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At the risk of sounding like an anomaly within the world of television-obsessed females, I should admit that I have never seen an episode of Sex And The City. I was ten-years-old and uninterested when it premiered but I was still aware of its massive existence mostly thanks to older friends who were lucky enough to have HBO (and parents who went to bed early) and who would discuss episodes on Monday afternoons. Admittedly, it seemed that they didn’t watch the show because they actually liked it but because it felt somewhat cool and rebellious to talk about sex in the basement cafeteria of a Catholic Church, which was the location of my summer day camp. Sure, some friends followed the show until the end but a handful quit when they didn’t have to whisper while recapping sex scenes out of fear that a nun would overhear. Aside from that, my knowledge of the show is limited: I know of the oft-mocked “Which Sex And The City Character Are You”? quizzes, I know there’s a Mr. Big (but I’m not sure if that’s his real name), and I know that Carrie liked shoes. I figured I’d watch it eventually—out of curiosity or boredom or “cultural research” or just to viciously mock it on the internet— but, well, full disclosure: I snuck into Sex And The City 2 after plowing through a few bottles of bum wine during Marmaduke (don’t ask) but my only very, very vague memory of the film is being so thoroughly horrified and offended by the racism that we all left after about five minutes and I decided I never wanted to watch another second of any of these women. 

This is a weird roundabout way of saying that not only did I watch The Carrie Diaries—twice!—but I actually sort of enjoyed it.

The Carrie Diaries is, first and foremost, a simple teen drama. Okay, sure, technically it’s a prequel that centers around a young Carrie Bradshaw. And yes, it’s clear they’re trying to keep a strong link there: There are frank conversations about sex by a group of four friends (though this time they’re high schoolers), there is an importance placed on fashion (the dresses are as delightfully ‘80s as you could possibly hope for), Carrie’s voiceover waxes poetic throughout the episode (hopefully the show will use this a little less in the future), and New York City is less of a city and more of a character (even if the writers are seemingly unaware that the World Trade Center did, indeed, exist in 1984). Carrie is a character that most viewers are already familiar with (and have close ties to, I’d imagine) and it’s a narrative that’s supposed to setup an already existing narrative. 

Honestly, I’d say that the reason why I liked—or at least didn’t actively dislike—The Carrie Diaries is because I’m not familiar with Sex And The City. I have no idea if the backstory here fits with the existing continuity, I can’t say whether or not this show will, in the future, manage to seamlessly blend into the original program, and I don’t know if AnnaSophia Robb was a good choice for a young Sarah Jessica Parker (though I can say Robb is so charming that it’s hard to believe she once played the super bratty Violet Beauregarde). Still, because Sex And The City was such an, ugh, beloved show watched by millions of people and because presumably a lot of these people watched The Carrie Diaries, it’s understandable that there is prequel nitpicking—I recommend this Vulture recap—and that this is what largely makes up the criticisms so far. (Well, aside from the basic criticisms that are lodged at every teen drama simply because it’s a television genre that, post-My So-Called Life, hasn’t exactly been taken seriously, no matter how hard Dawson’s Creek tried, but that’s a much different and longer discussion.) But none of that has to matter!

In fact, I’d recommend viewing the two shows as completely separate from each other. If you ignore the prequel factor then basically The Carrie Diaries pilot follows the Rules Of Teen Dramas down to the letter. Carrie’s teen dream? Become a writer, live in Manhattan. Teen angst? Her mother recently died. Best friends? Three giggling girls and one closeted boy (who is dating one of the girls). Well-meaning father, cute crush, and bitchy nemesis? Check, check and check. Unrealistic plot point? Carrie gets an internship at a law firm which leads to her meeting a shoplifter-slash-mentor who brings her to a fancy party. There’s the requisite drug use (courtesy of Carrie’s pot-smoking, Joy-Division-listening rebellious sister) and the requisite secret relationship (Maggie and a police officer) and the requisite love triangle (of course her nemesis has a crush on Sebastian). There are also some nice surprises, such as an early scene where Carrie’s friends discuss losing their virginities (one girl grossly and hilariously describes it as “putting a hot dog into a keyhole”); it’s a very matter-of-fact conversation that’s free of all the usual fanfare and romanticization. For the most part, the show does feels familiar but it’s a good kind of familiar. It’s even slightly reminiscent of the heyday of WB before the merge into CW caused the network to rely on rich elitists or secret vampires to propel their teen dramas. Once you ignore The Carrie Diaries' ties to Sex And The City, it’s easy to see how it can become a viable program in its own right, provided the series keeps up the same momentum. 

Of the many human intricacies deftly tackled by Louie, the subject of conquest was set aside and earmarked for “Late Show, Pt. 3”. On paper, CK failed his quest: the show went neither to him nor Seinfeld—Louie, and presumably Jerry, had something shiny dangled in front of them by a manipulative network exec in order to lower the pricetag on re-signing David Letterman (by a cool 20 million). Worse yet, CK’s attempt now precludes him from ever being a guest on the Late Show. However, as a smiling Louie shouts up at the marquee on the Ed Sullivan Theater, “I did it! Hey Letterman, F*$k you!” and walks away towards the all-enveloping lightshow of Times Square, we know that he has won. Louie has succeeded in a conquest of self: the Late Show gig was his golden fleece, but the real prize was a reminder of his ability to beat back discomfort and the fear of failure. And to assuage our suspicions that this victory will only be a temporary peak among the interminable valleys of Louie’s self-image, “Late Show, Pt. 3” closes with a sequence of Louie still in the boxing ring. “Jab, uppercut,” his trailer demands over heroic trumpets, and Louie fulfills those demands, not yet a champion, but with the passion of a true contender. 

“Late Show, Pt. 3” wears all this on its surface, with a very un-Louie lack of subtlety or artifice. We know that Louie gets to a place of comfort by the episode’s end; the subtlety lies in what he lets go of to get there.

In my own limited experience with standup comedy hitting some of New York City’s less reputable open mics, there’s a curious thing that happens when expectation and reality misalign. Hinged on a few flimsy but hopeful convictions—“I think I’m funny, I think people will like this”—when a bit falls flat, many amateur comics fall into a very public fight or flight response, lashing out (at themselves or the audience of six to eight people nice enough to stick around). The weaker a comic’s ego, the uglier the meltdown, and the more prolonged the silence becomes.

I’ve done it. I’ve seen plenty of other people do it. It’s one of the most uncomfortable things you can watch another human being do. It’s a reaction couched in the fear of failing too early and observing your dreams become stillborn. It’s a resistance to the fact that a group of strangers doesn’t owe you a damn thing.

The first half of “Late Show, Pt. 3” shows Louie exhibiting the tell-tale signs of this misplaced indignation. “If you wanna get a big thing in life, you gotta make a big effort, you gotta try hard, you gotta do things you’re not used to doing,” CK explains to his daughters. He’s trying to teach them a simplified life lesson about determination, but it’s one he seems to believe. In actuality, what he needs to do is show he’s capable—the movers and shakers could care less about how much labor he puts in as long as he has the skills they need. Even though he’s been headlining packed houses full of true blue fans for over a decade, Louie is back down to open mic 101 without knowing it. He needs to impress some very powerful and very discerning strangers with his qualifications in a very small frame of time.

The meeting in Jack Dahl’s office drives this thesis home when it’s revealed that Mr. Dahl had no idea Louie was a comedian. Louie’s understandable incredulity (at being mistaken for a newsman) is countered by Dahl’s gambit: “Make me laugh. Go! Funny. 3. 2. 1. Funny!” Louie resists, afraid his material might not translate off-stage, or that the lunatic producer who made him read Nixon jokes might not “get” his more modern sensibilities. In reality, Dahl doesn’t want to laugh—he wants to see that Louie is capable of flipping the switch between person and persona at will. The meeting is essentially a four-minute mic, with Dahl urging a non-responsive Louie to perform, and flipping the red light to signal the last 30 seconds on-stage with the words, “Last chance and then we’re really done. Done and done…Make me laugh on the count of 3. 1, 2—”.

Dahl never gets to 3. Amateur syndrome kicks in: Louie turn towards Dahl, pointing an accusatory finger and says, “You know what your problem is—,” angry that this crazy old man doesn’t treat him like the successful comic he is, angry at having to live up to the a performer’s essential role of “Entertain me, now,” angry that the incongruousness of the way he though things were and the reality of the situation.  

He stops himself from launching into a tirade against his audience of one. In that moment of peak stress, Louie receives his quiet epiphany and quickly transitions to a high, sing-songy voice, dancing buffoonishly, blowing raspberries between the words “pencil,” “penis,” and “parade,” lifting his shirt to reveal the weight he hasn’t lost. He earns another week in Dahl’s good graces, and later on manages to kill in front of the test audience.

Although nearly every episode of the series offers up some challenge to make Louie feel inadequate—usually by highlighting his ineptitude with women—he’s able to absorb these blows with the polished armor of self-loathing, each failure helping to prove and reprove his helplessness to himself. But comedy remains his unassailably redeeming quality, the bastion he clings to for survival. Throughout the “Late Show” arc, that bastion falls under siege, and Louie comes out stronger by being forced to protect it. It’s no accident Dahl makes Louie practice without an audience, or that he doesn’t laugh after the pencil penis routine: that horrible silence is what weeds the amateurs from the professionals. Louie is no longer seeking approval from strangers—or angry when he doesn’t receive it—he’s confidant that he can “show the funny” when he needs to, and that confidence becomes infectious in front of an audience. Fulfilling and subverting the daringness but puerility of the motorcycle he buys in the first episode of this season, Louie has mentally conquered his fears (a few of them, at least) and graduated to a higher plane of emotional adulthood. 

However, this sudden and drastic path towards self-improvement will undoubtedly cause tension in his existing relationships with friends and fellow comics who will be made uncomfortable by having to reassess who their Louie has become. 

Guest post by Bryan Menegus, who blogs here.

As a general rule, a trilogy’s second installment is the darkest, the most challenging for the protagonist. He or she goes through the worst possible trials to emerge a worthy hero, capable of taking the third installment to task with the full force of his or her newfound abilities (you know, the ones that were there all along, waiting to be discovered?).  

If we’re to take this general rule as gospel, ‘Late Show, Pt. 2’ does everything to show us that Louie is no hero—at least not the Late Show-hosting sort—not to himself, not to his family, and not to the syndicated audience he has recently begun to loosely fantasize about wooing. 

The episode makes this all embarrassingly clear by pursuing two clear lines of humiliation. The first is Louie’s attempts to find motivation through second opinions, first by announcing his opportunity to his ex-wife (hoping she’ll let him pass it up guilt-free because it would mean taking custody of his children far less), then by seeking guidance from fellow comics Jay Leno and Chris Rock. Not only do these tête-à-têtes—by virtue of even happening at all—expose Louie’s lack of self confidence, but they reveal his utter guilelessness, his impotence as a politician: Janet immediately grasps, without explanation, that her ex-husband is being optioned against Seinfeld for reasons of frugality; Leno, in a piece of uncomfortably honest humor, tells Louie, “If you get the job, it’ll be the last time we talk as friends”; Chris Rock uses Louie’s intel to backstab and outmaneuver him for the job. Psychologically, Louie fails every heroic challenge without realizing any had been put before him.  

Classically, heroic cycles often contain the trope of a guide (Merlin, Yoda, et al.); Louie’s is the raving lunatic Jack Dahl (masterfully played by David Lynch). Their interactions comprise the second line of soul-battering preparing us for Louie’s downfall, a set of tasks that elucidate his physical lack of fortitude.  

‘Late Show, Pt. 2’ is bookended by two nods to, ostensibly Rocky if not boxing movies in general: Louie stretches half-heartedly in ratty blue sweatpants, becoming winded shortly after beginning to jog; following Dahl’s cryptic instructions, he ends up in a gym, having the shit beat out of him by a muscular boxer. He makes three or four weak attempts at a punch, landing none, ending up KO’d after 17 seconds. 

Although Dahl treats Louie like a rank amateur, constrantly undermining his abilities as a comic and a person, where Dahl and CK’s misunderstanding truly come to a boil has to do not with Louie’s fitness, but his physical presence and appearance. Dahl contends that every late night host ever has worn a suit. For the first time in the episode, Louie stands up for something (something as trivial as his sartorial rights) and fires back,  “I’ve been this guy for 25 years, I’m not gonna become a different person.”

Although the “25 years” jab would likely be the pull-quote of this episode, the narrative bent is contained within the vignette involving Louie, his daughters, and an old crone who’s pilfering salami from the grocery store. Jane begins to shout, “she’s stealing!” while Louie tries to quiet her down. Metaphorically, the old woman represents the hype-and-media machine attempting to seduce Louie, an institution everyone accepts as being underhanded at best, while Jane—uninhibited by “how the world works”—has the moral compass to loudly point out this injustice. Why should she be allowed to get a free lunch, just because she’s been around a long time (see: “Jack Parr, Steve Allen, Carson, Letterman—not a t-shirt in the bunch!”)? At the same time, what purpose will Jane’s complaints serve? The security guard who approaches this woman will likely remove the salamis and ask her to leave without contacting the police, and this woman will continue to steal. Louie hovers in between, without the power to manipulate the system or the gall to fix it; a tourist in both realms making his permanent home on the fence dividing them. 

Over the course of ‘Late Show, Pt. 2’ Louie reaps the bitter harvest of inaction, and realizes (concurrently as the audience realizes) his staggering ineptitude at a skillset he never thought he would need, while new possibilities and the encouragement of well-wishers blinds him from seeing the skill he already has. If the boon of ‘Late Show, Pt. 1’ was his hasty induction to a dog eat dog world, Chris Rock’s betrayal puts Louie in his place as a toothless pup. The second installment of a trilogy is an unspoken promise for hardship and spiritual growth, but Louie tends to be a slow learner whose meaningful Eureka moments derive from consideration-after-debasement. 

It was never terribly important for us to see Louie succeed, but with two episodes left in this season, we’re waiting with bated breath to see how he will cope.

Guest post by Bryan Menegus, who blogs here.

It’s beyond hyperbole to say that Louie has forever changed the face of what a comedy show can accomplish, if not in its content then in how many people or how much money is required to succeed. As a result, having to write lucidly on the show rather than cower behind rabid but editorially-vague fanboyism has been causing me no shortage of anxiety, so before I have time to reconsider let’s jump into the style of the first episode in this two part arc and work our way to its substance.

We open with a lengthy establishing shot at the Improv in Hollywood — CK’s name slated for a solo Tuesday performance, while below him on the marquee Burr, Mencia, and Byrne split Wednesday. Immediately, the gaudiness (and the expansiveness of the shot, in stark contrast the sardine-packed New York) places Louie outside of his natural habitat.

A jarring cut, which replaces the crowd chatter of Melrose Ave. with CK’s performance, brings us slightly closer to the building’s façade and a lower-third announces the time and location, which to any regular viewer of Louie feels both stingy and artificial. In the aesthetic context of the show — which succeeds by eschewing exactly these sorts of shortcuts — a seemingly lazy choice such as this puts a bad taste in the mouth of the audience; it raises a red flag that something clamoring and ugly is afoot.

Like most episodes, the opening sequence in “The Late Show, Pt. 1” unfolds on stage, where CK first tackles the luxury Western parents have of gradually exposing the ugliness of Life On Planet Earth to their children (unloading, it seems, some of the psychic trauma of the previous episode wherein his elder daughter Lily showed the first signs of that vicious transition to adolescence) and then segueing into the idiosyncrasies of consumerism. 

Post-set, Louie and his child-manager Doug are approached by a representative of Leno’s Late Show, who is, like the Improv, accompanied by a lower-third. The effect is immediate: not only does it strip this executive-type of his humanity, but it acts as an affront to an audience which the show usually trusts enough to search for context clues. Another time-and-location card later (the inclusion of time adding a feeling of anxiety), and our protagonist is awaiting the closing spot on Leno, which he’s certain he’s being bumped from.

His discomfort is visible as hair and make-up artists doll him for the appearance. But contrary to expectation, the headlining guest — Tom Cruise — is a no-show, and Louie picks up the slack, improvising much of a set which we don’t see but are later told (in a phone call from Doug) has gone viral by the next morning. The set’s success leads to a meeting the next morning with president of CBS Leslie Moonves — who was, coincidentally, the commencement speaker at my college graduation — a meeting which Louie seems to attach no emotion or significance to, his reaction largely being annoyance at having to wake up before noon and interact with other humans without getting a chance to masturbate. The fundamental difference between CK and “showbiz” is established: before rushing onto Leno, a PA shouts something about not cursing on air; upon waking up, Louie squints out the over-bright window, muttering, “shit, bitch, god dammit” to no one in particular.

What follows has been masterfully established by the episode’s earlier beats: just as Cruise dropping Leno led to Louie’s “break”, Letterman is gearing up to retire and Moonves offers the position to CK, who quickly announces his inadequacy and nominates Jerry Seinfeld. The falsity, anxiety, and discomfort that pervade “The Late Show Pt. 1” comes to a head here, when Moonves casually notes that Seinfeld is already being scouted, and that Louie is being tapped strictly for the reason that he would be less expensive for the network to pay for the same job. Moonves, growing larger in frame, hammers away at Louie’s fears: that his career is in its dénouement, that he never caught the break he needed, that he’ll very soon be teaching hopeless students how to be a comic rather than working as one.  Furthermore, he informs Louie that if he should choose to try to replace Letterman, the first step would be to shoot a test — should the test fail, the scraps of Louie’s career would die with it.

Unlike his previous brush with Hollywood in “Halloween/Ellie” Moonves’ forthright nature and ease of authority affect Louie deeply. Moonves represents exactly what Louie does not have (and does not want), and has the power to trigger Louie’s feelings of inadequacy. The episode comes to a close with the wheels turning in his head, wondering how many more shows he has until he’s splitting a bill with other soon-to-be-washups.

The nuanced way that the show presents characters paints Moonves as neither bully nor adversary, and what makes Louie’s crisis of conscience all the more meaningful is that Moonves’ words hold a great deal of truth to them. Louie — whose routines regularly cite the burdens of middle age — must be considering how long he can continue being a working comic; what is the next step, or isn’t there one for him?

We believe in Louie. His character and his personal life overflow with integrity. And yet, much of that integrity stems from an internalized sense of inadequacy that Moonves has tapped into and fully exploited. 

Louie — the character — suffers from low self-esteem, seems to have no luck at anything, and is frequently depressed and eating himself oblivion. But the constant comedy of errors that are his circumstances is what allows us to know that he’s going to be okay. He’s a comedian, god dammit! Every kick he receives when he’s down, self-inflicted or not, becomes another new piece of material to try out at Carolines, right?

But there’s the rub. 

"Late Show Pt. 1" is intentionally one of the least-funny episodes of this season and of the show in general.  The absence of comedy — via the excluded Leno set and the lack of situation diversions — is what helps this episode to feel fundamentally wrong. Normal Louie is a lovable Eeyore; Hollywood Louie is genuinely unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel, or feel any sense of achievement. We understand that, to the great detriment of his “career,” Louie will retain his integrity rather than roll over for some network big-wig, but that the sound of doors closed voluntarily will haunt him. For once, rather than being able to blame a difference of opinion, a jerk promoter, or his place as a “comic’s comic,” this loss will be entirely of his own volition.

Guest post by Bryan Menegus, who blogs here.

It’s been hard to even process this current season of Breaking Bad, let alone attempt to write about it, because a) holy shit and b) holy. shit. If you haven’t caught up you should definitely avoid this post and head straight to your television.

But for the rest of you: How are you feeling? Really, how are you holding up after these last few weeks? Are you okay? Did you refill your Xanax prescription in the week between Todd’s quick trigger and the Meticulous Destruction of the Dirt Bike? Did you rush to Wikipedia to refresh your knowledge of Jesse James? Have you even come to terms with the fact that there are only two episodes left in this half season?  The tension in the last few episodes have been murder, sometimes literally, as the show’s been heading toward a heart attack finale that will most likely feature a classic showdown between Walt and whoever dares to go against him. Mike? Skyler? Hank? Jesse? 

Breaking Bad has always had moments of over the top horror and devastation — an overdosing girlfriend, plane crashes, ATM splats, a half-faced villain in his finest suit — but it’s somehow even more chilling when it focuses on the smaller things. This season almost makes me long for the simpler times when all we had to fear was a poorly placed rug, the “ding, ding, ding” of a bell, or even the unhinged and maniacal laughter of a desperate man in a crawl space. Now there are new levels of terror to worry about: a tarantula in a jar, the ticking of an expensive birthday gift, a pristine pool, easily forgotten ricin hidden in a wall, and the silence at a dinner table. This season has also brought Skyler to the foreground and she’s been perhaps the most debated character of the series. Skyler is a hostage but she’s also rightfully cold-as-fucking-ice and it’s simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying to watch her battle Walter. There is no way that either will come out in one piece. Walter has had plenty of people point plenty of guns at his head within the last year but it’s nothing compared to how unsettling it is to watch Skyler take drags of her cancerous cigarettes, ashing them into her husband’s mug as she waits for the end. 

And then there’s Jesse! Our poor lost little lamb Jesse who has spent most of the season stuck smack in the middle of Mr. White and Mike Ehrmantraut, both in his loyalty and obvious seating choices. Jesse seems to be on an endless search for approval from his elders, for a father figure, and for someone to ride to go-karts with him. Or, you know, maybe he really just wants people to stop murdering children. He wants to wipe his hands clean, take his millions, and spend it entirely on cigarettes and video games.

Is there anyone better on television than Aaron Paul right now? A million Emmys just for drinking water! Emmys for gesturing with a fork and shoving food into his mouth and those hilariously awkward facial expressions and the way his eyes dart between a woman who loathes him and a man who manipulates him while he witnesses the biggest trainwreck of a marriage careen off the rails. 

Also for your consideration: Best delivery of one-liners from Mike! Best fucked up MacGyvering from Walt! Best use of breakfast in a television show! Outstanding guest actress in a drama for Skyler’s comically large wine glass! Most chilling cold open ever! 

There is a lot of ridiculousness surrounding Animal Practice. The show has been the butt of plenty of jokes prior to its premiere mostly because the advertising revolved solely around the show’s monkey (the same one from Community, for the record) and the fact that its central character has been labeled as a “House-like veterinarian.” It’s fitting considering the egotistical George Coleman (Justin Kirk, perhaps the most deserving of the Weeds cast to head a sitcom) speaks in cynical platitudes such as “People are incapable of reason”, goes toe-to-toe with his boss/ex-girlfriend/love interest Dorothy (JoAnna Garcia, who’s been aimlessly floating around since Reba), dognaps a Yorkie to perform a surgery against the owner’s will yet manages to escape scot-free at the end of the episode — even after a fast-talking monologue where he tells the guy that his daughter will grow up to be a stripper. It’s all House 101, plus animals, minus a limp. Oh, and it doesn’t help that NBC decided to air the premiere in the middle of the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics, thus angering a million people who tweeted into the abyss about how they are never going to watch Animal Practice when it begins its September run. 

That aside, in all honesty? Animal Practice wasn’t that bad. It was kind of enjoyable! It could be because everyone had incredibly low expectations. It could be because of the unintentionally hilarious parallel to The Newsroom with George and Dorothy’s relationship, though the walk-and-talk banter between these two was infinitely greater than Sorkin’s latest screeching dramatics. It could also be because it was a much, much needed break in tension after that punch-in-the-gut ending that Breaking Bad gave us just minutes before. Or it could just be simply because hey, not every television show has to be the smartest in the room and sometimes a monkey wearing scrubs is enough for a laugh. 

Go On, the first of NBC’s new crop of fall sitcoms to premiere last week, feels too familiar. It’s not just because it stars Matthew Perry who previously had a home on NBC for a full decade before later starring in the originally promising but ultimate trainwreck Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip (remember when we all thought that would be the low point of Sorkin's career? Yikes). But there's also a familiar predictability that runs throughout the entire pilot: there is never any question as to whether Ryan will stay with the group, the setup of the google cameras and medievel gear is clear, and the will-they-or-won't-they couple is already in place. 
And then, of course, there’s the Community problem. It’s possible that Community has replaced Arrested Development for the official standard that we must hold all new sitcoms to (see: when Running Wilde premiered and every criticism revolved around the fact that it simply wasn’t up to AD's standards). It's unfair for new shows but it's nearly impossible to ignore the similarities. Matthew Perry (who is no Joel McHale, but is, as always, a lot of fun to watch snark around) plays Ryan King, a smooth-talking white guy who is forced into a group situation to keep his job as a hot shot radio host (in 2012!). He becomes the reluctant leader of a group of sad misfits of mixed races/genders/ages (there are characters that are strongly reminiscent of Britta and Abed), attempts to talk his way out of it, but eventually returns to the group for the long haul — because that's what the narrative demands — and it's obvious that they'll all become a highly dysfunctional family by the end of the season. It's also fairly obvious that Go On is just the version of Community that NBC has always wanted: more accessible. And that’s fine, because there are far worse shows to emulate, but if Go On wants to be successful, it has to learn how to make this story thoroughly engaging and new.
There are also a lot of pacing and balance issues within the pilot, especially with trying to combine the laughs with the tears. There’s a Splitsider article about Go On that asks “Can America Embrace a Sitcom This Sad?" which is interesting, but does give the show a little too much credit in the sadness department. The central premise is Ryan getting over the death of his wife and hanging out with a bunch of other sad characters dealing with their own issues (other family deaths, a cheating spouse, medical problems, the requisite stereotypical woman with a dead cat, etc.). On paper it’s depressing but on screen the majority of dramatic moments try too hard and fall flat. In lieu of letting you decide how to feel about a scene, they shove an Iron & Wine song down your throat. When the group comes together at the end under Ryan’s leadership, it fails to resonate because it’s so awkward and forced and, like the rest of the show, completely predictable. Everything is put so perfectly into place that there are no twists or turns along the way, just twenty-two adequate minutes. 

Go On, the first of NBC’s new crop of fall sitcoms to premiere last week, feels too familiar. It’s not just because it stars Matthew Perry who previously had a home on NBC for a full decade before later starring in the originally promising but ultimate trainwreck Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip (remember when we all thought that would be the low point of Sorkin's career? Yikes). But there's also a familiar predictability that runs throughout the entire pilot: there is never any question as to whether Ryan will stay with the group, the setup of the google cameras and medievel gear is clear, and the will-they-or-won't-they couple is already in place. 

And then, of course, there’s the Community problem. It’s possible that Community has replaced Arrested Development for the official standard that we must hold all new sitcoms to (see: when Running Wilde premiered and every criticism revolved around the fact that it simply wasn’t up to AD's standards). It's unfair for new shows but it's nearly impossible to ignore the similarities. Matthew Perry (who is no Joel McHale, but is, as always, a lot of fun to watch snark around) plays Ryan King, a smooth-talking white guy who is forced into a group situation to keep his job as a hot shot radio host (in 2012!). He becomes the reluctant leader of a group of sad misfits of mixed races/genders/ages (there are characters that are strongly reminiscent of Britta and Abed), attempts to talk his way out of it, but eventually returns to the group for the long haul — because that's what the narrative demands — and it's obvious that they'll all become a highly dysfunctional family by the end of the season. It's also fairly obvious that Go On is just the version of Community that NBC has always wanted: more accessible. And that’s fine, because there are far worse shows to emulate, but if Go On wants to be successful, it has to learn how to make this story thoroughly engaging and new.

There are also a lot of pacing and balance issues within the pilot, especially with trying to combine the laughs with the tears. There’s a Splitsider article about Go On that asks “Can America Embrace a Sitcom This Sad?" which is interesting, but does give the show a little too much credit in the sadness department. The central premise is Ryan getting over the death of his wife and hanging out with a bunch of other sad characters dealing with their own issues (other family deaths, a cheating spouse, medical problems, the requisite stereotypical woman with a dead cat, etc.). On paper it’s depressing but on screen the majority of dramatic moments try too hard and fall flat. In lieu of letting you decide how to feel about a scene, they shove an Iron & Wine song down your throat. When the group comes together at the end under Ryan’s leadership, it fails to resonate because it’s so awkward and forced and, like the rest of the show, completely predictable. Everything is put so perfectly into place that there are no twists or turns along the way, just twenty-two adequate minutes. 

EDIT: It’s come to my attention that this post may be a little spoilery as I have read the books as well. I don’t think it’s that bad, BUT!! if you are concerned, feel free to scroll on by.

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I was a little worried that we would never see more of the State of Georgia workplace dramedy again.  Thank goodness I was wrong.  This week Georgia and Jo are back at work helping customers with separate items. Georgia uses sex appeal to help sell a dress (obvs) and Jo, well, Jo tells the customer to go to the department store down the street where they have nice jackets.  Their boss comes over and tells them that corporate is coming in this week and they need to ‘Focus’.  They assure him that this is no problem which leads me to assume that, of course, there will be a problem.  Jo may not be a lesbian after all!  There is the caveman like employee named Doug that appears and has to go work in The Cave, a small area for wallets and belts, but not before Jo starts twirling her hair while talking to him.

Georgia walks into their apartment announcing that she has her first acting gig for the 9th best overnight mattress wholesaler in New York while Jo is trying to hack into work’s employee database to find out more about Doug.  She Googles (I’m guessing) ‘Bearded Doug’ and is appalled at what she finds.  Of course, I did the same and was very disappointed.  I mean couldn’t they have come up with a much better search term?  I even had my Safe Search off and not one graphic picture!  Aunt Honey walks down the stairs and she’s back to wearing her silky pajamas!!! Thank Jesus, you guys.  Georgia tells Aunt Honey about Doug and she then tells them about this one time she was with Bruce Jenner.  What she said next may have been my first real laugh from this show, like honest laughing at a joke.  I never thought that would happen…did you?  Aunt Honey says, ”You girls just know him as the weird old lady in the Kardashian house.”  I laugh because it’s true.  Aunt Honey always one to meddle in Jo’s love life (remember the math student?) says she’ll come down to the store and check out the situation.

The next day back at work, Jo is talking to her boss trying to explain why Georgia (who is at her rehearsal) isn’t actually at work.  She doesn’t have to finish because he gets called away, but not before he tells her to light a candle.  How convenient Doug appears with a lighter.  See more caveman humor.  Doug only communicates in grunts apparently and this is supposed to be funny.  Georgia returns and tells Jo that right after work they will be filming her commercial.  The boss soon returns and tells them that corporate is coming the next day and they will have to stay all night to clean the store.  What will Georgia DO? WWGD?  The two girls decide to drive customers out of their section all day until closing so they don’t have to clean after work, that is until Aunt Honey arrives.  She throws a pile of clothes she doesn’t want on to a table and asks Georgia to put them away.  Aunt Honey walks away to pick up her fur coat with Georgia’s boss whom she recognizes from somewhere, but can’t place just yet (another moral I am sure will be coming).  Georgia ends up Winona Rydering a customer so she doesn’t have to put them away.

At break time Georgia and Jo rap about getting snacks out of the vending machine, see Doug draw a picture of where kebabs come from, and realize that maybe Doug is in fact a caveman.  The end of the work day finally arrives and Georgia tells her boss that their section is clean and she’s gonna get going.  He tells her no that they are going to rearrange the store until it wow’s him and the last time he was wowed was when he saw Sex & the City 2.  I saw that movie and I can tell you for certain that I was not wowed.  He tells her if she leaves she is fired.  Georgia tries to make Jo come along, but she says no.  Damn, look at Jo standing up for herself. You go, Jo!  

In typical Aunt Honey fashion (five episodes allows something to be typical trust me), she gives Georgia a third act lecture revealing some sort of secret that allows Georgia to see the error of her ways.  Georgia tells her she quit her job to go to her acting gig and Aunt Honey tells her that she finally remembers where she remembered seeing her boss.  Her boss was once an actor and played Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  I feel a final act apology and maybe a song?

So I was wrong about the song, but was right about the apology.  Georgia apologized to her boss.  He told her that she should follow her dreams, is bigger than this job, and will probably be a star just don’t take the last piece of shrimp toast from Sir Andrew Llyod Webber.  Georgia and Jo apologized to each other and everything was cool with them.  Jo finally asked Doug out for a date and soon realized it was a mistake when he tells her he makes doll furniture.  WAIT! Apparently between the commercial breaks there was a song! They must not have had the budget to incorporate it into the actual show.  Aunt Honey walks down stairs to where the girls are wearing a USA track jacket.  Apparently she is having an affair with Bruce Jenner?  I am going to have to check in with Kris and see what’s the deal.

Tonight there is a special 2-hour block of State of Georgia.  What this means I don’t know yet.  I haven’t heard if the show has been renewed or canceled yet, so it seems a little weird that they are rushing to get all the shows on to air.  I will be investigating this further and will let all my Georgia fans know once I do!

I will be here all summer reviewing State of Georgia so please don’t miss an episode (Wednesdays on ABC Family) and we can discuss it over on Twitter where I will be live-tweeting each episode.

  • And Rickon and Shaggydog disappear into the dark of the crypts again after having been absent for 3 episodes and barely spoken of all season. You can always tell a Milford Man.
  • There’s an editing room somewhere with a makeover sequence on the floor.
  • Come here, baby, you look like you need a hug.
  • Joffrey: “After I raise my armies and kill your traitor brother, I’m going to give you his head as well.” Sansa: “Or maybe he’ll give me yours.” BOOOOOOOOOM! SHE’S A FUCKING STARK OF WINTERFELL NOBODY BRINGS HER HER BROTHER’S HEAD AS A PRESENT. THAT’S JUST NOT SOCIABLE. Guys, I’m serious; I was so worried about her. Also, I really like this weird friendship/bond she’s forming with Sandor Clegane based on the fact that they both know Joffrey is a little bitch.
  • It’s probably weird how hard I laughed when Catelyn asked Jaime why he pushed Bran out of the tower, and he just sighed and was like “go take a nap. This war is going to be LONG.” Sure he was probably just playing his cards close to his chest (Why!? It’s not like anything you could say about the queen or you or Joffrey or Joffrey’s right the throne is actually going to make things worse. You’re pretty much fucked.) But I want to think it was because he was too embarrassed to admit to her that her 6-year-old caught him having sex with his sister. Awkward!
  • Annnnnnd just when you thought Cersei couldn’t get any grosser. 
  • Samwell Tarley is the Neville Longbottom of Castle Black. “I’m not going to let you get us all in trouble again, Harry.” Ten points to Gryffindor!
  • I’m now taking bets on how long it’s going to be before these two do it. The sexual tension is PALPABLE.
  • "I bet you’ve never killed anyone before. I’ve killed fat boys before. I like killing fat boys." Arya as a boy is my favorite person.