Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 - The Year in TV Superlatives

Happy end of December, Everyone!

The holiday season is still in full swing (Christmas lasts until way past Three Kings Day so keep that spirit going, folks!), and New Years Eve is right around the corner. With 2013 coming to a close, everyone and their mother is making "Best Of" lists to end the year off right. So why should this blog be any different? Below is my 2013 TV Yearbook (or just another annoying Top-10-and-then-some list, but in no particular order). So go cook up some lentils - it's time to take stock of the year in television!

Best New Drama Series  - Tie: Orphan Black / Masters of Sex

In 2013, we got not one, but two new shows that completely blew me away.

BBC America's Orphan Black tore apart the conventions of genre television and gave us multiple tour de force performances from newcomer, Tatiana Maslany. With a genuinely bonkers storyline that becomes so believably real over 10 episodes, no other show this year was as intense, as innovative, or as binge-worthy in my humble opinion. 

Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan are perfect as Masters and Johnson, the real-life Lewis and Clark of sex research in this captivating Showtime drama. The first season presents the duo's groundbreaking 1950's studies in a daring, yet not exploitative, way. Masters of Sex is not the tacky peep show it could have been; instead it's a brave and utterly human series that has only gotten better with each episode.

Best New Comedy Series - Brooklyn Nine-Nine

For a freshman comedy that always brings the funny, look no further than Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It's confident, wacky, and often the first thing I rush to watch on a very packed DVR. With one of the most diverse and talented ensemble casts on television, lets hope Brooklyn sets the sitcom standard by ushering in more interesting and non-stereotypical roles for women and people of color in the future. 

Best New Sketch Show - Inside Amy Schumer

Comedy Central has got the lock on sketch shows right now with gems like Key and Peele and Kroll Show churning out some of the best half-hours the medium has seen this year. But sorry boys, the award for best of the best has to go to Inside Amy Schumer, a twisted, hilarious and original show that will make you spit out your drink and rush to the internet for instant replays of sketches like "Unpleasant Truths", "Sexting", and "Compliments". Go forth, and catch up before Season 2. 

Best Mini-Series - Tie: Broadchurch / Top of the Lake

Murder? Check. Mystery? Check. Beautiful cinematography, sexy accents, and large bodies of water? Check, check, and check. I'm talking about BBC America's Broadchurch and Sundance Channel's Top of the Lake, two of the most interesting and heart-pounding mysteries on television this year. Both told the story of a small town shaken up by tragedy, but in ways we had never seen before. Tune in for two slow-burning, character-driven, must-watch shows that will stay with you long after you turn off the TV. 

Best Lonnnng-Awaited Returning Show - Arrested Development

What did you do this Memorial Day weekend? In between the beach and the BBQ, I have a feeling for many of you, a marathon Netflix's Arrested Development was on the schedule. Sorry haters, but this super-fan is not going to take down the show like many TV critics have. Season 4 was a jigsaw puzzle of insanity that literally forced me to pause and say aloud "HOW DID THEY DO THAT" on more than one occasion. It definitely took some time to get into (and sure, if you don't like to wait for jokes to pay off, it probably wasn't as satisfying as past episodes of the series) but just like it's first run, this new release of Arrested Development was ahead of it's time, playing with both format and storytelling like we've never seen before. I can't wait to watch it again to see what I missed the first time through. 

Most Likely to Make You Scream at the TV - Scandal

Things got so insane on ABC's Scandal in 2013 that if you missed an episode, you may as well have missed the whole season. With speed-plotting like this, not all of the story lines could be winners (a recent torture plot surrounding a female character made me so uncomfortable, I briefly flirted with abandoning the series all together), but with unparalleled flashbacks, reveals, twists, turns, and cliff-hangers every week, nothing made me yell at the screen or cover my eyes more this year than the saga of Olivia Pope and Associates.

Most Likely to Renew Your Faith in an Animated Series
Bob's Burgers

A lot of people are jumping on the Bob's Burgers bandwagon this year and for good reason. It's one of the smartest, fastest, and most original shows around - oh, and it just happens to be a cartoon on Fox. With the best voice work in the business from H. Jon Benjamin, Kristen Schaal, John Roberts, Eugene Mirman, and Dan Mintz, the Belcher's were 2013's family of the year. 

Most Likely to Have the Best First Half of 2013 - New Girl

After the pairing off of it's two main characters, things have slipped a little on Fox's New Girl. But Even with Season 3 leaving much to be desired, no one can deny that the series had an incredible run in the first half of 2013. At the end of it's sophomore season, we were gifted with some of the best sitcom episodes I've ever seen ("Cooler", "Virgin's", "Winston's Birthday", "Elaine's Big Day", I could go on) and America truly fell in love with the residents of apartment 4D. I'm holding out hope that 2014 will bring new life to Jess, Nick, Schmitt, Winston, and CeCe (and the recently brought back, Coach) and a return to it's former glory. Until then, we'll always have re-runs...

Most Likely to be Underrated - Shameless

You all know I'm a huge Shameless fan so I may be biased, but Season 3 of this Showtime series was so incredible, it shocks me that more wasn't written about it in 2013. With particularly amazing work from Emmy Rossum and William H. Macy this year, we were treated to the craziest chapter in Gallagher history (including Frank becoming the face of the gay rights movement in one of the series'  best arcs). There were plenty of cringe-worthy moments (Karen's "accident" being one of them) but with more heart than ever before, Shameless, and most importantly it's season finale, deserves a spot on Best Of lists everywhere. 

Most Likely to Make You Cry - 
Tie: Parenthood / Call the Midwife

Excuse me...I just...I have something in my eye. Two of the best shows of 2013 also happened to be two of the most consistent tear-jerkers on TV.

On NBC's Parenthood I sobbed through Kristina's battle with cancer and blubbered over Amber and Ryan's roller-coaster relationship. Getting choked up is par for the course when spending an evening with the Bravermans, but man is it worth it. Week to week, Season 5 has been Parenthood's best yet, and Monica Potter's recent Golden Globe nomination has been a long time coming. Now they just have to recognize Mae Whitman, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepherd, Peter Krause, Max Burkholder, Bonnie Bedelia...ok the whole Braverman clan, and then I'll truly cry tears of joy.

Another show that tested my "waterproof" mascara this year was the 1950's set PBS series, Call the Midwife. Season 2 was so chock full of tear-worthy moments with Jenny and the crew, just the opening music has me preparing for the waterworks. Don't worry though - while you may be reaching for the tissues, his nuns and nurses drama will make you smile even more with sweet and touching performances from Jessica Raine, Miranda Hart and Laura Main, just to name a few. 

Well there you have it! It's been such an incredible year for TV, I can't wait to see what 2014 has in store. Happy New Year, everyone, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

You Gotta Have a Little Hope!

While I'm still depressed about the cancellation of Happy Endings (I'll get over it when I'm good and ready, people), I'm happy to say our favorite group of friends from Chicago have been showing up everywhere lately. No one has benefitted more from Happy's untimely departure than Fox, a network that currently has two of its stars occupying supporting roles in their Tuesday night line-up. Adam Pally is killing it on The Mindy Project as Dr. Peter Prentice, the overconfident frat boy OBGYN (who is basically Max if he were straight and had his life together) and Damon Wayans Jr. is back as Coach, breathing new life into what was, up until his return, a pretty uneven season of New Girl.

So glad you're back in the loft, Coach!

This got me thinking, what other Fox shows could benefit from some Happy Endings love? I immediately pictured Elisha Cuthbert as a new Howdy's cashier or a long lost Chance cousin on Raising Hope and my mind was off and running with ideas. It then occurred to me that I haven't talked much about this unsung hero of Friday night TV here on the blog, and it was time to break it down to the non-believers and share why Raising Hope is a must-watch.

Ok, so here's the premise: A guy gets a serial killer pregnant and ends up raising their baby with his crazy parents and great grandmother and...Wait! Stop! Don't run away! Believe me, it sounds insane (and it is) but this show is so much more than what it seems.
Raising Hope is honestly a delight to watch. It's consistently funny, and smarter than most things on TV, plus with its perfect blend of sweetness and insanity, things never get too treacly or too unrelatable. It's basically a show about a close family who love each other but express that love in some (UNDERSTATEMENT ALERT) strange ways. This show's bonkers-quotient is part of what makes it so great, but believe me, you'll be tearing up at the end of some episodes just like the rest of us ol' softies once you get invested.


In a nutshell, the show centers around Hope's father, the artistically talented and sweet grocery store clerk, Jimmy (played by the adorable Lucas Neff), his eccentric and still completely in-love parents Burt and Virginia (the best couple on TV, Garrett Dillahunt and Martha Plimpton), and his slightly senile great-grandmother Maw-Maw (Cloris Leachman). Jimmy ends up SPOILER ALERT marrying his love interest of three seasons, Sabrina (Shannon Woodward), a fellow cashier who forsakes her wealthy but distant family for a life in Natesville with the Chances.

Sabrina may have started out as our audience surrogate, but we quickly learn that she has her own Chance-like quirks just like the rest of us. For example, I love that the show still shows her sleeping with a pair of pantyhose over her head to keep spiders from crawling in her ears (a fear from childhood that I totally respect), but they don't even need to acknowledge it anymore! Like Virginia's many malaprops or Jimmy's stress induced eyebrow hair eating, that's just another little thing that adds to her character and the overall mythology of the show. It's those funny details that really make the town of Natesville feel real and fully developed, and as far as perfect small town wackiness goes, only Gilmore Girls' Stars Hollow can compare to the large community Hope has built around its central cast.

Keep an eye out for episodes with Kate Micucci (left) of Garfunkel and Oates fame as Sabrina's singing cousin. 

Both Hope and it's kindred spirit Bob's Burgers (a missed opportunity for a great Fox comedy block if you ask me) need to be talked about more, not only because they're hilarious and should have bigger audiences, but because they may be the only shows on TV that don't depict working class life as a major Depress-Fest. Their characters work hard, face money challenges, and want more out of life, that's for sure, but their shows don't look down on them as morons or try to make us feel bad for them by any means. The Chance's and the Belcher's are just regular families doing fun, sometimes dumb things like all of our regular families do. Neither is meant to be a Honey Boo-Boo-esque gawk session where the audience is meant to get some sick pleasure from judging their lifestyles either (and if we're being honest, the Chance, Belcher, and Boo-Boo-Thompson families are having a hell of a lot more fun than the rest of us). Instead, on Hope, the joy comes from watching a family deal with their financial troubles in increasingly creative ways while never harping too much on what they don't have.

It's also kind of amazing how a show as inherently wacky as this one can depict so truthfully Sabrina's challenges involving raising her adopted daughter; she desperately wants to reject her own cold upbringing and be a better mother than her own, yet she also has to stand her ground against this semi-enmeshed family when it comes to some of their weirder habits and thoughts about raising kids. Burt and Virginia also have to admit their teenage parenting mistakes and reveal the lies they told to Jimmy when he was growing up in order to be better for Hope, but that doesn't mean they change in unrealistic ways - no matter what, they're still the same couple who hunted down a sexually assaulting squirrel, pretended to be lawyers, and broke Maw-Maw out of a nursing home together. 

On a side note, if I ever find someone who gets me as much as Burt and Virginia inherently get each other, I will be a very happy lady. 

If all that mushy family stuff doesn't do it for you, just remember this show has Greg Garcia's twisted sense of humor throughout (fans of his other underrated gem, My Name Is Earl, will love spotting the many guest cameos), and some of the best theme episodes around. So what are you waiting for? Start catching up on Netflix now! When you've blown through the first three seasons, check out back-to-back new episodes every week on Fox, Fridays at 9PM

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get my onesie on and start decorating for Christmas! 
Happy Holidays Everyone! See you all in two weeks for my end of the year TV countdown!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I Wasn't Supposed to Put Beef in the Trifle! A Friends Thanksgiving Countdown

Happy Turkey Day, Everyone!

Do like Monica and make your Thanksgiving extra memorable this year...

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for so many reasons:

The food, the food, the food, and of course THE FOOD.

Need I say more?

But there's more to the last Thursday in November than just stuffing your face. What about the entertainment? Sure, there's always the parade, football, and that one crazy relative who might light something on fire, but nothing says it's Thanksgiving like a marathon of the show that did it best: Friends. 

What Halloween episodes were to Roseanne, Thanksgiving episodes were to Friends, and every year the gang from NYC brought the laughs, the flashbacks, and the holiday spirit like nothing else on TV. So grab a pumpkin beer (with a cinnamon-sugar rim if you know what's good for you) and sneak an early piece of pie - it's time for The One With All The Friends-giving Episodes! 

Season 1: The One Where Underdog Gets Away

When the Underdog balloon becomes untethered during the parade, the six friends run up to the roof to see it, but accidentally get locked out of the apartment as the turkey dinner is cooking. By the time everyone gets back inside, the food is ruined, but luckily a Thanksgiving-hating Chandler saves the day with grilled cheeses for everyone.

This first Friends-giving is an instant classic that set the tone for the rest of the series: 
3 out of 4 Turkeys

Season 2: The One With The List

Sorry, but without a real Thanksgiving story line, even Monica's many Mockolate recipes can't get me to count this one as a true Friends-giving. Not a bad episode by any means (Phoebe's love-triangle song is a classic), but on this list, I can only give it: 1 out of 4 Turkeys

Season 3: The One With The Football

The friends play a football game that grows increasingly more competitive in what is most likely the best episode of the season, and one of my favorites of the entire series. We get Ross vs. Monica, Chandler vs. Joey, and eventually, the game turns into a boys vs. girls battle 'til the turkey timer buzzes. Everyone's pride (and, of course, the Gellar Cup) is at stake, but just like in the real world, almost everyone makes up once the turkey hits the table. As a child, this episode taught me to approach sports like Rachel: if your friends won't let you play, just go realllly long and get a hot pretzel. 

This one has to be on your marathon list: 4 out of 4 Turkeys

Season 4: The One With Chandler In A Box

After kissing Joey's girlfriend, Chandler spends Thanksgiving in a box to prove his friendship. When Monica gets ice in her eye, she meets a hot ophthalmologist who happens to be her ex-boyfriend's...son. The gang chooses their Secret Santas (which is also my family's tradition!) and Ross and Rachel fight over why she always exchanges his gifts. There's a lot going on in this one, but it's all Thanksgiving perfection: 3 out of 4 Turkeys

Season 5: The One With All The Thanksgivings

Everyone competes for who has the worst Thanksgiving story, and we get some of the most memorable flashbacks a series has ever done (How I Met Your Mother and New Girl obviously owe A LOT to Friends, but this episode in particular pioneered the art of the flashback that is so commonly used in sitcoms today). Between two hilarious 80's Long Island Thanksgivings, Joey's head-in-a-turkey incident, and Phoebe's past lives, this is another series-best.

This one's a late-night Thanksgiving tradition for me - I gotta give it: 4 out of 4 turkeys

Season 6: The One Where Ross Gets High

To me, this is the absolute best of the bunch: Chandler and Monica are living together but have to pretend they aren't even dating since Monica's parents don't like him (yet no one seems to know exactly why). Meanwhile, Joey and Ross are trying to rush through Thanksgiving dinner so they can go drink with some hot dancers, but Rachel's attempt at dessert (a custard trifle with...beef, peas, and onions?) keeps them later than they thought. Phoebe has an inappropriate dream about Mr. Gellar, and before the end of the night, secrets about everyone have been revealed.

As Rachel would say, cooking is easy! If the recipe says boil two cups of salt, just boil two cups of salt! If you're only going to watch one, make sure it's this one: 4 out of 4 turkeys

Season 7: The One Where Chandler Doesn't Like Dogs

Phoebe brings a dog into the apartment but Chandler's fear of them causes some problems. The gang plays a game where they have to name all 50 states without looking at a map, and Ross takes it a little too seriously. Rachel's assistant, Tag, also joins everyone for dinner after a bad breakup and a little romance starts up between the two. Not one of my personal favorites, but Clunkers the adorable dog does wins it some points: 2 out of 4 turkeys

Season 8: The One With The Rumor

Brad Pitt joins everyone for Thanksgiving as Monica's newly transformed friend, Will, who used to be a nerd in high school and really hates Rachel for making his life hell. She doesn't remember him, but learns that he and Ross to created the "I Hate Rachel Club" in which they started a rumor about her being a hermaphrodite. When Monica decides not to make a turkey since no one except Joey wants one, he challenges himself to eat the entire 19 pound bird by himself (I'm with Joey: "Thanksgiving with no turkey is like Friday with no two pizzas!"). Phoebe and Chandler pretend to love football so they don't have to help Monica in the kitchen, and we get another fun Turkey Day with the crew.

This Massapequa high school reunion gets: 3 out of 4 (19lb) turkeys

Season 9: The One With Rachel's Other Sister

Christina Applegate guest stars in this one as Rachel's spoiled, self-centered sister, Amy. The fighting around the table this year centers on who will be Emma's guardian if something were to happen to Ross or Rachel, and both Chandler and Amy are offended that they're not on the list. There's cat fighting, broken china, and of course plenty of Thanksgiving fun. This one gets: 2 out of 4 turkeys

Season 10: The One With The Late Thanksgiving 

Monica and Chandler don't want the stress of cooking Thanksgiving dinner, but the rest of the group begs them to host by convincing Monica to compete with herself for the best meal ever (Monica reminds me of my mom in this one: "This dinner is going to be so great! In your face, last year me!"). But during the day, Ross and Joey sneak off to a Rangers game and Phoebe and Rachel take Emma to a baby beauty pageant so everyone gets to the apartment way too late. Monica and Chandler lock everyone out in protest, and Joey gets his head stuck in the door trying to get in.

After dinner ends up on the floor, all is forgiven when Monica and Chandler learn they're finally getting to adopt a baby! A fitting way to end the marathon: 3 out of 4 turkeys

OK! You've got the comprehensive list, now call up your best buds, and before or after your Thanksgiving-eve fun, kick the holidays off right and tune in to Nick at Nite tonight, Wednesday November 27th starting at 10, for a Thanksgiving marathon!

I hope all of your Thanksgivings are full of food, fun, family, and of course friends who'll always be there for you toooo! See you next week!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Netflix Whisperer

Wednesday, 7PM: After a long day at work, you decide on a night in, complete with popcorn, Cherry Garcia, and wine (don't fight me on this - they go together). What's missing? A great show to watch of course! But after hours of scrolling through Netflix's many TV options, your ice cream is melted, your wine is warm, and the trans fats in your popcorn have officially been banned by the FDA. You go to sleep feeling overwhelmed after adding thirty new shows to your list, but watching none of them.

Don't let this happen to you.

Luckily, you are in the presence of Liz, the Netflix Whisperer! I'll give you 5 shows to start watching now based on other series you may have enjoyed in the past (ok, so Netflix already does this, but according to Buzzfeed, they don't always get it right). Say goodbye to the weeknight streaming cycle of frustration, and hello to:

Liz's Top 5 Shows to Stream on Netflix NOW (in no particular order)!

Do you like Arrested Development, The Office, and Scrubs? Then you should check out:

5. Better Off Ted

Want a smart, single-camera sitcom that's only a short term commitment? Better Off Ted is for you. At only two short seasons, you'll be able to blow through this series in a few marathon sessions (but you'll be sad when it's over, let me tell ya). Veridian Dynamics may be the most dysfunctional office out there, so after you leave yours, get ready to laugh, cringe, and suffer through the workweek with Ted, Linda, Lem, and Phil. 

Breakout Character: Portia de Rossi's hilariously terrifying boss, Veronica. 
Best Episode: "Get Happy"
Already Watched It? Try: The IT-Crowd for more bonkers-workplace fun.

Do you like The Killing, and Broadchurch? Try:

4. Top of the Lake

For the crime-drama lover who likes their thriller with a side of WTF???, this seven-episode mini series is one of the most original, weird, and addictive things on Netflix. Detective Robin Griffin, played by Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss, comes back home to New Zealand to investigate a child's disappearance but discovers more about her home town and her past then she bargained for. Dark, creepy, and funny, Top of the Lake will be your new weeknight escape into another world.

Breakout Character: Holly Hunter (Yup!) as the more than slightly unhinged women's refuge leader, GJ.
Best Episode: "Episode 4"
Already Watched It? Try: Twin Peaks for another small-town mystery.

Do you like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Hoarders? You might like:

3. Clean House

Nothing will inspire you to clean up your place more than a marathon of Clean House. It's a reality show where a team of experts, led in the first few seasons by the charismatic Niecy Nash (Reno 911), clean some super-messy homes, then sell people's stuff at a garage sale and use the proceeds to make their decorating dreams come true. BONUS: you will feel amazing about yourself after seeing some of these hoarder-dens and may even learn some tips about how to have a successful tag sale!

Breakout "Character": Hostess with the mostest, Niecy Nash (duh - she's awesome).
Best Episode: "Alpha Epsilon Phi Fraternity House"
Already Watched It? (Kudos! Even I haven't watched all of this.) Try: Long Island Medium for more reality TV comfort food.

Do you like Nurse Jackie, Shameless, and Orphan Black? Start watching:

2. United States of Tara

Toni Collette is just a regular Kansas mom (and teenager, and 50's housewife, and trucker, and therapist, and id personified) trying to keep her family together. Huh? Oh, she suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder, a mental illness in which she transitions between different personas when off her meds. It gets to the point where you can tell exactly who she is before she even says a word - this is Toni Collette at her best for sure, and with a supporting cast like John Corbett (Sex and the City), Rosemarie DeWitt (Mad Men) and Patton Oswalt (Everything!), you'll want to keep visiting the Gregson's over and over. 

Breakout Character: Brie Larson's crazy teen, Kate.
Best Episode: "Tornado"
Already Watched It? I haven't actually seen this series, but check out: Alias for more ladies playing multiple versions of themselves.

Do you like Two Broke Girls, Happy Endings, and The Mindy Project? How about:

1. Don't Trust the B- In Apt. 23

I just started watching this rcently cancelled ABC sitcom and believe me, it's a lot funnier than its unfortunate name implies. A girl from Indiana moves to New York City, loses her job and apartment upon arrival, and moves in with a con-artist roommate whose best friend is James Van Der Beek. It's weird, sly, and so full of throw-away jokes, re-watching is a must in order to catch everything (and at only 2 short seasons, that shouldn't be a problem!).

Breakout Character: James Van Der Beek as James Van Der Beek!
Best Episode: I'm new to the series, but so far I'd say start with the pilot - it sets up the world really well, and you'll know if you're into it right away.
Already Watched It? Check out: New Girl for more wacky roommate hijinx.

That oughta hold you for a while! Now go grab your laptop and start getting your money's worth with that subscription. 

In other TV news...

- The new Fox comedy, Enlisted, has recently been rescheduled from its original November premiere to Friday January 10th, so I sadly won't be reviewing that one for a while. At least Raising Hope is coming back this week though!
- Parks and Recreation also returns from it's brief hiatus this week with back to back episodes! One of them will be Halloween themed since it was postponed from it's original time slot, so keep that fall spirit going, snow-flurries and early Christmas commercials be damned! 

I'm sorry midterms have made my posting schedule wacky - to all of you out in TV land, thanks for bearing with me!

Friday, November 1, 2013

BONUS: Halloween Sitcom Countdown!

Happy Halloween to all you zombie cops, Waldos, and Miley Cyrus look-a-likes!

I hope all of your pillowcases are full of candy, and your pumpkins are still squirrel-free.

To keep the holiday spirit going, here's a king-sized bonus post! So take off that sweaty mask and break out the Butterfingers - here's my TOP 5 Halloween Sitcom Episodes of All Time:

5. New Girl - "Halloween"

Nick initially wants to impress his visiting college crush, Amelia, but after they actually get together, his fear of committment rears it's ugly head. On Halloween, Zombie Jess is working at a haunted house (which turns out to be less scary than telling her new crush Sam her true feelings) and accidently gets punched for scaring a phobic Nick. Schmitt transforms from Abe Lincoln to Magic Mike after a fight with Ninja Turtle Robbie, and Cop Winston and Pretentious-Costume Shelby ("Reigning Cats and Dogs"? Come on.) break up. It's an episode with a lot going on, but I love how it tackles how the high expectations of Halloween don't always match up with reality.
Best Costume: Nick as "Bee" Arthur (Thanks Jim Halpert for setting the precedent that it's cool for guys not to put effort into their costumes by giving us Three-Hole-Punch version of Jim in The Office, "Halloween")

4. Modern Family - "Halloween"
Halloween obsessed Claire and and Phil (as Zombie Bride and Groom) want to make their house terrifying for the neighborhood trick-or-treaters, but things don't go as planned. While I'm not the biggest Modern Family fan these days, this episode brings the talented cast together with great writing to make comedy magic.                                                         
Best Costume: Cam as Head on a Platter

3. Happy Endings - "Spooky Endings"

The Chicago gang brings it for one of the funniest episodes of the series. Brad and Jane try to spend Halloween in the "quiet"suburbs but quickly learn the dangers of running out of candy too early. At the Monster Mash Pumpkin Bash, Alex goes as Marilyn Monroe but gets mistaken for a man in drag, Dave tries and fails to get a girl as Austin Powers, and Penny and Max both struggle to flirt with guys while attached in their ill advised couples costume. This episode also has David Walton's second guest appearance in the countdown (he also appears as Sam in New Girl's "Halloween"! He must love Halloween specials as much as I do...

Best Costume: Penny and Max as New Mom and Baby in Baby Bjorn 

2. Friends - "The One With the Halloween Party"

Bunny Chandler and SPUD-nik (let's be honest, he's Doody) Ross have an arm wrestling match to impress their respective ladies, Catwoman Monica and Nurse Mona. Meanwhile, a pregnant Rachel practices being maternal by giving out candy - and cash - to trick-or-treaters, and Phoebe meets her twin sister Ursula's fiancé (Sean Penn!!). A classic.

Best Costume: Joey as Chandler
And a Three-Way-Tie for #1. Parks and Recreation - "Greg Pikitus", "Meet 'n Greet", "Halloween Surprise",

Parks has the edge on Halloween episodes for sure, and these three are all so great, there's no way I could choose just one! While the first two feature very memorable Halloween parties, "Halloween Surprise" is the best of the bunch with one of my favorite moments in TV history (SPOILER: Ben's proposal!!).
Best Costumes:  Tom as T-Pain, April as a Sumo Wrestler Who Lost Weight, Ann as Olympic Gold Medalist, McKayla Maroney and an Eggplant

Honorable Mention: Boy Meets World - And Then There Was Shawn
This technically isn't a Halloween episode since it first aired in February 1998, but it has enough scares to qualify (Mr. Feeny's scissor-stabbing death scene really freaked me out as a kid and I know I'm not alone in that). If I catch it in re-runs this time of year, I have to drop everything to watch Cory, Shawn, and Topanga solve the mystery of the John Adams High killer (spoiler alert: it's Shawn!) and make it out of detention alive.

Two other spook-tacular episodes for your Halloween marathon: Everybody Hates Chris - "Everybody Hates Halloween" (it perfectly captures that weird feeling when you're too old to be trick-or-treating but too young to do anything else on Halloween) and Ben and Kate - "Scaredy Kate" (an episode that embraces the nerd in all of us - Kate as Babe Ruth Bader Ginsberg wins best costume in the countdown).

There you have it! Now you can keep the spooky spirit alive all the way until Thanksgiving. Don't forget to have candy for breakfast for the next week - it's tradition.

Catch all you ladies and ghouls next Sunday for more TV fun!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and the SPOOKY: Sleepy Hollow Edition

It's almost Halloween everyone! I hope you're all carving your jack-o-lanterns and getting your various costume components together as we speak. In honor of one of my favorite holidays, I'm going to be counting down my favorite Halloween TV episodes next week. But today, we're exploring a show that's tailor made for this season: Fox's, Sleepy Hollow.

Now I know I'm a few weeks late on this one, but I have to admit, this show was not on my must watch list. In fact, I originally put it in my "No way" category because it seemed like something that was bound to be cancelled right away, and I didn't want to waste my time. Shows how much I know! Turns out, America has loved spending time in the Hollow - it's one of the biggest hits of the season, and it has the honor of being the only new show of the fall that's already renewed for season 2. 

So now that I've jumped on the bandwagon and finally watched the pilot, it's time to break out the fun sized candy and enjoy the first (and probably only) edition of The Good The Bad and the Spooky: Sleepy Hollow Edition.

Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison in Fox's breakout hit, Sleepy Hollow

You guys, this show is straight up FUN. It's straight up crazy too, don't get me wrong, but man, is it fun.

The Premise: 

The Headless Horseman has returned to modern-day Sleepy Hollow (which is still plagued with unexplained phenomena) and a resurrected Icabod Crane has teamed up with young cop, Abbie, to stop him from reuniting with the four horsemen of the apocalypse and cutting off other people's heads. Yep...

The Good: 

When you have a crazy bananas premise like this one, you have to at least have believable performances, so thank goodness the two leads are really bringing it in this one. Nicole Beharie (most recently seen as Jackie Robinson's wife in 42) is great as Abbie, a police lieutenant with one-time dreams of being in the CIA. She's been called crazy in the past for a vision she had as a child (four white trees which we later find out represent the four horseman), so she's the only person who actually believes Icabod is telling the truth. Tom Mison is also quite funny as the time traveling Crane - his curious reactions to the mysteries of the 21st century are pretty perfect - and paired with Beharie, the two provide a center to a show that could easily spin off into space.

The Bad:

This is a common concern for me with high concept pilots such as this one, but the question is, where can we go from here? If Icabod ever becomes comfortable in this new world, I think a lot of the magic will be gone, but he can't keep being fascinated by automatic car windows forever. Also, there is the potential for this show to become bogged down in it's own mythology - let's hope that it stays a goofy/creepy romp and never becomes a chore.

The Spooky:

- When Abbie was looking at the horseman's ghost in the window, but then it cracks and turns out it's just a mirror! I'm ashamed, but I jumped at that.

- The whole scene in the barn when **SPOILER!** Abbie's partner gets killed, was very scary - the Headless Horseman himself isn't as creepy as I thought he would be, but that's honestly ok with me. I don't need any more nightmares, thank you very much.

- What's up with that scary, time-traveling Reverend? He's dead now (I guess) but that definitely gave me the creeps.

Sleepy Hollow will return to Monday November 4th at 9PM on Fox (hopefully I'll be caught up by then) and I think it's just crazy enough to get the Under the Dome treatment, don't you? Check back every week for my recaps, Sleepy-heads! 

See you all next week for more Halloween fun, and enjoy the World Series Everyone! 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Let's Talk About Masters of Sex, Baby

I can say without hesitation that Masters of Sex is the best new show to premiere this fall.

Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan star in Showtime's Masters of Sex.
Sure, I'm not exactly going against the grain with that statement (critics everywhere seem to agree), but in a fairly weak pilot season, Masters clearly stands out from the pack for it's overall quality, it's supurb performances, and its surprisingly un-cyncical outlook on life, relationships, and of course, sex.

Sex on TV can be tricky. Either it's censored and unrealistic (see: every sitcom in history), or it's there-must-have-been-a-mistake-on-the-hotel-bill graphic and degrading. But we've got something different going on here, and I like it.

In general, I think it's weird that we're all so much more freaked out by the idea of sex on TV than we are about the hyper-violence on so many so-called "quality" shows these days. That's a post for another week, but the question has to be asked: Why are are we collectively more comfortable watching someone get their head cut off than we are watching two people being intimate with one another? And if that is true, will a show like Masters ever be as big a commercial success as something like Breaking Bad? After seeing the first three episodes of this brilliant series, I'm holding out hope that it's a possibility.

Based on the true story of William Masters and Virginia Johnson - expertly played here by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan - Masters of Sex tells the story of how their controversial research on human sexuality began in the late 1950s. Surrounded by stigma and conducted in secret (at least initially), Masters and Johnson's studies boldly explored a field that was essentially a career killer, and seen as off limits to "legitimate" scientists. Their groundbreaking discoveries helped to dispell many commonly held myths about sex, and revolutionized the way the medical community approached sexual dysfunction and treatment - a topic that is still taboo today.

Don't be fooled by the advertising. Masters is not just another Mad Men with a whole lot less ad talk and a whole lot more doin' it. Aside from the general time period, the beautifully detailed sets, and costumes to die for, this couldn't be any less like the trevails of Don Draper & Co. (But fun fact: Jon Hamm and Michael Sheen have both played one of Liz Lemon's dysfunctional boyfriends on 30 Rock!). On a lesser show, this facinating premise could become a joke; a story told with an eyeroll: "Look at how backwards people were about sex back then! Isn't that hilarious?". But here, the audience gets a refreshing TV experience: a look at two fully realized characters, their story told lovingly and with the utmost respect for their work. It's as if the whole world on this show is somehow "lighter" than most, but not trivial in any way; the characters positive, but not naive to reality. If I had to compare it to anything it certainly wouldn't be to Mad Men, but maybe to Call the Midwife in it's overall energy and delivery - these people are real: smart, flawed, and dedicated to their work no matter what obstacles stand in their way. Oddly enough, the often vibrant color scheme and the male/female team dynamic at times reminded me of the late Pushing Daisies, a much more fantastical show, but one that also seemed free of any real evil (while Masters may have Beau Bridges' uptight college provost against the main characters, he's more of a curmudgeon than a villain in the first three episodes).

Masters isn't as much a plot driven show as it is a character study, so I'm not too concerned with giving anything away about the first few episodes (plus you can look up the true story of Masters and Johnson online, so "spoilers" don't really exist for this one), but just to cover myself, some plot points may be given away below.

-Favorite character: Betty, the lesbian prostitute.
Too bad Annaleigh Ashford's midwestern, sarcastic Betty is only slated to be in these first few episodes (I like to think she's having fun for a little while with the Pretzel King) because she may be my favorite break out character of the fall season. Here's hoping she'll be back later in the series to keep Masters in check with more perfectly delivered one-liners, since, let's be honest, she's the real master of sex here.

-Favorite montage: Virginia acting out different scenarios in which she tells Bill they are not going to have sex for the study.
During the second episode, Virginia spends her whole morning getting her kids ready for school while rehearsing different speeches to Bill about why it wouldn't be right for them to replicate the study with each other - Bill feels this will increase the reliability of the study since watching people have sex all day will certainly transfer onto both of them as researchers (um, good try Bill, but no). I know for sure that I'm not the only woman who has imagined herself delivering a difficult speech to her boss, friend, or loved one, and anticipating their different reactions, but I had never seen that shown on TV before in such a realistic and creative way. An excellent visual depiction of something that's so relatable, it immediately pulls you in.

-Favorite bit of irony: That a man who has dedicated his life to studying the ins and outs of sexual relationships sleeps in a separate bed from his wife.
I know this was more of a time period detail, but it's pretty funny how Masters' day to day work in the field seems to be so separate from his home life, and the sex scene between he and Libby may be the most awkward and uncomfortable thing I've seen in a while. I'm looking forward to the show developing Libby's character more, especially after last week's pregnancy news. Caitlin Fitzgerald was playing her kind of creepily at first (don't call your husband "Daddy", please. It's super gross.), but I've grown to like her more and more with each episode. Here's hoping she actually confronts Bill for lying to her about the reason they could not conceive - it could really cause problems for both Virginia and Ethan (Nicholas D'Agosto), but Bill needs a wake-up call, STAT.

Once the show figures out more about who they want Ethan to be - he's the only real problem character here - we could have TV perfection on our hands. Until then, this is still the only new pilot of the season that is good enough for appointment viewing in my opinion, so get watching!

Masters of Sex airs tonight at 10PM on Showtime.

Just a few things before I go to the pet store and get myself a rabbit. Just one, or we could be in trouble real fast...

- I told you punk kids last week that I don't have a Twitter, but that doesn't mean I can't periodically check in with the cancellation bear. He eats shows that are destined to be cancelled (as predicted by and you can follow him at @TheCancelBear to learn more. There's been a lot of bear chow this season already, but I predict he'll devour Once Upon A Time in Wonderland next... 

- I didn't do a review of NBC's comedy block yet, and good thing too, because it looks like it's about to change. Welcome to the Family has, predictably, been cancelled, so Parks and Recreation will be airing back to back new episodes for a while until Community comes back from the grave in January. NBC is really struggling with it's sitcoms this year, so we'll see how the shake-up impacts their dismal ratings. 

- Scandal. Just pour yourself some wine and watch. That is all.

NEXT WEEK: What the heck is Sleepy Hollow, and why is everyone and their mother watching it? I take on one of the biggest hits of the season to find out!