TV Diary

a) "Hap And Leonard" 
This Sundance show is 4 episodes into a 6-episode season, and so far I really like it, it's been one of the more interesting surprises on TV lately. I'm not familiar with the novels that the show is based on, but the show is pulpy noir kind of thing about an ex-con and a Vietnam vet in Texas in the '80s, getting mixed up in some sordid crime stuff. It's interesting that Michael K. Williams playing a gay tough guy might look like typecasting on paper, but Leonard manages to be a pretty distinct character from "The Wire"'s Omar. Jimmi Simpson and Pollyana McIntosh as the show's villains bring this weird surreal energy to the show, though, Simpson has impressed me in a few roles over the last few years and here he's doing this crazy scenery-chewing Jeff Goldblum kind of thing.

b) "Flaked" 
Between the "Arrested Development" revival, that overrated cartoon horse show, and now this, Netflix really seems determined to keep Will Arnett busy. I've always kinda thought the guy had a limited bag of tricks with serious diminishing returns, and this show is just the pits, just this orange middle-aged manchild being sold as a compelling protagonist for this aimless dramedy. I always hate TV love triangles and the one at the center of this show is just exceptionally forced and stupid. And I adored Ruth Kearney on "Primeval" but I dunno, she looks weird as a blonde, almost didn't recognize her. Also terrible white rapper T. Mills is in this show for some reason. I kind of like how the 'unglamorous underbelly of a sunny California beach community' vibe reminds me of "Terriers," but they don't do much with it.

c) "The Characters" 
I really like the concept of this, where Netflix gives 8 different comedians each a chance to make a half hour sketch show. They're all kinda rising semi-well known people who aren't at the level to have their own Comedy Central series or something, so it's cool to see less familiar comics show off their stuff in this way instead of just a standup special. Of the 4 episodes I've seen, the episode with Henry Zebrowski (the annoying bearded friend from "A To Z") was absolutely awful, disgusting, frequently racist garbage, but the episodes with Lauren Lapkus, Kate Berlant and especially John Early had some pretty enjoyable moments.

d) "Damien" 
Clearly this show exists because "Bates Motel" has been such a hit for A&E, but it's interesting that instead of doing another prequel for an iconic horror film, they look at Damien from The Omen having grown up as more or less a normal adult living a normal life. Crazy things start happening around him again and so he basically has to start grappling with the idea that he might be Satan, even though he hasn't done anything evil. I like the gloomy gory vibe of the show but the actor is almost too bland and normal to make the role as interesting as it should be, so I'm kind of on the fence about it.

e) "The Family"

I'm not wild about the spate of dramas about missing or murdered children in small towns that have been all over TV the last few years (that's right, I'm calling a spate a spate). But this one has an intriguing twist, in that the kid who was presumed dead returns 10 years later as a teenager who finally escaped his captor, and the guy that was convicted of killing him (played by Andrew McCarthy) is let out of jail. There's a lot of plot threads here that could pay off interestingly -- McCarthy gives an incredibly creepy, gripping performance, Joan Allen as the power-hungry politician mom is great, and I really have no idea how the central mystery is going to be resolved (my wife things that the kid who showed up saying he's their son is actually a completely different kid, but I'm not so convinced).

f) "The Real O'Neals" 
This is a pretty charming family sitcom, based on an idea by Dan Savage, about a Catholic family whose teenage son comes out as gay. The whole cast is pretty solid and it's a little more broad than it needs to be but mostly works, and Martha Plimpton was one of my favorite TV moms in recent memory on "Raising Hope," so it's kinda nice to see her in a role like that again.

g) "11.22.63"
I've only gotten through one (very long) episode of this Hulu mini-series about a guy who finds a time portal and goes back to the '60s to prevent the Kennedy assassination. It's an interesting premise from Stephen King and I'm curious where it will go, but I'm not sure if I'll keep up with it, it's just a little dour. And even though it's kind of nice to see James Franco playing it straight as a lead actor without a bunch of wacky postmodern schtick, he's really just not that compelling of an actor.

h) "The Internet Ruined My Life"
This new show on SyFy is basically about people who have been harassed on the internet, which is a very timely topic. The format of the show kind of flattens the complexity of the subject into a formula, though, where people tell the story from their perspective and bits of it are shown in cheesy dramatizations with actors playing them. One segment is about the woman who started the #CancelColbert hashtag, one is about a chef who lost his job for arguing with animal rights activists on Facebook, and it was interesting to see a GamerGate victim tell their story on TV, but it kinda felt like they didn't come remotely close to really explaining that whole situation or how many people have been chased off the internet by it.

i) "Seperation Anxiety" 
This is a clever game show where one person is in a little soundproof room playing what they think is a low budget internet game show for small cash prizes, while next door their boyfriend or girlfriend is watching and knows they're playing for way more money. Then, at some point the wall comes up and they find out the truth and play the big game show together, and of course they've already done a dramatic episode that ends in a proposal. Iliza Shlesinger is the host and it's all pretty hyper and goofy and fun, although like most game shows I dunno if I'd have any desire to watch it more than twice.

j) "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson" 
This show has gotten enough right, and brought enough things to life in surreal, entertaining ways, that I try not to focus on what it's gotten wrong. But the repeated in-jokey Kardashian kid stuff, David Schwimmer saying "Juice" a billion times, and the horribly hammy fictional version of William Hodgman's heart attack have kind of shaken my faith in this show to rise above the usual Ryan Murphy nonsense. It's still really good television, and I hope Courtney B. Vance gets some awards, I just have some misgivings now.

k) "The Magicians" 
This show has really taken some dark turns, I like how it basically treats magic as a lethal weapon that can often have terrible consequences when misused. Eliot in particular has gotten to be a more nuanced character than I thought he'd be.

l) "Billions" 
Still probably my favorite new show of 2016 so far, really redeems the whole tired "powerful men doing bad things" subgenre of cable dramas with some great performances and unpredictable plotting. The Metallica episode was pretty weird but kind of helped build the world, which really exists out there in real life, that this show takes place in. Maggie Siff has just been fantastic, and pulled off probably the first successful non-satirical "dramatic slow clapping before a dramatic speech" scene on television in decades. There's still a few episodes left and I'm kind of excited that they've already played out the main conflict a few steps beyond where I thought they'd take it in the first season, they're not pulling any punches.

m) "Marvel's Daredevil"
I'm only 3 episodes into the new season, because, once again, I'm just not really into the binge watching thing, particularly with dramas. I liked the first season, and Vincent D'Onofrio was such a good antagonist that I wasn't sure if the show would be as interesting to me without him, but so far it's off to a good start. I don't really like the actor they cast as The Punisher, who I've only seen in the terrible sitcom "The Class," but the whole thing with him and Daredevil arguing about their differing styles of vigilante justice was really pretty clever. I guess I still have the introduction of Elektra to look forward to, though.

n) "Black-ish"
This show has been very good at handling some heavy topics with a light touch and making it funny, but the inevitable Black Lives Matter-themed episode was really deft and had just the right amount of seriousness and levity, really felt like a moment where a very good show hit a new high.

o) "Mom" 
"Mom" is a show about recovering addicts that's full of gallows humor, and I think it's already handled a lot of stuff better than one might expect a Chuck Lorre production to. But the recent plot, where they introduced a younger character that the main characters were looking out for, and then she very suddenly and unexpectedly overdosed, was really kind of a shock and was handled really well.

p) "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee"
I was a few episodes behind on the most recent season, but after I heard the news about Garry Shandling this week, I decided to catch up since he was just on the show recently (on an episode titled "It's Great That Garry Shandling's Still Alive"). And it's really kind of a surprisingly fitting endcap to his career, one of this show's more introspective episodes, where Shandling and Seinfeld go to The Comedy Store and reminisce, and talk about the recent deaths of peers like David Brenner and Robin Williams. Shandling's bit about the blues is hysterical. It was also fun to see Kathleen Madigan on the show, she's really one of my favorite working standups these days that isn't super famous and doing sitcoms or movies or whatever.

q) "Impractical Jokers" 
My buddy Mike Bartolomeo has worked on this show for years as an editor, and every time I mention a TruTV show on here, he's like hey, you should write about my show! So I've been watching a few episodes, it's not really my bag but I like how knowingly silly the whole thing is, where is more about doing ridiculous improv that involved man-on-the-street bystanders than actually pulling a successful prank, in that sense it's a bit like "Billy On The Street."

r) "The Venture Bros." 
The 6th season of the show went by so quickly, in just 8 episodes, and there'll probably another very long hiatus before there's any more new episodes. So I really try to savor "The Venture Bros." -- it's one of the only shows that I make a point to own every season on DVD and rewatch every episode multiple times, just because the writing is so dense that I never catch everything the first time around. But this season was great on the first pass, making the Ventures into wealthy New Yorkers and the reveal with the Blue Morpho kind of put a new life into the old dynamics between characters. The last episode wasn't as climactic as their season finales usually are, but it was kind of relief that there was no huge twist or death, the show has been on for over a decade now and I'm always a little nervous that something will happen that will signal that the end is near.

s) "Saturday Night Live"
I was wary of the Ariana Grande-hosted episode, because as much I enjoy some of her music, the pop star-hosted episodes can be a really mixed bag. But man, she was Timberlake-level good, I wouldn't mind if she starts hosting every couple years. This season's been a real mixed bag, though, I love a lot of the current cast but the writing just doesn't feel very sharp. And I feel bad for Taran Killam that he botched Trump so badly that they inevitably had Darrell Hammond, who was hanging around anyway to announce and occasionally be Bill Clinton, do Trump again. A lot of their election sketches have just been kinda weak, though, just because it's so hard to make it more ridiculous than what really happened. 
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WHEW!!! You could have totally demolished it and I'd still be relieved that you featured it.
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