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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 Louie Season Five!

November 20th, 2015
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Last month I had the pleasure of catching up with the fifth season of Louie C.K.’s fantastic FX show, Louie.  I’ve been a fan since the beginning of Louie.  It’s such a unique show, one that feels like a very personal expression of Louie C.K.’s very particular voice and sense of humor.

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While season four experimented with longer story-telling arcs, with stories that ran across multiple episodes, season five returns more closely to something approaching the flavor of season one, with each episode feeling entirely like it’s own thing, a stand-alone loony adventure in Louie’s life.  I loved the ambition of season four, but in my heart I think that this is the flavor of Louie that I love best.  Each episode feels like its own weird little flight of fancy.

Season five is far shorter than the previous seasons, clocking in at only eight episodes.  I’m not sure why there were so few episodes this time around, but I’m thankful for what we got.

After the disappearance of the great opening credits and theme song in season four, I was happy to see them return here in season five (albeit occasionally in a somewhat truncated form, presumably to make room for everything else that Louie wanted to fit into the episode).

Once again Louie C.K. wrote, directed, and starred in every episode.  The show continues to be a tour de force work for Louie, a hugely original piece of work that feels like a direct conduit into his mind.  I love that about the show.  It continues to be quite unlike anything else on TV.  The show rigorously refuses to be pinned down to a certain style or tone.  The show can veer from hilarious to serious to out-of-left-field loony, often within minutes.

The premiere, “Potluck,” feels like a classic Louie idea: Louie goes to a potluck dinner at the home of a parent of one of the girls in one of his daughter’s class.  But he mistakenly goes to the wrong apartment and a potluck dinner of a group of an entirely different sort, something that Louie (and we the audience) only gradually realizes.  This is a great set-up, but also in classic Louie style, while Louie finds a lot of humor for the situation, he doesn’t solely mine the situation for jokes.  The episode goes to places I didn’t expect.

My favorite episode of the season was “Sleepover,” in which Louie hosts a sleepover birthday party for all of his daughter Jane’s friends.  Watching Louie navigate a hyper group of tween girls is hilarious, but the episode goes to far crazier places when Louie gets a frantic call from his brother Booby, who is in jail and … [continued]

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The Top 15 Episodes of TV in 2014 — Part Two!

I have expanded my usual end-of-the-year list of the Top Ten Episodes of TV to a Top Fifteen list for 2014!  Yesterday I wrote about numbers fifteen through eleven, discussing stellar episodes of Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black, Fargo, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Black Mirror.

And now, let’s continue!

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10. Family Guy: “The Simpsons Guy” (season 13, episode 1, aired on 9/28/14) — In this hour-long special, the Griffins leave Quahog and travel to Springfield, where cartoon universes collide.  I never ever thought that a) I would actually see a Simpsons/Family Guy crossover, or that b) it would be made with such obvious love for both shows.  This crossover was made by the Family Guy team, and the first few minutes (in which Peter gets into trouble for his controversial political cartoons) are pure Family Guy.  But once the show heads to Springfield, I was delighted by the clear love and respect on display for The Simpsons, and also by the depth of attention which the Family Guy creators brought to their exploration of the Simpsons universe.  There are obvious pairings that are mined for a lot of fun (seeing Homer and Peter drinking together, and comparing Duff Beer to Pawtucket Patriot Ale, is of course a hoot), but we also get to dig deeper into both cartoon universes as, for example, Carl meets Cleveland and Mayor Quimby meets Mayor Adam West, and the Simpsons version of James Woods meets the Family Guy version of James Woods.  Is the epic Homer/Peter Chicken Fight way longer and more violent than it needs to be?  I suppose it is, but that’s part of the joke, isn’t it?  It certainly worked for me.  Throw in Kang and Kodos in a rare non-Halloween episode appearance and a callback to Homer’s skateboarding over the Springfield Gorge (a classic early Simpsons gag) and you have a terrific love-letter to both of these animated shows.  (Click here for my original review of “The Simpsons Guy.”)

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9. Mad Men: “Waterloo” (season 7, episode 7, aired on 5/25/14) — What a powerhouse of an episode.  The political machinations in the office run thick as Don receives a letter stating he is being fired for breach of contract, only for Don to call a meeting that turns the tables on Jim Cutler and Lou Avery.  Roger then negotiates with another agency, McCann Erickson, to buy SC&P as an independent subsidiary of McCann, but has to get Don and an increasingly depressed Ted Chaough to agree.  The show finally arrives at the dramatic events of July 20th, 1969, when Neil Armstrong walks on the moon.  At the last minute, Don decides that Peggy should give the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Louie Season 4

December 24th, 2014
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After so thoroughly enjoying the second and third seasons of Louis C.K.’s amazing FX show, Louie, when I watched them this fall, I was excited to continue and to dive into season four.  It’s a pleasure to finally be caught up with this phenomenally entertaining and clever show!

One of the unique aspects of the very first season of Louie was the show’s stubborn disinterest in continuity or anything resembling the usual narrative flow of a TV show.  Louis C.K. would craft stories that would last exactly as long as he wanted them to, in order for him to make a point or get to a punchline.  Each episode was a stand-alone story, and often within an episode there might be two, even three, entirely separate stories or sequences that had nothing whatsoever to do with one another.  I loved this about the show.  It gave the series a rapid-fire energy, and a very unique feel.

What’s fascinating about Louie season four is how far the show has now gone in the other direction.  Here in season four, Louis C.K. has embraced longer-form story-telling.  The first three episodes of the season are stand-alone installments, but even those three episodes begin some character-arcs and story-lines that will be carried through the season (most notably the issues facing Louie’s youngest daughter Jane).  Then follows a six (!) part story, “Elevator,” that forms the centerpiece of the season.  This is followed by two three-part episodes.  “Pamela” is three separate episodes, interrupted (between parts 1 & 2) by “In the Woods,” which is a triple-length episode that was shown all in one night (sort of like a Louie feature film!).

I love both versions of Louie — the staccato pace of season one and this more complex, more in-depth version of season four.  Both versions have their charm.  Here in season four, it’s fascinating to see Louis C.K. take his time with the storytelling, developing his scenarios across multiple episodes.  The show remains as weird and idiosyncratic as ever, but now the show feels more leisurely, more relaxed as the stories unfold.  It’s an interesting spin on the show that I already loved so much.  I applaud Mr. C.K.’s creativity in not resting on his laurels, instead pushing himself to experiment, to be bold and to continue to try new things with the structure of his show.

The season’s first episode, “Back,” is solid, but episode two, “Model,” is terrific.  The Seinfeld stuff is fun (it’s funny seeing Jerry as such a cold prick) although I didn’t love this depiction of a more hapless than usual Louie.  But then we are presented with the bizarre, almost Twilight Zone-esque scenario in which Louie … [continued]