50 favorite tv shows

A Vintage Ask!

1.    Favorite musician/album(s) from the 50’s?

2.    Favorite musician/album(s) from the 60’s?

3.    Favorite musician/album(s) from the 70’s?

4.    Favorite musician/album(s) from the 80'’s?

5.    Favorite 50’s Movie(s)?

6.    Favorite 60’s Movie(s)?

7.    Favorite 70’s Movie(s)?

8.    Favorite 80’s Movie(s)?

9.    Favorite 50’s actor/actress?

10. Favorite 60’s actor/actress?

11. Favorite 70’s actor/actress?

12. Favorite 80’s actor/actress?

13. Favorite 50’s TV Show(s)?

14. Favorite 60’s TV Show(s)?

15. Favorite 70’s TV Show(s)?

16. Favorite 80’s TV Show(s)?

17. Favorite “classic” car(s)?

18. Favorite 50’s-80’s visual artist(s)?

19. Favorite 50’s-80’s fashion model(s)?

20. The decade/era (in your opinion) that had the best fashion?

21. The decade/era (in your opinion) that had the best movies?

22. The decade/era (in your opinion) that had the best music?

23. What “vintage” items would you like to own, someday?

24. What “vintage” items do you already own?

25. Favorite vintage blogs?

50 Favorite TV Shows: #45 Clone High

Originally Aired on: MTV

I should go ahead and say that I am radically pro-cartoon and I’m sure this list will end up reflecting this. Now, way back when the Music Television network seemed to view their audience as having a modicum of intelligence and would try to engage all of our senses with a variety of strange programs and actual music (lol). Clone High was a bit of a rare bird at the time, as I don’t think most networks knew what to do with cartoons geared towards an older audience if it wasn’t the Simpsons and this was made all the stranger by Clone High’s wonderful premise. The title (the subsequent awesome theme song) sum up the show quite well, as long dead famous people are resurrected as clones to live out a normal high school existence, allowing for historical figures as diverse as Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte), Cleopatra (Christa Miller) and Gandhi (Michael McDonald) to interact. But this was just the tip of the iceberg, as just beyond the surface laid a much grander scheme: Clone High was a meta-narrative about television. Meta is an odd beast, as it can easily fall off the cliff into parody and perhaps Clone High does this a few too many times to truly have succeeded, but damn if it isn’t wonderful to watch it try. Plot descriptions for every episode of the show could be described as rambling commentaries upon the pandering way in which television tends to treat their audiences, attempting to condense a broad social message in a way that is less impactful and instead, as a way to market the program to the audience. One of the clearest tip offs for this is the way each episode is referred to as a “Very Special Episode,” a code first used by Diff’rent Strokes to signal that the episode would be tackling a weighty issue that a comedic television program normally wouldn’t. Since every episode refers to itself in this way, we know it simply can’t be true, yet the writers of the show seem to want to make these strange surreal afterschool specials. Yet, the show doesn’t function as a serious lens of the social issues it discusses, instead, lightly touching upon them to draw attention to the artifice of the discussion raised by television programs trying to barter meaning from the audience and then draws it as a means of broad humor. For example, the tenth episode of the series “Litter Kills: Litterally” deals with the issue of grief amongst a segregated populace, as one of the characters of the show dies and the other characters are forced to deal with it. But… this is a bit of a trick, as the character that dies isn’t a member of the main cast of the show, and is instead a character we have never seen before, voiced by a guest star. Clone High treats it as an issue of supreme weight, yet immediately undercuts it, pointing to the cheap way in which television programs try to manipulate audiences into watching, as weddings, babies and deaths are the most popular trends for ratings. Coupled with the fact that this particular episode, if you couldn’t guess from the title, has another special issue to deal with, that of littering, the show creates these layers of  trying to build the biggest, most over the top issues that characters have to muddle through. It all kind of pulls together, allowing the audience to laugh at the tropes they’ve seen in hundreds of other TV shows because they’re being used cleverly enough to destroy the façade of creative entitlement that most television programs build, since the humor itself is derived from the way television programs function.

None of this would work, however, if the show weren’t funny in and of itself. The strangest part of this is that Clone High is at its most funny because of stilted it is. Normally when something is stilted, we use it as a code for how unnatural it feels to us, as if there is a disjunction between action and intent going on on the screen. With Clone High, this all plays back to the whole meta thing, as the characters are meant to feel unnatural to us, both because of their ungainliness due to being high school students, but also because each of them is the clone of a long dead historical figure doomed to play out some of their characteristics. Jokes range from the simple exaggeration of expected behaviors of the characters as well as how this fits into the high school landscape, resulting in a lot of grand proclamations and telegraphing of punchlines. There’s always a small hesitation between lines, as if they’re not meant to sound entirely natural, which allows the animation on screen to play out in a contrasting fluid way. The main character of the show, Abe, is extremely guilty of this, as he always seems to be speaking in exposition, saying exactly what he thinks on any given subject. When he tries to speak to his crush, Cleopatra, this all flies out the window, as he assumes a nonchalant stance but waits several seconds after she leaves to actually deliver his pickup line in a hushed whisper. Due to the stylized nature of the animation, this is played as an almost slapstick moment, as we see him trip over his own awkwardness trying to sound and act like a normal human being to no avail. Most of the characters follow suit, playing out the dichotomy of their character’s nature to destroy the line of subtlety in the writing and make speaking sound unnatural. Joan of Arc (Nicole Sullivan), who has a crush on Abe, is always whispering machinations under her voice about her designs on Abe, putting a parallel to the real Joan of Arc’s supposed conversations with God, but then allowing other characters to stop and point out the fact that she is speaking unnaturally, forcing a few seconds of her trying to work what she said into a reasonable piece of conversation. JFK (Chris Miller) is constantly played as charming, but has no reasonable sense of how to speak like a human being, almost exclusively using references to himself or sexual innuendos to communicate. Even the principle, the mad scientists Scudworth (Phil Lord)  tends to speak in that typical mad scientist way that has him not actually talking to anyone at all. The show revels in the fact that no one is truly communicating with each other, each line dripping with awkward delivery but matched to animation that creates the illusion of actual human activity. It all manages to work since we have time to linger upon the details and enjoy just how strange it has all become.

Another show cancelled after only one season, without the power of the internet I likely would never have seen all of this program since MTV didn’t bother to air the last five episodes. Still, the show is a wonderful example of just how writing can effect a show, allowing for smart humor by deconstructing the most base part of the cultural landscape.

Key Episode: “Raisin the Stakes: A Rock Opera in Three ActsAside from maybe that one part of Walk Hard, this is the greatest parody of how ridiculous people are about marijuana. When a burned out rock musician (played by Jack Black) comes to town and warns the kids about the dangers of marijuana, all of them latch on to a single part of his speech about raisins, choosing to smoke those instead. Suddenly, Abe finds himself at a crossroads, as his good boy image is shattered into full hippydom to impress Cleopatra by smoking raisins. It’s so dumb and yet it all works so well, full of that us versus them mentality that seems to populate the issue, while also pointing out what a nonissue it really it is. This is also the obligatory musical episode of the series and as you might expect, it is equally awkward and yet strangely compelling, since the songs tend to make the narrative move at a swifter pace than they normally do.

Favorite Character: Hmmm. They’re all pretty great, even the bit parts, but I’ll pick Gandhi. It’s not so much that Gandhi is the best written character so much as he tends to have the most interesting storylines, as he, even more than Abe, is willing to chase whatever is necessary to be cool. In the above mentioned episode, one hit of raisins causes Gandhi to jump out a window and go on a strange vision quest involving a fairy unicorn who promises him his dream woman. Another episode sees him become a social pariah because he is diagnosed with ADHD, which is treated like an STD in the show. Another one sees him bloat up on blue paint and pancake batter, because IT’S EXTREME. Gandhi is so kinetic compared to the other characters, always speaking quickly without ever saying much, but still comes off as the type of person you’d actually want to be around since he sees the fun and potential in everything. And because he is so kinetic, it also makes him an extremely great character to see animated, as he is constantly striking dynamic poses even in scenes with little action.

50 Favorite TV Shows: #1 Kids in the Hall

Originally Aired on: HBO

And here it is, my favorite TV series and I can’t help but feel like this is an anti-climax. Much like when I picked John McLaughlin as number one on my 100 Favorite Guitarists list, I feel like this choice is very personal and makes less sense within the larger context of my list and tastes. As I’ve been doing this list, the closer I’ve come to getting to this point the more desire I’ve had to re-watch the series I’m talking about. This has hit a fever pitch since I got into the Top Ten, as I just so desperately want to relive these series even though I’ve watched all of them numerous times. Kids in the Hall might be the only exception to this overall rule, as its construction as a sketch comedy show makes it easy to digest in small bits, allowing me to scour YouTube for my favorite clips or at least relevant ones. And to this show’s credit, they’re just timeless masterpieces of bizarre comedy. This is why Saturday Night Live will always be an inferior show in my opinion, because it depends too much on the cultural locus of the moment it’s made in, while things like Mr. Show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Kids in the Hall make their comedy so that it doesn’t matter when you see it, it will just always be the same point of reference. And of course, Kids in the Hall is uproariously funny. I can think of probably close to three dozen sketches that I can recall well enough from memory to discuss within the parameters of my argument, but I’ll stick to two: Into the Doors and The Beard. Into the Doors is essentially the breakdown of every musical conversation you will ever have with someone who is into a band you’re not. A man (played by Kevin McDonald) arrives at a record shop only to be informed that both the records he wants suck by the cool clerk, prompting him to inquire after the Doors. Little does he know that the clerk sees in the Doors in an otherworldly light, both triumphing their virtues and bewailing their lost status, adding layers upon layers to the ritual of listening to the Doors. This is something I’m a little prone to myself, compartmentalizing the way I digest music and then doling it out in selected ways to those who ask me about it, but this is just this idea amped up to a radical degree. It’s not a matter of liking a particular song, but not liking that song anymore because you’ve heard everything else they’ve done. It’s not just picking the right album, but picking the “departure point” and then going out and living the wild lifestyle of the Doors. What the Kids in the Hall imagine is a scenario that could really happen with any band if you were willing to believe their discography is transcendent, believe that there’s something bigger and more ridiculous looming behind the music that only “true fans” understand. It’s a cultural moment for sure, but not one that needs any more than the basic understanding of how people get in regards to the material they cherish and how that spirit is both extremely interesting and decidedly divergent from the standards of normal. The Beard is another odd tale, using the idea of a man growing a beard on vacation and being unable to part with it when he returns to work. Rather than be about the awkward social conventions of beard ownership within the workplace, it reimagines the idea of a horror story, the beard slowly consuming the man’s sanity until it drives him to his death. The thematic idea of is extremely solid, as it gives the idea of the Beard as an act of freedom the man does not wish to release when he returns to work and how it physically hurts him to be reminded that he’s returned to the office. Of course, you can completely ignore this idea when you watch the sketch because it’s built upon the bombast of giving something as normal as a beard a larger life consuming significance. I’m attached to my own beard, but I’m not really willing to kick out a wife over it. The Kids in the Hall find a way to make comedy that is both very broad and very specialist at the same time, playing out ideas that crop up in the mundanity of life and then allowing them to sort of branch out and develop into stranger lingerings that stay with you. Any Kids in the Hall sketch, bar maybe one or two, is the same then as it is now, not archaic or old fashioned, but simply the execution of thematic ideas that stem from the living experience.

And to this end, the Kids just have a broad range of comedy they employ. I keep harping on the idea that I like comedy that sucks you into its system of logic, but with the Kids in the Hall, a single episode can have any broad number of comedy styles play out. The two previous sketches I mentioned could easily each be classified in their own way, with Into the Doors coming off as observational humor and the Beard being a broad parody of horror conventions. But the jokes range even further than that. Buddy Cole was never my favorite part of the show, but his sketches has such a distinct flavor to them, playing up Scott Thompson’s dry wit to make amusing monologues and stories about the gay lifestyle. They’re generally composed simply as a way to give a broad sense of the way Thompson delivers them, making his own sly revelry in his ideas more flamboyant and boisterous than their delivery initially betrays. Other sketches find their métier among numerous fields of parody, ones as diverse as the physical comedy of Mr. Heavy Feet, the Francesca Fiore and Bruno Puntz Jones European film conventions, to the twisted world view of Mr. Tyzik and his head crushing and the rather straight delivery of jokes found in Anal Probing Aliens. Because of the diverse styles and subject matters they employ, the show is well rooted with rather memorable recurring characters, allowing them to build upon the different subject matters and genres with the same set of characteristics to highlight the clashes in style and play up the humor. Danny Husk (Scott Thompson) is perhaps the most recurring of all the characters, as he plays the straight man to so many sketches. In most he’s used to play the role of sycophant to his bosses and colleagues who’s odd behavior don’t match his own, such as when his Boss’ mouth begins to leak brown fluid. But in others his role is dramatically shifted, including one where a newspaper informs him he’s been kidnapped, forcing him to pay his own ransom. This results in an odd detective story/physical comedy situation where Danny’s straight man nature is used to play up the oddity of the situation as he desperately scours the city for the necessary money to pay the kidnappers. The sketch works because it so thoroughly pulls Danny and everyone around him into the bizarre situation, including his wife leaving him because she can’t wait for him and his boss turning tricks to help pay for the ransom. Rather than see him simply be the target of the insane antics as we normally see him, he becomes their arbiter, executing the actions that propound the situation without ever realizing why what he’s doing is so ridiculous. And even the show’s construction takes this further, as it’s mix of live and pre-filmed sketches give the show a lively mix of how sketches feel, making certain ones more diverse in execution because they could use locations, while others are more dialogue driven affairs to match the live audience’s reaction. Frankly, it’s just everything you can imagine thrown together and then pulled out because all the actors are skilled and charismatic, allowing an idea no matter how weird to flourish and make perfect sense by sketch’s end.

And with that this list draws to a close. It’s difficult to say in light of a lot of the powerful emotions I’ve had towards a number of things on this list why Kids in the Hall is my favorite TV show, but it just has been and still is. It’s a show that I can laugh at and reference no matter how many times I’ve seen it and I always find something new to enjoy in it. I first saw it in the early 90s on Comedy Central and it’s stuck with me ever since, this odd corner of the world where people no longer follow the rules of man but instead embrace the inherent weirdness of the human condition.

Key Episode: As with any sketch comedy show, it’s just going to come down to just your favorite sketches and I already talked about a few of mine, so let me just list a few more great ones. “Girl Drink Drunk,” “Inexperienced Cannibal,” “Fur Trappers,” “Thanks Hitler,” “Communism,” “Citizen Kane,” “The King of Empty Promises,” “Eradicator,” and pretty much any 30 Helens Agree.

Favorite Character: Well my favorite recurring characters are Rod Torfulson’s Armada featuring Herman Menderchuk, a no talent band more concerned with the trappings of being a band and making it than actually being good. These sketches are always a little odd to watch because I’ve been in this scene before and know this feeling, where you just think you’re so good but you obviously aren’t. I think the best part is just how put upon Kevin McDonald’s character is during these sketches, as he seems to be the only member with any talent but has no name and isn’t part of the band name, resulting in Rod and Herman abusing him to the point where he agrees to pay them a salary to keep them in a band. These sketches really play upon the natural skill of the actors, with Bruce McCulloch’s natural forceful jerkiness and Mark McKinney’s sychophantic abilities really playing against the sadsack gentleness that Kevin has. That this gets a wonderful payoff in the series finale makes it all the better.

50 Favorite TV Shows: #38 Ned & Stacey

Originally Aired on: Fox

As much as I love comedies, I don’t really care much for the traditional sitcom format. So many of the shows I disdain these days are those that can’t seem to escape the traditional stereotypes that have been around in the medium for as long as we can remember. It’s hard to find the exact moment when this becomes true, whether it’s the canned laughter or the limited number of joke trajectories, but once I find it, I know it. Ned and Stacey is the only show on my list that I would define as a traditional sitcom. It uses a laugh track, its plagued by predictable setups and has a limited number of sets to work with and yet, I like it so much. Why? Well, the easiest answer I can give you is that THOMASGODDAMN HADDEN CHURCH stars in it. Having come off a successful run on the show Wings, Ned and Stacey seemed like the vehicle that propel the charismatic star as Ned and pairing him with future Will and Grace star Debra Messing. It never quite took off the way it was supposed to and I didn’t end up seeing it until it was on syndication, but it’s a series that’s stuck with me enough that I ended up buying it on DVD. Thomas Haden Church has a way of elevating roles he’s in due to having that charisma thing I hear so much about, able to smarm his way into likability with his very distinctive voice and expressive facial features. As he plays Ned, the character initially comes off as a totally business driven man, able to do his job and only somewhat hampered by his lack of social graces. But as the story progressed, the lack of social graces began to be played up more, allowing Church to imbue a layer of plastic to some of the times we see him on screen, unable to really separate the fake marketing guru diatribe he plays at work from the personable man he is outside it. Ned becomes more and more drawn by his obsessions and in turn, Church makes him more and more like a cult leader, not really seeming to be genuine, but affable and strangely compelling enough to want to follow. This is especially true of the later part of the first season and the second season which sees his obsessive compulsive tendencies come to the surface, as Church blurs the line of kid-like glee and genuine compassion. Church’s performance carries the series by making someone that seems completely amoral still seem to have a genuine heart to them, even if the expression of that heart comes through in moments of immaturity. Temper tantrums, pranks and manipulations all seem re human from him, as if they’re spontaneous outbursts rather than reckless acts below his level of competency. As I said, this is largely due to the fact that Church is such a good physical actor, since he can bring a degree of slapstick to nearly anything he does, but his voice is just so remarkably capable of picking up those inflections of genuine human speech. When Ned is vulnerable and he becomes very much so as the series go on, we can hear that ache and indecision in what he says and how carefully his cadence is measured out to give himself time to think of what to say, something he normally doesn’t require when he’s simply being a charismatic doofus. It the writers and Church just paired so well and made the series so much better than it deserved to be.

Honestly, the fact that Ned & Stacey got a second season is extremely surprising, as it got off to a really slow start. The general premise of the show is that Ned and Stacey marry so that Ned can get a promotion at work and Stacey can move into his apartment and out of her parents’ house is one of those silly sitcom wwhat-ifs and really didn’t seem to offer a lot of promise as to what it was going to become. But over time the show changed, as the relationship between Ned and Stacey, not strictly one moving towards romance became fleshed out and the pair became more natural in their chemistry. It makes so much sense in retrospect, as the lack of personability in the characters, including the side couple made up of Eric (Greg Germann) and Stacey’s sister Amanda (Nadia Dajani) would make sense by the awkward introduction nthe group has with one another, seeming to grind against each other within their relationship structure since each gender is only really familiar with the partner in the other. But as the show goes along and they get more comfortable with each other, they begin to have a more natural rapport with a much more fluid line of dialogue, the relationships taking natural dividing lines. What this led to is exactly what I love about so many other comedies: once the characters had well defined personalities, it was time for the plot lines of the show to take a turn for the weird. For a traditional sitcom, Ned & Stacey made some weird and raunchy twists in plot lines. One episode had Ned lose his wife in a bet with colleague, so Ned convinces Stacey that he’s setting her up on a date with him rather than the fact that she is supposed to be sleeping with him. When Stacey finds out, she is mad, but the pair becomes sexually infatuated with him, blowing off her contractual wife duties to have sex with him, culminating in Ned bringing his employers to his apartment to find the pair naked. Another episode had a long exchange/distraction from Stacey about the merits of hunting deer with a sword. And even weirder yet, for some reason in the second season, Ned grows a conscience long enough to decide to keep an old woman’s dream live with a muffin shop he and Amanda had planned to sell to property developers, and the pair end up running it. There were all these great little weird moments in the dialogue exchanges and plot twists that kept the show interesting, as Church carried the strange as part of the natural fixation of the Ned character, allowing for it to make perfect sense that Ned would use his wife as currency or that he would enjoy running a muffin shop since it meant he could force his ideas onto the customer base. The dialogue of the series had such marked improvements throughout, the insults from Amanda becoming venomous and Eric slowly becoming more and more like a stoned turtle, each brought into the whirlwind of craziness coming from the titular couple, who could demonstrate things like a weird fascination with Mr. Belvidere. It’s hard to say exactly why the show turned the corner so well, but it did and the ensuing craziness made the dialogue rich and fascinating to listen to.

Ned and Stacey isn’t a show I suspect most people remember, but when I pop it in on DVD for the uninitiated, it doesn’t take long for them to fall into my own delusion. Thomas Haden Church remains an actor I have unlimited respect for and this was him in his sitcom glory.

Key Episode: “Loganberry’s Run” Honestly, I can not for the life of me remember what the A plot of this episode is, but the B plot was so great that it continues to haunt my every dream. Amanda has given up her job as realtor as Ned’s conscious has forced her to own a muffin shop she doesn’t even what. What’s worse, Ned won’t stop trying to force his ideas onto Amanda, constantly harassing her about the minutia of running the muffin shop. This takes an especially drastic twist when Ned decides the shop absolutely needs loganberry muffins on the menu. The whole episode features nearly  every line of dialogue from Ned in some form referring to loganberries, trying to force his decision on Amanda one way or the other. When Amanda finally shoots him down once and for all and tells him he is a silent partner he agrees, but not before pulling the chord on his last trap: a barbershop quartet. The song is so funny, as I just tend to find barbershop quartets the perfect way to express surreal leanings. What I really like about this episode is that its one of the few that really defines Amanda and Ned’s relationship. Amanda hates Ned for seemingly ruining her sister’s life and now ruining her own, but he is her brother-in-law and the best friend to her husband. Ned on the other hand, seems to have no animosity towards Amanda and just treats her like everyone else, as someone he can manipulate into doing what he wants.

Favorite Character: Well it’s obviously Ned. Ned is the crux of each episode, seeming to pull ideas out of nowhere and come up with strange yet compelling schemes that do little more than further his career slightly. When Ned quits his job in the second season you’d really expect there to be some loss in drive, but there never is, constantly bombarding us with even more wild schemes to get back on top, such as $75 cuban banana muffins (which eventually forces him into a prom date, somehow) or the Alex Trebek muffin. He’s great, I love him, the end.

50 Favorite TV Shows: #36 Mad Men

Originally Aired on: AMC

I think the world has come to a consensus that Mad Men is the show we can all sit in pretentious delusion with and scoff at anyone who dares not ascend its lofty summit. It was a jarring show when it first came on the air, not exactly like most dramas that we see intrude upon television. Rarely does it hit an excessive peak that is meant to captivate and when it does, it’s always quieter than you would expect. Yet so many people tune into weak after weak, seeming to buck the trends of serial dramas to see what it has to offer. I have difficulty watching Mad Men at times, as there’s always something I find off-putting about its presentation, especially in regards to watching multiple episodes at once. Since just powering through a television series is one of my favorite past times, I’m hesitant to fully give my love to a show that can’t warrant large amounts of it. But at the same time, I applaud any form of art that can give me such a strong reaction as Mad Men does. At the heart of this issue is the way in which the program is paced. I have never seen a show that has a halting, sluggish drawl to each beat of action that plays out on screen. Because of the large cast of characters, plots of any given episodes can range from A and B to A and M plots without much lag between the individual cuts, causing episodes to become interlocking thematic labyrinths structured in a very precise way. It can be quite amusing to see the way hedonism and egotism play out within the disillusionment of the more central conceits of the episode’s story, but even this rarely gives a full degree of levity to the proceedings. Instead, the episode’s begin to melt and blend in between the individual plots, often making it seem like the show is lingering over every detail no matter how minute it may be. This extends even further to the arc of a season and even seasons, making inconsequential moment’s payoff in unexpected ways as we wonder if something that happens in one episode might lead to a bigger overall impact. Honestly, my first reaction to this is how tedious it becomes, as at times I feel as if there no actual build-up towards anything and all the more shocking moments occur out of nowhere. But this is a naïve view and in fact, I feel as if this might be the show’s greatest strength. Rarely does a show magnify the actual workings of the inner life of people the way Mad Men does. The slow degradation or elevation of a character isn’t some shocking step from point a to point b, but rather an introspective journey that plays out over time. Just as in real life, no character on Mad Men suddenly makes a decision, but instead assimilates his experiences to that point to make the decision and how to deal with it. This is especially potent during those multi-season arcs I spoke of, which see the characters slight shifts in attitude suddenly flare on like the New York skyline they populate. One of the important plot lines of the first three seasons of Mad Men regards the relationship of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his wife Betty (January Jones), as Don’s lies and infidelity build up against Betty’s possible mental delusion. As the season unfolds and Betty learns more about Don and finds herself turning to politician Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) as a figure of stability in her life. This comes to a head in “The Grown-Ups” which sees Betty stand up for herself against Don and declare that she no longer loves him and wants a divorce. It’s a powerful scene and one we might have thought as an inevitability of their relationship, yet we feel so blindsided by the emotional impact of it, as the show has not led us to believe in rash decisions being made. Instead, season 3 sees the careful construction of the machine that will prove the downfall and simply waits for the moment to enact it. And we act as the detectives that sift back through the history to see exactly why it happened.

The expectation this creates for the show is so well built into the show that it often becomes difficult to see through the fog. One of the most prominent aspects of Mad Men is its role as a period piece, its setting coming in the cosmopolitan business world of the 1960s. Period pieces are a difficult thing to do right on television, with the expectation that the show in question will have to spend time referencing back to the actual time period to show its location within time. I really don’t care for this, as it can become boring to simply let the show be a series of reactions to historical events rather than a drama that features historical events and thankfully, Mad Men sidesteps this. I don’t want to say the show comes off as timeless, as historical events and period trappings do intrude into the show, but it rarely seems like they do what you would expect. Events such as the Korean War and the assassination of John F. Kennedy all play prominently into the backdrop of the show, but their purpose is not to locate the show within time, but instead play up the way the time period effects the inter-character dynamic. One of the most prominent pieces of the show is the relationship between Don and Peggy (Elizabeth Moss), who form an odd mentor-mentee dynamic. Peggy rises from the secretarial pool to become a member of the creative staff of the ad company, yet the way she is treated is always colored by the attitude towards women that those in her work environment take. One of the things I think a lot of people expect is for Peggy to eventually forge a relationship with Don, yet Don, despite recognizing Peggy’s talent, is one of those same set of infantilizing chauvinists that Peggy has been struggling against. While she is friendly towards Don, she always seems on edge towards him, especially in later seasons in which he seems to further distance himself from personal relationships and fall back into bad habits. Peggy as a character walks the tenuous line of wanting to be accepted in the world she inhabits, but also wanting the world to change so she can be accepted as the true her, creating this intense dynamic of cosmopolitan working girl and sexually liberated woman, causing the tension she has with characters to be borne from the uncertain status of women within the society presented. Social issues abound within the presentation of the show, such as interracial relationships and homosexuality, allowing the different characters in the cast to react to them without ever having to make them the central issue of the show. Because Mad Men is such a well-written character drama, it works out in interesting ways, with the time period merely being the fuel for the fire.

While I don’t think I’ll ever like Mad Men as much as I should, I can see just exactly why it’s turned into the Emmy machine it has. A well dressed and carefully written study of the larger world through the eyes of the smaller people within it, Mad Men is an intense and harrowing program to dive into.

Key Episode: “Waldorf Stories” Mad Men can be quite an indulgent show in terms of storytelling techniques and one of the formats it seems to nurture for special occasions is the short story format. While most episodes will have several plots going on, it’s rare for them to fully break interconnection in a way that seems like they’re all separate events. Much of the episode seems to be a more thorough examination of the lives of the character in a way we don’t expect, as the episode has a number of flashbacks showing Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and Joan (Christina Hendricks), giving us details of their affair, without it ever really seeming to be the main focus of the episode. Instead, the episode’s primary focus is on a lost weekend of Don Draper, who in celebration of winning a Clio award, loses himself to drink and spends the weekend hopping from bed to bed. While most of Don’s affairs to seem have some passion in them, this one seems more escapist, as he beds at least two women without ever learning their names and goes a step further by using his real name with the last. Don has a very troubled past that creeps to the surface more and more as the show goes on and I like the way this episode plays up how much he needs affirmation of his disguise to keep it at bay, throwing away his team for the award and then losing himself entirely to celebrate it.

Favorite Character: This part will have SPOILERS so watch out. My favorite character on Mad Men was and is Lane Pryce (Jarred Harris). A company man brought in to help run Sterling Cooper following its acquisition by a British firm, Lane at first comes off as the adversary of the main characters of the show. Over time though, Lane becomes more and more important to each of the characters, forging relationships and friendships with each until when the firm seems on the verge of being sold again, decides to form a team with the rest and create Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a new ad agency. As a character, Lane is so unassuming, seeming to have little actual charm, instead becoming bookish and awkward. But you almost always feel bad for the guy, as he manages to keep his firms afloat through keen financial management, even though his own finances are a wreck. His personal relationships are also horribly tangled, as his wife doesn’t seem keen on keeping him for much more than their lifestyle and his attempts to have an affair with Joan are halted. By the end of it and there is an end, you can feel the desperation coming off Lane as you realize he is a nice person living in an unscrupulous world, making his suicide one of the most impactful moments of the show.  

50 Favorite TV Shows: #46 Happy Days

Originally Aired on: ABC

When I was growing up, my family and I would inevitably spend the evenings watching Nick at Night, which re-ran all those old shows that I have a better appreciation for now. Stuff like Mork and Mindy, F Troop and I Dream of Jeannie were always fun and I remember them fondly, but I’m getting older and since I’m not rewatching a lot of these older shows they’re slowly fading from my memory. It’s weird the way we can link things to important moments that may not have been life changing but made us who we were and for me Happy Days will always be one of those things. My mom, my dad, my sister and I all enjoyed it, to the point where we named our dachshund Fonzie and we still bring it up on occasion in conversation. In a lot of ways this feels weird to me, as the show is nostalgic for an era I never lived in, as its set nearly thirty years before I was ever born and it’s such an innocuous show, rarely tackling issues of any real weight aside from the most tangential connections, yet it all works so well. At its heart, Happy Days is a show about growing up, with all the different pieces that allow us to grow into adulthood coming in and out of focus. The center of the show is Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), the middle class child of Howard and Marion (Tom Bosley and Marion Ross) and brother of Joanie (Erin Moran) as he makes his way through the shifting time period of the 1950s and 60s. Richie is a boy trying to enjoy all the simple pleasures of youth as he gets older, finding time to hang with his friends Potsie (Anson Williams)and Ralph Malph (Donny Most), meeting girls and trying to make it through high school okay. Richie is a pretty average kid by all accounts, but manages to draw in Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) to his group of friends, a wise young man who stands as the epitome of cool. Many of the episodes revolve around this idea of “cool” and what exactly it means. It’s such an oddly philosophical question and as you get older it becomes such a less important feature of your life, but when you’re high school age it matters so much. Richie is as white bread as people come and despite all his attempts, he’s never going to become the epicenter of coolness, doomed instead to be a stable influence on the lives of those around him like his parents. Meanwhile, Fonzie is pure excitement, riding motorcycles, dating any girl he pleases and having strange powers over machines. This leads to a central tension that crops up from time to time in the show’s run whether it is better to be like Fonzie or Richie, but as both character’s mature, the answer becomes more obvious. When Fonzie is first introduced, he’s a more dangerous character, hard to approach and a former gang member, yet when he becomes friends with Richie, he softens, allowing himself to become a sort of wise man to all the different characters. In this way, Fonzie comes to depend on the Cunningham household to help provide a stabilizing force in his life, even going so far as to move in above their garage as a means to stay near them. For all Richie’s desire to be cool, Fonzie seems to recognize the maturity Richie’s upbringing gives him and how coolness may set a standard at their age, but it will eventually transform down the line. Episodes range in how they deal with this, such as having fights or having Richie sneak off and try alcohol for the first time, but he always returns to that central base. That may be one of the main messages of the show, that no matter what you do and how you try to change yourself; your family is the force that defines you. It may not be true for everyone in the world, but it is touching without being so saccharine in its delivery.

Perhaps this is why it’s appropriate that the show is set in the 1950s and why it manages to hold a universal appeal. The 1950s are largely seen as a time of homogenization in the United States, as the drive towards the ideal of the nuclear family dominated the adult landscape. Yet rowing up under such circumstances must inevitably lead to some pressure, what would eventually result in the hippy movements of the 1960s. By setting the show in the 1950s, we’re given a clear reference point to the central stability to the household at the center of the story while still giving breathing room to act out the tropes and pressures associated with the more wholesome time period. The show is full of the flavor of the time period, with exterior shots showing those giant bubble-like muscle cars of the era pulling up and teens clamoring for the simplest rock n roll. Because of this, Arnold’s Drive-In becomes the most prominent set of the show, a rather iconic piece of nostalgia that we don’t see a lot of these days. Richie, Fonz and the gang would always be meeting here, those parquet floors and red vinyl seats recalling instantly that feeling of seeing something outside of its place and time. Arnold’s is set up as a locus of youth culture on the show, the place where all happenings originate as the two owners, Arnold (Pat Morita) and Al (Al Molinaro) seem to recognize the rise of youth affluence, allowing the gang to get involved in all sorts of activities with at as their base of operation. The set designers do a wonderful job making the set of Arnold’s seem homey without ever making it fall completely outside of the pale of an actual functioning business, extras always filling the screen as young people poured in for a chance to meet up outside of the cloistering of their homes. In addition to this, Arnold’s was typically where we were hearing a great deal of music on the show, both from Richie’s band and from the jukebox The Fonz could magically get to play with a simple love tap. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: music is such a unique artistic experience that it becomes very easy to associate with certain moods and time periods. Rock n roll of the 1950s was far simpler than the music of today, but it was always endowed with a great deal of energy, this idea of movement married to simplicity lost in the styles preceding it. Happy Days embraces this fully to give the show a sense of calm relief, an understanding of the exuberance and promise given to the era that followed the Second World War. This is cemented by the show’s theme song, one of the most iconic TV theme songs in existence, which perfectly capture the sugary yet satisfying nature of the show itself. Happy Days is not a show out to offend us, but to both remind us of a simpler time and then show us how certain things remain universal no matter when you lived.

I’m a little sad that not everyone will have the experience of growing up watching a show like Happy Days like I did. It’s a rather ephemeral show in many ways, yet it has remained so iconic over the years, offering an easy laugh or a pleasant viewing without the unnecessary plotting twists so many shows rely on today.  

Key Episode: “Richie Fights Back” I was tempted to pick the jumping the shark episode if only for adding that term to the general parlance of our culture, and really, there are a lot of iconic episodes. I remember this episode well because it’s one of the few to feature Pat Morita as Arnold in a more prominent role, having made his way more into our consciousness for his role as Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid films. Having found himself running afoul of a bully, Richie needs to learn to defend himself and wouldn’t you know it but Arnold is an expert an jiujitsu, offering to teach Richie and the gang so they can take care of themselves. It’s one of those things that the show does so well, as it’s a simple set-up with a predictable outcome but it remains nice to watch anyway. When you see a show walk the path of tropes that you expect, you’re always a little hesitant because you don’t want it to just do what you’re expecting. But when it’s done well or sets the standard for this idea then we see why we don’t like to see other programs do it themselves.

Favorite Character: I’m not going into left field for this one. The best character is the Fonz. He’s just so cool. He rides motorcycles. He jumps said motorcycles over things. He jumps water skies over sharks. He has engaged in copulation with nay number of women in the greater Wisconsin area. Fonzie is one of them more famous characters to come from TV, having been the mold of the “break-out character.” While he’s certainly charming and usually the center of the more interesting plot lines of the show, I always think of Fonzie as the character by which we’re best able to gauge time changes on the show. One of the cooler aspects of the show is that progresses through the 1950s and into the 1960s, and as the Fonz is pretty stationary to his time period he’s usually how we gauge changes to the show’s universe.

50 Favorite TV Shows: #47 The Unusuals

Originally aired on: ABC

If you’ve looked at the picture above you may notice some familiar faces in the cast of The Unusuals. Police procedurals are a dime a dozen, usually a good way to kill time without a lot of investment in the actual show since they are specifically episodic in nature despite their length, but it was a magic time in 2009 when this show came on the air. As a late season replacement, your usually expecting something that’s not so great, having failed to catch the eye of the Network execs enough to get a strong showing during the two main premiere slots, but I was just in love with the casting choices. Jeremy Renner, who we all know now to be a fantastic dramatic actor, was someone I primarily knew from the hilarious but dumb as a pile of particularly stupid bricks National Lampoon’s Senior Trip, having been a rather charming stoner lead. And perhaps my love Adam Goldberg should just be stated now, having adored him in Dazed and Confused and had that cemented by the Hebrew Hammer (I swear, I really do have good taste in movies!), so I was excited to see exactly how this would play out. What amazed me was just how well having actors with strong personalities on film allowed the show to transform from mere cop drama to a more exciting show about managing proclivities. Each of the main characters is in one way or another a broken person, some balancing this better than others but all forced into a situation that causes them constant stress. Renner’s character Det. Jason Walsh is a character always skating corruption, having been privy to it without ever actually getting involved. Instead, he blows off his steam in fruitless ventures, such as his home which also serves as a diner and his work to find out who killed his previous partner. He is teamed with Casey Schraeger, played by Amber Tamblyn of Joan of Arcadia and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants fame, a rich girl trying to hide her background in order to function as a normal police officer. The pair shares an interesting dynamic, as Schraeger’s lack of experience balances the nature of Walsh’ having seen too much, giving them a back and forth of intuition and experience. But they’re by far the most boring pair of the series, as Goldberg and Harold Perrineau, who you may remember as Michael Dawson, provide an even more existential dynamic as Eric Delahoy and Leo Banks respectively. Their’s is a lot centered on death, as Leo is haunted by the fact that so many of his relatives have died at the age of 42, his current age, resulting in him wearing a bulletproof vest at all times. Banks’ fear constantly interferes with his work, as in one episode he observes a crime across from his apartment, but is too scared to see to investigate whether a woman was attacked for fear the attacker might claim him. Delahoy, on the other hand, is actually dying, suffering from a brain tumor he chooses not to reveal to anyone or seek treatment for. Rather than hide like Banks does, Delahoy begins to engage life more directly, striking up a weird relationship/patient relationship by force with a MRI tech and making big saves since he has no actual fear of death. This makes for some great moments of pondering on the show, such as when Delahoy finds a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cats Cradle on the nightstand of a suicide victim, contemplating exactly why someone would choose this as their last book, while Banks becomes unhinged by the very idea of the death itself. I like the fact that the show plays with typical character tropes for cops, but manages to take them beyond being rote exercises, such as Det. Cole’s (Henry Close) criminal past and how that involves those around him or Det. Eddie Alvarez (Kai Lennox) who characterizes himself as a lone wolf, but is one by virtue of the fact that no one likes him. It makes it so that whenever they are all on the case we never know how to predict the end point, something most police procedurals do by simply obscuring facts, making for unexpected narrative twists.

And by narrative twists, I might as well just say the nature of the crime’s being committed . While crimes are crimes are crimes are crimes, each episode revolves around the peculiarity of the circumstances of the cases they investigate. For example, the third episode of the series, “One Man Band.” The episode deals a great deal with the idea of solitude in the main case it presents, starting off with Banks and Delahoy chasing after a one man band criminal, who after capture, leads them to a store whose sole purpose is to enable murder. The store is a treasure trove of weapons and literature regarding the means by which one can an enact death, presumably in both loud and quiet fashions. This sets up an obvious sting for the pair until they meet a potential murderer: a woman named Roxanne who is being abused by her husband and wants to murder him. This immediately raises a moral quandary for the detectives, who can’t knowingly allow murder to happen but at the same time, are limited in the power they can exercise to stop the abuse that would be the cause of the murder, especially after their attempts to stop the husband are rebuffed. This is balanced by Schraeger’s storyline, where her family lawyer friend asks her to help get a rich kid client off the hook for peeing on the shoes of a police officer. What Schraeger doesn’t know is that this kid is also the perpetrator of a hit and run that Alvarez is investigating, putting her in a precarious position as she exercised authority to remove a suspect for a personal reason. All of the characters in the episode are in one way or another left on their own, seeking some sort of personal goal or unable to move past a moral quandary that has involved them. Even Delahoy and Banks, who are paired together, seem to not really understand each other’s point of view, exercising autonomy. This is a strange play on the usual police dynamic of the thin blue line, as the department is supposed to provide a support network that such decisions can be worked through, but because each of the characters involved doesn’t want to show weakness, they can’t back down from the problems they are presented. Each episode is similarly flavored, containing a major storyline as well as a few secondary and recurring elements that tie back in to the thematic nature of the main crime, allowing for this reciprocal nature between the events transpiring on screen. This is where the big personalities come in, since each will encounter the same thing in a different disguise and deal with it differently, allowing for a rather organic character drama.

This is another show I feel was doomed to fail and only ran for a season before cancellation. Still, when I need a cop drama to recommend to someone who doesn’t really care for the genre, this is what I reach for. Its strong cast and intriguing writing allowed to blossom briefly into a new twist for a tired genre.

Key Episode: “Crime Slut” Aside from having a rather attention grabbing title, it’s always the episode I talk about when I discuss this show with other people. The cops are on the trail of the aforementioned crime slut, a woman who seemingly picks up men for the sole purpose of helping her commit robberies and then dumps them if they get caught or hinder her. There’s a nifty twist to this that I won’t reveal, but I will say that it really puts the title on its head. The secondary storyline involves a zombie… well, kinda. Having a tumor similar to Delahoy’s, Delahoy involves Banks in tracking him down to see exactly where he is going and why, especially due to his apparent death. Delahoy storyline’s tend to be strong on the show, since his character is so strongly defined in action by his stance on life. But what really makes this episode is its comedic nature. If you haven’t guessed it, the Unusuals at times plays like a comedy, full of gags and visual jokes that come across more strongly than the usual witty one liners in other cop dramas. My personal favorite was Schraeger’s musings on why she couldn’t be a slut (“"I just don’t have an interest in seeing that many penises”), which leads to a weird running joke that pays off at the end of the episode.

Favorite Character: Surprisingly it’s not Delahoy and is instead Eddie Alvarez. Alvarez is meant to come off as a pompous jerk, one of those brown nosing types who will do anything to get ahead and is therefore, by the book. Since the rest of his department is so unusual (do ho ho) and tends to bend the rules, this makes him the office jerk. But Eddie really isn’t much of a jerk, as he has the law’s best interests at heart and is always driven to solve crimes; he simply isn’t liked and can’t really engage in comradery with his fellow officers. This sets up a great dynamic since Eddie is trying to get promoted and rise up in power, something contradictory to his girlfriend’s more political ambitions for him, as his rise in power would make him lead and yet he has trouble engaging with those he would end up leading. Eddie’s storylines are rarely the focus of an episode, but he shows interesting glimpses when we do see him, not the best detective but perhaps the most driven and his interactions with the other detectives are priceless, especially his use of the third person.

50 Favorite TV Shows: #2 Friday Night Lights

Originally Aired on: NBC

Dedicated to my dear friend Manny, who took this journey with me and saw the wonders I saw.

Ok, I need to say this and I’m sorry in advance: any of you who don’t watch this excellent program because it’s about football are being stupid. Really fucking stupid. I don’t care if you like football or not, because it’s not about football. It’s about interpersonal relationships forged through community spirit and understanding using the naturalistic drama of competition as seen in football to expound upon this idea. This just bugs the shit out of me because no matter what I say about how brilliant this show is everyone just retreats to the old football chestnut to avoid watching it. Does the show feature football and its tropes? Sure, and in fact it uses nearly any story or trope you’d associate with a sports storyline in the course of its run. But what the show does that negates a lot of the criticism for this is just to do it so incredibly well. Television as a medium asks for a degree of investment from the audience, that we understand that the artificial nature of its construction will reward us with a narrative that we can personally connect to or have emotions elicited by. And I’m hard pressed to think of a show that is better at this, as from very early in the show we come to know and understand the characters so well and how real they feel. Football on Friday Night Lights isn’t simply a game they play that means nothing, but is an extension of the plights the characters are going through, ending up akin to ballet in its emotional expression through movement. In Season 4 of the show, we’re introduced to the character of Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan), a young man whose life has taken several wrong turns thanks to his father’s abandonment and his mother’s drug addiction, resulting in him turning to crime. Rather than simply hauling him off to jail, a relative asks that he be put into the football program of the newly established East Dillon Lions, where Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) has been unceremoniously dumped. Again, this is a pretty standard idea for a sports storyline, where a troubled youth joins as a sports program in order to teach him values such as teamwork to make his life better, seen in things like the Blindside. What Friday Night Lights does with it, however, is what I’ve not seen done before, as the investment in Vince as a character is rewarded with the actual progression of character growth. It’s not simply a matter of us being told that he’s becoming a better person, but the actual execution of it on screen. We see him and Coach Taylor clash consistently, but Taylor’s firm line is not one hardened malice, but instead of care, a different generation’s idea of helping one to get on the right course by being tough on them and showing them the value of the work they’ve done. Vince bristles at this, not really responding to anyone or anything around him because he’s so used to his thug lifestyle, resulting in moments when it seems he may step off the precipice, but he also manages to come back just enough. We learn that Vince is more vulnerable than we thought, seeing his heartbreaking interactions with his mother and tentative attempts at friendship with teammate Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria). Soon these changes take a larger effect, his willingness to engage his childhood friend Jess (Jurnee Smollett) who thinks of better of him. And it all kind of clicks on, how everyone around him thinks better of him than how he actually carries himself, resulting in a positive presence on the field. He becomes a teammate not just because he’s becoming a better person, but because he’s pouring more into what he’s doing. When he’s named team Quarterback, it feels like a touchstone moment for Vince, how he’s overcome himself enough to earn the role. The show doesn’t cheapen it by making the Lions an instant success on the field, as they’re still rebuilding, but it comes to represent stability for the fledgling program, making the investment we put into Vince an investment in the team as a whole. And the show does this over a large number of episodes, showing how this buildup is a natural extension of being in this environment and how that can actually change the way we feel about the world. It’s an amazing thing to watch, because the characters feel so realistic that the artificiality of their storylines disappear, making what they go through feel dramatic because we’re actually concerned with how their lives are going. We want them to always be on the right track, but life isn’t like that and Friday Night Lights is showing how life can be in such an insular community.

And my god, the show is the most gorgeous show ever shot. I feel like this is such a rare thing I can say about a television program, how gorgeous it looks and I had to do research on exactly what went down to get it like this. From what I’ve read, the show is shot entirely on location in the Austin area, using the authenticity of the local high schools to convey the actual setting of the story. From there, the script is constructed so that the actors playing the parts can change up dialogue and block themselves according to what they feel is most natural for the character they’re playing, making the actual shooting process largely based around simply placing cameras and editing together their focuses to convey the story. This is where the show really takes off, as its shot more like an indie movie than any TV show I’ve ever seen. Soft and deep focus are used to prominent effect throughout the show’s run, conveying a kind of gradual stillness to many scenes, like we’re seeing everything through a dream like haze of nostalgia. The cinematography matches this well, depending on diegetic lighting to provide the perfect sun drenched or fluorescent light effect on the sets, making them seem more real, reminding me greatly of the cinematography in the Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Everything becomes almost hyper real at times, like we’re capturing snippets of memory, where we’re seeing and hearing things from angles that we might actually have had them at, rather than straight on in the face. This makes scenes of personal weight feel more expressive, as if the characters are rooted to that moment in time that we’ve seen them in and does well to convey varying degrees of conflict and affection as the shots heighten and loosen the characters’ stances. This is all set to the contrast of the actual football games, which make a more vigorous effect of the editing to highlight the inherent brutality of the sport, cutting close sharp angles together to show the actual execution of plays. When someone gets hit on the field, we see it up close and personal, usually from a bottom angle to show the dominance of the effect on the player being hit. It makes these games seem snappy, as if they’re just a series of moments before a catharsis that comes from either a win or a loss, and gives a great deal of excitement since we’re seeing the struggle play out its peaks with rarity of valleys. It makes that moment where everything hangs on the line all the more potent because everything suddenly snaps back to the soft focus in real time, the dream washing over it again to tell us that what is about to happen is personal to the people seeing it, the culmination of who they have been up to this point. The slow chug a man running up field shedding tackles or a high lofted pass feels like the moments where we see people in love or going through pain and it normalizes it to great effect. Coupled with W.G. Snuffy Walden’s excellent soundtrack, it is like watching the perfect blend of reality and illusion.

And I’d like to point out that this show was so good that they couldn’t even take it off the air. A satellite TV company essentially invented a TV channel just so we could continue to see it play out. Friday Night Lights is an amazing show that I wish more people would take the time to watch, because it’s an amazingly well done one that catches you early in the lives of the people in it. These are people that could be your friends or family members and this could have been your life. It wraps you in this warm embrace and makes you suffer as they suffer, but you come out feeling so affirmed by it.

Key Episode: “The Son” This is that trade off for feeling good when a character succeeds, as we must also feel terrible when they feel terrible. And when Friday Night Lights wants your heart, it’s gonna take it. We’ve known Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) for the entire series up to this point and we’ve always seen him as a good boy. He takes care of his dementia suffering grandmother, has a sweet off and on relationship with the coach’s daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden) and has played his heart for the Dillon Panthers. But his relationship with his father has been a hard one, as he left to go and fight in Iraq. Matt receives new of his father’s passing and takes the news poorly. He claims to hate his father, to hate what he did to him and how he never cared for Matt. So the team arranges for him to see his father’s body and… he just breaks down. He can’t take it. It’s too hard and he cries and fights to hold it back and it’s just so painful to watch. We had seen Matt’s father earlier in the series and understand his distance from his family, but to see Matt’s reaction, all the problems he’s had welling back when he sees his lifeless body and how that still effects him. It hits you in the gut.

Favorite Character: If ever there was a character I could identify with on the show, it’s Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons). Landry is a nerd with musical aspirations who fate just so happens to make the best friend of the town’s starting quarterback. Landry is initially hostile towards football, seeing it as an anti-intellectual idea and as taking his friend away, but soon the issues run much deeper, when he defends a friend who was viciously beaten by a football player. However, Landry eventually joins the team and while he rarely plays, seems to find out about the community spirit that comes with playing football. He even gets a highlight football moment in Season 4. But the best part of Landry is his odd relationship with Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki), a girl who wants to escape Dillon at all costs and whom Landry tutors. Landry is of course, over the moon for her and does a few drastic things for her and you always get the feeling that his nice guy act will never penetrate her skin. But slowly he shows what’s so great about himself and things start to work out and oh man. OTP  5eva.

50 Favorite TV Shows: #40 Metalocalypse

Originally Aired on: Cartoon Network

It’s like Brendon Small and Tommy Blancha sat down and made a show just for me. If you’ve read my blog at any time previously in the last 600 odd posts, it should be no big secret that I’m a heavy metal fan and like many heavy metal fans, this seemed like a show I should check out. It’s a little hard to make out why exactly Metalocalypse is so appealing outside of its embrace of one of my favorite aesthetics, but as with many shows that populate Adult Swim, its humor seems to extend from a sense of reality warped by simply not giving a fuck. I won’t lie: Metalocalypse is a brutal show, each episode likely to contain merciless animated violence, with flesh being stripped from bone at a moment’s notice, with nary a single person seeming to even notice. As horrible and frightening as it can be, the show’s style of animation is do delightfully crisp and the editing so snappy that one hardly has more time than to stare agog for a few seconds before the carnage rolls forth. The animation on the show reminds me greatly of older style Disney animation, if you can believe that, with the backgrounds having a wonderful fully realized painted feel while the actual characters are given a lighter touch to imply movement. Because of this, the contrast between the action and the set dressing is greatly emphasized allowing the show to really play up it the comedic effect of its heavy metal aesthetic. I’m sure you’re all at least a little familiar with the typical heavy metal album cover, a dark nightmarish tangle of black and fire meant to be evocative of a Hellscape made real and the show’s main characters, Dethklok, live amongst this idea. Their base, Mordhaus, is essentially a rolling dragon fortress decked out in spikes and medieval architecture, a living testament to their metalness. Each shot of it is wonderfully decked in varying shades of decaying browns and grays and blacks, each thickly matted on top of one another until it implies a massive solidity, the awe inspiring malevolence that is unceasing and unchanging. But each band member is such a light goofball by nature, certainly knowing the metal aesthetic but unable to fully inhabit it. They paint a faint white against the haunted halls they exist in, a vibrancy implied to counteract the trappings they dress themselves in. We’re never given the idea that Dethklok is as metal as they appear to be, the humor of the show coming from the fact that they’re all dumb as hell and too rich for their own good, allowing the two styles of design to present the humorous dichotomy of the show in a strong visual way. We take the humor of the show from knowing that the vauntedness of their surroundings does not match their actions, building an easy system of queues to follow when watching the show. What’s more, it builds up the level of movement within the actual shots of the show. I’m not going to lie and say this is the best animated show I’ve ever seen, but the previously mentioned violence and all other chaos that ensues pops because of the lack of movement from background shots, the sudden ripping off of a face becoming more jarring due to the stability that it is implied upon. It all works so well to present the idea of heavy metal as both its own style and as a means to launch the jokes of the show in front of.

This is all tied together nicely by just how well the show manages its dialogue, building twisted labyrinths of nonsense from the mouths of each person who speaks. Having crafted his writing with Home Movies, you expect a certain degree of rapport from anything Brendon Small writes, but the degree to which it is evidenced on Metalocalypse is massive, especially considering the fact that almost all the characters are voiced exclusively by Small and Blancha. While Home Movies managed its energy by the improvisational nature of the multiple cast members, Metalocalypse instead seems to have a more constructed sense of dribbling madness, with each character seeming to live in their own fractured point in reality. William Murderface (Blancha) is perhaps the easiest to pinpoint, coming off as a self-absorbed asshole with no real reason to feel self-absorbed since he contributes almost nothing to the band and is an overall asshole bent on making himself more popular. Nathan Explosion (Small) is perhaps the truest to the band’s image, imagining everything in the black and white terms of metal, while hinting at little bits of greater cultural appreciation. Toki Wartooth (Blancha) is a sweet lovable naïf who is unwilling or unable to engage fully in the world of rock stardom, contrasting to Skwisgaar Skwigelf (Small) whose lack of mastery of the English language counterbalances his aimless love of sex and guitar playing. And Pickles the Drummer (Small)… well, he’s just a boozehound with anger issues and a funny accent. They’re all charatceritures in their own way, but Small and Blancha take them in such strange directions, with a charismatic leader seemin to take over each dialogue and draw the others in to their system of logic. This makes the exchanges they engage in especially prominent, as the writers seem hyperaware of the sound of words, allowing dialogues to populate largely by the way a word can sound funny. This can go overboard at times, with characters rambling in random noises, but this kind of pseudo baby talk allows for a natural flow, as if the characters are completing each other’s sentences. I love a show that bends logic to itself and Metalocalypse uses this to make the jokes a ridiculous trip down the rabbit hole where only a dead end can lie. Characters just shout incomprehensible plans and no one can seem to stop them because they’re too popular and too rich to stop. There is one voice of reason on the show in Charles Offdensen (also Small) and he is realy the only character of the main cast to speak with any sort of halt in his voice. Try as he might Offdensen can rarely do more than minimalize the damage being done, always forced to be the straight man nerd to the band. But this dynamic is a classic one that works, allowing the show a nice flow of idea into action, as the visual jokes of the show stem directly from the deluge of words that create them, allowing the audience to imagine something and then pay it off immediately.

It also doesn’t hurt that the music of the show is fantastic and that the albums coming from Dethklok are pretty damn great. More non-metal fans need to embrace this show, its ultra violence and vaudeville comedy pairing making for a delightful romp of whimsy and utter carnage.

Key Episode: “Dethrecord” Not really the funniest episode or possessing the best song, but Dethrecord is the best about the dynamics of the band. Nathan, Skwisgaar and Pickles work diligently on the record, while Toki and Murerface attempt to write their own song to be on the record. The episode is full of plenty of sight gags that work, such as Nathan in a suit of armor (because it’s more metal) and Skwisgaar jumping from an airplane to record his guitar parts because he gets a buzzing noise if he stands on the ground (“I ams a tones chaser”), only for them to be erased and be forced to re-record them in an accelerated version of the previous sequence. But I think Toki and Murderface’s is the best articulated, as Murderface wants some creative control without really being creative, using an idiot’s guide to songwriting to write a song with Toki. Their song hsows no real metal vibe, as Toki songs are usually more surreal and child-like, as if they’re Beatles’ Z sides, and their subject matter doesn’t help in “Takin’ it Easy.” This pays off wonderfully when they show it to the band who kind of get into it, only to dismiss it because the other three always write all the songs. Murderface immediately refuses Toki any credit for it and storms off, showing exactly why he is the most hated member of the band.

Favorite Charatcer: Easily Toki. Toki is a shockingly complex character for the show, having grown up in the brutal Norway wilderness with abusive zealot parents and somehow stumbled into a spot in the world’s most popular band. He always comes off as a lost little lamb amongst his surroundings, seeming so naïve, such as when his hosting of the Adult Video Awards will allow him to “kiss all the pretty goils,” but then you see these flashes of the beast within, such as his turn to black metal when he becomes too popular with kids or his reckless beating of an annoying concert goer who wouldn’t stop chanting in his ear. Every one of his relationships is chaotic, such as his friendship with Dr. Rockzo (the rock n roll clown… he does cocaine) which shows us a glimmer of his lost innocence or with Skwisgaar who he both admires and hates, because Skwisgaar doesn’t appreciate his talent (for someone who doesn’t practice, Toki still manages to be the second best guitar player in the world). There are so many other little things, such as the fact that Toki is ripped for seemingly no reason, but all in all, he just puts a smile on my face and has enough behind the curtains to keep it interesting.

50 Favorite TV Shows: #22 The Simpsons

Originally Aired on: Fox

I used to watch the Simpsons every day. It came on Fox at 6:30 and 7:00 and I would just watch the same episodes over and over. While I’m not watching it much these days, I can’t help but feel warm feelings in my heart towards the program. But it’s a show that’s been talked to death, so rather than doing something everyone else has done a hundred times, I’m going to do something else everyone has done a hundred times and just count down my five favorite episodes. It’s subjective and awfully hard to choose, but I’m satisfied with my picks here.

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5. “Homie the Clown” – Season 6, Episode 15: I think the thing that makes this episode great is just how wonderfully it understands Homer as a character and plays that into the premise. Homer, as a character is incredibly stupid, but his stupidity isn’t just his lack of intelligence, but also his enthusiasm for whimsy. He just has a tendency to go along with things because they make sense to him, no matter how ridiculous they may be. That he immediately falls prey to advertisements makes sense and when he tries to deny one, it eats away at him until all he can see is his fire consumed co-workers as clowns in a circus act, forcing him to declare to his confused family, “That’s it! I’m going to clown college!” He’s just adamant that this is the course he is supposed to be taken even though he has zero actual interest in becoming a clown because somehow, it makes sense to him as a thing he should be doing. I love the way the show takes this further by showing someone so affably stupid as Homer, who should be good as a clown, is actually terrible it, nearly beating a Hamburglar-esque mascot to death or failing to take a tiny tricycle through a loopdy loop by losing his pants or simply crushing the track. It’s all those wonderful sight gags of him just utterly failing but just being so enthused at what he is doing and this plays up that whole dynamic between Bart, who does not respect Homer, but respects Krusty and how Homer becoming Krusty draws parallels between the flaws of both. And I just love the way the episode pays off, as it’s just so stupid yet so perfect, with Krusty’s problems coming from the fact that he owes the mob $48, which a kindly mobster makes change for. It’s probably not the best remembered episode, but it all works for the character and uses it to make each scene’s gag work wonderfully.

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4. “Bart Sells His Soul” – Season 7, Episode 4: While the intangibles of modern era Simpsons comedy not working are a large grab bag, one of the things I miss more than I expected was the inclusion of episodes like “Bart Sells His Soul.” There were always these certain episodes in the early season which were, dare I say, touching? This was always my favorite out of that group, as episodes like “Marge Be Not Proud” couldn’t really balance the comedy and melodrama, but this one does it so perfectly. Bart, not believing in the existence of the soul, sells it to Milhouse, only to find himself unable to laugh at Itchy & Scratchy and being haunted by dreams of being unable to reach a promised land on the other side of a lake. This episode is so writhe with good example of actual consideration of the concept of the soul, but filtered through the mind of a child, where something so innocuous as being unable to get his breath to fog up as a sign that something is terribly wrong with his existence. This leads to a really powerful ending that makes us consider Bart’s faults in the face of his humanity. To match this, the jokes all go up to eleven, playing up Moe’s angry character as he forces himself to be a family restaurant owner and telling us exactly how Alf will come back. It’s one of those ones where you can laugh a lot but also think about what you’ve seen and I love it for that.

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3. “Cape Feare” – Season 5, Episode 2: I’m almost at a loss to describe this episode, as it’s homages piled on top of ridiculous jokes. Sideshow Bob, Bart’s cultured but dangerous enemy, is released from prison and begins to threaten Bart, forcing the family to go into the witness protection program. This results in this odd game of cat and mouse between the pair, which makes for some of the best moments as the pair keep switching the role of straight man. I forget the later episode that says it, though it does feature Bob, but one of the things that makes comedy work is dignity, as we love to watch the dignified lose their composure and taken down a peg. Bob is someone that always comes off as incredibly pretensious, but this also blends with his criminal tendencies, making for someone that would tattoo “Die Bart, Die” convince a parole board that the “die” is actually the German word for “the.” This makes the homage to Cape Fear so perfect, as Bob isn’t as clearly psychotic as either Robert Mitchum or Robert DeNiro’s characters, but it allows the sort of blissful ignorance of the residents of Springfield to be played up, as Bob blatantly rides through the street announcing that everyone who is not Bart will survive. This all kind of terminates when Bob follows them to their new home, only to be drug through cactuses and step on one thousand rakes, leading him to corner Bart who manages to trap Bob in operatic song. It all just works so perfectly because Bart’s fear of Bob causes him to bring out the ridiculous nature of Bob and Bob’s villainy tends to make Bart capable of doing bombastic things.

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2. “Marge vs. the Monorail” – Season 4, Episode 12: I can still sing the damn monorail song… If I had to pick a favorite moment of this episode, even more than “I call the big one Bitey.” Even more than Homer driving through the town with a piano on top of his snow chained car it would be the ending in which Marge promises that Springfield never made another terrible decision… except for their toothpick skyscraper and their giant magnifying glass and their escalator that leads to nowhere (which people still seem to ride). It’s such a perfect summation of the town. As stupid as Homer might be, all the other characters are just as stupid and prone to enthusiasm as he is, resulting them doing absolutely stupid things. That Lyle Lanely (voiced by the great Phil Hartman) is essentially a medicine seller, shilling his wares on charm alone really makes it feel like one of those magic bean moments. And Marge being the sole voice of reason is especially nice, because it doesn’t really put any impetus on intelligence the way having Lisa being the voice of reason does, instead making it a matter of common sense that just isn’t breaking through the shared delusion of the town. As great as the gags are, I just think the episode had the perfect scenario to set up the comedy, allowing the show to just build and build up until it’s one blissful act of craziness.

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1. “You Only Move Twice” – Season 8, Episode 2: Kind of the opposite of “Homie the Clown,” “You Only Moves Twice” proposes what would happen if Homer was to get a job he was good at. And it does this with gusto. Every moment is just the perfect build up, the way that Cypress Creek is this weird mirror world of Springfield where everything is idyllic and everyone is smart, only for the truth to be that Homer’s boss has cultivated a community of henchmen for his plans to take over the world. Perhaps contrast would be the best way to describe this episode, as the show plays up these dynamics of appearance and action, with Hank seeming to be the nicest guy in the world, only to see him later have a James Bond analogue mercilessly executed. We see each of the Simpson family taken out of their element and as poorly as they usually fit into Springfield, they begin to make perfect sense there, having found their niche, aside from Homer. But we didn’t come for that. No, we came for the great James Bond homage and the episode plays it up in spades. Homer going to tell Scorpio he’s quitting in the midst of a colossal battle is just so perfect, having that moment of the soldier having his neck broken by a scantily glad acrobat and then seeing Hank saddened before gleefully returning to menacing the Army with a flamethrower. Sight gags and ridiculous plot gags, it’s just what the show does best.

And of course, I’m sure 99% of you disagree and that’s cool. This show has been running forever and that a hundred different people can have a hundred different favorite episodes is a hallmark of it’s greatness.

(I’m skipping Key Episode for obvious reasons)

Favorite Character: This is honestly a very hard question, as the show has so many tertiary characters on top of the main cast. I think Mr. Burns may take it though for just being so damndably evil. He’s rich sure, but he just takes it so such a great degree, gleefully laughing about his childhood memory of crippling an Irishman or delighting that someone might have to find the Jade Monkey before the next full moon (it was in the glove box). Whereas Hank Scorpio was crazy evil, Mr. Burns is merely malevolent, delighting only in making more money at any cost, contrasted to his rather frail frame. But then we have episodes like “Rosebud,” which is about Mr. Burns quest to take back his childhood bear Bobo… only for him to try and steal it from a baby. He’s also central to the one episode to fit on the list, but ran out of room for… “Last Exit to Springfield,” so… yeah. I guess he’s my favorite character.


50 Favorite TV Shows: All Hail the New Flesh and WHERE THE HELL IS BREAKING BAD?!

So this makes the… 5th list I’ve successfully completed and in all honesty, it’s my least favorite list of the ones I’ve done. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it has some solid merits and discussion, but I just had such a hard time articulating my ideas about television versus the other mediums I discussed. It becomes hard to discuss television because I’m not talking about a finite experience, with many shows I was talking about still in their runs and my academic lexicon in regards to the medium is much more limited than say film, which I’ve studied, or music, which I’ve been passionately involved in for half my life. I don’t think it hit a really good stride until we broke the top 20 where I was beginning to talk about shows I was seriously passionate about. Thanks to Netflix and online streaming I can digest any number of shows very rapidly, so I’m always watching or rewatching something, which makes it difficult to really sift through to the points of watching a show where it means something to me and really hits home, especially since it can be changable within the next episode, but this is the risk of watching and getting involved with TV in general.

My other big but also not big regret with this list was my inclusion of anime. This is totally a silly thing to say, but I kind of wish now that I had saved anime for it’s own list. I really don’t want to go back and do that list now because four of my top five favorite are on this list and it will really hollow out the front end of it. I had asked my friends whether I should include it, so now I must live with the consequences.

Now here’s the question I’m sure many of you who look at the list in its totality will ask: Where the hell is Breaking Bad? Have I watched it? Yes, but not until I was already doing this list. Well… that’s not really true I guess. I had watched the first season during it’s original run and liked it, but as I am wont to do, I fell behind on the show and just never bothered to catch back up on it. I did however, watch the entirty of the series while I was writing this list, starting it around the mid-20s somewhere. I don’t think you need me to tell you it’s a good series, because it obviously is, and if I were to do this list again, I would include it somewhere, probably somewhere in the Top Twenty. This ranking isn’t really a knock on the show but just a testament of my personal opinion regarding enjoyment of the show. These lists will always be a combination of my intellectual stimulation and personal enjoyment stemming from the medium I’m looking at, so naturally, it’s all very subjective. As always, if you like something, then that is all that’s important.

I do hope that you’ve all seen at least one thing that’s peaked your interest and made you want to seek it out. It’s harder for some of the shows on here for whatever reason, which is a shame, because they’re all very unique in their own way. The only clear cut pattern I can really say about my habits is my general dislike of the sitcom format, with only Ned and Stacy really being a traditional example of the formula. Otherwise, it’s scattershot comedies, dramas and animation of all sorts, and I really have no way of knowing what I’ll get into next. With both Happy Endings and 30 Rock ending last season, I now have to find new shows to fill the void, so hopefully between the Crazy Ones, Agents of SHIELD and Masters of Sex this will happen. Hmm Hmm Hmm.

And now I get to talk about what’s coming next. The first thing is that I’m going to finish out the week before dropping a list component for two weeks. This is going to give me time to catch up on listening to albums for the upcoming Favorite Albums of 2013 list I’m planning and oh man, do I have some ones I really want to talk about. Otherwise it’ll be the normal Versus iTunes, Versus Steam, Versus Netflix setup I usually do for the this week and next and then a week off, with hopefully two reviews on demand (I’ve done the prep work, I just have to write them up). Honestly, I’m just dragging a bit because I’m occupied by a number of other pursuits, INCLUDING MY STREAMING OVER ON THE STREAMSQUAD CHANNEL, which I’m doing three times a week now. I’m also finally doing serious work on a novel, A SEQUEL TO AGENT LISA AND THE CASE OF THE GOLDEN PARAKEET and another much different friend fiction, both of which I’ll post when I’m done. And this is on top of playing video games, watching TV, drinking myself to death on the weekends and working on my constantly shifting album. Too many projects, too little time.

But anyway, the new list is going to be different. Because it’s not going to be one list at all. I PRESENT TO YOU TEN FOR TEN: TEN TOP TEN LISTS. This is largely a thing I’ve been wanting to do because A) everything will stay fresh longer when I’m writing it and allow me to do some lists I don’t have enough items for or don’t want to do the legwork for but will still be interesting. So what will these lists be? Well…

1. Ten Favorite Webcomics

2. Ten Favorite Beers

3. Top Ten Celebrity Crushes

4. Ten Favorite Number One Songs

5. Ten Favorite Manga

6. Ten Favorite Directors

7. Ten Favorite Web Series

8. Ten Things I Hate That Everyone Else Likes

9. Ten Things I Like That Everyone Else Hates

10. Ten Video Games That Need Sequels

I think they’ll all have their own flavor to them, as we haven’t gotten so specific as to be non-inclusive yet, but 8 and 9 should be especially interesting. I’ll be using that one complete work off to work on format, finalize lists and really, overhaul the general format of my posts, which I’ve been wanting to do but haven’t had time for. Hopefully it’ll look good.

After that I’ll at some point be doing 100 FAVORITE SONGS, 100 FAVORITE BANDS AND 100 FAVORITE BOOKS, though I don’t know in exactly what order I’ll be doing them. Keep an idea.

As is usual, thank you anyone who has been following me, liking my work or reblogging it. A normal post for this list ranged anywhere from 1500-2000 words, with some getting close to 3000. That takes me roughly an hour to write, not including hyperlinks, picking the image, tagging, etc.. It’s a lot of work sometimes and it can be very exhausting considering work is not going so hot right now. Getting feedback and appreciation from you guys means a lot and I’ll continue to try and do interesting things and improve as I can.

Keep rockin’

50 Favorite TV Shows: #21 Mr. Show

Originally Aired on: HBO

I’ve been trying to think of a good way to review a sketch comedy show and must admit, I’m a little bereft of ideas. Due to the lack of cohesive narratives running through an episode, it’s difficult to talk about aside from simply giving a rundown of the highlights of the viewing experience. But I’m going to try anyway. I was really into sketch comedy shows in my early teens, flipping back and forth between Mad TV and Saturday Night Live late in the weekend hours, probably having a few jokes go over my head, but otherwise enjoying myself. I got out of the habit as I got older, because booze usually happens on Saturday nights, but in college a friend of mine introduced me to Mr. Show. The power I feel Mr. Show has over programs like Mad TV or SNL seems to me be caused by a lack of reliance on topical issues. While both the previously mentioned programs have non-topical skits, they still make up a good chunk of an hour long program, making it so that if something doesn’t become iconic in regards to the pop or political culture symbol, then it ends up feeling hollow upon repeat viewing. Not so with Mr. Show which creates sketches that stretch toe very limit of cultural understanding and then takes it just a little further than you might imagine. My mind is awash with particular sketches they put together, trying to say that the reason they work so well is because they invoke cultural symbolism while using it as a launching point for degradation of logical thought. The senses themselves make sense within the internal narrative and are rarely contextualized, but something just lacks when you try to describe them. One of my favorites, “The Fairsley Difference” paints itself as a series of commercials about the Gibbon’s (played by David Cross) a grocer who invokes old fashioned values and offers competitive prices on his merchandise. This is followed by commercials for Fairsley, which not only take shots at the way Gibbon does business, but also makes outlandish claims tangentially related to his stores, such as how you’ll never find a rat at Fairsley, they’ll always have apples and your children won’t be abducted here. It’s a skit based around escalating hyperbole, with Fairsley constantly upping the stakes while Gibbon uses his commercials to try and show that Fairsley is lying, even as his business continues to sink. Like I said, it’s hard to explain why it’s funny. But at the same time, it plays with a couple of different ideas, acting similar to a political smear campaign, with Fairsley never coming out and saying bad things about Gibbon’s, but implying that the mind of audience blithely believes their outlandish claims. At the same time, it uses the tropes of commercials for this type of product, the same commercials we’ve seen a hundred different times and uses the marketing idea of them as a launching point to take it a step beyond, with Gibbon’s lack of promotion seeming to fail in the face of the slicker Fairsley. And even further than that, it plays with the symbolic collapse of the self-made businessman in the face of the mega corporation. I’m not saying all of these things are fully explored, but they’re at least implied. The beauty of it is how easy it is to understand the general makeup of a sketch and all the thematic underpinings at a glance while still being to assimilate the constantly escalating surrealism that populate them. It’s never a question of trying to dissect exactly what the joke is, but rather, seeing the joke as the outlandish version of things we unconsciously assimilate throughout the course of our lives. It makes them easy to understand, easy to like and easy to locate outside their place in television history.

And I was lying a smidge about Mr. Show lacking an overarching narrative. It sort of does, at least from episode to episode, as different moments in various sketches act as bridges into the next sketch. This seems like a fairly simple practice to lend credence to the idea of connectivity, but it also tends to lead into some of the more bizarre and hilarious standalone sight moments in episodes. My favorite sketch of them all, “24 is the Highest Number” calls back to the opening of the program when a pair of young twin girls, who introduced the program for the evening, deliver a fish wrapped to the mobsters. The sketch ends with a bridge into a band marching on a field, which is naturally, the subject of the next sketch, which in turns, circles back to the opening of the show which saw Tom Kenny replace Bob Odenkirk for the program to much success with his unique styling, making the Ghost of Mediocrity present in the previous sketch close the show thematically. It ends up making for a rather brisk flow to the program, allowing the sketches seem like they’re connected while their individual subject matter is totally different. I’d go so far as to say that what it ends up creating is an illusory variation on the flow of thoughts we have at times, when we’re left alone to daydream and things flow into one another seeming to make sense that way despite not really having the most prominent logical thread. This is greatly aided by the fact that the central cast of Mr. Show, namely Bob Odenkirk and David Cross are so wonderful at creating memorable characters and then briefly bringing them to life. Because the cast is so small, featuring only a handful of other players and guest appearances, it makes for a rather claustrophobic environment in which the events of each sketch plays out, expecting their to be some break in originality to aid the cast from having to swing so wildly into new roles with each sketch. But this never ends up happening, as each sketch seems to occupy its own particular moment in time, each cast member totally taking on a new role through minimal costuming and voice acting. Both Cross and Odenkirk are extremely good at the voice acting aspect of the show, able to create memorable styles of speaking that allow for quick characterization of someone in the sketch without having to really go in depth to understand the construct brought out merely to make the sketch work. That the ketches circle around and link together makes this pop right to the forefront, as we immediately understand how weirdly different, yet wonderfully connected each character and idea in the show is.

Both Odenkirk and Cross have been getting more and more work as of late and this is a wonderful blessing. They’re both extremely talented as writers and actors and really make Mr. Show such a unique sketch comedy program. That is occasionally feels like an acid trip (and sometimes is supposed to be one), makes it all the better.

Key Episode: Again, it’s less good episodes and more good sketches. My favorite episode is “Bush is a Pussy,” but that’s just because it has the marching band sketch and the 24 is the highest number sketch. I can’t really put a reason outside of this why any episode is better than another, as some simply just have sketches you’ll like more than others.

Favorite Character: Ugh. And again, there aren’t really many recurring characters. My favorite actor on the show is David Cross, who may lack the punchiness of set-up that Odenkirk does, but tends to be wild in his portrayals. David Cross has a very distinctive voice, one of those ones I can pick out of a crowd quite easily, so whenever he does something to change it up, it becomes immediately apparent. This can be anything from faking a British accent to just warbling out of control in timbre, like he’s hit some adult puberty. In service of this, he tends to play a lot of the more straight laced parts in sketches, stepping out crazy into straightness, making the bent the other characters have in giving into the ridiculousness all the more apparent.