Legion is already the best show of 2017

Legion is already the best show of 2017

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Three episodes in and I can already with confidence that there will be no show in 2017 better than Legion. The latest dramatic effort by FX and Noah Hawley of Fargo fame, combines the comic book lore of Netflix’s multiple Marvel series, the mystery and uneasiness of Mr. Robot, the cinematography and visual allure of Westworld, jump scares to rival American Horror Story, and the vision and direction of Hawley. And that hasn’t even touched on the love story (featuring a twist that’s reminiscent of the gone-too-soon Pushing Daisies) that has done more in three episodes than most shows do in three seasons.

Without spoiling it too much for those who have yet to take the dive, Legion follows David (Dan Stevens), a diagnosed schizophrenic who hears voices inside his head and can never really be sure what is real and what is only a manifestation of his supposed illness. What David soon finds out though, is that he may not be quite as crazy as he has been told throughout his life and instead may be harboring extremely powerful mutant abilities.

Like Robot, much of the series takes place inside David’s mind, which goes without saying, is not a pleasant place to reside. While similarities to the Sam Esmail thriller may spring thoughts of the “unreliable narrator” syndrome that some critics got fed up with in Mr. Robot’s 2nd season, Legion is so engrossing from episode to episode and shot to shot that the occasional “..wait was that real?” moments feel more like a fun little mystery box that needs solving than an unfollowable head-scratcher.

The plot and background of the show is what brings people in (if you haven’t made the connection by now, Legion was originally an X-Men character and is in fact the son of Professor X in the comics, although no such relationship has been confirmed in the show just yet), but it’s Hawley’s vision and direction that will keep them there. In addition to being downright terrifying in parts, Legion is also incredibly tender and character driven.

As a former junkie who was locked up and told he was crazy his whole life, having someone (in this case his love interest, Syd (Rachel Keller))  believe that he could be something more is changing David’s entire world view, but he’s not without his hesitations and he is never sure who he can trust. With tremendous performances by Stevens, Keller, Jean Smart, and Aubrey Plaza, Legion has the horses to keep up with its weirdness, and if you allow yourself not to ask too much too quickly and just go for the ride, you might be surprised at all the different places the show will take you.

Hawley, who’s shot and music selections are once again sublime, presents the show in a way that is not only visually stunning, but forces you to stay glued to your television. Blink or look at Twitter for a few seconds and you may miss a clue, a split-second frame switch, or maybe just a frog smoking a bowl that manifests itself in David’s brain.

That’s not to say, of course, that Legion is a perfect show. There are (minor) problems (for instance, our protagonist  has a thinly written sister that underutilizes the talented Katie Astleton) but, barring a Heroes Season 2-like fall from grace, and even with shows like Robot, Fargo, The Americans, and Better Call Saul coming back with new seasons in the near future, Legion stands alone for its vision and freshness even in the era of Peak TV.

Saying much more would spoil the plot, so the only thing left I can is just watch the damn thing. I can absolutely guarantee you won’t regret it.

Now for some random shit.

Best Performance of the Week

The Path has strayed off the uh…path a little bit in season two, but Michelle Monaghan continues to do impressive work and is worth keeping up with for her alone.

Monaghan’s Sarah is in a rough spot, being questioned by the Myerist followers, passive-aggressively bitched at by Mary, tested by Cal, and underappreciated by Haw, and that’s not even touching on whatever is going on with her and Eddie. Still, Monaghan plays the part with raw vulnerability and she has becoming the most engaging part of the show as other characters (and the plot) have stalled.

Christine Baskets is the best character on TV scene of the week

Christine got to hang out with her mom this week and we got some more heavy lifting from Louie Anderson as we learned it’s been 25 years since Christine’s husband (and Chip and Dale’s father) passed away, during which time she has not been intimate. After Chip and Dale’s latest round of bullshit destroyed the entire house, Christine finally decided to take the leap and visit the carpet guy she fell for a few episodes ago in Denver. You got this gurl.

This week’s plot of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia but every character is replaced by characters from Mad Men.

It’s Valentine’s day and after an influx of single customers crash the bar, Don Draper is trying to get the gang to actually care about doing their jobs for once. However, Betty, Roger, Duck, and Pete are more concerned with a mysterious crate outside.

While Don continues to give his best efforts at the bar to please the new customers, Roger is jealous that Duck is becoming friends with a parasite on his body that he has named Jerry, and he tricks him into getting rid of it. Later, Betty fools Roger into singing him a love song by threatening him with anthrax.

It is finally revealed that Don was just pretending to give a shit about work because he never got a valentine from his friends. Pete then surprises Don by telling him that what was actually in the mysterious crate all along was a Rocket Launcher the gang had bought for him as a surprise for the holiday.

John Oliver taught me this week about…

Obamacare! Aka the only topic your Uncle has been talking about on Facebook the last 8 years.  Without divulging too much into politics, the far and away best part about this segment was watching footage from the town hall meetings in which people just booed the ever loving hell out of their congressmen and women when they tried to speak at town halls. 

Booing is an underutilized tool in society and should be much more acceptable in everyday situations, imo. I should able to boo at the top of my lungs whenever the person in front of me at the grocery store pulls out a wad of coupons without anyone batting an eye.

Least Realistic Riverdale Plot Point of the Week

Archie continues to be the least interesting character on the show, but let’s dive into all of the incorrect ways Riverdale writers think high school football works. Also, this is a good time to note that the straight up stole one of the main plot points on this show from fucking High School Musical.

  • As far as I’ve ever experienced in my life of playing and watching sports, captains are not selected via a weeklong tryout between two players and are almost always either selected before the season by the coach or voted on by the rest of the players. Even if that were somehow the case, the coach would definitely never ever bring the two players he’s considering into a room and draw out the tension about who he picked like he’s Ryan Seacrest announcing the winner of American Idol.
  • Furthermore, in football, there would normally be an offensive AND defensive captain meaning Archie and his rival (Mason? Melvin? Who cares) could both be picked since they play on different sides of the ball.
  • High school football may have tackling in practice, but it would seem unlikely that one of the best players on the team would be jacked up by a defensive player during a scrimmage, and it’s even less likely that player would then get rewarded for it by being named the captain.
  • Sure, it’s possible I guess for a 10th grader to be picked as varsity football captain, but considering Archie supposedly barely made the team, how in the hell is he all of the sudden being considered to be the leader?

Riverdale writers: please consult Friday Night Lights.

Random Media Recommendation of the Week: Missing Richard Simmons (Podcast)

Fitness guru Richard Simmons basically disappeared from the world without a trace in February of 2014, going cold turkey from public appearances, teaching his weekly classes, and perhaps most frighteningly of all, completely cutting off his friends and fans who he communicated with on a daily basis (although suspiciously, his social media accounts remain active).

Simmons isn’t missing (he just hasn’t left his house). but documentary filmmaker and friend of Simmons Dan Taberski wants to know what the fuck is up. No one could have possibly expected that a show about Richard freaking Simmons could be the next Serial, but here we are. This show is totally engaging and will have you hooked after the first episode. Even if you don’t give a single shit about Simmons (which frankly, I did not before this podcast) it’s worth a listen just based off the pure weirdness of the whole situation.

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty revisionist history of the week

“And the 2012 Academy Award for Best Picture goes to….Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close!”

Out of context Rick and Morty quote of the week

Is your intention to abandon Rick, using his own portal gun? In Bird culture, this is considered a dick move.

See you next week, everybody.

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The Top 50 Shows I Saw In 2015, #25-1

The Top 50 Shows I Saw In 2015, #25-1

Welcome back! If somehow you missed out over the incredible amount of hits it received, here’s part one of my Top 50 favorite TV shows of 2015 list, so without further adieu, let’s move on to the Top 25.

25. Transparent

Jeffrey Tambor plays Maura on the new drama Transparent on Amazon Prime.

“Transparent” is only recognized widely by award shows as a comedy because it runs in 30 minute episodes, as I’m not sure I laughed more than once or twice during its complete second season on Amazon. Although that may seem like an insult, it’s not. “Transparent” isn’t funny because it’s not meant to be. It is unlike a sitcom because it is incredibly layered and challenging, choosing emotional triggers and dramatic situations over cheap jokes.

Now that the initial shock of Maura’s transformation into a woman has worn off on the Pfefferman family, each character is given more of an opportunity to face their own problems, and the show is improved because of it. Maura is still the show’s central focus, but now Sarah, Ali, Josh, and even Shelly are given more of an opportunity to deal with the problems their own lives present head on.

“Transparent” is at the end of a day a show about finding your identity and accepting yourself. Whether it is gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, family, or whatever else. “Transparent” is gripping and sometimes even hauntingly sad, but it is above all incredibly raw and emotional and a great selection for whatever awards it wins no matter which category it ends up in.

24. The Affair

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Showtime’s “The Affair” took noticeable steps back in its second season, but even a sub-par episode of “The Affair” is still better than most shows.

The biggest issue with the show this year was the descent (pun intended, and I’m just realizing now if you don’t watch the show you won’t get the joke) of Dominic West’s character Noah as he lost even more of his moral compass to become utterly unlikable, and his redemption story towards the end of the season fell short.

Still, the rest of the writing  was strong, and Ruth Wilson and Maura Tierny were both amongst the best acting performances of the year. While “The Affair” ultimately came to a dissatisfactory conclusion in its final episode, the journey was still well worth it. Furthermore, the decision to give the ex-spouses of the two main characters (Tierny and Joshua Jackson’s characters) a more primary role in the story, (as well as their own flashback scenes), helped to bring the show into a fresher direction from those who were worried its gimmicky presentation from its rookie season wouldn’t hold up.

23. Catastrophe

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The opening six episodes of “Catastrophe,” a BBC show also picked up as an Amazon Prime exclusive in the US, were some of the funniest and  the most good-hearted TV episodes of the season.

“Catastrophe” revolves around an American, Rob (Rob Delany) who winds up accidentally knocking up a woman he has a bender with (Sharon Horgan) when he is visiting England on business. When he finds out about the news, Rob decides to move to England and make it work with Sharon. The premise may seem a little one-note, but the comedic performances make it well worth your while.

You won’t see too much of Delany’s signature vulgar Twitter humor but he and Horgan, who also write the show, have natural chemistry, and even in its more dramatic moments, you often can’t help but smile at them. “Catastrophe” is another one of those shows you could knock out in a semi-marathon (the second season is currently airing in Britain and will be released in the US shortly) and it’s well worth your time, even if you’re unfamiliar with Horgan or Delany as comics.

22. Veep

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“Veep” cleans up at the Emmy’s every single year, and despite my aversions I finally decided to give it a go last winter, and I had no idea what I was missing.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is as advertised as one of the funniest characters on TV as the now President Selena Walker, and while the show would be hilarious enough if it focused entirely on her, the top-notch ensemble cast and brilliant joke writing makes it one of the biggest laugh-out-loud shows on TV.

This past season was unfortunately the last for EP Armando Iannucci, responsible for many of the infamous one-liners that stand the test of time, and it remains to be seen how the show will adjust without his presence. Still, this season which revolved around Selena’s bid for reelection was one of the shows brightest as background players like Matt Walsh, Anna Chlumsky, and Sam Richardson were really given the chance to shine.

21. Jessica Jones

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It’s safe to say that “Jessica Jones’ exceeded any and all expectations as the consensus pick for top show in the superhero genre of 2015, but to only call it a good “Marvel” show isn’t doing it justice. “Jessica Jones” wasn’t just the best “superhero” show of the year, it was flat out one of TV’s best produced dramas.

Krysten Ritter put in a fantastic performance as the title character, but David Tennant more than stole the show as the villain Killgrave. While Killgrave’s mind control powers kept the show’s sci-fi theme in tact, “Jessica Jones” did not fall into the trap of a stereotypical villain, instead using Killgrave as a vessel to shine light on themes of domestic abuse, victim blaming and Stockholm Syndrome. Whether or not “Jessica Jones” fully intended to be, it became a premiere show for the voice of equality and feminism on television.

Beyond that however, more than anything, “Jessica Jones” is just an extremely well shot, directed, and acted action show (although its not without its flaws, see: cliched and underdeveloped side characters), and it proved along with “Daredevil” to already be worth Netflix’s investment of diving into the Marvel universe.

20. Key and Peele

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For five seasons, the under-the-radar work put in my Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele on “Key and Peele” was outstanding, and in their final effort, they went out with a bang.

Not since “Chapelle Show” (a show “Key and Peele” often gets unfairly compared to) has a sketch comedy show been as consistently funny and sharp as “Key and Peele,” and while yes, they often get the most attention for their racially motivated sketches (many of which, like the final sketch of the series “Negrotown” are downright genius), Key and Peele are just as comfortable finding their comedy from dumb things like the names of pro football players, or the overuse of the phrase “deez nuts.”

The future is bright for both performers whether they choose acting, stand-up, writing, directing or whatever, because they have both have proved to the world over the last five seasons that they are two of the funniest men on television. Although I look forward to seeing what comes next for them, not having a new season of “Key and Peele” to look forward to and knowing there will never again be an overly excitable valet sketch is something that’s going to take some time to get over.

19. Silicon Valley

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“Silicon Valley” had a monumental task in front of them in 2015, as they were trying to follow up their critically acclaimed first season without the character of Peter Gregory after the actor who portrayed him, Christopher Evan Welch, who tragically passed away in between the filming of the two seasons.

While there was certainly a missing aspect of the show without the great work of Welch , “Silicon Valley” writers otherwise were able to take leaps and bounds forward in season two. Thomas Middleditch brought more depth to the central character of  Pied Piper CEO Richard Hendricks, and his battle with “Google” ripoff  Hooli CEO Gavin Belson was the highlight of the show. “Silicon Valley” delicately balanced just how many times to pull the proverbial ball away from Hendricks and crew just when it seemed like they were primed to kick it, without it becoming irritating.

Smartly, season two also allowed for more significant roles from side characters played by great comedic actors like Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, and Zach Woods. “Silicon Valley” is one of the smartest, more tightly written sitcoms out there, and season two proved it has the staying power to be a force for several years to come.

18. Rectify

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“Rectify” is sometimes referred to as the “best show no one is watching” (or maybe I just made that up, but whatever), and it’s a real shame.

Although season three was the weakest season yet of the Sundance Channel original show, it still proved to be one of the most effective dramas on television.

Now that we’re three seasons in, the question of whether or not Daniel Holden actually killed Hanna was really no longer even relevant (not that it ever really was), although more answers were provided this year than I would have expected. Still, Ray McKinnon and his writers still mostly decided to focus on the repercussions of Daniel’s inclusion back into society, and the mental toll it takes on his family members when he refuses to fight the allegations lobbied against him, while the investigation remains a side story that almost feels at times disconnected from the central plot.

Brilliantly acted again by Aden Young, Abigail Spencer, J. Smith Cameron and the rest of the cast, “Rectify” is a slow burn that tugs at you and sucks you in. Season three was challenging at times, and often left you heartbroken, but it still tops the list of TV’s more under-appreciated shows.

17. Game of Thrones

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You’d be hard pressed to find a GOT fan that didn’t think that the latest season of the show was its worst. However, it was still good enough to clean up the “Best Drama” award at the 2015 Emmy’s. It was an odd choice to pick this year of all years to award “Game of Thrones” with that top prize, considering some of the questiomable narrative choices made and the controversy much of the season generated (Sansa’s rape induced a full plate of #hottakes the next day).

Still, “Game of Thrones” even with its flaws, is a phenomenal program, capable of providing some of the most high stakes dramatic moments on television. This year, it was the epic battle between The White Walkers and Jon Snow’s wildings crew that gave the season its best moment, and that episode alone is enough to qualify GOT for a top 20 spot. Three or four other scenes (many from the finale alone) were some of the most memorable and visually impressive of the year as well.

While I may not personally agree with the direction some of the characters went in in this past year, it’s hard to really argue that “Game of Thrones” isn’t one of televisions best shows, which is why once again it was the most torrented show of the year. Show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have more than proven they deserve the benefit of the doubt, and while the world waits for George R.R. Martin to write some more god damn books, “Game of Thrones” will be in capable hands as it further divides from its source material.

16. Bloodline

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Captivating, engaging and brilliantly acted, the first season of “Bloodline” cemented it as one of the best breakout shows of 2015.

While the central plot of “Bloodline” took a few episodes to really kick into gear, once it did, the story of a disjointed family who makes a series of horrifying decisions and has to deal with the consequences, slowly but surely proved to be an enthralling thrill ride.

Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendhelson each put in career defining performances as dueling brothers each fueled by a warped sense of right and wrong. “Bloodline” is a character study about family, and the consequences of the choices we make, no matter how far in the past those mistakes may be.

The only complaint I could maybe have about “Bloodline” is that sometimes its even too slow of a burn and sometimes can take 30 minutes in an episode for business to really pick up. But more often than not, side conversations characters have that seem unimportant will come back to the fray in some way or another to connect the dots of the story.

For those who have seen it, without giving too much away, I worry about where they will go from here in season two, but if future seasons are anything like the first, than “Bloodline” will soon become fully recognized as one of TVs top dramas.

15. Mad Men

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I watched “Mad Men” unlike any other show on the list this year; I binged watched it over the course of the year. I figured that after seven seasons of “Mad Men” being critically acclaimed as one of the best shows on TV, it was time, so I did what I hate doing: I binged one show straight through on Netflix and knocked out the seven seasons in 6 months.

Yes, I know 6 months seems like way too long for people that can watch a whole season of a show in one night, but that’s how I like to do things. But we’re getting off topic here, that’s a discussion for a different blog post.

Anyways, it’s hard for me to speak about just the 2015 version of Mad Men because I watched it all together, still I’ll try. The final episodes of “Mad Men” fell flat to me, at least considering how great the show was in its heyday, and yet, it undoubtedly still was some of the most poignant dramas on TV this year.

Don Draper’s final journey just felt…off to me. But the end game for Joan, Peggy, Pete, Roger and many of the other characters was more appropriate without being predictable. “Mad Men” is a show that never through the course of basically eight seasons lost its voice. From episode one until the finale, “Mad Men” had a specific tone and feel that never wavered. Although Matt Weiner ultimately decided not to cater to most of the crazy fan theories in the shows final episodes, he more than did justice to a show that will go down as one of the most significant of the decade.

14. Louie

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In a way, it almost feels like you can tell that Louis CK doesn’t really want to make “Louie” anymore. Season 5 was the shortest season yet, and now CK is taking an indefinite hiatus before he comes out with season six. It’s unclear why “Louie” has become so significantly taxing on CK (you know besides the fact that he writes and produces the show, and is the lead character) but it may be simply that CK is ready for a break after experiencing his fair share of criticisms and even some pretty nasty allegations this year.

Still, if season five of “Louie” was CK’s swan song for the time being, he went out with a bang. “Louie” has always been a show that is deeply poetic and metaphorical, but this season CK took it to extreme levels with episodes such as “Untitled” in which CK is literally tormented by a monster that weighs on his conscious after he refuses to help a woman in need.  CK also tackles the generational gap, depression, and of course the modern day stand-up world, including the phenomenal final two episodes of the season “The Road” pt. 1 and 2 in which Louie is out shined on a tour by a comedian who thrives on sophomoric humor and , Louie has to come to terms with his own shittiness as the reason why he is not more beloved.

Like usual, CK manages the themes with tact, without forgetting that at the end of the day this show is still supposed to be funny. The character of “Louie” has grown a surprising amount in the shows five years, and although the real life CK may need a break from him, I for one am excited to see where he goes next.

13. The Leftovers

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The first season of “The Leftovers” that aired in 2014 was probably the darkest and most depressing shows on television. It was also tremendously narratively flawed, and Damon Lindelof vowed to lighten it up a bit in season two.

Well, he didn’t.

In fact, if anything, “The Leftovers” was just as dark as its first season. Except this time, it was tighter, more intense, and significantly better all around than it was the first time.

“The Leftovers” might not have been my favorite show of the year, but it certainly was the one that kept me the most engaged. Yes, there was plenty of mind-fucking that contributed to that, as I was trying to figure out just what the hell was going on at times. But it was more than that, it was also extremely well-acted, twisty, violent, gripping, explosive, and shocking.

Those seeking answers to every little mystery that “The Leftovers” provides are missing the point. At the end of the day, it’s the story is not about the 2% that went missing, it’s about those who are left behind. Now that the show has relocated to Miracle, everything has changed for the members of the Garvey’s as well as those who inhabited the town before the disappearance.

It’s a show that challenges you to stick with it and sometimes it can feel like just too much. But for those willing, “The Leftovers” will leave you saying “wow” more than any other show on TV.

12. Bojack Horseman 

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“Bojack Horseman” should probably not be good. The premise sounds dreadful on the surface..an animated sitcom about a former child star that is a horse, as he deals with the booze and drug filled life that follow many former stars as their careers slip away from them.

But not only is “Bojack Horseman” surprisingly often very funny, it’s also deceivingly dark. Bojack will not only leave you with enough clever animal puns and inside jokes that make the show warrant a second and even third time through of watching, but it’s also incredibly thoughtful and unique. It’s animated format allows “Bojack Horseman” complete flexibility over its setting, and while it uses it plenty of times for gags, it also cleverly uses it to tell Bojack’s story in a way that couldn’t be done in three dimension.

No show surprised me more than “Bojack Horseman” when I decided to check out its first two seasons on Netflix this past year, and while the first season took a couple episodes to pick up steam, the second continued momentum of the thoughtful final few episodes of the first season. Bojack Horseman is stunningly one of the most complex and interesting characters on television, (with a great voice performance to boot from Will Arnett) and its a show that can make you cry, and cry laughing with tears in the same half hour.

11. Master of None

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Aziz Ansari has become a bit of a comedy renaissance man. Along with his long-term run as the scene stealing Tom Haverford, Ansari also continues to be one of the hottest names in stand up comedy, and is even a best selling author. Despite Ansari’s prior successes, it came as a bit of a surprise when his new Netflix show, “Master of None” turned out to be one of the best new shows of 2015. Yet if we were really paying attention, we should have seen it coming.

If the only exposure you have to Ansari is his role as Haverford or maybe one of his stand up specials, “Master of None” will show you a side of him that is much deeper, thoughtful, and introspective than you may have thought possible. Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang follow Ansari’s Dev as he goes through life in New York City trying to find the right love, get his acting career off the ground, and finding out more about his family history.

Each episode largely deals with a central theme such as “Parents,” a look at the under appreciation second generation immigrants have for their parents’ struggles (starring Ansari’s delightfully charming real life parents) and “Indians on TV” about how minorities are treated in the film and TV industry.

The real best part of the show however comes in the second half of the season and deals with the blossoming romance between Ansari’s Dev and SNL alum Noel Wells as Rachel. Ansari and Wells have blazing chemistry, and in the episodes “Mornings” and “Finale” we see their life play out over the course of a year, from when they move in together until Rachel ultimately decides to end things. It’s one of the most stand out group of episodes (“Mornings” specifically if I have to choose one) of television I saw this year. Hilarious, sweet, but ultimately devastating.

Overall, “Master of None” is a tremendous success for Ansari as he continues his ascension as one of comedies biggest stars.

10. You’re the Worst

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“You’re the Worst” was one of the premiere breakout comedies in 2014, as creator Stephen Falk took the generic rom-com format and turned it into a series of edgy one-liners, and hilariously awful characters.

This year however, “You’re the Worst” took a hard turn. The show remained funny, but it decided mostly to focus its main storyline on the season on something completely unexpected: clinical depression.

Aya Cash probably won’t be in line for an Emmy this year, but she absolutely should, as she brought to life perhaps the best imitation of what it is really like to be clinically depressed that TV has seen….ever?. Cash’s Gretchen wasn’t just sad, she was broken, unable to perform even the most basic of tasks like getting out of bed, much less giving a shit about her friends’ zany misadventures or tring to keep her already troubled relationship afloat.

Season two of “You’re the Worst” kept much of what made its first season great while also presenting one of the most under-the-radar dramatic performances of the year, and the combination is enough for it to be one of my absolute favorite shows of 2015.

9. Last Week Tonight

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While I have eight shows above “Last Week Tonight” on my favorite shows of 2015 list, there is no show on TV that is more important than John Oliver’s weekly half hour dive into the problems facing our world.

Oliver is half comedian and half investigative journalist, and while his timing and performance are great, what truly makes him stand out above the fray are the topics he chooses to cover. Each and every week, Oliver is solely responsible for bringing significant exposure to an important news topic that otherwise may be swept under the rug. And not only that, but Oliver is able to, in 20 minutes, not only explain the issue in depth, but tell jokes while doing so, without letting them step on the importance of the subject matter.

Oliver is not only changing the late night game, he’s also changing the news industry. While Jon Stewart is rightfully seen as the pioneer in the “fake” news format, Oliver has taken it to a new level. Whether its mental health in the US, Syrian refugees, LGBT rights, or the NSA, “Last Week Tonight” is a great way to get informed, laugh a lot, and get mad at the people in charge of these institutions.

8. The Americans

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In its third season, “The Americans” brought Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings to the absolute brink.

The show about Russian spies during the Cold War has been one of TVs best dramas for three years now, but season three brought its characters to a crossroads. With the continued recruitment of their daughter Paige to join the USSR, the Jennings’ are forced to come to a decision once and for all: stay loyal to the motherland, or throw it all away and attempt to live their life as assimilated Americans.

Paige is the key to the entire scope of “The Americans,” and young Holly Taylor brings about a performance that matches if not surpasses the always outstanding Kerri Russell and Matthew Rhys in the lead roles. While “The Americans” is naturally tense and dramatic, it can also be incredibly intimate, and season three brought the show to new heights.

Oh, and there is also a scene which is by far the most brutal, and haunting scenes you may ever see on television, and spoiler alert, it involves trying to fit a dead body into a suitcase.

7. South Park

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“South Park” has been on the air for 19 seasons. You would think after nearly two decades on the air, a show would be comfortable and complacent (see: “The Simpsons”) in a generic formula. But Trey Parker and Matt Stone were never one’s to shy away from pushing the envelope, and instead of keeping “South Park” in the bubble of episodic non linear storytelling they had implicated for the 17 years prior, (in S18 they dabbled in connectivity as parts of prior episodes such as Randy Marsh actually being Lorde carried over from episode to episode), they decided to take the show in a completely different direction and for the first time tell one continuous story over the course of the season.

What resulted was an occasionally disjointed but always hilarious season of “South Park” that once again proved to be one of the best conveyors of social commentary on television. With characters such as”PC Principal,” the frat bro who aggressively shamed those who showed the slightest bit of political incorrectness or intolerance, Leslie, the literal human embodiment of an actual advertisement, and the not-so-subtle 60s cartoon villain named “Reality,” South Park allowed newer characters to help drive the narrative (with much bigger roles for the likes of Timmy and Officer Barbrady) and took a slight detour from Kyle and Stan being each episodes protagonist.

While the usual individual episode themes were present (gentrification, click bait, internet shaming, ISIS) season 19 of “South Park” also brilliantly weaved together a narrative arc that brought the show into uncharted waters. It’s unfair to dislike “South Park” for offending you or disagreeing with your political views, as that’s alway been their m.o., and yet, some critics were quick to jump on Parker and Stone this season for not taking a stronger stance on issues like gun control.

But despite that small minority of critics (and there have always been some with “South Park” for one reason or another) this season was one of the shows best, and for the first time, the usual one-two punch of comedy and social commentary was joined by a surprising third reason to love “South Park”: an engaging and often thrilling science fiction storyline.

6. Better Call Saul

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Doing a spin off to one of, if the singular greatest television drama in history is a risky task. Vince Gilligan and co. must have known that coming in to the production of “Better Call Saul’s” first season, as the “Breaking Bad” universe expanded to show how small-time lawyer Jimmy McGill transformed himself to the Saul Goodman that BB fans came to know and love.

And yet, while there was plenty of doubt heading into the show that Better Call Saul would be able to match “Breaking Bad’s” success level from a writing perspective, if anyone had the ability to do it, it was Gilligan and his team. By the end of the first season, all doubts of Gilligan’s ability had been washed away, as “Better Call Saul” proved to be one of the years best dramas in its first season.

Any misgivings that Saul Goodman was a strong enough character to anchor his own show was erased by the incredibly strong performance in the lead role by former funnyman and now unlikely character actor Bob Odenkirk. Odenkirk brings a depth to Jimmy/Saul that he never had the chance to explore during “Breaking Bad,” and in just the span of a few episodes the sleazy lawyer that we had come to know had been stripped away into a small-time lawman, vulnerable and desperate.

Knowing what eventually becomes of Jimmy (and the show graces us with black and white flash forwards to confirm how Saul’s life ended up post “Breaking Bad”) makes his trials and tribulations even more devastating. Odenkrik is joined by the excellent Michael McKean as Jimmy’s disturbed but brilliant brother, and Jonathan Banks puts in one of the best performances of the year in a supporting role as the familiar Mike Ehrmantraut.

Gilligan has proven now with the success of “Better Call Saul” that he really is a dramatic genius, and if BCS is someone able to following the same upward momentum from season one to two as “Breaking Bad” did, it may be the frontrunner for best show of 2016.

5. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

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A few years ago, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” felt like it had hit a lull. Not that the show was ever bad per say, but the quality of the episodes had drastically fallen off from the legendary first 4-5 seasons.

Yet, while for most shows the decline in quality would only increase as the show went deeper and deeper into its run, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” flipped the script, and in 2014 produced one of the shows best seasons nine years after it debuted.

Any questions about IASIP declining once more were put to rest with the tenth season in early 2015, as show runners and leads Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenny, and Charlie Day proved that there was still plenty left in the tank.

Season 10 provided some of IASIP absolute most classic episodes, such as “The Gang Group Dates” and “Frank Retires” but it may have achieved its cinematic peak with “Charlie Work” a Birdman-esque dive into the day-to-day life of bumbling idiot Charlie Kelly, only to see that he more than anyone else keeps the Paddy’s Pub afloat while the rest of the gang couldn’t care less. Shot in one continuous take, not only is “Charlie Work” perhaps the shows best episode ten years in, it’s also a complete new and out of the box way for Always Sunny to produce an episode, proving that the IASIP gang are far from out of ideas.

Another reason why Always Sunny improved so much in recent years is that the once subtle hints about the shows main character’s secrets (Charlie is illiterate, Mac is gay, Dennis is a sociopath) are now essentially completely out in the open allowing for a while new crop of jokes and theme based episodes.

Who knows how long It’s Always Sunny can stay on this track, as all three men along with Kaitlin Olson have been popping up in many more TV shows and movies then they had been in the mid 2000s (even Danny DeVito has that Nespresso commercial). But as long as it does, it will remain one of the most can’t-miss comedies of the year.

4. Parks and Recreation

PARKS AND RECREATION -- "Viva Gunderson!" Episode 711 -- Pictured: (l-r) Retta as Donna Meagle, Adam Scott as Ben Wyatt, Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate, Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson -- (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC)

Heading into its final season, “Parks and Recreation” took an unexpected narrative turn, opting to skip over Leslie’s pregnancy and the beginning stages of her new job in Pawneee, instead fast forwarding three years into the future. Any time jump in a show is bold, but doing so heading into your last 13 episode run is extra risky. But in retrospect, although it was jarring at first, the time shift ended up giving “Parks and Recreation” the little extra boost it needed to sustain its high quality heading into its final season.

More than anything else during its seven year run, Parks and Rec was able to present fun, likable characters. That’s always been what the show is at its heart. It was never concerned with trying out its hand at overly dramatic story arcs or giving the show a darker side. Even the “villains” of the show like Tammy and Councilman Jamm were endearing in their own way. In its final string of episodes, Parks continued that theme, with the time jump allowing for things like Leslie’s run for Governor, Andy and April testing out the idea of starting a family, and a Leslie-Ron “feud” stemming from Ron leaving the Parks department.

Maintaining its high quality and extreme heart, “Parks and Recreation” led up to its final episode, one of the best put together finales I have ever seen. Opting not to try trickeration like “Seinfeld” or “How I Met Your Mother,” “Parks and Recreation” took notes from the wonderful finale of “The Office” by giving all of its characters the happy endings they deserve. In the “Parks” world, having closure on each character’s life post show was a thoughtful touch. I don’t know what I would have done had I not known that Jerry lived to be 100 years old, becoming the longest-tenured mayor in Pawnee history in the process.

Not having “Parks and Recreation” around next year will leave a hole on network television that will be nearly impossible to fill. Other shows have attempted to match P&R’s tone, but whether it is because of a lack of sharp writing or a less likable ensemble, they have all come and gone.

Characters like Leslie Knope, Ron Swanson, April Ludgate, Tom Haverford and Andy Dwyer will live on to be some of the most fondly remembered in sitcom history, and the final season of Parks and Rec gave them all fitting conclusions to their stories.

3. Nathan For You

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What Nathan Fielder is doing on his Comedy Central show “Nathan For You” right now, is not only comedic, it is straight up performance art.

In its third season, “Nathan For You” has taken Fielder’s characters ability to manipulate people into trying out his insane ideas on their real-life businesses, and brought it to new levels. No show since “The Office” has taken the concept of cringe comedy and brought a more refreshing take on it than what Fielder is doing, but for critics who claim his wild ideas would be short-circuited in time, he has proven that is far from the case in his unbelievable third season.

While his prior “Dumb Starbucks” and viral pig video stunts have gained him national publicity, in his third season Fielder brought more of his ideas to life such as his line of jackets that promote Holocaust awareness and his fake self-help book “The Movement” to help you achieve your fake fitness goals.

Fielder’s big ideas are the baseline of his comedic value on “Nathan For You” but it is his ability to maneuver in social situations to gain the exact reaction he is looking for that sets him apart from those who have tried similar styles in the past. Fielder has the ability to draw out moments and bring them to their most uncomfortable levels before releasing the punchline all without breaking character. The show is hilarious, and really, a I don’t laugh at any show more than “Nathan For You,” but it is also a strange study on human condition. It’s weird, it’s unprescedented, it’s brilliant. You should watch it.

2. Fargo

FARGO -- Pictured: (l-r) Kirsten Dunst as Peggy Blumquist, Jesse Plemons as Ed Blumquist. CR: Chris Large/FX

Last year, “Fargo” was the undisputed surprise show of 2014 (sorry “True Detective”). A tribute but not sequel to the Cohen brothers film of the same name, Noah Hawley’s first season of “Fargo” brought about humor, sharp writing, surprise twists, and classic characters that made it my favorite show of 2014.

Coming into this year, Hawley didn’t have the luxury anymore of sneaking up on anyone. The expectations for season two, set over thirty years prior to the first season and starring a stellar cast led by Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, Jesse Plemmons, and Kirsten Dunst, “Fargo” had a lot to live up to if it was going to maintain its high regard amongst critics.

While this season may not have surpassed the first, it more than proved that “Fargo” is a legitimate candidate for 2nd best TV show of the decade (it’s going to be next to impossible to top “Breaking Bad”) up to this point.

Every episode in season two was smart, surprising, clever, violent, and grabs you from its first scene to its last, refusing to let up even once. Just when you think you had Hawley and “Fargo” figured out, he finds a way to switch it up and bring the story in a surprising new direction.

The characters also continue to be head and shoulders above any other show on TV as well. In season one, both Lorne Malvo and Lester Nygaard were among the best written characters of the year, and this time around Peggy Blumquist, Mike Milligan, and Dodd Gerhardt all were extremely memorable in their own ways (and Dunst, Jeffery Donovan, and Bokeem Woodbine all deserves serious award consideration).

Each episode is cinematically genius as well, as Hawley’s editing and directing are masterful. It’s a show that is also funny, and sometimes downright hilarious while simultaneously being gruesome and bloody. While there was one show who leap frogged it in my opinion in 2015, there is no show I would say is more of a “must-watch” to appreciate the golden age of TV in 2015 more than “Fargo.”

1. Mr. Robot

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I don’t think anyone, me included, expected a hacker drama on the USA Network to be the best show of the year, but here we are.

Even the titled sounds wonky….”Mr. Robot” and the trailers didn’t do it justice either. When I first heard about it, I skipped out, “not for me,” I thought. But after about the fourth week or so, all I kept hearing was how surprisingly great “Mr. Robot” was, and I finally decided to give it a shot.

And it completely blew me away.

“Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail came from virtually nowhere to create one of the most intricate, and profound television seasons you will ever see. “Mr. Robot” is an action-packed thrill ride from episode one to its explosive finale, and it is the crowning achievement of television in 2015.

Led by a Emmy-worthy performance in the lead role by Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot” is unique from the get-go in that it tells the story almost entirely from the first person perspective of Malek’s Elliot Anderson, who is a drug addicted and possibly schizophrenic, but also a genius hacker.

With “Mr. Robot” you’re never entirely sure what is real, and what is just taking place inside Elliot’s head. It is bold and intense, and has some of the smartest editing choices I’ve seen in a long time.

Unlike a show like say “Lost” however, Esmail doesn’t withhold answers from the audience to the point of contempt. Instead, he smartly answers some questions, only for that answer to provide many more questions of its own.

There is no telling if “Mr. Robot” can sustain its success now that it will be on everyone’s radar in season two (see: “True Detective” and “Heroes” as shows with blistering first seasons which faltered in season two) but even if “Mr. Robot” gets worse next year (and for the record, I don’t think it will, as everything I’ve heard and read about Esmail seems like he has a specific plan for the story and is far from making it up as he goes), we will always have season one, which out of nowhere, burst onto the scene to become the best television show of 2015.

 

The Top 50 Shows I Saw In 2015, #50-26

Let’s just get this out of the way before we start. Yes, I watch far too much television. Yes, you are better at me in life doing all your cool stuff like “going outside” or “having friends” or whatever it is you kids do nowadays. Contrary to popular belief, I actually did more things than just sit at home and watch TV in 2015, but I did do enough of that to watch as many good shows as I could, because it’s something I like doing.  So screw you, imaginary detractors laughing at me.

We are undoubtedly living in a golden age of television. Baby boomers may wax poetic at The Jeffersons, and Cheers, while Millennials may pine for the days of The West Wing and Friends. But the 2010s are the peak TV decade. If you think I watch too much TV (which okay maybe I do) I only watched around 6% of the scripted programs on television. And a lot of those 350+ shows I missed are probably quite good. I’ll get to them next year.

For now, though let’s look at the Best 50 television shows I saw in the year 2015.

 

50. The Walking Dead

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Ugh, The Walking Dead. The last four episodes of the sixth season were so weak I considered leaving it off this list altogether. I could write 5,000 words about the issues with “The Walking Dead” but really it comes down to one thing: consistency. The prior season to this one was probably the strongest the show has been, and then it changed up its tone on you and fell into a rut in season six, choosing to instead focus on the things that make the show so incredibly frustrating (undeveloped characters, long boring conversations, confusing plot advancement). And don’t even get me started on the Glenn debacle.

The reason it’s still on this list is that there is a good show in there, somewhere. It comes in glimpses, in moments, sometimes even in full episodes. Approximately 2 gajillion people watch this show every week, so it’s not going anywhere. But unless it learns to correct its fatal flaws soon, it will be losing at least one viewer.

49. Blindspot

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“Blindspot” was the breakout network success of the season and it’s not hard to see why. It’s episodic, to fill those “NCIS” fans that can’t remember what happens on a show week-to-week because they’re all 76 years old, but it also has an overarching mystery of what exactly is going on with Jane and her tattoos. It’s intriguing, but it’s at times far too safe. Jamie Alexander does what she can in the lead role, but her love interest and partner Sullivan Stapleton is a dud, and the show suffers greatly because of it.

“Blindspot” is getting massive ratings and certainly has the potential to improve from a narrative perspective, but it risks jumping the shark once the central mystery gets solved if they don’t attempt to lay more ground work for the future.

48. Ballers

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A show about pro football players on HBO starring The Rock? Say no more. Ballers is exactly what it should be and nothing more. It’s an amusing, semi-realistic look on the life of pro athletes that doesn’t attempt to dive in too deep to some of the scandals that have plagued the sports world in recent years like domestic violence or CTE. Instead, it takes the lighter approach, and it’s better off for it.

Johnson and John David Washington are standouts, and if you’re a sports fan, it’s a good show to binge through on a Sunday afternoon once football season ends. If you’re not, well it still has The Rock in it.

47. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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Coming off a strong second season, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” fell into a lull in it’s third, but that back half of the second year still occurred in 2015, which gets it onto this list.

Once SHIELD writers stopped trying so hard to tie into to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and instead focused on their own stories and characters, the show broke out and became one of the most surprisingly improved shows of the 2014-15 fall season. While Clark Gregg’s Coulson still feels hollow, background characters like Fitz, Simmons, May, and Daisy, all got more depth, and the inhumans storyline brought about some stakes beyond the drawn out “Hydra vs. SHIELD” angle and the Ward bad-guy turn that chewed up far too much of the early season and a half.

46. House of Cards

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“House of Cards” has gone from being one of the best shows on television in its first season, to declining but still near the top in its second, to “uhh what the hell was that?” in its third. Now that Frank Underwood is the president, the show has suffered while trying to keep his reign of terror at all grounded in reality. Underwood is now a full-blown cartoon villain, and try as he might, there’s only so much Kevin Spacey can do to redeem the poor writing.

Still, the show is watchable and ranked in the top 50 thanks to the performance of Robin Wright as Frank’s wife Claire. Her role in the government and the declining relationship with her husband were central themes of this season, and her strong performance makes you wonder at times why she is not the protagonist and Frank still is. When focusing on ideas such as nepotism, sexism in government, and spousal abuse, the show remains strong. Where it falters is when it concocts more “Dr. Evil” type scheming from Underwood as he manipulates the dull and dimwitted background characters that serve below his presidency.

45. Scrotal Recall

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Once you get pas the ridiculous name, British Netflix sitcom “Scrotal Recall” has a lot of heart. The six-episode first season was based around Dylan (Johnny Flynn) finding out he has an STD and being forced to tell all the women he has slept with about it, while each episode gives us flashbacks of how Dylan met his mate.

Flynn and his love interest Evie (Antonio Thomas) have a natural chemistry that lifts the show, and the laughs come in traditional British-humor fashion, if that makes any sense.

It’s a show you could knock out in less time than it takes to watch a “Lord of the Rings Movie,” and while it’s not a series that’s going to stick with you long-term, it’s highly watchable while you’re folding laundry or something.

44. The Last Man On Earth

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Now that the premise of Wil Forte’s Phil Miller actually being the Last Man on Earth has been wiped permanently, the show by the same title has found a new life in its second season.

My biggest complaint about the first season of “The Last Man On Earth” was that Phil was entirely unlikable and, quite frankly a huge dick. This year, the writers have tried to make up for that, and when Phil and his now wife (again) Carol reunite with their old friends from the first season, Phil attempts to redeem himself, but of course keeps getting in his own way. This time however, he comes across more charming and dopey as opposed to sinister and mean-spirited.

Forte is great and the ensemble does a solid job. It’s not a show that makes me personally laugh out loud audibly too often, but Forte’s character work is enough to keep me watching week-by-week. Now that it seems as though Jason Sudekis’ character will finally be joining the fray soon, “The Last Man On Earth should maintain its upward trajectory as it continues to find its voice.

43. Man Seeking Woman

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“Man Seeking Woman” was nothing else if not the most ambitious concept of 2015. Starring Jay Baruchel and being produced in part by Lorne Michaels was not enough to get literally anyone to watch it on FXX, but the network gave it another season and I’m intrigued to see what they come up with next.

For those who haven’t seen it (and let’s face it you probably haven’t), Man Seeking Woman tracks Baruchel as he tries to find love, except for each of his romantic misadventures, Baruchel’s character Josh gets sent on an extended metaphor of the struggles of single life.

Dating a girl you’ve been set up with but she fails to meet your expectations for attractiveness? On Man Seeking Woman she is literally portrayed as a troll. Ex-girlfriend has a new boyfriend? Well he is actually a still-alive Adolph Hitler. Trying to ask a friend what to text a girl you just met? That’s cause for a meeting of the highest powers of the American government to discuss the possibilities and potential ramifications.

Sometimes the execution failed to meet its high concept, and more often than not it was just downright weird, but “Man Seeking Woman” was always fun, and that’s about all you can ask for.

42. Breaking Ground

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Reality TV shows about pro wrestlers have a bad reputation. There’s the Kardashian-esque “Total Divas” following the  quite-scripted life and times of female wrestlers outside of the ring. Then there is “Tough Enough,” a American Idol ripoff in which future WWE stars train to become the real thing in front of America’s eyes and the winner is determined by a national vote.

But with “Breaking Ground” produced for the WWE Network, the WWE takes a different approach. This time it follows wrestlers from NXT, WWE’s developmental system in Florida, as they try and push through to make it to the big time. These aren’t untrained wannabe reality stars on Tough Enough, these are real performers who have earned a contract, but are still a ways away from making it to their ultimate goal.

“Breaking Ground” isn’t afraid to be real. It follows performers like Devin Taylor and Cal Bishop all the way up until they’re released (and shares that intimate moment with the cameras rolling). It takes a dive into the real-life personalities of these wrestlers as they struggle with their families and relationships, and shows the coaches of these future “Monday Night Raw” stars calling them out in no uncertain terms for their rookie mistakes.

Non-wrestling fans probably won’t ever find “Breaking Ground,” but I firmly believe that even if you’ve never watched wrestling before, it’s a show you could enjoy (did I mention it’s narrated by William Shatner?, that might help).

41. Broad City

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As a 23 year-old white male living in Connecticut, I’m smart enough to realize that a show like “Broad City” isn’t necessarily made for me. But understanding different perspectives and viewpoints is important to anyone trying to get a better sense of the world around them, and “Broad City” is my pathway into the mind of two women in their 20s living in New York City.

“Broad City” is bold, and unafraid to take risks, while also being downright hilarious. It’s sexually explicit and vulgar (sometimes to a fault) and Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacbson are undoubtedly very in tune with their comedic voices.

What “Broad City” is able to do more than anything is turn gender stereotypes on their head and turn them into a punchline without being exploitative. Not every joke for me lands, but then again, it’s probably not supposed to.

40. Sense8

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The Wachowski’s are ambitious complex filmmakers that can strike big (The Matrix) or fall on their face (Jupiter Ascending), so I was watching the first couple episodes of their Netflix thriller “Sense8” in which eight people from across the globe all share a  psychic connection with healthy skepticism.

I won’t exactly say that they proved their haters wrong, but the first season of “Sense8” was far from a disaster. The show struggled when trying to connect the dots of its science fiction plot, but it shined ever so brightly when focusing on the individual characters and their shared journey. Sense8 wasn’t without its thrills either, and it is a deeply visual, sometimes extremely moving program.

A second season will be the true telling point when it comes out in 2016. If Sense8 can hone in on a more organized plot and further drive the bond between these eight characters while continuing its ability to use sound and camera cuts to induce emotion, it could become one of the best shows on television.

39. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

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“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is probably the easiest watch on television. While it will never ascend to being a truly great comedy because of its inability to get out of its comfort zone, it’s nearly impossible to produce a “bad” episode of B99.

While Andy Samberg is undoubtedly grating at times, his timing has always been terrific on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Still, as the years go on, he gets out-shined more and more by his phenomenal cast mates, as Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz, Chelsea Peretti, Terry Crews, Joe La Truglio, and especially Andre Braugher, seem to each have their fair share of great lines in each half hour.

This year, we finally took the next step with Peralta and Santiago’s relationship as they are now openly dating, and Holt is back as force captain. Besides that, every episode is pretty much exactly the same as it’s always been, for better and for worse.

38. Arrow

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While it’s companion show on The CW, “The Flash” hasn’t yet hit the wall and continues to be one of the best produced TV shows  in its genre currently on the air, Arrow stumbled greatly towards the end of its third season.

While it’s yet to completely recover, “Arrow” appears to be back on track in Season 4, as it has gone back to utilizing what made the first two seasons stand out. The Rah’s Al-Ghul storyline started hot, but by the end it had left the show without a clear narrative focus, and it took some weird left turns.

Now, we appear to be past it, and Damian Darke has proven to be a much more complete villain than Ras ever was in the Arrow universe. Meanwhile, Oliver Queen has finally started to use the “Green Arrow” moniker that fans have waited so long for.

Arrow continues to take a more dark approach to the superhero genre than any other show on TV, and at times it can feel like a drag. But the action, energy, and likability of the heroes can power it through, and the writers have proven on more than one occasion that they are more than capable of writing a devastating cliff hanger.

37. Orphan Black

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Let me start by saying this: Orphan Black can be an extremely confusing show. Not only do you have to deal with nearly a dozen clones that you have to keep track of, but there is at times not nearly enough exposition to explain what is happening and I often have to read episode recaps or rewind just to try and figure out if I missed something.

With all that said, the reason “Orphan Black” continues to be one of the better shows on TV despite its sometimes mumbled story is the continued underrated performance of Tatiana Masalny. Masalny portrays each and every clone sister with a knockout performance. Each has their own particular quirks and characterizations, and in the hands of a lesser actress, a show like “Orphan Black” would have fallen on its face by season three as they all would have become a jumbled mess of similarity. But Masalny nobly keeps the ship afloat and the shows third season might have been her best effort yet, particularly in terms of the ever uppity Allison and the complicated yet violent Helena.

Orphan Black is in dangerous waters in terms of its plot, and it may need to take a hard reset in season four, but for every misstep they make, they’ll always have Masalny to act her way out of it.

36. Survivor

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Screw you, I’m allowed at least one guilty pleasure on this list somewhere.

It’s hard for a lot of people to understand why “Survivor” is still on the air, but to those people I ask: when is the last time you actually watched it?

For many it would be never. Or not since the first few seasons. Or after they introduced one of their failed twists like redemption island or the Medallion of Power.

The thing is, Survivor learns from its mistakes. The game has evolved over the 15 years its been on the air to stop being a show about a group of strangers trying to survive in the jungle and eat gross stuff in which they just happen to sometimes have to vote someone out every three days (although that physical hardship element still does exist) and instead has become a complex game show revolving around strategy, interpersonal communication, and betrayal.

In order to win “Survivor” an individual must not only balance the treacherous rains and winds of whatever island they are placed upon, they must also contend with the winds of their fellow tribe mates. Over-scheming will get you outed as a rat. Under- scheming will make you seen as undeserving of the grand prize. Survivor winners must not only convince people along the way that they have their best interests at heart only to stab them in the back at the most opportune moment, they must also convince a jury of those same people to then award them one million dollars.

Season 31 brought about players who had experienced Survivor once before but had not yet won, and the passion and desire of each to win the game was unprecedented. Yes, these people want to be reality TV stars, but more so they all want to play the game of Survivor,  and while the non-fans may think thats’s one in the same, it’s actually far from it.

35. Community

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When Yahoo! announced it would be picking up the cult favorite “Community” for one final season, it seemed like an odd fit, and that inclination certainly turned out to be an accurate one. “Community” fans never really flocked to the streaming service like Yahoo thought they would, and the show ended on even more of a whimper ratings wise than it had during its dying days on NBC.

The thing is, if people had bothered to pay attention, they would have realized that the sixth season of “Community” was actually one of its strongest.

Even without the likes of Chevy Chase, Donald Glover, and Yvette Nicole Brown, Community continued to shine due to the bold narrative voice of Dan Harmon. The sixth season produced episodes based around themes of product placement (an episode that literally serves as a Honda commercial), and insincere acceptance of homosexuals (the Dean is asked to join the school board only because he is gay), while also not being afraid to show that classic Community throwback style with episodes that based around the gang falling into a trash compartment (ala Star Wars), and yet another Paintball episode.

Community is almost at times too meta to handle and Harmon lets his inner monologue get in the way of a good joke every once in a while, but still, if we really have seen the last of “Community,” it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever be another show that really is able to capture its spirit.

34. The Grinder

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I didn’t really intend to write seven paragraphs that no one wants to read about all 50 of these entries, so let’s keep “The Grinder” nice and short.

It’s really funny. If you liked Rob Lowe in anything comedic (mostly Parks and Rec) and want to see Fred Savage return to TV, you should check it out! It’s well written, the jokes are sharp, and its goofy without being dumb.

Wow, that was a lot easier.

33. Inside Amy Schumer

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It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Amy Schumer became the biggest name in comedy, but it came at some point between the beginning of the third season of her sketch show “Inside Amy Schumer” and her hit summer comedy “Trainwreck.”

“Inside Amy Schumer” is one of the best sketch shows on TV and will continue to be until she outgrows it for good. Schumer is self-defacing while still being confident, acutely aware of how she is perceived without being affected by it in any way. I believe she put it best when while accepting an award she clamored “I’m 160 pounds and I can catch a dick any time I want.”

As her fame continues to rise, so does “Inside Amy Scuhmer’s” cleverness. The first few seasons of IAS had at least one clunker sketch per-episode, but this year, they were almost all hits. The standalone “12 Angry Men” parody “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” might have been one of the five funniest episodes of TV this year.

32. Daredevil

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Guided by a particularly great portrayal of Kingpin by Vincent D’Onforio, “Daredevil” was Netflix’s first successful Marvel show of 2015.

I was skeptical that “Daredevil” was a character that could be correctly portrayed after the disaster that was the Ben Affleck film, but Netflix did an excellent job of staying true to the character’s tone while still telling an engaging story.

Along with D’Onorfio’s performance, the stand out in “DareDevil” was the brutal and extremely well shot action sequences, which were the best I saw on TV this year. “Daredevil” lacked an extra gear that we would see later in “Jessica Jones,” but it is a well produced and action packed 13-episode thrill ride, with a well balanced cast and strong fulfillment of source material. It’s a show that comic book and non-comic books fans alike can enjoy, and in many prior years would have been best superhero show on television.

31. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - March 27, 2014

I’ve seen “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” as high as number two on many year-end best of TV lists, and while I would argue that’s highly overrating it, it’s hard to argue there were too many stronger sitcom debuts in 2015.

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” took a while, three or four episodes maybe, to really find its footing, and I admit that I contemplated skipping it at times during its start. But as the show progressed, it got funnier, and funnier, and funnier, until it blossomed into a full fledged riot by the end of its first year.

Titus Burgess and Ellie Kemper will be seen obnoxious to some, but to me, they hammed it up because they had to ham it up. Tina Fey’s handprints are all over “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, and while “30 Rock” isn’t necessarily comparable, Fey’s humor and style give it the same feel, that requires over-the-top comedic performances to hit the tone (Jane Krakowski was so good at it in 30 Rock, she was essentially cast as the exact same part on UKS)

In addition, Kimmy Schmidt is one of if not the most likable main characters in recent memory,  and on top of all of that, I’m a sucker for cameos, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt may have had the two best of the year.

30. The Man In The High Castle

man in the high castle

Based on a Phillip K. Dick novel, “The Man In The High Castle” is a high concept drama about an alternate universe based around if the Axis powers had won World War II. If you’re excited about the idea of this concept turned into a TV show, you should be! Seeing Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan occupy the United States during the 60s is jarring , and there’s enough easter eggs to have you going through episodes three or four times to spot them all.

The issue is, that on occasion, the execution of “The Man In The High Castle” is lacking, and the acting far too often misses the mark. Still, there’s a lot to like from Amazon’s first major foray into the the dramatic world (unless you count “Transparent” as a drama, which we’ll get to later).

“The Man In The High Castle” certainly had it’s fair share of head scratching moments, but all-in-all it was a solid debut effort, even if it fell short of the shows tremendously high expectations. A twist in the final scene of the first season however, has set the show up for what could be a highly intriguing second go around in 2016.

29. The Jinx

the-jinx

As a sucker for true-crime documentaries, I was already sold on “The Jinx” before I even invested on it, and it did not disappoint when I finally gave it a go.

“The Jinx” is a six-episode mini-series chronicling the real life of estranged relative to the famous Durst family Robert Durst, who has been accused or linked to multiple murders. All the way up to it’s chilling conclusion (I won’t spoil it for you, but producer Andrew Jarecki could not have possibly imagined a better final scene), “The Jinx” does an excellent job of threading the needle of not coming off as sympathetic towards Durst, while also allowing the viewer to actually get inside his head and understand what makes him tick.

It allows the viewer to draw their own conclusion about the crimes committed, and seems to bring a new twist and turn into the story in each installment that changes your vantage point.

Certainly a more inspired effort than Jarecki’s fictional film about the subject, 2010’s “All Good Things,” “The Jinx” is a solid watch from beginning to end that will please fans of shows from “Serial” to “48 Hours.”

28. The Jim Gaffigan Show

jim gaffigan

If you just know Jim Gaffigan as “The Hot Pockets guy,” well, you’re not that far off. That’s not a slight on Gaffigan who is one of the best all around stand up comics out there, but he does certainly hammer home his favorite topics, the most popular of which is his well documented love of food.

On his TV Land series “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” Gaffigan reveals however there is more to his comedic voice than clever one-liners about processed meat sandwiches, and it was one of the most refreshing sitcoms of 2015.

Gaffigan is aided by a strong cast that includes Ashley Williams, Adam Goldberg, and Michael Ian Black (along with random cameos from the likes of Macauly Culkin, Steve Buscemi, Jon Stewart, Chris Rock and many more).  Gaffigan’s portrayal of himself is that of a self-defacing stand up comic with five kids in a small New York apartment, (all of which also happens to be him in real life) but although he is certainly brings elements of his stage persona with him, he makes sure not to dive too deep into “lovable idiot” territory.

Gaffigan was clearly influenced by his peer Louis CK in his ability to tackle serious subject matter in a light and comedic tone, but he was also careful not to fall into a trap of being a copy cat show, and made sure to maintain his own unique brand of comedy while showing the world he’s also a much better writer and producer than anyone could have expected.

If you watch only one episode of “The Jim Gaffigan Show” make it “The Bible Story” in which, without giving too much of the plot away,  Gaffigan deals with the theme religion perhaps better than any episode of TV I saw this year.

27. Narcos

narcos

No show was more brutal this year than “Narcos,” Netflix’s tale about the real life terrorism set in place by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar in the 1980s.

Led by a strong performance in the lead role by Wagner Moura and a clever narrative trick of using an American police officer played to fill in the narration, (thereby not forcing the Colombian characters to speak out of their native language too often), “Narcos” remained consistently surprising and horrific (in a good way) throughout its first season. While anyone even remotely familiar with Escobar’s life knows about his acts of senseless violence and the trail of dead bodies he left in his wake, “Narcos” does a commendable job of still driving home his tyranny without turning him into a fictional movie villain.

Occasionally the narrative trips forward too quickly and doesn’t allow viewers to comprehend a major plot point before moving on to the next one, and “Narcos” isn’t a show you could see running more than two or three total years considering how far into Escobar’s reign that they have already advanced. Still, all in all it’s another in the list of strong Netflix debuts this year, and a worthwhile depiction of a subject matter that was desperately looking to be told on television.

26. The Flash

flash-season-2-episode-4

No show burst onto the scene of network television more than “The Flash” when it debuted in the fall of 2014, and a year later, the companion series to “Arrow” on The CW has managed to continue its upward momentum.

What “The Flash” does better than most any superhero related entity in the last several years other than perhaps “The Avengers,” is truly capture the spirit of its comic book origins. “The Flash” just feels like a comic book show, and not just a gritty, high stakes drama that just happens to be filled with superheroes (which is often the issue with “Arrow”).

Grant Gustin does an admirable job as the title character, and while the show can be downright corny at times, Gustin is able to reign it all in. The back half of “The Flash’s” first season managed to not only tie together the season long story arc in a satisfying way, but also introduce a whole new set of problems for Barry Allen and his crew to solve in season two.

Thus far, the second season hasn’t surpassed the first, but it has maintained its tone and consistency. Finding a clever way to keep the phenomenal Tom Cavanagh on the show has been a plus, but ultimately its the solid writing and long-term vision from show runner Andrew Kreisberg that has made it one of the best network shows of the year.

 

Jurassic World is dumb and bad

****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR JURASSIC WORLD****

“Jurassic World” is a movie in which hundreds of people get eaten by Dinosaurs.

Why do these people get eaten by Dinosaurs? Because, quite honestly, it’s populated with the most grandiose set of bad-decision-making characters in movie history. Also, they built a giant amusement park filled with dangerous Dinosaurs and then on top of that, genetically created a mega-dangerous Dinosaur in the lab with no plans at all for what would happen were it to escape.

After seeing “Jurassic World” last night, I spent the 40 minutes of the drive home dissecting every gaping plot hole with two friends who I saw it with. The fact that we could have gone on another 40 minutes is a good indication of what was wrong with this movie.

Look, every movie has plot holes. “Interstellar” was filled with them. “Avenges: Age of Ultron” had a bunch. That’s what happens in big blockbusters, it’s about the experience more than the minute details. But “Jurassic World”…come the hell on. When the writer and director of a movie cares nothing at all about continuity, or logic (much less character development, and avoiding cliches, which we’ll get into soon) it takes you out of the world completely.

Where do we even start? Around 30 minutes into the film, soon after Indominus escapes, Owen (Chris Pratt) tells Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) to “evacuate the island immediately!”

“Okay, yeah” she says as all of the 20,000+ guests of the amusement park are air lifted to safety. They then bomb the island and kill the dangerous dino without anyone further being hurt.

Oh wait, no, that’s not what happened. Instead, Claire’s response to Owen’s suggestion is by saying, “But then we’ll never reopen.” Yes, Claire who is so businessy for the first 45 minutes of the movie that she is completely oblivious to the loss of human life, you’re probably going to have to close, since you know you let a genetically modified mega-Dinosaur loose and no one would ever want to go back to your amusement park ever again. She then proceeds to tell him to fuck off, and the plan of evacuation is never mentioned again, leading to hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries. Claire should be in prison for the rest of her life probably.

Same.

Same.

But how, did Indominous Rex escape in the first place? Well she literally come out through the gate by breaking through it. Because when you have the technology to create a genetic beast that can kill humans in .00003 seconds, your method of keeping her contained in his structure amounts to a kinda-big wall, a tracker that she can easily remove, and one individual fat security guard who is too busy being a stereotype to watch her whereabouts.  How is she not incased into a giant “Under the Dome” type structure. How is it that your backup plan for when she escapes is “shoot a bunch of stuff at her and hope it works.”

Then there’s the glass pods that two main characters are in roaming around the Dino land (part of one of the amusement parks “rides”) which Jimmy Fallon helpfully explains can stop a bullet. And yet even with technology this advanced, they can’t create a decent cell phone connection for Claire to call them and tell them what’s going on. They also cannot override the control system, allowing guests to freely roam around the entirety of the park at will even after a lockdown leading Claire’s nephews to what should have been their certain death. I could go on, but we don’t have 6 more hours.

And the the product placement! Oh the disgusting, glorious, hilarious product placement. Within the first 20 minutes, Mercedes-Benz, Beats by Dre, Starbucks, Verizon,  Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Tostitos, Apple, Brookstone, and freaking Margaritaville are all shown prominently or straight up mentioned by characters. Lowery (Jake Johnson) asks Claire condescendingly if they should let the brand name the park. “Maybe we should call it Pepsi World or Tostitos World” (EDIT: I got the quote wrong and he’s actually talking about naming the Dinosaurs not the park, but you get the point) he says, ironically doing exactly what he was just preaching against. A few minutes later, Claire drives back into the park as we get a long look of the exterior of the latest Mercedes-Benz model all the way from the bottom to the driver’s seat in a slow-zoom, with the logo displayed prominently as if to  say “Look at this sexxxy car.”  Forget all those Dinosaurs, the real stars of this movie are the #brands.

“Wasting away again in Crazy-Dinoville”

But we’re diving too much into the details here. Yes you could spend hours breaking down all of the ridiculoussness of “Jurassic World”‘s plot flaws and how much the film really made you want to try out those new Smore’s Frappuccino’s™  but the most glaring flaws are at a much more fundamental level: the characters. Why, for instance, do Gray and Zach, Clarie’s two nephews, even need to exist in this movie? Is watching Claire and Owen try to save the park not enough that we need a thrown together set of B characters to follow around for half the movie? Sure guys, hundreds of people are getting murdered around us by Dinosaurs, but the really sad part here is that Gray’s parents are getting a divorce.

Gray is autistic (?) only when it’s convenient to give exposition, and Zach is just soooo into girls man, you don’t even know how into girls he is. What great fleshed out characters they are.

Then there’s the aforementioned Claire, who signifies her turn from being “all business” to only “sorta business” by slowly removing layers of her clothes until she closes the film wearing only a blue tank top, with some dirt strategically placed right above her cleavage. Despite her running through the jungle for most of the movie, she never loses her high heels. How empowering. 

“Oh yeah? Well then where are my arms?”

Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus, charming as they are, exist to basically give exposition and some ill-timed comic relief. They’re like Charlie Day in “Pacific Rim” but with significantly less Charlie Day.

Vincent D’Onorfio and BD Wong are here in the weirdest “Law and Order SVU/Criminal Intent” crossover episode yet. They provide a hilariously unnecessary b-plot involving something to do with freezing dino embryo’s or something and then using Raptors as weapons for the military. Uhh, sure, yeah whatever I’m sure we’ll find out more about that in the sequel….oh no wait we won’t because D’onofrio’s character got murdered by a Dinosaur in the third act.

He wasn’t the only main character to get killed though. Both Simon and Zara got brutally killed without so much as a second thought given to them. Zara in particular, suffers the most gruesome death of a character I think I’ve ever seen.

If you haven’t seen it, or don’t remember who she is, she’s Claire’s assistant, the one who was supposed to be watching Gray and Zach until they run off. She spends most of the movie trying to find them, but when the flying Dinosaurs escape thanks to Simon crashing his helicopter, they wreak havoc on thousands of bystanders, including Zara. She is thrown into the air and passed around multiple flying dino’s like a hacky sack. At this point, you expect something, someone to swoop in and save the day, because there is no way they’re going to give such a drawn out exaggerated death to a main char….wait WHAT THE FUCK DID THE GIANT WATER DINOSAUR JUST EAT HER ALIVE HOLY SHIT!!!

30 seconds after she gets swallowed right in front of Gray and Zach’s watching eyes, Owen and Claire make out.

The real hero of the movie though are the Raptors and of course the T-Rex who come in to save the day and stop the big bad Indominus.  The climax of the film sees the Raptors, who just recently turned on the humans and sided with Indominus because she’s part Raptor (how convenient) turn back against her and save the humans, while the T-Rex, who was released by Claire, inexplicably decides she cares little about eating the shit out of these puny humans and instead teams with the Raptors to take down Indominus and save the day.

The Raptors character arc (they’re somehow more developed characters than any of the humans in the film) is set up by one five minute scene in which Owen “trains” them to follow his command, even though like, they totally still try and eat him when he jumps through the gate to save a worker who fell into the pit. Despite having recently aligned with mama-Rap and having the main characters surrounded, Owen’s previous training comes into play as he convinces the Raptors not to eat them and instead go after Indominus. How does he do this? He literally goes “So this is how it’s going to be, huh?” and shrugs. TO A BUNCH OF DINOSAURS…AND IT WORKS!

“And I said what about Breakfast at Tiffany’s?”

Despite this inexplicable babyface turn (these Raptors are like The Big Show of Dinosaurs) they then bring the fight to Indominus who just hilarious trounces them in about 30 seconds. I haven’t seen Raptors this ineffective since they played the Wizards in the 1st round AMIRITE *high fives* Alas, one of them survives to save the day as the super dramatic music shows her running into save T-Rex and take down Indominus.

And then despite thousands of people dying, a gigantic lawsuit surely coming against everyone involved in Jurassic World, the government likely exterminating all Dinosaur species from existence, and Gray and Zach’s parents probably still getting divorced, the movie ends happily ever after with T-Rex standing on a helicopter pad, gazing out into the decrepit world.

Look, it’s not all bad. Chris Pratt is pretty good (as always) and the movie looks great. The Dinosaurs look just as good as they should with 20 more years of CGI technology and the scenery is beautiful. This movie made all of the money so we’ll probably get three or four more sequels. Maybe they’ll be good, but probably not.

Jurassic World is a movie that simply doesn’t need to exist, but because it’s profitable, of course it does. Honestly, with a movie this over-the-top and dumb, I’d rather watch the “Sharknado” franchise. At least they’re in on the joke. Grade: D+

A solution to end extra innings: The Baseball Shootout

So last night the Yankees and Red Sox started a game at around 7:00 p.m. They ended that game north of 2 in the morning, after 19 innings of baseball. 19 innings. The teams are underway again now, less than 12 hours later for their scheduled afternoon matchup.

When the schedule makers gave the typical day game after a night game, they hardly were suspecting that the teams would play a 7+ hour marathon the night before, but maybe they should have.

I’ve been to a 20 inning baseball game. I stayed the whole time between the Mets and Marlins in 2013. The game ended 2-1. When Miami closed it out in the bottom of the 20th, there were probably more people in the local Flushing CVS than there were at the ballpark.

img_2741

Excitement!

Everyone seems to remember long baseball games fondly, as historical footnotes. A typical “I remember when” to distinguish a point in time over an often forgettable 162 game stretch. But the sad truth of the matter is, the one that no one wants to admit, is that extra inning baseball games suck. 

“Free baseball!” they say as the excitement of overtime looms large. The 10th inning certainly is exciting. Managers are forced to make pressurized decisions, where one right pinch hitter or one wrong move to the bullpen could cost them the game. Hitters are looking for that one chance at glory, for a mob celebration of a walk-off and a pie in the face after the game. Pitchers who aren’t usually closers and late-inning workers must come in to a situation where they need to have their best stuff or risk putting an L in their right column.

All of that is great. But some time around the 12th inning, all of that shine turns to shit. Players become tired, swinging for the fences on every pitch instead of trying to start a rally so they can please just go home and get some rest. Managers run out of options. Relief pitchers have to bat.   Position players have to pitch. Umpires give so little of a shit. The chances of injury double or even triple and not to mention there’s that pesky afternoon game likely looming over their heads the next day.

By the time one team finally gets the game-winning run, it’s less of a celebration and more of a relief.

"We won!, just in time for breakfast!

“We won!, Just in time for breakfast!

Sports like hockey and soccer have adopted ways to combat this “play all-night” scenario, and they are called shootouts. They are unnatural, they feel cheap, they aren’t traditional. These are all true. But god damn if they aren’t exciting.

Baseball traditionalists will turn up their nose at me for daring to suggest breaking away from precious traditions because “baseball is a game with a rich history and we can’t jeopardize the traditions by trivializing the game and FART NOISEEEEEE”.

With new commissioner Rob Manfed claiming to care about the pace and length of Major League Baseball games, now is the time to make a change. Extra inning baseball needs to die and quick and painless death, and I’ve come up with a way to get rid of it.

Behold: The Baseball Shootout.

If it's good enough for Sly Stallone it's good enough for me.

If it’s good enough for Sly Stallone it’s good enough for me.

The Rules

First things first: After 9 innings, if two teams are tied, that becomes the final score of the game. Nothing from here on out affects the individual stats of the players (except for specific baseball shootout stats). No batting averages or ERA’s are in danger here. Got it?

If the Yankees and Red Sox are tied at 3 after 9 innings, the final score is 3-3. This is borrowed from soccer. The winning team will have their shootout score in parentheses which will determine the winner in the box score.

Anyways here’s how this works in a step-by-step basis.

1. The manager of each team resets their lineup based on the nine players currently in the batting order or with any bench players they wish to bring in as replacements.

The best hitters get the first crack at this, since the game will likely end after the first inning of the shootout, a team should be able to put it’s best players in a position. Your best guy was last up and didn’t get a hit? Good news, he can go right back in and give it another shot.

Collins

Somehow, Terry Collins will still bat Andrew Brown third.

2. The road team gets first ups. They get three at-bats.  That’s it.

That’s right, three. It doesn’t matter if you get out or not, or whether you get on base,  that’s not important in this.

3. A single (or reaching first base in any capacity) is worth 1 point. A double is worth 2 points. Triple 3. Home run 5.  No runners stay on base, after the three batters get their crack, the amount of points they score is added up and must be beaten or matched by the home team. 

With this method, only 68% of fans will fall asleep during baseball games.

With this method, only 68% of fans will fall asleep during baseball games.

Let’s say for instance this was the case in the Yankees-Red Sox game last night.

Boston gets up first.

Pablo Sandoval grounds out he scored 0. 

Dustin Pedroia gets a base hit he scored 1.

David Ortiz got a double he scored 2.

The Red Sox score was 3. 

The Yankees now get a chance with their three best hitters to match or beat this score.

4. If the home team beats the score they win the game, if they score less the road team wins, if they tie another session is played, this time with the 4-5-6 batters in the lineup.

Pretty simple. The Yankees have to at least match three points to keep the game going. If they tie it, we do it again with the next three up for each team.

5. Pitching changes are allowed, but only once per “inning”

If Joe Girardi wants to bring someone in to face Pedroia after Sandoval was up, that same pitcher would also have to face Ortiz.

6. Intentional walks are worth 3 points. 

You only get to do it if you get a big enough lead.

7. A home-team manager can extend an inning to 4 batters once, but only to tie the game.

Let’s say the Red Sox have scored the three points and the Yankees come up. After their three batters, they have scored only 2 points. Girardi can then use his power to extend the game to a fourth batter in the inning in a final attempt to tie.

However if that batter hits a home-run, it still is worth only 1 point  and ties the game, extending  it for another inning. This can be done only once by the home-team in an attempt to tie the game. Call it “home field advantage.”

A made up sports term! Sponsored by Coldwell Banker.

A made up sports term! Now sponsored by Coldwell Banker.

So there you have it, the baseball “shootout.” Is it perfect? No. It would be especially awkward if, say, the home team was on their final batter down three points and the baserunner hit a single and had to try and stretch it into a triple.

But at least it would be exciting, highly pressurized, and dramatic. It would keep fans in the ballpark for extras, as games would almost never extend past the second or third shootout inning. It would reduce injuries, and keep players from having to over-extend themselves in a regular season game that in the end is only one of 162, and isn’t worth blowing out in arm over pitching in the 21st inning.

What do you think? Do you think baseball should adopt a method similar to this? Or is extra inning baseball just a part of the game?

Every 2014 Movie I’ve Seen, Ranked

In my diligent attempt to catch up on many of the great movies I missed during the year this winter break, I’ve come to a conclusion: There are too many damn movies.

There are about a gazillion movies that get released each year, about half of them good, and a half of the bad ones at least interesting in some way. It’s impossible to see every movie, even if it is literally your job to watch them.

With sincerest apologies to movies such as The Amazing Spiderman 2, Frank, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One, Whiplash, Life Itself, The Babadook, and about 10,000 other movies, I just didn’t get around to you before the year ended. You are now useless and will never be seen.

That said, I saw 26 movies that came out in 2014. Here they are, ranked, with small commentary added to each. If you don’t agree, you’re wrong and I hate you.

26. Draft Day

"What the fuck happened to my career?"

“What the fuck happened to my career?”

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a big sports fan. That said, I had reasonably high expectations for this league-sponsored, “realistic” take on an NFL Draft Day from behind the scenes. It’s like Madden!

Holy shit, you guys. Some day, I will go into a 5,000 word essay about the horrible decisions that Kevin Costner’s character Sonny Weaver Jr. makes in this movie. Despite being potentially the worst GM in the history of sports SPOILER ALERT. It all works out for him in the end! Don’t give Browns fans any big ideas, Costner.

25. Sex Tape

Although I was fully clothed, I made similar faces while watching this movie.

Although I was fully clothed, I made similar faces while watching this movie.

Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel show their butt in this movie, you can probably find it on Google if you really want to. Jason Segel doesn’t understand technology. Rob Lowe does cocaine. There is a kinda funny dog.

There, I have saved you the two hours of your life from watching this pile of shit. Sex Tape probably isn’t as bad as Adam Sandler movies are, but it’s somehow worse when you consider the fact that you expect some kind of comedic value from the two leads…it does not happen.

24. The Fault in Our Stars

Thousands of teenage girls will one day regret getting this tattooed on themselves.

Thousands of teenage girls will one day regret getting this tattooed on themselves.

Intentionally making your audience sad does not make a film good, despite The Fault in Our Stars very best efforts to do so.

Despite being that one pretentious douche guy you hated in high school, we are supposed to be devastated and heartbroken by Gus’s love Hazel as she suffers from cancer.

Quick! Think of every cliche you can in a cancer rom-com movie. Now double that. Okay now double that number. Now add ten. Ok you’ve reached peak Fault in Our Stars territory. Don’t let your girlfriend make you watch this.

23. The Maze Runner

"She" is referring to movies in The Maze Runner franchise I will watch.

“She” is referring to movies in The Maze Runner franchise I will watch.

The Maze Runner series is probably as good as it gets outside of Harry Potter when it comes to Young Adult book series. It’s got a really dark and twisted plot with tons of twists and turns, crazy maze shit, evil monsters, a love triangle, Denver being inhabited by half-zombies. You name it.

You almost have to try to purposely make a movie version of The Maze Runner be boring and cliched, but somehow they have succeeded.  Blame time constraints all you want, but about 2% of book material actually made it into this movie, and it’s still somehow way too long. Characters with background and personality in the books are turned into one-note jokes that people who hate the genre can use to make fun of it, and the leads play their parts with about as much passion as middle schoolers forced by their parents to act in a school play.

F*** this movie.

22. Godzilla

"I'm completely unnecessary"

“I’m completely unnecessary”

Good news everyone! (Professor Farnsworth voice), The Maze Runner was the last truly bad movie I saw this year. 4/26! Not bad. I am good at avoiding bad movies. I deserve a medal.

Godzilla (2014, not to be confused with the 1998 version. Or the 1980 version. Or the 1968 version. Or the 1956 version.) isn’t so much bad as it is completely dull and unneeded. Just because a movie is in the cannon, doesn’t mean you have to keep making things with it.

Sure the special effects are nice, and the monster battles are great, but Godzilla itself is about the most fleshed out character in this whole movie. SPOILER ALERT when Heisenberg dies about 20 minutes into the movie and goes from “this may be a giant conspiracy” to “eh nah it’s just monsters doing monster stuff, nevermind” it falls flat on its face.

TL;DR: Everything Pacific Rim did right, Godzilla did wrong.

21. X-Men: Days of Future Past

A title almost as convoluted as its plot.

A title almost as convoluted as its plot.

X-Men: Days of Future Past probably should have been a slam dunk for best superhero movie this year, but in its attempt to un-Rattner the entire franchise, it ends up only making you feel like you completely wasted your time.

XMDOFP (A great acronym if I don’t say so myself) isn’t a bad movie, its actors generally excel in their roles, especially Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender, but in its attempt to try to cram two different franchises together, more than half of the cast get stuck with almost nothing to do.

As good of an idea it is on paper to throw as many mega-stars into a movie as you can, only The Avengers has really pulled it off. It probably in retrospect would have been much better if we stuck with a sequel movie strictly based on the newer versions (which is actually the older versions, but played by younger actors, who are playing the characters in the past when they were young, but in the same movie as the future with older actors playing older versions of those characters in movies that came out a decade before the new movies with the younger actors, got it?). After all, another sequel to a prequel ended up doing pretty well for itself this summer..

20. The Immigrant

Same.

Same.

Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix could probably make act their way out of a cardboard box and make it good somehow, so it’s not surprising that their performances are the best (and maybe, only) redeeming part of the snorefest that is The Immigrant.

There are flashes of a good movie hiding somewhere beneath the surface, but in the end the movie never picks up steam. It’s not a good sign when you care so little about a movie halfway through that you considering turning it off to mindlessly flip through TV channels but here we are.

Still, the final 30 minutes of The Immigrant boost it up a few spots as SPOILER ALERT once Jeremy Renner’s character dies and Phoenix has the real opportunity to showcase his depth, the final scenes are among the most dramatic of the year from an acting standpoint. However, I cared so little about getting to that point that even a man of Phoenix’s talent could really salvage this movie.

19. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

"Can't like, Hulk take care of this shit?"

“Can’t like, Hulk take care of this shit?”

CHILL.

Chill. I liked this movie, I just saw a lot of good movies this year and I forgot I saw it for a while which isn’t a good sign.

The Winter Soldier was a brilliant placeholder movie. It’s that movie that sets up all the awesome stuff that’s going to happen in the next movie, but doesn’t have the luxury of eating half of its run time on an origin story. It’s like the penultimate episode of a show like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad except the payoff doesn’t come a week later, it comes two-three years later.

There’s just enough stakes in this one for us to care about Chris Evans’ Captain America, but at the end of the day you’re just kind of sitting there waiting for Avengers 2 to come out because you know nothing that happens in this is going to really satisfy your appetite.

It’s not a bad marvel movie per say, (Ironman 3 is the only one of those) it’s just one that won’t be remembered for much when the franchise finishes up.

18. Into the Woods

Wow, Madonna has really let herself go.

Wow, Madonna has really let herself go.

Look, Into the Woods was not made for me. I’m well aware of that. I am not the target audience of the Disney musical movie. I tried my best to factor that in while seeing this last night.

That said, the first 2/3rds of Into the Woods were pretty good! At least based on my expectations. It had Anna Kendrick being adorable, Meryl Streep doing Meryl Streep things, only like 1 or 2 songs that made me want to die, and a pretty clever plot that saw several fairly tales combine into one while the main characters must retrieve an artifact from them. It’s not a fun scavanger hunt, with singing and Johnny Depp as a rapey wolf!

And then, just as the movie is about to come to a proper end about an hour and 20 minutes in, it keeps going, and totally goes off the rails. The last half hour of this movie were probably among the worst stretch of any movie I’ve seen this year. Everything that was charming about the first two-thirds is wiped off the board.

The end of the film includes a scene which SPOILER ALERT the main character randomly cheats on her husband with a prince (who is also cheating on freaking Cinderella) in the middle of a forest because he’s not rich enough or whatever, and then doesn’t really feel bad about it afterwards. From there she falls off a cliff. I’m no Mr. Family Values or whatever, but maybe not the best set of messages to send in a kids movie, but #yesallwomen or whatever.

17. Under The Skin

I'll never look at you the same, Kelly from We Bought a Zoo.

I’ll never look at you the same, Kelly from We Bought a Zoo.

Under the Skin is one of those movies I feel bad for not liking more. I know that it’s supposed to be great and film critics eat it up. And it’s not hard to see why.

This is a movie that stays with you. Recommended not to watch it at 4 a.m. like I did. It’s haunting, and unsettling, and thought-provoking, and really creepy, and all jokes aside Scarlett Johansson does a really nice job with it.

But is it actually good? I’m not really sure. Despite its attempts to trick you, it won’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the metaphor half-way through the movie, and once you’re there the big pay-off only sorta comes by the end of the movie.

As a side note, it is a giant pet peeve of mine when a movie introduces a science fiction element and then doesn’t even attempt to explain it and Under the Skin is about as guility as any movie I’ve seen in recent memory. I GET THAT’S NOT THE POINT BUT STILL COME ON **SPOILER ALERT** WHY ARE THEY COLLECTING PEOPLE’S SKIN AND STUFF WHAT THE HELL MAN.

Sorry, got a little out of control there for a second.

16. Non-Stop

If I told you this was Liam Neeson in a different movie, you would believe me right?

If I told you this was Liam Neeson in a different movie, you would believe me right?

Non-Stop probably had no business at all being good. I was expecting not to like it. I had seen The Grey and heard about Taken 2 I was expecting this to be a paint-by-the-numbers Neeson money grab.

But there I was eating it all up, enjoying the shit out of this movie for no good reason.

Non-Stop has a plot that kinda makes sense, which is I guess the best you could hope for. The twist is ridiculous. But I give it some credit it kept me guessing the whole way, and I was on the edge of my seat for this ridiculous Liam Neeson plane movie. Hats off Neeson, you did it again.

15. Obvious Child

I miss college.

I miss college.

Obvious Child is a breakout for comedic actress Jenny Slate who you may know as the snail thing on Youtube, the girl who swore on SNL that one time, or Jean-Ralphio’s sister on Parks and Rec depending on how much I like you.

She is funny and charming and this movie is a perfectly serviceable Video on Demand date night movie for you and your keen. That’s about all I can say about it though because beyond its plot (girl gets pregnant on one night stand and then decides to have an abortion) there’s not much to it.

Obvious Child is one of the only movies I’ve seen where there is almost no conflict. It almost came up with its own brand of story-telling, but in a way that only sometimes works. Sure, I guess the romantic will-they/won’t-they of the two leads is kind of cute, but no one in this movie behaves irrationally at any point or creates any kind of problem that needs resolving. They just kind of all seem level headed and likeable. I don’t know what to make of it really. It’s weird.

14. Muppets Most Wanted

Ricky Gervais murdered everyone in this picture shortly after it was taken.

Ricky Gervais murdered everyone in this picture shortly after it was taken.

2011’s The Muppets is one of my favorite movies ever, and I don’t care what you think about that. So needless to say, the follow-up, 2014’s Muppets Most Wanted had a big expectations to meet in my eyes.

While it fails in comparison on its own, this was still a pretty great comedic movie, if not somewhat forgettable. Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, and Ty Burrell do a predictably phenomonal job in the lead roles and while the script misses Jason Segel’s charm, it still provides many laughs and a second tremendous slew of celebrity cameos (Hornswoggle!!).

Still, like Anchorman 2 it was nearly impossible for the sequel to The Muppets to make the original’s organic comedy, and surprises, and duplicate them. But it does a formidable job of trying.

13. Edge of Tomorrow

Is this a movie or scientology poster?

Is this a movie or scientology poster?

When a movie has a clever enough concept as Edge of Tomorrow does, it can get away with a lot in terms of missed execution.

While there were absolutely some dumb spots in EOT, for the most part the filmmakers actually do an incredible job of using the plot device to help tell the story.

We can get a laugh out of Tom Cruise dying over and over 100 times, but if it never goes anywhere in particular, the gag can get old quick. But Edge of Tomorrow never falls into that trap, instead moving the story along in bits and pieces, but forcing us to reset when Cruise’s character suffers a misstep.

Considering the hero of an action movie never dies and escapes insurmountable odds at will, watching the protagonist continue to fail over and over is actually really refreshing. Edge of Tomorrow definitely wasn’t the best movie I saw this year, but it was the most pleasantly surprising.

12. Snowpiercer

People all over the world...join in...

“IT’S A F****** ICE TRAIN DUDE”-My title for this movie

Snowpiercer is a movie that got a little lost in the shuffle in these rankings because I saw it a long time ago and kind of forgot some things about it, but I do remember thinking it was fantastic.

Like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Snowpiercer hooks you in with its awesome plot and then tells a story from there with some not so subtle metaphors to the real world.

The story, for those who aren’t familiar, is that the earth has been entered into a new ice age, and all of the human survivors are living on board a high speed train built by a multi-millionaire. The train has all the necessities for survival, but only the rich receive them at the front of the train, while the poor struggle for survival at the back.

It’s simple enough, but poor execution would flub it completely. Instead, director Bong Joon-Ho uses it to tell an actual compelling story anchored by Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton. As an added bonus, Snowpiercer unexpectedly has some of the best fight scenes of the year.

11. Boyhood

Because nothing makes for a better movie than remembering the awkwardness of puberty.

Because nothing makes for a better movie than remembering the awkwardness of puberty.

Boyhood is a movie where virtually nothing interesting happens. I don’t necessarily mean that as an insult (although, it is why it doesn’t make the top ten), it’s kind of the point.

You certainly can’t fault Richard Linklater’s ambition. The idea, as I’m sure you’ve heard, is for a movie to follow along with the same actors over the course of 12 years. It’s unique enough to get people into the theatre, and once you’re there, you find yourself compelled to grow as the cast does. Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Ellar Coltrane all do formidable jobs bringing you along for the ride.

But the issue is that again, nothing really happens. There are a few moments of conflict, a few life lessons along the way, but the movie just kind of ends as it begins, dropping us off at a random point in the main characters life the same way we started off at a random point.

I guess that’s the point, and it’s a movie I would certainly recommend seeing, once. I just can’t shake the feeling that people are heaping accolades on it because of the idea and not because of the execution a little bit.

10. 22 Jump Street

Extras in this movie were paid in Molly.

Extras in this movie were paid in Molly.

Is 22 Jump Street the best comedy sequel of all time? It has to at least be in the conversation. Almost never does a comedic film, especially one that was as shockingly original as 21 Jump Street, improve the second time around, but 22 Jump Street is an exception to the rule.

It doesn’t hurt that Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill have undeniable chemistry. Despite both their forays into serious acting, it’s obvious they both are at home when they get to be funny. While 22 Jump Street will make pretty much anyone laugh, it’s easy to dismiss it as a goofy slapstick if you aren’t paying attention.

However, the makers of Jump Street are more than aware of how ridiculous of a movie they are making. It’s a sequel, to a comedic movie loosely based off a bad police procedural show in the 1980s. It stars two men in their 30s as college students. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not supposed to. The movie is filled with one-off jokes referencing the ridiculousness of it all, and breaking the fourth wall just enough without it being corny.

If the message wasn’t getting across during the movie that 22 Jump Street is self aware, the end credits (which also happen to be hilarious) make it pretty loud and clear.

9. The Guest

This dude is also a classically trained Shakespearean actor. Fuck life sometimes.

This dude is also a classically trained Shakespearean actor. Fuck life sometimes.

You might not have heard of The Guest. I didn’t, before I started looking for good movies to watch to complete this list. It’s a shame though, because Dan Stevens was a tour de force, and it’s one of the better horror/psychological thrillers you’ll find anywhere.

The Guest kind of sneaks up on you with how good it is. You’re sitting there trying to figure out what this guys deal is, and then the next thing you know SPOILER ALERT he’s sleeping with the most gorgeous girl at the party, beating up high school bullies, and killing drug dealers, all without breaking a sweat.

David is the villain in this movie, but he’s also….kind of awesome.

Saying more would give it away, but all I can tell you is if you’re looking for a movie that’s going to strap you in and make you say “OH SHIT!!” like a dozen times, try The Guest.

8. Gone Girl

The next Batman, ladies and gentleman.

The next Batman, ladies and gentleman.

The first half of Gone Girl kind of works like an average episode of Cold Case. It’s fine, it passes the time, tells a semi-compelling story, but it never really grips you. You keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, or at least hope that it eventually will, while everything falls into place.

And then it happens.

And before you even really understood what just occurred, you just have to go with it and pick it up as you go. It’s a movie that reverses nearly every gender stereotype you have for movie characters. It brings us into the mind of a sociopath, and then makes us kind of sympathize with them for a bit…and then just like that theres another insane moment, and you’re back to square one.

Gone Girl is better off as a psychological thrill ride than a mystery movie, and once it settles in it’s got maybe the best back half of any movie this year. On the female side, there wasn’t a performance better than Rosamund Pike all year long.

7. The Lego Movie

This movie almost makes up for the feeling of stepping on a Lego....almost.

This movie almost makes up for the feeling of stepping on a Lego….almost.

Honestly, if you watched The Lego Movie  and didn’t have fun, you might be a demon.

It’s a movie that has plenty of jokes for kids, but just as many for adults. It’s got a star-studded voice cast including Will Arnett as Batman and Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius, and Will Ferrell as a freaking character named Lord Business.

It’s got the catchiest theme song for any movie, probably ever. It’s got one of the most charismatic, charming leads in hollywood lending his voice to the main character.

I don’t know what reason you could have to not see this movie. I really don’t.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Just in case you forgot who directed this movie.

Just in case you forgot who directed this movie.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a perfect example of how good Wes Anderson can actually be as a filmmaker, when he doesn’t out-Wes Anderson himself.  While 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom is so intent on being weird and eccentric it forgets to be enjoyable, The Grand Budapest Hotel never makes that mistake.

Ralph Fiennes knows how to hold a room. None of the other Wes Anderson originals could have pulled off what he could have (okay maybe except for Bill Murray). They also show up in some way or the other but it’s Fiennes who steals every second when he’s on the screen. Young Tony Revolori is a good number two as well, while F. Murray Abraham anchors with a fantastic narration.

The best thing about The Grand Budapest Hotel is that Anderson allows it to be fun. Like his other best movie The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel is overtly charming and funny while being weird, but it never lets its weirdness get in the way of its likability.

5. Birdman

99% of New Yorkers would not bat an eye if a dude was running around in his underwear. UNREALISTIC.

99% of New Yorkers would not bat an eye if a dude was running around in his underwear. UNREALISTIC.

There may have been four movies I liked better than Birdman this year, but Birdman is the one I would recommend to anyone who likes and appreciates cinema.

That is the most pretentious sentence I’ve ever written, but it’s true. I’m nowhere near a snotty film nerd (despite my best efforts), but even my untrained eye can appreciate the near flawless execution of a movie like Birdman.

The director, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, directed the shit out of this movie. It’s all one take. It’s amazing, and some of the most creative and unique directing I’ve seen in a long time. He wrote the script too, which is as mesmerizing as any movie you’ll see in 2014.

The actors act their asses off. Specifically Michael Keaton, who I’m not sure anyone believed was capable of what he pulled off here, and Edward Norton, who you get the sense was only kind of faking his stuck-up, theatre douchebag persona, which makes it that much better.

Near the end, Birdman gets a tiny bit too self important, and it threatens to take down the whole movie with a “superhero movies actually are awful” trope, but it saves itself in its final moments with a rightfully ambiguous ending. Considering I don’t expect my top four favorites to be nominated, I’ll be rooting for Birdman to clean up at the Oscars this year, it certainly deserves to.

4. Interstellar

Just a reminder, the guy from "Ghost of Girlfriends Past" is now the most respected actor in Hollywood.

Just a reminder, the guy from “Ghost of Girlfriends Past” is now the most respected actor in Hollywood.

I am a Christopher Nolan apologist. I’ll get that out of the way first.

That said, while many directors, especially who are in the business of making blockbusters, are content on playing it safe, following the same old formula and cashing in, Nolan doesn’t play that way. He takes chances, puts himself out there, plays with concepts that most filmmakers won’t go near.

He consistently puts out not only entertaining movies, but visually stunning movies, thought-provoking movies, movies you can’t stop talking about years after they come out.

Interstellar is the exact same way. You could spend years trying to make everything in a Christopher Nolan movie fit, but if you force yourself to try to solve all the mysteries, you’re missing the point.

The Nolan brothers made Interstellar not to educate film goers on space physics (although there is plenty of that) but for filmgoers to have an experience. That’s what Interstellar is, an experience.

You can argue until you’re blue in the face about whether or not the ending makes sense or is even satisfying, but to negate the first 2 and a half hours because of it is silly. Interstellar isn’t the perfect movie, it might not even be a top five Nolan movie, but it is certainly one you’ll have a hard time forgetting about.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy

Somehow, the hot green chick was the most boring part of this movie.

Somehow, the hot green chick was the most boring part of this movie.

If The Avengers is the #1 Marvel movie of all time, Guardians of the Galaxy is 1A.

GOTG is everything right about a superhero movie. While Nolan’s Batman was a different kind of great, intense, dark, and dramatic, GOTG goes the opposite route, but executes just as well if not better. Chris Pratt absolutely shines in the lead role as Starlord, but it’s the rest of the main cast, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista (if only his wrestling was as good as his acting in this movie, but I digress) and yes, Vin Diesel despite his limited dialogue as Groot. They all play off each other beautifully, and James Gunn directs them all as fleshed out with distinct character traits, which makes them even more likable.

The action and plot are easy to follow, and the movie manages to cover half a dozen origin stories without tripping over itself. But most of all Guardians is fun. Isn’t that what movies are supposed to be?

2. Nightcrawler

Booty had me like

Booty had me like.

Let’s be real here. With all due respect to Michael Keaton, Matthew McConaughey, and Ralph Fiennes, Jake Gyllenhaal is the Best Actor of 2014, and it’s not even close.

It’s not like Gyllenhaal hasn’t acted well in other movies, but I had no idea he was capable of this. Louis Bloom is an absolute sociopath, and Gyllenhaal tears it up revealing the nooks and crannies of his psyche at every turn.

The background, Bloom as a pseudo-paparazzo on the hunt for crime as it is happening so he can sell the footage to local news stations, gives him plenty of material to work with. The movie will make you go “what the f*** is he doing!!” when he is manipulating crime scenes, setting up injuries to rivals, or driving his car through traffic to be first at the scene, but it is in his manipulative relationships with other characters, especially news producer Nina (Rene Russo) and sidekick Rick (Riz Ahmed) where Gyllenhaal takes Bloom to the next level of crazy.

It all leads up to the most pants-shitting sequence in any movie this year that will absolutely make your jaw drop to the floor when it’s over. This movie was very, very, nearly my favorite of this year, and if you catch me in the right mood, it is. It is an absolute must see for Gyllenhaal’s performance alone.

1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Who needs people actors, man?

Who needs people actors, man?

Yes, I put the sequel to the prequel to a monkey movie franchise that started 40 years ago at number one. See it first before you judge me.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the prequel to this film starring James Franco is a serviceable re-entry into the franchise, but none of it can possibly prepare you for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the most surprisingly amazing film of 2014.

Make no mistake, Dawn is a war movie first and foremost. The amazing thing about it is that unlike, say, every other war movie, neither side is right or wrong. Both sides have good traits and bad traits, good people, and bad people (or….apes), noble motivations, and selfish ones. Most of the time, conflict could have been avoided if not for one or two incidents that push it over the edge and this movie exemplifies that.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t ask you pick a side. There are evil characters sure, but they are on both sides of the fight. Our heroes are both humans and apes, both trying to protect their kind from elimination at all costs, but wary of the consequences of battle.

On top of that the movie is visually stunning. Andy Serkis’s performance as Cesar, the leader of the apes, shines through his CGI. The fight scenes are breathtaking, the imagery is phenomenal, the screenplay is tight, and the directing, by Matt Reeves of Let Me In fame, is top-notch.

It’s easy to dismiss, DOTPOTA (another outstanding acronym) because of its title as a “blockbuster” summer film, but that title is so limiting, and if the movie had a different name, and wasn’t connected to such a storied franchise, cinephile’s would have no quarries about praising it as a potential Oscar-worthy film.

Regardless, anyone who puts their reservations aside and takes time out to see is rewarded with the best movie, at least that I saw, in 2014.

 

Just for fun, here’s how I would pick the top 3 in terms of acting and directing

Best Actor

1. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler

2. Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel

3. Michael Keaton, Birdman

 

Best Actress

1. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

2. Marion Cotillard, The Immigrant

3. Scarlett Johansson, Under The Skin

 

Best Director

1. Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Birdman

2. Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

3. Christopher Nolan, Interstellar

 

Best Supporting Actor

1. Edward Norton, Birdman

2. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

3. F. Murray Abraham, The Grand Budapest Hotel

 

Best Supporting Actress

1. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

2. Naomi Watts, Birdman

3. Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small-town sports exemplified by Greenville soccer

GREENVILLE, NEW YORK–The Greenville Spartans boys soccer team was engaged in an intense playoff battle against Mekeel Christian Academy this Saturday when a loud gunshot rung out.

You would expect mass hysteria to ensue, but no one in the stands or on the field even bothered to bat an eye.

Everyone in the stands knew immediately what it was; just the local hunters looking for their first big game of the season in the woods just adjacent to the field.

Greenville high school soccer is in some ways the epitome of small-town high school sports. The team plays on the top of a hill just outside of the main school building. The big renovation that has been done since I graduated GCS in 2010 is to add a small netted fence behind the goal to try and stop the balls from rolling all the way down the hill when kicked over the goal.

The field quite literally borders a horse stable and a corn field on one end, while that Catskill Mountains tower over the other. The pitch is worn and uneven, and playing soccer on it seems out of place and slightly dangerous. Because of its altitude, the field always attracts a bigger wind and colder temperatures than you would see on lower ground.

It’s a school with little to no tradition in sports of any kind. Many of Greenville’s sporting teams are annually among the worst teams in the Patroon Conference. It’s basketball team hasn’t had a winning season in at least a decade. Its track and tennis teams have to play all road games since they don’t have an operating track in good enough condition, or enough tennis courts to hold home matches. It is the only school in its county without a football team.

Yet, for some reason, the soccer teams always seem to have a level success not associated with any other sport at Greenville. This year, the boy’s team won their conference and allowed only four goals all season long, earning a number two seed in the Class C Sectional Playoffs. On Saturday, they were set to being their playoff run with hopes of a championship within their grasp.

***

The top of the hill has only two metal bleachers for spectators to sit and enjoy the game. On this particular Saturday, they were both filled to capacity, while other fans were forced to bring their own lawn chairs or stand if they wanted to see the action.

One section was filled entirely with GCS students, because on a Saturday afternoon in October, what is there better to do in Greenville than watch a high school soccer game?

While I was sitting on the top row of the bleachers next to the student section, a young girl asked a cheering fan “how do you know all of the players? “Because I go to school with all of them,” she replied, “and they’re all my friends.”

It’s the sense of community you wouldn’t get in a school with 500 students in a graduating class, and it raised the stakes for the players. Fans weren’t just cheering for their school emblem and colors, they were cheering for their friends, classmates, brothers, and sons. Everyone knows everyone in Greenville; literally.

***

One would take it that if you brought a fan who had never seen a soccer game before and knew nothing of the rules to Greenville last Saturday afternoon, they still would have an idea when to pay attention.

Soccer is unique in that unlike baseball, basketball, or even football, the crowd can quite easily see when a potential scoring play is about to happen. When the ball is in the midfield, the crowd resigns themselves to relative boredom, occupying their time with random “GCS” chants or even some useful tips to the players such as “make better passes!” and “control the ball!”

But when either side starts to bring the ball into their attacking zone, the crowd slowly builds a crescendo. When the visitors would get close to scoring a goal, the anxiety built amongst the crowd as they desperately attempted to will the ball away from the goal with their screaming.

When Meekel Christian’s Jordan Ahlquist hammered a strike into the back of the net early in the first half, the crowd was deflated. Aside from a small section on the far end of supporters of the visiting team, the entire spectator sideline was silent.

And yet every time Greenville would come close to scoring, the crowd noise would slowly, but surely, build up. At first a soft whisper, then a moderate discourse, until finally a desperate, full volume screech. When the home team failed to score, their efforts were always met with a loud “ahhhhh” in unison.

“Any time fans come out, it’s a really great thing” remarked Greenville Head Coach Nathan Forrest after the game. “They swing with the momentum of the game, and that can be a really good thing and it can also sometimes hurt… luckily they came out and even when we did get down they continued to cheer, they continued to support, they continued to get guys fired up and push them forward.”

When Tyler Biernacki tied the game for the home team late in the second half, the fans were finally rewarded for their efforts. Whether or not they actually influenced the goal at all or not, they could at least feel like they contributed.

***

As the game headed into overtime, no one in the audience quite knew the rules. “In girls they play two ten minute halves no matter what!” yelled one confident parent. “In the regular season they would end in a tie, but this time they have to play to a winner!” yelled another, stating the obvious for a playoff game.

It was determined by a majority vote that the teams would play to sudden death, and there was a small gasp of fear when the referee confirmed it. The fans knew that one bad mistake could cost their beloved Spartans everything.

In an effort to boost them up, the fans upped from their seats for the overtime session. The once filled bleachers had now been depleted, but the number of fans that began the game remained the same. Instead, the students adopted a new strategy: chasing the ball down from one end to the other.

Like a crowd would do at a golf tournament, the crowd followed the ball everywhere it went, while the visiting fans became more than a little perturbed by the home fans’ unusual antics.

When forward Sam Statham’s shot edged just past Mekeel Christian goalie Jacob Khaler’s outstretched arms and into the net, the fans cheered, but more-so breathed a collective sigh of relief. Their team had survived to live another day.

***

After the teams shook hands and the visiting fans left to console their heartbroken teenagers, the Greenville fans took their traditional lap to and back from sideline-to-sideline. As they approached, the fans cheered and clapped one last time as they got set to go on with their day.

As I was leaving the field, one parent asked another, “So the next one is Monday right?” “Yes sir, same time same place.” “Great, see you then,” he remarked, go Spartans!”

Maybe there is something special about Greenville’s crowd this Saturday, but probably not. I would venture a guess that if you drove all across the state this weekend, you would find several instances of similarity.

Small-time high school sports like Greenville soccer won’t ever get the glitz and glamor of the pros or even the college level, but that doesn’t make their fans any less passionate, their athletes less valiant, or the games any less fun.