My Favorite TV Shows & Films of 2018

2018 was the year I increased my pop culture diet.

This year saw the meteoric rise and fall of MoviePass and I was along for the ride. With my annual MoviePass, I saw 40+ movies in theaters this year. My subscription ended this past week, and sorry MoviePass, I won’t be renewing. AMC’s tempting A-List program lured me in, and I’ve been a satisfied member for 2 months now. I also finally signed up for my own Netflix account over the summer. I guess I’m an adult now?

Onto my favorites of the year!

TV SHOWS

JOE PERA TALKS WITH YOU
(Adult Swim)

Amidst the swirling chaos of 2018, the Adult Swim comedy Joe Pera Talks With You emerged as an endearing and absurd comfort, quickly becoming my favorite television show of the year.

In each episode, comedian Joe Pera, playing a mild-mannered character of the same name, invites you to explore a different aspect of his simple, everyday Michiganian life: “Joe Pera Takes You To Breakfast,” “Joe Pera Show You How To Dance,” “Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements.” And that’s it. That’s the show. And so much more. All at once, Joe Pera Talks With You is gently heartwarming and absolutely funny, cleverly creating a world that builds upon itself in surprising ways; a world I love spending time in. It’s sweet. It’s peculiar. It’s sincere. It’s just eight eleven-minute episodes (plus a double-length finale).

Watch it now, in order. Thank me later.

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SURVIVOR: DAVID VS. GOLIATH
(CBS)

In its 37th season, Survivor produced a top 5 installment in David vs. Goliath, thanks to its incredible casting of memorable characters who played the game to win. Dynamic storytellers abound, from my messy queen Angelina, who attempted the absolute most at every second, to the endearing robotics professor Christian. There was so much casting gold on Fiji, I wouldn’t be surprised to see many of these players return. Thankfully, the twists and advantages did not overpower the gameplay, allowing some jaw-dropping Tribal Councils. Plus, the editing on David vs. Goliath was some of the show’s best, bringing a fresh perspective and sly sense of humor. Here’s hoping the show took away the right lessons from the overwhelmingly positive response to this season.

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THE AMERICANS
(FX)

After six brilliant seasons of weaving complex characters through increasingly compromised circumstances, The Americans stuck the landing with a stunning, emotional payoff. Years of meticulous character building culminated in devastating consequences of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings’ spycraft and domestic drama. The Americans is a masterful work of art and I will miss it terribly. The show and its two leads, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, deserved more awards recognition, dammit!

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JANE THE VIRGIN
(The CW)

Jane the Virgin delivered one of the most shocking season finale cliffhangers in years. Full stop. Staying true to its telenovela roots, it was an astounding finish to an incredible season of television. Jane the Virgin continues to be a consistently satisfying series.

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BOJACK HORSEMAN
(Netflix)

No other show serves such a potent mix of absurdity and tragedy. BoJack Horseman’s fifth season tackled toxic masculinity, the #MeToo movement, opioid abuse, bereavement, and a sex robot named Henry Fondle. The “Free Churro” episode-length monologue was certainly a series highlight, but my favorite episode was “Mr. Peanutbutter’s Boos,” which playfully wove multiple years of Halloween parties into a revealing exploration of Mr. Peanutbutter’s relationship patterns.

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KILLING EVE
(BBC America)

A TV show created by a kickass woman starring and about two kickass women?! I was sold from the very start. From the mind of Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, this cat-and-mouse spy drama starring Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh was a sexy, funny, and thrilling pleasure.

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POSE
(FX)

Category Is: Queer Excellence and Queer Joy. Ryan Murphy’s plunge into the ball culture of 1980s New York City was a glittering achievement. Queer and trans writers and actors were able to tell stories about queer and trans people. Pose’s revelatory and revolutionary cast included the largest number of transgender actors in series regular roles for a scripted series, led by MJ Rodriguez and Indya Moore. While the show sometimes steered into the sentimental, its beating heart proved a fierce asset. Billy Porter’s Pray Tell was one of my favorite performances of the year.

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CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND
(The CW)

While the first half of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s final season took some time to find its footing, the show’s commitment to telling the story of Rebecca Bunch’s mental health recovery has been fascinating and entertaining to watch. After hitting rock bottom, Rebecca is slowly, but surely, putting herself first (in a sexy and healthier way).

My favorite songs of the year include “Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too,” “I Want to Be A Child Star,” and “Don’t Be A Lawyer,” with the A+ lyrics, “There are so many other professions that don’t turn you into Jeff Sessions!” My one wish for Crazy Ex Girlfriend’s final run of episodes is for a White Josh solo number. Please, oh, please!

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THE GOOD PLACE
(NBC)

While the Earth-bound adventures of the Soul Squad lacked the soaring infinite potential of the afterlife, the mid-season finale “Janet(s)” was a tour de force of the show’s extraordinary creativity and D’Arcy Carden’s incomparable comedic talent, who played her own character (Janet) and the show’s four leads (all as Janet).

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ATLANTA
(FX)

The most audacious and mesmerizing episode of television this year belonged to Atlanta’s “Teddy Perkins.” This unsettling examination of the price of fame was a showcase for Lakeith Stanfield, Donald Glover, and Donald Glover’s team of makeup artists.

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HERE ARE 8 MORE (because it’s 2018):

QUEER EYE (Netflix)
THE END OF THE FUCKING WORLD (Netflix)
THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY (FX)
SALT FAT ACID HEAT (Netflix)
AMERICAN VANDAL (Netflix)
GLOW (Netflix)
GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW (PBS, Netflix)
CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER (CBS)

HERE ARE 2 SHOWS I BINGED ALL SEASONS OF IN 2018 AND LOOOVED:

SCHITT’S CREEK (Pop)

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ONE DAY AT A TIME (Netflix)

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FILMS

EIGHTH GRADE
(directed by Bo Burnham)

There are moments in Eighth Grade that are so real, it hurts. Call me a masochist for watching this film three times in theaters. Eighth Grade imbues the minutiae of the life of a quiet eighth grader with remarkable empathy. In his writing and screenplay debut, Bo Burnham has created a film so achingly honest, so painfully hilarious, so undeniably relatable, and so heartbreakingly human, that you can’t help but burst into laughter and tears.

There are two details that I especially loved: Kayla’s signed Bring It On: The Musical program and her Hamilton calendar. I love that Kayla has theatre kid in her. Burnham was a theatre kid too. Theatre kids are full of empathy.

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ROMA
(directed by Alfonso Curarón)

Roma is a flat-out masterpiece. Through indelible black and white imagery, Alfonso Cuarón crafted a visually magnificent and intensely personal tribute to his memories and the beautiful chaos of life. Based on his upbringing in a middle-class family in 1970s Mexico City, Roma follows a year in the life of an indigenous domestic worker and fully immerses you in her life’s smallest details among the sweeping world around her.

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LEAN ON PETE
(directed by Andrew Haigh)

If you know me, you know I love a cathartic, emotional release, and my goodness, did this deliver. I came into Andrew Haigh’s Lean On Pete expecting a sweet boy-and-his-horse story, and I left an emotional wreck. I hadn’t cried that much at a movie theater since Moonlight. Lean On Pete is a raw, haunting, and heartbreaking film that will stay with me for a long time.

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SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
(directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman)

Watching the wildly entertaining and wildly innovative Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, my eyes lit up at every frame and I just couldn’t stop smiling. It’s my favorite superhero movie of all time. Have you ever wanted to be inside a living, breathing comic book? Thanks to overwhelmingly breathtaking animation rendered in vibrant Ben-Day dots, now you can! The promise that anyone can be Spider-Man is fully realized in Miles Morales’ Brooklyn. This is diversity and inclusion in swinging action and the world is all the better for it.

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SHOPLIFTERS
(directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda)

I watched the sublime Japanese film Shoplifters on the day it received a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign language film, and boy, was it a richly deserved recognition. Shoplifters is a beautifully observed drama that follows an impoverished makeshift family of petty thieves who takes in a neglected young girl. Kore-eda deftly explores the meaning of family through moments of quirky humor and quiet devastation. Prepare to fall in love with this dysfunctional band of outsiders.

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CRAZY RICH ASIANS
(directed by Jon M. Chu)

There was no movie-going experience more memorable for me than watching Crazy Rich Asians in a sold-out advanced screening. I could feel that this audience, like audiences around the country, was starved to see themselves onscreen. Crazy Rich Asians was everything I could have hoped for. All hail, director Jon M. Chu, newly-minted movie stars Constance Wu and Henry Golding, and the rest of this fantastic ensemble, for revitalizing the romantic comedy and for showing that these stories matter and that these voices deserve to be heard. #RepresentationMatters

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CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
(directed by Marielle Heller)

I found Can You Ever Forgive Me? to be such an utter delight of warm and weary queerness. Melissa McCarthy delivers a winning performance steeped in profound loneliness as Lee Israel, a struggling writer-turned-forger of literary letters from the likes of Dorothy Parker and Noël Coward. McCarthy and her partner-in-crime, played by the charismatic Richard E. Grant, are quite the winning pair.

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A STAR IS BORN
(directed by Bradley Cooper)

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s effortless electricity and searing chemistry were more than enough reason to remake A Star Is Born for the third time.

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WIDOWS
(directed by Steve McQueen)

Widows is a fucking thrill and it’s a shame more people didn’t see this Chicago-set heist film. Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn did that. Viola Davis did that. Cynthia Erivo’s arms did that.

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TULLY
(directed by Jason Reitman)

I wasn’t emotionally prepared for director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody’s Tully: an empathetic, bittersweet, and surprising film about the toll of motherhood and reconciling adulthood.

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HERE ARE 8 MORE (because it’s 2018):

PADDINGTON 2 (dir. Paul King)
BLACK PANTHER (dir. Ryan Coogler)
BURNING (dir. Lee Chang-dong)
FREE SOLO (dir. Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi)
SEARCHING (dir. Aneesh Chaganty)
BLINDSPOTTING (dir. Carlos López Estrada)
THE FAVOURITE (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
LEAVE NO TRACE (dir. Debra Granik)

HERE ARE 2 MOVIES FROM 2017 THAT I SAW IN THEATERS IN 2018 THAT I LOOVED:

GOD’S OWN COUNTRY (directed by Francis Lee)

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FACES PLACES (directed by Agnès Varda and JR)

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BONUS FAVORITE THINGS!

FAVORITE THEATRE:

WAITRESS on Broadway starring Sara Bareilles and Jason Mraz was a magical experience. Both are musical idols of mine; I have CDs from Bareilles’ college a cappella group and Mraz was my first-ever concert. When I handed my WAITRESS ticket to the usher, she said, “You look so excited!” Damn right, old lady, I was!

Being in the room where it happened for the live taping of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT in Brooklyn.

The hit West End musical EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE, about a teenager with dreams about being a drag queen, was broadcast in movie theaters and it reaffirmed my love for musical theatre.

BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL, performed by Hillbarn Theatre Conversatory

These high schoolers were so damn talented and so full of joy. It was mightly impressive and inspiring, watching them leave every ounce of themselves onstage and killing Adrienne Walters’ choreography and stunts.

FAVORITE PODCAST:

KEEP IT! – Ira Madison III, Kara Brown, and Louis Virtel’s show about the collision of pop culture and politics through POC and queer lenses never fails to make me laugh out loud.

FAVORITE ALBUM:

DIRTY COMPUTER by Janelle Monáe

FAVORITE SONG:

“My My My!” by Troye Sivan

FAVORITE BOOK:

I was a year late, but I loved Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. I sadly missed the film adaptation in theaters.

FAVORITE INTERNET THINGS:

Pretty much anything Adam Rippon said and did.

“Zendaya is Meechee” by Gabe Gundacker, which was stuck in my head for weeks.

“John Mulaney as Musicals: A THREAD” by @lildolewhip

This mashup of Britney Spears’ Instagram story with Broadway music was absolutely mesmerizing.

Miss Vanjie – Even Andrew Garfield couldn’t get enough!


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My Favorite TV Shows & Films of 2016

Here are my top 10 favorite TV shows and films of 2016. Let’s get this year over with, shall we?!

TV SHOWS

CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND (CW)

There is no better gift to a theatre kid like me than Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s brilliant and subversive tribute to romantic comedies and musical theatre. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is fabulously self-aware, hilariously screwball, unapologetically feminist, and chock-full of must-see musical gems like the brilliant “JAP Battle,” Fifth Harmony parody “Put Yourself First” (that sax tho!), and Singing in the Rain send-up “We Tapped That Ass.”

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend knows exactly the show it wants to be and is refreshingly honest about its characters’ flaws, in particular, Rebecca Bunch’s (Rachel Bloom) anti-heroic delusions. If that weren’t enough, the show features a Filipino-American male romantic lead. Representation matters, y’all.

Season one is streaming on Netflix. I can’t recommend this show enough.

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SURVIVOR (CBS)

Even in its 32nd and 33rd seasons, Survivor still delivers surprises and shockers each episode. This fall’s season, Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, delivered a deliciously entertaining combination of shocking blindsides, next-level strategy, and compelling (and most importantly, likable) characters. #wow

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PLEASE LIKE ME (HULU)

This Australian import is my favorite television discovery of the year. Josh Thomas’ coming-of-age comedy, centered around a young, gay twenty-something, has stolen my heart with its upbeat charm and quirky characters. I love this show to pieces.

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THE AMERICANS (FX)

Each year, the best drama on television increases its heartbreaking stakes, while digging deeper into the emotional struggles of its characters. The Americans‘ unexpected dramatic instability kept viewers on edge all season long, as the stress of the Jennings’ real/fake marriage and their relationship with their teenage daughter were pushed to a near-breaking point.

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ATLANTA (FX)

Donald Glover’s brand new series swiftly and languidly navigates down the paths of the surreal and real, taking us to places TV hasn’t gone before. It’s a truly breathtaking endeavor.

atlanta-2016

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THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY (FX)

By all accounts, Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of the O.J. Simpson trial should have been a hot mess, but instead the limited-run series was an engrossing triumph that drew thought-provoking comparisons to today’s society, bolstered by a dynamite trio of performances from Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, and Courtney B. Vance.

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BOJACK HORSEMAN (NETFLIX)

Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s profound and profane animated series mixes pathos with animal puns, and existential crises with Hollywood satire. The tremendous third season delivered one of the best episodes of TV this year: the dialogue-free, underwater-set “Fish Out of Water.”

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JANE THE VIRGIN (CW)

Jane the Virgin is consistently the most intelligent, emotional, and character-rich storytelling on television. It’s a confident warm blanket of a telenovela that delights in its open-hearted interpersonal relationships.

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AMERICAN CRIME (ABC)

The second season of this anthology drama, focused on an alleged rape of a male high school student by a fellow student on the school’s basketball team, features superb acting (Regina King! Felicity Huffman! Lili Taylor!) with powerful and provocative discussions about race, class, and sexuality.

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BILLY ON THE STREET (truTV)

For a dollar, name another show on television that makes me laugh out loud more than Billy on the Street. Spoiler Alert: You’ll never get that dollar. Billy Eichner’s pop culture explosions are an incredible comedic tour de force.

One of my absolute favorite things of the year: Billy Eichner tells unsuspecting people on the street that Seth Rogen has suddenly died, while Rogen stands just feet away behind a camera.


FILMS

MOONLIGHT

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ZOOTOPIA

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THE LOBSTER

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SING STREET

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THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

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DON’T THINK TWICE

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OTHER PEOPLE

other-people-2016

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LA LA LAND

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HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

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LEMONADE

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Emmys 2016 Review: A Night of Surprises

Televised award shows can often be painful to sit through, but thankfully, there were enough surprises in the 2016 Emmy Awards to balance out the inevitable second consecutive wins for Veep and Game of Thrones. The potent combination of deserving first-time winners, moving speeches, and diverse voices at the podium made the night feel spontaneous and exciting. At its best, these Emmys, indeed, felt like a true celebration of what television has to offer, and many of the outcomes delighted me.

Master of None’s “Parents” was awarded the Emmy for Writing for a Comedy, an episode that focuses on two first-generation Americans asking their parents to tell the stories about their lives before coming to America. As a child of immigrant parents myself, this story hit straight to the heart. The episode brought me to tears and immediately after, I called my mother. *cue awwww* Awards aren’t the be-all and end-all, but it does feels good to know that this award reinforces the notion that these are stories worth telling. Even better was writer Alan Yang’s acceptance speech, which emphasized the need for more Asian-American stories:

There’s 17 million Asian-Americans in this country, and there’s 17 million Italian Americans. They have The Godfather, Goodfellas, Rocky, The Sopranos. We got Long Duk Dong, so we’ve got a long way to go. But I know we can get there. I believe in us. It’s just going to take a lot of hard work. Asian parents out there, if you could just do me a favor, just a couple of you get your kids cameras instead of violins, we’ll be all good.

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Kate McKinnon’s win for Supporting Actress in a Comedy for her work on Saturday Night Live was also a delight. She had a banner year, thanks to Hillary Clinton, and sketches like The One Where She Was Abducted By Aliens And Ryan Gosling Couldn’t Keep It Together. McKinnon’s humble shout-outs from Hillary Clinton and Ellen Degeneres, to her writing partners, the now co-head writers Sarah Schneider and Chris Kelly (watch his new film Other People!), to her late father who pushed her to watch SNL as a child, were particularly moving.

Director Jill Soloway, who won for Transparent, gave a particularly rousing acceptance speech, with a passionate plea to “topple the patriarchy.” Soloway centered the storytelling of queer and trans women in her acceptance speech:

When you take women, people of color, trans people, queer people, and you put them at the center of the story, the subjects instead of the objects, you change the world, we found out. This TV show allows me to take my dreams about unlikeable Jewish people, queer folk, trans folk, and make them the heroes.

Transparent’s Jeffrey Tambor’s won Actor in a Comedy for his thoughtful portrayal of Maura Pfefferman, and his speech concluded with a heartfelt plea of his own: a call for greater hiring of transgender talent. Witnessing diversity in storytelling from a pioneering show like Transparent be richly rewarded was a step in the right direction.

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American Crime was one of my favorite television shows of the year. The anthology drama couples superb acting with powerful and provocative discussions about race, class, and sexuality. It was gratifying to see Regina King be recognized two years in a row for her magnetic work as a mother of a high school basketball player team accused of assault.

Although I was rooting for the cool threat that was Bookeem Woodbine’s Mike Milligan from Fargo, I was happy that the award went to Sterling K. Brown’s understated performance as Christopher Darden in The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. The thrilling wins for Courtney B. Vance and Sarah Paulson, who played Johnny Cochran and Marcia Clark, respectively, proved the stellar casting for Ryan Murphy’s series. These three captivating actors took on historical figures familiar to the American public, and breathed new life into their narratives, making their portrayals deeply sympathetic and human. Paulson was one of the locks of the evening, and her win was long overdue.

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On the flip side, yes, The People vs O.J. Simpson was excellent television, but I’m disappointed that Fargo’s remarkable second season was shut out in the process, coming up empty-handed in every category it was nominated in. Was this season too left-field for voters? Too bleak or violent? Too wrapped up in Midwestern quirk, and mysticism? Sigh.

Grease Live was a fine technical feat, with swift and precise direction by Alex Rudzinski and Hamilton‘s Thomas Kail. The live broadcast navigated multiple indoor and outdoor sets, live crowds, inclement weather, and more, but the conceit has been done before, even if it was the best of this new generation of live musicals. Beyoncé’s Lemonade was an artistic achievement like no other. Queen B should have won Directing for a Variety Special and taken one more step closer to EGOT status.

Rami Malek’s performance as Elliot Anderson was a singular triumph on Mr. Robot. Malek tackled such an intense character plagued with drug addiction, social anxiety, and mental illness, but always found ways to humanize him. We don’t often see characters on television like Elliot, much less see their performances rewarded, so this win for Lead Actor in a Drama felt important. Plus, bae looked good in a white Dior suit.

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Host Jimmy Kimmel joked in his opening monologue that “the only thing we value more than diversity is congratulating ourselves on how much we value diversity.” As the night went on, the more this notion seemed true. However cynical Kimmel’s quip was, it was refreshing to see the stage visited by African-Americans, Asian-Americans, queer women, an Egyptian-American, and sure, a couple of white men here and there too.

At last weekend’s Creative Arts Emmys, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s took home two trophies for Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy and Choreography. How it lost Main Title Theme Music to Jessica Jones (?!?!?!) is beyond me. One is a sunny, catchy earworm that jabs at sexism, while the other is a bland jazz number. The winner is completely obvious to me, but I guess the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that. Regardless, just let the words “Emmy Award-Winning Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” sink in. We’re so #blessed!

The best show on television, The Americans, was woefully ignored, after being finally being invited to the party in its fourth season. When Character Actress Margo Martindale’s won for Guest Actress at the Creative Arts Emmys, for a role with seemingly less than ten minutes of screen time, I was hoping that the award boded well for the show’s Emmy chances come Sunday night. Alas, the night was not for The Americans. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, your time has yet to come. Next year, Game of Thrones will air outside of eligibility for the 2017 Emmys, leaving a dragon-sized void in the race. With the HBO juggernaut out of the mix next year, could The Americans finally emerge victorious?

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My 15 Favorite TV Shows of 2015

Welcome to #PeakTV!

SURVIVOR

FARGO

THE AMERICANS

BOJACK HORSEMAN

MAD MEN

THE FLASH

JANE THE VIRGIN

FRESH OFF THE BOAT

TRANSPARENT

BILLY ON THE STREET

Rounding out my Favorite 15:

CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND
SILICON VALLEY
UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT
PARKS AND RECREATION
BETTER CALL SAUL

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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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:

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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Source: lrisallens.tumblr.com