TV Diary

a) "The Get Down"
One of the first things my wife did when we met was convince me that Moulin Rouge!, which I was very skeptical about, was actually great, so I have a soft spot for Baz Luhrmann's audacious, ridiculous movies. Of course, it was hard not to be skeptical about this Australian weirdo making a Netflix series about the birth of hip hop, especially after it went over budget and they ended up only releasing half the season initially. But it's a pretty fascinating, ambitious show. Luhrmann's movies are so full of music and emotion and camera movement and histrionics that they never totally settle into a rhythm most movies, and I was afraid while watching the delirious overstuffed opening episode that the show would become exhausting. But 3 episodes in, I feel like it's in a groove and I'm kind of on board with the over-the-top mythical treatment of the subject matter -- I mean, a TV show about aspiring DJs, with a scene where they put on a Lyn Collins record and try to cue up the "Think" break, that's just beautiful to me. But there are things I don't love about it, particularly the awkward framing device of an actor awkwardly lip syncing to Nas's voice.

b) "The Night Of"
I'm 4 episodes into this, and I've gotten the impression that the last couple episodes I'm not caught up on have been pretty divisive. I have very mixed feelings about the show, though -- it's really beautifully written and directed and acted, and the presence of Richard Price and Michael K. Williams has led a lot of people to say it's like "The Wire," although that's not quite right. It's a lot more polished and cinematic, with one central story and not a web of different stories with different characters, and more space for very actorly performances. And I don't say that as a criticism -- John Turturro is one of my favorite actors, and it's great to see him get such a perfect TV vehicle for a funny, strange, complex performance that only he can deliver. But I've already been frustrated by the show at times, particularly in the first episode, where it felt like the babe in the woods protagonist Naz made an almost ludicrous amount of textbook mistakes in a completely contrived and bizarre situation just to set up the next 7 episodes of plot.

c) "The A Word"
I've watched a couple episods of this BBC show about a family realizing that their son is autistic. The story is handled well enough, albeit with broad strokes, but it's really an ensemble drama about all the characters, and it ultimately ends up being yet another piece of media that empathizes less with the autistic person than with the people around him who are seemingly burdened by them, so I dunno, it doesn't sit well with me. Also it's weird that Christopher Eccleston plays the grandpa and he only seems like 10 years older than the parents, it took me a while to figure out who he was supposed to be in the family. I'm looking forward to an American network adapting this show and it being worse than "The Slap."

d) "Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace"
This is one of those kuh-razy non-animated Adult Swim shows, they all kind of blend together for me now. I watched the first episode of this and I didn't really understand what was going on but I'm pretty sure it wasn't funny or subversive or whatever.

e) "Jeff Ross presents Roast Battle"
The most fun I've had at my teleprompting job lately was a couple months ago when The Kennedy Center hosted a comedy festival, and they held a roast for James Carville. Bob Saget hosted and some of the big Comedy Central roast regulars like Jeff Ross and Jim Norton were there, and I don't think they usually use prompters but they were all game to get their scripts typed out and given to us to scroll. And it was really fun to have guys like Jeff Ross, who was a pretty nice dude in person, come by all day and basically take a hilarious dirty joke and make it funnier and filthier and give us the revised version. Comedy Central is forever trying to turn Ross and the celebrity roasts into some kind of ongoing series, and this one as a competitive tournament is kind of a good idea. But a lot of the comedians they had in competition just weren't that good, so like a lot of reality shows, I kind of lost patience in the early rounds. One thing I do remember, though, is that that douchebag from "The League" who lied about being in the WTC towers on 9/11 tried to play off of it for self-deprecating laughs on "Roast Battle," it was really uncomfortable.

f) "BrainDead"
raved about this show when it first started up, and since then it's really cemented its place as my favorite new show this summer. It's almost a shame that it's on CBS, where nobody is looking for something this odd and funny, I feel like it'd find an audience more easily on The CW or SyFy or Showtime or Hulu. I worked with a guy recently who has a Nielsen meter, and I told him to watch "BrainDead" because I'm so sure it's gonna get canceled, but for now I'm just savoring how good it is. Tony Shalhoub has had some hilarious scenery-chewing moments, and Johnny Ray Gill and Nikki M. James really helped fill out the cast when they came in on the 3rd episode, but generally the whole show has done a great job of maintaining a balance between a ridiculous satirical premise about space bugs controlling the government and a real human-scale story that understands Washington, D.C. better than the average stuffy political drama.

g) "Wrecked"
This show was a decent little summer distraction that never really lived up to the premise's potential but was funnier than I expected. I was disappointed that Eliza Coupe was in the first episode and then wasn't a series regular, but the payoff of her character's return in the last two episodes of the season was worth it.

h) "Feed The Beast"
This show didn't start out very promising with its boilerplate cable drama premise of two friends with a tragic history starting a business while trying to pay off violent criminals. And it really just got worse from there, with Jim Sturgess's character becoming more and more detestable with each episode and David Schwimmer just becoming a bigger simp to the point that you're not rooting for anyone, except maybe the other characters to get away from them. The season finale ended with a stupid cliffhanger with major characters left in mortal danger, and I hope AMC just cancels the show and nobody even gets upset, it was that lousy and emotionally manipulative.

i) "Preacher"
Other than "BrainDead," this was probably my favorite new show of the summer. I thought at first that it might lean a little too hard on the comically surreal stuff and get puerile and obnoxious like other Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg productions. But a lot of the big weird violent setpieces were just pulled off with a lot of wit and verve and the cast has the charisma to pull it off, particularly Ruth Negga as Tulip O'Hare, one of TV's best new characters in recent memory. I've been meaning to go back and watch the director's cut of the pilot, because it took a couple episodes for me to really appreciate this show.

j) "Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll"
This show is still generally mired in Denis Leary's usual caustic mediocrity, but I dunno, it's kind of grown on me in the second season, which feels a little less like a disjointed adventure-of-the-week "Entourage" type show this time around.

k) "UnReal"
"UnReal" was easily one of the best new shows of 2015, and I have to admit, the second season was a bit of a letdown. A lot of people would use stronger language than that, primarily because of the seemingly contrived, cynical way they provided a Black Lives Matter moment by introducing some black characters this season, and then having one of them get shot by a police officer halfway through the season. The later episodes in the season kind of recovered and got back to what the show does best dealing with media deception and soapy plot twists, but when that character showed up again in the season finale, as if nothing happened and was just annoyed to be still in the place where he got shot, it kind of underlined how that storyline felt kind of botched and tacked-on.

l) "Dark Matter" 
I enjoyed this show last year, glad SyFy renewed it, but it's a bit less entertaining than the show they air the same night, "Killjoys," and the story is a little more involved and hard to follow, so it's very casual viewing for me.

m) "The Nightly Show" 
So the news just came down today that Comedy Central has canceled "The Nightly Show," and the last episode will air this Thursday. And I gotta say, I'm more pissed than I've been about a show being canceled than I have been in a while, particularly because I didn't expect it at all, and because it's been consistently better and more essential than "The Daily Show" over the past year. Larry Wilmore spent an entire week dedicating entire episodes to the Baltimore uprising last year, and his coverage had more humanity and insight than any "real" news program I saw covering the story. I often tuned out for the hit-and-miss panel portion of the second half of the show, but it was always refreshing to turn it on and see a perspective that wasn't really being aired on national television anywhere else. Even when they tried a little too hard with stuff like 100 emoji's, the effort to say something was appreciated.

n) "Suits" 
One of my biggest TV pet peeves is shows that constantly invoke the threat of something happening even though that happening would essentially break the premise so that there would be no show, whether that's the death of a character or something more specific. And "Suits" has always teetered on the bring of Mike being found out as a fraud and going to jail, and now that the show's far along enough that it wouldn't necessarily break the show but it's kind of ridiculous how long it took, they've finally put Mike in jail. And I'm glad, it's kinda gotten the story out of a holding pattern it had been in for a while and I'm interested to see how they play it out, even if the result is Mike being free and practicing law in an even more implausible situation than the one he was in before.

o) "MADtv"
"MADtv" ran for so long as an undignified generic brand "SNL," 15 whole seasons, that I thought it would never end, and when it finally did, I thought it would never come back. But for some reason "The CW" has tried to revive it, with a new cast but trading heavily on the memory of the original show. Will Sasso and Nicole Sullivan turn up as distinguished alumni, and the first episode had a 'classic sketch' clip to play up the fact that Key and Peele got their start there. That just kind of underlined, though, that "MADtv" has always had talented performers that go on to do good things, but "MADtv" itself has cheesy substandard writing that makes it terrible unfunny. I saw a few people in the new cast that I look forward to having real careers someday.
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