Best Episode of the Season: Maron Season 1

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Season Analysis: Maron turned out to not be the Louie-style personal project some (probably unfairly) expected it to be.  It is actually a fairly traditional sitcom, though more understated than most.  The Louie connection is a useful one, though, insofar as Marc Maron is just as nakedly emotional as Louis C.K.


“Dead Possum”
The common link of the best episodes of Maron’s first season was Josh Brener, who plays Marc’s assistant Kyle (and also recently made The Internship more bearable than it would have been without him).  Kyle, a grandson of a friend of Marc’s mom, is one of those eager-to-please, “I’ll do anything for you if you help me break into the biz” types.  But Brener takes care to make Kyle as genuine as possible, and he and Marc have an easy rapport (when Marc isn’t being an asshole), as first displayed in their bonding at the hardware store.
While all of Brener’s time onscreen was a delight, the same cannot be said of the star of the show himself, who hasn’t quite figured out how to be the fictionalized version of himself.  But he did have quite a moment in the podcast wrap-up portion of “Dead Possum,” in which he mused on the dilemma of dealing with issues having to do with getting rid of a rodent stuck under his house:

“Look folks, I’m not an alpha male, alright? I act like one sometimes but I’m not a real one. And the reason I know that if I ever lock eyes with a real alpha male – they know. They’re like, ‘Say hi to the little girl in there.’ And I’m like, oh no, they saw you. Look, I think all men have a girl inside them. You just don’t want her to come out at the wrong time. I know I’ve got one in there. I know she’s a bitch; I’m starting to think she has an eating disorder, and her name’s Jill. But that’s my issue. The bottom line is, no matter who you are, you’re going to be defined by your actions. And sometimes, you’ve just got to man up.”

Best Episode of the Season: Mad Men Season 6

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Season Analysis: After watching Mad Men regularly for the first time despite only ever having watched a handful of episodes from the first season, I can report that it is a show that is surprisingly easy to jump into in the middle of (just so long as you can eventually get the large cast straight).  And I can also report that Season 6 turned out much like I have heard previous seasons turned out: more interesting than engaging at the start, but then it really gets going by the end of it.


On many episodes of Mad Men, not a lot happens.  Well, plenty happens, it’s just that people are usually sitting those happenings happen.  People tend to talk, more so than act.  So when people actually do act, it tends to be thrilling.  And when that action involves storylines that have been simmering all season coming to a head, those thrills are profoundly satisfying.  And it wasn’t just that Sally discovered Don’s affair with Sylvia.  It was that she discovered the affair just after Don enlisted Ted’s help to contact someone in the National Guard to help with Sylvia and Arnold’s son now that he was eligible for the draft.  And it was that she discovered the affair the first time that Don and Sylvia were resuming it after having previously called it off.  Every character on Mad Men is constantly lying to every other character, and it is moments like the climax of “Favors” that make it clear just how thick and tangled those lies are.

Honorable Mention: “In Care Of”
I will have to concede that my ignorance of Mad Men Seasons 1-5 may have hindered my appreciation of “In Care Of.”  I did appreciate that everyone leaving Peggy, Roger going to Joan’s for Thanksgiving, and of course Don taking his kids to the house where he grew up resonated with what the entire series has been building towards, but I might have appreciated them even more if I had actually seen all that building.

Best Episode of the Season: Orphan Black Season 1

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Season Analysis: Tatiana Maslany gave the best performance(s) of the 2012-2013 television season, anchoring a show that did not quite reinvent the sci-fi genre but served as a breath of fresh air thanks to its supreme, grounded confidence regarding its most outlandish elements.


“Variations Under Domestication”
“Variations Under Domestication” is a sort of modern-day comedy of manners, with clones.  In its satire of a particular class, a comedy of manners employs secrets and comic misunderstandings, as characters hide their shame behind closed doors and other characters get the wildly wrong idea about what is behind the door.  Orphan Black, with its lead actress playing at least seven characters and other characters serving as observers of those characters, is well-suited to having a comedy of manners episode.  “Variations Under Domestication” is slightly different than your typical Oscar Wilde play, though, what with its golf club assault, hot wax dripping, and nail gun firing.  And it was not even necessary to have this squirm-inducing violence just under the surface to skewer suburban Toronto and its Stepford-style housewives.  All that was needed for that was the presence of Jordan Gavaris’s Felix, who simultaneously embraces and goes beyond the bitchy gay stereotype.  His budding unlikely friendship with Alison, the most high-strung of the housewives and of the clones, allows for a buffer who can keep all the moving parts appropriately moving around at the potluck at Alison’s house.  Ultimately, “Variations” demonstrates how Orphan Black is aware how crazy its premise is and that it is still fully committing to it.  Clones showing up at your potluck party is what happens when wild scientific experimentation is released and butts up against (the rest of) real life.

SNL Season 38 (2012-2013) Recap

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There were a few fallow periods in the middle of this season, but the fertile portions that surrounded them were aplenty.  They more than made up for the weak points, resulting in one of the most overall satisfying seasons of the past several years.  Every year has its ups and downs, and this season certainly had its forgettable sketches and unworkable hosts, but I tend to focus on the best of the season rather than the worst when making my final assessment.  And there was plenty of the best, and the best of the best was sublime.  I don’t know if we are ever going to get back to the status quo of the late 80’s/early 90’s when even the worst was perfectly watchable.  But if 2012-2013 represents the best consistency SNL is going to get to nowadays, then I am satisfied.

Most Valuable Cast Member
Bill Hader

With a relatively high influx of new talent mixed with a large number of veterans hanging on (for the first time ever, three cast members were in their tenth season or higher at the same time), the screen time was appropriately spread around.  No one cast member truly dominated the season, so the one who stuck out the most was by default the most valuable one of the last couple of seasons.  Bill Hader may not have been ubiquitous in his final season the way he was in his penultimate and antepenultimate seasons, but he did have enough showcase performances to maintain his top dog status.  Fittingly, the two best showcases came in the season premiere (the Grenada veteran in the puppet class) and the season finale, his last show (Stefon’s epic goodbye).

(Rookie of the Year) Cecily Strong

She was responsible for the two biggest breakout recurring bits of the season (the Girl at a Party, and, along with Vanessa Bayer, the former porn stars), making for the best rookie season since Andy Samberg’s seven years ago.
Taran Killam

With plenty of veterans leaving or on their way out, it is time for Taran Killam to step up to the plate.  You can stick him in whenever you’ve got a sketch with one role missing a performer, and he is plenty capable of coming up with weird bits on his own, in particular Mokiki doing the Sloppy Swish.  In interviews, you can tell that this guy is so happy to be there AND so willing to put in the work.

Best Sketch
Darrell’s House

Some people were turned off by the no-budget aesthete and the cringe humor elements of the first part of Darrell’s House, which was too bad.  But everybody loved the second part, and I believe that is because there was something funny going on in every second and every frame.  Each sentence was punctuated by an awkward edit, or a smooth edit that seemed like a non sequitur but was actually meant to be there.  Then there were the extra bits that weren’t supposed to be there, some that stood out like a sore thumb (Darrell checking his phone in the background) and those that required an eagle eye (Jon Hamm shaking his head incredulously as he left).  The most impressive part was that the final product was edited on the fly during the show in between the airing of the first and second parts.


Louis C.K. is not afraid to make himself look embarrassing.  In fact, with his stand-up and eponymous sitcom, he has made the embarrassing sublime.  And now he has sublimely embarrassed the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.  When Louie puts on the top hat and the beard, he looked nothing like Lincoln, but he was Lincoln.  That is, if Lincoln had pondered the existentially crushing weight of the universe and grimaced in pain at how awful some of it all is, in a way that amuses and educates us.

There have been many great moments in comedy involving stupid characters.  But stupid characters are best not when they are completely stupid, but rather when they have at least a smidgen of mental capability, or when they at least make an attempt to display such capability.  There is a fascinating sort of warped logic to such attempts, as exemplified by ex-porn stars Brookie and the one who can’t remember her own name, with their hare-brained scheme to shill for luxurious products.
Puppet Class

Puppet therapy is in.  While the class in this sketch wasn’t for therapy per se, that is how Anthnoy Peter Coleman was using it, whether he realized it or not.  The puppetry of Seth MacFarlane’s teacher was safe, and therefore boring.  Anthony Peter Coleman’s puppetry was dangerous, and thus it had something to say.

Mid-conversation joiners who request a conversation recap deserved the good-natured poking that Nasim Pedrad provided.
Djesus Uncrossed

A Quentin Tarantino history parody that avoided being too on-the-nose by seeming like an all-too-real possibility.
Outside the Lines

If abuse were this hilarious, would we be calling for the abusers to be fired?  Of course we would, but at least we would also be laughing.

(Best Short Sketches)
Replacement Refs

When people look back at the 2012 NFL season, this sketch will give them a good idea of what it was really like having replacement refs officiating the games.
Aw Nuts! Mom’s a Ghost!

Further evidence that the Disney Channel sitcom-ification of anything is comedy gold.
Wooden Spoon Warehouse

Dorky humor earns respect when it is accompanied with the commitment of accents and costumes.

(Best 10 to 1 Sketches)
Darrell’s House (Edited Version)
I have intrigued myself by considering the possibility of Darrell’s House only airing as the edited version with no explanation as to how it came to be.  My dad walked in the room while I was watching the edited piece without having seen the first part, and he was confused.  I like to think some people would have been confused AND amused.
Jamie Foxx’s hosting stint was bottom-heavy, with its best bits appearing in the lower portion of the show, appropriately enough for an episode that culminated in a sketch starring ex-porn stars.
Coroner’s Office

Jeremy Renner looked lost during much of his hosting stint; that actually worked to the advantage of a sketch in which he couldn’t understand the concept of identifying the body of a dead family member.
The Art of the Encounter

Hey, remember the 90’s? I do, but somehow I missed dating instructional videos like this one, so clearly my formative decade was incomplete.
Last Call

Rather meta and thoughtful for such sloppy humor – right in Louis C.K.’s wheelhouse!

Best Host
Zach Galifianakis

It goes without saying that Zach Galifianakis is going to be a great host nowadays.  The question is, will the episode he is hosting be able to meet his wavelength and be just as good as him?  As May 4, 2013 proved, when that does happen, it makes him a great host even better than was previously fathomed.

Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy earns a spot on this list mostly on the strength of how she says “ham” and “Barb Kellner.”
Justin Timberlake

He used his 5-Timers Club induction episode to solidify why he is currently THE SNL host of the 21st century.
Louis C.K.

His willingness to commit to the willingly stupid Mountain Pass sketch was unnecessary though admirable, while his work in the Lincoln sketch was existence-defining.

Best Monologue
Vince Vaughn

One of the supposed biggest draws of Saturday Night Live and live TV in general is the idea that ANYTHING can happen.  But over the decades, SNL has become so polished and codified that it really doesn’t seem like anything can happen.  That is why I love moments like Vince Vaughn’s monologue, which rambled on and on for nearly 10 minutes and had no point beyond “Vince Vaughn talks to the audience.”

Zach Galifianakis

To save time, as soon as Zach Galifianakis is announced as host, you can pencil in his monologue as one of the best of the season.
Louis C.K.

Louis C.K. is the best stand-up comedian working right now.  His monologue was a piece of his routine.  And that’s the way it is.
Melissa McCarthy

This season had a noticeably satisfying number of abnormal moments.  When was the last time a monologue was an extended physical gag?  Physical humor is not my favorite genre, and the joke of this monologue could be surmised from a mile away, but commitment to something so different goes a long way.

Best Musical Guest
Alabama Shakes

Brittany Howard has the best pure rock voice to emerge in quite some time, and she made sure to sound as good as usual when gracing the SNL stage.  Her face might make some weird shapes when she belts her biggest notes, but (thankfully) she lacks the vanity that would prevent her from hitting those notes for the sake of avoiding those faces.


With “Madness” and “Panic Station,” Muse brought a small-scale epicness that could actually be conveyed with the acoustics of Studio 8H.
Kanye West

The mini-era of messing around with the SNL music stage began three years ago with Kanye, and now he has returned, to show everybody just how frightening that strategy can be.

Somebody had to make sure we had some fun this season.
Vampire Weekend

Bang it out quickly and painlessly and go crazy with your pitch, say Vampire Weekend.

Best Commercial Parody
Tres Equis

The Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World fits in the same comedy tradition as SNL’s Super Fans and Bill Brasky sketches, so it is only fitting that with Tres Equis SNL would present the opposite of that tradition.  How many Ditkas, Braskys, Chuck Norrises, and Most Interesting Men can the world contain?  The Tres Equis spots posit going beyond the limit produces dire consequences.


There is something weirdly cool about the Adrien Brody/Andre 3000/Gael García Bernal Gillette commercials in such a way that recreating them with impressionists is inherently funny and in such a way that adding Jerry Sandusky into the mix is the apex of comedy.
Convention Cutaways

If you watch a lot of footage of … stuff, you’re going to notice patterns of the everyday bizarre.

Best Weekend Update Segment
Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation with a Party

A lot of people really do have selfless intentions to change minds and fix the world.  But when you don’t really know how things work and you’re slightly drunk, those intentions make you sound like an annoying idiot.  If you’re lucky, you’ll end up a hilarious annoying idiot.  One worries that Cecily Strong has made too many girls you wish you hadn’t started conversations with at parties believe they are hilarious.  But they’re probably not paying attention to anything anyway, so no need to worry.

Drunk Uncle on the Election

Drunk Uncle finally covers the topic he was born to explain.
Stefon’s Wedding/Farewell
One of the best recurring characters in SNL history gets the most exhilarating, most emotionally fulfilling sendoff any character has ever had.
Cecilia Gimenez

Kate McKinnon may have been doing an Italian accent for a Spanish person, but at least Cecilia’s painting “restoration” was similarly confused.

Best Episode
Zach Galifianakis/Of Monsters and Men
When the Jennifer Aniston Look-Alike Contest appeared early in this episode, I thought, “Okay, here’s the one weird sketch of the night.”   I figured the rest of the show would fail to live up to the weirdness level set by Zach.  That was the formula set by his first couple of hosting stints: one or two Galifianakian bits amidst the disappointing rest.  But then we also got the M&M Store, Michael Jordan’s wedding, and Darrell’s House – times two!  Thus was ultimately an episode that gelled perfectly with the host and made a case for why it is still worth it to watch SNL live: two big statements from a show that usually does not make any in a typical episode.

Christoph Waltz/Alabama Shakes
The best musical guest of the season kept us rocking through an episode that featured no duds and two of the best sketches of the year (Tippy, Djesus Uncrossed).
Melissa McCarthy/Phoenix
An episode that utilized the best sensibility of Melissa McCarthy’s Groundlings improv training.
Seth MacFarlane/Frank Ocean
The  premiere set the tone for a season that was frequently willing to put out unique, original material.
Justin Timberlake
The 5-Timers Club makes for an episode that is Party Time, Excellent!

Best Dress Rehearsal Cut Posted Online

Along with Darrell’s House, Kanish suggests that bad editing was a theme of the Zach Galifianakis episode.  The secret of comedy is good timing, and it seems to be that the secret of making something comedic that wasn’t meant to be is bad timing.

Best (Non-Girl at a Party, Non-Drunk Uncle) Lines
1. “A new survey shows that the number of children that is the most stressful for a mother to have is 3, especially if you had 4 when you left the house.” – Seth Meyers on Weekend Update
2. “Because there’s one thing that don’t never go out of style:” “Crys-” “Anal.” – Sammy Stamina (Jamie Foxx)/Brookie (Vanessa)/The one who can’t remember her name (Cecily), in Swarovski Crystals
3. “One time I got banged through a glass ceiling. I changed everything for women. Turns out I’m a feminist. Thanks, Herman’s!” – The ex-porn star who can’t remember her name (Cecily), shilling for Hermès Handbags
4. “Yeah? Who were the judges?! Mr. Magoo and Helen Keller?!”/”Why are people clapping?! These two?! Who did their make-up?! Helen Keller?!” – Paul Nevins (Zach Galifianakis), in the Jennifer Aniston Look-Alike Competition
5. “No Replacement Refs Were Harmed In The Making Of This Program” – Disclaimer at the end of Replacement Refs
6. “Please don’t talk over me. This is not a movie theater.” – Racist Jim (Zach Galifianakis) chastising “Black” Joe, in M&M Store
7. “Glice.”
8. “I was saying TTYL to my innocence.” – Anthony Peter Coleman (Bill), in Puppet Class
9. “Remember: Dylan McDermott was in The Practice, and Dermot Mulroney was in a movie called Staying Together, where he played a character named Kit McDermott. And that is a true fact!” – The host of “Dylan McDermott or Dermot Mulroney” (Bill)
10. “Now who’s the horse?” – Brookie (Vanessa), shilling for Moët et Chandon
11. “I lost part of my foot. It broke off in a butt. And I’ve regretted it ever since. But I don’t regret wearing crystals!” – Brookie (Vanessa), shilling for Swarovski Crystals
12. “Jesus, why you look like a shark?” – Cecilia Gimenez (Kate)
13. “What happens in Delaware…” – Joe Biden (Jason), in Biden Bash
14. “NOT THE B!!!!!” – Brice (Bill), bemoaning the cancellation of Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23, in Firehouse Incident
15. “I can barely hear you.  This is an Altoids box.” – Zach Galifianakis, in his monologue
16. “Wow! Wow! It’s like you’re seeing things, and then, but, what I’m hearing, is she’s a woman and she has breasts and stuff!” – Dan Pants (Louis C.K.), in Last Call
17. “My secret is, I’m not Jon Hamm.” – Wayne Smote (Kenan), in Darrell’s Room
18. “The girl was Chinese or something?” “No! Well, yes, but that’s not the point.” – Tippy (Nasim)/Denny (Christoph Waltz), in the Tippy Sketch
19. “I’m Clark, and I like biscuits and waffles.” – Anthony Peter Coleman (Bill), in Puppet Class
20. “Argon, sir. It’s a noble gas.” – Hotel clerk (Louis C.K.), in Hotel Fees

Best The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party Lines:
“Oh, achoo. Oh sorry, Seth. I must be allergic to indifference.”
“Like if I eat French fries at dinner, then I do the rest of the day good.”
“I asked for an end to genocide. Okay? So maybe next time you’re on your new iPad, look up how to be a decent human being.”
“You mean the Christ-mas spirit? Oh right, you don’t care about Jesus cause you worship Hallmark.”
“Also, I’m sorry, why can’t secret Santa be openly gay? Like, hello, it’s 2010.”
“Seth, can I use the n-word real quick?”
“Open your eyes, people: hunger, racism, small businesses. It’s like, maybe don’t.”
“Wow. It’s African American-face. And yes, of course I did.”
“Open your eyes, people: war, hunger, diseases. It’s like, pick one.”

Best Drunk Uncle Lines:
“If you wanted a House of Representatives, you built one yourself.”
“Why did the chicken cross the road? Say it with me: to get away from the immigrants.”
“You know what I’m writing off this year? The next generation.”
“So, I didn’t go to ’lectoral college, okay?”
“So Drunk Uncle, were you surprised by any of the races?” “Oh sure, blacks, Hispanics, Koreans, all of them really.”
“And when you voted, you pulled the damn lever, Seth, like a man.  You didn’t fill in a little oval like you were taking some preg’ancy test.”
“Yeah, I’m a hoarder!  But you know what I hoard?  1950’s Playboys and dignity.”
“You want to talk about equal rights?!  A dog can pee in the streets, that’s fine.  Drunk Uncle pees on one payphone, gets arrested instantly.”
“Instead, I got my fat niece going, ‘Spotify me! Spotify me!’ Barf!  Spot-if-I care.”
“You know what’s in my Tumblr? Regret.” – Peter Drunklage

Best Episode of the Season: Arrested Development Season 4

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Season Analysis: I did not laugh as consistently as I remember laughing during the original run, but there have been plenty of great gags that have been looping through my head the past few weeks.  And most episodes could have benefited from leaner editing, but the great Arrested Development Netflix experiment was generally a remarkable success.  The parade of guest stars was far from shameless stunt casting, with John Slattery, Isla Fisher, Kristen Wiig, and Ed Helms just a few of the new faces who were woven seamlessly into the Bluths’ world.  The satire was still biting, the cultural references were far-reaching and complicated, and the pathetic emotional underpinnings of the Bluth family were more profound than they have ever been.


“It Gets Better”
I am hesitant to say that the success or failure of an individual Season 4 Arrested Development episode is indicative of the strength or weakness of the character that the episode focuses on.  While “Borderline Personalities” and “Double Crossers” were probably the most underwhelming of this bunch, George, Sr. is still a viable source of hilarity.  However, “It Gets Better” really does showcase how strong a character George Michael is.  And since most people skipped Youth in Revolt, this episode should be offered as the prime evidence that Michael Cera roles are not all the same (his This is the End performance notwithstanding, which provides more proof than should be necessary).  George Michael, having taken full advantage of the college experience, is the one Bluth who has developed the most since we last saw him, for better or worse – his confidence has gone way up, which for better has led him to grow a mustache and develop a bit of a ladykiller strain (and always leave on good terms with his ladies), and for worse has made him a true Bluth, the kind who could weave a grand lie about creating privacy software and create a new identity for the sake of wooing a girl (who his father also happens to be dating).  “It Gets Better” also naturally benefits from arriving late in the season and therefore providing plenty of resolution to the season’s running threads, with it finally becoming clear what FakeBlock really is.  This episode also gloriously plays up Michael Cera’s resemblance to Jesse Eisenberg, going full bore in having the FakeBlock saga parallel The Social Network, leading to the best “On the Next…” gag of the season, in which P-Hound plays the role of Eduardo Saverin or the Winklevoss twins.  A couple more things to note: George Michael’s late mother Tracey (played by the always lovely Maria Thayer) makes her first on-screen appearance, in a flashback with toddler George Michael, and it is the most heartwarming moment of the whole series, and this episode also features the best celebrity guest appearance we didn’t know we needed, with David Henrie popping in as himself.

Honorable Mention: “Señoritis”
With “It Gets Better” succeeding in large part thanks to weaving together many plot threads that had been set up in earlier episodes, it is interesting that “Señoritis,” the episode that preceded it, succeeds about just as well despite much of it existing independent of the rest of the season.  Perhaps that it is appropriate, as one of Maeby’s key characteristics is her invisibility to her parents.  This episode works as a sort of long con comedy-thriller, with Maeby repeating senior year of high school several times more or less just to see how long she can get away with it.  The stealthiest cultural reference of the season appears in this episode, with Maeby’s Opie acceptance speech serving as an homage to the Maryland sorority girl’s e-mail.

Best Episode of the Season: Modern Family Season 4

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Season Analysis: There is some stark Flanderization going on with Modern Family, but Phil is still awesome, and Luke is actually one character who has only gotten better since Season 1.

Modern-family-tyburrell_fred willard

“Goodnight Gracie”
Modern Family always goes in for the emotional gut with the final talking head of each episode, and it kind of always falls flat with me.  That is not to say I am heartless (movies and TV shows have made me cry plenty of times) but that MF is not quite pulling off what it thinks it is.  You can’t have everyone constantly be petty to each other and expect shoehorning in an emotional revelation to work just as constantly.  So it was gratifying that all the emotional beats of “Goodnight Gracie” worked without any qualifications.  Two goofy guys – Ty Burrell and Fred Willard – got to play earnest while mourning the death of a mother and wife, while also managing to remain goofy in a way that did not distract.  To expound: Phil’s late mother left him with the odd final request of setting his father up with a neighbor.  The moment when Phil fully explained to this woman why he had shown up at her doorstep made me wish that the people on this show were always this honest with each other.  Not that I didn’t feel that way already, this moment just confirmed my belief.

Best Episode of the Season: The Middle Season 4

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Season Analysis: The Middle is the best family sitcom on the air right now, and it has probably set its sights on being one of the best of all time.


“The Friend”
I feel like I (and others) have so often mentioned how interesting the awkwardness of adult male friendship can be that it seems redundant to keep praising shows that present this situation.  But Neil Flynn actually does manage to bring something different to the table, by portraying Mike Heck as someone who honestly could not care any less about his lack of friends.  Unfortunately for him, he is married to Frankie Heck, who cares way too much about this sort of thing.  Fortunately for the viewer, the new neighbor that Frankie sets Mike up on a man date with is played by David Koechner.  Koechner is known for playing for off-putting weirdos, but here he is actually allowed to play someone who could comfortably live in suburbia, but he is like all his previous characters in that he follows one rule in life: “I’ll have a beer with anyone.”
The Axl-Cassidy (and Brick) subplot showed that (now dearly departed) relationship getting on well.  It deftly played with expectations, with Cassidy and Brick’s shared love of the Planet Nowhere series seemingly suggesting that Brick might develop a crush on his older brother’s girlfriend.  But instead, it turns into an opportunity for Brick to teach Axl about culture and make the latter more appealing to his lady.

Best Episode of the Season: Family Guy Season 11

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Season Analysis: Season 11 was the loudest Family Guy season yet!

yug ylimaf

“Yug Ylamif”
I still enjoy Family Guy enough to watch it regularly, but I no longer love it the way I loved it during its early years.  Its joke-telling is simply not as consistently sharp anymore.  Too often, the gags are just crass for the sake of being crass, without any real rhythm to them.  Since the joke-telling cannot be relied on, a modern FG episode needs a solid hook to its plot to work out.  A backwards episode isn’t the most unique hook ever, but it is strong enough compared to most other episodes, and it plays on the established FG continuity of Stewie’s time machine, and there is tension because of an endpoint (the reversal of Stewie’s birth) that needs to be avoided.  Revisiting the show’s past allows for meta commentary (Meg is voiced by Lacey Chabert for a line) and seems to allow the show to revert to a time when the characters were simply better: case in point – Peter pouts like an older sibling (“I want to be the baby!”) when newborn Stewie arrives home from the hospital.  But the main reason “Yug Ylimaf” succeeds – and the most common Family Guy episodes succeed nowadays – is that it focuses on the Stewie-Brian pairing, the most fruitful character combination perhaps in the show’s whole run and certainly the best of the show’s current iteration.  Interestingly enough, the best gag has nothing to do with the concept itself and doesn’t rely upon the Stewie-Brian interplay – it’s one of those moments of Stewie muttering something mundane in his sleep (“Mmm, yes, I’d like to return this printer.”)

Honorable Mentions: Further proof that Stewie-Brian is the show’s best character combo: the surprisingly poignant “Brian’s Play,” and “Roads to Vegas,” my favorite of all the Hope/Crosby homage episodes.

Best Episode of the Season: The Simpsons Season 24

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Season Analysis: Watching modern-day Simpsons renders quite the existential toll: it does not look like it will ever die, even though it seems like it has already lived its entire life.

Simpsons - The Day the Earth Stood Cool

“The Day the Earth Stood Cool”
Classic Simpsons is known for its spot-on cultural homages and parodies.  Modern Simpsons still takes aim in the same direction, but it is rarely memorable anymore, so it is especially gratifying nowadays to have an episode like “The Day the Earth Stood Cool,” which is essentially an animated episode of Portlandia.  Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein voice a couple of Portlanders who pave the way for a Portland-to-Springfield migration, thus turning the Simpsons’ hometown into a hipster paradise (that is to say, Portlandia).    Considering that there is already an entire show built around the concept of hipster paradise, one might think this episode would suffer from lack of originality.  But there may not be any original concepts left for The Simpsons anyway, so they might as well borrow another show for an entire episode.  As a loyal A.V. Club reader, I must point out the gag with the print version of The Onion, in which Marge mistakes it for a real newspaper and then mistakes the A.V.’s harsh reviews of The Wizard of Oz and The Graduate for fake reviews.  This gag paints The A.V. Club as harsher/more alternative than it actually is, but it still hilariously gets the point across.

Best Episode of the Season: The Cleveland Show Season 4

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Season Analysis: The Cleveland Show was starting to lean too hard on the fourth wall breaking by Season 4.  It wasn’t that it was unfunny so much as it was pointless.  Other than that, the show remained an essentially agreeable half hour.


“The Fist and the Furious”
It is the nature of every episode of basically mediocre shows like The Cleveland Show to not stick out one way or the other.  To break out requires a new or uncommon element, such as a guest voice appearance by the indispensable Bryan Cranston.  Cranston voices Dr. Fist, whose name sounds creepy if you are inclined to think of it that way, but it is amusing that the show never really calls attention to that element.  The One Who Knocks brings the right mix of badass gravitas and vulnerability to the role of a man trying to escape his past during which he got mixed up with the mob.  It turns out that he is in Witness Protection, and it also turns out that his original name was Green-Jarvis Ben-Ellis, only because that sounds funny, not because it has anything to do with the football player.  This episode also works as a cartoonishly heartwarming tale of the deeds of friendship, in which Cleveland shoots Dr. Fist to prevent the mob from killing him and then successfully performs surgery on him by doing it Operation-style.

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