Things I Loved This Year: Dazzling Single-Takes on “You’re the Worst” and “Better Things”

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.

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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.

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2015 in Review: Great Episodes, July to December

My look back at the year in TV continues with episodes that aired between July and December. As I said in yesterday’s post for January to June episodes, I somewhat arbitrarily chose not to include episodes of shows that appeared on my Top 10 list. If I had, I might have included the Fargo thriller “Rhinoceros”; the Review stunners “William Tell, Grant a Wish, Rowboat” and “Happiness, Pillow Fight, Imaginary Friend”; the poignant “Parents,” perceptive “Ladies and Gentleman” and romantic “Mornings” from Master of None; and pretty much every episode of The Leftovers season two.

Another note: this list is by no means comprehensive. There are plenty of TV shows and episodes I liked this year that I didn’t include on this list, and there are many times more TV shows and episodes that I would have liked had I the time and energy to watch them. If your favorites aren’t on here, you either experienced something great that I haven’t yet, or we have different tastes. Both are more than acceptable.

And in case you missed them, read my ten favorite shows of 2015 and the first half of this great episodes collection.

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2014 in Review: Television is a Beautiful Mess

Transparent

When Breaking Bad departed from television in a trail of crystal blue persuasion last September, television lost its center of gravity. At the time, this development seemed troubling. Without a consensus show around which to rally on social media, television fans and critics alike had to search elsewhere to find a show worthy of their devoted attention and undying affection. But a year removed from Walter White’s final blaze of glory, the loss of Breaking Bad seems more like a gift.

The consensus about this year’s television is that there is no consensus. Continue reading

“You’re the Worst”: Love in a Hopeless Place

You're the Worst

You’re the Worst, an FX comedy series created by Stephen Falk, just concluded an impressive bait-and-switch act with its season finale on Wednesday night. What initially appeared to be a superficial and mean-spirited riff on played-out romantic comedy tropes turned out to be in search of answers to far deeper and more satisfying questions. Instead of settling in for a season of tired “Will they or won’t they?” posturing and bad behavior reveling, You’re the Worst put its two self-involved leads together almost immediately – and the sparks, proverbial and otherwise, flew.

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