First Impressions: "Happy Endings"

I had heard a lot about this show. It was supposed to be a Friends-rip off that started slowly and unevenly, stumbling its way forward, in constant danger of being cancelled. That it only picked up mid way through the first season where it finally found it’s feet, was ordered for a full second season by its network and grew into a sitcom-ic juggernaut. However you sliced and diced it, and even with that improvement in its fortunes, it was not exactly being sold to me a show worthy of being included in my viewing schedule.

So to be honest, when it premiered on Aussie TV a few months back, I ignored it. I, to my now great unending pop-culture junkie’s shame, listened to the naysayers, including a reviewer in The Sydney Morning Herald’s The Guide, and didn’t even record it for later viewing. I didn’t even give it a chance.

Fast forward a few months and I have finally seen the show’s pilot episode. Yes, the episode that I had avoided, ignored, and shunned, and frankly I feel like a fool.

Because Happy Endings is VERY FUNNY.

No seriously it is freakin’ hilarious. Like lots of pilots it has work to do in finessing the characters, but it is definitely one of the better pilots I have seen. Each of the characters was fleshed out extraordinary well considering they had 22 minutes to resolve a plot line, introduce six characters and establish the dynamics of the group… and make us love them all.

They managed to do all that, and yes I love them all. All six friends – married couple, Brad and Jane (Damon Wayans and Eliza Coupe), ex-fiancees, Dave and Alex (Zachary Knighton and Elisha Cuthbert) – whose aborted wedding is the centrepiece of the pilot episode since it has ramifications not just for the couple but for the group as a whole – and fake boyfriend and girlfriend, gay Max (Adam Pally), and unlucky in love, Penny (Casey Wilson).

I love too that they live in Chicago, that they trade witty clever bon mots that mere mortals couldn’t come up with in everyday conversation and I love that the dynamic in the group is affirming and caring, and that the writers don’t rely on cheap jokes, and half-arsed caricatures, and put down jokes to establish how these people relate to each other. They rib each other like good friends do but it’s done from a place of affection, and mirrors the way real friends interact.

Does the ghost of Friends, template for all ensemble sitcoms that followed it hang heavy over Happy Endings? To an extent yes, how can it not? But this show is really it’s own creation, with a unique take on what 21st Century life is like for singles and couple people alike.

I can see why it has gone gangbusters. It’s funny, clever, with real people you can engage with, and if you’re going to commit precious time to a show, that’s the least you should expect. The good thing is Happy Endings is likely to exceed this minimum standard again and again, and I can’t wait to see where my new friends take me next.

First impressions: "Outland"

The ABC debuted its new sitcom, Outland, last night, and it was, in a word, HILARIOUS.
Yes in capitals thank you. It was that funny.
Which is what you hope for and expect when someone dangles a juicy new piece of comedy tantalisingly close to your viewing schedule. Sitcoms are supposed to be funny, amusing looks at the lives of usually fallible people, all neatly bundled up in a half hour package of (hopefully) ceaseless mirth. Outland clearly got the memo because it is, yes, HILARIOUS (there are those much deserved caps again). 
But Outland went one better. In 30 short minutes, which whipped by in a blinding instant thanks to an episode so well put together I was utterly engaged almost instantly with it, they managed to introduce us to five beautifully drawn characters, their lives, flawed loves, and their reason for being – their “homosexualist science fiction enthusiast” group.
Yes, or in other words a “gay sci-fi geek” group, which was the tag given to them (and just as quickly rejected) by an incredulous interloper, Dylan, who managed to get caught up with the five loveable misfits by virtue of being in the house of his date-for-the-night, Max (Toby Truslove) when everyone else unceremoniously arrived without any warning.
Dylan eventually makes his escape, but not before witnessing the quirky mayhem caused by five good gay friends who happen to be, gasp, sci-fi nerds. So much of the humour comes from the fact that Max, wanting to make sure that Dylan sticks around for longer than one date, desperately tries to hide the fact that he likes science fiction so much. Even worse (in his mind at least), that he is in a group that does nothing but watch, talk and get enthused about just about every science fiction show, high profile and utterly obscure, ever made.
He has packed away every last vestige of his closeted sci-fi nerd lifestyle when the gang arrive and proceed to blow his cover in spectacular fashion, utterly oblivious to the fact that Max is trying hard to keep a lid on his secret shame. His friends – Fab (Adam Richard), Rae (Christine Anu), Andy (Paul Ireland) and Roby (Ben Gerrard) – are deliciously, delightfully, utterly oblivious to the havoc they are creating and do their best to convince Dylan of their merits of their obsession.
Traumatised by being outed by his friends as sic-fi nerd, Max has one of his panic attacks, and has to be talked down “off the ledge” in his bathroom by good friend Fab who he went to high school with, and who manages to get himself through an entire beauty routine while he calms Max down. Those scenes alone are worth the price of admission, especially since Fab is dressed in Max’s giant Dalek costume (don’t ask but it’s, um, HILARIOUS).
 By the time Max emerges, Dylan is ready to bolt, it emerges that no one really knows what Roby’s name is, Rae is mourning the end of her relationship to her firebrand girlfriend, and Fab and Andy are holding court in their own inimitable ways. It is chaos, glorious chaos, and oh did I mention? HILARIOUS.
Written by the hugely talented Adam Richard (who co-stars) and John Richard, the first episode is a more than worthy start to a series that promises a sidesplittingly funny look, with lashings of heart and soul humanity at its core, at the eternal quest of just about everyone on planet earth – to be accepted for who they are, fear that they won’t be, and desperately wanting somewhere to truly belong. As a gay man and sci-fi nerd, I identified with this, of course but it would speak to anyone who’s ever felt marginalised by society and uncertain of where they truly fit in.
With that sort of theme, that everyone can relate in one form or another, it’s bound to find an audience and do spectacularly well. Oh, and also because it’s HILARIOUS. 

Also check out this great interview with the co-creators of the show.

First impressions: "New Girl"

Well thank the TV gods – New Girl is as funny as hyped.
You’d expect it would be somewhat funny since it does star the comedically-talented Zooey Deschanel, who is best known as the flaky but good-hearted, if self-centred on again, off again girlfriend of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 500 Days of Summer. She brings much of that neurotic, quirky persona to this role, as Jess, a teacher who, after a nasty heartbreak moves in with three straight guys she finds on the internet. They find her unusual behaviour, such as obsessively watching Dirty Dancing for days on end while sobbing into mountains of tissues, or inventing a theme song for herself on the spot, disconcerting, but something about this energetic young teacher attracts them enough to take her in as their new house mate.
Let’s be honest. The show revolves primarily around Zooey Deschanel, and her gift for Lucille Ball-esque goofiness, and that is not necessarily a bad thing to begin with at least. Frasier started off as a star vehicle for Kelsey Grammer, who is a gifted actor and was a point of familiarity for viewers getting used to a new show. However, it sensibly, and quickly evolved into a superb, cleverly-written ensemble comedy than ran for 11 years with characters who were very bit as fleshed out and well-developed as Frasier himself.
I hope much the same thing happens with this show. Don’t get me wrong. The two episodes I have seen so far are very funny and promise a consistently funny show to come. The writers have wisely given the three male house mates some mild quirks of their own to save them from simply being the straight men to Jess’s adorable quirky take on life. Let’s hope though that they continue to pay as much attention to all of these characters as they do to Jess since while her idiosyncratic musings on life, and one-of-a-kind approaches to heartache, dating and love are hilarious, the show could become a one-trick pony if it relies on Zooey Deschanel formidable comedic talents alone.
I doubt though they will make that mistake. Frasier became as well-loved, and popular as it was because all of the characters were as watchable as Frasier and drew elements out of Frasier that a weaker sitcom simply couldn’t have managed. In the same way, I expect the ensemble will grow around Jess, matching her overwhelmingly unique character with characters who accent and enhance her and are every bit as compelling as she is.
One thing I particularly liked is the way it countered any over-goofiness with some touching moments which gave it a depth I wasn’t expecting, at least so soon. It’s off to a very promising start and if reports from the USA are anything to go by, it maintains and builds on this to great effect.
11 years for New Girl? Too early to tell but this episode lays the foundation for a show that has the potential to keep us laughing for quite a while to come.

Community season 3 On its Way…

Season 3 kicks off in the USA on September 22 and it looks awesome. All the crazy off-the-wall humour looks to be there in abundance, and plus John Goodman is in the mix! While we have a while to wait for it’s arrival in Australia – please don’t sit on this for 6 months whichever channel is lucky enough to have the rights – I have no doubt it will be worth it!

http://community101.tumblr.com/post/9644715597/community-is-back-check-out-a-sneak-peek-of-the

Thank You Eureka

Sad news today from the set of Eureka where it’s the beginning of the end of the show.

After syfy’s shock cancellation of the show – the word had been that syfy would renew the show for a limited number of shows season 6 but instead they initially cancelled it outright before the Eureka lobbied for, and won, a final episode to close the series out properly – a tweet from Colin Ferguson (he plays the sheriff, Jack Carter) – confirmed that the show I have just discovered is indeed on it’s last legs:


“They dismantled the Sheriff Station today… that was really, really sad…. I took my name plate from the desk… 



It’s such sad news. I feel like someone who has just met this amazing wonderful idiosyncratic vital person, a person who’s is capable of carrying on forever and enriching my life, only to find that they are dying of cancer and are close to death. It’s such a tragedy that syfy is ending this since it could have gone on forever – it is far more that just another quirky small town full of odd people show, with it’s scientific bent making the scope of the show’s episodes endless.

It should have gone on for many seasons yet.

New season US TV Shows – Part 2

So there are more than 5 shows that have intrigued me? Well truth be told, the ones I featured in part 1 were my cream of the crop, A plus picks and time will tell how soothsayer-like my pop culture sensibilities are. Sometimes I jumped onto the zeitgeist bandwagon with my boots on, and ride away for 5 or 6 seasons, or more if I am truly blessed of innovative storytelling; other times, it is as if my love for the program dooms it with an unwatchability curse and it limps through 3 or 4 episodes before dying a cruel pixallated death.


Clearly I am hoping that (a) the shows I think will be good will be as good as they look, and (b) they will be universally loved and adored such they stay on the screen forever, which in modern programming terms is more than a few weeks. I can’t say I am as invested in these second tier picks but they show promise, glimmers of original programming, and they may yet prove to be stayers that last…

CHARLIE’S ANGELS

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2P_jP76qqI

The Angels are back folks – played by Australia’s own Rachael Taylor (who frankly needs to step up the hair growing pace if she wants to match Farrah Fawcett’s runaway locks), Minka Kelly, and Annie Ilonzah – and accompanied by a far sexier looking Bosley (Ramon Rodriguez), and just like in the old series they aim to help the victims square off with those that seek to exploit them.

MY TAKE : I really want this to be edgy, sophisticated and clever, and a great revival of what was admittedly cheesy but fun pop culture junk food, but instead I fear it could end up going the way of Beverly Hillbillies the movie, or Bewitched the movie. The one thing that may stop that happening is that Drew Barrymore is executive producing, and she was behind the two revival Charlie’s Angels movies that, while they were by no means perfect, had an uber-cool feel and look to them, and if that sensibility is brought tob this show it may rise up above some the cloying lines that found their way into the trailer i.e. when asked if they’re cops, one of them replies “No, we’re Angels”. Here’s hoping the writers can remember that good writing is still required to underpin even the cheesiest of shows.

I HATE MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvV6dHgzxhk

Two very funny ladies – My Name Is Earl’s Jaime Pressly, and Wonderfalls’ Katie Finneran (the latter being my favourite but only just) – bring this domestically-based sitcom to life. It centres on their struggles to raise their teenage daughters so they are nothing like the social misfits their mothers were at the same age; unfortunately this simply makes theie daughters just like the mean girls who tormented their mothers growing up. Epic fail, and hopefully epically funny.

 MY TAKE : The trailer at least is hilarious, thanks in no small part to the considerable comic talents of Jaime and Katie, and if they can avoid the one joke pony trap of the mothers really hate the daughters this could really work. The key will be mining the characters’ interactions for laughs, rather than just setting one “oh the teenager girls are bitches, poor moms! ha ha” joke after another which would prove tiresome and repetitive. If the sitcom can broaden it’s scope somewhat to also include some grounded real mother/daughter moments, however fleeting, it will definitely be worth watching long term.

ONCE UPON A TIME

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rga4rp4j5TY

From the producers of LOST, comes a very clever new post modern drama, where Snow White (Ginny Goodwin of Big Love) and the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla of Swingtown) are not just fairytale characters but real people living in the deceptively sweet-looking town of Storybrooke, unaware of their true identities. Their only hope for a happy ever after ending is the arrival of Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison of House) to town, who is staggered to find out she is also in the book of fairytales.

MY TAKE : This looks almost as good as GRIMM but it won it’s way into my first picks selection by dint of a more earthy storytelling style. This series one achilles heel, and it’s minor compared to what is a breathtakingly clever idea, is the sometimes melodramatic tone to some of the scenes. I hope it manages to balance the feel good idea of these characters discovering who they truly are – nothing is more attractive, or potentially saccharine-laced sentimental than anyone being robbed of anything, having it restored to them – with some truly gritty, edge-of-the-seat drama. If it manages that precarious balancing act, I will make sure this vaults into my must see list.

UP ALL NIGHT

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5db6eixmiv0

This is billed a modern take on parenthood, starring the comedically gifted Will Arnett (Arrested Development) and Christina Applegate (Samantha Who?) as the parents in question, and Maya Rudolph as the married-to-her-career boss of Christina’s working mum who, along withy her stay-at-home hubby grapple with the thorny idea of having it all.

MY TAKE: I think this could very funny. Hilariously so. But I also worry it could tell all it’s jokes in the first episode or two, and be trapped in a very narrow storytelling arc, re-telling the same old jokes over and over till we all scream ‘yeah we get it, parenthood is hard!” Hopefully though in amongst all the jokes about baby poop, and lack of sleep, the show will actually try to grapple with the very modern idea of having it all, and if this is actually possible, or whether something needs to give. It is possible for a sitcom to be side-splittingly funny, and say something real and true, and I hope this show seizes on the opportunity.

PAN AM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4DHbcem_uc&feature=related

Glitzy, soap-drenched look at life in the glamorous age of air travel, the 1960s, centred on the most iconic of the airlines at the time, Pan Am, and the men and women working for it.

MY TAKE: Call it the Mad Men effect but the 1960s are awash in style and glamour, and the perfect place for a soap to explore a society waking from the somnolence of the 1950s and coming alive. If it’s clever it will try to be sudsy and special, using this decade to explore and comment on the societal changes in a decade that really gave birth to the modern era. I like my suds with a good dose of this sort of social commentary and here’s hoping the producers (ex-West Wing) remember what really made their previous show, West Wing so good, and bring it to bear here.

* Now there are others shows that could be fun like SUBURGATORY ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGr21_8vA8A) or APARTMENT 23 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxbiZMRt1gk), or dramatic like RINGER ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SCaB09ER9I) but these are the shows that truly caught my attention.

For a great rundown on the full list of upcoming shows, check out this URL :

http://www.tvline.com/2011/05/fall-tv-preview-2011-new-series/

Happy viewing everyone!

Discovering the hilarity of delightful UK sitcom Miranda

This is one very funny sitcom.


Not cutting edge granted but when did all comedy have to be avant garde to be entertaining and wildly funny? And Miranda Hart’s show about a geeky, slightly ungainly ‘big and long’ singleton trying to find love while she navigates relationships with wacky friends and family, and even faces up to the fact that she’s not as young as she used to be, is hilariously laugh-out-loud funny. I don’t laugh out loud at many sitcoms – notable exceptions right now being Community and The Big Bang Theory – but this regularly has me rolling in the aisles with tears streaming down my cheek.


It is not exactly the most sophisticated of set ups, but there is something about Miranda’s lovable goofiness, her funny short pieces to camera, and the almost-Family Guy-esque interludes that punctuate the main story line of each episode (one in particular about a possible suitor her mother was trying to set her up with, who likes squirrels a little too much, was pure comedy silliness) that draw me in, keep me laughing and make me want to tune in the next week. It is one of the very few shows on TV right now that I actually when it’s on TV in it’s appointed time slot (thanks mainly to it being on ABC2 with no annoying ads), which says much about how engaging, funny, and clever it is.

 

I have found her part way into season 2 so it looks like I’ll be ordering season 1 on DVD or downloading off iTunes to get more of this very funny, slapstick, funny-faced lady.

Community on Sesame Street

Joel McHale from Community and his prickly new friend the cactus (image via babble.com)
Joel McHale from Community and his prickly new friend the cactus (image via babble.com)

 

It is no secret that I adore in almost equal measure both The Muppets and the sitcom Community (well if you’re inside my head anyway which thankfull for you, you’re not).

So imagine my utter pop culture-loving, nerdy joy when these two culture treasures combined recently with the appearance of Joel McHale (Jeff Winger) and Ken Jeong (Chang) on Sesame Street, with Elmo and an attitude-laden spiky cactus respectively.

The “squeee” factor was high and my inner child was doing cartwheels so happy was I.

 

 

More Community fun and hilarity!

Yes I know I am getting a tad Community obsessed but why not? It is FUNNY! ’nuff said people…

In further proof that the Community like to kid around a lot, here’s another fun photo..
That’s Joel McHale holding the sign, with Alison Brie hamming it up next to him

I also found this link chock full of bloopers from season 2 of Community…laugh and enjoy…