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A New Comedy Joins the Perfect Season Club

This past Saturday I was bored and looking for a way to kill time in between a morning trip to the gym and 12 hours of college basketball.  Having just re-signed up for Netflix (the month subscription will end shortly after the release of Daredevil in April, but yes this is a dramatic turn, albeit not a complete 180, from my binge watching warning posted a few weeks ago), I decided to kill time by trying an episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the new comedy series from Tina Fey, rejected by NBC and picked up by Netflix.  By the end of the day, after skipping several games of March Madness (something I would have considered almost sacrilegious) and taking a few breaks I had finished the 13 episode run.  Unlike my House of Cards marathon, which was double the amount of time and done under a self-imposed podcast deadline, the binge of Kimmy happened completely organically.  The show was too damn enjoyable to stop.  And that is why it joins the rare company of my “Perfect Season of TV Club.”

Now I will only focus on the few comedy shows to post perfect seasons in my estimation, but obviously if drama were to be included, off the top of my head I would include season 3 and 4 of Breaking Bad, Seasons 3 and 4 of The Wire, Season 2 and possibly 5 of Six Feet Under, and I am sure The West Wing posted at least one perfect season, if not more.  But as far as comedies only a few shows have posted perfect J-L seasons.

To post a perfect season every episode must be hilarious.  No performances can be weak and it has to finish perfectly as well.  It also helps if the season builds upon itself with either lots of great callbacks and/or humor that improbably gets stronger from a strong start as the season progresses.  Admittedly most modern shows with shorter runs have better shots at pulling off a perfect season, but  so be it.  Despite my recent praise of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I did not think of one season in particular to put on the list.  As an all time great comedy it’s place is assured, but no one season felt “perfect,” though I would put my enjoyment of the over 100 episodes at over 80% hilarious, with only a handful being not worth watching.  But only the following shows have garnered perfect status in my mind:

  • Eastbound and Down – Season 1.
  • Hello Ladies – Season 1 + the 90 minute movie
  • Arrested Development Seasons 1 & 2
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Season 1

Now there is of course a chance that the limited run of these shows makes their perfection more memorable (only Eastbound made it to even 4 seasons, since the Netflix 4th season of Arrested Development was the worst add on to a classic since Indiana Jones 4 and Godfather 3 I do not count it), but if you have a good and varied sense of humor I don’t see how you could challenge them.  Yes Eastbound is a tad vulgar and Hello Ladies a tad depressing and awkward. But both on the list were tremendous and perfect.  If you don’t think Arrested Development was the best comedy of all time then you are wrong.  Arrested Development is like the deadbeat Dad of both Modern Family and It’s Always Sunny – it gave them the blue print of what made them great without giving a sh*t about anyone or anything AND it had the best cast of a comedy ever.  The cast was so good that almost no one from the cast was able to get cast as anything but a variation of their AD character for the last 12 years.

And that brings us to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  I referred to the show this weekend on Twitter and Facebook as “relentlessly funny.”  That is what it is.  There is so much strong, subtle and brilliant humor in every minute of every episode that I found myself laughing out loud more than I have in a very long time.  The premise of the show is basically 4 women are held by a religious fanatic in a bunker for over a decade (yes, basically they made a comedy that might have been subtly inspired by the Ariel Castro case in Cleveland) and then rescued.  Kimmy decides to stay in NYC after a Today Show appearance and make a new life for herself. She has a gay acting roommate and a job as a nanny for a billionaire’s wife.  For 13 episodes the show is a masterpiece.  From the opening scene where a Charles Ramsey-esque black man is immediately auto-tuned describing the rescue of the women and repeated every episode as the theme song, to the incredible funny courtroom cameo -as-religious fanatic defendant the show is a home run every episode.

The cast is incredible without a weak spot, or even less than a strong spot, but Ellie Kemper (Kimmy), Jane Krakowski (the billionaire’s wife) and Titus Burgess (Titus – the gay roommate) all deserve Emmy nominations.  They are all in full comedy beast mode.  Now, just to get a little indignant and righteous – go watch Transparent on Amazon, if you can muster the 5 hours this week to watch the “comedy” that won the Golden Globe this year.  Then watch Kimmy Schmidt.  My prediction is the laugh ratio will be at least 1:500 in favor of Kimmy.

And I know that I am sometimes harsh on women in comedy and proclaiming that men, thanks to societal expectations and culture and many other reasons, are on the whole, much funnier than women and obviously Tina Fey, whether an exception to that thought, or proof that that thought is nonsense deserves major respect (not that she doesn’t have it already).  Though I didn’t particularly care for her run as head writer on SNL, 30 Rock was brilliant and I think Kimmy may be her best work if it can maintain the brilliant pace it set with season 1.  And that raises a question: with Tina Fey’s legendarily muscular calves, her tiny thug facial scar and her amazing comedic skills… are we sure she isn’t really a man? Hash Browns Just kidding! Hash Browns LOL (inside joke for Kimmy fans).

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on iTunes and/or STITCHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe for free!

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The Bluth Family and Lebron: The Monday Weekend Recap

Normally my Monday blog is a recap of the gigs/comedic adventures that took place over the weekend, but I had no bookings (if you look at my June calendar you will see this is the theme for the month) so instead I waited patiently for the arrival of Season 4 of Arrested Development on Netflix.  The waiting began watching another modern classic, Lebron James, on Friday night.  Sadly, I missed much of the second half because I was traveling to Brooklyn to watch a friend’s band.   When I arrived at the bar I saw that James had been great as usual, but then I saw his miserable two turnovers in the last minute of the game that sealed the win for the Pacers.  My disappointment in James, which is really just sadness at seeing people so eager for a chance to crap on the greatest basketball player of all time (yes I said it – his game passes both statistical analysis and the eye test) and not appreciate the genius that is Lebron James, was only a foreshadowing to the disappointment I would feel watching the newest installment of the greatest television comedy of all time (yes I said it).

Arrested Development was recommended to me several times over the last decade. I finally watched the three original seasons on DVD a couple of years ago and thought it was the funniest show I had ever seen.  It was like Modern Family’s older, more talented brother who had no time for compassion and life lessons because he was too busy being hilarious.  Not one minute of Arrested Development was wasted and it was such a perfect melding of writing and acting talent that everyone on the show has since been basically typecast as their AD character because they were all so perfect.  And then Season 4 arrived.

I have watched the first 5 (of 15 episodes) and have been very disappointed.  I would not say they are bad, but they pale in comparison to the previous seasons.  The episodes are longer, with more filler and a weird structural format.  Right now I would say that season 4 is a C+ (whereas the show was an overall A+ before these episodes).

But the weekend was not all lost.  Lebron James engineered a thorough destruction of the Indiana Pacers Sunday night.  My hope is that the final ten episodes of Arrested Development can pull a similar turnaround.  That way, if Arrested Development gets great and Lebron wins a second title, the only disappointment left in June will be the thing least important to me – my comedy gig calendar.

"Follow my lead Bluth Family" - Lebron James

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic or iTunes. New Every Tuesday!

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Patrice, Glenn & Walter White: Big Weekend in D.C.

It was a quite eventful weekend for me in Washington, D.C.  I had the honor of emceeing shows for Patrice O’Neal.  Normally I would not be jazzed to be emcceeing, but a comedian of Patrice’s stature generally draws a good and big crowd and all five shows were sold out.  Now I have opened for many headliners of different levels, but Patrice was the like playing in the major leagues after a career in the minors, with all due respect to the people I have opened for.  It was an incredible experience.  The man is so funny, raw and honest with the crowd that it is both intimidating and inspiring.  He does things that I try to do at open mics, but he has the skill, experience and courage to do it in front of 300 paying customers every show.  It is cool when as a comic you can watch the headliner and be turned into a comedy fan instantly, laughing like you’ve never been exposed to comedy before.

We were also fortunate this weekend not to draw too many Glenn Beck fans to the club.  He was holding his white power rallies at the Lincoln Memorial this weekend and I know at least on the Friday late show there was a group of women (white, obviously) who were in town for the “Enhanced Rights For Dumb, White People” event on Saturday.  But I did not see them walk so perhaps they were not as offended as I thought they’d be (perhaps a black headliner is given a little more leeway from the Beck crowd because entertainment is an acceptable job for black men, as opposed to President). 

Restoring Honor To America, brought to you by Glenn Beck

Overall the weekend was a great success.  All shows were great, all my sets went well and I never had direct contact with any of the legion of Beck-and-Palin-loving old white men and white families on the red line (the only train line deemed safe enough for the out-of-towners by the Beck-ers) in.  And then I received a Tweet at 11 pm announcing that Mad Men had won its third straight Best Drama Emmy, beating Breaking Bad for the second consecutive year.

I think the only problem with America greater than its collective stupidity is when they heap awards on shows like Mad Men because it makes them feel smart and cultured.   The show is fu*king boring!  Does no one else recognize this?  I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!  Breaking Bad manages to do what Mad Men has generally failed to do – it creates realistic characters while building tension and interesting plots.  Mad Men’s cache as a glimpse into a bygone time is over – we get it – people were white, women were subservient and they smoked and dressed well.  But into its fourth season now all Mad Men is has pretentious people still boosting it because they are afraid to appear uncultured or stupid for not liking it.  It is The Emperor’s New Show. 

It really is not as good as you think. I give you my word - pretend like you've heard nothing about it, read no reviews and seen no awards shows and you will realize it is a well done bore.

Breaking Bad is the best show on television.  End of discussion.  The best shows on television have never won though.  Six Feet Under lost to The Sopranos and The West Wing, worthy opponents for sure, but the brilliance of SFU will outlast those other two shows.  The Wire was never even nominated, but lots of black people obviously scare Emmy voters.  Arrested Development did win best comedy once, but it should still be winning just for repeats it was so good.  But Modern Family has already taken home the award for Best Comedy Series.  It is a funny show, for sure, but it is also as if some television executive pitched it like this:

“Alright, remember that show Arrested Development?  What if we took away 60% of the subtlety, added some cop out heart felt moments and put it before Cougar Town?”

Despite that Modern Family is one of the best comedies on television right now so I cannot hate the player.  But Breaking Bad has been royally fu*ked over.  If you have not watched it you should. And if you watch Mad Men and think it is the best show on television stop fooling yourself.   People, including my mother have asked me if I own stock in Breaking Bad. No, but in the last 15 years, partly because of reality television forcing more talented writers onto fewer original shows (my theory), we have lived in a golden age of television.  But we still seem to settle for second best.  It is as if every year the Emmys give the Oscar to Dances With Wolves instead of Goodfellas or to Forrest Gump instead of The Shawshank Redemption.   You may think I have overreacted, but do yourself a favor and watch Breaking Bad – you’ll see that I am at least right.

Simply the best.
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My Top HBO Characters of All Time

Being 2 discs away from finishing 6 Feet Under via Netflix I was thinking of how amazing the roster of HBO shows has been.  This also happened because I was watching Lost last night and thought, “Wow, this is supposed to be one of the best shows on Network television and it is basically a big budget mediocrity.”  Other than The West Wing and Arrested Development I don’t think I have seen anything on Network television to compare with HBO’s level of quality (all due respect to the CSI fans who adore that crappy franchise).  AMC is doing some good things (the slightly overrated Mad men and the very under-praised Breaking Bad), but HBO really is the cream of the crop (even though True Blood and Big Love, the two flagships shows at this point, are not close to the incredible things HBO produced last decade).  And I know that some people out there love Showtime, but having watched several episodes of Showtime shows they feel like a good junior varsity team to HBO’s state title winning varsity. 

So without any more explanations or caveats here are my top 13 HBO characters of all time (apologies in advance to the Crypt Keeper, the cast of Not Necessarily The News, everybody from Dream On (terrible) and The Larry Sanders Show (never saw it, but heard it was good stuff back in the day):

13) (tie) Dennis Hof – Cathouse and Lafayette – True Blood.  This is the only reality character on the list, but how can a guy who looks like Rush Limbaugh and acts like pre-wheelchair Larry Flynt not be on the list.  the Cathouse series, which follows a real life Nevada brothel features many women have sex, which is a relief because at least when you turn it on ou know what you are getting, as opposed to the HBO Real Sex series which could just as soon ambush you with a segment on nursing home gang bangs as they could with attractive women.  Dennis is the supreme scumbag that makes the show go with his array of women from the daddy issue-riddled, to the tranny looking one to the midget.  One thing is obvious – he has had sex with all of them.

Don't be fooled by her smile - he's definitely fu-king her.

Speaking to HBO’s diversity, Lafayette, the drug dealing, sassy gay black short-order cook/male prostitute on True Blood is only the first of two gay black men on this short list.

Hooker please.

12) Murray – Flight of the Conchords – The show’s first season was very good.  The second season was incredibly mediocre.  With all due respect to Jemaine – Murray was the extremely poor man’s Ari Gold on this show, literally.  Sadly, the actor that plays Murray is intent on beating the dead horse in a series of new commercials for some product where he is basically playing the same character, but with far fewer laughs.

Murray? Present.

11) Ralphie – The Sopranos. Sadly Ralphie only got two seasons on The Sopranos (3 & 4), but he won an Emmy for the second one and created a character hated above all in his first season and then, once accepted, became the funniest character on the show.  For me, his signature line will be after being confronted by Tony Soprano after beating to death a stripper carrying his child he simply yelled, “First of all she was a whoooour!”

Bad temper, good sense of humor - it's me!

10) Samantha – Sex and the City.  It would be hard, even for a misogynist, to leave off all characters from HBO’s third most popular show of all time. So I picked Samantha, who turned man-like sexual cravings into “empowerment” for women ages 17-60.  My favorite scene of hers may have been when she was dating Smith, a model who would be more likely to visit Samantha in the course of volunteer work at a nursing home than to actually bed her, and she runs into her ex-boyfriend Richard at a party. In front of Smith she goes upstairs with Richard and gets railed from behind and then comes down crying to Smith, saying “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”  Message? Empowerment.

That's the number of sexual partners Sam Jones established as meaning "empowered."

9) Lester Freamon – The Wire. The first of three characters from The Wire.  Quiet, unassuming and the best detective on the show.  My favorite moment, after coming up with evidence off of a soda can to potentially catch a cop shooter he is asked what unit he’s from. He replies with a straight face: “pawn shop.”  You have to watch the show to get that, but it was great.

The smart side of police work.

8) Tony Soprano – The Sopranos.  Nothing much needs to be said, except for the fact that he is only the second best character on the show (and no, the Bada Bing club is not #1).

Mommy issues.

7) Kenny Powers – Eastbound and Down.  Racist, stupid and angry. If he had not been a baseball player, he might have been leading a Tea Party movement.  Who knows if the shows subsequent season(s) will match the perfection of the first, but it takes a special character to make the line “I love you April, and not just in a make me come kind of way,” mean something, especially when said at an 8th grade dance.

Author of "I'm fu-king in and you're fu-king out!"

6) Al Swearengen – Deadwood. In a word? Cu*t.

Tony Soprano, if Tony did not have so much respect for women.

5) Ari Gold – Entourage.  This show is like watching the Cleveland Cavaliers play basketball a few years ago. It was LeBron James doing amazing things and four guys around him barely keeping up.  I thought after the first season they should have spun the show off and made it about Ari. They didn’t and now it’s a mediocre show with one dominating star.  But he still makes the show worth tuning in to each week that it’s on.

90% of all positive things on Entourage are a result of Ari Gold.

4) Omar – The Wire.  People reading this may have expected Omar at #1, but that would be too easy. I figured I’d sneak up on you like Kenard and… well, I don’t want to give away anything to the people who are just getting over their fear of Negros and Negro-filled shows, but Omar was the most entertaining character on the best show ever for sure, but he’s only my #2 from it.  Indeed.

If you thought he'd be #1 you were wrong.

3) Nate Fisher – Six Feet Under.  I don’t think any character on any HBO show (or any show for that matter – though Walter White on Breaking Bad is doing a nice job) has taken as varied an emotional journey as Nate Fisher.  At times he is both the most identifiable and the most polarizing figure on this unbelievable great show (Seriously, the fact that at one point HBO had The Sopranos, 6 Feet Under, The Wire all at the same time is like an NBA team having LeBron, Kobe and Kevin Durant at the same time – I think The West Wing would be Dwayane Wade for this analogy). 

Women would learn more by watching him than by watching Sex and the City (caveat - you may or may not like what you learn).

2) Tony Soprano’s Mom – Perhaps you forgot about her because she only made it on to the first two seasons of the show, but it says something that the show went from an A+ to an A without her.  The idea that a woman could be evil or just experiencing dementia, or possibly both was brilliant and gave Tony the best conflict on the show until he and his wife hit the skids in season 4.  Tony’s Mom was an absolutely brilliant character and played brilliantly.  Menacing and funny all at once. 

It's been a while, but don't forget how great/terrible Tony's Mom was.

1) Stringer Bell – The Wire.  I had a friend once tell me that she was going to see the movie Obsessed with that handsome black guy and Beyonce.  I replied that’s Stringer Bell from the Wire. She replied, i don’t even remember him from the Wire.  There are only two possibilities here and I will just propose the second – she missed the first 3 seasons of the Wire.  Omar got all the hype, McNulty got all the posters, but I found the intelligent criminal Cain to Avon Barksdale’s Abel the best HBO character of all time.  Watching Stringer try, but fail, to bring the Barksdale drug business into the legitimate world of Real Estate showed that the “legit” world is just as corrupt as the drug trade (as my brother told me – what is so different than the operation of Starbucks and the corner boys in The Wire – you give money and order to one person, then walk around to another area to pick up the product – he was kidding.  The difference is obvious – if coffee were made illegal a lot more white people would be killing each other than black folks on The Wire). 

On a side note, I was told a couple of years ago that the actor that played Stringer was a doorman at Caroline’s at night while he auditioned during the day.  More evidence that everyone in the comedy business except comics can make money. Congratulations Stringer Bell – you are #1.

Former doorman at Caroline's makes good.
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My Ten Favorite Things From 2009

No movies made this list (but I have already given you my Top Ten of the Year, so they don’t really need another platform anyway).  Not everything is from this year, but they were read, viewed, worn or observed by me this year.

10. Fred Armisen.  In a year that had some ups and downs, he represented both.  He gave what is the least funny impression ever on Saturday Night Live and he did it week after week.  To quote Forrest Whitaker’s character from The Shield, “It’s like he is pissing in my mouth!”  But the bright side of that is that one year in there is still a void for a decent Obama impression.  If ever there was hope for me in 2010…

You give me hope Fred Armisen.  Hope that SNL will change who does Obama.
You give me hope Fred Armisen. Hope that SNL will change who does Obama.

9. Arrested Development – I know this show is older, but I watched the first three seasons on Netflix this year and it is the funniest multi-season show I have ever seen (important distinction hint hint).  If you have not seen it, you should.

8. Laid Off/Full Time Comedian

According to my biopic script:

I walked out from the law firm that had crushed my soul with a defiant stride knowing that although I was taking a risk pursuing comedy full time I had the confidence of knowing that I would follow my dream and in the end be a success.  I was also touched by the slow clap I received from all my co-workers as I left on my last day.

According to reality:

I planned on going to do comedy full time in 2009 at some point, but given the economic climate and the generally good feeling of a swollen bank account (from a pretty nice place to work as law firms go) I probably needed the push, or shove, of being laid off to pursue comedy full time.  Now my dream still feels attainable, but is starting to resemble a bad acid trip as much as it does a dream on its way to fulfillment.

7. Steeler Super Bowl – This was cool because it was a great game and washed away memories of the only Super Bowl the Steelers had won in my lifetime – Super Bowl XL (40), which was the worst Super Bowl ever played.  I also cannot put the Yankees title on here, because although I like many of the players, something about that victory felt like cheering Goldman Sachs’ bankers when they date rape your daughter and your pension fund.  Of course the Steelers did not help themselves with their “ni-ger” shouting fans this season, but perhaps a poor season will be their punishment for having racist fans.

6. Obama’s Inauguration/Nixonland – Such a cool moment when Obama was inaugurated.  Even cooler was being able to predict how half of America would turn on him as soon as they could and how his young supporters would realize that politics is work and detail and compromise and not a pop culture reality show called For The Love of Obama on VH1.  I always bet on old people in the long term in politics and in 2010 the book Nixonland will prove quite prescient when the Republicans break through the 60 voting block in the Senate and win about 30 seats back in the House.  If you like politics or just want to predict the 2010 election read Nixonland.  But January 20, 2009 was still a great day.  The country was divided on September 10, 2001 and after 9/11 the country rallied around Bush (91% approval, after being dismally low before).  Do you think if the same happened today the country would rally around its President?  I am guessing not.

5. The West Wing – Watched the entire seven seasons on DVD in 5 weeks.  The greatest dramatic series I have ever watched not named The Wire.  Sorry The Sopranos I think you’re great as well, but the detail and the writing of The West Wing was intimidating in its brilliance.

4. New York’s Funniest Comedian – I am still waiting for an e-mail response(to a very politely and respectfully worded e-mail) from a certain comedy club as to why I never got a call back, despite being promised a spot in a showcase and simultaneously being denied a chance to audition because it was unnecessary.  This moment was a low point in my comedy naivete, but also a wake up call that was invaluable.  That is not to say that 40 years from now when I am sitting a lone in a mansion, miserably counting my money in the dark, that I won’t assault, with a bowling pin, some booker or manager or assistant sycophant who shows up to my home.  That reminds me, I think my next CD will be entitled “I’m Finished!”

Sure I will do your show.  But first you have to tell me that bringers and cattle calls are bullsh*t and that you have made false promises.
Sure I will do your show. But first you have to tell me that bringers and cattle calls are bullsh*t and that you have made false promises.

3. The Bonfire of the Vanities – The most enjoyable piece of fiction I have ever read.  Did for novel writing what The West Wing did for me in terms of television.  As Salieri said of Mozart’s music in Amadeus, “Remove one note and there would be diminishment.” That is how I felt about every sentence of this 600+ page novel, which is just as relevant today as it was 22 years ago.  Just don’t see the movie before or after reading it. 

2. Paul Millsap Jersey – I received this gift Christmas 2008, but I did not wear it until this hoops season.  If it’s the thought that counts, then I have never received a better gift in my life.  And I seem to be the only person outside of Utah to possess one, which makes it even more exceptional if you consider things in Utah fashionable. 

The jersey may look ugly to you, but when I got it as a present it made me very happy.
The jersey may look ugly to you, but when I got it as a present it made me very happy.

1. Eastbound and Down – So this is the answer to the question what could be better than great literature, historic national elections, pursuing your dream or seeing your team win a title?  That’s right – a fu-king redneck.  If Eastbound and Down ended after only these 6 episodes it would be like Guns N Roses dying after releasing Appetite For Destruction – a perfect debut to live on forever.  So apologies to my girlfriend, Barack Obama, Tom Wolfe, Jason Bateman, The Steelers, stand up comedy, and everything else that went on this year, but my favorite thing this year was a foul mouthed racist pitcher form Shelby, North Carolina – Mr. Kenny Powers.

And feel free to support Kenny Powers with a Kenny Powers jersey: Kenny Powers Jersey

2009 was your motherfu-kin' year Kenny Powers.
2009 was your motherfu-kin' year Kenny Powers.

Have a Happy New Year readers and fans.  All 6 of you.