Channel Guide

Community - Season 4

Can sitcoms have moxie? If they can, then Community, which is always teetering on the edge of cancelation, definitely has it. On the road to its fourth season premiere, everyone involved with the show has been forced to deal with a maelstrom of crap: low viewer turn outs; a public spat between creator Dan Harmon and sexagenarian prat-faller Chevy Chase; the subsequent ousting of Harmon by NBC; and the delay of this season’s debut, which demonstrated NBC’s general ambivalence about the show’s future. Other sitcoms have been squashed by a lot less but Community is “the little cult hit that could.” The majority of the cast, crew, and fans soldier on and will continue to do so for at least a little while longer. As the fourth season begins, the show’s irreverent, self-referential humor appears unaltered by all of the behind-the-scenes upheaval. Yeah, that’s right, Harmon’s NBC sanctioned replacements, David Guarascio and Moses Port, didn’t Britta the premiere. In this impressive first episode, which is hopefully a sign of what’s to come and not some bait-and-switch anomaly, the gang return to Greendale after summer break and prepare for their senior year. Jeff (Joel McHale) informs the study group that he took online classes behind their backs (he’s still fighting the love he has for his wacky crew). As it turns out, Jeff is only one history credit away from graduation, news that amplifies Abed’s (Danny Pudi) anxieties about everyone eventually splitting up.

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30 Rock - Season 7

(Finale spoilers ahead…) What a touching final season 30 Rock had. Geeky, unlucky in love, “night cheese” adoring Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) married Criss Chros (James Marsden), then adopted two children; Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), the effervescent TV obsessed NBC page turned janitor, became president of the network; and finally, the flighty crew of ne’er-do-wells that Liz has been trying to rein in for the past seven years (Tracy, Jenna, Frank, and the rest) turned the tables on their boss and selflessly helped her out for once. Season seven was sentimental but it also managed to stay true to form, remaining weird and surreal right up until the last, perfectly odd seconds of its finale. But I’m getting ahead of myself. When the series finale — a two-parter — begins, Liz is looking far more domestic and calm than we’ve ever seen her. Production on her show, TGS, has been shut down, she’s a stay-at-home mom now, and she doesn’t know what to do with herself — she doesn’t have to deal with any more nonsense, she doesn’t have any more fires to put out.

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Workaholics

Comedy Central’s unabashedly lowbrow sitcom Workaholics recently began airing the second half of its third season, which on its own would be reason enough to celebrate but the network has also ordered two more seasons of the series. If that news isn’t Tight Butthole then I don’t know what is. The show is a raunchy, wildly absurd Office Space for the 21st century about three happily directionless man-children, Adam (Adam DeVine), Blake (Blake Anderson), and Anders (Anders Holm). The guys are roomies, they work for a telemarketing company, and they’re pathologically incapable of doing the right thing–in two and a half seasons they’ve tried to barter for clean urine with a playground kid, wrecked a garage door with a soap-box-derby car, and schemed their way into getting a handicapped parking pass. Workaholics is sophomoric in the best possible way and if you have yet to sample what these lovable slackers are serving up, here are a couple of reasons why you should give this show a try.

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Lucille Ball Milkshake

During a conversation about television icons, a buddy of mine said that Matthew Perry is on track to achieve legendary status (and she wasn’t talking about his legendary knack for starring on shows that get canceled). Lucille Ball, Andy Griffith, Carol Burnett, Matthew Perry–one of these things is not like the others. What this friend of mine failed to understand is that there is a difference between an icon and someone who is simply a prolific and perhaps beloved television actor, a difference that may be harder to identify when it comes to this medium than it is with film. Perry certainly possess many of the qualities that go in to making an icon–he’s charismatic, his particular set of comedic gifts are perfectly suited for the sitcom format, he’s been on TV for as long as I can remember. But he (on his own and not as a member of the Friends cast) hasn’t had the same kind of impact on the medium or the culture that someone like Jerry Seinfeld has–Seinfeld’s influence is still felt today in shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and he is so cherished by the public that we don’t hold The Marriage Ref against him. So, if not Perry, who is poised to join the pantheon of TV gods?

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Channel Guide - Large

Fox may have put too much stock in the appeal of awkward quirk when the network added The Mindy Project and Ben and Kate to a Tuesday night line-up that revolves around Zooey Deschanel’s perky comedic stylings on New Girl. At the moment, both of these cute new sitcoms have uncertain futures. The more troubled of the pair is Ben and Kate–the comedy’s middling ratings are understandable but unfortunate because it has so much potential and could benefit from a second season. The show finds Nat Faxon and Dakota Johnson playing adult siblings living under the same roof. Ben (Faxon) is the irresponsible, goofball older brother while Kate (Johnson) is the mature one — she’s a single mother and has a steady but unfulfilling job as a bar manager. Predictably, Ben encourages Kate to loosen up and Kate encourages Ben to grow up. It’s the standard, sort of clichéd odd couple set up but is often very funny. There’s more here than the cliché, but it’s also missing a key ingredient.

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Channel Guide - Large

Will anyone ever be able to match the pluck, the humor, the passion, or the sheer adorableness of the Ponds? How do we go on without Amy and Rory? These are the questions looming over this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, “The Snowmen,” questions that are, of course, at play for fans of the three-way best friendship initiated two years ago during the fifth series but even more so for the Doctor himself. (Spoilers ahead…)

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Channel Guide - Large

On NBC’s 1600 Penn, Josh Gad plays sweet doofus Skip Gilchrist. Skip has been dawdling in college for seven years and is forced to move back home after a frat prank goes horribly wrong. The incident becomes national news because, for Skip, home is the White House and his father Dale, played by Bill Pullman, is the President of the United States (yes, Pullman is to the presidency, what Morgan Freeman is to God). Skip is oafish but he’s also hopelessly optimistic. “Nothing fazes you,” says Skip’s stepmother Emily (Jenna Elfman), “not even the stuff that should.” If this premise sounds familiar to you that’s because it’s basically Tommy Boy set against a farcical political backdrop. Or now that I think about it, 1600 Penn is probably closer to Black Sheep because that movie was also basically Tommy Boy but set against a farcical political backdrop. Chris Farley movies aside, 1600 Penn is energetic and worth a look-see if only for Gad.

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Channel Guide - Large

This year, no new sitcom was met with as much disdain as ABC’s The Neighbors. The half-hour comedy is about a New Jersey family that moves into a gated community entirely populated by aliens. The premise, though definitely weird, isn’t problematic. How could it be when sitcoms like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie are beloved and, more recently, we’ve seen just how funny a modern, high concept sitcom can be with FX’s dark, surreal comedy Wilfred? No, the real problem with The Neighbors is that it is all premise and never says anything important or even remotely compelling about real life, which all of the best fantasy and sci-fi shows do. To me, 3rd Rock from the Sun is the gold standard when it comes to alien sitcoms. Sure, My Favorite Martian, Mork & Mindy, and ALF are all treasures and important parts of the proud alien sitcom tradition but 3rd Rock was able to take its implausible concept—four aliens visiting Earth to study the planet’s customs while trying to blend in with the human population—and present a meaningful and timeless mediation on the human experience. What’s more, this was achieved through broad humor (there was so much screaming on that show), which is pretty amazing.

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Channel Guide - Large

NBC’s Parenthood is a drama deserving of the kind of veneration normally reserved for Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and other cable TV darlings. Based very loosely on the 1989 Ron Howard-directed comedy of the same name and developed by Friday Night Lights writer Jason Katims, the series is a deft mix of humor and gut-wrenching poignancy that can, rather amazingly, turn its audience into bunch of sobbing fools without having to resort to emotional manipulation. Parenthood revolves around the Bravermans: Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia); their four adult children, Adam (Peter Krause), Sarah (Lauren Graham), Julia (Erika Christensen), and Crosby (Dax Shepard); and the significant others and kids of the four siblings. They’re a family so close-knit and mutually supportive that they’d seemingly rather die than not do everything together—they attend little league games and school plays as a 16-member unit. They are the kind of “fight hard but love harder” crew that should be nauseating to watch. Yet, these characters are written and portrayed with so much honesty and as a result Parenthood is never repellently schmaltzy.

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Channel Guide - Large

The most important TV news of the week was, perhaps, overshadowed by Two and a Half Men’s titular half man Angus T. Jones and his sudden, spiritually motivated disavowal of the series that he’s starred in for ten years. So what could possibly be more significant than an actor calling his own show “filth”? New information about the Disney Channel’s Boy Meets World sequel, of course! Girl Meets World—a follow-up to the ’90s ABC sitcom about adolescent (and later, young adult), PG-13 level tribulations that featured life lessons delivered by a wise, omnipresent neighbor/teacher/senior citizen BFF—is still in the early stages of development and will reportedly focus on the tween daughter of Cory Matthews and Topanga Lawrence, the original series’ main lovebirds. (Yup, that’s right, it looks like we finally have proof that Cory + Topanga = 4 Eva!) While the sequel news broke earlier in November, this week it was announced that Boy Meets World actors Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel will be reprising their roles for the pilot. After the announcement was made, everyone across this great land started passionately high-fiving each other (figuratively but probably also literally).

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Channel Guide - Large

This season, the most consistently compelling part of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire has been its opening title sequence. (Impossibly cool Steve Buscemi smoking a cigarette on the beach as the clouds morph above him, empty bottles of booze float onto the shore, and Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Straight Up and Down” plays over the scene—it’s gorgeous.) Humdrum episode after humdrum episode, I’m left asking, “Why am I still watching this show? What kind of unholy power does it have over me?” Boardwalk Empire has never moved at a terribly fast pace. It’s about 1920s bootlegging and all of the politicking and scheming that comes with that, which gives most of the scenes between Atlantic City top dog Nucky Thompson (Buscemi) and his co-conspirators an expository quality—the show revolves around characters brokering shady deals or, as is the case with the current third season, discussing the Volstead Act ad nauseam. But there are also unexpected deaths, unlikely dalliances, and, of course, there’s delightful gangster drama. These flashier story elements in combination with the fact that patience is usually rewarded (sometimes with a character being scalped, other times, simply, with smart writing) make the slow pacing bearable. But we’re now nine episodes into the third season and Michael Shannon’s Nelson Van Alden—one of the most complex, tortured, and surprising characters on the show—is hardly ever present and any time some glimmer of excitement pops up, it’s quickly stomped out.

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Channel Guide - Large

On CBS’ Elementary, Johnny Lee Miller plays a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. The English actor’s interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth is hyperkinetic. Holmes is indelicate. He jitters. When observing some liar or crime scene, he’s prone to biting his bottom lip—presumably, an outward manifestation of all of those synapses firing off in his big ol’ genius brain. Although none of these character quirks are particularly unexpected or novel they work. Miller is mesmerizing. His performance is the one thing that distinguishes this new series from other crime dramas. But shouldn’t the show’s connection to Conan Doyle’s stories be what sets it apart? This updated Holmes lives in Manhattan. His female Dr. Watson, Joan (Lucy Liu), isn’t a flatmate but a sober companion—like the Holmes of Conan Doyle’s stories, he struggles with drug addiction. He’s recently left rehab, living in an apartment owned by a father whom he resents, and consults for the NYPD. Holmes also seems to be fond of wearing clothes that are too small for him (but he looks very cute in his child-sized sweaters, so it’s hard to find fault in that). For CBS, bringing the character into the modern age, in part, means making him less refined. He isn’t a gentleman detective; he’s a scruffy, eccentric hipster detective.

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Pushing Daisies

If Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies were one of the March sisters from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, it would be Beth: the show was too good and gentle for this world, so it had to die a tragic, scarlet fever related death—or more precisely, it had to be unceremoniously canceled after its second season in 2009. Admirers of the ill-fated series about a pie-maker with the power to bring dead things back to life by touching them were, it seemed, being given another opportunity to have a visually stunning, linguistically nimble, Pushing Daisies-esque experience when NBC announced that Fuller would be developing a reboot of The Munsters. Did we really need this reboot? Probably not. But Fuller has a way with high-concept fantasy and with him at the helm, it actually sounded like a good idea.

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Channel Guide - Large

From True Blood’s vampire-werewolf-fairy love triangles to The Walking Dead’s post-apocalyptic zombie assaults, right now, horror TV is diverse and it’s flourishing. But are any of the shows that filter their soap opera or action-adventure narratives through the horror lens genuinely scary? Two series, FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum and ABC’s 666 Park Avenue, premiered this fall with the express purpose of creeping the hell out of us every week. While both go about telling their chilling tales in ways that aren’t exactly groundbreaking, AHS: Asylum rises above most of its clichés—something that is primarily achieved through its relentless pacing and brutal imagery—where 666 Park Avenue is mired in flickering lights and seemingly portentous revelations. AHS: Asylum is the second installment in what creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck are calling an anthology series. In terms of plot, then, it has nothing to do with the first season, which starred Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, and Taissa Farmiga as a family living in the world’s most terrifying house. But fans of the first season needn’t worry because, when it comes to tone, the new story is just as unsettling and eerie and full of kink as its predecessor.

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Channel Guide - Large

Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard and his crew have come up with—hands down—the most captivatingly strange sitcom on network TV. Now in its third season and having recently been picked up for a fourth, the Emmy-nominated animated series is the gem of Fox’s Sunday night cartoon block. What’s more, its continued existence may be a sign that the network has finally turned a corner when it comes to canceling shows with cult followings. Bob’s Burgers revolves around the Belchers—swarthy Bob (H. Jon Benjamin), his supportive wife Linda (John Roberts), and their three equally but distinctly quirky children, Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal). They own a burger joint that does okay business (and have an apartment above the restaurant, making them one of the few TV families with an economically realistic living situation). While there are some basic similarities between Bob’s Burgers and the rest of the Animation Domination shows (they’re all cheeky or irreverent and primarily about eccentric nuclear families), the tone and style here are almost jarring next to the raucous abrasiveness of the Seth MacFarlane toons and the silly wit of The Simpsons.

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Channel Guide - Large

There’s a promotional poster for Arrow, The CW’s new sleek and broody reimagining of DC’s Green Arrow comic, that looks a lot like the one for the first season of Smallville. Naturally, emblazoned across both posters, there are dramatic, single-word show titles that allude to a superhero universe. More importantly (and more prominently), though, both feature a lone, shirtless, young man with chiseled, next-level ab muscles—something that is clearly supposed to hint at the pathos underpinning these shows. Dubious (aka brilliant) marketing strategies aside, Arrow is a lucidly composed action-adventure series that, in its premiere, never comes off cheesy despite the fact that it’s ostensibly about a guy who skulks around a dark city with a bow and arrow—which, somehow seems stranger than wearing a bat costume. If its first episode and promotional poster are any indication, the show has the potential to be as big of a success for the increasingly teen soap opera driven CW as ten-season wonder Smallville.

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Channel Guide - Large

(Reader beware: There are spoilers in this article.) When we last left Dexter, the titular serial killer/blood spatter analyst/hoarder of olive green, long sleeve henleys had just offed Travis Marshall (Colin Hanks)— another in the show’s seemingly endless line of Miami based sociopaths—as his police lieutenant kid sister Debra looked on. It was a shocking moment, it was a game changing moment, it was a moment that was so satisfyingly big and sensational that it compensated for an uneven season. (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the general shoddiness of the earlier episodes was purposeful and meant to misdirect viewers and lower expectations for the crazy conclusion.) This new season picks up mere seconds after last year’s finale with a rattled Deb struggling to process what she’s just witnessed and quick-thinking Dexter—who’s standing beside a body swaddled in plastic wrap—Jedi mind tricking his sister into believing that he just “snapped.” From here, the season seven opener moves swiftly and assuredly as Deb agonizes over her decision to help Dexter cover up the murder and a new threat—a Russian crime syndicate—is thrown into the mix. The episode is packed with the sort of tense, unnerving scenes that made the Showtime series a hit and proves that any reports of Dexter jumping the shark were premature.

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Channel Guide - Large

Breaking Bad, which recently finished the first half of its final season, is the perfect combo plate of highly nuanced, captivating performances and stunning writing. It’s also as addictive as the stuff that it’s protagonist/antagonist Walter White cooks up (I imagine). But before creator Vince Gilligan was plotting Walter’s moral decline, he was cranking up the sexual tension between FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully as a writer on The X-Files. Breaking Bad, The X-Files—on the surface they couldn’t be more different but they’re bound by Gilligan’s inventive approach to storytelling and talent for injecting humor (that always feels totally organic) into otherwise dramatic narratives. Gilligan started writing for The X-Files in season two and the episodes that he penned during his tenure were some of the show’s sharpest and most satisfying. These are five of his best, which you might consider re-watching if the wait until next summer’s Breaking Bad conclusion proves too difficult to bear.

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Channel Guide - Large

The dialogue in NBC’s less than revolutionary new adventure series Revolution is filled with pointless obfuscations. “It’s all going to turn off,” warns Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee), a frazzled family man who knows…something. “It’s going to turn off and it will never, ever turn back on.” Technology is the “it” being discussed in this vague statement that simultaneously establishes the show’s gratuitously theatrical tone and sets up the central conflict—lights, computers, cars, planes, iPhones (!), and all of the other essential, electronic thingamajigs that we take for granted, abruptly, stop functioning. The premise is provocative enough (albeit in an ordinary “What If?” game sort of way) but Revolution’s series opener is tepid—made up of recycled bits and pieces from other overblown post-apocalyptic dramas—and, at times, unintentionally hilarious. Created by Supernatural’s Eric Kripke, Revolution is supposed to be this year’s epic—the event show that sucks everyone in with its mythology and intrigue. Post-Lost, we’ve been given at least one of these Abrams-esque dramas every season. Sometimes, like this one, J.J. Abrams is actually involved with the production (Abrams and Jon Favreau are executive producing), which only fuels the hype. Revolution has all of the standard features of this class of show—the large ensemble, the misdirection, the sci-fi. The most lamentable flaw, then, is that it never rises above its role as the requisite Abrams show.

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Channel Guide - Large

The one criticism of CBS’ high-rated, geek comedy The Big Bang Theory uttered most often is a pithy “I don’t get why it’s popular”—a very simple declaration of how baffling it is that a lot of people, maybe even loved ones or friends whose opinions are usually valued, actually want to use up precious minutes of their day watching a by-the-book sitcom with a distracting laugh track and an over-the-top lead character who has a grating personality disorder. Naturally, there’s a Family Guy quip that speaks to the WTF of it all: “I keep not laughing at The Big Bang Theory and I figure, it’s gotta be the television.” To clear up the confusion that those who “don’t get it” might have, you’re right, there isn’t anything revolutionary about the series—this isn’t an Arrested Development, a Girls, or a Curb Your Enthusiasm—so anyone expecting to be immediately bowled over by the writing will likely end up disappointed but, what it lacks in edginess and subtlety, it makes up for in charm. In fact, in recent years the show has primarily been charm-driven (as opposed to being comedy-driven), which—now that I think about it—may be a little bit revolutionary. Co-created by Two and a Half Men’s Chuck Lorre, Big Bang is built around the insular friendship of four socially inept scientists. The degree and style of that ineptitude is sharply differentiated, varying in a typical quirky, sitcom-y fashion: Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) is the libidinous one who still lives at home with […]

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