TV Diary

a) "Empire"
This has quickly become the big new primetime soap opera that everybody livetweets. And while it has a fair amount of entertainment value, I'm still weighing whether I want to keep watching it just to be able to enjoy the Twitter jokes. I've never found Terrence Howard convincing in any role as, well, a human being, especially this one, but Taraji P. Henson is so all in with her performance that it may not even matter if the rest of the cast is terrible (and a lot of it is, unfortunately). The whole uncanny valley portrayal of the hip hop industry is more amusing than annoying, though, like the music is surprisingly decent but the fictional rappers have names like Kid Fo-Fo.

b) "Agent Carter" 
I have a very limited investment in the whole Marvel movie/TV universe. I'll watch most of the movies at least once, but only a couple have repeat viewing potential, and I lost interest in "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." pretty quickly. I like this, though, there's just the right little bit of heightened comic book reality mixed with a lot of period piece action and espionage and even some decent dramatic tension. Tom Breihan had a great line about how close this show is to being "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr." but with a girl, which really accurately summed up its appeal for me to.

c) "The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore"
Larry Wilmore has always been so great on "The Daily Show" and I was really excited to see him get Colbert's timeslot, so I've been kinda cautiously watching and rooting for him over the first two weeks as he finds his bearings. He got to play it cool and be deadpan on "The Daily Show" more often than not, so it's almost a little weird see him play the host and work the crowd, but I think he's getting the hang of it. I was wary of making so much of the show a panel discussion -- I watched "Politically Incorrect" all the time in the '90s, but I've really tired of that format now. But the decision to base each episode on one topic and have the discussion after the scripted jokes works. Making a big nightly segment out of the "100" emoji seems like a weird idea that's gonna date itself really quickly, though.

d) "Man Seeking Woman"
Well this is just utter garbage! Jay Baruchel has made a career out of simpering lovelorn guys, but it gets less sympathetic and more pathetic over time, and by now it's just insufferable. But the conceit of the show, where you see a guy's life in a fantasy distortion, where a guy goes on a date with a girl he's not attracted to and you literally see a little green troll for the entire episode, just falls incredibly flat (to say nothing of the nastiness of that particular segment). The worst part might be that they only have the effect budget for 2 or 3 things like that per episode, so each premise gets milked for several painful minutes when they wouldn't even be that funny as a one-off gag. People I like keep showing up, like Bill Hader or Mark McKinney, that just makes the show's total failure more painful. Eric Andre has a whole show satirizing bad TV but he has a major role in one of the worst shows I've ever seen.

e) "The Wrong Mans"
I've been really slow to check out shows on streaming services like Netflix/Amazon Prime/etc., which is silly because my brother gave me one of those cool Sony boxes to watch all that stuff on my TV (thanks, Zac!). So I'm trying to do that more, and over the holidays caught up on a couple, including this British show that appears on Hulu. This is the first thing I've seen James Corden in and he's really funny, so that makes me optimistic for when he starts hosting "The Late Late Show" in a few weeks. It's kind of an action comedy that's more about fitting funny stuff into a really involved plot rather than just satirizing action tropes, and it works really well, although at a certain point I kinda gave up on trying to follow the story and lost a little interest by the end.

f) "Transparent"
Another streaming show, on Amazon Prime, that I watched over the holidays, before it ended up winning some Golden Globes. It's an interesting and frustrating show, Jeffrey Tambor's performance is pretty good but the fact that it's him almost feels like they wanted to do "Arrested Development" with the family finds out dad is transgender instead of a criminal. And most of the other characters are just incredibly irritating, especially Jay Duplass. So maybe the show's accomplishment, whether intended or not, is to make you feel more empathy for the transgender character by making everybody else impossible to empathize with.

g) "Togetherness"
More annoying television from the Duplass brothers! It's pretty canny for HBO to pair this show with "Girls." But the contrast between them just kind of highlights the fact that "Girls," for all its faults, occasionally does something you haven't seen on TV before. This just feels like a bunch of meandering sitcom tropes run though a mumblecore filter, with occasionally 'lol air drumming to Rush' scenes of levity. Even last year's somewhat disappointing FX series "Married" did this stuff much better. I might love Natalie Lynskey enough to keep watching, though.

h) "Galavant"
A medieval comedy musical is, I dunno, kind of a weird premise for a TV show, and I'm not surprised that this tanked. What little I watched of it was kind of charming, though.

i) "Selfie"
This was really one of the most underrated and even maybe misunderstood new shows of the fall season, and I'm bummed that it's been canceled. But I'm glad they threw the last handful of episodes they made up on Hulu, the show kept improving and finding its voice right up to the end, and they wrapped it up kinda nicely.

j) "Parenthood" 
As I watched this week's finale of "Parenthood," I found myself reflecting on the fact that I watched over 100 episodes of this show without ever totally figuring out how I felt about it. Did the slow burn ensemble family dramedy ever add up to more than the sum of its parts? Was it the only network drama of the last few years that I watched consistently because it was the only one that didn't seem like a defanged version of a show that would have more violence and swearing if it was on cable? Did I keep watching it out of a sense of loyalty to how good Peter Krause was on "Sports Night," or how much of a crush I have on Erika Christensen? Did we really need to spend so much of the show's running time on the particulars of running a recording studio in an an old cafeteria? Was Ray Romano's guest arc as good as his role on "Men Of A Certain Age"? Is the kid who played Drew going to continue acting or is he just going to be be a Soundcloud producer now? Was Monica Potter's portrayal of the least likable good person on television in itself more applaudable than the cancer storyline where she didn't even have the commitment to shave her head and wore a terrible bald cap? But hey, I actually did tear up during the finale, so maybe I really did care about those crazy Bravermans after all.

k) "The Venture Bros."
The increasingly sporadic new seasons of "The Venture Bros." have been worth the wait, so I'm happy that they've started doing these epic hour-long specials during the breaks, and this one was even better than the Halloween special. It's still just mind-boggling how dense the writing is, in a half hour episode things just fly by but in an hour-long episode they get to kind of stretch out and make more of a grand storyline. This one seems to set up the next season really interestingly, too. And hey, Stephen Colbert came back and did the Professor Impossible voice again after that whole bummer where he didn't do it in the later seasons, respect to him.
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