TV I’m Enjoying Right Now

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MINOR SPOILER WARNING: I don’t talk about specific plot points for these TV shows in this post, but I do outline them in general. As with all of my posts about TV & movies, if you’d rather not be spoiled about ANYTHING, you probably shouldn’t read on.

It’s not a stretch to say the US television landscape is currently experiencing a golden age. Everywhere you look there are quality TV shows to be enjoyed. As television and those who create it have branched out beyond the major networks to cable, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, competition for viewers has increased dramatically. If the current state of television is any indication, the best way to attract those millions of viewers is with high-quality series that can be consumed any time and anywhere.

There’s so much good TV in fact, that it’s pretty much impossible to watch it all so I thought I might share just four of the great shows I’ve been enjoying lately, why I love them and where you can catch them.

Arrow

I had heard so much about the CW’s show Arrow, based on the superhero from DC Comics, that I finally just had to check it out. The series follows spoiled billionaire playboy Oliver Queen who, at the start of the show, is missing and presumed dead when his yacht is lost at sea. He returns to his home in Starling City five years later a changed man, determined to clean up Starling as a green-hooded vigilante armed with a bow.

Arrow follows in the footsteps of prior super hero efforts like The WB’s Smallville and although it takes about 10-12 episodes to really find its footing, once it does, it really gets going. By the end of season 1, Arrow is a solid mix of action, gritty drama, geeky comic book fun and more. Stephen Amell plays the lead, Oliver Queen, and thankfully his acting chops have improved considerably since the start of the series. Ollie goes from a spoiled brat who has little emotional range to a complex character we care deeply about.

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Arrow also has a great ensemble cast including stand outs David Ramsey as John Diggle and Emily Bett Rickards as Ollie’s geeky, computer expert Felicity Smoak. The writers really start to ratchet up the story arc and drama near the end of S2 which culminates in some seriously great TV. Arrow also sets up the backstory for crossovers with another CW property I’ve started watching – The Flash. The two shows take place in the same universe so I’m looking forward to seeing how these two heroes interact in Flash S1 and Arrow S3.

Arrow is a great deal of fun and seems to be building its own personal mythos. As someone who’s knowledge of the DC character Green Arrow came solely from cartoon episodes of the Super Friends, it’s been wonderful learning about Oliver’s origins, his personal mission and his relationships with his friends in Starling City. Arrow also features other costumed heroes and villains I’ve often heard about but never seen on screen until now. The first two seasons of Arrow are both on Netflix streaming, the third season is currently airing on the CW but is also available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon.

M*A*S*H

For many of you reading this, M*A*S*H is most likely before your time. The show followed a company of army doctors and nurses as they work only a few miles from the Korean War front to save wounded soldiers. Based largely on stories and accounts from actual MASH doctors, the series premiered on CBS on September 17, 1972, and ended 11 seasons later in February of 1983. It was one of the highest-rated television shows ever and its final episode “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” is still the most-watched episode of television in history with a record-breaking 106 million viewers.

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As soon as I heard Netflix streaming picked up the first 5 seasons of M*A*S*H, I instantly added it to my queue. I remember growing up on the show and loved watching the antics of surgeon Hawkeye, played by Alan Alda, BJ, Radar, Potter and the rest of the cast week after week.

If you’re new to M*A*S*H, the first 3 seasons are pretty slapstick and based more on the comedic formula of the 1970 feature film than what would follow. Several of the main characters decided to leave after season 3 including McClean Stevenson as Col. Henry Blake and Wayne Rogers as Trapper John. When they left, the writers (and the actors) who replaced them made a conscious decision to set the new characters apart from the old and the show started taking on more dramatic depth.

Re-watching a classic series like M*A*S*H on Netflix is great because you eventually come upon episodes you’ve never seen before in syndication. Finding them is like unearthing gold, dramatic and comedic nuggets to savor and treasure. I already count watching at least 4 episodes of M*A*S*H I’ve never seen which is remarkable since I was sure I had already seen them all.

A situation comedy like M*A*S*H pre-dates the long-story filled arcs that are common among today’s popular shows, but it more than makes up for it in heart and touching character interactions. I always enjoyed seeing how these brave group of men and women clown, scrounge and save lives in the midst of war. There are great episodes in M*A*S*H that will make you howl with laughter as well as cry like a baby. The key is giving the audience the kinds of characters we care about and can relate to. When the show ended, none of us (myself included) wanted to see them go. Re-watching the series now, it’s very clear why.

House of Cards

For some TV goers, House of Cards may be an acquired taste. The award-winning series from Netflix returns for season 3 on February 27th and fans of the show have been anticipating it’s arrival like an overdue subway train. I got hooked on House of Cards after only a few episodes, largely due to the fantastic performances of the two leads, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Frank and Clarie Underwood.

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The show features the dark side of Washington politics and the lengths some will go to to seize and hold power. It’s a tight, well-written dramatic series that features some impressive twists and turns and enough political intrigue to keep fans consistently on the edge of their seat week after week.

Unlike Arrow or M*A*S*H, the entire House of Cards run is available for streaming, but only from Netflix. Indeed, House of Cards (and other Netflix series like Orange is the New Black) helped bring the term “binge-watching” into today’s lexicon. Thanks to how the internet is changing the way we watch TV, viewers can now experience the entire 10 ep season of House of Cards in a single sitting. Personally, I like to savor my television, so I usually skip a few days in-between episodes, but your milage may vary.

If you enjoy tense, political maneuvering, well-crafted, realistic characters or just plain good storytelling, House of Cards may be for you. Those who love the show, love it dearly and with good reason. Spacey, Wright and the entire cast is top-notch, the writing is clever and production values (especially the music) are as good or better than any show on network or cable TV. The cliffhangers from S2 have paved the way for what’s yet to come and I can’t wait until Frank finally gets back to breaking the 4th wall once again.

Archer

Yes, Archer is a cartoon, and yes, that sometimes means it can be childish and silly but for my money it’s also one of the funniest shows on television. Archer is the brainchild of its creator, Adam Reed, developed for the FX network and follows the exploits of Sterling Archer, master spy and anti-hero. The series premiered in 2009 and features adult humor and dark, sometimes vulgar comedy but that’s really part of what makes Archer so great.

Archer and his co-workers at the organization formerly known as Isis, are a rag-tag bunch of misfits who tout themselves as being skilled in covert surveillance. In reality, the team often causes more harm than they prevent, going from one international incident to the next, toppling governments, trying to overthrow drug lords and even protecting the Pope from assassination attempts.

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Archer is at his best when he’s facing off against any number of arch-villian spies the series has introduced over it’s 5-season run on FX. I especially love Sterling’s bionic rival, Barry Dylan, who has made Archer’s life a living hell on more than one occasion. Barry showed up again this season, as did a number of other recurring characters which has helped to make season 5 more memorable than the previous “Archer Vice” season 4.

The series features the amazing voice talents of H. Jon Benjamin as Archer, Aisha Tyler as Lana and former SNL cast member Chris Parnell who puts in a hilarious performance as accountant Cyril Figgis. The cast makes an annual appearance at Comicon and often does live episode readings, dishes on their fellow cast members and answer fan questions. I also love the visual style of Archer including the “sets” and the design of the characters themselves, many of whom are patterned on their real-life counterparts.

If you like off-beat comedy combined with a touch of adult humor and fantasy thrown in for good measure, you’ll want to check out Archer on FX. One of the best parts of an animated series is that the characters and show format generally don’t change. When it comes to Sterling and company, that’s just fine with me, they’re hilarious just the way they are.

Honorable Mentions

Other shows I’m currently enjoying or looking forward to returning include Marvel’s Agent Carter & Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, The Flash, Big Giant Swords on the Discovery Channel (yes, and it’s awesome!), Face Off, Better Call Saul and WWII in HD on Netflix.

Everywhere you turn there’s just too much good TV to absorb it all. I hope this quick rundown helps give a glimpse into the kinds of TV I love to watch. Maybe there’s something here that appeals to you as well, enjoy!

I’ll Miss You, Jon Stewart

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Like so many good things in life, we often take stuff for granted until we lose it. When someone’s been on TV as long as Jon Stewart has, you tend to think of him as always being there. So when the news broke on Twitter today that Stewart will be hanging up his fake news hat later this year as the host of The Daily Show, it almost didn’t seem real. I’m too young to really remember Johnny Carson’s 30+ year run on The Tonight Show, but I imagine our parents must have felt something like this when Carson finally decided to retire.

Sixteen years is a long time to host any show however and I can understand if Jon wants to take a break from the endless pressure of making fun of the 24-hour news cycle. Add to the fact the upcoming 2016 presidential campaign season is fast approaching and one can start to understand the timing behind Stewart’s decision. That said, it’s been a tough year for fans of late night comedy. Between Stephen Colbert leaving his series and heading to The Late Show on CBS and now Jon Stewart leaving the fray, where will I get my award-winning fake news from? If Jon Oliver didn’t already have enough to live up, now he’s got even bigger shoes to fill.

For my money, Stewart was at his best when he was wasn’t laughing. I relished those TV appearances like his watershed 2006 appearance on CNN’s Crossfire, where he raised the level of discourse about the state of politics in the media. He’s always cast a critical eye towards media and political figures who talk much but whom say very little. His epic stints with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly come to mind as the two would take jabs at each other from their respective, televised desks. His first ‘Daily Show’ broadcast after the attacks of 9/11 was one that I’ll never forget, and put into words what so many of us were feeling in the days after the tragedy.

For all his jokes and satire, Jon often contributed more to our understanding of the day-to-day issues facing us as a nation than many of his “real world” counterparts did. For that, and his genuine desire to try and stop the cable TV shouting matches we’ve all had to endlessly endure, I will dearly miss him. Here’s hoping his voice continues to be heard, if not on Comedy Central, then in some other fashion. We could all do a lot worse than Jon Stewart.

Remembering Robin Williams

I and many other people are feeling a deep loss at the sad news that funny man and Oscar-winning dramatic actor, Robin Williams, has died at the age of 63. From my introduction to Robin as Mork from Ork on Happy Days to his break-out stand-up performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, I followed his career at every step of the way and enjoyed everything he appeared in. Some of my favorite Williams’ performances include Good Morning, Vietnam, his amazing voice over work as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, Dead Poet’s Society, Awakenings, Toys and The Birdcage. It pains me to say it but there are many films he’s appeared in that I’ve never seen. With his passing I think I’ll have to correct that oversight and re-discover some of Robin’s incredible work anew.

There are only a few celebrities & personal heroes who, when they pass, I will truly grieve for. Robin Williams is one such person. He brought so much happiness, laughter and light into our lives it’s difficult to imagine a world without him. Personally, I’ll be focusing on all those wonderful moments and characters, all the belly-laughs and chuckles and even the tears he conjured as he entertained and transfixed us. He was a bright star in the lives of those friends and fans who loved him and he will be dearly missed.

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The Big Bang Theory Expands


SPOILER WARNING: This post contains minor spoilers for CBS’ Big Bang Theory. If you’re not caught up on season 7, you might not want to read. Then again maybe you’re okay with it. It’s up to you. What I’m saying here is you’ve been warned!


One of my all-time favorite TV shows, The Big Bang Theory, has been picked up for not just one, but three additional seasons. Yesterday CBS announced the multi-season deal to the delight of geeks everywhere. It’s really not surprising considering “Big Bang” has been ranked as the No. 1 sitcom since the 2010-11 season, and continues to hold the top spot in key demographics for the second straight year. Drawing that many key viewers each week is a huge deal for Big Bang and I wish the show continued success, although I do have some reservations.

Writing a weekly sitcom is a massive challenge but none more so than keeping the plot lines fresh and interesting. Ten seasons is a *ton* of stories to tell and even though the cast expanded to seven actors a few years back, there’s only so many character dynamics they can introduce. This year’s stories between Penny and Leonard have sometimes seemed forced and even mean-spirited. Leonard’s wavering support of Penny’s career in The Hesitation Ramification really didn’t bode well for their relationship and was rough to watch. Then we have Sheldon and Amy. Their relationship has moved forward a great deal this season including their very first kiss in The Locomotion Manipulation, but if the show is to survive they need to grow even further. The trick for the writers is not to jump the Shamy shark too soon. We’re all waiting for the episode where Amy and Sheldon finally have “coitus” as Sheldon would say, but once it happens where do they go from there? Will the so-called “Big Bang” be anti-climatic once it finally happens? And what about Howard and Bernadette? Their stories seem to have been put on the back burner lately, hopefully with 3 new seasons we’ll see more of them and maybe even a glimpse at Howard’s mom. And don’t get me started on Raj, that poor boy.

As a fan I’m delighted that my favorite comedy will be around for years to come. I especially enjoy this year’s guest stars like Bill Nye and Bob Newhart, I hope we see more of them. If anyone can continue to give us stories that make us laugh, squee with geeky delight and tear up week after week, it’s the Big Bang team. I know a lot of people don’t like the show and it’s over-the-top style, studio audience howling and nerd-centric jokes. But for those of us who tune in each week, The Big Bang Theory brightens our day, eases our stress and let’s us see a little bit of our geeky selves in the lives of Dr. Sheldon Cooper and Lenoard Hofstadter. It’s like a comforting, warm beverage served up by a close, funny friend and who doesn’t like that?

The Talking (Badly) Dead

SPOILER WARNING: If you’ve not seen all three seasons of The Walking Dead, this video may contain some minor spoilers for you. Watch at your own risk.

I’ve enjoyed the Bad Lip Reading parody videos for some time, but this new one based on AMC’s The Walking Dead is by far the best yet. It’s amazingly well done, especially the voice acting which makes it even funnier. If you love The Walking Dead, you’re in for a treat. The Governor’s finale alone is worth the price of admission.

Rooting for Shamy

My favorite television comedy, The Big Bang Theory, returns to TV on Thursday, Sept 27th on CBS. To get ready, I’ve been going back and re-watching many of the season 4 and 5 episodes that I love the most. The Alien Parasite Hypothesis (the one where Amy gets the hots for Penny’s friend Zach) and The Shiny Trinket Maneuver in which Sheldon buys Amy a tiara as a transparent attempt to sooth her relationship anger (the ep earned her an Emmy nomination) are two stand-outs. As the series has progressed, my favorite part of the show has morphed from watching the male leads interact to the relationship that has developed between the three female leads – Penny, Amy and Bernadette. The way Penny and Bernadette adopted the socially awkward Amy into their group is adorable, as is the crush Amy has on Kaley Cuoco’s character, Penny.

Of all the relationships Big Bang has featured, I think the Sheldon / Amy duo has to be the best. They are two wallflowers who are brilliant in their respective fields but who are children when it comes to their emotions. This has changed over the course of the show as the writers took definite steps to move Sheldon & Amy’s (Shamy for short) relationship forward. Over time, Sheldon has elevated Amy from a “Girl who happens to be his friend” to his actual girlfriend. In the season 5 finale, Sheldon incredibly took Amy’s hand as they watched their friend Howard boldy travel into space. If you are a fan of Big Bang, this moment probably gave you goose bumps as it did me.

I love The Big Bang Theory because I can often relate to the geeky jokes and situations the writers create for the characters. The show is ripe with Star Trek, comics and video game references, but it is the characters and their relationships that give the show the deep, emotional satisfaction I love so much. Like many fans, I’ve been rooting for Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Folwer to get together, and I believe that one day they will.

In a wonderful season 4 interview between Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik, they reveal their working relationship, how they prepare to film a script and that they too are rooting for their characters to make it. Often times we as fans forget that an actor ultimately doesn’t have the final say in what happens to the characters they portray, the writers and producers do. If any of the show’s writers are reading this, all I can say is keep up the great work. We love how Amy & Sheldon have grown closer towards each other and we want more. Just not too fast, getting there is more than half the fun! Tune in to the season 6 premiere of The Big Bang Theory on CBS on Thursday, Sept 27th. Go Team #Shamy!

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Wel-l-l-l-l-l-l! Dick Orkin’s ‘Chickenman’ on iTunes

A hundred years or so ago when I was attending RIT, my friend and college professor Steve Loar, introduced my classmates and I to one of his personal loves, an old radio show named Chickenman. Created by broadcast hall of fame inductee Dick Orkin in 1966 for Chicago’s WCFL, Chickenman was inspired by the popular TV series “Batman”. Originally scheduled to run just two weeks, the show’s popularity took flight and eventually became nationally syndicated, ensuring its success. Today Chickenman remains the longest running radio show in history and can be heard on XM Radio’s Channel 151 and American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS).

Each episode checks in around 2 minutes long and tells the tale of Midland City’s Fantastic Feathered Fowl, an anti-hero who roams Midland City seeking criminals in his yellow crime-fighting car, the Chicken Coupe. He has a secret headquarters, the Chicken Cave, accessible through a trap door in his bedroom closet and when his duties as shoe store manager keeps him busy, his mother Mildred fills in as the “Maternal Marauder“.

Back when Steve introduced us to Chickenman in 1990, there were only a handful of episodes were released on vinyl, but every one of them managed to bring a smile to my face. I used to love listening to the White Winged Warrior hang out in the mayor’s office, generally annoying the almost-unflappable Miss Helfinger, performed to acerbic perfection by Jane Roberts.

I recently discovered that all 273 episodes of Chickenman are available via iTunes for download and I’ve been in poultry heaven ever since. If you love snarky, quick-paced humor, comics or just want to have a good laugh, wing your way over to iTunes and check out Dick Orkin’s Chickenman. Just remember evil doers, he’s everywhere! He’s everywhere!

Nimoy Beams Up to ‘Big Bang’

If you’re a fan of Star Trek and CBS’s geeky comedy The Big Bang Theory, then this is the stardate you’ve waited for. Sources at TVLine.com report the March 29th episode of Big Bang will include a long-sought guest appearance by none other than Star Trek’s own Leonard Nimoy.

Fans of Big Bang well know just how obsessed Jim Parson’s character, Dr. Sheldon Cooper, is with both Spock and the actor who plays him. Other Trek vets such as Wil Weaton, LeVar Burton and Brent Spiner have all made appearances on the hit comedy, but Nimoy is the vulcan we’ve all been waiting for.

Even though Nimoy will only be heard and not seen, this has to be a huge coup for Bill Prady and the rest of the cast of The Big Bang Theory. I can’t wait to see how they work Nimoy into the story and hope it will eventually lead to more guest appearances. After all, it’s only logical.

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Favorite Film Funnies

I’ve been seeing quite a few of these “Best Movie Lines” videos on YouTube and so I thought I would take a shot at making my own. It took some work to grab all of the clips, but the result was worth it. Editing this short ode to silver screen silliness was really fun. Next up, my favorite dramatic lines. Enjoy!

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Biff’s Question Song

To be fair to actor Tom Wilson, who played the infamous bully Biff from the Back to the Future films, I’d probably ask him all of these questions too. That’s why I’m so glad I discovered this gem of a clip where Tom puts all of the answers to song. The result is something that should somehow be worked into the next season of Big Bang Theory. Enjoy!

Hat tip to IO9 for this post

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Andy Richter Gets Tweaked for DVD

Back in January I wrote about the release of one of my all-time favorite TV shows on DVD. After almost 7 years, Andy Richter Controls the Universe was released on March 24th and thanks to Amazon.com I had my copy on the 25th.

All in all, CBS has done a pretty good job with the transfer of the show to DVD. The box set is formatted for 16:9 televisions and the decisions about where to crop the image for widescreen make it seem like the show was originally shot in HD, which it wasn’t evidently was (my bad). The picture is clear and selected episodes even come with audio commentary from Richter himself. If you’re a fan of the show, don’t miss these as well as the making-of features that are at the end of the third disk.

While it’s indeed awesome to finally have ARCTU on DVD, there are a few upsetting things that Andy fans will immediately notice. The first problem relates to the order of the episodes. While the DVD appears to list the show’s episodes in broadcast order, it would have made much more sense to list them in the order they were produced. It’s never made sense that the show’s 2nd episode (aptly entitled “Second Episode”) was aired 4th, especially since it immediately follows the events in the pilot. New viewers will inevitably be confused.

Perhaps worse are the numerous changes in the show’s soundtrack that have been made. It’s impossible to tell if these edits were done because CBS couldn’t or simply didn’t want to secure the rights for the original music, but either way they’re disappointing. Here are just four examples from two episodes of the changes that have been made.

Some of the changes I can deal with, but others are just bad. The “pseudo Sting” cover when Andy meets Wendy in his office is one of the worst, but the loss of the clip from The Sound of Music in “Grief Counselor” just plain makes me sad. I always got a chuckle out of Andy & Wendy kissing to the cooing sounds of Austria’s heartland and now it’s gone. I imagine this change was made because 20th Century Fox owns The Sound of Music and they didn’t feel like negotiating proper rights. Still, I’m a firm believer in the credo “If you’re going to do something, do it right”.

Overall this is a welcome, and long overdue release of one of the most underrated TV shows ever. If you’re a fan of Andy Richter, this set is definitely worth picking up. The image quality and formatting, as well as the DVD extras help make up for the sub-par treatment the soundtrack received. Check it out!

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I Miss MST3K

Although Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is best known for the lampooning of various B-rated sci-fi movies and horror flicks, I always enjoyed their roasts of public service short films best. These self-righteous reels from the 40′s and 50′s, always did take themselves too seriously and made perfect fodder for Crow, Tom Servo and Joel’s witty zingers. The clip below is classic MST3K as the trio firings on all cylinders. I’ve tried to get into Michael J. Nelson’s new take on MST3K, called RiffTrax, but it just isn’t the same. Thank goodness for YouTube so we can sit back, relax and enjoy “A Date with Your Family”. Just don’t enjoy it too much, after all, the dinner table is no place for emotion!