Devin and I discuss our conflicted reactions to Master of None season two (0:00-26:45). Then we spar (as only we can) over The Americans season five (26:45-end).
Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: on three of the best “prestige” dramas, women rule the roost.
Better Call Saul and Mr. Robot are as driven by their respective leading men as shows can be, a fact the titles make abundantly clear. The Americans has a dual focus on its central couple. But on new seasons of each this year, the MVPs were the women.
Nothing against Bob Odenkirk or his character Saul Goodman, a slippery con man who’s constantly caught between good intentions and material desires. Nothing against Rami Malek, who brings aching vulnerability and disaffected sensitivity to the role of Elliott Alderson, a hacker struggling with mental illness and revolutionary impulses. And nothing against Matthew Rhys, who deserves far more than the one Emmy nomination he secured this year for the shape-shifting masterstrokes on display as Philip Jennings, the KGB operative who always has going straight deep in the back of his mind.
Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: two episodes of half-hour shows that pushed the boundaries of the form.
One of the most talked about TV moments of 2015 came at the end of the fourth episode of HBO’s True Detective: a violent and visceral eight-minute raid scene, presented in a single uninterrupted take. Some observers praised director Cary Joji Fukunaga for the technical virtuosity required to pull off a filmmaking feat of such complexity, while others dismissed the sequence as a visually dazzling distraction that lacked narrative weight or thematic depth. The blatant showmanship of the camerawork in that scene served only to flatter the audience, not to deepen its experience of the unfolding story, those critics argued.
I saw two sequences on TV this year that reminded me of that True Detective debate, but neither one got the same attention, and neither one inspired a similarly vigorous discussion. FXX’s You’re the Worst devoted most of an episode to an uninterrupted shot that carried the camera across a wedding party venue to several overlapping conversations. One night later, Pamela Adlon’s FX star vehicle Better Things dedicated a third of its first season finale to a scene showing a typical whirlwind morning in the household of Adlon’s loosely autobiographical character Sam Fox — three daughters hollering and whining; multiple visitors cluttering the messy front foyer; flirtatious messages distracting Sam from her hustle. Both of these sequences showcased their respective shows’ most appealing qualities, and both employed a technically challenging stylistic technique in service of an idea and an impact. Both were a joy to watch, even at their saddest moments.
Devin and I return to a topic to which we’ve only alluded in podcasts past: FX’s The Americans, starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell as KGB agents living among Americans in the United States at the height of the Cold War. Spoiler-y thoughts on the most recent season abound.
Also, be sure to read my Slant Magazine interview with the show’s executive producers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields.
Diversity of many varieties was on the brain for many spheres of television this year. Network executives, showrunners, critics and audiences alike engaged in thoughtful discourse about what it means to make diverse television in 2015. There are more places than ever to watch TV, and more places than ever to distribute it. It makes logical sense that TV offerings this year would touch on a wider range of issues, feature a wider range of character types and demographics and explore a wider range of stories and universes than ever before.
But with great power comes great responsibility. My favorite shows in 2015 were the ones that used the expanding boundaries of what’s possible on television to their fullest advantage, crafting rich and surprising worlds, telling stories that dovetail with the themes, ideas and controversies guiding our daily lives. In relatively arbitrary order of preference (who’s to say whether a dark comedy about an animated horse is superior to one of the most beloved drama series of all time?), here are my ten favorite shows of 2015.
The world gives us lots to be cynical about every day. But today’s Thanksgiving, so I want to take a brief pause from frustration, indifference and indignation to marvel at the treasures on our massive pop culture landscape. Here’s a look at some of the pop culture (and pop culture criticism) that I’m thankful for right now:
After nine increasingly brilliant episodes, the first season of Fargo concludes tonight at 10pm on FX. When this show was first announced, it was quickly derided as an ill-conceived attempt to capitalize on a cult favorite film that could not possibly be improved or enriched by a ten-hour adaptation. The first episode assuaged those concerns to an extent, with instantly arresting performances and a visual style that recalls the Coen Brothers without imitating them, but the show truly distinguished itself approximately halfway through its run, when it diverged almost entirely from the thematic arc of its source material while tying itself more overtly than ever to the film’s chronology. With just the finale to go, Fargo stands as one of my favorite television experiences of 2014. Here are five things I’ll miss after tonight’s much-hyped finale: