Brooklyn Nine-Nine is probably my most anticipated new comedy this fall. Not because I’m a huge Andy Samberg fan; like most people, I enjoyed his digital shorts on SNL, but not much else. No, the exciting element for me was the writing pedigree of the creators. In my estimation, Parks and Recreation is the best comedy in the past decade, so of course I’m interested to see Parks’ producers Michael Schur and Dan Goor’s next project. Here are my initial thoughts on Fox’s new cop-comedy (copedy?).
- Looks like they’re working hard to avoid the Leslie Knope incompetence problem of Parks season 1, making sure Peralta is good at his job in the cold open.
- I may have spoken too soon. Peralta and company poking fun at a murder case is a bit off-putting this early in the show. Hopefully they can explore this jaded side of police work like Scrubs did so well with doctors.
- Glad to see Shur and Goor steer away from the phantom mockumentary style; it’s a quick and easy style to film, but talking head comedy is overplayed at this point.
- Well, that department store flashback is pretty much the best. Sgt. Terry is my early frontrunner for favorite character.
- How many detectives does it take to look at a crime scene? Seems like four is far too many. The budget must be huge in this department.
- Fred Armisen, a delightful surprise. “Detective Terrible-Detective also made me laugh.”
- Nice little action scene at the grocery store. There’s a higher danger element then expected, based on the “workplace” premise.
- Okay, by the end of the second act, I have a big smile on my face. They may have won me over already.
- Oh yeah, disco strangler. Sweet 80′s black-sploitation wig-work.
- Well-deserved public shaming for Peralta; just put on the goddamned tie!
- Sweet old-school detective music in the storage unit.
- Love the not one, but two indifferent New Yorkers interfering with the investigation. Hopefully this and the neighbor scenes are the beginning of a well-developed community for fictional Brooklyn, ala Pawnee or Springfield.
Overall, I quite liked the pilot. It does a lot of great work setting up a community, both in the department and out in the world. The cast seems to be loaded with interesting and funny characters, good performances, and even Samberg did a good job. They seem to have a lot of plot avenues in place that should keep things fresh and sustainable; something that most of the network pilots this season have lacked. I’m interested in seeing the direction they take the gay captain. It’s certainly a new (and welcome) direction, but I wonder if it becomes a gimmicky / lazy-humor crutch over time, instead of a key element to the character. However, the pedigree of the writing staff suggests that they’ll be up to the task of avoiding stereotypes and cheap humor.
P.S. I’m really happy to see the early ratings for Nine-Nine: beating Dads is a relief, while beating New Girl is downright surprising. Hopefully they can keep it up.
With all the media anti-hype surrounding the Fox’s new sitcom Dads, I sat down to watch the show live, wondering what offensive wonders of terrible television lied in store. It is rare, after all, to see a train wreck of a show actually air; certainly less common than a well-executed series. So, primed up in full-on hatewatch mode, I prepared to let it rip.
That was bad, no doubt. Was it offensive? Sure, but not in the “I can’t believe this made it to TV” sort of way. More of the “I can’t believe people might find this funny.” In fact, I’m probably most surprised that critics actually found the energy to get really angry about Dads. The show itself is so lazy and so unfunny, that I can’t imagine that the producers fought to keep the potentially offensive content in because they believed in it; rather, they just didn’t want to bother reshooting. It’s the sort of bad that just makes you want to take a nap rather than yell at the TV.
The performances are miserable; special credit goes to Peter Riegert, who worked very hard to say his lines while simultaneously letting everyone know that he’s hating every second of it. The writing is somehow worse. Perhaps this is because I’m extra-sensitive to nerd-hate thanks to Big Bang, but I found the gamer stereotyping almost as offensive as those of race and gender. The schoolgirl outfit is as much an offensive stereotype of gamer culture as it is of Japanese culture, and I couldn’t help but think what my female friends in the gaming industry would say of a woman who got a promotion by dressing slutty and blackmailing another company with a dick pic. Even the direction was terrible; the cameras completely mistimed certain shots, lingering way too long after a joke and using disorienting angles at random. The awful “improvised” lines about penis size to end the episode were even harder to stomach because of this terrible presentation; each line dripped with the actors’ own self-hatred, and the camera cuts just drew attention to how out of sync everything felt. But that’s just Dads: a remarkable combination of terrible writing, directing and acting, working in concert to create a feeling of “who gives a shit?”
The funniest moment of the episode was the next-time ad, which proclaimed that Dads reached a milestone that most shows don’t: a second episode! Perhaps Fox should consider giving the Dads marketing team their own show. It would probably turn out much better than Dads.
Ok, confession time. The only reason this show ended up on my DVR was out of a morbid curiosity and a desire to ridicule. The commercials, trailers, and promotional material did nothing for me, except make me wonder how in the hell this ever made it to pilot. Perhaps that was Fox’s “clever” way of attracting an audience, a la the Dads’ strategy suggesting that we ignore the critics and just watch, dammit. The point is, I’m highly skeptical. So with that disclaimer, here are my initial reactions to the pilot of Sleepy Hollow.
- Seeing the Revolutionary war opening makes me wish this were a period show. Where’s my premium cable treatment of the American Revolution? I guess I’ll just have to replay Assassin’s Creed III.
- Um, when the radio call comes in for an officer down, I’m pretty sure you don’t just arrest some guy in the street.
- “The machine knows?” Oh, the hilarious fish-out-of-water jokes we get to look forward to.
- And cue the Crane is suddenly an incredibly smart, yet off-putting detective. Ah, now this is starting to make sense, Sherlock.
- Okay, twenty minutes in and the fish-out-of-water humor is already wearing thin.
- Speaking of Assassin’s Creed III, it’s on the phone and it would like its premise back.
- Sweet, a super-powered priest! Now things are getting… oh, he’s dead already.
- Bonding time: Ah, four white trees, four horsemen. I think I get it.
- Hundreds of unsolved witchcraft cases! It’s a veritable X-Files in that office! Good thing Corbin left a tape recorder with a full explanation.
- Man, the bird of prey budget on this show must be extensive.
- Oooh, that’s a lot of ketchup. How many Heinz were harmed in the making of this episode?
- Don’t give poor Andy a dangerous assignment! Don’t you know John Cho’s only a guest star?
- Wait, so everyone else is in on the conspiracy?
- Oh man, that’s some Terminator shit going on with the headless gunmen; very exciting.
- No, not the sun! It’s my only weakness!
- Wait, seven years– that’s to how many seasons they want! Well written, writers.
- Yup, Andy was definitely a guest star.
- Not a big fan of the “Sympathy for the Devil” usage–way, way overdone at this point.
I have to admit this was a pretty entertaining hour of television; albeit a problematic one. Network TV is saturated with male-female crime-solving duos, and you can feel the writers working hard to balance the spooky elements with the comfortable procedural format so it doesn’t alienate the Bones crowd. Going into this, I wondered how in the hell they were going to adapt this story into a workable TV show, and the pilot goes out of its way to say “Hey look! This is a sustainable premise! I swear!” I suppose next week we’ll find out if the premise can survive the episodic format. For now, at least we can hang onto this unequivocally awesome image.
Up next from Fox’s premiere week: Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Dads.
As I discussed in my review for “Fear”, Wilfred is showing signs of becoming a great show. It often takes a bit for comedies to get their footing, especially ones with a premise as far-fetched as Wilfred, but the show was showing good signs of “quality” television. Ongoing plots were manifesting, a new (recurring?) character is introduced, and the show began finding new ways to be funny. Despite all of these good signs though, last night’s episode “Acceptance” was a bit of a regression.
Uneven is the word that keeps bubbling to the surface when I think about last night’s episode. It opens with something I like to call “sitcom speak”: one character briefly summarizes the situation, sharing character details (so and so is a ditz, that guy’s a jerk) and setting up the premise for the episode, then pasting a lame joke at the end to cover up the information spewing that just occurred. While a necessary evil for any show with ongoing stories, most really good shows seamlessly and unobtrusively include information that the viewer might want to know. “Acceptance” does a terrible job of setting up the plot, and the conversation between Ryan and Wilfred about Ryan’s sister Kristen feels so forced that Jason Gann (Wilfred) seems to give up acting mid-sentence. It’s probably a major credit to Elijah Wood and Gann that this was only the first time a conversation between a man and a guy in a dog suit felt stilted and forced, but it’s still disappointing. If the show had utilized Kristen at all since the first episode, the conversation could have been avoided; but because the audience probably wouldn’t remember her character by name, we’re treated to a minute of plot summary disguised as conversation.
After the awkward opening scene, we get to the comedic meat of the episode, which is admittedly some of the best so far in the series. After Kristen (played by Dorian Brown) hurts her ankle tripping over Ryan’s guitar (brought out from the increasingly symbolic basement by Wilfred), Ryan is required to prove himself responsible by carting Kristen around for work. This prompts Ryan to leave the separation-anxiety-ridden Wilfred at a doggy daycare run by Ed Helms. As the show’s first major guest star, Helms is a fabulous choice as the possible “dog molesterer” Daryl; his straight-laced yet creepy fit perfectly with the ambivalent tone of show. After Ryan picks up Wilfred from daycare and realizes that he is traumatized, Wilfred explain how the daycare owner uses dogs’ love for peanut butter for his own dark purposes. After Ryan convinces himself that Wilfred is making it all up (Wilfred is probably a figment of his imagination, right?), Ryan overhears a child at the barber exclaim that her doll is “real to me”. This all leads to a ridiculously funny montage of Daryl preparing his peanut butter while Ryan runs to save Wilfred, cape and all. The resolution is utterly ambiguous, we never really know if Helms’ character really sexually abuses Wilfred, but that’s exactly the point: we should never know if Wilfred is real. It’s only important that Ryan thinks so.
Unfortunately, the major issue with the episode was that its 18 minute premise was shoved into a 22 minute episode. When the resolution to the main (and only) plot occurred and went to commercial, I honestly thought it was the end of the episode and almost got up–then I realized there were still six minutes left! To fill that time, the show threw together a bunch of disjointed scenes about Wilfred and Ryan starting a band and getting high. Stuff like this makes Louie (which airs after Wilfred) seem all the more commendable: if the plot doesn’t warrant a full episode, Louis C.K. pairs it with a short vignette that stands on it’s own rather than dragging it out. Every episode so far has ended with a brief 30-second clip of the pair smoking, which has largely been unfunny, but to hope to get this much time out of those scenes is downright lazy. Why couldn’t they have used this time to utilize Helms further, give a brief appearance to Ethan Suplee’s character, or even acknowledge the major plot twist from the end of last episode? The show gesture toward ongoing story lines and characters, but can they be considered ongoing if they’re ignored for entire episodes at a time? This practice already come back to bite Wilfred in the beginning of this episode, and I’m afraid of the plot summary devices we’ll see in the future if this trend continues.
“Acceptance” is a minor setback to be sure; it’s still funny and most viewers probably won’t care if those funny moments are flanked by dull filler material. But “Fear” raised the bar for the show, and hopefully it will get back in rhythm next week.
So I wavered a bit about posting anything for the Primetime Emmy nominations that came out today (the list of nominations, plus some great commentary via Screened.com here). On the one hand, it’s an important event that celebrates the achievements of scripted television, and when your favorite show is recognized it’s awesome! On the other, the nominations are lazy and based on reputation over performance, and when your favorite show is neglected you want to break something. And either way, I have zero interest in watching the awards show, unless someone paid me to live blog during the show (any takers?). For me, this year was of the “break something” variety, but I’ve managed to scatter some thoughts below.
The big story with the comedy nominations is the absence of Community recognition. Community had the strongest, boldest, and most creative season of comedy this year and got completely shut out in every category. Danny Pudi’s insanely good performance as Abed this season went completely unnoticed; his Cougar Town monologue in “Critical Film Studies” alone warranted a nod, and I probably would have watched the ceremony to just see that clip again. In fact, the nominations for supporting actors is the biggest joke of all, with four of the six nominations going to Modern Family, and one of the others going to Jon Cryer for Two and a Half Men, which didn’t even finish its season! If they tried to do that with Sheen, there would have been a riot. Not to mention the major snub of Nick Offerman in this category. For my own sanity, here is my revised list for supporting actor:
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation
Danny Pudi, Community
Jason Segel, How I Met Your Mother
Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation
Justin Kirk, Weeds
That feels better. Only one Modern Family nomination in this category. With 6 of the 12 supporting actor nominees from Modern Family, one has to wonder: 1) if that’s the only comedy the voters watch, and 2) who the hell is the “lead” actor? I know it’s a strong ensemble cast, but come on, at least split up the nominations! Ed O’Neill and Julie Bowen should go into the lead category in my book, but oh well.
There were a couple positives in the comedy department, mainly Parks and Recreation for outstanding comedy and Louis C.K. for outstanding actor, though C.K. will never win against Carrell in his final season. 30 Rock had a miserable season and all of the nominations are for past glory; The Office was slightly better, but still spotty. Some people are crying about Cougar Town being snubbed, but as someone who watched every week, I’m not heartbroken. Courtney Cox didn’t deserve a lead nomination, and its certainly not a top six comedy.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not up to date in the drama categories, but Mad Men gets way too much respect. Do we really need someone in every category? Robert Morse’s guest spots as Bert Cooper are really Emmy worthy? That said, it would be highway robbery if Elisabeth Moss doesn’t win outstanding actress; her performance last season was spectacular (see “The Suitcase”). Julianna Margulies is probably the front-runner though, with The Good Wife getting a ton of buzz. As a sci-fi / fantasy enthusiast, I’m excited to see Game of Thrones recognized (though I’m reading the books first, so no spoilers!), but the overall lack of sci-fi / fantasy recognition is disappointing. I guess I’m still sore about Buffy. The Friday Night Lights nominations were welcome surprises in its final season, but I doubt they’ll win anything. Unfortunately, that’s all I have for drama right now.
Care to share your thoughts? Feel free to comment below.
I think you can tell a lot about a show from its third episode. The pilot is carefully sculpted by the creator, and the second episode is the first after the season is ordered, so it often benefits from extra time and attention from the creator. By the time we get to the third episode, the writing burden moves toward the staff and the development time will fall inline with the “normal” episode cycle for the season. While the case of Wilfred is a bit different because it’s an imported series and has a shorter season, it will still be interesting to see where the middle season episodes take us.
And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised with last night’s episode, “Fear”. It successfully picked up on a lot of threads from the pilot, namely the weed-theft quest and Ryan’s missing wallet, and created some new threads without falling into the overplayed buddy comedy tropes found in the pilot. The episode was funny in ways not associated with Wilfred saying crazy things and then chasing a car, which was the major concern going into the series. Most importantly though, the show returns to an investment in Ryan’s psyche and drops intriguing hints about the main question of the series: what is Wilfred?
The episode opens with Ryan and Wilfred hiding out in the basement with their stolen weed, and Ryan experiences a sort of premonition / vision where his tooth falls out and he has baby feet. The scene loops around again, minus the trippy vision, then Ryan is confronted by Spencer, the motorcylcing neighbor from whom they stole weed. Ryan convinces Spencer that they were both part of a string of robberies, they become friendly, and porn-watching and strip club hopping ensues while Wilfred attempts to make Ryan confront Spencer. Ethan Suplee returns as Spencer, and thankfully he’s given more to do than scream and yell this episode. Suplee seemed to be hovering between channeling Randy, his dopey and sweet character from My Name is Earl, and the hotheaded biker from the pilot. He oscillates shot to shot even, making it difficult to read the character and his performances. Spencer was probably miscast as written, but Suplee is at his best while spitting ridiculous lines with a blank stare. The funniest moment in the episode was Spencer and Ryan’s exchange about Spencer’s transsexual father, so I’m guessing as the season progresses we’ll see a more defined version of Spencer to better fit Suplee’s abilities.
“Fear” plants a few disparate plot threads in the beginning of the episode, such as Mrs. Patel’s fear of dogs, Spencer’s former best friend, and Wilfred’s bone, then ties them together by the end of the episode. Many of the best comedies do this masterfully, Seinfeld and Arrested Development come to mind, so this is a welcome feature to the show. Hopefully Wilfred will continue to be attentive to this, as the previous two episodes felt flabby and unfocused compared to “Fear”. A returned attentiveness to Ryan’s psychic space was another welcome focus of the episode. Wilfred has a great line early in the episode where he asks Ryan: “You, me, what’s the difference?”. Indeed, the audience is encouraged to read Wilfred as a manifestation of Ryan’s id in this episode, and we’re beginning to explore what exactly is going on with Ryan to make him see Wilfred when no one else can. The series began with a look into Ryan’s disturbing head space, but wanders away in favor of slightly lighter comedy in previous episodes. “Fear” draws all this out, and when Wilfred drops off the spray paint can used to deface the Patels’ statue, we’re forced to wonder what the manifestation of Wilfred is making Ryan do, or if Wilfred is somehow acting on his own.
Overall, this was a great episode for Wilfred. Adding outside characters is both crucial and dangerous, but “Fear” successfully inserts Spencer into Ryan’s world without disrupting the dynamic. As long as the show keeps bringing in characters successfully while developing the ongoing mystery of Wilfred, the season looks to be shaping into excellent form.
Here is part two of Backseat Casting Parks and Recreation edition. For part one, where I speculate wildly about who should play Tammy 1, go here.
It’s rare that we get an entire summer to speculate on casting decisions for well-established shows, but this season has spawned quite a few openings. With one major role already filled (Ashton Kutcher to Two and a Half Men) and the other major vacancy still up in the air (the new Office boss), I thought it would be fun to speculate on two other fantastic roles that may be overlooked this summer. The superb season finale of Parks and Recreation has afforded us the opportunity to fantasize about who should play not just one but two new characters going into its fourth season. Below are my thoughts on who would make great additions to the already stellar cast.
The opportunity to run for mayor presented to Leslie during the closing minutes of season three all but guarantees that Leslie and the Parks department will finally meet the elusive Mayor Gunderson next season. Amy Poehler has already offered Bill Murray $250 to fill the shoes of Pawnee’s infamous Mayor, so who am I to disagree? Murray would be amazing. Another great choice, if he hadn’t just finished a stint as the interim Office boss, would have been Will Ferrell. Assuming that Bill passes on Amy’s tempting offer and Ferrell is unavailable, here are my alternatives to go head-to-head with Leslie Knope in the upcoming mayoral election:
Given Poehler’s continued ties to SNL and the expanding list of cast-members to visit Pawnee, a great (though obvious) choice would be the grizzled SNL vet Darrell Hammond. The king of political impersonations, Hammond has played virtually every major politician for the last 16 years, so he would be a master at playing the larger-than-Pawnee Mayor Gunderson. Just throw in a mid-western accent, trite talking points, and an unhealthy relationship with his dog Rufus and I’m set.
As a huge Arrested Development fan, it’s probably not surprising that my suggestions keep coming from the critically acclaimed comedy. In the case of Tambor though, I think the fit is perfect. Tambor was great as George Bluth Sr, the brilliantly foolish patriarch and businessman. As “Hey Now” Hank Kingsley from The Larry Sanders Show, Tambor played the charmingly dumb sidekick to Sanders’ late night host. With his deep soothing voice, dead pan delivery and vacant expressions, Tambor’s mayor would be an incredibly likeable and incompetent politician, the ideal mix for the leader of Pawnee.
Party Down alums Adam Scott and Megan Mullally have already made the trip to Pawnee, why not bring Ken Marino along as well? The often overlooked Marino deserves his own show really, but he would be a great candidate for Mayor. His stint on Veronica Mars as the wonderfully sleazy P.I. Vinnie Van Lowe shows he could play the immoral politician well; if Mayor Gunderson turns out to be corrupt, it would infuriate Leslie and her idealistic vision of government work. Marino’s absurdly straight delivery and willingness to humiliate himself on camera would be a blessing for the mockumentary format, and Marino’s interview bits would be hilarious. This makes Marino my top pick from my list.
Like Roseanne in my previous post, Stephen Colbert is my outside-the-box pick for Mayor Gunderson. When it comes to political satire, Colbert is the current king. Picture Stephen Colbert as he is on the Colbert Report. Now picture him as a mayor. Now have him debate Leslie Knope. Need I say more? Probably not, but I will anyway. Colbert plays an absurd politician every night for his show, and the Colbert from the Report is just the right kind of outlandish fool for Pawnee. I see Colbert’s Gunderson as another Sweetums shill, slipping in product placements during colorful speeches, interviews and debates, while giving Leslie and the Parks department hell in private. If that’s the route the writers decide to take, no one would be better than Colbert.
So there you have it. Love anyone from my list? Have the perfect person in mind? Think Mayor Gunderson should be played by Nick Offerman in a wig? Let me know in the comments below!