Season Analysis: I have never watched any other show that declined in quality as dramatically as Gossip Girl did in its final season.
“New York, I Love You XOXO”
Much of the series finale of Gossip Girl chose to ignore what had happened in Seasons 3-6, and it was one of those rare cases in which that was actually the right decision. A lot of Seasons 3-5 was awful, as was all of Season 6 prior to the finale. To enjoy the finale required forgetting all those low points, which I was perfectly willing to do. The revelation of Dan as Gossip Girl made a good deal of sense, despite probably making hardly any sense if held up to scrutiny. But it was a much more intriguing, and entertaining, decision than something along the lines of “Gossip Girl was nobody” or “Gossip Girl was all of us.” At least Dan’s Great Gatsby-esque explanation of how Gossip Girl allowed him to insinuate himself into the Upper East Side was thematically consistent with the series as a whole. Much of the finale made little to no sense – the final romantic pairings, for one thing, felt far from earned – but it least it all had an air of ridiculousness to it. And the reactions of various New Yorkers to the Gossip Girl revelation were gold, particularly due to Michael Bloomberg’s mere presence and Kristen Bell’s mere on-camera presence.
Season Analysis: Before the behind-the-scenes mess that was Up All Night’s hiatus that never ended, the show itself was already a mess during Season 2. Doing away with “The Ava Show” removed all reasons for the existence of Maya Rudolph’s character and led to the departure of a perfectly decent supporting cast member in Jennifer Hall. And it’s not like Will Arnett and Christina Applegate’s storylines were anything special, either.
This episode was the rare (perhaps only) Season 2 episode of Up All Night that wasn’t about nothing. Not about nothing in the good, Seinfeld sense, but in the worst possible sense of that description. As in, nothing ever happened on this show in its ultimate season. “Jerry Duty” was about Reagan never being able to see her brother as anything besides her screw-up baby brother and Chris and his old college roommate Jerry similarly not being able to see beyond their set images of each other. That is an issue of human nature worth exploring (a comment I would not be able to make in regards to much else of Season 2). It also helped that Jerry was played by guest star Rob Huebel, whose skill at playing actual human beings is underestimated, probably due to his being mostly associated with caricature roles such as in Childrens Hospital and Burning Love.
Season Analysis: I did not watch Season 1, but from what I’ve heard about it, it sounds like it polished itself up for Season 2. It is presently a solid parody of acronym-ed procedural action dramas and thus the perfect parody companion piece to Childrens Hospital.
“16 Hop St.”
Considering how many movies (and a few TV shows) feature going-back-to-high-school plots, it’s a bit of a shock that it’s taken this long for them to be targeted for skewering. This episode takes that trope to its logically absurd conclusion, wherein the NTSF crew poses as students for a case at a high school in which the popular kids are being kidnapped. They soon discover that all the students are undercover adults save for one. You’ve got the guy who’s travelled back in time to make sure his parents end up together, the girl working on an article, and the cops busting up a drug ring. Paul Rust is an inspired casting choice as one of the undercover characters, as he simultaneously looks too old to be a high school student and much younger than he actually is (he’s 32).
“East/West Bowl” has been continuously growing in popularity since its initial airing back in October, as it has been linked to and discussed (often as it were a real thing) on football fan forums. This sketch takes one of the simplest, but also one of the most reliable, comedy premises around – a list of silly names – and makes it so much more brilliant than one would think such a thing could ever possibly be. Clearly it is more than just a silly list. It has caught on because there are a lot of actual football players whose names are hardly any less ridiculous than the ones in the sketch. It was just a matter of time before they would be called out on their ridiculousness. Unlike most silly list-based sketches, “East/West Bowl” is filled with details. It is quite intricate despite how simple it appears to be on first viewing. Not only are the names silly, but so are the hairstyles, the voices, and the background photos. Each member of the silly list gets his own unique characterization. You don’t get all that out of most silly lists.
Runner-Up: “LMFAO’s Non-Stop Party”
The lyrics of this parody LMFAO dance-pop ditty are hilarious (and rhythmic) enough on their own without the sketch needing anything more. At one point, the song just becomes a list of random crap (iPad, Facebook, party time, skintight jeans…) and the roll call of cities where the party is taking place eventually grow to include more unusual options such as Newark, Plano, Lincoln, and Lubbock until ultimately it could be any destination as they simply repeat “city, city, city, city.” That would all be good enough, but this sketch is also about the existential crisis that LMFAO face when they realize the party they are at is a Groundhog Day-style endless loop. This is why we have Key and Peele – they give us scenes inspired by Sartre featuring today’s biggest pop stars.
Season Analysis: Key & Peele betrayed a little bit of exhaustion in its second batch of episodes – it’s hard to continually pull off the unexpected in comedy. But it was never really bad, and the best of Season 2 reached even greater heights than that of Season 1.
Most episodes of Key & Peele do not have an overarching theme (at least not one that is much different than the overall theme of the series), so one excellent sketch can make the difference in an episode being the best of the season. This was the case with Episode 2 of Season 2, which featured the already iconic “East/West Bowl” sketch. I’ll get to my explanation of that bit’s greatness in my Best Sketch of the Season post, but for now I’ll mention Keegan and Jordan’s stand-up segment that immediately followed. Keegan’s physical reaction to D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s mother explanation that “D’Brickashaw” is a family name was a thing of beauty. Although the sketch seemed surreal, the actual people they mentioned with names like “L–a” underscored just how much it was in actuality too real.
Season Analysis: There were 14 episodes of Childrens Hospital in Season 4. I liked all of them. A few of them I really liked. I wish there had been more Malin Åkerman. I also wish there had been more David Wain in front of the camera (but of course that always goes without saying).
“The Boy with the Pancakes Tattoo”
Childrens Hospital exists to parody the tropes of over-the-top hospital dramas like Grey’s Anatomy, but it can get exhausting to constantly laugh at the same sort of medical ridiculousness. Luckily, this show occasionally branches out into other genre parodies, such as this episode’s take on an amnesia suspense thriller. Interestingly enough, considering all the intense circumstances that can befall a hospital drama, this bout of mass amnesia at Childrens does not feel out of place. The fact that the amnesia was caused by a criminal act by Sy is a perfectly logical explanation, and the fact that the conclusion of the whole thing essentially makes no sense is also perfectly acceptable, considering that this is Childrens Hospital.
(*-First and Only Season!)
Season Analysis: Animal Practice was never as stupid as it looked. It was a perfectly pleasant, middle-of-the-road comedy that was actually surprisingly light on the wackiness. And, yes, the monkey was the best part. (Get Tyler Labine a show that lasts!)
“Wingmen” – one of three Animal Practice episodes that were posted online after the show was cancelled – presented a version of the show that could have worked if it had survived. It was finally starting to get a handle on all of its characters, most notably its two most problematic ones – Joanna García-Swisher’s Dorothy Crane and Bobby Lee’s Dr. Yamamoto – in a storyline in which the two start hanging out more and Dr. Yamamoto starts to think that they might be more than friends. Dorothy had been too humorless in most episodes – she was supposed to be that way to an extent, but it got to be a tad unbearable. The circumstances of this episode allowed her to show off a different side of her personality. Meanwhile, Yamamoto was Animal Practice’s most unfortunately ridiculous character (oddly enough, that was a problem for this show). This episode afforded him the best chance to be more grounded and act like an actual human being. But the highlight of this episode was the team-up of the two best characters – Betsy Sodaro’s Nurse Angela and Crystal the Monkey’s Dr. Rizzo. Their plot was typical sitcom hijinks: they call the cable guy to work on their TV, Angela falls for the cable guy, and then they pretend that there is still a problem so that they cable guy will keep showing up. But it is okay to have typical sitcom hijinks when they are performed by the inimitable Betsy Sodaro and Crystal the capuchin monkey.
Season Analysis: Season 3 was my first taste of Louie. It did not quite hit the individual highs that I heard Season 2 hit, but it remains true that each individual episode is its own fascinating experiment, straight from the mind of its creator at the height of his career.
More and more people are hating on the word “bromance.” I do not think that is so much because of what a bromance is as much as how it is presented. It is a word that should not have to exist. But as much of the comedy of Louis C.K. and this particular episode of his show demonstrate, two straight men striking up a friendship can be a painfully awkward situation. The end scene in which Louie attempts to explain to Ramon why he stayed a few extra days is indeed painfully awkward, but also poignant. How do you explain yourself in a situation like that? Maybe there are some people who are gifted enough to explain themselves, but Louis C.K. is definitely not one of those people. The scene with Louie telling his ex-wife he is staying a few more days was a nice touch. It was sweet of her to wish him well, despite making an incorrect assumption. This episode is also about the desire to make vacations permament, which sounds like a nice idea, but often ends up being as awkward as Louie’s attempt to do so.
Season Analysis: It always sounds a little suspicious when high school movies and TV shows are described as perfectly capturing the high school experience, because everyone’s high school experience is different. Having said that, Awkward.’s characters really do seem like real people, and similarly, it is a show that is delightfully confident enough to be its own self and move at its own pace (Season premiere taking place on New Year’s Eve airing in summer? Why not?!).
“Once Upon a Blog”
I may be a sucker for a show messing with its normal format, or “Once Upon a Blog” really was a truly unabashedly fun episode of Awkward. The thing is, most Awkward. episodes are, well, a bit awkward. So, it was a delightful change of pace to go through what-if scenarios and genre flips. If the entire series were like this, it would all be a bit too lightweight. But as a one-off, it encapsulated all that the show is and could have been.
Season Analysis: It’s not like the 2012 output of Futurama was bad or anything, it’s just that there wasn’t anything about it that really excited me.
One of Futurama’s major strengths has been its ability to take social and political issues of the day and demonstrate how they could continue to crop up 1,000 years from now, such as the endlessness of political debates (the 3012 debate is the 3,012th debate of the 3012 election) and mathematically unsound economic policy (candidates are asked point blank if they believe they can lower taxes and fix the deficit). The biggest target of this episode is the birther movement, in which the Earth citizenship of Senator Chris Zaxxar Travers (running against the head of President Nixon for President of Earth) is called into question. Futurama adds its sci-fi bent to the social commentary, as it turns out that Senator Travers cannot produce his “Earth certificate” because he is a time traveler who has not been born on Earth yet. Eventually, in true Futurama fashion, what started as a takeoff of the political issues of the 21st century became its own thing, with time travel paradoxes and erasure from existence.