Well, as John Oliver rightly noted, 2016 was not a good year. And while I’ll do my best to keep updating this space, regular readers (if there is such a thing) can vouch that I’ve been lacking in posts; mostly because it feels like the world is falling apart. (I say this not as a wholly political statement; for instance, Alan Thicke and Florence Henderson and George Michael have passed while I’ve been working on this draft. Update: Carrie Fisher, too.) But with that said, entertainment is often a good way to express discontent with the current political and social climate, and can often serve as a distraction from, well, our impending doom. So enough prologue: I humbly submit the winners and losers of the entertainment world that were on my radar in 2016.
[I know there will be a torrent of think pieces about David Letterman and “The Late Show” in the next few weeks. Please indulge me as I write my own. And please feel free to share your own Letterman memories in the comments.]
“At some point, all of a sudden, people in show business that I never knew before would say to me on the show, ‘Oh, it’s such an honor to be here.’ And I would think, What are you talking about? It’s just a goddamn TV show. And then I realized, this is what happens when you get to be older and you’ve been around for a while, people succumb to this artificial reverence. It was always kids that had only been in show business a couple of years. I just thought, Oh. I know. Your grandparents used to watch.” – David Letterman
There are some things in my life that are inherently consistent. I know that the subway is going to have train traffic or a sick passenger at some point during my commute. The Jets are going to play poorly, and then reach a whole new level of ineptitude. And, through May 20th, David Letterman is going to have a late night show.
I have a long, winding history with Dave’s show. I was too young to watch his 12:35 show on NBC, but remember vividly his move to CBS. (I even remember the terrible HBO movie about it.) Without knowing much about the late night landscape, I knew instinctively that I was a “Dave” guy, not a “Jay” guy. Some people loved Conan, some missed Johnny, and, as eroding ratings over the last two decades show, some people just didn’t watch late night. But Letterman has been a constant for me for the better part of 20 years.
In the summer of 1998, I went on a teen tour. Half the tour, we camped out, and half the tour, we stayed in hotels. The nights when we were in a hotel, we had a curfew of 11:00. Our routine was always SportsCenter at 11:00, and (at my insistence), Letterman at 11:35. The first night of the tour, my roommates asked why I would want to watch Dave. I told them to watch one episode with me, and if they didn’t like it, we could turn it off. And then Dave did what is, unquestionably, my favorite bit: Please, Stop Calling Me Chief.
Please, Stop Calling Me Chief has no business being half as funny as it is. It’s a bit that’s probably better for radio that somehow works perfectly on TV. The entire premise revolves around someone (potentially) catching on and realizing Dave is just referring to them as “chief.” That’s it! And yet, it was rare that anyone ever noticed that’s what he was doing. And the longer he went on, the louder the laughter from the audience got. My teen tour friends agreed – we could watch every night.
The genius of all of Letterman’s best bits (Stupid Pet Tricks, Stupid Human Tricks, Will it Float?) is just how inherently simple they are. Look at Will it Float? Dave takes an object, puts it in a tank of water, and sees if it will float. And it’s hilarious!
Dave’s silliness and zany personality make him rife for impression. Norm MacDonald’s “hey, uh, got any gum?” for instance, is pitch perfect.
But Dave isn’t just funny or weird (weird as in Chris Elliott living under his stairs.) My family and I have an interesting relationship with the show. My brother still loves the “hey, uh, got any gum?” bit; my parents always joked that our dog Trixie should be on Pet Tricks (she could very convincingly say “hello”); and my Bubbie loved Dave. In fact, at my high school graduation, Dave’s announcer, Alan Kalter, was there, and she could hardly contain herself. It’s not specific bits or interviews, or anything particularly funny that we all enjoy about Dave. In fact, I love his acerbic personality, and the contempt he shows for guests he doesn’t like. Dave doesn’t kiss ass. When he told Joaquin Phoenix, “Thanks, Joaquin, wish you could have been here tonight,” it was a funny line, but it also showed that Dave doesn’t suffer fools.
Frequently, people say that late night shows should be comfortable, and make you chuckle a bit before you fall asleep. And there’s definitely truth to that; when you’re winding down after a long day, something light and funny is probably the best choice for viewing. But what I love about Dave is that he could accurately dissect the issues of the day. He’ll have Bill O’Reilly on, and instead of being deferential and respectful, argue and debate with him about Fox News:
I’m an unabashed Jimmy Fallon fan, and there are times when Jimmy Kimmel has good bits (particularly the celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves). Since he’s been on TBS, Conan hasn’t been as funny, but he too can have the occasional funny sketch. But if something serious in the world happened, something that required a host’s gravitas, without question I would turn to Dave. There’s no better example than his first show after 9/11, when he had Dan Rather on as a guest:
That’s an interview handled as deftly as possible, given all of the circumstances. Dave let the emotion of the moment ring through, but also allowed for information and, occasionally, humor. People always said Dave was the heir apparent to Johnny Carson, but, when needed, he became the second coming of Tom Snyder.
Let me be clear: if there were one person who I think can handle a late night show with cogent analytical skills, it’s Stephen Colbert. I’m excited for what he will do, and for what his show will be. But as I wrote at the beginning of this post, there are some things that are inherently consistent. Dave was always there. And I’ll disagree with what he said in his interview with the New York Times – the guests on his show aren’t displaying artificial reverence. Obviously, I’ve never been a guest on his show (been in the audience twice, though!), but I will say this: the fans aren’t blowing smoke when we say that Letterman and his show are an institution.
People have asked Letterman what he’ll do once the show is done. Podcast? Web series? Write a book? Tweet out top ten lists every day? But my hope is that he’ll do whatever it is that makes him happy. And that one day, he’ll be walking the streets of Manhattan, and we’ll cross paths. And he’ll look at me, and say, “Hey, chief, you know where the entrance to the subway is?” And I can smile a wry smile and reply, “Please, stop calling me chief.”
I know we’re still a little ways away from the beginning of the fall TV season, but I figured it’s as good a time as any to write about what I’ll be watching this upcoming season. While some of last year’s picks ultimately ended up being disappointing (I’m looking at you, “Mom” and “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland,”) here’s my best effort at predicting what I’ll be watching live, what I’ll be DVR-ing, and, most importantly, what will be entertaining me for the 2014-2015 TV season. One other note: this is just for broadcast (i.e. traditional network) shows. That’s why, say, “True Detective” season two or stand-bys like “The Soup” or “Last Week with John Oliver” or “The Daily Show” won’t make the list.
What I’ll Watch Live: Once Upon a Time, NFL Football
What I’ll DVR: The Simpsons, Mulaney, Family Guy, Brooklyn 99
I am an admitted “Once Upon a Time” fan. Last season, the show had two half-season story arcs: a journey to Neverland to battle the evil Peter Pan, and the Storybrooke crew fighting The Wicked Witch. While the show is never going to mean as much to me (or be as well-written or well-executed) as LOST, it’s still a show I enjoy week-in, week-out, that rewards longtime viewers. As for FOX’s Sunday comedy block, Brooklyn 99 was my favorite new comedy last year; it’s a show that really clicked early on, and gained momentum as the season went on. Besides Andy Samberg’s Jake Peralta, the rest of the cast shines, but especially Andre Braugher and Chelsea Peretti.
As for “Mulaney,” having seen him do stand-up and with the knowledge that he created Stefon, he’s earned a season pass on the DVR, even if that first trailer looked rough. Besides, anybody who can write this Girl Scout Cookies monologue has my undying admiration:
And “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”? They’ve been on the air, what, a combined seventy-five years? (Approx.) And still deliver laughs. Sundays are going to be great for comedy.
What I’ll Watch Live: Gotham, Monday Night Football
What I’ll DVR: Big Bang Theory [until it moves to Thursdays at the end of October]
Wow, Mondays do not look promising. I know many people will watch “Dancing with the Stars,” “The Blacklist,” “The Voice,” and “Sleepy Hollow,” but…yikes. Not for me. Instead, I’m really looking forward to “Gotham.” Let’s be honest: when you are looking to make a TV show, and toss in Ben McKenzie, Gotham City, and multiple origin stories? Yeah, I’m there.
“Big Bang Theory” is the TV equivalent of comfort food, but I always enjoy it, and to have a few saved on the DVR makes for perfect Saturday-afternoon TV viewing.
What I’ll Watch Live: Selfie, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
What I’ll DVR: Marry Me, New Girl, Mindy Project
I really loved Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s last few episodes, especially they way they tied into the events happening in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (after Captain America 2). Bill Paxton as The Clairvoyant, Agent Ward as a HYDRA spy, the uncertainty surrounding Nick Fury and Fitz and Simmons…all much more enjoyable plot threads than the first few episodes, which were spent dodging the question of whether or not Coulson was a Life Model Decoy. Anyway, a show that, now that it’s entering its second season, I know what it will provide week-in and week-out. As for “Selfie,” I watched the pilot and, while I didn’t live it, the show’s creator Emily Kapnek was the showrunner on “Suburgatory,” a show I loved. Plus, John Cho. “Marry Me” has Casey Wilson, who I loved on “Happy Endings,” and Ken Marino, who I thought was contractually bound to always work with David Wain. The show is from the showrunner of “Happy Endings” (who is engaged to Wilson in real life). Should be funny.
I loved “New Girl” in its first two seasons, but last year was rough, to say the least. With “Mindy Project”, I have high hopes for it, but the show has to stop shuffling cast members and guest stars and figure out what show it wants to be. Both will still be in heavy rotation on my DVR, but I’d like to see both be more consistently funny.
The best show might be “Black-ish.” You could talk me into “Red Band Society,” possibly. And that “Mysteries of Laura” show? Oof. Here’s the trailer. Never have I not wanted to watch something more. It looks like a bad SNL sketch:
By the way, here’s where I remind you that NBC cancelled “Awake,” one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen, and greenlights things like “Mysteries of Laura.”
What I’ll Watch Live: NFL Football
What I’ll DVR: Grey’s Anatomy, A to Z, How to Get Away with Murder
Grey’s is also just comfort food at this point – I don’t really like many of the characters, it’s sometimes too soapy for words, and there’s rarely a plot twist I haven’t seen coming hundreds of miles away. That said, it too makes for fine viewing on a cold Saturday when I don’t feel like leaving my couch. “How to Get Away with Murder” looks like one of the more promising new shows, with star Viola Davis as a law professor with a potential dark side.
As for “A to Z,” I watched the pilot and found it incredibly charming (I’ve embedded it below). It’s got a lot in common with “(500) Days of Summer,” especially given the close-ended nature of the central relationship. But I’m going to give it a shot. However, if the showrunners kill off Cristin Milioti like “How I Met Your Mother” did, I will be very upset.
Also, let me just bemoan the fact that “Parks and Rec” won’t be airing until winter 2015. I’m going to miss that show.
What I’ll Watch Live: Masterchef Junior
Kidding. Made the same joke last year. Will hopefully have social plans. Nothing worth DVRing on this night anyway.
What I’ll DVR: Saturday Night Live
Even after a down season, this show still provides laughs in its best sketches. And I have high hopes for last year’s breakout stars Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett.
Whenever “Community” premieres on Yahoo; “The Cosmopolitans” on Amazon, assuming it gets picked up (because any show with Adam Brody deserves my full attention).
Any shows you think I missed? Shows that I just shouldn’t be watching? Be sure to leave a comment.
I don’t care much for the Emmy’s, especially because the lion’s share of what I watch rarely gets nominated (and because it’s hard to root for an academy that failed to recognize Steve Carrell as Michael Scott, Jon Hamm as Don Draper or Jason Alexander as George Costanza). But I’ll certainly be watching (and live tweeting! @jacobsjj), and here are my quick picks. Unlike with my Oscar picks, I’m not going to do a “who will win, who should win, who I hope to win” type of break-down. I’m going to give you who I would vote for, period. Please not that these predictions aren’t likely to come to fruition, and are made based on my subjective, irrational like or dislike of the various nominees. Continue reading
Reports have surfaced that there will now be a standalone film sequel to the UK version of The Office. The movie will show Ricky Gervais’s character fifteen years after he’s left Slough, and will be a sort of “where are they now?”
While I’m sure Mr. Gervais can wring some humour out of more David Brent, the question is do we want to see it? For my money, this ending was pitch-perfect:
Seth Meyers had Ricky Gervais on his show recently, and even complimented him on ending “The Office” perfectly. So why go back to the well, other than a cash grab? Is there really more story to tell?
Parenthetically, I found the American version to be lacking in quality as soon as Jim and Pam got together. Three seasons of build-up led to a fantastic moment:
But the last few seasons had diminishing returns, in part because the tension between Jim and Pam was gone…until they shoe-horned in unnecessary drama for the last season.
So, now what? Will we see Tim and Dawn having issues? Will Gareth be a featured player? Or will this sequel be 90 minutes of David Brent? None of these sound particularly intriguing to me (Ed. Note: Yes, I know he has revived the David Brent character before. Short, Youtube-only videos don’t seem to be the same thing as a full-blown movie, or even another TV special, at least in my opinion). This may warrant a longer post down the road, but I wish I could call a moratorium on sequels, at least for a little while. While some sequels can outdo the original (Empire Strikes Back, Godfather Part II, X-2 – gosh, who ever puts those three movies together in a sentence?), they are exceptions proving the rule.
Of course, the irony of all of this is that David Brent never, ever, ever knew when to leave well enough alone. I loved the UK version’s awkward and cringe-worthy humor. I just don’t want to be cringing in a movie theater, wishing they had followed the advice of some other famous Brits and simply let it be.
Earlier today I listed my hopes for 2014, but missed a big one: what I want from the new Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Yes, yes, I’m sure there will be plenty of sketches with Justin Timberlake, and yes, I DEFINITELY need more Higgns,
but for my money, it’s interviews like these that give me hope:
Look at the blend of accents, impressions and impersonations, and how generally relaxed he is with Queen Latifah. Literally just the way they say Ryan Lochte makes me want to say “Jeah!”
With some of the fall shows (finally!) premiering this week, and most returning within the next two weeks, I thought it was time to analyze what I’ll be watching on each night. I won’t necessarily be doing recaps, or in-depth analysis on each show, but it’s just a window into what I think will be good. Some shows have earned a longer leash than others: for instance, while I can be frustrated at time with How I Met Your Mother, I’ve already invested in eight seasons – there’s no way I’ll be missing an episode of its curtain-call season. One other thing to note: Last season, I stuck with shows such as Go On and The New Normal – shows I enjoyed, that had strong initial ratings. And shows that have since been cancelled. I don’t pretend to know what will be successful – I’m still a champion of Happy Endings and Community, shows that have faced cancellation multiple times (with Happy Endings sadly losing that battle). But I know what I consider “good,” and the shows I’ll be watching will hopefully live up to my expectations. So, with that said, below is a night-by-night breakdown of how I’ll be filling up my DVR. Continue reading