Kether Donohu is everything.

It’s unclear at what point in this week’s You’re the Worst did the FXX comedy’s season-and-a-half’s worth of similarities to Bojack Horseman, Netflix’s animated horseplay romp, boil over into something approaching the subversive . . . or at least distinctive. Edgar’s descent into the world of the improvisational arts plays out as a rerun of Todd Chavez’s, but with perhaps less wry contempt. How about when Jimmy’s meeting with the big media execs reminded us all yet again that Hollywood is a dark, sun-drenched space of corporate synergies and that the stories we want told will always entail “imagineering” more “literary pollination” than we’d hoped for? Perhaps the best Bojack-y element from this episode was the Hollywood sign being a potential target of alphabetic castration. But Ollywood Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things? Let’s Find Out? may have to wait.

Still, how does a series that is, whether intentionally or not, the slower moving (humans and cable television are simply at the disadvantage here) version of a series we already love, find distinct footing when there’s an animal-riddled alternative readily available? Both shows are overtly about ennui and the big city dwelling almost-adults that have forced the term into the think-piece word banks of our times. And both shows are implicitly about the same big city and, in being about Los Angeles, explore materialism and privilege and the encroachment of media in the ways all Hollywood productions do but we don’t care to notice until the Kardashians are involved to signal that we should have strong feelings about this stuff one way or another.

This week’s episode of You’re the Worst is in many ways lackluster and unfulfilling, like many episodes of Bojack would be if you had to watch one at a time, but what it does an excellent job of highlighting is the difference between the two otherwise indistinguishable comedies. While Bojack is about individual adulthood, with a hearty underbelly of masculinity, You’re the Worst explores, more than anything, romantic relationships. (Whoa don’t get too excited. The very heteronormative sort. Sit down gays.) There’s a tremendous amount of overlap between the two, which leads to several shared thematic threads, e.g., Angeleno sidekicks with hearts of gold and traumatic histories are always not-too-brown Latinos. But if You’re the Worst can in one episode break our hearts following the girl who runs away, then subsequently break them again when it holds onto the boy who stays, it can recycle all the Hollywoo jokes it wants. There’s a thoughtfulness in its humor and its underlying drama, that breathes life into its visibly retreaded premise. Gretchen and Lindsay literally studying for a Bechdel test would be ingenious whether it was live action or animated or both. There’s clearly a space for smart-dark laughs. Apparently, at least two nearly identical spaces. And if Jimmy had picked Bones over NCIS to novelize, which was certainly an option on the table, I would’ve enjoyed the David Boreanaz jokes all over again.

So yea, tldr; if you love one show give the other one a shot. Basically that was the point of this. #explicitpointstoarticlesnow



MTV’s Scream the TV series is a tremendously white affair. This is important to remember considering how this television adaptation of the iconic series of self-aware late-90s slasher films exists at a potentially unique intersection of some notably un-unique genres. Small screen teen drama and big screen horror have unmistakably hooked up before to produce an array of hybrid monstrosities and gems, most notably Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, more recently, Teen Wolf. But the spirit of this cliche cocktail has been present throughout young people television for some time, from story arcs of One Tree Hill (“Nanny Carrie” anyone?) to pretty much all of Pretty Little Liars. Even as far back as 1996, when the original Scream was released to theaters, the success of the film relied heavily on the appeal of Party of Five darling Neve Campbell. Subsequent films made sure to roll out Teen Choice and MTV Movie Award mainstays, Tori Spelling (in 2) and Scott Foley (in 3) to name a few, to reinforce the intuitive relationship between youthful melodrama and horrific violence, cheerleaders and bloodshed. But while MTV’s new series doubles down on this style of storytelling with a familiar branding that should signal the looks and smarts that make this sort of thing worthwhile, Scream the TV series does a great job of reminding us of how homogenous those looks can be in this space.

Twenty-five years ago Beverly Hills 90210 didn’t wow anyone with its diversity. The stark lack of racial representation was sadly par for course with television of the time and forced a generation of non-white fans to simply suck it up and accept implicit rejection from the fictional upper-class world of the Walshes et al. (With exceptions: Remember that time Brandon set his white privileged eyes on a young Vivica Fox but her family was basically chased out of town before he could find out how Jungle Fever ended? Or when Cress Williams, as D’Shawn of course, threatened to blackmail Brandon but in reality just wanted help with his homework? Or when Brandon . . . wait Brandon Walsh apparently had a thing for Black people.) But the exclusion of significant people of color readily spread from Beverly Hills to Melrose Place to Capeside to the O.C. throughout the 90s and early aughts. Film wasn’t much different and hasn’t been throughout the history of Hollywood but televisions glowed brightly in homes, each and every day, intimately raising a generation of multi-cultured Americans. When One Tree Hill, a show predominately about basketball in its initial outings, unveiled Black characters consistently speaking on consecutive episodes, many rejoiced. Tokenism goes a long way in this space of teenage angst, perhaps because of the monopoly white youngsters have had on televised emotion for so long. 2008’s rebooted 90210 showcased Tristan Wilds as an adopted Black son in the modern analog to the Walshes, as if to explicitly say that it was not 1990 anymore. Couple this with Bianca Lawson’s multi-decade career of being a Black teenage girl with feelings everywhere from Bayside to Sunnydale to Mystic Falls to Rosewood, and you may begin to think that the bare minimum of non-white representation started to mean something to creators. That it started to mean, at least in 2015, television (and film) should look more like its audience.

1997’s Scream 2 was an exceptional film, if only because it was a film about film. It was about how a horror or slasher movie should play out as much as how it actually does play out. Subversion of these established tropes became the point of the film as well as the goal of the characters that wished to survive. Randy Meeks, played by Jamie Kennedy, consistently presses his wry wit and knowledge of the genre against the fourth wall in all sorts of winks to the audience but with a very real desire for self-preservation. That’s overt. What is more subtle but just as significant is how each and every Black person in the film flirts with the same sort of self-awareness. From the very beginning, Jada Pinkett’s discomfort during the viewing of the movie-within-the-movie (or sequel-within-the-sequel “Stab 2”) is simply due to how threatened and unsafe every person of color should feel in these situations. She and her date Omar Epps eventually and predictably die, but Duane Martin says it explicitly later on in the film, “Brothers don’t last long in situations like this,” before he dies as well. The idea here is that these Black characters are tokens, not simply to any liberal sensibility of the time, but of the form of film itself. Staples of the genre. But Jada Pinkett, Omar Epps, and Duane Martin (which admittedly is a pretty impressive list of alums) aren’t left out of the uniquely introspective nature of the Scream franchise. They exhibit a keen understanding of their status as minorities and their eminent danger in this world, but their existence is nonetheless indispensable to it.

Scream the TV series has seen fit to dispense with any semblance of racial inclusion. Albeit, this type of “why ain’t there enough x in this” argument always has its detractors, rightfully so. The show is exploring a queer teen character and admittedly there is in fact a person of color in the group of young actors. Asian American actress Brian Tju. It’s not much of a spoiler in a series centered around mass murder to acknowledge that her role is short-lived, but, after five episodes as of this write up, it’s more than fair to acknowledge this series to still be severely lacking in color, amongst other things. And it’s unsettling, to say the least. The bland characterizations leave a lot to be desired, but the Scream branding implies something purposeful is afoot. We find Randy Meeks’s television counterpart fairly easily in the character of Noah Foster, played well enough by John Karna. But every other character seems to miss the spot in their attempts at pantomiming the usual suspects: horny jocks, the vapid mean girls, the reluctantly popular belle of the ball, the bad boy, etc. The familiar face of Bex Taylor-Klaus, though always welcome, does nothing to repair the missteps of casting and writing.

Nonetheless, its hearty lineage alone would invite an interpretation of the whole series as satire, just as MTV’s commitment to making this show a reality perhaps hints at some parody. Each time the big bad texts the main character Emma, there’s no way any respectable tween of the past decade would not immediately conjure up thoughts of A’s ominously threatening texts to the Pretty Little Liars set. But time and time again the mark is missed for an effective satire of any sort. And it’s been nearly 20 years since the Scream franchise actually had anything left to subvert or add commentary to. The horror beats of the new series don’t hold up at all against what we consider televised horror to be in 2015: not nearly as artful as Hannibal, not as charismatic as American Horror Story, and decapitated heads are so Game of Thrones season one. So why resurrect Ghostface in 2015 (notably without the actual Ghostface, essentially the mascot of the Scream-iverse) as a lackluster reaffirmation of how perpetually threatened white people feel? It may be the network is simply nostalgic for those MTV Movie Awards of the mid-90s, where teenagers looked to the golden popcorn as a representation of their voice and as a reflection of their generation. MTV is, as Bob Weinstein of the Weinstein Co., the notorious studio responsible for the original film series, has recently claimed, “where the teens reside.” It’s unclear if he’s right or if this was ever actually true. But the only thing the existence of Scream the TV series makes clear is that white people are still very afraid. And generally, it’s at the expense of colored faces.


For a moment, put aside whatever opinion of the series itself you may have taken away from its ABC premiere last Wednesday night. Ignore whatever feelings Anthony Anderson’s generally overwrought and underwhelming acting tends to evoke, or even the sour taste left in your mouth by an accused rapist continually appearing on your television without at least bothering to play a professional sport. Disregard ABC’s track record of simply feigning interest in socially aware comedy and/or representation, while vehemently maintaining the status quo. Instead, consider for a moment the prevalent critical response to the series, Black-ish, whose premiere managed “near perfect lead-in retention out of Modern Family,” according to TV by the Numbers. That is to say, those who watched ABC’s current flagship family sitcom stuck around to check out its colorized version.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Black-ish, as the title suggests, offers ABC’s audience (which the fourth-place network lauds as “upscale” and “affluent”) an overtly non-threatening, semi-Black comedy. Some critics have already drawn a line separating Black-ish from other series with primarily black casts based largely on its presence in a coveted network time slot, but with a heavy implication of presumed white-friendly quality.

In a post-Tyler Perry world, there’s even more of a stigma that comes with having a cast of primarily black actors: However talented the cast is, the writing leaves way too much to be desired; from that point on, no other black show, apparently, has a chance. Black-ish isn’t relegated to OWN, TBS, or BET (or, in a past life, UPN); it’s a sitcom on a broadcast network, just like The Middle or Modern Family. (LaToya Ferguson, AV Club)

The move here is a peculiar one, but has recently been attempted within countless articles and commentaries: simultaneously praise Black-ish and ABC’s push towards diversity in a space that’s been sorely lacking for a significant amount of time (often the key is to invoke The Cosby Show as the gold standard), while wholly diminishing the work done by other creatives and entertainment outlets that cater to audiences of color. Let’s be clear. Tyler Perry isn’t producing pretend television as his creations continue to set ratings records for the OWN Network. Mara Brock Akil isn’t phoning it in with her numerous acclaimed offerings on BET. While admittedly, there’s something not-quite-Cosby about If Loving You is Wrong or Being Mary Jane, there’s an earnestly Black presence on television (and YouTube) that are worth the attention of those seeking diversity. But certainly, that’s not what Black-ish is about.

What ultimately gives Black-ish so much warmth—a warmth reminiscent of, yes, The Cosby Show—is its optimism that audiences, of all colors, will not be turned off by its specificity. . . . Like the many, many sitcoms about the affluent white experience, this is a show that is meant to be seen and enjoyed by everyone. (Willa Paskin, Slate)

Another common element of all the e-ink spilled establishing Black-ish as the Emancipation Proclamation of primetime comedy is the emphasis on how (potentially) fulfilling the series is regardless of race. Again, the language here is coded somewhat to obfuscate its meaning, but the primary concern of audiences when presented with a cast of predominantly non-white faces is apparently that the comedy may not be inclusive enough. That there exist culturally and racially-specific threads of humor is largely undeniable. Still, the fairly obnoxious claim here is that, despite how it might appear, this well-to-do Black family is here for your enjoyment, white America. Presumably, Black-ish satisfies some latent desire for the consumption of Black bodies on television (perhaps the safest arena where this fetish plays out), particularly within the family unit, and apparently there just hasn’t been such a meal suitable for the white palate since, you guessed it, the Huxtables. The “warmth” of Black-ish is plainly its digestibility in the eyes of many.

This interpretation of the series—seemingly in spite of its merit—by the critics and tastemakers of the day has somehow unraveled as more patronizing to Black Americans than the decades of exclusion from network television each writer seems fit to rehash almost robotically. While diversity on television as a talking point is an easy one—there’s not enough, there should be more, it’s a good thing when we see it, etc.—the conversation about race is a more difficult one, several magnitudes more nuanced. Nonetheless, just as it’s hard to be surprised that the alphabet network plans to co-opt the outcry for diversity in a hopeful bid to rise from the ashes of forth place (alongside Black-ish, ABC’s new Fall lineup contains markedly more colorful offerings such as Cristela and Fresh Off the Boat, all receiving a healthy amount of kudos from those who give networks kudos for this sort of thing), it’s expected of the media to retread and provide superficial lip service surrounding the issue.

Over and over, representation is explored insincerely and although some appreciation is always warranted when the network landscape is remodeled however slightly towards inclusion, many detailed accounts of the significance of Black-ish read as overly self-gratifying. Thank you noble critics for sitting through a Black(-ish) endeavor and reminiscing gleefully on the times when Heathcliff fathered Theo into something you could deem respectable with classic gags and approachable laughs. Your white-knighting is duly noted. But if what passes for TV journalism today refuses to ask the more pertinent questions about racial representation in media, the whys and hows, it’s clear that they’re as culpable as anyone for the dearth of people of color of prominence on network television and Black-ish inevitably getting canceled. Anthony Anderson’s on it after all. I’m not hopeful. But please take some time to enjoy Tracee Ellis Ross in all her splendor.

Nia LongSummer’s almost over. Where did the time go? Oh, yeah. I’ve been inside watching television all summer for you instead of going to the beach or learning how to tap dance like I had planned. You’re welcome, Internet strangers. Below I’ve ranked the shows I felt were worth ranking, those that you should definitely give a chance if you haven’t already. Of course you may disagree on the order, or feel like I’ve slighted some series by omitting it, but of course you’d be wrong.

But feel free to leave a comment.

10. You’re the Worst, FX Thursday at 10:30pm EST

With a young and cynical veneer but a creamy sentimental center, this new FX comedy is perfect summer television fodder. The two main characters are as agreeable as your typical toxic amoral Angelenos but one’s British, so that should account for something. Overall, this is a show about a relationship presented as atypical but develops into something functionally unexceptional. And that’s sort of the point. When the entertainment value of the primary relationship gets derailed by an immature commitment to actually proving which one of the two is the worst, the two best friend-supporting characters pick up the slack in refreshing ways, and it’ll be interesting to see where the show takes them. Not expecting many surprises, but FX comedy is sort of in a transition period so the possibility of second season (which likely wouldn’t occur elsewhere) will probably have this show finding its comfort zone one way or another.

9. Satisfaction, USA Thursday at 10pm EST

There’s something not particular good about this show. The main characters are so overdrawn as an American Beauty-esque portrait of disenchanted family life drenched in privilege and disconnected from the rest of the world that they should be unbearable. But they aren’t. The pilot succeeded pretty well at compelling viewers to follow the Truman family patriarch down this rabbit hole of his pristinely unsatisfying life falling apart. On the other hand Mrs. Truman is apparently well on her way to self-correcting with the help of a young gigolo. Interestingly enough their daughter seems to be responding to all of this, while remaining completely ignorant to what’s happening. This all combines into an attractively dynamic premise that regrettably, after the pilot, the series seems to manage clumsily. USA has some ads running for the show referencing the Fifty Shades book series and upcoming film, alluding to some plot similarities if not just similar target demographics. So presumably there’s not much intended to go on here besides a bit of sexual intrigue and fun. Nonetheless, Satisfaction has its moments.

8. The Strain, FX Sunday at 10pm EST

Despite anything, this is a series about vampires. In that the series is seemingly presented with a gift and a curse. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a scientific explanation as to what big bad has made it’s way to New York City by way of an arrival at JFK, but the main protagonists being agents of the CDC do call for a certain level of intelligent consideration to what is happening. To be honest, a CDC procedural has been on my television wish list for a long time and if this (or sadly Helix) is the best we can hope for in these vampire/supernatural-crazed days, then so be it. But there’s something insincere about this sort of procedural. It’s neither science fiction or supernatural. It’s unclear if there’s even a mystery to be solved. And are these creatures really even vampires? All of these concerns add baggage to what could be a fun show about people getting eaten. Nonetheless, this is a pretty fun show about people getting eaten.

7. Garfunkel and Oates, IFC Thursday at 10pm EST

Sometimes an act deserves a show so much that the actual product doesn’t matter as much as how much it adequately presents their work. That would be the case for Garfunkel and Oates if it wasn’t actually so damn funny and filled with complimentary acting that brings out the best in our new-to-television main protagonists. Garfunkel and Oates sing funny songs extremely well and this show presents a fictionalized account of the lives they’ve built around that. The only reason the series isn’t higher on this list is because there haven’t been many episodes as of writing this and there is some apparent clumsiness in the somewhat inventive singsongy format. I’m sure these will be ironed out as the series progresses but it’s a shame that the invoke the visual asides and memories trope (in the style of Family Guy most infamously) so often but it rarely contributes to the humor as much as Lindhome and Micucci do just be awkwardly smiling. They’re wonderful.

6. Extant, CBS Wednesday at 9pm EST / The Lottery, Lifetime Sunday at 10pm EST

Extant presents high concept science fiction and futuristic world building in an easily digestible package. The Lottery does the same pretty much. Both series use their science fiction vehicles to introduce significant philosophical questions about humanity and society, but as each show awkwardly progresses though their respective summer tv-friendly clickbaity premises, worldwide infertility and immaculate conception in outer space respectably, it becomes a little too clear that there hasn’t been much consideration made beyond this. Both shows will inevitably rely on their extraordinary babies (or lack thereof) much more than actual storytelling, but one of the two has Halle Berry as an astronaut. I forget which. Still, that’s something.

4. Girl Meets World, Disney Channel Friday at 8:30pm EST

Consider this: Boy Meets World premiered in 1993 and ended its seven season run in 2000. So Disney Channel’s decision to spin-off the series all these years later in many ways represents how much of an impact Cory, Shawn, Topanga, and Mr. Feeny made on generations of television consumers for almost twenty-one years. You see the continued influence much of Disney Channel and even Nickelodeon’s current lineups aimed at pre-teens and anyone who enjoys overacted comedies with heart (and questionable fashion choices). Girl Meets World now has a lot on its plate in trying to fit into the new mold while maintaining a more than superficial connection to its legacy. New Cory and Shawn, Riley and Maya, are a great start with their charmingly sincere on-screen relationship. Honesty and directness seem to be such an important component to the new series’ mechanics that at times dialogue comes off as idealistically unreal, and emotions are awkwardly wrung out of some scenes. But still that awkwardness is familiar and reminiscent of many Mathews-Hunter-Feeny conversations from the olden days. The values and lessons being resurrected here are timeless and there are some sweet laughs to be had as a new generation discover them. As an adult and a fan of the original, there’s enough fan service (the return of Minkus, bohemian Topanga, ghost Feeny, to name a few) made in its early episodes to keep tuning in each week for a nostalgic smile. Kids might like it too.

3. Leftovers, HBO Sunday at 10pm EST

HBO’s new prestige drama is a thoughtfully human procedural that follows the chief of police trying to keep everyone safe and make sense of his small town in the wake of an apparent rapture and disappearance of about 2% of the world’s population. It’s sort of like Lost if we followed everyone else not on the island as they dealt with their friends and families going missing. Wait. Yeah, it’s pretty much like Lost. Damon Lindelof strikes again! But in all fairness, the exposition of the series is rich and there’s not as much of a big mystery for viewers to be concerned with. Instead, characters’s lives unfold and re-fold into one another in such a way that sheds light onto what these connections—husband, wife, daughter, citizen—might really mean and challenges what used to be believed. Amongst other things, belief and religion are significant threads in Leftovers, the Guilty Remnant are as compelling as they are probably bad for your respiratory system. Still, a refreshingly heavy meal for the summer television schedule.

2. Young and Hungry, ABC Family Wednesday at 8pm EST

A traditional multi-camera sitcom, ABC Family’s new series is hilarious. Perhaps, the most fundamentally sound comedy this summer, it follows a young, pretty chef recently hired to be the personal chef of a wealthy, also young, tech entrepreneur in San Francisco. The premise is as fashionably contrived as one could hope for in a summer comedy in 2014 and the cast features a great combination of new and familiar faces. Kym Whitley is delightful and has been deserving of a horribly stereotypical sassy Black housekeeper role for a long time. Along with Rex Lee as a token gaysian assistant and Aimee Carrero as the feisty Latina best friend, almost everything that’s wrong with Hollywood casting is present. Still, the quick and clever writing doesn’t shy away from this most common of affronts and an argument to the value of tokenism is undeniable when these are still some of the most prominent people of color on television this summer. A white female chef (with her Latina sidekick in tow), a Black female housekeeper, a homosexual Asian assistant all under the employ of a wealthy white man is implicitly the setup to a joke with a potentially risky punchline in the current television environment. A joke Hollywood has nonetheless been telling at the expense of people of color and other minority communities for a long time, without even being funny. In a way, Young and Hungry should be appreciated for at least setting up the joke, and telling a bunch more in the meantime. A tremendously funny show in a traditional vein.

1. The Divide, WE TV Wednesday at 9pm EST

The best show of the summer. WE TV’s new legal drama is as smart as it is riveting and timely. There’s enough of a whodunit embedded into the narrative to attract the most casual viewers but the series digs deeper and explores the politics and social dynamics at play when the murder case that made careers and tore apart families was first tried 11 years ago and now, as new evidence is uncovered that can change everything. Race plays such a large part in this series that the performances of the Page family—who’s prestige, power, and wealth were largely established when this murder was first brought to trial—is instrumental to selling the drama. Damon Gupton and Nia Long share numerous powerful scenes together as husband and wife with some occasionally differing views and together they navigate an extended family of distinctive characters. Interestingly enough, much of the series itself seems very much divided amongst race lines, which adds another layer of honesty to the depiction of today’s society that’s rarely present on television. On the other side of those line, we have an impassioned caseworker and advocate for the “Innocence Initiative” work to right the wrongs of the past by navigating a web of lies and political influence. A lot of the legwork is done here and through their eyes the show unpacks as much more of a procedural, with clues being discovered and interviews with some of the more intriguing characters (read: suspects) the show has to offer. At times, this duality of the series may seem a bit disconnected, but there definitely seems to be more in store and the wickedness murder case and the coverup seem more than enough to tie every loose end of the series together effectively. There’s a lot to enjoy about this show and it is very much just getting started.


Watching ABCs new midseason comedy Mixology the other night, I realized that it had completely won me over. Sneakily in fact. As a rabid consumer of scripted television, I rolled the dice on the series based purely on my appreciation of novelty and gimmicks. It’s literally pegged as “a Romantic Comedy with a Twist.” I’m in. A whole series focused on one night at a club in (fake) New York City, the premise seemed a bit imbalanced, but unique and ambitious enough to get us through these tough TV times. And at first glance, Mixology is barely that. There was something gratingly awkward and clumsy about the first few outings. Everyone seemed to eye their soulmate within moments. It was hard to believe why anyone would stay at this club for a whole hour, let alone a season. Episodes overlap significantly to the point that it’s impossible to tell if you’re watching a rerun for about ten minutes each week. Flashbacks and back stories are drawn out all the way back to birth and aren’t as entertaining or insightful as the narrator pretended they were. There’s a narrator.

But for everything that Mixology misses the mark on, there seems to be something done undeniably right. Nine episodes in, strangely enough, I don’t hate any of these people. To be fair, the bar at this bar was set unreasonably low in the pilot. When an obnoxious Brit throwing up seemed to be the most sincere thing to come out of anyone’s mouth for a whole episode, there’s not really any other direction but up. But in time, British guy, played charmingly enough by real Brit Adam Campbell, grew repentant and sincere. The bad girl/good girl duo of Maya and Liv eventually find their stride somewhere in the middle of a genuine friendship. In fact, all of the women in the show organically coming together becomes such an intriguing surprise as the show proceeds that the trigger warning drenched dirtbag schtick of the male leads stopped making me gag. This week even the bartender succumbs to hijinks that humanize him, if not just give him another thing to do besides flirt and play horrible guitar. A cliche I wholly expected to run amok for the rest of the series.

And that’s precisely what caught me unawares. Mixology is a series backed by mainstream stalwart Ryan Seacrest of all people and in its first few episodes, egregiously poured on every cliche and trope you could imagine about modern big city nightlife, 20/30-somethings looking for love, and lazy television comedies about those things. The characters were secondary to the their character types for so long — from unassuming token Black guy to bubbly blonde bottle girl — it was hard to believe this wasn’t just a cynical and mocking portrait of a small but overexposed subset of Americans. In fact, it was and probably still is. But that’s no way to live for a young comedy. We need the warmth and sweetness of the good cliches played sincerely — love at first sight, bad girl with a heart of gold,  girl power, etc. — to make the others easier to swallow. We need to believe what these characters are doing matters. The stakes need to matter. The characters themselves need to matter. And surprisingly enough, eventually it happened.

Everyone had finally showed up to the party. Surely, as a viewer you can have your favorites (don’t pick Bruce) but the whole cast has become fleshed out enough for that not to seem like a challenge anymore. There are now a variety of TV-friendly personalities drawn out in colorfully broad strokes to enjoy or berate. Particularly, Ginger Gonzaga and Kate Simses as Maya and Liv are gorgeous enough to watch 10 horrible episodes of anything but have actually began to play well off each other and develop a rapport that hints at their going out together this particular night being more than just for narrative contrast.

The ice has been officially broken, so go ahead and jump in to Mixology if you’re so inclined. It’s fun and light with enough will they or won’t they to keep you coming back each week. Or wait, until it’s inevitably canceled by ABC and catch the whole series on HuFlix drunken and lonely one Saturday evening in the near future because watching beautiful people play pretend is just as good as going out yourself and having fun. I’m pretty sure.

Tika-SumpterBecause TV watching now entails at least two glowing screens at all times, here are some stories from around the interwebz:

  • Caleb moves back to Rosewood after spinoff flops. “Pretty Little Liars: Tyler Blackburn to Return as Series Regular” (via The Hollywood Reporter).
  • FOX renewal news: Mindy Kaling is getting another go at it whether you like it or not, along with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Following, and New Girl (via TV by the Numbers).
  • Lastly, record-setting ratings for OWN with The Haves and the Have Nots finale and an undeniably valid reason for a Tika Sumpter pic. Yay! (via Variety)

Bailee Madison and Marcia Gay Harden are wonderful, but you’re not going to watch this show anyway.

As you may or, perhaps more likely, may not know, ABC currently airs eight sitcoms in its weekly primetime schedule, a schedule featuring quirky alien neighbors, an “ironic” trophy wife, and various middle class families from the past and present spread about several “super fun” nights each week. In general, it’s fairly standard fare for the American Broadcast Company these days. The hits—The Middle, Modern Family, and Last Man Standing—paint straightforward portraits of today’s common man with broad topical strokes, while the struggling bunch—The Neighbors, Super Fun Night, Trophy Wife—halfheartedly and insincerely try to depict something else slightly left of the factory o’ laughs ABC has spent decades erecting out in the ‘burbs.

But it would appear that with the low viewership for the comedies that stray marginally from the cul-de-sac of the familiar, and their inevitably going the way of Happy Endings, the dust is settling on a singular comedic aesthetic for the family network. Which, for the record, isn’t much of an issue. To claim that broadcast television has a pronounced history of risk-taking or going against its self-imposed grain, wouldn’t really be the truth. In fact, ABC in the late-80s and 90s made a name for itself by celebrating how thematically homogenous it could make a lineup each and every Friday.

Sure there were some outliers in the golden TGIF days similar to that of today’s. There was at a point a show literally called Aliens in the Family. And this season’s recently canceled Back in the Game seemed pretty Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper-esque to me. (You know, without all the pesky people of color.) So not much has truly changed. But there’s a lot to be said about the packaging of these new show. Let’s take a look plainly at the names.

ABC’s current eight
1. Modern Family (2009–present)
2. The Middle (2009–present)
3. Last Man Standing (2011–present)
4. Suburgatory (2011–present)
5. The Goldbergs (2013–present)
6. Super Fun Night (2013–present)
7. Trophy Wife (2013–present)
8. The Neighbors (2012–present)
(via Wikipedia)

Numbers 1 through 5 are what could easily be considered the safe bets, very much in line with the tradition of ABC’s comedic brand. Family. Middle Class. Man. Suburbs. Funny Jews. All are literally embedded within the titles, sometimes implicitly, often overtly; and all staples of safe, well-received television for generations. But pay especially close attention to numbers 6 through 8. There’s something to be said for the lack of creativity up and down the whole list. But honestly how important is it to wow the viewer with a clever title for an old school Tim Allen fatherly, curmudgeonly vehicle? The problem seems to lie in trying to coerce an audience with subversive phrasing (really? Trophy Wife is the best you can come up with?) or lazily evoking American-style fear-mongering to not-so-subtly out the ALIENS! or, probably most damning, unenthusiastically going for the real life click-baiting like the Buzzfeed of primetime.

The titles matter. The show names hovering on your TV guide (or in your TV Guide, you hipster, you) have to tell you enough about what’s in store to elicit a channel change or warrant the DVR space. That or they have to tap into the already established thematic continuity the network is hawking these days. Family Matters, Full House, Step by Step were simply what ABC was offering once upon a time, straightforward messages, simple imagery, and corny-sweet adages to give you a reason to thank God (or “goodness” if you hate America) that it was Friday. When a show was a bit more esoteric in construction, they gave you the quick rundown of what was on—Mork & Mindy, Dinosaurs. No room for confusion. No subterfuge. No need to distance yourself from the brand. Look up again at 6 through 8.  Things aren’t looking good. But honestly enough, these are the shows that ABC itself never really gave a chance because it never really gave them the family name.