The sum total of my knowledge of Minnesota is mainly drawn from following the Vikings whenever I have one of their players in my NFL Fantasy Football team and from the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. In the 1996 classic, the brothers paint the state as a place of eternal white winter, full of homely Midwesterners, who’re extremely passive aggressive with a real dislike for confrontation; Brainerd, MN seems like a whole other world, one that plays up its Scandinavian roots with the lyrical tics, plates of comfort food, and the everymen and women just trying to get through the day. I can think of no film before or since that is similar to Fargo, without being an obvious homage. Though it has those beats and themes that are synonymous with the Coen Brothers’ work (the idea that money can corrupt anyone, that the easy way out usually ends up with the person taking it in a pit of absurdity), it is extraordinarily unique. It’s a crime film unlike any you’ve ever really seen.
And that’s where my love for it comes; sitting by far and away top of my list of the Coens’ output. Each character is so uniquely crafted that you know just what they’re about. You instantly understand how the mild-mannered, but ultimately frustrated, Jerry Lundegaard (played phenomenally by William H Macy) managed to fall into this life of crime; driven by sheer desperation. You latch on to the talented, affable, but similarly frustrated Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand in an Oscar-winning role) easily; a police chief in the small backwater town that knows she can do better (as her skills and intuition throughout the film show) but keeps trucking on because life is comfortable, particularly with a baby on the way. She might also be the most likeable character the Coen Brothers have ever created, a bright star in the usual wash of darkness and malice that pervades most of their films, which is unique in and of its self. Fargo is a film of chaos taking over a small, quiet town; one mainly populated by repressed folk with a penchant for coding everything, making it frustrating to discover anything. It’s also extremely funny, utilising that black-as-tar humour the brothers do so well. It’s endlessly quotable, second in Coen-canon perhaps only to The Big Lebowski.
It’s for those reasons why, when FX announced they were creating an adaptation of the film for TV there was plenty of hesitation, and rightly so. Fargo is so unique that it seemed to even attempt to adapt it would, at best, create something that felt like a poor pastiche of what the Coen Brothers had so delicately and intricately created almost two decades ago. However, this TV adaptation, helmed by Noah Hawley (who’s probably best known for his 2009 series The Unusuals), works, and works well, in spite of itself precisely because it’s not Fargo. It’s as though Hawley is working from a rough sketch rather than a blueprint; the idea is there but it isn’t quite fully formed so Hawley & Co are going to fill in the blanks themselves. There are echoes of the original Fargo here but this is its own unique beast and that is fundamentally the reason why it works.
The pilot spends the first two-thirds of its hour-plus running time playing up to your expectations; everything is the same, but different. It opens on a snowy panorama, much like how the film begins, and an ominous yet slightly chirpy theme kicks in. But it’s not quite Brainerd, and it’s not quite Carter Burwell’s iconic theme that plays throughout the film. It even begins with the same tongue-in-cheek “this is a true story” disclaimer, only now the purported events took place in 2006, as opposed to 1987.  Macy’s Jerry Lundergaard is now Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman sporting a pretty dodgy Midwest accent), another milquetoast salesman stuck in a state of constant frustration and depression, only this time he’s an insurance salesman and his main source of frustration is his wife Pearl who nags at him because he’s nowhere near as successful or fun as his younger brother. Marge is now split between Vern Thurman, the calm, collected police chief with a pregnant wife at home, and his plucky, intuitive deputy Molly Solverson (relative unknown Allison Tolman).
Everything here is set up to make this show seem familiar and, as a result, it can leave you feeling a little uneasy as though this really is just Fargo but with the names changed. The characters do all seem to fall into similar patterns that their cinematic equivalents did, particularly Lester who finds himself failing at his job, failing his wife, and failing to stand up to Sam Hess, the Biff Tannen-esque man who used to bully him in school and continues to do so in their forties. Similarly, after an encounter with Sam and his sons lands him in ER with a bust nose, Lester finds himself spiralling into a world of crime after meeting a malevolent hitman named Lorne Malvo who takes Lester’s complaints about Sam as signal to kill him (which he later does with a knife to the head while Hess is mid-coitus with a stripper). So far, we have a relatable protagonist unwittingly brought into this criminal world while a sharp detective is trying to figure out what’s going on. It all sounds very Fargo, until Hawley completely and utterly pulls the rug out from under your feet and you realise everything in that first 40 minutes was to merely get you settled and comfortable, before surprising you with what this Fargo actually is.
The catalyst of this rug-pulling is Billy Bob Thornton’s phenomenal turn as Malvo. The soft-spoken hitman doesn’t really have a Fargo doppelganger (although his quiet malevolence does have shades of Peter Stormare’s Gaear about it), but he feels like a villain/antihero that could quite easily exist in a Coen Brothers film, just not one that’s been created yet - a less immediately psychotic Anton Chigurh perhaps. From his introduction, Lorne acts as a Loki figure; the devil come to town. He likes to play with people and watch the chaos that can ensue for no other reason than he enjoys the result. He takes advantage of an young employee at the motel he stays at by telling him the best way to get revenge on the kid’s boss is to piss in her car’s oil tank. While the boy is doing so, Malvo rings the front desk to inform the boss of what is going on just so he can watch the boy get chased away by a very angry woman with a rifle. He also starts a fight between Hess’ two sons by phoning the elder boy pretending to be the lawyer in charge of their father’s will to tell him that he was getting nothing, and his brother was to get pretty much everything. Lorne can’t even see what occurs as a result of his phone call (namely assault with a hockey stick) but he still revels in the chaos he has caused. When he meets Lester by chance in a hospital waiting room, Lorne pushes his buttons by implying, though never outright saying anything of the sort, that Lester was less of a man because he didn’t stand up to Hess. But these mind games flick a switch inside Lester, turning him into his own character; no longer a mere mirror of Jerry. In a fit of frustration, Lester cracks his wife’s skull open with a hammer, her henpecking having finally become too much for him after a newfound sense of masculinity thanks to Lorne. It’s a point of no return for Lester and Fargo begins to feel more like Breaking Bad than it does the original film; Lester becoming an even more incompetent Walter White, without any of the criminal talent (though his run head-long into his motivational poster to knock himself out, creating some sort of alibi, is pretty clever).
The show also dispatches with Vern Thurman pretty quickly too, with the chief being something of a decoy protagonist. A visit to chase up a lead at Lester’s house, not long after Lester had murdered his wife in the basement, leads to Thurman getting cut down by Lorne’s shotgun (a pellet of which ends up embedded in Lester’s hand; surely a telling piece of evidence for later in the series?). The show quickly becomes its own thing after gingerly luring the punters in with a false sense of familiarity with the film, but it’s clear that it was all a ruse, and one that pays off spectacularly. As that brutal scene in the basement occurs, you feel the transformation of Fargo into less of a show adapted from the film, and more a show inspired by the film; the only thing being shared is the name and the rough idea. Though the majority of the pilot focuses on Lester’s transformation from Jerry to Lester, we are introduced to a variety of other characters including Colin Hanks’ Duluth Deputy Gus Grimly, Bob Odenkirk’s Mr Show-esque simpleton Bill Oswalt (another cop who works with Molly), and Kate Walsh as Sam’s widow. Each makes their own little impact but we don’t see enough of them to make a decent judgement.

The limited series looks set to introduce even more quirky, weird characters who seem to have a bit of the Twin Peaks about them while still capturing that Coen vibe; unafraid to look at the implications of actions and to stare head-on at the concept of evil. That’s what Fargo does so well, it seems. It’s the first non-Coen Brothers project that has managed to get anywhere near to their style whilst not being an overt copy, which I imagine is hard to do, particularly when the show is based on one of their films. Over the course of the 70-minute pilot, it organically moves from the recognisable to its own thing. Like the film, Fargo isn’t really about those explosive moments, preferring to focus on the mundane and every day, which is why those explosive moments really do explode and make even more of an impact. But where the film gave Jerry some form of humanity despite his crimes, Lester has already become something of a monster under the influence of Lorne and can now begin to spiral out of control, whilst Molly and the rest of the police department try to keep things together as the web grows ever wider and things become more complicated. I’m intrigued to see where they’re set to take it but the grapevine seems to suggest that it continues to further deviate from the source material and only gets better and betters as a result of this. Put all hesitations you might have to one side, because I think we’ve got us a winner, don’tcha know?

The sum total of my knowledge of Minnesota is mainly drawn from following the Vikings whenever I have one of their players in my NFL Fantasy Football team and from the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. In the 1996 classic, the brothers paint the state as a place of eternal white winter, full of homely Midwesterners, who’re extremely passive aggressive with a real dislike for confrontation; Brainerd, MN seems like a whole other world, one that plays up its Scandinavian roots with the lyrical tics, plates of comfort food, and the everymen and women just trying to get through the day. I can think of no film before or since that is similar to Fargo, without being an obvious homage. Though it has those beats and themes that are synonymous with the Coen Brothers’ work (the idea that money can corrupt anyone, that the easy way out usually ends up with the person taking it in a pit of absurdity), it is extraordinarily unique. It’s a crime film unlike any you’ve ever really seen.

And that’s where my love for it comes; sitting by far and away top of my list of the Coens’ output. Each character is so uniquely crafted that you know just what they’re about. You instantly understand how the mild-mannered, but ultimately frustrated, Jerry Lundegaard (played phenomenally by William H Macy) managed to fall into this life of crime; driven by sheer desperation. You latch on to the talented, affable, but similarly frustrated Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand in an Oscar-winning role) easily; a police chief in the small backwater town that knows she can do better (as her skills and intuition throughout the film show) but keeps trucking on because life is comfortable, particularly with a baby on the way. She might also be the most likeable character the Coen Brothers have ever created, a bright star in the usual wash of darkness and malice that pervades most of their films, which is unique in and of its self. Fargo is a film of chaos taking over a small, quiet town; one mainly populated by repressed folk with a penchant for coding everything, making it frustrating to discover anything. It’s also extremely funny, utilising that black-as-tar humour the brothers do so well. It’s endlessly quotable, second in Coen-canon perhaps only to The Big Lebowski.

It’s for those reasons why, when FX announced they were creating an adaptation of the film for TV there was plenty of hesitation, and rightly so. Fargo is so unique that it seemed to even attempt to adapt it would, at best, create something that felt like a poor pastiche of what the Coen Brothers had so delicately and intricately created almost two decades ago. However, this TV adaptation, helmed by Noah Hawley (who’s probably best known for his 2009 series The Unusuals), works, and works well, in spite of itself precisely because it’s not Fargo. It’s as though Hawley is working from a rough sketch rather than a blueprint; the idea is there but it isn’t quite fully formed so Hawley & Co are going to fill in the blanks themselves. There are echoes of the original Fargo here but this is its own unique beast and that is fundamentally the reason why it works.

The pilot spends the first two-thirds of its hour-plus running time playing up to your expectations; everything is the same, but different. It opens on a snowy panorama, much like how the film begins, and an ominous yet slightly chirpy theme kicks in. But it’s not quite Brainerd, and it’s not quite Carter Burwell’s iconic theme that plays throughout the film. It even begins with the same tongue-in-cheek “this is a true story” disclaimer, only now the purported events took place in 2006, as opposed to 1987.  Macy’s Jerry Lundergaard is now Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman sporting a pretty dodgy Midwest accent), another milquetoast salesman stuck in a state of constant frustration and depression, only this time he’s an insurance salesman and his main source of frustration is his wife Pearl who nags at him because he’s nowhere near as successful or fun as his younger brother. Marge is now split between Vern Thurman, the calm, collected police chief with a pregnant wife at home, and his plucky, intuitive deputy Molly Solverson (relative unknown Allison Tolman).

Everything here is set up to make this show seem familiar and, as a result, it can leave you feeling a little uneasy as though this really is just Fargo but with the names changed. The characters do all seem to fall into similar patterns that their cinematic equivalents did, particularly Lester who finds himself failing at his job, failing his wife, and failing to stand up to Sam Hess, the Biff Tannen-esque man who used to bully him in school and continues to do so in their forties. Similarly, after an encounter with Sam and his sons lands him in ER with a bust nose, Lester finds himself spiralling into a world of crime after meeting a malevolent hitman named Lorne Malvo who takes Lester’s complaints about Sam as signal to kill him (which he later does with a knife to the head while Hess is mid-coitus with a stripper). So far, we have a relatable protagonist unwittingly brought into this criminal world while a sharp detective is trying to figure out what’s going on. It all sounds very Fargo, until Hawley completely and utterly pulls the rug out from under your feet and you realise everything in that first 40 minutes was to merely get you settled and comfortable, before surprising you with what this Fargo actually is.

The catalyst of this rug-pulling is Billy Bob Thornton’s phenomenal turn as Malvo. The soft-spoken hitman doesn’t really have a Fargo doppelganger (although his quiet malevolence does have shades of Peter Stormare’s Gaear about it), but he feels like a villain/antihero that could quite easily exist in a Coen Brothers film, just not one that’s been created yet - a less immediately psychotic Anton Chigurh perhaps. From his introduction, Lorne acts as a Loki figure; the devil come to town. He likes to play with people and watch the chaos that can ensue for no other reason than he enjoys the result. He takes advantage of an young employee at the motel he stays at by telling him the best way to get revenge on the kid’s boss is to piss in her car’s oil tank. While the boy is doing so, Malvo rings the front desk to inform the boss of what is going on just so he can watch the boy get chased away by a very angry woman with a rifle. He also starts a fight between Hess’ two sons by phoning the elder boy pretending to be the lawyer in charge of their father’s will to tell him that he was getting nothing, and his brother was to get pretty much everything. Lorne can’t even see what occurs as a result of his phone call (namely assault with a hockey stick) but he still revels in the chaos he has caused. When he meets Lester by chance in a hospital waiting room, Lorne pushes his buttons by implying, though never outright saying anything of the sort, that Lester was less of a man because he didn’t stand up to Hess. But these mind games flick a switch inside Lester, turning him into his own character; no longer a mere mirror of Jerry. In a fit of frustration, Lester cracks his wife’s skull open with a hammer, her henpecking having finally become too much for him after a newfound sense of masculinity thanks to Lorne. It’s a point of no return for Lester and Fargo begins to feel more like Breaking Bad than it does the original film; Lester becoming an even more incompetent Walter White, without any of the criminal talent (though his run head-long into his motivational poster to knock himself out, creating some sort of alibi, is pretty clever).

The show also dispatches with Vern Thurman pretty quickly too, with the chief being something of a decoy protagonist. A visit to chase up a lead at Lester’s house, not long after Lester had murdered his wife in the basement, leads to Thurman getting cut down by Lorne’s shotgun (a pellet of which ends up embedded in Lester’s hand; surely a telling piece of evidence for later in the series?). The show quickly becomes its own thing after gingerly luring the punters in with a false sense of familiarity with the film, but it’s clear that it was all a ruse, and one that pays off spectacularly. As that brutal scene in the basement occurs, you feel the transformation of Fargo into less of a show adapted from the film, and more a show inspired by the film; the only thing being shared is the name and the rough idea. Though the majority of the pilot focuses on Lester’s transformation from Jerry to Lester, we are introduced to a variety of other characters including Colin Hanks’ Duluth Deputy Gus Grimly, Bob Odenkirk’s Mr Show-esque simpleton Bill Oswalt (another cop who works with Molly), and Kate Walsh as Sam’s widow. Each makes their own little impact but we don’t see enough of them to make a decent judgement.

The limited series looks set to introduce even more quirky, weird characters who seem to have a bit of the Twin Peaks about them while still capturing that Coen vibe; unafraid to look at the implications of actions and to stare head-on at the concept of evil. That’s what Fargo does so well, it seems. It’s the first non-Coen Brothers project that has managed to get anywhere near to their style whilst not being an overt copy, which I imagine is hard to do, particularly when the show is based on one of their films. Over the course of the 70-minute pilot, it organically moves from the recognisable to its own thing. Like the film, Fargo isn’t really about those explosive moments, preferring to focus on the mundane and every day, which is why those explosive moments really do explode and make even more of an impact. But where the film gave Jerry some form of humanity despite his crimes, Lester has already become something of a monster under the influence of Lorne and can now begin to spiral out of control, whilst Molly and the rest of the police department try to keep things together as the web grows ever wider and things become more complicated. I’m intrigued to see where they’re set to take it but the grapevine seems to suggest that it continues to further deviate from the source material and only gets better and betters as a result of this. Put all hesitations you might have to one side, because I think we’ve got us a winner, don’tcha know?

Game Of Thrones’ fourth season opens with a callback to one of the closing images of Season 1: Eddard Stark’s greatsword, Ice, the one used to decapitate him, being melted down and reworked into two new swords for Tywin Lannister’s son and grandson, scored by the now instantly recognisable “Rains of Castamere” (which over the last year has become the show’s own “Imperial March”). Gone are the days of the Starks of the North, Season 4 is all about the lions of the Lannisters. It’s a testament to Game Of Thrones that on its 31st episode, the title music still sends most fans into a frenzy of excitement.
As I’m sure all of you remember, Season 3 ended with about half of the original cast mutilated, scattered and in some way or another, bashed up. None of them are magically fixed or revived, so you must learn to live with it. While the debut season could been seen as a political thriller, the second season a war drama, and Season 3 was a “behind enemy lines”-type espionage story, Season 4 looks set to be firmly in the mould of “buddy cop” genre, with the duos of Brienne Of Tarth and Jaime Lannister; Arya Stark and The Hound; and to a lesser extent, Tyrion and Bronn. Not to suggest this season’s going to have any of the levity of that brand comedy - far from it - but the dynamic between the aforementioned pairs is much the same - particularly Arya and the Hound, who would look set to be the season’s highlight, if it wasn’t for the major new introduction to the cast.
Oberyn Martell is the first Dornish character to be introduced by name and there’s no doubt that he’ll soon become a fan favourite - with his venomous distaste for Lannisters, his bristling vengeance, not to mention his swift introduction as another queer character in the show alongside Ellaria Sand, his paramour from Dorne.
Episode 1, titled “Two Swords” has firmly surrounded itself with the settling dust from Season 3’s finale, all talk and little action (save for the tense tavern brawl finale). It bodes well, though, with Jaime and Cersei Lannister reunited to trade barbs at one another, Oberyn Martell to soliloquise of future revenge, Daenerys cursorily flirting with the recast Daario Nahaaris and Jon Snow eulogising the late Robb Stark.

Season 4 is looking promising on virtue of this opener, with characters very firmly set on their path for the rest of the season, particularly Arya who looks certain to become an pint-sized agent of vengeance, and Oberyn Martell, whose role in King’s Landing and all-round bad-boy status will be the high point of the series for many. Hopefully.

Game Of Thrones’ fourth season opens with a callback to one of the closing images of Season 1: Eddard Stark’s greatsword, Ice, the one used to decapitate him, being melted down and reworked into two new swords for Tywin Lannister’s son and grandson, scored by the now instantly recognisable “Rains of Castamere” (which over the last year has become the show’s own “Imperial March”). Gone are the days of the Starks of the North, Season 4 is all about the lions of the Lannisters. It’s a testament to Game Of Thrones that on its 31st episode, the title music still sends most fans into a frenzy of excitement.

As I’m sure all of you remember, Season 3 ended with about half of the original cast mutilated, scattered and in some way or another, bashed up. None of them are magically fixed or revived, so you must learn to live with it. While the debut season could been seen as a political thriller, the second season a war drama, and Season 3 was a “behind enemy lines”-type espionage story, Season 4 looks set to be firmly in the mould of “buddy cop” genre, with the duos of Brienne Of Tarth and Jaime Lannister; Arya Stark and The Hound; and to a lesser extent, Tyrion and Bronn. Not to suggest this season’s going to have any of the levity of that brand comedy - far from it - but the dynamic between the aforementioned pairs is much the same - particularly Arya and the Hound, who would look set to be the season’s highlight, if it wasn’t for the major new introduction to the cast.

Oberyn Martell is the first Dornish character to be introduced by name and there’s no doubt that he’ll soon become a fan favourite - with his venomous distaste for Lannisters, his bristling vengeance, not to mention his swift introduction as another queer character in the show alongside Ellaria Sand, his paramour from Dorne.

Episode 1, titled “Two Swords” has firmly surrounded itself with the settling dust from Season 3’s finale, all talk and little action (save for the tense tavern brawl finale). It bodes well, though, with Jaime and Cersei Lannister reunited to trade barbs at one another, Oberyn Martell to soliloquise of future revenge, Daenerys cursorily flirting with the recast Daario Nahaaris and Jon Snow eulogising the late Robb Stark.

Season 4 is looking promising on virtue of this opener, with characters very firmly set on their path for the rest of the season, particularly Arya who looks certain to become an pint-sized agent of vengeance, and Oberyn Martell, whose role in King’s Landing and all-round bad-boy status will be the high point of the series for many. Hopefully.

Blonde Redhead - For The Damaged Coda
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Song Of The Day

AMERICAN DAD

The conflict between Stan Smith’s staunch conservative politics and Hayley Smith’s liberal sensibilities is a plough oft furrowed by the writers of American Dad, right back to the very early days of the show (Honey I’m Homeland is even written by Dan Vebber a writer from the first few seasons), and not without good reason. The comedic setup of opposite viewpoints colliding stretches right back to The Odd Couple and probably beyond. But there’s a reason AD hasn’t used it in at least three years; the well has kinda run dry.

There’s only so many times you can watch strawmen - especially when one of those strawmen actually has a very good point, as Hayley often does - for the worst aspects opposite ends of the political spectrum bicker with each other. Even when, in this episode, Stan is kidnapped by members of the Occupy movement and brainwashed into becoming a wealth-redistributing, NPR-listening, homeless-helping, bag-for-life-ing, CND-tattooed liberal (parodying Brody’s metamorphosis from GI Joe to Jihad Joe on Homeland, duh). 

Usually that sort of role-reversal would result in some pretty good laughs for me but… eh? The whole episode felt threadbare and aiming for low-hanging fruit (Stan’s initial brainwashing via slam-poetry and This American Life podcast being the highpoint and even that was merely decent). In particular the Family Guy-esque running gag of telling Hayley just how annoying she is - although that does have a nice coyote-related gag early on - and the just plain odd Steve & Roger candlelit romance are recurring bum notes throughout.

Still, it’s a step up from last week’s body-swap bilge, which isn’t something to complain about.

Notes and more notes

  • “By precisely targeting a barrage of missiles your dad acquired for us, we’ll reshape the contemptible fascists of Mount Rushmore into history’s greatest leftists: Sean Penn, Michael Moore and Captain Planet”

BOB’S BURGERS

It’s high praise, especially from a nerd like me, but Bob’s Burgers really does feel like the spiritual successor to the golden era of The Simpsons. It’s (probably) never quite equal or surpass that incredible streak, but then it is a very different show… as well as being very similar. Shush, it makes sense in my head.

This week’s episode continues Season 4’s trend of taking the Belchers’ - and particularly Linda’s - knack for letting things get out of hand on a larger scale than usual, but “I Get A Psy-chic Out Of You” is up there as one of the more complex plots the writers have attempted. Linda believes she’s developed psychic powers via bumping her head on the counter, and, to the bafflement and disbelief of Bob, actually has some minor successes early on; predicting telemarketer calls, where Mort lost his wallet, what object Bob hides under a bowl. Before long Linda’s telling the fortunes of friends and family, and is brought in by the ever-grumpy Sergeant Bosco as a last resort to solve the Little Boy Bandit case and save his job. These are some pretty big stakes for the usually small-focus show; several people’s futures, the course of justice, a crime spree and a man’s career hang in the balance of Linda’s apparent powers, whilst her and her husband are placed in unusually unsympathetic roles.

Of course Lin’s just “Keyser Soze’d” herself; she noticed Mort’s wallet hanging out of his trousers, she knew telemarketers usually call in the afternoon, she could smell the orange on Bob’s hands, and both her and her friends were just leading each other to whatever the other wanted to hear.

It may not sound as complex or funny as I’ve made out here, but it genuinely is. Not one of the season’s highlights but a very, very solid Bob episode.

Notes and more notes

  • This week’s burger pun: I Fought The Slaw (And The Slaw Won)
  • “Now’s my chance to sit in his stool and get the Mort Experience! Oh… ohhh!”
  • Bob: “It’s just two small coincidences”
    Gene: “That’s what I call my testicles!”

THE SIMPSONS

Ugggggggh.

It’s really hard to not compare The Simpsons episodes we are served today with the ones from two decades ago, just as it’s hard to view anything from TV or film or music or sport or culture in general without comparing it to some form of predecessor. Taking Luca$ as an episode from the 25th year of a once great show, it’s a sporadically humorous dud and a disappointment, but nothing terrible. Taking it on its own merits, as if this were a brand new show? Put it out of its misery.

Credit where credit is due, guest star Zach Galifianakis is decent with what little he’s given as the eponymous amateur competitive eater Luca$ (pronounced ‘Lucadollar’) and doesn’t play it as he would most of his characters. And more credit where it’s due, Marge’s worrying that Lisa will wind up with a Homer of her own is quite interesting territory that I don’t remember being explored in the past. But that’s it. Without all the past context and character development, this episode paints the show as a sketched out mess. Marge comes off as overbearing and needlessly worrisome, Homer an idiot (the “stuck in a playground” gag was done far better on It’s Always Sunny), Lisa’s barely even a feature in her own plot and Bart’s kind of a little prick in his B-plot with Snake becoming an odd sort of Boo Radley.

Lisa’s supposed crush on her gurgitating school chum is nonexistent, merely a plot device, whilst - as Homer takes Lisa out on a daddy/daughter date, Marge turns up to apologise for insinuating Homer isn’t much of a catch wearing a glamorous dress, as if she needs to woo her own husband away from a fatherly gesture she originally proposed? Homer even acknowledges the pure oddity of the situation with the line “Marge please control you jealousy, this is your daughter!”, really doesn’t come off as much of a joke. There’s even quite a gross incest subtext tacked on to the end of the best scene of the episode - Homer’s nervousness at calling his daughter up to “ask her out” adorably turns out like every puppy love-struck teen awkwardly ringing up a crush, right down to his barfly chums also nervous with excitement, but then everyone’s favourite slack-jawed yokel Cletus appears at the end of the bar, and the whole scene just develops a cloud of gross subtext.

With the recent news that the showrunners envisage The Simpsons running for another quarter-decade or more, this episode might not even be the beginning of the bottom of the barrel.

Notes and more notes

  • That Minecraft couch gag was poor as hell, and with the blink-and-you’d-miss-it “Parodies are easy!” tag at the very beginning, it’s either a lazy attempt at a potential viral video or an ill-advised shot at South Park, who recently did a Minecraft-centric episode of their own.
  • Marge’s reading material of choice? Dissatisfied Wife Magazine, of course.

Mass Deaths of the day: We’re around two days from the debut of Game Of Throne’s fourth season, so what better time for a reminder of just how dangerous it is to be a character in Westeros with this video of every on-screen death in the show so far. The total (apparently) comes to an incredible 5179, which at 30 episodes so far, averages out at 172.6 deaths per episode. Lots of spoilers in the video, duh.

Nine years ago, way back in 2005, Craig Thomas and Carter Bays somewhat painted themselves into a corner. Unlike, say, Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof of Lost fame, Thomas & Bays already had an idea of how How I Met Your Mother was going to end. So confident were they in this idea that, for the sake of continuity, they had Lyndsy Fonesca and David Henrie record their scenes as Ted Mosby’s children being told the story by an off-screen Future Ted (voiced by Bob Saget), towards the start of production; this included the final scenes of Penny and Luke that appear at the end of last night’s finale. And so it was pegged at the show’s conception that the titular Mother was going to die, thus being the reason why widower-of-six years Future Ted is telling the story to his kids. 

The problem is that no one back in 2005 really expected the show to take off how it did. The two part finale “Last Together” which aired last night signalled the end of a show that lasted for nine seasons and almost a full decade on air; something which is becoming an increasing rarity in today’s TV landscape, especially for a sitcom. Throughout that time, we’ve watched a group of friends twist and turn, adapt and survive through the end of their twenties into their thirties. They’ve been promoted or changed jobs entirely, got married, nearly got married, dated around a lot, or just slept with a lot of people but in the end, the core was just these five friends - Ted Moseby, Robin Scherbatsky, Barney Stinson, Marshall Eriksen, and Lily Aldrin - sat in their regular booth in a pub. It’s this reason why “Last Forever” doesn’t feel like the finale this show deserved, and one that fans were disappointed in (as evidence by any HIMYM Twitter search will show you), as it doesn’t do justice to these characters we’ve spent nearly ten years following. 
To point to other disappointing finales of beloved shows, Lost’s Cuse & Lindelof, as well as Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D Moore, created endings that weren’t satisfying merely from a story point of view, particularly BSG’s which I still to this day find utterly ridiculous, whereas at least the over-arching themes of Lost work with the finale. How the characters of these two shows ended their personal stories, on the other hand, felt natural to their personalities and, although the characters were surrounded by a finale story that was wrapped up in often ludicrous concepts, they stayed true to the attributes and personalities we had spent so long watching develop (save for, perhaps, Sayid who ends up in the afterlife with Shannon, a relationship that always felt to me like just a “thing” that happened that the show never really invested in as opposed to his relationship with Nadia). How I Met Your Mother’s finale, however, is one that doesn’t seem to conform with the characters that we’ve come to know and, in that regard, feels rather cold and empty and, in some cases, like we’ve wasted our time.
To begin with, it’s probably best to focus on Barney and Robin, the relationship that was the centre of this final season and the breakdown of which would act as the catalyst for that final scene that closes the show; a mirror of the final scene of the pilot. The final 24-episode season took place, in an surprisingly daring and interesting turn, over the course of one weekend as Barney and Robin prepare to get married at an inn in Farhampton, Long Island, I having gotten engaged in Season 8 two-parter “The Final Page”. Throughout this season, we followed the two, as well as the rest of the gang, as they tried to make sure the wedding went off without a hitch, dealing with the usual sitcom scenarios of crazy parents, distant relatives, missing guests, band problems, Karate Kid stars, etc, as well as dealing with the pair as a couple and how they see their future together. Penultimate episode “The End Of The Aisle” sees the two finally tie the knot but, with the dust barely even settled from that, “Last Forever” sees Barney and Robin divorced before the first half of the two part finale is even over! It’s difficult not to feel cheated; after following the trials and tribulations of the Stinson-Scherbatsky relationship over the last few seasons plus an entire season dedicated to their wedding, the whole relationship is torn apart in merely a few smash-vignettes. 
In creating this season, the writers were creating a relationship that we as the viewer were meant to invest in despite them knowing full well that, in one quick sweep, it will be put aside for the sake of the long-planned over-arching story. It’s particularly disappointing when noting that the season did have some incredibly beautiful moments between Barney and Robin, particularly the scene which saw Barney shedding his playboy ways by promising to never lie to Robin about anything. It negates many of these moments, leaving a bitter sense that the writers could not just stick with what they had laid out, and makes the whole thing feel like a big waste of time for many. The idea of a season set over just one weekend was one that piqued my interest, just to see how they would do it, and, after a stuttering start, it worked exceptionally well, producing some of the best episodes in HIMYM’s recent history. But when the core of the season is ultimately pointless, you can’t help but think that there must’ve been a better way to construct the final run that isn’t so heavily invested in a relationship the writers were ready to pull the plug on almost immediately. 
This leads on to what the dissolution of Barney and Robin led up to, the rekindling of the Ted and Robin flame that burned brightly through much of the first few seasons but had been blown out for years by this point. The chemistry between Cobie Smulders and Josh Radnor in the first few series was undeniable and infectious. It was that will-they-won’t-they ‘Sam & Diane’ style thing done extremely well and watching the two develop over the first three seasons was fantastic. This relationship faded out in a wonderfully natural way in Season 3’s “Slapsgiving” before Ted moved on to one of my favourite relationship arcs with Stella (played by Sarah Chalke). It was a relationship I was happy was over and, even though this final season brought back some of those residual feelings that may never leave when you think someone is ‘the one’, it once again put them to bed with the ultimately poignant but poorly executed episode “Sunrise” in which Ted finally lets go (in one of the season’s most unintentionally hilarious scenes which sees Robin float off into the sky, soundtracked by The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame”). I know that it’s all in the spirit of the cyclical nature of the show, with the finale ending with Ted outside Robin’s window in 2030 with the infamous blue French horn from the pilot, but the idea that the story Future Ted is telling his kids is merely a façade for him to pluck up the courage to ask them if it’s OK he starts dating Robin now The Mother has been dead for six years feels like a betrayal of everything this season had worked up to, particularly that floating Robin scene, as well as Ted’s personality which leaves me, again, feeling a little cold.

Though it does make sense as to why the story so far had been less about The Mother and more about “everything else”, it’s incredibly unsatisfying when Thomas & Bays managed to get the casting of The Mother so completely spot on. The introduction of Cristin Milioti as The Mother (finally given a name in the finale: Tracy McConnell) was a shot in the arm for the show. Every scene she was in since her introduction in the finale of Season 8 (being merely a shot of a pair of legs or an bright yellow umbrella up until now) was elevated by her chirpy, infectious presence, be that meeting the characters in the present day or interacting with Ted in flashforwards. It would be criminal not to focus on The Mother-centric episode, “How Your Mother Met Me”, now one of my favourite episodes, which manages to give an emotional rollercoaster of backstory to a character who was more of an idea than a person beforehand, all in the space of just one episode which really let Milioti shine. Though it has been rumoured since pretty much forever, and then heavily hinted at in “Vesuvius”, that The Mother would die, I was less annoyed at the fact that she did but more at how they dealt with The Mother and her death in this finale. The Mother was always a plot point before this final season; she was the end goal for Ted Mosby and his story. But Season 9 turned her into a proper character, one we grew to love and looked forward to glimpses of each episode. Cristin Milioti brought something to the character that made it ‘her’ role, a role that you could never see anyone else playing anymore. 
To then portray her as a mere footnote in the finale feels like, in the end, it was the story of Ted and Robin the showrunners wanted to tell, and Tracy was a mere obstacle. The final meeting of Ted and Tracy, a moment fans had been looking forward to since the show began, was as touching and beautiful as one might expect, with lots of callbacks and a nice reveal of The Mother’s name, but their actual life together after that took place mostly off-screen, particularly the moment they find out she is sick and then her death; her illness completely unexplained and her death barely even mentioned. The progression of Ted and Tracy throughout the decade in which they are together doesn’t appear to be of any interest to the writers, who would much rather get back to trying to set Ted and Robin up once again. There’s barely any hint of mourning on Ted’s part which seems utterly ridiculous and completely against his character. Had their casting of Tracy not been so perfect, I doubt I would’ve been as bothered by this; my investment would be much less. But as is, I feel the finale did not give her character the dues she deserved. Altogether, it painted How I Met Your Mother as a show of misdirection; this was never a show about how Ted met his future wife, it was always, right from the start, about Ted and Robin; a relationship that had already been neatly wrapped up not once but twice. The final scene was a very typical How I Met Your Mother scene, soundtracked to The Walkmen with plenty of callbacks, but the idea is just not one I can get behind.
This disappointment about how the finale panned out is all the more when you look back and see that there are actually some great moments in this finale that works as finale moments. Barney seeing his newly born daughter for the first time and declaring his undying love for her using the exact words he used to mock that he would never declare his undying love for anyone is an incredibly sweet moment, as was Ted and Tracy’s first meeting on the Farhampton train platform as they realised how intertwined their lives actually were despite having never met before, and there are plenty of great callbacks to such things Ted’s Hanging Chad Halloween costume and the Cockamouse loose in Lily and Marshall’s apartment (speaking of, Lily and Marshall had some fantastic moments together throughout the finale proving that they really are the show’s best couple). This finale was capable of hitting the right marks yet, on the bigger points, it missed the board completely, putting holes in your wallpapered wall. 


As much as I didn’t like “Last Forever”, though, I doubt it will mar my enjoyment of the show as a whole. How I Met Your Mother was Friends for a new generation, updating all the social norms and graces to something we could relate to in a world of changing technology and general social acceptance. From the many rules and principles, such as The Olive Theory, The Slap Bet, The ‘Nothing Good Happens After 2AM’ Rule, to the general view of the modern dating scene and of friendships, How I Met Your Mother painted a great picture of this world. Though it may seem that the old adage “the journey is always better than the goal” would not apply here, seeing as the point of the show is the goal itself, the journey was still a fantastic one. A poor ending isn’t going to put a dampener on my enjoyment of the running slap bet, of Ted’s two minute date with Stella, of Barney’s ridiculous ways to flirt (namely the full scuba diving suit in McLaren’s), of the search for the Best Burger In New York, of the casting of Milioti and everything she did as Tracy, and of one of the best pilot episodes of a sitcom I have ever seen; so perfectly setting up this world and this group of friends that seemed like they had been a gang for years already, before we even learned anything about their backstory. I may not have enjoyed the way it ended, but I sure as hell enjoyed the journey. Farewell, McLarens, I’ll probably be back soon to revisit the journey all over again.

Nine years ago, way back in 2005, Craig Thomas and Carter Bays somewhat painted themselves into a corner. Unlike, say, Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof of Lost fame, Thomas & Bays already had an idea of how How I Met Your Mother was going to end. So confident were they in this idea that, for the sake of continuity, they had Lyndsy Fonesca and David Henrie record their scenes as Ted Mosby’s children being told the story by an off-screen Future Ted (voiced by Bob Saget), towards the start of production; this included the final scenes of Penny and Luke that appear at the end of last night’s finale. And so it was pegged at the show’s conception that the titular Mother was going to die, thus being the reason why widower-of-six years Future Ted is telling the story to his kids. 

The problem is that no one back in 2005 really expected the show to take off how it did. The two part finale “Last Together” which aired last night signalled the end of a show that lasted for nine seasons and almost a full decade on air; something which is becoming an increasing rarity in today’s TV landscape, especially for a sitcom. Throughout that time, we’ve watched a group of friends twist and turn, adapt and survive through the end of their twenties into their thirties. They’ve been promoted or changed jobs entirely, got married, nearly got married, dated around a lot, or just slept with a lot of people but in the end, the core was just these five friends - Ted Moseby, Robin Scherbatsky, Barney Stinson, Marshall Eriksen, and Lily Aldrin - sat in their regular booth in a pub. It’s this reason why “Last Forever” doesn’t feel like the finale this show deserved, and one that fans were disappointed in (as evidence by any HIMYM Twitter search will show you), as it doesn’t do justice to these characters we’ve spent nearly ten years following. 

To point to other disappointing finales of beloved shows, Lost’s Cuse & Lindelof, as well as Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D Moore, created endings that weren’t satisfying merely from a story point of view, particularly BSG’s which I still to this day find utterly ridiculous, whereas at least the over-arching themes of Lost work with the finale. How the characters of these two shows ended their personal stories, on the other hand, felt natural to their personalities and, although the characters were surrounded by a finale story that was wrapped up in often ludicrous concepts, they stayed true to the attributes and personalities we had spent so long watching develop (save for, perhaps, Sayid who ends up in the afterlife with Shannon, a relationship that always felt to me like just a “thing” that happened that the show never really invested in as opposed to his relationship with Nadia). How I Met Your Mother’s finale, however, is one that doesn’t seem to conform with the characters that we’ve come to know and, in that regard, feels rather cold and empty and, in some cases, like we’ve wasted our time.

To begin with, it’s probably best to focus on Barney and Robin, the relationship that was the centre of this final season and the breakdown of which would act as the catalyst for that final scene that closes the show; a mirror of the final scene of the pilot. The final 24-episode season took place, in an surprisingly daring and interesting turn, over the course of one weekend as Barney and Robin prepare to get married at an inn in Farhampton, Long Island, I having gotten engaged in Season 8 two-parter “The Final Page”. Throughout this season, we followed the two, as well as the rest of the gang, as they tried to make sure the wedding went off without a hitch, dealing with the usual sitcom scenarios of crazy parents, distant relatives, missing guests, band problems, Karate Kid stars, etc, as well as dealing with the pair as a couple and how they see their future together. Penultimate episode “The End Of The Aisle” sees the two finally tie the knot but, with the dust barely even settled from that, “Last Forever” sees Barney and Robin divorced before the first half of the two part finale is even over! It’s difficult not to feel cheated; after following the trials and tribulations of the Stinson-Scherbatsky relationship over the last few seasons plus an entire season dedicated to their wedding, the whole relationship is torn apart in merely a few smash-vignettes. 

In creating this season, the writers were creating a relationship that we as the viewer were meant to invest in despite them knowing full well that, in one quick sweep, it will be put aside for the sake of the long-planned over-arching story. It’s particularly disappointing when noting that the season did have some incredibly beautiful moments between Barney and Robin, particularly the scene which saw Barney shedding his playboy ways by promising to never lie to Robin about anything. It negates many of these moments, leaving a bitter sense that the writers could not just stick with what they had laid out, and makes the whole thing feel like a big waste of time for many. The idea of a season set over just one weekend was one that piqued my interest, just to see how they would do it, and, after a stuttering start, it worked exceptionally well, producing some of the best episodes in HIMYM’s recent history. But when the core of the season is ultimately pointless, you can’t help but think that there must’ve been a better way to construct the final run that isn’t so heavily invested in a relationship the writers were ready to pull the plug on almost immediately. 

This leads on to what the dissolution of Barney and Robin led up to, the rekindling of the Ted and Robin flame that burned brightly through much of the first few seasons but had been blown out for years by this point. The chemistry between Cobie Smulders and Josh Radnor in the first few series was undeniable and infectious. It was that will-they-won’t-they ‘Sam & Diane’ style thing done extremely well and watching the two develop over the first three seasons was fantastic. This relationship faded out in a wonderfully natural way in Season 3’s “Slapsgiving” before Ted moved on to one of my favourite relationship arcs with Stella (played by Sarah Chalke). It was a relationship I was happy was over and, even though this final season brought back some of those residual feelings that may never leave when you think someone is ‘the one’, it once again put them to bed with the ultimately poignant but poorly executed episode “Sunrise” in which Ted finally lets go (in one of the season’s most unintentionally hilarious scenes which sees Robin float off into the sky, soundtracked by The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame”). I know that it’s all in the spirit of the cyclical nature of the show, with the finale ending with Ted outside Robin’s window in 2030 with the infamous blue French horn from the pilot, but the idea that the story Future Ted is telling his kids is merely a façade for him to pluck up the courage to ask them if it’s OK he starts dating Robin now The Mother has been dead for six years feels like a betrayal of everything this season had worked up to, particularly that floating Robin scene, as well as Ted’s personality which leaves me, again, feeling a little cold.

Though it does make sense as to why the story so far had been less about The Mother and more about “everything else”, it’s incredibly unsatisfying when Thomas & Bays managed to get the casting of The Mother so completely spot on. The introduction of Cristin Milioti as The Mother (finally given a name in the finale: Tracy McConnell) was a shot in the arm for the show. Every scene she was in since her introduction in the finale of Season 8 (being merely a shot of a pair of legs or an bright yellow umbrella up until now) was elevated by her chirpy, infectious presence, be that meeting the characters in the present day or interacting with Ted in flashforwards. It would be criminal not to focus on The Mother-centric episode, “How Your Mother Met Me”, now one of my favourite episodes, which manages to give an emotional rollercoaster of backstory to a character who was more of an idea than a person beforehand, all in the space of just one episode which really let Milioti shine. Though it has been rumoured since pretty much forever, and then heavily hinted at in “Vesuvius”, that The Mother would die, I was less annoyed at the fact that she did but more at how they dealt with The Mother and her death in this finale. The Mother was always a plot point before this final season; she was the end goal for Ted Mosby and his story. But Season 9 turned her into a proper character, one we grew to love and looked forward to glimpses of each episode. Cristin Milioti brought something to the character that made it ‘her’ role, a role that you could never see anyone else playing anymore.

To then portray her as a mere footnote in the finale feels like, in the end, it was the story of Ted and Robin the showrunners wanted to tell, and Tracy was a mere obstacle. The final meeting of Ted and Tracy, a moment fans had been looking forward to since the show began, was as touching and beautiful as one might expect, with lots of callbacks and a nice reveal of The Mother’s name, but their actual life together after that took place mostly off-screen, particularly the moment they find out she is sick and then her death; her illness completely unexplained and her death barely even mentioned. The progression of Ted and Tracy throughout the decade in which they are together doesn’t appear to be of any interest to the writers, who would much rather get back to trying to set Ted and Robin up once again. There’s barely any hint of mourning on Ted’s part which seems utterly ridiculous and completely against his character. Had their casting of Tracy not been so perfect, I doubt I would’ve been as bothered by this; my investment would be much less. But as is, I feel the finale did not give her character the dues she deserved. Altogether, it painted How I Met Your Mother as a show of misdirection; this was never a show about how Ted met his future wife, it was always, right from the start, about Ted and Robin; a relationship that had already been neatly wrapped up not once but twice. The final scene was a very typical How I Met Your Mother scene, soundtracked to The Walkmen with plenty of callbacks, but the idea is just not one I can get behind.

This disappointment about how the finale panned out is all the more when you look back and see that there are actually some great moments in this finale that works as finale moments. Barney seeing his newly born daughter for the first time and declaring his undying love for her using the exact words he used to mock that he would never declare his undying love for anyone is an incredibly sweet moment, as was Ted and Tracy’s first meeting on the Farhampton train platform as they realised how intertwined their lives actually were despite having never met before, and there are plenty of great callbacks to such things Ted’s Hanging Chad Halloween costume and the Cockamouse loose in Lily and Marshall’s apartment (speaking of, Lily and Marshall had some fantastic moments together throughout the finale proving that they really are the show’s best couple). This finale was capable of hitting the right marks yet, on the bigger points, it missed the board completely, putting holes in your wallpapered wall. 

As much as I didn’t like “Last Forever”, though, I doubt it will mar my enjoyment of the show as a whole. How I Met Your Mother was Friends for a new generation, updating all the social norms and graces to something we could relate to in a world of changing technology and general social acceptance. From the many rules and principles, such as The Olive Theory, The Slap Bet, The ‘Nothing Good Happens After 2AM’ Rule, to the general view of the modern dating scene and of friendships, How I Met Your Mother painted a great picture of this world. Though it may seem that the old adage “the journey is always better than the goal” would not apply here, seeing as the point of the show is the goal itself, the journey was still a fantastic one. A poor ending isn’t going to put a dampener on my enjoyment of the running slap bet, of Ted’s two minute date with Stella, of Barney’s ridiculous ways to flirt (namely the full scuba diving suit in McLaren’s), of the search for the Best Burger In New York, of the casting of Milioti and everything she did as Tracy, and of one of the best pilot episodes of a sitcom I have ever seen; so perfectly setting up this world and this group of friends that seemed like they had been a gang for years already, before we even learned anything about their backstory. I may not have enjoyed the way it ended, but I sure as hell enjoyed the journey. Farewell, McLarens, I’ll probably be back soon to revisit the journey all over again.

We never learnt what The Rock was concocting in his kitchen , but the sixteenth and final episode of The Walking Dead’s fourth season answered the question pretty emphatically. Terminus is (cooking) people! Well… we don’t know that with 100% certainty yet, but the show. all but said it with the brief look into that ominous, candlelit room; the walls daubed with slogans “NEVER AGAIN - NEVER US - WE FIRST, ALWAYS”, the floor covered in trinkets and the names of the presumable dead. The “Hunters” arc from the comics is the basis for this cannibal villains angle, and also one of the best things Robert Kirkman has written; that we’re likely to see it play out in admittedly heavily altered form on TV is cause for tentative celebration.The long-awaited arrival at Terminus was a solid capper to what has been a season of two distinct halves. The first five episodes dealt with the threat of disease and illness within the prison, which, whilst being a nice dash of speculative realism, was essentially a convenient way of killing off the majority of ex-Woodbury citizens gained after the end of Season 3, before three episodes were devoted to a ultimate resolution to The Governor plot strand. Now don’t get me wrong, that trilogy of eps formed a vaguely satisfying mini-arc, and were a valiant effort from new showrunner Scott Gimple to correct his predecessor Glen Mazzara’s mistake of not using the iconic attack on the prison from the comics as the finale of Season 3. But the first half of this season was really a whole load of nothing punctuated by an action packed ending, not too dissimilar from how Season 2 turned out. Sure, we got “Internment”, that excellent Hershel spotlight episode, but it was merely a pinhole of light in a dark box of a run. And as switched-on fans know, when TWD gives you a heroic hour in focus, you’re not long for the fictional world, as was proven when Hershel met an undignified, drawn-out death during the Governor’s prison attack. 
However, with the end of the prison arc came a new dawn. Whilst by no means a perfect run of episodes, the back end of Season 4 was a marked improvement and possibly the most enjoyable the show’s been since its debut. With our central group now scattered across the Georgian wilderness with little food, shelter or support, we’ve been able to actually get to know them, and grow to love them as characters (or hate them a bit less at least). Yes, character development makes fiction better! Who’d have thunk it?! Okay, it hasn’t been quite at the level of the show’s AMC stablemates Breaking Bad and Mad Men; Tyreese is still a shadow of his comic counterpart, Maggie & Glen are still defined by being in love with each other and nothing else, but thanks to these last eight episodes, the world of The Walking Dead is a far richer, interesting place to spend 40-odd minutes. Michonne was once a glowering samurai with potential awesomeness gone mostly unused, but now she’s glowering AND a insightful, warm, realistic human being; Daryl was a similarly stoic badass amongst a relatively incompetent group, but his episode with Beth revealed a far more complex and emotional character; Carl (or to give him his proper name KOORRRAL) is a lot less of an angsty nuisance nowadays; Carol was already going through an incredible transformation before we reached the second half of this season, but when remembering she was a timid, mistreated and abused housewife all the way back in the first season, it’s amazing to see her become this strong, rational, hardened character, and probably the best bet to lead the group should Rick go the way of the zomb.
What has helped the show round out its characters/zombie fodder is what was previously a sign of impending doom; the spotlight episode. By handing over an entire episode to one of the smaller groups of characters we were left with and letting them move forward, bounce of each other and just barely survive their environs, we know them better, we connect with them more, and we’ll respond more when they’re in peril (as is wont to happen in the world of The Walking Dead). It’s partly that which has made the video game version of The Walking Dead such a huge success; a focus on characterisation and emotion over action and set-pieces.
Coincidentally, speaking of cannibals and character development, Hannibal has done this recently with the first four episodes of its second season; moving a secondary character into a much larger and significant role in order to make their inevitable and gruesome death pack a lot more of a punch. The demise of this character was intended for the first season, before showrunner Bryan Fuller decided to push it back in order to truly wring all the emotional response possible out of it. Unfortunately Gimple’s only feasible way of doing this with The Walking Dead was multiple episodes of characters trudging through forests and fields and dilapidated houses (as opposed to the cold, beautifully-shot Lynchian world we see on Hannibal), which has become a major bugbear of the vocal minority of its audience.
I’ll be honest however, despite this excellent run of episodes (including the shocking Carol/Tyreese/Sophia/Micah-centric “The Grove”), The Walking Dead will never be a television show of the calibre of canonical greats like The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, nor will it likely ascend to the level of current must-sees like Mad Men, Game Of Thrones, Hannibal, True Detective or Girls. It’s just not of that quality, nor is it really of the same breed; it’s a slightly absurd, pulpy comic book adaptation. It shouldn’t always attempt to “Dark Knight” things and be as bleak as possible, it should revel in the crazy more often. Part of the problem could be that there’s no tangible goal for the characters to aim for. This show is designed to run and run and run; the original comic is still going at 124 issues, with a new issue every month, and no end in sight, so there’ll never be a dearth of material to adapt. And think about it, how do you end a piece of zombie fiction other than everyone dying or a cure being discovered?

But that scramble to find a satisfying conclusion is, at the very least, a year or two away for Gimple, Kirkman and AMC. What comes next is pitting Rick & co against the hungry and heavily-armed inhabitants of Terminus. They don’t know who they’re fucking with…

We never learnt what The Rock was concocting in his kitchen , but the sixteenth and final episode of The Walking Dead’s fourth season answered the question pretty emphatically. Terminus is (cooking) people! Well… we don’t know that with 100% certainty yet, but the show. all but said it with the brief look into that ominous, candlelit room; the walls daubed with slogans “NEVER AGAIN - NEVER US - WE FIRST, ALWAYS”, the floor covered in trinkets and the names of the presumable dead. The “Hunters” arc from the comics is the basis for this cannibal villains angle, and also one of the best things Robert Kirkman has written; that we’re likely to see it play out in admittedly heavily altered form on TV is cause for tentative celebration.The long-awaited arrival at Terminus was a solid capper to what has been a season of two distinct halves. The first five episodes dealt with the threat of disease and illness within the prison, which, whilst being a nice dash of speculative realism, was essentially a convenient way of killing off the majority of ex-Woodbury citizens gained after the end of Season 3, before three episodes were devoted to a ultimate resolution to The Governor plot strand. Now don’t get me wrong, that trilogy of eps formed a vaguely satisfying mini-arc, and were a valiant effort from new showrunner Scott Gimple to correct his predecessor Glen Mazzara’s mistake of not using the iconic attack on the prison from the comics as the finale of Season 3. But the first half of this season was really a whole load of nothing punctuated by an action packed ending, not too dissimilar from how Season 2 turned out. Sure, we got “Internment”, that excellent Hershel spotlight episode, but it was merely a pinhole of light in a dark box of a run. And as switched-on fans know, when TWD gives you a heroic hour in focus, you’re not long for the fictional world, as was proven when Hershel met an undignified, drawn-out death during the Governor’s prison attack. 

However, with the end of the prison arc came a new dawn. Whilst by no means a perfect run of episodes, the back end of Season 4 was a marked improvement and possibly the most enjoyable the show’s been since its debut. With our central group now scattered across the Georgian wilderness with little food, shelter or support, we’ve been able to actually get to know them, and grow to love them as characters (or hate them a bit less at least). Yes, character development makes fiction better! Who’d have thunk it?! Okay, it hasn’t been quite at the level of the show’s AMC stablemates Breaking Bad and Mad Men; Tyreese is still a shadow of his comic counterpart, Maggie & Glen are still defined by being in love with each other and nothing else, but thanks to these last eight episodes, the world of The Walking Dead is a far richer, interesting place to spend 40-odd minutes. Michonne was once a glowering samurai with potential awesomeness gone mostly unused, but now she’s glowering AND a insightful, warm, realistic human being; Daryl was a similarly stoic badass amongst a relatively incompetent group, but his episode with Beth revealed a far more complex and emotional character; Carl (or to give him his proper name KOORRRAL) is a lot less of an angsty nuisance nowadays; Carol was already going through an incredible transformation before we reached the second half of this season, but when remembering she was a timid, mistreated and abused housewife all the way back in the first season, it’s amazing to see her become this strong, rational, hardened character, and probably the best bet to lead the group should Rick go the way of the zomb.

What has helped the show round out its characters/zombie fodder is what was previously a sign of impending doom; the spotlight episode. By handing over an entire episode to one of the smaller groups of characters we were left with and letting them move forward, bounce of each other and just barely survive their environs, we know them better, we connect with them more, and we’ll respond more when they’re in peril (as is wont to happen in the world of The Walking Dead). It’s partly that which has made the video game version of The Walking Dead such a huge success; a focus on characterisation and emotion over action and set-pieces.

Coincidentally, speaking of cannibals and character development, Hannibal has done this recently with the first four episodes of its second season; moving a secondary character into a much larger and significant role in order to make their inevitable and gruesome death pack a lot more of a punch. The demise of this character was intended for the first season, before showrunner Bryan Fuller decided to push it back in order to truly wring all the emotional response possible out of it. Unfortunately Gimple’s only feasible way of doing this with The Walking Dead was multiple episodes of characters trudging through forests and fields and dilapidated houses (as opposed to the cold, beautifully-shot Lynchian world we see on Hannibal), which has become a major bugbear of the vocal minority of its audience.

I’ll be honest however, despite this excellent run of episodes (including the shocking Carol/Tyreese/Sophia/Micah-centric “The Grove”), The Walking Dead will never be a television show of the calibre of canonical greats like The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, nor will it likely ascend to the level of current must-sees like Mad Men, Game Of Thrones, Hannibal, True Detective or Girls. It’s just not of that quality, nor is it really of the same breed; it’s a slightly absurd, pulpy comic book adaptation. It shouldn’t always attempt to “Dark Knight” things and be as bleak as possible, it should revel in the crazy more often. Part of the problem could be that there’s no tangible goal for the characters to aim for. This show is designed to run and run and run; the original comic is still going at 124 issues, with a new issue every month, and no end in sight, so there’ll never be a dearth of material to adapt. And think about it, how do you end a piece of zombie fiction other than everyone dying or a cure being discovered?

But that scramble to find a satisfying conclusion is, at the very least, a year or two away for Gimple, Kirkman and AMC. What comes next is pitting Rick & co against the hungry and heavily-armed inhabitants of Terminus. They don’t know who they’re fucking with…

AMERICAN DAD

Just because something’s been done to death by decades of TV shows past, doesn’t mean it can’t still be a source of humour. That said, American Dad is really going to the well once too often when it comes to the Smith’s marital problems this season. It’s at the point where it feels as if every second episode is dealing with some problem between Stan and Francine, be it financial, sexual or just the minutiae of marriage (the same problem has been afflicting The Simpsons for a good ten-to-fifteen years now, to the point where Marge and Homer should really call it a day and get divorced, for the sake of the kids).

This week, Stan is having trouble paying attention to his wife when she’s speaking to him - especially the post-conversation pop quiz - Stan ducking the test by faking appendicitis to the point of an ambulance being called was an excellent gag - so is given an experimental new pill by the CIA science team, which will make him more capable of retaining information told to him by women. Everything seems to be going swimmingly until Stan transforms, a la American Werewolf In London, into a woman. Turns out you’re only meant to take half the pill, but of course Stan was zoned out of the conversation with the female CIA scientist. So basically the entirety of the A-story is built on a tired cliche of “men don’t listen to women”… great. It’s a disappointment that the best of Seth MacFarlane’s creations (and also the one with the least of his involvement) falls back on lazy hackery like this. 

The plot trundles on hitting the expected beats with few real laughs, brushes questions of gender identity under the carpet, avoids any mention of even the concept of transgender (probably wise to be honest), and hits the reset button at the end, so we can do the “marriage problem” so we can do it all again in two weeks. Disappointing misogynistic dreck which is a disappointing addition to what’s been a good season so far

The B-story is as sparse as it gets but still offers a few good chuckles. Roger and Klaus get the idea of Stan’s now useless suits (“Roger & Klaus’s Business! We’ll offer a service or product that people will pay for!”), which results in a spot-on parody of those slightly surreal, disjointed, shouty adverts small businesses often produce - “Next to the abandoned police station! If you see ‘GOD IS DEAD’ written on the side of the collapsing overpass, then YOU’VE GONE TOO FAR!” says Klaus, inexplicably holding two sticks of dynamite. It’s the sort of joke which doesn’t translate to description too well and is the absurd gold AD is capable of on top form. To be honest, this probably could have been the A-story, especially with the conclusion of the business being a bust until a chance meeting with some lost neon-clothed kids inspires the pair transform their warehouse into a rave club. It’s a waste of a decent and potentially great story.

Notes and more notes

  • A horrified Steve, after his parents inform him their first attempt at lesbian sex was unsuccessful: “Please stop involving me in this! I am a child!”
  • According to Stan “regrowing a penis is… not as painful as you’d think”

BOB’S BURGERS

No matter which combination of Belcher family member you come up with, it’ll result in comedy silver, at the least. However separating the Belchers into parents and children feels more grounded and realistic, especially when the episode’s location is a wine train (the idea of what the kids’ personalities would be with the inclusion alcohol is slightly terrifying).

While Tina, Gene and Louise are shoved to the pitifully unfun “juice caboose” kids car at the end of the train with only Regular-Sized Rudy and a beanbag for company, Linda and Bob’s alone time is augmented by Rick, a smug pretentious wine enthusiast who Linda invited to sit at their table. With his day off ruined (“I wasn’t even going to talk to you that much” he admits to Linda), Bob instantly goes on the defensive, eventually winding up in a “wine-off” with Rick.

In the meantime, the kids and Rudy are cut off from the chocolate fountain in the dinner car (“What kind of god would build a train with a chocolate fountain on it and not let kids near it?!” “Yeah, learn how to build a train, God!”) and so hatch a plan to heist the chocolate source from the train’s kitchen - on their scale of danger, such an operation falls between “eating a sandwich with toothpicks in” and “eating a firecracker”. Naturally the plan is masterminded and executed by Louise - her voicing of the chocolate bars’ horror at learning they’re going be saved then eaten was wonderful - but a hitch in the plan occurs after all four of the amateur thieves fall off the train. Luckily the train is on a loop and will be back to the kids’ location in 15 minutes. Unluckily that’s exactly the time the waiter gets to the back of the train to drop off some juice boxes. For a cartoon sitcom with few major stakes at play in any plot, Bob’s Burgers is great at ramping up the tension at the perfect time. The kids’ rush to get back onto the train in time real is suspenseful, even when you know no serious peril will befall them… other than the loss of Gene’s Dexys Midnight Runners outfit (R.I.P.)

What’s really satisfying about the conclusion of “The Kids Rob A Train” is that both groups of the Belchers get satisfactory small victories: the kids successfully hide their chocolate from the furious waiter and cook, and end up covered in chocolate (as is every child’s dream), whilst Linda & Bob get one over on the wine snob by winning the wine-off via tricking him into drinking the spit bucket, and then end up covered in wine from a wine fight (every adult over 30’s dream). It’s always nice to see our favourite burger-flipping underdogs come out with a win.

Notes and more notes

  • Linda thinking the train ride was a BYOWine trip was adorable, and Bob’s conversation with the kid on a bike was the best kind of awkward
  • “The Belcher kids ride again! …for the first time!”
    “And Rudy is there!”
  • Rudy is a seriously underused member of the BB world. It’s kinda sad how he spends weekends in the “juice caboose” whilst his dad is with his internet dates further up the train, but Rudy seems to enjoy it
  • Also the short asides to Rudy’s dad’s terrible date were perfectly awkward
  • The grumpy cook’s reply to being told to hurry up in the bathroom “No job is done until the paper work is complete!” - definitely using that one in the future.

THE SIMPSONS

Ugh.

As someone who has spent cumulative years of his life watching Simpsons episodes, I’m probably the wrong person to review a contemporary episode. I’ll forever be biased towards the golden age of the first ten seasons, specifically 3 through 9 (not without good reason, since those seven seasons are amongst humanity’s finest achievements). That said, I’ve been consistently following the last handful of seasons, and there are some very good episodes in there. Very, very good; one classic in fact, in Season 23’s “Holidays Of Futures Past”. But, these recent seasons also included the Lady Gaga episode, which was recently declared the worst ever, and for every decent episode, there are at least three real stinkers. “You Don’t Have To Live Like A Referee” is one of those stinkers.

It’s especially disappointing since there was a lot of potential comedic gold here: a totally flawed school assembly (“The Meaning Of Freedom: Attendance Mandatory”), followed by an equally terrible Skinner & Supernintendo Chalmers scheme, and a return to Brazil, the location of one of the more memorable “The Simpsons are going to…” episodes in Season 13, even if it did piss off the Brazilian tourist board something fierce. There’s even twenty years-worth of continuity in Lisa’s competition speech why her hero is her dad, and I’m a complete sucker for long-running continuity. Alas it only brings about a nonsensical, contrived, completely random plot development - which is saying something about latter day Simpsons - in which Homer is asked to be a referee at this year’s World Cup in Brazil. Okay, it’s not completely random as a focal point of Lisa’s speech was Homer refereeing one of her soccer games and sending her off (Season 18’s “Marge Gamer”, fact fans), but still, even in the bizarre world of The Simpsons, it’s a stretch for that to be the basis for Home refereeing the biggest football event in the world.

The Homer/Lisa relationship has always been the most potent emotional connection in the show, but this really feels exploitative of the whole thing, purely for a derisory and toothless satire of football and Brazil. Yeah, we get it, footballers dive a lot, Euro-speaking commentators are passionate and say “GOOOOAL!” in a humorous way, matches have low-scores compared to American sports. Yeah, we get it, Brazil has a lot of problems with crime and corruption. Both of these subject matter have been covered and with far better, funnier results in years gone by. Which is not to say there’s not ample material still left for this episode, but the writers of the current iteration of the show are kind of an embarrassment of those gone by.

Notes and more notes

  • “Ah Brazil, I couldn’t stay afraid of you forever. The only thing that keeps me from living here is that fish that swims up your pee stream. That is a deal-breaker.”
  • The reappearance of the “stupid lady” dance instructor from the first Brazil episode was another nice bit of continuity.
  • Brazilian fan: “Nazis!”
    German fan: “Nazi harbourers!”
    Bystander: “Guys, you’re both right”

There’s something about Broad City, the new Comedy Central sitcom which aired its season finale last Wednesday in the US, that makes it so instantly appealing. Okay, in reality, there’s about a hundred things that make it so instantly appealing but, if it had to be narrowed down to just one, it’s probably the show’s sheer confidence in the face of other sitcoms based on twenty/thirtysomethings in a big city that would be too happy to rest on its laurels placed there way back in 1994 by Friends. That’s not to say sitcoms based around this very straightforward formula can’t be great; just look at Happy Endings, Don’t Trust The Bitch In Apartment 23, or New Girl all of which have taken that formula and extracted as much of the best stuff as they possibly could. It’s just that Broad City feels fresh. It feels exciting and, dare I say it, groundbreaking. Every so often, a sitcom comes along that you can just tell is going to shake things up. Louis CK’s Louie was the last show to really feel like that and, in a way, Broad City could be a spiritual successor but it manages to do even more with what it has.

Broad City began back in 2009 as a relatively low key, low-fi YouTube series starring Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as fictionalised versions of themselves who simply went about their day in New York City, tackling low income jobs, relationships, sex, drugs, and general best-friend shenanigans. The series ran until 2011 and you could tell, even then with only 25 webisodes under its belt, that this was something special, especially when Glazer & Jacobson could count Amy Poehler, one of the more prominent female US comedy stars, among their fans. It was honest, it was brash to the point of gross, and it did not give a shit about sugarcoating anything. This seemed raw and showed exactly what real best friends talk about; not just boys and money worries, but who they’d chose if they could pick anyone to eat them out or where is the best place to hide weed upon your person (answer: the “vayanya”). 

Luckily, the move to Comedy Central didn’t really cause much of a change to what “the Broads” had started. Poehler jumped on as Executive Producer but the focus was still on Abbi and Ilana and the friendship that both the real and fictional versions of these two women had. The stakes are never too high, which lets the show put the friendship at its forefront. It’s not a show hinged on melodramatic break-ups or devastating fights, it’s one that is more about getting money together through odd jobs to go to a pop-up Lil Wayne concert or travelling out to the sticks to retrieve a package. And it’s this that separates it from its most obvious comparison, HBO’s Girls. Girls is very much about the melodrama, the higher stakes and how the group traverses them but, as much as I enjoy Girls, it all seems rather fanatical, rather TV-friendly. It’s probably the closest to real as many shows like it have gotten - Sex And The City being Girls’ most obvious precursor - but it still feels very exaggerated. Broad City is the barebones of being a broke woman living in New York, trying to get by. Abbi works at a ridiculously pretentious gym full of high-strung trainers whilst Ilana works at a Groupon-esque company, though “works” is a very loose term (as a colleague describes working with Ilana to a dictaphone “Day 274: Five hours late. Wearing a napkin as a shirt. Violently high”). It’s much more easy to relate to.

Yet, despite this, it also manages to deftly weave in the absurd, heightened reality that also pervades Louie. Remember Louie’s date with a girl (Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Chelsea Peretti) being cut short by her running off and flying away in a nearby helicopter? There’s a lot of that “did that really just happen?” kind of absurdity and surrealism throughout Broad City. Trying to pick up a package becomes an exercise in the crazy as in my favourite episode so far “Working Girls” (I would happily call this episode a “classic”, and it’s only the show’s third episode, that’s how straight out of the gate this show was), Abbi has to travel to the arse end of nowhere via a boat full of twins positioned symmetrically throughout before arriving at a seemingly abandoned warehouse staffed only by a skeletal,  raspy-voiced, ice cream eating clerk named ‘Garol’. My local post collection point is only about a ten minute walk from my house but it often feels like this sort of Homerian odyssey. It’s an absurdity that’s ultimately grounded in reality which stops the episode and the show from flying off the rails.

Broad City also makes terrific use of its guest stars, from the brilliant Chris Gethard as Ilana’s put-upon boss to Amy Sedaris as a slightly batty real estate agent. The real MVP, though, lays in Hannibal Burress’ Lincoln, Ilana’s on-again, off-again, who-even-knows-again sex buddy. His laid-back, lounging personality acts as a perfect counterbalance to Abbi and Ilana’s off-the-walls crazy personalities. As he rambles about dogs or talks about “crushing it”, it’s impossible not to fall in love with Lincoln. The great thing about how Broad City uses its guest stars, however, is that they feel like they instantly belong in this world. In “Destination: Wedding”, two characters are introduced that we have never even heard about before but, within minutes, we instantly know who they are and can accept them as part of the world and Abbi & Ilana’s lives, which is no mean feat and something many shows have struggled to do for episode on episode, never mind within the first few minutes. But, whilst Broad City employs many guest stars (mainly all Upright Citizens Brigade buddies) the focus remains on Abbi and Ilana, even when some heavy hitters such as Rachel Dratch or Amy Poehler pop up.

It’s that friendship between Abbi & Ilana that makes Broad City so appealing. From that first episode, you feel like you know exactly who they are and what makes them tick. That’s why it becomes no surprise that, when Abbi ends up buying an expensive dress in the middle of the season, she then proceeds to wear the shit out of it for the rest of the season (repeating wardrobes are something shows don’t often do, but it’s a little touch I love. It’s often baffling when in, say, Parks and Recreation, April is wearing an expensive new outfit every single episode, even when she’s a lowly intern!) They feel like real people, real best friends, doing real best friend stuff. It’s intoxicating watching how they play off one another and how they help each other out. 

Broad City could’ve been just another addition to Comedy Central’s current roster of amazing shows such as Key & Peele, Kroll Show, Nathan For You etc, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a real breath of fresh air; smart without trying to be. Everything is meticulously layered to create a rich world filled with rich characters, even if you’re only meeting them for the first time. It’s a world that feels lived in that we’re just jumping in to at random points. The jokes, too, are so rich and rapid fire that it has that 30 Rock quality of not being able to catch all of the jokes at once, with each one being as hilarious as the last. Broad City is exactly what television needs, what the Wall Street Journal called “sneak-attack feminism”, and proof enough that the old adage that “women can’t be funny” is absolute fucking bullshit.