Monday, March 16, 2015

Weekly Buffet: Old Friends, New Friends

Just when it seemed like every show you loved was going to end this year with absolutely nothing capable of filling that great entertainment void, the television decided to come back and totally redeem itself. I'm still in my mourning attire over the end of Parks and Rec and Parenthood, and I already know that I will be extending the donning of this metaphorical garb due to the soonish exit of Mad Men, but some recently released shows have been keeping me distracted from those fallen comrades.

In fact, there has been such an array of fantastic new TV debuting recently that it would be impossible to even keep up.

Most exciting of all is that the whole gang is back together! Well, not one particular group from one specific show, per se, but numerous actors that were featured in some beloved hits from television past have resurrected themselves in pretty darn great projects.

Three shows have especially been putting a little extra kick in my step. It's just nice to see some treasured actors back to doing what they do best. In one case, a new show brought fresh life into an old character, where the other two find some very special actors showing off their top-notch comedy tricks in quite original programming.  

The Last Man On Earth

When Will Forte left SNL in 2012, it took a bit for him to find his footing outside of sketch comedy.

Even though he had some memorable acting roles while he was still on SNL (most notably, Paul, the Jenna Maroney impersonator on 30 Rock), it wasn't until 2013 that things really started to flow. He veered off his typical goofy course to co-star in a family oriented drama that had a comedic edge, Nebraska. This was the project that proved he was more than MacGruber. Starring in an Oscar nominated movie will have that effect - the guy can act.

After conquering the film world in a slightly more serious manner, Forte could have easily stuck to the silver screen and not ventured back to television comedy. Thankfully he didn't forget about his roots, because within only three episodes, his show, The Last Man On Earth, is already a must see.

Forte stars as the "man" in the title, Phil Miller, who has determined that he has become the only living human. It is unknown (for now) what caused the death of humanity and while we wait to find out, the writers hilariously play up crazy ways to kill days spent alone.

It turns out that there are quite a lot of DIY activities for anyone left with nothing but time in an unpopulated planet that is still full of endless material goods. Set a bunch of wigs on fire? Sure! Steal the Presidential carpet from the Oval Office? Of course! Crash a bunch of cars together? Yes, please! Fashion a group of friends out of sports equipment, a la Cast Away? Definitely a necessity.

All of this wackiness is also complimented by little moments of sincerity about loneliness and love. Both sides of the character, much like the role he played in Nebraska, make thiscompletely perfect for the delightful Forte. Obviously aware of his own talents, it helps that he actually created the show and is also one of the writers.

If it continues on as strong as the first couple episodes, Forte could have a classic comedy on his hands.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt


Oh, excuse me, I've just had the viral worthy theme song to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt pulsing through my veins for over a week. 

The show that comes attached to the catchy tune is another gift given to us all by Tina Fey (and, to be fair, Robert Carlock).

Unbreakable follows Kimmy Schmidt as she tries to start a new life in NYC. Kimmy gives off a little bit of that "Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat up in the sky glow", but she isn't just trying to make it on her own in the big city as a woman - she is doing that PLUS also trying to get over the fact that she lived for 15 years with a cult in an underground bunker believing that the entire outside world had ceased to exist.

Leave it to Fey to take an idea that in different hands would be semi-dark and turn it into a hilarious show with an optimistic main character who makes every life she touches a little more bright.

Besides Fey, there are some other familiar faces involved. Ellie Kemper, an alum from The Office, plays Kimmy. She was always funny and loveable in past roles, but the material from Unbreakable is giving her the opportunity to show off a range of emotions and also how great she is at joke delivery. Can we please also bless Fey for continuing to make TV shows just so Jane Krakowski can play lovably wacko people..

Along with the old faces, there is a new actor that is almost too fantastic and has taken a bit of the spotlight away from the female leads. Titus Burgess, who plays Kimmy's NYC roommate Titus Andromedon (that name alone!), has become the most consistently fun character to watch. He is a glorious singer and, as his character is a struggling actor, this means there are a great deal of musical performances.  Every single one of his story lines has been hilarious, but one stands out more than the rest. There is an episode largely devoted to him and his landlord, played by the legendary Carol Kane, making a music video for his song, "Pinot Noir". That one will get stuck in your head almost more than the theme song.

Even with the involvement of such talented people, after watching the very first episode I was a little iffy on whether Unbreakable was another home run for Fey. Now I've reached the final episode and could smack myself for ever having doubts.

I am loving every minute with that former "Mole Woman" and do not want it to end. Who would want it to when comedy gold is happening every episode - like Jon Hamm once again playing up his unstoppable comic side as another delusional man (with sick karate moves) and Martin Short popping up as a crazed, melting face looking plastic surgeon. Only Tina Fey can make brilliant cameos like this happen on the regular and that's on top of how perfect the regular cast is already.

I don't know about you, but this lady is already excited for season two. 

Better Call Saul

Out of all three of these shows, Better Call Saul had the most riding on its success. Coming off a very successful final season of  Breaking Bad, the audience was bigger than it ever had been and any future related projects would have an audience of millions waiting for it to be released and enjoy/criticize.

Bob Odenkirk's Saul is one of the most memorable roles in TV's modern "Renaissance", so it only made sense for him to have his own show. We never knew much about Saul on Breaking Bad, other than he knew how to get people out of some tough pickles. Still as viewers, there was always something about him that made us all care enough to feel concerned about his survival and want to know more about his past.

Better Call Saul could have gone badly. Trying to follow up a major hit would have been stressful and not everyone can handle the pressure. Vince Gilligan however, has proven that he didn't totally lose his talent once Breaking Bad ended. Of course he would still be able to write witty dialogue and come up with interesting story lines that you never see coming!

Phew! What a relief.

Let's be clear too - this show isn't just good for being a prequel to a terrific series. Better Call Saul is top notch. It is a show that can stand alone in its greatness.

With the build up of excitement before the show was released, I couldn't help but fill my brain with dazzling  thoughts about our old friends Jesse and Walt somehow getting mixed up in the episodes eventually.  Now that I've actually seen Better Call Saul and very much enjoy the titular character on his own (with another blast from the past, Mike, thrown in for good measure), I honestly wouldn't mind if "the one who knocks" never know...knocks. At least on this show anyway.

People who were scared to get into Breaking Bad because it seemed too dark and depressing, should give the lighter in tone Saul a chance instead. Breaking Bad did have its funny moments too, but there is inherently more comedy in the day to day life of a conniving lawyer than the meth business.

Both shows have their differences, but what they definitely both share is that they're equally addicting.

Just these three shows alone is enough for you to fill your weekly quotient of what people deem as a healthy amount of TV time.

Feel like you're sitting too much? Enjoy some TV time while stretching or lifting weights or walking in place. That's a way to make you feel less guilty, especially when even more shows are being released on Netflix this week (be still my Kyle Chandler loving heart) and Vince Gilligan apparently has another impressive show on his hands over at CBS.

Ah! Cue everybody doing their best Jesse Spano freak out. There's just too much to see!

Keep watching what you love - I'll see you next time.

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