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Josh’s Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017 — Part Five!

And so, we arrive, at last, at My Five Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  (Click here for part one of my list, click here for part two, click here for part three, and click here for part four.)

5. Brockmire: “Rally Cap” (season one, episode one, aired on 4/5/17) — We enter my TOP FIVE with what is probably my favorite new show of 2017, Brockmire.  Hank Azaria stars in the role he was born to play as Jim Brockmire, a disgraced, alcoholic former baseball announcer hired to do play-by-play for a tiny minor league baseball team in a small, middle-American town.  This is a brilliant comedic set-up, and Hank Azaria bites into the role of the brash, profane, and deeply broken Brockmire with aplomb.  Mr. Azaria can make anything sound funny with his “baseball announcer” voice, but the miracle of the show is how they are able to slowly craft Brockmire into a fully-realized character, not just a one-dimensional punchline.  Amanda Peet has perfect chemistry with Mr. Azaria as Jules, the baseball-loving team owner who hired Brockmire.  Every single one of their scenes together is dynamite.  I almost put episode six, “Road Trip,” on this list, for the insane and hysterical scene in which Brockmire accidentally snorts Jules’ abortion pill, but in the end I had to go with this first episode, which was a note-perfect introduction to these characters and this world.  It also contains the moment which made me laugh harder than almost anything else I saw on TV in 2017: a drunken Brockmire’s post-it-note suicide letter, which he asks Jules to give to his ex-wife who humiliated him (“She’ll know what it’s in regards to”).  It was very dark and jaw-droppingly hilarious.  I loved it.  (Click here for my full review of Brockmire season one.)

4. The Good Place: “Michael’s Gambit” (season one, episode thirteen, aired on 1/19/17) — Far too many TV shows these days are built around twists or “surprises” that the audience figures out way before the show wants us to, resulting in disappointing and anticlimactic story-telling.  So bravo to Parks and Recreation’s Michael Schur for crafting this incredible first season of The Good Place, which culminated in this staggeringly good twist that reshaped everything we thought we knew about the show.  The first season of The Good Place was fantastic even before the twist (which is where most shows built around twists fail), and it holds up marvelously well even when you know the twist, because of how perfectly everything fits together (which is where most OTHER shows built around twists fail!).  I loved this season from start to finish, but it was … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Better Things Season Two!

I loved the first season of Pamela Adlon’s show Better Things, and the recently-concluded second season was every bit as fantastic.  I feel like this show has been flying under the radar for many people, and that’s a shame.  It’s one of the best currently-running TV shows out there.

Pamela Adlon plays Sam Fox, a working but not super-famous actress, raising three girls on her own.  Better Things is fictional, but it draws heavily from Ms. Adlon’s real-life as a working but not super-famous actress raising three girls on her own.  The show is incredibly rich, focusing deeply on exploring the lives of Pam, her three daughters, and also Pam’s mother Phil who lives next-door to them.  Better Things can be very funny, and also absolutely heartbreaking.  It’s a marvelously heartfelt, idiosyncratic show that is truly unlike anything else on TV these days.

As I discussed in my review of season one, the show has a remarkably playful approach to narrative.  Better Things rejects all the usual ways that you would expect stories to play out on a TV show, both within a single episode and over the course of the season.  Some episodes explore a single story over the course of a half-hour episode, while other episodes are composed of a series of vignettes (that might be connected thematically or emotionally, but whose stories have little to do with one another).  Some episodes are plot-heavy, while others feel more like a “slice of life” exploration without much significant plot.  Several episodes early-on this season focus on Sam’s beginning a new romantic relationship.  I expected this to be a story that would run through the entire season, but after a few episodes that focused on this new man in Sam’s life, this story was completely pushed aside, with most of the major subsequent developments in the relationship happening off-screen.  It’s a fascinating approach, one that in less-skilled hands might have been frustrating.  But part of the greatness of Better Things is the way it explores aspects of people’s lives that TV shows usually skip over or ignore.  (I will never forget the extended sequence in season one of Sam silently walking around her house, starting up at her smoke alarms trying to determine which one is beeping because its battery needs to be changed.  Who hasn’t done that??  And yet, that’s not something I have ever before seen on a TV show!)

I love that Better Things features so many fascinating, strong but flawed female characters.  I love that the show is more interested in getting inside what makes each of them tick than it is in following usual TV-show story-arcs.  Each of the main women in this show … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Better Things Season One!

September 18th, 2017
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Why did I wait a year to watch this amazing show???  I loved Pamela Adlon’s appearances on Louie C.K.’s wonderful show Louie (in many of my reviews of Louie I have written about how I have wanted their two characters to get together on the show, because I loved their dynamic so much) and I knew from watching the credits that she was involved as a writer and a producer.  So when I read last year that she would be leading her own show, Better Things, which she co-created with Louis C.K., I was immediately interested!  But for some reason the ten episodes have sat unwatched in my DVR for the past year.  (Season two actually just began last week!!)  Finally, my wife and I decided to watch the first episode, and we immediately fell head over heels in love with this amazing show, and we devoured the ten first-season episodes in just a few days.

Pamela Adlon stars as Sam, a divorced mom working in Hollywood as an actress and raising her three kids: the sixteen-year-old Max, the twelve-year-old Frankie, and the eight (I think!)- year-old Duke.

Better Things is a phenomenal showcase for Ms. Adlon.  As I wrote above, she co-created the show with Louie C.K. and she plays the lead character.  Additionally, she wrote or co-wrote eight out of the ten episodes, and she directed two of them.  Wow!!

When I DVRed this show a year ago, my hope was that, due to Louie C.K.’s involvement, Better Things would sort of be like a sixth season of Louie.  And, indeed, Mr. C.K. was very deeply involved with the show.  He directed the pilot, and wrote or co-wrote nine of the ten episodes.  There are certainly surface similarities between Louie and Better Things.  Both shows are very funny and also unafraid to get very dramatic and very real.  Both shows strive for verisimilitude, in terms of presenting the realities of their lead characters’ everyday lives, without applying the usual TV sugar-coating.  And both shows demonstrate a similar playfulness with the narrative of their episodes, eschewing the usual half-hour TV episode structure for a shifting, often stream-of-consciousness feeling in which an episode might consist of multiple short vignettes rather than a single story that runs straight through the half-hour.

And yet, don’t be mistaken: Better Things is not just Louie by any other name.  This is an incredibly unique show that feels extraordinarily personal for Ms. Adlon, who plays a character whose life situation is very similar to Ms. Adlon’s own.  Both Sam on the show and Ms. Adlon are divorced mothers of three, who have had a long career in Hollywood filled with a lot of small parts … [continued]