“Anthony Jeselnik: Thoughts and Prayers” – Review

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Anthony Jeselnik is back, and he’s as unapologetic as ever in his new Netflix stand-up special, “Thoughts and Prayers”. The special marks Jeselnik’s first televised stand-up show since the end of his Comedy Central series, “The Jeselnik Offensive.”

Anthony Jeselnik is very much a comedian you have to either love or hate (or of course, just have never heard of). His jokes are meant to challenge the audience to laugh at some of the most despicable (yet somehow hilarious) punchlines imaginable.

In his special, he does just that to his San Francisco audience, inciting mostly laughter but also a fair amount of groans. His jokes focused strongly on children, and awful things happening to said children, with other jokes being aimed at his family and various audience members. It was a lot of what you would expect from Jeselnik: jokes that are well-constructed, funny, and awful enough to make you feel bad for laughing.

At about the half-hour mark, timed well with the point at which the barrage of black comedy one-liners starts to feel stale, Jeselnik switches up the tempo and begins talking about the concept of doing black comedy, why he does it, and how he handles the consequences. He goes into a seemingly passionate monologue about how he received death threats following his jokes surrounding a New Zealander’s death at the hands of a shark, and how they then began threatening his relatives. True to his form, however, he reveals the entire thing as having been a long set-up to another terribly awesome punchline.

If you don’t like Jeselnik’s schtick, this special probably won’t do anything to change your view. If you’re a fan, however, the special makes for an entertaining and hilarious experience.

Discussion

“The Walking Dead – JSS” Recap & Review

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This week, “The Walking Dead” made up for its mess of a season premiere with a strong second episode, which has pretty much become the predominant trend for the show in its past few seasons. Tonight, we (finally) tackle the arrival of the Wolves, and we address the differences between Rick’s gang and Morgan concerning how to deal with human threats.

First, let’s address Carl’s girlfriend, who is apparently named Edin. We begin the episode with her out on her own, hiding from zombies and eating a raw turtle. It’s unclear, but assumed, that these are events occurring after the Wolves’ attack given that Edin goes AWOL shortly after said attack. Also, the “J.S.S.” she wrote no less than four times in the cold open (this show has never been much for subtlety) is referenced in non-abbreviated form, “Just survive somehow”, on the note she leaves Carl prior to ditching the camp.

Now let’s get to the meat of the episode. Carol chats with the fellow housewives about cooking. They lament the lack of anything to work with, but Carol is undeterred and making the best of what she has (again, no subtlety). We see Carol offer to help one of the other women with cooking, but only if she can drop her “disgusting habit” of smoking before entering Carol’s home. Later, Carol watches as the woman stands out on the front lawn smoking…. and then a man slaughters her with a machete. Carol was right, smoking kills.

We come back from that disturbing act break to a full-on siege from the Wolves, who after damn near a season of being teased, have now actually shown up. The thing is, that’s just about all they do; while some easily-forgotten residents meet their end, no “major” characters are harmed, and altogether the threat is taken care of surprisingly quickly. While pretty much all of the Wolves are taken care of, Morgan does allow a handful to leave after scaring the shit out of them. However, unless that group of five is able to recruit more or gets super ballsy, it really doesn’t seem like the Wolves can be a viable threat after this episode. So yeah, guess that was it. Bummer.

More interesting than the Wolves, however, is how the episode focuses in on Carol and Morgan specifically. During the attack, Carol and Morgan are the ones to spring into action and are by far the most effective Alexandrians in regards to taking on the Wolves. The show hammers home the fact that they have very different ways of handling the threat: Carol runs around like some sort of angel of death, whereas Morgan is insistent upon not killing anyone who is still living. What’s notable here is that the show is willing to lend at least some credence to Morgan’s way of handling things, as he is able to chase off a group of Wolves without excessive violence. But will they come back? This is the (sometimes rightfully) paranoid line of questioning that Rick’s gang has taken on now, but that Morgan has somehow staved off up to this point.

As the episode ends, however, we see Morgan being forced to kill one of the Wolves; specifically, one of the ones he ran into last season in the woods. As Morgan walks through the town, he crosses paths with Carol. Again, no subtlety at all in this imagery and what it implies, but it was a poignant moment of showing how Morgan is realizing that Rick’s gang may not be so crazy after all.

Other Thoughts

  • The fight scenes were nicely directed tonight; there was a notable sense of claustrophobia and panic in the framing and camera movements
  • If “Denise” the off-her-rocker psychologist is now the group’s only doctor, I desperately hope very few of them need any form of medical attention
  • There are so many characters right now, and several of them seem fairly expendable, so it was surprising to see the Wolves (who were supposed to be a big threat) come and go with the only losses to the group being characters we had heard of once before at the most
Discussion

“The Walking Dead” – “First Time Again”

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Yikes.

“The Walking Dead” is back, and it brings with it an absurdly obnoxious structure for its season premiere. We join the gang as they attempt to solve their walker overload problem, and for some reason, Scott Gimple and his team opted to tell the story through a series of disorganized zig-zags between flashbacks and live action. It’s a format that would be hard to maintain even for the usual 44-ish minute runtime, but when used during a supersized episode it becomes extremely distracting. Nonetheless, let’s dive in.

In the flashbacks, we (vaguely) follow the progression of the group’s attitudes and actions following the events of last season’s finale. Rick’s refusal to bury former scumbag/current dead person Pete within community boundaries leads him and Morgan to the discovery of what may be the largest swarm of walkers the group has encountered thus far. Rick lays out a plan to combat this issue; basically, his plan is to use a combination of flare guns and their vehicles to lead the walkers far away from the community. This plan is met with skepticism, particularly by Carter, a person who apparently exists. Carter’s excessive protests, combined with the fact that he just appeared out of nowhere, pretty much instantly establishes his existence as nothing more than a strawman. One could even assume that he will likely be dying soon, and sure enough…

In the end, Carter’s protests are largely ignored, and Rick’s plan goes forward. It actually all seems to be going fairly well, even with Carter’s unfortunate demise, but then we hear a horn off in the distance, leading the walkers right back toward Alexandria. And that pretty much sums up the majority of the action in this episode, somehow.

Really, the only thing of interest here is the dynamic between Rick and Morgan. We already know things are going to go south with them pretty quickly, but we of course have a bit of storytelling left in order to get there. In tonight’s episode we see Morgan insisting that Rick still is the same man he used to be. Rick was the man who gave him the hope to continue on his journey, so for Morgan to give up on him, it’s going to take a lot. They have a few genuinely nice moments tonight; Rick even insists that Morgan holds Judith, who the writers temporarily remembered to include (apparently at the expense of Carl?). However, by the end of the episode, we see Morgan’s faith in Rick begin to fade. He expresses disappointment in Rick for his “trial by fire” method of teaching the weak links of the community how to handle walkers, and is further disillusioned by the callous manner in which Rick euthanizes Carter after a walker bite. For now, he still seems willing to accept that this is just how things have to be now, but the cracks in the foundation of their tentative friendship are already beginning to show.

“The Walking Dead” is not good at season premieres. This is something we know to expect at this point. It’s always going to be a slow burn, involving a whole lot of exposition to get us from where we left off to where we need to be going forward. Adding the distracting episode structure on top of that just seemed unnecessary; hopefully we see less gimmicky formatting going forward, as it simply is not this show’s forte. As much as TWD would love to be artsy or edgy, it’s at its best when it just stops taking itself too seriously.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

  • How long until Abraham finally loses his shit entirely?
  • The Wolves got a passing shoutout, which pretty much sums up their actual presence in the series thus far.
  • Eugene to new guy (with dreads) Heath: “I fully respect the hair game”
  • Glenn to Heath when Heath talks about how nothing is going as expected: “I was supposed to be delivering pizza, man”
  • I don’t know if it’s just for the benefit of the audience or not, but Carol’s whole playing-dumb act is absurdly obvious
  • Morgan asks Michonne if she took his last peanut butter protein bar, because it’s important to keep your priorities straight in the zombie apocalypse
Discussion

ABC Family Will Finally Drop the “Family”

At the start of next year, the vaguely-popular cable network “ABC Family” will be no more.

Well, sort of. In actuality, the network is re-branding under the name “Freeform”. The rebrand is aimed at focusing in on the demographic the network has been going after for the past decade: adolescents, especially adolescent girls.

The “Family” designation attached to the channel has been long outdated. It existed as a relic from the origins of the network; founded by televangelist (and crazy person) Pat Robertson, the network was originally titled CBN Cable, then CBN Family Channel, later simplified to The Family Channel. It catered to religious audiences, obviously. Turns out advertisers don’t flock toward channels like this, so Robertson’s son’s company would eventually put it up for sale.

The channel was bought by FOX and aside from the archaic forced showings of Robertson’s “700 Club” at night, all religious pretense was stripped from the network. It would then go on to be bought by ABC, which similarly formed it in its own vision independent of any religious affiliation. Rumors even spread of a pending name change to “XYZ”, but further rumors claimed Robertson’s iron-clad contract mandated the presence of the word “Family” in the channel’s title.

As it turns out, no such mandate seems to have existed. And as such, ABC has finally chosen to rebrand the network. The choice of “Freeform” as the name rather than XYZ or, really, any other option is questionable, but it’s understandable why they would choose to rebrand. It does seem that Robertson did make one mandate, however, as “700 Club” will unfortunately continue to be broadcasted on the rebranded network.

It remains to be seen whether the rebrand pays off for “Freeform”, but it is at the very least nice to see them move on from the past.

Discussion

The New American Dream, as Told Through Liz Lemon of “30 Rock”

Once upon a time, the “American Dream” was simple. We wanted to start from the bottom and work to the very top, find a career we love that pays us well, find the love of our lives by maybe 30 at the latest, have 2.5 kids and a picket fence like everyone else.

That “dream”, however, has become just that. Starting from the bottom only leaves us fighting to not ever fall back down to the bottom. Finding a career we love doesn’t guarantee good pay or even satisfaction. And now we’re just happy to find a love to make the days easier, with the kids and the picket fence being a distant goal to strive toward.

As the unlucky-in-love main character in NBC’s 2006-2013 sitcom “30 Rock”, Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon embodies what has come to be the new version of our American dream. She works as the head writer for her own sketch series, but loses all power over it when an aloof, arrogant new star is added. It’s far from an ideal situation, and ruins what Liz once thought was an almost-perfect life.

Like Liz, many modern-day Americans live in less than ideal situations. Some people tend to sit around and sulk over this, or simply accept it as what will always be their reality. However, nowadays the ability to push through these situations and make the best of what one is given has become a hallmark of the new American dream and spirit. Liz, for example, learns to love her uncontrollable work environment, realizing it gave her the opportunity she had been longing for to be motherly as well as a sense of purpose beyond making a TV show.

Liz also faces a less-than-ideal love life, beginning the series being stuck in an on-and-off relationship with Dennis Duffy (Dean Winters), who is undeniably the worst. She spends the overwhelming majority of the show’s run dating a series of undesirable guys, all the while suffering from the ticking-clock mentality of a single woman in her mid-to-late 30s. For all her struggles, however, Liz never gives up, and eventually meets Criss (James Marsden). Criss has an absurd name, is a few years younger, and has what is at-best a questionable source of income. None of this is to say that he isn’t a great guy; he just is obviously not what Liz had dreamt of. She doesn’t let this set her back either, though. She marries Criss, in a courthouse rather than the wedding of her dreams, and adopts rather than having children herself. And yet, in spite of what may seem like setbacks, Liz is happy.

That’s what our modern American dream is all about. We aren’t going to have it as easy as we may have hoped. Life isn’t going to go how we wanted it to, and there’s nothing we can do about that. However, through taking agency of our lives and working to make the best of what we do have, we may just find that what we end up with is just as good, if not better, than what we had ever wanted.

Discussion Sitcoms

“the muppets.” – Pig Girls Don’t Cry (Pilot)

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Adaptations are tricky. You want to engage those who love the previous iterations of your characters and their stories, while also being accessible to a new audience. It may take time to find that voice, but so often in today’s crowded television landscape that time simply doesn’t exist.

I watched The Muppets when I was little, but remember very little about them. I recognized the characters, and at the very least remembered Kermit and Miss Piggy’s personalities, but aside from that I entered this with a fresh point of view.

The show revolves around the behind-the-scenes action of the in-universe late night show “Up Late with Miss Piggy”. Essentially, the pitch seems to have been, “What if we combined ‘The Larry Sanders Show’, ‘The Office’, and ’30 Rock’, but also they’re all Muppets?” The end result is less jarring than it sounds, and there is plenty of promise in both the premise and the show’s willingness to poke fun at its mockumentary format.

The action here revolves around Miss Piggy’s feud with guest Elizabeth Banks, apparently tangentially prompted by her breakup with Kermit. Meanwhile, in what feels like a cringe-worthy attempt to equate Muppet-ness to race, Fozzie Bear struggles to gain the approval of his human girlfriend’s parents, as they don’t want her dating a bear.

Speaking of cringe-worthy… it’s time to address the jokes. Again, there is potential here, and we also must account for attempting to reconcile with the humor of previous installments of The Muppets (or so I assume; again, I don’t really remember that). Nonetheless, the jokes in the pilot are hit or miss, with the balance leaning toward misses. In one particularly groan-inducing flashback bit, Miss Piggy blows her audition for “The Hunger Games” because she thinks Katniss is supposed to want to play the game, and because she is hungry. The show is only going to get so far on Miss-Piggy-is-fat jokes; these characters are being treated like humans, so they’re going to need to be as three-dimensional as humans. There has to be more there, and it’s not yet apparent if there will be.

I wanted to give this a C+ or even a C, but as I kept writing and thinking, I started softening my view. There is plenty here to work with, and presumably the popularity of The Muppets will give the show the ratings needed to allow it a chance to work through its flaws.

Random Thoughts

  • ABC placing the word “FUNNY” in the corner seems a bit excessive. Come on guys, have enough faith in your comedy shows to assume viewers will, at the very least, identify them as comedy shows.
  • A bit heavy on the cameos here, especially for a pilot episode. Elizabeth Banks, Tom Bergeron, and Imagine Dragon, who I thought had disappeared. Hard to tell if this is them taking a cue from “The Larry Sanders Show” and its frequent guest stars showing up under the guise of appearing on its titular in-universe show, or just a gimmick.
  • Yikes, that’s a corny episode title.
Discussion

Uninspired Casting/Acting Holding Back “Fear the Walking Dead”?

There’s a moment in the third episode of “Fear the Walking Dead” that really sums up the key problem with the show. A man shoots a walker and blows his head off. This represents the first time anyone in the room has seen such a gratuitous display of gore and violence, so naturally when we pan out to the character reaction shots, they look… bored?

The main story in “Fear the Walking Dead” is compelling, generally speaking. It’s the beginning of the zombie outbreak; people are just now being introduced to this new, terrifying reality. It’s like everyone is acting as Rick in the original series’ pilot episode.

There are some problems with the execution though. The show is exciting and interesting, but it suffers due to the focuses of the story seeming to drag everything else down. Part of it is the writing — the show focuses on a family that, other than kind of being a mess, is so far not particularly worth focusing on. With any work of fiction, you must ask why the writer is telling the story through the characters they choose. In the case of “Fear the Walking Dead”, there seems to be a lack of clarity as to why this family is our focus.

The key issue, though, is the acting of the leads. The show took a risk in casting small-name actors, as opposed to the original having both Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus with previous film success to anchor the cast. No disrespect to Kim Dickens and Cliff Curtis, but they certainly aren’t big names, and they don’t seem to work well here thus far.

That being said, the show is still young. We’re three episodes in. The original series took some time to figure itself out too, and the acting has always been inconsistent there as well. Perhaps time and patience will vindicate the casting decisions of “Fear the Walking Dead”.

Discussion Drama

Shows “The Splat” Should Bring Back

It was  recently announced that Nickelodeon is in the process of preparing a new television network, to be known as “The Splat”, which will host various classic 90s hits from its parent network. Details have yet to emerge; a rumored launch date is set for October, but still no news just yet about potential programming. I decided to go ahead and take a look at some shows they should definitely put back on the air.

Cartoons

Rugrats

Before SpongeBob came along, Rugrats was Nickelodeon’s cash cow. The show debuted in 1991 and eventually spanned 13 years, 3 movies, and a spin-off series. It is a classic Nickelodeon cartoon series, and any omission of the show from The Splat’s lineup would be quite suspicious.

Hey Arnold

This cartoon about a lovable football-headed kid living in the big city provided the definitive account of growing up as a kid in the 1990s. Hey Arnold taught us the value of being true to ourselves, that it’s okay to be a little different, and that even the worst situations can be made into positives. Despite having run well into the 2000s, Arnold and the gang certainly deserve a spot on the schedule.

Rocko’s Modern Life

Another progressive 90s cartoon, Rocko’s Modern Life taught us kids a bit about the grown-up world, through the adventures of the titular wallaby. The show was popular among both kids and adults, and also helped launch the career of SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg. This show would even make a nice candidate for the rumored upcoming round of revivals in the works over at Nickelodeon as well.

(HONORABLE MENTION: Ren & Stimpy, it was simply too controversial to imagine them bringing it back)

Live Action

The Games (Legends of the Hidden Temple, Double Dare, GUTS)

Once upon a time, there was an entire cable network (Nickelodeon Games-And-Sports [GAS]) dedicated to airing re-runs of old 90s Nickelodeon game shows. Unfortunately, the channel was not popular enough and was needed to launch what is now the TEENick channel, so it was retired to little fanfare. However, this new channel gives the opportunity to start airing classics like Legends of the Hidden Temple, Double Dare, and GUTS. Nickelodeon has shown a willingness to return to game shows recently, having given Figure It Out! a brief chance at a revival a year or so ago, so adding the classic games to their classic channel’s lineup doesn’t seem like a stretch.

All That

Kenan Thompson. Kel Mitchell. Nick Cannon. Gabriel Iglesias. Amanda Bynes (for better or worse). That’s just a sampling of the talents that got their first exposure on SNICK’s All That. The show provided a kids’ answer to Saturday Night Live, often even matching it in hilarity. Given that All That episodes have occasionally snuck into TEENick lineup slots, it seems likely that The Splat will include the popular sketch show amongst its programming.


Regardless of which shows end up being selected, The Splat promises a fantastic opportunity for nostalgic 90s kids such as myself to re-live some of the best moments from Nickelodeon back in the day.

Discussion TV News

Why We All Love “Meta” Humor

Whenever a show makes a joke referencing itself, fans go crazy. Shows like Community formed their entire reputation off of self-referential humor. But what is it about being “meta” that viewers love so much?

Breaking the Wall

One reason we love “meta” moments is that it breaks the inherent artifice of the medium. We know we are watching television, the people making the show know we are watching, so why not make that connection? With the introduction of single-camera shows, there is more than ever a sense of connection with the characters; the absence of a studio audience (or, dare I say, laugh track) creates a more intimate viewing experience, as does the less-homogenized filming format.

Makes Us Feel Smart

When a viewer encounters a self-referential joke, there tends to be a certain pride in having “got the joke”. Not everyone can grasp “meta” humor, and not many people even look for it. It lets us run off to Reddit to chat with others who are in-the-know, and gives us something to explain to our friends when we watch it with them while they look at us like we’re freaks. We like to feel smart and like we understand an inside joke, so “meta” humor serves us well.

Connects Us to Characters

Meta humor that breaks the fourth wall can allow the characters to connect directly with the audience. It can be taken to such extremes as It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, the king of meta, where Shandling would directly address the audience (both in the studio and at home) for most of the episode. This allows us to feel like we’re interacting with the characters on the screen in front of us. It’s kind of like Dora the Explorer for adults.

Ultimately, meta humor has a certain appeal, especially among TV nerds like myself. And shows willing to experiment with it always seem to be rewarded.

Discussion Sitcoms

Analyzing TV: The Police Procedural/Crime Show

Television is a vast landscape offering a wide array of genres from which to choose. In my “Analyzing TV” series, I will discuss some of these types of shows in detail and determine what makes them stick around.

The world is often a terrifying place. We turn on the news to hear of the latest shooting or stabbing or drug deal gone awry, and often hear the same stories over and over as the police struggle to develop any leads. It can often feel overwhelming, as if there is no protection for us or as if justice is simply unattainable for these victims.

This, in simplified terms, is why we always turn to “police procedurals”. They offer us a world wherein the police always serve and protect, and the bad guys almost always get caught by the time the credits roll. We know this isn’t reality, but we also know (or at least feel) it should be. Gone are the gray areas of police brutality and innocent people being harassed. Instead, our heroic detectives are on the case and won’t sleep until justice has been properly served.

Another reason police procedurals gain so much popularity lies in their familiarity. Every week there will be a new case, the detectives will pursue the truth, and will (probably) find their guy. It’s not like tuning into a show like The Walking Dead where you’re paying attention constantly for any surprises; chances are you can join a procedural halfway through and be able to deduce what is going on, as well as what happened previously.

The genre started out much less complicated than it is today. In the early days of television, crime shows were often holdovers from the days of radio shows. The plots were often simple: good guy vs. bad guy, and you can bet your patooty (they couldn’t say “ass” on TV back then) the good guy was coming out on top every time. The crime itself was not depicted nearly as graphically or realistically as in today’s often-unsettling shows.

As time has gone on, though, crime shows have advanced into the modern phenomenon of “police procedurals”, led by early adopters such as Hill Street Blues and Dick Wolf’s famed, once-untouchable Law & Order franchise. These shows offered a grittier look at the mean realities of the streets, not shying away from displaying the most violent acts. They would also, as the name implies, offer a look into how the police go about their jobs in a deeper sense than just showing them finding and arresting people. They showed the psychological impact, the bureaucratic hassle, the tedious nature of the hunt for a perp. In the 90s, Homicide: Life on the Streets would join and offer an even more realistic portrait of police action.

In today’s always-expanding pool of TV series, a viewer can pick their poison as far as crime shows are concerned. Shows such as the original Law & Order, now confined to re-runs thanks to a poor, hasty decision by NBC, offer a straight, no-nonsense view of “the law” (or, obviously, the idealized TV version). The CSI franchise offers details into the art of analyzing a crime scene. Shows such as Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Criminal Minds offer a peek into the brains of the monsters our heroes pursue.

Ultimately, they all offer that same relatively idealistic view of the world and of our justice system. However, they at least offer more realistic elements as well. These newer shows will acknowledge that not everyone gets caught, that those who get caught aren’t always bad people, and that the police are not above criticism. It’s a step in the right direction for realism, and viewers will likely keep tuning in for the familiarity. These modern shows at least allow the viewer the belief that even when justice isn’t served, everyone still put forth their best effort and it was simply an anomaly in a long history of successful cases. One day maybe we can achieve this ideal, but for now, we tune into our crime shows and tune out of our world.

Discussion Drama