Best Episode of the Season: Rick and Morty Season 1

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“Rixty Minutes”
Ah, yes, the episode in which Rick hooks up the TV with a converter that receives programming from every conceivable dimension. What could be just a series of quick gags … is a series of quick gags, but not just a series of quick gags. Each program makes you want to live in that world to figure out what, for example, would compel someone to make a commercial for fake doors that turns into an existential short film. This is a canny movie, as it sets up potential callbacks (with depth) for future episodes. Season 2’s “The Ricks Must Be Crazy,” indeed, features a Ball Fondlers movie. Perhaps there is also a world in which Turbulent Juice is recalled.

SNL Season 39 (2013-2014) Recap

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Saturday Night Live Season 40 has already begun, but let’s not forget about the best of last season.  The full breakdown of my SNL Season 39 recap can be found at the following links:

Most Valuable Cast Members
1. Aidy Bryant
2. Kate McKinnon
Rookies of the Year:
1. Kyle Mooney
2. Beck Bennett

Best Sketches
1. We Did Stop (the Government)
2. Super Champions with Kyle
3. The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders
4. Hip Hop Classics: Before They Were Stars
5. Guess That Phrase
6. (Do It on My) Twin Bed
7. Ice Cream
8. Blue River Dog Food
9. Josie
T10. (TIE) Flirty/dancing/A Very Smoky 420/Chris Fitzpatrick for President

Best 10-to-1 Sketches
1. Super Champions
2. Tourists
3. Herman & Sons Sperm
4. Halloween Candy

Best Host
1. Drake
2. Louis C.K.
3. Charlize Theron

Best Monologue
1. Anna Kendrick
2. Louis C.K.
3. Andy Samberg

Best Musical Guests
1. The Black Keys
2. Sam Smith
3. St. Vincent

Best Commercial Parody
The Bird Bible

Best Weekend Update Segment
1. Jebediah Atkinson
2. Olya Povlatsky
3. Drunk Uncle and Drunker Uncle

Every Good Neighbor Short Ranked
1. Wing
2. Super Champions with Kyle
3. Ice Cream
4. Flirty
5. Dancing
6. A Very Smoky 420
7. Chris Fitzpatrick
8. Tourists
9. Miley Sex Tape
10. Inside SoCal
11. Sigma
12. Will Smith Concert
13. i know

Best Episode
1. Miley Cyrus (10/5/13)
2. Jonah Hill/Bastille (1/25/14)
3. Drake (1/18/14)
4. Melissa McCarthy/Imagine Dragons (2/1/14)
5. Louis C.K./Sam Smith (3/29/14)

Best Dress Rehearsal Cuts That Were Posted Online
1. Wing
2. Viper

Best Quote
“If someone was like, ‘Hey, come live in this house, there’s only nine of us,’ I would say, ‘You got it dude!'” – Olya Pavlotsky (Kate McKinnon), on Weekend Update

Best Episode of the Season: The Big Bang Theory Season 7

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Season Analysis: While The Big Bang Theory will probably never stop undercutting itself by giving every episode the quickest, easiest conclusion, Season 7 did show off some of the strongest recognition yet of its best cast dynamics

The Status Quo Combustion

“The Status Quo Combustion”
While it is not the worst offender on the dial and while it has gotten better in this regard, The Big Bang Theory is one of the most allergic-to-change shows on television.  But it has always had a tendency to mix things up in its season finales, and Season 7 was no exception (as explicitly made clear in the episode title).  The status quo has combusted before, and Sheldon has left the apartment before, and things have ultimately gone back to normal.  But this time is different – the Big Bang writers have actually set themselves up in such a way that the changes must stick (at least somewhat) permanently.  Raj actually did have sex with a girl he likes, Leonard and Penny are really getting married, Stuart’s comic book store actually did burn down, and Amy actually did suggest that she and Sheldon live together.  This is all too much for Sheldon, but more so than ever before, the show he’s on is not following his example.  Leonard and Penny ultimately decide to just let him leave town, and it is unclear just how this will be resolved, and when it comes to The Big Bang Theory, that uncertainty is thrilling.

Best Episode of the Season: New Girl Season 3

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Season Analysis: New Girl Season 3 had its share of hits and misses: put Nick and Jess’ affectionate but rocky relationship and the return of Coach in the plus column, Schmidt’s regression in the minus column (though it was a valiant effort), and everything Winston-related in both columns (since he was consistently hilarious, but also consistently detached from the rest of the group).


With the Cece/Elizabeth storyline, Schmidt’s characterization had gotten a little out of control in the New Girl writers’ room.  It was basically as impossible a situation as Schmidt himself found himself in.  Just as there was no way for him to break it off with either of the women in his life without hurting one of them, there was no way for the writing to not make him a pretty awful person if he were to go on deceiving both of them.  So it was an important corrective to have an episode like “Keaton” to give Max Greenfield an opportunity to really earn back the audience’s sympathy.  This episode also showed off New Girl’s propensity for seamlessly weaving in revealing backstory, as we learned that Schmidt’s communication with “Michael Keaton” began with his mom playing the part of the Batman actor and then Nick picking up the role in college.  The fakeness of the Keaton correspondence should have been hilariously obvious (Nick’s e-mail address for Mr. Mom was, but Schmidt, like a lot of us, needs a hero to hold on to.  Ultimately, this episode was a story of both the filial and romantic love of New Girl, with Nick Miller suffering a crisis over deceiving his best friend while partnering with his girlfriend, with the two of them taking part in the deception because of their support for each other and their mutual concern for Schmidt.  It is one of those scary moments when your life is at a crossroads and you do not quite know how to do the right thing that New Girl pulls off so well.

Best Episode of the Season: The Neighbors Season 2

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Season Analysis: In its formative stage, The Neighbors took a while to figure itself out, striking an inconsistent tone and quality level.  So how wonderful was it that in its second (and sadly final) season, it was the most consistent sitcom on television.


“Family Conference”
Great episodes of shows with fine ensemble casts tend to be those that put every main character in a room together.  By its season 2 premiere, The Neighbors had figured out what each of its characters represented, and that was on display in the Weaver/Bird-Kersee conference for determining the viability of Amber and Reggie dating.  Sophomore debuts are often a time for shows to re-assert themselves, and “Family Conference” certainly took that opportunity, with everyone in the roundtable getting at least one moment to shine.  Larry’s pomposity, Dick’s officiousness, Abby’s preternatural fortitude, and a hologram Jerry Springer were all on display, but this being an Amber-Reggie plot, it was Tim Jo’s time to shine with lines like “put a little Mickey Mantle in my bewwy” and “just us, a little house, and 2.5 lizards … or orchids” (because Zabvronians are either reptilian or plant-based) wonderfully displaying his off-putting, but weirdly endearing, extraterrestrial sweetness.



“Supreme Like Me”
An exemplary episode for Larry, who is forced to get a job and in the process learns about the hipster barista lifestyle.


“Close Encounters of the Bird Kind”
Dick forms a brain trust consisting of Joel Stein, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Bill Nye, and the fact that that could happen in the universe of The Neighbors is hilarious enough, but added to that is the fun revelation that they are Debbie’s three celebrity crushes.

Best Episode of the Season: Arrow Season 2

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Season Analysis: With its cast getting better and better and its action continuing to be exciting, Arrow made a case for itself as the best live-action superhero series of all time.

Streets of Fire

“Streets of Fire”
To know why Arrow’s penultimate Season 2 episode was the show at its best, all you have to do is watch this scene:

Felicity’s defiant declaration of her belief in Oliver’s righteousness and ability is the best possible reminder of his duty to the city, effectively re-establishing the Arrow’s mission statement.  At Oliver’s bleakest hour, the show takes a moment to emphasize how far our protagonists have come and why they deserve faith in the face of seemingly impossible odds.  Almost succumbing to despair in response to all the loved ones he’s lost, Oliver is reassured by Felicity, who responds that “you honor the dead by fighting,” counteracting his list of the dead with a list of all those who meant harm to Starling City that he has stopped.  Oliver Queen has come a long way: he was on his own when he became the vigilante, but now, as one as of his closest partners makes clear, he could not be farther from solitude: he is not alone, and she believes in him.

Best Episode of the Season: Archer Season 5

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Season Analysis: Re-branded as Archer: Vice, the season-long transformation of ISIS into drug runners did not produce laughs as consistently as in previous years, but it was always admirable in its ambition.


I will admit that my lack of laughs this season may have had to do with me watching the episodes at a time of night when I was tired and/or my mind was just elsewhere.  But I think the arch humor of this show has not really evolved and has thus lost some of its zest.  But as all the pieces came together in the season finale, and it was clear that this year had been designed by creator Adam Reed and his team like clockwork from the beginning, it began to click for me, and I was feeling the satisfaction that Archer: Vice was attempting to inspire in its viewers.  It was like a real-life dream (or nightmare) that the ISIS crew actually lived through, as everything essentially reset at the end.  The actual events at San Marcos seemed like they would have little long-term bearing (beyond the psychological effects), and that wasn’t because what had happened was going to be ignored but because everything was dealt with as it needed to be.  There was a bit of a deus ex machina feel to the machinations, but they were as narratively justified as they needed to be.  Then there was the surprisingly affecting final scene, in which Lana introduced Sterling to his daughter.  The slow fade out of the sound as he struggled to process the news was audiovisual storytelling at its finest.

Best Episode of the Season: Scandal Season 3

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Season Analysis: Scandal started to turn into Alias a bit in Season 3, which was good, because the subterfuge was a whole lot more interesting than Olivia and Fitz’s umpteenth attempt to make their impossible love affair work.


“Everything’s Coming Up Mellie”
Scandal is a sort of opera, insofar as every character has the biggest emotions possible at any moment.  Thus, the best performances that can be wrung from that style are those that cover every the full range of big emotions.  Bellamy Young is able to imbue First Lady Mellie Grant with just this range by playing her as villain, hero, victim, and manipulator.  And she got to shine in all those roles like no other time with the flashback-heavy “Everything’s Coming Up Mellie.”  This episode revealed that not only has Mellie been a victim of unfaithfulness, but also a victim of rape by her father-in-law.  But she used that total loss of control to take charge like never before.  The whole point of this episode is that you cannot peg anybody so easily.  Even when people are direct and show their personalities so openly – and Mellie easily fits that description – you never know just what is in their past and who they really, fully are.  And that is the trick of Scandal at its best: its operatic emotions make it seem like everyone can be easily judged, but its most revelatory moments make it clear that nobody can ever be so simply pegged.

Best Episode of the Season: Parenthood Season 5

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Season Analysis: Parenthood probably works better with shorter season orders, as the 22-episode fifth season allowed it to indulge in storylines that were not always working.  Still, there was stellar acting throughout, particularly from Ray Romano and Max Burkholder.


Smack dab in the middle of the season, “Promises” was the point at which every Braverman story – the questionable and the sensible ones both – were all clicking.  I was always skeptical of the Joel and Julia marriage troubles storyline, because the existence of their issues required some unusually unreasonable behavior.  But when it produces scenes like Julia confiding in Adam about her problems, with Erika Christensen perfectly conveying how she cannot understand how her life is the way it is right now, it doesn’t really matter if the story didn’t make much sense in the first place.  Then there is the weird, but totally engaging, love triangle with Drew, Amy, and Natalie in which it was kind of just fun to examine the personalities of these characters and analyze who really fits with whom.  But the best moments of this episode – and really the whole season – come from the best storyline of the year, Max hanging out at Hank’s photography studio.  The latest crisis with Max leads Hank to realize that he too might have Asperger’s, and Ray Romano delivers a whole host of reactions that convey how this revelation changes everything about his past and present.  It is cathartic because everything finally makes sense but devastating because it might be confirmation that things will never be better.  It is this sort of emotional conflict that is Parenthood’s bread and butter, the device that guarantees a few tears will be jerked every episode, and it is rarely pulled off more consistently than it was in “Promises.”

Best Episode of the Season: Broad City Season 1

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Season Analysis: A big deal is often made when female voices emerge in male-dominated genres, and Broad City accomplished that, but not because that was what it was specifically attempting.  It worked out that way because Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson – who conveyed their unique, optimistic, and pleasantly skewed perspective on young adult life in New York City – just happen to be women.


“Hurricane Wanda”
Bottle episodes– those half-hours that take place entirely within one physical location – continue to be sitcom staples because they continue to work so well.  Keeping everyone stuck in one spot raises the pressure and thus the emotions that have been simmering over the course of the preceding episodes.  When a hurricane keeps Abbi and Ilana stuck in Abbi’s apartment, they are forced to deal with the overwhelming presence of Abbi’s crush Jeremy, the overwhelming (in a different way) presence of Abbi’s roommate’s boyfriend Bevers and Bevers’ sister (UCB stalwart Shannon O’Neill in an energetic performance befitting an episode named after a hurricane), and a malfunctioning toilet.  There wasn’t much development on the Jeremy front (although we did get a memorable threesome dream sequence thanks to Ilana).  The Bevers siblings, while freakishly aggressive to most everyone else, were mostly destructive towards each other, thanks to the mystery plot of the shit in the shoe.  Ultimately, like all of Broad City, this episode was about the power of friendship, with a coda showing Ilana’s duct tape-aided adventure in disposing of Abbi’s turd that would not be flushed.

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