My New TV Round-Up

How the world has changed! The last time I did a TV round-up of my favorite new shows, I told you the networks they aired on and the times of day that you could find them. How cute; how quaint! Today, television is a mish-mash of new and hidden shows, bingeable parades of TV scattered all over aggregators like Netflix and Hulu. There's so much out there that it can be hard to know where to spend your leisure time.

Enter me: your Television-Watching Guru. I'm going to give my readers the benefit of the doubt and assume you're already watching the big guys: Homeland, Orange is the New Black, True Detective, and the mothership, Game of Thrones. I'm also assuming you're watching cable's Fall season darlings: New Girl, The Mindy Project, Modern Family, etc. These shows are all great and definitely worth watching if you haven't. But today, I'm going to share with you some slightly more obscure selections that may have slipped through your TV-watching cracks. And since we've cancelled our cable at my house (gasp! shock! horror!), all of these shows are available for instant streaming on Hulu/Hulu Plus, Netflix, or HBO Go aka my window to the world.

The Brink, HBO. 

It's The West Wing re-imagined as slapstick comedy. It's a 90s-style blockbuster-farce projected onto a very 2015 political reality. It's everything you'd expect when Jack Black, Aasif Mandvi, and Tim Robbins (plucked from whatever secluded island he's been hiding on for the last few decades) make a political spoof. Oh, and it's Pablo Schreiber, the ubiquitous character actor behind Nick Sobotka on The Wire and Pornstache on Orange is the New Black, playing a you guessed it sad, sleazy tool. But this time as drug-addicted, two-timing fighter pilot! (Side note: did y'all know he's Liev Schrieber's half-brother! Their dad must be so skeazed out all the time!)

I'll admit, I didn't much care for this silly show during its first few episodes — it was more Blazing Saddles and less Dr. Strangelove than I'd hoped. But, almost entirely thanks to its quirky cast, it grew on me. The key is managing expectations: deft satire is the wrong thing to demand from The Brink. But if you're willing to enjoy some pure situational comedy set against a high-stakes war-room backdrop, you're in for some fun. Most rewarding part? We finally have an answer to the question, "where the fuck is Tim Robbins?"

Difficult People, Hulu.

Billy Eisner from Parks and Recreation and Billy on the Street. Julie Klausner from your new favorite show, Difficult People on Hulu! If any of y'all ever thought, "Alison should really write a TV show," well, apparently I did in my sleep and Billy and Julie stole it and gave it to Amy Poehler and now it's this show! The title is dead on: it's about two misanthropic best friends who hate everyone but each other. Klausner described the series as "like Will and Grace, if they were unlikeable."

All this unlikeability shouldn't be interpreted to mean the show is anything but hilarious and delightful, especially for those of us, ah-hem, who see too much of ourselves in these characters.
Klausner: God I'm so funny when I write mean things about TV shows. How come no one's hired me to write for one??
Eisner: Because our lives are garbage and it's the world's fault.
quote from Difficult People or EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE??

Grace and Frankie, Netflix.

It's almost impossible to find a discussion about Grace and Frankie that doesn't include a reference to 1980's Nine to Five, the deeply ridiculous fem-com kidnapping-caper starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton. It's true that the teaming up of 70-something Fonda and Tomlin has a reunion-y feel. But for me, the bigger reunion was the fact that all four stars of the show are Aaron Sorkin vets: Fonda and Sam Waterson from The Newsroom, Lily Tomlin and Martin Sheen from The West Wing.*

This is a show that you see advertised and think, "Wow, I should tell my parents about that! And then I should teach them what Netflix is! And then I should teach them how to use the smart TV remote!" But, Grace and Frankie is more cross-generational than I expected. Yes, the leads are pushing 80 (looking unbelievably good, I might add), but the comedy is fresh and the themes are contemporary.

Grace and Frankie's plot is that after 40 years of marriage, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson tell their wives that they're both leaving them...for each other. That's right: Waterson and Sheen are gay and and Tomlin and Fonda must rely on each other to move forward and navigate their new world as single septuagenarians. The whole cast is great, but Tomlin is the one who gives a really stand-out performance as the new-age hippie foil to Fonda's uber-WASP. And bonus: their adult children are played by a frumpy Brooklyn Decker (you read that right), the always-wonderful June Diane Raphael, and Ethan Embry. Meaning, we finally have an answer to the question, "where the fuck is Ethan Embry?"

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, Netflix.

Don't let the return of Mr. Show (aka, With Bob and David, premiering on November 13 on Netflix) sap up all your David Cross time. Despite having the appearance of the sort of classic displaced-person/British farce, Todd Margaret is a genre-bending dark comedy that's a little difficult to describe. It's an off-kilter, steadily escalating series that feels more like a miniseries than a serial (not least because it's entire plot wraps up pretty definitively by the end of its second and final season.)

The show is premised on a series of Arrested-Development-style misunderstandings. AD's Will Arnett, a foul-mouthed, ball-busting boss, overhears underling temp David Cross listening to self-esteem tapes and mistakenly thinks that he has overheard Cross aggressively tell someone off. Arnett decides that the whimpering, cowardly Cross is perfect to spearhead the British division of Arnett's new toxic energy drink. Off goes Cross to Merry Ole England and, of course, calamity ensues.

But this isn't just your run-of-the-mill,American-abroad,they-call-cigarettes-fags-here type of humor. Nor is it entirely a play on Cross' bumbling, uneducated, miquetoast title character (though it's definitely that). It's also much, much darker, and quickly you figure out that the depth of scandal boiling under the surface is much more complicated than the Americans were led to believe.

In an era of repetition and regurgitation and half-hour comedies, Todd Margaret is definitely a departure point. I'll go ahead and vote that this may be my favorite show of the bunch. But I'm a dark, super-weird weirdo, so take my endorsement in some context.

The Jinx, HBO.

The Jinx is a show you may have heard about. It's Andrew Jarecki's (director, Capturing the Friedmans) haunting documentary about real-life creeper Robert Durst and all the close people in his life who suspiciously ended up dead from unsolved murders. Originally the subject of Jarecki's  fiction film adaptation (starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst...weird), the director decided to go a step further into his obsession and actually get a first-hand account of Durst's side of the story. It's not too much of a spoiler to say that Durst's side of the story doesn't sound so great. But I'll leave it there.

The Jinx is certainly a murder mystery, but it's also a character study. Jarecki's careful intimacy in probing Durst about his whims, his idiosyncrasies, his quirks, his opinions, is both objective and sympathetic. He develops a trusting rapport with Durst that indeed is the beginning of the end.

Do yourself a favor, and don't start the show on a school night once you hit the third episode you're not going to be able to turn it off. This disastrously resulted in me watching episodes two through six and a sadistic binge until the wee hours of the morning. Save yourself.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, HBO.

Okay, so this show hardly falls into the "obscure" category, but I added it because so many of us are experiencing The Daily Show with Jon Stewart withdrawals right now. The cable news world is indeed a dreary, scary place without the twin beams of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert shining through. Luckily, there's someone left to help us navigate the pugilistic punditry and complex corruption of the world: John Oliver. The downside is his show only comes on once a week (Sunday nights). The upside is that this relaxed format gives him time to delve really deep into his stories deeper than Stewart ever could and take elaborate measures to directly impact world events. Oliver is no armchair commentator; he's a poker and a prodder and grassroots participant in an incredibly satisfying way.

Don't take my word for it: Terrance Ross in The Atlantic, "How John Oliver Beats Apathy;" Victor Luckerson in Time, "How the ‘John Oliver Effect’ Is Having a Real-Life Impact;" Sara Boboltz in HuffPo "10 Real-Life Wins For John Oliver's Longest Segments On 'Last Week Tonight;'" and Harry Guinness "The John Oliver Effect: How Last Week Tonight is Changing Entertainment."

It's no secret that I adore John Oliver, and this show is truly him finding his niche and flexing his best muscles. It's fun and funny and outlandish and aggravating and delightful, and definitely worth a weekly watch.

Scrotal Recall, Netflix. Terrible name, great comedy. Read my longer post on the show here.


It's hard to say which of these shows is my favorite, but it's easy to say: "hey, Alison, you watch too much TV. Get a job!" Well, I have a job, thankyouverymuch. Luckily, I just don't have any hobbies. Except TV. Which counts. Shut up.



*You guys should have a drinking game on my blog to see how many times I reference goddamn Aaron Sorkin. <-- Obsessed. 
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