Laura Petrie TV Review

Modern and Classic Television

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!

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Little Women: LA

There are many choices for reality television now – nearly eighteen years after the premiere of Survivor, which kickstarted the genre in the United States in 1997. We can thank…

There are many choices for reality television now – nearly eighteen years after the premiere of Survivor, which kickstarted the genre in the United States in 1997. We can thank shows like Survivor for leading to a plethora of unscripted entertainment.

Though the concept of reality television veers away from documentary by putting its subjects into somewhat contrived situations, we still see mostly unscripted interactions. The drama that results is either entertaining or upsetting, depending on your personal preferences.

Little Women: LA brings viewers into the lives and homes of Terra Jolé, Tonya Banks, Elena Gant, Christy McGinity Gibel, Traci Harrison Tsou and Briana Manson. Their navigations of Los Angeles are both unique and familiar – we all have arguments with friends and family, but not all face the health challenges of dwarfism.

Dwarfism is defined by the advocacy group Little People of America (LPA) as an adult height of 4 feet 10 inches or under, as a result of a medical or genetic condition. From watching this show, a viewer can learn more about the medical condition and some terminology: Achondroplasia, the most common form, and Pseudoachondroplasia, a type of short-limb dwarfism.

Todd and Christy Gibel

Todd and Christy Gibel

Some people dismiss reality television for being nothing but drama-squabbles. Little Women: LA has shown that if nothing else, introducing a new community to a large audience can lead to more understanding and acceptance.

Many (if not most) viewers probably had no idea how offensive the word “midget” can be to those with dwarfism. This show gives an emotional perspective on just how hurtful that choice of word might be. Midget is a slang term, not a medical one, and it was the descriptive term applied to P.T. Barnum’s dwarfs used for public amusement during the freak show era.

It was great to hear the women discuss the use of the word by comedians and to show that there is still argument even among those with dwarfism on how it should or should not be used.

It’s this glimpse into the lives of others that can lead to greater compassion, support and love for fellow man. And sure…we all have trouble in our relationships and it’s nice to see how much we all have in common.

I encourage my readers to learn more about Little People of America (LPA) – a nonprofit organization that provides support and information to people of short stature and their families.

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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.

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Mad Men

Mad Men has been sculpting our modern decade for the past six years. It would be false to say its influence really started in July of 2007 when it premiered….

Mad Men has been sculpting our modern decade for the past six years. It would be false to say its influence really started in July of 2007 when it premiered. There wasn’t a massive following until it started grabbing up awards like a hungry goldfish.

As of today (April 7, 2015), Mad Men has received fifteen Emmys and four Golden Globes and the appeal isn’t a mystery to loyal viewers. The attention to historical detail is always received well by critics (including myself), so long as the writing is compelling and the acting tolerable. The show took Jon Hamm from quiet actor to a household name.

For the first four seasons, Mad Men had my highest attention. By season five, knowing the characters so well made me more critical of their sometimes dramatic actions. In that fifth season there was so much turmoil. I was ruined by the handling of Lane Pryce’s storyline in Season 5 Episode 12, “Commissions and Fees.” I didn’t need the visuals and was injured by seeing more than I thought necessary.

The brilliance of the show’s construction is evident in the handling of historical moments. There is usually a temptation to depict history from a romanticized retrospect. In “The Grown-Ups” (season three, episode 12), the show’s timeline met up with November 22, 1963. We saw how the moment of President Kennedy’s assassination played out in the world through multiple perspectives. Peggy was in bed with Duck and “slept” through the moment, Don had just finished yelling at Lane – real moments.

In the sixth season, the Apollo 11 moon landing was indeed as memorable as our relatives relay to us, but we had some alternative impressions of its significance. Sally brushed it off as wasteful to impress a boy, Don and Peggy dealt with the reality of the astronauts possibly failing and how that would impact their account.

Those are real reactions when history is unfolding in the moment. We are reminded by this television show that the passage of time and the presence of new information leads to the slow shifting of our own opinions when the present becomes the distant past. How will the younger generation feel about the events of September 11, 2001 when it is forty years in the past?

When a television show can inspire such thinking, it has done far more than entertain. Paying attention to the events of the past can go a long way toward informing our future even as we sometimes continue making the same mistakes.

As Mad Men begins final episodes, there will be a great temptation to criticize the handling of its lead characters. It’s a difficult task for writers to craft an ending when each viewer relates in different ways and wants to see their favorites make the choices they would. In the end, we have to accept them for who they have been crafted to be.

If you haven’t seen Mad Men, it will be around when you’re ready for it. Be sure you’re mentally ready as well.

Will the series finale be five star-worthy?

Will the series finale be five star-worthy?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Arrested Development

It may be that you need a very particular sense of humor to truly enjoy Arrested Development. It had a bit of a hard time finding viewers when it premiered…

It may be that you need a very particular sense of humor to truly enjoy Arrested Development. It had a bit of a hard time finding viewers when it premiered on Fox in 2003, but the Internet (and Netflix) have changed everything for shows with niche audiences. That’s why fans were thrilled when Netflix announced it would be carrying the fourth season in 2013 and it was successful enough that a fifth season has been ordered.

Family comedies are often strong because of their ability to remind us of our own siblings, parents, and crazy uncles. You might have a hard time thinking you’ll fall in love with the Bluth family until you have a few episodes under your belt.

The jokes are lasting, but still include some clear political barbs and satire appropriate for 2003. The persistence of small gags make the show better on multiple viewings. Each episode has a plot that rivals those of Seinfeld – with twists and turns where the decisions of characters multiply to often comically intense situations.

Long List of Guest Stars
Amy Poehler, Henry Winkler, Liza Minnelli, Jeff Garlin, Andy Richter, Ed Begley Jr., Kristen Wiig, Charlize Theron, James Lipton, Scott Baio, Ben Stiller, Seth Rogen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Carl Weathers, Ed Helms, John Slattery, Max Winkler, Jane Lynch, Richard Simmons, Jack McBrayer, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Bob Odenkirk, Heather Graham, Justine Batemen, Gary Cole, Judge Reinhold, Rob Riggle, Martin Short, Dan Castellaneta, and Conan O’Brien.

Tony Hale as Buster Bluth
Buster Bluth is the epitome of an adult child. His mild mannerisms and hesitation portrayed by Tony Hale are

David Cross as Tobias Fünke
David Cross as Michael Bluth’s brother-in-law is woefully inept, but passionately and continuously pursues his dream of acting. His role as Lindsay’s husband constantly shifts as well leading to a Mr. Show reunion between David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, who plays brief marriage counselor.

Alia Shawkat as Maeby Fünke
Maeby’s story is perhaps one of the most interesting in the series. She functions in the shadows to create her own successes kept secret from her fumbling family members.

Jeffrey Tambor as George Bluth Sr. and Oscar Bluth
Jeffrey Tambor is known for his ability to play characters who are a bit off-the-wall and his experience is diverse. You can catch him in classics like Taxi, Three’s Company, The Ropers, and Hill Street Blues. He portrays George and Oscar Bluth – brothers who are as different as

GOB-fireWill Arnett as George Oscar Bluth (GOB)
He’s the family magician – who doesn’t have one of those? GOB generally comes up with the most outrageous plans in the family. He’s fiercely competitive with his brother Michael. If you have an older brother, GOB will be familiar to you.

Snoopy
Buried within the show, but not too far below the surface, are several references to Peanuts. There’s no reason to ruin it by calling out each one, but be on the look out for phrases, tunes, and props throughout the series. The show has a habit of developing inspiring inside jokes that recur at just the right moments.

Michael Cera as George Michael Bluth
George Michael is the series’ most grounded character even with his difficulty in dealing with his cousin Maeby. When George Michael gets in trouble, it’s often because he’s trying to either be a good son or appear more attractive to his (possibly not genetically related) cousin.

LucilleJessica Walter as Lucille Bluth
Lucille Bluth is as cold as her children are dysfunctional. Her manners are from a different era of upper class excess and we understand more and more of her motivations as the series progresses. Her position as “horrible mother” is established early and best exemplified by her treatment of son Michael in this mid-season episode.

Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth
Michael tries to prove his place as the brains of the family in the finale of season one. Though he thinks his efforts are the most sane of the family, Michael manages to get in just as much trouble as the rest of his family.

It’s a show that requires an understanding of social and political events to fully appreciate. The humor isn’t lost without that perspective, but it’s enhanced for those who pay attention. It’s dysfunction as its best – we aren’t left feeling sad or conflicted. The trouble they get themselves into is so bizarre that only the most outrageous of families could top it. (See Keeping Up with the Kardashians.)

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