\

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

I’m excited to begin my look back at 2020 with this list of my favorite TV series of 2020!

While I usually like to restrict my lists to TV series that aired new episodes during the previous year, this year I’d like to begin with some Honorable Mentions that didn’t.

The Leftovers — One of my very favorite shows that I watched this year was The Leftovers, which aired on HBO from 2014-2017.  I’d avoided the show previously, because I’d been burned by Damon Lindelof’s previous show, Lost, and because the heavy subject matter of this series felt so dour I wasn’t sure I wanted to put myself through watching it.  But after being cajoled for years by friends and family to give this show a try, I finally did.  I am so glad I did!!  The Leftovers, overseen by Mr. Lindelof and Tom Perrotta (who wrote the novel upon which the first season of the show was based), is a masterpiece.  This three season show is nearly perfect in almost every respect.  It’s breathtakingly original, filled with adventurous storytelling and twists and turns I could never in a million years have predicted, and that left me exhilarated as a viewer.  It’s a deeply moving character piece, filled with incredible characters — so many of whom I quickly grew extremely attached to — played by extraordinary actors.  The series is heartbreaking and emotionally wrenching, but also funny and joyous as well.  It’s dazzlingly original.  I’m so glad to have seen it.  I can’t wait to watch it all through again.  (Click here for my review of The Leftovers season one.)

For the first several months of 2020, I found myself watching quite a number of terrific 2019 shows that I hadn’t gotten to by the time I wrote my 2019 lists.  Here are some of my favorites:

Russian Doll — This Groundhog Day remix was gloriously terrific.  It was emotional and moving and also riotously funny.  It featured a dazzlingly compelling lead performance by Natasha Lyonne (who co-created the series with Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler).  I loved the complex, twisty-turny narrative, and I was delighted by how well all the pieces fit together in the end.  I loved how uplifting this often-times dark show was, in the end.  This was one of the very best shows I watched in 2020.  (Click here for my full review.)

Undone — This deliriously fun and weird animated series, created by Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, is a beautiful, complex character study of a deeply broken young woman, and at the same time it is a gloriously mind-bending sci-fi tale.  Like Russian Doll, I found Undone to be both deeply … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Barry Seasons One and Two

July 8th, 2020
, ,

Early on during our social isolation, my wife and I caught up with the HBO series Barry.  Bill Hader stars as the titular Barry, a former marine turned hitman who attempts to recreate himself after accidentally walking into an acting class and being mistaken as a prospective student.  The lonely Barry becomes enamored with the found family of wannabe actors he discovers in the acting class taught by Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler).  And he’s as surprised as anyone to discover that he actually has a modicum of skill at performing!  Suddenly Barry begins to envision a whole new life for himself.  But getting out of the hitman game doesn’t prove nearly as simple as Barry hopes it will be.

I was immediately taken by Barry, which was created by Mr. Hader and TV veteran Alec Berg (who wrote for Seinfeld and was an Executive Producer on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Silicon Valley).  Bill Hader has long since proven himself to me as a terrific actor, in such films as The Skeleton Twins and Trainwreck.  But he’s operating at a new level here, and he is magnificent as the central character on this show.  This is not a showy role.  Barry is an extremely buttoned-down, very internal character.  Mr. Hader has to convey a vast array of emotion without much movement or many big speeches, but he effortlessly allows the audience to engage with Barry’s struggles and journey.  There are a number of deeply emotional, dramatic moments on the show, and Mr. Hader nails every single one.  His comedic skills are also key here.  Most of the jokes on the show don’t involve any sort of standard set-up/punch-line; instead, the humor tends to come from the absurdity of the crazy situations that Barry finds himself in, and his deadpan reactions.  Mr. Hader never winks at the audience or allows a hint of playing a joke into his performance; this renders his performance very funny.  It’s a tight needle to thread but he nails it perfectly.  (I should also note that some of the best demonstrations of Mr. Hader’s acting abilities are the scenes in which we see that Barry is a bad actor.  A good actor convincingly acting badly is not as easy as you might think.  But Mr. Hader is so great, and so funny, in those moments!)

Tight needle to thread is a good way to describe the overall tone of the show.  This is a comedy that is about a character who has murdered people for a living, and who continues to murder people as the show goes on.  There are a million ways this could not work.  The show has to move from moments in … [continued]