Category Archives: comedy

Ballers (s.02, 2016)

Story in the Ballers’ 2nd season revolves for the most part around Spencer’s feud with Andre, the biggest financial guy in the city who managed Spencer’s money back when he still played and may or may not have caused him the loss of several million dollars. The intensity of the confrontation grows from one episode to the next, the passions are rising, the risks are being taken, the game is being played. The fact that Spencer is having problems with obtaining a license so that he could actually practice does not add a lot of credibility to his position, no more than a Vicodin abuse on account of his hip injury. Yet he manages to execute counterattack by gathering funds from his rich friends to buy the company out.

The story on the conceptual level is pretty good: the origins of the conflict seem plausible enough; the development – quite consistent; and the essence (what seemed like purely ordinary conflict at first, turned out to be the result of Spencer’s internal conflict) – rather elegant. However, the dialogs are sagging: the writers heavily abuse informal vocabulary, sometimes – merely to hide the emptiness of a scene; and even relatively interesting parts resemble Entourage the further the more, and not at their best times, too.

It’s pretty entertaining all in all, but I was definitely hoping for more than that. There is still a possibility, of course, that the show would become more than just talking shit and enjoying the spoils of the wealthy life, but so far the tendency is the opposite.

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Frasier (s.09, 2001-02)

In Frasier‘s 9th season Frasier breaks up with Clair, and ends up alone, then goes through several more fleeting, short-term relationships; has a feud with a neighbour; expands his show to another city; and visits Boston. Rose starts dating a garbage man, which becomes one of her most meaningful hookups, but then something happens, and at the moment of weakness she has a thing with her boss, which is huge, but not big enough to ruin their friendship. Niles and Daphne’s relationship goes through natural stages of development, all the way up to the proposal (which was beautiful), and making peace with Daphne’s family. Martin becomes a security guard, and almost falls in love several times, last one – with the neighbor’s mother.

It is astonishing how they managed to keep the overall quality of the show so consistent from one season to the next. It always seems new, – not once has the show repeat itself so far, – and at the same time, it feels so familiar, so comfortable from beginning to end. Apart from the events already mentioned, of which episodes about Daphne’s parents were the most entertaining, there was an appearance by Bill Gates, which happened to be the same episode (#8) when Bulldog returned for a brief period of time; the one about Frederick becoming a national Spelling Bee champion (#18), the one about american flag, the one about the Boston trip (#21), and the one with Daphne’s father (#24).

All in all, a great season: there are lots of fresh stories, and all of them are pretty great quality, including the humor (which still seems funny to me after years of comedy impressions’ stratification on my mind), and the drama (which develops in the orderly, logical fashion and has wonderfully powerful peaks). Watching Frasier is always a pleasure. Names and figures

Ballers (s.01, 2015)

Ballers is a comedy-drama about a bunch of ex- and current football players and the world of professional athletes in general. Primary heroes are: Spencer Strasmore, who left his successful football career while at the peak and became a financial manager for high-level sport professionals; Joe Krutel, his friend who turned him into a financial consultant; Ricky Jerret, a very talented football player with temper issues; and Charles Green, a retired player who tries to find a new way in life. So, for the 1st season, the storylines are as follows: Spencer and Joe try very hard to land Vernon Littlefield, one of the most promising young players in the league, and encounter various obstacles on that path, including blackmail and corporate interests getting the best of loyalty and personal relationships, which is the foundation for everything in that business; Spencer also deals with his nightmares connected to an episode, when he injured an opposite team player so hard he had to leave the game; Ricky gets kicked out of the team due to bad PR vibe he’s producing, but Spencer manages to find him new home – his own old team, the Miami Dolphins, which is not the end of it, because Ricky continues to get into various stories, but he also tries hard to change his ways, and to some purpose too, although he does lose his girlfriend in the process; Charles gets a job as a car salesman, but feels discontented at it, so when he’s offered a way back to his old career, he gladly takes it.

First of all, this show reminds me Entourage a lot: the same atmosphere of big money (only professional sports instead of movies), the same perfect-weather setting (only Florida instead of California), the same general tone of rich people’s problems that are significant, but not too serious, because – you know, – there’s a lot of money floating around. The story is different, though, and I don’t mean specific events, but rather the structure of the show’s narrative, which in this case is more dense, more consistent. Plus, the main heroes are way more likeable – Spencer’s sincerity, his aspiration to help those he cares about, his resolution in building his own personality the way he wants it, – all these things make me sympathize with him; Joe is an interesting character, with his ups and downs, but definitely curious to watch; and the same can be said about Ricky and Charles, too. Their storylines intertwine with each other quite harmoniously. The humor is nice – it’s not jokes based, but rather an additional filling for the events.

However, the ending of the season seemed to me a little too cautious – there is no twist there, no cliffhanger, which sends a message that life goes on as usual, and could go on like that indefinitely, that there would be new things to overcome, but they will come and go, same as everything else. This kind of attitude is somewhat threatening, because it relaxes the writers (because it’s pretty much all the same, so why bother), and relaxed writers are not a good thing for drama. Of course, we would have to see how it would pan out in reality; so far all is pretty great.

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Frasier (s.08, 2000-01)

In the 8th season of Frasier the lie of the land disturbed by the Niles and Daphne’s mutual affection finally unsealed slowly restores to the usual state – over the course of the season, that is. Consequences of the sudden shift (necessity to uphold Niles’s fake marriage, law suits from Donny) fade away rather quickly; and N & D’s relationship slowly evolves to come to a turning point at a later stage, when psychological issues connected with it are recognized. Frasier goes through several unsuccessful relationships himself, reconnects with Lana (the homecoming queen) and becomes a sort of friends with her, which brings him into a relatively more significant relationship with woman named Clair. He also receives a lifetime achievement SeeBee award, goes into midlife crisis, and expands his show with a wine tasting section for a brief period of time. Roz struggles to find a proper man for herself, gets a god, and almost writes a children’s book. Daphne gets fat; Niles throws a basket ball and hits the target. Martin dates 2 women simultaneously, but fails both relationships; he later attends the parole hearing for the guy who caused his injury. The season ends with everybody going to Belize for a vacation.

This season is pretty great, even though the dramatic intensity is nowhere near what was fueling the previous one. Still, it’s a lot of fun to watch the development of all the principal storylines, most of all – that of Niles and Daphne’s relationship. I was a little worried it would be killed off somehow, but the writers chose to embrace it instead. The thing with the psychological issues accumulating during their first year and then bursting blended rather perfectly with Jane Leeves’s pregnancy, which was turned to the story’s advantage as the overeating problem. Frasier’s midlife crisis provoked by the SeeBee award is also a quite important landmark in the development of his character. Martin’s being at the parole hearing was a really nice touch as well, especially with him not being forgiving and not telling his close ones about it – this adds some cold reality to the whole thing.

At that, the quality of humor remains at pretty much the same level as it was before. Also, there were a lot of cases of sitcom entanglement, but none of them were concocted but quite plausible instead. The french break-up thing was really good (#15), as well as the John Glenn bit (#16; although that one can fuel some idle-headed conspiracy theories), the N&D’s transition to physical relationship was executed really nice (#19), as well as their relationship flashbacks, which were embedded rather skillfully, finally, the whole Claire intrigue was quite entertaining.

All in all, the show keeps being great, and for the 8th season in a row it’s kind of big deal.

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The Good Guys (s.01*, 2010)

The Good Guys is an action comedy and a police procedural. It is about 2 detectives brought to work together as partners: one is Dan Stark, a great 1980s cop, whose methods are outdated and rough, but effective, second is Jack Bailey, a playing-by-the-book type, a complete opposite of Stark. Both got demoted to work on property crimes (burglaries, petty thefts, etc.), which is what they do, except that every single case they got leads to something significantly larger, mostly due to pure chance. They try very hard to get back to a better league, and they do produce results, but methods by which they produce them cancel out the positive outcomes, so they just preserve their position without moving forward. Over the course of the season Bailey tries to win back his ex-girlfriend, who’s a smoking hot assistant DA, while Stark manages to charm the hell out of every middle-aged woman he gets to deal with.

It is a comedy, so there is no cross-cutting story here; every episode tells a separate one connected to the others only through the main characters and their relationships with each other. The core idea is far from being original (starting with “opposites improving each other” and up to the concept of police procedural that does not deviate from the standard very much), plus a lot (no – A LOT) in those stories depend on coincidence and/or pure luck, but the execution is actually quite nice. The stylization, sound effects, etc. irritated me at first, but they are not so bad, really. The humor is good, and sometimes even great. There are a lot of wonderful secondary and circumstantial characters.

Frankly, I thought it would be a drag, especially considering unnatural for a comedy overall length, but it was enjoyable. The show’s nothing much from a position of the art of cinema, but it’s surely a wonderful entertainment. Real pity it was cancelled – by all means, it was better than Castle‘s 3rd season with which it partially overlapped. By the way, these 2 shows are very close to each other in terms of format, although they are defined differently. All in all, The Good Guys is a nice option for killing some time.

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Frasier (s.07, 1999-2000)

Frasier‘s 7th season is probably the most significant one so far. Over the course of the season: Frasier dates several different women (a child’s book author who resembles his mother; a new neighbour; a high-school crash), but none of the relationship sticks; he progresses as a radio host, almost gets his own TV show with Bebe, almost finds roots in the Romanov royal family, and gets problems with his back; Roz continues to raise her daughter as a single mom; Martin gets new glasses. However, the real development sits in the confluence of Daphne’s and Niles’s storylines, because the thing we’ve been anticipating for so long finally happens: while preparing for her wedding with Donny Daphne finds out you know what. Niles, who engages in a relationship with his ex-wife’s plastic surgeon somewhere in the middle of the season, doesn’t learn about the change in the state of affairs for quite a while, which allows Daphne’s confusion (and feelings) to evolve, then several more complications occur along the way, and in the season’s finale something happens that is wonderful and terrible at the same time.

All in all this season is a rather ordinary one, meaning it’s pretty good but (apart from N&D intrigue) not really special. Martin and Roz get to the center of attention less frequently than before, and Frasier is the same old Frasier, with expected quirks and whims. Humor is pretty much the same we got accustomed to, but the level of dramatic elaboration grew up substantially.

The development with Daphne and Niles is the real gem of the season – and of the show in general. I believe, it can be compared to Rachel learning about Ross’s feelings at the end of season 1 of Friends, with one distinction – in this case the anticipation was being build for 6 long years, which imparted a specific tincture to the situation. The evolution of this storyline is well thought-out, there is enough time for it to grow, and key events are located in all the right places. Needless to say, acting is up to the knocker as well, same as every other element out of which this whole thing is constructed. Without any doubt – this is a remarkable job executed with amazing skill and passion.

No matter how it all will pan out in the following seasons, this one elevated the show to a new level.

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The Wrong Mans (s.01-02*, 2013-14)

The Wrong Mans is an action comedy about, as the title suggests, a couple of random people caught in the middle of very dramatic events. Over the course of the show there were kidnappings, shoot-outs, car chases, terrorists, biological weapon, lots of conventional weapon, mob dealings, sinister prospects, explosions, deranged parties, martial arts, prison break-outs, intelligence services, parachuting over the border, nazi treasure, and other stuff of similar nature, but all with a touch of realism (as opposed to action genre clichés) mostly presented in the form of 2 main heroes, who are quite ordinary, who react correspondingly to whatever’s going on around them.

A lot in the story is dependent of chance, on things that simply happen for no particular reason; given the number of various coincidences piling on top of each other, plot’s overall likelihood is pretty low, but this is actually not a drawback, but a selling point: it’s all interesting and funny in part because stuff like that never happens to common folk. The authors of the show aimed at unfamiliar combination of action and feasibility, although I don’t think they knew exactly what they gonna get. While the show is actually great, both conceptually and in execution, the extravagance of that combination seems to be a little uncomfortable. It’s the same thing that was not quite right with The Brink: even though it is a wonderful story, well placed and implemented on a high professional level, because of the unfamiliarity the audience didn’t buy into it 100%, which led to show’s short lifespan.

All in all, this is a very enjoyable movie experience; the show pans out as an action, and as a comedy both; acting is great; special effects are brilliant. It may be a little amiss (as compared to audience’s expectations), or it may be ahead of its time, it’s hard to tell, but either way it’s worth watching.

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Frasier (s.06, 1998-99)

In season 6 of Frasier following stuff happens: Frasier deals with the loss of his job for a while, fails to find a new way for himself, and gladly returns when the status quo is restored; he goes through several short-lasting relationships of various significance level, including Martin’s friend’s daughter who saw him mostly as a counselor, a lady named Cassandra from work, and a jewish girl named Fae – every one of this relationships was eventually blown; Niles continues his painful journey through the divorce, which at some point comes to an expected finale; he struggles with his desire of Daphne, who is still unaware of his feelings; Daphne hooks up with Niles’s divorce attorney and gets engaged to him; Roz is being a single mother; she also finds out about Niles’s crush; Martin endures his break-up with Sherry, and later tries to date on several occasions, including a relatively lasting relationship with a woman named Bonnie, but it ends in the season’s finale, along with Niles’s surprising intrigue with a waitress and Frasier’s relationship with Fae.

All in all, the season is more or less what you would expect from Frasier after watching 5 seasons of it. Roz goes a little bit to the background – her single-mother situation could’ve been developed in much more detail than that. Frasier’s storyline feels like the default one – it’s good, but not the one you love. The most interesting here is the development of Niles-Daphne line, especially such rather radical events as Daphne’s engagement, which seems to be quite serious, and finalization of Niles’s divorce, which is a significant step ahead as well.

Other interesting things include: Woody Harrelson appearance as his character from Cheers; the way Frasier contrives to undermine every romantic relationship he has, at that – in a new fashion every time; origin of Maris’s money (and the way the absent character is used over the course of this season in general); the character of the lawyer (played by Saul Rubinek); Daphne’s web chatting in episode #19; dr. Nora  (episode #20, played by Christine Baranski); and the way Niles handled the sudden story turn with Daphne’s engagement.

All in all, very enjoyable comedy, funny and ingenious, not unlike before, but with story moving a little bit further than usual.

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Wasted (s.01, 2016)

Wasted is a tiny British comedy about a group of friends, one of whom just returned after a year of absence. Kent was trying to start a career as a DJ, but failed in that undertaking, and came back to his home town, where he reunited with his friends – Alison, Sarah and Morpheus. Together they get into various kinds of shenanigans, which is pretty much the whole content of the show.

The series, as it is very much obvious from the annotation above, is not exactly original in terms of the concept, but the good news is that it doesn’t make it any less wonderful. The characters, the pattern of relationships connecting them to each other, as well as the execution of specific stories, – the combination of these factors is what makes the show a very curious phenomenon.

All of the heroes are well thought-out; each of them is a bright, albeit seriously weird personality, and they click with each other in a way that produces rather spectacular adventures. And considering that they live in a small town with not much going on, it says something.

Each episode is shaped in a different style with its own set of techniques, which, interestingly enough, doesn’t seem eclectic, but imparts certain allure to the whole thing. One story device in particular deserves a separate mention: Morhp has an imaginary spiritual guide, who appears to him in the form of Sean Bean (played by himself) dressed as his character from the Game of Thrones; unlike most of the other stuff, this thing is being used in every story in this first season, – and splendidly so.

The humor is really good. The stories are all ingenious and interesting. The stylization is brilliant. All in all, this is an outstanding comedy, although I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody as it involves a lot of drinking and using drugs. But those of you who are not children and not prudes, I would advise to watch it. Totally worth it.

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Frasier (s.05, 1997-98)

In the 5th season of Frasier everything keeps being pretty much as it was from the start. With regard to specific events, here’s the general picture: Frasier celebrates his 1000th show on the radio station, takes Bebe back as his agent, and hosts annual SeaBee awards; he doesn’t engage into any long-term relationship, but goes through several flings, including one with a supermodel, another one with a high-end lawyer, and yet another one with a modern artist; Martin eventually breaks up with Sherry; Niles almost reconciles with Maris, but she starts an affair, so they end up divorcing each other; he then tries to start things with Daphne (which is also the only significant event in her life this season), but, as usual, something comes up; Roz gets pregnant and has a baby as a single mother.

In terms of the quality, as well as of the essence of the environment, nothing changes much, except that there is much less of Frasier’s show and, correspondingly, of the callers. The accent is shifted towards characters’ personal lives and stuff that happens outside of the radio station. Which adds some irony to the fact that the season ends with all the station staff pretty much dissolved. Event though the humor in general is rather high quality, there was 1 episode (#21, about the noses) that stands out with its unnatural deliberateness.

The most curious episodes were: the one with all the outdoors (#5; also includes the title song performance), the one with different perspectives (#9), the one with Niles and Lilith accidental affair (#15), the one with Niles’ and Daphne’s ‘date’ (#20), the one with Bulldog’s heroism (#18), and the one with the dissolution (#24).

Thanks to the finale, that was quite unexpected, I’m quite curious as to what happens next. All in all, the show remains just as enjoyable as before.
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Silicon Valley (s.04, 2017)

In season 4 of Silicon Valley, Pied Piper continues to struggle for existence, which is never a sure thing due to Richard Hendricks’s self-perpetuating streak of bad decisions. Pivot into video chat business doesn’t seem to work out, and not just because they are unable to find funding for it, but also because Richard hates the idea. He comes up with a more ambitious task of creating a system of distributed data storage that he prefers to call the New Internet. However, the funding is still a huge problem, so the team goes through some rough times, disintegrating and coming back together again, almost sinking Gaving Belson along the way, and constantly creating various kinds of disturbances, which they manage to survive thanks mostly to pure luck.

The density of the narrative was quite thick before as well, but in this season is keeps growing even more: pretty much every episode contains a huge amount of events alternating with breathtaking speed, and many of them are significant for the story. Frankly, this kind of tempo is a little daunting; it seems agreeable only because of the humor, which remains really high quality.

On the other hand, some of the characters, including Hendricks, continue to lose their integrity with frightening speed, and that makes the story discordant: I want to empathize with the guys, but it becomes increasingly harder, because they keep making rather nasty decisions as they go along. Those decisions are funny, but at the same time – not at all, and that makes me feel conflicted about the show, which is rarely good for a comedy.

Of course, the writing is still exquisite, there’s a lot of great ideas, and ties to reality are very curiously designed. Plus, like I said, the humor is a very strong feature of the show, and there are no signs that it’s gonna change in the forseeable future. I don’t know if the depreciation of the heroes is going to harm the series, but the tendency seems worrisome to me.

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Frasier (s.04, 1996-97)

Fourth season of Frasier is little different from any of the previous seasons, and appears to be their direct continuation, both in terms of the story and in terms of the environment (universe of discourse). Every principal character on the show goes through certain stages of the love life quest: Frasier dates randomly and inconsistently; Daphne says goodbye to the most serious relationship she had in a long time and suffers corresponding consequences; Martin engages in a very significant relationship of his own, which nobody is really happy about, except for him, of course; Niles adapts to living without Marice, and even goes to dates, but ends up back where he was; and Roz dangles around like she usually does. The constant dancing between Niles and Daphne goes on as it was, and gives the audience several moments where the long-awaited shift seemed oh so possible, but nothing happened still, – just like before.

So, yeah, the world of Frasier is really steady, and changes very slowly. That makes the fact that the writers still manage to come up with new ideas, and, more importantly, execute them in an interesting and funny way, all the more impressive. Even though most of the episodes are not too far above middle level for the 1990s american sitcoms, some are written in a particularly sublime fashion, and raise the general level of the season quite substantially.

Among other things, I try to follow any signs of the times changing: the 1990s were an interesting epoch, with lots of extremely new things, so it’s especially curious how all that novelty pierces through the concepts constructed on the basis of the previous era results. It is not surprising, that there’s very little of that stuff in Frasier, but it’s not a complete absence. Curiously enough, there were no mentions of the Internet whatsoever, but there were at least 2 different mentions of Microsoft (and that’s pretty much it).

More importantly, of course, is that the show is pretty funny, even to me, even after all these years. I especially liked the Thanksgiving episode (#7), the one with the dog psychiatrist (#12), the one where Megan Mullally appears (#13), the one with the radio play (#18), the one with Daphne’s american accent (#19), and couple of others. All in all, I enjoy the show quite a lot, and it’s consistency adds the comfort of a familiar continuum.

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Veep (s.06, 2017)

In 6th season of the Veep, Selina Meyer is dangling between jobs, desperately trying to stay afloat. When she decides to have another run at the presidency, nobody gets happy about that at first, but the subsequent thread of events, including Selina’s project of library in her own name, her attempts to muscle in on real people’s achievements, and her bookwriting efforts, as well as great deal of random, leads to a sharp U-turn in public opinion about her, so by the season’s finale the idea doesn’t seem that preposterous anymore. As for the team, it gets scattered, with Dan Eagan transitioning to the role of a TV news host, Amy Brookheimer going to work for a Congressional candidate, Mike McLintock taking family leave, and Ben Cafferty joining the team of Jonah Ryan the congressman, same as Kent Davison; but none of them is happy about the new arrangement. Selina’s daughter Catherine is running the Meyer fund together with her wife Marjorie, and then they decide to have a baby.

All in all, Veep remains an excruciatingly brilliant comedy. It’s humor is bold and loud, and wonderfully subtle at the same time. The story is very well thought-through, both on the level of the arc, and in every separate episode. The dialogs are skillful and crisp. The characters, new ones same as old, are all quite deep and funny, – but along with admiration I feel more and more often slight disgust because of the ways they chose, which (inadvertently or not) imparts a very specific flavour to the show (like some national cuisines allow for cooking meat that started to turn; and some others – for eating molded cheese). It’s not a bad thing, nor good, it’s just what it is.

Groundwork for season 7 is done, and it has been scheduled for the next year already, so, I suppose, we’ll see if the fact that Iannucci no longer writes for the show had any longterm negative effects. But so far, so good.

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Frasier (s.03, 1995-96)

In Frasier‘s season 3, Frasier falls in love (but it doesn’t end happily), finally forgives a woman who fled their wedding, almost has a thing with Rose, and reminisce about his first week after coming back to Seattle; Niles gets separated from his wife Marice; Daphne acquires a boyfriend and learns how to dance; and Martin writes a song, but doesn’t succeed with it.

The quality in general is preserved on pretty much the same level: the show is funny and interesting, but not without occasional lapses in judgement. I liked most of the season, except for a few episodes, which wasn’t an influence setting the tone. The dancing episode was quite brilliant, as well as Frasier’s affair and Niles’s divorce storylines.

The latter is especially interesting, because it deals with a very curious device that was often used in sitcoms at the time when they dominated TV comedy scene, but not anymore (mostly because there is no dominating subgenre at the moment) – the absent character. In this particular case, it’s Marice, Niles’s wife, who is constantly spoken about, but who never ever was personalized. In this season he storyline takes a rather drastic turn – the divorce, after all, is a huge deal, especially when it may remove her from the characters’ list for good; but, of course, there is a good possibility that this is only flirtation, and she would remain in main characters’ lives in one capacity or another. I suppose, the technique may have originated from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot; it can also be said, that whenever there is a persistent evildoer in a procedural drama (a maniac, a superkiller, a criminal lord), whose identity remains mysterious for the major part of it, it is a mutated variant of the same device. I wonder if it can be actually applied to a more traditional drama.

I like that a lot of the show is written by smart people: for instance, it’s from Frasier’s lines I realized that there is a difference between ‘love’ and ‘like’ (especially when it comes to family relationships), which never occurred to me before. Also, being a psychiatrist, he gives people decent, workable recommendations, even though he relies too much on the book wisdom and neglects the everyday kind of it.

P.S.: Curiously enough, this might be the project when Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan (creators of Modern Family) became friends, as they both worked as writers on Frasier for at least this season.

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Flaked (s.02, 2017)

Second season of Flaked follows the Chip story after the unfortunate public meeting. He’s an outcast now, despised by everyone; his relationship with London is developing, but all the difficulties they encounter (no place to live, lack of money, etc.) threaten to ruin it to the ground. Dennis opens a wine-store, or, at least, tries to do it; he later engages into a relationship with his new neighbor, who turns out to be George’s daughter. Cooler looses his lease, and is forced to live in his car for some time, which doesn’t effect his cheery optimism all that much, and then he meets a woman. Chip eventually confesses to London his big secret: he still fails to repair what has never worked properly, but at least they get some clarity.

On the one hand, the overall development seems more or less plausible, especially the development of the relationship with London storyline; all the relapcing is shown rather authentically (although I believe things like this should be emphasized a little more clearly); the acting is fine, as well as the new characters. But Chip becomes more and more repulsive with each episode, as he appears not only a chronic liar, but also a person who can easily abuse somebody’s trust for merely a glimps of benefit. This character is donwright unpleasant, and attitude he provokes kind of spreads onto the show in general. Also, there’s an issue with the story digressing almost entirely into the relationship stuff, which makes it, basically, a melodrama, because most of it ends unnormally happy, and the thragic nature of the rest is a bit too tragic.

All in all, it’s not that bad, really, but it’s worse than (most of) the 1st season; and the troubling tendency leans towards soap, which is never good. Still, there’s a hope, albeit a decrescent one, that the next season would be better than this.

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Frasier (s.02, 1994-95)

Second season of Frasier is a rather good one. The story/environment evolves, but very, very slowly; in terms of the story, only a few events were significant enough to effect the personalities of the heroes: there was certain resolution in the relationship of Frasier with his ex-wife; Martin solved the case he’s been struggling with for many years; Daphne received an upgrade and asserted herself in the Frasier’s apartment more or less definitively; Frasier, in his turn asserted himself with the radio station more definitively by renegotiating his contract; also, the Crane brothers tried to run a restaurant and failed miserably.

Of course, there’s more to that; there are stories not as far-reaching, but interesting nonetheless, and there are some not so great ones, as well; more importantly, there’s a lot of humor, and most of it is pretty good. Stories about Daphne’s room (ep. 17), the blackout (ep. 24), the triple translation (ep. 21), the restaurant drama (ep. 8), Frasier being robbed (ep. 14), contract renegotiation (ep. 22), are all really good. The one about the restaurant business (ep. 23) I didn’t like very much – the disaster is just way too symmetrical (life usually includes amounts of chaos here and there), more like geometry than paintings, didn’t seem plausible. But other than that, the season is great – funny, entertaining, low bullshit level.

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Flaked (s.01, 2016)

Flaked is a tragicomedy about a recovering alcoholic named Chip, whose life has rapidly changed after he killed a person while drunk driving some 10 years ago, and who since then relocated to Venice, California, and gradually became a renowned member of the community by trying to help those around him. He cultivates a friendship with a guy named Dennis, who lets him live in his house, and maintains a business of making stools, though not a very successful one. When a new girl starts waitressing in his favourite restaurant, Dennis immediately fells for her, but so does Chip, and though he tries to keep away from her, the chemistry between them soon becomes indisputable. Also, the era of new technology comes to Venice in the form of large Internet companies, as well as real estate developers, which arouses resistance reaction in the community, and, because Chip has certain connections (his famous and wealthy ex-wife is in a relationship with one of the key developers), he manages to overthrow the redevelopment project, – or does he?

Up until a certain point, the show was great, even amazing. The story is simple, yet deep enough to be interesting; the characters – well-elaborated; story turns – curious and quite unexpected. The atmosphere, and well as the whole environment mutation premise, is savoury and rich with ingredients; all in all, it was pure pleasure to watch it.

But then came the finale. The last episode spoiled everything. First of all, it introduced the final story turn, which turned out to be so spectacularly trite, I felt it like a personal betrayal. If not for this ultimate-truth-that-threatens-to-ruin-everything bullshit, even hero’s selling out (which is the second bad thing about this episode) wouldn’t have been all that disenchanting, but 2 of them combined feel kind of like you’ve been eating in a nice restaurant, and every single dish was perfect, so you dig into the last one, not expecting any foul play, and suddenly it’s a piece of tofu, or something equally terrible. And the worst part: there was no need for either of those things, they weren’t exactly driven by the story, but added simply for the purposes of intensification. Sadly, that miscalculation ruined all the previous hard work.

I’m still going to see the 2nd season, though: for one thing, it’s not that large, and also I’m curious as to how would they extricate themselves from that mess.

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Frasier (s.01, 1993-94)

Frasier is one of the most successful sitcoms of the 1990s. It is a spin-off of another successful comedy that dominated american TV in the 80s – Cheers – and follows one of its characters, doctor Frasier Crane (played by Kelsey Grammer), as he moves back to his hometown of Seattle and becomes a radio host. The story revolves around Frasier’s efforts to reconstruct his life, and reconnect with his father, a retired policeman Martin Crane (played by John Mahoney). Other primary characters of the show include Frasier’s brother doctor Niles Crane (played by David Hyde Pierce), his producer Roz Doyle (played by Peri Gilpin), and his father’s physiotherapist Daphne Moon (played by Jane Leeves).

First of all, I should make it clear that I haven’t seen Cheers, but, considering that Frasier was written by completely different bunch of people (although James Burrows, one of Cheers‘ creators is a director here), I don’t see how that might be a problem. For what it’s worth, my perception may be clearer and less prejudiced without prior influences.

So, is this show worth watching? I think it is. I didn’t detect any falsity in any of the situations, or consistent lines of relationships. The actors are all pretty great, which might have helped a lot with that, but primarily it’s because of the writing, which was of good enough quality. I can’t say it’s amazing, or anything like it, but it’s quite good in general, and there are no silly or stupid solutions, like I feared, and also the humor is very good. Not hilarious, but really funny, – great jokes were present in every episode. Another important thing: there is no sag towards melodrama whatsoever, but emotional component is not at all abandoned. I’d say, the series, at least in this 1st season, is very well-balanced.

That being said, one should keep in mind that it’s the middle of the 90s, and TV developed a great deal since then, meaning the setting, the demeanor of the characters, as well as certain fundamentals of the environment (like the radio talk show) are somewhat outdated. If you can make peace with that, I think, you’d enjoy the show quite a lot, same as me.

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Benidorm (s.04, 2010-11)

Benidorm‘s Christmas special is dedicated to, and built around the death of Mal Harvey, which was necessary because the actor playing him (Geoffrey Hutchings) did actually die. The episode explores a brief period of wealth in the lives of the Garvey family. Following season features some of the old characters, but also has a significant influx of new ones. The Garvey’s come without their older daughter, Chantelle; Mrs. Maltby comes accompanies with her daughter instead of son (she also takes the place of Kate Wheedon as a person who constantly whines about how awful this holiday is); the fatter Ramsbottom comes with a friend instead of his long-time partner; the Stewart couple is as filthy and adventurous as usual; there’s also transvestite man Les with his son; young girl Natalie with her friend; and, as usual, Mateo the bartender.

It would seem that the change of the series’ format is followed, with certain timeout) by the change of the essence, which is basically a drift from comedy towards dramedy, although considering a heavy admixture of emotional bullshit of various kinds, I would rather call it melodramedy. It becomes increasingly story-centered (with the Garveys in the core) rather than environment-centered. It also becomes less and less amusing – I don’t even want to use word ‘funny’ here, because there wasn’t a single funny joke in the whole season.

As soon as I watched the special, I realized how perfectly mediocre this whole thing is; while watching the 4th season I was looking searchingly for any reasons to keep on doing that in the future as well, – alas, I didn’t find any. There is no hope it would ever evolve into something better; that is, there is some development, of course, but the direction of it leaves pretty much no chance of growth. Which is why I’m not going to torture myself any further.

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Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (s.03, 2017)

In the 3rd season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy decides to go to college, and actually gets into Columbia; she almost becomes a crossing guard, and acquires the closest thing to a boyfriend; Titus comes back from the cruise, breaks up with Mickey only to realize eventually that it was a mistake, records a hit song about things that are of no interest to him, and almost becomes a Sesame Street cast member; Jacquelin marries Russ Snyder, but looses him to fame and vanity, manages to change the name of the football team to an even more offensive one (but for a different group of people), and eventually finds a  path of her own; and Lilian meets a wealthy guy, whom he fights at first, but then falls in love with.

The spirit and essence of Kimmy is exactly as they were from the very beginning: the show is incredibly inventive and rich with jokes, gags, situations, characters, background humor. It’s funny and exciting, it’s interesting and absurd and provocative and satirical, and it’s implemented on an amazing level of sophistication and mastery. I enjoyed it immensely, but couldn’t help but feel like it’s a bit overwhelming – by the end of the season I became a little tired of the perpetual torrent of everything, and some things even started to irritate me, – which is not the problem of the show’s quality, not at all, but maybe it would’ve been best to reduce the number of episodes to, say, 10. Because I remember feeling the same way after watching the 2nd season as well.

All in all, though, every episode of the show is undoubtedly a masterpiece of comedy, and a wonderful journey. I’m not sure, if such comparison is consistent, but still: against comedies like Benidorm, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt feels like Albert Einstein against a school teacher of physics. Goes highly recommended.

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Benidorm (s.03, 2009)

In its 3rd season Benidorm changed its format – each episode is now ~45 minutes long instead of ~22. As for the story, it is continued in an expected way: free vacation vouchers awarded to the guests after the unfortunate hostage situation are cashed out by almost all of them, so pretty much the whole gang is assembled. Martin, though, comes without Kate, and brings a “friend” instead, one who would cause a major trouble further ahead. Garveys, Ramsbottoms, Stewarts, all doing their usual thing; Mateo remains in his place as the hotel employee; and Geoff Maltby comes to leaving his mother closer than ever after something sparkles between him and Chantelle.

Seems like the change of format wasn’t just a technicality, but rather signified the process of reframing the whole thing, even though the list of characters barely changed – judging from what info is available on wiki, next season would bring a larger renewal of the cast. As for the quality, I felt like the narration became more confident, like Litten stopped simply fooling around and provided himself with a development plan. At that, the humor remained as it was: the show is more amusing than it is funny, which is totally fine, because the author is simply being subtle, and doesn’t really try to force audience into laughter.

Whatever sentimental bullshit was present in the previous season’s finale, is now evenly distributed across all of the 6 episodes, which makes it tolerable. Also, in this season trips outside of the Solana territory became much more common, which is probably one of the reasons it seems more diverse and therefore more interesting.

All in all, the growth is quite obvious, and I hope the tendency to it will remain future seasons’ hallmark as well.

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Mom (s.04, 2016-17)

Mom‘s 4th season is about the same things as previous ones: the Plunkett family and their friends and acquaintances going through another year of their lives. Christy studies to become a lawyer. Bonny manages the new relationship. Jill comes up with a wish to have a baby and ends up being a foster-mother. Others have some insignificant stuff going on as well.

I watched this season only because the mixture of immiscible substances that constitutes the essence of this show seemed curious to me. Nowhere else have I seen attempts to show absolutely non-funny things, like death, rape, or relapsing, in a comical way; it’s an interesting experiment, really. Unfortunately, this season brings me to conclusion that it doesn’t work. This particular experiment doesn’t work, that is, and not just because the task seems unyielding for the writing crew (which it is), but mostly because even those pieces that have no reason not to be funny are written on a level that is mediocre at best.

I was a little bored during this viewing, so I counted every joke that seemed more than amusing to me; turns out, there were 3 such jokes per episode at best, and most of the episodes had less, and some of them had none at all. That is terrible statistics. I’m not sure why people keep watching this, except, maybe, because it deals with stuff a lot of people care about, you know, drug dependency and all that. For me it’s not enough, so I’m giving this up. The show’s just not worth the time.

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Benidorm (s.02 + The Special, 2008-09)

Second season of Benidorm is about the same exactly thing as the 1st one: british people taking their vacation in an all-inclusive Benidorm hotel. Faces are pretty much all the same; the stories are different. This time the Garvey family is brought by a Madge’s boyfriend, who almost dies several times over the course of the holiday. Geoff Maltby ones again comes with his mother. The Wheedon couple tries to book a different hotel, but ends up in the hated resort anyway. Then there’s the gays, sexually adventurous elderly couple, several new characters, and, of course, Mateo.

The fact that all those people happened to stay in the same hotel at the same time – again – is a big stretch, but that would’ve been completely insignificant if not for the lack of novelty in humor. Separate stories may be more or less interesting, but none of them is actually funny – amusing at best. Unlike in season 1, there is a story arc here (with the Madge’s relationship and eventual marriage) – although, it doesn’t make the season interesting, it still creates some comfortable steadiness.

Some of the stories are particularly curious, including the one with the bull-fight, the one with the arm wrestling competition, and, I suppose, the one with the marriage. The special, that continues the cliffhanger of the final episode, resolves the story, but seems to me overly pretentious and not funny enough.

The acting is fine, but I would like to single out Siobhan Finneran, who was pretty great this time.

All in all, this comedy is not exactly terrible, but also far from great. It seems worse than the 1st season (maybe because of the increased running time), and I can only hope it will get better in later ones.

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Modern Family (s.8, 2016-17)

Eight season of Modern Family follows Pritchett-Dunphy family into yet another year of their lives. As usual, nothing big happens. Alex studies at college, taking time for the family once and again, and starts dating. Haley goes into her own business – sort of. Claire continues to run Jay’s company. Phil and Jay buy a land plot together and build a parking lot there. Gloria keeps on being Gloria. Cameron and Mitchell keep on being Cameron and Mitchell. Lily turns out to be smart, fun, and popular. Manny and Luke graduate high-school.

Very little has actually changed – including the general quality level. The show is fun, interesting, funny, and implemented in the most sublime manner. Overall story development is good: there is nothing fake or implausible (but also nothing genius). Separate stories are pretty great – well, some of them, others are just good. The acting is as nice as expected. When it comes to the main cast, or to the writing, there are no surprises, which is good on the one hand, but on the other – not so much. This is preservation, but it feels like a hint at decline.

Over the course of the season multiple guest stars were cast, most interesting being Nathan Fillon, Vanessa Bayer, Kelsey Grammer, Andrew Daly and Jane Krakowski. They added some poignancy to the show, made it fresher and brighter.

Although, Modern Family is still pretty amazing (which is a great achievement for a show running 8 years in a row), and nothing important was lost along the way, I feel like continuing it even further would be a mistake. I hope, I’m wrong about this, though. For now it’s a great entertainment, and a decent contribution to the art of cinema.

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Benidorm (s.01, 2007)

Benidorm is a British comedy about a Spanish resort. It is comprised of storylines that follow various groups of British tourists who came for an all-inclusive vacation: a family of 5 whose grandma loves smoking and sun-bathing more than anything else (washing included), and whose daughter is pregnant in her 16; a couple of gay guys; a family of two going through a hard time; a pub-quiz champion of England with his mother; sexually adventurous elderly couple, etc.

The idea is a good one, a fortunate guess, – a highly volatile environment of an all-inclusive hotel-resort is filled with opportunities, which is a great source of life for a comedy. (I suppose, the fact that the show has recently finished its 9th season, is the proof of this source’s richness.) There is a lot of funny in the show, and I love how the intersections of the stories are done. The acting is good enough – for a British comedy, that is. My overall impression: nice and cute and enjoyable, albeit small-scale. The show has a lot of potential, and so far there is nothing rotten in it.

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