Best of the Decade

While of course I’ll write a post about what caught my eye this year, I wanted to take some time to highlight what were the best performances, movies, or stretch of movies over the past decade.  What do we call this decade? Is this the teens? Does that mean we’re about to embark on the roaring 20s again?

Though political machinations have made the last three years feel like they were a decade in their own right, entertainment since 2010 has really seen a lot of change: three Tonight Show hosts, two Late Night hosts, two different Spiders-Man, nearly every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, two different Batmen, the rise and fall (and rise?) of the DC Comics movies franchise, the rise and fall and rise and fall of Ben Affleck, Netflix becoming the most powerful player in the TV landscape, and – oh yeah – the return of actual Star Wars movies to theaters. Suffice it to say, it’s been a memorable decade. Let’s take a look and see what the true highlights were, shall we?  (Note: As always, this is an extremely personal list. You’ll notice no mention of “sitcoms” created by Lena Dunham, nor any shows about and/or containing dragons, to name a few. Glad if others enjoyed them, but they are definitely not for me.)

Best: New “Star Wars” Movies! In 2005, I went to see the first showing of “Revenge of the Sith” in London with my brother and some friends from college. I then saw it six more times in the theater, because it was billed as the final Star Wars movie.  So imagine my shock in 2012 when Disney purchased Lucasfilm and promised to release more movies. “The Force Awakens” was amazing, “Rogue One” was inspiring, and then “The Last Jedi” and “Solo” left me wanting. Also worth mentioning the fantastic “Rebels” animated series here.

Best (for a while): The McConnaissance: Between his bonkers cameo in “Wolf of Wall Street,” his star-making turn in “Dallas Buyers Club,” and the one-two punch of him and Woody Harrelson in “True Detective,” McConaughey could do no wrong.  And then, of course, he made a movie in which he plays a fisherman in a video game. And “Interstellar.” No good thing lasts. 

Best: Sam Rockwell: “The Way, Way Back” is an underrated gem, and though he was primarily known as merely a character actor for much of the decade, Rockwell scored back-to-back Oscar noms (and a win) for his turns his “Three Billboards” and “Vice.” 

Best: The Marvel Movies: Imagine introducing Thor, and Captain America, and Black Panther, and (the best version of) Spider-Man, and Captain Marvel…and then also making several movies wherein they team up? And having each of those movies make hundreds of millions of dollars, and be entertaining (“Thor 2” excepted)? It’s a stunning achievement that so many studios tried to copy (DC and Sony tried to make cinematic universes out of Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman and Spider-Man/Sinister Six, and Universal wanted to make a Dark Universe out of its horror movie monsters).  It’s an incredible accomplishment. 

Mixed Bag: Other Comic Book Movies: “X-Men” movies were both great (“Days of Future Past,” “First Class”) and terrible (“Dark Phoenix,” “Apocalypse”); their spin-offs were good (“Logan,” “Deadpool”); and some of the DC Universe movies were enjoyable (“Joker,” “Wonder Woman,” “Man of Steel”) while others (“Justice League,” “Batman v. Superman,” “Aquaman”) were what this critic might call “atrosh.”

Best: Netflix Series: “Master of None.” “GLOW.” “Love.” “Russian Doll.” “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” “Black Mirror.” Both iterations of “Wet Hot American Summer.” And dozens more. It’s no wonder that Disney+ and Apple+ wanted in on the streaming action. 

Worst: Most Reboots and Remakes: Not everyone needed to know about the continuing adventures of the Tanner Family (“Fuller House”) or “Will and Grace.”  Similarly, did we need another “Magnum, P.I.,” another “MacGyver,” or another “Hawaii 5-0?” 

Best: Zoe Kazan: “Ruby Sparks” was brilliant, her work in “Olive Kitteridge” was Emmy nominated, I loved her on “The Deuce,” and then she goes and makes “The Big Sick,” which was the best movie of the year in 2017. (I also *loved* “What If” with her and Daniel Radcliffe.)

Best: Michael Keaton: from getting a scene-stealing turn in “The Other Guys,” to being a great MCU villain in “Spider-Man,” to “Spotlight” and “Birdman,” and even “The Founder,” Keaton put together an incredible decade.

Best: Jake Gyllenhaal: What a weird decade. He moved on from chasing box-office glory (“Day After Tomorrow,” “Prince of Persia”) to really interesting artsy territory (and, you know, “Spider-Man: Far From Home”). His work in “Wildlife,” “Stronger,” “Everest,” “Southpaw,” “End of Watch,” “Nightcrawler,” and “Source Code” show an actor who is hitting his stride.

Best: Bradley Cooper aka Cooper Bradley: “Silver Linings Playbook.” “American Hustle.” Rocket Raccoon. “American Sniper.” “Limitless.” All great. And then he gives us the best movie of last year, “A Star Is Born.”

Worst: Blah Origin Stories: How many “Robin Hood” movies did we need? Surely not the two we got. (Bonus points if you remember both “Robin Hood” movies this decade. One had Russell Crowe!)

Best: Quality Sitcoms: “Happy Endings,” “The Good Place,” “Suburgatory,” “New Girl,” “Brooklyn 99,” most of “Parks and Rec,” most of “Community,” “Superstore,” “Silicon Valley,” the best (i.e. non-first season) of “Cougar Town,” and “Veep” really set a high bar for laugh riots.

Best: Bill Hader: His work on SNL and in “Trainwreck,” were great, and then he went and made “Barry” into one of HBO’s best shows in years.

Best: Brie Larson: Also great in “Trainwreck,” plus solid work to garner an Oscar in “Room,” and then an incredible MCU debut with “Captain Marvel.” Even her work in “21 Jump Street” was great!

Worst: Unnecessary Sequels: The “Hangover” Sequels totally sully the good work of the first one. “Wreck-It Ralph 2” was clearly a cash grab. “Independence Day: 2” might be the biggest drop-off in quality from one film to the next since…well, “Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom.”

Worst: No National Treasure 3?
I mean, what are we even doing here then? 

Worst: Seriously? They made a TV show…musical….called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? Oy. Hard pass.

Best: Some Reboots (When done properly): “Creed” and “Jurassic World” put oomph back into their respective franchises (though their sequels did not continue the upward momentum).

Best: Guilty Pleasures: “This is Us” reliably tugs on the heart strings every week. “Hart of Dixie” – a show about Zoe Hart, a City doctor who became a small town physician – lasted four majestic seasons. “Girl Meets World” – while admittedly a cash grab – finally answered what happened to Mr. Turner. And “The Challenge” produced a lot of memorable drama, and a number of Johnny Bananas and Cara Maria wins.

Worst: Seriously?? When you watch award shows and things like “Green Book,” “The Shape of Water,” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” win awards but Amy Poehler never got an Emmy for Leslie Knope, you know that…well I guess that award shows are meaningless!

Best: Amy Adams: Her role in “Arrival” alone probably gets her on this list, but also her work in “Sharp Objects,” “American Hustle,” “Her,” “The Master,” “The Muppets,” and “The Fighter.”

Best: Don Cheadle: His work on “House of Lies,” “Black Monday,” and as Rhodey in the MCU made it a fine decade for the actor. Speaking of “House of Lies…”

Best: Kristen Bell: Her work on “House of Lies,” “Veronica Mars,” “The Good Place,” and brief cameos on “Parks and Rec” moved Bell to the A-list.

Best: Rami Malek: His work on “Mr. Robot” (even when the show’s quality has waned) is fantastic, and when you’ve won an Oscar and an Emmy in the same decade, you’re obviously doing something right.

Best: Other Streamers: Disney+ only just started but it already has a content library (MCU/Star Wars/Old Disney) that will sate me for weeks on end; Amazon Prime and Hulu had quality offerings (“The Handmaid’s Tale” being the best of the lot); and even Yahoo rescued “Community” for its last season.

Best: HBO dramas: “The Leftovers” – What an amazing three-season journey the Garvey/Durst clan took us on. “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Deuce” were the network at its best. And the aforementioned first-season of “True Detective” was sublime. And I may be one of the only ones left, but I’m still a huge “Westworld” fan.

Best movie of each year of the decade:
2010: The Social Network
2011: Drive (this year was hardest for me to choose from of the decade, easily; I also loved 10 Years, Planet of the Apes, First Class, the first Captain America, and more.)
2012: Avengers
2013: Prisoners
2014: Lego Movie
2015: Force Awakens
2016: Arrival
2017: The Big Sick
2018: A Star is Born
2019: Avengers Endgame

Best: This Blog!: Because it gives me a reason – frequently – to thank you for reading my rambling, nonsensical thoughts on the entertainment industry.

What’s the Endgame?, “This is Us” Edition

I wrote the other day that shows have theses, or at least they’re generally trying to say something. Now, while I have friends who might say that all television shows (and movies, and plays) just boil down to characters relating to each other, I think that’s a bit reductive. I’m aware that not every show has a point to make: I doubt the creators of, say, Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers were intent on exploring sibling dynamics complicated by professional work environs. At the same time, I think most good shows serve not just to entertain, but also to say something about the culture. My fiancee and I are doing a re-watch of The Sopranos, and yes, sure, it’s an entertaining show about a mafioso and his crimes. But it’s also a show that is trying to answer the question, “To whom does one have more loyalty, a crime family or a nuclear family?” Similarly, I love Parks and Recreation, but it’s not simply a workplace comedy; rather, it was very clearly born from an idea about the role of government. Creator Mike Schur said as much to Vulture:

“And then there were a couple of other things, the biggest of which I think obviously is that at the time Greg and I were developing the show around the summer of 2008, the world economy was collapsing around us, the McCain/Obama campaign was in full swing, and it just became very clear that no matter what happened, the role of government was going to be very important in people’s lives. And the problem at the time was the government was being discussed in this extremely macro, kind of abstract way where it was about “Should Lehman Brothers be allowed to fail?” “Should the government be in the position of guaranteeing tranches of subprime mortgage loans from Fannie Mae?” It was just this incredibly complex thing, so our discussions of the situation resulted in us realizing that the way that people actually interact with their government is not through following the intricacies of the Federal Reserve and Ben Bernanke and stuff like that – not that that doesn’t affect people, of course it does, and in a serious way – but the actual way that people interact with their government is when they get a parking ticket, or when they need a new garbage can because the old one broke, or when they need a new stop sign put in, or when they need a swing fixed. So that just seemed like a way to say look, the world is very complicated, and the role of government is very complicated in people’s lives, and there might be a fun way to say “When push comes to shove, your local government is more important to you in many ways – not in all ways, but in many ways – than the national government is.” So that was sort of the genesis of the show – thinking about the different ways that people interact with the government and how the government affects them, then coupling that with the idea of presenting a character who believed you could actually affect change one person at a time, or one little moment at a time, through an optimistic worldview.”

So what does this have to do with This is Us? Well, if shows have theses, I think their finales – for better or worse – are attempts to prove those theses, or to answer questions raised by them. Some shows’ finales also have to do the work of resolving actual narrative questions: will any of the Oceanic 815 make it off the island (LOST)?; will Kevin Garvey or Nora Durst experience another sudden departure (The Leftovers)?; will the show actually be about something (Seinfeld)?

To understand where a show might end, it’s helpful to figure out what it’s trying to say. (Very) long pre-amble aside, This is Us already gave away the game in Season one. Kevin explains to his nieces what he thinks his play is about, but really, he’s explaining what This is Us is about:

“I painted this because I felt like the play was about life, you know, and life is full of color and we each get to come along and we add our own color to the painting, you know? And even though it’s not very big – – the painting – – you sort of have to figure that it goes on forever, you know, in each direction? So, like, to infinity, you know. ‘Cause that’s kinda like life. It’s really crazy, if you think about it, that a hundred years ago some guy that I never met came to this country with a suitcase. He has a son, who has a son, who has me. So at first when I was painting I was thinking, you know, maybe that was that guy’s part of the painting and then down here that’s my part of the painting. And then I started to think… well… what if we’re all in the painting… everywhere? And what if we’re in the painting before we’re born? What if we’re in it after we die? And these colors that we keep adding, they just keep getting added on top of one another, ’til eventually we’re not even different colors anymore. We’re just… one thing. One painting. My dad, he’s not with us anymore. He’s not alive… but he’s with us. He’s with me every day. It all just sort of fits somehow, even if you don’t understand how yet. People will die in our lives – – people that we love. In the future. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe years from now. I mean, it’s kind of beautiful, right, if you think about it, the fact that just because someone dies, just because you can’t see them or talk to them anymore, it doesn’t mean they’re not still in the painting. I think maybe that’s the point of the whole thing. There’s no dying. There’s no ‘You’ or ‘Me’ or ‘Them.’ It’s just ‘Us.’ And this sloppy, wild, colorful, magical thing that has no beginning, has no end, it’s right here. I think it’s us.”

– Kevin Pearson

That’s it right there. The show can give us changes in circumstances (Randall goes from businessman to local politician; Kevin goes from sitcom star to indie actor and documentarian; Kate goes from….personal assistant? to Adele-a-gram? (her jobs always seemed the least clearly defined)). But that’s how it can also adapt to, say, adding characters like Deja or, in this season, Malik and Cassidy. What’s the end of This is Us? Well, there is no end, according to Kevin. It’ll be Randall’s daughters and Kate’s son and Kevin’s son continuing the Pearson lineage, and then their children. Each episode is just one part of the painting. I would bet that at some episode in the future, they’ll replay Kevin’s speech. I’ll also bet that, if you asked the creators of the show what its point is, what it is really trying to say, it’s that family is all about generations, both those that have come before and progeny.

But maybe this is an Occam’s razor situation. Maybe things are more clear when we take a step back and look at the show’s title. LOST? Was about people who were stranded on an island, but also empty spiritually. The Sopranos? About the dual loyalties to the Soprano crew and the Soprano family. How I Met Your Mother? Well, you’d *think* it would be about how someone met his children’s mother – except it really was about meeting Aunt Robin, which to this day bothers me. So what does This is Us want us to see? Exactly what Kevin is saying – that we’re all in the painting, together. It’s a bit schmaltzy, and certainly befits a network drama, but I appreciate a show that announces what it’s about in season one and keeps to its mandate.

I may look at other shows in the future and examine what (I think) their theses are. Hopefully their characters will also give a lengthy speech telling me exactly what it is; that makes things a lot easier. Thanks, Kevin.

Power Dynamics and Orange is the New Black

“…it’s my hypothesis that the individual is not a pre-given entity which is seized on by the exercise of power. The individual, with his identity and characteristics, is the product of a relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces.” – Michel Foucault

When I was a junior in college*, I took a class about Michel Foucault’s philosophy. In the class, we talked a lot about Foucault’s understanding of power. Now, I may be boiling it down to a level to which it was not intended, but a general thesis was that power does not exist solely in a vacuum; rather, power is relational. Someone can be quite “powerful” socially (i.e. a head of government, or business, or medicine), but power is redefined in every context. Who has the power when, say, an Uber driver performing his livery of a CEO? Well, in that context, the CEO has the power to influence the driver to drop her off at the correct locatio…but the Uber driver also has power, and could ostensibly bring someone to some remote location. A person can be a high-powered Wall Street I-banker…and still be mugged by a criminal who, in that instance, has all upper hand. Writ large, the banker has more societal capital, but in that specific instance, it’s the mugger who has the power. As Foucault himself said, “Power is relations; power is not a thing, it is a relationship between two individuals… such that one can direct the behavior of another or determine the behavior of another.”

*What a phrase! 15 years ago, too.

So, what does this have to do with Orange is the new Black? I’ll admit, before my fiancee and I chose to stream all seven seasons recently, it was not a show I was eager to watch. But watch we did, and the show cast something of a spell over us, especially the first few seasons. But with the change of every season, I kept coming back to Foucault. It’s the best example of ever-shifting power dynamics I think I’ve seen on television.

Take, for instance, Aleida. She is released from prison at the end of season four, and visits her daughter, Daya, in season six. While there, she is yelled at by prison guards, some of whom used to boss her around when she was an inmate. In fact, her later beau, Hopper, has to remind one of the guards that “she isn’t an inmate anymore.” The players remain the same, but the situation has changed.

Or, think about Vause and McCullough. McCullough was one of the guards traumatized during the riot, but more importantly, she was subjected to the prisoners’ behavior. Then, she becomes a guard again in Max, and compels Vause to bring phones in for her. Then they start a romantic relationship – which Vause ends – and McCullough, playing her last card, requests Vause be transferred to Ohio. It’s a see-saw: Vause controls the romantic aspects, McCullough then institutes repercussions in Vause’s lifestyle. Again, Fouculat: “Between every point of a social body between a man and a woman, between the members of a family, between a master and his pupil, between every one who knows and every one who does not, there exist relations of power.” The dynamic of guards and prisoners – especially when it involved romantic relationships, like Vause and McCullough; Hopper and Aleida; or the OG pair, Bennett and Daya – perfectly codify Foucault’s thesis.

Even the way Red treated Chapman is a good reminder of power dynamics. Chapman insults Red’s food, Red attempts to starve her out, and yet later, when torturing Piscatella, Red needs Chapman’s help. The dynamics switched.

Perhaps a better example is with Taystee and Tamika. Taystee was Tamika’s supervisor at Storky’s before she went to prison; Ward became a CO, and then the warden, of Litchfield Max. So Taystee could boss Tamika around when they were at Storky’s…and then Ward could do the same to Taystee years later. Same people, completely inverted power relationship.

Maybe the best example if between Fig and Caputo. The show starts out with Caputo as Fig’s underling. Once he gets incriminating information on her, he pulls a literal power play in his office, making her perform a demeaning task to attempt to save her job. Caputo rises up the ranks at Litchfield and with MCC, but enters into a romantic relationship with Fig. Then, in the final season, when Caputo is – as he puts it – #MeToo’d, he is stripped of much of his power (he had already gone from warden to community college professor to prison volunteer), and Fig – by being the sole breadwinner – has the run of the household.

I also thought about Foucault during the fifth-season prison riot. One of his more famous quotes is, ” “Where there is power, there is resistance.” It’s hard to think of a more apt description for what inspired the riotous actions of the Litchfield camp – the guards ran amok in season four, and finally the resistance built up to a point that the prisoners could no longer abide the terrible conditions.

Prisoners running the camp, and guards begging for their lives – a role-reversal.

And the riot is also when a lot of the structure eroded – leaving dynamics to shift drastically. Beyond the guards being subservient to the prisoners (especially), the traditional roles (medical/pharmaceutical, food service) are left in flux, meaning prisoners have to assume roles otherwise previously taken by those in power. Morello, for instance, becomes the in-house psychiatrist: all of a sudden, she has power over Suzanne’s well-being, because she can (and does) take her off her meds.

At the end of the day, I don’t think Jenji Kohan and company specifically had Michel Foucault in mind when they were creating the show. And I think nearly every prison show or movie has this underlying current, moreso when there are notorious interactions between prisoners and guards. I won’t get into things like the Stanford prison experiment, or shows set in prison where power is solely equated with violence (I’m looking in your direction, “Oz.”) But at least examining “OITNB” through this critical lens, it gives the show a general mission statement. The last few seasons – well – stunk for me, mostly because the show (I felt) lost its way. There were allusions to recidivism and corruption in government, but there was not necessarily a thesis the show reliably rested upon. So, I’ve grafted my hazily-remembered college philosophical ramblings onto it and, you know what? I realize, in retrospect, it made the show more enjoyable.

Maybe in the end, the viewer has all the power.

TV Musings, or: Where Are We Going? And Where Have We Been?

I was watching the – dreadful – Emmys on Sunday, and while texting/tweeting with others during the show, a few questions came up from people (i.e. my mom): 1) What even is “Fleabag”? 2) Seriously, how could you not give JLD a lifetime achievement award? 3) Seriously, “Game of Thrones” again? 4) Who in their right mind thinks Mrs. Maisel is marvelous? (Questions 2 and 4 were mine.) But, taking a broader view, I thought about how much TV has changed, not just in the last several years, but over the course of my life.

I wrote my sixth-grade (!) thesis about the history of television. The majority dealt with the history of broadcast networks (including the long-gone Dumont network and the rise of Fox as the “fourth” network), the introduction of color TVs and the remote control, and the history of the cathode-ray tube as invented by Farnsworth. My report pre-dated channels like UPN, the WB, and their amalgamation, the CW. If it had a general point, other than to ruminate on the creation of classic TV – from “I Love Lucy” to “All in the Family” to what was the most important show to sixth-grade JJ, “Beverly Hills, 90210” – it was that cable had made TV a more niche medium. You had a channel just for sports. A channel, in theory, just for music (though even then there were complaints that “MTV doesn’t play music anymore!”). A channel for news. etc. Channels had distinct identities, and even finding what was on proved a chore: I had to go to the TV guide channel and wait for it to scroll to see what was on, and what was coming up next:

You knew a channel by its number as much as by its name: NBC in my house was “four,” and if you woke me up at 3 a.m. tonight I could still tell you that the important channels at the time were:

2 – CBS; 4 – NBC; 5 – Fox; 7 – ABC; 11 – WPIX; 13 – PBS; 14 – HBO; 15 – TNT; 20 – MSG; 22 – MTV; 24 – USA; 30 – Nickelodeon (later switched with Lifetime to 6!); 45 – TBS.

Big broadcast shows still existed: “ER” pulled in 20-30 million viewers, and shows like “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” and – jeez – even “Home Improvement” regularly got audiences that would be considered massive by today’s standards. Even among my friends, shows like the MTV VMAs, The Real World, and The Simpsons were appointment television.

It was a big deal and cultural shift when HBO started making their own shows, even if some efforts (“Dream On”) weren’t quite as good as others (“Oz,” “The Larry Sanders Show”). It became a much, much bigger deal when HBO released a genuine Hall of Fame show in “The Sopranos,” and followed it up with other hits like “Sex and the City.” For the most part, people were watching, and watching on the same night, at the same time. The idea of a “water cooler” show still existed. In fact, so many nights were spent on the phone with someone – even during the commercials! – talking about what we just saw/what we expected to happen.

My house got a Tivo in 2000 or 2001, and I remember thinking that was a game-changer: the idea that we could pause live TV, or watch something later, was naturally going to fragment viewing. For the most part, you knew people would have watched the show when it was actually on, but it was a way to make sure you never missed an episode. This might be apocryphal, but there was a well-known theory that even die-hard fans only watched three out of every four episodes of a show, so the idea of full serialization was impossible, because everyone would be missing key plot details at some point.

When I went off to college, we didn’t get cable in my freshman dorm, so I relied on rabbit ears. Luckily, I was one of the only people on my hall with a TV, and so certain nights meant a revolving door: Wednesdays at 8:00 was “Dawson’s Creek,” and that crew left so that the 9:00 people were in time for “The West Wing.” Even after my first year, when we got cable again, and when I was in law school and got a DVR, things remained pretty stable. Sure, there were more channels every year, and a glut of good programming, but the cream seemed to rise to the top, and touchstone moments like “The Sopranos” finale resonated culturally.

In my inexpert opinion, things changed dramatically starting around 2007. For one, you had the writers’ strike: all of a sudden, ratings plummeted, and they never really recovered. Writers also struck partly because they wanted residuals to streaming, something that hadn’t been contemplated in prior agreements (even DVD sales weren’t adequately addressed, and DVDs were on their way out). And sure, cable had by this point exploded: from 20 channels to 200. What began as HBO had now grown to HBO2, HBO3, HBO West, etc. But it seemed that networks were chasing the same thing over and over again: the new “LOST” (remember shows like “Flashforward” and “The Event” and “The Nine” and “Journeyman”?), the new “West Wing” (yeesh, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”), etc. Meanwhile, shows that were low-rated but high in quality (“Parks and Rec,” “Community,” “Trophy Wife,” “Happy Endings”) were always on the verge of cancellation. Even “How I Met Your Mother,” which miraculously lasted eight seasons, was a “bubble” show after its second and third seasons. Shows that would at one time have been broad hits (think “My Name is Earl”) were pulled. And shows that started hot out of the gate were often renewed and then saw ratings drop precipitously for ensuing seasons, once the magic had worn off: “My Name is Earl,” “Prison Break” (both 2005 debuts), even yes, “LOST” (huge hit in 2004, won the Emmy for Best Drama in 2005, and then watched the audience dwindle each successive year).

There was, as is often the case in the entertainment industry, further copycatting: Tony Soprano begat Walter White and Don Draper and anti-heroes galore. There was also panic – I vividly remember NBC having shows with 0.x ratings, a far fall from “Must-See TV.” True story: they tried to have Ryan Murphy essentially rescue the network with “The New Normal.” How’d that work out? (As a complete aside, NBC has a great Thursday one-two punch currently in “Superstore” and “The Good Place” and I encourage everyone to watch both!)

Without mentioning the 800-pound gorilla in the room that is Netflix quite yet, you can see why the idea of limited series and seasons (say, four at most) is appealing, and why Netflix is cancelling or ending shows so early. I think about a show like “Love,” and while three seasons feels short, I’m glad they got to tell their ending. “Glow” will finish after four; same with “The Good Place.” In a way, it’s nice to know these shows will get closure; it’s just an interesting world where people don’t want to invest in a show if it’s going to get cancelled (again, see “Flashforward” or “The Event” or – gosh, remember “Revolution”?), and yet those shows won’t get renewed without some base audience. I remember being really into “Falling Skies” starting in 2012, while commercials for it were everywhere. I hung around for all five seasons, but by the start of the second season, unless you were a die-hard, you’d have no way of knowing it’s on (thanks, TNT, for spending more time marketing “Franklin & Bash” and “Rizzoli & Isles”). And it’s an argument you hear again and again, especially about Netflix: it’s a better business model to attract new subscribers and retain old ones with new, attention-grabbing shows than to renew something that will only have an audience decrease. (This of course says nothing of artificially keeping prices down, as most shows usually grow more expensive – traditionally this was as they would also obtain syndication rights at a magical 100 episodes).

And yes, now streaming is a dominant form of entertainment – the aforementioned “Fleabag” is an Amazon show, and Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon shows like “Mozart in the Jungle,” “Transparent,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Orange is the New Black,” “House of Cards,” “Master of None,” and others have all been nominated for or won several Emmys and awards of that ilk. It is a binge-watch world: I loved “Russian Doll” but watched it over a 36-hour period; same with “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,” “GLOW,” and even both seasons of “Master of None.” By comparison, I watched “Seinfeld” for years. It’s also a model that’s at odds with itself: Netflix (for now, anyway) has myriad episodes of “The Office” in its library, but if “The Office” had been a Netflix show from the jump, it might have only been two short seasons, like its British originator. The last two weeks have been non-stop “Friends” celebrations (25th anniversaries are evidently quite meaningful to fans of the Central Perk frequenters), but does “Friends” get to 200+ episodes these days if it aired on a streamer or channel?

TV has often been a swing-and-miss medium: networks would order dozens of pilots, take its best few to series, and promote the hell out of them hoping that a nine- or 13-episode order would result in a new hit. But shows like “Seinfeld” wouldn’t have time to grow in today’s culture: it’d be DOA, and wouldn’t be given the two or three seasons it needed to find itself. Shows now have to be perfect right out of the gate. Even if they keep up that consistency, they’ll get less and less promotion, and likely will be put out to pasture by season four. There’s a great argument to be made for ending a show too early rather than too late (see: season 3 of “LOST” for what happens when a serialized drama treads water). And shows do now have the ability to be “rescued” by a streamer – cancel it on, say, NBC, and then hope that Hulu jumps in for an additional order. (See for instance something like “The Mindy Project.”) But from my viewpoint, we now have a few key problems:

  • Shows have to be perfect immediately, or they won’t be watched/renewed. (Anecdotally, this is why so many shows are reboots of original properties: they have built-in name recognition to get eyeballs. It’s much easier to re-launch “Murphy Brown” than to create a new one from scratch.)
  • No one is watching the same thing at the same time, meaning nothing hits a cultural nerve. The closest we get (besides one-off events like the Superbowl) are shows like “This is Us.”
  • Between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Quibi (a real thing!), Disney+, and YouTube TV, the sheer tonnage of programming beyond traditional channels is going to make cord-cutters essentially pay the same rates as they were before.

I don’t know that any of this is a neat and tidy summary of things, nor do I have solutions to rectify it. I don’t think there will ever come a time when everyone – everyone – is watching a show like the “M*A*S*H” finale again. Not to bring up movies, but this strikes me a little bit like the “Avatar” problem – that was, for nearly a decade, the biggest-grossing movie in history. How many people talk about it today? When you mention classic or great movies, does anybody you know bring up “Avatar”? So even when millions of people are watching something, it’s almost become digestible. Maybe that’s a larger commentary on our current attention span; it’s certainly reflected by the lightning-speed at which the news passes by in the modern day. There was a great SNL sketch about “Shrek,” where Sterling K. Brown professes how great a movie it is, and it’s funny because “Shrek” – a high-grossing movie with several successful sequels – is not a movie anything talks or seemingly thinks about anymore. It landed in 2001 with a good box office, won the first-ever Oscar for best animated movie, spawned several sequels and….that’s it? That’s “Shrek.” I said “digestible” earlier but maybe the more accurate word is “disposable.”

In writing this, I realized that I am nostalgic for the way it was. When good TV is made, it’s a joy to share it with others, and its impact lasts. Sure, there has always been garbage – I purposefully omitted TV’s race to embrace reality TV and all things – ugh – Kardashian – but on the whole there is still TV that can be hilarious, or serious, or educational. The start of the fall TV season used to give me a rush – now, it gives me “Stumptown.”

My fiancee jokingly (maybe) refers to me as Mike Teevee, the character from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” whose “punishment” is that he is made to live inside the television. When that movie was made, for all intents and purposes everyone in the world would be watching Mike. Now? People would want to see what else is on.

If I Could Nominate the 2019 Emmys

Image result for emmy awards

Nominations for the 2019 Emmys are due soon, and you’ll see a lot of articles about who should be nominated and why. Here’s one man’s (correct) opinions. Note: If I don’t think five (or more) things should be nominated for a category, I’ll just list the ones I think *definitely* should merit attention. Also note that I’m only doing drama and comedy – no miniseries or sketch/variety, though I’ve listed some I really liked below.

Best Drama Series:

  • Big Little Lies
  • The Deuce
  • This is Us
  • You

Best Comedy Series:

  • Barry
  • GLOW
  • The Good Place
  • Russian Doll
  • Superstore
  • Veep

Best Actor, Drama:

  • Milo Ventimiglia, This is Us
  • Sterling K. Brown, This is Us
  • Penn Badgley, You
  • James Franco, The Deuce
  • Sean Penn, The First

Best Actress, Drama:

  • Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
  • Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies
  • Susan Kelechi Watson, This is Us
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Deuce

Best Supporting Actress, Drama

  • Meryl Streep, Big Little Lies
  • Zoe Kravitz, Big Little Lies
  • Shailene Woodley, Big Little Lies
  • Carrie Coon, The Sinner

Best Supporting Actor, Drama

  • Adam Scott, Big Little Lies
  • Justin Hartley, This is Us
  • Bobby Canavale, Homecoming

Best Actor, Comedy:

  • Bill Hader, Barry
  • Ben Feldman, Superstore
  • Andy Samberg, Brooklyn 99
  • Tony Hale, Veep
  • Marc Maron, GLOW
  • Ted Danson, The Good Place

Best Actress, Comedy:

  • Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Veep
  • Natasha Lyonne, Russian Doll
  • America Ferrera, Superstore
  • Kristen Bell, The Good Place
  • Alison Brie, GLOW

Best Supporting Actor, Comedy:

  • James Marsden, Dead to Me
  • Henry Winkler, Barry
  • Charlie Barnett, Russian Doll
  • Nico Santos, Superstore
  • Manny Jacinto, The Good Place
  • Timothy Simons, Veep
  • Reid Scott, Veep

Best Supporting Actress, Comedy:

  • Cecily Strong, SNL
  • D’Arcy Carden, The Good Place
  • Lauren Ash, Superstore
  • Sarah Goldberg, Barry
  • Clea DuVall, Veep

Other shows/noms I hope make it: Fosse/Verdon (and Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams); Escape at Dannemora (and Patricia Arquette and Eric Lange especially); Sharp Objects (and Amy Adams especially); Chernobyl; and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Now check back when, say, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Game of Thrones are the top-nominated shows. Sigh.

A Favorite Super Bowl Tradition

Some people love the Super Bowl for the commercials (though in recent years they have not been nearly as good as the ones of old). Some love it for the drama of a championship game. But my favorite part of the Super Bowl, at least the last few years, have been the SNL Totino’s trilogy of commercials. Sadly, since Vanessa Bayer left as a cast member the show no longer makes these pre-tapes. But a Totino’s clip in January was the highlight of my SNL viewing season. Check them out below:

What I am Looking Forward to, 2019 Edition

Now that we’re well into 2019, I wanted to do a quick post discussing the movies and TV shows about which I am most excited this year (h/t Chris Daly for encouraging me to write this).

Star Wars Episode IX:

Still no title and no teaser, but no matter – it’s a new Star Wars movie.

Disney+:

A new Star Wars show (The Mandalorian), new Marvel shows (centered on Loki, Scarlet Witch, and Lady Sif), every old Disney movie, and more. This is going to be Disney’s version of Netflix, and if you’re anything like me you are already feeling like this:

Image result for shut up and take my money gif

Marvel Movies:

Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: Far From Home all look fantastic. You have the first female-led Marvel movie, the movie that will resolve the cliffhanger from last year’s terrific Infinity War, and then a new Spider-Man movie riding a wave of recent Spidey successes (Venom, Into the Spider-Verse, etc.).

excited to see Spidey in action

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Because the first Lego Movie is as close to perfection for me as any movie in recent memory, from the debate of following the instructions vs. free building to the joy of seeing so many old parts and sets. Can’t wait for the follow up.

Disney Remakes:

Dumbo, The Lion King, and Aladdin were easily some of my favorite Disney films growing up, so to get all three again on the big screen in the style of Maleficient, Cinderella, the Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast will be a treat. Curious to see how Will Smith’s genie compares to Robin Williams’s. The voice cast for The Lion King (Donald Glover, Beyonce, John Oliver, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, and a returning James Earl Jones as Mufasa) is pride-worthy (see what I did there?).

Other Disney Releases:

Wow, is Disney going to own the year or what? Both Frozen 2 and Toy Story 4 are sequels to well-received animated films that I’ll definitely see in theaters.

The Beach Bum:

Directed by Harmony Korine, who also did Kids and Spring Breakers, this Matthew McConaughey-starring vehicle looks insane, in the best way possible. Can’t. Wait.

Others I have some interest in include the reboot of Men in Black, Detective Pikachu (it has a cute trailer), Hobbs and Shaw (because #FastAndFurious movies usually deliver), Shazam, Ad Astra, Sonic the Hedgehog, Little Women, and The Goldfinch.

TV:

While of course I’m excited about the return of some shows (Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Big Little Lies, Superstore, The Good Place, etc.), I want to highlight things that are other premiering or ending in 2019.

Premieres:

The Watchmen (HBO – from the creator of LOST and The Leftovers, and with characters from Alan Moore’s original groundbreaking graphic novel), I am the Night (TNT – miniseries with Chris Pine and directed by Patty Jenkins), Russian Doll (TNT – miniseries with Natasha Lyonne about someone who has to live the same day over and over again), and Miracle Workers (TBS – Daniel Radcliffe and Steve Buscemi who play an angel and God, respectively).

Finales:

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix), Veep (HBO), The Big Bang Theory (CBS), and of course Mr. Robot (USA) all conclude this year.

Here’s hoping 2019 has more hits than misses, and is an even better entertainment year than 2018. It already has brought us one of my favorite all-time GIFs:

Image result for gwendolyn good place

What is everyone else excited about? Let me know in the comments!