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.

THE NEWSROOM Season 3 Trailer Hits Home

Yesterday, HBO released the trailer for the third and final season of critically-acclaimed series The Newsroomdropping hints that the subject matter will deal with the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings. Without a doubt, Aaron Sorkin will be able to carefully craft this convoluted event, taking into account the various repercussions of media outlets using public tweets as facts in their developing stories.

Take a look at the trailer here:

Looking at the events that have unfolded over the past two years, its almost impossible that the series won’t cover the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which departed on March 8, 2014. While this is a rather recent event, I wonder if Sorkin and the team at HBO had enough time to fit this into the season. If they do incorporate this into their final season story arc, it would only be fitting for world-traveler and tragic-lover Maggie to board the doomed flight, after missing a phone call from star-crossed lover Jim, in which he intended to declare his love for her. Hey, Mr. Sorkin, if you’re looking for any writers for your future projects, look no further!

FLASHBACK: STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP

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During my screenwriting class last semester, our professor showed us the teaser to Aaron Sorkin’s pilot for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and I was in awe. First of all, they introduce us to flustered production assistant, scurrying around the studio moments before the broadcast of a fictional variety show – think SNL on the West Coast…and on Fridays…and on a fictional network, NBS. Anyways, this PA turns out to be none other than my favorite actress at the moment, Merritt Wever! But back in 2006, she didn’t have her Emmy.

Anyway, the show follows veteran comedy duo Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford) as they are called back to the variety show that helped define their careers. Matt is somewhat hesitant to return to Studio 60 because his ex, Harriett Hayes (Sarah Paulson) is now the show’s star, alongside Simon Stiles (D.L. Hughley) and Tom Jeter (Nate Corddrey).

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

To complicate matters, NBS has just hired a new president, Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet), an attractive, young, sensible woman who doesn’t have the social wits about her. Sound like another Aaron Sorkin character to you? Sloan Sabbith, anyone? And that’s not the only Sorkin staple he throws into this show. The power outage right before airtime? The same problem plagues The Newsroom staff before News Night with Will McAvoy. The show also executes Sorkin’s famous “walk and talk” scenes, as made famous in The West Wing.

The combination of writing in acting in this show is surprisingly succinct for an NBC drama, but the lack of ratings and the promising comedy 30 Rock kept Studio 60 from being renewed for a second season. In its one season, however, Sarah Paulson was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama, a well-deserved nod that put the show on the map too late in the game.

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If you’re interested in watching, you’ll have a tough time finding it online. I found the complete series at Newbury Comics for nine bucks – quite the bargain compared to my subsequent Chipotle lunch.

Bullet Points from Winter Break

After four weeks of bumming in front of the couch, with my only exercise being the mindless operation of the four clickers (that could be replaced by one universal clicker (or remote – whatever you want to call it)), I am back on campus and ready to assimilate back to society. But before I do, I figured I would post about the shows I watched over break. Think of it as a form of procrastination before I have actual commitments. And I’m being lazy so I’m just going to do bullet points:

NURSE JACKIE

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-Merritt Wever is the greatest actress on television. She demonstrates tremendous growth as Zoey Barkow, from her skittish days standing up to Dr. O’Hara after her stethoscope was stolen, to the kimono wearing, devil-may-care diva who goes home with Dr. Prentice.
-Peter Facinelli was in Twilight? And also played a doctor? That’s funny. But Coop, too, has changed a whole lot – especially after his moms file for divorce and he is subsequently stood up at the alter. The scene when he buys O’Hara two baby carriers is one of my favorite scenes.
-Eve Best needs to come back to the show. Season Five seemed difficult because Jackie didn’t have anyone to talk to – so she resorted to dead Charlie’s voicemail. Everything she says is funny in her British accent.
-Ruby Jerins is a pretty great child actor. Much better than some of her contemporaries – you go, Gracie.
-Fiona is still better than Gracie.
-When we find out that Gloria Akalitus doesn’t have Alzheimer’s – television gold
-Thor’s one-liners are perfect – and makes up for Momo leaving unexpectedly after the first season.
-Michael Buscemi is AMAZING as God – a disgruntled New Yorker who looks down upon the city screaming at pedestrians on the street.
-Best Episode: Season Four Finale, in which O’Hara goes into labor as Jackie sneaks back into the hospital after being fired by Dr. Cruz. However, Cruz catches our heroine right as his son, Charlie, is wheeled into the ER for an overdose. Cruz clears the stabilizing bay as he and Jackie attempt to unsuccessfully resuscitate Charlie. So many feels.
-Edie Falco = television goddess

ENLIGHTENED

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-Laura Dern stars as Amy, a manic businesswoman who is sent a holistic healing program and returns to her job in an attempt to mend her work and home life – all while trying changing the world. She’s pretty cool and starred in Jurassic Park.
-Mike White writes and stars as Tyler in this rather poetic project. All though it only lasted two seasons, there are many universal truths unveiled through his mellow storytelling. We learn a lot about the human condition and what it means to change and just BE. Very meta shit going on, but I like it.
-These two unlikely friends attempt to take down their cosmetic company, Abbadon
-Molly Shannon guest stars as Eileen, the secretary for Abbadon’s CEO. Amy and Tyler befriend her to gain access to the CEO’s corrupting emails, but Tyler falls for her timid ways. If you watch any episode, go watch “The Ghost is Seen.” It will give you a new perspective about all the people you have ever made fun of…ever.
-Overall, the show is kind of like a poem. It can be a light, breezy watch, or you can look further into it to find the discreet symbolism and social commentary.

THE NEWSROOM

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-Aaron Sorkin is a master storyteller – but I didn’t have to tell you that.
-I only knew Jeff Daniels from Dumb and Dumber, and my god how people can change. He is compelling as controversial news anchor Will McAvoy, who vows, under the guidance of his executive producer and one time lover Mackenzie McHale, to bring unbiased news to the voting public.
-Allison Pill as Maggie and John Gallagher Jr. as Jim are the new “Jim and Pam;” let’s hope season three has something more in store for this duo.
-The way Sorkin handled the Gabrielle Giffords shooting was impeccable. It shows how our divided nation came together to support one of our Congresswomen. And Coldplay’s “Fix You” didn’t hurt either.
-Dev Patel finally shakes his stereotypical Indian character. He literally bears none of the stereotypes in these two seasons. We need more of this.
-Sloan Sabbith is the greatest name in television, and Olivia Munn plays her perfectly – nerdy, socially uncomfortable, etc. And she arcs thanks to Don – who we all hated up until we found out he bought her book at the auction, right?
-Jane Fonda as Leona Lansing = A+, with a bonus for being high as a kite
-Speaking of being high as a kite… “We caught Obama” – McAvoy
-“Unintended Consequences” (the episode of flashbacks to Maggie’s trip to Uganda and subsequent hair cutting) got the best of me.

THE NEWSROOM’s Michael Gunn

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Boston University alum Michael Gunn held a showing of The Newsroom season two premiere tonight at the College of Communication and I was lucky enough to attend. Gunn, who networked his way into becoming a production assistant for the show’s pilot back in 2011, has since been promoted to staff writer, and is credited for his work in the show’s second season.

Although I had never seen The Newsroom – or Aaron Sorkin’s other masterpiece, The West Wing – I was amazed by how carefully each scene of the hour long drama was crafted in order to promote active watching. A sitcom like Modern Family will throw a joke at you and you’ll be expected to get it. Sorkin, however, likes to weed out his audience by making them think, and I was amazed to see that this drama was actually hysterical.

And so, I set off on my Sorkin quest. I’ll start with the easy, two seasons of The Newsroom. What will be difficult is the seven seasons of The West Wing – each with a network television drama count of 20+ episodes per season. I’ll keep you posted on my progress, friends. Oh yeah, and midterms are coming… I feel like there should be an HBO related meme for that to close this post:

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Wisdom Teeth

In a little under an hour I will be heavily sedated, under the knife. When the procedure is completed, I will be four wisdom teeth lighter and will return home with pain meds on pain meds on pain meds. Because of this, there are two equally likely outcomes. One, that I will not blog about the many shows I will be watching on bed rest. Or two, that there will be an abundance of incoherent rants posted in the coming days. Again, equally likely outcomes.

My television goals for my four day post-op recovery are:

-to finish the fourth season of Netflix’s Arrested Development 

-to finish season one of FX’s The Americans

-to start and finish the short-lived high school comedy Freaks and Geeks on Netflix

-and if I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll throw in some of HBO’s The Newsroom.

Also, I finished Game of Thrones season 3 just the other day, so I’d like to share my thoughts on those as well.