The M&M Report, Episode 25: The Building Blocks of Soviet Russia

The Americans

Listen to this week’s episode of The M&M Report here.

This week on The M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I tackled The Lego Movie and The Americans with special guest Heather Mongilio. All three of us loved the movie, and Heather and I are really digging the second season of FX’s romantic 80s spy thriller. Catch up on season two here.

Bonus: Devin Mitchell unleashed a rant against winter weather in the latest installment of Devin Doesn’t Like Things.

Tune in next time for discussion of The Good Wife and more.

Watch These Shows or Away They’ll Go: “Enlisted” and “Trophy Wife”

Enlisted

Serious is overrated.

There’s a tendency in critical discussion of modern entertainment to elevate shows that tackle “dark” and “mature” subject matter (drugs, violence, grief) above shows with sillier, funnier, brighter ideas (family, community, professional and personal success). And it’s not just television. The Oscars rarely, if ever, make room for comedies and lighter movies amid the annual barrage of solemn dramas about historical events and “important issues.” Dying is easy, comedy is hard, and getting recognition for making great comedy is the hardest of all.

To be fair, many of the critically acclaimed dark shows earn their praise – in 2013, for instance, Breaking Bad, Rectify, Mad Men and Hannibal tackled unpleasant subject matter with nuance and artistry aplenty. But too often, good or even great comedies fall by the wayside in our hurry to anoint a new drama as a worthy heir to those titans of TV drama’s alleged Golden Age. But it’s just as important to recognize achievements in comedy, a genre that requires as much talent and passion as drama but in service of a different set of goals and emotions.

While wide swaths of television fans have been obsessing over True Detective and biding their time until Game of Thrones and Mad Men return, two network comedies have quietly shoved their way to the head of the TV class. Enlisted and Trophy Wife both have trappings that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen a network comedy before (slapstick, “heartwarming” moments, wacky dancing), but they’re also exploring relatively untapped thematic territory, the casts are deep and diverse, and both shows are (most important for a comedy) really, really funny. But they’re languishing in their timeslots and hurting for viewers as they approach the end of their respective first seasons. Even as critics like Maureen Ryan and Alan Sepinwall have begun to sound the gong in favor of “save this show” campaigns and last-minute timeslot switcheroos, these shows may have been doomed from their first episodes.

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The M&M Report, Episode 24: Rear D-tective

Enlisted

Click here to listen to Episode 24 of The M&M Report.

Spring break is over, and The M&M Report is back! This week, Devin Mitchell and I discussed and debated Fox’s little-seen, critically acclaimed comedy Enlisted. Is the show on par with the best of network comedy, or is it merely a promising freshman with room to grow? We attempted to answer these questions and more.

After that, Devin and I returned to True Detective. We discussed the first four episodes a few weeks ago, and now we’ve got thoughts on the first season as a whole. Bonus: we make our dream picks for the cast of season 2.

Next week, we’ll be back with more pop culture commentary. Thanks for listening!

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Dude Bros, Mad Libs and the State of Mainstream Country

Bros

I tell you a story. Then I tell it again. And again. And again. Never mind that it wasn’t a very exciting story to begin with. Now I’ve told it twelve times, and you’re getting sick of it.

I’m not just talking about my lackluster social skills. This is the story of country radio in 2014. Entertainment Weekly reporter Grady Smith documented as much in his convincing supercut of mainstream country’s laziest clich├ęs, and Vulture critic Jody Rosen illuminated the phenomenon in two pieces questioning the relative obscurity of female voices on country radio.

This isn’t the only story of modern country music. But it’s become the dominant one.

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“American Idol”: Plugging the Holes

Idol

American Idol, once the nation’s most popular television show and a major force in the music industry, has been reduced to a footnote on a theoretical map of pop culture significance. And yet it chugs along, struggling to maintain relevance even as viewers vote with their remotes for NBC’s The Voice, which is younger, hipper and ostensibly more reflective of modern music tastes and trends.

After watching last night’s show (the first time I watched a full episode of season 13), it’s not hard to see why viewers have been tuning out. Even as some aspects of the show have improved, and intentions are largely in the right place, American Idol remains out of touch with the audience it clearly wants to reach.

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Better Late Than Never: “Bridesmaids”

Bridesmaids

Even before I sat down to watch Bridesmaids, I felt like I’d already seen it. It’s a symptom of the saturated pop culture world in which we live. Not only had I seen the PG-13 clips of the infamous bridal shop scene repeated ad nauseam, but the 2011 film quickly came to stand for a standard of comedy that few movies since have been able to match. (Pitch Perfect might be the exception, but I wouldn’t know – haven’t seen that one either.)

Sitting down to watch Bridesmaids for the first time was an interesting experience. I spent the first thirty minutes anxiously awaiting the arrival of farts and burps, only to discover that that scene, while well-constructed, was far from the movie’s centerpiece, and not even its funniest attempt at body part-related humor (that would be Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph arguing about their “assholes”). Instead, that scene served as a preamble for what turned out to be a moving, surprising comedy that balanced elements of romance, drama and farce with remarkable ease. I finished the movie surprised to find that, in some ways, it had been underhyped. I expected the movie to crescendo during the few scenes that everyone talks about in casual conversation, but instead I was rewarded with a supremely entertaining and well-crafted story surrounding those few scenes.

With that in mind, here are five (okay, six) reasons Bridesmaids is far more than some bad chicken and gastrointestinal malfunctions.

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“True Detective”: Flat Circles, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose

True Detective

If there’s an Emmy for starting conversations and stirring debates, True Detective has it in the bag.

The first season of True Detective, HBO’s eight-part anthology series set in the Louisiana bayou and starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, became such a lightning rod for the first few months of 2014 that the final episode, which aired on Sunday night, could not possibly have lived up to the anticipation and enthusiasm. When the series began, much of the praise was focused on the performances, with McConaughey cementing his recent cinematic resurgence and Harrelson quietly matching him in sheer intensity and charisma. By the end, the discussions had shifted to issues of race, gender, serialized storytelling and thematic priorities.

The show’s merits are a separate, though related, issue. The finale confirmed that series writer Nic Pizzollatto was far less interested in constructing and then unraveling an intricate mystery than he was in observing the evolution of two characters over nearly two tumultuous decades. For fans who were hoping for and expecting a mythologically charged payoff, the result must have seemed disappointing. But for people who were content to dig into the opposing moral philosophies and questionable fashion choices of Detectives Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Harrelson), the season delivered.

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