Monday, December 15, 2014

My annual thank you list

Getting an actual job is about putting your resume in a box and hoping someone in HR picks it up. What I do (journalism/blogging/public relations) involves the help of a lot of other people hiring me, inspiring me, collaborating with me, and pointing me in the right direction and the least I can do is devote a blog post to them every year.

So my annual thank you edition starts with a guy named Noel Murray. He’s a TV critic and writer who I spontaneously messaged on Facebook four years wondering how I might go about becoming a TV critic from him. He was nice enough to point me I the right direction and give me some guidance for a while. I know that seems small but my high school graduation speaker (true story: Thisguy writes for Jimmy Kimmel now. Don’t ask me how he pulled off that career trajectory) once said never underestimate the potential impact of a single kind at, and I contacted Noel at a juncture in my career where I had no idea what I wanted to do next so who knows what would have happened if he didn’t pull me in that direction.
So as previously mentioned, I first applied to be a TV critic in October 2010. It took until November 2014 until I got hired as one. That’s right kids, it will take exactly 4 years, 1 months to accomplish your dreams so be prepared for the wait. Speaking of which, I’d like to give a big thanks to the person who eventually hired me. Her name is Carissa, she’s pretty tough on me, but in all fairness, she’s done two wonderful things for me: 1) Hire me and 2) Not fire me (at least not as of yet), so thanks Carissa.

This might as well be the part where I thank everyone who has ever published me: Scott and Neil at Film School Rejects, Scott at InsideNova, Jenny at Arlington Mag, the guy who hired me several years ago at Examiner.com where I just resumed my column, Erin at Mental Floss Magazine, Steve at Nostalgia Digest, Brendan at CBS TV, the folks at Cracked, and Lynn at Northern Virginia Magazine.  Thank you for taking a chance on me. I’d also like to thank anyone who gave me money to do anything for honoring me with your money, because I’ve come to learn over the years that having money is better than not having money. And remember folks, if you or someone you know is spending an inordinate amount of time writing about movies or TV, chances are that person is poor too, so remember to give them money as well.
I also have to thank someone named Liz Shannon Miller from Indiewire, who did not accept my submissions but gave me all I could ever ask for: A couple lines of advice on how to improve my pitches and left the door open for some day in the future. That makes a big deal and 95% of editors don't do that, so big props to the 5% of editors who do something that nice. which in this case is Liz.

Similarly, I’d like to thank all the people who cooperated with me in writing stories by being interviewed and the people who gave me credentials for events. There was a showrunner in Hollywood who was very cooperative on an interview with me and his entire family cooperated with me. The lovely Emily Jefffers, who I've now known for something like 20 years (wow), eventually let herself be interviewed (or rather, eventually let the interview go to press). Also, thanks to the people at Scripp’s National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Maryland, for example, gave me all kinds of swag and a seat next to some of the most prestigious journalists I’ve ever met. I never watched the Spelling Bee before and  would have never guessed it was interesting but I'm totally hooked.

I’d like to thank James Madison University’s School of Media Arts for inviting me to appear on a journalism panel. That was one of the highlights of my year and allowed me to briefly feel  important. I also went to that school and it hit me as I was back there: Hey, my alma mata isn’t that bad of a place!
From that conference, I met someone named Taylor Hudson who partnered up with me in my PR business and I’d like to thank her for having the confidence in me that I could somehow get her work (I did get work but after she already found another job) and I’d recommend her for a job if anyone actually listens to me for that stuff.

I’d also like to thank a guy named Dennis Perkins who is a TV critic and works at a video store (in Dennis’ own words “Shut up!”) He helped me through my creative lows a couple times this year and I’m happy he’s finally doing his thing with the AV Club.
Cory Barker deserves a shout-out for inviting me to participate on his TV roundtables. I used to read his blog quite frequently and thought it was one of the better things out there and he can now be read at TV.com, and now I’m part of the cool kids club.

I have an acquaintance on twitter named Christy Admiral who I once contacted when I was feeling down about my writing and she gave an opinion on my blog when I asked her. The thing is that she did this late last December so I've been waiting for 350-something days to include her in my next annual issue and I finally can get that big thank you out. See Christy doing her thing on twitter right here.

I have to give credit to all the people who are big in the world of TV criticism who treat the little people like me as equals and discuss stuff with us like Kenny Herzog, Emily Nussbaum and Matt Zoller Seitz. Nussbaum in particular is like a tweeting superhero.

As always, Christine Becker deserves special mention for looking out for all the little people (I suppose, technically, the big people benefit from her too, but let's call that an unintended consequence) in the world of TV film criticism. Christine can be found at @crsbecker and her News for TV Majors site can be found at---don't be lazy, check your twitter feeds.

There's also a guy named Jim Ciscell who  co-wrote an article with me at Cracked a while ago and is a great tipster and sounding board. @jimCiscell.   Speaking of Cracked writers, Eddie Rodriguez helped me get back in Cracked's good graces and there's a moderator there named The Pendant who is the only moderator there who's ever gone out of their way to be nice to me. I don't really  know a single thing about that person and I'd love to plug them but I have nothing to work with.

There’s also Will Harris who at this point is the MVP of my career this year. He has spent countless hours guiding me through the business and being a bouncer off of advice.  I can't possibly thank him enough or pay forward  everything he's done. Witness Will's generosity in person at the twitter handle @nonstoppop

The other MVP is a friend of mine who I've also known a gazillion years since middle school named William Marlow (it's funny because I know him as Brian) and I have no idea how he did it but he's always been pretty bright (come to think of it, literally everyone I went to high school with was ridiculously bright, it was highly annoying) and started his own company where he does big things for people. I can't even understand how big these things are, but he's been kind enough to let me in his great big world a little so I could learn, and I'm eternally greatful. Check him out http://www.willmarlow.com

Lastly, I’d like to thank my lovely sister Yasmine for deciding two years ago she would no longer read my blog. That is wonderful news as I am no longer obligated to read her blog which is really boring. No, but in all seriousness, thanks for the support Yasmine.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

What do movies have to offer these days that TV doesn't already have?


What exactly do the movies have to offer these days that TV doesn't already have? This isn't a grandiose introduction to an essay but rather a public exercise in self-reflection as I struggle with this.
I have a great amount of appreciation for the democratic nature of movies and how the medium allows supporters to directly fund the movies they like through ticket sales. The good news is that movies seem to be doing fine without me. The question is what do movies have with me.

I didn’t always have a love affair with the movies. I grew up in a household with a slightly restrictive set of rules on TV. Up until I was about 16, TV or film wasn't one of my main intellectual interests or hobbies: It was just my favorite activity in the world. Nothing gave me greater joy in my youth than finding a way to sneak in more TV than whatever loose quota my parents set for me (usually an hour or a half-hour). 

My parents usually only used TV to watch news and believed too much TV would "rot your brain" unless you were watching educational television which was erroneously defined as Channel 26 or PBS. Of course this isn't true: Breaking Bad is a master's course in chemistry, CSI teaches you about DNA, the Americans teaches you about Cold War History, and Turn is a great way to get acquainted with the Revolutionary War. Deciding to use part of my parent-funded-college education on a film studies minor was, in fact, a form of rebellion. Before that I would often spend my time arguing with them about whether TV was a brain rotter. 

My family and I went to the movies in what I imagine was a regular capacity and I often would argue, "Hey. You watch a two-hour movie, what's the difference?" My dad would argue that a movie is different. [Editorial note: Not sure whether to pull this down two sections] More on that later.

At some point, movies became a hobby. The summer I turned 16, I came across a list by the American Film Institute of the 100 greatest movies ever and was fascinated by the fact that I had seen so few of those movies. I went to the library and spent that summer checking out films like "The African Queen," "Roman Holiday," "Palm Beach Story," "Bridge on the River Kwai," "All About Eve," "Network" and many more. A few summers later, I was out of school for a semester and kept myself busy writing user reviews on IMDB which prompted eventually morphed into a great determination to write better reviews (declaring a film studies minor when I returned to college) and watch more movies. I excitedly went to the movie theater all the time, even by myself (which for some reason was and is a taboo), and would soak up bad and good movies alike. The bad ones were great because as any film critic can tell you, there are few things more cathartic to do with the written word than rip on a bad movie.

I kept track of how many films I watched and rated them all on a four-star scale like Roger Ebert did. I usually watched about 30 films in a calendar year by the time December (or maybe January/February) rolled around. 

These days that number is significantly less. I've only watched seven films in a movie theater this calendar year (Lucy, Begin Again, X-Men Days of Future Past, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Grand Budapest Hotel, Interstellar, Gone Girl) so far this year at a theater and haven't found anything on my last stop at the Redbox to pique my interest. Granted, a lot of films from one year I catch in the following calendar year. In 2014, for example, I've watched the following 2013 films: "12 Years a Slave" I watched on the morning of the Oscars, "Nebraska" I watched in early January, "Philomena" I caught on Redbox, "Man of Steel" I saw on pay cable, "White House Down" I saw on Redbox, "Frozen" I saw on Itunes.

What's taken the place of movies these days for me is TV. Serialized dramas, the occasional escapist procedural and multi-layered comedies have so much to offer these days. I often say this is the Golden Age of TV and Oscar-winners like Halle Berry (Extant), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Dustin Hoffman (Luck), John Voight (Ray Donovan) Octavia Spencer (Red Band Society), and Jane Fonda (Netflix's upcoming series) are flocking to the small screen in droves. I love the idea of leaving my home to support and experience the arts (I would be a proponent of viewing parties although I've never facilitated one and have very very rarely been invited to such a thing. On another note, please invite me to more viewing parties), but these days, I'm going the path of Berry, Spacey and Voight and finding more richness in TV.

Back in the days when I would have a running argument with my dad over why movies were considered a more acceptable activity, he would argue that movies are different than TV because they are a communal activity.

Personally, I long ago decided that movies don’t function as a social activity considering talking during the movie can now get you kicked out of theaters. Of course, most of the talking and conversation happens after the film.


Now imagine if you could constantly talk during the movie as the storyline plays out without disturbing the people in the theater. That’s essentially what TV has become nowadays. As serialized dramas unfold and as procedurals and comedies tweak their formats on a week-to-week basis, people have rich and detailed conversations through twitter, on message boards, and through professionally written week-to-week reviews. The progress of ongoing TV shows is also a great social conversation topic and it’s far more engaging of a process to talk about a story as it’s unfolding. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Newsroom Review

At best, there's a love-hate relationship with Sorkin's stubborn insistence on sticking to the same tropes for every TV show of his: Characters that have three conversations at once talking 50 miles a minute, male protagonists with godlike egos, characters indistinct from each other in their level of intelligence and temperament, romantic relationships and flirting based on an intellect (even when the participants are friends with benefits), and the list goes on and on.

If people are still watching Sorkin, however, there are things to love: If there's anything that dramatically hooks the viewer, then the stakes and tension can get high. The dialogue itself can be grating but there can be something majestic at times about watching intelligent people passionately go toe-to-toe with each other.

But there's a big catch here: At some point, Sorkin will wear thin. Around "Studio 60," Sorkin's inflexibility with writing even a single character different from the standard Sorkin prototype reached a boiling point and he suffered backlash before moving on to success with films such as "Charlie Wilson's War", "Social Network", and "Moneyball" (one suspects the greater control allocated to directors in filmdom tempered Sorkin's voice).

In "The Newsroom," Sorkin essentially recreates "Studio 60" with a climate more appropriate--a cable news channel--to Sorkin's voice where characters don't look out of place walking around with a sense of urgency and spouting off facts about economics.

The end result hardly looks less ridiculous and at this point, I'm at my Sorkin saturation point. On the plus side, the cast is amazing and in the two episodes I watched (the first two of the third season), this show has the potential to launch some meaningful discourse on various news issues (which I'm a sucker for as a journalist). In one episode, for example, Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) overhears a conversation by a government official and considers using it as breaking news. This is the kind of ethical dilemma that one hopes the public actively thinks about in order to appreciate the news.

However, as previously mentioned, there's so little differentiation between them. And it's a shame because that's all I'd need to consider the show watchable. Throw in a janitor or someone walking around scratching his head and going "huh?" into the mix and that would do miles for this show.

What baffles me most is that if you make a list of some of the most interesting stars who I never would have guessed were available on the TV market-Olivia Munn, Alison Pill, Emily Mortimer, Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterson, Dev "Slumdog Millionaire" Patel-you could not do better than the "Newsrooom" cast and that's not even counting Jane freakin' Fonda, Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden, and 2 Broke Girls' Kat Denning doing double duty in guest star roles. I'm sure someone like Emily Kapnek or Greg Garcia could use these actors and they don't write such hackneyed dialogue.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Directoral Progress Report

New Additions in Bold:
Within each number I rank the directors in order of how ashamed I am of having seen them with the most ashamed being on the bottom.

18 Alfred Hitchcock-Family Plot, Torn Curtain, Rebecca, 39 Steps, North by Northwest, Saboteur, The Wrong Man, Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, Topaz, The Birds, Psycho, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much (both versions), Rear Window

14 Stephen Spielberg-Color Purple, Raiders of the Last Ark, Jurassic Park, Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade, The Terminal, Catch Me If You Can, Schindler's List, Hook, ET, Jaws, War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Saving Private Ryan

14 Woody Allen-Hollywood Ending, Curse of the Jaded Scorpion, Manhattan, Annie Hall, Small Time Crooks, Sweet and Lowdown, Mighty Aphrodite, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Melinda and Melinda, Midnight in Paris, Sleeper, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, Bullets Over Broadway

10 Billy Wilder-Spirit of St. Louis, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Irma la Douce, Double Indemnity, Sabrina, Ace in the Hole, Major and the Minor, 1,2,3, The Front Page

9 Joel and Ethan Coen-Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Ladykillers, Man Who Knew Too Much, Intolerable Cruelty, Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, True Grit
9 Mike Nicholls-Primary Colors, The Birdcage, The Graduate, Working Girl, Charlie Wilson’s War, What Planet Are You From?, Postcards from the Edge, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff, Regarding Henry


8 (1/2) Clint Eastwood-Mystic River, Unforgiven, Bronco Billy, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Invictus, Gran Torino, White Heart Lonely Hunter, Play Misty for Me (Trouble with the Curve) (Clint Eastwood wasn't credited as the director but some say he directed it)


8 Martin Scorsesee-Color of Money, Age of Innocence, Goodfellas, Aviator, The Departed, Gangs of New York, Shutter Island, Hugo
8 Howard Hawks-Sgt. York, Bringing Up Baby, Big Sleep, Ball of Fire, Rio Bravo, His Girl Friday, Gentlemen Perfer Blondes, Monkey Business
8  Rob Zemeckis-Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future I-III, Contact, Romancing the Stone, Flight


7 Vincente Minelli-Meet me in St Louis, American in Paris, The Pirate, Brigadoon, The Band Wagon, Kismet, The Sandpiper 
7 Rob Altman-Mash, McCabe and Mrs Miller, California Split, Buffalo Bill and the Indian, The Player, Dr. T and the Women, Prairie Home Companion
7 Steve Soderbergh-Erin Brockovitch, Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, Full Frontal, Good German, Ocean’s 13, Informant
7 Ivan Reitman- Ghostbusters, 6 Days 7 Days, Old School, Space Jam, Fathers Day, Beethoven, Beethoven’s 2nd, Ghostbusters II
7 Jay Roach-Austin Powers I-III, Meet the Parents, Mystery Alaska, Dinner for Schmucks, The Campaign

6 Frank Capra-It Happened One Night, Arsenic and Old Lace, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Mr Deeds Goes to Town, Meet John Doe, It's a Wonderful Life
6 Stanley Donen-Take Me Out to the Ballgame (most sources insist that he really was the director, not Bugsy Berkley), On the Town, Singing in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Charade, Bedazzled
6 Stanley Kramer-Defiant Ones, Inherit the Wind, Judgment at Nuremberg, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Wold, Ship of Fools,  Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
6 Terry Gilliam-Time Bandits, Brazil, Fisher King, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Brothers Grimm, Baron Munchhausen
6 Barry Levinson-Tin Men, Rain Man, Sleepers, Good Morning Vietnam, Man of the Year, Wag the Dog
6 Mel Brooks-Spaceballs, High Anxiety, Young Frankenstein, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, History of the World Part I
6 Ron Howard-Apollo 13, Beautiful Mind, Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, Angels and Demons, The Paper
6 Bryan Singer-Usual Suspects, X-Men, X2, Superman Returns, Valkyrie, X-Men Days of Future Past
6 Roland Emmerich-ID4, Stargate, The Patriot, Day After Tomorrow, 2012, White House Down
6 Tony Scott- Enemy of the State, Déjà Vu, Crimson Tide, Top Gun, Taking of Pelham 1,2,3; Unstoppable
6 Gore Verbinski-Pirates of the Carribean 1-3, Weatherman, The Mexican, Rango
6 Brett Ratner-After the Sunset, Rush Hour 2, Family Man, X-Men 3, Red Dragon, Tower Heist
6 Frank Oz-Bowfinger, In and Out, Stepford Wives, The Score, What About Bob, Housesitter

6 Peter Segal-Naked Gun 33 1/3, Tommy Boy, My Fellow Americans, 50 First Dates, Get Smart

5 Orson Welles-Citizen Kane, Lady of Shanghai, Othello, Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil
5 John Ford-Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Hurricane, How Green was my Valley, The Whole Town's Talking
5 George Lucas-Star Wars I-IV, American Graffiti
5 Peter Weir-Witness, Dead Poet’s Society, The Truman Show, Master and Commander,Year of Living Dangerously
5 Christopher Nolan-Batman Begins, Dark Knight, Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Interstellar
5 Blake Edwards-A Shot in the Dark, Pink Panther, Return of the Pink Panther, Great Race, What Did You Do in the War Daddy
5 Wes Anderson-Rushmore, Royal Tannenbaums, The Life Aquatic, Darjeerling Limited, Grand Budapest Hotel
5 Johnothan Demme-Silence of the Lambs, Melvin and Howard, Manchurian Candidate, Married to the Mob, Rachel Getting Married
5 Sydney Pollack-Sabrina, Out of Africa, Tootsie, The Interpreter, Slender Thread
5 Tim Burton-Batman, Batman Returns, Ed Wood, Charlie and the Chocolate Factor, Alice in Wonderland
5 Adam McKay: Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys, Anchorman 2
5 Robert Rodriguez-El Mariachi Trilogy, Spy Kids and Lava Girl, Sin City
5 Curtis Hanson- LA Confidential, Wonderboys, In Her Shoes, Lucky You, 8 Mile
5 Barry Sonnenfeld-Men in Black I, II, Wild Wild West, Big Trouble, MiB III
5 Cameron Crowe-Almost Famous, Jerry MaGuire, Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown, We Bought a Zoo
5 Joel Schumaker-Time to Kill, 8 MM, Batman and Robin, Batman Forever, The Client
5 Rob Reiner-Stand and Deliver, Princess Bride, Rumor Has It, American President, Ghosts of Mississippi
5 John Glenn-5 Bond films
5 Tom Shadyac-Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, Patch Adams, Evan Allmighty, Ace Ventura
5 Chris Columbus-Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Stepmom, I Love You Beth Cooper
5 John Lynn-Whole Nine Yards, Trial and Error, Sgt Bilko, Trial and Error, My Cousin Vinny
5 Peter and Bobby Farrelly-Kingpin, Dumb and Dumber, Fever Pitch, Shallow Hal, Osmosis Jones
5 John Lasseter-Lady and the Tramp, Toy Story 1, Cars, Toy Story 2, Cars 2

4 Sidney Lumet: Network, 12 Angry Men, Murder on the Orient Express, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
4 David Lean-Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, Passage to India, Summertime
4 John Huston-Beat the Devil, Key Largo, African Queen, Man Who Would be King
4 Alexander Payne-Election, Sideways, Descenants, Nebraska
4 James Cameron-Terminator, Terminator 2, Titanic, Avatar
4 Terrence Young-Wait Until Dark, 3 Bond films
4 Harold Lloyd-Safety Last, Feet First, The Freshman, Kid Brother
4 Guy Hamilton-4 Bond movies
4 Kevin Smith-Chasing Amy, Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Dogma
4 Penny Marshall-Awakenings, Rennisance Man, Big, League of their Own
4 Christopher Guest-For Your Consideration, Mighty Wind, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman
4 Sam Raimi-Spiderman 1-3, Oz: The Great and Powerful 
4 Ernst Lubitsch-Shop Around the Corner, Ninotchka, Merry Widow, Trouble in Paradise
4 Lasse Holstrom-What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Hoax, Cider House Rules, Shipping News
4 Michael Moore-Roger and Me, F 411, Sicko, Capitalism: A Love Story
4 James Mangold-3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line, Kate and Leopold, Night and Day
4 Jon Favreau-Elf, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Cowboys and Aliens
4 D. Herek-Mr. Holland’s Opus, Three Musketeers, Mighty Ducks, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures
4 Sam Weisman-George of the Jungle, Dickie Roberts Former Child Star, Out-of Towners, Mighty Ducks 2
4 Dennis Dungan-Happy Gilmore, Beverly Hills Ninja, Big Daddy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

Monday, October 20, 2014

Top 25 TV Characters of 2013


In order to prep for my upcoming 2014 Top 25 TV characters list, I realized, I actually have to post my top 2013 TV characters. Last year's list can be found here (http://sophomorecritic.blogspot.com/2013/05/25-characters.html). There's also my Top 10 of last year here.

1. Claire Danes as Agent Carrie Mathison, Homeland-She topped last year's list and is still the best character on TV for my money. The dynamic has shifted as she now has respect of her peers
(whichever of them are left) but the chip on Carrie's shoulder never seems to go away. While the show continues to maintain high levels of tension in a world that never seems to become safe (then we'd no longer have a show), there's nothing wrong for the viewer to be happy to see Carrie's status improve and that pathos is a big part of the show. Carrie also benefited this season from being separated from Brody leaving viewers to conclude that she was the less dispensable star of the series. Here's to top billing for Carrie in Season 4.

2. Mark Feuerstein as Dr. Hank Lawson, Royal Pains-Even if “Royal Pains” isn’t the most ambitious show on television, Hank Lawson is one of TV’s most relevant heroes considering the healthcare crisis that’s only intensified since this show premiered in 2009. Hank is such an uplifting character and has a maverick quality to him. He's just a desperado concierge doctor equipped with a scalpel, lightning-quick diagnosing abilities and the mysterious ability to constantly be around some of the rarest medical emergencies ever recorded

3. Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute, The Office-And the big winner of the "Next Michael Scott" sweepstakes is (drumroll) Dwight! This is a big turn from a couple years ago in which Dwight was not the best choice for a boss and several years removed from when Dwight was the most ridiculous guy in the entire office (It also inadvertently helped that Kevin got dumber).

4. Damien Birchir as Det. Marco Ruiz, The Bridge-Marco Ruiz is a new iteration of an American hero (and hey, considering the US will be majority Latin-American in 2050, it totally fits that the new Gary Cooper is Latino). He's the modern-day Gary Cooper had Cooper existed in as imperfect of a time and place as the Mexican-Texan border in the 21st century. An Oscar nominee, Birchir brings a great gravity to the role and his emotional showdown with Tate on the eponymous (hopefully I'm using that word correctly) bridge was one of the highlights of the series.

5. Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates, Bates Motel-Farmiga, an Academy Award nominee who should have scored a couple more nods by now, gives a very multi-layered performance that's careful not to rush too deep beneath the surface as the mother of the future iconic knife-wielder. There are no easy diagnoses with which you can label Norma (or what Norma's inflicting on others) in this simmering psychological thriller. Plus when push comes to shove, Norma can handle herself with a knife.

6. Robert MacElhenney as Mac, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia-It's a testament to the great writing of this show that the five leads are continually being developed in interesting directions nine seasons in. Mac's massive weight fluctuation and his ambiguous sexuality, however, are just the writers toying with us. This season's "Mac Day" (which gave us Sean William Scott as Mac's doppelganger) was a pivotal exploration of the lovable karate aficionado who has increasingly become a tangled ball of contradictions whether it's skinny/fat, straight/gay, polite/brusque, religious/amoral or whatever the writers want to throw in there. For more on the fluid nature of Mac's sexuality and other Sunny mysteries, read here.

7. Matthew Lillard as Daniel Frye, The Bridge-Daniel Frye is who I want to be as a journalist and as soon as I finish this column, I'm going to go to the nearest bar and develop a drinking problem. But in all seriousness, I love this guy: He has absolutely no regard for other people or for himself. The only thing keeping his life from unraveling entirely is that he's on the heels of his next story. Frye provided us with the most unexpectedly heartwarming story of the show's first season in his attempts to face down his alcoholism and his budding friendship with colleague Adriana (Emily Rios).

8. Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson, Homeland-Berenson is not just a static character: He's rock solid. I would want a man like this running the CIA. He's deeply caring about the people in his custody (see: Aileen Morgan from Season 1), slow, pensive, and has a host of other good qualities. If there's one little nitpick I have, Saul's marital problems seem like an unnecessary cliche to tack onto a character who's personal life doesn't necessarily have to be messy. The good news is there's less of that in Season 4.

9. Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, Scandal-Kerry Washington is a fantastic actress who has long deserved a breakout role like this. I haven't been a regular watcher of the show but I'm happy that a character like Olivia Pope---someone at the epicenter of politics and a gateway point to discussion about Washington's inner working- and an actress like Kerry Washington are becoming prime water cooler talk.

10. Corey Stoll as U.S. Rep. Peter Russo, House of Cards-Alas, poor Peter Russo, we knew ye too
well. As the world within House of Cards becomes more and more hellish, we have the memories of the one idealist who almost made a difference in the system. 

11. Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, The Americans-I've devoted a lot of effort show to complaining about the show's realism and even went so far as to interview the head of Washington's Spy Museum to prove a point. While I might find her character absurd, I can see her as a great character (perhaps even the best character on television) under a hypothetical that her character makes sense. Keri Russell, who wins the award for biggest 180 from her previous TV role as an angsty college student in "Felicity", is fiercely committed to her ideology nd occasionally quite lethal as deep cover Russian spy Elizabeth.

12. Lucy Liu as Watson, Elementary-The female reimagining of Watson is a fresh twist on one of history's most iconic stock characters in TV and it's a great role for Lucy Liu as well. The chemistry between Liu and Johnny Lee Miller is a tricky one to navigate. In some versions of Sherlock Holmes, Watson is the caretaker to an idiot savant. Here, the pair is in a symbiotic and equal relationship which is what I've always preferred.

13. Robert Lowe as Chris Traeger, Parks and Recreation-One of those eureka moments watching "Parks and Recreation" recently was realizing that Chris Traeger was the heart of the show. His positivity and warmth were indicative of the tone of a show that's considered one of TV's biggest hang-out fests. The abnormally positive person with a hint of sadness underneath made for a fascinating character and I responded well to the idea of him working on himself and his anxieties rather than just immediately finding a cure for loneliness. On top of this, Chris Traeger is far-and-away the best role in Rob Lowe's long career.

14. Taryn Manning as Pennsatucky, Orange is the New Black-Some might feel she was overplayed, but I found her highly amusing. The reformed bible belt poster girl (who ironically met her fate in prison through multiple abortions) was a satire of new wave evangelicalism but a sympathetic character nonetheless. Pennsatucky wasn't the show's deepest character but she was an ideal foil to Piper and I saw a lot of depth in every one of Pennsatucky's physical mannerisms and tics. Whenever she was on screen, you knew something amusing would happen.

15. Alia Shawkat as Maeby Funke, Arrested Development-One can pick any number of characters from here, but in terms of a character really going in reverse yet spinning her wheels in exciting ways, Maeby was hard to top. In her latest ploy for parental attention, the 22-year-old voluntarily flunks her senior year of high school for five straight years.

16. Jim Jefferies as Jim, Legit-Like his Australian counterpart Jason Gann ("Legit" and "Wilfred" comparisons, at least to me, are unavoidable), Jefferies doesn't have any sort of gimmick like dressing up in a dog suit. In fact, Jefferies doesn't do much all day at all but he goes about it in a charming way. It's also amusing how his attempts at self-improvement mainly affect his roommates' life views for the worse (to the consternation of Mindy Sterling). This is a show (and protagonist) based on a stand-up comic that works because it's so congruent with his comedic vision.

17. Dean Norris as Hank Schrader, Breaking Bad-I thought that Hank would go the way of Skyler and call off his crusade once he realized Walter White was family. When the moment came, Hank surprised me and sharply defined the difference between being a good cop and being a man of integrity.  People rave about the show's final season and while it was "stunning" (I can't honestly tell you whether it was stunning on my free will as the critical mass has drowned out any capacity at independent thought on "Breaking Bad"), Hank's steadfast character was the one thing that really threw me for a curve.

18. Taylor Schilling as Piper Kerman, Orange is the New Black-For all the attention, the show has gotten on its plethora of supporting characters, I'd maintain that a show based on a first-person memoir is only as strong as it's lead. Piper, front and center, is our audience surrogate to a unique and highly unfamiliar world. It's her slow transformation from naive waif to prison-hard that grounds the show. The character gets a lot of criticism for being everything from naive to selfish, but I'd argue that she would do exactly as well as any of us would in prison, if not better.

19. Freddy Highmore as Norman Bates, Bates Motel-Freddy Highmore came to prominence in child roles in the mid-2000's with "Finding Neverland" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Now he's all grown-up and I couldn't be happier to see a child star nailing such an adult role. 

20. Chelsea Peretti as Gina Linetti, Brooklyn Nine Nine-I've written elsewhere that I don't enjoy Brooklyn Nine Nine anymore. In my opinion, the show suffers greatly from a balance issue: The charaters are too crazy for even a straight man of Andre Braughter's calliber. But Gina is such a well-crafted brand of crazy, her antics are almost immune to this balance issue. For me, there's no other reason to watch this show than Gina. For some of her golden dialogue, see this Buzzfeed article 23 Reasons Gina is the Best Character on TV


21. Diane Kruger as Sonia Cross, The Bridge-With all the "Orange is the New Black" standouts, I was thinking of including 3 OitNB cast members but at the end of the day, "The Bridge" had three very strong characters all of which should be honored. Aside from being one of the most realistic portrayals of aesperger's being shown on screen, Sonia is also a great showcase for Diane Kruger. All the social awkwardness of an aspie character is flipped when a beautiful woman has those traits


22. Julie White as Anne, Go On-A very strong bittersweet character from this gone-too-soon series. She was on last year's list and she got even richer as time went on.
23. Katharine McPhee as Karen Cartwright, Smash-The modern "42nd Street" reimagining is only as good as its Ruby Keelor.  McPhee plays the Broadway ingenue as a girl-next-door type who can amp up her sex appeal if the show demands it. There was something interesting about a hard working showgirl who's sex appeal was a professional afterthought. (full disclosure: I only watched approximately three episodes of "Smash")

24. Tom Greene as Kip Wampler, Camp-Although a series starring the aderrol-addled 41-year old comic as a junior camp counselor would have been entertaining, I'm referring here to a young Australian actor whose unique take on the angst-ridden teenager made for the highlight of an otherwise only mildly memorable series. Kip is a teenager experiencing adolescence for the first time as a summer camp counselor after being sequestered for his youth with leukemia, In his performance, Greene managed to steer clear of the repetitive tropes attached to this type of role and his storyline would have been effective on both a lightweight series or even a more dramatic one.

25.  Dan Bucatinsky as Jerome, Web Therapy-Bucatinsky won an Emmy last year for his guest stint on Scandal, but I remember him best as the highly entertaining pushover under the thumb of 3-minute web therapist Fiona Wallice. Wasn't it ironic that he interacted with Lisa Kudrow with such a different power dynamic in "Scandal" when she guested?
(full disclosure: It is still really difficult for me to tell which episodes of Web Therapy premiered when and this is all complicated by the fact that much of the Showtime series is derived from a web series sold on ITunes that premiered two years earlier. It's entirely possible that 2013 Jerome perished or became satanic)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Some old reviews: Wedding Crashers, Lady in the Water, Frost/Nixon

One of the tenants in the apartment building, where Lady in the Water takes place, is a crotchety old film critic who he feels he’s seen it all. “I have come to accept there’s nothing original left in this world,” he says. This is ironic because if this fictitious character knew of the movie he was inadvertently a part of, he would think differently.

It is hard to deny that if nothing else, M. Night Shamylan has a very unique voice. He certainly isn’t the only current filmmaker who’s original but everything in the tone of his films from the characters to the setting and plot feels a little bit off the norm.

In Lady in the Water, Shamylan conjures up a fantasy world that intrigues us in the in the way it intersects with a seemingly mundane group of tenants in an apartment. The lady referenced in the title (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a sea nymph who is discovered in the apartment’s pool* by the building’s super, Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti). Giamatti reaffirms how underrated of an actor he is in the way he gives unforeseen depth to the character of Cleveland. Mourning the death of his wife and kids, Cleveland is a hesitant and uneasy man with a stutter. However, when the girl says her life is in danger, he is overcome with too much empathy and devotes himself to helping her find her way back home. A cryptic folk story told to him by one of his tenants reveals the identity of the girl as an otherworldly prophetic figure who seeks out three groups of tenants in the building and Cleveland must sift through the colorful group of characters that populate his building to find out who they are.

The film creates a constant state of suspense with shots reminiscent of Jaws that show victims being attacked from the point-of-view of the sharks, or in this case mythical beasts that Howard’s character is fleeing from. It’s main strength, however, is how Shamylan’s storytelling is different from anything we’ve ever seen before. Even when the film moves a little slow or gets bogged up in plot holes, we’re too intrigued by Shamylan’s vivid imagination not to want to follow along and see where he’s going.

*One quick potential plot hole to clear up in case you’re wondering how it could be remotely believable to have a sea nymph appear out of a swimming pool: this pool isn’t a concrete hole in the ground but rather it was built over some natural body of water and the sea nymph appears out of some chasm and emerges through a vent.

Frost/Nixon

Directed by Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon is on par with the most insightful of political dramas yet it plays out like a riveting sports film.

The arena of competition in this case is public perception and the “sport” is debate. The contestants? Ex-President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) and B-level talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) who are trying to earn critical respectability over a course of public interviews. At the time (1977 to be exact), David Frost was trying to become respected as a journalist and earn bigger endorsement deals and Richard Nixon was trying to elevate his speaking fees as well as earn himself a place back among the Washington elite.

The way the public was so glued to their tv screens during the presidential debates the year this film proved that the film’s theme- public perception is everything- is as timely as ever. Is Frost/Nixon commenting on whether democracy’s imperfections can be weeded out through this medium or does the film apologetically state that politics are a zero-sum game? As Frost says in one scene when the President tells him how much alike they are, “I agree but only one of us can win.”

The film is an interesting commentary on the American political myth about the great political outsider who comes from nowhere to be the President of the U.S. and leads the country to greatness. Frost/Nixon is the story of a guy who’s an outsider whose dream of saving democracy and leading the U.S. foward isn’t to become president but to take down an illegitimate US President. Through this inversion, the film teaches us that it’s easier to build up a man than to expose him for what he really is.

The script, by Peter Morgan, made these thoughtful points but also made the film exciting. Even the mundane things- the adjusting of the participants’ ties before the interview, small-talk between staffers, the communications between the tv crew-  all became something to watch. Morgan, who also wrote “The Queen” and “Special Relationship” has an interest in the mores of political conduct and, sometimes he can’t translate his narrow interest in the topic to something exciting for the audience. This is one of those exceptions.

Langella and Sheen are fantastic in their roles and with so little drama in the film outside of their interactions, it’s fair to say they make the movie (although Kevin Bacon provides a highlight in one of the character actor’s more intense supporting roles to date). As someone who’s never seen the original Frost/Nixon debates, I can’t say with authority how they compare to the original, but they two create very deep characters upon which the drama transpires.

 The film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and fully deserved it.


From the same comedic team (more or less) that brought you Zoolander, Dodgeball, and Old School, the latest annual installment of a comedy has arrived about people who don’t actually exist (frat boys who technically aren’t college students, professional dodgeball players, etc), but could very easily exist when you think about it.

The comedic team that I’m talking about is combination of at least one guy with the last name Wilson, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell who rotate playing the lead, playing the sidekick/rival, not being in the movie at all, and providing a much loved 2-minute cameo. Owen Wilson and Vaughn take the leads as two more characters that guys could easily enjoy vicariously living through for a couple hours: John Beckwith and Jeremy Klein (Wilson) are two divorce lawyers who spend their spare time crashing weddings solely to meet girls.

After years of practice they’ve refined it down to an art. One of the best running comic gags, in fact, is that they have a lengthy rule book that they memorize and regularly cite from in various situations.
The story begins when after a very successful wedding season, shown through a well-made opening montage; the two buddies decide to end off the season with a bang by crashing what will be their most high stakes wedding to date. Why this wedding is a bigger deal to them than any other wedding is beyond me, but nevertheless, the two go to the wedding and both find themselves with bigger messes than they can clean up by wedding’s end. Jeremy falls for one of the bride’s sisters, Claire, and all is going well until he meets her boyfriend. Rachel McAdams (The Notebook) plays Claire a little too lackadaisically charming to come off as anything but clichd.

John, meanwhile, has such good luck with the bride’s other sister that he manages to have sex with her before the wedding is even over. Unfortunately, she mistakes his love of the chase for true love and his efforts to flee the scene get foiled by his love-struck partner in crime who insists they stick around. This is the point in the movie when, like John, it would be best to flee the scene ourselves.

While the film is lined with sharp and hilarious snippets of dialogue throughout, the story is unevenly paced and it never really gets back to that screwball comedy feel it attains in the film’s first half hour.

If not for the fact that these guys will probably be appearing in movie theaters again in some cameo or comedy vehicle before I even finish mourning their failure, I’d have been disappointed because with a few minor tweaks, I could have seen this movie working. For example, one of the downturns that are used in these types of romantic comedies to prevent the guy and girl from getting together before working things out takes up almost a year of the story and one of the characters gets depressed to the point of feeling suicidal. In this scene and in general, the movie too often drifts a little too far away from lighthearted-comedy mode. Considering how with characters that revel in the joy of taking advantage of girls at weddings, the movie’s tone is quite cynical when you think about it, it wouldn’t be a good idea to get the audience taking the film too seriously at all.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014 Review Sans Fall Season



A moderately exhaustive catch-up of pretty much everything I've seen this year before the Fall Season rolls around and I cover those shows. Some reviews will be very brief or I'll link you elsewhere. The shows are broken into categories:

Top tier: Shows that are firing on all cylinders

  1. Archer, FX-Even by today’s standards, Archer did something pretty bold by flipping the entire premise of its show. The ragtag spy agency previously known as ISIS (they allegedly sold the naming rights to a real-life band of Jihadists in Iraq or something like that) got disbanded and the characters became criminals for a full season. Comic possibilities quadrupled. (longer review)
  2. The Bridge, FX-The Bridge-Last season, "The Bridge" was a suspenseful ride, but the two aimless episodes between the conclusion of the first season and the actual season finale had me wondering where the show would go once the bad guy was put away. What I didn’t anticipate was that the show’s rich characters and sense of place were more than enough to carry the show regardless of the villain. What’s more, the second season nicely wove the aftermath of the David Tate plot along with the disparate side plots into a larger picture. The show continues to have a lot going for it: A well-paced plot, a touch on topical issues, and some of the most underrated characters on TV (Daniel Frye is who I now want to model myself after as a journalist. I even plan on going to the nearest bar and developing my own drinking problem after I finish writing this)
  3. Orange is the New Black, Netflix-As Piper became more comfortable with her environment and even began to take command of her surroundings, the show took on a more self-assured tone that could even be called optimistic. In the first season, pretty much everyone Piper bumped into at Litchfield was some version of your worst nightmare. The second season got interesting in the way it kept redirecting audience hatred towards a number of temporary villains (Mendez, Fig, Healy, Alex, Crazy Eyes all did despicable things at some point or another) before making themselves sympathetic once more and eventually redirecting us to one big bad. This show has also written and rewritten the textbook on ensemble pieces, both from the narrative (balancing focus on several characters) and the acting sides. (longer review)
  4.  Review, Comedy Central- Starring straight-man extraordinaire Andy Daly, the premise posits the show as a distant cousin of the "Truman Show" in the way that presenting a man's life choices being driven entirely by the demands of a media audience leads to some very deep satire. In this case, Daly is TV show host Forrest MacNeil who will review any life experience anyone tells him to without question. The cleverest thing about "Review" is how it drops clues towards the genesis to the show-within-a-show and the larger storyline about a somewhat overeager broadcaster being manipulated by a ruthless producer. Viewers are challenged to decipher these clues and it's not until the end of the season that some of the blanks are filled in a season finale, which makes for **SPOILER** a cathartic ending.  (longer review)
  5. The Knick, HBO-Every medical procedural (from Grey's Anatomy to E.R.) should just be set back 100 years in time where medicine was more like alchemy than an exact science. "Patient is not responding! I want some leaches and epoxy salts under his nose stat!" That Clive Owen only got nominated for one Oscar astounds me.
  6. Quick Draw, Hulu-It’s understandable that this TV show would be underappreciated considering: 1) It is on a network that really hasn’t had any visible hits, and 2) the creator’s last show was on TBS during an era when they proved just how little they know about comedy with those annoying “very funny” commercials. It’s worth believing in second chances because while John Lehr’s previous show “10 Items or Less” was a mixture of slightly inventive and bland, “Quick Draw” is in that sublime zone of comedy where the comic climate is so well-established that as long as the characters stay reasonably in character, every attempt at humor is a joke that hits and every joke that hits is a home run.
Second Tier: Shows that are getting it done in style:

  1. House of Cards Season 1, Netflix-Lots of interesting tension and great characters. I soured on this show on Season 2 so I'll cover that more there (longer review)
  2. John Oliver-When he took over as host of the Daily Show last summer, it was a breath of fresh air that led me to believe he should take over the show. The second best thing happened: Oliver's carved out a niche for his comedy on HBO. Due to the novelty factor, John Oliver is my favorite late night comedian to watch at the moment.
  3. Manhattan, WGN-The show isn’t groundbreaking but is certainly watchable. It’s an intelligent historical drama that has a firm grasp of what makes its designated period of history interesting and utilizes that for some good juicy drama. The show manages to touch on social issues from a bygone era from an ironic distance without coming across as overly preachy. The show’s ensemble has mostly unknowns outside of Rushmore/Dollhouse’s Olivia Williams but there are a lot of interesting characters and the ensemble has enough tension so that there’s enough inter-group conflict for a tense World War II pic without a single Nazi. 
  4. Legit, FX-The aimless life of an Australian comedian with too much free time on his hands could rival Seinfeld in terms of low-impact storylines (or as Seinfeld called it “nothing”). with  The second season has Jim becoming no worse or better than before, but relatively succeeding at growing up by virtue of the fact that his two roommates have become far more depraved by comparison.
  5. Bojack Horseman, Netflix-"BoJack Horseman" isn't particularly easy to get into, but a few episodes in, the show's pathos and interesting character dynamics shines through. Like Will Arnett's previous work, "Arrested Development," the show features characters who aim to be dynamic and get out of their ruts in life. Unlike "Arrested Development" however, the show dares to give them, and us, hope at actual improvement. Either way, there's a definite investment to the characters by season's end that gives the show life. The satire also starts getting sharper once the hidden jokes and the parallels to ABC's TGIF line-up of the 1990's start to reveal themselves. People might not notice on first viewing how spot-on "Horsing Around" gets (longer review)
  6.   Royal Pains, USA-I have always maintained that even if “Royal Pains” isn’t the most ambitious show on television, Hank Lawson is one of TV’s most relevant heroes considering the healthcare crisis that’s only intensified since this show premiered in 2009. As medical procedurals go, few are more uplifting than this one. There are no McSteamys and McDreamys here: Just a desperado concierge doctor, a scalpel, lightning-quick diagnosing abilities and the mysterious ability to constantly be around some of the rarest medical emergencies ever recorded (OK, maybe it’s a little more than a scalpel he has). This season’s main thru-lines—The discovery of the Lawson clan’s long-lost sister, the navigation of newlyweds Evan and Paige through a rocky first year, the desire for Jeremiah to step out of his comfort zone—all gibe well and pleasantly focuses on underrepresented dynamics (i.e. siblings, adult-father-and-son) in television. It should also be noted that the series is total scenery/lifestyle porn: People might be falling into comas and strokes in Hank’s presence but they’re having near-death experiences in style. 


Third Teir: Pretty Alright
1. Key and Peele, Comedy Central
2. Crossbones, NBC-Thoroughly enjoyed this pirate saga that has many of the elements of “Pirates of the Caribbean”: beautiful shots of exotic Caribbean locales, swordplay, and the kind of plot twists that come from a pair of mischievous Jack Sparrowish characters who both possess a near-endless capacity for on the fly.
In one ring, we have Blackbeard (John Malkovich), who in this alternate take on history, faked his death and is now living large as a semi-peaceful ruler of an off-the-grid pirate kingdom of his own making. His main foil is combination doctor/spy/ tactician/lover Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle) who is originally sent to expose/kill Blackbeard but ends up in an uneasy alliance with the semi-erratic despot.  There’s also a love triangle between Lowe, free-spirited quartermaster Kate Balfour (I could easily write another paragraph about how enchanting Claire Foy is here) and her handicapped husband (Peter Stebbings).
As for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” comparison (a compare/contrast angle is inevitable considering that is the only other pirate film I have seen), this isn’t the movies but an NBC show that’s relegated to the summer schedule (AKA low-key filler) so adjust your expectations accordingly. It is worth pointing out, however, that while Johnny Depp anchored the Pirates series with a meticulously crafted iconic comic character in Jack Sparrow Jon Malkovich’s humor is unintentional: His interpretation of Blackbeard’s accent is suspiciously Malkovich-like (worth mentioning other than the accent, Malkovich is fine here). But hey, written history can only tell us so much about the accents of 18th Century pirates. Maybe Blackbeard did sound like John Malkovich?
3. Portlandia, IFC-A solid sketch show about the art and science of looking cool. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein still find ways to reinvent themselves and refine their concept four seasons in. The show is also a great haven for guest stars whether Steve Buscemi, Bobby Moynihan, Kumail Nanjiani, Kyle MacLachlan, and the Portland Trailblazers. (longer review)

4. Colbert Report, Comedy Central-The announcement that he was going to take over for David Letterman alerted me to the fact that he's been on the air nearly ten years. That's a long time to stay in one character and I have full confidence that he could do another 10 if he wanted. 


Also the Third Tier: Shows That Took Me By Surprise (in a good way)
1. Suburgatory, ABC-After sporadically watching in Season Two, I caught onto the back end of the third season and found a more satisfying and complex entity than I had previously seen. When the show premiered, it had bite to it in its satirizations of suburbia in the form of city folk George and daughter Tessa, who had moved from Manhattan to the uber-suburban town of Chatswain. As sitcom characters are prone to do, Tessa and George found love interests, friends and frenemies which resulted in a dampening of the edge as George and Tessa were no longer outsiders and overly connected to the town they were supposed to be making fun of. I was highly pleased to find a happy medium between these two poles in Season 3 and all the more heartbroken that the show was cancelled.
2. About a Boy, NBC-The pilot episode and the difficulties of adapting a TV show gave me plenty of doubt, but the show was successfully stretched to a longer-term format. These characters are worth investing for in the long run and from an episode-to-episode perspective, it's  nice charming low-key comedy that offers the same thing the book and movie did: unique character dynamics. (Longer Review)
3. Playing House, TBS-The female-centered comedy initially seemed like chick flick territory, but the two leads are charming and have enough chemistry together to sell the show. (Longer Review)
4. Gravity Falls, Disney-It's difficult to put my finger on what makes the show work considering it defies categorization in this animated TV landscape. It's not really a show for kids (thematically too dark) which is especially bizarre considering its on the Disney Channel which is the new Nickelodeon. At the same time, "Gravity Falls" isn't a direct satire of kid's shows and is unironically steeped in the style of a classic kid's show itself. It will take me some thinking to figure out exactly why this show is working for me, but in the meantime, let me report: This show has hooked me and it's seeming to hook quite a few of my peers. Also, let me report: The spunky protagonist Mabel (Kristen Schaal AGAIN) Pines is one of my favorite characters on TV.
5. Glee, Fox-Its been a while since Glee's heyday when it was water cooler talk. That's understandable as the show cycles through characters, romances and plots at high velocities. In that sense, the show is more about style than substance and inevitably the novelty factor wears off without substance. This past season, some of the substance came back into the show as the character development decelerated. Sam, Tina, Artie and Blaine's senior year was split in two giving the cast a bigger chance to gel. (Longer Review)

To be covered in more detail:
I'll Watch It if It's On:
Bad Teacher, CBS; New Girl, Fox; Modern Family, ABC; The Awesomes, Hulu; Fugget About It, Hulu; Parks and Recreation, NBC; American Dad/Family Guy, Fox; Broad City, Comedy Central

What Was I Thinking??: Shows I've Soured On
Under the Dome, Fox; House of Cards (Season 2), Netflix; Deadbeat, Hulu; Halt and Catch Fire, AMC; Mindy Project, Fox

Shows I just never got into:
Hannibal, NBC; The Strain, FX; Turn, AMC; The Middle, ABC