Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Orange You Glad You're Not in a Women's Prison?

Last night, I had a panic dream in which a friend of mine was mugged on the street, and I was blamed for it. That alone would have instantly classified this as a nightmare for me, but to make matters worse, I somehow ended up in a maximum security prison for my crime. I woke up in a cold sweat just as I was being locked in my cell, the sound of the creepy prison guard's laughter still ringing in my head.


I can only attribute this to my recent, pre-bedtime viewing of the Netflix Original Series, Orange is the New Black, since aside from one Homeland-induced nightmare last year where Brody was trying to kill me (maybe I should stop watching TV before bed?), most of my REM cycles are pleasantly mundane - I vividly remember a dream from 11th grade where I was just eating a family sized bag of peanut M&M's in my backyard; a few nights ago I dreamed I was sorting my laundry and I found a dollar in my detergent...

I've got a million of 'em, but I digress. Let's get back to the pilot:

Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is an upper-class blonde lady who is about to get married to the man of her dreams, played by Jason Biggs (is it just me, or is he kinda hot now?). Too bad she's about to serve 15 months for a crime she committed 10 years ago, in which she picked up a suitcase full of money for her then drug-lord girlfriend, Alex (Laura Prepon). This plot might seem far-fetched, but it's actually based on a memoir by Piper Kerman, and while I haven't read it yet, I'm really curious to find out how closely the series mirrors her real life experience in jail. While OITNB is centered around a pretty heavy topic, the pilot was funny enough to keep me engaged throughout, and the many flashbacks to Piper's old life provided a nice contrast to all of the sterile, confined prison scenes. Schilling also does some really nice work here as a woman struggling to keep herself together as her whole world turns upside-down. I wouldn't exactly call Piper a relatable character just yet (she's more of a stereotype, at least in the pilot), but in the moments where she really lets herself break down, you can start to see how this rich-fish-out-of-water could develop into a likeable hero.


3 things I really liked:

-Those opening credits! The theme song (created for the series by the amazing Regina Spektor) perfectly captures the suppressed rage and fear behind all of those creepy, staring eyes.

-When I was a kid watching That 70's Show I always thought Donna was the absolute coolest (I know we all love Mila Kunis now, but if you tell me you wanted to be like Jackie, you are a total liar). It's so great to have Laura Prepon back on another series, and I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot more of Alex since, *mini SPOILER ALERT* it looks like she's serving her sentence in the same prison as Piper. 

-This show definitely does not sugar-coat the issue of racism in jail - believe me, no one is making friendship bracelets and singing "Ebony and Ivory" here. After Piper's fellow white inmate, Morello (Yael Stone) gives her a toothbrush, telling her that they "look out for their own" and that "it's not racist, it's tribal", Schilling's WTF reaction is pitch perfect.

2 things I really didn't like:

-Hearing the male guard whack off in his office just seemed unnecessary. I'd be happy if that plot point disappeared, but I predict his creepy attraction to her is unfortunately going to be a big part of the series.

-Piper seems way too prison-dumb in this first episode. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't last a day, but I also wouldn't tell the other inmates I read about prison psychology, and if I insulted the inmate/chef and then found out she made me "something special", I'd be extremely suspicious. Nothing could have prepared me for the English muffin with the (WARNING: SUPER GROSS!) used tampon inside, though. Not sure how I kept my dinner down after that one...

While I'm definitely up for watching the next episode, I'm actually surprised that so many other reviewers have binge-watched all 13 in a row - after the pilot I honestly needed some time to decompress. Still, I have to hand it to OITNB: it's invaded my dreams, so props to series creator, Jenji Kohan (Weeds) for making one of my worst fears come to life so vividly (and with her trademark humor). Now to decide whether I want to re-live those fears 12 more times...


Just a few things before I throw out all of my English muffins. They are officially ruined for me.

- In don't-call-me-a-quitter news, I have given up on Under The Dome. But don't worry, Dome-heads! My good friend and Dome-fan, Leah, has volunteered to be my official series correspondent, offering one-sentence recaps for everyone who is still interested in the saga of Chester's Mill.

Leah's Dome Recap for the week of 7/30: "They're still under the dome." Thanks, Leah!

- Daria fans: Check out this amazing - but sadly, fake - Daria live-action movie trailer from College Humor (starring Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation). Kickstarter campaign, anyone?
 
- I'm a lady who doesn't believe in the idea of guilty pleasures, so I'm not ashamed to admit that I love me some Sex and the City. So does Emily Nussbaum, the author of this great article from the New Yorker: "Difficult Women".

Come back next Wednesday for an in-depth review of the first season of my new favorite show, Orphan Black. Haven't been initiated into the clone-club yet? It's ok - I was late to the party too, but all of the episodes are available to stream on BBC America on demand, so clear your calendar and get watching!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Games! Games! Games!

It is has been HOT here in NYC. Like Lawrence of Arabia meets Do The Right Thing, hot (I think I speak for every lady in the city when I say I'd be eternally grateful if Mookie came over to my apartment with a pizza and some ice right about now).
So by the time I emerge from the oven-like depths of the E train after a long day at work, all I want to do is kick back with some AC, and watch something mindless and fun so my brain doesn't overheat like the rest of my sweaty self.

If you're also trying to beat the heat, I have TWO breezy game-shows that you can cool off in front of until the sun goes down, and it's safe to walk outside again: The CW's Whose Line Is It Anyway? and NBC's Hollywood Game Night.

Let's start with the return of an old favorite: Whose Line. Revamped with a new host (Aisha Tyler), new games, and new celebrity guest stars, this classic improv show is back and better than ever. Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie and Wayne Brady have finally been reunited after almost 6 years, but watching them perform together, you'd think they never left the stage. They even brought back the original musicians, Laura Hall and Linda Taylor, to back up the crew. While Tyler is the newbie of the bunch, she more than fills the big shoes left by past host, Drew Carey, bringing her own brand of humor to the proceedings. 
Whose Line Is It Anyway? airs Tuesday nights at 8PM on the CW. 
It's truly a joy to watch these veteran improvers work together again - I fell into fits of laughter like a little kid at least once per episode - and with fun new games like "Sideways Scene" and "What's in the Bag?" the whole show feels re-energized. Whose Line is perfect for those sweltering evenings when going out to see a live improv show just isn't an option. My recommendation? Save a bunch on your DVR and have a mini-marathon! The first three episodes are also currently available to stream on cwtv.com.


Now onto Hollywood Game Night, NBC's new game-show hosted by Jane Lynch. It's like playing Pictionary with your friends...if your friends were famous TV actors like Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, and Martin Short. Basically, two lucky audience members get to play party games with teams of celebrities for the chance to win $25,000 (and $10,000 for the celeb's charity of choice). At an hour apiece, the episodes tend to drag a little, but it's really fun to watch the actors' competitive - and drunk - sides come out as the stakes get higher (plus, they're having such a great time, you can't help but play along with them). MVP currently goes to Yvette Nicole Brown of Community who *GAME SHOW SPOILER ALERT?* helped her teammate win the top prize during the bonus round. I'm especially excited for episode 3 which airs this Thursday. The guests include SNL vets Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler so looks like it may be the best one yet. Check out the first two episodes streaming on NBC.com, then throw a game night of your own!
Hollywood Game Night airs on Thursday nights at 10PM on NBC.

Just a couple quick things before I pull my sheets out of the freezer and settle in for the night:

- I would be remiss if I didn't direct you here to the AV club's compilation of the best TV moments of the year (so far). It's a great list that might inspire you to check out some new shows, and revisit some of your favorites.

- In why-wasn't-I-watching-this-sooner news, Orphan Black is just the straight-up coolest thing I've seen on TV in a long time. I'm not a big sci-fi fan, but I was blown away by this inventive, sexy, creepy, and heart-pounding Canadian series. Do yourself a favor and watch season one!
If you're not saying:
after the first two episodes, I'll move to Toronto (which might be a little cooler this time of year...).

- Finally, Extra Hot Great is returning! This unique pop-culture review podcast was on a long hiatus while the hosts launched their new site, previously.tv, but it's finally coming back some time this summer. The show is packed with games, fun segments, and reviews, and my personal favorite, the TV canon, where listeners can submit their favorite TV episodes for an in depth review. For directions on how to submit a show yourself, click here!

Check back next week after I do some time with the Netflix original series, Orange Is The New Black. Stay cool, everyone!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Whose Win Is It EMMY- way

Happy Emmy Nominations Day!

However you chose to celebrate (I hope you used one of your floating holidays to get off work), I'm sure you've already read a million other predictions about who will be taking those shiny, pointy awards home this September, but trust me, I've got the definitive list to help you win your office's Emmy pool*, plus my own fantasy winners for each of the major categories.
*If your office has an Emmy pool, they sound like a wonderful bunch of people who really have their priorities straight. Where can I apply?
 
Now allow me to put on my sparkly Ms. Cleo head-wrap and start seeing into our award show future! Below are the nominees (which were announced this morning by Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad and best award show host ever, Neil Patrick Harris!) and my predicted winners in blue. I only included the 10 major categories, but check here for the full list.

Outstanding Comedy Series:
"30 Rock" (NBC)
"The Big Bang Theory"(CBS)

"Girls" (HBO)
"Louie" (FX)
"Modern Family" (ABC)
"Veep" (HBO)


Liz's Dream Pick: New Girl  

This is a tough one, but I'm thinking 30 Rock might take it home this year for it's heartfelt and hilarious final season. I just can't believe New Girl wasn't even nominated! The second season of this wacky, character-driven series was pure genius throughout, especially the final three brilliant episodes. Plus, come on, Emmy voters - any show that can make a person fall off a chair with excitement (this happened) should get shown some love. 

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series:
Jason Bateman, "Arrested Development"
Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory"
Matt LeBlanc, "Episodes"
Don Cheadle, "House of Lies"
Louis C.K., "Louie"

Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock


Liz's Dream Pick: Jake Johnson (New Girl)  

I love me some Jack Donaghy, but I gotta give Jake Johnson's man-child bartender, Nick, my dream vote here. This season was all about Nick and Jess, and it wouldn't have been half as good without Johnson's consistently funny and vulnerable performance. 
 
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series:
Laura Dern, "Enlightened"
Lena Dunham, "Girls"
Edie Falco, "Nurse Jackie"
Amy Poehler, "Parks and Recreation"
Tina Fey, "30 Rock"

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "Veep"

Liz's Dream Pick: Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)  

This one's probably going to last year's winner (and Emmy record breaker) Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and while I'd also be thrilled with a Tina Fey or Edie Falco win, Amy Poehler has never won an Emmy for her portrayal of Leslie Knope and that is a damn shame. She more than deserves a win after her performance this year. Need proof? Watch this scene (spoiler for anyone who hasn't seen season five) which made me cry like a baby.

 
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series:
Adam Driver, "Girls"
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, "Modern Family"
Ed O'Neill, "Modern Family"

Ty Burrell, "Modern Family"
Bill Hader, "Saturday Night Live"
Tony Hale, "Veep"

Liz's Dream Pick: Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation)

It is inexcusable that Nick Offerman didn't get nominated for his portrayal of everyone's favorite mustachioed cultural icon, Ron Swanson. I'll just have to hope for a Golden Globe nod next year, but until then I'll be eating my weight in breakfast foods to dull the pain.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series:
Mayim Bialik, "The Big Bang Theory"
Jane Lynch, "Glee"

Sofia Vergara, "Modern Family"
Julie Bowen, "Modern Family"
Merritt Wever, "Nurse Jackie"
Jane Krakowski, "30 Rock"
Anna Chlumsky, "Veep"


Liz's Dream Pick: Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie) 

I have a feeling this one is going to Modern Family star, Sofia Vergara, but as much as I love her, the show really hasn't been on it's game this season. As Zoey, the colorful-scrub-wearing nurse and heart of All Saints Hospital, Merritt Wever has proven herself to be a comic genius. She also had an excellent turn on New Girl this year as Schmidt's take-no-nonsense college girlfriend, Elizabeth. 
 

Outstanding Drama Series:
"Breaking Bad" (AMC)
"Downton Abbey" (PBS)

"Game of Thrones" (HBO)
"Homeland" (Showtime)
"House of Cards" (Netflix)
"Mad Men" (AMC)

Liz's Dream Pick: Parenthood  

I know, I know. This will never happen, but that's why these are dream picks, people! Parenthood was so incredible this season that it wouldn't have surprised me if it squeaked into the top six, but against such tough competition (like most-likely-winner, Game of Thrones), I'll just have to hold out hope that the SAG awards will recognize this incredibly sweet and real series for best ensemble performance. 


Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series:
Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad"
Hugh Bonneville, "Downton Abbey"
Damian Lewis, "Homeland"
Kevin Spacey, "House of Cards"
Jon Hamm, "Mad Men"
Jeff Daniels, "The Newsroom"



Liz's Dream Pick: William H. Macy (Shameless) 




Poor Jon Hamm never wins, and Damian Lewis got it last year when Homeland was on top of it's game, so I'm going with Bryan Cranston for the win here. I'd love to see a nod for William H. Macy as Frank on Shameless, but he might be a little too realistically disgusting for most Emmy voters to get on board.

 
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series:
Vera Farmiga, "Bates Motel"
Michelle Dockery, "Downton Abbey"

Claire Danes, "Homeland"
Robin Wright, "House of Cards"
Elisabeth Moss, "Mad Men"
Connie Britton, "Nashville"
Kerry Washington, "Scandal"


Liz's Dream Pick: Emmy Rossum (Shameless)

Another tough category! I'm going with a win for Claire Danes again because her amazing performance elevated what many felt to be a mediocre second season of Homeland, and Emmy voters love to give repeat awards. Still, in a perfect world, Emmy Rossum would have at least gotten recognized for her incredible performance as Fiona on Shameless - it would be easy to overplay this role but Rossum does it perfectly, and has made me cry on more than one occasion. (I'm starting to sound like I cry at the drop of a hat in this post, but I swear, I don't! I'm tough as nails! I'm...Ok I'm a big softy - doesn't make her acting any less awesome!)



Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series:
Bobby Cannavale, "Boardwalk Empire"
Jonathan Banks, "Breaking Bad"
Aaron Paul, "Breaking Bad"
Jim Carter, "Downton Abbey"

Peter Dinklage, "Game of Thrones"
Mandy Patinkin, "Homeland"


Liz's Dream Pick: Mandy Patinkin, "Homeland"

This one is most likely going to the very deserving Peter Dinklage, but I'd like to see a win for Homeland's Mandy Patinkin. He was excellent this past season, and the man is long overdue - he hasn't won an Emmy since Chicago Hope in 1995! 

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series:
Anna Gunn, "Breaking Bad"
Maggie Smith, "Downton Abbey"
Emilia Clarke, "Game of Thrones"
Christine Baranski, "The Good Wife"
Morena Baccarin, "Homeland"

Christina Hendricks, "Mad Men"

Liz's Dream Pick:  Monica Potter (Parenthood) 


I honestly have no idea who will win here, but I'm wishfully picking Christina Hendricks in the hopes that she'll get her due. Meanwhile, in fantasy land, I'm picking who I think did the absolute best job in this category, and that's Parenthood's Monica Potter. I'm not the only one who thinks it's ridiculous that she wasn't nominated after her extremely moving performance as cancer survivor, Kristina Braverman. And yes, this made me cry too, but what am I, made of stone? 


So there you have it. All of my professional predictions (and pipe dreams). Now we'll just have to wait two months to find out if I'm right!



Neil Patrick Harris hosts the 65th Annual Emmy Awards on September 22nd at 8PM on CBS.



Check back next week for THE LONG AWAITED RETURN OF WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY (Yay!) plus more fun with game-playing celebs on NBC's new show, Hollywood Game Night. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

I'm Going to Graceland

Back in June when I put Graceland on my summer TV list, I knew I was going to like it, but I assumed it would be a show that I would drop in on every now and then; a fun distraction to have on in the background while folding laundry or paying bills.

Boy was I wrong.

Graceland airs on USA, Thursdays at 10PM

Graceland is really good, you guys. To me, this show has the perfect mix of breezy summer fun and intense spy intrigue. And while most USA series are tailor-made for passing out in front of after a day at the beach, this one requires a little more attention, but it's SO worth it. Haven't seen it yet? Here's a brief recap of the first third of the season to get you up to speed.

**LOOK OUT! SPOILERS AHEAD:  I'll be giving away some very important plot points below, so if you want to head over to Graceland yourself first, episodes 1-4 are currently available on Hulu and usanetwork.com.**


This is the true story. Of seven government agents. Picked to live in a house. Work together, and--ok, you get it. It's The Real World: Southern California except instead of working at a tanning salon or promoting a night club, these seven strangers are undercover FBI, DEA, and ICE agents living in an ex-drug lord's sweet, beach front pad - and the craziest part is, this really happened!

Episode 1 : Pilot


In the first episode, we meet recent Quantico graduate, Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit), a rookie with a bright future at the FBI who has been assigned to Graceland for training under senior agent Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata). After a tour from friendly agent Johnny Tuturro (Manny Montana), Mike is given the room of recovering DEA agent Donnie Banks (Clayne Crawford) who was recently shot by a member of the Russian Vzakonye crime family during a drug deal gone wrong. Mike receives a not-so-warm welcome from Donnie's partner, DEA agent Lauren Kincaid (Scottie Thompson) and ICE agent Dale Jakes (Brandon Jay McLaren) but sparks begin to fly when he meets sexy undercover roomie, Charlie DeMarco (Vanessa Ferlito). After getting in with the Vzakonye Cartel, Mike is asked to prove himself by killing the now-wanted agent, Donnie. He pretends to do the deed, and is almost shot by one of the Russians before being saved by Briggs. Mike has been initiated into the family only to discover the real reason he was placed at Graceland is...DUN DUN DUN...to investigate Briggs!
Bonus USA Summery-Goodness: Hot Guys Surfing! Palm Trees! Colorful Birds!



Episode 2: Guadalajara Dog

After witnessing last week's shooting, Mike goes in for an FBI psychological evaluation with Juan Badillo (Pedro Pascal), but he's no shrink - he's the case manager who Mike will be reporting to in his investigation of Briggs. Meanwhile, Jakes uncovers a bunch of illegal cop-killer bullets during a bust which help Mike and Briggs in their mission to get closer to big bad crime-lord, Bello (Gbenga Akinnagbe). Later, Charlie takes Mike on an undercover karaoke date where he meets his sixth roommate, DEA agent Paige Arkin (Serinda Swan) who is investigating gangster Bobbi Moi. The agents orchestrate a complex plan in which the bullets they sold to Bello's second in command, Eddie, are intercepted by Bobbi Moi, who is promptly arrested by the Feds. To buy a round of drinks for the team, Briggs skims some money off of the pile they got from Eddie for the fake bullet sale - could this be why Mike was assigned to investigate? We might not find out, as the episode ends at the docks with Briggs pointing a gun at Mike's head, asking who he's been talking to. CLIFFHANGER NUMBER 2!
Bonus USA Summery-Goodness: A Beach Bonfire! More Colorful Birds!



Episode 3: Heat Run

Looks like Briggs still isn't onto Mike's secret investigation - turns out Bello and his men were lurking in the shadowy docks, and Briggs' confrontation of Mike was all an act designed to trick them into turning on each other. This works, and Bello views Mike and Briggs as loyal to the cause, blaming (and later, maiming) Eddie for not losing the mobsters who robbed them. Meanwhile, Lauren is still trying to avenge Donnie, so she concocts a plan to bust the Russian mob on some stolen cars, which goes horribly wrong. Her cover potentially blown, she takes matters into her own (stupid) hands and goes back undercover against advice from Briggs. After Lauren's risky behavior causes more carnage, Briggs plants a tracking device on her car and makes it look like it was the Russians, leading to her removal from Graceland. Mike discovers this because, as we find out, he is investigating Briggs due to suspicion that he's been stealing money from the agency (suspicion which was confirmed last week, so this seems a little thin, but whatever). Briggs explains that he was protecting Graceland by burning Lauren, and he would do the same to Mike if he had to. 
Bonus USA Summery-Goodness: Frisbee in Bikinis! Undercover Dating Tricks Revealed!


Episode 4: Pizza Box


Charlie makes her ancestors' three day pasta sauce recipe for the roommates (and is slowly becoming my favorite character) while Paige gets "arrested" in an undercover street bust, only to discover some interesting details about the strain of weed that's showing up on the streets. Turns out it's being grown by a farm that is supposed to be supplying only to legal dispensaries, and the owner, Ashika Pearl (Mia Kirshner), used to have the hots for Jakes. The agents send Johnny undercover as a Mexican gang member, but after sleeping with Ashika (so dumb!) his fake tattoos come off on her sheets, blowing his cover and leading to a tense shoot-out at the farm. Meanwhile, Mike impresses Bello with his weaponry skills (getting closer to his inner circle than Briggs ever has) but the now eyeless-Eddie gets suspicious and jealous of their new relationship. Mike gets called to a meeting with Bello - on sauce night, dammit! - in which Eddie tries to prove Mike is a Fed. Bello thinks Eddie is lying, and gives him a gun which he kills himself with in front of a traumatized Mike. After canceling his date with Abby (Jenn Proske), we're left with the feeling that Mike may be in over his head as we see him break down and cry over the housemate's dirty dishes. 
Bonus USA Summery-Goodness: Not too much in this one, actually. But there is an outdoor weed-farm BBQ scene!

Phew! That's no easy to show to recap, let me tell ya.

But now you have everything you need to jump right into Graceland. I haven't seen the newest episode yet, but we're promised some steamy action between Briggs and Charlie, so get your popcorn ready!




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Saturday, July 6, 2013

An Unhappy Ending

Yesterday, as I pushed my way onto the 6 train through the mob of other angry 5th-of-July commuters, I found myself surrounded with ads for Coors Light when a thought popped into my head: Why is it that beer companies always advertise how cold their product is? I mean, once I leave the beverage store with a six-pack, it now becomes my responsibility to keep those beers as cold as I want, right? I could stick them in a vault made of dry ice, or leave them out on a hot beach for all you know, Coors. So what exactly makes your brand "the coldest"? To me, that's like promoting your new album by telling people how loud they can play it. Doesn't make any sense, yet no one seems to question it.


Ok, ok. So you want to know how this 7AM subway revelation is related to the sad demise of Happy Endings? Well, I got to thinking about how dumb advertisers really think we are, and that this marketing technique - where the advertisement credits the company for the one thing the consumer has total control of - is kind of like a reversal of what ABC tried to do with it's promotion of the show. Confused? Stay with me, Max.

I won't go into the whole saga here* but due to low ratings, ABC decided to mount a "Save Happy Endings" campaign, imploring people to watch the show in order to save it from being cancelled...by ABC. Do you see where I'm going with this? ABC essentially created a series of ads to promote a show in which they made it seem like the viewers, not the network, would be the ones to blame for it's cancellation. 

I'm sorry, WHAT? I can only speak for myself here, but as a consumer, I know what I am, and am not responsible for. Fortunately, I can control how cold my beer is, but sadly, I have no control over the fate of my favorite shows, so don't make me feel guilty for your decision, ABC! Grr. 

As you can see, this whole situation makes me testy. Let's get back to the original reason for this post: 


Why Happy Endings Is Awesome and What Episodes You Should Go Watch Right Now

We're listening...

While Happy Endings may have started out as another Friends re-tread, after only a few short episodes, it morphed into one of the fastest, funniest, and best ensemble comedies on TV. We can skip the pilot, which, while not terrible, focuses more on the show-inciting, Alex-leaves-Dave-at-the-altar plot line. As the season progressed, this quickly became the least important and least memorable part of the show, and the relationships between the characters took center stage. 

Here's a brief description of our six buddies from Chicago:

A girl after my own heart.
Alex started out as the bland one of group, but the writers quickly discovered Elisha Cuthbert's comedic chops, developing her character into the slightly slow but loveable clothing store owner we've come to know and love. She may not be the brightest bulb, but she's a loyal friend who can eat like a damn champion - two qualities that are key in my book. 




Like Alex, Dave (Zachary Knighton) also began the series as a straight-man, but soon turned into a sensitive goofball known for his food truck, his love of V-neck shirts, and his 1/16th Navajo heritage. Oh, and his on-again off-again relationship with Alex. 


Jane (Eliza Coupe) is Alex's extremely type-A sister who loves organization and competition almost as much as her husband, Brad, played by the incredible physical comedian, Daman Wayans Jr. Their mutual desire for the finer things in life and the fact that they're so passionately in love make them my favorite couple on TV, hands down. 


Adam Pally plays Max, the group's often unemployed, always unkempt hot-mess who also happens to like dudes. The other characters on the show often refer to the fact that Max isn't the stereotypical gay character that we're used to seeing, and they're right (not only because he's a huge Chicago Cubs fan who eats stale pizza in bed and literally turns into a bear in the winter), but because he's actually open about how much he loves doin' it with men - something that is still rare on network TV. 


Finally there's Penny (played by the amazing SNL alum Casey Wilson), the perpetually single, yet always optimistic PR exec who is known for her unique way of speaking (relationship = relayshe, so cute = sa-cayute) and her many failed attempts at finding love. Megan Mullally is also perfect as Penny's mother, and the interpretive dance the two perform to "Torn" is pure comedy gold. 


Happy Endings is really a live-action cartoon chock-full of call-back jokes, rapid-fire dialog, and crazy plots, yet the series is grounded in reality by its core relationships, providing that sweet balance that many other shows aim for, but never really achieve. So now that you're (hopefully) convinced, here's three episodes that you Happy Endings newbies can start out with:

1. Season 1, Episode 5 - Like Father, Like Gun : Damon Wayans guest stars as Brad's dad going through a mid-life crisis, Dave and Max have a nerf gun war, and Alex and Penny discover their secret drunk abilities.

2. Season 2, Episode 1 - Blax, Snake, Home : Jane forces Alex and Dave to be honest with each other about their annoying past relationship habits, Max discovers Brad has a secret group of black friends, and Penny's new condo seems to be haunted by a ghost intent on making her a spinster.

3. Season 2, Episode 16 - Cocktails and Dreams : Dave turns his food truck into a successful speak-easy, but the drinks he serves affect the rest of the group in a strange way. Meanwhile, Alex and Penny go on a cleanse with varying results, and Max decides how serious he wants to get with new boyfriend, Grant.

*BONUS* My favorite episode of the series is the Season 2 finale, Four Weddings and a Funeral (Minus Three Weddings and One Funeral). To me, it represents the best of what the show has to offer, but in order to really appreciate it, it helps to catch up with the rest of the episodes first.


If you're not hooked after watching those, then this show might not be for you. If you want more, Seasons 1 and 2 are currently available on DVD, and the third season should be released this fall. Until then, you can find Season 3 on projectfreetv - just don't say you heard it from me...


Finally, to all you Happy Endings fans out there, you never know - there's always hope that the show could be brought back some day in the distant future, what with so many series coming back from the dead on other networks these days. Can't wait that long? For now, check out some rejected jokes just tweeted from the show's writers, or get your Jane fix by watching Eliza Coupe's new web series, "frenemies" on funnyordie.com.

So goodbye for now, Happy Endings! At least, as Penny would say, your jokes will live on in perpe-tu-tu.



*Ok, for people who are interested, I will explain: When Happy Endings started it's third season, it was scheduled to air on Tuesdays at 9:00, putting it in direct competition with New Girl, another smart, funny "hang out" show about a group of friends in their early 30s. Since these shows attracted a similar audience, why did ABC executives move Happy Endings from the veritable TV no-man's-land of Wednesdays (where it was doing relatively well), to a time slot where it was competing with something very similar, but also much more commercially successful? I'm not sure of the answer, but what I do know is that ratings for the show dropped, and it was subsequently moved to Tuesdays at 9:30...and then Sundays at 10...and then Fridays at 8?? ABC was moving the show around so much, people could only keep up with it by recording it on DVR or watching it online (neither of which currently contribute to a show's ratings). So that's how we got to where we are today, which is, sadly, without Happy Endings to look forward to next fall.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

It's Showtime!

BREAKING (BAD) NEWS (not to be confused with Breaking Bad news, which could be a whole 'nother blog post):

Ok, so before I start blabbing on about Showtime, I have to make a very sad TV update. Unfortunately for all of you Happy Endings fans out there, this past weekend it was officially reported that the cast's options have expired, meaning that the show is not getting picked up by another network for the fall season.
  
I know how you feel, Penny (and so does BuzzFeed). This news couldn’t be any less a-mah-zing. Later this week, I promise I’ll be putting up a nice, long tribute to my favorite friends from Chicago, but until then, feel free to join me in eating my feelings, Alex-style. I bet the two of us could do work on a Steak-Tanic or a few racks of breakfast ribs...

But enough sad stuff. Now, onto what was promised:



I'm going to make a bold proclamation here, people: I think that Showtime is the best cable network on television. Yes, I said it, and I'm sticking by it! Of course, not all of their shows are winners, but in my opinion, Showtime is consistently cranking out quality, character driven series that I can't help but get sucked into. So here's a brief breakdown of my three current favorite series on the network, two that I've always wanted to start watching, and one review of their newest offering, Ray Donovan, which premiered last Sunday night. 

**No spoilers here, friends! In the future I'll be diving deep into some of these series, but for now, there's nothing written below that you can't find on the back of a DVD box set.**

My top three picks are:

3. HOMELAND

I don't have to tell you people how fantastic this show is! If you aren't already obsessed, you have plenty of time to catch up before season three premieres on September 29th. Watch CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) manage her bi-polar disorder while she investigates American POW, and potential terrorist, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis). But don't say I didn't warn you: upon watching, stress, frustration, and snapping at innocent family members: I don't care about dinner! Can't you see I'm watching HOMELAND!? will certainly occur.  

2. NURSE JACKIE

This show gets better and better with each year, but I recommend that you start from the beginning in order to fully enjoy this nearly perfect hospital dramedy which just ended its fifth season. The series follows New York nurse, Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) as she tries to balance work and family while keeping her addiction to pills a secret from everyone in the ER. This show skillfully shifts in tone from dark and hilarious to tear-jerkingly touching, thanks in large part to the excellent ensemble cast (including the very talented Merritt Wever as newbie-nurse, Zoey). You could blow through this series in a few weeks because it's so addictive, but I'd suggest taking your time - it's that good.  

1. SHAMELESS

Welcome to Chicago - we're in the same city, but a world away from the above mentioned Happy Endings. Adapted from the popular U.K. series, Shameless, in my opinion, exceeds its source material (although I'm sure British fans would disagree). Emmy Rossum is amazing as Fiona Gallagher, the older sister working hard to raise her South Side family of five while negating the effects of drunk-patriarch, Frank (played with disgusting perfection by William H. Macy) and MIA mother, Monica (Chloe Webb). The fourth season doesn't start until 2014, so go get some friends, some beers, and some scratch-offs and have yourself a shameless good time. 


The two series that I want to start watching are:


EPISODES

Why am I not watching this already? The premise: a British couple move to LA to try and adapt a hit U.K. sitcom for American audiences, hiring Matt LeBlanc (starring as an exaggerated version of himself) and screwing up their marriage in the process. With only two short seasons, this Emmy and Golden-Globe nominated series won't be a big time investment, making it the perfect fit for a busy summer schedule.
  

 DEXTER

  


Ok, so this one is going to be a little more of a time commitment, but from what I hear, it's worth it. Michael C. Hall stars as Dexter Morgan, Miami blood spatter expert/vigilante serial killer...of other serial killers. This doesn't seem like my type of show, but with all of my friends asking WHY I haven't started this one yet, I guess I'll have to get cracking on the first 84 episodes since the eighth and final season is already underway. 







And finally, my (quick) review of...

RAY DONOVAN 

Ray Donovan airs on Sundays at 10PM on Showtime.
Remember before when I said they're not all winners? Well...this is one of those series that just doesn't do it for me. You've seen this show before: misunderstood, male anti-hero does super-bad stuff for a living, and  it's affecting his personal life! Liev Schreiber isn't bad, but the writing - and some of the fake Boston-accents - need work. If it weren't for a welcome appearance from talented Brit, Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky, Sherlock Holmes), I'd say skip it. But what do I know? Apparently, the season premiere brought in 1.4 million viewers, an all-time record for the network.


Well, that's all I got for ya today. Go out and order Showtime so you can get watching! Oh, and don't forget, Web Therapy premieres Tuesday, July 23rd at 11.


Next time, I'll be bidding adieu to Happy Endings, and later in the week, come undercover with me as I recap the first four episodes of the new USA series, Graceland.