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Josh Reviews The Deuce: Season Three

You didn’t watch The Deuce?  Even though it was the latest show masterminded by David Simon, who created The Wire?  Look, I get it.  A TV show about the porn business in New York City in the seventies and eighties was a tough sell for many people.  I wasn’t even sure, at first, if I was going to watch it.  But I am so, so glad that I did.  I cannot recommend this show highly enough.  (Just make sure your kids and your parents are in another room, because there is a lot of, um, frank content on this show!!)  (Click here for my review of season one, and here for my review of season two.)

This latest series from David Simon (the mastermind behind The Wire), co-created with George Pelecanos (who wrote many episodes of The Wire and Treme — another of Mr. Simon’s shows that I dearly love and strongly recommend to any and all fans of good TV) was a brilliant, gripping, heartbreaking experience.  This was an exploration of another broken great American city; just as The Wire dissected Baltimore across multiple levels (from the drug-dealers on the corners, to their drug-lord bosses, to the cops on the street, to the detectives in their offices, to the people in city hall, and lots more), so too did The Deuce explore the people involved in the sex trade in the area that would become Time’s Square across all social strata: the prostitutes on the street and the pimps behind them, the street-cops making busts, the politicians looking to clean up the streets so big business interests could move in, the pornographers shooting dirty movies, the people working behind the counter in the local greasy spoon cafes and the bars, the mob men behind those bars, and on and on.

The Deuce was an epic saga at the same time as it was an intimate character drama.  As always, Mr. Simon and his team were able to create an enormously vast ensemble of characters, each of whom were astonishingly well-fleshed out, with their own human stories that developed across these three seasons.  As I felt in The Wire, and again in Treme, I deeply, dearly loved every single one of these characters, and I rooted so hard for each of them to find their way to some happiness.  Some of them did, and many of them didn’t.  But that only gave the show its power and emotional heft.

What a cast this show had.  Let’s start with James Franco, who was as brilliant as he has ever been, playing the dual role of twin brothers Frankie and Vincent Martino.  Seriously, this was an extraordinary performance.  I’ve been … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite TV Series of 2019 — Part Five!

Huzzah!  We’ve arrived at the end of my lengthy list of my favorite TV series of 2019!  Click here for numbers twenty-five through twenty-one, click here for numbers twenty through sixteen, click here for numbers fifteen through eleven, and click here for numbers ten through six.  And now, without further delay or fanfare, here are my five favorite TV series of 2019:

5. The Mandalorian The first live-action Star Wars TV show was a revelation!  Created by Jon Favreau, this new show made the new Disney+ streaming service an essential purchase.  Each of the eight episodes in this short first season were near-perfect.  I loved how wonderfully retro they were in their approach of telling a complete story in every single episode.  Set several years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the series follows a Mandalorian bounty hunter who finds himself on the run from the bounty hunter guild after deciding to rescue the asset that he was hired to deliver to an aged Imperial officer (played beautifully by Werner Herzog).  Of course, we all know by now that the asset was a child that we all refer to as “baby Yoda”.  The series is a wonderful expansion of Star Wars lore.  It’s awesome to see lots of new planets as well as some familiar ones (episode five took place on Tattoine).  The series is filled with nods and references to the history of Star Wars (we get to see Battle Droids, Jawas, an Ugnaught, etc.) while doing what I want the film series to do: telling new stories with new characters set within the Star Wars universe.  (The influence of Dave Filoni, who masterminded the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, was clearly felt.)  The series is gorgeous to behold — it’s visually stunning.  The production values are incredible — absolutely movie-quality, not at all cheapened for TV.  The cast was spectacular: Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) was fantastic as the titular Mandalorian, despite having his face concealed behind a mask; I fell in love with the Taika Waititi-voiced IG-11, as well as the Ugnaught voiced by Nick Nolte (“I have spoken”); I already mentioned Werner Herzog, and I also loved seeing Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) as Moff Gideon; Gina Carano was perfect as the ex-Rebellion shock trooper Cara Dune… and I haven’t even mentioned Amy Sedaris, Ming Na-Wen, Clancy Brown, and so many more great actors who filled out this universe!!  Each episode was an absolute delight.  I cannot wait for more to come next year.  (Click here for my review of the Mandalorian premiere.  My full review of this first season … [continued]

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

On Wednesday I began my list of my favorite episodes of TV of 2018!  Let’s continue…

12. Star Wars: Rebels: “A World Between Worlds” (season four, episode thirteen, aired on 2/26/18) — Star Wars: Rebels developed into a magnificent show, a super-fun expansion of the Star Wars universe.  The entire fourth and final season was terrific, but this episode from the final run of shows was a standout.  Reeling from the death of a major character, the young Jedi-in-training Ezra discovers an ancient Jedi Temple hidden somewhere beyond space and time, where those who enter are somehow able to access all of time at once.  This was a huge leap into new territory for Star Wars, and for our understanding of the Force.  The look of the Temple was striking (I loved the stark black and white, and the designs of all the doors/portals).  The sound-design in this episode was incredible, seeding in dialogue from not just all of Rebels but all of the Star Wars movies, including the new films.  It felt like the entire Star Wars saga came together in this gripping episode.  We got to see a major emotional moment in the growth of Ezra, we got to see the Emperor (voiced by Ian McDiarmid, who played the Emperor in the movies!)… and, of course, the biggest delight was the return of Ahsoka Tano.  Ahsoka was introduced in the very first episode of the animated Clone Wars series, but her ultimate fate was left hanging when that show was cancelled before its timeline could meet up with that of Episode III as had been originally planned.  I was delighted when Rebels brought Ahsoka into its story, but I thought we’d seen the last of her after witnessing her climactic duel with Vader in “Twilight of the Apprentice.”  Seeing her return here was shocking and emotional.  (Click here for my full review of Star Wars: Rebels season four.)

11. Star Trek: Short Treks: “Calypso” (season one, episode two, released on 11/8/18) — Wow, a Star Wars episode and a Star Trek episode, back-to-back on my list??  This is a great time to be a sci-fi fan!  As readers of this blog well know, I was very disappointed by the first season of Star Trek: Discovery.  But I was surprised how much I enjoyed the four Short Trek short films that were released in the run-up to the start of season two.  My favorite was this one, the second of the four, written by Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay!  It was super-cool to have as talented and high-profile a writer as Mr. Chabon involved in Trek, and even more gratifying … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Deuce: Season Two

Because (or perhaps despite) The Wire ruining television for me forever (because nothing will ever be as good), I am a forever fan of writer and showrunner David Simon, and I will follow him to whatever projects he undertakes.  I have never once regretted it.  The Deuce, which Mr. Simon created along with George Pelecanos (a crime-writer who wrote many episodes of The Wire and Treme), is his latest masterpiece.

It’s an unlikely subject for a great TV show: the lives of sex workers and the growth of the pornography business in the seventies and eighties.  That sounds naughty and more than a little unpleasant.  But I should never have doubted.  Mr. Simon and Mr. Pelecanos, and their extraordinary team of collaborators, have brought all of their craft to bear on telling this story.  The Deuce is one of my favorite shows on TV these days.  I loved season one, and I thought season two was equally compelling.

As is Mr. Simon’s usual approach, the show’s focus is at once laser-fine and also expansive.  Mr. Simon and his team are once again telling a story about the state of a modern American city (in this case, New York, as opposed to The Wire’s Baltimore) and, even more than that, about modern American society.  They are doing this by focusing on one very specific topic.  For The Wire, it was the drug trade, for The Deuce, it is porn. But within this narrow area of focus, the show’s scope is wonderfully, deliriously broad, depicting characters involved in porn/sex in all sorts of different ways, from all sorts of different socio-economic strata. The Deuce is about whores and pimps, sure, but it’s also about cops and politicians, high-level mobsters and low-level street toughs, bar owners and bartenders, the people running sex parlors and the people answering the phones at those parlors, porn stars and also porn producers and directors and editors and agents… not to mention the wives (and mistresses) and children of all of these people… and I have barely scratched the surface.

I wouldn’t have thought I’d be at all interested in a show about porn, but I am obsessed with it because these characters are all so wonderful.  I can’t believe how large the ensemble is on The Deuce!  And, even more than that, I can’t believe how many characters are so important to the show.  On The Wire, “all the pieces mattered.”  Mr. Simon and Mr. pelicans and their collaborators continue to follow that philosophy, but on Treme and now here on The Deuce, that has subtly transformed from a statement about plot to one about character.  Every one of the show’s humongous array of characters … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2017: Josh Reviews The Deuce Season One

The Deuce is the latest television masterpiece from David Simon (The Wire, Treme, Show Me a Hero) and George Pelicanos (novelist and a key writer on both The Wire and Treme), set primarily around Times Square in the seventies, chronicling the legalization and growth of the porn industry.  This is an eyebrows-raising subject for a TV show, but I am glad I didn’t let that keep me away.  The Deuce is a fantastically rich piece of work, an intimate character piece with a sprawling ensemble that is, in turns, very funny and absolutely heartbreaking.  In other words, just what you’d expect from these two men who were part of the core of creators behind The Wire, which is possibly the greatest TV show ever made.

I’ve been surprised, actually, that I know several people who watched The Deuce and found it to be just mediocre.  I don’t know what show they were watching!  I have heard complaints that the show is too slow, and that nothing jappens.  Those complaints sort of boggle my mind.  Yes, The Deuce is leisurely paced, and yes, the show’s naturalistic approach to story-telling means that there aren’t a ton of Big Dramatic Events packed into every episode.  But The Deuce isn’t that sort of standard television show.  Like all of David Simon’s shows, the focus of the story-telling is fixed, laser-like, on the characters, and the many small events that transpire in their lives.  By that viewpoint, the show is packed with plot.  It’s just small-scale, human drama, rather than the type of big fake drama that makes up a lot of what you see on TV.

Mr. Simon and Mr. Pelecanos have always been masters of this type of detail.  In The Deuce, this manifests in two different main ways.  First, in the way that the show tells it’s over-all “plot”: the story of the explosion of the porn industry in the seventies.  This story isn’t told through a series of BIG dramatic TV moments but, just like in real life, through the accumulation of small events.  Throughout these first eight episodes, the show explores, deeply, many different characters and situations, showing us the burgeoning porn industry at many different levels, from the girls walking the streets, to the pimps, to the guys selling magazines and video reels in sleazy storefronts, to the mob guys who opened the early “massage” parlors, and lots more.  Through this gradual accumulation of detail, the larger story comes into focus.  I love this approach to story-telling.  This is a novelistic approach, which makes sense since many of the show’s key creatuve players are also novelists.

This attention to detail also comes into play, as I … [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]