CVIndependent

Thu09242020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

There will never be another Friends. Not just in the sense that the 1994-2004 series was a one-of-a-kind comedy that defined a generation, but also in that there will literally never be another Friends—as in, there will be no money-grabbing, nostalgia-drunk reboot. The show’s stars could not be any more disinterested.

Which is commendable, considering the megabucks being thrown around to dig lesser ’90s series out of the grave. The recent Will and Grace revival isn’t all that loathsome, but who knows how the upcoming recycled takes of Charmed, Roswell, Party of Five and Murphy Brown are going to fare?

And then there’s Roseannehard pass.

Back to Friends: All six stars—Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Courteney Cox and David Schwimmer—have collectively and individually said “no way, no how, no thanks” to a reunion. Millions of Netflix viewers are apparently just fine with the 10 seasons already available; Friends is one of the streamer’s top draws, especially among (!!!Marketing Buzzword Alert!!!) #millennials.

But where do you go once you’ve binge-watched all 236 Friends episodes? Here are 14 (ish) shows starring The Artists Formerly Known as Monica, Joey, Phoebe, Chandler, Ross and Rachel outside of Central Perk. (Sorry, no Gunther.)

Cougar Town (Seasons 1-6 on Hulu):The most successful—or at least longest-lived—post-Friends solo project was also the most Friends-like. Courteney Cox’s Cougar Town evolved from a sitcom about a man-hungry 40-something divorcee into a genuinely funny ensemble comedy about—spoiler—six friends. There’s also no laugh track, favoring the rapid-fire delivery of producer Bill Lawrence’s Scrubs, and each of Cougar Town’s 102 episodes is named after a Tom Petty song.

Dirt (Seasons 1-2 on Hulu): Cox’s first series after the end of Friends didn’t fare as well. In 2007-08 FX drama Dirt, she starred as the editor-in-chief of a muck-racking celebrity-gossip magazine who wrecks lives for print and profit. (Remember the days when magazines could profit from print? Good times.) Dirt showed an unexpectedly dark and ruthless side of Cox, but the series eventually became too twisted even for FX, which killed it after 20 episodes.

Misfits of Science (Season 1 on DailyMotion): Before Friends, Cox co-starred in another NBC series, 1985-86 sci-fi oddity Misfits of Science. Unfortunately, this piece of retro-kitsch is ridiculously unavailable, existing only on import DVDs and random Internet sites. Kind of a stoopid dollar-store X-Men, Misfits of Science centered on a gang of superpowered teens; only Cox stood out (though co-star Mark Thomas Miller did go on to lead the cinematic triumph Ski School).

Joey (Seasons 1-2 on various sites): Nearly as hard to find and only half as funny was Matt LeBlanc’s Joey, the only “official” Friends spin-off. The 2005-06 sitcom should have been a slam-dunk right after Friends, with an impressive cast that included Drea de Matteo, Andrea Anders and Jennifer Coolidge … but, man, did it suck with the force of a thousand black holes. Apparently, the plan was to move “actor Joey” to Hollywood to fail miserably. Mission meta-accomplished.

Episodes (Seasons 1-5 on Netflix): Speaking of meta, here’s Matt LeBlanc as Matt LeBlanc! After disappearing upon the demise of Joey, LeBlanc resurfaced five years later in a Curb Your Enthusiasm-esque Showtime series as an exaggerated version of himself—with brutally hilarious results. R-rated inside jokes about Friends and Joey fly furiously, as do jabs at Hollywood vanity and toxicity, with “Matt LeBlanc” leading the way as Dickhead Supreme. The best Friends follow-up.

Man With a Plan (Seasons 1-2 on CBS All Access): And now the worst. Before Episodes had even finished its run on Showtime, LeBlanc had lined up a new gig straight out of the CBS sitcom-clone factory: Man With a Plan, the kind of hackneyed network shit that his fictional self would have mocked mercilessly. He’s a stay-at-home dad! His kids are assholes! His wife thinks he’s a dope! How is this different from Kevin Can Wait? The wife isn’t dead … yet.

The Comeback (Seasons 1-2 on HBO Go): In 2005, Lisa Kudrow co-created and co-wrote The Comeback, wherein she starred as actress Valerie Cherish, a D-lister who had a hit sitcom in the ’90s (meta!). After Season 1, the Season 2 followed … more than 9 years later. The Comeback is “raw footage” of a reality show called The Comeback, chronicling Valerie’s Hollywood comeback on a new sitcom (kinda meta!). Kudrow’s ballsy, uninhibited performance is as uncomfortably funny as anything Ricky Gervais has ever pulled off.

Web Therapy (Seasons 1-4 on various sites): Speaking of meta: Kudrow created Web Therapy in 2008 as an online series, but it eventually moved to Showtime, and now it can barely be found streaming anywhere. Here, she’s Dr. Fiona Wallace, a self-proclaimed “groundbreaking” therapist who conducts 3-minute sessions via Skype with a dizzying array of celebrity patients (including several Friends). Silly on the surface, Web Therapy is a darker comedy than it first appears to be.

Feed the Beast (Season 1 on Hulu):Give credit to AMC: The cable network sinks serious money into serious failures (see: most every show that isn’t The Walking Dead). Feed the Beast, a gritty 2016 drama starring David Schwimmer as a sad-sack sommelier (that’s a wine expert, PBR-heads), was like Breaking Bad meets Kitchen Nightmares: Two buds open a fine-dining restaurant in the Bronx, only to be seared and deconstructed by the local mob. Ten episodes, done.

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson (Season 1 on Netflix): Earlier in 2016, however, Schwimmer killed—too soon?—as defense attorney Robert Kardashian in Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, a sprawling, ambitious, entertaining mess dramatizing the Juice’s 1995 murder trial. Stars John Travolta and Cuba Gooding Jr. received most of the attention, but Schwimmer was fantastic (and nominated for an Emmy) in a freak-show of a series.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (Season 1 on various sites):Matthew Perry was poised to become the biggest post-Friends breakout TV star, and in 2006, he wound up on NBC’s hella-hyped Aaron Sorkin dramedy Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which went … nowhere. Set behind the scenes at a Saturday Night Live-style sketch show, Studio 60’s initial episodes were sharp and funny, but then dragged and died on preachy politics. (Sorkin later got the mix right with HBO’s The Newsroom.)

Mr. Sunshine (Season 1 on various sites): Perry’s losing streak just kept streaking with 2011’s Mr. Sunshine, a half-hour comedy that found him playing the unlucky-in-love manager of a San Diego sports arena. Despite a solid cast that included Allison Janney, Andrea Anders (who also did time on Joey) and Portia Doubleday (later of Mr. Robot), Mr. Sunshine grounded out after one meh season. Perry had better luck playing himself on Childrens Hospital that year.

Go On (Season 1 on various sites): Another one-season wonder, the funniest thing about Perry’s Go On was the hashtag that NBC used to promote it on Twitter: #goon. How could anyone not find laughs in the story of a recently widowed sports-talk radio host (Perry) forced to attend a grief-therapy support group? Comedy gold! America didn’t agree, sending Go On to the sitcom graveyard after 22 episodes. A darker version probably would have thrived on HBO, but whatever.

And Then There’s … Jennifer Aniston (Jen streaming on JustWatch): Aside from a few brief post-Friends cameos, the former Rachel has stayed the hell away from TV—after witnessing Chandler’s trajectory, who can blame her? Instead, Jennifer Aniston has starred in 50-odd movies, not including her first (and finest), 1993’s Leprechaun. Other great roles in the Aniston canon include Office Space, Rock Star, The Good Girl, Derailed, Management, The Switch and Horrible Bosses; avoid Marley and Me and Mother’s Day like Rachel’s Thanksgiving Trifle.

Bill Frost talks about television on the TV Tan podcast (BillFrost.tv) and tweets about it at @Bill_Frost.

Published in TV

For many years, Coachella Valley audiences have enjoyed the works of award-winning playwright Tony Padilla. He was co-founder of the Playwright’s Circle with Marilee Warner, and is now enjoying success with his own company, Desert Ensemble Theatre.

A member of the Dramatists Guild of America, Tony has won many local awards, including the Desert Theatre League’s Bill Groves Award for Outstanding Original Writing for his play Becoming Ava. Knowing his impressive background, I always look forward to seeing a new play by Tony with great anticipation. His latest offering, Two by Tony, is a couple of one-act plays now on stage at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club.

The first is Family Meeting, directed by Desert Ensemble Theatre Company’s artistic director, Rosemary Mallett. It’s a drama peppered with dark comedy which takes place in the home of Daniel Mann (Alan Berry), a bitter, washed-up playwright now reduced to writing B-movie scripts. He’s planning to relocate to New York to get back into the live-theater scene, where he feels he belongs. Daniel’s 20-something grandson, Jason (Shawn Abramowitz), has stopped by to ask if he can move in for a while. Armed with an Internet law degree, Jason is also planning a long-distance move to get his career rolling. He’s anxious to move out of his parents’ home, because their constant bickering is driving him crazy.

Soon, his father, Ed (Rob Hubler), shows up, looking for advice from Daniel on whether or not to divorce his wife, Karen (Denise Strand). Ed calls Karen to join them, and the whole clan is soon gathered in Daniel’s study, swigging red wine and trading barbs. The marriage between Karen and Ed is beyond strained—he’s got an Internet porn addiction, and she’s banging the contractor. Everyone has buried resentments and baggage, but the animosity between Karen and her father-in-law is particularly intense.

The acting is uniformly strong, though there were some volume issues at the top of the show. At first, I thought Berry seemed a tad too young to be cast as Ed’s father, but that reservation faded eventually away. Berry’s Daniel clearly bears the scars of having been beaten up by life over the years. Abramowitz is quite likable as Jason; he spends a lot of time engrossed in computer games on his cell phone, partly to drown out the sound of his battling parents. As Ed, Hubler ably communicates the disappointment and frustration many of us face in middle age. Nothing’s going right—and now his son wants to get away from him. Denise Strand is terrific as Karen. The energy picks up noticeably when she enters the scene. She has fabulous mother-son chemistry with Abramowitz in some of the play’s few tender moments. Occasionally uncomfortable because it mirrors some of our own dysfunctional families (this group sure does drink a lot!), Family Meeting is thought-provoking and worth seeing.

If I had to pick a favorite, though, the second play, The Comeback, would get my vote. A farce directed by Padilla set in the mid 1950s, it’s reminiscent of 1940s films like Blithe Spirit and Here Comes Mr. Jordan. The play tells the story of Nora Raymond (Lee Rice), a Norma Desmond-esque, aging film actress attempting a comeback with the help of her loyal assistant, Thelma (Theresa Jewett). Nora receives a mysterious message urging her to contact a Count Orca (Theo Nowicki). The count later arrives at her home to conduct a séance in hopes of contacting Johnny Bellini (Stephen McMillen), Nora’s long-missing and presumed-dead husband. When Johnny appears, much hilarity ensues. There’s lust, greed, schemes-within-schemes and characters who are not who they seem to be. Everything’s a bit over the top, and laughs abound. The cast is uniformly terrific.

As the dramatic, self-important Nora, Rice is perfect. Cute and petite, but exuding the egomania typical of Hollywood, Rice has the audience routing for Nora’s success, both in the movies and in love. Jewett is a scream as Thelma. Wise, wry and wary, she trusts almost no one, and does not suffer fools gladly. At one point, she advises Nora’s man-servant, Morgan (Nowicki, in a dual role), “Don’t try to be mysterious; you’re no good at it.” Jewett is known to many as an amazing singer; she’s one hell of an actress as well. This is an award-winning performance.

Equally as funny is Nowicki, particularly as Count Orca. Sporting a heavy accent and an obviously fake mustache, Nowicki romps through the role, having a great time onstage, and tickling the audience’s funny bone nonstop. McMillen is quite good as Johnny; he has just the right mix of good looks and comic acting chops.

Kudos to director Tony Padilla … and to playwright Padilla, for a nice evening of theater.

Two by Tony, a production of the Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, takes place at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, March 22, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $22, or $18 for students, seniors and members of the military. The running time is just more than two hours, including a 15-minute intermission. For tickets or more information, call 760-565-2476, or visit www.detctheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Buyer and Cellar—From Coyote Stageworks

Emerson Collins (Sordid Lives) stars in the comedy Buyer and Cellar, which focuses on the price of fame, at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Friday, March 27, through Sunday, April 5. $45 to $60. At the Helene Galen Performing Arts Center, 31001 Rattler Road, Rancho Mirage. 760-318-0024; www.coyotestageworks.org.

The Divine Sister—From Desert Rose Playhouse

The Charles Busch-written show, an outrageous comic homage to nearly every Hollywood film involving nuns, takes place at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, March 6, through Sunday, March 29. $28 to $30. At 69620 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum—From Palm Canyon Theatre

The famous play about slave Pseudolus’ attempts to help his young master earn the love of a courtesan named Philia is performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, March 8. $32 to $36. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

La Gringa—From CV Rep

In this comedy by Carmen Rivera, Maria goes to visit her family in Puerto Rico—where she realizes that everyone in Puerto Rico considers her an American, a gringa. However, through the wise and colorful words and music of her uncle, Maria learns life lessons; at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Wednesday, March 4, through Sunday, March 22. $45; $40 previews on March 4 and 5; $55 March 6 opening night. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

A Handful of Nickels and Dimes

Yve Evans performs this comedy and music show that’s a tribute to vaudeville at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, March 22. No shows March 6-8. $26 with discounts. At the Indio Performing Arts Center, 45175 Fargo St., Indio. 760-775-5200; www.indioperformingartscenter.org.

Jack—From College of the Desert Dramatic Arts

This humorous twist on the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk” takes place at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Feb. 27 and 28; and 3 p.m., Sunday, March 1. $15; $10 students. At the Pollock Theatre at College of the Desert, 43400 Monterey Ave., Palm Desert. 760-773-2565; codperformingarts.com.

Legally Blonde—From Musical Theatre University

Broadway stars join MTU students in this hit musical at 7:30 p.m., Thursday and Friday, March 12 and 13; 2 p.m., Sunday, March 15; 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, March 21 and 22. $15 to $35. At the Helene Galen Performing Arts Center, 31001 Rattler Road, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-6482; www.hgpac.org.

McCallum Theatre

Hershey Felder stars in George Gershwin Alone at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28; and 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, March 1; $25 to $75. ABBA MANIA takes the stage at 8 p.m., Monday, March 2; $25 to $65. Broadway and Hollywood combine for a romantic and entertaining evening of song and dance with Joan Hess and Kirby Ward in Dancing and Romancing, featuring the Desert Symphony Orchestra, at 8 p.m., Thursday, March 12; $45 to $95. The musical comedy Nice Work If You Can Get It is performed at 8 p.m., Friday, March 13; 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday, March 14; and 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, March 15; $35 to $95. Laurence Luckinbill is Teddy Roosevelt in the one-man show Teddy Tonight! at Thursday, March 19; $15 to $65. The Ten Tenors return with a show of Broadway hits at 8 p.m., Friday, March 20; 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday, March 21; and 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, March 22; $25 to $75. Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye takes place at 8 p.m., Monday, March 30, through Saturday, April 4, with a 2 p.m. matinee on April 4; $35 to $95. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Nunsense: The Mega Musical—From Desert Theatreworks

To save their convent from financial ruin, the Little Sisters of Hoboken have to raise the money and properly bury their accidentally poisoned sisters. What will they do? Why throw a fundraiser, of course; they do at 7 p.m., Thursday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Thursday, March 5, through Sunday, March 15. $25 regular; $23 seniors; $15 students with ID. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

On the Air 2—From Dezart Performs

This annual evening of radio-show classics features an all-star cast including Gavin MacLeod, Joyce Bulifant, Millicent Martin and many others, at 7 p.m., Thursday, March 12. $35 to $75. At the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs. 760-322-0179; dezartperforms.org.

The Osanbi Deal—From Script2Stage2Screen

This play is set near a toxic waste area in South Carolina and is a compelling story of treachery and guilt; 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7. $10. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage. 760-345-7938; www.script2stage2screen.com.

The Secret Garden—From Palm Canyon Theatre

The orphaned Mary Lennox is sent to England to live with the Cravens. While there, she helps bring life to a secret garden; the show is performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, March 20, through Sunday, March 29. $28. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Two By Tony—From Desert Ensemble Theatre Company

Tony Padilla’s one-acts Family Meeting and The Comeback are performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Friday, March 13, through Sunday, March 22. $22 with discounts. At the Pearl McManus Theater in the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-565-2476; www.detctheatre.org.

Urinetown: The Musical—From Theatre 29

This comedic tale of greed, corruption, love and revolution in a Gotham-like city at a time when water is extremely scarce is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, through Saturday, March 28; there are also matinee shows at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, March 8 and 22. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

You’re the Worst (FX): Like the equally surprising Broad City, You’re the Worst shattered preconceptions of the “edgy” cable comedy with smarts, heart, bracing moments of relationship realism (and outright debauchery), and a fearless cast led by relative unknowns Chris Geere and Aya Cash. No worries that the Toxic Twosome and gang are moving to FXX this year … right?

The Bridge (FX): Apparently, FX can only sustain so many quality dramas: The Bridge was canceled after a low Season 2 turnout, and those who did show up were treated to a Tex-Mex stew that was a little overcooked—yet it was still better than most crime dramas.

The Strain (FX): Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s vampires-bent-on-world-domination tale transitioned from novel to TV series with only a few bumps and a whole lotta scares (not counting Corey Stoll’s hairpiece), and reclaimed bloodsuckers from the glam universes of Twilight and True Blood.

Ray Donovan (Showtime): His sketchy character’s name is the title, and star Liev Schreiber did his damndest to take the show back from father figure Jon Voight in Season 2, mostly succeeding while taking on a twisted new FBI antagonist (Hank Azaria, killing it).

Masters of Sex (Showtime): There’s no power couple on television as compelling and confounding as Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), and they’re barely “together,” in any sense. Was anything easy in the ’50s? Besides Virginia? (Rim shot.)

Welcome to Sweden (NBC): This Swedish import turned up on NBC’s summer schedule seemingly by accident, a subdued and charmingly awkward comedy that should have no place on an American network—and yet it worked fantastically. Watch for Welcome to Sweden when it “accidentally” comes around again.

Garfunkel and Oates (IFC): Musical-comedy duo Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci are no Flight of the Conchords—they’re better, at least when it comes to song quantity and lack of indecipherable New Zealand accents. For Garfunkel and Oates, TMI means both Too Much Information and Touching Musical Interludes.

Outlander (Starz): Starz finally acknowledged that women watch TV—and then told them they’d have to wait six months for the second half of their new favorite Scottish bodice-ripper. Spartacus never would have stood for this.

The Knick (Cinemax): In yet another instance of indie-film directors realizing that television is where it’s at, Steven Soderbergh directed this 10-part oddity about a doped-up doc (Clive Owen) at the precipice of modern medicine—he’s House 1900, with a premium-cable license to shock.

Doctor Who (BBC America): Peter Capaldi. That is all.

Bojack Horseman (Netflix): A former sitcom star man-horse (voiced by Will Arnett) and his slacker roommate/squatter (Aaron Paul) get turnt up and knocked down in Hollywood. It’s Californication: The Cartoon.

Sons of Anarchy (FX): The seventh and final season of Hamlet on Harleys was overwrought, overindulgent and over-the-top—and you expected, what? For all his faults, showrunner Kurt Sutter is still a passionate storyteller, and the finale of Sons of Anarchy was a fittingly chaotic closer that tied up (almost) all of the loose ends. Time to retire the patch and the musical montage.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox): It’s not the Andy Samberg Show; it’s one of the best ensemble comedies on TV, something Fox is nailing better than anyone these days. Witness …

New Girl (Fox): By no logic should New Girl be this good in Season 4, but Zooey Deschanel and crew have become a fuzzy juggernaut of funny that still manages to surprise every week, putting one-note sitcoms like The Bang Theory and, well, every other half-hour on CBS to shame.

Gotham (Fox): Batman without Batman? Yeah, it’s working.

The Blacklist (NBC): James Spader’s “Red” Reddington is one of the best villain-heroes (villo?) ever, and Season 2 of The Blacklist has found his FBI foil Lizzy (Megan Boone, finally free of the wig) stepping up her game, if not her crazy. And kudos for selling Pee-Wee Herman (!) as an underworld “fixer.”

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC): Season 2 has introduced real danger and consequences for the agents, as well as Marvel-flick-worthy action and effects. Stop asking, “When’s Iron Man gonna show up?” and just get onboard, already.

Black-ish (ABC): Anthony Anderson’s TV resume (Law and Order, Treme, The Shield) didn’t indicate that he could head up a family comedy, but new sitcom Black-ish—I know, dumb title—is more consistently funny than Modern Family is now, thanks to strong assists from Tracee Ellis Ross and, yes, Laurence Fishburne.

The Flash (The CW): The sunny answer to Arrow (seriously—is it never daytime over there?) is the most comic-booky of all DC Comics adaptations, and the most fun.

Jane the Virgin (The CW): Usually, “Golden Globe-nominated” means nothing—but Jane the Virgin is the first CW show to ever score a nom! That’s also the first time I’ve ever used the term “nom.” Firsts all around, here.

The Walking Dead (AMC): Team Rick is on the road, finding new places to explore and more people (zombie or not) to kill—less talk and more rock makes for a more entertaining apocalypse; hopefully, they won’t slow down when Season 5 resumes in February 2015.

Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways (HBO): Idiotic Foo-hater rhetoric notwithstanding, Dave Grohl’s Great American Music Roadtrip uncovered gems even the most hardcore music geek wouldn’t be aware of. Real people playing real instruments writing real songs—embrace it while you still can.

American Horror Story: Freak Show (FX): The best elements of three previous seasons came together on No. 4, Freak Show, along with more gorgeous cinematography, more sympathetic characters and more Jessica Lange than expected. The early loss of Twisty the Clown seemed like a misstep, but the rest of this season has been perfect.

Benched (USA): With no hype besides airing after the craptastic Chrisley Knows Best, new comedy Benched, about a former corporate attorney (Happy Endings’ Eliza Coupe) slumming it in the public defender’s office, managed to crank out 12 hilarious episodes this winter—and no one even noticed.

The Birthday Boys (IFC): The sketch-comedy troupe relied more on themselves than producer Bob Odenkirk (who was presumably busy making Better Call Saul) in Season 2; the result was a hysterical collection of bits with callbacks and intertwining gags galore. (Fast-food spoof “How Do You Freshy?” is an instant classic.) It ain’t Mr. Show, but it’s as close as anyone’s come in years.

The Comeback (HBO): The first season nine years ago was merely uncomfortable; The Comeback’s out-of-the-blue comeback was borderline torturous—in the funniest possible way. Lisa Kudrow’s depiction of fame-junkie desperation is so masterful, you have to wonder why anybody’s even paying attention to Jennifer Aniston.

Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce (Bravo): Bravo’s first foray into (overtly) scripted programming is not only not terrible; it’s actually pretty great. How the hell did this happen?

Mike Tyson Mysteries (Adult Swim): Whatever drugs were responsible for the creation of this … thank you.

Published in TV

The Newsroom (Sunday, Nov. 9, HBO), season premiere: The third and final season of Aaron Sorkin’s journalism fan-fiction drama takes place in 2013; your historical place-marker is the Boston Marathon bombing. The Newsroom never quite lived up to the promise of its rousing debut episode, which was a non-too-subtle challenge to American TV news media to actually report the damned news instead of placating advertisers and baiting click-throughs. You’ve probably noticed that it didn’t work. Even though ever-shouting anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) declares, “We don’t do good TV, we do the news!” (followed by, “I think I blew that speech”), The Newsroom is still great TV powered by capital-A Acting performances, particularly from the show’s women (Emily Mortimer, Olivia Munn, Alison Pill and, yes, Jane Fonda). The reform of TV journalism, however, it ain’t. For the closest approximation of McAvoy’s News Night in reality, check out Abby Martin’s bracingly bullshit-free Breaking the Set on RT America, the stateside arm of Russia Today (!). (See a trailer for The Newsroom below.)

The Comeback (Sunday, Nov. 9, HBO), season premiere: In 2005, Lisa Kudrow (playing has-been sitcom actress Valerie Cherish, hoping to return to television glory on a new network show as reality-TV cameras follow her and capture every cringe-worthy setback and defeat) and HBO dropped 13 episodes of The Comeback, which then led to … nothing. Now, in a turn so meta it hurts, Valerie is back years later starring in a dark HBO comedy created by her old network boss/enemy Paulie G (Lance Barber) about his pre-rehab stint working on a sitcom with aggravating redhead Mallory Church (played by Valerie … Kudrow … ouch): “What is this? The comeback of The Comeback?” he asks. Armed with a paltry number of followers on Twitter (which she learned about from The Real Housewives) and a tougher-if-even-more-clueless attitude, Valerie is out to win America’s love again … by playing a horrible version of herself. Just go with it; The Comeback is even more hilarious and scathingly Hollywood-accurate now than it was nine years ago.

Getting On (Sunday, Nov. 9, HBO), season premiere: Funnier than Showtime’s Nurse Jackie and less self-congratulatory than Ricky Gervais’ Netflix series Derek—both easy feats—Getting On, about the staff of a ramshackle geriatric extended-care facility in Long Beach, is a dark hospital comedy that works entirely because of its stars. Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne; also currently starring in CBS’ gawdawful The McCarthys), Alex Borstein (Family Guy’s Lois Griffin) and Niecy Nash (Reno 911!) are familiar faces from lighter comedies, but here, they’re obviously reveling in playing characters called upon to deliver more than punchlines (though the punchlines are wicked, as well). With a younger cast, Getting On would probably be attracting Orange Is the New Black-scale attention—the ageism lessons just keep coming.

The Godfather of Pittsburgh (Monday, Nov. 10, A&E), series debut: Speaking of which: In August, A&E canceled one of its highest-rated shows, the fantastic drama Longmire, after three seasons, because its audience was of the wrong demographic (old). Now, aside from the equally fantastic (and apparently younger-skewing) Bates Motel, all that’s left on A&E is a wasteland of cheap reality programming for morons who can’t find MTV. Meanwhile, AMC has gone the opposite route, dumping almost all of its reality shows in favor of developing new dramas to continue the legacies of Breaking Bad and Mad Men. (Longmire would be a good fit, but that’s one for the lawyers.) AMC may not always make the most obvious decisions—granting second seasons to Halt and Catch Fire and Turn comes to mind, as does the continued existence of Comic Book Men—but at least they’re investing up instead of cashing in. Oh, yeah: The Godfather of Pittsburgh is just more of the same reality crap.


DVD ROUNDUP FOR NOV. 11!

Drive Hard

A champion racer-turned-driving instructor (Thomas Jane) gets caught up in a $9 million heist with a mysterious stranger (John Cusack) as they outrun pissed-off mobsters, corrupt cops and, apparently, competent hairstylists. (Image; picture below)

El Desierto

A woman (Victoria Almeida) and two men (Lautaro Delgado and William Prociuk) wait out the zombie apocalypse in a claustrophobic house in the Argentine desert. It’s part Walking Dead, part Big Brother, all dusty and weird. (Random)

Let’s Be Cops

A pair of buds (Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr.) dress as policemen for a costume party, and when they’re mistaken for real cops, someone at Fox decided there’s a one-hour-and-44-minute movie all up in here. And it feels good … real good. (Fox)

Queens of the Ring

To connect with her WWE-obsessed son, a single mom (Marilou Berry) convinces her fellow supermarket cashiers to join her in wrestling boot camp to compete as Divas. Also starring The Miz, Eve Torres and … CM Punk?! (Image)

Tammy

After being fired from her job, loser Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) needs to split town—so she agrees to drive grandma (Susan Sarandon) to Niagra Falls. Wackiness and Valuable Life Lessons ensue. And it feels good … real good. (Warner Bros.)

More New DVD/VOD Releases (Nov. 11)

Batman: The Complete Series, Betrayal, Blood First, Getting On: Season 1, Hey Arnold! The Complete Series, How to Train Your Dragon 2, I Am Santa Claus, Jersey Boys, Mr. Pip, Once Upon a Time in Queens, Starsky and Hutch: The Complete Series, True Blood: The Complete Series.

Published in TV