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Scrubs Season Two Episode 8 Review: “My Fruit Cups” Haphazardly Finds Its Way

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“My Fruit Cups” is a strange episode to wrap one’s head around, a haphazardly constructed 22 minutes trying to introduce a lot of major character beats in one fell swoop. Rather than lean into the neat delineation formed between its two generations of characters – the residents are financially restless, while Carla and Cox deal with more mature familial issues – “My Fruit Cup” tries to follow the typical Scrubs formula, mushing all of its stories and ideas together into one linear narrative. As a byproduct of that approach, “My Fruit Cup” feels like 80% of the episode it needs to be – particularly in the final act, where it feels like a large chunk of the dramatic crescendo is just missing.

Like life, “My Fruit Cup” is anticlimatic, messy, and fumbles at finding emotional resonance.

Everything starts off strong enough; as JD, Turk, and Elliot scramble to manage their massive student debt from medical school, they find themselves overextending themselves. Working night shifts at clinics, hustling extra hours at the hospital, taking side jobs… it’s all on the table for our three residents – especially JD and Turk, who don’t benefit from the WASP-bankrolled lifestyle Elliot’s grown accustomed to.

Scrubs My Fruit Cup

Seeing JD and Turk steal supplies from the hotel is an infinitely relatable moment for anyone who had dorm bathrooms; it’s a rare moment where Scrubs really, truly engages with the financial realities young residents face (a problem that’s only exacerbated itself over the past 15 years, as college prices continue to skyrocket). In fact, Turk is working so much it is affecting his relationship with Carla – which is beginning to get really serious, as we eventually learn during the messier moments of “My Fruit Cup.”

It’s not often the Sacred Heart crew deal with external stressors; being a series specifically insulated to its primary location, it’s not often Scrubs engages with the every day lives of its characters (beyond dating and the occasional family drama, at least in early seasons). And though “My Fruit Cup” is only engaging with this idea to further the more central Turk/Carla story of season two (that is, will Turk propose?), it is still some of the most fascinating material of the season, led by a hilarious montage set to Barenaked Ladies’ “If I Had A Million Dollars” (which has now been replaced by some lifeless Parkas song).

The larger Turk/Carla story, however, turns out to be a major stumbling block: once again, Scrubs‘ grip on Carla seems tenuous – though this episode is ostensibly about her relationship with Turk, 90% of her dialogue in “My Fruit Cup” revolves around an off-screen family drama regarding care of her mother. To further the weird construction of this story, JD is the one who teases out the bigger nugget tucked in: Turk is preparing to propose to Carla – even though he seemingly pays no attention to what’s going on with her family, a strange development when the episode explicitly wants to find poignancy in their developing love.

Scrubs My Fruit Cup

Instead, it just feels out of left field, especially considering how much of an afterthought it feels: the real focus of “My Fruit Cup,” after all, is the return of Cox’s ex-wife Jordan, now wickedly pregnant and flailing to find stability in her life. A large bulk of the episode is dedicated to this conflict, enjoying all the space Turk and Carla’s story desperately needed – though to its credit, Cox’s realizations are much more poignant and moving than Turk’s hesitant “excitement” at the thought of proposing to Carla.

Jordan’s return is a major kick starter for the second season of Scrubs: it is the beginning of Dr. Cox’s maturity, the catalyst for the single strongest, most meaningful arc of the series. Just as Cox is settling into a rhythm with his new girlfriend (Heather Locklear, whose presence is greatly diminished from that of “My First Step”), Jordan returns, pregnant and determined to get Perry back in her life.

For Cox, it is the great turning point in his life, a moment that hints towards some of the darker aspects of their relationship (note how she says “I decided I wanted you back“… it is an important distinction a later episode will touch on). It suggests Cox’s self-loathing has some deeper seeded issues, and doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with his so-called ‘hatred’ of Jordan – after all, it only takes a few minutes before Locklear’s Julie literally disappears from the frame, and Cox is admitting Julie had no chance once Jordan re-entered the picture.

Scrubs My Fruit Cup

The problem is how “My Fruit Cup” jumps from premise to conclusion; there’s a really strong scene in the middle where Jordan confesses her fear at becoming a mother while crying on a bathroom floor, but it is completely untethered from the more dynamic journey of the episode, Cox’s realization that he doesn’t have to continue to torture himself for the rest of his life.

This idea was teased at the end of season one, but it’s been left dormant as season two’s slowly built out the families of its main characters. With Jordan back in his life (and someone’s baby on the way), “My Fruit Cup” reminds us the transformative powers a family can have on people. “My Big Brother” already defined this for JD; “My Fruit Cup” draws even more from this well of conflict, contrasting Elliot’s controlling family with the one Cox decides to build for himself: where Elliot tries to rebel against her father pushing her into the expected OB/GYN career path, Cox embraces the good and bad of his own family – the family he chose, not the biological one forced upon him.

But both are similar in how they present Elliot and Cox with the challenge of finding inner peace: Cox knows the things that make him happy also make him miserable, while Elliot’s consumed by the expectations of her father (not to mention her financial dependency). But sometimes logic needs to be thrown to the wind: Cox accepts insanity if it brings him happiness, just as Elliot is willing to accept the financial consequences of forging her own career path in medicine.

These are tough choices for our main characters to make; but like Turk’s change in mindset, they are necessary building blocks for the growth of our characters (which is why JD is left out of the deeper beats of “My Fruit Cup”… his character growth is both the slowest, and the most delayed). Which makes the third act of “My Fruit Cup” so strange, and jarring: Scrubs just kind of glosses over the more important internal developments of its characters, utilizing a hilarious Julia/Jordan montage, and some quick footwork with Carla and JD, to get the other characters where they need to be.

It feels underdeveloped in a way most of Scrubs‘ larger beats don’t; it just kind of happens, a collection of moments “My Fruit Cup” plays into the drama of. There’s Cox’s dramatic reveal in his apartment, JD’s touching conversation with Turk, and the silent image of Carla consoling Elliot as she packs up her apartment; all worthy climactic moments of their own, forced to share the spotlight under the guise of Scrubs looking to the future – specifically, as JD says, “maybe the best thing to do is figure out where you’re going, and enjoy where you’re at.”

A wonderful notion, but it’s one that tries to unify everything in “My Fruit Cup” under a faulty resolution: “My Fruit Cup” is very much about its characters looking towards the future, understanding the situations they’re currently in aren’t sustainable for their happiness. And “My Fruit Cup” doesn’t do the legwork to isolate that idea from its “living in the moment” conclusion: while it is a touching, believable notion, it’s not one the events preceding it feel like they’re subscribing to. JD may not say he’s worried about his college debt; but then why is he so uptight about Turk’s “finder’s fee” – and why is he so adamant about stealing things from the hospital, even when he knows the Janitor is breathing down his neck?

Like many of Scrubs‘ closing monologues, the less thought about JD’s final words, the better: the meat of “My Fruit Cup” is really strong, even if it doesn’t find a unifying theme to marry the many pieces of subtext together. Like life, “My Fruit Cup” is anticlimatic, messy, and fumbles at emotional resonance: though it doesn’t make for an entirely satisfying episode, it remains a rather important entry in Scrubs‘ sophomore effort, an important foundation piece for some of the series’ most important overarching journeys.

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

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A Doctor Who Christmas: Revisiting “Voyage of the Damned”

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Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today, we look back at the Doctor Who Christmas special, “Voyage of the Damned”.

What’s it About?

First broadcast in December 2007, “Voyage Of The Damned” runs 72 minutes long and is the third Christmas special since the show’s revival in 2005. The Doctor finds his TARDIS colliding with a luxury space cruiser (based on the RMS Titanic) during a Christmas party. The ship’s captain, Hardaker (Geoffrey Palmer), sabotages the cruise liner by purposely lowering the ship’s shield, resulting in severe damage after colliding with several asteroids. It’s up to the Doctor (David Tennant), with the help of a waitress named Astrid Peth (Kylie Minogue), to fight off robot-like creatures in the form of golden angels and save the day.

voyage-of-the-damned-17

Review

A festival of ideas, bursting with wild imagination, ambitious set pieces, strange characters, curious visual effects, and one charming Doctor who had this critic glued to the screen midway through, when he turned around to deliver this rousing monologue:

I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the Constellation of Kasterborous. I’m 903 years old and I’m the man who is gonna save your lives and all 6 billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?

This time around, the mammoth cruise ship struck fire (not, ice) and the passengers are a sordid bunch including robotic golden angels armed with killer boomerang-like-halos, and a dwarf named Bannakaffalatta – a cyborg Zocci who strangely resembles Darth Maul. We learn that due to an accident, Bannakaffalatta had undergone conversion into a cyborg, for which he felt shame because apparently where he comes from, cyborgs are discriminated against. “Voyage of the Damned” features a batch of religious imagery (including a messianic portrayal of the Doctor himself being carried away into space by two of the angels), and the blank and trite performance by the beautiful pop sensation Kylie Minogue, (whose role was specifically written for her).

Voyage of the Damned

For a Christmas special, we get a number of casualties along the way, including Bannakaffalatta’s self-sacrifice and Astrid’s fall into the fires of hell. One could accurately describe this episode as The Poseidon Adventure in space, a nightmarish schematic rhapsody of virtuous discomfort. “Voyage” doesn’t end on a happy note. Sabotage and corporate greed destroy our ragtag bunch of passengers, and those who are lucky enough to survive do come out with lasting scars. Not much Christmas cheer here, but the script is sprinkled with clever comedic moments from time to time, including a surprising gag involving the royal family.

Astrid’s final appearance comes in the form of “an echo with the ghost of consciousness”; her stardust-hologram-like image fades after a final kiss. Perhaps a tad bit corny, but the sequence is enough to bring a tear to the eyes of die-hard Whovians. “Voyage” is ridiculous, but also oddly fun in the sheer overkill of pulp and fantasy imagery. Technically it impresses, loaded with eye-catching-hi-tech chase scenes and more importantly, characters and a plot (even if incoherent) to support them.

doctorwhovoyageofthedammbed

Is this thrilling no holds barred sci-fi/disaster mash-up brilliant or idiotic? Perhaps a bit of both, but “Voyage of the Damned” satisfies because of its strong emotional core and unnerving dark themes couched in stunning visuals. This visually arresting, occasionally funny ride is neatly wrapped in a comfortable Yuletide package.

– Ricky D

How Christmassy is it?

Despite the high death toll and the titanic setting, “Voyage” strangely delivers a Christmas vibe, if in scenes few and far between. I would say 50/50.

You May Like It If…

Obviously, if you like Doctor Who, disaster films, and science fiction.

Voyage of the Damned
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Revisiting The Sopranos Christmas Special

25 Days of Holiday TV Specials

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To Save Us All from Satan’s Power

The Sopranos Season 3

Episode 10: “To Save Us All From Satan’s Power”

Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today, we look back at The Sopranos Christmas episode.

Note: It’s difficult to really encapsulate the events that take place in this episode without spoiling it since so much of it’s impact relies on the events that take place during the three seasons prior. I won’t be going into any specifics about the episode to avoid spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t watched the entire third season. With that said, if you haven’t seen an episode of The Sopranos, I highly recommend you start since it is one of the greatest TV series of all time. Apart from that, I hope my review will simply serve as a reminder for fans of the show.

What’s it About?

The annual pork-store holiday party is fast approaching, but Tony Soprano isn’t feeling the Christmas spirit. A visit with the ghosts of Christmas past lands Tony back on his psychiatrist’s couch. Meanwhile, the gang needs to find someone to replace Pussy and don the Santa suit. While the memories of Tony’s friend continues to haunt him, he tries to find time to balance his work with his family life.

Sopranos Christmas Special

Review

Every year around Christmas, there are two stories guaranteed to pop up on television: A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. Both have inspired countless adaptations, spoofs, homages and so on – but who would have ever guessed Frank Capra’s classic would have somehow inspired an episode of The Sopranos?

The Christmas episode, nicely titled “To Save Us All From Satan’s Power,” sees Tony Soprano dealing with the death of a good friend. As always, Tony is our focus. Tony may be a mobster but he’s just as human as any of us, and the holidays have him looking back at the important events that unfolded in his life that year. Much of season three sees his friend’s death snake around the edges of the stories. This episode is all about Tony dealing with his guilt, betrayal, paranoia – and his doubt concerning a decision he recently made. The challenge for Tony is to overcome these obstacles so that he can hopefully look ahead and start his new year fresh.

Sopranos Christmas Special

Unlike George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life), who overcomes his depression by remembering all the people who love him and all the ways that he’s helped others, Tony instead realizes just how much he has lost. Using very clever flash-forwards and flashbacks, the nonlinear structure of the episode presents his deceased friend as both a literal and figurative ghost. Nearly every scene of “Satan’s Power,” is haunted by this ghost in one way or another, even if he’s not physically (or spiritually) present.

For an episode this late in a Sopranos season, there’s not a lot happening, plot-wise. “Satan’s Power” is a fairly insignificant episode in advancing the season-spanning story arc, but while the mob business is barely present (outside of a few flashbacks), what’s really important is the emotions and the memories Tony’s dead friend brings. Combine the characters, the story, the message, and the acting, and it’s easy to see why this is a holiday favourite to revisit every year during the holidays.

Big-Mouth Billy Bass closes off the episode. Tony’s torn expression dissolves into the rolling waves as gospel music gradually kicks in, drowning out Billy’s voice. Tony’s friend may be gone, but his memory will forever live on. “Satan’s Power” carries a powerful emotional punch and is a necessary pause in a season-long storyline.

Sopranos Christmas Special

How Christmassy is it?

Unless you’re a mobster or a family member of one, you won’t be able to relate to the character’s inner turmoil, but it still has one hell of a Christmas feel. It may not be very cheerful, but it does revolve entirely around the holiday and features a scene from A Wonderful Life. It also features a ton of Christmas classics, including “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “The First Noel,” “Little Drummer Boy”, The Chipmunks’ “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” and “Santa Baby,” among others.

Who’s it for?

Since it doesn’t really work as a stand-alone episode, I’d recommend it to fans of the series who may have forgotten about the episode.

Other observations:

The best line comes from Paulie Walnuts: “In the end, fuck Santa Claus.”

Ricky D

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Best TV Shows of 2019 (So Far…)

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Best TV Shows of 2019

The Best Shows of 2019 Part Two

Trying to decide the best television series of 2019 is no easy task since there’s way too much to choose from. It’s hard sometimes to know where to draw the line and how many shows we want to include. For example, should we consider game shows or talk shows or the 6:00 evening news? Why is it that only prestige dramas and sitcoms usually make the cut? What’s even harder is trying to rank these shows in order of our favourite to least favourite. How, for example, do you compare a comedy/drama about an anthropomorphized, talking horse with an in-depth documentary series about the Central Park Five? As I said, it isn’t an easy task and when deciding what to add to the list this year, we considered every sort of television programming you can imagine, from Jeopardy to AEW Wrestling to the NBA Finals and everything in between. With that in mind, we’ve narrowed down our personal favourites and have listed these shows in alphabetical order. Here is the second half of our list of the best TV shows of 2019. You can find the first part here.

Mom Best TV Shows 2019

Mom

Entering its sixths season with 110 episodes under its belt, one might surmise Mom‘s latest offering is a rather safe endeavor, settling into the established rhythms of the series with the lower stakes that often come from a group of characters well-settled into their lives. As it always does, though, Mom continues to buck tradition and expectation with perhaps its best season yet, refusing to ever let its main characters – and their larger group of friends and fellow AA attendees – get comfortable, even for a second.

Mom‘s sixth season is as impressive as its first, because of its ability to continue challenging its characters, masterfully walking the thin line between nuanced character study and broad network comedy. Never pandering or exploitative, Mom never forgets it is a show about a group of addicts: but it also recognizes itself as a show about white women of some level of privilege, constantly challenging and humbling Christy, Bonnie, and the gang (which now includes the legendary William Fitchner) as they try to navigate their complicated lives (and remain sober doing it).

Though I do wish the arcs of Tammy and Nora through the season a bit more defined, Mom remains the most rewarding show to watch about a community of women (sorry, Big Little Lies). For a sitcom on CBS, Mom remains surprisingly limber in its advanced age, able to be funny, poignant, and emotionally devastating in the same breath: few shows on television are able to balance so many emotional tenors, even fewer with the same poignancy and effortlessness Mom pulls off every week. (Randy Dankievitch)

Best TV Shows 2019

Mr. Robot

When Mr. Robot hit the scene five years ago, it was one of the breakout critical sensations of that year. It was a series that was legit must-watch television thanks to its tremendous zeitgeist appeal and Rami Malek’s performance as the disaffected hacker protagonist Elliot Alderson. Mr. Robot put its network, USA, on the map and made Malek a bona fide star. It revived the career of former Hollywood bad boy Christian Slater and it made creator-writer-director Sam Esmail one of TV’s most talked-about new auteurs. There was a time when Mr. Robot was considered the best show on television, but all the plaudits Mr. Robot received for its first season died quickly with its meandering second, as fans grew tired of Esmail continually toying with viewer perceptions. The third season was an improvement, but despite some truly outstanding episodes (most notably “eps3.4_runtime-error.r00”), it still felt like it was trying too hard to outsmart the audience. By the time season three ended, the conversation had moved on and Mr. Robot felt stuck in the past.

Thankfully, Mr. Robot returned with a satisfying, thrilling final season that surprised its fanbase and kept them at the edge of their seats. The stakes in season four are higher than they’ve ever been—opening with a major character death and making it clear that Elliot’s mission to take down Whiterose and the Dark Army was going to come at a high cost. What’s more, is that Mr. Robot’s fourth and final season has taken its stylistic ambitions to new heights. Mr. Robot has always been fond of experimental filmmaking in the television landscape—  in season three, Sam Esmail constructed a brilliant hour that was filmed and edited to seem as if it all done in one long, continuous single shot— but this season’s direction is truly special. For the most part, Esmail has maintained his undeniably unique aesthetic, taking full advantage of negative space, vertigo-inducing God’s-eye perspectives, Dutch angles, shadowy faces and of course, using a wide lens in tight spaces. The blocking of scenes involving each actor is the sharpest it’s ever been, and the art direction still feels somewhat revolutionary. There’s no denying Mr. Robot is one of TV’s most stylistically and creatively adventurous and season four brings even more to the table.

Writer and director Sam Esmail (the show’s creator and showrunner) has once again directed every single episode of the season and with each season, he becomes better and better at his craft. Episode four titled “Not Found” is one of the strangest (and best) Christmas episodes ever— as Darlene, Dom, Elliot, and Tyrell face their demons on Christmas Eve. The season’s fifth episode — “405 Method Not Allowed” is one of the most inventive entries to date and features just two lines of spoken dialogue as Elliot and Darlene undertake an ambitious heist. If that isn’t enough, halfway through Mr. Robot’s final season, Sam Esmail puts together a gripping bottle episode structured as a play in five acts, which focuses exclusively on Vera’s kidnapping and subsequent emotional manipulation of Elliot. “Proxy Authentication Required” is a riveting hour, relying heavily on extended conversations and superb performances by Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Elliot Villar and Gloria Reuben to reveal a pivotal moment in Elliot’s tragic past. With “Proxy Authentication Required,” Esmail comes across as a modern-day Hitchcock— the episode is exhilarating, horrifying, and thrilling, despite never leaving the New York apartment.

Much as been said about how the show critiques consumerism, the internet, capitalism, and the use of technology to oversee and control our daily lives—but Mr. Robot is and has always been foremost, a story about mental illness. At the center of this show is Rami Malek whose emotional range as an actor has helped carry the series through both the highs and lows. Season four is a testament to his incredible talent and that of Sam Esmail who’s given us one of the decade’s signature prestige dramas. (Ricky D)

Best TV Shows 2019 Now Apocalypse

Now Apocalypse

Once considered the angriest, most unconventional, and relentlessly intriguing voices in independent cinema, Gregg Araki first made his name as a filmmaker in the 90s, emerging as part of the new queer cinema movement when his third feature, The Living End— a controversial road movie about two HIV-positive runaways who go on a violent cross-country spree. From there, Araki went on to make several more features including Totally Fucked UpThe Doom Generation and Nowhere (which would become known as the Teen-Age Apocalypse Trilogy) and his most famous film, Mysterious Skin: the coming of age drama about a small-town rent boy played brilliantly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

If you’ve seen any of the Gregg Araki’s films, you should know what to expect from Now Apocalypse, his surreal, coming-of-age comedy series that … wait for it … explores identity, sexuality, and artistry while navigating the strange, dangerous and oftentimes bewildering city of Los Angeles while the main protagonist Ulysses, is having premonitions about the end of the world. Sound familiar?

Co-written by Araki with sex columnist Karley Sciortino, the new half-hour sci-fi comedy from Starz is bound to confuse viewers who have little-to-no previous exposure to Araki’s body of work – which is fine by me because despite its utterly ridiculous plot, Now Apocalypse features everything you’d want from a Gregg Araki series. Now Apocalypse is unapologetically queer, quirky, mysterious and fun. And while it is admittedly a huge mess, it is also never once boring and quite frankly, refreshingly different from everything else on TV.  (Ricky D)

Best TV Shows 2019

Primal

One of the biggest surprises of the year came from Adult Swim and Genndy Tartakovsky with Primal. Set in a fantastical version of prehistoric times, Primal sees its two speechless protagonists travelling together across a brutal and unforgiving wilderness after a series of tragedies bonds them together. 

Though the tale of this unlikely duo and their journey is compelling enough, it’s the jaw-dropping animation that will keep you coming back for more. Tartakovsky is best known for sillier fare like Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Laboratory but his work here is some of the most stunning artistry you’ll see in the entire industry. 

At a mere 22 minutes an episode, Primal is absolutely worth a look for anyone with even a passing interest in animated entertainment, and with the season being broken into two parts (with the second part coming in 2020) there’s plenty of time to get caught up before we see how this intense, bloody tale comes to a close. (Mike Worby)

The Righteous Gemstones Now the Sons of Eli Were Worthless Men

The Righteous Gemstones

Though Danny McBride’s HBO work is often remembered for its audacious humor, it’s the fascination with modern Americana that truly makes Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals memorable series – which in a way, makes him an unnatural fit for a series as big and loaded as televangelism. And yet, The Righteous Gemstones hits the ground running, a comedy about the intersection of religion, business, and family, in one of 2019’s more interesting shows about inter-generational conflict – and more prudently, honesty and forgiveness.

Led by Edi Patterson’s mesmerizing performance as forgotten Gemstone sibling Judy (who surprisingly outshines John Goodman, an unhinged Walton Goggins, and Danny McBride), The Righteous Gemstones is the rare comedy that is as reflective as it is funny: even in the age of Peak TV’s hybridization of traditional genres, Gemstones is one of few series able to nimbly jump between identities.

Perhaps most importantly, it is as confident a comedy as there is on television, a conviction of theme and character that only grows stronger as the season builds its dramatic crescendo, resulting in one of the most satisfying season finales of the year. (Randy Dankievitch)

Best TV Shows 2019 Russian Doll

Russian Doll

Russian Doll may very well be the very best TV series Netflix has produced to date. Co-created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland, the series stars Lyonne as Nadia Vulvokov, a New York woman celebrating her 36th birthday, who is doomed to repeat the same endless time loop before she dies at the end of the night each time — only to awaken the next day having to start all over. Every time she thinks she might make it past the reset point, she dies again and again. The stakes are eventually raised when Nadia meets Alan (Charlie Barnett), a fellow wanderer who is also stuck in his own depressive loop. What starts out feeling like a zany homage to Groundhog Day unravels to becomes something darker,  deeper and far more complex. With so much bubbling under the surface, one could say, it’s a show carefully constructed like, well, a Russian doll.

One of the most straightforward threads of Russian Doll considers addiction which makes sense considering Lyonne has spoken about how parts of the story were inspired by her own history with drugs. A more popular reading is that the curse placed on Nadia and Alan could stand in as a metaphor for mental illness as they struggle to find a way to end the loop, only starting to realize that they need to first seek the emotional closure in order to overcome their own personal struggles before moving on. Meanwhile, Russian Doll has also drawn comparisons to video games such as The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask in which Nadia, who just so happens to be a video game designer, must race against the clock in order to avoid death, and avoid starting all over again. Along with themes of trauma and existential questions about the construction of the universe and the importance of human connection, one’s interpretation of what the show is all about may vary from person to person. Somehow, though, Russian Doll manages to address all of these subjects and more, weaving countless themes and cultural references into a tight three-and-a-half-hour running time in which not a second is wasted. (Ricky D)

Netfxlix The OA Part 2 Best TV Shows 2019

The OA: Part II

There’s nothing on television like The OA, a show about trauma, companionship, love… and traveling through parallel universes by doing an interpretive dance. Nearly two and a half years after its strange, hauntingly beautiful debut, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s ridiculous, heartfelt series returned a completely different animal, trading in its poignant, quiet reflections of season one into a loud, vibrant kaleidoscope of utterly ridiculous stories.

There are deadly online mobile games, a telepathic (and horny) octopus, and mini-robots who dance the movements: these are but a few of the ridiculous twists and turns offered in The OA: Part II, which is somehow a more ostentatiously opaque, thoroughly challenging offering than its predecessor. Unlike anything else on television, The OA: Part II demands audiences to trust it, to believe in the utter bullshit it portrays as plot development on screen – a challenge it most certainly meets, with a welcome earnestness and disregard for formula, or at times, even basic coherency.

It is an utterly confounding, beautiful work of art: The OA: Part II is unforgiving and bold, one of the rare television series that is truly “like nothing else on television.” In 2019, that is a harder and harder thing to claim, but there is nothing like The OA‘s exploration of identity, destiny, and even reality. It is something you must truly see to believe – especially its ending, one of the most purely bat shit crazy plot twists I’ve seen in the Peak TV era. (Randy Dankievitch)

Succession

The first season of Succession didn’t get the attention it deserved when it premiered in 2018 but fast forward one year, and HBO’s darkly funny drama about the Roy family (the dysfunctional owners of a global media and hospitality empire who are fighting for control of the company) became one of the most talked-about shows of 2019.

It’s easy to see why it took so long for viewers to warm up to Succession given that the characters in Succession are despicable creatures and will do everything in their power to get their share of the family media empire. This is a show about rich people— there’s no way around it— but Succession does not glamourize their wealth nor does it makes no apologies for it. The truth is, the characters in Succession are some of the worst people you’ll see on television with each episode steadily and surely raising its characters up to new levels of horrors. The Roys are destructive people and they and their organization cause other people to suffer and sometimes self-destruct in front of them, but they are so far removed from reality that they cannot see the harm it inflicts on others. Or maybe, they just don’t care. Whatever the case, Succession finds pleasure in awful people trying—and failing in doing awful things to one another. After each episode, it becomes clear that despite having wonderfully written characters, there’s nobody to root for. What makes the second season of Succession an improvement, however, is how it examines what happens when that power and privilege are stripped away.

The word “Shakespearean” is often mistakenly used to describe high-prestige dramas but in the case of Succession, it feels like the best descriptor for the series. Succession isn’t what you’d call a very cinematic series. Its strength lies in its theatrical quality, sharp writing and exceptional performances that bring a new level of sympathy for some of television’s least likable characters. In fact, several episodes don’t do much other than place the central characters in a confining space and allow the selfish one-percenters to try and outdo each other’s depravity. It is an act of torture, and yet, you can’t help but watch the drama unfold. And the reason we enjoy watching them plot, bicker, argue and backstab each other is that despite its deplorable characters, Succession is extremely funny.

The season finale itself, is one of the best hours of television this year, as we watch nearly all the members of the Roy family and their business colleagues attempt to decide who among them should be sacrificed in order to save the rest. Without giving away any spoilers, the final shocking twist nearly broke the internet and left viewers clamoring for more (Ricky D)

Superstore Best TV Shows 2019

Superstore

Perhaps the last great remaining workplace comedy on network television, Superstore‘s fourth season slowly shifts itself away from the melodramatics of its predecessor… and in the process, establishes itself as one of the more heartfelt and progressive shows on TV. More importantly, it does so without pretension, even though just about every major narrative arc of the season hinges on relevant social movements (like immigration, unionization, corporate capitalism), Superstore never lets these moments overwhelm its eclectic, lovable cast of characters, one of the most hilarious (and diverse) on television.

There are too many satisfying arcs to list here (though Amy’s ascension to store manager is a personal favorite) – but it’s the final four episodes of the season, culminating in “Employee Appreciation Day,” that firmly cement Superstore‘s legacy as one of the decade’s great ensemble comedies (and in a roundabout way, everything Aaron Sorkin wishes The Newsroom could’ve been). It’s striking to see a show (a network comedy, no less) take such strong stances on unions, immigration, and corporate discrimination – to do so while also remaining a deeply rewarding comedy about a cast of blue-collar misfits is something truly special. (Randy Dankievitch)

Stranger Things Season 4

Stranger Things

Stranger Things is so popular that we sometimes forget this once unknown property came out of nowhere in 2016 and surprised the world by becoming the most popular series on Netflix due to word-of-mouth. It was the first original streaming series that quickly became a water-cooler topic and three seasons later, Stranger Things shows no signs of slowing down.

Except for a few missteps, the third season of Stranger Things surpasses the creative heights of the second season if only because it raises the stakes. Not only does season two’s Big Bad, the Mind Flayer return to prey on the residents of Hawkins, Indiana but having Billy as the Mind Flayer’s surrogate villain makes the threat to Hawkins a little more tangible. As awful as Billy was in the second season, it pales in comparison to what the Mind Flayer forces him to do this time around. And thanks to great writing and a superb performance by Dacre Montgomery, we end up caring about Billy once Eleven delves into his memories and we learn why Billy is the way he is. In season two, Billy was the bully but in season three, it’s the bully who becomes the victim and he’s desperately in need of saving. Along with Russian spies, Cold War paranoia, and the arrival of a new shopping mall that puts everyone out of business, the third season of Stranger Things is packed with enough mysterysuspense, and nail-biting tension to keep viewers at the edge of their seats.

Anyone who enjoyed the first two seasons of Strangers Things should no doubt enjoy the third season. The character-based humor, funny quips, excellent cast, period-specific detail, pop culture references, science fiction horror, and moments of fan-satisfying gratification are all present and accounted for. Season Three has everything a fan could want— it’s exciting, funny, suspenseful and features arguably the two best episodes of the series so far. More importantly, the season explores the idea of friends drifting apart. In Season Three, the children have grown into young teens with new interests and shifting priorities and now they must find a way to put aside their differences and work together. Season Three ends with perhaps the most satisfying conclusion yet and features moments that could make even the most jaded viewer teary-eyed. (Ricky D)

Best TV Shows 2019 True Detective

True Detective

After a rocky second season and a four-year hiatus, True Detective has returned at last with what may be its finest noir tale yet.

Focusing on the disappearance of two young siblings, and spanning the course of four decades, True Detective‘s third season enlists the talents of Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff as troubled detectives trying to solve a mysterious case over the course of three different time periods. Moody, atmospheric and haunting, True Detective goes utterly for broke in its latest effort, and is all the better for it.

With tons of twists and turns along the way, a jaw-dropping cast, and a fantastic soundtrack, Nic Pizzolato’s third run at the classic film-noir detective story has reinvigorated the love for this series, and offers plenty of hope for an equally excellent fourth season. (Mike Worby)

Best TV Shows 2019 Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy

This 10-episode Netflix series, which is adapted from the comic book created and written by My Chemical Romance’s frontman, Gerard Way, might have its share of flaws and excesses, but it, for the most part, feels fresh in what is an oversaturated genre. The basic premise revolves around seven kids with superpowers born to different mothers on the same day and brought together as young children by a wealthy inventor and philanthropist Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) who adopts all seven of these miracle babies, and creates an academy in order to teach them how to hone their powers.

Best described as a particularly bleak X-Men story with the musical and visual flourishes of WatchmenThe Umbrella Academy is as stylish as they come – featuring gorgeous costume design, stunning cinematography, dazzling visual effects, colorful sets, and thrilling action scenes. The production design is simply incredible as is the soundtrack which plays a prominent role in bringing several key sequences to life. Take for instance a split-screen shoot-out in a department store as Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” provides the high-tempo backdrop as the action unfolds – or a scene in which the team listens to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” as the camera glides through the mansion capturing each sibling dancing in separate rooms. And underneath all the razzle and dazzle is a brutal portrait of a damaged, unhappy, dysfunctional family that has drifted apart for various reasons and must now band together in order to help each other while also saving the world. The combination of family drama and superheroics is nothing new but The Umbrella Academy shows enough moments of genius, albeit brief, to warrant a spot on this list. (Ricky D)

Best TV Shows 2019

Veronica Mars

While plenty of shows have tried to do the reboot/comeback thing over the last few years, not many have managed to do so as successfully as Veronica Mars. The Hulu revival somehow manages to bring the core characters we loved into a compelling new mystery after a 12 year hiatus. Still in tact are the whip smart writing, red herrings aplenty, and the battle against corruption at every turn.

The crown jewel comes in the form of the strong cast and their chemistry though. Kristen Bell and Enrico Colantoni shine every time they’re on screen together and the new additions to the cast, including Patton Oswalt, all make a strong case for their characters, even as they’re shelving old fan favorites. Still, nearly every character gets a chance in the limelight during this 8 episode return, and the fact that it never feels like overwrought fan service makes it an absolute joy to see them again. (Mike Worby)

Watchmen It's Summer and We're Running Out of Ice

Watchmen

In an age of adaptations, sequels, reboots, prequels, trilogies, and shared universes, Damon Lindelof’s stylish, driven Watchmen series stands out – in fact, it may be the single most affecting dystopian fiction of 2019. It is undeniably the most fascinating; set 37 years after the events of the seminal graphic novel, Lindelof (along with a writing staff that includes Carly Wray, Cord Jefferson, and Nick Cuse) creates an allegorically rich world of masked police, Rorschach-quoting white supremacists, and a couple essential familiar faces.

Watchmen may be the biggest surprise of the year; not in its quality, because the creative talent on both sides of the camera (the cast boasts Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Jean Smart, Jeremy Irons, and Lou Gossett Jr. among its regulars) is quite obvious. What makes Watchmen so unexpected is its fearlessness; in both continuing the legacy of a particularly pernicious, critical piece of American literature, and as a timely series about race in America.

It succeeds wildly at both: led by King’s performance as Sister Night (along with a stunning Jovan Adepo as young Will Reeves), Watchmen is the expected tour-de-force of dramatic prowess, a show capable of beautifully crafted character moments and genuine moments of awe and surprise. But more important is its bracing honesty, a dystopian sci-fi series that is willing to be strange, funny, and strikingly critical all in a single breath. Though we all expected Lindelof’s take on Watchmen to be a gorgeously crafted, wonderous fun house of weirdness, the unexpected sociopolitical weight of his ruminations on the nature of gods and men firmly establishes Watchmen as one of 2019’s great series. Also, the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score fuckin’ slaps. (Randy Dankievitch)

Best TV Shows 2019 When They See Us

When They See Us

Ava DuVernay pulls no punches in When They See Us, a dramatized account of how thirty years ago, five young boys came to be arrested, convicted and sentenced for raping and beating a white female jogger in Central Park, and leaving her left for dead. It is one of the most famous cases of young boys wrongfully accused of a crime they did not commit. The case made headlines around the world and the five teenagers, all of color, would ultimately become known as the Central Park Five. The story of the Central Park Five has been covered extensively by media since, including in the incredible 2012 documentary The Central Park Five, co-directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon. But this scripted miniseries is different and it feels more personal due to DuVernay’s approach in closely examining the five individuals whose lives were turned upside down before they’d even had the chance to finish high school. And in many ways, When They See Us is the perfect companion piece to that famous documentary. Instead of reinvestigating this case, or delving into the circumstances that led up to it, When They See Us focuses more on the suffering the boys endured both when they were forced to do time and when they were released from prison.

The first episode shows how the police department, detectives and lawyers tricked these young boys into confessing to a crime they were not guilty of. The second episode captures the trial and the media hype surrounding the case while the penultimate episode (which brings in four older actors to play the characters as adults), tracks the experiences of Kevin, Antron, Yusef, and Raymond, the four men who emerge from their juvenile sentences and are faced with various obstacles when restarting their lives as registered sex offenders. The final episode which is the most heartbreaking runs nearly 90 minutes long, and focuses on the particular suffering of 16-year-old Korey, the only one of the five sentenced as an adult and winds up spending his time behind bars in various adult prisons. When They See Us is not an easy show to watch but it is essential viewing if you care at all about how unjust the justice system is. It’s a powerful, dense, series that examines not just the effects of systemic racism but the effects of all sorts of disenfranchisement. It is profoundly rich, urgent, unflinching, and DuVernay’s strongest work to date. It might also just be the best series of 2019. (Ricky D)

You're the Worst Pancakes Best TV Shows 2019

You’re the Worst

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece bidding adieu to You’re the Worst, one of the best comedies of the generation. In it, I said:

When the Sunday Funday crew take their final bow, You’re the Worst’s audience will say farewell to an honest portrayal about the pursuit of happiness, and why the “good” emotions of life can often be the most unsatisfying.

The entire final season of You’re the Worst tackles this idea head-on, particularly in the professional lives of its main characters. As Jimmy and Gretchen hurtled towards a wedding neither of them actually wanted, You’re the Worst cemented its legacy as one of the defining romantic comedy of this generation, nimbly moving between stories of professional anxieties and personal battles as it built towards “Pancakes,” the beautiful, bittersweet farewell to Gretchen, Jimmy, Edgar, and Lindsay’s story. Though not quite as potent as it was in its earliest, most revelatory seasons, the continued misadventures of Jimmy’s writing career and Gretchen’s mental health struggles proved to be fertile emotional ground for the show’s final batch of episodes.  Of the many shows to end in 2019, this will be the one I miss the most. (Randy Dankievitch)

PART ONE

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