TV Diary

a) "UnREAL"
After watching four episodes, this show is so good it's hard to believe it's on Lifetime. Basing a scripted series behind the scenes of a "The Bachelor"-style dating reality show lends itself to easy laughs and easier cynicism ("Burning Love" already did a pretty perfect satire of the genre). But this manages to be a fully compelling drama that mocks the manufactured soap opera conflicts of reality TV while juicing up a straightforward look behind the curtain with some juicy storylines of its own. Constance Zimmer, who was always terribly underused as a cutthroat show business insider on "Entourage," gets to really sink her teeth into a much more complex and sinister version of the same kind of character, really fearless performance, but the whole cast is great at walking the weird tightrope that show with such a unique tone like this requires.

b) "Jeff Ross Roasts Criminals: Live At Brazos County Jail" 
I've always liked Jeff Ross, I can remember back in the '90s when he was just a really clever standup, before being good at celebrity roasts became the focal point of his career. I mean, he's funny with that stuff, but I can remember a time when he wasn't just an insult comic roast guy. When I first heard that he was doing a standup special in prison, I thought it was just gonna be another attempt to franchise the roast thing into a gimmick, like the short-lived Comedy Central series "The Burn" he had a couple years ago. But this special is pretty impressive, just for how he manages this perfect balance of actually respecting the prisoners as human beings and voicing genuine objections to the prison industrial complex, while also being totally fearless with his crowd work and roasting nutjobs with swastika tattoos.

c) "Mr. Robot" 
A few years ago, Christian Slater struck out with 3 quickly cancelled network shows in a row. Now he's back on TV yet again with a show on USA that has a slightly better chance of getting renewed. He's not really in the pilot much, though, despite being the title character. The show is mostly a brooding suspense thriller with Rami Malek as the protagonist/narrator, and it's one of the less cheesy shows or movies I've ever seen about a hacker. I dunno if I really care about the story yet, but the whole atmospheric vibe of the show is pretty interesting, it's by far the darkest, moodiest show USA has ever put on the air.

d) "Dark Matter" 
A sci-fi show where six people wake up on a spaceship and don't remember anything about themselves. At the end of the pilot they find out who they are, and it's a good twist, sets up the series interestingly, although I wasn't terribly impressed with the episode, so I don't know if I'll stick with it.

e) "Sense8"
I try to give any new show at least one full episode, but I've never wanted to bail out before the end more than I did with "Sense8." Theoretically it's admirable that Netflix let the Wachowskis do this ambitious sci-fi show with a lot of big ideas about identity and a big international cast of mostly unknown actors. But I've never had a lot of faith in the Wachowskis to do anything particularly well with little things like plot or characters or dialogue (I'm the guy who didn't even like the first Matrix), but it's still amazing what a total muddled, incoherent failure of storytelling this show is. There's so much going on and you can't even begin to care about it as a viewer.

f) "Clipped"
If the multicamera sitcom is dying, I think the problem is less that there are good single cam shows than that 3rd rate networks like TBS keep making absolutely half-assed multicamera shows. This one is an old-fashioned workplace comedy with people in a barber shop, and George Wendt is in it, but there's no '80s sitcom magic here, it's just kind of flat.

g) "Odd Mom Out"
Jill Kargman is some kind of Manhattan old money type who wrote a book about yuppie parents, Momzilla, and then Bravo had her adapt it into a sitcom. And the show is a pretty decent upper class satire, would probably have some potential if it didn't star Kargman, who has no previous screen acting credits and just isn't really equipped to carry a show where the supporting cast is equally unknown (the only person with any kind of career is Abby Elliott, who probably deserves to have better career prospects than this show). Kargman just has no poker face for comedy, she's walking around the whole time grinning about how funny what she's saying is, which makes even the lines that are actually funny seem off-putting.

h) "Aquarius"
I fell asleep during the first episode of this, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything, I have a month-old baby, I'm constantly sleep-deprived. Still, this show is just terribly unpromising. There's probably something really cool and daring that could be done with a show about Charlie Manson, but this is just some bland timid NBC bullshit.

i) "The Whispers"
The premise of this show, from a Ray Bradbury story, with children's imaginary friends being a harbinger of some kind of alien invasion, is really wonderfully creepy. But this show is really lame, they just have no idea how to execute the idea in a way with any tension.  

j) "Halt And Catch Fire"
I got through the whole first season of "Halt And Catch Fire" still not totally sure how much I liked it, or if I even wanted it to do anything besides what it so pleasantly and unremarkably did. There's a lot of talk about the show being dramatically retooled for the better this season, and while there are some new storylines in the first two episodes so far, I can't say I feel a world of difference. It's good, though.

k) "Hannibal"
Bryan Fuller has been one of my favorite people working in television for the last decade or so, he's made some really wildly creative, high concept shows ("Wonderfalls," "Pushing Daisies," "Dead Like Me") that never stayed on the air for very long. And I was happy for him that he finally got a really acclaimed network show going that didn't get quickly cancelled, even if I'm a little bitter about the fact that he had to adapt an established franchise to do it while people continue to sleep on his original ideas. But I finally caught up with the first two seasons before the new one started and yeah, this show is pretty amazing. Visually it's by far the best thing on TV, and they've really explored and filled out the world of the books/movies in interesting ways. In some ways they've gone into a more implausible heightened reality -- like, there isn't a new serial killer in Maryland piling up bodies in Tumblr-ready artistic patterns every other week, you guys need to slow down (and man I wish they shot this show on location instead of in Canada, it'd be so cool if they actually made the show in Baltimore). I'm pretty interested to see where the third season goes, it has felt kinda slow so far but they're getting into some of the plots from the Hannibal movie now and could probably very easily do them better. Aside from Michael Pitt, who they've already mercifully replaced, the whole cast has been pretty fantastic, it's also so great to see Caroline Dhavernas from "Wonderfalls" back in a Fuller project, and Scott Thompson from "Kids In The Hall" being in a show like this is a delight.

l) "Inside Amy Schumer" 
I already raved about this year's season premiere, but really Schumer has been on fire this whole season. "12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer" was maybe the single greatest episode of TV that I've seen this year, and while the show is still sometimes hit-and-miss, there've been a ton of other great moments (the Cosby trial, the "I'm sorry" sketch, the boy band video) that have really just focused her comedic voice into some really sharp and unsparing satire.

m) "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee" 
A few years ago, my brother gave me this cool Internet TV player that I used to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime and stuff on the big screen, it's great and I highly recommend it. There's a bunch of other far more obscure online video services available on the player's menu, and most of them I'd never heard of, but I recently realized that one of them, Crackle, is what makes Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee," so I finally got around to watching some of that show. It's a pretty knowingly frivolous show that is so clearly more about the entertainment of the participants than the viewer, but I kind of respect that about it. And I like that the episodes only run about 17 minutes, it'd be a much weaker show if they stretched it out to a half hour. Definitely a lot better than most of the countless TV shows and podcasts and documentaries we've had in recent years that consist of comedians talking to each other about their craft.
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