CVIndependent

Sun02182018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Bill Frost

Love is in the air—unless that’s something else slowly choking the life out of you.

February is the month of Valentine’s Day, so what else is there to recommend but romantic(ish) comedies? There aren’t a hell of a lot of streaming series to connect with World Cancer Day or Chinese New Year, and we all know how damned touchy Presidents Day is anymore. (It’s also my birthday month, so feel free to send presents and cash c/o this newspaper.)

TV rom-coms have been around as long as Westerns, cop shows and a certain Sunday-night news program that runs for 60 minutes. (What’s it called again?) Consequently, there’s as much shit as there are spoils, but television has noticeably stepped up its game in the 2000s, producing more quality love-adjacent shows than all previous centuries combined. Just try and find a decent TV series from the 1800s; I’ll wait right here.

Here are eight love-adjacent comedies—there are way more, but I have as much faith in your attention span as I do my own—currently available in the streamatorium that are worth a cuddle:

You’re the Worst (Seasons 1-3 on Hulu): It’s sequential suicide to begin with The Greatest Comedy of All Time, but screw it: Here’s You’re the Worst! Chris Geere and Aya Cash play a pair of self-absorbed Los Angelinos who are profane, chain-smoking cartoon characters—in the best possible sense. Despite their exaggerated flaws and penchants for terrible, terrible choices, Geere’s pompous British novelist, Jimmy, and Cash’s semi-competent music PR agent, Gretchen, are smart, charming and, from the second they meet, obviously meant for each other. They could carry the show on their own, but YTW subtly expands into a full ensemble of characters who become instantly indispensable, most notably fantastic freaks Lindsay (Kether Donohue) and Edgar (Desmin Borges). You’re the Worst is a dark, cynical, bitingly funny love story—but not necessarily a romantic comedy: Rom-coms don’t typically involve bathtub cocaine and spitting on vaginas.

Love (Seasons 1-2 on Netflix): You’re the Worst’s introverted cousin, Judd Apatow’s Love, is a love-it-or-hate-it affair, drawing wildly mixed reviews from both real people and TV critics (who, it should be noted, are not real people). Apatow has been making films for so long that we’ve forgotten his early TV shows (Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared) wherein teens and 20-somethings relationshipped awkwardly. Love is an older, certainly-not-wiser closer of an unofficial Apatow trilogy, as well as a brutal/hilarious portrayal of modern dating. Aimless radio-station programmer Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) spends most of her time stoned, partying or obliviously falling out of relationships. When she meets up with recently dumped Gus (Paul Rust), it’s ... something at first sight. Love can be frustrating and messy (just like love!), but it’s also oddly addictive.

The End of the F***ing World (Season 1 on Netflix): Their censorship, not mine. Imagine a sweeter, British, teenage Natural Born Killers. Then purge it, because The End of the F***ing World ain’t that, or anything else you’ve ever seen. High school outcast James (Alex Lawther) has an urge to graduate from slaughtering animals to his first human kill; budding wild-child sociopath Alyssa (Jessica Barden) is desperate for a new non-conformist companion; a co-dependent young kinda-romance is born. Soon, the odd couple find themselves on a road trip/minor crime spree set to an exquisite soundtrack with no viable happy ending in sight (hence the eight-episode series’ title). As unpredictable as it is endearing, TEOTFW is a dark rom-com that plays like a four-hour movie with a definitive conclusion. (Read: A second season would just be psycho.)

Married (Seasons 1-2 on Hulu): Judy Greer, Nat Faxon, Jenny Slate, Brett Gelman, Regina Hall, John Hodgman, Michaela Watkins—2014-15 FX series Married starred an alt-comedy dream team, so of course it was cancelled. Greer and Faxon play Russ and Lina Bowman, a long-married couple whose three daughters drain them of any impulse for Sexy Time—one of them, anyway, though Russ’ wife-“sanctioned” quest for a mistress only lands him a puppy. Married walks the line between sweet and caustic more smoothly as it progresses (Lina and Russ come into better focus as real people by the second episode, partially in contrast to their waaay damaged friends), and portrays long-term couplehood better than most any comedy seen before on TV. Watkins went on to headline Hulu’s excellent Casual, another contender for this list.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Seasons 1-2 on Netflix): There’s nothing else like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on TV—which is barely on TV itself, according to its sub-basement broadcast ratings. The musical-dramedy was originally developed for Showtime, but wound up on The CW, where you have to imagine your own profanity and nudity (though the show pushes network censorship boundaries relentlessly). The setup: Successful-but-lonely New York City lawyer Rebecca (Rachel Bloom, a former “YouTube star” with actual talent) impulsively moves to California to pursue/stalk her high-school sweetheart. True to its title, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend doesn’t gloss over Rebecca’s mental issues, which grow more apparent and oh-shit-we’re-really-going-there as the series progresses—fortunately, there are plenty of musical uppers to balance out the dramatic downers.

Looking (Seasons 1-2 on HBO Go): Showtime’s Queer as Folk did all of the groundbreaking, taboo-shattering and whatever other-ings well some 15 years ago, but there hadn’t been a high-profile American drama centered strictly around gay men since. Looking wasn’t the new QAF, and it certainly wasn’t high-profile nor the gay answer to Girls and Sex and the City, as it was wrongly hyped; it was something new, different and already out-and-proud. The series followed the lives of San Franciscan Patrick (Jonathan Groff) and his circle of friends, none of whom rang false or over-the-top “TV gay,” just real people with real stories, romances and problems (and too many social-media accounts). Looking only lasted 18 episodes over 2014-15, concluding with a wrap-up movie in 2016—but hey, if Will and Grace can make a comeback …

Billy and Billie (Season 1 on DirecTV): From noted comedy auteur Neil LaBute (!) came the story of two New York step-siblings (Adam Brody and Lisa Joyce) succumbing to lust and falling in love—even in the obscure media environs of DirecTV’s Audience network, Billy and Billie was pretty much doomed from the start. But damned if Brody and Joyce didn’t give it their all with killer performances in this surprisingly engaging dramedy, which lasted all of 11 episodes and now only lives in DirecTV’s on-demand dungeon, lacking resolution. (The final episode was titled “Incesticide”—Nirvana references aside, did LaBute really expect Season 2?) If you’ll tolerate incest in your Game of Thrones and your PornHub (just admit it), Billy and Billie is a charming, occasionally heart-rending, alternative—and, come on, they’re only steps.

You Me Her (Seasons 1-2 on DirecTV): Since Audience found no audience for Billy and Billie, the next logical rom-comedic step was a three-way: You Me Her, an indie-flick-esque dramedy they promoted as “TV’s first polyromantic comedy,” starring Greg Poehler and Rachel Blanchard as a bored suburban Portland married couple who inadvertently end up hiring/sleeping with/falling for the same young female escort (Priscilla Faia). Naturally, they decide to bring her on full-time and make their marriage a threesome, because, Portland. It’s all funnier, and sweeter, than it sounds, and certainly not without drama and hurt feels. (Someone was bound to eventually be third-wheeled, and it’s not who you’d predict.) You Me Her returns for a third, and likely final, season in March 2018, after which I demand Audience’s next rom-com be about furries.

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

Way back in 1992, several states and Canada attempted to boycott or outright ban the sale of Eclipse’s “True Crime” trading-card series, a hot-selling item depicting notorious serial killers instead of baseball players, replete with artful portraits and murder stats. In pre-Internet days, this was an outrage.

Fast-forward 20 years later: People can’t get enough of serial killers—books, podcasts, Etsy subcategories (go ahead, search it) and, of course, TV series. Movies? Not so much, because you can’t spell “serialization” without “serial”: Only so many murder victims can be squeezed into a two-hour flick, but a six-to-13-hour serialized TV show? Now we’re talkin’ respectable body counts.

Here are eight of the best serial-killer TV shows currently available in the streamverse (“all killer, no filler” setup not included—you’re welcome):

Mindhunter (Season 1 on Netflix): FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathon Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) team up with psychology professor Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) to learn from incarcerated murderers how to profile future serial killers—it’s 1977; this isn’t a thing yet. The individual backstories and character quirks are slowly unveiled over 10 episodes featuring the trio kicking against skeptical Bureau pricks with their “egghead” approach, but it’s the killers themselves who steal the show. Particularly, Edmund Kemper (Cameron Britton) is such an intelligent, amiable nerd that it’s almost easy to overlook that he decapitated his own mother and had sex with her severed skull. (“Head” joke goes here.) Producer/director David Fincher lends Mindhunter a tense, cinematic sheen, but he should can his music director. (Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”? Really?)

The Killing (Seasons 1-4 on Netflix): Based on Danish TV series The Crime, The Killing debuted on AMC in 2011, back when the cable network was still trying to figure out how to blow all of its new Walking Dead money—turns out dark prestige crime dramas were not the way to go. As the title implies, The Killing initially followed a single case of a teenage girl’s murder, but the murder count eventually escalated—we’re still more-or-less in serial-killer territory here, so relax. Seattle Police Det. Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) is wholly unique in the cop-show genre in that she’s a real, three-dimensional person, not a “troubled genius”; likewise, The Killing is a slow, slow burn that subverts the episodic payoffs of Law and Order-type series in favor of a moody long game. (Maybe a little too long: Season 4, which went straight to Netflix, was unnecessary.)

The Fall (Seasons 1-3 on Netflix): Yes, Jamie Dornan was terrible in Fifty Shades of Grey, but to be fair, everyone was terrible in Fifty Shades of Grey … I mean, never saw it. In British series The Fall, he’s Belfast family man Paul Spector, a serial killer who stalks, strangles and then stages women after cleaning them and painting their nails—other than the whole murder thing, he’s almost boyfriend material. He meets his match in Det. Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), who discerns his identity early on, setting up a tense, quasi-sexy twist on the psychological thriller. Dornan is effectively deadly-dreamy, but Anderson’s zero-bullshit woman-on-a-mission is the real draw here. (After this, it’s easy to see why she doesn’t want to go back to playing second fiddle on The X-Files.) The Fall wraps tidily at 17 episodes total, with little fat or filler.

Marcella (Season 1 on Netflix): If The Fall is the gold standard of contemporary British crime dramas, 2016’s Marcella takes the silver—but it’s still deeper than most American cop shows. (God, I’m such a hipster.) This one comes from producer/writer/director Hans Rosenfeldt (who created FX’s late, great The Bridge—another murder-y thriller), with Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies, The Girlfriend Experience) in the title role as a troubled London detective pulled back into the case of a suddenly-active-again serial killer. Marcella also has 99 problems: Her husband (Nicholas Pinnock) has just left her for a younger woman at his legal firm; said woman is among the killer's latest victims; Marcella suffers from rage blackouts from which she sometimes awakens covered in blood (!). Friel is fantastic; Season 2 arrives later this year.

Hannibal (Seasons 1-3 on Amazon Prime): This actually aired on primetime broadcast network television—though some NBC affiliates opted to pre-empt it after they finally figured out that Hannibal, based on not-at-all-obscure film The Silence of the Lambs, was about a serial-killing cannibal. And a dandy one, at that: Lead Mads Mikkelsen so artfully and lovingly crafts human-based dishes, an argument could be made for giving him his own Food Network show. Likewise, producer Bryan Fuller—who went on to realize, then abandon, American Gods—uses gorgeously gory imagery and psychological density that somehow thrived within standard TV constraints. Hannibal is a prequel, chronicling his pre-Lambs days assisting the FBI in tracking like-minded (but, of course, inferior) serial killers. A 39-episode work of pure art.

True Detective (Seasons 1-2 on HBO Now): In True Detective, creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto envisioned an anthology series that would introduce new plots and casts in subsequent seasons—and he screwed himself by producing an incredible first run, with stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson turning in some of their most memorable performances ever. The two play disparate detectives (Harrelson’s Martin Hart is a linear-thinking traditionalist; McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is hyper-smart profiler who monologues about the futility of existence) investigating an occult-style murder in 1995 Louisiana. The twist: The two are telling the story from their own viewpoints in the present, being interviewed by police about a similar recent killing. And don’t believe the haters about Season 2: It holds up … just not quite as well.

Bates Motel (Seasons 1-5 on Netflix): The origin story of young Norman Bates (played to maximum creep-out effect by Freddie Highmore) doesn’t quite end where you think it will, knowing Psycho lore, but the journey is profoundly N-U-T-S. Norman loves his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga, who was rightfully nominated for all the awards for her fiercely protective/alluringly unhinged portrayal). Like, really, really, really loves her—we’re talking Lannister-level “Incest Is Best” fan fiction. He also has blackout-and-kill episodes, not to mention the occasional tendency to become Norma, posh vintage dresses and all. Thing is, you genuinely feel for the kid, and Bates Motel’s other surprisingly fleshed-out characters as well. Even when going off the rails, the series maintains its eerie, suspenseful trajectory toward an end you only think you know.

Dexter (Seasons 1-8 on Netflix): The murderer who only takes out murderers—Dexter! Michael C. Hall’s portrayal of self-narrating Miami PD forensics specialist Dexter Morgan swept pop culture when the Showtime series debuted in 2006, and “Dexter” became shorthand for “serial killer.” The more-recent shows on this list make Dexter look like a relative lightweight in comparison, but at the time, it was dark stuff, and Seasons 1-4 are unassailable as great, twisty drama (Season 4, with John Lithgow’s acclaimed Trinity Killer turn, in particular). Dexter had a sly, underlying sense of humor as well: “It’s said there are seven stages of grief. I suppose killing someone with my bare hands in a men’s room was my way of working through the anger stage. Whatever the other six stages are … I don’t have time for them”—that’s comedy. Maybe just skip Seasons 5-8.

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

I only needed to hear “from the creators of Crank” to be all-in for Happy! (series debut Wednesday, Dec. 6, Syfy). Based on the Image comic, Happy! follows disgraced ex-cop Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni, killing his old Law and Order: SVU character once and for all), now a druggie fuck-up and assassin for hire. After being gunned down and left for dead, Nick awakens to a cartoon winged unicorn named Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) who needs his help in rescuing a little girl who’s been kidnapped by Santa Claus. Yep: Insanity, violence and a gonzo-command performance from Meloni ensue. Happy! is too bizarre to last long, so drink it in.

What Vikings did for, well, Vikings, the new, terribly titled Knightfall (series debut Wednesday, Dec. 6, History) hopes to do for the Middle Ages tale of the Knights Templar. The Knights were warrior monks charged with protecting Christian relics—most notably, the Cup of Christ, aka the Holy Grail, which they, of course, lost. Knightfall stars the requisite amount of beardy, semi-familiar British actors from period dramas like Downton Abbey, Spartacus and The Tudors, as well as basic-cable swordplay and sex, but it’s nowhere near the Vikings 2.0 or Game of Thrones-lite epic it thinks it is. The network’s companion videogame, Knightfall: Rivals, is more compelling. Not a good sign.

Shut Eye (Season 2 premiere Wednesday, Dec. 6, Hulu), a dark dramedy about a Los Angeles crime syndicate of gypsy psychics, was one of 2016’s more interesting, if overlooked, streaming debuts. Charlie (Jeffrey Donovan, Burn Notice) is a cynical fortune-teller conman desperate to get out of the gypsies’ racket and start his own with his wife, Linda (KaDee Strickland)—and also, thanks to a head trauma, he might really be clairvoyant now. In Season 2, Charlie and Linda are still struggling to get away from the gypsy syndicate, while boss Rita (Isabella Rossellini) is under federal investigation. Unlike with some other Hulu shows, all 10 episodes of Shut Eye are dropping at once (a see-the-future gag?).

It was inevitable that Psych: The Movie (Thursday, Dec. 7, USA) would happen because, after all, the series ended three whole years ago—a lifetime in revival years. After eight seasons of wacky crime-solving in Santa Barbara, fake psychic Sean (James Roday) and partner Gus (Dulé Hill) relocated to San Francisco and renamed the business PsychPhrancisco (sure, why not?), but now the gang (Maggie Lawson, Kirsten Nelson, Corbin Bernsen and, to a lesser extent, Tim Omundson) is reunited to bring down another mid-level bad guy. The details matter not; Psych: The Movie is full-tilt comfort-food fan service, and that’s not downplayed in the least. Bonus treat: A loving David Bowie tribute, personified by Zachary Levi (Chuck).

Aside from Jean-Claude Van Damme, himself, who exactly is Jean-Claude Van Johnson (series debut Friday, Dec. 15, Amazon Prime) for? This can’t be part of Amazon Prime’s “We’re the new HBO” plan … can it? Anyway: Jean-Claude Van Johnson is JCVD’s under-thought alias as an unhappily retired international superspy now forced to slum it as a Hollywood martial-arts star—can you smell the meta comedy? Jean-Claude Van Johnson is funnier, more action-packed and definitely more expensive-looking than it should be—a nice surprise, since this series is arriving to zero expectations, probably not even from the Prime members who’ve forgotten they upvoted it.

I’ve worked as hard as I can to stop the scourge of stupid that is Fuller House (Season 3 winter premiere Friday, Dec. 22, Netflix), but ’Merica is apparently beyond saving. We’re now three—three!—seasons into the most moronic, soul-eating, Sept. 11-times-1,000 reboot that television has ever excreted, and the second half is dropping right before Christmas! Oh, the laugh-tracked humanity!

This column launched in 1998, three years after the blessed demise of the original Full House; since then, I’ve tried to warn you away from hundreds upon hundreds of shit TV shows. It’s like you people aren’t even listening to me! Pay attention! I’m brilliant and fascinating! Argh! Chokes on burrito; turns blue; falls forever silent

The Christmas season began in August, and you still probably don’t have a holiday viewing plan—so I’ve put one together for you. (It’s OK that you didn’t get me anything.) Here are 12 Christmas shows on the ho-ho-horizon:

Trolls Holiday (Friday, Nov. 24, NBC): The most adequate kids’ movie of 2016 is now a time-filling Christmas special about the Queen of the Trolls (Anna Kendrick) forcing her holiday traditions upon the Bergens, which sounds suspiciously Christian. Besides, Bergens eat Trolls, don’t they?

A Christmas Story 2 (Friday, Nov. 24, CMT): Sequels are always better than the original, and this follow-up to 1983’s A Christmas Story is no exception: A teenage Ralphie needs a sweet Mercury convertible for Christmas; otherwise, he’ll never get laid. A major award, for sure.

Homicide for the Holidays (Saturday, Nov. 25, Oxygen): Season 2 of the murder-rific Xmas series features true-crime stories ranging from “a botched house fire that led to the uncovering of a triple-homicide to a case that is still classified as the worst family massacre in U.S. history.” Joy!

Angry Angel (Monday, Nov. 27, Freeform): A newly dead angel (Brenda Song) is somehow stuck on Earth—well, New York City—and still hung up on her ex (Ricky Mabe), all of which pisses off her boss up in Heaven (Jason Biggs). Will she ever get off … the terrestrial plane?

A Very Pentatonix Christmas (Monday, Nov. 27, NBC): Vocal group Pentatonix returns for another holiday special, with A-list guests like Jay Leno (!) and a teen ventriloquist (!!). “A cappella” is Italian for “no real musicians will stoop to work with them,” by the way.

The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (Tuesday, Nov. 28, CBS): Not so much a “holiday” special as a primetime half-naked jiggle-fest that makes total sense in the new age of sexual-harassment awareness. Rumored musical guests: Hologram David Bowie and Lemmy dueting on Wham’s “Last Christmas.”

Drunk History Christmas Special (Tuesday, Nov. 28, Comedy Central): Comics re-enact ’Merican holiday events like George Washington crossing the Delaware on Dec. 25, and Teddy Roosevelt banning Christmas trees in the White House. Bill O’Reilly was right—the War on Christmas is centuries old!

Gwen Stefani’s You Make It Feel Like Christmas (Tuesday, Dec. 12, NBC): Everybody’s favorite chipmunk-voiced ska survivor hosts her very own songs-and-sketches holiday special, with guests Chelsea Handler, Ken Jeong, Seth MacFarlane, Ne-Yo and, duh, Blake Shelton. It’s gonna be B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

A Christmas Story Live! (Sunday, Dec. 17, Fox): An even better idea than A Christmas Story 2, A Christmas Story Live! puts the played-to-death holiday classic on the Broadway stage, with Matthew Broderick, Maya Rudolph and Chris Diamantopoulos. It’s live; an eye could get shot out.

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time (Monday, Dec. 25, BBC America): It’s the end of the road for 12th Doctor Peter Capaldi and series writer/producer Steven Moffat, but also the debut of the first-ever female Doc, Jodie Whittaker. Plus, in a timey-wimey twist … the First Doctor! Breathe, nerds.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (all of December, Freeform): The greatest work of the late Chevy Chase (wait, he’s not dead?) is the pinnacle of holiday movies (sorry, Bad Santa). And, if ever there were a phrase to sum up the country in the dying days of 2017, it’s: “Shitter’s full!”

Moral Orel, “The Best Christmas Ever” (streaming, Hulu): God-fearing Orel believes his baby brother Shapey to be the second coming of Jesus—but he’s also a complete asshole. Meanwhile, his parents are divorcing, and Dad’s at the bar (“Forghetty’s Pub”) getting loaded on Christmas. Ever hopeful, Orel looks to the heavens for divine intervention. Nothing happens. Fade to black. Merry Christmas!

After cutting down on episodic bloat with the eight-installment The Defenders, Netflix is back in the overload business with The Punisher (series debut Friday, Nov. 17, Netflix), the latest 13-episode Marvel delivery from Hell’s Kitchen. Vicious vigilante Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) is more antihero than superhero, and The Punisher doesn’t dabble in the supernatural like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist before it—there are no superpowers, just brute force, big guns and PTSD. The Punisher plays more like an ’80s action-revenge flick than a superhero series, and the only other familiar Marvel/Netflix face is Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll); proceed with caution (and a strong stomach).

It's the end of the road for Sheriff Walt (Robert Taylor) as modern-day Western Longmire (Season 6 premiere Friday, Nov. 17, Netflix) heads into its final chapter—damn, this show has been canceled twice. After Longmire was put down by A&E after three seasons for skewing “too old,” Netflix picked up production for three more, and the series is now going out with some serious D-R-A-M-A: Walt wants to give up his badge! Henry (Lou Diamond Phillips) is a death’s door in the desert! Deputy Vic (Katee Sackhoff) is hiding her pregnancy from Walt! Jacob (A Martinez) still has the most ridiculous chin-beard in Wyoming! Anyone who misses Justified might want to take Longmire for a binge.

Apparently, 2003’s terrible The Elizabeth Smart Story TV movie wasn’t enough, so here’s I Am Elizabeth Smart (movie, Saturday, Nov. 18, Lifetime), co-produced and narrated by Smart herself. I Am Elizabeth Smart purports to be a far more real and detailed account of Smart’s 2002 Salt Lake City kidnapping and subsequent nine months of starvation, rape, torture and religious indoctrination, so … yay? At least real actors were hired this time around: Alana Boden (Ride, Mr. Selfridge) as Elizabeth, Deirdre Lovejoy (The Blacklist, The Wire) as co-kidnapper Wanda Barzee, and, best of all, Skeet Ulrich (Riverdale!) as batshit “prophet” Brian David Mitchell. Also good: No sign of Ed Smart.

I wasn’t all that impressed with the debut season of Search Party (Season 2 premiere Sunday, Nov. 19, TBS), but everybody else was (100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes? Da fuck?), so obviously I was wrong. The meandering story of a group of self-possessed 20-somethings (led by Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat) trying to solve the mystery of a missing college roommate felt more like a 90-minute indie flick that should have been buried on Netflix, not a five-hour cable series, but Season 2 appears to be onto something: Instead of resetting with a new mystery, the gang is dealing with the consequences of Season 1, including a “semi-accidental murder.” OK, I’ll try again.

The Christmas movies can’t be stopped—hail Santa! In A Gift to Remember (movie, Sunday, Nov. 19, Hallmark), bookstore owner Darcy (Ali Liebert) crashes her bike into handsome professional man Aiden (Peter Porte), sending him into a coma. When he’s rushed to the hospital, the dog he was walking gets left behind, so Darcy sorta-stalks Aiden in order to return him. Her detective work finds him to be the erudite world-traveler of her dreams—but when Aiden finally wakes up, she learns that he’s just the dog-walker for her fantasy man (and certainly not rich). Will she stick with him? Will Sandra Bullock and the producers of While You Were Sleeping sue? What does all of this have to do with Christmas?

After the excellent Legion and The Gifted (and the gawdawful Marvel’s Inhumans), do we really need another X-Men-adjacent superhero series? Marvel’s Runaways (series debut Tuesday, Nov. 21, Hulu) makes a case for itself, even more so than The Gifted, in filling the teen-angst void: Six superpowered friends learn that their parents might be part of a super-villain society; existential crises and exposition ensue. Runaways, the series, was created and produced by the minds behind The O.C., and takes its sweet time building both its teen and parental characters—but if you want splashy mutant-abilities displays, you’re going to have to wait. Did I mention that’s better than Inhumans?

Still sounds good, still feels right: Lady Dynamite (Season 2 premiere Friday, Nov. 10, Netflix), Maria Bamford’s semi-autobiographical meta-comedy about dealing with bipolar disorder (much like, but totally differently from, BoJack Horseman’s bouts with depression, or Jessica Jones’ lingering PTSD—Netflix is your one-stop therapy shop), is damned near impossible to explain. There’s time-hopping; there’s fourth-wall obliteration; there’s heartbreak; there’s pugs; and there’s Bamford herself, long an odd-woman-out comedian who makes utter and complete sense within the surreal context of Lady Dynamite. You could skip Season 1 and just jump right in … but why would you do that, dummy?

How do I know it’s November? The Hallmark Channel is cranking out Christmas movies. The Sweetest Christmas (Saturday, Nov. 11, Hallmark Channel) stars perennial Hallmarker Lacey Chabert, this time as a struggling—and, of course, single—pastry chef who’s made it to the finals of the American Gingerbread Competition … but her oven is broken! Desperate, she reaches out to her ex (Lea Coco—he’s a dude; relax, watchdog groups), a pizzeria owner with just the right equipment. Will she win? Can love re-bloom for a Christmas miracle? Will I resist the obvious hot, throbbing gingerbread-man/oven joke?

I’m rarely wrong, and it’s even rarer for me to cop to it when I am, so hold onto your asses: Star Trek: Discovery turned out to be an impressive prequel, and CBS’ All Access streaming service might actually work in the long run. Here’s another winner: No Activity (series debut Sunday, Nov. 12, CBS All Access), a Funny or Die comedy about the clueless humps (in this case, Patrick Brammall and Tim Meadows) on the periphery of those action-packed crime procedurals—the cops who never get to slide across the hood of a squad car, bust a perp or do anything cool. Will Ferrell and other FoD usuals guest on No Activity, meaning you may want to keep All Access even though ST:D (ha!) is over for now. Sorry.

What’s so funny about cancer? Ill Behaviour (series debut Monday, Nov. 13, Showtime), a British show acquired by Showtime, has an idea. Recent divorcee Joel (Chris Geere) moves in with Charlie (Tom Riley), who then announces that he has cancer and, instead of clinical treatment, is going the holistic route. Naturally, Joel and mutual friend Tess (Jessica Regan) kidnap Charlie and begin injecting him with chemo drugs against his will. And if that’s not funny enough, also in the mix is alcoholic sex-addict doctor, Nadia (Lizzy Caplan, who always makes anything better). It’s more hilarious (and chaotically British) than it sounds, and Geere almost tops his You’re the Worst performance. Almost.

The rise of eSports baffles me—how the fuck is playing videogames a “sport”? I’m typing this paragraph athletically quickly right now, so can I be in the Olympics? Anyway: Future Man (series debut Tuesday, Nov. 14, Hulu) is about a hapless gamer (Josh Hutcherson) who’s recruited by time-traveling bad-asses (Eliza Coupe and Derek Wilson) to use his eSkills to save humanity. (Obviously, these visitors haven’t been paying attention and don’t realize that humanity is no longer worth the effort.) Future Man is a Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg joint, and the kitchen-sink action/comedy mix they brought to Preacher and This Is the End is in full effect here, just on a smaller scale. But humanity? Nah.

The Mindy Project (series finale Tuesday, Nov. 14, Hulu) is one of those rare shows that survived being cancelled by a TV network (Fox) by landing on a streamer (Hulu) and running longer than anyone ever expected (three more seasons). Not that Mindy Kaling’s rom-com-gone-wrong really had six seasons and 117 episodes-worth of material, but kudos for going farther than anything called a “project” should. (I’m looking at you, Alan Parsons Project and Vanilla Ice Project.) Over the years, unlucky-in-love OB/GYN Mindy Lahiri evolved from a hot mess into at least a warm mess, and Kaling smartly let her co-stars (a cast with a higher turnover rate than Papa John’s) shine. Now, when’s The Office reboot happening?

Need more proof that broadcast television is out of ideas? S.W.A.T. (series debut Thursday, Nov. 2, CBS) is a TV show based on a 2003 movie based on a 1975 TV show—neither of which fared particularly well. (There was no 2 S.W.A.T. 2 Spurious film sequel, and the series lasted just 37 episodes.) Still, CBS is banking on ex-Criminal Minds star Shemar Moore to carry this re-reboot, because he’s the only face anyone’s going to recognize. Here, he’s former Marine “Hondo” Harrelson, a streetwise Los Angelino charged with leading the local Special Weapons and Tactics unit (militarized police, because ’Merica). Everyone else on the show? Mix-and-match CBS cop-procedural pretty people. This will run for years.

By the time a series hits eight seasons, there ain’t much story left to tell—remember cautionary Showtime series Dexter and Weeds? At least Californication had the good sense to bail at seven. Shameless (Season 8 premiere Sunday, Nov. 5, Showtime), on the other hand, has the legs to go eight more, as there’s no more endlessly evolving and entertaining TV family than the Gallaghers. Who would have expected Fiona (Emmy Rossum) to become a businesswoman, or Lip (Jeremy Allen White) to get sober? Or perpetual deadbeat Frank (William H. Macy) to become an upstanding citizen? (Best wait to see how long that lasts.) I’ve been tellin’ ya since 2010: This is America’s Family. Get thee to Netflix.

The “S” in SMILF (series debut Sunday, Nov. 5, Showtime) stands for “Single”; you know the rest. Twenty-something Boston mom Bridgette (Frankie Shaw, who created, wrote and directed this series based on her same-name Sundance short film) juggles parenting, an acting career and relationships in Los Angeles—a reality-slapped twist on the usual autobiographical actor/comic project. Even after Better Things and Fleabag, a female lead in this raw—and funny, it should be noted—a series is still somehow surprising and novel, and SMILF upstages Showtime partner White Famous through sheer willingness to go there. (Jay Pharoah is great, but WF still feels timid.) Shaw is a star—watch her.

Last year’s debut season of The Girlfriend Experience (Season 2 premiere Sunday, Nov. 5, Starz) arrived with much hype thanks to the connections to Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film and The King. (Season 1 star Riley Keough is Elvis Presley’s granddaughter.) Season 2 of Tales of High-End Prostitution introduces all-new characters and two storylines: one involving a Republican super-PAC director (Anna Friel) and an escort (Louisa Krause) entwined in a steamy blackmail scheme; the other is about an ex-prostitute (Carmen Ejogo) in the witness protection program who dangerously falls back into her old ways. The Girlfriend Experience maybe not be as ’70s kitschy as The Deuce, but it does have a grit all its own.

All that’s missing from the USA Network’s bid to become a serious prestige-cable network is a period drama … oh, here’s one now! “An epic saga about the secret history of the 1930s American heartland, Damnation (series debut Tuesday, Nov. 7, USA) centers on the mythic conflict and bloody struggle between big money and the downtrodden, God and greed, charlatans and prophets.” Whoa, hyperbole much? Damnation has plenty going for it, including writers and directors from Hell or High Water and Longmire, as well as co-star Logan Marshall-Green (late of Cinemax’s fantastic-but-canceled Quarry), but it mostly just adds up to dust and bluster. This proves once again that nothing good has ever come out of Iowa.

When it aired what I thought was its series finale back in March, I was sure I’d never see Teachers (Season 2 fall premiere Tuesday, Nov. 7, TV Land) again. Surprise! That was just the “spring finale” of the second season before an eight-month “hiatus” … what? Anyway: Female comedy troupe the Katydids (Caitlin Barlow, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Kate Lambert, Katie O'Brien and Kathryn Renée Thomas, hence the name—get it?) are back for more episodes of hot-mess elementary-school hilarity, inexplicable Walking Dead-sized breaks aside. This pleasant, unexpected gift at least makes up for the disappointment that was IFC’s Baroness Von Sketch Show.

Look, I liked the first go-round of Stranger Things (Season 2 premiere Friday, Oct. 27, Netflix) just fine, sort of like Panda Express takeout: filling, not quite dog food, coulda been worse. But then you people whipped up a breathless hype frenzy like it was The Greatest TV Show of All Time, and things just got ’80s-romanticizing-stoopider from there. And Barb? She’s dead; get over it. Season 2 of Stranger Things picks up a year later, on Halloween 1984, with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) returning from The Upside Down to help the gang take on a new crop of weirdness in Hawkins. Meanwhile, Joyce (Winona Ryder) as cray as ever. (Hey, if ain’t broke.) There’s also the Reagan/Bush re-election campaign to deal with—boo!

What an ambitious year 2015 was for broadcast network dramas—successful, not so much. Scream Queens, Limitless, Blood and Oil, Heroes Reborn, The Player, Wicked City, Rosewood, Minority Report—all dust in the wind. Quantico is (sort of) still alive, as is Blindspot (Season 3 premiere Friday, Oct. 27, NBC), the crime-conspiracy thriller that went from “The next Blacklist!” to Friday-night filler in two seasons. There are still mysteries to be solved in Jane (Jaimie Alexander) and her tattoos, but first, she has to face her vengeance-bent bent brother Roman (Luke Mitchell) and rescue her former FBI team from his clutches (which really raises questions about said team’s competency). So, Blindspot … still on.

Saturday Night Live was a groundbreaking, counterculture oddity in the ’70s; today, it’s a meme generator. Tom Hanks’ “David S. Pumpkins” appeared twice on SNL last season, which has somehow led to The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special (special, Saturday, Oct. 28, NBC) being a thing. But it’s not much of a thing: It’s just a half-hour, barely animated special featuring the voices of Hanks and ex-SNLer Bobby Moynihan, as well as Peter Dinklage (!), wherein nonsensical character Pumpkins shows kiddies “the true meaning of Halloween”(?). The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special is just another pointless, cynical SNL cash-grab that should make Lorne Michaels roll over in his grave.

Some of us were lucky enough to see Ozzy and Co. on their final tour last year; for the rest of you, there’s Black Sabbath: The End of the End (special, Saturday, Oct. 28, Showtime), the concert film capturing the finale of the influential metal band’s 49-year run. Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler put on a hell (ha!) of a show for being 60-something vampires, backed by a younger sit-in for drummer Bill Ward who literally looked like Jesus; and an inaudible off-stage keyboardist/guitarist whom I’m assuming collected an equal paycheck. With the exception of anything from 1978’s underrated Never Say Die! album, The End of the End features every classic Sabbath song. Play it loud.

So far, there are not a lot of scary Halloween recommendations, right? Might I suggest a few selections from RiffTrax (streaming, Amazon Prime), the guys who spun off from Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy) into something completely … well, the same? They still hilariously mock terrible movies, and there are a handful of their horror offerings available on Amazon Prime, like When a Stranger Calls Back, The Last Slumber Party, Frankenstein Island, House on Haunted Hill, The Revenge of Doctor X and the incomparably awful Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare. (Seriously—I challenge you to make it through that one.) Or just keep binge-ing Stranger Things.

Why is Stan Against Evil (Season 2 premiere Wednesday, Nov. 1, IFC) returning the day after Halloween? And, while we’re at it, why isn’t Starz’s Ash vs. Evil Dead coming back until February 2018? You B-level cable outlets are killin’ me. Anyway: Stan Against Evil, a thinly veiled rip-off of/homage to Ash vs. Evil Dead that will do for now, I suppose, remains a reliably goofy/scary vehicle for comedy vet John C. McGinley to rage-shrug as the former sheriff of a demon-plagued town built on the site of a 17th-century witch-burning. This time, he’s begrudgingly trying to save his replacement sheriff (Janet Varney), who’s trapped in another time. (February 2018? Take me!)

Way back in April, I dismissed the debut of Great News (Thursdays, NBC) as an inferior Tina Fey production that lacked the snap of 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and I saw no point in the casting of Nicole Richie. But by the time the newsroom comedy wrapped its initial 10 episodes, Great News had found its goofy groove, and Richie proved herself to be an adept comic actress. (Let’s just pretend that VH1’s Candidly Nicole never happened.) Sure, Andrea Martin could dial it down a little—OK, a lot—but so what? Season 2 continues the subtle-but-sharp transformation into 30 Rock 2.0, meaning Great News is no longer the worst sitcom on NBC … here’s looking at you, Will and Grace.

Like Ghost Wars, Superstition (series debut Friday, Oct. 20, Syfy) is an effectively creepy Syfy show saddled with a lame title: C’mon, Ghost Wars sounds like a reality series about haunted storage units, and Superstition sucks hard enough for Freeform. The setup for Superstition, however, is solid: The Hastings family (patriarch-ed by series creator/producer Mario Van Peebles) runs the only funeral home in a small Georgia town, and they also specialize in “afterlife care” for souls who met mysterious deaths by demonic “Infernals” (there’s your title!), and generally kick supernatural ass. Bonus: Where the wildcard of Ghost Wars is singer Meat Loaf, Superstition has pro ’rassler Diamond Dallas Page. Spooky!

We’ll always have October, and we’ll always have The Walking Dead (Season 8 premiere Sunday, Oct. 22, AMC). Like the zombie apocalypse and Christianity, it’s never going away, but we must keep fighting to vanquish them anyway. Eight seasons is plenty, though I would argue that Showtime’s Shameless should run at least 20, because it is the greatest series on TV, and I’d win the argument, so shut up. As for TWD’s Season 8 premiere, it’s more of the same: blood, action, dripping flesh, more blood, flannel, homoerotic glances between Rick and Daryl, etc. Me, I’m curious to see if the righteous morons who were outraged at Season 7’s “family unfriendly” violence—in a cable show about zombies!—will be back.

Too much has been written about why Kevin Can Wait (Mondays, CBS) killed off a perfectly good wife character in order to reunite Kevin James with ex-King of Queens co-star Leah Remini in Season 2, and not nearly enough about why this piece of shit is still on. So … why is this piece of shit still on? It’s a forced, painfully unfunny sitcom that’s an insult to even the intelligence of CBS viewers who’ve allowed four seasons of Scorpion to just happen, and the addition of Remini makes little difference when the writing is nowhere near the caliber of King of Queens’ writing (which wasn’t gold, but at least it was, you know, comedy). Please join me again in 2026 when I rewrite this paragraph for KCW’s Season 10 premiere.

Like a bizarre collision of Martha Stewart Living and the comic actress’ cult favorite Strangers With Candy, At Home With Amy Sedaris (series debut Tuesday, Oct. 24, TruTV) is the how-to crafting, cooking and hospitality show of the end times—or, at least, the weirdest thing on TruTV. Modeled loosely on Sedaris’ books I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence and Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People, At Home combines utterly useless homemaking tips with sketch comedy and game guests (like Paul Giamatti, Jane Krakowski, Sasheer Zamata and the infamously humorless Michael Shannon). This takes the surreality of Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner to a whole ’nother level.

Speaking of Snoop, what’s this all about? Snoop Dogg Presents The Joker’s Wild (series debut Tuesday, Oct. 24, TBS) is based on ’70s game show The Joker’s Wild, which involved a giant slot machine and trivia questions; in Snoop’s house, the slot machine remains, but the trivia has been replaced with “giant dice, playing cards, streetwise questions and problem-solving.” At least it’s kinda new, unlike Drop the Mic (series debut Tuesday, Oct. 24, TBS), which is just a celebrity rap battle rip-off of Nick Cannon’s Wild n’ Out given a cheese-glaze finish. Then again, Lip Sync Battle looked none too promising when it debuted, and that gave us … well, Chrissy Teigen’s boobs.

In her new weekly series I Love You, America (series debut Thursday, Oct. 12, Hulu), comedian Sarah Silverman is “looking to connect with people who may not agree with her personal opinions through honesty, humor, genuine interest in others, and not taking herself too seriously. … Silverman feels it’s crucial, now more than ever, to connect with un-like-minded people.” If you’re skeptical of Liberal Elite Hollywood’s motives for hanging out with Red State rednecks while promising to not to shit on them, join the club. But it’s a promising chat show/travelogue setup, and Silverman is more capable of pulling it off sincerely than, say, Chelsea Handler. She still does that thing on Netflix … doesn’t she?

With a cool title like Mindhunter (series debut Friday, Oct. 13, Netflix), you’d expect sci-fi series loaded with psychic warfare and exploding heads, or is that just me? Sadly, this Mindhunter is another cop show, starring Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany as FBI agents who interview imprisoned serial killers to analyze their motives to help solve current cases … zzz. So far, so Criminal Minds, but Mindhunter—singular? There’s two of ’em!—is produced by David Fincher, who delivered at least a couple of good House of Cards seasons, and co-stars Aussie treasure Anna Torv, absent from ’Merican TV since the 2013 demise of Fringe, so there’s that. Maybe one exploding head, just for me?

I had no idea that today’s kiddies were clamoring for a reboot of ’70s Saturday-morning cheese lump Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (series re-debut Friday, Oct. 13, Amazon Prime), but here it is. The original S&SM was part of the Sid and Marty Kroftt acid-trip factory that included H.R. Pufnstuf and Lidsville, as well as the proto-superheroine Strong Female Characters of Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. This iteration seems more aimed at ironic-nostalgia-hungry Gen-Xers than children, but at least David Arquette found work (as Captain Barnabas, a local loon out to expose the Sea Monsters as “real”), and we get The Roots’ updated version of Sigmund’s theme song. So where’s the Lost Saucer remake?

Do we really need another cable dramedy about how tough it is to be a comedian? When it stars ex-Saturday Night Live-er Jay Pharoah and is helmed by Tim Kapinos (Lucifer, Californication) and Jamie Foxx (everything else), maybe. White Famous (series debut Sunday, Oct. 15, Showtime) is essentially Foxx’s story, centered on a black comic (Pharoah) on the rise who’s straddling the line between street cred and mainstream (read: white) appeal. While White Famous offers few insights into Foxx’s real career (even when he shows up as himself in the first episode), it does make it abundantly clear that SNL blew it with the talented Pharoah. As a “prestige” series, this is more Dice than Louie.

Speaking of wasting perfectly good comedic talent, have you seen 9JKL (new series, Mondays, CBS)? That filler half-hour between The Big Bang Theory and Kevin Can Wait? Oh yeah, no one watches “live” TV anymore—it’s all on-demand with your Hulus and your Rokus and your Flibberzoos. It’s safe to say no one is “demanding” 9JKL, not even to justify the $9.99 they blew on CBS All Access for Star Trek: Discovery. Mark Feuerstein, David Walton, Elliott Gould, Linda Lavin and Liza Lapira, funny people all, star in the most forgettable family sitcom since … well, damn, I’ve forgotten. Chances are, by the time this column finally reaches the Interwebs, 9JKL will be canceled. Never mind.

Much in the same way that White Famous seems like a stylistic throwback, Loudermilk (series debut Tuesday, Oct. 17, Audience/DirecTV) could be a lost early-2000s comedy from the trope dawn of AA (Asshole Antihero). While White Famous is a misuse of a young actor like Pharoah, it’s perfectly OK in the case of Loudermilk, because the titular Loudermilk is played by been-there comedy vet Ron Livingston (sorry, Ron—loved ya in Office Space). Loudermilk is a former alcoholic and, even worse, former rock critic, who hates pretty much everything and everyone. Sounds familiar, but as scripted by one Farrelly brother and a Colbert Report writer, and delivered by Livingston, Loudermilk really works.

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