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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

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tracee

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.

gonzagaginger

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.

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.

Olivia Pope

  • Everyone. Is. Going. Nuts. Over. Game of Thrones.
  • Potential Once Upon a Time spinoff, Once: Wonderland, has cast its Alice, English-born Aussie Sophie Lowe. Lewis Carroll is unamused. (via Hollywood Reporter)
  • The Killing is apparently still happening. AMC has promised a two-hour premiere on June 2nd for all those who haven’t yet figured out that Maggie Simpson shot Rosie Larsen. Duh. (via Vulture)
  • Justified received its well-deserved fifth season renewal along with the news of FX’s new sister network, FXX, a comedy-centered outfit launching in September, buoyed by new seasons of It’s Always Sunny and The League. Reportedly, FXXX is still in the works, featuring a 24-hour stream of Keri Russell sex scenes in a variety of hairstyles. (via Warming Glow)
  • Doctor Who summed up pretty well in visualizations and spreadsheets and visualizations from The Guardian. Plus news of returning favorites David Tennant and Bill Piper for the 50th Anniversary special. But, really? Spreadsheets? (via TVbytheNumbers)
  • And who is the greatest TV couple of all time? Aside from me and Claire Huxtable Olivia Pope. (via Entertainment Weekly)

As the warm season approaches, networks often have difficult (and not-so) decisions to make regarding their schedules and roster of programming. Surely the ratings have a lot to do with the decision making processes, but, as fans, we like to believe other factors come into play to some extent — whether it’s product placement monetization, #hashtag trend prominence, or executives possibly playing favorites hopefully with our favorites. We choose to believe in these less quantifiable and more unconventional series success variables so to justify our hope in the future of a favorable TV landscape, a future of fully packed DVRs and neglected loved ones. The hope fuels the ubiquitous social media campaigns, the zealous written pleas mailed to the network in bulk (do people still do that?), and manic financial support for commercial sponsors. Whatever the cause for each decision, cancel or renew, either a fandom finds corroboration in an x number of episodes commitment or viewers curse the callousness of network suits and their unwavering reverence to whims of Nielsen homes.

And all of that is simply to say this — listed at times with brazen bias:

  • Community has been renewed by NBC for a fourth season of 13 episodes. Not a surprise necessarily but surely a relief to many. This season has been filled with ups and downs for Community fans — consistently low ratings followed by a long impromptu mid-season hiatus, then a solid return with quality episodes that appeared to showcase creator Dan Harmon’s pointed response to the show’s received criticisms and uncertain future. To top it all off, it’s funny as fuck. The recent episode “Curriculum Unavailable” provided a ceremonious goodbye to the paintball episode tradition and, in essence, the Community of old. Times are a-changin’. And Community still has time (a new time actually, on Fridays come Fall), even if, rumor has it, Dan Harmon doesn’t.
  • FOX is giving Fringe a fifth and final season of 13 episodes, 13 more opportunities for Peter-Olivia shippers to be simultaneously placated to and kept in a persistent state of unease. That Fringe.
  • NBC has also given 30 Rock the go ahead to produce 13 more episodes for what is being labeled the final season. The guarantee is more that Tina Fey and the gang will be returning, not necessarily that the amount of episodes is set in stone or in this being the true last season, last inevitable live episode, last batch of Donaghy-isms, etc.
  • TBS has successfully acquired Cougar Town from ABC, saving the comedy from certain cancellation. Another opportunity for comedic relativism (“You just don’t get it. It’s funny.”) to gain some traction for those that stand by Courtney Cox’s ability to deliver on humor.
  • A bunch of no brainers were renewed including: ABC’s Happy Endings and Shonda Rhimes stuffs; an assortment of CSINCIS’s on CBS; Parenthood, Smash and Law & Order:SVU on the peacock network; and Bones and New Girl on FOX.
  • New shows The Secret Circle, Ringer, both on the CW Network; GCG on ABC; The Finder and Breaking In on FOX; NBC’s Awake, Best Friends Forever, and Are You There Chelsea? have all been canceled, Awake due to its overly advanced brand of storytelling, the rest because they sucked. But to be fair, there’s no guarantee Breaking In will stay canceled — that sly Christian Slater.
  • Have you ever watched NYC 22? Good. And now you won’t have to.
  • TV by the Numbers has a handy list of all other cancelations and renewals for the whole season.
  • Finally, Community and Fringe have been renewed! (Still great news the second time around.)

It’s become apparent that HBO very much wants to be in the young people business. After the gradual decay of its former golden child (in all the demos that matter), Entourage, and the almost immediate disillusionment with How to Make It in America, the unabashed doppleganger featuring NY grit instead of LA sheen and fashion instead of Hollywood, HBO has decided that maybe the Y chromosomes were to blame in their relentless pursuit of a youthful aesthetic. They’ve now seen it fit to give Girls a shot, purposefully remain in the New York state of mind, and let creator Lena Dunham run wild in a world of privileged 20-somethings caught somewhere between college and adulthood, between full parental support and almost inevitable support groups for social dysfunction.

On the surface, what Girls does differently than many of its predecessors is thoughtfully explore clichés of the real world (which for a long time TV has purported to be based on despite little to no evidence, just largely misleading titles like The Real World) more subtly, critically, and for the humor therein. Where How to Make it may have been painfully self indulgent in it’s depiction and idolization of the overexposed subcultures of big city America, Girls shuns the h-word of the times and subverts the underlying lifestyles and attitudes that make putting a camera on young folk a perennially attractive idea no matter the decade, the trope, or the pigeonhole.

The familiar cards are quickly laid on the table—worthless English degrees and crummy internships and dickish boyfriends and money from your parents and aimless adolescent anxieties. But don’t worry. Lena Dunham and the series itself is in on the joke, so we all get to laugh.

Girls features young women playing into tropes and archetypes for the desired comedic effect, but supposedly still depicting young women earnestly. So just as viewers may feel that they can relate to or understand the characters—an aspiring writer, a restless girlfriend, an over-the-top bohemian, a girl that’s fairly indistinguishable from the rest (I really can’t remember who she is but Wikipedia says there are four ::shrug::)—the portrayal of women in this series should provide both fans and critics alike with some pause in regards to gender. The girls of the show don’t function as an overtly strong statement on femininity in our culture. It’s not quite Carrie Bradshaw in the late-90s, challenging our preconceptions of what women should or should not do on television. It’s not a TV version of the 1939 classic film The Women, which brought women to the forefront of storytelling by removing literally all males from before the camera (why pretend? I only saw the 2008 remake with Meg Ryan and Annette Benning, but the point stands.) These Girls aren’t even The Powerpuff Girls, failing to ever showcase the figurative or literal feminine super-strength that tears down our prejudices and even hints at girls plainly being cooler than stupid ole boys.

But the series doesn’t have to be any of that. We shouldn’t still need it to. But as clever as the show positions itself to be, it doesn’t seem to actually offer anything particularly clever, if anything at all. The reality of it all is that spoiled white girls running around Greenpoint, Brooklyn dazed and confused and armed with both snark and liberal arts degrees is fine, but understandably unfulfilling for a broad audience. That audience may not appreciate, as Gawker’s John Cook puts it, “a television program about the children of wealthy famous people and shitty music and Facebook and how hard it is to know who you are and Thought Catalog and sexually transmitted diseases and the exhaustion of ceaselessly dramatizing your own life while posing as someone who understands the fundamental emptiness and narcissism of that very self-dramatization.” But that’s apparently not Girls concern. Those that wish to indulged in the possibly post-“hipster” or “meta-feminist” revisionist view of adulthood in the “real” world (these quotations connote things, I promise) or simply listen to some Feist and await for boobs and shout outs to your local PBR dispensary, boy do I gotta show for you!

In other news:

  • Best Friends Forever was pulled off NBC’s schedule as an overdue act of fairness to die-hard Perfect Couples fans. via Vulture
  • Fringe got renewed for a fifth and final season. Prediction: Astrid and Walter have been having sex all along. via TVbytheNumbers
  • 30 Rock, Community, and Parks and Recreation on Thursday reminded us what television can do to your funny bone, and a second dose of Donald Glover ain’t too shabby either. Coccyx via Grantland
  • New HBO comedy Veep is much better than Girls but Brian William’s daughter is hotter than Elaine Benes, so I picked the Brooklyn yawn to write about instead of the funny Murphy BrownWest Wing love child. I’m ashamed.