TV In The Era of Trump Part 3
Comedies That Made Me Feel Happy
Throughout my years of reviewing television, I’ve always given a lot more attention to the dramas than the comedies. Maybe it’s because in the era of Peak TV, it’s always be easier to see the power in a well made drama then look at the intricacies of comedy, which is always harder to explain. And, given that I have a bizarre sense of humor; it’s always been a bit difficult for me to appreciate truly brilliant comedies.
But over the past four years, we’ve needed to laugh more than ever. And considering how hard direct satire has been (I’ll deal with that in a separate article) trying to experience things that make you feel happy and joyful in different way has been something that I have come to treasure over the last few years. And there have been quite a few series willing to help us make that leap.
So here are just a few of the series that have made me glad for comedy, most of which would have been joyful experiences in any era.
This series technically started before 2016, but really are we going to be technical. Following the adventures of Rebecca Bunch (the incredible Rachel Bloom) as she dealt with her love life, her professional life, and her psychological state of mind was a show that I’m pretty sure we’ve never seen on TV before, much less on a network. I don’t know need to add that it was centered on a series of the greatest comic songs probably ever put together, along with a level of self-awareness that stopped just short of being too clever. And maybe the ending was flawed, but when you’ve created a masterpiece of this level, there is no bad ending. And there was a happy ending — Bloom won an Emmy in the series last year. Millions of people ignored the show when it was on the CW. You have no excuse for not searching it out on Netflix right now.
Jane the Virgin
Can we blame the fact that the Trump Presidency began right after Jane Villanueva lost her virginity? Joking aside, it should be noted that this may have been the perfect antidote to all of the toxicity that was going on — a series that featured a Latino family trying to survive a series of crises that were ‘straight out of a telenovela, right?” with grace, balance, and let’s face it, a lot of fun. Gina Rodriguez was just one of the many cast members who was denied an Emmy nomination for their spectacular work on a series that, for a satire of a telenovela, had more heart that a lot of dramas out there. It had two of the biggest twists of the last decade, and ended with the most perfect conclusion of any series in history. It was a joy to behold, and I hope it’s discovered.
The Good Place
In an era where ethics and morality seemed to be thrown out the window every day, this masterpiece by genius Michael Schur did the impossible — it turned philosophy and ethics into comic gold. Set in an afterlife system that was just as flawed as the real world seemed to be, Kirsten Bell and Ted Danson led an incredible group of performers in a series that started with a simple experiment in ”The Good Place’ and turned into a test for the fate of humanity. Every element of us was perfect, from Chidi and Eleanor’s unlikely romance becoming one of the best in television history, to D’Arcy Carden’s incredible performance as Janet (the episode ‘Janets’ was one of the great accomplishments in TV history) to all of the guest actors, especially Maya Rudolph as the Judge who viewed the human experiment and Peak TV with equal importance, this was an incredible series that was perfect right up to the end. And it was also one of the most hopeful, showing that change even among an entity that has been evil for eternity can become a ‘real boy’ from being around even the worst of us. That’s a message the world needs.
Dead to Me
It was a difficult choice among a lot of good Netflix comedies, and my judgment may be flawed having seen it the most recently, but it’s hard not to consider this very black comedy one of the very best Netflix experiences. Centered around two women, one (Christina Applegate) who lost her husband and is just mean, and one (Linda Cardellini) ho has had multiple miscarriages, and is just nice, their unlikely friendship with links that they don’t want to admit to, this series was not the traditional escapist fare I came to. But watching two of television’s most extraordinary actresses deliver some of the most hysterical performances during situations that got so dark and convoluted the Monterrey Five would have boggled featured some of the most enjoyable moments of the last couple of years. I think even Lucille Ball would’ve been astonished at the situations these two kept getting into despite themselves. And they are masters of the craft.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
For whatever reason, I never seem able to watch this exceptional series from Amy Sherman and Daniel Palladino in time to give the proper treatment. Considering that it’s been one of the biggest award winners in the last three years, that doesn’t seem quite fair. So here’s a big cheer to the extraordinary cast and crew that brings to light the world of Midge Maisel as she tries to break into the world of standup in 1950s New York. From Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Borstein, trying to make their way in a world aligned against them, to Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle as her eternally perplexed parents, who can’t fathom why she got divorced, much less her new career, this is one of the most gorgeously directed, written and acted series of the last ten years. And just to hear the dialogue of the Palladinos, who have created some of the most memorable female characters in TV history, will make anybody feel joyful. I don’t know when we’ll she Midge again, but whenever it happens “Thank you and good night!”
Yes, I know. I’m still not the right audience for Issa Rae incredibly series about a black woman in LA. But just watching a few minutes, I have more genuine pleasure than so many other shows. Rae has gotten to the point that she no longer needs to do those mental freestyles for her series — perhaps that’s another sign of character growth as she tries to find a place for herself professionally and romantically. And watching the friendship between Issa and Molly (Yvonne Orji continues to awe) fracture to the point of non-existence was one of the hardest emotional blows I’ve had to deal with in awhile, partly because they seemed to have a stability that so many real friendships on TV lack. It’s also one of the genuinely sexiest shows on the air, and most culturally aware. I don’t know how much longer Rae will continue with the journey (understandably, she’s broken big over the last few years) but I’ll be there to the end.
How many great female hyphenates have come into TV this decade? Pamela Adlon’s brilliant series about a fifty-ish divorced struggling actress- a mother of three children who don’t appreciate her, with a mother who seems oblivious to her, and a love life that barely seems active, trying to have a career, and just dealing with all the things that come with getting older is in many ways the simplest of the comedies on this list, and also the most painful. There have some genuinely brilliant moments on the show, mainly as Sam spends so much of her time trying to get over her baggage only to keep getting more of it. Adlon hasn’t gotten nearly enough appreciation from the Emmys for incredible work, starring, directing and writing it. But maybe that’s fitting. Sam doesn’t either.
That’s enough for the comedies. In my next article, I’ll look at some of the dramas.