2015 in Review: Great TV Episodes, January to June

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In an era of Peak TV, for which we need a new and less overused buzzword, a Top 10 list for the year’s best television simply isn’t enough. What follows is a collection of good-to-great shows that, for a variety of reasons, just missed my marquee year-end list. I’ve organized this two-part guide to TV’s wide range of greatness in 2015 through the lens of one key episode per show. Some of these episodes are the best of their respective seasons. Others are the most emblematic of their respective series’ strengths. All of them are worth watching, if you’re so inclined.

(Note: I didn’t include episodes of shows that appeared in my top 10. But if I had, I’d have included the Edward Snowden interview on Last Week Tonight, the Broad City finale “St. Marks” and the Mad Men stunner “Time & Life.”)

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“Jurassic World”: Less Dino, More Problems

Jurassic World

During the climax of Jurassic World, two dinosaurs tear into each other with ferocity and menace. The movie builds to this moment, capturing its CGI spectacle in loving wide shots with Michael Giacchino’s nostalgia-tinged score pumping in the background. But for a few seconds, the camera pans to the movie’s three main characters, who are darting in between the dinosaurs’ legs, scrambling to get out of the way.

I wish they had. Human characters are a necessary component of any movie in which dinosaurs terrorize a theme park full of unsuspecting vacationers. But Jurassic World makes a convincing argument that future installments (of which there will undoubtedly be many) ought to do away with them entirely. The movie squanders good actors and does bad no ones no favors. It seems confident that its characterizations have one or two more dimensions than they actually do. And it’s hard to build up a dino-fueled head of steam when the action periodically pauses for another round of unconvincing dialogue.

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“Guardians of the Galaxy”: Space Jam

Guardians

Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie in which a talking raccoon is friends with a talking tree, Andy Dwyer is buff and Dave Bautista demonstrates deft comedic timing. It’s a superhero movie with heroes who aren’t particularly super or heroic. It’s a space opera in an era when that sort of movie has been increasingly marginalized, though Star Wars Episode VII: The Never-Ending Hype Machine will reverse that trend next year. And it’s a Marvel movie that rarely feels weighted down by its obligation to feed the Avengers beast.

In simpler terms: Guardians of the Galaxy is an unlikely triumph.

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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.

“The Lego Movie”: Radical Construction

Lego Movie

The Lego Movie practices what it preaches: creativity, imagination, originality, distinctiveness and daring. That it accomplishes such feats while reinvigorating the endlessly profitable Lego brand and providing a showcase for famous actors in uncharacteristically self-deprecating guises and reaffirming that Phil Lord and Chris Miller are two of the most valuable assets to mainstream Hollywood filmmaking is nothing short of a miracle. The Lego Movie appeals directly to our most basic desires for boisterous spectacle without sacrificing intelligence, wit or pure sensational pleasure.

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“Her”: Future Awe

Her

In writer-director Spike Jonze’s Her, Joaquin Phoenix plays the man some of us might turn out to be in twenty or thirty years. Burdened by the constant bombardment of “connection” and “engagement,” Theodore Twombley is perpetually alone, at least in his own mind. Even though he knows his life is stuck in neutral, he feels too threatened by his own sorrows to make any meaningful strides in the right direction. But technology hasn’t hollowed him out. In fact, Theodore radiates empathy and compassion, even when he doesn’t know where or how to direct it.

That’s the contradiction at the heart of this marvelous film, a richly imagined exploration of the nature of relationships and a study in the futility of rejecting technological progress. Her offers a vision of the future that’s both radically different from our world and very much the same. Theodore’s central quandary – is my relationship with an artificially intelligent operating system “real”? – is just a logical extension of our own uncertainty about knowing and connecting with others. As we place our trust in manmade machines that take on lives of their own, we’re simply transferring the central questions of human existence into a more palatable outlet. In the not-so-distant future of Her, those central questions remain the same, even though they’ve evolved on the surface.

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