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.

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Best Episode of the Season: Portlandia Season 5

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“The Fiancée”
An episode entirely focused around Nina and Lance was the best of Portlandia’s fifth season. If all you’ve seen of this show is the first season, and you did not cotton to Fred and Carrie’s voices for the “Cacao” couple, I know what you’re thinking: “No way, Jose.” But let me tell you this about “The Fiancée”: it features Justin Long as Lance’s mom’s new boyfriend, and he looks and sounds just like Lance (because Carrie always looked like Justin Long in her Lance drag). And it’s the best performance of his career.

Portlandia: Season 3 Sketch of the Year

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Sketch of the Year: “Spoiler Alert”

The best Portlandia sketches lovingly satirize the most indulgent aspects of modern interaction.  “Spoiler Alert” takes long-overdue aim at today’s culture of spoiler avoidance and demonstrates that refusing to set any time limit on spoilers threatens to reduce the viewing public to a squawking, incoherent mess, in the same style that was warned about regarding readership one-upmanship in the Season 1 classic, “Did You Read?”  This sketch also manages to deepen the show’s mythology, as it revisits characters from the Battlestar Galactica-inspired “One Moore Episode,” AND it manages to present the best homage to the series finale of Newhart that I’ve ever seen.

Runners-Up:
“Renaming NE 15th Avenue” – “Call me a traditionalist–” “You’re a traditionalist.”

“Unconventional Art” – “Anything can be art!” taken to the nth degree is kind of hard to think about, if you think about it.

“Birthday Loan Application” – The latest appearance from one of Kumail Nanjiani’s painfully officious bureaucratic types.

Best Episode of the Season: Portlandia Season 3

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Season Analysis: I was generally satisfied with the first two seasons of Portlandia, but I could understand if the show wasn’t catching on with a large general audience, but with Season 3, it has gotten more and more accessible to the point at which it deserves full mainstream recognition.

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“Take Back MTV”
The whole “dream of the 90s is alive in Portland” ethos of Portlandia suggests a constant spirit of social activism.  It is not always put to use, because in a relative utopia like Portland, actually active activism does not seem all that necessary.  Furthermore, the daily routine of many Portlanders is already plenty activist enough.  So when a Portlander goes out of the way to really be an activist, it is for a cause like … reclaiming MTV.  Spike gathers up a crew of his friends to restore the days when MTV played music 24/7 and was the height of cool.  Like the good old days that conservatives pine for, this time never actually existed.  But Kurt Loder, Matt Pinfield, and Tabitha Soren are still alive, and they’re still cool people and seeing them reunited in this episode was a victory unto itself.  The cold opening sketch worked hand in hand with the take back MTV runner, as an attempt at a modern-day protest song keeps getting overtaken by a dance party vibe.

Honorable Mention: “Blackout” was a brilliant season finale, serving as the fullest realization yet of the show’s attempts at increased serialization.

Portlandia: Season 2 Sketch of the Year

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“Sanitation Twins”


Marcus and Madeleine Harris – the Sanitation Twins! – are here to tell you, Portland, about all the new and exciting recycling bins!  Like many an attempt to ease and simplify, this effort becomes comically complicated, as seemingly everything and anything (broken umbrellas, lotion, fingernails, eggshells, etc.) can be recycled, a bewildering array of colors (periwinkle, fuchsia, rose, canary, chartreuse, cobalt) are required for each particular recycled group, and each individual element of a whole (coffee cup, sleeve, stir stick, and lid – and lids with lipstick are treated differently than lipstick-less lids) must be separated.  The humor of “Sanitation Twins” does not let up for a second, as it is not just about the bizarre complications that can arise from good intentions.  Fred and Carrie have created thoroughly well-thought out characters in Marcus and Madeleine, as demonstrated by their back-and-forth banter when they go off-script – lack of timing issues such as when they fail to say “We’re twins!” in unison, yeller vs. yellow, Marcus holding onto some old tapes that Madeleine is trying to force him to get rid of, and the discussion about whether or not the fingernails could be Einstein’s.  The ending punctuates another joke to the whole affair, sparking the question of, “Isn’t this all so pointless?”, as the recyclables can only become clean air, fresh water, or good vibes, while the other NINETY-SEVEN percent is dumped into the ocean.

Best Episode of the Season: Portlandia Season 2

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Season Analysis: Is hipster culture in Portland too narrow a scope for one show?  Well, that was exactly my fear when I first heard about Portlandia, and Season 2 did not alleviate that fear completely.  So, while Fred and Carrie may struggle to consistently put together great episodes, they still have plenty of great sketch ideas up their sleeves.

“Cat Nap”

A male-female indie rock duo that dresses like Devo is struggling to break out when they discover success by incorporating their cat in their act and adopt the name “Catnap.”  JAYDE from the band “JAYDE speaks sevYn” uses Kickstarter to ask for donations for her next music video (which features, among other things, “the wise man who knows nothing”) while an ad for Catnap’s album pops up.  Guest star Miranda July stops by to play the co-owner of a boutique shop with only two shirts in its entire inventory.  That band with the cat is kidnapped by an obsessed fan (played by guest star Kristen Wiig) named Gathy.  That’s Gathy, not Cathy.  Gathy with a “G.”  Could there be a more Portlandia-esque episode of Portlandia?  Well, that last part is more of a goofy Kristen Wiig-ism, but otherwise, this episode was so hipsteriffic it hurt.

Portlandia: Season 1 Sketch of the Year

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“Did You Read?”

Sharp, enduring sketch comedy can make its viewers uncomfortable, in that they see these ridiculous characters and wonder, “Oh my God, is that me?”  Fans of satire are likely well-read (otherwise, how would they come to understand the satire?), so the characters played by Fred and Carrie in “Did You Read?” are probably not too dissimilar from Portlandia fans.  With the sheer volume of reading material available in the twenty-first century, the pursuit of discussing that reading material with friends can be a daunting task, and thus we may forgo actual exploration of themes and merely resort to list-making and descend into one-upmanship.  But thankfully such a discussion, though shallow, can still be entertaining if a few choice quips are thrown in (“eco-chairs and eco-ways to sit,” “I thought it was cute,” “I did not like the end of it”).  Though “Did You Read?” was not the heaviest laugh-inducer, it has among all Portlandia sketches endured most strongly in my mind, as it is the most meaningful (along with “Technology Loop”) to people who care to immerse themselves in all that modern life has to offer.  The ending left something to be desired, but that is often enough the case in sketch comedy to be beside the point.

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