Laura Petrie TV Review

Modern and Classic Television

Category: Comedy

What’s wrong with Better Call Saul?

Back in March 2015, my review of Better Call Saul in its first season was full of excitement. There was a character and actress to fawn over (Betsy Kettleman) and…

Back in March 2015, my review of Better Call Saul in its first season was full of excitement. There was a character and actress to fawn over (Betsy Kettleman) and the editing had the same visual interest of this prequel’s predecessor: Breaking Bad. I was also correct that there would be many seasons, but now that’s something I worry about.

What are we feeling now in the fourth season? As Jimmy gets closer and closer to the moment when Saul is born, it seems the show is happy to let him stay Jimmy for as long as possible. In some ways, that delayed gratification can be very satisfying, but there are some big things bothering me about it right now.

We’re getting backstory and the motivation for Jimmy’s eventual turn, but we’re also seeing those stories draw out longer than the writing supports. The show is leaning heavily on its Breaking Bad parentage for any kind of steam at all. In other words: They know we’re going to watch because they know we have to know what happens, so they are milking as many seasons out of it as possible.

And what doesn’t have steam at all? Jimmy’s relationship with Kim Wexler. Even though I believe we are meant to see them as mismatched, the moments between them have felt cold and false for so long, that I really can’t wait until she’s written away. That’s an unusual and unfortunate way to feel about a character who is central to the current narrative.

The writing team seems to love the performances from Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, but they haven’t struck me as powerful in any of the moments where they really should have. The cold, uptight personality certainly contrasts with Jimmy, but the opposites attract idiom isn’t working on this relationship.

Expiration Date

The timeline for the show is already set – we know approximately when the Breaking Bad timeline starts up. Then we’ll find out how much they want Better Call Saul to overlap with Breaking Bad (if at all) and if they’ll continue the future, bun-making Saul’s story beyond the black and white. Will we meet someone from Jimmy’s past in Saul’s future?

I like how those questions are in my mind. At the moment, the ideas I come up with are more entertaining than watching the show itself. I enjoy the antics, but at times they seem barely held together by dramatic sequences with the Salamanca cousins and Nacho.

The people (or network executives) behind the show may be thinking that we really only enjoy the parts that include Breaking Bad characters. So they dole them out slowly and dramatically (so far over four seasons) and spend so much camera time on a sideways glance that should have meaning, but doesn’t (yet).

I’m one of those viewers who is hanging on to see Jimmy transform into Saul, for Kim to go away in some undoubtedly underwhelming fashion, for as much Gale Boetticher (David Costabile) as humanly possible, and to see if future Saul survives to serve another cinnamon bun.

I think it’s possible for many elements of these first four seasons to be brilliant in hindsight, but they need to get somewhere soon or it will all feel like schadenfreude.

No Comments on What’s wrong with Better Call Saul?

Master of None

I’m going to make an unusual suggestion: Watch episode 2 of Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s “Master of None” first. That’s right, watch the second episode first. It’s titled Parents…

I’m going to make an unusual suggestion: Watch episode 2 of Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s “Master of None” first. That’s right, watch the second episode first. It’s titled Parents and I think it gives a better first impression than the season opener. After you watch the second episode, immediately go back to the first episode so you can be sure to get any potential arcs.

Don’t get me wrong, I like what I’ve seen so far and I started with the first episode. But I think the strength really comes in when you see Aziz Ansari’s actual parents play his character’s parents. It’s a rare show that almost made me cry while almost making me laugh. I say almost because I’m a tough critic and I’m excited to see Aziz stretch into a character beyond Tom Haverford.

master-of-noneNext, this proves that I love the casting work by Allison Jones because the chemistry is good from the very beginning. Aziz also has the opportunity to act out some of the themes from his book “Modern Romance” about the role that technology plays in relationships of all kinds.

When a comedy can manage to address social issues, it stretches beyond laughs. This show manages to pull in topics like racism without feeling like a lesson or an attack. That’s genius writing and the credit goes all to Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang according to the credits.

Sure, if your idea of comedy is laugh track and “shut the front door!” language, you might have to bleep a few words here and there, but it’s not excessive and the themes are important enough to ignore any of that. And if you’re in it for a little bit of that Tom Haverford feel, you’ll get it here and there.

Will it become a classic?

No Comments on Master of None

Alpha House

I recently splurged on a new television – a so-called 4K resolution television, to be exact. Without getting into all the specifics about what that means, why it’s not really…

I recently splurged on a new television – a so-called 4K resolution television, to be exact. Without getting into all the specifics about what that means, why it’s not really 4K, and so on…I’ll just launch into the review.

It’s relevant because I am not accustomed to seeing the fine details of an actor’s face and wardrobe. More now than ever, I appreciate the detail that is invested into the scenery, props, costumes, makeup, and all the extremely important members of the TV-making family.

Seeing deeply into the face grooves of John Goodman, Clark Johnson, Matt Malloy, and Mark Consuelos in the highest of high definition was a treat because these are some excellent actors. These four gentlemen are the central characters in Alpha House, an Amazon original.

Oh and did I mention I can use an application on my Wifi-enabled TV to watch this and other Amazon shows?! Sorry…I really can’t get over how much the technology has improved. And these fake senators encounter the realities of modern life, too.

John Goodman plays Gil John Biggs from North Carolina. His past as a basketball coach pokes fun at certain aspects of the semi-celebrity senator and even alludes to a notoriously-angry basketball coach from another Republican state. Can you guess? What if I simply say, “chair?”

gil-john-biggs

My favorite character is Louis Laffer, played expertly by Matt Malloy. He’s the Mormon senator from Nevada who owns the house where each of the characters live for their work in the capital city. He and his wife Louise (Amy Sedaris) are furthest right on the political spectrum and their antics as a couple are increasingly hilarious.

louis-laffer

Technology and communications play a role in this show as well. It’s clear how television influences and directs the characters in their advertising efforts, latest news about their other politician friends, and even a couple of hovering drones.

The show is smart – very smart, actually. But that’s what you might expect after discovering that the creator and writing lead is Garry Trudeau of the Doonesbury comic strip.

If you don’t want to watch for smarty pants reasons, then maybe you’ll tune in just to see Mark Consuelos as Andy Guzman representing the fine state of Florida. He’s the charmer of the bunch and is definitely meant to remind us of 2016 candidate, Marco Rubio. The jokes write themselves…but look at that smile!

andy-guzman

Clark Johnson (you may know him from The Wire) is Robert Bettencourt from Pennsylvania. He seems to hold the group together, but faces the toughest re-election campaign. I was hooked on his character after the fire. See now you have to watch just to find out what I’m talking about.

Robert-Bettencourt

There is an undercurrent of hypocrisy and clear jabs at the ridiculousness of politics, but you end up bonding with the characters and enjoying the many cameos. As of this writing, it’s unclear whether the show will go into a third season, but it’s definitely time for political humor as we get into the 2016 Presidential election.

Vote for Alpha House!

Four Stars

No Comments on Alpha House

The Goldbergs

The best thing about The Goldbergs is its foundation in reality, the 80s music, the technology cameos…well, that’s a few things and I could continue. Showrunner Adam F. Goldberg opened…

The best thing about The Goldbergs is its foundation in reality, the 80s music, the technology cameos…well, that’s a few things and I could continue. Showrunner Adam F. Goldberg opened up his own history to create a family-centered show set in the wonderfully weird 1980s.

The show is Adam’s story, narrated by Patton Oswalt. He’s the nerdy youngest child who captures family moments on video (just like the real Adam did). He has an older brother and sister all raised by the 80s version of a helicopter parent, their Mom Beverly. Dad Murray is a delightful couch potato with a secret soft side.

projection-tv
It’s exciting to start each episode wondering if there will be another long-forgotten electronic featured. Want to see a ridiculous 80s projection TV fit seamlessly into a storyline? This is the show for you!

Even though it might seem like a show only those old enough to remember the 80s would enjoy, it is perfect for the young as well. The themes are familiar: the embarrassments of growing up, arguing with family, and acquiring the latest cool things. (Except the cool things then are hilarious now.)

Perhaps the best reason to watch the show is to be reminded of another era. The shows end with a little learning moment, but only with pure charm (and an appropriate 80s song).

Four Stars

A light comedy that will put you in a great mood!

No Comments on The Goldbergs

Grace and Frankie

If there is a theme for television in the second decade of the 21st century, it might be “coming out aged.” It is appropriate given that new shows and movies…

If there is a theme for television in the second decade of the 21st century, it might be “coming out aged.” It is appropriate given that new shows and movies are handling the once avoided subjects of aging, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Netflix is making a name for itself as a producer of quality entertainment – not simply a library. Grace and Frankie seems to be the Netflix version of Hulu’s Transparent. In Transparent, Jeffrey Tambor portrays Maura Pfefferman, a man who comes out as transgender late in life and must deal with the family aftermath.

Although Grace and Frankie doesn’t deal with transgender revelation, the story revolves around the secret relationship between Sol Bergstein and Robert Hanson (Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen). They reveal themselves as homosexual to their wives Grace and Frankie (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) in the first scene.

The comedy is driven by each family’s reaction to this news that the long-time law partners are now partnered in love as well. Grace and Frankie are as different as Oscar and Felix, which makes their process of healing both entertaining and full of difficult moments. We watch them slowly bond over shared problems and decades of living in the dark.

It would be unfair to say this is a comedy for all ages. To do so would ignore the very real and mature subject matter that is handled so delicately for a comedy. This series requires empathy that can only be obtained with time and experience. The younger range of the audience may benefit most from punchlines that highlight the struggles of aging.

Jane and Lily, born 1937 and 1939 respectively, perform beautifully together alongside Martin and Sam who were both born in 1940. Officially, this makes the actors members of the “Silent Generation” defined as those born between 1925 and 1942 – too young for World War II and not as numerous since their parents’ generation lived through severe financial insecurity and war. Samantha Raphelson described this generation as having “conformist tendencies and belief that following the rules was a sure ticket to success.”

You don’t have to belong to the Silent Generation to appreciate this comedy. Find it on Netflix the next time you need something to cheer you up and give you some perspective.

Four Stars

Four Stars so far with room to grow!

No Comments on Grace and Frankie

The Comedians

There hasn’t been much buzz about The Comedians (yet). It’s a show about a show, which we know from successes like 30 Rock can be a very powerful setting for…

There hasn’t been much buzz about The Comedians (yet). It’s a show about a show, which we know from successes like 30 Rock can be a very powerful setting for comedy. In this case, Billy Crystal and Josh Gad play themselves on the “Billy & Josh Show,” which pairs the comedians in sketch comedy. The generation gap and the resulting sense of humor differences are the driving force thus far.

Their first meeting in the pilot is an awkward dinner that shows they simply don’t understand each other and would prefer not to be teamed up. If you’re a fan of older comedians, you’ll bond with Billy. If you were born in the ’90s, you might sympathize more with Josh Gad. Billy’s desire to have a show is the only reason he accepts even though the network (FX in the show as well as in real life) insists he work with Josh.

You may not think you know who Josh Gad is, but if you’ve seen Frozen, you know him as the voice of Olaf. He also played Steve Wozniak in the movie, “Jobs” with Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs. Some of his work is referenced in the show in the same way that Billy Crystal’s past successes are called out.

The Comedians

Thursdays on FX

As we watch them film the first episodes, we see behind-the-scenes characters who give the show interesting layers. Esme (Megan Ferguson) is a young assistant who doesn’t always understand her position as a gopher. Her sarcasm when addressed about her run to get snacks says it all.

“Yeah…it’s magical what I get to do here…”

The best moments of the show so far are those which expose the great differences between Billy Crystal and Josh Gad. The ‘wacky grandpa’ comedian vs. the pot-smoking, blue language spouting, awkward youth. The young characters often address Billy as though they were speaking to their grandparent. He’s a comedy legend, but they know him more for the past and doubt he still has what it takes for comedy in the present.

That changes a bit when Josh and Billy both get high and run through a supermarket looking for snacks. It’s the first time they truly bond. Josh still finds a way to awkwardly destroy the moment, but over individual gallons of ice cream, they finally share sincere thoughts.

Scene from the pilot of Billy and Josh filming the show's show pilot! Photo: FX Networks

The mini sketch moments are opportunities to make fun of themselves, to parody the sketch genre, and to do some fairly hilarious impressions. The show is still young and you need to be in the mood for it, but I see it being a vehicle for an interesting take on the role of comedy in aging.

Watch at least the first three episodes before you decide if the show is for you. Hang on for the nuggets and you’ll find that you begin to bond with the duo in the same slow way that Billy and Josh portray. Maybe over a bucket of ice cream.

Four Stars

Four Stars so far with room to grow!

No Comments on The Comedians

Super HBO Sunday

Warm up your television – Sunday, April 12 is primed to be the Super Bowl of season premieres. Silicon Valley, Game of Thrones, and Veep all return to HBO at…

Warm up your television – Sunday, April 12 is primed to be the Super Bowl of season premieres. Silicon Valley, Game of Thrones, and Veep all return to HBO at various stages of development.

Silicon Valley will be in its second season. As a sophomore, it will be tested for staying power. Viewers loved the behind-the-scenes nature of an industry that is really the “oooh ahhh” that advertising used to be. Nobody really knows what they’re doing, but we all know it’s necessary (right?)

A new game app can become an overnight success and turn into millions of real dollars. Just take a look at “Finger Derpy” which launched today for fans of the Kentucky Derby.

WDRB 41 Louisville News

App development has a certain mystique. We really don’t know how it’s done and the developers behind them are just the sort of hipster-nerds that seem to fit the role. Silicon Valley is an entertaining show with just enough additional drama to seem real and farce at the same time.

And then there’s Game of Thrones – the show that all the app developers are watching. This fantasy is moving into its sixth season and most are curious what will happen with Tyrion Lannister. Fans of Game of Thrones are drawn in to it for different reasons.

Some fans have read the books and are watching closely and crying foul when things veer away from the written word, though others proclaim that HBO has the better version. Either way, shows based on an existing story will always work hard to meet/match or break/destroy expectations.

Some predictions that I can safely make: someone will die in a dramatic way, some breasts will be bared, and fans will be glued to their couches whether they like it or not.

Speaking of politics, the light and refreshing Julia Louis-Dreyfus returns for season four of Veep. It’s senior year! Will the show have senoritis and throw all caution to the wind?

It certainly hasn’t held back so far and our fictional President Selina Meyer could be up to some satirical drama that could almost beat the 2016 election drama we have on the real news.

And finally, the news is also in your favor if you have cut the cable. HBO Now means you can finally watch all three of these great shows (and more) without being tied to a contract.

No Comments on Super HBO Sunday

Better Call Saul

There are only two things you need to know about Better Call Saul: 1) You need to watch it, and 2) Julie Ann Emery is a kick-ass Betsy Kettleman. Bob…

There are only two things you need to know about Better Call Saul: 1) You need to watch it, and 2) Julie Ann Emery is a kick-ass Betsy Kettleman.

Bob Odenkirk has been on my must-watch list since the days of Mr. Show on HBO. His work as Jimmy McGill is very fulfilling for his longtime fans who remember him as say…Don Pratt for instance (see video below). These are the days before Saul Goodman, but with hints at the full origin story that we didn’t even know we’d love so much.

Julie Ann Emery is officially my pick for rising star thanks to her genius portrayal of Betsy Kettleman. We have seen her in some great shows and movies, including the recent Fargo series as Ida Thurman. The writing is surely to be credited, but the choices Emery makes with facial expression and delivery are simply killer.

Cinematically, the show is as delicious as all Breaking Bad fans might have expected. I’m happy to see Kelley Dixon as editor. Scenes that take us even further back in Jimmy’s life are applied very skillfully within the context of the present.

When I watch new television, there has to be a “Got Me” moment. That’s the moment when I say, “Oh yeah…this show has it.” For Breaking Bad, it was when [spoiler] Walt blew up that guy’s car at the gas station. That was the Got Me. Better Call Saul’s Got Me involved [non-spoiler] Betsy Kettleman racing upstairs after something was revealed.

This show had the potential to careen wildly into dangerous spin-off cliché territory. Thus far, the team has shown that their success on Breaking Bad was no fluke and I can’t wait to see where the next seasons go (oh yeah, there will be many more).

Verdict: This is a show you watch it when it airs. Monday nights at 10/9c on AMC

Will it become a classic?

Will it become a classic?

No Comments on Better Call Saul

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Are you missing 30 Rock? Well then you’re in luck! Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is filling that void with more snappy clarinet walking music and musical gags. With exchanges like: “Why…

Are you missing 30 Rock? Well then you’re in luck! Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is filling that void with more snappy clarinet walking music and musical gags. With exchanges like:
“Why is your neck so greasy?”
“I fell asleep eating a hot pocket.”
You’ll feel like Liz Lemon never left television!

The writing is deliriously great…if it were for Liz Lemon. But it’s still pretty great for Kimmy Schmidt. Ellie Kemper as Kimmy is essentially a lighter-brained Liz. And then there’s Jane Krakowski as Jacqueline Voorhees, Kimmy’s boss. It feels like an alternate universe where Jenna Maroney has married money and had her showbiz memory erased by the Men in Black.

There are plenty of guest stars to wait patiently to see: Jon Hamm, Tina Fey, Richard Kind, Dean Norris, Amy Sedaris, Martin Short, Matt Lauer, Nick Kroll, Kiernan Shipka. Someone has a Mad Men fetish!!

The thing about this show is… you have to get through the first few episodes before you buy it. That makes it just like 30 Rock, actually. You really want to see the Ghostbusters homage portrayed Ki Hong Lee as “Dong Nguyen” [start another discussion about stereotyping on CNN because that’s a little too boring for me here].

And you don’t want to miss Richard Kind as Mr. Lefkovitz. If you make it to that episode, you’ll be unable to resist watching the rest of the season. Because by this point, you’ll have no idea why you’re watching, but you’re unable to stop.

It was believable until the moment Martin Short gets punched in the face. Then again with the dolphin. Just wait for it, you’ll understand what I mean. Come back and read this again when you’ve somehow watched the whole season.

I won’t spoil the identity of Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. I won’t do it. I won’t. Won’t. Don’t look at IMDB – it’s better if you don’t know ahead of time.

Watch the trailer and decide for yourself if you want to devote the time to it, but I suggest watching if you were a 30 Rock Fan or you have serious love for Ellie Kemper and guest stars.

No Comments on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Fresh Off the Boat

Fresh Off the Boat is The Goldbergs crossed with Malcolm in the Middle. Part of the fun comes from its setting in the 1990s and the other from the depiction…

Fresh Off the Boat is The Goldbergs crossed with Malcolm in the Middle. Part of the fun comes from its setting in the 1990s and the other from the depiction of family life mostly from the perspective of 11-year-old Eddie Huang portrayed by Hudson Yang.

There have been many articles written about the significance and interesting origin story of this show. Because it is based on the true stories of chef Eddie Huang’s childhood (in his memoir by the same name), there is always going to be some distortions made by sitcom writers for the sake of “good television,” as they say. The original concept would have made it a heavier show, but the vibe so far is light and perfectly suited for its position on ABC.

When you consider the population of the United States has ~73% European, ~12.6% African, and ~4.8% Asian heritage, it is perhaps not surprising that the media landscape is predominantly aimed at the largest group [2010 census].

That’s not to say that all television shows are generic – some of the best new writing comes from very specific perspectives, and television executives are not always successful at identifying what the majority wants to see. It can take years for a show to really grab a large audience. Even Mad Men and Breaking Bad started out with fairly low numbers.

The things that can make or break a sitcom are different than a dramatic series though. Malcolm in the Middle was on air for seven seasons, which is pretty long considering the cast grows up. This isn’t The Simpsons where the delightfulness of childhood can be portrayed for over twenty-five years.

Reasons to Watch:
1) This is a no laugh track show – hooray!
2) Excellent ’90s references that will make anyone over 30 laugh.
3) Constance Wu and Randall Park are hilarious parents.

No Comments on Fresh Off the Boat

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search