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

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.)

This week I began listing my Top Fifteen Episodes of TV in 2015.  (Click here for part one of my list, numbers fifteen through elevenClick here for part two of my list, numbers ten through six.)

And now, my Top Five Episodes of TV in 2015:

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5. Daredevil: “Cut Man” (season one, episode two, released on 4/10/15) — I really, really loved the first season of Netflix’s Daredevil show.  It was a bold announcement of the type of Marvel show that Netflix would be creating, something far darker, more complex, and more adult than almost every other super-hero TV show out there.  This, the show’s second episode, is filled with greatness.  I was particularly taken by the conclusion in this episode of the flashbacks, begun in episode one, of the death of Matt’s dad Battlin’ Jack Burdock, and the repercussions of the accident that blinded Matt but gifted him with super-normal powers.  I love this show’s depiction of the relationship between Jack (wonderfully well-played by John Patrick Hayden) and his young son Matt.  This enhances the gut-punch of the moment we all know is coming when Jack gets killed.  I like that the show takes the time to develop Jack, as his presence will continue as a shadow over Matt Murdock for the rest of the season.  I also enjoy the way this episode introduces Claire (Rosario Dawson) and begins to develop her relationship with Matt in the present day.  But the reason this episode is on this list is because of the magnificent one-take action sequence that closes the episode.  This incredible action set-piece absolutely blew me away.  In one long, slow take, the camera slowly glides down a long, dingy corridor, as Matt Murdock battles his way to rescue the young girl being help captive in the room at the end of the hall.  The sequence is a triumph of staging and stunts, as Daredevil and an array of bad-guys crash in and out of rooms, in and out of doors, sometimes in view of the camera and sometimes not, as Daredevil fights his way down that hallway.  (It’s also a triumph of sound-editing as there are times when we can’t see what’s going on in the rooms beyond the corridor, but the soundtrack tells us everything we need to know.)  … [continued]

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“Bravo.” Josh Bids Farewell to Mad Men!

May 20th, 2015
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Mad Men season one was, I am pretty sure, the first TV show set I ever owned on blu-ray.  It was a gift, given to me soon after I bought my first blu-ray player.  At the time, I’d heard about but had never seen this new cable show, and also I wasn’t sure if I ever intended to own any TV shows on blu-ray (as opposed to the at-the-time far cheaper sets available on DVD).  Mad Men season one made me a fan of both the show and the format.  (Lord did that gorgeously filmed first season show off how beautiful a blu-ray image could look!)  It’s hard to believe that was almost a decade ago.

I was immediately captivated by Mad Men, and I was impressed by how complete a piece of work that first thirteen-episode season was.  In 2007, I feel like the idea of a short season of a cable show (as opposed to the usual 20-24 episode run of a network season) was still a fairly new idea (though of course the Brits had been doing short “series” of their shows for quite a while), and Mad Men dazzled me in how effortlessly it used that compact length to tell a complex story with a definitive beginning, middle, and end.  Had there been no more Mad Men after that first season, I would have been completely satisfied.

But, of course, luckily for us, we got a lot more.  I watched seasons two and three the same way I had watched season one — all at once when those seasons were released on blu-ray.  Season four was when I found I couldn’t wait any longer and started watching the show as it aired on AMC.  I’m not sure if it’s connected, but season four is also when I truly fell in love with the show.  I had always enjoyed it, and intellectually recognized the greatness of the show.  But I also found it difficult to watch in those early years.  With so many unpleasant and unhappy characters, I found Mad Men to be a tough show in which to invest.  There were few characters I found I could really root for, and whenever I found such a character it was painful to watch unpleasant things happen to him/her, or to watch said character brutally sabotage him/her-self in the way that so many Mad Men characters so often did.  So it took a little while for the show, and its characters, to really grow on me.  But by season four I was well and truly hooked.  I found I could love watching even the most scoundrel-like character on the show.  I also found myself discovering and enjoying … [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 Mad Men Season 7.1

June 16th, 2014
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It’s a very rare thing when a TV series is able to end at a time and place of its creators’ choosing.  There are many things that are problematic with today’s TV landscape, but I must say the recent trend of more TV series having this sort of opportunity is extremely refreshing.  Certainly there are older shows that didn’t just fizzle out but were allowed to have a well-crafted ending (such as M.A.S.H. or, more recently, Seinfeld and Friends).  And certainly today there are still great TV shows that are brutally cancelled without allowing the creators to provide any sort of closure for the audience.  But more and more, particularly with series that become successful and click with an audience, I am seeing creators allowed to design and execute an ending to their series.  Just look at how many great series-finales were in last year’s list of my Top 10 Favorite Episodes of TV in 2013!

Mad Men is one of those shows that is being allowed to end at the point at which creator and show-runner Matthew Weiner wanted it to end.  This is a terrific opportunity, and also, of course, a make-or-break moment for the series.  The strength of a show’s ending plays a huge part in determining the over-all success or failure of a show.  For five seasons I thought Lost was one of the greatest television shows ever made, but the total catastrophe that was the show’s final season really ruined the whole show for me.  (If the creators weren’t going to bother to answer the vast majority of the questions they’d set up in the previous five seasons, why would I ever want to re-watch the show, knowing it would end with only disappointment?)  On the other hand, I love the finale of Babylon 5 — a good-to-middling sci-fi show — so much that to me it elevates the entire series.

I’ve been watching Mad Men since the show began.  As I’ve written about before, for the first three seasons I liked the show more than I loved it.  It was clear, right from the first episode, that this was a fascinating, extraordinarily well-crafted show.  But so many of the characters were so mean and so nasty that I found it off-putting.  I respected the show intellectually more than I actually enjoyed the experience of watching it.  But gradually that changed, and I began to fall in love with all of these characters, despite their continuing self-centeredness and bad behavior.  By season four, I was hooked in hard, and I thought that last season, season 6, might have been the best of the show’s run.  I have noticed that the show … [continued]

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The Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2013 — Part One!

I hope everyone enjoyed my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2013!  Click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.

And now, on to my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2013!

As always, a caveat that, while I watched a decent amount of TV in 2013, there are a few shows that I am either way behind on or haven’t gotten to see any of yet.  I’m only in season 2 of Breaking Bad and season 1 of Boardwalk Empire, and while I hope to dive into them soon, so far I haven’t seen a single episode of either Community or Justified or House of Cards.  So if you’re wondering why those shows are not represented on this list, well, now you know!  OK, here we go:

Honorable Mention: Louis C.K. “Oh My God” — The great Louis C.K.’s hour-long HBO special was, as expected, a hilarious, genius-level comedy performance.  For the last few years, C.K. has been in an amazing groove, and I think he is the most consistently funny — and clever — comedian working today.  This special had several stand-out moments, most particularly the outrageous, good-taste-testing “oh course… but maybe” routine at the very end.  If you haven’t seen this, go visit Louis C.K.’s web-site and, for five measly dollars, download the extended version of the special.  You can thank me later.

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10. The Office: “Finale” Pt. 1 & 2 (season 9, episodes 24 & 25, aired on 5/16/13) — In its last few seasons, The Office had become a sad, unfunny shadow of its former self.  (I think seasons 2-4 of the American version of The Office rank among the best seasons of a comedic TV show ever.)  But I was lured back for the final season, and I quite enjoyed the sweet series finale, which provided a very satisfying wrap-up for all of these characters I had come to love over the almost-decade the show had been on the air.  (Even Mose made an appearance!!)  I was delighted (and very pleasantly surprised!) by the return of Steve Carell, and his final “that’s what she said” moment was absolute perfection.  (Click here for my original review of the series finale of The Office.)

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9.  30 Rock: “Hogcock!” and “Last Lunch” (season 7, episodes 12 & 13, aired on 1/31/13) — The Office wasn’t the only long-running NBC comedy to take it’s final bow in 2013, and this hour-long finale to 30 Rock was also a strong ending to a great series.  We got some great call-backs to earlier episodes (“The Rural Juror,” the strip club Liz and Tracy visited in … [continued]

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This is fantastic: Tom Hiddleston (who played Loki in both Thor movies and The Avengers) doing a phneomenal impression of Owen Wilson, had Owen been cast as Loki.  Check this out.

West Wing fans!  Did you see this clip of Allison Janney performing The Jackal on The Arsenio Hall Show?  This is an obscure reference, but one that any die-hard West Wing fan will appreciate:

This blog from Kevin Smith gives an intriguing update on his fast-developed, absolutely bonkers weird-sounding new movie, Tusk.  Click here for even more info.  Despite being an enormous fan of Kevin Smith, I still haven’t seen Red State.  I want to see it, for sure, since I can’t imagine not having seen one of Mr. Smith’s films, but it just doesn’t interest me that much.  So far, I am bummed to say that Tusk is trending the same way, but it’s such a loony concept that I am intrigued.  It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

This is a great short little retrospective of Jim Henson’s life and work.  I very much want to read Brian Jay Jones’ biography of Jim Henson, it sounds like a really fascinating book.

OK, this is a very geeky link, but I loved this.  An enterprising photoshopper has created images showing how awesome the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast would have looked in Original Series uniforms.  So great.

There are a lot of stories cropping up about behind-the-scenes issues on the pre-production of Star Wars: Episode VII.  Seems Disney is pushing for that 2015 release date, come hell or high water.  More info here.  I hope it’s all just talk.  I don’t have much hope that I will ever again in my lifetime see a great Star Wars film, but that little ember of hope does still exist, deep inside me.  Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe!

Chris Claremont is, I would argue, single-handedly responsible for the incredible popularity of the X-Men today.  Mr. Claremont wrote The Uncanny X-Men comic book, and a truck-load of spinoffs and mini-series and annuals and other special events, for a jaw-dropping seventeen years, from the ’70s into the ’90s.  (In one of the great injustices of the medium’s history, he was sort of pushed off of the series when his work began to be overshadowed by the popularity of the superstar artists working at Marvel in those days.)  A new documentary about his career — focusing on that incredible seventeen year run on the X-Men — has just been released, and I am dying to see it.  This is a fantastic article about a recent screening of the film, followed by a Q & A [continued]

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“Not Great, Bob!” Josh Reviews Mad Men Season 6

August 28th, 2013
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Yes, I know the sixth season of Mad Men wrapped up a few months ago already, but it’s taken me a little while to catch up with this, the penultimate season of the show.  What a fantastic season of television.

I have written before that I enjoyed Mad Men from the beginning, and always respected the hell out of it as a tremendously well-crafted show, but it wasn’t until around the fourth season when I really fell in love with the show.  The characters were all a little too unlikable, a little too off-putting for me at first.  But somewhere along the way I found myself growing quite attached to all of the flawed, selfish, insensitive bastards at Sterling Cooper (and then Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and then SCDPCGC…).  And now I can’t get enough of watching these oh-so-human characters, and I am saddened that we only have one more season to spend with them.  (Matthew Weiner has stated repeatedly in interviews that season seven will be the show’s last.)

Season six was a hell of a season. First and foremost, the stories this year fulfilled the promise of the closing shot of season five, in which it looked like Don Draper was up to his old tricks again.  Indeed he was, spending much of this season involved in a new affair — with his downstairs neighbor, no less!  Linda Cardellini (Freaks and Geeks’ Lindsay Weir, all grown up!!) was a tremendous addition to the Mad Men ensemble as Sylvia Rosen, Don’s new mistress.  Finally here was a woman who could say no to Don Draper.  Seeing Don get dumped (in “Man With a Plan”) was a first for the series, a great moment in a season filled with great moments.

The standout event of the season was, of course, the shocking merger of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce with their competitors Cutler Gleason and Chaough in the middle of the season (in the final moments of “For Immediate Release”).  Suddenly everything I thought the season was going to be about, and where I thought the stories were headed, changed completely.  I adored that plot-twist, and it gave a terrific narrative thrust to the back half of the season as we got to watch the chaos that seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time merger unleashed.

There were some great new characters this year.  I already mentioned Linda Cardellini’s terrific work as Sylvia Rosen, and I also loved seeing the always-great Brian Markinson in a terrific role as her brilliant but cuckolded surgeon husband, Dr. Arnold Rosen.  Mr. Markinson’s scenes with Jon Hamm’s Don Draper really crackled.  I was also terrifically impressed by Harry Hamlin’s great work as Jim Cutler, the Roger Sterling of Cutler, Gleason … [continued]

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The Top 10 Episodes of TV in 2012 — Part One!

I hope you’ve been enjoying my Best-of-2012 lists so far!  Follow these links to read my Top 15 Movies of 2012: part one, part two, and part three, and my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012: part one and part two.

When writing my Top 10 Episodes of TV list last year, I wrote that I’d considered not doing a best-of-TV list anymore, and the same thought crossed my mind this year.  My life has gotten so busy these past few years, and as a result I watch far, far less TV than I used to.  I manage to do a pretty good job of still seeing lots of movies, but I am much more of a niche TV viewer these days.  There are not that many new shows that I watch, and much of the TV that I see is actually old stuff in the form of DVD season sets.  But I do still love me some great TV, and so here is my list of the most wonderful television I watched this year.  One last caveat before I begin: know that I have not seen seasons 2 or 3 of Louie or seasons 2 or 3 of Boardwalk Empire, or any episode of Breaking Bad and Community. All of those are shows that I would love to catch up on, and I actually have DVDs of all of those shows sitting on my to-watch shelf.  Someday!  OK, enough delay, here’s my list:

10. Mad Men: “The Phantom” (season 5, episode 13, aired on 6/10/12) — This was a spectacular season of Mad Men, possibly my very favorite season.  The year was stuffed with memorable moments and fantastic episodes.  I thought about including on this list the season 5 premiere, “A Little Kiss,” for the Zou Bissou Bissou scene; or “Tea Leaves” for the fantastic comedy of Harry and Don Draper back-stage at a Rolling Stones concert; or “Signal 30” for the hysterical and awkward dinner party in which Pete and Trudy host Ken and his wife and, of course, the fantastic moment in which Lane punches Pete.  But, instead, I opted for “The Phantom,” the fifth season finale.  There’s a lot of greatness in this episode, moments both comedic and very sad, including the connections between Lane’s suicide and that of Don’s brother , Adam (from season one); Peggy and Don at the movies; and Roger on acid again.  But what earned this episode a spot on my list is its closing shot, that iconic image of Don Draper, in all his James Bond badass glory, walking away from his wife on a brightly-lit soundstage and into the darkness of … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Season Five of Mad Men

July 1st, 2012
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Mad Men took a little while to grow on me.  Right from the beginning I recognized it as an extremely intelligent, well-made show.  But while I respected the audacity of crafting a show around a group of pretty much entirely unlikable, despicable characters, I found that kept me at a distance from the show in those early days.  (Click here for my review of Mad Men season one.)

(I suppose one might argue with my describing the ensemble as being comprised of entirely unlikable characters, but I stand by my assessment.  The characters were well-rounded, but so filled with flaws that it was hard to find a character to root for.  Even Peggy, who was perhaps the most endearing character introduced in that first season, was tremendously off-putting at times.  Now please understand, this is not a criticism of Mad Men. Quite the contrary, the series’ eschewing of the usual TV need to make every lead character “nice” is a major aspect of the show’s brilliance.  But it also was part of why it took a while for me to really fall in love with Mad Men, even as I was intellectually impressed by what I was watching.)

For me, it really wasn’t until season four that I began to truly LOVE Mad Men. I think it took that long for the characters to really grow on me.  Whereas at first I found it hard to really care all that much about what happened to Don Draper and co., by that fourth season I was really hooked.  It’s possible that the recently-concluded fifth season was the show’s strongest season yet.  I certainly was captivated by the goings-on as I’d never been before.

I love the unpredictability of Mad Men. This is a show where I find it almost impossible to predict where it’s going next.  Season five contained some bold narrative moves.  (Beware spoilers as we proceed.)  The demise of a major character was of course one shocking development (made all the more potent by the writers’ cleverly playing off of the parallels between that death and the season one death of another person in Don Draper’s life).  But I was also surprised to see Peggy leaving the agency (a move I never expected to see), by Joan’s divorce, by the side-lining of Betty Draper and the tremendous prominence given to Megan, the new Mrs. Draper.

Speaking of new characters, I was worried at first by the introduction of Michael Ginsberg (played by Ben Feldman).  When we first meet Ginsberg in the second episode of the season, I found him terribly annoying.  I also worried that they were piling on the Jewish stereo-types a little too high.  (In … [continued]

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The Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2010 — Part One!

All right!  So here we are at last at my final 2010 Top 10 list — my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2010!  I hope you’ve all enjoyed my previous lists: The Top 10 Movies of 2010 (click here for part one, and here for part two), The Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2010 (click here for part one, and here for part two), and the Top 15 Comic Books of 2010 (click here for part one, and here for part two).

Before we begin, I should note that there are a few 2010 TV shows that I haven’t had a chance to see any of (though I hope to remedy this soon, through the magic of DVD.  Just need to find the time!!)  These include: Louie, Eastbound and Down, Bored to Death, and Boardwalk Empire. So, if you’re wondering why no episodes from those (apparently great) shows made the list, now you know!

OK, here we go:

10. Mad Men: “The Beautiful Girls” (Season 4, episode, 9, aired on 9/19/10) — This was an interesting episode of Mad Men that spotlighted many of the women in the ensemble.  Sally, miserable living with her mother, runs away to find Don at his office, and begs him to let her live with him.  Faye is put in the uncomfortable position of having to comfort this distraught child.  Peggy has a rough series of interactions with the young fella who Joyce set her up with, who doesn’t seem to have a clue as to what sort of woman Peggy is and how to connect with her.  Joan, lonely after the departure of her husband Greg for Vietnam, finally accepts Roger Stirling’s offer of dinner — which proves momentous because of what goes down after the two of them are mugged.  And then, of course, there is poor Mrs. Blankenship, whose untimely demise leads to a laugh-out-loud sequence in which the folks at Stirling, Cooper, Draper, Price try to prevent the presence of a dead body from interrupting their regular business.  It’s my favorite moment of the entire season of Mad Men.

9. Parks and Recreation: “Woman of the Year” (Season 2, episode 17, aired 3/4/2010) — Leslie Knope expects to be chosen as the Woman of the Year by the Indiana Organization of Women, but she’s horrified to learn that their choice is actually her mustachioed boss, Ron Swanson.  There’s a lot of comic fun to be had from Ron’s gleeful torturing of Leslie (“Which of these objects most represents women, for this portrait?”), but what I love about this episode is the surprising amount of sweetness that … [continued]