by request: captain america: the first avenger (joe johnston, 2011)
film fatales #67: paris is burning (jennie livingston, 1990)

tv in the 2010s: the half-hours, part three

(Cut-and-pasted from an earlier post.) I don't write as much about TV these days. One reason is that there is indeed too much good stuff ... it's hard enough to keep up with the watching, much less the writing. But I've found a catch-all way to inject TV into the blog, AV Club's "The 100 best TV shows of the 2010s". It's an obvious way to make my point about too much good stuff ... the list has 100 shows, and I haven't watched many of them (about a third). (Not to mention the thing about all such lists: each of us wonders why our favorite show didn't make the cut? Shout out to The 100Lights OutAgent CarterSweet/ViciousOutlander, and Hot Ones.) What follows is a few comments about the shows I did watch. This will be a multiple-post thread.

There are so many excellent half-hour series nowadays. Something about the format allows the creators to delve deeply into characters, infusing the shows with humor but always about more than just the jokes. Most of these series make room for people who are usually shunted to the side, when they turn up at all. Here are a few more that made the AV Club list (numbers are their place in the poll). In reverse order:

Russian Doll (28). Almost too easy to describe: Groundhog Day only with Natasha Lyonne. But that limits the appeal ... it should read "with NATASHA LYONNE!" Earlier in the year, I wrote:

Pretty much everyone I've read who offers up an introductory review of Russian Doll says the same thing: the less you know going in, the better. The trailer, which you can find at the bottom of this post, does a decent job of making you believe you know what the show is about without actually telling you, so it's safe. But for the most part, it's true: you don't want to know anything before you watch Russian Doll. So what I say here will be purposely vague and fragmented.

I could mention the cast, which includes Charlie Barnett, Elizabeth Ashley, Dascha Polanco, Burt Young, and Chloë Sevigny, all of whom are great. (When Ashley and Lyonne get together, it's a marvelous blend of two wonderfully scratchy voices.) I'm not usually a fan of stories that are complicated enough to confuse me, but Russian Doll moves so quickly and Lyonne is so watchable that I didn't mind in this case. And I can't say I understood the ending, but it brought me to tears of joy. Go figure.

30 Rock (9). I've long maintained that our response to comedy is more subjective than it is for other works. 30 Rock is a comedy ... there isn't much else. You can extract contextual meaning if you want, but it's unnecessary. It is much more "normal" than Russian Doll or Atlanta. For me, it was consistently funny over 7 seasons and 138 episodes, with the kind of fine ensemble cast that is very important if you want your sitcom to last for 7 seasons and endless reruns. There were a few other sitcoms that critics loved during the same period (late-00s through early-10s). 30 Rock is the one I became attached to.

Atlanta (3). I gave the episode "Teddy Perkins" its own post. It was one of the most amazing episodes of television I've ever seen.

Wikipedia tells us "Atlanta is about two cousins navigating their way in the Atlanta rap scene in an effort to improve their lives and the lives of their families." It seems to fit into a popular type of series today that offers up the lives of people who aren't a part of the televised mainstream ... think Master of None or Insecure. Atlanta allows room for all the main characters to have their episodes, and we get to know them in depth. The show has taken some odd turns ... there was one episode that featured Justin Bieber played by a black actor. And Donald Glover called his show "Twin Peaks with rappers", which is both too easy and quite accurate. But more often than not, Atlanta gives us slices of life with an odd tinge.

Not the most recent episode, though. In "Teddy Perkins", we're introduced to an extremely eccentric man who looks like ... well, I don't know, like a man who used too much bleach on his skin. At one point, reference is made to Sammy Sosa (Vulture had a piece devoted specifically to all the pop-culture references in the episode). When Darius, who has met Teddy Perkins, tries to describe Teddy's face, he tells his friends to Google "Sammy Sosa hat". This is what I got when I did the search, although I knew what to expect:

Sammy sosa hat

It helps to understand that Sosa is a dark-skinned Dominican who uses bleaching cream.

Anyway, this is what Teddy Perkins looked like:

Teddy perkins

The story unfolded in such a way that you were never quite sure if we were seeing Darius having a dream. But the conclusion, with two dead bodies and a freaked-out Darius, seemed to suggest this all really happened. It will be interesting if next week makes any reference to this.

Oh, and the person playing Teddy Perkins? The show's star and creator, Donald Glover, who also appeared in his regular role as Earn.

One other thing ... the show ran over by five or so minutes (not all that unusual for an FX series), and had no commercial breaks. The latter added to the overall weirdness.