(adult swim/HBO MAX/VOD) Three housewives, each named Debra, get together for brunch and occasionally other activities in their vibrant suburban town of Lemoncurd. When together, they’re often passively-aggressively acting out against each other, indulging themselves in hedonistic activities, or partaking of bursts of violence, all while often adorned in white clothing and surrounded by similarly stark interior design.
These are the antics of adult swim‘s- THREE BUSY DEBRAS, aired in a half-hour block featuring two ten minute tales to bewilder and amuse. While THREE BUSY DEBRAS, the vision of Sandy Honig, Mitra Jouhari and Alyssa Stonoha, clearly comes from their improvisational roots, it feels like it has a self-imposed set of absurdist rules that gives the show a more mythic air.
Its reliance on often immature behavior, neediness, and willful oblivion to the wants of the more grounded folks around them reminds me of the extraordinarily silly character comedy STELLA, although unlike STELLA — which was delightfully nihilistic with its messaging — THREE BUSY DEBRAS is often unabashedly feminist, albeit often rendered through a very skewed sense of humor. For example, one episode in the second, current season, details several stories of Lemoncurd women in history, including the advent of ‘smoky eye’ when a woman in ‘one billion BCE’ (Before the Curded Era) garners two black eyes when she trips and falls face-first on a stone-built fire. The second tale in that episode celebrates Susan B. Shoppin’, who ‘bravely’ fought for the right of the women of Lemoncurd to be refused the right to vote.
The second season of THREE BUSY DEBRAS concludes this Sunday (May 22nd) at 10pm EST on adult swim/Cartoon Network, just enough time to catch up from beginning. However, if you’re pressed for time, I suggest jumping into the second season, as it feels sharper and wilder and well-honed. Or you can just watch at your leisure via HBO MAX, whichever suits your needs.
(Hulu) While I’m well-aware that I occasionally describe a work as a dramedy, it’s simply meant as shorthand rather than for any love of the term. While I use it, it means: this work isn’t wall-to-wall empty laughs or overwrought heartbreak. Real human drama is often funny ha-ha, and sometimes comedically tragic; I believe that great dramas generously sprinkle in comedy, and great comedies are built on dramatic tension. A spoonful of sugar, etc. — one way or the other — so to say. Yet, I don’t think I’ve seen a show that so perfectly balances the two as Pamela Adlon’s BETTER THINGS.
BETTER THINGS centers around Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon, who has been a very hard-working character/voice actor for years), an L.A.-based middle-aged screen-and-voice-actor and the single mother of three daughters: teenage Max (Mikey Madison from SCREAM (2022) and ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD), pre-teen Frankie (Hannah Riley), and youth Duke (Olivia Edward, who occasionally popped up in CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND). Living next-door to her is her willful, very passive-aggressive British mother named Phyllis, but Sam solely calls her Phil. (You may sense a naming trend here.)
(I need to note: Louis C.K. — who admitted to sexual misconduct, and who did fictionally sexually assault Adlon’s character on LOUIE — was a credited writer, producer and co-creator for the show, but while he is no longer a writer or producer, he is still credited as co-creator. It’s also worth noting that Adlon was the best part of the greatest episodes of LOUIE, as well as his short-lived show LUCKY LOUIE. In other words, they have history and it’s complicated, and she isn’t discussing it. As far as I’ve read, he’s had no input on the show for some time.)
Initially, the show is about Sam navigating her life as she feels her age and feels those around her react to her age, all while she juggles the needs of motherhood. However, with each subsequent season, the show expands, and it becomes far more about maintaining family bonds as your brethren move forward and change.
Additionally, as the show progressed, it became far more experimental, indulging Adlon’s delightfully fanciful filmic flights, often through local trips, or through another character’s POV. It feels like a true exploration of life, of aging, of self-acceptance, self-discovery, self-improvement, and reckoning.
It makes time to luxuriate in life and the little joys: the tranquility of cooking, a brief nap in the park, people-watching, while never turning a blind eye to the harder parts of living, especially when you have to tend to the ever-changing needs of your children and yourself.
No, the show is not a gut-buster; it’s not meant to be. However, it always makes me laugh, and then two minutes later my eyes are welling up.
I’ve seen all but the finale — which airs tonight (April 25th) — but I wanted to boost it now because I’m impatient.
(Blu-Ray/Roku/tubi) As one might suspect, I was a gigantic nerd in my youth, enough of one that I was part of a group in high-school that would pool our lunch money to order LaserDiscs of late 80s anime and we’d then, err, find ways to ‘happen upon’ ways to duplicate copies for all involved. Let me tell you: bootlegging works were far more difficult, but far more enthralling, back then.
Apart from the soundtrack occasionally popping up in my playlists over the years, I’d mostly forgotten about PROJECT A-KO (despite still having a proper VHS copy of it)! At least, until this post popped up in my feeds.
The immediate flashback this post induced was: “oh, now that I think about it, this anime wasn’t just fan-service, it was super gay.” And, yup:
“The basic plot of PROJECT A-KO is: one dumbass lesbian fighting another dumbass lesbian to win the heart of the dumbest lesbian in the lands.”
I forgot how funny, how comic, PROJECT A-KO was, even though I know I didn’t get the bulk of the in-jokes and parodies and references back-in-the-day, and probably still don’t. However, it features a ton of hilariously universal kinetic physical comedic moments, while still often feeling grounded despite, you know, someone using numerous missiles as stepping stones during combat. Additionally, while the characters do a lot of punching, there’s not much in the way of punching down. Everyone here is flawed and messy and definitely either queer or over-protective found family, and you’re meant to identify with their flaws, rather than scorn them.
I rarely recommend any YouTube film-centric commentary video that runs for over an hour because I often don’t have the patience for watching them, but I highly recommend the one linked in the MeFi post above. I learned a lot, and it brought back a lot of memories.
Lastly, the OST is well-worth your time. Spaceship in the Dark is still a banger with all of its orchestral hits.
Maria Bamford is well-known (well, among comedy nerds) as being a major figure of 90s alt-comedy, but also for being a comedian’s comedian. Part of it has to do with her command over her voice — if you’ve watched anything animated over the past fifteen or so years, you have heard her extremely versatile voice — but also over her command of tone. She knows how to balance serious material with absurdity through little more than a lilt or twitch.
She also had a semi-autobiographical two-season Netflix show — LADY DYNAMITE — which was a deep dive into her reckoning with mental illness. It was brilliant and laugh-out-loud funny and featured a lot of pugs.
In the before-times, I even managed to catch a performance of hers at Chicago’s Den Theatre and walked away dazed, half-drunk on laughs and self-reflection. After the show, I hung around the bar, reading a book in a cushy chair, listening to a fantastic DJ, and I watched as she spent time with everyone that approached her. She was at her merch table for well over an hour, listening to people, joking with them, making sure they felt seen and cared for.
She’s a goddamn comedic saint, and every one of her works deserve to be in the limelight. She filmed a stand-up special entitled THE SPECIAL SPECIAL SPECIAL where the only audience members were her very supportive mother and father, which I implore you to seek out. It’s an astoundingly awkward, but yet heartfelt work, partially because of Bamford’s mimicry regarding her parents — especially her mother.
Consequently, I was stunned to hear that her mother recently died of lung cancer, and that Bamford did a tight five of it on the March 11th, 2022 THE LATE LATE SHOW.
Here’s where I hand matters off to Vulture’s Jesse David Fox, who is both extremely empathic and brilliant at dissecting comedy. Read his post, watch the piece, and be prepared to laugh and cry:
“I miss this sort of comedy, the kind of comedy that doesn’t call attention to its jokes, the kind that’s sharply written and doesn’t meander or rely on extended improvised riffs. It’s tightly wound silliness with a ton of great talent”
“We’re all healing as we (hopefully) come to the end of this awful era, and seeing JOY RIDE under these circumstances was such an immensely enjoyable time, and I’m so happy I could see it with such giving artists.”
“I can’t recommend these two films enough, but I would suggest watching them relatively close together. I hadn’t seen PART I since it screened in theaters in 2019, and felt like I was missing out on a lot in PART II because, uh, my memory, and the past two years have been particularly harrowing.”
I’ve had the goddamn hardest time getting people to watch this film, solely because of Kristen Stewart, but hell, the way she casts her eyes … I wish folks would just watch the trailer and see her transformation.
“I can’t remember the last time I so extensively averted my eyes from watching a film. However, those moments are not exploitative — they are meant to be uncomfortable, they are there for a reason. I simply felt that I was able to glean that reason by listening, instead of watching.”
Not gonna lie; IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA runs hot-or-cold for folks. It’s an extremely acerbic show that you either love or hate, and I happen to fucking love it. While it’s often extremely distasteful, it also has a surprisingly sweet side.
The latest season was a bit off-kilter, but the trip to Ireland was chef kiss and, while it was shorter than I would have liked, it did lean into a bit more emotion and sensitivity, which PHILLY has become surprisingly good at for a show that’s so unabashedly unapologetic for how awful their characters are.
“[One] of the few shows I had to relegate to only watching during the daytime and while I wasn’t working, because it was so fucking hilarious that it was distracting and my laughter was prone to waking folks up.”
Hilariously filthy and horny on Tverskaya, while still being emotionally and historically insightful, while still being completely irreverent. Completely unlike anything else on the air right now.
While the Jean Smart-renaissance contines, I’m far more interested in Hannah Einbinder and her journey. A fantastic scrutinization on women in comedy and their personal endeavors.
“[F]unny, warm, smart, and occasionally scary. The season one finale, which saw him documenting the spread of COVID-19 via his Greek landlord was so heartwarming, while also being heartbreaking.”
ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING
“It’s a legitimately thrillingly suspenseful tale that, honestly? Didn’t need to be.“
An astounding work of the trials and tribulations indigenous folks have to live with in America, while still being amazingly funny.
STAR TREK: DISCOVERY S3 (one ep in 2021, so I’m counting it.)
““This is my kind of STAR TREK!” [I exclaimed,] as there were more than a few eps that focused on discovering new worlds with kind intent, recreating the wonder that drew me into the STAR TREK universe in the first place. While not all of the characters are terribly complex, their motives and Federation-centric willfulness to be as helpful as they can be was refreshing, comforting, and familiar. It felt like the show realized what it needed to do to recapture the original series’ magic, all while gamely moving matters forward.”
“A confused mix of hash anthems and sour girl power. […] It was kind of like therapy, but with a lot of screaming.”
“I’m the lamb, by the way.”
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS S3
While S3 didn’t hit the highs of Jackie Daytona, it was still far more hilarious and heartfelt and inventive than practically any other high-concept comedy out there.
THE WHITE LOTUS
Mike White is exceptional at not only writing the plights of privileged white folks, but also in managing your expectations when it comes to those set-pieces. This is his case of having his cake and eating it too.
WYONNA EARP was caught in Canadian finance limbo for far too long, but the final season delivered. It was always an underrated genre show, and sadly it appears that it’ll remain that way.
YELLOWJACKETS’ pilot is perhaps the best genre pilot since LOST, and you can watch it for free!
YELLOWJACKETS is best described as teen girl LORD OF THE FLIES meets LOST, but frankly, it’s better, at least so far. The characters are more complex, the circumstances more interesting, and they (so far) aren’t drawing out paranatural circumstances.
(HBO/HBO MAX) HOW TO WITH JOHN WILSON just wrapped its second season, but for the purposes of this recommendation, I will stick to the first season, solely because I’m a bit behind on the second season. (That said, the second season enlisted the skills of one of the best writerly documentarian of the current generation, Susan Orlean, so take that as a full-throated recommendation for skipping ahead if you’re impatient.)
John Wilson is an obsessive documentarian. He always has a camera in his hand and he’s always looking out for some oddity, searching for thirty-seconds of visual intrigue in New York City. However, he’s also capable of a meandering weaver of cultural insight.
Each episode of HOW TO WITH JOHN WILSON starts off with an innocuous ideal: “How to Make Small Talk”; “How to Improve Your Memory”; “How to Cover Your Furniture” but each episode is like a strange stream-of-consciousness/exquisite corpse-like tale where he wanders to a larger humanist insight. It’s funny, warm, smart, and occasionally scary. The season one finale, which saw him documenting the spread of COVID-19 via his Greek landlord was so heartwarming, while also being heartbreaking.
My wife asked me: “Is there a name for this sort of genre? Overly-sincere dudes examine the lives they witness around them?” I wished I could lay a name to the genre, but shows like these — NATHAN FOR YOU, JOE PERA TALKS WITH YOU, and HOW TO WITH JOHN WILSON, escape classification. We’re simply used to dude-based TV works as being meditations about cruelty, and I’m happy to see that we’re finally rounding the curve, that we’re seeing works about men questioning their world, reaching out, being empathic. It gives me hope and warms my cynical heart.
“You don’t always realize you’re in the middle of history until it’s over.”
(peacock/VOD) A.P. BIO is, well, was since it’s been canceled for a second time, ostensibly about a narcissistic asshole named Jack Griffin (IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA’s Glenn Howerton) who is thrust into teaching a high-school A.P. Biology course that he has absolutely no interest in. While the first season tried to adhere to a saccharin-sweet balance, the subsequent seasons firmly posited the show as a gag machine firing on all cylinders.
Consequently, the rest of this write-up will consist solely of recounting some of the most ridiculous jokes:
“I have my father’s eye.”
“You mean eyes.”
“Oh no, his actual eye. I had a bum cornea so, when he died, they just swapped his right into my eye, and that’s why I don’t look at myself naked because it wouldn’t be appropriate.”
Oh Paula Pell, you do know how to comedically sell a melancholy tale.
“Yes, we did it! It was us! We were the ones who brought the ice down from the misty mountains! Take this back to the princess and she can have her Snowcone! Curtain; intermission.”
“Wow! That all happens in Act I? That’s -amazing-!”
“I have a few notes. I feel like it owes a big debt to THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE.”
“He skipped lunch with a student! Look at him: he dressed like Betelgeuse for this!”
“Uh, I’m ska.”
“He’s ska-red! I’m ska too. I’m very ska. But Durbin come back safe safe.”
“Mary, I renew my objection to this whole cabin in the woods business. I mean, I don’t know many times I have to tell you that I don’t do full nature.”
“We are going to have so much fun! Three foxy mammas in the great outdoors? We’re either going to meet a bigfoot, a Brawny paper towel man, or a Leatherface. And, as you know, two of three three are my type.”
“I mean, it’s sure to beat Michelle’s pick of San Antonio from last year.”
“I promised my dad I would tour the Pace Picante factory before he died, so I did it, and then he died right away, and now my mom sort of blames me for it, so yeah, Stef, really dull trip.”
“Metal compasses? Hand over the math knives, Wolverine.”
“I have a parasitic twin! It’s just a mass of hair and teeth, really. It’s in a jar at home! …that felt pretty vulnerable, and I’d love it if someone looked at me.”
Jack spots a poster of a wrestling match: “Neanderthal gymnastics.” (No offense to fans of wrestling, but it’s a great Jack quip.)
Not a line, but a great bit of costume design: Anthony, one of the students, is wearing a DINOSAURS ‘NOT THE MAMMA!’ shirt.
“Whoa, PIECES OF APRIL. Nice. Very on-brand for our Katie Holmes Day rummage sale.” I genuinely, unironically love that movie, and apparently the A.P. BIO folks do too as they even dress student Heather (the always entertaining Allisyn Snyder) up as the titular April, and drop in a few other fun riffs that I don’t want to spoil.
“Ralph, the football team wants real energy drinks. They figured out that Gatorade Clear is just water.”
“We need to bust outta here now.”
“Oh no, I’m not going outside. There’s probably cows flying around.”
“Yeah, I’m not trying to get hit upside the head by no barn or something, knocking my baby straight outta of me before I get to paint the nursery.”
“Listen to me: Keith is sound-mixing today. He works in a glass gazebo in our backyard with a blindfold and noise-cancelling headphones! And the song he’s working on is mostly wind and sirens! I need to sneak out of here and save my husband, and I need your help.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s dead. And you need to let him go. But I’ll help you get out!”
“At least to identify the body.”
…and Bruce Campbell pops up on A.P. BIO:
“Haha, Jack Sprat. My God. Look how big you are.”
“I’ve been this size for twenty years.”
Now that’s some fantastically succinct character background information, wrapped up in one great quip, and exactly why this show deserves more attention.
“Now, what’d everyone bring for their lunch roulette? And it’d better be good. Mary?”
“Huh? Oh, I would go first, but I want to see what Helen’s got.”
“Oh! Well, I had some time this morning so I just whipped up some seared duck breast in a balsamic reduction.”
“And I would’ve made dessert, too, if the duck had gone down easier! Hehe!”
“Helen, did you kill this duck, like, this morning?”
“Well, yeah, I wasn’t gonna pan-fry it alive. I’m not a psychopath!”
“Okay, for lunch roulette, I brought: one, normal, unadulterated ba-na-na!”
“…is this a rusty nail?” (There’s clearly a rusty nail embedded in said ba-na-na.)
“If it’s roulette, there’s gotta be one bullet to make it fun! Whatever, you guys suck. Let’s just play!”
“It’ll be nice for Rhonda to see how much we care. I tell you this: when Keith goes, I’m… [imitates self-inflicted gunshot to the head].”
“Hold up. Goes? Goes where?”
“Weren’t you listening? Rhonda’s husband died. What did you write on the card?”
“I wrote ‘Yippee! You’re back in the game! Get some, X-X-X’”
Context: A baby has just been born. Folks are speculating about the baby in the hospital.
“I just wish I could hold her! I’ll lactate, because I was a wet nurse during the Great Recession.”
Also: shout-out to THE GOBLINS/SUSPIRIA riff midway through the season finale. Again, is A.P. BIO necessary viewing? Probably not, but it’s hilariously and memorably inventive, and I’ll definitely miss it, as they really figured out how to make this world work over the past two seasons, even though S4 definitely leaned into the predictive sitcom tropes the show had been working so hard to avoid. However, it’s so sweet and funny that I don’t care.
(PC/macOS/PS4/Xboxes) A bit of backstory: the initial PSYCHONAUTS (2005) was the first game from the fledgling studio Double Fine, founded by ex-LucasArts adventure game designer Tim Schafer, and not only was it not an adventure game as one would expect, but a platformer, but it was a very troubled production. Microsoft started off as publisher for the game but, halfway through development, dropped out, leaving Double Fine in the lurch. They eventually found a publisher via now-storied Majesco, and the game was finally released after a — for the time — lengthy development time of four and a half years.
PSYCHONAUTS has a lot of the hallmarks of a great Schafer work: a terrifically realized world, a unique and striking look, laugh-out-loud dialogue, and empathy for its characters. Unfortunately, it was also often a frustrating platformer, with fussy controls and level design that felt obvious to them, but not to the players. In case you are not familiar: it’s about a kid named Raz (short for Rasputin) who has psychic abilities, but who comes from an extremely physical family circus troupe. He is fascinated with a group of other psychically-gifted folks who try to help people by sorting out their mental mysteries, whose tales are told through a series of comic books, but then gets his chance to enlist via a summer camp.
Twenty years later, PSYCHONAUTS 2 has been released through a similarly complex development period. Long story short, like with PSYCHONAUTS, it took far longer to fund and actually shape the game.
My initially impressions of PSYCHONAUTS 2 were, I will say, unpleasant, perhaps because they expected players to be more familiar with the game’s systems and blend of platforming. Also, perhaps my platforming skills are rusty. However, I haven’t played PSYCHONAUTS in many, many moons, and PSYCHONAUTS 2 throws -a lot- at you in the first few hours. I traditionally play games at normal difficulty, occasionally raising it to hard or extraordinarily difficult upon a very rare replay (e.g. games like VIEWTIFUL JOE or BAYONETTA), but this time I added all of the control assists because I’m too old for this shit.
After the first few hours, I started settling in and really started enjoying it, but kept the control assists (which were much appreciated) the same. While the game spent far more time in development than Schafer expected, the effort shows as it’s an extraordinarily detailed and epic game, while still first-and-foremost being about family and mindful about mental health. However, unlike the first game, PSYCHONAUTS 2 is more about be a mental examination of the prior Psychonauts and the trauma they’ve been living with. So, yeah, not exactly a soothing balm for these COVID times, but definitely in TED LASSO territory.
Sadly, the level design does not meet the heights of PSYCHONAUT’s Milkman level, but it also doesn’t hit the frustrating lows of the Meat Circus. (I vividly remember swearing so much during that level that my partner-now-wife asked me if I was okay.) That said, it doesn’t have to, at least in these times. The single-mindedness and pure-pleasure of 100%ing a game right now is so very appealing to me — I’ve done so for a few ASSASSINS CREED games, and will likely do so for PSYCHONAUTS 2 — as a way to simply numb myself from a lot of the bullshit of the current world. Also appealing: I can drop-in and drop-out of the game as necessary.
15+ years later, is PSYCHONAUTS 2 the sequel I wanted? (I can’t count the VR game because I don’t have any VR tech.) Yes and no. It leans far more on spectacle and less on cognitive/character visual motifs than I would have liked. It’s certainly not as idiosyncratic as the first game. However, it — again, like TED LASSO SEASON TWO — does such a great job at detailing how flawed we can be, but how we can learn to be better with some help, and how we need to accept each other on these journeys.
The show introduces itself as Joe Pera (Joe Pera) acting as sort of a meek male, acting as a life instructor, trying to bestow his overly-earnest life lessons via a pseudo-docu-drama format. If that sounds a little too arch, a little too meta, it’s played utterly sincerely and with a straight face. It’s not for laughs, although there are a number of them, usually at Joe’s innocent antics. (For example, when he discovers THE WHO’s -Baba O’Riley-.)
While the first and second seasons of the show normally focus on Joe’s observations — apart from a few asides, including an exceptional season two finale where Joe learns a lot about his fellow co-worker/girlfriend Sarah Conner (Jo Firestone, also one of the show’s writers and not Linda Hamilton) — the third season backgrounds him in lieu for the ensemble they’ve built over the past two seasons, such as his best friend Gene and Sarah Conner. It’s a perfect example of a show’s creators and writers realizing ‘oh, we have something special here’ and exploring further, rather than following a rigid formula.
Season three is still on-going, but there’s one episode where Sarah comes home drunk from a meet-up she was invited to, and the entire eleven minutes of the ep are dedicated to Joe just listening to her recount the tale of her night, while also trying to feed her to sober her up. It’s the closest I’ve seen TV approach to say, the realism and tone of a Jim Jarmusch film.
It also helps that Sarah is an extraordinarily complicated character, with far more depth and a far more scarred life than Joe, and to watch him accept her for her complexities is a beautiful thing.
It’s also goddamn hilarious when it’s not pulling at your heartstrings. For example, this singular exchange from a career woman magician Sarah meets at a wine party:
“We need more women in STEM. And by that, I mean skateboarding, television, e-sports, and magic!”