The 20 Best Movies of 2018

With so many movies coming in and out of theaters and streaming services every year, it’s become my custom to withhold my best of list until just after the Oscars, so everyone’s had a chance to catch up on what was supposed to be good from the previous year. A best of 2018 list at the end of February may not be super relevant, but we’re not all critics who can see everything right away, so hopefully you find this list useful as you look to parse through the hundreds of movies that may or may not be worth your time from the previous year.

And yet, you could also completely disagree with my admittedly eclectic tastes, in which case, feel free to make your case in the comments or on my social media. Until then, enjoy getting mad at said takes as I present to you the 20 best movies of 2018!

 

Didn’t Make The Cut – Widows, Sorry to Bother You, The Commuter, Green Book, Black Panther, First Man, Isle Of Dogs: This is a list of my favourite movies of 2018, so I won’t bore you with the reasons why these didn’t make the cut, unless you ask nicely in the comments But it should be noted that I did enjoy all of them, just not any more than 20 other movies released in 2018.

HM – Tag/Blockers/Game Night: No straight-up comedy was able to break my top 20 this year, so I thought I’d give a shoutout to three I thought highly enough that I would totally consider revisiting in the future.

HM – Won’t You Be My Neighbor/Three Identical Strangers: My documentary game was weak in 2018, but I did manage to catch these two buzzworthy films that were both unfortunately snubbed at the Oscars. The Mr. Rogers doc was feel good and emotional, while Three Identical Strangers is the kind of doc I have shamelessly tried to get everyone to watch because of how crazy it is, which is the #1 thing I look for in a doc these days.


 

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20. Deadpool 2

It’s not exactly surprising to see a superhero sequel match or surpass the quality of its predecessor, but a comedy that’s able to do so is extremely rare. Seriously, comedy sequels suck so hard that Deadpool 2 might just be the best comedy sequel ever made. It’s full of delightful twists, surprises, cameos and easter eggs, and most importantly, I think I probably laughed at it at least as much as I did Deadpool 1.

19. The Favourite

Before I finally got to see The Favourite, I thought it would be much higher on this list. Both of Yiorgos Lanthimos previous films were among my favourites of those years, and there’s something about his filmmaking that really speaks to me, as odd and stilted as it is. Perhaps The Favourite wasn’t weird enough, since it lacked his touch in the screenwriting department, but it felt as if this was a movie that didn’t know what it wanted to be nor did it really have anything to say, fluctuating between slapstick parody and poignant sociopolitical commentary. Swinging further in either direction would have made The Favourite more interesting, but even as it is, it’s still beautiful, well-acted and entertaining.

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18. Leave No Trace

Debra Granik’s striking film about a father and daughter who live off the grid (and have to cope with being thrust into it after they’re caught) is a prescient look into some of the issues currently facing society and may wind up standing the test of time as a cult classic as some of her other films have. The only thing holding it back is that I don’t feel it goes far enough in a year jam-packed with culturally relevant indie films.

16. Creed II

Even though this sequel and eighth film in the Rocky franchises didn’t have Ryan Coogler at the helm (it was directed by Steven Caple Jr.) and the story relied heavily on revisiting things from Rocky IV, Creed II finds a way to nearly match the greatness of its predecessor, which is something I didn’t expect to be saying along with all those other qualifiers. I hope they keep making movies in this universe forever. Just keep rebooting it with the offspring of whatever side character every 20 years.

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16. Eighth Grade

Also See: Eighth Greade and the Coming-of-age State of the Union

The genius of Bo Burnham’s directing on Eighth Grade and how he manage to capture the spirit of middle school teenagers has been much discussed ever since the film came out, but the truly impressive feat lies in his he was able to translate a week in the life of Elsie Fisher Kayla to an audience that  includes someone like me, a dude in his thirties. If this is a sign of what millennial filmmaking is going to be like, we’re in good hands.

15. Love, Simon

For years, Greg Berlanti has been surprising and disappointing us with various DC comic book shows, so it was somewhat shocking to see him pull a movie like Love, Simon out of his sleeve, a very Hughes-ian movie that’s charming and graceful all while remaining poignant and making tough choices with regards to its story about a high school kid who makes every possible wrong move as he struggles with coming out of the closet and falling in love with a mysterious pen pal he’s trying to find. If Berlanti can do this after a decade of making, let’s be honest, middling superhero TV, I can’t wait to see what else he can do away from the formula he’s become accustomed to.

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14. Mandy

Also See: Mandy Review from Fantasia Fest 2018

I could show you the Nicolas Cage freakout scene from this movie as justification of its spot on this list, but that’s only the halfway point of this epic revenge fantasy that goes further than you might ever expect in order to pay off the tension it builds in its first half, as Cage’s character snorts drugs and fights demons with chainsaws on his journey to seek vengeance against the cult leader (Linus Roache) that wronged him.  Mandy is the most metal movie I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s so gratifying to see that Cage has still got that in him, and that audiences and critics are still willing to buy it from him.

13. BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee’s latest is not perfect by any means, and probably not his best, but it manages to prove that the 61-year-old director can still make relevant, poignant, and most importantly entertaining films that resonate with people just as much as they always have. The performances he’s able to pull out of John David Washington and Adam Driver are great, the way he’s able to weave the message of the story into a point about race relations in 2018 is impressive, and even devoid of that the story itself, about an African-American police officer who casually infiltrates the Klan is riotously entertaining. All of that combines to transcend the problems that most biopics face these days, proving that the stories of our past still have something to say about our present and future, despite less effective efforts from movies to toe a political line. Like Lee, his film is unambiguous about what it is or what it has to say, and that alone is worth your time.

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12. Vice

Adam McKay’s second serious(ish) political film is perhaps a step back from The Big Short. His Dick Cheney biopic doesn’t go nearly far enough in admonishing its subject’s effect on 21st century politics, or his financial ties with defense contractors, but I suspect there might be legal reasons for that. But a middling political biopic from someone like McKay still manages to be inventive, entertaining and informative at a time where we need to be repeating these kinds of stories, lest we forget about the political mistakes that are barely in our rearview. I imagine that McKay’s best work is ahead of him, as he hopefully takes the criticism he’s received from his last two films seriously, but Vice still manages to be an important must-watch film in 2018 and likely the best biopic of the year, and that’s without even mentioning the transformative performance from not only Christian Bale in the titular role (who should have won the Oscar, if Gary Oldman as Churchill in a body suit is supposed to be the standard-bearer now), but also Amy Adams as Mrs. Cheney, Sam Rockwell as W., and especially Steve Carell as Donald Rumseld, who steals the show by playing him as a Chaotic Evil Michael Scott.

11. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Whenever Tom Cruise dies doing one of these crazy Mission: Impossible stunts, they’re going to finish the movie, include the damn death scene in the final product and we’ll all go and see it in some sort of massive countrywide funeral. That has to be the endgame here, right? And I think we’re all totally fine with that, because his opus is clearly putting his life on the line for us, the audience, and the result is consistently the best action you could possibly imagine, somehow defying the odds and reinventing and improving a franchise that by 2021 will be eight pictures old. And yet the scene where Cruise breaks his leg in a chase is only one of several awesome sequences. Take your pick between that, the helicopter duel, the final fight on a cliff, the damn halo jump and (my personal favourite) the club bathroom triple threat fight scene. It’s kind of insane how much these movies have to give.

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10. A Star Is Born

Like everyone else, I was initially skeptical about this remake of a remake of a remake of a seemingly generic story about romance and art and fame that we’ve seen so many times before. But somehow, Bradley Cooper’s passion for the story he wanted to tell (both in front of and beyond the camera) turned this version of A Star Is Born into something special, including arguably the cultural and musical touchstone of 2018 with Cooper and Lady Gaga’s performance of “Shallow”, likely the one moment in film that will stand out from this year when we look back. I think everyone’s affection for this film (including my own) overall has kind of waned in the months since it was released, which is why it just barely scrapes into the top 10, but it’s hard to describe this as anything less than a well-crafted crowd-pleaser.

9. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The latest from the Coen Brothers came and went rather quietly, but I suspect this will be one of those Coens movies that winds up ranking surprisingly high on people’s top 10 lists in a few years time, because it’s hard to find much flaw in Buster Scruggs. While I remain curious about a Coens television anthology western, as this was once rumoured to be, I can’t really imagine it being any better than this, a crisp two-ish hour adventure that flows seamlessly from one tale to the next. Each story is compelling, and while the tone of each one ranges from absurd to macabre, it all manages to fit together perfectly, exactly as you’d expect it would from these creators, with the talent they’re capable of amassing on screen.

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8. Heredity

Hereditary is a rare horror film in that it spends the vast majority of its run time wringing out every possible drip of tension out of its story, setting and characters before absolutely drenching its audience with the payoff. Some might consider that a squandering of said tension buildup, but not this guy. I couldn’t appreciate the fact that everything it builds up pays off at the end, even if, upon my initial viewing, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. In that sense Hereditary manages to truly sell itself as a thrill ride, asking you as the viewer to simply hold on and trust that the filmmakers know what they’re doing. Whichever side of this coin you might fall on, though, there’s no denying that, in the process, Toni Collette delivers one of this year’s best performances, or that this film’s twists are brutal and crazy in a way that went unmatched in horror films last year.

7. Roma

Like with A Star Is Born, “well-crafted” is probably the first term that comes to mind when speaking about Roma. Alfonso Cuaron’s craft, his devotion to film, his keen eye for cinematography and creating the images he envisions (be it a single upper-class home, the slums just outside of Mexico City or full city blocks in the city itself) go unmatched. He’s probably the best working director in Hollywood and he’s earned every single Oscar on his shelf hands down. But outside of the craft, Roma feels a little hollow. I don’t think its story about class and status and the personal tales of its two lead actresses resonated as much as they would have in perhaps a different film. It’s harder to sell seemingly deeply personal tales, and it’s harder to identify with a movie like Roma, which maybe makes it more inaccessible. And yet as a mostly subtitled black-and-white period drama, I doubt Cuaron ever cared about that, and that’s part of what makes Roma such a great artistic achievement.

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6. First Reformed

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the quiet story about a contemporary New England priest having a crisis of conscience upon inheriting the plight of a man obsessed with the effects of climate change didn’t make a bigger impact than a lot of the movies on this list, but nevertheless, this is one of those movies that will certainly resonate if you manage to get your hands on it. Even after all these years, Paul Schrader is still capable of telling an incredibly relevant, multifaceted story, and Ethan Hawke, in one of his best ever performances (and arguably the biggest Oscar snub of the year) was the perfect vessel for that story.  The only reason this one didn’t crack the top five is a weird ending which we won’t get into here, but otherwise, First Reformed is a movie more people should be talking about.

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5. Blindspotting

What I said about First Reformed could largely be applied to Blindspotting as well. It’s a film that’s incredibly relevant, imaginative, and well-acted, and the more poignant aspects of it find a way to hit you by surprise. The only differences are, obviously, that this isn’t a movie about climate change but instead about racism and the pitfalls of the American criminal justice system, as told through the eyes of a recent ex-convict (Daveed Diggs) trying to keep his nose clean on his last week of parole, and the negative societal influences around him (including his best friend, played by Rafael Casal, with whom Diggs co-wrote the film). The other big difference is that Blindspotting manages to stick the landing, with an imaginative and uniquely poignant ending that left me reeling after seeing it. I appreciate that the Oscars were capable of recognizing multiple Black films this year, but Blindspotting was perhaps ironically one that never got out of their blindspot.

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4. Avengers: Infinity War

This shouldn’t have worked. Avengers: Infinity War is the first half of a movie designed to be the payoff and culmination of a decade of superhero films. It’s told from the perspective of the villain. It ends with that villain winning and turning half the good guys into dust. And yet it overcomes all of its flaws and gives us two and a half hours of the best that comic book adaptations have had to offer. The fact that Kevin Feige and Marvel pulled off what they said they were going to do is truly astonishing. And it’s only the beginning of the end of the beginning, with Endgame to come in 2019 and no end in sight to these films.

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3. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

For seven months between the May and December, there was no question in my mind what the best comic book movie of the year would be, as we just discussed. And yet, along came a spider near the end of the year to turn everything upside down, reinventing not only what a superhero movie could be but creating a unique and immersive style of animation in the process, and telling a kind of story previously unfathomable, even with everything that Marvel has been able to accomplish with the MCU. And if that isn’t enough to sell you on an animated Spider-Man movie, this one features Nicolas Cage voicing Spider-Man Noir and John Mulaney as a spider bitten by a radioactive pig.

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2. A Quiet Place

A lot of my favourite movies of last year had something to say. While I wouldn’t quite pretend as if A Quiet Place was devoid of any messaging, the reason it’s all the way up here has more to do with how finely crafted a science fiction movie it is than its themes or statements. John Krasinski’s unique vision comes to life in this movie about a world devastated by an alien that can’t see, but comes for you at the faintest hint of a sound. Of course the movie is also about female empowerment as it props up both Emily Blunt’s matriarchal character and their fictional daughter, who has a hearing disability that is much more than just a cute take on a world where sound is so important and so dangerous. But beyond that, it’s just a super cool movie with tremendous creature design, endless tension and great action, that leaves you wanting so much more (although it’s yet to be determined if they forthcoming sequel giving us more will be a good idea).

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1. Annihilation

It’s hard to describe the experience of reading the Jeff Vandermeer novel this movie is based on. It’s a book that is completely disinterested in holding your hand through the world that it creates, the story it tells or what any of it is supposed to mean. It’s like a dream that leaves a lot to be interpreted. That’s why it’s completely unsurprising to see a visionary science fiction writer/director like Alex Garland take on the task of translating it to a visual medium, and just as unsurprising when you see the final product and realize that he pulled it off. If you’ve read the novel, Annihilation might not be what you quite envisioned the film version to be. It’s so different, and yet so much more. It’s weird, devastatingly frightening and most importantly completely original even with the novel tie-in. Garland recreates a hellish dreamscape that will leave you pondering what it all means for a long time after the credits role. Annihilation features no less than three haunting sequences that have stuck with me ever since I first saw it last spring, including a finale that is memorable and original in ways you couldn’t even imagine. This is a movie that’s an allegory for climate change, for the pitfalls of advancement, and even for depression and mental illness, and it’s the best movie of 2018.

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The Top 20 Best New Shows of 2018

I probably don’t need to remind you of the sheer ridiculousness that is the wealth of content we currently face on television and streaming platforms. It seems like we can barely ever go a week without something new and exciting dropping as Peak TV continues to miss reaching the actual peak we’ve been promised year after year. It’s gotten to the point where new shows are more exciting than most returning shows, not only because they keep attracting bigger and bigger stars both on and behind the camera, but also thanks to the talented writers and creators getting more and more out of the medium creatively. 2018 was no different, as 2018 saw big stars like Oscar winners Julia Roberts, Emma Stone and Sean Penn take their first starring roles on the small screen, competing with the creative apex of talented veteran TV actors and comedians like Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader and Sandra Oh. 2018 saw a surge in horror television like we’ve never seen before, creative original shows which you can barely even talk about without spoiling, expanding cinematic universes and gratifying miniseries. And that’s just the beginning.

You might be sick of hearing this year after year, but 2018 might seriously have been the best year for new shows yet. To the point where I felt I had to delay this list to get in as many shows as possible. And still, I’m missing a lot of shows which will probably get me in trouble with the people reading this. I’m ashamed to say that I still haven’t gotten around to shows like Cobra Kai, Corporate, The Haunting of Hill House, The Terror, Escape from Dannemora, DC’s Titans, and I’m sure that list is missing shows I haven’t even thought of that’s making someone very angry as they’re reading this.

In other words, you can’t make everyone happy, and this is your general disclaimer that this list is very subjective and tailored to my personal taste. So don’t @ me, but please @ me in the comments, and consider this a living list as I fill in the gaps mentioned above throughout 2019.

Still, I watched enough TV in 2018 to come up with a list of over 20 fantastic new shows, so let’s not waste any more time!

But first, a couple of Honourable Mentions to four Netflix talk shows that I really enjoyed: The Joel McHale ShowThe Break With Michelle WolfMy Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman and Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj all gave me a reason to tune in to Netflix weekly for large chunks of the year. And that’s something that I felt I couldn’t really say about Netflix a lot on 2018. While they released a record amount of content, not as much of it hit for me as in years past. They also started cancelling shows for the first time in any significant way (pouring one out for Joel and Michelle), so clearly these talk shows were a means for Netflix to try something new. With only a few of them renewed for more episodes this year, the jury on this experiment is still out, but I would definitely like to see more content like this, even if the algorithm may have told Netflix that this wasn’t really the case. Nevertheless, I’ll always have those dozen or so weeks with Joel!


 

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20. A.P. Bio – NBC: Glenn Howerton’s attempt to branch out from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia started off rocky but really came into its own as this NBC sitcom’s first season wore on. I’m glad this show is coming back for more as it has potential and a great cast.

19. The Looming Tower – Amazon: Amazon’s 9/11 miniseries featuring a great scenery-chewing performance from Jeff Daniels tells the story from the perspective of the FBI and CIA butting heads in the months leading up to the attack. This show earns its spot based largely on its premise, performances and early episodes, as things get kind of muddled, especially when they start reaching the finish line, which, as you may have guessed, depicts the events of 9/11 and ends the whole series on more of a downer than it probably earns.

18. The Kominski Method – Netflix: While I suppose I don’t know what all these awards shows are seeing in Chuck Lorre’s rather pedestrian foray into the world of Netflix sitcoms, portraying LA from the perspective of an over the hill actor/acting coach (Michael Douglas) and his even older agent (Alan Arkin), the two main performances from those aforementioned actors are so good that it lifts the show passed what you might figure is its potential.

17. New Amsterdam – NBC: I’m not really a fan of the current crop of network medical dramas, so NBC’s flashy new medical drama really filled a big gap on my viewing schedule this past fall. It’s over the top, preachy and often ridiculous, but it’s anchored by a charming lead (Ryan Eggold), a good cast and a lot of attention-grabbing tricks like its persistent percussion soundtrack and a good balance between cast drama and interesting medical cases. Let me be clear, this show is probably not good, per se, but it falls perfectly into that territory of dumb network shows you need once or twice a week.

16. Castle Rock – Hulu: I’m not sure I get what’s going on on Castle Rock most of the time. I’m not even sure what the show is supposed to be about, as it’s set in the world of Stephen King’s tales and often references them, but sort of does its own thing. Castle Rock earns most of its points on ambiance and tone, as well as great character actor performances (Sissy Spacek, Andre Holland, Bill Skarsgard, etc). This world feels lives in, and everything is confusing and creepy, and that’s probably what the show’s creators were going for, making me happy to be along for the ride.

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15. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – Netflix: I’ll be honest; I probably disliked as many thing about Sabrina as I liked. The casting is great, the characters are great, the world feels rich and lived-in and the show perennially feels like it’s going somewhere. But I also hate how slow it is, how much each episode drags  (Netflix needs to crack the whip with the editors that make their shows, every episode could be at least 15 minutes shorter), and how far it leans into the CW school of how to make teen dramas. But there’s one thing that sets Sabrina apart and keeps me coming back for more, and that’s the pitch perfect casting of Kiernan Shipka in the titular role. I just hope season 2 is a little more streamlined, a little tighter.

14. The Little Drummer Girl – AMC: Speaking of shows that overstay their welcome, I don’t understand how you can make a show out of a John Le Carre novel so well and yet so utterly boring at the same time. This thing is only six episodes, but it feels like twelve. If I’m being honest, this is a case of Peak TV going too far and making a show out of what probably should have been a movie. Nevertheless, TV is where Le Carre stories have decided to reside, so this is what we get, a show with great performances (Florence Pugh is a revelation, Alexander Skarsgard continues to make me wonder why he isn’t already a movie star, and Michael Shannon is, well, Michael Shannon), a compelling story and beautiful settings that doesn’t really know what to do to put all of it together. It’s almost a wonder that someone could make a show with all of that good stuff (good enough to earn a spot on this list) so boring. Then again I tend to be overly critical on the lower end of these lists…

13. Everything Sucks! – Netflix: The thing that sucks the most about Everything Sucks! is that Netflix didn’t have the confidence in this quiet little show about growing up in the 90s enough to renew it passed a second season. Maybe it was a tad too derivative or reliant on nostalgia, but I really like what they managed to do with a cast of unknowns and with the plot they had. It’s a shame more people didn’t see it, but with a relatively close-ended arc, I’d still highly recommend the one and only season.

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12. The First – Hulu: Between this and First Man, space stories with “First” in the title wound up kind of under-performing, despite big budgets, star power and compelling stories. I think for similar reasons too. Both Hulu’s near-futuristic drama about the first manned mission to Mars and Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic relied a little too heavily on uninteresting character drama. The First is largely build around Sean Penn’s character’s relationship with his addict daughter and whether or not he can leave her behind to go to Mars. First Man centers around Armstrong’s difficulty overcoming the death of his daughter. It’s just unnecessary. I can get this kind of character drama from any show, and it feels shoehorned in in both cases, maybe because some executive didn’t feel confident in a show being capable of enticing audiences on the premise alone. But we’re talking about space, goddamnit. Going to Mars (or the moon) is cool. Center the drama around that. Get me interested in that. Thankfully, when The First isn’t bogged down in what this non-astronaut drug addict girl is doing, it’s actually pretty good.

11. Counterpart – Starz: Counterpart is probably a little too low key (and tucked away on a network nobody watches like Starz) to earn a spot much higher than this, but if this list was about new shows with coolest premises, it might have been a lot higher. Counterpart is a sci fi spy drama about a portal that opens between almost identitcal dimensions, and the spy shit that goes on in order to keep the existence of the other world secret and in control of nefarious higher powers. J.K. Simmons plays a master spy in one world, and a mild-mannered middle-management type in the other in a fantastic dual-role performance, as each character is forced to confront the failings of the other all as cool spy shit happens all around him (them). I think where this show thrives (and weirdly also why I didn’t deem it flashy enough to go higher on the list) is in how quiet and introspective it manages to be despite that crazy premise. In all honesty it probably needed a few more explosions to be truly great (as cynical as that might sound), but it does a lot with the real estate it’s given.

10. Collateral – Netflix: Probably the best and most repeated compliment that people like to give UK TV is how their shows are really good about not overstaying their welcome. Collateral may have been the poster child for those things this past year, as a police procedural about a murdered migrant pizza delivery guy  that somehow manages to weave in all sorts of very topical takes on current events in just four tight, measly episodes. If anything Collateral is probably too short, if you can believe it, as it most certainly leaves you wanting more about where these stories and its characters might go. At the very least, they could probably tell more stories with these characters, but that’s not how UK TV usually works, baby. I hope to someday see John Simms and Carey Mulligan go back to these characters, but if they don’t, Collateral holds up as the perfect little British miniseries.

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9. Maniac – Netflix: I don’t know if this is fair to say, considering Netflix’s Maniac isn’t exactly your run-of-the-mill drama, but it sort of feels like this show came a year or two too late. On a list full of unique premises and weird shows that bend the limits of the medium, it feels really weird that Maniac doesn’t do enough to set itself apart. It’s auteur driver (created and directed entirely by Cari Fukunaga of True Detective fame), has two huge stars at the apex of their careers (Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, not to mention a great supporting cast including Justin Theroux and Sally Field), it does that thing I love where it’s a drama but isn’t bogged down by a run time, which most episodes hovering between 40 and 50 minutes, and it’s super weird and quirky with a great story that goes some really weird and interesting places. And yet it’s one of those deals where all of that couldn’t get me as excited about the show as I thought I might be. On paper, this should be my #1 new show based on all of the criteria I’ve set forth. So why is it insteat at #9? I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s good, it’s unique, it’s weird, it stars people I love… and yet it didn’t put all of that together as well as it probably could. But hey, don’t let my negativity stop you, because it is still a great show.

8. Kidding – Showtime: We were so overdue for Jim Carrey’s renaissance that none of us realized that it might happen on a half hour Showtime dramedy, of all places. But the fit is perfect, as shows about flawed people is what Showtime does best, and Carrey is really underrated when leaning dramatic. Throw in the penchant for the weird and absurd that both he and EP/director Michel Gondry have known to wade in and you have a really unique series in Kidding, a show about a Mr. Rogers-esque children’s figure facing the unbearable and cruelty of the real world persistently trying to push him down, testing his resolve., and Carrey is the perfect person to convey that. The show probably isn’t good enough to suggest that Mr. Pickles is anywhere near his best role, but it often comes close.

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7. Sharp Objects – HBO: This might be a hot take, but I thought Netflix’s 2018 was kind of disappointing for new shows. Despite occupying 5 slots on this list, little on that platform really wowed me. And yet, for the first time in a while, HBO had like three new shows that blew me away, which, per capita, is much more impressive. The first of those shows was Sharp Objects, the latest in the network’s miniseries efforts, and, boy, do they ever knock it out of the park with this one. The idea of a character-driven murder-mystery drama might feel very on brand for HBO, but the writing (led by showrunner Marti Nixon and Gillian Flynn, who wrote the novel), directing (Jean-Marc Vallee) and acting (Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Eliza Scanlen) are so good that it really puts the show over the top. There are things Sharp Objects does with editing, cinematography and sound design that even the most creative and inventive streaming shows can struggle with. The production values are so high that there’s little I look forward to these days on TV over their yearly (or more often) dark, dramatic miniseries.

6. Killing Eve – BBC America: I hope you’re ready for the hottest take in this article, because while I really enjoyed Killing Eve (clearly, as it’s in my top ten), I think it probably can’t live up to its hype, especially as it goes into its second season in 2019. It’s this year’s The Handmaid’s Tale, as a show with a compelling and relevant story with great (notably female) performances at its core, managing to capture the attentions of a lot of people its first season before we all inevitably realize that the premise isn’t sustainable for as long as a show as successful needs it to be. If anything we probably got to that revelation much quicker than with Handmaid’s, as I’ve been struggling to find anything positive to say about how the first season of Killing Eve ends (no spoilers, obviously). Nevertheless, we’re here to celebrate the first season, which was fun, exciting, action-packed and anchored by two fantastic performances from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. Forgetting how they might easily flub this going forward, season 1 of Killing Eve easily stacks up as one of the best cat-and-mouse stories in a good long while.

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5. Forever – Amazon: Forever is a show you can’t really talk about without spoiling the entire reason it’s so good, and that’s probably why it wound up being somewhat overlooked. So many people I recommended it to brushed me off because I couldn’t adequately explain why it’s so good, and those people will rue the day. But it shouldn’t be that difficult to sell you on this show, because it hails from Alan Yang, the Emmy-winning writer of some of your favourite Master of None episodes (as well as 30 Rock and Parks & Rec scribe Matt Hubbard) and stars two of the most talented comedic actors around in Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen. And while I get that Armisen might be offputting to some thanks to his unique comedic sensibilities, Rudolph is a delight and performs the entirety of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” at one point during the first season. So now you have to watch it.

4. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan – Amazon: The reason this post is (embarrassingly) late is because I was (embarrassingly) late in watching Amazon’s big budget Jack Ryan reboot. Even though it came out late in the summer, I kept putting it off, probably because Jack Ryan and Tom Clancy haven’t really been brands that are relevant to me these days, and as I’ve mentioned many times on this list, there are just way too many shows doing crazy, original things for me to get excited about another 24/Homeland clone about terrorist plots and CIA drama. And yet that’s apparently exactly what I needed as a reprieve from a sea of shows trying to reinvent the medium, as I loved Jack Ryan so much that it kept jumping up on this list with every episode I got through, as it’s smart, expertly produced comfort food that you’ll love if you liked those aforementioned shows, featuring a good terrorist plot full of twists, great action and a performance from John Kransinski that transcents those Jim Halpert labels he’s been trying to shake (mainly by showing off all the upper body work he did to prepare for the role, because let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, there are a lot of gratuitous topless scenes in this). With Homeland coming to an end in 2019 and 24 in the history books, probably for good, Jack Ryan is a very worthy replacement.

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3. Homecoming – Amazon: If Mrs. Maisel, Jim Halpert fighting terrorists and my vague but heavy praise for Forever isn’t enough to sell you an Amazon Prime subscription (where’s my money Jeff Bezos? Or should I say Mackenzie now?), let me tell you about a weird, unique, tension-filled show called Homecoming. Hailing from Sam Esmail (the creator of Mr. Robot) and starring Julia Roberts in her small screen debut, Homecoming is filled to the brim with tension as, over two timelines, it unravels the mystery of what happened to the pharmaceutical program for returning army veterans run by Roberts’ character. This is a show that doesn’t hide its pretense or use for tactics that will probably only appeal to the nerdiest of viewers like me (including Esmail’s affinity for odd cinematography choices, or scene-chewing performances from a supporting cast which includes Bobby Cannavale and Shea Whigham), but unlike in Mr. Robot (no offense to fans of that show), I find it all much better here, and pays off in a fantastic way when the big reveal finally happens. Homecoming is a bizarre show that, much like a lot of what Amazon winds up putting out, is hard to sell, so maybe you should just take my word for it. Or maybe I can sell you on its half-hour episode run times?

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2. Succession – HBO: A lot of what you can probably gather from my TV choices these days (at least what I might put forth in a list like this) is that I’m very much interested in meaningful, auteur-driven shows that have something to say. Especially ones with great performances. Homecoming, for example, has a lot to say about capitalism and the military-industrial complex. Killing Eve, much like some of my favourite new shows from last year (Mrs. Maisel, GLOW, Handmaid’s Tale) do not hide their feminist flags. Succession fits nicely into that mold as a show about a lot of things, but, as concisely and bluntly as I can put it, the destructive nature of the Baby Boomer generation on both younger folks and the system at large (more literally, about a media conglomerate and the family at its head thrust into a power vacuum when its patriarch, played by Brian Cox, has a stroke but eventually refuses to step aside and let his children take over) and yet I was shocked at how much I wound up loving it, as it doesn’t have any flashy names attached, its episodes are all standard hours and HBO aired it in the dead of summer. But seemingly by design, it manages to subvert every single one of your expectations by being unexpectedly poignant and funny and the perfect amount of twisty.  On a chart of shows this probably falls perfectly between House of CardsThe Crown, This Is Us, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Veep. I know that probably doesn’t make any sense, but Succession is a show that’s hard to label and that might be why it was such a hard sell for me. And yet here it is, #2 on the list, with the only reason it’s not in the top spot being a weird ending that I felt missed the mark in order to set up subsequent seasons. But otherwise it’s so unexpectedly good and so entertaining that I can’t praise it enough.

1. Barry – HBO: After droning on about how much I appreciated this year’s bounty of new shows that are topical, it might seem peculiar to put a show like Barry in the top spot. After all, nothing about this show is grounded in reality, nor does it have anything really pertinent to say about current events. Instead, it’s unabashedly a character study, about the ennui of a hitman (Bill Hader) so good at his job that he joins an acting class in an effort to change his life. But his old one just won’t let go, as his handler (Stephen Root) keeps pushing him into new jobs that keep escalating and interfering with his new life This show is am abject fantasy, with a main character who lacks the ability to feel empathy and very clearly a bad guy, akin to a Dexter or Breaking Bad. And yet it somehow manages to make you care about Barry better than Dexter ever did, and more impressively even than in Breaking Bad. Barry is a surprising and impressive show, and there’s no better example of what makes it great than its apotheosis in the penultimate episode of the season, where after a particularly difficult kill, Barry is driven to a very emotional moment in the midst of a scene he puts on with his fellow student and love interest (Sarah Goldberg), perhaps the first time Barry is able to communicate how he truly feels. It’s a moment which perfectly juxtaposes the real shit going on in Barry’s life with the absurdly low stakes of the acting class,and the way it’s capable of balancing those things is what makes Barry such a great show, such a unique show.

The Orville Copies Season 1 Plot Point From Star Trek: Discovery in Latest Episode

The battle between the respective fandoms of Fox’s The Orville and CBS All-Access’ Star Trek: Discovery has been raging ever since the two shows premiered within weeks of one another back in September of 2017, but the purported feud may have reached new heights this week when the Seth MacFarlance-created homage/spoof of the long-running science fiction franchise lifted a plot point directly from the first season of Discovery.

In what has to have been a conscious decision, seeing as the episode aired the same night as Discovery’s second season premiere, the plot of The Orville’s “Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes” revolves around Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) taking his new girlfriend, Lieutenant Janel Tyler (Michaela McManus) on a romantic trip away from the titular ship they work on. They are quickly the target of an attack by the nefarious Krill, often the foil for Mercer and his crew. The two are taken hostage and Mercer is forced to give up his command codes to his captors, fearing that they’ll harm Tyler. It’s however quickly revealed thereafter that Tyler is actually Telaya, a former Krill schoolteacher who Ed encountered in the season 1 episode “Krill”, in which he and Lt. Malloy pose as Krill officers in an attempt to recover a copy of their sacred religious text, the Ankhana. The mission goes awry when they learn the ship is in the midst of destroying an innocent colony, so they use the opportunity to kill everyone on board; with the exception of Telaya and her classroom.

Telaya vows revenge and attempts to deliver it in this episode, after being introduced as Lt. Tyler last week, where she begins her catfishing of the captain. Shortly after the revelation and after an alien attack on the Krill warship, Telaya and Ed are forced to take an escape pod to a nearby planet and work together in order to send a distress signal from the top of a mountain. With the Krill’s sensitivity to natural light, they’re also forced to spend a lot of time together in a cave, where Telaya explains how she was radicalized following Ed’s ruthless murder of her shipmates, her brother counting among the casualties, and elaborates on the Krill’s way of life and beliefs.

It’s actually a pretty evocative episode that does the most work so far to build a larger universe for the show and developer Ed as a character. This second season of the show has been a little weak so far, the episodes feeling disparate and somewhat aimless, focusing on relationship drama rather than any of the usual science fiction tropes. “Fishes” feels like the kind of classic episode of The Next Generation that we were always promised with MacFarlane’s show, which falls somewhere between homage and parody.

With “Fishes”, however, you can feel the show falling more into the territory of the latter, as it lifts its plot directly from a season 1 arc in what some fans might consider to be the competition in Discovery. If any of those details about Telaya/Lt. Tyler sounded familiar, it’s because they pretty much align directly with the Klingon Voq’s arc on the latter show.

In season 1 of Discovery, the Federation enters into a war with the Klingon Empire after a fanatical house leader named T’Kuvma starts a confrontation with Starfleet. T’Kuvma dies in one of the intial encounters, and one of his followers, the albino Voq (played by Shazad Latif) vows revenge, and that T’Kuvma and his teachings will be remembered. Voq undergoes reconstructive surgery to take on the identity of one Lt. Ash Tyler, a casualty of the war who appeals to Discovery’s captain, Gabriel Lorca, and finds his way onto the ship as its chief of security and, eventually, a love interest to Michael Burnham. After his true nature is revealed, he and Burnham are forced to work together to stop the war despite his inherent betrayal.

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There are of course some differences between the stories. Voq’s memories are wiped when he becomes Tyler, in order to maintain his status as a sleeper agent. And his arc plays out over the course of most of the first season. But the similarities are remarkable, even beyond the obvious clues such as naming both human counterparts Lt. Tyler. In both instances, the alien version of the character is lower on the totem poll in their society, thrust upwards and radicalized by a life-altering event and a perceived slight from the enemy. The Discovery Klingons we see in season 1 and religious fanatics, much like the Krill in The Orville, and both seek galactic domination at the expense of the humans. Both of their human versions seek the favour of their new captain, both seek a relationship (in The Orville both roles are fulfilled by the same person) and both are forced to work with the person they betrayed in order to save the day.

And to be honest, both stories are well-done. The Orville, despite making a strenuous callback to the first season and only spending part of a single episode developing the story, makes the most of its time with Telaya/Tyler and uses it to further Ed Mercer’s arc and character development and contextualize why we should care about this show’s version of the Klingons. And while many might not like the character design of Discovery’s Klingons, I spent a lot of time talking about how, esoteric looks aside, they did a good job of updating the side of the species that we do see to the kind of villain one would expect from a science fiction show depicting a futuristic conflict with allegories to present day problems. To put it more simply, I always saw Discovery’s Klingons as a combination of Space ISIS and white nationalism, and there’s actually a lot of depth to them. Voq/Tyler’s arc also has a lot to say about PTSD, religious beliefs, identity and other things, and of course plays out over a longer period of time.

So I don’t really mean to slag on The Orville because they clearly knew what they were doing here. I do, however, question their motives, because not only are a few too many of the details too similar for this to be an homage rather than something akin to a warning shot, especially with Discovery moving to the same night as The Orville, but “Fishes” was also written by two people known for their work on Star Trek ever since TNG, Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis.

Funny enough, though, Discovery also featured what had to be a shot across the bow of The Orville’s hull, as a weirdly comedic turbolift scene ending in a bit of physical humour is very reminiscent of a recurring gag from The Orville featuring an alien crewmember named Dan.

With Discovery’s concerted effort to adopt a lighter tone with a little more humour, its dig at The Orville could probably seen as a little more light-hearted than an entire arc lifted from a competing show, especially with a fervent fanbase that is quick to judge these two shows against one another even though they are completely different things. I hate taking a side in this debate because I really do enjoy both shows, but for all the talk among fans of how positive The Orville is and how much more in line it is with Gene Rodenberry’s original vision for Star Trek (allegedly, I don’t necessarily believe that), it kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth to see two writers who are likely bitter that they don’t get to work on the franchise anymore coming real close to actual plagiarism. It almost feels malicious when you really lay it out, or as if they’re encouraging their fans to further bully anyone who likes Discovery. It would have been way simpler and nicer to merely reference something from the show or even straight up make fun of them. If there is indeed a feud between the shows, this won’t help it.

Personally, I choose to continue enjoy both  of them. I think both bring something interesting to the table in this day and age of modern science fiction. The Orville can be an episodic throwback that looks at modern issues from the lens of a well-worn format. Discovery can do what I personally believe is the more “Star Trek” kind of thing and actually push the medium forward by adapting modern storytelling techniques including the more complex serialized storytelling of Voq’s arc. I’m glad that both exist, and I hope that they can find a way to coexist. Fans should be happy to have two shows operating in similar space, yet doing wildly different things in such good ways.

Star Trek: Discovery charts a bold new path for season 2 with ‘Brother’ [Season Premiere Review]

 

If season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery taught us anything, it’s that, for the most part, each episode is only part of the story. That shouldn’t surprise anyone who has witnessed the evolution of storytelling on television over the last twenty years; episodic TV is a thing of the past, and in genres like science fiction especially, serialized storytelling is king. Last season, a lot of people were quick to dismiss what Discovery was trying to do because they only bothered with the first few episodes. But it was over the course of the entire 15 episode first season that the story of Michael Burnham and the war with the Klingons unfolded. It had an arc that didn’t even clearly convey its central thesis (the arrogance of the Federation’s expansionist idea of peace and enlightenment, among other things) until about halfway through.

On top of that, as a serialized show in the 21st century, it took time for it to find its footing. Even discounting the change in showrunners and the added pressure of existing within the framework of an over 50-year-old franchise, and no less as a prequel, that’s a normal thing for TV shows these days. And I really do think it wound up finding its footing. As the season wore in, it become more optimistic, more lighthearted, it featured more technology and exploration, and it made its points, all within the framework of a modern, serialized show, something I think Star Trek in 2019 needs to be.

In season 2, it’s going to have to do all of these things over again, because a subtle promise in the season’s build up and marketing is that this is sort of a soft-reboot of Disovery. The showrunners have changed again (during production, even), fully eliminating Bryan Fuller’s imprint on the show, other than his name as creator in the opening sequence, and making it Alex Kurtzman’s. Some of the pressure has been lifted off Discovery’s shoulders, with the promise of no less than half a dozen other Trek series in the works, including the highly anticipated return of Sir Patrick Stewart to the role of Captain Picard, but the pressure to make Discovery bigger and better persists, all while finding a way to channel that old school notion of what it means to be Star Trek.

I thoroughly enjoyed “Brother”, the season 2 premiere, but I must warn anyone watching or planning to watch that there’s no way that it can satisfy everyone’s desires of what they want Star Trek to be. Watching the episode it was clear to me that Kurtzman and the writers have abandoned the idea of boldly taking Trek into completely new places, instead focusing on balancing this new version of the franchise with a more familiar tone. In season 2, Discovery is funnier, lighter, more positive and brighter. There are times where it’s almost obnoxious, but they always find a way to reel it back.

It’s a premiere and the show is serialized, so it still sets up a story that will play out over multiple episodes if not the entire season, but there are missions within the episode that manage to get resolved, notably a rescue mission on a Starfleet medical freighter thought to have been lost during the Klingon war. The freighter is stuck in an asteroid field where the physics are wonky, due to a mysterious event that the ship is tasked with investigating, but the nature of that event is put on the back burner (since there are seven things they need to investigate) in favour of focusing on the rescue mission, as the crew is forced to take individual pods out to the asteroid where the ship has crashed.

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As a result, like the season 1 premiere, it’s an episode with a lot of action. But a different kind of action, as no phasers are fired, and there is no confrontation with an alien species. It’s purely a rescue mission, and you can tell the writers specifically chose this path to differentiate season 2 from what came before.

The effort appears elsewhere as well. As already noted, this is a much funnier, light-hearted episode, and that’s displayed not only in what they find on the ship (where the surviving officer is a dry-witted engineer played by the driest of dry comedians, Tig Notaro), but also in how the crew copes with its new leader, Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount, joining the cast), who commandeers the Discovery in order to complete the mission of investigating the seven synchronized events after the Enterprise sustains heavy damage. The crew is apprehensive, because they don’t know much about Pike and he sort of steamrolls them, and they’re still reeling from not one, but two Mirror Universe evil captain reveals. Pike makes it a point to prove to them he’s not Gabriel Lorca. He jokes with them, he makes it a point to learn their names, he’s even a fan of furniture in ready rooms. And he understands that he’s encroaching on Saru’s territory, so he gives him the space he needs as the ship’s number one and, up to his arrival, acting captain. As much as this episode is about establishing this new threat and saving that freighter, it’s about establishing Pike as the new captain and starting to build new relationships.

I really like the Captain Pike portrayed in this episode. He’s different than the other iterations we’ve seen, but very much in line with what you’d expect the predecessor to Captain Kirk to be like. He’s funny, incredibly charming and a bit of a rogue or a maverick. He comes from a ship on a long-term deep-space mission, so he plays a little more fast and loose with the rules than a Saru, which puts him in a nice spot between Saru and Burnham, the latter of which has her own tendency to bend rules and do things her own way. Pike knows things are different on a ship that experienced the war, and he feels bad for being ordered to sit it out, so he respects and lionizes Saru, but he very quickly bonds with Burnham, between their similarities and their mutual acquaintance in Spock. That makes Pike the perfect addition to this show, even though some might continue to think this prequel/TOS stuff is shoehorned in, and Anson Mount is pitch perfect in his portrayal.

And, of course, it’s also about Burnham and her family problems, as the arrival of the Enterprise brings up the curious absence of one Mr. Spock, her foster brother, who has taken leave from his duties on the Enterprise and not spoken to Pike, Burnham, or his father Sarek in a long time. The episode starts with a lengthy flashback to Burnham’s first day in Sarek’s home, and Spock’s initial rejection of his new foster sister. Later on Burnham blames herself for their failed relationship as faux-siblings. But visiting his quarters on the Enterprise, she discovers that Spock had something to hide, and that it might play in this larger mission with Pike. We don’t see adult Spock just yet, but we know he’s coming, as Ethan Peck has been cast in the role and seen in some of the trailers.

All of this makes for a lot to set up for the premiere, and we haven’t even mentioned Stamets’ decision to leave the ship for a teaching gig, abandoning his research with the Mycellium network, or the dark matter asteroid that they bring on board. All of this, obviously, will play out over the course of the season, but it sets up a good base, and it balances all of these elements fairly well. That’s kind of the point of making a more action-oriented premiere. You have a lot to set up, it won’t pan out for a few episodes, so here’s an exciting space jump to tide you over (including a pitch-perfect redshirt death). “Brother” establishes a good pace for us to work with as Discovery launches into new territory this season. I’m excited about the Red Angel stuff, I’m curious to see how the Spock stuff plays out, I’m elated at how good Anson Mount is as Pike and the new dynamic with the crew, and I’m optimistic about the show’s promise to be more about science and exploration, between the seven missions they’ve already set up and the dark matter asteroid they have sitting in the shuttle bay. And that’s pretty much what you can expect out of a soft-reboot premiere like this.

“Brother” gets 8 snarky redshirt comments out of 10.

True Detective S03E01&E02 Review: a return to form, or a shameless greatest hits playlist?

The biggest struggle that a third season of True Detective was ever going to have was in toeing the line between reattaining its previous glory and running the risk of becoming a legacy act, doomed to play out the greatest hits from its one good album in perpetuity. With three years having passed since the much maligned second season of the show, it’s been long enough for the wounds to heal and for people to genuinely get excited about what Nic Pizzolato can do by revisiting the show’s original stomping grounds, with an actor of the same caliber and stature as Matthew McConaughey, and a deference to the tone and themes that made us fall in love with the show in the first place. The question is whether or not viewers actually want more of the same, or if there’s no winning for Pizzolatto.

The reasons for season 2’s failures are too many to go into here, but in short, I always felt as if they were bred from the hindsight backlash to the first season. As much as season 1 was beloved by viewers and critics alike, that reverence also came with some well-intended criticism about Pizzolatto’s treatment of the show’s scarce female characters, or it’s faux spirituality and hand-waving of anything remotely supernatural that first season chose to tackle. Of course all about that is up for debate (a show can be about male lead characters, and it can choose not to explain in the inexplicable), but Pizzolatto seemed to take it way too hard, shoehorning commentary about that and other things that didn’t go his way into the second season’s choices. But one could argue that the quality of that second season was also due to lack of time or burnout (it barely took a year for HBO to produce the second season) or possibly the absence of the guiding hand of a visionary director such as Cari Fukunaga.

Season 3 directly tackles these mistakes, but one has to wonder if Pizzolatto swings the pendulum too far in the other direction. In fact, these first two episodes of season 3, “The Great War and Modern Memory” and “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”, almost feel like an homage to the first season. It’s a character driven macabre crime story with hints of the supernatural led by an impeccable A-list performance, set in the moody, hazy deep south. There are multiple timelines, wisecracking buddy cop dynamics, comments about the fluid nature of time, dynamic overhead shots of Arkansas wilderness, unreliable narrators, recognizable character actors in supporting roles (in this case the likes of Stephen Dorf and Scoot McNairy), references to Lovecraft and other horror-tinged literature… all that’s really missing is an epic six-plus minute tracking shot, but the season is still young.

To be more specific, this third season of True Detective follows Wayne Hays (played, as mentioned, impeccably, by Mahershela Ali), an Arkansas detective haunted by the 1980 disappearance of two young siblings. By the end of the first episode, he discovers the boy dead, strewn out in ceremonial fashion in a cave. The second, a girl, is long presumed dead, until we find out ten years later while Hays is being deposed regarding the case and the potential false incarceration of the suspect he inevitably finds ten years prior, that she is indeed alive, after her fingerprints show up in a string of robberies. Twenty-five years later, Hays is old, slowly losing his memory and being interviewed about the case for a true crime reality show (cutely called “True Criminal”), still haunted by the case he never solved.

As expected, the show is littered with imagery and references borrowed from Lovecraft, Chambers and others, to the point where one has to wonder whether or not season 3 might actually be directly connected to season 1. The figurines left in the park where they find the boy are very reminiscent to the ones found in the first season. The story is also told from the perspective of an unreliable narrative, but in added twist, at two different times. In 1990, Hays, shown slightly older with a tighter haircut and having married and started a family with the school teacher he meets ten years prior (played by Carmen Ejogo), claims he still remembers all the details of the case and gets upset when he’s contradicted by those deposing him. In 2015, however, he’s older, needs audio and visual cues to remind him of things, as well as his now deceased wife’s first book on his case, and the second episode even ends on him waking up on the cross street of the children’s home, only to find it burnt to ashes.

Mahershela Ali sells this bill of goods in all three timelines with an impeccable, nuanced performance. You feel with his character when he finds the first child, you’re angry with him in the future, confused about what’s really going on 25 years later. It’s probably unfair to say that Pizzolatto is copying his own greatest hits because of how much Ali lives and breathes this character. And to boot, Jeremy Saulnier (Green Room) provides excellent direction in these two first episodes as first in line among this season’s new contributors (the others being David Milch, one of the only other credited writers for the season, and Daniel Sackheim, who is credited with directing every forthcoming episode that Pizzolatto didn’t do himself). It seems as if such a talented group of people would be remiss to repeat the mistakes that were made with season 2, or to veer the show too far into that dreaded greatest hits territory. Because as much as aspects of these episodes reminded me of the first season, I was at no point bored or offended by what I saw as a retread. In fact, I could see how that could slot into something bigger, akin to an extended cinematic universe, which would be a major step up from a second season that felt as if it didn’t belong.

All of this begs the question; did I like these two first episodes of the new True Detective because it was reminiscent of something I remember loving, because it was step up from a previous rock bottom, or because it stands as something good all on its own? Honestly, the answer is probably some combination of the three. It’s questionable whether that’s enough anymore in a 2019 television landscape that demands more than stories from the brooding male POV, but at a time of the year where not a lot of great TV is dropping, and in an environment where True Crime and its ilk still rules detective media, it’s certainly feels like it’s filling a need. But, again, that might be the True Detective season 1 fan in me talking. We’ll have to wait and see how it comes together, but for now, the premiere of True Detective season 3 gets 8 true crime novels out of 10.

The Best Lines from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia S13E10: ‘Mac Finds His Pride’ [Season Finale]

It’s been an… odd season of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Between dealing with the semi-retirement of one of its main characters, the struggle to keep the show fresh after 13 seasons, yet also satisfy those craving what they’ve been familiar with for all these years, the ever-changing landscape of television and what is supposed to make for good television, not to mention the ambitions of a very creative cast and crew, ambitions which are becoming harder and harder to contain, it’s made for a batch of ten episodes that could only be fairly described as inconsistent.

We started the season with The Gang trying to replace Dennis, only to realize that they couldn’t, and yet, even though the premiere promised his return, he was still absent from nearly half the remaining episodes, excused with some sort of contrivance such as a flashback or one character or another going off on their own adventures. We saw The Gang Minus Dennis celebrate Philly’s big Super Bowl win from last year over two uneven, incomplete-feeling episodes. We saw Dee try and recreate the Wade Boggs challenge from a couple of seasons back with only women, the start of a string of very topical episodes tackling #MeToo, the bathroom debate and much more, a run that crescendoed through three diverse, amazing episodes that could very well wind up on a list of best ever IASIP episodes. “Time’s Up For The Gang“, “The Gang Solves The Bathroom Problem” and “The Gang Gets New Wheels” are all instant-classics and they all work for very different reasons. The first two represent the tremendous new directions this show could wind up going, with a writer’s room stacked with newer, younger, more diverse voices capable of translating this posse of monsters to an era that’s much different than the one in which this show began nearly fifteen years ago. The latter is the kind of classic Sunny shenanigans featuring violent crime against children that remind us of how this show hasn’t really lost sight of what it’s always been, despite its aspirations to try new and different things.

And yet, even though the show was clearly preparing to launch us in an entirely new direction, I don’t think any of that prepared us for what happened in this week’s season finale, “Mac Finds His Pride”, an episode which veers so drastically to the left in its final act that it leaves you wondering where IASIP could go from here. After fifteen minutes or two of usual Sunny shenanigans, in which Frank is tasked with convincing Mac to dance on their gay pride parade float in order to I guess trick gays into coming to Paddys, the episode and the season goes somewhere very different, ending in an uninterrupted, jokeless interpretative dance in which Mac tries to convey to his father and his fellow convicts his internal struggle with being gay and coming out of the closet.

There’s no punchline. The woman Mac is dancing with is not Dee being grabbed by her private parts like the most raucous moment of that first #MeToo episode. The convicts don’t interrupt into violence after learning there’s no Blake Shelton concert, Frank doesn’t make some crass joke. Instead, the show decides to pay off the seeds they’ve been setting about Mac’s sexuality for over a decade. It decides to prove that being gay is not a punching bag for a show that’s cool with dunking on everybody. That it’s not just a character trait for Mac. Even though it was pretty cool when Mac came out of the closet last season and nothing really changed, this contextualizes it and him as a character and makes his arc meaningful.

In a weird way, it works almost the same way that the season 12 finale does. In that episode, Dennis decides he has to grow up and go raise his family. Despite the show’s best efforts to convince us that he didn’t really change upon his return this season, I think we can all agree that he sort of did. And the same could be said about Mac here. For the past season and a half, the show has been trying to convince us that Mac didn’t really change, other than being more open about what his dildo bike is for or what he’s doing with his Dennis real doll or all those peaches we see strewn across his apartment in this episode (an unsubtle nod to last year’s Call Me By Your Name and its most discussed scene). “Mac Finds His Pride” throws that out the window by admitting to itself and to its viewers that you can’t just play it cool with such a big character defining moment, especially one with as much cultural baggage as coming out of the closet. And both the show and Rob McElheney play it with style and class, not only in the amazing choreographed and performed dance at the end of the episode, but with how Mac comports himself as a real human being throughout.

And the low-key best thing about this episode is how it frames the story around Frank, believe it or not. Mac’s struggle is one we’ve seen in other shows and that, as the show hilariously points out, is hard to believe coming from someone who, in real life, is straight. McElheney and Charlie Day don’t want to shove anything down our throats and they certainly want to treat this topic gracefully, so instead, the story is told from Frank’s perspective, as an old, bigoted curmudgeon who readily admits he doesn’t and will never understand Mac and homosexuality. And yet, he’s just as surprised as we, the viewer, when he declares at the end of Mac’s dance, raucously cheering along with all the other convicts in attendance, that he finally understands.

It wasn’t only in that moment that I was pleasantly surprised by how they were treating this. All throughout the episode, Frank displays how he’ll do anything for The Gang. He’s tasked with getting Mac onto that float and never questions it. He just does it, and is willing to go to extreme lengths to satisfy his friends. And even though he has ulterior motives and questionable tactics, he decides to help Mac find his pride, his mojo by taking him around town to the gayest spots he knows. It’s weirdly sweet, as Frank reveals himself to be the true father figure on the show, which is especially interesting juxtaposed against Luther’s outright rejection of Mac, no matter his sexuality.

Of course that doesn’t take away from the last scene of the episode, which is really groundbreaking for the show and for McElheney’s character. It begs the question of where the show could go from here, if it’s forever changed or if this will just be another pivot point, much like Dennis’s departure last season. Either way, it proved that IASIP can be a lot more than just the same old show about assholes. I don’t know if this means that it will strive to be the next Louie or Atlanta in its already-announced 14th season, or if this is just an occasional out of the box thing that they could do, but it’s a great way to end a season of change. “Mac Finds His Pride” gets 9 sexy gay dances out of 10.


The Best Lines from the season finale of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia:

  • No goddammits this week, and obviously with the the more serious tone of the final act there were less jokes than usual, but there are still some great lines and gags in this episode. Frank’s increasingly grotesque face and how they use it to sell the point about Mac letting the blood flow or whatever is pretty great, in particular.
  • Vulture did a great piece today about the dance, including interviews with Rob McElheney and others from the show. It’s a must-read.
  • Frank: “We’re making a float for the parade… to rope in the gays.”
  • Frank: “They give me one job and I gotta deal with your feelings?”
  • Frank: “This is a much better spread than they have at the straight orgies.”
  • Frank/Mac: “One false move and these fairies could poke me full of holes.” “What year is it in your head?”
  • Mac/Frank: “You don’t know what’s going on inside of me.” “Well I’m sure there’s five or six super viruses eating out your insides.”
  • Frank: “You’re gay and you’re dancing with a hot chick who is god? The catholics really fucked you up.”
  • Luther: “My cellmate ratted on me for having an extra pillow. I cut out his tongue with a rusty pair of pliers and fed it to the maggots.”
  • Luther: “If it’s not a boy you flush that shit out and try again.”
  • Charlie: “What, are you gonna have you and me dancing on top of the gay float? The press will murder us. We need an authentically gay man. They’ll see right through us.”
  • Charlie: “Come on man, he looks like a monster, and you look like a monster. We’re not trying to invite a bar full of monster men.”
  • Sweet Dee: “You can’t get a straight man to dance, the press will murder us.”
  • Mac/Luther: “My name is Ronald McDonald.” “Haha, I named him that.”

The Best Lines From The Good Place S03E07: ‘A Fractured Inheritance’

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of fans of The Good Place that aren’t too enthused about the direction the show has taken in its third season. After so many time jumps and so many reality-bending twists, it seems to have settled into a much slower pace, choosing to focus on its characters and their relationships rather than moving the story forward at the breakneck pace that we’ve become accustomed to. The thing is, I believe the show has merely replaced one set of stakes for another.

Season 2 of The Good Place was all about breaking down the conventions of this universe’s versions of heaven and hell. It was about Michael joining forces with the study group to upend the unfair, arbitrary points system and save humanity. Season 3 reveals pretty quickly that this is a fruitless, pointless endeavor, and instead tasks the characters with living the best, most virtuous lives they can not so they can find salvation, but rather to save others. This season has sacrificed our characters and their chance at eternal happiness, but as for the rest of humanity, that’s still on the table. In that sense, nothing about the show has changed, other than maybe the pace, as the characters are currently bound to their own mortality.

Of course, with a show like The Good Place, that could change at any moment – and it likely will when you least expect it – but for now, and for the last couple of episodes, it’s meant that Eleanor, Michael and the gang are on a string of personal tasks to help set their friends and family on the right path. Last week, it was about Chidi breaking things off with his girlfriend so she wouldn’t risk being burdened with his knowledge of the afterlife, as well as about Jason helping his father. This week, we move on to Eleanor and Tahani, who share the theme of being burdened by an unreconciled relationship with a family member who they feel has somehow wronged them and set them down the path that eventually led to eternal doom.

Some might consider this to be The Good Place slowing down or losing focus, but I really like this new direction. At the core of the show is four (six including the two eternal beings) who are irreparably broken. For the first two seasons of the show, we’ve seen their attempts to fix themselves fail time and time again. Season three posits that they’re irreparable, yet aims to get to the bottom of what broke them and to try and improve things for all of them. As we saw last week, with Chidi it’s about making decisions. With Jason, about not enabling criminal behaviour, I guess. And this week, Eleanor and Tahani have to let go their preconceptions about the mother and the sister (respectively) that they feel wronged them.

Like I said last week, it’s like a really funny version of Quantum Leap or The Littlest Hobo and that’s really charming. This doesn’t feel like the show is treading water, but instead setting up all the characters for what’s to come next. And, you know, like I say every week, it still manages to be hilarious even if it feels like it could be moving a little faster, which is the central aim of any comedy, even one that’s previously astounded us by its rapid plot movement. Maybe in hindsight it feels a little faster, especially in these episodes that don’t really move the plot forward too much, so it’s important to remind ourselves that it’s still one of the funniest shows on television.

In this episode, “A Fractured Inheritance”, we follow Tahani in Germany as she attends her sister’s art exhibit with Chidi, Jason and Janet in an effort to stand up to her sister, only to realize that the one thing they can bond over is the damage inflicted on both of them by their parents. Tahani learns to let go of her insecurities and just love Kamillah for who she is; her sister.

Meanwhile, back in the States, Eleanor and Michael travel to Nevada to confront Eleanor’s mother Donna, now going under the pseudonym Dianna Tremaine (which Eleanor posits was the name she always planned to use to fake her own death). Donna is living with her new husband Dave (the incomparable Andy Daly in another perfect casting choice) and his daughter Patricia. She’s trying to be a good wife and stepmom and is even running for Patricia’s PTA, but Eleanor insists that she’s planning some sort of grift. But she comes short of proving it. The closest she gets is finding a stash of stolen cash Donna has squirreled away, but even that is only a contingency fund in case she needs to escape. Eleanor helps Donna realize that she’s becoming basic, but that’s okay, because she’s turned her life around. Now Eleanor has to find a way to come to terms with the fact that the one person that could have set her on the right path in her original life was never willing to do so when she was raising her. She resents the fact that her mom found herself only after she abandoned Eleanor, and she sees her own shortcomings in Donna’s happiness. Which is where the reveal in the episode’s tag comes in; Michael informs her that once and only once did she ever admit to anyone her true feelings, in that one version of the Neighbourhood where she and Chidi fall deeply in love, setting up new tension that we all knew was coming for the next stage of the season.

But before we get to that, “A Fractured Inheritance” is a slower but important episode of The Good Place which aims to fix one of the central shortcomings of two of its main characters. And as usual, it’s also hilarious, so it gets 8.5 self-appointed father figures out of 10.


The Best Lines from this week’s episode of The Good Place:

  • Tahani Namedrops: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, both in the same breath.
  • I get that they cast Andy Daly as an architect for the jokes with Michael, but it seems wrong that they’ve broken his string of appearances in sitcoms as a doctor.
  • Easily the best visual gag of this episode is how Eleanor has a plate with a stack of American cheese on it at the PTA meeting. Also how the school is named the “MGM Grand Luxury Resort and Casino Elementary School.”
  • Michael: “I’d already told you that you died and that I had tortured you for centuries and that you’re doomed to be tortured again. I just didn’t to be like a bummer.”
  • Donna: “Yay! You found me!”
  • Donna: “You haven’t even introduced me to this sexy stretched out Alex Trebek.”
  • Donna: “His napkins are made out of like shirt material.”
  • Donna: “This is as real as the nails under my acrylic nails.”
  • Jason: “Those aren’t dumb shapes, that’s a pair of boobs, and then two extra side boobs. They symbolize that boobs come in all shapes and sizes and distances apart.”
  • Michael/Dave: “Well, let’s just say that… lived… in the same… neighbourhood.” “What a fun way to say a normal thing.”
  • Michael: “Check out what Dave gave me, plans for a Subaru dealership slash burlesque club he’s designing in Reno. Man, Nevada’s a mess.”
  • Eleanor: “When the time comes, she will rip this guy off and disappear like Keyser Soze. Right after he admitted to groping all of those people.”
  • Eleanor to Michael: “First things first, do you have a penis?”
  • Kamillah: “All your fears are now mine.”
  • Chidi: “She’s amazing! All of my fears are hers now.”
  • Also Chidi: “All my fears are mine again!”
  • Dave: “Auditorium? More like audi-bore-ium.”
  • Dave/Michael: “Your mother is a very confident and selfish lover.” “Yikes.” “No, no, no, that’s perfect for me. I don’t know what I want.”
  • Eleanor after it’s revealed she wrote on “Bofa Deeznutz” on the PTA vote: “Don’t look at me like that, you’re not my real dad.”
  • Donna: “I’m gonna need to get a calculator, and maybe a globe? I don’t really understand this job.”
  • Tahani/Chidi: “These paintings. They’re us.” “You’re the boobs? Sorry, once Jason said it that’s all I could see.”
  • Donna/Eleanor: “I don’t love it so much. I am not basic. Ya basic.” “No, mom, YA basic.”
  • Donna: “After one glass [of Chardonnay] I get sleepy, so I usually switch to water so I can drive home. Like a nerd!”
  • Michael, forgetting the bathrooms on his architectural design: “Just a little oversight, I certainly use the bathroom just like anyone else. I love to sit on the the thing and, you know, shoot one out.”

 

The Best Lines from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia S13E09: ‘The Gang Wins The Big Game’

It’s totally understandable that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s take on the Vikings’ Super Bowl win earlier this year couldn’t be contained in a single episode. The way they split it up made total sense as well; the first episode, which aired last week, saw Charlie home alone at the bar, trying to overcome the odds after he gets his foot stuck in a bear trap and can’t do his usual array of superstitions. The show saved everything else for this week’s episode, “The Gang Wins the Big Game”, in which Mac, Frank, Dee and an array of Philadelphia’s biggest losers head to Minnesota in order to attend the game and help out their team. Both episodes brought very different things to the table and structurally stood on their own.

The problem with both is that they felt incomplete. Never mind Glenn Howerton’s absence (as these episodes took place while Dennis was away raising his child in North Dakota), they just felt like two halves of an episode that would have maybe been better served if they were meshed together in one single narrative. If anything, “Charlie’s Home Alone” felt like it needed more time, and this week’s episode struggled to fill it. This is so egregious that the cold open of both episodes are both mostly just the same thing up until the point where Charlie gets left home alone.

That’s not to say that both episodes aren’t funny, and don’t fit within the framework of makes for good Sunny. In this week’s episode particularly, we get to see a lot of the great side-character from the show which have mostly gone unused this season, from Uncle Jack to Cricket to Pondy, but few of them really got a chance to shine the way they might in an episode where they’re the focus. If anything, in the IASIP side-character power rankings, it’s probably the Waiter that makes the biggest jump, even though this is his second appearance of the season (the first, in the Ladies Boggs Reboot, foretells this flashback episode). Elsewhere, we get a great bit where a pink-eye infested Sweet Dee goes on a Mr. Magoo-like adventure on her way to blinding Tom Brady in the final minute of the game, and Frank has to pass a kidney stone to save the team. As for Mac, his role in the episode feels very much like he was doing what Dennis would have been doing, which gives us an interesting glance into what a full Dennis-less season of this show would have been like (my take is that this is not the role I necessarily want Mac to be filling). It was also impressive how they got to use actual footage from the Super Bowl, not to mention footage of Philly fans celebrating after the fact. Sports footage feels like something sacrosanct in America, so it’s rather impressive that they managed to pull that off.

“The Gang Wins the Big Game” has a lot of fun elements, but I don’t think it comes together. More or less specifically because it’s missing the Charlie elements from that week. I just felt as if I wanted more from both, especially after a string of great episodes earlier in this thirteenth season, and so much hype about these episodes, knowing they were coming. And it just feels as if it would have been an easy fix if this was an hourlong episode to open or close the season. That’s why this second part gets 6 expeditions for jean shorts out of 10.


The Best Lines from This Week’s Episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia:

  • Goddamnit Count: 0, yet again! Maybe this is why these episodes didn’t click with me. Also no bird jokes at Dee’s expense despite being at an Eagles game.
  • Inarguably the funniest thing about this episode is how Danny DeVito has to use the shorter urinal. Also why does Mac have to take him to the bathroom?
  • Uncle Jack/Mac after Mac pulls off his giant hands: “Don’t make me go without them.” “I’m not making you go at all!”
  • Mac: “You have literally picked out the biggest pieces of shit in the city.”
  • Cricket: “I came up port side on a horse and he was a little quicker than me. Lesson learned.”
  • Mac after 11 plays of ‘Eye of the Tiger’: “It turns out there’s not that many songs about Philadelphia.”
  • Sweet Dee: “Everybody look at me, I’m a stupid Pats fan making stuff up about Dee’s eye.”
  • Mac after the Waiter falls: “This Minnesota rube, he’s not ready for your big city shenanigans, Frank!”

The Best Lines from The Good Place S03E06: ‘The Ballad of Donkey Doug’

 

After The Good Place shook up its premise yet again in last week’s incredible episode, it seems like the show has, for now, chosen to settle in with this new direction they’ve decided to take. With the Study Group coming to terms with their own doomed existence (after they accidentally find out about the afterlife, thus disqualifying them from accumulating any more Good Place/Bad Place points), they’ve decided to dedicate what remains of their lives to helping others find their way onto the right path and get into the Good Place. In other words, they’re being good people only for the sake of being good people. In this week’s episode, “The Ballad of Donkey Doug”, they choose to start close to home, in an episode that sees the group split in two.

Covering the episode’s title in the A-plot is Michael, Tahani and Jason, who travel to Jacksonville to help Jason’s father, who, in another twist, turns out to be Jason’s friend and the man who often sends Jason down the wrong path, Donkey Doug. They want to convince him to finish his electrician’s degree, but Donkey Doug is more concerned with his new business venture, a body spray/energy drink two-in-one combo (three-in-one if you get the 24 hour lemon musk extreme, which also serves a lubricant). Jason and his cohorts eventually agree to listen to Doug’s idea and even help him, but unfortunately getting it off the ground involves robbing up to three factories. Jason eventually realizes that his father is a lost cause, so he shifts his attention to their friend Pillboi, who is already on a decent path working at an old folks’ home. They convince him to keep working there and stay away from Donkey Doug (as part of a secret NASA conspiracy, but whatever) before they move on to reconciling Tahani and her sister’s relationship at the end of the episode.

As for group B (Chidi, Eleanor and Janet), they’re tasked with finding a way for Chidi to break up with his girlfriend Simone, since he can’t risk her finding out what he and the others know, keeping in mind that Chidi’s moral code prevents him from lying. In order to practice, Janet builds a simulation machine using her knowledge of everything, in which Chidi goes through attempt after attempt of trying to break up with Simone in the perfect way without letting it slip that he knows about the afterlife. Despite all their attempts (and even one by Eleanor) the actual breakup goes pretty badly (Chidi hilariously yells “Ya dumped!” at Simone), but he later smooths things out with her.

Along with the twist at the end, revealing that Eleanor’s mother faked her death, it seems like this is what we’re in for for the next little while, at least until the show decides to shake things up again. And I can’t say that I’m disappointed. At this point, I’m all in with whatever Michael Schur decides to do with this show. He’s proven to be infallible with the premise of this show, and I’m not going to bother speculating where it could go next, because who could have predicted that the show about four people seemingly going to heaven would take so many twists and turns on its way to being this weird, hilarious version of Quantum Leap or The Littlest Hobo or whatever other show about strangers helping new people each week. And I’m sure we’ll be saying the same thing about wherever the show winds up going in a few episodes. Still, it’s interesting to see the show blow through so much plot. I’ve seen takes that suggest how last week’s episode could have been a perfect series finale for any other show, and yet The Good Place continues to chug along, as funny and relevant as ever.

I’m not sure if “The Ballad of Donkey Doug” had any moral or philosophical purpose, as previous episodes have had, but it was still as funny and compelling as ever, and so it gets 8 secret astronaut spies out of 10.


The Best Lines from this week’s episode of The Good Place:

  • Tahani Namedrops: Sting and Elon Musk.
  • Visual Gags: Jacksonville’s airport is dedicated to Randy “Macho Man” Savage, and Chidi dumps Simone at the “French Pressing Nemo Cafe”.
  • My favourite gag from his week’s episode has to be Tahani’s incredulity towards the fact that the infamous Donkey Doug is Jason’s father, but also great is the variety of Chidi’s attempts to break up with Simone, ranging from the one where he offers her a puppy, to the one where he just randomly proposes, to the one where Eleanor takes over Simone’s projection. Also great: Michael hardly being able to contain himself when he finds out his taxi is a monster truck.
  • Sad to see Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Simone) likely gone from the show, but considering the year she’s had (also appearing on Killing Eve, Barry and Love, among others) I doubt we’ll be missing her for very long.
  • Eleanor: “I thought she was intimidating. That’s why I shoved her into that creek.”
  • Janet: “Bing! I usually appear out of thin air and there would be a pleasant ‘bing’ sound but I don’t have my powers, so I’m doing my own bings now. Bing!”
  • Tahani/Jason: “The Donkey Doug who got banned from Disney World for biting Buzz Lightyear?” “In his defense, he thought it was someone else.” “Who!?”
  • Jason: “He created a sport that was a cross between dodgeball and horseshoes and everybody died.”
  • Donkey Doug: “How about you and I go check out my jacuzzi and put stuff in each other?”
  • Simone: “Who’s Janet and why are you screaming her name into the sky?”
  • Donkey Doug: “Me and Pillboi have been cooking up something special and this time it’s not fake meth.”
  • Pillboi: “Sharks, how much do you spend on energy drinks and body spray in one week? Three hundred? Ten hundred?”
  • Donkey Doug: “I’ll finally be able to pay to have my calf implants moved back up from my feet.”
  • Jason: “Double Trouble sounds amazing. We should big fast, the other sharks are gonna want in.”
  • Chidi: “No you don’t understand, I don’t technically love you. In the same way. Because of circumstances.”
  • Tahani: “There’s an awful lot of dog hair on the furniture but I’ve not seen a dog.”
  • Tahani: “Reach for the stars, as I said to my good friend Elon Musk. And then he shot his car into space. What a weird creep, why was I friends with him?”
  • Michael/Donkey Doug: “It’s not like he’s robbing a bank.” “Yeah, it’s a factory.”
  • Jason/Michael: “I have an idea but I need your help. Will you guys help me?” “I mean, yeah, that’s why we’re here, Jason.”
  • Chidi: “Ya dumped!”
  • Pillboi: “I gotta take off cause I gotta go do a robbery. I mean, I’m sick.”
  • Eleanor: “Can I use the simulator? There’s a very specific Lenny Kravitz concert I wanna be front row at.”

 

The Best Lines From It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia S13E08: “Charlie’s Home Alone”

After a raucous, delightful and even experimental string of four or five episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the show decided to get a little weirder than we’re probably used to with the eighth episode of this season. “Charlie’s Home Alone” is, for all intents and purposes, an experimental episode of IASIP. It mostly features just Charlie, it’s mostly set in the bar, and it goes to some bizarre places and extreme lengths to depict the events of what he went through during last year’s Super Bowl, when the Philadelphia Eagles finally won football’s top prize. What’s more, it’s only half the story, as it ends on a cliffhanger, promising to show us what Dee, Mac, Frank and some of the show’s fringe characters were up to at the same time, as early in the episode they depart on a party bus, bound for the Super Bowl, thinking Charlie is with them donning the Green Suit (the description suggests that Cricket might be the one that stole Charlie’s suit, leading to him being left behind).

Once they do, and Charlie realizes he’s been left behind (actually, he believes he’s wished his friends out of existence), the first act plays out exactly like the first act of Home Alone, from the Christmas music right down to the beats of certain scenes from that film as well as lines of dialog. This is in no way a Christmas episode of IASIP, which makes it all the more hilarious that they use the exact songs from that movie, as does the fact that Charlie never once acknowledge what he’s spoofing. After rifling through everyone’s stuff and taking his turn on Mac’s dildo bike, Charlie sets up shop at the bar, waiting for the game to begin. But when a couple of locals try to get into Paddy’s, Charlie assumes they’re intruders and begins setting up a bunch of traps.

The episode takes a drastic left turn when he sets off one of his own traps, namely a bear trap. The loss of blood, the brutal cauterizing scene and everything that follows take this from Home Alone to something more along the lines of 127 Hours or The Revenant, as Charlie fights to fulfill his usual superstitions, thinking that if he doesn’t, the Eagles will lose the Big Game. He drops a green paint bucket on his head, because he has to wear green. He eats a rat, because he has to eat brown. He drinks his own pee (of course) because he has to drink yellow. And when hallucinations of Eagles players inform him how he could (easily) get out of the bear trap and he turns on the TV to see Tom Brady in possession with time on the clock, they tell him he has to get back in it as it’s part of his superstitions now.

That’s about where the episode ends, following an extended, brutal sequence of torture porn. We, in reality, know that the Eagles go on to win the Super Bowl, but the show decides to save that fact for next week and the other side of the story. Which is, honestly, a little frustrating for a show like, no less an episode like this, which is already a tad unusual. Don’t get me wrong, despite the fact that it’s an incomplete episode and that it lands on certain uncomfortable extremes with how it treats Charlie, it’s still full of laughs and has some good highs. But it also doesn’t feel like what I would have wanted out of an episode like this.

It’s funny, because it kind of reminded me a little of the seminal “Charlie Work”, the seminal season 10 episode rightfully lauded as one of the best of the series, in large part for its experimental, precognisant parody of Birdman and other movies with long tracking shots. But that episode was written by Charlie Day, Rob McElheney and Glenn Howerton. This one was written by first timers Adam Weinstock and Andy Jones, likely part of the show’s effort to diversify and rejuvenate its writer’s room as those three co-creators took a step back, thanks to their increasingly busy schedules and, notably, Glenn Howerton’s teased semi-absence from the show. Howerton in particular is completely absent from this episode, as it takes place during a time where his character would have been away from Philadelphia and The Gang. I don’t want to blame it specifically on those two guys, because the makeup of the show has been completely different and other combinations of new writers have paid dividends this season, but it does feel like the failures of this episode could probably be pointed to a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes experimental episodes like “Charlie Work” so special. And what makes them special is that while they’re trying something crazy, something new, they still feel like the core of the same show. Charlie Day does his best to make that work here, and I don’t exactly mean to say that the stuff his character is doing isn’t stuff we’d think he’d do, but something feels off about it, or missing, and it’s more glaring when there’s only one character to carry the plot and the comedy.

“Charlie’s Home Alone” isn’t a terrible episode. It’s an incomplete episode, and unfortunately it’s probably the worst of this thirteenth season, so it gets 6.5 sticky bibles out of 10.


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The Best Lines from “Charlie’s Home Alone:”

  • Goddammit Count: unless I missed some during Charlie’s wailing, I didn’t hear any this week.
  • Dee: “First of all, how is ‘salmonella’ the only word you spelled right?”
  • Charlie: “I made my friends disappear. I made my friends disappear!”
  • Guy: “Well, which one is it? Is it closed for salmonella or is it closed for Super Bowl?”
  • Charlie after doing the aftershave bit from Home Alone: “I don’t know why I’m screaming, this doesn’t hurt at all?”
  • Charlie after getting a nail in the shoulder from his own trap: “Why would anybody do that to anybody?”
  • “You bought the trap, Charlie. I only know about the release lever because you know about the release lever. You get that, right?”
  • “Every single thing a fan does, at home or at the game, has a direct impact on the game.”