Tag Archives: NBC

Half-Hour TV for the End of the World (Or Not)

12 Mar

lastmankimmy

Apparently, March is a good month for TV about people who believe themselves to be the last humans alive after the apocalypse—only to discover they’re incorrect. The Last Man on Earth premiered last Sunday with back-to-back episodes on Fox; Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt dropped a complete thirteen-episode season on Netflix four days later. Is this some kind of cultural neurosis we’ve just now uncovered? We’re, what, somehow worried that the Doomsday Preppers bunker we’re building in the backyard might just be a distraction from reality? Or that we (and only we, as individuals) are going to survive the apocalypse we suddenly seem pretty interested in? It feels like a weird coincidence, is all I’m saying.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is terrific. It immediately feels like a classic, the kind of thing that’s going to fold itself seamlessly and completely into the cultural landscape—but then, it’s possible that anything that sounds like Tina Fey automatically sounds like a classic to us now. (Though Kimmy is a thousand times more sure-footed than 30 Rock was in the beginning, or—and I say this with deep affection—possibly ever.) It’s sharp and agile and, at the same time, incredibly solid: dense with spot-on characterization, dense with good jokes, dense with the confidence of knowing exactly what it’s doing.

Kimmy was originally developed for NBC, but ended up on Netflix, which pretty much everybody agrees was the best-case scenario all around. Kimmy is not a network show: it’s very weird and very dark in places, in a way that might not exactly set off the network censors’ sirens, but also might make them feel a bit queasy. It’s also not the kind of thing that might do well on cable: ironically, it’s maybe too sunny, too pro-social, not cynical enough (Kimmy Schmidt is, after all, unbreakable—which is so not what cable is doing these days). But Netflix, which is building a reputation on shows like Orange is the New Black? That’s a good match. And with the freedom from the network system, Kimmy feels like mature work from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock: there’s no ramping-up period, no hunt for what the show is and what it wants to say. It’s immediately funny and immediately clear, and it’s fully formed in a way that week-to-week shows sometimes struggle with.

The Last Man on Earth is also good, and part of its appeal is that it exists at all. The fact that something so strange and abstract could get made, and convince Fox to advertise it, and actually get some ratings, feels improbable and amazing in a world where this year’s Academy Award-winning Best Actress is also—as CBS constantly and gleefully reminds us—the star of the new CSI: Cyber. In that kind of landscape, who wants to go in and pitch a silly, yet expensively shot and production-intensive, sitcom about solitude and the human condition?

Amazingly, Last Man pulls it off, so far. Tonally, it’s like Kimmy Schmidt‘s stoner pal: Kimmy is bright and quick and features Ellie Kemper ruling New York City in light-up hi-tops; Last Man is vast and full of the silence and the color palette of post-apocalyptic Tucson, and some of its jokes a) take awhile and b) involve pick-up trucks full of bowling balls. (A surprising number of the jokes on Last Man revolve around balls of the sports-playing variety, actually. You’ll see.)

What both shows have in common is that they require, and deliver, exceptional performances: Kimmy Schmidt because Kimmy could so easily turn grating; Last Man because, well, there’s nobody else. This is career-making stuff from Ellie Kemper, who commits to Kimmy’s cheerfulness (I never realized before how big her mouth is) but also to a certain steeliness and to the shadow of an incredibly sad past. We’ve seen wide-eyed wonder from her before (Bridesmaids), but this is better: a character rather than a stereotype, and therefore a real opportunity for her as an actor. She’s a tremendously physical performer, and makes it look like she’s not even trying. Forte is in a slightly different position; nobody doubts his talent, but nobody’s had a TV project that grooved with his goofy, slightly poignant sensibility, either—which is, I think we can presume, why he wrote and produced Last Man. It was a good call: capturing the humor of being the last man on Earth, and the total and utter tragedy of the exact same thing, is just the kind of thing a weird, kind of sad guy can pull off. A show that just followed Phil Miller around, Wall-E-style, wouldn’t be the worst thing.

Except. Phil Miller may be the last man on Earth, but it turns out he isn’t the last human on Earth. The last moments of the pilot introduced Kristen Schaal as another survivor; episode three introduced yet another, played by January Jones. I’m just going to say it: this is a LOT of Kristen Schaal. I tend to think she’s funny, but she’s an acquired taste for a lot of people—and as her first live-action leading role, I think this show is going to require more from her than we’ve seen before. I hope she’s able to shed some of the ironic distance she’s built a career on, and invest in the connection that Carol is going to need to be funny and pathetic rather than just plain irritating. That said, the third episode was very good and planted the seeds for some fun sitcom drama in the weeks to come. It’s early yet, but I think greatness—or at least high-quality originality—is at least a possibility there.

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You’ll thank me later

27 Oct

I am what you’d call a TV imperialist. Like any good empire-builder, it’s my mission to spread the glory of my riches to those who have no desire to receive them (or, you see, to those who don’t know what they’re missing! We will be greeted as liberators!)—I’m forever recommending shows to people, trying to coax them onto my favorite sections of Hulu and threatening to buy them whole seasons of my favorite shows, hoping they’ll want to talk about it. I pretend it’s for their benefit, but mostly it’s because I like creating new fans. I like watching people enjoy something they wouldn’t have known about otherwise. I like sharing stories.

Today, in the spirit of spreading democracy the joy of good TV, I present two of my favorite television shows—shows that you would love, whoever you are, but probably are not already watching. Don’t make me send you my DVDs (Hey, man, shipping is expensive).

Bones

Thursdays, 8 p.m., FOX; perpetual reruns on TNT

Bones

Premise: A socially awkward forensic anthropologist and her hottie FBI partner solve murders using the victims’ skeletons. Grossness, hilarity, and crazy sexual tension ensue.

Warning: Statistically, if you begin to watch this show, you will not stop. You will tell yourself that it is nonsensical, or inconsistent, or that you don’t really care about these characters, or that you’re going to do something else after just one more, but it will not matter. You will have discovered that murder and forensic anthropology are, in fact, made of puppies and rainbows and light, and you will be sucked in for good. And it will be a happy, happy day.

The thing is, you will not be wrong about those first things—Bones has been, on various occasions, nonsensical and inconsistent and a variety of other unpleasant things. Sometimes it still is, but it doesn’t matter: in its fifth season, this show may actually be the happiest show on television, and it’s still getting better. It’s funnier and gutsier and weirder and sweeter and maybe a bit smarter than it’s ever been, and how many shows can say that?

The secret of Bones is all in the cast—the story revolves around Booth (David Boreanaz) and Brennan (the grossly underrated Emily Deschanel), and they are delightful together, but the concentric circles of well-cast supporting characters, from the lab crew to Brennan’s family of (mostly) well-meaning convicts, are what make every episode feel like all of your favorite people are coming together for Thanksgiving dinner. This is the power of a great ensemble: you will love these people, and they will make bad TV ideas seem like good TV ideas just by showing up.  Crazy, apparently ill-advised plot points will arise (Remember the time Booth and Brennan went undercover with the circus as a Russian knife-throwing act? Remember the time Booth shot the head off an animatronic clown, and Stephen Fry became his therapist? Remember the time they did an alternate-universe episode where Booth and Brennan were married and owned a bar where a murder took place? I do!), and you will just think to yourself, “I did not know how incomplete my life was without that moment.”

How to watch it: Bones is currently in its fifth season; all previous seasons are available on DVD. TNT also runs constant reruns, and rumor has it that FOX will be rerunning it on Fridays this winter, as well. Finally, this isn’t a heavily serialized show—watching it in order is helpful, but not necessary. Cherry-pick at will.

Parks and Recreation

Thursdays, 8:30 p.m., NBC; Hulu

parks and rec

Premise: An ambitious and sometimes oblivious public servant (Leslie Knope, played by Amy Poehler) attempts to do good works (among other things, turn a huge dirt pit into a city park) in Pawnee, Indiana.

This show got off on the wrong foot in so many ways. The first few episodes were a mess—the characters were vague, the dialogue was clearly Office dialogue that didn’t make the cut, and nobody seemed to take Poehler’s comic voice into account. Disaster seemed imminent.

It’s infinitely, unspeakably better now—one of my favorite shows, and WAY funnier than the current season of The Office, if you must know. Summer was obviously kind to Greg Daniels and Friends; they’ve gotten a handle on their characters, Leslie Knope (best government worker name ever, yes?) no longer speaks with Michael Scott’s cast-off dialogue, and they’ve figured out what to do with Rashida Jones as Ann, the “normal” girl in this story. Even better, they made Chris Pratt a regular as Ann’s freeloader ex-boyfriend, who sometimes lives under a tarp in the pit (“Yeah, the hardest part is keeping my suit pressed”)—he’s completely hilarious. It’s light, it’s quick, and it’s really, really funny; if you like awkward humor but find The Office painful, try Parks and Recreation instead.

How to watch it: P&R had one previous season of six episodes; it’s on DVD, but doesn’t seem to exist anywhere (legally) online. In any case, only the last two or three episodes are worth really watching (the one where Leslie takes Ann as her date to an awards ceremony is, however, pretty priceless). The most recent episodes of the current season are on Hulu and NBC.com.