Favorites of 2021: TV

I didn’t write as much about TV as I’d like to this year, so some of these entries will unfortunately be perfunctory capsule reviews:

A.P. BIO

“[A] gag machine firing on all cylinders.”

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA

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.

GIRLS5EVA

“[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.”

THE GREAT

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.

HACKS

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.

JOE PERA TALKS WITH YOU

“[G]oddamn hilarious when it’s not pulling at your heartstrings.”

HOW TO WITH JOHN WILSON

“[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.“

RESERVATION DOGS

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.”

https://mediaclature.com/2021/08/27/star-trek-discovery-season-three-2020/

SUCCESSION

“Catching up with SUCCESSION. Just how many layers was Adrian Brody wearing on that walk? 15? 20? searches Oh look, Vanity Fair asked him about it: https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2021/11/adrien-brody-succession-still-watching

WE ARE LADY PARTS

“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.

WYNONNA EARP

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

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.

Missed:

  • DICKENSON S3 (missed S2, too)
  • EVIL S2
  • THE FLIGHT ATTENDENT
  • IN THE DARK S2
  • I THINK YOU SHOULD LEAVE
  • MAID
  • MYTHIC QUEST (S2, but need to watch S1 first)
  • THE OTHER TWO S2
  • PEN15 S2
  • POSE S3
  • THE SEX LIVES OF COLLEGE GIRLS
  • SQUID GAME
  • THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
  • YOU S3

HEALTH MUSIC VIDEOS (2009+)

HEALTH is a surprisingly popular electronic band that has a sound and aesthetic more suited for dark late-90s/early naughts clubs than, well, Spotify. They double down on that idiosyncratic nature with a number of their videos, which are firmly ensconced in both the horror genre and art film worlds.

DIE SLOW (2009):

While the video for DIE SLOW fully leans into sensationalism, given that it depicts a bloodletting frenzy, visually its use of framing and reframing (and more reframing) reminds me more of Peter Greenaway’s PROSPERO’S BOOKS, and its editing is extraordinarily taut.

WE ARE WATER (2009):


Immaculately produced, but a bit squicky — if you’re familiar with SLEEPAWAY CAMP, you know what I’m talking about.

STONEFIST (2015):

A relatively surface-level commentary on musicians and cosmetic surgery, but they take it so far over the top, especially with the glamour framing and lighting, that I can’t help but revel in it.

NEW COKE (2015):

HEALTH loves to villainize their drummer.

(Warning: this video features very disgusting slo-mo vomit — some self-induced — so you might want to bail before 1m45s.)

STRANGE DAYS 1999 (2019):

No, really, HEALTH loves to villainize their drummer. Also, this is an absolutely brilliant riff on late 90s ‘true crime’ motifs.

I’ll note that I’ve never called any of their numbers, but I’ve been very tempted to.

GIRLS5EVA (2021+)

GIRLS5EVA, from the gut-busting mind of Meredith Scardino, is one of the few shows I had to relegate to only watching during the daytime, and while I wasn’t working, because it’s so fucking hilarious that it was distracting and my laughter was prone to waking folks up. This tale, of a girl pop group making a resurgence 20 years later, is a gag-a-minute, and every performance is pitch-perfect. It’s well-worth the peacock subscription solely for it. Don’t believe me? Here, enjoy this litany of jokes:

“So, I dug up our old agreement with Larry and I think he used an old Ringling Bros. contract. Not even for humans; for bears!”

“Well, I’ve always admired that work ethic in the bedroom — it’s bananas — but otherwise it’s too much!”

“Assembly requires four men or nine daughters.”

“Wait, did you make the MAXIM HOT list?”

“Oh, yeah. Oh my god, we got this swag bag from the women’s empowerment luncheon at the Victoria’s Secret Trampoline Park.

“Oh, a temporary tramp stamp. ‘October Sky’, now on VHS.”

“YOU HUMAN B-SIDE!”

“Why am I never the one profiting off of me?”

“You’re all in my will. I have a parrot I haven’t told you about that won’t die.”

“Guess it’s just you and me, Ash.”

“Honestly, too many people left for this to be fun. Now that it’s just the two of us, it’s feeling kind of weird.”

“Don’t quote your sex tape at me!”

“Sorry, the guy from ‘Smallville’.”

“It’s pointless, but it’s what I’m doing!”

What a perfect summation of my pandemic life.

CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND: -You Stupid Bitch- (2016)

(CW/YouTube) There are a lot of highlights to CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND — it’s wall-to-wall amazing, apart from the off-putting title — and despite the fact that I’m not quite the target audience for this song, or show for that matter, I think about this song. A lot. If pressed, I’d argue it’s my favorite song from the show. While it’s not subtle or as elaborately staged as other numbers, it perfectly encapsulates the show and I love the closing shot.* If you don’t have the time for another full series of TV, I think this video would be a satisfying watch and you could leave it there.However, if you want to know more: the show is about Rebecca Bunch (actor/writer/co-creator Rachel Bloom, previously best known for quality nerd-specific YouTube videos such as FUCK ME, RAY BRADBURY) who upends her life as a high-powered NYC real-estate lawyer to pursue bro-y slacker Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), her teen boyfriend from summer camp, who lives in West Covina, California.**

What follows over four seasons is a musical dramedy about Rebecca trying to navigate life, cope with mental illness, and become a better person with a little help from her friends. It manages to skillfully do so by packing several songs into each hour-long ep, all of which are exceptionally written and staged. Many of the songs were co-written by the recently deceased Adam Schlesinger — fuck COVID — who also worked on the original numbers in previously recommended JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS, but is obviously best known for founding FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE.

Adam aside, CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND was certainly the collective vision of Bloom and co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna (who adapted THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and co-wrote CRUELLA). It’s singularly focused, and everyone involved gave their all. The show stumbled from time to time but, as a whole, it was one of the most consistently entertaining and emotional TV shows I’ve seen aired within the past decade.

“Yes, I deserve this!”

** It’s all spelled out in the very catchy opening song but the show ditches its Broadway spectacle sheen pretty quickly because, well, it was on the CW. They didn’t have GALAVANT money.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE: COME WANDER WITH ME (S05E34, 1964)

It’s a sad day: Richard Donner has passed away. While he’s rightfully best known for SUPERMAN, he spent -a lot- of time directing television, including an ep of previously recommended ROUTE 66, eps of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, even eps of THE LORETTA YOUNG SHOW, but most memorably, some of the best episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Consequently, I’m re-posting a slightly tweaked version of my prior recommendation of one of his lesser-known THE TWILIGHT ZONE eps:

(Hulu/Paramount+/VOD) This episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE is rarely included in best of lists, which is fair — even if it’s the last-filmed ep -and- directed by Richard Donner — as its story is a bit strained, even by TWILIGHT ZONE standards. Floyd Burney, known as the “Rock-A-Billy Kid” (Gary Crosby), is on the prowl for a new song in a small, unnamed town. He overhears a woman singing and follows her voice as she repeats the refrain: “Come wander with me love / Come wander with me / Away from this sad world / Come wander with me”

The woman introduces herself as Mary Rachel (Bonnie Beecher) and is reluctant to part with the song, but Floyd is insistent. Matters escalate quickly as the rest of the song is revealed.

While the episode is a bit clunky, it’s the song that makes it memorable. -Come Wander With Me- is a brilliantly haunting ballad and, even though the song was never written or recorded in full, a number of musicians, such as Émilie Satt and British Sea Power, have covered it over the years.

Émilie Satt – Come Wander With Me:

British Sea Power – Come Wander With Me:

Hidden Highways – Come Wander With Me:

Original rendition:

A short clip from the ep:

DESSA: -Dixon’s Girl- (2010/2019)

(YouTube) I am a big fan of rapper DESSA, but hearing her daily throughout Turner Classic Movies’ June programming trailers, which include a lot of Hitchcock and also feature her original recording of -Dixon’s Girl- drove me a bit nuts. (I believe the inclusion of the song is a shoutout regarding screenwriter Alma Reville, Hitchcock’s wife and often-neglected creative partner.) I’ve had the line ‘call me up, day or night: free drinks and bad advice’ stuck in my head for roughly thirty days, as TCM plays in the background of our home practically 24/7.

My way of shunting out my obsessions is to write about them so: it’s a perfect song with a ton of great hooks and samples, and on top of that highlights not only the patriarchal nature of the the music industry, but also the women complicit in keeping the status quo.

The original video is available here:

And there was a symphonic version recorded in 2019 that I would have loved to see live:

DESSA also just released six singles within a six months, complete with videos, which comprise the IDES EP, all available via her site.And she’ll be touring soon-ish! We saw her at local indie rock tavern Schubas several years ago, and she’s absolutely blistering live.

SLEATER-KINNEY -Hurry on Home- (2019)

(YouTube) Miranda July (ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, KAJILLIONAIRE) directing a SLEATER-KINNEY video about trying to woo Carrie Brownstein back? Yeah, that fits squarely in my wheelhouse, but what I really love about this video are the fingertaps and ambient sounds. There’s a tactility to this ‘lyric video’ that’s rarely seen — err, heard — that I absolutely love (not to mention the ingenious use of autocorrect) and it conveniently complements the audible breathlessness that closes the song.

“You got me used to loving you You got me used to loving you You got me used to loving you You got me used to loving you You got me used to loving you You got me used to loving you”

It’s worth noting that SLEATER-KINNER just announced their latest album, -Path of Wellness- and released the first single –Worry With You– and, while I had this recommendation slated for later on this month, today’s as good a day as any!