Movie Diary

Friday, January 29, 2016

a) Kung Fu Panda 3
My kindergartener's school has been closed from the blizzard for over a week now, so I've been doing all sorts of stuff to keep the kid entertained during the day, Chuck E. Cheese's, family visits, you name it. So today we went and hit the first morning matinee on opening day of the new Kung Fu Panda movie, since he liked the previous movies (and the TV series). I've always thought that these movies were firmly in the middle of the pack as far as the big computer animated kids movie franchises go, but this movie was a perfectly fine installment to the series, a few decent laughs, some cool visuals and action sequences. But the second act got a little sad and my sensitive little dude had to cry it out a little bit.

b) Mad Max: Fury Road
I get why people are excited about this, but man, what a Mountain Dew-ass movie to get a Best Picture nomination. At this point it's been spun as part of the movie's cool feminist misandry agenda that the movie actually belongs to Charlize Theron. But isn't it still technically a flaw that Mad Max is the dullest part of a Mad Max movie, that the role that made Mel Gibson into an international superstar has been passed onto Tom Hardy to basically look like Gerard Butler and do even less than Gerard Butler would've done with the role? Like, when the ads for the movie started I actually thought Charlize was playing a female Max, and they may as well have done that and just dropped Hardy's character from the plot without losing anything.

c) Cinderella
Helena Bonham Carter playing the Fairy Godmother in this made me think about how Tim Burton probably could've directed this, and how if he had it would've been way worse than the serviceable job done by a guy who directed American Pie and Twilight movies.

d) The Imitation Game
This seemed pretty well made, although I was pretty spaced out the day I watched it and never really followed it too closely.

e) Bee Movie
So many modern animated features are basically about taking famous comics and having them voice animals and creatures in some way that weds the sensibility of their sitcoms or standup comedy to something that theoretically kids and their parents can enjoy. And Dreamworks always does it so much more awkwardly than Pixar, Antz was some kind of wrongheaded cartoon Woody Allen movie, and Bee Movie really does so little to successfully adapt Jerry Seinfeld's style of humor into a cartoon. I really just kinda wanted to watch it to satisfy my morbid curiosity about the whole thing, and I needed something to watch with my kid, but I will say, the kid didn't hate it.

f) The Salton Sea
Val Kilmer is one of my favorite actors whose decades-long career has only been very sporadically dotted with actual good movies and/or roles that brought out the best in him. So I'm always up for checking out a Kilmer movie I haven't seen and hopefully catching him living up to his potential. This wasn't very good, though, he plays a meth-addicted saxophonist and the movie felt like a long laundry list of cinematic cliches about jazz and drugs, I never got to the end of it.

g) Legend
I kinda wanted to watch this just because it seemed so odd that Ridley Scott went from Alien and Blade Runner to this movie about unicorns and elves that I'd barely heard of. But visually it's really awesome and Tim Curry is a great scenery-chewing villain, and you've got Tom Cruise and Mia Sara looking all pretty on the eve of Top Gun and Ferris Bueller, respectively. Definitely didn't deserve to be such a flop in the context of Scott or Cruise's careers, although I guess it was a little too dark to be an elementary school staple like Labyrinth

Monthly Report: January 2016 Singles

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

1. Young Thug - "Best Friend"
"Lifestyle" and "About The Money," the songs that really helped cement Young Thug as a serious star, dropped two days apart in June 2014. And for the next 18 months, dozens of Thug tracks made their way into the public without making remotely the same impact as those songs (Rae Sremmurd guest verse aside). So "Best Friend" climbing the radio charts right now is kind of an important moment for him, just in reclaiming that momentum so he's not left behind as 2014's great flash in the pan. Here's my new running playlist of favorite 2016 singles that I'll be adding to every month throughout the year.

2. Curren$y f/ Lil Wayne and August Alsina - "Bottom Of The Bottle"
Curren$y has had a long weird career, always adjacent to stardom but never a major star in his own right (something like the southern equivalent of Consequence, who he even resembles a little). Over a decade ago, he was a late era No Limit soldier, then he was signed to Young Money before it became a star factory (and "Where Da Cash At" was, for years, the only thing I ever heard by him on the radio), then he became buddies with Wiz Khalifa just before Wiz started topping the charts. And all the while, he remained a cult artist beloved by a certain kind of rap fan who never got on radio playlists, even when he released a star-studded Warner Bros. album in 2012. But another star-studded album released on Atlantic late last year has finally given him a serious hit, and I think "Bottom Of The Bottle" is really getting over on the strength of the song and not just the guests, since August Alsina and Lil Wayne just had another single out that didn't do nearly as well.

3. Highly Suspect - "Lydia"
This kinda came and went on the charts already but just started to grow on me, nice lurching riff, really stands out as one of the darker, heavier things on rock radio in recent memory.

4. Tinashe - "Player"
Chris Brown singing hooks on rap songs has been an unavoidable staple of radio playlists for ages, but now there's also a ton of R&B songs where Chris Brown just sings (or, ugh, raps) a verse and isn't even essential to the song but gets thrown on there to increase airplay. "Player" is one of many of the latter, but at least in this case a Tinashe solo version is commercially available, so that's the one I'm putting on the playlist.

5. Plies - "Ritz Carlton"
Plies was one of a number of southern rappers whose career was boosted in the late '00s by a T-Pain hook, and he milked it pretty well, releasing 4 major label albums in the space of 3 years and briefly becoming a pretty big star before he kinda disappeared back into the masses of mid-level mixtape rappers. But in the last couple years he's mounted a weird comeback as more of a social media celebrity than a rapper, making goofy Instagram videos. And as he continued lobbing music out there, "Ritz Carlton" recently emerged as a song funny and entertaining enough to capitalize on this new phase of his career. As it happens, the corporate offices of Ritz Carlton and its parent company (Marriott) are both based in Maryland, and are frequent clients of the company I work for, so this week I ended up at Ritz Carlton HQ in Chevy Chase for a job. I asked Ed French, the chief officer of sales and marketing, if he was familiar with the Plies song. "Oh, we know about it," he said wearily, kind of indicating that the song is obviously too profane for them to approve of in any way but that they just remain hands-off about this kind of thing and let people do what they want with the brand name.

6. Flo Rida - "My House"
Like Plies, Flo Rida kind of lucked into mainstream stardom circa 2007 with a T-Pain hook, but he held onto that success for a lot longer, basically by becoming a free-roaming pop rap parasite who would latch onto whatever EDM trend would give him another hit. And in a weird way he's cycled through so many different fads until he's circled back around to "My House," a song that basically sounds like '90s hip hop, complete with an "Impeach The President" drum break.

7. The 1975 - "UGH!"
I had mixed feelings about The 1975's debut album, which had some songs I really dug and some songs that just made the band's whole sound and persona pretty unbearable. And so far that pattern has continued with the advance singles from their second album: "Love Me" was awful, leaning hard on a hook that's almost verbatim the same as the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing." But "UGH!" is just beautiful and light-footed and really makes me curious what direction these guys are headed in.

8. Young Dro - "Ugh"
And here's the other current single called "Ugh" that I really enjoy, from Young Dro's extremely deserved commercial second wind. Zaytoven has been on a great run lately and this is up there with the best of his Beast Mode productions.

9. Daya - "Hide Away"
I don't know if this song's whole thing about "good boys" is a corrective to Drake's whole obsession with "good girls" or if it's just as bad, but I don't know, it's a pretty great-sounding song.

10. The Chainsmokers f/ ROZES - "Roses"
I got this song confused with "Hide Away" a lot for a few weeks (since they're both songs on pop radio with women singing the phrase "hide away" in the refrain), but really I like them pretty equally. ROZES has a pretty annoying Zooey Deschanel old timey singing style, but "Roses" featuring ROZES reminds me of the classic Rick Ross song title "Gunplay" featuring Gunplay. The Chainsmokers were previously known for the awful hit "#Selfie," but they've redeemed themselves a little with this.

Worst Single of the Month: Justin Bieber - "Love Yourself"
Nobody's more depressed about the enormous success of the Bieber career reboot than me, but at least "Sorry" is kind of a jam. This song, which will probably replace it at #1 soon, is just dogshit, Ed Sheeran giving him a mealy-mouthed acoustic ballad and adding some weird passive aggressive misogynist shit about how female vanity is actually the problem.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 55: The Eagles

Sunday, January 24, 2016

My last two installments in this series were both occasioned by the deaths of rock stars, and as much as I hate to do 3 in a row, The Eagles are a band I've been meaning to do a deep cuts playlist of for a long time. And it's hard for a sane non-baby boomer to completely embrace The Eagles but I also think it's possible to talk about them, particularly on the occasion of Glenn Frey's death, without being totally condescending or mean about it.

The Eagles Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Chug All Night
2. Most Of Us Are Sad
3. Doolin-Dalton
4. Out Of Control
5. Saturday Night
6. My Man
7. On The Border
8. Good Day In Hell
9. Ol' 55
10. Journey Of The Sorcerer
11. Visions
12. After The Thrill Is Gone
13. Pretty Maids All In A Row
14. The Last Resort
15. Funky New Year
16. The Disco Strangler
17. Teenage Jail
18. The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks
19. Those Shoes

Tracks 1 and 2 from Eagles (1972)
Tracks 3, 4 and 5 from Desperado (1973)
Tracks 6, 7, 8 and 9 from On The Border (1974)
Tracks 10, 11 and 12 from One Of These Nights (1975)
Tracks 13 and 14 from Hotel California (1976)
Track 15 from the "Please Come Home For Christmas" single (1978)
Tracks 16, 17, 18 and 19 from The Long Run (1979)

"On the day that I die, well I just might scream/ If I'm alive in the morning, I'll be alive in a dream" is kind of a haunting Glenn Frey lyric that you'd probably have seen quoted a lot more in the past week if it wasn't from a song with the refrain "I believe we could chug all night, I believe we could hug all night." But I really kind of love "Chug All Night" in all its dopey glory, and it's a good microcosm of the mix of sincere craftsmanship and hamfisted hackery that defines so much of the Eagles' catalog, particularly the deep cuts.

Like most of the big bands of the '70s, The Eagles plugged along, landing hit singles and gradually playing bigger rooms, until they were ready for a big live album or (in their case) greatest hits album that would serve as the tipping point that catches everyone up and takes them to the next level. And nobody pulled that off better than them: the 29-times platinum Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is famously the biggest-selling album in U.S. history besides Thriller. But boiling the band's 6 original albums down into the last few decades of hugely successful compilations and reunion tour setlists has left behind a lot of weaker and/or more offbeat material that the band made along the way to classic rock immortality.

All 7 past and present members of The Eagles wrote and sang lead at least one song on the band's albums, but the overwhelming majority of their hits were sung by what became the band's core leadership of Don Henley and Glenn Frey (it wasn't necessarily planned this way: Henley sang lead on 2 songs on The Eagles, but as slowly realized that the drummer's raspy voice was money in the bank, he got more and more showcases, including 7 tracks on The Long Run). The only Eagles songs you ever hear on the radio not sung by Don or Glen are by late arrivals Timothy B. Schmidt ("I Can't Tell You Why") and Joe Walsh ("In The City").

So one of the interesting about digging into Eagles deep cuts is just hearing the other guys' voices so much more. Randy Meisner on "Most Of Us Are Sad," Bernie Leadon on "My Man" (a tribute to Leadon's Flying Burrito Brothers bandmate Gram Parsons), Joe Walsh on "Pretty Maids All In A Row," and my personal favorite, Don Felder's sole lead vocal, "Visions." There's also the bonkers Leadon-penned instrumental "Journey Of The Sorcerer," which I'd had no idea until recently I'd been hearing for decades in re-recorded form as the theme of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy BBC mini-series.

Some of the songs never released as singles became classic rock radio staples anyway, including "Desperado" and "Victim Of Love." One song I occasionally hear on the radio but included anyway is "Those Shoes," for my money probably the best song The Eagles ever recorded, which never charted and only appeared on one of their later double disc best-of comps (and was famously sampled on "High Plains Drifter" by the Beastie Boys). And "Ol' 55" is notable for being the first in a long line of Tom Waits songs to be smoothed out by more popular acts.

I've become kind of fascinated with the way many of the bands that defined the '70s all seemed to crap out right on schedule at the end of the decade, releasing indulgent, divisive albums in '78, '79 or '80 that were difficult to record and almost immediately followed by a break-up, prolonged hiatus, death, or major lineup change: Steely Dan's Gaucho, Led Zeppelin's In Through The Out Door, The Who's Who Are You, Aerosmith's Night In The Ruts, etc. The Eagles' The Long Run was the biggest of these albums and yet also the most tortured, with slick blockbuster singles and a shocking amount of weird atypical filler given that it was trimmed down from a planned double LP. Songs like "The Disco Strangler" and "The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks" are just weird, jarring songs (and they came from the Henley/Frey camp, not the other guys with less honed commercial instincts). And I included them as much for curiosity factor than anything else, although the instrumental section on "Teenage Jail" is genuinely awesome. I don't have to convince you that The Eagles wrote great pop songs, but I would like to convince you that they had some odd unpopular songs that are worth hearing.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants
Vol. 38: T-Pain
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots
Vol. 54: David Bowie

Monthly Report: December 2015 Albums

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

1. Jeremih - Late Nights: The Album
I already put this at #3 on my top albums of 2015, and I'm always thrilled when there's a December release good enough to justify doing something like that. But really I'm obviously still digesting this album, and finding favorites beyond the singles and the immediate stunners ("Pass Dat," "Actin' Up," "Paradise"). Even with the ridiculously long gestation, everything sounds fresh and fits together, even "Don't Tell 'Em" comes at the perfect point 70% into the album where the 18-month-old hit single sounds surprisingly welcome. Jeremih has the most reptilian vocal texture in R&B since Slim from 112 and I love the way he wraps that weird voice around such a wide variety of backdrops, his songwriting is really underrated. Juicy J's hilarious disgusting quotable on this album is "You give me a private show, I put my dick in front row." Here's my final Spotify playlist of just about every 2015 album I listened to.

2. Cam - Untamed
"Burning House" was high on my list of favorite 2015 country singles and I'm happy to say that it's not a fluke, although the rest of Cam's debut album is considerably more upbeat and sharply witty than that beautiful, trembling ballad. But "Cold In California" and "Half Broke Heart" are just wonderfully written songs that I sincerely hope will be singles. Given Cam and producer Jeff Bhasker's pop-heavy resumes, you might want to categorize this as a glammy crossover country record, but "Country Ain't Never Been Pretty" is a catchy little manifesto against that kind of thing, and there's some nice twangy stuff like "Runaway Train" elsewhere on the record.

3. Babyface - Return Of The Tender Lover
Toni Braxton and Babyface's Love, Marriage & Divorce was one of my favorite albums of 2014, just this incredibly smooth, grown-ass R&B album about love gone bad. And Return Of The Tender Lover kind of feels like the flipside of that album, with a similar sound and much happier, more contented songs, which might sound boring, but as a boring happy married person, I find records like this to be kind of inspiring.

4. Monica - Code Red
Most of the tracks on this album are produced by Polow Da Don, Timbaland, or Danja, and it has kind of a late '00s vibe simply because that's the last time those guys were on every other R&B album (even Akon shows up at one point!). They're all pretty brilliant producers even past their peak, though, so that's not a bad thing, although Timbaland does some weird retro songs where he sings a lot that kind of torpedo the album's momentum early on. Still, I've always loved Monica's voice and she remains a pleasure to listen to whether the material is top shelf or not.

5. Pimp C - Long Live The Pimp
The unreleased material Pimp C left behind all seems to be from the last 2 years of his life after he got out of jail, and counting the material released in that time and since his death, we've now gotten two UGK albums and four solo albums. It's amazing there was anything left for Long Live The Pimp, although I wouldn't be surprised if some verses got used on multiple songs. I'm glad they're still wringing some music out of what he left behind, though, and I'd rather a record like this than another UGK album where Bun B lays new verses and tries to simulate the old chemistry. It's all pretty faithful to his classic sound with a few modern touches, nothing essential but it's nice to be reminded what a huge personality Pimp was. Juicy J's hilarious disgusting quotable on this album is "Your girl on my nuts wanna try my dick, if she spit it back out I'ma fire that bitch."

6. Ariana Grande - Christmas & Chill EP
I loved Ariana Grande's first album and first Christmas EP, but I was mostly let down by the 2nd album even as it made her a bigger star, and the recent single "Focus" was an unmitigated disaster. So I was pleasantly surprised that her new Christmas EP was even better than the first, despite the cringe-inducing title, with more original songs and a really strong sense of what her sound is and how to situate her voice.

7. R. Kelly - The Buffet
The retro exercises Love Letter and Write Me Back are the best of R. Kelly's last few albums, but I prefer him doing more contemporary stuff, and this is the best (or maybe just the least strained) attempt at a current-sounding R&B album he's done since Double Up. It says something, though, that the best song, "Sextime," is also the one that sounds the most like a hyperbolic parody of an R. Kelly song. Juicy J's hilarious disgusting quotable on this album is "She like it on her chin like a violin."

8. August Alsina - This Thing Called Life
The first person who sings on This Thing Called Life is Anthony Hamilton, and it kinda feels like August Alsina is borrowing Hamilton's pipes and gravitas to set the tone, and make a sorrowful southern soul album in spite of the fact that his own voice can be best described as "Chris Brown but even more nasal." There's nothing on the album quite as heavy as the single I loved off his debut, "Make It Home," but he's at least trying for something weighty while most of his contemporaries are just doing sub-R. Kelly sex madlibs.

9. Coldplay - A Head Full Of Dreams
I happened to finally get around to listening to this album on Christmas day, and it wound up being appropriate, since this album is incredibly saccharine even by Coldplay standards. I've always thought Stargate were one of the best production teams in pop music, so I thought they were an interesting choice to helm Coldplay's dancey midlife crisis Achtung Baby record. But after a few decent songs early in the record, the whole thing gets treacly, and there's some offensive cloying moments like the sample of President Obama singing "Amazing Grace" in Charleston that even Bono wouldn't be shameless enough to try. It's a shame, because at its best this album is a decent sequel to the underrated Mylo Xyloto.

10. Busta Rhymes - The Return Of The Dragon (The Abstract Went On Vacation)
It's been 3 years since Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip did the great "Thank You" single and promised an entire project together, and even though I liked that song, I'd be fine with them just dropping the whole idea. Instead, Busta had to tailor the whole title and concept of his new solo tape around making an excuse for the Q-Tip record not happening, with Tip doing skits about how he has to go take a vacation, which all seems kind of tedious. I love Busta, though, I feel like rap fans are so consumed with putting 'leading men'-type rappers on the highest pedestals that the 'character actor' guys like Busta kind of get forgotten even though he's had an incredible career. And really I'll talk his animated punchlines and old-fashioned boom bap production on this tape over the labored new animated rapping style of Pusha T on his new record.

Worst Album of the Month: Eric Bellinger - Cuffing Season Part 2
Jeremih's album is great in a way that sounds deceptively easy, like all you need is a guy with a smooth high voice and some trendy beats and you can make a dope R&B record. But this Eric Bellinger album really demonstrates how hard it is to pull something like that off by just putting the right ingredients in and winding up all wrong. The first few lines on the album are just jaw-droppingly awful: "every month is February-ary/ you know I don't like watching movies if they scary-ary/ let's eat a bowl of cereal and watch some Tom & Jerry / maybe we'll go out and chew on some berries." This guy is actually a songwriter who's penned hits for other artists, I don't know how he gets away with garbage like that. Really it's just embarrassing for anyone to be naming records "cuffing season" in 2015, let alone two of them, and the album's many attempts at stringing multiple songs into long 'suites' feel like hamhanded attempts at making a The-Dream album.

TV Diary

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

a) "Billions" 
Showtime has a track record of assembling impressive actors for shows that are so half-assed and poorly conceived that I end up feeling sorry for the overqualified cast. So I didn't get my hopes up for this, but the first episode was really good, there's some potential here. The show was created by the guy who wrote Too Big To Fail, and feels kind of based in the reality of the financial world instead of being an over-the-top fantasy, but the pilot set up some nice scenery-chewing conflict for Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis. My favorite part was that Giamatti started to speak in folksy metaphors like Kevin Spacey in "House of Cards" but one of the other characters started mocking how he speaks "in nonsense riddles like a kung fu instructor from the movies." Maggie Siff, who I thought had one of the best roles any female lead's ever had in prestige cable drama history on "Sons of Anarchy," looks like she's got another good meaty role on "Billions," which is really promising.

b) "Angie Tribeca" 
I've been pretty annoyed at the way streaming services like Netflix and Amazon dump an entire season of a show out to the public at once to encourage 'binge-watching' because I really don't like watching television that way, and prefer having episodes spaced out once a week. So I'm not thrilled that TBS has gotten in on it with a 25-hour marathon in which they debuted all 10 episodes of "Angie Tribeca," although it's at least a pretty breezy half hour show, so I've already gotten through 3 of them and probably will get through the rest soon. Steve and Nancy Carell created the show, and it has a very Zucker brothers "Police Squad!" joke-a-minute feel, which is a genre of comedy I love when it's done well, but I have mixed feelings about this so far. Rashida Jones was only ever funny on "Parks And Recreation" when she was a straight man to Rob Lowe or one of the other bigger, sillier personalities on the show, but that actually means she has a good poker face to deliver some of the ridiculous lines on this show. But it also feels a bit like a lot of Adult Swim's genre parody shows, especially "NTSF:SD:SUV::," which had a very similar opening title sequence. And those shows are like 11 minutes long, so sometimes "Angie Tribeca" feels a little overlong trying to draw out a normal 3-act story arc while remaining completely silly.

c) "Idiotsitter"
Back when "Broad City" was starting out, one of the oversimplified pitches for the show was that it was a female "Workaholics." But "Idiotsitter" is much more overtly going for that -- directed and edited in the same style with similar music cues, same basic style of humor, with Jillian Bell from "Workaholics" starring. Bell was the best thing about 22 Jump Street and I was excited when I saw that she was getting her own show, but this is pretty stale and underwhelming so far.

d) "Second Chance"
This was called "The Frankenstein Project" and then "Lookinglass" before they settled on the most generic possible title, and basically takes place in a future world where a couple of tech billionaires experiment with bringing a dying old guy back to life in a young man's body. The pilot features the wonderful Philip Baker Hall, and briefly features lead actor Robert Kazinsky doing a Philip Baker Hall impression, but then he kind of drops the mannerisms of his old life, which is a shame, I'd love a goofier version of this show where the guy keeps talking like Philip Baker Hall.

e) "Teachers" 
A barbed warts-and-all look at elementary school from the perspective of the teachers is a pretty good premise for a comedy. As the father of a kindergartener, though, there were definitely a couple times when I had to set aside how aghast I'd be if that was my kid's school and just appreciate what they were going for humor-wise.

f) "Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments" 
The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones was kind of the runt of the litter of YA book adaptations, and since the movie didn't make enough money to justify a sequel, they're just doing the series now on Freeform, the network formerly known as ABC Family. The first episode didn't seem any better or worse than what I saw of the movie, just lower budget, maybe a better cast.

g) "Shades Of Blue" 
I kinda feel like there might be a good TV project for J.Lo somewhere out there in the ether. But the lead in a cop drama? She just can't carry a show like this. Maybe if it was a little less gloomy and she was part of an ensemble instead of having to emote in every scene it could work, but this is just a drag, even with weird-looking old Ray Liotta.

h) "The Shannara Chronicles" 
When I was kid and reading a lot of sci-fi, I vaguely remember briefly jumping over to fantasy and reading some Terry Brooks, although I don't remember if I got very far into the Shannara stuff. I guess the story isn't edgy enough to be a "Game Of Thrones" kind of show, but I kind of feel bad for the books that they're finally being filmed and it's on MTV all retrofitted to a Young Adult novel-style adaptation with cute teens smooching each other.

i) "Zoe Ever After" 
I never really watched "Moesha" so I don't know what Brandy's comedy chops are, really, but I was surprised that this show is a pretty enjoyably quippy, fast-paced sitcom. There's a running joke where her bum ex-husband has a Jadakiss ringtone.

j) "Cooper Barrett's Guide To Surviving Life" 
I know it's largely because of the name of the show, but even though it's about college grads and not high school students, this feels very reminiscent of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and "Parker Lewis Can't Lose." That is to say, it's got a smug white guy breaking the 4th wall to tell the viewer about his wacky carefree life (also, apparently Alan Ruck is going to be on a future episode as Cooper's father). The show is kind of fun and the cast is likable enough (I'm quite fond of Meaghan Rath from "Being Human"), but it also feels doomed to swift cancellation, especially in a FOX sitcom lineup where everything except "Grandfathered" is pretty great.

k) "Bordertown"
I never watched "The Cleveland Show," but all my experience with any kind of humor about race on Seth MacFarlane's shows has led me to the conclusion that him doing a show about anything but white people in Rhode Island is probably a bad idea. And a show about the U.S.-Mexico border, in an election year where immigration is a big issue? Fuck. No. Basically the only time I felt some relief regarding this show is when I confirmed that Hank Azaria only voices a white character on this show -- that guy is hugely talented, but he's really spent way too much of his career playing or voicing ethnic stereotypes. But really, just about everything about this show is awful, even when it's voicing ignorant views as satire it's just aggressively dumb and unfunny.

l) "Growing Up Hip Hop"
This is WE tv's perhaps inevitable new series about the offspring of hip hop celebrities (and one of the DeBarge guys, I guess) like Angela Simmons and Lil Romeo. I dunno, it's pretty boring, and the way all these people who have nothing to do with each other have to act like they know each other to tie the storylines together is really awkward and forced.

m) "The Rap Game" 
This is Lifetime's perhaps inevitable new series about kid rappers competing for a record deal. And even though it's hosted by Jermaine Dupri, who's gotten more platinum plaques for rapping minors than anyone in history, the whole thing is just depressing as hell, combing "Making The Band 2" with "Dance Moms" as you watch horrible parents give their kids awful rapper names like Lil Poopy and Miss Mulatto and try to push them into the spotlight.

n) "Superstore" 
This is easily the most promising sitcom NBC has put on the air in a while. I've always loved workplace comedies, and situating one in a Walmart-type big box store feels like a good timely choice. The ensemble is really good, particularly Lauren Ash just throwing caution to the wind with a really fearless ridiculous performance, and Mark McKinney doing the kind of hapless loser he perfected in his "Kids In The Hall" days.

o) "Telenovela"
I'm a big fan of backstage shows about television, not so much for the meta humor or the show business inside jokes but because the best of them tend to kind of echo the tone and content of the genre of show being parodied -- this is true of "30 Rock," of "Sports Night," of "UnREAL." Those are all great shows, and I don't know if "Telenovela" ever will be, but it's off to a decent start, I'm enjoying the way it kind of makes fun of the breathless camp of telenovela while letting that manic pacing seep into its comedic style.

p) "F Is For Family" 
Bill Burr's standup has always been kind of frank and aggressive, he's just one of those pissed off Boston comics, and it works for him. But grafting that sensibility onto an animated show is just too much, this is just hacky and annoying.

q) "Making A Murderer" 
All I hear about this show is that it's addictive and once you start it you have to devour every episode. But honestly once I finished the second episode, I felt like I had the gist of what's happened, and have picked up some other stuff from subsequent news coverage of the show, and it's all just so bleak that I don't really want to return to it for another 8 hours. I guess I'm glad they made this but I dunno, I don't think I need to experience it all firsthand.

r) "The Expanse" 
I've enjoyed a fair number of shows on the SyFy (formerly Sci-Fi) Channel, but it always feels like after they got all that acclaim for the "Battlestar Galactica" reboot that they're underachieving and not even trying to make a show with that kind of prestige cable drama acclaim. And "The Expanse" feels like the most serious stab they've made at a show that could break out of the usual SyFy viewership in a good while. The pilot looked amazing, effects-wise, and the whole premise is pretty strong. I haven't been totally on the edge of my seat for the first few episodes, but I like what they're doing.

s) "Childhood's End"
Childhood's End was an Arthur C. Clarke novel that SyFy adapted into a 6-hour miniseries, and I'm glad I hadn't read the book just for the shock of the reveal of what the alien looks like. On the whole, though, it wasn't really very interesting, although I could see how the novel probably was pretty exciting at the time.

t) "Colony"
There's no reason Josh Holloway can't headline a good sci-fi series post-"Lost," but that one a couple years ago where he had a microchip implanted in his brain wasn't it, and this alien invasion show could go either way. I kind of like the premise and how it's more about military occupation and rebellion than weird-looking aliens, but the pilot didn't really grab me, and since I had just seen "Childhood's End" recently it felt kinda derivative of that.

u) "Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter"
Live action Adult Swim shows are all relentlessly faithful to a particular style of comedy, usually in the form of genre parody, and I've only ever really enjoyed a couple of them, so this just felt like more of the same, even though I usually like horror comedy. They ran 5 episodes in a row in December and I would be fine with it just staying a miniseries and never coming back, the character got old quick.

v) "Lip Sync Battle"
This show seemed like a goofy little cable distraction last summer, but now that it's returned for a second season it seems to be cemented as a real ratings hit. And I guess I can't hate, you can't deny the silly spectacle of Channing Tatum dressing up like Beyonce and then the real Beyonce showing up onstage next to him. But they still work really hard to stretch what was a 10-minute segment on Jimmy Fallon's show into a full 30-minute program.

w) "SuperMansion" 
Crackle's nascent original program slate continues to expand with this, a stop-motion cartoon from the "Robot Chicken" guys with Bryan Cranston as the voice of an aging superhero. I was never a big fan of "Robot Chicken" but at least its breakneck pace didn't allow you to get bored like this show so often does.

x) "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee" 
Crackle's one hit soldiers on, getting looser than ever with the premise of the show with an episode featuring Barack Obama. It was a pretty entertaining episode, though, Seinfeld and Obama are both pretty good conversationalists and it was surreal seeing them bounce off of each other. And the Steve Martin episode was really one of the best yet, just in terms of letting a comedy icon speak a little more frankly about his process than he usually does.

y) "Love & Hip Hop" 
This is really one of the worst things on television, and every week I'm mildly horrified when my Twitter timeline lights up with people who are suddenly interested in the personal lives of rap has-beens like Peter Gunz. But I've tried to watch this season a bit, both because of the actually intriguing real life drama of Remy Ma coming home from prison, and because of the hilarious Instagram celebrity Cardi B. But they both still have to walk through the awkward scripted paces of this show and the annoying segments where they talk to the camera in front of blurry backgrounds and most of the entertainment value is slowly strangled out of their scenes. I feel bad for people like Cardi, or Desus and Mero, who've recently kind of proven that the big reward for being a social media superstar is to get thrown on the absolute worst shows on TV.

z) "Sesame Street"
Our 6-year-old grew out of "Sesame Street" a while ago and our 8-month-old isn't really ready for it, but he will be soon enough, so I've been curious to see the retooled "Sesame Street" that just debuted on HBO. Breaking it down to a half hour and getting rid of the awful Elmo's World segment is mostly an improvement, but it's still awfully heavy on Elmo, and they've lost a lot of the little animated segments and shorts that used to give the show it's particular rhythm. But obviously the show has been changing for decades since I watched it as a kid, there's not much use in getting mad about it, and it's still one of the best things you can let your kids watch.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

This week I contributed to Complex's list of the most anticipated albums of 2016 (much as I did for Rolling Stone's list last week). I wrote about Kanye, Missy, Chance, Future, and ScHoolboy Q.

Friday, January 15, 2016

This week the Village Voice published its 2015 Pazz & Jop critics poll, which I voted in for the 9th year. My ballot is here, although as always I also highly recommend checking out Glenn McDonald's Furia stats site, which has a bunch of stats about my P&J voting record over the years (fun fact: I have the 9th most breadth of any voter in the poll, which I have to say I'm kind of proud of).

As usual, Pazz & Jop kind of feels like the official end of my long season of year-end list insanity. So here's a quick overview of all the lists I made for 2015:

My Top 50 Albums of 2015

My Top 100 Singles of 2015 (also broken up separate lists by genre: rap, pop, country, rock and R&B)

My Top 50 TV Shows of 2015

The 10 Best and 10 Worst Rap/R&B Remixes of 2015

The Best of Me, 2015

- And I also wrote Complex's Best Music Videos of 2015 and contributed to The Fader's Best Songs of 2015, and the Baltimore City Paper's Top Ten Albums and Top Ten Baltimore Singles.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 54: David Bowie

Thursday, January 14, 2016

My last installment of this column was mourning Scott Weiland, who I praised in part for how he channeled his hero David Bowie, and I really had no idea that a month later I'd be mourning Bowie as well. Just last Saturday I was listening to his new album  and  marveling that he still had something like that in him at that age, and appreciating how creatively restless he'd remained decades after most of his contemporaries had stopped doing anything interesting.

And while there's something to be said for the whole of David Bowie's career, all 50 years of it, I do try to limit these playlists to just 80 minutes, and cover the period in which they had hit singles. So I started with his second album, and went up through his mid-'80s period as a Top 40 staple, before he went off to do Tin Machine and then became essentially a very famous cult act. But even narrowing the window a little leaves an absurdly rich discography.

David Bowie Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Janine
2. Black Country Rock
3. Queen Bitch
4. Kooks
5. Five Years
6. It Ain't Easy
7. Panic In Detroit
8. We Are The Dead
9. Win
10. Fascination
11. Word On A Wing
12. Breaking Glass
13. Always Crashing In The Same Car
14. Black Out
15. The Secret Life Of Arabia
16. Fantastic Voyage
17. Teenage Wildlife
18. Shake It
19. Tumble And Twirl

Track 1 from David Bowie aka Space Oddity (1969)
Track 2 from The Man Who Sold The World (1970)
Tracks 3 and 4 from Hunky Dory (1971)
Tracks 5 and 6 from The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (1972)
Track 7 from Aladdin Sane (1973)
Track 8 from Diamond Dogs (1974)
Tracks 9 and 10 from Young Americans (1975)
Track 11 from Station To Station (1976)
Tracks 12 and 13 from Low (1977)
Tracks 14 and 15 from "Heroes" (1977)
Track 16 from Lodger (1979)
Track 17 from Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980)
Track 18 from Let's Dance (1983)
Track 19 from Tonight (1984)

David Bowie is someone I've taken for granted probably for longer than I've appreciated him. I grew up with him as the perfect suave pop star of "Let's Dance," and the oldest memory I have of one of his new albums being released was Black Tie White Noise. And even as Kurt and Trent and various others helped make Bowie cool again throughout the '90s, I was pretty slow to come around to him, aside from Ziggy Stardust, which sounded incredible when my best friend Cody turned me onto it in middle school. I definitely went through a phase where I bought into the usual rockist argument against Bowie, that him having a sense of showmanship and not being an instrumental virtuoso was a weakness that made him unworthy of his stature, but I snapped out of it.

I've started to explore Bowie's catalog more in the last few years, but I'm still far from an expert, and one reason I like doing these deep cuts is that it gives me a reason to dive in deeper. It's fun to hear the album that "Space Oddity" or "Fame" or "Ashes To Ashes" came from and see what else he was doing at the time that maybe was (or wasn't) as radio-friendly. Bowie's handpicked selections for the 1989 box set Sound + Vision and the 2008 compilation iSelect favored album tracks over hits, and it was fun to pay attention to those and fan favorites while also gravitating towards some songs that don't seem to have any particular reputation but sound amazing to me.

Some of the songs that really grabbed me recently include "Kooks," a sweetly self-deprecating track addressed to his newborn son, the 2-minute "Breaking Glass," and "Fascination," a song co-written by then-backup singer Luther Vandross. It would've been nice to include some of the sprawling selections from the more experimental albums, but I like my self-imposed time limit, it helps me give some shape to these mixes, or perhaps in this case emphasize how much Bowie's output defied traditional career narratives.

A lot of great artists churned out albums pretty rapidly in the '70s and '80s, but it's hard to think of many people who have had as prolonged a fertile period as Bowie had. I'm almost envious of people who have him as their favorite artist, because there's such a huge catalog to explore, so much of it from his most creatively fertile years. One thing that I've started to really like is how his really iconic albums are buttressed by these more transitional (but not necessarily lesser) albums that form the connective tissue of Bowie's catalog. The Man Who Sold The World is like the bridge from his folky beginnings to the glam rock that would make him a star, Station To Station straddles the distance between Young Americans and the Berlin trilogy, and Scary Monsters is the link between the Berlin period and the Let's Dance pop crossover. For someone who's so known for "reinvention" and fictional personas, it's remarkable how much these albums seem to trace a very personal path that could be nothing but a guy very honestly following his muse.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants
Vol. 38: T-Pain
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots

Movie Diary

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

This has been out for a month but I guess people still want you to scream SPOILERS, right? As much as I like sci-fi and popcorn movies and acknowledge the importance of Star Wars, I don't really have any attachment to the franchise. I've probably seen Spaceballs more times than every Star Wars movie combined. It was fun to take my dad to see this the day after Christmas, although he wanted to see it on IMAX and unfortunately that meant 3D, and I really just hate 3D, I'd love to never see another 3D movie or wear those stupid glasses again. I still regard JJ Abrams as more of an effective franchise manager than someone with any real spark of creativity, but he at least was more true to the spirit of Star Wars than he was to the spirit of Star Trek. I really liked the new cast and thought they held the movie together well, even Adam Driver, who I've had mixed feelings about in the past. It's kind of amazing that him doing 'dark master of the force as petulant teenager' worked so well considering that Hayden Christensen did so poorly with a similar role. I thought the super-cute new baby R2D2 was a little pandering, though. 

b) Home
It's weird to watch an animated movie where the 2 leads are voiced by Rihanna and Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory." This is pretty funny, though, my son absolutely loves it and has probably watched it 10 times in the past month. And Rihanna's songs in it are generally better than anything she's released from Anti
I feel kind of bad for Chris Evans. His career was kind of on a downswing before he became a cog in the Marvel machine, but even since then, he hasn't really had a hit movie in the U.S. in the last 5 years where he wasn't playing Captain America (not even Snowpiercer, which was awesome). You'd think he could at least turn a profit with a romantic comedy, but Playing It Cool didn't get a theatrical release, which is a shame, it's pretty good. I like seeing Michelle Monaghan when she gets a chance to do comedy, she was so good in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but has rarely gotten to be funny in movies since then. The whole conceit of the movie, with Evans playing a screenwriter working on a romcom, struck me as the kind of Hollywood meta I'm really tired of seeing at this point, but I have to admit it was pulled off really well here.

Here's another movie about a screenwriter, and I'm always amazed that those get made so often. How does anyone write and sell a screeplay about a screenwriter without going "oh god this is a horrible cliche" and changing the protagonist's occupation? Hugh Grant plays a guy who wrote one hit and a lot of flops, and then takes a job teaching a college course on screenwriting, and he's the usual awkward charming Hugh Grant cad, but it's all done well and has maybe an overqualified supporting cast (J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Marisa Tomei, Chris Elliott, etc.).

Often if I'm busy or have writing to do, I'll put on a movie I don't expect will be very good in the background and kind of challenge it to make me pay attention to it. This one failed more miserably than usual, I didn't even finish it. There was one pretty nicely choreographed fight scene, though. Chris Hemsworth deserves to be in big budget non-Avengers movies way less than Chris Evans. 
This is a horror movie with a good creepy premise and a pretty memorable ending scene, but everything in between, including the big twist, felt kind of underwhelming to me.
Neil LaBute made his name with plays and films and plays-turned-films like In The Company Of Men that were dark, nasty stories about dysfunctional and manipulative relationships. And then, somewhere along the way, he became this generic director-for-hire who does things like that bad Wicker Man remake and Lakeview Terrace, but apparently he kept writing plays that were more of a piece with his early work. And some other director ended up adapting one of those plays, Some Girl(s), into a film. Some Girl(s) is very typical LaBute, almost ridiculously so, and Adam Brody is better than I thought he'd be as the requisite manipulative asshole. But the entire movie is several long one-on-one scenes with various actresses, and the ones with Mia Maestro and Kristen Bell were by far more memorable than the others.
This feels like so many crime movies since Pulp Fiction, with a big ensemble of different characters in vaguely interconnected stories. Taking place in New Orleans instead of Los Angeles is the closest thing to an original idea The Power Of Few has, really. The Christopher Walken scenes are pretty entertaining, though. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Noisey recently ran my Remix Report Card for the 4th quarter of last year. I put all of the 2015 remixes I wrote about that were on Spotify into a playlist, ranked from best to worst.



Monthly Report: December 2015 Singles

Friday, January 08, 2016

1. Brothers Osborne - "Stay A Little Longer"
It's always weird to do my December roundup after I've already done my year-end list, but hey, I'll take any excuse to write about the records I like some more. "Stay A Little Longer" was already high on my list of the best 2015 country singles, really looking forward to the album that Brothers Osborne are releasing next week. Here's the Spotify playlist I've been adding favorite songs to all year.

2. JR Castro f/ Quavo and Kid Ink - "Get Home (Get Right)"
DJ Mustard R&B tracks have been suffering from diminishing returns for well over a year now, but this one has really grown on me, nice variation on his usual sound and a great chorus. Quavo keeps sounding really good on features without the rest of Migos, it really feels like a matter of time before he starts to become a solo star.

3. Kevin Gates - "Really Really"
Kevin Gates has had 4 'retail mixtapes' out through Atlantic over the past few years but Islah is coming out in January as the big hyped up real album, and I'm interested to see whether it actually raises his profile past where he's already been for a while. The five songs that have already been released from the album are all pretty good, but so far "Really Really" feels like the breakout hit. I like how the Orioles hat Gates sports in the "Really Really" video has kind of become his signature look, dude is probably aware of how strong his following is in Baltimore.

4. Janet Jackson - "Unbreakable"
"No Sleeep" was a really pleasantly low key comeback single for Janet, but the title track to Unbreakable is also interesting as a follow-up, even more of a quiet restrained cut for 'adult' R&B radio. The album track is almost 4 minutes long, but the intro and outro get cut off for the radio edit, which is only 2 and a half minutes, making it feel like this really strange fleeting pleasure.

5. Conrad Sewell - "Hold Me Up"
300 Entertainment is mainly known as the incubator label for street rap stars like Fetty Wap and Young Thug, but their roster has some surprising people on it, like Coheed And Cambria and this guy, an Australian pop singer. "Hold Me Up" is one of his less successful singles in Australia, but it's the only one I've heard on the radio in America. I guess his guest vocal on Kygo's "Firestone" is his biggest hit, but I like "Hold Me Up" a lot more.

6. 5 Seconds Of Summer - "Hey Everybody!"
More Australians! 5 Seconds Of Summer occupy a weird cultural niche as a pop punk band marketing to the One Direction crowd. A decade ago Good Charlotte used to be the sellouts that "real" punks hated, but now Good Charlotte are part of the repertory of Warped Tour vets who write songs for 5 Seconds Of Summer. "Hey Everybody!" is one of their best and most obnoxious songs, and the shameless interpolation of "Hungry Like The Wolf" on the verses is really shrewd because aligning themselves with Duran Duran really does recall the fact that there have been bands caught between the worlds of punk and pop for decades now.

7. Silento - "All About You"
It's been over 6 months now since Capitol Records signed Silento, made "Watch Me" into a gigantic hit, and deleted all his other songs that he'd had on Soundcloud or wherever. And they've yet to release any other music from him, which seems dumb because they're just dooming the kid to be a one hit wonder without even trying to strike while the iron's hot with a follow-up single. But this song has been making the rounds on YouTube and elsewhere and they'd be stupid not to release it.

8. Chris Cornell - "Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart"
Cornell's guest vocal on the Zac Brown Band's "Heavy Is The Head" is by far my favorite thing he's done lately, but this song from his last solo record has grown on me lately.

9. Catfish and the Bottlemen - "Cocoon"
This song didn't do as well as its predecessor "Kathleen" and dropped off the rock charts months ago, but one of the local stations I listen to, DC101, has kept it in rotation and I really kinda love it. I've never been a fan of the jerky drunken lad rock Oasis/Arctic Monkeys end of the British rock spectrum, which is what Catfish And The Bottlemen remind me of, especially on "Coccoon," but I really like that chorus.

10. Tamar Braxton - "Catfish"
For every good song Tamar Braxton makes, she seems to have a couple ill-advised trend-chasing tracks. This song is a little of both, though, because it's called "Catfish" and has a chorus about flexing and should be completely embarrassing but it's really kinda great.

Worst Single of the Month: TK N Cash - "3 Times In A Row"
I didn't like these guys when their first single "Mind Right" was a minor hit months ago, and I don't like this one either. But mostly I'm just amused by them now because they responded to me complaining about them on Twitter.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

I contributed a few blurbs to Rolling Stone's list of the most anticipated albums of 2016.

The Best Of Me, 2015

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Today's my 34th birthday, so it seems like a good day to flatter myself with a look back at my favorite things that I wrote in 2015 (which I also did for 2014). It was my 10th year of getting paid to write, I probably planned or drafted or started more pieces that didn't get finished in 2015 than any other year of my professional life. Sometimes I just had too much work on my plate to pursue certain ideas, and my wife and I welcoming a new son into the family meant that I was happy to put writing on hold for a minute and let that be my focus. I started work on three different pieces related to the Baltimore Uprising, two of them fairly large ambitious things, and ended up not completing any of them. But I still managed to interview the people behind some of my favorite records of 2015, review some really memorable concerts, dig deep into some really interesting stories and topics in thinkpieces, and look back fondly on Scott Weiland, David Letterman, and my kick drum. I also included some examples of the various recurring columns I write here on Narrowcast and elsewhere, including the 3 columns I wrote for the Baltimore City Paper that came to an end in 2015. Thank you, as usual, to all the editors and publications and artists that make it possible for me to make money writing about music. I never cease to be amazed that I get to do that, it's like pennies from heaven.

Fat Larry's Bass Drum Turns 20 (Narrowcast, January 6)
BPM: What's Up With Dance Music (Baltimore City Paper, January 13)
Jukebox The Ghost: The BSide Session (Mobtown Studios, January 22)
Sisqo The Last Dragon review (Baltimore City Paper, February 11)
TV Diary (Narrowcast, February 16)
Philly band DRGN King pays tribute to its Baltimore roots (Baltimore City Paper, February 18)
The Best Erykah Badu Songs (Complex, February 26)
Blurred Laws: In Defense Of Pastiche And Robin Thicke (Noisey, March 11)
Kane Mayfield puts all he's got into a long-gestating debut album (Baltimore City Paper, March 11)
Deep Album Cuts: The B-52's (Narrowcast, March 14)
Rap Sheet: What's Up With Hip-Hop (Baltimore City Paper, March 24)
The Remix Report Card: First Quarter (Noisey, April 5)
Reading Diary: 33 1/3 Edition (Narrowcast, April 19)
How Beauty Pill Made An Album As Unpredictable As Life Itself (Noisey, April 20)
Late Nights With Dave (Narrowcast, May 19)
Towson's All Time Low Climbs The Charts (Baltimore City Paper, May 20)
#RIHJECTS: 14 Songs Written For Rihanna That Other People Recorded (Fader, June 24)
Meek Mill is hip hop's prom king (Noisey, June 29)
Saying Goodbye To New Music Tuesdays (Noisey, June 30)
Foo Fighters Celebrate 20th Anniversary at All-Star Washington D.C. Gig (Rolling Stone, July 5)
Monthly Report: June 2015 Albums (Narrowcast, July 8)
Rap/R&B Collaborations Suck Now, And Rappers To Blame (Complex, July 8)
Don't Compare Me To Nobody: When Comparisons Get Under A Musician's Skin (Narrowcast, July 31)
The Short List (Baltimore City Paper, August 13)
Meet Tate Kobang, The East Baltimore Guy Who Flipped A Hometown Classic Into A Label Deal (Fader, August 17)
A Eulogy For The Short List (Narrowcast, September 16)
How Future Became The Hottest Rapper In The Game (Complex, September 20)
D.K. The Punisher Keeps Looking For The Perfect Beat (Baltimore City Paper, September 23)
Movie Diary (Narrowcast, September 25)
How "Hit The Quan" Became Bigger Than Rich Homie Quan (Noisey, October 14)
The 10 Best Guitar Solos of the Past 5 Years (Complex, October 20)
Kendrick Lamar, National Symphony Orchestra Unveil 'Butterfly' Anthems (Rolling Stone, October 21)
Monthly Report: October 2015 Singles (Narrowcast, October 26)
Belieber-Directioner Deathmatch with Craig Jenkins (Noisey, November 13)
Deep Album Cuts: Stone Temple Pilots (Narrowcast, December 4)
How Fetty Wap Keeps Us Hooked (Noisey, December 7)
After Empire: What's The Future of Hip-Hop On Scripted Television? (Stereogum, December 14)

Monday, January 04, 2016

The VH1 original movie The Breaks aired tonight, and I wrote a big piece for Complex about all about it. I interviewed creator Dan Charnas and director Seith Mann as well as DJ Premier and Phonte Coleman, who wrote original music for the movie, as well as cast members Antoine Harris, Mack Wilds, and Dean Acree.

My Top 50 TV Shows of 2015

Sunday, January 03, 2016

They said I was crazy the first time I wrote about my 50 favorite TV shows of the year, 4 years ago. And that may be true, but in 2015, we've reached "peak TV," with roughly 400 scripted series on American television, as cable networks that once filled their schedules with reruns and reality shows start craving their own scripted dramas and comedies and streaming services get in on the act. So if I wanna be the crazy motherfucker who wants to consume a sizable chunk of that and try to spit out a large list of favorites, so be it. And since my second son was born in May, I spent many of my sleepless nights in 2015 keeping up with the absurd amount of original television being put out this year better than anyone with a reasonable schedule would.

What I really liked about TV this year was that it finally felt like comedy was getting prioritized by cable networks and streaming services, which had by and large gotten into the scripted TV game with the kind of gritty prestige dramas that frankly, we have enough of at this point. I can watch half hour comedies all day and be fine, but sometimes you get to your third drama of the week that's about rape and murder and depression and you've just had enough misery porn. So while there are some pretty dark shows on here, there are a lot more that make me laugh.

Shout out to the shows I like but am not caught up on current seasons of (The Americans, Orphan Black), the shows I happily tuned out from years ago (Mad Men, Game of Thrones), the aging shows I finally let mmyself stop watching this year (Girls, Louie), the newer shows I quickly got bored of this year (Transparent, Rectify), critical darlings that I thought were total prestige TV snake oil (Fargo, Mr. Robot, Master Of None, Better Call Saul), and the absolute garbage I subjected myself to this year in the name of being open-minded (Hand Of God, Mr. Robinson, Life In Pieces, Man Seeking Woman).

1. UnREAL (Lifetime)
Reality shows have been so awful and so inescapable and so often clearly staged for so long that scripted TV has had plenty of chances to parody it, and make the easy jokes into cliches in and of themselves. But Lifetime's shockingly good foray into a scripted series is less a scathing satire than a scorched earth soap opera, creating a bizarro world Bachelor-style series for a worst case scenario of what goes on behind the scenes on those kinds of shows. UnREAL finds humor in the distortions, but it also makes the viewer complicit in the trainwreck fascination that makes those shows popular with its own relentless barrage of gripping dramatic twists. And in the dirty deeds of Shiri Appleby's antihero and the redemptive moments of vulnerability in Constance Zimmer's ruthless villain, UnReal gave its two lead actresses the kind of dark, complex roles that other cable dramas almost uniformly give to men.

2. Hannibal (NBC)
Bryan Fuller became one of my favorite people in television because of a trio of short-lived shows (Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, and Dead Like Me) that combined deeply original premises with a weird, wired comic sensibilities. So on one hand I slightly resent Hannibal, a series based on an existing blockbuster franchise and markedly more somber and po-faced than Fuller's other shows, for getting so much more acclaim, plus three whole seasons on the air. But on the other hand, I'm in awe of Hannibal for its visual imagination, its ability to take network TV with ad breaks into more immersive, mind-bending tangents than almost any premium cable show has ever attempted.

3. You're The Worst (FXX)
In the summer of 2014, FX debuted a pair of comedies that both took a nasty, cynical look at love and relationships. Both were good, but You're The Worst felt to me like the far superior show, and I fretted a little when FX shuffled it off to its sister network FXX in 2015, while Married, with its slightly better ratings and more recognizable cast, stayed on FX. But apparently I was wrong to worry: Married was canceled after its so-so 2nd season, while You're The Worst was recently renewed. And it got even better in season 2, moving the barbed humor of two assholes falling in love to something a little sadder and more emotionally nuanced while still mean and funny as hell when it needed to be. Kether Donohue is an absolute deranged treasure on this show.

4. Broad City (Comedy Central)
Broad City was a big, delirious surprise last year, by far my favorite new show of 2014. And the second season was equal to the first in every respect except lacking the element of surprise. I think my favorite this year was the reveal of Ilana's parents, a perfectly cast Susie Essman and Bob Balaban,

5. Bob's Burgers (FOX)
The influence of Adult Swim has slowly seeped out into the rest of television in a lot of ways, but I never expected Loren Bouchard to be able to create another show as odd and wonderful as Home Movies and actually make it fly on one of the big 4 broadcast networks. But here we are, 6 seasons into Bob's Burgers, and the show actually feels like part of pop culture, something that inspires more and more Halloween costumes every year. Playing next to The Simpsons and Family Guy every Sunday is a grim reminder that longevity can be a curse for a show like this, but for the time being, the show remains as great as it's ever been.

6. Rick And Morty (Cartoon Network)
I was a bit of a Rick And Morty skeptic last year -- the creativity of the show was undeniable, but it also belched in your face, literally and figuratively, with constant misanthropy that I found wearying. In season 2, the burping and vomiting and cynicism seemed to get dialed back a little, while everything funny and smart about the show enjoyed a growth spurt. I always admired Futurama for its dedication to high concept sci-fi gags more than I actually enjoyed it, but Rick And Morty seems to actually get funnier as it gets headier and more ambitious.

7. Justified (FX)
I never liked Justified as much as everyone else seemed to -- it was always a fun, well crafted show, but the big story arcs about Raylan and Boyd and so on never really interested me all that much. And my interest wavered outside of the seasons with awesome villains (Margo Martindale in season 2 and Neal McDonough in season 3). So I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the show's 6th and final season, which had a whole rogue's gallery of villains that all converged for a surprising, emotionally resonant last episode that felt like the antithesis of the Sons Of Anarchy series finale bloodbath a few months earlier.

8. The Affair (Showtime)
The first season of The Affair told the story of the affair between Noah (Dominic West) and Allison (Ruth Wilson) in a clever format, with half of each episode from his perspective and half from hers. And in the second season, as the fallout from their affair continued to reverberate, the show expanded to episodes that show the POVs of their exes, Helen (Maura Tierney) and Cole (Joshua Jackson). The Affair doesn't make a big show of the fact that one person's memory sometimes differs from another -- it just happens, and you never really get told whether one is more true than the other, even if you can make up your own mind about plausibility. But what I really liked about the second season of The Affair, what made it a better and more interesting show, was that it leaned less on the 'murder mystery' aspect of show and unflinchingly dug into pretty much every terrible thing that can happen when marriages and families fall apart, and completely deglamorized what steamy extramarital affairs usually look like on television.

9. Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
As I have detailed on this blog in the past, I have something of a personal past with Amy Schumer (in short: we briefly knew each other in college and co-starred in a student film). So it's been interesting to watch her slow rise through the ranks of standup and TV from afar over the past decade, which culminated in an explosion of serious fame in 2015, as she seemingly all at once became someone that headlines hit movies and hosts award shows and inspires dozens of angry thinkpieces. But for me all that mattered was that her sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, experienced a creative growth spurt in its third season and just got way more potent and consistent, from the season premiere to the audacious full episode sketch "12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer."

10. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO)
When John Oliver first went to HBO with a weekly show patterned after The Daily Show, I thought he might be shooting himself in the foot by trying to cover stories on Sunday after every other late night host had mined all the good jokes from Monday to Friday. Instead, now it feels like Oliver is cheating -- he gets to look at what everyone's done all week and then put on a concentrated 30 minutes of comedy with no commercial breaks that just feels so much more focused and less rushed than what his contemporaries are doing.

11. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has the best ensemble cast of any comedy on TV right now, and it's amazing how well they manage to use pretty much everyone in every episode. It also stands out in the sitcom landscape for not having the token-y casting methods everyone else abides by (i.e. there are two middle-aged black men in the cast and two young latinas, and they aren't frequently paired up or positioned as opposites to each other).

12. New Girl (FOX)
New Girl is a great ensemble show deceptively marketed as a Zooey Deschanel star vehicle, like if Friends had been called "Phoebe." And it also started out as a standard issue modern sitcom about 3 white roommates and one token black roommate. But Damon Wayans, Jr. shot the pilot, and then left for the also great but short-lived Happy Endings, Lamorne Morris took his place in the cast, and then Wayans came back for the last couple seasons, and along with Hannah Simone's growing role in the show, suddenly the show had a 6-person cast that was only half white, which was pretty refreshing given how the show started. Wayans was also a huge asset for the show, and I'm bummed that he seems to have left once again at the end of season 4. 

13. iZombie (The CW)
Nearly 8 years after The CW canceled Veronica Mars, they finally began to redeem themselves by premiering another Rob Thomas series about a young woman solving mysteries. And while it's easy, and not entirely inaccurate, to say that iZombie is "Veronica Mars if she was a zombie," Rose McIver and the rest of the cast deserve a lot of credit for helping make the show into something new with its own tone and grim sense of humor.

14. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
If 30 Rock had the ultimate softball premise for Tina Fey to fill with jokes, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is like Fey running the joke machine on its highest difficulty setting: how do you loosely base a show on the horrifying Ariel Castro kidnappings and then make it a comedy? At first, it seems like they're going to quickly move on from the backstory to focus on Kimmy's adventures in New York, with the hysterical Titus Burgess emerging as the show's breakout star. But by the end of the first season, they doubled down on the premise and, amazingly, it more or less worked.

15. Community (Yahoo)
There's no doubt in my mind that if "five seasons and a movie" had been the throwaway line in an early episode of Community that became the rallying cry of the show's fanbase, there would've been no attempt to keep the show alive beyond NBC's cancellation after season 5. But since the line was "six seasons," we got a sixth season, with only 4/7ths of the original study group the show started out with, on the godawful Yahoo Screen player that always seemed to fuck up where scenes would cut for ad breaks. And while that was a somewhat depressing end for a once great show, Community actually went out on a high note creatively, with Paget Brewster and Keith David doing fantastic work with their thankless task of joining a show's cast in the sixth season

16. Black-ish (ABC)
One of the highlights of the 2014 fall season continued to be generally excellent in 2015, I look forward to taking for granted how funny this show is for years to come. Of all the actors who juggled two different shows this year, Laurence Fishburne probably had the best and most different pair of roles in Hannibal and Black-ish.

17. Jessica Jones (Netflix)
I am in favor of the Marvel cinematic universe, but not in any rabid way, they're mostly fun movies but my comic book phase as a kid was extremely brief. But Jessica Jones is refreshing in the context of all the other Marvel stuff, not because it's "darker" or "smarter" or "more real." It's refreshing because it's the rare comic book adaptation that lets characters have every pedantic conversation that would occur if these situations happened in real life -- people with superpowers constantly getting quizzed on exactly how their powers work, and asking each other, bullshitting people about it or people disbelieving them. That's not to say that the show has no plot holes or inconsistencies, just that the story works well enough, and is made more satisfying because people occasionally stop to argue about the exact things the viewer wants to argue about.

18. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)
The opening theme song of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend features the reluctant title character protesting the name of the show, "That's a sexist term...the situation's a lot more nuanced than that." That's the kind of show that YouTube star Rachel Bloom made when she got a shot at primetime television, and its ratings are so dismal even by CW standards that it's hard to imagine it lasting long. But its delirious mix of original songs, loony comedy, and healthy doses of piercing insight about love and friendship made it one of the most unique and welcome surprises in a fairly dismal slate of new fall shows in 2015.

19. The Mindy Project (FOX / Hulu)
Mindy Kaling is highly aware of the formulas of sitcoms, especially the pervasive new cliches that have been springing up just in the last few years. And while The Mindy Project indulges in plenty of sitcom staples, it also feels quietly dedicated to dismantling others, just in the way it quickly proceeded from being a breezy show about a single career gal to being an unusually realistic show about balancing marriage and parenthood and work, while still being at its heart a silly barrage of one-liners. The show survived its cancellation by FOX this year and made the transition to Hulu quickly and seamlessly, although the supporting cast continues to kind of revolving door, with Adam Pally cycling out and Garrett Dillahunt and Fortune Feimster cycling in.

20. Veep (HBO)
One of my favorite things about Veep, besides all the profanely funny dialogue, is that they shoot it in Columbia, Maryland, about 20 minutes away from where I live (I got to visit their soundstage once for work, it was awesome!). But the Maryland tax credits weren't quite cushy enough to keep the production here, so when the show returns in 2016, they'll be shooting it in California. Regardless, a great show.

21. Flesh And Bone (Showtime)
I don't really understand the current TV craze of miniseries and "event" programs. Either the show feels like a total waste of time, as The Slap and Wayward Pines this year, or I'm left wondering why an enjoyable show had to end after 10 episodes instead of leaving the option open to come back next year. Flesh And Bone, a dark drama about a dancer in a prestigious New York ballet company, had some of the most dreamlike visuals and striking cinematography on television this year outside of Hannibal. But when it ended, it felt more like a short story (or a long movie) than a season finale, and I understood why they capped it off where they did, as much as I'd like to see a continuation.

22. Empire (FOX)
I tend to shy away from phrases like "guilty pleasure" or "so bad it's good," and I shouldn't condescend to a show like Empire that works very hard, and very successfully, at being extremely entertaining. That said. it's a must-see show because it's a runaway cultural phenomenon that's fun to watch with everyone else on twitter as much as because Taraji P. Henson as Cookie is one of the best characters on television.

23. The Last Man On Earth (FOX)
One of the most enjoyable but frustrating new shows this year was The Last Man On Earth. In its best moments, it built a surprisingly funny sitcom out of Will Forte being completely alone in the world, or stranded with Kristen Schaal. But as more characters showed up, Forte's Phil Miller basically turned into Jon Cryer on Two And A Half Men as the show trudged through formulaic sitcom beats about a spineless liar trying to get laid. The show recovered considerably by the end of the year, but I'm still not sure what to expect from it in the future.

24. Other Space (Yahoo)
You'd think that Paul Feig creating a new TV show, for the first time since the legendary one season wonder Freaks & Geeks 15 years ago, would've made some waves. Instead, the show was quietly buried in the Yahoo Screen experiment alongside the resurrected Community and the absolutely terrible Sin City Saints -- Yahoo lost $42 million on those 3 sitcoms and won't be bringing them back n 2016. And that's a shame, because Other Space was a fun little sci-fi comedy, more reminiscent of Red Dwarf than anything currently on the air, with a mostly unknown cast where the closest thing to familiar faces are Joel Hodgson from MST3K and, uh, Lily from the AT&T commercials.

25. Billy On The Street (TruTV)
Billy On The Street was hysterical from the first time I saw it, back when it premiered on Fuse, but I didn't really expect it to have the mileage it's had, still making my sides hurt with laughter after four seasons. Billy Eichner is always pushing his microphone in a stranger's face and asking them the most absurdly specific pop culture trivia possible, and the awkwardness of the exchanges always takes precedent over the show working as an actual functional game show. And this season has featured great moments like "true or false: masculinity is a prison."

26. Difficult People (Hulu)
Although he'd already had a pretty funny recurring character on Parks & Recreation, Difficult People was really the first chance for Billy Eichner to mold his hilarious but one dimensional Billy On The Street persona into something more. And in some ways Difficult People succeeds because Eichner and Julie Klausner doesn't really try to go to deep and just lets their characters be especially acidic, self-obsessed versions of themselves. But among all the navel-gazing shows these days about comedians being comedians in New York or L.A., Different People stands out as actually showing the consequences of being a professional asshole who can't stop making mean jokes when they're not working, while situating the characters in the world of podcasts and twitter instead of the same old telling-jokes-in-front-of-a-brick-wall comedy world.

27. The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore (Comedy Central)
The departure of David Letterman and Jon Stewart 2015 represented probably the biggest changing of the guard in late night hosts in ages, if not ever, and a lot of guys are still settling into their new jobs. Colbert is still a little awkward and suffering from low ratings at CBS, and Trevor Noah and James Corden are slowly getting the hang of it, and I'm rooting for all those guys to varying degrees. But Larry Wilmore is the host who I think really hit the ground running this year. genuinely providing a badly needed perspective to late night (especially in late April, when he spent pretty much an entire week covering nothing but Baltimore and debunking so many of the bogus narratives that the rest of national TV was running with). I knew the show was essential viewing when I kept watching it even when The Daily Show was off the air for 2 months.

28. Stitchers (ABC Family)
Stitchers kind of felt like a kindred spirit to iZombie, with sharp writing and a charismatic cast making a supernatural crime solving premise come off much lighter and zippier than it had any right to be. And it was nice to see Allison Scagliotti, after being the best thing about Warehouse 13 for five seasons, land on a better show.

29. Masters Of Sex (Showtime)
Masters Of Sex is not a meticulously detailed period drama like Mad Men -- the show's first season started in 1956 and the third season left off in 1966, but I barely got any sense of an entire decade passing in the show aside from Masters and Johnson's (seldom seen) children aging. But the show has a lot of ground to cover in a couple of fascinating lives, and I'm glad they're just breezing through the years and finding the most interesting periods to focus on. This season's penultimate episode, a tense dinner scene with Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan, Josh Charles, and Judy Greer, was one of my favorite pieces of acting this year.

30. Project Greenlight (HBO)
When HBO aired Project Greenlight for three seasons over a decade ago, it felt like Matt and Ben's little vanity project that never quite reached either its aspirations of launching a young director's career or giving the viewer a truthful window in the filmmaking process. But this year the revived Project Greenlight became, for better or worse, a flashpoint in the ongoing national conversation about diversity in show business, with producer Effie Brown becoming the de facto protagonist as she dealt with a complete dickhole of a director and an increasingly exasperating set of white guy bosses and co-workers who couldn't seem to understand the points that she got across so well to the public watching at home. It was a frustrating show to watch, but so much more interesting and warts-and-all about Hollywood than I think it even wanted to be.

31. Fresh Off The Boat (ABC)
Fresh Off The Boat was another interesting moment for diversity in television this year -- TV chef Eddie Huang's memoir was adapted into the second Asian family sitcom on network TV ever (after Margaret Cho's short-lived All-American Girl 20 years ago), with Huang doing a Wonder Years/Everybody Hates Chris-style narration of his childhood. But Huang wrote publicly and eloquently about his misgivings about the show's watered down distortion of his life and sensibility before Fresh Off The Boat even went on the air in February. And by the time the show returned for a second season in the fall, his narration was gone as he completely distanced himself from the show. I'm a little sad that he didn't stick around and fight to make the show better, because it absolutely deserves his input, but all in all it's a pretty strong show -- Constance Wu is probably the funniest new star TV's had this year. And one of the best and smartest episodes, "Good Morning Orlando," dealt directly with Asian stereotypes on TV, well after Huang had checked out.

32. The Grinder (FOX)
Rob Lowe as a ridiculously conceited TV star is great casting -- we're talking about the guy who submitted himself to the Emmys as the "lead actor" in Parks & Recreation and left both The West Wing and Brothers & Sisters because he didn't think he was getting enough screentime. So The Grinder gives Lowe the spotlight that he craves while letting him basically be a hilarious caricature of himself for entertainment value. Everyone wins! Timothy Olyphant's recent story arc as himself, starring in the spinoff 'The Grinder: New Orleans,' is one of the best things about the mostly dire fall TV season.

33. Halt And Catch Fire (AMC)
AMC had such runaway success with their first handful of original shows that they were pretty trigger-happy when shows didn't stick right away. So I thought that Halt And Catch Fire was gonna go the way of Rubicon and get canceled after one season, and I'm glad it wasn't. The show was maybe a little deliberately retooled for the second season, but it was absolutely for the better, with Kerry Bishe and Mackenzie Davis moving towards being the show's protagonists where they had been more the foils for the less sympathetic male leads in the first season.

34. Daredevil (Netflix)
The action scenes and the grim spectacle of Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk kind of cast a shadow over the rest of this show's more unremarkable aspects, but it's still a pretty enjoyable show. I probably watched True Blood way longer than I should've because of Deborah Ann Woll, so I'm glad she wound up on this.

35. Playing House (USA)
Playing House reminds me if Broad City, if Broad City had a flyover country mommy blogger vibe, but still had loopy comic rhythms based on the friendship and inside jokes of two funny women. Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair tried a very similar show on NBC called Best Friends Forever, but that got canceled pretty quickly and Playing House at least got to season 2, although USA has been very slow to say whether they're renewing it for a third season.

36. The Soup (E!)
The Soup aired its final episode a couple weeks ago, 11 years after Joel McHale began hosting the show and 15 years after the original Talk Soup debuted. It always seemed like this weird unlikely outpost of mean, funny cynicism in the middle of E!'s happily vapid embrace of modern celebrity, and I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did. I will miss it, every time another network trots out a lesser clip show.

37. Parenthood (NBC)
For six seasons, Parenthood was a sometimes ridiculous and frustrating family drama and sometimes genuinely compelling and heartwarming (although it honestly never, ever got close to being half as good as the 1989 film it was very very loosely based on). So I had mixed feelings about it finally coming to an end, but I'm glad I stuck around to see how they did it, and they did a good job with it. I teared up a little during the last episode.

38. The Carmichael Show (NBC)
Remember Roc? I always had a soft spot for Charles S. Dutton's early '90s FOX sitcom, which was considerably more stagey, serious, and issues-driven than any other black sitcom of the era. And The Carmichael Show's first 6 episodes that aired at the end of this past summer reminded me a lot of Roc, except maybe it was a little better at steering its heavy dinner table discussions towards laughs.

39. Grace And Frankie (Netflix)
Amidst all the hip and gritty shows that Netflix grabbed the zeitgeist with this year, they debuted an old-fashioned sitcom with a bunch of aging showbiz legends getting divorced and griping at each other in cushy beach houses. Maybe they're just covering all their demographic bases, but the result was pretty refreshing, and easily a cut above the usual hacky sitcoms about older folks that get stuck on TV Land. Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda are as funny as reluctant friends as Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston are as once secret lovers finally coming out of the closet.

40. Episodes (Showtime)
Episodes is kind of a show about the ways that success can be worse than failure in television, with Matt LeBlanc getting stuck in a mediocre show nobody watches that keeps getting renewed while trying to hang onto a shred of his post-Friends fame. In some ways I wonder if LeBlanc and the other people who make Episodes ever feel like the characters in the show, as the little-watched Showtime series heads into its fifth season. But really, the way the show keeps finding ways to drag itself out and torture the characters just makes it funnier.

41. The Leftovers (HBO)
The Leftovers was one of my favorite new shows of 2014, and this is kind of an unpopular opinion, but I thought it fell off in its second season almost as hard as goddamn True Detective. Where the first season had one big unexplained event that permeated everything else that happened with an eerie, uneasy air, the second season just started throwing shit at the wall, with all sorts of strange, mysterious incidents and coincidences that Damon Lindelof seems dedicated to never even trying to explain or tie together, just so people don't get mad like they did witih Lost. A compelling character who died in the first season returned as a ghost or hallucination of another character, and the episodes that leaned heavily on these imaginary conversations were some of the dumbest and most aggravating things I sat through this year. Still, there was enough of what I enjoyed about the first season that I hung in there and am hoping the third and final season won't have so much bullshit in it.

42. Drunk History (Comedy Central)
I've been watching and enjoying Drunk History since its first season in 2013, and as a web series before that. But when my wife and I stayed home on New Year's Eve and Comedy Central was running a marathon, it was the first time I'd actually watched Drunk History drunk and man, I've been doing it all wrong, I really need to watch it like that in the future.

43. Another Period (Comedy Central)
This show kind of felt like a spinoff of Drunk History, with lots of comedians in period garb saying things the characters wouldn't have really said back then. But even after they ran through every obvious "Real Housewives if it was 1902" joke, they got a lot of mileage out of the premise.

44. Suits (USA)
USA is very happy with Suits and is probably going to keep it on the air for 8 seasons, but after 5 seasons, they've pretty much run through everything that's interesting about these characters a couple times over, and I'm just impressed that it's still enjoyable and am hoping they don't fuck it up too much. Louis Litt is a great character because they've really thrown him all over the map as a friend and enemy to the protagonists and a totally sympathetic and totally unsympathetic character, and somehow Rick Hoffman pulls all those twists and turns off.

45. Parks & Recreation (NBC)
Long-running comedies tend to end up with a weird final season that stands apart from the rest of the series, either because a major cast member leaves early, or someone has a weird idea of like Roseanne winning the lottery or How I Met Your Mother's last season all taking place in one weekend. Parks & Recreation flashed forward to 2017 for the entirety of its 2015 season, seemingly just to make a bunch of jokes about the near future. And it was at least an interesting end, with a lot of really funny gags they wouldn't have been able to do otherwise, for a show that I really never thought was half as good as people said it was.

46. Adam Ruins Everything (TruTV)
For a half hour, Adam Conover digs into a topic, debunking conventional wisdom and attacking cliches, basically in a heightened reality sketch comedy environment instead of the way John Oliver does it from behind a desk. It's the kind of pedantic fact check that a lot of TV shows try to do, but with this show it's a lot more fun and I actually feel like I've learned a few things from it.

47. Silicon Valley (HBO)
Silicon Valley can hardly be blamed for the fact that my favorite cast member, Christopher Evan Welch, died before they'd finished shooting the first season. Thankfully, the show is still worth watching, primarily for T.J. Miller and Zach Woods (I'm still waiting for them to actually use Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani well instead of just having them bicker boringly).

48. Blunt Talk (Starz)
Bored To Death grew on me more than I ever thought it would over its three seasons. And I'm glad that Jonathan Ames got to make another odd little show, this time with Patrick Stewart finally settling into a comedic role like I've been wanting him to for decades.

49. Mom (CBS)
Allison Janney became a TV star by knowing how to handle Aaron Sorkin dialogue, and that's a skill set that works with Chuck Lorre dialogue more similarly than anybody wants to admit. Mom is a bitterly funny show about recovering from addiction, and at its est reminds me a bit of The John Larroquette Show. At its worst, it's still some pretty funny people flinging mean one-liners at each other.

50. Key & Peele (Comedy Central)
Over 5 seasons, Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele made about 20 hours of television, hundreds of short sketches that were almost always nothing but the two of them wearing (incredibly well made) wigs and doing weird voices. How funny they were was always a little hit and miss, but the production values were some of the highest in sketch comedy history, and I just marvel at how much energy they had to do all of that, and am amazed that they didn't burn out sooner.