Mar 22 2012

Omar. Chalky White. ODB?

Today I wrote over at the DDT about the upcoming Ol’ Dirty Bastard movie and the new announcement: Michael K. Williams to play none other than Big Baby Jesus himself. You probably remember Williams from his work as Omar in The Wire and Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire. Now add Dirt McGirt to that list. Read the article here, and jam on some ODB while you do so. Baby come on, baby come on….

Jan 3 2012

Watch Portlandia – Season 2 – Episode 1

I gotta admit, I wasn’t incredibly impressed overall with Season 1 of Portlandia. But after watching this, I think I’m willing to give it another shot. The absurdity of hipsterdom in all its glory is showcased on the show, but it looks like the writing might be a bit sharper this time around. What I particularly enjoy about the show is the fact that almost every sketch makes me think of someone I know, and Austin in general. This episode features Jeff Goldblum, Eddie Vedder, and Edward James Olmos.

Dec 31 2011

Top 15 TV Shows of 2011

15. The Walking Dead

It’s a bit slow-moving and the acting is occasionally over-the-top, but The Walking Dead proved once again, even without zombies, it’s pretty compelling television. The first half of Season 2 revolved around the increasingly hopeless search for a little girl who had gone missing, while characters battled each other, themselves, and the end of the world as we know it.

14. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

Still hilarious after all these years, Sunny’s seventh season introduced us to a new brutal board game called CharDee MacDennis, gave us a scenic tour of the Jersey Shore, and brilliantly tackled Mac’s ongoing weight issue. Dennis is still creepy, Frank and Charlie are still eccentric, and Dee….well, I think the gang’s driving her to the point of insanity.

13. 30 Rock

Don’t call it a comeback – season 5 was a strong turning point for this aging series, which got a lot of flak for a hit-or-miss season 4. Even with a temporary absence from Tracy Morgan, who underwent emergency medical surgery during filming, the show remained sharp as the plot became focused on trying to find out where his character went missing.

12. Archer

Just when we thought we had the womanizing, James Bond-mocking Sterling Archer figured out, he gets cancer, falls in love, and leads us on a three-part getaway when his fiance is killed. Season 2 (and the aforementioned first three episodes of Season 3) were exciting, witty, daring, and, most importantly, pretty damn funny.

11. How I Met Your Mother

It feels like it’s been a few seasons, but things are finally getting tackled on How I Met Your Mother. The character of Barney is slowly changing into a baby-lover. Robin has discovered an important revelation about the rest of her life. Marshall and Lily are adjusting to the realization of being future parents. Ted…well, does anyone care, really? The show is still irreverent, funny, and entertaining after all these years.

10. Modern Family

Modern Family isn’t really a show trying new things, per se. We’ve all seen the family sitcom thing done over and over, lessons learned, etc. And we’ve seen the Office-esque mockumentary multi-camera style of filming. But this show’s approach to it all continues to feel fresh and revolutionary week after week, even if the topics tackled aren’t necessarily so.

9. South Park

I surmise The Book of Mormon reinvigorated Matt and Trey, because this was a surprisingly excellent season of South Park overall, especially after many consecutive hot-and-cold ones. The half-season finale gave us a potentially series-altering cliffhanger, but we should have known nothing would change. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Quite the opposite, actually.

8. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

The Daily Show has completely changed from when Stewart took it over in 1999. Night after night, these guys do some heavy lifting, taking the day’s political issues and giving them a hilarious, and simultaneously rational, take on them. With a barrage of idiot Republican candidates vying for the presidency this year, you can bet the writing staff had a lot of great material.

7. Louie

Louie is heartwarming, realistic, and very, very dark. Louis CK plays a straight man in his own corrupt version of New York that he created, holding his children’s hands and guiding them through his cynical hell. The Seinfeld-esque standup bits put the eccentric short films all together for a strange, but hilarious, half-hour of TV.

6. Parks and Recreation

Parks works where the Office doesn’t. The Office has tried a more ensemble cast approach with the absence of Steve Carell, and it’s not working. Parks tried an Office-like approach in the beginning, making Leslie Knope a crazy Michael Scott clone. But now this show has found its true roots, with the whole crazy, lovable cast involved, and the results have been spectacular.

5. The Colbert Report

This year, for me, marks the first year the student became the master. Night after night, Colbert trumped Stewart on most bits, the interviews, the musical guests, and the overall quality. Colbert’s ongoing mockery of the Supreme Court’s ridiculous “corporations are people” ruling is daring and hilarious, as is the creation of the pointless Colbert SuperPAC.

4. Homeland

I started this show late, a few days before the finale, worrying I wouldn’t catch up in time. Man, was I wrong. This is the best new show on TV, no contest. Thrilling, compelling, addictive. If I even begin to go on about this show, I’ll just spoil it for you, so do yourself a favor and watch it. It will only take you a few days to get through it, I promise, because once you start, it will be hard to stop.

3. Boardwalk Empire

I suppose I should have seen it coming, as the season gradually progressed toward all the major cliffhangers of the finale, but wow….what an ending. Killing off a major character always marks a dramatic change, so we have to wonder, after only two seasons, where does Boardwalk go from here? You can bet, with an amazing cast and a stellar performance from Steve Buscemi, I’ll be watching.

2. Community

It may be on the brink of cancellation, but for now, we can revel in the utter amazement of this show, which never ceases to amaze on a weekly basis. It’s absurd, it’s off-the-rails, it’s hard to pin down. It’s topical, it’s smart, but it’s also got heart. This season the character bonding of Season 1 met with the absurdity of Season 2 for the show’s best yet. And hopefully they’re not done.

1. Breaking Bad

After Season 4, any naysayers have to admit: not only is Breaking Bad the best show on television, it’s one of the best shows ever made. Just when we think we’ve got a character pegged, they shock us. And no one shocked us more than Walter White, played by the incomparable Bryan Cranston. There’s one season left, and there’s only so far down that dark abyss these characters can crawl. There’s no way this ends happily, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.

Oct 13 2011

Recommended Reading: An Episode-By-Episode Breaking Bad Recap With Creator Vince Gilligan

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has been talking to AV Club this week about Season 4, analyzing the progression of characters and themes on an episode-by-episode basis. They just released the third part of a four-part series, and it’s completely in depth and awesome. The interview is ridden with spoilers; you’ve been warned.

Jul 21 2011

Late Night Rundown – Jimmy Fallon

Back in the 70′s, there was only Johnny Carson.  But since the retirement of the undisputed King of Late Night in 1992, there has been a plethora of new shows pop up, each with the same basic formula, but unique in their own way. After reading Bill Carter’s The War For Late Night, I have become addicted to late-night television all over again.  So I am starting a new series of posts dedicated to the many hosts out there currently making us laugh after prime time, analyzing one at a time.

Count me among the many who were certain Jimmy Fallon would fail. We had seen his spotty routines on Saturday Night Live – the little shit couldn’t keep from laughing in every sketch he was in (in retrospect, and considering the current state of that show, maybe we were too hard on the guy) – and we’d seen his short, unsuccessful foray into movies. So of course we were skeptical when he was announced as Conan O’Brien’s replacement for the Late Night dynasty – a dynasty created by the smart irreverence of a young David Letterman, and one that Conan made delightfully weird. How could this little unfunny prettyboy, even with a young writing staff and the best band in late night – the legendary Roots crew – successfully follow the great O’Brien?

The answer: a total re-invention of the show.  It’s true Fallon isn’t the funniest, quickest, or wittiest host in his time slot – that honor goes to Craig Ferguson – but Jimmy is young and hip, and he always goes out and acts like he’s having a blast every night.  Unlike an infamous flaw of Conan’s, spending too much time on his weaknesses, Fallon zips through the monologue and gets to the pinnacle of his program – the written bits and audience-participation game shows.  And while most of his material is akin to the laziness of Jay Leno (having your audience tell your jokes for you), Jimmy’s presence is so endearing, and the guy is so likable, he makes it work.  Or it could be that because his audience is younger than Leno’s, maybe they’re just generally funnier.  Whatever the case, his Web presence and interaction with viewers is fresh and creative – his weekly Twitter hashtag sketch puts Leno’s Headlines to shame, and the Late Night writers always find a way to inject some homage to/mockery of the game show they are blatantly, and absurdly, satirizing.

You know what else Jimmy does?  He really doesn’t interview that much.  How great is that?  I mean, wouldn’t you agree that’s usually the most boring part of late night talk shows?  Watching a comedian (who is usually sub-par at interviewing) let a Hollywood blowhard talk about how awesome his new movie is?  Jimmy Fallon treats interviewing like his monologue – short and sweet.  He tackles the big topics, throws some jokes in, and then finds a way to involve his guest in a bit or competition of some sort.  Fallon, who is likely the most competitive non-athletic celebrity in the world, is always challenging his A-list guests to simple backyard hangout games.  He’s beaten Betty White at beer pong; he’s lost a game of horseshoes to Kid Rock.  He may also involve them in a comedic musical bit, which is Fallon’s specialty.  He’s rapped an homage to hip-hop with Justin Timberlake; he’s danced around with Stephen Colbert to Rebecca Black’s “Friday.”  Hell, he even gets the stuck-up douches to loosen up and sing! (I’m looking at you, Blake Shelton.)

So let me just conclude with an apology – Jimmy, I’m sorry.  I underestimated you.  Your show is awesome.  It’s a late night show for the 21st century, surrounded by peers who are still trying to embody the long-gone spirit of a Johnny Carson era.  It’s fresh, it’s innovative, it’s interactive, and, most of all surprising, it’s actually funny.  And when you introduce a musical guest, you make me feel like you’ve heard of the band, or you’ve done research, and that you’re genuinely glad these people are performing on your show.  And as a viewer, I appreciate that.  Thank you for making a routine show not feel so…..routine.

Jun 2 2011

Jon Stewart Acts Italian, Berates Trump For Pizza Naivete

I don’t normally post videos of programs I watch, unless they’re in context of something bigger, like a list, but this was too good to pass up. Another instant highlight from Jon Stewart’s reign as King of Late Night, he stuck it to the Donald for eating pizza like a pansy, or, even worse, a non-New Yorker.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Me Lover’s Pizza With Crazy Broad
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

May 25 2011

The Late Night Rundown – Stephen Colbert

Back in the 70′s, there was only Johnny Carson.  But since the retirement of the undisputed King of Late Night in 1992, there has been a plethora of new shows pop up, each with the same basic formula, but unique in their own way. After reading Bill Carter’s The War For Late Night, I have become addicted to late-night television all over again.  So I am starting a new series of posts dedicated to the many hosts out there currently making us laugh after prime time, analyzing one at a time.

After Strangers With Candy and a long, successful stint on the Daily Show, Stephen Colbert had a pretty genius epiphany.  With the aide of Jon Stewart, he launched the Colbert Report, modeled after the insanity of conservative television pundits on Fox News, blindly partisan and patriotic, ignoring facts over feeling.  The prime mocking/homage target was “Papa Bear” Bill O’Reilly, who, unlike his Faux News peers, has taken the jabs in good spirit and half-flattery.

While it was common knowledge Colbert would be playing a character every night, an irrational, interrupting, bombastic, overly patriotic, conservative blowhard, no one would have imagined the following he would capture, the media attention he would get, and the long-lasting spectacle that the character would become.  From delivering his press correspondent’s speech in character to visiting the troops in Iraq, to, most recently, lambasting the new de-regulation on election campaign finance by starting his own Super PAC, Colbert has lassoed in a slew of diehard followers, affectionately known as the Colbert Nation, who will follow him and Stewart, Glenn Beck-style, to the National Mall donning costumes and humorous signs.

And while Colbert usually gets lumped as Robin to Stewart’s Batman, the show and demeanor are anything but alike.  While the Daily Show attacks the issues of the day with a straight-forward, mocking, sometimes too-preachy-for-some tone, the Colbert Report is the lighthearted alternative, focusing on the absurd and more visual gags.  He tackles the issues in a different light, mocking, yes, but as an individual pretending to defend idiocy and hypocrisy.  And if you’re not in on the joke, you just might be fooled.  It’s that level of creativity that makes Colbert sometimes even sharper than his “opening act.”

Apr 29 2011

Recommended Reading 4/29/11

The Onion AV Club Review – The Office: “Goodbye Michael”

Slate – Steve Carell’s Achievement

Rolling Stone – Steve Carell Has Left the Building

Mar 31 2011

The Late Night Rundown – Jon Stewart

Back in the 70′s, there was only Johnny Carson.  But since the retirement of the undisputed King of Late Night in 1992, there has been a plethora of new shows pop up, each with the same basic formula, but unique in their own way. After reading Bill Carter’s The War For Late Night, I have become addicted to late-night television all over again.  So I am starting a new series of posts dedicated to the many hosts out there currently making us laugh after prime time, analyzing one at a time.

If one were to watch old Daily Shows from the 90’s, when it was Craig Kilborn at the helm, a completely different program would be found.  Where Kilborn, as he usually did, made the show more about the host than the topics discussed, Stewart transformed the Daily Show into an award-winning political/news satire program.  Kilborn’s show was novel and goofy; Stewart’s is smart, irreverent, and edgy.

In the twelve years Stewart has hosted, he has become a prominent figurehead in news, comedy, politics, and punditry, whether he likes it or not.  Many young people have claimed they “get their news” from the Daily Show, essentially a comedy program, and Jon Stewart is their anchor.  Some call him a hero; Fox News likes to call him a cog in the liberal media machine.  He and colleague Stephen Colbert even held an enormously successful rally at the Washington Mall.  The theme? Restoring sanity to America.

Many thought that with the exit of goofball President Bush, many topical comics, Stewart included, would have little to rant about.  But the Daily Show is as fresh as ever, lampooning colossal fuck-ups by politicians, verbal hypocrisies from the Tea Party, and general fear-mongering from the cable news outlets.  Even though we have a more articulate, poised President, there’s still plenty of material to be found, and Stewart dishes it out each night.  In addition, his team of “correspondents” is one of the best in the show’s history, featuring rising stars Wyatt Cenac, John Oliver, and Jason Jones.  Asif Mandvi and Samantha Bee throw some worthy punches as well.

But the star is undeniably Stewart – the material changes with the news, but Stewart always acts as the voice of reason, usually merely stating the obvious so bluntly it is utterly hilarious.  His interviewing is conversational and purposeful.  Jon is casual with Hollywood stars, attentive with insightful authors and professors, direct and in command with political and media figureheads.  He knows his audience, who aren’t like the rest of Comedy Central’s dreck tuning in for Daniel Tosh – they are here to laugh, yes, but also to learn.  Jon knows when to tickle the funny bone and when to bring the viewer in closer for an honest, earnest look.

If there’s any doubt Stewart’s influence is apparent, we need only look to last December, where he devoted an entire program to the 9/11 First Responders Act (a bill that would give financial aid to firefighters and policemen suffering from medical issues related to the attack on the World Trade Center), a bill that Congress and the media were ignoring, and one Jon Stewart felt very passionately about.  He interviewed a group of NYC firefighters and police officers, first responders to 9/11, all of whom were suffering from illness because of their heroic deeds, and who couldn’t afford their medical bills.  The episode aired on Thursday; by Saturday, the media circus around the bill was staggering, and within weeks, Congress made it law.  Stewart started the conversation, and the nation listened.  To a late-night comedian.  Who, unlike most un-funny “news” anchors, actually has something to say.

Mar 9 2011

The Late Night Rundown – Jay Leno

Back in the 70′s, there was only Johnny Carson.  But since the retirement of the undisputed King of Late Night in 1992, there has been a plethora of new shows pop up, each with the same basic formula, but unique in their own way. After reading Bill Carter’s The War For Late Night, I have become addicted to late-night television all over again.  So I am starting a new series of posts dedicated to the many hosts out there currently making us laugh after prime time, analyzing one at a time.

For years, Jay Leno has had the reputation of being a workaholic, spending hours upon hours working on his monologue and the best jokes for it.  In fact, he reportedly works on almost nothing else, including the scripted bits, questions for the interview, and other areas of the show.  That’s what the writing staff does; no, Jay’s baby, his pride and joy, is the opening monologue, the longest one in late night, with the most punchlines, consistently, every night.  Jay is such a workaholic joke writer, in fact, that when the show is on break, he goes on tour, doing stand-up shows across the country delivering fresh material for an always-eager audience.

Why then, does Jay’s show feel so lifeless, so lazy and routine, so stale? It’s simple: quantity does not equal quality.  Jay delivers joke after joke after joke, all topical, all with predictable punchlines, all given in rapid succession, because the audience is usually just laughing politely, rather than genuinely.  The amount of time killed by the audience applauding after every punchline is staggering, all for jokes that don’t land because they’re not good.  The video clips superimpose figures and images – it’s obvious this show has one of the biggest budgets in late night – and still Tonight feels lost, because the material is second-rate.  These are the jokes that made it to the final cut?

I’m not gonna lie to ya – it was very difficult sitting through a week of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  I’m no masochist.  The jokes are not funny, the scripted bits usually rely on material from people not associated with the show, and the interviews are a bore.  It’s obvious Jay spends little time on anything but his opening, which is sad, really.  The interviews don’t rely on comic relief from the host, but the guest, who Jay will let sink if he or she isn’t keeping the audience captivated with their prepared anecdote.  Jay merely sits and asks questions – he kills time by finding clips to show during the interview, from the guest’s past and their current promotion.  He rarely adds anything interesting or cracks a joke; in comparison, while he feels more conversational than Conan O’Brien, at least Conan knows when an interview is going south, and he does what he can to improve upon it.  Jay is merely there.

The funniest bits are the scripted ones, or the bits when Jay relies on material from his own audience.  I’m talking about Headlines and Jaywalking, of course.  And even these bits aren’t even that great, they’re just better than everything else around it.  One show had a correspondent talking to celebrities during a red-carpet Oscar-watching party, and got a few laughs from me.  Again, the laughs were not delivered by, and had nothing to do with, Jay Leno.  Headlines is, in case you are unfamiliar, newspaper clippings people send Jay from around the country, featuring funny pictures and typos.  Again, all Jay did was use a highlighter.  And Jaywalking, or this week, a “game show” called the Jaywalking All-Stars, probably the funniest thing the show consistently does, is just Jay asking regular dumb Americans simple questions about current events and general knowledge.  The answers are funny because the people are stupid, Jay’s reaction is the same as the audience watching it.  He becomes a spectator on his own fucking show.

The Tonight Show is well-rehearsed, flashy, smooth-running, and, ultimately, the most boring hour in late night television.  A talk show personality should have just that – a personality.  Jay’s direct competitor, David Letterman, has one, sometimes one that polarizes his audience.  Kimmel, Fallon, Ferguson, and the cable crew of Stewart, Colbert, Conan, Handler, and even Lopez all have let their personalities show on their program; when you’re hosting a show like this for a long time, eventually, it comes out.  At least, it does if it’s your show.  The Tonight Show with Jay Leno could be hosted by anyone, really, and no one would notice.  Because, even when Jay makes some observation, some critique about a celebrity or politician, to generate laughs, it always seems to sound like someone else gave him the idea, like it’s not his own.  It’s just a regurgitated comment someone else already made more cleverly, only this time it’s homogenized so the masses can agree with it.  Actually, that’s the thesis for Jay Leno’s entire show.