What I Watched This Week: 16 Apr 2017

NEW SHOWS
Veep – “Omaha” (A-) / season premiere
Covers a lot of ground in just 30 minutes, as pretty much everyone is much worse off since Selina lost her bid for re-election. My favorite catch-up was Bill (and his casual racism) trying to navigate a millennial-heavy company like Uber, and a newly bald Jonah received my favorite nickname: Congressman Powder.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Serve & Protect” (B+)
A consistently funny episode, mostly thanks to Nathan Fillion’s ego-centric actor. Still wishing this back half of the season would provide more belly laughs like the first half did.

The Americans – “The Committee on Human Rights” (B+)
We say farewell to Gabriel (whom I’m really going to miss) and Matthew (not so much). Just kind of wondering when we’re going to get to the fireworks factory. I need a kidnapping or something to give this show a jolt of electricity.

BINGEING
The West Wing – Season 4 (A-)
Another terrific season, with an astonishing finale. The transition from Rob Lowe to Joshua Malina was almost seamless. I just wonder how obvious the drop-off from Sorkin to the other writers is going to be in the next season.

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The List: 10 More Great ‘Simpsons’ Episodes

With today marking the 30th anniversary of the Simpsons’ first appearance on The Tracey Ullman Show, a lot of sites are revising (or releasing for the first time) their lists of the best episodes of all time. The Ringer’s list was exhaustive, but dismissive of anything past Season Nine. Consequence of Sound was a little more lenient. And I’ve already published a list. While I thought about re-doing mine from a few years ago, I was struck by a couple of things: 1. This doesn’t really feel like that momentous of an anniversary. 2. It was actually way too hard to revise my list to include some episodes that have grown on me since I did that initial list. So my solution was just to make a list of 10 more amazing episodes that didn’t make the cut last time. Thus, there’s no point in ranking these, so I’ll just present them in chronological order.

simpsons-lisas_substitute
“Lisa’s Substitute” – Season 2

The show’s saddest episode, give or take a “Mother Simpson.” Dustin Hoffman’s turn as Mr. Bergstrom (aka Mr. Nerdstrom aka Mr. Boogerstrom) is one of the greatest guest spots the show has ever produced. He’s the substitute – and the only one at Springfield Elementary – to really understand not only how gifted Lisa is but also how lonely. His farewell is both crushing and uplifting at the same time.

BEST LINE:
Homer: “Hey, just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand!”

simpsons-homer_the_heretic
“Homer the Heretic” – Season 4

The sharpest of the show’s many digs at organized religion, Homer’s one-man church – which allows him to indulge in any number of luxuries – is a fantasy come true. But he does learn (learning being a fluid concept on this show) that despite religion’s faults, needing people to carry your burdens is universal, no matter what god you pray to.

BEST LINE:
Ned: “Homer, God didn’t set your house on fire.”
Rev. Lovejoy: “No, but He was working in the hearts of your friends and neighbors when they went to your aid. Be they Christian, Jew or… miscellaneous.”
Apu: “Hindu! There are 700 million of us.”
Rev. Lovejoy: “Aww, that’s super.”

simpsons-i_love_lisa
“I Love Lisa” – Season 4

The most depth the show has ever given Ralph Wiggum (who’s mostly used as an easy laugh, as he’s even dumber than Homer). “You can actually pinpoint the moment his heart breaks,” Bart tells Lisa upon video replay of her very public rejection of him. It’s exemplary of the show in its prime: gut-busting but also touching. This episode also features my third-favorite original tune (after Stop the Planet of the Apes! I Want to Get Off! and “The Monorail Song”): “The Lesser-Known Presidents.”

BEST LINE:
Homer: “Six simple words: I’m not gay, but I’ll learn.”

simpsons-last_exit_to_springfield
“Last Exit to Springfield” – Season 4

I’ll call this the OK Computer of The Simpsons canon. It had been held up as the greatest episode for so long, but was never my favorite, so I always bumped it down. But while I still wouldn’t put it at No. 1, and it’s not my all-time favorite, I can now see just how utterly brilliant it is, and don’t begrudge anyone who would put it at the very top. I mean, where else are you going to get a Grinch parody, a Yellow Submarine montage and a scene that calls back to a very specific scene of 1989’s Batman film AND have it all make sense in context?

BEST LINE:
Mr. Burns: “This is a thousand monkeys working at a thousand typewriters. Soon they’ll have written the greatest novel known to man. Let’s see. ‘It was the best of times, it was the BLURST of times!’ You stupid monkey!”

simpsons-and_maggie_makes_three
“And Maggie Makes Three” – Season 6

That last shot is the most touching thing the show has ever done, but the whole episode is filled with laughter and something… in… my… eye… It’s also pretty damn relevant, especially to my generation, given that it’s about the sacrifices you have to make to take care of your family. “Hmm… well I can do something I love but not have enough to make ends meet, or I can take a soul-crushing job to keep us float?” This episode perfect encapsulates that struggle.

BEST LINE:
Carl: “Homer, you should see a doctor. I don’t think a healthy man can make that kind of smell.”

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What I Watched This Week: 9 Apr 2017

NEW SHOWS
Crashing – “Baptism” (B+) / season finale
A fitting finale to a season all about finding yourself. I honestly think Leif never should have been seen again after “The Yard Sale,” because he’s so annoying, and I hope they don’t have Pete and him become roommates next season. But this was a solid first season that I hope gets better next year.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Audit” (B)
It’s been a long three months without this show, and while it’s good to have it back, this episode’s just not as strong as some of the earlier stuff in Season Four. The Jake & Amy vs. her ex plot worked, but the office shenanigans felt a little tired.

The Americans – “Crossbreed” (B+)
The first episode where I really noticed how slow this season is, and that’s not necessarily a knock. This is a show that will devote a full minute to an undercover Elizabeth doing tai chi with her mark. This is a show that will follow Oleg systematically, cathartically destroying evidence that might blackmail him, and set it to a Peter Gabriel deep cut.

CURRENT SHOWS & SPECIALS
The Americans – “Lotus 1-2-3” (A)
The best episode of the season thus far, filled with sex, regret and one of the most genuinely moving scenes of the whole show.

Dave Chappelle: Deep in the Heart of Texas – Live at Austin City Limits (B)
Not nearly as sharp as his first special, and slightly more problematic. Still, it’s uproarious.

Saturday Night Live – “Louis CK/The Chainsmokers” (A-)
The best episode since Dave Chappelle hosted, thanks to CK’s commitment to every bit, no matter how absurd, and for just how dark it got so frequently.

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What I Watched This Week: 2 Apr 2017

NEW SHOWS
Crashing – “Julie” (B+)
My least favorite episode, but still quite good, as everything hits the reset button. But Pete is still so likable, even as he’s talking to Rachael Ray’s mom about blowjobs.

CURRENT SHOWS
The Mindy Project – “A Decent Proposal” (B+) / season finale
They got rid of the least useful character on the show and set up the last season of the show wonderfully. Can’t really top that for a finale on a middling show.

BINGEING
The West Wing – Season 3 (A)
Probably the best season yet, with its most devastating finale, and a use of “Hallelujah” that’s not annoying since this was 15 years ago before it got used to death.

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What I Watched This Week: 26 Mar 2017

NEW SHOWS
Crashing – “Warm-up” (A)
The most joyous episode of the most joyous show. I’ve really enjoyed Crashing, but this is where Pete Holmes’ relentless optimism has truly paid off.

The Americans – “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” (A-)
The show hasn’t turned any truly great episodes so far this season, but this came the closest, with Noah Emmerich’s best acting since Season 3.

Legion – “Chapter 8” (A-) / season finale
I don’t know how excited I am for that last little bit, but this is a satisfying full-tilt finale that explores a lot of big ideas, and also gives that character a fleshed-out backstory in a matter of minutes. This is my favorite show of 2017, and while there’s a lot of year left, I don’t know if anything can top this.

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Netflix Picks: April 2017

BEST BET – FILM
Win It All (2017) – 4/7
Small Crimes (2017) – 4/28
I missed both of these when I was down in Austin for SXSW, but I love that Netflix is funding and finding homes for indie filmmakers like Joe Swanberg and E.L. Katz. Both of these films involve criminal activity, and a healthy dose of drama to go with their distinct comic sensibilities.

BEST BET –TV
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return (Season 1) – 4/14
Bill Nye Saves the World (Season 1) – 4/21
Please, oh, please let this be a case of nostalgia done right. With Patton Oswalt and a murderer’s row of comics at the helm of the former, and a bevy of incredible scientists guest-starring on the latter, I’ve got a good feeling about both of these.

NETFLIX ORIGINALS
Chewing Gum (Season 2) – 4/4
Louis C.K. 2017 – 4/4
El Faro de las Orcas – 4/7
Dawn of the Croods (Season 3) – 4/7
The Get Down (Season 1, Part 2) – 4/7
Chelsea (Season 2) – 4/14
Sandy Wexler – 4/14
Slam – 4/15
Lucas Brothers: On Drugs – 4/18
Girlboss (Season 1) – 4/21
Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On (Season 1) – 4/21
Sand Castle – 4/21
Tales by Light (Season 2) – 4/21
The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show (Season 4) – 4/21
Tramps – 4/21
The 101-Year-Old Man Who Skipped Out on the Bill and Disappeared – 4/25
Vir Das: Abroad Understanding – 4/25
Las Chicas del Cable (Season 1) – 4/27
Casting JonBenet – 4/28
Dear White People (Season 1) – 4/28
Rodney King – 4/28

CATALOG SHOWS
Good Witch (Season 2) – 4/1
Wynonna Earp (Season 1) – 4/1
Documentary Now! (Season 2) – 4/10
Legends of Tomorrow (Season 2) – 4/12
The Great British Baking Show: Masterclass (Seasons 1-3) – 4/22
Liv & Maddie (Season 4) – 4/23
Real Rescues (Season 6 & 7) – 4/26
Sofia the First (Season 3) – 4/30

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What I Watched This Week: 19 Mar 2017

NEW SHOWS & SPECIALS
Crashing – “Parents” (A)
Another sharp episode that cuts deeper than most comedies while still being wildly funny.

The Mindy Project – “Mindy’s Best Friend” (A-)
A solid, funny, deep (for this show) episode, featuring a great-as-always Casey Wilson as Mindy’s middle school friend who visits New York and falls head over heels for Morgan. If only the show could stay this consistent, I’d be more likely to keep up after this season ends next week.

Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin – Live from the Hollywood Palladium (A)
The comedy special of the year. Hilarious, casual and unafraid to ruffle the feathers of anyone in the audience, this is him back in command.

The Americans – “The Midges” (A-)
The season is moving at a snail’s pace, but each discovery and revelation has that much more impact.

Legion – “Chapter 7” (A)
The most exciting episode yet, though the arrival of that character might be one twist too many. We’ll see how they pull off the finale. Still, that classroom scene might be my favorite of the series, which is definitely my favorite show of the year thus far.

CURRENT SHOWS
Legion – “Chapter 6” (A)
Upends everything we think we know about the show yet again, but in a way that’s still fascinating and not frustrating. Brilliant.

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What I Watched This Week: 12 Mar 2017

NEW SHOWS
Crashing – “Barking” (B+)
Another solid transition episode after the closure of “Yard Sale.” It’s a little inside baseball, but quite funny, and shows Pete’s boundless optimism isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The Mindy Project – “Mindy Lahiri Is a White Man” (A)
The satire is a little obvious, but it shows that Mindy is capable of injecting some creativity and depth into what has become a fun but featherweight series. The move to Hulu has introduced some playfulness (with the season 4 premiere paying homage to Sliding Doors and a Groundhog Day tribute just a few weeks ago), but this is even better than those clever but slight episodes. Mindy gets to learn of all the privileges of becoming a rich, attractive white man with hilarious consequences. It’s feminism with a lot of dick jokes, which I suppose could be the mission statement for the show. Excellent work.

This Is Us – “Moonshadow” (B) / season finale
A messy finale that still has some of the show’s most impressive scenes (that nearly one-take argument is going on their highlight reel). The brief check-in with the kids was wholly unnecessary, but most of the Jack-Rebecca flashbacks worked.

The Americans – “Pests” (A-)
An even better episode, and one in which the actual Americans seem even less like good guys than before. It’s back to stake its claim as the best show on TV, but without any flashy gimmicks.

CURRENT SHOWS
The Americans – “Amber Waves” (A-)
A brutal episode that doesn’t try to make anything easier for those new to the show. For once, I don’t hate Paige, as she’s trying to strike the right balance instead of just chafe against her parents’ authority.

Crashing – “Yard Sale” (A)
The best episode yet, with huge emotional payoff and T.J. Miller lighting things on fire. What more could you ask for?

Legion – “Chapter 5” (A)
The true nature of David’s disorder comes to light and it’s bloody terrifying. This show gets dinged for its flashiness but I think that ignores just how deep it is. This is a show that is constantly shifting our expectations about reality and the truth. It would seem that’s a deck you can only shuffle so many times, but it continues to work its magic on me.

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What I Watched This Week: 5 Mar 2017

NEW SHOWS
The Mindy Project – “Dibs” (B)
Since the show bungled the introduction of Colette’s girlfriend, it’s hard to care about her hurt feelings. But I was shocked at how much I was invested in Jeremy and Anna’s non-romance. And any time Jody is on-screen, the jokes just land. But that’s because he is the most gifted comic actor in the cast.

This Is Us – “What Now?” (B+)
A moving remembrance of William, but a tragic end for Jack. I know the beats this show is going to take, but it’s still emotionally rich when it gets there.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Dennis’ Double Life” (A-) / season finale
In what could be Glenn Howerton’s last appearance for awhile, Dennis finally gets fed up with the Gang in a way that feels like it’s real. This show has kinda sorta allowed emotion to creep into this season, and it’s always been for the better. What might suck is not having Dennis, easily the smartest member of the Gang but often the creepiest, around anymore to look bewildered at their latest scheme. But for now, it’s been 12 gloriously bizarre seasons.

BINGEING
The West Wing – Season 2 (A)
Takes everything that worked about Season One and ups the ante, with the specter of death looming large in nearly episode, especially its intense two-part premiere and devastating finale. This is about as good as TV gets.

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What I Watched This Week: 26 Feb 2017

NEW SHOWS
Crashing – “The Road” (A-)
An improvement on the premiere, even as it’s still finding its legs. But a cocaine gag (that didn’t steal from Annie Hall) and a very true-to-character love of Jars of Clay will always put a smile on my face.

The Mindy Project – “Take My Ex-Wife, Please” (B+)
A solid episode, with most of the laughs provided by a drunken Jody.

Legion – “Chapter 4” (A-)
Essentially a remake of The Simpsons‘ “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Homer,” but with Jemaine Clement instead of Johnny Cash. The show continues to be the most brilliant, troubling thing on TV.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “A Cricket’s Tale” (B+)
I knew the show had to end on a tragic note for the gang’s PCP-addicted assistant, but the Disney tributes were a nice touch for such a ridiculous episode.

BINGEING
The West Wing – Season 1 (A-)
Solid writing as expected from Sorkin, even if it is a little dated and seems surreal compared to the everyday WTF-ery we’re living through under the Trump administration. Great introduction to each of the characters that we love so much, which makes the impact of the season finale that much greater.

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