It seems that there are a handful of shows that I love that some people haven’t seen, but they could remedy that in the course of an afternoon. Here are three of those shows.
BoJack Horseman (13eps x 25min = 5hrs25mins, Netflix exclusive)
Season Two Premiere Date: Friday, July 17th, 2015
For starters, this show just oozes celebrity cool: Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Patton Oswalt, Kristen Schaal, Stephen F. Thompkins, Stanley Tucci and practically EVERYONE else in Hollywood (including fantastic cameos of Naomi Watts and “character actress Margo Martindale” playing batshit crazy versions of themselves). The opening credits were composed by Patrick Carney of the Black Keys (with his uncle, Ralph, on sax), the end credits are performed by Grouplove, and all of the incidental music is composed by BJ Novak’s little brother, Jesse (no, seriously … to all of that).
Beyond that, BoJack Horseman is a (dare I say it) genius show set in, but with a scathing view on, Hollywood. This absurdist alternate-reality features all the excess, misplaced adoration and ridiculousness of the modern entertainment-industrial complex and the celebrity worship it generates, but it’s all set in a universe where a solid section of the population are anthropomorphic animals who walk and talk, and drink and smoke, and are basically human aside from their very animal heads and the proclivities those animal features give their personalities. The titular BoJack Horseman, for instance, is a horse-headed, carrot-loving, bizarro-Bob Saget of an actor who spent a decade on a Full House-esque family show that gained him fame and fortune but left him empty, alone and miserable.
The series revolves around the washed-up Horseman’s bungling journey to get his “make-everyone-like-me-again” memoir written while his ghost writer (Brie), burnout houseguest (Paul), and agent/ex-girlfriend (Sedaris) try to protect BoJack from himself on the various misadventures and benders that BoJack is constantly falling into. I appreciate the solid, albeit nontraditional, story arc in BoJack Horseman — the quest to understand BoJack through the writing of his memoirs. Yes, BoJack is definitely a character study of its self-centered, deeply-flawed, depressed, jaded, alcoholic protagonist, examining his past, his inner demons and, to a lesser extent, those of the secondary characters.
I love a show that can maintain an ongoing story and not feel like the scattered efforts of a dozen disinterested writers cobbling together storylines that could be interchangeable with any show (I’m looking at YOU, every procedural ever). Every episode of BoJack is layered with inside jokes (see also: Archer, Arrested Development) and really rewards multiple viewings (here’s a Buzzfeed article that catalogs a good chunk of the series’s myriad background gags), it’s perfect for binge-viewings and very, very funny, but it’s also surprisingly insightful; as we peel back the various layers of BoJack’s psyche, every episode gives us a deeper peek into BoJack’s mind, his journey so far, and his motivations for being such a bitter, miserable bastard. It all peaks in the eleventh episode, “Downer Ending,” where BoJack goes on a drug-fueled bender and ends up deep inside his own mind, (a sequence that I rank among the most impactful animated sequences of all time) and then the season concludes with a touching bit of melancholy when ghost writer Diane tells our hero “that’s the problem with life: either you know what you want, and you don’t get it, or you get what you want and then you don’t know what you want”. That line, honestly, struck me like a bolt of lightning — we’re all killing ourselves to belong, to find our purpose, and it’s unsure if we’ll ever really be happy, just like BoJack. The fact that I had this moment after watching a cartoon about an alcoholic, anthropomorphic horse that hates himself is a real testament to this series and, in a larger sense, for the kind of work we can expect from cord-free providers like Netflix (home of Daredevil, which was fucking awesome).
But, for the most part, BoJack Horseman is just downright funny:
Rick & Morty (11eps x 22min = 4hrs, Adultswim.com [free, but limited], Hulu Plus, DVD & Blu-Ray)
Season Two Premiere Date: Sunday, July 26th, 2015,11:30pm on Cartoon Network
Most people, if asked about Rick and Morty, would probably only know them as the duo that made one of the weirdest Simpsons guest-animated couch gags. Fact is, Rick and Morty is a brilliant little diamond-in-the-rough series that was co-created by Justin Roiland (who voices both characters) and Dan Harmon (Community) and it stands (in my humble opinion) as the absolute, hands-down, best thing currently airing on Cartoon Network’s infamously inconsistent stoner-block “Adult Swim”. The show follows the interdimensional sci-fi adventures of mad scientist/raging alcoholic Rick Sanchez and his dopey grandson Morty, whose best relationship comparison would be if Doc Brown was a verbally abusive alcoholic and Marty McFly were an absolute simpleton. The series also features Chris Parnell, Sarah Chalke, Spencer (daughter-of-Kelsey) Grammar, and a handful of fantastic cameos including John Oliver, David Cross, Dana Carvey and Claudia (I’m-a-total-Farscape-fanboy-for-including-her-but-so-are-they) Black.
Rick and Morty regularly spoofs a myriad of sci-fi tropes, TV shows and films, ranging from Jurassic Park to The Lawnmower Man, while maintaining the kind of heart and humanity that one expects from a Dan Harmon joint (like Community). It jerks rather violently between shock-humor and feel-good compassion, but it does it really, perplexingly well (though less frequently than Community). It balances the absurd with the endearing, while simultaneously pushing the envelope of “good taste” and satirizing the greatest examples of the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genre which generally serve as the backdrop for the events of each episode. The heart of the show, however, resides in the relationships of the Smith family, your “average” dysfunctional American household and their run-of-the-mill family problems, albeit with a kooky, zany sci-fi twist. Dan Harmon is in fine form here, as each episode is essentially a classic family sitcom, whether it’s focusing on Morty’s difficulties at school, or Summer’s awkward teenage years, or Jerry and Beth’s frayed, troubled marriage. It’s noteworthy that this is the case, because Dan Harmon announced that Season Two would be eschewing the Doctor Who-styled “adventure-of-the-week” formula of the first season and turning Rick and Morty into a “sci-fi sitcom”, and focusing more on the family overall.
…And that’s pretty exciting news, considering this is what breakfast looks like in the Smith household:
Silicon Valley (season one – 8eps x 30min = 4hrs, season two – 10eps x 30mins = 5hrs, HBOGo, DVD & Blu-Ray)
Seriously, if you haven’t already, watch Silicon Valley NOW. I don’t care what you’re doing, stop it, and watch Silicon Valley. It airs immediately after Game of Thrones, and it’s really nice to have something to cool the burn after HBO and George R.R. Martin hold your hand over the fire for fifty-five, inevitably soul-crushing minutes. Aside from being a figurative cold beer chaser to Game of Thrones‘ sweaty yardwork, Silicon Valley is the best thing to come out of Mike Judge since the opening of Idiocracy. It’s sharp, it’s acerbic, it’s crass, it’s brilliant and it’s set in the middle of an unusual industry that is inarguably shaping our present, and future, faster than anything else. Most importantly, it has quite possibly the most well-constructed first season of a comedy I’ve ever seen.
Silicon Valley‘s protagonist takes the form of the awkward-yet-relatable Richard Hendricks, an anxious, genius programmer who is working on developing the next “killer app” with which to make his name in the tech world. Richard quickly finds himself and his app, Pied Piper, embroiled in a battle between two competing tech billionaires: one of them an eccentric Steve Wozniak-styled businessman (Christopher Evan Welch), and the other a blowhard Steve Jobs clone (Matt Ross) running an evil Google/Apple hybrid named Hooli. As the season unfolds, Richard and his Pied Piper team (a perfect ensemble composed of T.J. Miller, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani and Zach Woods) battle through legal problems, deadlines, money woes, technical issues and the looming threat of their arch-nemeses at Hooli, who are developing their own version of Richard’s app. It all culminates in a climactic two-part episode that wraps up all the season’s loose ends (I love when a show ties everything up and doesn’t depend on a second season) and features the smartest dick joke in the history of television.
Call me old fashioned, but I appreciate a neat and concise first season; there are only eight episodes, and each one contributes substantially to the ongoing story (while still being thoroughly entertaining). There’s also a rewarding amount of character growth throughout the show, albeit most either Richard’s personal development in building confidence or the growth in the relationship between Richard and his business partner/landlord/blowhard/former app developer Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller), who is the smooth-talking Jobs counterpart to Richard’s Wozniak. The Pied Piper team are all dysfunctional in their own ways — they bicker, they harass one another, and they play pranks — all of which are enjoyable to watch (particularly the antics between Starr’s Gilfoyle and Nanjiani’s Dinesh), but at the end of the day, the team are all dedicated to the success of their company, and to one another, and they’re damn funny in the process.
The second season is just as solid as the first, and continues the show’s successful formula, though it puts a few more irons in the fire and as a result takes a bit longer to get moving. Season Two also makes up for the first season’s gender gap giving Season One’s Monica (Amanda Crew) a promotion, and introducing Carla (Alice Wetterlund) as a quick-witted, sarcastic coder, and Diane, (Heidi Evans) who competently fills the eccentric shoes of the late Christopher Evan Welch who sadly died during production of Season One. Much to the show’s credit, the addition of strong female characters feels welcome but doesn’t feel forced or like it’s pandering to those who pointed out the inequalities of of the first season: Monica grows into a stong businesswoman, Carla holds her own against the smart-assed, foul-mouthed coders of Pied Piper, and Diane is as shrewd as she is strange. In the end, Season Two keeps the charm and magic going, and despite seeming to have a straighforward arc, makes some impressive turns by the end and, unlike Season One, concludes with a cliffhanger to hold the tension until a guaranteed Season Three.
I reckon by the time this posts, everyone on Earth will be Silicon Valley fans, if you’re not… then you’re an idiot. Fix that … by watching Silicon Valley in one epic afternoon.