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Josh Reviews The Good Place: Season Two

I didn’t watch the first season of The Good Place last year.  But when season two began in the fall, I wondered, why am I not watching this new show by Mike Schur, who has been behind so many other great shows that I have loved (particularly Parks and Recreation)??  So I went back and started streaming season one, and I immediately fell in love with this wonderful comedic creation.  I tore through season one and loved every minute.  That first season’s delicious twist ending was fantastic, and made me so happy that I wouldn’t have to wait a year before watching season two!  I am pleased that the second season was just as fantastic as that first year.  The Good Place is easily one of my very favorite shows currently on TV.

So much of season one was structured to build up to that wonderful twist at the end of the year.  And so I had to wonder, would the new season be able to top that?  What would the show look like now that we knew the truth behind the situation that Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) had found themselves in?

This post-twist season two could have easily felt like a let-down, but the miracle of what Mr. Schur and his collaborators have created here is that, post-twist, this second season wound up feeling even more fun and crazy than ever before!  This season burnt through plot like few shows I have ever seen — in this respect, it reminded me of Breaking Bad in its prime.  Eleanor and co. figured out what was up with Michael’s “reboot” of the Good Place by the end of the two-part season premiere, while the second episode (the best episode of the season — it made my “Best TV of 2017” list) burnt through hundreds of years of in-show continuity!!  While season one was a slow burn building up to that end-of-the-year twist, season two was a fast-paced roller-coaster, in which the show completely transformed itself almost every single episode.

That amazing second episode, “Dance Dance Resolution,” showed just how daring and inventive Mr. Schur and his writers were capable of being. I think it was that episode, even more than Michael’s laugh at the end of season one, that sealed my love for this show.

The main ensemble continued to be just as fantastic in season one as they were in season two.  Ted Danson continues to prove how effortlessly incredible he is.  This man is a master of the sitcom form.  He allows Michael to be both villainous and empathetic, and oh-so funny.  It’s fantastic work.  Michael has … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017 — Part Five!

And so, we arrive, at last, at My Five Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  (Click here for part one of my list, click here for part two, click here for part three, and click here for part four.)

5. Brockmire: “Rally Cap” (season one, episode one, aired on 4/5/17) — We enter my TOP FIVE with what is probably my favorite new show of 2017, Brockmire.  Hank Azaria stars in the role he was born to play as Jim Brockmire, a disgraced, alcoholic former baseball announcer hired to do play-by-play for a tiny minor league baseball team in a small, middle-American town.  This is a brilliant comedic set-up, and Hank Azaria bites into the role of the brash, profane, and deeply broken Brockmire with aplomb.  Mr. Azaria can make anything sound funny with his “baseball announcer” voice, but the miracle of the show is how they are able to slowly craft Brockmire into a fully-realized character, not just a one-dimensional punchline.  Amanda Peet has perfect chemistry with Mr. Azaria as Jules, the baseball-loving team owner who hired Brockmire.  Every single one of their scenes together is dynamite.  I almost put episode six, “Road Trip,” on this list, for the insane and hysterical scene in which Brockmire accidentally snorts Jules’ abortion pill, but in the end I had to go with this first episode, which was a note-perfect introduction to these characters and this world.  It also contains the moment which made me laugh harder than almost anything else I saw on TV in 2017: a drunken Brockmire’s post-it-note suicide letter, which he asks Jules to give to his ex-wife who humiliated him (“She’ll know what it’s in regards to”).  It was very dark and jaw-droppingly hilarious.  I loved it.  (Click here for my full review of Brockmire season one.)

4. The Good Place: “Michael’s Gambit” (season one, episode thirteen, aired on 1/19/17) — Far too many TV shows these days are built around twists or “surprises” that the audience figures out way before the show wants us to, resulting in disappointing and anticlimactic story-telling.  So bravo to Parks and Recreation’s Michael Schur for crafting this incredible first season of The Good Place, which culminated in this staggeringly good twist that reshaped everything we thought we knew about the show.  The first season of The Good Place was fantastic even before the twist (which is where most shows built around twists fail), and it holds up marvelously well even when you know the twist, because of how perfectly everything fits together (which is where most OTHER shows built around twists fail!).  I loved this season from start to finish, but it was … [continued]

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I have been reviewing My Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  Click here for part one, and here for part two.  And now, onward to part three:

15. The Tick: “Party Crashers” (season one, episode four, released on 8/25/17) — Just as Arthur is getting drawn deeper in the world of super-heroes (embodied by the Tick and the vigilante Overkill) and super-villains (Miss Lint and the Terror), he has to attend his step-father’s birthday party in the suburbs.  Of course, both the Tick and Miss Lint crash the party, and the result is the comedic highlight of this very funny first batch of episodes.  Peter Serafinowicz is amazing as the Tick, and he’s particularly funny when placed into the very non-superhero-like setting of a birthday party in the suburbs.  This was also the episode in which I fell in love with the beleaguered former super-villain hench-woman Miss Lint.  (The scenes with her ex-husband Derek, with whom she is apparently still sharing an apartment, were so funny.)  Miss Lint is the best new character in this version of The Tick.  I was also so happy to see François Chau (Pierre Chang from Lost!) as Arthur’s stepfather Walter.  I have loved The Tick since its humble beginnings as an independently published black-and-white comic book in the eighties, through all three (!) of its TV incarnations.  This Netflix version might be the best one yet — if your’e not watching it (and most of you aren’t), you should remedy that immediately.  (Click here for my full review of The Tick: season one, part one.)

14. The Good Place: “Dance Dance Resolution” (season two, episode two, aired on 9/28/17) — The season finale of The Good Place’s first season (which, ahem, I will discuss in detail later on in this list) upended the show’s status quo in a magnificent and surprising way.  I thought that meant that the second season would tell a similar, season-long story in this new set-up, but this second episode of season two threw that all out the window in a spectacularly audacious manner.  I am reluctant to say too much, because if you haven’t yet seen this show I don’t want to spoil any of the fantastic surprises that await you.  Let me say that this wonderfully insane episode takes place over the course of hundreds of years and demonstrated that this is a show in which anything can happen, one in which the writers will fearlessly take the characters and the show in dramatically new directions when you least expect it.  Narratively bold and, as always, absolutely fall-on-the-floor funny (I laughed so hard at Michael’s description that the time when even Jason was … [continued]

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I am super-late putting together my Best of 2017 lists — sorry about that!  I’ve been so busy that I wanted a chance to see a few more 2017 shows and movies, and indeed in the past few weeks I have been able to catch up with some terrific entertainment that wound up making it onto my lists.  But as we’ve gotten deeper into January I’ve had to accept that there is way more great stuff than I’ll ever have time to get to, and I didn’t want to wait any longer to get these lists out into the world.

And so, buckle up!  Let’s begin with my Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!

When I began making these lists, I did this as a Top Ten.  But in today’s era of Peak TV, this has ballooned to a Top Twenty-Five!!  Wowsers!  My apologies!  Is this indulgent?  Well, yes, but there is so much great TV out there that this could have easily been a Top Fifty!!  I tried to limit myself to just one episode from every TV show I loved — though there are a few shows for which I couldn’t resist including two episodes.

Even with a list this long, there were other shows that I quite enjoyed this year that didn’t make the cut, including: Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later, Vice Principals, Orange is the New Black, and American Gods.  I have loved Seth Myers’ “A Closer Look” segments this year, and I wish I’d had a spot to highlight those.  And if this had been a Top Twenty-Six, that slot would have gone to the Star Wars Rebels episode “Twin Suns” (season three, episode twenty, aired on 3/18/17), in which the show visited Tatooine and a pre-Star Wars, in-hiding Obi-Wan Kenobi for an emotional final confrontation with Darth Maul (a character who had been resurrected and surprisingly well-developed by the previous animated Clone Wars series).  It’s an essential piece of the larger Star Wars story that also, stunningly, puts a fascinating new spin on all of that “Chosen One” nonsense from the Prequels.

Reading this lengthy list, you might think that I watched a lot of TV in 2017 — and you’d be right!  But in this era of Peak TV, there are still a LOT of interesting-looking shows that I did not get to this year (and that I hope to catch up with eventually!), including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (which I am actually watching now, and loving), The Handmaid’s Tale, The Leftovers, Halt and Catch Fire, Mindhunters, Fargo season 3, Bojack Horseman, Rick and Morty, Review, Glow, Veep, and I am sure there are lots more … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews The Good Place Season One!

I’m a big fan of Michael Schur.  He was involved with the American version of The Office and he created (with Greg Daniels) and ran Parks and Recreation, which is an amazing TV show that I loved dearly, and created (with Daniel Goor) and ran Brooklyn 99, a very funny show that, while it’s not genius-level TV, is consistently funny and joyous.  So why didn’t I watch The Good Place, the new show created by Mr. Schur, when it premiered on NBC last year?  I’m not entirely sure!  I think there was something about its bright, primary-color color palette that rubbed me the wrong way when I saw glimpses of the show in previews; and I think I am somewhat mistrustful of new shows anchored by big-time stars (in this case, Ted Danson and Kristen Bell).  But when the second season premiered a few weeks ago, I said to my wife, what are we doing??  Why have we not even tried this new show by the guy who made these other shows we loved?  So we decided to watch the first episode on Netflix, and a few days later found we’d sped through the entire thirteen-episode first season.  What a great show this is!

When the show begins, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), awakens in the afterlife.  She is relieved to be informed by Michael (Ted Danson), that she is in “the Good Place.”  But while Eleanor’s name is indeed Eleanor Shellstrop, she is not the saint that Michael seems to think she is — she has somehow been brought to the Good Place by mistake!

I really enjoyed this show.  Like most of Mr. Schur’s prior work it is very funny, very clever, and with a sense of optimism and sunniness that I find to be extremely endearing.

The show is very clever, with an impressive attention to detail.  I loved all of the worldbuilding that we were given in season one, as Mr. Schur and his team fleshed out this afterlife and how everything worked.  Most impressively, none of this felt like chunky exposition.  The show always found fun, character-based ways to explore this world and to answer questions that we the audience might not have even realized we had.

The Good Place strikes a great balance between episodic and serialized.  Each episode successfully stands on its own and tells a complete story.  But most episodes end with a wonderful cliffhanger that made me eager to move on to the next episode.  This was a fun show to binge-watch!  Mr. Schur and his team have impressively solved the problems that beset so many serialized shows these days.  I was delighted to discover the shape of the full story … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Bored to Death Season 3!

Last year my wife and I discovered the brilliant HBO series Bored to Death… just as the news broke that it had been cancelled.  Aaargh!  We tore through seasons one and two on DVD (click here for my review of season one, and here for my review of season two), and then had to wait impatiently for season three to be released on disc.  I am pleased to report that season three is just as terrifically entertaining as seasons one and two!

The lamentably now-cancelled Bored to Death was an HBO series starring Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson as three Brooklyn-dwelling friends.  Jason Schwartzman is Jonathan Ames (named after the show’s creator and show-runner), a lonely not-that-successful writer who finds that he has tremendous passion (and a surprising amount of success) as a private eye.  Zach Galifianakis is his friend Ray, a socially awkward (even more than Jonathan) comic book artist.  Ted Danson is Jonathan’s other close friend and father figure, the wealthy, pot-smoking, good-times-loving George Christopher.  All three actors are phenomenal in their roles, but it has always been the incredible joie de vivre that Ted Danson brings to his performance as George Christopher that I have loved the most.  It seems sacrilegious to say this, but despite Mr. Danson’s so famously playing Sam Malone for a decade on Cheers, I think George Christopher might be his very best role.  That Bored to Death, starring these three comedic masterminds (all of whom are pretty big stars in their own right), did not attract a wider audience is something of an enigma to me.

The chemistry between these three men has always been the strength of Bored to Death, and one of my favorite things about season three of the series is that the writers no longer had to concoct convoluted reasons for Ray and George Christopher to get involved in Jonathan’s cases.  No, at this point in the series, both Ray and George Christopher know all about Jonathan’s private eye work, and they both get the same thrill out of being involved in his on-the-edge-of-dangerous cases as Jonathan does.  So the three main characters are all able to be involved together in Jonathan’s cases this season, which leads to a whole lot of fun with the characters.  Bored to Death is at its best when the three leads are together in scenes, bouncing off of one another, and season three has plenty of opportunities for that.

There are some great new story-lines in this final season.  George Christopher decides to open a restaurant (shades of Ted Danson’s involvement in opening a restaurant with Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm’s season three!) … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Bored to Death Season 2

After tearing through the first season of HBO’s Bored to Death on DVD (click here for my review), my wife and I couldn’t wait to jump into season 2.  I’m pleased to say the second season was just as much fun as the first!

Picking up just a few months after the end of season one, Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) is still a writer living in Brooklyn who also works as an unlicensed Private Eye (getting clients from his ad on Craigslist).  Though season one ended triumphantly, things have taken something of a turn for the worst for our three heroes here at the start of season two.  Jonathan’s book was rejected by his publisher, and he’s had to take work as a night-school writing teacher (which seems like a drag, though Jonathan seems to enjoy the chance to teach and perhaps inspire other young writers).  Leah (Heather Burns) has broken up with Ray (Zach Galifianakis).  And George (Ted Danson)’s magazine has been bought by a right-wing Christian company, and he’s begun to find himself more and more marginalized by the new management.

The season kicks off with a bang, as the first episode “Escape From the Dungeon!” is absolutely hysterical and showcases everything that is great about the show.  I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the fun, but suffice it to say that the adventure culminates in Jonathan’s having to interrupt George’s meeting with his new Christian parent company while dressed in a full-body black-leather S & M “gimp” suit.  But that’s not even the funniest part!  No, that comes when George leads Jonathan out of the meeting, down the hall to his office (where he hopes to find some tools to help Jonathan out of the S & M suit he’s been locked into), and the two men hold hands while walking down the hallway.  There’s something so funny and so wonderfully sweet about that tiny moment, so in contrast to the insane circumstance we’re watching.  It’s just brilliant.

The rest of the season continues strongly from there.  You’ve gotta love these HBO short seasons — at only eight episodes long, there’s no filler.  Each of the episodes is very strong, filled with great moments.

I was a bit surprised at the show’s slight step into more-serious ground with a subplot in which George is diagnosed with prostate cancer.  It occasionally makes it a bit difficult to enjoy all the fun, but the storyline gives Ted Danson even more room to show just what a phenomenal actor he is.  There’s a scene, late in the season, in which he expresses his fear about the way he could just be “turned off” like a light-switch that is absolutely … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Bored to Death Season 1!

What a terrific show!

I feel like I’ve been discovering a wealth of TV show genius on DVD recently: Party Down (click here for my review of season 1, and here for my review of season 2), Louie (click here for my review of season 1), Boardwalk Empire (I am making my way through season 1) and now Bored to Death!

Created by Jonathan Ames (who also wrote or co-wrote all of the episodes), the series stars Jason Schwartzman as a fictionalized Jonathan Ames, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson.  The trio are marvelous, and the wonderful way those three marvelous actors inhabit their three characters, and the way the three totally different men are drawn together over the course of the season provides the heart of the show and the main reason why I found it so enjoyable.

Jason Schwartzman plays Jonathan Ames.  Like the show’s creator with the same name, he is a writer living in Brooklyn.  Unlike the show’s creator, boredom crossed with a mounting desperation at his inability to start work on his second novel prompts this Jonathan Ames to post an ad on Craigslist advertising himself as an unlicensed detective.  To his surprise, he begins getting calls from people asking for his help.  To his even greater surprise, he finds himself throughly enjoying this new persona he’s able to create for himself, and the fact that, in his bumbling way, he’s actually passably good at being a Private Eye!

Ted Danson plays Jonathan’s mentor, George Christopher.  The wealthy, dapper George is the editor of a prominent New York Magazine.  I was blown away by Mr. Danson’s performance — he might be my very favorite aspect of this series.  I of course loved Mr. Danson’s work on Cheers back in the day, and more recently he’s been entertainingly acerbic on Curb Your Enthusiasm.  But, hang onto your butts, George Christopher may just be his best role.  Am I overstating things?  Well, probably.  But Mr. Danson is lovable and hysterical as George, a man who is on the one hand at the height of the New York City intellectual elite, but also incredibly childish — innocent and filled with child-like glee at everything that Jonathan is involved in.  Mr. Danson brings incredible joie de vivre to every scene he plays, and it’s quite beguiling.

The final third of this trifecta is made up of Zach Galifianakis as Ray, Jonathan’s schlubby comic book artist Ray.  Ray is as much a man-child as George (and, I suppose, as Jonathan himself), though far less successful, and with far less self-confidence.  Where George is suave, Ray is a bull in a china shop.  But he, too, … [continued]

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“Sorry, we’re closed” — Josh’s Favorite TV Series Finales!

As I prepare for this weekend’s series finale of Battlestar Galactica (and contemplate life without that brilliant show, one of the greatest of the last two decades), I’ve been thinking about some of the great series finales of the recent past.  Here are some of my favorites, counting down from ten!

10.  Cheers — “One For the Road” — Diane Chambers (Shelly Long) returns in an attempt to re-kindle her romance with Sam (Ted Danson) in this extra-long finale.  To be honest, it’s been years since I’ve seen this one, but my recollection is of really enjoying it.  Bringing back Shelly Long, who was pretty much the star of the show (along with Danson) for the first half of its run, was a brilliant idea.  And the final scene is perfect — Sam waving away a customer while saying “sorry, we’re closed.”  Sniff!

9.  Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — “What You Leave Behind” — I am giving props here to the entire 10-hour, 9-episode “final chapter” of this, the greatest of the Star Trek series.  The show finally becomes what it has always flirted with: a true serial, as seven seasons worth of storylines come to fruition over the course of this magnificent final epic run of episodes.  The Dominion War escalates, a secret section of Starfleet’s complicity in attempted genocide is revealed, and Captain Benjamin Sisko must finally fulfill his destiny as Emissary of the Prophets (a story thread begun in the series’ pilot episode). The show was notable for its enormous cast of recurring characters, and everyone gets his/her due here (with quite a number of popular characters meeting their demise!).  The show gets bumped down a bit on my list because the actual final two-hour episode isn’t quite as great as the episodes leading up to it (it looks like they used up their special effects budget, as one of the major battle sequences is composed almost entirely of recycled footage, something that eagle-eyed fans like me noticed).  Still, the melancholy tone (so unusual for a Trek series) and the sad, final shot of Jake Sisko looking out the window for his lost father as the camera pulls back and the station slowly fades away into the blackness of space is just perfection.

8.  Justice League Unlimited — “Destroyer” — Classic DC Comics villain Darkseid launches a full-scale invasion of Earth, and even the combined might of practically every character (hero & villain) who ever appeared on this amazing animated show are powerless to stop him.  In an epic battle atop the ruins of the Daily Planet building, Superman ultimately falls before the might of Darkseid.  (That sequence, by the way, is a showcase for the … [continued]