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Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 5: Eastwatch

Where Is Everybody?

  • Roseroad
    • Jaime and Bronn managed to survive the lake. The Tarlys don’t manage to survive dragonfire.
  • Winterfell
    • Arya has a few issues with how Sansa is running things around here. Littlefinger keeps an eye on that.
  • Oldtown
    • Sam is really just not enjoying his internship. Gilly makes the biggest discovery of the whole show and no one cares.
  • Dragonstone
    • Jon pets a big lizard and has a big idea. Tyrion is getting concerned about all this.
  • King’s Landing
    • Cersei has some big news for Jaime. Gendry finally stops rowing and joins Davos.
  • Eastwatch
    • Some kinda…Suicide Squad…takes a mission to get a wight.

What Worked?

After three episodes in a row ending on an adrenaline-racing, pulse-pounding spectacle of a battle, I actually do have to admit that it’s nice to get a bit of a breather. There’s surely a lot to come in the supersized last two episodes of this season (71 and 81 minutes) and so it’s really nice to get a second to just put the pieces in place, move a few things around, and let these character combos breathe and operate dramatically for a second.

Which is by no means a bad thing when a show is as dramatically and narratively en pointe as this season of Game of Thrones has been. I’ve said it enough, but the shuffling of characters and the steady drawing together of them all has been the biggest shot in the arm for this season. These actors have had years to dig in and letting them bounce off each other in a story that is now almost entirely forward momentum is a rare delight.

Some of those are the reunions that are now happening. Coster-Waldeau and Dinklage have always really pulled the best out of each other (Dinklage’s best moments are with the Lannisters, Coster-Waldeau best moments are with anyone who isn’t Cersei) and even the brief scene they share is just truly heartbreaking to watch. The betrayal on Coster-Waldeau’s face, the desperation of Dinklage trying to reconnect and get something out of his brother. Just good stuff.

But it’s also the fresh combinations the show is managing to create and how those build on the ideas and themes already made.

Let’s take, for example, the new folks Jon Snow is about to deal with. This episode’s fan-favorite highlight was the return of Gendry, Robert Baratheon’s bastard son. Joining up with Jon lets the show recreate season 1’s relationship between Robert and Ned (even directly calling back to Ned point out Robert’s weight) with the power dynamics shifting. It was a short scene, but I’m hoping to see more out of Young Christian Bale in the show to come.

The other set of new folks is Jon Snow’s Magnificent Seven riding off to capture a wight to prove to Westeros that the threat is real. It’s an undoubtedly exciting dynamic, time-tested, to put a group of people who have good reasons to hate each other (Mormont v. Tormund, The Hound v. Other People) but need to come together to face a bigger threat. This whole thing works so so well because we’ve had the time to see these fault lines grow and to make the existential threat known. This is a story that works based on seasons of growth and an impressive amount of charisma and forward momentum, and it’s a delight to see the new things it can unveil.

Speaking of unveiling, I will comment on the boldness of the show dropping what is almost certainly the single biggest plot revelation so far so casually. For those of you who didn’t notice, Gilly’s reading included mention of an annulment by Prince Rhaegar and his marriage to someone else. This is almost certainly Lyanna Stark, which would make Jon Snow the true-born son of a Targaryen-Stark household and would give Jon the strongest claim to the throne, completely rewriting the dynamics of the show so far. Sam hears it, doesn’t much care, and moves on. But sending Sam back North seems important.

On a general note for the whole episode, director Matt Shakman (returning from the gangbusters previous episode) does some really strong work here. The moment between Jon and Drogon is a moment of mythic grace the show doesn’t indulge in near as often as it should, and Arya’s stalking of Littlefinger and its quick reverse is just a wonderful little bit of staging.

 

What Didn’t?

The temporality of this show is definitely something that can and should rightfully drive folks insane. It never necessarily breaks the show’s own reality (no inherent contradictions in the narrative) but how does any of this shit work?

 

Who Got A Win?

  1. Gendry
    • He got out of King’s Landing and made some new friends. Good for him.
  2. Sam
    • Said “Fuck it” and left his terrible internship. Good for him.
  3. Jaime and Bronn
    • They didn’t drown in a lake. Good for them.

Who Made A Mistake?

  1. The Tarlys.
    • Burned alive by a dragon and basically ended their whole line.
  2. Those Gold Cloaks
    • Got greedy and got a hammer to the face.
  3. Arya and Sansa
    • Littlefinger’s exploiting them new Stark dynamics. Don’t fall for it Arya!

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 4: The Spoils of War

Where Is Everybody?

  • Winterfell
    • Bran makes Littlefinger shit himself and is a dick to Meera. Arya and Sansa reunite and Arya sword fights like a motherfucker.
  • Dragonstone
    • Jon and Dany uncover some ancient drawings that prove Jon Snow knows something. There’s a disagreement over the next step to take.
  • King’s Landing
    • A Lannister pays her debts.
  • Roseroad
    • SHIT. GETS. REAL. AND. ON. FIRE.

What Worked?

It’s hard to top this almost immediate reaction. When a show is this consistently strong and pushing the limits of scope and scale on TV action and genre conventions, it’s rare to feel like anything but an event episode can take you off-guard or really and truly thrill you.

I have a feeling that this will become a cliché over the increasingly high budgets of these last episodes, but the final battle sequence ranks among the show’s best. It’s rare to be able to make such a thrilling sequence out of such a brutal beat-down but my god if director Matt Shakman doesn’t pull it off. The ominous beating of the hooves turning into the terrifying whooping of the Dothraki soldiers descending down on the Lannisters, facing a kind of enemy they never have before. Christendom being beaten by the Mongol Hordes. That sheer terror you see on the trembling soldiers, the prepping for a battle is so well-done and the tension gets ratcheted so high.

Then the dragon comes screaming over the hill and Dany speaks “Dracarys” and the whole thing jumps to the next level. We’ve seen what the dragons can do and heard tale of their warfare. But Game of Thrones pays off that build-up in the most spectacular of ways, showing us exactly what all this lore actually is. The dragon is TERRIFYING here, the touch of seeing the soldiers turned to ash and blown away is one of the best touches I’ve ever seen in a battle, an image up there with Jon facing down the Bolton Cavalry.

But what especially makes this sequence work is a point the creators made in the behind the scenes feature at the end. This is the first time we’ve seen two main “hero” characters face off against each other. Dany vs. Jaime, we’ve got our attachments to both and the emotions are swirling. Tyrion watching his brother charge into near-certain death is exactly what works about this, that sickening feeling of how these powers are going to push against each other. The stakes are high, even if we know nobody can die, because our characters are now forcing each other to suffer setbacks, the people we’ve been rooting for can win or lose by each other’s hands.

But let me not solely praise this episode for its final battle, though it’s the easiest to remember. This episode stages some truly great drama that deserves recognition.

The Starks slowly begin to congregate back at Winterfell with Bran still acting weird after his trip abroad (because he’s functionally no longer human). The dynamic they’re playing here is interesting, with Bran acting like an asshole because it’s becoming increasingly clear that he’s functionally no longer Bran. Along with Arya’s shapeshifting, the idea that the Stark’s reunion has come at the cost of them all losing some part of their Stark identity (minus Sansa, Bran is the three-eyed Raven, Arya is No One, and Jon is a Targaryen) provides that melancholy undercurrent to what has largely played as the show’s happier storyline as of late.

Oh yeah, Arya is back at Winterfell. This continues the play with Arya’s storyline turning from one of its most brutal to one of its most joyous and oddly comedic. Her mocking the guards is certainly a fun sequence. But the undoubted highlight is the sword fight between her and Brienne. Not only some of the show’s best fight choreography in some time, but it’s rare to see these character just get to show off. Maise Williams definitely has a future in action roles, just a thrill to watch her go for it.

Outside of a brief sojourn to King’s Landing, the other main event of this episode is at Dragonstone, as Jon and Dany get closer and Jon reveals the ancient drawings of the Night’s King and his forces. The impasse between them is frustrating, but deliberately so, there’s a slowly developing dynamic between the two of them pushing and pulling against each other. Clarke and Harrington are not often this show’s most dynamic actors, but there’s an increasing chemistry between them that works.

A chemistry that Davos comments on. This is a great episode for Davos, one of the show’s more understated characters. His role as Jon’s advisor has been a consistent delight and he does so much with even just a few lines.

What Didn’t?

The show’s shortcuts still show through the seams from time to time (how’d the Dothraki get there? How many ships are still left?) but this is an undoubtedly strong episode of television.

Who Got A Win?

  1. Dany
    • Injured dragon aside, this was a brutal and decisive victory against the Lannister forces. The Field of Fire 2.0 harmed their siege capacity and made it clear that the Lannisters only have so much they can do against the forces Dany has assembled, how much what she brings is foreign to Westeros. A win for a character who hasn’t had many.
  2. Bronn
    • Dude knocked a dragon out of the air. Once in a lifetime.
  3. Jon
    • Serious progress on getting Dany to work with him and growing towards actually maybe getting someone to fight the Night’s King.

Who Made A Mistake?

  1. The Lannisters
    • Dany beat their ass down. They’ll be fine, but DAMN that’s a morale shaker.
  2. Littlefinger
    • Bran made it clear that he know what Littlefinger has done. That plus the return of Arya who takes no shit means that Littlefinger loses the backing role he plays and has the vices closing in on him.
  3. Bran
    • Gotta stop alienating people around you. I get you’re the Three-Eyed Raven but damn dude.

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 3: The Queen’s Justice

Where Is Everybody?

  • Dragonstone
    • The Song of Ice and Fire begins as Jon and Dany finally meet. A few bum notes get hit as the King in the North and the Mother of Dragons feel each other and their situations out.
  • King’s Landing
    • Euron finally gives a gift to Cersei, which she immediately breaks. The Iron Bank comes to check on its debts.
  • Winterfell
    • Bran gets back from his time abroad and things between him and his commander sister Sansa are a little awkward.
  • Oldtown
    • Sam gets some credit for actually saving Jorah.
  • Narrow Sea
    • Theon gets fished out of the sea.
  • Casterly Rock
    • Under Tyrion’s master plan, the Unsullied take Casterly Rock, but it’s a little too easy…
  • Highgarden
    • As Jaime has taken the forces to take the seat of House Tyrell. Olenna gets one last fuck you in.

What Worked?

It’s shocking to realize how much faster this season of Game of Thrones has been than basically almost ANY other season. It’s not just the fact that the season has 7 episodes and by that virtue needs to be moving through its story at a rapid clip. It feels like the operation of this season is to finally bring everything to fruition and that once this history gets on the march, there is no stopping it.

To say “The Queen’s Justice” is a phenomenal episode simply because so much happens kind of does a disservice to how strong the material here is. There is a thrill in seeing so much happening and in seeing everything we’ve been teasing for 7 seasons actually exploding out. The war has begun.

But it’s because Game of Thrones really is at its best when things are going down. Season 5 was its weakest simply because it spent so much time grinding to a halt and spinning its wheels. When it has forward momentum, the writers, the directors, and the actors really dig in and pull the richest veins of this material.

Take for example the performance of our Lannister Twins. Lena Headey has done extraordinary work since Cersei really slid into full-bore evil queen supervillainy. As she’s started to move towards solidification of her hold on power and her revenge on the whole of the land, Headey has seized on the theatrical evil it takes to achieve to sell the pain and the base pleasures that have always driven Cersei. It’s just strong and interesting work that is based in the move towards the end.

But that forward momentum has also enormously benefited Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau. Jaime has been an underrated portion of this show, but the thread of what exactly to do with him has been lost for some time. But the increasingly rapid march to the end has given him a lot to do outside of Cersei. His scene with Olenna is some of his finest work, that pained look when she tells him that she killed Joffrey is phenomenal. But he finally gets to dig in to his increasingly dark feelings about his sister and his place in a kingdom she rules.

On the whole, that forward momentum also has benefited this show trimming down to the bare essentials. The Tyrells are gone, the Dornish are officially a closed loop, sides are all basically chosen and families are reunited. Basically every scene is moving something forward, creating something or closing something. The show finally feels like it’s able to do the things it’s been setting up forever.

For example, that Jon and Dany meeting. Look, it’s been set up since the beginning. This is the Song of Ice and Fire. It was hard to know what exactly this was going to be when it happened, but the tense and terse back-and-forth feeling each other out, Dany trying to assert and Jon with no patience for anything but his earnest quest, is certainly displaying the show’s capacity to surprise.

These characters are now getting put in place, their situation and preparations for war actually based in the arc that brought them to this place. I’m really impressed with where Game of Thrones has brought itself. A show this huge managing to pull down to the characters is a rare feat.

What Didn’t?

I’m still not entirely sure the failure of Tyrion’s plans is getting narratively justified. Tyrion’s failures as a general are perhaps supposed to be the reasoning, but it’s just not quite set up within what’s actually happening so far. It’s more convenience and moving its pieces than anything else. I’m hoping that’s knocked back into place.

Who Got A Win?

  1. The Lannisters
    • They tactically out-maneuvered their major challengers, took and rebuked one of their biggest defectors, are currently keeping the Iron Bank on their side, and Cersei and Jaime managed to take revenge on both of the people who killed their kids. It’s rare anyone’s had such a good episode.
  2. Jon and Dany
    • While Dany suffered a big set-back, the Jon and Dany partnership took a real huge step-forward by warming up their initially frosty relationship. They’re gonna need a whole hell of a lot more to make this work, but a good first step.
  3. Jorah
    • He got a new shirt!

Who Made A Mistake?

  1. The Sands
    • They’re going to die very slowly and painfully.
  2. Dany and Her Allies
    • Their three largest Houses of supporters have basically been crushed under foot and they wasted soldiers on what appears to be a fool’s endeavor. What a setback.
  3. The Tyrells
    • They died relatively quickly and painlessly.

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 2: Stormborn

Week 2 of Game of Thrones got straight up gratuitous. All the murder, sex, and gross body stuff you could ever imagine, as well as plenty of the Great Game that keeps you coming back week after week.

Where Is Everybody?

  • Dragonstone
    • Varys gets cleared. Tyrion and Dany reveal their plans to their backers in the Houses of Tyrell, Sand, and Greyjoy and Dany gets some advice. Grey Worm and Missandei finally reveal their feelings and consummate their relationship over the course of a century.
  • King’s Landing
    • Cersei and Jaime try to get some kingdoms back on the Lannisters’ side. It also turns out you can hurt a dragon…ominous.
  • Winterfell
    • Sansa and Jon hopefully learn the value of having a meeting before your meetings as Jon decides to go meet Dany and Tyrion. Later, Jon has an incredibly satisfying moment with Littlefinger.
  • Riverlands
    • Arya learns from Hot Pie that she can go home again and meets up with an old friend who is a Direwolf.
  • Oldtown
    • Sam rules and managed to figure out how to cure Jorah. It’s real gross though.
  • Narrow Sea
    • Euron kills the Sand Snakes in a big-ass sea battle and finds his way into our hearts.

What Worked?

Before we get into all else, let’s focus on the most surface level pleasure of this episode. “Stormborn” ended on a massive naval battle that ranks among the best action sequences of this show (minus the season-climax battles that always stand above). Euron’s ship sailing ominously through the dark, the flickering sparks through the air illuminating the battle by burning fire, Euron’s wild-eyed gaze as he brutally tears through Yara’s forces. It’s a scene tense and pulse-pounding and well-composed, a reminder of the particular thrills of a show like Game of Thrones that does manage to pull off such large scale action week by week.

But there’s also an emotional portion of this scene I really love. At the end of the battle, Euron has taken Yara hostage and is taunting Theon with her. Given the chance to return the good she once did for him, he runs and jumps overboard, leaving Yara in the clutches of their sadistic uncle.

It’s an incredibly moving moment, for the sort of sadness this show really can evoke. The trauma done to Theon doesn’t just leave, he’s not just going to be okay. He’s not ready to be a hero and this show isn’t interested in pat blazes of glory or resolutions that tug the heartstrings. Theon is broken and he leaves the carnage behind him as someone stronger tries to take power, the sorrow at his cowardice and at Yara’s feeling of betrayal is never said, but it hangs heavy in the air. A seriously great choice on the part of this episode’s writers.

As Game of Thrones continues down the path to the end HBO doesn’t want to see coming (seriously, HBO has nothing on this scale and they are terrified of when it ends), our storylines are increasingly converging. Last season was about setting up the endgame, this one appears to be about putting all the pieces in place, including pushing the characters into their final alliances.

“Stormborn” shows us just how fun seeing these characters we’ve spent 6 other seasons getting to know in new combinations can be. Strong personalities with seasons of history bouncing off new walls is an absolute delight. Yara and Ellaria’s ribald fliration (interrupted by Euron’s terrifying attack) is worth the watch of the episode alone. Seeing Jon throw Littlefinger up against the wall is amazing. Sam getting to do the right thing for the son of Mormont and Dany consulting with Olenna Tyrell and dressing down Varys are things that only work this late in the game, with such a clear idea of who these people are and what’s happening to them.

It’s important to note just how good an endgame has been for this show. As it focuses, the tightness of the narrative makes everything feel urgent. Everything is now pointing to a future, all the fat has been trimmed off the story’s movement.

From a totally petty perspective, I’m also just glad we saw the Dorne portion of the story cut off. The show’s completely bungled its handling of it, and the death of (2 of) the Sand Snakes was a great way to close off the story and reestablish Euron’s threat. I mean, we knew they would die, these are not fan-favorite characters.

What Didn’t?

At this point (don’t @ me) Game of Thrones pretty much has figured out what works and what doesn’t. Missteps are on the basis of miscalculation rather than blatant mistake.

Let’s take Missandei and Grey Worm. The scene was a long-time coming and honestly the idea and set-up was truly spectacular. But it went on just a hair too long, just past the necessary point. It felt like a moment of the show grinding to a halt when it doesn’t have the time to waste.

Also, how did Grey Worm learn how to go down on a woman? Is there a bard going around singing about the glories of cunnilingus who’ll teach you how for a copper?

Who Got A Win?

  • Euron
    • Euron basically decimated the Greyjoy opposition and struck a major blow to impress the Lannisters and get them back on his side for a claim to the Iron Islands.
  • Arya
    • Arya again gets a nice, sweet moment of grace and learns that she does indeed have friends. I’m just so happy for her.
  • Jorah Mormont
    • It looks like he’s got that greyscale fixed. Yay!

Who Made A Mistake?

  • Jon and Sansa
    • CAN THEY NOT HAVE ONE FUCKING FIVE MINUTE MEETING BEFORE THEY ACTUALLY HAVE THESE BIG DECLARATIONS. Jon sucks ass at actual politics and Sansa needs to figure out how to guide better. Littlefinger is creeping into that growing divide.
  • Tyrion
    • Olenna’s words are ominous and the current alliance worries me if Dany decides to turn back on Tyrion’s frankly fantastic plan.
  • Theon and Yara
    • Their forces were decimated, Theon ran, and Yara’s in Euron’s hands. About as bad as it could get for them.

Saturday Night Live Season 42, Episode 20: Melissa McCarthy joins the Five-Timers Club!

How’s the Cold Open?

I’ve definitely been critical of Baldwin’s performance as Trump in recent weeks as largely being a “Fill-In-The-Blanks” impression, and it isn’t as though this week’s showing was necessarily any better about that.

I feel like this week was just to some degree the most absurd and stupid week in the history of the Trump Presidency, where the sheer vain idiocy came so far to the forefront of President Wario’s actions that any repetition would be deeply amusing in a sort of “Laughing at the Mushroom Cloud” sort of way.

So, yeah, Baldwin is doing his standard shtick, but I couldn’t stop stress-laughing remembering how barely exaggerated the actions were this week. The actual comedy star of this one was Michael Che as Lester Holt, whose delivery of the line “Nothing matters” taps into that weird pervading nihilism about the whole thing.

Also, any time we can mock Paul Ryan, let’s do it. Bring ice cream you Randian motherfucker.

I’m mad about politics this week. The sketch was funny.

Who’s Hosting?

It always kind of surprises me that Melissa McCarthy didn’t come up through SNL. She seems like the sort who would have been a smashing success here, a brilliantly broad comedic performer with a penchant for really digging underneath the characters. She’s always been SNL-adjacent anyway, kicking off the superstar portion of her career in a movie starring Kristen Wiig, so what would it have hurt to have had it every week?

She enters the Five-Timers Club this week, the second this year (there will ultimately be three), and she is absolutely deserving. No non-cast member has felt quite so at home as McCarthy, she’s up there with luminaries like Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, or Justin Timberlake.

What Sketches Are Worth Watching?

“First Birthday”

A weird recurring sketch that tries to explain those suburban mom trends, I’m a fan of weirdly sinister comedy and this absolutely has it in spades. A bizarre, Stepford-esque escalation of finding “your animal” and your nature, the great little weird behavior details and the increasingly dark/glassy-eyed performance from everyone all builds to a nice comedy crescendo.

“Production Logo”

A perfect 10-to-1 sketch, the kind of sketch that you’re not sure what exactly the thought process was that led to it, but you’re happy someone thought of it. Absurd, but played with a totally straight face. Don’t know what made me laugh so much about Melissa McCarthy’s depressed logo woman, but made me laugh it did,

“Kyle and Leslie”

This romance between Kyle Mooney and Leslie Jones has been one of the more surprising delights of this season, a romance surprisingly sweet and funny as it is weirdly told and well put-together. It actually pulls from a real place if this romance existed (their varying levels of success) and then pushes it in a legitimately interesting way until it takes the comedy turn, which actually may be the hardest I’ve laughed this season so far.

No shit. I was scream-laughing.

“Sean Spicer Returns”

Spicey, Sean Spicer if you’re nasty, may legitimately be McCarthy’s greatest character, a bundle of anger and rage and genuine nervous fear that explodes in comedic service of a total buffoon. McCarthy plays Spicer with everything she’s got, and I think it’s one of the few that finds no diminishing returns. Yeah, Spicey has thrown shit before, but that column throw is a legitimately hilarious escalation, it always feels like you’re finding something new. Even if you’re just reciting what happens (Spicer really did hide “among” the bushes), McCarthy finds the comedic gold therein and pulls it out, not just reciting.

Plus, I will never not laugh at the use of the podium.

“Film Panel”

Considering real-life Classical Hollywood was only slightly more dehumanizing than these folks describe, I’m impressed how much they manage to pull out and the delight with which McKinnon and McCarthy’s old actress describe all manner of twisted things. Just a great duo performance, and the showcase for McKinnon’s talents that works every time.

“Melissa McCarthy Mother’s Day Monologue”

Just a fun little piece to kick off the show, I always love the various shenanigans they pretend are going on behind the scenes at SNL and I’m also a fan that they keep McCarthy’s Llama recurring.

What Didn’t Work?

“Amazon Echo”

Reasonably committed, but honestly, there’s not really any gags that haven’t 100% been done before, this is just kind of your standard group of old people gags given “relevance” by tying it to a new piece of technology.

“Game Show”

Carried entirely on McCarthy’s physical humor here, it kind of runs into a rut a little too fast, telegraphing all its gags from the first pie-to-the-face. I’ll admit to laughing at the “washing off” stuff, but everything else is just not all there.

Weekend Update!

In a weird way, this week more than ever, Weekend Update is feeling the strain of keeping up with an exceptionally dumb administration. One has to wonder what it would have been like for this show to operate under Nixon, keeping up with the vitriol and the stupidity and the sheer weird baffling behavior is plenty of material that you’re still never going to feel better comedically than the dark joke of seeing it actually happen.

At this point, there’s just a general need for a little catharsis, a barely concealed need to throw up the hands and just ask “What the fuck?” While these guys aren’t as good as Seth Meyers (As far as mainstream goes. When you’re talking non-mainstream sources, no one is beating Chapo Trap House for the cathartic political comedy), Jost and Che are getting a few good shots in this week, my favorite being Jost hitting Spicer and Trump over Spicey diving in the bushes without warning as that’s usually Trump’s move.

Correspondents were good this week. Cathy Anne actually made me laugh this week with a solid group of hits that were clearly connecting on Trump. The concept of the character as a woman at her last rope is finally coming through here, and it’s funnier than she’s been in her past. Pete Davidson also did a nice little personal bit about being in rehab, and I hope all goes well for him.

Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?

Oh yeah. HAIM is the bees knees.

MVPs!

An ensemble show largely, but Cecily KILLED it as a straight-man this week, so major props to being able to do that. And Cathy Anne actually worked this time around.

Beck Bennett – 4
Cecily Strong – 3

Kate McKinnon – 2
Bobby Moynihan – 2
Mikey Day – 2
Vanessa Bayer – 1
Jost and Che – 1
Leslie Jones – 1
Kyle Mooney – 1
Kenan Thompson – 1
Melissa Villaseñor – 1
Ensemble – 1

Final Thoughts!

A great week, one almost certainly buoyed by having Melissa McCarthy’s comedic presence around. While not quite as experimental or sheerly-skilled as some of the better episodes of this season, it’s a solid group of sketches that land more hits than misses.

Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)

  1. Dave Chappelle
  2. Tom Hanks
  3. Kristen Stewart
  4. Lin-Manuel Miranda
  5. Louis C.K.
  6. Emma Stone
  7. Aziz Ansari
  8. Chris Pine
  9. Melissa McCarthy
  10. Scarlett Johansson
  11. Alec Baldwin
  12. Kristen Wiig
  13. Margot Robbie
  14. Casey Affleck
  15. Benedict Cumberbatch
  16. John Cena
  17. Felicity Jones
  18. Octavia Spencer
  19. Emily Blunt
  20. Jimmy Fallon

Next Week: THE SEASON ENDS. Dwayne Johnson also joins the Five-Timers Club.

A Eulogy for Review

I’m not sure we’re ever going to see a show like Review with Forrest MacNeil ever again.

That’s a big statement, there’s a lot of television history to come, and the show itself was a remake of an Australian show. I don’t know for sure that we’ll never find another creation like this.

But there’s a specific alchemy that made Review with Forrest MacNeil something truly special, a confluence of talents and ideas that feels like something you could never recreate, one that would be almost incapable of getting the appreciation it deserved in its own time.

Simple enough, the show is about Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly), a television reviewer of life. Each week, along with co-host A.J. Gibbs (Megan Stevenson) and producer Grant (James Urbaniak), Forrest would take viewer requests to review various experiences. Experiences we’re all curious about like Stealing, Drug Addiction, or Racism.

Then came the third episode “Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes.” Forrest was asked to review eating 15 pancakes, asked to review divorcing his wife, and then asked to review 30 pancakes. Besides being likely one of the funniest episodes of television ever written-

“These pancakes couldn’t kill me. I was already dead.”

-it signaled a surprisingly brilliant focus shift for Review. This was the beginning of a dark downward spiral, Review turning into something like Comedy Central’s Breaking Bad. A man pursuing a goal, ostensibly for betterment but really for his own pleasure, at the cost of his friends, his family, and his own well-being.

This shift becomes license for the show to push Forrest MacNeil further and further down the rabbit hole, reviewing Leading a Cult (which leads to a shootout with the authorities by the person who takes over his cult), Having the Perfect Body (which leads to this),

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and Killing a Person (which results in him personally killing a person). No assignment goes uncompleted to the fullest and furthest of Forrest’s understanding.

And that’s where Review gets tricky/interesting. It’s an ostensibly objective perspective, a documentary about this man’s insane journey. But as criticism, it’s based entirely in the subjective perspective of its critic, what Forrest is willing and sees as his mission. Forrest believes that everything must subordinate to the “service he does.”

The show may ask that Forrest feels what it’s like to be a little person. It doesn’t ask that he continues walking on his knees as his father’s house burns down and he can’t reach the fire extinguisher. It asks that he blackmails someone. It doesn’t ask that he blackmail the woman he loves and force her away.

This is the darkness of Review, that everything the show asks is completely brought on by Forrest himself. A comedy show about a man that destroys his own life because he chooses to.

And yeah, it’s still a comedy. Review is funnier than a show this dark and sad has any right to be. Much of that is thanks to Andy Daly, our man at the center of it all. A masterfully gifted improviser and physical comedian, Daly’s willingness to throw himself whole into basically anything the show asks of him, and the little nuances he finds inside the Forrest character is consistently surprising.

Just take a look at this scene from “Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes.”

Then remember the man gets divorced after this and watch the second clip here.

The difference in the way he starts out, the body language, the steely resolve of the latter vs. the reluctance of the former. The delivery of the narration, everything here is just suffused with comedy beats.

Plus, this shit is just funny. The man pushes himself to the limit for something so ridiculous, how are you not dying watching that? Daly brings such specificity and energy to the character and the escalation is just flawless. Let’s take a few more looks.

It’s such a perfect blend of sincerity and naivete and sheer gonzo insanity.

And lest I make it all sound like Daly, he’s also supported by an amazing cast. Megan Stevenson as his co-host brings a bubbly straight-man to the insanity and a look at what Forrest could have been. His ex-wife Suzanne is played by Jessica St. Clair who may have the best exasperated voice in the business. And James Urbaniak is the closest thing this show has to a villain as the manipulative Grant, who pushes Forrest further and further into his madness for reasons somewhat unknown.

So goodbye Review. You will be missed. Gone, but I have a feeling, not forgotten.

Iron Fist or UUUUUGGGGHHHHHHHH

I have not seen this whole show. I fully recognize that there could be more past where I am, but 6 hours of content should be enough to form an opinion on the quality. 

This is bad television. Every task required of Iron Fist, it fails at. It’s not just bad for the Marvel Netflix shows or for the Netflix shows or for any other subgenre category that it falls into,  it’s flat-out bad. It would be bad at any time, in any context, with any weight behind it.

Let’s head this off at the pass. This is a controversial show, mostly for its leaning into Orientalist stereotypes inherent in a character from 70s Exploitation comics. Its politics may be unfortunate, but that’s not why this show is bad. Danny Rand should have been an Asian-American man in this show, but that’s not why Finn Jones sucks in the lead role. These things are symptoms of a fundamental brokenness at the core of this show.

To put it simply, this show has no interest in what’s interesting about its premise and no desire to put its own stamp on things in a new way. Iron Fist keeps the unoriginal or unfortunate parts of its premise and categorically refuses to find the new or the weird in here. It’s also fucking boring.

Like Batman, Green Arrow, and Doctor Strange before him, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) disappeared into the East (following a tragedy) and receives Martial Arts training/super powers from a mysterious and mystical group (in this, the monks of K’un L’un). He returns to New York City to reclaim his company, much to the chagrin of Joy (Jessica Stroup) and Ward (Tom Pelphrey) Meachum who currently run the company.

Would you guess that this would largely be a martial arts show? Right, you would guess that, because that sounds really interesting. And Iron Fist is anti-interesting. It instead leans on the latter portion and becomes a lot of boardroom drama and corporate intrigue and backstabbing.

Which could be interesting, don’t get me wrong. A lot of great shows have been built on exactly that. The problem is that not only are you actively ignoring a far more interesting premise (something that for all their problems, Daredevil and Luke Cage and Jessica Jones absolutely never did), but you don’t have the ability to actually make watchable what you have on the page.

The blame here can likely rightfully be placed on showrunner Scott Buck, most infamous for the last few seasons of Dexter and in particular for making the decision to end the show with the eponymous character becoming a lumberjack.

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Yeah, that dude.

The writing in Iron Fist is just awful. Dialogue is stiff and unnatural. Case in point:

I’m texting my driver right now, which means he’s going to be pulling around the corner any second, and if you’re still with me when he gets here I’m going to ask him to detain you because he’s not just my driver, he’s also my guard. My armed guard.

That’s not character building, it’s not stylized, it’s just a mouthful. There’s no way to make that work no matter the acting, no matter the editing, no matter the direction. This is constant. These people don’t talk like humans do.

They also don’t live like humans do. Every Marvel Netflix season is afflicted with a draggy back-half that shows where they ran out of story. Iron Fist plays like that from episode 1, its pacing is dreadfully slow and painful to watch. There’s nothing interesting happening and those things are metered out so slowly that you don’t even get the pleasure of having a whole lot of nothing happening.

All this might be salvageable if the characters were worth watching, but the villains and the heroes are universally without anything to hook into, any recognizable motivation, and anything keeping you watching them from episode to episode. Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) comes the closest to being fun to watch, being tough and skilled, even if completely secondary to Danny.

But the villains (the Meachams and henchmen) are cloudy enigmas. While that’s fine, you need some reason to be worried about what they want to do, some sign that maybe you’ll care about their evil machinations. But it’s not there.

And let’s talk Finn Jones as Danny Rand. Jones is just obnoxious, the show never sells his naivete as admirable or zen. Jones’ Rand is just plain stupid, his decisions don’t follow out of logic, either show or real world, and you at no point find yourself rooting for him. He’s less a hero and more a college Senior who came back from Study Abroad “in Asia” and started dating a first semester Freshman. You can’t stop sucking air in through your teeth when you see him around.

ALL OF THAT THOUGH could be fixable if it at least had the action scenes that a martial arts show promises. The sad and simple fact is that it doesn’t. It’s not as good as other Martial Arts TV shows like Into the Badlands. There’s nothing here that touches things like Daredevil’s hallway or staircase fights.

There’s nothing here that even touches Luke Cage or Jessica Jones. The action scenes are slow and poorly choreographed. It doesn’t look like he’s holding back, it doesn’t look effortless, it looks like it’s taking him a lot of effort. It looks like they’re showing us the behind-the-scenes rehearsals where they fight at half speed. If Finn Jones isn’t a martial artist, that’s fine. Then why wasn’t there a way put in around that? A mask or something.

It’s just indicative of what Iron Fist is. On every level, a failure of imagination, of storytelling, of excitement. It’s a total fucking bore, the worst sin for a show like this.