I am in DC currently providing babysitting services for my two nephews so I have not had many funny or angry things to report on. I return to NYC tomorrow to celebrate my Dad’s 80th birthday (Black Gandalf), so I am sure I will get my writing mojo back soon. But in the spirit of both Crazy Stupid Love and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, both of which I saw last weekend, I am providing my own contribution to excellent entertainment.
Here is the behind the scenes look at FX’ new show: Tough White Guys Who Say S**t A Lot. If you are a fan of any shows on the FX network I think you will see that we are very true to their brand. Enjoy:
The FX channel broke into the big leagues with the show The Shield about a decade ago. The show focused on a quartet of caucasian cops who murdered and robbed with impunity. In other words it was a ratings and critical success and the formula was simple: eliminate the realism and the African-American protagonists from The Wire. It was over-the-top entertainment, but taken for that it was a solid show (with one of the greatest final couple of episodes of any show I’ve seen not named Six Feet Under). But The Shield was a sign of the future at FX, which is owned by the News Corp, which owns an even more well-known producer of over-the-top fiction, Fox News. Here is where FX fits into the pantheon of non-network television show producers:
HBO– The Untouchable Legend. Even though their shows now are not as great as the Sopranos/Wire/Six Feet Under heyday HBO still makes uncompromising high quality drama and comedy (with the exception of the increasingly Glee-ish True Blood).
Showtime– HBO’s likeable, but much dumber younger sibling. Dexter is a very solid, but slightly overrated show, Weeds is a piece of sh*t and I think Californication is actually the best show on the Network, but what do I know – I write a blog for 15 people.
USA – Annoying Puns. it seems that USA has one requirement: the show must be able to be summarized in a pun-filled title. Royal Pains, Burn Notice, White Collar and their newest featuring a hot chick in the poster – Fairly Legal – Less Lawyer, More Appeal (get it!!!!!). Which is leading to the their next big show – Dr. DoMore – Less Sore Throat, More Deep Throat.
TNT– My sister-in-law likes The Closer. That is basically all I know. And they picked up Southland, which is the shittiest of the “gritty cop dramas.”
AMC– The “We are better than you network” and the only potential challenger to HBO. Everyone loves Mad Men, but anyone who reads these posts, my tweets or my Facebook page knows that the best show on television right now, by a mile, is AMC’s Breaking Bad.
That leads us to FX:
Platonic Porn For (Preferably Conservative at Heart) White Men
Here is the evidence of all the shows I can think of from FX:
The Shield– angry, white cops take on foreigners, and Mexican and black gangs in LA. They kill at will, drop the occasional racial slur, but are always the badass heroes.
Nip/Tuck – Two white dudes give chicks boob implants and have lots of sex I think. This is the one I never saw, but I think that is a fair assessment.
Rescue Me – A bunch of white firefighters and their light-skinned minority firefighter friend have lots of sex working as the number one non-celebrity/investment banking/athlete profession for getting women for white men.
Sons of Anarchy– A bunch of white, anti-big government, motorcycle riding men and their one Puerto Rican member pit Mexican and black gangs against each other through gun running (but they also fight white supremacists to show that they’re not THAT bad). They manage to keep corporate America and big government out of their sleepy town that they rule with a leather-clad, tatooed iron fist.
Justified – A white US Marshall returns to his Kentucky hometown where he doesn’t quite play by the rules, in a place where everyone has a gun and isn’t afraid to use it. There is a black woman on the show.
Archer – an animated show that is presumably a tip of the cap to the hipster comedy crowd (which is pretty big in urban markets the same way Mitch Hedberg was huge in Camden, New Jersey). There is one black character as well.
And their newest show, which I really do like a lot – “Lights Out”. It is about an American born heavyweight boxing champ making a comeback. Other than Nip/Tuck’s abundance of fake boobs, the white Heavyweight champ is right up their with Sarah Palin as the conservative white man’s fantasy.
So basically, FX has become the official channel of the Tea Party: the “keep your taxes out of my town, keep your hands of my guns, keep your minorities off of my screen and let me see some fake tits” channel. I enjoy Sons of Anarchy and Justified, but they are not great shows. They are solid shows. I think my favorite is Lights Out, but most of these shows just feel like someone has taken Fox News pundits and made them actions stars. Individually, the shows are entertaining, but in the aggregate it is hard to ignore the overwhelming trend, even if I sound like a 1986 Al Sharpton. So I guess for all those tea party folks who have been begging for their country back, their prayers have been answered. Just turn on FX any night of the week.
While spending a few hours on Facebook the other day I stumbled on to a discussion on my friend and comedian Nick Cobb’s page. He was asking for a new show recommendation and friends of his were offering suggestions as to what they thought the best show of the last decade was and what the best show currently on is. There were some sensible answers and some real awful answers. Here are some examples and shows that did not make the cut:
House – who are you my parents?
Lost – you are too stupid to appreciate the list I am putting together
Rome and Deadwood – these are the people that in a music discussion of the best band of all time would ignore the obvious rule that you MUST say Rolling Stones or Beatles (my favorite band is Guns N Roses, but my answer would be Rolling Stones). Those who drop Rome and Deadwood – a good and a very good show, respectively – are the people who drop Nirvana in a “best band” discussion. Shut your mouths and just accept that sometimes, like a broken clock, American culture gets it right.
John Adams – it’s a miniseries. read Nick Cobb’s question.
The Mentalist – seriously? CBS is the network that produces dramas to make Jay Leno fans feel smart.
True Blood – a show that like Glee, seemed to realize that their main demographics were women and gays and decided – to hell with writing – we’ll just get everyone on this show in a gym, skimp on story and consistency and still draw ratings as long as we amp up the sex, gore and campiness. Headed down a path of awfulness this season. The real shame is that Alan Ball, who created a television masterpiece in Six Feet Under, is also listed as a creator of True Blood. My guess is that after Six Feet Under he made a ton of money, found himself a trophy wife/husband (no idea what his sexuality is) and after season 1 of True Blood said – “Hey, you are shallow and pretty dumb – wanna write this show for me? Most of it is written in a book already – you will just have to add more breasts, blood and campiness? What’s campiness? Well you know when you think something is good? Right, like Paul Walker or Dexter – just write it with that same feeling.”
Dexter – I made it through one season. Some of the worst acting I have ever seen. Michael C Hall should die poor and be remembered for David Fisher than collect paychecks with that cast of nothings (though I hear John Lithgow was good in later seasons – too bad I give a show one full season to at least entice me. It didn’t).
Special Note – Why I have no faith in Showtime – You may notice that Dexter is the only Showtime show even mentioned by me. That is because Showtime is stupid. Their shows are made with the following concept – can we write one character, line up one credible actor or actress and surround him or her with mediocre writing and acting? Yes, well then we want to make your show! Even USA at least says “CharacterS welcome.” Showtime’s phrase should be “Character welcome as long as long as character brings mediocre humor, drama and/or co-stars.” I hate Showtime in all its forms – Lakers, Cable Television, etc. If HBO, AMC, USA and Showtime all went to school together, HBO would be the Harvard bound quarterback, AMC would be the slightly arrogant and nerdy valedictorian, USA would be the guy who chicks inexplicably liked and Showtime would be a Goth kid. No, it would be the girl that dates the goth kid, but is not goth herself. Loser.
Treme – wake me up from my coma – have they cancelled it yet?
Mad Men– Mad Men to me is once again, like sushi – it is something that lots of people like, but also something that lots of people like to say they like because they want to be people who like things like sushi and jazz and other overrated things. Mad Men is a well done show. But like Treme, Mad Men sometimes feels like a documentary on early 1960s life, which can be somewhat boring. I found Season 3 of Mad Men (until an admittedly great finale) to be an excruciatingly boring endeavor. I often defend shows like The Wire by praising its authenticity, but it helps that there is actually some intriguing plot development to go with the realism.
So here for all of you is the definitive list of what shows from the last 10 years you should watch. It is objectively correct.
1) Six Feet Under – Funny, moving and the most realistic look at relationships and human fears of any show ever made, by far. if the show feels “too gay” for you, rent Queer As Folk, watch it and then re-start Six Feet Under. f the show is too troubling or upsetting for you then it is working. And it is widely and justly considered to have the greatest finale in television history – take that MASH!
2) The Wire– Would be number one, but Six Feet Under is just more personal. If this show is too slow for you, then watch The Shield and consider yourself ignorant. If the show is too black for you, watch Southland and consider yourself slightly racist.
3) Arrested Development – The best comedy I have ever seen. Nothing is actually close, especially this decade. So naturally it only made it three seasons on television. I blame the South.
4) The West Wing– If this show is too political for you, then you are dumb. As impressive as the dialogue, plot and acting is, the details of the show are incredible. To say nothing of the fact that they basically predicted the election of Barack Obama before he had even announced his candidacy.
5) The Sopranos – The first of the Big Three for HBO (Seriously in an 8 year period HBO dropped Six Feet Under, The Wire and The Sopranos on America – to me that will go down as the greatest accomplishment in original television programming). Sopranos, unlike The Wire and Six Feet Under did not quite end in a way that met with its overall impact and quality.
6) Breaking Bad– the best show on television right now by a mile. It is dark, filled with tension and excitement, well acted and yet feels incredibly plausible and realistic at the same time. This is the first drama I have seen that clearly indicates that HBO has dropped the ball recently. Mad Men gets mentioned as the one HBO let get away (especially because that might have meant naked Joan!), but Breaking Bad is so superior to Mad Men it’s a joke. More entertaining without sacrificing anything in terms of writing or acting quality. If the show can finish with way its first three seasons began then it may move towards the top of this list.
I feel I must mention Eastbound and Down (but only 1 six episode season to show so far) and I have not seen In Treatment – an HBO show that has been highly recommended to me. Other than that those 6 shows above will entertain you and raise your expectations for what television can do. Then when you are done with them you will look down on most other people’s television show opinions like only a condescending six-foot-seven comedian can.
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…
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!”
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.
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.