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‘The Unicorn’ Could Be Network TV’s Next Great Comedy

CBS harnesses the power of Goggins into one of the season’s most intriguing new series.

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It’s strange to think CBS, the network behind 2 Broke Girls, The Big Bang Theory, and The Odd Couple reboot would be considered a trailblazer of the sitcom industry; by all accounts, CBS has applied their comedic and dramatic templates repeatedly (and effectively) over the years. But as everyone tries to figure out their place in the new television landscape, CBS has been a network showing why it remains the #1 network on television (a fact it flaunts during every commercial break); because in between those long-running standards, CBS is exploring series like God Friended Me, Mom, Limitless (RIP)… and most recently, the already-underrated The Unicorn.

What really makes The Unicorn special is its ability to successfully navigate the cliche-laden landscape of domestic dramas and family comedies – and occasionally, transcend them in subtle, exciting ways.

The Unicorn, though a single camera comedy, follows in the same iterative vein we’ve seen recently on the network, especially with series like Mom and Elementary; The Unicorn is uncannily familiar, both in terms of format and content. But inside that familiarity, The Unicorn pushes its genre forward in small, but interesting ways, a story blending grief and inspiration that’s become a rather charming, surprisingly moving little comedy through its first ten episodes.

The Unicorn

Starring Walton Goggins as Wade, a widowed landscape architect, trying to figure out what the rest of his life looks like after losing his wife to cancer. Smartly, The Unicorn is set a year after Wade’s tragic loss; it’s been long enough that his family’s re-established some semblance of normalcy, but not long enough for Wade, or his daughters Grace and Natalie, to really be comfortable in their new, unexpected life.

Given the somber nature of its premise, it would be easy for The Unicorn to fall into a bottomless pit of saccharine family stories, and forget that it is a comedy first. Thankfully, The Unicorn has the limitless talent of Goggins at their disposal, which gives the series unexpected versatility; his ability to move between moments of humor and emotion provide the very building blocks for the series’ DNA, channeling it into a rather touching little series about family, fatherhood, and marriage.

It helps that it features two extremely talented young actors playing his daughters; Ruby Jay (as Grace) and Makenzie Moss (as Natalie) are both fantastic in their roles, allowing the dynamic play out in multiple generations; how does Wade approach being a single man and a father, and how do his two daughters grow up without their mother around?

The Unicorn

As trite as it may sound, trust me: The Unicorn has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, to keep itself from feeling like a carbon copy of the many, many family dramas it shares a premise with. The most obvious are its priorities about being a comedy of life, rather than a comedy of grief: The Unicorn leans on its supporting cast of characters to bring color to Wade’s world, where the aforementioned shades of Cougar Town come shining through. With its ancillary characters, The Unicorn is still able to tell stories of partnership and parenting, finding contrast in the differences between their lives and Wade’s, an how much easier the trials of adult life are when you have someone next to you through it all.

It also helps it has one of the best supporting casts on TV: Rob Corddry and Michaela Watkins are phenomenal as Wade’s closest family friends, an upper middle-class family fighting the attrition of repetition by embracing each other’s zany qualities. They provide the comedic energy, where Omar Benson Miller and Maya Lynne Robinson offer some of the more traditionally satisfying family stories, with a chemistry and delivery most young shows would kill to have; an arc where Miller’s Ben tries to recapture his old personality, or recurring jokes about them constantly having other people’s kids wandering around their home, show a mature, developed understanding of its core relationships, immediately establishing it as one of the season’s more intriguing debuts.

What really makes The Unicorn special is its ability to successfully navigate the cliche-laden landscape of domestic dramas and family comedies – and occasionally, transcend them in subtle, exciting ways. This potential can be seen most clearly in “Wade Delayed” and “Turkeys and Traditions,” the show’s seventh and eighth episodes. In “Wade Delayed,” writer Jacque Edmonds Cofer separates Wade from his family, forcing him to contend with the fact that he’s the only remaining parent in their life, and the anxiety that could so easily form around that idea – and snowball, to the point Wade is having a panic attack during a plane takeoff.

The Unicorn

During his panic attack, “Wade Delayed” displays a remarkable amount of patience, letting the camera linger on Goggins as Wade tries to gather himself mentally, faced with a stressful situation where he’d normally lean on his wife. It is visited again in “Turkeys and Traditions,” pausing for a long shot after he reads a note his wife wrote on a family Thanksgiving recipe: it gives a presence to his passed wife (in a way that sidesteps the easy-to-apply criticism of fridging on its premise), and it also allows Goggins to tap into his evocative talents, capturing brief moments where Wade’s well-chiseled facade falls away, and he feels just as lost as he did the day his wife passed away.

Thanks to Goggins and the exquisitely cast group of talent around him, The Unicorn is able to coast through some of its more familiar beats, and really dig into the moments of clarity it offers its main characters as they make their way through life’s mundanities. It is measured in a way so many comedies of its ilk are not, not afraid to let moments linger, or scenes carry on for a few beats longer than you’d expect. The rhythm is consistent, but slightly unfamiliar, in really exciting ways: though after 10 episodes, The Unicorn hasn’t done anything I’d call particularly revolutionary – but to its credit, it’s also not trying to bite off more than it can chew.

I’ll always be the first to argue there is always room for family comedy; whether that comes in the form of Cougar Town, Fresh off the Boat, or even something like Go On, there’s a certain reliability to be found in well-told versions of established concepts. The Unicorn is exactly that from episode one – but in its most recent run, has hinted at being something slightly more than that, slowing down its pace every so slightly to tell contemplative stories about failure, unexpected connections, and the human mind’s uncanny ability to move on (even if our hearts aren’t ready to). In those moments, The Unicorn shows a ceiling higher than anyone could’ve expected, one I hope the series finds in 2020.

The Unicorn airs Thursdays at 8:30pm ET on CBS

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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The Mid-Season Replacements Podcast Episode 3: “Big Space Energy”

On this week’s episode, Randy and Sean exit the atmosphere to examine the state of space science fiction in today’s TV landscape.

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Lost in Space

On this week’s episode of The Mid-Season Replacements Podcast, Randy and Sean buckle up and head into the great beyond of space-based science fiction on television, and what happened to a genre that used to be an American institution. After a larger discussion about cultural attitudes towards exploring the stars, and the impact of changing TV habits and the proliferation of superhero stories on the genre, our esteemed explorers have an extended conversation about The Expanse and Lost in Space, the two most prominent non-Star Trek or Star Wars outer space shows on TV.

Opening Track: “Main Title Theme,” Lost in Space OST, Christopher Lennertz (original theme by John Williams)

Shows discussed: Star Trek: Discovery, The Orville, Other Space, Avenue 5, The Expanse, Lost in Space (2018)

The Mid-Season Replacements Podcast is a weekly show hosted by Goomba Stomp and TV Never SleepsRandy Dankievitch and Sean Colletti, with new episodes debuting every Wednesday.

Listen here on iTunes, YouTube, follow us here on Spotify, or listen/download using the embedded player below.

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Wrestling

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: The First-Ever Tag Team Tables Match

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First-Ever Tag Team Tables Match

Royal Rumble 2000

The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz

The 2000 edition of the Royal Rumble, which was held at the Madison Square Garden on January 23, is without a doubt one of the best WWE pay-per-views ever! It’s an absolute classic filled with memorable moments such as The Rock’s unforgettable Royal Rumble win and the street fight between Triple H and Cactus Jack. It also featured the first-ever Tag Team Championship Tables Match between two of the most significant tag teams a the time.

The WWF WWE has always had some truly amazing tag teams— from The British Bulldogs to The Rockers to The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express— but it was at the turn of the century that the tag team division really started heating up with competitors taking it to a whole new level in jaw-dropping hardcore matches, table matches, ladder matches and of course, TLC matches.

Leading this resurgence were The Hardy Boyz and the recent ECW defectors, The Dudley Boyz and at the 2000 Royal Rumble, the two teams would showcase their stuff in an unforgettable championship match that featured high-flying, no holds barred action.

The First-Ever Tag Team Tables Match

It was the second match of the night and it was a match that would foreshadow the legendary TLC series between The Hardyz, The Dudleyz and fellow tag team competitors Edge and Christian. Taking the opportunity to impress a large pay-per-view audience, the two teams delivered a phenomenal showcase filled with several high-octane stunts and high-risk maneuvers.

In order to win the match, you had to put both members of the opposing team through a table. This meant that fans would be treated to seeing at least three tables smashed before the end of the match. However, these trailblazers wouldn’t settle for just three; by the time the bell rang, at least nine tables had been destroyed.

The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz Royal Rumble 2000

The match only lasted about twelve minutes, but it was an astonishing tag team match no less, and one filled with plenty of highlights including a mid-rope Powerbomb that sent Matt Hardy through a table. At one point, the Hardy Boyz gained the advantage with a double superplex to Bubba Ray and after a devastating chair hit across Bubba’s forehead, Matt and Jeff Hardy simultaneously performed a diving leg drop and a diving splash, sending their opponent through the table.

The match eventually carried onto the entrance as the Dudley Boyz stacked two tables on top of two other tables under a balcony. In a moment that would define what the tag team division would like over the next several years, Jeff Hardy dove off the balcony and delivered a Swanton Bomb to seal the victory.

The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz Royal Rumble Tag Team Championship Tables Match

There are many reasons why wrestling fans remember the Attitude Era as the peak period of the WWE. Not only did it have edgier, controversial storylines, often pushing of the boundaries of what could be shown on national television, but the Attitude Era also featured a plethora of incredible performers, and yes, that includes many legendary tag teams. In the eyes of many wrestling fans, the Attitude Era featured the best tag team matches — and you’d be hard-pressed to find any other era in the WWE that had as much talent in the division.

The match between the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz at the Royal Rumble not only put both teams on the map, but it set up one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the WWE. It was the first-ever Tag Team Tables Match, and in my opinion, it is also one of the most underrated matches of the pay-per-view.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series. Click here to see every entry.

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TV

‘Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet’ Levels Up Gaming’s TV Reputation

PAX South Preview

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Mythic Quest

Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is a faux-documentary series for Apple TV+

From the very start, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet had a bold task ahead of it: take the relatively marginalized medium of gaming and represent it for a mainstream TV audience. Going off the first episode, which received an early screening at PAX South this weekend, the result is something of a mixed success. This Apple TV exclusive suffers some pacing issues and sometimes struggles to rise above the stereotypes of the typical office comedy, but at the same time, it manages to represent a wide view of gaming culture for mainstream media, offering a unique setting that allows it to rise above its shortcomings.

Mythic Quest follows Rob McElhenney as Ian Grimm (perplexingly pronounced Eye-an), the creative director of the world’s most successful MMORPG, the eponymous Mythic Quest. This cultural phenomenon is about to receive its first major DLC pack, and just before launch, the development team breaks down into conflict over one major issue: the inclusion of a shovel.

The lead engineer, Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao) is in support of the shovel’s inclusion as a new game mechanic, while Ian is insistent that it conflicts with his artistic vision. This conflict grows to a massive scale, to the point where it involves the entire game studio by the end of it. Each member of the development team has their own perspective on the matter, and their own personal storylines to go along with it as well.

The first episode of Mythic Quest may only be a half-hour long, but it stuffs tons of subplots into that brief runtime. And with so little time to work with, most of these side stories are left largely undeveloped, with most characters remaining little more than caricatures and stereotypes. The episode rushes from one subplot to another, and although this is likely a symptom of this being the first episode in the series, that doesn’t change that the pacing could have felt more natural.

That all being said, the main appeal of Mythic Quest is its setting of the world of game development, which it aims to legitimize in mainstream media. McElhenney even acknowledged as much himself in a Q and A following the screening, mentioning how gaming is often relegated to the butts of jokes and is rarely taken seriously – except when it can be sued as a political scapegoat. Mythic Quest thus addresses many of the hot topics of the industry, including crunch time, playtesting, artistic differences, toxic content creators, and the tendency of gamers to make penises in their games whenever possible.

It’s these vestiges of gaming culture that help Mythic Quest stand apart from the crowd of typical workplace comedies. It includes jokes based on full-motion video modeling, on faulty character animations, and a running gag about an immature, potty-mouthed streamer, to name a few. It’s a unique setting that appropriately allows for unique humor.

On its own, Mythic Quest is filled with stereotypes. Ian is the pretentious, self-obsessed boss, Poppy is the sensible yet underappreciated one, and so on. Yet it is the setting and the context for these stereotypes that breathe new life into them. Gaming is essentially a new frontier for mainstream comedy, so it’s refreshing to see these old tropes in a new light.

Following the screening, McElhenney stated that Mythic Quest was intended to present the issues facing the games industry in an accessible manner for a popular audience. In that regard, the first episode is already a success. As a show on its own, it suffers from a handful of stereotypes and succumbs to some pacing issues, but hopefully, these can be patched out in the context of the full series. Mythic Quest certainly isn’t perfect, but considering gaming’s poor reputation in previous media, then it’s certainly a level up.

Mythic Quest airs on Apple TV on February 7

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