Category Archives: TV

Good Nightly to The Nightly Show

I was mindlessly checking Facebook one afternoon and was completely stunned and saddened to learn that one of the few new shows that I regularly watched, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore was cancelled by Comedy Central after two seasons.

Wuuuuuut?

Courtesy of littlegreenfootballs.com

Courtesy of littlegreenfootballs.com

Actually, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as there have been continuous signs that the show hasn’t clicked with many people. Ratings were always low and very rarely got media attention, until the announcement of the untimely cancellation, where the consensus is that this is a huge injustice and will leave a vacuum for sharp political commentary.

I am certainly disappointed by this news, even though it wasn’t a perfect show. In fact Nightly had lots of rough patches. Quite a number of the sketches from the earlier run such as the amateur theater reenactments of headline news were embarrassingly lame. There were far too many editions of “Nightly, Nightly” a misfire parody of the celebrity driven Entertainment Tonight-style of news stories, made totally unbearable by Grace Parra’s annoying overacting.

The most problematic element of the show, the panel discussions, were usually mediocre at best, hampered in part by the brevity of each episode and partly by the guests, entertainers who didn’t always have the best grasp of politics. Wilmore wasn’t always a forceful moderator, often kowtowing to guests, even when they’re obviously babbling idiocy, like ignorant loudmouth Anthony Anderson ranting about a New Zealand basketball player’s use of the word “monkey,” oblivious to the cultural differences of the word.

But out of that messiness came its greatest strength, originality. As network late-night is more about a set-in-stone brand, Wilmore’s flexible formula gave him a chance to create his own vibe of a no-nonsense truth teller who was also highly personable and compassionate.

Wilmore was better than anyone (yes, including John Oliver whose jokey asides often feel intrusive and pale to his sharp journalistic analysis) at seamlessly blending sardonic quips in the midst of commenting on tragic stories.

Social media went wild for Jon Stewart’s somber, no joke take on the Charleston church shooting, but while Stewart and others threw their hands up in the air, Wilmore immediately contextualized the tragedy and making mincemeat out of the ever-tacky Fox News who wasted no time spinning the shooting as a war against Christians rather than the race issue that it clearly was.

When everybody else dodged with sending their “thoughts” to the Paris terror victims for days after the massacre, Wilmore again was a first comedy responder. He humorously reminded his audience about France’s role in forming America, as well as some of America’s stupid foreign policies under Bush, all in the spirit of a genuine sense of grief.

I’m just as sad for the core team of correspondents as I am for Wilmore, most of whom I suspect will struggle to find another gig for a while. I greatly respect Wilmore for sharing the spotlight with strong scene-stealing comedians, especially MVP Mike Yard. Out of all the staff, Yard is consistently the sharpest and most subversive voice on the program and has a special knack at starting with an unexpected angle and taking it to an even more surprising direction; his report on the plantation weddings highlights his ability at uncomfortable hilarity. Even in the panel discussions where most people mince their words to act as a mutual agreement society, Yard is one of the only ones willing to say the hard truths, even when they weren’t met with wild applause.

My second fave is Holly Walker who brought an invigorating audacity to her slightly unhinged characters, best of which was the “incognegro” truther. I even kind of warmed to people who really put me off at first like Franchesca Ramsey and Robin Thede.

What galls me most about this cancellation was how little time they gave the fans. I’m not asking for a year’s notice a la Oprah, but certainly Comedy Central could have given us more than a week to process the news, most businesses at least give two weeks’ notice. Even Wilmore was blindsided, causing him to rightly quip, “…keeping it 100, I guess I hadn’t counted on ‘The Unblackening’ happening to my time slot as well.”

While Nightly may not have had the viewership that Comedy Central wanted, they have made a huge mistake of ending the only show on its network to substantially skewer our thoroughly demented and fraught socio-political climate and call out the entertainment media for its lopsided coverage and extreme intellectual dishonesty. Meanwhile, the craziness continues and late-night remains the same old, same old.

Little Candy Lou Who’s Favorite Xmas Xtras

By Candace Wiggins, Tawfik Zone Contributor

“A Charlie Brown Christmas”, 1965. One of the best. You know this one. If not… time’s a wastin’. This year is the 50th anniversary of this staple and the network has pulled out all stops with a salute, as stars and celebs sing songs against a backdrop of the Peanuts special itself.  This introduced the now-classic “Christmas Time is Here” by the inimitable Vince Guaraldi and is, simply put, a fun offering without being saccharine.

“Holiday Inn”, 1942. This B&W film features Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire as a songwriting team with a young Marjorie Reynolds. And the most popular song ever, “White Christmas”, is written and sung in a charming scene. But when I finally saw the unedited print a couple of years ago, there was a scene where Bing and Fred and the wait staff at the hotel put on a minstrel show with our heroes as the holiday headliners. You read that right. People in blackface when it was still considered okay to do that. Nothing says The Holidays like white privilege.

Courtesy of internationalcinemareview.blogspot.com

Courtesy of internationalcinemareview.blogspot.com

“The Bishop’s Wife”, 1947. Charming fantasy with a heavenly (literally) Cary Grant as Dudley, an angel sent to help David Niven’s stressed-out minister. Some great sequences and a nice turn by Elsa Lanchester as the housemaid. The trimming of the tree by Dudley is still pretty fantastic and this is pre-CGI. Pure magic.

“Scrooged”, 1988. Because, Bill Murray.

“A Christmas Carol”, 1999. TNT’s made for TV movie has Patrick Stewart as the best Scrooge I’ve seen. Ever. Yes, I know I am Sacrilege Incarnate for saying he’s better than Alastair Sim but that’s how I roll.

Courtesy of www.drew-fuller.com

Courtesy of www.drew-fuller.com

“How The Grinch Stole Christmas” always warms the cockles of my black little heart and I have a friend who always sends me cards addressed to “Little Candy Lou Who”. Plus, Boris Karloff narrates and Thurl Ravenscroft sings one of the best paeans to curmudgeonry ever. What’s not to like?

“Rare Exports”, 2010. Do yourself a favour and watch this gem. It’s a very different Christmas story from Norway where a mountain excavation uncovers the real Santa who is quite, QUITE different from the jolly old St. Nicholas we all know and love. A great blend of comedy and horror told from a young boy’s POV.

“Walt Disney’s Silly Symphony Christmas Carol”… probably one of my favourites although I rarely watch it.  From the Pre-code era, and barely 8 minutes long, it’s worth the view. One of the hot toys is a zeppelin. Check it out.

“The Snow Queen”. The 1950s Russian animated film. Rarely seen in its intended form now, it was “revamped” for American audiences with new music, and — horror of horrors — the dubbed voices of America’s then-sweethearts, Tommy Kirk and Sandra Dee. I kid you not. But other than that, T and I both saw the original version and there is no way to impress upon you how good it is. Incredible.

I have favourite television shows just like everyone else and I almost always enjoy their Christmas episodes. Solving murders while decorating the office and making peace with mom and dad issues is de rigeur for holiday fare, especially for CBS primetime. One of my LEAST favourite Christmas eps, however, was from My So Called Life wherein a visiting angel is actually the ghost of a young geetar-strumming runaway who froze to death after a fight with her mother… boohoo. The next week, OTOH, was the New Year’s episode, one of my favourites. Go figure.

Happy holidays, however you do it.

TV: Netflix Comedies, Anything But

I know. I know. I’ve been away for a ridiculously long time. While this might be old news to many of you (who may have finished bingewatching the shows in question), due to having my internet out and/or travelling, I have just gotten around to watching some of Netflix’s comedies. It became quickly apparent that I haven’t missed much.

Courtesy of www.echoit.co.

Courtesy of www.echoit.co.

Industry insiders are excited by Netflix’s rapid rise from an online subscription company that stole Blockbuster’s thunder to a vertically integrated film and TV enterprise. Before they try to dominate the industry, perhaps the VOD platform needs to slow down a bit and improve their shows, at least the ones they’re pawning off as comedies.

I guess I’ll begin with the show that began Netflix’s foray into the world of original programming, Lilyhammer. The premise, a New York gangster, Frank (played by rock and roller and Sopranos alum Steven Van Zandt) is relocated to a tiny Norwegian community through the witness protection, follows the fish out of water formula that can create great conflict, from which stems great comedy.

Courtesy of wctechblog.com

Courtesy of wctechblog.com

Lilyhammer’s problem is that the protagonist isn’t enough of a fish out of water. It’s true that people often understand a language before they speak it, but Frank’s fluent comprehension of Norwegian off the bat eliminates an important cultural barrier that could have made for great situations and conflict. There is a lack of obstacles and everything is immediately solved through blackmail.

The writers, Norwegian Eilif Skodvin and Anne Bjørnstad and American Van Zandt, take the Euro-American co-production too literally; having the Norwegians speaking 50-50 Norwegian and English and switching mid-sentence is a quirk that quickly becomes irritating and distracting. Ultimately there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with it, except that it’s dull.

Courtesy of www.independent.co.uk

Courtesy of www.independent.co.uk

One of the biggest problems with celebrity culture is that an oligarchy of individual brand names appear everywhere, whether or not they’re suited to the project. Ricky Gervais, who specializes in rapier wit and intensely un-PC zingers, has no business writing and starring as Derek, a show about an autistic caretaker at a low-end British nursing home. Given his comedy background, it is not surprising that people accused Gervais of exploiting people with disabilities.

Although I find his claim that Derek is “simply naive and gullible” dubious, I don’t believe he is openly mocking his creation either. Actually, it is a goodwill effort to humanize an unglamorous and less powerful person. The problem is that “heartfelt” is not Gervais’ strong suit and he doesn’t write quirky misfits very well.

Its only asset is the intelligent and naturalistic turn by Kerry Godliman as the hardworking and caring head nurse. Unfortunately, putting her as the heart of the show cannot overcome Derek’s greatest shortcoming of lack of material and sluggish pace.

Courtesy of www.pinterest.com

Courtesy of www.pinterest.com

I was psyched when I first heard that Friends’ co-creator Marta Kaufman, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin were joining forces on Grace and Frankie. Where Friends excelled with chemistry, Grace and Frankie has none. The titular characters are grim and bitter glimpses of Rachel and Phoebe thirty years in the future.

The way the episodes are written, there’s really no good reason for these two women, one an uber-WASP, the other a posh hippie, to stay together as they clearly can’t stand one another. Yes, every episode ends with a convenient “moving” pep talk where they pledge allegiance, but it never feels organic. That the show isn’t able to get past these women’s loneliness gets old fast too.

Courtesy of www.indiewire.com

Courtesy of www.indiewire.com

My biggest gripe with the show is that the comedy and drama are diametrically opposed. The show refuses to laugh at the morbidly humorous prospect of two septuagenarian women whose husbands leave them for each other, treating the divorcee’s plight with the utmost seriousness. The lily-livered treatment of the two gay men played by Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen makes them superfluous to the show: especially Sheen who definitely doesn’t deserve the same salary as his female co-stars and executive producers.

Meanwhile, there are lame jokey subplots that are merely filler, such as Sol’s trepidation of his stepdaughter Brianna, Brianna’s and Frankie’s pot smoking escapade, and Frankie’s lubricant juice.

One of the elements that made Friends so brilliant was that the tragedy and comedy were cut from the same cloth: The Gellar’s favoritism of Ross at the expense of Monica, Chandler’s traumatically inappropriate two mothers, “we were on a break” saga, Phoebe’s mother’s suicide and absentee father, etc. It seems within the span of twenty years, especially post 9-11, we have lost the ability to laugh at ourselves.

Courtesy of decider.com

Courtesy of decider.com

It seems that Netflix is going to go whole hog in campaigning this show for comedy, as due to the strict 30-minute rule the Emmy’s have enforced this year, making it the only show eligible. The award it absolutely deserves is “Most Awkward Use of a Token Black Character.”

Whenever I watch a new show, I pledge to commit to viewing the first three episodes to get an idea if it has any potential. I had to make an exception for The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. On the surface, Kimmy Schmidt, about a woman who has to adjust to the real world after her Midwestern cult was disbanded, seems like the polar opposite of 30 Rock.

Courtesy of adeaddrop.com

Courtesy of adeaddrop.com

What was a minor flaw on 30 Rock, the every-line-is-a-snarky-pop-culture-punchline writing style is supersized to an epically failure proportions for Kimmy Schmidt. The parallels become undeniable when Kimmy relocates to New York, essentially making it a 30 Rock rehash, angled from Kimmy/Kenneth’s POV surrounded by third-rate 30 Rock archetypes, Titus, a gay Tracy, and Jane Krakowski stuck in a hollow Jemma mode.

Ellie Kemper is a member of an unnerving trend in American comedy, the cutesy quirky girly woman along with Amy Poehler, Jenny Slate, Zooey Deschanel, Mindy Kaling, and even Fey to an extent.

I’m sad to report that even my darling Orange is the New Black has had a serious quality malfunction this latest season. It is inexplicable that the same team of writers (more or less) who seamlessly interweaved the stories of prisoners and guards from various backgrounds with sensitivity and perception have produced scatterbrained scripts in the third season. It is as if last year they all developed an unhealthy addiction to Tumblr and Reddit, where they poached their narrative threads, namely the fan fiction and the fetish pantie cartel.

Courtesy of www.melty.com

Courtesy of www.melty.com

Storylines and situations ricochet like rogue ping-pong balls. Most of the characters have been plagued with absurd subplots, like Sophia turning into an anal holier-than-thou bitch, Piper as a pantie Mafioso, Fig and Caputo as fuck buddies, Mendez as a lovesick prisoner (minus his pornstache). The writers have royally fucked up with Poussey, morphing her into a Santeria porn reading cooking channel obsessed freak.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning that OINB regains its steam, somewhat, in the last two episodes, when it returns to the dramatic roots, and as always finishes with a surprising cliffhanger. Even in bastardized form, OINB is still more watchable than most shows on right now.

I’m not even going to bother with Scrotal Recall or Richie Rich (unless anybody can make a convincing argument for why I should).

TV: Jane The Virgin, Season 1 (2014)

Jane the Virgin

The American telenovela you should be watching…

I have to fess up. At my job I heard the advertisement for this series over and over and over multiple times a day for about 9 months before the show even premiered. Jane’s audio clip of “But I’ve never had sex,” became so embedded in my brain I figured I had to watch if for nothing else but to make fun of the flimsy premise it presented. A devoutly religious girl becoming artificially inseminated sounded like the set up for a one-trick pony (and a lawsuit to boot).

Courtesy of scenariosusa.org

Courtesy of scenariosusa.org

To my surprise, it was instead a great piece of comedy with a cast that you cannot help but fall in love with. Not only that but every episode presents an overall theme that will help the characters grow and sometimes even give the audience insight or a new perspective depending on the topic discussed. So without spoiling anything here’s why Jane the Virgin is defiantly worth taking a look at.

To get this out of the way the events leading up to Jane becoming pregnant are actually believable and yes, there is a lawsuit so the show doesn’t ask its audience to completely suspend their disbelief. To those of you rolling your eyes thinking, “Well, the only reason she’s keeping this baby is because she’s a devout catholic,” there’s more to it. The show does not shy away from discussing abortion so don’t expect this to be promoting a religious pro-life message. While first and foremost a comedy that follows a telenovela (a Spanish-speaking soap opera in laymen’s terms) format, the show also tackles some pretty serious subjects and includes a whole murder-mystery subplot tied to an underground drug lord Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Courtesy of www.voiceoftv.com

Courtesy of www.voiceoftv.com

I think above all the most endearing feature is the show’s cast. After all Gina Rodriguez did earn several awards and while she has the most demanding job, creating a main character the audience can fall in love with and root for, her co-stars deliver formidable performances. Since the cast is rather large and explaining why they’re all so wonderful could potentially leak out a spoiler, I’m just going to focus on Jane and her family—sorry Michael and Rafael…

One of the big themes of the show is family and how the women create support and strength for one another.  Jane was raised by her mother, who had Jane as a teenager and her very religious grandmother. Both women delivering great performances; the audience can really tell they are Jane’s rock, her support group that when all else goes wrong, they will be there. The women may butt heads on occasion but at the end of the day you know they’ve got each other’s back—thus giving us a really positive presence of women on screen.

Courtesy of www.tvguide.com

Courtesy of www.tvguide.com

Early on we do find out who Jane’s father is, and let’s just say he delivers some of the show’s most hilarious one liners. I feel given his character you will either love or hate him, I’m totally for him but I see how others could find his personality narcissistic and overbearing. Regardless, he’s peppered into the series in such a way that I think over time he will grow on you.

One final word is I would say the show is more appropriate for older high school students and up. I’d say younger age groups would lack the maturity and understanding to really get into the show. There are implied sex scenes, but you will not find full on nudity as this show is aired on network TV. I like to watch the show with my mom (then again I also watch Game of Thrones and True Blood with her) but what I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t really have scenes that will make you blush (too much) if that sort of thing is of concern to you.

Courtesy of cwtv.com

Courtesy of cwtv.com

Actually I’d recommend watching it with a mom or other relative since it ties into the themes of the show. I think some men might find some of it cheesy, especially in the beginning but I recommend that they have a little bit of patience. The two lead males are pretty relatable in terms of how they handle the situations they go through.  So go make yourselves some popcorn, sit back and tune in to Jane the Virgin on the CW, Hulu, or Amazon. You should get to it to catch up in time for the approaching finale, which is scheduled to be on May 22nd unless the first season exceeds 22 episodes in which case the internet lied to me…

 

Britcom: Miranda

Miranda is What I Call Such Fun

In this day and age after thousands of years of plays and literature, it is challenging to come up with an original idea. At a comparatively younger 65 years, television seems to have gone through every possible storyline. Many are fatigued by the glut of remakes and sequels or shows that lazily repackage every cliché that TV is offering these days. Have we hit our narrative brick wall?

Courtesy of metro.co.uk

Courtesy of metro.co.uk

Miranda offers salvation as it proves that a sitcom doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to still be fresh and entertaining. Written by and starring Miranda Hart, Miranda is a quirky amalgamation of the traditional American three-camera sitcom with goofy British slapstick and jugular-abundant wordplay.

Hart, a 6 ft. 1, moose-figured woman with a high pitched voice like a camp male impersonator, was born to be a clown. Based off Hart’s autobiographical-ish radio show, Miranda follows the misadventures of a 34-year-old woman-child who makes a major ass of herself in every single social situation without fail.

Courtesy of www.thehighteacast.co.uk

Courtesy of www.thehighteacast.co.uk

In anybody else’s hands, Miranda could easily be grating trite. Miranda, immature and lazy, owns a joke store with her trust-fund and has a treasure trove of put-offs. She is needy, insecure, super uncool, clumsy, and highly inappropriate. Miranda Hart is fearlessly buffoonish, an expert physical comedian, but she also wins your heart with her frantic sense of awkward desperation conveyed in her voice and almost gratuitous breaking of the fourth wall. You can’t help but root for her. And she is eminently watchable; it’s no surprise that Hart has become the star she is (I predict that soon America will call, and inevitably misuse her talents).

Admittedly, this show has a limited bag of tricks, but they elicit belly laughs even as they are repeated, past the point of good sense. As critic Chris Harvey astutely notes, “pretty much every time Miranda turns and looks at the camera, I burst out laughing. And even when her slapstick is so obvious it wouldn’t confuse a small child…I still laugh… Even when I really, really don’t want to.”

Courtesy of www.theguardian.com

Courtesy of www.theguardian.com

While Miranda might not be inordinately clever or have socio-political significance (it’s actually quite retrograde in its centrality about finding a man), it strikes the funny bone. And that is the most important thing.

What should be flaws- lame jokes, lame catchphrases, lame puns, lame wordplay – add to the show’s appeal. Out of the relentlessly contrived lameness comes an oddly normalizing and intimate relatability that saves Miranda from a flop and makes it into a smashing success. Even more commendably, Miranda accomplishes the difficult task of finding the funniness of infantilism by capturing the most wonderfully fantastical elements of childishness.

Miranda Hart and Patricia Hodge as mother and daughter. Courtesy of www.telegraph.co.uk

Miranda Hart and Patricia Hodge as mother and daughter. Courtesy of www.telegraph.co.uk

Tremendously boosting the show’s appeal is the supporting cast. What saves them from mere caricatures is their individual idiosyncrasies and the way they are simultaneously apart and a part of Miranda’s world of silliness.

The pint-sized cupie-faced Sarah Hadland as Miranda’s best friend is a perfect foil for the hulky Hart.

Although the beautiful, elegant Patricia Hodge bears no physical resemblance to Hart, as Miranda’s oversexed mother, she has many of the same hilarious eccentric Briticisms that make her and Miranda quite a pair (and the catchiest catchphrases “what I call” “such fun”).

Tom Ellis as Gary is more than just a disproportionately beautiful love interest; he brings a sensitivity and makes a great straight man to Hart’s wild antics.

Hart and Sarah Hadland as Stevie. Courtesy of www.independent.co.uk

Hart and Sarah Hadland as Stevie. Courtesy of www.independent.co.uk

Season’s 1 and 2 are universally stellar. “Date” is one of the best pilots of any sitcom, establishing all of the themes and bringing the hilarity for the full 30-minutes. Other highlights include “Holiday,” where Miranda, chastised for her sheltered life has a wild adventure in “Thailand;” “Before I Die,” Miranda’s desperately failed attempts to be more socially acceptable; “Let’s Do It,” shows the tender, fun side of Miranda and her blooming romance with Gary while having the rare problem of thwarting off unwanted pervy socialite men.

Season 3, which resumed after a two-year hiatus, has its moments, but seems to have lost some of its momentum. These episodes are at their best when they retain the show’s surreal whimsy. Meanwhile, there are some real eye-rolling moments, usually involving the ensemble perform in a mind-numbingly uniform over-the-top acting style, eschewing their wonderful individual character tics. It is also the exuberance of Hart and company that make you laugh, even when their material is soggy.

The good news is that most of Miranda is available on Hulu. Such fun!