TV Diary

a) "Atlanta"
Donald Glover's work on "Community" (and as a writer on "30 Rock") had me really interested in him as a charismatic new voice in TV comedy, but then he seemed to kind of turn away from that, leaving "Community" before the end of its run and focusing on his rapping career as Childish Gambino, which I have always found kind of embarrassing, the sound of a talented comedy writer doing a horribly forced impression of a punchline rapper. So I was pretty apprehensive about Glover returning to TV with a show about Atlanta hip hop, a scene he may have grown up near but never seemed too musically attached to. But the first two episodes of "Atlanta" that aired this week were more enjoyable than I expected, a lot of little dry character-driven moments of comedy that let Glover and the other actors get laughs with very small facial expressions or subtle word choices. And the depiction of the music scene is more affectionate than condescendingly satirical, although it definitely feels like there are a few places this Paper Boi plotline could go that might piss me off.

b) "Better Things"
After Louis C.K. cast Pamela Adlon in his HBO show and his FX show, and then put his FX show on indefinite hiatus, it was I guess a natural next step for him to executive produce a new show starring Adlon. It's a little more straightforward and realistic than "Louie," but I found the first episode pretty charming. Even though it's about a woman with daughters working in show business, there were a lot of moments that reminded me of life with my sons, it did a good job of kind of showing how odd it can be to go back and forth between adult life and dealing with little kids on a daily basis, there's a lot of humor to mine in that. Also loved the bit where Adlon and Constance Zimmer sat down next to each other at an audition and both went "of course you're here."

c) "One Mississippi"
Another autobiographical comedy show exec produced by Louis C.K., this one Tig Nataro's Amazon series. It just came out today and I ended up just watching the whole thing, since it was just 6 half hour episodes and I'd already seen the pilot when Amazon released it previously. Notaro's whole story the past few years of surviving cancer and then her mother dying has been pretty well publicized and covered in her standup, and this show is more or less a dramatized account of that. The show doesn't really try hard to find laughs in the story, they seem to come in odd unexpected places, and it works a little more naturally with the Notaro's comedic voice than in a lot of these half hour dramedies you see these days. There are occasional flashbacks and fantasy sequences that are used really sparingly but give a very slight surreal edge to all the heavy stuff going on.

d) "Queen Sugar"
I haven't seen any of Ava DuVernay's films yet, but this is definitely one of those shows where you kind of feel the imprint of someone from the film world, it all moves a little slower with more texture in the cinematography and the music than other TV dramas. That's primarily a good things in terms of the quality of the show, but the first two episodes felt a little more like a complete movie, or the first 2/3rds of a movie maybe, that I don't feel a lot of forward momentum to keep watching. I like Rutina Wesley, though, I always felt like she was underused or misused in "True Blood" and this seems like a perfect vehicle for her.

e) "StartUp"
This is Crackle's latest attempt at original programming besides that Jerry Seinfeld show with the cars, and it kinda feels like I should be watching it with a Gritty Prestige Drama bingo card as I check off the cliches. There are 3 sex scenes in just the first 12 minutes of the first episode, 2 of them being those predictable TV sex scenes that abruptly cut to the scene mid-coitus. Martin Freeman and his uncomfortable American accent call somebody "dickfuck." A show centered around Otmara Marrero's character and her story could be interesting, but there's just a lot of other angsty bullshit happening around it.

f) "Loosely Exactly Nicole"
Back in March, FOX debuted a sketch show, "Party Over Here," starring three previously unknown actresses, and it was really disappointingly unfunny and quickly canceled. Less than 6 months later, one of those women, Nicole Byer, is starring in her own show on MTV, another one of those autobiographical sitcoms about trying to make it in show business. I made a petty comment about her multiple shows on the air this year on Twitter and Byer responded, but she actually kept it positive even though I was kinda  mean, so respect to her. This show has a little more potential than "Party Over Here," but it also feels like a lot of other shows on the air right now.

g) "Mary + Jane"
This is MTV's other new slacker sitcom paired with "Loosely Exactly Nicole," except it's really a painfully obvious attempt to replicate "Broad City" but have it be about two young pot dealers. The show is created by the directors of the 2001 Josie And The Pussycat movie, which is why I'm disappointed that it's pretty weak.

h) "Harley And The Davidsons"
This has a title that sounds like some campy family sitcom that has nothing to do with Harley Davidson, but this is actually a Discovery miniseries about the founding of the motorcycle company. I thought the first part was OK but I dunno if I'll watch the other two, the story's not that interesting to me. Also I have an irrational hatred of Michiel Huisman because of how awful his character on "Treme" was.

i) "I Am The Ambassador"
This is a Netflix reality show about Rufus Gifford, the U.S.'s ambassador to Denmark, who is openly gay and planning his wedding. It's kind of a sweet folksy little show, not anything dramatic but it's interesting to see what an ambassador's day to day life is like. I've actually met a number of U.S. ambassadors doing teleprompter for a series of videos for the government, so I'm intrigued by the job. I wonder if the show will have more seasons and if they'll continue covering Gifford or focus on a different ambassador. But now he's my 2nd favorite famous gay Rufus (after Wainwright, of course).

j) "One Shot"
Sway, who finally defected from MTV to BET, hosts this new hip hop talent search show, which is like most musical talent shows more of a freak show than a place to find real promising artists. So my favorite moment of the first episode was a guy called Flawlezz Manz saying "this is the hook cause I said so, this is the hook cause I said so."

k) "You Can Do Better"
TruTV has been getting into these kinds of comedic informative 'brain candy' shows like "Adam Ruins Everything," which I really like, so I watched this other new show they paired with the second season of "Adam." It's kind of bland, though, not really into it.

l) "The Tick"
I like that Amazon does a 'pilot season' open to the public, where they let you watch their pilots before they decide on what to pick up for a series. One of the three new pilots last month was the 2nd attempt at a live action version of "The Tick," a comic book that was first adapted into a Saturday morning cartoon I adored in the '90s. FOX's short-lived 2001 "The Tick" had the perfect star for the title role, Patrick Warburton, but the show itself wasn't so good that it can't be improved upon, and this version has a little more promise -- a little darker, better production values, and a slight shift to Arthur being more plainly the protagonist of the show. Warburton has an exec producer credit, but his successor Peter Serafinowicz is a pretty great choice to play The Tick as well. I hope they pick it up.

m) "Jean-Claude Van Johnson"
Another Amazon pilot, with Jean-Claude Van Damme playing a fictionalized version of himself who gets into a real action movie-ish situation. I guess the premise is pretty close to that movie JCVD, although I never saw it. It's kinda funny but the pilot didn't really live up to its potential.

n) "I Love Dick"
The other Amazon pilot from last month, "Transparent" creator Jill Soloway reuniting with Kathryn Hahn, the star of her feature Afternoon Delight. I really like Hahn but had very mixed feelings about Afternoon Delight, I thought this pilot was a much stronger pass at something with a similar tone and themes.

o) "Gomorrah"
Sundance has been picking up a lot of European shows and airing them with subtitles, this one from Italy is a big epic crime drama with pretty impressive production values. I don't wanna sound like an ugly American who hates to read subtitles, but really a lot of the enjoyment I get from TV and film is the sound of actors bringing dialogue to life, so I really just cannot get into foreign language shows too much.

p) "Better Late Than Never"
A goofy Bucket List-y reality show where four aging celebrities (William Shatner, Henry Winkler, George Foreman, and Terry Bradshaw) go around visiting countries they've never visited. It's kind of gently amusing, watching some famous old grandpas dodder around the world, but obviously not appointment television.

q) "Tyler Perry's Too Close To Home"
I watched this for the novelty value of seeing Tyler Perry continue to have no idea how to portray human beings behaving realistically, this time with white people! It's pretty predictably stupid and soapy, though.

r) "Unlocking The Truth"
This MTV show kind of follows in the footsteps of "Making A Murderer," except it's about a guy who was exonerated after serving 8 years for murder, and is now dedicating himself to freeing other people who were wrongfully convicted. I only got through a couple episodes of each of these shows, it's just not really my thing. But I also feel a little unsettled with how easily you're manipulated by shows like this. I mean, maybe everyone on the show is actually innocent, I dunno. But we've been trained by movies and TV that anytime you see enough of an accused criminal in a piece that they're humanized, you just start to believe they're innocent because why else would you be asked to sympathize with them? And I kinda feel like that creates a powerful psychological effect in these documentary shows about real cases, and I don't trust it entirely.

s) "Vice Principals"
I was uneasy with the first episode of this show, and it quickly got kind of stomach-turning and uncomfortable when the two white guys burn down the house of the black female boss they're trying to sabotage. It's just weird how they kind of play it straight as a wacky dark comedy instead of really confronting the subtext. The show has been a little less unsettling since then but I'm still just not really into the whole thing Jody Hill and Danny McBride do and I'm only watching for Walton Goggins.

t) "Dead Of Summer"
This odd little Freeform show really turned out to be pretty interesting. It takes place in the '80s and is a pastiche of old school horror tropes, and I'm not gonna say outright that it was better than "Stranger Things," but I definitely warmed up to it more. There were actually characters that I was sad to see go when they got killed off, which is not something that happens a lot in horror movies, there were really some emotionally affecting plots, particularly story with Zelda Williams (daughter of Robin) as a transgender character.

u) "Ballers"
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is now officially the highest paid movie star in the world, which makes it all the more odd that he spends so much of his time doing this middling HBO show that doesn't seem especially popular and doesn't really play to his strengths or give them that much of a dramatic showcase. In fact I just think of it as "The Rock Wears A Suit" now. "The Rock Wears A Suit" has been picked up for a third season and I have no idea who is watching it. Do they pay him anywhere near what he makes for a movie? Do they pay him in suits?

v) "Difficult People"
The second season of this has been really strong, it might be the most quotable comedy on TV since "30 Rock," even if there's not a whole lot of connective tissue between all the quips to make it feel like a really complete, great sitcom. Gabourey Sidibe has gotten some good lines this year, I'm glad that she's finally on a show where she isn't as ridiculously underused as she's been on "Empire" and "The Big C" and "American Horror Story."

w) "Killjoys"
My life absolutely loves this show, whereas I just like it. But I get it, it's really the most fun of the newer crop of shows SyFy has put on the air.

x) "You're The Worst"
I love this show so much, I'm so glad it's back, and the first couple episodes of the third season have been great. I'm not so sure about the plot with Lindsey being back with Paul and miserable again, it kinda feels like their storyline just rebooted back to how it was in the first season.

y) "Halt And Catch Fire"
This show did such an interesting pivot in the second season to the female leads being the protagonists of the show instead of just kind of the supporting cast to the dudes. In fact, now it kind of feels like Lee Pace is their antagonist whereas he was sort of the center of the show at the beginning, although I wonder if that will last. It also feels like they're finally using Toby Huss to his full potential. They even let him sing some Sinatra in the season premiere!

z) "The Eric Andre Show"
I'm still kind of ambivalent about this show, it feels like an exercise in how being as strange and unpredictable as possible can have this numbing effect where none of it is really as fun or funny as it would be on another show. But it works in small doses, I kind of enjoy it more when bits like the recent T.I. and Stacey Dash segments went viral and you just realize how bizarre those moments are in isolation.
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