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

Ok, here we go!  I’m a bit later that usual launching my annual Best of the Year lists (I’ve been working on some illustration projects that have been taking up all of my free time — click on my updated portfolio page for a few teases, with more news hopefully coming in the next few months), but I’m here now and ready to go!

This annual list began as a Top Ten list and last year ballooned to a Top Twenty-Five!  This year it’s a Top 19.  What can I say, that’s a weird number, but there were 19 shows/episodes that I wanted to highlight!

I always begin these lists with a list of the shows I HADN’T watched but wanted to, and this year that list of shows I missed is longer than ever.  I mean, insanely long.  I keep a running list of shows that interest me and that I wanted to watch, and while I watch a lot of TV, I nevertheless wasn’t able to get to: Atlanta, Barry, Homecoming, Killing Eve, A Very English Scandal, Bodyguard, Bojack Horseman, The End of the F***ing World, Counterpart, American Vandal, Maniac, Patriot, Altered Carbon, The Expanse, and The Romanoffs.  Then there were the returning shows whose latest seasons I still haven’t found time to watch: Black Mirror season four (I watched the first few episodes but never finished), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season two, Legion season two, Westworld season two, Iron Fist season two, and Daredevil season three.  Aargh that is a lot of fantastic TV that I wasn’t able to see in 2018!!  I’m hoping to catch up with some of those shows in 2019… even though there are lots of new 2019 shows already out and/or coming soon (True Detective season three, the final episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, etc.)!!  Sigh.  The joys and pain of “Peak TV”.

But, OK, enough moaning, there WAS so much great TV that I DID see in 2018 and am so excited to celebrate.  Here we go:

19. The Simpsons: “My Way or the Highway to Heaven” (season thirty, episode three, aired on 10/14/18) — Wow!  For very first time since I started writing these lists a decade ago, The Simpsons makes an appearance!  I started watching The Simpsons a few episodes into season one, and I watched it religiously through around season 15, but then I drifted away.  I started watching again after The Simpsons Movie (which I loved) and watched for about half that season, but it didn’t hold my interest.  I’ve dipped back in occasionally over the past decade, but it wasn’t until this past year that I watched several episodes in a row that made me … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season Five!

I was somewhat late to the party with Silicon Valley, but I loved the show when I started watching it last year, and I quickly devoured the first four seasons.  I was so happy that I didn’t have too long to wait before season five.  As the season begins, the Pied Piper gang are hard at work on bringing Richard’s “new internet” idea to life, and they are once again locked in competition with Gavin Belson’s Hooli, who is working on a very different type of technology, Gavin’s “signature box 3”.

Season five of Silicon Valley represents an interesting point in the life of the show.  There was a comedic and creative spark to the first several seasons that isn’t quite present now — that joy of discovery of the “new” is gone now (at least for me), as the show has settled into a comfortable middle-age.  The narrative wheel-spinning is somewhat more pronounced than it was in the early years, as the show has to keep this gang of misfits struggling and failing (in order to preserve the basic set-up of the show), in a way that can feel somewhat frustrating after five years of watching these characters and wanting them to succeed.

On the other hand, this latest batch of eight episodes is fantastic, filled with some truly great and very funny comedic moments.  I love these characters at this point (even a “villain” like Gavin Belson), and it remains great fun to be in these characters’ company and to follow their continuing misadventures.  So while the show might not feel quite as fresh as it once did, there is clearly still plenty of comedic life left in this show and its premise and characters.

At only eight episodes long, season five of Silicon Valley is the shortest season since the first year (seasons two, three and four had ten episodes each), and so the season zips along at a fast clip and doesn’t outstay its welcome.  Quite the contrary, at the end of episode eight I was bummed that there weren’t more episodes to watch immediately!!

T.J. Miller was written off the show at the end of season four.  This concerned me when the news broke, as Mr. Miller had been a key member of the ensemble.  It’s usually a bad sign when main characters leave TV shows, “rats leaving a sinking ship” and all, and the show that remains is often not quite the same.  But I must say, while I loved Mr. Miller on this show, I didn’t miss him at all.  Season five still has a large and highly-skilled ensemble, and so there were plenty of characters and story-lines to more than carry … [continued]

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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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Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season Four

I was late to the party on Silicon Valley.  But once I watched season one earlier this year, I quickly fell in love and zoomed through season two (click here for my review) and season three (click here for my review).  This show is such a wonderful skewering of this very specific sub-culture, the tech start-up world in Silicon Valley, and it is so funny with such a magnificent ensemble of actors.

Season four started off just about as funny as the show has ever been.  I LOVED the idea of Dinesh stumbling his way into the position of C.E.O. of Pied Piper.  What a wonderful way to showcase the great Kumail Nanjiani!  The only thing funnier than watching Dinesh achieve power and success was watching him lose it all.  That scene in which Dinesh realizes the magnitude of the trouble he’s in, all the while we keep hearing the sound-effect in the background of new (under-age) people signing onto the app was a highlight of the series for me.

But something went awry in the season’s back half, and in the end I found that season four was the least satisfying season of the show for me.  My main complaint was the dark turn that Richard’s character took.  I understand that in a TV show they need to find new and interesting things for characters to do.  I am OK with characters changing, and I am OK with characters making bad decisions.  But Richard is supposed to be the main “every-man” character on the show who we are rooting for.  Watching him turn nasty and unpleasant, willing to lie and to push away his friends in order to succeed, was unpleasant.  I think it was an unfortunate misstep for the show to take.  It curdled the comedy for me; I couldn’t believe there was a stretch in which I didn’t find Silicon Valley to be all that funny!

I commented in my review of season three that Silicon Valley was keeping its characters in the status quo, but was doing so in so entertaining a way that I didn’t mind.  Well, a few episodes into season four, I found I was starting to mind.  Four seasons into the show, it started to seem silly to me that the Pied Piper gang couldn’t seem to succeed at anything, that they were all still living and working in Ehrlich’s house, etc.  There were lots of great new ideas in season four that I loved, such as Dinesh as C.E.O., or Richard and Gavin working together on a new project, but the show seemed to toss away those new ideas way too quickly.  I’d have preferred had … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season Three

I really loved the first two seasons of Silicon Valley, a show chronicling the long road that a young engineer Richard Hendricks and his team of co-workers and friends face in trying to successfully navigate the business and technological challenges of creating and successfully releasing their new platform. (Click here for my review of season one, and here for my review of season two.)  Season three sees the show continuing to operate in peak form.  (Yes, I know I am still behind — season four aired this past spring — but I am working to get caught up!)  If anything, Silicon Valley has gotten even better as we have spent more time with Ricard and the Pied Piper team. The show remains extremely funny and clever, and with a short season of only ten half-hour episodes, it never overstays its welcome.

Once again this season puts Richard and his friends and co-workers through a roller-coaster ride of small successes and huge failures.  It’s always one step forward and two steps back with this crew and this show.  It can be a bit frustrating at times for the audience, since by this point we’ve grown to love these characters and want to see them succeed.  But the show is so consistently funny that it’s hard to complain.  Plus, watching these bumbling nerds on their Sisyphian journey is what this show is all about!

Stephen Tobolowsky’s “Action” Jack Barker was a phenomenal addition to the show’s cast this season.  Jack provided a great new foil for Richard.  I loved seeing how the show tweaked its own status quo by installing Jack as the new C.E.O. and nemesis for Richard; briefly moving the gang out of Ehrlich’s house and into spacious new offices; and setting up Jack’s “box” scheme as something for the Pied Piper folks to struggle against.  These were great story-lines that kept the Piep Piper team as underdogs while allowing the show to explore some different situations.

The show’s main ensemble was running on all cylinders at this point.  Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani and Zach Woods are a murderers row of incredible actors and comedians.  They own these characters at this point, and each had plenty of opportunities to shine in season three.  I was a little disappointed that season 2 seemed to sideline Amanda Crew’s character Monica, and so I was glad that she was a little more involved here in season three.  (Though I am intrigued as to why the show’s creators seem to have dropped any hint of a romantic attraction between Richard and Monica.  I thought that was a sweet aspect of season one, but it’s vanished from season … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season Two!

I am way behind on Silicon Valley (which is currently airing its fourth season), but after watching season one last month, I quickly plowed ahead into season two.  I’m pleased at how smoothly the show entered its second season, maintaining an impressive consistency with the great season one.  This show is every bit as funny, fascinating, and filled with hilarious and painful frustrations for all of its characters as it was in its terrific initial season.

Season two picks up right after Pied Piper’s unexpected victory in “Tech Crunch” at the end of season one.  While that victory saved the company, that burst of success has quickly led to scores of new problems.  With Peter Gregory’s passing, Richard and his team have to look elsewhere for funding, which is how they find themselves in bed with the fast-talking, self-centered, expensive-car-driving Russ Hanneman.  Meanwhile, Hooli C.E.O. Gavin Belson sues Richard, claiming that Richard developed Pied Piper while still working for Hooli and that, as such, Hooli owns Richard’s compression algorithm.

Season two is a blast, hugely funny and filled with lots of great moments.  It’s also heartbreaking, as we watch Richard and his well-meaning group of friends and co-workers at Pied Piper running up against hurdle after hurdle after hurdle.  Season two makes clear that one of the main themes of the show is about how almost-impossible it is to actually succeed at creating a new tech start-up.  Far from idealizing this process, the meat of the show’s story-telling comes from exploring the many agonies and humiliations that anyone pursuing this goal has to go through.  It’s tough to watch how Richard’s every little victory soon turns into an even larger problem, but this is a central aspect of the show’s story-telling.

The death of actor Christopher Evan Welch, who played Pied Piper’s financial backer Peter Gregory in season one, was a huge loss to the show, and in my review of season one I wondered at how the show would replace him.  At first, in season two, it seemed that they chose to replace him by creating a female version of him: Laurie Bream (Suzanne Cryer).  Ms. Bream seemed to be just as socially awkward and abrupt as Peter Gregory was.  It made for some very funny scenes, but I admit to being somewhat disappointed that the show would replace the great character of Peter Gregory with one so similar.  I wonder if the show-runners had the same realization, because while at first it seemed that Laurie Bream would step right into Peter Gregory’s role in the show, the third episode introduced Chris Diamantopoulos as Russ Hanneman, a very different type of boss for Richard and co.  While Russ at … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season One!

Quite a few friends have recommended Silicon Valley to me, but for one reason or another it took me a while to find the time to start watching the show.  I am sorry I waited so long, because now I am hooked!

Silicon Valley.season 1.cropped

Created by Mike Judge (Office Space), John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, the series follows the trials and tribulations of a group of Silicon Valley programmers involved in a small start-up company.  Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) is a small fry working for a huge Google-like company called Hooli.  Like many in Silicon Valley, in his side time Richard is working on an app, which he calls Pied Piper.  It’s intended as a music app, but in creating it Richard has also created a potentially revolutionary compression algorithm.  This attracts the interest of Hooli founder Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), who offers Richard ten million dollars for his app.  It also attracts the interest of venture capitalist Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), who offers Richard a much-smaller $200,000 investment in exchange for a five-percent ownership in Pied Piper.  Richard passes on the easy money from Gavin and takes Peter Gregory’s offer, excited by the chance to build his own company.  As the series progresses, we see Richard discover that it’s a lot harder than he thinks.

I love shows and movies that explore a particular sub-culture, and Silicon Valley is a wonderful exploration of the intersection of technology and business in this particular corner of the U.S.  This is a show that I suspect people who really know this world will dig for its attention to detail, while also being completely accessible to anyone (like me) who doesn’t know much of anything about this sort of thing.

The show is fantastic, absolutely hilarious and filled with wonderful, compelling characters.  Every member of the ensemble could carry his/her own show.  As Pied Piper’s nervous, frazzled new C.E.O., Thomas Middleditch is fantastic.  I could see a less interesting version of this show in which Richard was the straight person, surrounded by all the weirdos he has to work and live with.  But Mr. Judge & co., along with Mr. Middleditch, have made Richard just as interestingly flawed and bizarre as all the other characters in the show!  But, importantly, they’ve also given him an honesty and a earnestness that makes you want to root for this character.

T. J. Miller (Cloverfield, Deadpool, Office Christmas Party) goes big, and then bigger, as Erlich, the blustery, full-of-himself owner of the incubator where Richard and his co-workers live and work.  Erlich got rich when his own app was sold for millions, and so now he fancies himself as a wise mentor … [continued]