TV Casualty is where I’ll highlight my favourite TV episode airing in previous Sunday- Thursday. This week I’ll talk about new episodes of The Walking Dead, How I Met Your Mother, Justified, New Girl, Key & Peele, Modern Family, Happy Endings, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Up all Night, and Archer.
Episode of the Week: Happy Endings (s02/e15) – “The Butterfly Effect Effect”
If you’ve hung around me the last few months, the conversation has inevitably shifted to my love of two comedies, although they couldn’t be more different. One is UK cult comedy Peep Show and the other is Happy Endings. Happy Endings is a show I begrudgingly started watching at the tail end of the first season and it is now the comedy I most look forward to watching every week. I can without pause say that I think it comes the closest to the pacing and sharpness of Arrested Development, which is no surprise given that AD alums Joe and Anthony Russo produce Happy Endings. For those of you who need a slick pitch, I’d say that Happy Endings is a hang out comedy about twentysomethings much like Friends but with far more irreverence and multitudes of jokes, both visual and verbal fly indiscriminately at the viewer. Much like Arrested, it takes at least two viewings to absorb all the jokes- there are at least 3 big jokes an episode I miss on my first watch because I’m laughing right over them.
What I’ve loved the most in the last few episodes (Adam Pally’s break out role as Max notwithstanding) is the unbelievable chemistry between Damon Wayans, Jr and Eliza Coupe. As the token married couple of the group they succeed in doing what I shant ever thinketh be done: make marriage look super, duper fun. Brad and Jane might be the weirdest couple on television: one scene features Brad pulling down his pants to reveal he is wearing a women’s polo style shirt dress and rather than cringe, Jane is into it. These two appreciate each other’s oddness and while there are shades of this type of relationship in Marshall and Lily on How I Met Your Mother, Coupe and Wayans are less precious/cloying.
This week’s episode is focused around Brad and Jane’s annual fight, known as Spring Smackdown, a signifier of the titular season. Max barely has a line in the entire episode- he is in hibernation mode- that is to say- communicating in grunts while bearded and in one piece bear pajamas or riding a unicycle in a vest with a bucket on his head. I’m almost hesitant to recommend an episode that doesn’t feature Max being Max since he is such a dominant personality on the show but Adam Pally really sells what is ultimately a pretty ridiculous gag. See, Max even dominates this paragraph, which I wanted to use to highlight how good Brad and Jane were in this episode! Their “fight” is the episode’s centerpiece and a brilliant if not classic comedy bit where two people are yelling in a way that would make them seem angry to observers but are saying things contrary to their behavior. My favourite is when Brad yells ““Thank you! I appreciate everything you do for me!” in a total rage.
Another great episode in what has been a long string of great episodes.
What else I’ve been watching:
Walking Dead, which I’ve demoted to “occasion viewing” is still boring the life out of me. Shane spends most of his time complaining about Rick and rubbing his shaved head while Rick spends most of his time waxing philosophical, sometimes into a walkie talkie to nobody at all. Zzzzzz.
How I Met Your Mother was surprisingly solid but probably worked for me because it covered emotional groundwork that was laid down when I liked the show the most, which is when Ted courted and dated Robin, in the first two seasons of the show. HIMYM does funny, bittersweet stories better than almost any other sitcom but the writer’s comedic sensibilities on a week-to-week basis have always been a bit lazy for my taste in the later seasons.
Justified continues it’s terrific third season with an episode that cements Quarles as this season’s Big Bad. There are still many threads of storylines that are weaving together and it’s not clear where everyone fits in, but here we have a villain that keeps a man restrained to a bed at all times to abuse physically, seemingly for pleasure. Moral rules still apply on television, even on FX, and Limehouse’s lecture to his son/monologue to the audience is definitely announcing that he isn’t a villain so much as a man of conviction… in a county full of men of convictions (some of them criminal). Justified’s transition from single minded second season (“All About the Bennetts” could have been the subtitle) to freewheeling third season reminds me very much of Breaking Bad’s transition from super focused second season (“What is with the Teddy Bear in the Pool!”) to the more frenetic/where-is-this-going third season. This is not a bad thing.
New Girl is still showing signs of promise but also underwhelming. There are some great characters (Schmidt in particular) but there is rarely an episode where one story doesn’t bother me to the point of distraction. I can tell they added the character of CeCe to bone up the femininity but she isn’t particularly funny (she’s hot and embarrassed to be with Schmidt! Crazy!) and she barely interacts with 2/3 of the cast. Lizzy Caplan is already missed! Your new show with Michael Sheen might be awesome though!
Key & Peele is a new sketch comedy show on Comedy Central. This is the fourth episode that has aired so far. It’s very much like a two person Chappelle’s Show, both in format (the hosts riff for a bit on a topic in front of an audience and then a sketch based on that topic will play) and it’s heavy emphasis on black stereotypes. It’s gotten a fair amount of praise but much like the similarly single-minded sketch show, Portlandia, the sketches vary greatly in quality. This week’s best sketch is one in which Peele plays a nerdy Key’s thuggish cousin and engages in a game of Dungeons & Dragons. It is almost as predictable as it sounds but executed wonderfully. Plus, it reminded me of the series finale of Freaks and Geeks (Carlos the Dwarf!).
Modern Family was a pretty standard affair: Phil and Luke Dumphy are still the two best characters and they were given some pretty great material this week. Sometimes I wish Cam and Mitchell would move away though.
30 Rock was a little more amusing than usual but really, I pay more attention to subway ads than I do to this show. The ultimate check your e-mail show.
Parks and Recreation is another show, like Happy Endings and Justified, that has had a great run of episodes but this one felt a little too plot driven and within the show, overdone. We knew the end of the episode from the very first line about Leslie having to spread herself between her job at the Parks and Rec department and as a candidate in a local election. Thus, we had to spend an entire episode knowing Leslie was going to try valiantly to do both but ultimately focus on her campaign more. It was just a matter of getting there. Andy and Chris are continuing to hit all the right notes and have a great chemistry together (and with Champion, their adorable three-legged dog). Donna was also given some room to shine this episode and she really nailed it. My one problem lately is that while I love Aziz’s portrayal of Tom, it’s clear that the writers noticed that people grasped onto his baby talk food names (“Chickie Chickie Parm Parm”) and have infantilized him in a way that is getting kind of grating and is not so endearing. The fact that this character would have an absurd romantic deal breaker list is plausible- the fact that he publicly calls it an “oh no no” list is a bit creepy.
Finally, Up All Night and Archer delivered solid episodes in what have been very solid seasons for both shows, although I did think Archer was a bit of a step down from it’s typical high quality.