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Friday, December 2, 2011

Last Week in TV #10

Here it is, the long-awaited (??) return of "Last Week in TV".

The Simpsons: The Book Job

Look, I'll admit, between its send-up of the book industry and wanna be writers, the presence of Neil Gaiman and the references to slick con man films, this episode couldn't have fallen more in my wheelhouse, so I may be incapable of viewing it objectively, but I absolutely loved this episode.

All that aside, it's also a terrifically written and directed episode. I'd like to think someone who doesn't have my personal connections to the world of books and writers would find this just as enjoyable and funny an episode as I do. It benefits greatly from its focus (no unrelated B story to distract from things) and structure (the Ocean's 11/Italian Job parody gives the episode a strong form on which to lay its jokes), as well as some truly hilarious offhand jokes (the dinosaur show at the beginning, Homer and Bart's references to Kansas City, calling Neil Gaiman the British Fonzie). It all combines to make for one of the few latter day Simpsons episode that I would go so far as to include in a discussion of the best episodes ever.

Lisa: Everybody knows you got the idea for the series after an explosion at a crumpet factory knocked you off a double-decker bus. How could that be made-up?

Frink:...and they play a complicated sport which makes no sense caused Fuzzle Pitch! 

Patty: Don't kill him! That's Neil Gaiman!
Moe: I don't care if he's the guy who wrote Sandman volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes, no one spies on us!

Neil Gaiman: That tuna didn't salad itself...

The Man in the Blue Flannel Pants
This was a largely unremarkable, inoffensive episode, and in that regard, it's almost the worst kind of Simpsons episode. It's wasn't bad, it was just terribly average. It had a few good gags, but for the most part, it just did its thing and got off the stage, neither sucking nor being funny enough to be memorable. At least a bad episode inspires some reaction; this just sort of existed. Then again, maybe I'd have enjoyed this more if I'd watched Mad Men, but it seemed to me like they were simply parodying the broadest strokes of that show, those things which even someone who hasn't watched it is familiar.

Homer: My work is so meaningless...
Marge: You make electricity! It runs the hospital!
Homer: You can’t touch electricity, Marge. You can’t feel it
Marge: That's because it would kill you.
Homer: It's already killing me. You're the only one I can talk to. My wife just doesn't get it.
Marge: I'm your wife!
Homer: My job is my wife. Loneliness my mistress, despair my sex buddy. Angst is a chick I met online, but then it turned out it was really a guy.

Jimbo: Your fists are sisters?
Dolph: Yeah, Poke-ahontas and Sock-agawea!
Bart: Nice save

Family Guy: Thanksgiving
Like the most recent episode of Simpsons, this is another episode that manages to be neither good enough nor bad enough to warrant much commentary. Family Guy has certainly done episodes before that slipped politics in and amongst the gags (like the Brian/atheism episode) but like the Simpsons episode and Mad Men, the critique of the war in Iraq here felt a little less timely than it could have been. And while this episode at least made more of an effort at being funny while also being serious than the domestic abuse episode, only a few of the jokes really landed (I particularly enjoyed the series of Mayor West cutaways that ended with "future old people are wizards"), and the whole Thanksgiving setting ended up feeling like a lost opportunity. 

Lois: Okay everyone it's 2:30, time for dinner, cause on Thanksgiving, 2:30 is dinner time for some reason.

Amish Guy 

I'm not gonna lie: I just about cried from laughing at Stewie's "I thought something was a-mish" line (and the subsequent slap from Brian) that closed out the first act. That's just the kind of guy I am.

This had every chance of being very, very awful. When I saw, essentially, "Family Guy pokes fun at the Amish" in the DVR description, I figured it would just be Family Guy putting a vulgar spin on a sitcom cliche a few years too late. But go figure, it actually turned out to be pretty funny, and Meg even sort of got a story that didn't make her the butt of all jokes (well, except for the horse poop part). I mean, this was nowhere near as good as "Back to the Pilot", but it was standard, enjoyable Family Guy fare, with enough gags crammed in that the good ones (like the bit with the steam making Quagmire watch) made up for the bad ones (the Chinese caricature singing about how no one likes rice cakes), and for the most part, that's good enough at this point.

Ezekiel: We solemnly believe that although humans have been around for a million years, you feel strongly that they had just the right amount of technology between 1835 and 1850. Not too little, not too much. Please deliver us from Thomas Edison, the worst human being who ever lived. 

American Dad: Virtual In-Stanity

This was pretty much classic American Dad: everyone got something to do (well, except Hailey, but that's pretty much the norm these days), the over-the-top elements (avatars, the limo going places it couldn't physically go) grounded by a strong character motivation (Stan trying to reconnect with Steve) plus tons of geeky references and guest voices from Buffy and Willow. Solid, funny stuff. 

Francine: He doesn't want ball games, he just wants to ball dames. Huh? HUH?

Stan: Your mom didn't kiss me til the third date! It made the sex on the first two dates very impersonal

The Scarlett Getter
And American Dad is apparently on a roll, because this was another strong episode. It managed to setup three great American Dad situations: Stan as a blithering idiot, righteously angry Francine, and Roger (in costume) and Stan competing with each other. Of the three, Francine's anger was most amusing, as it also played off just how oblivious Stan was in going on about Scarlett to her (plus, I not surprisingly, really loved her creative writing class gag, which sounded like every free writing, word count-required exercise in every creative writing class I've ever taken). Toss in a little Benny Hill, some lucky panties, and it's clear that American Dad is firing on all cylinders right now.

Bullock: You are a complicated man, Smith, I would love to do mushrooms with you.

Once Upon a Time: The Thing You Love Most
Hey, remember once upon a time when I watched this show, then promptly got squeezed for time and let it pile up on my DVR? Well, we watched the second episode finally, and it was...okay. Very much a second episode, in that it was largely the pilot redux, establishing the premise, the conflicts, etc. It even featured the same things I liked (the potential for cool fairy tale flashbacks, Henry, whose earnestness continues to crack me up) and didn't like (the general vagueness of character motivation) from the first episode. It'll be interesting to see where this show goes when it's finally been around long enough to cut loose.

Other Thoughts
We did learn a few things and get some setup for new mysteries; Henry is named for the Evil Queen's father, she blames Snow White for taking what she loves from her (the Prince?), and is beholden to Rumpelstiltskin, who is apparently the most powerful magical being in FairyTale Land (which is pretty cool).

Henry's procurement from an orphanage in Phoenix is probably part of why he's not affected by the curse (which suggest a whole Star Wars/Chosen One deal where maybe the reason Emma is destined to break the curse is because she gave birth to Henry), but I am curious as to how exactly this "time doesn't move" thing works; how has Henry grown up? Do people remember when he was younger? How does modern technology get integrated? Does no one from the outside world ever come into Storybrooke? Do they not have TVs? 

Malificent was disappointing, in that she's probably the most badass Disney villain and was decidedly un-badass here.

The two best scenes in the episode were the closing exchange between the Evil Queen and Mr. Gold, and Emma taking a chain saw to the Queen's apple tree.

The Walking Dead: Chupacabra

Maybe it's just because this episode featured Daryl, who's more or less the best character on the show at this point, or because the edges of Herschel's seeming utopia are starting to fray, suggesting some larger narrative movement at last, but this was arguably the best episode of the season since the premiere.

The Daryl narrative was a lot like an episode of Lost (in a good way): focusing on the struggle of a specific character to complete a specific task while he's egged on/haunted by the vision of a figure from his past. While some of the beats were expected (you knew he was going to fall back down the first time he climbed the cliff, you knew Vision Merle was going to transition into a zombie at some point), it was still exciting to watch, and offered greater insight into Daryl's character.

I won't say much about the last minute reveal, since any of my thoughts have probably been proven/disproven by now, with the show airing its mid-season finale last week. Though I do wonder why no has noticed the noise/smell that must come from the barn when there's a dozen or so walkers in there.

Other Thoughts 
Herschel's transition from kindly country doctor to well meaning dictator has been pleasantly subtle and fun to watch; the beauty of it is that he's not entirely wrong for wanting these fuck-ups off his property, away from his horses and not consuming his resources. On the other hand, I've been supiscious of him from day one and now we have the zombie barn (and something tells me you all have already seen the other shoe drop regarding Herschel). 

Andrea almost shooting off Daryl's head was pretty awesome in a "shut-up stupid Andrea" way, just as Nick's glee at the prospect of more sex was awesome in a "holy crap, her dad's right there, you horny moron" way. Just further proof that these people are, generally, idiots.

On the subject of morons, Maggie having Glen pick their hookup spot was pretty dumb, right? Like, "we need this character to do something that doesn't make any sense just to move the plot along" dumb.

While it was cool to see the opening napalming of what I presume to be Atlanta, that was kind of a random flashback, wasn't it? Also, why didn't the napalming work? Once again, zombies are a finite resource; if the military was able to mount an operation like that against at some point, you'd think they could have staved off the apocalypse, or at least cut down on the number of zombies. 

Dale: Don't be too hard on yourself. We've all wanted to shoot Daryl.

Herschel: It's a wonder you people have survived this long (possibly the best line on the show ever)

How I Met Your Mother: The Rebound Girl 

So didn't we already do the "Lily and Marshall contemplate moving to the 'burbs" episode a couple weeks ago? Yes, I realize this episode was more about Robin coming to accept their decision (and the larger issue of change in her life, brought on by the not-so-shocking shocking cliffhanger reveal that she's pregnant) than it was about making the decision itself, but it still felt very repetitive only a few episodes removed from the Halloween episode.

I should probably be more intrigued/captivated by the "Robin is pregnant" revelation, but I'm really not. There's something intriguing about Robin, the character furthest removed from Ted in the wanting to have a family department being pregnant, as well as the notion that Ted wants a family more than any of his friends and is now the furthest away of all of them from achieving it, but I mainly just shrugged at the end of the episode. There's enough potential in that storyline to make it payoff, but for now, it's just kinda "meh" (and I know I asked this in a Walking Dead review before, but there's no way this is Barney's kid, right? I mean, it's only been a few weeks, at most, since their fling, and there's no way she could already know she was pregnant if it was a result of that, right? I apparently need to learn more about female biology...).  

The Ted/Barney plot, meanwhile, was silly, stupid fun. At times, it seemed to be trying too hard to setup a new HIMYM thing (bro-parenting), but it had its moments of humor as well as it's moments of "this seems pretty ridiculous." In the end, the bit worked mainly because Josh Radnor and NPH were clearly having tons of fun with it.

Lily (after Marshall pushes the turkey through the doorway): Okay, I changed my mind, I want an epidural.

Marshall's five options for Lily's grandparents' house: 1. Sell it. 2. Year-round haunted house. 3. Giant fence around the perimeter, chimp sanctuary. There’s already a tire swing in the backyard. 4. We destroy it with sledgehammers. 5. Move in, raise our children, make this our family home. Until they graduate and we destroy it, with sledgehammers. As a family.

Top Chef: Red Hot Chili Cookoff 
Early in the season, they're clearly pulling out all on the stops on the Texas gimmick, and I hope that means they're going to use them all up soon so that by midseason (when we've started to care a little more about certain contestants) they can just do challenges that involve cooking good food. Cuz I don't know if I can handle an entire season of hearing "there ain't no beans in Texas chili" (or some equivalent thereof) in a voice that sounds like the Crazy Texan from Simpsons.

I mean, every state has their regionalities and pride when it comes to food and customs, but there's something about the arrogance in which people from Texas (and Boston, for that matter) express that pride that drives me nuts, like its not enough to explain how it's done in Texas, you have to make sure everyone knows this is how it's done in Texas and thus, it's the absolute right way to do it and to think otherwise makes you crazy and/or a terrorist

Anyways, the Quickfire was a good example of how to build a challenge around a specific regionalism without it becoming obnoxious. Chilies are heavily featured in Texas cuisine, so the contestants have to feature them in their dishes. Toss in the whole "hotter the chile, the bigger the payout" angle and it made for an interesting challenge (plus, it was cool that the guy who picked the hottest chile won).

Other Thoughts
I loved the little interstitial this week of the judges talking about what assholes they are for making the bottom three cook again; they should make that peek at the judges a regular feature.

Once again, no individual winner. It seems odd that 4/2 weeks into it, no one person has yet to win a challenge. Makes it a little harder to pick a front runner.

Being early in the season, I have little emotional connection to any of these contestants yet, but it was still pretty sad to see Chris and Richie get split up.

Holy crap, Beverly, stop crying!

Don't Be Tardy for the Dinner Party

Last episode we had the annoying "there ain't no beans in chili!" Texans, this week we got the snooty, bitchy wives hosting a progressive dinner. Holy crap, they drove me nuts. I mean, we've seen plenty of "consultations" on this show (and this season) before, so the idea that some people have likes/dislikes the chefs need to account for doesn't bother me, but just as with the chili cookoff, the way these women expressed those preferences irritated the hell out of me, like anyone who disagreed with them was clearly inferior, and should the chefs dare to defy their wishes, the women would destroy them. They were also hilariously contradictory (make something people will talk about, but nothing too adventurous.) Honestly, I felt really bad for their husbands...

This episode also gave us the first pseudo-surprise elimination, as Chuy seemed to have a frontrunner vibe about him already. At least from the way judges' table was edited, it seemed like all four of the dishes were pretty bad, but Chuy got eliminated because he didn't recognize the inherent flaws to his approach (overcooking the salmon to cook the cheese). On the other hand, Paul, with the win here (first of the season) and the Quickfire win last week, seems to have emerged as a favorite to win, but everyone else seems pretty clustered in the middle.

Other Thoughts
Fun Quickfire this week, very classic Top Chef, reminiscent of the vending machine/gas station type challenges. It's always fun to see what people come up with given very limited ingredients that aren't of the caliber they're used to. 

Again with the judges' table editing: John Besh ended up saying the most. I think Padma got one line in, as presented.

Tom was on fire tonight, with a couple of good zingers, and an awesome smirk when one of the snooty women was complimenting a dish.

 I like Ty-Lor Master of the Universe's mustache.

Whitney got a fair amount of screen time this episode, prompting both Mrs. Teebore and I to ask, "who is this woman?" We had no recollection of her from any previous episodes.

Snooty Dallas Lady: It looks like blood!
John Besh:…It's a red wine reduction, I assure you.

Saturday Night Live: Jason Segel & Florence and the Machine

Maybe my expectations were just too high to fully enjoy this episode. As a big fan of Jason Segel and the Muppets, I had high hopes going into this, and while we got what was reasonable to expect (Muppet cameos, some Jason Segal nudity) it seemed to lack the manic energy Segal can bring to his characters, and while none of the sketches were "Secret Password" bad, there was nothing terribly memorable either (with one or two exceptions).

The "Live With Kelly" sketch was just an excuse for a parade of impersonations, but this round featured several little-done or never-before-seen impressions, like Hader's Garrison Keillor or Armisen's George Lopez, who made me bust a gut. The Vogelcheck sketch is one of those that is always the same thing and not all that funny on paper, but at the same time, always elicits a few laughs just for how over-the-top everyone takes it. And I'm not ashamed to admit I flat out didn't get whatever that retirement party sketch was trying to do.

On the other hand, "Andre the Giant Order Ice Cream" was hilarious for how spot-on it was, and also, Andre the Giant is awesome. The digital short was a nice step up from the last few outings, and Kermit acquited himself quite well on Weekend Update. But hands down my favorite sketch of the night was the Kemper-pedic commercial, which left me with tears of laughter.

Kermit: When people go to a Muppet movie, they say, ‘Gee, I can’t wait to see the human!'

Episodes Featuring a Game Show: 3/7
Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song: 4/7


  1. We actually watched the Simpsons last night on Hulu, based on your suggestion. It was indeed delightful and just cemented how much I still love Neil (OT, I'm a bit hipster about Neil, having been a fan of his way before he was super popular)

    FG thanksgiving - I did like Peter's drunken antics and his "game" with Chris. Otherwise, I can barely remember what happened in the episode

    Amish Guy - I think I've grown tired of "meg gets another boyfriend that doesn't work out" plots. I just have no buy in when she almost married that doctor. Or Adam West. Or that guy in prison.

    AD Virtual - oh man, we Laughed our asses off when Stan was dancing to Get Low in the Avatar box. I don't know who animated that but it was amazing and disturbing all at once

    Once Upon a time - yeah, the second episode is the last one we managed to watch. All the subsequent ones are still on our DVR

    Walking Dead - chupacabra was easily the best ep this season, but again, I'm pretty sure that that's just because I love Daryl so much.

    Top Chef - Hah! We also made a comment last night, wondering who the hell Whitney was.
    We also like the fact that we don't actually have to watch the redemption islandesque cook-off online, because they'll just show us next week who won.

  2. So we watched the Book Job Simpsons last night on hulu because you had told Sarah about it. This is probably the first new Simpsons episode i've seen in maybe 5 years. I thought it'd be funnier than it was, but i think i've just outgrown Simpsons. i mean- it was good (and maybe me baking cupcakes during the episode didn't help) but i didn't find it HILARIOUS. i do love Neil Gaiman though. Also now i really want to rewatch the Oceans trilogy, but some dbag friend has it and hasn't returned it and i can't remember who

    Family Guy Thanksgiving was meh for me- i found it pretty predictable- i called he was AWOL the first instance Joe questioned an inconsistency

    Amish Guy was ok for me too- mostly because i apparently have a fairly good knowlege base of Amish life, so was kind of annoyed with their discrepencies (like- the kid could experience 'normal' life on his Rumspringa and it's a totally acceptable thing). Also- Meg seemed way too attached to this guy after knowing him for like 1 evening.

    OK- we LITERALLY cannot stop thinking about Stan dancing in the Avatar suit. Their dance animation is just crazy and it freaked me out a little by how realistically it was portrayed.
    Who did Willow and Buffy voice?
    Scarlett Getter was ok for me too- a little predictable as we called her being an alien hunter pretty early on. I did love when Stan tried to exit the room but hit his head on the table and fell over. Loved the lucky panty storyline!

    You've caught up to Once Upon a Time to where we are. I think we have like 3 or 4 eps on our DVR just waiting for us to watch them. At this point...i'm not sure we'll get back to it

    Chupacabra- man i love Darryl! We just watched the mid-season finale so that's pretty fresh in my mind- i'll probably save most of my Walking Dead comments until after that ep's review because i don't want to accidentally include any spoliers since you're still behind an ep.

    Top Chef- we also felt bad Richie went home (and we're kind of bummed to see he lost to Beardo on Redemption Island).
    we said the EXACT SMAE THING about Whitney showing up this last episode. where the heck did she come from?
    Also- i really hate rich people
    The bottom four at the dinner party was rough because we liked all four guys. Chuy was our vote to go because we liked him least

  3. i see when Sarah and i comment at the exact same time our comments are very, very similar

  4. Hahaha! The whole "no beans" story was awesome!

  5. @Sarah: I'm a bit hipster about Neil, having been a fan of his way before he was super popular

    Similarly off topic, my brother and I realized our aunt is a total hipster on Thanksgiving when she was complaining about how all the contemporary fiction books she reads becomes these big pop culture spanning things months after she reads them (like The Help). She was even using all the usual hipster jargon about how she liked this stuff before everyone else did.

    I think I've grown tired of "meg gets another boyfriend that doesn't work out" plots.

    Huh. I honestly didn't even think of that as a "thing" until you rattled off the list of all of them, and it's totally a thing. I guess I've just been so focused on the "Meg gets dumped on" plots lately that I forgot about the apparently only other plot the writers have for her.

    All the subsequent ones are still on our DVR

    I'm glad other people are still behind on stuff too...

    We also like the fact that we don't actually have to watch the redemption islandesque cook-off online, because they'll just show us next week who won.

    Ditto. That's all I really care about: who's in there, waiting to bust back into the competition.

    @Anne: but i didn't find it HILARIOUS.

    You are wrong, it was hilarious. C'mon, they called Neil Gaiman the British Fonzie.

    the kid could experience 'normal' life on his Rumspringa and it's a totally acceptable thing

    First of all, nothing kills comedy like "logic" (I'm also pretty sure they animated buttons on some of the Amish clothes). Secondly, isn't that just one sect/derivation/whatever of Mormons that do that? I thought some allowed it and others didn't?

    Meg seemed way too attached to this guy after knowing him for like 1 evening.

    Then again, your sister just pointed out how much a character trait that apparently is for Meg, so maybe that forgives it?

    Who did Willow and Buffy voice?

    Buffy was the blond avatar girl and Willow was the easy redhead Steve blew it with because of the blond avatar.

    I did love when Stan tried to exit the room but hit his head on the table and fell over.

    That was probably by favorite bit from the episode, but it doesn't translate into words very well.

    The bottom four at the dinner party was rough because we liked all four guys.

    Yeah, we thought the same thing.

    @Joan: The whole "no beans" story was awesome!

    Damn Texans...


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