Saturday, May 30, 2015

TV sitcoms recap

I had been brewing and tinkering with the following blog idea a little too long, and now it’s probably out of date. I wanted to give a take on sitcoms as the TV season wrapped up, as much as the old-school notion of a TV season from September through May is even still a thing.

So here’s a quick take on a few shows, really my favorites or what’s currently interesting to me, and where I think they stand in their run – are they continuing to build in quality and creativity, holding firm, or declining?

The one sitcom that is truly not just improving but has been consistently “killing it,” with writing and acting on such a high level that it rarely missteps, is:

The Goldbergs (ABC)

The way this show’s first two seasons have gone, it’s inconceivable that it will not continue to be an on-target re-creation of what it was like growing up in the 1980s in the Northeast, and more specifically the Philly suburbs. The only thing that could sink it is if they run out of ideas, but the personalities of the characters are so vivid and well-realized that they ought to easily complete five seasons and become big in syndication – these episodes definitely are going to bear repeat viewing.

These two are definitely on the rise, following their first seasons:

The Odd Couple (CBS) – This version of a classic walks a fine line between being a too-conventional laugh-track sitcom and having a bit more depth, as a multiple camera studio-shot sitcom. The season ended on a promising note, setting up movement forward for the characters, with Thomas Lennon’s Felix hooking up with Emily, who had long been interested in him even though he was oblivious, and Matthew Perry’s Oscar and his ex-wife realizing that reconciling wouldn’t be a good idea.

Last Man on Earth (Fox) – At a certain point in its season, most of its viewers were wondering it needed to or would keep adding cast members. But it made a key plot twist near the season’s end that set itself up very nicely for its now-confirmed second season. Having leads Will Forte and Kristen Schaal leave the growing community, and revealing that Forte indeed has a brother played by SNL castmate Jason Sudeikis, who was marooned in space when most of humanity got wiped out, opens up the possibility of better surprises next year.

And, about some others: The Big Bang Theory (CBS) and Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox) are continuing to work their formulas to good effect, with Big Bang Theory throwing in another character development twist at season’s end.

I was never really a fan of 2 Broke Girls, but what I do catch of it seems to be getting worse and worse, with an ever-hackier stream of innuendos continuing to decline in quality. Might be only one more season of this before it has to be put out of its misery.

And shamefully there is not a single NBC sitcom I can think of that has any importance to discuss here. One Big Happy (already canceled?) was an even worse version of Up All Night. Yet NBC exiled Community to Yahoo, and passed on picking up Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which was so good, I just binged (smashed?) the whole thing on Netflix in a few weeks. As my friend Wayne Thomas would say, all their programmers should be fired.


Postscript (added June 7, 2015): I have to amend something in this blog item -- the last season of Community on NBC was strong, but I have now see the first episode of the sixth season on Yahoo, and something has gone drastically wrong with that show. The tone was completely off, the characters were no longer displaying their personalities as we'd come to know them over the past seasons of the show, and there were several attempts at jokes and humor that felt flat or hacky. Not sure what has happened, but if NBC had a right of first refusal on this material, it's no wonder that they would have passed.

Comedy Books Roundup

Of the upcoming books by comedians or comedic performers being promoted this year at BookExpo America, the publishing industry’s annual trade show, the common trait to most of them is that they aren’t just autobiographies or collections of stand-up or comedy material.

To begin with, titles by Whoopi Goldberg, Aziz Ansari and Dick Van Dyke all contain a self-help or advice element. Ansari’s “Modern Romance,” coming in just a few weeks (for which we hope to have an early review), finds the comedian blending research from social scientists with his own comedic angle on relationships as he delivers in his act.

In the fall, Goldberg will publish “Whoopi’s Big Book of Relationships,” her own personal take on love and marriage. And Van Dyke will publish “Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging,” a follow-up to his memoir, “My Lucky Life.”

There are a couple other comedy-oriented titles to look forward to, also being promoted at BookExpo: “Why Not Me?” by Mindy Kaling, which sounds like it might also be in the self-help genre, but has been described as personal comedic essays, and “Gumption” by Nick Offerman, a follow-up to his “Paddle Your Own Canoe,” that basically puts more of his solo comedy material out there, in the vein of his “American Ham” special.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Late Night Hosts Trading Block

Inspired by a recent Grantland column about wish-fulfillment of who should or shouldn’t be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, our longtime supporter and new columnist, Wayne Thomas, takes the same approach to the late night talk-show host shakeups of recent months.

From what I've seen, James Corden works big time. Hell, maybe he should get the Late Show, he could easily compete with Fallon and Kimmel. Fallon, beyond his music bits, his interview skills kinda suck. Why can't Stewart and Colbert stay/go back to their respective shows? They were the tops. I miss Ferguson and even Kilborn. Too bad there isn't a place for these guys.

Most of these shows would work better if they were a half hour. Maybe except Kimmel. His guests always seem relevant, his interview skills are killer, and he gets great bands (Van Halen, anyone?). So here are my late night re-assignments:

Jon Stewart: He stays with The Daily Show, gets rid of the boring guests at end of show, that's where he interviews pop stars.
Colbert: Stays on the Colbert Report, Larry Wilmore goes back to being the senior black correspondent on TDS
John Oliver: Stays exactly where he is, he is killing it.
The Tonight Show: Give it to Kimmel, the show itself is an institution, stays/goes back to California.
Late Nite: Give it back to Conan, the show is too late as it is anyway, and nobody watches TBS.
Seth Meyers: Fired.
Jimmy Fallon: He's good for some music parodies, he could show up with the Roots as a reoccurring guest on Late Nite or go back to SNL
SNL: Fire Lorne Michaels immediately. Reduce it to an hour, no musical guest or maybe one song, bring back Tina Fey & Amy Poehler
The Late Show: Yeah, Letterman needs to retire, he's overstayed his welcome just as Carson did. Give the show to James Corden.
Late, Late Show: Hmm, reduce to a half-hour, bring back Ferguson, maybe one guest per night. Definitely get rid of Reggie Watts, send him back to Comedy Bang-Bang, then cancel Comedy Bang-Bang.
Craig Kilborn: Since I took Kimmel from ABC, maybe ABC can put Kilborn back on the air, light hearted half-hour pop star interview show, which he'll probably quit in five years anyway, 'cause he's ungrateful.
Carson Daly: Fired.

Wayne, I’d have some tweaks to this – and you do know, none of this would ever in a million years happen, but anyway…


Give John Oliver an hour. 30 minutes is too short for him. They extended the recent Edward Snowden episode anyway.

With ABC tied to ESPN, ought to make Kilborn do double duty, make half hour of his show about sports and air on both networks. Or re-team him with Keith Olbermann.

More substantially, too soon to anoint James Corden ‘King of Late Night.’ Samantha Bee and Jason Jones should have taken over The Daily Show.

Why not a version of Marc Maron’s “WTF” interviews in the 1:30 am “Later”/Carson Daly spot?

What, nothing about Bill Maher?


Saturday, February 7, 2015

J.B. Smoove Reins It In

Catching comedian J.B. Smoove’s appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman on February 4, I found it interesting how this very physical comedian whose movements on stage are broad and big, adapted to being a seated guest on a late night talk show.

J.B. Smoove’s interactions with Letterman were still more physical than verbal – again, interesting, because Smoove is also very talkative as a performer. Paying tribute to Letterman because of his upcoming retirement, Smoove told Dave that he needed to strike a pose befitting his status as an icon, setting Letterman up nicely – he leaned back in his chair, arms behind his head, a “what me worry?” grin on his face and raised a blurred middle finger.

Smoove is no newbie either, and these two old pros were riffing and improvising within the physical limitations of staying seated. Smoove responded that he never wanted to be looking directly at the camera, striking a thoughtful pose of his own, then hitting on another bit of physical comedy.

“I just wanna be pointing things out,” Smoove said, stretching his arm out toward stage right, “like I’m on the grassy knoll. Something ain’t right over there!” Letterman chuckled in recognition in this surreal bit of humor that Smoove generated.