Recent Viewings from the Stress Era

An unexpected benefit of the recent disruptive life dramas: more time for TV marathons. Turns out all those extra hours spent in hotels and waiting rooms, and separated from the distractions of a fully functional apartment, have translated into extra laptop screenings via Netflix, Amazon, and HBOGo. Silver linings, right?

Behold, the much delayed and improbably resurrected Arrested Development season four! I still think my immediate reaction to this one holds: it feels a little like that vivid dream you had about watching Arrested Developments you’ve never seen before, only for them to evaporate when you awaken. Except, you know, in this case they actually exist and you’re actually watching them. I’m pretty sure this season isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as the originals. But in a way it’s also more impressive, a dazzlingly convoluted triumph of wacky, nonlinear logistics with enough madcap stream-of-consciousness to make Monty Python feel conventional. The entire cast is in fine form, but I have to single out two performers: Jason Bateman, who may be the best straight man in the business right now, and David Cross, who is brilliant, and clearly hasn’t forgotten how to play the inimitable Tobias Funke. At times, these episodes feel a smidge rusty; the padded, commercial-free running times aren’t ideal for its comedic timing. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, here, and ultimately it’s kind of a mindblowing achievement, bizarre and totally riveting.

This goes back a ways, but I absolutely blazed through seasons two and three of The Good Wife, and found them every bit as compelling as the first season. Minus the thrill of discovery, it loses a smidge of the earlier Wow Factor, but it continues to be strong. And Kalinda Sharma (Archie Punjabi) definitely joins Jim Rockford, Hank Dalworth, and Britt Pollack in my private investigator’s Hall of Fame. (In fact, she’d probably scare the shit out of those guys.)

Meanwhile, online, Burning Love season three was released hot on the second season’s heels. It continues the solidly cast, consistently funny mockery of our worst reality shows, this time in the form of a reunion show bringing back “All-Stars” from previous seasons — including imaginary ones. This brings together the deservedly featured Ken Marino and June Diane Raphael, who reprise their spectacularly self-unaware turns as Mark Orlando and Julie Gristlewhite. Neither sequel season is quite as sharp as the original, but it’s still great fun and I’d probably keep watching right past the shark-jump if they keep going.

In a spirit of completism, I finally caught up with the final full season of 24, season eight. Now here’s a show that lasted too long for its own good. Season eight starts pretty poorly, and has some absurd twists and truly awful moments, many of them, sadly, belonging to Katee Sackhoff, one of many weird casting decisions this year. (Jennifer Westfeldt? Stephen Root?) It’s definitely a weak season, with a tagline that might as well be “same shit, different day.” But it’s not as bad as season six, and there are a few moments of spark, mostly involving Annie Wesrching and Gregory Itzin. I have to reiterate, even at its worst, 24 is kind of a remarkable beast.

I’ve also been keeping up as much as possible with shows in real time. (How old school of me.) The third season of Game of Thrones continues to build on the show’s rich foundation and I’m still thoroughly hooked; it redeemed a couple of flabby mideason outings with an intense wrap-up as the season wound down. Each episode makes me want to go to the source that much more. Veep continues to be an agreeable, profane, and occasionally hilarious background presence, thanks primarily to Julia-Louise Dreyfus and Tony Hale. I’m also rather enjoying the quirky Family Tree, an understated and amusing new series helmed by Christopher Guest. It stars Chris O’Dowd as a down-on-his-luck bloke who inherits a chest full of family heirlooms and starts delving into the history of his ancestors. It’s easy to forget how instrumental Guest was to the mockumentary style that permeates modern comedy; at its best, Family Tree shows he’s still a master of it. Finally, a shout out to Adventure Time, which continues to get weirder and more awesome, a delightful, one-of-a-kind concoction.

So, except for all those other shows I want to watch, I’m all caught up!

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