Romania Vice: “Comrade Detective” Is a Truly Great Amazon Original

Comrade Detective is must-watch television with or without the satire.

Picking a new show to watch can be a daunting task when there are a gazillion possible options out there. Sometimes, however, a show will stick out and grab your attention. Maybe it features a really strong cast, or it’s from a reputable director. Maybe you just think the main character is hot. Whatever the case may be, some shows just have a way of getting you to watch.

For Comrade Detective, it was actually the premise that got me hooked. It’s a satire of American buddy cop shows and movies from the eighties… but from a Communist perspective (which also means Communist propaganda is satirized by default as well). This is an Amazon Original that goes all out, with a cast and crew that is 99 percent Romanian. The entire show was filmed in Romania, in Romanian, and the English dubbing voice actors were only found after the show was edited. That’s some real commitment to making a quality satire.

Speaking of voice actors, this is a show that not only features Channing Tatum as a voice actor for one of the two buddy cops, but it also uses Tatum as a presenter for the show along with Jon Ronson. Comrade Detective is supposed to be a “lost” show that never aired because it was created right before the fall of the Berlin Wall; it subsequently gets brought to the spotlight after being rediscovered decades later through a rigorous restoration process so the beginning of most of the six episodes features Tatum and Ronson discussing the journey before the show actually starts.

Like I said, this is some next level shit.

For a show like this, it’s important to judge both the satire and the quality of the show itself independent of the satire. I believe a truly successful show should succeed in both categories and I’m very happy to say Comrade Detective is a worthy watch for all interested viewers.

What I really enjoyed about the satire was how layered it is. Some of the satire is clearly inaccurate – a representation of how much of American pop culture either dramatized or dehumanized Eastern Europe and Russia in the eighties – while a good portion of it is shown through the loyal Communists expressing issues with capitalism, religion, and even the mindset of us Western folks.

Maybe it was intentional, or maybe I just eased into the Communist mindset, but I found that the satire is more jarring or noticeable in the beginning of the show, only to evolve into more of a statement against Western ideals rather than more basic, visual approaches like showing Americans as fat pigs who stuff themselves with burgers.

While there are certainly moments in later episodes that are clearly meant to be exaggerated, I found Comrade Detective really settling into itself as a quality program regardless of the satire as time went by. After a certain point, the story takes priority over the satire, to the point where the satire almost becomes irrelevant. Sure, it helps remind us that this show is both a satire of American pop culture and Communist propaganda, but even if you forget, it doesn’t take anything away from the overall experience thanks to the surprisingly engaging plot.

Like the best buddy cop pairings, the duo of Gregor Anghel (Tatum) and Iosif Baciu (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) starts with tragedy. Anghel’s partner gets murdered by a man wearing a Ronald Reagan mask in a drug bust gone wrong. Determined to find out the killer’s identity, Anghel pairs up with a new partner, Baciu, and discovers a truly heinous plot to spread capitalism and religion through Romania (and all of Communist society, naturally) over the course of six incredible episodes.

Like I said, it’s a genuinely interesting storyline that somehow gets more amusing, more serious, and more addicting as time goes by. The climax is kind of predictable if you keep in mind this is a satire yet it is superbly presented and I think there’s a possibility there might be a sequel to this gem.

Also, I want to give kudos to the Romanian actors and actresses who all do a phenomenal job and I wish we could get a version of the show without the English dubbing. It’s perfect acting all the way around and I thought the Western characters were fascinating to observe just because they are supposed to be stereotypes. Much like the best Commie villains from the eighties, the Western baddies in Comrade Detective are portrayed in a one-dimensional, yet surprisingly relatable way.

While I felt mostly neutral about the voice dubbing, there was one positive for sure: playing the always entertaining game of Who’s That Voice? All I’m gonna say is that Comrade Detective has one hell of a cast. Nick Offerman is the police chief, for example – this is extra amusing when you consider his character’s views on government in Parks and Recreation. But there are bigger names lurking within this show and it’s just a delightful cherry on top of the average capitalist pig’s sundae.

This show is perfect for a lot of different demographics. Even if you choose to disregard the excellent satire, this is a strong drama with an interesting plot that gets extra fuel thanks to the passionate work done by the Romanian actors and actresses, the big names providing amusing voiceover work, and production values that walk a fine line between too good and good enough for a Romanian television show from the eighties.

Now be a good Communist and share this valuable information with everyone in your village! It’s what Lenin would do!

Where Will Hannibal Lecter Strike Next?

NBC has canceled Hannibal after three seasons… so what happens now?

On one hand, this comes as a surprise. On the other hand, I always knew in the back of my supple brain that Hannibal was in a league not in of its own necessarily, but certainly out of NBC’s.

While NBC gets credit for sticking with all sorts of artistically unique shows from Seinfeld to Community, Hannibal was a different animal altogether and it was definitely unusual seeing such gory, philosophically complex material from one of the Big Three networks.

From the beginning, Hannibal seemed misplaced, like it should have been on HBO or AMC or even FX, if The Americans is any indication of FX’s ability to support highly intelligent and often highly violent programming.

But I’ll give credit where credit is due, namely in the fact that NBC did stick with Hannibal for three seasons even though ratings were low. It also seems like they pretty much gave absolute freedom to the show’s people, like developer/executive producer Bryan Fuller, who envisioned an interpretation of Hannibal Lecter if it was told through the eyes of someone like David Lynch or even David Cronenberg.

When you watched the show and saw its hauntingly beautiful cinematography that oozed and flowed and splattered, and you heard the dialogue which was arguably deeper and more relevant (and less pretentious – very important) than the ramblings of True Detective‘s Rust Cohle, you knew it was something special.

We all know art is subjective to a certain extent. We also know that Hannibal garnered a lot of critical acclaim, with people generally agreeing that it was consistently one of the top ten shows every year. And while the visual and philosophical aspects were excellent, so was the acting, with Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Hannibal Lecter being one of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen.

So the question is where does Hannibal go now?

In today’s era, death is never forever for a television program. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the people at Netflix, Amazon, or even Yahoo! swoop in and give the show a new home. While the content of the show probably wouldn’t change dramatically, thanks to NBC’s hypothetically loose leash while they had Hannibal, it would be in a more lenient position in regards to ratings.

I mean, if Netflix still has Lilyhammer around, I’m sure they would be more than happy to acquire a show people actually watch, even if that number happens to be in the low millions or whatever. As for Yahoo!, I liked what they did with Community, but I feel like there’s still a general “meh” vibe associated with that brand.

Regardless, Hannibal is a show that deserves to live on. While we may say that about a lot of shows, this is one case where it is absolutely true.

Even if it costs an arm and a leg.

In Defense of “Malcolm in the Middle”

Entertainment Weekly recently published an issue titled “The Binge Guide: 32 Perfect Shows For Every Occasion.” While the notoriously dense The Wire made it, as did other shows with serious substance (The Sopranos and Breaking Bad), somehow Malcolm in the Middle did not.

For reasons that are wide, varied, and vaguely justified, I think Malcolm in the Middle gets something of a vicious wedgie these days. Maybe it’s because Frankie Muniz progressively gets more and more unlikable throughout the seven seasons, starting as an adorable little kid and ending as a punk who seems to be glaring and/or yelling the vast majority of the time.

Maybe it’s because the show has an inherent reliance on physical comedy more than other sitcoms, on account of it being the wild tale of a set of parents dealing with a handful of raucous, mostly ungrateful children – if there was a comedy spectrum, with something like Reno 911! on the lowbrow end and Arrested Development on the highbrow end, Malcolm in the Middle probably falls closer to a parody of Cops than a dysfunctional family in the O.C. (don’t call it that).

Or maybe it’s because we tend to remember last impressions the most when it comes to pop culture, and like all TV shows, Malcolm in the Middle reached its apex in the middle and started to go downhill the last two or three seasons. Whatever the reason, there are two things to remember: Malcolm in the Middle was – and still is – a lot better than you think and a binge-worthy show does not directly correlate with the quality of said show.

I guess the thing that bothers me the most about Entertainment Weekly‘s egregious decision-making skills is that they apparently don’t know what a good binge-worthy show actually is. Here’s what my criteria are, and yeah, I’m making it all up as I go along.

First of all, a binge-worthy show has to actually be entertaining. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a comedy (The X-Files is a great example), but comedies are definitely the easiest to binge-watch (Family Guy, Parks and Recreation, and Trailer Park Boys, to name a few).

“Entertaining” means the show doesn’t even have to be that good. Are Storage Wars and Pawn Stars actually good, or are they just inexplicably fun to watch?

A binge-worthy show is also a show that does not require viewing from the beginning of the series – again, The X-Files and even something with a more defined story arc like The Office are good examples of shows you can go into at any point and enjoy.

Time is also a concern: an episode that is 22 minutes long feels much different than an episode that is twice that length. Shorter episodes equals more efficient binge-watching. It’s that simple.

Those are my criteria for now. Now tell me how exactly The Wire is a show anybody should be binge-watching!? You can hide behind the vague criteria of a “perfect situation” but I can’t imagine when there would ever be an appropriate time to binge-watch The Wire. Even The Sopranos, a show that maintains a steady pace right from the beginning, is very difficult to binge-watch; the most I’ve seen at once is about three to four episodes. And that was an exhausting process.

Breaking Bad is the one outlier: a show that is usually quite serious, goes for approximately 48 minutes per episode, and most definitely has a slow start. And yet, it’s really addicting. Like blue crystal meth, perhaps?

But let’s go back to Malcolm in the Middle. It’s certainly entertaining, with excellent acting (Jane Kaczmarek as the mom, Lois, and Bryan Cranston as the dad, Hal, are simply phenomenal – and they have the statue nominations to back it up), developed characters, and light material that makes it very easy to watch for hours at a time.

While the majority of the episodes revolve around some type of bad behavior caused by the boys or some kind of angst due to Malcolm’s genius status, sometimes the show mixes it up and gives us moments of really beautiful sweetness, usually in the form of Lois and Hal expressing their love for each other, or the boys getting revenge on Lois’ behalf.

Look, I started my Malcolm in the Middle marathon a couple of weeks ago and I’m almost done. Keep in mind every season has about 22 episodes. If that doesn’t quality as binge-worthy, I don’t know what does.

So what was Entertainment Weekly thinking? I guess you could say…

Life is unfair.

Diamonds in the Rough: 10 TV Shows You Should See Right Now

Ten hidden gems in the vast world of television that you should see before something tragic happens to you. Hey, I’m just saying.

When I scroll through Netflix’s offerings, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed. It happens all the time, actually, and has gotten so bad I try to limit how much time I spend on the app (or website, if I’m on the computer).

It’s definitely a first-world problem, this anxiety of having too many options, and in the category of digital entertainment, no less. But I’m not here to place some kind of ethical value on our society’s luxuries, or prance around on a high horse. In fact, I’m here to exacerbate the situation.

You see, I know you feel the same way I do. I would even go as far as to say it’s worse for you, because I actually don’t watch any TV at all in the traditional sense. So if you own a TV, and if you have cable or satellite or whatever the kids call it these days, you must be bombarded all the time with ads, suggestions, and recommendations.

Unfortunately for you – and perhaps for me – it’s about to happen again. But before you click the top right corner and run screaming for the hills, these ten TV shows are quality creations that don’t get the attention they deserve.

Just stay by my side; I’ve been good to you so far, haven’t I?

THE BRITISH

Say what you will about the British, what with their snobby attitudes and raised pinkies, but they know how to make some damn good TV series. In honor of our superior brothers and sisters, the first five shows hail from the other side of the globe.

Quick note: some of these British shows are “diamonds in the rough” only to a reading audience that is primarily American – or you, statistically speaking.

Blackadder (1983 – 1989)

Before Rowan Atkinson was Mr. Bean, and before Hugh Laurie was House, they starred on a BBC period sitcom that was collectively called Blackadder. The four seasons/series were all set in a different historical time period, with Atkinson, Laurie, and others like Stephen Fry reprising their same general roles.

This is a sharply sarcastic comedy, with Atkinson portraying Blackadder, a scheming and conniving individual who is the very definition of an anti-hero. It’s truly a shock seeing the contrast between Blackadder and Mr. Bean.

Hugh Laurie is a pleasant shock too, since most people know him from the American show House, and not his previous comedic endeavors (the legendary Stephen Fry and Laurie were actually something of a comedy duo back in the day – the more you know).

It’s really funny and has aged well, like a fine wine or Asian women. Wait what!?!?

Black Mirror (2011 – present)

Technology and humankind are bound together for better or for worse. Black Mirror explores the “worse” part and does it in some of the most twisted ways imaginable. It’s an anthology, which means each episode features different actors, actresses, and stories.

Highlights include the Prime Minister fucking a pig, a special “grain” or implant that records everything you see in HD, and a robotic Domhnall Gleeson.

Just be warned, series creator Charlie Booker is infamous for his harsh and often grotesque satirical views. In Black Mirror, he has complete freedom to explore those views and this isn’t for the faint of heart. It is also fairly depressing, so again: pace yourself.

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (2004)

Darkplace is a perfect horror parody of what low-budget television was like in the 1980s. The acting is deliberately terrible, with the cardboard of the bunch being Richard Ayoade as Dean Learner, Garth Marenghi’s publisher, who in turn portrays Thornton Reed on Darkplace.

The six episodes are shown as kind of a documentary reflecting on Darkplace‘s cultural impact, with each episode starting with an inadvertently funny intro by Garth Marenghi (Matthew Holness), an “author, dream weaver, visionary, plus actor.” His role in Darkplace is Dr. Rick Dagless, who has a tendency to fire a Magnum revolver at (in)appropriate targets.

But the funniest character might be Todd Rivers (Matt Berry), an actor who portrays Dr. Lucien Sanchez. Berry/Rivers delivers his lines in an inexplicably deep voice and tends to fail at lip-synching all the time.

Look, that was a terrible explanation. I guess I’m still in a daze over how cheesy this show is.

Bonus: all episodes are on YouTube!

Luther (2010 – 2013, 2015?)

Inspired by the skills of Sherlock Holmes and the inverted detective format (shows the crime actually happening) of Columbo, Luther is a dark and gritty interpretation of London crime and the people with the thankless task of stopping that crime. The excellent Idris Elba portrays the titular detective and received Golden Globe and Emmy nominations every year.

Even better, the opening credits are dope.

Peep Show (2003 – present)

This cult hit features comedy duo David Mitchell and Robert Webb and uses a cool gimmick where every camera shot is a point of view angle (POV) from a character, even if that character has no lines and no relevance to the show’s larger picture in any way, shape, or form. That means a common theme will be a main character walking down the street and the audience getting a view via a random pedestrian passing by.

But aside from interesting cinematography, Peep Show is your typically sharp and witty British comedy. The chemistry between Mitchell and Webb is excellent and I personally like how Webb’s character is a total idiot, while Mitchell’s character is much more uptight and paranoid about the silliest things.

It’s a tradition for them, I suppose, since that’s the general gist of their roles in That Mitchell and Webb Look, a sketch comedy series that is also worth a… look.

 

THE AMERICANS

Say what you will about the Americans, what with their greasy attitudes and fat thumbs jammed up their asses, but they know how to make a lot of TV shows. In honor of, um, ourselves, the last five shows hail from pretty much here. Right here. Or there. Somewhere!

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013 – present)

Our country’s current relationship with the police is dubious at best, so it may come as a surprise that a comedy(!) about cops is more than just something to fill a time slot for Fox. With an excellent ensemble cast rivaling historically consistent comedies like Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine regularly delivers.

It isn’t the most sophisticated comedy… which is to be expected since Andy Samberg is involved. But have no fear: the fictional NYPD 99th Precinct is ready to make you laugh with humor that stems from your typical banter to physical acts of incompetence.

Also, this show is more realistic than you might think, which makes sense (that’s what I read somewhere, although I can’t find the source now). Imagine trying to work in an environment like Criminal Minds. Gross.

With two Golden Globes under its belt already, I think Brooklyn Nine-Nine is here to stay. You know, as long as Fox doesn’t fuck up like they did with Arrested Development and Firefly.

Bob’s Burgers (2011- present)

Speaking of Fox, there’s an animated show out there that’s a little weird and a little quirky, and that show is Bob’s Burgers, which many people know about because H. Jon Benjamin voices Bob and he also happens to voice Sterling Archer from Archer.

If you’re an oddball, you’ll like it. I like to think of it as one of those shows where you watch an episode and you think nothing happened, but then you think about it and there was a plot after all.

To be honest, an appropriate comparison might be a show like King of the Hill or even Louie. It’s a comedy, but sometimes it’s about that daily grind more than trying to make you bust a nut laughing.

Portlandia (2011 – present)

Speaking of weird and quirky, there’s a show on IFC that takes Portland, Oregon and really brings out the city’s, um, unique qualities. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein star in what basically amounts to sketches, although some episodes do carry an actual arc.

Look, this is definitely a polarizing show that ventures dangerously close to hipster territory. I’m a huge weirdo, so obviously I’m a fan, although that’s not an excuse for you to skip this secretly awesome spectacle.

At the very least, check out the show’s opening credits which features “Feel It All Around” by Washed Out.

So choice.

Real Husbands of Hollywood (2013 – present)

Yes, I said it. Real Husbands of Hollywood is a seriously underrated reality TV spoof starring Kevin Hart, Nick Cannon, Nelly, and other BET-appropriate celebrities. The best part about this show is probably the benefit of experiencing Kevin Hart’s frantic energy in short doses, as opposed to a full feature film.

I hate reality TV just as much as the next person, which is why this spoof is so funny. They absolutely nail it and a continuous feed of celebrity cameos makes it that much more awesome.

The Americans (2013 – present)

I swear this isn’t hyperbole: The Americans, as of the first three seasons, is a show with just as much depth and character as the first three seasons of The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. I mean it completely and I think FX has something truly special here.

Just like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Americans seems like a show that’s just there to take up space and time. Call it an error in marketing or blame the general public for being so focused on shows with less substance like American Horror Story, but it’s a damn shame that this intriguing and thrilling drama about Soviet spies living in America has gone unnoticed for so long.

It might end up receiving belated accolades like The Wire (which I haven’t seen yet, but will eventually).

The real meat of the show comes not from the action, but from the relationship between Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip (Matthew Rhys), who are highly trained Soviet spies pretending to be Americans. They not only need to hide their true intentions from the Americans, but from their own two kids as well.

That’s why I love the comparison with The Sopranos. They are both about people doing illegal things, but there’s an incredibly strong focus on family dynamics as well. The angst between the couple/partners is often tangible, as they try to come to terms with their initially artificial relationship, their training, and their actions in enemy territory.

Perhaps the most important distinction is the humanization provided by The Americans. It gives us the other side of the story and shows us the Soviets were people too; they were just as passionate about their cause as the Americans felt about their own cause.

While neither side was perfect, I think we have to admit the US did some pretty unseemly things during the Cold War, such as orchestrating coups d’état against democratically elected governments in Central/South America – perfect material for The Americans.

To sum it up: great acting, great directing, an unflinching resolve to show some disturbing things because those things definitely happened to real people at some point in history, and a commitment to a huge number of wigs. What a show.

We Need to Talk About “Community”

Is Community still worth watching? Should you start it if you’re new to the study group?

The first five seasons of Community yielded more drama than all of your Thanksgiving dinners combined. Consistently low ratings, the pain of going from a unique new show to a cult classic (which is basically a backhanded compliment), and a collective realization among male and female viewers alike that Alison Brie might be a perfect human being were only some of the subplots to be found during the show’s run on NBC.

Now, Community has moved on from the peacock pastures of NBC for the tenuous terrain of Yahoo! Screen. The sixth season premiered in March and is halfway through as of this writing.

Because of its low ratings and dubious status as a cult TV show, the question to ask here is less “Should you keep watching?” and more “Should you invest your valuable time in this show that’s already in its sixth season, when there are so many other shows out there?”

Well, it depends. Community is a little polarizing and something of an acquired taste, with its greatest and most distinct strength also being its greatest weakness. There’s a very specific demographic that should watch a quirky, pop culturally inebriated show like this – not many shows dedicate entire episodes to spontaneous animated parodies of G.I. Joe, after all.

Of course, the idea that “appeal” is relatively subjective is nothing new, especially in pop culture’s context. Pretty much everything from books to movies are all created with an ideal audience in mind – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia appeals to those who are in touch with their crass, immature, and adolescent side while The Sopranos appeals to those who want a more well-rounded and (allegedly) more realistic portrayal of Mafia life.

As for Community, there are some people who think it should instantly connect with community college students, just because the show is about a group of them basically wreaking havoc while they’re at school. Well those people are wrong… but not completely wrong.

The show is constantly walking right up to the cliff’s edge and looking down at the swirling waters of pretentiousness while a bunch of hipsters wait at the bottom with black-framed glasses and welcoming arms partially covered by rolled up cardigan sleeves. That kind of reputation can rub a lot of people the wrong way.

And like I said before, the tidal wave of pop culture references in each episode and the meta-humor are unconventional, and what’s too different makes people uncomfortable.

On the other hand, there are some comforting aspects of the basic community college experience that seep through, like meeting psychos and inexplicably becoming close friends with them, teachers that are a little shaky in the whole “qualified to teach” area, and a general naivety to what’s going on outside of your little bubble, or study group.

Aside from the show’s insane drive to be different, the fundamentals are all there. Acting, directing, you name it – all excellent. The transition from NBC to Yahoo! Screen has gone well too, aside from a bizarre aesthetic downgrade where the sets look too fake at times.

But make no mistake: the Community of today isn’t the Community of yesterday. The cast is different, with Chevy Chase (Pierce), Donald Glover (Troy), and Yvette Nicole Brown (Shirley) gone. Ken Jeong (Chang) and Jim Rash (Dean Pelton) have larger roles, while Paget Brewster (Frankie) and Keith David (Elroy) are new.

The show appears to have calmed down as well, although the absence of crazy shenanigans hasn’t deterred the show from continuing to be excessively meta (and condescendingly smug). There are still a handful of episodes left this season, so who knows what will happen? With series creator Dan Harmon, anything is possible.

The State of the “House of Cards” Address

What happened to House of Cards?

It is said that the third season of a TV show is often the point in which two paths emerge: the path to greatness and the path to weakness. Shows like Breaking Bad and Parks and Recreation took the former and it looks like House of Cards may take the latter.

When the first season was released on Netflix in 2013, it immediately became something of a mainstream trailblazer for the web television industry. It employed real stars like Kevin Spacey and David Fincher, and having all the episodes out at once gave viewers unprecedented 24/7 access, allowing them to view the show at their own leisurely (or frantic) pace.

Really, it took the term “binge-watching” to a whole new level, and that was the main indication House of Cards was pretty good. People (myself included) were having a field day watching all the episodes in the span of one weekend, or even one day.

Then the second season came around in 2014, and viewers were treated to more shadowy political affairs carried out by Francis Underwood (Spacey) and his wife, Claire (Robin Wright). It wasn’t as good as the first season, thanks to the absence of a worthy adversary to pit against Underwood and Spacey hamming it up a bit too much, but it was still entertaining. In short, the show’s future looked fine.

Now? House of Cards looks like a real house of cards: wobbly. The third season is an absolute disappointment and it makes sense. What does a man do when he has achieved his ultimate goal? Underwood is now POTUS and Claire is the US Ambassador to the United Nations.

When someone peaks so early, the only thing left is his downfall. In political terms, Underwood does okay this season. Instead, it’s his relationship with his wife that takes a number of hits throughout the episodes. But there’s a different problem with this season – a much bigger problem: why is this season so exhausting to watch?

The season premiere begins with Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) going through grueling physical therapy as he slowly recovers from getting his skull dented by Rachel (and a brick) in the second season’s finale. He looks tired, but so does everybody else, including Frank Underwood himself. He might be a cunning politician, but nobody gets away from the physical and mental toll of running the most powerful country in the world.

To make matters much, much worse, there’s only one color in this fictional universe: beige. Everything is beige, from the White House to even the scenes that take place outside in daylight. Everything looks sapped of life and is aesthetically depressing and a downright disaster. There were moments like that in the first two seasons, but it was never this unrelenting and hard on the eyes.

If there’s one positive to this season, it has to be the absence of any inexplicably creepy sex scenes, like the threesome last season. For better or for worse, that threesome never gets mentioned here, which doesn’t seem to make too much sense since Meechum is still Underwood’s personal bodyguard.

Frankly, I’m not sure if House of Cards can get back on track in the fourth season. It was always a tad overrated to begin with, mostly leaning on Spacey’s entertaining acting, but providing little in actual substance.

Andy Greenwald, from Grantland, once compared the show to Doritos: you never feel full. That was in full display this season.

Saul Goodman, Zombies, “True Detective” in Paddy’s Pub, and More TV Happenings

A lot of big TV stuff has happened lately, from Better Call Saul‘s series premiere to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s transcendent episode, “Charlie Work.” Let’s go through it, one at a time.

Better Call Saul

The highly anticipated spinoff of Breaking Bad premiered last Sunday, followed by another episode the next day. Two things immediately became crystal clear within fifteen minutes: Better Call Saul is no joke. It’s a fresh perspective on the Breaking Bad universe, led by the always charismatic Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill, the attorney who hasn’t realized his inner Saul Goodman yet.

While Better Call Saul is different, there’s no mistaking the shadow of Breaking Bad looming over it. Indeed, there’s something unmistakably familiar about Better Call Saul, from the cinematography (especially unique camera angles, like the second episode beginning with an extremely close shot of red bell peppers being chopped up) to the relentless character development, where every single minute of the show is put to efficient use in furthering the story in some way.

In terms of the future, the question isn’t whether Better Call Saul will be good. The real question is this: will it ever be as good as Breaking Bad?

Who knows. Maybe it will end up being the Frasier to Breaking Bad‘s Cheers.

The Walking Dead

For years, I’ve been one of The Walking Dead‘s biggest critics, citing its poor attempts at character development, befuddling plot sequences, and a general reliance on the gimmick of being a zombie apocalypse show.

After enduring almost three seasons of underachieving television, I finally walked away, satisfied in my assessment that it was the most overrated show in history. Then, after the fourth season started, I heard rumors through the grapevine that the show had inexplicably flipped some kind of switch.

It was smart. It was tense. It was… good. You know what? Those people ended up being right. I started watching the fourth season and immediately noticed how much smarter the characters were, and how their decision usually ended up being the right one – even if it led to seemingly unethical actions.

A show that was only borderline interesting during fight scenes started to balance it out, to the point where the scenes with pure dialogue became just as interesting as seeing zombies get stabbed in the head.

Even Carl became bearable. Speaking of Carl, there’s a moment near the end of the fourth season where he almost gets raped while Rick and Michonne are held at gunpoint and Daryl is getting the shit kicked out of him.

Rick takes matters into his own hands, literally biting the main bad guy’s throat out and savagely stabbing the unsuccessful rapist over and over and over and over and over and over again in the gut while the rest of the group watches with a mixture of absolute horror and justified vindication.

It was disturbing. It was gory. It was… highly satisfying. Watching Rick defend his son with such animalistic and primal instincts was one of the best parts of that season. It was also the defining moment of my transformation from The Walking Dead hater to The Walking Dead advocate.

I mean, don’t you remember the good old days when Carl was an annoying little bitch and you were practically begging a zombie to bite the kid’s carotid? Now I was just as amped up as Rick to see Carl turned over on the grass, helplessly wriggling like a worm cut in half.

I’m currently on season five, episode six, which means I’m a little behind. The second half of the season started last Sunday, and I don’t know how that went. I did hear one of our beloved characters passed away, which is unfortunate.

Here’s to The Walking Dead and a surprise resurrection after three seasons.

P.S. I love you, Maggie. <3<3<3<3<3

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Last week, there was an episode revolving around, um,  cream and pies.

Two weeks ago, there was an episode that transcended anything the Gang has ever done. Did they accidentally fire a nuke at North Korea? Did they finally kill Rickety Cricket? Did Dennis and Dee inexplicably enter an incestuous relationship?

No. No, none of those things happened.

“Charlie Work” was about a surprise health inspection of Paddy’s Pub, with Dennis, Dee, Mac, and Frank brushing off the impending death sentence as nothing while they attempt to pull off a scam involving the contamination of frozen steaks with (living) chickens.

Charlie, on the other hand, is known for doing all the manual labor in the bar. He’s especially adept at killing rats, as we all know. “Charlie Work” is one of those episodes where the token idiot character (well, the Gang as a whole leaves a lot to be desired) suddenly ends up being the smart one.

Here, Charlie seamlessly navigates between assisting the Gang with their heinous plot while overseeing the health inspector’s movements to ensure everything doesn’t come crashing down like the show’s general likeability over the past few seasons.

Whoa, that ambush came out of nowhere! Well let me explain, jeez: It’s Always Sunny is in its tenth season. It’s getting old. Seriously. Sometimes, the Gang acts so dumb, I wince and look away. It’s especially searing when Charlie acts like a moron. I mean, these people are technically adults!

It’s the same kind of vapid energy that sometimes pokes its head out in shows like Fawlty Towers. There’s something sadistic about watching a bunch of people (or just one, in Fawlty Towers‘ case) fail miserably at something, especially if it’s because of a lack of communication and/or a continuous run of bad timing. In It’s Always Sunny, that’s a common occurrence.

For me, that’s why “Charlie Work” was so magnificent. Not only was it a technical marvel (more on that in a second), but it was one of those rare moments where the Gang actually did something right and accomplished their mission.

Perhaps more importantly, the episode was basically one long tracking shot, similar to that one scene from True Detective, or the work done by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki in films like Children of Men, Gravity, and Birdman. Birdman, of course, is especially notable because it’s an entire movie that is composed of a handful of tracking shots edited to look like one. Just amazing.

Even Dennis and his pathetic Matthew McConaughey impression was great, mostly because it told me the episode was inspired by True Detective, and not Birdman as I had initially thought. Or, just maybe, it was inspired by both.

More TV Happenings

  • Jon Stewart surprised his audience and the nation when he announced his plans to retire from The Daily Show. It has been a while since I’ve watched an episode from beginning to end, but he’ll still be missed because of his humor and his intelligence. Poor Comedy Central. Colbert. John Oliver. Now Stewart.
  • Parks and Recreation‘s final season is steadily marching towards the finish line and the season’s episodes have been gooey in all the right ways. My only regret is joining the bandwagon last year, in the midst of a massive Netflix binge.
  • Nobody cares about the Grammys.