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Josh Reviews Angie Tribeca Season Three!

Angie Tribeca is this era’s Police Squad, a very funny, very silly show about L.A. detective Angie Tribeca, played by Rashida Jones, and her coterie of fellow homicide investigators on L.A.’s “Really Heinous Crimes Unit.”  But Angie Tribeca is not a cop show, nor is it really a parody of a copy show.  Rather, the cop show framework is used as a scaffolding upon which one delightfully nutty stream of consciousness gag after another can be hung.  The show has far more in common with Airplane! and The Naked Gun than it does with any standard TV detective show.

In its third season, Angie Tribeca doesn’t have the surprising freshness that so delighted me back in its initial season.  But the show has settled into a wonderfully pleasing groove.  This is not genius-level innovative television.  But it is tremendously enjoyable and rather unique in today’s television landscape.  This is a show that values being silly above all other virtues, and I sort of love it for that.

This ten-episode third season remains mostly episodic, with each episode standing on its own while several plot threads run across the season.  The best new development this year was the inclusion of Chris Pine as a Hannibal Lecter-like character to whom Rashida Jones’ Angie turns for help.  I have enjoyed seeing movie-star Chris Pine pop up in some small comedic roles on TV (most notably his terrific guest appearance in Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp), but I was not prepared for how amazing he would be here.  Mr. Pine is absolutely the best thing about this season of Angie Tribeca.  His warped impression of Sir Anthony Hopkins as Lecter is brilliant and fall-on-the-floor hilarious.  This is a home run.

The show’s main cast, anchored by the amazing Rashida Jones, continues to be terrific.  This team of performers are all very funny and game for absolutely anything.  I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see quite so much of Alfred Molina this year, but he was a pleasure whenever he did pop up.

There were quite a few fun guest stars this season.  After Chris Pine, my favorite would have to be Natalie Portman, who appeared in “This Sounds Unbelievable, but CSI: Miami Did It” (that is a terrific episode title, by the way!) as a NASA scientist who nevertheless looked and acted like a cliche 60’s housewife.  Ms. Portman plays this brilliantly.

Heather Graham, Randall Park, Rob Riggle, Ed Helms, Lizzy Caplan, Rob Heubel, Rachel Dratch, Constance Zimmer, Ernie Hudson, Jean Smart, Mary McCormack, Stephen Root, and Jack McBrayer all pop up at various points during the season, and they are all very funny.

I enjoyed this … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Netflix’s Season Three of Black Mirror!

I adored the original six episodes made of the British TV show Black Mirror.  Series creator Charlie Brooker had made a riveting modern/day Twilight Zone, with each episode a completely stand-alone installment presenting a look at the ways that technology has the potential to be terribly destructive to our lives. Those first six episodes, made between 2011-13, are brilliant, and if you haven’t yet seen them I implore you to drop everything and go check them out — they are available to stream on Netflix.

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I was very excited when I read that Netflix would be resurrecting the show, allowing Mr. Brooker to create six new episodes. I took my time watching the new episodes, both because I didn’t want them to be over too quickly and also because these episodes are very intense and I couldn’t handle too many too quickly! But now I have completed the new season and am eager to share my thoughts.

While there is nothing here in season three that equals the best of the original six episodes, I enjoyed most of these new episodes very much. Mr. Brooker has brought in some talented people to help create this new season, and it’s interesting to see the resulting slightly-different spins on the show.  (Though, rest assured, these new episodes all thoroughly feel like Black Mirror.) None of these new episodes reach the genius level that so many of the original six episodes did, and a few are weakened by some flaws I’d have preferred to have seen corrected along the way. But all six episodes are interesting and have a lot to enjoy. While this third season might just be “very good” rather than “genius,” that is still something for us to be thankful for. I am very glad that six more episodes of Black Mirror now exist! (With the possibility of more on the way!)

Here is my episode-by-episode rundown. I’ll avoid major SPOILERS but, still, I highly advise stopping here if you haven’t yet seen these episodes.

Nosedive — the new season gets off to a somewhat shaky start with this first installment.  “Nosedive” has a brilliant, terrifying-in-its-possibility premise, but it suffers somewhat in execution. In the not-too-distant future, everyone can use their cell-phones to rate their interactions with every person they meet, and those scores accumulate into a person’s average score that is constantly visible (because of special contact lenses that everyone wears) whenever you see anyone else.  Bryce Dallas Howard is spectacular as a young woman, Lacie, trying to nudge up her personal score. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that these scores classify each individual into a certain social class. (The story is instigated because Lacie wants … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Angie Tribeca Season Two!

Last spring I devoured the first ten-episode season of Rashida Jones’ Angie Tribeca, a wonderfully clever, gloriously silly show.  In my review of season one I compared Angie Tribeca to a modern-day version of Police Squad.  The show follows a team of homicide detectives but it’s not really a police procedural parody.  It’s more like the show uses the framework of a police procedural to cram in as many crazy, often-very-random jokes as humanly possible.  I loved that first season and so I was delighted that only a few months later a second ten-episode season was released on TBS.

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Unironic silliness can be hard to achieve, but Angie Tribeca nails it.  The show is a riot, chock full of absurdity and craziness, puns and sight-gags and slapstick and wordplay and lots more.  The jokes are piled high, with gags coming fast and furious.  This is a show that makes me laugh a lot.

Once again, Rashida Jones plays the titular Angie Tribeca, a Los Angeles homicide detective.  The whole gang from season one is back, including Hayes MacArthur as Angie’s partner Giles, Jere Burns as their boss (and my favorite character on the show) Lt. Atkins, Deon Cole as DJ Tanner (a great Full House joke), Andree Vermeulen as medical examiner Dr. Scholls (come on, all of these character names are so great!), and Alfred Molina as Dr. Edelweiss.

Rashida Jones is, as always, terrific in the lead role.  Alfred Molina’s one-scene-per-episode is always a highlight, allowing the great Mr. Molina to act increasingly crazy to enormous comedic effect.  I commented above that Jere Burns as Lt. Atkins is my favorite character on the show, and though he has fierce competition from Mr. Molina’s Dr. Edelweiss, I stand by that assessment.  I have fallen in love with Mr. Burns’ crazy deadpan, half-yelling delivery.  It’s amazing.

Season two had an incredible parade of amazing comedic guest stars.  Jon Hamm, Busy Phillips, Heather Graham, Mary McCormack, Maya Rudolph, Newsradio’s Vicki Lewis, Saul Rubinek, and many more familiar faces all appear in season two and are so, so funny.  I also have to highlight Noah Wylie and Eriq La Salle, who pop up in a brilliant E.R. reunion in “Organ Trail.”  But my favorite cameo of the season has to be Kevin Pollak’s appearance as the punchline to a brilliant A Few Good Men joke in “Beach Blanket Sting-O.”

Whereas all ten episodes in season one were pretty much stand-alone installments, here in season two they have opted for a different tack.  Each episode does still have it’s own distinct, usually outlandish murder investigation, but the whole season is linked together by several running story-lines, including Angie’s split from Giles (and a … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Angie Tribeca Season One

Considering that TBS decided to air all ten episodes of the first season of Angie Tribeca on one single day back in January, I suspect the network doesn’t have great confidence in this show.  That’s a huge mistake, because Angie Tribeca is a delight, a relentlessly silly show that is the best heir to Police Squad that I have ever seen.

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Rashida Jones stars as the titular Angie, a no-nonsense detective in the Los Angeles RHCU (Really Heinous Crimes Unit).  Angie Tribeca could be described as a parody of detective TV shows.  In some ways it is, but the show takes the very interesting and rewarding approach of aiming its comedy less towards being an incisive parody of the particular tropes of detective shows and more at just being very silly and random.  The show is stuffed with bizarre sight-gags and word-play, with jokes ranging from the very juvenile to the very clever.  The best comparison to the show’s humor truly is the classic Police Squad and the Naked Gun movies that show spawned.

One of my favorite jokes from the whole first season, and one that gives a great sense of the tone of the show, is a gag from the pilot episode in which Angie warns a suspect, played by Gary Cole, not to do anything stupid.  The camera then cuts to Mr. Cole’s character sticking a metal fork into a toaster.  You’ll know right away if this show is for you by whether that moment in the first episode makes you laugh.  It certainly cracked me up something fierce.

I quickly found myself quite taken with this show’s particular brand of humor.  I think it’s rather unusual for TV comedy today.  Created by Steve Carell and Nancy Walls Carell, Angie Tribeca embraces the silly in a way that really tickled me, and that I found quite endearing.

The show is a lovely showcase for Rashida Jones, who mostly plays the straight-person in the midst of chaos, a role she is able to handle with gusto.  My favorite of her supporting characters is her intense police captain, Atkins, played by Jere Burns.  (I recognized Mr. Burns’ face but when I looked at his imdb page, though he’s been in a lot of stuff I didn’t think I’d ever seen any of it.  Then I realized he played Jesse’s Narcotics Anonymous group leader on Breaking Bad, and I was floored because that was such a completely different role.)  I don’t quite know why but pretty much every single one of Mr. Burns’ slightly-yelled line-deliveries here on Angie Tribeca got me giggling.  I also really enjoyed the great Alfred Molina as medical examiner Dr. Edelweiss, a character who every time … [continued]

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Josh Bids Farewell to Parks and Recreation

Last week Parks and Recreation signed off after seven pretty fantastic seasons.  I can’t believe how sad I am that the show is over.  It has hugely grown on me over the years, to the point that it is now one of my very favorite TV comedies of all time.

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I barely made it through Parks and Rec’s first six-episode season.  It launched back when the American version of The Office was in its prime, so I was excited to see what had originally begun as an Office spin-off.  What aired was not a direct spin-off of The Office (Rashida Jones transitioned from The Office to Parks and Rec, but she was playing a new character), though both shows felt cut from the same cloth.  Both used the fake-documentary style, and both focused on a clueless main character who was a source of ridicule for his/her co-workers and the audience.  I was not taken with the new show.  The episodes were more painful to watch than they were funny.

But then, interestingly, Parks and Rec made exactly the same type of course-correction that The Office did after its first sub-par six-episode season.  The tone of the comedy shifted from laughter centered around awkward/painful moments to more heartfelt humor.  More importantly, they shifted the character of Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope from someone who was pathetic and socially oblivious and pretty much a failure to someone who was actually damn good at her job.  She was still something of a weirdo and a social outcast, but suddenly we liked Leslie because of her incredible good nature and her drive to do good.  Leslie’s force of personality began to cause her co-workers to look up to her, rather than ridiculing her, and just like that the seeds for the show’s magic were sown.  In the early first-season episodes we’d hear Leslie describe her aspirations of being a great leader who would stand with the great women of the planet, and those dreams were pathetic because of how inconsequential Leslie actually was.  But gradually those dreams became to seem not nearly so far-fetched, and we the audience saw Leslie as easily standing among those great women she idolized, even though she just worked in the parks department of a small Indiana town.

The season two premiere was an immediate and powerful announcement of the show that Parks and Rec could be.  Leslie performs a fake marriage of two penguins at the Pawnee Zoo as a stunt to promote the zoo, only to cause a huge uproar because it turns out both the penguins were male, and thus Leslie had performed a gay marriage.  It’s such a great hook for the episode, and immediately … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Celeste and Jesse Forever

September 24th, 2012
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What a fantastically enjoyable surprise this little movie was!  A romantic (but not really romantic) drama that is very funny (but which I wouldn’t really call a comedy), Celeste and Jesse Forever is a wonderful little film for adults.  It’s somewhat raunchy and juvenile but also remarkably sophisticated and unexpected, eschewing the usual romantic comedy formula for something a little messier, a little rougher-around-the-edges.  I loved it!

The film was written by Rashida Jones (who made her bones on The Office and is now a part of the spectacular ensemble on Parks and Recreation) and her friend Will McCormack (check out this article that explores the pair’s relationship, much of which served as an inspiration for the film’s story), and stars Ms. Jones as the titular Celeste and SNL’s Andy Samberg as Jesse.

Rashida Jones was instantly terrific on The Office, and she’s been pretty great in some supporting film roles recently (such as I Love You, Manclick here for my review, and My Idiot Brotherclick here for my review), so it’s great fun to see her take a leading role.  She’s spectacular, able to be extremely funny while also able to absolutely convincingly sell the film’s dramatic moments.  But she’s been great in everything I just mentioned, so this isn’t a huge surprise.  What is a surprise is how fantastic Andy Samberg is.  Of course it was clear he could be funny, but I think he gives a terrific performance creating a very fleshed-out character in Jesse.  He knows when to flash his huge grin, but he dials back his zaniness to just the right level, creating a character who is a lovable goofball but very much a human being.  When it comes to the dramatic moments, he’s every bit Ms. Jones’ equal.  I love their chemistry in the film — I could watch these two actors play off of one another all day long.  There are some early moments between the two that are so funny (their weird German-accented menu-reading, and of course their off-color lip-balm routine) that it’s pretty impossible not to buy into the idea that these two are soul-mates, made for one another.  Which of course is the point.  Which makes the fact that the film is all about their NOT being together all the more agonizing.  Which, again, is sort of the point.

Obviously I’m not going to spoil the ending (well, at least not before my big spoiler warning a few paragraphs from now), but I am not ruining anything to note that five minutes into the film we learn that Celeste and Jesse are very much not together as a couple.  What follows … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2011: Our Idiot Brother

In the film Our Idiot Brother, Paul Rudd plays the titular idiot, Ned Rochlin.  Ned is an extremely sweet, well-meaning goofball, but he has an uncanny knack for wreaking unintentional havoc on the lives of everyone he encounters — along with his own!  When we first meet him, he’s being busted for selling pot to a police officer — who solicited him IN UNIFORM!  It’s a great introduction to Ned, because not only do we see that he is pretty naive and clueless, but we also see clearly his inherent decency.  He takes pity on the officer who comes to him with a sob story of how tough his life has been, which is why Ned agrees to sell him some pot.  Paul Rudd brings his 100-watt smile and every ounce of his powerful likability to the role, and it’s a great fit for his particular charms and skilled comedic mannerisms.

But Our Idiot Brother isn’t just about Ned, the idiot.  It’s also about the “Our” in the title — that being Ned’s three sisters, played by Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer.  The three women are extraordinarily well-cast, and this assemblage of comedic and dramatic powerhouses is a huge part of what gives Our Idiot Brother it’s charm.

Elizabeth Banks plays Miranda.  She’s a fast-talking, city-living journalist for Vanity Fair. She’s struggling to make her breakthrough at the magazine, and isn’t above using some unscrupulous methods to do so.  She and her neighbor Jeremy (Adam Scott, so brilliant on Party Down and these days on Parks and Recreation) are clearly perfect for one another, though Ned is the only one of the three of them who can see that.  Zooey Deschanel plays Natalie, whose hippie lifestyle involves her living in a commune-style apartment with her girlfriend, Cindy (Rashida Jones, just as much fun and as brilliantly cast as the actresses playing the three sisters) and several other roommates.  Emily Mortimer plays Liz, a stay-at-home mom married to Dylan (Steve Coogan, with his smarminess turned up to eleven, which of course only makes him more entertaining), a documentary filmmaker who is cheating on her with the Russian dancer who is the subject of his latest film.

All three women (four, if you could Rashida Jones’ Cindy, and we really should) are fascinating, strong, sharply-drawn characters.  The film wouldn’t work if they weren’t as interesting as they all are.  These women are all fully-realized people, with strengths and flaws.  As Ned bounds into their lives, his unflinching honesty results, with unswerving consistency, in overturning the carefully-constructed patterns of each of their lives.

Our Idiot Brother is very funny, but there are dramatic aspects to the story as well, and director … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Social Network

It’s hard for me to a recall another film that has so bravely allowed its lead character to come off as so completely unlikable.  In The Social Network‘s power-house of a first scene, Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is clearly presented to us as a Grade-A, prime-cut jackass.  It’s a hell of a way to start a movie!

As you are all probably aware, this arrogant Harvard undergrad is the man who will go on to become the billionaire creator of Facebook.  Based on Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaire, The Social Network follows Mark from his days at Harvard through the world-wide explosion of Facebook and the eventual lawsuits brought against him by several former Harvard classmates, including the young man who had once been his closest friend.

There has been some questioning of the accuracy of The Social Network, but screenwriter Aaron Sorkin defends the film.  He told Entertainment Weekly: “If we know what brand of beer Mark was drinking on a Tuesday night in October seven years ago when there were only three other people in the room, it should tell you something about how close our research sources were to the subject and to the events.”  Producer Scott Rudin makes similar statements: “You can’t make untrue statements about someone without running the risk of getting sued.  Look around and notice that nobody has sued us.”

While of course I myself have no idea about whether events truly unfolded the way they are depicted in The Social Network, I can say that the film FEELS real to me.  All of the characters in the film — including Mark Zuckerberg — are depicted in a three-dimensional way.  There aren’t easy heroes and villains in the film — most of the characters seem likable and unlikable at different points in the narrative, just as real human beings are.  (This, to me, is in contrast to a film like A Beautiful Mind, in which it seemed so clear to me as a viewer that the filmmakers had shaved away any unlikable aspects to John Nash in order to create a more heroic lead for the film.)

But knowing that the parties involved strongly dispute just what went down over the course of the creation of Facebook, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin cleverly decided to embrace that ambiguity with the film’s structure.  As we watch events unfold chronologically, the film regularly cuts forward in time to the depositions in the two lawsuits eventually brought against Zuckerberg.  In those scenes, we see the participants debate and argue about the moments that we, the viewers, just saw occur.  This is a really smart way to allow the film … [continued]

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Josh Reviews I Love You, Man!

In I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, an LA real estate agent who discovers, after getting engaged to his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones), that he doesn’t really have any male friends he could ask to be his groomsmen.  With some help from Zooey and his brother Robbie (SNL‘s Andy Samberg), Peter embarks on a series on “man-dates” to try to find some guy friends.  After a bizarre but amusing encounter at one of his open houses, Peter strikes up a friendship with Sydney Fife (Jason Segal).  Not suprisingly, this new friendship quickly throws much of the rest of Peter’s life into disarray.

The success (and high quality — the two don’t always go hand-in-hand, you know!) of Judd Apatow’s films (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) have really sparked a wave of truly excellent comedies in a similar style.  But while these could have all wound up being pale imitations of Apatow’s films, it has been quite remarkable to see actors from his ensembles continue to work together and collaborate with other talented actors, writers, and directors to produce additional high quality films. I Love You, Man is certainly a prime example of this.

Directed by John Hamburg (who directed several episodes of Apatow’s brilliant TV series Undeclared, as well as the film Along Came Polly, which I must admit to having had no interest in seeing) and written by Hamburg and Larry Levin (who wrote the classic Keith Hernandez episode of Seinfeld, “The Boyfriend”), I Love You, Man feels very similar in tone to me to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was released last year at almost exactly this time, and which also starred Paul Rudd and Jason Segal.  (Sarah Marshall was produced by Judd Apatow, although I Love You, Man was not.)  Both films have a real sweetness to them, while also being uproariously funny.  That blend of sweetness with fierce comedy is, to me, a big part of what I referred to a moment ago as the “Apatow style.”  Another mark of that style is a loose, almost improvisational feel to a lot of the comedy and the dialogue (Paul Rudd’s lengthy, intensely hilarious riff on the phrase “slapping the bass” in I Love You, Man is a prime example of what I’m talking about).

Of course, a big part of the “Apatow style” has also been the growing ensemble of brilliant actors who have filled out his films.  Rudd and Segal have both appeared in many previous Apatow works (Segal was in Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, Rudd was in The 40 Year Old Virgin, and both appeared in Knocked Up), … [continued]