I complained recently about one of my favorite shows, Parks and Recreation, going off the rails in its final season by taking its natural positivity and detonating it into continual happy endings so excessive they seemed like the promises you read in chain emails.
Now I want to remember a show that did pull off a kick-ass final season by pushing its characters into new directions (which they somehow rendered inevitable). That show is 30 Rock.
30 Rock was renewed for its 7th season in 2012 with the understanding that its 13 episodes would be it for the show. This is, incidentally, the same arrangement that Parks and Recreation got for its final season, which was also its seventh. Perhaps 30 Rock was thinking further ahead; a lot of the plotlines that pay off in season 7 were set up in season 6. Of course, you could say the same about Parks and Recreation. Basically, both shows seem to have had the exact same advantages and disadvantages, and while Parks and Rec provided a sweaty, dubious final season, 30 Rock’s was concise, heartwarming, surprising (and still funny!).
So my most recent pointless obsession is trolling Netflix’s Facebook page. I read a million comments about how much Netflix sucks, it costs too much, there’s nothing good on streaming, stuff buffers too long, etc. etc. etc. I reply constantly to strangers to explain to people how distribution contracts work, that Netflix is not responsible for the quality of your internet service, etc. etc. etc. There are other people doing this, too, many of whom cut and paste a stock answer like “Netflix can’t stream everything because the studios won’t allow it” on almost every post. We think we are doing God’s work.
Anyway, I want to take this opportunity, on my own blog, to make the following statements.
- I have the maximum plan, 2 discs at a time and unlimited streaming. This is less than 20 bucks a month and incredibly affordable at that. Yes, it was really cool when it was only $14. It was also really cool when I was in high school and gasoline was 78 cents a gallon. The fact that these products are more expensive now doesn’t make them any less necessary to my daily life. The service is either worth it to you or it isn’t, in which case you find an alternative. Like RedBox, or walking. Nor does it serve anybody if the company keeps costs down to the point of running themselves out of business. (Hey Michiganders, remember the Michigan Festival? and how awesome it was until they totally bankrupted themselves?)
- A note about that “60% increase” you keep hearing about: it was not an across-the-board 60% increase; it was only raised 60% for people who had the cheapest DVD+streaming plan at $8.99. My plan, always slightly more expensive with 2 discs out at a time, increased by like 18%. Also, for people who only ever used one of the two types of service, it’s actually cheaper now, because they’re not paying for service they don’t use.
- I watch something on Netflix Instant almost every day, easily 5 times a week. Today I watched maybe 6 episodes of Parks & Rec, 2 episodes of SNL, 4 episodes of The X-Files, and two movies (hey, I’m on vacation). I watched two movies last night. I wish more stuff streamed. Yes, I do. But I understand why not everything can stream, and why some titles stream only for limited times. And because I have a wide and varied interest in movies, I can always, always find something I want to watch. I have about a hundred movies in my queue that are currently available to stream.
- I watch the discs, too. I returned one disc on Wednesday and my queue is already updated; they will be sending out my next disc tomorrow, probably. Mail service in my area is good and I’ll probably get it before the New Year. If I don’t, I certainly don’t intend to throw a hissy fit about it, because the world moves more slowly over holidays.
- I have never had a disc come to me cracked or broken. I have received some smudgy discs that a quick swipe with a napkin rendered playable. In seven years of Netflix service, I have had to return three discs that were for whatever reason not watchable. That’s an exact number because my entire rental history is on the Netflix site. Additionally, two different discs got lost on their way back to the warehouse, once in 2005 and once in 2006. I know this because of the “we have received” emails they send with every disc; if I don’t see that email within a couple of days of sending one out, I report it. In each of those two cases, I was sent my next disc immediately. (I don’t know if that still happens; something tells me Netflix was more trusting back in ’06.)
- I mentioned RedBox up top. Most people who complain about Netflix threaten to decamp to RedBox or Blockbuster Online or Hulu Plus or whatever. And they are free to do so. But I can tell you this: I have Hulu Plus in addition to Netflix. It’s awesome for TV, and extremely limited for movies. They do stream the entire Criterion Collection, which is cool (so does Netflix), but those are not the movies the people who make these complaints are generally looking for. I don’t know anything about Blockbuster Online either, but I did have a friend who had it in ’06 and it was definitely inferior to Netflix then. Almost every disc had Long Wait appended to it all the time. Again, don’t know anything about it today.
- As for RedBox, well, those are cool for people who want to go out on Friday night, pick from a small selection of movies that came out in the last 6 months and go home and watch it. That does not describe my viewing habits AT ALL. I want to watch movies from all time periods. A RedBox is not helpful if you are in the mood for a Tracy-Hepburn picture. Unfortunately the only one streaming right now is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. But I am a person who can easily move the disc for Adam’s Rib or Without Love or Woman of the Year to the top of my queue and wait a couple of days to get it. I also am not usually clamoring to see the newest releases as soon as possible, although it’s worth noting that when I am, I don’t have any trouble getting them from Netflix, either. I have a bunch in my queue right now (I’m watching Oscar likelies), and none of them have any wait time listed, including The Help. To compare, my local library system reports 500 copies of that movie with 2180 requested holds on them.
- People who use the Roku or the Xbox or smart phone apps complain about coding problems and screwy interfaces. That doesn’t affect me because I watch discs on a DVD player and I stream to my laptop computer. Sometimes I just watch on the computer, which is more than large enough to accommodate a 30 Rock rerun; sometimes I hook the computer to my television with an adapter cord I purchased for less than $20 online.
- My streaming service is never down. [knocks on wood] The buffering time is almost never prohibitive to my viewing enjoyment. When it is it’s because my computer’s been running nonstop for hours and is overheating. That’s totally my fault, not Netflix’s.
Just a little bit late! Here are some of the Christmas TV episodes I rewatched over our most recent holiday season.
Community, “Comparative Religion” and not the others
Community is an interesting case. They recently aired the Christmas episode of their third season, a takeoff on Glee that involved much singing and dancing from their regular cast. Last season the creators of the show went mad making an episode in Rankin & Bass-style stop-motion animation. Those episodes both kind of blew. They’re fan favorites, I know. But to me, they are gimmicky in the worst possible way, and criminally unfunny. And there’s too much heartfelt singing in both. No, what’s more my style is the Christmas episode of the first season, “Comparative Religion.” The plot has two threads—Shirley trying to impose her Christian views on everyone’s Christmastime and Jeff being hassled by a lunkhead bully played hilariously by Anthony Michael Hall—and they converge when Shirley tries to deter Jeff from fighting the bully. (What would Baby Jesus do?) Eventually, her Mama Bear instincts take over, she gives the OK to retaliate, and the entire Community gang beats up the bully and his gang, in an awesome and funny fight scene soundtracked by Florence and the Machine’s “Kiss With a Fist.” Afterwards, our beloved group sings carols in the study room, all of them torn-up, black-eyed, and ice-packed.
Like most episodes of Community, there are hilarious little comedy bits crammed one on top of another throughout the entire episode. (One exchange between Jeff and the bully: Bully: “You think that’s funny? How about this? Knock knock—my fist up your balls!” Jeff: “…Who’s there?”) It introduces Pierce’s cult-like sect of Buddhism (“I’m now a level five laser lotus”). But my favorite gag is all of the weird little elements of having a holiday celebration inside the structures of a contemporary academic institution, i.e. hyper-secularization. The Dean prances around the campus dressed as “non-denominational Mister Winter” and wishes everyone “Merry Happy!” And, as befits college educational schedules, everyone keeps making reference to the fact that their celebrations are all taking place weeks before the actual holiday: “Please, it’s Christmas!” “It’s December 10th!”
You can watch the entire episode here with a Hulu Plus subscription (or view a 90-second preview without one).
Frasier, “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz”
I always liked this show least when it was about Frasier’s love life (for real, who is dating this tool, in all seriousness? well, I guess he is rich) but this episode is a hilarious exception. It opens when Frasier meets this sweet older woman in the mall; she helps him pick out a Christmas gift for Roz and then she sets Frasier up with her daughter Faye. Faye is Amy Brenneman, who has a classic sitcom career trajectory: she had a high-powered job (lawyer) and then gave it up to do something creative (in this case, to become a pastry chef). Frasier is really into her and they start dating. Then they arrange to have drinks in Frasier’s apartment, with the woman’s mother, on Christmas Eve. This is when Frasier finds out that this woman and her mother are Jewish, and that her mother has no idea that Frasier isn’t. So he hurriedly hides his Christmas wreaths and a quintessential Frasier slamming-door farce begins.
Frasier is trying to keep Mrs. Moskowitz out of the room while the Christmas tree is being delivered, and trying to keep her from glancing into the oven at his brisket—which is actually a Christmas ham. The humorous climax comes when Niles, who is running around Frasier’s apartment dressed as Jesus because he’s starring in Daphne’s chuch pageant, is discovered by Frasier, who lets out a startled, “Jesus!” The episode’s emotional climax is also great: Frasier and his dad, Martin, get into a huge argument and finally fling “hates” at each other: they hate living together, they hate being together, they hate each other. They both immediately begin to cry, comedically overwhelmed at having revealed too many repressed hostilities at once, and declare that they should have known better than to try something like that without being Jewish. “Maybe Mrs. Shapiro next door could talk us through it?” “She’s out of town!” They apologize profusely to one another, and then it’s back to a repressed, WASPy Christmas as previously scheduled.
Coming ahead: Christmas stabbings, Christmas drunkenness, Christmas adultery, and Festivus!
The Golden Globe nominations were released last week and I should have written about them sooner; but hell, it’s Christmas week and I’ve been kind of busy. My Christmas cards are still not in the mail, guys. The majority of my family and friends will be getting them on like, the 29th.
Anyway, the Globes encompass both movies and TV, so I want to throw out some quick impressions of the TV noms and then delve into movies.
The Best Drama and Comedy/Musical series nominations are ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. I wrote a whole rant about it the day of but I deleted it because, in retrospect, it was dumb to get so outraged by something that is, in the grand scheme of things, kind of stupid. The Golden Globes have been nominating stupid stuff throughout their entire history. So all I’m going to say about it is that the idea that any Drama series, much less American Horror Story, are better than Breaking Bad (which, unlike Mad Men, was eligible for the Globes this year: see Bryan Cranston’s nomination in Best Actor in a Drama) is patently and objectively untrue. The Comedy/Musical nominations are senseless, too: I haven’t heard good things about Enlightened, or Episodes—I can’t watch those shows without cable, but I have read and listened to multiple reviews and nobody in the critical community actually likes those shows—and New Girl has only aired nine episodes! It has bothered me forever that, falling where they do in the TV year, the Golden Globes can nominate a series in its unfinished first season for its excellence. Nobody knows yet! Also, Parks and Rec isn’t there and that’s almost as wrong as Breaking Bad.
I did kind of like seeing Madeleine Stowe in there as Actress in a Drama for Revenge. That show is supremely entertaining, almost 100% because of her icy bitchiness. So good on them for that at least. Hope she wins.
No surprises here. These are all the same movies I’ve been seeing on all the other lists all season, with the exceptions The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and We Need to Talk About Kevin, both of which just barely opened in time to get nominated here.
There are a few weirdnesses in Best Song and Score: a song from Gnomeo & Juliet, and one from Machine Gun Preacher! From Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell! Also a song and the score from Madonna’s already-notorious flop, W.E.
The necessity of me seeing movies I don’t care about is broadening every second. Multiple noms for Albert Nobbs, Moneyball, The Help, My Week With Marilyn, Hugo, War Horse. I’ve been looking over last year’s nomination lists and you know, last year was a way better year for movies. I saw all ten Best Picture nominees last year and they were all good, ranging from pleasantly enjoyable to mind-blowingly good. And the majority were stories that appealed to me on a basic level. The majority of the movies here are unappealing to me on a basic level. After seeing them, I might find some of them good. But so far, I am underwhelmed.
In the pleasantly interesting category, Drive is still getting nominations, this one for Albert Brooks (he and Ryan Gosling both got Independent Spirit Awards nominations) and that movie actually seems fun. It’s in my Netflix queue. Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical includes Brendan Gleeson for something called The Guard that I’ve never heard of. I like Gleeson a lot, most especially in In Bruges, so I could put that one on the list. I like that Young Adult got some nominations because I was going to see that anyway. Also, I was completely right about Joseph Gordon Levitt and 50/50.
Parks and Recreation came back on the air this week! Let’s give it a round of applause…
This is my favorite comedy on TV right now, without exception. I love 30 Rock, I love Community. I am enjoying Modern Family and Cougar Town and The Office is…well, The Office is like a doddering old neighbor that you feel obligated to converse with once a week, because they did you a favor once. NBC decided to shelve P&R for the entirety of the fall, for reasons that made no sense to anybody. But now, it’s back!
I’ve written before about what a fan I am of Amy Poehler’s character, Leslie Knope. And she is the center of the ensemble, and she sets this wonderful tone that’s a combination of enthusiasm, sincerity, and wackiness that the rest of the show follows. I highly recommend that anyone who hasn’t tried P&R yet should GO AND DO IT NOW.
It’s going to be really, really easy. You didn’t watch it on Thursday? It’s on Hulu right now. They’ll keep the five newest episodes at a time. So, you have five weeks to watch this week’s episode. If you can’t find twenty-five spare minutes in the next five weeks, something is wrong. You may need to reevaluate your lifestyle choices.
Oh, are you a completist, really? You don’t want to start at season 3? You need to see seasons 1 and 2 first? Well, try Netflix! They are streaming seasons 1 and 2. This is why I often misplace an entire Saturday. Hulu Plus (the expanded Hulu service) has also got the complete series.
How about this: you’re just not sure you’re going to like it. Here are some promotional videos to get you started!
This is the official NBC season 3 promo, which lets you know right where season 2 left off as well as where the show is headed.Vodpod videos no longer available.
Also, here’s Asiz Ansari as hipster Tom Haverford offering a reboot of the P&R opening credits.Vodpod videos no longer available.
And here’s new cast member Rob Lowe throwing a prima donna hissy fit about the fall hiatus that he apparently didn’t know about. Let me warn you that there is comic swearing involved.Vodpod videos no longer available.
Well, I was out of town last weekend–which was cool, because it meant I got to watch the Emmys with my mom, who is my favorite awards show companion–but it led to me putting off the Emmys write-up for a day or so and then completely forgetting about it for another week.
So, here is a quick and dirty discussion of my impressions of winners, losers, etc. (Oh, that’s an expression. What follows will not be in any way dirty.)
The opening act: I’ve never wanted to watch Glee before, but this song-and-dance number really made me want to. So, when Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Joel McHale, Jorge Garcia, and Jon Hamm all guest star on Glee (in the same episode), I will watch. Until then, I will content myself with watching this performance via online video.
Comedy awards: Well, I weep for Amy Poehler. No, not really, because she’ll totally get another shot next year. (If NBC ever brings Parks and Rec back.) I do think that Edie Falco is great—but she’s right that she’s not really a comedian, and Nurse Jackie, which I’ve seen here and there, is not really a comedy. It’s super-broad–there’s a character with like, anxiety-induced groping disorder, and at least one episode where Jackie flushed a human ear down a toilet–but it’s also about addiction and adultery and death and way more conducive to the serious, poignant moments that tend to win Emmys than, say, 30 Rock. So it’s kind of not a fair comparison, but I’m not going to take that argument any farther because believe me, it goes nowhere.
All I have to do is purchase the second season of Parks and Recreation on DVD. And I will watch the episode Amy submitted, “Telethon,” again and again, so I can see Leslie Knope smack herself against a plastic window on a sugar high, and attempt to fill airtime by flipping coins (“Ooooh, what’s gonna happen next? Tails! Another one for tails.”), and try to defuse a potentially embarrassing situation by threatening to remove her pants. The second time she’s done that this season, incidentally. (And if none of that grabs you, don’t you want to see Perd Hapley doing the worm?)
Click ahead for more on comedy, plus drama and the rest!