Saturday, December 28, 2013

Annual thank you to friends of my blog

For the third year in a row, I'm going to pretend like I just won an Oscar for blog-writing and deliver an annoyingly long thank you speech:

First off, I'd like to thank a wonderful young copy editor named Edison Russ who has helped me out through the severest cases of writers block and crisizes ovrer how To spell, weed out typous abd capitzalize (see how much my sentences fall apart without Edison?) I'm not sure what Edison's employment status is but some employer out there is sorely missing out by not snatching up Edison.

I want to thank all the big people out there in the world of TV and film criticism who take time to throw me some love in the twitterverse. Will Harris, a fellow Virginian writer, has the supercool job of interviewing C-level stars (the best kind) for the random roles feature of the AV Club. Has been open with advice and managed to fake being impressed when I showed him my list of famous people I interviewed. Daniel T. Walters is kind of a big deal on Twitter and in the world of TV writing  with the Pacific Northwest Inlander and has occasionally given me feedback in 140 characters or less and I accidentally omitted him in the last two editions. Sorry Daniel and thanks for the support. There is also someone out there named Emily Nussbaum who writes brilliant pieces for the New Yorker and is quite generous with us little people when it comes to distirbuting the love on Twitter.

I'd also like to thank a writer named David Simms for being a good sport. I once randomly decided to pick someone at the AV Club and repeatedly campaign for them as a follower so thanks David and a big thank you to Kenny Herzog for actually following me.

I'd like to thank Cory Barker for putting me on a round table and want to congratulate him as well as two other twitter acquaintances Noel Kirkpatrick and Les Chappell on becoming professional TV writers in the past year as well as on the success of their new site "This was TV."

Christine Becker is a Professor of TV and film studies at Notre Dame and she is so full of support and advice, I'm pretty sure I will be needing to pay student tuition fees at Notre Dame.

There's also Matt Zoller Seitz who recently took over as the head critic for Roger Ebert and he's tweeted a couple of my posts for his audience and was very complimentary. Knowing that he might be reading encourages me to try to write something amazing.

I'd also like to thank a certain PR person at CollegeHumor named Jaime. The first thing I said to her when she called and I heard her voice was female was "So now the mystery is solved over whether you're a Hispanic man or a woman" and rather than hang up the phone, she kept talking to me and let me interview some famous people that I can add to my "famous people I interviewed" list. My communication with Jaime this past year has probably totaled more minutes than any other professional correspondence which Jaime probably is unhappy about so hopefully this makes up for that.

I'd also like to thank Ben Relles the head of Barely Political for being generous with my interview as well as Sam Reich of CollegeHumor for hearing my script idea over the course of our interview and not telling me it sucked. I also would like to thank all the people who cooperated with me on interviews this year: This year I got to interview an expert on the Nazi party in Arlington, a puzzle maker, an SNL auditionee who now imitates Mary-Kate Olsen for a living, two major heads of production in the internet world, a group of DIY bike collective owners, a food cart owner illegally operating on the streets of Arlington, a Jewish boy scout troop, a hand-crafted violin maker, a collector of Pez dispensers, the owner of a historic cemetery, a 36-year veteran of the CIA on the TV show "The Americans", the Arlington County Assistant Manager, the staff at Americana Hotel in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, and a bunch of people in Arlington who claim to have seen coyotes.

[The orchestra is pushing me off the stage but I must keep going]

Some miscellaneous thank yous:
I'd like to thank my former editor at the Connection, Steven, for continuing to give me advice and counsel me, I'd like to thank Eddie "Mr Puma" Rodriguez for his belief that I might eventually get back into Cracked's good graces and being awesome in general (I don't remember if Eddie has a site of his own, but I remember he has some mad editing skills and he can be found here). Also, a thank you to Kathy Benjamin at Cracked for giving advice and giving me a recommendation for Mental Floss Magazine. She has a great book out right now. Meg Miller Reydzewski also helped me as a freelancer for ArlNow with coordinating a lot of information. If I'm not mistaken Meg has a book out so everyone buy that immediately once they figure out the name of it. Also, Jason Iannone has made the quality of articles at a lot better through some great editing and also gave it to me straight when I needed an intervention so thanks for that buddy. And a little thanks to a user on twitter named @AdmiralChristy who gave me a little reading when I needed it most today.

Speaking of editors, I'd like to thank all the editors who've given me a place to publish (to avoid muddling their digital foot prints, I'll just give first names). Some of you have a sense of confidence in me that means a lot, some of you make me work hard for my stories, some of you are insightful and collaborate with me in a way that's a lot of fun, some of you are pleasantly down-to-earth, but you all have one thing in common: Giving me money to write stories, which is pretty heroic of all of you:
Philippa at The Pink Line Project, Steve at Nostalgia Digest (check out See You on the Radio), Jenny at Arlington Magazine, Scott at Arlington Sun Gazette, Adrienne at Teaching Tolerance, Alexandra at Washington City Paper, Shell at, the ever-so-patient Brendan at CBS ManCave, Jason at Mental Floss Magazine, Scott at Arl Now, David at Reel SEO, Cindy at Richmond Times Dispatch, and last but not least, Tina at Richmond Style-Weekly. Would you believe these are all actual newspapers and that I'm in all of them (technically all but one this calendar year)? I would not have guessed that as recently as 2012.

And thank you to all the people who rejected me too: The internet commenters who tell me I suck and are frustrated to see me continue being published need some form of validation and it's nice to know that you're there for them.

Stephanie Norton is a recent partner in crime of mine who has been on movie sets and worked with movie stars before landing in the D.C. area and she writes screenplays and does a bunch of stuff. She taught me a lot about social media and clearly knows what she's doing.

Thank you to John Lehr and Jay Martel for following me on Twitter. Are you sure it was me you wanted to follow? You guys make (pretty good) TV, I just write about it.

And lastly thank you to anyone who reads my blog and is forgiving of my lack of correct spelling because I just rattled off this entry on my cell phone and probably have a lot of misspellings in here including the names of the people I'm thanking.

For past editions, click on the tag "Friends of Blog"

Director Progress Report

My bi-annual progress report for 2013 updated from the end of 2011. New additions in bold.

18 Alfred Hitchkock-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

8 Martin Scorsesee-Color of Money, Age of Innocence, Goodfellas, Aviator, The Departed, Gangs of New York, Shutter Island, Hugo
8 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
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 (1/2) Clint Eastwood-Mystic River, Unforgiven, Bronco Billy, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Invictus, Gran Torino, White Heart, Lonely Hunter; (Trouble with the Curve) (Clint Eastwood wasn't credited as the director but some say he directed it)

7 Ivan Reitman- Ghostbusters, 6 Days 7 Days, Old School, Space Jam, Fathers Day, Beethoven, Beethoven’s 2nd
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 Sodebergh-Erin Brockovitch, Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, Full Frontal, Good German, Ocean’s 13, Informant
7 Vincente Minelli-Meet me in St Louis, American in Paris, The Pirate, Brigadoon, The Band Wagon, Kismet, Sandpiper

6 Mel Brooks-Spaceballs, High Anxiety, Young Frankenstein, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, History of the World Part I
6 Frank Oz-Bowfinger, In and Out, Stepford Wives, The Score, What About Bob, Housesitter
6 Terry Gilliam-Time Bandits, Brazil, Fisher King, Monty Python, Brothers Grimm, Baron Muchenhausen
6 Barry Levinson-Tin Men, Rain Man, Sleepers, Good Morning Vietnam, Man of the Year, Wag the Dog
6 Peter Segal-Naked Gun 33 1/3, Tommy Boy, My Fellow Americans, 50 First Dates, Get Smart
6 Jay Roach-Austin Powers I-III, Meet the Parents, Mystery Alaska, Dinner for Schmucks
6 Tony Scott- Enemy of the State, Déjà Vu, Crimson Tide, Top Gun, Taking of Pelham 1,2,3; Unstoppable
6 Brett Ratner-After the Sunset, Rush Hour 2, Family Man, X-Men 3, Red Dragon, Tower Heist
6 Ron Howard-Apollo 13, Beautiful Mind, Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, Angels and Demons, The Paper
6 Gore Verbinski-Pirates of the Carribean 1-3, Weatherman, The Mexican, Rango
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

5 George Lucas-Star Wars I-IV, American Graffiti

5 Tom Shadyac-Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, Patch Adams, Evan Allmighty, Ace Ventura
5 Sydney Pollack-Sabrina, Out of Africa, Tootsie, The Interpreter, Slender Thread
5 Joel Schumaker-Time to Kill, 8 MM, Batman and Robin, Batman Forever, The Client
5 Orson Welles-Citizen Kane, Lady of Shanghai, Othello, Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil
5 Bryan Singer-Usual Suspects, X-Men, X2, Superman Returns, Valkyrie
5 John Glenn-5 Bond films
5 Johnothan Demme-Silence of the Lambs, Melvin and Howard, Manchurian Candidate, Married to the Mob, Rachel Getting Married
5 Tim Burton-Batman, Batman Returns, Ed Wood, Charlie and the Chocolate Factor, Alice in Wonderland
5 Roland Emmerich-ID4, Stargate, The Patriot, Day After Tomorrow, 2012
5 Robert Rodriguez-El Mariachi Trilogy, Spy Kids and Lava Girl, Sin City
5 Peter Weir-Witness, Dead Poet’s Society, The Truman Show, Master and Commander,Year of Living Dangerously
5 Rob Reiner-Stand and Deliver, Princess Bride, Rumor Has It, American President, Ghosts of Mississippi
5 Curtis Hanson- LA Confidential, Wonderboys, In Her Shoes, Lucky You, 8 Mile
5 Cameron Crowe-Almost Famous, Jerry MaGuire, Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown, We Bought a Zoo
5 Chris Columbus-Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Stepmom, I Love You Beth Cooper
5 Barry Sonnenfeld-Men in Black I, II, Wild Wild West, Big Trouble, MiB III
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
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 John Ford-Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Hurricane, How Green was my Valley, The Whole Town's Talking

4 Sidney Lumet: Network, 12 Angry Men, Murder on the Orient Express, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
4 John Huston-Beat the Devil, Key Largo, African Queen, Man Who Would be King
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 D. Herek-Mr. Holland’s Opus, Three Musketeers, Mighty Ducks, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures
4 Wes Anderson-Rushmore, Royal Tannenbaums, The Life Aquatic, Darjeerling Limited
4 Penny Marshall-Awakenings, Rennisance Man, Big, League of their Own
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 James Mangold-3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line, Kate and Leopold, Night and Day
4 Dennis Dungan-Happy Gilmore, Beverly Hills Ninja, Big Daddy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
4 Sam Weisman-George of the Jungle, Dickie Roberts Former Child Star, Out-of Towners, Mighty Ducks 2
4 Christopher Guest-For Your Consideration, Mighty Wind, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman
4 Jon Favreau-Elf, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Cowboys and Aliens
4 Adam McKay: Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys
4 David Lean-Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, Passage to India, Summertime
4 Michael Moore-Roger and Me, F 411, Sicko, Capitalism: A Love Story
4 Sam Raimi-Spiderman 1-3, Oz: The Great and Powerful
4 Chris Nolan-Batman Begins, Dark Knight, Dark Knight Rises, Inception

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Looking at some of the 2013 shows that didnt measure up

I just posted my Top 10 List along with an Honorable Mention. On top of that, I include a list of shows that I watched so someone reading my Top 10 List will know what it was up against because no critic watches everything. In that respect, I'd like to also review 2013 by discussing some of the shows that fell short of being considered by myself for the year's best TV:

The Crazy Ones-It's a somewhat dependable sitcom and the Robin Williams/Sarah Michelle Gellar is a great pairing. I'll never understand the school of thought that Robin Williams is kind of annoying instead of a supremely talented guy who is among the most gifted comedians out there. Though I'd place myself in the top 10% of the population in terms of how much they like Robin Williams, even I found him a little redundant here. The show also loses points for having one of my last favorite stock characters: The lothario who is effortlessly irresistible to the opposite sex. This wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that it's supposed to be his comic trait and there's nothing that inherently funny about a guy who uses women like he does. Amanda Setton is clearly a talented actress but she isn't used particularly well here (ironically, I think she fit in better on "The Mindy Project") and she's given her character a weird tic of making every line of dialogue sound like a nervous question (perhaps she's trying to get on the cast of "Whose Line is It Anyway?").

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: This was a great addition to my weekly schedule for several weeks but the show had some irritating traits that eventually cancelled out the show's strengths. Andy Samberg does not make a believable cop (or a likable character for that matter) which begs the question: If the show's sole function is as a vehicle for Andy Samberg, why place him into TV's most overused genre when he doesn't fit into it? While some of the side characters (this show could win a diversity award for best Latino cast on TV) and relationships are excellent, the show lacks any sort of grounding upon which to build comedy. The comic tone is geared so much towards one-liners and quick gags, it feels more like vaudeville than a multi-layered source of laughs.

Modern Family-The show is high enough in quality to have merited honorable mention every year thus far, but by this point, the show has used up nearly every bag of tricks at its disposal. At this point, how many more hidden talents can Cam reveral? How many more revelations can there be that Jay's really a softie? How many more times can Alex surprise Haley by climbing her way up the social ladder? Hasn't she had her first boyfriend three times by now? This is not a fault of the show as it's doing what it is designed to do: Produce consistent and interchangeable episodes so that it can make a killing in syndication. I would happily watch this show five years from now when it turns up on the TV on a random afternoon and I still watch it now. It's just no longer event viewing.

The Sing-Off-It was probably right around #11 the last time it came on in 2011. Since the Sing-Off came back from the brink of cancellation, it acquired a new corporate producer in the form of Sony Television which made a few small changes that ended up making the show worse. I thought seven episodes was the optimal number but I didn't feel like I got the chance to know most of these groups. More backstory was needed and the swan songs, Ben's blog and the post-performance camera chats might have helped that.

The Awesomes (Hulu)-Seth Meyer's newest venture, the show got off to a great start and seemed to find something unique to say in the now overcrowded genre of superhero spoofs. I still watched it all the way through but the plots lost a little firepower after a while as certain plot motifs started repeating themselves (i.e. no one catching onto Malocchio's plan, Prock having a crush on Hotwire, Muscleman dealing with his inferior intellect in comparison to Prock) in ways that didn't build. Of the eight superheroes, I found only about half to really hold my attention as interesting characters. Coincidentally, that's the same hit-miss ratio as SNL sketches so, hey, at least Seth is consistent.
Alpha House (Amazon)-Based on an article from the New York Times, the show about four Senators sharing a house in Washington is a premise winning enough to get a good bidding war and the necessary amount of hype to kick off Amazon's original content platform. The show is pleasant and breezy through the first three episodes. At the same time, it's somewhat underwhelming due to the fact that it seems episodic in tone with little serialization. It almost seems like the remnants of a multi-camera sitcom. It's also worth noting that John Goodman seems to be recycling some of his old roles for the lead character (I see some traces of Evan Almighty, Flight, the Babe and some of his  Coen brothers films). He is a bit grumpy, a little lazy, and that's about it. This is is even more disappointing considering that most standout shows in the Golden Age of TV have incredibly strong protagonists. The upside is that the show has a lot of potential for good plots as there's a lot of amusing situations I can imagine placing four senators in. In the third episode, for example, they go to Afghanistan on a fact-finding trip for self-serving reasons. Although I was disappointed that they were in Afghanistan only in the episode's third act, it had potential.

My disappointments with Lilyhammer, Scandal, American Horror Story, and 1600 Penn are covered elsewhere on this blog.

My predictions for the Hitfix Critical List

In the Golden Age of TV, it's important not just to analyze what's good and what isn't but to analyze the people making such judgments. Hitfix has an annual poll that collectively pools from all the Top Ten Lists of the TV critics.  I doubt I'll get a chance to participate in it but I thought it might be fun to predict what they came up with based on my impression of the critical temperature of TV. Note that the list is already out and I'm writing this from imperfect knowledge:

1. Breaking Bad, AMC-The show has been the recipient of so much hyperbole and had an agreeable enough ending that I'm pretty sure nothing else will take its mojo at this point. Like an Olympic diver who racks up 10's early in the competition, it was pretty much guaranteed high placement in its last season as long as it didn't flub the landing.
2. Mad Men, AMC-A show that was the MVP of the airwaves somewhere around 07-09 and hasn't had any major fall from grace, it should place pretty high based on plurality, particularly with some of the game changers this season.
3. Game of Thrones, HBO-The way this relatively nerdy show is crossing over into the mainstream and getting water cooler talk is going to bode well.
4. Good Wife, ABC-Steadily winning over critics over the years, I think this year will be a tipping point where the show finally hits big. I expect it will get a lot of votes in the 3-6 range
5. Enlightened, HBO-Whether critics will remember this monumental hit from way back in January-March or whether they'll be moved to reserve a slot for a TV show that's been cancelled is up for debate, but this was a truly special TV show and a lot of critics felt that way.
6. Broadchurch, BBC-I know very little about this show but like Downtown Abbey, BBC is crossing over very well into the US right now and I'm predicting this as the new critical darling
7. Orange is the New Black, Netflix- Somewhat of a sleeper hit (considering it debuted in the shadow of House of Cards and Arrested Development) I'm seeing enough buzz for it
8. Americans, FX-I have some personal issues with the way it stretches credibility, but I'm seeing a lot of potential for it among critics as the hot new show and in terms of creating genuine suspense (both multi-episode arc and in-episode), there's few shows that have done as well
9. Scandal, ABC-Quite possibly the most buzzed-about show this year (even more impressive considering we saw the back half of the second season and the top half of the third.
10. Homeland, Showtime-Some people haven't liked the third season as much but this show's a game changer and still very high quality. Even on an off-year, it will probably get enough praise to make the top ten.
11. Parks and Recreation, NBC- Critics will feel the need to balance out all the great drama with a comedy or two and this long-time critical favorite which has consistently placed on top ten lists throughout will likely be touted especially as an indirect way of honoring Greg Daniels' original vision of The Office which departed the airwaves this year and most agree has gone way too far off the rails to be honored in any way.
12. House of Cards, Netflix- Most of the feedback I heard was disappointment over the first couple episodes (I'm in that category) and then high praise from those who stuck with it and thought it came back around to brilliance. Even for TV critics, there aren't enough hours in the day to watch the 100+ programs that populate the airwaves every week and have to make decisions to optimize their TV watching, so I wouldn't be surprised if a number of TV critics didn't get to that point.
13. Arrested Development, Netflix-This show is hailed as the high water of the first decade of the 21st century in TV comedy, but it will be interesting to see where it places here as it existed before the Golden Age of TV and existed before episode-by-episode online scrutiny. The show has largely been seen as different yet still satisfying with a fair share of those saying the show lived up to or fell below the ridiculously high expectations
14. Masters of Sex, Showtime-The hype for the show was high and, by and large, it lived up to. The risque topic will earn the show bravery points and doing it tastefully will earn it quality points
15. Boardwalk Empire, HBO-A show that's been seen one of the most ambitious on TV for the past four years that has never got the love of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, or Homeland, but is never one to count out either. The season two back-half in which Nucky Thompson and protege Jimmy Darmody got engaged in a power struggle earned praise and critics appear to be even happier about this season with the show. Even if critics have already come to terms with this show not becoming the next big thing, it will likely get votes at the bottom of tens.
16. Orphan Black, BBC-A show I'm not familiar with but one that I have seen generating a lot of buzz
17. American Horror Story, FX-The show is clearly all over the place but several critics have latched onto the stuff that works and repackaged the parts that don't work as part of Murphy and Falchuk's vision worthy of celebration for its unique bizarreness. Last time, I intensely delved into this show's reviews (around 2011), it was a highly polarizing show but in a system of tallying up top tens, the haters won't have any sort of veto power. Besides, since 2012, the show has become more decisive about what it wants to be.
18. New Girl, Fox-As in "Parks and Recreation" critics will need to put some simple comedies on their lists to show that they're capable of enjoying light-hearted lists and with "30 Rock" offering too short of a sample to really be called a 2013 show, "Louie" out of the running, "Girls" having an off-year and "Community" losing even some of it's strongest fans, I'm going to predict this show. It will likely earn extra points for writing its characters into an unenviable shipping and navigating its way out of that disaster.
19. Hannibal, NBC-With "The Americans," "Bates Motel," and "Hannibal" there's been a lot of great TV that came about this Spring and I've seen this show pick up a lot of notice.
20. Bob's Burgers, FOX-I firmly believe that if you're putting this on your year-end list you're doing a disservice since I don't see it as ambitious and one thing that most shows in the Golden Age have in common is ambition. Still, I'm seeing a lot of people think it's great
21. Walking Dead, AMC-A show that earned most of its praise when it debuted in late 2010, but it's consistently been must-see TV year in and year out, that captures the attention of the populance and critics alike.
22. Sleepy Hollow, NBC-Among new prime time dramas, this one seems the only one worthy of attention and buzz. I haven't followed the reviews too closely so I don't have that good of a grasp on it
23. Archer, FX-I'm not sure if this is the year in which "Archer" goes from underrated to getting top 10 recognition but most people who are familiar with the show now that brilliant and the chemistry between the cast keeps getting better and better.
24.  Top of the Lake, Sundance Channel-This is the first year in which Sundance Channel has had some programs of note and some critics might not have even made it there. This could work in the show's favor for critics who want to show they're ahead of the curve. Also working in its favor is Elizabeth Moss's unjust loss at the Emmys.
25. Sherlock, BBC-Benedict Cumberbatch's high profile this year could work in this show's favor.
26. Downtown Abbey, PBS-I see no reason why this critical favorite shouldn't at least siphon a few votes even if it hasn't been as visible as previous shows
27. Veep, HBO-It now has two Emmy-winning actresses and it earned high praises last year so I don't see the show going anywhere
28. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fox-Although it's not amazing or even good by many standards, it's probably the only new Fall comedy that has any ambition and some might like its idiosyncrasies.
29. The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin-Sorkin is a crowd favorite and this didn't have the water cooler buzz of "West Wing" but it's certainly better than "Studio 60"
30. Key and Peele, Comedy Central-These two comedians are certainly getting more notable for their innovative brand of comedy and no one's saying this show is subpar for sketch comedy. It's just not notable that even good sketch comedy makes it on these sorts of lists. They are game changers

Friday, December 20, 2013

Top 10 of 2013

1. Enlightened, HBO-Simply put, it was the year's most engaging show. It not only moved me emotionally but physiologically. My stomach was literally churning watching Amy Jellicoe navigate her way through what she saw as a cruel corporate nightmare with limited information and an even more limited grasp of reality. Using the unreliable narrator trope at center to maximum effect, "Enlightened" is a show that continuously challenges the viewer to reevaluate their morals with regards to a world of corporate deathtraps that is perhaps more familiar than many of us would like to admit. Laura Dern is deserving of all the praise she's gotten and more, but it's the supporting cast of Sarah Burns, Timm Sharp, Jason Mantzoukas, Michaela Watkins (SNL failures represent!), Bayne Gibby, Chip Esten, and Mike White (who was also the show's creator and showrunner) that give richness to the world of Abaddon.

2. Orange is the New Black, Netflix-Adapted from an account of a WASP who served 18 months in prison for a drug-running crime she committed ten years prior, "Orange is the New Black" alternated between being brutal and strangely uplifting and rarely had a wasted moment of screen time in its 15-episode run. It should be noted that a trip back to the source material reveals a woman who had a good eye for observation but a relatively drama-free stay (in other words, most of the bad things happening on screen were either exaggerated or happened to someone other than Piper Kerman). Thus, credit goes to Jenji Kohan and her crew for turning a relatively tame memoir into a highly engaging drama through augmenting the rock-hard obstacles (prison guards, unforgiving inmates, corrupt administrators, etc.) that Piper must negotiate through. The series is suspenseful, engaging, amusing at moments, and is even capable of rousing the viewer to social action. Bonus points also go to the expansive supporting cast that disproves any notion that there are no good female roles on TV.

3. Arrested Development, Netflix-The Bluths came back with a lot of hype that Mitch Hurwitz and company largely delivered on with a format that was true to the hijinks of sitcomdom's most dysfunctional family while still being fresh and innovative. The episodic focus on separate characters deprived us of opportunities for Bluth interaction (sadly, no chicken dances), but it created an even greater infrastructure upon which to layer running gags and multi-layered jokes. In addition to the usual gang of side characters-- the queen of dizziness Lucille Austero, an aged Steve Holt (notably, the only character who wants to be part of the Bluth clan), a spurned-at-the-altar Ann Veal, a newly out of the closet (with the catch phrase "I'm here, I'm queer and now I'm over here") magician Tony Wonder, and the hilariously incompetent Barry Zuckercorn-- the show managed to find space for a new crop of characters: a pay-for-play politician not so subtly inspired by Herman Cain (Terry Crews), endearing drug addict DeBrie Bardeaux (Maria Bamford), face-blind political activist Marky Bark (Chris Diamantopoulos), a young starlet who gets romantically entangled with multiple Bluth family members (Isla Fisher) and Ron Howard as himself.

4. Homeland, Showtime-The third season has been seen as somewhat of a disappointment considering the lack of Brody-Carrie action but even when the show is making wrong turns with the storyline, it's a highly engaging show that could never be accused of being predictable. The show has so far avoided any signs of jumping the shark which is a difficult task considering the 2nd season ended with many key players blown to smithereens (spell check let me keep that one!) and Brody returning to fugitive status. The suspense escalated well in the opening arc in which agent Carrie Mathison found herself locked up for being on the right side of reason and while the characters are being put through the blender, the show has still managed to stay true to them. 

5. The Bridge, FX-Although the last two episodes of the first season were more denouement than action, this was a prime example of how serialized TV is now the richest form of storytelling today. This serialized crime drama, set along the Mexico-Texas border, centers around a partnership between a female detective (Diane Kruger) plagued with aesperger's who was taken in under the wing of the local police chief (Ted Levine) after her sister was murdered and a Mexican homicide detective who grew up alongside the local mob boss (a strong character in his own right) who somehow managed to turn out honestly, as they work together to track down a serial killer. The show also makes good use of serialized B-plots including one with Matthew Lillard as a self-serving alcoholic reporter and another with Annabeth Gish as a young widow who has inherited a smuggling pipeline. Thematically relevant, beautifully shot, insightful, expansive in scope, well-scripted and spearheaded by strong characters, "The Bridge" is off to a great start.

6. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, FX-Consistently at the top of my television queue year in and year out, there's not much to say about Sunny that hasn't already been said in previous top ten lists. Episodes focusing on Dee ("The Gang Breaks Dee") and Mac ("Mac Day") this season demonstrates that any of the show's five characters could easily top a list of the the most hilarious people on TV. Meanwhile, "Flowers for Charlie" contained a twist that showed there's room in these characters for surprises while "Mac Day" and "The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award" (my favorite episode this year) showed a playful self-referentialness (damn you, spell check!). And then we had a season finale, "The Gang Squashes their Beefs," that bought back all our favorite characters and gave us hope that the gang was finally going to move beyond their pettiness and join the community at large.    

7. Bates Motel, A and E-In its efforts to slowly disentangle the why and the who of Norman Bates, the series is rife with nuggets for a budding psych major to have a field day with. More often that not, however, its a wonderful and breezy small-town drama with fascinating characters, most of whom are concealing a dark side. At the end of the first season, Hitchcock would be proud of "Bates Motel" as it contains the kind of nuanced depth that could give a psych professor hours of discussion material. Vera Farminga, one of Hollywood's most underrated actresses, is one of the stars the TV would should be thankful for this year.

8. Go On, NBC-Due to NBC's misguided idea to sweep its comedy slate clean to make way for the Sean Hayes and Michael J. Fox shows (cue the snooze button), "Go On" is now an archival footnote of the 2012-2013 TV season that might only be remembered a couple years from now for the comic mileage Seth MacFarlane got out of it when he mispronounced it on SNL's Weekend Update. That's too bad, because for my money "Go On" had a first season better than the last three seasons "Community" and we all know how that show turned out. Like its doppelganger, "Go On" was also based on a disparate group of characters toughing out a big life challenge together (whether being relegated to community college or coping with loss) but it had a stronger emotional baseline. The ensemble was filled with a few characters that started out a bit over-the-top but the show made great strides at developing everyone to the point where the quirky ensemble interplay really drove the humor while the bittersweet plots packed great emotional punch.

9. Breaking Bad, AMC-My involvement with "Breaking Bad" hasn't been as strong as other TV critics (I can proudly take credit for catching the first episode, this blog is not a bandwagoner) as my viewing of the last couple seasons has been sporadic. Although I think realistically Walt should have been dead by around season 4, I didn't have a strong sense of disappointment with the show. I was simply content to be a spectator to the arms race over which critic can best express their uber-admiration for the best show ever, while there was so much great TV I can contribute my voice to. I managed to latch onto the final batch of episodes and while I didn't want to get sucked into that arms race, I'll just say it's been a thrilling ride. A main concern of mine was whether the writing room was self-conscious enough over how little of a hero Walter White was at this point and I'm especially impressed with how the endpoint for these characters managed to navigate the twin poles of glamorization and empathy.

10 (tie). Quick Draw, Hulu and Archer, FX-Like "It's Always Sunny," "Archer" is one of the most inventive and consistently hilarious comedies on the air today. The chemistry between H. Jon Benjamin, Chris Parnell, Aisha Taylor, Jessica Walter, Judy Greer, Amber Nash and Lucky Yates is all the more astounding when you consider that they all record their lines separately. In quite possibly the ballsiest (first time I've ever used that word in 7 years of blogging) sitcom premise this year, the season opener poked fun at H. Jon Benjamin's other voice-over role in a crossover with Bob's Burgers that tried to tie both shows into the same universe. From there, the hijinks only got crazier as Archer goes head-to-head with his man crush, defends the Pope (Francis or Benedict, I'm not sure), shuttles coyotes across the Mexican border, and comes face to face with his arch-nemesis in cyber-Barry.

Meanwhile, the improv-based comedy of John Lehr brought forth one of the more absurdist sitcoms I've seen in recent memory. John Lehr's last go-around in TV as pushover supermarket owner in "10 Items of Less" was lackluster which is why it's been such a joy discovering this hidden gem and seeing how the right tweaks to his (and co-creator Nancy Hower's) comedy style can create great TV. The show is set in the Old West but has a manic disregard for any sort of historical tone as one episode references universal health care, the sandwich generation, and reimagines CSI-level ballistics techniques with a sheriff in the 1800's using bows and arrows. The ironic thing is that John Lehr's protagonist -- a physically unimposing sheriff who drops his Harvard education into nearly every conversation and would be considered subpar for his job if not for a knack for marksmanship -- isn't too far removed from his character in "10 Items or Less" but the discordance of that same personality type in the 19th Century works wonders for the show's comedy.

Honorable Mentions:

Behind the Mask, Hulu-Endearing reality show featuring four diverse characters who are all passionate about their dual lives as team mascots

Office and Parks & Recreation, NBC-Both shows have been dependable stalwarts of the TV viewing experience for several years now and it was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to one of them

Americans, FX-Wonderful sense of place, wonderfully suspense-laden plots, great insight into a period in history, but believability (even if you compare it to the actual historical story it's based on) started to wear thin

Legit, FX-An unapologetic celebration of the mundane. Jim's mission isn't to better his life, become healthier, succeed at his career, or find true love. More often than not, Jim just wants to just have an agreeable day when he wakes up in the morning and he drags his two roommates with him for the ride to his blase attitude on life.

Wilfred, FX-Consistently funny and thoughtful year in and year out.

Key and Peele, Comedy Central-Smart sketch comedy from two comics who have paid their dues for a while and are finally getting their big break

Masters of Sex, Showtime-Pretty much the only Fall show that showed potential. Ensemble storylines layer themselves in typical Golden Age fashion but the show's very polished and has intriguing characters.

Necessary Roughness, USA-Another fish-out-of-water show on the USA network, that boasted a charming lead and John Stamos on top of it.

Royal Pains, USA-Checked into this show recently and saw some wonderful character development and arcing developments. It's a show that warms the heart.

Elementary, CBS-Only watched one episode but seems like it breaks procedural mold pretty well and Lucy Liu is quite charming

The Full List of What Else I Watched this Year (a number of which were still very good programs) So You Know What the Above is Being Judged Against:
30 Rock, NBC; 1600 Penn, NBC; Alpha House, Amazon; American Dad, Fox; American Horror Story, FX; America's Got Talent, NBC; The Awesomes, Hulu; Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fox; Big Bang Theory, CBS; Best Week Ever, VH1; Burn Notice, USA; Camp, NBC; Community*, NBC; Crazy Ones, CBS; Dads, Fox; Family Guy, Fox; Futurama, Comedy Central; Fugget About It, Hulu; Glee*, Fox; Hollywood Game Night, Fox; House of Cards*, Netflix; Lilyhammer, Netflix; Michael J Fox Show, NBC; Mindy Project, Fox; Modern Family, ABC; New Girl, Fox; New Normal, NBC; Scandal, ABC; Sean Saves the World*, NBC; Simpsons, Fox; Sing-Off, NBC; SNL, NBC; Suburgatory, ABC; Super Fun Night, ABC; Studio C, BYU TV; Two Broke Girls, CBS; Under the Dome, TNT; Walking Dead, AMC; Wipeout, ABC; What Would Ryan Lochte Do, E!; Whose Line is it Anyway, CW; Writer's Room, Sundance Channel

* Indicates that I viewed it in very limited capacity

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lilyhammer's Glaring Problem: "Out of Africa" and "Milwall Brick"

If you go through my Top Ten lists from past years, you'll see a lot of shows that either fell out of favor or soured on me within a year. In 2010, I was charmed by the exploration of the physics behind the characters' super powers, the slowly-building serialized arc, and the supporting turns of Romany Malco and Autumn Reeser in No Ordinary Family. In 2011, I couldn't stand the schmaltzy family drama that was overtaking the action. Similarly, my love affairs with Family Guy and American Dad! have both eroded to the point where I watch the shows but don't love them. In the latter, I placed it in the top 10 of 2011 on the basis that of the more grounded level of comedy for a Seth MacFarlane creation and the malleability of Roger. Shortly thereafter, Roger (and Stan for that matter) reached somewhat of a tipping point.

Last year, Lilyhammer made my Top 10 primarily because it has such a strong sense of place although I had reservations about the unlikable protagonist that I hoped could be ironed out.

The show centers around mobster Frank Tagliano who adopts the moniker Giovanni "Johnny" Henrikson as he relocates to the Norweigan city that hosted the 1994 Olympics. Henrickson fits squarely into the mobster genre as a man who's polished and charming but inwardly ruthless and amoral. He's not at Scarface-levels of depravity and shows occasional signs of decency, but he's essentially an unwavering bully.

In the pilot episode, Henrikson arrives in Norway and wants to open a bar but  Jans, the local immigrant transition official, stands in his way with threats to drown him in paperwork and a 6-month waiting period. When Giovanni tries to bribe him, Jans reacts as anyone would and threatens to report him to the police. Giovanni lucks into some incriminating photos on Jans and manages to extort him into starting his bar license early.

In this manner, the show started out as a charming fish-out-of-the-water story as our protagonist has to navigate a different world where his usual bag of tricks won't work. The problem is that pretty soon into the first season, the fish and water started becoming pretty indistinct from one another and Giovanni starts getting away with everything with very little resistance from people who might realistically resist. In the first season alone, Giovanni physically threatens a long list of people including a a pacifist farmer, a kid on a train listening to music too loudly, an Arab immigrant named Yousef, a man with an ankle bracelet who ends up arrested through Frank, a couple store employees at a carriage store (who actually do activate a security alarm) and members of a night watch gang. Many of these people would directly benefit from their first instinct of reporting Giovanni to the authorities and those who were assaulted earlier in the season would have little to lose since Giovanni hadn't yet amassed any henchmen.

Ultimately, Giovanni is saved by a number of lucky coincidences (finding just the right piece of incrimination, having a possible tattle tale decide save himself the hassle and not report him, etc) as he takes steps to strengthen his power stronghold on Lillyhammer through forming strategic alliances with the town's power players and coercing anyone who stands in his way. One problem with this premise is that a lot of Giovanni's relationships work through coercion which leaves the loyalty in question. Why Jans decides to beg for his job UNDER the man (a partnership that in season 2 is revealed to  be subservient) who, for all he knew, was responsible for getting him fired from NAV or why Julius would still be a voluntary business partner of a man who blackmailed him when the dirt disappeared (he was in remission) and made insensitive remarks about the kid's son (he calls him "Osama") are not sufficiently explained.

All of  Giovanni's antics are done while attempting to stay under the radar of the local authorities which becomes an increasingly more tenuous plot point to buy when more and more people in the town are in on the secret that Johnny is a crook.When the local police chief, Laila, finally gets some dirt on Giovanni, things become downright anticlimactic: Upon seeing a dead body in the woods, Giovanni convinces her that she has two options "using up thousands of dollars of tax payer money to pursue justice" (um, doesn't she do that with every crook?) or just taking his word that the dead man in the woods was the guy who shot his fallen colleague and letting bygones be bygones. If there's a such thing as an unforgivable plot hole, it's that Laila would walk away at this moment.

Of course, happy coincidences and plot holes are forgivable if they ultimately favor the outcome you were hoping to see but it's hard to see Giovanni as particularly deserving of all the lucky twists of fate he receives. A show isn't automatically weakened if a bad guy is winning against the good guys, but the catch is that the show needs to be aware of who the good and bad guys really are, and it seems as if Lilyhammer isn't grasping that its show is about a bad man:

According to this interview in Rolling Stone, show co-creator and lead actor Steve Van Zandt:
"He's never going to be completely integrated into that society".... "But he is becoming a bit Norwegian and part of the culture."

In fact the show's moralistic and in-universe judgments are mostly reserved for everyone but Giovanni. When the man with the ankle bracelet gets his comeuppance from the police and Johnny sails away consequence-free, are we meant to see him as foolish? Is this a morally equivalent universe in which he gets what he deserves?

The show ended season one with a bittersweet note as his girlfriend (pregnant with his twin children) finally decided she had enough of him and threw him out and it seemed as if an amiable partnership was forming between, but the character hasn't grown and as a result, the show feels stagnant and its lucky coincidences less forgivable.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Why the 5 picture system has always been a mistake

I'm looking this up and I think the 5-picture system was always a mistake.

My reasoning is that in every decade the Academy has always picked films that don't hold up to history and look ridiculous years later. Throughout the 5-picture years, the academy has a fairly good track record of selecting 1-2 or 1-3 (most people agree that Social Network-Kings Speech-True Grit were all good choices as was No County-There Will Be Blood, Avatar-Hurt Locker, Argo-Lincoln, Crash-Brokeback, Little Miss Sunshine-Departed, Aviator-Million Dollar Baby-Sideways, Mystic River-LOTR) but in slots 3-5, the academy makes arbitrary decisions that could often look stupid down the line.

For example, let's look at 1960. The best picture nominees were Elmer Gantry (worthy), the Apartment (worthy), Sundowners, Sons and Lovers, and Alamo. I'm almost entirely unfamiliar with those films, except I know that the Alamo was heavily campaigned for and yes, ignorance is no excuse for whether a film is good, but there are definitely four unnominated films from that year I've heard of and I'd consider them classics  (as with everything on this post, YMMV): Exodus, Inherit the Wind (although some find Stanley Kramer preachy and he never makes a short list of the best directors in comparison to contemporaries like Kazan, Lumet or Nichols, this is among his best films), Psycho, and Spartacus.

Decisions that are stupid in retrospect at the 3-5 slots have happened in every decade.

The 90's, for example, had Awakenings (about as dramatic as an episode of ER), Godfather III (considered to be a disappointment), Four Weddings and a Funeral (80% of Jon Cusack romantic comedies have more to say than that film), Il Postino (clearly has been forgotten: I just asked eight of my facebook friends if they've heard of that, I got ZERO yeses), Secrets and Lies (I got one of eight on that one), Babe (how many films were influenced by that? I think Homeward Bound 2 and Zookeeper was the only other film ever to use the formula of talking animals), the Fugitive (decent for an action film, but even a good action film today like Source Code or Adjustment Bureau is not going to make the Oscars).

It's pretty reasonable to assume that great films like Ed Wood, Misery, The Player, Leaving Las Vegas, Heat, Usual Suspects or Dead Man Walking would have gotten a nomination considering the other awards they were getting that season.

In the 00's: Almost Famous, Mullholland Drive, Memento, Royal Tenenbaums, Far From Heaven, Adaptation, About Schmidt, Road to Perdition, Eternal Sunshine, History of Violence, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, Dream Girls, United 93, Into the Wild, Sweeney Todd, Wall-E, Dark Knight, and Wrestler, all had a good chance of being included if they expanded the nominee slate.

Would it have made up for questionable choices like Chocolat? Most definitely. I think more movie fans were happy with 2011's choices than 2000 because all the good nominees were included and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (according to, it was the most unpopular choice of Best Picture nominees in the 21st century with Chocolat) will just be seen as a quirky anomaly in retrospect