Best New Views – September 2018

The next time I see you, I will be poorer in pocket but infinitely richer in having seen On The Run II. Farewell, all!

A Simple Favor

I didn’t let myself hope for much from A Simple Favor. I love thrillers, I love women-lead items, I love Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. It seemed like, good or not, this movie was engineered for me to have a good time. But I forgot the Feig of it all.

Paul Feig, who has previously shown adept Frankensteining of tones in Spy, helms this superb comedy-thriller — a descriptor I’m not sure has ever been used or lived up to its potential, until now. As if it weren’t enough that this movie is twisty as hell, it’s also hysterical, volleying between moods and motives as if they were Tic-Tacs: Ferociously, one after another, all while keeping it fresh.



Bojack Horseman, season 5

I love Bojack. It’s like zany Mad Men, with more puns, tomfoolery, and anthropomorphized characters. Season five was more of the same, which is to say new heights of brilliance and complexity, without skimping on the creativity and pizzazz that make Bojack so fun to watch.

Never one to shy away from big topics, season five is a season almost entirely predicated on the same idea that just a few weeks prior Louis C.K. was exhausting us all with. Only this time it’s done responsibly and methodically, without erasing the victims of the harassment at all.

Kim’s Convenience

This is not a perfect show. Sometimes it feels as if the writers are more interested in dilemmas than they are in characters. But boy, nothing beats a charming sitcom that’s not afraid to dabble a bit in the drama of it all. The show is at its best when its toying with its own version of a “will they/won’t they” — the estranged father/son dynamic — but it’s sweet and funny as hell throughout it all.

The Bullet in my Arm

The world has been struggling to make sense of what to take away from the 2016 election, and subsequent administration. How do we cope with the vitriol that has made its choice abundantly clear in this country? Whose job is it to cross the divide? I’m positive I don’t have an answer for that yet. But I know that reading well-reasoned, beautifully-written things from a different perspective than my own is vital no matter what.

The U.S. is an amazing experiment I believe other countries can’t quite fathom; the sheer diversity not just in the perfunctory label that is applied to people, but to the geography and the needs of the nation are unparalleled. Learning more about the actual people who believe they require something different than me — in this case, gun country, Tuscaloosa — is fascinating. And this Atlantic article is a good foray in.

The Swimmer

This movie has been described as “Death of a Salesman in swim trunks,” which both perfectly encapsulates it and utterly undersells it. It’s a movie that hinges on a sort of “gimmick” — man mysteriously floats and swims his way through the county towards his house, and seemingly away from some truth of his life we aren’t quite privy to — but manages to embellish it beyond that, or perhaps in spite of it. With each new pool Ned Merrill dips into a few more years are washed off, and the end is so specific as to be universally haunting.

Ooh, and please read Travis Woods’ fantastic essay on it for BWDR (the impetus for my viewing).

&& also: Check out Ethan Warren’s essay on Step Brothers as well, with a thesis and an Iraq War connection that will blow your socks off.

Making It

America is, as they say, horny for wholesome. Nothing is more wholesome than a Amy Poehler/Nick Offerman-hosted reality show where people make crafts. And nothing is more American than it essentially being a reframe of the Great British Bake Off.

Youtube video of the month: 



Punchlines and Punching Bags: Putting the Heart in Your Humor

The Mindy Project is a challenging show. For a series to have shed so many of its characters, arcs, and iterations, it has never managed to find a strategy to reconcile all the inconsistency within itself; Danny is all in with Mindy, next thing you know he’s surprised she wants to get married. Mindy gets a new confidant with every short-lived cast addition but without much thought to what each character should bring her. Mindy’s main asset is that she is an excellent doctor, but sometimes the opportunity for a one-liner complicates all that. And don’t even get me started on Jeremy.

Often I held the show in a sort of special shelf of TV—the certain regard shows that may not be great (or even that good) but who you’ll follow to the end, because when they are good they are fire. The problem with The Mindy Project has always been its balancing act between humor and heart.

The thing the show has taught me about comedy, is that it’s mostly funny (or at least cohesive) when its heart is in the right place. It’s what the most successful comedies do well—from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to Jane the VirginThe humor is grounded somewhere in emotion, an awareness, and a sense of boundaries, both political and thematic.

"Chapter Twenty-Three"For Sunny that’s making sure the butt of the joke is the characters themselves. For Jane that’s keeping heightened telenovela emotions tethered to the ground through practical reactions to ridiculous telenovela tropes. When Rick and Morty plays dirty it’s not just because they’re a crass Adult Swim show, it’s because they understand the heart of the characters they’ve drawn up. Bojack Horseman gets to be absurd, bizarre, and creative with its take on Hollywoo(d) and stardom because its characters are so honestly devastating in their emotional portrayal.

“I certainly laugh a lot at Jane the Virgin, that said, I cry at every episode of Jane the Virgin; it’s a very emotional show. And I think they traffic in a lot of genuine emotional truth, which maybe is something that comedy has a harder time with, or that you don’t associate as strongly with what happens in a comedy, like a capital-C, obvious sitcom, comedy. You don’t really look to those shows necessarily for those resonate emotional beats that Jane the Virgin has a lot of.” -Margaret Lyons on The Vulture TV Podcast

The Mindy Project has always done fairly well when it chooses to put its emotional foot forward; aided by strong performances by Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina, the true dysfunction of Mindy and Danny’s relationship has always been clouded by those genuine scenes where they make it up to each other.

FOR TV -- DO NOT PURGE -- THE MINDY PROJCET:  Mindy (Mindy Kaling, R) convinces Danny (Chris Messina, L) that her tax troubles are easily fixed in the "Crimes & Misdemeanors & Ex-BF's" episode of THE MINDY PROJECT airing Tuesday, Sept. 23 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.  ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co.  Cr:  Jordin Althaus/FOX

But too often their jabs (ok, Danny’s, mostly) go over the line, bordering closer to abusive than comedic. All too often the show forgets about the genuine emotional truth that should be its guiding star. I can understand the idea of an irresistible single punchline, but those start to add up. It’s self-deprecating taken three or four one-liners too far, which on a show that doesn’t traffic in emotion might be ok. But The Mindy Project wants to have its sitcommy cake and eat it too; it wants all those laughs-per-minute, and that can be maddening when the show also seems to want us to believe these characters as more than just punchlines and punching bags.

When a friend originally told me about The Mindy Project she said it was great as a series of one-liners, not so much as a whole that hangs together. I’ll probably always hold the show in a certain regard, but that definition is the one that seems to be what it’s taken to heart.

Winner of the summer TV season: ‘Bojack Horseman’ Season 2

A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that one of the most realistic character shows on TV would be a show about an anthropomorphic horse. But then “Bojack Horseman” galloped onto the scene.

“BoJack Horseman” is the latest in a growing number of shows whose cynicism masks a deeper intelligence, both in its humor and its emotion. Season one took a while to find its feet, but season two suffers no such tepid period. Gone are the times when they leaned on jokes that were too easy and ended up with hit-or-miss comedy. This season is straight out of the gate.
From the very beginning of first episode, the sophomore season establishes that it is just as fast with the punchline as it is with the gut-punch. The trick is that it doesn’t favor either side of its balancing act. “BoJack Horseman” is both an irreverent comedy with animals that act like humans and hilarious sight gags, while also being a grounded and biting character study of life as a Hollywoo(d) has-been.

When we left BoJack (Will Arnett) he was at a bit of a crossroad in his life: After what little public persona he had being blown up by Diane’s (Alison Brie) tell-all, he was never more lonely, and never more popular—having landed his dream role of Secretariat. Season two’s opener, “Brand New Couch,” picks up right from mess of emotions as BoJack tries to move on and up with his life and career.

Similar to season one, the description of basic events often seems run-of-the-LA-mill. And admittedly none of the themes of season one or two—fame, relationships, success, and the prices we pay for all of it—are fresh on their own. But the magic of “BoJack Horseman” has always been that it’s grounded those themes intensely with their characters, resulting in comedy and drama that consistently feels smart, even when it’s making a dirty joke.

Season two takes all those characters and raises them to the next level. That means it doesn’t skimp on secondary characters, like Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd, who are given expanded roles carving out a slice of Hollywoo(d)’s notoriety.

"After the Party" plays with storytelling techniques, and wonders why Mr. Peanutbutter keeps going back to the same printer.
“After the Party” plays with storytelling techniques, and wonders why Mr. Peanutbutter keeps going back to the same printer.

Overall, season two starts to feel a bit more like an ensemble; closer to “Mad Men” in tone and character focus. “After the Party,” the fourth episode of the new season, jumps from dynamic to dynamic, volleying between eccentric humor and raw emotion without so much a yellow light.

And just like Don Draper, though “BoJack Horseman” leans on more than its title character doesn’t mean it’s not willing to plumb the depths of his darkness. By the end of the season we’ve seen BoJack reach new levels of shame, and it’s not always easy to watch. Or rather, it wouldn’t be, if this show weren’t so damn engrossing.

But for the world of “BoJack,” the worlds of comedy and drama aren’t separate genres at all. Instead they’re closely related, allowing even wacky humor to float closer to real life than it really deserves to (this season does, sort of, answer the question of “in a world with anthropomorphic animals why do they eat meat?” Just in case you’ve been dying to know). It leaves viewers with the feeling that the show is always one punchline ahead of you. And thanks to the outstanding voice acting, even when the path of the joke feels obvious it feels brilliant.
And for a cast that was already bursting at the seams with comedic talent, season two turns it up to eleven; with Lisa Kudrow, Tatiana Maslany, Aisha Tyler, and more joining the ranks—with some surprise guests sprinkled along the way.

Not all the rough edges have been sanded down. “BoJack” has always taken an Adult Swim-esque humor, where if you’re not in on the joke you can move along. And with the most commitment to a laugh-a-minute in-jokes since at least “Arrested Development,” it’s likely that a lot of that could fly by the casual viewer’s head. It’s unlikely that anyone who didn’t find themselves enamored with BoJack and his band of merry misery by the end of the first season will start appreciating it more with season two. The sophomore season doubles down on the world it’s built, and adds in a healthy helping of high ambitions.

hqdefault-2By the end of the season the nuance and realism have ballooned, in the best way, to a snowball that’s only picking up more and more speed. It’s a bit crowded by the time “BoJack” crosses the finish line, but never completely out of whack, and with a third season officially on its way there’s a whole new dozen episodes to spurt out everything that’s left over.

Intelligent, absurd, and dark, in equal measure, “BoJack Horseman” season two keeps the fun rolling all the way until the knife is at its hilt, and then twists. And then it answers that question you had about whether or not the universe had a separate Emmy category anthropomorphic animal actors.