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Josh Reviews The Daily Show (The Book)

May 10th, 2017

It would be difficult to overstate my love for Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.  Week in and week out, for years, I turned to Jon Stewart and The Daily Show for edification and humor.  (It’s no coincidence that I continually kept putting The Daily Show atop my annual lists of the best television of the year.)  My first thought after most major news stories became: I can’t wait to see what Jon Stewart is going to do with this.  I know I’m not alone in that.  Mr. Stewart’s show was one of the most important television shows of the past several decades.  I don’t think I am exaggerating to state that not only did it shape the comedy world, but that it also helped shape our political discourse.  (There were plenty of times when I wish that Mr. Stewart’s point of view had been MORE impactful on the American political situation, but that says more about the sad state of our politics than it does about Mr. Stewart and his program.)

Chris Smith’s The Daily Show (The Book) is an extraordinary retelling of the history of The Daily Show.  The book begins with a prologue recap of The Daily Show’s conception and launch on Comedy Central, with Craig Kilborn as host and Lizz Winstead at the helm.  But then Mr. Kilborn signed with CBS, and the book picks up the story on page one with the courting and eventual hiring of Jon Stewart.  (Jon: “At the time, I was obviously making my mark in such films as Wishful Thinking and Dancing with Architecture, or Dancing About…  Oh, no.  They ended up calling it something else.  Playing by Heart, I think it was.”)  The book then meticulously charts Mr. Stewart’s subsequent eighteen years as host of The Daily Show. 

The book is told in an oral history format.  So rather than Mr. Smith’s summarizing his interviews in his own words, the book presents the commentary and recollections of everyone he spoke to in their own words, with only the very occasional piece of narrative connective tissue inserted to give some context to what is being discussed.  This format works spectacularly well.  Mr. Smith has done an extraordinary job, collecting new interviews with a staggering array of the men and women involved with The Daily Show over the years in all capacities.  We hear from literally every single person you would want to hear from in a project like this.  We hear from the correspondents, we hear from various guests, we hear from the writers and production staff, we hear from the leadership of Comedy Central, and on and on.  And, most importantly, at every point in the story, we … [continued]

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I hope you’ve all been enjoying my journey back through the great TV of 2014!  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, the conclusion.  Here are my five favorite episodes of TV of 2014:


5. Sherlock: “The Sign of Three” (season 3, episode 2, aired on 1/5/14) — Each hour-and-a-half-long installment of the BBC’s brilliant Sherlock series is an event in and of itself, as each episode is really it’s own movie.  All three episodes of the show’s third season (or series, as those in the U.K. prefer) were strong, but it was the middle one, “The Sign of Three,” with which I was particularly taken.  The set-up is pure gold: it’s John (Martin Freeman) and Mary’s wedding, and Sherlock Holmes is the best man.  Combine Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch)’s usual discomfort in normal polite society with a mystery regarding an attempted murder and you have a classic episode.  I love the structure of the episode.  Almost the entire run-time is structured around Sherlock’s bizarre, weird, funny, awkward, rambling Best Man toast to Watson.  In addition to the main mystery, we get tantalizing glimpses into a number of Sherlock & Watson’s other cases; we get an oh-so-brief return of the wonderful Irene Adler; we get suspense and comedy (I adore the flashback reveal of Sherlock’s intimidation of Mary’s friends and family) and so much more.  I was pleased by the balance between mystery/suspense and the show’s joy in exploring its characters and watching them play.  This episode leans more strongly towards the latter, and it works because of how sharply written the show is, and the incredible talent of all the performers, most particularly, of course, the incredibly talented duo of Mr. Freeman & Mr. Cumberbatch.  Gold.  (Click here for my review of Sherlock series three.)


4. Game of Thrones: “The Lion and the Rose” (season 4, episode 2, aired on 4/13/14) — Game of Thrones episodes usually jump all over the fantasy world of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond, usually only spending a few minutes at a time in one location, and with a certain set of characters, before leaping elsewhere.  As the show has gone on and its cast of characters has grown ever more sprawling, this narrative structure has begun to chafe with some fans.  I’m not one of them, but I do nevertheless cherish the show’s habit of using the penultimate episode of the season to tell an important story in just a single location.  (This was most notably done in season two’s “Blackwater,” though this season’s “The Watchers on the Wall” was also … [continued]

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

Last week I posted my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2013click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.  Yesterday I began my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2013!  Click here for part one of my list, numbers 10-6.

Claudette has rules. Janae does not appreciate them

5. Orange is the New Black: “Imaginary Enemies” (season 1, episode 4, released on Netflix on 7/11/13) — Piper Chapman has a new roommate in prison, Miss Claudette, and the stern Claudette is not happy that Crazy Eyes has just peed on their floor (at the end of episode three).  Chapman attempts to adjust to her new living situation at the same time as she does her best to fit in at her new work assignment in the electrical shop.  But when she foolishly leaves the shop with a screwdriver still in her sweatshirt pocket, she sets off a prison-wide incident as the guards search frantically for the potential-weapon that is unaccounted for.  In flashbacks, we see a glimpse of Claudette’s life, from her childhood up to the incident that landed her in prison.  The present-day stuff with Chapman is great, and we get some tense drama (as Chapman wonders how the heck she is going to be able to get rid of the screwdriver without anyone knowing that she took it) and also some nutty comedy.  But it’s Miss Claudette’s sad story that made this one of the most heartbreaking episodes of the first season.  (Click here for my review of Orange is the New Black season one.)


4. Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere” (season 3, episode 9, aired on 6/2/13) — Game of Thrones has shocked me before (most notably with the death of you-know-who in the penultimate episode of season one), but I was dumbstruck by the craziness that went down at the climax of this episode.  I managed to get to the Red Wedding without being at all spoiled for what was going to go down, so the events of this episode were a huge shock to me.  But while the shocking death in season one made me fall in love with the show, the brutal killing-off of numerous beloved main characters in this episode made me deeply angry.  Which was of course the point.  This episode HURT, so much so that I am not at all eager to ever watch this episode again.  Just thinking about it makes me deeply angry.  That George R.R. Martin and show-runners David Benioff & D. B. Weiss could affect me so deeply with the goings-on in their fantasy show is a mark of how extraordinary this series is.  My … [continued]

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Awesome new Iron Man 3 Trailer & News Around the Net!

I am absolutely loving this new Iron Man 3 trailer:

This movie looks fantastic from what we have seen so far.  I love seeing Tony really challenged.  I love the idea of connecting this film to the Avengers not by featuring other super-heroic characters, but by exploring the psychological ramifications of what Tony went through in that film.  I love what we have seen of Ben Kinglsey’s interpretation of the Mandarin as a media-savvy terrorist.  I love the teases of what looks to be some great action set-pieces.  It’s Shane Black working again with Robert Downey Jr.  I am in.

I am intrigued by this announcement of The X-Files Season 10 in comic-book form.  And I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Faraci’s statement that the time is ripe for an X-Files revival.  I posted a lament when the date for the alien invasion came and went a few months ago, with no sign of the massive X-Files third movie I had been hoping for.  I would love to see that remedied someday, before all the actors get too old.  A man can hope…

I am always too busy over the summer to watch The Daily Show, a fact which eased my initial dismay when reading this announcement that Jon Stewart is taking 12 weeks off from the show to direct a film.  What’s particularly fascinating is that Mr. Stewart isn’t planning on directing a comedy, but rather an adaptation (that he has written) of the book Then They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival.  The book was written by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy, and tells the true story of the detention and torture of Mr. Bahari, a BBC journalist, for 118 days in Iran.  Viewers of The Daily Show might recall Mr. Bahari, as he appeared on the show both before and after his ordeal.  One of the pieces of evidence used against him by the Iranians, who accused him of being a spy, was a previous comic appearance he had made on The Daily Show.

The fact that Warner Brothers seems to have no idea what to do with all of the DC Universe super-hero franchises they own, exhibited by their inability to get a Justice League movie off the ground, would be hilarious if it wasn’t so disappointing to folks like me who would love to see a whole slew of kick-ass DC movies.  Here’s hoping Zack Snyder’s Superman film doesn’t disappoint.  Going back to Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale seems like a desperation move to me.  Though I would rather see Christian Bale back in the bat-suit than Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as had been rumored. Look, I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt … [continued]

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

Yesterday I began my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV in 2012click here for part one, listing numbers 10-6!

And follow these links to my other Best-of-2012 lists: my Top 15 Movies of 2012part one, part two, and part three, and my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2012part one, and part two!

OK, let’s dive into the rest of my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV in 2012!

5. Treme: “Promised Land” (season 3, episode 7, aired on 11/4/12) — David Simon’s criminally-underwatched series about post-Katrina New Orleans reached new heights of magnificence in season 3, and this episode embodies everything that is great about the show: the enormous, phenomenal ensemble of characters, each of whom is complex and compelling in his or her own right; the balance of comedy and tragedy; and above all, the spectacular music that is woven into the very fabric of the show.  It’s carnival time again, and “Big Chief” Albert struggles to march with his Indians despite his cancer, though for the first time we see his son Delmond fully suited up and a part of the tradition.  Davis hooks up with Janette; Colson struggles with his corrupt Homicide unit; Annie gets a high-paying but unfulfilling gig in Washington DC; Antoine tries to improve his skills on the trombone; LaDonna is threatened not to testify against the man who raped her; Sonny focuses on staying on the wagon despite the drunken Mardi Gras festivities surrounding him and receives unexpected support from his potential father-in-law Tranh; and Toni confronts her daughter Sophia’s older boyfriend, only to discover that Sophia had already dumped him a week ago.  Meanwhile, we get the double guest-star delight of Janette chatting with Emil Lagasse about the perils of moving from a small-time-chef into big business, AND her appearance on a Today Show cooking segment with Al Roker!  All this and DJ Davis (who began in series one as my least favorite character on the show, and is now one of my favorites, the compelling “every-man” character on the show) quotes The Wire! When he declared that “all the pieces matter,” I just about went to heaven.

4. Parks and Recreation: “The Debate” (season 4, episode 20, aired on 4/24/12) — The second Parks and Rec episode on my list!  In this installment, the climax of Leslie’s run for Pawnee city council approaches as all the candidates appear in a live debate.  There is so much comedic magnificence in this episode, I hardly know where to begin.  There’s Chris’ jovial declaration, in support of his amazing abilities to spin anything positively, that … [continued]

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The Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2011 — Part Two!

OK, we’ve arrived at the final installment of my look back at 2011!

Click here for my Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, and part three.  Click here for my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011: part one and part two.  Click here for my Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2011.  And, finally, click here for part one of my Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2011.

Now, let’s wrap up my list!

5. Treme: “What is New Orleans?” (season 2, episode 9, aired on 6/19/11) — As the second season built to a climax, everything started to come together in this powerhouse of an episode that encapsulated everything I love about this amazing show.  So many of the story-lines that had run through the entire season come to a head in this episode: The talented young rapper in Davis’ new group begins to upstage him; Lt. Colson gets transferred (against his will) to Homicide; Janette really begins to flower under her new chef in New York City, and so much more goes down.  But the episode’s two highlights come from opposite extremes of the emotional spectrum.  There’s the hilarious sequence in which Antoine steals an audience from Kermit, luring them into the club where his new band is playing… at least until Kermit turns the tables on him.  Then there is the shocking, horribly tragic death of a main character in the final moments.  (I almost selected the Game of Thrones episode “Baelor” for this list — that’s the amazing episode that also climaxed in the death of a main character.  I absolutely adored that episode — it reminded me of the way I fell in love with 24 when they boldly killed off Jack’s wife in the season one finale, a shocking display of anything-can-happen — but ultimately I selected a different episode of Game of Thrones, “You Win or You Die,” for the number ten spot on my list.  “Baelor” was amazing, but it’s testament to the power of Treme that it’s this episode that left even more of a mark on me.)  I am dying for season three of this marvelous show to arrive.

4. Curb Your Enthusiasm: “Mister Softee” (season 8, episode 9, aired on 9/4/11) — Curb Your Enthusiasm is pretty much always great, but every now and then an installment comes along that shoots right up into the level of genius.  My friends, I would postulate that “Mister Softee” is just such an episode.  There’s so much greatness on display in this episode that I hardly know where to begin: With Larry’s condescending, loose-lipped psychiatrist (played by Sy Abelman himself — A [continued]

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

Yesterday I began my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2010.  Here now is the rest of the list, numbers 1-5!

5. 30 Rock: “Reaganing” (season 5, episode 5, aired on 10/21/10) — Jack boasts that he has reached a 24-hour state of perfection that he called “Reaganing,” in which he is unable to make any mistakes.  But his perfect game is challenged when he’s faced with helping Liz sort out her latest sexual hang-up.  The episode is packed with terrific moments: Kelsey Grammer helping Jenna and Kenneth scam a local bakery; Tracy’s incredible inability to deliver a single line necessary for a commercial; and the revelation of the origin of Liz’s sexual problem.  (Hint: it involves Tom Jones.)  Very funny stuff.

4. The Pacific: Part Ten (aired on 5/16/10) — I’m a big fan of the final chapters of The Return of the King that chronicle what happened after the victorious destruction of the One Ring and the defeat of Sauron.  I also love the voluminous appendices, that detail the final fates of all of the main characters.  Most stories choose to end at the moment of our heroes’ triumph, but I find something powerfully sad about exploring what happens in the days afterwards.  This might help to explain why I was so taken with the final episode of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s HBO mini-series The Pacific. This episode is set after the end of the war, and we see our characters — most notably Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie — return home and attempt, each in their own way, to rebuild their lives which were forever changed by their experiences in combat.  I found the whole hour to be devastating, particularly the moment when we see Sledge’s father standing quietly, helplessly, outside his son’s bedroom door as he listens to the wails of his son who lies within, unable to sleep because of the haunting effects of the conflict.  The series could have easily ended after Part Nine, but it’s the events of Part Ten that, to me, raise The Pacific to the level of greatness.

3. Parks and Recreation: “94 Meetings” (Season 2, episode 21, aired on 4/29/2010) — Yep, I’ve got a second episode of Parks and Recreation on my list.  Ron Effing Swanson is threatened with actually having to do some work when he discovers that April has scheduled all of the meetings that he’s put off all year-long for one single day.  The wonderfully rich ensemble of the show (which has been so beautifully fleshed out during the show’s second season, after a shaky start in the six-episode first season) gets to shine, when Ron solicits everyone’s help in … [continued]

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Jon Stewart and the Corbomite Maneuver!

October 30th, 2010

Best part of today’s Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear)?  Why that would be Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s reference to The Corbomite Maneuver!!

Long-time Trekkies like myself know, of course, that The Corbomite Maneuver is a classic episode of the original Star Trek series.  Check out this clip:

Note Uhura’s gold uniform, which Stewart and Colbert mentioned.  Well played, sirs!… [continued]

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“But they’re useless.” — A Small Dose of Daily Show Goodness

August 21st, 2010

Why has The Daily Show topped my Best TV of 2009 and Best TV of 2008 lists?  Clips like this one:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black – Eat Pray Love
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

It’s funny all the way through, but Lewis Black’s final line had me in stitches.  Genius.… [continued]

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Top 10 Episodes of TV in 2009 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV from 2009.  Click here for numbers 10-6.  Now here is the rest of the list!

5.  Lost: “The Incident” (season 5, episodes 16/17, aired on 5/13/09).  Everything comes together, questions are answered, and (of course) new questions are raised.  We finally get to meet the oft-discussed Jacob, and we see how this apparently ageless man has interacted with the lives of many of the castaways long before they ever crashed on the island.  In the ’70s, Jack seeks to change the future by detonating a hydrogen bomb, thus destroying the island.  This once again puts him in conflict with Sawyer, who believes that “what’s done is done.”  In 2007, Locke, Ben, and the mysterious other survivors of Ajira flight 316 converge in the shadow of the statue, we learn the true final fate of Jeremy Bentham, and a shocking murder is committed.  The cliffhanger ending leaves us in the dark as to whether Jack’s audacious plan has succeeded, or whether he has just caused “the incident” that we’ve been hearing about since “Orientation” in season two (that necessitated the construction of the Swan Station and the button).  Either way, this was a magnificent two hours of television.  It’s been a great delight watching the makers of Lost weave together the show’s many characters and story-lines as we prepare for the show’s final year.  I have high hopes for what’s ahead!

4.  Parks and Recreation: “The Hunting Trip” (season 2, episode 10, aired on 11/19/09).  I thought that Parks and Recreation was extraordinarily mediocre in its first season, but just as NBC’s The Office only found its footing during its second year, Parks & Rec has really turned things around this season.  Many weeks I consider it — are you sitting down? — the strongest of NBC’s Thursday night comedies.  “The Hunting Trip” is a prime example as to why.  Ron prepares to take the men in the office out on their annual hunting trip, but Leslie (Amy Poehler) wants the girls (and Tom Haverford) to be included too.  Since Ron is legally forbidden from excluding them from what is tenuously a work-related outing, the whole gang heads out to the woods, rifles in hand.  What follows is an escalating series of madness that culminates in poor Ron getting shot (not fatally, of course!!).  The whole episode is a riot, in which every member of the ensemble gets a lot to do.  But Leslie steals the show when she realizes that she cannot reveal the identity of the person who shot Ron to the ranger who comes to investigate, so she tries to take the fall … [continued]

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Top 10 Episodes of TV in 2008 — Part Two!

Today we continue my list of the 10 best things I saw on TV in 2008!  (Click here to read yesterday’s installment, listing numbers 10-6 and several honorable mentions, if you missed it.)

5.  Battlestar Galactica: “The Hub” (season 4, episode 9, aired on 6/6/08).  Trapped on a Cyclon basestar with Gaius Baltar, cancer-stricken President Laura Roslin begins seeing visions of her long-dead friend (who bought it on Kobol in season 2) Elosha, and Helo is given an order that puts him at odds with his conscience (as well as his Cylon wife).  In one of my favorite moments of the entire fourth season, Baltar attempts to preach to a mechanical Cylon Centurian.  But the emotional climax of the episode comes at the end, when Roslin must decide whether to let Baltar, who she now knows to be responsible for the genocidal Cylon attack on the Twelve Colonies that nearly eradicated humaity, bleed out and die.  In any other show we’d be certain that, by the end of the episode, she’d “do the right thing” and let him live.  In Battlestar Galactica, in which there are never any easy answers or easy decisions, the result is terrific suspense and gripping character drama of the best kind.

4.  30 Rock: “Believe in the Stars” (season 3, episode 2, aired on 11/6/08).  30 Rock has made great use of some phenomenal guest stars in the past (Steve Martin, Jennifer Aniston, Carrie Fisher, Paul Reubens, Isabella Rossellini, Edie Falco, Matthew Broderick, Will Arnett, Rip Torn, and so many others), but Liz Lemon’s hilarious plane ride seated next to Oprah Winfrey takes the cake.  That story-line alone would make this episode a winner, but there is so much more fun to be had as Jack puts Kenneth’s country-boy morality to the test and Tracy and Jenna begin a bizarre social experiment in order to see who has it harder in America: blacks or women.  Best line of the episode comes from Tracy:  “I watched Boston Legal nine times before I realized it wasn’t a new Star Trek!”

3.  Robot Chicken Star Wars Special: Episode II (aired on 11/16/08).  I’m not sure what more can be said that I didn’t already cover in my initial review of this special on 11/24/08.  For 22 gut-busting minutes the Robot Chicken gang mercilessly skewer all six Star Wars films in their second Star Wars special.  The jokes are delightfully random, from the House parody “Dr. Ball, M.D.” (“she lost the will to live?  What is your degree in, poetry??”) to the Cantina Band’s attempt to pitch a commercial jingle (“it works better as an instrumental”), to an awkward meal on Cloud City (Leah to … [continued]