Funny Girl

It's depressing that we're still having a bullshit cultural conversation about whether women can be as funny as men, because it's abundantly clear that neither sex has a monopoly on hilarity. Happily, the walls are crumbling faster than ever, with shows like Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend dominating the watercooler conversation in the past few years. I have limited experience with that trio of shows, though, so today, let's talk about a different trio of female-driven comedy.

First up is the sophomore season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The inaugural season landed on my Top Five of the Year, and I came into this new batch of episodes with high expectations. If the first season was about Kimmy's wonder and delight at the world that she's been locked away from for 15 years, this new season is about her starting to deal with the trauma her kidnapping caused.

That makes it sound like a super-serious batch of episodes, but the show never strays far from the absurd laughs it's so good at wringing out of people. Still, Kimmy takes concrete steps towards putting the bunker behind her, from working with an alcoholic therapist (Tina Fey) to confronting her negligent mother (Lisa Kudrow). Meanwhile, her friends are dealing with their own issues. Jacqueline is trying to scheme her way back to financial security. Lillian is fighting encroaching gentrification. And in the most welcome change, Titus finds himself in a confusingly stable relationship.

Not everything works - Jacqueline has some bright spots, but is mostly wasted throughout the season - but Kimmy and the gang are as hilarious as ever, and the third season can't come soon enough for me. That show is all about subverting expectations with insanely clever writing. Something, though, all you want is a string of goofy sight gags. Angie Tribeca to the rescue! Think Police Squad! but set in modern day Los Angeles, and with Rashida Jones taking point as the titular character.

Dad Jokes and puns rule over this show, and for anyone who's a fan of such ridiculous humor, you're going to have a great time. In fact, I showed it to my actual dad, confident that he'd love it, and he dissolved into a puddle of giggles within five minutes. It would be a waste of time to even try and describe any plot beyond the basic framework of it taking place in a police station, because the entire show is just a joke delivery system. The second season just started, but as a cord-cutter, I've only been able to watch the first one so far. I'm looking forward to catching up with the new episodes as soon as they're streaming somewhere, but in the meantime, go check out that first absurd season on Hulu.

When I talked about Bojack Horseman last year, I alluded to the fact that one of its biggest strengths was that it was able to find the comedy in crippling depression. Still, even at his lowest points, Bojack could always take comfort in one thing: He's fictional. What about trying to tell the real story of a real person with bipolar disorder? And make it funny at the same time?

Enter Maria Bamford and her Netflix show, Lady Dynamite. Created by Pam Brady and Mitch Hurwitz, it's loosely based on Bamford's life, including her popular, manic commercials for Target (called Checklist in the show) and her time away from the entertainment industry as she tried to recover from a breakdown. Doesn't sound overly funny, does it? Indeed, it starts off a little rough, but around episode 3, it suddenly snaps into one of the most remarkable shows I've seen in a long time.

Just about every name in comedy stops by to guest star, whether it's as a character or as themselves. Just about all of my favorites pop up (Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro, Jenny Slate, Missi Pyle, and many more!) and the antics surrounding Maria's failings and her attempts to atone for them and to pull her life together get funnier and funnier as the show goes along. Given the subject material, I honestly don't know if there's enough to put together a second season of this, but even if this show exists as just a small little capsule of what the state of comedy is like in 2016, we should count ourselves lucky.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 2: B+
Angie Tribeca - Season 1: B+
Lady Dynamite - Season 1: A-

Top Chef

Back in 2012, I listed the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi as my #3 favorite movie of the year. It's not hard to see why. Combine a compelling topic with an innate love of sushi, and toss in some fantastic food photography, and of course I'd be magnetically drawn to it. When I heard that director David Gelb was developing a similar documentary style as a television series for Netflix, I was overjoyed.

That first season of Chef's Table has been out for a while now, but it wasn't until I heard that Season 2 episodes were being released that I finally carved out some free time to wrap up those first six episodes. Each of the episodes focuses on a single chef, and delves into not only his or her most well-known dishes, but their backgrounds and what made cooking such an important part of their lives. The overwhelmingly beautiful food photography is back, and it's fascinating to see how fine dining has diverged into such wildly different concepts, depending on the creative mind behind it.

The six chefs that the first season revolves around are from all across the world, and all have different motivations for wanting to excel in the food world. One will want to spread a message of sustainable eating and how the next generation will source its ingredients, while another got her start just wanting to prove to her family that she has the skill and drive necessary to be a success.

As with Jiro Dreams of Sushi, part of the appeal is getting behind the magic of the beautiful food to get at the stories behind it. Food as a business is constantly locked in a struggle between artistry and commerce, and I'm always interested in seeing how people succeed or fail at threading that needle. Here are six stories of people who hit the bullseye, and whose cooking has attracted worldwide attention. It's wonderful to see people achieve their dreams and achieve such a vast measure of success, of course, but in a weird twist, these chefs' prominence is also the series' biggest flaw.

In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, there was no illusion that Jiro was an ordinary guy. He is rightly depicted as the king of his castle. He may be artistic, but he's also a stern and demanding taskmaster, whose rigidity has made him a reliable and consistent force in the culinary world. Chef's Table takes the weird tack of trying to sell a "common thread" narrative, positing that since food unites us all as people, these chefs should be hailed for building strong fellowships and a sense of community.

That just doesn't work. As nice as some of these chefs are (and most seem like perfectly decent sorts, if a little emotionally distant), they are not "of the people". These are the best of the best, and while it's perfectly acceptable to celebrate their talent, that talent is only shared with diners with sizable bank accounts and the connections necessary to getting a sought-after seat in a very small dining room.

That misstep aside, this is still a must-watch for anyone as obsessive about the world of food as I am, or for those who like to see what drives the creative spark behind some truly impressive art. I just wish the show would stop pretending that any of us plebeians will ever get to experience it.

Chef's Table - Season 1: B

Mini Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

Hello, gentle reader! Have you seen the new X-Men movie yet? Are you going to? Do you wish to avoid spoilers? Then turn back now! Rather than parcel out the little observations to timepoints like usual, I'm going to do something different today, and just point at the scenes that stood out for being either awesome or... less so. The reviews for this movie have been brutal, and though I'm about to nitpick the everloving shit out of it, I can't agree with the detractors. Yes, it's deeply silly in parts, but I thought it was perfectly enjoyable, overall. That said, let's get to the fun part. Pointless complaints!

-So, wait. I can totally accept that humans have developed some impressive futuristic technology and that evolution has led to mutated humans with special powers. That said, this world is still based on science and technology, right? Not magic? Because I don't understand how all this upward-gold-flowing-glowing-pyramid bullshit is happening in the first scene.

-And this ancient relic has lain silent and undisturbed for centuries, despite the fact that it is literally twenty feet below the streets of Egypt. Like, you could open a manhole cover and see it.

-Apocalypse awakens and wants to wipe the world clean because...REASONS.

-Cyclops gets in trouble for asking to leave class early. Literally ten seconds early. So #1: See if you can hold in that burgeoning power for five seconds, Scott, and #2: Shut up, teacher.

-I know Jennifer Lawrence hates the makeup, which explains why there's very little blue Mystique in this movie. What it doesn't explain is why there's so little Mystique-in-other-forms. I think I counted two impersonations in the 144-minute running time.

-"Hi, Psylocke! Want to join the evil team?" "Sure." "Why?" "Because...REASONS."

-Stop leaving Jubilee out of stuff! Yes, her powers are useless, but I like her for no discernible reason!

-Hey, soldiers? I'll accept that the first three to five of you die because you didn't realize that the bullets aren't hurting Wolverine. But maybe the twentieth guy shouldn't just stand there blasting away?

-There was really no need for Magneto to be in this movie at all, but I understand why they wanted Michael Fassbender back. That said, it's getting worse and worse the amount of shit they need to shovel onto him to put him in enough pain to turn evil yet again.

-Though his initial re-entry into evil is a cool scene, the foreshadowing could not have been more blatant. Here's Erik in a sun-dappled cottage with a loving wife and adorable daughter! Nothing bad could possibly happen to them!

-He's a smart guy. How come a handful of bad people = Let's wipe out the human race, but a handful of bad mutants = NBD?

-And what's his plan, anyway? Destroy the world, and then what? What comes next for him? It doesn't matter, because...REASONS.

-Oh, it's not fair. The Quicksilver scene was the best thing about Days of Future Past, and guess what? It's the best thing in this one, too. Sure, it's a blatant rehash, but it totally works.

-I know there was some timeline resetting in the franchise, so maybe it's not a giant plothole that Mystique and Nightcrawler meet in this movie. Because they don't know each other when they meet in X2. And that's entirely leaving out the comics canon of her being his mother, because in both movies, they're basically the same age.

-I sure hope Storm gets more than four minutes of screentime in the next one.

-Jean, since you're the most powerful mutant on Earth or whatever, maybe you could do something besides standing around looking perturbed until someone asks for your help. Take some initiative! Even if it's not mutant-related, you could maybe try to aid your wounded friends!

-If we must have an origin story for Dr. Xavier's baldness, you could do a lot worse.

-Dr. Xavier immediately forgives Magneto and wants him to stay on at the school. I guess no repercussions for those thousands of people he just killed, because...REASONS.

X-Men: Apocalypse: B
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