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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.)

GameofThrones.RainsofCastamere.04.cropped

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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“…To Miss New Orleans” — Josh Bids Farewell to Treme

January 10th, 2014
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I think that The Wire is probably the greatest TV show ever made.  And while my crazy love for that show has ensured that I will eagerly watch any future which in which David Simon (who created and ran The Wire along with Ed Burns) has a hand, I never expected that any of his future projects could possibly equal The Wire.

And then came Treme.  Created and run by Mr. Simon & Eric Overmyer, Treme in its three and a half seasons has chronicled the lives and struggles of a variety of different people in the days and months following the disastrous hurricane Katrina and the government’s botched response.  While I think The Wire still stands as the greater achievement in television, I think I have actually grown to love Treme more!  I adore all of the characters in Treme in a way beyond even my attachment to all of the wonderfully flawed figures from The Wire.  And while Treme shares The Wire’s cynicism about the sad state of formerly great American cities, and the corruption and often incompetence of our institutions (the government, the police, etc.), Treme had a joy and, yes, a stubborn optimism that The Wire never had, and I think that has allowed the show to hook its way into my heart in an even deeper way than did The Wire.

I just love all of these characters so much!  Treme has been blessed by an incredible, extraordinary ensemble of characters, brought to life by an impossibly talented group of actors.  I know some people complain that not much happens in Treme.  For a while, I agreed, feeling actually that his was part of the show’s unique charm, that it was more about the atmosphere of New Orleans — the food, the music, the people — than it was about actual plot-development.  But looking back on the show now, I would argue that anyone who says nothing happens in the show is entirely missing the point.  Think about the incredible journeys these characters have gone on!  Think about how different the trombone-playing Antoine, the rebellious D.J. Davis, the former drug-addict Sonny, the fiery chef Janette, and so many other characters, have changed from the beginning of the series to its end!  The genius of Treme is that it is in fact jam-packed with plot, but not plot of the type we’re used to seeing on TV.  There are very few big exciting TV events in the show — dramatic police investigations, exciting trials, great adventures, that sort of thing.  Instead, the plot found in Treme is all on a much smaller, much more personal scale.  But consider all that has happened to these characters … [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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Josh Reviews Treme Season 3

January 11th, 2013
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I find Treme to be so much better than pretty much everything else on television these days, so it was with great sadness that I watched the final episode of Treme’s ten-episode third season.  (The show will apparently be coming back some-time next year with a five-episode fourth season, and then that’s all she wrote.)

I don’t know any other show on television structured the way Treme is.  The show has at this point amassed a ginormous number of characters, and each week we flow around the Treme area of New Orleans and its surrounding environs, checking in with one character for a few minutes before moving on to catch up with another.  Most character arcs don’t advance too significantly over the course of just one individual episode.  Instead, the character arcs are spread out over an entire season of the show, and things tend to progress fairly leisurely from episode to episode.  Each episode flows smoothly into the next, and as each season of the show reaches its conclusion, the grand tapestry of the Treme’s story-telling stands revealed.  Despite the leisurely pace, almost every single character in the show is in a dramatically different place at the end of the season than at the beginning, with every character’s status quo being changed more than in the entire run of most TV shows.  Treme is a show that rewards the patient and attentive viewer.  I find this type of story-telling to be incredibly bold and exhilarating.

This story-telling model works because of David Simon (mastermind behind The Wire), co-creator Eric Overmyer, and their team of writers’ careful attention to each and every character’s story.  There really isn’t a weak link in the show’s huge cast of characters.  The writing is extraordinary, and the actors are phenomenal, each and every one of them.  When the show began, I didn’t have much patience for D.J. Davis, but now I think he’s become one of the show’s most compelling characters.  I found his story-line this season to be particularly interesting and ultimately heartbreaking, as we see him hit the wall of the financial realities of the music business in his attempts to create meaningful music and then actually get it released so someone other than he and his friends could hear it.  (When Davis, beaten, comments sadly that “I just feel like, at this point in my life, I want to have more control,” my artist’s heart broke for him.)

It was interesting this season to see several characters fail in their endeavors, but find unexpected silver linings.  Sonny fell off the wagon but found unexpected support from his Vietnamese girlfriend’s father, who he’d previously seen as impossibly overbearing.  Meanwhile, … [continued]

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Did you enjoy the new Hobbit trailer I posted last week?  If you haven’t seen them, here are all of the other alternate endings to that trailer.

Uh oh.  Looks like Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt has dropped out of work on the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, apparently because Fox is rushing the film to meet the release date the studio had chosen.  This is not a good sign.

This past weekend, on the eve of Treme’s season 3 premiere came the good news/bad news that HBO had renewed the show for a fourth and final season (four seasons was apparently David Simon’s ideal length for the run of the show), albeit a shortened season.  The exact length of this shortened fourth season, what Mr. Simon refers to as “season 3.5,” is TBD.  I’m bummed the show couldn’t swing a full final season, but I’m thrilled that HBO is at least giving Mr. Simon and his team some episodes to bring their television masterpiece to a conclusion of their choosing.

Well,  now I know why Robot Chicken did a DC Comics special this year, rather than a fourth Star Wars one.  It’s because Seth Green and many of the rest of the Robot Chicken gang are working on a whole new Star Wars parody show, Star Wars Detours. This first trailer is funny, though I’m not sure why this is a whole new show and not just more Robot Chicken…

Speaking of Star Wars, it looks like Episode II and Episode III will be getting a 3-D theatrical re-release in 2013.  I sat out the Episode I re-release (I must admit I was a little tempted, but that film is just so bad I couldn’t see spending the money, even though I was curious about the look of the 3-D), and I’m not that much more interested in seeing Episode II. But seeing Episode III back on the big screen, and in 3-D?  That just might have my ticket.  But I am really waiting to see if they re-release the Original Trilogy.  Any excuse to see those films on the big screen again is exciting for me, no matter how much new digital fiddling Mr. Lucas and his minions have done…

This is an interesting list of the Top 5 Best-Acted Moments in a Steven Spielberg Film.  I definitely agree with numbers 5, 4, and 1, not so sure about 3 and 2…

I was already interested in Judd Apatow’s new film, This is 40, and this interview with Robert Smigel and Albert Brooks, both of whom are appearing in the film, has … [continued]

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The Best Show on Television Returns!

September 3rd, 2012

This makes me so happy:

September 23: I’ll be there.  WHY ISN’T EVERYONE WATCHING THE BEST SHOW ON TELEVISION??… [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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News Around the Net!

Check out this sneak peek at Game of Thrones season two!  AARRGH, I can’t believe we have to wait until September!  (But I’m intrigued by the rumor that seasons 3 and 4 will shoot back-to-back and will comprise a two-season adaptation of the third book, A Storm of Swords.)

Speaking of waiting, looks like Star Trek 2 (or whatever they’re gonna call it) finally has a release date: May 17, 2013.  That’s a long four years after the 2009 release of the first (or eleventh, depending on how you’re counting) film (which was itself delayed from its originally scheduled release in December, 2008).  Here’s hoping the film is good after such a long wait, and that Paramount can get the third (or thirteenth!) film rolling with a little less down-time…

While we’re on the subject of Star Trek, check out these fascinating early-draft versions of the famous “space… the final frontier” opening monologue.

I love Devin Faraci’s recent piece on the increasingly crazy Frank Miller.  Click here to read The Devin’s Advocate: Frank Miler is an Asshole, but I Still Like His Work.  I wholeheartedly agree.

Interesting the hear that David Simon feels that four seasons is his ideal length for Treme.  God, I love that show.  Season three is definitely happening, so I really hope HBO give sMr. Simon and his team their desired fourth and final season.

There’s a new trailer out for John Carter (of Mars).  I wish I was more excited about this film.  The trailer looks absolutely gorgeous, but I am really not loving the glimpses we’ve seen of Taylor Kirsch so far in the lead role.  Maybe I am letting bad feelings from his appearing in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (as Gambit) get to me.  Or maybe it’s that Disney’s butchering of the title (it should be called John Carter OF MARS!!!) that has me uneasy.  We’ll see.  I’m crossing my fingers big-time on this one.

Speaking of movies coming out this spring, Joss Whedon’s film Cabin in the Woods looks like it’s finally, FINALLY getting released after sitting on the shelf for two years.  Love the new poster.  I don’t really know anything about this film other than the fact that Joss Whedon directed it, but that’s enough to get my butt in the theatre.  (UPDATE:  A trailer was just released and now that I’ve watched it I know MORE about this film than I wish I did!!  BEWARE SPOILERS, and watch at your own peril.)

And speaking of movie adaptations that I should be anticipating but aren’t (I’m referring back to John Carter (of Mars), now, not Cabin in the Woods!), comes word that the [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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Down in the Treme…

July 22nd, 2010
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In addition to watching the first two new episodes of Futurama last week, I had a chance to catch (a few weeks late) the final two episodes of Treme, the magnificent new HBO series by the fine folks behind The Wire (A.K.A. The greatest television series ever created).

When I wrote about the initial installment of Treme I was pretty dang high on the series, and I am pleased to say that, if anything, I think even MORE HIGHLY of the series now that its first ten-episode series has wrapped up.

It’s remarkable to me how fleshed out the vast ensemble of characters on the show have become over this first short (ten episodes) season.  There’s been more character development in these ten episodes than in the entire run of many TV shows.  Over the course of the season, each and every character on the show got their due, and I’m impressed and stunned at how attached I’ve become to these characters (even the less-than-noble ones!) in such a short time.

In my review of the premiere, I commented that the one cast-member who seemed to stick out to me was Steve Zahn’s full-of-himself, bumbling character Davis.  I found Davis to be annoyingly childish, and he felt out-of-place on the show.  Well, I stand corrected, because now at the end of the season I think that Davis is one of my favorite characters!  As noted above, this is due to the writers’ great work in exploring and deepening their characters over the course of the season.  The fine acting — on the part of Steve Zahn and the rest of the superb cast — doesn’t hurt, either!

As was always the case on The Wire, the writers of Treme have managed to tell a complete story over the course of the season.  The final episode, “I’ll Fly Away,” brings closure to a number of story-lines and character-arcs, while still leaving ENORMOUS untapped story-potential for future seasons to (hopefully) explore.

What else can I say?  The first season of Treme was heart-breaking and hilarious, and gripping from the first minute to the last.  The music of the show is extraordinary (and the show’s theme-song is my favorite since Firefly).  If you haven’t seen this show, go watch it now.  Me, I’ll be counting the days until season two…… [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Premiere Episode of Treme

April 13th, 2010
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Can we all just agree that The Wire is the greatest television show ever made?

Anyone who has seen The Wire surely must agree with that (admittedly bold) statement.  As for the rest of you — what are you waiting for??  (Until you’ve seen this masterpiece, I’m really not interested in your opinion.)

I would imagine that anyone in the cult of The Wire couldn’t help but be interested, as I was, in creator David Simon’s new HBO series Treme (pronounced Tre-MAY) set in New Orleans three months after Katrina.  I took in the premiere episode, “Do You Know What it Means” earlier this week, and I am happy to report that I am totally and unabashedly hooked.

The Wire was a devastating critique of the modern American city.  Over the course of five seasons, Mr. Simon and his extraordinary team of writers explored the inadequacies and failures of society on every level of the city of Baltimore: from the kids on the corners to the cops on the street to the politicians in their offices, not to mention the detectives, the judges, the newspapermen (and women), the D.A.s, the crime lords, and on and on.  So when I read last year that Mr. Simon was developing a show about New Orleans, that seemed to me to be a logical follow-up.  In New Orleans after Katrina, Mr. Simon had found a city in which the seemingly intractable problems of Baltimore paled in comparison.

And yet, I was pleasantly surprised by just how upbeat the pilot of Treme was.  Oh, don’t misunderstand me, there is plenty of horrible tragedy on display, and I have no doubt that, as the season progresses, further Job-like troubles await many of the characters to whom we were introduced in this first installment.  But along with the horror, Treme contained a lot of hope as well.

An enormous factor in that tone is the way that so much astoundingly wonderful music is interwoven into the story being told.  Many of the main characters in Treme (such as the trombone-player Antoine, played by Wendell Piece, who so memorably played Bunk on The Wire) are musicians, and the pilot frequently pauses to allow us to immerse ourselves in the wonderful music of New Orleans.  The music is almost the primary character in the show.  And so much of the music is so phenomenal that it’s hard not to feel good listening to it.  This provides a powerful counterpoint to the tough drama found in the story of a city on the brink.

The pilot episode introduces us to a large ensemble of characters.  As in The Wire, these characters are from a wide variety of … [continued]