Thursday, April 26, 2012


Veep- If you can forgive Matt Walsh for not measuring up to Peter Cipaldi’s foul-mouthed bully, then it’s virtually the same ensemble transplanted with different faces. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the part previously occupied by Mimi Kennedy and Timothy Simmon’s White House liaison character is a clear variation of Chad (Zach Woods). To minimize any further confusion for “In the Loop” fans, Anna Chlumsky pretty much plays the same character. She has a higher position (chief of staff to the VP) so maybe it’s the same character in the same universe farther along in time where she got a promotion?

Honestly, there’s not too much else to say except to compare it with “In the Loop” and I would presume the television series which it’s based on. You would think that because Ianucci’s distinct style is more about the rhythm of the dialogue than the plot, that the format is more conducive to television. However, when condensed into 23 minutes, I found the plot to be so much less meaty, that it felt entirely expendable to me.

I loved In the Loop enough that I would not mind tuning into this show again (oh that’s right, I don’t have HBO) bur my point is there’s something to be said for versatility and  it might have been nice if Armando Ianucci’s hyped show wasn’t so predictably similar to past work.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Revolving Door of TV Openings: 2011-2012 Edition

Here's my annual look back at which  TV and movie stars have come back to TV in the 2011-2012 season. The idea of this list is to show how expansive the revolving door is and just how many familiar names and faces make it back to our airwaves every year. The list is created by looking at the rosters of all the TV shows to debut every year and all the additions to existing casts and adding any names to the list that I personally recognize. Of course, that makes this all very subjective. I recognized Annie Potts and Leslie Bibb from the GCB cast list because I recognized them from Ghostbusters and Talladega Nights, respectively, but you might recognize Jennifer Aspen from her role on Rodney or a 4-episode stint on Glee (which I didn't).

If they're a movie star and primarily known as that (Anjelica Huston, Dustin Hoffman, and Jessica Lange were making their TV debuts but there was no way I was leaving them off this list), I label them as such and if they're known only for one movie (again, that's subjective), I list that one movie with an (M) around it.

I try to note when their last project was and the year beside the project means when they're last show went off the air. A * means recurring role, an (A) means animated, a (TR) means a talk or reality show, and a (C) means creator. An animated role is far-less demanding then a live action role and often doesn't preclude them from further projects. Also, keep in mind, a person doesn't have to have left a previous show project to work on a new show like Stephen Merchant and Rickey Gervais adding "Life's Too Short" to their talk show on HBO.
I try to document just when their last TV gig was too:
Amanda Peete, Bent (Studio 60 2007)
Amber Head, Playboy Club (Hidden Palms, 2007, Zombieland [M])
Annie Potts, GCB (Ghostbusters (M), Dangerous Minds, Law and Order SVU* 2009)
Anjelica Huston, Smash (M)
Ashton Kutcher,  Two and a Half Men (Movies, That 70s Show 2006)
Brittany Snow, Person of Interest (American Dreams 2004)
Catherine Tate, The Office (Catherine Tate Show 2004 [C])
Chelsea Handler, Are You There, Vodka? (Chelsea Lately [TR])
Christina Ricci, Pan Am (M)
Claire Danes, Homeland (My So-Called Life 1995, Temple Grandin 2010)
Colm Meany, Hell on Wheels (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 1999)
Connie Britton, American Horror Story (Spin City 2000, Friday Night Lights 2011)
David Hornsby (A), Unsupervised-Creator (It’s Always Sunny*)
Dylan McDermott, American Horror Story (The Practice 2004, Big Shots 2008)
Debra Messing, Smash (Will and Grace 2006, The Starter Wife 2008)
Dennis Farina, Luck (M)
Dianne Ladd, Enlightened (M)
Diedrich Baker (A), Napoleon Dynamite (Drew Carey Show, Outsourced 2011)
Dustin Hoffman, Luck (M)
Garrett Morris, 2 Broke Girls (SNL, Jamie Foxx Show 2001)
Hank Azaria, Free Agents (Simpsons [A], Movies, Huff 2006)
Hector Elizondo, Last Man Standing (Monk 2009)
James Spader, The Office (Boston Legal 2009)
James van der Beek, Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 (Dawson’s Creek 2003)
Jason O’Mara, Terra Nova (Life on Mars 2009)
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story (M)
Jill Hennessy, Luck (Crossing Jordan 2007)
John Goodman*, Community (Roseanne, Normal Ohio, Damages* 2011)
Jonah Hill (C), Allen Gregory (M)
Jeffry Tambor, Bent (Arrested Development 2006, Welcome to the Captain 2008, Archer* [A])
Jessica St. Clair, Best Friends Forever (Best Week Ever)
Jon Heder (A), Nepoleon Dynamite (M) 
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (SNL, Seinfeld, New Adv. Of Old Christine, 2010)
Justin Long (A), Unsupervised (M)
Kat Dennings, Two Broke Girls (Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist [M])
Katherine McPhee, Smash (American Idol [TR])
Kathryn Hahn, Free Agents (Movies, Crossing Jordan 2007)
Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law (The Office 2011)
Kelsey Grammer, Boss (Frasier, Back to You, Hank 2011)
Kiefer Sutherland, Touch (24 2010)
Kristin Chenowith, GCB (West Wing, Pushing Daisies 2009, Sit Down Shit Up, 2010, Glee* 2011)
Laura Dern, Enlightened (M)
Laura Prepon, Are you There, Vodka? (That 70’s Show 2006)
Leslie Bibb, GCB (Talladega Nights [M])
Leslie Mann (A), Allen Gregory (M)
Luke Wilson, Enlightened (Movies)
Maria Bello, Prime Suspect (Movies)
Matt Walsh, Veep (Upright Citizens Brigade, Dog Bites Man 2006)
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland (M)
Maya Rudolph, Up All Night (SNL 2008)
Maulick Pancholy, Whitney (30 Rock 2011)
Nancy Travis, Last Man Standing (Almost Perfect, Becker, Bill Engvall Show 2009)
Nick Nolte, Luck (M)
Rachel Bilson, Heart of Dixie (The OC 2006)
Regnald vel Johnson, Heart of Dixie (Family Matters 1998) 
Ricky Gervais (C), Life's Too Short (Extras, Ricky Gervais Show [TR])
Stephen Merchant (C), Life's Too Short (Extras, Ricky Gervais Show [TR])
Ted Levine, Luck (Monk 2009)
Tim Allen, Last Man Standing (Home Improvement 1999)
Will Arnett, Up All Night (Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Running Wilde 2011)
Will Forte (A), Allen Gregory (SNL 2010)
Zooey Deschanel, New Girl (M)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A super-belated top 10 tv shows of 2011

Doing top ten lists in December is overrated. I half-worked on this in December, shelved it while working on a top 25 characters of the year. The lag in time has allowed me to make a better and more accurate list as I have a better idea which shows resonated with me in retrospect. This is true even if the show took a nose dive after the New Year as is the case with Parks and Recreation. Like any blogger who aspires to be a TV critic and doesn't possess superpowers to slow down time so he or she can watch everything, compromises had to be made in terms of what to watch and what not to watch. The pool of shows I selected this from is listed down below.

  1. The Onion News Network, IFC, Seasons 1 and 2-Even though this is my #1 slot, I don’t have a whole lot to write here except that this is the program I was most blown away by week in and week out. I know it doesn’t score too many points for originality or risk as it is was basically an extension of their youtube channel, but that doesn’t mean the show’s not on the edge creatively. Both the first and second seasons came out this year and the show added a new level of complexity in the latter as the show became experimental and semi-serialized in the form of Brooke Alvarez’s rivalry with do-gooder news reporter Brady O’Shaw. Examples of episodic arcs included the broadcasting of the apocalypse, the computer becoming a sentient being and falling in love with Brooke, and the revealing that the icy Brooke was once a famous Russian cosmonaut as a baby. I imagine that in the same way hard core fans of The Daily Show and Colbert Report cling to those shows as a bastion of cutting edge satire, I see this as program as both the most funny and twistedly honest program on television. On second thought, maybe I do have a lot to write about it.     
  2. Parks and Recreation, NBC, All of seasons 3, 1st half of Season 4-No longer in the shadow of Office, Parks and Recreation has an incredibly strong cast that didn’t lose a beat with the arrival of Adam Scott as geeky outsider Ben Wyatt and Rob Lowe as hyperactive city manager Chris Traeger. The show hasn’t just created a strong sense of place and time, but it’s created an inviting one. Leslie Knope was originally an irritating opportunity for Amy Poehler to try out a leftover SNL impression. Now, she and her gang of government bureaucrats have become the best definition of a great ensemble: you see them less as actors and more as a group of friends we want to hang out with.
3.      Archer, FX, Season 2, 1st 3 episodes of Season 3-The show isn't just another spy parody but a first-rate spy parody and a wacky office comedy to boot. The key to the show is that the characters are uniquely idiosyncratic creations rather than the means to and end for traditional parody.
More of my review can be found here

  1. Hell on Wheels, AMC, Most of Season 1-The show is beautifully shot but doesn’t do the glamor of the West any favors. The railroad camps and the life of backbreaking labor is so hellish that only marked men would go there. The show interestingly contrasts that with two Irish brothers who think they can get a slice of the American dream with their picture show, a preacher who wants to open up a church, a whore with scars from her time as an Indian princess and a newly widowed fair-haired maiden who was told by another character that, not being a whore or Indian, she doesn’t beloing out there. It’s the traditional Western told through a lot of unique and diverse perspectives.  Note: In retrospect, I've learned that not a lot of other people liked this show because its inferior to Deadwood. I never saw Deadwood and proudly stand by it.
5.      Jimmy Kimmel Show-ABC-With his brilliant ambush of Jay Leno last year during the Late Night wars or his faux romance with Matt Damon among other things, Kimmel’s antics have made for viral sensations on quite a few occasions. Too bad only a few people know him as a consistent entity night in and night out. It’s ironic that he was previously known as the co-host of the unforgivably crude The Man Show, because I could argue that he's the classiest and most genuine host out there. Like Conan, he relies on a stable of cast and crew members as go-to sources of humor, but the difference is there’s a clear sense of affection that drives their interaction. This was most apparent in Kimmel’s teary-eyed TV eulogy to his Uncle Frank which marked a high-water mark of his series, if not Late Night Television. On top of that, he’s a pro at interviewing and a gifted comic. In short, a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnant format.

6. Wilfred-FX-Season 1-It took me a couple episodes to get into this, but I loved it once I started seeing it as a drama rather than a gimmicky comedy. It has one of the most depressed characters on television, it doesn't treat his illness with kid gloves and it's a feel good story with no false moments which is a lot to say for a show with a talking dog in it. Read my review here.

7.      The Office-NBC-Back half of Season 7, front half of Season 8-In the post-Michael-Scott Era, The Office has provided easy fodder for Critics to show off their sophistication with analysis of just how and where the show fell from grace. I’ll happily take the opposite position and declare announcements of the show's demise to be premature. True, the show’s suffered at the top with Will Ferrell’s lacking in any identifiable characteristic and James Spader offering little to the mix other than creepy blankness, but come on, this is still The Office and the work of a writing staff that knows what it’s doing. As the Michael Scott storyline came to an end, the staff did an admirable job of steering the show through uncharted territory and twisted the storyline to revolve around Andy rather than Jim. Andy’s no force of nature like Michael Scott, but he’s a fully realized character and the writers haven’t betrayed his arc. The staff has also kept the momentum going with storylines and grown Daryl, Gabe, and Erin.

 8. Portlandia-IFC-Season 1-This sketch show’s backstory is almost as endearing as the show itself. It evolved around a platonic friendship between SNL star Fred Armisen and alt-rocker Carrie Bowenstein wanting to spend more time together and work on a project. Not only does the pair expertly skewer hipster culture, they help us articulate and define what it entails better than we would have ourselves had we never watched the show. A tangible chemistry between the two stars and a sketch show with a unique perspective are two good reasons for this show’s existence, which is two more than nearly every other sketch comedy on TV.

9. Once Upon a Time-ABC-First half of Season 1-Last year, I'm embarrassed to say, I somehow winded up with No Ordinary Family on my year-end list. I was a little bit too stubborn to get off that train and admit the horse I backed in the proverbial Fall Season derby was a dud. This year, I'm going to go with ABC's most ambitious production and again, I have a small fear that the show's reliance on a 10-year old to dictate the rules of its universe might wear a little thin. But at the end of the day, even if the show crashes and burns, it had a great opening run that set up the possibility of a great series. As hour-long entertainment, it's been solid and the show has gradually built up its world enough to arouse curiosity over what its future may bring. A full review can be found here.

10. American Dad-Fox-Front half of Season 7, Back half of Season 8-An under discussed animated entity, American Dad deserves mention for being consistently funny and inventive. Roger, that lovable extraterrestrial duex-es-machina, continues to lead the show in interesting directions signifying just how well the writer’s room has resisted the temptations to overextend his limitless personality. Unlike sister show, Family Guy, American Dad has distinctive characters which exist as more than just an excuse to get from point A to point B in the plot.

Honorable Mentions:
-It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia-FX-A couple duds, but one of the most consistently hillarious shows on television over the last few years, deserves praise
-Mr. Sunshine, ABC-I thought Matt Perry had a fairly impressive hit on his hands and some of the side characters (particularly Nate Torrence, Allison Janney, and whomever played Heather the psycho seceretary) added a lot of color. Deserves more praise than it got. I think the score and some of its other tonal elements gave it a bad taste and I think Matt Perry's downer character wasn't necessarily appealing. I'm a fan of his type of comedy and would not have watched Friends for as long as it did.
-Terra Nova, FOX-I-Unlike Rowan Kaiser over at AV Club or James Ponziewichii P. (however you spell that guy's last name) at Time, I never thought this show took that big of a drop after its initial run. I can't deny it was exciting to see a universe with such wide open rules and I didn't see the cast.
-Sing-Off, NBC-A reality show with three great judges, a lot of great groups and an overall take-home message of synergy and harmony. Who know that you didn't need a British asshole and a dog-eat-dog environment to make a successful reality show? It might have made the top ten is I feel the show strained its format by running a couple episodes too long and I also felt the judging up to the final four was erratic.
-New Girl, Fox-Zooey Deschanel is ridiculous and implausibly weird. Even more surprisingly, I've slowly come to love her. She's so over the top and hammy, it's more of a send-up than a performance to be taken at face value. Schmidt started getting good storylines after the New Year which might have affected my rankings because it's now more of an ensemble comedy. 
-The Looney Tunes Show-Cartoon Network-Every time, I watch Looney Tunes reruns on TV, I've not only seen the skit before but I almost know the lines. In other words, I've been hungry for new Looney Tunes material for a while, so it's really good to see Bugs and Daffy back on the screen again. Then again, I wasn't expecting to see Bugs and Daffy cohabitating together in a household tackling mundane tasks like double dates, holding down a job, earning membership into a country club, being the star of a bowling league. Even worse, Yosemite Sam doesn't see Bugs and Daffy as hunting trophies, but roommates to mooch off of. Still, Kristen Wiig kills it as Lola and it does kind of make me happy to see Bugs and Daffy openly admit to being friends
-Revenge, ABC-A good twist on the high society soap opera: Having an infiltrator out to secretly destory everyone
-Web Therapy, Internet/Showtime-I did not expect to like this show because I'm not a Lisa Kudrow fan at all. This show was highly inventive in premise and execution and I was taken by surprise as its characters grew into an intertangled web with each other. Guest stars like Alan Cumming, Rashida Jones, Michael McDonald, Selma Blair and Molly Shannon all deserve great praise.

Just to let you all know what I saw this year:
2 Broke Girls, CBS, 2 and a Half Men, CBS, 30 Rock, NBC, Big Bang Theory, CBS, Bob's Burgers, Fox. Bored to Death, HBO, Burn Notice, USA, Community, NBC, Conan, TBS, Cougartown, ABC, Daily Show & Colbert Report, Comedy Central, Eastbound & Down, HBO (just one ep. but I hated it), Family Guy, FOX, Free Agents, NBC, Funny or Die Show, HBO, Futurama, NBC, Glee, Fox, Grimm, NBC, H8R, CW, Happy Endings, ABC, Ice Road Truckers, History Channel, In Plain Sight, USA, Last Man Standing, ABC, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, NBC, Life and Times of Tim, HBO (or that might be 2010, not sure), Mad, Cartoon Network, Misfits, Hulu (Although the 3 episodes I saw were originally produced in 2009), Modern Family, ABC, Off the Map, ABC, Onion Sports Dome, Comedy Central, Outsourced, NBC, Pan Am, ABC, Playboy Club, NBC, Raising Hope, Fox, Retired at 35, TV Land, Ricky Gervais Show, HBO, Royal Pains, USA, Running Wilde, Fox, Saturday Night Live, NBC, S*$# my Dad Says, CBS, Sports Show with Norm McDonald, Comedy Central, Suburgatory, ABC; United States of Tara, Showtime, Waking Dead, AMC, Wipeout, ABC

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23" with Les Chappell

Cross-talking about the new show "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23" (on ABC) with Les Chappell of  

Me: I thought the bitch character (can't remember her name) was unusually cartoonish but I was thinking "By golly, it's so crazy it just might work" like those 1950's movie executives. On the one hand, her desire to ruin the lives of innocent midwesterners moving to NEw York City in an effort to set them straight is a poor choice for a defining trait of a character because it's so thin and baseless in any which number of ways. This isn't Pushing Daisies or Once Upon a Time so I expect more realism. However, she's so unwaveringly outrageous that I think she could be TV's next Sue Sylvester. Then again, I'm not sure I know of a show where one of the two leads is the over-the-top X factor. That's a delicate balance to hold.

Les: I don't think she was purposely trying to ruin their lives, she just used that as a flimsy justification for stealing their money. I do think they maybe went too over-the-top in her bitchdom, but for now I'm excusing that as a pilot thing they'll tone down in upcoming episodes. Also, the character was named Chloe.

Me: Don't get me wrong, the one's roommate is nuts while the other one's sane has been done before. Two and a Half Men, the short-lived Tony Shaloub-Neil Patrick Harris vehicle Stark Raving Mad are the first two to come to mind and neither of them had roommates insane as advertised (Remember, Charlie Sheen's offscreen antics don't count) but I think Chloe is more the equivalent of Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover: Someone who's just so ridiculous that they're best used in the background rather than driving the plot forward

Les: I think I have more confidence in Krysten Ritter to drive a sitcom than you do - I didn't find her over-the-top ridiculous, just portrayed as meaner than she actually is. I think in a few episodes it'll settle into more of an Odd Couple sort of thing and they'll move closer to each others' poles and even out. Plus, the Beek from the Creek adds a hell of a lot of humor to things.

Me: While other tv reviewers feel they can distinguish themselves through being thorough in their research, I prefer the opposite. I like to research as little as possible, for authenticity's sake and out of laziness, but thanks for the assist. Chloe it is! Back to the review and I'm sorry to take up your valuable facebook wall real estate with my shennanigans but I'm kind of on a roll and the inspiration to write has just sort of struck me here and now, so I'm just going to continue reviewing if that's allright with you. In response to you, I disagree: Her M.O. was lulling Midwesterners into her apartment and making them miserable so they'll leave and go back to the Midwest. She's in it for the money, but she's also doing it out of a deluded sense of chivalry. I mean this is a deluded character that if she existed in real life might qualify for an episode of Ripley's Believe it Or Not or one of those wierd world of crime museums. Not only that, I think that's the source of her humor. I kind of hope they tone it down, but I think it's too late to really change directions two episodes in because there's not much else about her but that. She sort of spends an inordinate amount of time doing that so it almost is the equivalent of a career for her and defines her relationship with at least two other characters already.

Les: I didn't get the chivalrous vibe from her - not to say that's a wrong theory, but I got nothing in the way of being helpful from her. She's got as the Beek put it pirate morals. And I really don't think she's that extreme - I could find people like her easily amongst Portland's population.

Les: Oh, and two episodes in? There's a ridiculous amount of time left to adjust. It usually takes comedies at least half a season to get the calibration right. 

Me: And how about the James van der Beek factor. I read a review the morning the show premiered (the only one I read, I'm weak) that lamented the use of J vdB because bringing in a star to play a slighter more degenerate version of themselves is too "been there done that." I've seen it done with one-off guest roles in Extras and Curb Your Enthusiasm and presumably it's been done in Entourage, but I think there's a major difference between that and having James van der Beek be a fabric of the show week after week. I'm guilty of not subscribing to Showtime and thus never having seen Episodes but I also believe Matt LeBlanc and his degenerating was the purpose of the show, and here James van der Beek is like 3rd-billed. That seems a much better fit 

Les: I skipped Episodes because everyone said it was awful, though apparently Matt LeBlanc was the best part of the show. I think the Beek isn't a big enough star for it to be too distracting, and this is something he's done on Funny or Die videos before so he knows how much he can get away with. And agreed, if he's part of the show's universe on a regular basis that's different from a cameo here and there on some other shows. My concern would only be if every episode focuses on "Dawson's Creek" references and him either cashing in on or trying to escape the fame of it. (And really, all I want is for him to act on his apparent feud with James Franco he mentioned in episode two so Franco can make an appearance channeling the way he was in 30 Rock S4. "I'm the actor James Franco! And I'm in love with and common-law married to a Japanese body pillow!")

Me: Oh I totally forgot about Franco's love with a body pillow. With Kevin's body pillow girlfriend and van der Beek's rivalry with Franco, that's two distinct reasons to bring Franco on the show himself. I'm guessing he's already slated to appear a few episodes down the line and this is very weak foreshadowing

Les: If it brings James Franco in, I don't care if it's weak foreshadowing. All Franco, all the time.

Me: Also, they have a weird neighbor with a Lars and the Real Girl thing going on and who has an odd juxtaposition of being an out-and-out pervert and seemingly an acceptable member of society. He's kind of the wacky guy I expect to be in a sitcom but not the guy who's being asked to carry the plots. Add him and Mark's girlfriend who's so thin that she can only make love underwater (Maybe Niles' ex-wife picked up this guy on the rebound?), and it seems as if the show is aiming for the most offbeat characters it can think of. It's the humor of wackiness, agree?  

Les: Again, it's a pilot, it's trying a few things out. The masturbating neighbor, the obsessive girl down the hall, the banker turned barista - if the showrunners are smart they'll find a way to give them more depth or phase them out gradually, and if they're not they'll stay as they are. It could be a "New Girl" or an "Are You There, Chelsea?"

Les: But anyway: I like Krysten Ritter, I like this version of himself VDB's playing, I like Drema Walker, and I think the show's funny enough I'll add it to the comedy rotation. ABC's got a good track record of comedies that start out rough and get better ("Happy Endings" and "Cougar Town") and what I saw makes me think this one could slide in alongside those two. 

Me: I don't think Happy Endings started out anywhere near as ambitious as this. It was an unremarkable Friends clone that found its grove (although for the record, not with me, I'm just acknowledging its success). This is a high concept show with balls-to-the-walls ambition. It reminds me in how far out in left field it is with Knights of Prosperity which ABC failed to nurture. I get a good feeling from this show as well. I like it but I think for it to have legs, it's going to have to smooth out its edges in the opposite direction of Happy Endings: It has to tone down its more outrageous characters  

Les: I really don't get the left-field, high-concept vibe from this you're getting. It's a classic Odd Couple scenario with both sides of the equation modernized.