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Josh’s Favorite Episodes of TV of 2018 — Part Three!

Click here for part one of my list of My Favorite Episodes of TV of 2018, and click here for part two.  And now, onwards to my top five!

5. Black Mirror: “Bandersnatch” (released on 12/28/18) — This was the most impressively surprising TV experience I had all year.  I’d never have dreamed that such a thing could be possible, but somehow, Black Mirror found a way to replicate the feel of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book as a TV show.  I loved those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books as a kid, and having that experience recreated by a TV show was extraordinary.  Every few minutes (and even more frequently at times), you are prompted on screen to make a decision as to what Stefan, the main character in the episode, should do.  You make your choice via your remote control, and then the film unfolds based upon that choice.  Just like in a real “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, sometimes those choices take you out of the story quickly, in which case you are allowed either to exit the film or retrace your steps and try again.  Apparently, there are many hours of footage that can be discovered based on the choices you make as Stefan during the film!  “Bandersnatch” is an extraordinary achievement in both technology and narrative story-telling.  I loved it.  (Click here for my full review of Black Mirror: “Bandersnatch”.)

4. Star Wars: Rebels: “Family Reunion — and Farewell” (season four, episodes fifteen and sixteen, aired on 3/5/18) — Star Wars: Rebels aired its final two episodes back-to-back, and together they provided a note-perfect ending to, not just this series, but all of the animated Star Wars adventures fans have been following since The Clone Wars began a decade ago, in 2008.  This finale successfully managed to maintain a sense of fun adventure that has always characterized the best Star Wars stories, while building to an extremely moving, heartfelt climax.  There were so many amazing moments: Ezra’s temptation by the Emperor (voiced by Ian McDiarmid, reprising his role from the films!); Agent Kallus’ final redemption; great stuff for Rex and the surviving Clone Troopers (including, at long last, confirmation of the fan theory that the old bearded guy on Endor in Return of the Jedi was Rex!!); some great villainous moments from Thrawn (a character created by Timothy Zahn in his amazing “Heir to the Empire” novels, who I was delighted to see brought to animated life on Rebels); hearing John Williams’ magnificent Jedi theme play when Ezra steps out of the shadows, Loth-Wolves right behind him, and silently ignites his green light-saber; and so much more.  But the reason this … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

I’ve been a huge fan of Garry Shandling for as long as I can remember.  Mr. Shandling was a genius-level stand-up comedian, and he masterminded two of the greatest television shows ever made: It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The Larry Sanders Show.  It was Larry Sanders that made me a forever fan of Mr. Shandling’s, and that drove me to go back and discover the rest of his amazing work.  I’ve spent uncounted hours watching old clips of Mr. Shandling on the stand-up circuit and on The Tonight Show, and I have watched and rewatched The Larry Sanders Show many times.  (“It was a back tooth, Hank,” might be one of the funniest lines ever spoken on a TV comedy.)  When Mr. Shandling passed away in 2016, it was a huge loss.

I have also been a huge fan of Judd Apatow’s for quite some time, ever since Freaks and Geeks (the amazing series created by Paul Feig and produced by Mr. Apatow back in 1999-2000).  I continue to adore Freaks and Geeks to this day, and I have rewatched those eighteen near-perfect episodes many times.  I also loved Mr. Apatow’s follow-up TV show, Undeclared (also killed before its time after one fantastic season), and I have followed his movie career avidly:  The 40 year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People, This is 40, and Trainwreck.  Mr. Apatow has also shown his talents as a skilled and prolific producer, helping to shepherd projects such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Superbad, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Pineapple ExpressWalk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, Bridesmaids, Wanderlust, The Five-Year Engagement, The Big Sick and many more!  That is quite a list of incredible comedic films with which Mr. Apatow has been involved, no?

Mr. Apatow wrote for The Larry Sanders Show and eventually served as a co-executive producer.  In many interviews over the years, it’s been clear how much of a mentor Garry Shandling was to him.  Mr. Apatow’s appearance on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, filmed not long after Mr. Shandler’s death, is almost more about Garry Shandling than it is about Mr. Apatow himself!

And so I was not at all surprised when I read that Mr. Apatow was working on a documentary film about Garry Shandling.  As a huge fan of both comedic talents, I was excited to see what Mr. Apatow would create.

The result, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, is a behemoth: an almost five-hour film, shown in two parts on HBO.  But I’m here to tell you, I could have watched … [continued]

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This high school-set Game of Thrones parody, School of Thrones, is fantastic.  Worth it for the awesome opening credits alone.

I often wax poetic about my love for the great, much-missed The Larry Sanders Show.  My buddy Ethan e-mailed me this link to a terrific interview with Jeffrey Tambor (who played Hank “Hey Now!” Kingsley), filled with stories about his work on the show.  A great read.

Louis C.K. has a new stand-up special on HBO in April.  Love this trailer:

I must say I am shocked that, despite the BIG success of 2007’s The Simpsons Movie (I can’t believe it was that long ago, already!), they are not working on another one.  That’s a shame.

I have spent a long time looking at this awesome infographic that lays out the entire backwards-and-forwards structure of Christopher Nolan’s fantastic film Memento.  Wild.

I was VERY excited to read that an extended cut has recently been discovered of “The Wounded” and several other episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I hope some of this footage eventually makes it onto the blu-rays!  I LOVED the extended cut of “The Measure of a Man” on the season 2 blu-ray, and I would kill to see some more extended cuts of episodes in the future…  And “The Wounded” is one of my favorite TNG episodes!  (I love O’Brien!)

Speaking of Trek, a new teaser trailer was released a few weeks ago:

Solid trailer.  God I hope this movie doesn’t let me down.

Speaking of trailers — I still can’t believe they really made a movie of the deliriously unhinged, profane comic book Kick Ass.  And now they’ve made a sequel?  This new red-band trailer is great.  The kids have grown up, but this could still work.  (Though holy cow, how huge is Aaron Taylor-Johnson — who plays the titular geek kid turned super-hero, Kick Ass — now??  It’s weird to see puny Dave Lizewski so pumped.)  I LOVE that they used Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s super-villain name from the comics!  And Jim Carrey is in this???  This movie is going to be crazy.  I can’t wait.

I’ve never seen Veronica Mars, but if this is true that a Kickstarter campaign has successfully lead to the show’s revival as a movie, that is super-cool.  I am all for the rescue of fan-favorite, cult properties.  Serenity 2, anyone??  (No, says Joss Whedon.  Sigh!!)

Christopher Guest (A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) is masterminding a new show for HBO?  Yes, please!

Hmmm… are there any other HBO shows coming up that I’m looking forward to?  Oh, yeah, there is one:


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From the DVD Shelf: The Larry Sanders Show: Season Two

August 12th, 2011

Last month I wrote about season one of Garry Shandling’s magnificent HBO series from the ’90s, The Larry Sanders Show.  Season one had been previously released on DVD, so I’d seen all of those episodes many times.  But NONE of the subsequent seasons had ever before been released on any home video format (except for a few episodes in the series-spanning best-of DVD collection from a few years ago, Not Just The Best of The Larry Sanders Show), and I didn’t start watching The Larry Sanders Show when it aired on HBO until around season four, so there were a TON of season two episodes that I’d never seen before.  So I was VERY EXCITED to finally have the chance to dive into this season!  The Larry Sanders Show is one of my favorite TV shows of all time, and suddenly having new episodes to watch that I’d never seen before was something of a small miracle for me.

Security Expert: “I’m just trying to give Mr. Sanders the cold, hard reality of the situation.”  Artie: “We don’t usually operate that way around here.”

And I was not disappointed!  Season two of The Larry Sanders Show is, I believe, the longest of the show’s six seasons.  It clocks in at seventeen episodes, and the season premiere is actually a double-length episode.  That’s an impressively-sized season for a cable show, and as with season one, there really isn’t a clunker in the bunch!  The hour-long first episode, “The Breakdown,” is a terrific way to kick off the season.  Larry’s wife is divorcing him, which sends Larry into a spiral of misery.  The only woman he finds himself able to connect with turns out being his first wife, Francine, much to Artie and Hank’s horror.  (In the next episode, “The List,” Artie remembers in shock how Francine once destroyed Larry’s People Choice award trophy.  Larry points out that this was only because she found out he’d cheated on her.  Artie’s response: “So you cheated.  Don’t take it out on your People’s Choice award!”)  That episode, “The List,” is one of my favorites of the season.  Larry and Francine decide to undertake the (foolhardy) plan of each creating a list, to share with one another, of all the people they’ve slept with since their divorce.  Needless to say, that doesn’t go well.

“The Hankerciser 200” blesses us with another great Hank Kingsley product endorsement — that of an exercise system that turns out to have the nasty habit of nearly crippling those who use it.  This is a great highlight in a season that features a year-long storyline about another crazy Hank scheme — the street-level revolving restaurant (“Hank’s Look-Around Cafe”) … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: The Larry Sanders Show: Season One

Last week I wrote about season one of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, the ahead-of-its time sitcom created by and starring Garry Shandling, that aired on Showtime from 1986-1990.  As I have been watching It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, I have simultaneously been re-watching Mr. Shandling’s second TV show, The Larry Sanders Show, which aired on HBO from 1992-1998.  (It’s absolutely incredible to me that, after a LONG wait, BOTH of Mr. Shandling’s TV shows were released in complete-season sets within just a few months of each other last year.  I was originally going to watch It’s Garry Shandling’s Show all the way through, and then revisit The Larry Sanders Show, but frankly I just couldn’t wait that long before diving into one of my favorite television shows of all time.)

Garry Shandling plays talk-show host Larry Sanders, and the show is clearly inspired by Mr. Shandling’s many years on the talk-show circuit, both as a frequent quest and eventually as a regular guest-host for Johnny Carson.  (Mr. Shandling was at one time a candidate to replace Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show — but ultimately he decided he’d rather play a talk-show host on TV than actually BE one.) In every episode, we see some snippets of the Larry Sanders Show talk-show, though the bulk of each episode takes place behind the scenes, as we follow all of the Hollywood back-biting, self-aggarndizement, and other forms of ridiculousness involved in creating a five-nights-a-week talk show.  In one of the show’s most brilliant creative conceits, the footage of the Larry Sanders talk show was shot on video, while all of the behind-the-scenes material was shot on film.  This simple visual device is a great hook for the show (and also an easy way for less-attentive TV viewers to keep track of what’s what in each episode).

Mr. Shandling is supported by a remarkable ensemble, most notably Rip Torn as Larry’s loyal, bull-dog producer Artie, and Jeffrey Tambor as Larry’s dim side-kick Hank Kingsley.  Artie and Hank represent two of the greatest characters ever created on television — a testament to the magnificent writing on the show as well as the formidable acting talents of those two men.  I’m laughing right now, as I type these sentences, just thinking about all of the ridiculous antics those two characters got up to over the course of the show’s run.

The rest of the group is pretty phenomenal, as well.  Janeane Garofalo turns in a star-making performance as Paula, the show’s deadpan, seen-it-all booker.  Jeremy Piven and Wallace Langham are a riot as the show’s two head writers, each of whom presents a sarcastic, tough-as-nails affect but who are both actually hopelessly needy … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: It’s Garry Shandling’s Show Season One

For as long as I can remember I’ve been hearing and reading about It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, the innovative sort-of-sitcom comedy show that Garry Shandling created and starred in on Showtime from 1986 to 1990.  I adored The Larry Sanders Show (Mr. Shandling’s second TV show, which aired on HBO from 1992-1998), and when I began getting into stand-up comedy, during the years that Larry Sanders was airing, it became clear to me that Garry Shandling was a fellow of uncommon creative genius.  I’ve long wanted to check out Mr. Shandling’s first show, but there was no easy way to get ahold of those episodes — until now!  Last year, the fine folks at Shout! (whose exceptional TV on DVD sets I have often praised on this site) outdid themselves with the release, not just of one season, but of the complete series of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.  My good buddy Ethan Kreitzer (who wrote a phenomenal write-up, last month, of an Albert Brooks appearance that he attended — it’s a great read, you should take a look if you haven’t read it yet) was kind enough to lend me his copy of the set (and he’s been VERY PATIENT with me as the months have gone bye!) so I could, finally, see what everyone has been talking about.

It’s Garry Shandling’s Show is a wonderfully playful version of a sitcom, created and produced by people who clearly grew up watching and loving sitcoms.  From the characters’ personas to the look of the sets and lighting, the show is packed full of familiar sitcom tropes.  But that’s entirely the point.  Throughout these early episodes, the show has great fun constantly exposing all of the silly conceits and traditional devices used by TV comedies.  Those conceits and devices are mocked, but what’s so endearing about It’s Garry Shandling’s Show is the way that the mockery is all done with love.  If I got the sense that Mr. Shandling and his team of writers HATED sitcoms, and just wanted to expose how stupid and fake they are, I think that would get old very quickly.  But it’s clear that Mr. Shandling and his crew LOVE sitcoms, and the sense that they’re all absolutely tickled to be in a sitcom of their own comes across loud and clear.

What also comes across loud and clear is that Mr. Shandling and the show’s team are far too creative to be beholden to the way sitcoms usually are.  Indeed, they blow apart the form with enormous relish.  (I’m reminded of the creativity shown by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David when creating Seinfeld, and the glee they took in doing everything their … [continued]

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Yesterday I began listing my Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2010.  Here’s the rest of my list!

5. Batman: Under the Red HoodBruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series knocked me for a loop when I first saw it back in the ’90s, and I’ve been a huge fan of his many DC Universe animated projects in the years since.  The recent series of animated DVDs that he’s been masterminding have been a bit hit-or-miss, but this film (adapting a storyline from the Batman comics written by Judd Winick) is really tremendous.  The story has a GREAT hook: Batman’s life is uprooted when he discovers that the new crime-lord in Gotham City just might be his former partner, Robin.  What unfolds is a surprisingly dark, surprisingly violent tale.  Whenever Mr. Timm returns to Batman, I’m a happy camper, but this grim little film really grabbed me.  I think it’s a particularly great depiction of the Dark Knight Detective.  A superlative voice cast (including Bruce Greenwood, Neal Patrick Harris, Jensen Ackles, Jason Isaacs, and Futurama’s John Di Maggio) is just the icing on the cake.  (Click here for my original review.)

4. Family Guy: It’s a Trap! The folks at Family Guy conclude their trilogy of extended episodes parodying the three original Star Wars films with this warped version of Return of the Jedi. The animation is absolutely gorgeous (it’s shocking that I would write that about an episode of Family Guy, but believe me, it’s true.  These artists have painstakingly recreated shot after shot from Return of the Jedi. Their version of the Battle for the Second Death Star is astounding).  The jokes are very funny.  (I was particularly taken with their depiction of the speeder-bike chase sequence, but on tricycles.)  It’s Family Guy Star Wars.  What more could I ask for?  (Click here for my original review.)

3. Grindhouse (Blu-Ray) — I was very afraid that this would never see the light of day, but at last one can now own the original theatrical version of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s double-feature, complete with all of the fake trailers.  I love the extended versions of the two films that were released on DVD a few years back, but I’ve been aching to be able to experience what I saw (and so loved) in theatres back in 2007.  Ignore the nay-sayers — this film is genius, and it is phenomenally entertaining viewing.  It’s not for everyone (there’s a lot of sex and violence), but damn do I think it’s a lot of fun.

2. Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure (Blu-Ray) Apocalypse Now is one of my favorite films.  I didn’t … [continued]