Best TV Performances of the 2010s

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

The extra-special-bonus Best of the 2010s lists keep arriving all this week! Yesterday, it was the Best Film Performances, now we’re moving to the small screen with the top TV Performances. And while the screens were smaller, the roles were arguably bigger, at least in terms of running time.

Regarding eligibility: all Lead and Supporting (but not Guest) performances from any show that aired at least one full season between 2010 and 2019 was eligible. Actors who played multiple characters in the same show were considered one performance. Actors who played the same character across multiple shows were also considered one performance.


This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Disaster Artist’ is James Franco is Tommy Wiseau is the Star Inside Us All

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CREDIT: Justina Mintz/A24

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Megan Mullally, Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, Hannibal Buress, Nathan Fielder, June Diane Raphael, Andrew Santino, Charlyne Yi, Melanie Griffith, Sharon Stone, Bob Odenkirk, Judd Apatow

Director: James Franco

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for an Auteur Asshole

Release Date: December 1, 2017 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide December 8, 2017

When I watched Shane Carruth’s 2013 film Upstream Color – about a man and a woman who ingest a larva with the power to drastically affect the human mind – I was excited by the conscious-altering possibilities. But I was ultimately disappointed by the impenetrable narrative. Upstream does have its fans, but I thought an opportunity was missed by presenting an abstract subject with just-as-abstract storytelling. But now we have a film that is more along the lines of what I thought Upstream Color was going to be, and that film is The Disaster Artist, which imposes a typical biopic structure onto one of the strangest individuals of all time. There is the classic rise-fall-rise and a soundtrack that raises the roof with beats that were first hits about a decade before the events of the film, but all this normality only illuminates the unfathomability that is Tommy Wiseau.

Wiseau has achieved a very unique sort of fame as the writer-director-producer-star of the 2003 independent melodrama The Room. It has been called by some the worst movie of all time, but that descriptor is way off-base. A better take that others have offered is “the greatest bad movie of all time,” but that is still not quite right. “A surreal masterpiece” is the moniker that I prefer. For The Disaster Artist to be successful, it does not need to be as surreal as The Room, as The Room already exists. Although perhaps a perfectly valid option would have been to simply remake The Room shot-for-shot with a new cast, which The Disaster Artist does in part in a delightful post-credits segment featuring recreations of classic scenes from The Room presented side-by-side along the originals, displaying how the new versions are accurate to every inch and millisecond.

James Franco directs and stars as Wiseau, and this proves to be the perfect outlet for his incorrigible proclivities. Wiseau is infamously dodgy about his personal background, but based on his accent, it is clear enough that he is from Eastern Europe, though he claims to be from New Orleans. But it is perhaps most accurate to think of him as a vampire caveman alien, as his odd syntax, singular worldview, and inexplicable behavior go beyond simply being lost in translation. Nobody but Tommy could be Tommy, but Franco comes as close as possible. And this is not the sort of lark that much of his career has come off as. Instead, it is in service of a strangely uplifting story about never giving up on your dreams.

Alongside Wiseau is his Room co-star/friend-despite-all-obstacles Greg Sestero (who co-wrote the book of the same name that The Disaster Artist is based on), played by James’ younger brother Dave. The younger Franco is a little more boyish than the deeper-voiced Sestero, but they both have an all-American squeaky-clean handsomeness befitting the moniker “Babyface,” Tommy’s nickname for Greg. The Franco brothers have significantly different faces than Sestero and Wiseau, though their looks are well approximated by solid hair and makeup jobs. This is not an exact encapsulation of the original Wiseau-Sestero dynamic (how could it be?), but there is some weird magic in the Franco pairing that works as an avatar to this weird creative pairing.

I read The Disaster Artist when it was first published in 2013. I have not re-read it since, so my memory of it is not perfectly fresh, but I remember enough to know that there is some streamlining at play here. But the liberties that were taken serve to bolster the film’s thesis that has been borne out by the directions that Wiseau and Sestero’s lives have taken since The Room has become a cult classic. In one scene, Tommy approaches a producer (Judd Apatow) at a restaurant, who assures Tommy that he will never find success in Hollywood in a million years. “But after that?” Tommy earnestly asks. It has not literally taken him that long to achieve his stardom, but “more than one million years later” might be the best figurative way to explain how long it took him to realize his dreams, and that boundlessness beyond normal temporality is the engine that The Disaster Artist runs on.

The obvious antecedent to this film is Ed Wood, but that earlier biopic was released more than a decade after the death of its titular maker of the worst films of all time. Tommy’s story is not over, and now it is inextricably tied up with the most fervent fans of The Room, many of whom populate the cast of The Disaster Artist. There are several moments in this making-of in which classic lines from The Room are uttered in Tommy’s personal life that could come off as fan service but avoid that pitfall because of how nakedly autobiographical The Room is. James Franco and his crew of shockingly eager collaborators have invited us all to take place in this autobiography, and the result is intoxicating.

The Disaster Artist is Recommended If You Like: The Room of course, Ed Wood, James and Dave Franco’s old Funny or Die videos, How Did This Get Made?

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Doggies

Nathan for You Season 4 Review

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CREDIT: Comedy Central

This post was originally published on News Cult in November 2017.

Network: Comedy Central

Showrunners: Nathan Fielder, Michael Koman

Main Cast: Nathan Fielder

Notable Guest Stars: Anthony Napoli, Brian Wolfe, Salomon Flores, William Heath

Episode Running Time: 22 Minutes (42-Minute Special Episode, 84-Minute Season Finale)

The virality that propelled Nathan for You to such dizzying heights in its first three seasons is a double-edged sword when it comes to longevity. It can help build awareness, but increased visibility makes it difficult to pull off the same tricks again. However, Nathan for You is not stunt-driven in quite the same way as a prank show like The Eric Andre Show or an ambush show like Billy on the Street. Nathan’s methods do not require anonymity, at least not always. (Although it is worth noting that despite how much buzz and journalistic attention NfY has received, its viewership has not correspondingly spiked.) The show can still work even if Nathan is recognizable – his painstakingly fastidious approach to production makes it nearly impossible to stay ahead of him anyway. But it becomes a problem when a show that broke the mold starts to become predictable. And while Nathan for You remained astute and idiosyncratic in Season 4, its patterns became a little overly familiar.

NfY’s signature is its knack for spinning simple (but offbeat) business proposals into complex (but satisfying) narratives. The season premiere, “The Richards Tip,” is a classic example: Nathan’s plan to get a struggling diner business-boosting press is to procure a generous tip from a celebrity. But because he cannot book an actual famous person, he turns to a Michael Richards impressionist. To cover his tracks, he must open a just-legitimate-enough bank account, start publishing a newspaper, get some random guy to legally change his name, and temporarily handcuff himself to that same guy. A similar effort, “Shipping Logistics Company,” covers his attempt to re-brand fire alarms as musical instruments for the sake of cheaper international shipping costs. This leads to him forming a band and staging a fake business scandal at the expense of Shell Oil to prompt a protest. The details within these episodes are impressive, but with Nathan having set such a high standard for himself, they do not have the same punch as previous landmark efforts like “Dumb Starbucks.”

Sidenote: I occasionally worry about the ethics, or lack thereof, on Nathan for You, especially in episodes like “Richards Tip” and “Shipping Logistics Company,” which are driven by deceptions, obfuscations, and outright lies. Nathan Fielder may be playing the character of “Nathan Fielder,” but nobody else on the show is existing within a role (at least not intentionally). “Nathan” (and Nathan) ostensibly take great pains to remain honest, or at least maintain the appearance of honesty. Sometimes the point may be that it is impossible to do so within such schemes, but it is still concerning.

When a show is as frequently ambitious as NfY, it is disconcerting in Season 4 when it has episodes with multiple short segments, which was the norm in Season 1 but only occurs twice this year. Those outings can feel rather disposable, but they are worth it for their memorably awkward moments, as when a computer repair shop owner readily shares with Nathan his masturbation routine, or when Nathan’s assistant Salomon Flores flirts awkwardly (and semi-successfully) while applying makeup for the first time in his life.

A promising way towards the future is present in a couple of sequel outings. “Andy vs. Uber” revisits the titular taxi driver whom Nathan helped in Season 2 by offering a promotion for anyone who gives birth in a taxi. When the pair discover that Uber has had a similar program, they attempt to take down the ride-sharing giant by means of infiltration. Andy’s story ends on an anticlimactic note, which is narratively unpleasant, but still a meaningful comment of the cruelty of the economy in the 21st century (or any era). “A Celebration,” a special one-hour episode that aired a week before the season premiere proper, takes a look back on a variety of Nathan’s previous guests to see if his plans have aided them in the long run. The track record is mixed, but each client has been affected in their own weird way. The most notable is of course private investigator Brian Wolfe, whom Nathan finally forges a genuine connection with after uncovering Wolfe’s past as a Playgirl model.

Avoiding the trappings of Season 4’s repetition, “The Anecdote” is a series high-water mark. At least once a year, Nathan turns the focus on himself, and this time it is especially relevant as he seeks to better his skill set for promoting his own show. You see, appearing as a guest on talk shows is now a necessary part of his career, but it has never come naturally to him the way it seemingly does for so many other famous people. But after studying hours of talk show footage, he cracks the code for the perfect interview anecdote. And because of his one-of-a-kind integrity, he engineers the events of such an anecdote to actually happen in his own life. Brilliant in its powers of deconstruction, “The Anecdote” reveals Nathan Fielder as one of our finest sociologists.

If Season 4 finds Nathan returning to some of his old tricks too often, that does not seem so terrible in light of the stunningly ambitious, movie-length finale. Maybe those formulaic episodes are relatively necessary to allow him to pull off what he does with “Finding Frances.” The story follows Bill Heath, a highlight from Season 2 as an amateurish, but strangely earnest Bill Gates impressionist. Since his initial appearances, Heath has taken to randomly popping into the NfY offices and divulging bits of his life story to Nathan. A mention of a long-lost love sparks a trip to Bill’s native Arkansas to track down a woman he almost married but hasn’t been in contact with for decades. The sprawling tale is the most intense example of this show’s guests opening up about themselves in unpredictable, compellingly unguarded fashion. A subplot involving Nathan’s series-long search for companionship presents our host as the sweetest and most openly emotional we have ever seen him. This show has always had a permeable membrane between artifice and reality, and here it snaps away (or at least appears to) right before our eyes. All this time we never realized how much Nathan for You was making us fall in love, or maybe it did it suddenly from out of nowhere.

Best Episodes: “A Celebration,” “The Anecdote,” “Finding Frances”

How Does It Compare to Previous Seasons? The achievements of the first three seasons have set a high standard that Season 4 at its best is still somehow able to top. There may be some (relatively) run-of-the-mill episodes, but they are perfectly acceptable tradeoffs in the grand scheme of things.

Nathan for You Season 4 is Recommended If You Like: The Office, Tim and Eric, Shark Tank (Ironically), HGTV Real Estate Shows (Ironically), Undercover Boss (Ironically)

Where to Watch: Season 4 is currently available on Seasons 1-3 are available for purchase on Amazon and YouTube.

Grade: 4.2 out of 5 Really Good Grades

2015 Emmy Nominations Predictions and Wishlist

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For my detailed thoughts on my predictions and wishlists in the major Drama, Comedy, and Variety categories, check out these links:

Guest Actor, Comedy
John Hawkes, Inside Amy Schumer
Michael Rapaport, Louie
Chris Gethard, Parks and Recreation
Dwayne Johnson, Saturday Night Live

Guest Actress, Comedy
Susie Essman, Broad City

Guest Actor, Drama
Mel Rodriguez, Better Call Saul

Guest Actress, Drama
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
Linda Lavin, The Good Wife

Directing, Comedy
Rob Schrab, “Modern Espionage,” Community

Directing, Drama
Adam Arkin, “The Promise,” Justified

Writing, Comedy
Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” Community

Writng, Drama
Thomas Schnauz, “Pimento,” Better Call Saul

Animated Program
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”
American Dad! – “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas”
The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXV”

Android – “Friends Furever”

Host – Reality/Reality Competition
RuPaul, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

Interactive Program
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Main Title Design
Man Seeking Woman

Single-Camera Picture Editing, Comedy
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”

Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program
Too Many Cooks
Billy On The Street With First Lady Michelle Obama, Big Bird And Elena!!!

Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or a Variety Program

Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Man Seeking Woman – “Traib”