Why shows that break your heart are the most important ones to watch

If you watch enough TV, then it will inevitably break your heart. Maybe a show you love will kill off a character, or maybe it will go completely off the rails and lose any of the charm you once found in it. Or, as in the potential case of a show like “Enlisted,” not enough people will love the same thing you do, forcing the business side of the industry to step in and take that show prematurely off the air. All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again. And all of this is perfectly fine and healthy.

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Review: Scandal, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”

All hail Shonda Rhimes.

“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is not just the best season three episode of “Scandal,” but a necessary reaffirmation of what makes the show so great when everything’s working at peak efficiency. If that weren’t enough, it also managed to solve the show’s central problem, pointing towards a potentially even better future for the series.

But other than that? It didn’t really do all that much, I guess.

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Who Moved My TV Character’s Cheese: Why we respond to strongly to vocational competency on television

Last night’s “Saturday Night Live” parody of “Scandal” was simultaneously funny and instructive. As a fan of both shows, I had reservations when the sketch started: recent “SNL” parodies of programs such as “The Walking Dead” and “Homeland” have missed core aspects of the show so badly that the mockery didn’t land at all. But with “Scandal,” the show not only got to provide super fan Lena Dunham with the chance to act inside one of her favorite hour-long dramas (albeit in sketch form). It also provided a key insight into one of the aspects that gives so many fans pleasure: The act of seeing characters who are really good at their jobs succeed in their everyday roles.

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Review: Enlisted, “Brothers And Sister”

If “Pete’s Airstream” serves as what “Enlisted” can do when actually digging into the core trauma of life in military service, then “Brothers And Sister” serves as an example of how this show can function on a week-to-week level as a celebration of difference between people of fundamentally different temperaments. That’s an insanely pretentious way to describe what a nominally silly show like this is doing on a weekly basis, but while “Airstream” is probably a better episode, it’s not necessarily one that “Enlisted” can do every week. Pulling at the heartstrings is something we know the show can do. But it need not do that all the time, nor should it: After all, it’s hard to earn those emotional moments if they are deployed like clockwork three minutes before the end of each episode.

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Review: Enlisted, “Pete’s Airstream”

It’s always fun to watch shows make “the leap,” even thought what constitutes that leap can be difficult to pinpoint. Usually a show makes “the leap” somewhere in the second season, after a full year of the program as a whole finding its feet and recognizing its strengths while still having oodles of story to tell. (See: “Parks and Recreation,” “Arrow,” and a few hundred others.) And what pushes the show from “good” to “great” is in the eye of the beholder: What feels like augmentation to one feels like denigration to another. All of this is a way of saying that I’ll understand why you don’t think “Pete’s Airstream” is “Enlisted” making “the leap,” but it certainly feels like the first time that the show put everything together and discovered its full potential. Yes, we’re only three episodes into its first season. But damnit if it’s not going to be hard for the show to top this anytime soon.

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Why renewing “Parks And Recreation” may not be the best move for either NBC or the show itself

News broke today that NBC would be renewing “Parks And Recreation” for a seventh season. It’s a piece of news that’s somewhat surprising: “Parks” has never been high in the ratings, and it’s been perpetually on the chopping block. That has meant that Mike Schur and company have written what amounted to series finales at least three times during the course of the show’s run, only to have to start all over again once picked up for more episodes. This is a good problem for a show to have, but has also pushed the program’s stories along to the point where there really aren’t that many stories left to tell. In particular, last week’s episode suggested that less, not more, episodes in the future might actually be the best thing for the entity as a whole.

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5 Questions And 500 Words: “Archer”, Season Five

Welcome to another installment of “5 Questions and 500 Words,” my approach to reviewing the crazy amount of shows that will be unspooling/returning over the course of the next few weeks. Given the glut of shows, and the glut of reviews that will be published for these shows, I’m keeping things short and sweet. This is for your convenience and my sanity.

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Review: Why “Enlisted” is the best comedy of this television season

There’s a lot of ways to approach reviewing television shows, but the best ways are always the ones that come most easily to mind. In reality, criticism is about articulating a personal response while employing some modicum of detached perspective. The ratio between the two inevitably varies between show to show and critic to critic, which is why having a variety of opinion about a variety of programs is a feature, not a bug, of this particular industry. All of which is to say it’s all fine and well for me to say that “Enlisted” (premiering Friday, January 10, at 9:30 pm EST) is the best comedy of the 2013-4 season, but it’s far more important for me to say why I feel that’s true. Simply stating something is the job of sycophants or haters. Explaining that statement is the important aspect.

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5 Questions And 500 Words: “Intelligence”

Welcome to another installment of “5 Questions and 500 Words,” my approach to reviewing the crazy amount of shows that will be unspooling/returning over the course of the next few weeks. Given the glut of shows, and the glut of reviews that will be published for these shows, I’m keeping things short and sweet. This is for your convenience and my sanity.

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5 Questions And 500 Words: “Cougar Town”

Welcome to another installment of “5 Questions and 500 Words,” my approach to reviewing the crazy amount of shows that will be unspooling/returning over the course of the next few weeks. Given the glut of shows, and the glut of reviews that will be published for these shows, I’m keeping things short and sweet. This is for your convenience and my sanity.

“Cougar Town,” returns January 7 at 10:00 pm EST on TBS

cougar-town-s5-renewal.jpgYou’ve written extensively about the show for the past two seasons. On a scale from one to Penny Can, how freakin’ great are the new eps screened for critics?

Eh.

Wait…I’m confused. And nervous. how am I supposed to process this?

I’d say that lowering your expectations is probably a good thing, unfortunately. While the first three seasons of the show are still underrated classics, the fourth saw a fairly steep dive in quality with the everyday departures of co-creators Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel. The core elements of the show still remained, but buried under a creeping sense of stasis and an overreliance of tropes rather than character work.

What’s the easiest way to sum up your confusion/worry?

In the premiere episode, the gang deals with the Travis/Laurie relationship that officially started at the end of season four. And that reaction in no way, shape, or form lines up with what happened in the first four seasons. Go back to “Down South” or a dozen another eps in which the possibility of Trav/Laurie is discussed and have it line up.

But maybe this is just a case of theory not lining up with reality?

I’d totally give that point to you, and I’m guessing that’s what all involved thought they were depicting. But no one in the show overtly acknowledges the disconnect. It’s a very simple thing that wouldn’t have solved the episode’s problems, but at least would signal that those in charge were paying attention t the little things. And that’s the biggest overriding sense of these early fifth season episodes: That the show’s somewhat on autopilot. Everything looks and sounds basically the same, but without any urgency or any attempt to change these characters a single iota. “Cougar Town” used to push its characters to grow and evolve. Now, they stay in place, and so does the show. Bobby Cobb used to be a sad man that the show pushed to better his position in life. Now, I assume he’ll never leave that boat. And that’s just sad, especially considering what Lawrence told me in this interview before season three.

Is there anything worth recommending?

Sure. It’s “Cougar Town,” so even a watered down version has some merit. The cast is still great, if somewhat bored with the recycled material at this point. The one person not bored? Bob Clendenin, who gets a lot of fun material early on (especially concerning a certain secret project in his garage). That one sole spot of energy makes sense: his is the last area of the show still fundamentally unexplored, even if you count the Tom-centric episode in season four. That’s not to say there isn’t a wealth of interesting material left to explore in the Cul-De-Sac crew. It’s just not clear that this is a show willing or interested in doing that at this point in its improbable run. That’s not a tragedy: most comedies have a finite life left in them, and the show is far from terrible. But it’s no longer vital. Instead of aging with added texture and maturity, the 2014 vintage of “Cougar Town” barely excites the palate.