Vulture Festival 2016

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vulture-festival

Last weekend, I attended several panels at the Vulture Festival, an annual pop culture extravaganza thrown by the entertainment wing of New York Magazine. Here’s how it went down.

DAY 1: SATURDAY, 5/21/2016

Breaking Better Call Saul
Vulture TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz chatted with Rhea Seehorn, Michael McKean, and BCS co-creator Peter Gould. Bob Odenkirk joined in via phone (which was unfortunate because he is not the type of guy who will be all “Awkward setup be damned!” and just jump into the conversation). This was a rather engaging discussion, as these folks are eager and eloquent when discussing their process. One major point was the inevitability posed by Breaking Bad already establishing where Jimmy/Saul’s life is headed. To this end, Peter noted how fans often ask him if Kim and Chuck will die, which he at first thought was due to a lack of imagination but then realized it was more about a concern from people in the hope that their favorite fictional characters will remain alive and well.
I had a chance to talk with Rhea Seehorn after the panel. I asked her if she would be submitting as Lead or Supporting for the Emmys this year. She said that her publicists take care of that, but she was pretty sure they would be putting her down for Supporting. When I mentioned that I blog my Emmy prognostications every year, she asked for my info so that she could check out my stuff.

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Jeffrey Malone’s 50 Favorite TV Shows of All Time

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You can learn a lot about people from their favorite television programs. TV viewing involves spending a lot of time with fictional characters and more or less forming relationships with them. Who we choose to spend our time with says a lot about our own personalities. With that in mind, here are the current standings for my 50 favorite shows of all time.

Arrested-Development-Season-5

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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.)

HappyEndings3x04_0431

“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.

The Best Sitcoms of the Past 30 Years

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The past few weeks, Vulture has been has been having a bracket-style “Sitcom Smackdown” to determine the best sitcom of the the past 30 years.  Yesterday, The Simpons was chosen as the winner.  Today, however, Arrested Development was crowned in the readers’ bracket.  Here’s how I how I would have ranked the shows that were in contention.  (I haven’t been a regular viewer of all of them, so for some, I had to guess based on reputation.  I’ve indicated how much I’ve seen of each show in parentheses.)

1. Arrested Development (seen every episode, most – possibly all – multiple times)
2. Seinfeld (seen most episodes, most of them multiple times)
3. Community (seen every episode at least twice)
4. The Simpsons (started watching regularly in season 11, seen a handful of episodes from before then)
5. Cheers (only seen clips)
6. The Larry Sanders Show (not sure I’ve even ever seen clips)
7. Louie (started watching regularly in Season 3)
8. 30 Rock (seen every episode)
9. The Office (seen every episode)
10. South Park (seen several episodes here and there)
11. The Cosby Show (only seen clips)
12. Roseanne (seen a few episodes)
13. Friends (seen a few episodes)
14. Malcolm in the Middle (watched it regularly until it moved to Fridays, then lost track of it)
15. Golden Girls (seen bits and pieces)
16. Sex and the City (walked through the room while my sister watched it a few times)

Some Good Shows That Could Have Made It:
-The Wonder Years – More of a dramedy, and thus it initially feels weird to include it a best sitcom discussion, but it was excellent.
-Parks and Recreation – If I were going to leave out one of the late 00’s/early 10’s NBC Thursday standbys, it wouldn’t be Parks and Recreation.  Actually I probably wouldn’t leave out any of them.
-Curb Your Enthusiasm – Maybe it loses influence points by virtue of its Seinfeld connection, but it is still curmudgeonly hilarity to the nth degree.
-It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – It’s strange that a show with a decidedly anti-mainstream sensibility has lasted 8 seasons.  It feels like it should have been a one- or two-season cult oddity.  That it’s not is surely some sort of accomplishment.
-NewsRadio – I’ve never seen it, but from what I’ve heard it was the little quirky comedy that could of the nineties.
-Archer – Comedy may be subjective, but Archer is the most purely funny sitcom on the air right now.
-King of the Hill/Beavis and Butt-Head – Mike Judge, never getting any respect.
-Frasier – The best spin-off of all time was different enough from its predecessor to earn recognition all its own.
-Futurama – The best sci-fi sitcom of all time.  Not that there have been that many of those, but this is still no faint praise.
-Family Guy – Before it became weighed down by a shock for shock’s sake sensibility in its current state, its mess of pop culture-saturated cutaways was innovative.
-American Dad! – What was once a Seth MacFarlane also-ran has now surpassed its predecessor.
-Murphy Brown – I’ve never watched, but I’ve heard that while it is a bit dated, it is worth remembering for how important it was at the time to the TV landscape.

Some Good Shows With Fewer Than Three Full Seasons (And Thus Not Meeting Vulture’s Criteria):
-Bob’s Burgers – Currently the best show on Fox’s Sunday animation block, and possibly the best show on TV right now.
-Stella – A one-season wonder that may have limited appeal, but if you are part of that appeal, then you are devoted to it.
-Flight of the Conchords – When I first read a review of FOTC, Gillian Flynn said that the show it most closely resembled was Stella.  So I was immediately on board.  But despite its uniqueness and surreality, FOTC is goofy and lighthearted enough to appeal to the masses.
-Happy Endings – I’ve never really watched Friends, but Happy Endings totally out-Friends Friends, doesn’t it?
-Girls – It provokes strong reactions from a great varitey of people – that is like the definition of great art.
-Enlightened – I haven’t started watching this, but I’ve been hearing several times this year that it’s the best show on TV right now.

Best Episode of the Season: Happy Endings Season 2

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Season Analysis: After catching my breath from all the laughter, I realized that Happy Endings had suddenly become one of the best comedies on TV.

“Big White Lies”

The natural speed of Happy Endings is hyper-drive.  So, when any episode forces its characters to put together a whole to-do in a short amount of time, then Happy Endings is spinning in its wheelhouse.  For the sake of avoiding going out for tea with Daphne, a slightly off-putting childhood friend (played by Mary Elizabeth Ellis, natch), Penny panics and blurts out ever more elaborate fibs, which eventually involve Alex (who’s supposed to be gay), Brad and Jane (who are supposed to be pregnant), and Dave (who is supposed to have a terminal illness – but refuses to play along), but not really Max (who is happy to play along anyway, and decides that he’s lost his money to Bernie Madoff).  The stakes could not possibly be any lower: when Penny ultimately admits to Daphne that she was just trying to avoid her, Daphne is hardly, if at all, offended.  Those low stakes were exactly the point: these meta-minded friends were all too willing to put on a Three’s Company-esque charade, and could not slow down their hyper imaginations for just a second to realize that there was no real cause for concern.  There was no point to this half hour, except for pure comic brilliance.

Best Episode of the Season: Happy Endings Season 1

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“Dave of the Dead”

Three words: nineties bat mitzvah.
Happy Endings is about a group of friends who hang out and talk to each other, their conversations occasionally peppered with cultural references.  In other words, it is hardly any different than a great number of other sitcoms, but its cultural references are tangier than those of most sitcoms.  Despite this, there is no great overarching idea behind all the mentions of early nineties nostalgia and Chicago trivia.  This changed, at least for an episode, when Penny started dating a hipster, someone who actually does have a purpose behind any and all cultural references.  This difference in purpose or lack thereof came to a head when the gang was invited to a hipster party with “nineties bat mitzvah” as the theme.  The hipsters played cheesy mid-nineties dance-pop like “I’m Too Sexy” while doing their best impressions of bored upper-middle-class Jewish teenagers.  Hipster humor is generally hilarious, but it is often indulgent, so it was healthy that the disaffected hipster elements were tempered by the overeager Penny.