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Welcome back!  We’re about to enter the TOP TEN of my list of My Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  Click here for part one, click here for part two, and click here for part three.

And now, onward…!

10. Silicon Valley: “Terms of Service” (season four, episode two, aired on 4/30/17) — A comedic highlight of the fourth season of Silicon Valley, and the show as a whole, was this brief, beautiful moment in which Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) ascended to CEO of PiperChat … and then flamed out spectacularly.  Mr. Nanjiani has been a secret weapon on the show since the beginning, and he killed it in this spotlight episode.  I loved watching the arrogant, drunk-with-power Dinesh, but the brilliant comedic beauty of the moment in which Dinesh realized how badly he had bungled things and just how far over his head he was, was astonishing.  It was one of the funniest moments in any TV show all year long.  (The continual pinging sound effect throughout the scene, as more and more under-age users sign up for PiperChat and Dinesh finds himself in deeper and deeper trouble, took a great scene and made it amazing.  It’s a piece of comedic genius.)  The entire ensemble was on fire in this episode.  Throw in the welcome return of Matt McCoy’s sad-sack lawyer (“My shame will linger long after my voting rights are restored”) and a great final moment with series villain Gavin Belson as his triumph turns to ash (when he realizes the truth about PiperChat) and you have a winner of an episode.  (Click here for my full review of Silicon Valley season four.)

9. Sherlock: “The Final Problem” (season four, episode three, aired on 1/15/17) — What just might be the final episode of Sherlock that we ever see (though I hope that’s not the case!) was one of the series’ darkest and most nail-bitingly intense.  After a lot of teasing, this episode confirmed that the big bad villain of the season was the never-before-seen third Holmes sibling.  Sian Brooke was terrific as the dangerous and insane Eurus Holmes.  For the first time in the series, both Sherlock and Mycroft seemed truly outmatched.  This episode wrought tremendous tension out of Eurus’ torturing of her brothers and John Watson, as she presented them with a series of increasingly impossible challenges.  This was as grim as the show has ever gotten, as time and again our three heroes were powerless to stop innocent people from being murdered by Eurus all around them.  I could hardly believe what I was watching.  The show has never looked better — every aspect of the production seemed to be firing … [continued]

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The Top Fifteen Episodes of TV in 2015 — Part One!

Last week I listed by Top Twenty Movies of 2015.  (Click here for part one of my list, numbers twenty through sixteen.  Click here for part two of my list, numbers fifteen through elevenClick here for part three of my list, numbers ten through six.  Click here for part four of my list, numbers five through one.)

Now I am excited to look back all of the great TV we were blessed with in 2015.  This was a tremendous year for TV.  I watched a LOT of great TV.  And yet, as always, there was a lot of great TV that I didn’t get to.  More than ever, it felt like!  Our current age of “Peak TV” (click here if you don’t know what I’m talking about) is a blessing and a curse.  2015 TV series that I didn’t have time to watch include: Fargo season two, Better Caul Saul season one, The Americans season three (I’m still catching up with season two, only a few episodes to go), Transparent, Justified, The Man in the High Castle, Review, Documentary Now!, Halt and Catch Fire, The Leftovers, Red Oaks, Silicon Valley, The Knick, The Last Man on Earth, Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City, and more.  That’s a lot of amazing TV that I didn’t get to see!  All of those are shows that I hope to catch up with, one of these days.

But enough lamenting the TV I didn’t get to watch.  Let’s bask in the glow of my Fifteen Favorite Episodes of TV in 2015!

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Honorable Mention: Robot Chicken DC Comics Special 3: Magical Friendship (aired on 10/8/15) — I’ve loved Robot Chicken’s two previous DC Comics specials and his third one did not disappoint.  While there are several of the expected random skits, this special has a more distinct than usual for Robot Chicken story that carries through the episode, a focus on the very funny friendship/rivalry between Batman and Superman that was introduced in the previous two specials.  Robot Chicken co-creators and show-runners Breckin Meyer and Seth Green voice Superman and Batman, respectively, and they are magnificent.  In this installment, Superman and Batman’s escalating rivalry builds to a spot-on spoof of DC’s regular “Crisis” events, one that allows the Robot Chicken gang to jam in all sorts of wonderfully obscure jokes and references, including great appearances by the Batman and Robin of the 1960’s TV show, with both Adam West and Burt Ward reprising their roles.  Great fun.

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15. Show Me a Hero: “Parts 1 & 2” (aired on 8/16/15) –The Wire’s David Simon returned to TV with this gripping miniseries, telling the story of the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Show Me A Hero

Is there a greater master of television working today than David Simon?  Had he never done anything else of consequence after the triumph that was The Wire (and seriously, if anyone reading these words has never watched that show, you really need to drop everything and remedy that immediately) then he would still be a master of the medium.  While The Wire remains his magnum opus, I was a huge fan of his follow-up show Treme (cut short too soon after four too-short seasons, though I thank the TV gods and HBO for those four seasons that we got) and now Mr. Simon has given us another magnificent piece of work, the six-episode mini-series Show Me a Hero.

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Show Me a Hero is based on the 1999 book of the same name written by Lisa Belkin.  The story, taking place between 1987 and 1994, follows the fight to desegregate Yonkers.  A Federal Judge, Leonard Sands, had ruled that Yonkers was required to construct 200 units of public housing on the white, more-affluent side of the Saw Mill Parkway.  This became a huge issue in the city, with many of the white population protesting this decision.

Show Me a Hero’s main protagonist is Nick Wasicsko, a young Yonkers city council member who was able to unseat the long-term Yonkers mayor, Angelo Martinelli, because Nick makes an issue of the fact that Martinelli had voted not to appeal the judge’s decision.  However, once he takes office, it becomes clear to Nick that there is no viable legal challenge to the judge’s ruling.  Nick, a former lawer, believes in the rule of law, and as such eventually becomes a supporter of enforcing the judge’s decision.  This is an extremely unpopular move in Yonkers.  The show follows the many years during which this argument raged in the courts, in the city council chambers, and on the streets of Yonkers.

The show presents us with a vast array of characters from all sides of the issue and from many different social strata.  This has always been a hallmark of Mr. Simon’s work.  It was one of the most remarkable aspects of The Wire, and its a huge component to the success of Show Me a Hero.  Throughout the six episodes we meet the Yonkers city-level politicians who support and oppose the housing initiative.  We meet the citizens leading the protest movement.  We meet Judge Sands and the architects and lobbyists pushing the housing initiative.  We meet many African-American families who will, when the new housing project finally becomes a reality, choose to apply to live in the new units.  Mr Simons and co-writer William F. Zorzi show great compassion for all of … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Treme Season 3

January 11th, 2013
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I find Treme to be so much better than pretty much everything else on television these days, so it was with great sadness that I watched the final episode of Treme’s ten-episode third season.  (The show will apparently be coming back some-time next year with a five-episode fourth season, and then that’s all she wrote.)

I don’t know any other show on television structured the way Treme is.  The show has at this point amassed a ginormous number of characters, and each week we flow around the Treme area of New Orleans and its surrounding environs, checking in with one character for a few minutes before moving on to catch up with another.  Most character arcs don’t advance too significantly over the course of just one individual episode.  Instead, the character arcs are spread out over an entire season of the show, and things tend to progress fairly leisurely from episode to episode.  Each episode flows smoothly into the next, and as each season of the show reaches its conclusion, the grand tapestry of the Treme’s story-telling stands revealed.  Despite the leisurely pace, almost every single character in the show is in a dramatically different place at the end of the season than at the beginning, with every character’s status quo being changed more than in the entire run of most TV shows.  Treme is a show that rewards the patient and attentive viewer.  I find this type of story-telling to be incredibly bold and exhilarating.

This story-telling model works because of David Simon (mastermind behind The Wire), co-creator Eric Overmyer, and their team of writers’ careful attention to each and every character’s story.  There really isn’t a weak link in the show’s huge cast of characters.  The writing is extraordinary, and the actors are phenomenal, each and every one of them.  When the show began, I didn’t have much patience for D.J. Davis, but now I think he’s become one of the show’s most compelling characters.  I found his story-line this season to be particularly interesting and ultimately heartbreaking, as we see him hit the wall of the financial realities of the music business in his attempts to create meaningful music and then actually get it released so someone other than he and his friends could hear it.  (When Davis, beaten, comments sadly that “I just feel like, at this point in my life, I want to have more control,” my artist’s heart broke for him.)

It was interesting this season to see several characters fail in their endeavors, but find unexpected silver linings.  Sonny fell off the wagon but found unexpected support from his Vietnamese girlfriend’s father, who he’d previously seen as impossibly overbearing.  Meanwhile, … [continued]

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“Accentuate the Positive” — Treme Returns!

April 27th, 2011
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It’s been a long wait since last summer, but one of my favorite series from 2010 finally returned with new episodes this past Sunday night — David Simon (The Wire) and Eric Overmyer’s Treme!

Season two picks up about six or seven months after the events of the season one finale.  It’s been fourteen months since Hurricane Katrina, but the city of New Orleans and its denizens are still struggling to get back on their feet.  Many who left the city after the flood have returned, but so too have many additional problems — including a sharp uptick in violent crime.

“Accentuate the Positive,” the season two premiere, is a leisurely paced re-introduction to the series and its large cast of characters.  There are no earth-shattering developments or plot twists in this episode, but I adored the gentle way we’re dipped back into the experience of life in New Orleans.  You’re got to pay attention to keep up with everything, as the show is constantly cutting from one location to another and from one character’s story to the next, but it’s all very skillfully put together.  Watching the episode unfold, we can see the interconnected fabric of the lives of all of these struggling men and women. Sure I want to have seen more of every one of these characters, but we’ve got the rest of the season for that!  And it’s a testament to how well-written and well-performed the show is that there wasn’t a single character or story-line that I felt was a waste of time, resenting the time that we could have spent following another character.  No, every one of these characters could be the lead in their own show, and that’s a key ingredient to the success of this ensemble.

I wrote, above, that the characters are “struggling,” and sure enough they are — pretty much everyone one of them.  But as with season one, this episode manages to remain fairly up-beat and full of life, despite the heavy subject matter.  There’s humor to be found, and joy, amidst the heartbreak.  That balance of tone is one of the reasons I love this show so much.

And, of course, there’s the music.  This episode was packed to the gills with amazing music of all styles and types.  It’s the music that the makers of this show use, primarily, to set the scene and to illustrate for the viewer the changes in location.  It’s an extraordinarily clever approach, and I’d say it’s become this show’s trademark.  It’s the music, as much as the plot developments or the character arcs, that propels Treme along from start to finish, and it provides an endlessly rich backdrop for … [continued]

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Down in the Treme…

July 22nd, 2010
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In addition to watching the first two new episodes of Futurama last week, I had a chance to catch (a few weeks late) the final two episodes of Treme, the magnificent new HBO series by the fine folks behind The Wire (A.K.A. The greatest television series ever created).

When I wrote about the initial installment of Treme I was pretty dang high on the series, and I am pleased to say that, if anything, I think even MORE HIGHLY of the series now that its first ten-episode series has wrapped up.

It’s remarkable to me how fleshed out the vast ensemble of characters on the show have become over this first short (ten episodes) season.  There’s been more character development in these ten episodes than in the entire run of many TV shows.  Over the course of the season, each and every character on the show got their due, and I’m impressed and stunned at how attached I’ve become to these characters (even the less-than-noble ones!) in such a short time.

In my review of the premiere, I commented that the one cast-member who seemed to stick out to me was Steve Zahn’s full-of-himself, bumbling character Davis.  I found Davis to be annoyingly childish, and he felt out-of-place on the show.  Well, I stand corrected, because now at the end of the season I think that Davis is one of my favorite characters!  As noted above, this is due to the writers’ great work in exploring and deepening their characters over the course of the season.  The fine acting — on the part of Steve Zahn and the rest of the superb cast — doesn’t hurt, either!

As was always the case on The Wire, the writers of Treme have managed to tell a complete story over the course of the season.  The final episode, “I’ll Fly Away,” brings closure to a number of story-lines and character-arcs, while still leaving ENORMOUS untapped story-potential for future seasons to (hopefully) explore.

What else can I say?  The first season of Treme was heart-breaking and hilarious, and gripping from the first minute to the last.  The music of the show is extraordinary (and the show’s theme-song is my favorite since Firefly).  If you haven’t seen this show, go watch it now.  Me, I’ll be counting the days until season two…… [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Premiere Episode of Treme

April 13th, 2010
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Can we all just agree that The Wire is the greatest television show ever made?

Anyone who has seen The Wire surely must agree with that (admittedly bold) statement.  As for the rest of you — what are you waiting for??  (Until you’ve seen this masterpiece, I’m really not interested in your opinion.)

I would imagine that anyone in the cult of The Wire couldn’t help but be interested, as I was, in creator David Simon’s new HBO series Treme (pronounced Tre-MAY) set in New Orleans three months after Katrina.  I took in the premiere episode, “Do You Know What it Means” earlier this week, and I am happy to report that I am totally and unabashedly hooked.

The Wire was a devastating critique of the modern American city.  Over the course of five seasons, Mr. Simon and his extraordinary team of writers explored the inadequacies and failures of society on every level of the city of Baltimore: from the kids on the corners to the cops on the street to the politicians in their offices, not to mention the detectives, the judges, the newspapermen (and women), the D.A.s, the crime lords, and on and on.  So when I read last year that Mr. Simon was developing a show about New Orleans, that seemed to me to be a logical follow-up.  In New Orleans after Katrina, Mr. Simon had found a city in which the seemingly intractable problems of Baltimore paled in comparison.

And yet, I was pleasantly surprised by just how upbeat the pilot of Treme was.  Oh, don’t misunderstand me, there is plenty of horrible tragedy on display, and I have no doubt that, as the season progresses, further Job-like troubles await many of the characters to whom we were introduced in this first installment.  But along with the horror, Treme contained a lot of hope as well.

An enormous factor in that tone is the way that so much astoundingly wonderful music is interwoven into the story being told.  Many of the main characters in Treme (such as the trombone-player Antoine, played by Wendell Piece, who so memorably played Bunk on The Wire) are musicians, and the pilot frequently pauses to allow us to immerse ourselves in the wonderful music of New Orleans.  The music is almost the primary character in the show.  And so much of the music is so phenomenal that it’s hard not to feel good listening to it.  This provides a powerful counterpoint to the tough drama found in the story of a city on the brink.

The pilot episode introduces us to a large ensemble of characters.  As in The Wire, these characters are from a wide variety of … [continued]

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“And the two grand ladies made their escape together” — Josh’s Favorite TV Series Finales, Part II!

The great Battlestar Galactica saga comes to an end, tomorrow.  I am trying to be brave!  In preparation, I have been thinking about some of my favorite series finales.  Click here to see numbers 10-6.

5.  Arrested Development — “Development, Arrested” — Cut down before its time, creator Mitch Hurwitz and co. at least had enough notice to be able to craft a fantastic finale.  Structured to echo the events of the pilot (I love it when series finales bring things full circle like that), it’s another momentous party-boat ride for the Bluth Clan.  Young George Michael confronts his feelings about his cousin Maeby (Michael: “How long has this been going on?”  George Michael: “I don’t know… about 53 weeks?”).  Lindsay stresses about getting older (“I’m going to be 40 in three years!”  Michael:  “You know, being twins, our birthdays are pretty close to one another…”).  Tobias… well, remains Tobias (“Perhaps I should call the hot cops and tell them to come up with something more nautically themed.  Hot Sailors.  Better yet, hot se–” Michael, interrupting: “I like hot sailors!”  Tobias: “Me too.”).  And many, many long-running jokes are revisited (“Ann.” — “Her?”  — “That was a freebie” — “I think I’ve made a terrible mistake” — “Annyong!”)  You might have noticed yesterday in part 1 of this list that I focused a lot on the final scene as the true measure of a series finale’s worth.  No surprise, the geniuses behind this show bring it all home in a note-perfect epilogue, in which Maeby attempts to sell the Bluth family story to Ron Howard (who was, of course, the narrator of the show for its entire run).  Says Howard: “I don’t see this as a series.  Maybe… a movie?”  We can only hope!!

4.  The Wire — “-30-” — As the fifth and final season of The Wire unfolded, I was petrified as to what would happen, in the end, to all of the beloved, damaged characters on this take-no-prisoners show.  Would ANYONE get a happy ending?? Somehow this finale managed to bring proper closure to almost every member of this amazing, one-of-a-kind sprawling ensemble cast.  Without breaking from the tough, down-beat tone of the series, I still felt throughly satisfied with where everyone wound up — quite a feat.  This episode is filled with all of the intensity and emotion that made this series such a powerhouse.  In particular, the Irish wake for one of our good friends was a profoundly effecting scene.  And the final montage of life in Baltimore?  Phenomenal.  Makes one want to watch the entire series through again.

3.  Quantum Leap — “Mirror Image” — To be honest, while I really enjoy Quantum Leap[continued]

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See what I mean?

Just a quick note today.   In yesterday’s blog I referred to what I called “The Wire Effect.”   And what do I read this morning?   Amy Adams – so terrific in The Wire as well as in Gone Baby Gone – is set to appear in the season finale of The Office.

I can’t wait!   Here’s hoping all of the other amazing actors from The Wire continue to get work…… [continued]

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“A Man’s Gotta Have a Code…”

So my wife Steph and I were watching Gone Baby Gone last week, and I must confess that we both let out a bit of a squeal at a certain moment during the flick.   No, it wasn’t during the nail-biting quarry shoot-out in the middle of the film.   No, it wasn’t during scene with the Jamaican.   And no, it wasn’t during the devastating moment of choice that forms the crux of the end of the film.   All of those moments are terrific, don’t get me wrong – Gone Baby Gone is one of my favorite movies from last year.

But the moment where Steph and I really sat up and took notice was during the funeral scene, when Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) catches the eye of a police offer who he knows.   Steph and I looked at each other.   “Is that…OMAR???”

And indeed it was.   Michael K. Williams, who has basically one scene in Gone Baby Gone (but it’s a doozy — the steakhouse meal with Patrick), is the same actor who portrayed the shotgun-carrying, drug-dealer-murdering, criminal-with-a-code Omar Little for five amazing seasons on HBO’s The Wire.

And this is what I refer to as The Wire Effect – the phenomenon on which one is so in love with the characters in a beloved TV show that you sit up and take notice whenever they appear elsewhere.   Part of the reason we were watching Gone Baby Gone in the first place was because, after watching Amy Ryan on The Wire, Steph and I wanted to see her performance in GBG again (since the first time we saw the flick was before we’d ever seen The Wire).   I love Lost – but I lost it even more this season when Lance Reddick (Lt. Cedric Daniels on The Wire) appeared briefly as the mysterious “assembler of freighter folk.”   Heck, I even got excited by The Sarah Connor Chronicles when I saw Andre Royo (“Bubbles”) appear on that show as a resistance fighter (in a tiny role that was a sad waste of his enormous talents).

This has happened to me with other shows.   I got very excited when Alexander Siddig, who played Dr. Bashir on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (by far my favorite of the Star Trek series) appeared last season on 24.   (And I was very very annoyed when he was unceremoniously killed off-screen after only a few episodes.)   And a grin always appears on my face whenever I see an alumna of the late, great Arrested Development like Jason Bateman or Michael Cera or Will Arnett.   (He’ll always be GOB Bluth to me!)… [continued]

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How I survived the TV strike (Part II)

Here are five more DVDs (continuing my list from yesterday) that I loved loved loved this winter, when the pleasant caress of new TV shows had been denied me:

VI.   Eastern Promises — I have seen this movie 3 times now since it came out last year, and I enjoy it more every time.  (And I liked it quite a lot the FIRST time I saw it!)  Viggo Mortensen gives an amazing you-just-can’t-look-away performance as the deadly Russian Nikolai, whose path crosses with a midwife named Anna (Naomi Watts).  And let’s not forget the amazing Armin Mueller-Stahl, who is as amazing as he always is.  (I must admit, though, that I’m such a geek that whenever he’s on screen, in this or any other movie, I always hear him in the back of my head saying: “not even zey…can stop ze future.”  X-Philes know what I’m talking about…)

VII.  House of Games: The Criterion Collection – A terrific new DVD of the first film that David Mamet directed (from his own script).  I’m a big Mamet fan.  There are some flaws in the story, sure…and I’ve never been, as a viewer, quite fooled by the central con of this flick.  But the simple joys of watching the great performers (Joe Mantegna, Rickey Jay, the late great J.T. Walsh, among others) mouth Mamet’s rat-tat-tat tough-guy dialogue is more than enough for me.

VIII.  Volver – Pretty surprising for a sci-fi nut like myself, but I found myself completely swept up by Pedro Almodovar’s story about the intersecting lives of various women in Madrid.  Penelope Cruz is spectacular.

IX.  The Best of the Dick Cavett Show: Stand-Up Comedians – This DVD set contains several notable episodes from the great Dick Cavett’s 1970’s talk-show, in which he engages guests in fascinating hour or hour-and-a-half long (really!!) conversations about their lives and work.  This set focuses on his interviews with stand-up comedians such as Woody Allen, Groucho Marx, Bill Cosby, Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, and many others.  I love the Daily Show and all of today’s late-night talk shows, but after watching these incredibly in-depth interviews its hard to take any of today’s five-minutes-then-you’re out “interviews” seriously.  This is the way it should be done.  If you have any interest whatsoever in stand up comedy, you need to track down these DVDs.

X.  The Wire – My sister got me the 1st season set for my birthday earlier in the year – and my wife and I promptly devoured the entire 5 seasons of the show.  Truly one of the greatest TV shows ever made.  I’ll discuss this in greater depth at a later date, but for now, let me just say that I … [continued]