Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Shows We're Watching (and Not Watching) Part 3

In honor of the Academy Awards on Sunday, let's wrap-up our trilogy on the T.V. shows we're watching now because, as my new favorite writer Drew Magary correctly noted in his recent 2017 Hater's Guide to the Oscars,* "TV is beating your ass, movies. Maybe you could keep up if you weren't so busy fingering your own butt."

For the purpose of this discussion, we are not going to include comedic/news shows like The Daily Show because we don't want this to be misinterpreted as some kind of political commentary but, for the record, we bailed on that after Jon Stewart left. Trevor Noah is smart and funny but, if I'm going to let you talk at me for twenty-five minutes, I have to believe that you are way smarter and funnier than I am and he doesn't clear that high bar. For the same reason, I can't watch Pardon the Interruption if either Kornheiser or Wilbon are out. If I want a show that makes me like sports less, I'll watch First Take.

But I digress for the sake of a well-deserved cheap shot. We know the following list does not include a bunch of great shows that merit a spot but there are only so many hours in a week. With that being said, we've stuck our toes in the water on Bloodline, The Crown and The Detour (initial thumbs-up for all three) and we have an eye on Rectify, Goliath and Sneaky Pete. We're going to be playing some catch-up this summer. Until then, however, here's what we've currently got going.

(Note: Elaborate steps have been taken to avoid any spoilers because that's how much I care about you and how good a writer I am).  

Stranger Things (FGR: B+ . . . FGW: B+)

Look, no one loves a show where you're challenged to spot the 80's movie references every two minutes more than me. Especially one featuring a righteous and it turns-out fearless local sheriff with a penchant for self-medicating and solving problems by punching people. However, you start to lose me when it looks like you're just inventing crazier sci-fi shit to get your characters in and out of the crazy sci-fi shit that you've had stalking, attacking and confining them. Stranger Things gets points for never being boring and for David Harbour as Sheriff Jim Hopper but our bullshit radar will be pinging hard going into season two.    

The Affair (FGR: B+ . . . FGW: A)

We need to cast a guy who the
audience is going to despise
as soon as they see him.
So the plot of The Affair might sound familiar to those who know me. It stars Dominic West (The Wire) as a struggling wannabe writer married to his college girlfriend who everyone somewhat accurately thinks is way out of his league. Then they have a whole bunch of kids, buy a giant old money pit of a house and create a life for themselves that is clearly hectic and harried. Oh yeah, he's always swimming laps as a way to escape the noise of his daily life and to spend some quality time with the voices in his head (not now boys, I'm trying to write). If they had cast a prick bald guy actor like Corey Stoll instead of West, they could've just as easily have called it the FGR Story

Right from the get go they go to stay with her parents in Montauk for the summer and he has an affair (thus the title) with a local woman who has more baggage than the Kardashians on a three week cruise. I don't think it's a spoiler alert to say that this creates some friction within their marriage. And the FGW thinks this is one of the best shows ever made. I swear women are a riddle wrapped in a mystery at the bottom of a fifth of bourbon.  

Homeland (FGR: A- . . . FGW: A-)

Season one of Homeland has to go down as one of the best opening salvos in TV history. Then seasons two and three happened and we all wished that the ending we had anticipated in season one had actually occurred because there was a certain ongoing plot line that was more painful to watch than a bird with a broken wing. (This is me dancing around a spoiler). Once that was resolved at the end of season three, however, Homeland came back with a fury in seasons four and five by moving the action to the Middle East and giving more touches to its best player, Peter Quinn. We're now halfway through season six and the show is holding its momentum but you can almost feel it verging on being the couple that thinks the dinner party is an all night affair (spoken like someone who has played that role more than once).    

The Leftovers (FGR: A- . . . FGW: A)

I'm not really into bizarre shit so The Leftovers is a bit of a departure for me (and that is a kick-ass pun for those of you who watch the show right?). The basic premise is that in a single moment millions of people vanish from the Earth. Poof. Gone. (The opening scene of the first episode is a doozy). As you can imagine, this causes people to respond in a variety of interesting ways. Religion is embraced and questioned, cults are formed and people are understandably tense because, if it happened once . . . Again we have a righteous local sheriff with a penchant for self-medicating and solving problems by punching people. (Maybe Sheriff Buford T. Pusser was a bigger cultural influence than we realized). This is one I wouldn't recommend to everyone. Give it five episodes. If you haven't bought-in by then, pull the ripcord.    

Show Me a Hero (FGR: A- . . . FGW: A-)

The only reason Show Me a Hero doesn't get straight A's is that it's only a six part limited series and our scientific grading process gives extra credit for multi-season volume. However, if you're looking for a half a season's worth of awesomeness and you're good with a frank look at racism, then this is the show for you. Not to mention, it struts in with the instant credibility of star Oscar Issac (The Force Awakens, Ex Machina and Inside Llewyn Davis) and writer David Simon (The Wire, Generation Kill and The Corner). If you like David Simon shows, you'll like this. If you don't, then I can't help you.  

Billions (FGR: A- . . . FGW: A)

And the boys aren't
the only badasses.
I'm not actually sure that Billions is a good show but I really don't give a shit. It's got smart lawyers chasing unscrupulous rich guys and, since I fancy myself the former and I spend a fair amount of time hanging-out with the latter, it's right in my wheelhouse. A show like this only works if you've got actors who can pull-off mega egomaniacal characters so cue Paul Giamatti as U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhodes and Damian Lewis as hedge fund billionaire Bobby "Axe" Axelrod. I can't remember how many times they were in the room together talking smack during season one but every encounter was like a gentrified rap battle from 8 Mile.     

Ray Donovan (FGR: A . . . FGW: A)

Another case of an awesome premise colliding with great actors. Clearly someone was sitting around watching Get Shorty and thought "hmmmm, what if Chili Palmer was from Boston and was less interested in the movie business and more interested in being The Wolf from Pulp Fiction?" Throw-in Liev Schreiber and all of the day to day problems associated with being an adulterous husband and a dad while hating your own degenerate father who keeps stirring shit up that you get sucked into and you have an unlimited supply of storylines. Some are good, some are bad but some are great and the totality of them makes for one seriously fucking entertaining show. (Jon Voight in his own show as Mickey Donovan would immediately enter the realm of great spin-offs with Better Call Saul, Lou Grant and The Love Boat: The Next Wave). 

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson (FGR: A . . . FGW: A)

Another mini-series style show but we're giving this one top marks because it's our website so we can do whatever the hell we want. It's hard to quantify how good Sarah Paulson iss as Marcia Clark other than to say that she is Marcia Clark. Cuba Gooding, Jr. is ridiculous as O.J. but that almost adds to the quality of the show because part of its purpose is to remind you how totally fucking outrageous that story and that time in America were. I was watching the Ezzra Edelman documentary with my daughter the other day (because I'm such a great father) and I was trying to explain to her who O.J. was by coming-up with a modern equivalent. The best I could do was if LeBron started appearing in The Avengers movies while co-hosting Pardon the Interruption and then he killed two people with a chainsaw.  

I swear they intentionally hired the biggest over ractors they could find to play the defense team because that's the only way they could come close to capturing how over the top the real people were. I mean they had Nathan "The Birdcage" Lane play F. Lee Bailey for Chrissake. (The others are Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran, John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, David Schwimmer as Bob Kardashian, Evan Handler as Alan Dershowitz, Rob Morrow as Barry Shek and a dead cat as Barry Shek's hair). It's like a giant T.V. casserole that they emptied the fridge into and it somehow turned-out to be delicious.  
   
The Americans (FGR: A . . . FGW: A)

The Americans was a great show from an opening five minutes that will make you say "Holy shit!" (I literally remember saying that) and has since only gotten better as it continues to follow the saga of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, two Russian spies who were planted in the U.S. posing as a young married couple. By the time we meet them, they have two young children who have no idea why owning a travel agency requires mom and dad to work so many nights. This premise could've been hokey if not handled correctly but instead it comes across as raw and real, especially Keri Russell who literally kicks-ass (a lot of it). If the show has a downside, it's that it's so well done that it cons you into rooting for the Russians. Let's see how that plays in 2017.       

Veep (FGR: A+ . . . FGW: A)

Hey look. Another candidate
to play me in the FGR Story.
It's hard to rank comedies because the great ones are always hilarious in the moment and then they lose their luster so when I say that Veep is the funniest show I've ever seen, that may be a case of recency bias but I don't think so. It's not so much that the characters say what I'm thinking, it's that they say what I wish I could think of in the moment but wouldn't say anyway because societal norms along with my desire to maintain friends and employment won't allow it. Here's just a sample from my hero, Congressman Furlong who had me at "Georgetown glory hole."

Game of Thrones (FGR: A+ . . . FGW: A+)

As with most things, I was late to the party on Game of Thrones and that was after I actually plowed through and enjoyed all seven thousand pages of the first book. We started the show a couple of times but couldn't get the FGW on board with the opening sequence beyond The Wall (she hates the cold). However, by the time we penetrated that first episode and got sucked-in completely, we were a couple of seasons behind which meant thirty episodes of binge watching bliss, the likes of which we hadn't seen since we ripped through all six seasons of The Sopranos on disc in what felt like two weeks. (Truth be told, we may have devoured it too fast like it was the last four slices of pizza at 3:00 a.m. and we could hear our college roommates coming down the hall).

Game of Thrones probably isn't for everyone because literally nothing is for everyone as evidenced by the fact that there are some people who don't like donuts (I've never met such a person but I know they're out there). However, Game of Thrones has just about everything you could want in a show. Well-written story (check), intriguing characters (check), humor (check), love (check), sex and nudity (check and check), violence (triple check), witches (check) and dragons (check) . . . though I could do with less of the dragons and, by "less," I of course mean none (ducking spear thrown by rabid G.O.T. fan). At this point, Game of Thrones has worked its way up into the pantheon with The Sopranos and The Wire and it would have to do something incredibly foolish to lose its place like blow-up a city using exploding green slime. Actually, I think we'd even let that slide.            

Footnote

* The only Oscar nominated movie I've seen is La La Land. I went in part to appease the FGW but also because I've been a bit in the tank for Ryan Gosling ever since I saw Drive (which is one of the baddest ass movies of the last decade) and because he is one subtly funny mutherfucker (check him out with Will Ferrell in The Knife Guys). Unfortunately, I can't really give an honest review of La La Land because the FGW insisted that we sit in the middle of the row and I had to take a leak starting at about the last of the twenty-seven fucking previews after guzzling about 17 oz of my 32 oz Coke. There were a half dozen elderly folks at the end of our row with a Golden Corral sized buffet of popcorn, soda and candy in their laps and I didn't feel like traversing that situation which means I watched the end of the movie in a highly distracted tantric state of bladder manipulation. Suffice it to say, what I am told was a magical ending was lost on me.

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