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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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Watchmen This Extraordinary Being

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.

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The Boys Season 2 Episode 3 Review: “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men”

The Boys’ marks an improvement and pays big dividends in an explosive, violently revealing hour.

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The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

Half bottle episode and half coming out party, “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” is a sneaky little showcase for The Boys, and just how big its world’s suddenly gotten in season two. Though ostensibly an episode designed around two events – the boys getting stuck on the boat, and Stormfront revealing her inner racist sociopath – “Over the Hill” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion. With a nimble script and a game group of performers, The Boys‘ second season is turning out to be a distinct pleasure – albeit one heading down a gruesome, dark path I sure hope it’s capable of navigating.

“Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion.

It does take a little while for “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” to get going; beginning three miles offshore with The Boys and the reunited super-siblings, the first quarter feels like it’s simply restating the stakes. It’s a nimble trick, though; led by Kimiko and Kenji, The Boys begins to feel like it is approaching a true moral quandary for the group. Which door descending into hell will they choose?

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

While The Boys often likes to posture its presenting characters with complex dilemmas, the show’s unnerving nihilism often upends any sort of nuance it looks for in its debates around “necessary” violence. Here, Kimiko’s presence throws a fascinating wrench into the proceedings; with most of the group’s members clinging to whatever mirage of family they have left (save for Hughie, who has… forgotten his dad exists?), even Butcher can’t deny having conflicting feelings about what to do with Kenji, and the deal that’s been offered to him if he turns him in.

Elsewhere, “Over the Hill” throws the brazen personalities of The Seven into their own little blenders, as Stormfront begins to sow discord through Vought, and abuse her powers to casually murder a lot of people – nearly all of them minorities, in a way that feels like an explosion of character, rather than an unpeeling of some complicated identity. Stormfront simply doesn’t give a fuck; and with her supernatural ability to manipulate feminist views (her speech to the reporters is magnificent, both in how it develops Stormfront’s character and nods to the simplistic ways in which the evilest people in society disguise themselves among the “good”).

While she’s kicking up tornadoes and electrocuting everyone that gets in her way, characters like The Deep and Homelander continue to benefit from the much-improved writing of season two. The show is still struggling to make Becca something more than the Ultimate Mother Protector trope, but Homelander’s warped sense of responsibility to his son is interesting, surely a bad sign for the upbringing of this world’s Superboy (will he also don a cool leather jacket and weird cyberpunk sunglasses? Who knows!). It’s clearly not going well; even he seems to recognize the danger in bringing his son’s powers to the surface, as its the first time in his life he’s facing a challenge as the world’s strongest hero (that is, until Stormfront doubles that total later in the episode, further frustrating Homelander’s attempts to hold domain over everything in his grasp).

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

It’s not going well for The Deep, either, as his slow descent into cult life is bringing his desperation for acceptance further to the surface. Like with Homelander’s stories, I wish The Deep’s story was a little tighter and more thoughtful (some of the body image stuff seems to be treated trivially, in a way that borders on insensitive and uninformed for the sake of easy jokes), but there’s no denying his character is infinitely more interesting this season, a test case for what a superhero trying to learn their own limits would struggle with. The Deep works best as a pathetic character, but not when it’s a pathetic character The Boys just kick around with bad punchlines; when he’s treated as a byproduct of a deeply flawed human being trying to find a path to good intentions, his fumbles and weak-minded rhetoric is much more amusing – and at times, the tiniest bit empathic (his sadness over Billy’s, well, butchering of his whale buddy was such an earnest, raw and twistedly funny moment).

The Boys has needed to accelerate its internal stakes for a while; the introduction of “super terrorists” to the world by Homelander, and Compound V’s reveal to the public might make the show’s world feel a bit smaller than intended – I think a lot about the “big” fight scenes at the end of Arrow‘s third season, where the ‘entire city’ is fighting, but there’s never more than six people around – The Boys does that on a narrative level sometimes. But as the stories of the show dig a little deeper into its characters – Maeve’s disillusionment, Homelander’s failure to emulate paternal behavior, A-Train’s desperation, it’s beginning to feel like the writers have a deeper understanding of its characters and world, and how to wield its inherent sadistic cynicism to more interesting ends. “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” benefits massively from that, setting up a number of intriguing dominoes for the back half of season two to knock over (in bloody fashion).

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Look, I’m bummed how the Kenji character played out; he was such an interesting character, an examination of everything horrible about what power and war can do to a human being. It’s sad to see The Boys dispose of such an intriguing presence, especially as its a death of a minority character in service of mostly white-related stories – however, with such a hateful, nasty character like Stormfront waiting in the wings, it is easy to see how the writers found their way down that path. (like, she could’ve killed Black Noir and this show would’ve literally lost nothing… just sayin’).
  • Can A-Train just collapse or whatever, so we can get this storyline moving? We’ve been doing this since the second episode!
  • Why haven’t we seen any reaction to Becca seeing Butcher in person at the end of season one? She hasn’t mentioned it or even had a longing look off-screen to violin music.
  • Man, I’m so glad they cast Aya Cash as Stormfront.
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The Best Golden Girl is Sophia Petrillo

Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won.

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Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

A seemingly harmless little old lady with curly white hair, oversized glasses, and an innate ability to tell a great story shows up on her daughter’s doorstep when the retirement home she was put in by said daughter burns down. With a simple, “Hi there,” the world meets Sophia Petrillo. For seven years on NBC’s The Golden Girlsa show about the senior set—Sophia lived with her intelligent and extremely sarcastic divorced daughter Dorothy Zbornak and her two roommates, sexy, eternally horny southern belle Blanche Devereaux and sweet but dim-witted Minnesotan Rose Nylund. Each is memorable in their own way, but it’s Sophia, “feisty, zesty, and full of old-world charm,” that stands out the most.

When TV was full of generic, sweet grandma types, Sophia was anything but. Sure, she looked the part with her bifocals, pearls, and now iconic straw and bamboo-beaded handbag, but Sophia was always trying to make a quick buck. She conned Rose into going into a sandwich-making business that pit them against the mob, faked being paralyzed to try and collect insurance, and constantly “borrowed” money from Dorothy’s purse. Instead of helping Dorothy, Blanche and Rose get out of jail when they are mistaken for hookers (don’t ask, just Youtube it). She stole their tickets to go to a party and meet Burt Reynolds. She also stole Rose’s car, worked at a fast-food restaurant, and won a marathon. Not bad for a woman in her eighties. Sophia had a sharp wit and an acerbic tongue, blaming her stroke for leaving her without the ability to self-censor. She was always ready with a zinger or a comeback, some of which she saved for her very own daughter.

Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

Sophia Petrillo is the Secret Star of The Golden Girls

That’s not to say she’s all schemes and insults. Beneath her tough exterior is a kind woman with a big heart who loves her family and friends. Viewers don’t often get to see her softer side, which makes the moments they do seem that much more special. One of the best Sophia episodes showed her reaction to the death of her son, Phil. She put up a wall of anger which Rose was finally able to break down in the final moments of the episode, revealing Sophia’s true feelings of guilt over Phil’s cross-dressing as she bursts into tears. Another favourite was when Dorothy expressed concern about her mother not doing enough with her days. We then get to see exactly what she gets up to sticking up for her friend and causing a scene at the grocery store while claiming to represent a fictional senior citizens union, volunteering at a sick kids hospital and later, conducting a senior citizens jazz band. Meanwhile, Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche do next to nothing except sit around and eat. When she’s asked what she did all day upon her return, she simply says she bought a nectarine, and Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche are none the wiser.

But if Sophia has one claim to fame, it is her colorful old-world tales about Sicily, which often as not, contain a pearl of wisdom or embellishment of some kind. We would have loved to have known her during her “picatta period (a wedge of lemon and a smart answer for everything),” when she was the most beautiful girl at a resort and all the men fought over her (so beautiful, in fact, that she had “a butt you could bounce a quarter off of”). She was also once painted by Picasso and was best friends with Mama Celeste. But I digress. Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won. Her hunches were never wrong, and rarely, if ever did she meet her match. Sophia was, in short, a one-woman show. And thanks to re-runs and fan appreciation, that show will never be gone.

  • Dasilva

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published under our old brand, Sound On Sight.

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30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

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30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
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