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Josh Reviews Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season One

Tina Fey and Robert Carlock have followed up the magnificent 30 Rock with another wonderfully unique, funny, sweet creation: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  The show was developed for NBC who, for some unfathomable-to-me decision, passed on the show after the entire thirteen-episode first season had been completed.  Thankfully Netflix rode to the rescue to release the first season (and commissioned a second one!).

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Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids) stars as the titular Kimmy Schmidt who, when the show begins, has just been rescued from 15 years of captivity underground, where she was held along with three other women by an apocalyptic cult leader.  Ready to start a new life, she moves to New York City where she finds an apartment to share with the jovial, wannabe-Hollywood star Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) and a job as a nanny for the wealthy, neurotic Jacqueline Vorhees (30 Rock veteran Jane Krakowski).

What’s so remarkable about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is its tone.  The show manages to pull off an unapologetically positive, upbeat vibe, something very rare in a post-Seinfeld era of snarky comedies.  Note: I am not criticizing all snarky comedies, and I think Seinfeld is one of the greatest TV shows ever made.  But what a refreshing delight it is to watch a comedy that manages to be very funny and also so life-affirming and upbeat.  As we get to know Kimmy over the course of these first thirteen episodes, we see that her positive outlook on life has made her spirit “unbreakable”, and the show shows us how her sunny disposition is able to positively affect those around her.  This is a very sweet idea for a show, and it’s impressive that Ms. Fey & Mr. Carlock and their team are able to pull this off so smoothly.  (I love that all of the show’s episode titles end with a jovial exclamation point!)

And make no mistake, the show is very funny.  Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt possesses the fast-paced loopiness and quotability that made 30 Rock so endearing, as well as that show’s ability to dive deeply into a gag.  As an example: Titus’ “Pinot Noir” music video from episode six, “Kimmy Goes to School!” is a triumph, and one of the best things I have seen on TV all year.

The show represents a star-making turn for Ellie Kemper.  Ms. Kemper has demonstrated her comedic chops on TV (The Office) and on film (Bridesmaids), but in Kimmy she has found her greatest role so far.  Ms. Kemper is tremendous in the role, able to sell both Kimmy’s toughness and her sweet innocence.  She’s able to play both the straight-woman (particularly in any scene with Tituss Burgess or Jane … [continued]

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Don’t tease me, universe!  I desperately want this news of a possible resurrection of The X-Files to be true!!

The X-Files

I am thrilled to have three cartoons from Motion Pictures included in JOMIX — Jewish Comics; Art & Derivation, an exhibition currently open in New York City.  Click here for more details!  I was also delighted to get such a nice mention in this review of The Jewish Comix Anthology The Anthology is still available for purchase at amazon!

This is an older article, but Rolling Stone’s The Last Days of 30 Rock is a magnificently in-depth look at the life and end of Tina Fey’s wonderful sitcom.

Keeping us on a similar topic, I loved this A.V. Club look back at Newsradio, listing their ten favorite episodes of that late great series.

I love listening to comic book author Brian Michael Bendis talk, usually on the wonderful wordballoon podcast.  His recent appearance on the Nerdist podcast is hugely entertaining.

After losing Leonard Nimoy last month, we also lost the great, woefully under-appreciated Harve Bennett.  Mr. Bennett was critically involved in the “trilogy” of Trek films: Star Trek II, III, and IV.  Most importantly, without Mr. Bennett’s involvement, Star Trek II might never have happened after Star Trek: The Motion Picture underwhelmed.  Mr. Bennett and writer/director Nicholas Meyer are the men who saved Star Trek.  Harve Bennett is responsible for what, to me, is the greatest iteration of Trek, those three films.  Star Trek would not be the franchise that it is today without Harve Bennett.  Rest in peace.  (You can learn a lot more about Harve Bennett by reading this wonderful eulogy on badassdigest.com.)

We also recently lost Sam Simon, who was one of the key creative voices in the early (and best) seasons of The Simpsons.

On a more upbeat note, watch this:

I am super-duper excited for Captain America: Civil War.  The idea of adapting that great comic book story-line for the Marvel cinematic universe is genius.  They should probably be calling it The Avengers 3 rather than Cap 3, but whatever.  Looking further down the road, I am thrilled that it looks like The Russo Brothers, after directing The Winter Soldier and then Civil War, will be directing the two-part Avengers: Infinity War films.  It’s been clear for a long while that Joss Whedon would be stepping aside after Avengers: Age of Ultron, and if it wasn’t going to be Mr. Whedon, I am delighted that the Russo Brothers are taking the lead in guiding Marvel’s Avengers franchise.  These next few years of Marvel movies are going to be amazing.

Kevin Smith is making Mallrats 2…?  Okay…  … [continued]

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The Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2013 — Part One!

I hope everyone enjoyed my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2013!  Click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.

And now, on to my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2013!

As always, a caveat that, while I watched a decent amount of TV in 2013, there are a few shows that I am either way behind on or haven’t gotten to see any of yet.  I’m only in season 2 of Breaking Bad and season 1 of Boardwalk Empire, and while I hope to dive into them soon, so far I haven’t seen a single episode of either Community or Justified or House of Cards.  So if you’re wondering why those shows are not represented on this list, well, now you know!  OK, here we go:

Honorable Mention: Louis C.K. “Oh My God” — The great Louis C.K.’s hour-long HBO special was, as expected, a hilarious, genius-level comedy performance.  For the last few years, C.K. has been in an amazing groove, and I think he is the most consistently funny — and clever — comedian working today.  This special had several stand-out moments, most particularly the outrageous, good-taste-testing “oh course… but maybe” routine at the very end.  If you haven’t seen this, go visit Louis C.K.’s web-site and, for five measly dollars, download the extended version of the special.  You can thank me later.

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10. The Office: “Finale” Pt. 1 & 2 (season 9, episodes 24 & 25, aired on 5/16/13) — In its last few seasons, The Office had become a sad, unfunny shadow of its former self.  (I think seasons 2-4 of the American version of The Office rank among the best seasons of a comedic TV show ever.)  But I was lured back for the final season, and I quite enjoyed the sweet series finale, which provided a very satisfying wrap-up for all of these characters I had come to love over the almost-decade the show had been on the air.  (Even Mose made an appearance!!)  I was delighted (and very pleasantly surprised!) by the return of Steve Carell, and his final “that’s what she said” moment was absolute perfection.  (Click here for my original review of the series finale of The Office.)

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9.  30 Rock: “Hogcock!” and “Last Lunch” (season 7, episodes 12 & 13, aired on 1/31/13) — The Office wasn’t the only long-running NBC comedy to take it’s final bow in 2013, and this hour-long finale to 30 Rock was also a strong ending to a great series.  We got some great call-backs to earlier episodes (“The Rural Juror,” the strip club Liz and Tracy visited in … [continued]

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Josh Bids Farewell to 30 Rock

I know I’m a little late on this one, but things have been busy, so I’ve finally caught up with the final episodes of 30 Rock.

It’s hard to believe we’ve arrived at the end of the seventh season of this funny little show that I never expected to run more than one or two years.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought that this TV show about the behind-the-scenes life of an SNL-like TV show would get trounced by the much higher profile OTHER TV show about the behind-the-scenes life of an SNL-like TV show that NBC launched back in 2006.  That would be Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and while I think that show was somewhat underrated (no question it was a disappointment, coming after the brilliance of Sports Night and The West Wing, but I would have loved to have seen where Mr. Sorkin would have taken the series), after only a few weeks of the 2006 television season, it was clear to me which show was superior.

The moment of clarity came several episodes into the first season of 30 Rock, when they introduced the subplot of Jenna’s starring in a movie with an impossible-to-pronounce title: The Rural Juror.  I remember laughing so hard at that joke, and it was my first glimpse of the absurd comedic heights to which 30 Rock would often reach.  The other key moment for me, in that first season, was Paul Reuben’s brilliantly deranged guest appearance as an inbred Austrian prince (in episode ten, “Black Tie”).  Not only was this the first of many brilliant guest-star appearances from big comedy names (is there any show in recent memory that has had more success in integrating famous guest-stars in such clever, funny ways?), but it was a big step away from a show concerned with the “reality” at life behind the scenes of a TV show, and into a world of silliness where, as long as it was funny, anything could happen.

It took the show a little while to find its feet, true, but not that long.  The key for me was the switch in Jack and Liz’s relationship.  In the pilot, Jack was introduced as the obstacle for Liz, who was the hero of the show.  Jack was the non-creative money-man who cared nothing about television, imposing his will over NBC and over Liz.  But it was only a few episodes in (right around the time when they first introduced Dennis Duffy, one of the show’s magnificent coterie of recurring characters) when the writers shifted their relationship to one of mentor-mentee.  This was key, as Jack and Liz’s weird friendship and eventual … [continued]

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The Top 10 Episodes of TV in 2012 — Part One!

I hope you’ve been enjoying my Best-of-2012 lists so far!  Follow these links to read my Top 15 Movies of 2012: part one, part two, and part three, and my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012: part one and part two.

When writing my Top 10 Episodes of TV list last year, I wrote that I’d considered not doing a best-of-TV list anymore, and the same thought crossed my mind this year.  My life has gotten so busy these past few years, and as a result I watch far, far less TV than I used to.  I manage to do a pretty good job of still seeing lots of movies, but I am much more of a niche TV viewer these days.  There are not that many new shows that I watch, and much of the TV that I see is actually old stuff in the form of DVD season sets.  But I do still love me some great TV, and so here is my list of the most wonderful television I watched this year.  One last caveat before I begin: know that I have not seen seasons 2 or 3 of Louie or seasons 2 or 3 of Boardwalk Empire, or any episode of Breaking Bad and Community. All of those are shows that I would love to catch up on, and I actually have DVDs of all of those shows sitting on my to-watch shelf.  Someday!  OK, enough delay, here’s my list:

10. Mad Men: “The Phantom” (season 5, episode 13, aired on 6/10/12) — This was a spectacular season of Mad Men, possibly my very favorite season.  The year was stuffed with memorable moments and fantastic episodes.  I thought about including on this list the season 5 premiere, “A Little Kiss,” for the Zou Bissou Bissou scene; or “Tea Leaves” for the fantastic comedy of Harry and Don Draper back-stage at a Rolling Stones concert; or “Signal 30” for the hysterical and awkward dinner party in which Pete and Trudy host Ken and his wife and, of course, the fantastic moment in which Lane punches Pete.  But, instead, I opted for “The Phantom,” the fifth season finale.  There’s a lot of greatness in this episode, moments both comedic and very sad, including the connections between Lane’s suicide and that of Don’s brother , Adam (from season one); Peggy and Don at the movies; and Roger on acid again.  But what earned this episode a spot on my list is its closing shot, that iconic image of Don Draper, in all his James Bond badass glory, walking away from his wife on a brightly-lit soundstage and into the darkness of … [continued]

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The Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2010 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2010.  Here now is the rest of the list, numbers 1-5!

5. 30 Rock: “Reaganing” (season 5, episode 5, aired on 10/21/10) — Jack boasts that he has reached a 24-hour state of perfection that he called “Reaganing,” in which he is unable to make any mistakes.  But his perfect game is challenged when he’s faced with helping Liz sort out her latest sexual hang-up.  The episode is packed with terrific moments: Kelsey Grammer helping Jenna and Kenneth scam a local bakery; Tracy’s incredible inability to deliver a single line necessary for a commercial; and the revelation of the origin of Liz’s sexual problem.  (Hint: it involves Tom Jones.)  Very funny stuff.

4. The Pacific: Part Ten (aired on 5/16/10) — I’m a big fan of the final chapters of The Return of the King that chronicle what happened after the victorious destruction of the One Ring and the defeat of Sauron.  I also love the voluminous appendices, that detail the final fates of all of the main characters.  Most stories choose to end at the moment of our heroes’ triumph, but I find something powerfully sad about exploring what happens in the days afterwards.  This might help to explain why I was so taken with the final episode of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s HBO mini-series The Pacific. This episode is set after the end of the war, and we see our characters — most notably Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie — return home and attempt, each in their own way, to rebuild their lives which were forever changed by their experiences in combat.  I found the whole hour to be devastating, particularly the moment when we see Sledge’s father standing quietly, helplessly, outside his son’s bedroom door as he listens to the wails of his son who lies within, unable to sleep because of the haunting effects of the conflict.  The series could have easily ended after Part Nine, but it’s the events of Part Ten that, to me, raise The Pacific to the level of greatness.

3. Parks and Recreation: “94 Meetings” (Season 2, episode 21, aired on 4/29/2010) — Yep, I’ve got a second episode of Parks and Recreation on my list.  Ron Effing Swanson is threatened with actually having to do some work when he discovers that April has scheduled all of the meetings that he’s put off all year-long for one single day.  The wonderfully rich ensemble of the show (which has been so beautifully fleshed out during the show’s second season, after a shaky start in the six-episode first season) gets to shine, when Ron solicits everyone’s help in … [continued]

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Season Finale Round-up

Well, its been a somewhat bizarre strike-interrupted TV season. The most exciting new program I watched this year was The Wire which, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, is what got me through the months-long writers strike. But there was still a lot of fun TV-watching to be had, and these past few weeks of season finales was no different.

30 Rock — In a show that has had no shortage of terrific scene-stealing guest-stars, Matthew Broderick’s appearance as “Cooter” (so nicknamed by President Bush) was one for the books. Jenna’s concept of “backdoor bragging” as well as the explanation as to the cause of Liz’s pregnancy scare were also highlights. A hilarious end to a terrific season.

The Office — Speaking of guest-stars, The Wire‘s Amy Ryan was absolutely terrific as Toby’s replacement, and the genius notion of her thinking Kevin has “special needs” had me howling with laughter. I was a bit put off by the somewhat glum Jim-Pam story, which seemed like a bit of a transparent way to extend their courtship…but that was somewhat redeemed by Andy Bernard (Ed Helms)’s antics as well as Angela’s perfectly-played response to his proposal. “I SAID OK!”

Scrubs — This imaginary fairy tale was pretty terrible, sadly. I can’t totally blame the show’s creators, as NBC made the poor decision to run the episode out of sequence (the show was meant to have taken place earlier in the season), resulting in such oddities as Bob Kelso still working at Sacred Heart despite his having left earlier in the season. Guess NBC assumed that we stupid TV viewiers wouldn’t notice. Still, I can’t imagine this episode would have seemed much funnier even in its proper spot in the season.

Lost — While not quite on par with last season’s phenomenal flash-forwarding season-ender (“we have to go BACK!”), this was a very solid ending to what has been, in my opinion, the best season of Lost since the first. We got some definitive answers to some burning questions (Why is the island so hard to keep track of? Who was in the coffin we saw in last season’s finale?), while also lots of new questions were posed — specifically, about what has transpired in the 3 years since the Oceanic Six were rescued…and about if/how they’ll be able to get back to the island as Ben wants them to. It was a particular kick seeing Walt again — I only wish his scene with Hurley had been longer. Hopefully we’ll see him again next season. I was pretty convinced it was going to be Ben in that coffin…but I was intrigued by the person it was. Can’t wait for next … [continued]