October 2015 Media Round-up (TV)

Shows I kept current with: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Empire, Faking It, Grandfathered, How to Get Away with Murder, iZombie, Jane the Virgin, Masters of Sex, Please Like Me, Review, Sleepy Hollow, Supergirl, The Flash, The Good Wife, The Great British Bake-Off, You’re the Worst

Shows abandoned (although, let’s be honest, both of these may be revisited the next late weekend night that I find myself craving a half-hour sitcom): Blunt Talk, The Mindy Project

Pilots tried: Himouto! Umaru-chan, The Knick, Top Coppers

Non-current shows watched: Life on Mars (UK, season 1, episodes 1-3), Gilmore Girls (season 6, episodes 5-6), The Great British Bake-Off (season 5, episodes 2-4)


Things of note:

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Okay, this show is amazing. It is maybe the show that I most look forward to watching every week. It is, like Cougar Town, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23, Selfie, etc., one of those shows whose title is probably putting off a large portion of its ideal fanbase, although the theme song directly addresses that:

CHORUS: She’s the crazy ex-girlfriend!
REBECCA: What? No, I’m not.
CHORUS: She’s the crazy ex-girlfriend!
REBECCA: That’s a sexist term!

And the show itself has gotten so much good press at this point that I can’t imagine that anyone is still avoiding it based on the title alone.

Some scattered thoughts on the show so far, then:

Relatability: Well, we can’t go too deep into this without getting super personal, but let’s just say certain elements really connect.

Incorporation of music: There are some obvious comparisons to make here to Flight of the Conchords and Garfunkel and Oates, so let’s discuss those two shows first. The shows are similar in that they both star musical comedy duos as themselves and, for the most part, build their plots around the duos’ existing songs, reproducing those songs as higher budget musical numbers than you could already find in the duos’ online videos or comedy albums.  And yet, I absolutely hated Garfunkel and Oates, while Flight of the Conchords is definitely in my top 10 sitcoms of all time. I found Garfunkel and Oates to be super repetitive; every episode basically had the same jokes and the same conflicts: Kate is super childish! Riki is a mess! Hollywood sucks! Now let’s play a mostly unrelated and tuneless song on our ukuleles and have it go on for just a few verses too long to be effective comedy! Whereas Flight of the Conchords played around with different musical styles and weird, specific humor. I’d say it not only had better songs and better jokes, but also did a much better job of integrating the musical and sitcom elements.

Now, on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rachel Bloom is not playing herself, or at least, she’s playing a character with a different name and background and occupation. It’s pretty key that, unlike Brett McKenzie and Jemaine Clement in Flight of the Conchords or Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci in Garfunkel and Oates, she’s not playing a musician; that really helps cement Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as an entry into the classical musical genre, where it’s implicitly understood that the characters aren’t actually singing to each other in the reality of their world1, and yet the musical numbers aren’t just delusions, either (as some reviewers think is implied by the main character’s precarious mental state). Having said that, there is occasionally some meta-commentary in the musical numbers (e.g. Rebecca asking “Who are you singing to?” in “Face Your Fears“) that doesn’t really do it for me, although I think I understand why it’s there: to be like, “look, we want you to know that we know that musicals are ridiculous, so we’re going to keep just a bit of ironic distance in all of our musical numbers rather than fully committing to that movie musical style.”

Flight of the Conchords and Garfunkel and Oates are both very much jukebox musicals, while Crazy Ex-Girlfriend feels closer to a book musical. Some of the songs still feel like they were existing comedy songs from Rachel Bloom’s oeuvre rather than songs specifically written for the show, but after some perfunctory Google searches, I’m not sure if any of them actually are. The musical incorporation does get better as the show progresses, I think, and it’s very clever in the way that it weaves back in motifs from previous musical numbers in the instrumental soundtrack. (Reprise, I guess, is the word for that.) The songs themselves aren’t quite Flight of the Conchords-clever to me, but I’m willing to forgive that since Crazy Ex-Girlfriend functions more as a comedy-drama with musical interludes than musical interludes with a comedy-drama built around it.

Characterization of Josh: It would have been so easy to make Josh a two-dimensional character—either a shallow jerk or an idealized dreamboat—but as the series progresses, he comes across as an actual person. His interaction with Rebecca at her housewarming party seems particularly noteworthy, since that’s kind of the first we see of him being more than just a bro stereotype. He genuinely likes Rebecca, and you can start to see that their relationship at summer camp might not have been totally one-sided and that her fixation on him might not be totally “crazy.” I mean, it’s still mostly “crazy”—like, it’s obviously a stand-in for other issues2—but Josh helping Rebecca in the party episode is perhaps the first time in the show where Josh the Person somewhat justifies Josh the Ideal, apart from his, um, sheer physical presence. He’s still a bit of a dick in his approach to the semi-triangular Valencia/Rebecca situation, but in a very human way, rather than as heavy-handed plot machinations to make Greg look like the Obvious Good Choice that Rebecca Just Can’t See.

Also Greg: is not just painted as the Obvious Good Choice. The show could have made him the solid reliable dude who’s just waiting for Rebecca to notice him, but instead gives his character some edge, in terms of his (mostly justified) bitterness and resentment towards Rebecca’s behavior and his life situation in general. Again, Greg comes across as a person. It might not seem like it from the first episode or two, but the characters of Josh and Greg do both eventually gain some depth outside of their relationships to Rebecca3.

Also Heather and her exquisite vocal fry: But this post is technically only supposed to be covering the episodes that aired in October, and the character had only appeared once at that point, I think.

Sleepy Hollow

Oh, Sleepy Hollow. No one ever expected you to be Mad Men, but still, it’s painful to watch you struggle to rediscover whatever it was you had that made everyone fall in love with you in Season 1. Remember when “the answers [were] in Washington’s bible?” Yeah, that was a thing that you did. And it was so fucking dumb. Almost everything you did was so fucking dumb, and yet you basically pulled it off through some combination of audacity and charm. I mean, you were (and still are) a show that posits that not only did every single important event in the history of Colonial America involve witches and/or demons, but also that the founding fathers knew about them and employed their own mystical forces. And not only did you make it to air, like, at all, but you’ve made it to three seasons. That’s insane!

What makes Sleepy Hollow work

The most essential elements, I think:

  • Ichabod/Abbie relationship—it definitely helps that Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie are both drama school graduates who are probably, as actors, way above this level of material, but still play it straight
  • Ichabod’s man-out-of-time situation
  • Ludicrous historical revisionism

Some perhaps less essential but still key elements:

  • Mills sister relationship
  • Modern solutions to ancient mystical problems (e.g. using UV lights to replace sunlight)
  • Abbie Mills shooting everything
  • Probably more, idk.

What makes Sleepy Hollow not work

  • Katrina
  • Hawley

And they’re not in this season, so yay! And yet, it still feels off; it’s hard to say why, and the more I think about it, the less I’m sure that the show was ever really on. 

On Season 3 of Sleepy Hollow:

  • Joe Corbin is back, and he is a welcome presence. I don’t know, dude has an interesting energy that feels less expected than Hawley’s Rogue with a Heart of Gold thing.  All of the Jenny/Joe stuff is quite appealing, certainly.
  • Sexy Badass Spy Betsy Ross is a thing this season and it does not work. Like, I get where they were coming from with this—it seems like it would fit into that category of so-dumb-it-works historical revision that the show loves. But Nikki Reed, the actress playing her, really doesn’t work in a colonial setting; unclear how she is in modern settings, as I’ve only seen in her the Twilight movies, which were not a good look for anyone. Given that Ichabod hadn’t really mentioned her before this season, it’s jarring for almost every single flashback to suddenly involve Betsy Ross now, and, um, many viewers are left questioning how she fits in with Ichabod’s relationship with Katrina or his pre-Katrina fiancee.
  • Zoe Corinth, a member of Sleepy Hollow’s Historical Society, has been introduced as a modern love interest for Ichabod. She also does not work, I think. It’s weird that the show killed off Ichabod’s costumer friend, Caroline, in an earlier season, because the character of Zoe feels like they wanted to use Caroline but the actress wasn’t available, so they made a super similar substitute character and hoped the viewers wouldn’t pay too much attention. I remember Caroline as being more charming and having better chemistry with Ichabod, but it’s possible that Ichabod/Abbie hadn’t had as many shippable moments at that point, so we were more receptive to the idea of Ichabod being paired with someone else. (Not Katrina, though.)
  • Pandora is a thing and I’m not sure if she works. I don’t think any of Sleepy Hollow’s villains have been particularly compelling, though, so no major change there.
  • Ichabod is adjusting more to modern times, which is reasonable given the amount of time passed on the show, but sad because it was fun watching him struggle with basic modern inventions. There have still been a few rants against modernity, but not nearly enough. There can never be enough4.

Does Season 3 work?

Probably not. But a Season 4 seems unlikely—for one thing, it’s just been moved to the Friday night death slot for the remainder of this season—so we’ll see how the second half of the season pans out and hope that it ends well. It’s been a mostly delightful ride, but at this point, it seems unlikely to ever reach its full potential.

1. For example, in West Side Story, we see Tony and Maria sing “Tonight” together, but we somehow understand that to them it’s just a conversation. We understand that within the world of West Side Story, gang members aren’t actually doing ballet in the streets; it’s stylized for our—the audience’s—eyes only. Genre conventions, you know? Within the world of Hamlet, characters aren’t like “dude, why are you speaking in iambic pentameter?” because that’s not how the fictional characters hear each other, that’s just how the audience hears them. ^
2. Rebecca’s deeply unhappy with her life in New York and happens to run into Josh at a particularly vulnerable time, such that Rebecca begins to perceive him (or, as can be the nature with teenage romances, never quite stopped perceiving him) as this idealized promise of happiness rather than a person. I feel like I’ve made this comparison before about something else, but it’s somewhat similar to the situation with Kumiko and the VHS copy of Fargo in Kumiko the Treasure Hunter. ^
3.I know, it feels a little ridiculous to be going, “Good for you, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, for letting male characters not just be Love Interests!” ^
4. That is, if they’re being delivered by actual time travelers about shit like the taxes on baked goods. There are definitely already enough rants by middle-aged people railing against Millennials. ^


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