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Josh Bids Farewell to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Tina Fey’s 30 Rock nearly as much as I did.  (That first season, it was Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip that was the “behind-the-scenes at an SNL-like show” that I was most interested in.  But Studio 60 was gone by the end of the year, whereas the joys of watching Jane Krakowski say “the Rural Juror” cemented my love for 30 Rock.)  When 30 Rock ended, I was eager to watch Ms. Fey and Robert Carlock’s follow-up series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  Right from the beginning I knew that Kimmy was something special.  I wish the series had run as long as 30 Rock.  Sadly, these final six episodes conclude Kimmy Schmidt’s fourth season and, it seems, the series.  (However, rumors of a follow-up Netflix movie persist, so hope springs eternal!)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a wonderfully endearing, original creation.  I feel like the show has been under-appreciated while it was around; I hope and expect that its renown will grow in the years ahead.  The show is hilarious.  It’s as stuffed-full with jokes as the very best TV comedies of the modern era, shows like The Simpsons, Arrested Development, and the previously-mentioned 30 Rock.  This is a show with gags piled upon gags piled upon gags.  (For one tiny example, just look at the fake titles of the kids’ books around Kimmy in the image above!)

At the same time, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is an unwaveringly positive, life-affirming show.  The show believes fully in its core messages of niceness and positivity.  Kimmy herself is one of the most positive, joyful lead characters on a TV series in recent memory, and the show has gotten a lot of mileage out of showing how Kimmy’s unbreakable core of moral strength and sunniness have positively affected every character with whom she interacts.  I love that about the show.

This season, the show has focused itself on the issues of how women are treated in today’s society.  This has always been an aspect of the show, as the premise is about how Kimmy and other women were kidnapped and half captive by the Reverend (Jon Hamm, in a hilarious and disturbing series of guest appearances).  So this show has always dealt with how women are (mis)treated by men.  But, energized by today’s #MeToo movement, the show has found a new energy in addressing those issues head-on.  This finale batch of episodes dealt with a number of stories that explored those issues in different ways.  Most primarily, there was Kimmy’s transition into becoming the J.K. Rowling-like author of a fantasy book series called “The Legends of Greemulax,” which was all about teaching boys how … [continued]

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

Ok, here we go!  I’m a bit later that usual launching my annual Best of the Year lists (I’ve been working on some illustration projects that have been taking up all of my free time — click on my updated portfolio page for a few teases, with more news hopefully coming in the next few months), but I’m here now and ready to go!

This annual list began as a Top Ten list and last year ballooned to a Top Twenty-Five!  This year it’s a Top 19.  What can I say, that’s a weird number, but there were 19 shows/episodes that I wanted to highlight!

I always begin these lists with a list of the shows I HADN’T watched but wanted to, and this year that list of shows I missed is longer than ever.  I mean, insanely long.  I keep a running list of shows that interest me and that I wanted to watch, and while I watch a lot of TV, I nevertheless wasn’t able to get to: Atlanta, Barry, Homecoming, Killing Eve, A Very English Scandal, Bodyguard, Bojack Horseman, The End of the F***ing World, Counterpart, American Vandal, Maniac, Patriot, Altered Carbon, The Expanse, and The Romanoffs.  Then there were the returning shows whose latest seasons I still haven’t found time to watch: Black Mirror season four (I watched the first few episodes but never finished), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season two, Legion season two, Westworld season two, Iron Fist season two, and Daredevil season three.  Aargh that is a lot of fantastic TV that I wasn’t able to see in 2018!!  I’m hoping to catch up with some of those shows in 2019… even though there are lots of new 2019 shows already out and/or coming soon (True Detective season three, the final episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, etc.)!!  Sigh.  The joys and pain of “Peak TV”.

But, OK, enough moaning, there WAS so much great TV that I DID see in 2018 and am so excited to celebrate.  Here we go:

19. The Simpsons: “My Way or the Highway to Heaven” (season thirty, episode three, aired on 10/14/18) — Wow!  For very first time since I started writing these lists a decade ago, The Simpsons makes an appearance!  I started watching The Simpsons a few episodes into season one, and I watched it religiously through around season 15, but then I drifted away.  I started watching again after The Simpsons Movie (which I loved) and watched for about half that season, but it didn’t hold my interest.  I’ve dipped back in occasionally over the past decade, but it wasn’t until this past year that I watched several episodes in a row that made me … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season Four Part One!

I’ve enjoyed Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt right from the get-go, and I’m bummed that this fourth season has been announced as the last.  (I am hoping that rumors of a concluding movie aren’t just wishful thinking!)  This fourth season so far shows that the show remains at the top of its comedic game.

Unlike the previous three seasons, this fourth season has been broken up by Netflix into two parts.  The first six episodes are available now, with the concluding episodes not coming until January, 2019.  On the one hand, I hate having to wait so many more months for the concluding episodes!!  On the other, though, I could get behind this sort of release pattern for more streaming shows.  The way so many shows work now, we get all 10 or 13-ish episodes of a season dropped on the same day, and for the shows I love I often wind up watching them all very quickly.  I’m not the type of person to binge a whole season in a day or two, but particularly if we’re only talking about half-hour episodes, I could easily get through a season in a week.  Then I have to wait a whole year (or more!!) for additional episodes.  That long wait between seasons is painful.  So I don’t think I would mind if more shows started breaking up their seasons into two or three smaller groups of episodes to drop at different points during the year.  But I digress…

These latest episodes of Kimmy Schmidt continue the style begun by Tina Fey’s great show 30 Rock of super-fast-paced comedy, with tons and tons of jokes crammed into every minute of every episode.  (I often have to go back and rewatch a scene because there were so many jokes on top of jokes that I missed many of them the first time through.)  Kimmy has also continued 30 Rock’s somewhat fantastical approach to reality, unafraid of bizarre and very silly digressions.  I loved those qualities in 30 Rock, and I love them in Kimmy.  

While Kimmy might not quite be able to match the comedic highs of 30 Rock (and no character on Kimmy can top the powerhouse comedic creation of Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy), I’ve come to love all of the Kimmy main characters more than I ever quite connected to any member of the 30 Rock ensemble.  Top of the list is Ellie Kemper’s Kimmy.  The indefatigably sunny Kimmy is not only an evergreen fountain of comedy, but also a character for whom it is impossible not to root.  She’s a wonderful anchor for the show, and she gives the whole enterprise an uplifting, good-for-the-soul feeling.  It’s easy to take Ms. Kemper’s … [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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Josh Reviews Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season Three

I fell very quickly in love with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in its first season.  While the show shared a certain comedic rhythm with Tina Fey’s previous show 30 Rock, I loved Kimmy Schmidt for its unique premise, wonderful characters, and, most of all, for Kimmy herself, a wonderfully positive, upbeat female character.  (Click here for my review of season one.)  I enjoyed the second season as well, which was unafraid to dig deep and explore the darkness inherent in the show’s premise of Kimmy as a kidnapping survivor.  (Click here for my review.)

Kimmy Schmidt season three feels a little more scattershot than the previous two seasons.  There were times, particularly in the early-going, in which it felt as if the writers were straining somewhat to find new situations for the show’s characters.  But the season took off for me with episode six, “Kimmy is a Feminist!”, which culminates in an insane and hilarious farce in which Jacqueline attempts to keep Russ’ brother Duke (Josh Charles) attracted to her without actually cheating with him, while Titus pretends to be Jacqueline’s gay best friend Flouncey McGoo who also has a thing for her.  (It’s complicated!)  I am a sucker for those sorts of madcap farcical situations (Frasier in its best years was a master at this sort of thing), and that episode had me on the floor.

What this season might lack in narrative cohesion it made up for in the continuing joy of watching these crazy characters bounce from one nutty situation to the next.  The show’s fast-paced style is a virtue, as before one might begin to tire of one situation the show is already on to the next one.  And no other show television packs as many gags per second of screen time as does Kimmy Schmidt.

Ellie Kemper is, once again, brilliant in the lead role.  Kimmy Schmidt is a perfect melding of actor and role.  I enjoyed the way the show has allowed us to occasionally see the very human cracks in Kimmy — she hits a low point at the end of this season — while never losing sight of her inherent goodness and unbreakable, sunny core.

Tituss Burgess just gets better and better as Titus Andromedon, and I was pleased at all the wonderfully nutty stuff the writers gave Mr. Burgess to play this year.  His attempting to play a “bro” lusting after Jacqueline in episode six was a highlight for me, but I also enjoyed his battle of wits with a gas-station attendant (Ray Liotta) in “Kimmy Pulls Off a Heist!”, and the collapsing of his relationship with cruise-ship mentor-turned-rival Dionne Warwick (played to a T by Maya … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Episodes of TV in 2016 — Part One!

I hope you all enjoyed my list of the Twenty Best Movies of 2016!  And now, onward to TV…

Just like I felt when considering all the movies I’d seen in 2016, on the one hand I feel like I watched a lot of amazing TV in 2016, and on the other hand, in this era of Peak TV I feel that what I saw was just a drop in the bucket compared to all the great TV that is out there.  I never found time to watch: Veep, Transparent, Silicon Valley season 3, Horace and Pete, Atlanta, Better Things, Roots, The Man in the High Castle, Preacher, Powers season 2, Documentary Now!, Halt and Catch Fire, Red Oaks, Lady Dynamite, Fleabag, Search Party, Rectify, The Good Place, and many other great shows.

But, on the other hand, I saw so much great TV that I felt the need to expand what had once been a Top Ten list and which was, in 2015, a Top Fifteen list, to a TOP TWENTY list this year.

And so, I am proud to present to you my list of the Top Twenty Episodes of TV in 2016:

20. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: “President-Elect Trump” (aired on 11/13/16) — Week in and week out in 2016, John Oliver solidified his claim as heir to the throne of Jon Stewart (whose tenure as host of The Daily Show was deeply, profoundly missed this tumultuous election year).  I was all set to write about Mr. Oliver’s searing indictment of Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump in his “Make America Drumpf Again” episode (watch it here), or his warnings about the dangers of Brexit (watch it here), and yet following the upheaval of November 8th I found I could only post Mr. Oliver’s final show of 2016, which aired just a few days after the election.  Mr. Oliver perfectly summed up the emotions felt by the almost 66 million Americans who cast ballots for Hillary Clinton.  You can watch the whole episode at the link above.  It’s been a rough past few weeks without Mr. Oliver’s presence and I can’t wait for his return in early 2017.

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19. Daredevil: “New York’s Finest” (season two, episode three, released on 3/18/16) — The second season of Netflix’s Daredevil wasn’t as consistently spectacular as season one, but other than the anticlimactic rooftop ending I still thought it was a great season of superhero TV.  This third episode was a standout, possibly the high point of the season-long story of Daredevil’s confrontation with violent vigilante Frank Castle (“the Punisher”).  This episode begins with DD defeated and chained up on a roof in … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season Two!

I adored the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and so of course I was hugely excited for the second season.  Thankfully it does not disappoint!

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The series was originally developed by Tina Fey for NBC, as a follow-up to her recently-completed show 30 Rock NBC however, demonstrating the great wisdom of broadcast networks, declined to air the show even after the first thirteen-episode season had been completed.  Fortunately Netflix came to the rescue, releasing the first season and commissioning a second.

For anyone not in the know, the series stars Ellie Kemper as Kimmy, a young woman who, at the start of the series, has just been rescued from 15 years of being held in captivity by a crazy Reverend.  Just as her unrelentingly positive attitude allowed her to survive for fifteen years as a “mole-woman,” Kimmy’s spirit drives her to move to New York to attempt to create a new life for herself.  There, she surrounds herself with a wonderful cadre of weirdos and wackos, all of whom at first find Kimmy’s naive positivity to be out of place in cynical New York, but who eventually find themselves touched and inspired by her good nature.

The show is a riot, a perfect continuation of the fast-paced, gag-a-second style that Ms. Fey and her team had developed on 30 Rock.  It’s a show that is willing to embrace actual character-based story-telling (this second season features a surprisingly in-depth examination of the psychological damage that even the eternally-positive Kimmy must have suffered during her captivity) while also being able to be very, very silly.  This balance of tone is why the show works, and it’s a testament to the incredible writing and the show’s tremendous cast.

Ms. Kemper continues to show that this is the part she was born to play.  She’s marvelous in the lead role, able to effortlessly show how Kimmy has become the center of gravity for all of her friends and acquaintances.  She brings such sweetness to Kimmy, and wow can she hit a joke out of the park.  Titus Burgess is equally as perfect and iconic as Titus Andromedon.  This is a character who could so easily be a one-note flamboyant gay joke, but Mr. Burgess plays the part with such sincerity that he’s able to give Titus tremendous depth and heart while continuing to behave terribly and, yes, to play up some very flamboyantly gay, somewhat stereotypical characteristics.  Possibly the best contribution that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has made to our society is it’s giving a regular platform to the great Carol Kane, who is so perfect and such endless fun as Kimmy and Titus’ brash, elderly landlady Lillian Kaushtupper.  Every moment Ms. Kane … [continued]

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The Top Fifteen Episodes of TV in 2015 — Part Two!

Last week I listed by Top Twenty Movies of 2015.  (Click here for part one of my list, numbers twenty through sixteen.  Click here for part two of my list, numbers fifteen through elevenClick here for part three of my list, numbers ten through six.  Click here for part four of my list, numbers five through one.)

Yesterday I began listing my Top Fifteen Episodes of TV in 2015.  (Click here for part one of my list, numbers fifteen through eleven.)

And now, onward!

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10. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: “Edward Snowden” (season two, episode eight, aired on 4/15/15) — While I wish that John Oliver had stuck around The Daily Show a little longer so that he could have taken over that show following the departure of Jon Stewart, I must admit that I’ve been very impressed with the way Mr. Oliver has created a distinct new vehicle for himself with Last Week Tonight.  The show has a very similar tone to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show while also creating a show with a distinct style and format all it’s own.  (I’d never have predicted the success Mr. Oliver would find with devoting his show to longer, more in-depth looks at particular topics each week.)  But the moment when Mr. Oliver truly staked a claim to Jon Stewart’s legacy was with this extraordinary, extra-length interview with Edward Snowden.  Mr. Oliver’s lengthy interview was truly something special: a very funny, very angry, and very human exploration of what Mr. Snowden had done, why he did it, and what the consequences have been for him.  Whether you agree with Edward Snowden or condemn him, every American should watch this interview.

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9. Jessica Jones: “AKA Ladies Night” (season one, episode one, released on 11/20/15) — Netflix’s second Marvel mini-series was just as great if not better than last fall’s Daredevil.  Jessica Jones (created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos in the phenomenal comic-book series Alias) is a woman who has been deeply scarred by a trauma in her past.  When we meet her, she is struggling mightily to create some semblance of a life for herself, working as a private eye.  But her past quickly catches up with her as she learns that the mind-controlling Killgrave who’d destroyed her life is not nearly as dead as she had believed.  Jessica (Krysten Ritter) is a wonderful character, a hugely flawed but nonetheless noble woman struggling to make the best of an impossible situation.  The show surrounds her with a rich coterie of complex, interesting female supporting characters such as Jessica’s best friend Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) and the tough attorney Jerri Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss).  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season One

Tina Fey and Robert Carlock have followed up the magnificent 30 Rock with another wonderfully unique, funny, sweet creation: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  The show was developed for NBC who, for some unfathomable-to-me decision, passed on the show after the entire thirteen-episode first season had been completed.  Thankfully Netflix rode to the rescue to release the first season (and commissioned a second one!).

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Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids) stars as the titular Kimmy Schmidt who, when the show begins, has just been rescued from 15 years of captivity underground, where she was held along with three other women by an apocalyptic cult leader.  Ready to start a new life, she moves to New York City where she finds an apartment to share with the jovial, wannabe-Hollywood star Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) and a job as a nanny for the wealthy, neurotic Jacqueline Vorhees (30 Rock veteran Jane Krakowski).

What’s so remarkable about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is its tone.  The show manages to pull off an unapologetically positive, upbeat vibe, something very rare in a post-Seinfeld era of snarky comedies.  Note: I am not criticizing all snarky comedies, and I think Seinfeld is one of the greatest TV shows ever made.  But what a refreshing delight it is to watch a comedy that manages to be very funny and also so life-affirming and upbeat.  As we get to know Kimmy over the course of these first thirteen episodes, we see that her positive outlook on life has made her spirit “unbreakable”, and the show shows us how her sunny disposition is able to positively affect those around her.  This is a very sweet idea for a show, and it’s impressive that Ms. Fey & Mr. Carlock and their team are able to pull this off so smoothly.  (I love that all of the show’s episode titles end with a jovial exclamation point!)

And make no mistake, the show is very funny.  Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt possesses the fast-paced loopiness and quotability that made 30 Rock so endearing, as well as that show’s ability to dive deeply into a gag.  As an example: Titus’ “Pinot Noir” music video from episode six, “Kimmy Goes to School!” is a triumph, and one of the best things I have seen on TV all year.

The show represents a star-making turn for Ellie Kemper.  Ms. Kemper has demonstrated her comedic chops on TV (The Office) and on film (Bridesmaids), but in Kimmy she has found her greatest role so far.  Ms. Kemper is tremendous in the role, able to sell both Kimmy’s toughness and her sweet innocence.  She’s able to play both the straight-woman (particularly in any scene with Tituss Burgess or Jane … [continued]