Tuesday, September 20, 2016

10 for 10: Tube is sleeping edition

10 for 10... that's 10 movies/TV shows which we give ourselves 10 minutes apiece to write about.  Part of our problem is we don't often have the spare hour or two to give to writing a big long review for every movie/TV show we watch.  How about a 10-minute non-review full of scattershot thoughts? This edition's title comes from an extremely obscure Coldplay reference? Whatevs.  Time to write about old TV before the new TV season starts.  I've already seen Son of Zorn.  Sigh.
In this edition:
Love (Season 1) - netflix
Daredevil (Season 2) - netflix
Lady Dynamite (unfinished) - netflix
Last Man on Earth (Season 2) - Fox
Star Wars Rebels (Season 2) - Disney XD
Angie Tribeca (Season 1) - Comedy Network
Cooked (unfinished) - netflix
Preacher (unfinished) - AMC
Playing House (Season 1 & 2) - Shomi
Difficult People (unfinished) - Shomi

aaaaand...go...
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I don't remember anymore what show it was everyone was talking about all the time earlier this year that created such a stir.  It's gone from my memory [edit: probably Daredevil].  But what I can recall is all I wanted to talk about was Love's first season on Netflix.

Produced by Judd Apatow and co-created by/co-starring comedian/writer Paul Rust, and co-starring Greendale alum Gillian Jacobs, I thought Love would be sort of the newest amazing comedy, and it turned out to be far, far from that.  It's a comedy, but it's an upsetting and dramatic one in the guise of a rom com.  The slow burn of the show reveals how truly insular and awful these two characters are.  You start off liking, even identifying with them and it's like the show willingly dares you to continue liking them with each subsequent episode, particularly in the latter four.

Small seeds are planted from the onset of how ugly these people are inside, and those seeds blossom over 10 episodes as they fully melt down into people you're quite sure you don't want to spend time with anymore.  And yet... there's something compelling to all that.  There's a reality to who these people are, again, something identifiable.  We're all self-destructive or self-serving at times, Love's tactic is to bring that to these characteristics to the forefront more and more.

Beyond the uncomfortable or even despicable situations these characters get themselves in, there's strangely a lot to like about this show.  Favourite comedian Kyle Kinane shaves his beard and a lot of his gruff metalhead stand-up exterior for a weirdly complex and confusing ex of Jacobs, while Aussie ex-pat Claudia O'Doherty (no time to look up the spelling) is the show's brightest center at every turn.  Season 2 is coming, and I both can't wait and am dreading it. [9:52]

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Man this image is so kick-ass...if only the show looked this
cool.  I mean, it looks good, but not this good.
How have I gone this long without writing about Daredevil season 2?  Did I love it?  I think so. The wife and I took the day off work when it turned up on Netflix and with the kids away we just binged our way through it in one day.  I know for some this is the norm for some, but it's a real luxury for us.  We only broke to answer the door for the pizza guy and walk the dog.

So much of my Season 2 experience is tied to this almost-Holiday-like scenario.  Did I love the show just because I loved having the day with my specialladyfriend and geeking out all day, or did Daredevil 2 really deliver the goods?

My memory of the actual show is already quite hazy.  The Punisher arc was doubtlessly the highlight of the Season, but I don't recall a tremendous amount beyond that.  I remember Fisk was back and had a great mini-arc late in the season, but my feelings about the Season as a whole was that it wasn't totally cohesive, and that the Electra arc fell a little flat, and the climax had a major logistics flaws in it that we couldn't seem to resolve.

I liked the fact that the cast wasn't stagnant, that there wasn't a status quo the show was upholding or continually returning to.  The events of each of the characters' lives shape who they are as the season progresses.  There's no turning back.  Karen does her thing, which serves her well for about half the season then seems to drop off in how it contributes to the show, while Foggy does his thing and it's pretty wonderful...he's the real heart of the series.

As has been with Season 1 and Jessica Jones before it, the 13 episodes stretch the season arc a bit too far.  By the time the show reaches episodes 11 & 12 it feels like it should be over and is padding for time.  It's a step up from Season 1 and even Jessica Jones, but still the showrunners here need to ask Netflix if they can scale back their seasons to meet the demands of the story or else have something else going on (which could be dangerous). [19:28]

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As a comedy fan it took me a while to warm to Maria Bamford's unique storytelling, characters and presentation, but since I've adjusted then I've become a very receptive fan to her utterly distinct comedic style.  Bamford's sensibilities aren't just evident in her new Netflix series, Lady Dynamite, but they dominate the show.  I can't think of a more idiosyncratic scripted comedy.

Lady Dynamite is quasi-autobiographical, a fictionalization of Bamford's time as a struggling actor/comedian in Los Angeles, to her time in a mental institution her hometown in Minnesota after a breakdown, to being an established-yet-still-struggling actor/comedian in Los Angeles.  It jumps between these three distinct time periods without any real cues that it's doing so, and it's a little bewildering as a result.  I think as a whole though it might come together better as I found watching episodes 2 and 3 back-to-back a little more amenable, less befuddling.

The show has no qualms about breaking the forth wall, and does so in both a meaningful and disarming fashion.  It's not just Bamford doing it, however, as guest appearances from actor/comedian friends like Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn often are accompanied by some fourth-wall busting commentary about the nature of the show or elements thereof.

Produced by Arrested Development's Mitch Hurwitz, there's definitely a seed of his in the show too, his proclivity towards running gags, long build-ups to gags, and call-backs are all seeded in here.  I'm keen to finish the season, but my wife hasn't had the same desire. [29:51]

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Even if you don't like the show, you have to admire Forte's
commitment to the beard and scrag hair, then later his commitment
to the half-shaved head/face. That's not a wig/makeup, he lived
that for weeks.
I quite enjoyed the first season of Will Forte's Last Man on Earth [edit:link to review], and did heartily recommend it to many a friend.  But I know a lot of people came back to me finding it unfunny, depressing, and/or unlikable.

To me part of its genius was how Forte's character, Phil Miller, revealed himself to be an ugly, awkward, selfish human upon the arrival of other people in his life, starting with Carol (the always delightful Kristen Schaal) but not stopping there.  By the end of season 1, Phil had told so many lies and sabotaged every relationship he made for no real gain of his own that he wound up as alone as he was at the start (a figurative Last Man, rather than a literal one).  His ego was so fragile that he couldn't handle that what others brought to the table wasn't an indictment of who he was as a person.  The show got pretty deep as well as uncomfortable.

Season 2 returned with a softer Phil/Tandy, one who was fervently trying to be a better man in spite of himself.  There were still characters who were wary of Phil's ability to change, and even with obvious growth as a human being he's an extremely aggravating or annoying person, but this softer Phil/Tandy is much more fun to watch.  The season mostly deals with his reunion with the group, and then bring his brother down from space, causing a resurgence of the old Phil for a brief period of time (what is it about family that can bring out the worst in us).

The show alternates between hilarious and shocking, funny and heart-wrenching.  It manages its post apocalyptic setting with strange reality that in no way lessens its status as a comedy, but also doesn't mute the horrors of the reality.  It's a unique show, a marvel on network TV. [39:50]

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Season 1 of Star Wars Rebels [edit: review of Season 1] took its sweet time revealing that it wasn't just a kind of knockoff of either the Original Trilogy or the Prequels, that it had its own story to tell.  It was really towards the end -- as it started to show its connection to the Star Wars universe as a whole (both TV and cinematic efforts) and exhibiting that there's a larger story arc at play -- that it really took off and made season 2 a must watch.

And season 2 delivered.  Far less inconsistent than season 1, this past year of Rebels had drive and purpose for almost every character.  Ezra's journey was naturally the centerpiece, but Hera also became a much more developed character.  Zeb even got a focus episode which ended with one of the most stunning sequences on TV anywhere this past year.

Of course the crew of the Ghost have grown over two seasons into favourite characters, but it's the bridging of The Clone Wars into this series that has made the show truly great.  Bringing Ahsoka, Rex, Maul and even Hondo back all lead to stellar (no pun intended) episodes this season, while a reappearance of Lando, a guest shot of Leia, and Grand Moff Tarkin among other Original Trilogy figures only brighten the overall experience.

Most satisfying, naturally, was the confrontation between Darth Vader and Ahsoka in the season finale.  Brillaint, dark, and intense.  The show can be overly cartoony, particularly with Zeb and Chopper, but when it skews into real, palpable emotional content it's some of the finest entertainment out there.  It's not afraid to challenge its audience, to provoke them, even to disappoint them.  It really does want to balance the dark and the light.  Can't wait for season 3. [49:14]

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I grew up with the Naked Gun movies as regular viewing.  Absurd humour, obtuse characters, taking turns of phrases literally, these things I appreciate because of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker's films.  Airplane was a little before my time, as was Top Secret, but Naked Gun was right in the sweet spot (all three of them were, in fact... even Hot Shots).  But since the ZAZ trio split, one of them devolving into right-wing-propeganda comedy, there's been a decided absence of this refined stupid humour anywhere in cinema.  Sure the Not Another... and Scary Movie series try for this very type of humour but fail miserably with lowest common denominator tactics.  The ZAZ formula was all about delivering sleezy jokes with a poker face, with an unawareness of how lewd or bad they were.  Behind the camera it was all winking but in front it was all business.

Angie Tribeca, created by married ex-Daily Show alums Steve Carrell and Nancy Walls, intentionally mimics the ZAZ style, and is in fact quite devoted to it.  Angie Tribeca wants to be Police Squad/Naked Gun and works hard to do so.  It succeeds about half the time, which means that some episodes succeed most of their run time while others are flopping and gasping for life as they play out.

The Naked Gun movies, being movies, are so very, very tight.  Having 13 episodes (or maybe it was only 10, no time to look it up) means that Tribeca has to fill a lot more time, a lot more quickly, and with less budget for bigger visual gags, and therefore can't succeed as often.

The cast is great (I mean, it's Rashida Jones, come on!) and everyone involved is utterly game for what's at play.  It's not the greatest show ever, but it has its joys. [1:00:08]

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A few years back I read a book called "In Defense of Food", and it quite literally changed my life and how I eat and shop for food.  That one book I must have loaned to a half dozen people (it would have been more but it never came back after the last loan-out), and I would deem it to be one of the most important books of the decade (the 00's).  Its writer, Michael Pollan, continues to explore the topic of food and our relationship to it.  He's written more books (which I unfortunately have yet to read) and he's produced a few documentaries on food, including Cooked, which is currently available on Netflix.

Unlike a lot of people who like to write about food, Pollan isn't interested in shaming you about what you eat, he recognizes that driving home a message doesn't have to include alienating or putting down the audience.  Instead he seeks to educate and reshape how we think about what we eat.  He never resorts to the cliche of "everything in moderation" but that could be one of his basic tenets.

The first episode of Cooked he deals with cooking with fire, our history and different uses... from native tribes in Africa to the steel drum bbs of America's south.  Pollan doesn't tell you outright that anything is bad, but tries to get you to reconsider your relationship with meat... which doesn't mean abandoning it, but respecting it.

I love this even handed approach.  The only people its bound to piss off are adamant vegans/vegetarians, but he's not playing to that crowd.  Pollan, as an educator is trying to reach the masses as much as possible, to relate to them, and to hopefully change minds willingly, subtly, rather than forcefully.  Arm people with the knowledge to let them change their own minds. [1:09:44]

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I read Preacher back in the day.  I would say I even liked it.  But Preacher was just one of 4 dozen books I was reading each month back then.  It's been off my radar for over a decade.  I've read literally thousands of comics since then.  It left a faint impression but it's not one of my holy grails of comics, it's not one of my treasured collections, and it's not even been one I've been too keen on revisiting. 

I recall Preacher being smart but provocative, purposefully disgusting and outrageous.  It's was high-fallutin' Grindhouse for the Tarantino generation, Irish writer Garth Ennis' skewed take on southern U.S. cowboy culture and sensibilities. An adaptation has been threatened for a very long time.  This one finally stuck, coming to us from two Canadians, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and the channel that brought us Mad Men and The Walking Dead.

The first two episodes of Preacher feel suitably at home on AMC.  Rogen and Goldberg capture the sense of the comic without needing to literally adapt it.  They deliver a tone that's less off-putting, but also not designed strictly for mass appeal.  It is afterall a violent modern-day western about a Preacher who gains the power of the "Word of God" from an alien, a hyperviolent renegade woman, and a venomous Irish vampire.  It's not exactly standard fare.

I liked what Rogen and Goldberg did, and was willing to continue on, but the show got away from me in the summer timeslot.  It definitely had a slow burn feel, but you could also tell once it hit boiling point, it would rumble.  Look forward to catching a Preacher marathon on AMC soon. [1:19:31]

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Some sitcoms just leave a pleasant taste in your mouth.  They fill your brain with little noodles, little phrases or expressions or even just certain ways of saying things that become part of your life.  Shows like Arrested Development, or Seinfeld, or Community just live on in memes in your mind, if not on-line as well.  Playing House does just that, but in its own special way.  It's not as big or bright or expensive or long-lived a comedy as those that appear on Network TV and live on through syndication, but its got immense, underrated, raw talent behind it, and that's hard to keep down.

By nature of being a USA Network TV show, Playing House doesn't quite get the exposure it should.  But creators Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham are two mighty comedians who will have their voices heard.  Both have cropped up in other places (St. Clair on Review on Comedy Central and Parham on the aforementioned Lady Dynamite) but they are most at home in characters they created themselves and can fuel their unique brand of best friend humour.

The thrust of the show find St. Clair's Hong Kong-based high powered sales exec Emma returning to her small, midwestern hometown for the first time in a long time to see Parham's Maggie before Maggie gives birth.  Whiles she's there Maggie and her husband have a long festering arguement and break up.  Emma quits her job and decides to stay with Maggie to help her raise her baby.

It's a simple enough premise, but the show feeds in suitable romantic comedy complications like Emma's ex-boyfriend Marc (Keegan Michael Key, yay!) and Emma's estranged mother (the wonderful Jane Kaczmarek from Malcolm in the Middle), as well as actually establishing a real and mature relationship between Maggie and her ex-husband.  The show is smart with how it subverts expected sitcom tropes, and it's hilarious mostly in the nature of Maggie and Emma's playfulness with each other and the people around them.  2 seasons, so far, 18 episodes total, it's not enough.  3rd season is promised but can't come fast enough.  In the meantime check out St. Clair and Parham's hilarious podcast, "Womp It Up", a spinoff of "Comedy Bang Bang". [1:33:34]

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Difficult People has had two seasons and it's only been in the past month that I've heard of it.  I've caught Billy Eichner's un-gameshow Billy on the Street only a handful of times but quite enjoyed it, and I though he was great as the always angry Craig on Park and Recreation.  I've had even less exposure to comedian Julie Klausner, having hear her on the occasional podcast and a couple of her smaller stand-up sets, but I like her too.  A series created by Amy Pohler, and starring these two just seems like something a comedy nerd like me should be into.  And I am.  Finally.

Mercifully, despite its title, Difficult People does not mean Despicable People.  Julie and Billy aren't bad people, they're just a little self involved (no more so than most) and a little bitter in life, having reached a certain age and not really had the success they desired in life.  Julie seems to get paid (maybe) mostly for writing, while Billy waits tables during the day (the staff at his restaurant are fantastic, including an underutilized Gabourey Sidibe) and they work as a comedy team doing sets at night.  They're best friends, having a relationship Julie's husband Arthur seems envious but not jealous of.   Arthur (played by Dr. Venture himself, James Urbaniak) is a wonderful character, he seems dutiful as a husband, but also a perpetual third wheel to Julie's relationship with Billy.  He's not unliked, or even without agency, but he's hilarious as a character who's outside looking in on a relationship which surpasses his own.

It's not quite a binge watch worthy show, but it's quite funny.  Its plots are so small stakes that any awkwardness is usually mitigated by this fact.  I'll pick up an episode whenever there's 20 minutes to spare.  [1:44:16]

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Over time.  I went a bit long with Playing House, but that's cause I love it so much.  Really I liked all of these shows (except maybe Love, which I kind of am more fascinated by than like or respect), but Playing House has become a particular favourite.