it when the comedy and plot comes from the characters. They have actual motivations and that drives conflict. A lot of times with sitcoms, you have to have this willing suspension of disbelief because there are plots where no one would ever really do that. I could see it while watching the show, but this intention with fleshing out characters came through in interviews with the creator too.

And despite being bad people, the two main characters actually have a really good relationship.

Season 2 introduces a plotline where one of the characters deals with depression. Well, it’s not just one characters because the fallout affects everyone else too. It handles mental illness very well. Here, just read Todd VanDerWerff, a real TV critic, talk about this show and his wife’s depression. It’s an amazing piece of writing, and better than anything I can say on the topic.

When you get to LCD Soundsystem, you’ll see that the show also takes risks, which I admire too. Back during April Fools, I really wanted an all-Winston pranks episode of New Girl, but it never happened. That show doesn’t really take risks.

Oh and the show is really funny. Funny lines, funny characters. People might categorize it as a dramedy, but as a sitcom aficionado, I categorize it as a sitcom.

Bojack Horseman

Another show with a silly premise, that manages to actually be a deep show, and also deals with depression.

Bojack Horseman is a former 90s sitcom star, and the character is voiced by Will Arnett (that’s a very important detail to give you an idea of the character). Bojack is selfish and not nice. Usually, these characters will have a heart of gold or learn to be a better and person and this may involve winning over a girl too. This show does have a girl, but she’s a person too with her own motivations and not just a prop to help the main character. Or perhaps in a typical show, you’ll see the history of the main character, and feel sorry for him, and then you’ll know he’s just a good person who had a bad life. Instead, you do get to see why Bojack is the way he is, but you also see how his choices and actions make him a bad person, not just the circumstances. And that’s just season 1.

Season 2 elevates the show, dealing with Bojack’s depression. It’s interesting seeing the varieties of depression. On You’re the Worst, you see someone who deals with periodic debilitating bouts of depression. Bojack is more someone who seems permanently depressed and feels broken inside. (And Diane, another character on the show, deals with depression because of an existential crisis.) The show does a really good job with it, still managing to be really funny too (just like You’re the Worst). Honestly, as much as I love Steven Universe for feels-punching, I think You’re the Worst and Bojack had the most feels-punchy moments. Bojack is a really great show to watch when you’re depressed.

The reason I originally got into the show was because Lisa Hanawalt is the production designer, and she’s a funny, weird cartoonist. A lot of the characters on the show are basically people with animal heads (and sometimes limbs). It makes for some great visual puns too.

It has a really good cast with Will Arnett, Allison Brie, Aaron Paul, and Paul F. Thompkins. Season 2 adds Lisa Kudrow. Oh and my favorite Kristen Schaal plays a former-child star on Bojack’s show.

Rick and Morty

I decided to lump these shows together because it’s also another show that is in its second season, and I binge-watched season one before jumping into season two. This show is definitely on the more pessimistic end, as opposed to Steven Universe. My favorite quote (from season one): “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.” And while Steven Universe occasionally gets dark (“all comedy is derived from fear”), this show is steeped in darkness. The meaninglessness of life is fundamentally part of the human condition, and the show often reflects that truth. Bojack Horseman is similarly dark when Bojack’s former friend dies, and Henry Winkler bluntly states that life has no meaning. Yet I think Bojack and You’re the Worst, while steeped in darkness, are ultimately hopeful, and it’s a sense that I never get from Rick and Morty. Anyway, if you think that life has no meaning, and that this is simultaneously depressing and hilarious, try Rick and Morty.

The other thing Rick and Morty has going for it is its inventiveness. The show constantly surprises with its crazy-ass plots. Describing them in a blog post won’t really do them justice. I wonder what it was like watching early Twilight Zone episodes (a show that is parodied in one episode of Rick and Morty), and if the ironic twists were surprising. If it was surprising, it must have felt really new and awesome. I suppose that would be the closest thing to watching Rick and Morty now.

Seriously, while watching all of these shows, I was like, “This is my favorite show now.” There’s so much good TV.