Boob Tube

It's a new year, and so it's time to update that weird and wonderful list of television shows that I've watched over the years. The rules remain the same: To the best of my recollection, here are all the shows I've seen at least five episodes of, and derived some enjoyment out of (even if said enjoyment was hate-watching, or if watching was just a flimsy excuse to gather with friends and suck down a bottle of wine). There are still no game shows (except one), nor talk shows, nor non-competitive reality (your House Hunters and such) listed. Just good ol' fashioned scripted shows, documentaries, and competitive reality shows. Enjoy!

13 Reasons Why
3-2-1 Contact
30 Rock
A to Z
Absolutely Fabulous
Adventure Time
Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, The
Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, The
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
All in the Family
Alvin and the Chipmunks
Amazing Race, The
America's Next Top Model
American Crime Story (The People v. OJ Simpson)
American Horror Story (Coven)
American Vandal
And Then There Were None
Angie Tribeca
Apprentice, The
Around the World in 80 Plates
Arrested Development
Battlestar Galactica (2004)
Beakman's World
Being Human (US)
Beverly Hills, 90210
Big Bang Theory, The
Big Comfy Couch, The
Big Love
Big Mouth
Bill Nye, the Science Guy
Black Books
Black Mirror
Bleak House
Bob's Burgers
BoJack Horseman
Book Club, The
Brain Games
Breaking Bad
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Burning Love
Call the Midwife
Celebrity Deathmatch
Charles in Charge
Chef's Table
Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers
Clarissa Explains It All
Clone High
Comeback, The
Cosby Show, The
Cosmos (2014)
Cougar Town
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Creature Comforts (US)
Critic, The
Dead Like Me
Dead Zone, The
Dennis the Menace
Designing Women
Desperate Housewives
Dexter's Laboratory
Diff'rent Strokes
Dirty Jobs
Dirty Sexy Money
Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23
Doogie Howser, M.D.
Downton Abbey
Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist
Dragon Prince, The
Drawn Together
Drew Carey Show, The
Drunk History
Electric Company, The
Erased (The Town Without Me)
Facts of Life, The
Family Guy
Family Ties
Flintstones, The
Food Wars
Fraggle Rock
Freaks and Geeks
French Chef, The
Fresh Off the Boat
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The
Full House
Gimme A Break
Girls on Top
Good Place, The
Good Wife, The
Golden Girls, The
Grace and Frankie
Gravity Falls
Great American Baking Show, The
Great British Baking Show, The
Great Food Truck Race, The
Great News
Grey's Anatomy
Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, The
Grinder, The
Growing Pains
Happy Endings
Harper's Island
Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law
Haunting of Hill House, The
Head of the Class
Hell's Kitchen
Herman's Head
Home Movies
Hot in Cleveland
House of Cards (US)
How I Met Your Mother
How the States Got Their Shapes
Hunter X Hunter
I, Claudius
IT Crowd, The
Inside Amy Schumer
Inspector Gadget
Iron Chef
Iron Chef America
Jane the Virgin
Jeeves and Wooster
Jeffersons, The
Jessica Jones
Jetsons, The
Joe Millionaire
Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman
Keeping Up Appearances
Kids in the Hall, The
Kim Possible
King of Queens, The
Kitchen Confidential
LA Law
Lady Dynamite
Lambchop's Play Along
Last Man on Earth, The
Law and Order
League, The
Letter People, The
Living Single
Mad Men
Magic School Bus, The
Making a Murderer
Mama's Family
Man Seeking Woman
Manhunt: The Search for America's Most Gorgeous Male Model
Marry Me
Master of None
Melrose Place
Mind of a Chef, The
Mindy Project, The
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
Miss Guided
Mission Hill
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
Models, Inc.
Monkees, The
Most Extreme Elimination Challenge
Mother Love
Mr. Wizard
Muppet Babies
Murder, She Wrote
Murphy Brown
My Boys
Mystery Science Theater 3000
Nailed It!
Nanny, The
New Adventures of Old Christine, The
New Girl
Next Iron Chef, The
Night Court
Oblongs, The
Office, The (US)
Once Upon a Time
One Day at a Time (2017)
Orange is the New Black
Ordeal By Innocence
Parks and Recreation
Party Down
Pee-Wee's Playhouse
Peep Show
Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
Planet Earth
Powerpuff Girls, The
Private Life of a Masterpiece, The
Project Runway
Project Runway Canada
Punky Brewster
Pushing Daisies
Quantum Leap
Queer As Folk (US)
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy
Quest, The
Raising Hope
Reading Rainbow
Regular Show
Rick and Steve
Robot Chicken
Rosemary & Thyme
Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In
RuPaul's Drag Race
Saturday Night Live
Saved by the Bell
Schoolhouse Rock
Science Court
Search Party
Sealab 2021
Series of Unfortunate Events, A
Sesame Street
Seven Deadly Sins
Sex and the City
Shear Genius
Silicon Valley
Silver Spoons
Simpsons, The
Sister Wendy
Six Feet Under
Smurfs, The
Sopranos, The
South Park
Space Ghost, Coast to Coast
Square One TV
Stephen Fry in America
Steven Universe
Stranger Things
Strangers With Candy
Tales of the City
Tales from the Crypt
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
That 70s Show
That's So Raven
Three's Company
Tiny Toon Adventures
Today's Special
Tom and Jerry
Top Chef
Trading Spaces
Trial & Error
Trophy Wife
True Detective
Twilight Zone, The
Twin Peaks
Two Fat Ladies
Ugly Betty
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Up Series, The
Venture Brothers, The
Veronica Mars
Voltron (2016)
Welcome to Sweden
West Wing, The
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? (cartoon)
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (game show)
White Collar
Who's The Boss?
Will and Grace
Wire, The
Women's Murder Club
Wonder Years, The
Xena: Warrior Princess
You Can't Do That On Television

The State of the Art: Games 2017

It was a banner year for games, both tabletop and video. In the video game realm, I played previous favorites, like Fallout 4 and am still going strong on Overwatch. Tabletop wise, our gaming group is still not sick of Eldritch Horror, which is impressive.

As far as new video games, I really enjoyed both Year Walk and Cook, Serve, Delicious 2. What Remains of Edith Finch would have been a strong contender, but game bugs introduced disappointment into what was otherwise a hauntingly great game.

I also had fun with Mass Effect: Andromeda, despite its poor reviews, and am still making my way through games like Assassin's Creed: Origins, Civilization VI, and a remaster of Final Fantasy XII.

As far as tabletop, our group had a lot of fun with Descent, Between Two Cities, and in particular, T.I.M.E Stories, in which you must make several runs at the game to solve a mystery set in an old asylum.

And I can't forget my online forum Werewolf games, which are always challenging, but fun. I finally managed to pull out a Wolf win as an evil Russian spy and survive to the end. Take that, capitalists!

There were also a lot of fun RPG nights, from Dragon Age to D&D to Exalted to Miskatonic University. Gaming is one of my life's great joys, and having a fun group to play them with was definitely one of the highlights of 2017.

The State of the Art: Books 2017

Every year, I bemoan the fact that I haven't read more. But then, I also bemoan the fact that I haven't seen more quality movies, played more well-regarded games, and listened to more acclaimed music. I'm only one man! I still managed to find some great books this year. The resolution to read more books by minority authors continues to pay off, as my favorite of the year was No One Can Pronounce My Name, by Rakesh Satyal. It primarily follows two very different Indian immigrants to a suburb of Cleveland. Harit is a lonely man who tries to care for his grieving mother in his own sad, strange way, while simultaneously terrified of forging any relationships of his own. Ranjana is dealing with a distant husband and recently empty nest, and takes refuge in her writing group, though she still has trouble assimilating to American culture. When the two of them meet, they begin to change each other in remarkable, yet subtle ways, and the result is a really terrific novel.

Here's the full 2017 ranking:

No One Can Pronounce My Name - Rakesh Satyal (2017) (A)
Man at the Helm - Nina Stibbe (2014) (A-)
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President - Candice Millard (2011) (A-)
Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell (2013) (A-)

The Wangs Vs. The World - Jade Chang (2016) (B+)
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States - Sarah Vowell (2015) (B+)
The Versions of Us - Laura Barnett (2016) (B+)
Scrappy Little Nobody - Anna Kendrick (2016) (B+)

Morning Star - Pierce Brown (2016) (B)
What Happened - Hillary Rodham Clinton (2017) (B)
The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin (1969) (B)
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body - Roxane Gay (2017) (B)
Norse Mythology - Neil Gaiman (2017) (B)
The Search for Delicious - Natalie Babbitt (1969) (B)
The Girls - Emma Cline (2016) (B)

Hissing Cousins: The Untold Story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth - Marc Peyser, Timothy Dwyer (2015) (B-)
Crashed - Timothy Hallinan (2012) (B-)
The Crooked House - Christobel Kent (2015) (B-)
Stay Up With Me - Tom Barbash (2013) (B-)
Summerlong - Dean Bakopoulos (2015) (B-)

Library of Souls - Ransom Riggs (2015) (C+)
Make Your Home Among Strangers - Jennine CapĆ³ Crucet (2015) (C)

The State of the Art: Television 2017

I can't believe it, but eight shows battled for the top spot in my heart this year. When the dust settled, I chose the resurgence of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which was just fantastic. Here are the eight shows, any of which could have been #1 if they had caught me on the right day:

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Season 1)
The Good Place (Season 1)
A Series of Unfortunate Events (Season 1)
Bojack Horseman (Season 4)
Master of None (Season 2)
American Vandal (Season 1)
GLOW (Season 1)
The Great British Bake Off (Season 4)

I also watched other stuff, of course, most of which was very good. My "block" of usual shows (black-ish, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Bob's Burgers, Superstore) all had strong seasons, and many of the songs of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 2) got stuck in my head. Cartoons and anime were well represented with Steven Universe, Voltron, and Erased, with the latter being the most remarkable I've seen in a long time. Sitcoms are always a good distraction from the misery of the political landscape, so I indulged in Angie Tribeca, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Trial and Error, and Powerless, all of which had their bright spots, though not enough to make the top of my list.

There was also the hard-to-categorize side shows. There's the food porn of Chef's Table, and the strange, but compelling very-special-episode feel of One Day at a Time. I also really enjoyed Lovesick.

So yeah, an excellent year of TV, and with Black Mirror premiering its new season tomorrow, it looks like another one is on the horizon.


The State of the Art: Movies 2017

I've essentially given up on micro-blogging every piece of entertainment I consume, but I would like to leave a year-end list for posterity's sake. Let's begin with movies. Here's the ranking of the 2017 ones I managed to get to in the theater:

Dunkirk (A)
Girls Trip (A-)
Colossal (B+)
Call Me By Your Name (B+)
Wonder Woman (B+)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (B+)
The Disaster Artist (B+)
Thor: Ragnarok (B+)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (B)
Coco (B)
Baby Driver (B)
The Lego Batman Movie (B)
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (B-)

And the older movies that I finally got to:

Under the Skin (2013) (A-)
La La Land (2016) (B+)
It Follows (2014) (B+)
I'm So Excited! (2013) (B+)
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016) (B+)
The Lobster (2015) (B)
Dr. Strange (2016) (B)
Muppets Most Wanted (2014) (B)

Shorties #22

Spring has sprung, and that means spring cleaning! Not only does the apartment need some tidying, but the Netflix queue needs a good pruning as well. I've been able to catch up on a few of the things that have been clogging my lists, which means it's the perfect time to fire off another Shorties entry.

#1: Under the Skin: Once in a while, I'll take note of a movie, but intentionally let it pass me by, since it doesn't sound like it would be to my tastes. But then, it'll keep getting talked up by people whose opinions I trust, so I'll circle back around and give it a shot. Such was the case with this 2013 sci-fi movie, which stars Scarlett Johansson as a predatory alien. You definitely have to be in the mood for such a quiet, thoughtful movie about the nature of attraction, violence, and empathy, and luckily, it struck me just right. It's very difficult to make an art film that functions as a genre film (and vice versa), and Under the Skin pulls it off. (Grade: A-)

#2: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: This is another movie I let slip by until I couldn't ignore its critical praise anymore. I used to have little use for Andy Samberg, but then I became a huge fan of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, so I decided to give this Lonely Island movie a fair shot. And once again, I'm glad I did! This 2016 send-up of Behind the Music style documentaries follows superstar Conner4Real from his days in a mega-popular boy band to his implosion as a solo artist. Comedies are an automatic success when they make me belly laugh several times, so there you go. Both the songs and script are reliably funny, and there are tons of great cameos from celebrities who are totally game to make fun of the culture surrounding stardom. (Grade: B+)

#3: The Lobster: I have a long track record of preferring movies that attempt something interesting. Even if it fails, I like to see something that approaches the story in a refreshing way. That's definitely the case with the 2015 movie The Lobster, which takes place in a universe where single people are rounded up and forced to forge some sort of monogamous commitment. If they can't do so successfully, they are turned into the animal of their choice. Colin Farrell plays David, who is sent to a hotel to find a mate, and we follow his attempts to do so, followed by additional obstacles when he leaves. People have asked me if I liked this movie, and I always respond with a few moments of silence, followed by: "I'm glad I watched it". I don't know that I can say I enjoyed it, per se, but I'm still thinking about it long after I watched it, and there aren't many movies I can say that about. (Grade: B)

#4: Stay Up With Me: Short story collections are a favorite of mine, so when one gets positively reviewed somewhere, I'll usually make an effort to grab a copy from the library. The most recent collection I read was Tom Barbash's 2013 book, Stay Up With Me. Back when I talked about Single, Carefree, Mellow, I praised the stories for kind of being about nothing; they simply explored the inner lives of their protagonists. It turns out there's an art to observational stories where nothing major happens, because this book takes the same approach, but less successfully in my estimation. If there's a unifying theme, it's the fragility of human relationships, and the stories do a lot of ruminating on broken marriages, tense family bonds, and crumbling professional connections. I do want to single out "Letters from the Academy", which was a great story, and somehow creepy and relatable simultaneously. Overall, though, these stories were as melancholy as George Saunders', but not as engaging. (Grade: B-)

#5: Muppets Most Wanted: As a child of the '80s, how could I not be a Muppets fan? By the same token, as a child of the '80s, how could any modern Muppets movie possibly stack up to the classics? Short answer: They can't. Still, I took this 2014 movie for a spin, and was reasonably satisfied. I did like the story, in which the Muppet gang that just reunited in 2011's The Muppets are talked into going on a world tour so that their manager and Kermit's evil doppelganger Constantine can rob nearby museums. The cameos are fun, and the musical numbers are as jolly as ever. It's just that they'll never be able to recapture the magic of The Great Muppet Caper (Grade: B)

The Lion Kings

As I mentioned in my post about Season 1 of Voltron: Legendary Defender, I never watched the original '80s show that the reboot is based on. Turns out that's a good thing, because as a special treat to go with Season 2, they re-released some of the old episodes. I watched one, and wow. That original show was...not good. What the hell was Pidge's voice actor trying to accomplish?

Happily, the new Voltron showrunners have a more thoughtful approach, and Season 2 built on Season 1 in really interesting ways. It would be easy to just have our heroes thwart the evil Zarkon's scheme-of-the-week, then retreat to safety, but this sophomore season does something a lot more daring: The paladins take the fight directly to the Galra. Each episode fits into a larger arc that explores the greater plan for a long-lasting solution to keeping the universe safe, while reserving plenty of time to be goofy.

The interpersonal relationships are more developed this season, too, as Allura must face some uncomfortable truths about the people she's allied with, and Keith strives to learn more about his mysterious past. Shiro fights to stay connected with his lion, Pidge makes some progress in tracking down her missing family members, and even Hunk gets a chance to shine with some newly-discovered lion powers, as well as impressing a demanding chef in the season's best episode, "Space Mall".

Honestly, I never thought I'd wind up enjoying Voltron, since I have no nostalgia about the original to tie it to. I just agreed to watch it with some friends as a lark. It's been such a nice surprise to not only find that I like the show quite a bit, but that it's clearly improving as it goes along.

Voltron: Legendary Defender - Season 2: B+

Girl Interrupted

What's the appeal of cults? Why do people drop off the grid to go live in a hovel led by someone who has delusions of grandeur or godhood? What drives people to willfully overlook obvious danger to themselves or others? These questions are all tackled by a book that got a lot of critical praise last year, Emma Cline's 2016 novel, The Girls.

As an adult, Evie Boyd is a fairly isolated woman, who helps look after others rather than living any real life of her own. Some teenagers who barge into the guest house where she's staying recognize that she was part of a cult way back in the '60s, and are curious to know what that was like. The bulk of the book is Evie stirring up all those memories, trying to make sense of her involvement.

Evie had a fairly standard childhood, though her parents are pretty emotionally neglectful. Her dad runs off to start a new life with another woman, and her mom takes solace in hippie nonsense. Evie finds emotional support in Suzanne, a girl she finds endlessly cool and intriguing. Suzanne takes Evie back to a compound where a group of girls scrounge off the land while obeying every whim of Russell, the charismatic leader.

Evie is thrilled to find a place where she's accepted, and gets drawn into the group's charm, rationalizing all of the red flags that begin to pop up with increasing regularity. The cult is soon hurtling towards actions far more alarming than dumpster diving, and Evie is called upon to make serious choices about her loyalty.

People seemed to really love this book when it came out, but it left me a bit cold. I can definitely give credit to Cline for weaving a world of believable decay; I could almost feel the gross conditions of the cult's compound and everyone living there on my skin. She also did a good job in making Evie's journey from standard suburban teenager to cult member understandable. That said, Evie's obsession with Suzanne is somewhat contrived, and Cline's prose tends to be a little too in love with similes and metaphors.

The Girls is one of those books that was definitely worth the read, and if asked, I'd certainly recommend it to certain friends, but is beloved to a degree I don't understand. This is where I'd attempt a joke about cults if I felt more strongly about the book. As it is, it's a pretty good read that may not deserve its reputation, but still has a lot to offer.

The Girls: B

Tri Tri Again

Back when I was talking about the first season of Angie Tribeca, I mentioned that as a cord-cutter, I'd have to bide my time before being able to watch the second one. Well, guess what just dropped on Hulu? Some television shows demand to be watched slowly, the better to really soak up the themes and nuances of each episode. Angie Tribeca is emphatically not one of those shows, and I binged the whole season in the course of a few evenings.

There really isn't much to "review" in shows like these. If you liked the complete zaniness and absurdity of season one, then you're all set. The puns, the visual gags, and the ridiculous situations are all back in full force, and each episode is good for a least a giggle or two, if not a full-throated belly laugh.

One new aspect is the inclusion of an actual seasonal arc, which you wouldn't expect in a show that basically functions as a simple joke delivery system. In season 2, Angie awakens from a coma to discover that Geils is now in a relationship with Dr. Scholls, and complications ensue, especially when her previously-thought-dead partner resurfaces as the head of a shadowy organization.

It all sounds very Alias, until something like a full-sized office desk built out of sand or Tanner in geisha regalia shows up. Season 2 didn't grab me by the funny bone as much as the inaugural season did, but this show's embrace of complete silliness works in its favor, and though it's no doubt a long way off, I'm already looking forward to being able to stream season three.

Angie Tribeca - Season 2: B

Past Imperfect, Future Tense

It's comforting to know that with all the problems plaguing our current society, things have always sucked, and always will. Wait, maybe that's not so comforting to you. But to me, it does relieve the mind a little to know that no matter what point on the timeline of human dominance I was destined to be born in, there was always going to be some sort of obstacle, so it's silly to pine for another era.

This was borne out in a pair of books I just finished, both of which revolved around a war waged to free citizens from tyrannical rulers. However, one was a non-fiction exploration of particular aspects of the American Revolutionary War, and one was the fictional conclusion of a series of futuristic outer space colony wars.

The first was Sarah Vowell's 2015 jaunt through history, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. Students are often given pretty dry information regarding the War of Independence. They learn the names, the dates, the battles. The events were given some nice color (literally) in the Hamilton musical, but that was written more to entertain than to educate. This book strikes a nice balance between the two; as with all of Vowell's books, it adopts a light, humorous tone, but imparts actual information about the Frenchman who devoted his life to securing the freedom of a country across the ocean. What was he like as a person? Why fight for America when France had plenty of its own problems?

I really like it when history is approached in this way. It's still factual information, but the conversational delivery makes it a lot more pleasant to engage with than simple recitation of the where and when. I got a real sense of Lafayette and other 1770s figures as actual humans, rather than just as symbols or names on a park statue. Though it wasn't my favorite of Vowell's works (that'd probably be Assassination Vacation), this book is still a really fun read, and would make a good assignment in a high school history class.

The other book was Pierce Brown's 2016 sci-fi thriller, Morning Star, the final entry of the Darrow trilogy that kicked off with Mars Rising, and continued in Golden Son. I don't believe I've ever said this about any other trilogy before: The second book was actually the strongest.

In this final book, Darrow has been exposed as a Red operative, and he must gather his allies for one last stand against the Gold oppressors. There are some thrilling sequences, but there is also a lot of ticking of boxes to wrap up all the loose ends. Brown is very good at giving this universe a sense of scale (casualties are often counted in the millions, rather than the thousands), but by the same token, the story tends to suffer from the same problem that plagues Game of Thrones: What I call the Paper Doll Syndrome. If life if so cheap as to throw a bunch of them away on every page, how am I meant to get invested enough to care?

Though I sound less than enthusiastic, I did enjoy the series, and can see myself re-reading it someday, which is rare for a trilogy. Darrow is an engaging protagonist with relatable worries about being "the chosen one". His internal struggles are a hell of a lot more realistic than other books I could name. The battle scenes are legitimately thrilling, to the point that I could sometimes feel my heart rate increase.

A movie series is reportedly in development, and if it's done correctly, I can see it working pretty well. With some minor tweaks, this series could have easily been one of my favorite sci-fi works. As it is, it's still pretty good, and though you wouldn't use that as a pull quote on the jacket flap, it's high enough praise to put this above 85% of the other sci-fi I've read.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States: B+
Morning Star: B
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