Channel Guide

Channel Guide - Large

The precocious child; the old grump with a heart of gold; the plucky young woman, looking to make it in the big city all on her own, who spins around in the middle of a busy street with a big, stupid grin on her face while wearing a hat. For better or worse, these sorts of characters have been and, most likely, will always be a part of the TV landscape. They’re templates that take all of the pesky guesswork out of creating a show. Over the years, familiar archetypes are re-imagined and deconstructed to reflect the changing values. This is why we have the wholesome Brady Bunch in the ’70s and the dysfunctional Bundys of Married with Children in the ’90s. And then, sometimes, new constructs are born. But you know all of this. We may be in the midst of a TV renaissance but that doesn’t mean that shows aren’t leaning hard on archetypes—these five in particular are getting a lot of play.

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Channel Guide - Large

Anyone who has watched Mike Judge’s Idiocracy can’t help but see some of the more moronic features of the present as signs of a Dystopic future where electrolyte enriched sports drinks flow from drinking fountains, Costco hands out law degrees, and “Beef Supreme” is a perfectly acceptable baby name. We can be thankful, though, that two new shows on FX are at least attempting to combat stupidity. Brand X with Russell Brand, which wrapped up its six-episode run earlier this month, and Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, which premiered last week, synthesize what’s happening in the news in ways that are accessible to people who don’t usually seek out political comedy or care about social commentary. Like Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, both Brand X and Totally Biased offer a sometimes biting, sometimes silly spin on current events. The two FX shows, however, aren’t concerned with satire or news parody and structurally are informal to the point of almost seeming haphazardly thrown together. Russell Brand and W. Kamau Bell dress casually and spend the majority of their time standing in front of a wall—something that is fittingly and simultaneously reminiscent of a comedy club performance and an academic lecture.

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Channel Guide - Large

In his new NBC series Go On, Matthew Perry plays Ryan King, a recently widowed sports talk radio host, eager to return to work after a leave of absence. Surely, when it comes to his career, something similar is going on with the erstwhile Friends actor who’s had a few notable guest starring roles since that earlier gig ended in 2004—most recently on CBS’ The Good Wife—but who hasn’t been a regular fixture on our TV screens for some time now. The preview premiere of Go On’s pilot, which aired Wednesday night after NBC’s Olympics coverage, begins with a wink to the audience that suggests as much—Ryan pounds on the glass of his studio, informing his boss and co-workers that he’s “back and better than ever.” This is former Friends writer and Go On creator Scott Silveri’s adorable, if a bit heavy-handed, way of marking Perry’s return and perhaps implying that after a string of unsuccessful projects wherein the former ensemble player took on lead actor duties (2006’s Aaron Sorkin drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 2011’s Mr. Sunshine), this will be the one that sticks. So, is Perry better than ever here? Well, there’s really no topping “Ms. Chanandler Bong” but this show certainly has the potential to be the first in Perry’s post-Friends career to get a second season order.

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Channel Guide - Large

If you don’t know what a “Brony” is by now then I’m assuming that you lead a very fulfilling or, at least, active life away from your computer. You probably read books often and have a subscription to a print news publication. But if I’ve piqued the interest of anyone who has yet to hear about this fascinating community, Bronies are adult male fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. That’s right, brony is another one of this generation’s clever portmanteaus. Friendship is Magic, which debuted on relatively new cable network The Hub in 2010, tracks the magenta, lavender, and baby blue adventures of unicorn pony Twilight Sparkle and her equally cutesy-named hoofed friends (Fluttershy, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity). The cartoon, like its animated film and TV predecessors produced in the ’80s and ’90s, is based on Hasbro’s toy ponies (Hasbro co-owns The Hub) and targeted at little girls. But, as many of us have discovered in the past couple of months, the show’s most ardent supporters are Bronies; 4,000 pony enthusiasts attended Bronycon 2012, a Friendship is Magic fan convention. That enthusiasm has a lot of people confused, but I think it’s exciting.

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Channel Guide - Large

On shows like The Newsroom, Californication, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, the curmudgeon is exalted; intentionally unlikable folks populate the worlds of Girls and Mad Men; and a thoroughly bratty child holds court on Game of Thrones. Opportunists, narcissists, jerks, the morally bankrupt—these are some of people that we tune in to watch every week. I’d say all of this is a good thing, a sign that we’re living during a time where viewers are smart enough and open-minded enough to appreciate irony and satire and flawed, realistic characters. But sometimes, maybe not usually, or even often, people aren’t selfish, cold, or totally self-involved, and for the sake of diversity, it would be nice to see more shows with characters who are as optimistic as, say, Hank Moody is misanthropic. To make myself clear, I’m not saying that there aren’t enough family-oriented programs on TV today—that isn’t an issue that I’m even remotely concerned with. I’m not advocating wholesomeness or a return to the benign, Miller-Boyett characters of my ’90s, TGIF-centric youth (I cherish the Danny Tanners and Balki Bartokomouses of that era, but TV is a lot more interesting now and I think even cousin Larry would tend to agree with that). But cynicism and self-centeredness are the go-to traits for so many characters and even if that’s an authentic representation of the way people actually are, it’s kind of boring. I mean, do I really need to see it on my TV all the time if it’s already a […]

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Channel Guide - Large

Watching an award show is the closest I’ll ever come to experiencing the kind of thrill that sports fans feel when they’re watching the Super Bowl or the World Series. When Peter Dinklage won his Emmy last year, I cheered audibly as if that award had some kind of impact on my life. It’s a strange reaction to have but you watch these shows and these actors every week, you buy the DVDs, you grow attached, and you want to see this thing or person that you adore honored. It’s fandom and we’re helpless to resist its hold on us. The 64th annual Primetime Emmy nominations were announced Thursday morning and there really weren’t any surprises or huge controversies both because many of these actors and shows are nominated every year (30 Rock, Modern Family, Mad Men, Jim Parsons, Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin) and also because most of the nominees are deserving of the recognition (Breaking Bad, Homeland, Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire, Bryan Cranston). As usual, the snubs, omissions, the inability of the members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to acknowledge something that isn’t widely celebrated by critics—whatever you want to call it—were the most interesting parts of yesterday morning’s announcement.

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Channel Guide - Large

When I was about ten years old, I used to plop myself down after school in front of my ’90s-chic, wood-paneled TV set with a Capri Sun and the soft, moist remnant of the ham and cheese sandwich that I hadn’t finished at lunch, and not just watch, but absorb Batman: The Animated Series. The suspense! The drama! The musical numbers about domestic abuse! What more could a fifth-grader ask for? Now Comic-Con, the impending rise of the Dark Knight, and, of course, Landon Palmer’s thoughtful exploration of the film serial and TV iterations of the Batman character in this week’s Culture Warrior, have made me especially nostalgic for the cartoon Caped Crusader of my youth – the guy who ended up ruining me for all other cartoon superheroes – so, I decided to revisit the series and examine it with fresh, grown person eyes (which actually means eyes that are increasingly crappy).

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Channel Guide - Large

Space western Firefly is one of those TV shows that every geek is supposed to have seen—it’s Whedon, it’s shiny, it’s a part of the sci-fi canon. Yet, it was only on the air for one season. The upcoming cast reunion at next week’s San Diego Comic-Con is one of the event’s most anticipated panels, but would this be true if the show had gone on for three more years? Would later seasons be able to match the first? Of course, no one can know the answer to that but I think when you consider the show’s enduring appeal, as well as the appeal of one-season wonders in general, you could say that unceremonious, early cancelation is actually a good thing.  When we’re presented with a show where the writing, acting, and production have achieved what feels like a perfect synergy, and then that’s yanked away, it’s infuriating. But maybe we should celebrate that ending.

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Channel Guide - Large

I doubt many people tuned into the premiere of Charlie Sheen’s FX show Anger Management thinking that it was going to be their new Thursday night fave. If you’re anything like me, then sheer curiosity is what brought you to Sheen’s latest, in which he plays, of all things, a therapist (get it? ‘cause he’s Charlie Sheen and he’s helping people with their problems! Oh brother! Cue laugh track). The vague, non-plot of the series opener finds Sheen counseling a group of sitcom archetypes (the senior citizen whose dialogue is filled with folksy bigotry, the young gay man who sits beside the folksy bigot on a couch, the socially inept guy who makes women uncomfortable, the superficial chick who’s made uncomfortable by the creepy, socially inept guy) and fuming over the values his ex-wife’s new boyfriend is passing down to his daughter. You see, he helps people with their anger management issues but he also has anger management issues, hence the title and hence the reason why you don’t really need to watch more than one episode. Honestly, the show wasn’t the wholly objectionable thing that I’d thought it would be. I did, however, find almost every aspect of it mystifying.  “How is it that this exists?” I thought to myself as I watched the premiere.

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Channel Guide - Large

Bunheads, back-to-back-to-back Law and Order: SVU and Big Bang Theory reruns—so far this month, I’ve really just been aimlessly watching TV, waiting for the Louie premiere (and spoiler alert/alert nerd, you’ll probably be reading about that here in the very near future) but Comedy Bang Bang, IFC’s new strange talk show-sketch show hybrid born of a podcast of the same name, has given my life purpose. That purpose: watch Comedy Bang Bang a lot.

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Channel Guide - Large

There may be spoilers here, so if you haven’t seen the True Blood premiere, you might want to come back after you have. “Turn! Turn! Turn!” the season five premiere of HBO’s True Blood, begins just moments after the events of last season. All necromancers have been defeated, hella people are dead, and everyone’s tense (but no one’s genuinely afraid of the cops, or at least they shouldn’t be, because murder isn’t something that you can be arrested for in Bon Temps). Sookie, Lafayette, Eric, and Bill are dealing with all of the blood and viscera from their respective calamitous situations; shape-shifter Sam is cornered by a pack of growling werewolves; and Jason, who has the thigh muscles of a ninja turtle, is naked per usual. This first episode gave anxious fans a glimpse at what’s going to be this season’s major problem. No, it isn’t Russell Edgington, it’s the ever-growing ensemble. Every character—from Sookie to tertiary, background players—has his or her own elaborate drama. While that may be realistic (most of us aren’t just props in the lives of a small group of inordinately sexy people), there’s too much happening on this show!

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Channel Guide - Large

In 2010, after the release of the largely panned Cop Out, Kevin Smith tweeted a short but passionate polemic against movie critics (that most loathsome subsect of the human species who sit up in their ivory towers and pass judgments), writing, “From now on, any flick I’m ever involved with, I conduct screenings thusly: you wanna see it early to review it? Fine: pay like you would if you saw it next week. Like, why am I giving an arbitrary 500 people power over what I do at all, let alone for free [?] Why’s their opinion more valid?” In the interest of full disclosure, I have attended free press screenings, but I still think that Smith’s gripe had merit. Spoilers with Kevin Smith, a new Hulu original series that debuted on the site Monday, is the director’s attempt to fix the “backwards system” that perturbed him so. The web talk show’s mission? As Smith puts it on his blog, “we don’t review movies on Spoilers; we revere them.”

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Channel Guide - Large

With fall shows wrapped, Mad Men and Game of Thrones winding down, and the Louie and True Blood season premieres still weeks away, it’s the perfect time to curl up in front of your television set or computer (which actually seems really uncomfortable) and indulge in a little vintage TV series binge. While most of your old favorites are probably available to you on DVD, Netflix, or Hulu, several noteworthy classics inexplicably and unjustly aren’t. In some cases, no one even had the foresight to record every single episode back when they originally aired and then do their duty to mankind by illegally uploading the series onto YouTube or selling bootleg copies through shady-looking websites and, honestly, that’s just infuriating. If Emily’s Reasons Why Not – a 2006 Heather Graham snoozer that only aired one episode – is on DVD, then surely the following superior series should be released.

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Channel Guide - Large

Dr. Gregory House was a caustic, egotistical pill-popper who’d insult a dying woman to her face for his own misanthropic reasons but also because doing so would have provided him with some vital insight into her condition. There was brilliance behind that cantankerous behavior and if it weren’t for the Holmesian powers of deduction that allowed him to save lives (and his dreamy eyes), he would have been totally irredeemable. As it stands, he’s one of the most memorable and beloved TV characters in recent history. And now, after eight seasons and more than one hundred last minute diagnoses, Fox stalwart House has ended. Along with all of the standard medical puzzles, this year, the titular doctor, played as wryly as ever by Hugh Laurie, was incarcerated, then released from jail to find that many of the familiar faces at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital had dispersed; he added a couple of new members to his diagnostic team (Charlene Yi and Odette Annable) and learned that friend and fellow M.D. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard)—one of the only people that he ever truly cared about—was battling cancer. Although the episode that capped off this final season was far from outstanding (or even an episode that will be remembered in a year’s time), it was a suitable conclusion and a welcomed end to a powerful show that had been puttering along during these last several seasons.

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Channel Guide - Large

“Why just watch when you can feel?” That was the question ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee put to advertisers while pitching next year’s lineup at the network’s upfront presentation. Those are awfully grandiose words for someone affiliated with The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars (both returning next year), don’t you think? The shows that apparently weren’t living up to this lofty guiding principle: GCB, Missing, The River, Cougar Town, and Pan Am. Cougar Town is moving to TBS where they don’t care about feelings, and there’s been an outpouring of support from GCB fans, with people signing petitions to save the show, so there were some feelings, but I guess it was too late. No one seems too worked up about the other cancellations, though, so Lee got it right. The emotion stirring returning shows include Last Man Standing, Happy Endings, Modern Family, Scandal, Once Upon a Time, Revenge, and America’s Funniest Home Videos. ABC recently released trailers for its new series and here are a few of the more interesting ones. But how well they fit with the network’s new philosophy is a little confusing.

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Channel Guide - Large

With most of the sitcoms that debuted in the fall (and managed to escape cancellation) winding down this week, I think it’s time to crown a winner. Which one of these brand new sitcoms most deserves to stick around?  Which was the most memorable? Which came out on top? Zooey Deschanel’s New Girl has already been renewed, Whitney was a thing that happened, but the show that worked the best for me was NBC’s Up All Night. Executive produced by Lorne Michaels and created by former Saturday Night Live writer Emily Spivey, Up All Night is a funny and relatable look at the life of a married couple, played by Christina Applegate and Will Arnett, trying to adapt to life with a new baby. Arnett is Chris, a former lawyer who has decided to stay home with their daughter while Appelgate’s Regan returns to work where she struggles to balance motherhood with the demands of her larger than life boss Ava—an Oprah-like talk show host played by Maya Rudolph. The show was this season’s best new sitcom and here are four reasons why.

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Channel Guide - Large

Naturally, I watch TV because it’s entertaining, it brings me joy, books take too long to read, etc. but I believe that it can also be instructive. If I’d never seen the episode of Punky Brewster where Cherie got trapped in the refrigerator while playing hide-and-seek, I may have never learned how dangerous that seemingly innocuous appliance really is. But TV can also save your life in ways that aren’t so obvious. Besides being better than refrigerators. Most learned people think that reality television shows like Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise are harming our society and that even the reality programs that aren’t celebrating idiocy and low culture are creating a sense of entitlement in the nation’s youth and promoting ruthlessness or egotism. But what if these learned people have it all wrong and reality television is actually what’s going to allow our civilization to survive? I usually just mindlessly watch the weird shows on networks like Animal Planet and TLC but recently I’ve been starting to think that some of these shows might be able to help us navigate a post-apocalyptic future (which—let’s just face it—may ironically be brought about by these very shows).

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Channel Guide - Large

Darkwing Duck, Doug, The Ren & Stimpy Show, Rocko’s Modern Life, X-Men, Pepper Ann. The ’90s were the best time for animated children’s programming, right? But, of course, I was a kid in the ’90s, so I’m biased. If I’d grown up in the ’80s I’d probably cite Thundercats, Jem, and He-Man as examples of how that decade was killing it and think the crap that all of the little jerks in the ’90s were watching lacked soul or guts or whatever. Until recently, my 20-somethingness had caused me to be totally dismissive of contemporary cartoons. I know, it’s a really odd thing to be pretentious about but in a lot of cases—in fact, most cases—it was warranted. But then I watched Regular Show and Adventure Time, two Cartoon Network animated series that have been getting a lot of love from kids and adults alike, and now I’m begrudgingly starting to think that I’ve been completely wrong about the ’90s.

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Channel Guide - Large

When you were a kid, your parents kept certain difficult realities from you for your own good. Maybe they didn’t want you to know that they were having financial or marital problems. Or, it could have been that they didn’t think you were ready to know how sex worked or that you weren’t particularly cute. Whatever it was, they shielded you from it so you could enjoy your childhood. If TV networks, showrunners, and actors felt that same sense of parental responsibility toward their audiences, at least 10% of the anxiety in TV-watching life would be eliminated. If you’re a Community fan, then you undoubtedly know about this weird quasi/maybe-not-so-quasi feud between series creator Dan Harmon and Chevy Chase. If you aren’t a fan and don’t know what the hell I’m referring to (a) consider yourself lucky, (b) it’s about leaked voicemails and on-set behavior that suggest the two aren’t the chummiest of chums, and (c) the actual reasons behind the beef don’t matter as much as the fact that the beef is public knowledge now. And that hurts the show.

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Channel Guide - Large

ABC’S Once Upon a Time is a fairy tale soap opera with a melodramatic storyline that revolves around murder cover-ups, frame jobs, ill-fated lovers, and a no-nonsense female sheriff who curls her hair ever-so-slightly. Everything about the series, from the writing to the music box soundtrack to the art direction, is hokey and I know this to be true with every fiber of my being. But I can’t stop watching it. I mean, I seriously watch the hell out of this show. Sometimes I watch an episode on Sunday night when it first airs and then I’ll watch that same episode the next day On Demand. Later in the week, I may even watch that episode again. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I’m watching last Sunday’s episode as I’m writing this. So what is it about this super corny series that makes it so appealing? Created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, Once Upon a Time’s premise is…convoluted (but what else would you expect from a couple of erstwhile Lost staff writers?). On the day that Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) marries her Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), Snow’s stepmonster, the Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parrilla) curses the lovers and everyone else in Fairy Tale Land, threatening to destroy their happiness.

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