My Year in Television

Granted this blog has had little use over the past 365 days, I have been busy as ever watching my favorite television series. Here is a list of my favorite shows from 2014. The order is arbitrary.

Parks & Recreation

“Moving Up” was brilliant. The Pawnee/Eagleton Unity Concert was everything a Parks fan could have wanted and more (Li’l Sebastian hologram is the “more”). I applaud Mike Schur and Co.’s decision to time jump the series for its last season into the future and I can’t wait to see how it pans out.

Homeland & The Walking Dead

The biggest comeback (sorry Lisa Kudrow) of 2014 is a toss up between Homeland and The Walking Dead. Homeland needed to start from scratch with the death of Sargent Brody (Damien Lewis) and The Walking Dead needed to terminate the Terminus plot. Thankfully, both of these dramas pulled through – in bloody fashion, I may add. Homeland’s “13 Hours in Islamabad” was one of the most viciously real hours of television ever, as the terrorist group infiltrated the United States Embassy in Pakistan, slaughtering diplomats and personnel. The season concludes tonight. On the other hand (leg), The Walking Dead’s “Strangers” gave us a taste of human flesh, as the Hunters from Terminus are revealed as cannibals. Aside from a social media screw up, which spoiled the finale for West Coast fans, it’s safe to say that The Walking Dead is back from the…dead.

Portlandia

Season Four brought us some new insanely funny characters, like the NPR Tailgaters, while giving our old favorites a new storyline, like Toni & Candice at the Portland Trailblazers’ cheerleading practices and Lance & Nina in “The Pull-Out King.”

Downton Abbey

I shamelessly watched Season Five of Downton Abbey in one sitting. Well worth it. As another series which has had a few missteps in it’s maturity, Season Five spreads the story lines amongst the upstairs/downstairs dynamic, unlike the Mary-centric Season Four. Where there’s heartache (Thomas’ transformation and Edith’s grievances), there’s joy (Daisy’s newfound education and Mary’s new haircut). By the end of the season, Julian Fellows had gone full-on “Marley and Me,” leading me to wonder the fate of the open credits for Season Six.

Halt & Catch Fire

Let me say this as clearly as possible: Halt & Catch Fire is NOT the Mad Men of 1980s. Surely it is inspired by the period drama, but it is by no means a time warp of AMC’s critically acclaimed series. This series follows the birth of the personal computer through a fictional tech firm, which decides to reverse-engineer an IBM computer. The acting from Lee Pace and Scoot McNairy is excellent, but the series’ relies on the outstanding performances from Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishé, who both push the boundaries on feminist television. Fingers crossed we get to dig for the Giant for another season.

Game of Thrones

What can I say about Game of Thrones that no one else has already said? Great series, great acting, great Arya Stark laugh.

Netflix: Orange is the New Black & House of Cards

Netflix hit the jackpot yet again with its two original series returning for their second seasons. With water cooler moments like OITNB’s backstory on Morello and the HoC’s jaw dropping three way, there’s no escaping these captivating series. Oh, and I think Netflix might be trying to warn us about the dangers of transportation (vans, trains, etc.). Just a thought.

Silicon Valley

The first time I watched the pilot of Silicon Valley I turned it off. Biggest mistake of my life (aggressive?). However, something compelled me to give it another go and what I found was one of the funniest comedies in years. The way Mike Judge is able to blend high-brow and low-brow comedy is truly astounding, with “Tip-to-Tip Optimization” as a leading example.

Getting On

HBO’s latest BBC transplant about an extended-care hospital turned hospice unit truly hits the funny bone. With A+ performances by Laurie Metcalfe (Roseanne), Alex Borstein (Family Guy) and Niecy Nash (Reno 911!), this comedy knows how to hold a compelling storyline and make grand use of physical comedy.

The Newsroom

Allow me to air an unpopular opinion: The Newsroom’s final season was outstanding. People who argue that they should have focused on news stories as they did in the first season are missing the key story arc to the series. Season One shows the kind of news the team wants to make. Season Two shows what happens when the news they make goes wrong. Season Three shows what happens when the kind of news the team wants to make is threatened. At the end of it all, I was happy to see these highly developed characters end on a happy note (very Sorkin-esk). Also, I applaud the costume department for Jim’s oversized Sochi 2014 shirt. Jim and Pam (The Office) can step aside, because Jim and Maggie are the real thing.

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Why Are The Emmys Honoring Rape Scenes?

Before reading this, please note that I am not trying to take a stance on whether rape should or should not be portrayed on television. I understand that it is a severe crime that happens all too frequently in the world, but I also understand that it has become a go-to plot line for many of today’s most popular and critically acclaimed series.

To begin, let me note that four of the six nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series play characters who are raped on the screen. Anna Gunn, as Skyler White in Breaking Bad, is raped by her husband in Season Two, as he attempts to take out his pent up rage in the couple’s kitchen. Joanne Froggatt, as Anna Bates in Downton Abbeycaused two waves of controversy – once when Season Four’s fourth episode was released in the UK and again when it aired in the US – when her character is violently raped in the servants’ quarters. It was one of those scenes that never seemed to end. Christina Hendricks, as Joan Holloway Harris in Mad Men, is raped by her husband when he drunkenly visits her in her office. Lena Headey, as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, is raped by her brother and secret lover Jamie beside the corpse of their dead son, Joffrey.

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Each of these incidents mark a powerful character arc for the women involved, who end up forever scarred by the attacks.

After the nominations were announced, many fans of Scandal took to the Internet to vent about the snub of Bellamy Young in the same category. She portrays the First Lady of the United States, Melody “Mellie” Fitzgerald, who is raped by her father-in-law in a flashback.

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Another show that garnered a lot of attention from the Television Academy this year was FX’s American Horror Story: Coven, raking in 17 nominations. This twelve episode mini-series includes three separate rape scenes – the victims being Madison Montgomery, Queenie, and Kyle Spencer.

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Again, I do not believe I am qualified to judge whether or not these scenes should be so prevalent on our television screens, but it seems as though today’s most complex narratives are involving rape, and the actresses portraying the victims seem to be getting recognition for their work. Is it good that these women are helping to expose crimes that they are often forced to keep secret? In the example of Anna Bates, a married woman living in the 1920s, admission of being raped would mar her reputation and Lord Grantham would have no other option but to relieve her of her duties in order to avoid a scandal (something that household knows a thing or two about). On the other hand, is it becoming too normalized? Should we have expected Madison Montgomery to have been raped at the frat party?

I apologize if this post was a little heavier than usual, but I saw the trend in the nominations and thought it would be interesting to bring up.

HOUSE OF CARDS : Binge 2

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Francis Underwood makes Don Draper look like a loyal husband, Nicholas Brody a valiant marine, and Walter White an innocent schoolteacher. Claire Underwood makes Carrie Mathison look sane, Sister Jude kind, and Cercei Lannister just. House of Cards Season Two has raised the bar for television without ever being broadcasted on the seemingly outdated technology.

In this modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Francis Underwood, the majority whip in the House of Representatives, works with his wife to toy with the other members of government and the media to advance his political career. In Season Two, Underwood is named Vice President of the United States, a leap closer to his endgame: the Oval Office. However, with a team of budding journalists on his tail for the murder of Pennsylvania Governor candidate Peter Russo, Underwood takes, well, swift actions to wipe his slate clean.

Meanwhile, Claire Underwood, who last season built up her Clean Water Initiative to an international scale, drops the project to pursue a personal vendetta. During a CNN exclusive interview, she announces that a recently pinned general raped her in college, which leads her to push a bill for civilian oversight through the House. Her biggest obstacle? A female war veteran by the name of Jackie Sharp. Jackie is named majority whip when Francis advances to act as the Veep, but her fickle, backstabbing ways shine when she goes against Claire’s bill.

Over in civilian territory, Peter Russo’s ex-prostitute Rachel Posner is attempting to start life anew, but Underwood’s chief of staff, Doug Stamper, has developed an obsession with her. As Rachel enters into a relationship with Lisa, her friend from the church fellowship, Doug’s jealously boils and drives the two apart.

The biggest, non-death related surprise from this season involves Francis, Claire, and their Secret Service Agent Meechum, in a three-way-to-end-all-three-ways.

By the end of the season, Francis and Claire have maneuvered their way into the very office they have longed for: the Oval Office. With a swift “knock, knock” we close the season – which only took me about five days to complete. But they were a good five days.

Assuming Netflix follows the same pattern of releasing each House of Cards season in February, we’ll have to wait a full year to see what’s next for the Underwoods. Will their fate mirror the Macbeths? If so, yikes.

Top Ten Shows of 2013

It is a great time to be an audience member right now, as network television starts to fight back against the domineering cable powerhouses like AMC, FX, HBO, Showtime, and, now, Netflix. And because we live in 2013, I decided to make a list about it. So here you go, Internet. Here’s a look at my top ten picks for the past year in television:

10. The Mindy Project

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In her quest to take over Hollywood, writer/producer/actress Mindy Kaling and crew step up their game big time in the sophomore season of The Mindy Project. With the addition of Adam Palley (Happy Endings), the cast finally seems complete and grounds some of Mindy’s pop culture rants. While most people have written off this show as a mind-numbing sitcom, Kaling brings a hint of her Dartmouth intelligence to the mix, crafting the lovable Nurse Morgan (Ike Barinholtz) and the bromance to end all bromances between Dr. Castellano (Chris Messina) and Dr. Reed (Ed Weeks). Mindy’s biggest problem is that she only appeals to the Generation Y – my mom doesn’t get half the jokes.

9. American Horror Story: Coven

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There is a house in New Orleans…and shit hits the fan. Ryan Murphy’s latest installment of the horror series follows the struggle between the witches and voodoos in the great Mardi Gras city, all while juggling massive themes of racism and acceptance. Sarah Paulson, who shined in Asylum, takes a back seat in this chapter, letting veteran Jessica Lange battle it out against industry staples Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett. With an eclectic group of supporting characters like mind-reader Nan, human voodoo doll Queenie, Fleetwood Mac-inspired Misty, and vagina-killer Zoey, the women of AHS take a stand, once and for all.

8. Top of the Lake

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Speaking of women taking a stand, let’s take a moment to talk about Elisabeth Moss, who killed 2013. Like, the reason 2013 is coming to a close is because she killed it. Moss stars in this surreal Sundance drama as a Detective Robin Griffin, who looks into the disappearance of a twelve-year-old pregnant girl, and uncovers the dark underworld dealings of rural New Zealand. Better yet, Holly Hunter delivers the performance of her career in the best side-story of the year as GJ, the psychedelic con artist who leads troubled women into the plains of Paradise. With a supporting cast comprised of Peter Mullan, Thomas Wright, and David Wenham (Lord of the Rings). In a sort, Elisabeth Moss’ Robin Griffin was everything that Claire Danes’ Carrie Matheson wasn’t this year… I still love you, Claire.

7. Modern Family

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We’re keeping it in the family this year with yet another amazing season of ABC’s Modern Family. While their Emmy days are starting to fade (even though they won Best Comedy for the fourth year in a row), the show remains strong as ever. As always, Phil and Claire Dunphy (Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen) bring the show to a whole new height, with the sadly realistic mix-ups that occur daily in households across America. Even Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) has stepped up her A-game. If you disagree with me, go rewatch “ClosetCon” and then we’ll talk.

6. Please Like Me

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“The Best Show That You’ve Never Heard Of” award for 2013 goes to the Australian comedy Please Like Me. While most Americans knowledge of Australian television extends as far as Chris Lilley’s HBO partnerships like Summer Heights High and the recent (flop) Ja’mie: Private School Girl, this is one show you should add to your list. It stars Josh Thomas as a twenty-something who realizes he is gay when his girlfriend dumps him over a seventeen-dollar sundae. It’s the intricacies like the seventeen-dollar sundae that make this show so great! Josh goes to stay with his depression-stricken mother, as his father lands himself with a young Thai woman. With the help of his best friend Tom and his new ex-girlfriend Clare, Josh attempts to navigate the world as a gay man – and he’s very bad at it. You can find Please Like Me on the new Pivot channel – check your local listings and whatnot. This is one show that’s too smart to miss.

5. Game of Thrones

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Red Wedding. While this episode of Game of Thrones was truly a masterpiece, I now forget what happened in the rest of the season. I’m sure it was good, but then again I do recall a lot of Jon Snow/Ygritte whining, awkward Brienne/Kingslayer conversations, and general Joffrey bitchiness. Eh, it still deserves a spot on my top ten, I suppose.

4. House of Cards

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House of Cards made history by winning Netflix’s first ever Primetime Emmy Award, which went to David Fincher for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series. That aside, Kevin Spacy and Robin Wright are cruelly captivating as Congressman Francis Underwood and wife Claire. This dynamic duo brings a new spin on the anti-hero, since the majority of the spouses of today’s most complex anti-heroes are not in on their secret vices (think Don Draper, Walter White, Nurse Jackie, Nicholas Brody, etc.). This show exposes the underworld-like dealings that occur in our nation’s Capital. With the addition of budding reporter Zoe Barnes, played by Kate Mara (not Anna Kendrick), we see how the media influences political dealings and ultimately lead to national cover-ups. With the convenient “Play Next” button, it’s hard to resist watching the first season in one sitting.

3. Veep

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My favorite comedy of the year goes to another story of political intrigue, Veep. Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as the manic Vice President of the United States in the second season of this HBO comedy about the day-to-day dealings with her political team. This year, Tony Hale was the breakout-star (even though his work in Arrested Development has already been universally appreciated), earning him an Emmy in September. Dreyfus also took home an Emmy this year, as her character strived to appear sane in the public eye through a slew of scandals from the ill-timed pig roast to “the song” to the tit grab. Assisted by Anna Chlumsky, Reid Scott, and Matt Walsh, the show’s fast pace has become its saving grace because there’s never a dull moment. Looking ahead at 2014 – Selina’s running for president, and I can’t wait.

2. Breaking Bad

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We bid a tearful farewell to many shows this year (30 Rock, The Office, Dexter), but none of were able to live up to American audiences’ expectations quite like Breaking Bad. In its final stretch, the AMC drama heated up as Walter White ping-ponged with his own destiny, coming full arc to admit to his wife that everything he has ever done has been for himself and not for his family, as he reiterated time and time again throughout the series. His sidekick Jesse, receives redemption of sorts – but at what cost? Two girlfriends, countless bystanders, and his own sobriety. All the while, Anna Gunn brilliantly embodies the hollow shell of Skylar White, the overtired wife of America’s most wanted criminal. Farewell Walter White; we’ll see you in Godzilla.

1. Orange is the New Black

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At number one comes the most groundbreaking television series in some time: Orange is the New Black. Debuting on Netflix early this summer, social media exploded with glowing reviews and raves about the dramedy, which tells the real life story of Piper Chapman, an inmate at an all-female correctional facility. This show encompasses the ultimate “stranger in a strange land” mantra audiences have come to love over the years, but at the same time makes this prison and its eclectic group of inmates somewhat familiar. We see the human side of these women, as we delve into flashbacks of their lives pre-orange jumpsuit. Taylor Schilling just received a Golden Globe nod for Best Actress, and there’s no doubt America will be rooting for her all the way to SHU with her bloody, tooth-marked knuckles.

Some honorable mentions that didn’t have great seasons, but great episodes:

The Office – “Finale”

Homeland – “The Star”

The Middle – “The Jump”

Downton Abbey: Series 4 – “Episode 4”

Girls – “One Man’s Trash”

Mad Men – “In Care Of”

My Open Letter to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association

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Dear Hollywood Foreign Press Association,

Did you watch this season of Homeland? Like, actually, did you watch it? Even past the first seven episodes? It got better, you know. How about Game of Thrones? Does the phase “Rains of Castamere” not sing “Golden Globe nomination” to you? Oh, here’s another one: Did you watch Mad Men this season? It was a lot darker than usual, so maybe you turned it off because you got a little scared. The Hershey Pitch? Anyone? 

On the other hand, did you per chance watch Downton Abbey? Maybe you were just watching Joanne Froggatt’s heartbreaking performance in episodes 4-8. Because other than that, the season was shit (no offense, Downton, I still love you). And Masters of Sex? I know you like to give experimental shows a chance, but not this year. Not when the three most talked about dramas are left out in the cold. Just throw a nod at Lizzy Caplan and call it a day. Just kidding, you didn’t do that either. How about Anna Gunn? Wasn’t she great on this season of Breaking Bad? It’s like she was SO GOOD she won an Emmy for it, or something. I see you gave some love to Taylor Schilling for Orange is the New Black, but, as the also-snubbed cast of Arrested Development would say, “Her?” Really? You had an entire ensemble of amazing breakout artists (Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, etc.) and you only shed light on Schilling? Shame on you. Shame. On. You.

You’re lucky Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are hosting, because their comedic gold will make me forget about all the wrongdoings you have done this holiday season.

Best,

Rob Zappulla

 

Top Ten Entertainment Moments of 2013

The year was 2013 and madness ensued. Here’s yet another meaningless top ten countdown, where someone will bitch about how I didn’t include HBO’s “Enlightened” being cancelled.

 10. The Rise of the Mini-Series

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To start off the countdown, I’d like to take a moment to recognize a phenomenon that has captivated audiences in 2013: the mini-series. Unlike any year before, these productions have combined the high production value of films with the periodic elements of a television show. Most notably is FX’s American Horror Story: Coven, the third installment to Ryan Murphy’s anthology series, which follows the struggle between the witches and voodoos in New Orleans. Another popular mini-series this year was BBC’s Top of the Lake, starring Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss as a detective who uncovers the disappearance of a twelve-year-old pregnant girl. The story unfolds with strong cultural ties to the New Zealand landscape. BBC’s other masterpiece this year was Parade’s End, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a conservative aristocrat who falls in love with a progressive suffragette. So do yourself a favor and watch a mini-series! It’ll be worth your time.

 

9. North West

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At number nine is the baby of the year – and we’re not talking about the future heir to the English throne – we’re talking about North West. On June 15th, reality star Kim Kardashian gave birth to a baby boy, who, along with boyfriend and rapper Kanye West, named North West. As a nation, we gasped, thinking of this kid’s first day of Kindergarten as a confused schoolteacher takes attendance and calls out a compass direction, rather than a name. This was also a big year for Kimye as a couple. From Kanye’s music video for “Bound 2” was parodied by James Franco and Seth Rogan, to his public fight with Jimmy Kimmel, to his record smashing CD release of Yeezus, tabloids have been stocked with juicy stories about Hollywood’s newest power couple.

 

8. Lorde releases “Pure Heroine” 

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At number eight comes a young girl from down under – New Zealand to be exact. In the midst of the Royal Baby craze, she reminded us that, “We’ll never be royal.” This girl’s name is Lorde and her album, “Pure Heroine” hit shelves September 27 to critical raves and a whopping four Grammy nominations.

 

7. Jennifer Lawrence wins Oscar, trips

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Moving on to number seven, we take a trip back to February’s Academy Awards, where America’s budding sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence took a trip of own. On her way up to the stage to accept her award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture for her role in Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence stumbled up the steps – but still managed to make it look like a Chanel ad. The Girl on Fire has had a full year, starring in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the upcoming David O’Russell flick American Hustle, where another Oscar could be in store for Lawrence.

 

6. Deaths of James Gandolfini and Cory Monteith

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For number six, we take a somber moment to remember two great men gone too soon. In June, news broke that Sopranos front man James Gandolfini had died of a heart attack. Gandolfini had just wrapped up filming of a recently released film Enough Said alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus, which has gained a lot of critical attention. Then in July, we learned the passing of Glee star Cory Monteith. The show postponed the start of their fifth season in order to properly pay tribute to Monteith’s legacy in an episode entitled “The Quarterback.” At the 2013 Emmy Awards held in September, Edie Falco and Jane Lynch paid tribute for their respective co-stars in a tearful in memoriam.

 

5. Sandra Bullock Brings The Heat and is Suspended in Gravity

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Number four on our countdown goes to Sandra Bullock, whose films this year brought audiences to tears of laughter and desolation. First, in her summer blockbuster, The Heat, Bullock stars as a ridged, by the books FBI agent from Manhattan, who is tasked to work with a Boston cop, played by Melissa McCarthy, to take down the nation’s most notorious drug dealer. Then in October, Bullock captivated audiences as Dr. Ryan Stone in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. Bullock’s character goes through a range of emotions in the ultimate “stranger in a strange land” film. The only thing in the way of Bullock’s second Oscar is Cate Blanchette in Blue Jasmine, but my vote’s for the lonely astronaut.

 

4. “Rains of Castamere”

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Have you heard someone say “Spoiler Alert!” at all during the past year? If so, chances are pretty good that that someone was about to talk about Game of Throne’s “Rains of Castamere” – which comes in at number three on our countdown. In one of the bloodiest hours in the history of television, the HBO fantasy drama unexpectedly killed off a slew of protagonists, as jaws dropped around the globe. Like clockwork, fans took to the Internet to vent their concerns, leading to dozens of viral “reaction” videos to the episode’s infamous moment, now known as “The Red Wedding.” Basically, if you haven’t started watching television’s most expensive drama, you should probably make that your New Year’s Resolution.

 

3. Miley Twerks at the VMAs

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She’s still just being Miley. At number two on our countdown comes Disney star turned provocative twerk-er. In August, Miley Cyrus performed a rendition of “We Can’t Stop” and “Blurred Lines” with Robin Thicke, and proceeded to do the “Twerk Seen Round the World.” Was it a publicity stunt? Probably. Did it work? Definitely. Before the year was up, Miley had hosted SNL, performed a head-scratching rendition of “Wrecking Balls” at the AMA’s, and released a relatively successful album, Bangerz, all while sporting her now iconic short hair-do. Say what you will, but she’s just being Miley.

 

2. Breaking Bad Finale

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At number five, America said goodbye to its favorite meth cook – Walter Hartwell White. AMC wrapped up the fifth and final season of Breaking Bad on September 29th, as audiences packed auditoriums and movie theaters around the nation to view the shocking conclusion to one of the greatest television dramas of all time. To honor the show’s legacy, the Emmy’s awarded Anna Gunn with Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama, and the Outstanding Drama award went to the cast and crew of Breaking Bad.

 

1. Netflix Produces Original Content

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For my number one moment in entertainment for the 2013 year, I log onto my Netflix account to view their new, original content. Racking up an impressive fourteen Emmy nominations and one win, the online streaming site has become a television network in its own capacity. From reviving fan-favorite Arrested Development, to the political drama House of Cards, Netflix is doing everything right. Over the summer, Netflix added yet another outstanding show, Orange is the New Black, which has demolished all notions and prejudices America has had about female correctional facilities. At $8.99 a month, Netflix is more than just entertainment – it’s an experience.

Do you agree with my top ten? Let me know in the comment section. Be civilized, people.

My Quest to “Get that Reference”

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I’ve been on a quest for some time now – a quest to, “Get that Reference.” Everyday, people everywhere have conversations and in those conversations people make references. From here, there are three branches in which a conversation can deviate. In the first world, the reciprocator understands the reference and retorts with yet another reference, leading to a spiral of references. In the second, the reciprocator pretends to understand the reference; they nod, smile, giggle, twitch a little, then excuse themselves for the bathroom. The third scenario – the bane of my existence – occurs when the reciprocator asks what the reference was about then immediately blocks their ears screaming, “SPOILERS!” And because I don’t like to be “that guy” mentioned in the third scenario, I’ve made it my quest to “Get that Reference.”

This past year, I managed to watch the entirety of the Emmy nominated dramas – Breaking BadDownton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Homeland, House of Cards, and Mad Men. That makes me cool, right? I know all those references now! But, alas, my quest continues. 

This weekend, I reviewed my Netflix Instant Queue (now called “My List,” but I don’t like that name) to see what shows I should pick up. I tried three episodes of the critically-acclaimed comedy Louie and I elicited no reaction…aside from cringing at the unnecessary sex scenes. Thinking it was just a fluke, I moved on to the first two episodes of the cult comedy Freaks and Geeks. Again, no reaction. “This can’t be, I should try watching The IT Crowd,” thought Rob. Nope. Nothing. What is going on? How am I supposed to understand the constant references to these shows? I guess I’ll have to resort to the uncomfortable giggling, twitching, and frantic fits to the bathroom.

Check out this amazingly accurate Portlandia sketch about spoilers: