Connect with us

TV

Westworld Molds Together Ex Machina & Jurassic Park for One of the Most Striking Pilots of the Year

Right off the bat, HBO’s newest is off to a grand start.

Published

on

If you’ve been keeping up with my Fall TV coverage this year, you would know that I’ve been greatly looking forward to the premiere of HBO’s Westworld. I need another big, bold sci-fi TV series in my life, and considering the basic premise and insane pedigree behind the thing, I was extremely hopeful Westworld would end up being that show. On Sunday the first episode aired and, from the looks of things, that will very much be the case.


Note: Before we get into it, I must make clear that this post will dive into FULL SPOILERS for the first episode of Westworld. Being how that’s the only episode I’ve seen, everything else I say about future events should be considered mere conjecture on my part.


Right off the bat, the most striking thing about the Westworld premiere is how it begins — right in the thick of it, so to speak. While the show doesn’t quite begin “in media res” (although that’s debatable considering the way the episode wraps back to the opening voiceover by its conclusion), Westworld is not the type of show that really intends to hold your hand. It crafts a VERY long opening before the reality of its world really starts to unfold, and you don’t get to really understand how the universe functions until a good way into the episode. But considering what the series is trying to accomplish, that’s a GOOD thing.

Because, to the untrained eye, the opening moments of Westworld is just some fun pulpy Western material. Yes WE know that the series is science fiction and involves robots, but if you hadn’t been following the ad campaign and marketing material for the series, there would be a lot of mystery in this opening fifteen minutes. Heck, even as someone who HAD been following the marketing, there was some surprises, the key one of course being the robot identity of James Marsden’s Teddy character. It was clear from the start that Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores wasn’t human (as that fly motif established pretty early on), but having Teddy wake up on the train with the rest of the visitors, only to actually be a “host,” was a fun bit of misdirection.

But even putting that aside, centering the opening of the story on the two robots serves a grander purpose than just being a clever twist. In a pre-premiere interview from a few months ago, EP Jonathan Nolan described the show as being from a time in which humans “stop being the protagonists,” and that is pretty clear from the first episode at least. This story really does seem to be taking the “side” of the robots, focusing on their story more than anything else. Yes at its core the show focuses on the ensemble ala Game of Thrones but, like how that show has the Stark children as the centerpiece of its storylines, Westworld has the characters of Dolores and Teddy at its center. And at this point, is probably better off for it.



Of course that doesn’t mean the other side of the story doesn’t get its due attention: so far the build up for the actual corporation of Westworld has been spectacular, with a whole crew of interesting characters (all played by wonderful actors) at its core. It seems the big focus amongst them will be lead programmer Bernard Lowe, played by Jeffrey Wright. As a fan of Wright in general I’m totally game to see him get a nice big role, and it will be interesting to see how Lowe reacts to his “updates” causing such strife.

And really, the scenes at the actual facility is where Westworld really comes alive (not to disparage the actual Western scenes, which are of course great too.) A huge part of the success of Westworld goes down to impeccable production design, and the interior of the facility is no different. From the creepy white material used to mold the android frame to the line of naked, discarded androids standing blankly in the basement of the facility, striking sci-fi visuals are abound here, and Jonathan Nolan does an excellent job of highlighting them as the director of the episode.

But “The Original” really gets a lot of mileage out of these scenes by delving head first into the sci-fi, straight into a particular new sub-genre I like to call “robo-ethics.” There’s a lot of scenes in “The Original” that are just the characters talking about the sci-fi world they have created, and whether they are morally going too far with what they are making these androids do. The above headline isn’t just a keyword bonanza: this really is combining what I loved about last year’s Ex Machina with the sensibilities of Jurassic Park, which shouldn’t be shocking considering how this is based on the 1973 film from Park author Michael Chrichton. But like the best modern remakes, this take on Westworld is finding a way to take the basic idea and apply it to our modern times, really exploring the use of AI and its implications in a way that only something in 2016 could.

A big part of the Westworld crew is Anthony Hopkins’ Robert Ford, the creator (at least it seems) of the park and the androids that are such a big part of it. But John Hammond Ford is not — as a veteran of the company for decades, it seems pretty clear to me that Ford is towards the end of his rope, looking at the grand result of his creation with a bit of ambivalence. But when Ford is game, he’s game — his final interrogation of the Abernathy bot was a terrific scene, and Hopkin’s did a wonderful job of showing just how important this interplay was for the soon-to-retire creator. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Hopkin’s stretch his dramatic muscles like this in a proper venue, so that alone makes Westworld worth seeing.



And really it was the back and forth (combined with a very eerie tone) between Abernathy and Ford that made that scene work — it certainly wasn’t the answers the conversation provided. In “The Original” at least, answers were few and far between. But really that’s a feature, not a bug. The key to good sci-fi for me at least is questions, and boy did I have many by the time “The Original” concluded. If this was a single movie that could be perceived as a bad thing, but as the pilot episode to an ongoing series, one with nine more hours of story to unroll in its first season alone, I’m very much willing to let the series unfold in such a mysterious way.

We may not know much about the motives of Ed Harris’ mystery character, or what the company behind the park is actually trying to accomplish. Hell, we don’t even know how the actual logistics of the park function, or how the guest experience technically even works. But already my mind is buzzing at the many possibilities that the series has set up. And if that’s not a clear sign of successful science fiction storytelling, I don’t know what is.


Loose Ends:

  • We need to talk about that utterly badass saloon heist, staged magnificently as both entertaining as hell and wonderfully disturbing. It’s a tough line to balance on, but Westworld does it will aplomb throughout the entire episode.
  • Also a highlight in the scene was the score — I don’t know if it was Ramin Djawadi’s idea to set the sequence to a piano version of “Paint it Black” (of all things!), but it worked magnificently.
  • So is this the fastest use of nudity in HBO history? A grand tit time of like 12 seconds here. Still though, I kind of love the way this show uses the nudity; sure there’s the occasional erotic stuff (this IS HBO, after all), but I would not describe the rest of the nakedness to be titillating in the slightest. As clinical and cold as how the Westworld workers view the robots themselves.
  • The bandits headed by Rodrigo Santoro’s Hector Escaton look like a lot of fun, and I’m curious to see how the series will utilize them in the future. Additionally, I hope the failed monologue from Hector Escaton becomes something of a running gag. Sure this isn’t really a comedy, but that doesn’t mean a good joke can’t be utilized.
  • Thandie Newton didn’t have a ton to do in the pilot, although the previews seem to indicate she’ll have a bigger part moving forward. One can only hope, as she is certainly one of the most talented members of a VERY talented cast.
  • Also in the previews: the prettiest McPoyle. So we have that too look forward to, at least.
  • And on things to look forward to, boy is the list of directors for the series a “whose who” of awesome TV folk: Michelle MacLaren, Neil Marshall, Vicenzo Natali, Stephen Williams, and many more all direct an episode this season. That’s some top notch directors, which should hopefully mean top notch material.
  • Sorry Trevor — even in a cowboy hat, you’re always going to be Trevor o me. On the bright side, the nature of this series means that even though he got murdered like, twice, he can still be a recurring character on the show. So let’s hope for that, huh?
  • The final shot of the episode is incredibly on the nose, but in the absolute best way possible. You knew that fly was going to get swatted, but boy was it satisfying when it did.
  • I likely won’t be covering this series on a weekly basis, but you can bet I’ll be back to discuss the series if the quality keeps up throughout the season. And even if it doesn’t, I’ll probably have a strongly worded opinion piece to dish out once the season concludes. Because you guys can’t get enough of those, I’m sure.


Also published on Medium.

Matthew Legarreta is the Editor and Owner of Freshly Popped Culture. A big ol' ball of movie, TV, and video game loving flesh, Matthew has been writing about pop culture for nearly a decade. Matthew also loves writing about himself in the third person, because it makes him feel important (or something.)

Advertisement
Comments

TV

The 5 Best Moments of Westworld Season 1

The most visceral, violent delights of a stellar first season.

Published

on

Editor’s Note: This article was first published way back at the end of 2016 — a world away from the current one, if you ask me. Anyways, with the second season of Westworld finally premiering tonight, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at my thoughts on the first season of the HBO show. Spoiler: I loved it, and I’m hopefully I can say the same about the second season. We shall see tonight! 

When Westworld first premiered about two months ago, I was quickly quite enamored with it. What a saw in Westworld was grand, ambitious science fiction storytelling, and I do believe that (for the most part) the show fulfilled my lofty expectations for it. Sure it wasn’t without its weak spots, but overall I really did find this to be a fantastic season of television, and I am beyond excited to see what comes next.

But before I jump into that particular vat of theories and speculation, I thought it would be appropriate to take a deep dive into the rest of the season, revisiting what I believed to be the show’s strongest moments so far. Keep in mind that, as you would expect from something with this title, there will be FULL SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON OF WESTWORLD BELOW.


5. The Man in Black Laments


There’s few things in the world I love more than a well delivered, brilliantly executed little monologue. Westworld, being really quite dialogue heavy at its core (arguably to its detriment at times) was no slouch when it came to the monologue department, giving its esteemed actors plenty of space to really belt out the pained soliloquies regarding all the various torments of their lives.

But as great as Anthony Hopkins was at theatrically breaking down his character motivation, or as absolutely badass Thandie Newton’s every line of dialogue proved to be, I would argue that it was Ed Harris who really stole the show in the monologue department this season. His “Man in Black” character was shrouded in mystery throughout most of the season, so it made sense the character would instantly attract our attention the moment he chose to speak up. But the speech The Man in Black (nee William) made to Teddy and Angela at the end of “Trace Decay” was a real double whammy — it was both a strong moment for Harris to earn his possible Emmy nomination, and a chance to fill in his character in a very interesting way.

Brilliantly connecting the story of his return to Westworld with the murder of Maeve’s daughter, the real joy of this scene was the sense of discovery and tension that comes with a character literally (and finally) telling you things that actually happened, in a timeline that’s easy to understand. Yeah sure that might seem like a no-brainer for most pop culture, but for question-heavy shows like Westworld, there’s always such a grand level of suspense at play when characters start talking unobtrusively about their lives. Every word matters, every sentence a possible key to a huge and stunning reveal. And though the show would end up holding its biggest Man in Black trump card close to its chest until the very last episode, it doesn’t take away from the excitement and beauty of Ed Harris’ terrific, character defining speech. Westworld had a bonkers cast of talented people, and in scenes like this, it proved to be an absolute joy just to watch them perform.


4. Paint it Black


The moment in which you realize that you’re falling in love with a show is a pretty wonderful thing . And for me that moment came early with Westworld — halfway through the first episode, in fact.

A brilliantly conceived, wonderfully executed set-piece is something I appreciate a great deal, and Westworld really didn’t wait all that long to deliver a great one. Fueled brilliantly by a piano cover of “Paint it Black,” Hector Escaton’s violent siege of the Sweetwater Saloon was not just a fun action sequence, but also a wholly unique look into how fucked up the world of Westworld really is, as host after host is horrifically gunned down all in the name of…a hardware recall. It didn’t take very long for my sympathies to land with the robots, and scenes like this present a pretty strong reason why.

Plus, Escaton’s big speech getting cut off by a trigger happy guest is still one of the funniest moments in the show so far. Sizemore’s frustration with the system quickly became an excellent vessel for humor, huh?


3. It Doesn’t Look Like Anything To Me


The fan theories were already running wild going into the show’s seventh episode, “Trompe L’oeil.” Hell, the theories were running wild since episode two, if I’m being entirely honest. Still though, it speaks to the show’s quality that they were able to reveal one of the series’ most talked about theories, and still make the moment land with the appropriate amount of oomph.

I am of course talking about the big reveal at the end of “Trompe L’oeil,” in which Bernard learns of his true identity: a host crafted by and under the complete control of Ford. It was a show changing revelation but, like most of the twists on Westworld, not a completely surprising one. Still though, it’s a strong sign the show is of high quality when, even if I know pretty much where the series is going, it doesn’t keep from the reveal itself being a wonderful, exciting moment of television.

Because what really makes this “twist” work is not what it is, but HOW it goes about revealing it. And I think the internet has very much proven that this twist will stand the test of time: I mean, “It doesn’t look like anything to me” is already an iconic line, and an instant meme. And that’s because it was a terrific line in an absolutely terrific scene. This is the moment that the truth started to really spin itself out for the show and, as a genesis for the reveals to come, you can’t get much better.


2. Maeve Makes Her Escape


In the midst of alternate timeframes and earth-shattering reveals, it sure was nice to have Maeve’s storyline around to serve as a solid anchor for the rest of the series. Compared to pretty much every other plot point, Maeve’s was by far the simplest: she gained her sentience and, with it, began plotting to escape. Sure, things got a bit more complicated towards the end (the show is still Westworld, after all), but compared to all the other confusion going on, Maeve’s story arc was pretty clear cut.

I would personally chalk that up as a positive, however, as Maeve’s experience with sentience really did ground the series for me. Even at its most trippy and confusing, the show had this fantastic story at its core, moored by a terrific character played by an ever more stunning actor (it will be a crime if Thandie Newton doesn’t land any Emmy nod for this, right?) And unlike pretty much every other character on the show (with the big exception of perhaps Ford), Maeve is the only character to actually get what she wants by the season’s end. And by god did she do it in the best way possible.

Seeing Maeve and her ragtag “army” of Escaton, Armistice, and Felix fight their way out of the main compound was spellbinding television, directed brilliantly by showrunner Jonathan Nolan. Well technically not a single moment, I’m going to lump Maeve’s escape altogether simply because it’s impossible to choice what was the best part: from the first scene of Escaton and Armistice brutally slaying two techies (the first robot-on-human casualties of an ultimately bloody night) to the Cabin in the Woods-esque entrance into the Samurai Room, Maeve’s journey to escape the compound was just what the season was asking for, and the kind of propulsive storytelling that many other TV series would be lucky to have.

Also, that outfit. You lookin’ quit arch indeed, Maeve. Just never stop being you.


1. It All Comes Together


But there can only be one, and in the case of Westworld, the best moment of the season was easily the closing ten minutes of “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Bernard’s desperate attempt to learn his heritage and understand his creation is exciting in and of itself, but what truly makes this sequence shine is the build-up to the reveal, one that pretty much everyone knows is coming, but is beyond excited to see nonetheless.

Which, yes, is indeed a lot like the previous moment of Bernard learning of his identity, which also placed on this list just a few segments back. That’s even more of an accomplishment, if you ask me: the fact that Westworld can basically play the same exact trick TWICE and do it wonderfully both times is a testament to how strong the storytelling of the series really is.

Of course to say the reveal of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” is the exact same as the one in “Trompe L’oeil” is a bit simplistic. The reveal at the end of “Clavier” is a whole lot more of a development, and manages to wrap in Delores’ storyline into the proceedings too. Really, the final moment of “Clavier” is the thing that brought the whole season together, explaining seemingly everything (including the multiple timeframe scenario) into one jaw-dropping package. In this, it was probably smart to drop the “Bernard is a host” reveal before the “Bernard is a clone of Arnold” reveal, as it allowed both bits of information a lot of room to breath. A lesser show would have just had both twists piled up on each other, and would have been a whole lot messier because of it. By separating the two show-changing revelations, the gravity of each is truly felt.

But so why then did the twist of “The Well Tempered Clavier” work better than the one in “Trompe L’oeil?” Well, for one reason primarily, and her name is Michelle MacLaren. She’s one of the all time best TV directors, and the skill that she brought to tackling this oh-so-important episode really pushed it to season-high quality. No disrespect to Frederick E.O. Toye (who is an excellent TV director in his own right), but MacLaren just brings so much style and confidence to everything she touches, and I don’t think anyone else would have been able to handle the balancing act of “The Well Tempered Clavier’s” final moments. When her name flashed up in the opening credits for the episode, I knew that I would be in for something special, and hoped that Episode 9 of Westworld would be as well-executed and exciting as the many great Episode 9’s of Game of Thrones before it.

And, thankfully, it was. This episode, and in particular its final moments, truly left me breathless. Television at its finest, and proof that Westworld is indeed one of the best TV shows of 2016.



Which, yes, I wholeheartedly believe is the case. Lord knows Westworld Season 1 wasn’t perfect, and there was certainly little things here and there that I had some problems with. But at the end of the day, I think the mantra of one of the show’s best characters sums up my thoughts quite nicely: while some people might chose to see the logical issues or storytelling quibbles of the series, I choose to see the beauty. And if this list shows anything, there was a hell of a lot of it to enjoy this season.

Continue Reading

Movies

Disney Is Rebooting The Muppets (Yes, Again) And A Whole Bunch of Other Dormant Properties For Their New Streaming Service

Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Father of the Bride, The Parent Trap, the concept of time itself. You know, the usual.

Published

on

Disney has conquered mainstream Hollywood. That is an undeniable fact, if you ask me — between their Marvel and Star Wars output (not to mention their live action remakes, animated films, and projects from Pixar), Disney seems to be the only big studio thriving in the modern age. But as much as that seems like a compliment to Disney, it’s also something of a dour note for the industry overall — things are rough for theatrical film, for a variety of reasons. But perhaps the most substantial one is competition from the world of cable, Broadcast, and (especially) streaming outlets. When you are routinely getting things of the same (if not better) quality out of TV and streaming, why even go to the theater? The question is baffling to me (because it’s a movie theater, that’s why!), but not for the majority of Americans — ticket sales are the worst they have been in decades, as people would rather get their entertainment fix by staying at home and watching Netflix.

And Disney knows this. They are content with having conquered the ashes of traditional Hollywood, but they aren’t idiots — the media landscape is changing, and they want to be just as viable in the new one as a Netflix or HBO. So they are creating their own streaming service, and taking the battle for entertainment supremacy to Netflix in a big way.

But in building their new streaming outlet, I was rather curious how Disney planned to convince people to subscribe to their service when there were dozens more out there competing for the same eyeballs (and monthly set of dollar bills.) Well, today we got a pretty big hint in how Disney plans to build out their streaming portfolio and, no surprise, it’s taking advantage of their biggest asset: all the well-liked shit they have made and/or acquired over the last century. Brands are king for Disney, and they very much seem to be putting those at the forefront as they dive into this new frontier. Call it a safety blanket if you want (I will: it’s a safety blanket), but it has served Disney well in the last decade, so
…reboot time it is!

Of course, many of Disney’s bigger properties have already been rebooted or remade on the big screen, leading the selections for their streaming stuff to be a bit lower tier. The biggest property announced today for the potential reboot treatment is The Muppets, who Disney acquired from The Jim Henson Company back in 2004, and have since been left scratching their heads at what exactly to do with it. Things seemed great at first when the Jason Segal-led reboot film managed to enliven the love for the franchise, and perform pretty great at the box office to boot. But then Muppets Most Wanted came out and, despite being a whole lotta fun, underwhelmed at the box office. It seemed The Muppets would not be the blockbuster franchise Disney was hoping for.

Rebooting The Muppets

So they transferred the property back to TV, relaunching a new series simply entitled The Muppets. This series had a promising hook (basically The Muppets meets 30 Rock, through the mockumentary lens of The Office) but it failed to get an audience on ABC and, quite frankly, wasn’t even all that good to begin with. Then a whole controversy broke out when longtime puppeteer/Kermit the Frog voice actor Steve Whitmire was fired from working on the property. He argued that Disney’s plans for the character was against what Henson would have stood for. They argued he was a shitty worker who didn’t play well with others, and everyone else was glad to be rid of him. The truth probably rests somewhere in between the two stances, but that didn’t make the controversy anymore crippling for The Muppet brand. They laid low for a year or so, only popping up to make wacky promotional videos and the like for the franchises’ various social media pages.

But apparently, Disney still thinks they can make this thing work in a big way, as The Hollywood Reporter confirms the Mouse House intends to bring the property to their new streaming service. Which, by the way, could use a name pronto. I’m tiring of just calling it “their new streaming service.” Judging by what they seem to want to put on it, maybe simply “Reboot” will do?

Kidding aside, The Muppets isn’t the only reboot Disney plans to anchor the service with. Also in the mix according to THR is film properties like Honey I Shrunk the Kids (you, know the Rick Moranis movie about shrinking kids), Father of the Bride (you know, the Steve Martin movie about being the father of the bride), and The Parent Trap (you know, the Lindsay Lohan movie about trapping parents.) This is in addition to previously announced reboot fodder like High School Musical and The Mighty Ducks which, yeah, were all certainly things at one point in time. They have name value, and that’s all that matters to the house that Micky Mouse built!  At least there will be some top shelve franchise extinctions from brands like Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar’s Monster’s Inc. And, who knows, maybe an original property might sneak its way in there!

…But no promises.


Also published on Medium.

Continue Reading

TV

Matt’s Top 10 TV Shows of 2017

Right at the edge of being at all relevant, here are my top 10 TV shows of 2017.

Published

on

You know what? I’m rather impressed with myself, and I don’t particularly care if anyone else is. Usually I can’t release my Top 10 TV and Film lists until weeks and weeks into the new year — I am a completionist, after all, and live in an area in which many of the big Oscar films don’t even come out until months after they first hit limited release (if at all.) And as for my delay with TV, I’m lazy, and have a lot of things I end up catching up on based entirely on the fact that other people had them in their 10 Tops for the year. So most years (like last, for instance), I don’t release either lists until WAY past the point in which anyone even cares.

But this year? I was able to do my catch up far faster than normal, mostly because I am unemployed and have absolutely nothing better to do with all this time (SO MUCH TIME, you guys.) So rather than deliver my lists extremely late, they are just normal late. Believe it or not, it’s an improvement, and I’m not going to let anyone else take that away from me. Maybe a few years from now, I can actually be on time with them!

But, eh, probably not.

Anyways, I’ll be releasing both my Top 10 TV shows and Top 10 movies list for the year that was 2017, starting out today with television. As has been the case with the format for the past few years, there are WAY TOO MANY GOOD TV SHOWS, so the amount of stuff I had to regretfully push off the list was numerous. So numerous, in fact, I plan on publishing a separate list recounting those in the coming days too. But, for now, here’s what I settled on for the 10 best TV shows I saw in the past twelve months, starting with…


10. Samurai Jack

There’s a part of me that thinks I’m only putting Samurai Jack on this list because I remain in awe that we even got it in the first place. An actual conclusion to the long thought dead Cartoon Network series just seemed like a fanboy pipe dream, and that, eventually, one we would all just forget about (until the property got rebooted in twenty years, of course.) But, no, a final season of Samurai Jack is indeed something we got in 2017. And though I had a few quibbles here and there (namely that the romance felt a bit contrived, and the ending a tad rushed), I came away from the ten-episode run as enamored with the series as I ever was. The first three episodes, in particular, are just masterful television, combining astonishing animation with amazing action and, most exciting of all, brilliant character work. The show got darker with its return but, more importantly, it got more reflective and bold with the story it was trying to tell. Even if it wasn’t 100% perfect, Samurai Jack was unlike anything else on television, and a strong case that Genndy Tartakovsky is one of the most brilliant people currently working in the medium. Please let him do more of it, world, rather than continued Hotel Transylvania films. Samurai Jack proves he can do far, far, far, far better.


9. The Handmaid’s Tale

By far the most buzzed about new TV series of the year, it would have been easy for The Handmaid’s Tale to coast on the timeliness of its themes, trading in actual craftsmanship and skill for the mere fact that, yeah, what it’s saying is “important.” But what makes The Handmaid’s Tale so great is that it manages to do both in a way that is seamless and never preachy — the themes that the show approaches are powerful and important and sadly relevant, but that never takes away from how concise and skillful the show is on its own. There’s a fantastic dystopian tale at the center of The Handmaid’s Tale, and even if we lived in a utopia of equal rights (which we of course don’t), the story in and of itself would be enough to make The Handmaid’s Tale worth watching. Plus the incredible performances of the cast (especially Elisabeth Moss in the lead), and the absolutely awe-inspiring visuals. The Handmaid’s Tale might be the show of the current zeitgeist…but it’s also a pretty good one, so I can’t complain much about the love it has received.


8. Nathan for You

Every year that Nathan Fielder chooses to create more episodes of this brilliant show, I will almost certainly find a place for it on my end-of-the-year list. It’s just that good, and this season especially gave us a number of glorious episodes. Nathan’s amazing attempt to create a Late Night appropriate story in “The Anecdote.” His absolutely nutty plan to create a band that heavily used the sound of a smoke detector, which somehow got him wrapped up in the world of Big Oil, because it’s Nathan for You and the world is insane. And, of course, “Finding Frances,” the format breaker that ended the season with a surprisingly touching, thought-provoking story of lost love and regret, so good that even documentarian Errol Morris had to rave about it, calling it his “new favorite love story.” Also, the episode in question involved filming a Mud sequel entitled Mud 2: Never Clean. God I love this insane show.


7. The Americans

You know how good The Americans is? Even an off season of the show manages to find its way into my Top 10 at the end of the year. Because even if Season 5 is probably the weakest season since Season 1…god, it’s just so incredibly good. The Americans is probably the most consistently strong long-running show on all of television, and even a season that isn’t quite as masterful as Season 2 or 3 or 4 still has high points that other shows dream they could touch. The acting remains as powerful as ever, the writing as concise, and the direction as meticulous. Really the only thing setting this season back is the fact that it’s the penultimate one, meaning that a lot of the time was spent seeding the endgame and setting up the final plots — even by The Americans standards, it was a slower season than usual. But the final couple of episodes were absolutely brilliant, and proof that we need not worry about this show as it approaches its final 10 episode season. More than any other series on television, I have faith these people know what they are doing — they haven’t steered us wrong so far, right?


6. Better Call Saul

From one slow burn to another, it’s kind of fascinating how Better Call Saul has managed to grow in the face of its more popular, more explosive parent show. While Breaking Bad focused on big moments and huge plot movements (to genius effect, of course), Better Call Saul’s approach is entirely different. It’s even more character focused, a lot less action heavy, and as much as I hate to use the word to describe anything as exciting and brilliant as this show…yeah, a little bit slower. But that approach has actually benefited the show, especially going into its third season. The fact we got to know these characters so well is really helping this series excel as the plot takes off in kind, with Season 3 in particular delivering some rather huge moments for the character of Jimmy McGill and the people around him. It’s not a big action crime show like Breaking Bad, but it’s almost equally as good in every other regard. Season 3 especially was the show really finding its creative genius, delivering week after week of constant greatness. The series is off to the dramatic races now, and as long as the performances, writing, and visuals remain as strong as they do now, the show will very much remain a worthy predecessor to Vince Gilligan’s last masterwork. And, to be honest, that’s a far better position to be in than pretty much any other TV spin-off I can think of.


5. American Vandal

Ah: American Vandal — the little show that could of 2017. When Netflix dropped the thing in mid-September of this year, I don’t think very man people had it on their radar. The plot seemed a tad obnoxious, and pretty much no one of note was involved in its creation both behind and in front of the camera. But like any good surprise hit, word-of-mouth propelled this one to be one of Netflix’s most talked about shows of the year. And boy was all that conversation well deserved. American Vandal is a real treat from start to finish, a pitch-perfect parody that only gets better the more it unfolds. The series is really some amazing satire, managing to wrangle both blistering laughs and surprising pathos from the story of a bunch of dicks drawn on some cars in a parking lot. American Vandal works on pretty much every level, but what puts it over the moon is how stunningly authentic it ultimately feels. In addition to being a note-for-note true crime parody, American Vandal also makes for a great teen comedy, assembling a bunch of different teenaged personalities and delivering a concise message about how they behave and interact in the cyber age. Liberally featuring things like Youtube, Twitch, Instagram, and the like, American Vandal ended up feeling like one of the most authentic pictures of modern youth that I’ve yet seen. And with authenticity being the key to comedy…well, American Vandal ended up being an absolute knockout in pretty much every regard.


4. Master of None

It sucks that talking about Aziz Anzari has become something of a touchy subject, because it absolutely overshadows the accomplishments of the man a few months prior. But even if Ansari himself is something of a damaged good, I won’t let that stop me from appreciating the greatness that was Master of None Season 2. While I really enjoyed the first season of Anzari’s Netflix dramedy, the second season was a vast improvement, and on a whole different level altogether. With a renewed interest in making the most creative show possible, Aziz Anzari took inspiration from the first season’s best episode (“Mornings”) and molded most of the installments in Season 2 based on that episode’s unique approach to the structure of a TV episode. And what an end result — I legitimately think every episode of Master of None Season 2 is outstanding, from the big idea episodes like “Thankgiving” or “I Love New York,” to the smaller installments like the closing two-parter focusing on Dev’s relationship with his Italian crush. Extremely confident, extremely unique, and altogether impactful — I loved the hell out of Master of None this year. And I’m not going to let some groan-inducing behavior from its main voice detract from that.


3. Better Things

Remember everything I said about Master of None above? The same, but for Louis C.K., and with Better Things. On the one hand it’s a little easier to handle this one because C.K.’s role is strictly behind the scenes…but then again, what C.K. did was far more monstrous than Ansari. So fuck him and fuck the situation entirely. BUT don’t fuck Better Things, because man oh man did I love the show’s sophomore season. Pamela Adlon’s voice remains as unique and entertaining as ever, and Better Things represented a far more reflective, deeper reading of its subject matter than we got in the show’s freshman debut. It was heartwarming, and thought-provoking, and thoroughly entertaining, and I hope Adlon gets to do whatever the hell she wants with these things now that it’s separated completely from C.K.’s influence. All that being said, the comedian DID write or co-write every episode this season, and his prints were all over the brilliant writing for this. Because he is a brilliant writer, and creative voice. But, also, a fucking asshole. UGH, this whole situation. Anyways, Better Things is wonderful, and I hope it will remain wonderful for however long Adlon wants to keep things going.


2. The Good Place

Whew, finally, a comedy I can talk about without having to mention abhorrent, horrifying behavior! I’ve already spoken at length about how much I loved the second half of The Good Place’s first season (which started in January, lest you forget), but I haven’t really spoken about how the show followed up its amazing home stretch in its second season. Well, suffice to say, this show remains absolutely incredible, and is quickly climbing up the ranks of my all-time favorite TV comedies. That’s a bold thing to say for a show only two seasons in, but what can I say? The Good Place is one of the funniest, most exciting TV series I’ve seen in a while. It’s a show that not only has a strong and unique comic voice, but the storytelling and creativity to match it.

On a week to week basis, I literally have no idea where The Good Place is going, with its story pivoting wildly and it constantly burning through plot that a standard show would probably ruminate in for numerous episodes. And while that might seem like a flaw for some, it only increases my love of this nutty and brave show. Every week they jump into the abyss, with twist after twist after twist changing the nature of the show on an episode-to-episode basis. But after they have managed to reap the benefits of such transitions literally dozens of time, I stopped worrying about where the show might go. At this point, I’m just enjoying the absolutely delightful ride. And I highly recommend for you to do so as well. This is the beginning of a landmark comedy and, as always, I can’t wait to see where The Good Place goes next.


1. The Leftovers

Back when Season 2 of The Leftovers premiered, I was gobsmacked by how brilliant it was. While I loved the first season a lot more than some people, even I could never imagine how absolutely magnificent the show could get in its second set of 10 episodes. It was my favorite series of 2015 and, at the time, I had no idea how in the world a season of television could possibly get better.

It did.

The Leftovers Season 3 is a masterpiece. It is brilliant from top-to-bottom, with every episode fantastic on their own, and wonderous altogether. It served as the perfect capper to the series, more perfect than any other final season of a drama that I can think of. It’s pure, uncut brilliant, powered by the incredible acting, beautiful writing, and always outstanding production values. It’s the kind of show that’s so good that I can’t even think of more superlatives to use to express its greatness — already I’ve thrown like a dozen out, and none of them can match how I truly feel about this amazing little stretch of eight episodes. From the storytelling boldness of “The Most Powerful Man in the World” to the emotional wallop that is “The Book of Nora” (the show’s series finale), there was not a single misstep in this collection of episodes. Not a single damn flaw.

There’s a lot more I want to say about The Leftovers Season 3 that I didn’t get the chance to express when it first came out. How amazing Justin Thereoux and Carrie Coon were in their performances, and how much they absolutely grew into their characters over the show’s three-year lifespan. How the series turned out to be a pretty powerful romance, while simultaneously tackling a dozen other themes and plotlines. How the show ended up being the perfect one for 2017, with its constant theme of how we approach the end of the world feeling more and more relevant as we delved into the real life shitshow that was 2017. Hell, how it gave us an episode of television that referenced 80’s sitcom Perfect Stranger dozens of times, and was also as heartbreaking as any other installment of the show. So many, many thoughts. But, ultimately, I’m left with one thought that is more important than them all.

I’ve loved a lot of TV shows, especially in the modern era. And, for the last five years, I’ve had a clear favorite of all time — Breaking Bad, of course. But in three short seasons, The Leftovers has topped it for me. It is now my favorite TV series of all time, and I am 100% unwavering in that stance. No show has hit me harder emotionally, or impressed me more fundamentally, or wowed me in ways so absorbing. For me at least, The Leftovers is the new king of the TV mountain. Long live the king.


Whew. That was my love letter to The Leftovers or, umm, my Top 10 TV Shows of 2017. Sorry, got kind of carried away at the end there. Anyways, tune in on Wednesday for my list of the ten best movies of the year. I promise I’ll try my best to not turn it into a soliloquy about how much I love The Leftovers. 

You now…”my best.”


Also published on Medium.

Continue Reading

Trending