What Else is On?
Folks, you know me. You’re the same six people who keep reading this site throughout the years, so I can say with total confidence that I love you one hundred million times more than I love my own family or even a dog. It doesn’t matter which dog, that’s not relevant. The point is, you know that I normally provide in-depth critical reviews of all the hottest television shows, albeit several months late, contingent on their appearance on major streaming services, and based entirely on the first four episodes at most. The point is, I’m doing God’s work here, and any criticism of my approach is tantamount to treason.
But let’s face facts. Television has gotten so good lately that it’s become a cliché on good television shows for characters to point out how good television is. And frankly, it’s exhausting. I barely have the energy to smoke marijuana anymore, let alone keep up with the six dozen critical darlings on the FXX Network alone. I’ve been mainlining quality television, but instead of building up a tolerance, I’m starting to suffer fatal crashes of my immune system. I used to be able to stream several years’ worth of a series over a weekend; now, if a show doesn’t get really good really fast, I bail before the mid-season mark. (If this was on Twitter, it would be subtweeting Gotham.)
Some shows, it turns out, just aren’t compelling enough to me to bear a thousand-word analysis. I find myself vacillating wildly between a Shermanesque “It stinks!” and just telling you that it’s good enough to waste your time until baseball season starts again. I take no pleasure in this; I know I’m missing out on dozens of appointment-television masterpieces about stern men who do bad things because of ‘society’, neurotic urban white women who are having a hard time with things in general, and science fiction shows about a post-apocalyptic world where vampires keep humans in petting zoos. But this is the price of leading a full life. So today, I’m going to give some much shorter reviews of shows that I couldn’t manage to wrest a full post out of.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
It’s hard to believe that Larry David’s classic work of finicky comic alienation has returned. It’s pretty hoary at this point; dating back to the pre-9/11 era, it’s a show once watched by babies who had an unusually high tolerance for the comedy of alienation, but now they’re surly teenagers who watch only Disney TV and pornography on their Apple Watches or whatever. The new Curb, like the vast majority of its cast (Bob Einstein, as Marty Funkhouser, looks especially cadaverous), isn’t quite as sharp as it used to be, but it’s still pretty enjoyable. The first few episodes were wildly inconsistent and seemed a bit off, tonally speaking, but by episode three, “A Disturbance in the Kitchen”, it had reached its old heights of absurdist micro-aggression. I could be wrong, but the show has a much less loose and much more scripted feel to it, as if they’ve cut back on the improvising a bit; however, it’s made up for that — and for some clunky plots — with an enjoyable deployment of guest stars. (Getting Salman Rushdie to say “the fatwa wraps around you, like sexy pixie dust” alone is worth an Emmy, surely.) Curb may have lost a step, but Larry David is still a transformational figure in American comedy, and I’m on board for what may be his last humiliating and annoying trip through the restaurants and mansions of L.A.
Cursed with one of the silliest names of any prestige show yet, but blessed with the sporadically brilliant David Fincher as a producer and sometime director, Mindhunter tells the story of the birth and development of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit and the early years of criminal profiling techniques to identify and capture what would later become known as serial killers. Truly a show of ups and downs, Mindhunter makes a lot of missteps: it tends to fall on its own face when attempting to bring any meaning or metaphor to its subjects; it’s good for at least one extremely woozy bit of melodrama every episode, and two of its main characters (Jonathan Groff as Agent Holden Ford and Hannah Gross as Debbie Mitford) are almost impossible to like, which is two bad, since they’re given a lot of charisma-free screen time as a couple. However, it’s beautifully filmed; it has tons of well-observed period detail; and it manages to avoid the clumsy and well-worn tropes associated with most serial-killer procedurals by using real-life figures like Edmund Kemper and Richard Speck and delivering outstanding performances based on actual transcripts of their interviews. It also manages to build a decent degree of tension, but much of it is based on subplots that never really intersect with the main narrative, and the overall sense of the show is one of dramatic inertia: lots of things are happening, but they aren’t happening to anyone on the screen.
I Love You, America
Sarah Silverman has long been one of my favorite comedians; at her best, she can be engaging, funny, transgressive, and surprising, and she’s recently turned out to be a terrific actress. Her politics, though are pretty dull liberal centrism. The 2010s have been a bad time for comedians: spurred by current events to go public with their political views, they’ve also taken a beating by those who find those views obnoxious or boring. More than one great comic has been knocked down a few notches when it’s been revealed that their politics make them pretty humorless. This show, sadly, is one of those well-meaning liberal projects where someone, in this case Silverman and what must be a real bummer of a writing staff, goes out into the great American flyover states and visits reputedly conservative small-town hicks, illustrating in a way they conspicuously insist is not mean to be condescending or patronizing, that we are all jus’ folks, and we could all get along if only we told poop and fart jokes together instead of clinging to silly beliefs that are contrary to Silverman’s vision of a decent society, which seem to always involve gay marriage, gun ownership, and global warming, but never anything having to do with economics. This show is pretty close to peak liberalism: DeRay McKesson and Al Franken have been guests, there’s a lot of Drumpf-is-dum jokes, and Silverman talks about how she couldn’t possibly be a big-city elitist because she’s from New Hampshire, which makes perfect sense if there is no such thing as money. It still has some appealing moments, because Silverman is an appealing performer; it features bits by the always-welcome Mather Zickel, and a funny running segment involving her enjoyable old crank of a father. But for the most part, the show could be hosted by almost anyone, and the jokes practically creak at the seams with their unanalytical, blunt well-meaning earnestness. As a creepy old lefty, I happily admit to my own bias against this why-can’t-we-all-get-along-and-dance-with-Kissinger shit, but here’s the gist of it: in the second episode, she gets a big laugh with the line “Remember when truth was facts?” If, like me, you know that truth and facts are two entirely different things, this probably ain’t the show for you.