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TV Never Sleeps’ Best of 2019 (Part 2)

Part two of Randy’s picks for the best of 2019 in television.

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A year of adaptations, sequels, revivals, reboots, and reimaginings, 2019 existed in a space between two eras: the Peak TV era preceding it (that saw so many of its shows end in 2018 and 2019), and the Too Much Fucking TV era in front of it. Despite its strange place in TV history, 2019 was still full of impressive series, performances, and episodes – here are some of my favorites from the year that was (if you missed it, here’s part one):

The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience

The Lonely Island Presents: An Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience

The Lonely Island’s surprise Netflix special was exactly the thing I didn’t know I wanted, until I had it: a love letter to the most self-indulgent, masculine-laden era of American baseball, in the form of a rap music video special. The Lonely Island Presents: An Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience stars Andy Samberg and XXX as Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, in the semi-biographical story of their journey to ascend the ladder of baseball’s greats.

Though one might easily dismiss it as an extended joke about steroids, An Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience is an endearing tribute to two of baseball’s most enigmatic, iconic personalities of the late 1980’s, a celebration of a powerhouse duo of athletes mostly unmentioned in the history of baseball (as the league tries to shoo away anything that has to do with steroid-related stuff from that era). There’s really a surprising amount of pathos in the special, which touches on everything from the loneliness of stardom, to the pressure of expectations, to the absolute god-like feeling of just straight liftin’ something – it all makes for one of my favorite comedies, and one of my favorite albums, of 2019.

Mom Best TV Shows 2019

Mom

Mom is television’s best kept secret, even as the series carries on into its seventh season; a female-driven comedy about women confronting the realities of life: addiction, death, failure, economic struggles, and of course, friendship. But as Mom has matured, Chuck Lorre’s most creatively rich network comedy has only gotten better, finding new ways to challenge its characters without ever feeling like cheap, dramatic “will they stay sober?” ploys. At this point, the women of Mom have being sober down to a routine – it’s confronting the Sisyphean nature of life that Mom challenges its lead ensemble with in its later seasons, and it remains one of television’s best shows for the way it confronts those harsh truths with honesty, compassion – and most importantly, comedy.

Now Apocalypse

Now Apocalypse

Think of everything and anything you’d want from a Gregg Araki series, and it is in Now Apocalypse. Super horny indie vibes? Check. Dynamic lead performances from its cast (which includes teen stars like Avan Jogia, Kelli Berglund, and a transcendent Beau Mirchoff shedding their adolescent reputations)? Check. Aliens? Gorgeous color design? Dreamy atmosphere? Check, check, and fucking check – perhaps to its detriment, Now Apocalypse is all Araki, all the time. And it works; it is certainly one of the stranger mish-mashes of genres in 2019, but Araki and co-writer Karley Sciortino’s strange blend of post-capitalistic musings, existential horniness, and science fiction undercurrents is unlike anything on television, a breath of fresh air among the many reboots, rehashes, and cheap imitations currently littering cable network line-ups. Unfortunately, it was canceled in July, so these garish, emotionally resonant 10 episodes are all we’ll ever have of Araki’s strange vision of modern Los Angeles.

Netfxlix The OA Part 2 Best TV Shows 2019

The OA: Part II

I could describe what The OA is about, but you probably wouldn’t believe me. Quite frankly, it was the most batshit crazy shows on television when it debuted in 2016 – and when it returned in 2019, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s science fiction series was even stranger and more ambitious, which it was rewarded with by an abrupt cancellation after Part II debuted (much to the chagrin of fans, who’ve struck up an extremely annoying #SaveTheOA campaign online).

Fandom aside, The OA Part II was the single most audacious thing I saw in 2019, a labryinthe of brilliant performances, evocative imagery, and some truly insane plots. Different dimensions, psychic octopi, strange cell phone apps… I could get into the nitty gritty of The OA‘s second, and final, season, but it is truly something to be experienced, not described, a story of trauma, grief, and love I’m going to miss like fucking crazy. I’ll just be over here, crying while I sweat through The Movements one last time as I think about The OA Part II, and the absolute mind-fuck of a cliffhanger it ends on.

You're the Worst Pancakes Best TV Shows 2019

“Pancakes” – You’re the Worst

Like many shows of its era, You’re the Worst struggled with the length of its own existence; it could’ve ended after either its first or second season comfortably – and yet, due to its success (and quality), it lumbered through a third and fourth season that was occasionally great, often funny – and too commonly, flailing for a reason to exist.

In its fifth and final season, You’re the Worst found itself again, breaking out of the Sunday Funday crew’s well-established routine, in an emotionally charged run of episodes, culminating in the sublime “Pancakes.” I won’t ruin the story of Jimmy and Gretchen’s wedding day, but it is a finale worth the wait – it is not only a poignant farewell to the greatest romantic comedy of this generation, but to an era of indie television, driven by dope soundtracks, daring performances (I will watch Aya Cash in anything after her work on this series), and nuanced characters, all trying to bury their traumas, enjoy a mimosa, and just find a way to fucking enjoy the short time we all spent on this doomed rock together.

Rocko's Modern Life Static Cling

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

In this strange age where everything gets rebooted, revitalized, or revisited (anyone watching Mad About You on SpectrumTV?), Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling was an unexpected pleasure, a nostalgia cash-in that is anything but, transforming the iconic wallabe and his strange adventures into a contemplation on the passage of time, one that works in truly powerful ways. Both a deeply resonant return to Rocko Modern Life‘s strange, corporate dystopia, and an unexpectedly poignant reflection on just how much things change, Static Cling is better than anyone could’ve expected, a special about family, identity (including the fantastic inclusion of a trans woman central to Rocko‘s history), and life itself that is unassumingly eloquent and surprisingly emotional. I’m not surprised Nickelodeon balked on the series (boo to you, Nick), but boy am I glad we finally got to see it.

Barry Ronny/Lily

“ronny/lily,” Barry

Is “ronny/lily” a great episode of Barry? There’s no doubting what a singular achievement “ronny/lily” is, both on a technical and narrative level; it is a fever dream of epic proportions, following Bill Hader’s semi-retired assassin as he reluctantly goes back to work, and ends up getting chased around town by an insane, tiny female ninja. A gorgeous piece of cinema with one of the more outlandish premises you’ll find, there’s an argument to be made that Barry‘s best episode doesn’t really function all that well as part of its serialized narrative, and only works out of context, one of many examples of prestige television airing the creative equivalent of a Special, Signature Episode midway through the season.

To which I say bullshit – “ronny/lily” is as much about the crumbling personal and professional relationship between Barry and Funches, as it is about an adolescent girl with a penchant for tearing flesh, flipping over cars, and jumping onto the roof of her house. The strange, dramatic backdrop of “ronny/lily” helps magnify the toxic relationship between its two most prominent characters, subtly setting the stage for everything to follow in the season’s climax. In the moment, it feels like “ronny/lily” is just an impressive, elaborate bit of showmanship from co-writer/creator/director Bill Hader; considered as part of season two’s whole, however, and the real genius of Barry‘s greatest episode reveals itself.

Succession season 2

Succession

Other, smarter people have written a lot more words about Succession than myself, so I’ll keep it brief: Succession fucking slaps, a carefully constructed deconstruction of America’s one-percenter families, the power they wield, and just how easily financial security can lead down a road of absolute toxicity. Written like a classic stage drama, and delivered by some of the finest actors on television (Emmys for Jeremy Strong and Sarah Snook, goddamnit!), Succession is an intoxicating mix of performance, production, and narrative construction virtually unmatched on television. All kingdoms will fall, and watching the Roy family tear themselves apart is a particular pleasure, one of the few “prestige” series in 2019 truly worthy of the moniker.

Superstore‘s union arc

Superstore was already ascending to the network comedy throne in its fourth season, a workplace comedy fully confident in its identity, and ability to blend socially relevant stories about retail work, with deftly personal stories about its eclectic cast of characters.

And then, Superstore decided to join the pantheon of 2019 television shows trying to Politically Relevant – and it fucking nails it. Building an arc around three simple elements – Mateo’s undocumented status, Amy’s ascension to management, Jonah starting a union – the back half of Superstore‘s fourth season is stunning, both in its condemnation of corporate bullshit, and its careful, nuanced examination of the horrors occurring among some of the most vulnerable communities in the United States – in some ways, telling more effective human stories than American news media is capable of.

Needless to say, these various tensions dramatically raise the stakes of what was previously a rather unassuming, laid back comedy; it all comes to a head in “Employee Appreciation Day,” a season finale with a cliffhanger ending among the most disturbing, unsettling things you’ll see all year. It tells a necessary story fearlessly, refusing to muddle its ideas in the typical ways network comedies compromise their existence. But forget broadcast television; Superstore expresses its beliefs with a confidence few shows anywhere on television have – and still manages to be one of the funniest ensemble comedies of the era, an impressive balancing act that always leaves this viewer sitting on Cloud 9. (I’m so sorry.)

Watchmen This Extraordinary Being

Watchmen

I’ve already written (and said) a lot about Watchmen, Damon Lindelof daring sequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s iconic comic book series – if we’re being honest, I could’ve made my entire Best Of list moments just on the series. Sister Night, “This Extraordinary Being,” Laurie’s blue dildo, Lube Man, Looking Glass, Joe Keene’s tights, the Dr. Manhattan reveal… Watchmen was a stunning collection of characters, ideas, images, and sounds (the three-volume Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score is mind-blowing) unlike anything else on television. Hats off (fuck it – masks off?) to the most daring, subversive adaptation since Hannibal, and one of the more intriguing explorations of cops, superheroes, and technology in recent memory.

Honorable Mentions

Because no good list ever ends in a logical place, here are a couple other things I loved in 2019:

Abby’s – I really thought Abby’s was going to fit naturally into NBC’s more experimental comedy lineup, a multi-camera sitcom set (and shot) at an open outside bar. Starring Natalie Morales, Neil Flynn, Nelson Franklin, and Jessica Chaffin, Abby’s was a charming comedy just starting to find its voice when it was unceremoniously canceled. RIP Abby’s.

Joe Pera Talks with You – the spiritual successor to Review‘s second season just premiered on Adult Swim, and it remains the curious, unassuming, surprisingly deep series about human connection – with an even more experimental construction, if you can believe it. If you haven’t seen it, you are missing out on something special.

FleabagFleabag is deservedly front and center on everyone’s best of 2019 list… I wanted to give space to some other shows, but Fleabag‘s Hot Priest-laden, surprisingly optimistic second season is great (even if it doesn’t quite hit for me like season one did).

Lodge 49 – boy, I wish I had seen more Lodge 49 so I could include it on my list. The show of strange fraternities, capitalism’s horrors, and family is full of terrific performances and indelible images, and something television in 2020 will sorely miss.

Sofia Pernas as Lexi Vizeri, Blood and Treasure – I didn’t really like Blood and Treasure’s extremely inconsistent ability to be a fun, dumb show about secret societies and ancient secrets, but Sofia Pernas was one of the breakout performances on network TV in 2019, offering a surprisingly nuanced portrayal of a globe-hopping criminal stuck between tragedy and legacy.

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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