b&b co-founders brent johnson and bill bodkin look at tv shows worth watching …
By Brent Johnson
There are a few things I look forward to in life: landing on an underrated Billy Joel song when I listen to iPod Shuffle, a fried chicken salad with French dressing at Applebee’s.
Remember ‘Must-See TV’? When Friends and Seinfield shared the same Thursday-night block? It’s back. And it’s much more deadpan, much more sarcastic, much more pop-culture-fied. It’s my favorite night of the workweek because of these four shows:
It’s about a hot-shot lawyer sent back to community college because of a glitch in his degree. Joel McHale of The Soup is acerbic and charming as the preppie playboy attorney. Chevy Chase — who used to play acerbic, charming, preppie playboys — is deliciously wacky, this time as an aging sidekick (and proves that he’s still one of the most entertaining comics of the last half-century). And the storylines are packed with well-paced jokes — often making fun of obscure pop culture with more nuance than Family Guy. It’s like if 30 Rock calmed down and switched its writing staff with Scrubs.
Parks And Recreation
A show with a rocky debut last year that has easily become the most satisfying comedy on TV this season. Created by Office writer Michael Schur — a.k.a. Cousin Mose — it uses a local Indiana government as the backdrop, which kind of makes it seem like ‘The Political Office.’ But the characters are more human than the Dunder-Mifflin crew. And the episodes have proven to be stellar every single week. Plus, it boasts maybe the funniest character on TV: Ron Swanson, a moustached, no-nonsense government guy who spouts straight-faced one-liners, loves breakfast food and hates his ex-wives, both of whom are named Tammy.
Not as good as last season, when the show was steeped in what makes it great: farcical comedy sprinkled with human drama. But like Cheers, we watch because we care about the characters. And like Seinfeld, we watch because we yearn to see what story this week brings. Shows like that never fully lose their luster.
Star-Ledger TV critic Alan Sepinwall notes that a while ago, creator Tina Fey decided to veer this show more toward the zany than the human. Thus, it doesn’t always click as much as it used to, when Fey’s character was more real and Alec Baldwin’s big-wig boss was more supporting than lead. But the show is still stellar because the jokes are so frequent and so random. You never know when you’ll laugh out loud. It hits you so quickly.
My favorite program not on NBC’s Thursday nights?
That Metal Show on VH-1 Classic. That channel alone is brilliant for all the great forgotten 1980s alternative rock it plays (hello The Church and The The). But this half-hour — a talk show about heavy metal featuring a trivia-spouting DJ and two standup comics — is addicting. And I don’t even like metal.
I adore their unabashed love for the music. It’s an easy genre to mock — and they know it. But they treat it with respect. And that’s something I understand and appreciate as a devoted music nut.
They also nab great guests — Lemmy, Mike Piazza. Plus, Eddie Trunk, the DJ who’s the poor man’s Matt Pinfield, is a music nerd you can’t help but like. Seriously, try an episode, even if you’ve never heard a Slayer record.
Also worth noting …
HBO, the non-network that continues to break TV molds.
Curb Your Enthusiasm is clever this season for reuniting the Seinfield cast without a real reunion. Tell me what’s more thrilling than seeing the other Fab Four back in that New York living room, talking about Superman and prostitutes.
True Blood was one of the few dramas on TV that consistently interested me — mostly because it’s too funny and too ridiculous to be bogged down with the weighty action and heavy-handed melodrama that make a show like 24 so unappealing to me. But Season 2 was a bit too fantastical.
And freshman show Hung — about a high school basketball coach (Thomas Jane) who turns to being a male hooker to make money — was underrated for its sly humor and sturdy acting.
Time is of the Essence: The Only TV I Watch
By Bill Bodkin
I don’t have a lot of time in my schedule for TV. Between the blog, my job and my film production company == combined with the fact I have a 300 movie Netflix queue and 30 movies on my DVR at any time, plus my love of football and wrestling — I don’t have a lot of time to watch original television programming. So these five shows are ones that I do/should be watching on a regular basis.
1. Mad Men (AMC)
Brilliant cannot begin to describe this show. Take a trip back to the early ’60s, America’s golden years so fondly remembered by earlier generations. Enter the world of the charmingly despicable yet tragically sympathetic ad man Don Draper. If the show focused solely on his character alone, it would still be great, but writer/creator Matthew Weiner has created a world where every character is vital, where every prop is integral and every line delivered has some sort of ramification. Characters come and go, sometimes not seen for weeks at a time, but their storylines are never forgotten and they are resolved (or not and for a good reason) by the end of the season. Weiner seamlessly integrates major political issues of the time and product placement (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) into storylines. Yet, even with all this, it’s still the performance of Jon Hamm that gives this series the emotional knock-out punch. He’s able to make an audience sympathize with him, while still damning him for his wrong doings. A tortured soul with a heart of tarnished gold, Draper’s world is one you cannot help yourself but to watch. As a person who is not a fan of heavy drama for entertainment, I have been a devoted fan of this series for two years and simply cannot wait until next August when Don Draper walks back on my TV screen.
2. Top Chef (Bravo)
I originally dismissed this show as “another crappy reality show.” I was wrong. While the show gives some attention to “drama” brewing between the chefs the focus is, was and always will be the food. Seeing some of the best chefs in the world come up with brilliantly delicious delicacies under intense time constraints is mind-blowing. Their creations will make you salivate immediately, and I guarantee the competition will suck you in. Kudos goes to the producers of Top Chef, as they have been able to keep this show, which has a very simple and dangerously repetitive concept, fresh by coming up with unique weekly challenges, filming in interesting locales (Vegas, Puerto Rico, Napa Valley) and bringing in special guests like Natalie Portman, The Foo Fighters, Zooey Deschanel and countless celebrity chefs.
3. How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
This sitcom is based around a simple gimmick — a father (the voice of Bob Saget) would regale his children with the story of “how he met their mother.” Clues are dropped regularly, which initially drew viewers in. It was the air of mystery that made this show sitcom unique. However, this mystery is not what makes How I Met Your Mother one of the best sitcoms going. It’s jam-packed with razor-sharp dialogue, tremendously funny dream sequences and cut scenes and is anchored by outstanding comedic performances from Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Segel. If you’re a fan of British sitcoms like Spaced, this is definitely a show you need to be tuning into.
4. The Soup (E!):
I was a huge fan of Talk Soup with John Henson back in the day. After Henson left for TV shows that never panned out, he was abysmally replaced by Hal Sparks and Aisha Tyler. Luckily, in 2004, someone decided that character actor Joel McHale would be a good fit to write and host the show. McHale not only brought back the witty one-liners (including digs on E! itself), zany intros and extremely random guest appearances, but he shifted the show’s focus from just talk shows to cover reality TV, morning network news and absurd celebrity spots (e.g. It’s Miley!). You can always count on this show for good laughs.
5. Bored to Death (HBO)
I will be completely honest here” I have only seen one episode of this series. But it’s an episode that completely hooked me. Jason Schwartzman plays Jonathan Ames, a pot smoking alcoholic yet lovable neurotic Brooklyn novelist who has severe writer’s block. After losing his girlfriend and doing extensive research for a possible detective novel, he decides to become a private detective. Along for the ride are his best friend and cartoonist Ray (Zach Galifianakis), and his publisher George (Ted Danson). The trio embark on a series of ridiculous capers, mostly while stoned. The combination of hipster humor, film noir and pot make this show a very engaging, breezy and utterly enjoyable series. It will most likely never meet Entourage levels of success, but it’s a thinking man’s comedy that should entertain for years to come. And if that doesn’t sell it for you, then watch it for Galifianakis, who is an understated comic genius.