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.

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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.

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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:

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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Source: lrisallens.tumblr.com

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Late Night with Seth Meyers’ Safe & Satisfying Debut

Thirteen years of Saturday Night Live prepared Seth Meyers to be the perfect late night host. As the host of SNL‘s Weekend Update since 2006, Meyers has displayed great comedic generosity and support towards his fellow castmates (Bill Hader’s Stefon wouldn’t be Stefon without Meyers as his straight man/husband), which makes him well-suited to ease America into slumber five nights a week. The first week of Late Night with Seth Meyers was solidly entertaining, if not all-too familiar and safe, debut.

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Late Night starts, as every other late show does, with a monologue. His newscaster comedic timing pitches his jokes a bit too formal with cadences more suited for Weekend Update, but I’m sure his delivery will ease with time. Unsurprisingly, Meyers shines brightest when behind his desk. Meyers is a master storyteller and his self-deprecating stories are the highlight of the hour. Whether it’s a story about Meyers knocking his masculinity in needing assistance with car troubles (“It was very hard to feel macho when you’re holding a tiny dog while another man changes your wife’s tire.”) or lovingly chastising his father-in-law for gushing over a celebrity (“To my father-in-law Tom, I love you so much; you have to give Brad Paisley space”), Meyers’ affable charisma endears himself to the audience, and allows us to get to know him more.

My favorite story of the week featured Meyers being approached in a restaurant by a fan’s mother:

Fred Armisen, who leads The 8G Band, provides a nice comedic foil to Meyers. Their banter sits in a comfortable pocket between absurd and esoteric, with Armisen rambling on about his fake new History Channel series Recent History that looks back on the past hour or his fake self-help book Fill in the Blanks that leaves every other word blank. These nightly Armisen segments are right out of a page from the Weekend Update playbook, as were other comedic segments with current SNL writer Tim Robinson or former SNL writer John Lutz. These safe comedic bits were fine, but the familiarity of it all deflated any sense that this show was something particularly fresh. If anything, the Lorne Michaels synergy, from Armisen to debut guest Amy Poehler to several SNL callbacks, was a little tiresome.

Seth Meyers is a great and knowledgeable interviewer, not to mention a natural listener, and quick on his feet with witty responses. Even though his Weekend Update interviews were scripted, Meyers brought a specificity to each interview in the way that he interacted with each guest and it’s nice to see that unfold into his Late Night interviewing. His Kelly Ripa segment revealed that the only interviewing he’s done is when he has hosted Live! with Kelly on numerous occasions (remember when he was rumored to be in the running to succeed Regis Philbin?), but his skill set makes him a natural.

His interview with Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart was a delight (and take note of McKellen’s digs at the homogenization of late night shows and the somewhat awkward Late Night chairs):

As it stands, Meyers’ debut was wholly safe, but wholly satisfying. And the show is already showing signs of improvement: the monologue’s distracting Jeopardy background seen above was replaced by a blue curtain by Friday night. (Now let’s see if something will be done about the tiny desk and chairs.) After his first week, one can’t expect Seth Meyers to reinvent the wheel, but there’s a lot of potential there. It will be interesting to see how Late Night with Seth Meyers will find its niche to distinguish itself from other late night shows.

2014 Golden Globes starring the ***Flawless Fey & Poehler

Compared to the over-indulgent and overly-long Oscar telecast, the Golden Globes are a silly breeze. The awards mean next to nothing and the alcohol is flowing. This year, the Golden Globes were just as ludicrous as ever, marred with technical difficulties, often baffling winners, and ill-prepared speeches.

Luckily, there was a shining beacon to light the way. Simply put, hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were ***Flawless. This dynamic duo knew exactly how to work both the celebrities in attendance at The Beverly Hotel and the audience at home. Their comedic bits were hilariously to the point and their quick-witted zingers were biting, without ever being mean. My two favorite lines of the night:

  • Gravity is nominated for Best Film. It’s the story about how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.”
  • “And now, like a supermodel’s vagina, let’s all give a warm welcome to Leonardo DiCaprio.”

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The absolute highlight of the evening for me was Amy Poehler FINALLY being recognized for her dynamite portrayal of Parks and Recreation‘s Leslie Knope. When her name was read, I literally screamed out loud with joy and shock. It’s hard to believe that Poehler has never won a single award for playing Knope. Harder still to believe: Brooklyn Nine-Nine has won more major awards (one) than Parks and Recreation has (ZERO). Simply ridiculous. But these are the Golden Globes after all, and boy, does the Hollywood Foreign Press Association like its shiny, new shows (see past TV winners Girls, Homeland). Still, the Andy Samberg and Brooklyn Nine-Nine wins were head-scratchers.

My only real gripe about the ceremony was that there wasn’t enough Fey and Poehler to go around. Two-thirds of the way through the evening, it seems as though the two were missing in action. What could we blame for this mismanaged screen time? Look no further than American Horror Story: Path to the Golden Globes Stage. (Spoiler alert: Jessica Lange doesn’t make it out alive. Wah wah. You’ll get ’em next year, J.Lange!)

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Seemingly every winner was seated miles from the stage, so we spent more precious moments watching celebrities awkwardly navigate a labyrinth of tables than we actually did on their speeches. While the censor bleeping out curse words was asleep at the wheel (we most definitely heard Jacqueline Bisset say “shit”), the orchestra was on the ready to cut off any and all nervous and rambly winners (but not U2, frustratingly).

But what was most peculiar, was that while some speeches feel rushed (Amy Adams will not let you play off her talking about her daughter, dammit!), others were excruciatingly long and endless. So thanks for making the entire evening behind schedule, Jacqueline Bisset. There’s fun celeb loopy, and then there’s “oh God… This is really happening” loopy. Her incoherent acceptance speech was not the former.

On the TV side, kudos to Behind the Candelabra, an opulent and bitter kaleidoscope of a film, anchored by a mesmerizing performance from Michael Douglas as Liberace. A huge WTF goes to Jon Voigt for Best Supporting Actor over the heartbreaking Aaron Paul for Breaking Bad and the transformative Rob Lowe for Behind the Candelabra. The HFPA loves its movie stars… ugh. I was also rooting for Tatiana Maslany as Best Actress in a Drama, even though I don’t watch Orphan Black. And real talk, Hayden Panettiere deserved the award for Best Supporting Actress for her stunningly multi-faceted work on Nashville. She’s the heart of that show. It’s not easy to play someone who fails so spectacularly, while shrouding a lonely soul with catty glitz and glamour.

As for the film awards, I was most thrilled about Spike Jonze for Best Screenplay for Her, who crafted a magnificent film that made my whole body feel. His dizzying musings on the nature of love threw me for a loop in the best ways possible. And I’m bracing myself for the eventual Jennifer Lawrence backlash. Fingers crossed that we as a nation will never reach that point. Just keep on charmin’ your way through the hearts of everyone, J.Lawr!

As Tina Fey joked in the opening monologue: “This is Hollywood, and if something kinda works, they’ll just keep doing it until everybody hates it!” Luckily, we still have the 2015 Golden Globes to look forward to, and with Fey and Poehler at the helm, it’s a guarantee that no one will hate it.

Finally, a special shout-out goes to my favorite pop culture maven, Billy Eichner (@billyeichner), who had my favorite live-tweets from the evening. Here are just two of his winners:

My thank you to 100 episodes of Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation celebrates its 100th episode tonight, and I would like to take this opportunity to give my thanks.

Dear Parks and Rec:

Thank you for the new year’s resolution.

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Thank you for the new life’s resolution.

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Thank you for allowing me to feel unabashed joy.

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Thank you for allowing me to feel unabashed joy for others’ unabashed hate (which really just masks unabashed joy).

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Thank you for the beautifully tender moments.

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Thank you for the beautifully ugly moments.

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Thank you for the beautifully drunk moments.

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Thank you for Donna and her social media skillz.

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Thank you for Retta and her social media skillz. (read that blog post here.)

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Thank you, Parks and Recreation.

Here’s to 100 more (highly unlikely) episodes!

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Community & Downton Abbey – New Year Premieres

This past week ushered in the new year, and with it, new seasons of Community and Downton Abbey. Both shows entered their new seasons with the task of rebuilding their worlds after massive shake-ups: Community returned with creator Dan Harmon once again at the helm, putting back the pieces of last year’s David Guarascio and Moses Port’s admirably-led, yet empty, season, while the inhabitants of Downton Abbey began life anew after the unexpected death of Matthew Crawley and departure of actor Dan Stevens.

Both shows turned the pages onto new chapters, but after watching the first two episodes of each, only Community glimmered with exuberant hope, while Downton Abbey dulled with lackluster.

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I bailed on Community after four episodes last season. Without Dan Harmon on-board, I felt as though I was watching a show that was an empty shell of its former self. Port and Guarascio tried too hard to imitate the past season’s idiosyncrasies and it showed. The Harmon-free Community wasn’t the darkest timeline, but it sure rang hollow. The lighting was brighter. Pop culture references fell flat. Character motivations rang false. The heart simply wasn’t there. And worst of all, the show simply wasn’t funny.

With “Repilot” and “Introduction to Teaching,” the first two episodes of this season, it was like welcoming back old, familiar friends, albeit ones that were sadder, and perhaps even a bit wiser (nah). These were the characters we once knew. Community has always worked best when it dove into the weird recesses of its characters’ flaws, exposing a dark self-loathing hidden beneath the surface (see “Mixology Certification” and “Cooperative Calligraphy”). The show doesn’t need high-concepts all the time to be successful, but these skewed perspectives can bring out what rings true in these characters’ emotional lives.

Simply put, the Greendale gang felt like people again, people prone to Nicholas Cage-fueled breakdowns and messy owl analogies, but people nonetheless. Jeff Winger makes a quintessential observation on this necessary retooling of the group: “Don’t blame it all on a gas leak year. This is a four-year process. We went in one end as real people and out the other end as mixed-up cartoons.”

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Jeff’s pointed statement wasn’t just a knock on last season, but a commentary on how the characters have evolved since the pilot, for better or for worse. In these new re-calibrated episodes, the characters were given more grounded motivations that stayed true to their essence. Annie Edison was the most smartly-written she had been in years, free of her Jeff-impaired schoolgirl crush. Britta, Shirley, and Troy hitting rock-bottom rightly fueled them to shed the loser mentality that they feared most. And Abed was Abed. These characters need each other in order to succeed and that need for connection was palpable.

Even Ben Chang, my least favorite character, came across as tolerable and palatable. Over the seasons, Chang has gone from teacher, to student, to megalomaniacal despot, to Changnesiac (thank goodness I skipped over that), but now it appears that he’ll be used in the capacity that suits him most: an obnoxious “teacher” that pops into frame in measured doses.

The addition of Jonathan Banks as Professor Buzz Hickey fills the hole that Chevy Chase’s Pierce Hawthorne left. Hickey is the suave, world-weary mentor figure that Hawthorne could only dream of being. Hickey will be around for most of the season, and it will be interesting to see how the little-explored Greendale student-teacher relationships will pan out, especially now that Winger himself is a teacher. The addition of the faculty lounge also opens up a brand new world to examine.

While Community is more than a well-oiled strings of zingers and meta-humor, it was a relief to simply laugh again. Insightful references to Scrub’s ninth season, Donald Glover’s impending departure, and Nicholas Cage’s particular brand of crazy examining the randomness of human nature hit the mark. And I can’t not mention my absolute favorite exchange that occurred between Jeff and Troy:

Jeff: “Your entire identity has been consumed by your relationship with another man.”

Troy: “You found my Clive Owen Tumblr?!”

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Like Community, Downton Abbey entered its new season with rebuilding on the agenda, but unlike the Greendale gang, it failed to breathe much of a new life into the show. The unbearable soapyness of Matthew Crawley’s shocking death almost made my Naughty List this past year, along with the unbearable tedium of the Batezzz in Jail storyline.

Starting six months after Matthew’s death, creator Julian Fellowes gave a great opportunity to shake up the estate. Unfortunately, Fellowes is prone to falling into the same repetitive narrative traps and circling around the same tired conservative themes. Downton Abbey’s poor pacing and whiplash character motivations breed a familiarity and a repetitiveness that to some viewers may feel absolutely comforting (Oh that Dowager Countess and her witty bon mots!), but to others comes across as a dreary slog. I can appreciate the soapyness of it all (heck, I sat through all eight seasons of Desperate Housewives), but the show has failed to rise to its dizzying first season heights time and time again.

So with the cyclical narrative nature of the everyday life at Downton Abbey (Really? Edna Braithwaite again? What a blatant attempt to fill the Mrs. O’Brien void.), we must cling to the familiar character beats to find viewing satisfaction (Oh that Dowager Countess and her witty bon mots!). It is this character predictability, portrayed by talented actors and actresses that can elevate middling material, that makes Downton Abbey such a huge hit, with a record-breaking 10.2 million viewers tuning into the premiere.

Millions tuned in to see how Lady Mary would mourn her late husband, and the show did not disappoint in that regard. Michelle Dockery played every note of grief and stoicism with great and cold aplomb. Her icy delivery of “Oh, it’s Valentine’s Day” killed me. And her emotional and vulnerable breakdown with her father-figure Carson was a highlight of the two hours.

I have always been on #TeamEdith and I’m looking forward to watching her bloom into her own this season. The confidence with which she carries herself is ever-so satisfying. “I don’t care. Kiss me. Now.” she tells her boyfriend at dinner. In public. Get it, Edith! And it wouldn’t be Downton Abbey without the frustratingly insufferable Lord Grantham. Can we also move past the Ivy/Daisy/Alfred/Hot Jimmy love quadrangle? That was so last season. Thanks. Thankfully, the effervescence that Lady Rose has brought to the proceedings bodes well for the future of the series. More spunk and less Batezzz please!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The cancellation of Happy Endings

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

5 Reasons Why I’ll Miss Jason Sudeikis on SNL

jason-sudeikisIt was confirmed this week that Jason Sudeikis would not return to Saturday Night Live in the fall, after rumors about his exit began a year ago. His legacy is a solid, if not spectacular one. While not as showy as his fellow recently departed castmates, Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, Sudeikis was always a sturdy, reliable, and most importantly, relatable, anchor throughout his eight-plus SNL seasons.

Over the years, Sudeikis has become one of my favorite SNL cast members, joining the ranks of Cheri Oteri, Maya Rudolph, and early-era Kristen Wiig. The unabashed joy and charisma he brought to so many of his characters complemented his underrated knack for nailing his subtle straight-man roles, of which there was an endless cavalcade. Without further ado, here are my top five favorite Sudeikis characters:

The Devil

What if The Devil were one of us? This classic Weekend Update character was vehicle for Sudeikis’ everyman quality, as only a man of his talents could make The Devil so gosh darn charming.

Jon Bovi

Jason Sudeikis and Will Forte were quite a duo to be reckoned with on SNL, with such pairings as ESPN Classic broadcasters Twinkle and Stink, and the infamous “Potato Chip” sketch. But the one twosome that never failed to make me laugh was Jon Bovi: the Bon Jovi opposite band. While the concept appears lame on paper (and yes, maybe lame on-screen too), Sudeikis’ and Forte’s giddy energy is infectious. Plus I’m a sucker for wordplay, no matter how cringe-worthy.

Joe Biden

How do you solve a problem like Obama? Fred Armisen never found footing with his Barack Obama impression, and while Jay Pharoah played a more accurate version of our president, there was never a strong comedic hook to skewering him. Luckily for the Republicans, we have Obama’s VP, Joe Biden, a big-scale bold and brash buffoon who perfectly contrasted our relatively straight-laced commander-in-chief.

Two A-Holes

Jason Sudeikis first broke out with his “Two A-Holes” sketch with Kristen Wiig. Sudeikis’ specificity of douchiness made his A-Hole all the more endearing. The entitled sneer. The constant “Babes.” The persistent gum-snapping. The character became instantly memorable and recognizable. Cheers to the a-holes in our lives!

Maine Justice

When this sketch first appeared in December of last year, it immediately took the title of My Favorite Thing Jason Sudeikis Has Ever Done On SNL. It’s probably for the best that this sketch won’t be overdone to the point of exhaustion. “Maine Justice” is the epitome of Sudeikis: over-the-top unbridled enthusiasm, a dash of charm, and just the right amount of WTF-ery. Jason Sudeikis will be missed.

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.

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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.

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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.

The Naughty and Nice of 2012 TV

Welcome to my second-annual Naughty and Nice of TV list!

In the spirit of Christmas, I have named the aspects of this year’s television that I’ve deemed gift-worthy and ones that deserve a lump of coal. To view “The Naughty and Nice of 2011 TV,” click here. And just for the record, my favorite television series of 2012 are Breaking Bad, Girls, Mad Men, Louie, Parks and Recreation, Survivor, Community, 30 Rock, American Horror Story: Asylum, and Billy On The Street.

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TV on my Nice List:

Parker Posey on Louie

Parker Posey breathed a thrilling and dynamic life into Louie and her turn in “Daddy’s Girlfriend Part 1” and “Daddy’s Girlfriend Part 2” was an absolute joy to behold. At the end of a magical, haunting, whirlwind date, which included Posey’s Liz coercing Louie to try on a dress, providing a homeless man shelter for a night, and a near-orgasmic smoked fish tasting, the two end up at the top of a building. Liz is sitting on a ledge, and we, along with Louie, are thrown off-balance by her entrancing nature. What happens next, Liz’s soliloquy on the merits of living, took my breath away:

But the only way I’d fall, is if I jumped. That’s why you’re afraid to come over here. Because a tiny part of you wants to jump. Because it would be so easy. But I don’t want to jump; So I’m not afraid. I would never do that. I’m having too good of a time.

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Liz’s lust for life sharply contrasts Louie’s fearful approach to the world around him. She opens him up to the possibility of living outside one’s comfort zone and continue’s Louie’s education in empathy. Though their encounter is fleeting, the impact he has on his life is profound. As the episode ends, the camera widens to reveal the vast New York City skyline. There is a world out there beyond Louie’s own pain, waiting to be explored; there are people out there waiting to have their stories shared. It is a truly beautiful moment.

The casting of Survivor: Philippines

Survivor lives and dies by its casting and a truly successful season gives us people to root for and people to root against. Thanks to its vibrant casting, Survivor: Philippines delivered in spades with its strongest edition since Heroes vs. Villains. Denise. Malcolm. Lisa. Skupin. Abi-Maria. Penner. These were people who were, to various degrees, here to play. The combination of a savvy and likable group of survivors who made both smart and stupid moves along the way made for thrilling television.

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Malcolm Freberg, on Abi-Maria Gomes

The final four players were the strongest final four in Survivor‘s history and all four overcame the odds as underdogs in their respective tribes. In Denise Stapley, you have a strong physical and mental winner who went to every single Tribal Council (a series first!) and emerged victorious. Her partner-in-crime, Malcolm Freberg, was the golden boy of the season, an über-fan whose likability factor was off-the-charts, both with the players on the island and with viewers at home.

Lisa Welchel (Blair from The Facts of Life) had one of the most complete character arcs on any show this fall, scripted or otherwise, overcoming her struggle for approval and acceptance that haunted her in her years since her teen stardom. Lisa transformed from an outcast suffering a #SurvivorBreakdown, into a player who ultimately realized she was playing a game and needed to make cutthroat moves to do so. Her bosom buddy, Mike Skupin, retuned to the game after famously falling into a fire in Australia, and proved to be no less accident-prone today.

Abi-Maria Gomes was a fully-formed villain, hilariously and frustratingly unaware of her own obnoxiousness. Jonathan Penner made the most of his third time on the show, playing with every ounce he had and playing with the meta-ness of it all, deftly manipulating Lisa to position herself as a creator of her own narrative, asking her, “What story do you want to tell?”

And then there’s Carter Williams. What Carter lacked in loquaciousness, he made up for with the Survivor quote of the millennium:

Penner, what do you want to do – [vote for] Katie or Penner?

Survivor: Philippines struck casting gold this fall and we can only hope for more contestant treasures in the spring with Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites. See you there, Malcolm!

The music of Nashville

Upon first glance, ABC’s new primetime soap boils down to the dueling country divas: the hot, young starlet Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) and the respected veteran Rayna James (Connie Britton). However, in its first eight episodes, Nashville presented an increasingly rich landscape inhabited by numerous characters with complex relationships. While not everything has worked (every scene related to the snoozy mayoral campaign tempted me to fast-forward my DVR), the strongest thread by far, the vibrant country music, has made the trip to Nashville worth it every week.

One particular standout closes out the show’s pilot, the smoky and seductive “If I Didn’t Know Better,” performed by Scarlett (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar (Sam Palladio):

The series’ addictive musical tapestry is executive produced by the legendary T Bone Burnett, who weaves a taut sense of history for each of the characters through the music they sing. Add to the mix, songwriters such as Elvis Costello and The Civil Wars, and you have a soundtrack worth spinning, from the Underwood-esque “Telescope,” to the acoustic singer-songwriter ballad “No One Will Ever Love You,” to the epic kiss-off duet between Rayna and Juliette in “Wrong Song.”

Mad Men‘s visual set-pieces

Put a gun to my head (please don’t) and ask me what is the most memorable scene on television in 2012 (please do), and I will respond immediately with Mad Men‘s Jessica Paré singing “Zou Bisou Bisou” in the show’s season premiere. The hypnotic image of a sultry Megan Draper performing for her new husband in front of all of his colleagues, instantly trended for fans around the country and the catchy tune became unforgettable. This moment was a coming-out for Megan and established the generation gap dynamic between her and her new husband, setting the tone for a darker, more visceral season of Mad Men.

This season was a Mad Men filled with so many indelible images: Peggy embarking on her new journey as The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” blared; Don peering into an open elevator shaft and into a deadly void of the unknown; Joan taking out her frustrations on a model airplane; Betty sneaking a bite of an ice cream sundae; Roger’s LSD trip. These were powerful images that masterfully spoke volumes about these troubled, unsatisfied characters.

Retta on Twitter: @unfoRETTAble

One of my favorite people I follow on Twitter is Retta, the QUEEN of television tweeting. Her live-tweets amassed such a fervent following that art imitated life: her character, Donna on Parks and Recreation, live-tweeted the fictional movie, Death Canoe 4 in an episode this past fall. Here are three of Retta’s hilariously choice tweets about Smash, Mad Men, and Girls:

In fact, Girls multi-hyphenate Lena Dunham has just asked Retta to live-tweet the upcoming season two of Girls:

Seriously, Retta is one to follow.

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TV on my Naughty List:

The wasted potential of The Mindy Project

I was really looking forward to Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project. And I gave her FOX comedy a shot. I really did. But after six episodes, I deleted it off my DVR for good. The lead, Mindi Lahiri, was a wholly unlikable character, who conveniently revealed a beating heart at the end of each episode, illustrating how she’s “growing” as a character. The supporting characters were thinly veiled strings of amusing quips at best and the Danny/Mindi relationship was at times too mean-spirited to watch comfortably. The tone of the show varied wildly and its pieces never amounted to a stable whole. I checked back in at the Christmas episode only to find an unappealing Elie Kemper ruin a perfectly good gingerbread house. No thank you. Best of luck to the future of The Mindy Project, especially in the midst of all its head-scratching casting changes: Anna Camp downgraded! Stephen Toblowsky out! That Jersey secretary out! That crazy nurse from episode two promoted! In hindsight, The Mindy Project‘s original title seems way more apt: It’s Messy.

Michonne on The Walking Dead

This year, I give my “Most Improved” Award to The Walking Dead. The AMC zombie drama recovered immensely after its horrific second season doldrums. This past fall, the show found a strong footing with a string of episodes that never broke its sense of forward-moving momentum. The didactic and dreary dialogue was excised in favor of higher stakes action, and there was a welcome shift from the threat of zombie violence to the threat of fellow human survivors. The stakes in the show have never felt higher.

However, The Walking Dead dropped the ball with the new character of Michonne. A full library of scowls and looks of disapproval does count as being a fully-developed character. And a staunch refusal to talk doesn’t make someone any more intriguing either. My main problem with The Walking Dead remains: I still don’t care about the characters (save Glenn and Maggie). The show expects us to care about the relationship between Michonne and Andrea (see: the face-off between the two in the mid-season finale, post-Governor brawl), but we as viewers know next to nothing about the eight months these two spent together on their own. And since we have no sense of history between these two women, it’s extremely hard to care about them or their falling out. We also know next to nothing about Michonne’s motivations, so her actions are neither heroic nor damnable. Michonne’s shroud of mystery is a frustrating aspect in an otherwise respectably solid run of episodes. Alas, a character cannot merely skate by on badass katana wielding alone. When I being to care about the characters, I’ll start to care about the show.

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And while we’re discussing Michonne, The Walking Dead has GOT to work on its racial character tropes. It’s greatly disconcerting that the show kills off T-Dog, its one black male character, who barely had any speaking lines to begin with, in the same episode that it introduces Oscar, another black male character. And The Walking Dead does it again in its mid-season finale: introducing a fan favorite from the graphic novels, Tyrese, while killing off Oscar in the same episode. Greatly disconcerting.

The series finales of Desperate Housewives and Weeds

Kudos to Tina Fey and 30 Rock for ending its run on an extremely high note. This final season of 30 Rock is as strong as ever and not only has brought tons of classic one-liners (“My whole LIFE is thunder!”), but has worked in resonant emotional moments as well, such as Liz’s wedding and Colleen’s funeral. It’s a shame that Desperate Housewives and Weeds limped along past their expiration dates and went out with a whimper instead of a bang.

Desperate Housewives rode off so unmemorably into the sunset that I honestly don’t recall much about the final season at all: Tom and Lynette reconciled. Susan lost Mike. Bree was tried for murder, but wasn’t convicted. Gaby… became older? In the end, there was a cheesy epilogue that showed the women living happily ever after. What a disappointing and tedious final season. As for Weeds, I went into full-detail into its awfulness here. In a nutshell, Weeds implausibly jumped seven years in the future and there were hologram cell phones. Sure, why not.

Smash in all its hate-watching glory!

Golden-Globe Nominee Smash. Just let the ridiculousness of that sentence sink in for a moment. Get all those belly-laughs out. Good.

Where to even begin with this trainwreck of a show that we can’t stop devouring? The battle for the most annoying character on television? The seemingly endless parade of vapid love triangles? The stilted and hokey dialogue (“I CAN’T! I’M IN TECH!”)? The embarrassingly bad musical numbers both fantasy (Bollywood: need I say more?) and reality (Karen singing “Shake it Out” at a bat mitzvah while the teens in the audience literally SHOOK THEIR ARMS OUT)? Or how Katharine McPhee’s Karen is heaped praise upon like she’s the second coming of Christ (COME ON. Megan Hilty’s mom is Bernadette Peters, for crying out loud!)?

There’s a new showrunner at the helm for season two, who has promised that the creative wrongs have been righted, with Ellis, Leo, Frank, and Dev kicked to the curb, along with Debra Messing’s scarves, but this fragile bombshell could implode at any minute. And I’ll be there every week with popcorn eagerly awaiting that to happen.

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Here’s to 2013!

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And because I just can’t get enough of Retta, I’ll leave you with one last tweet:

Gold Place Winners of the 2012 London Olympics

I’m not at all a sports fan (#surprisesurprise), but, boy, do I love the Olympics! For seventeen glorious days, the Olympic spirit coursed through my veins, my high-definition television, my DVR, and my internet history.

With the Olympic flame now extinguished, I’ve complied a list of my biggest highlights and takeaways from these 2012 London Olympic games. My gold place winners, if you will.

The mildly embarrassing ode to social media from the Opening Ceremonies, sadly, did not make the cut.

Vanity Fair’s Olympics recaps

Hands down, the single best thing to come out of these Olympics were Michelle Collins’ hysterical daily recaps for Vanity Fair. Girl is a comic genius and I want her to be my best friend. Right now. If I could, I would dip her recaps in gold and wear them proudly around my neck. Even though the Olympics are over, they are definitely worth the read.

mckayla is not impressed.

The face that launched a thousand memes. American gymnast McKayla Maroney won silver in women’s vault, but on the podium, she was simply not impressed. The Internet mobilized and did what it does best, igniting a hilarious Tumblr firestorm of various images photoshopped with McKayla’s scowling disapproval.

I submitted some of my own images to this Tumblr, including the two pictured here, awaiting approval as of the publishing of this post.

Phillip Phillips’ “Home”

Who would have thought that American Idol winner Phillip Phillips would have also struck gold in these Olympic games?

Thanks to several choice placements in pre-taped women’s gymnastics segments featuring USA’s white-hot Fab Five, Phillip Phillips’ coronation single “Home” skyrocketed to #1 on iTunes and No. 9 on the Billboard charts. Read more about the song’s ascension here.

And who would have thought that I would have a Twitter debate with a complete stranger about Phillip Phillips and American Idol for half an hour after sending out the following tweet?

Mind you, this was only part of our conversation. And somehow the fact that both of us are Filipino was brought into the fold by the other party. Something about Jessica Sanchez and over-singing… Needless to say, the debate ended amicably. Twitter is a strange and wonderful space.

But really, who would have thought all this would happen because of the Olympics? Certainty not me. I would never have guessed that America would still be talking about Phillip Phillips this much, months after his own gold place victory. So cherish your moment like this on the victor’s podium while you still can, Phil Phil.

Men’s 10m Platform Diving Finals

Oh, look! Actual sports! This event was one supremely thrilling nail-biter of a competition.

The men’s 10m platform was sized up as a showdown between China’s current world champion Qiu Bo and Great Britain’s 2009 world champion Tom Daley. No American man had won individual diving medal of any color since 1996, but hope came in the form of USA’s David Boudia, who nearly failed to make the cut, getting the 18th and final spot out of the semifinals.

In the first round of the finals, Daley received a rare re-dive, after camera flashes had distracted him. And going into the very last dive of the competition, Daley, Boudia, and Bo were separated by a mere 15 one-hundredths of a point! Boudia pulled off a stunning final dive, winning gold for USA, while Bo was visibly devastated taking silver.

Watching the unexpected journey of the American underdog-turned-gold medal winner was spectacular. Though I was rooting for Tom Daley, seeing the ecstatic bronze medalist thrown into the pool by his fellow Team GB athletes was an uplifting and raucous celebration. Daley, who has led quite a public life for such a young athlete, did not let his country, or his late father, down.

Rhythmic Gymnastics

You read that right: Rhythmic. Gymnastics.

Do yourself a favor and watch Russia’s second rotation gold medal routine. 3 ribbons + 2 hoops = 1 jaw dropped. Why rhythmic gymnastics doesn’t get more appreciation is beyond me. Well, ok, the ridiculous outfits and cheesy music aside.

But seriously, watch the routine. That shit is INSANE.

Now to forget about rhythmic gymcrazytown for the next four years. See you then, Rio!