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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]