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What I’ve Been Doing 11 Feb 2013 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Feb 12th, 2013 by Dan

Dan's Birthday Party At Bandito's

Birthday happy hour last week (Photo by Eric)

Another year, another birthday. I continue to get older and, oddly enough, wiser.

Movies

In the Loop – I’m a big fan of Iannucci’s work and this movie doesn’t disappoint. Well, except for the fact that its ending is depressing and mostly based on real life. That part’s a huge bummer.

TV

The Thick of It – Oh man, the part where Hugh used Glen’s developmentally challenged son in a story to get out of trouble…wow…

Mythbusters – It sure takes a long, roundabout way to get to a point, but the baseball myths were all super cool to see proved/disproved. Can’t believe they left the humidity one only at plausible. I thought that was fairly definitive.

30 Rock – Not a bad finale, actually. I loved the way they wrapped everything up with Jack and Liz. Good show. I should watch the intermediate seasons that I missed.

Parks and Recreation – The in-show calzone joke thing is perhaps the most amazing thing to ever be put into a sitcom.

Justified – No one on tv is cooler than Raylan Givens. I really liked the one where he had to deal with Lindsay’s husband. This show kind of makes me want to live in Kentucky.

Community – I don’t think the show is as strong without Harmon…at least not so long as they’re gonna keep trying to ape his style. Community Babies was a particularly strained attempt to hit his level of meta.

The Mindy Project – Mindy is still pretty much the same person as my roommate. I find this show a lot funnier than the critical consensus.

New Girl – Speaking of funny shows and shows I haven’t praised nearly enough, New Girl has finally made me realize how incredible it is. It’s just been firing on every cylinder this year. Totally loved the awkward backwards moonwalk. I need to work that into my repetoire.

Archer – Still don’t really care for Ron Cadillac at all. Funny episode nonetheless.

Grammys – I’m sorry, but Frank Ocean >> Mumford & Sons.

Music

I’m not kidding…Listen to Frank Ocean

Books

Are We Winning?: Fathers and Sons in the New Golden Age of Baseball – I really love the Steve Bartman chapter. My favorite part of the book each year that I read it.

Video Games

Spelunky – I actually had me some good runs go horribly bad. Allowing the scepter of Anubis to kill you was a real jerk move, Derek Yu.

Fire Emblem: Awakening – I wasn’t expecting to get this until everyone was talking about how great it was. Know what? It’s fantastic. Addictive and fun and tough to stomach losing units, but still worth playing. Didn’t know you’d be able to customize your main character, but I love that about this game too.

What I’ve Been Doing 19 Mar 2012 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Mar 19th, 2012 by Dan

They are a group of six friends evenly split among men and women. Haven't seen this formula before! (Photo courtesy Screened.com)

I’ll get into it more later, but despite it being pretty standard fare for a sitcom, Happy Endings is actually hilarious and kind of awesome. I blew through season 1 this weekend (half on Netflix, then I bought the entire season on DVD).

Just catching any TV is impressive considering that I haven’t watched a second of it since Mass Effect 3 came out. Now that I’ve beaten that I had a chance to catch up on all the TV I’d missed.

Movies

The Descendants – Picked up the movie at Best Buy this weekend too. Great flick. I think Tiffany liked it despite its Oscar film plot meanderings.

TV

Community – Oh god, so glad it’s back! So glad! This week’s episode was pretty solid work for Community. Everyone showed up and was great. Even the Britta stuff was hilarious. I loved that she was a wizard with domestic stuff and wedding planning. Then of course she Brittas the entire thing by getting too drunk with Jeff.

Archer – Space! Pretty excellent episode of Archer. Can’t wait for the finale next week

New Girl – “Did you just Fredo kiss me?” The singing part was kind of “eh”. “Are those cannons on your back”. After watching a lot of Happy Endings later on in the weekend, I think that New Girl is a less good version of that. Bummer. Still, it’s coming into its own and I dig it. Max Greenfield’s Schmidt is hilarious.

Parks and Recreation – The Ron stuff was great. I guess I’m pretty tired of the Ann and Tom stuff too.

Bob’s Burgers – Kristen Schaal and Eugene Mirman are HILARIOUS! Footloose warehouse dancing is great! “No more lick foot”. “If guys had uteruses they’d be called duderuses” Great episode.

Justified – The show knows how to make things seem real bad. “I found the gun.” “Did you touch it?” “What am I, an asshole?” I think Winona’s great! Is she gone for good? Good to see Ava returning to prominence. I like her too. Boyd’s got a real firebrand preacher streak and that’s always fun to see. This season is about to get more real quick and I love it!

Up All Night – Maya Rudolph is great. Spitting the scotch back out was pretty hilarious. The stinger with “gift” and “seed” was the best part. I kept wanting to use that as a line, but it’s so gross.

Happy Endings – Not too bad. Wow. Extra Hot Great turned me on to this show and I spent all weekend watching as much of it as I could. I thought it was pretty hilarious. It’s got a modern Friends vibe, but with the jokes pace of a Community, 30 Rock, or Arrested Development. Just BAM! BAM! BAM! Jokes, jokes, jokes. I really enjoyed it. If you know me I hope you don’t mind me making you watch it.

Music

Just listen to more Rhythm Heaven music, guys!

Books

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Ok, Martin Vanger is dead already. Why does this book still have like 100 pages left?!

Video Games

Mass Effect 3 – Finally finished this sci-fi epic and…I loved it. Naysayers out there will tell you that the ending is terrible. They’re kind of right, but that doesn’t mean the game isn’t fantastic.

Ghost Trick – This is another one like Dragon Tattoo that I’m getting closer and closer to beating and I just need to put time in to finish.

Mass Effect 2 – Coming back to this after 3 is rough. Combat is slower, the engine is not optimized for PC, it’s trying too hard to be edgy…Still good, but I like 3 and 1 better.

Quit Claiming The Sky Is Falling [IB]
Jun 7th, 2011 by Dan

I’m gonna stick to tv here, but this is a general purpose post, really. Remember in the early aughts when the death of modern tv was imminent due to reality tv? Original programming was over! Reality tv was so cheap and got such high ratings that soon we’d all be watching The Bachelor, Survivor, and American Idol 24/7!

What happened instead? Nothing, really. There’s a smaller field of original programming, I suppose, but I think that allows networks to focus on fewer, higher quality shows. I mean, think of all the great tv that has happened since the end was near:

Lost, Mad Men, The Office, 30 Rock, Arrested Development, Battlestar Galactica, Justified, Community, Parks and Recreation. I could go on, but I won’t. Clearly we overreacted. These shows alone represent hours upon hours of quality television to watch. Networks had to deal with risings costs and lower revenues due to piracy, time shifting, and other innovations, but they still made things work on a tighter budget.

Next time you’re worried that something’s about to be irrevocably changed for the worst, remember that people like quality, despite evidence to the contrary. What comes out of the rubble may not be exactly the same, but it can still be good.

Best TV Shows of the Decade [Idiot Box]
Dec 15th, 2009 by Dan

You’ll notice that this list is weighted heavily toward the end of the decade rather than the early part and that’s all because I didn’t watch much tv in high school (2000-2004). The list is also pretty small because I didn’t have access to most tv shows during my years at the university unless I went and bought box sets (2004-2008).

Firefly

It may have come out early in the decade, but I was way late to the party, since I first started watching Firefly during the summer of 2008. I’m not what you’d call a Whedonite. To this day I’ve never seen an episode of Buffy or Angel, but, between Firefly (and Serenity) and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, I’ve come to see that he’s a damn good writer capable of creating interesting worlds filled with great characters. Firefly is definitely not the first space opera to hit the airwaves, but it’s definitely one of the few I’ve ever seen to focus on fringe members of society like Captain Reynolds instead of prestigious members of an organized army. The world of Firefly is not that different from ours, save for space, and it feels like an accurate representation of what space would be like in its exploratory infancy. If the wild west was possible on Earth, it seems more than likely that the space frontier would develop similarly. Firefly makes me happy because the crew is amazing. Each character (…minus Simon) is interesting, well acted, and hilarious at any given time. FOX did the world wrong by canceling this show and bringing back Family Guy

Arrested Development

Once in a while a great show comes along that revolutionizes the way you experience television for the rest of your life. Arrested Development is that show for me. I didn’t start watching until the third season (final) was set to start, but I fell in love with the show from the first zany episode. One of the leaders in the recent American movement to serialized television, Arrested Development is probably the first serialized comedy I’ve ever seen and that may have been its downfall. Rather than go with the typical American sitcom style of status quo ante episodes and unrelated plots, Arrested Development episodes depended and borrowed heavily from every episode that preceded it, a trait that blocked out potential future viewers who felt like they were continuously out of the loop with the jokes. Those of us who were in on the joke loved experiencing every minute of the Bluth Family’s fall from grace in this show that proves that smart comedy can be hilarious. Unfortunately, it also proved that smart comedy doesn’t sell. FOX canceled it during its third season, tragically ending the best show I’ve ever seen in my adult life.

Lost

4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42. Oceanic Flight 815. The DHARMA Initiative. The Others. Jacob. The Smoke Monster. If you know what any of these things are, you know something about the best drama of the decade. I initially avoided Lost because of all the hype. If that seems petty and stupid, that’s because it is. People hear a lot about the show and how it never seems to answer questions or come to any satisfying conclusion, but I think that’s the talk of people unused to these long, serial dramas and the pace at which they move. Of course, ABC wasn’t helping any with the pacing when they were refusing to give the creators a firm end date. Lucky for us, the staff held their ground and told ABC they wouldn’t continue the show without a firm end date. Since then, things have moved along briskly (if confusingly) as the cast tumbles toward the dramatic conclusion of the most puzzling show of the decade. Will we all be satisfied by the ending when it airs in 2010? Expectations are running high, but I’m trying to keep mine neutral to low so that I’m able to enjoy the ending they’ve got planned for us. So long as it doesn’t go out like The Sopranos, I’m game.

The Office (US)

Bringing hit shows to America from across the pond doesn’t guarantee success. The television environment in the UK is just too different for that. Many of the best shows are extremely limited in scope and know when they’ve run their course. The original run of The Office in England comprised 12 episodes over two seasons and one two-part Christmas special. Within two seasons The Office (US) surpassed the episode count of its parent and finally managed to come into its own identity. No longer borrowing from its roots, The Office has stumbled here or there and struggled with the Homer Simpson effect (as I like to call it), but overall blossomed into a fine show all its own with a much happier outlook that reflects American tastes more than anything. Beyond that, Steve Carell has emerged as one of the premier comedy actors in the business thanks to his ability to express very human pathos into his comedic roles. While I personally think that NBC shouldn’t push the show beyond next season, it’s certainly been a funny ride so far.

Extras

While we’re already talking about shows written/created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, we may as well progress to the fantastic look at the life of a television/movie extra as told by Ricky Gervais. It’s unclear to me how much of the story is auto-biographical, but one can’t help but get a peek into the difficulties that Gervais must have faced trying to earn notoriety and bring The Office to television while also getting a glimpse into how different The Office could have been if Gervais and Merchant didn’t keep their standards up while chasing fame. Spoiler alert, but the first season deals with Gervais’ character, Andy Millman, and his struggle to both sell his idea for a show (a blue-collar workplace comedy with an obnoxious boss (ring any bells?)) and gain notoriety. Each episode features a cameo by a known (usually) British star in film or television as an exaggerated version of themselves and Andy eventually gains enough attention from the BBC to produce his show. Unfortunately, they turn it into a laugh track, lowest common denominator comedy to attract the highest audience possible and Andy continues to compromise his vision just to hold onto the scraps of fame that he has gained. It’s a sad story with a slightly uplifting ending that’s absolutely worth watching for no reason other than to see Orlando Bloom act like a self-centered jerk who hates Jonny Depp.

Weeds

This show has really gone and changed from year to year. What started as a satire on suburban misery has really ballooned into a far-reaching comedy tackling some seriously complex issues (maternity, masculinity vs. feminism, maturity, rape, murder, addiction, etc.) without ever getting too dark for too long. Just watching the opening shows how much the show has changed, since “Little Boxes” hasn’t played past season 3 when they, spoiler alert, burned down everything you knew and moved on. While some of the stereotyping jokes have gotten a little old (WE GET IT, SANJAY IS GAY! HAHAHA….MOVE ON), the show does still seem relevant and interesting in its fifth season and the most intriguing developments seem to come where you least expect it: from Nancy’s kids. Let’s hope that the show continues strong into 2010 with some fresh, interesting plotlines as Nancy delves deeper and deeper into a world she used to only scratch the surface of. It’d be nice to see Conrad again too…Extra bonus reason to watch: Mary-Louise Parker is seriously hot for an older lady.

30 Rock

I almost missed the boat on 30 Rock. iTunes gave me one free episode (the one where Jack things Liz is a lesbian) and I thought “Good, but not great” and didn’t watch through the rest of the first season. The critical buzz brought me back for season two and I fell in love with the show. Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin are comedic powerhouses in this, the second best comedy of the ’00s. In fact, 30 Rock and this most recent presidential election have both proved that Tina Fey was probably the only funny thing about SNL when she was still head writer while Mean Girls proved that she’s just plain good at writing. 30 Rock is brilliant in its subversive, but fair humor and takes the best parts of Tina Fey’s improv heritage and applies them to a sitcom that will have you guffawing every episode unless you lack a soul. It’s a must watch.

Dexter

I love shows that take place in Miami. More than that, I love shows that are unique in premise. Cop shows are a dime a dozen. Shows where the main character is the real villain are harder to come by. If you’ve been living under a rock, you don’t know that Dexter is about a cop who is also a serial killer. It’s not a unique plot in movies/literature/comic books, but it’s one of the few times I’ve seen it on tv and I love it. Dexter Morgan is a sociopath struggling with living with the urges that drive him to kill and staying out of the electric chair. The first season was based heavily on the book Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, but subsequent seasons have had more creative freedom to mold Dexter beyond Lindsay’s strict characterization. I’m a little behind on seasons 3 and the current season, but I feel like the character is maturing rather nicely, if not a little unrealistically (he seems to exhibit more feeling than a sociopath should, but I’m no expert) and the show usually brings me back for more each season.

Pushing Daisies

Bryan Fuller had a great premise on his hands. Ned, the piemaker, could touch dead things back to life, but the renewed life had two rules: If he touched them a second time, they were dead forever and if he let them live longer than a minute, another life would be taken in its place. Abandoned by his father and harboring a power he does not really appreciate, Ned grows up to be a rather distant man who doesn’t let anyone get too close to him. He also teams up with a private detective, Emerson Cod, to solve murders once Emerson spots him using his powers. The status quo he develops (baking pies using rotten fruit that he brings back to life and solving murders for the reward money) comes crashing down when he revives a childhood sweetheart that was his one true love. While the show is often too sweet for its own good, the development of its themes of affection and intimacy (without touching, of course) are both interesting and well done. The storylines were clever and the show was funny, but it was ultimately too expensive to produce for the limited ratings it received and the show died before giving the viewers true resolution with all of its dangling plot threads. Worth watching because it is the most unique show of the decade.

Honorable Mention: Battlestar Galactica

There was so much promise here. The first two seasons of BSG were the best sci-fi I’d seen on television. How can you screw up the paranoia of the Cylon threat and the powerful storylines about a race driven to the brink of extinction? I’ll tell you how: haphazard decisions and haughty religious overtones. The Final Five were not decided upon when the show began. As I heard it, they shoehorned cylon origins onto characters who they never intended to make cylons and the see-sawing quality of the final episodes make that very apparent. When you combine that with one of the stupidest finales in the history of television (let’s just say it goes something like “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”) you’ve gone and ruined what could have been the most significant show in recent science fiction history.

EDIT:

How did I forget The Wire?

The best police serial I have EVER seen. It deconstructs everything you know about television cop dramas by showing you both sides of the fence and the reality that good almost never triumphs over evil. David Simon must have really been affected by his days in Baltimore, because this love letter to the city tells the truth, giant warts and all, about how drugs have destroyed Baltimore and how the police are rendered powerless by bureaucracy to do much of anything about it. The show is a bit of a downer, but the acting is superb and the plotlines (save for one that I really hated in Season 5), will keep you interested through the five seasons. This show is a must watch.

Idiot Box: Return of the Sitcoms
Apr 10th, 2008 by Dan

This Thursday marks the return of all four of NBC’s sitcoms to the Thursday night lineup (My Name is Earl, 30 Rock, The Office, and Scrubs), with all but Scrubs showing a new episode.

I’m most excited for the return of The Office, one of the earliest victims of the Writer’s Strike. They started off Season 4 with an experiment, of sorts, with three or four (I can’t remember the exact number and I can’t be bothered to, so bugger off) hour-long (read: 45 minutes) episodes that only served to highlight the fact that The Office belongs in the half-hour (read: 21 minutes) range for it to be effectively funny. The more zany Michael Scott/Dwight Shrute behaviors and situations have been compared to the ridiculous Homer Simpson-centered years of The Simpsons, which actually does have me concerned. My least favorite laugh is when they actually had Michael Scott drive his car into a lake because of GPS. It takes a lot for a sitcom to throw me out of the moment, but this really took me out of suspension of disbelief mode and into “What is this show becoming?” mode. Honestly, I worry that they’re dumbing down or awkward-ing down The Office to satisfy the more conventional sitcom fan. we’ll see how or if this changes tonight and maybe we’ll see a shift back toward the stellar second season.

The first few episodes of 30 Rock’s freshman season failed to impress me. Lured back in by claims of brilliance, I’m now a regular 30 Rock viewer despite its marginally above average quality, IMHO. This isn’t to say the show isn’t funny, it’s hilarious. It’s just that the situations are boring and predictable. Tina Fey’s dialogue is where the quality shines through. The great lines will have you clutching your sides and Alec Baldwin is, without a doubt, one of the best comedic actors on air.

I’ll admit straight up that I’m not totally up to date on news about Scrubs, but last I heard they will be forced to finish off the show on ABC next season as rising costs and falling ratings and viewers are combining to force it off of NBC. I’m pretty sure it will be coming back at some point this season to finish off half of its final season, but this is also a show whose antics are beginning to wear thin. I just want them to be able to finish off the story and put what’s been a great series to rest. The show isn’t dead by any means, it’s just not eliciting the same laughs out of me that it used to. We’ll see what the return and rest of the season have in store for me.

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