Best Episode of the Season: Happy Endings Season 3

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Season Analysis: How was Season 3 of Happy Endings different from the other seasons?  Alex and Dave got back together and then ultimately broke up, which was fine, but not all that significant.  Penny got engaged and then called off the engagement, so that was something.  Other than that, it never stopped being funny.
(Thanks to fishsticktheatre for the screen cap.)

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“More Like Stanksgiving”
The Happy Endings crew spent Thanksgiving watching an unaired episode of The Real World with Max and Brad in the cast and the rest of the gang as houseguests during their college days.  It was fun seeing these actors summoning the nineties versions of themselves, but the truly memorable action of this episode took place in the present day.  Dave – who never misses an opportunity to bring up his (miniscule) Native American heritage – seeks to give his friends an authentic Navajo Thanksgiving, with disastrous results.  In the first couple of seasons, I had pointed Zachary Knighton out as the (relative) weak link of the cast, but he stepped up to the plate in Season 3, as evidenced well here.  Anyway, nobody has even realized that Dave has been away while they have been watching The Real World.  Even after he returns cold and empty-handed, Max insists that Dave was the one who had just handed him a beer.  Everybody in this group of friends is a little insane, but it is perfectly fine because the bizarre machinations of their brains allow them to deal with each other’s frequent insensitivity.

Best Episode of the Season: The Walking Dead Season 3

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Season Analysis: At least stuff happened in Season 3, unlike in Season 2.  So why did I so regularly feel disengaged?  And if I felt that way, why did I keep watching?

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“Clear”
Midway through Season 3, I had pretty much given up hope that anyone on The Walking Dead besides Daryl (and Hershel, I guess) would ever really be interesting.  But surprise, surprise, TWD actually took a page out of the TV Show Improvement Playbook and mixed things up a bit.  “Clear” told a more or less self-contained story but managed to actually have the most significant developments of the season.  With the three of them on a run for supplies, Rick gets his own subplot, while Carl and Michonne get their own as well.          The latter sounded like a recipe for disaster, but its moments of genuine pathos and dark humor actually managed to work wonders on the show’s two most problematic characters.  Isolating Rick didn’t sound all that promising either, considering his motivations had become as fuzzy as his mental state.  It certainly helped that the return of Morgan ensured Rick wasn’t the craziest one around this week.  And a revisited piece of Season 1 like that made it clear how wise the show would be to restore some hopefulness to these characters – however desperate that may be, there has got to be something to fight for.

Best Episode of the Season: Girls Season 1

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Season Analysis: Girls may be the voice of its generation, or at least a voice of a generation.  But really, whether Lena Dunham realizes it or not, what Girls gets is that everyone is lost in their twenties, and this particular show is honest about the experience of a particular group of lot people in their twenties.

“Vagina Panic”

“You couldn’t pay me enough to be 24 again.”
“Well, they’re not paying me at all.”

(Full disclosure: I am currently 24.  They are currently paying me.  But I guess it’s not for being 24.)  Abortion may be the most polarizing subject in the country.  It is not so controversial as to be completely off-limits for television, though.  I have seen abortion covered on plenty of shows, but never before as it was covered on Girls.  I never would have conceived it being dealt with the way that Girls did, and I am a bit surprised it didn’t lead to something of an uproar.  Jessa’s decision to have the abortion never seemed like it was that big a deal for her, or for Hannah, Marnie, or Shoshanna.  It wasn’t that it was treated like nothing, just that it was nowhere near the biggest decision Jessa could ever make.  Her friends were there for her, but they weren’t really there.  Hannah saw it as an opportunity to get checked for STD’s, Marnie was ultimately most concerned about Jessa being late for her own abortion, and Shoshanna didn’t how to deal with the situation and ended up kind of turning it into a party.  24-year-olds have a lot going on, and that seems all the more true for acutely self-conscious 24-year-olds.  A baby scare for yourself or your friend is not going to make everything else go away.  Hannah Horvath and her friends are just about the pinnacle of self-consciousness, which can make them petty at times, enough so that they turned the most polarizing topic in the country into something petty.

Best Episode of the Season: Awake Season 1 (First and Only Season!)

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Season Analysis: Seemingly burdened by a concept that looked like it would work better as a movie or at most a miniseries, Awake did a more than passable job of stretching it out to a full season and looked like it was ready to make it work over multiple seasons if given the chance.

“That’s Not My Penguin”

Most of Awake’s episodes followed the tried-and-true cop show formula to an almost painful degree, but they were always saved (at least somewhat) by the twist that the lead detective was working two separate cases concurrently in two different worlds that tied into each other obliquely.  “That’s Not My Penguin” thankfully mixed up the formula by having Detective Britten held hostage by mental hospital patient Gabriel.  A hostage situation is not an unusual one for a stunt episode, but it did work strongly in Awake’s favor, allowing it to really take advantage of its premise in astute and truly weird fashion.  Gabriel’s mental construction of an alternate reality obviously paralleled Britten’s situation, suggesting that Britten might be crazy enough for institutionalization but also presenting a contrast that showed that even if he is crazy, he has found a way to make it work (for now).  Britten’s hallucination of Dr. Lee in the hospital actually served to demonstrate his ingenuity in solving this crisis, and it added to the whole show another layer to chew over by showing that hallucinations could possibly be appearing within Britten’s hallucination/dream.  Combine that with the penguin hallucination in the other reality, and it seemed to be that Britten’s mind could be going in any number of directions at any time no matter what the location.  More than any other episode of Awake, “That’s Not My Penguin” pressed the rhetorical question, “What’s so crazy about being crazy if you know how to make it work?”

Best Episode of the Season: Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 Season 1

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Season Analysis: After a seven-episode first season, Apartment 23 hasn’t met its full potential yet (or at least, I hope it hasn’t met its full potential yet), but it has enough promising elements that it could very quickly become one of the best comedies on the air at some point in its second season just like another ABC sitcom that used to air Wednesdays at 9:30.

“The Wedding…”

Who ever thought that June was boring?  She is uptight, sure (though not uptight as all get out), but uptight hardly means boring.  Uptightness may make someone allergic to fun, but the uptight person could very well be fascinating as far as her uptightness is concerned.  So when June’s former fiancée called her boring, and Chloe’s response to that accusation was, “That’s, like, the worst thing you can say to anyone,” my reaction was, “Yes, it is, especially if you’re a character on a TV show.  So good thing June’s not boring.”  While June set out to show everyone at the wedding that she is an interesting person, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 set out to show that it is a program that is putting all of its pieces in order.  Chloe has been rubbing off on June, and June has been influencing Chloe, though not necessarily definitively, but enough so that she cares enough to help June out with the whole charade to prove that she is not boring.  The fact that James van der Beek exists in these characters’ world has become something that is just accepted, which is surely necessary but sort of bittersweet (as June says wistfully, “I used to have a poster of you”).  And Eli is no longer just the creep who masturbates across the hall, with his gig in the wedding band making him more recognizable as an actual person than any other episode thus far.

Best Episode of the Season: Modern Family Season 3

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Season Analysis: During its first season, Modern Family was good – really good, easily one of the best comedies of the season.  In its third season, it wasn’t really bad, but it wasn’t exactly good either.  And the thing is, it still seems like the same show that it always was, which has led me to wonder if Season 1 really was as good as I remember it, or if I just imagined it.

“Treehouse”

Season 3 of Modern Family did not feature any overall brilliant episodes, but there were some episodes that had their moments.  The B- (or C-) storyline of “Treehouse,” with Cam attempting to prove that he could successfully fake being straight and pick up a woman in a bar, was pleasant enough, especially since it is always nice to see Leslie Mann.  She infused a great deal of personality into what was an otherwise nothing role.  But the best moment of this episode – and of the whole season – came at the very end of the titular A-plot.  I think that most viewers were as disappointed as Phil was that Luke eventually gave up on the father-son treehouse building, but all was forgiven in the sweetest, most unexpected epilogue of perhaps the whole series.  Phil’s interaction with Andre touched on the question of “How well do we really know our neighbors?” (Phil and Andre have lived next door to each other for nearly a decade and this is this their first conversation) as well as the struggles for male adults at making friends (Andre’s declaration of “Honey, the guy in the tree’s cool” represented a delightful overcoming of this struggle), and it also introduced plenty of people to the criminally underused Kevin Hart.

Best Episode of the Season: The Middle Season 3

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Season Analysis: This was the first season that I watched The Middle.  I have heard from other critics who have been watching since the beginning that this was the best season yet.  I won’t argue with that assessment.

“The Play”

It seems that I have not given myself the opportunity to write articles here relating to Norm MacDonald very often, so let me just make it clear that Norm is by far one of my favorite comedians, so any episode of The Middle with Uncle Rusty is practically guaranteed to be a fine episode in my book.  Norm’s observational, satiric style is different than the normal comedic style of the Heck family’s misadventures, but his persona of being easygoing while also keeping himself at a slight remove actually fits his role of the flaky uncle and the show as a whole quite well.  His memorable quotes from “The Play” are plentiful enough to fill up an entire one of these posts, but let me just point out the one (“Coffee’s bad. Cigarettes are bad, too. I’m gonna go have both, but let me be a cautionary tale for you”) that best exemplifies how it seems like he is on a completely different plane of existence than the rest of the Hecks while actually fitting into their world quite seamlessly (which I guess is pretty much how it goes with absentee family members).  Now, as much as I love Norm and as big as a reason as he was for this episode being the best of the season, I do not want to imply that the usual stable of actors on The Middle are not able to hold their own, because they are, and in fact, they were all quite sharp in this episode.  Neil Flynn particularly raises his game whenever he has to confront Rusty and actually display some emotion.  And in the storyline that this episode gets its title from, Patricia Heaton and Eden Sher bring out the best in each other, as Frankie gets a major role in a community theatre production of The Wizard of Oz, while Sue gets cut from the show due to her crazy eyes.  Frankie is forced to hide the fact that she is still in the show, since this was something that she and Sue were supposed to be doing together.  It was nice to see Frankie actually let loose a bit, and just as amusing to see Sue go a bit dark (in a way that was not very threatening but was completely devastating) upon discovering her mother’s deception.

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