Friday, March 27, 2015

Mary's Recommendations for Sitcoms On Right Now!

I'm a fan of sitcoms. I grew up on sitcoms. I grew up on the shows that were featured on TGIF. That 8 o'clock block most nights were filled with them. I'm not really sure why I loved sitcoms so much. It may be because as I admitted before, I kind of like stupid humor sometimes. Maybe because usually sitcom featured typical nuclear families which I -- the child of divorced parents -- was not a member of. Maybe I was just a product of my times. The late 80s and early 90s were really the peak of sitcoms in their quality though and they started to sort of go down hill in the late 90s (matter of opinion since I never got into/liked Friends or Seinfeld).

Still though, I do like a good comedy but there were a few sitcoms I got into as I headed into college and after. I liked early seasons of Big Bang Theory. Scrubs is also one of my all time favorite shows. I also really enjoyed Parks and Recreation (which I started watching because a co-worker said I reminded him of Leslie Knope, which I can kinda see if I squinted my eyes a little) -- which recently just ended.

However, recently, I've noticed a resurgence of sitcoms -- some actually really good ones -- that seem to pay tribute to old ones but have very unique spins that make them feel fresh and new. So if you are like me and miss sitcoms of yore or you still have not recovered from Parks and Recreation's end, I recommend the 4 following shows.

4. Fresh Off the Boat

Fresh Off the Boat is about the Huang family in the 1990s as they move from Washington DC to Orlando, Florida when the father, Louis, opens up a steak house. It is narrated by the oldest son, Eddie, who is big into hip-hop and rap and is just at the edge of his teenage rebellion.

Success Perm!

I love the parents most. I would say it is flighty but well-meaning Louis and pragmatic tough-love giving Jessica are really the show's core. Yeah, it is Eddie's story but his parents are at the heart of everything. It is their scenes I enjoy watching the most. Whether it is Louis trying to figure out how to fire a showboat host who is just too charming or Jessica trying to navigate the tough and unforgiving world of adult mean girls, only to bond with the neighborhood "slut" over Stephen King, their struggles are just fun to watch.

Who doesn't love a good Stephen King joke?

While I have high hopes for this show, I still feel it is trying to get its footing. Jessica and Louis and Eddie are solid characters. Eddie is just everyman enough to serve as the show's narrator but he has a personality outside the everyman stock character. He is impetuous, scheming-- almost a little bit of Alex Keaton in him in that regard-- but also is just a preteen who desperately wants to just fit in and find where he fits both at home and at school.

The other characters in Fresh Off the Boat? Well, I kinda feel eh about them. Don't get me wrong, I get chuckles out of Evan, the youngest out of the Huang brood. But Evan is just really the precocious little kid that characters like Beaver Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver, Michelle Tanner from Full House, and Dewey from Malcolm in the Middle popularized before. The actor is pretty funny. The kid is adorable and has good comedic timing. But what concerns me is how will Evan grow? You can already see the directions Louis, Eddie, and Jessica will probably take but Evan is not going to be a little kid forever.

I'm right, kid, and you know it!

The same problem applies to the middle of the Huang children, Emory. I see what they're trying to do with him. Emory is supposed to be the antithesis of Eddie. With Eddie, everything seems difficult and hard and he's never happy. With Emory, everything just works out for him, which is an interesting concept on its own. Just the problem is the writers do very little with it and Emory falls as the second adorable kid making cute quips every so often and also the sibling Eddie occasionally shoots shade at when things don't work out for him.

I still recommend Fresh Off the Boat, though. I feel it has a lot of promise despite my complaints above.

OMG I forgot Grandma Huang


3. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

My friend wrote a review of this show that I pretty much agree with. This show, which recently premiered on Netflix, follows the adventures of Kimmy Schmidt, a young woman who just escaped a cult leader who kidnapped her as a young teenager and kept her underground. Now, she is trying to pick up the pieces of her life and living it to the fullest. Sounds pretty dark for a comedy I know, but with the magic of Tina Fey, it just works.

I'm admittedly a fan of Tina Fey. Mean Girls is one of my top favorite movies and I did enjoy 30 Rock even though I didn't consider myself a huge fan. I never related to a character more than I did to Liz Lemon though (very weird that a co-worker pinned me as a Leslie Knope but I see myself as more Liz Lemon. Huh). Regardless, I saw the premise and I was immediately intrigued.

When Kimmy finally danced across my screen for the first time in a That Girl like montage, I was in love with this show. It was just so different than what is out right now -- and this is even with the show dripping with Tina Feyisms. Right now, on TV in particular, everything is just overly cynical. The worlds our favorite TV shows inhabit are just dark, depressing, and dangerous. That is not a bad thing necessarily. I need my inner cynic to be appeased every now and again. But I like to call myself cautiously optimistic as my default setting. Yeah, when my depression comes calling, I spiral into pessimism like no one's business. But generally, I try to see the best in things and this is why I love Kimmy.

Kimmy is a cheery optimist navigating a harsh, curmudgeon world. Unlike pollyannas of the past, she doesn't necessarily change a whole lot of the nature of the world around her but it is about her still maintaining her view of the world despite this fact. And despite other pollyannas, Kimmy is not one-dimensionally sunny. She gets frustrated, she gets angry but she still tries to look on the brighter side of things even in the eyes of the cynics that dress her world. It is a breath of fresh air. And it's inspiring.

I barely scratched the surface of why I like Kimmy Schmidt but my friend (in the link above), pretty much tackled a lot of what I have to say too. I do agree that there are a couple annoying characters (Kimmy's stepfather for one) and a few characters are painfully underused (like Xan, the stepdaughter of the woman Kimmy works for) but in general, I just love Kimmy as a character and adore the supporting cast of colorful New Yorkers.

Go and watch this show and you may consider optimism for once.


2. Blackish

I stumbled on Blackish on Hulu one day. I think I saw a headline somewhere saying it was surprisingly good which is why I pressed play. Otherwise, I may have skipped over it. Blackish sounded like it could be offensive. I was pleasantly surprised.

Unlike Fresh Off the Boat, Blackish doesn't rely on stock characters. The cast may fit into tropes from sitcoms of yore but they are all fully realized, 3-dimentional characters. They feel tangible and relatable. And not just do we have such well written characters but the script has me howling with laughter every week. It is extremely witty and jokes about race come down to two types -- making fun of the ignorant about race and making fun of how over the top Dre, the patriarch of the Johnson family, goes to make his spoiled kids understand the struggle. The Johnson family being black is not the joke. It is just a detail into the characters of the family. It is who they are. And race is not ignored in the show in a colorblind way. It is acknowledged and discussed. The humor relies more on the clash of interesting characters and how they interact with one another when their goals conflict.

Although jokes like this happen

Blackish focuses on the Johnson family, who are black. The father, Andre, who came from nothing, is a successful advertising executive who is able to give his family the life he never had. At the same time, he wants to teach his kids about their heritage. His wife, Rainbow, called Bow, is mixed race and a doctor. While she frames herself as the pragmatic half of the couple, she has her moments when her pride gets in the way and she makes poor choices. This differentiates Bow from typical mothers from sitcoms. She tries her best but she is not the all knowing mother figure. She makes mistakes and Dre is not always the bumbling father who is always in the wrong. Bow and Dre take their turn in the wrong and right seat. Their marriage is one of complete equality.

The two have four children. The oldest is Zoe, a mini-female Dre basically who is sharp as a tack but chooses to use those smarts to gossip, coordinate her make-up and hair, and flirt with guys.

 The second is a son named Andre Junior, called Junior, who is nerdy, awkward, and tries really hard -- usually failing -- to impress his father. Dre loves Junior but just doesn't understand his nerdy obsessions and why Junior doesn't like things like basketball.

Also, he's having an identity crisis

The last two children are a set of twins named Jack and Diane. Diane is a HBIC, just no one else has picked up on that fact. Unlike Evan in Fresh Off the Boat, while Diane is precocious, I can see her growing up. I can see her growing up to be a schemer like Zoe but instead of using her smarts for make-up, Diane uses it to probably not exactly wholesome pursuits. Diane is bossy and kind of mean and snarky as hell (probably one of my faves). She bosses around the much more submissive Jack who can do all the things Dre wishes Junior would do but is usually ignored and criticized by Diane.

Dre's father also lives with the family and his job has been to provide commentary on the going ons in the house.

I just really love the characters and I look forward every week to a new episode. Not many shows can claim that fact. While the Johnson family has been doing typical sitcom plotlines in most episodes (bully episode, vacation episode, daughter gets a boyfriend episode), it is the well-developed characters that make me come back. I want to see how they tackle the troperiffic sitcom plots. And I didn't even touch the supporting cast like Junior's white friend who knows more about black history than Junior does, for instance.

 My favorite side character has to be Dre's only other black co-worker, Charlie. Charlie is so weird that it irritates Dre but Dre feels it is his duty to friend him despite the fact he cannot stand Charlie.

We all have that one friend

Another side character I enjoy is Dre's mother who sees Bow as a threat on her territory. I could go on.

Also her on again off again relationship with Dre's father is hilarious

The bottom line is, you really need to check out Blackish. It is the best new sitcom this year... hell probably one of the best of the New Teens. You'll want to watch the Johnsons every week too.


1. Brooklyn-99

In its second season and written by alum from Parks and Recreation, we have Brooklyn-99, probably my favorite sitcom on right now if not tied with Blackish. When this show first premiered last year, I watched it more than once on Hulu. My tumblr became overcrowded with gifs from it. And I dropped references in everyday conversation. There is so much I love about this show, I don't know where to begin.

Brooklyn-99 follows the titular police precinct as they solve crimes and get into crazy shenanigans. Like Blackish, it is the fully realized cast of characters that make this show work. And the acting helps too. Interestingly enough, Brooklyn-99 did blind casting. It is an Andy Samberg vehicle but the rest of the cast were picked blindly meaning they did not designate race to the characters during the casting call. Anyone could try out. The end result is a widely diverse cast -- 2 black actors, 2 Latinas, 3 whites make up the main characters we follow. The two Latina actresses are relatively unknowns too and knock it out of the park. Melissa Fumero, who plays the uptight apple polisher Detective Santiago, said in an interview how glad she didn't have to do a spicy Latina accent. I think that is super awesome.

She can't even handle food spices

Brooklyn-99 at its core is really a character comedy. Where they work is just the setting. Yeah, there are usually mysteries they have to solve in the episode but you don't finish it saying, "Wow, I didn't expect the pizza delivery boy!" like you would with criminal procedures. No. You end the episode thinking, "Haha, the Captain sure told Peralta" or "Oh man, Boyle, will you ever catch a break?" or "Santiago! What crazy shenanigans did you get yourself into to protect your pride!" Like Blackish, the premise is such a tiny part of what make the comedy work. It is really the writing, the character development, and the acting which put it over the top.

insert NRA joke here

Andy Samberg plays Detective Jake Peralta who is a manchild who also happens to be a brilliant detective when he gets his act together. He doesn't really take his job that seriously and is usually goofing off. What impresses me about Samberg is up until now, he's been pigeonholed to playing one note comedy roles. I know he irritates some people, but his character of Detective Peralta cracks me up so much. Additionally, Samberg can do serious, I gave him too little credit. Jake has some serious moments which Samberg actually pulls off. Jake is not just the class clown. Perhaps like most class clowns, Jake hints at a childhood of neglect (which is illustrated on how he literally cannot feed himself anything healthy) and an absent father. He makes jokes about it but so do most clowns. And his desperation to be the mentor to the Captain makes a lot of sense -- even when he slips up and calls him dad once.

The rest of the precinct is also filled with colorful, thoughtful characters who have their own ambitions and goals and personalities. I already mentioned Melissa Fumero as Detective Amy Santiago who Jake crushes on her like a six year old boy pulling the pigtails of the girl he wants the attention of. Santiago is hypercompetitive, a people pleaser, super smart, and a tiny bit high strung. Her competitiveness is due to growing up in a house full of brothers. She's a bit of a brown noser who tries so hard to reach the top, only to be beaten by Jake who makes it look easy. Santiago and Peralta have a bit of Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better thing going.

She's this universe's Hermione Granger really

The other female detective is Rosa Diaz played by Stephanie Beatriz. Rosa is probably my favorite. She's scary, doesn't put up with people's crap, horrible with emotion but shown to be highly capable at her job. But on the flip side, Rosa is not a horrible person. She just fills the whole Good is Not Nice trope and I love it. If this were any other show, Amy and Rosa would be competitors and hate each other. But they don't. Yes, Amy gets competitive to Rosa to which Rosa responds with a meh or mild annoyance. At the end of the day, they are still there for each other.

This has to be my favorite feminist quote of all time. In fact a female officer I worked with in the military said something similar. And it is true. I'm tired of women being told they have to compete with each other.

Peralta's biggest fan is fellow detective Charles Boyle, played by Joe Lo Truglio who is the precinct's sad sack. Nothing goes well for Boyle usually because he's super clumsy and kind of neurotic. But he's hard-working. He crushes on Rosa which was a tiresome subplot I am glad they did away with.

The Sergeant Terry Jeffords, played hilariously by Terry Crews, is a bit of a gentle giant type. He used to be fat and got to lifting weights. As a result, he eats all the time. He also used to be badass but since the birth of his daughters, Cagney and Lacy, he grows terrified in life or death situations. He also likes farmers markets. He comes off as terrifying but is really a Teddy Bear and a good mentor to the crew.

Line-up Terry says what Real Terry is thinking!

The administrative assistant, Gina Linetti, played by Chelsea Peretti, is narcissistic and kind of the mean girl of the group. She always looks out for number one and delights in gossip. She also has an array of strange hobbies, dances, and believes in psychics. She provides commentary for the events that surround her and is great at witticisms.

Yeah, trufax

Last but not least is the captain of the precinct, Captain Ray Holt played by Andre Braugher. The captain is the straight man of the show which is funny because he's gay (and I can't get over that pun). Holt is a no-nonsense kind of guy with an extremely dry sense of humor and a hard to read aura. He looks after his crew and provides them guidance and the voice of reason. He had worked hard to get captain despite being black and gay and now that he has his own precinct, he will not screw it up. Much of the humor of the show revolves around Jake trying to get Holt to mentor him or trying to undermine him to varying degrees of success.

My reaction if you don't watch this tbh

I've poured too much love into Brooklyn-99. You should just see it for yourself. I love it.

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