tv

Best 100 TV episodes of the century … sort of

I got one-third of the way through The Ringer’s list of the top 100 TV episodes of the century and figured I should do a post on it.

So as I start this, I have no idea what’s to come beyond No. 67. I’m assuming the top five will be some conglomeration of Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, The Wire and Breaking Bad, because I’m apparently the only person in America who doesn’t get HBO.

The bottom third is waaaaay too heavy on reality shows. How anyone could list anything the Kardashians have ever done in the top 100 of anything is beyond me.

But for this list, I’m going to hone in on the episodes I’ve seen, the episodes I’d like to see, and a few I have no interest in seeing whatsoever.

SEEN 

No. 87 – Futurama, “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings.” Brilliant episode full of hilarity and sweetness, along with some outstanding musical numbers. And I’m glad they didn’t go with “Jurassic Bark,” which I simply cannot watch.

No. 73 – Community, “Remedial Chaos Theory.” I might have gone with the first paintball episode, but this one is a great testament to the show’s reality-bending magic.

No. 72 – ER, “On the Beach.” Death became cliche on this show, but the arc of Mark Greene’s farewell was expertly done and ultimately life-affirming in how it showed the impact he had in his too-brief life.

No. 64 – Arrested Development, “Top Banana.” Tough competition for the top episode from this show, but this one establishes a lot of the character quirks and the notion that we should never take the most obvious interpretation of a statement for granted.

No. 59 – The Americans, “The Colonel.” On the whole, this show was just too intense for me to watch. And I know how the real-life Irregulars ended up, which always made me queasy. (Basically, imagine the separation of families at the border, just with a much bigger surprise factor.) I’m also glad I didn’t invest too much time in it because, after reading the recaps, I’m bitterly disappointed in the series finale. But it certainly had its moments, and this was a good one.

No. 41 – Parks and Recreation, series finale. Probably not my choice for the top episode, but I’d have to go back and invest some thought into it, and this was pretty good as far as series finales go.

No. 39 – The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the one after 9/11. Yeah, pivotal moment, but I’d rather remember Stewart’s terrific run for the righteous and well-researched rants about the insanity of American politics.

No. 35 – South Park, “Good Times With Weapons.” I need to watch more South Park, because the ones I’ve seen in recent years have been every bit as good as the first few seasons. I can’t argue with this pick, either, for the sheer slapstick of combining video-game reality with “oh, crap, those things really hurt when you use them” reality.

No. 33 – Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. There was really a study showing Fey’s Palin dissuaded people from voting for McCain/Palin? Good to know. And it’s why comedy is our most important art form. But I’d probably pick a few other SNLs, maybe one with a memorable Andy Samberg/Lonely Island video.

No. 18 – Friday Night Lights, “Pilot.” I got chills seeing the clip from this. I remember watching this for the first time — I didn’t expect to be all that interested, and I wound up on a three-year journey with this deeply affecting study of identity. And the humor in it was underrated — even in this episode that sees Jason Street paralyzed, we meet some overbearing boosters and watch the players laugh at their own hype.

No. 16 – The Office, “Dinner Party.” Nailed it. Three years of character development led to this masterpiece. So many great moments in this — Jim’s confessional that he thinks Michael and Jan are playing their own game of who can make everyone the most uncomfortable (“And they’re both winning”), Pam’s stunned realization that Michael has been telling people they used to date (Angela provides hilarious input on that one), Michael’s partially improvised monologue about having multiple vasectomies and vasectomy reversals (“Snip snip! Snip snip!”) and, of course, let’s all sing together — “That one NIGHT, one NI-IGHT …”

No. 12 – The West Wing, “Two Cathedrals.” This show probably would be better remembered if it hadn’t gone on a couple of seasons too long and tried to up the dramatic ante over and over (“Hey, guess who gets wounded by terrorists THIS week!” — a sidebar discussion in this piece tackles the issue), but this was a brilliant take on grief and theology that ought to demonstrate once and for all that God doesn’t have a plan for all of us, at least not on this planet. Sometimes, shit just happens. And it sucks. And Martin Sheen’s monologue in the cathedral is devastating.

No. 5 – Chappelle’s Show, one with Rick James. I actually preferred the one with Wayne Brady taking “playing against type” to the extreme, but I can see why this one’s on the list.

LIKE TO SEE 

No. 97 – The Crown, “Smoke and Mirrors.” This series looked intriguing, and I just haven’t gotten around to watching it.

No. 94 – The Price is Right, the one in which a statistically improbable series of wheel spins takes place.

No. 76 – Eastbound and Down, “Chapter 1.” Yeah, I could get behind seeing an egomaniac baseball player being forced to grow up.

No. 71 – House, “House’s Head.” I’m not sure why I never watched this show. It didn’t seem to require the time investment of Lost or some other hopelessly complicated serial, and I just love the whole notion of seeing goofy British comic actor Hugh Laurie playing a grumpy American.

No. 69 – Curb Your Enthusiasm, “The Freak Book.” Not sure you can go wrong with a conversation between Larry David and John McEnroe.

No. 66 – Louie, “Oh Louie / Tickets.” Or is it too jarring to watch given Louis C.K.’s downfall?

No. 22 – Veep, “Kissing Your Sister.” I’ve only seen one episode of this (on a plane). Will HBO ever let us normals watch their shows?

No. 15 – Atlanta, “B.A.N.” Certainly seems worth checking out.

No. 8 – The Sopranos, “Pine Barrens.” I generally find mob dramas overrated (to quote Peter Griffin: “I did not care for The Godfather”), but what I’ve seen of this show is riveting.

NO — JUST … NO 

Anything in which a kid dies. Including The Walking Dead.

Every reality show. OK, the House Hunters International episode looks amusing, just because those shows offer the vicarious experience of seeing people’s unrealistic entitlement mentalities get smashed to dust.

Dawson’s Freaking Creek.

Dexter. What is it about Millennials that makes them want to see a crying baby in a pool of blood?

Grey’s Anatomy. Piss off. And I’m convinced all the people who’ve left Snow Patrol over the years weren’t kicked out — they just fell asleep on stage listening to that boring-ass guitar and whiny singer.

WHAT THEY FORGOT (mostly comedies, of course, because Millennials have no sense of humor other than “Derp, look at the bad thing that happened to that dude.”)

Glow. Come on, folks — Alison Brie reciting Cat on a Hot Tin Roof while throwing a chair in a wrestling ring is one of the funniest moments in TV history.

The Blacklist. Yeah, it’s gone on a couple of seasons too long, but we can’t forget the brilliance of James Spader’s character. I’d probably pick the two-parter in which the Post Office is besieged, Red is captured by a former protege, and we meet Alan Alda’s brilliantly (and reluctantly, it seems) villainous character.

Family Guy. Not hip enough? Too un-woke? In the words of a previous generation, whatever. “Mr. Saturday Knight,” in which Peter is bitterly disappointed upon meeting his Renaissance Fair hero (Will Ferrell) is a good pick, as is Brian and Stewie’s romp through the multiverse.

The Simpsons. Yeah, we get it. Like Saturday Night Live, people are always going to say it was better in the old days. (I was in college during the Dana Carvey/Jan Hooks/Phil Hartman days, and I remember a bunch of ignorant bros scoffing that it wasn’t any good since Belushi left.) Pick any of the five episodes I rounded up in 2014 or the 2016 episode in which The Simpsons go to Boston.

Phineas and Ferb. Really? You do Spongebob Squarepants and not this? I’d nominate the one split between the caveman scenes and Perry the Platypus as a mystical warrior monk atop a mountain.

 

tv

Every recap of The Americans, ever

I watched the first couple of episodes of The Americans and was quite impressed. But it’s a little too intense for me, especially given what happened to these families in real life.

But I’m interested in what happens. My hope is that the finale addresses the reckoning of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but my guess is that they just kill off Paige.

To keep up, I’ve read recaps of the show over the years. I’ve detected a trend.

And so this is, as the headline says, every Americans recap ever.

Ready?

It’s soooooooo good.

Elizabeth is sooooooo good in this episode.

Hey, remember that character they wrote off the show two seasons ago? She was soooooo good.

The wigs were soooooo good.

Everything is soooooooooooooooooooooooooo good.

So I really have no idea what’s happening in the show. But I hope the finale is good.

tv

Jenna Fischer’s wonderful new show … and why it won’t last

I checked out the first episode of Splitting Up Together today, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

That said, I’m not sure I’m interested in watching another episode.

Of course, I’m *rooting* for it because I just love Jenna Fischer. She was wonderful on The Office, and I enjoyed her WTF podcast interview talking about her book. And she is, as you’d expect, absolutely terrific in this. Maybe TOO terrific. There are times you want to reach through the screen and slap Oliver Hudson for taking her for granted. What were you THINKING, dude?

But Hudson is good, too. While things may seem a little stereotypical — Mom fastidiously assembles every ingredient for the kids’ breakfasts and lunches, while Dad gives them some lunch money and lets them fend for themselves — it’s not that Hudson is a neglectful jerk. It’s the “free-range vs. helicopter” parenting dilemma at play here, and it’s done with both earnestness and good humor. Fischer’s character really thinks parents can and should solve everything for their kids; Hudson’s character sees reasonable limits for that concept.

So if this were a short-run series — one of those British shows designed to run six episodes — it would surely be worth watching.

The problem: There is no way they can drag this out to a full sitcom for multiple seasons.

Some of the reviews I’ve seen pick up on the issue. It’s an unrealistic long-term premise. Money is part of it — we can understand why a newly divorced couple in the era of overpriced real estate can’t afford separate places, but some reviewers have pointed out that both parents have lax attitudes toward employment and financial restraint, undermining the “financial necessity” point.

The other part is that we’re going to like both of these characters, and we’re not going to wish a divorce on either of them. Even in the first episode, we see Hudson starting to realize what a great life he has thrown away. What will we see in episode 45?

Even in The Simpsons, where they can create and then destroy an alternate reality in each 22-minute episode, they’ve gone to the “Homer and Marge split up” well far too many times over the years. Imagine if Homer was living in the garage, pining for a reunion with Marge for 10 seasons.

It’s a pity, because the first episode is certainly worth watching. The scene in which they inform family and friends over dinner is priceless. I like the supporting cast, too, especially the guy who worships his wife and can’t comprehend why Hudson didn’t do the same. (But again — he makes such a convincing case that the writers are going to have to contrive ways to make Hudson not listen.)

They could surely get about six good episodes out of this, ending either with a reconciliation or one of the parents finally moving all the way out. But we’re probably not even going to get six good episodes out of it because they’re going to have stretch things out and rely on sitcom cliches (oh, no — a misunderstanding and jealousy!) to keep this couple apart long enough to make a second season.

education, tv

The actual divide in this country, illustrated

Forget rural vs. urban. Forget left vs. right. Forget rich vs. poor (both of which have been convinced to vote against their self-interests, anyway).

Here’s the divide in this country:

Duke course catalog, Statistics 642:

Statistical models for modeling, monitoring, assessing and forecasting time series. Univariate and multivariate dynamic models; state space modeling approaches; Bayesian inference and prediction; computational methods for fast data analysis, learning and prediction; time series decomposition; dynamic model and time series structure assessment. Routine use of statistical software for time series applications. Applied studies motivated by problems and time series data from a range of applied fields including economics, finance, neuroscience, climatology, social networks, and others. Instructor consent required.

TV listing for third-rated cable show in 18-49 demographic for June 21:

Sonja’s love triangle gets more complicated as things heat up with “Frenchie.” Meanwhile, Tinsley goes apartment hunting. Carole and Adam bicker over items he left behind in her apartment. Fredrik and Bethenny look over her apartment as they plan to put it on the market. Carole and Dorinda go to Washington DC for the Women’s March. Ramona throws a party at her apartment with a surprising guest list.

 

 

tv

Corporate social media — an oxymoron?

When your company is savaged on John Oliver’s show, wouldn’t you want to respond?

Companies have so many tools to do so these days. The days of tossing press releases to overloaded newsroom fax machines are long gone. We have Web sites (sorry, AP, but “World Wide Web” is a proper name, hence the capitalization) and social media. If a comedy/news program like Oliver’s does a segment on you, you can even play along so that you don’t look defensive while presenting another side to your business.

So here we are, 36 hours after Oliver’s segment on debt, which didn’t paint a flattering picture of DBA International. And what’s on DBA’s site, their Twitter account and Facebook account?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Why even have social media accounts if you’re not going to try to turn a crisis into an opportunity?

Here’s the segment:

 

tv

Cable-channel ID creep and pandering to the masses

MTV doesn’t show videos. (Not often, anyway.) Neither does VH1. A&E doesn’t show a lot of arts and entertainment. Even The Weather Channel has a lot of shows that aren’t really about the weather.

So maybe it’s a little heartening to read this Washington Post story about Discovery getting back to its roots.

Now, as cord-cutters and online video plunge the cable business into chaos, Discovery is fighting aggressively to return to its roots, spending millions on glossy documentaries, science shows and ­“environmental advocacy campaigns” in a bet that smarter, more-distinctive programming will help it survive the new age of TV.

Two ways to look at this in the cold light of finances:

  1. Netflix and others have shown there’s an audience for intelligent programming.
  2. That audience might be hard to get back from Netflix and the web.

The sad part: Cable television is going to go to its grave pandering to the lowest common denominator. Sure, Mencken said no one went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people (or something to that effect), and Barnum may or may not have said there’s a sucker born every minute. But with a couple of generations taking a college education as a given, it’s disheartening to read this defense of reality-TV crap on the network formerly known as The Learning Channel:

“TLC is a very powerful and heartfelt Middle America brand. When we look at TLC, we basically say, ‘F— New York and L.A.,’ ” Zaslav said. “Most of the media is not speaking to Middle America. So what are the shows we can put on [for a] 42-year-old mom who gives her husband and two kids dinner, and then puts the TV set on? What is she going to watch that she can relate to, that’s going to be entertaining and fun for her?”

I can’t wait for Middle America to say “F— you” right back and prove that they want to watch quality programming, too. Preferably before climate change makes everyone move to Middle America.