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.

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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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Can Homeland Return to Its Glory?

Tomorrow night, Showtime’s critically-acclaimed, two-time Emmy-winning drama Homeland returns for a revamped, rebranded fourth season, after its lackluster third season lost the support of fans and critics alike. This leads me to my question: Can Homeland return to its glory? Will the Brody’s being out of the picture help the show’s cause, or did the death of Emmy-winning writer Henry Bromell (“Q&A”) stunt the show’s growth at a premature peak? Claire Danes, being the multifaceted, talented actress she is, definitely has it in her to carry (Carrie) the show on her back with the death of Damien Lewis’ leading character. And don’t forget the incomparable Mandy Patinkin as television’s second favorite Saul (right behind Breaking Bad‘s and Better Call Saul‘s Saul Goodman, played by SNL alum Bob Odenkirk).

Take a look at this clip from season one, in which Carrie wires into the Brody household, tracking their every move. If this doesn’t scream stage-five clinger, I don’t know what does.

Fall 2014 Network TV

There’s quite possibly too much television to talk about nowadays and sorting through it can be quite a daunting task. But, alas, I’ll try my darnedest.

CBS has never interested me as a network, probably because I’m not in their target demographic, so there’s not much for me to discuss here.

ABC has launched a campaign to diversify their lineup. SelfieBlack-ishHow to Get Away with Murder, Cristela, and mid-season replacement Fresh Off the Boat, all feature minority leads, countering the network’s Caucasian-dominated programming.

NBC, on the other hand, seems to be adding more of the same “white-centric” sitcoms, with shows like A to Z, Bad Judge, and The Mysteries of Laura. The latter two sitcoms might have too specific of a premise to survive the year (think back to other NBC flops like Save Me and The Michael J. Fox Show). Once the kings of comedy, NBC is putting all the eggs in their Saturday Night Live basket, where they are still in a sort of generational transition. With a set of powerfully comedic women, lead by Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant, as well as strong newcomers Michael Che and 20-year-old Pete Davidson (yes, 20…like, my age), the show premiered last weekend to mixed reviews, as Guardians of the Galaxy star and NBC family member Chris Pratt hosted alongside musical guest Ariana Grande. The best bit of the night came as Pratt poked fun at the obscurity surrounding Marvel’s blockbuster hit, and the gang mocked a some of their upcoming flicks, including Marvel’s Pam 2: Winter Pam (a play on Captain America 2: Winter Soldier). Click the picture below to see the full sketch on Hulu!

AidyBryant_Marvel_Pam-690x262Last, but not least, is Fox. And I like Fox this year. Their solid Tuesday line-up of The Mindy Project and New Girl is sure to cure your mid-week blues, not to mention the sigh of relief that came with the solidification of both of their casts. Brooklyn Nine-Nine took a move to Sunday nights, along with the network’s famed Animation Domination, which includes newly-crowned Emmy winner Bob’s Burgers. While Fox seems to know their comedy, they’ve also taken a dark turn to fill the gaps in the drama department, once championed by House, M.D. and 24 (might we see yet another return of Jack Bauer??). Gotham takes a look at the world of the Batman before the Bat-Call. The heroes and villains we have come to know and love all have their own backstories, from the Riddler to Poison Ivy, Commissioner Gordon to the Penguin. Rumor has it that the Joker will be revealed at the end of the first season, so let’s hope they make it past the mid-year cuts.

In the coming weeks, the cable networks will take control of the airwaves. This Sunday, Showtime revamps Homeland sans Damien Lewis. On Wednesday, FX takes us under the tent with American Horror Story: Freak Show. And the following Sunday, AMC hunts the hunted with the Season Five Premiere of The Walking Dead. 

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”

HOMELAND: “The Star”

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The time has come to say goodbye to the greatest magician in the game. In Homeland’s third season finale, Sargent Nicolas Brody finally met his demise – arcing full circle to serving his country one last time. But Carrie didn’t cry as much as I expected/hoped she would.

The episode, entitled “The Star,” picks up as Brody is stashing the dead body of Iranian dictator Akbari, an action that should place Javadi – Carrie and Saul’s ultimate pawn – in power. Brody reaches out to Carrie, who frantically escorts him to a safe house, where they await the arrival of an extraction team.

Back in the CIA headquarters, people are skeptical of Saul’s master plan and begin to toy with the idea of having Javadi capture Brody to gain his nation’s confidence. Bad news for Saul – the president approved this new plan and he’s sent packing with eleven hours left as commissioner.

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In a scene worthy of a Golden Globe nomination *ahem ahem* Carrie and Brody discuss their allegiances to their country, to themselves, and to each other, leading to the bombshell baby announcement. Right when we think these lovers will fly off in the Middle Eastern sunset, Javadi’s men come and take Brody prisoner, leaving Carrie alone with her feelings.

Soon, word is released that Brody stood before an Iranian military tribunal and was sentenced to death by hanging in the public square. With that in mind, us (the audience) thinks of a million and one different ways our hero can make it out unscathed. But that’s when it hits us – is Brody our hero? Has he ever been our hero? Or has he just been dragged along to test Carrie – tangling her allegiances to herself and to her nation. Once we understand these facts, it’s too late. Brody is being hoisted up on a noose by a crane, his body twitching as his lungs search for the air that just won’t go in. In his final moments, he sees Carrie climbing the fence, wailing his name, “Brody! Brody!.” She said she would be there, and she was.

In a sort of epilogue to the events of the first three seasons, we find a retired Saul vacationing in Greece with his now loving wife (I still don’t really get their relationship, but whatever). Carrie, now eight months pregnant, has been appointed to oversee operations in Istanbul. But she doesn’t want the baby. After a talk with her family, her father decides that he will take the child – who Carrie sees as both a burden and a painful reminder of the life she could never have with Brody.

At a commemorative ceremony honoring the brave men and women who lost their lives protecting the country they love, Carrie looks on with disgust, knowing that Brody has done more for this country than anyone would ever dare give him credit for. In a tearful final moment, she walks up to the wall of stars and discretely draws an additional star, honoring the man who opened Iran’s clenched fist and was betrayed by the CIA operatives who swore to protect him.

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While I understand Homeland is a money-making operation for Showtime, I really would have liked to see Carrie be executed alongside Brody. To be honest, I don’t think she has much left to live for. She has compromised so much about herself to be with Brody, that the epilogue didn’t really do her character justice. Another thing that has been irritating me about this season is the complete lack of jazz music, which was a staple theme throughout the first and second seasons. As trivial as it sounds, Carrie’s music taste truly defined her character from the start and played into her solitary lifestyle.

Also, where was the Brody clan in last night’s episode? Didn’t we need to see Dana’s reaction to her father’s death to make her season long drama worth sharing?! I think I am the only one on the face of the planet who appreciated Morgan Saylor’s portrayal of the disturbed teen who faced public scrutiny by her father’s actions. I’m glad to see reports that both her and Morena Baccarin will be returning for the fourth season, even if their roles are downsized. Part of what made Homeland so intriguing was the added aspect of the Brody’s home. Hurt hits on all fronts, people.

Here’s to Damian Lewis, who crafted such a compelling character that we despised, yet cared for; vehemently hated, now mourn for. Rest in peace, Sargent Nicolas Brody. A U.S. prisoner of war has turned. And now, he has fallen.

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