What I’m Watching: Fall 2015

The fall 2015 television season is here, right as we enter the age of “Peak TV,” with seemingly too many television series out there to consume.

At the summer Television Critics Association press tour last month, John Landgraf, the president of FX Networks, stated that “there is simply too much television” in our current landscape. According to Vox, “In 2009, there were 211 primetime scripted series on television. That number steadily climbed until in 2014 there were 371, an increase of 160 shows. FX expects the number to top 400 in 2015.” That number doesn’t even included reality television, talk shows, game shows, etc. It’s downright impossible for a person to sample every show that’s out there and once you’ve dropped a show, it becomes even harder to pick it back up.

In the opening number of the 67th Emmy Awards, host Andy Samberg tackles the issue of “Peak TV” head-on by locking himself in a TV Viewing Bunker for a year to catch up on every show:

So where does that leave me? I’ve made peace with the fact that I’ll probably never watch the most critically acclaimed new series from this past summer, UnREAL and Mr. Robot, or the 2015 Emmy winners for Outstanding Comedy, Veep, and Drama, Game of Thrones (but let’s be real, Mad Men should have taken the trophy for its final season, or better yet, the real best drama series, The Americans, should have been nominated in the first place). I’ll take solace in the fact that I’m enjoying what I choose to watch. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If a TV show gives you pleasure, more power to you!

Special shout-outs to the shows I watched in the past two months: CatastropheBoJack Horseman season two, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, Transparent, and Orange is the New Black season three. I highly recommend all of these excellent shows, especially BoJack Horseman, an uproarious, yet painfully bleak and honest, examination of depression, as filtered through the lens of an animated anthropomorphic horse. Will you get to watching these shows? “They’re on my list,” I’m sure you’ll say. #PeakTV

What I’m Watching:

Scream Queens – Premieres September 22 on FOX

Welcome to Ryan Murphy’s twisted take on campus slasher films! I’m cautiously optimistic about this show, with an emphasis on the cautiously. Ryan Murphy productions start with a bang (see: the first two seasons of Glee and American Horror Story. Ok, fine, maybe just season of Glee.) and they unfortunately get caught up in their own frenetic messes, ending with a whimper (see: the other seasons of Glee and American Horror Story).

Fortunately for viewers, Scream Queens doesn’t seem to have any higher aspirations than being a gleeful, campy, bloody bubblegum confection that offs a character each week to comically gruesome effect. Plus, I can’t help but root for a cast that includes Nasim Pedrad, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ariana Grande, and Nick Jonas. I mean, come on. There’s a fine line between bitchy, catty entertainment and outright meanness. Tread carefully, Ryan Murphy. Here’s hoping it’ll be fun to watch this sorority-set series inevitably fly off the rails!

Fresh Off the Boat – Returns September 22 on ABC

As the first network TV show to feature an Asian-American family in 20 years, expectations for Fresh Off the Boat were dangerously high. To make matters worse, in the weeks leading up to the premiere, Eddie Huang, who wrote the memoir on which the show is based, trash-talked his own team members for diluting his personal experiences. Thankfully, when the first episode debuted, you could feel the collective exhale of Asian America. It was a sigh of relief that this family sitcom was extremely funny, witty, and heartwarming to boot. There were no reasons for audiences to hang their heads in shame. Fresh Off the Boat made specific cultural experiences universal and reset the television defaults of what it means to be a sitcom family.

Constance Wu, who plays the matriarch Jessica Huang, addresses the issues of representation in an insightful Buzzfeed interview:

The Asian-American experience [is something] a lot of us as Asian-Americans really haven’t explored, because they lump us all into one… It’s terrifying to say, ‘This is a thing that is complex and worthy of our time,’ but it is complex, and that’s why you’re not going to always find an easy, palatable answer. I think [the show is] trying to approach that complexity in a very traditionally simplistic form. And I think if we can do that, it’s almost its own type of activism.

I’ve jokingly shared on social media that I love that I can see myself on television, as the youngest brother, Evan Huang. The sentiment is silly, but completely true. This quirky, sweet-natured, delicate boy is definitely me and it’s a feeling that I’ve cherished. It’s progress.

Survivor – Returns September 23 on CBS

I’ve never been more excited about a season of Survivor in 31 seasons than I am about Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance. And neither have any other of Survivor’s ten million viewers. Twenty returning players were voted in by America to compete for a second chance to win the million dollars and the title of Sole Survivor. After All-Stars and Heroes vs. VillainsCambodia is only the third season to feature all veteran players. This past summer, I re-watched Heroes vs. Villains, arguably Survivor‘s best, for the third time and this new season has all the potential to match HvV’s soaring highs.

Some of these players, like Borneo’s OG Kelly Wigglesworth and Australian Outback’s Jeff Varner and Kimmi Kappenberg, have waited over a decade for the opportunity to play again. Every single one of these contestants is here to WIN, ready to overcome their earlier flaws, course-correct for past mistakes, over-compensate for character flaws, underestimate and overpower the competition, and outwit, outplay, and outlast to the Final Tribal Council. The hunger is real.

Each contestant has a strong storyline going into the competition: Can Stephen Fishbach shed his overwhelmingly large target of being a Survivor Know-It-All podcast host? Will Ciera Eastin be able to convince her tribemates she’s a trustworthy player after she voted out her own mother in her previous season? Will Abi-Maria Gomes be able to cool her hot temper and play nice with others? Will Spencer “Charlie Brown” Bledsoe finally be able to kick that football set up by Chaos Kass? The list goes on… What makes this season so exciting is that each person comes in with so much baggage and so much to prove. You can read some of my thoughts on the cast here.

Peih-Gee Law

Peih-Gee Law (source: EW.com)

Who am I rooting for? In addition to the aforementioned Jeff Varner (love his cheeky energy) and Stephen Fishbach (love his quick wit), I’m pulling for for my friend, Survivor China’s Peih-Gee Law, who famously was good at Sudoku and claiming victory of the last of her tribe, ultimately achieving 5th place. Will she be able to keep her emotions in check and not make waves in the early goings of the game? If so, Peih-Gee will at least make it to the merge. In pre-game interviews, Peih-Gee talked about a smart strategy she picked up from fellow China player, Amanda Kimmel:

You have to find someone really strong […] like a Woo…who will be able to win challenges, but he’ll be kind of a target after the merge, which is fine because then I won’t be a target. Then you want somebody weaker, like maybe like Kass. They’re good to have by your side because if they want to get rid of someone who’s not good at challenges, then you’re protected. And then, these people, the weaker ones and the stronger ones, they’re the targets.

Who am I picking to win? Looking at the winners of the two previous all-star seasons, Amber Brkich and Sandra Diaz-Twine, both women entered the game as unassuming characters. They laid low and watched as the bigger targets take each other out each week. I see the same characteristics in San Juan Del Sur’s Kelley Wentworth. Although we never fully saw her game in her first season (which means neither did her competitors), she seemed smart and level-headed enough to be a savvy player. Kelley enters Cambodia without a huge target on her back, but possesses great potential. If she aligns with the right players, she could fly under the radar, make smart moves to get her to the end, and emerge victorious.

How to Get Away With Murder – Returns September 24 on ABC

To be honest, I was a bit on the fence about returning to this Shondaland series. Only Viola Davis’ magnetic and emotionally fraught tornado and Jack Falahee’s voracious sexual appetite and surprising vulnerability proved to be compelling characters. The rest of How to Get Away With Murder’s ensemble was merely beautiful set dressing. I also couldn’t stand Wes and Rebecca at all, separate or together.

Ultimately, Viola Davis is worth the price of re-admission. Her extraordinary history-making Emmy acceptance speech brought me to tears. As the first African-American woman to ever win Lead Actress in a Drama Series, her words were a powerful and inspiring indictment of the decision makers of Hollywood, highlighting how few opportunities women of color have had the chance to even compete for the title.

‘In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.’

That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.

I will keep watching to support your trailblazing work, Viola Davis. Here’s to you!

The Flash – Returns October 6 on The CW

Simply put, The Flash is fun, fun, fun. The mere thought of more adventures in Central City fills me with joy. The Flash is a winning combination of celebrating the heroics of superheroes and meaningful, emotional character relationships. Of all the shows I watched last year, I’m certain I cried the most and hardest at The Flash season one finale. Damn you, Grant Gustin, and your beautifully emotive, tear-streaked face! This upcoming year spirals further down the comic book spiral, introducing a parallel universe and the original The Flash, Jay Garrick. I’m not a superhero superfan by any means, but I’m in for whatever thrilling twists are coming our way.

American Horror Story: Hotel – Returns October 7 on FX

Oh boy, American Horror Story, where to begin? Season three (Coven) was a supreme mess with inflated dramatic stakes (If characters could be resurrected willy-nilly, what did it matter that characters died?), while season four (Freak Show) was a frightful bore that suffered from warmed-over and languid pacing.

Season five, Hotel, brings AHS into the dark hallways of the Hotel Cortez. The one shining beacon of this season is that the incredible Jessica Lange is sitting this out of this chapter. Lange has portrayed massive powerhouses, stealing every scene and chewing each piece of scenery, but over time, these power-hungry matriarchs drew from the same well one too many times. It will be interesting to watch a more ensemble-driven AHS, as anchored by Lady Gaga.

Billy on the Street – Returns October 8 on TruTV

Pop culture and yelling. #selfexplanitory
I wrote about Billy on the Street’s first season here.

Jane the Virgin – Returns October 12 on The CW

The first season of Jane the Virgin skillfully balanced the hilarious with the heartfelt, and the playfully surreal with the emotionally real. Even when the telenovela-inspired narrative engine seemed to barrel through storyline after plot twist after jaw dropping moment, Jane the Virgin never lost its way, thanks to its charming and radiant lead, Gina Rodriguez.

The world was also introduced to new comic icons in Jaime Camil’s self-absorbed Rogelio De La Vega and Anthony Mendez’ cheeky narrator. Season two promises to double down on the over-the-top telenovela world, announcing guest appearances by not only pop icon Britney Spears, but my beloved darling, Kesha (#FreedomForKesha). The Flash and Jane the Virgin both had stellar first seasons (which I wrote about) and I expect no less this year.

Plus, Jane the Virgin also featured my two favorite Emmy “For Your Consideration” campaigns for Gina Rodriguez and Jaime Camil. Jane the Virgin, you are both inspiring and freaking hilarious.

Fargo – Returns October 12 on FX

My favorite scripted series from 2014 returns. Fargo’s first season was a tightly plotted morality tale, bursting at the seams with memorably quirky characters and black-hearted humor. Fargo follows in the footsteps of its fellow FX series, American Horror Story, and resets its second season in 1979, with a new murderers row of actors taking on the series’ unique voice: Patrick Wilson. Kirsten Dunst. Jessie Plemons. Ted Danson. Jean Smart. Cristin Milioti. Nick Offerman. Kirsten Dunst’s awesomely feathered coif. Just watch the trailer below and tell me you are giddy either.

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What I watched in January 2015

Even in the seemingly freezing wasteland of January, warmth could be found all over television. What was once a month of dull month of shows returning from winter hiatus, is now a blossoming time for premieres and finales. Here’s a look at what I watched in January 2015. Some spoilers to follow, of course.

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In streaming news, I finally joined my generation of millennials and signed up for Amazon Prime. What started out as a free trial to take advantage of the 2-day shipping for the holidays and to stream Survivor: Fiji (the last of Survivor‘s soon-to-be 30 seasons I’ve yet to watch), ended up as a thrilling deep-dive into the best show on television, The Americans.

The_Americans_S3

Source: uptownhags.tumblr.com

The Americans is a must-watch. All at once a sleek spy thriller and an unexpectedly moving examination of marriage and family. The Cold War-set character-driven drama is exhilarating, smart, extremely well-acted, and features lots and lots of fun wigs. It is the 1980s after all.

The first season explores what it means to be married. Married couple Elizabeth Jennings (a striking and determined Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) are living in American suburbia, working undercover as KGB agents. This union is an arranged marriage by Mother Russia and to keep up appearances of family life, Elizabeth and Philip eventually had two children of their own, Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati). However, once familiar territory becomes dangerous when real emotions develop and the two see each other in new light. This is marriage as spycraft, marriage as a cold war. Complications ensue when Stan Beeman (the masterful Noah Emmerich), an FBI agent working in counter-intelligence with marital baggage of his own, moves in right next door. Howdy, neighbor!

A Soviet mole tells an FBI agent, “You Americans think everything is white and black. For us, everything is gray.” Throughout The Americans, Elizabeth and Philip encounter shifting allegiances and dodge shifting moral compasses. Relationships morph, lies are bred, and compromises abound. Double agents become triple agents. Confidants become conflicted. In a world of espionage, nothing ever has just one meaning. This is a powerful and thoughtful show that wrestles with severe emotional stakes: Can I trust you?

In the second season, the series explores what it means to believe and fight for something much larger than yourself. The Americans shows the weight of collateral damage, in particular, the toll of espionage on the family unit. Emotional costs do not go ignored. What does it mean to be a parent harboring life-changing secrets from your children and how do children cope with the realization that they’ll just become their parents? How far can you fight for what you believe in while still maintaining your humanity?

I HIGHLY recommend giving The Americans a chance. The first two 13-episode seasons are available for streaming on Amazon Prime. If I can binge-watch 26 episodes in one month, you can too.What are you waiting for? GO!

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I celebrated the season finale of American Horror Story: Freak Show, not because I praised its artistic merit or thought-provoking themes, but because of the sheer and simple relief that this languid melodrama was finally over. FX’s horror anthology has suffered diminishing returns, peaking with its second season, Asylum.

While Jessica Lange remains a national treasure, she has been given nothing but retreads of her earlier characters. What worked so perfectly with the Asylum finale is that we cared about the Lange’s Sister Jude. We were given the gift of a moving redemption arc. What worked so poorly with the Freak Show finale is that I simply did not care about Lange’s Elsa Mars at all. Neither her thirst for Hollywood stardom, nor her passion for her freak show family, nor her shame over her tragic snuff film past made me compassionate for her plight. When Wes Bentley’s supernatural carny spirit took Elsa’s life in the season’s final moments, I merely shrugged.

Color me less than excited about the next season of American Horror Story.

At the very least, American Horror Story: Freak Show gave us Finn Witrock’s devilishly handsome serial killer Dandy Mott. As Angela Bassett’s three-breasted Desiree Dupree hissed at him during the finale, “You may look like a motion picture dreamboat, but you’re the biggest freak of them all!” Farewell, Dandy and Desiree, you were the few shining stars of this dim season.

AHS_Freak_Show_Dandy

Source: realmenteborroso.tumblr.com

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Jane the Virgin had a gigantic January, with Gina Rodriguez winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Series, Musical or Comedy, the first-ever Golden Globe for The CW. Rodriguez’s heartfelt and moving speech proved why she won the hearts of the HFPA voters and fans alike:

This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes. My father used to tell me to say every morning to myself it’s a great day. I can and I will. Well Dad, today’s a great day. I can and I did.

In the first new episode of Jane the Virgin that aired after the Golden Globes, The CW used the onscreen hashtag #ICanAndIDid as a celebration of Rodriguez’s achievement. On the show itself, with another onscreen hashtag, the political became personal. Jane’s grandmother, Alba (Ivonne Coll), took a nasty fall down a flight of stairs when Petra’s devious wheelchair-bound mother pushed her (Gasp! Petra’s mother can walk?! Let’s not forget this is a telenovela send-up). While Alba recovered in the hospital, the doctors informed Jane’s mother, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), about medical repatriation:

Your mother is in the country illegally. She doesn’t have insurance and the hospital can’t afford to absorb the cost of her care. We will have to notify I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and they will deport her to Venezuela where she can continue to receive care if he needs it.

Xiomara, not to mention most of Jane‘s viewers, was stunned by this revelation. Then, this happened:

Jane_The_Virgin_Immigration

Source: janegifs.tumblr.com

Jane the Virgin made a bold statement about #ImmigrationReform by bringing the policy to harsh light, even when seen through the show’s playful onscreen text. Jane the Virgin‘s own Diane Guerrero herself revealed in a Los Angeles Times op-ed that her parents were deported to Columbia when she was 14 years old. By using the plight of the sympathetic Villanueva family, the series brought compassion to an important issue.

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January welcomed the return of Girls and Looking, two high-profile, low-rated HBO comedies.

On Girls, Andrew Rannells’ Elijah continues to steal the entire damn show. Rannells was promoted to series regular for this season and the show has used his snark in strategic, yet mightily effective ways, as a breath of fresh, salty air to cut through all the self-pitying of Hannah and her crew. Rannells also demonstrated his biting wit and wicked sense of humor on an interview on Late Night with Seth Meyers, an interview so hilarious, I watched it twice in a row. (Watch parts one and two NOW.)

Andrew_Rannells_LNSM

Source: latenightseth.tumblr.com

Regarding Looking, I am firmly on #TeamRitchie (the beautifully grounded Raul Castillo), though Kevin (Russell Tovey) does have that unmistakable charm and that damn British accent. In the episode “Looking for Results,” Kevin and Patrick (Jonathan Groff) spend time getting to know each other intimately, outside of their affair, and share potentially embarrassing stories of their childhood crushes.

I read many episodic television reviews to enhance my viewing experience. In particular, I love Brandon Norwalk’s Looking reviews at The A.V. Club that situate the series within the larger gay experience. His thoughts on Kevin and Patrick’s date conversations, formative childhood stories as shared gay conversation, really spoke to me:

The episode is deeply rooted in history, particularly this universal gay formative experience of knowing you have to keep a secret before you even understand what it is. Gay people start out alone in a way. They start out apart from community.

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Here’s an SAT analogy for you:
Parks and Recreation : “Ron and Leslie” :: Mad Men : “The Suitcase”

In its flash-forward farewell season, Parks and Recreation slammed us with the falling-out of its two powerhouses, as the ever-optimistic liberal Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and staunch libertarian Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) fought over the development of Pawnee land. The struggle between the two titans climaxed in “Ron and Leslie,” a bottle episode that rivaled Mad Men’s stand-out episode, “The Suitcase.”

In “The Suitcase,” while barreling through a single night of stubbornness, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) shared a profound intimacy and worked out rooted issues that were keeping them apart both professionally and personally. In “Ron and Leslie,” while barreling through a single night of stubbornness, Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope shared a profound intimacy and worked out rooted issues that were keeping them apart both professionally and personally.

Parks_and_Rec_Ron_and_Leslie

Source: thatstupidache.tumblr.com

From Leslie’s first interview for the parks department, to the admission that Ron left the parks department because he missed his friends, to the fact that Ron openly admitted that he would take a job in national government to be with said friends again, their personal confessions spoke volumes about their journey together. The epic reconciliation of Ron and Leslie reached the heart-swelling emotional heights of Leslie and Ben Wyatt’s (Adam Scott) wedding and Andy (Chris Pratt) and April’s (Aubrey Plaza) wedding. With truly resonant emotional stakes and a deep-seated respect for each other, Ron and Leslie’s friendship is a love story of the ages. I just know I’ll be out of tears by the time this show wraps up in less than a month.

In the episode, “Treat Yo Self 2017,” Donna Meagle (Retta) and Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) revived their infamous tradition of pampering one’s self and took it all the way to Beverly Hills. Not only did the two witness Josh Groban ordering a roll of own sushi, but they also shared a heart-to-heart about Tom’s love life. I tweeted Donna’s sincere advice, which unsurprisingly resonated with fans all over the internet.

When Parks and Recreation leaves the airwaves, the warm and fuzzies will live on in the generous fan community. Waffles for everyone!

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Saturday Night Live is enjoying a particularly robust season, with the additions of Weekend Update co-anchor Michael Che, resident Young Person Pete Davidson, and soon-to-be-Ghostbuster Leslie Jones. After last season’s too-bloated-to-function cast, this year’s cast members have found a steady comedy groove, with stronger sketch comedy and less reliance on pop culture. Alas, if only the WU team of Che and Head Writer Colin Jost clicked.

J.K. Simmons failed to make an impression as a host despite being a strong actor, with the show most likely focusing all its attention on its upcoming star-studded 40th Anniversary Special. While Blake Shelton couldn’t break out of his country persona, rendering him an inept and inert host, Kevin Hart’s fully committed and manic energy made him quite an impressive host his second time around.

I dare you to not be charmed by Kevin Hart in this frenzied “Listening Party” sketch.

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And in other shows…

Shondaland reopened its gates and How to Get Away with Murder attempted to steal the spotlight from buzzy newcomer Empire. Unfortunately, the return of the Viola Davis Show was nothing more than a glorified recap episode. Yes, the HTGAWM winter finale happened nine weeks ago, but did we really have to relive every bloody moment? And least the spinning cheerleader was gone.

American Idol also returned to little fanfare, with last year’s judging panel of Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick, Jr., and Keith Urban left intact. Thankfully, my prayers have finally been answered: Randy “The Dawg” Jackson has left the fading juggernaut once and for all.

And last, but certainly not least, The Flash heralded in the first-ever openly gay supervillain in Andy Mientus’ Pied Piper and boy was his introduction a doozy.

The_Flash_Pied_Piper_1

The_Flash_Pied_Piper_2

Source: lrisallens.tumblr.com

The Naughty and Nice of 2014 TV

Welcome to my fourth annual Naughty and Nice of TV list!

This year, I wanted to focus on the TV characters themselves. To borrow from Into the Woods, characters on the Nice List aren’t necessarily “good.” Likewise, characters on the Naughty list aren’t “evil.” Who are the characters that grabbed my attention and made me what to root for them? As I’ve often said on my love of television: characters are key. Make me care for the people I’m spending time with, and you’ve got me hooked.

And just for the hell of it, here are my favorite episodes of 2014 television: “Beach House” (Girls), “So Did the Fat Lady” (Louie), “Cooperative Polygraphy” (Community), “Looking for the Future” (Looking), and “The Strategy” (Mad Men). My previous Naughty and Nice Lists can be found here: 2013, 2012, 2011

Here are the TV Characters on the Nice and Naughty Lists, presented in their show’s respective alphabetical order:

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TV Characters on my Nice List

Big Brother – Zach Rance

The 16th season of Big Brother was an underwhelming strategic bust, thanks to Derrick Levasseur dominating the game with his Bomb Squad and Detonators alliances. Thankfully, we had the bright ball of charisma that was Zach Rance to keep us entertained. The self-proclaimed “Zach Attack” was new type of reality TV character: the lovable bro. He was by no means the sharpest player, but his heart-on-his-sleeve attitude won over the hearts of millions. Zach Attack was a never-ending fount of emotion, ranging from bitter outbursts to tender cuddling. His bro/showmance with Frankie Grande (dubbed “Zankie”) was the fodder of YouTubeTumblr, and Twitter users everywhere. Big Brother took a commendable progressive step by showing such a strong bond between a straight guy and a gay guy, while not playing into any homophobia.

Zach_Attack

Source: bigbrotherz.tumblr.com

BoJack Horseman – BoJack Horseman

Little did we know that when we first entered the surreal animated world of BoJack Horseman, on the surface a pointed satire of Hollywood celebrity, that we would come out the other end of its first season having saw a sobering examination of anxiety depression. Voiced by Will Arnett, BoJack was a washed-up 90s sitcom star and a tortured soul who diagnosed his childhood hangups in an endless sea of booze and partying. We all want to be loved and accepted, man. Buried underneath the animal puns and the celebrity cameos lies a surprisingly deep and twisted heart submerged in a profound well of pathos. And the reveal that Andrew Garfield loves lasagna and hates Mondays.

BoJack_Horseman

Source: dewogong.tumblr.com

Enlisted – The Hill Brothers

Oh, my dear, sweet Enlisted. You were taken from us way too soon. This little comedic gem followed Sgt. Pete Hill (Geoff Stults) who was reassigned to a rear detachment unit that was home to his younger brothers Randy Hill (the ever-hilarious Parker Young) and Derrick Hill (Chris Lowell at his snarkiest). Enlisted hit the perfect sweet spot of hilarity and heartwarming, from the silliness of Randy sobbing while describing the plot of Toy Story 3, to the poignancy of Pete stepping into a solider support group for the first time to seek help for his post-traumatic stress. The pilot episode introduces “hands on heads” as how the Hill brothers say “I love you.” This simple, loving gesture perfectly encapsulates the empathetic nature of Enlisted. No one is alone.
Source: nalle.tumblr.com

Source: nalle.tumblr.com

Fargo – Molly Solverson

Fargo is my favorite series of 2014. Watching such intriguingly off-kilter characters amidst a fantastically rich landscape filled me with glee. Fargo was blessed with brilliant performances from its all-star ensemble of Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Key and Peele, Kate Walsh, and more, but one performance stood head and shoulders above the rest. Allison Tolman made the most out of the very definition of a breakout role, as her complex performance of Molly Solverson became the shining beacon of hope in an otherwise frigid world. Molly’s quiet confidence and doggedness proved to be perfect antidote to the well-worn hyper-masculinity of anti-hero dramas. Witty, smart, charming, and vulnerable, Molly took the reigns of Fargo and made the show hers, one decent action at a time.
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Source: fxfargo.tumblr.com

The Flash – Barry Allen

The Flash revels in the optimism of superherodom, anchored by Barry Allen’s determination for doing the right thing and actor Grant Gustin’s charisma. From my earlier article, The Best New Shows on TV: Jane the VirginThe Flash, I wrote about what makes Gustin’s performance so refreshing: “Grant Gustin as Barry Allen is as charming as all get out. His fresh-faced earnestness makes lines like, ‘Lightning gave me abs?!’ and ‘My chest feels like that one time I had a cigarette. Yeah, teen me lived for danger’ absolutely work in his favor. Gustin nails not only Barry’s easy-going nerd charisma, but he also brings a necessary depth to the role. Barry’s capacity for empathy is deep and you can see the passion and heartbreak in Gustin’s eyes.”
Source: felicitytech.tumblr.com

Source: felicitytech.tumblr.com

Jane the Virgin – Jane Villaneuva

Gina Rodriguez and Jane the Virgin became the first-ever Golden Globe nominees for The CW Network and deservedly so. This wonderfully warm telenovela-inspired concoction was the biggest surprise of the fall season. In my article about Jane the Virgin, I wrote: “The throughly charming Gina Rodriguez leads the cast as Jane Villanueva. Reveling in a star-making turn, Rodriguez provides the nuanced emotional center of honesty and warmth. We feel for her. We laugh with her. We cheer for her. Her earnestness is instantly endearing. Yet at the same time, the Latin Lover Narrator notes, ‘Jane was a virgin, but not a saint.’ She’s flawed. She’s judgmental. She’s judgmental of her flaws.” Jane Villaneuva welcomes us into her world with open arms.
Source: linhcinderella.tumblr.com

Source: linhcinderella.tumblr.com

The Legend of Korra – Korrasami

It is a damn shame that Nickelodeon pulled The Legend of Korra off the airwaves halfway through season three this past summer, airing the final season and a half exclusively online, as the last two seasons were quietly groundbreaking. Korra was an exemplary display of feminism, highlighting both the badass strength of its female ensemble, as well as their flaws and vulnerabilities.

The show gave these characters the freedom to explore their wants and needs through nuanced character development. Women rose to power, women wielded power, and women abused power. The striking journey of Avatar Korra demonstrated the difficult, necessary, and lonely road to recovery. However, she ultimately wasn’t alone. Korra ends the series with her close friend, Asami, by her side. Once rivals fighting over the same boy, Korra and Asami developed a deep friendship over the years, using each other as supportive confidants.

Now we’ll get into spoilers… By the third episode of season three, I had picked up on Korra and Asami’s friendship, and tweeted: “I’m especially enjoying the deepening relationship between Korra and Asami. Not everything’s about boys.” and I was aware of the fervent Korra online fanbase shipping Korra and Asami (“Korrasami”), having followed a couple Korra tumblrs myself. I was not ready for the last minutes of The Legend of Korra series finale, however, when the two women travelled to the Spirit World together, eyes and hands locked. I gasped as I watched those closing moments, with my hands over my face. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Were Korra and Asami ending up together?

Indeed, it was real. Korra co-creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino revealed post-finale, that indeed the two women ended up together. I’ll let Konietzko explain why this relationship carries so much power and importance (excerpted from his Tumblr post “Korassami is canon“):

“Just because two characters of the same sex appear in the same story, it should not preclude the possibility of a romance between them. No, not everyone is queer, but the other side of that coin is that not everyone is straight. The more Korra and Asami’s relationship progressed, the more the idea of a romance between them organically blossomed for us… But as we got close to finishing the finale, the thought struck me: How do I know we can’t openly depict that? No one ever explicitly said so. It was just another assumption based on a paradigm that marginalizes non-heterosexual people. If we want to see that paradigm evolve, we need to take a stand against it.”

This is progress.

Source: magnificent-vennificus.tumblr.com

Source: magnificent-vennificus.tumblr.com

Orange is the New Black – Rosa Cisneros

In its second season, Orange is the New Black broadened its canvas, expanded its world, and showed a deft confidence in both the cast and writers. By shifting the central narrative away from Piper Chapman, the show’s lesser characters like Black Cindy and Gloria were given time to shine. Through this season’s flashbacks, we learned that not all the women in Litchfield simply made bad decisions, but that some were actually criminals. This was the case with Rosa Cisneros, played beautifully by Barbara Rosenblat. In OITNB‘s first season, Rosa barely made an impression, but her season two quest to find any remaining vestiges of life’s thrilling joy made a profound and powerful impact. The fact that Orange is the New Black showcased such a moving story for a seemingly minor character displays the show’s limitless respect for telling the stories that aren’t always told.

Source: ayeshunx.tumblr.com

Source: ayeshunx.tumblr.com

Silicon Valley – Peter Gregory

The late and very great Christopher Evan Welch gave us a gift with his peculiar and precise portrayal as the eccentric and enigmatic billionaire, Peter Gregory. The scenes in “Articles of Incorporation” in which Welch delivers a speech on the business machinations of Burger King are nothing short of remarkable.
Source: adultum.tumblr.com

Source: adultum.tumblr.com

Survivor – Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson, winner of Survivor: San Juan del Sur, was, in the words of a fellow contestant, “basically a badass.” She was socially savvy, physically strong, and brutally honest. As two-time veterans of The Amazing Race, Natalie and her twin sister Nadiya, entered the season with huge targets on their backs. Nadiya was the first elimination of the game, which stoked Natalie with a passionate fire for vengeance which she fueled brilliantly into her social game. It bears repeating that in a season of Survivor that featured pairs of loved ones (husband and wife, mother and daughter, boyfriends, etc.), a pair of identical siblings bookmarked the game. One Twinnie was voted out first, while the other Twinnie won the whole freakin’ game. This feat shows that Survivor is not only a game of strategy, but also a game of luck and circumstance.

Source: herasyed.tumblr.com

Source: herasyed.tumblr.com

TV Characters on my Naughty List

American Horror Story: Freak Show – Elsa Mars
Yet another power-hungry Jessica Lange matriarch desperately striving to assert her authority in a world where youth and beauty threaten to destroy everything dear to her? Yawn.
 
Downton Abbey – Lady Mary’s male suitors
I honestly could not tell these men apart from each other, nor did the show make me care to distinguish them. I commend Downton Abbey for handling Lady Mary’s grieving process with care, but saddling her with tired flirtations was a bore to watch. Downton Abbey is just more of the same every year.

How to Get Away with Murder – Everyone who isn’t Viola Davis or Jack Falahee
Yes, HTGAWM is progressive in its portrayal of a strong, black female who is given powerful moments of vulnerability and its portrayal of a gay character who is allowed to be as sexual, if not more so, than his straight co-stars. Unfortunately, every other character in this show is a lame, underwritten snooze.

Orange is the New Black – Larry Bloom
For a show bursting to the brim with many vibrant characters, why does Orange is the New Black feel the need to keep coming back to the trials and tribulations of Larry (Jason Biggs)? Yes, he started the series as Piper’s fiancé, but we have traveled down so many more interesting paths since then. Time spent with Larry is time taken away from the richness that is Litchfield.

— — —

But let’s not end on such a downer note, shall we? Let’s end with this Nice unaired Saturday Night Live short, which perfectly skewered 90s family sitcoms, through the “very special episode” trope, chicken wings, and Andrew Garfield’s midriff.

Saturday Night Live – Wing

What I’m Watching/Ditching in the Fall 2014 TV Season

Ah, fall. As with pumpkin spiced everything, this glorious season ushers in a whole new crop of television shows. Here are the television shows I will be tuning into in the coming months and the ones I’ll be tossing out the window. Click to see my previous lists of fall 2012, 2007, and 2006. #consistency.

What I’m Watching:

Play It Again, Dick – New series debuted 9/16 on CW Seed

The first of the series I’ll be watching this fall won’t even air on television. Play It Again, Dick, the latest chapter in the Veronica Mars saga, debuted on CW Seed, The CW’s home of original digital series. The webseries is a meta-explosion, starring Ryan Hansen playing a heightened version of himself, attempting to make a Veronica Mars spinoff based on his character, the lovable douche Dick Casablanca. Ryan Hansen as Ryan Hansen attempts to wrangle in the ‘ol gang of Veronica Mars actors that will be playing themselves and/or their characters. Or both. Even though the movie was ultimately disappointing in its extreme fan service, the tone of this meta-romp is perfectly pleasurable.

Survivor: San Juan del SurBlood vs. Water – Returning 9/24 on CBS

Survivor brings back the successful Blood vs. Water twist in its 29th installment. Expectations were low when the twistreturning players competing with their loved oneswas introduced last fall, but the season surpassed fan concern when it delivered new dynamic layers of gameplay infused with powerful raw emotion. But can lightning strike twice with a cast of all-new players? By all accounts, Survivor is an individual game, so the casting of brand new pairs will be crucial for the season’s success. Unfortunately, we’ll have to deal with the disgusting and despicable John Rocker, the racist and homophobic former MLB player. There are a few bright spots in this cast, however, and I’m rooting for the married couple of Val and Jeremy, the police officer and firefighter.

How to Get Away with Murder – New series debuting 9/25 on ABC

I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t watch the white-hot Scandal. I know. I KNOW. I aim to rectify this lack of Shondaland in my life by tuning in to How to Get Away with Murder, executive-produced by Shonda Rhimes and helmed by Viola Davis as a merciless criminal-law professor. The show promises to be sexy, suspenseful, and full of vengeful and attractive young co-eds. Sign me up for this crash-course in pulpy primetime soapiness!

The Legend of Korra – Returning 10/4 on Nick.com

Poor, poor Korra. The titular character of The Legend of Korra spent this past summer watching her third season be wildly mistreated by Nickelodeon. Book Three: Change was originally planned to air this fall, but for whatever reason, the channel hastily released it during the summer instead. Nickelodeon began promotion only one week prior to the season premiere and subsequently burned off two episodes every Friday night. Ratings were understandably weak, and Nickelodeon pulled the final five episodes from the airwaves and released them exclusively online.

What a damn shame. Change was nothing short of REMARKABLE: a near-perfect blend of breathtaking action, intelligent social consciousness, and nuanced character development. (You can stream Book Three online here.) Among the many praiseworthy aspects of the season include the deepening friendship between Asami and Korra outside of their relationships to their former boyfriend, Mako (Alison Bechdel would be beaming), the masterful character work and backstory of Lin Beifong and her sister Suyin, and a quartet of baddies who were all at once terrifying and awe-inspiring.

Thankfully, we don’t need to wait very long for Book Four: Balance, the series’ final season, to witness how Korra’s world will achieve a rightful balance in the aftermath of Zaheer’s destruction.

The Flash – New series debuting 10/7 on The CW

In a television season stuffed with comic book shows (the returning Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the new Gotham and Constantine), what makes The Flash stand out? This superhero series knows it’s here to have fun. I couldn’t help being won over by the exceedingly charming Grant Gustin as Barry Allen. With a strong identity claimed in its appealing earnestness and sincerity, I’m willing to give The Flash a shot.

American Horror Story: Freak Show – Debuting 10/8 on FX

How can you watch this trailer and NOT be overwhelmingly giddy with excitement and anticipation? Kathy Bates as a bearded lady. Angela Bassett as a three-breasted woman. Sarah Paulson as conjoined twins. Patti LaBelle as who cares, she’s Patti LaBelle. All this, PLUS a killer clown?! I mean, come on.

Creator Ryan Murphy has stated that the tone of American Horror Story: Freak Show, set in Jupiter, Florida in 1952, will be closer to that of the troubling darkness of Asylum, rather than the campy gloss of Coven. This direction is particularly promising, as Coven was a hot mess (not in the fun way). And we mustn’t forget that Freak Show will be Jessica Lange’s swan song with American Horror Story. As with every clusterf*ck season of this anthology series, I can’t wait to have my every expectation turned on its twisty head.

The Affair – New series debuting 10/12 on Showtime

The story of an illicit love affair told from the dueling perspectives of the man (Dominic West) and woman (Ruth Wilson). This intriguing examination also explores their respective arduous marriages to Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson. This Rashomon-esque storytelling structure is especially intriguing. Layers upon layers upon rich character drama. Life, and narrative, is all about perspective.

What I’m Ditching:

Utopia – New series debuted 9/7 on FOX

Utopia has lost more than half of its viewers since its first airing. And I am one of those viewers. While the concept of this reality series is fascinating (What happens when 15 people attempt to create a functioning society in isolation?), Utopia‘s execution has been simply atrocious, thanks to some poor casting decisions.

With no competitions to offer inherent drama, it seems the producers cast extremely volatile personalities to more than make up for conflict. Each and every conflict blew up into uncomfortable shouting matches. In just the first three days, we were privy to medical evacuations due to alcohol poisoning, threats of physical violence, and several instances of misogyny (offhanded sexist remarks, unwanted passes, a man yelling at a woman to “shut the f*ck up”). While the final moments of the premiere episode offered up a glimmer of hope, I vowed never to returned to the unpleasant and unwatchable Utopia.

Emmys 2014: Déjà vu all over again

The 66th Primetime Emmy Awards hosted by Seth Meyers took place this past Monday night, but you wouldn’t be blamed for having a strange feeling that the only difference from past ceremonies was not airing on its usual Sunday.

Source: giphy.com

Can’t shake off that feeling of déjà vu? Don’t worry, it’s not you; it’s just the Emmys. Here are the staggering stats for this year’s acting winners:

  • Ty Burrell – Supporting Actor in a Comedy, Modern Family
    • 2nd win, 5th consecutive nomination
  • Allison Janney – Supporting Actress in a Comedy, Mom
    • 6th win, 2 wins this year, 8th nomination
  • Jim Parsons – Lead Actor in a Comedy, Big Bang Theory
    • 4th win, 7th nomination (2 noms this year)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Lead Actress in a Comedy, Veep
    • 3rd consecutive win, 5th career Emmy, 18th nomination
  • Kathy Bates – Supporting Actress in Miniseries/Movie, American Horror Story: Coven
    • 2nd win, 11th nomination
  • Martin Freeman – Supporting Actor in Miniseries/Movie, Sherlock: His Last Vow
    • 1st win, 3rd nomination (2 noms this year)
  • Jessica Lange – Lead Actress in Miniseries/Movie, American Horror Story: Coven
    • 3rd win, 6th nomination
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – Lead Actor in Miniseries/Movie, Sherlock: His Last Vow
    • 1st win, 3rd nomination
  • Aaron Paul – Supporting Actor in a Drama, Breaking Bad
    • 3rd win, 5th nomination
  • Anna Gunn – Supporting Actress in a Drama, Breaking Bad
    • 2nd consecutive win, 3rd nomination
  • Julianna Margulies – Lead Actress in a Drama, The Good Wife
    • 3rd win, 10th nomination
  • Bryan Cranston – Lead Actor in a Drama, Breaking Bad
    • 5th win, 12th nomination
Emmys_2014_Bryan_Cranston

Source: giphy.com

Did you catch that? In series acting, every single winner had won an Emmy before. There were only two first-time Emmy winners in Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

Now let’s look at the series winners:

  • The Amazing Race – Outstanding Reality-Competition Series
    • 10th win, 11th nomination [UGHHHHHHHHHH]
  • Fargo – Outstanding Miniseries
    • 1st win, 1st nomination [YAY!]
  • The Colbert Report – Outstanding Variety Series
    • 2nd consecutive and last win, 9th nomination
  • Modern Family – Outstanding Comedy Series
    • 5th consecutive win, 5th nomination [UGHHHHHHHHHH]
  • Breaking Bad – Outstanding Drama Series
    • 2nd consecutive win, 5th nomination [YAY!]

This is not to put down any of the impressive talents of this year’s winners, as there are certainly well-deserved winners in this bunch (well, not you, The Amazing Race). The Emmy voters are broken, sticking with familiar nominees in a brazenly predictable fashion. This voting pattern becomes increasingly frustrating year after year, especially when there are dynamic fresh faces nominated or overlooked perennial nominees. But why do we collectively groan at Jim Parson’s or Ty Burrell and Modern Family‘s wins, but cheer wildly for the wins of Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Bryan Cranston, and Breaking Bad? There’s a perceived difference here between voting complacency and voting for excellence.

In its first season, Modern Family was an excellent series, but five years later, it is simply an OK one. Its wins are simply passé and uninspired, surpassed by Veep‘s sharpness and Orange is the New Black‘s audacity. There are clearly more vibrantand funnyseries elsewhere. Breaking Bad, however, is in the pantheon of all-time greatest television shows. As the show progressed, it just kept getting better. Last season’s gut-wrenching “Ozymandias” was one of Breaking Bad‘s, if not television’s, finest hours. It rightfully won Moira Walley-Beckett an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series and was the submission episode for both Anna Gunn and Bryan Cranston. No one will argue that the Breaking Bad actors were undeserving of an Emmy trophy.

Source: giphy.com

Other Emmys thoughts:

  • Allison Tolman was ROBBED! Seriously and utterly robbed. Tolman was the beating heart within the dark, twisted soul of FX’s Fargo. While not as showy as her fellow scenery-chewing nominees or even Fargo costars, her steadfast and star-making turn as the cool and collected Molly Solverson was such a joy to watch. Damn you, Kathy Bates’ racist severed head!
  • Thank GOD Fargo won Outstanding Miniseries. It was one of my favorite scripted series of the year. Intriguingly off-kilter characters amidst a fantastically rich landscape. It’s a darned shame that series creator Noah Hawley didn’t win for Outstanding Writing.
  • Kudos to Louis C.K. for winning for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the Louie episode, “So Did the Fat Lady.” Even more kudos to Louis C.K. for immediately thanking actress Sarah Baker for owning those words.
  • Seth Meyers was a fine, if not memorable, host. I am a huge Seth Meyers fan, but this material wasn’t the sharpest. However, he did excel when riffing off his SNL friend or celebrity audience members who were game for participation.

    Source: giphy.com

  • Sorry HBO, looks like your decision to move True Detective out of Movie/Miniseries and into Drama Series backfired spectacularly. HBO logic followed that by submitting True Detective as a Drama series, The Normal Heart would be able to reap all the Emmy bounty in the Movie/Miniseries category. Unfortunately for HBO, not only did Matthew McConaughey lose the Emmy, but so did every single nominated actor from The Normal Heart: Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Joe Mantello, Alfred Molina, Mark Ruffalo, and Julia Roberts. Whoops!
  • No to Weird Al parodies.
  • No to Sofia Vergara objectification.
  • Yes to Billy Crystal tributes: “Robin Williams: What a concept.”
  • Jon Hamm will probably never win an Emmy for Mad Men.
  • Amy Poehler will probably never win an Emmy for Parks and Recreation.
  • If the groundbreaking Orange is the New Black couldn’t stop the Modern Family juggernaut, what can?
  • Billy Eichner and Billy on the Street will always be a goddamned delight.

The Naughty and Nice of 2013 TV

Welcome to my third-annual Naughty and Nice of TV list! Yes, I realize that Christmas is long over, but Starbucks still has their holidays drink menus. Your argument is invalid.

You can take a look at my 2012 Naughty and Nice list here and my list from 2011 here.

— — —

TV on my Nice List:

Breaking Bad’s “Ozymandias”

Without question, Breaking Bad sits atop the pantheon of the best television series and “Ozymandias” was the show’s finest hour. The soul-crushing and emotionally dark climax to the series left its audience reeling from devastating moment after devastating moment. Moments that built upon a rich, detailed history of the past fifty-nine hours. Moments like Hank’s final stand. Moments like Walter White kicking Jesse while he was down with the ultimate truthbomb. Moments like the knife fight between Walter and Skyler White. The episode pushed the notion of “family” to the breaking point and left me sick to my stomach and not to mention, wanting more. What an emotionally gripping hour of television.

Breaking_Bad_OzySkyler

Survivor: Blood vs. Water

On paper, the 27th of Survivor should have been a train wreck. Devoted fans such as myself were wary of the seemingly endless parade of twists: A tribe of returning players versus their loved ones; An immediate vote-off before the game even began; The return of the controversial “Redemption Island”; Loved ones getting the decision to take the place of their partners who have been voted out. RUPERT. COLTON. But guess what? It totally worked.

What kept the twists humming were the layers upon strategic layers that no one saw coming: voting someone out as a punishment to their loved ones on the opposite tribe; voting someone out in hopes their loved ones would switch out; voting someone out to knock out players on Redemption Island. Emotions were also at an all-time high, building up to Ciera Eastin voting to eliminate her own mother, Laura Morett.

In Ciera and Big Brother champ Hayden Moss, we got two underdogs who just would not give up the fight (I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw either of them again because of their fire). With his back against the wall, Hayden proved his strategic worth and fought tooth and nail to convince Ciera to force a voting tie, something that has only been seen once before in Survivor‘s 13-year history. It was an epic and historic Tribal Council that epitomized one of the best seasons since Heroes vs. Villains.

Mad Men’s Bob Benson

In an ultimately disappointing sixth season, Mad Men set the internet ablaze with the question: Who is Bob Benson?

This charming and handsome SCDP employee played by the charmingly handsome James Wolk raised more than a few eyebrows as to what his motives were. How many secrets did this genial man hold? Why was he around every corner in the office? What was the nature of his friendship with Joan? What was with his infatuation with Pete? Was he a government informant? An undercover reporter? Pete and Peggy’s time-traveling love child?

The slow-burn of a mystery unfolded itself in his Don Draper duality and opposition to Mad Men‘s previous gay employee, Sal Romano. While Bob Benson’s homosexuality reveal may not have been as out-there a theory for some, for me, it was a perfect stroke of subtle storytelling. And of course, who could forget those shorts?!

Ok, so in all honesty, I may or may not have put Bob Benson on my list solely because I love me some James Wolk. I debated between placing Bob Benson on the Nice list or the sweet relationship between Peggy Olson and Stan Rizzo. Ultimately, thanks to Tom & Lorenzo’s mightily impressive analysis of Bob Benson and gay culture in the 1960s, I went for the short shorts.

Mad_Men_Bob_Benson

David Brown on Jeopardy!

My friend David Brown (@iamdavidbrown) made a killing on Jeopardy! on an entertaining three-episode run this past summer. It’s an intelligent and fabulous performance that has to been seen to be believed. Way to go, David! #FatDwarfNumberThreeFTW

— — —

TV on my Naughty List:

Breaking Bad’s “Felina”

These are but minor quibbles on the legacy of Breaking Bad, but count me in as one of the people who felt that its finale had too neat of an ending. Granted, this is the only way the show could have ended; Breaking Bad wouldn’t have left any loose threads hanging (Huell’s Rules not withstanding). The show took a Lostian approach in its twisted nostalgia trip to find its closure, and like Lost, expectations for this finale reached perhaps unattainable levels.

Breaking Bad‘s ending was earned and effective, but it eschewed surprise and transcendence for efficiency. Of course, it could only be Walter White who could orchestrate such a risky and mechanical plan with nary a hitch, with the entirety of the series leading to the deployment of ricin and a machine gun. As Jesse Pinkman once said, Mr. White is smarter and luckier than anyone. However, I felt as though Walter White received a redemptive and almost triumphant sendoff that went against the moralist nature of the show.

And speaking of Jesse, the show could have done better by him in the final eight episodes. As the world narrowed in on Walter White, Jesse faded into the background and presence in the finale was sorely missed.

Breaking_Bad_Felina

American Horror Story’s race problems

I absolutely LOVED American Horror Story: Asylum. It was a disturbing roller-coaster of madness that surprisingly surrounded a bloody, beating heart. Coven keeps the crazy flowing, but falls short of making you actually care about its characters. In Asylum, we rooted for Lana and Kit to escape the terrifying clutches of Briarcliff. In Coven… everyone dies and is resurrected. Yay?

Coven has been able to take horrifically vile characters, like Kathy Bates’ Madame LaLaurie, and transform them into more sympathetic creatures. However, these transformations seem only applicable to its white characters. Not much screen time has been devoted to fleshing out its black characters. Angela Bassett’s Marie Laveau is a force to be reckoned with and is hands-down the best part of Coven, but she is nothing more than a force of vengeance and anger. The same goes for Gabourey Sidibe’s Queenie who has seemingly sacrificed herself in the wake of a white male terrorist in the mid-season finale.

For a show that has woven itself in the tapestries of historical racial divides of Salem witches versus voodoo witches, it’s unclear what Coven is saying about race relations in America, or even wants to say. There are only four episodes left in this scatter-shot season, building up into the two witch lineages teaming up to defend against the patriarchal Corporation. Here’s hoping the streamlined plot narrows the home stretch, while revealing the larger picture.

AHS_Coven_Angela_Bassett

Saturday Night Live’s race problems

SNL made headlines this fall, not for insightful and pointed political skewering or for gut-busting humor, but for its lack of diversity in its casting. Lorne Michaels hired six new featured players this season, five men and one woman. What should have been celebratory for these six turned controversial, as the hiring of six white cast members did nothing but highlight the cast’s lack of diversity.

This past fall, important questions entered the cultural conversation: Where are SNL‘s black women?! Why hasn’t there been a black woman in the cast since Maya Rudolph? How can a cultural institution such as SNL not have someone portray icons such as Oprah and Beyoncé? Unfortunately, the hosting job by the talented Kerry Washington merely winked at the problem, without making any solutions or statements at all. Comments from cast memebers Jay Pharaoh and Kenan Thompson certainly didn’t help either.

And now here we are, with an impending announcement of a single black comedienne joining the cast. Did you catch that Lorne Michaels “did not want to add too many women at this time because the cast already includes five”? Hah. But man, this actress will be under so much scrutiny while fighting an uphill battle to prove her comedic worth. Godspeed, single black comedienne! Good luck carrying the weight of every single expectation ever.

SNL_Kerry_Washington

Big Brother’s race (and homophobia and misogyny) problems

Big Brother also made headlines this year, not for its riveting gameplay, but for the bigoted and racist comments from its houseguests. Following a heated exchange when former model Aaryn Gries flipped the bed of African-American houseguest Candice Stewart, CBS began prefacing each episode with a disclaimer. And while CBS did acknowledge some of the controversy, focusing on throwing Aaryn under the bus and aired an assortment of her bigoted outbursts, other houseguests made racist, homophobic, and misogynist comments that never made the CBS telecast.

The fact that none of these comments were brought up during the live finale, especially when member of the final three made these statements, places more shame on CBS. In the end, in the midst of rampant bigotry, Big Brother crowned its first gay winner this year. Congrats, Andy Herren! I admired your gameplay and your fashion sense.

BB15_Disclaimer

The cancellation of Happy Endings

Simply put, I will miss my punny, fast-talking friends from Chicago. Not cool, ABC. Not cool.

3 Reasons Why I Cried This Week

It was certainly an emotional week in television. Thanks to some genuine honesty in storytelling and well-earned emotional payoffs, I shed tears in watching no less than three shows this past week. But admit it, if you watch these shows, you probably did too. No one’s judging, least of all me!

If you haven’t yet watched the most recent episodes of American Horror Story: Asylum, 30 Rock, and the US airing of Downton Abbey, don’t read on. SPOILER ALERT!

American Horror Story: Asylum – “Madness Ends”

What words come to mind when describing American Horror Story: Asylum? Certainly “shocking,” “disturbing,” and “grotesque” pop up. But surprisingly, so do “beautiful” and “moving.” Yes, the finale to AHS’s second horrific installment brought tears to my eyes. For all of the power that the series stripped of its characters, the finale presented a moving epilogue in which power was restored. Sister Jude, played by national treasure Jessica Lange, finally found the peace she deserved, thanks to Kit Walker’s compassion. He rescued her from Briarcliff, not for her sake or even his, but for his children. This act of forgiveness, along with the help of his half-alien children (this is still American Horror Story: Asylum, mind you), rehabilitated Jude back to sanity.

AHS_Madness_Ends

Behind all the blood and guts, the beating emotional heart behind American Horror Story: Asylum’s showed itself through its genuine empathy in concluding Sister Jude’s character arc. Jude began the season in a villainous light, stoking Briarcliff’s wretched fire by committing acts of wrongful imprisonment, electro-shock therapy, and the like. Through various twists and turns, she became the asylum’s prisoner, and took hold of the audience’s sympathies. By the end of the journey, she found redemption and grace, acting as the surrogate grandmother to Kit’s children, and reveling in her new-found purpose. Her final moments on her deathbed were deeply moving, as she parted one last piece of feminist wisdom to Kit’s daughter: “Don’t you ever let a man tell you who you are or make you feel like you’re less than he is.” As Jude passed away, her redemptive ending turned out to be even more gratifying than any vengeful arc could have been. Jude accepting the Angel of Death’s kiss was gorgeous, heartbreaking, and just about the classiest way to close her character’s ascent from madness.

30 Rock – “A Goon’s Deed In A Weary World”

When looking back at 30 Rock‘s seven seasons, it’s easy to recall such hilarious moments as Jack Donaghy’s role-play therapy for Tracy Jordan, Liz Lemon inadvertently parading around as the Joker, or Jon Hamm in blackface. The series prides itself on its pop-culture irreverence, but underneath its layers of self-aware cynicism lies a sincere fondness for its characters. At the end of 30 Rock’s penultimate episode, when the TGS crew members quit in front of the Kabletown board members for the sake of Liz Lemon’s happiness, I reached for a Kleenex. This honest gesture of support and sacrifice was a truly earned emotional moment, seven years in the making, and I shed tears of joy.

30_Rock_Lizz_Criss

Many (ruth-filled) television sitcoms would end its series run with the big, happy wedding, but not 30 Rock. With Liz and Criss’ wedding occurring mid-season, the big, happy ending for 30 Rock and for Liz Lemon became motherhood. Liz has always struggled to find a balance between her personal life and her work life, wrangling her unruly, impulsive TGS crew as she might her own children. But in these final moments, her TGS crew finally stepped up to the plate, sacrificing themselves to allowing Liz to make it to the airport on-time to greet her new adopted children, an experience she would only have once in her life. Liz Lemon is finally getting everything she’s wanted, fully embracing her very own children, fittingly, a mini-Tracy and mini-Jenna (Liz: “That seems about right.”). Here’s to the final episode!

Downton Abbey – “Episode Five”

Judging by my Facebook and Twitter feeds, everyone, including myself, succumbed to the ugly cry when Julian Fellowes killed off Lady Sybil. This unflinching tragedy was the hardest emotional gut punch Downton Abbey has faced in its three seasons. But why the heavy sobbing, even if we can’t personally relate to lords, valets, and early 20th century England? It’s a testament to the series’ strong writing and acting (save for this season’s Batezzz storyline) that we have such a deep emotional investment in its rich, vibrant characters. Sybil’s strong moral compass and pure heart made the loss even more devastating, as her sense of humanity brought a refreshing ease to the Crawlely household.

Sybil’s final episode proved a fitting showcase for Downton Abbey’s SAG award for Best Ensemble in a TV Drama, which it won this past Sunday. All of the characters, both upstairs and downstairs, grieved in their own personal way. Each of these moments proved to be emotionally wrenching, from Branson holding his motherless child, looking out into vast empty world, to the Dowager Countess quietly soldering forward into Downton Abbey, about to join her mourning family, to Thomas’ breakdown outside the kitchen, acknowledging the loss, “In my life, I can tell you, not many have been kind to me. She was one of the few.” Narratively, Sybil’s death will prove to be a rich source of conflict driving the series forward, in pushing characters apart, especially between Lord and Lady Grantham, and sisters Lady Mary and Lady Edith. Emotionally, however, Sybil’s demise brought everyone together in a standstill from which the characters and we, the audience, are still recovering.

What I’m Watching/Ditching in the Fall 2012 TV Season

With the 2012 Emmy Awards behind us, the 2012/2013 television season officially begins this week. Here’s a look at what I’ll be tuning into this fall and what I have already deleted off of my DVR. (Last season, I said goodbye to The Office and The Amazing Race.)

What I’m Watching:

Survivor: Philippines – Returned 9/19
Survivor is unabashedly one of my favorite television series of all time. I love the intense competition, the high drama, and the sheer chaos of it all. After the premiere episode of its 25th(!) season, this fall proves to be no exception. Survivor: Philippines features a solid cast of big personalities (including The Facts of Life‘s Lisa “Blair” Whelchel and baseball MVP Jeff Kent) and an interesting twist. The contestants are split into three tribes and each tribe features a returning player who were medically evacuated in their previous seasons. It’s fascinating to see how well or how poorly these men have integrated into the tribes. I’m keeping my eye out for Mike Skupin, who famously fell into a fire in Survivor: The Australian Outback. I’m also a fan of Denise, the sex therapist, who brings a leveled-head to the game and formed an unlikely alliance with Malcolm, the hunky bartender.

Parks and Recreation – Returned 9/20
All hail network television’s best comedy! And while we’re at it, all hail Amy Poehler, who has been robbed the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress two years running! There simply is no show on television with a greater love for its characters and the world they inhabit, and in today’s television landscape, this love is a breath of fresh air. This season promises great opportunities for transformative moments true to these characters (Ben in Washington D.C.! April as his intern! Andy as a policeman?!) and I look forward to taking the journey with all of them.

The Mindy Project – Debuted 9/25
Mindy Kaling stars as Mindy Lahiri, a thirtysomething OB/GYN, a woman obsessed with romantic comedies, wrapped up in a romantic comedy of her own. “I’m basically Sandra Bullock!” Mindy proclaims in the absurdly charming pilot. This FOX comedy has great potential with its zippy writing and refreshing characters, especially in the winningly abrasive Chris Messina as her foil and fellow doctor (Will they? Won’t they? Cliché?) And seriously, who doesn’t love Mindy Kaling?! Hers is a distinct voice sorely needed in today’s television environment.

30 Rock – Returning 10/4
30 Rock’s sixth season was one of its strongest to date, fully redeeming itself from the staleness that had pervaded the show in the couple of seasons prior. As Liz Lemon grows older, she even begins to grow wiser. The show’s narrative focus became sharper last season (even giving Kenneth a worthy storyline), as did the levels of absurdity. And now we’re now primed to enter the final season with grand sendoff. Plus, JONATHAN’S BACK!

Nashville – Debuting 10/10
I’m really looking forward to this country music drama. Connie Britton as a struggling country legend versus Hayden Panettiere as a feisty up-and-comer? I am so there for this battle of the divas.

The Walking Dead – Returning 10/14
The Walking Dead made my naughty list at the end of last year thanks to its spinning narrative wheels and lifeless, bloated dialogue. But as with 30 Rock, the last couple episodes of the season showed some promises of a return to form, raising the stakes immensely and excising dead character weight. Now with the upcoming introductions of the characters of The Governor and Michonne, I’m back on the zombiewagon.

American Horror Story: Asylum – Debuting 10/17
I can’t handle scary stuff for the life of me, but I’m inexplicably excited for the second iteration of FX’s scarefest. Nazis, and nuns, and aliens. Oh, my! As with any Ryan Murphy creation, there is bound to be a whole universe of crazy to explore, especially one that deals with Murphy’s favorite thematic touchstone of religion. American Horror Story: Asylum also heralds the acting debut of Adam Levine, which alone could be worth the price of a season pass.

Community – Returning 10/19
This summer saw Community undergo a fundamental and life-altering change: the firing of its creator and showrunner, Dan Harmon. Whether or not Community will survive the shakeup with its comedic integrity intact in this truncated (and possibly final) season remains to be seen, but there is no doubt I’ll be tuning in to support the Greendale students, and of course, Dean Pelton.

Top Chef: Seattle – Returning 11/7
Top Chef: Texas was the reality show’s weakest season, so I’m a bit hesitant to put it on my to-watch list. The most recent season featured too many formulaic episodes with challenges emphasizing unnecessary twists that got in the way of actual cooking. Top Chef: Seattle promises to reverse this trend and go “back to the basics.” I sure hope so, or I might have to tell the series to pack its knives and go.

What I’m Ditching:

Glee
At the end of last season, my co-workers and I made a pact to never return to the world of Glee. Thankfully, we are all still honoring this pact. There is no more need to complain about the extremely whiplashed nature of its storylines the next morning. No more need to eyeroll at characters whose wildly inconsistent behavior serve only plot function, not character development. No more need to suffer through moments of alternating overbearing meanness and saccharine sermons. No more.

Modern Family
Yes, Modern Family walked away from the Emmys with its third straight award for Outstanding Comedy Series, but I have simply had enough of this show. The first season was uniformly excellent: the acting was sharp, and the writing even sharper. But now after its uneven third season, it’s the writing that I have the most problems with. I simply don’t feel like I’m watching characters anymore, but rather mouthpieces for the Modern Family writers, who constantly shout for attention, “Look at how clever we are!” The wittiness of the show is now tiresome and has become too on-the-nose by half. In addition, the writers have seemingly written the same character beats over and over again. I feel like I know the extent of what the characters can say or do. It’s been a hilarious time well spent, but it’s time spent enough with the Pritchett-Dunphy clan.