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!