NVTV 31: Selfie "Even Hell Has Two Bars" and "Never Block Cookies", Marry Me "Annicurse Me", and Benched "Pilot"

Hey, this season's getting good! Selfie turned in two very solid episodes last night, giving it the season-high streak of good episodes at three (Bad Judge arguably has the same, but it's really more two and a half on that one), Marry Me had its best outing yet, and the new USA sitcom Benched is promising enough that I'm adding it to replace the fallen Manhattan Love Story despite never really having time to do these reviews justice as is. More after the jump. 

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NVTV 30: Mulaney "Sweet Jane"

Mulaney had its best episode yet this week, though it's still very much at war with its format and likely to die by falling on that sword. Despite that grim inevitability, this was a pretty major win for Mulaney as it finally gave Motif something to do besides "black guy stuff," it got excellent mileage out of show MVP Nasim Pedrad, and it continued to lean into its knack for darkness. 

All three plot lines mostly worked, John's girl of the week was very funny (and officially acknowledged the Seinfeld criticism), and Martin Short continues to make Lou Cannon more compelling than the writing ought to allow. Even Andre was good this week, as the show now seems to hate him just as much as we viewers do.

On the downside, Elliot Gould's Oscar continues to be a massive disappointment on both a writing and performance level, and the show might want to think about cutting back his role to more of an occasional guest start type thing. The live studio audience continues to murder the show's comic rhythm, and the writing still has a bad habit of occasionally over-explaining itself. 

All in all, the show continues to be what it has been, but better. Depending on whether you count Bad Judge as still among the living, Mulaney is probably the second or third most enjoyable (though Black-Ish is an objectively more sound show) remaining new sitcom behind Selfie. That's not the compliment it may initially appear to be, as even Selfie is just "pretty ok," and Mulaney is only a step or two north of "bad." This has been a grim season full of promising shows that can't seem to put the pieces together, and while Mulaney is funnier than most of them, it's certainly under that same disappointing umbrella. 

NVTV 29: Cristela, Halloween and Oates, and the funerals of Bad Judge, A to Z, and Manhattan Love Story

Short review of Cristela's mostly good Halloween episode, one day late. 

Cristela still has an identity crisis, as it can't decide how smart or broad of a show it wants to be, but it was funnier on balance this week than it had been since the pilot, and the supporting cast continues to slowly round out. The stuff at the office is much more consistent on both a comedic and character level than the stuff at home thus far, and the show'd be smart to go back to the well. Cristela herself remains the show's MVP, and as she goes, so goes the show. She has, like Will Ferrell and Bill Murray before her, an ability to get almost any stupid idea over by sheer force of comedic will, and she made a lot of lemonade this week. Even if her show never becomes good, hopefully she keeps getting work. 

In other news, Bad Judge and A to Z are both semi-cancelled; both shows will continue producing their thirteen episodes, but neither will get a back nine order, and the odds of either coming back next season are marginal at best. Also, while we're talking cancellations, I may as well cover the death of Manhattan Love Story

MLS was definitely the season's worst show for the four episodes it got, and yet I'm sadder about its death than A to Z's. MLS never got good, but the fourth episode demonstrated a willingness to try new things, and to move away from the stuff that didn't work. I don't think the show ever would have become great, but it had the potential to become interesting (though it probably wouldn't have done that either). That said, I'm glad it's gone, though if I had my druthers I'd rather watch nine more MLS episodes than eight more A to Zs. Both shows were terrible, but only one seemed to be willing to take chances to fix it. 

A to Z was a better show, pound for pound, than MLS, but it was often harder to watch; MLS was bad in a somewhat amusing way, as the writers (initially) had no idea how to build characters or jokes and just fumbled aimlessly with bad comedy karaoke. But A to Z was a case of talented, funny people making an awful show, pummeling its audience with wasted potential and horrible gender politics; fully forty percent of episodes so far end with the lead female dismissing the lead male's apology for stalking her, then kissing him. All women in the show are boy-crazy, insecure spastics, even those who are otherwise calm, lucid, or competent (semi-exception: the very funny deadpan Hong Chau, who never got enough screen time to be much of anything). I'll soldier through the final eight episodes, and hopefully somewhere in there show runner Ben Queen will meet an actual human woman and then attempt to write one… but I'm not looking forward to it. 
 

And then there's Bad Judge. While Black-Ish is probably the most competent show of the new crop, Bad Judge was probably the best, at least for the last two weeks. After an abominable pilot (the worse episode of anything I've had to watch for this that wasn't MLS), Bad Judge rapidly improved, and by the fourth episode it was very, very funny. The fifth episode wasn't a laugh factory, but it had great character work and a home-run punchline in the climax, and I spent most of my review of it looking forward to the show's potential and dreading its cancellation. While Bad Judge is technically not dead- it's ratings are significantly better than A to Z's, and either a ratings surge or a total failure for the rest of the NBC lineup could conceivably lead to a second season- survival is very unlikely. It's not a show that's good enough yet to inspire a  Chuck-like fan rescue campaign (though it's cheaper to produce than Chuck and producing comparable ratings), and even if it becomes one it's likely too late. Still, I recommend watching it for as long as it lasts, and along with Selfie it remains one of the only two shows I actually look forward to watching week to week (though Mulaney and Black-Ish aren't terribly far off). Fingers crossed for an improbably rescue, but if dies a predictable death, at least we'll always have that excellent comic highpoint from last episode.

I'll miss Bad Judge, I'm serious. As serious as your mother's cocaine problem. 

NVTV 28: A to Z "E is for Ectoplasm" and The McCarthys "Pilot"

Quick thoughts today, as I'm dangerously hungover and neither one of these shows did anything interesting enough to spend much time on. 

With Manhattan Love Story dead and buried, A to Z is now the worst of the new sitcoms; as ever, this week had a few (but not enough) funny lines, a tremendous cast being totally wasted, and a plot line that completely sold out more than half of its cast. If I may paraphrase a classic Sports Night moment, show runner Ben Queen's demonstrating an almost total lack of understanding about how to get the best from talented people. He's got the second or third strongest cast of the new sitcoms (behind Bad Judge and arguably Selfie or Mulaney) but he gives them nothing to work with. Ditto a very deep writer's room; I don't know if the writers are being over-edited or just serving a bizarre and counter-productive agenda, but their resumes suggest they really ought to be putting out a much better product. The fact that I dislike this episode is doubly damning because I am the world's biggest mark for Ghostbusters references, and this episode was full of them. Bustin' makes me feel good, but watching A to Z just makes me feel sad. 

Meanwhile, The McCarthys was nowhere near as bad as I expected. It's a throwback multi-cam show that actually mostly works for what it is, the problem is just that what it is isn't terribly interesting Still, the cast is strong (especially Norm alum Laurie Metcalf and lead Tyler Ritter), the jokes hit more than they miss, and the laugh track is not as intrusive here as it is on Mulaney. The McCarthys isn't a show I'll likely ever love, but I'm also not really the audience it wants, and for what it is, it does its job. If the writing stays sharp (or sharpens), it'll even be enjoyable for somebody like me, albeit with a  much lower ceiling than a lot of the other promising-but-troubled shows I've been reviewing. Mild thumbs up on a personal level, regular thumbs up at an attempted objective level.