Friday, August 21, 2015

Weekly Buffet - That's A Riot!

Okay, now that the sometimes interesting, more often peculiar (Vince Vaughn's crazed wanderings in the desert?), season two of True Detective is over, we can all move on to brighter pastures. Phew! What a relief!

What better place to start than with a batch of comedy television that ranges from kooky to smart, and from heartwarming to...a character getting sucked into a pile of slime. You'll have to watch them all to find out what show features that interesting plot point.

There had been a serious decrease in quality comedies, especially since over the last couple years "prestige dramas" took over television. Both types of shows are needed, but there has to be a balance. You gotta be able to mix a few laughs in between the endless tragedies!

Not to say that there have been ZERO comedies being made. Fans of The Big Bang Theory, Family Guy, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, New Girl, and Modern Family would loudly protest. I love some of those too, but comedies have been fewer and farther between, especially compared to the era when Seinfeld and Must See TV reigned supreme.

To put this in perspective - the previous king of laughs, NBC, has one comedy returning in the fall. It's called Undateable, and aside from featuring Ron Funches' adorable giggle, that show is definitely not for me. Truthfully, besides this whole movie deal they have going with Dolly Parton, the entire NBC lineup looks really sad. Their peacock is probably stress molting right now.

Even if NBC is failing, the tides of comedy have slowly been changing! Much like the Mcconaissance of 2014, this year could be synonymous with the rebirth of immense amounts of funny.

This discovery for me came at the hands of finishing part of another drama a few weeks ago - the first season of The Wire. Afterwards I was really needing something that didn't involve serious cops or drugs. In the past, it would be hard to scrounge up something to laugh at, other than re-watching 30 Rock, Parks & Rec, or The Office.

It turns out though, that if you look for it, there is quite a bit out there now! Even though their shows started a few years back, Key and Peele, Amy Schumer, and the gals from Broad City have really burst out to become big stars this year. That alone would great, but then three other shows, with casts that are an embarrassment of riches, got my attention.

All of the following comedic recommendations were released either this year or a couple years ago and can be found on cable, Netflix, or Hulu. These days, in order to discover all the goods,  you really have to dig deep and stretch your wings.

Over the fifteen years since its initial release, fans of Wet Hot American Summer transformed a commercial failure into a cult classic. Even though the movie eventually gained an audience, there's no way the original cast and creators would have guessed that most of them would turn into major actors (some of the most popular in our culture today) or that the story would eventually be transformed into a television show released on a service that isn't even traditional cable. Crazy how the future works.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp was released on Netflix at the end of July and right away I was skeptical that the story of roughly one day of camp could stretch out over eight episodes. Could they maintain the funny through 4 hours of total running time?

Silly me, I couldn't have been more wrong!

Not only is every episode a riot, but it is more fun to watch and even more well done than the movie. The zany story actually works great stretched out and broken up into small episodes, where tidbits of plot are revealed little by little. Had this instead been done as a 90 minute flick, I don't think it would be as enjoyable. The payoffs for several of the story lines are better specifically because they were spread out over the entire series.

This is ridiculous comedy done right. There are non-stop goofy jokes, especially as the writers play a lot with how the entire returning cast has aged. These now 40-something actors are still playing teenagers (Paul Rudd - not aged a year!). Let's be honest - the absolute best part of this show is seeing all of these familiar faces (Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Jason Schwartzman, Molly Shannon, Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, Janeane Garofalo, Elizabeth Banks, Ken Marino, Christopher Meloni) thrown back together.

With so many recognizable actors in the main roles, it's no surprise that even more people show up in memorable smaller parts. Mad Men fans will especially rejoice with a hysterical guest starring role by John Slattery who plays a "seasoned" Broadway actor. He has my favorite throwaway line of the entire series - "I've seen better leaps in a YEAR!" is the perfect insult to a dancer during an audition.  Oh, and did I forget to mention that Jon Hamm plays an assassin? Between this and his role on Kimmy Schmidt, it has been confirmed that Hamm makes everything better.

Having seen the movie probably makes the show more entertaining, but is not totally necessary. Do the end of your summer right, channel your past dreams of attending a bitchin' sleep-away camp, and enjoy some of your favorite actors playing around like they're teenagers.

Funny women on a sweet little show that is filled with pop culture references? Those are all of the best things! Throw in an adorable baby that really knows how to act with her face, some hijinx, endless arrays of hilarious guest stars (Bobby Moynihan, Jason Mantzoukas, Andy Daly, John Lutz, Jack McBrayer, plus even more!), and you've got Playing House. 

Never heard of it? Well, I wouldn't have either without a recommendation by a friend. The show flying under the radar might have a little to do with the fact that it's on USA, a channel that is a little off the beaten path. I rarely even think about that network, but do have fond memories of when it was the home of American Gladiator reruns. Oh, the old days.

USA is killing it now, since they are showing both Mr. Robot and Playing House, currently the two shows that everyone should be watching this summer.

Playing House was created by real life best friends/comedians Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair. The story follows those gals playing a stretch, two life long best friends - one, Maggie, who is pregnant and getting divorced, the other, Emma, who took her career to China. Emma decides that her friend needs help, so she ditches her job, and moves back to their hometown.

Parham and St. Clair's close-knit relationship gives this show its wonderful spirit. The witty banter on screen is breezy and comfortable due to all their time hanging out in real life, making the show feel like its been on for years instead of only starting the second season. There are lots of laughs combined with definite heart, which is the perfect combination. It's a show easily stuck in the middle between Gilmore Girls and traditional scripted sitcoms.

Oh, Gilmore Girls fans will definitely be delighted - the similarities between the two shows are endless. Substitute Parham's character for Rory and we've got ourselves a match! Both take place in small cities that are filled with amazing/loony townies, have characters that speak pop culture references as if that is a separate language, and feature an official restaurant of choice (Luke's vs. Rosie's). There's also a lot to be said about comparable mother/daughter dynamics and unrequited love stories (I'm looking at you Keegan-Michael Key, leading the way as Playing House's version of Luke Danes).

Brush aside the similarities though, because Parham and St. Clair have come up with a smart show in their own right.  It showcases the best of their talents and the characters quickly work their way into your heart.

Women creating cool things for themselves is always outstanding. It's sad to say, but if they don't, no one else will. Keep the great work comin' gals!

Burning Love

Some people already view The Bachelor and Bachelorette as comedies, but what would it look like if someone actually spoofed these shows? The answer, Burning Love, a gem that I'm sad I only discovered recently, two years after it already stopped airing.

This is a parody done out of appreciation and not just mean mockery. It's easy to tell that the people behind the series (producers like Ben Stiller and Ken Marino) watched these dating reality shows and wanted to highlight all of the crazy, but in a loving manner. They are poking fun and highlighting really how nutso it is to throw a bunch of people in a house, in front of cameras, and expect some of them to fall in love and remain sane.

The Bachelor and shows like it (oh, the gloriously insipid I Wanna Marry Harry was gone too soon!) have become an American standard that I hope never ends. Especially, since comedians can pull such great material from it.

Even if you are not a fan of reality shows, anyone who likes a solid laugh will appreciate the ultimate list of funny people featured throughout the three seasons of this show. This is a gang that seems to always be involved in each others projects. We're talkin' people like, Michael Ian Black, Ken Marino, Rob Huebel, Natasha Leggero, Kumail Nanjiani, Nick Kroll, Nick Thune, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Jeong (who plays Ballerina, as seen in the glorious photo that is featured above),  Paul Scheer, and June Diane Raphael, just to name a few.

Not excited yet? Well, there's a whole other list that will blow ya mind. Those comedians are not nearly enough people to fill up an entire Bachelor Pad. Why not throw together a bunch of random actors to fill out the cast? Jerry O'Connell, Adam Brody, Adam Scott, Martin Starr, Colin Hanks, Michael Cera, Kristen Bell, Paul Rudd, and Jennifer Aniston all equally throw everything they've got into this show, often looking ridiculous, but really delivering some funny lines that helps make this series extremely memorable.

With such an elaborate cast, jokes are firing every second. I can already tell that this one can and will be re-watched numerous times just in order to catch it all. The episodes are short, so an entire season could be devoured in a longer evening hang out. It would not be time wasted. I dare say you may even come out of it with an even more chipper spirit.

Even though intense television dramas will always be part of my jam, it feels marvelous to be enjoying entertainment that is the total opposite of serious.

AND that's not all. After catching up on these three great shows, I already found two more that I've only just begun - The League and Difficult People. Definite comedy gold.

We're in the Year Of The Laughs! Don't let it go to waste.

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