Dissecting “A Day’s Work,” the second episode of the seventh season
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Our roundtable on “Breaker of Chains,” the third episode of the HBO show’s fourth season.
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Orphan Black had me worried for a bit.
The trailer for the second season of BBC America’s relentlessly entertaining series made the show look like a dark, slick techno-drama—all rain and trip-hop and guns. Saturday’s premiere opens in that mode: Protagonist Sarah Manning runs frantically through a storm, takes refuge in an empty diner, and has a violent confrontation with goons who seem like they’d be pals with The Matrix’s Agent Smith.
Uh-oh. Had Orphan Black decided to go all-in on the dystopian-thriller vibe you’d expect from a show about human clones hunted by religious cults and scientific cabals? If so, that would mean ditching a lot of what made the first season so lovable: the cheeky humor, the manic tone switches, the satirical edge, and the excellent hijinks provided by Tatiana Maslany playing more than a half-dozen different characters with distinct personalities.
Luckily, after the premiere’s title sequence, we learn that this remains basically the same series as before.
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The ’90s were golden years for Nickelodeon. The children’s cable television network was home to now cult-classic shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1991-2000), Clarissa Explains It All (1991-’94), The Secret Life of Alex Mack (1994-’98), and Salute Your Shorts (1991-’92)—arguably heretofore unmatched in their clever, un-condescending approach to entertaining young people. Nick News with Linda Ellerbee launched in 1992, and remains to this day one of the only shows on-air devoted to frank, engaging discussions of teen issues and opinions.
But perhaps the program that best embodied the values of Nick in those years was All That, a sketch-comedy show that premiered 20 years ago today. Created by Brian Robbins and Mike Tollin, All That ran for an impressive 10 seasons before it was canceled in 2005. The prolific franchise spawned a number of spin-offs (Good Burger, Kenan & Kel, The Amanda Show) and launched the careers of several comedy mainstays: Kenan Thompson, Amanda Bynes, Nick Cannon, and Taran Killam.
Like Saturday Night Live (which would later hire Thompson and Killam), All That was a communal pop-cultural touchstone. The parents of ’90s kids had the Church Lady, “more cowbell,” and Roseanne Roseannadanna; the kids themselves, though, had Pierre Escargot, “Vital Information,” and Repairman Man Man Man, and we recited their catch-phrases to one another in the cafeteria and on the playground. Although All That was clearly designed as a SNL, Jr., of sorts, it wasn’t merely starter sketch comedy—it was an admittedly daring venture for a children’s network to embark on.
In its own right, All That was a weirdly subversive little show. It never explicitly crossed the line into “mature” territory, but it constantly flirted with the limits of FCC-approved family-friendliness. Take, for instance, the “Ask Ashley” sketch. A barely tween-aged Amanda Bynes (Seasons Three to Six), played an adorably wide-eyed video advice-columnist. Ashley (“That’s me!”) would read painfully dimwitted letters from fans with clearly solvable problems. (Example: “Dear Ashley, I live in a two-story house and my room is upstairs. Every morning, when it’s time to go to school, I jump out the window. So far I’ve broken my leg 17 times. Do you have any helpful suggestions for me?”) She would wait a beat, smile sweetly into the camera, then fly into a manic rage; emitting a stream of G-rated curses, always tantalizingly on the verge of spitting a true obscenity into the mix.
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“This is a true story,” announces the onscreen text. We see a snow-swept road and the headlights of a distant car. As it approaches, once-mournful strings rise to a crashing crescendo, punctuated by… sleigh bells.
I refer, of course, to Fargo. But not to Fargo, the 1996 Coen brothers film. No, I refer to Fargo, the new FX series making its debut tonight. The familiar elements are all there: the sad-sack salesman and female cop and murderous drifter; the car crash and ill-fated traffic stop and grisly murders; the semi-arctic setting and “Minnesota nice” accents offering up yahs and you betchas and fer Pete’s sakeses. But they’re scrambled into unexpected sequences and patterns. This is not a remake. It’s a remix.
The idea of making Fargo into a TV show has been around almost since the movie itself hit theaters, and it’s always seemed to me a terrible one given the idiosyncratic nature of the source material. In 1997 a pilot was even shot, though never picked up, featuring a pre-Sopranos Edie Falco in the role of Marge Gunderson, the iconic police chief played by Frances McDormand in the film. But the FX show takes a different approach from such would-be sequels, bringing back not the original characters but instead merely their types. And the result is, to my considerable surprise, very, very good.
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Our roundtable discusses the first episode of the seventh season.
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Our roundtable on “The Lion and the Rose,” the second episode of HBO show’s fourth season.
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In 2010, The Guardian cleverly gave a name to an epidemic that was sweeping the Western world: “Madmenalaria.” According to an advice column published in November of that year, the key diagnosable symptom of Madmenalaria was an obsession with emulating the hairstyles and fashions worn on AMC’s Mad Men, then in its fourth season. In 2011, the outbreak of Madmenalaria worsened when Banana Republic launched its Mad Men line, which helped bring early-‘60s business wear—like tailored narrow suits, skinny ties, and fedoras for men, and scarves, pearls, belted dresses, and pencil skirts for women—back into vogue.
But after the credits roll on this coming Sunday’s premiere for the show’s seventh and final season, Madmenalaria may be eliminated forever.
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This is the Golden Age of Television—not only as the blooming of lush and addictive entertainment, but also as an arms race for the best living-room technology.
Just days after Amazon announced its new Fire TV box, the Verge snagged exclusive images of Google’s new Android TV product. Both services let couch-potatoes pull up apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Prime Video on their TV screens, basically turning the idiot box into a big, smart iPad. Weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal announced that Apple, which has sold about 25 million Apple TV “hockey pucks,” is talking to Comcast about building a new streaming-TV service.
Fire TV, Android TV, and Apple TV all have the word TV in them, so you might easily confuse them for old-fashioned TV. But they’re not old-fashioned TV, at all.
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Our roundtable on “Two Swords,” the first episode of HBO show’s fourth season.
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